Sermon for Pentecost, Year A, June 12, 2011

Joel 2:26-32

Acts 2:1-21

Time for a Deep Breath 

When we gather together for worship, we believe that God is present among us.  God’s Spirit is here.  (pause and consider this)  God’s Spirit, right now, is here.

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The Spirit in the Lord’s Supper

When we receive the Lord’s Supper, as we will in a few minutes, we believe that God is present in a special, powerful way, in the bread and in the cup – that we are actually communing with the risen Christ who is present, by means of his Spirit.

In the words of N.T. Wright, this is a meeting point of heaven and earth – God’s space and human space, together in one place.  As much as God was with Adam and Eve in the original garden, God is with us, by means of his Spirit.

The Spirit in our Prayers

When we pray, we try as best we can, with our frail human words to connect directly with God.  We believe he listens and even invites us to pray, but we sense  the difficulty of knowing exactly what to say.

Some of us feel it so strongly that we feel we cannot pray aloud where others could hear us.  But scripture assures us that Christ, by his Spirit, actually “intercedes” for us – that is he helps make our feeble attempts at prayer make sense to God (Rom. 8:26).

The Spirit in the Scriptures

When we read the words of scripture, we believe that the Spirit is working in us to awaken us in a new way to God’s voice.  The book of Timothy speaks of scripture as “God-breathed” as if God exhaled and the words fell on to the page.  It’s a beautiful image  – and of course the word for “breath” is the word Spirit.

The Spirit’s Ongoing Teaching

When we, as a community of believers, ask for guidance, we believe that God does  help us by means of his Spirit.  Jesus even called him, the “Spirit of Truth” whom, he promised, would lead his disciples in to all truth.

We believe that the Spirit is still at work, in the church, leading us in to truth.  Sometimes he has a hard time breaking down the walls of our prejudices and our cultural assumptions, but he keeps working as we keep listening.

Slavery

It took a long time, but the Spirit finally led the church to reject slavery, in spite of strongly entrenched beliefs about races and enormous economic interests in keeping slavery legal.  God’s Spirit finally broke through.

Jim Crow

It took an even longer time for the Spirit to convince us that all forms of discrimination are wrong; that you do not have to own someone as property for you to enslave them in unjust structures of oppression.  Jim Crow was just as wrong as slavery – even if a bit more subtle.  Separate but equal was always a lie – nothing even close to “equal” was ever intended or produced.

Women in ministry

After an even longer time the Spirit led us into the truth that women are as gifted for ministry as men.  Our church is blessed enormously by the Spirit-led ministry of women.

Ordination

I believe (and I know some of you differ) that the Spirit has led our denomination to tear down other barriers to ordained ministry as well.  The prejudices of the past against people who are different are crumbling in our day.  I believe this is a sign that the Spirit is at work.

The Spirit breaks Barriers

All of this is so predictable; when the Scriptures discuss the coming of the Spirit, these kinds of barriers are obliterated like leaves at the mercy of a leaf-

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blower; the mighty wind of the Spirit eliminates barriers.

Joel’s prophecy

The prophet Joel spoke of the natural human tendency to stratify people by age, gender and social class that the Spirit was going to make irrelevant:

28 I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions. 

29 Even on the male and female slaves,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Acts and Ethnicity

The Book of Acts can hardly contain itself as it gushes out the description of the huge ethnic variety who were hearing the Spirit-inspired witness to Jesus Christ as the apostles preached on that Pentecost morning:

‘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.’

It is so natural, so human, to construct walls, to build barriers.  It seems that we have this in-born need to make a little circle around “us” and make sure we keep out “them”.  We humans are willing to go to war and die for these little circles of distinction.  Our species is willing to commit genocide, fill up mass graves, and walk on the other side of the road in the presence of human suffering for the sake of these “us” vs. “them” distinctions.

But the Spirit is able to break down these barriers and make miraculous unity happen – and we are witness to the Spirit’s activity in our own time.

