Sermon for Pentecost, Year B, May 23, 2021

Acts 2:1-21               Psalm 104:25-35                              Romans 8:22-27                     John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

          Pentecost is the day we celebrate the birth of the church.  On this day in Jerusalem, the people of Israel are gathering for the Jewish feast to celebrate the gift of the Torah.  The torah, which are the first five books of our Old Testament, are a gift from God to help the people understand how they must live their lives to fulfill their covenant with God. 

          The apostles are doing what Jesus told them to do just before he ascended into heaven.  They are gathered in the upper room awaiting the arrival of the Advocate, the Spirit of truth whom Jesus says will come to them.  Today is the day when, “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.”

           After they receive the Holy Spirit, Peter steps out of the house and speaks to the people who are in Jerusalem for the feast.  “Devote Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem” hear and understand him in their own native languages.  He is speaking the language of God’s love – and love is universally understood.

If we continue reading from Acts, we will hear Peter tell them the story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  The people then ask, “What should we do?”  Peter tells them to repent and be baptized and they, too, will receive the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2:41-42 says, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and prayers.”  

          So, on this day, we celebrate the birth of Christianity.  People hear the story of Christ and about three thousand people are baptized and devote themselves to what?  They devote themselves to the teachings of the apostles, which is to say study and learning; to fellowship, which is to say spending time together loving and supporting one another; to the breaking of the bread, which is to say worship; and prayers, which is to say spending time with God. 

These four things represent what the church is about – study & learning about God’s call to each of us, gathering with one another to love and support each other on our journeys of faith, worshiping together, and praying for God’s guidance.  There is fifth role of the church which Christ teaches us – we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is to say we are to devote ourselves to mission and evangelism.  We are to reach out in love to others who are lonely and who need to experience love and acceptance and we are to reach out to those in need of food, clothing, and shelter.  Whatever our neighbors need, the church is called to respond in love.  Love changes lives for the better.

 This year graduations have taken place on this weekend and the academic year is coming to a close.  Just as a birth changes the life of a family, graduations are a time of change as graduates and their families prepare for the next phase in their lives.  Graduations mark a pivotal time in our lives together.

To borrow and adapt a quote from St. Paul, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  Paul was speaking of the new creation, the new way of life, we find in Christ – but pivotal moments in life are about leaving behind what was and going forward to something new, to a new way of life.  We wish our graduates the best.

Today also marks a pivotal moment in our lives together here at St. Paul’s.  Dr. Russell Stinson is graduating from fully employed to semi-retired.  He has retired from Lyon College and is leaving St. Paul’s.  Tomorrow morning he will get into his car – which is already packed, and head to his new home and his new life in North Carolina.   Like our graduates, his life is changing and we wish him the best. 

Change is difficult, but also presents new opportunities – and so after our services today we will celebrate Russell’s new opportunities by joining together in fellowship and sharing a meal.  (Russell,) when I came to St. Paul’s four years ago, I was grateful to have a person of (your) Russell’s talent here to elevate our worship. 

When the pandemic began and I talked with (Russell) you about offering music with online services – (he) you did not hesitate to organize, prepare, and lead our “choir” of one to three choristers.  The ministry of music not only touched my soul doing this pandemic, it has touched the lives of our members for the past 27 years.  For sharing his your gifts with us, Russell, we thank him you!

On Pentecost Sunday four years ago, I preached my first sermon at St. Paul’s.  It was another new beginning.  I shared with you a plate my mother-in-law had given to Cathy and me.  On it, were the words:  “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans.”  She gave that to us after we shared with her that I was leaving my healthcare career to seek ordination.  Today, I think of it because my plan was to raise money to restore the stained glass windows.  Instead, we have addressed the flooding in the basement, replaced the roof, pointed the walls, and we are about to repair the plaster and repaint the interior of our church. 

More critical needs have kept me from pursing my goal, my future plans.  The work we have done has cost far more than restoring our stained glass windows will – but it is what has needed to be done to preserve our church building.  There is more restoration needed, and not all of it concerns our building.  We need to rebuild the church that was born on Pentecost. We need to re-focus our attention on the five marks of being the church:  Worship, Fellowship, Prayer, Study and Learning, and Mission & Evangelism. 

The pandemic has not ended, but we have moved from our primary defense being one of masks and distancing to vaccinations.  On June 2nd we will therefore host a vaccination clinic to help in the effort to get more people in our community vaccinated.  We are giving the J&J, one shot and done, vaccine on the evening when we offer our community meal.  Our hope is that people who have been reluctant to receive the two shot vaccines will receive this one.  I did, and after having the Corona Virus, I am thankful to be better protected.   Please help spread the word and encourage others to come receive the vaccine. 

Now that vaccinations are our primary line of defense, we are re-opening the church for groups and activities.  The CDC guidelines still recommend masks in crowded situations, so we are continuing carryout meals on Wednesday nights we will be respectful of those who are not vaccinated, or simply more comfortable wearing masks by welcoming them from an acceptable distance.   When I serve communion today I will wear my mask, and when the Men’s Group hosts its Shrimp Dinner, there will be seating inside and outside to avoid people being crowded.

Change, which is a part of life, provides us an opportunity to re-evaluate the direction of our lives.  Now is one of those times.  As we re-emerge from the pandemic, the church needs to be more intentional about fellowship and supporting one another.  Now, is the time to plan ways we can do this – perhaps we need to establish small groups or plan more activities.  Please give some thought as to what you would to happen at St. Paul’s and how you might be involved in making it happen.

Let us pray.

          Loving God, fill us with your spirit that we might turn our lives to you and live in your love.  Bring us back together and help us bring others into this body of Christ through worship, fellowship, prayers, mission & evangelism, and study & learning.  We offer these, our prayers, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.