Sunday, June 23, 2019

When Jesus Sets Us Free

[This message was shared during worship this morning with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 8:26-39
Our son Philip was in Haiti on a mission trip a few years back. One evening, his group had several free hours. Their translator, a young man who aspired to be a doctor, gave Phil a tour of the community. They ended up at the young translator’s home. Among his family members was his sister, a young woman, who Phil said, had the most terrible vacuum in her eyes: there, but somehow disconnected and isolated from everyone else. The translator later told Philip, “She has a demon.”

We who live in a Western post-modern world hear stories like that and have our doubts. We deem ourselves too sophisticated to believe that there's such things as demons.

But listen: The book of Genesis tells us that the serpent was the most subtle, the most sneaky and sly of all creatures. If Jesus' encounter with the devil in the wilderness tells us anything, it's that the devil is a master marketer. In some cultures, he puts people under his thumb with overt demon possession. In others, he convinces people that he's not around and so gains free rein to wreak all sorts of havoc to nations, communities, families, individuals, even churches. I am firmly convinced that there really is a devil and that there really are demons.
Luke, the writer of our gospel lesson for this morning, Luke 8:26-39, has traditionally been thought to be a doctor, an educated person. Of all the New Testament writers, who all composed their books and letters in the first-century world's second language, Greek, Luke writes with the greatest vocabulary and the most precision. 

When Luke writes of someone who has a physical ailment that causes them seizures, he makes it clear that the person is suffering from a physical ailment. 

But when Luke reports on someone who suffers a spiritual ailment like demon possession, he gives that information as well. Luke identifies people’s problems with specificity. 

In today’s gospel lesson, Luke 8:26-39, which recounts an event that occurred in Gentile territory on the eastern banks of the Galilee, where steep cliffs meet the sea, Jesus and His disciples encounter a man possessed by demons. 

Not just one demon, but a legion of demons. Legion was a term used in the first-century world for a 5000-man unit of the Roman army. So, a regiment of demons had taken hold of this young man. Luke doesn’t explain how they came to take up residence in the young man. But he does explain what happens when Jesus takes on the evil of the world, the devil, and our sinful selves that can engulf us

And he does show us the appropriate response of those set free from evil by Jesus

It's these two things we see in this passage.
In verses 26-29, Jesus and the disciples come ashore in the region of the ten Greek cities established in territory once conquered by Alexander the Great, the decapolis. They encounter this demon-possessed man. Of him, Luke says, “For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.” (Luke 8:37)

When evil or sin holds sway in our lives, it isolates us from God and others. The great commandment in which Jesus summarizes God’s will for human beings calls us to love God and to love others, to live in community with others. This doesn’t mean we should never have times of solitude, times when we seek out the Lord in Scripture and prayer. Jesus needed such times and we do too. 

But God made us to be communal beings. God created Eve, you’ll remember, because He said that it wasn’t good for Adam to live alone. “How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!” David wrote in Psalm 133:1. The demon-possessed man lived among the tombs of the dead, in “solitary places.”

The legion of demons possessing the man, as spiritual beings, fallen angels, immediately know who Jesus is. 

Jesus sets out to free the man victimized by this demonic occupation, calling the demons out. The demons are afraid that Jesus is going to send them to “the abyss,” the place of the dead and the damned, what we call hell, a place of isolation from God, a place devoid of life and love

Since they’re in a Gentile enclave, a place not constrained by Jewish dietary laws which prohibited eating pork, there’s a herd of 2000 pigs nearby. Jesus sends the demons into the pigs, who run over the cliffs into the sea below.

Jesus has set the man free! That should have been a cause for celebration in the community. A man had been set free from evil. But all the pig herders see is that Jesus used some sort of supernatural power to send their business assets to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. They run into town and the surrounding area to report this outrage.

One of the worst traits of our fallen human race is how readily we accept sin and evil, how easily we see the suffering of others as “normal.” As Canadian rock musician Bruce Cockburn says, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” 

Instead of being concerned for the demon-possessed man, the pig herders (and the other people of the nearby town, as we’ll see) had come to accept his affliction as a permanent state of being. 

Are there people whose suffering we simply accept? 

Are there people subjected to injustice and mistreatment about which we say nothing because we don’t want to rock any boats, especially our own? 

Are there people to whose daily walk with sin and death we have simply become resigned, with no thought of praying for them, or sharing Jesus with them, or helping them?

When the people of the town go out to the fields to check things out, finding all the pigs dead and the once demon-possessed man clothed and in his right mind, they’re terrified that Jesus had disrupted their “normal.” 

