Never Underestimate 5-15-16

In this sermon for Pentecost Sunday, I explore Acts 2:1-21 as the Holy Spirit comes upon the members of the early church in incredible ways.

You can follow along with the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/do-not-underestimate-5-15-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

Never underestimate. Words of advice that I heard years ago…long enough that I can’t even remember who told me…but this advice applies to situations both positive and negative.  Never underestimate the ability of an individual to do or say something utterly remarkable …and at the same time, never underestimate the ability of an individual, perhaps the very same individual, to do something…REALLY stupid. (pause)

Summer of 1999…late May or perhaps early June. I’d been working on the maintenance crew at Brooks Golf Course in Okoboji for a very brief period of time, just a few weeks…pretty much long enough to get the very basics, including how to operate the various types of mowers on my own without supervision…and also, it should be noted, the summer when a brand new hole was in the late process of becoming established on the course…a new hole, with a new green.

Now, everything about this new hole was good to go…the tee and the fairway and the rough…all were grown in and established…but when I first started, the green was not yet in play…and this is because of the extreme nature of golf greens. They are cut extremely short, every single day…typically at lengths of less than a 10th of an inch…and because of this, you have to use a special type of grass that is bred to withstand, and even thrive, under these extreme conditions…but before that species of grass can thrive, or even survive under these conditions, it needs to get established and produce a very solid root base…and in order for this to happen, you first let it grow pretty long.

Okay, so all that being said, this day, early in the season, and early in my turf maintenance career…I was assigned the task of mowing a specific set of greens…in a rotation that had just been established and posted by the head guy that day…and of course, my set of greens included that new green…and I’m sure you can see where this is going.

I got to this new green, and even though I could tell the grass was really long…and I questioned myself several times before starting…I concluded that since my boss had put it on the rotation assignment…that he must want me to cut it…so I did…at least I did about 90% of it before he saw me and came flying over with a look on his face that made me think “that’s it…I’m fired.” (pause) I had clearly made the wrong call…I had made a decision that I was in no way qualified to make…a call that under most circumstances would have resulted in the utter destruction of that green…and the need to start completely over again with its establishment.

But…I think God was on my side…because that particular day happened to be very cool…completely overcast…and it actually started a very gentle rain about an hour after this whole deal happened…a rain that lasted the rest of the day…and I happened to overhear about a day later, one of the other bigwigs told my boss “You know, we couldn’t have picked a better day to start cutting that green.” (pause) It shouldn’t have worked out…but it did.

Now all of that being said, today we see evidence of the same sort of thing happening. Here we are, Pentecost Sunday…one of my favorites…and the one day in the church year when the Holy Spirit is REALLY on display…because today is the day that we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem…an event marked by a great rushing wind…one of the only two appearances of the spirit in some sort of physical form…uneducated backwater guys suddenly empowered to speak different languages…and of course the snarky back and forth between Peter and their opponents over this event being prompted by overdoing it at the bar. (pause)

We’ve been moving towards this day for several weeks now. Perhaps you’ve noticed an ongoing theme of the coming Holy Spirit within our gospel lessons as we moved through the tail end of the Easter Season…but now…BOOM!!!!! Here we are…and as such all of our scripture lessons feature the Holy Spirit…and interestingly enough…all of them aimed at something just a little bit different.

Within the Psalm that we shared earlier we hear…You have sent forth your Spirit, and they are created…And so we see that the Spirit was present within Creation…The brief reading from Romans highlights how the Spirit is active in God’s claim upon us as his children…we are given the spirit of adoption…that it is through the power of the spirit that we are claimed in the first place….the gospel lesson features Jesus’ own words and promise that the Spirit will come upon his followers…the advocate…who will teach us and remind us of his words…there are countless more passages throughout the scripture, both old and new testament, that testify to the Spirit, telling us different things that the Spirit will do both for us and within us…

And then of course, we have our normal reading for today from Acts 2, when the Promised Spirit comes upon the disciples, empowering them to do things that they had no way of doing on their own.

