May 19 2013 Sermon
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians– we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Division, conflict, arguing, fighting, prejudice, racism; these words describe our world today. They describe our nation, our society. They describe our churches, our families, and our own hearts. Racism, prejudice, and discrimination are among the greatest social evils in our country and society today. Social evils which the church has failed to address, and perhaps the church has even been guilty of even promoting and fostering in our country.
But racism and prejudice and fighting and arguing don’t start with society. They start in the heart of every individual person. They start in the sinful, human nature of every man, woman and child. For they are sin. They are caused by sin. They are the result of sin. It all started when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. As soon as they ate it, they ran and hid from God among the trees. There was division, strife, enmity between man and God. The relationship was broken. There was fear. They no longer walked in the garden as friends in the cool of the day. They were enemies.
And a broken relationship with God, means a broken relationships with people, for love and unity have their origins in God. Our relationship with God defines our relationship with others. Apart from God there is no source for love, there is no foundation for community. Hence, from the very beginning, divisions, hostility, prejudice and hatred is the story of mankind. In fact, family quarreling, racism, prejudice are practically biblical traditions: starting with Cain who murdered his brother Abel. All through Scripture there was conflict, Sarah fought with Hagar; Esau wanted to kill Jacob; and Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. There was racism and prejudice between the Jews and the Samaritans, and hatred between Israelites and Gentiles. Discord was even seen in the church with divisions and cliquish groups in Corinth; division between St. Paul and Barabbas, prejudice among early Christians against allowing non-Jews into the church. The church has at no time in history been without strife, fighting and divisions.
Family quarrels, strife, discord and broken relationships are all the results of sinful hearts. Husbands are separated from wives, parents fighting with their children, brother pitted against brother and sister against sister. Divorce, fighting, broken families is the story of life. Thanksgiving dinner becomes a battle field, and Christmas “peace on earth and good will to men” end at the Christmas dinner table.
All division is a direct assault against God. God is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all united in perfect harmony and complete unity. God is one in three persons and there exists perfect love between them. Division, discord, prejudice are the exact opposite of who God is. They are the opposite of his character and an affront to his nature. That is why they are serious. They are not mere breaking of rules and regulations; they are an affront to God himself. The lack of love and discord violates the very nature of God. That is why God casts sinners away from his presence and condemns to eternal punishment anyone who indulges in such sin.
At Babel God executed his judgment and wrath on humanity and divided them up into different nations. He split them into groups and gave them different languages. We have, at Babel, the birth of individual and separate nations, races, people groups, and languages. But we notice that this is a punishment from God. This is not how God created man, it is not how it was supposed to be, it does not reflect the character of God; it’s the result of sin and a punishment on sin. The wages of sin is the wrath of God and death. And that’s the situation we find in the world.
But Pentecost is the reversal of separation, discord, and disunity. On Pentecost the Tower of Babel was reversed. Our text begins by telling us that the disciples of Jesus were together in one place. Already, from the first verse, we have a hint of togetherness, unity, harmony among the believers. On Pentecost, the many languages, nations, and peoples were united and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel of Christ was preached in all languages. Uniting all peoples and languages in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the one who brings true peace and harmony, not the peace that the world gives, but the peace that comes from the communion and love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the peace he leaves with us. Jesus came to the world and reconciled sinners to God and to one another, undoing the divisions between people, between races and between nations. In Christ there is no fighting, no division, no hostility, no broken relationships, no cliques and groups opposed to each other. For we have been made one in Christ. In Christ there is no prejudice, no racism, no hatred between people. For all this is contrary to Christ. In Christ there is only forgiveness and reconciliation; there is unity, love, and peace among the brothers and sisters of Our Lord. The Holy Spirit brings the peace of Christ to us. At one time there was separation and alienation, we were strangers to the promises of God without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus we, who were once far off, separated from one another and from God, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13). Jesus himself is our peace, who has made us all one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Eph 2:14). So now we are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Eph 2:19).
Yes, those in Christ still have their sinful nature and they still sin. We still are not all that Christ is, but those in Christ are deeply troubled by their sin, their lack of love and their broken relationships and their fighting and divisions. They are truly sorry for them and sincerely desire to be better than that. They repent of their sin and make every effort not to be like that. They strive to resolve conflicts, they want to forgive those who have offended them, they make every effort to love those who are different or speak a different language or are of a different race. They are never perfect at doing this, but they want to be, and they work at overcoming these differences and attitudes.
This is the difference between the believer in Christ and the non-believer: the believer is sorry for his sin and strives to do better; he strives to become like Christ and to love as Christ loved. The non-believer doesn’t care and is content with the way he is and doesn’t make any effort to change.
So we repent and confess our sins: “Dear Lord, we have not allowed your love and peace to flow from our hearts. We have caused division and strife; we have held grudges against one another, we have been guilty of prejudice and discrimination, we have quarreled amongst ourselves. Forgive us for our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Renew your right Spirit in us and create in us a new heart that we might love as you loved.”
On Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, on sons and daughters, young and old, male and female. He was given in baptism for the forgiveness of sins as 3000 men, women and children were baptized that day. He is poured out on you when you are baptized and receive the forgiveness of sins. “So that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” rich and poor; young and old; male and female; white, black and brown. Everyone!
On the cross your sins were paid for. Those who repent and believe have been forgiven. As a called and ordained servant of the word, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is the answer to resolving conflicts, to mending broken relationships, and laying down the hatred of racism and prejudice.
Pentecost reverses Babel, it smashes all disunity, family quarrels, and divisions. The Sound of Pentecost is the sound of the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached in all languages. It is the sound of missionaries and evangelists, of Bible translators, linguists, Christian doctors and nurses working tirelessly around the globe to bring life and salvation to all people. It is the sound of disciples being made in all nations through baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holly Spirit. It is the sound of brothers forgiving each other, of families being reunited and coming back together, of feuding friends reconciling to each other and restoring their friendships in every language and tongue.
The key to reconciliation and harmony is the cross of Jesus. For there on the cross your sins were paid for. There on the cross the sins people have committed against you are paid for. Recompense has been made for those offenses. Their offenses against you have been dealt with. There is no reason or justification for continuing to hold grudges or having anything against those people. If God has forgiven them, who are we not to forgive. The cross of Jesus wipes out any possibility of a believer not forgiving his offender, because that’s who Jesus is.
The sound of Easter is heard on Pentecost: forgiveness of sins spoken in every language, in every nation, in every people around the world and through all time. Amen.