Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

It is Pentecost. For the last seven weeks, we have been celebrating Easter, not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also the promise of what is to come for all those who believe. Our scriptures have been future focused – not as in tomorrow or next year, but as in the Day of the Lord. We have looked at the promise of when the work of Christ is complete and the New Jerusalem is a reality not just a hope.

On May 17th we celebrated the Ascension, when Jesus was taken into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. From that moment, the disciples were left alone to continue the work Christ began. Imagine how it must have been for them. Though they’d been given the promise of what was to come, they had to wait until it came. Can you imagine the doubts and uncertainties they might have experienced in between the Ascension and Pentecost? Would they recognize the promised Advocate? Would they know when He came? Would the world listen to them and understand what they were trying to say? Jesus talked about unity between people. Could the disciples really be unified when they argued about everything?

Those ten days must have been difficult, dealing with disappointment, discouragement, uncertainty and doubt. Despite the promises, the disciples did not yet have the indwelling Spirit of God, so for a moment they were left alone. How would they do it? How in the world would they ever do greater things than Jesus? After all, that’s what He promised.

Think about it. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead. He fed thousands of people with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus spoke with authority and He changed lives. Jesus did things that only the Messiah was expected to do. Though they may not have fully understood the reality of it, they knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He was not an ordinary man. They might be able to follow Him, they might even be able to do some of the things He did, but they could never do greater things, could they?

Yet, Jesus promised them exactly that – they would do greater things than Jesus. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father.”

The greater things they will do are not necessarily the things they expect in the beginning. Jesus did miracles, but even greater than the miracles is the message of the Gospel. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, but even greater than these is the life-giving Word of God. We are amazed to think that someone might have been dead and then was alive, but the greater miracle is found in the salvation of God. Every Christian, saved by the Gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, is a greater thing than all those things that Jesus did. Jesus’ expectations were not for the disciples to become like Him, wandering the countryside doing miracles, though that was a part of the way the Gospel would be shared. Instead, Jesus intended something greater for His people – sharing God’s grace with the world, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to do all that Jesus told do.

Jesus promised that His people will do greater things and they will do those things with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, the disciples spent ten days between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. It was a time of waiting, but not passive waiting. They were in the upper room; many scholars suggest it was the same place where Jesus held His last supper. They joined together in prayer. The group was larger than the twelve – minus Judas. The women and Mary and Jesus’ brothers were also there. They found a replacement for Judas, selecting Matthias to be an apostle with the others.

I can imagine the longing during those ten days. They missed Jesus – He had been the center of their lives for three years. They may have even felt briefly abandoned by God. They enjoyed being in the presence of Christ and His departure left them empty.

My husband Bruce was in the military for a long time and he often went out of town, leaving me home alone with the kids. Even in retirement, he has a job that takes him away for brief periods of time. My kids have always loved their daddy with an intense love. Whenever he is around they want to be with him. They ask him to play, they want to sit next to him when we go out to eat. I suppose this is partly because of his time away – they’ve learned to take advantage of every minute they have with him because they know that he might not be there tomorrow. Whenever he is home, they enjoy every minute together because we do not know when he will be gone again.

Perhaps Phillip was feeling a similar kind of love when he asked Jesus, “Show us the Father.” He wanted to be in the presence of God, but did not really understand how intimately connected Jesus was with the Father. He still did not understand. It would be the same connection that would give the believers throughout time the power to do God’s work in the world. Being in the presence of God did not mean that they could go somewhere to look upon His face. Instead, God would be made manifest in the lives of those who believe and in the things they would do in the world – those greater things.

The water cycle is elementary school science knowledge and many classrooms include a cute little poster that shows the cycle in a way that young students will understand. The water cycle is made up of four stages – evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. There is generally a little smiley-face raindrop that goes through each stage. He is pulled up in the sky, gathers his buddies in the clouds, falls to the ground as rain and then ends up in a river flowing into the sea. This helps us to see that the water just keeps going around and around. Today’s water is the same water that was here when the earth was first formed, it just keeps getting recycled through the system.

Would it really be possible to follow a single drop of water through the entire cycle? It seems to me that as it goes from one stage to another, the drop itself changes in substance as it move from river to cloud to river. If you put a drop of food coloring in a river, it would quickly dissipate, lost forever as it spread throughout the water, but never really gone.

It would do us well to remember that when we believed in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we became part of something much greater – like a raindrop that joins a raging river. We can’t go it alone and though we are still individuals we are one in Christ. A single raindrop will not change the path of a river, but the millions that flow buy every second are constantly changing the landscape through which it moves. We, as part of the fellowship of believers, can do incredible things – together sharing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ through our gifts so that many will come to know Him and be saved.

Jesus was one man. It would have been impossible to do the work of God alone or even with the disciples who gathered around Him for those three years. He needed to go to heaven so that He could send the Holy Spirit to dwell among the people of God. Then, instead of one man, Christ’s body would be made up of many men, traveling to the four corners of the earth to share the Gospel message.

At Pentecost, we often talk about how God gifted His people for ministry with the ability to speak in the languages of the nations so that they might share the Gospel. According to yourdictionary.com there are 6,800 different languages in 200 countries with 2,261 having some system of writing. The rest are verbal. In the Douglas Adams story, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,” the travelers wear a “Babelfish” in their ear that automatically translates any language so that strangers can understand one another. It isn’t quite so simple in the real world, though with the internet it is getting much easier. Yourdictionary.com offers links to approximately 300 different dictionaries. Alta Vista offers a translation site named Babel Fish. There are many other ways of learning to understand different languages.

