Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost’

The Spirit Groans 5-20-18

*these two images are referenced in the sermon*

In this sermon for the Day of Pentecost, I explore the action of the Holy Spirit in the world, based on Acts 2:1-21 and Romans 8:22-27.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a few of our High School students…and we got started talking about Pentecost.  And since its one of those pretty well known stories from the Bible, I thought I’d give them a little quiz and see what they remember from their Confirmation Days.

You guys remember Pentecost? Yah I think so.  Was that before or after Jesus died?  After…and its after the Resurrection and Ascension too. Okay…so Jesus is alive again but he’s not around anymore right? Right. Is it the Gospels? No its after the gospels…but right after the gospels. Umm…is that when the Holy Spirit shows up?  YES!!!!

Now at this point I was doing mental jumping jacks because it seemed like they remembered the story…and so I asked one more question.  Do you remember how the Spirit showed up? And after a moment of thought, one of them said.  Wasn’t it, like a big flaming bird? And one of the other kids said Ooo…like a Phoenix? And with that, our conversation went a little off the rails…but as I think back on the conversation…I realized that the kids were a little more on top of things than it might initially seem.

Because the Holy Spirit, while present in many different ways throughout the course of Scripture, only shows up twice in some sort of physical form…and it would seem that as we were talking, the kids just combined those two stories together.

Interestingly enough…we’ve got pictures or emblems or symbols, whatever you want to call them, right here in the sanctuary of these two times.  The first one is located at the back of the sanctuary, if you swing around and look you’ll see the large wood carving of the dove, representing the time when the Holy Spirit appeared in this form, coming from heaven and resting upon Jesus at his baptism.

And the second one is up here in the front…represented right up behind me and over my head in the red parament…depicting the tongues of fire that show up on the day of Pentecost….which is, of course, today. (pause)
Now the story of Pentecost is fascinating as all kinds of crazy stuff occurs…and we’ve been talking about this event off and on over the past couple of weeks as we’ve encountered some of the earliest situations faced by the church in the absence of Jesus…and it would seem that it all originates right here as the Spirit shows up in dramatically unexpected fashion.

Crazy violent wind…fire doing weird stuff…a bunch of random Galileans speaking in tongues…individuals from all over the known world hearing the proclamation of God’s deeds of power spoken in their native languages…accusations of public intoxication…Spirit inspired testimony from Peter which ultimately results in more than 3000 people becoming believers of the gospel…and as we hear everyone is amazed and perplexed asking the question “What does this mean?” (pause)

I can’t help but think that this sense of confusion…this wonder…this ultimate head scratcher is pretty telling when it comes to the action of the Holy Spirit in the world…and scripture goes a long way to show us the multitude of different things that Spirit is up to with different people in different situations at different times.

Today alone we have three different scripture lessons that reveal 3 different ways that the Spirit acts. We’ve got the empowerment of the believers to proclaim the gospel, not to mention the formation of new community across countless cultural boundaries here in the book of Acts.  The gospel lesson out of John reminds us of Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will continue to reveal God’s truth in the world. And then in Romans we hear how the Spirit intercedes for us, often in moments when we are unable to do so for ourselves…and its actually that passage that catches my attention today.

Here in the letter to the Romans, written 20 or 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are reminded of the brokenness of the world…and how every aspect of creation has been effected by the presence of sin and brokenness within our reality…that the whole creation is groaning…and so are we while we wait for the fulfillment of the promises made by God through Jesus Christ.

We wait…we hope…in the midst of our weakness…and God knows this…and we are reminded that God does not leave us alone in this weakness…for the Spirit helps us…interceding for us and WITH us in those moments when we don’t know what to say…when we don’t know what to think or feel…in those times when life doesn’t make sense…or when its too painful…or when our expectations and dreams reach a point of being beyond our ability to control…in those times when we look backwards and see the pain or struggles of our past, or we look forward and see a haze of the unknown. (pause)

Perhaps its fitting that today is graduation day…and for a few of you sitting out there today…this tension might hold a lot of credence. And I wonder what it is that you are praying for…or perhaps what it is that the spirit is praying on your behalf as you contemplate receiving your diploma in just a few hours…and the unknown that lies beyond it….or for your parents and grandparents who have raised you…who have struggled with the tension of being fully invested in you and yet not holding on too tightly…and they dream for you…they hope for you…and yet they are scared for you as you face this unknown future.

I think that this is, perhaps, telling of the sense that many of us feel as we ponder on the world…as we think about the world that the next generation is inheriting…and the truth that no matter how much we care, there are forces at work that we just can’t protect you from.