“Then,” verse 37 of our gospel lesson tells us, “all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.” 

Do you know why most people, even people on the membership rolls of churches, don’t want to have too much to do with Jesus? Because they’re afraid (we all can be afraid) that Jesus is going to change our lives, our “normal”

Set eternally free from sin and death by what Jesus has done for us, we’re afraid that He might call us to live differently, to think differently. 

He might call us spend our time and money differently. 

He might call us to love the unlovable, serve the needy, help others to know Jesus, fight injustice, pray for the spread of the gospel.

“Please, go away, Jesus,” the people of town beg Jesus. 

Jesus will never go where He’s not invited. Which is why I make it a point on many Fridays at the end of my office hours, to walk around this building, going into every room, to invite Jesus to come and be Lord over this place and over the people who enter it. 

I ask that Jesus will make the presence of God’s Holy Spirit unavoidable when people come here. 

I touch every seat in the sanctuary, as well as  the pulpit, the piano, the altar, the baptismal font, the music stands, the keyboard, the drum, the mixer board, and the video equipment and I ask Jesus to be Lord of everyone who sits here and of everything that’s in here that we would live in the confidence and hope of knowing that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and that we will go into the world filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered to share Jesus with others, ready to welcome Jesus into every part of our own lives!

When Jesus leaves the Decapolis at the request of the villagers, the man from whom Jesus cast out the demons wants to go with Him. But Jesus says that the man needs to stay. “Return home and tell how much God has done for you,” Jesus says (Luke 8:39). 

Jesus calls some people to be witnesses for Him as missionaries in South Africa, like Claire Brown, who will be speaking here on July 14. 

He calls others to take mission trips to Haiti; others to visit and pray with folks at hospitals; others to help and to share the Bible with victims of tornadoes; others to meet privately with people around God’s Word to nurture them in the faith. 

All of us are called to share the good news of new life through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus in our everyday lives. 

We’re to share what God has done for us in Jesus, even with those who want Jesus to go away. 

Luke tells us that, at Jesus' command, “the man [once filled with demons] went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). 

One day, believers will be with Jesus. 

But for now, our call is the same one given to the man by Jesus that day: to live for Him and share Him with people right where we are. Amen

Friday, June 21, 2019

Winker Amazingly Avoids Tag

In the Reds' 7-1 win over the Brewers last night, Jesse Winker pulled what's been called a Matrix move to elude the tag at third to record a triple. Pretty amazing.

But more than the Matrix diversionary moves, Winker's hurdle over the third baseman reminds me of the hurdling of Chris "Beanie" Wells, the Ohio State running back, during the 2008 season.

But, back to baseball, a cleaner jump for a score was turned in by the Toronto Blue Jays' Chris Coghlan back in 2017.

All pretty amazing stuff!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Prayer: "A public office is a public trust"

Once again last evening, I was able to share the Invocation for the Centerville City Council. This was the prayer:
Heavenly Father, a public office is a public trust. That may get lost in the routine rhythms and challenges of meetings and decision-making. But it’s precisely in the midst of the routine, the seemingly ordinary, that the members of this city council are to fulfill the responsibilities of their offices. Even the most routine of decisions in all of our lives can have an enormous impact on others. So, as this city council meets again tonight, give its members Your wisdom. Grant that they will treat the routine duties they discharge tonight for what they are: opportunities to do Your will, to love You and to love their neighbors in practical ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Sharing this prayer on Facebook tonight, I wrote:
Scripture enjoins us to pray for leaders, whether we agree with them or not. The apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Timothy 2:1-2) 
This is a remarkable passage in that Paul is telling Timothy that the people of Christ's Church in the first-century Roman Empire were to pray for those in authority, even despots like the Roman Emperors, for the sake of the people they govern. 
This doesn't mean that we need to support leaders' agendas or obey them when and if they are unjust, cruel, or hateful. In fact, Christians have an obligation to not conform to such "leadership," even as we pray for those who wield authority in evil ways. Paul writes in the New Testament book of Romans, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Holy Trinity: How God Loves

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, yesterday.]

John 8:48-59
Two-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, three strangers appeared beneath the oak trees at a place called Mamre, where a husband and wife and their party were staying. The couple had come from a place in what we know today as Iraq, Ur. Practicing the hospitality that was part of their faith in the God they had come to know and worship, the couple--Abraham and Sarah--welcomed the threesome to their dwelling and fed them a feast. Over the course of their visit, the three made a promise that in one year, Sarah, an old woman, would give birth to the son promised to them by God. They come to realize that they are in the presence of God.

