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The Day of Pentecost at Old Zion in Philadelphia May 27, 2007

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The Day of Pentecost May 27th 2007 Old Zion Lutheran Church

Genesis 11: 1-9 Psalm 104: 24-34,35b

Acts 2:1-21 John 14:8-17, 25-27

Today is Pentecost and that means the 50th Day of Easter, which is somewhat like a Jubilee. Of old, it was called the Feast of Weeks — because it is one week of weeks, i.e., seven weeks or 49 days and on the morrow of the seventh Sabbath, the Children of Israel celebrated the 50th day as the Festival of the Harvest.

Jesus looks at the crowds of people coming toward him on the hills and in the fields, and he says, “You say it is not yet time for the harvest? Look around you and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting” (John 4:35-36). In another place he says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few — pray the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into the harvest” (Mat. 9:37-38).

Pentecost is the Harvest of the Gospel. It is about the Holy Spirit plucking up and gathering in more of the number of those being saved. Peter is preaching the suffering death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he is now doing that among all the people worshiping in the temple. The other disciples and he are no longer hiding, all frightened and huddled in a locked room so that Jesus had to appear to them there and say, “Peace be with you — as the Father sends me, so I am sending you” — sending you out of this place out to be among the people.

And out of the heart of God, and we will say with the West, out of the Father and the Son,[1] came the glad procession of the Holy Spirit, like a mighty wind, because indeed, in those days the wind was thought to be the breath of God. A deep down freshness was blowing in the wind, sweeping through the hearts of the people with sweet new life, filling them with the quivering sensation of God’s love, making even the ends of their hair tingle.

People were being created anew and they received a taste of the new life and salvation Jesus had come to bring — and they asked “What must we do to be saved?” and the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples’ heads like tongues of fire and they started preaching the gospel with an intensity and passion never heard before.

Remember back in the gospel story how the authorities sent the guards to arrest Jesus, but they came back empty-handed saying, “Never have we heard anyone speak like this before!” (John 7:46) Jesus insisted that the words he spoke were not his; they were words of his Father, the Words of God.

The disciples now preached with tongues of fire, too. That means that the Holy Spirit gave them a command of the language far beyond the limits they had come to accept for themselves, and in languages they had never spoken before.

And it was more the wonder because they were Galileans who could always be picked out by their accent. And here the Holy Spirit was speaking in many different languages through them so that the Jews who had been dispersed throughout the world heard them speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own languages.

Now I don’t know if you have ever been in Pentecostal services where everyone starts to speak in tongues. It was very shocking for me when I first experienced it. A Pentecostal Pastor told me there is fire and there is wild fire. If such ecstatic speech happens, then an inspired interpreter, St. Paul says, has to accompany that person, or it is really useless.

But here the Holy Spirit was turning the Tower of Babel on its head. The people who would not let God be God but wanted to replace God[2] were scattered by fear over the whole world and spoke different languages that really separated them into different worlds. (When we go into German, the language seems to import a different world with it.[3]) Now the Holy Spirit made all people understand the Gospel and was drawing them altogether — around the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because when Christ was lifted up and ascended into heaven, he would draw all people toward him in the infinite strength of the love of God. Fear for their security and survival scattered the people who were building the tower into confusion over all the earth. The words they spoke to each other were Babel. Now the almighty love of Jesus Christ was drawing all people together as one, and the words that they spoke to each other were filled with meaning, life, truth, forgiveness, hope, faith, and especially love.

You will notice that Luke tells this story of Pentecost because he wrote the Acts of the Apostles and he emphasizes the Holy Spirit — and even explicitly speaks about the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). Therefore we dare not close our hearts to the Holy Spirit even though it is natural to be fearful — that is why those who wait to speak until they are moved by the Holy Spirit are called Quakers or Shakers. I heard someone on National Public Radio speak about trauma. A little deer, he said, that just escaped the jaws of a lion, will stand there and tremble, tremble, tremble to get out all the trauma it has just experienced in its little existence.

Well, when the rushing breath of God fills you with the speech of God and God’s overpowering love, then it feels like you are going to die, but then you realize it is the life of Christ filling you with the newness and wonder of this whole creation. You tremble, tremble, tremble in resurrection! You also receive a tongue of fire that makes you not be able to help telling others the good news.

Now people at the first Pentecost said, “They are just filled with new wine!” Luther, meeting the Zwickau prophets said, “They seem to have swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.” Criticism is only justified if the spirit is completely out of touch with Christ’s impact on realities. But when that Spirit lovingly and gently and forgivingly changes our hearts and then we become changed from people of little faith into people of great faith, and we become laborers in the Harvest of the Gospel, then we also become completely inspired as we join the glad procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son, and we, too, with God, the Holy Spirit, are sent forth to renew the face of the earth, the way springtime has put all the green leaves back on the bushes and trees. With all the new greenery, the blossoms and fruit cannot be far behind. Thus on this jubilee of Easter, we pray that Christ will renew the face of his church.

