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Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – May 19, 2024

Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Kjære venner nåde med dere og fred fra Gud vår Far og vår herre Jesus Kristus.

Og det skal skje i de siste dager, sier Gud, da vil jeg utgyde av min Ånd over alt kjød, og eders sønner og eders døtre skal tale profetiske ord, og eders unge menn skal se syner, og eders oldinger ha drømmer; ja, endog over mine træler og over mine trælkvinner vil jeg i hine dager utgyde av min Ånd, og de skal tale profetiske ord. Og jeg vil la under skje på himmelen i det høie, og tegn på jorden i det lave: blod og ild og røkskyer; solen skal bli til mørke og månen til blod, før Herrens dag kommer, den store og herlige. Og det skal skje: Hver den som påkaller Herrens navn, han skal bli frelst. Amen.

Just kidding. I’ll give it to you in English. But as I switch from badly pronounced Norwegian to English, I want you to notice something. As I speak now in what is the native language of most if not all of you, there is a sudden clarity, isn’t there? It is like a fog has lifted. It is like something that was blurry has come into sharp focus. Now the words are landing in your ears and sticking, instead of bouncing off in confusion.

For Christians, Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, of course, but more specifically, it is a celebration of the Holy Spirit’s purpose, which is to speak to us in our native language. Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s job, which is to preach to us in language we can understand.

Pentecost was a Jewish celebration long before it was a Christian one. In Hebrew it was (and is) called Shavuot, and is held fifty days after Passover. It commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is also something of a first fruits festival, celebrating the wheat harvest, not unlike our celebration of Thanksgiving. Citizens of Israel will get June 12 off this year as a paid holiday to celebrate Shavuot.

Way back in the first century there were many Jews who had moved out of Israel and now lived in far-flung places. These diaspora Jews returned to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Many of these Jews had been born and raised speaking the languages native to the places they now lived. They might know a little Greek, which was the language of business in the Mediterranean. They might have retained a little bit of Hebrew or Aramaic, probably just a few words here or there they heard from their grandparents. But mostly they spoke the languages of the lands where they now lived. These were the languages they knew best.

As the disciples were celebrating Pentecost, there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind. As the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in other languages. It is important to note that this was not some esoteric spiritual language. These were real, well-established human languages. Empowered by the Spirit, the disciples began to speak in the languages of the diaspora Jews, the now native languages of the Jews from all of these far-flung places. Amazed and astonished, the crowd said, “How can this be? Aren’t these guys all from Galilee? But we hear them speaking to us in our own language about God’s deeds of power!”

Some sneered, of course. Some thought they were drunk on new wine. But Peter stood up and said, “No, no. We aren’t drunk. It is only nine in the morning, for cryin’ out loud. No, this is what the prophet Joel said would happen. The Spirit is being poured out upon all flesh so that God’s sons and daughters would prophecy, so that they would speak God’s Word, so that they would proclaim God’s deeds of power, so that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord would be saved.”

This is what Jesus said would happen. In our gospel reading we hear Jesus promising the disciples that he would send the Spirit. Jesus makes it very clear what the Spirit would do. This Spirit would be an Advocate, or Helper. Jesus describes this Spirit as the Spirit of truth who would guide his people into all the truth. And this Spirit, Jesus says, would accomplish its job by speaking! Look at all the verbs attributed to the Spirit in our gospel reading: The Spirit would testify. The Spirit would speak. The Spirit would declare. The Spirit would preach law and gospel, both convicting of sin and taking Christ’s forgiveness and declaring it to the hearer. The Spirit would glorify Jesus – and would do so by speaking.

What happened on that Pentecost was a spectacular announcement that this promise was now being fulfilled. What happened was that the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus had come, filling the disciples with the words they needed to deliver the goods of the gospel to their neighbors. The violent wind and the tongues of fire were a sign that the church was now born, and its mission, its purpose, its job, was to be the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming God’s deeds of power through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ to all the world.

There is a bad habit in some corners of Christianity of separating the Holy Spirit from Jesus – who sends it, and sends it for this specific purpose. There is a bad habit among some Christians of unhitching the Spirit from its source in Christ and his Word. When this happens, a spiritual train wreck inevitably follows. When it happens, people go off the rails.

There are far-left Christians claiming that the Spirit is leading them to invent new truths, new truths which conveniently conform to the spirit of the age. There are far-right Christians in the so-called “prophetic utterance movement” who claim the Spirit has given them a revelation about who the next president should be. This untethering of the Spirit from Christ and his Word is at best a distraction from the Spirit’s actual work, and at worst actually leads people away from the gospel, destroying souls. This is all from a spirit, alright – but it isn’t the Holy Spirit!

Though the circumstances were different, Martin Luther dealt with this in his own time from a group of people he called the Enthusiasts. These were people who claimed divine revelation from the Spirit apart from the Word. Not one to mince words, Luther said such pious-sounding delusions were from the devil himself.

Jesus is clear about what the Spirit will do. His Spirit is the Spirit of truth, who guides us into all the truth. The Holy Spirit will never lead us away from the truth of scripture. The Holy Spirit will never lead us away from Christ and his Word. The Holy Spirit’s job is to take what is Christ’s and declare it to us. It is to speak words of law and gospel to us, words that convict and set free, words which declare God’s deeds of power for us through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s job is ultimately to lead us to the truth of what Jesus has done for us to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. And the Spirit does this in a simple, yet miraculous way: by speaking to us in our own native language, in the language we understand best.

In my previous congregation one of the members was from Germany. An American exchange student from Lewis County, Washington, lived with his family for a year, and he followed her back and married her. He spoke excellent English, but German, of course, was his native language. This was the language his mother used to sing to him. This was the language his father used to teach him to pray. One Pentecost Sunday I decided to surprise him. I practiced and practiced, and when I came to serve him communion, I said to him, “Die leib Christi, given für dich.” He looked up at me with astonishment. It hit him differently in his native tongue! After the service, he kept thanking me over and over. It meant more to him than I ever imagined it would. He heard Christ speaking to him in the language he knew best.

This is the miracle of Pentecost, and it continues to this day. God wants us to hear what he has done for us through his Son, and so, by the Spirit’s power, God speaks to us in our native language. You do not need to learn Aramaic or Hebrew or Greek to hear the gospel. The Spirit continues to work through the church to deliver the goods in the language you understand best.

For those whose native tongue is something other than English, there are congregations right here on Whidbey Island where other languages are spoken. We have been a sponsoring congregation of El Camino de Emaus, the Spanish speaking Lutheran congregation in the Skagit Valley, so that these friends can hear the gospel in the language they understand best. The Spirit is still at work through tongues, through language, through speaking, to declare God’s deeds of power to all people, so that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord would be saved.

I began by reading part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon from Acts in Norwegian, but today, in God’s great love for you, he speaks to you in the language you know best, in words that are clear. Today the Spirit speaks to you in such a way that the fog lifts and God’s saving word for you comes into sharp focus. Today the Spirit takes what is Christ’s and declares it to you. By his grace, you have his righteousness, his holiness, his relationship with God the Father, his new and eternal life. Through Jesus, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is all yours through faith in him.

Today the Spirit speaks to you in such a way that the good news of what God has done for you in Jesus Christ would land in your ears and in your heart, so that you too would look up in astonishment.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church