< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 4 June 2017

FIRST READING Numbers 11:24-30

24Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My Lord Moses, stop them.” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.


PSALM Psalm 25:1-15

1To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 2Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. 3Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. 4Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.  5Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. 6Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. 7Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. 8He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly. 9All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 10For your name’s sake, O Lord, forgive my sin, for it is great. 11Who are they who fear the Lord? he will teach them the way that they should choose. 12They shall dwell in prosperity, and their offspring shall inherit the land. 13The Lord is a friend to those who fear him and will show them his covenant. 14My eyes are ever looking to the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net. 15Turn to me and have pity on me, for I am left alone and in misery.



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 7:37-39

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.



Author and preacher Fred Craddock tells a rather funny story about a lecture he was giving: A few years ago, he was at a seminary and just before the first lecture, one of the students stood up and said, “Dr. Craddock, before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room grew silent. Dr. Craddock said he looked around for the Dean of the seminary, but he was nowhere to be found. The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. Fred was taken aback, so he asked, “Do you mean, do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” The student responded, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” Craddock said, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” Again, the student pressed, “I’m asking you if you’re Pentecostal.” Dr. Craddock said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” The student, beginning to get frustrated, said, ” I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” Fred, still confused said, “I don’t know what your question is.” The student said, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal,” and he walked out.
So, what are we talking about this morning? What exactly are we celebrating on this particular Sunday of the church year? Is the church supposed to use the word Pentecost only as a noun, or can it be used as an adjective? So, I ask each of you the same question: Are you Pentecostal? In spite of the fact that most church members don’t know what the adjective means, the church is constantly trying to broaden our understanding, so that we begin to see the word as more than a noun.
As a noun, Pentecost represents a date, a place, an event in the history of the church, and for many that’s their only understanding. For most church attenders, Pentecost is simply a past event, a memory, an item, something back there somewhere in ancient history. However, as a representative of the church, we insist that the word is also an adjective; something that describes the church. Therefore, for us to be “Pentecostal,” we must be alive in the world. And you thought we were Lutherans! But for many, anytime we talk about Pentecost, the subject is met with a shrug of the shoulders and the question, so?
So, what does that mean to me today? Pentecost is often referred to as the birthday of the church; so. Pentecost is the day the Hebrew people celebrate as the day God gave Moses the Law on Mt. Sinai; so. Pentecost is the day that the mixing of the languages at Babel was reversed, so. Pentecost is the day when God sent the promised Spirit, the Teacher, the Comforter; so. I received the gift of the Holy Spirit when I was baptized. So, what’s your point? What we fail to realize is that every aspect of the event we call Pentecost is important, because all these elements have one thing in common. Pentecost is the day when God fully restored His relationship with us.
Pentecost is the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Pentecost is an association reset, back to the Garden; a reset to a time when God and humankind were in a relationship and walked and talked together. Pentecost is about our relationship with God and the church’s relationship to the world. Therefore, we simply cannot begin the Pentecost season, the longest season in the church year, without a hard look at the first Pentecost and everything it means.
A full report of the first Pentecost in Acts, is hardly surprising, given Luke’s concern to stress the work of the Holy Spirit. Luke often says that all the faithful were together, in order to underscore unity of the community (2:44; 4:24; 5:12). Luke must have been reminded of Moses’ responce to Joshua, in our first reading, when he replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” Additionally, Luke’s reference to the Spirit’s appearance as tongues of fire (v. 3) is reminiscent of references to the tongues of fire issued by the Old Testament writers of Exodus and Isaiah, to suggest God’s presence (Exodus 19:18; Isaiah 66:15-16, 5:24). Furthermore, Luke earlier in his gospel, reminds us that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been promised by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16).
