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 31, 2009

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (B)
Confirmation of Katelyn Drummond and Jack Lowery
May 31, 2009
Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Alleluia” (Liturgical Text, Introit for Pentecost). An appropriate prayer indeed for our confirmands, Katelyn and Jack, as they confess their faith this morning and receive for the first time our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper for the forgiveness of their sins. An appropriate prayer for us to pray for ourselves and for all our brothers and sisters in the faith each day, but especially on this Day of Pentecost, as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on those first disciples in Jerusalem.

Pentecost means fifty. In the Old Testament, Pentecost was a harvest festival that took place fifty days after the Passover. That is why so many people from so many different countries were gathered in Jerusalem. They were there to celebrate Pentecost. But in the New Testament, Pentecost takes on even greater significance. It is fifty days after our Lord’s resurrection, ten days since His ascension into heaven. And now Jesus makes good on His promise to His disciples. He sends the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, He promised His disciples that after His ascension into heaven He would send a “Helper,” a “Paraclete,” One who comes to your side when you are in distress to comfort you and to counsel you. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26; ESV). His coming, according to the account in Acts, is spectacular (Acts 2:1-21). While the Church is gathered together, probably for the Divine Service, about 120 people comprising the entire holy Christian Church at this time (not much larger than our assembly this morning!), suddenly there is a sound as of a mighty rushing wind, pneuma, Spirit, wind, breath. It fills the entire house where the Christians are worshiping. And suddenly divided tongues of fire rest upon each one of them. They are all filled with the Holy Spirit. Suddenly they understand all the things that Jesus did and taught while He was visibly among them, things they could not understand without the Holy Spirit. Jesus is faithful to His Word. In sending the Holy Spirit, He opens the minds and hearts of His disciples to the truth of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. And thus having enlightened the disciples, the Holy Spirit also opens their mouths to confess. Out into the streets of Jerusalem they go, speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance.

This tongues speaking, by the way, is not some sort of ecstatic unknown heavenly language, like the Pentecostals claim it is. That kind of tongues speaking isn’t anywhere in the Bible. The miracle of tongues speaking is rather that the disciples are speaking the Gospel in known human languages that they had never before learned or studied. Thus those gathered together in Jerusalem from among the nations are amazed: “how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (vv. 8-11).

The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith in the disciples of Jesus Christ and enlightens them to understand His Word. Then He leads those same disciples to confess. The Church celebrates Pentecost this morning because the coming of the Holy Spirit wasn’t just for the first disciples. It is for all who believe in Christ Jesus. You can’t be a Christian without the Holy Spirit. St. Paul writes, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). You get the Holy Spirit, He comes down upon you as a gift of the Father and the Son, in your Baptism, and He is continually given to you, continually coming to you, in His Word and in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar. This morning we’re celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit in His Church. That’s what the feast of Pentecost is all about. And on this confirmation day we’re celebrating particularly His work in bringing Katelyn and Jack to faith in Holy Baptism, and keeping and nurturing them in that faith by His Word right up to the present moment as they make their good confession.

So who is the Holy Spirit? It may seem obvious, but He’s kind of a mystery. He’s always pointing away from Himself and to Jesus Christ. The Father and the Son get all the press, and the Holy Spirit likes it that way. “He will glorify me,” Jesus says, “for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons in one God that is the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’ll talk more about this mystery next Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, but remember there is one God in three Persons, coequal, coeternal, Three in One and One in Three, and how this can be our finite human minds are incapable of understanding. The Holy Spirit is neither created nor begotten, but proceeding from the Father and the Son. He’s a Person, a personal Being, as the Father and Son are Persons, personal Beings. The Holy Spirit is not just some sort of divine energy as some have mistakenly taught. He is the very Lord and Giver of life, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified. It is the Holy Spirit who spoke by the prophets and the apostles. It is the Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of Holy Scripture. By inspired we mean literally breathed into them the contents of the Scriptures, so that behind every human author of Scripture, each with his own style and personality, there is ultiamtely one Author, the Holy Spirit.

And He works among us today, breathing into us the life-giving breath of faith, always pointing us to Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of our sins, raised for our justification. He is always directing us to Christ. The Holy Spirit has often been called “the shy Person of the Holy Trinity” because He is always drawing attention away from Himself to Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for our conversion, for our coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we confess with Martin Luther and with our catechumen this morning, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”[1] Our coming to faith and our perseverance in the faith, our believing and confessing, our works of love and service, all are the work of the Holy Spirit within us. He gets all the credit. This is all pure gift to us, given by the same grace by which salvation and the forgiveness of sins are granted us in Jesus Christ. And there is a promise for all who possess and are possessed by this Spirit of God, a promise for each day and a promise for the Last Day. “In this Christian church [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” That’s the daily promise for us from which we draw strength and encouragement to meet every moment we’ve been given. But there is more. “On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” He will raise me and all the dead. He will give eternal life to me and all believers. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as Ezekiel is brought in the Spirit to the valley of dry bones, and speaking through Ezekiel the Spirit commands the bones to live (Ez. 37:1-14), so the Holy Spirit will command our bones to take on flesh and spring forth from the grave on the Day our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. The passage from Ezekiel is an illustration of the Spirit’s work in two ways. The Spirit breathes the breath of spiritual life in us by bringing us to faith. And He keeps us in that faith so that on the Last Day He can breath into us the life-giving breath of physical resurrection from the dead. He is indeed the Lord and Giver of life.

But you should not expect to get this Spirit of God in any other way than through the Word. He will not just come and zap you into conversion. He comes by the Word. He comes by preaching and Scripture and Baptism and Absolution and the Holy Supper. He may not come to you with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, or with tongues of fire and miraculous speech. But He comes to you with all His gifts in His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. That is what confirmation day is all about. It is a celebration and a confession that the Holy Spirit was given to Katelyn and to Jack in their Baptism into Christ, that He brought them to faith in Christ, and that He has remained with them and in them ever since by His Word. The evidence will be their confession this morning. They believe. You will hear it from their own mouths. They have been called by the Gospel and gathered into the Holy Church in their Baptism. They have been instructed in the Holy Scriptures in the Divine Service and in Sunday School and in Catechism class. The Holy Spirit has enlightened them all the way through since their Baptism and continues to enlighten them. He continues to sanctify them and keep them in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. They believe and they confess. This is not a graduation for them. We never graduate from Catechism class. We never graduate from Church. Confirmation is a confession and a promise that Katelyn and Jack will ever remain faithful students of the Holy Scriptures, of the Catechism, of the Holy Spirit who comes to them by the Word, until all is revealed to them in heaven. We pray for them and we rejoice with them, for the Holy Spirit has done a mighty work in our midst and continues to do it in Jack and in Katelyn and in all of us by giving and preserving faith in Jesus. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Alleluia.” The Holy Spirit hears our prayer and answers with a resounding yes. He fills us. He breathes into us the breath of faith. He keeps us unto life everlasting. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

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