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Sermon for 27 May 2012

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, 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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
24O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. 27These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. 31May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works— 32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
35bBless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

SECOND READING Romans 8:22-27
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
GOSPEL John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
26”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. Chapter 16 4b“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

With the temperature outside nearing 90 degrees today, who wouldn’t enjoy a gentle breeze if they had to be out in the heat? Anytime it’s warm and humid, it’s amazing just how refreshing the wind can be when we’re hot and tired. However, as we’ve been reminded this past week with Tropical storm Alberto off our coast and Hurricane Bud off the Pacific coast of Mexico, June 1st is the official start of hurricane season. And with Hurricane Hugo still fresh in everyone’s mind, we also know that a strong enough wind can have devastating results. But hurricanes aren’t the only storms that trouble us. Strong winds come in many forms, each causing its own unique fears and consequences.
It was little more than a year ago on April 27th that the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded, hit parts of the southern U. S. causing catastrophic destruction in five of our neighboring states. Four of the tornadoes which swept through this area that day, were destructive enough to be rated EF5 tornadoes, the highest possible ranking. EF5 tornadoes are extremely rare and yet on this day alone there were four EF5 tornadoes which caused millions of dollars in damage and killed some 346 people. It was a tragedy that we hope will never be repeated.
But in our hopes, there’s also the reality that straight-line winds, tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons have always been with us and will continue to be a source of anxiety in the future. We know this because violent storms have been documented in our literature. The Bible as well records in several places where the wind was a source of concern. In the story of Jonah for example, the Lord sent a wind so fierce that a violent storm arose and threatened to break apart the ship. So the ship’s crew threw cargo over the side, to keep from losing the vessel. (Jonah 1:4-5) In the New Testament, Mark (6:45-51) records that it was in the midst of a storm that Jesus came walking across the water and when talking about the signs of the end time, Luke records Jesus as saying, “that Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” (Luke 21:10b-12) And depending on who you listen to, there are also disturbing indications that with the earth gradually warming, the storms we’re seeing will likely become ever more violent. For anyone who has ever experienced one of these violent storms, it’s something that we never want to be in the path of again. So fearful are we of traitorous wind and tornados that we build shelters to hide in and reinforce buildings against them. Additionally, we also calm our anxieties by making them the topic of books and movies.
Probably the most famous tornado of all time exists only in a work of fiction. It’s a story almost all of us are familiar with. There once was a little girl named Dorothy who lived with her aunt and uncle in Kansas during the Depression. One day a violent tornado struck their home. This powerful storm takes Dorothy and her little dog Toto to an entirely new world. There’s not one single thing in this new place that resembles the world in which she previously lived. In this new place there’s immense beauty, beauty of which she had never dreamed. There’s also danger. Along the way Dorothy develops friendships with a Scarecrow who needs a brain, a Tin Man who wants a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who desperately needs courage. Together these four, plus Toto, have a mighty adventure. By the time Dorothy returns home to Kansas, she learns many lessons about life. It was an adventure that all began with a mighty wind.
As we do every year on this Sunday, we hear the reading from Acts that begins with the sound of a violent wind. Some translations call it a mighty wind while our translation from this morning uses the term violent. Nothing in the story gives us reason to believe it was a tornado since no damage was recorded. We simply know from our reading that this powerful wind filled the room where the disciples of Jesus were gathered. I did some research into the original Greek and found something very interesting. The root of this word for violent or mighty is bee’-os which is a primary word meaning life, that is, literally the present state of existence. When the Holy Spirit descended that day, the disciples were given new life, their present state of existence changed in a mighty way. The disciples didn’t realize it at the time, but this wind would carry them on an adventure that would last for the rest of their lives; a journey that would be both fascinating and frightening, delightful and dangerous, life-changing and life-surrendering.
For the faithful worshiper of God, it’s a story we’ve heard many times over the years. On the Day of Pentecost a violent wind filled the house where the disciples were gathered and what seemed to be tongues of fire came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. But the violent wind and the infilling of the Holy Spirit was just the beginning. The timing of this event was important as well.
The Day of Pentecost was a Jewish holy day, and the city was filled with Jews from every known nation on earth. When they heard the sound of this strong wind and heard the disciples speaking in various languages, a crowd gathered in bewilderment. One reason they were puzzled, was that each person in the crowd heard their own language being spoken. Remember they represented every nation known at that time and yet each of them heard the disciples in their own language.
