Category Archives: Pentecost

Building Up the Body of Christ – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 for Pentecost A

June 2, 2017

We just heard the amazing story of the Holy Spirit rushing among the disciples who had been praying together for fifty days. We think of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, because it was on this day that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on  those who were gathered. But for centuries, Pentecost had been a major Jewish festival, and people came from all over the world to  celebrate it in Jerusalem.

The disciples had been huddled in an upper room together for weeks. Now they dispersed through the crowds, each speaking a different language. The people who had come from far and near each heard  the Good News in their own tongue. As Peter preached to the  crowds, thousands responded to the gospel and believed in Jesus as  the Son of God.

This is where it all began. After Pentecost, there was no going back. Somehow, these new believers had to figure out how to be the  Church, how to live and worship together in a new way.

It didn’t take long for conflict to emerge. Some thought faith should be lived out this way, and others thought it should be that way.  There were arguments over worship and teachings and how to  observe the Lord’s Supper. And because the church was made up of human beings, there were arguments over power and hierarchy.

Some thought that they had a corner on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that the gifts they had been given were somehow more important than “lesser” gifts. In the middle of all this conflict, the Church at Corinth sent a letter to the Apostle Paul, asking for some clarification. It’s a good thing for us that Paul wrote back. Continue reading

When the Spirit Comes – Sermon on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Pentecost B May 24, 2015 (Viewa video of this sermon here.)

What happens when Jesus leaves?  

When the one on whom all your hopes were pinned is gone, what then? Last Sunday, we celebrated the Ascension, and Luke’s version of that story has the disciples skipping off to Jerusalem with great joy. It’s a nice ending to the story that began with angels announcing “tidings of great joy” to shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem. There’s sort of a “they lived happily ever after” sense that the story has come to a satisfying conclusion, at least for the moment.

But we know better, with our twenty-fifteen hindsight. We know that those disciples were about to experience hardships and persecution they couldn’t possibly imagine. We know that they would soon fall into disagreement, Continue reading

Dying to Live – Sermon on Romans 6:1-11

June 22, 2014

Last week, as we heard the challenge of the Great Commission to make disciples by going to them, baptizing them, and teaching them, I urged you to think about the idea of baptism as a means for enfolding others into the family of God. In today’s reading, we will take another look at baptism, this time through the eyes of the Apostle Paul, as we begin a journey through his letter to the church at Rome. That journey will take us through the summer, so it might be a good idea to start with some background information as we begin.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is an interesting book on many counts. For one thing, Paul didn’t know these people yet. Paul’s other letters were addressed to churches he had started, nurtured, and left in the hands of able leaders. But at the time Paul wrote this letter, he had not yet traveled to Rome, so instead of writing to follow up on a church he had planted, Paul was writing to introduce himself to Christians who did not yet know him, or his teachings.

But Paul had a pretty good idea of what was going on in Rome. He knew that a group of Jewish Christians had been pushing the Gentiles to observe Jewish laws, and he knew that convincing the church in Rome to depend on grace alone would require a carefully worded message. So Paul took care to clarify his own theology for the Christians at Rome, in preparation for the teaching he would provide when he finally arrived.

The resulting letter to the Roman church is a dense theological treatise. In fact, it’s a good example of what Peter meant when he wrote about his “dear brother, Paul,” saying, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:14-16). Two thousand years later, we are still chewing on some of Paul’s ideas. Imagine, then, what it must have been like to receive these teachings for the first time, and how radically strange Paul’s ideas of sin and grace might have seemed to the early Christians who read his letters to each other.

Paul states his main idea early on, and then presents his response to those who might disagree with him in the rest of the letter. Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written,The one who is righteous will live by faith” (Rom 1:16-17).From this bold statement, Paul explains and defends his view of grace for all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile.

In chapter five, Paul describes how Adam’s original sin has enslaved us all to death, but that in Christ, we have been made right with God by grace alone. In Adam, all of us became bound to sin, and the Law only made things worse. Then Paul throws in a twist as he moves into the heart of his argument: “but where sin increased, grace multiplied even more,” he writes.

Paul must have anticipated that this radical idea would have raised some questions among his readers, so he kicks off a diatribe to end all diatribes, answering those questions as thoroughly as he can before they can even be asked. Chapter six opens with Paul’s central argument about grace as God’s free gift. Hear the Word of the Lord, as given to the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter six, verse 1-11:

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But ifwe have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

What then are we to say?  …
Paul must love this rhetorical question, because he asks it a lot. In his letter to the Romans, it appears half a dozen times, at key turning points in Paul’s argument. “So what do you think?” Paul asks, “Should we sin more so we can experience more grace?” In his diatribe, Paul answers his opponents’ arguments by carrying them to the extreme, in order to prove them wrong.

