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 23, 2010

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost
Confirmation Day
May 23, 2010
Text: Gen. 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Alleluia” (Introit).

Pentecost, the great celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Church and the pastor are dressed in red, the color of fire. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles with tongues of fire, as we read in the second lesson (Acts 2:1-21), so that they boldly spoke the Word of the Lord, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to all who had gathered for the great feast. And it was a great miracle. The Spirit blew through the place with the sound of a mighty, rushing wind, and the tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the apostles, who began to speak the Word of the Lord in the native languages of all the people, languages the apostles had not previously studied or known. Pentecost, a word that means “50,” was originally an Old Testament harvest festival, also known as the Feast of Weeks. It occurred 50 days (or seven weeks) after the Passover, when all the Jews gathered in Jerusalem bringing with them the firstfruits of the grain harvest to offer to the LORD. It is also the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, which according to tradition took place 50 days after the first Passover and the Exodus. And so 50 days after the celebration of Passover, 50 days after our Lord’s exodus, His sacrificial death as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the world, and His victorious resurrection from the dead, the Jews are gathered together in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. And once again, the LORD gives His Word, by His Spirit, who inspires, breathes into the apostles His Word, so that they expire, breathe out in their preaching, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in the Holy Gospel: “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” (John 14:26; ESV). This promise was originally given to the apostles who, as you’ll recall, often didn’t get Jesus’ teaching. How many times in the gospels do we find the phrase applied to the apostles, “they did not understand…”? Even after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, as He was about to ascend into heaven, the apostles ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). It is so clear that they have misunderstood the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ teaching that our Lord does not address their question directly, but instead promises again: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8). Promise fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Now these bumbling, uneducated Galileans speak with all the authority of God. They have been reminded of all the things Jesus did and taught, and it is Christ Himself who speaks through them, by His Spirit, the very Word of the Father. The preaching of the apostles and their writings contained in the New Testament are not simply the words of men, but the very Word of God, inspired and inerrant. And in this way, the promise of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, applies directly to each of us, for in the apostolic Word we receive that same Spirit, who likewise teaches us and reminds us of all that Jesus said, and brings us into living and saving relationship to Jesus Christ.

And so it is very appropriate that the Day of Pentecost is also Confirmation Day here at Epiphany congregation. Bray and Samantha and every one of us had a personal Pentecost on the day of our Baptism into Christ, when the Holy Spirit came upon us, marked us as God’s own children, washed us with the blood of Christ, and gave us faith in Christ as a gift. On the day of our Baptism into Christ, we enter the school of the Holy Spirit. Our whole life is a life of being taught the Holy Scriptures, taught of our dear Savior Jesus Christ, and of our loving Father, by the Spirit. He teaches us in every contact with His Word. The primary place for teaching is here in the Divine Service, and in the home through study of the Scriptures and the Catechism. The Holy Spirit teaches us in Scripture reading and preaching and Sacrament and liturgy, in Bible class and Sunday School and in the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren as we discuss the Word of God informally. In the home, the Holy Spirit teaches us in our study and personal and family Scripture reading and devotions. And a very important part of this schooling is Catechism class. Confirmation comes at the end of Catechism class. Confirmation is a free thing. The ceremony, I mean. We don’t have to have it. It is a good practice. The Rite of Confirmation is a celebration of the Spirit’s work in our confirmands, and an opportunity for them to publicly confess the faith of their Baptism. For no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). But confirmation is adiaphora, neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. Catechism class is NOT adiaphora. Our Lord commands us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then teaching them, all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Baptize and teach. The two go hand in hand. That is how you make disciples. One leads to the other, and vice versa. Nor is Confirmation Day ever to be thought us as a graduation from Catechism class. Catechism class never ends. It is a lifelong study in the school of the Holy Spirit. Even the most mature Christians return again and again to the Catechism to be schooled in the basics of the Christian faith.

Martin Luther knew a thing or two about theology. He writes in his preface to the Large Catechism: “I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people” who think they know everything there is to know about theology. “Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning—and whenever I have time—I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so.”[1] I know from talking to Bray and Sami, that they echo Dr. Luther’s words, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to give them that commitment to the Scriptures and the Catechism so that their whole life long they will be immersed in the gifts of Christ, and finally delivered to the joy of heaven. May we all have the same zeal for the gifts and teaching of our Lord. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13) and remind us of all the things Jesus said (14:26), and this promise is so important, because we live in a world cursed by sin. The evidence is all around us: our own sins and the corruption that runs so deep into our very nature, sickness, injury, decay, immorality, natural disasters, terrorism and other man-made catastrophes, and the list goes on and on. And we try to save ourselves. We try to work our way out of our problems. Save the planet. Save the Church. Save our nation. Like the people of Babel, we try to build our way to heaven by the bricks of our own merits. And we always fall short. We never reach the goal. God is always still looking down on our works, because they can never measure up to Him. And so we try to bring God down to our level, as our peer, make a name for ourselves and be our own gods. And what does that get us? Division, discord, and strife. The words of men are only meaningless babble. Our language is confused. We separate. We break away from one another. We wander in loneliness, captive to our selfishness, captive to sin, captive finally to death. Our hopes of reaching heaven on our own merits are annihilated.

And that is why Pentecost is so important. Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. Now we are united as one people by the Holy Spirit’s language, one Word, the Word of God, the Gospel. The Holy Spirit teaches us in this one language. When the Holy Spirit teaches us, He breathes Jesus into us. He breathes the Savior into us. He enlivens us who are walking dead in trespasses and sins. He breathes new life into us by His Word. He washes us with the precious blood of Christ in Baptism. He places the very body of Christ into our mouths, the body that was crucified for us, and pours the blood that was shed for us down our throats. Sami and Bray will taste and see, in this special way, that the Lord is good for the first time this morning. You see, whereas sin divides and scatters, the Holy Spirit, in His Word, gathers us and unites us around the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament. Whereas sin confuses our language, so that we speak past and against each other, and bring great harm to one another, the Holy Spirit gives us a common Word, His Word, one Word that we speak with and to each other, and so bring healing and life to one another. Whereas the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:23), given and dispensed by the Holy Spirit in the means of grace.

So we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful.” Fill us, again and again, with Your Word and the blessed Sacrament. Fill us so that we ever be faithful, united to Christ and to one another as the Body of Christ. Fill us, we pray, “and kindle in” us “the fire of Your love. Alleluia.” The fire of Pentecost is still burning, beloved in the Lord. There may not be the spectacular display of tongues of fire resting on our heads and the sound of the mighty rushing wind. We may not be speaking the Word to one another in languages we previously did not know or study. But the Spirit is among us as surely as He was with the infant Church in Jerusalem on Pentecost. The Spirit is among us, blowing through us, breathing into us a living faith in Jesus Christ, lighting our hearts afire with love for God and for one another and for the whole world. The Spirit is in Bray and Samantha. The Spirit is in every one of the Baptized who carry with them the Name of God. He is teaching. He is reminding. He is giving Jesus. He is forgiving sins and sealing His people for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Come, Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts, and kindle in us the fire of Your love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther’s Large Catechism with Study Questions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010) p. 8.

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