“Pentecost is our story…” – Sermon and Gospel for Pentecost Sunday, 2022
The manuscript for the sermon is below:
Summer is the season of family gatherings, reunions, and picnics. A time when families comes from far and wide to gather together, get reacquainted with one another and in some cases to meet new family members. These gatherings draw in family members near and dear to each other and relatives that we might not even know existed, but that’s ok, they are family.
One of the best things that happens are the stories that are told. Funny stories about pranks or stunts that people in the family pulled on each other or out in the world. Serious stories about family members who served and sacrificed. Amazing stories of survival when it seemed like all hope was lost. Stories that grow over time as each generation adds new elements to the stories.
These stories don’t belong to any one individual. Who is telling the story may change over time, but the reality is that the stories belong to the family and will be passed down through the generations.
Today we celebrate a special family holiday. A birthday. It’s the birthday of the church. And guess what, we are the family gathered to celebrate. After all, we are the church, the body of Christ. And the body of Christ is made up of family members that are near and dear to us as well as family members that we may not know all that well, just like any family.
Because we are the church, the Body of Christ, then the Scripture lessons we hear are our stories. They aren’t stories of people from long ago as if these stories are just random stories of people we don’t know, and we are not connected to. Pentecost isn’t someone else’s story. It’s our story. Who tells the story changes over time, but it’s still out story. It’s the story we pass on to the next generation within our church family.
See, a story is more than just a string of events. It’s not just a historical timeline, a sharing of facts. Rather, a story is so much more. The author Philip Martin, who wrote the book “How to write your best story” said this about stories, “When a story takes shape, we’ve taken that string of events and invested it with meaning. What was important enough to shape into a story … and to tell others about it?
Pentecost is a story that goes beyond just a series of events. It has great meaning. It’s a family story whose purpose is to talk about the arrival of a new family member – the Holy Spirit. That’s not to say that the Spirit itself is new. But rather that the Spirit’s direct and known involvement in the church is now known directly, experienced, and will guide the church going forward.
The story of Pentecost in many ways is like the story of Exodus is in the Old Testament. The Exodus story is a guiding story for the Israelites – an origin story. The exodus story is the foundation for why the children of Israel are who they are and how they act. And the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures shows how Exodus people live.
The Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote a book entitled “Peace”, in which he describes how exodus people live. He wrote: “Exodus people honor the Sabbath, because it is a reminder of the contrast between oppressive work and healing, humane rest. Exodus people don’t covet, because the tyranny of Pharaoh was in coveting after he had had enough. Exodus people don’t steal, kill, or commit adultery, because they know that life is too precious to be abused and perverted.” (Pg. 69).
Bruggemann goes on to say something vitally important: “Life is lived by the model and the power of the exodus. When that model no longer controls, it means that the story has lost its power. We have forgotten who we are. The story now appears to be about someone else; we no longer celebrate the story as being about us.” (Pg. 70).
Pentecost is similar to the Exodus story in that it is full of meaning and the story is more than just an event to be told about something that happened in the past. Rather it is a story that guides us and the church going forward. Pentecost is a model that the church lives by. It’s our story. And because it is our story, we can look at how Pentecost, like the exodus story, informs so much of the rest of Scripture going forward, but also is foundational for the church still today. We are a Pentecost people and a Pentecost church. We look to the book of Acts to see how that is and what it means.
Throughout the book of Acts, we see that Pentecost people become familiar with scripture and use it to proclaim Good News to people. We see that Pentecost people participate in the sacraments and welcome all to participate fully, not throwing obstacles in the way of the means of grace.
Pentecost people open their eyes and actively look to see the wonders of God happening in their midst. They see God active in their lives, in the lives of others, and in the world.
Pentecost people build a healthy community that lives into a healthy culture, welcoming people into trusting and vulnerable relationships, seeing the image of God in others, especially those not like themselves, and gladly sharing resources of time, talent, and treasure with others.
Pentecost people shift their focus from concern of their own individual wants and needs and safety to see the communal needs and what is best for the community.
