Another sermon that is not about you

May 20, 2018 (Pentecost Sunday)

Service for the Lord’s Day

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Acts 2:1-21

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine


2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘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.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:1-21, NRSV)


Let us pray: Holy God, you are the Creator and Giver of life, you spoke the world into being. We pray that you would pour your Spirit to the ends of the earth, make the dry, bleached bones of our lives live and breathe and grow again as you did of old. Come in rushing wind and flashing fire to turn the sin and sorrow within us into faith, joy, and delight. Amen.


This is a special day in the long life of the church, today is the birthday of the church, and today is Pentecost.  This day, the first Pentecost, took place in Jerusalem on the feast day of Shavuot, fifty days after Passover in the Jewish calendar.  Shavuot was the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Weeks (Ex. 23:14-17) that began when the first fruits of the harvest were presented to God.  This festival evolved into a special day in the Jewish tradition, because it celebrated that on this day the Law (10 Commandments) was given to the people.   But this day we call Pentecost was fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The disciples had seen Jesus, resurrected and he had returned to them.  Then Jesus ascended into heaven and left them.  Before he left, Jesus told them to wait in the City of Jerusalem until God would send God’s spirit to be with them.  The disciples waited.  They waited these fifty days.  Then this small group of Jesus’ followers were suddenly struck by something that empowered them to share their joy with the rest of the world.


Pentecost is a noun, a strong noun, because we know what it means.  It points us back to an event.  But when Pentecost is turned into an adjective, “Pentecostal,” it gets anxious.  It moves from one foot to the other, a little anxious.  It wants to be a good adjective, but it turns around seeking to find a noun to modify.  In truth, we don’t know exactly what it means, this adjective “Pentecostal.”


For example, someone said, “I have a good friend, and I’ve known her all my life. But now she’s Pentecostal.” That is what makes us frozen chosen Presbyterians nervous and I would imagine us organized Episcopalians feel the same.  We get nervous that the Holy Spirit might make us do something or go somewhere we don’t want to go.  So, we would rather it remain a nice Sunday where we break out the red paraments and red stoles, have some cake and ice cream and move on to ordinary time.  Because the truth is that Bible tells us when the Holy Spirit shows up things change.  The only word more frightening than the Holy Spirit is Change.


Let me explain: we hear this story of the wind and the tongues-of-flame and the dove and the crowds-hearing-the-sermon-in-their-own-languages and we believe that the promise of Pentecost is celebration, victory, and strength. The signs of Pentecost are mighty.  The Holy Spirit is God, the advocate, the promised one sent to accompany us with signs of wonder and power.


Wonder and power, but not ease.  In the cross of Christ, we see God’s strength mediated through suffering, God’s victory achieved through defeat, and new life pledged and provided through death. God’s Holy Spirit is more of the same.  So, consider what David Lose calls the paradoxes of Pentecost.  First, the Holy Spirit does not come to solve our problems but instead to create them.  Without Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples and other followers of Jesus could go back to their previous careers as fishermen, tax collectors and carpenters.  Once the Holy Spirit shows up everything changes, they can no longer go back to their old lives.  A return to normalcy is no longer an option.  Instead, they are blown out into the world to share the good news of the kingdom of God.  The Holy Spirit pushes us outward not inward[1].


In his May 30, 2011 opinion article New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a challenge to new college graduates.  He challenged them to avoid the American obsession with self-fulfillment and instead he challenged them to find some way to serve others.   Brooks writes, “Most successful young people, don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life…. Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.”  A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills, so his department can function.  Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.[2]


Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.


That seems like the mission of the church as well.


That is the message of the Holy Spirit, we the church will not discover ourselves until we give ourselves away.  No amount of time spent on developing a mission statement or devising new member campaigns can substitute for looking around our community, our city, our state, the world and responding to the many needs out there.  We should be asking, “Who needs us?” and “What can we do with our abundant resources to share the love, grace and mercy of God’s in this part of creation?”[3]  In the language of scripture we are called to go out into the world and make disciples.  It is the mission of the church to get beyond ourselves and serve others.  The various languages, the different types of people from all over the world were brought together as one; united in purpose, not to sustain and maintain an institution but to use their gifts, talents, skills and abilities to help others, to make the world a better place.  That is what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do…think, act and love beyond ourselves.  It is our purpose, it is our mission, it is why we are here…not simply for ourselves but to give ourselves away in love of God and service to others.


Let us pray:

[1] Reverend David Lose


[3] Reverend Dr. David Lose