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Sermon for Pentecost

June 10, 2014 2 comments

Note:  The text for this sermon is Acts 2:1-41.  The sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below

or by clicking the link and downloading the mp3 file to your computer for listening or perhaps even burning to a CD.

Sermon for Pentecost.mp3

 

pentecost

Today is the festival of Pentecost.  After Easter it is the second most important day in the Church Year.  A statement like that might stop and make you think.  More important than Christmas?  I’d have to say, yes, Pentecost is more important than Christmas because there was never a time when the Church did not celebrate the day Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church.  And there was a good long time, some 400 years or so, when the Church did not celebrate Christmas.  And if Jesus was raised on the eighth day of the week, then Pentecost, the eighth Sunday of Easter, makes perfect sense.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard Jesus promise to send His Spirit and what that would mean.  Jesus said when the Spirit came He would make the truth of Jesus known to us.  In John 16, Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  (Jn 16:13-14)  All of that teaching is now come to fulfillment in the wind, fire and preaching of the resurrected Christ of God.  And in our readings today, the Holy Spirit came and that’s exactly what He did, just as Jesus said He would, just as the prophets had prophesied He would.  Jesus has ascended, yes; and now we have His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Yahweh.

I have to admit that growing up in the church, the full weight of Pentecost was lost on me.  I remember hearing that the significance of Pentecost had to do with great rushing wind, the tongues of fire on the apostles’ heads, and their speaking in different foreign languages.  But as I learned more, that I began to realize that while those are all amazing wonders, they are not the Good News of the Gospel.  Oh, they are amazing and they are well within the realm of God’s previous activity.  We know it was a powerful wind that drove back the waters of the Red Sea that allowed Israel to pass through on dry ground.  And we know that fire and the real presence of God are often synonymous in the OT, whether it’s in a burning bush, atop Mt. Sinai or column of fire and smoke that led Israel through the wilderness and came to reside enthroned between the outstretched wings of the cherubim atop the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle and later in the temple.  And we also know it was God Himself who confused the languages of humankind at Babel so it should be a powerful sign that God Himself should speak to all people so that they can hear the Good News about Jesus.  But still, these signs and wonders are not the Good News about Jesus.  Maybe, my pastors were trying to make the same point I am today but I was too fixated on the wind, fire, and tongues.  Probably.  No the whole point of the wondrous signs is that they accompany Peter’s preaching.

Peter preaches a fine sermon.  Peter, who just moments prior to the outpouring of the Spirit was still gathered with the disciples in the upper room, presumably with the door still locked for fear of the Jews.  Peter preaches a sermon about these wonders based on Joel chapter 2.  These men are not babbling drunk, they are speaking in the languages of the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites and the residents of Mesopotamia and all the others present there in Jerusalem for Jewish harvest festival.  This is a great day, the day of the Lord bestowing the Holy Spirit on all who believe.  But even here, we aren’t truly at the Good News about Jesus because the Gospel is not that the Lord’s gives the Holy Spirit.  No!  Why does Jesus say He’ll send His Spirit?  Jesus says the Spirit will come not to glorify Himself but to glorify Him.  The Holy Spirit comes and guides us to Jesus, the truth.  The Holy Spirit comes to point us to Jesus.  Remember, Jesus said, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  You might be wondering where all this is in Peter’s sermon today.  And you know what the problem is?  The problem is we don’t have the whole sermon today in our reading.  We divide it up, and read the second half next week on the festival of the Holy Trinity.  If we had the whole thing today, we would hear Peter preach to all those people in the temple courtyards that Jesus of Nazareth, the one that everyone knew did mighty wonders and signs, was betrayed, crucified and killed by many of the very same people who were listening to Peter preach.  But that this very same Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and ascended to His rightful place of authority in heaven.  That’s the Gospel.   That’s the Good News of God for a world smothered by death, and enslaved to the power of rebellion against God Himself.  And that’s why when the men heard the Gospel preached by Peter and the other apostles in their own languages, they repented of their sin and sought the forgiveness of sins that comes only through the working of the Holy Spirit.

