Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (A)
May 11, 2008
Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

The Holy Spirit makes the sin-atoning work of Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection your reality. The Spirit does this by giving you faith in Jesus, and He gives you faith in Jesus through the means of grace, the Word of God and the Sacraments. That is why Pentecost is so important. Pentecost, in the New Testament Church, is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, “‘“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (John 7:38-39; ESV). As yet the Spirit had not been given, at least not in the fullness in which He would be given on Pentecost. Jesus had not yet been glorified, which is to say He had not yet completed His saving work, His death on the cross, His resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father. But Jesus promised that after His ascension He would send the Holy Spirit to His apostles and to His Church: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). So it is that as the Son reigns at the right hand of God the Father almighty, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ Name. The Son sends the Holy Spirit from the Father.[1] The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and in grace is poured out on the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.

The sending of the Holy Spirit is described in our second reading from the book of Acts (2:1-21). What a spectacular event! Great crowds from many nations had gathered in Jerusalem for the great Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, which in the Old Testament was a harvest festival that had also come to be regarded as a celebration of God’s giving the Torah to Moses. The scene was set for the magnificent unveiling of the New Testament Church. The disciples were all gathered together in one place, when suddenly there was a mighty rushing wind that filled the entire house, and tongues of fire rested on the heads of the apostles who were filled with the Holy Spirit. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit reminded them of all the things Jesus had done and taught, and gave them the words to faithfully testify about Jesus (cf. John 14:25-26; 15:26-27). And what is also miraculous about this is that those who had gathered in Jerusalem from the other nations of the world heard the disciples speaking the Word of God in their own languages, languages the disciples had never before known or studied! That’s the gift of speaking in tongues… it’s not ecstatic speech, which is really nonsense, but the ability, unique to the early Christians, to speak the Word of God in languages that were previously unknown to the speaker. In this way the curse of Babel was reversed. When all the people of the earth spoke the same language, they set out to build a tower that would reach the heavens. They believed that nothing, including their own salvation, was beyond human capability. Even God was within their reach, or so they thought. So God confused them by confusing their languages, and they were not able to build their idolatrous tower (Gen. 11:1-9). But on Pentecost, God came to the people and reversed the curse! Each visitor to Jerusalem heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his own native language. It was a miracle. The disciples were witnesses of Jesus beginning in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). All because the Holy Spirit was given to them at Pentecost.

This same Holy Spirit is given to you. He is a river of living water flowing from God, to you and through you, just as Jesus promised. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” says Jesus (John 7:37). Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in His Word, and in His Holy Supper. And through these means of grace the Holy Spirit works on you. He works faith in you, the faith that trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And through these means the Holy Spirit works love toward the neighbor. That’s what we often pray after the Lord’s Supper, that through this Sacrament God would strengthen us in faith toward Him and love toward one another. The Holy Spirit works faith and love in us through the means of grace. We cannot come to faith ourselves, by our own reason or strength. The Holy Spirit must call us by the Gospel. We cannot love our neighbors as ourselves by our own reason or strength. The Holy Spirit must sanctify us, make us holy. When God pours out His Holy Spirit on His people, it is as a river that flows through the believer and in love toward the neighbor. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (v. 38).

All of this takes place within the context of our Lord’s Church, the Communion of Saints. The Holy Spirit gathers for Himself a community of believers. Have you ever wondered why the third article of the Apostles’ Creed spends only one phrase on the Holy Spirit and moves immediately to the Holy Christian Church? The reality is, though, that when the Creed speaks of the Church, it has not moved on to another topic, for the Holy Spirit does His work of calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying precisely in the Church, the Communion of Saints. It is in the holy Christian Church that the Holy Spirit gives you what Jesus Christ has won for you, namely, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. That is what we confess in the Small Catechism when we say of this article, “In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”[2] That is, in fact, why the Church exists. The Church is not a social club, a society of likeminded folks concerned only about morality and social justice. Nor does the Church exist to provide opportunities for family activities or the formation of small groups who share similar interests. You don’t need the Church for any of that. You can get that other places. But there is only one place you can get what you really need. There is only one place you can get the gifts that the Father longs to lavish upon you, the gifts won by Jesus Christ His Son. There is only one place you can get the forgiveness of sins and grasp by faith the promise of the resurrection of the body unto eternal life. That place is the Holy Christian Church, where Father and Son pour out the Spirit on holy believers in Christ.

That is also why it is vital that you be here when the holy assembly of believers gathers for the Divine Service. You are here this morning and each time you come because the Holy Spirit has gathered you here as His Church. But you can resist Him. The Holy Spirit never forces anyone to come. I know that your fallen flesh thinks you have better things to do on Sunday morning than come to church, like sleep in late or go out to breakfast or hit the golf course or spend Mother’s Day with family (it has always been a bit of a head scratcher for me, by the way, that family time can’t be spent gathered around our Lord’s gifts in His Church). I know this about your fallen flesh because my fallen flesh tries to convince me of the same thing. But here is the good news. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, makes us holy, gives us new power to resist the fallen flesh along with the temptations of the devil and the whole world. So be here, even in the upcoming summer months when it’s easier to be somewhere else, and if you’re away on vacation, make sure to find another LCMS congregation where you can worship. I can help you with that. Because we never take a vacation from being Christians, and real rest from work, our Sabbath rest, is in Jesus Christ, who gives us rest from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil, and who pours out His good gifts and Spirit in His Church.

Yes, through these gifts, the Word and the Sacraments, doled out in the holy Christian Church, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s sin-atoning work your reality. Faith receives these gifts, and again, it is the Holy Spirit who gives you that faith. And faith is always active in love toward the neighbor. Are you thirsty? Have you learned from the school of experience that the world, with all its pleasures is unable to slake your thirst? Come and drink. Come where Jesus is with His gifts. Come where He pours out His Spirit upon you, as He poured out His Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost. Come to Church, hear the Word, be absolved of your sins, eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, and in this way the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon you and through you as a river of living water welling up in faith, hope, and love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Rolf Preus, http://www.christforus.org/Sermons/Content/2004/Pentecost2004.html.

[2] Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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