“Help” Romans 8:22-27, Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018
For those of us who have been watching reporting on the volcanic activity in Hawaii lately, you need little convincing that creation is indeed experiencing some significant “groaning” currently as sulphur and lava spew from the bowels of the earth. Combining that with flooding on both sides of Canada, and, violent thunderstorms pummeling the east of the US last week, the groaning is wide reaching. The human heartache is equally poignant as we witness yet another school shooting in Texas, Christians murdered in Indonesia by Islamic suicide bombers (with four of those suicide bombers being children, with the youngest being only 9 years of age), and tensions between Palestinians and Israelis rise in recent border clashes. Sometimes the world around us seems to be falling apart at the seams, and we feel like helpless bystanders just watching it all happen.
Although it may seem that way, we are not left helpless in these situations listed above (nor any other for that matter). Amidst similar chaotic conditions of the first century AD, Paul reminds the Church in Rome that the Holy Spirit has come to “help them”. As I shared with those at the Bible study/prayer Thursday morning, that little English word “help”, comes from the Gk word, συναντιλαμβάνεται (sunantilambanetai). It literally translates, “to take hold beside and go out against”. When understood this way, the Holy Spirit does not do our work for us, nor does He expect us to do tackle the seemingly insurmountable problems in our world on our own, but rather comes alongside us, joins together with us, and together we and the Holy Spirit go out against the world of volcanic activity, and broken and despairing lives.
Although to the best of my knowledge no one has died from the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, there were some in the Texas shooting, and in the Indonesian bombing that did. The Holy Spirit doesn’t promise to keep us from all harm (or even death), but He does promise to help us in (and through) such times. In what ways are you needing the Holy Spirit’s help today? In what ways have you experienced the Sprit’s “help” this past week/month/year? If you continue to have faith in Jesus today…that would be one evidence that you have been, and are currently being, “helped”.
Pentecost, Then and Now (Acts 2:1-21)
When I think of the details of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, its can seem like something that happened long ago, and far away. Although I in no way doubt the events recorded in the second chapter of Acts, I sometimes wonder how (or if) those events factor much in the lives of 21st C moderns some 2000 years hence. Many in our Lutheran tradition see the age of “signs and wonders” as having come and gone (referred to as cessationism), and those who look for sounds of mighty rushing winds (except perhaps in the context of a tornado), tongues as of fire, or people miraculously speaking in languages they have never learned (and not by using some kind of translator app), will be searching in vain. Pentecost, like the resurrection of Jesus was a one-time event, never to be replicated, and the signs and wonders that happened that day (and following in the lives of the apostles), disappeared once those apostles died.
Although not necessarily searching for an answer to this question, at least part of the answer came searching for me earlier this week. Several months ago one of the men from our men’s group suggested a speaker for one of our meetings. I called this man, and it was decided that last Tuesday, May 14, would be the date he would come to address our group. When I learned that the man was 90 years old, I expected a somewhat frail fellow, that would speak for a few minutes about his life back in the “good-
old-days”, and then sit down. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I met Bill Kapitaniuk at the door he shook my hand like a man who had been milking cows for the better part of those 90 years, and could probably do so even now. He didn’t speak for a few minutes, but continued on for over an hour of tales of God’s provision for his ministry of providing Bibles and Christian literature for those living behind the Iron Curtain for some 60 years. After the death of his wife he had remarried in 2010 (at the tender age of 82), and until recently had been travelling extensively through countries of the former Soviet Union, and others under Soviet control. Now he was speaking to groups like ours, trying to engage others in the support of the ministry.
Although he covered many topics that hour, there were a couple that particularly caught my attention. One involved the purchase of a paper-cutting machine for his printing operation. Although the numbers came fast and furious in his presentation, it seemed that the cost for this particular machine was $250,000. Since neither he, nor his ministry was particularly flush with cash and only had a 1/10th of the needed capital, Bill contacted a colleague in Australia to set up a series of fundraising meetings. Unbeknownst to him, he would need a work visa for such that particular endeavor, and try as he might, he could not secure one. The time for the meetings came and went, and Bill had assumed his plan for raising these funds had failed… and that God had failed him. To make a somewhat long story shorter, sometime later Bill got word that such a machine existed some 50 miles from his printing press in the Ukraine in a factory which made vinyl windows. Without the necessary funds he made the journey to the plant nevertheless to find in a warehouse the very machine he was looking for, still in its original packing crate. When he dared asked the cost, much to his amazement and delight the man said, $2000.
The next story that caught my attention, was when he was in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, shortly after Perestroika, and the collapse of communism. Being it was Christmas, he told the Christmas story to those gathered in his native English language. As he could speak other languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, French, Polish, Hungarian, Slovakian, etc, he began sharing story of Jesus’ birth as the crowds continued to gather. As he did, people made mention that this was the very first time they had heard this story. For 70 years it had been illegal to preach the Christian message in the Soviet Union. Now, this man from Canada was telling the good news to all those gathered there for the very first time, each in their native tongue. Although not exactly as we read in the book of Acts, it was evident that the same Holy Spirit that came in the sound of rushing wind and fire, was very much active now.
As attention-getting as the wind, fire, and speaking in unlearned tongues was on the day of Pentecost, it was the preaching of that word by Peter that would bring these people to faith in Jesus, as it did for those gathered in Red Square. We may not see the same signs and wonders as did those living at the time of the apostle (and yet some may, and I believe do see them), but the same Holy Spirit is still very much alive and active. It was no small miracle for me to hear the testimony of Bill Kapitankiuk last Tuesday, and what God is doing in and through his life and ministry. Perhaps for me (and I don’t know of your experience), regarding belief in signs and wonders in this present age, it’s like the father who brought is son to Jesus for healing. When asked if he believed, he said that he did, but acknowledged his unbelief at the very same time. There are times when I find myself living between these two worlds.
That being said, may that same Spirit speak a fresh word to you and me today, encouraging us to proclaim the good news of the gospel in our families, towns, country, and world (whether or not we see the accompanying supernatural signs and wonders). Fill us an