20 November 2010

A Homily for Last Sunday

Five foolish and five wise - and the only thing that separates the two in Jesus' story is that the wise had extra flasks of oil and the foolish did not.  A costly mistake.  The foolish lose out on the Wedding feast they had been waiting for.  "The door was shut."  And when the come late, asking for admittance, all they hear is:  "I do not know you."  So what does the extra oil stand for?  What is Jesus tell us that the wise have and the foolish lack?

We could speculate on all kinds of things, but better than guessing is to go to the Scriptures and chase down "oil."  Images begin to coalesce. 

Noah putting forth his hand from the ark and taking in the dove, with an olive branch in its mouth - sign that the judgment had passed and that it was safe to leave the ark.  Olive branch, olive oil.  Water and a dove.

The anointing of Saul - oil poured by old Samuel upon the young man's head and the Spirit suddenly coming on him in power and he prophesying, so that they asked:  "Is Saul also among the prophets?" 

Isaiah uttering the prophesy:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." 

And all the images uniting as Jesus stands in the water, and the Spirit descends "like a dove" "anointing" him.  Thus He enters His office as Christ! When we speak of our Lord as the "Christ" we are calling Him the Anointed One, and confessing that the Spirit of God rests on Him.

From start to finish the Bible unites Spirit and oil together; so much so that the verb used of pouring out oil is also the verb used of pouring out the Spirit:  "anoint!"

So the five wise virgins were those who kept by them the supply of oil, that is the supply of the Spirit?  What does that mean in practical terms?

We know that in Baptism God richly pours out His Spirit on His people:  "Be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit - the promise is for you and your children."  Acts 2.  But the sad fact is that our lives are very much  jars of clay, cracked pots.  The Spirit poured in only once, drains out.  He must be constantly and freshly poured into us if the lamp of faith is to keep burning bright in our lives. Thus Paul writes:  "Be [being] filled with the Spirit!" Eph. 5:18

But where is He being poured out?  Where are the extra flasks filled with the oil of the Spirit we'll need for our faith to burn brightly until the Day of Christ's return?

In the Church!  The full flasks are simply the means of grace - the Word and the Sacraments of Jesus.  To live our lives near them, constantly being replenished by them, letting the Spirit be poured into us - that is to be a wise virgin. 

To say:  "O, I'm a Christian" and then wander away from them, not to give a listen to Jesus' words, not to come often to hear His absolution, not to eat often of His body and blood, is to live foolishly indeed.  For what was once poured in, drains out through the cracks of our lamp, drains out through our sin.  That's to live in the danger of being caught out empty on the Last Day! 

So when the Lord says:  "What I say to you, I say to all, watch!"  He is urging us to camp out by the spiritual flasks of the Church.

The flasks of the Church are truly full to overflowing, for they are supplied from the Lord Jesus Himself, who fills them to the brim with His Spirit and His life.  This is the life He came from heaven to give us.  This is the life He brought into our flesh and blood when He assumed it from Mary's womb.  This is the life He died on the cross to pour out into us - the gift of forgiveness, the Life of the Trinity, the Joy that is the Holy Spirit, the Peace and the Love that the Spirit brings with Him because that's who He is.  All of these located for us richly in the flasks of the means of grace. 

But no one else can camp out at the means of grace for you - no one else can receive the Spirit for you, and so no one can believe for you.  So the wise cannot give their flasks to the foolish - impossible.  Each must have their own.  So it's not a matter of your mother being in church or your sister or your father or your brother.  It's a matter of YOU being where the flasks are full and letting the overflow keep your lamp of faith burning bright.

Thus the only way to be prepared for that day is to make a habit of truly listening to His Words, to make a habit of hearing the absolution and trusting it, to make a habit of coming to His altar and letting Him give His body and blood into you for the forgiveness of all your sins; this is how you "watch."  This is how you can have the certainty Paul spoke in our second reading (1 Thes. 5:1-111) that "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we might live  with Him."  Thus you'll be a people prepared and ready for whenever your Lord shall return and with joy, your lamp of faith will burn brightly in the night as you greet him and enter with Him into the feast of joy that never ends.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.


Anonymous said...

You write, “The Spirit poured in only once, drains out. He must be constantly and freshly poured into us if the lamp of faith is to keep burning bright in our lives. Thus Paul writes: "Be [being] filled with the Spirit!" Eph. 5:18”

There is not a single passage in Scripture that even hints at the fact that “The Spirit … drains out.” The Holy Spirit is not some substance that it drains through holes. The Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Lord and Giver of Life. He does as He wills; He does not “drain out” and then let Himself be pumped back in. The Holy Spirit cannot be quantified. The Holy Spirit does not disappear or “drain out” when we sin. On the contrary, He is there to help us fight against sin, the devil, and the world. What good would He be if He disappeared when we needed Him the most. When Scripture says that someone is “filled with the Holy Spirit,” it means that the Holy Spirit dwells in that person. Nowhere in Scripture is there mention of anyone having the Holy Spirit and not being filled with Him. Nowhere in Scripture is there any mention of receiving the Holy Spirit more than once.

