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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 5/11

          On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It’s one of the big 3 of church festivals along with Easter and Christmas although it never has caught on like the other two as one of those days that cause church attendance to spike dramatically.  In fact, even though it’s a Hallmark holiday rather than a liturgical one, one could argue Mother’s Day rather than Pentecost is really the third of the big three as attendance does tend to go up on Mother’s Day often kind of the last up tick in attendance prior to the summer slump settling in.  This year though, with Easter having been as early as it was, Pentecost and Mother’s Day wind up on the same day so attendance looks pretty good out there.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad you’re here.

          My guess is that part of the reason Pentecost has never caught on is because…of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit from earliest times has been the hardest one to get a handle on.  Consider, for example, the first version of the Nicene Creed that came out of the Council of Nicea in the year 325.  It included a first article not terribly unlike the one we confess today, “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of all things visible and invisible.”  That’s followed by a second article which is also very similar to what we confess, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as the only begotten etc.” pretty much what we say with minor variations.  But the third article was simply, “And we believe in the Holy Spirit.”  That’s it.  No effort to elaborate.  No further detail.

          The early church fathers knew there were plenty of references to the Holy Spirit in scripture but they were apparently hesitant to say much more about it.  But that hesitancy didn’t last long.  By the time of the second ecumenical council in 381 in the city of Constantinople, among other things, it was decided that more needed to be said about the Holy Spirit and that’s where the more detailed third article that we’re familiar with came from.  So what we confess is really the Constantinopolitan Creed or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed but I must say I’m glad I don’t have to announce that every week. 

In any case, the work of that second ecumenical council may have been the first effort to define and tame the Holy Spirit…and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.  Maybe the fathers at the first council had it right; acknowledge the Holy Spirit, but don’t try to explain it.  What happened though really just falls in line with what human beings do; when faced with something elusive and difficult to control and manage, we try to find ways to control it and manage it. 

Take for example the two primary symbols of Pentecost, wind and fire.   We heard in the Acts lesson, “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them.”  Wind and fire. 

Wind is powerful and mysterious…as Jesus says to Nicodemus in John’s gospel, “The winds blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”  True, we say, but we’d like to know; we’d like to control it and to some extent we do.  Human beings learned how to use the wind so it moved the great sailing vessels across seas and oceans; today we try to harness the wind seeing its potential to produce energy.

Fire too is something of a mystery almost seeming to be an entity unto itself; not a solid, liquid or gas but something else, kind of fascinating, kind of hypnotic.  But, recognizing its ability to produce heat and light, to power engines and to be useful in other ways, it’s something else that we’ve figured out how to manage and control.

But wind and fire also have those occasions when the best of human intentions are unable to manage and control them.  Wind and fire have a freedom that resists control, the result of which can be devastating destruction.  The cyclone in Burma is the most recent example of the destructive power of the wind coupled with other forces of nature; and fire we just think back to the Sleeper Lake fire over by Newberry last summer or nine years ago the Tower Lake fire very close to here in Republic and Champion.  I remember smelling the smoke from that one in L’Anse.  Wind and fire, elusive and mysterious, while they are natural resources that can be used in positive and productive ways, while they can be controlled and managed, they are forces that can’t be totally controlled and every once in awhile we’re reminded of that.

The Holy Spirit unleashed on that first Pentecost is a force that can’t be totally defined and can’t and shouldn’t be totally controlled because unlike wind and fire, it’s not a source of devastating destruction, but instead is the presence of God at work in the world, a presence of hope.  Efforts to control limit its ability to be that presence.  Efforts to control limit the Spirit’s ability to fill each of us and to fill the entire world.

To be more accurate though, efforts to define and control don’t limit the Holy Spirit itself; the Spirit like the wind blows where it will.  What such efforts really do is to limit our ability to see the Spirit at work in the world, our ability to feel its presence in us and to use the power it gives us.  That power is the power to change the world.  It’s the power to proclaim and make known the Kingdom of God announced by Jesus, to reverse ways that are sinful and divisive, drawing people together in the love of Christ.  It’s power to proclaim hope in a world where it’s easy to find reasons for despair.

The biblical story of Pentecost is a story of hope, a story of people being brought back together.  It’s the reversal of the Tower of Babel story from Genesis when language was confused and people were scattered as punishment for their pride.  In the Pentecost story there are many languages spoken, similar to the Tower of Babel story, but the emphasis is on hearing and understanding, not on the confusion of Babel.  On Pentecost the people asked, “How is that we hear, each of us in our own native language?”  How is it that we hear?   They all hear, and what they hear is the good news of God’s deeds of power in Christ, the good news of new life in Christ.  The judgment concerning pride was real, but the hope unfolding in the work of the Holy Spirit is real too.

Pentecost is celebrated as the birthday of the church.  While we shouldn’t limit the work of the Holy Spirit to the confines of the church, I don’t think it is wrong to say that the work starts there.  The vocation of the church is to be a Spirit filled, Spirit led community of hope; it is people who dare to see visions and dream dreams of the Spirit at work bringing about a future of newness and hope that God will enact.  It’s important work in a world that can be paralyzed and blinded by fear so that there are no visions, no dreams, no perception of the movement of the Spirit, only the cold, hard facts of a reality that seems unchangeable.

But the Spirit moves, it moves out from the church filling us, filling the world, usually not in dramatic ways as at the first Pentecost, but more quietly in the daily lives of all kinds of people, working quietly but powerfully in ordinary people, people like mothers who we especially think about today.

The Spirit moves and as it moves it changes us, opening our eyes to new ways of seeing and imagining so that we are not limited by hard practicalities and realties that seem unchangeable.  Moved by the Spirit we see visions and dream dreams.  Moved by the Spirit we let the Spirit move, untamed, without limit.  Moved by the Spirit we’re unafraid, trusting and allowing Spirit led change.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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