Later, the three strangers engage in a private conversation. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? [they ask] Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” [Genesis 18:17-19] 

Was God talking to Himself? 

Yes, said Saint Augustine, a 4th century Christian scholar and founder of the Augustinian order of monks of which Martin Luther would be a member four millennia after Abraham and Sarah welcomed the Lord--Yahweh, I AM. In that conversation among the three leaving Abraham, God was talking to Himself, Augustine believed. I agree with Augustine.

If so, it’s not the first time the Bible records God doing that. In Genesis 1:26, we’re told that God spoke to Himself: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...”

These Bible passages give us hints at what Jesus later made explicit in the Great Commission, that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s three-in-one nature is part of the mystery of God’s identity and being, but the Trinity--a term never used in the Bible that we use to describe what God has revealed about Himself--is more than just an odd theological concept. God’s triune nature is essential to Who He is, whether we’re ever able to fully understand it or not.

From the oaks at Mamre, fast forward two thousand years to our Gospel lesson. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He’s teaching. He’s met opposition. Among the opponents are those who had believed in Him, but are now turned off by the challenge of being His disciples. (That happens a lot.) These people are so upset with Jesus that they accuse Him of having a demon [John 8:48]. (They also accuse Him of being a Samaritan, reflecting their prejudice against folks from Samaria.)

Jesus then ushers them (and us) into the mysterious realm of the Holy Trinity. “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” Jesus is pointing to the Father Who judges sin. Jesus seeks to bring the Father glory, not Himself, just as the Father seeks glory for Jesus, not Himself.

This is the nature of the love that exists within the Trinity: self-giving love that doesn’t seek for itself, self-sufficient love that didn’t need to create the universe or the human race in God’s image, but chooses to do so out of pure, giving love. It was this same love, Jesus said, that brought Him to the world. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..."

If you really honored God, Jesus tells His fellow Jews, you would see that I am God and you would honor Me too. The crowd is scandalized. “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

This pious crowd is paralyzed with anger at Jesus. Who did He think that He was? They should know the answer to that question by now. They should remember what the three strangers--identified in our English translations of our Bibles as L-O-R-D, all four letters capitalized, translating Yahweh--I AM, the name God, would reveal to be His own to Moses--had said that day by the oaks of Mamre. Yahweh had said: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” [Genesis 18:18]

It was through Jesus that God’s promise to Abraham that Abraham and all people who trust in Yahweh would be made righteous and would become a great eternal nation, the kingdom of God. Through God the Son made flesh, all who turn from sin and believe, are members of God’s new creation

Abraham, Jesus says, had heard this promise and if Abraham had been standing in the temple that day, he would have been filled with joy. But the crowd of skeptics in John 8 aren't thinking as Jesus says Abraham would think at all. Verse 57: “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!

Jesus’ response isn’t grammatical. But it is definitive. Yes, Jesus is saying, I know exactly what Abraham thought. Not only am I older than Abraham, I made Abraham. I gave life to everything that breathes and moves. “Before Abraham was born, Yahweh, I AM!

Now, this is such a stunning claim that if it isn’t true--if Jesus isn’t, as we sing at Christmas, God in flesh appearing, if He isn’t the second person of the triune God, the crowd would be right to be scandalized. As C.S. Lewis’ famous formulation puts it, either Jesus is a liar; a madman, or precisely who He claims to be. As Lewis writes: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus didn’t intend for the crowd in the temple to see Him as a great teacher or a magnetic leader who might give them what they wanted. Jesus wanted them (and us) to see is that He is the loving God of the universe in human flesh, Who bears our sin and death on the cross and is raised by the Father to bring the death of sin and death to all who trust in Him. 

It’s to help the people who are rejecting Him in our lesson to see Who He is that Jesus provokes a confrontation with them. It’s why He provokes a confrontation with us in every burning word of Scripture

Is Jesus God in the flesh? 

Is He the incarnation of the God that Abraham saw back at the oaks of Mamre? 

If He is, then why would any of us mess around with living lives of unrepentant sin, that break faith with our Creator and our Redeemer, that dehumanize us, that fail to love God or neighbor? Why would we insist on our right to take His name in vain? Why would we justify adultery, in mind or body? Why would we make excuses for murder, physically or through the poison of gossip? Why would we want to take ourselves and our own desires more seriously than we do the will of the One Who made us and brought salvation to us on the cross? Why do we often choose to worry rather than trust in Him? It was for these sins and more that Jesus died for you and me and seeks to set us free, covering them over with His forgiving grace, and putting us at liberty to live as human beings are meant to live.

