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Unfinished Pentecost

Notes & Transcripts

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, another academic year has ground to a close. The classes and the tests, the papers and the assiga class, the projects and plays, the musical and class trips are already done.

One of the special things about life at Immanuel where we have a school is this annual sense of being done. Finished. And for those of you who have graduated this year - graduated from 8th grade, high school, college, graduate school - that word "finished" has a special, sweet ring.

And then, you can move on to what is next. It is done. It is in the nature of things. It is the beauty of such things - that they end, that at some point they are finished.

Last week, I spoke with one of our younger students in the school and I asked her, "What was your favorite part of school?" The answer – which you probably guessed – was "the end."

Well much of our theology and worship are built around finished things. Most of the great festivals of the Church year celebrate unique and unrepeatable events. During Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God in our human flesh. During Lent and Holy Week we celebrate the sacrifice of that God-Man on the cross, once and for all to redeem us and all humanity. And during Easter we celebrate the all-sufficient and irreversible victory of Christ's resurrection from the dead.

And each of these milestones of salvation is marked with the glorious words "for us." That means that every one of these unrepeatable, events impacts our daily lives and gives new meaning, new hope to us and to all who believe in Christ. All of salvation history echoes in our histories - in our lives.

And yet the events which marks the Church's story have their power not just as paradigms or patterns, metaphors or examples but as essentially unique and unrepeatable, mighty acts of God who intervenes in the world in Christ.

But Pentecost is different.

Today's text is from Acts, chapter two - the so-called birthday of the church when the Spirit was first poured out with power to turn the disciples into witnesses to Jesus' Christ's saving death and resurrection.

But did you know that the Pentecost event repeats several times throughout the book of Acts?  After Peter and John ran into opposition in chapter four, the gathered disciples prayed and the place where they were got shaken all over again. And the Spirit's power filled them again with renewed boldness to keep speking about Jesus.

Later on in the Book of Acts, Philip preached in Samaria, and in chapter 8 the apostles sent a delegation to confirm his work. The new believers there who had been baptized in the name of Jesus received the same outpouring gift of the Spirit.

The genitiles got their first Pentecost at the end of chapter 10, after Peter had been led to Ceasarea, into centurion Cornelius' house to deliver the same gospel message to a new audience.

When Paul sowed up in Ephesus after chapter 19, there were already disciples there. The message had somehow travelled faster than the missionary. But somehow it turned out that they had an incomplete gospel. They had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. That was soon enough remedied. Their catechesis was completed, and the Ephesians got their Pentecost. The very next thing we are told after that is that Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months about the kingdom of God.

Here is the point: what we are celebrating today and all this week, is not a once and for all, unique event but the unfinished feast of Pentecost.

Unfinished Pentecost is the ongoing miracle of the Holy Spirit sweeping over God's people through the bold message of Jesus Christ; and it is the ongoing miracle of the Holy Spirit sweeping over God's people for bold witness in Jesus' name. Unfinished Pentecost is not about once and for all, let alone "once upon a time." Unfinished Pentecost is the celebration of God's gift who keeps on giving, the Spirit whom Jesus sends from the Fahter.

Now of course there are plenty of weird, extravagancies and enthusiasms that spin off in various directions from this unfinished Pentecost. There are some who want to mandate specific manifestations of the Spirit as a test of genuine Christian faith. There are others who claim certain and definitive knowledge that the Spirit has quit working in one way or another. Neither one of these extremes is willing to let the Spirit be the Spirit of God.

Why do so many people claim to know exactly what the Spirit will and won't do next? We do not need to be distracted or confused by all of that. Pentecost is not some kind of riddle or puzzle or bizarre anomaly. It is just not finished yet.

God's Holy Spirit still comes as a gift from the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. He still works in human hearts and in human minds through the promise of the gospel to create and sustain faith in Jesus when and where He wills in those who hear the gospel. The Spirit still makes Christ's people stand up and deliver a bold, fearless witness to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He still calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

You see, here is the rub: the unfinished feast of Pentecost burns with the restless heart of God who still seeks and saves the lost. He is not willing that anybody should be lost. Not you. Not me. Not anybody. It matters to God that men, women and children are reconciled to Him in His Son Jesus Christ. And so it matters to God that this message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen and ascended is heard and believed by people everywhere.

It mattered to God's Spirit that the whole Jeruslaem crowd should hear this in a language they could understand. And it mattered to God's Spirit that the Gentile Cornelius got that message delivered straight and clear from Peter. It mattered to God that those Samaritans believe in the Savior of the world through Philip's message. It mattered to God that a dozen half-ignorant disciples in Ephesus got the whole story so that they could have eternal life in Christ.

It mattered to God, and it still matters to God. It matters to God that you are comforted, forgiven, instructed, called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified and kept with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. That still matters to God. This is exactly why we celebrate this unfinished Pentecost, the feast of what still matters to God.

It is also why this sermon, this worship service, this time in this place does finish. This is a good place. I hope you think that. We want you to come back soon and often. But it is also OK for you to be feeling a holy restlessness to be finished here. You have places to go. You have people to see. You have good news to speak. The Spirit is still moving, still using the promise of Jesus to call and gather people from xxx to xx, from xxx to xxx. It still matters to God that those people hear what mighty things God has done for them in His Son Jesus Christ in ways and in words that they can understand. This Spirit of the living God has unfinished business in the world and He has plans for you and me in this unfinished Pentecost.

Go in the peace of Christ and in the power of His Spirit. Amen.

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