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Sermon for Sunday 20 MAy 2018

FIRST READING Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”


PSALM Psalm 139:1-16

1Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 2You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways. 3Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. 4You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. 5Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 6Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? 7If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. 8If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 9Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. 10If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” 11Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. 12For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 13I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. 14My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. 15Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them. 16How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them!



1When the day of Pentecost arrived, {the disciples} were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and 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, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on 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 on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”


GOSPEL John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

26{Jesus said,} “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. 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, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12I 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 authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”



Several years ago, a man was asked to be a guest lecturer in Latin America. Since he wasn’t fluent in Spanish he asked if he could use a translator. Despite the language barrier he wanted to identify with his audience, so he decided to begin his talk by saying, “Good evening, ladies and gentleman” in Spanish. Confident that a simple greeting in the local language was safe from misunderstanding, he arrived at the auditorium a little early, but then realized he didn’t know the Spanish words for ladies and gentlemen. Being a rather resourceful individual, he went to where the restrooms were located, looked at the signs on the two doors, and memorized those two words.
When the audience arrived and he was introduced, he stood up and warmly greeted the audience by saying, Buenas noches, baños y armarios escoba.” The audience was shocked, the people seemed stunned. Seeing the surprise in the faces of the audience he didn’t know whether he had offended them, or if perhaps they hadn’t heard him or understood him. So he decided to repeat his greeting. Again in Spanish he said, “Buenas noches, baños y armarios escoba.” Again nothing, nothing but stares and silence.
Finally, one person in the audience began to snicker. Pretty soon the entire audience was roaring in laughter. Finally, the translator leaned over and whispered to the gentleman, what you really said was, “Good evening, bathrooms and broom closets!” It pays to know the language of the people to whom you’re speaking. Of course, this does work both ways.
Those who come here from other lands and have not been taught English, generally have difficulty with our language. A minister from South America was touring the U.S. to raise money for the missionaries and ministries in his home country. At a church luncheon, he was telling the guests about his home country, his family, and the important work being supported there. As he concluded, he said, “And I have a charming and understanding wife but, alas, no children.” After a pause, he said, haltingly, “You see, my wife is unbearable.”
Puzzled glances in the audience prompted him to try to clarify himself by saying: “What I mean is, my wife is inconceivable.” Hearing the laughter from the audience, he realized his mistake, but floundered deeper into the intricacies of the English language by correcting triumphantly, “That is, my wife, she is impregnable!” Of course, in this country, with our many accents and colloquialisms, it’s sometimes difficult to understand people from the various regions.
A New Yorker was visited the home of a Kentucky business colleague. The wife introduced him to their lovely little daughter. “Her name is Marlon,” said the proud mom, “after ma favorite movie star.” The New Yorker asked, “You named your daughter after Marlon Brando?” “No silly,” said the mom, “ah named her after Marlon Monroe.” It helps if you can understand the language of the person with whom you’re speaking. That’s one of the things that I love about the story of the first Pentecost.
We hear the story each year at this time, and most of us know the story well. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and 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. “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?’ Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia” and the list continues. When we stop and think about it, it was an amazing event!
I sometimes wonder how that must have felt that day for those staying in Jerusalem to hear the gospel message spoken in their native language. Over the years I’ve visited several foreign countries and I know what it’s like to be surrounded by people speaking a different language. I also know what it’s like, to seemingly out of nowhere, hear English being spoken in the midst of a different dialect. Our ears are tuned to hear familiar voices and familiar languages. For those visiting Jerusalem, who spoke one of those 15 different languages listed, it must have been a surprise.