(German part of sermon—translated)

When we speak of the Holy Spirit now for the Day of Pentecost, we ask with the great hymn writer Paul Gerhardt:

O how shall I receive you,

How encounter and meet you?

You, the longing of the world as a whole,

The very beauty of my soul.

Your Zion strews palms before you

And green branches, too.

And Psalms for you I’ll sing

For my mind’s awakening.

My heart will be filled with greenery,

That is, with constant laud and praise,

To serve your name eternally

As best it can and knows the ways.

As Henry Melchior Muhlenberg said, “We can’t insist on the unaltered Augsburg Confession with unaltered hearts.” Faith and love have to flourish within our hearts. The green branches represent the new life that we receive from the Holy Sprit and Paul Gerhardt goes right into our hearts and says,

“My heart will get green with constant laud and praise and serve your name as best it can and knows the ways.”

When our hearts have become cold and winter-like and the life of our faith has become weak and all the words that are preached sound like Babel and more confusion [in English we say, “blah, blah”—probably from the Spanish “habla, habla” (“he speaks”)], then we need a springtime in our hearts, where new green leaves spread on the branches of the new life of Christ spreading through our hearts — and as if we became children once again — we hold our breath, because it is as if we are seeing the wonder of this creation of God for the first time again all around us — the trees, flowers, plants, the way they grow out of the ground, the blossoms, the bees, the way they buzz; and in the warm sunshine of a meadow, the humming of an airplane overhead, and we bask in the springtime of the Holy Spirit, the childhood of our nature, the wonder of the whole creation of the world there presented to us as a gift — it all comes to us in the deep breath taken by the Holy Spirit and whose exhaling gives us fresh life.[4]

But we should not let it go with nature. We see our children, the wife, husband, sisters and brothers, relatives and friends in the holy light of love, in the joy of the passionate love that we cannot even endure, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that all who believed in him and loved him, to them he gave the power to become children of God, and the power to be born anew, not by human will, but born of the Holy Spirit, as God’s new creation — and thus we receive a new language, which we now speak with tongues of fire, through which this world that God so loves arises into existence; the world that is made out of the good news, a world with a heaven of grace above us, and with the Son of righteousness shining upon us in it. And even if a dark cloud of evil comes, and covers the sun for a short while, then the wind of the Holy Spirit drives it away again. Even when dark thunderheads form and foretell a storm, in the world of grace made out of the good news, the downpour of rain merely washes the world with forgiveness, and the arching rainbow tells of the promises of God, and the wind of the Holy Spirit drives the thunderheads away again, and behind the clouds the Son full of grace appears in radiance and splendor once again.

Because the people of God will arise and they will dwell in the city Jerusalem, God with us, and all of us belonging to him. We are his congregation, we are his people, we are his new-born church, we who continue to spread the good news in the name of Jesus and proclaim it in all tongues, all languages, so that everyone can come together under this heaven of grace, and bring a springtime for humanity, the greening of our new lives, the greening of fresh faith, bringing a Paradise of grace to which we raise our constant praise!

O Thou joyful One, O Thou blessed One.

O Day full of Grace, O Pentecost.

Christ lets us inherit the blessed Holy Spirit.

Rejoice, Rejoice, all you Christians!



(This portion of the Pentecost Sermon is already translated into English above.)

 Nun auf Deutsch:

     Wenn wir vom Heiligen Geist jetzt zu Pfingsten sprechen, fragen wir mit Paul Gerhardt:

     Wie soll ich dich empfangen und wie begegne ich dir?

     O aller Welt verlangen, O meiner Seelen Zier.

     Dein Zion streut dir Palmen und grüne Zweige hin

     Und ich will dir in Psalmen, ermuntern meinen Sinn.

     Mein Herze soll dir grünen mit stetem Lob und Preis

     Und deinen Namen dienen so gut es kann und weiss.

Wie Mühlenberg sagte: wir können uns nicht auf dem unveränderten Augsburgischen Bekenntnis beharren mit unveränderten Herzen. Die grüne Zweige hier vor unserem Altar sollen neues Leben vom Hl. Geist zu erhalten bedeuten. Paul Gerhardt geht direkt in unsere Herzen hinein und sagt:

Mein Herze soll dir grünen mit stetem Lob und Preis

     Und deinen Namen dienen so gut es kann und weiss.

