Welcome to worship at Christ Lutheran Church today---we’re glad to have you here or listening on the radio!
Today we interrupt our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark to celebrate Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is the least known of the 3 major Christian festivals after Christmas and Easter. Pentecost was originally a Jewish festival of the harvest. People came to the temple to offer the first fruits of the grain harvest in thanks to God. It occurred 50 days after the Jewish Passover.
Thousands of Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration. Jesus’ disciples were among them. Just 10 days before they had been with Jesus after he rose from the dead.
Acts 1:4-5 “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
And a few days later---
Acts 2:1-4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
And the thousands of people started hearing what the disciples were saying in their own languages. The crowds were amazed and confused and some wondered if the disciples had already been partying.
Peter stood up to address the crowd to tell them that this was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit foretold by Joel the prophet. And then he began to tell the gathered crowd of thousands about Jesus.
Max Lucado asks---“What got into Peter? Seven weeks ago he was hiding because of Jesus; today he is proclaiming the death of Jesus. Before the crucifixion, he denied Christ; now he announces Christ. From wimp to warrior in fifty days. What happened?
What got into Peter? God’s Spirit did!
The Holy Spirit is not enthusiasm, compassion, or bravado. He might stimulate such emotions, but he himself is a person.” Jesus said---
John 14:17 “But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
“Occasional guest? No sir. The Holy Spirit is a year-round resident in the hearts of his children. As God’s story becomes our story, his power becomes our power.”
The Holy Spirit is the living presence of Christ in us and with us. Martin Luther in his Small Catechism says this about the purpose of the Holy Spirit.
“I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Luther’s Small Catechism
The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies and preserves you and me with the power of the Lord.
And it is that power that enabled Peter to stand up in front on Pentecost Day and boldly tell the world about Jesus the Christ. In perhaps the most powerful sermon ever delivered, Peter told his Jewish audience of some of the places in the Jewish scriptures that validated Jesus and his message. He pointed to the miracles and wonders of Jesus as signs of God himself being present in the person of Jesus. These were miracles which many of the people would have been aware of. He told of Jesus’ death and how the people did not prevent it from happening. But God overcame all that and Jesus rose again to life because he is God himself, Lord of all.
Acts 2:37 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Acts 2:38 “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And many, many people responded---
Acts 2:41 “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
As I read this section of Acts again this week, something new grabbed my attention--- as often happens when we read God’s word.
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” What does it mean to be “cut to the heart”? Other translations say—“they came under deep conviction’---“they were pierced to the heart”.
We’re not talking open heart surgery here. The same root word is used in John 19 for Jesus being nailed to the cross. So you could say Peter’s sermon nailed these listeners and spurred them to action.
“Cut to the heart”---There are hundreds of references to the human heart in the Bible, but only a few of them refer to the physical heart itself.
In the Bible, the “word heart” implies the place in humans that is central to our thinking, deciding and acting--- central to our connection with God. It is not so much referring to an organ of the body as it is to what is essential to being human.
The problem is that our hearts are diseased spiritually---
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
King David was described as “upright in heart”. (1Kings 3:6) But he knew himself that his heart needed help. He wrote---
Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
The Bible refers to our hearts as essential in our relationship with the Lord, but in need of transformation by his grace. And that is the Lord’s desire for us---
Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
The heart or core of a person’s being is where we experience God’s revelation, so the heart is the means of the response, positive or negative, that one makes to God.
Romans 10:10 “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
And we all start with divided hearts that know the goodness of God, but hearts that are tainted by our own sin as well. God wants to renew us with whole hearts devoted to him---
Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.”
Our hearts, when transformed are the dwelling place of Christ ---
Ephesians 3:16-17 “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
So from this Biblical cardiology lesson, we learn that when Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart”, it means that the Holy Spirit cut through all the barriers we humans build, and went straight to their hearts, and convinced them of their need for Christ.
And the Lord can work that way through his Spirit, bringing about immediate transformation and faith. But the Spirit doesn’t always work that quickly. That’s obvious, because we believe that God is always with us in Christ and through his Holy Spirit, and yet many people are not cut to the heart on first hearing of Christ and what he has done for all people. So how do we understand that?
Well, it’s been said that the longest distance is from our head to our heart. That’s used to refer to a variety of human situations. You know with your head that you need to lose weight or get more exercise. But that’s a long way from having the heart to really do something about it. Can anybody relate to that?
The same is true of spiritual matters. We may know that God loves us, that Jesus died for us. We may even know that God is with us through his Spirit. But just knowing it doesn’t mean that it gets to our heart, to the core of who we are, to transform our lives.
John Piper writes---“Again and again I have been asked: How do I get my faith from my head to my heart? The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky may not answer in so many words, but his experience points us in the right direction.”
In the mid 1800’s Dostoevsky was sentenced to hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. He went into that camp with a superficial Christianity that focused on life in this world alone. But he became keenly aware of the hope of heaven as the source of a true life now in the midst of trials.
Dostoevsky said that the four years he spent in the prison camp were responsible for “the regeneration of [his] convictions.” Now his head thought had moved to his heart and produced a whole new view of life and a whole new passion to live.
Piper says that this is the answer Dostoyevsky’s experience points to. What we all long for — a life rooted in true thoughts, and on fire with real feeling — came for Dostoyevsky as a fruit of affliction.
You’ll be glad to know that we don’t all have to go to a concentration camp in Siberia for this to happen. The Spirit works in us in the midst of trails and suffering but also in the midst of normal day to day life.
But when we experience our own Siberias, that is often the time that we are cut to the heart---that we are opened to the truth of what God wants us for us in relationship to him. Note that it doesn’t mean that God causes those Siberias, but rather that he can work through them with his Spirit to teach us in ways we may not be open to otherwise.
We can also be cut to the heart as the Spirit gradually wears away our hearts of stone. And that can happen as we set patterns in our lives that open that door.
It starts with a regular daily time reserved for the Lord. Morning. Evening. You set the time. But it should be regular---only skipped on rare occasions. A time to read God’s word. The Spirit works in us as we read. Begin by praying that the Lord will teach you what he wants you to know. Don’t read the Bible looking for phrases to fit your agenda.
And then a time for prayer. To share your praise and thanks for all that God is doing in your life. To ask his forgiveness for your failures. To share your needs with God and the needs of others. And then to listen to the Lord and to yield yourself to what he wants you to understand.
And there will be times that you are cut to the heart and experience the Lord’s blessing in new and powerful ways.
But we need to live not just by feelings but by faith. We need to pray not just by feelings but by faith. We need to serve, not just be feelings but by faith.
CS Lewis was writing to someone new to the Christian faith. They were very excited and had a strong feeling of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
You might expect Lewis to be excited as well. But he said, “Don’t depend on the feelings. Otherwise, when they go and you are once again emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing (the Holy Spirit) has gone too. But it won’t (go). It will be there when you can’t feel it…
We need to live not by feelings, but by faith----knowing the presence of the Holy Spirit is real when we feel it AND when we don’t. Giving thanks for those times we feel the Spirit’s presence. AND giving thanks that even when we don’t feel his presence, the Spirit is still with us.
As Luther said, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies and preserves you and me with the power of the Lord. My prayer for each of you here today is that you, me, all of us may be cut to the heart by the Holy Spirit to know his power and his purpose for our lives.
The Spirit is not a controlling power, but a walking alongside, a dwelling inside kind of power that cut us to the heart and infuses us with the life-changing love of God in Christ Jesus.