This past Friday, once again, news broke of a school shooting, this time in the Houston area…and again, there are lives lost…there are families broken…and lives shattered…and as I heard that news Friday morning, I found myself unaware of what to think or do or say in the face of this evil…and I thought about how it could have been here…it could have been our young people…it could have been some of you…and I found myself at an utter loss of what to say…

But in the midst of this I began to see, in this moment, the truth of Paul’s words that all of creation is groaning…because there is something inherently wrong when we consider the truth of pain and brokenness and death…a reality that leaves us wondering “What are we to say about these things?”

Perhaps that question sounds familiar to you. I often use it to begin funeral sermons, and its found just a few verses after this reading from Romans 8.  And maybe just maybe the only thing that we can say as we lean on the presence of God who resides within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit…maybe the only thing we can do is remember that we’ve been given a promise that we have a God who will NEVER leave us alone…and that there is nothing in this world…nothing in this reality that can separate us from God…and that in this promise we find hope…and in hope we are saved.

We can not prove the promises of God to be true…because whatever it is that lies out there on the other side of this broken reality, we can’t see it yet…but we hope for it…and we look to one another for love and support in those times when we just can’t handle it alone…because one of the gifts of the Spirit is community…God has given us one another and together we are the body…when one is weak another is strong…when one falters, another is there to pick them up again…this is how we mirror the love of God which has been shown to us in Christ Jesus…and as we do this…let us hold on to words which end the 8th chapter of Romans…words that I hope will give you hope…words that I pray give you something to hang onto in these times when the Spirit groans within you and for you because you don’t know what to say or to think. (pause)
I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing…not even the powers of darkness that rage in this world. (pause)
I want draw your attention back to the two symbols of the Holy Spirit here in the sanctuary…the dove in the back and the flames here in the front…I actually like the separation between the two as it reminds us that the baptism of Jesus started at the beginning of the gospel…and the tongues of fire from Pentecost showed up at the end when the church was empowered to be the body of Christ…but if you look at both, you’ll see something that they have in common…both emblems have a cross don’t they?

Maybe these two symbols working together are actually the Spirit trying to remind us that both of these events are connected by what God did through the cross. (pause) Because in Christ, God tried to show the world that there was another way…and on the cross the world killed him for it…but the cross also reminds us that death doesn’t get the last word in all this…God does…and this is the promise that we cling to…even in those moments when we need the Spirit to utter some groans on our behalf, because trust me, we are not alone…and the Spirit groans. Amen

Even These 5-6-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 10:44-48, I explore the utterly unexpected way that the Holy Spirit acts in bringing more and more marginalized people into fellowship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Ever heard the phrase “Truth is stranger than fiction?” There are times when this statement utterly spot-on.  Earlier this week I was scrolling through social media and found a picture of a book…And looking at the cover art may have temporarily broken my brain…Jesus, riding a rainbow unicorn, holding a machine gun in each hand, all while firing lasers out of his eyes.

It was like someone took My Little Pony, Superman, and Rambo…put it all in a blender…and then poured it on the gospels…and the biggest kicker was the name. The Bible, Part 2. (pause) I’m not making this up. Now, I don’t know what was actually in this book. I don’t know if it was satire, or a coloring book, or some weird comic…but it did get me wondering just what we would find if there actually was a sequel to the Bible. (pause)

Now, while we can’t answer that question, we can take a look at the theme of scriptural sequels and find some evidence…and that lies with the book of Acts…Now I can’t help but think that Acts, or Acts of the Apostles as its officially known, is one of the books of the Bible that tends to get glossed over more often than not…but when we take the time to really start digging into it, we find some pretty amazing, not to mention pretty mind blowing situations faced by the earliest church.

Now that right there…the earliest church, that’s what the book of Acts is really about. The 4 gospels highlight the Christ event…the story of God entering into our reality as a man named Jesus…his birth, his time in ministry…and of course his subsequent death and resurrection…all vital to the narrative of “THE GOSPEL” itself…and of course vital to our faith. But once the gospels are finished, it raises the question of what came next…and we find that in Luke’s second written volume of the Book of Acts.

Now Acts picks up with a tiny little overlap with the ending of Luke’s gospel…as the resurrected Jesus leads the apostles outside the city of Jerusalem. He tells them that they will be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit which will come upon them, and carrying the good news of the kingdom of Heaven…beginning in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and even to the ends of the Earth. With that, Jesus is taken up into heaven in the Ascension…an event which we’ll actually celebrate this coming Thursday…and with that the apostles head back into the city of Jerusalem where they hang out for 10 days…before the utterly mind-blowing event of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit come blowing in and empowered the apostles to speak in various tongues, proclaiming the greatness of God in the languages of countless Jewish people there for a festival…and with it, we begin to see the explosive growth of the early church…of the body of Christ, connected and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is really what the book of Acts entails. Early on we hear of the various exploits of the original Apostles…the places they end up, the people that they encounter and the miraculous events that occur, and then in the back half of the book we hear about the Apostle Paul, his conversion, his interactions with the original apostles and his subsequent ministry throughout much of the known world…as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom of Heaven continues moving outward, just like Jesus had said at the beginning, before Acts comes to a close by telling us that the gospel is being proclaimed in the world boldly and unhindered. (pause)