On hearing Jesus’ claim to be God, verse 59 says: “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

As I reflect on this passage, I wonder, did the crowd want to stone Jesus because they thought He was dishonoring-- blaspheming-- 

God? Or did they want to stone Him because they knew that He was God enfleshed and saw their chance to take advantage of His weakness, His voluntary acceptance of the limits of humanity

And it’s here that we see the practical implications of this strange doctrine of the Trinity. It was out of love that God the Father sent God the Son. It was this same love that caused the Father to bring Jesus back to life. Not love for Himself, but from love for the Son and love for us that the Father raised the Son to new life and through Him, raises all who trust in Jesus to new life. 

Without God’s triune nature then, we could not know that "God is love." Without God's triune nature, we could not be saved

Nor could we know or believe in this God, because it’s God the Holy Spirit, the comforter sent in love by God to call us to faith, who makes it possible for us to believe and to have life in Jesus’ name.

If you remember nothing else about the Trinity, remember this: It’s from the love that God has known within Himself--the love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for each other--that He loves you and makes you His own through Christ. 

The Trinity is how God loves. It's also how He loves us. Three times over, He loves us, and we are eternally the richer for it! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Saturday, June 15, 2019


"...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..." (Isaiah 64:6)

We can never be good enough to merit God's forgiveness and favor and life. These are all gifts He offers to all willing to believe in His Son, Jesus. 

It is an Air Force craft, after all

Donald Trump doesn't like the "baby blue" that's part of the exterior color scheme of the presidential airplane.

Hmm. I always took it to be "sky blue," as in the center of the United States Air Force logo.

That seems appropriate for an aircraft designated as Air Force One.

Historian Michael Beschloss shares this regarding the font President Kennedy chose for the fuselage of the plane.

Ohtani and Bauers Hit for the Cycle on Two Consecutive Days

I used to think that hitting for the cycle--hitting a single, double, triple, and home run in one game--was a meaningless stat. I suppose that it is in the grand scheme of things.

But to accomplish it, you have to possess power and speed as well as be a generally disciplined hitter.

On June 13, pitcher/hitter phenom Shohei Ohtani hit for the cycle for the Los Angeles Angels, becoming the first Japanese-born major leaguer to accomplish the feat.

Jake Bauers matched the accomplishment for Cleveland yesterday, doing so in probably more dramatic fashion by hitting a homer to complete the cycle. Ohtani began his hitting barrage with a home run. (To me, in some ways, a triple is a harder hit to make. But that's an academic discussion for baseball nerds, I suppose.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

When the Holy Spirit Shows Up

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this past Sunday.]

Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost was a festival of the Jewish calendar long before the Pentecost Day we Christians commemorate today. Pentecost was a harvest festival, marking one of the two harvests that happened in Israel every year. 

But Pentecost was more than just an agricultural celebration. It happened fifty days after Passover

Passover, you know, celebrates how God delivered His people from the angel of death and from their slavery in Egypt after they smeared the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorframes of their dwellings. Fifty days later on Pentecost, God came down to His people at Mount Sinai to give them His law, the Ten Commandments.

Our Christian celebration of Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter, remembering the day when Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, rose from the dead. Ten days prior to the events described in our second lesson for today, Acts 2:1-21, the resurrected Jesus ascended to heaven. 

Even before that, as we see in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus promised that He would come to His Church again. Like God descended from heaven to give His Law to His ancient people, the Jews, Jesus would descend again to those who belong to Him. Jesus, God the Son, would send God the Holy Spirit. “[T]he Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” Jesus promised.” (John 14:26) Pentecost is the fulfillment of that promise.

Our lesson from Acts, too long for us to go through in detail together this morning, is divisible into three sections. 

The first section, verses 1 to 4 tells us that the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples

It happened when “they [the disciples] were all together in one place,” Acts 2:1 says. What were they doing at the time? Acts 1:14 gives us the answer: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” 

There is nothing more important for the growth of our faith, the mission of the Church, or the usefulness of the Church to the world than helpless prayer

In fact, if our praying isn’t helpless, we aren’t praying. Without a clear understanding that we can do nothing without Jesus (John 15:5), we’re not praying, we’re just talking. You can be sure that as the 120 disciples of the early Church, a smaller number than gathers at Living Water each Sunday morning, prayed together on that Pentecost, they were feeling helpless. Jesus had risen from the dead, confirming that He was God the Son Who conquers sin and death for those who call out to Him as Lord. But He had also given them a huge job: “...[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) The disciples were to go into the same world that had rejected and crucified Jesus and say that He had risen from the dead and that all who turn from sin and trust in Him have life with God that never ends. 

