Sermon for Pentecost Sunday
May 23, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Watch Here: (TLC Worship Service 05/23/2021)
In the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I begin working on my sermons on Monday mornings. I read the scriptures assigned for the upcoming Sunday, I read commentaries, and I begin to reflect on the message God is speaking to us through that week’s scriptures.
Every Tuesday morning at 11:00am, Cantor Mark leads a Bible Study on the readings assigned for the upcoming Sunday. The Bible Study has a faithful following, and because it’s on Zoom, the study has members from other states joining them. If you are free on a Tuesday morning, I know they would love to welcome you. I invite you to consider joining.
Every Wednesday morning at 8:00am, Council President Dave Horn leads a similar study reading the same scriptures for the upcoming Sunday. Once upon a time it met at 7:00am for those people who were working so they could attend the bible study and go off to work. Now it meets at 8:00am, and again, if that time works better for you, I invite you to consider joining them.
In these ways, every week, members of the congregation start in the scriptures to discern God’s living Word speaking to us today.
Theologian Matthew Skinner, New Testament Professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, suggests that on the Day of Pentecost the opposite happened. Skinner points out that instead of starting in the scriptures to find a message to speak to the apostles, on Pentecost, Peter started with the events of the day, and then went back into the scriptures to interpret what was happening.
The events of that Pentecost Day were certainly dramatic! Imagine the doors here suddenly blown open … gusts of wind blowing through the open windows and rattling against the closed windows … hear the roof groaning …imagine the candles blown out with this gust of wind …
Now imagine the candles flicking back on brighter than before … imagine each person around you turning into a candle with a flame of fire over their heads … fire that didn’t burn the scalp, no need to grab the fire extinguisher, but a real flame of power and energy over each one …
Imagine people starting to speak in other languages … languages familiar to some but foreign to others … watch the doors and see people streaming in, people who have heard the commotion … people who are wondering what is going on …
To make sense of these amazing and shocking events, some of those gathered attempted to interpret the events through their own experience. They had heard this kind of nonsense babbling before – they had heard it from people who were drunk! Their interpretation of the events was that the disciples had too much to new wine to drink – they were drunk.
But hearing their interpretation, “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them.” To make sense of the violent wind, the tongues of flame, and the diversity of languages being spoken, Peter turned to the scriptures for an interpretation. “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel,” Peter announced to the gathered crowds referencing Joel 2:28-32. “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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit” (Acts 2:17-18).
In real time, as it happened, Peter interpreted the events of that dramatic Pentecost Sunday as a fulfillment of the scriptures. Professor Skinner points out that it is significant that: Peter’s “resource for making sense of God’s activity … is the scriptures …Peter does not interpret scripture so much as he is pressed to interpret the present moment through the defining lens of the scriptural witness.” As one bible scholar put it … (Loveday Alexander) Peter starts with “This” – this is what is happening now, and then draws on scripture to find a corresponding “That.” That is what happened then.
2,000 years later, Peter’s interpretation of that Day of Pentecost still guides the ministry of the church. Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit poured out upon all flesh. We celebrate the Holy Spirit poured out upon sons and daughters, the young and the old, upon those of all socio-economic realities.
We celebrate that Pentecost was not a one-day festival that began and ended in the wind, flames, and tongues. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit that appeared so dramatically upon the disciples, continues to be poured out upon each and every one of us today! Sometimes in shocking ways that unsettles us and shake us to the core; sometimes in gentle ways that lead to a steady and gradual evolution of thought and outlook.
And so, in celebration of Pentecost, of the Spirit poured out upon all flesh, I invite you to do what Peter did. I invite you to start with what is going on in your life, and then go back into the scriptures for interpretation and meaning. This is what is happening in my life now, whether it’s good or bad, joyful or sorrowful, stable or changing; to recognize THAT which happened in the scriptures then.
We do this, not to interpret the scriptures, but that the scriptures might interpret us and God’s actions in our lives today! When that connection is made, we will begin to imagine and see God’s work in our lives in new ways. THIS is what is happening in my life today, that is what God did in the people then, maybe this is what God is doing today? To prompt your thinking, here are some examples …
- You are being presented with a laughable and ridiculous new opportunity that doesn’t seem possible. Maybe you are laughing in response like elderly Sarah when she was told that in one year’s time she would bear a son? Maybe you can see the Holy Spirit at work in the new opportunity that might seem so impossible?
- You are quietly coming to new understandings, some new thoughts that those around you might not agree with. Maybe you are quietly coming to these new understandings like Nicodemus learning from Jesus in secret at night. Maybe you can see the Holy Spirit gently nudging you into a new phase of life?
- You feel the burden of responsibility in your family, in your workplace, those around you are looking to you for answers. Maybe like Peter you are called upon to make sense of what is happening? Maybe you can see the Holy Spirit calling you to responsibility and leadership in order to provide meaning and clarity.
If you struggle to imagine a story, maybe that’s the Holy Spirit calling you today to join a Bible Study? To read the scriptures to increase your knowledge. To do so less to figure out what the Bible says, and more to imagine God’s work in your life today.
What about our life together as a congregation? What biblical story comes to mind that interprets the Spirit’s work among us today as Trinity Church? As fully vaccinated people have steadily returned to in-person worship over the past few months, I see people returning to church after a long captivity at home due to Covid. The scriptures that come to mind are those of the Israelites returning to Jerusalem after their captivity and setting out to rebuild the temple.
Let me be clear, the physical temple here is just fine. In fact, our Building Manager said the building passed an inspection this week with flying colors – the inspector amazed and impressed with how well the building is maintained. Many thanks to Frank Ricardo and the Property Committee for all their work.
The temple we are called to rebuild, instead, is the temple of our relationships with one another as the body of Christ. In-person worship attendance, while it has grown, is still only half of what it was prior to Covid. I see the Holy Spirit calling us to continue to rebuild the central core of our faith, our Sunday assembly, and from that central place, to rebuild and build in new ways, our relationships with one another as the body of Christ.
You’ll notice today that our worship bulletin includes Spanish. As we rebuild our relationships with one another, the presence of Spanish in our worship bulletin calls us to recognize the ways the Holy Spirit is poured out upon our Latino/Latina brothers and sisters, and upon all our neighbors … And in these ways, as we rebuild the temple of our relationships with one another we know, we are also called to build relationships with those of other languages, skin colors, ethnicities, nationalities, we do not yet know, but all of whom have received the same Holy Spirit that we have.
The Good News on this 50th Day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost, is that the risen Christ lives and the Holy Spirit continues to be poured out upon us! Alive in Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to name and claim God’s work, as we interpret this work through the stories of the scriptures. As we do, we are invited as disciples and apostles to participate in God’s work, and to proclaim God’s work in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
In this collective exercise, we become, as Professor Skinner writes, “not a disparate group of individual believers, but a community of faith and practice that is the church… a fellowship of visionaries and dreamers, with eyes to perceive and imagine God’s always-ongoing work on behalf of the world.”
Alive in God’s always-ongoing work as visionaries and dreamers, let us be bold in naming and claiming God’s work among us! Standing in God’s work in faith, let us make a Holy Commotion in God’s love – that all the world may know that God’s love is poured out for all through the grace, forgiveness, and mercy of Jesus.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!