10 May 2008

Homily for Pentecost

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.

It was on this day, the fiftieth day from the first Easter, that the Lord Jesus kept His promise and poured out His Holy Spirit. In mighty roar of wind and crackle of flame, the Spirit descended and filled the disciples with power. Miraculously they began to speak in languages they had never learned, declaring the mighty deeds of God in Jesus Christ. When the crowds began to think they were drunk, Peter took to the pulpit and preached the first Pentecost Day sermon. From Peter's preaching that day 3,000 souls were baptized and thus Pentecost is called the birthday of the Christian Church.

But if the work of God the Holy Spirit in the Christ's Church began with great fireworks and drew much attention to itself, it has continued quiet and almost unobserved. When the Spirit comes at Baptism, there is no wind, no flame. Merely the splash of water and the quiet promise from the Word of God that forgiveness has been given and a kingdom bestowed, together with a new birth. Likewise, when the Spirit comes to us through the Word, there is no impressive display. Only the quiet and indepth work of imparting faith and forgiveness, and conforming our lives to Christ.

It is the quiet work of the Spirit that Jesus speaks about in today's Gospel. Remember the context. This is Jesus' farewell to his disciples. It is taking place at the Last Supper and as they walk on their way to the Garden where He will be betrayed. He says to them that night: "If anyone loves Me, He will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me, does not keep My words, and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me."

Those are not words of manipulation, but of rock solid fact. We love Jesus as we keep His words. As His words find a home in our hearts, we will know the love of the Father, and the Father and Jesus Himself come and live in us. That is because the Words of Jesus are the words that His Father gave Him to give to us, that our God might live in our hearts by faith. That we might actually be His temples on the earth.

Still, I wonder that night if those words didn't move the disciples to despair. How wonderful the promise that the Lord Jesus and the Father would dwell in them with the words of Jesus - but oh, how hard to remember the words! How difficult to let them sink in and find a home in the soul! And now He was talking about leaving. He told them that He had only a little time left with them. True, He has the words of everlasting life, but what will become of those words when He is no longer there speaking them to comfort and cheer their hearts? What then?

So Jesus promises them more. "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 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 things that I said to you." What they could not do on their own - remember the words of Jesus - that the Holy Spirit will enable them to do. He will take the words of Jesus and He will call them again to their minds.

That He did. Already witness the power of Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost! He boldly cites the prophet Joel and announces: That's what has happened this very day. The Spirit has been poured out. And the Spirit did more than just remind the Apostles' of what Jesus had said. He enabled them to understand what Jesus said with penetrating insight. He opened up the Old Testament to them and showed them how it was all full of Jesus Christ, how it all pointed to Him and to His finished work of redemption. And more, He caused their preaching of the Word to be with power. Through their words He convicted the world of sin, (Brethren, what must we do?) and then showed the righteousness of Christ as God's remedy for our pardon (Repent and be baptized!).

In the precious words of the Bible, we have the fulfillment of Christ's promise to the disciples. The Spirit came on them as promised. The Spirit proved to be a Helper indeed. By His work in their lives, they were divinely helped to remember the very words that Jesus Christ Himself had spoken and taught. They wrote those words down - again by the same Spirit. They are His words as well as theirs. And He is powerfully active in them. Through the preaching of His Word, God the Holy Spirit still gathers Himself a church and sustains the very life of that Church for as long as it is in this world on pilgrimage.

That's why you can take all the programs for fixing this or that that's gone wrong with the Church and throw them away. They are utterly worthless. What sustains and keeps the Church going is the Word of God alone, where the Spirit of God alone speaks, confronting our sin and giving us forgiveness through Christ's blood.

And what joy that can give to your life today, my friends! The world we live in has lost the ability to look at anything and say: "That's right" or "That's wrong." Our society can only speak of "values" and making "value judgments". All that used to be black or white is dissolved into a murky gray. But into that murk, the Word of God still cuts with a sharpness that outrages the world. The Spirit there speaks the Law with uncompromised conviction. The Holy Ten Commandments still stand. And the reason an action is right or wrong is because God says so. If God were to decree that picking up purple straws on Wednesday afternoons was a sin, then it would be a sin indeed. The comfort you have in this, people of God, is that the Spirit has given you a record that is utterly reliable, absolutely inerrant and infallible. It will not lead you wrong. God the Holy Spirit speaks in His Scriptures with utmost clarity for your life.

But as much as He there witnesses to the Law, to show us our sin and to guide us in holy living, He much more in His Scripture witnesses to Jesus Christ himself. Points to Him as the One and Only Savior we have, who took our sins in His own body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness and find healing in His wounds. So it is above all a book of comfort. Fitting indeed, for Christ ends today's gospel with these words: "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid."

Trouble and fear. Two things that cannot hang around where the Holy Trinity makes His dwelling. Where the Father and the Son abide in those who live in the Spirit's words, letting those words find a home in them, trouble and fear disappear. Oh, not that troubles won't come in this world. Of course they will. But that in the midst of worldly trouble, God's people know a heavenly peace. The peace that can only come from the Spirit Himself, filling our hearts. The Spirit who dwells in us as the words of Jesus dwell in our inmost hearts. If you don't have that peace inside, you need to ask if you are letting the words of Jesus live in you.

This Pentecost Day, dear friends, make it your resolve to let those Words of the Spirit find a home in you. Feed on them in your hearts. They will give you peace like the world cannot give. They come to you directly from the heart of God the Father, delivered by your Lord Jesus, and guaranteed by His Spirit - alive with the life of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, whose presence is peace indeed and to whom be glory through endless ages. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just what I needed to hear today. Thank you for your faithful service.