May 20, 2018 sermon (Pentecost Sunday)
Acts 2:1-21/ Ezekiel 37:1-14
Then You Will Know That I Am the Lord
Do you remember how recently I have mentioned more than once that the Christian love that God expects of us is seemingly humanly impossible? Yet the author of 1 John says it is not a burden. How can we acquire this power, this ability? When I think of the high standards of the Christian love God expects of us, I think of the story of Corrie ten Boom during the Second World War and the story of a Korean pastor who lived during the Korean War. Corrie was a Dutch watchmaker and Christian who got imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for helping Jewish people escape the Holocaust. After the war, she released a book telling her story and gave speeches. There is an anecdote of one such speech; as a Christian, as she was sharing her stories, she preached forgiveness. She then noticed in the crowd her former prison guard who abused and tortured her. Her bad memories, pain, and anger came back. But she had been preaching forgiveness, so how could she not forgive this man? How could she possibly and humanly forgive the man who tortured her? The man had repented his evil after the war and became a new person. He wanted to ask for Corrie’s forgiveness. After the speech, while this man was walking down the aisle to get to Corrie, Corrie was earnestly praying to God to give her the strength and courage to forgive him. During the short time this man was walking down the aisle, Corrie was able to forgive him. How could this be? Is she a superhero?
If you are amazed at Corrie, listen to the story of a Korean pastor during the Korean War. His two sons were killed by a North Korean soldier. He ended up adopting this soldier as his own son, touching and influencing his life. Thanks to this pastor’s great love, this young man became a pastor himself. Could you adopt your children’s killer as your own child? How can this be? It is humanly impossible, but as Jesus said in Matthew chapter 19, “All things are possible with God.”
Today, we read about how the first disciples received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Pentecost is the name that the Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora used for the Festival of Weeks, which is one of the major Jewish holy festivals. Since it’s a major Jewish festival, a lot of Jews were gathered in Jerusalem, both from inside and outside the country. A little side note here; it’s not like the Spirit of God suddenly came into being at that time. God’s Spirit has always existed as testified in many Bible verses from the Old Testament. But from this event at Pentecost, it became a dominant reality in the life of the early Church and still is in the lives of Christians.
It is interesting to note that the power of the Holy Spirit manifested itself through the many tongues spoken by the disciples. In Christianity, we sometimes talk about speaking in tongues. It is believed by a lot Christians that those who received the gift of speaking in tongues are speaking an angelic language, not a human one. That is why some other people are given the gift of interpreting the heavenly tongue. Note that in the event of the Pentecost, the disciples spoke human languages. Imagine the Holy Spirit falling on us and we suddenly start speaking the Ktunaxa people’s language or Russian? Some scholars believe that this event of Pentecost is the undoing of the Tower of Babel. In the Babel story, God divides human languages, so the humans cannot unite and rebel against the heavens; on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspires the disciples to speak diverse human languages in order to be united with God’s people. The Holy Spirit unites all God’s people through their diversity. African Christians praise God with their wonderful rhythms, songs and dances. Predominantly Caucasian North American Christians (that’s us) may praise God through their gentle singing, and the feeding and serving of each other. We are different, yet we are all God’s children and belong to God’s kingdom (or God’s kin-dom, as I mentioned last Sunday).
Besides the broad principle that the Holy Spirit unites all God’s children in their diversity, what else does the Holy Spirit do? As we have read in Ezekiel chapter 37, God’s Spirit gives life, even to the driest souls and creatures. In this vision that Ezekiel has, God shows him that God’s power can restore the nation of Israel from it’s dried bone stage, which indicates they have been dead for a long time. During this vision God keeps saying, “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” God is powerful enough to revive an army of dried bones with a breath. God is powerful enough to revive the nation of Israel from its long-suffering exile and foreign oppression. God’s love is powerful enough to give Corrie ten Boom the ability to forgive the prison guard who tortured her, and the Korean pastor to love and accept the man who killed his sons as his own son. God will make it happen, and by this, we will know who God is and the extent of God’s power. In other words, how do we get to know God? By witnessing God’s power at work.
The Holy Spirit testifies to God. We learn about God, God’s love and power through the works of the Holy Spirit. When I had difficulty loving myself, when I couldn’t understand my suffering or the purpose of my life, God talked to me through the Holy Spirit working through the people and events of my life, even through song lyrics. We also experience God through the good works of God’s people, inspiring in us love and the desire to serve. When we were down or in need, has someone reached out to us with comfort and support? When disaster strikes somewhere in the world, haven’t we witnessed good people not neglecting the victims by sending their support? These are some ways in which we can witness the works of the Holy Spirit that testify to who God is.
Apart from showing us the works of God, the Holy Spirit is also our personal helper. According to Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit pleads with God for us when we cannot articulate our pleas. Have you ever been in such a distress that when you tried to pray, all you could get out was a sigh? Because the Holy Spirit is our helper and pleads for us, a sigh or just uttering God’s name in agony is enough as a prayer. We may not always know what to ask for in prayer, but the Holy Spirit, who understands us, does.
As the works of the Holy Spirit were the key elements to the forming and expanding of the first Christian communities, those of us who have experienced the works of the Holy Spirit in our lives should let the Holy Spirit work through us to let God known in the world. This is evangelism, but evangelism isn’t always done through preaching like in the old days; “Have you met Jesus?” “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour?” Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel that we are the light of the world; hence we should let our good deeds shine for others to see. The Prophet Isaiah heard God’s voice, God’s promise, saying, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)
God’s power is without limit. God says, “I am doing a new thing.” As disciples who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we should let the Spirit flow through us and into the world in which God sends us. Let us be the channel of God’s grace and love, and proclaim, “People of the world will know God from our acts of love and service inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
Rev. Sunny Kim