It was like the United Nations General Assembly where a speaker is speaking in his or her own language and interpreters are translating the words and transferring them to the delegates through head-sets. Except on this day of Pentecost, there was no need for interpreters or head-sets; the people heard the Good news of God’s saving grace in their own language, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Utterly amazed, people in the crowd asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our own native language? In essence they were all asking, “What does this mean?” It was a good question then and it’s still a good question for us today!
First and foremost, it means that God was there; that God, as promised, sent the Advocate. There’s simply no other explanation for Pentecost. The wind, the tongues of fire, the crowd who heard the Gospel, each in his or her own language, witnessed a world-changing event that day. God was breathing life into to a new movement, a movement that was destined to sweep across the earth. The only explanation for this miracle to occur, at a time when Jews from every nation were in Jerusalem, is that it was all part of God’s plan. God was preparing the way for the Gospel to enter into every land. The gospel is a universal faith and that was exactly what God intended. St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:10, that one day “every knee shall bow”, not just every Lutheran knee or Western knee, nor every Caucasian knee or every Bible-belt knee, but every knee on this earth will bow at the name of Jesus.
It’s not just wishful thinking. It’s a prophecy being fulfilled even as we speak. I mentioned a few weeks ago that even though the Christian movement has stalled for a while in America and Europe, it’s exploding in many parts of the world. In 1900 80% of all Christians lived in Europe or America. Today that statistic has been halved: only 40% of Christians live in Europe or America; and fully 60% live in the developing world.
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when He said it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Of the world’s six billion people, more than two billion are now Christians; one-third of the world’s population. Of that 2 billion, 480 million Christians are living in Latin America. There are 313 million in Asia and some 360 million Christians in Africa. Central and South America in the last generation have experienced an explosion of Christian converts. In Asia, China continues to be the big story. David Aikman, in Jesus in Beijing, estimates that there are currently 100 million Christians in China, most of whom worship largely in underground churches.
Jesus’ command to “go into all the world” was intended to be a universal command. Therefore it was no accident that the Spirit of God fell upon the church, on this particular day, when so many foreigners were present in Jerusalem. This was God’s plan all along. God’s intension is that all the world’s people will someday be His people. That’s the promise of Scripture. But this was just the first miracle of the day.
The second miracle that took place that day was the change that occurred in the lives of the disciples. Remember, these men who were testifying had basically been in seclusion since Christ’s crucifixion out of fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities. The resurrection buoyed their spirits, but it didn’t change them into flaming apostles of Jesus Christ, boldly proclaiming His name and performing miracles that all the world could witness. Yet, here they were witnessing in such a way that even strangers whose native language was something other than Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, knew what they were saying. The whole event came as a shock to those gathered and not all received this miracle with open hearts.
Some of the onlookers questioned this event and a few even made fun of the disciples. I guess you could say that there are cynics in every crowd. “They’re drunk, they’ve had too much wine,” was the response of some of the onlookers. But Simon Peter, this time standing with the eleven, responds to this allegation and puts things straight. Filled with God’s Spirit, Peter speaks up, and this time he got it right. Somehow his hoof-in-the-mouth disease had been cured. This in and of itself qualifies as a miracle. But God wasn’t done yet. To top it all off, Peter is uncharacteristically eloquent.
Peter raises his voice and addresses the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’” Peter spoke and the crowd listened: it’s an event that can only be described as miraculous.
But it wasn’t just Peter who was transformed that day. On this day Thomas the Doubter became Thomas the Dynamic. He later took the Gospel to India where he was martyred. Simon the Zealot, whose name implies that he was more interested in politics than in religion, became known, not for his politics, but as an effective preacher of the Gospel. There are no reliable records, but tradition says he was killed for his preaching. Nearly all of these men who were testifying eventually paid the ultimate price for their devotion to Christ. John MacArthur, in his book The Twelve Disciples, tells about the price they paid.
According to McArthur, Peter was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die as his Lord had died. (This occurred under the persecutions of the Emperor Nero in about 65-67 A.D.) The apostle Andrew died lashed to a cross, rather than being nailed to it, in order to prolong his suffering. James wanted a crown of glory; Jesus gave him a cup of suffering. It was Herod Agrippa I, that had him beheaded (Acts 12:1-3). He was the first of the twelve to be killed for his faith. Philip was martyred by stoning at Heliopolis (Asia Minor) 8 years after the death of James. Stephen, of course, was stoned to death as the apostle Paul, then known as Saul, looked on. There is no reliable record of how the disciple Nathanael died; one report said he was tied in a sack and thrown in the sea; another says he was crucified. Either way, there’s no doubt he was martyred. Early traditions say Matthew was burned at the stake. And as I mentioned last week, nothing is known about the fate of James the Less or Matthias, the disciple who was chosen to replace Judas in Acts 1. These were rather obscure figures, but undoubtedly they paid a price as well.
