Pentecost Sunday, 2020 – Viral
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 +
So, we are moving closer to being able to reopen for worship, and there is much fear swirling around the reopening of Churches. I saw reports out of Germany earlier this week that there were 107 infections out of one church – and I saw many throwing fear and outrage over that. And yet, even California released plans for reopening – and as for Illinois [Well, the Governor got taken to the Supreme Court, so his orders to churches are just recommendations now. So next week, hopefully,] we will be gathering here together again, because when they are able, the people of God gather in His house. That's just how things work – when we can, we Christians go to church. Even back on the day of Pentecost, people gathered from all over the world to God's house in Jerusalem. But Pastor, what about safety! How quickly we forget, how little we understand the history of worship – we forget that safety in worship has always been one of the hallmarks of the Christian faith.
Let's start with the basics – what is the first commandment? (You shall have no other gods.) And what does this mean? (We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.) Fear. Fear has always been part of the Christian faith – a healthy fear, a proper fear, an understanding that you don't mess around with God, you don't run ram-shod over Him. That if you presume to just saunter up on to God and do things your way, things go poorly. Our lesson from Genesis today – there's no fear, no respect of God – we'll just build our way up to Him. God puts a stop to that. Or even earlier in Genesis – Cain is discouraged because he worshiped wrongly, made lousy sacrifices. There is a respect, a decorum to be had in the presence of God.
This continues throughout the Old Testament. When Moses sees the burning bush, what's the first thing he gets told? Take off your sheep-stained sandals, you are on holy ground. Holy – where there's something different, something special – and you act differently when you are here. And with the Tabernacle – you don't just traipse in there – the priests operate with respect. The second day the Tabernacle is open two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu decide to just ignore God's instructions and do things their way, and they die. There's a right and safe way to worship God, to give God the honor, respect, and glory due Him.
Now, we are in the New Testament times, and things are much easier with worship. As Christ Jesus has made the final sacrifice for sin, I don't really have to cut or burn anything anymore, which is just fine with me. The temple curtain was torn in two, and we enter God's house baptized and clean and forgiven – much of the danger has passed. That's a great thing. But we still have maintained a sense of reverence, a sense of decorum. This is because we do acknowledge that great things happen here in this place – that while God could choose to bring us His Word, His Baptism, His Supper in a multitude of different places, He has set aside this place for you, He has made this Holy place for you His Holy people to receive His Holy gifts. And I would hope this break would rekindle your sense of how this place is a holy place. And we treat it as such. I'm not the most stodgy of pastors (nor as I the most casual), but you've never seen me, let's say... sit on the altar. Probably have a hard time even imagining it. It's good that that would be hard to imagine, because we maintain respect and decorum and still teach it here because of respect for what Jesus gives us here.
And so, when we do resume open worship – we'll have reverent, joyous worship where we receive Jesus' good gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. We will just have some extra layers of reverence and decorum and respect that are added. Respectful of each other – which is most certainly fine, for if the temple of old was to be respected, how much more ought we show respect to each other, for we all are baptized children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit. Because this is what we see start on Pentecost. It's not that the New Testament is actually less formal or less stuffy than the Old, it's that the angle has changed. In the Old Testament, everything was funneled to Jerusalem, because it was in Jerusalem where Jesus would come and suffer and die on the Cross and redeem the world, and all eyes, all nations where to be focused there. That's why we see folks from all over the place drawn to Jerusalem in our Epistle. But now in our days, we are on the outward path – the Holy Spirit is given, is poured out, and the news, the proclamation of what happened on Cross in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago is take forth and away from Jerusalem unto all the world. There is no longer one temple to go to, but rather every Christian is made a sacred and holy temple of God – for prayer and proclamation. And wherever Christians are gathered – be it just 2 or 3 – because I've done plenty of services for folks where there's only been two or three of us – or be it 10, or 50, or whatever – there Christ Jesus is present in His Word and His gifts – all over the world. And this is a wondrous thing – and so we do have places and buildings still today so that the locals know where they can come. Any new person showing up in Herscher can see this building and tell that it is a Church, that it is a place where Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed.
Because that is the proclamation of the Church. Even from the beginnings of the New Testament Church at Pentecost. Consider how Peter starts his sermon: 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 yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. The law is proclaimed. Bluntly. The Christ, the Messiah came, and you put Him to death. And note – Peter is talking to many people who weren't even in Jerusalem when Good Friday happened – yet the reality is this. Their sin, our sin – that's why Jesus was on the cross. Let us in the Church never soft pedal the impact of sin, or brush it off as unimportant. Nor should we be surprised when we see the impact of sin upon the world. The wages of sin is death. We know this and teach this. And the wonder is this: Jesus decided to take up that wage in your place, so that even should you die you will not remain dead. That is a jaw-dropping awesome thing. Yes, Jesus died on your account, but also true is this - God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Jesus who died has been raised, and life has been restored to you. Death has been defeated for you. Yes, your death has been defeated. You death from whatever, be it old age or cancer or an accident or whatever of the myriad things that have put people we know and love in the cemeteries and one day will come calling for us – whatever it ends up being, your death has been defeated by Christ. Death cannot hold Christ Jesus, and because Jesus holds on to you, has bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, death will not have any hold on you either. 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. 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. This promise indeed is for you, even though you are far off in both time and space – for you are those whom God has called unto Himself.
And Peter ends his sermon this way saying: And with many other words he bore witness to them, and comforted them saying, “Be saved from this crooked generation.” Peter comforts, exhorts – paracletes them. Proclaims the Word and the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and those who received his word were baptized and saved. Salvation happens. God's plan of rescue, your rescue, continues. Doesn't matter what you see swirl around you, it doesn't matter the fears and dangers that arise – fears and dangers arise in every day and in every generation – only a people with no fear of the Lord would expect otherwise. Yet this still is true: You are saved and redeemed by Christ.
This is why Jesus told the disciples, and why through them He declares to you, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jesus died and rose so that you would have peace, so that you would be forgiven – and nothing stops that. Nothing can change, cancel, close, or destroy that. And while things in the world swirl around and change – in the world they need to swirl and change because the world is a dizzying and confusing place – in Christ Jesus you do have peace. And He has had His Word proclaimed to you, and He has seen you baptized, and He has poured out His Spirit upon you, and He and the Spirit dwell with you. And this is a wondrous truth – one that we should marvel at, that we should treat with reverence. It is a truth to be proclaimed in all places – and also in this specific place and building as well.
So, I do not know what the future holds – but then again, I never have. None of us ever know what the next week will hold in store – or what new strangeness and fears will pop up this June. What is steadfast and constant is what we are focused upon here – the love of Christ Jesus for you. That He has died and risen, and we are saved by Him. God grant that we might soon again safely gather together and receive His good gifts together – but know and remember that you still receive His good gifts even while we are apart. This is the joy of being the Baptized – a wondrous gift the world will never understand or appreciate, but also one that they can ever take away. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +