"You Know You're a Lutheran If..." - Pentecost
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
May 20, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Acts 2:1-21

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost – May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21


You Know You’re a Lutheran if…


              When you think of distinctly Lutheran things, what do you think of? What makes a church Lutheran? (Wait for responses.) You might think of tradition, a formalized liturgy, doing things a “tried-and-true” way. Growing up in the upper Midwest, many cultural things that had nothing to do with the Christian faith were attached to the Lutheran label. For instance, I heard several times that:


              You were a Lutheran if you always had coffee after worship. (Bonus points if you drank coffee from a young age, to the chagrin of a number of ladies who kept telling you, “It’ll stunt your growth!”)

              You were a Lutheran if every church carry-in or potluck had four or five different kinds of casserole (or if you were from Sarah’s neck of the woods, “hotdish”) AND four or five different kinds of jello salad.

              And finally, as I got older, I was told I couldn’t be a good Lutheran without drinking beer! (At least one other person in this room has had that experience, too!) As the logic went, Martin Luther drank beer, therefore all true Lutherans drink beer!


              Ridiculous, of course. All these cultural attachés we put on the Lutheran label amount to little more than gatekeeping. It elevates custom and a way of being church to the level of the Christian faith itself. It keeps our faith identity tribal and local, rather than seeing it as part of the universal (or lower case “c” catholic) church.


              Thank God, then, that the Holy Spirit was not content to keep the church confined to Jerusalem. To a particular group of Aramaic-speaking Christians. To a particular people, or time, or custom. On Pentecost, the Spirit blew through the church. The Spirit took the church beyond its own limitations and kicked off a worldwide movement of hope in the name of Jesus the Messiah.


              You see, what happened on that Pentecost morning was a reversal of yet another ancient curse. Jesus reversed the ancient curses of sin and death by his life, death, and resurrection. On Pentecost, the curse of Babel itself was reversed.


              You remember the Babel story. In Genesis 11, between the genealogy of Noah’s descendants after the flood and the beginning of the Abraham story, we hear a strange story about how all people on earth had one language. Fearing that they would be dispersed the world over, they decide to unite themselves with a grand project – a tower. A tower that would reach into the heavens that would make a name for them – not just in the mortal realm, but in the heavenly realm as well.


              Of course, you know what happens. God descends and mixes up their speech. The tower project is abandoned; the people in the city are scattered. From this incident, the narrator tells us, is where language, culture, and difference come from – the result of human hubris.


              Human disunity is not God’s final wish, though. Immediately after this story, Genesis introduces Abraham. One man, called out of his home in Mesopotamia. One man, through whom all nations and peoples will experience blessing. Abraham is the seed that culminates in the Christ, and is confirmed by the events of that Pentecost morning. 


              When the Spirit rushes through the church that morning, something amazing happens, something beyond most of our experiences. Flames appear to rest on the heads of the congregation. And they begin to speak in other languages. Not babbling – not like what happened at Babel millennia ago – but comprehensible speech. Speech that can be understood by all the other Jews gathered in the city that day for the festival. God the Holy Spirit bridges the cultural and linguistic divides among Jews that Pentecost morning, and sets the church in motion. It propels it beyond itself and into a new way of being, a new mission, to reach not just Jews, not just Aramaic-speakers, but all people – whoever and wherever they are – with the good news of salvation in Jesus.


              And if the Holy Spirit has reached beyond that culture to bring us salvation in Christ, what right do we have to identify our own white, Midwestern, American culture with that of Christianity? What right do we have to straightjacket the faith to a particular cultural expression?


              None. None at all. We all know there’s a great diversity within the universal church, but let’s consider the diversity within Lutheranism itself. Can you guess where the most Lutherans in the world live? The greatest number of Lutherans, outside Germany, live in Ethiopia and Tanzania – both African nations. Our companion synod, the Batak Christian Protestant Church of Indonesia, has a membership of 4,500,000 – larger than the ELCA. And I guarantee you they aren’t serving four kinds of jello with five kinds of casserole at their carry-in dinners! They do the Lutheran Christian faith in their own cultural milieu. They do worship in a way that speaks to them, just like we do.


              On Pentecost, the Spirit didn’t flatten everyone’s culture into one heavenly culture. The Spirit spoke across culture. It incorporated difference. It incorporated diversity. It bridged those divides without abolishing them, so that we could be united by something greater. The Spirit connected and still connects us as one body with many functions, so that we learn from each other. So we can see another aspect of the body of Christ in each other. So that we can live out our salvation together as equally beloved, equally cherished children of God.


              So how do you know if you’re a Christian? Specifically, a Lutheran Christian?


              Do you trust that God the Father has given you everything you have and everything you are without any merit on your part?


              Do you believe that God the Son, true God and true human, is your Lord and Redeemer, and has freed you from sin, death, and the devil by his power and grace alone and not by your actions?


              Do you believe that it is only by God the Holy Spirit that you can have saving faith in the first place?


              If so, then you have a Lutheran Christian faith, no matter what you eat, or drink, or wear, how you speak, or even how you worship. None of these externals matter in comparison with the treasure we’ve been given in Christ, who through the Spirit brings us together.


              Let us pray,


              Holy Spirit, blow through our lives and get us outside of ourselves. Help us to see your presence in those who are different from us, that we may celebrate your saving work among different people. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.