THE BLOWING WIND OF PENTECOST

6.4.17 Pentecost A

pentecost pic.png

Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, d 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

I looked out my office window on Thursday and saw my picnic table umbrella doing something a little odd.  It was still stuck in that center hole of the table, but it was doing its best Mary Poppins impression, trying to take off and take my table with it.

What was the cause?  What had the power to lift an umbrella that is anchored by a piece of concrete?  It’s the wind.  The wind is powerful, and it’s all around us.  We know that pretty well here in North Dakota.  Out in this part of the country companies are even using it for energy.  Whether you like that idea or not, it doesn’t change the fact that wind is powerful.

But the thing is you can’t see the wind, you just can see what it does.  I didn’t see wind out my office window this past Thursday, I saw what it was doing.  I couldn’t tell you what direction the wind was coming from or where it would end up.  You can’t see wind, but you see what it does.  You can hear the sound as it blows through the trees and prairies.

Today, God wants us to think about the wind.   It’s a fascinating word in the Bible:  Ruach (רוּחַ) in the Old Testament and pneoma (πνεῦμα) in the New Testament.  When God uses that word in the Bible, it also the exact same word he uses to talk about the mysterious, miraculous, and powerful third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Bible calls him the Holy Wind, Ruach (רוּחַ) and pneoma (πνεῦμα).  You can’t pin him down to one location, but you see his power all over the place.  You can’t see him, but you can see his effects in the lives of people all over the world.  You can’t control his boundless energy, but God gives a bounty of it to be our power source for Christian living.

And this is his day.  You see, in the Christian Church there are three big festivals that we celebrate, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  Each one of these festivals highlights one of the three persons of the Trinity.  Christmas is the festival of God the Father, who so loved the world that he gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, his one and only Son, who was of the Father’s love begotten.  Easter is about God the Son, who suffered, died, rose to save us from sin, death, and hell.  He is our Savior who lives and reigns for us.  Pentecost is about that Holy Wind, God the Spirit.

Today is the birthday of the Holy Christians Church, and that’s a day to celebrate the Holy Spirit.  Because on this day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with power from heaven.  It was on this day the he formed tongues of flame on their heads and put tongues of foreigners on their lips.  This is the day the heavenly and Holy Wind, who was promised, came and powered his small church of Jesus’ followers to be bold and take the saving gospel out to the nations. That powerful wind is still showing itself on this festival all these years later.

But you can’t just see wind in North Dakota or any other place, right?  In order to notice the power of the wind it needs something to blow against.  To utilize the power of the wind here in North Dakota, it needs to blow against those big windmills.  To get around in a boat you can use a motor or you can use the power of the wind by putting up a sail.  To see the power of the wind you need to leave your picnic table umbrella open.  The wind needs something to blow against.

In a way, the same is true for the Holy Spirit, that heavenly wind.  He is God and that means he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present.  But in order to see the effects of his power, he needs something to blow against.

And just what is that, you ask?  It’s actually quite simple.  This resource that the powerful Holy Spirit blows against is not hard to find.  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly the sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 

The disciples were the ones seeing the effects of the Holy Spirit’s power on Pentecost.  There was no actual wind that day, but the Spirit, the heavenly and holy Wind, was blowing against those disciples.  His power was clearly the main attraction that day.

Some wanted to make it about the disciples, how they were speaking in different languages with fire on their heads and in their hearts.  Some were making a mockery by saying they were simple Galileans who had had too much to drink.  But Pentecost is not about the disciples’ power.  They were simply there for the Spirit’s power to blow against.

This is how I know that I am nothing special; there is nothing powerful about this pastor.  I have a very special and important job that I love to do, but it’s not about my power or position. God’s church will go on just fine with or without me here in Bismarck or here on earth. If you were able to join us for the Luther movie this past Wednesday, you probably noticed how the church got into a lot of trouble back in the late Middle Ages when it was all about the priests and popes and earthly political powers.  The church can never be about the men who serve it.  Instead, it needs to be about the Spirit who empowers it, the Christ who saves it, the Father who preserves it, and the Word that proclaims all God’s truth.

