Ayear28ncMessage for Pentecost with a Confirmation Service on Acts 2:1-11 given on May 19, 2024 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

There have been times in my life when I felt inadequate. 

I have certainly felt inadequate as a pastor, especially early on in my first parish in Detroit. Once I was doing a funeral for a 60-year old man, and his elderly mother had a stroke during the service. She refused to get in the ambulance until I finished the service for her son. Two of my members were killed from gun violence—there is just no training for these things.

We all have times, relationships, and moments where we feel inadequate to the situations that we face. For many of us, it happens at work—you can do the tasks, but you cannot manage the personalities or the culture of the place; or we can do our job, but then someone leaves and they don’t replace them, and you’re doing two and three jobs.

Some of us feel inadequate in our families or other relationships where we feel helpless in the face of chronic illness, anxiety, or other big issues. We feel at a loss to know the best thing to say, or the right thing to do, so sometimes we do nothing, and that feels worse. Sometimes we can feel inadequate just dealing with life right now—there’s so much going on in the world it’s tempting to shut it out and not to do anything.

Imagine how inadequate the disciples felt when Jesus left them. They had actually gotten Jesus back after he died—that must have been the most amazing experience! But then after 40 days, he was gone again—he was lifted up back into heaven---(this is called the Ascension). As Jesus disappeared, he said the wildest thing—he told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem, wait for the Holy Spirit so they could be his witnesses, not just in Jerusalem but to the ends of the earth!

What now? How were they—this motley crew of people, rejected by their religion, and some by their families—supposed to fulfill a mission that included spreading news about Jesus across the whole world? How far was that anyway? How many languages could that be?

Their numbers—down to 120 if you included the women and those who stuck by them. That’s not many when you remember Jesus fed and preached to thousands. Their training, time with Jesus, and language skills—were all woefully inadequate. Sure, they prayed, had faith, and were even doing what Jesus told them to do, but they were not world travelers. How were they going to carry the news of Jesus to the around the world? This made even less sense than seeing Jesus float up into heaven!

But amazingly, Jesus did not leave the disciples, feeling bereft and inadequate for his mission of spreading his good news to the ends of the earth. With the rush of a violent wind and tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit blew into the house where the believers prayed and pushed them out into the city, where travelers from all over were gathered for the harvest festival that took place 50 days after Passover—or for us—50 days after Easter. (Pentecost means "fiftieth").

The Holy Spirit gave them ability to speak in different languages, so everyone heard the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness and victory over death in their own mother tongue. Isn’t that amazing? —I love the symmetry of the story--The tongues of fire gave them new tongues to speak.

The Spirit gave the disciples all the words they needed; the Holy Spirit gave them power beyond their abilities. Far from inadequate, the power of God that made them more than adequate—it made them powerful beyond their skills! It was not their own experience, insight or skill set that mattered—they just needed to receive and respond to the Holy Spirit given to them!

In other words, if Jesus calls you to it, the Spirit will get you through it—the Spirit will make you adequate to the task Jesus has called you to. This is hard to wrap our heads around since we are so focused on training, competencies, tests, quizzes, personality inventories, and all those measurables. They have their place—but when it comes to loving and serving people, and sharing Jesus’ forgiveness—God’s got you covered with a lot of Holy Spirit-wind-and-fire-power which you cannot test, bottle, measure, or quantify.

You simply do what the disciples did—pray and trust the Spirit to show up when you need it! Because if Jesus calls you to it, the Spirit will get you through it! Another way to say this is that God does not call the qualified, God qualifies the called!

When I was in my first congregation in Detroit, where I experienced the most feelings of inadequacy, I had a member named Alex who was an angel for me. Alex taught me that I needed to trust the Holy Spirit was with me and would show up for me--and that this was true whether I was in the middle of funeral where the mom was having a stroke, or leading one for someone who was killed by violence or other hardships. 

Alex had Down Syndrome and had such a joyful, encouraging spirit—and he loved to sing in the choir. Some of you may have heard this story before, but I want Brynn to hear on her Confirmation. One Sunday after worship, we were all in the fellowship hall and Alex said he wanted to give me something. He took me by the shoulders and positioned me in the middle of the room, and then backed up about 5 feet, put out his arm, and began to sing, “You are so beautiful, to you…”

For you young people, the words are You are so beautiful to me—a song by Joe Cocker from 1974.

But I realized that Alex actually got the words right for me that day—because I needed to believe that the Holy Spirit was landing on me—I was acting as if I was on my own—and that wasn’t true at all! I needed to trust that God would give me the words I needed, that the Holy Spirit could make me more than I was, that if Jesus called me to it, the Spirit would get me through it. That it wasn’t about whether my training was adequate or inadequate, it was about what the Holy Spirit was doing through me.

Here the Pentecost story in Acts is extremely specific: “a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” That is, all 120 people – not just the disciples--all 120 of the women, and the crowd of believers who stuck by them. Each and every one of them had a tongue of Holy Spirit fire and power on them!

Today for your Confirmation Brynn, we celebrate that there is a tongue of fire, and the gift of the Holy Spirit on you, and dwelling in you, specifically! We laid hands on you and prayed for you, and we make a big deal out of YOU today because we want you to internalize the message that, “you are so beautiful, to you!”

You are beautiful and full of the Holy Spirit to us, to God, to your family and to everyone who knows and loves you. But most of all, we want you to believe this for yourself! We all have moments when we feel inadequate, but Brynn, we want you to remember this day, and that feeling of the people who love you surrounding you, and the weight of their love on your shoulders and back as we laid hands you on and prayed for you.

Remember that God has chosen you, that Jesus loves you, that the Spirit of Pentecost is afire in you, and works through you, making you even more than you already are, which is pretty great! Brynn, we see the Holy Spirit working in you as help with Luke’s Learners Sunday School and VBS, and we see the Holy Spirit in all of your creativity and smarts.

At the same time, we affirm that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is on each one of you here! Remember that God has chosen you, that Jesus loves you, that the Spirit of Pentecost is afire in you and works through you, making you even more than you already are, which is pretty great!

You are not just adequate, you are empowered beyond your abilities, skills, and training to be an instrument of God’s love and joy in the world! How God is leading you to share love and forgiveness, hope and encouragement in your circle of influence, in your neighborhood, and in this congregation’s mission? If you are not sure, I invite you to meet with me so we can discover your spiritual gifts together.

None of us have the gifts to do everything, but all of us have a gift to do something, something vital, something essential. St. Luke’s needs your something, your gift, your life that has been touched by the flame of the Holy Spirit.

Author Marianne Williamson writes,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

As God sends the Holy Spirit of Pentecost anew to us today, God says to each one of us, “you are so beautiful to me.”
Embrace the power of the Holy Spirit in you, as you also affirm: “you are so beautiful to you!”

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