There are a great number of problems in the Christian Church throughout the world today.  Look around and in almost every place you’ll see something other than Christ preached.  Oh they preach fine sermons on the strengths of Christianity.  Or they’ll preach strong Christians and the Christian is preached.  Or they preach fine sermons that lift up the organization and the Church is preached.  But Peter and the apostles did not preach the Church or the Christian; they preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised from the death for the forgiveness of sins.  Just as Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do when He was sent.

Peter’s sermon is a fine corrective for any church or for any pastor who would forget about the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A church can feed the hungry and house the homeless and, without Christ at the center, not be the church.  Our school could be the best educational institution in the county, even the state, and yet without Christ at the center of what we do, not be the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  We should keep the true purpose of our school foremost in our minds today as we meet to ratify the school’s budget.  We don’t have a school so that we can be better or more loving than other schools.  We have a school because we believe children need to learn about the world with the full knowledge of who created it and who redeemed it by dying for it on the cross.  That’s it.  Our congregation can put thousands of dollars any areas of work we call ministry, but if it is apart from centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, it is something other than the work of the Holy Spirit.

We sometimes hear that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the beginning of the Christian Church.  But that’s not right.  Pentecost is most certainly not so much the start of something completely new and different, but the Lord’s own confirmation on all that has taken place over the past 50 days.  Think of it that way.    When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, what happened?  His baptism was confirmed by the great voice from heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove onto Jesus.  Now in the wake of Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, we have a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole Church, and that Spirit points us to Jesus Christ and His suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins.  That’s the purpose of Pentecost.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, to point you to what Jesus did for you.  Amen.

 

 

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Sermon for Pentecost

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2010

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

In the past few weeks with the readings from Jesus’ farewell sermon in John’s Gospel, we have had, in reverse order, Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit.  Today the Holy Spirit is helper (vv. 15-17), and later in the passage, interpreter (v. 25), witness (15:26), prosecutor (16:4b-11), and revealer (16:12-15).  Taken together, this is a self-consistent unity of teaching and must be taken as an integrated whole.  They are consistent not only with all the references to the Spirit in John’s Gospel, [in 1:32 where the dove descended on Jesus and he is thereby marked as one who will baptize in the Spirit; in 3:5-8, in Jesus’ instruction to Nicodemus about being born of the spirit, in 4:23, in Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman about worshipping in spirit and in truth, in 6:63, in Capernaum when Jesus references the quickening power of the Spirit and in 7:39, when John explained that the people had not yet received the spirit and therefore did not believe] but also in the Synoptics (Mt 10:20; Mk 13:11) where Jesus promises the Spirit as the disciples testify about him in court.  Much as the Son limited himself in his humiliation, the Holy Spirit limits himself to testify to the Son.  He is the Spirit of Truth.  Compared with Pontius Pilate who questioned the reality of truth itself, the Holy Spirit testifies to the one who is Truth.  All of this, of course, leads up to today, Pentecost and our celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church and for Kaitlyn, confirmation.

Kaitlyn, today you make a profession of your faith.  Two years ago, when you stood at the church doors and declared your desire to become a hearer of God’s Word, you were a believer.  You had already been baptized, been to Sunday school off and on, been to church.  You knew the words to “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”  You probably knew the Lord’s Prayer and the perhaps even most of the Apostles’ Creed.  Two years ago we could have asked you to profess your faith but what would it have been?  Something at least markedly less robust than what you profess today.  Why?  Because today is the culmination of 2 years of study in the Scriptures and the Small Catechism.  You’ve worked relatively hard to get to this point including memory work and so today when you profess your faith  you understand more and there is a greater depth to your profession.  Even the opportunity to profess your faith is just that an opportunity, not just a ritual, or a commencement exercise.  What’s the difference between two years ago and now?  Knowledge of the faith.  We make a big deal about it because it is a big deal.  And I’ll tell you why.  Kaitlyn, today you not only profess what you believe, you confess the faith, the Christian faith, passed down from Jesus through the apostles, through your grandparents and parents and me to you.