Nowhere does Scripture state or imply that we receive the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist. We eat and drink the body and blood of the INCARNATE Son of God for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith. The Holy Spirit was not incarnate, so we should not contribute to a confusion of Persons. If I am wrong, please let me know the passage, and I will apologize most sincerely and as penance send you and your family a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant.

In May of this year I wrote you about the Eph. 5:18 passage. πληροῦσθε is in the form of the present passive imperative, second person plural. It would more properly be translated as “Let the Holy Spirit fill you.” You do violence to the text when you imply that we are to be filled “with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is doing the filling, and we are to let Him fill us with His gifts.

At the same time, I sent you a quote from “The Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology, Preface and Part I, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, January 1972”: “In Ephesians 5:18 the apostle exhorts all Christians to be filled with the Spirit, obviously meaning that they should employ the powers given them by the Spirit to live Christian lives, for the entire fifth chapter of the epistle deals with sanctification.”

The early church, when it made its historic decision on the readmission of apostates into the Church, clearly stated that they MUST NOT be re-baptized. Thereby they recognized that the Holy Spirit had not “leaked out” even out of those who had denied their Lord.

What dismays me most about this posting is that doctors of the Church have read it and have not been aghast at this totally new doctrine of the Holy Spirit! Where are you o doctors of the Church? Or am I totally mad?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Dear George,

I knew you would write on this, of course. In the Divine Service, each week we pray: "Create in me" and we beg: "take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." As Lutherans we certainly acknowledge the possibility that the Spirit may be lost, "quenched" as St. Paul would say. The antidote to this loss is precisely living at the receiving end of the Holy Spirit's means that He might keep us in repentance and in faith. The person who has been baptized and then literally abandons the means of grace - will he be able to retain saving faith? Note that the Spirit came upon the Apostles in Acts 2, though certainly Christ had imparted Him earlier on Easter evening in John 20, and then yet again He fills the Apostles in Acts 4. No, it makes no sense mathematically. As Dr. Nagel was wont to say: He gives us everything and then He gives us more. So the gift of the Spirit cannot be quantified in our life as though: I got Him in Baptism, I don't need Him given in any other manner. In the rite of Confirmation in the Lutheran Worship Agenda, as the pastor laid on his hands, he prayed: "God the Father of our Lord JEsus Christ, give You His Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge..." The Church through her countless hymns also asks for the gift of the Holy Spirit: "Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord!" "Creator Spirit...come visit every humble mind, come pour Your joys on human kind." I suspect we're just not going to come to agreement on this one, George. I most certainly believe that it is possible to lose the Holy Spirit, and the Lutheran Confessions expressly state this: see SA Part III, Article II:43-45.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,

I wonder how to go about making a habit of receiving absolution.

My heart aches and my spirit faints within me, urging me to go to confession more often. But my sinful flesh gets in the way.

I talk myself out of speaking to my pastor and the devil sows seeds of doubt in my heart, telling me not to burden my pastor; not to pester him.

How often can a penitent go to confession? Can it become a weekly habit?

William Weedon said...

Oh, the Holy Absolution is there for you as often as you need and desire it. Your pastor will likely be delighted if you ask for the opportunity to receive it more often. My own pattern which I try to keep is to receive the Absolution at each change of the Church Year (and a couple times in the long Trinity season). But as often as it is desired, receive the good gift of God!

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Weedon: I have never ever denied that it is possible to loose the Holy Spirit. That is a straw man. What I object to and I am convinced that there is no question that Scripture supports this view, is that the Holy Spirit acts like gas in a gas tank: flowing out, and being pumped back in. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit will not leave anyone who prays “and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” But we should recognize that the sin against the Holy Spirit is not ordinary sinning as all of God’s children do. It is a special case; one in which we had best not involve ourselves, because only our Lord knows who is His own, and who is not. Sasse writes, “our faith in the Holy Spirit has grown weak. We seem to regard Him as a power of God, but no longer as a person. That He is more than the power of God that comes over man we learn from our Lord Himself.”

