Monday, May 28, 2012

The Holy Spirit

The Day of Pentecost, May 27th, Anno + Domini 2012                                         
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Acts 2

Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the day our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower the Church.  On Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit came and dwelled in a new way with the infant Christian Church, enabling and jumpstarting God’s Mission of proclaiming Christ to all nations.  Miraculous signs, powerful preaching, 3,000 Baptisms, all these occurred on Pentecost, all works of the Holy Spirit.  There is no Christian Church apart from the Holy Spirit, and so today we rejoice in Him. 

But who is the Holy Spirit?  And what does He do?  How do we know if we have the Holy Spirit?  Do you have the Spirit? 

Look at you squirm.  Lutherans often do not know how to answer such questions.  Ask us who is God, and we rightly respond the one true God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Ask us about the Father or the Son, and we have lots to say, from Creation to the Old Testament prophecies of Christ Jesus, to the Father’s sending of His only-begotten Son, to be born, to live, to serve, to teach, to suffer, to die, and to rise, all for our salvation.  And we know that the Holy Spirit is involved in these things, hovering over the face of the waters at the Creation, causing the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary, descending in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism, being given over by Jesus at His death on the Cross, and breathed on out the disciples in the Upper Room, the night after the Resurrection. 

But ask us a question specifically about the Holy Spirit, or especially about the Spirit dwelling in us, and we tend to stumble and mutter a bit.  Why do we do this?  Well, in part, we hesitate to join in the conversation about the Holy Spirit because so much of what we hear from other churches seems crazy, things like rolling in the aisles, babbling unintelligibly, people crowing to the rafters about a feeling in their heart which they say proves the Spirit is in them.  Miracles claimed, healings and spectacular signs reported, all attributed to the Holy Spirit.  We don’t get it, but they seem so sure, and we don’t want to offend, or look bad, so we say nothing. 

This isn’t right.  There is no good reason that we shouldn’t be teaching the world clearly and confidently about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  So today, we’ll use this peppy little mariachi tune, hymn 502, as our guide to understanding and rejoicing in the Spirit, as He has revealed Himself to be. 

Hymn 502, verse 1. 

The Holy Spirit came as a dove.  Stephen Starke, an LCMS pastor in Bay City, Michigan, wrote the English words to this originally Spanish hymn, starting us off by referring to the Holy Spirit as the dove sent from heaven, which goes well with our Pentecost Paraments and our bulletin cover, which feature a descending dove.  And this is a helpful connection for understanding the Holy Spirit, because the one event where the Holy Spirit is described appearing in the form of a dove is not Pentecost, but rather the baptism of Jesus.  However, at Pentecost, 3,000 people were baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.  So the Spirit as dove is a good place to start our consideration, because it connects the Spirit, and us, to Jesus. 

A dove first takes center stage in salvation history way back in Genesis, again in a watery setting, as the Flood receded and Noah released a dove to see if it was safe outside the ark.  The first time, she returned to Noah, because there was no place to land.  Seven days later Noah sent her out again, and again she returned, this time with an olive branch in her beak, showing that things were growing, life was returning to the earth.  Seven days later she did not return at all, telling Noah that it was safe to leave the ark.  The flood had receded, mankind could return in peace to the earth.  The devastation of the flood had ended, and a universal symbol of peace was created.  Good news. 

The deeper and eternal significance of the dove of peace is revealed as Jesus stands in the River Jordan, being baptized by John, declared to be the Son of God, coming to bring peace to the world.  The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, and from heaven the Father speaks: this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  The Holy Spirit is given to the sinless One who was baptized for us sinners.   

So the Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven, brings a message of peace.  But peace from what?  Of what war does this dove signal the end?  In this we discover the special focus of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, for the dove came to declare the end of warfare between mankind and God, between a world of fallen sinners and the one Holy God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God desired peace with sinners, despite our continual rebellion against Him.  God desired peace with sinners, and so the Son came and defeated sin in His own body, in His own death and resurrection, reconciling us to the Father.  God desires peace with sinners, so the Holy Spirit comes to declare and distribute the peace of God to all who hear and believe this remarkable good news. 

So now once again, the dwelling place of God can be with men.  No longer does the Holy, Holy, Holy LORD have to have a special temple, a dwelling place set off with walls and curtains, the Holy of Holies from which we sinners must be separated, for our own protection.  Now that Christ has reconciled the world to the Father, the Holy Spirit comes and makes baptized believers His temple, His dwelling place.  And where the Spirit is, there also is Christ and the Father. 

Hymn 502, verse 2: 

The Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire.  Are you ready to sit still as a tongue of fire descends on your head?  Is there anything more likely to make us flinch and duck than the thought of our hair being caught on fire?  Do not pass too quickly over this miracle of flames at Pentecost.  The fire of God is dangerous.  Like a visible manifestation of God’s Holy presence, God’s flames are not something we in our sinfulness can endure.  Without some intervention by God, we will be burned. 