Jesus came into our reality to change it…to overcome the powers of sin and death and brokenness…and then he empowered his followers to carry that message forward…and that’s where we pick up today. With Peter…arguably the most relatable of the apostles because he’s just so human isn’t he?  He’s the one who constantly puts his foot in his mouth…the one who boldly makes divine proclamations about Jesus in one moment, and turns around and denies him in the next. And yet, he is the one who Jesus calls the rock.

Now Acts chapter 10 as a whole marks a transition for the church, and Peter is right at the heart of it.  Up to this point, while there has been explosive growth in the number of believers…its pretty well been limited to Jewish Christians…so much so that the earliest church was considered to be a Jewish sect…an offshoot of the same faith.

And because of this fact…this distinction, these earliest believers would have been followers of Jewish law…they would have been shaped by this cultural identity and with all of the rules and regulations that came along with it.  But now things are about to get shaky.

And it all starts as two different guys have visions. Now one of them is Peter and the other one is this random Gentile named Cornelius…a Roman centurion…and officer in their army, known and respected by the Jewish people around the city of Caesarea…one who even knows and fears God…but still a Gentile…and now he has a vision instructing him to send for Peter who’s hanging out in a nearby city…and so he does.

Now at the same time, Peter’s sitting on a rooftop having a vision of his own…as he sees a sheet descend from heaven, carrying pretty much every type of unclean animal…animals that Jewish law prevents them from eating…and as Peter sees all this he hears a voice saying “get up, kill and eat.”

Now in his vision Peter kinda freaks out, because he follows the dietary rules and always has…he won’t break them…he follows what can called ceremonial law…and he says “by no means, for I have never eaten anything profane.” And then the voice says “What God has called clean you are not to call profane.”

Now if the story stopped right there we could be thankful, because it allows us the joy of eating bacon, which I do believe is a gift from God…but joking aside that’s not where it stops…and Peter is told that there are Gentiles coming to find him and that he should go with them.

Now this leads Peter to the home of Cornelius, and he’s not alone…as we hear that there are circumcised believers with him…Jewish believers…probably numbering among the 3000 that were present and witnessed the Holy Spirit’s activity empowering the apostles at Pentecost….they’ve come along as well to see just what’s going on here.

Now as this group enters the home of Cornelius, he explains why he summoned them…and that in his vision he was instructed to listen to Peter and that his whole household is ready for Peter’s message., whatever it will be.

Now the pieces are starting to click into place for Peter, and he begins by acknowledging something vital…I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…and with this, Peter begins sharing the story…the message, the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who are present. (pause)
Now here’s the funny thing…as the lesson picks up today, we hear that the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter. Apparently his sermon is getting a little long winded and the Spirit doesn’t want to wait anymore…for “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…and these Gentiles…these non-Jewish people….these individuals who are not members of God’s chosen people, begin speaking in tongues and exalting God…which if memory serves me correctly is the EXACT SAME THING that happened to the apostles at Pentecost. And seeing that the Spirit had truly come upon them, Peter insists that they be baptized.

Now this event is not without repercussions…and as the narrative continues Peter starts catching some flack and has to explain himself…funny enough, not because he baptized these Gentile believers…but because he dared enter into the house of a Gentile.

And that right there…that’s telling of the problem that the early church was facing in this moment…because they all seemed to be stuck in that sense of ceremonial law that we mentioned earlier…that there are rules to admission…that you’ve gotta become Jewish…aka get circumcised, before you can become a Christ-follower.  Peter catches flack over this…later on Paul will butt heads over this…Paul even wrote the letter to the Galatians because of this exact situation.

Now its sorta funny. We read this today and think it’s a no-brainer…of course the gospel is for the Gentiles…it has to be or we wouldn’t be here would we? We’re not Jewish…so clearly that boundary was overcome…that line in the sand was crossed…and its because of this event involved Peter and Cornelius.

It’s a no-brainer for us…but at that time it was shocking…it was scandalous…offensive even…and we hear this if we pay attention to the astonished reaction of the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter…as they were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit, had been poured out…EVEN ON the Gentiles. (pause)

That simple little statement speaks volumes.  Its shocking to them that God would show favor to GENTILES…who’s next? Samaritans? Oh wait, Didn’t Jesus already do that? Well at least they’re half-Jewish…but Gentiles? No…surely not? But Jesus has already broken that barrier too hasn’t he?  And remember his instruction to the earliest church, that tiny handful of disciples. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.