Now to the multiple “fillings” of the Apostles in Acts 2 and 4. In Acts 2 it does not say that the Apostles were “filled again.” It simply says “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” This means that those who were newly filled and those who had been filled earlier were now indeed “all filled.” In Acts 4 there are two references to being filled with the Holy Spirit: first, in verse 8, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, …” and in 31, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” In neither instance is there any indication that those who had already been filled had received a refill. In John 14, our Lord tells the Apostles, “15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, …” Forever, not until He decides to leak out! Nothing about needing a refill after so many sins, because He is used up!

The rest of your answer relies on “the pastor prayed,” “the church does,” and “the church asks,” but not a word of Scripture. If Martin Luther had taken that approach, you would not be married today. Every year we piously sing “Come Holy Spirit enter in, and in our hearts your work begin.” So nothing happened when we were baptized; time to start over again?

Certainly I am most enthusiastically for using the means of grace. But to say that they are something they are not is not a good thing. And think of the infant who may not receive communion between Baptism and age 12; would he have any Holy Spirit left in him?

Finally, not a word about the Ephesians passage and receiving the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist.

I realize that you are busier than I probably ever was in my life and that you don’t need all this aggravation. But this is not some esoteric question of some abstruse adiaphoron – this is about a fundamental article of the Christian faith. When we fail to understand Who the Holy Spirit is, and how He dwells in each one of us, we will also fail to understand His gifts. That is the danger! We cannot, like the Schwärmer, try to deal with the Holy Spirit in a way that ignores how He really distributes His gifts to His people. We all need those gifts, and God wants us to have them, but we should know how to ask for them.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Dear George,

God bless you for the conversation. I do think it is helpful. But let me put it this simply: does the Holy Spirit abide in a person who purposefully turns away from the means of grace?

As for citing the Church, I do so in the glad confidence that "in the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth."

I do not know if you've had the chance to peruse Dr. Kleinig's fine work: Grace Upon Grace but these questions, it strikes me, are dealt with quite powerfully in that work. I'd be most curious of your take on his insights.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Weedon: Thank you for the blessing. I do not take that lightly.

You ask, “But let me put it this simply: does the Holy Spirit abide in a person who purposefully turns away from the means of grace?”

I answer: what would the world be like without hypothetical questions? You ask a question which neither I nor any other person can answer. Is it good to turn away from the means of grace? It is terrible, and it is sad. Although it is rarer than it used to be, people still leave the service while the words of the celebrant are still in the air, “Lift up your hearts!” Truly they know not what they do. Does our Father forgive them? He does not treat us as a “collective,” but each one individually. Only He knows what is in a person’s heart. But ultimately, our Lord gave the answer, (Matthew 19: 26) "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." So it’s possible, though He does not tell us whether it will happen in a particular case.

Your write, “As for citing the Church, I do so in the glad confidence that "in the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth." Our Eastern and Roman brothers refer to this as faith in “tradition.” We Lutherans are often disdainful of it, and we should not be. But we also believe that the sole rule and norm of doctrine and tradition is the Word of God. Regardless of how long a certain tradition has been adhered to, longevity does not give it legitimacy. Only the Scriptures can do that. In this case, I am really at a loss, because I cannot find any adherents to your “leaking Holy Spirit” theory anywhere in the history of Christendom. Just thought of one: McCaine kicked me off his blog because he deemed my reference to the Holy Spirit “leaking out” to be disrespectful. So you better watch out.

I have not read Dr. Kleinig’s “Grace upon Grace.” No doubt there are many good things in it. Besides, I have no issue with the vastness and complexity of God bestowing His Grace on His children. But I came across an article of his that contained the following: “Our worship then is, first and foremost, much more a matter receiving rather than of giving. It is God's doing; it involves us in a descending Trinitarian transaction, an act of condescension in which God the Father comes down to us and gives us the Holy Spirit through the words and deeds of Jesus in the divine service.” It matters not who says it, if it’s not so, it’s not so. Because we imagine that God gives us the Holy Spirit in worship and the Eucharist, we are unable to appreciate the many glorious gifts, which according to Scripture, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, does give us.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

This probably above my pay grade but I have always been taught that the sacraments are a means of grace. What am I getting, if not the Holy Spirit. In Acts, "Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," Peter seems to link the sacrament, forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. I know in the Lord's Supper, I receive the forgiveness of my sins but every week, my Pastor prays after the Lord's Supper, 'strengthen and preserve you eternal life.' If I am not getting the Holy Spirit, what am I getting. Am I on my own here?


Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon:

I have been thinking about this (always dangerous)and it seems to me that the Holy Spirit's gig is to apply the forgivenss of sins won for me by Christ at the Cross and this is not a one and done. It is continual. To separate the Holy Spirit from the application of forgiveness to me is like denying that Christ is the ground of that forgivness.


William Weedon said...