Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost

11 May 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 14:23-31 (Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Every so often, the calendars of the secular world and the church collide. This is one such day. Today is both Mother’s Day and Pentecost. On this day we honor the women who gave us birth, and we celebrate the birthday of the mother who has given us our second birth.

As we confess in the Large Catechism with Dr. Luther: the Church is the “mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God” – which is really just a rewording of an ancient confession of St. Cyprian: “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”

Just as our earthly mothers bore us in the flesh, of blood and water, our churchly mother bears us in the Spirit, of the blood of Christ and the water of baptism.

Today we honor our fleshly mothers, bringing to remembrance all that they have done for us. And we also give praise to God for our mother the Church, who was given the Holy Spirit according to the promise of our Lord when He prophesied: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to remembrance all things that I said to you.”

Here we see the work of the Holy Trinity. The Father sends the Holy Spirit to us, the Church, in the name of Jesus, the Son. This is the same Holy Spirit who descended in the form of a dove at our Lord’s baptism. This is the same Holy Spirit that descended on our Lord’s disciples, giving them utterance to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world, and causing three thousand of those who heard this preaching to be baptized in a single day. And here again, we see the work of the Holy Trinity, as the preaching of Christ calls people to conversion through the Holy Spirit, causing them to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, giving them a new birth. For these first converts to the holy faith indeed have God as their Father and the Church as their mother!

Both motherhood and Church have a common enemy: Satan. For the devil hates the Church. He loathes this new creation by water and Word, we who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb whose blood also defeated him. Satan has attacked and persecuted the Church from the very beginning, and continues to do so to this day. The red you see in this sanctuary not only symbolizes the fire that represents the Holy Spirit, it also calls to mind the thousands upon thousands of gallons of blood shed by the martyrs, men and women who chose death rather than break the Fourth commandment by dishonoring their father and mother – their Father in heaven and the mother that “begets and bears every Christian.”

The devil also hates mothers and motherhood with an equal loathing that he has for the Church. For our Lord Jesus has a mother, the one every generation of Christians hails as blessed, the one who, by her humble obedience, magnifies the Lord, the one who nursed the Lord, the one who changed the diapers of God, the one who protected, nurtured, and loved her Savior as only a mother can.

While our Lord was yet in His mother’s womb, the vile devil sought the Child’s destruction. The twelfth chapter of Revelation depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary, pregnant with our Lord, being stalked by the dragon. And in this mother, we see a picture of the Church – also stalked by the dragon. For wherever Mary went, the Christ she protected with her very life was also there. Even today, wherever two or three gather in His name, we find this same Christ. Where the Word of God is preached, we find the same Christ. And where the body and blood of Christ are given to sinners for forgiveness, life, and salvation, there you find the same Christ.

Satan hates the Church because he hates Christ. Satan hates all mothers because he hates Mary. He hates Mary because it was through her that God became flesh. The fact that God is incarnate and dwells in our midst puts us under the constant attack of the devil.

The prince of this world has perverted our culture to make motherhood something to be ashamed of. When young woman are asked about their dreams and aspirations, what they want to be when they grow up, almost never is the answer: “I want to be a wife and mother.” It is though there is something shameful about this holiest of all feminine vocations, as though being a reflection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, being the very conduit through which God miraculously gives life – is only something that gets in the way of a glamorous career and being able to make lots of money.

And so too has the devil made the Church into an object of loathing in our culture. The Christian faith is routinely mocked in books and movies, in music and in entertainment. Satan has succeeded in once again turning the State against the Church, and in reviving pagan religions – many of which pervert the vocations of man and woman, and likewise turn the security of the womb into a place of violence and death.

In spite of all of these things, dear Christians, take heart! For Christian mothers continue to give birth to children who are brought to the baptismal font and given a second birth by their churchly mother. The Church continues to baptize, to proclaim the Gospel, to forgive sinners, to stand in the very presence of the Lord Jesus in His body and blood - and to continue making war against the dragon that the Lord Jesus has already defeated.

Satan’s tactics are always “divide and conquer.” For in adopting this maxim, Satan imitates God’s strategy in bringing the construction of the Tower of Babel to naught. In confusing the languages, the arrogant servants of Satan were scattered into confusion. And that scattering and that confusion (the consequences of sin) became an impediment to the Gospel. For as the people had been divided by language and spread around the world, Satan could use this fact to oppose the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of baptism “to all nations”.

But through the work of the Holy Spirit, those who had been scattered abroad and confused in language were able to hear the Word of God in their own languages. The curse of the Tower of Babel was lifted. Confusion yielded to “the peace not as the world gives.” The scattering of man around the globe would be overcome by our Lord’s “arise, let us go from here” that would find fulfillment in His ordination of the apostles and their commissioning by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel in every language of man.

Interestingly, today is also the feast day of two of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church: Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Eight centuries after the Holy Spirit opened the lips of the apostles to preach in other tongues, these two preachers brought the Gospel to the Slavic peoples in their own language. The Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia to this day was invented by Cyril and Methodius, and was named for Cyril, as the curse of Babel continued to be overcome, century after century, through the preaching of Christ in many languages.

And though the devil continues to try to divide and conquer the Church along ethnic and racial lines, among age groups, among those with differing tastes in music and political opinion, the Holy Spirit continues to “call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth.” The Church is indeed: “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” And though we continue to speak many languages around the world, we speak a common language of the Gospel by virtue of the Holy Spirit and the language of the liturgy.

Thanks be to God for all of our mothers: for their love, their protection, and their devotion. And thanks be to God for our mother the Church, for bringing us the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

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