Now I can’t help but think, the ends of the earth seems pretty all-encompassing doesn’t it? (pause)  It seems to be pretty inclusive…and that maybe, this whole situation…Jesus’ words mixed in with Peter’s vision, and the reality of the Holy Spirit coming upon these Gentiles serves to show us that when it comes to the Gospel, we can’t think its “us or them.” But rather it’s a question of “we.” Namely, humanity….because we have each been made bearing the divine image of God…we have each been called good by the one who made it…and we are all included when we hear that God so loved the world.

And so I pose the question today…who are those that fall on the other side of the line?  Who are those who tradition or society or whatever have pushed to the margins? Who are those that fail to follow the ceremonial law that we are all stuck in, whether we realize it or not…who are those that do things differently or think differently or talk differently or act differently than we do?

If the earliest believers struggled with anything here its that “the rules” that they had followed didn’t seem to apply where these newest believers were concerned…or perhaps more specifically they don’t apply where the Holy Spirit was concerned.

As members of the human race we are all really good at creating boundaries…now maybe we do so out of nefarious reasons or maybe we do so in order to give ourselves reassurance that we are, in fact, ok…but regardless, the scriptures show us time and time again that God seems to side with the marginalized…the ones pushed to other side of that line.

And so I ask the question…who are those that we have placed on the other side of the line? Who are the ones that our ceremonial law deems unacceptable that maybe just maybe the Holy Spirit is falling on anyway, whether we like it or not?

This is an important question that we in the church need to be asking ourselves…because if the gospel shows us anything…its that the grace of God is big enough…it is generous enough…it is so full of mercy, that it can overcome my brokenness (pause)…and it is given to me because of God’s perfect all-encompassing sacrificial love for me because I am made bearing the divine image. And the same is true for you. God’s grace is given to you because you are made bearing that same divine image. And if that’s the case then we better believe that same grace is given to everyone else bearing it too.

So ask yourselves…who is it? Who are you shocked to discover that the Holy Spirit has been poured out…even on these?  Amen

Its Holy But Its Scary 6-4-17

In this Pentecost sermon, based on Acts 2:1-21, I explore the action of the Holy Spirit empowering the disciples, as well as the invitation to join in God’s action in the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

The first time my dad got me up on a tractor to actually drive the thing, I was 13. A year later he had me out in the field discing, which is of probably the type of field work least likely to get screwed up. I also got my learners permit that same year. A year later I had my school permit, and the year after that I was licensed to drive all over the place. A quick bit of math reveals that I’ve been behind the wheel of some type of vehicle for the past quarter of a century.

For the most part, its gone just fine. In fact I’ve been driving long enough that its completely second nature and I cruise down the road without much thought of the power in the vehicle that I’m controlling. (pause) But there have been a couple of instances where that wasn’t the case…the most prominent in my memory happened when I was 18, and three of my friends and I were involved in a roll over accident.

A blown tire threw us completely out of control, and after fishtailing back and forth a few times, we rolled sideways 2 times right down the middle of the highway before coming to a stop. (pause) Now its hard to say how long it took for our car to roll over, probably no more than a second or two…but I can still remember it quite vividly…and the sense that there was nothing I could do against the violence of that rollover wreck.

Now to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember what the first words out of my mouth were…knowing me it was probably a 2 word phrase that starts with Holy and ends…well it ends with something I probably shouldn’t say in the pulpit…but I do remember the first words that one of the other guys said from the backseat…WHAT HAPPENED?

Now other than a few bumps and scrapes…all 4 of us were pretty much okay…we were pretty blessed that day…but in remembering the violence of that moment…the same question remains…What happened….or you could ask…what is this?  (pause) Or maybe some would ask, what does this mean? (pause)

Pentecost Sunday…the day when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit…empowering the disciples to do something amazing…and typically when we think of this story…its exciting…everyone’s hanging out in Jerusalem…pilgrims from all over the world are there to celebrate…when suddenly the wind starts blowing, and flames start…flaming…and the disciples start rattling off the message of God’s deeds of power in all kinds of different languages…languages of the countless different nationalities that were present.

But there’s a word in there…one that I’ve never really picked up on until this time around.  Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a VIOLENT wind. (pause) This was no simple breeze…it was violent…and we need only think about the last major thunderstorm that we stood outside watching to recognize the amazing power that is present within a violent wind…so no wonder it attracted a crowd that day in Jerusalem. (pause)
Now of course, Pentecost…this event that we’re talking about today…we recognize it as the work of the Holy Spirit…and while we know that the Spirit of God has been around since the very beginning…this marks the start of something new…and the disciples are empowered to get to work…they are bonded together by something new…in fact…this violent presence of the Spirit in wind and fire creates an event that is impossible to ignore…and these are the exact types of things that have the tendency to bond groups of people together.

