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Sermon for Pentecost

Augustana, 2011

42 Sermon for Pentecost.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Doctor Luther is quoted as having said, “Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.”

He got off the boat in Baltimore.  It was the summer of 1838.  Fritz.  I’ve been to the place where he got off.  He asked right away, “Where is the Lutheran church?”  They said, “What church?”  “The Lutheran church.”  Well, they told this German immigrant the Lutheran church was up the road somewhere, the Lutheran church.  He got to the church and the pastor was there to greet him and said, “Would you like to lead our prayer service tonight?”  Fritz, being a Lutheran pastor, a missionary sent from Germany, ordained to go into missionary work came to America and he said “Sure, I’ll lead.”  He got there that night.  He shared some texts of Holy Scripture.  He sang, he had them sing a few hymns.  And then all of a sudden, there was this low moaning.  Ooooohhhh.  Woooaaahhhh!  And it would rise in a crescendo.  He had stepped right into a German Methodist Church.  And this was during the second Great Awakening when evidence of the Holy Spirit was climbing the walls and barking at the ceiling.  True.  After the service the Methodist Pastor came up to him and said, “Well, how did you like it?”  And Fritz said, “Well, I don’t know whether it was from God or the devil it certainly wasn’t Lutheran.”[1]

Think about all the ways you’ve heard Pentecost described.  “This is the birthday of the Christian Church.”  “The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.”  This is all wrong.  The Christian Pentecost is not something new.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day is not a new thing but the old thing that God had promised now fulfilled.  There is a tendency today to use the Holy Spirit as a way to sanction any doctrine or practice not traditionally taught or practiced by the church.  The Holy Spirit has been given credit for the modern ecumenical movement, the modern charismatic movement, probably every capital fundraising campaign in the history of the church, as well as women pastors and the modern homosexual agenda in the church.  When the ELCA met in the Church Wide Assembly in 2009 and elected effectively to re-define what God had previously said about human sexuality, they said, quote, “The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.”  Every time a leader in the church steps away from the doctrine of the apostles and the sacraments Jesus gave His Church, they claim that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.   Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit is not doing a new thing because the Holy Spirit cannot do a new thing.  In fact, it’s precisely when people claim the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing that you can be assured that He is not doing a new thing.  So, I’m going to say it again: the Holy Spirit cannot do a new thing.  That may sound like blasphemy to some of you but I assure you it’s not.  Of the many blessings of God, one is that He is not constantly changing the rules of the game.  I remember playing board games as a kid with other kids.  Sometimes the kids were older and as the game progressed “new rules” would appear in the game so as to ensure I would lose the game.  This is not the case with God and the revelation of His will in His Law and the revelation of His love in His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is where Doctor Luther gets his saying, “Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.”

But you might wonder, “What about Dr. Luther and the Reformation?  Surely the Lutheran Reformation was of the Holy Spirit and it was the Holy Spirit doing a new thing?”  I would certainly agree with you that the Lutheran Reformation was something led by the Holy Spirit but I profoundly disagree that it was a new thing.  Over and over again, Luther and the reformers claimed the authority of the Scriptures as the source of their teaching, not a new thing in the Holy Spirit.  Our claim is and always has been that Lutherans are more closely aligned with our origins in the Scriptures.   And so Lutheranism is not a new thing because Pentecost is a not a new thing, but the confirmation of God that the old promise that has stood for generations has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  And what is that?  It’s in the sermon Peter preached to all those Jews gathered together that first Pentecost Day.

Peter preaches: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.   And after two three proofs from the Scriptures, Peter preaches:  “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

“Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.  Peter preached Jesus crucified and risen.  Peter did not preach that the Holy Spirit was doing a new thing.  Peter did not preach that the tongues by which the apostles preached to each group in their own language were a new blessing on the people of God.  The tongues and yes, even the fire, were a means to get to Jesus, to testify of Jesus.  And what Peter tell these God-fearing Jews when they were cut to the heart and asked Peter’s what they should now do?  “And 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.”  That’s what the Holy Spirit does.  He doesn’t do things apart from God’s revealed Word.  He reveals the Word.  He provides understanding so that we might hear God’s Word correctly.  The Holy Spirit does not ask the question, “Did God really say?”  That’s the serpent in the garden.  Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.  And so we Lutherans are not Holy Spirit poor, we are rich with the gifts of the cross the Holy Spirit pours out on us—life and salvation and forgiveness of sins.  If that sounds boring or ho hum to some folks, they certainly don’t know these gifts very well and they certainly are unaware of their sin, the devil and the death that lives in their heart where they go looking for the Holy Spirit.  Eternal life, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins are the gifts Jesus won on the cross for us.  These are the gifts Jesus came to bring.  He doesn’t blow them to us on kisses.  He pours them onto us.  He feeds them to us and has us drink them.  Eternal life, salvation from slavery to the devil, and forgiveness of sins, all for us won by Jesus, delivered to us by the Holy Spirit.

And so here is the day to day difference for you.  While other Christians search high and low in their hearts for any possible stirrings of the Holy Spirit in there, crawling the walls or barking at the ceiling when they do find Him, you can rejoice in the gifts the Holy Spirit delivers to you, gifts that you can see and touch and hear and taste and smell.  God’s gifts come to you from without.  You need not ever wonder if that stirring in our belly is from the Spirit or your belly is just telling you it’s time for lunch.  You need not ever worry whether God loves you.  God loves you.  He had poured out His Spirit on you in Water and sealed you in His name.  Here He feeds you from His own table and you participate in great banquet of heaven even on this side of eternity.  Forget about looking for God in the special ways and instead rejoicing that God has come to you in the humblest and most ordinary things of life.  There he is in Daily washing and in daily Supper for you to give you life everlasting, freedom from slavery to the devil and all his works and ways, and holy absolution for all your sins.

What a great gift it is from God that he doesn’t go changing the rules of the game on us.  What a gift from the Holy Spirit that He has bound Himself to these simple means of water, bread, wine and Word.  What a tremendous blessing that the Holy Spirit knows nothing except Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  This was God’s plan from the very beginning.  Behold the Spirit of God has been poured out in your hearing this today.  You are Holy Spirit people, enlivened, freed, and forgiven.  Amen.


[1] President Harrison related this story in his sermon at Concordia Seminary’s Call Day, 2011.

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