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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
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? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.' All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' But others sneered and said, 'They are filled with new wine.'
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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
"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.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Pastor Marc's sermon on Pentecost (June 9, 2019) on Acts 2:1-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
On Thursday night, delegates and pastors from all 160+ congregations in the New Jersey Synod gathered at a Hyatt hotel in New Brunswick to begin our annual synod assembly. A synod assembly is very much like an annual congregational meeting. We gather together in one place to talk about the ministry that went well over the last year, the bits and pieces that didn’t, to vote on budget and finances, and to spend time figuring out what it means to follow Jesus Christ. But unlike our congregational meetings that go on for two or three hours, Synod assemblies last for days. There’s a lot of singing, a lot of prayer, a lot of questions about what is actually going on, and quite a bit of doodling done on coffee stained papers as we work through the assembly’s agenda. A synod assembly can be very boring, sometimes cheesy, and surprisingly exhausting even though we spend most of our time just sitting. But a synod assembly is also one of the few times when we meet, in the flesh, other Lutherans. From across the state, Lutherans of all shades, backgrounds, genders, and ages sit at tables in a hotel ballroom and we are the church, together. So on Thursday night, before we started discussing the business of the church, we acted as the church by worshipping together. And to make that night special, we did something we don’t do every day: we ordained a new pastor.
Now in our tradition, the rite of ordination takes place during worship, after the sermon and the hymn of the day. The person being ordained is brought up front so that everyone can see them. The bishop then addresses them, asking the candidate to profess their faith and their trust in God’s call. They are asked to make promises - to affirm what they are called to teach, to preach, and what it means to live faithfully in God’s world. They stand in front of everyone affirming the baptismal call to be a faithful witness so that everyone may see and experience God’s love in all that they do. Once the promises are made, the ordination is completed through the laying on of hands. Every ordained person comes forward, surrounding the candidate in a sea of white albs and red stoles. And since a synod assembly is when a lot of pastors are gathered together, over one hundred clergy came forward on Thursday night to support the candidate with our presence. Since not everyone could lay their hands on the candidate, we formed a kind of human chain with our hands resting on the shoulder of the person in front of us. We, together, created a physical sign, showing that the candidate for ordination was literally connected to a faith and a tradition bigger than themselves. Every ordination is a gift because every pastor and deacon in that room was reminded of the promises they made when they were first ordained. But that moment was for more than just clergy. Because all of us, by witnessing that act of ordination and confirmation, was reminded of what our life of faith is all about. We are who we are because of the gifts God has given us. And we were designed, created, and meant to be a kind of gift to everyone we meet.
Our story from the books Acts begins on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was, and is still, a Jewish religious festival. So in the year 33 or so, Jerusalem was filled with all kinds of people from all over the Meditterean and the Near East who were there celebrating their faith. Today’s text actually lists 15 different ethnicities, nationalities, and languages that, I think, probably represented only a fraction of all the different kinds of people who were visiting or who lived in the city of Jerusalem. God’s Holy City was diverse and in the middle of that city full of people who first came from somewhere else, Jesus’ small group of followers gathered together. These first apostles and disciples, who had seen Jesus die and who witnessed the Resurrection and the Ascension, were trying to figure out what being the church was all about. They met up in a house and once they were together, that’s when the Holy Spirit showed up. Now at first, the Spirit rushed in, sounding like a wind coming from a tornado or hurricane. I’m sure that roaring sound peaked the interest of everyone else in the neighborhood so a crowd came out to see what was up. While the wind blew, tongues of fire - something like the flame of a candle but without the candle - appeared. These flames settled on the heads of the early disciples and they found themselves empowered to do a new thing. The disciples opened their doors and their windows and started talking to the crowd. The crowd, the community of people who had mostly first come from somewhere else, expected, I think, to hear these disciples speak in the language common to their city. They expected, to hear Aramaic, the language of Jesus, or maybe Latin, the language of Rome, or maybe even Greek, the language of trade used throughout the Near East. But instead they heard God’s story in the language of where they had first come from. The word about Jesus came to them in the same language their parents first spoke to them when they were just a few minutes old. It wasn’t long before the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire, and all those special effects were basically forgotten. The crowd didn’t stay gathered around that house because of the spectacle they saw. Rather, what surprised them was hearing God’s story in the personal languages that made each of them feel included, known, and loved. The reason why Pentecost matters to us isn’t because the disciples were given a kind of superpower that let them speak any kind of language. No, we care about Pentecost because it reminds us that the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t something only for ourselves. God’s presence in our lives is also, in the words of Amy Oden, “about being empowered to connect with others...it’s a gift expressly for those outside the Jesus movement.” We are, through our baptism and our faith, connected to a community and a God that is so much bigger than ourselves. That connection, that relationship, is truly a gift. But we are also called, through that same faith, to be a gift to all - to connect, to include, to know, and to even love those who don’t follow Jesus like we do.
Now in a few moments [at the next service], we are again going to be reminded of who we are. James, who is being confirmed today, is going to stand up in front of all of us. He is going to be asked questions, asked to profess his faith, and he’s going to be invited to live into the promises God has already made to him. That doesn’t mean that we are asking him/you to never ask questions, to never doubt, or to never wonder if Jesus is truly with him/you. Life is too hard, filled with too many fears and too many unknowns, for us to make certainty the point of faith. But we can, instead, invite each other to lean into God’s gifts: the gift of God’s presence; the gift of God’s Spirit; the gift of God’s community; the gift of a faith big enough for all our fears, all our joys, all our sorrows; and the fact that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We can, together, figure out what it means to include, to know, and to love. And we can trust that the Spirit from Pentecost is the same Spirit here today - and with us through our entire lives. In those moments when we can’t remember or see the gifts God has given to us, we can still be exactly who God made us to be: a gift to each other, a gift to ourselves, and a gift to the entire world.
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