Pastor Joel Leyrer - Pentecost - Sunday, May 31, 2020

Text: Joel 2:28-29

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Dear Friends in Christ, I would propose that the word “unique” is routinely overused in the English language, but when it comes to the life of the Christian Church, that term applies today. While all the other great festivals and observations in the church center around an event in the life of God the Son (Jesus Christ), Pentecost does not. Today is all about the work of the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. In that sense, Pentecost is indeed unique.

That’s also why today is sometimes referred to as the “Festival of the Holy Spirit,” because, as we heard moments ago, it was on this day, fifty days after Easter, that God the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a fuller and richer measure than ever before. They were enabled to do great and wonderful things, and were filled with a boldness to speak and live the Gospel message.

And it wasn’t just a one-time thing. The fire that was kindled in their hearts on that first Pentecost Day stayed with them the rest of their lives. Pentecost was the launching pad that propelled those who experienced it into a life of active mission work. Historically, then, this episode stands as one of the major events for God’s people on earth. Which is why along with the “Festival of the Holy Spirit,” Pentecost has also been called “The Birthday of the New Testament Christian Church.”

Yet, there is more to Pentecost than its significance as an important historical event. The implications and ramifications of Pentecost are ongoing, and in the end it always gets personal.  So today is a time for us to gratefully remember that the same Holy Spirit who stirred the hearts of the disciples has lit and continues to kindle the ongoing fire of faith in each of us as well. 

Likewise, the same Holy Spirit who equipped the disciples for a life of service to Christ has also equipped us with the desire and the tools to live our lives for the Lord.

These are the things we would like to talk about this morning as we spend our time  

UNPACKING PENTECOST

By way of context, we view Pentecost through New Testament eyes, but originally it was a major Old Testament Jewish harvest festival that took place fifty days after Passover. It was a pilgrim festival, meaning devout Jewish believers throughout the world would gather in Jerusalem (as we heard just moments ago in our reading from the Book of Acts). Old Testament believers most often referred to it as the Feast of Harvest, or the Feast of Weeks.

If the people gathered on that first New Testament Pentecost thought they would celebrate it in the usually understood Old Testament fashion, they were in for big surprise. Today a huge transition took place. There was more than a harvest of grain that was being celebrated. This Pentecost yielded a harvest of souls. And the meaning of this festival in the life of God’s people would be transformed forevermore.

After the Holy Spirit made his presence known in a variety of unmistakable ways, and after the pilgrims in Jerusalem heard the disciples “declaring the wonders of God in [their] own tongues,”  the Apostle Peter addressed the crowd. He tells them what was happening was the fulfillment of a prophecy and promise God had made centuries earlier through the Old Testament prophet Joel. 

Peter uses the full prophecy, but we’ll limit ourselves to the two verses that served as our Old Testament lesson for today. Let’s take a closer look.

First some basic background information. The prophet Joel served as God’s spokesman at a time when God’s people had forsaken him. Like most of the Old Testament prophets, his role was to call God’s people to repentance. When they failed to repent and return to the Lord, God sent a plague of locusts that decimated the land.

When his people realized the error of their ways and did return to him, God promised restoration and blessing. But God promised even more in the future. Afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” In his Pentecost sermon, Peter tells us that “afterword” has arrived. It is now. It is that period of time ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we call the New Testament. To be more specific, it is time after Jesus did his saving work and before he comes again on Judgment Day. 

In these last days (as Peter interprets the words of Joel) God makes this promise: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” He then goes on to define who he means by “all people” and how the Holy Spirit will interact with them: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

In Old Testament times God selected certain individuals to receive special revelations from the Holy Spirit, but in the time ushered in at Pentecost there are no longer any restrictions. God pours out the Holy Spirit and brings to saving faith in Jesus Christ all people, regardless of their age or gender or social status. Which, gratefully, includes us.

Not only does he bring us to faith, he also equips us with an understanding of God’s Word so that we can clearly proclaim him to a watching world, just like the disciples did on that first Pentecost. That’s the general meaning behind those statements about prophesying and dreaming dreams and seeing visions. Martin Luther says they all indicate the same thing – the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ which the Holy Spirit makes known to us through the Gospel.

This is where Pentecost gets personal. Because that is exactly what God has done for us.   

Through our baptism and through our study of the Word the Holy Spirit has brought us to an understanding of the Gospel message. It is only because of the Holy Spirit that we who are born in sin and daily struggle with sin that should rightfully condemn us to hell actually look forward to just the opposite: an entirely undeserved eternity in heaven thanks to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.     

God in his grace has liberally poured out the Holy Spirit on us and into our hearts so that we can rightfully call ourselves children of God.

Let’s consider that from the opposite direction. Life without the Spirit would be much like a person who cannot hear attending a symphony, or a person who cannot see browsing about an art museum. Without the Spirit we cannot hear or see the beauty of the Gospel.

But we don’t have to worry about that. Because we have him. And with him, we can grasp and understand the Gospel in its glorious entirety…

Therefore, let us first and foremost simply gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is because of him we are here today. It is because of him that we can boldly and confidently walk into the future with the knowledge that our loving God will never leave us or forsake us. It is because of him that we know where this journey we call life ends – in a new beginning that will last forever.

And that is the first of the two great take-aways we can unpack from meaning and message of Pentecost. The second great take-away is to recognize where we are in time. 

If we can equate the history of the world to a book with God as the author, Pentecost is the heading of the final chapter. We are in the last days.

When it comes to God’s big plan for the world and his people, the risen and ascended Christ’s return is the only thing left. In the Apostle’s Creed we make 11 statements about Jesus. Ten of them are in the past tense. They have already happened. There is only one box left that needs to be checked: “From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

When will that happen? Of course, we don’t know. But what we do know is that we as Christ’s modern-day disciples have a job to do and a role to play. God through Joel tells us we are to prophesy. We are to be a prophetic voice. Not in the sense of telling the future, but in the sense of declaring God’s truth and the message of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it. And in the sense of quietly and calmly living out our life of faith.

This has been a tough week for our country. People are on edge. We are heading into month four under Covid-19 watch. Seems like opinions are getting stronger and more vocal about what should be done or not done, what is wise and what is unwise, what is true and what is not true. 

Unemployment numbers are at an all-time high. There are concerns about the economic welfare of our country going forward. Can we recover? Will we recover? How long will it take?

There is a beneath-the-surface seething anger in parts of our land that erupted this past week.  We watch the news clips of legitimate and peaceful protests turning into violence. We view pictures of burning buildings and looted stores, and it all just makes us sad.  Maybe scared.

Jesus says one of the signs of the end times is the love of many growing cold. Jesus also tells us to be salt in a world that is rapidly decaying and light in a world that seemingly so often chooses  darkness. So, in a sense, this is our time. We hear a lot, justifiably so, about the importance of our front-line workers during this time of national health crisis. As Christians, we are on the front lines in these last days as we live out our lives to the glory of God.

But we can do that. The stage is not too big for us. Because the Holy Spirit has equipped us – young and old, male and female, blue collar and white collar – to be instruments of hope and peace through our understanding of God’s Word and promises. Therefore, we go forward with personal confidence that God will see us through all situations, and with a recognition of the privilege we have to represent Jesus in all we say and do. 

If we go back to that initial Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s impact on the life of the first followers and disciples of Christ cannot be overestimated. Grateful and equipped, believers in Christ literally changed the world. Call it the Pentecost effect, if you will.

God is not asking us to change the world. But he is calling us to be his witnesses and to represent Jesus Christ within the parameters of our personal world, however big or little that may be. So, this is our prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.” Amen.