2022-06-05 Pentecost Sunday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes in life, God operates behind the scenes. It often seems like coincidence or serendipitous events come together at exactly the right time and amazing outcomes result. An ER room nurse is the first person to arrive at the scene of a horrific accident and saves lives because she just happened to be there. A father just happens to have insomnia the night his little 3 year old girl sleep walked outside through the patio door into -35C winter and is able to rush out and get her before it was too late. A man is camping in a tent in Cypress Hills, gets up in the middle of the night to go to the washroom and all of a sudden a tree falls on his tent. His camping gear is obliterated, but he is unscathed. These are the kinds of “mini miracles” we hear about all the time. It’s always a very close call, but miraculously, life is preserved. We see this in the Book of Esther in the Bible where God’s Name isn’t even mentioned – precisely to prove the point that God is always present, helping His people, but is often working behind the scenes out of the lime light.
This is the kind of experience we are used to with God. But, there are also some really awesome, big time events and circumstances where the incredible, full blown glory of God is displayed in all of it’s splendour! We can think of God creating the universe from nothing, just by speaking! Creating people from the dust of the ground. The dynamic rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt; saving Daniel from the lions’ den. And then there’s Christmas, little baby Jesus being born to set us free from sin; Easter where our Lord dynamically defeats death by His cross and resurrection and, today Holy Pentecost! Arguably one of the more vibrant displays of God’s amazing work in the lives of His people, Pentecost really brings the thunder. Or should I say wind. Or fire. Or all of the above!
We picture the Apostles gathered together in one place and suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind comes upon them. Some Bible translations say it was just any typical day in Saskatchewan! A mighty rushing wind came in and filled the house. And then, tongues like fire descend upon everyone gathered there and they are filled with the Holy Spirit and they speak in different languages. That’s a pretty cool, strange and out of the ordinary thing! Because of our extensive experience with wind in this province, we know what happens when we mix wind and fire. It’s like baking soda and vinegar or mentos candy and diet coke! It’s usually a violent reaction! If you’ve ever battled a grass fire or a forest fire, you know how unbelievably difficult it is to deal with. The wind feeds the fire with near unstoppable force! And it spreads . . . like wild fire.
This is exactly what happened on that very first Pentecost long ago. The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Spirit descended upon His people fulfilling the ancient prophecy of the prophet Joel (2:28-29) who wrote about God pouring out His Spirit on all flesh. And it was amazing! There was no behind the scenes subtle stuff here! It was God in all of His glory and might doing amazing things! Suddenly the Apostles start speaking other languages they didn’t know before. They are heard by people from all over the place and they understand! This was the key step in the Gospel getting out the doors of Jerusalem to all the nations of the world with power and might. Just as Jesus told them “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Regardless of where people come from or the language they speak, they get to hear the Good News of Christ Jesus crucified and resurrected for their salvation. They get to hear about Holy Baptism, the Sacrament where the fire of the Holy Spirit comes to each of us by water and the word. Pentecost is truly awesome and amazing, a wild fire that is absolutely unstoppable!
Usually when we think of a forest fire, it’s scary. We picture people losing their homes and possessions or much worse, even their lives. It’s a terrible thing when you have that raging inferno in your backyard. But when a forest fire burns just a forest, a miraculous thing takes place. Shortly after the fire, if you go back and visit a burned out forest you notice that it grows back healthier that it was. The burning allows more light to get into the forest.
Different types of plants now grow and thrive where they couldn’t before. Cones open up as the heat melts the resin and the wind reseeds the forest for the next generation of trees. It is healthier, despite the ravaging of fire. And this is the case with the Church at Pentecost. The Spirit is poured out and now different people can hear the Good News of Jesus, seeded for salvation. God’s favour and grace are not just for Jerusalem. They are not just for the Jews. God’s love and mercy are poured out for all people of all tribes and nations and languages. The flamboyant display of God’s Pentecost power really drives home this point.
And to make matters more interesting, Pentecost undoes the confusion that was created at the tower of Babel. Our Genesis reading spells out the wild and crazy episode of God confusing the languages of sinful people who were trying to build their ivory towers of their own greatness in chapter 11. It was the Elon Musk of the ancient world ripe with new technology. Not satellites. Not rocket ships. But the brand spankin’ new, flagship tech of the day: the brick! Step aside mud huts and teepees! There’s a new kingpin builder in town. With this brand new advancement, people would build their way to the heavens! And several thousand years after this event, people are still building giant towers of human greatness, are they not? From the Empire State Building to Trump Tower to the Burj Kalifa, every skyscraper has to be bigger-better than the one that came before it! God saw this divisive spirit of pride early on and made it so the people couldn’t communicate and then were scattered into all the world. And thus, the industry of translators was born!
But in the Acts reading, we see just the opposite. People previously scattered from all over the world are gathered together in one place and now those scrambled languages become unscrambled. The linguistic code is decoded, better than Google translate or any high-tech language software! God inspires the words of the Gospel to go into all the earth, telling of His amazing grace and mercy for sinful people. The babbling confusion of Babel is de-babbled as the clarity of the Gospel shines through!
So what do we take away from this Holy Day of Pentecost? Here we are, 50 days after Easter, surrounded by the fiery red banners. What does this mean to us? It ought to be a reminder that God is always working in our world and in our lives. Sometimes, He’s behind the scenes. Other times, He’s in the forefront. Sometimes He’s quiet, sometimes He’s loud! But He is always there for us as our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. The Holy Spirit comes to be our helper and comforter, to surround us with the peace that Jesus leaves with us. He washes us clean of our sins in our Baptism and transforms us so that our bodies can become temples for Him and His holy presence. He comes to defeat the sin of pride that lurks in all of us, to help smash down those tall towers of sin we build for ourselves and He replaces them with His humility. He encourages us and helps us to be who God has re-made us to be in our Baptism.
Just as the Holy Spirit changed the lives of God’s people some 2000 years ago, He continues to change ours as well. The Gospel has gone out into all the world and continues to do so through each of you. Baptized and Confirmed Saints of God, have been called for up for messenger duty. Think and pray for ways that the Holy Spirit can continue to set our world ablaze with His Holy wind and fire. Think of the people you know all around you who need the life and light that the Spirit gives. How has God blessed you with His gifts that you may be a blessing to others? It’s very true that we all have been blessed by God beyond measure. We have been called from the darkness of sin into the glorious resurrected light of the Son of God. He has filled us with the fire of His Holy Spirit, washed and fed us and sends us out each week into the world with the Good News of Jesus through our hearts, on our minds and in our hands. Thanks be to God now and forever more! Amen!