Summary: A sermon for the Day of Pentecost, Series B. It is also a day to confirm the faith of those who completed confirmation.
The Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2009, “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 to empower us to proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s victory over sin and death. Through the same Spirit, enable us to come to deeper faith in your gift of redemption, kindle in us the fire of your love, and strengthen our lives for service in your kingdom. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
There has, for centuries, been a debate among Biblical scholars as to just when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples historically occurred. According to John’s Gospel, it occurred on the evening of his resurrection, when Jesus first appeared to his disciples huddled behind locked doors, fearing for his 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; 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 ere huddled together in one place, perhaps still fearing for their lives, certainly still trying to come to terms with their experience of Christ’s death and resurrection, when the Spirit of God came upon them.
And what a difference there is between these two accounts, in the way that they describe this great event event. John tells us that the risen Jesus simply breathed on his disciples, giving them the Spirit. Luke, true to his penchant for storytelling, uses a little more dramatic description, telling us that the Spirit came upon the disciples like the rush of mighty wind, and visibly appeared like tongues of fire.
But regardless of the historical date that God poured out his Spirit upon the disciples, or regardless of how that even unfolded, we can not deny that God’s Spirit came upon the disciples. Something profound took place to enable those frightened disciples to begin to comprehend God’s gift of redemption in Christ’s death and resurrection, which empowered them to unbolt the doors behind which they had been hiding, 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 what 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. And as a result of the inspiration he had received from God’s Spirit, the Christian church was born.
Perhaps it is a good thing that we do not have a precise date for the gift of God’s Spirit, or an eyewitness description of just how it was given. For the gift of God’s Spirit is not something that can be relegated to the past, as an historic event, but an ongoing process that continues to inspire and bring people to faith to this day. So let’s look at some of the gifts that God’s Spirit inspires in the life of Christ’s disciples.
First, if we consider the passage from John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit gave to the disciples the ability to forgive or retain sins. As I have often told my kids in confirmation class, to give or receive forgiveness is pure grace. If we disobey our parents, or if we do something that truly hurts another person, may be something that we control.
But we cannot do anything to cause our parents or the person we may have hurt by our actions to forgive us. And if they do forgive us, it is a gift of love. God’s Spirit, through enabling us to comprehend the forgiving love of God in Christ’s death and resurrection, leads us to the desire to forgive and to know the forgiveness of others. And even if we do not obtain the forgiveness of others, we can, if we truly repent, know the forgiveness of God.