Worship Service MAY 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21
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.”

The Second Reading

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

The Gospel

John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The Sermon

This is Pentecost Sunday and it is absolutely not what I had envisioned for this day. Under normal circumstances Kyla, Alexis, Jenna and Ryan would be here in the church to get confirmed. Their extended families and the congregation would celebrate with them. Red flames would hang on the chandeliers, some of the you would be here in red dresses or red sweaters. Pentecost is usually a bit more festive, especially when confirmation takes place.

On Pentecost we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit on everyone, old, young, Jew, Greek, men, women and so on. When we look at our lessons today, there are various description what the Spirit is doing, how it enables people to go beyond their usual capabilities, how everyone is gifted with some kind of talent, how we are all one under the same Spirit. Under the Spirit, there is equality among people and appreciation for each other.

Peter of all people delivered this speech quoting the prophet Joel in the reading of Acts. It is easy to forget here that Peter was the one who, not too long ago, denied Jesus three times. And this quote was not a harmless speech at all. In a society that was neatly divided into slaves and free, men and women, old and young, and where everyone had an assigned place in the food chain with a lot of privileges or no rights at all, depending where you were place was, it took some guts to speak about the Spirit being poured out upon everyone without making a difference, without any kind of discrimination. This not only spoke to the generosity of the Spirit, but it also described the Spirit as a threat to the existing order and structure. So those who were on the privileged side were probably not so thrilled that all the differences and discriminations were supposed to cease to exist in this new Spirit.

But realistically, even the early church did not manage to actually fully live in this Spirit. From its very beginning the church was challenged whether it was capable of overcoming artificial boundaries that we humans create in every aspect of our existence – boundaries of nation, blood, race, ethnicity, gender, geography, history, class, and many more. From the beginning, it was questionable whether the church could, despite these social boundaries, become God’s children living lives of love and service in God’s family as one, joyous people.

This struggle continues until today. Reality is that we are not really one. We live in a divided world. We are a far cry from being united. There is still a good deal of division in the world along man-made borders and a culture of us-versus-them, where the “other” is to be feared and never to be trusted.

Just the developments of the past week are mind-boggling. There is the feud between Twitter and the president; in Minneapolis another black man was killed in police custody; demonstrations call for justice, some demonstrations turn violent; there is the corona virus and different approaches how to deal with it, or even how to read the numbers of the dead. There is no unity whatsoever about any of these issues, instead the public discourse about them becomes more vitriolic.

We are far from being perfect and therefore we still do need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And despite our flaws, the Holy Spirit is among us. In every ministry that works for justice, equality, the end of human suffering, we find it. The Spirit is with us in our struggles as it was with the disciples. Despite hardship, opposition, imprisonment, and death, the disciples carried the ministry of Jesus forward into the life of the church. The Holy Spirit changed them and still changes people. It empowers people and gives them a voice when they don’t even know that they have a voice.

Following the spirit, allowing to being guided by it, doesn’t mean to be successful at all times, or to be without fault. As the Catholic theologian and writer Henri Nouwen pointed out, “We are unified by our common weaknesses, our common failures, our common disappointments and our common inconsistencies.” We are a flawed humanity and we may be prone to accept things that are unacceptable, because we believe that nothing will change anyway.

But hopefully, the spirit of Pentecost makes us wonder “What if?” What if we dared to want a world without injustice and vitriol? What if we would not right away dismiss this possibility as idiotic and naïve? What if this is the will of God in whom we believe and if we followed this Spirit with its total lack of discrimination. What if we didn’t dismiss the features of the radical generosity described in Acts. What if we believed Paul that there are gifts in each and every one to be found?

Pentecost can be an inspiring day of joy and celebration on many levels. Through the Holy Spirit, we become family, and we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives and become transformed into the image of Christ. It sounds crazy, but it is possible. For this day of Pentecost affirms for us that God’s Spirit, God’s breath is still at work around, among, and in us. It is a breath of life, of courage, and of proclamation. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.