[We have Winkel here tomorrow, and the readings will be Acts 8:14-17; John 10:1-10]
On Pentecost, Word and Spirit were running very much together. Today, though, we hear of Samaritans who receive the Word of God – which Word is gift of the Spirit, which reception is gift of the Spirit – and yet we are told that the Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them.” And to add insult to injury, St. Luke tosses in this zinger: “but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Only been baptized? Lord, have mercy, what was St. Luke thinking about? Homer nods. Does St. Luke? Does the Holy Spirit? And if they don’t nod, what then?
Do the Apostles’ hands make up for what is lacking in the Lord’s Word and His Baptism? Do Peter and John’s hands deliver what the Lord’s Word and his holy Sacrament fail to give? Certainly sounds that way. Maybe we’d best all head up to the Assembly of God Church and apologize for getting the whole thing wrong! Or do we need to St. Bonfiace in Edwardsville and apologize to Rome for not having sacramental confirmation?
Or is there a way out of the conundrum? In today’s Gospel our Lord says that the thief – the devil – comes only to steal and kill and destroy. He contrasts that with His own reason for coming. “I came that they might have life” – and here’s the key – “and have it abundantly.” Abundantly. Perissos. More than you’ve a right to expect or anticipate and more than you can control. Picture the glass being filled with water and then the water continuing to spill in and over and flood the glass, the table, the floor. More giving than you can hold on to.
That’s the way of our God revealed in His Son. When He has given us everything, He still has more to give. You cannot control or constrain His giving. So with the Lord’s Words that the Samaritans received, came the gift of the Spirit who was active in those words – causing them to be believed. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God” and yet “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” And St. Paul can ask the Galatians: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” He expects the answer: “By hearing with faith.” And once you’re brought to faith, do you need Baptism? What more could it possibly give you than you’ve already received? And yet, the Lord who gave you everything, gives you even more.
And so Baptism gives its gifts to the Samaritans. They are joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection, wrapped around in His vital righteousness, their sins are forgiven, and they are made heirs of heaven itself. This is the washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. So surely we don’t need anything more once you’ve received that, right? And yet the Lord who gives everything, always has more to give.
And so along come the Apostles’ hands, and those hands are an enacted prayer. Prayer that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Not that He wasn’t already there and active, but that His being there and active would be confirmed in them, strengthened in them. And so it was. They received the Holy Spirit, says St. Luke. And since Simon the Magician could SEE this falling of the Spirit, it must have been something akin to what happened on the morning of Pentecost with some signs – but what they were we’re not told.
When He has given you the lot, He has more to deliver. That is the way of the Calvary Lord who came to be the door that we might enter by Him and be saved. The gifts cannot be quantified, and so He continues to dish them out, more than we can ask for, more than we can even desire. But neither our asking or desiring constrain His generosity in His Son.
Having given us His Word, having given us His Baptism, having given us His Spirit, we might ask: what more would I need? That is unbelief speaking even when it cloaks itself in piety. The Lord’s giving is what we live from and He dishes His gifts out beyond our control. We can receive them and rejoice in them, but we cannot measure and manipulate them or constrain them.
More gifts on the way in just a moment. The Lord will use His Words to consecrate bread and wine and attach His promise to them. They will become for us His body and blood and the very nourishment of eternal life. What the Good Shepherd gave into death to deliver us from the bite of that nasty wolf forever – that He will give to us for forgiveness of all our sin.
Forgiveness of sin? Didn’t we already get that in Baptism? Or when we first believed? And didn’t it already come in the Absolution? Why do we need the Supper?
Away with our wretched unbelief that refuses to let itself be nothing but given to. The Lord’s gifts roll on, and in them a life that we might have abundantly – no stinginess with this Lord Jesus of ours, this Good Shepherd. He gives and gives and when He’s given us everything, there’s still more. Well does our Larger Catechism confess: "It is as though He were an eternal fountain that gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good." Perissos. Abundantly. Let us enjoy His bounty and celebrate the feast! Amen.