Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 05/19/2013

Pentecost pushes us out there; it pushes us out there just beyond that which we can know and understand; that’s what happens when you start to talk about the Holy Spirit.  People like me throw the term “Holy Spirit” around like we know what we’re talking about, but allow me to let you in on a secret; we don’t because  Holy Spirit talk moves us just beyond, a little farther than we might really want to go; it moves us beyond our comfort zone which may be part of why the celebration of Pentecost never really caught on like Christmas and Easter or maybe I should say why it never got commercialized like Christmas and Easter; it’s just harder to get a handle on Pentecost.  It does have a great story, but the main characters on Pentecost are noise and wind and fire and spirit, which aren’t quite as engaging as Mary and Joseph, a baby, shepherds and angels at Christmas and the Risen Christ along with confused women and disciples at Easter.  On Pentecost it’s not quite so easy to relate.  We’re just beyond that which we can know. 

In a way this notion of being just beyond that which we can know is true for all of religious faith, Christian or otherwise.  It’s true as soon as you start talking about God because such talk moves you beyond that which is strictly rational.  Whether we know it or not, to one degree or another, we’re all products of what historians call the Age of Enlightenment, a period that began in the mid-1600’s also sometimes called the Age of Reason.  It was an effort to move people beyond ideas based mostly on tradition and faith, what some would call superstition.  The result of this move would be the advancement of knowledge by use of the scientific method so we’d focus on that which can be studied and proved by empirical observation and measurement.  That which couldn’t be proved by such means was to be rejected.  That doesn’t leave much room for God or the Holy Spirit.  We could still talk about Jesus; we could talk about him as a great teacher and prophet and philosopher, but that’s about it.  Any connection of Jesus to the divine would be viewed with skepticism.

Now, Enlightenment thinking certainly has its place and human knowledge certainly has been advanced by a scientific approach.  Study of the Bible and theology have been advanced as well as scholars have used the same critical methods used in other disciplines to make Christianity a more reasonable and scientifically valid belief system.  What happened though, to a large extent, was that with this approach, mystery was squeezed out of the faith.  In an effort to remain relevant, faith became a matter of the head, the intellect, a matter of accepting correct doctrines and creeds.  This certainly became true in the Lutheran church.  The Lutheran church has produced many great thinkers of the faith.  We’re very good at the head part of things and there is a place for that, it’s certainly plays a major role for me.  It is a legitimate and I think important part of the faith journey at least for some; but not at the expense of mystery.

Related to this and another by-product of this Enlightenment, intellectual approach to faith is that in some ways we have tamed or domesticated or de-mystified festivals like Pentecost.  Holy Spirit talk can get a little fuzzy because it is just beyond that which we can know, so to avoid that one option is to celebrate today as the birthday of the church.  That’s not wrong as Pentecost does move us into the mission of those who followed Jesus, and it’s easier to make that the focus and to talk about the church and what we are called to do as members of the church than it is to talk about individuals being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  The result of all this though, is that while we hear a lot these days about people who claim to be “spiritual, but not religious,” could it be said of us that we are “religious, but not spiritual?”  It’s worth thinking about.

One of the things that is suggested these days is that we’re now in a post-Enlightenment age.  There’s the realization that science and reason don’t answer all the questions, especially the deepest ones.  Many people have the feeling that something is missing in our scientific, technological world, a feeling that we’ve shut off a dimension of life that is vital to being human; that dimension being the spiritual. 

One result of this is the spiritual but not religious crowd, those people who are looking for the spiritual in their lives but who are pretty sure they’re not going to find it in organized religion, but it also impacts those of us who might see ourselves as religious but not very spiritual.  We’re good at thinking the faith and we enjoy doing that; it is part of our journey.  We’re also good at running the various aspects of the institution of the church and at its best much good in service to others comes from that; but a real relationship with God can still feel like it’s lacking.  It’s too much head and not enough heart.  So what do you do?  People like Kathy walk an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain; people like me go off to Iowa four times a year for two years in search of that something that seems to be missing, that something just beyond what we can know.

Pentecost Sunday is a good time to think about all this.  That’s what I was going to say, but then I caught myself realizing that we don’t need to think about it, we already do that.  What we need, is to venture into that place just beyond what we can know and experience it imaginatively.  In one of the journals I get there was an article that talked about some of the same things I’m talking about.  One of the things the author suggested is that in our scientific, matter of fact, de-mystified world, there is what she calls a hunger for enchantment.  She says we suffer from EDD, Enchantment Deficit Disorder, the symptoms of which include a loss of a sense of wonder, skepticism about anything that smacks of the supernatural, or as I’m saying this morning, skepticism about anything that is just beyond what we can know and understand.  But again, that’s where Pentecost takes us, if we’re willing to go there.

With its use of wind and noise and fire the Pentecost story is similar to Old Testament theophanies as they’re called, stories that reveal the presence of God.  What all of those things, wind, noise and fire, have in common is that there is an elusive, uncontrollable element to them.  Especially with wind and fire, there is also a power about them, power that on the one hand can be of great benefit, but which, on the other hand can be very destructive.  It’s not hard to see why the biblical writers would use these elements to convey God’s presence as there are times that one can only stand in awe and wonder and a degree of fear in the face of wind and noise and fire.  We are moved into a different realm at those times, moved to that place that is just beyond what we can know.

That’s where the Pentecost story takes us, that’s where the wind and noise and fire took that crowd gathered in Jerusalem.  They had been told to wait there, told to wait to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  They couldn’t have known what that meant but with the wind and noise and fire they were pushed just beyond what they could know and understand.  The gathered crowd was filled with the Holy Spirit and with that, they became more than they thought they were; and they believed it.  That might be the most amazing part of this; they believed it and so they were changed!  They moved into that territory that was just beyond and as a result they did things that they shouldn’t have been capable of doing.  Against all reasonable evidence, they imagined the possibilities; guided by and filled with the Holy Spirit, that unlikely group started the church whose birthday we celebrate today despite the religious and political power gathered against them.

Jeff Olson, coach of the Ishpeming football team came to Kiwanis a couple of months ago and talked about the rather miraculous season that the Hematites experienced last year.  One of the things he said was that the team had a meeting I think it was the Sunday evening of the week they would go to Detroit for the championship game against a team that was undefeated and had beaten every team they played by 40 points.  When he got home he said his wife asked him how it went.  He said, “I must be doing a good job.  They all think they’re going to win.”  You know what happened.  They believed and they did things they shouldn’t have been capable of doing.

Pentecost pushes us just beyond that which we can know and understand and with that it reveals to us a dimension that is an important part of who we are.  We aren’t strictly rational beings and we don’t live in a world that can fully be explained by science and reason.  There is a spiritual dimension and for those of us who sometimes struggle with that, we’re fortunate that there have always been those who see things differently, who imagine things differently, who experience things differently.  Among those people are those who wrote the Bible.  With their stories and their vision and their inspiration they invite us in and push us just beyond into a world where Jesus isn’t just a story, but he’s the revelation of God, alive and in relationship with us. 

If we’re willing to go there, if we’re willing to believe that, like those gathered on that first Pentecost, we too are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we too can do things we shouldn’t be capable of doing.  That’s the story of the church; it’s always been the story of the church and it does push us into a Spirit filled world of love and grace and forgiveness that is beyond that which we can know and understand.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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