Tradition also indicates that only one of the twelve disciples probably died a natural death, the beloved disciple John, the one to whom was given the care of Jesus’ mother. It’s said he died in 98 A.D. According to Jerome, John was so frail in his final days at Ephesus that he had to be carried into the church. One phrase was constantly on his lips: “My little children love one another. It’s the Lord’s command, and if this alone be done, it is enough.” Can there be any doubt that something miraculous happened on the Day of Pentecost, something that could only have come from God? The writer of Acts tells us that three thousand people were added to the church that day. What an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was! And there’s more.
The third miraculous thing that happened that day was that it was ordinary people who were used by God in an extraordinary way. None of these men were high-powered executives, none were entertainment superstars or high government officials. They were just ordinary men with ordinary dreams, until the Holy Spirit fell upon them on the Day of Pentecost. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Timothy Rice got it right in their portrayal of the disciples in their 1971 rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Remember the one song sung by the disciples? Always hoped that I’d be an Apostle, Knew that I would make it if I tried. Then when we retire we can write the gospels, So they’ll all talk about us when we die.
The disciples were very much like you and me. Before Pentecost they were still looking out primarily for their own selfish interests. They were weak, confused men who were caught up in something they didn’t really understand. But after Pentecost, they were so transformed that they turned the world upside down. It’s a miracle that needs to take place in our church today. But for this to happen we need to surrender ourselves to God like the disciples surrendered themselves to the Lord. We need to pray that whatever it costs, God would use us to touch our family members, touch our neighbors and touch our co-workers as the disciples touched the lives of people around them. We too need to become new people. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will work through us in such a way that we can make a real difference in our community.
Some may need to overcome things like our shyness and timidity to do that. Pastor Edward Markquart tells about someone he knows who did just that. He was a young man named David Hughes and, at the time, he was a blocking back for the Seattle Seahawks. Hughes came to Markquart’s church to the men’s Bible study to speak publicly for the first time about Christ. Hughes told the men gathered there that day that he was more scared of talking to them about Christ, than he was of preparing for a professional football game.
“He was not a professionally groomed Christian speaker,” says Markquart, “and that was what was good about him. He just quietly told what had happened in his life. He told of the time when he was eleven years old and his father, a policeman, was killed, and they had a huge police escort at his father’s funeral. The eleven year old David was strong . . . or so he thought . . . and fought back all tears. Time passed. Years passed.
Recently, a policeman in Seattle was killed in the line of duty and there was an enormous police escort at this officer’s funeral. Witnessing the event, David Hughes pulled his car off to the side of the road and started to weep uncontrollably, after fourteen years. For fourteen years, the feelings from his father’s own funeral had been bottled up in him, but now he was ready to talk. He talked about the importance of reading his Bible every day, of praying every day, of worshiping God every day.”
Markquart says, “I was so glad we heard this man before he got professional with his words, while he still had a nervous stomach, while he had not learned to be smooth in his delivery. God touched David Hughes’ heart, spirit and tongue so that he spoke the right words to us.” That’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost more than two thousand years ago.
The Holy Spirit fell on a group of untrained, uneducated Galileans and they started speaking with such sincerity and power that everyone who heard knew immediately what they were saying and were touched by their words. And the same thing can happen in our church today. I pray that the Holy Spirit will take my words and translate them in our lives so that all will know that Jesus Christ died for our salvation. I pray that our desires will be led by that same Spirit to translate God’s love to everyone we meet, to the end that the day will draw nearer when everyone on earth will know of God’s love for them and that they are a child of God. Our pray should be that each of us will surrender ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit, in order that the day will be hasten when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.
What promise that day holds when we will be one with God and Jesus will be all in all. God through His Holy Spirit is here today, just as He was there long ago. All God needs is for each of us to surrender to His leading. We don’t have to hear the sound of a mighty wind. God also speaks in a still small voice. Let us pray to hear God’s voice today and that He will use in a mighty way by the Holy Spirit, top His glory.

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