Truly today is Holy Spirit day…but funny enough…I’m reminded each and every year about how ambiguous the Holy Spirit really is…and its been my observation that here in the Lutheran tradition especially, we are pretty good and shoving the Spirit off to the side…We get the Father and Creator…We get the Son who lived, died, and was resurrected…but we don’t really get the Spirit do we? (pause)
Even if we think about the Apostles Creed…our main statement of belief that we share together each and every Sunday…the portion attributed to the Holy Spirit doesn’t shed much light…I believe in the Holy Spirit…okay good so far…the holy catholic church…umm, because the Spirit united us all into the one universal church…okay…the communion of saints…ummm, the forgiveness of sins…yah…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. (pause) Is it just me…or does that get a little confusing about just what the Spirit is…or what the Spirit does? (pause) Or maybe, is that just a glimpse at the multitude of things that Spirit is up to right here, right now, in the midst of our present reality, whether we can place our finger on it or not…maybe that random 16th century monk knew what he was talking about when he wrote I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Christ Jesus my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts and sanctified me. (pause)

Truly the Holy Spirit is up to a lot within the world…because God is still up to a lot in the world and whether we have the tendency to gloss over it or not…the Spirit…IS…GOD…and as such one of the many things that God is up to through the Spirit is to empower us as followers of Christ to do things that we are in no way shape or form capable of on our own.

The perfect example of this is Peter…because think about Peter…think about his history…He’s a fishermen…and honestly I sort of wonder if he’s even any good at that…the only two times we hear about him actually fishing, he needs Jesus to perform a miracle in order for him to catch any fish…he’s a bonehead who chooses to jump out of a perfect good boat in the midst of a storm to try and walk on water…He constantly spouts off out of confusion…trying to break the silence that occurs…and when it comes to failures…isn’t he the poster boy for Discipleship Fails? (pause) Even if all others fall away Lord, I will follow you, even to death…Yah, no you won’t Peter…they’re all gonna run away, sure…but you’re actually gonna deny me 3 times…not once…but 3. (pause)

Peter should be the absolute worst choice. He’s an uneducated, possibly subpar fisherman who not only doesn’t understand, but he flat out fails to grasp what Jesus is saying or what Jesus is really up to…(pause) And yet…

When the disciples have been empowered by the Spirit and begin proclaiming the greatness of God in foreign languages…spreading the gospel to individuals who will then take it with them back to every nation under the heavens…and in the midst of this…opposition occurs…this backwater dude, who has no business taking the reigns, and certainly no experience with large scale public speaking…stands up, empowered, emboldened…and led by the Holy Spirit…and proceeds to share his experience of the risen Lord Jesus Christ…and after a rather lengthy sermon…we see that the Spirit uses him…and his words, such as they are…and the Spirit prompts the question within the crowd…What do we do? And Peter responds, repent and be baptized.

And 3000 people came to Christ that day…3000 people that would take the message out into the world…to the ends of the earth. (pause) It never should have worked…but it did…because the Spirit was doing one of the many things that the Spirit does…it empowers us…now of course, this looks different for everyone…because as we hear, there is one Spirit but many gifts here in the one body of Christ.

And what a blessing…what reassurance to see in today’s story that God can and does use us, despite our failings…despite our shortcomings…and sometimes, its those very failings that the Spirit uses to advance the kingdom…Just like me messing up and mowing that green when I had no business doing it…the weather just happened to cooperate and the green went into play 2 weeks earlier than expected…and likewise…The Spirit used Peter, a knucklehead fisherman who had proven time and again that he had no idea what he was talking about, and increased the size of the church 25 times over. (pause)

We are flawed…we are broken…we feel unqualified and ill-prepared…and no one knows that better than we know for ourselves…and yet the Spirit empowers us and uses us…often times within the midst of those very shortcomings that we recognize within ourselves. This has been true since the beginning…it was true in the days of Jesus and the disciples…it is true today…and will continue to be true in the future.

Truly we must never underestimate anything…not our ability to do something incredibly stupid…Lord knows I’m capable of that on a pretty constant basis…but also, we must not underestimate what the Spirit can and does accomplish in the midst of it. Amen.

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