A sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017 at St. John Lutheran Church in Alma, Wisconsin.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Pentecost, the third great festival of the church year, along with Christmas and Easter. But many people have not heard of it, and most of us don’t remember Pentecost being talked about a lot in our growing-up churches.
So what is this festival all about? Back in the book of Genesis, chapter 11, you can read of a time when all the people had one common language. In other words, they could speak and listen and understand one another. Maybe not agree, but at least understand.
But then humans took that gift of common language and twisted it to work for their own gain. They decided to build a tower reaching up to heaven, so they could make a name for themselves. God acted to foil their self-aggrandizing plans by confusing their languages so they could no longer speak and listen and understand one another.
There is a sense in which we can think of Pentecost as a “reversal” of Babel. One language became many, many languages shared one message. But it’s also a reversal of focus. The people in Old Testament times were motivated by their own status and reputation. But the wind and fire of Pentecost stirred the people up with a different kind of ambition: All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages about God’s deeds of power.
Pentecost is not just a “back then” occasion. Every day, the Spirit gives to each of you gifts to be used to tell God’s story. To some of you, the Spirit gives the gift of teaching, to others the gift of encouraging and comforting others, to others the gift of “telling it like it is” and speaking up about things that are unjust. To some of you, the Spirit gives the gift of organizing people to get a big job done, to others the gift of study and knowledge, to still others the gift of remembering others in prayer.
To some of you, the Spirit has given the gift of being mothers or fathers or caregivers, nurturing the faith of your children and grandchildren by praying with them, teaching them the stories of God’s deeds of power and love, bringing them to worship every single week, even when they don’t want to get out of bed or would rather stay home. And even when it seems that you and your children are speaking different languages – which may be most of the time – the Spirit gives you the unity that you could never create for yourself.
Whatever gifts the Spirit has given you, specifically you, they are to be used to continue telling and showing the story of God’s love and care for us as God’s children. Now I could stand here and tell you to go out from here and continue to tell and show God’s love; but I don’t need to do that. You see, the Spirit has already taken care of that. The arrival of the Holy Spirit is a disruptive event in our lives – when we are touched by the Holy Spirit, nothing is ever the same for us. Even if you’re not looking for it, the Spirit will come into your life, uninvited, and will put people in your path, people who need a word of hope, of encouragement, a word that tells them that God will never let go of them, no matter how far away they may feel. The Spirit will put those people in your path at the bank, or the coffee shop, or the local pub. And when you bump into these people, the Spirit will put words in your mouth, just as the Spirit put words in the mouths of the early disciples. It may be a simple “I’ll pray for you” to someone who is struggling; it may be an invitation to have a cup of coffee and some conversation to someone who just needs to talk; it may be a compliment on playing a good baseball game or growing beautiful flowers to someone who doesn’t think they’re worth much.
In just a few minutes, we will be reminded again of the our unity in the Spirit. As we gather around one table, as we share the one bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord, as we receive forgiveness and new life at the Lord’s table, we know that we are united with Christians of every time and place. And as we leave the table and go to our homes, our schools, our work, our communities, we are united in our commitment to let our words and our actions share the news of God’s love to a world that needs what we have been given.
Thanks be to God. Amen.