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Monday, June 26 2017
There are those Bible passages that, when they are read in church, you wonder what on God’s green earth the preacher is going to do with them. Did any of you feel that way when the Gospel reading from Matthew was read, with all that crazy stuff in it…? Yeah, me too. And I’m the preacher for today!
Really though, we need readings like this. This Bible reading reminds us that the Bible isn’t all hugs and puppies and rainbows all the time. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t always easy. Jesus tells the disciples of all the crud his followers will have to endure, including conflict within their own families.
It’s no secret that the American family is in general decline. Many people have different ideas about what that looks like and why it’s happening, but it’s pretty clear that it IS happening. Even back in 1991, the bipartisan National Commission on Children issued a report citing reasons why the family unit isn’t what it used to be, including household family numbers decreasing in size, the fact that families have turned over many of their previous functions to other groups (such as child care and food preparation), and the general value of family decreasing in our culture.
There are other research groups that cite other reasons as well—just do a search on Google, something like “decline of the American family” and you’ll get more information than you know what to do with.
What I find interesting about all the research and theories as to why families in America aren’t what they used to be-- no one cites Jesus as a reason for the family break-down. We don’t usually like to think about Jesus that way, but it’s in our reading—verses 34-36:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
So Jesus will be a “sword” that will pit family members against one another. Contrary to being “the peace the world cannot give,” in this passage Jesus describes interpersonal and intrafamilial war, not peace. Jesus says that your enemies will be members of your own household. Can you imagine! Your own family as enemies!
I’m not telling you something new when I say religion can be a point of contention within families. While one family member goes to church on Sunday morning, another may still be in bed sleeping away. While one family member is a Christian, another may be of a different faith. While one family member may come to faith later in life, another family member may not understand or care about that faith. Jesus already talked about persecutions from others in the community, and here he hits (literally) closer to home.
Being a Christian means that those in your own family, sadly, may not understand you. You have most likely been at odds with at least one family member who did not share your values and faith in Christ. Whether it be your own child, an aunt, and uncle, a parent, or a spouse, each of us know of at least one member of our family who just doesn’t agree when it comes to Jesus. We have been and will continue to be at lager heads with other family members who, for some reason, do not share our love of and service to Jesus.
And even if you all share the Christian faith in your family, you will still likely argue at some point about the best way to live out that Christian faith. What one person thinks is the best way to follow Jesus, another will think is a bunch of hooey. What one person thinks is an important issue in how they are following Jesus, the other will consider unimportant or blasphemous. These are the joys of faith in daily life!
The thing is, most of us hate conflict, especially with those close to us. There are a few rare exceptions, like people who thrive on conflict and confrontation (my brother, the lawyer, is one of them! Growing up with him was an adventure!), but most of us don’t like arguments and do everything necessary to avoid them.
But Jesus tells us these conflicts are unavoidable in the Christian life. If you are a follower of Jesus, you will come into conflict-- whether it be with your blood family, your church family, your friend family, or your work family. Conflict in your life WILL happen. It’s just a matter of when.
It’s only when we embrace the truth from Jesus-- that conflict WILL happen-- that we are able to work towards conflict resolution with the people in our lives. If we go around avoiding conflict like the plague, sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “lalalala”, we will not be able to live out the Christian faith in a full and abundant way Jesus wants for us.
OK, so we know Jesus tells us conflict is going to happen, no matter what. How do we work through conflict with others?
The basic answer is actually in our reading from Matthew.
Jesus says in verses 29-31: “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
So God values YOU so much that God knows how many hairs are on your head. Raise your hand if you know how many hairs are on your head…? Some of us may have more than others! You see, God knows you so well, so intimately-- better than we know ourselves. You are of ultimate value to God.
So what does this have to do with conflict? Well, the amazing part about God is that God is able to know all of God’s children just as intimately and just as well, at the same time. God values all of us so much, as God’s own children.
So if Jesus tells us God values all of us, that means that we are all valued by God, equally and unconditionally. God loves us all, no matter what.
