Holy Spirit, Batman!

Sermon from Acts 2 and Galatians 5 – June 4, 2017

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Narrator: Our reading continues in the letter written to the church in Galatia, the 5th chapter:

Narrator: Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

It could be easy to detach yourself from both readings today. The story from Acts might seem a bit too weird to relate to your life. When have tongues of fire sat on your shoulder? When have you been able to suddenly speak and understand another language? And what’s with the list of all the places and people we can’t pronounce all that well?

And this part of the letter to the Galatians seems a little dire as Paul trots out a list of stuff that might convict you of just having a body. fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

Kind of makes you want to shut the book and say, “well, I can’t live up to this standard!”

And yet, here we are, daring to find ourselves in these two stories.

I want to encourage your curiosity about scripture and how it relates to your life. So embrace verse 12 today: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ What are your questions and thoughts about today’s readings?

The Holy Spirit can often seem elusive to us or difficult to explain. Yet the giving of the Holy Spirit is God’s very specific and particular way of moving us outward and forward, of teaching us new languages. The Holy Spirit is what brings us together to worship and then what sends us out, with purpose, with love stirred up by the Holy Spirit to be shared with the world.

It is on purpose that we hand out a Worship 101 definitions page each and every week. It’s for those who might feel pretty darn uncomfortable being in worship. It’s for those who may not speak this language.
But I wonder, what new languages are we being taught? What new language are we being encouraged to learn? Think of the insider language that you have at school or your work place. Abbreviations and slogans that everyone can refer to without even thinking. And if you don’t know those slogans or abbreviations, you don’t know what’s going on, right? If you’re in the education community, perhaps you know some of these: PCS, IEP, 504, differentiated instruction, individual learning styles, cooperative learning, assessment, assessment, assessment, instructional scaffolding, assessment, student progress monitoring, assessment, SBAC, STAR. There were medical terms left on my facebook feed along with cubicle world stuff my sisters speak. Pick a job or an age in school and there is new language you simply gotta learn.

Now, think of worship or even the language of Christianity and think of the ways that we might assume people speak the same language as we do. It’s not our job to dumb things down – people can learn. But it is our job to invite people into the language and the experience of this kind of community without expecting them to already know it.  I carried a dictionary of theological terms especially my first year of seminary so I could look up eschatology and ecclesiology and missional and monotheistic therapeutic deism. Or, it’s as simple as saying that Bible study will be held at Andy’s house and then not explaining or introducing who Andy is and where she might live.

Part of my job as Head Usher for beer & hymns is to talk to people who may not be at Main Street Sports Bar for beer & hymns. This last Tuesday I talked to a table of folks getting ready for a softball game who headed out before the singing began. And then I made my way to the end of the bar where 5 guys were settled in drinking beer and doing shots. And I said to them, “Did you know you’re here for beer and hymns?” They did not but were actually curious and so I told them – you don’t have to leave and you don’t have to stay. This is how it works. And they stuck around. And sometimes they were raucously involved in singing. And other times they were raucously involved in drinking and commenting on the game and whatever else. And I watched Nan invite one of them to dance. And I watched Sandy invite one to march along and play the tambourine. And it was fun.

I stopped and spoke to them at the end of the night and they thanked me for being part of this thing called beer & hymns. That they’d had a great time. Now by this time, they were clearly drunk and they did not clean up their language for a pastor or for anyone else’s ears around them. And I thought, are we willing to be immersed in a language that potentially offends or that we don’t speak on our own? Are we willing to take a risk at not knowing or understanding bar culture in order to share Good News?

This is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the letter Paul wrote, he compares our old lives to our new lives. And the Holy Spirit frees us from being bound up to the things that kill us, like licentiousness and enmities, like carousing and anger and quarrels. It frees us to live into the gifts that give life. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control 

This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to lead us into new places where we need to learn the new language and to speak love in that way – through dancing and tambourines. Through brave invitations into joy. Through perplexed wondering.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit that frees us to love others. It is the same Holy Spirit that Nova will be bathed in just a few minutes. I’ll even proclaim to her that she is sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And she’s going to be freed in that water – freed from the things that could hold her down and kill her every day. She’ll be freed to love by the grace we celebrate in Jesus Christ.

It’s not about being welcomed into an exclusive club with coded language. It’s about being sent out to learn new languages and to speak the universal language of love.











  1. Allen Gislason says

    Jesus had promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit (the power from on high, see Luke 24:49). That’s why they hung around after the crucifixion; Jesus had told them to do so. So, as Pastor Laura asked last Sunday, what does this have to do with us today? And what does the Galatian passage (5:16-26) have to do with us ?
    I thought it would be fun to open up discussion of Sunday sermons, if there would be any interest. Of course, anyone can start a discussion in our church blog. Pastor Laura has been encouraging us of late to ask questions about her sermons.
    Do you have any thoughts about last Sunday’s sermon, any questions? We can explore them together. If you weren’t at church last Sunday, you can read and/or listen to the sermon of our website. We could start with the two questions above in the first paragraph.

  2. Ron Johnson says

    Laura, loved hearing about, then feeling the cacophony of sounds and words of the Holy Spirit. Thanks for bringing it to life for us!

  3. The Holy Spirit is moving among us as we ponder scripture together. May we stay open to where the spirit is leading us every day!