Sermon for Pentecost/Memorial Day Sunday
May 24, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Acts 2:1-21
Sermon Theme: “Pentecost: The Antidote to Spiritual Emptiness, Misinterpretation and Misunderstanding”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Examples; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Wikipedia)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
A large part of the problem with God’s chosen people, the Israelites, was their disobedience, their faithlessness. Another part of the problem, just as big, was misinterpretation of God’s Word on the part of the entrenched religious leaders, which caused misunderstanding on the part of the people. The religious leaders drained the spirit out of their religion and narrowed it down to rituals and sacrifices.
David pleads in Psalm 51, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me . . . You do not delight in sacrifice . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.”
The Old Testament prophets had foretold the Messiah just as He appeared in Jesus, but the religious gurus misinterpreted His nature and work and led the people to misunderstanding.
It’s so easy to misinterpret, misunderstand, and mis-communicate, isn’t it?
A woman went to a marriage counselor and told him, “I want to divorce my husband.”
“Do you have any grounds for divorce?” the counselor asked.
“Why, yes. We have almost an acre.”
“You don’t understand,” said the counselor. “What I want to know is if you and your husband have a grudge.”
“That we don’t have,” she said. “But we do have a carport.”
“The counselor shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, but I still don’t see any reason why you should divorce your husband.”
“It’s just that the man can’t carry on an intelligent conversation,” she replied.
Understanding. It’s the stuff of which great comedy routines are made. From Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” to the inspired nonsense of Lucille Ball or the gang from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” comedians have gotten a lot of mileage out of misunderstanding.
Just like the old story about a man who was driving out of the city when a hog suddenly ran across in front of him. He stopped his truck, jumped out and caught the hog, and put it in the back. Not knowing just what to do with the animal, he stopped a policeman and asked, “What shall I do with this hog I picked up out of the street?”
“Take it to the zoo,” the policeman answered.
The next day the policeman was surprised to see the same man drive by in his truck, with the hog sitting in the front seat. To satisfy his curiosity, the policeman stopped him and said, “I thought I told you to take that hog to the zoo.”
“We went there yesterday,” said the man. “Today, we’re going to the circus.”
Misunderstanding and misinterpretation can make for funny jokes, but unfortunately misunderstanding has led to divorces, to wars, and to all manner of human conflicts and miseries. If only we could learn to read each other’s hearts! The story of Pentecost has something to say about that.
Those persons present at the Pentecost experience in our sermon text spoke in different languages, yet each was able to understand the message of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, this Spirit guides in the midst of the confusion of life, bringing power and understanding to each one of us.
So what was this Pentecost experience anyway? Well, devout Jews had come to Jerusalem from all over the world to worship God for imparting His law and for calling the Jews into nationhood. The Old Testament Pentecost was called “Shavuot” ( ), or the Feast of the Weeks. This is when, after a long winter dependent on pre-pared foods, the people celebrated the first fruits of the first planting. The long winter was over. Spring had arrived and they would be eating fresh food again, — so everything was going to be OK.
The people expected to encounter the Lord through the traditional liturgies, offerings and sacrifices. However, they encountered God in a strange and unexpected manner. God had broken loose from the religious infrastructure. The place was filled with a mighty rushing wind, and divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on them. All 120 or so of those in the room – women, men, young and old, just as the prophet Joel foretold, experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within them. This experience was not limited to those in line for apostolic succession, nor just to males, nor just church leaders, nor to the powerful only.
It was God bursting in on the whole universe! Of course, the Holy Spirit is not a wind or a fire, but this is what the experience was like. Notice that this was an experience of clarity! It was not a matter of speaking in tongues, but of the spoken tongues being heard and understood clearly.
So something happened in that first New Testament Pentecost that had never happened before in history, something so extraordinary and so revolutionary, something that would bring people back on track to understand and obey God’s plan for mankind. The prophesy of the Old Testament prophet Joel is fulfilled: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy . . . even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
According to Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16, John the Baptist foretold that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This prophesy also came to pass at this New Testament Pentecost, when the Spirit descended in tongues of flame and inspired speech.
What does this mean to us today? Today, most Lutherans claim to have received the Spirit at their baptism, but many of them do not show any fire. Yet Spirit and fire belong together. The Greek word for wind and spirit is the same, and, as you know, fire is fed by the wind. So, too, the Holy Spirit whips a little spark of faith into a blazing conflagration if we let the Spirit blow freely into our lives.
So how can we recapture the fire of the early New Testament church? Only with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Christ’s advocate and witness, the Spirit convicts us of sin, the Spirit convinces us concerning the righteousness of Christ, and the Spirit reveals the truth.
You see, those first three actions of the Spirit are the antidote, the solution, for our spiritual emptiness, and it’s that last item, “the Spirit reveals the truth,” that is the antidote to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
Pentecost happens because we lack “holy boldness,” and we hide our lamps under bushel baskets. We are called to be witnesses of Jesus moving in our lives and in our world. Prior to Pentecost, we were like a mobilized army that hadn’t been issued rations. We had marching orders, but no means of sustenance for the long campaign. Since Pentecost, we have all the resources we need.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. How can we connect Pentecost to Memorial Day Sunday? Some pastors are what I call “ecclesiastical purists,” clearly separating the church from the world; I think the two should not be separated. Just as Easter is ecclesiastical and Mother’s Day is secular, Pentecost is ecclesiastical and Memorial Day is secular.
The similarity I find is in the observance for each of being filled with the Spirit of God. The patriotic music, the playing of taps, the prayers and the testimonies of Memorial Day lift people up and move them to tears, not at all dissimilar to the spiritual experience of that first Pentecost. The Old Testament Pentecost was a calling together of Jews as a nation to remember; Memorial Day is a calling together of Americans as a nation to remember.
The spiritual renewal at Pentecost is a sending forth by the indwelling Spirit to spread the Gospel to all the world, whereas the spiritual renewal on Memorial Day is to remember those who died for God and Country, and, by remembering how our military men and women bravely guarded our country in the past, we are given courage for the future. As one theologian said, “Christmas is God with us, Good Friday is God for us, and Pentecost is God in us.”
May He live in you on this Pentecost Sunday and always. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.