FIRST READING Acts 2:1–21
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
PSALM Psalm 104:24–34, 35b
24 How manifold are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, with its swarms too many to number, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships to and fro, and Leviathan, which you made for the sport of it. 27All of them look to you to give them their food in due season. 28You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things. 29When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth. 31May the glory of the LORD endure forever; O LORD, rejoice in all your works. 32You look at the earth and it trembles; you touch the mountains and they smoke. 33I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being. 34May these words of mine please God. I will rejoice in the LORD. 35Bless the LORD, O my soul. Hallelujah!
SECOND READING Romans 8:14–17
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
GOSPEL John 14:8–21, 25-27
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 25 I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
FILLING THE HOLE IN OUR HEARTS
A few years ago one of the pastors decided to teach his Confirmation class to recite the Apostles Creed, by giving each Confirmand one phrase to learn. When the day came for the class to give their recitation, they lined up at the front of the church and the first Confirmand began beautifully. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” said the first child. “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord,” said the next. And so it went perfectly, until they came to the child who said, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” At that point there was an embarrassing silence that fell.
The next Confirmand was supposed to say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .” but there was only silence. Finally, one of the girls at the end of the line spoke up and said, “Uh, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today.” Welcome to this celebration of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit was sent by God and descended upon the church.
We might conclude by looking at the state of many churches today, that people who believe in the Holy Spirit are largely absent from the church. The church today hardly resembles the church at Pentecost. This isn’t meant to be a scathing condemnation of modern day churches, rather an observation of how things have changed. The point is, the Holy Spirit is just as relevant to our lives today as He was to first century believers; the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our lives.
British newspaper columnist Bernard Levin wrote an op ed piece sometime back, that I find to be quite descriptive of our situation. Levin wrote, “Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there’s a hole inside of them, that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff into it, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it . . . it aches.” It’s an interesting observation that I think also applies to us here in the U.S. We are a prosperous nation, and for those not struggling with unemployment or under employment, we have an excessive amount of creature comforts.
Yet, with all the prosperity and material possessions we have, many still find that they have a void that they cannot seem to fill. Deepak Chopra, the popular writer and dispenser of new age wisdom, recently said almost the same thing. He said, “There seems to be a hole in the middle of everyday life, as if a rock had been thrown through a plate glass window. But instead of a physical hole, one could call this a ‘meaning,’ hole. It’s a condition I fear many people suffer from. No matter how much we fill our lives with “stuff”, nothing can seem to satisfy the need. This is what the Holy Spirit is about, filling that void, that hole in our lives.
God sent the Holy Spirit upon the church on the day of Pentecost. The first disciples of Jesus were all Jewish and they celebrated the holy days of their ancestors, one of which was Pentecost. Pentecost was a feast day that celebrated the giving of God’s Law to His people through Moses on Mount Sinai. For Christians, Pentecost became the celebration of the gift of God’s Spirit to His people. It’s a story that we’re all familiar with, since we too celebrate Pentecost each year.
Before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit to come upon them. They probably didn’t have a clue what He was talking about, but they didn’t question it. After all, they had already watched Him die and then come back to life. All the questions they might have had about His Lordship had pretty much vaporized. If the Lord said wait, they were going to wait. Now it was Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.
The city was full of visitors who had come to celebrate this sacred festival. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples exactly when the Spirit would come. The scripture says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” They were probably together simply because they were good Jews and they were celebrating a Jewish event. Suddenly, as they were together praying and worshiping God, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. And they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Then, Luke tells us, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” I want to pause here a moment to highlight something important. Notice what the scripture doesn’t say.
Luke tells us that they weren’t speaking in unknown tongues, rather they were speaking in known tongues, known languages of other nations. That makes this was an amazing event. Speaking in tongues, as it’s popularly called, isn’t a common occurrence in our Lutheran churches today and if I were to suddenly burst out speaking in an unfamiliar language, some of you might be a bit troubled. Some might even be a bit freaked out. There could even be one or two who might question my sanity. Somebody might respond like some outsiders did on that first Pentecost, “Hey, the pastor’s drunk. And there may be a couple of you who might even go home telling jokes at my expense.
But imagine that you heard a strong wind and the room shook and then I started speaking in flawless Italian or Chinese or Arabic, some known language I’d never studied. Wouldn’t that change the way you viewed this event? Wouldn’t you go home saying that you had experienced a miracle? That’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost. God arranged for the Holy Spirit to come down on these early Christian believers, on the very day that thousands of Jews from all over the known world were collected in Jerusalem for this celebration.
When they heard the sound of the wind blowing and the disciples speaking, the crowd, as you can imagine, was totally bewildered. They were confused and at the same time amazed, because each one heard his or her own language being spoken. Astounded, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears the good news of God’s grace in our native tongue?” The people gathered in Jerusalem that day were witnessing a miraculous event. No wonder thousands of them responded to the Gospel message and were baptized. This is the reason Pentecost is sometimes known as the birthday of the Church. I saw a cute cartoon on Facebook the other day that said, “If we’re going to say Pentecost is the birthday of the church, then I want cake!” Sorry no cake today.
However, this celebration is different from the other Christian celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. These other celebrations are focused on God’s gift to us of His Son, Jesus Christ, and on Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Meanwhile, Pentecost has at its center, the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the most misunderstood person of the Trinity, and this isn’t without reason. After all, it’s somewhat easier to visualize God the Father, creator and author of all goodness, and Jesus Christ, the son, firstborn of the many children of God, who would be known as joint heirs with Him in glory, as well as their Good Shepherd. After all, the Father and the Son are described in familiar, human terms to which practically any person who has experienced any sort of family or community life can relate. But God the Holy Spirit is different.