The Spirit’s Work in Us

We began by reflecting on the fact that the Spirit of God is present, right here, as we gather in Church.  But these sanctuary walls do not contain the Spirit.  It is true that the Spirit is powerfully present when the community gathers together – but it also true that God’s Spirit powerfully indwells each of us individually.

Yes, in that sense, we are all walking-temples.  What is a temple, after all, but a place in which God’s presence dwells?   God’s Spirit dwells in each of us, making each of us a dwelling place, a temple, of God.  (see I Cor 6)

The Spirit Creating Fruitfulness

Why would God choose to dwell in such frail, fallible, creatures such as us?  Because from the beginning God created us in his image, and he is now at

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work in his creation to redeem every part of it that evil has corrupted.

We were made to live with God in close-communion, like the story of the Garden of Eden so poignantly pictures.  Everything that was messed-up by our willful choice of evil, but God was never content to abandon us to our self-destructive fate.

God is still at work, putting back to right all the ways the world went wrong.  He is at work in each of us, by his indwelling Spirit, re-creating us in his image.

Fruitfulness seems to be what happens when God’s Spirit is present.  In the first Creation story, God’s Spirit blew across the waters of chaos and formed a bountiful, fruitful world.  The same Spirit who indwells us is still creating fruit in our personal lives.   What kind of fruit does the Spirit produce?  Galatians tells us:

22…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, and self-control.

Evidence I See of the Spirit

I see the fruit of the Spirit at work all over this congregation.  I see the Spirit at work producing the fruit of love, for example, in so many ways.  I see the Spirit producing in us a love for our winter family; we embrace them all with open arms and welcome them here – and then we are blessed by their love in return!

I see the fruit of the Spirit at work in the love that we show to each other when we suffer.  We pray for each other, we call, we write cards, we make food, we visit each other in hospitals and at home – the Spirit is at work in us in all the ways we show love to each other.

I see the Spirit at work in us in the love that we show to people in need, even when they are not a part of our congregation and never will be.

Christian Service Center

Twenty years ago the Christians of this area came together to establish the Christian Service Center; we celebrate its anniversary this Thursday.  What a typical Spirit-thing it is that the barriers that once existed between denominations have been obliterated.

The Center is staffed by an all-volunteer force of Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, non-denominational people, Baptists – and others.  This is the fruit of the Spirit at work in our hearts!

Does the Holy Spirit really indwell each of us, making us walking temples?  Yes; and each of these signs of the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of love is evidence.

The Challenges of the Spirit

I believe that on Pentecost Sunday, we are left with two challenges because of the present work of the Spirit.

The Internal spiritual challenge

The first challenge is internal: if the Spirit of God is in me, what kinds of fruitfulness does he want to produce in me?  How can I cultivate the soil in my life to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in me?  How can I water and tend the garden of my own spiritual life in such a way as to experience an abundant harvest of spiritual fruit?

Anyone who has ever gardened – whether flowers or vegetables – knows that gardens take nurture, attention, discipline, and tending.  Our spiritual lives are no different.  Prayer, meditation, scripture, worship, all of these are the common garden tools of the spiritual life.

The first challenge of Pentecost is to be intentional about growing the fruit of the spirit in your life.  What would you have to do differently to make that happen in your life this week?  Take the challenge.

The External spiritual challenge

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The second challenge of Pentecost is external.

Where are the barriers that the Spirit still needs to blow away?  Where are the limits of my compassion?

Where are the lines I draw between the people I feel obligated to love and care for and those I feel free to ignore?

Where is the border of my comfort zone?

That is exactly where the Spirit of God wants to work.

I need to take a deep breath and allow the Spirit to push me to care –

  • for homeless people,
  • for addicts,
  • for people with AIDS,
  • for Hispanics,
  • for Arabs,
  • for Muslims,
  • for gay people,
  • for criminals
  • for all the people of the world.

The Pentecost challenge is to push the circle wider and wider, until no one is standing outside of it.

God is present here, now, by his Spirit!

Let is take a moment in silence to invite the Spirit to challenge us, right now.

 

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