Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost Sunday – John 14:23-31 – May 31st

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The day of Pentecost is finally here. The day when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and there in the temple they began to speak in tongues, speak so that every foreign worshipper who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival held 50 days after Passover could hear and understand in their own native language the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The events of Acts 2 are one of the more picturesque in the New Testament – the rushing wind, tongues of flame, huge crowds – and the scene can be so dramatic, so eye opening that we forget the main point. Partially, it’s the way we handle the readings – we start going through Acts – and Peter starts to preach, and he gives his introduction, quotes from Joel – see, God has poured out His Spirit. . . and then. . .we stop. Well, why does God pour out the Holy Spirit? Oh, man, you will hear lots and lots of wretched answers to that question in the world. In fact, I can’t stand seeing any of the stuff on TV or the radio, the answers are so horrid. “The Spirit proves to others that you are a Christian, the Spirit tells you which stocks to buy, the Spirit tells you when to plant your crop, the Spirit lets you have your best life now.” Rubbish. If you want to know why God sends the Holy Spirit, you might do well to listen to Peter. Peter’s next words, verses 22-24, show us why the Holy Spirit is given that Pentecost day. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourself know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raise Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” Do you see? Yes, Peter says, “It’s okay, I’m not drunk, I have the Holy Spirit – now listen to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.” That’s the movement, that’s the direction that this goes – the wonder of Pentecost isn’t just that the Holy Spirit comes – but rather, as the sermon concludes in verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Jesus is True God and True Man – Lord and Christ – so repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sin. The Holy Spirit is there so this truth may be proclaimed and believed.

Do you see the movement there? The Spirit always moves people to focus on Christ? The Spirit always moves people towards repentance and forgiveness. This is the great wonder and joy – this is the great comfort that we have – for we have received the Holy Spirit, indeed, He is here now, active in our midst. And what for? To focus our eyes upon Christ and His forgiveness, so that we might endure this life and be saved. This is what the Holy Spirit does – The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to shape us and keep us in faith in Christ Jesus. Simple as that. As wondrous as that. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in Christ through the Word of God – as wonderful a gift as there can be, and anything more that people want the Spirit to do – avoid it – because they are probably selling you something. The Spirit always points to Christ, the Spirit is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – and if it doesn’t lead, if it doesn’t move towards Christ – it isn’t the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord spells this out for us in our Gospel lesson. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and my Father will love Him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. The focus, the thrust, is being in the Word of God. The heart of being a Christian is being in God’s Word, is hearing forgiveness proclaimed, is living as the Baptized and being United to Christ in the Lord’s Supper – all the stuff that happens here – because this is precisely where God comes to you who abide in His Word and makes His home with you. Literally, this is where God has made His home with you, this is where God comes to you in Word and Sacrament – this is where you receive over and over God’s love for the forgiveness of your sin. And the Holy Spirit is the One who makes all this happen, who works faith, makes it real. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. As a Christian, you are to be in the Word – and what does the Holy Spirit do? He teaches the Word. He makes you to remember the things that Christ has taught you – what His law teaches so that you learn to see your sin and repent, and His Holy Gospel, so that you know that your salvation rests upon the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. That’s the movement, that’s the way the Holy Spirit works. The working of the Holy Spirit is no mystery – it’s wondrous, it’s mysterious in the fact that God is so far above us and His mercies to us are mind-boggling – but it’s no mystery in terms of where and how the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit works in the Word, He works in the Sacraments – He works whenever Christ is proclaimed and given for the forgiveness of sins – so that you might be brought to faith and kept in the faith.

We know where the Holy Spirit works – and this is indeed wondrous. See how wondrous it is. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. When the world gives, it always expects something back. You wash my back, I’ll wash yours. If I do the work, I expect to get paid. Kindness ought to be returned. That’s the way we think in the world. You give someone a hand when they need it, you sort of expect them to help you out in return – this for that. That’s not how Christ gives. He gives His peace freely, without any demands, without any expectations of what you must do for Him. When the Holy Spirit works faith in you – the purpose, the point of this, isn’t to get you fired up, it’s purpose isn’t to suddenly make you happy worker bees for Jesus so He gets His due. Yes, Christians do good works, but that’s not the main point. God isn’t worry primarily about what He’s going to get out of you – He’s concerned for your care and well-being. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Again, do you see the focus that Christ has upon you, on having you calm and secure and trusting in Him? This is the goal of the Spirit – to see that the Peace of God that calms the troubled heart and bolsters when fearful dwells in you richly.

And sadly, this is what we so often neglect. Think of the times when you have had opportunity to be in the Word, when you’ve had the opportunity to let the Holy Spirit work upon you, be it at home in your own studies and devotions, or be it gathering together here with your brothers and sisters in Christ at God’s House – and it just flies by the wayside. When you’ve decided that there is just something other better to do. This is the struggle we face in the world. Satan knows exactly what God desires for you, he knows how God works – and so Satan will work on you, will try to distract you and give you every reason in the book not to be in the Word – and when you abandon the Word, when you neglect it – you are cutting yourself off from the Spirit, you are cutting yourself off from God’s peace. And what is left, then, but all the fear that is part and parcel of this world, all the anguishes and anxieties of this life. And when you aren’t in the Word, those ills just loom larger, and larger – Satan makes them grow and grow until they are the only thing you can see. That is what our old evil foe tries to do – to wave his arms and distract you in this life with the cares of this world so that you are too busy, too hurt, too tired to be in God’s Word – to be refreshed by the Spirit.

But God is merciful – God too knows the trials Satan throws at people in this world, and so, look what God does. He has people proclaim His Word – Apostles in the temple, Pastors in pulpits all around the world, parents to their children, friends to their friends. The Holy Spirit works though people, works in the people in your lives so that you hear the Word, that you receive that peace and encouragement that comes from knowing Jesus’ love and forgiveness, and then He makes you to be speakers of that same Word, so that others iny our lives likewise are refreshed. The Holy Spirit sees that you are cared for by the Word being spoken by others – and then sees that other people are cared for by the Word which He brings forth from your lips. There is a movement – what we receive we also give out, what we get we distribute. The love and peace which you receive from the Word wells up out and over us into all aspects of your lives, so that wherever you go, you go as a Baptized Christian, forgiven and confident in God’s love – a living witness to this truth. You have forgiveness and peace which you receive through the Word and the Supper, forgiveness and peace which you receive through the working of the Holy Spirit. God grant that He keep us in His Word so that we dwell always in His love. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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