Planting Forever

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Pentecost
June 5, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : The church has already been planted. We need not wait for it to happen again. We have been given what we need. May we go forth and proclaim it again, and again, and .....

"Pentecost" means movement of the spirit .

Okay, okay -- so it doesn't mean that, exactly. It means, literally, fiftieth , and, in Jewish tradition, it is exactly that: a holiday which takes place on the fiftieth day after the Passover. Pentecost has its roots in ancient planting and harvest festivals. There is always a "planting" on Pentecost. On Pentecost, the Israelites were "planted" -- established on their Exodus journey -- and the Law, Torah , is traditionally regarded as having been "planted" in Israel, given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, on this day.

And today is the church's birthday: Pentecost is the day upon which we celebrate the original church planting -- the birth of the church. We are reminded of this every year, as well we should be! It is not stretching a point too far at all to say that this is a day as important as Christmas.


Because this day commemorates the day in which the church was launched, was birthed, was lifted up and thrust forward into the future -- into forever. Jesus is gone. Not gone as in dead and present only in fond memories, but gone as in gone forward : departed in a way no one has ever departed before; gone as in still very much with us, but with us in an entirely different way. And because he is "gone" in that way, we are different, and the world has changed. We have entered into a time of salvation, a time when, as Peter says in the immediate aftermath of this Spirit-visit in wind and fire, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."


The day Moses received the Law.

The day the church received the Spirit.


The day the Spirit moved.

Not "if"; when

But Pentecost was not the only day the Spirit moved. The history of the people of God is a history of the movement of the Spirit. What we are given in the second chapter of Acts is yet another example of God's Spirit moving in history -- a decisive movement we see, looking back -- as having been foreshadowed by other Spirit-movements.

The Spirit moves , in the life of the people of God. There is no if the Spirit moves, overcome though we may be at times by a sense of God's absence. God is here, and God will act. This is our Father's world, as the old hymn goes, and God as sole owner and proprietor of the world perpetually takes an interest in this world. God's Spirit is perpetually moving within it, cares forever and ever-deeply about it, and will act. How and where does this happen?

Our scriptures offer a litany of such instances of divine presence. Sometimes this movement of the Spirit happens in almost imperceptible ways, as was the case with Joseph and his dreams of bowing sheaves, and his inspired interpretation of dreams of cows fat and thin.1 Joseph's dreams told of things that his brothers and father didn't want to hear, and which confounded Pharaoh. They foretold nothing less than the movement of God in history, carrying God's people forward, over centuries, through famine, slavery and a decades-long journey into a land of promise. This movement of God's Spirit, imperceptible at first, became perceptible over time, leading to a goal that became clearer and clearer, despite detours along the way.

It happened at the time of Joseph's dreams. It happened at the time of the Exodus, when Moses was called aside by the spectacle of a burning bush, and he had the presence of mind to turn and look. The Spirit was moving at the giving of the Law. The Spirit was moving at the birth of Christ. The Spirit was moving at the Resurrection. The Spirit moves here, at this new instance of hunger for God's presence, of birth, of resurrection out of the ashes of defeat and death to new life.

The birth of the church

This movement of the Spirit led to the events described today, in this story of the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost. What were the conditions into which God thrust his Spirit?

They were all together in one place, the scripture tells us. Who was it, gathered there, in that one place? Not just those referred to as "the 12" (minus Judas at this juncture), but all the disciples who had placed themselves under the discipline of Jesus from the beginning, and who had remained faithful in prayer after Jesus had gone. There were about 120 of them, people who had followed Jesus from the beginning, including the apostles, "certain women," and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.2

Suddenly, there is an unnatural event taking place in the midst of the natural world -- partaking of aspects of the natural world, as was the case with Joseph's dreams, and the bush that took Moses by surprise: something like the rush of a violent wind, and fire -- fire unsettling, as unexpected fire always is, but in this case, not threatening.

And, we are told, the Holy Spirit filled them, landed on each of them, filled them as individuals as well as a community, and moved them.

Moved them to do what?

Moved them to speak, in languages not their own.

This is not the phenomenon that will become known as "speaking in tongues." These languages are foreign languages, and all of those in the upper room suddenly find themselves speaking in the living languages of the nations that surrounded Israel -- the living languages of all of the nations of the known world of the time, Cappadocia and Phrygia and Pamphylia and on down the tongue-twisting rabbit-hole. Suffice it to say, simply, every language of every nation is represented here, suddenly, out of a clear blue sky shot through with wind and fire. This is not private, personal "prayer language," no. There is something even more miraculous here. All nations are suddenly, inexplicably able to understand what those disciples are saying. Representatives of every nation on earth hear and understand.

This is the movement of the Spirit, on this day of Pentecost. This soul-saving, despair-defying message of God's grace, the message of God's eternal acceptance for everyone who dwells on the face of the earth, and who calls on the name of the Lord, starting then, and continuing now. This Gospel, this Good News of God, in Jesus Christ, is for everyone, for all the world. If we get nothing else from this miracle at Pentecost, may we get that.

Okay, great. So now what?

We have established and insisted that God is sole owner and proprietor of this fractured world of ours, and that God is moving, yes, even as on the day of Pentecost. So where? Where is it happening now? Can we make it happen, or must we just wait for it to happen again, in its own time, in God's own time?

As we have seen, it has already happened. The Word has gone forth. Tongues of fire ignited that early church to go forth and proclaim God's presence for everyone who calls on God's name. Now, it is up to us to continue that proclamation -- even today. Even in a church divided since forever ago into whole separate, different churches -- Orthodox churches and Catholic churches, and countless Protestant denominations, with those denominations themselves split and still splitting into factions. Where, in the midst of all this mess, is the Spirit moving today? How will anyone ever recognize it?


We can be sure that the Spirit is present here, today, in this holy place, through the administering and partaking of the Sacrament, through the preaching of the Word. There can be no denying that God is present in other places in the world as well. This is our Father's world, after all, and God can be present wherever God chooses to be present, and we ought not to dispute anyone who claims to perceive that presence in places unfamiliar to us. That is neither here nor there. But we can be, we must be, sure that God is here, now , through the ministry of Word, Sacrament and Order. God is here, now, through this ministry, and God is present in the world through the whole ministry, not just the ministry of one individual preacher or priest or pastor.

What do we do? Can we make something happen? Can we lure the Spirit to come to us? Do we just wait, for the next rushing like a violent wind, with tongues of fire? Does it have to come from beyond us? Are we preventing it?

Let it go. We have been planted, here, and God is here, in the preaching of the Word, in the breaking of the bread. Receive. Be gratified and satisfied. Go forth to point and proclaim . Use words if necessary.


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