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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 06/04/2017

The last couple of Sundays of the Easter season are always like previews of coming attractions; the texts move in the direction of what comes next, with what comes next being…Pentecost.  Knowing that his earthly time was coming to an end, Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who would continue to be present and guide the disciples.  In the lesson from the first chapter of Acts that we heard on Ascension Day and also last Sunday, Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, is the day we celebrate the arrival of that Spirit.  Pentecost though, actually started as a Jewish feast.  Forty-nine days after the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai.  On the fiftieth day, the Lord appeared on the mountain in fire and glory and made a covenant with the people, the covenant we know as the Ten Commandments, the covenant that Jews celebrated as the Feast of Weeks.  Christian tradition then adopted and adapted this celebration, centering it on the coming of the Holy Spirit, a new action of God among his people, one that assured the continued presence of the Risen Christ through the power of the Spirit.

The Pentecost story is familiar to most of you, the disciples having gathered in Jerusalem, then wind and tongues of fire resting on them at which point they began to speak in their native language, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and so forth.  It’s a great story; the fire serves as a reminder of the Jewish Pentecost story and God’s appearance in fire on Mt. Sinai, but liturgically, the fire also marks the end of what started back on Ash Wednesday.  Then the symbol was ashes, a product of fire and a reminder of our mortality.  After the forty days of Lent we moved from ashes to the fire that began the Easter Vigil including the lighting of the Paschal candle and now after fifty more days, tongues of fire that symbolize being empowered to continue Jesus’ work in the world and for one more day, the Paschal candle burns.

Imagery that reflects God’s power shows up in the Psalm for today as well.  With the familiarity of the Acts 2 text, the other lessons, including the Psalm tend to get lost in the shuffle today but Psalm 104 is another celebration of the presence and power of God’s spirit.  It’s a long psalm and we only get selected verses today starting with ones that provide an image of the chaos of the sea.  In the Bible, the sea is almost always seen as a potential threat and on top of that there is the presence of a sea monster, Leviathan, a sign and symbol of even more disorder and threat: “Yonder is the sea, great and wide, with its swarms too many to number, living things both small and great.  There go the ships to and fro, and Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it.” 

For the sport of it; that sets a different, less threatening tone.  This monster who represents additional chaos in the midst of the chaos of the sea, is seen as a plaything for the Lord, like a bathtub toy.  We’re reminded of Jesus awaking from sleep in the boat to calm the storm on the sea, easing the fear of his disciples.  It’s all appropriate for today as Pentecost is about the Spirit’s presence among us bringing order to chaos.   We believe that Jesus’ Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is still active calming the storms and chaos that can intrude on our lives.

The next verses of the psalm shift to marveling at the abundance of food that comes out of God’s creation:  “All of them look to you to give them their food in due season.  You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand and they are filled with good things.” In the creation account of Genesis, God commanded the earth to be fruitful.  The psalmist trusts that with the earth infused with God’s Spirit, that fruitfulness continues providing enough for all although for sure there can be a distribution problem so that not all are provided for.  But there is enough.  Again we’re reminded of Jesus who when he saw the hungry crowd took bread, blessed it, broke it and fed 5000 people with twelve baskets left over and then later he did it again.  There is enough.  The Spirit of Jesus is present among us and does provide.

Psalm 104 then moves to perhaps the most important empowering work of the Spirit which is to provide the breath of life.  As we say in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”  That’s echoed in the psalm, “When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.  You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.”  Everything depends on God’s life giving breath.

That breath is the breath of Jesus.  It’s today’s gospel reading from John.  As usual, John has a different way of conveying the truth about Jesus, or in this case the truth about the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  From Acts we get the dramatic story of wind and fire and many languages all of which help to make known the Spirit’s presence.  In John it’s more subtle although still dramatic. 

The Risen Jesus appears to the disciples, shows them his hands and side and says to them, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  After saying this, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and there you have it: receive the Holy Spirit.  The message is the same, but John comes at it differently.  In both Hebrew and Greek the word translated as spirit can mean wind, or breath or spirit so in the psalm and in Acts and in John all of those meanings are used to convey the presence of the Holy Spirit and also to convey its elusive nature.  It moves where it will, giving life, overcoming chaos, providing abundant food and empowering for service.

As Lutherans, we tend to struggle with Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  We’re good on God the Father, especially relative to creation; we’re really good on Jesus, but because it is rather elusive and hard to talk about, we’re not so good on the Holy Spirit.  Some people remember to wear red on Pentecost, we do pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us, but we’re not holy rollers, we don’t speak in tongues and tend to be suspicious of anyone who does even though the Bible tells us that it’s a manifestation of the spirit. Ours is a quiet spirituality, and that is not likely to change.

What Martin Luther believed though was that the Holy Spirit comes to us in the word, the capital W Word that is Jesus but also the word of the Bible and the preached word.  That’s consistent with the fact that in the Acts account, one of the first responses to the presence of the Spirit was a sermon, Peter’s sermon and what Peter preached was the gospel; he preached about Jesus. 

What he did though, was he preached with imagination.  He didn’t just offer a dry report of things that had happened, he invoked the poetic prophecy of Joel about visions and dreams and portents and signs, blood and fire and smoky mist.  The truth about Jesus, the truth about the God we name as Trinity is not necessarily obvious.  It can’t be perceived by reason alone.  It takes imagination to see more than is immediately available to our senses.  Those who wrote the biblical accounts were blessed with that imagination that is able to convey religious truth.  Those of us who read what they wrote need the same kind of imagination to get at that truth.  It is a gift of the Spirit.

For the graduates we honor today, I think that is something to think about.  You’ve grown up in and some of you will continue in an educational system that places the highest value on reason and logic and facts, things that can be seen and analyzed and proved scientifically.  That’s all good, but it’s not all there is, especially when it comes to matters of religious faith.  The Holy Spirit that we celebrate today moves through other channels, especially moving through the channels of imagination and wonder.  In so doing, truth is revealed, truth that adds a different and wonderful dimension to life. 

As we enter the imagination of the scribes and prophets and apostles and evangelists of the Bible, we encounter a different world, a different reality, one that is always infused by God’s spirit, which means a reality that is always infused with hope.  My hope for all of you would be, that as you move into the next phase of your life, whatever it is and wherever it leads, that using your imagination you engage and remain open to that different and Spirit filled reality.  It might not make sense to you right now, but that’s where real life giving truth is found.

Rev. Warren Geier


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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