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Pentecost Sunday ___ Acts 2:1-21 ___ May 20, 2018
Pentecost is one of the three major Christian holy days along with Christmas and Easter, and yet it does not seem to garner the same kind of attention and commercialization as the others. For this we can be grateful.
The truth is—Pentecost is a strange day—and I suspect the primary reason for its strangeness is because the Holy Spirit is so hard to nail down, it is illusive, it is unpredictable, it cannot be tethered. On top of that, it can be very disruptive.
Allow me to explain. It is possible you have heard this story before, if you have bear with me. If you have not heard my story, it is the story of how the Holy Spirit disrupted my life.
As some of you know I grew up as a Pastor’s Kid, a PK. A TO, Theologians Offspring. As I grew up I watched my father as he served churches in Mounds View, South Minneapolis and Lakeville. As I grew up it was not uncommon for well-intended adults to engage me in conversation, sometimes asking what I wanted to be when I grew up? At some point those same well-intended adults would be more specific and ask if I was going to “Follow in my father’s footsteps?” By the time I was in Junior High I had become bold enough to quickly and firmly say, “Hell no!”
Perhaps I should mention that my response had nothing to do with a lack of faith or disrespect for my Father’s calling to ministry, it had to do more with I know what was involved! I knew that being a pastor was no cake walk. I knew that the church, every church was made up a mixed bag of folks, or as Luther would say—we are simultaneously saint and sinner.
There is something about matters of religion that can bring out the best and the worst in people. It meant being on call 24/7, it meant having to get up and speak publically every Sunday and this meant I would have to work weekends! None of this sounded very appealing.
As time went by I headed off to college, and yes, I did end up with a Religion major, but trust me, it had nothing to do with being a parish pastor, at least that’s what I told myself. After graduation, in the spirit of the ancient Israelites under the guidance of Moses wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, I spent four years wandering in my own proverbial wilderness. I worked for a canoe outfitter on the Gunflint Trail, I sold men’s clothing at Dayton’s, I spent time traveling overseas, I worked at a tobacco shop, and for a movie production crew.
I even moved out to the Catskill Mountains of New York to teach Environmental and Outdoor Education at one of our Lutheran camps. And that’s where the Holy Spirit started messing with me. Maybe that’s what happens when you spend too much time sitting around campfires, if you are not careful, tongues of fire start showing up in unlikely places.
The next thing I knew I was applying to Luther Northwestern Seminary and in my mind I was going to go to seminary and then return to camp ministry. But I have to confess, as I did the paper work I was secretly hoping they would reject my application and I would be off the hook and could continue on with my nomadic lifestyle. Suffice to say, I was accepted only to discover that most seminaries really don’t have anything to prepare a person for outdoor camping ministry per se. My next grand idea was, well, if I am going to end up doing this parish pastor gig I was determined to serve in some urban, multi-cultural setting. And to help reinforce this idea I took all the courses related to such, even spending a semester in Washington DC and during my senior year living in the projects of North Minneapolis. Trust me I had plans, I had dreams, I saw visions…
So, for the past 30 years I have been serving in Northeastern Minnesota in small towns, compliments of the Holy Spirit, the great disrupter of dreams and visions. So, why do I share this story? Well, I share it not as a means of complaining, because much to my surprise, life in small towns has been a good learning experience, it has reinforced my belief in the value of community and to be honest, it truly has been a multi-cultural experience for this urban/suburban kid.
My primary reason for sharing this story is because every week when we join together with the Lord’s Prayer and we get to that petition about, “thy will be done,” we are in effect inviting the Holy Spirit to disrupt our lives. And I wonder, do we really want that?
Every time we baptize a child of God, we baptize in the name of the “Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, which is also an invitation for the Holy Spirit to mess with us, to re-shape us, transform us, and to lead us to place we never imagined in our wildest dreams. And I wonder, is this really what we had in mind?
And I share this story because today is Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost is the day in the life of the Christian church where we recall the mighty acts of the Holy Spirit, a day often considered the birthday of the Christian Church, and so it is.
But here is the thing that puzzles me—there are actually two Holy Spirit-Pentecost like stories in the New Testament.
One is in 20th chapter of John’s Gospel, which we read shortly after Easter and the second is the one we read today from the 2nd chapter of Acts. In John’s rendition the Spirit comes through the breath of Jesus. The disciples, we were told were hiding in an upper room in fear of the Jews. [Maybe even a bit fearful of Jesus since they had in fact denied him, betrayed him and failed to recognize him.] In John, the Spirit is received as a gentle breath from the risen Jesus.
