Saturday, May 10, 2008

Goosed by the Spirit

Gary Lutheran Church, Gary, MN
Installation of Pr. John Ahola
The Day of Pentecost

May 11, 2008
Acts 2:1-21

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Happy Easter to you all! What a joy it is to gather on this festive day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

What? (you’re maybe thinking to yourselves…)….what’s with this guy? Hasn’t he looked at the calendar lately? Easter is long gone. We celebrated that on March 23rd. Easter is old hat—we’ve moved past it.

Today is a different celebration day, don’t you know?! It’s Mother’s Day. It’s the Minnesota State Fishing Opener! It’s Pastor John Ahola’s installation day!

And it’s Pentecost on the church calendar—not Easter, for goodness’ sake…

But still I say to you: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

And I am bold to repeat to you: Happy Easter. Happy resurrection day!

I’m saying that, not just because EVERY Sunday is a little Easter (which is true….we celebrate the resurrection one day a week, 52 weeks a year…)

No—I’m wishing you a happy Easter, because this festival day of Pentecost is itself really “another Easter.” It’s not so much the start of the Pentecost season, that long green season that takes us through spring and summer and into the autumn…

Pentecost isn’t so much the start of the Pentecost season as it is the climax, the culmination of the Easter season. Pentecost is itself “another Easter.”

Here’s what I mean: the Pentecost story in the first chapters of the Book of Acts “echoes” the Easter story in some amazing ways.

First, both stories begin in a tomb. Both stories start with death.

In the Easter story, of course, it’s Jesus who’s dead--dead as a doornail dead—that’s what “three days in the grave” meant back in the first century. You’re dead and you’re not coming back. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. His story appeared to be over. Jesus’ body was lying, stone-cold in a borrowed grave. Jesus wasn’t going anywhere!

And in the Pentecost story, we also start out in a tomb of sorts—“the room upstairs where [the disciples] were staying” (Acts 1:13)—the hideout where the disciples shut themselves away, in fear and bewilderment, for the ten days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

It was as if Jesus had died all over again. He had died on the cross—but three days later was raised, walked among them, visited with them for another forty days. Amazing.

But then, as we’re told in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus left his disciples AGAIN—left them in the lurch. One minute Jesus was there, speaking with his followers, and the next minute Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

It was as if Jesus had been taken from his disciples twice—once on Good Friday, and a second time on Ascension Day. The disciples were dumbfounded by this. Acts chapter one tells us that it took not one, but two angels to get the disciples to stop staring off into space, after Jesus ascended.

These baffled disciples returned to Jerusalem and they waited—waited for what, they weren’t exactly sure. The disciples sealed themselves in to their upper room. It became a kind of “tomb” for them. They turned in on themselves. They weren’t going anywhere. Their story appeared to be over.

Both Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday begin in death, both stories start out in “borrowed tombs.” And then, in both stories, God does something breath-taking (or should I say, breath-giving?)

On Easter Sunday, God raises up the dead Jesus—puts death behind him. And on Pentecost Sunday, God raises up the “dead” disciples—gives them all a new lease on life, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit (whom we also call The Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene Creed!)….the Spirit moves through the dead bodies and the dry bones of the disciples, and the Spirit animates them, as surely as God animated the crucified Jesus on Easter morning.

Easter and Pentecost are BOTH, you see, resurrection stories! They begin in the dead-end of the grave, and they end….well that’s just the thing: neither story really “ends.” The conclusion to both the Easter story and the Pentecost story--the conclusion has yet to be written.

All we can really speak about is how these stories begin, and how they KEEP ON “beginning” all over again, even today and on every tomorrow still ahead of us!

What we do know is this: when God raises the dead, God reverses chaos, God undoes confusion, God clarifies his gracious purposes, God re-establishes all connections, God replaces cowardice with courage—with the result that the Body of Christ is turned inside out and set loose in the world.

On Easter Sunday that happened—quite literally—with the body of the crucified Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ corpse didn’t follow the normal route toward decomposition. No--death was reversed—death was “undone” in a most decisive way.

On Pentecost Sunday, the same sort of thing happened with the whole company of disciples. They were, in those ten days between the Ascension, on their way toward “decomposition.” They were all bound up in themselves, turned in upon themselves.

But then the Spirit rushed in with a mighty wind and tongues of fire. These ingrown disciples got turned inside out. The Holy Spirit goosed them out of their “tomb” by letting them speak in languages they’d never spoken before….languages that others, just outside, were waiting to hear.

What emerged from Jerusalem’s upper-room-tomb was the resurrected Body of Christ, the communion of Jesus’ loved ones, now transformed from disciples (followers) to apostles (sent ones). On Pentecost, the Body of Christ is set loose in the world, once again. And the members of this Body just can’t stop talking about Jesus!

You could say that Pentecost “completes” Easter. The body of the crucified Jesus had to be raised first, of course—like the explosion that detonates a whole chain reaction.

But not until Pentecost do we see the whole thing. Indeed, Christ is not fully raised until the entire Body of Christ is raised with wind and fire and prophetic proclamation on the day of Pentecost. We see, here in Acts chapter two, the beginning of that story…

….and in our own lives of faith, hope and love….as a people sent in God’s mission, you and I are inspired by God to live out the rest of the story, the end of the Pentecost story.

You know what I’m talking about. Our stories echo the Pentecost story, don’t they?

Our stories begin with death—the death of our sin, our waywardness, our brokenness. Something kills us, and we’re all turned in on ourselves, all locked up in a tomb (usually a tomb of our own making). We aren’t going anywhere!

And then God in Jesus Christ the Risen One….God in the power of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life….raises us up, holds our heads above the water, unbinds us, puts a Word on our tongues and gooses us to get out into our world. The Body of Christ is still being re-animated by the Spirit of the living Lord Jesus.

It happens here, in much the same way it happened on Easter and Pentecost. It starts in dismal death, but moves toward boundless life. Bracing baptismal water wakes us up. Nourishing bread and wine revive us. The Word snaps us to attention.

And we are moved from death to life, from confusion to clarity, from cowardice to courage, from self-absorption to self-emptying love, from dis-connection to re-connection in the Body of Christ. It’s all here in Acts chapter two
· The deathtrap where the disciples at first lie hidden;
· The surprising, reviving intervention of the Spirit;
· The “these guys must be drunk” confused reaction to the disciples’ preaching;
· And then the clarity of God’s Word to us. “Let me tell you what’s happening…let me spell it out for you (Peter preaches): this was all foretold, this was all in the cards, this was, is, and ever shall be God’s work among us….freeing us to speak plainly about God alive and at large in our world.”

You and I, dear friends of the Gary-Rindal Parish….you and I are still living out this Pentecost story. Today, in a very particular way, we do so by installing Pastor John, alongside Pastor Kelly, to be another Apostle Peter in your midst….to stand up among you, when things seem chaotic and confusing and dis-connected and to clarify for you what God is doing.

You have called your pastors, to do for you what Peter did for the disciples and for all those foreigners visiting in Jerusalem—the whole world at their feet. You call your pastors to speak with the courage of Peter, to say to each one of you that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 1:21).

And what will be the outcome of all of that clarifying, courageous truth-telling?

The outcome will be another Resurrection--the Body of Christ, all of you!—animated for prayer and praise and service and mission, turned inside out, set loose in the world, just as Jesus was on Easter Sunday and just as the whole church is unleashed whenever the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life comes upon us, putting dreary death behind us, and goosing us toward God’s astonishing future.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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