     Wenn unsere Herzen kalt und winterisch geworden sind und unser Glaubensleben schwach geworden ist und alle die Worte die gepredigt werden, hören sich wie Wirrwarr und mehr Verwirrung an, dann brauchen wir den Frühling, den das Pfingsten bringt. Auf Englisch kann mann „Blah, blah, blah“ sagen. Ich glaub dass dieser Ausdruck vom Spanischen „Habla, habla, d.h., „sprechen“ kommt. Wenn Worte leer und öde geworden sind, dann brauchen wir ein Frühling wo neue grüne Blätter wie das neue Leben von Christus durch unsere Herzen gehen, dann ist es als ob wir Kinder wieder geworden sind. Dann müssen wir unseren Atem fast halten, denn wir sehen diese wundervolle Schöpfung Gottes, wie wieder für das erste mal, um uns alle herum: die Bäume, die Blumen, die Pflanzen, wie sie aus den Boden wachsen; die Blüten, die Bienen, deren Zummen, und auch in der Wärme einer grünen Aue, das Brummen eines Flugzeugs. Der Frühling des Hl. Geistes, die Kindheit unseres Wesens, das Wunder von der ganzen uns geschenkten Weltgeschöpf, kommt zu uns im Atemzug des Hl. Geistes.

     Mit solch frischem Leben dürfen wir nicht bei der Natur halt machen. Wir sehen dann unsere Kinder, die Frau, der Mann, Geschwister, Verwandte, Freunde in einem heiligen Lichte der Liebe, in der Freude einer inbrunstige Liebe, die wir garnicht aushalten können – denn so sehr hat Gott die Welt geliebt, dass er uns seinen einigen Sohn gab, damit alle die an ihn glauben und ihn lieben, die Macht haben Kinder Gottes zu werden, neu geboren zu werden, nicht aus menschlichen Willen, sondern geboren von dem Hl. Geist.

Und als neue Geschöpfe Gottes, bekommen wir eine neue Sprache, die wir mit feuerigen Zungen reden können, wodurch diese von Gott geliebte Welt um uns herum neu entsteht – eine Welt aus der frohen Botschaft gemacht, eine Welt mit einem Himmel der Gnade[1] über uns, mit einer Sonne der Gerechtigkeit, die auf uns scheint – und wenn eine dunkele Wolke des Bösen die Sonne eine kurze Weile verdeckt, kommt der Wind des Hl. Geistes und vertreibt sie wieder. Auch wenn düstere Sturmwolken kommen, in die Gnadenwelt der frohen Botschaft, wäscht der Regen die welt mit Vergebung, und der Regenbogen bespricht all die Verheissungen Gottes, und der Wind des Hl. Geistes vertreibt die Wolken wieder, und die Gnadensonne geht wieder auf hinter den fliehenden Wolken.

Denn Gottes Volk wird aufstehen und in der Stadt Jerusalem wohnen, Gott mit uns und wir alle sein: wir seine Gemeinde, wir sein Volk, wir seine neu-geborene Kirche, wir die wir diese frohe Botschaft weiter verbreiten in Jesus Namen, in allen Zungen, damit alle unter den Gnaden-Himmel kommen und der Frühling der Menschheit, das grünen des neuen Lebens und grünen unseres frischen Glaubens, ja, zu uns bringt ein Gnaden Paradeis,

wofür wir bringen

stetem Lob und Preis.

Wie wir zu diesem grossen Fest auch singen:

          O Du fröhliche, O Du Seelige,

          Gnaden bringende Pfingsten Zeit.

          Cristus unser Meister heiligt die Geister.

          Freue dich, freue dich, Du Christenheit.  Amen.

[1] Hier entwickele ich Luthers Metapher vom Gnaden-Himmel, cf. Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), Seite 138ff.


[1] That the West put in “and the Son” (the filioque clause) into the Nicene Creed, unilaterally, without consulting the East, played a large role in the split between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in 1054 A.D.

[2] The tower was supposed to go up through the clouds because the builders wanted to cast the gods down out of heaven and become the rulers of earth themselves.

[3] At Old Zion Lutheran Church we have a German service at 11:15am following the English one at 10:00. In a combined service, the sermon is half in English and half in German.

[4] In the Middle Ages, nature was loved as an embodiment of the Trinity. See Paul Tillich, The History of Christian Thought, Second Edition of Typed Lecture Notes taken at Harvard by Peter H. John. (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1956), p. 100.


Written by peterkrey

June 8, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

One Response

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    Three years ago I was wandering around [mental hospital] completely shattered physically, emotionally and spiritually. The mental torment I was experiencing was absolutely terrifying. Every waking second, I was having horrifying images from my past. I thought I was being punished for my past sins. My whole life flashed before my eyes and I felt I had failed miserably in my journey through life. The whole experience was an awakening [THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL] a metamorphosis. God was slowly penetrating the shield I had put up all those desperate years. I had no “I” – that is what God wanted for me, to become Christ centered, not “I” centered [in retrospect]. There is nothing in this world, but the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He eventually delivered from my HELL, when I got down on my knees and asked for mercy and forgiveness of my sins. Praise the LORD!!


    July 9, 2007 at 12:07 pm

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