Pastor Sherry’s message for June 5, 2022
Scriptures: Acts 2:1-21; Ps 104:24-35; Ro 8:14-17; Jn 14:8-17, 25-27
In 2003, I went on a mission trip with the youth of the church I was serving at the time (in Philadelphia) to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock covers an extraordinary amount of real estate from the south-central North Dakota to the northern portion of South Dakota. I found the temperatures of 108-115 to be very uncomfortable and I really hated the biting and stinging black flies—who seemed to love getting ahold of me. I had to buy a fly swatter to beat them off my arms and legs. YIKES! Nevertheless, the native Americans were fascinating. While our youth worked with theirs, I focused on ministry to the women of the tribe, talking with them about their families, their health, their way of life, and their view of God.
If you know anything about the history of the Lakota Sioux, you know they were totally dependent upon the buffalo for their food, clothing, shelter, tools, and so on. They followed the buffalo herds wherever they went, taking only what they needed and using all parts of the animal—including appropriating its tail as a fly-swatter. Essentially, their fortunes rose and fell with the availability of the herds. The Sioux word for Buffalo is tatanka. If you have ever seen the movie, “Dances with Wolves,” you may remember the Kevin Kostner character, an army cavalry officer, was trying to communicate with a few Sioux warriors. He made horns with his fingers and stomped on the ground to convey “buffalo.” The Sioux warriors initially thought he was not quite right in the head, but eventually realized what he was trying to convey. They named the animal in their language—tatonka—which I loosely translate as large, powerful, necessary critter. Interestingly, their word for God the Holy Spirit is the Wakantonka, the greatest of all beings! They knew they were totally dependent upon Him, even for the buffalo. I loved that picture of the Holy Spirit! He is the power-arm of the Trinity. No one can control Him! We, His creatures, are totally dependent upon Him.
We noted while we were there that the herds are coming back. I was fascinated with the buffalo, and asked us to pull our van over whenever we encountered a new herd. As I observed them in the wild, I noticed that many carried a little bird on their shoulders. It occurred to me then that we are to the Holy Spirit as that bird is to the buffalo: We are along for the ride, but unable to influence the direction, timing, or speed at which we travel. All the power resides with the buffalo.
Our Scriptures today, this Pentecost Sunday, all revolve around the very important empowering and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit:
A. Our Acts 2:1-21 lesson describes how the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples, empowering them for service. We are familiar with this story as it explains the birth of the Christian Church (Christ-followers of whatever denomination). The disciples are obediently waiting and praying. They are following Jesus’ orders. He had told them in Luke 24:49 that they were to …stay in the city [Jerusalem] until you have been clothed with power from on high [the Holy Spirit]. They had been waiting for 10 days from Christ’s Ascension. Now bear in mind that Pentecost had already been established by God as an annual feast day back in Leviticus 23 (It was part of the Law/Torah). First came Passover (Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath), but foreshadowing the death of Christ, the Lamb of God. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb had spared the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, the shed blood of Christ covers our sins and redeems us from spending eternity in hell. The second feast God inaugurated was called 1st Fruits (we know it as Easter Sunday), and it foreshadowed Jesus’ resurrection. The third feast, 50 days from Passover, was and is Pentecost (a harvest Festival, also called the Feast of Weeks).
On the original Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up early (9:00am), but not visibly. There was an auditory sign, (v.2) Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. People who have lived through tornadoes say they sound like a multitude of freight trains rushing by. That was the sound of the Holy Spirit’s presence, but without the wind. Nevertheless, it brought people out into the streets. There was also a visual sign of the Spirit’s presence (v.3) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. They could see fire, but it did not burn; think of Moses and the burning bush that did not disintegrate as it burned. Isn’t it interesting that they resembled tongues like fire, since they were going to burst into languages (tongues) previously unknown to them. So the Holy Spirit announces His presence with loud surround-sound and some fancy pyrotechnics. They were then empowered to witness about Jesus to Jewish foreign-language speakers in their native tongues and dialects–people groups from all over the Mediterranean, even from as far as Rome. Peter is now emboldened to preach to the crowd.
