June 5, 2022
NOTE: This is my final sermon before retiring from active ministry. I’ve preached Acts 2:1-21 other years, and you can find another message on this passage here. But this one is different, because it is also my farewell to a specific congregation, as well as to formal ministry.
The Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the Holy Spirit is “parakletos” – which translates best as Advocate or Comforter. But parakletos means more than that.
It literally means “one who comes alongside.” Certainly, there is an understanding that this means to come alongside us to comfort us in our confusion and despair, or to come alongside us as an Advocate would in a court of law. But every year when I read this description of Pentecost, I’m struck by how the Holy Spirit coming alongside these gathered disciples is anything but comfortable.
We’re talking about a loud rush of violent wind sweeping in and filling the house where the disciples are praying together. This does not sound comforting, does it? And at some point, the sound of their many voices, each speaking in a different language, gets loud enough that people outside the house can hear it, and they start to gather around, wondering what it means.
And suddenly, that violent rushing wind propels them outdoors, where people from every nation can identify their own languages being spoken. When Peter stands up to explain what is happening, he addresses “all who live in Jerusalem,” so we get the sense that the wind and flames inside the house have now spilled out into the streets.
The Holy Spirit is on the move. Suddenly, the word “Pentecost” means more than a Jewish festival 50 days after Passover. Now, it means an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that signals the beginning of Christ’s church. The Kingdom of God is no longer confined to the heavenly realms – or within the walls of a building.
The Kingdom of God is not just “at hand” or “near.” The Kingdom of God is here. It is now. It is moving.
The Holy Spirit is more than Comforter, more than Advocate. The Holy Spirit comes alongside to strengthen us and give us courage for the daunting work of proclaiming Christ to a world that doesn’t always want to hear this good news. And, sometimes, the Holy Spirit gives us the swift kick we need to get up, and get moving out of our comfort zones, out of the building, into the places God wants us.
You are experiencing this, as a church. Like those early disciples, you are becoming apostles. How does that happen? When does following turn into being sent?
Last week we heard Jesus give his final instructions to the disciples as they watched him disappear into the clouds. We saw them return to Jerusalem with joy, praising God, and we looked on as they gathered once more in a room together, praying to receive what Jesus had promised them, power from on high. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows them out into the city to share the Good News, and the church is born.
Somewhere in there, they’ve been transformed from frightened followers to bold announcers of the gospel. Somewhere in there, they’ve changed from apprentice craftsmen to master builders in God’s kingdom here on earth. They’ve joined Jesus in the work of healing and driving out demons and preaching Christ. They are no longer disciples, but apostles; no longer following behind, but being sent out ahead. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit propels them out into the streets of Jerusalem in a blaze of glory.
The Holy Spirit is still at work, despite repeated human efforts to quench it. The Holy Spirit will not be tamed. God’s Spirit cannot be limited by our feeble attempts to control it, to keep it within polite boundaries. Just as the Holy Spirit propelled those first apostles into the streets of Jerusalem, it propels you into the streets of Willmar, Minnesota, to share the good news that Jesus is Lord, and the kingdom he came to inaugurate is present among us now.
Over the past two years, you have walked with me, as I have walked with you, learning and teaching each other what it means to follow Jesus, and to be sent by him. We may have disagreed on some things. We certainly rejoiced over others.
I know I have grown deeper in faith and stronger in love of God and neighbor, and I hope many of you can say the same. And while, for this season together, you have given me the authority to serve as your pastor, I have sought to be faithful to the authority God placed on my life when calling me into ministry.
In a couple of weeks, you will welcome a new pastor, and I know you will place your trust in her as your spiritual leader. This is as it should be. You are ready for a new chapter in the story of Willmar United Methodist Church, and I am confident God plans to make it a good one!
But here’s the thing: the core of the good news of the Kingdom of God is found right here, among you all, in the people who choose to follow Jesus, loving God with all your hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and loving your neighbors as Christ has loved you.
You are the gospel. You are the good news. You are the ones going out in a blaze of Pentecost glory. You are the ones who are being sent, propelled by the Holy Spirit into the world around you, to speak in ways others can hear, and to love as Jesus has loved you. As you approach this Table today, know that you are receiving nourishment for the journey. Christ gives himself to you. Christ goes with you, even as the Holy Spirit sends you forth.
So, one last time, let me offer this invitation to you …
“Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may. Come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ, and desire to be his true disciples. Come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of his mercy and help. Come, not to express an opinion, but to seek his presence and pray for his Spirit. Come, that we may be one in Christ Jesus.” – Covenant Book of Worship, p. 112