Pentecost 2020

Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan

Good Morning.  It is good to be back with you in person this morning and I hope being Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, is a good sign that this will be for you a Spirit-filled new beginning as well.

I could spend this morning talking about a holy wind, tongues of fire, and the gift of tongues, but I suspect for most of you it would only be the re-telling of a much told story and so I would like to focus, not on what happened, but what was said that helped launch the church on this historic day.

At the end of today’s first reading, we heard the beginning of Peter’s sermon, the first Christian sermon ever recorded. Peter begins by assuring the crowd that those on whom the Holy Spirit had fallen were not drunk but were part of the fulfillment of a prophesy from the book of Joel.   

The writings of Joel, though only three chapters’ long, have provided for much adaptation and interpretation and may possibly be one of the oldest of the prophetic writings in the Old Testament.  Joel begins by describing a plague of locusts that have destroyed all the crops, but this appears to be metaphorical because he then states, “For a nation has invaded my land, powerful and innumerable; its teeth are lions teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness” (Joe 1:6).  Concurrent the writing of the prophets and up to the day of Pentecost described in Acts, many invaders had come like locusts, like lions and destroyed the once powerful nation of Israel.  Assyria decimated the area near the Sea of Galilee where Jesus grew up and where his ministry was centered.  Later Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and sent the tribe of Judah into exile.  After the Persians allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, they faced Greek armies and Roman armies that invaded and inhabited their land.  

Throughout the writings of the prophets there is reference to “the day of the Lord” when God would come and set everything right.  The people prayed and anxiously awaited that day believing that God would send a mighty warrior, a messiah, to free them from the nations that had abused them and to meet out justice against those nations.  The prophets often warned that “the day of the Lord” would not be what the people expected.  As Joel begins to describe the coming of this day he says, speaking for God, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female slaves in those days, I will pour out my spirit” (Joes 3: 28-29).  This is not the vision of a mighty warrior, this is a vision of what Peter says has just happened.  God’s spirit has been poured out upon men and women, fishermen and tax collectors and women of questionable repute.  He will go on to explain that the Messiah did come and he was victorious, he just didn’t look or act in the way they expected.

Peter goes on to explain why he believes Jesus is not just the anointed one, but worthy of the name Lord.  Let’s back up just a bit and talk about the use of “the Lord” as a title for Jesus.  When God met Moses at the burning bush, he gave Moses his name, the tetragrammaton YHVH.  It translates into Hebrew as “I cause to be” and when translated into Greek became ego emi , “I am”.  At some point in Israel’s history this name of God ceased to be spoken.  My personal hypothesis is that it was a way of ensuring no one took God’s name in vain, but in the Jewish tradition, when the name is read aloud in scripture it is replaced by “Adoni” which means “My Lord.”  What got Jesus in so much trouble and what first century Christian will affirm is that Jesus has the right to be called “My Lord”  not just in the sense that we are his servants, but in the sense that it is God’s name.

Peter quotes from Psalm 16 and suggests that the Psalm is not about King David but about Jesus.  Peter states “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced;  moreover my flesh will live in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.” (Psalm 16: 8-10, Acts 2: 25-27) explaining that King David died, was buried and his flesh turned to dust so this Psalm could not have been about him, but Jesus was resurrected, his body did not “corrupt”.  This use of the Psalms was not new to Peter, Jesus himself in Matthew 22: 44 quotes from Psalm 110 when disputing with the Pharisees about his own identity and Peter will use that as his next line of defense.

Note that Peter is using the Old Testament scriptures, combined with Jesus’ teaching about himself to justify his next statement, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2: 36)

After hearing Peter, Luke tells us, many in the crowd were “cut to the heart” and asked of the apostles “What should we do?”  Peter’s response is “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2: 28)

Repenting does not mean to say, “I’m sorry.”  That may need to be said, but repenting is something I frequently do in my car when I realize I am going the wrong direction, make a U-turn and go the other way.  Repenting means we recognize our lives are going in the wrong direction and we take the steps necessary to change and go in the opposite direction.  We express our intent to do this though the examination in the baptismal rite where we denounce Satan and affirm our willingness to follow Jesus.

Baptism is the rite of initiation into the Church. It is symbolic of dying, being buried, and then resurrected into a new life.  We do so in the name of Jesus Christ because we believe that Jesus, and only Jesus, can and will save us both now and for eternity through his incarnation, passion and resurrection by restoring our relationship with God the Father.

In the concluding prayer at a baptism, the priest says, “Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of Grace.  Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.  Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (BCP p 308).

We believe you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at your baptism.  Confirmation is an affirmation of that gift, but if you have been baptized you can honestly say “I have been saved.” “I have been reborn.” “I have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

After Peter’s sermon three thousand people came forward requesting to be baptized. Imagine how long that service must have lasted, but also think what joy there must have been.  We are told that these newly baptized began to “devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”

My wish for you today is that you will check your compass. Are you walking in the right direction?  If not, repent and change your bearings.  Do you feel like you are in relationship with God? If not, focus on those things which help that grow: worship, Bible Study, prayers and fellowship with other Christians – it may be with a mask, 6 feet apart or via Zoom or Facebook, but nurture those relationships.  Are you aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life?  Take time to seek the company of the Holy Spirit as you inquire, discern, persevere, and find joy in this life.

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