Late this week I read an excellent blog post by Pastor Ed Strietelmeier about Superheroes and Pentecost.
I was going to preach about something else on this Pentecost Sunday, but it seemed like it was a lot more fun to preach about Superheroes. That’s how the title of this sermon became, “Better than an Arc Reactor.”
Who knows what superhero has an Arc Reactor implanted in his chest? [Iron Man]. We’ll come back to Iron Man and his Arc Reactor a little later.
Every superhero has an origin story, right? Peter Parker was just a normal teenager until what happened? [Spider Bite] That’s right, he got bitten by a radioactive spider and then he got his spidey powers. He became . . . Spiderman.
Steve Rogers was rejected from the army when he tried to go defeat the biggest bully of all in World War Two. But he was selected for a secret program and injected with Super Soldier Serum (say that three times fast!) and he became . . . Captain America.
Kal el was just a regular baby on Krypton until his father rocketed him to earth and he became . . . Superman.
And David Banner became the Hulk after he was exposed to gamma rays.
What does all this superhero background have to do with Pentecost? Remember, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Kal El, and David Banner were just normal folks. In fact, they were far from being anything like a superhero, they were pretty much nerds. (I have the authority to speak about nerds when my favorite thing to do is to play on a trivia team and here I am preaching about superheroes. But SOMETHING HAPPENED in the life of each of them, and they were TRANSFORMED. They became superheroes.
And that is the story of Pentecost!
Stay with me . . .
Let’s look at the disciples. Remember them – a long way from superheroes. They were the unlikely men that Jesus chose to be his closest followers and students. If you’re like me you read the Gospels and see what the disciples say and do and wonder if maybe Jesus had made a terrible mistake. Those guys misunderstood Jesus over and over, they fought about who was the greatest among them right when Jesus told them he’s going to die, one of them betrayed him and another denied him three times. And then, even though Jesus told them over and over he was going to die, they were shocked and surprised when Jesus was arrested and killed.
They were just as surprised when he rose again on Easter!
The resurrected Jesus was with them for 40 days. Then he took them up on top of Mt. Olives and told them he was leaving them but the Holy Spirit would come on them, just wait for it.
They still didn’t get it. One of them asked him, “NOW are you going to establish your kingdom in Israel?”
They didn’t understand that Jesus had commissioned THEM to take the kingdom of God into the world.
Then he ascended. We talked a little bit about that last week. He took the cosmic elevator away from them and they stood there watching until an angel told them to stop looking up – someday he’s coming back. The implied message is . . . ‘You’ve got work to do.”
So they waited as Jesus told them to do. They don’t know – they can’t know – what this “Holy Spirit coming on them” business is about. Ten days pass. During that time they hung out and prayed together. There were others with them as well including Jesus’ brothers, his mother, and other women.
And they wait.
Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, 50 days after Easter, it’s Pentecost Time – one of the three big festivals of the Jewish Year. Jerusalem is filled with Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire, wearing different clothes, practicing different customs, speaking different languages.
They are TRANSFORMED.
Peter – the same Peter who out of fear denied even knowing Jesus – Peter stands up and begins to preach perhaps the most powerful sermon ever! Preaching to all those folks gathered in Jerusalem.
Peter was TRANSFORMED.
Now, there are some who see and hear all this and reject the whole thing – “Listen to them babbling on. Those guys must be drunk!” (I’ve never been convinced by Peter’s response that “We can’t be drunk it’s only 9:00” – I’ve known some folks . . .).
But THREE THOUSAND repented and were baptized that day! Christianity goes from 12 disciples plus Jesus’ brothers and a few women to 3000+ IN ONE DAY!
Those who heard and were baptized were TRANSFORMED!
What was it that caused the sound of the wind and the tongues of fire? What transformed the disciples? What transformed Peter? What transformed those who were baptized?
Wrong questions! It’s not a matter of WHAT did all that transforming – it’s WHO transformed all those folks?
You already know the answer because it’s Pentecost – The Holy Spirit.
Peter and the others gathered there became superheroes that day – no longer were they ordinary people, but now they had Holy Spirit Power – they had the Holy Spirit living in them.
Think about it – God moved into each of those who were gathered on that first Pentecost. Their bodies became Temples of God. The first evidence of that power was their polyglottic speech. (That’s your superhero word for the day – polyglottic.) They began to speak in different languages that they had never known before.
That was a GIFT of the Holy Spirit. That was their first Superhero power!
They had the power of God living inside of them. The greatest power of all!
But, as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben told him after Peter had become Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility.”
No longer could the followers of Jesus huddle together behind closed doors. No longer could they keep the Good News about Jesus to themselves. They had the responsibility to share it. More than that, they HAD to share it. They couldn’t help it.
David Lose, a pastor and seminary professor, says that the Holy Spirit wasn’t given to the church on Pentecost to solve problems, but rather to create a new one. . . how do we get the Good News about Jesus out into the world?
So, what do you think? Have you ever thought about the first followers of Jesus as superheroes? I mean, superheroes have great power and what greater power is there than GOD – God living inside of them! But it wasn’t just those first followers in the upper room – no, as soon as those 3000 believed and were baptized, they got Holy Spirit Power as well! 3000 more superheroes that day!
And I bet some of you already see where I’m going with this – there’s about 200 of us gathered here this morning, almost all of us baptized, which means that God has poured out God’s Holy Spirit into us . . . so here we are, gathered together a bunch of superheroes . . .
Wait a minute, Pastor Dave, I can hear some of you protesting. I get that I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me, but I don’t have any super powers. I can’t fly or shoot webs out of my hands or throw a magical hammer or any of that stuff. I can’t even speak another language.
But you do have Holy Spirit Powers – Super Powers if you’ll give me the grace to call them that this morning. They are called Gifts of the Spirit, and we all have them. They are listed in the New Testament in several different places – they aren’t just things like preaching and teaching, but include hospitality and service and encouraging. Generosity is a gift of the spirit, and so is mercy.
Like the Avengers, superheroes who had different super powers and learned to use them together, we gather as God’s church with different gifts of the spirit, all of them necessary for our God – given mission.
Perhaps the greatest gift of the Spirit, though, is one that we all share. That is FAITH. Remember, as Martin Luther wrote,” I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
He goes on to write that it is the Holy Spirit that calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the church. We can’t be the church without the Holy Spirit. That’s why Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church.
Our Mission Statement at this particular church is to “Gather, Grow and Go.” I still remember the meeting of the Mission Statement Team where we came up with that – or more exactly when the Holy Spirit inspired us to come up with that. It was written up on a white board, and we thought it was great, but somebody, I don’t remember who, said, “It needs more.” And that person reminded us of the POWER that enables us to serve in mission together.
And that’s how the four most important words were added to our Mission Statement, how it became “EMPOWERED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, we Gather, Grow, and Go!”
We’re a Holy Spirit church because there is no other kind of church.
I’m going to close with another superhero example. Now we’re going to get to the Arc Reactor.
Ironman is Tony Stark, who was a wealthy arms manufacturer. He went to Afghanistan to sell missiles and he was captured by terrorists. In captivity he constructed the first Iron Man suit. It was powered by an Arc Reactor.
The Arc Reactor was also the thing that kept Tony Stark alive. He had been wounded by the terrorists and the Arc Reactor eventually implanted in his chest was the power that kept shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him.
That is the Holy Spirit for us. God in our hearts, giving us life.
We were dead in sin, and we are now alive in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit in us that is our life source, as the people of God and as the church.
Holy Spirit power – it’s even better than an Arc Reactor.
(Preached at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Millersville on Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014.)