Luke reports that John the Baptist and Jesus both, had promised a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16 and Luke 24:49). The report of speaking in other languages and the ability to understand each other (vv. 4-11) is the reversal of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and another mark of the unity of the community. And this unity is important because our relationship with God isn’t just individual, Jesus isn’t just my “personal Savior”, but the Savior of the entire world, so our relationship with God also happens in community. Community is where we come to be taught, nourished, prepared and sent into the world. This is why Jesus commanded them to “stay in the city until you, meaning all y’all, are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
So, the disciples did as commanded and they stayed in Jerusalem. But they didn’t just sit around, they dug into the Apostles’ teaching; they shared the sacrament; they prayed fervently and they continued celebrating together. That’s how they, in Christ’s Spirit, began the revolution. While remaining together, I’m sure they recalled when Jesus appeared, stood in their presence, and spoke those life-changing words, “Peace be with you … Receive the Holy Spirit!” (John 20:21) They shared how their lives were changed when they heard those dynamite words, and no longer would they drag along in the same old ruts.
No longer would they merely shuffle through their daily routines of getting up, dressing, eating breakfast, going to work, returning home, reading the paper, eating supper, going to bed, getting up, rinse and repeat. Christ’s healing power and dunamis (our word for TNT/dynamite) restored them to wholeness from their “barbed-wire” sickness, that “sickness unto death” described by Søren Kierkegaard; that sickness which hemmed them in, tied them down, isolated them from that Eternal Personality, who alone brings purpose to life and life to purpose. When they received the Holy Spirit, the Presence and the Power of the living Christ, they finally internalized the objective events of Good Friday and Easter. Then they reached out to a world dying to hear the Good News of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ. This is why I say, thank God for Pentecost; a celebration of something that is both a noun and an adjective.
Thank God for giving birth to the church. The day when the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from kittens to tigers, setting them on fire, as people convicted, converted and consecrated to set about turning the world right side up. They became victors, rather than remaining victims. They became revolutionaries, rather than rejects. The Christ who died for them, became the Christ who lived in and with and through them. And this is the same promise God makes to us.
With the disciples we hear Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you. Receive the Spirit.” T. A. Kantonen, in his book, A Theology of Christian Stewardship, says “No one can be a Christian … until the Holy Spirit has led them into the presence of the living Christ, and a genuine personal commitment to Christ has taken place.” So, the question for us today, and for every day, is both simple and profound, “Do we really want the Holy Spirit convicting, convincing, converting, changing and challenging us?”
One day, a man asked his pastor, “Why can’t I receive power, as did the early disciples, and do the same things as Paul, Steven, the disciples, and multitudes of people since?” The pastor responded, “You shall receive power when Holy Spirit has come upon you. How did they prepare to receive the Spirit? How do you?” That parishioner had the same hesitation as many of us. M. G. Kyle once said that “all of us pray for Holy Spirit; but as soon as the tongues of flame appear, we run for the fire department.”
When the Holy Spirit takes root in our lives, it upsets everything. Christ’s presence leaves us dissatisfied with the way we are. No longer can we be focused inward, look for scapegoats, make excuses, refuse to show mercy to others, play the church game. We receive the Holy Spirit no differently than the disciples. They prayed; they participated in worship; they studied the Scriptures; they received the sacraments. And the Spirit began to transform them into new people, not perfect, but new people, with new attitudes, new motives and new behaviors. They obeyed. One day, a young woman who had frequented taverns, asked her pastor if he knew the dirtiest word used in such places. Reluctantly, he said, “No.” Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Commitment!”
Obedience, discipline, commitment – that’s our response to our receiving God’s grace and His Spirit. Of course, we would rather have meetings, talk about prayer, avoid forgiving our enemies, expect worship to comfort us, and focus on the adiaphora or the nonessentials. Charles Schulz, in his book Teenager Is No Disease, has one of the characters ask, “Do you think that anyone is interested in the number of hot dishes the church has served since the Day of Pentecost?” Is it possible that we spend more time talking about potlucks after worship, than we spend sharing our experience of Christ at any time?
