Monday, June 13, 2011

Acts 2:1-4; The Day of Pentecost; June 12, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:1-21, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Lost Dog!” The sign said. “$500 reward. Description: Black and tan mixed breed. Flea-bitten. Left hind leg missing. Blind in right eye. Answers to the name, ‘Lucky’”

Now Lucky doesn’t seem like much of a dog. Not to me anyway. But there is someone who wants him back and he is willing to pay the price to do it. The funny thing is that Lucky doesn’t sound like a dog that’s even able to do a lot. He certainly isn’t worth the reward that’s offered. He has no pedigree, can’t see, can’t run, plagued by fleas… and yet someone wants him back. Someone loves him that much.

Have you ever felt like Lucky? Lost? Unable to do what needs to be done? I have. We all feel that way at one time or another. Actually, God makes it quite clear that we were all like Lucky. The entire human race is “lucky”: lost in our sins, hell-bound, spiritually blind and unable to see God, unable to do what God wants us to do. And yet, God paid the price to have us back. The price He paid was more than a $500 reward. He paid the price of His only begotten Son. Jesus suffered and died on the cross to have us found. Someone loves Lucky a lot. God loves us even more. You and I have already been found, and returned home to have a relationship to God again.

Now just think another moment about crippled, blind, worthless, Lucky again. I think the Disciples and the folks gathered on the first Pentecost felt. It’s true they’d seen the resurrected Jesus, but they probably felt pretty worthless to tell people about Him. Who’s going to believe a bunch of flea-bitten fishermen from Galilee? That’s where I think you and I can relate. I’m sure those folks gathered together there had the same fears and problems and questions you have when you think about sharing the Good News of Jesus with people. We feel pretty worthless when it comes to that kind of thing. It’s much easier to get out the checkbook and pay to have it done for us. I’ll bet you’ve had thoughts like these: “I don’t know the bible well enough to answer questions that will come up if I talk about Jesus.” “Christianity is too difficult to understand. It takes years to learn. Where do I begin?” “I can’t tell that person about my faith we have too much questionable history, they know me too well to believe my faith is real.”

That last one thought is one of the reasons why I think evangelism is more difficult in communities like ours than anywhere else. It is very difficult to speak about Jesus to someone you’ve known all your life and never had anything remotely spiritual pass between you. And Jesus name has only been spoken of as part of a curse. In communities like ours, we already have well established relationships, and those relationships have well established expectations, which may very well include the idea that religion isn’t to be discussed.

Well, the disciples had similar problems. They doubted their ability to tell people about Jesus, just as you do. They didn’t just feel lost, like Lucky, but worthless, too.

That’s one of the things I like about this account of Pentecost. I’ve read it hundreds of times, and every time I come to the same conclusion. The disciples didn’t do a thing. They sat in a room waiting, un-inspired to do what Jesus told them they would be doing. The thing that fired them up was the fire… of Pentecost. The rushing wind told them that God was there. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, the writer tells us. The tongues of fire that showed them what was happening to them also told them what to do next… it was the sign of what the Holy Spirit was giving them. I know the common picture you have in your mind is of the fire setting on their heads. It’s not a bad picture. But I think the fire is just as a literal translation would picture it. The fire distributed to them, in “tongues like fire.” Not on top of their heads but in their mouths, after all as soon as the Spirit came to them they began to speak.

Now by this time the crowds had gathered to see what was going on. That windy sound drew them. And the disciples were speaking in languages they hadn’t learned, to people from all over the world, who understood what they were saying. And don’t think for one moment they were talking about the weather. When the Holy Spirit speaks, as He did on that day, He always speaks about Jesus. Nobody expected it to happen, least of all the disciples. But you see, God had promised that this is what they would do, and He always makes good on His promises.

Peter got up before the crowd and preached a sermon. When it was done, the Holy Spirit gave the gift of faith to about 3,000 people. Pretty astonishing for a rag-tag group of fishermen from Galilee. Even though they were more like our dog Lucky, God used them to accomplish something great. The Holy Spirit equipped them to do the task that He gave them to do.

Now, this is the point I want you to think about. You’ve been equipped to do exactly what God has called you to do. It might not be as dramatic as speaking in foreign languages you’ve never been taught. You might not hear the violent wind and have fire coming out of your mouth, but the very same Holy Spirit is in you that was in those disciples in Jerusalem. You see, that’s Jesus’ promise to you. “If I go, I will send Him to you.” In your Baptism God came to you in the person of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). He lives in you and He equips you to do the task at hand. Think about it this way: If He can make “Galileans” speak in foreign languages that they never learned, He can and will help you speak the simplicity of what Jesus did for you.

That’s why we lit the candles during the Acts reading today. That fire you held in your hands isn’t the Holy Spirit, but I wanted you to feel connected to the disciples. There was no way for me to put that fire into your mouth… but that’s exactly what God has already done through the Holy Spirit in you. You might feel worthless like the dog, Lucky, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not up to you to say the right thing anyway. It’s only up to you to speak. Just like He gave the disciples the foreign words to say, He’ll give you the words to say. That’s exactly why He’s there.

So, where do you start? How about a few practical tips: First, pray that the Holy Spirit will show you the opportunities you have. They are there in your everyday life. He’ll make you aware of them. Second, remember that even your Christian friends need to hear about Jesus. Just think about what it means to you to hear of God’s love for you in Jesus. It doesn’t matter if they are Presbyterian, Methodist, or even members of Trinity, we all need to hear about Jesus again and again. Keep it simple. You don’t have to preach a sermon, that’s my job. Just take a deep breath, call upon the Spirit and say something about Jesus. The Holy Spirit is right there to guide you, depend on Him. You have God’s promise that it will be enough.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about the Prophet Elisha and a poor widow (2 Kings 4:1-7). She was about to loose everything so she came to Elisha for help. Her husband had died and the creditors were at the door. Since she couldn’t pay them her sons were to be made slaves to pay the debts. All she had was a little flask of oil. The prophet told her to go to her neighbors and borrow all the containers she could get her hands on, “not too few!” He urged her. “Go into your house and start pouring… and pouring… and pouring.” She did what he said and as long as there was another pot to pour into, the oil kept flowing and flowing and didn’t run out.

You know, God poured out His Holy Spirit on Pentecost just as He promised. He poured out His
Spirit on you in Baptism and the Spirit never runs out. You see Him at work all the time. Every time another baby is baptized, every time the Cross of Christ is proclaimed, every time you hear “I announce the grace of God to all of you …” and even when you receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, that is the Holy Spirit giving and giving.

So Pentecost is for you. It’s a reminder that you aren’t alone but Jesus is with you through the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. God promises us, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) He proves it through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He rescued you when you were lost and helpless. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Acts.1.1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; June 5, 2011;

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11, ESV)