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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For most Christians, “Merry Christmas” flows from the lips fairly easily, as does the greeting, “Happy Easter.” But can you imagine clasping a friend’s hand and joyfully wishing , “Peppy Pentecost,” or perhaps, “Have a Spirited Day.” Even Hallmark Greeting Cards, when you care to give the very best, doesn’t produce a Pentecost greeting card line. And that’s too bad. Why? Because I believe that if there was no Day of Pentecost, there would be no celebration of Easter or Christmas.
For me, Pentecost isn’t simply about the mighty wind filling the Upper Room and then sending the disciples out into the streets of Jerusalem speaking in new languages. Nor is it about the tongues of fire resting on the disciples. But Pentecost is about the power of change, and the gifts of courage and strength which Christ offers his Church through the Holy Spirit. And nowhere is this change more evident than in the life of the Apostle Peter on Pentecost.
This morning, my friends, let us meditate on the life of St. Peter and the transformation he experienced when the power of Holy Spirit entered his life, and then let us meditate on how the Holy Spirit continue to moving in the life of the church even to this day.
For nearly 2000 years, the Church has celebrated the Apostle’s Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem. It was a sermon that would turn the world upside down. The 120 members of the Church in Jerusalem would add 3000 believers to their numbers that day. With courage and conviction, Peter’s word went forth that, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And since that time, every preacher has aspired to speak like Peter- to be filled with the Spirit. Unfortunately, for most pastors, life doesn’t promise an unending series of fulfilling moments.
Indeed, every pastor encounters the less glorious days of ministry; the bad days as we call them. You know it’s a bad day in ministry when…At a wedding, you call the groom by the bride’s former boyfriend’s name. It’s a bad day when you can’t find Obadiah while leading a Bible Study. It’s a bad day, when you entered into the pulpit to preach and you notice that your sermon notes are for last week’s sermon. It’s a really bad day when you finally remember the name of the person you promised to visit in the hospital- while reading the funeral announcements in the newspaper. And you know you’re having another bad day when you are elected pastor emeritus-and you’re only 25.
Mind you, Peter had his bad days too. He was often put back in his place during his studies with Jesus, and so he stood before the crowds on that morning quivering in his boots- or probably sandals. Seven weeks earlier when a woman questioned him at a fire about this Jesus of Nazareth, the cowardly disciple was frightened and scared. Peter lied to save his own skin and denied Jesus. The other disciples were no different. When Jesus was arrested and taken from them in the Garden of Gethsemane by the Roman soldiers, they scattered like sheep. But now on the Day of Pentecost when Jesus’ disciples were surrounded by a crowd over three thousand curious and some scoffing onlookers, the disciples had the strength which they have never known before. And Peter, the brawny fisherman, had the courage to proclaim the good news.
Peter and the other disciples were filled with a new power. And for the first time, they were acting on their own. Before they had stood under the shadow of Jesus, but now the Holy Spirit had come to guide them. By the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples had become apostles, and the work of establishing the church of Jesus Christ in the world had begun. At the end of that first new day of the church, the Holy Spirit used the words of the fishermen from the Galilee to turn the love and energy of 3000 pilgrims in Jerusalem to Jesus.
As God’s church, we believe that the Holy Spirit still permeates the life of all the faithful, and it is yearning to be made real in everything we do, however simple and ordinary. The Spirit may not be filling you with a dramatic courage to preach to the nations, and travel to the ends of the earth. But the Holy Spirit is leading you to embrace the teaching of the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit is opening your heart to listen, and the Spirit is using my frail words to speak to you in a way that is unique to you. Each of us hears the gospel in our own language, in a way and with a message that God wants you to hear. I am often amazed when I visit with parishioners after a worship service. They have each heard a different sermon, from the very words that I preached. That is the power and wonder of the Holy Spirit.
Let us now turn consider how the Holy Spirit continues to move in the life of our church today, for I believe that just as the Holy Spirit filled the lives of Peter and the other apostles and changed them, the Spirit is still seeking to fill your life and change you.
First of all, the disciples discovered that in being filled with the Holy Spirit, they were being challenged in new and marvelous ways. Several years ago, I was invited by my home Church in Austin to translate the early records of our Norwegian speaking congregation. It was heartening to read of the early struggles with pastors and parishioners. But I was struck in one report with the loss of vision and Pentecostal challenge. The Church record included this paragraph. St. Olaf Church, 125 souls and three Swedes. It wasn’t that the early Norwegian pioneers considered their Swedish neighbors, as less than divine or human. They merely felt that the Swedes weren’t their responsibility.
My friends, when you allow yourself to be filled and changed by the Holy Spirit, you will discover the sense of challenge that the disciples experienced. There was no barrier, no border, no social institution, no hardship that would prevent them from opening their mouths and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. There was no distinction between Jew, nor Greek, male nor female, youth nor elder, Swede, Norwegian, German, Black or White, Hispanic or Asian, in the wondrous body of Christ.
Second, when the disciples were filled by the Holy Spirit, they discovered that in the darkest hours of faith, the Holy Spirit was present to comfort them. I know that this has not been a good year for all the friends of our congregation. You have experienced surgery, illness, divorce, depression, death, unemployment, and at times, utter despair. It is a humbling task to offer your prayers before God. As the apostles gathered with their followers, they were no doubt struck by the daily trials of their faithful as well. Life would be so much easier if choosing faith and walking in the ways of Christ eliminated all of life’s struggles. But it doesn’t. In those dark nights of the soul, the disciples discovered that when they allowed the Holy Spirit to fill them with courage, hope and strength, they grew in a deeper understanding and awareness that that very Spirit helped them in their weakness. In those moments when they could not find the words to pray as they ought, the Spirit interceded with sighs too deep for words. Have you discovered that to be true? When you are struggling, emotionally and spiritually, have you trusted in the amazing strength, grace and healing power of the Holy Spirit? Former ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson, once said, “When you pray for the Holy Spirit to come, you better be prepared to move aside, because it will not leave you the same.”
Finally, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they discovered that that needed the nurturing strength of the community of believers. The Second Chapter of Apostles records that the disciples devoted themselves to the teaching, fellowship and breaking of bread. The disciples knew that there was no such thing as the Robinson Crusoe Christian. We need the company of believers, for it is there that the Holy Spirit moves in numerous ways. For Peter and the apostles, Pentecost was a very good day in ministry, but they knew that Peter’s preaching and the baptism of three thousand new believers couldn’t sustain their faith. The needed the community of the church. And so do we.
Pentecost will never rival Christmas or Easter any more than the Holy Spirit will crowd Jesus out of the center stage of Christianity. Our simplest confessions is still “Jesus is Lord.” But my friends it is the Holy Spirit who brings us to Christ. Martin Luther probably understood this best when he wrote his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. It could just as well be his explanation to power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. What does this mean? “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”
Has the Holy Spirit changed you and your life? Let this be your prayer this Pentecost, Come Holy Spirit, that I may be changed, and become an instrument of change. And on the way, my friends, “Have a Peppy Pentecost.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.