Sermon May 15, 2016 “Pentecost: Expect the Unexpected”
Scripture: Acts 2: 1-21 and John 14: 8-17, 25-27
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people!” This is a perfect prayer for Pentecost day. In fact, would you say it with me? Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful people. Now we have prayed for the Spirit to come. Do you believe this prayer, that the Holy Spirit has come? Do you believe that the Spirit of God is present in your life, in this very moment, during this time of worship?
The disciples, the closest followers of Jesus, wrestled with that question often in their life following him. How many times did they wonder where the Spirit was? After Jesus’ crucifixion and death, they experienced the physical and spiritual absence of Jesus’ presence. So much so, they locked themselves in the Upper Room where they had experienced his love before. But remember, Jesus is resurrected and walks among them for 40 days until his ascension. Before he ascends, he tells the disciples to wait for the promised gift of God. Even then they questioned and wondered. As they gathered once again in the upper room on Pentecost, I wonder if Peter became restless, if James wanted to start walking, and if Matthias wanted to get to work since he was chosen as the newest apostle. They often forgot about the presence and promises of God. Oh how quickly we forget God’s promises and God’s dream for our lives.
Fifty days had passed since Jesus was resurrected from the dead. The resurrected Lord had walked with them for 40 of those days. They waited. They wondered. And on that fiftieth day, which was called Pentecost, a Jewish festival fifty days after Passover, the promised Spirit of God shows up in a powerful and unexpected way, as it often is with the Spirit of God. There were many Jews who gathered for the festival of Pentecost. The disciples were waiting in the upper room, when the unexpected happened. Suddenly a violent wind swept among them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and the people from all over the ancient world understood the wonders of God in their own tongue. What a powerful and unexpected experience of the Holy Spirit! Who would have expected that?
Too often we lose our expectation that God will show up in a powerful way in our lives. We lose the wonder, excitement, and shove of the Spirit in our lives. For some reason, we settle in our faith. Maybe it’s the culture we live in today or simply the world around that pulls us back down, so much so we might think that Jesus’ promise in the Gospel of John is absurd. “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things.” That’s an unbelievable promise. I mean really, do we believe that we can do even greater things?
The Holy Spirit can be a frightening expression of God. So much so, we often want to domesticate and control the Holy Spirit, as if we can. We try to keep the Spirit tame or within our reach. My family and I love to walk on the nearby canal, which is home of many families of wild geese. As we were walking one day last week, the daddy goose stood in the middle of the canal walkway protecting his young. He hissed and flapped his wings to warn us. We had two choices in that moment. We could wait for the goose to move or get out of its way. In Celtic or Irish spirituality, the wild goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We can’t tame it or control it even if we try. There are other symbols of the Holy Spirit, some we heard of this morning. The violent wind or the fire are symbols of the Spirit. The Spirit is a reality and presence to be embraced. The power of the Spirit might frighten us or shock us, but I pray if it does, I hope it will shock us back to God’s reality and God’s dream, not our own. As Jesus said, “Whoever will do the works I have been doing.” It’s about God’s dream, not our dream for success or power or wealth.
Even the pious Jews who came to the Pentecost festival wondered and asked “What does this mean?” Some tried to explain this powerful Spirit filled experience away by saying they were drunk. But Peter, the spokesperson for the followers, got up to remind them it was too early to be drunk. That’s really in Acts. He also speaks the words of the Prophet Joel to try to offer some sort of understanding for what was happening. “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” and the unexpected happens, as young people will prophecy, or speak the truth; old men in their last days will dream, and even servants who are given no opportunity to speak will prophecy. With the Spirit the unexpected happens.