But make no mistake…this isn’t the work of the disciples…they aren’t the ones up to something here…this is the work of God…and we see that if we pay attention to the many different things that the Holy Spirit either does or empowers in this story. The Spirit violently comes out of heaven…burning like fire it rests on the men…it fills them and gives them the ability to speak in different dialects…and when the astonished crowd starts to push back a little, the Spirit empowers Peter to get up and speak…and what’s he talk about? The signs of the Spirit’s presence among all flesh in the last days. Dreams, prophecy, visions…disruptions in nature…all of it from the power of the Holy Spirit…of God’s Spirit active in the world. (pause)
Now I bring this up to highlight that yes…the Spirit is really up to something here…and its utter madness…its an upheaval…its not pleasant…and its not well received…the people are either astonished…and not in a good way…or they flat out refuse to believe what they see blaming the disciples linguist achievements on too much booze.

But whatever it is that the Spirit is up to here…I can only imagine just how good of a story it made for those who were there…and as we hear…it was people from all over the place. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Libians, Judeans, Cappocians, Asians and residents of Pontus and Phryrigia and Pamphila and Egypt and Rome and Crete and Arabia…Native Jews and converts…people from literally all over the world at that time were there to see this…and whether they believed it or not…which many did while many did not…you can bet that when the festival was over…they went home with a crazy story to tell…wind and fire and crazy Galileans preaching in all kinds of different languages. (pause)
Now part of me has often gotten stuck on the excuse that the naysayers make about the disciples being drunk…and I can’t help but think that people will go to any length to deny the work that God is up in the world…and while that might be true…thinking on this story reminded me of another story by the same author.

Keep in mind that Luke wrote the book of Acts as well as his gospel…and in his gospel we hear that Jesus empowers his followers, sending 70 of them out in pairs…empowered to cast out demons and heal diseases, some amazing things to be sure…but also to declare that the kingdom has come near…to declare the gospel as they had experienced it to that point…and the kicker…is that Jesus sends them out into the places where he planned to go. The story of Christ went first, and then Christ came along after.

Now with that in mind, think about Pentecost…and those residents of every nation under the heaven…going home with a story of this crazy event…an event that can’t be explained…only that it must have been some act of God…whatever god that might be in their individual culture…the story of God’s action in the world being carried out.

And just as Christ planned to follow after the disciples…the body of Christ here in the world follows after these individuals who carry the story out in the world…because of the countless different things that the Spirit of God is up to in the world…perhaps the single most important aspect is the way that the presence of the Spirit unites individuals together into something bigger than themselves.

Here in the Lutheran church we often tend to think of our spiritual gifts in a very individualistic way…and that’s not a bad thing…but we must also recognize that the power of the Spirit is community building as well…uniting all believers together as the one body of Christ.

Jesus tells his followers that they will be his witnesses…in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth…and the united body of Christ, which is the church throughout the ages that have followed are still in the midst of that task…of being Christ in the world that has heard stories of these crazy things that God is up to. (pause)

Now there’s another aspect of this story that we have recognize as we consider the way that the spirit does unite us together as community…there were nay-sayers in the crowd that day…but there were also 3000 people that believed and were baptized…people from every nationality…every corner of the world…and you can bet that they looked different…that they sounded different…that their day to day lives were different…and yet the Spirit brought them all together.

You can imagine how scary that was…to be in community…to be considered one with people that are different…people that you might even consider to be your cultural enemy…what must that be like to look at the other…and try and see them as your brother or sister….as your equal.

This is what the Holy Spirit is up to…and honestly we see this same story over and over again throughout scripture and throughout history…the action of the Spirit in the world is constantly inviting us forward into something new…and in this case a new sense of community with those that we would not expect…it may be holy…but by God its also scary isn’t it?

But we must recognize that what God is calling us into is not always easy…in fact more often not it’s the opposite of easy…its tough…its difficult…its scary…maybe even dangerous…and who knows what we might have to give up in order for this united community of faith to move forward into the future?

Are we willing to give up the sense that our way is the right way? Are we willing to give up our cultural hold on how to “do church?” Are we willing to take those scary steps forward…to meet the other who looks different than us…or to continue to build the body of Christ to better represent all of humanity, because guess what, that’s who God’s working on reaching.

Are we willing to take those scary steps forward so that the church will be stronger for our children…so that the church that Camden is about to be baptized into will be open to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit which will come upon him with the water and the word. This is the body of Christ…and only together…and I mean completely together…will we one day, truly embody what the body is supposed to look like.

