Summary: A sermon preached on the Day of Pentecost, with the celebration of confirmation. It speaks to the Spirit’s empowerment for mission.

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The Day of Pentecost, May 27, 2007 “Series C”

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 that we celebrate your outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church, open our hearts and minds to understand and acknowledge your presence among us. And through your Spirit, enable our faith to continue to grow, and inspire us with the ability to proclaim your saving grace to those we meet, that others might be led to know and value your redeeming grace in Jesus the Christ, our crucified, risen and ascended Lord. This we ask, in his holy name. Amen.

I am always surprised at how God’s Spirit continues to open my mind to new understandings of the Scriptures. For example, haven’t most of us pictured the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the Christian Church? It is the day in which we celebrate God’s gift of his Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and disciples to give them courage and strength to proclaim the Gospel. And of course, the text that we cite in support of this concept is our lesson from Acts 2, which Alex read quite well, I might add.

But according to Richard P. Carlson, in his commentary on this text, “to describe Pentecost as the birthday of the church is not, however, the vision of Pentecost presented in Acts 2. An inclusive community marked by word and sacrament has already been gathered around the risen Jesus.” End quote. And as we read the end of Luke’s Gospel, and the first chapter of Luke’s Book of Acts, Dr. Carlson’s point is quite clear. [1]

For example, Luke tells us in Acts 1, that following the Ascension of the risen Christ, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, and after naming the eleven Apostles, states: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. In those days, Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons)…” and led that congregation through the process of selecting Matthias to replace Judas.

Thus, the Church of Christ was already formed and worshiping together prior to the Day of Pentecost, which according to Dr. Carlson, “was a type of thanksgiving festival in which Jews from across the known world gathered in Jerusalem. It occurred fifty days after Passover. Hence the scene in Acts 2 takes place on a Friday morning, not on a Sunday morning.” End quote. [2]

Of course, the fact that the Church has decided to celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit upon the church on a Sunday rather than a different day each year, makes sense. It is the day set aside each week for the church to gather together around word and sacrament to give God praise in remembrance of Christ’s victory over sin and death. For I believe the significance of the fact that Luke tells us that the Christian community of one hundred and twenty believers “were all together in one place,” is more important than the exact date. For according to Dr. Carlson, it tells us that the recipients of the Spirit is not just the “twelve apostles” but the entire community of believers.

In his words, “The Spirit is not interested in empowering a select, elite group to bring a hidden message to a handful of people. Rather, the Spirit empowers an inclusive mission carried out by an entire community. What is birthed on Pentecost, then, in not a church, but a church in mission under the power and guidance of the Spirit whose goal is summed up in the final line from the Joel prophecy: whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Peter’s entire sermon has one goal: to make known that the Lord is none other than the crucified and risen Jesus the Christ, in whom divine redemption is now freely poured out. What we celebrate at Pentecost is not how God established a church, but how God, through the Spirit, continues to empower every single member of the community to bring the name of Christ into the world. Pentecost is the miracle of inclusive mission that continues anew each day through the Spirit’s empowerment of each member of the Community of Christ.” End quote [3]

I can’t think of a better definition of the role of God’s Spirit in the life of Christ’s Church, than to empower us for mission. From the time that we are baptized, God’s Spirit is at work equipping us for mission, through learning to hear and understand God’s Word, and empowering us to grow in faith through our worship in the presence of the risen Christ as gather around his table.

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