What fireproofs sinners against being burned by the Holy Spirit’s flame?  Water of course.  Water, that is, which has been joined to the Word, the Word of Christ, who has endured His baptism by fire on the Cross, in order that all who are baptized and believe in His forgiveness can now safely receive the flames of the Spirit.  The miraculous flames at Pentecost were a unique, onetime occurrence, but the promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, both given to you in your Baptism, have the same God of Pentecost behind them.  You need not long for spectacular signs like tongues of fire or speaking in languages you never learned, for Paul tells us that miraculous signs will pass away, but the seal of the Spirit lasts forever.  Marvel and rejoice that the same Spirit who produced miracles on Pentecost has also sealed you in Baptismal waters, and  is still working, in you and all believers, keeping faith alive and producing good works. 

Hymn 502, verse 3: 

The Holy Spirit came to lead us in a new life.  But what about your walk?  Perhaps you have felt convicted by your Pentecostal friends, who seem to be very fired up for God, and who imply, or maybe say outright, that if you really have the Spirit it will be obvious in your life.  Now, if you are convicted because you know that there are good works God has put in front of you that you have refused to do, good.  If you are convicted because you know you have failed to good works and chosen instead sinful pastimes, thank God for your convicting Pentecostal friends.  If you are convicted because you are neglecting the Church into which the Spirit has called you, repent, and come to God the Father, led by the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, and He will pour out His unction of blessing again.  That is He will pour out forgiveness on you again, as He did at your Baptism, as He has done so many times since, by His Word and Sacrament. 

Take it seriously every time you are brought to repentance for a lack of fruit, a lack of good works in your life.  Take it seriously, but do not throw out God’s Word and God’s Way when you do.  We are to be concerned about good works; Jesus and all the Apostles certainly call us to such concern.  But so often when we focus on good works, we forget how God works.  Christians who get all fired up trying to do good works often forget who we are, where true good works come from, and what we need, most of all, every day. 

The temptation is great for us to forget that humility and dependence mark the way of the Baptized.  Yes, we need to be concerned for good works in our lives, but we must also remember that we are and will continue to be sinners, until the end of our earthly lives.  And, the solution for sin is not us trying harder, but rather the solution is always the forgiveness of Christ.  When you are convicted for failing to produce good works, do not rush off to try harder, but rather repent, and rush in to God, to be washed clean, so that He can once again do His work in you, which is the only way you will ever produce true good works.  It is quite humbling to acknowledge that our path to heaven is built on the daily forgiveness of sins, but remember the One who humbled Himself on the Cross to give this gift to you.  This is His Way, the way on which the Spirit leads us. 

Hymn 502, verse 4:

The Holy Spirit came in a rushing wind.  Wind, like water, and fire, can be a blessing or a curse, bringing joy, like a warm spring breeze, or death, like a tornado.  Like the holy presence of God, the Wind of God can be destructive or life giving.  How do we know which way God’s wind blows for us?  Where can we find out if the Wind of the Spirit will breathe new life in us, or suck away what little air we have? 

We learn of God’s wind from God’s Word, of course.  And the connection between the Spirit and the Word is the key point we should be ready to tell our friends and neighbors about.  At Pentecost, and on a few occasions in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit worked spectacular miracles through believers.  Certainly He can still work whatever spectacular miracles He wishes.  But we don’t need to wait for spectacular miracles, nor should we expect them.  We certainly should not try to somehow produce them as though our salvation depended on it.  Because we know where to go to find the Spirit.  We know where to go to hear the Spirit.  We know what His tool for working is.  He is the light that enlightens the Scripture, indeed He is the One who inspired the writers to record God’s eternal Word, and He is the One who works through the Word, preached, read, sung and prayed. 

Pastor Reinke in Williston has a great little call and response to help us remember that the place for Christians to find the Holy Spirit is in the Bible.  It goes like this:  I say Holy Spirit, you say Word of God.  I say Word of God, you say Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit, Word of God.  Word of God, Holy Spirit.  We will do a great service to our friends and neighbors, our families, and ourselves, if we can remember this connection, between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.   

You have been given the Holy Spirit, in your Baptism.  You still have the Holy Spirit, because you believe.  Even though your faith may sometimes be weak, it is still a sign of the Spirit, because without the Holy Spirit, your faith dies.  So sit under God’s Word and listen to the Spirit; hear again and again His message.  The Spirit’s message is Christ for you.  The Spirit comes to proclaim Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected and ascended on high, the One who takes away your sins, and makes your way into God’s eternal joy,
    in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

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