Speaking of the unexpected; this stole is a reminder of the unexpected. I received this stole when I was ordained a few years ago. At an ordination service, the Bishop places his or her hands on the pastor being ordained and prays that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit for their ministry. A part of the liturgy includes the receiving of a stole, which is a reminder to serve others in the power of the Holy Spirit. This stole I’m wearing today is my ordination stole. The pastor who placed it around my neck for the first time was a pastor by the name of Anne Rosebrock. In that moment, I never dreamed that I would be working with Anne in this wonderful congregation. I am thankful for both opportunities, being in ministry with Anne and being your pastor. There are two lessons from this story. One is that you never know who you’ll end up working with in the future so always be kind and watch what you say. The other lesson, maybe more appropriate for Pentecost, is that you never know how the wind of the Spirit will blow in your life, it may change your life, it might push you beyond your own limitations, concerns, and doubts. The Holy Spirit is that unexpected force in life that causes us “to do even greater things” for Christ.
Whatever circumstances or situations we face, let’s face them with the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let’s claim the gift of the Spirit. I heard that our mission team had a wonderful time in Guatemala two weeks ago. They met a young man named Diego who has worked with the mission for several years now. My wife and I met him during our last trip to Guatemala two years ago. He even stayed with us here in Indiana. He was shocked by all the corn and the large tractors!
Diego has an amazing story. When he was young, his family had very little. They barely had enough resources to survive. He grew up in rural Guatemala, many miles from Guatemala City, but when he was young, around 10 years old, he decided to leave home, his parents and family, and began walking to Guatemala City so he could find work. Diego worked hard, found work, and helped to support his family. He ended up receiving a scholarship, studied for a time in the United States, but decided to go home to help those in need in his home country. If you ask him, he will tell you that he has a call on his life to serve. He will tell you that the Spirit has guided him and pushed him beyond his circumstances and challenges. He knows the Pentecost dream of being guided by the Holy Spirit. He believes Jesus’ words that “You will do even greater things.”
This Pentecost, just like the festival long ago, is a reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Live with the expectation that the Holy Spirit not only shows up, but is always present. Live with the expectation of the unexpected. When you do, you will do “even greater things.” Sometimes we just need to be reminded of such things.
The apostles believed this, or maybe they needed to be reminded of this too, so after Pentecost they took off to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel. Tradition tells us that the apostles went off to places like Spain, India, and North Africa to further the message of Christ. The movement of Christ became just that, a movement that spread like wildfire into the world. This faith that we now claim has survived persecution by Rome and other kingdoms, divisions, and never ending challenges. None of those things could stop what began on that Pentecost day. The strong and violent wind of the Spirit will never be stopped. We can either get out of its way or embrace the unexpected.
Don’t settle in your faith, but dream God’s dream, the God sized vision for your life and for our congregation. When we feel like we can’t go on, we can’t beat an addiction, we can’t face another day; live with an expectation that the Holy Spirit is there. When we wrestle with an unknown future, questions, or struggles; lean in and embrace the breath of God. When we as a congregation live into our vision, enter into a pastoral transition, or grieve the loss of faithful members; may we sense the powerful movement of the Spirit, the breath of God, and know that God is present.
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, may we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just as it was a reminder to move beyond the comfortable for the apostles, may this day be a reminder to move beyond our own dreams, our own visions, and dream God’s dream, and see God’s vision. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation, the same Spirit that led Israel out of slavery, the same Spirit that spoke through the prophets, the same Spirit that came at Pentecost, now lives in you.
Claim the power of the Holy Spirit today! Believe that you can and will do “even greater things” if you do the works of Jesus and believe. When we pray, expect the Spirit to speak. When we worship, expect the breath of God to move. When we serve, expect that God is working through you. Even in our daily routine, expect that the Spirit is present. That’s Pentecost! It’s really not this one grand experience that happened long ago, it’s expecting and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit every moment of everyday. Live with an expectation that the Holy Spirit shows up in unexpected ways. Would you repeat this prayer with me again:
Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful people.
Believe this prayer. Embrace it, live it, and expect the unexpected, for that’s how the wind blows with the Holy Spirit of God!
Let us pray together the prayer found in your bulletin:
People: Come, Holy Spirit and enter every heart and life on this day of Pentecost. Our lives are opened to you. We pray that your Spirit would speak in powerful ways just as it did long ago. We ask that your Spirit would challenge and empower us to live our lives for you. We long for your Spirit to inspire all who follow you to think, speak, dream, and live as true imitators of Jesus Christ. Amen.