And because God values us and loves us all, no strings attached, we can remind ourselves of this when there is conflict with others. We are going to treat the other person we disagree with very differently if we remind ourselves “he/she is a child of God, and valued by God, just as I am.” So even in the midst of conflict, we are called to treat each other as children of God and with respect.
That valuing the other person just as God does is the basis of not only how we handle conflict, but all our interactions with other people. No matter their station in life, everyone is loved by God-- and we can remind ourselves of that whenever we talk to anyone we meet.
If you’re looking for a practical way to deal with conflict in a respectful and child-of-God way, check out Matthew 18:15-17: Jesus says, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
So, first you go to the person and talk to them alone. Honestly, that solves most of the problems right there much of the time. Talking with one another is key. Then if that doesn’t work, you have a one or two other people to come in and help mediate. Most conflicts not solved the first time can be solved that way. But, in the rare instances that doesn’t work, then the congregation should be involved, and in the very rare instance that doesn’t work, then that person has to be avoided, at least for a while.
You can see that the basis for this formula for how to deal with conflict, is love and respect for the other person as a child of God. Each person is given a chance to talk and to work the conflict out, together, with God’s help.
Because-- God is there, even in the midst of our conflicts with one another. God is always loving everyone involved, and guiding us so that we can get back to working together to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.
A man was driving down the road. Everything was going fine, until he was held up by a broken down car in front of him. He just sat there and sounded the horn while the woman driver in front was desperately trying to start her car. He sounded the horn even more impatiently as each minute ticked by, and finally the lady got out of her car and walked around to his car. She leaned into the man’s window and said sweetly, "Why don’t we change places? I’ll sound the horn and you can start the car!”
That woman took a very stressful and conflict-filled situation and dealt with it in a way that helped the man get perspective, but also treated him with the respect and love of God. She could have easily gotten out of the car and yelled at the man with some choice words, maybe even shared some choice hand motions. But even though the man was doing something very unhelpful, she knew that conflict is never solved by more anger and yelling.
It’s also important to notice—in the story, her treating the man in a helpful way didn’t immediately solve the problem at hand. It didn’t fix the car right away. Sometimes, when there is conflict, the problem underlying the conflict is more complicated, and will take longer to solve. Sometimes, honestly, it can’t be solved. Not all problems are solvable, and sometimes it’s better to just cut your losses and let it go.
But whether the problem is solvable or not-- the interaction between people in the middle of that conflict—that was made so much better by how that woman treated the man honking the horn. How we treat one another in the midst of conflict—that makes all the difference.
God’s love is in us and filling us, every day, so that when we interact with people—even people who do annoying things like lay on the car horn when we can’t do anything to fix the car immediately—we can share the love of God with them and deal with conflict in healthy and respectful ways. God’s love is amazing like that.
So whenever conflict happens between you and someone else in your life, you can remember—the other person is also loved and valued by God, just as you are—and that your interactions with them can be dealt with in a child-of-God way, with God’s help. Amen?
Monday, June 19 2017
Matthew 9:35-10:8; II Corinthians 5:14-21
Sometime in the last 12 months I watched a move called “The Martian.” Anybody here see that? It starred Matt Damon. It’s the story of a scientist who traveled to Mars on a mission. He was a part of a team that was there to make scientific studies, and to see what it would be like for humans to live on Mars.
Due to an unfortunate turn of events, Damon’s character gets stranded on Mars, while the rest of the crew reluctantly returns to earth without him. Without giving too much of the movie away, let me say that the movie focuses on what Damon’s character has to do in order to survive on his own with limited food and other resources. There is also a rescue effort involved. And, well, if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll just have to watch it yourself to find out if there is a happy ending or not.
In many ways, I found “The Martian” fascinating. It is a movie well worth watching. But I couldn’t help thinking, “Who in their right mind would ever want to travel to Mars in the first place?” Anybody here interested in traveling to Mars someday? I didn’t think so.
