Pentecost Day – June 8th, 2014 – Acts 2 and John 14
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Today is Pentecost, the day where we remember the sending of the Holy Spirit 50 days after our Lord’s death and resurrection. And in our reading from Acts we heard that story, the coming of the Holy Spirit as tongues of flame, the 12 Apostles speaking and being heard in at least 14 different languages. And now I will ask the question – why? Why Pentecost, why this sending of the Holy Spirit? To what purpose, to what end? Is it merely so that we can deck the church out in Red every once in a while, maybe adopt a pretty flame motif? Is it so that every crackpot and his sister can say “The Holy Spirit told me blah bla-bla-bla-blah” and make up things off the top of their head to convince you to give them money? Why? Why Pentecost, why is the Holy Spirit sent?
The Holy Spirit is sent so as to be tied to the Word of God, and to tie us to the Word of God – specifically, the preaching of our sin and the preaching of our Savior. Consider Acts. The Holy Spirit comes upon Peter, and what does He do? He quotes the Scriptures, the Word of God, and then He proclaims what it means, and then quotes more Scripture, and shows how it is about Christ and Him crucified. As soon as the Spirit comes upon Peter, his focus is the Word, whether that is the Word written or the Word preached and proclaimed (and let’s face it, if what a preacher is preaching isn’t preaching Christ from the Word, the preaching is worthless). And people, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, are made to hear and believe Peter’s preaching, are made to receive the promise of salvation. That is what the Spirit does – as we confess in the Small Catechism the Spirit “Calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” – and that is what we see going on expressly in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit makes us to understand the Word of God, makes us to see Christ Crucified for us, makes us to believe and have faith – the Spirit is always tied to the Word of God.
And for evidence of this, consider our Gospel lesson for the day. And again, this is Christ preparing the disciples before His crucifixion for life in the church after His Ascension, after Pentecost. Our lesson begins with our Lord saying, “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.” We can hear this so off today, we can so easily misinterpret it. We can almost think Jesus is being naggy here – if you really loved me, you’d take out the trash. That’s not the point. This word “keep” here means not just to do, but to cling to, to focus upon, to hold sacred and gladly hear and learn it as the 3rd commandment would say. The word keep doesn’t just mean obey, because how do you obey a promise? “The promise is for your and your children,” says Peter in Acts. In English we wouldn’t say you obey that Word, that promise; we’d say you believe it, you cling to it, you heed it. And that is what Christ is saying – those who love Him cling to His Word. Why? Christ is speaking a reality here – the love of God is tied to the hearing of God’s Word – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, and where there is no faith, there is no love, no fear, no trust of God. With these Words Christ is tying, is binding the Church to the Word of God – if you want Christ and the Father to be here, to be with you, you seek them no place other than the Word of God, that is other than the Scriptures, than the proclamation of those same Scriptures, than the proclamation of Christ and Him Crucified for sinners. This is where Jesus has promised to be with you.
And what is this Word that is proclaimed, this Word to which we are to cling and heed? “And the Word that you hear is not Mine but the Father’s Who sent Me.” The Word that we pay attention to is God’s Word. The Scriptures, they are the Word of God, for men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. And this too is the standard for how you are to judge preaching, the preaching of anyone, and in particular the preaching of anyone who is in this pulpit. Are they proclaiming the Word of God, preaching Christ and Him Crucified, or are they making stuff up? You do not need the thoughts and opinions of Eric Brown preached here – it’s not my job to wax eloquently on politics or why the Cubs are better than the Cardinals or any such other clap-trap. And you certainly don’t need me making up religious junk to suit my own whims or desires, about what I’d want you to do – you need the Word of God, that that is what you ought to demand of me or anyone whom is given to preach to you.
But do not think that in this, the Holy Spirit is absent. Whenever someone preaches the Word, the Holy Spirit helps and enables them to preach – if it were not for God and His great mercy, I’d never be able to preach a lick. However, it is also true that without the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t be able to understand a lick of preaching either. Listen. “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.” This true – this preaching and hearing this preaching are all things that are brought about by the Holy Spirit – to God alone be the glory and thanks and praise. That is why I pray twice before every sermon – first for all who hear the sermon, myself included, that the Spirit would make us to see Christ and strengthen our faith, and second for myself before I preach, that God would “send Thy Holy Spirit, that He may work with me, yea that He may work in me” – that He “Use me as Thine instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I shall easily bring it all to destruction.” That’s how Luther taught pastors to pray. What we are to remember is that at all times it is God who is with us, God who grants us faith, God who gives us faith, makes us to believe, and keeps us in the faith – and that this is done by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.
And all to what end? What is the thrust, the purpose, the focus of all this work of the Holy Spirit? “Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you.” Or as Peter preaches this peace on Pentecost – “Repent and be baptized everyone 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” There is peace, peace in Christ Jesus. The war with God, the rebellion that sin is, it is done, it is finished, your sin is no more, it has been taken up by Christ and crucified with Him. And now God calls you to be with Him, gives you His Spirit, gives you His Word so that He will dwell with you now even until the last day when you are raised from the dead and shall dwell with God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and even indeed all the saints forever and ever. The thrust of this preaching, the direction is always this – that while we are the chief of sinners, Christ has died for us, and we have life in His name. This is the truth that the Word and Spirit proclaim, this echoes out from Pentecost until the end of time.
And so what of us today? What we ought to remember this day, this Pentecost, is that this church, our church, is still part and parcel of what we see in Acts, what Christ preaches in John. We are those afar off whom the Holy Spirit has called by the Gospel, we are part of that Christian Church which has been kept in the true faith in Christ Jesus. We are brought to His Church, in which we receive daily the rich forgiveness of our sins, even until that day when we are raised to new and sinless life. But we must remember that this is not our own doing, it is not about us, about our own reason or strength. Just as it is Christ Jesus who has won us salvation solely by His Work, by His efforts, so too our faith is also a gift, worked and brought about solely by the Holy Spirit – a miracle and wonder that each of you has received that is just as wondrous and fantastic as the speaking in tongues on Pentecost day, for both are brought about by the same Spirit. Yet over and against this, the world, Satan, and even our sinful flesh will strive to distract us, annoy us, and deceive us. Thus our Lord tells us to cling to His Word, to pay attention to what He has declared, because it is there, in the Word, where the Holy Spirit does His work, where He creates and sustains your faith. It is there in the Word where God comes to be with you – for that is what it means to be gathered in Christ’s Name – we are gathered Here in the Name of God to hear His Word, and God Himself is present with us, brining us peace and forgiveness and His love. This is the shape of the Church, this is what the Church is – where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered, all so that the Holy Spirit might bring us faith and the salvation that Christ has won, so that we will be reconciled to the Father for all eternity. Thanks be to God for His great love and service to us this Pentecost day! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +