Readings for the day (Day of Pentecost – Sunday, June 4, 2017):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. Of all the festivals the church has, there really are 3 primary festivals that are celebrated each year: the birth of our Savior at Christmas, the resurrection of our Savior at Easter, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
For us, church festivals usually mean a celebration. We celebrate at Christmas. We also celebrate at Easter. It is even common practice for some churches to have cake and celebrate at Pentecost. But on that first Pentecost, people were not excited, they were frightened. This was not a celebratory time, for they were confused. They were bewildered. They were astonished. This was not an exciting day because when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, He came as a violent, rushing wind. This was not a calm, gentle breeze. No, the Apostle Luke, the writer of Acts, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit as a violent, strong, forcible wind. Certainly something that would get your attention and go, “Wow what just happened!” Which explains all of the confusion among the crowd of people that gathered; even accusing the apostles of being drunk on new wine. Today Pentecost is treated as a celebration, which it most certainly is a time to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles and to us. But that first day of Pentecost was anything but celebratory. It was frightening.
When we think of the gift of the Holy Spirit we often think of baptism or confirmation. These are moments or milestones in life where we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals leaving us with a good, warm your heart kind of feeling. Leaving us with the impression that the Holy Spirit moves like a peaceful, gentle breeze. Except there is a reason why I tell parents when they bring their new child to be baptized that the first thing we are going to do is kill your son or daughter. Of course not in a literal sense, but certainly in a spiritual sense. In order to be renewed in Christ, we must first put aside – killing or drowning our old sinful selves through the waters of baptism. Then, and only then, is God able to pull us out of that water into new life, clothed with Christ; giving us the gift of His Holy Spirit. For the coming of the Holy Spirit is neither peaceful nor gentle, but rather violent and confusing.
When thinking about the Holy Spirit, violent is usually not the first adjective you think of. And certainly we believe that our God is peaceful, not violent. So let me explain what I mean by violent. Have you ever felt compelled to do something, but tirelessly worked to find excuses why not to act? When I sensed that call to ministry, it was a rather clear call; but the call to be a pastor was rather painful. For the longest time I was so convinced that my call to ministry was to be a youth director – and nothing more, certainly not a pastor! So I did what I could to avoid it. Ok, I’ll go to seminary, but only for a youth director. Ok, I’ll get put on the roster but still not as a pastor. But I have learned over the years that God doesn’t take no for an answer. If He wants you to do someone, whether it is something for His Church, at your place of work, in the community, or at home, God will find a way to get what He wants. The Holy Spirit tugs on us, and won’t give up until we do what God is calling us to do. God doesn’t take no for an answer, and He won’t rest until He does – no matter how much force is necessary. It took a while, but I finally gave in, realizing that it is much easier to just do what God calls you to do the first time.
Now the actions by the Holy Spirit don’t always make sense. Many times it is hard to see the bigger picture, making it all very confusing and challenging to trust that there even is a bigger picture that God sees. I have lost count on how many times I’ve told my kids, “Trust me, you’ll be fine.” Or, “Trust me, the toy you’re looking for is in your room where you left it.” It’s always easy to see the bigger picture for someone else isn’t it? But when it comes to seeing your own, it doesn’t appear to be there. Telling someone else to put their trust in the Holy Spirit is easy compared to practicing what you preach. But it is in our best interest to put our trust in God, because when we don’t and we turn to our own selfish interests without giving any consideration to what God might be calling us to do; then our lack of trust leads us to despair.
So I said that the coming of the Holy Spirit, especially at baptism is neither peaceful nor gentle, but rather violent and confusing. But I really should add one more adjective – astonishing. Because it is rather amazing what God is able to do when we put our trust in Him. Sometimes we even get to see what that bigger picture looks like. Kind of like how the disciples never really understood what Jesus was talking about when He kept reminding the Twelve that He was going to die and rise again. And yet, after the ascension of Jesus, Peter, the one who denies knowing our Lord and forbids our Lord from willingly dying, turns right around on that first day of Pentecost and begins telling the frightened, confused crowd the whole story how Jesus is the Savior of the world; dying and rising to new life. Yeah, certainly something to celebrate! The coming of the Holy Spirit to protect, guide, and lead. Which is both confusing and astonishing. Amen.
© 2017 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.