Der Vasken’s Sermon on May 23, 2021

There was a remarkable item in the national news earlier this month that you may have heard about. I almost missed it but when I did read about it, it captured my time and attention. In the small town of Rigby, Idaho, a woman named Krista Gneiting lived out her faith. Krista Gneiting is a middle school math teacher and as she was preparing her students for an upcoming exam, she heard shooting in the hallway outside her classroom. Doing everything, she was trained to do for a tragic moment like that, Ms. Gneiting gathered her students and instructed them with these words: “You’re going to run hard. You’re not going to look back and how is the time to get up and go.” But she wasn’t done. This teacher knew her students. She understood their lives. She understood the challenges of middle school and what it’s like for young people.

So when she saw the shooter, something in her drove her to take another step. Krista Gneiting approached the shooter. It was a young girl from the sixth grade. “It was a little girl and I knew that I had to get the gun out of her young hand.” As she slowly pulled the gun out of her small hand, she gently pulled the young girl into a hug. “I thought this little girl has a Mom somewhere, who doesn’t realize she is having a breakdown. She is hurting herself and she is hurting others.” She said the young girl had started talking to her. She started to open up and during their conversation, she managed to calm down. “I just kept hugging her and loving her and trying to let her know that we are going to get through this together,” she said. Parents at the school have applauded Krista’s compassion because they say her warm hug saved many lives that day. It was a very powerful story with a very gentle ending.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost in the Christian churches around the world. Pentecost is considered the first day of the Church when the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples into the Apostles, transformed the ones who learned from Christ into the ones who would now teach about Christ.

Today is the fiftieth day after Easter and the Apostles still didn’t understand why they were supposed to do. So let’s take a few minutes to better understand what happened on the day of Pentecost that forever changed those men and what it means to us.

Ten days before Pentecost, Jesus had ascended into the clouds of Heaven while standing among His disciples. He offered His last message to them saying, “Be not afraid, for I am with you even to the end of the age.” He ascended into Heaven leaving behind His small group of disciples, who were uncertain of their next step. They felt something was missing. They felt there must be something more.

One thing was certain. They felt ill-equipped to do what He called them to do and what He expected them to do. They needed confidence because they lacked it. They needed power because they felt weak. They needed a new strength in their lives that would help them take His message into the world. That is what those eleven remaining disciples received on Pentecost. They received strength from the Holy Spirit that changed them from fishermen into witnesses of the Christian faith. Without it, they lacked the courage to be who God called them to be. They would have quietly lived and died and would have been long since forgotten.

Pentecost gave them what they needed and changed their lives forever. They took the message of Christ into the world. They shared His stories. They shared His miracles and all about what He said and did. The gift they received on Pentecost was the gift of being equipped with the heart and soul to live out their faith. On Pentecost, they received the gift of confidence, the gift of language, the gift of unwavering faith, hope and love and the gift of knowing why they were called to follow Him.

The disciples faced a very unwelcoming world. They were seen as enemies of the political and religious leaders of the day and their lives were in danger at all times because of this. But yet because of Pentecost, they now felt ready to enter and engage in the world. They travelled to cities and villages in foreign lands far removed from Jerusalem and they preached to those people. They healed those people of their illnesses in the name of Jesus Christ. They noticed that people with problems kept coming to them. Those people were crying out for help in a world that couldn’t help them.

• In the years ahead, the Apostles will see a man with no legs stand up for the first time.
• They will see a man with no voice shouting out in hope.
• In the years ahead, they will see that a lack of faith brings out the worst in people and they will see people, whose faith brings out the best, because the faith that they preached is rooted in the compassion and forgiveness and love of God.

His Holy Spirit places love and joy and peace and kindness into the heart and soul of all who believe. Our faith is rooted in a Book that was inspired by the Holy Spirit—that is filled with stories of everyday people with everyday problems, that can only be solved by everyday faith and that everyday faith was given a fighting chance to make this world a better place through each one of us.

God sent His Holy Spirit to give us all the power to better the world and our lives through our everyday faith. God sees our faith and He offers us His hand to hold and His shoulder to lean on and His voice to follow and He gives us His Holy Spirit so that we are forever prepared to live out our Christian beliefs.

Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit entering into the lives of people who believe. The Holy Spirit can tear down our fears and build up our hope. He can tear down our anxieties and build up our faith. He can tear down our doubt and build up our confidence. There is no limit to what God’s spirit can do in our lives.

A math teacher from Idaho asked God to help her change the life and direction of a sixth grade girl, who lost her way, through a compassionate hug and a kind embrace. There is no limit to what God’s Holy Spirit can do in this world or in our lives.

Amen.

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