The Spirit’s power blew against the disciples that Pentecost.  It wasn’t the sound of the wind that really mattered or the fire or the men.  It was the message.  That was the real power of Pentecost.  That is the power that continues to blow throughout the church today.

And do you know what that message is?  Peter got up that day to preach it, and the Spirit was blowing through the crowd.  I am called as your pastor to get up and preach it, and the Spirit still blows through us who gather here with this message:  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone!  Do you know who that includes?  God doesn’t say it’s the straight A students.  God doesn’t say it’s the people you like.  God doesn’t say it’s only the good people.  He doesn’t say it’s those who try really hard to cover up their mistakes.  God says, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Yes, that includes people who struggle with sin.  In fact, that is the only kind of person there is.  Every man, woman, and child on earth struggles with sin.  It’s not a unique trait for a few.  God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We know this from looking in the mirror and seeing what God sees: sinners.  People feel this burden.  They know the guilt that sin brings.  They know the conflict that evil inflicts.  They know the uncertainty of death.  These are universal struggles across the board for everyone, including us.

God has the universal answer in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Jesus died to pay the price for all sins of everyone.  Jesus rose from the dead to open the gates of heaven for every man, woman, and child that believes in him.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  This is the solution to a guilty conscience.  This is the strength for living with sicknesses and sadness.  This is secret to rebuilding relationships.  This is the answer to what lies on the other side of death, because God is promising a future that has nothing to do with your current circumstances.

God isn’t uncertain about this. “…will be saved.”  In Christ, God stretches our perspective out to eternity.  In Christ, we have the cure for cancer.  In Christ, we have the formula for a blessed life.  In Christ, we have the ability to live forever in heaven.

That is what we have.  And God says everyone on the face of this earth can have the exact same thing.  The heavenly Wind wants to blow into the hearts and lives of every man, woman, and child in this world.  God has promised, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The heavenly and holy Wind just needs someone to blow against for people to see his power.  God has given this amazing privilege and honor to people like us.  He could do it himself, but the heavenly Wind wants to use you to show how his power is for us and in us and among us.

The sound of the wind, the fire, and the languages would have accomplished nothing without the disciples speaking the saving message of a Savior who died and rose again.  The Holy Spirit chooses to show his power by blowing against people like the disciples, people like you and me.  Because that is when you really see what the power of the wind, when it is blowing against something.

Brothers and sisters, I know how fearful it can be.  I know how easy it is to pass up opportunities to say the simple truth about faith in Jesus.  I know the excuses that come up: “It’s probably someone else’s job.  They know it better.  They have a better knack for evangelism stuff.”   It’s ridiculous and absolutely amazing that God would want to include us in taking a message of such importance out to the world.

But there’s something else I know about you.  You have the same thing as the disciples.  You have the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus delivered with his death.  You have the certainty of heaven, which Jesus opened to you when he came back on Easter.  You have his authority as he rules over you from his throne.  You have the power of the Spirit blowing against you for the people around you to see.  If you don’t think you are ready or fit for the job, then you are exactly the kind of person that God wants to use because then you know the power isn’t coming from you but from that Holy Wind of God.

The wind needs something to blow against for people to see its power.  The Holy Spirit wants to blow against you so that people see how great our God is and what he has done to save us.  What does that mean for you?  I don’t know, maybe that means you will join our outreach team to help us find people who are lost and don’t know Jesus in our community.  (That’d be great!)  Or maybe you will help us carry out ministry here, like planning events so we can invite people here or like prioritizing projects to make our ministry and church witness better.  Or maybe you will pray for this work and generously support it.  Or maybe it simply means that you will go to work and let your light shine, so that people see your good deed and praise your Father in heaven.

Whatever it is, you know the power that is behind you.  It doesn’t come from you, it comes from that heavenly and holy wind.  And when that wind is blowing against you, people will notice, just like seeing an umbrella doing its best imitation of Marry Poppins.

