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May 27 Pentecost 2007

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May 27, 2007

Pentecost Sunday, Year C

Scripture Reading:

The Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 (p.1692)

The Epistle Lesson Romans 8:14-17 (P1757)

The Gospel Lesson John 14: 8-17 (Pp.1675-76)



      Pentecost is the birthday of the church. As birth is not an end, but a beginning. There has been other “Pentecost” in the life of the church. Today we not only celebrate Pentecost. We await yet another Pentecost.

“Third Pentecost”

      “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind” --- and at that moment the church ws born.

      The church ws not born at the moment when those first disciples met Jesus, and literally dropped everything and jumped when he said, “COME, FOLLOW ME.” The church was not born at the moment when the disciples gave the right answer to the question. “AND YOU… WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” The church was not born at the Transfiguration. The church was not born at the Crucifixion, no, certainly not at the Crucifixion: That was the moment at which the church was closest to death.

      The church was not born at the Resurrection, either. Nor was the church born at the many “Post – Resurrection appearances,” as scholars like to call them, and it was not born at the Ascension, either – no, not even there, and not even at those first prayer meetings in the Upper Room, when the disciples, following the instructions of the risen Lord, returned to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer.

      None of those great defining moments in church history define the birth of the church. No, it was not until the Day of Pentecost, the day we are celebrating today, that the church was born. And that is what we are celebrating today, as we have heard on this day so many times before: the birthday of the church.

      And what is it that gave birth to the church? What caused the church to come to be? How did it happen, what really happened? The church was born, we are told, by way of powerful events over which those first church members had no control. On that day, those first church members --- seems oddly predictable, doesn’t it, to describe those first disciples in that way, but that’s what they were --- on that day, those first church members were set afire by the Holy Spirit, and were given the power to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

      And then to make a long story short, the Spirit literally drove them out into that world of many tongues, many languages. They could no longer stay where they were, could no longer keep up the same-old, same-old. From that moment, they were out of the old temple, out of the old ways, out of the old-time religion. They were compelled to go forth into a new day, to shout from the housetops, in whatever language worked, what had up till then only been whispered in locked rooms and during secret teaching sessions on the road to Jerusalem. And so --- the church was born. End of story, right? The church was born, and here we are --- Happy Birthday!


      But a birth is not an end, it is a beginning. This Day of Pentecost is above all a day of new beginnings. The church was born and the church grew, nourished by wind, by fire, and by the ability – and the willingness --- to speak, as the Spirit gave them utterance, in new and different languages.

      And it wasn’t long before there was another Pentecost, if you will. That second Pentecost is described for us in the 10th and 11th chapters of this very same book, The Acts of the Apostles. The apostle Peter found himself in a strange country, staying in a strange place. He tells us, in Acts 10 that he was staying with Simon, a tanner, of all people.

      What’s going on here? Tanners --- tradesmen who work with the hides and skins of dead animals – were to be shunned by good Jews because their handling of carcasses rendered them unclean. Yet Peter --- a good, devoutly religious Jew if ever there was one – is staying with a tanner. During his prayer time he goes to the roof and falls asleep during his prayers. He has a dream in which he sees, lowered from heaven, a sheet full of all sorts of game animals the Hebrew Scriptures tell good religious folk to shun as unclean. And right then, there is a voice saying, “GET UP, PETER, KILL AND EAT!” And Peter’s response is the expected one: “NEVER! I’VE NEVER TOUCHED ANYTHING UNCLEAN!” And again that strangely familiar voice: “WHAT GOD HAS MADE CLEAN, YOU MUST NOT CALL UNCLEAN!”

      Peter does not know what to make of all this. He is mulling it over, when just then, he is approached by Gentiles --- by people regarded by the devout as outsiders, foreigners, people to be shunned in the same way that unclean food is to be shunned. They tell him of a God-fearing man named Cornelius, who has had a dream of his own, and they ask Peter to accompany them to their gathering of faithful Gentiles, people who honor the Jewish people and the God of Israel. Peter goes, and he meets with this gathering of Gentiles. He speaks to them, tells them about Jesus, tells them about the church,  tells them about that day, not so long ago, when the Spirit blew through like a mighty wind, hovering over the faithful as tongues of fire… And suddenly, while Peter is still speaking, that same Spirit descends like wind, like fire, upon these Gentiles, outsiders, foreigners!1(Acts 10:44) A second Pentecost!


      Yes, today we celebrate a birth --- the birth of the church. But let us remember, especially on this day, that a birth is not an end; it is a beginning. During his ministry on earth, Jesus said to Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom of God, one had to be born again. Well, in order to continue its witness to the kingdom, in order to carry the kingdom out into a world starved for the love and saving help of God, the church has to be born again as well. The church must be born again --- and again and again. The church has been born again, time after time after time, over the course of its tarnished and spotty history. In the beginning there was this tiny band of followers, touched by God, blessed by the Spirit with ability to see Jesus for who he was, and is. They called him Lord, they recognized him as Savior, Messiah --- and that was a birth. But it was only a beginning. They bonded as a little band of disciples, but that was only a beginning. They followed Jesus to the end --- well, almost to the end – and after  they’d forsaken him and run for their lives, after they’d watched, from a safe distance, as he died a horrible death and was buried, they experienced his presence anew, among them, the risen Christ. That molded them further --- another birth, another new beginning. And on that day we are celebrating today, they gathered at their Lord’s command in Jerusalem, and the Spirit descended upon them like wind, lit them up with holy fire --- and the world was never the same. 

      But that, too, that first Pentecost, was a beginning. There was a second Pentecost, when Peter brought the word to the Gentiles and the Spirit blew in again – a new birth, a new beginning.

      And today, here we sit, once again, on this Day of Pentecost. Once again, we have reached this key place in the church year, as we call it. We have waited during advent for that high holy day of Western culture, Christmas. We have welcomed the light of Epiphany. We have observed our fast of self-denial, attended our Lenten observances. We have pondered, during Holy Week, the world’s indifference to, even hatred of God, and its denial of and refusal to recognize God’s visitation. We have mourned during Good Friday. And, 50 days ago, we celebrated that miracle of miracles. He is risen! Risen indeed!

      We have done all that, once again, carried one another through yet another church year. And so, we have come once again to this place, this Day of Pentecost. And are we yet alive? Are we yet a church? It is now 2007. We are racked by division, torn by uncertainty, growing increasingly, it seems, irrelevant in a society that grows more and more secular.

      Let us remember, by all means, that Pentecost of so long ago, when the Spirit descended like wind, like fire, and those disciples --- for the first time a church, only then a church, only when the Spirit, in God’s time, made them one --- yes, let us by all means remember that day, on this day. Let us remember how the Spirit descended like a mighty wind, like refining fire, and made them a church and drove them forth to change the world.

      But let us also remember that second Pentecost, perhaps not as dramatic, but every bit as vital – that second Pentecost without which we Gentiles would not be here. Yes, let us remember that Pentecost, on which the Spirit bathed with its holy fire the outsiders, the foreigners, the “UNCLEAN.” Let us celebrate that Pentecost, too.


      Yes, indeed, let us celebrate, let us remember this holy day, this Pentecost, this birthday of the church.

But let us remember above all that birth is not an end, it is a beginning. And let us look ahead, stay faithful in prayer, gather regularly together to worship and to love one another and to pray --- and to wait for the mighty wind from God, for the tongues of fire, for the ability to speak in other languages as the Spirit gives us utterance, and to be driven forth once again among the foreigners, the outsiders, the “UNCLEAN,” to shout from the rooftops our Good News – our God is alive among us all.  Amen.

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