Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21

                                                                                    Acts 2:1-21

            I have been very open about the fact that I don’t want to sell a house again and move.  Now hopefully, you think that is a good thing because basically – you are stuck with me.  Amy and I did a lot of moving during the first decade of our marriage.  We lived in Alexandria, VA for a year; St. Louis for two years; Dallas, TX for three years; Chicago for three years; and then we moved to Marion in 2006.  We moved five times over the course of nine years.  This coming July we will have been in Marion for nine years – three times longer than we have lived in any other one place. 
            Two of those moves involved selling a house.  And after selling two of them, I can say that I don’t want to sell another one.  Selling a house is a lot of work because you have to do many things to get the house in the best condition possible.  Rooms get repainted; new floors or carpet are put down; little repairs that that have been on the “to do” list for a long time finally get done.  Basically in my experience, you work hard to get the house in the best condition it has been during the time you have owned it … so that someone else can then live in it.
            Even after all of this is completed there is still constant work and busyness.  Since you never know when showings are going to occur, you have to live in a way that maintains the house in the constant state of being neat and tidy – or at least neat enough so that on very short notice you can get the house whole house ready to be seen.  If you have several small children, that is quite a feat.
            However, the thing that I really dislike about selling a house is the waiting.  The fact of the matter is that you don’t know how long it is going to take to sell a house.  It may happen quickly.  It may not. Showings of the house are scheduled and take place.  And each time you wait for the phone to ring – you wait to hear that an offer has been made on the house.  You don’t know how long you it is going to be and so you wait expectantly.
            That’s what Jesus’ disciples were doing on the first Pentecost – they were waiting expectantly.  Our text this morning is found in the book of Acts.  The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are really a two volume set.  The end of Luke and the beginning of Acts overlap since they both include an account of Jesus’ final words to the disciples and his ascension.
            What unites both of these accounts is that the disciples are told that they will receive power from God, and that they are to wait in Jerusalem until this happens.  At the end of Luke Jesus says, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” At the beginning of Acts Luke reports, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” And then Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
            Jesus had ascended ten days earlier.  For ten days – basically a week and a half – they were waiting for Jesus’ promise to be fulfilled.  They were waiting, but they couldn’t have even known what they were waiting for – what did it mean to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit”?
            We learn that on Pentecost as they were gathered together suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And what looked like little tongues of flame appeared and rested on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues – other foreign languages - as the Spirit gave them the ability.
            There were faithful Jews from all over the Mediterranean world living in Jerusalem.  There were also Jewish pilgrims who were there.  Attracted by the sound they were amazed to find Galileans – not the most sophisticated folks - speaking in their language.  In their own language they heard these people talking about mighty things that God had done.  And their question was the good Lutheran one: “What does this mean?”
            Peter stood up and dismissed the accusation that they were drunk. After all, it was too early in the morning!  Instead he announced that they were witnessing an amazing moment in the final stage of God’s saving plan.  He said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
            God had poured forth the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Joel.  But this moment was really about what had happened fifty and forty days earlier.  Peter announced that Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to them by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in their midst.  However they had crucified and killed Jesus through the hands of the Romans.  But this had not been the end of Jesus.  Instead in fulfillment of a psalm written by King David, God had raised up Jesus from the dead.  He had not allowed his Holy One to see corruption.
            But he had done more than just raise Jesus from the dead!  Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven and been exalted to the right hand of God.  And it was in this status as the risen and exalted Lord that Jesus had given the Spirit.  Peter said, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”  Christ had given the Spirit and so Peter told them, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
            When Peter had finished, those listening were cut to the heart and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” The apostle replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  He told them to confess their sins and to be baptized in the name of Jesus. He told them to receive the washing of water that united them with the crucified and risen Lord, and so, gave them forgiveness.  He told them to be baptized because in the water of baptism they too would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit whose arrival had been announced by the dramatic events of Pentecost.
            Obviously, Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit. But in truth, because Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit it is really about Jesus.  It is Jesus Christ who has poured forth the Spirit because he is the crucified, risen and exalted Lord.  The outpouring of the Spirit bears witness to who Jesus is and what he has done for you.
            And there is another way that Pentecost is about Jesus.  Yes, the ascended Lord is no longer visibly present in the way he was during his earthly ministry.  But Pentecost means that Jesus is not in any way absent because the Holy Spirit – the  Spirit of Christ – is present and at work in a new and unique way. The Spirit is the presence of Jesus now with his Church.
            Where the Spirit is, there the crucified and risen Christ is.  And where sinners meet him in faith, there is the forgiveness of sins.  As Luther said about the Holy Spirit in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed: “In the Christian church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”  However, it is not just any kind of sinner who receives this.  Instead, it is the sinner who follows Peter’s instruction: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
            Pentecost focuses our attention on the work of the Holy Spirit.  Yet it also reminds us about the kind of person who benefits from the work of the Spirit.  It is not just the sinner – after all, every person is one of those.  Instead, it is the repentant sinner.  And that means there is the continuing need to confess our own sins.  We confess that we have sinned in in thought, in word and in deed.  We confess that we have sinned by things we have done, and also by things we have left undone.  We confess that have not loved God with our whole heart.  We confess that we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
            We confess, but as baptized Christians there is no need to get wet again.  Instead in faith we believe that we have forgiveness because we are already baptized. We embrace in faith the fact that we have already been joined to the saving death of Jesus through our baptism and so we receive forgiveness.
            You are able to do this because you have already received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You received the Spirit in your baptism.  There you received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. There you were born again of water and the Spirit.  It is in baptism that you received the same gift that the disciples did on Pentecost.  You received it just like the three thousand who were baptized that day.
            That link between the gift of the Holy Spirit and baptism means that we just had our own Pentecost moment earlier in the service.  When Elliot Jean Kline was baptized, she received the gift of the Spirit just like on the day of Pentecost.  She was brought to the font as one who was spiritually dead – spiritual road kill as the catechumens have heard it described.  And in the water of baptism something awesome happened – no less awesome than the sound of a rushing wind and tongues as of fire.  She was reborn as a new creation – as a child of God.  Through same work of the Spirit she was buried with Christ into his saving death and so she received the forgiveness of sins. 
            This is a fact that will never change for her. 
This morning Casey and Erin brought Elliot to baptism.  Her parents and this congregation will now carry out the second part of the Lord’s mandate to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. As she grows in knowledge she will learn that for her – like all of us – the blessing of forgiveness through baptism always remains, ready to be received in faith.  When we believe what God’s word says about our baptism, we have exactly what it promises – the forgiveness of sins and salvation.
            Today is the Feast of Pentecost.  It is the day when we remember that we have not been left without our Lord and his saving power.  Instead, in these last days – in the final stage of God’s plan of salvation – the risen and exalted Lord has poured forth the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and through the Spirit our Lord Jesus is present and at work in power.  Each one of us has experienced our own Pentecost event - just like little Elliot today.  And so as repentant sinners we know that we have forgiveness of all our sins.


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