“Wait a minute,” the apostles might have thought on hearing Jesus' commission. “We have a bad track record for perseverance in the face of opposition. How are losers like us going to be Your witnesses?” 

But Jesus had told them that they would fulfill His mission for them after He sent His Holy Spirit

And so, helpless, not knowing anything about the Holy Spirit, they gathered together to pray. 

They trusted in Jesus’ promise, “...where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) 

They prayed for God to come to them in some way, much as many of you have been praying in regard to Reach Forward in recent months. 

This is when the Spirit came to them. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4) The Holy Spirit has been empowering the Church’s witness for Christ ever since

We saw the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the Church’s witness for Christ this past week, as dozens of you and other members of North American Lutheran Church congregations brought help, love, and prayer in Jesus’ name to those affected by the Dayton tornadoes.

The second section of our lesson from Acts shows the varied reactions people have when the Word about Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, comes to people

Acts 2 recounts three reactions. 

The first was a positive one. This reaction is exemplified first in the praying disciples themselves. Despite their previous fears, they were emboldened to go into the streets and share Jesus with others. Later in Acts 2, we’re told that some three-thousand people also reacted positively to the disciples’ message of new life through faith in Jesus and came to believe in Him. 

The second reaction was from people who were bewildered and amazed (Acts 2:6-7). Like people trying to figure out how a special effect was accomplished in a movie, this group, drawn from around the Mediterranean Basin, pays little attention to the message the Spirit spread through those first disciples, instead wondering how the disciples were speaking in their own languages. 

Their bewilderment is matched by some people at Aldi when our Living Water young people help them load their groceries in their car or give them a quarter for a shopping cart. “Why are you doing this?” they sometimes ask. “Because God loves you,” our kids say. In a dog-eat-dog world in which there’s always a catch, people are bewildered when the free gift of new life through Christ is made known and accessible to them. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit! 

A third group had a different reaction on the first Pentecost: They wrote the whole thing off as craziness. “They have had too much wine,” they said (Acts 2:13). 

Last week, a friend re-posted on Facebook something I wrote about people who commend a perverted understanding of Christian faith. A friend of hers commented that all Christian faith is perverted. When I tried to explain how Christ has forgiven me and worked at transforming my life over the past four decades, the commenter wrote to say that she was sorry that I had been brainwashed and that Jesus hadn’t died for my sins. My prayer is that God will use me to gradually open her to Christ. But even when our witness is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the good news of Jesus will, at least at first, be written off by some who find it too good to be true.

In the third section of our lesson from Acts, Peter, who denied knowing Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested, stands up and tells the throng in Jerusalem the gospel, the good news, that every human being needs

Quoting the Old Testament prophet Joel, Peter says: “...everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21) 

We don’t have to do anything. 

We don’t have to jump through religious hoops or have it together or know the secret handshake. 

When the Holy Spirit prompts us to call on the name of the Lord Jesus to be our God and Savior and only hope, we know that we are saved

And so are those who come to believe in Jesus as we share this good news with them! The Holy Spirit is the One Who makes all of this possible.

“But, Pastor Mark,” some will say, “how can I receive the Holy Spirit?” If you’ve been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and believe in Jesus, you already have the Holy Spirit. He’s the one who enables you to believe, however imperfectly, and to confess, however haltingly, that Jesus is Lord. He’s the One Who empowers you when you feel defeated by life or sin to trust that no matter what, the crucified and risen Jesus can still be trusted to give you life, forgiveness, and eternity.

Others will say, “Pastor, I feel guilty. I’ve never had an experience of the Holy Spirit like the disciples did on the first Pentecost.” Someone has pointed out that no two miracles of Jesus were precisely the same. It’s a mark of God’s infinite creativity and of the individual relationships Jesus desires with each of us, that while faith in Christ and growth in that faith are always sparked by encountering Jesus in the Word and in the sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion), God can come to people in many ways. 

On the first Pentecost, God’s Spirit came to His people on the rush of a loud and mighty wind and came to still others in the proclamation of ordinary Galileeans, filled with the Spirit, speaking good news to the Jerusalem crowds. 

God came to the Old Testament prophet Elijah not in a wind, or an earthquake, or a fire, but in a whisper

The apostle Paul teaches us that if we can believe in Jesus as our Lord, the Holy Spirit has come to us. “I want you to know,” he says, “that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

If you call out to the God revealed in Jesus, you can trust that the Holy Spirit is living in you. 

You can trust too, that the Holy Spirit can use you to bring the good news of Jesus to others. As a Christian, you’re among God’s Pentecost people! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]