2021-05-23 Holy Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
The Holy Day of Pentecost has arrived for another year! It’s funny because it is a major festival in the church year, celebrating the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity. But our culture ignores it. We don’t have Holy Santa or Spirit Bunny secular parallel like we do for Christmas and Easter. Nope! No nauseating commercialism surrounds Pentecost. It’s a strictly-spiritual-sans-secular festival of fire and wind! The coming of the promised Holy Spirit. The Helper and Counsellor who proceeds from the Father. He has arrived again today as was promised to our Lord’s disciples and prophesied about in ancient times. From the Old Testament book of Joel, the prophet writes “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions”) (2:28). The pouring out of the Holy Spirit meant that the Disciples would be clothed with power from on high. Ten days after Jesus’ Ascension, they were all gathered together in one place when suddenly that mighty rushing wind filled the whole house. Tongues of fire came down and rested upon them and Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled! They began to speak and prophesy as the Holy Spirit led them.
And speak they did! The Apostles find themselves speaking in different, previously unknown languages. Pretty miraculous! Pretty handy! As many of you know, it can be quite difficult to learn a new language. Many of our older Lutherans remember going to school and not knowing a word of English. You learn quick when you’re forced to! But Pentecost gave that gift and ability immediately, without study, without grammar books and without vocabulary flash cards! But why? What was the point? Just to be all “Holy Ghostie,” cool and different? To prove to the world they were real Christians? Nope! It was all so that the proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, could go out into all the world! That all nations could hear the Good News, repent and be baptized and believe and in turn receive the gift of eternal life! That God’s love for all mankind would not be fixed in one language only but spread throughout the world like a raging prairie fire! But instead of destruction, it leaves in it’s wake hope, peace, forgiveness and salvation!
The New Testament reading records for us the mysterious coming of the Holy Spirit. He is like a “mighty, rushing wind” (Acts 2:2) – even His very title, “Spirit” implies a body-less, breath or wind. As Jesus says to Nicodemus: “The wind (or Spirit) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (JN 3:8). We in Saskatchewan, we know the wind like no other people on earth! We know that it is there, we hear it in the trees as we lie awake at night, we feel it on our faces as we walk on the prairie, we even “see” it as it makes a wheat field flow back and forth like waves on the ocean. But if we try to grasp and hold it in our hands, it is lost. So it is with the Spirit of God. We cannot weigh or measure the Spirit, we cannot keep Him in a box under lock and key. Like the air, the Spirit is the source of life, “everywhere present and filling all things,” always around us, always within us in this very mysterious way.
And we are also reminded that the Holy Spirit is likewise compared with fire. When the Spirit descended upon the first Christians 2000 years ago on that first Day of Pentecost, it is in “divided tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3). That’s also why the church paraments are red – the colour of fire. Like the wind, fire is elusive: alive, free, ever moving, not to be measured, weighed or constricted within narrow limits. We feel the heat from the flames, but we cannot enclose and retain it in our hands. Such is our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We are conscious of His presence, we know His power, but we cannot easily picture to ourselves His person. When Christ put on flesh and became the “icon of God” with a human body and a human face, it is easy to visualize Him. Who hasn’t seen artistic depictions of Jesus, right? Beard. Long hair. Robe. Sandals. But the Holy Spirit? It’s not so easy with this Third Person of the Holy Trinity. He is far more mysterious, yet the same “very God of very God” with the Father and the Son. But we will leave the workings of the Holy Trinity for next Sunday!
But nevertheless, we do hear the wind and see the fire of the Holy Spirit being shown forth at Pentecost for us and for our salvation. It really is the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy that Christ would “Baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire” (LK 3:16).
Around a thousand years ago, Saint Symeon the New Theologian wrote a neat quote: “As a lamp, although it is full of oil and has a wick, remains dark unless it is lit with fire, so the soul is quenched and dark until it is touched by the light and grace of the Holy Spirit.” A lamp with no fire. An LED flashlight with no batteries. Both are not fulfilling their purpose without the power source. This lamp with no fire really describes our human condition: dark and sinful, lost and without purpose. Dead. If a storm knocks the power out at your house at night, what good is a flashlight without batteries? What good is a lamp or candles if you have no match from which to light them? This reveals to us the purpose and importance of Pentecost!
We can say that God knew how dark and empty our lives have become in our sin and as such needs to illuminate us with the light and fullness of His grace. Just like breath, we need God’s Spirit to live and have life to the full. Without this Heavenly wind and fire, we remain in the death and darkness of our sin. So Christ our Lord gives His life for ours and makes good on His promise to send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter. The one who will enlighten us with His wisdom and wash away our sins in Holy Baptism. The one who will change us just as those simple, ordinary, uneducated, run of the mill fishermen were transformed as the Spirit descended upon them. They brought to faith not only the simple down and out peasants, but also philosophers and noblemen, the mucky-mucks of society! Their words, spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought even the hardest, most-unbelieving hearts to repentance and faith.
As bumbling and foolish as they often appeared during our Saviour’s life and earthly ministry, after the Holy Spirit had come, they were transformed into bold preachers and teachers of the Kingdom of Heaven. People heard in their own language the “mighty works of God.” People were healed of their infirmities, demons were driven out by them in the Name of Christ, many heard and were cut to the heart by their words – so much so that 3000 people gladly received the Word of God and were Baptized in one day! Their enthusiasm and passion for proclaiming God’s forgiveness and life-giving Baptism went out from Jerusalem and spread like a prairie grass fire, pushed along by a strong west wind. Christianity began to spread all over the world, bringing with it the renewal of society as people’s hearts were so moved by God’s grace and love, that they changed their lives from selfishness to righteousness, helping the poor, protecting the weak.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:42-45). Such joy there must have been, even defining the early Christians as God’s people, who joyfully sacrificed their own comforts and luxuries for the salvation and well-being of others!
It’s much like the old story of the 3 prospectors who found a rich vein of gold in California. They realized what a great discovery they had and decided “We’ve really got a good thing going here, as long as we keep it a secret and nobody else finds out about it.” So they vowed to say nothing to anyone. They headed for town to file their claims and get the necessary equipment to mine the gold. True to their vows, they didn’t say a word to anyone. They filed the claim, bought the stuff and headed back to their un-mined fortune! … But when they did, a great crowd of people followed them. They didn’t tell a single soul, but then again, they didn’t have to. Their faces gave them away. They were aglow with anticipation of the huge wealth that would soon be theirs! People knew that they must have found something special and amazing and they followed them out to see it! May our faces always be aglow with the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit! May people see in us the grace and forgiveness of God that changes us and the world and has made us His people in faith and Holy Baptism. May the Lord continue to add to the church daily those who are being saved, now and forever. Amen!