A few typos, but you get the gist. The coming of the Holy Spirit is a good thing, and we give thanks to God for all his many gifts. My favorite line (and it’s a tribute to an obscure line in a James Thurber piece called “Macbeth Murder Mystery”) is “No one says ‘Hey, those guys are on fire!'” Here’s the start, with more after the jump:
We finally come to Pentecost. We’ve spent the last six months covering the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord. The festival half of the church year now finishes with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the comforter. Today we celebrate and give thanks for his work in the church. And what is that work? What amazing things does he bring? We hear of the fire today. That must have been impressive. Strange languages. Also good. Miracles. Sure to impress. Jesus promises the disciples on ascension day that they will be poisoned and not harmed, the sick will be healed, demons will be cast out in Jesus name. We could use some more of that today – maybe with a healing ministry people would come to the church – at the very least the church could save a little bit on the pastor’s health insurance. Jesus promises such amazing things, and then it seems like today the church is so ordinary. Other churches have exciting programs, you feel like the Spirit is moving. Here we have the same people, the same old readings, the same liturgy, the same hymnal, the same reserved attitude. We could use an infusion of… something. A tongue of fire would be helpful. Maybe just one or two miracles. Something to let us know we are doing it properly.
But then, as Jesus says in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they hear even if someone were to rise from the dead. We have the word and promise of our Lord. And while on Ascension Day he gives some rather lofty sounding promises, they are all fulfilled in the time of the apostles. He never promises they will continue.
Even the tongues of fire – the most obvious sign of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the apostles, doesn’t seem to last more than a few seconds or minutes. How do we know? Because when the disciples go outside and Peter preaches, the response is “these men are drunk.” No one says, “Hey! Those guys are on fire!” The Spirit dwelling in them with tongues of fire on the heads was a sign for the apostles and those who already believed. It was not an ongoing thing. It was to indicate that now the preaching of the Gospel was to begin. And begin it did. Peter preaches his famous Pentecost sermon. 3,000 are baptized that day. Enough that, when they all return home, there are little churches scattered throughout the empire. So, when the Jerusalem authorities start arresting and imprisoning the Christians – and even killing them – they have places to flee to in other cities. And when they are suffering so much they don’t have enough money for food because of the persecution of the leaders in Jerusalem, there are churches in other towns and cities that can support them with their offerings. Don’t be fooled by that 3,000 number. Those were visitors, not residents. The Jerusalem church was not the world’s first mega-church, with programs and activities for all ages, and a barista bar by the entrance and a fancy lighting system.
The book of Acts continually says the church was blessed and continued to grow, but it also describes significant poverty on the part of many, and significant persecution for those who dared to confess the name of Christ. The blessing was in those who would hear and believe the word of God. And the power of the Spirit was not in miracles that made life easier for the disciples – they were actually arrested and beaten for healing people. Where God is active, there you will find Satan working to tear down what God is building. And let’s look at what Jesus promises in the Gospel reading today. He says:
The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
The great gift of the Holy Spirit is to teach, and to help them remember all he said to them. That may not sound like much, but it is a great comfort to us. Continue reading