12 May 2008

Homily - Feast of Pentecost

Yesterday for the Feast of Pentecost we at Hope, St. Louis, had a special treat: a former-Pentecostal-now-proudly-Lutheran (and confessional, liturgical, to boot!)-seminary-student proclaimed the great news of the Holy Spirit's coming and work. Mr. Dan Pool has been a field education student at Hope for three years and is now headed off to vicarage, which will, hopefully, turn into his first call. He delivered this Pentecost homily, and I hope you can see why he, along with his dear family, will be missed here at Hope.

And on a personal note: Thanks, Dan, for a wonderful homily, for being an eager learner of God's message of mercy and the Church's liturgy (even if it was through an earthen vessel such as me ;-)! May our Lord Jesus Christ, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, guide you and bless you as you and your family set out for the "next chapter." May He especially bless you in His service, to His glory, and for the benefit of His blood-bought people!

Here's Dan's homily:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Today we celebrate the festival of Pentecost. This is one of the few times of the church year that the color is red, today symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit.

And on Pentecost we hear the account of the events from Acts chapter two. Jesus has just ascended into Heaven. A new disciple has been chosen to replace Judas. The disciples were together in Jerusalem as was the tradition for this festival. Pentecost was a major Jewish festival, called the Feast of Weeks, meaning that Jerusalem was packed with God-fearing people from all over the world, people from Asia, from Egypt, from Rome, and bunch of other places that most of us can’t pronounce. But Jesus’ disciples are in Jerusalem for another reason, beyond the celebration. Jesus had told them at His Ascension, before He disappeared into the clouds, to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. And they did and something amazing happened.

You remember, the Disciples were all together in one place. There was a sound of a mighty wind. Flames of fire appeared. And then the disciples began to miraculously speak in other tongues through the power of the Holy Spirit. The visitors from all over the world were amazed. These disciples were announcing the glories of God in languages that only the hearers actually knew. The crowd was hard pressed to come up with a reasonable explanation. Something spectacular was going on here and some were a little nervous about it. What could this mean?

Like the crowd, the events of Acts chapter two tend to make us just a little nervous and perhaps even confused. Not because this is the first miraculous event recorded in Scripture. For we have heard the miraculous accounts of Jesus, changing water into wine, of healing those who could not walk or could not see, of the dead being raised to life. We rejoice in the power that Jesus has over His creation. We see in these miracles, that Jesus declares His Lordship over everything. In them, Jesus declares his intent to restore all of His creation. He declares His victory, even over death, conquering death for us in His own death and resurrection.

But what is the point of the Pentecost miracle? This one is so different. Miraculous languages? Like the visitors in Jerusalem, we ask, “What does this mean?” Is this something that we should expect? Why can’t we just open our mouths and speak in other languages?

Perhaps our trouble with Pentecost comes from what is done in the name of Pentecost in our own day. Misunderstandings of the work the Holy Spirit abound. Some Christians today urge us to be “on fire” in order to bring back a fresh spirituality to the church which they say has become irrelevant and boring. What we need is more excitement, more enthusiasm, more emotion, more fire. They look for the supernatural to break in just like at Pentecost. Of course, God’s means of grace, Word and Sacrament are fine, but there is so much more. The excitement comes through the right methods, the right attitudes, and lots of zeal. Christ falls to the background as they seek the latest and greatest, calling them “moves of the Spirit.” But not every wind that blows through the church promising more is from the Holy Spirit.

But this is nothing new. Paul addressed some of these concerns in his Corinthian letters. Paul chides those who emphasize the fantastic over the means of grace, through which God has promised to work. The wild practices in Corinth certainly brought some excitement to the gathering of believers, but at the same time their practices brought confusion and division. Focusing on a supernatural gift of language, they confused hearers with sounds that made sense to no one. Focusing on highly charged emotional experiences, they mistook excitement for the work of the Spirit. Focusing on themselves, they replaced true worship with chaos. The Corinthians were left with a church that looked more like Babel than it did Pentecost.

In our Gospel lesson today, we go back those 50 days to Holy Thursday before the crucifixion. Here in John, we get an intimate look at the “sit-down” that Jesus had with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed. Jesus announces to His disciples that He is going to leave them, and He tells them that they are going to be better for it.

See, they won’t be alone. As Pastor mentioned last week, the Father will send them the Paraclete, literally “one called along side,” a Helper, a Counselor, an Advocate, a Defense Attorney. In Christ’s name they will receive His promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide them into all truth by reminding them of the true teachings, the true doctrine of the one true faith. The Spirit wasn’t sent to reveal something new. He wasn’t sent to reveal everything that they might want to know. He wasn’t sent to reveal to the disciples who they were supposed to marry, what car they were supposed to buy, or what sheep to select for dinner. The Spirit wasn’t even sent to reveal Himself. The Spirit was sent to reveal the teachings of Christ. He was sent to reveal Christ. Some have even called the Holy Spirit the shy member of the Trinity. He always turns the attention to Jesus. In other words, any spirit that does not focus on the proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified, raised and ascended for lost sinners, like you and me, is not the Holy Spirit.

Returning to our Acts reading, we hear about the coming of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had promised. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, the believers present spoke in other tongues. This isn’t the fire of hyper emotionalism, or liturgical chaos. There is nothing to be confused about here. The first result of the Spirit’s coming was the miraculous gift of the proclamation of the mighty works of God, in real human language. No one was confused by the content. The words that they heard were real words that were clear and understandable. Here we see the work of Christ restoring what sin has ruined. Through the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, the curse of Babel is reversed. After this miraculous event, with the crowd still a little unsure, Peter stands up and adds even more clarity. He preaches a sermon pointing his hearers to the salvation found in Christ. Peter, through the Power of the Holy Spirit preaches that, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” and 3000 were baptized that very day.

There is no room for emotionally charged chaos and confusion in the church. In fact, the work of the Spirit is to bring clarity by revealing to us the Word of God. The work of the Spirit is not to show us methods toward a more exciting spirituality, rather the Spirit is sent to lead us to truth and to faith in Christ. The Small Catechism says it this way, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

The Same Spirit is at work with us today. The Holy Spirit, through whom the Apostles and Prophets spoke, speaks to us here, the same Word of reconciliation with God the Father through the cross of Christ.

And Pentecost continues. Not in a confusing theology that emphasizes the Holy Spirit over Christ. Rather, the mystery and miracle of the fire of the first Pentecost is repeated for us in our own language. We open our mouths in liturgy and in hymns and speak in real human language the glories of Christ crucified for us. In sermons and in Sacraments we hear and taste and see the risen Christ. And Babel is reversed, as the Spirit teaches us all things. In words that we understand, the Spirit calls, enlightens and sanctifies us in the one true faith.

And now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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