Pentecost people speak up. They don’t ignore injustice or pretend it doesn’t exist. They speak up and declare boldly the freeing message of the Kingdom of God, even when the powers that be and those that want to maintain an unjust status quo threaten them and do what they can to silence them. Pentecost people offer healing, welcome, and invite people into a better way of living.
Pentecost people expand the mission of the church, drawing in people to serve, inviting and welcoming in people – not so that those new folks can be changed to be like the existing community, but to add who they are to the community. Adding in new talents, passion, energy, ideas, perspectives, and interests – reshaping the community. Pentecost people recognize that the church is a living body, and living bodies adjust, adapt, and are transformed.
And most importantly, Pentecost people share the story with others – they don’t keep it to themselves. It’s too good to be contained. They proclaim wonderful news that sets people free. They invite people into this new way of being. They are transformed and invite others to experience that transformation.
And this all stems from their own encounter with the Spirit. People who are encountered by the Spirit go.
They go and proclaim this transformation to others. They go and serve and impact other people’s lives. They go and generously share their resources with those in need. They go and see the image of God in others and invite all to participate in the work of God. They go and share the story as they have experienced it themselves because that’s the story that is most authentic for each of us. They go and share. They go and tell the story. This is what Pentecost people are about. This is what Pentecost people do.
Pentecost isn’t some kind of distant historical account of a series of events that happened to people we don’t know and who we are disconnected from. No, this is our story – our family story. A story that is retold with each generation. We add new chapters to the story by how we live out the Pentecost story now and how we show that we are Pentecost people and a Pentecost church.
Pentecost is our story. The Holy Spirit is here and active. The Holy Spirit encounters us in so many ways. Blowing through us, through this church, through our community, through our lives.
How do you see the Holy Spirit active? Maybe you’ve never thought about that before. Maybe the concept frightens you because it means that God is active and alive and here. And if the Spirit is alive and at work, then what is that going to mean for us? How are we going to lose control over our lives? What is the Spirit going to call us to be and to do? As we heard in the Pentecost story, when the Spirit is alive and active and encounters us, we’re not in control anymore. People do things that are unexpected. That’s what being a disciple, a follower, is all about. You see, there’s nothing quite like an encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Here’s how I see the story of Pentecost continuing in our midst– I see the Spirit alive and active through the many food ministries we participate in. We’re living into our mission of feeding those who hunger in body, mind, and spirit. It’s not just about giving food to people, it’s so much more.
Whether we are talking about the Community Assistance Meals on Thursdays, or Dinner with Friends on Saturdays, or the emergency food that we give out during the week, or food to those who are recovering at their homes, we are doing far more than just providing food.
We’re providing care, concern, and community. We are providing a space and time for people to be vulnerable and to build trust. A time to talk and not be alone. That’s the Spirit at work. We’re being a Pentecost people and a Pentecost church.
I see the story of Pentecost continuing in other ways too. Whether it’s through youth events that our youth participate in and at the close they are saying they don’t want it to end. Or through Confirmation where Confirmands and family members ask deep questions, offer wisdom and insights, and explore their faith seeing how the Spirit guides their faith journey in a variety of ways. We’re being a Pentecost people and a Pentecost church.
I hear the story of Pentecost continuing and being told further when I hear from other congregations and people in the community saying, “oh, you’re from St. Stephen? You all do amazing work in the community. You don’t know how impactful you all are on so many people’s lives.” When people say these things, they are declaring that we are being a Pentecost people and a Pentecost church.
That’s just a few examples of how the story of Pentecost continues. I challenge you this week to look and see and to listen to how the story of Pentecost is continuing to be told and lived into. Look and see where we are being a Pentecost people and a Pentecost church. And I want you to share that story with someone else. Not someone here at the church. Not with me. It doesn’t have to get weird or be a forced sharing. No, just share some good news with someone who needs to hear it – good news that you see going on.
Make the Pentecost story your story. Where is the Holy Spirit breaking into your life? And what is the Spirit provoking you to do in response? How is the Holy Spirit making you a Pentecost person who is part of a Pentecost church?
This is our story to tell. And we tell it in how we live and in what we say. We tell it through our life in community. We tell it through the way we live into the mission Jesus has for us. Now is the time of Pentecost. We are a Pentecost people and a Pentecost church. Amen.