Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:26-27–16:4b-15
The Festival of Pentecost
May 23-24, 2015
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
So we’ve come to the third and final of the great festivals of the church year. The first is Christmas which celebrates the gift of the God the Father in sending his only begotten Son to be born for us. The second is Easter which celebrates the resurrection of God the Son in rising triumphantly over sin, death and hell. And the third (and often under-celebrated) festival is today: Pentecost, which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who calls us and keeps us in the one true faith that we share. Together, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost focus our attention on the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, depicted here at the front of the sanctuary with the two wall plaques (God the Father’s hand of blessing and the dove and flame of the Holy Spirit) and the cross. Today we give thanks for the Holy Spirit.
My wife and I have a good friend whom we have known for more than thirty years. She goes way back to our college days at Concordia College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and she’s been a great blessing to our family in many different ways over the years. In fact, we see her as part of our family. She has done a variety of things in life – church worker, artist and sculptor. But most recently, she has gone back to school to learn the science and art of acupuncture. In addition to this, she is also licensed as an herbalist and nutritionist. She is a pretty amazing person and has a real gift to share. And yes, I have received acupuncture treatments! One of the things I have learned from my acupuncturist friend is the importance of breathing. Now that may sound like a big “duh.” After all, everybody breathes and if we didn’t, well… we wouldn’t be here. But as I have learned, there is breathing, and then there is breathing. In our culture where so much life and energy focuses on the mind and cognitive activity, we can and do easily overlook the critical and healthful need for deep breathing. This deep breathing promotes better health, relieves stress, and enables us to focus better. In truth, there can be something deeply spiritual about breathing. The Hebrew language of the Old Testament has a word, ruah, that means spirit, wind or breath. Similarly, the Greek language of the New Testament has a word, pneuma, that also means spirit, wind or breath. This Greek word is where we get our word “pneumatic” – something that is filled with air or wind. Unfortunately, in our own English language, there has been a separation here. The word “spirit” comes from the Latin word spiritus, which means “breath,” but we usually associate the word “spirit” with the soul – that kind of spirit. But we have a different word for “breath,” which comes from the Old English word, braeth, meaning “odor” (as in bad breath). Suffice it to say that our English words are a bit muddled here. So on this fiftieth and final day of the Easter season, when we celebrate and rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit, let’s see if we can reunite these separated words to give greater understanding and appreciation for the work of the Spirit in our lives. And so the message for this day is entitled “Spirit Breath.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In today’s Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 37:1-14), the prophet Ezekiel is taken by the Spirit of the Lord and set in the valley of dry bones. We learn here that there was most assuredly a Holy Spirit at work even before that same Spirit was poured out on Pentecost! Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy in the Name of the Lord to all these bones: “Behold, I will cause breath [ruah] to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:5)... And I will put my Spirit [ruah] within you, and you shall live…” (Ezekiel 37:14). It’s the same word here for breath and Spirit, calling us back to at the dawn of creation, when “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” (Genesis 2:7). It is only by the Spirit of the living God that we live and breathe! That beautiful and moving setting of Psalm 104 reminds us: “When you send forth your Spirit [ruah] we are renewed, we are renewed… When you hide your face, we are dismayed; when you take away our breath [ruah], we fade… When you send forth your Spirit [ruah], we are renewed, we are renewed.” Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath who breathes into our nostrils the breath of life! Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath who breathes new life into our dead and lifeless bones, renewing us in faith and hope! Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath!
In today’s Epistle lesson (Acts 2:1-21), presented by the Choir in that choral reading, we hear of the outpouring of the Spirit [pneuma] on that first Pentecost, and how this fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Joel (see Joel 2:28-32). With the sound of a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire resting upon them, the disciples’ tongues were opened to proclaim the “mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). And so it is a miracle of both the ear which hears and understands, as well as the tongue which proclaims. This is the One Jesus promised in today’s Gospel lesson: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 14:26). And that is what the Holy Spirit does: bearing witness to Jesus, pointing us to him and what He has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. This is absolutely critical because by nature, we are spiritually blind, deaf and dead to God. We must literally be raised from the death of life apart from God to life with God! This is what Luther talks about in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed that we’ll speak together: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him…” And this flies in the face of what many believe: that “I have decided to follow Jesus,” as the old song goes. No, you didn’t! That decision came only through the power and influence of the Holy Spirit who opened blind eyes, unstopped deaf ears, and jump-started a heart that was dead and lifeless. Our eyes need to be opened so that we might see the flame of the Spirit’s life-giving power – the One who calls us and keeps us in this one true faith. Our ears need to be opened so that we might hear all that God has done for us in sending his own Son to die in our place on the tree of the cross. Our tongues need to be loosened and set free to tell others of what God in Christ has done. And this is precisely what the Holy Spirit does! He calls you and me by the Gospel, enlightens you and me with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you and me in the one truth faith, daily and richly forgiving all my sins and the sins of all believers. Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath who calls us to faith in Jesus! Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath whose wind and fire opens eyes to see and ears to hear and tongues to proclaim all that Jesus has done! Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath!
It goes without saying that we weren’t actually there in person on that first Pentecost to see or hear for ourselves this amazing event. But we are very much connected to that Spirit who was poured out on that first Pentecost. Beginning in holy Baptism, we have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit for life eternal. Day by day, through good times and bad, through all the ups and downs of life, the Spirit prompts us, encourages us, nudges us, cajoles and urges us on in faith, when we feel like it and when we don’t. This is especially important when we don’t feel like it because that’s when we are in danger of falling away from God. The Spirit comes to us in God’s Word, in the cleansing waters of holy Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and through one another here in the Body of Christ. Thanks be to God for Spirit Breath that connects us to God and to another, moving us to join Jesus on his mission as He leads us out into the mission fields of our neighborhoods, communities, places of work, school and leisure. How would Jesus use you to be “Spirit breath” in these places and breathe new life and hope into them?
In every small town, including my own, it seems there is a Farmers Cooperative Elevator that purchases and stores soybeans and corn grown by local farmers for market. Each year, the Farmers Coop would sponsor a big dinner for shareholders, and my parents used to go. One year, they were seated next to an elderly shirt-tail relative of my mothers, who was very hard of hearing. The speaker that evening couldn’t find the “off” switch, and kept going and going, much to the chagrin of this particular lady. In exasperation, she turned and in her thinking “whispered” to my parents, but it was almost shouting: “I wish he’d run out of wind!” So, not only did my parents hear this, but just about everyone else did as well. Truth is, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ we will never “run out of wind.” There is an exhaustible supply of Spirit-drive wind and power available to us. Go forth then in the Name of Jesus to be his Spirit breath in the world! Amen.