Festival of Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one casts out fear with love. Amen
Happy Festival of Pentecost,
Easter was 50 days ago
and now we celebrate what is often called the birthday of the church,
the moment when the spirit came upon the disciples
and in as many languages as there were people to hear
they preached the good news of Jesus
and many heard, believed and joined the Jesus followers
in their quest to share the news.
That was just the beginning,
the work of the spirit continued on through the faithful
all the way to here today,
where we are gathered as followers of Jesus
who have heard the good news
and have been tasked with sharing it with others.
It’s quite a remarkable progression,
and yet when we humans work together
we often make what at first seemed impossible, possible
though the result isn’t always good,
it depends on our motivation,
which has a way of coming back around to us at the end.
We heard just such a story this morning for our first reading,
the building of the Tower of Babel.
To put it in the context of the larger biblical narrative
after God saves Noah and his family from the flood
God instructs them to repopulate the whole earth.
we get one of the Bible’s famous genealogy passages
detailing the descendants of Noah and his sons
and then we hear about a time in the midst of this
when there was still one people with one language
but they were getting big enough that people might start splitting off,
forming their own tribes and going their own way,
and while this is what God intended
the people were afraid of this happening
so when in their wanderings
they reach what seems like a nice place
with plenty of space
they decide to settle down
and to make sure people stick around they decide to build a city
“Then they said, ‘come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
and that’s just what they do,
they begin building the city
and they make a great tower
and then God decides to come see what they’ve been up to
and upon seeing the great building project
what the people have accomplished
“the Lord said, ‘look, they are one people, and they all have one language; and this is the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will not be impossible for them.”
but because this project was built out of fear and self-interest
rather than obedience and service to the Lord,
the Lord gives them different languages
and scatters them all over the face of the earth-
the very thing that the people feared,
the reason they built the tower in the first place.
We humans can do great things
when we work together
but motivation matters,
when we act out of a place of fear,
what we fear often still comes to pass or even something worse.
Which is why, ultimately
Jesus came and living among fearful humans
preached love as the motivation for action,
Jesus preached love as the law,
then destroyed the thing we fear most, death
and gave us a new project to focus on,
sharing this message with the whole world.
But of course it’s not quite as simple as that is it?
Because there are times when we are afraid
and times we act out of fear rather than love
that while we were made saints at our baptism,
until Jesus comes again we also remain sinners,
and it is that part of us that gets afraid.
Jesus knew this too
so he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help guide us,
the spirit moves us to act out of love,
even when that itself scares us.
Fear is something the disciples are very familiar with.
When we join them in Acts
they are all together in one place,
they’ve stuck pretty close together since Jesus died.
Even after Jesus rose,
appeared to them
and told them to bring his message to the ends of the earth,
they’ve stuck together in one place
and into that place,
into their fear
the Holy Spirit rushes
with the force of a strong wind
and the energy of fire,
and filling each of the disciples it rushes them outside,
out of that place where they’ve been staying put
and outside they begin to preach in different languages
and the crowd that has gathered because of the commotion
understands what they are saying!
This crowd who has gathered from the ends of the earth
now hear the message of Jesus
and will return with it to the ends of the earth
and the apostles will go with them.
But first they have to figure out what is going on.
The gathered crowd hears this group of Galileans
speaking about God’s deeds of power in their own languages
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”
What does this mean?
The gateway question to faith,
those of you who grew up Lutheran
and went through confirmation will recognize this question
as it is posed again and again in Luther’s Small Catechism,
and if you are unfamiliar with this little document
come and see me
because one of the gifts of our heritage
is understanding questions as crucial to faith.
When we ask questions
it means that we are open to hearing what God has to say to us,
to hearing what new adventures the Holy Spirit is calling us to.
Of course some in the crowd explained the events away
by saying that the disciples were drunk.
When faced with something strange and new
it is much easier to find a reason to dismiss it
than to engage it
because if you engage it, you might be changed yourselves.
So though some dismissed the disciples,
others in the crowd asked
‘what does this mean?’
Having asked the question
they were open to hearing Peter’s interpretation
that what they were experiencing
was the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words,
that the Lord’s great and glorious day was coming
and those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And though we didn’t hear it read out loud
Peter goes on to proclaim Jesus as Messiah.
When Peter finished with his sermon
those listening “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles. ‘Brothers what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that yours sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” (Acts 2:37-39)
and that’s what the people do
and Luke tells us about three thousand
were baptized because of this.
it seems like an impossibly large number
and yet with the help of the Holy Spirit
the disciples are no longer afraid
and stuck in one place
but begin working together
to start making the impossible possible
and this work continues
and people respond to it
because it is a message and a movement based on love.
When we are loved as deeply as we are by God
any fear we feel is momentary,
sure sometimes we get stuck for awhile,
but then the Holy Spirit blows in,
and blows us out into the world
uniting us in the mission to share the love of God with others,
and our fear disappears
because the answer to the question what does this mean?
Always starts with the love of God
Who gathers us together
To make the impossible, possible
You are loved by God,
tell others of that love. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.