Scary as it is…the Spirit invites us forward into something new…we are never called backwards…because that’s not how God is working in our world…may we have the courage to follow where the Spirit is blowing. Amen

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:

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.

Where Is The King? 11-23-14

This morning’s sermon for Christ the King Sunday comes from Matthew 25:31-46. In the sermon I explore where we find Christ, and more importantly where he finds us.

You can listen to the sermon here:

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

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

If the church year followed the calendar, we’d be in the gap between Christmas and New Year’s…just about to put the finishing touches on another year, and spouting off our resolutions for the new one.

But the church year doesn’t follow the calendar, and because of that, we’re already on the verge of starting over. Next Sunday begins the new church year, and with it, the short season of Advent. (pause) Now the church calendar, with its many different liturgical seasons runs in a cyclic pattern doesn’t it…and rightly so. Just as the 4 seasons of the year bring their own expectations…cold blustery winters, rainy transitional spring, hot dry summer, and cool dusty fall…the church seasons have their own expectations.

Advent finds us eagerly awaiting the coming messiah…at Christmas we celebrate his entry into our reality as a helpless baby…Epiphany reveals his presence to the world…then comes Lent as things get darkest…right before the new dawn of Easter when death is defeated…and then comes Pentecost where we track the growth and direction of the church from its infancy with the disciples and a few other people up through the descriptions of the end times and the call to be watching out…because at some unknown point in the future, Christ is coming back around for the second time and his heavenly kingdom will be established.

If you’ve been paying attention for the past month or so…that’s exactly where we’ve been…hearing week after week about the apocalyptic nature of what is to come…that we will eventually reach that unknown point…and Christ is coming back…and as we hear at the beginning of today’s text…that he will be in all of his glory and he will sit on that glorious throne…a throne…which is exactly the place that we expect to find a king…and perhaps this is fitting today as we celebrate Christ the King…and with today’s text, we hear, once again…that we need to be prepared because eventually…judgment is coming. (pause)

And today, I find myself wondering if any of you are as sick and tired of hearing about the end times as I am…if you are a little fed up with the repeated call to BE PREPARED…or to BE WATCHFUL…or in today’s case…if you’re tired of being told how you should be acting in preparation. (pause) Are you there too? Or is it just me?

I dunno, maybe its just seasonal burn out…perhaps I’ve just grown weary of the same topic time after time…week after week…but at times I find myself incredibly weary of trying to account every second for that unknown day in the future when Jesus will be sitting on the throne. (pause)

Now, before you all take a couple of steps back…perhaps trying to distance yourself from me just in case I’m suddenly struck down with lightning or fire for having uttered such things…hear me out. (pause) I grow weary of looking for Christ sitting on the throne out in the future…because if I recall correctly, the kingdom of heaven doesn’t really fall in the “not yet” category that we Lutherans like to talk about…on the contrary…I’m pretty sure that the kingdom of heaven is already here. (pause)

Way back in Matthew chapter 3…following nothing except a genealogy and King Herod trying to exploit the wise men…we hear John the Baptist declare to the world that the kingdom of heaven has come near…Its already here…and why? Because God made a choice to enter into our reality…In short…the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood and with that…in that instant…the kingdom…became…reality. (pause)

And this whole time…throughout the course of the whole year…we’ve been hearing story after story…instance after instance of Jesus…of God in the flesh…walking around…encountering people…and today, in our story…we hear that reality of God encountering people never stopped…even when Jesus stood on a mountaintop…tipped his cap to the disciples…and ventured off into the clouds. (pause)

Today’s story features a division that apparently will happen at some unknown point in the future, when Jesus takes the judgment seat and divides the people…but I’m not really concerned about the division today…I’m more concerned with the response that everyone shares when Jesus addresses them.

I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was a stranger …naked, sick, and in prison. (pause) Everyone hears these words…and everyone responds in the exact…same…way…Lord, when did we see you? (pause) And Jesus response? When did you see me…More often than you think. (pause) You just weren’t looking for me.

That’s the crazy nature of this whole idea that Christ is the king of a kingdom that we don’t really recognize…its all around us…we just aren’t looking for it…but trust me…its there. (pause)

The kingdom is present when we help pay for supplies at the local food back…its there when we fill up a water bottle for a homeless man walking by Underwood on his way from Wisconsin to Oklahoma…and when we spend a few minutes talking with him even though he’s a stranger…the kingdom is present when we give clothing to Goodwill, or when we sit with a friend in the hospital…and its there when we take a moment to spend with the social outcast. (pause)

And if the kingdom is present…then you better believe that the king is present…and he tells us that today…whatever you did to the least of these…you have done it to me. (pause)

We have a God who made the choice…the conscious effort to put on flesh and experience this life…this life with all of its joys and with all of its hardships…and because of this, we have a God who is present in these times, good and bad…and so that’s where we look to find Jesus…we find Jesus in vulnerability…whether that vulnerability is our own…or someone else’s…that’s where Jesus is found…not because we’re looking for him…but simply because God is present in those circumstances.

