Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – June 5, 2022
Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14-17, John 14:8-17
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
We live in an age when the truth is hard to come by, and sometimes hard to determine. With the invention of social media, so-called information flies fast and furious, whether it is true or not. Tech experts are warning us that “deep fake” videos are getting easier and easier to make, and are so realistic that they will almost certainly cause destabilizing political chaos in the years ahead. Even old school legacy media outlets are less and less trusted these days to report the truth. When there is no trust and no shared benchmark of truth, conspiracy theories and social contagions run rampant, destroying relationships, destroying lives, and tearing at the fabric of our society.
Technology is simply exacerbating a problem with the prevailing philosophy of our time, that of postmodernism. Postmodernism is the dominant intellectual operating system of our society, and it teaches that there is no such thing as objective truth. It teaches that all truth is subjective, that we are each individually the arbiters of our own reality. And so there is no truth, there is only your truth and my truth and their truth. The result of all this is pervasive and growing cynicism and nihilism in our culture.
As much as technology and postmodernism complicate our understanding of truth, this is not a new problem. Recall that when Jesus was before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said to him: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To which Pilate famously and cynically responds, “What is truth?”
This lack of recognizing the truth can even creep into the church. It was a conceit of scholars in medieval times to adopt Greek last names for themselves. Martin Luther did so himself. The Greek last name he chose for himself was a play on his German last name of Luder. He chose the Greek word, alutherius, which means, “truth.” Luther saw it as his calling to bring the church back to the truth of God’s Word, back to the truth of the gospel, from which it had so tragically strayed.
We find this exact same Greek word in our gospel reading for today where Jesus uses it to describes the work of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus tells his disciples that he will be leaving them soon, he promises to send them the Spirit. He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know you, because he abides in you, and he will be in you.”
It is the coming of this Spirit promised by Christ that we celebrate today. We hear in our first reading how this Spirit was poured out on the apostles and the great crowd that had gathered to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost. These were diaspora Jews, Jews who had lived for a long time outside of Israel. They spoke the languages spoken in the places they moved to. They had made a pilgrimage back to Israel to celebrate Pentecost, and while they were there the Spirit descended upon them. They began to speak in each other’s languages, each understanding the other. This was not the spiritual phenomenon of speaking in tongues described elsewhere in scripture. These were regular human languages. And these real human languages were used to talk about “God’s deeds of power.” They were used to talk about Christ’s ministry and his death and his resurrection and his ascension. They were used to talk about what God had accomplished in Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to himself through the deeds of power he had done in Christ.
Some of those observing this thought they were drunk, that they were “filled with new wine.” That’s how the world sometimes reacts to God’s deeds of power. That’s how many still today react to the truth of what God has done. They try to undermine it. They ridicule it. We should never be surprised by this. Jesus himself said this would happen!
But Peter was undeterred. He told the scoffers that what had happened in Christ was the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had written, that as God’s promises were fulfilled, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, young and old, men and women alike. As all of history and all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ Jesus, on that great and glorious day, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
In a way, the scoffers were right: Peter and the others were full of new wine. They were full of the new thing God had done in Christ to bring us forgiveness and life and salvation. They were not impaired or intoxicated, but they were full of the new wine of the gospel! They were full of the joy that this truth brings.
The Spirit promised by Jesus is the Spirit of truth. It leads us into all the truth. It leads us into the truth of God’s Word. It leads us into the truth of God’s forgiveness, God’s goodness, God’s mercy. It leads us into the truth of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It leads us, as Paul says in our reading from Romans, into a spirit of adoption, as we believe and trust the great truth that in Christ we have been adopted as children of God.
I was deeply moved by Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last week. I don’t usually like reading long passages from someone else’s writing in a sermon, but I think this is worth it. She had some pointed and passionate advice to both Democrats and Republicans on addressing the problem of gun violence in our country, and then she ended her column with this:
I continue in a kind of puzzled awe at my friends who proceed through life without faith, who get up and go forward without it. How do you do that? I tell the young: I have been alive for some years and this is the only true thing, that there is a God and he is good and you are here to know him, love him and show your [faith] through your work and how you live. That it is the whole mysterious point. And the ridiculous story, the father, the virgin, the husband, the baby—it is all, amazingly, true, and the only true thing.
Uvalde is a town of about 16,000 people and if I’m counting right about 40 places of Christian worship, all kinds, Evangelical, Catholic, Mainline. I keep seeing the pictures—a group of four middle-aged men in jeans and T-shirts, standing near the school, arms around each other, heads bent in prayer. And the women sitting on the curb near the school and sobbing, a minister in a gray suit hunched down with them, ministering. And the local Catholic church the night of the shootings—people came that night, especially women, because they know it’s the only true thing and they know they are loved, regarded, part of something, not alone.
Dear brothers and sisters, and especially our dear confirmation students who are affirming their faith today – do not live by the spirit of this age, with its lies and its deceptions. Do not be lured into the cynicism and nihilism of our time. Of course we all have different experiences and backgrounds and perspectives. That’s true enough. But don’t spend your life chasing your own tail in pursuit of your own subjective truth. It will only make you dizzy.
We have a bigger and better truth to live by, and the Spirit is at work among us this morning to once again lead us into this truth.
The truth is that God created you, with intentionality and with purpose. The truth is that God redeemed you through the work of his Son, Jesus, so that you would be free from sin and know his peace and live with him forever. The truth is that through his deeds of power, you have been adopted as God’s precious children and made part of God’s family. The truth is that you are loved, regarded, part of something, and not alone.
This truth is objective. It is true for all. As Peter said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We have the truth of God’s Word to guide us, and the new wine of the gospel to fill us with joy.
This truth is ultimately “the only true thing.” And it is enough. It is enough to shape our lives by. It is enough to get us through the darkest night. God’s glory and goodness is enough to amaze and astonish us for a lifetime, and then some.
May the same Spirit who puts this truth in our ears today also put it in on our tongues, giving us the language to share it with a world that desperately needs to hear it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church