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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
May 28, 2023
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is sometimes said that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. And it is, in the sense that it marks the beginning of the church. But it also marks the beginning of the work of the church. And God continues that work through us today.
Pentecost isn’t a word that we use much outside of church circles. Unlike some other Christian holy days, it isn’t part of popular culture. There are no stories in the news about the “War on Pentecost.” There’s no tradition of gift giving or even any special sales for chocolate.
On Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation – the miracle of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. On Easter, we celebrate the Resurrection – a sign of the promise of resurrection given to all of God’s people.
And the Day of Pentecost is special, too, because it’s the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit as the gift of God’s comfort, power, and strength given to God’s people.
It’s a familiar story. We read it every year, because Pentecost isn’t Pentecost without it. But because it’s so familiar, one of the risks for us is underestimating the power of the story and, by extension, underestimating the power of the Spirit.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Crouch reminds us that the English translations of this event underplay the fear-inducing, adrenalin-pumping, wind-tossed, fire-singed, smoke-filled turmoil of the apostles’ experience that day.
It’s way more exciting when you put it like that, isn’t it?
And the people who observed this event are described as bewildered, amazed and astonished, amazed and perplexed. It could even be said that they were confused, in an uproar, undone, disoriented, and uncomprehending.
The Pentecost event really was that powerful!
And it isn’t surprising because in the wind of Pentecost was the same Spirit that moved over the abyss before creation, and drove back the floodwaters in the time of Noah. It was the same Spirit that separated the waters of the sea to let the people of Israel pass from slavery into freedom.
The fire of Pentecost was in the smoking fire pot and flaming torch that sealed the covenant with Abram, and in the burning bush that called to Moses. It was in the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness, and in the cleansing fires of the Psalms and the consuming fires of Elijah and the prophets.
Imagining what those events were like, and the way God’s people were transformed because of them, stirs us up. Because it seems like God acted – the Spirit showed up – and the people just went.
They weren’t worried about the way things had always been done or where it all might lead. They just went. They were compelled. And God’s Spirit continued to transform them and the church. Exciting, right?
We read about these events and think, “Oh, that’s nice that that happened back then.”
But the wind and the fire of Pentecost aren’t relics of the past. They carry with them God’s desire for redemption, new creation, and salvation – a desire that is still active today. The wind and fire of Pentecost are dynamic, and they’re still moving and acting in our church today.
And that is good news! But it isn’t always received that way. When God’s Spirit moves and acts in our church, it should be as exciting to us as it was to the people who experienced it in the Bible. And we want it to be – until we’re asked to give up a tradition or to take steps in a new direction without a known destination.
Then we get a little uncomfortable. And in a manner of speaking, we put our arms out to block it and say, “Nope. Thanks, Holy Spirit, but we like things just the way they are.”
And that’s normal. We like being comfortable. But the church is God’s mission – and God’s mission is active. It’s always seeking new ways to be fulfilled through us.
So, we have to ask ourselves: As a church today, are we as flexible as the ancient church to adapt to where the Spirit is calling? Are we willing to pay attention and take some forward steps? Are we willing to be led by the Spirit without knowing the destination? Or do we insist that the Spirit work within our institutional or traditional ways?
I have a friend whose dad is a retired ELCA pastor. And several years ago, they were on a road trip and were able to stop by a church he used to pastor. The building was closed the day they were there, so they peeked in through the windows.
And as they did, my friend heard her dad say, “Oh no.” And what he saw were signs on a bulletin board that read “Save our church!” But what was more disappointing were the other signs that read “We’ve been the same for the last forty years – help us keep going!”
Stories like that are so common. And I don’t mean to say that a church needs to change for the sake of change. But the church is God’s mission, and God’s mission is active.
So, while a church doesn’t need to change for the sake of change, it does need to listen to and for the Holy Spirit. And to be flexible and to adapt to where it might be calling. Because it does call. Constantly.
Where it gets tricky, is discerning what that call is or might be. Because in a church, that discernment has to be done as a community. And that takes time and work.
And patience and love and grace and understanding and compassion – and listening not just to the Spirit but to one another. Because in a church, people have different ideas of what the Spirit might be saying. Because we each have our own idea of what we want it to say and call us to do. And it’s important to listen for what the Spirit is actually saying.
A little over a year ago, our leadership – Saint Andrew’s leadership – started having conversations with the leaders of other ELCA congregations in East King County about what might be and what could be for the future of ministry in our area.
In these conversations, we’ve discovered that we share a lot of the same struggles in terms of membership, finances, administrative resources, other resources, and so on. And so we’ve started asking where it makes sense for us to partner and collaborate and share. Because we recognize that we’re better together – that ministry in our area will be more effective if we work together.
And even though we started these conversations a year ago, we don’t know yet what all of this will look like in the future – either in the short term or the long term. And there are people who are frustrated by that. They want us to go full-steam ahead, now-now-now.
It’s a new direction and way of ministry that the Spirit is calling us into so we’re taking the initial steps. And the possibilities that it presents are exciting! And while we feel a sense of urgency about it, it’s more important that we do it well because, whatever it becomes, we want it to succeed.
One thing that became real for all of us during the pandemic, is that the church is not a building. But taking that further, it also isn’t a particular membership or group of people – it isn’t even a gathering of people in one place.
At its core, the church is God’s mission. And God’s mission is active. It’s always seeking new ways to be fulfilled through us.
The same wind that moved over the waters at creation, the same fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness, the same Spirit that rested on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost is at work in us today.
And for as terrifying as that might sound, it really is good news. As the Spirit moves us forward in God’s mission, may God give us the courage to listen and to act. Thanks be to God! Amen.