11. June 2011
John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-13
(With heavy indebtedness to “Preaching from the Whole Bible” by sainted Bishop Bo Giertz.)
Much like the Ascension of our Lord, Pentecost is not widely celebrated by the church. In ancient days, even in the not-so-distant Lutheran past, Pentecost was a fest of the highest order, second only to Easter. Our lectionary appoints readings for Pentecost Eve, Pentecost Day, Pentecost Evening, Pentecost Monday, and Pentecost Tuesday; just as it appoints readings for the same days of Easter and Christmas. If Lutherans from Luther to Walther celebrated this feast with fervor, why has it lapsed into “just another Sunday” in the life of the church?
Much like Ascension, Pentecost is equally misunderstood. Christ’s ascension into the heavens was to sit at the right of the Father, and there to reign in all power and majesty in both his divinity and his humanity. Yet, as many reason that Christ cannot rule in his body but merely in spirit here on earth, the Ascension is not a source of comfort but rather confusion and even despair.
If Christ is not present in his body to comfort and sustain us, then his promise to be with us always, even until the ages of ages is false and a lie. Of course, Christ keeps his promises. From his heavenly throne he joins you into his body, the church, in Holy Baptism. Christ himself feeds us with the Word, since he is the Word made flesh. Jesus delivers the most precious gift of his body and blood, for you to eat and drink, to sustain you in every trial and need. All this is made possible by his sacrifice and the Father’s acceptance of it. Christ reigns from the right hand and so is with you always.
Pentecost is similarly misunderstood. Perhaps the reason being that the Holy Spirit is misunderstood. Some Christians think the Spirit operates independently of Father and Son, bestowing special gifts of tongues, snake-handling, and ecstatic worship. For others, the Spirit is the feminine spirit of God, showing us how God is both Father and mother. For Jews, the Spirit is a quality of God. For Islam, he is a divine messenger and also know as Gabriel.With this confusion among Christians and non-Christians alike, its no wonder we’re all bit confused.
From Ascension to Pentecost, we’re confused. Is this just another day in the life of the church or is it truly a festival, to be held with the kind of pomp and circumstance of the high holy days of Easter and Christmas?Especially on this festival dedicated to the Spirit and his work, what do we know of him that would give us pause to celebrate?
Jesus is not so confused. He spoke of the Father’s and his Spirit often. When he was about to leave the disciples, he promised them the paraclete, the Comforter and counselor, none other than the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26) They were to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high, again, the Holy Spirit. (John 15:26) The Spirit would make it possible to continue in Christ, even when the labor is difficult and long. (Luke 24:49) The Spirit would give the disciples the wisdom to speak before governors and kings. (John 16:7ff) The Spirit would teach them all things and lead them into all truth. (John 16:13) Most of all, the Holy Spirit would continue to bear witness to them of the Christ. (John 15:26)
Yet, knowing the promise of the Spirit to the disciples, does this help us? Is the Spirit promised to them a comfort to us? Is this Spirit with us? Do we have the same ability to preserve in the faith, even when it seems to be weak and falters? Do we have the wisdom to speak with boldness and confidence of Christ our Savior before each other, much less celebrities and authorities? Do we hear the Spirit’s voice, leading us from falsehood into the truth? Most of all, does the Spirit still testify to us of Christ, now two millennia later?
That’s our problem, we think about the Holy Spirit too much. We try to find him, to see him, to uncover his work, to imagine what it would be like to be more spirit-filled. In reality, the Spirit cannot be comprehended alone. Try as we might to divide the persons of the Holy Trinity, they are of one divine being or essence. (John 14:17) Thus, when we see Jesus, we see the Father. If you want to know how the Father cares for us, then consider how he cares for you in Jesus. If you want to know the Spirit of the Father and the Son, then look to the Son and to his work.
We can learn to know the Holy Spirit only through the work he does among us. This work is never to draw attention to himself but to glorify the one who sent him, Jesus. (John 16:14) When the Spirit is at work, Christ is present. His image and likeness is brought before our eyes and remembrance.
If everything the Spirit works is meant to draw our attention to Jesus, then the Spirit always is about reminding us of what Jesus taught and what Jesus said. Therefore, the Spirit is always about the Word. He bear witness with the Word. He enlivens it in our hearts and brings life to faith. It is by the Spirit that we know Christ in our midst. Jesus speaks by the Word through the Spirit.
The first thing the Spirit does is convince the world of Sin. Through the holy Word, we learn how messed up our lives truly are. We learn how righteousness and justice are perverted into self-seeking self-righteousness and self-gain. (John 16:8ff) The Spirit doesn’t leave us in the hell of our own lives. He grabs hold of us by the Word and rescues us through the Word—the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection.
This work of the Spirit leads us to the assurance of faith in our hearts. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, the heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17) Regarding the preaching of Christ in their midst, St. Paul tells Corinth: “Now he who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:6)
Yet, sometimes, despite the truth and even the Spirit, we feel doubt. We don’t feel so confident of God’s love for us in Christ, of our adoption and eternal election, of the great mercy of our Lord. But even when we are fearful and confused, the Spirit may be at work in our hearts. When this confusion leads us to seek the Lord’s help, that is the work of the Spirit.The Spirit knows where relief is to be found. He guides us to the Holy Scriptures in study and prayer, in worship and devotion.
St. Paul encouraged young pastor Timothy in the same way: “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
The sign that you still have the Holy Spirit, that neither he nor the Son nor the Father have departed from you is the fact that you have not forsaken the Holy Word. The ones who ought to doubt whether they have the right spirit, are the ones who deny the Christ, who refuse to submit to Jesus as Lord. “No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:3) “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” (1 John 4:2)
You, dear Christians have been brought into faith in Christ by the Word and the water. The Holy Spirit entered your hearts through this saving flood, adopting you as children of the Father and coheirs with Christ. You, dear Christians, hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Thus, the Holy Spirit is active, enlivening your faith and strengthening you for righteous living. You, dear Christians, desire to receive the heavenly feast at the altar of God. The Spirit has quickened your hearts to know Christ’s saving flesh and blood are here for your nourishment. You have heard his voice and long to be sustained for yet another week of trial and tribulation.
You know the Spirit because you are in Christ by the Word. Pentecost then is a wonderful celebration of the Spirit entering into the hearts of Christians then and now. The Spirit works even if he cannot be seen. He likes it that way. Look to Christ and know the Spirit of Christ dwells in your heart. Amen.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church