Summary: A sermon for the festival of Pentecost, Series B. Preached 5/31/2009 @ Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa. It was also Confirmation Sunday at Our Saviour’s.
This morning we have two very important things going on as a part of our worship service. The most obvious is that today is Confirmation Sunday. For the last two years, Jake, Samantha, Ethan, Elizabeth, Emily, Miranda, and Lexie have gone through careful instruction with me in the basics of the Christian Faith. We’ve used the doctrine of the Scriptures as taught in Luther’s Small Catechism as the basis for our instruction. During that time, you have had to search the Scriptures, and learned about the faith that you will confess as your own today. It’s a big day! In some cases, you have friends and relatives that have traveled a long ways to be here for this service today. But, as you have heard me say several times, today is not graduation from church.
While Confirmation Sunday is a big day in the life of the Lutheran congregation, that’s not the only big event we remember today. Today is also the Day of Pentecost. It’s the day we sometimes call the “Birthday of the Christian Church.” In our reading from Acts 2 and the Gospel reading from John 15 and 16, we hear about the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of it in Acts. This morning, we’re going to look at that first Pentecost, and discover why it’s such a big deal to us today, and why that event can give our confirmands a lot of confidence as they go out living their lives in the Christian faith today.
Pentecost seems to be one of the days of the church year that a lot of Lutherans don’t seem to know what to do with. We know it’s one of the few times in the church year that the liturgical color is red, and that it has something to do with the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire, and strange languages, but beyond that, we don’t really seem to know what to do with it. Not only that, but we also have those who look at us and say that we don’t talk enough about the Holy Spirit, that what we believe, teach, and confess is dead, that we’re not “alive” like other churches seem to be. It’s a day that can bring about what I call “Lutheran shame”, and we decide it’s easier to just not talk about Pentecost, or what happened on that day. Well this morning, we are going to talk about Pentecost, and we’re going to talk about the Holy Spirit, but we’re going to see how the Holy Spirit truly works, and what it has to do with our confirmands, and with us.
Well, to start off with, let’s discover what the Holy Spirit’s work is. It has been 10 days since Jesus had ascended into heaven. Just prior to His ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would empower them to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They spent that time together, devoting themselves to prayer and meditating on the Word that Jesus had given them.
Then it happens. A sound of a rushing wind filled the room where the Disciples were. Now that’s a pretty extraordinary event! But there’s more. Next, tounges of fire descend over the disciples heads. Now that’s pretty impressive, needless to say, it’s going to grab a LOT of attention.
This is all taking place at the Jewish Pentecost festival, which was one of the major festivals Jewish men were expected to return to Jerusalem for. So you have devout Jews from every tribe and place in the city. Historical records apart from the Scriptures tell us that at such times, the population of Jerusalem would swell to several hundred thousand, sometimes perhaps over a million. What’s important to note is that these men are devout Jews. These are people who have been well educated in the Word of God. They know everything there is to know about the coming Messiah, except for one thing: His name.
This sets the stage for what happens next. The apostles come out, and start speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. In other words, the disciples come out, and they start speaking other known languages. Languages that they had never spoken before. Now any of you who have ever tried to learn a foreign language will know that it takes YEARS before you can really master another language, let alone the different dialects that there are. My brother spent a semester studying at Oxford University in England as part of his business degree program at Waldorf College, and he told me upon his return that it was extremely difficult to understand the people in Oxford, England, because they had a British accent, and also had different words for different things than what we would use in rural Iowa. Yet here, the Disciples come out, and they’re speaking in foreign languages they had never spoken before, and so well, that the Jews who where there were saying “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” It’s obvious something big is going on! They’re telling the good news about Jesus to all of these people in the language that they can understand! This isn’t the kind of “speaking in tongues” that you’ll sometimes hear folks of a Charismatic or Pentecostal background talk about. Here you have Scriptural evidence that “tongues” refers to speaking in known languages that hearers can understand.