And yet, I know that there are plans – both private and public – to send a manned mission to Mars in the not so distant future. At one time I remember hearing that any current plans to go to Mars would be a one way trip only. No intention of ever coming back.
So I did a little research, and what I discovered is that there is an outfit called “Mars One,” that hopes to put four people on Mars by 2030. New crews would join them every two years.
Again, would any of you sign up for that? I know I wouldn’t. Even if I could be promised that I could catch a ride back to earth – you know – on the next available shuttle. I would not want to go to Mars for any reason.
Under these conditions, you would think it would be challenging to find people to sign on for this adventure. But here’s what I found. 200,000 people applied – to boldly go where no one has gone before!
200,000 people! So far, they’ve been able to whittle that number down to 100 applicants. Wow! But just imagine what it must be like to sign up for a mission from which there is no return. Anybody interested?
May I suggest to you that that’s the kind of deal Jesus is offering us today? A one way mission from which there is not return. But with one big difference. The Mars mission is asking people to leave the world. Jesus is calling us to go into the world. For the sake of the world. For the purpose of bringing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ to a world that is hurting – that is desperately in need of something new. Something different. Something better.
A Mars mission means leaving everything behind – never to return again. The mission Jesus calls us to means leaving our old way of life behind – our old values – our old self-centered way of looking at things – and finding a new direction – a new purpose – a new way of life altogether different from what we used to be.
Does that make sense? Leaving the old way of life behind, to take up a new way of life with Jesus Christ?
What I’m talking about is personal transformation. You know – as the Bible tells us – “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old has past, the new has come.” II Corinthians 5:17. But that’s what we are. As followers – as disciples of Jesus Christ – we are a new creation! The old has past. The new has come. Or as my favorite Scripture passage, Galatians 2:20 says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave his life for me.” In Jesus Christ – we are changed.
Now I know that for some, change does not come easily. Some of you have even told me that you don’t like change. And yet, change is all around us. Every day you see it on the news, or read about it in the newspaper. SO we have a choice. We can either resist change, and grumble about it, and quite frankly be miserable. Or we can move forward and live into the change that affects our life and our way of living.
That’s not to say that all change is good. It isn’t. And I suspect that when people say they don’t like change, this is the kind of change they are talking about. But there is good change. How many of you remember a time when garage door openers did not exist? Yeah. Remember having to get out of your car in the pouring rain to open that heavy garage door? Or in the winter in the middle of snow storm? Garage door operners. Aren’t they a good change?
Or how about this key fob. How many of you remember a time when these things did not exist? I remember the first time I saw one of these. It was used to open the trunk on a Cadillac. I had never seen one before. Didn’t even know they existed. And I thought, “Oh. Fancy Shmancy!” Now – they’re standard issue on any car you want to buy. I think this is a good thing. Don’t you?
Listen! When Jesus comes into a life, that life is changed. I think that’s a good thing. Don’t you?
Let me read to you an article from a group called “Lead Like Jesus.” Listen to what this group has to say about change.
“You may have heard it said that the gospel is about change. From the beginning of time until today, God has been in the business of change. He changed the chaos and darkness of Genesis into the light, land, and seas. He changed water into wine. He changes the times and seasons and He changes you and me. From the moment of birth to new birth and through the passing into the heavenly realms, life is about change.
“Sometimes, we handle change well if it's not too disruptive; other times we balk, scream and cry. Change is evident, at this time of year, as teens graduate from high school and make plans for college or work; young adults consider marriage proposals and make choices. We've enjoyed the seasons as they change from the cold winter to the warmer spring and early summer warmth. The flowers and plants seem to know that it's time to burst forth in a great variety of color. Change, it seems, is everywhere.
“The psalmist writes that God who is all wise and full of power is the One who initiates change. In what ways do you see your life changing? How would you describe your thoughts and feelings? How will you embrace the change when you acknowledge that the all wise and powerful God has initiated it? Change will always be with us. Does your perspective need to change?”[i]
You – my friend – you’ve been changed. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation. The old person that was you has died, and now in Christ you are a new – what? That’s right. Creation. This is the impact that the Good News message of Jesus Christ brings to all who believe this Good News.
