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.Acts 2:1-4
The Day of Pentecost is always a great celebration for the church. We gather together each year on this day, to hear the story of the birth of the Church, told in Acts 2: when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles like the rush of a violent wind, with tongues as of fire dancing on their heads; people from all nations hearing the apostles speaking in their own language, and more than 3,000 responding by being baptized into Christ.
It is an amazing story to hear again, isn’t it? The miracle of Pentecost. But don’t you wonder a little, when you hear this story, whether we are missing something today? After all, I doubt that our celebration this morning will include a violent wind, or fire, or miraculous speech. So are we missing something? Where is the wind and the fire today? Where is the excitement of that first Pentecost?
Where Is the Holy Spirit Today?
Perhaps the better question to ask is: where is the Holy Spirit today? After all, isn’t that the point of Pentecost? To give us the Holy Spirit? So the question to ask today is not, where is the wind and the fire, but where is the Holy Spirit?
And if we ask the question in that way, then we do, indeed, have a pretty exciting answer, if you ask me. Because the Holy Spirit is without a doubt here with us today, in some very amazing and powerful ways. Let me share three of those ways.
The Word of God
First, the Holy Spirit is here, and comes to us today, through the Holy Word – the divinely-inspired, faith-producing, life-changing Word of God – which connects us to all Christians going all the way back to that first Pentecost, and connects us to the God who inspired and guided its every word.
The same Holy Spirit who inspired Peter to preach on that first Pentecost, is here with us today as we hear again his ancient words. Those who heard Peter that day heard him speak in their own language. And so do we. Just as many Christians around the world today are hearing this in their own language. It may not seem as miraculous, but I think it is pretty incredible to think of Christians around the world today hearing these words in their own language.
Through my blog, I have met some very interesting people. One of them, Linnea, spent forty years bringing the gospel to people on the west coast of Africa. The particular community she was serving speaks Nyarafolo, a language which was not written and so did not have a written Bible. Linnea worked with a team to develop a written language, and just this year they have been able to publish the New Testament, Pentateuch and Psalms in Nyarafolo.
Isn’t that amazing? The Pentacost miracle continues, and through the Word of God proclaimed here and around the world, the Holy Spirit continues to be poured into the hearts of listeners, producing faith and trust in our God.
The Called and Gathered Church
Where is the Holy Spirit today? The second way that the Holy Spirit comes to us today is through the gathered congregation. As Martin Luther put it in his Small Catechism:
The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.
The Holy Spirit is the reason we are here today. The Holy Spirit called and gathered us here, just as it has done for centuries all around the world. The Holy Spirit brings us together and gives us a variety of gifts, all for the common good. “Now there are varieties of gifts,” Paul reminds us, “but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). The Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh, as Peter reminds us in his famous sermon, young and old, men and women, all have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we come together to share our gifts and insights, and become more than we can possibly be, on our own.
The Pentecost miracle happened when the apostles were all together in one place. And it happened when devout Jews from every nation under heaven were present. That’s not a coincidence. The Holy Spirit likes us to be together. Something important happens when we are together. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present when we gather in his name, which we do whenever we worship together. The Holy Spirit can come to us when we are alone, of course, but scripture teaches us that coming together in Jesus’ name is the best way to discover the Holy Spirit among us.
And we come together in Jesus’ name, there is another way in which the Holy Spirit comes to us. And that is through the Holy Sacraments.
When Peter finished his sermon on that first Pentecost, those who heard it asked him, “what should we do?” And Peter responded, “Repent, and be baptized … and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). They will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit not through wind and fire, but through holy baptism. And it is in baptism that we, too, first received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And right after those who heard Peter’s sermon were baptized, what did they do? The very next verse says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). In other words, they gathered together as a community, to hear the Word and celebrate Holy Communion.
That is where the miracle of Pentecost continued to be enjoyed and realized in the Church. Then, and now. When we gather in the name of Jesus. Remember our baptisms. Devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. And to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.
We may not have wind and fire today, but we are here, gathered in the name of Jesus. Doing those very things that the Church has done since that first Pentecost. And that means that the Holy Spirit is present among us now, just as it was then.
It’s always tempting to think that we need more – we need more excitement, more enthusiasm, more emotion; we need more wind and fire on Sunday mornings. But we Lutherans are at our best when we refuse to believe that the church needs anything more than the Word, the congregation gathered in Jesus’ name, and the Sacraments. Because we believe, teach and confess that it is through these means of grace that God gives us all that we need for our salvation.
The point of Pentecost is not the wind and the fire – it never was. The point of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who brings to the church all the gifts of God, all that we need, for life and salvation.
But if the point of Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit, then the result of Pentecost is sharing the good news of the gospel with all nations. Do you remember what Jesus said right before the Pentecost miracle? He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Well, if you are baptized; and if you have heard God’s Word today; and if you will receive Holy Communion today; then I have news for you: the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you have received the power needed to be our Lord’s witnesses, even to the ends of the earth.
You have everything you need to go and share your faith. Everything you need to be the church, the body of Christ, in the world. Because you have the Holy Spirit. You can now share the good news of Jesus. And you can tell everyone that you know where to go to receive all that God promises. You know where everyone can go to receive the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and true, eternal, abundant life. You know where they can go to fill that God-shaped hole that is in each of our souls. You know the one place where everyone can go to find true joy, true meaning, and true blessedness. It is the place whose birth we celebrate today – it is the church. The Church – the body of Christ formed with the gift of the Holy Spirit – is where we are promised to receive all these gifts. The Church is the place where – miraculously! – each and every Sunday the Holy Spirit comes again to those gathered in Jesus’ name, through the great and awesome miracles of hearing God’s Holy Word and receiving the Holy Supper.
There won’t be any violent wind or fire today. At least, I hope not. But we’re not here for the wind and the fire. We are here to worship the God behind that wind and fire, to give thanks for the gift of God’s only Son, who died to save us and forgive us, and we are here to receive again the promised Holy Spirit, who unites us to our God in ways beyond what we can even imagine.
Nothing has changed, in all these many years. We are here for the same reason the church has always gathered together. May we continue to respond to the ever-present call of the Holy Spirit, who gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian church, now and forever. Amen