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Pentecost Sunday C Sermon
Acts 2: 1-21
June
9, 2019

 

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Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that 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 shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

On this Pentecost Sunday, 2019 I would like to talk about this question: What is church?
Last Sunday afternoon I attended the service of closing for the congregation of North Community Evangelical Lutheran Church. For those of you who don’t know, North Community grew out of Clinton Heights when a group of people left here to form a new congregation in 1947. Their first service was in a movie theater that is now a fitness facility, across from Hot Chicken Takeover and Jenni’s Ice Cream on High Street. Eventually they bought about three and a half acres on Morse Road, just east of High street and starting building. After three phases, their church building was completed in 1959 as it is today – with a large sanctuary and fellowship hall, offices and many Sunday school and meeting rooms. And now, after sixty years inhabiting that wood, brick and mortar structure, another congregation will be there – Scarlet City Church. No, they are not a Lutheran Church … not Roman Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian or Presbyterian. They are not a congregation affiliated with any mainline denomination of the Christian church. They are just … the Scarlet City Church. Without judging them I will just say that their form of worship and their ministries are different than ours. It seems to me that for a person to transfer to their congregation from a Lutheran congregation, it would be akin to having to learn a new worship language, a whole new way of being the church. What is church?

Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church. It has always amazed me that the disciples in the first Pentecost story are able to speak in languages other than their own. They had no way to know these languages being poor, simple farmers and fisherfolk from Galilee who probably never travelled more than a hundred miles or so from the spot where they were born! When someone asks the question, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” it infers that they are country bumpkins; simple backwater people, not world travelers. They would have never had the opportunity to travel to Rome, let alone Parthia, Libya or Pamphylia. And Medes would be right out! The Medeans lived in the north and west parts of what is now Iran, and they had been pretty much erased from existence in 549 BC when Cyrus the Persian wiped them out! Why would Luke, the author of this account, say that there were Medes alongside people of cultures that were still around at that time? Have you ever seen the movie, “Places in the Heart” with Sallie Field? It is about a widow woman and her two small children in the depression who struggle to keep their cotton farm in the face of overwhelming obstacles. The closing scene is in a church where the congregation is made up of all sorts of people, living and dead – Edna’s husband, shot early in the film, and the lynched African American boy who killed him, the blind boarder she took in and the KKK who tried to intimidate her. There are others from the film, singing and taking communion together as one church family, living and dead. Just like the presence of people from Medes on that original Pentecost Day, this scene reminds me that the church transcends all boundaries, including distance, culture and even death.

What is Church? At its best, the Holy Spirit-led church overcomes all obstacles to worship God together, to share in his presence and share his presence in our lives with others. Bishop Dillahunt made it clear to us in her message last Sunday afternoon – North Community Lutheran Church is NOT that building. It is the people, living and dead, who gathered to worship and shared in the presence of Jesus – and who will continue to share in the presence of Jesus. And North Community lives on because of that reality, just as the church of Christ in every age lives on through us and through other Lutherans and other denominations and non-denominations of the world. We may speak different languages, but we speak the same Gospel truth, that in Jesus all are welcome and encouraged to be full members of our family. The people gathered in that sanctuary in Places in the Heart demonstrate how the make-up of the church transcends and defies our definitions… and even challenges us to include those who may have done us wrong, or may have been victims of us doing them wrong.

What is the church? Nick and Katie Bates and I were together with over 300 Lutherans the last two days in Springfield, Ohio for our Synod Assembly. We sang and worshiped, celebrated ministries of the synod, re-elected Suzanne Darcy-Dillahunt for another six-year term as our bishop. We approved our “mission and ministry plan” … otherwise known as the synod budget for the next couple of years. We elected leaders for our synod council, a new synod secretary, and committees for consultation and discipline. We also were introduced to “Thrive” – a capital campaign that the synod is launching to equip lay leaders, raise up leaders for smaller congregations, strengthen pastors and deacons, launch new congregations and enhance worship practices in congregations throughout the synod. We will be hearing more about how we can contribute to and benefit from the Thrive campaign this coming fall. This is all to live into the mission statement of our synod – that we are stronger and better together, joining Jesus in the restoration of the world.
What is the church? The church is the called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified people whose dynamic force is the Holy Spirit. The Church at its best is not experienced in terms of this modest building or any other grand cathedrals, or even a building which will house a different congregation beginning today. I mean the Holy catholic and apostolic church, the ecclesia as is said in Greek, means, “Those who are called together.” Buildings may be necessary, and good buildings encourage hospitality and effective witness, but when we lose sight of the fact that we are the living stones of the church, then we fall into that spirit of slavery, being bound to our own wants rather than being bound by the one who calls us and stands with us and gifts us so that our whole lives are living witnesses to the living presence of Jesus Christ.

I attended a grad party for a young man whose grandfather is a 90 year old Greek Orthodox Priest who recently moved from New England to Florida. He was excited to give me a copy of his sermon for today, for Pentecost Sunday – here it is … yes, one page!!! My wife was interested in me testing the waters – what would my congregation say if I preached a sermon this short! But have you ever been to a service in a Greek Orthodox Church? The symbolism speaks volumes more than words on a page, spoken through a priest’s mouth. There are beautiful icons all over the front and even above your head. Incense wafts from the thurible. Actions of the participants are much more involved and take much longer than our Lutheran liturgy. It is a wonderful, ancient expression of ecclesia, of a people called together to experience Jesus and to be sent in his name.

What is the church? Who is the church? Is the church any one set of people or language? Are we confined to one building, many congregations, or are we all over the place? Does the church sing with organs and pianos or drums, guitar and keyboard? We are the church in all sorts of expressions, languages and forms. On this Pentecost Sunday, the entire church is to be celebrated as united and yet diverse. Come, Holy Spirit – form us, call us and send us to love all of God’s creation. Amen.