Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA
I’m sure you all have, at one time or another, believed in God. At some point in your life you had an encounter with God, whether ordinary or extraordinary, and that’s why you’re here in church this morning. But, to be realistic, doesn’t the intensity of our beliefs sometimes come and go?
And maybe, if you were like me as a young person, sometimes you kinda half-believed in God. And part of that half-belief was that God was all the way “up there.” And we, well, we’re just “down here.”
We use language that reinforces this kinda thing all the time. We say, “The big man upstairs.” We say, “So-and-so is up in heaven, now.” Or we might say, “God was looking down on you.” In this view of things, God is on a pretty cloud, relaxing on a lawn chair by the swimming pool of eternity, waiting for you to get upgraded.
But here, in this world, where loved ones get sick or they die, in this culture where dollars and test scores matter—in a world where the pavement is always hard—pretty soon this half-belief isn’t enough. And isn’t it really easy sometimes to feel like God is simply not here?
We don’t even need to talk about all the death and hatred surrounding us in our country… Where is God in the day-to-day of workplace squabbles? Where is God in the cable news droning on at the airport while you wait for your flight to board? Or in all the difficulties of parenting kids and teenagers in our culture of pressure and fear? I hope you won’t blame me for saying it out loud: It is really easy to feel like God is not here. It’s ok to admit it! We all struggle.
It’s been almost 6 months exactly since I wore this red stole last, it was in December when I was ordained. I can’t believe it’s been such a short time! And it’s been about 8 months since I first preached here at St. Andrew’s.
Now, some of you were present at this first time, on that day you were voting to call me as your associate pastor. But I don’t expect you to remember too well what I was talking about! On that day, I was really trying to get you to see that God was here at St. Andrew’s. Not in anything crazy, but in all the regular—but wonderful—stuff you do. In the Gospel lesson on that day, Jesus was trying to get his disciples too to focus on God, and not on the value of their own accomplishments or strengths.
So, back on October 14th I said this: “There is so much about St. Andrew’s that is good. You’ve got a beautiful past, and a bright future with new members, and active small groups, and a wise and faithful pastor. You’ve got young adults and youth in high school who are actually interested and engaged. You’ve got a charming staff, and faithful volunteers. These things are so good! But Jesus might say, ‘Why do you call young adults good…? Only God is good.’”
Back on October 14th I went on: “If we take what Jesus says seriously, it’s a lot—a lot—more than just ‘good.’ These words of Jesus don’t reject the good stuff of a healthy church. Instead, they’re reminding us to recognize that this good is supernatural stuff. This is God stuff, because only God is good.”
“If you know that St. Andrew’s is doing good things if you see that St. Andrew’s is working to serve others and help make their lives better and their faith stronger—then call a spade, a spade: God is here. I believe that God is here. I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving. All the good here—it’s not going to save you, but all this good—it’s God’s gifts to you, and a sign that God is already here.”
Despite all the rough stuff in life that really makes it seem like God is not here, in October I reassured you God is indeed here in what you do for others. And you bet Scripture says it again to you today, it’s still true. God is here. But today is Pentecost, of course, God is not only here, but today God turns up the heat, God takes us further today.
Pentecost means “fiftieth”—so 50 days after Passover there was an agricultural festival in Israel to dedicate the first fruits of the harvest, all the first tomatoes off the vine, and everybody was there. So, all the apostles, all the new followers of Jesus, and Jesus’ mother Mary too Acts tells us, were gathered together in Jerusalem, a sign of great unity. And then something happened.
In the Gospel of John this morning, Jesus promised this thing would happen. Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Well, here it comes: “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, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
The church then was not babbling. As Acts goes on, everyone gathered could understand the languages. God is not up on a cloud in this story. God is in the mouths of the people. God is in the languages and cultures of the people. God rests like a flame on their brows. God was there. And that’s what our celebration of Pentecost means. That’s what bright red flowers and streamers are hoping to remind you.
God is here. The Holy Spirit is God, as we will confess soon in our creed. And God is no longer “out there” or “up there.” God became flesh in Jesus and broke down the door of “up there,” and then let in the draft of the Holy Spirit.
On October 14th I told you all that God is here, here in your ministry to the world, in your much needed financial giving, in the fellowship and friendships among you, old and young. The story of Pentecost takes it much deeper. God is in us. And God is between us. God is never far away. The Holy Spirit is as close as your breath. The Holy Spirit is in the language in your mouth.
A very wise teenager from confirmation class this year said, “Well, if God is so amazing, then why haven’t things in the world gotten better?” The old questions about suffering always return.
Paul has a mysterious answer to this question, as he writes to us and the start-up church in Rome this morning, he says, “You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry out, ‘O God, where are you?’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” When we wonder where is God, when we cry out to God in prayers too painful, or too joyful, for words, that is literally God in here.
Pentecost is the day we remember: God is not gone. Maybe we’re just looking too hard. God doesn’t just sweep the world away, in a display of awesome and terrifying power. But God pours God’s Spirit into the world, into our flesh, so that we might, in the words of your teenager, make things better. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is what is in us that can see that things are not as they should be.
On October 14th I left you with an affirmation that God is here at St. Andrew’s. But, it’s not October 14th, it’s June 9th! God is IN you wherever you go, and God is BETWEEN you and whoever you meet, yearning for peace and justice and wholeness.
Jesus says we will do even greater works than his! So, that little tongue of fire that God has given to you, the power of prayer, the power of faith, the power to tell others about what God wants, the prophetic power to tell others how much better the world should be—What are you going to do with it?
Are you going to take it home… and hang it in the closet with your church slacks and your Sunday blouses? Is that little tongue of fire that tells you God is in here, and that things in this painful world really should be better, can it fit neatly next to your khakis and dress shoes?
We have received great power in this flame, in this light. As Peter declares in our lesson from Acts, God says: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” As we’ve heard our lessons read in different languages today: that’s God’s daughters and sons everywhere, in Indonesia, Germany, Mexico, Guatemala, Columbia. God’s children in the United States. That’s us, one big Church across all borders filled with the Holy Spirit—together we dream, and prophesy and see visions of health and peace.
Don’t overthink it: trusting that God is here, the Holy Spirit will show you what to do next.