Now the Holy Spirit falls on all believers, where previously (in the Old Testament) the Holy Spirit was given to individuals for specific purposes and often for limited time. Today, we encounter the Holy Spirit in (a.) Baptism in which we are reborn by water and the Spirit, as Christ-followers; in (b.) Confirmation🡪in which we are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14 Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…; and (c.) in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (your own subjective experience) 1 Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. This experience is not limited by race or culture or social distinctions. The Holy Spirit is available to all believers who ask for Him, in order for us to minister in the power of Christ, and manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
B. Our Psalm (104:24-35) is a symphony of praise to the God of Creation. The line most relevant to the work of the Holy Spirit is verse 30 When You send Your Spirit, they [meaning we and all creation] are created, and You renew the face of the earth. Peterson’s paraphrase of Scripture, the Message, states it this way: Send out Your Spirit and they [created things] spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom. In other words, God’s Holy Spirit is creative and transformative. The power of the Holy Spirit makes good things happen.
C. Among those good things is our adoption, thru Christ Jesus, as children of God and heirs with Christ. This is what Paul asserts in our Romans lesson today (8:14-17). We become sons and daughters of God when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit (v.14 …those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God. Our obedience is Key. We are following Jesus’ example when we say, Yet not My will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42).
In today’s Gospel (John 14:8-17, 25-27), Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Counselor,” “the Spirit of Truth.” One of His primary jobs is to teach us Jesus’ will and remind us of Jesus’ ways. To this end, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. He also counsels—guides, directs, encourages, helps—us. If we obey Jesus—there it is again—and pray not selfishly but in the character of Christ, God will grant us what we ask for. You may say, “Well, I prayed to get a Mercedes, in Jesus’ name, but didn’t get one.” The issue then becomes was your receiving a Mercedes consistent with God’s will for you? This is often the “sticking point” when the response to our prayers is “No” or “Not yet.”
Because of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, we are not to fear anything, according to verse 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Please say that last part out loud: We are not to be afraid. Again: We are not to be afraid. We have the Holy Spirit, so we don’t need “safe spaces.” I heard recently that MIT, Evergreen University, and others, have eliminated grades for college courses. Someone has decided that bad grades may hurt a student’s self-esteem. I find this logic puzzling. Wouldn’t we do better to teach students to apply themselves to get good grades, or even to manage their disappointment in a healthy manner? Rather than doing away with grading, our culture would be better served to face the truth with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. We don’t even have to worry about what this world is coming to…we can just trust in God and give our concerns to Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The story is told about a little boy who was flying a kite. It was a windy day, and the kite kept going higher and higher. Finally it got so high that it was out of sight. A man passed by and saw the little boy holding onto the string. The man could not see the kite, and he asked the boy, “How do you even know you have a kite up there?” The boy replied, “Because I can feel it.” Typically when we encounter the Holy Spirit today, we don’t hear a great wind or see tongues of flame—or even a dove. Even so, we should be able to discern His assistance in our lives by feeling (sensing) Him (a.) leading us to do the right thing; (b.) empowering us to serve Jesus in His Church; or (c.) helping us to become more like Jesus. As the Lakota Sioux say, He is the wakantonka.
Think about this: Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, His last words were for them to wait until they received the Holy Spirit. He didn’t ask them to write manuscripts or screen-plays. He didn’t expect them to run out and begin evangelizing. He didn’t want them to assemble a committee and come up with a plan or a program. He didn’t even ask them to compose worship songs. Instead, He told them to do nothing until…
That should be us: We are the birds on the buffalo. The Holy Spirit is the power source. We wait on Him. We follow His direction. He leads us and we are to go along for the adventure. Amen!
©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams