May 28th, 2023 – The Spirit for Good

Sermon for Day of Pentecost, 2023. R.L. 5/28/2023
Text: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 24-34; I Corinthians 12: 3b-13 and John 20: 19-23

I had walked past the church scores of times when I attended Kairos classes at Luther Seminary. It’s a small church of the United Church of Christ in St. Paul, Minnesota, not far from the seminary. The slogan on their sign read, “Open and Affirming.” The red brick architecture of the worship area and the newer
construction of the education wing out back gave the appearance of an old, but healthy congregation.
On my first of many morning walks past the church I had read the plaque by a tree dedicated to a member who died in World War I. But now I noticed a smaller tree and monument closer to the front door. Peering down at the placard on the small, concrete square, I read these words:
This tree (a flowering crab) is dedicated to
The Rev. Dr. Pat Garland Green

1947 – 1994
Senior Pastor
1987 – 1994
“Pat, you made a difference”

It made me wonder what happened in that church in the seven years when Pastor Green served there. How did he die so young–only 47 years old? What difference did he make? But I had no time to investigate. My class would start at 8:30 a.m. So I walked on.
On this day of Pentecost/Memorial Day weekend, I want to ask you to think about the difference you make. Or more to the point, what difference does the Holy Spirit make in your life? And I pray that you will discover in yourself, and in the church, THE SPIRIT FOR GOOD.

The week of Pentecost remembers the Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit to followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem. Like the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ, it’s an historic event. You heard Luke’s account in the first reading. Quite dramatic, don’t you think? Although we don’t have the special effects of a Spider Man or Star Wars movie, the story fires our imagination with eye-popping sights and ear-popping sounds.
After ten days of patient waiting, about 120 disciples were in one place “when suddenly there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” Can you imagine a blast in our sanctuary? Even a glitch in the sound system gets our attention. But then there was the fire—tongues of fire swirling around, and a
flame resting on each person. We’d call firefighters if any fire showed up here. Some worry when little
candles are lit and held in churches that use them for Easter Vigil or Christmas Eve. What about uncontrolled flashes of fire dancing in the air and threating everyone’s hair? Jesus had delivered on his promise.
As Peter pointed out, the prophesy of Joel was fulfilled that day. People of all nations and speech could now call on the name of the Lord and be saved.

Anyone who trusts and follows Jesus in our own time is fueled by the same Spirit’s power. Paul made that plain to the Corinthians, “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. To live well, to make a difference, to live forever, you need to be plugged in to God’s great power source. The Spirit, the breath of God, the rushing wind of the resurrected Christ makes all good things happen. The psalm writer, centuries before Pentecost, sensed it was the breath of God that animated all living things. The plants, the animals, the creatures in the great sea–all owed their lives to God’s Spirit. The poet sings:
…you open your hand, and they are filled with good things..
you take away their breath, and they die and return to their dust.
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the
face of the earth. Psalm 104:29b-31

So we take in the beauty of the Spring as God’s gift. The parade of flowers open by the Spirit’s Holy Breath. We see a newborn baby or a young person affirming their baptism, and know that God is among us. We draw deep breaths and we feel our hearts pounding, and know that the Creator’s Spirit is within us.

Jesus confirmed the ancient poet’s insight by living so powerfully among us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus grew in wisdom and strength throughout his childhood and youth. When he was baptized, as a mature man of thirty years, the Holy Spirit charged Jesus’ humanity with even more divine power: to battle evil: to heal the sick; to speak truth to entrenched rebellion against God. And in his stunning
resurrection from death on the cross, Jesus revealed the full power of the servant-life that God meant for all to share.

This we celebrate in a variety of gifts that the Spirit of God explodes into our common life. Don’t miss the profound truth that Paul shares with his friends in Corinth:
No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Then Paul lists these gifts: “the utterance of wisdom…the utterance of knowledge…faith…gifts of healing…prophecy…speaking in tongues” and so forth.
All these gifts and more are given to the church, as the body of Christ is built up to make a difference in the world. What are your gifts and how do you use them to make a difference?

Since we moved to the Cedarburg/Grafton area, we have had the privilege to support the unique ministry of Prison Congregations of America. Ed Nesselhuff, a pastor of the ELCA, organized a congregation of prisoners in a South Dakota prison. This group of inmates discovered their gifts with Ed’s guidance and the support of members of the church in Sioux Falls. Members in and out of the prison gathered for worship, with permission of the prison staff, every Sunday evening for worship and fellowship, but the prisoners carried out the mission inside.

Pastor Ed has gone on to glory, but his dream continues to grow. There are at least 23 congregations in prisons throughout the Midwest, including Breaking the Chains congregation at Felmers Chaney Correctional Center in Milwaukee. Some of these incarcerated men and women may never get out of the
institutions, but they are growing in faith and making a difference in the places where they have learned about Christ and share the gifts of the Spirit. For many years we received devotional booklets written by the inmates for the Lenten Season. Heartfelt testimonies revealed the gifts of these men and women
touched by God’s Holy Spirit. [I put the latest newsletter and brochure on the kiosk in back of the church with the contact information, if you want to learn more or support this mission.]

Those of you who have children or grandchildren graduating from university or high school this year are aware of the various gifts of the Spirit in your families. We had two college graduates and one from high school. Think of all the graduates from kindergarten on up who have displayed the gifts of God’s
Holy Spirit. Like others, we have watched with amazement as the gifts given in God’s creation and baptism have unfolded. We trust that the talents of all these young persons will make a difference for good in our broken and needy world.

In the name of the Triune God, I invite you to notice the Spirit working in you. Pray for awareness of how your excellent talents fit into God’s great plan. Watch closely for the strengths in yourself and in others built on God’s good creation, his ever-flowing breath of life.

Simple actions can reveal God’s Spirit at work. Perhaps, no one will hear the sound of a violent wind around you this week. Maybe no tongues of fire will hover over your head. But I hope people get to see in your words and actions the faith that God’s Spirit inspires. You may make a difference. If so, it won’t be for your self-inflation, but a sign of THE SPIRIT FOR GOOD.

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