Summary: A sermon for the Day of Pentcost, series B
The Day of Pentecost, June 8, 2003 "Series B"
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, on this day we humbly give you thanks for the gift of your Holy Spirit, poured out upon the church that it might be empowered to proclaim the good news of Christ’s victory over sin and death, and enable us to come to faith in your gift of redemption. Kindle in us the fire of your love, and strengthen our lives for service in your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In all honesty, there has been a debate among Biblical scholars as to just when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred. According to the Gospel of John, it happened on Easter evening, when our risen Lord first appeared to his disciples as they were gathered in the upper room behind locked doors, fearing for their lives.
John tells us that Jesus, whom the disciples had seen die on a Roman cross and buried in a rock-hewn tomb, suddenly appeared among them, saying "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But according to Luke, as we read in our first lesson for this morning, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred forty-nine days later, on the Jewish festival of Pentecost. Again, the disciples were huddled together in one place, perhaps still fearing for their lives, certainly still trying to understand their experience of Christ’s death and resurrection, when the Spirit of God came upon them.
And even if one might question Luke’s dramatic description of the rush of a mighty wind and the divided tongues of fire resting on each disciple, or the actual date that the gift of God’s Holy Spirit was given, something profound took place that enabled that frightened cadre of persons to begin to comprehend God’s gift of redemption in Christ’s death and resurrection, something which empowered them to unbolt the doors behind which they hid, and go out into the street to proclaim the Gospel.
Just think of the irony, the reversal of expectation that the Holy Spirit brought into the life of Peter. Here was a man, who, on the night our Lord was betrayed, arrested, and taken off on a course of events that would result in his crucifixion, was so afraid for his own life, that he denied three times that he even knew Jesus.
But through the power of the Holy Spirit, this same man who cowered in fear for his own life, became the first person to publicly proclaim that through Christ’s death and resurrection, God had acted to redeem the world from sin and death. He preached the first Christian sermon, and as a result of the inspiration he received, the Christian church was born.
Today we celebrate God’s gift of his Spirit. All of our lessons for this morning focus on the gift of God’s Spirit – from our Lord’s promise that the Spirit would comfort, lead and empower his disciples following his return to the Father – to Luke’s description of how our Lord’s promise came to be fulfilled in the lives of his disciples.
Too often, as we read these lessons from Scripture, we read them as history, as something that took place thousands of years ago. And in fact, Christ’s life, death and resurrection was a life lived in history, which can be historically dated, an event upon which we look back in time and remember as unique.
But the gift of the Holy Spirit is not an event that can be relegated to the annuls of history. According to one of the commentaries that I read on the significance of this day, it stated, "Pentecost is a festival of the Gospel, but the giving of the Holy Spirit is not confined to one time, one place, or one group of people. God continues to pour out his Spirit upon believers in and through the word and the sacraments, and sometimes in ways that are stranger than the story that Luke relates in our lesson from Acts." End quote.
How true this is! The fact that the church has been empowered to proclaim the message of God’s redemption and saving grace in Christ’s death and resurrection ever since Peter’s first sermon, is witness to the ongoing presence of God’s Spirit still at work among us.
In fact, I stand before you this morning in testimony to the power of God’s Spirit. Even after twenty-five years of ordained ministry, I am still amazed that I am standing here, in a pulpit. As my mother will assert, my childhood would certainly not have led her to believe that I would be standing before you today, proclaiming God’s word. Let it suffice to say that I gave her my share of heart aches and worries as a child.