21. May 2011
Baptism of Abel Nathaniel Maluchnik
Lutherans and many of our fellow creedal Christians are accused of being weak on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. They say: a living and active church is one that is growing by leaps and bounds, exuberant in its worship, heartfelt in its prayers, and active in its community. If this doesn’t describe this congregation, then we must be weak on the Holy Spirit. Others add to these superlative qualities other extraordinary ones—such as speaking in tongues, faith healing, and prophetic speech. Without these marks of the presence of the Holy Spirit, then you ought to doubt whether your congregation is part of the true church.
While a living and vibrant congregation is certainly one to hope for or even strive for, it is not a mark of the presence of the Spirit. The truth is not always evident by popular opinion.
While we love to talk about the spirit of the age, the spirit of love, the spirit of America, the spirit of the constitution, or the human spirit. None of these are the Holy Spirit. None of “spirits” of this world give us cause to rejoice. Nor do those “spirits” or even the Holy Spirit cause all sorts of superlative and extraordinary things to happen in the life of the church.
As a matter of fact, the Holy Spirit is kind of boring, at least from our fleshy perspective. He’s not terribly exciting nor does he do anything spectacular. There are no fireworks, no outstanding performance, no overwhelming world-changing event.
The Holy Spirit is down-to-earth and behind-the-scenes. Consider his work today for young Abel. Today, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into Abel, through Word and water. He caused a new Adam named Abel to burst forth from the tomb, to pass from death to life, from the world into the fellowship of Christ and the church.
But from the worldly perspective, it looked like a simple washing of water. Satan even laughed in scorn at those words: “Out unclean spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit.” How can such simple words—I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—do such great things? How can basic bath work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil and give salvation to all who believe this?
Its an astounding, really. Unbelievable, too. Even extraordinary! The act of baptism begs the question: if Abel was born again in the font then where is the Father? If the church, Abel’s spiritual mother has given birth, where is the one to whom she is joined in one flesh union, procreating faithful believers unto their salvation?
This is the kind of doubt that Jesus knew would rise up in many. They would doubt Jesus’ love after his departure into the clouds. They would begin to doubt his self-sacrifice, daily giving himself up for his bride, the church. They doubt because they listen to the falsehood spoken by their old self—the sinner, the falsehoods of the world, and the cunning lies of the devil.
Jesus said: “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. That’s probably why so few of us go to Ascension day services. We hate saying goodbye. We don’t want a distant Jesus, high above in heavens, simply waiting for us to find our way back home.
That kind of longing is godly. We want to know the way back home. Harold Camping made headlines this week for his prediction that the world would end at 6 p.m. local time. As you can see, we’re still here. Rolling earthquakes, raptured millions, and other nonsense hasn’t happened. Why are we so preoccupied with our Lord’s time of return in judgment? Why does it cause so much anxiety?
Simply because many of us missed the promise in today’s Gospel. Christ’s ascent into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father isn’t a time for sorrow. We don’t mourn like the disciples were wont to do. We rejoice! Cantate Domino!
Jesus said, Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. See! Jesus hasn’t left us high and dry. As a matter of fact, after he died, rose, and ascended to be with the Father, he and the Father sent—upon the disciples, upon the church, indeed upon every Christian throughout time—he and the Father sent the paraclete, the Helper.
How does this Helper help? Jesus describes three ways. He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. First, the Helper brings our sin to remembrance, testifying with the Holy Law of God to our wickedness and trespasses. This happens often as we hear and study God’s word. The Spirit speaks and convicts us, cutting us to the quick. This is a holy work of God, this putting sinners in their place. For without this, there is no need for the Spirit to speak of righteousness.
Why? For sinners need righteousness. They need to be squared away to God, the debts paid, the checkbook of righteousness balanced. The Spirit steps in, having convicted us of sin and now convicts us and the world of rejecting Christ’s righteousness. We had the savior of the world before us and we rejected him. We sent him to Pilate and declared, “crucify him!” We shouted out, “may his blood be upon us and our children!”
Which is precisely what the Holy Trinity had in mind. Blood bought righteousness, sprinkled on you in Holy Baptism, poured into your mouths in the Holy Supper, and aspirated in Holy Absolution. We rejected and our flesh still rejects this righteousness. So the Spirit convicts the world, that is, our flesh.
But the new child in us, awakened to life in baptism, rests safe in the confidence of this blood. Yes, Christ’s death is our fault. But it is also his gift for us. He who did not spare his own son, still gives us all good things. The adulterous tongue of Satan has been judged. The wicked perversions of the world have been silenced. The Spirit is hear to bear witness to this truth.
When the Spirit of truth comes [and he has], He will guide you into all 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. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.
If you’re still not convinced that the Holy Spirit is living and active in the church, consider Jesus’ own words carefully. The Spirit speaks nothing of his own but speaks what He has been given by the Father and the Son. Therefore, if Christ’s word is spoken in truth and wisdom, if the Sacraments are given as Jesus instructed us, then we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit is here.
Or as we say in the Creed every week: I believe in the Holy Spirit and all the things the Spirit gives, that is, the Holy Scriptures, the Holy catholic (universal) and apostolic church, one baptism for the remission of sins, and the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. Yeah, there’s lots of Spirit stuff going on here… but that will have to wait until next week.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church