The group that was causing the most trouble in Rome consisted of Jews who still viewed righteousness as something to be obtained by being born Jewish, and doing good works by following the law. Paul argues that God’s grace is available to all who believe, and that it is through faith alone that we become righteous.

Paul imagines his opponents answering this argument with one of their own: doesn’t free grace just promote free sin? If God’s grace is so free, so all-encompassing, and there is nothing I can do to earn it, why bother being good?  If God is going to forgive me anyway, why not just go on sinning to my heart’s content? In fact, doesn’t it make sense to sin more, so that God can forgive me more?

Certainly not, Paul tells us. It is precisely because we have chosen to align ourselves with God, and not with sin, that we have been changed.

And this is where baptism comes into the picture.

“We have been buried with him by baptism into death,” Paul writes, “so we might walk in newness of life.” Baptism is more than a simple rite of passage. It marks a radical change in identity. The old, sinful self is buried in the waters of baptism, and what comes up out of the water is a new creation. Just as the children of Israel walked into the Red Sea as runaway Egyptian slaves, and walked up out of that sea as God’s own nation, so we are called to walk in newness of life, set free from our slavery to sin.

So, what then should we say? What does that mean for us?

It means that Christ’s death was a one-time event, and he will not die again. If we are baptized into that death, we are also baptized into Christ’s resurrection to new life. I cannot say “new life” enough! We have been united with Christ in something completely new. Remember that Christ’s resurrected body was not his old body; even his closest friends did not recognize him at first. In the same way, our baptized selves are not anything at all like our old, sinful selves.

And yet, we often do not live like we have this “new life.” We stay stuck in patterns of behavior that ignore the fact we have been made into completely new people, children of the living God. Paul thought the Roman Christians were acting as if sin was a good thing, reasoning that the more we sin, the more God forgives us. Theologian David Bartlett summarizes Paul’s answer in two parts: “You’ve got to be kidding!” and “Be who you are.”

Be who you are. You are not just washed clean in the waters of baptism. Baptism has drowned your old sinful self and given you a new identity. Live into that new identity as Christ’s own. You have died to sin, so stop acting like it rules you. Bartlett continues,

“When Christians are told to “remember our baptism” that does not mean so much remembering the time and the place or who were the sponsors or who performed the sacrament. It is a way of saying: Remember who you are; you have died to sin and now you live a new life in Jesus Christ. It is a way of saying: Be who you are.
“Remember your baptism” also means, “Remember who you belong to.”  (David Bartlett )

“What then are we to say?” Are we to chime in with the “I’m Ok You’re OK” culture  and claim that, since God accepts us just the way we are, there is no need to change? Do we subscribe to the notion that sinning is actually good, because it creates more opportunities for grace? Or do we recognize that in becoming a follower of Jesus, we move from one kind of humanity, steeped in sin, into the very life of Christ? Because this is what Paul is saying, friends: since Christ is our model, whatever is true of him is now true of us, too. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We have died to sin, we are risen to new life with and in him, and when he comes again, we will be ready to join him in eternal glory. What part of that would you not want to claim as your very own?

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright tells us, “Living in accordance with a change of status requires that you recognize it and take steps to bring your actual life into line with the person you have become. … Once you are baptized, of course, you can try to shirk or shrug off your new responsibilities. You can pretend you don’t after all have a new status. … But what you can’t do is get unbaptized again.” (N.T. Wright, Paul For Everyone: Romans Part 1, 102.)

The passage ends with a bit of a hymn that was apparently known to Paul, and perhaps known already to the Christian communities in Rome who first received this letter. When he writes, “We know that…” (verse 9), in a way he’s really inviting his hearers to join the song:

Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again;
Death no longer has dominion over him.
The death he died, he died to sin, once for all;
But the life he lives he lives to God.

Then Paul adds his own verse to the song, and this must have been a powerful addition for those Christians in Rome, to hear these new words being sung to them, as they are to us:

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ.

When Paul says, “consider” he isn’t asking you to think of yourself as dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. He isn’t asking you to ponder this reality as an abstract idea. No, the verb translated here as “consider” is really a bookkeeping term. Other translations use the term “reckon” and we could just as easily use the word “calculate” to understand what Paul means here. When you calculate a sum of numbers, you come up with a new number, but it isn’t really “new” – it was there all along; you just didn’t know what the total sum was until you calculated it. Add it up, Paul says. You have already been reckoned dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. It may be hard to believe the answer you get when you do the math, but this is the reality. we need to be who we are, redeemed children of God, and we need to start acting like it.

