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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
June 9, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Acts 2:1-21

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost C – June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21




            I’ve graduated three times, not counting the cute “graduations” from pre-school and kindergarten that my father took a hundred pictures of. High school, college, and seminary. Seminary graduation I remember reasonably well. College graduation I remember much less well, except that it rained that day. But the graduation I remember best was high school. Going to receptions, hanging out with friends, asking mom for a beer keg at my reception (and being told “Absolutely not!”), going through awards and pictures, trying to censor some of the naked baby pictures Dad wanted at the reception – much of that time is burned in my memory. One thing that I especially remember is that a name was used for the graduation ceremony that wasn’t used in either of my other graduations.  


            The name was “Commencement”. Commencement has a much different meaning than mere graduation. Graduation denotes the end of something. A student finishes high school, college, basic training, and is no longer considered a student or a recruit. But commencement indicates that something new is about to begin. The former student is about to commence upon the rest of her or his life. Commencement does not focus so much on what is ending as on what is beginning.


            Today, we remember when the fledgling Jesus movement commenced a new way of being in the world.


            Remember how it was before. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus spent about one year with his disciples. In that year, the Kingdom of God was fully realized on earth. It was fully present in Jesus’ person. Time and time again, Jesus re-focused these men on the reality of God’s Kingdom in their midst (Luke 17:21).


            And then Jesus was murdered. An unholy union of religion and the state silenced Jesus in the most humiliating way they could think of. Despite Jesus’ warnings that this would happen, the disciples’ world was shattered.


            And then something unprecedented happened. There had been many messianic claimants in Jesus’ day. But only one’s followers were foolhardy enough to go around saying that he had been raised from the dead. Many men had preached a way of salvation. But only one’s followers were pointing to their leader as that very way. Something happened to these men between the time of Jesus’ death and their public proclamation. Something unusual; something dramatic. Some kind of commencement happened.


            More than one, actually, if we look at the text. Fifty days ago, we heard the story of the empty tomb. Jesus’ empty tomb is discovered by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women. Being women, the men promptly disbelieved them. Remember what the text says. “Their words struck the apostles as nonsense…” (Luke 24:11). It wasn’t until after the Emmaus Road incident that Jesus appeared among them himself, showing his hands and feet and eating in front of them, proving that it was really Jesus, raised from the dead, and not merely a ghost or a reanimated corpse. Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, helping them to understand the events of the past few days in the wider context of God’s work of salvation for all people. So at that point, they were able to understand that Jesus was the Messiah of God, sent to offer repentance and forgiveness of sins to all peoples (Luke 24:47). That part they seem to have gotten (they were a little slower about the “all peoples” part, but they’d get there).


            One commencement, one new beginning, is not enough, though. Even with definitive proof of Jesus’ resurrection, they still don’t have what they need to preach forgiveness and life in his name. It’s a point that number of skeptics have rightly made. If Jesus is raised from the dead, what does that matter to me, personally? Why would that have any impact on my life? There needs to be some sort of connection between Jesus’ resurrection and its impact on us.


            The connection is the Holy Spirit, which appears in a dramatic fashion in our reading from Acts. As all the Jesus followers are worshipping together, a sound like a violent wind fills the house. Flames appear to alight on each believer. The Holy Spirit fills each believer, giving them, in this dramatic sign, the power to carry out God’s mission to proclaim forgiveness in the name of Jesus.


            Peter uses the motif of “the last days” from Joel, but remember that these “last days” are really a new beginning. Pentecost inaugurates a new beginning for the people of God. Before Pentecost, there isn’t really a church to speak of. There’s a ragtag group of 150 men and women, gathering periodically in the same upper room where they ate a Passover meal with Jesus some two months ago. The Day of Pentecost is like an earthquake which initiates other earthquakes. It is the beginning of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the people of God for the sake of humanity. It isn’t graduation. It’s commencement.


            And when we read the Book of Acts, we’ll notice something. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit happens again and again and again. The Spirit’s arrival always heralds a new beginning in the life of the Jesus movement. In 4:31, the Spirit descends again on the same group of believers after the imprisonment of Peter and John, enabling the people to face persecution. In 8:17, Peter and John go to Samaria to lay hands on believers there, which facilitates the Spirit’s descent on the Samaritans, the notorious enemies of the Jews. The Spirit does even wilder things by descending on Paul in chapter 9, that harasser and enemy of the church, and most outrageous of all, on Gentiles in chapter 10. Every single time the Spirit shows up, the people of God have to reckon with a new understanding of what God is doing in this time and this place. They are given the opportunity to struggle with the wild change that God brings, a change that always brings more people into the fold. That always builds up the people and focuses them outward.


            Commencement isn’t just a one-time thing. Commencement happens every day. Luther said that every day was a new beginning for the baptized person. So it is with us. God gives us a new beginning day after day. God gives us the Holy Spirit day after day. So it is high time we stop thinking about the Christian life as a mere series of propositions we learn in confirmation class decades ago and leave unexplored. No, the Christian life is about living into our relationship with our wild, untamed God and his Holy Spirit which blows where it will and does what it will to bring more people into repentance, forgiveness, and new life. The Christian life is lived in the Spirit – the same Spirit which descended time and time again in the Book of Acts and has continued to descend time and time again at every single baptism.


            God empower us to live into that new beginning today. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.