Sermon text: Acts 2: 1-21
It’s high school graduation season, full of caps and gowns, pomp and circumstance, rousing speeches about the future, and all the honors and celebrations that are due for these fine young people.
While I’m certain that this season comes with an overabundance of emotions and sentiments, the one that always seems most prevalent is the sentiment of possibilities. You’ve done your time, you’re free, the open road is there in front of you and any enterprising individual can follow the path and achieve marvelous things.
The last time I graduated academically was a decade ago, in 2012, as I finished seminary. It was the end of more than 20 years of education. It was an exciting time, like all graduations, remembering and recognizing the degrees that had been earned. But again, like all graduations, I had one foot in the present and one foot in the future.
Like a small percentage of my classmates I hadn’t a clue where I was going after graduation. I knew I was coming home, to the Allegheny Synod, but I didn’t know precisely where. My initial call process with a congregation fell through and now I was simply waiting, imagining the possibilities of who and where I might serve. Hoping for a paycheck before my first student loan payments were due. I was primed. I was ready. I had all my new ideas, all my energy. I simply needed the opportunity to use my education and passion.
This is my tenth time preaching on Pentecost Sunday since I was ordained, and this is honestly the first time I made the connection between Pentecost and graduation. It’s not that Pentecost is a graduation. It’s not like the disciples were getting their degrees from the University of Jesus Christ and throwing their caps in the air. But at Pentecost the followers of Jesus move into a new chapter. The church enters into its first chapter. There are possibilities.
The story of Pentecost is just as remarkable as Christmas or Easter, and just as important. God’s presence was made known on that day in a new display of signs and miracles: there’s a mighty, rushing wind, there’s tongues of fire that rest on the disciples, and there’s this business of speaking in foreign languages. At the Tower of Babel God used a diversity of language to confuse the people, thwarting their foolish attempt to build a way into heaven, and on Pentecost God is using the gift of diverse language to help spread the good news of Jesus Christ into every corner of the known world.
Think for a moment about the graduate mindset, ready to take on the world, ready to make a difference, ready to prove themselves, ready to put their education to use. Think about the transformation of the disciples on Pentecost as they are sent, as the begin their journey as apostles, as they head into the world and make an impact by sharing what they’ve witnessed and what they’ve learned. They have seen God at work and now they’re going to continue that mission.
I also thought about the fact that when you graduate you do not head into the world alone. Instead, you walk, equipped with the influence and support of your family, the social learnings from your friends, and the words and wisdom of your teachers ringing in your ears. How many times in my ministry have I recalled the lessons and phrases of my teachers, and how much have those memories helped me?
In the same way, on this festival Sunday, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and how it rests on the apostles. It fills them. In the absence of Jesus God sends the Spirit to guide the church and to remind them of everything Jesus taught.
Often times we treat the Holy Spirit as this wholly ambiguous entity that we cannot fully describe or appreciate. We talk about how it is unpredictable like its symbols of fire and wind. We know that it is creative, empowering, and guiding. But we also embrace its mystery. We appreciate that we cannot fully know or describe the Holy Spirit in the same way that we cannot fully know God the Father.
However, deep down the Holy Spirit represents the presence of Jesus Christ. That presence is found and is active in every single one of us. The Holy Spirit is how we know and remember Jesus. And so, as difficult as the Spirit may be to fully comprehend, we know that when we witness Jesus in action, or when we are acting as the hands and feet of Christ, that the Spirit is known and present.
Best of all, even though we may not speak foreign languages through God’s power or have tongues of fire resting on us or see God coming to us in the mighty rushing wind, we have the same power of the Spirit coursing through our veins. It reminds us, teaches us, and directs us.
Like the apostles who boldly took to the streets in Jerusalem we have decisions to make about our ministry. Every Pentecost celebration is like a graduation reminder. While we may not be finished with our faith education, we are certainly equipped with the best thing God can provide: Godself. The Holy Spirit is on my shoulder showing my Christ just like the lessons of Dr. Carlson or Dr. Schram or Dr. Koshan reverberate in my consciousness.
Like the graduate we are call to enter into the world. We are called to participate. We are called to make a difference. We are called to make a change. So may we, like the graduating senior, filter out into our community and make our mark. AMEN