And that’s why Jesus sends his disciples out in our Gospel lesson today. To bring this life changing Good News message of Jesus Christ to others. As new creations in Christ, that is our job too. Yes?
Jesus tells us today that the harvest is ready, but the workers in the fields are few. Changed people – people like you and me – share that Good News message. With friends. With family. With neighbors. With people who already believe. Changed people – change people. Changed lives change lives. It’s a fast-changing world, but the Good News Gospel of Jesus Christ remains the same. What people need to hear is that God loves them. That God loves them just the way they are, but that He loves them too much to let them stay that way. And that’s why we need the Gospel. SO that the Good News message of Jesus Christ changes us from the inside out.
Just think about your own life. How has the Good News of Jesus Christ had an impact on your life? Since you began your walk with Jesus, how have you grown? How have you changed? How have you developed? In what area of your life is the Holy Spirit at work right now to make you all that God wants you to be? By the way, it’s a constant process – this change thing.
And – it’s a one-way trip. Just like the planned journey to Mars is going to be a one-way trip, the journey with Jesus is a one-way trip! Once we’re on the road with Jesus – with all of the change and transformation that he brings – there is no going back to the old way of life. No turning back.
And one last thing. Just as we – the disciples of Jesus Christ – are being made into new creations through change – so too, churches go through change as well. In a few weeks, we will say Goodbye to Pastor Becca. You’ve all heard that news by now. She will be leaving this place to go to United Lutheran Seminary on the campus at Gettysburg, PA. As the Associate Director of Admissions, she will be recruiting men and women to the seminary for training as pastors and leaders in the church. Kind of like what Jesus did when he called disciples to follow him – called them – trained them – and sent them out. Pastor Becca will play an important role in making that happen. In the name of Jesus – and for the sake of Christ’s church. So – our loss is the seminary’s gain. Our loss is the wider church’s gain.
It is my hope, that as we release Pastor Becca into this new calling, that she will take a part of us with her. Because we certainly will think back on these last two years with fondness, delight, and thanksgiving – and realize the important role she has played in our own change and transformation – as she brought to us the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ in her preaching and teaching.
She still has a few weeks left with us, so it isn’t quite time to say goodbye yet. But we do want to thank you, Pastor Becca, for your ministry among us.
May the Lord be with you, as you go on your way. Amen
[i] The Gospel is About Change – Lead Like Jesus Newsletter June 2013
Monday, June 12 2017
Holy Trinity A; Matthew 28:16-20 (2 Cor 13:11-13)
Zion CC; 6/10 & 11/17
A climber fell off a cliff, and as he tumbled down, he caught hold of a small branch. "HELP! IS THERE ANYBODY UP THERE?" he shouted.
A majestic voice boomed through the gorge: "I will help you, my son, but you have to trust me.”
"Yes, yes, I trust you!" cried the man.
"Let go of the branch," boomed the voice.
There was a long pause, and the man shouted up again, "IS THERE ANYONE ELSE UP THERE I COULD TALK TO?"
How many of us would ask the same thing in a similar situation?? I know I probably would!
We are here in church right now. We are here to praise God, to pray to God, to read the Holy Bible together, and to hear God’s Word preached. We all have joined in God’s name to experience God’s presence and love-- and we will leave this place today with the common mission to share God’s love with others.
All of that is true. But sometimes, there is uncertainty. We may have questions. We may have doubts. Sometimes, we are like that climber hanging on the branch, knowing that God is there but finding it hard to trust God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.
A lot of people think that being a Christian means that we have to have everything figured out, all the time. But the thing is, questions and doubts are a part of what it means to follow Jesus.
