St. Luke’s is blessed with two wonderful confirmation students, Kenneth and Orla, and our Children’s Minister, Carmen, who co-preached this sermon with me. They did faithful study and prayer on the Pentecost story and I encourage you to listen to our whole sermon here.
The following is an excerpt from my portion of the sermon for Pentecost.
Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 31st, 2020
Texts: Psalm 104 | Acts 2:1-21 | John 7:37-39
Friends, I want you to know that God’s Spirit is active and alive today. God’s Spirit is poured out among us even now. God kept God’s promise on that first Pentecost, and God is still keeping God’s promise.
God says, my Spirit will be poured out on all flesh, and your young people will have visions. In my time with these two confirmation students over the last two years, I have seen firsthand how God’s Spirit is present with them, giving them imaginations to interpret scripture, giving them language to speak about God in ways that make sense to them, giving them hearts of compassion and a vision for God’s future of justice and life. Orla and Kenneth, learning and growing in faith with you over these last two years has been a deep and precious gift to me. God’s Holy Spirit has worked through you to bless me and our whole community.
Friends, I want you to know that God’s Spirit is active and alive today. The Holy Spirit is rushing in like the sound of a violent wind. Not a gentle wind, you heard the scripture. When the Spirit comes around, it is disruptive. So if you see people acting disruptive in church, that looks kind of like the Holy Spirit. If you feel disrupted: if a conversation or a Facebook post makes you feel blown off balance, questioning your worldview, or if you think that person over there is acting so strangely liberated that they must be on something—that’s a clue that the Spirit is active. When you see disruptive protests in Minneapolis, or Chicago, or Omaha or Des Moines or New York or Houston, remember that many of the same words used to describe those protests are used to describe the Spirit.
Some will say it’s disorderly, or will say, “I agree with the goal, just not the method,” but here at Pentecost is a vivid description of the Spirit’s methods. Like the sound of a violent wind. Like a crowd shouting prophesy in many languages. Like flames of fire.
When fire burns it changes the molecules of the thing that is being burned or heated. On a molecular level, nothing is destroyed, just transformed. Dry underbrush is incinerated. Crunchy vegetables soften. Metal is refined as impurities melt away. The Holy Spirit is active and alive today like fire. She is burning off all that waste like underbrush that is just taking up space in our hearts and in our community—burning away death and fear, hatred and defensiveness. She is setting fire to racist institutions and the ashes become fertilizer for new life to grow. Softening, refining, transforming. She is also alighting in a tongue of flame on each and every shoulder. Each of us carry her fire of righteous anger and fiercely burning love everywhere we go. She is the kindling that keeps us going even when the forces of sin and death would try to extinguish our flame.
The Holy Spirit is active and alive today like wind or breath—ruach— breathing life into our lungs, giving bodies breath when we’re suffocating, administering CPR, filling us up with life, reviving our hopelessness.
When Peter stands up before the crowd to help them all understand this Holy Spirit thing that is happening to them, he quotes from the prophet Joel, and later he quotes again from the psalms. From the prophet Joel, Peter chooses this passage:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
(this is a signal that they’re talking about the end times, the day of judgement, or put another way—the arrival of God’s promised future)
In the last days it will be
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your descendants shall prophesy,
and your youth shall see visions,
and your elders shall dream dreams.
Even upon those who are enslaved, of every gender,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
(And in case that day sounds overly sunny or pleasant, the prophet Joel tells us what that will feel like:)
I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
God’s promised future will feel like the world is turning upside down. Day will feel like night, and night will feel like fear. God’s great and glorious day will mean that everything changes. That is good, great, blessed news for those of us who need it to change so desperately, so that we can live and not die, and thrive and not fear.
For those people, those who need God’s comfort, those who are maybe still in the streets as I write this late at night, Peter quotes the psalms later in his sermon, saying,
“The Lord is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
And for those of us who don’t mind the way things are, for whom the Spirit’s disruption is scary, or confusing, or sad, I want to say: Look beyond the surface and see what God is doing. Now is the time. Hear the prophesy that is being proclaimed in our streets by young and old alike. See the vision; catch the dream. This is what was spoken through the prophets. This is the day of Pentecost. God’s Spirit is active and alive today. Now is the time that God is creating and recreating us into the church that we were made to be.
My deep thanks to the communion of saints whose faithfulness in proclamation this week empowered my preaching, especially Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney, Rev. Erik Christensen, Rev. Jessica Davis, Seminarian Elle Dowd, Rev. Angela Khabeb, and many others.