We see evidence of this all over Matthew’s gospel…whether during Jesus first major address to the multitudes when he assured us that blessed are poor in spirit…and those who mourn…and the meek, and those who hunger and thirst…or when he reaches out to heal the sick and the lame, the foreigner and the unclean…for where they are…God is there also…and he tells us that he will remain with us, even to the end of the age…and you better believe that when God makes a promise, you can take it to the bank.

And today, we know especially that this is true…not only because God chose to put on flesh and dwell among us…but because Jesus was about to become the embodiment of the vulnerability that he talks about in today’s lesson. As far as the story goes, this is it…right after this, it’s go time…and the crucifixion train is off and running. (pause)

And in that, we see that God…is imprisoned…and stripped naked…he is the stranger on trial with the Romans…he hungers and he thirsts while he hangs on the cross…Jesus Christ…God in flesh becomes the physical embodiment of vulnerability…and he does so in order to share the experience with you. (pause)

We have a God who experienced every facet of life, so that he can meet us in those moments when we are most vulnerable…and through his example we learn that we are to meet him there as well…even in those times when we encounter the vulnerability of others.

Lord, when did we see you? More often than you think…because the kingdom of Heaven is here now…and we have a king that is with us always…even to the end of the age…even when we don’t recognize him. (pause)

And certainly there are many times in our lives when we fail to recognize Jesus being present in vulnerability…but in a short amount of time, he’ll prove it once more…Next week we enter Advent as the world waits in anticipation for the coming Messiah…as the world waits for its king…and that king comes into the world in the most vulnerable way possible…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent on others…just as we…utterly depend upon him.

Behold, the kingdom of heaven is here now…even if we fail to look for it…and if the kingdom is here…you better believe that the king is here too…and he promises to remain…even to the end of the age. Amen.




Getting Pretty Windy Out There 6-8-14

This sermon comes from Acts 2:1-21. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost, enabling them with spiritual gifts. This same spirit is still active in the world today, and I explore that throughout the sermon.

You can listen to the sermon here:

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

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

It’s safe to say that we had one heck of a storm last Tuesday night didn’t we? The rain fell, the wind was howling…hail fell, branches broke, sheds blew over, fields flooded and crops were stripped. It was certainly not a laughing matter by any sense of the word.

But as I talked with various individuals in the days following Tuesday night’s storm, I heard a trend. Yah, there was some damage, but everyone’s okay…and that’s the important thing. In pretty much every conversation that I had, once we reached that important point, then we broke into grins, and we started to tell a few jokes, and we all started chuckling.

In one instance, I was out visiting with a couple of our members and we got to talking about old storms that we’ve lived through. Various thunderstorms and blizzards…and I recounted the tail of living through a little debacle known as Hurricane Charlie…summer 2004. Emily and I, together with about an 8-month old Jack were vacationing in Orlando FL. About midway through the week, they started talking Hurricane…but all information indicated that it would miss Orlando, tracking farther south…reality though, was a little different.

In the end…Charlie decided that he wanted to spend the night in Orlando as well…and the category 3 hurricane came roaring into the city right about nightfall. The three of us hunkered down in our hotel room, as there wasn’t much else that we could…but fortunately, the outside door of our hotel room was blocked by a very wide support beam…giving us the added protection of a very sturdy wall between us and the elements…at one point, well past dark when we could hear the storm raging, I harnessed my inner farmer, and stepped outside to take a look. It was really wet…and the wind was howling…but that seemed to be about it.

When I stepped back into the room Emily asked me “Well, what’s it like?” I smiled and said “Well, its getting pretty windy out there.”

By morning, the storm had passed, and we ventured out and about. I was surprised at the amount of damage that had occurred, because to my untrained eye, the storm that I had witnessed the night before seemed about like one of the all too common thunderstorms that we experience here in the Midwest…storms that you’ve all lived through as well…and perhaps many of you have done the very same thing that I did that night in Orlando…stood at a door or a window…when you really should probably be in the basement…and watched the storm…only to have the same thought I had…hmm…It’s getting pretty windy out there. (pause)

All kidding aside…it is really amazing to realize just how powerful the wind can be isn’t it? The wind…quite simply air moving around in response to the environment can…and as we saw Tuesday night…does go far beyond our control. Late Tuesday evening we were watching the news, and one of the Omaha stations showed a time lapse video from late afternoon as the clouds slowly built, blowing on the light wind in the normal direction…when suddenly, Mother Nature decided she wanted to move things differently…and on the video, suddenly a giant cloud bank came flying back through the picture in the complete opposite direction from normal. And as much as well hoped to control where the wind was blowing…that video reminded everyone watching that the wind blows where it will and nothing you do or think is going to stop it. (pause)

And now with all this talk of wind, let me switch gears over into the scripture lesson for today. Pentecost…the church’s birthday…the day when decided it was high time that the disciples got to work. 10 days after Jesus has ascended to heaven, the disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem…as are countless other Jewish people from all around the known world…gathered for the harvest festival of Pentecost.