In Acts it is a bit wilder, the Spirit arrives in a forceful wind that seems to rush down the streets and the alleys of Jerusalem. No tongues of fire in John, and no “peace be with you” in Acts.
Two different perspectives, two different writers, and two different historical settings, decades separate Luke/Acts and the Gospel of John. In the Book of Acts, Luke tells the story with images of fire, wind and the Word of God being proclaimed in the market place in a host of differing languages, and the promise that people from all walks of life will receive the Spirit of God and the young will see visions and the elders will dream dreams. And on top of all that, the name of Jesus will be brought to the ends of the earth. In short, Luke tells an amazing story of adventure and excitement.
But John writes some 20 years later. The Christian movement was a little bit older, a bit more weathered, maybe slightly beat up, which means that perhaps there is more at stake. There’s more to preserve and insulate, and there’s more to fear.
As I consider these two stories I wonder, to which story do I gravitate toward more? Once I came to terms with the disruption of my plans, once I got on board with this call to be a parish pastor, I suspect I was more inclined to gravitate to Luke’s story in Acts. Tongues of fire, mighty wind, mass conversions—what’s not to like? Like a game of Texas Five Card Poker, I was “All in.”
Have you ever felt that way? Can you think of a time when your faith was on fire? A time when you were willing to give God your full, undivided attention, a willingness to go where the Spirit of God led you?
Or, has does your faith life look a bit more like John’s version of the Holy Spirit? Maybe a little less dramatic, a bit more subdued, but still grounded in an intimate relationship with Jesus and the promise of “Peace be with you? When I read John’s version of sharing the Holy Spirit I sense a more reserved version, it sounds like a story that might carry one’s faith for the long haul, a faith filled with perseverance.
Whereas the story in Acts might be good for the faith filled sprinter, filled with action and speed—John’s rendition is better suited for the endurance runner, for the person who is slow but steady in the best sense of the phrase.
I share these two contrasting stories because I believe both are important, both tell us something about our faith lives. I also believe that we each have the opportunity to experience both stories, I also hope that each of us experiences both the thrill of the Sprit’s stirring as well as the Spirit’s comforting and reassuring gentle presence.
All that being said, I believe it is necessary to remind, warn, and encourage you of the reality that if and when you call on the Holy Spirit, when you invite the Holy Spirit to step in—be prepared for some disruption.
Every time I read the Pentecost story from Acts I wonder, were the disciples anticipating a “happy ending”? “Given that all the disciples go on to face struggle and persecution and the overwhelming majority eventually endure martyrdom, “happy ending” doesn’t quite cut it. And as for solving their problems, it seems to me more that the Holy Spirit causes more problems than it solves. I mean, had they not been commissioned and equipped to go share the good news, they could have savored the truth of the resurrection for themselves, cherishing the pleasant memory of Jesus’ resurrected presence into their ripe old age. Instead, they are thrown out into the crowds – many of whom witnessed, if not participated in, the crucifixion of Jesus – to bear witness to a difficult truth. Yes, they preach and thousands respond, but never without cost.” [Rev. David Lose, In the Meantime, May 17, 2018]
Truth be told, why should we expect anything different? Let’s be honest, the Holy Spirit does not subscribe to the adage, “But that’s the way we have always done it!” The Holy Spirit is very comfortable disrupting your comfort zone. The Holy Spirit will take you places you had no intention of going to.
Years ago at an Ordination service the preacher for the day is recalled to have said, “Sister and brothers in Christ, I’m afraid I must tell you that, if you stay in ministry long, the Holy Spirit will lead you somewhere you do not wish to go. If you wanted to go there, the Holy spirit would not be necessary.”
I believe this is true. I know this is true. The Holy Spirit wears many hats; it plays many roles. It can comfort, it can motivate, it can stir things up, it will challenge those who are paying attention, but above all, the Holy Spirit promises God’s presence. More importantly, though, it prompts us to view the work of the Holy Spirit differently. The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems, but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence.
And as we heard last Sunday in Jesus’ prayer from the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors.
This morning I want to invite you to consider how the Holy Spirit is working, disrupting, and transforming your life? If you sense that maybe life has gotten a bit too comfortable, predictable and maybe even stale—why not allow the Holy Spirit to shake and stir things up. Who knows where it might take you?
Let us pray…Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your Holy Spirit is leading us and your loving presence supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
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[Feedback is always appreciated.]Pastor Stephen Blenkush
Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
Love like Jesus!