Sermon for Pentecost, June 4, 2017
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: John 7:37-39, Numbers 11:24-30, and Acts 2:1-21
Sermon Theme: “Wind, Fire, and Water”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Lectionary Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; “Sukkot,” Judaism 101; Sukkot and Pentecost, Online hebrew4christians; Wikipedia; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
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. How many great comedy routines weren’t built on misunderstanding?! From Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on first?” to the humorous misunderstanding in Lucille Ball’s television skits. Comedians have gotten a lot of mileage out of misunderstanding.
Jokes about it aside, misunderstanding has led to divorces, to wars, and to all manner of human conflicts and difficulties. The First Pentecost celebrated by the Early Church was instituted by God for the sake of understanding. Even though the men proclaiming the Gospel on Pentecost were all Galileans, — Parthians, Elamites, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Arabians, Egyptians, etc.. all heard the words in their own languages.
God knew it was important for all to understand, and this was accomplished by the sending of the Holy Spirit.
It’s kind of ironic in a way that those who chose the Scripture readings for Pentecost, when misunderstanding gave way to full understanding, picked John 7:37-39 for the Gospel reading. You see, while the reading from Acts describes the Feast of Pentecost, the Gospel text describes the Feast of Sukkot.
I mention this, because in John’s Gospel, the “Feast” is not identified, and I want you to understand that it’s not the Feast of Shavuot (sh -voo’ot) (which Jews also call “The Festival of Weeks,” but which we call Pentecost). No it’s the Feast
of Sukkot, also called “the Feast of Booths,” and “the Feast of Tabernacles.” This year, Jews celebrated the Feast of Pentecost May 30 through June 1, and will celebrate the Feast of Sukkot October 4 through October 11. In the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is shown as wind and tongues of fire on Pentecost, and in the Gospel of John, the Spirit is described as “Living Water” at the Feast of Sukkot.
You know, if you have problems with metaphors, symbols, and other forms of picture language, then you will have trouble reading the Bible. And this switch from Pentecost to Booths, and from wind and fire to water might interfere with your understanding of today’s message.
The fact that the Holy Spirit was not given to the followers of Jesus before Pentecost does not mean that the Spirit did not exist among the company of believers. If you look at our Old Testament reading from Numbers, you see that the Holy Spirit had been given to Moses during the Exodus. It appeared as a pillar of cloud above the Tabernacle during the day and as a pillar of fire during the night. The Old Testament text shows the Holy Spirit also resting on Eldad and Medad. This happened long before the New Testament Pentecost celebration.
The incredible phenomena of wind and tongues of fire at Pentecost happened AFTER Jesus had ascended into heaven. He was fulfilling His promise that He would send His Holy Spirit, — He had not promised, however, that He would send Him in such a spectacular way.
Our Gospel from John takes us back to the time when Jesus was still on earth, and had left His family to teach the crowds who were gathered for the Feast of Tabernacles. On the last day of the Feast, Jesus issued an invitation, that those who had a thirst for God were invited to come to Him in faith and then from their hearts would flow streams of living water. At the Festival, people would draw water from the Pool of Siloam and take it to the temple, as a way to remember God giving the children of Israel water from the rock as they journeyed through the desert wilderness.
The Jews lived in a semi-arid part of the world where water was often very scarce, and so crucially important. Spiritual aridity is every bit as deadly as lack of moisture for the land. At the Feast, Jesus promises that those who come to Him in faith will not only have their spiritual thirst quenched but that He will provide an artesian well of the Spirit that will continue to bubble up from within the believer. That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, although with different picture language.
Jesus says in the text, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
That promise is for each one of us who believes, that we will receive the Holy Spirit, — and this is pretty awesome, — the Holy Spirit will flow out of us like living water. That picture language is just as powerful as a mighty wind and tongues of fire, — not to mention the “pillar of fire” above the Tabernacle at night in the desert wilderness. As Martin Luther said, it is difficult to know when the picture language of the Bible is to be taken literally or when, figuratively.
The Tabernacle, of course, was a tent, and it should be of great interest to us that our Vacation Bible School theme for this year is “Camping Out,’ with the children learning that Jesus is the light, — “I am the light of the world,” He says. This is not at all inconsistent with our text from Numbers. The Bible tells us that one of the reasons for God appearing as a pillar of fire at night was to provide light for the Israelites. So “fire” or “light” in Numbers is used both literally and as picture language.
When I first began as a pastor years ago, I didn’t see a lot of significance in our Rite of Placement of Vacation Bible School personnel, — it used to be called “Installation of Vacation Bible School personnel,” and because we installed the same teachers every year, it seemed like a waste of time. Since then, I have come to understand WHY the rite or ritual is so very important. Not only are we “placing” those willing folks who will do the work of VBS, but also we are doing it in God’s House in front of the altar, in God’s presence, and they are receiving a blessing. Today, they are blessed; tomorrow, they will lead and teach the children.
You see, it’s not by MY authority that they are placed to teach and work and help, — it’s by God’s authority. And it is not I, the pastor, who is blessing them, but God is giving them His blessing. Today, God is present in our Worship service in both the Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The Holy Spirit will go with those blessed today as they enter the fields tomorrow night to plant the seeds. That’s why I ask the Lord to also bless those who can’t be here today, — they, too, will need the Holy Spirit for their work.
Teaching VBS is an awesome calling in the church, thus I think it is very appropriate for the Rite of Placing to occur on Pentecost. You know, each year, kids come to us from all backgrounds, both churched and unchurched, — some who have never even heard of Jesus, much less that He died for our salvation. Because of that, they must be told about Jesus in a language they can understand, — so teachers, don’t speak to them in tongues, unless those “tongues” are real languages like Spanish and American Sign Language. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, God will use Becky Junklaus so that Dylan will be able to “hear” his own language.
With the wonderful way these VBS programs are written, with kids’ songs, skits, centers, and crafts, the children will hear about Jesus in their own language,
And there will be understanding rather than misunderstanding, because the Holy Spirit, our Divine Helper, will help each of our workers. Although the foreigners in our text from the Book of Acts asked, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in his own native language?” WE now know the answer, — the Holy Spirit. Amen.