Ron Mehl, author of the book, Love Found a Way, tells about one of his favorite movie scenes. It takes place in the classic Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street. A little girl is brought into a department store to visit Santa Claus. The girl’s guardian isn’t sure they should have come, since the girl only speaks Dutch. The worried woman doesn’t want the girl’s tender heart to be disappointed by a Santa who understands only English, so she hesitates. But as Santa takes the little one onto his lap, he looks into her eyes and begins gently speaking to her . . . in Dutch! The little girl’s face lights up like a lamp, because Santa knows her language. I wonder if the writers of this movie even knew, that once upon a time, such a thing really did happen. On the day of Pentecost, a group of Galileans were testifying of God’s love and sacrifice in Jesus and people from at least 15 countries heard them speak, in their own native tongue!
Think about that for a moment. Think how difficult communication is, even among those who speak the same language. Communication can be difficult even among people who share the same experiences. How many couples in counseling say, “We’ve lost the ability to communicate.” And here on the day of Pentecost we have people from across the spectrum of languages and nationalities and experiences, understanding these humble messengers of God. After all, most of Jesus’ followers were uneducated fishermen from Galilee. When we take the time to consider these events, I believe there is much we can learn from the first Pentecost. The first thing we see is that the Christian faith is a universal faith. It’s universal, not in the sense that we can make it fit our own desires, but universal in the sense that it’s meant to be shared with everyone.
People from differing nations that day understood the Gospel message. Why, because, the message was meant for all nations and all peoples. Remember the promise God made to Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” (Gen. 22:18.) Like most people around the globe, we, in this land, are somewhat ethnocentric. Ethnocentric is of course a fifty-cent word that means we think everybody on earth ought to be like us, to look like us, talk like us, and think like us. And too often we think God ought to favor us. I mean after all, we, at one point, claimed to be a Christian nation. At least in our own minds we are. I wonder what God thinks of us today . . . really. Many people are actually shocked when they realize that the God we serve is a universal God.
Intellectually we understand this to be true, but on a more basic level, we want a God who is very much like us. Surely God speaks English as His native tongue. Surely God has western values. This has to be the case; look at every picture of Jesus. He has blue eyes and Caucasian skin tones. That’s the way we paint Him. Yet, Jesus was a Jew and every person I’ve met of Middle Eastern descent has a dark olive complexion and dark eyes. We maintain a very narrow view of God, that is until we meet a Christian from Africa, or China, or Europe, or South America, who has very different ideas about God, and it’s often disturbing. We, far too often, do our best to put God in a box. It’s no wonder J. B. Phillips said to us, a few decades back, that Our God is Too Small.
We know that there are wonderful Christian people in almost every nation in the world. Naturally they see the world through the lens of their own culture and they think their way is best as well. I think God gets a good laugh at human kind’s narrow-mindedness. The truth is that God is a universal God. God created humankind in His image (Gen. 1:26.) God is the God of the Chinese and the Congolese, of the Iraqis and the Afghans, as well as the Canadians and the Americans. God has no favorites. What God favors is justice and righteousness, (Ps. 89:14) compassion and love (John 13:34) wherever those characteristics are found. What God is seeking is the day when all of the world’s people will know God’s love and God’s peace and will understand themselves to be brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christian faith is a universal faith, it’s meant to be shared with all. That’s the first thing this passage says to us. The second thing it tells us is that God comes to us just as we are. The people from these many nations heard the Gospel spoken directly to them, in their own language and this is very important.
Ron Mehl tells another story that speaks directly to this truth. He tells of a time when the children’s choir of his church, all six hundred of them, sang for a service. After they sang, Mehl learned that a certain little red-headed boy was in the audience. The youngster was deaf. As the concert progressed, the lad was at least mildly interested in watching the singing children, but there was no message there for him. How could there be? He couldn’t hear any of the words. Suddenly however, everything changed. The choir began to sing in this little guy’s language, signing the words with their hands as well as singing with their voices.
They were singing and signing the chorus of the song: Jesus we crown You with praise, Jesus we crown You with praise, We love and adore You, bow down before You, Jesus we crown You with praise. Upon seeing this “The boy suddenly stood up in his seat. His eyes lit up, as big as saucers. Suddenly, it seemed that they were singing to him! He could hardly contain his joy. His little hands began to sing as he signed along with the choir. “When the choir finished, that excited little redheaded boy thought the evening had been planned just for him.” Maybe he was right.
No matter who we are, or where we’re from, God speaks our language. We don’t have to have a Theological degree to hear God speak to us. We don’t have to speak English. We don’t even have to speak or hear at all. God’s language is the language of love, mercy and forgiveness that speaks to the heart. In fact, according to St. Paul, simple people may hear God more clearly than those who are encumbered with many degrees.
