Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost’

What a day! Of course it started out as an ordinary day– all the remaining disciples were gathered together in one place. Just hanging out, doing what disciples do. And then all of the sudden, with no warning, comes a violent wind. Can you imagine what that would be like?

What if you we were all here on a Sunday morning, sitting quietly in our pews, singing songs or praying– and then a wind just up and blew in our church. I’d bet it would at least blow out our candles. It might send Carol’s music flying, or my sermon pages might be blown all over the church. Carefully hairsprayed hairdos would be a mess. Who knows? If it got in our big, strong red doors, that would have to be some wind.

I wonder what we’d think. Would we think God himself had marched in, or maybe we’d worry that we were in the middle of an unexpected tornado, and that maybe we were going to meet our maker a lot sooner than we expected.

And then imagine that everyone here started speaking in different languages. Well, that definitely wouldn’t be very “decently and in order”. And then imagine that all these people started showing up– not just from every continent and country, but also from many different time periods. Maybe we’d see Moses, or Paul, or John Calvin, or George Washington, or Jimmy Carter or whoever. People that couldn’t possibly have existed in one space. Imagine that you know these people are speaking different languages that you don’t know, but somehow you are hearing and understanding what they are saying in your own language.

That’s where this text this morning leaves us…in utter chaos, with a whole world of things that just don’t make sense.

Maybe that’s why we don’t celebrate Pentecost too much. If you asked many preachers, especially within this denomination, they’d tell you there are three big holidays in the church year, but if you asked most people in the pews, they’d say there are only two: Easter and Christmas.

Hallmark doesn’t, to my knowledge, start advertising Pentecost 3 or 4 months before it comes. We don’t plan big Pentecost celebrations, and plan to have the whole family over for dinner. In lots of churches, it’s one day of wearing red and lighting candles. And then what? It’s right back to life as usual, entering in fact, a loooooooong season of “ordinary time” that lasts until Advent.

Pentecost is widely remembered and recognized as the birthday of the church. In fact, lots of churches will be having cakes that say “Happy Birthday Church”. We remember Pentecost in this way because this is when the disciples and about 3,000 more came together and became, as we will say later, the “one body of Christ the church”. They were no longer just single people trying to figure out what Jesus meant for their lives, but they were a unified group with a unified mission. Pentecost is the day when the church as we know it came into existence.

Pentecost is the day or season that we set apart to honor and welcome the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. But what do we really know of this Holy Spirit, and further, do we believe that the Holy Spirit is still alive and active in this world?

III. The HS and the PCUSA
I heard a joke several years ago that I’ve been saving for just the right time. The three persons of the Trinity were making vacation plans and discussing amongst themselves where they would go.”I think I’ll go visit the Canadian Rockies this year,” said God the Creator. I haven’t been there in awhile, and I’d like to revisit that wonder of my creation.” “I’m going back to the land of my birth this year,” said Jesus. “There’s been a lot of trouble there recently, and I’d like to go and see for myself how things are going.” “W ell,” announced the Holy Spirit, “I’ve decided that this year I want to spend my vacation in a place where I’ve never been before. That’s why I’m planning to spend my entire summer vacation visiting Presbyterian churches!”1

Ok, ok… groan, I know. I just couldn’t resist. I’m not entirely sure that we Presbyterians deserve the terrible rap that we’ve acquired for being completely without the Holy Spirit, but I guess if we were honest, we’d have to admit that this “Holy Spirit” business isn’t something we’re tremendously comfortable with.

We understand God the Father. We get Jesus the Son. But that Holy Spirit “thing” is so ambiguous that we don’t much know what to do with it. I’d bet that lots of you know what other churches believe about the Holy Spirit. Maybe you’ve heard about Pentecostal churches who believe that the Holy Spirit baptizes with fire, and that the Holy Spirit is responsible for those that are given the gift of speaking in tongues. Maybe you’ve heard about a Holy Spirit who intercedes for us as we pray. I’d bet, though, that while you may know what other denominations believe, you may not be exactly clear on what Presbyterians believe about the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry– you wouldn’t be the only one. Until quite recently, Presbyterians haven’t done a whole lot of talking about the Holy Spirit, so let me give you some tidbits that might help paint a picture of our beliefs.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (one of the confessions to which our denomination ascribes) refers to the Holy Spirit as a source of God’s grace and “the only efficient agent in the application of redemption.” For all humans, the confession says, the Spirit “convicts them of sin, moves them to repentance and persuades and enables them to embrace Jesus Christ by faith.”2

The Brief Statement of Faith (which will we use to affirm our faith later) makes these points about the Holy Spirit:
We trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life. The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church. The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church. In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

So, clearly our church does have something to say about the Holy Spirit! We believe that the HS is responsible for renewing our energies, for making us one body, for feeding our souls, for calling folks into lots of ministries, for our being able to pray and bear witness to a living God. That’s not a bad list.

I think most of us could get comfortable with those things, except that that list sounds awfully orderly, and if you’ve ever had an encounter with the holy spirit, you know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to do things in the neat, orderly ways we’d like or expect. The Holy Spirit, though it doesn’t always come with a violent wind that we read about, seems to come to shake us out of our comfortable, sometimes apathetic ways. The Holy Spirit broadens our horizons by refusing to leave us as we are.