The question is, how do we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us? The answer is simple, no differently than the disciples. Too simple? Too scary? Too demanding? Too demeaning for us sophisticated “modern” folks? The disciples put themselves in a position where Holy Spirit could change them. They gathered, they communed, they prayed and they worshiped. Worship was top priority, not something they did in their spare time when they had nothing better to do. I read a poll recently that indicated that most millennials see regular attendance at church as once to twice a month. It does make you wonder if commitment has become the dirtiest word in the American language.
The disciples gathered and they prayed. They put God to the test. They spoke honestly, and sometimes bluntly, knowing that God could handle any complaint or request. They recognized and accepted their oneness in Christ, despite their incredible diversity. They knew that “only the disciplined change the world.” They discovered, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “that before God sent the church into the world, God sent His Spirit into the church.” (John Stott)
Paul summarized the nitty-gritty of Christianity in these words: “If you want the Spirit, build the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). “Get in and give it a hand. Criticize it, yes … in love. Build it up. Stop tearing it down, either by outright antagonism or by deadly apathy.” Someone has said that “evangelism occurs when people are so kindled with the central fire of Christ that they, in turn, set others on fire.”
So, what the church needs, and what we need, if we want the Spirit to work in and through us, is for people to allow God to overpower them, to admit that they don’t have all the answers, to recognize a need for each other, to share both their strengths and weaknesses, to show their humanity and vulnerability. So…Pentecost is much more than events that happened way back when in the church’s history. Pentecost is what happens to us anytime we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. So, how it?
Are we willing to allow God’s Spirit to work in and through us? Are we willing to reveal ourselves as the presence and power of Christ in the world today? How do we keep this aliveness, this fire burning, this Spirit moving? What must exist in us, around us, and through us, if we’re to be Pentecostal? The answer is simple, but hard to put into practice. We need two things: to be in one accord and to be in constant prayer.
When the day of Pentecost came, scripture tells us they were all together in one place. The power of the Holy Spirit came on a day when there was unity and agreement. The Bible does reveal that there were problems in the early church, but they worked those problems out by looking to God for guidance. Second, the disciples receive God’s power when they were in constant prayer.
To see the disciples’ prayer practices, we have to go back into chapter 1, verse 14, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Do you know where the church is growing the fastest? It’s certainly not in the United States, but Korea, Africa, and Latin America. For some years now, there have been massive revivals taking place in these southern countries. Ask the Korean ministers and they’ll tell you that the cornerstone of this revival is prayer.
While it’s true that churches that are together in one accord, can accomplish much, no church can truly be Pentecostal, if it doesn’t pray. Look around and it seems that much of the church has lapsed into a weekly routine of Sunday morning sermons and if they’re lucky, Sunday school. We’ve lost our desire to commit, to be in one accord and to dedicate ourselves to prayer, expecting the Holy Spirit to move in our presence and change lives.
A poem by an unknown author speaks of this: I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day; I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t take time to pray. Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier became each task. “Why doesn’t God help me,” I wondered. He answered: “You didn’t ask.” I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak, I wondered why God didn’t show me, He said: “But you didn’t seek.” I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock, God gently and livingly chided: “My child, you didn’t knock.” I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day. I had so much to accomplish, that I had to take time to pray.
Too many people are trying to go it alone. Too many churches are trying to go it alone. They act as though the only thing that can occur with prayer is what psychologically takes place within a person. If we’re to come into God’s presence, then we must ask to be in His presence. It’s time for us to start using the word Pentecost as an adjective. Pentecost is more than a date on the calendar and events that happened in history, Pentecost is and who we are and what were called to be. Through unity and prayer, we can harness the power of the Holy Spirit. So, let me ask you again: are we Pentecostal? For us to truly be Pentecostal people, we need to commit. Commit to gather regularly in unity and to be a people of prayer. Then in a restored relationship with God and in the power of His Spirit, we can go and be alive in the world, sharing God’s love to everyone in need.

< back to Sermon archive