Sin has no hold on us any longer; it’s time to let go of it. New life means living into new habits and behaviors, new ways of thinking and relating to people. It means living into our identity as followers of Jesus Christ. Let it be so.

 

Pentecost Ponderings – “What Does It Mean?”

This isn’t really a sermon – Peter gets the honors on that one for Pentecost Sunday – but here are my reflections on the texts for the day, which will be interwoven with songs and other worship elements as our congregation worships in the park tomorrow, then stays around for a potluck church picnic. Weather won’t be an issue, since we have shelters reserved. Children made flame streamers and coffee filter doves and spinning toys on Wednesday night, so we will use these props as we tell the stories together. Here goes…

Reflection on Numbers 11:24-30

Moses was in the middle of a crisis. The people had rebelled and tested God, whining for meat in addition to the manna that had been provided for them. Moses was exhausted from leading them and arguing with them, and he also complained to God.

The key verse in this story happens just before today’s lesson begins, after Moses has wondered aloud how God can possibly provide a month’s worth of meat for over 600,000 people out in the middle of the desert.:

23 The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

Then God had Moses gather 70 elders. 70 is an important number in the OT – perfection times 10. And God gave each of them a portion of Moses’ spirit, to help him lead the people, and they all began to prophesy, or speak the word of the Lord with authority. However 

Two who did not join the group at the tabernacle, remained in the camp, and they also received the Spirit and began to prophesy. This upset the status quo. Joshua got indignant – this was outside the box! These unauthorized prophets  should be silenced!

But Moses said, “I wish every one of God’s people would be prophets and the Lord would put his spirit on them.”

This number – 70 or 72 – comes up again in scripture. Remember the disciples that Jesus sent out ahead of him, to heal the sick and announce that the Kingdom of God is near? It’s in Luke 10 if you want to read it sometime. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). What is interesting is that, in the passage from Numbers, there is some disagreement whether Medad and Eldad were part of the original 70, but they just didn’t report to the tent of meeting with the others, or if they were two more. In Luke, some translations list 70, while others say 72 were sent.

God is not limited by our ideas of what the perfect number might be. God is always more than we can imagine. He pours out his spirit abundantly on the perfect number, and then spills it onto two more, completely unexpectedly. God’s spirit cannot be contained, even among rebellious, whiny children. Hold that thought. There’s more to come. …

Then we sing a couple of songs, and read the Gospel lesson together as a responsive reading. It’s only a couple of verses, and needs no commentary. Jesus says, “Let any who are thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Then we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as the children gather and prepare the props for distribution to the congregation.

The Pentecost Story – Acts 2:1-21

A couple of weeks ago, we heard the story of the Ascension. Before he ascended, or rose up, into heaven, Jesus told the disciples to go back into the city and wait to be “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24: 49) So the disciples went back to Jerusalem rejoicing and they praised God every day in the temple. In Luke’s second book, the one we call “Acts of the Apostles” or just “Acts,” we learn that the disciples were staying together in an upstairs room. This might have been the same room where they ate with Jesus on the night before he was crucified, and where they waited together on Easter morning. But they waited together, and that is the important part.

There was a big festival fifty days after Passover – and remember it was during Passover that Jesus was crucified – and sometimes people who lived far away from Jerusalem would come to the city for Passover, and then just stay for the festival of Pentecost a few weeks later. So Jerusalem was pretty crowded, and there were people there from many different countries, all of them speaking different languages. It must have been pretty noisy.

Then, on the morning of Pentecost, while the disciples were still together – remember the bundle of sticks from last week, and how important it is that we stick together to stay strong in our faith? – well, on that morning, the disciples received what Jesus had promised them, that “power from on high.” But no one expected it to happen the way it did. Remember in our earlier story about Moses and the elders, how God’s spirit spilled out onto Eldad and Medad, even though they stayed in the camp? Well, listen to this, and you can help me tell the story.

 Acts 2:1-21:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (blow pinwheels, make wind sounds by rubbing hands together)

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. (wave flame streamers, keep wind noise going, hold construction paper “tongues” over a few heads.)

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

What do you think they were saying? I wonder what it must have felt like, to be speaking a language you didn’t even know yourself, but others could understand. What do you think?