I think there is another problem that makes us hesitant to embrace either the Holy Spirit or Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit sneaks up on us, or otherwise invades our life, we’re expected to do something with it. The Holy Spirit doesn’t do any of those things I just mentioned just for our knowledge or well-being. Those things are gifts of the spirit, but they’re gifts that we’re expected to use for the good and growth of the church. I don’t know about you, but I get a little antsy when I feel the Holy Spirit move within my own life. I know that somehow, something is about to change… that I’m about to be sent on a journey that I’m quite sure I’m not the person to take.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to do Christ’s work in the world– and as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to ask a lot of questions about what we want or what we think we should do. As far as I can tell, the Holy Spirit breathes a breath of fresh air on to us, and then simply says, “Ready! Set! Go!”.
I’ve mentioned several times that I’m a firm believer in the Holy Spirit, and I even (contrary to popular belief) believe that the Holy Spirit is active in both the Presbyterian Church and in this church. But I’ll readily admit that we get nervous with the Holy Spirit, because we might just be empowered to do things that we could’ve never imagined.


When Peter quotes the words of the prophet Joel, he claims these words of prophesy for us. In the days to come, God declares, “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.”

What I hear is that no one is excepted for the workings of the Holy Spirit. But I also hear that no one is excepted from the expectations of the Holy Spirit.

Not everyone will be wild about this. Lots of folks, even on Pentecost day itself, weren’t enamored with the Holy Spirit. Some will say it’s hogwash. Some will be pretty sure that we’re either crazy, or that we’re doing the wrong things. Some will laugh and say ugly things like “They’re filled with new wine”.

But here’s the secret– the disciples and those 3000 other people were absolutely filled with new wine. They would’ve remembered Jesus’ words about new wine in old wineskins. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and new life, and they were bubbling over with the possibilities that awaited them and their suddenly growing community of believers. I’m praying that every person in this room, and every person in the whole wide church will be filled with such a newness of life that it makes people stop and wonder what’s going on. I’m praying that we’re all empowered and set on fire to go out and do Christ’s work in the world.

You’ll notice a card in your bulletin today. I’m asking you to make a commitment during this season of Pentecost. I’m asking that every single day for the next five weeks that you pray for the Holy Spirit to descend upon Sherwood. I’m asking that you’ll pray that we have renewed energy and focus, that we’ll be given brand new ideas on how to be Christ’s church and how to share that Good News with lots of people, and that this body will be made one people. And then I’m asking that you’ll not only pray for these things, but that when God speaks to you that you’ll share the ideas you’ve received with the leaders of this church. Notice I didn’t say “if God speaks to you”– God will speak to and through this body of waiting, expecting, praying people.

I don’t need this card back– it’s to remind yourself of your commitment to be in prayer during this season of Pentecost. Put in your Bible or on your refrigerator, or somewhere that you’ll see it every day. Praying and Listening are things that every single person can do to participate in the ministry of this church.

The Holy Spirit is burning to work through you. Will you feel its gentle breezes of fresh air? Will you listen as it whispers “Go!”?

The Holy Spirit has a word for you and a word for this church. May we, believing in the works and call of the Holy Spirit, listen and answer with the deepest yes of our hearts. May you not flee from the Holy Spirit, but may you seek to Catch the Spirit during this Pentecost!



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In seminary, I always told myself that once I was in a church, I’d use some of my continuing ed time to go to the Festival of Homiletics. Unless you’re a preacher sort, you probably have no idea what “homiletics” is, much less why there would be a festival for it. Basically, homiletics is preaching, and now that I’ve been to the long-awaited event, I would definitely call it a festival.
I spent a week with some 1500 other preachers– we worshipped together, laughed at our unique challenges, and listened to folks who were still so on fire for spreading the word of God that you could call them “experts”. I heard Desmond Tutu (who might be one of my new favorite people) preach about reconcilation. I met my preaching hero, Barbara Brown Taylor. And I even wept as my favorite preaching teacher, Anna Carter Florence, was broken open by her text at hand.
What I realized very early into the week was that I had, in a lot of ways, become dried out. As I worshipped with so many others, who were just as thirsty for an encounter with the living God as I was, even the familiar words of the Doxology and treasured hymns took on new life. It doesn’t make sense. I’m a preacher. I spend most of my day with God. But there was something about having the opportunity to simply worship that renewed my spirit. The other thing I realized was that not only was I dried out, but that my sermons were getting that way. I had dutifully been preaching through the lectionary, each week struggling to bring a relevant word to my congregation from the text, forgetting, I think, in some ways, that what I do each Sunday morning really does matter. I’ve been entrusted with the living word. The least I can do is preach like it!

I guess you could say I’m on fire. Not that I had exactly forgotten what I was doing, but my flame definitely wasn’t burning as brightly as it once had, so to speak.

And now here I am, looking into the face of pentecost–which is great, because really, it’s my favorite of all church days. I love what the Holy Spirit does–bringing people together, giving folks gifts to use for the community, sending new life into hopeless places. I even love talking about the Holy Spirit, knowing that people call us Presbyterian sorts “the frozen chosen.”

I’ve definitely felt the movings of the Holy Spirit around Sherwood, but I wonder what it would take for us, both as a church and as individuals, to feel “on fire”? I think I’m going to make Pentecost a season, instead of a day. And I think I’m going to dare to ask people to pray diligently, even daily, for the Holy Spirit to reawaken us. Maybe I’ll even ask them to pray in this way for a whole month. Who knows what could happen if our whole church were praying that consistently?

I’m preaching on the Valley of the Dry Bones on Sunday. I wonder what it’s like to stare into our own boneyards, wondering where life has gone. I wonder what it’s like to stand in that place and wonder if there’s something more. And then to hear, while standing there, “You will live.”

Veni Sancte Spiritus– Come Holy Spirit!

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