Even the first followers of Jesus, the original disciples, had doubts about Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel that we read, it says in verses 16 and 17: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
So let’s get this straight. THE DISCIPLES—the ones who followed Jesus throughout his ministry, all the while learning and seeing healings and demons cast out by Jesus, and then getting to teach and heal and cast out demons in Jesus’ name themselves—then abandoning Jesus when he was on trial and crucified (even though Jesus told them it was going to happen a bunch of times)—then hearing of the empty tomb and seeing and hanging out with Jesus, risen from the dead and resurrected--—after ALL OF THAT, some doubted??
And not only that, all of them were worshiping, but some of them doubted. So some of them were WORSHIPING JESUS and DOUBTING at the same time.
If that doesn’t tell us it’s OK to doubt sometimes, I don’t know what does. We frequently feel like we have to put on a perfect face and have our lives together in order to come to church and worship our Triune God—but even the original disciples didn’t have it all together when they were worshiping Jesus.
Wanna know a secret? NO ONE here has it all together. Raise your hand if you have your life and faith in God completely together and figured out. OK, if I see any hand raised, I want your contact info STAT because you are my new life coach!
No one has everything figured out. No one. And we aren’t expected to—Jesus knows this about us. Jesus knew that when those eleven disciples were worshiping him on that mountain, some were doubting at the same time. He knew that. And yet, he promises all of them—both doubters and non-doubters—something amazing.
It’s the second half of that last verse, verse 20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“I am with you always.” There are no conditions attached to Jesus’ promise. He doesn’t say “I’m with you always—if you’re nice to your sister,” or “I’m with you always—if you dress up to go to church,” or “I’m with you always—if you never have doubts or questions about me.”
He says to both doubters and non-doubters alike: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Period. Jesus is with us always, even in the midst of our doubts and questions.
A man was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no body found. In the defense's closing statement, the lawyer, knowing his client would probably be found guilty, resorted to a trick.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all," the lawyer said. He looked at his watch. "Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom." He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened.
Finally the lawyer said, "Actually, I made up the previous statement; but you all looked on with anticipation. Therefore, I put to you that you have a reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty."
The jury, clearly confused, left to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. "But how?" inquired the lawyer. "You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door. " The jury foreman replied, "Oh, WE looked-- but your client didn't."
The man on trial didn’t look for the person who was murdered to show up—because he knew that that person was dead! But our lord and savior, Jesus Christ, is not dead. He is alive, risen from the dead, and has promised to be with us always.
And because Jesus is with us always, we are free to share his love with others. If Jesus ascended into heaven and said to the disciples, “Hey, it’s been fun, good luck on your own!”, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now, in this church, talking about Jesus—because the disciples would not have gotten the word out. They had Jesus’ presence and love and guidance backing them up.
And not only THAT, they also had God the Father and the Holy Spirit with them. Last week was our celebration of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a powerful way and they were inspired to share the Good News of Jesus with the world. They had all three members of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—with them. How could they not share God’s love with other people with that much back up??
We have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with us always as well. In fact, we remember this at the beginning of service, every week. The greeting we usually say comes from our 2 Corinthians reading—chapter 13, verses 11-13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” That greeting may sound familiar, right? [If it doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because we sometimes use a greeting at this worship service that’s worded differently—but no matter what the greeting is, we always greet one another at the beginning of worship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.] And we greet each other that way, to remind ourselves that our Triune God, three in one and one in three, is always with us.
And because we know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always with us, we are invited to share that good news with others. Jesus says to the disciples in our Matthew Gospel text: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
This is typically called the “Great Commission”, when Jesus commissions all of his followers to tell others about him and make disciples by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them what it means to live as a Christian.
It’s called the Great Commission, because the word—co-mission (co= together)—means that we are in mission together, with our Triune God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are with us always, in mission with us, so we can help others experience the love and joy in God that we have experienced.
And when we share that love of God, we can know that doubts and questions, are perfectly normal and a part of this journey we call the Christian life. Our own doubts are normal. Other peoples’ doubts are normal. We can even remind ourselves and others that the original disciples doubted!