God grant it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

4.9.17 Palm Sunday

final battle year A holy Week

Philippians 2

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

It’s Palm Sunday. Welcome to Holy Week, the final battle.  This is the day that starts the end, and these are pretty familiar events. We see Jesus asking for the donkey to fulfill that prophecy from Zechariah 9.  The people welcome him as the Son of David, as their king, with palm branches paving his way.  And so we get the name, and why we had kids waving palm branches at the beginning of the service, because that’s how people greeted Jesus on this day almost 2000 years ago.  In fact, 1600 years ago believers in the Jerusalem area would retrace the steps of that day with palm branches in their hands.  It’s been a special church festival day ever since.

These things that happened are pretty well known.  But it’s not just the things that happened that are important, we also need to remember why they happened.  This is the part that is a little tougher to admit.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem because of me.  He wasn’t enjoying a nice Sunday stroll with his followers.  He wasn’t begging for attention.  He wasn’t going to Jerusalem to take over the throne he deserved as the King of the Jews.  He rode into Jerusalem because there was a final battle, my battle that he had to fight.

That’s because I’m the one who has sin on my record, not Jesus.  I’m the one who has found myself trapped on the devil’s side of the battle lines far too often.  I’m the one who has broken every kind of commandment there is.  If you think of God’s law as a mirror, then what does just one brick do to a mirror?  It smashes it into a bunch of pieces.  Just one sin is a brick to God’s law, smashing it to a bunch of pieces.  I can’t put those pieces perfectly back together again.  And even if I could, there’s another problem.  I don’t have just one sin on my account.  There are tons, every day.  It’s been this way sin before I was born because I have two sinful parents who made a…? sinful child.  That’s me and that’s you.  Sinful people like us caused this Palm Sunday event to take place.

Yes, it’s exciting to see Jesus enter Jerusalem with a grand welcome.  Yes, it’s nice to see Jesus fulfilling more prophecy as my Lord.  But he’s going to Jerusalem for a battle. It’s should never have happened.  The Son of God should not have to fight my battles.  The King of kings, the ruler of all things should not come to serve anyone.  He should be served by every man, woman and child under the sun.  This is the one who can make anything happen with a split second thought, a snap of his almighty fingers.  Blizzard in North Dakota in April, no problem.  120 degrees in North Dakota on the very next day, he yawns with the kind of ease it takes to do something like that.   Keeping the sun, planets, stars, and that outer space stuff in its place doesn’t cost him any energy.

On top of that, the Son of God had already dealt with the devil in a quick and easy way.  Casting the devil out of heaven after he rebelled against God’s perfect authority, wasn’t a fight like trying to quiet a temper-tantrum throwing toddler.  He just said, “Be gone!”  God already won the battle against Satan.  But the devil left heaven and made this place his playground.  If he couldn’t beat God up there, he would go after God’s creatures down here.   Now, because humanity foolishly left God’s side of this battle, and made an unholy agreement with the devil when we gave in to his temptations, we have this battle raging every day.  It’s mine and yours.  Jesus  shouldn’t have to fight our battle, especially not with all of the things that will unfold this week.

But he did!  Because of me and because of you.  We are the ones who could never do enough to find ourselves on the other side of this battle, the good side, Jesus’ side.  We could never trick the devil and we could never trick God about who we are or what we’ve done so that we end up on the safe side.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday because of me and because of you.   He saw it from his home in heaven.   He saw it with two human eyes as he walked this earth.  He knew he was going to have to go to Jerusalem to fight my battle against sin because we couldn’t do it. He knew it was going to be agonizing and excruciating. He knew it all along, that this road pave in palms and cloaks led to his death.

So what was Jesus thinking? If someone asked, really told, you to do something like fight the kind of battle that really wouldn’t benefit you so much, but would help others out a whole lot, would you do it?  We really aren’t wired that way.  We think, “What’s good for me?  What do I like?  What do I want?”  We don’t spend our time or energy fighting a life threatening battle for someone who doesn’t deserve it.  We don’t volunteer for that.  That’s not the way we think.