In First Corinthians we read, “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (vs. 20-25.) Then a little further he writes, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (vs. 26-27.) This is not to say that Paul or I are anti-intellectual. I believe in the value of education. But we dare not think that God speaks only to the sophisticated. God speaks to even the simplest among us. God speaks to us where we are. That’s not only true of our intellectual differences, but it’s true of our personality as well.
Stop and consider just how different the people you know are. Some may be easy going. They seem to get along with everyone they meet. Nothing ever seems to ruffle them. Others, on the other hand, are very precise. They want everything done just right. Some people seem to be extroverts. They get energized by being around other people. Some folks like to be in the limelight; they make every event they participate in more enjoyable. Then there are some people who like being in control. They get impatient with those who are not as action oriented as they are.
I read a story the other day about a woman who was in this latter category. She liked being in control. And because of her controlling nature, she made life difficult for her husband. To make matters worse, it seemed that the longer they were married, the more domineering she was becoming. It got so bad that her husband insisted that she see a psychiatrist. After much pleading, much to her husband’s surprise, she finally agreed to go. An appointment was set and a week later the couple went to the psychiatrist. An hour later when she came out of the office, the husband asked, “How’d it go, dear. Was it helpful?” “I’m not sure,” she replied. “It took most of the hour to convince the doctor that the couch would look a whole lot better on the right instead of the left side of the door.” To say that people are different is an understatement.
But then again that’s part of the beauty of God’s creating activity. To a certain extent, all of us are different, that’s the way God created us. It’s part of our genetic code. Some of us are somewhat emotional; some of us are more intellectual. I’m convinced that God speaks to engineers differently than He speaks to artists, farmers and architects. Engineers need all the nuts and bolts of the faith. Artists sense a bigger canvas. People of the land hear God’s voice in creation; architects see God’s work in steel and stone. The point is that God comes to us where we are. God speaks our language. God speaks to us according to our own needs. And God uses different means to speak to us according to those needs.
In worship, some people respond to scripture, others to the liturgy, still others to the music and sometimes a few to the sermon. It’s the beauty of God’s handiwork, each person is unique. Jesus came to St. Paul in a very different way than he did to St. Peter. God comes to us individually as well as corporately. God speaks to us according to our needs. God comes to us where we are. And that’s the meaning of the incarnation. We cannot separate Pentecost from the entire Christ event. In Jesus, God entered this world so that He might draw close to humankind . . . to reveal to us God’s nature . . . to help us prepare for His coming kingdom. God came to us at Christmas in Jesus Christ, and God came to us at Pentecost in the form of the Holy Spirit.
God came speaking our language that we might know God and have life through Him. It’s our mission to translate the Gospel into a language that our friends and neighbors can understand as well. Marilyn Laszlois is a Bible translator in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. In the small village of Hauna, Marilyn teaches the people to read and write their own language and has aided in the formation of a strong church.
One day, a canoe loaded with 15 people from a distant village arrived to receive medical help. They stayed for a week in Marilyn’s village and attended services where they heard the Gospel for the first time. Before they returned home, the visitors asked, “Could you come to our village so that we might know about God, too?” So several weeks later, some Christians set out for the village.
When they arrived, they observed a new building, very different from the surrounding houses, standing in the center of the village. When the missionaries asked about the structure, they were told, “That’s God’s house! That’s our church!” This puzzled the missionaries since there hadn’t been any Christian work in that part of the country. So they asked again, “What’s the building for?” “Well, we saw that church in your village, and our people decided to build a church, too. Now we’re waiting for someone to tell us about God in our language.” We have the same opportunity before us today.
Pentecost is a reminder that God fulfilled His promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28) and articulated that outpouring in human language. I believe there are people in this community who are waiting to hear the Gospel in a language they can understand. We can’t afford to wait for them to learn our language, the language of words like incarnation and transfiguration. Those words mean little to those who don’t know the language of the church. We need to translate the Gospel into words and actions that can easily be understood; words like compassion, love, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s our prayer and hope that God’s Spirit will act in us, upon us, and through us. As children of God, we hear Him speak to each of us according to our needs. It’s also our call, to go out into the world and translate God’s message to the world according to its needs.

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