When my son Zach walked by while I was working & studying he asked how it was coming.
“Good,” I said.
“I hope you’re going to tell a joke,” was his next comment.
I don’t know if he asked for a joke because I’m such a sorry joke teller, or if he just wanted some relief during the sermon hour. Maybe he just likes jokes. So, here goes.
Did you hear about the boy who was wandering around the narthex of a large downtown church one Sunday morning? As he stopped and examined a large bronze plaque that was hung on the wall, he wondered aloud “What are all those names up there?” The pastor just happened to hear the boy so he replied, “Son, those are the names of people who died in the service.” After a long pause, the boy looked up and asked, was it the 9:30 or the 11 o’clock service?”
I am happy to report today that we are celebrating a birth—not a death—this morning, the birth of the church—the birth of Christ in you and me, and in all who call on his name. Let us pray.
Lord, life is far too deep for us to fathom, too large for us to grasp. We believe we are just ordinary people, seeking to make each day something special, and hoping that in some way our lives might have meaning, might count. We need wisdom and strength. We need compassion and courage. And we turn to You as the source of what we need. Open our hearts and our minds to the power you’ve given us through your Holy Spirit. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing unto you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
The annual celebration of the paschal mystery, which began on Ash Wednesday, culminates at Pentecost. Today is Pentecost.
Has anyone here ever heard of Holy Spirit Holes? Get a mental picture of this scene. In the middle ages holes were punched in the ceiling & roofs of churches to symbolize an openness to God. Well, on Pentecost they released doves through these holes and bundles of rose petals were dropped from them onto the people gathered inside. Then the Choir (which was all boys at that time) moved through the congregation making whooshing sounds to remind everyone of the rush of the Spirit. I bet some of our boys would have liked that job!
When you think of the Holy Spirit, what bird comes to mind?
Anybody know? Right…the dove.
But instead of the dove, Celtic Christians chose the wild goose as a symbol representing the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine what church would have been like if they had released wild geese through those holes in the ceiling!
And here thousands of years later, what do we do on Pentecost Sunday? Look around & you tell me.
Oh yeah, we wear RED.
Doesn’t hold a candle to the middle ages, does it?
Our gospel lesson tells of Jesus appearing to his confused and grieving friends, offering them peace and the gift of the Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit” he says, as he breathed on the disciples the power of a spiritual life.
Jesus continues to greet us in this way.
God’s Spirit comes and moves people to repentance and conversion.
This breath, this Spirit gives birth to us as the people of God.
What God gives us when he gives us his Spirit is more than strength and support and teaching and comfort, those things we normally identify with God’s presence, he gives us more too than joy, and peace, patience, and kindness, those things which we call the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
He gives us as well a set of gifts designed for the building up of the body of the church, and for the individual ministries to which we are called, and for our spiritual life.
The prophet Joel, in his prophecy of the last days, mentions some of the gifts of God through his Spirit: gifts of vision and gifts of dreams, gifts of prophecy.
Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, speaks of the gift of tongues.
And Paul lists some of the gifts that God gives and explores with the Corinthian congregation how those gifts can be used and abused: the gift of teaching, the gift of discernment, the gift of exhortation, the gift of hospitality, the gift of intercession, the gift of the word of wisdom, the gift of prophecy, the gift of faith, the gift of administration, the gift of helping and the gift of mercy. These gifts are spiritual gifts—they are gifts of our second birth—that give us the ability to minister to others.
Over the few years, I have attended several conferences for Missional Leaders. Inevitably, there will be stories of ministers who have birthed large churches out of nothing in just a few years, or who have turned dying congregations into mega churches. These are spectacular stories that I assume are meant to inspire us. Truly, there is nothing wrong with that. I am always impressed.
The Pentecost story is even more astounding. It contains elements that are stunning, incredible, ecstatic: the sound of a violent wind, fire appearing over their heads and 3,000 new members as the result of one sermon. Wow! It was an amazingly dramatic beginning. But I’m even more intrigued by what happened after the drama subsided.
The very next verse says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Not much drama here.
Worshiping together, eating together, learning together.
We know from the rest of Acts that there would be more excitement in the form of healings, unexpected conversions, visions. There would also be other events, far more of them and far less sensational: conversations, travels, meetings, more sermons.
Our lives together are somewhat the same, a couple of thousand years later. Occasionally we hear of some remarkable situation: amazing church growth, surprising personal turnarounds or healings, breathtaking testimonials.
More often, though, are the stories that never get told because they are not stories of wild action, but of simply living life with God:
A nurse who has been working with Alzheimer’s patients for ten years, and whose patients never get well or give testimonials…
A woman who cares for her children with humor, love and kindness even though her husband has left…
A teen who lead her community in starting a recycling project…
A man who somehow finds peace in his soul after he’s lived through a brutal war in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan…
When a gay couple have the courage and faith to come to church, knowing that they might receive condemnation, judgment or worse…
Or when a parent stops what seems urgent to do something more important, like spending some time with their kids…
When a husband or a wife chooses to remain faithful to a spouse when the temptation to drift creeps into married life…
Or when a kid finds the courage to stand up to friends or foes and say no to drugs or sex or bullying.
When a person is willing to sacrifice wealth, prestige, and power, to serve in jobs that don’t pay well, but serves others.
Or when a person bears the pains of sickness and age without becoming bitter.
When a 76 year old man remarries and then takes on the task of raising a 2 year old whose mother is into drugs.
Where is the Spirit at work?
The Spirit is at work in human hearts and minds, and souls. The Spirit is at work in the places where the Spirit chooses to take up residence. Maybe you’ll write your own sermon this week and tell me where the Spirit is at work. I would love to hear!
The Spirit’s people measure success, not by the number of converts or new members or programs, but by whether or not we are doing what the Spirit is urging us to do. That is a vastly more difficult calculation. We can easily count the number of people in the pews, but how do we measure the long-lasting effect we are having on our friends, family and community? The effect of the Spirit’s work through the Spirit’s people is indeed beyond measure. It is incalculable.
Go ahead, admit it. You’re wondering about the future, maybe worrying—do we even have a future? Will our church survive? Will our children have faith? Will our faith have children? There are so many challenges. Money. Divisions. Arguments. We’re getting older. How are we going to pay the bills. We don’t know the people next door anymore. Why would they want to come to our church? People pass by. We don’t know them. No one comes in. They are outside. We are inside. And so we wait and watch and worry. But we don’t know what to do. Won’t someone come and help us? These are big questions. But we are not the first to ask them, did you know? There’s a story in the bible exactly like this. Do you remember? There are only a few left. People pass by outside. They are inside waiting, watching and they don’t know what to do. And then it happens—wind, fire, noise and then silence. What just happened? No one came and took away their problems. Instead the spirit comes and creates a new one. That’s right. The Holy Spirit shows up and creates a problem. They can’t stay inside. They have to go out and preach and teach and pray and teach and care and love and preach and witness and…It was Pentecost.
So I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is, there is no one to fix our problems. The good news is, the solutions we seek are all around us. You have strength and courage and compassion and a story to tell. Our problem isn’t money or divisions or arguments. Our problem is, we’ve got a story to tell and we can’t help but tell it.
Now imagine one person reaching out to another and then another to listen to tell to share to hold to preach to feed to care to love. Why? Because we can’t help it. It’s Pentecost.