Now we don’t know exactly what was going on other than as the disciples are sitting there together in the house…a wind that I can only imagine made Hurricane Charlie pale in comparison…came rushing through the entire house…but not just wind…for just the second time in scripture…the Holy Spirit shows up in a physical form. The first time was the dove at the baptism of Jesus…but this time around…it’s a little different isn’t it? There’s nothing calm and serene about this scene.

No…this time…the spirit comes blowing in as tongues of fire…resting on each of the disciples…now between the wind and the fire…this had to be a little freaky for the disciples…but just what their emotional reaction to the situation is, we don’t know…all we do know is that they start spouting off in different languages…as the spirit gave them ability.

But they weren’t just babbling away…they were proclaiming God’s amazing deeds of power…and not just that…but they were doing so according to the various languages of all those other Jewish individuals in the city that were attracted to the disturbance of the Spirit blowing through the house. (pause)

Now as I think about this whole scene, I find myself pondering on the form of the Holy Spirit…and admittedly it’s a head scratcher. Of the trinity, the Holy Spirit is often times the one that lacks proper understanding. We believe in it…oh yes we do…we confess belief in the trinity…including the Spirit each and every week here in worship…but I think the Spirit…its just kinda tough to put our fingers on that one isn’t it? We’ve got God the father…the creator…and while we don’t know just what God looks like in his heavenly form, we heard in the creation that humanity was made in God’s image…so I guess God looks just a little like us…and then we’ve got the Son…God in human form…and as human he probably looks a whole lot like we do…but then there’s the spirit…that has no form at all. Its simply the spirit of God, or the breathe of God.

And that right there is an important point. Through scripture, old and new testament, the spirit of God is often depicted as either wind or breathe…and perhaps it will come as no surprise to you that the same words are used for all three…wind, breath, spirit…its either pnuema in the Greek, or Ruach in the Hebrew. (pause) And it seems, in every single instance that God himself is the source.

God breathes life into Adam…in the short passage we heard from John’s gospel Jesus breathes on the disciples to give them the spirit, and here in Acts the spirit blows in like a mighty wind…So either God just likes it to be pretty windy, or maybe just maybe, the almighty…all powerful spirit of God is so amazingly strong, that when it blows past us we can actually feel it.

And that same spirit that came blowing into the house in the middle of Jerusalem 2000 year ago…that same spirit that empowered the disciples in that moment to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in languages that they neither knew nor understood…that same spirit of God…has remained throughout the ages…the same spirit is present here and now and though we might not see any tongues of fire flipping around…the spirit is still here…resting on each and every one of you…and just as we heard from 1 Corinthians, it is the spirit which grants many different gifts…and those gifts of the spirit have an intended purpose.

For some it is the gift of proclamation. We saw that with the disciples…others have the gift of teaching…other’s have the gift of compassion…some for organization…some for planning…some for building…there are countless gifts supplied by the spirit…and as Peter shared from the prophet Joel…the spirit which God pours out on all people…allows some to dream dreams…old and young, men and women…there is distinction.

And this is important to note…because it is through the dreams and visions supplied by the Spirit that God continues to act and lead and guide the church into the future. It is those dreams that reveal the direction that God is leading…the direction that spirit is blowing…the direction that wind will carry God’s church.

Because while Pentecost may be considered by many to be the birthday of the church itself…I believe its more important to realize that it was simply the time when the Spirit started blowing…and it’s never stopped because the Spirit has been, is now, and will continue to blow throughout this world.

And so we can either chose to try and stand against the wind and get blown over…or we can choose to ride with the wind and see where God will carry us. Friends in Christ…together we have seen that the Spirit is blowing here our community…a week ago we held what I hope to be the first of many annual block parties…Our first try was a huge success, and even the mayor commented that it was a boost that this town has been needing. And that whole event began as a dream…a dream that was shared and together, using the various gifts and talents provided by the Spirit, the body of Christ pulled it off and we made our presence known within the community. But the Spirit isn’t done yet? And we all have dreams…and we all have abilities that the Spirit grants us. I feel it building here at Underwood Lutheran…and that’s exciting as we continue to move from in here…to out there…and you know what…and the Spirit continues to move in this community…I think its getting pretty windy out there. Amen.