So, what was Jesus thinking?  We don’t really get that information from the Gospel for the day, but I think these verses from this old hymn or poem that Paul quotes in Philippians two give us some helpful insight.  We know that Jesus followed through with it.  He came to Jerusalem.  He got on the donkey to fulfill the prophecy.  He entered the city to shouts of Hosanna only to hear so many of those voices cry out “crucify, crucify him,” less than a week later.

But what he thought about all this is even more amazing.  Paul describes his attitude like this: “being in very nature God, [Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  The Son of God decided to be called the Son of Man.  He didn’t come to earth kicking and screaming. He didn’t need the power and glory.  He wanted to be here to fight our battle, even when he knew it would take humility, the greatest display of humility ever witnessed in this world.  He wanted to fight for us, even when he knew it would be painful, messy, miserable, and lonely, because he never wanted us to suffer that way.

From his very first moments in this world, it was all about the servant-like service rather than that godly glory.   He took up residence in the womb of a rather simple virgin, whose husband was a lowly carpenter and not a king.  He was born in backwater Bethlehem and placed in a feed box for his first night.  Shepherds were his first worshipers.  The Son of God, who was there to create the human body, had to grow up in the human body.  People spoke to him as they would anyone else, most treated him even worse than that.  Even on a day like Palm Sunday, we see God living as a humble man riding on a beast of burden. Jesus certainly knew humility and what it was like to be a servant.

But that wasn’t all.  “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  In humility, Jesus willingly put himself under the curse of sin.  He let the opponents plot.  He let jealous, angry Jewish leaders and a Roman governor brutalize him.  The Son of God let men decide his fate.

This was our battle, not his.  It was painful and messy.  We would never be perfect enough to do it.  We would never be humble enough to do it.  But Jesus was.  He was all of those things and more.  And so on Palm Sunday he willingly went to this final battle, not just because of us and our sin, but for us.  Jesus knew that this battle would be exactly like the time the devil rebelled.  There was no hope for him.  The devil is evil and all he wants his evil.  Jesus would fight evil with his humble love.  He would take the punishment sin deserves.  He would ride on to die as payment for our victory.  It took his lowly death, but Jesus loves you that much.

The Son of Man didn’t act like a son of man after that, however.  On the cross, yes.  He was forsaken by his holy Father as he suffered the torment of hell for the sins of the world.  But his humble death was not the end.  The Son of Man is also the Son of God.  His death led to the most glorious event in all of history.  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

When we are talking about this final battle against sin, death, and the devil, they lose.  And everyone who is on that side of this battle, everyone who doesn’t see Jesus as the humble servant who has saved us from sin and won a glorious victory, every one of them loses, too.  They will have to acknowledge that fact.  There is no option.  Every knee will bow whether it’s in faith or in utter shock or angry disbelief.

I’d rather join the faithful procession of those who hail him as the king.  I’d rather you do that, too.  Because that procession is the one who has a Savior from sin.  The people in that procession enjoy total victory over death forever with Jesus in heaven.

And do you know what else I like about being on his side?  On this side, on the side that worships Jesus for his humble service, we don’t clamor for the glory.  We don’t push and shove to get to the front of the line.  We don’t treat each other like garbage.  We don’t look down on others, because there is no better or worse.  There’s Jesus exalted on the throne over all for the battle he willingly fought and won for us, and then there’s all of us.  There are no levels.  There is no favoritism.   There’s just Jesus and then believers.  There’s Jesus and then all of us who follow his humble, loving, and willing example.  He has made us his people, how else should we act?

Today, we join the procession for Jesus, who willingly came because of us and for us.  We praise the Son of God and Son of Man for his humble love and sacrifice.  We look forward to the events of this week because we know his final battle means we win the eternal victory.  We are amazed that he was thinking it was all worth it…for you!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.  Amen.