And in the midst of that doubt, Jesus was with them. And Jesus is with US, in our doubts and questions and fears, inviting us to remember that he is with us always and that the Triune God is always with us, guiding us and leading us to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth, together—our co-mission is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone! Amen?
Tuesday, June 06 2017
The original Star Wars movie was released 40 years ago this past May 25th. 40 years! I know for some of us that seems like a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – yeah. I think there have been – what – seven Star Wars movies made so far?
But did you know – if you’re a Star Wars fan, you already know this – but did you know that Star Wars VIII is coming out later this year? “The Last Jedi.” Opening date is scheduled for December 15.
And I know – I know – some of you can’t wait. I know that there is at least one person here today who is going to want to see “The Last Jedi” the day it opens in local theaters.
Well, I hope you’re not like the two guys I heard about years ago – I don’t know – somewhere out on the west coast – but two guys somewhere waited in line for one of the Star Wars movies – they waited in line outside the movie theater for over three months. Three months!
Is there any movie that is worth waiting in line – outside – for three whole months? Not in Western New York in December. Not anytime, not anywhere! I think somebody needs to get a life! Now I like the Star Wars series of movies – and Nancy and I intend to see this one too – but honestly folks – I think I can wait. I can wait.
Just like the disciples. The disciples of Jesus were told by Jesus to wait. Jesus – before he ascended from the earth on the clouds of heaven – gave as his last words to his disciples – the instructions to go back to Jerusalem – and wait.
And why were they to wait? And for what were they to wait? Well – to be more precise – for whom were they to wait?
Here is what the Lord tells them just as he is about to ascend into heaven. You can read all about it in Acts 1:8. Here’s what Jesus said:
“...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; – and you will be my...” What? Does anybody remember? That’s right. You will be my witnesses. Acts 1:8.
To be sure the Holy Spirit for whom they are to wait is nothing like the “Force” from Star Wars. And you know how you can always tell who the good Lutherans are in a theater watching a Star Wars movie. When someone on screen says, “May the Force be with you,” that’ll be the person shouting out, “And also with you!” No, actually. Please don’t do that. The Holy Spirit is nothing like the Force – because the Force has both a good side and a bad side. A light side and a dark side. Remember what Yoda says to young Luke Skywalker, “Beware the dark side of the force. Consume you it will.”
No. The Bible says that “...God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” So, do not confuse the Holy Spirit with “The Force” of Star Wars.
The Holy Spirit is a person – a force to be sure – and a powerful force at that. But the Holy Spirit is a person – a person with the power to change lives. Even your life. Even mine. It is the Holy Spirit who is the one who gives us the power to say, “Jesus is Lord. This I believe.” In fact, without the Holy Spirit, we can’t ever say “Jesus is Lord,” and mean it. We need to remember that.
On that first day of Pentecost the Bible tells us that 120 disciples – you heard me right – 120 disciples – were gathered together in one place. And what were they doing? They were waiting. They were waiting just as Jesus said they should.
And when the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – came there was a sound like the blowing of a rushing, mighty wind. It came from heaven and filled the whole house. And the disciples saw what appeared to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each one of them. And all of them – all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. And they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability. You know – like the president. They started using words they had never used before. They began to covfefe all over the place.
Now what you need to know is that Pentecost was not originally a Christian holy day. Pentecost was a Jewish holiday that came 50 days after Passover. It was a celebration of the Spring harvest. So Jerusalem is filled with devout men and women from all over the world – from every nation.
Our reading today from Acts chapter 2 says that as the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples – there is this sound like a mighty, rushing wind. And when these devout Jews who have come to Jerusalem from all over the place to celebrate Pentecost – when they hear this sound coming from the house where the disciples are gathered – they come running. And they hear the disciples speaking to them in their own languages. The Bible says that 3,000 were baptized that day. That’s what happened when the Spirit came. The church was given birth. It was the birthday of the church. And the world has never been the same.