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 

Remember that there were people there in Jerusalem from many different countries, and they all spoke different languages. So there must have been at least a dozen different languages happening at the same time. Do you remember the story in Genesis (11) about the people who were trying to build a tower to heaven, so God “confused their speech” by giving them different languages, so they couldn’t understand each other? Right, it was the Tower of Babel. Well, this was just the opposite. Now, because the disciples were speaking in so many different languages, everyone had a chance to hear the good news in a way they could understand it. But it probably sounded pretty noisy from far away. Let’s try an experiment. Adults, I want you to think of a song you like to sing in church, maybe your favorite hymn. If you don’t think of yourself as a singer, you can use a kazoo (redistribute kazoos, if necessary). Now, the children are going to count to three, and on three, would you each please start singing your own song? While the adults sing, we are going to listen from over here first, to see if we can understand any of them. Then I’d like the adults to spread out away from each other, but keep singing. I’d like each of you children to go stand right in front of someone who is singing, and see if you can tell what their song is. Ready? One, two, three, sing!

Did you notice that it’s easier to hear just one song if you are standing right in front of the singer, while the other songs are in the background? I think that’s what happened here at Pentecost. Suddenly, the disciples aren’t hiding away in the upper room any more. Suddenly, they are out in the street, or maybe the temple square, where everyone else can hear them. And as they spread out, it makes it easier for the people who were there from other places to hear and recognize their own languages.  Let’s see where they were from:

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 

People came from all over to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. In fact, the places that are mentioned here have been grouped according to where they appear on a map. (Show Bible map) The Parthians, Medes, Elamites and Mesopatamians would have come to Jerusalem from the east, the Judeans were the people who lived right around Jerusalem, the Cappadocians and people from Pontus and Asia, Phryigia and Pamphylia came from the north, the Egyptians, Libyans, Romans and Cretans came from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea west of Jerusalem, and the Arabs came from the south. But the word of the Lord was not just for foreigners, it was also for the people who lived right there in Jerusalem, in the middle of Judea. And it wasn’t just for the Judeans, it was for people from as far away as Egypt and Rome. The good news is for everyone.

For the disciples, that meant Jews AND Gentiles from different places. For us today, it might mean something different. What are some ways we think of people as being different from each other now? Poor, rich, smart, not so smart, shy, popular, bullies, victims of bullying… but the good news is for everyone, even people we think are not like us at all – especially for people we think are not like us at all.
Let’s find out what happened next.

12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that 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.
18 Even upon my servants, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
       before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

This is the good news: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Some may laugh and make fun of us for believing in Jesus, just like the people who accused those disciples of being drunk at 9:00 in the morning. But there will always be people asking “What does this mean?” and we have an answer to give them.

The Holy Spirit is here among us. The Holy Spirit gives us power to speak boldly so everyone can hear and understand that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained, but spreads out and overflows. Sons and daughters will prophesy – they will announce God’s good news with authority. Many signs and wonders will let us know that the day of the Lord is coming, and all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. That’s what it means to have rushing wind, tongues of fire, and every known language spoken at once. It means that God’s Spirit is filling the world, filling the church, filling you and me. But that’s not all. There’s more! God has given us so much, we need to give back to God. We have one more reading from the New Testament, and it will tell us what living in the spirit means for us.

Offering time, then an introduction to the Epistle reading for the day:

What have we learned so far, as we heard the story of Moses, and the story of Pentecost? God’s spirit is not limited by our ideas of how things “ought” to be. God’s spirit is poured out on all people who call on the name of the Lord, no matter what they look like, where they come from, how smart they are, or whether they are rich or poor. We need to trust God to do more than we can imagine, knowing that God will pour out his Holy Spirit on us, giving us power to do the work of the Kingdom of God.

In order to do that work, we need to recognize how the spirit acts in each of us, giving each of us particular spiritual gifts, to use for the building up of God’s Kingdom. Hear the final reading for this day of Pentecost, from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,  1 Corinthians 12:4-13.

Then we close with a Pentecost prayer, which will include a prayer distributed at the recent Minnesota UMC Annual Conference  Session for God to unleash us as a fearless, spirit-led church, and we sing a final song before blessing the food that follows worship, sharing a benediction to be sent out as spirit-led, spirit-filled, spirit-gifted people of God. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

So, what does your Pentecost party look like?

Pentecost

Wind like a freight train, like a tornado –
not just a breeze whistling around the corner of the house –
but a full-on roar!
How did those tongues of flame stay put,
in all that roaring, rushing wind?
Ruach.
Breath of God, blow through us.
Knock us over with your power.
Fill us.
Come, Holy Spirit, come,