May 31, 2020 / Day of Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Acts 2:1-21/ 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 / Gospel John 20:19-23
We Are The Church
Years ago, a group was gathered at a room in a major city. The doors and windows were shut tight, because times were perilous and uncertain – they had reason to be concerned about what the future might bring. Quite suddenly they were all struck by a very powerful, yet invisible, contagion. All of them began to experience unusual and unprecedented symptoms. They felt feverish – almost as though their heads were on fire. Their condition was rapidly and dramatically altered. They were overcome by an unseen and irresistible force. Yet they were not intimidated by the mysterious transformation that came upon them – instead they were inspired. They all began to talk at once about what was happening to them. You might say that it went viral.
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Now the Holy Spirit is not a disease, but it is an invisible force. Faith is not a virus, yet like hope and love it is very contagious. And one meaning of the word “infect” is “to work upon, or seize upon, so as to induce sympathy, belief or support.” Which is pretty much what happened that day 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. Pentecost tells the story of a spiritual outbreak – an outbreak that has continued to spread to this very day. Despite many and various efforts to eliminate or constrain it, the Holy Spirit has proved to be relentless and indefatigable in its spread across the world, down through the centuries.
It is the Spirit that gave birth to the Church on Pentecost. It is the same Spirit that continues:
- to call persons to faith
- to gather them together in community
- to enlighten them with truth
- to sanctify them in grace
- to keep them in communion with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Since it first began, with those original twelve believers, billions have now been transformed and blessed by the work of the Holy Spirit, which opens human hearts to experience the marvelous love of Jesus Christ.
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Today I want to assure you that the Holy Spirit lives in you – every one of you. Jesus promised that the Spirit would come – and it does. God gifted you with the Holy Spirit when you were baptized. The pastor who baptized you placed a hand on your head and prayed these, or similar, words:
“Pour your Holy Spirit upon this one: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence.”
And, as a cross was traced on your forehead, you were given this promise:
“You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
You may be inclined to wonder if you actually have the Holy Spirit. (We’re Lutherans, after all, not Pentecostals) But I remind you that we have a God who keeps promises. Jesus promised his 12 friends that the Spirit would come to them (check). And God promises to give the Holy Spirit to all his baptized daughters and sons (check). So, you’ve got the Spirit!
Now at times you might be rather asymptomatic: not feeling especially enlightened, no obvious signs of being sanctified, perhaps even without much evidence of faith or hope or love. However, God is faithful even when you and I are not. The Spirit may be sputtering in you like a dimly burning wick (I feel that way at times.). Remember the good news about our God.
“a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3)
Ready or not, take it from Paul:
“do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
There is a direct and simple way to tell whether you test positive for the Holy Spirit. We heard it in our Second Reading. There Paul states: “no one can say, ‘Jesus Is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit”. Try it. It’s the earliest and shortest creed of the Christian Church: three words. If you can say from your heart: “Jesus Is Lord,” it is because God’s Holy Spirit lives in you.
Martin Luther understood this. He wrote in the Small Catechism:
“I cannot by my own reason or understanding believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the faith.”
To believe (even just a little – faith the size of a mustard seed) is to test positive for the HS Contagion (the novel Holy Spirit).
Last week I talked about finding Joy in the Lord – to be able to rejoice even in difficult circumstances. Joy is also evidence of the Spirit’s presence. Remember the words from your baptism: You received “the Spirit of Joy in the Lord.”
We’ve got the Spirit – so now what? Paul says if we live by Spirit, let us walk by Spirit. Jesus tells us why we’ve been given the Spirit: to be agents of his grace and peace. In today’s Gospel He says to his disciples – and to us: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." We are sent to be signs in this world that Faith and Hope and Love are for real – and for everyone. Then Jesus adds: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” We are given Spiritual authority AND responsibility to be instruments of mercy and reconciliation.
Do you realize how much these gifts are needed in our world in these days? Right now? People are in desperate need of mercy, of reason for hope, someone to trust and believe in. People across the world are suffering the ravages of COVID-19. Our nation, especially our African American brothers and sisters, are distraught over the senseless murders of Ahmed Arbery and George Floyd. Millions are struggling with unemployment – some even with having enough to eat.
On Pentecost God sent the promised Holy Spirit – and called the Church into being. Since that day, the church has experienced many trials and failures – along with great progress and rich blessings. There have been plagues and persecutions, inquisitions and religious wars. Through it all the Holy Spirit has been faithful and true – a steadfast Advocate, Comforter and Guide.
The light of the gospel has never gone out. The church has struggled and stumbled – as have most all its members. But the church has never gone out of business. The church has never closed. And the church is not closed today. The Church of Jesus Christ is not closed – because we are still open to the Holy Spirit. While we cannot be in our building for a while, we can still be the Church.
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Among the things I will miss this summer is spending a week at Augustana College with our confirmation students. It is a powerful and transforming experience for both students and pastors. I promise you – the Spirit is very present and active at Campfirmation.
One of my roles at camp is to be the leader for our daily Song Time. It is a lively, energetic half hour – ENTHUSIASTIC (which means full of the Spirit). One song we sing at camp speaks to our present moment in history, to where we find ourselves this Pentecost. It’s called
THE CHURCH SONG
REFRAIN: We are the church, the body of the Lord;
We are all God’s children. We have been restored.
1. The Church is not a building where people go to pray;
It’s not made out of sticks and stones. It’s not made out of clay.
2 You can go to worship but you cannot go to church,
You can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search.
3. The church is not a business, a committee or a board;
It’s not a corporation for the business of the Lord.
4. The church it is the people living out their lives,
Called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.
Can I get an Amen?