Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
John 15:26-27, 16:4-11
A popular phrase describes feelings of excitement or exhilaration as “a rush.” The events of the day of Pentecost begin with a sound like a rushing wind, followed by a sight of what seemed like tongues of fire that separated and then came to rest on the head of each apostle. The result was that other kind
For the apostles, I am sure the rush included increased adrenaline flow, a rise in heart rate, etc. But it was more than that. We are not told if the result of anything wind-like was visible, as well as audible, but those men, like sailing ships on a windy sea, were propelled by what happened to them.
Picking up on that idea, Glendon Harris once wrote about “The Holy Gust.” The words ghost and gust are related; in both Hebrew and Greek, the words for “Spirit” are also the words for “wind” or “breath.” In Ezekiel’s vision, when he called to the wind, the Spirit or breath of God came into the dead, dry bones and they became living beings. On Pentecost, the Spirit breathed new life into the apostles and the Church was born.
After receiving the Spirit’s power, Peter preached boldly: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” He said more, of course, but what he said had impact. Sunday’s lesson from Acts picks up with the people being cut to the heart and asking what they should do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ and for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
About three thousand people were added to the faithful that day, and they did not just go home and forget about it. Luke wrote: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
I have asked confirmation classes and even groups of adults: “Who baptized the 3,000 people?” Most will answer, “Peter.” Then I ask, “How long did that take?” The answers vary, but calculations begin to reveal a problem. If Peter took only one minute apiece to learn the person’s name, ask a few questions, do the baptizing and greet the next person, it would have taken him two days, two nights and two hours straight! Even at 30 seconds apiece, it would take 25 hours. If all 11 apostles baptized people at the steady rate of one minute apiece, it would have taken four and one-half hours.
Acts tells us that 120 disciples were gathered together that day. My guess is that they all shared the Good News and all of them baptized people. That brings the numbers into something more understandable and workable. At that rate, they could take five minutes apiece and still finish in about two hours. At one minute apiece, they could baptize all 3,000 in 25 minutes.
The growth of the early church was fantastic! Three thousand people in one day is amazing — adding more every day is even more amazing. If every LCMS congregation added just one person to its confirmed membership every day for 1998, the Synod would more than double in size! The rush of the Spirit adding to their number “daily” must have provided the early church more than one kind of rush. Here’s a rush from the present. Dr. Eugene Bunkowske says that about 23,000 people are being baptized in Africa every day!
In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells His disciples: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me. And you also must testify.” When the time came, they certainly did testify. I think the example of Peter being transformed from cold turkey at Jesus’ trial to exuberant preacher at Pentecost is a great encouragement to all of us who think we are too timid or otherwise inadequate to share the Gospel with others. On his own power and resources, he was a dismal failure. In the power of the Spirit, God’s amazing grace came through with amazing results.
The story is told of a ship lying still on a totally becalmed sea. The face of the water was like a giant mirror. Nothing except the men and mice on the ship moved. Then, a sailor noticed that at the very top of the mast a little pennant began to flutter. He called to the others to unfurl the upper sails. Soon the ship moved on the face of still quiet water, driven by currents of the upper air. Glendon Harris suggested that the story is something of a parable of life. Whether as individuals or as a church, when we find ourselves going dead in the water, we need to spread the sails that catch the impetus of higher and better things. Moved by the “Upper Current,” the Holy Gust, we move forward.
Jesus told His disciples, and we are His disciples, that the Spirit would testify and so must we. When God provides the task, God provides the power. Christmas is a gigantic festival in the church. Every year we remember Emmanuel — God with us, but in that exact same sense, God is no longer with us. After the ascension, Jesus was no longer physically present with His disciples. I love Christmas, and I would probably make more of it, rather than less, but Christians of our era should probably make even more of Pentecost. After Pentecost, although Jesus was not present physically, He was present SPIRITually. Rather than marvel at the devotion and success of the early Christians, we would do well to copy them in daily devotion, regular gathering for the empowering of the Spirit and going out on Christ’s mission. With the Upper Wind in our sails, who or what could stop us, let alone slow us down?
Some people look for the Spirit to come in similar dramatic wind and fire today. They forget the three years of intensive, daily training in Jesus’ Word that had gone before. They forget the institution and first reception of the Sacraments. They want the rush of emotion and exhilaration without taking the time to walk with and sit at the feet of the Lord. The Spirit’s sources are really no different today than they were two thousand years ago. In the Word and Sacraments, those who repent and are baptized are not only forgiven but empowered by God Himself.
Years ago, we got a black Labrador puppy and named him Brute. He is the most enthusiastic dog I have ever had. He runs and leaps high into the air for no other reason than he can. We also had a hound named Ginger. When Brute arrived, she played her role as queen of our property to the extreme. She was regal, but grumpy and bilious. I had to intervene a few times to keep her discipline of Mr. Enthusiasm to a minimum.
We also had a cat named George. He had no trouble keeping Brute at bay, but when he used his claws, causing the puppy to yipe, he had to answer to the grouchy queen. I guess Ginger thought that if she couldn’t hurt the puppy, no cat was going to! One night, I took the dogs for a walk. George joined us. In the dark, like a shadow of a tree at night, Brute disappears. George did not see Brute approach him and the puppy startled him. He hissed loudly and aggressively. Suddenly, I heard the thunder of Ginger’s paws hitting the dirt as she zipped across the yard to intervene. George also heard it and immediately rolled over on his back in a position of total submission. The thundering sound had captured his total attention, and his response was, “Hey, Ginger, it’s cool.”
May the sound like a wind capture our attention this Sunday. May the fire of God’s love lead us to repent the sins that necessitated the Lord’s trial, suffering and death. May the power of the Spirit in the Word and Sacraments enable us to be all that Christ has called us to be. Our lives need the ventilation of God to breathe some fresh life into us. I can imagine that Christ sometimes wants to blow us right out of our seats, to thunder down on us and motivate us — not into submission, but into action. The Lord who humbled Himself to come down to where we are is still working, in the Spirit, to raise us up to where God is. His grace and love make Him willing to meet us where we are, but we should not confuse that by thinking we are where He wants us to be.
Colonel (Buffalo) Bill Cody used to tell a story about an Englishman who was actually blown right off his wagon seat by a gust of wind swooping down the rocky mountains. The startled fellow brushed the sand and gravel from his whiskers and said, “I say! I think you overdo ventilation in this country.” We are in no danger of over ventilation from the Upper Wind — the Breath and Spirit of God. No, as I look around I see it quite the other way. Too many lack the Gusto!