A year ago, I was preaching at my Dad’s church. We were celebrating his forty years of ordained ministry. We were celebrating his retirement from full-time ministry. It was my parents’ last day with this congregation. A special joy for me was celebrating communion with my Dad. My ordination was the only other time we’ve celebrated communion together.
Although this sermon seems very specific to the events happening somewhere in central Illinois 365 days ago, when I reread it today I was delighted to see universal themes that apply to all people of faith every day of the year.
Ephesians 4: 1-16
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Acts 2: 1-4
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 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.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Today is a day of celebration. A day for cake and flowers. A day for stories, smiles, and laughter. This is a day for remembering and looking to the future. Today is Pentecost. The church’s birthday and the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today is also Pastor and Marilyn’s last Sunday with you. It makes sense that we celebrate these two things on the same day and not just because Dad was ordained on Pentecost 40 years ago. It makes sense because these are both occasions for cake and flowers. A day for stories, smiles, and laughter. This is a day for remembering and looking to the future.
Today’s celebrations should remind us of our part in God’s story and yet our part is only a small part because we didn’t start this congregation and our prayer is that this congregation will still be thriving long after we are gone. On Pentecost, we would do well to remember those people who have journeyed with us-the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles in our families and in our church family who sang the songs of faith to us, who read us Scripture and told us the stories of God, who brought us to church every Sunday whether we wanted to be here or not. As we remember and give thanks for those people in our lives and those faithful people for the many generations before, it is important to remember that we are those people now. We are the ones who have been given the gifts mentioned in Ephesians. We are the ones being asked to use those God given gifts today, in this place, and wherever else God calls us.
These verses from the letter to the Ephesians (which was read 40 years ago at Dad’s ordination) are a great reminder that we were each given gifts and they are not all the same gifts. By using our gifts, we can “equip the saints for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ”. This sounds like my Dad’s hope for this congregation as shared in the June Carillion. “I know God will continue to provide us with the love and guidance we need to be God’s faithful servants in the years to come. I encourage you to continue to work together, helping each other to share God’s Good News and acting as Christ-like examples for those you encounter in every part of your life. I know and believe that when God’s children work together it will strengthen the faith of each believer and also strengthen the entire body of Christ, the church.”
Pentecost is now a day of celebration. For the first disciples, it was a day of confusion and change. The gift of the Holy Spirit was a shock and surprise. The sound of a violent wind filling the entire place they were sitting is a frightening image. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always work the way we imagine. The Holy Spirit doesn’t fit neatly into a box. One pastor described the Holy Spirit as “the power of God, the mighty burning wind that blows the church into new and unexpected places of ministry.” Are we willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow into new and unexpected places?
While working on this sermon, I read this quote from Francis Frangipane which fit right into this Pentecost sermon. “The church for too long has followed Casper, the friendly ghost instead of seeking the fire of the Holy Spirit.” We are all guilty of following the friendly ghost when we should have followed the fire of the Holy Spirit. This happens when we’ve always done it this way is a stumbling block to a new way of inviting more people into a ministry. This happens when we are too busy, too tired, or too whatever to fully participate in our community of faith. We can all name ways we’d prefer to skip along with Casper instead of running toward the fire of God’s Spirit.
Where is the Spirit blowing for this community of faith? What ministries is the Holy Spirit seeking to set on fire here? We know changes are coming. After 10.5 years here, this is the last Sunday that you can expect to see Paul and Marilyn here. Things will look different here in the coming days. Someone new will stand in this pulpit and bring God’s Word to you each week. Possibly light bulbs will burn out and someone besides Dad will need to replace them. Questions will be raised about the future of the congregation and where God is calling you to go. When you find yourself facing these questions and encountering changes as thousands of congregations have before, hear these words from John’s gospel where Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus’ words are a promise that we can take confidence in knowing that we have with us and within us, a spirit of peace and a spirit of companionship on this journey.
And that is what I’ve seen and heard in the churches who I have loved and who have loved me over the years-companionship and relationship. We who have promised to be part of a community of faith can take comfort in knowing we do not walk this journey alone. Everyday the church, you, can be the embodiment of the Holy Spirit-living out the good news of Jesus Christ, living out God’s grace and mercy, and treating everyone as God’s beloved children.
It is within the church that these words have the possibility of becoming more than just words. When the fire of the Holy Spirit works within us, we should be prepared for the unexpected, prepared to be surprised, and prepared to expect that which we cannot be prepared for. This is what we celebrate on Pentecost-beginnings, endings, and middles, hellos and good-byes, laughter, tears, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit with us on our journey. Amen.