* The Christian holiday of Pentecost, which is celebrated fifty days after Easter Sunday, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31).
Sunday, May 31, 2020
The Day of Pentecost
The Word for This Day
FIRST READING - ACTS 2:1-21
1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, 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.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”
SECOND READING - 1 CORINTIANS 12:3b-13
3bNo one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
GOSPEL - JOHN 20:19-23
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
"Gifts of the Spirit"
In today’s Second Reading the Apostle Paul reminds us how deeply gifted we are through God’s extravagant abundance. Paul names a variety of spiritual gifts entrusted to the church. The gifts are many and varied but, Paul insists, each one is given through the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost is the church’s celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the people of God. And so, a very good way to celebrate this feast is to name and give thanks for the gifts that have been entrusted to us.
I want to start with the gift of Romeo Christopher Casias-Martinez. For the past six weeks my Tuesday evenings have been a highlight of my week because Tuesdays at six I would spend time with Romeo looking at the catechism to prepare for his confirmation today. I had seen Romeo in that other world we used to inhabit together before the pandemic. He would be sitting in the pew on Sunday mornings with his family, and sometimes he assisted in worship leadership. But I had never taken the opportunity to carry on a conversation with him until we started working on this final catechism review. Each week I would prepare a worksheet for Romeo to look over before our session, and then on Tuesday evening we would go over the worksheet together on ZOOM. Two things about these sessions really impressed me every time we met. The first thing that surprised me is that each week, it was obvious that Romeo had actually looked at the assignment and written out answers! I’ve done these kinds of take-home assignments with a lot of confirmands through the years, and let me tell you that many times if students remembered to bring the worksheet back to class at all, it was pretty much the way it looked when I handed it out the week before.
The fact that Romeo had already been thinking about our work made our conversations a whole lot more interesting. But there was a second surprise that showed me the particular gifts that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to Romeo. Romeo’s answers were deep and insightful. When I do a confirmation wrap-up review with students, I usually try to hook together the different parts of the catechism and see how they relate to each other. Romeo could make the connections and put the puzzle together. He saw how the Ten Commandments connected with the Creed and Lord’s Prayer. We talked about how our given name and God’s name are fused together in baptism and we explored what that meant, and what all that might have to do with what is happening here today as Romeo affirms his baptism. For our last session, his younger brother Ruben joined us and we talked about Holy Communion, so that Ruben would be ready to receive the sacrament when we take it up again.
The bottom line in all of this is that I was privileged to see the working of the Holy Spirit in Romeo’s life. He has been living with these stories and living in God’s grace for many years now. As you at St. Stephen’s now prepare to receive him as a confirmed brother in Christ, you are affirming all the gifts he brings to this community, even as he affirms the commitments his parents and godmother, Vicky, made when he was baptized. And all of that is a great reason for us to be thankful today for the gifts the Holy Spirit lavishes on us so generously. These gifts in Romeo remind all of us how we need that Spirit-driven imagination for the gospel to take root in us. God’s grace can stay as just a bunch of loosely connected ideas. But God wants to speak to us at the heart of our lives—speak to the very real person that each of us is, as distinctive as our given name—and when that connection gets made, when God’s Word meets who we are—there we see the Holy Spirit at work.
I would like to name a second gift of the Spirit, and I’ll do that by talking about your new pastor. I had the privilege of first meeting Mandy Achterberg when I was working for the Office of the Bishop in our Rocky Mountain Synod. Part of my work was to accompany persons from our synod who want to become pastors. Mandy was one of those people. To prepare for ministry, a candidate needs to go through three intense screenings. There are lots of essays to write, and candidates meet with members of the Candidacy Committee to discuss their faith. We also talk with professors the candidates have had in seminary. We get to know candidates very well, and the synod committee has to vote “yes” three times on each candidate—at the beginning, the middle, and the end. I was fortunate enough to watch Pastor Mandy go through the process of preparing for this call. As you heard in our ZOOM meetings, one internship wasn’t enough for her—she did two. She has earned two separate Masters degrees to address two different aspects of congregational ministry.
Some people aim to do as little as possible to qualify for their vocation in life. Other people excel, and that becomes a sign of the character of a person—the gyroscope that guides their actions, thoughts, and being. On this Day of Pentecost, we can name the energy inside Pastor Mandy that makes her gyroscope spin. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the energy revealed in the sound of a mighty wind and the spectacle of fire dancing on the heads of shocked disciples. It is the proof that the gospel has not been wasted—not on Mandy, not on you, not on me. We take this good news to heart. We let it change our lives. It can save us from despair, fill us with hope, raise us from the dead. That is why in the Nicene Creed we call the Holy Spirit “the lord, the giver of life.”
There is yet another sign of the Spirit to celebrate this day. You are looking at it right now—in all these faces in Hollywood Squares that stare at you from your computer screen. Sometimes people emphasize the work of the Spirit in individuals. Some Christians are emphatic about demanding some personal experience as a proof that this particular person has been “born again.” The Bible has a different way of understanding the Spirit. The two biblical languages—Hebrew and Greek—each have separate words for “you” when it refers to one person, and “you”—plural—when it means “you all.” When the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit, it is almost without exception talking about “you all”—you in community. It’s there in today’s Gospel:
Jesus came and stood among them (all) and said, “Peace be with you (all). As the Father has sent me, I send you (all). If you (all) forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.
God’s good news in Christ is communal news. The Spirit is given not just to individuals but it binds individuals together into a community. This community that is St. Stephen’s is a gift of God. To truly be God’s gift, it has to make room for everybody. It has to be bigger than race. It has to be bigger than sexual identity or worrying about who a person loves. The Spirit is found in your interconnections. And that Spirit has been visible these past seventeen weeks I have been with you. I have watched you support each other in this pandemic, work together to discern the Spirit in this moment of your history and to call a new pastor. I have seen you wrestle with Scripture together in Bible classes. I have experienced the gifts of the Spirit take the individual musical talents of members and blend them together in fantastic harmony and then hand them over as a gift for the whole the community. And I have witnessed dedicated members working together to feed the hungry through the FoodBank. Each of these actions that connect us to each other is a sign of the Spirit at work in and through you.
Because the Holy Spirit works in connections, it’s important for you, St. Stephens, to live in the relationships that connect you to siblings in other communities of faith. As a congregation, you don’t just live for yourselves—you are part of something bigger. You are the Rocky Mountain Synod and you are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s not you and them, you and “the authorities.” It is amazing when we catch a glimpse of that bigger reality of which we are a part. I wonder if you had the same tingle and shiver as I did watching the opening hymn—seeing that incarnation of community in all of those 1,300 Lutheran musicians and singers coming together to create something of astounding beauty! That, too, is a picture of who we are.
On this Day of Pentecost we can discover what this Holy Spirit is and what it means. Today’s Gospel says, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Please remember that in the Bible, breath and spirit are the same word. The Spirit is the resurrection breath that raised Jesus from the dead. It is the power of life in Jesus the Christ. That Spirit—the presence of Christ—is blown into the community that bears Jesus’ name. Let me say it one more time before this Eastertide is over: “Jesus is alive and well in living in Northglenn, Colorado—living in and through you all.” Living in Romeo and in this congregation that nourishes and encourages him. Living in your conversations, your forgiving, your speaking words of hope and support. Christ is risen—risen indeed in you! Now, it is time to start the next chapter of Jesus’ story in you—a gift of the Holy Spirit given in the name of Jesus.
Sermon by Pastor Ron Roschke