The Holy Spirit is often described through comparisons with natural objects or forces. The Holy Spirit is compared to the invisible wind that “blows where it will,” sometimes violently, as a “rushing, mighty wind.” Elsewhere, He is compared to tongues of flame, or to a dove descending from heaven, and so on. Here’s what we need to know about the Holy Spirit; He is God present with us today. It’s that part of the Godhead that fills the empty hole in our lives. It’s the Holy Spirit that helps us make sense out of our lives and helps us understand God’s purpose for us.
Life at times is confusing; we’ve all experienced it. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. We have good days when we think that everything is going to work out beautifully, and then suddenly, out of the blue, we get a phone call, and our world is turned upside down. In these troubling times, we go to the Bible and try to get some guidance there, but sometimes it’s like it’s still written in Greek or Hebrew. The words seem confusing. We have difficulty concentrating. And even when we’re able to understand all the words, we have difficulty relating to them. But we linger with the text, and we pray, “Lord, what is it you’re trying to say to me?” All of a sudden the meaning somehow becomes crystal clear. It’s like God whispered the meaning into our ear. That’s the working of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Tom Long gave a wonderful illustration of this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work. Long was a member of a rock-and-roll band in high school and he was fascinated with the music of the great 50s and 60s blues master Jimmy Reed. Playing the harmonica and guitar, Reed, a share-cropper’s son, brought the rhythm-and-blues music of the Mississippi Delta to the popular rock-and-roll mainstream. He had a significant impact on such stars as Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.
There’s an interesting story behind the Jimmy Reed records, says Long. “If one listened very carefully [to these records], there could sometimes be heard, ever so faintly in the background, a soft woman’s voice murmuring in advance the next verse of the song. The story that grew up around this . . . was that Jimmy Reed was so absorbed in the blues beat and the guitar riffs of his music, that he simply couldn’t remember the words of his own songs. He needed help with the lyrics, and the woman’s voice was none other than that of his wife, devotedly coaching her husband through the recording session by whispering the upcoming stanzas into his ear as he sang.”
This, for the Christian, is the task of the Holy Spirit. It’s God whispering to us, giving us comfort and encouragement and helping us to make sense of our lives. As Paul writes in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are children of God . . .” In other words, it’s the Holy Spirit that quietly whispers into our heart reminding us who we are. It’s the Holy Spirit that interprets Scripture for the believer and relates it to our daily lives. The Holy Spirit helps us make sense out of our lives and helps us understand God’s purpose for us. Furthermore, it’s the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to complete what God has called us to accomplish.
Jesus had given the disciples a commission. We call it the Great Commission. They were told to go into all the world and “make disciples of all people baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Christ] had commanded them.” When you think about this command, it seems like an impossible task. How could they possibly accomplish this assignment? The answer is they couldn’t; not on their own anyway. There’s no way that they could complete Christ’s command by relying only on their own abilities. So Christ made them a promise; “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20). Christ would be with them through the presence of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. This is why they were still in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, awaiting the gift of the Spirit.
In Acts 1 we read, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then a few verses later we read, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:5, 8). It’s the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to do the work that God has called us to accomplish.
I like the way Corrie ten Boom described the work of the Holy Spirit. Corrie was a Dutch Christian whose family sheltered Jews from Hitler’s forces during World War II. Corrie and her family ended up in one of Hitler’s death camps, but Corrie managed to survive. Later she became famous as a Christian author and speaker, because she was so obviously filled with the Spirit of God. Listen to what Corrie ten Boom said to one of her audiences.
Ms. Boom said: “I have a glove here in my hand. The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things. True, it’s not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts. We, are like gloves. It’s the Holy Spirit in us, who is the hand, who does the job. We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.”
That’s our main task if we want to do anything great for God; we need to make room for the hand of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills the hole in our life. He helps us make sense of life and helps us understand God’s purpose for our life. And the Holy Spirit gives us the power to complete what God has called us to accomplish. Another way we could say this is, the Holy Spirit helps us become all God has created us to be.
One of the images used in Scripture to help us understand the work of the Holy Spirit is that of fire. You’ll remember that tongues of fire appeared above the heads of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Some denominations use a flame to indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit in their church logo. The symbol of fire represents the work of the Spirit helping us become what God intends for us to be.
There’s a story that comes from frontier days about three women who were members of a Bible study. One day they were reading in their lesson for the day that the Spirit was a refining fire. They didn’t understand what that meant, a refining fire, so one of them volunteered to go to a nearby silversmith and see what that meant. When she went to see the silversmith, she didn’t tell him why she was really there.
The silversmith explained the process of refining silver this way. He said you want to be sure you put the silver in the hottest part of the fire. That’s so all the impurities in the silver will be burned away. He also said that you had to watch it at all times to make sure it wasn’t in there too long. If it’s there too long, it would be ruined. The woman was fascinated by his explanation. She asked, “How do you know when it’s done?”
His answer was, “That’s easy: when you see your reflection in it.”
God desires to see His reflection in our lives. Scripture tells us that we were created in God’s image. When we went astray, he sent His Son to save us from our sin-distorted lives. After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, God sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit to work in us, bearing witness with our Spirit, to help us be restored to a right relationship with God. When that work is accomplished, God will be able to see His reflection in our lives.
All of this is what we mean when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” It’s God attempting to fill the hole in our lives. It’s God helping us to make sense of our lives and understand God’s purpose for us. It’s God giving us the power to accomplish what God has called us to do, and it’s God working in our lives, helping us to become what God created us to be, persons in whom He, and others, can see God’s reflection.