The gift given at Pentecost was certainly an incredible thing. Can you imagine what it was like to miraculously be able to speak words in an unknown language that were understood by others? Anybody who has learned a second or third language knows how much effort and time it takes. My daughter has been learning Spanish for the better part eight years in school and she is still not fluent. It is hard. That’s how it was intended to be, at least for a time.

Man had settled together and founded a city. Together they decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven – it is typical of human nature to try to become like the gods. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent people to the four corners of the world. Archeologists have recently identified what they believe could have been the original tower and it is interesting to note that it is dwarfed by the amazing skyscrapers of today.

The problem was not that they were able to build a tower that would reach into heaven – for that is impossible. Heaven is not a place we can identify in relation to the world. We have sent rockets to outer space, even cameras to the far edges of our universe, but they will never reach heaven. The problem in Babel was that the people thought they could become like God. Though the language has been confused, human beings have never let that stop them from accomplishing great things. Even in the ancient world people were communicating with people of other languages and certainly in today’s world we have seen how small the world has become.

However, Pentecost is about something entirely different. Though the disciples did speak the languages of the nations on that first Pentecost and the people heard the Gospel in their own tongue, Pentecost is about introducing yet another language to the world – the Gospel. The words might be different from nation to nation, but the Gospel is the same everywhere. Jesus Christ died for the sake of the world so that all who believe will be saved. It seems too simple, doesn’t it? It was so exciting to be with Jesus, a surprise every minute and miraculous experiences around every corner. Which would you prefer – to carry a simple message to the world or change lives in grand and miraculous ways?

There need not be grand or important reasons for something to be created. As we look at the creation, we wonder at the magnificence of what God has done. I have a rosebush that does nothing but grow, and it is not even in a prominent spot in my yard. Yet, each time I look at that rose bush I smile. It is so beautiful, the flowers are so pretty, that I can’t help but thank God for His incredible creative work. We often wonder at what he was thinking when He created some of the creatures in our world – like mosquitoes – but we can sign praise to Him that He has taken the time to care for such small annoying pests. If God loves the mosquito, how much must He love the crown of His creation?

As we look at the psalm for today, we see that God has created all things, creatures both big and small. He has provided for their every need. This psalm is a call to praise God for His mercy and His grace. In the song we see that all things have a purpose, and that the purpose is not always grand and important as we might expect. Even the leviathan was specially created by God and its purpose is simply to “play in the sea.” We might think we have a much more noble and important purpose in this world, but we should always remember that we have been created for one reason – to glorify God.

I think it is interesting when the lectionary withholds a verse in a passage like this one from the psalm “Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more.” Isn’t that what happened at Pentecost? God’s grace was showered down out of heaven into the hearts of those who believe. From that moment, all those who believed on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved from sin and death. We are transformed into children of God, abide in Him and do His work in this world. We glorify God by sharing the Gospel with the world, baptizing the nations and teaching them about Jesus. When we do, the sinners are consumed by God’s grace and their wickedness is no more. Then they too can sing praise to God for His amazing grace.

We can focus on a number of different themes for Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when God gave to the disciples the final piece to the puzzle – the Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus taught, teach them what they do not yet know and give them the power to continue the work Jesus did in this world. We can focus on the idea of languages – that the power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all ages to share the Gospel message with the world. We can focus on the wind or breath of God, learning more about the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to God’s people. We can talk about the unity of the body of Christ that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are unified – made children of God and heirs to the kingdom – not because we have done anything right or have earned such an honor. God comes to those to whom He gives faith to fill their lives with joy and peace. It is the presence of God that gives us strength to get through the hard times and humility to get through the times of prosperity. It is by the power of God’s Holy Spirit that we can experience both the suffering of the cross of Christ as well as His glory. Just as the disciples were in between the Ascension and Pentecost, we too live between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. In this time and place, we are called to be Christ’s body, to share the Gospel and to bring others into the unity of the Church.

There may be times when we feel like we’ve been abandoned, when we are waiting for something to happen. There may be times when we feel uncertain or doubtful, worried that we’ve missed something. There may be times when we do not know what God expects. However, it is in those very moments when we join together in prayer, in praise and in worship. It is in the unity of believers that the presence of God is manifest to the world, through the love that they share by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” It is as sons of God that we will do the greater things. Those greater things are not always grand and miraculous. Sometimes the work we are called to do is as simple as sharing a word of kindness or a hug. There is a story about a little girl who was late coming home and her mother was worried. When she arrived, the mother asked the child to explain. The little girl told her mother, “My friend fell and broke her doll, so I stayed to help.” The mother asked, “What could you have done to help?” The little girl answered, “I just sat down and helped her cry.”

Most people have the answers they need, all they want is for us to share in their pain or joy. When people are happy, they aren’t looking for our opinion about their good fortune or even a word of congratulations. They simply want to share their joy. Paul’s encouragement for the Christian life is that we become aware of one another’s emotions and share in them. In joy and in sorrow, there is no language needed. We all speak the same laughter and the same tears.

Though the miracle of Pentecost is the miraculous tongues that brought so many to faith on that day so long ago, the Holy Spirit’s gift is not always about words. Like the little girl, sometimes the best way for us to help is to just cry along with our friend. Jesus came in flesh to empathize with the human condition and we are called to have empathy in this world as we live in the joy and the sorrow of the Christ-like life.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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