Unfortunately, Kaitlyn, we adults have not done a very good job over the last hundred years or so and the church as we know it in the United States is in pretty serious trouble.  We have allowed certain ideas to not just enter into the church but set up residence and pose as truth.  Think about what you see today amongst most people who call themselves Christian and you’ll see what I’m taking about.  Very few Christians you would run into today would argue that Christianity is True, with a capital T.  The Christian faith has been spiritualized, removed from its moorings in reality and left to drift on the winds of human emotion and sentiment and opinion.  Let’s try this one out.  Ask most Christians today if they think they should be in church every week and if they should be involved in reading and studying the Scriptures.  What you’ll find is that most “Christians” think the formal service is optional and that the most important think is faith in the heart.  For them, the center of life is not centered around Jesus in His body and blood given and shed, but centered in how they feel about Jesus at any given moment.  The body of Christ is never the group into which Christ has put his body and blood, but rather some invisible blob.  This is just one example; unfortunately there are lots more where this one came from.  No, we haven’t done a very good job at all.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped being very serious and thoughtful Christians concerned with not just our acts of believing, like worship and prayer, but we stopped being too concerned about the content of THE FAITH, that is, what was passed down to us from Jesus through the holy apostles and church fathers and mothers to us today.  Instead, we’ve settled for a warm spirituality vs. worshipping in spirit and truth.  We’ve believed for a long time that religion is a private matter and everyone is entitled to their opinion.  And so now our faith is more squishy than solid and it’s often based not on what the Scriptures or our Lutheran Confessions say but what pastor so-in-so in the long-forgotten past told us.  And so what we think is the Christian faith often gets confused with all kinds of other opinions and traditions, most of which have nothing to do with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  We stopped being serious about our faith quite some time ago.

Let me ask you this.  If you get sick and have to go to the doctor, who do you want to see?  The so-called doctor who believes he can help you or the one who went to medical school and knows what is really wrong with you and can help you feel better?  The doctor who knows, right?  Of course.  Let me try one more.  In a few years, you get a car, but every time you step on the brakes it makes a really funny sound.  Who are you going to take you care to?  The place where the sign out front says, “we’re really lucky fixing cars sometimes” or “trained mechanic on duty”?  That’s right.

This is what religion is.  It’s knowledge about the world that you can see and about the world that you can’t see.  It’s not my opinion.  It’s not Luther’s.  It’s not Paul’s or John’s.  It’s Jesus’ word and he has the authority to tell us about the world because it’s his.  He made it and he has authority and dominion over it.  So this is what we have done for you.  We’ve passed on the faith to you.  We have spent the past two years together exploring the faith, that is, the content of what means to be a Christian.  You have all the basics.  You will spend the rest of your life, I hope, seeing how those parts relate to one another and to the whole of the faith and you will spend your Sundays gathered at the table of your Lord and your days in prayer and in the Scriptures.  This is what our religion is.  It is the truth about the world in which we live revealed to us by the one who brought it all into being.

There is one last thing I want to cover.  The rite of confirmation, Christian faith, is not magic.  In a few moments you will not spout angels’ wings or anything or watch the Holy Spirit come down from heaven.  You will not be changed in any noticeable way.  It didn’t happen that way for me at my confirmation nor at my ordination to be a pastor.  No, all the transformation that is going to take place has already taken place, in the classroom and in your home.  The Word has transformed you from the ear in and back out again through your mouth.  If you stay in the Word, and continue listening to it, it will continue to transform you by the renewing of your mind, but it won’t be magic.  Now I say all that because sometimes that’s how people sell church.  They say, “Come to church with me, it will change your life.”  Well if that were true, our world would be almost perfect right?  If our lives get changed by anything it’s because of the Word of God and whether we live our lives in close connection with it or not.  The reason to come to church is not to find enough power to hold your life together, but to bury our lives with Christ.  Why would we do such a foolish thing?  Because Jesus Christ who was crucified was raised from the dead.  Knowing Christ was raised from the dead makes all the difference.  It made the difference for Peter on that first Pentecost morning and it makes all the difference for us all.  We know what God has done for us in Christ.  The Holy Spirit has enlightened us.  This enlightenment, this knowledge gives us the right, right, even the responsibility, to act in our world and to teach those who come after us.

God preserve us and keep us in the true faith.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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