Loving | Empowered
I’m sure you would all prefer a funny/witty story to introduce the sermon this morning. Perhaps something about a hit reality television show but the truth is there is not much we can compare the event of Pentecost to.
This is the day on the church calendar when we recall the Holy Spirit coming “like a rush of violent wind,” filling those present so they could speak in different languages. Different languages were being spoken, all the languages of the world, and still they were able to understand on another. On lookers thought the group was “filled with new wine.” That’s the Bible’s way of saying they were drunk. So if we really wanted to do this right, we’d throw a kegger, right? Jeff, break out the good stuff.
After the Holy Spirit coming “like a rush of violent wind,” Peter rose to speak and after he finished his Pentecost sermon the church began to baptize those who had seen what happened and came to faith. Every year we recall this moment in the history of the church and celebrate the birth of the church - as though the Holy Spirit’s movement began at Pentecost, but the Pentecost we read about in the Book of Acts was not the first Pentecost.
The first Pentecost occurred as the Holy Spirit moved, giving Moses the Law, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, 50 days (Penta) after the first Passover. But even before Moses came down the mountain, the Holy Spirit had been at work.
In the beginning, way back in Genesis, the Spirit of G-d moved across the dark waters of creation and brought forth light. As humanity was formed, the Spirit of G-d was breathed into the nostrils, the breath of life, giving to life that which G-d had formed out of dust. And the Holy Spirit did not take a sabbatical between the first and second Pentecost moments.
The Holy Spirit was at work, breathing new life into the dry bones of Israel, through the visions of the Prophets, through their kings and leaders. Christ’s birth did not silence the Holy Spirit. St. Luke tells us the Holy Spirit would visit Mary, the mother of Christ, and in that action the power of G-d would overshadow her. The Holy Spirit was present at Christ’s baptism, moving as a dove. The Holy Spirit empowered the disciples as Jesus himself, just as G-d had breathed divine breath into creation, breathed the Holy Spirit onto the disciples days after his resurrection. So today, we celebrate the movement of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the prodding, teaching, leading, and empowering G-d has done and will continue to do through G-d’s on Spirit.
Our celebration this morning includes the confirming of 14 8th grader - now taking responsibility for the vows made for them when they were baptized - and the baptism of Milana. We follow the precedent set by the ancient church, witnessing to the movement of G-d through the Holy Spirit and like those present at Pentecost, respond with faith.
Ever since the Ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit has been sent - 2000 years ago and today - to make Christ’s presence known, revealing Christ’s teachings, and empowering the Church. The Holy Spirit was on the move and the Holy Spirit, I earnestly believe, continues to move today. Just as it did across the dark waters, through the prophets, and with the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is empowering, leading, prodding, revealing, and making us new by dwelling inside each of us.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit reminds us not only of Christ’s promise to never abandon us but also that G-d will empower the faithful - you, me, your great-aunt Betty. G-d has also promised to empower the Church - community churches like Mount Olivet and the Church Universal.
So now I pivot to the confirmands (I know they will go back and listen to the podcast) and Milana.
Milana, Today promises will be made. Today Evil and Wickedness will be renounced. Today Christ will be confessed as Lord above everything in creation. As the confirmands receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads and the baptismal waters flow off of your head Milana, we as a community will pray that the Holy Spirit take up residence inside you, inside the confirmands, moving, prodding, and leading you all to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
This is a dangerous request for us to make. Remember, when it happened to the ancient church onlookers thought they are drunk. The Holy Spirit, as much as we like to think we can telegraph its movement, is unpredictable. Milana, we will pray in just a few minutes that this unpredictable Spirit of G-d overcome and lead you.
We will pray that as you come to know the love of G-d in Christ that you will welcome the Holy Spirit’s movement for yourself. Know Milana, that the Holy Spirit is not oppressive, forcing itself upon you, but rather the Holy Spirit, just like Christ, is life-giving. The late Phyllis Tickle wrote that we today are living in the age of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is moving us within the Church and those outside the church, in a moment of Holy Revitalization so that Christ’s Lordship may be known throughout creation. The confirmands and Milana are joining us, the body of Christ, in proclaiming Jesus to be Lord and everything to be…
Milana, you are becoming part of the Body that seeks to end suffering and oppression around the world not by our own hands but rather by the movement of the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ. This means the Holy Spirit may not act like an anesthesiologist numbing you or us to the suffering of the world. To the contrary, the Spirit of G-d may just place the suffering of the world front and center in your life, front and center in our lives.
Milana, just like the confirmands upstairs, the water that is about to be placed on your head - an outward sign of an inward and invisible grace - seals you as a beloved child of G-d and in that same moment marks you. Our faithfulness to the leading of the Spirit results in our adoption as heirs to the Kingdom of G-d, right there alongside Christ himself. The Holy Spirit is coming for you!
It may not seem like it but you Milana, and all of us, have been set free from the bondage and slavery to sin and death. Through this sealing and marking, you are now part of a community of freedom and as you emerge out of the baptismal waters, dying to yourself, you will receive new life, being adopted in the New Creation established by Christ’s death and resurrection.
The Good News Milana, and everyone who has nodded off by this point, is that we are not in this alone. We are a community of believers, doubters, and skeptics. But Milana, we are committed, just as your parents are, to doing this with you and with one another as part of Christ’s Universal Church.The Holy Spirit will work within you, and as the Holy Spirit works within us - sustaining us in times of suffering, sealing our adoption, and empowering us in the life changing ministry Christ has called us to, and will call you to.