Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Several years ago my wife and I attended the graduation ceremony for my son who received a graduate degree in education. He is a school principal near Roselle, Illinois.
The weather for the ceremony was perfect: cool and sunny. The university band played “Pomp and Circumstance.” Families cheered the graduates, as they received their diplomas, while faculty marched resplendently in their colorful, academic robes. Afterwards, my son, his wife and daughters, my wife and I adjourned to the Red Apple Café in Palatine to enjoy a celebratory meal. A good time was had by all. It was, indeed, a beautiful day.
Across our nation graduation ceremonies take place at high schools and colleges. Students, who completed their studies, will receive a degree and begin the next stage of their life. I met a young woman at the graduation service who said she received a master of social work degree a year earlier. I asked, if the degree made a difference in her life. She replied, with the degree she became the director of an adult daycare center in Oswego, Illinois. We hope education leads to advancement in life and work.
Graduation day fits well with the Festival of Pentecost and our Gospel for this Sunday. In the Gospel the Last Supper describes a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. The days when Jesus personally guides and instructs his disciples will soon be over. The disciples must be prepared to go out into the world without the physical presence of Jesus leading them. They question, whether or not they are ready to take responsibility for the mission and ministry of the church.
Jesus addresses their concerns with a great discourse offered at the Last Supper. He reassures them they are prepared for the great tasks that lie ahead. In a way, the disciples are like students who completed a course of instruction. They listened to and learned from Jesus. Now they must take what they learned and put it into practice. The Last Supper marks a transition in their lives. It is both a beginning and an ending. They completed their studies, but now begin the work of ministry for which they have been prepared.
Today the Apostle Philip seeks reassurance from Jesus. He asks Jesus to show them God the Father. Jesus, of course, will not do that, but, instead, instructs them about what God has done in himself. He says God is in him and he is in God. He adds, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” In other words, Jesus is one with God; God reveals himself in Jesus. When you see Jesus, you have seen God’s intention for humanity.
Jesus reminds the disciples what this revelation in himself means for them. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” What a daunting message to hear. The disciples will do greater works than Jesus.
Now Jesus lays out how he will help them. He says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Not only will God do great things through the disciples, but he promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” He explains, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.” They will be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
What will the Spirit of truth accomplish? He says, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit guides the Church in the absence of Jesus and leads it forward. Jesus reassures his disciples by saying: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you….Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” The future is not to be feared, but embraced with confidence. God will be with them.
The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled on Pentecost, which we observe today. We read, when the disciples were in one place, “Suddenly from heaven a sound, like the rush of a violent wind, filled the house where the disciples were sitting.” Tongues of fire appeared and rested on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages. People from every nation gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost heard the gospel in their language.
We call Pentecost the birthday of the church, but we could also remember it as a graduation day for the disciples. At the last Supper they learned from Jesus what God expects of them. On Pentecost Day, they are sent to participate in the redemption of creation. Their education is complete and now is the time to practice what they learned.
There’s a story told of a husband and wife both of who were doctors – one a doctor of theology and the other a doctor of medicine. When their doorbell was rung, the couples daughter answered the door, the inquirer often asked her for “the doctor”. The daughter’s response was: “Do you want the one who preaches or the one who practices?” It’s not enough to know the word of God, we must practice it as well.
One Pentecost Sunday, as a congregation filled the church, ushers handed each person a red carnation to symbolize the festive spirit of the day. The people listened attentively to the reading of the Pentecost story from the Book of Acts, describing how the disciples heard “what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven”; and how the Holy Spirit appeared “like tongues of fire.” Then came the sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” the pastor began. “Like the powerful wind from heaven!” shouted a woman sitting in the first pew. She threw a red carnations toward the altar. The pastor began again: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.” Again the same lady’s voce rang out again, “Like the tongues of fire!” She threw another red carnation toward the altar. The pastor looked at her and said, “Now throw your pocketbook.” The woman replied, “Pastor, the wind just died and the fire went out.” Too often we hear God’s word, but fail to let it empower and guide us in what we do and say. We need to practice what we preach.
On this Pentecost Sunday we affirm we have heard the word of God through Jesus Christ and received the Holy Spirit. Like graduates, we are prepared to take that word and put it into practice in the life of the church and our own personal lives. May the Holy Spirit empower you for ministry. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.