By now most of you know that I like to talk about evidence for what it is that we believe. What happened on the day of Pentecost is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best pieces of evidence that we have to say that Jesus is who he says he is. Because he is the risen Christ – crucified and risen from the dead – he can make good on his promise to send the Holy Spirit.
And when the Spirit comes to the disciples – their wait is over. And what they see – and what we learn about – is the difference that the Spirit makes in the lives of these 120 people. What we have is this before and after picture of the disciples. Before the Spirit came they just didn’t get it. They were frightened. They were timid. And they fled at the first sign of trouble.
But afterwards – afterwards – when the Holy Spirit comes – the One for whom they had been waiting – they were different. They were bold. They were fearless. And what happens? Peter gets up and preaches a sermon and 3,000 people are baptized.
Now this is the same Peter who just a few weeks earlier had denied Jesus after his arrest, not once, but three times. This is the same Peter who is nowhere to be found when his Lord, Jesus Christ, is hanging on a cross. This is the same Peter who was terrified out of his mind – afraid that they might come for him next.
What made the difference – not only in Peter’s life, but in the lives of all of these other men and women? The Holy Spirit.
They take the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – to the whole world. They heal the sick. They cast out demons. They’re thrown into prison where they sing hymns late into the night until the prison walls fall down. What made the difference? The Holy Spirit. Again, you can read all about it in the book of Acts. The longer name is “The Acts of the Apostles.” Somewhere I read that this book in the Bible ought to be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” because it is the Spirit that enabled these early Christians to do what it was that they were able to do.
Well, so what? So what? What does this mean for me? I’ll tell you. When the Spirit came, not only were those first disciples changed men and women, but they went out from their crowded room and made a difference in the lives of people they met. They changed the world.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are already a changed person through the Holy Spirit who lives in you. Pentecost says that you can go from this room and make a difference in the lives of people you meet every day.
Imagine what might happen – and quite frankly what does happen – when you engage your friends, neighbors, family members in conversation. This weekend, six families – 14 individuals – are joining our faith family here at Zion. To a person, they told us that someone had either invited them here, or told them about us. Three weeks ago, a seven year old girl invited her friend, another seven year old girl, to come to church here. The whole family came. If a seven year old girl can do it, can’t you?
All you need to do is to engage someone in a conversation. You might ask them what it is that they like about living in the community, – Clarence, Akron, Lockport, Lancaster, East Amherst, Williamsville – wherever it is – ask them what they like about living where they live. You might ask them, “What would make it better?”
And you just never know, in the course of conversation, you just might learn what it is that they value, and what is important to them. And the opportunity just might be there for you to say something to them about what your church – this church – and what it does for you – and what it might do for them. Tell them why your faith is important to you. Tell them why your church is important to you. Tell them how and why your faith makes you the person that you are.
If there are children or teenagers in the home, tell them about Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and our youth group. If it’s a family with very young children, tell the mother in that family about MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers. Tell them how much joy and inspiration you get from worship – you do get joy and inspiration, don’t you? Invite them to come with you next time – that you would be happy to sit with them here at worship sometime. Use social media – Facebook – or whatever medium you use most often – just to tell people what you’re doing right here right now. Yes – you can do that right here, right now.
That’s what Pentecost means to you and me. It is about the person and the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit – who is present with us right here – right now. It’s about sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ with hurting people who desperately need to know that they are loved.
The Spirit of the living God has entered your world. You are loved. If you’ve been waiting – waiting for someone to tell you that – well, you’re wait is over. Now you know.
Now, I’m going to give you an instruction. It’s not an instruction to wait. So don’t wait. But you go. You go and tell somebody else about your faith. You don’t have to go to some far off place. But tomorrow – in the class room – in the office – in the home – at your place of work – in your neighborhood – you go and make a difference in someone’s life. For Jesus’ sake. The Spirit will give you the power you need to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do – and to be – and to say.
That’s what Pentecost is all about. So may the Force – Mm, No. May the Spirit – God’s Holy Spirit – be with you. Amen