Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost and Confirmation of Guy Caronna, Alexis Hepting, and Cameron Hunt

31 May 2009 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.

We may be tempted to ask what the Tower of Babel has to do with us today. This was more than four thousand years ago, halfway across the world, at a time when people wrote with wedges on clay tablets, and the latest technological breakthrough was the brick.

But every time you place your ATM card in the slot, and the microprocessor asks you if you want Spanish or English, that is evidence that we are still reeling from the effects of the Tower of Babel.

Our three confirmands have all studied Latin at Salem Lutheran School, and it is likely that all three will study yet another language in high school.

If you have ever been frustrated in trying to communicate with a foreigner, or better yet, if you have been the foreigner yourself, confused and confounded, you have felt the effects of the sins of our ancestors.

And their sin was placing technology ahead of the worship of the true God. It is a sin that manifests itself today in many ways, from playing God through genetic engineering, to seeing life as nothing more than a rat-race to collect more toys and electronic gadgets. We are still Babylonians today, even though we have indeed been dispersed “over the face of all the earth.”

But two thousand years ago, on Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after our Lord’s resurrection, the Lord God took a mighty step to finally rid mankind of Babel’s curse. And in fact, on that one miraculous Sunday, God the Holy Spirit gave us all a glimpse into the paradise to come, a heavenly home where diversity of tribe and tongue are no impediment to unity and fellowship.

That Pentecost Sunday fulfilled the prophecy of Joel: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, prophecies, visions, and dreams; wonders, signs, and finally, horrific cosmic happenings preceding the Lord’s return. But the final, most miraculous thing of all is mentioned at the very end: “and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Salvation through calling upon God’s name is the most glorious, the very pinnacle, the greatest manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is the Spirit’s most wondrous work of all – calling us to be rescued from sin and death according to the will of the Father through the sacrifice of the Son.

“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Today, on this day of celebration of the Holy Spirit’s coming in power among us, the Holy Christian Church on earth, we will witness three young people calling upon the name of the Lord. They will profess what they have been taught, they will confess what they believe, and they will promise what they will do about it. They will take solemn vows to remain faithful unto death, and they will do so fully empowered by God the Holy Spirit.

Guy, Alexis, and Cameron, you will also be taking the most holy sacrament of the Altar today. You know and confess what it is: the very body and blood of God the Son, Jesus Christ. And you have also explained to me that this sacrament forgives your sins and strengthens your faith. If you wander away from the sacrament, your faith will weaken, and you may even cease calling upon the name of the Lord. But if you remain faithful even in your weakness, the Lord will remain faithful even in His strength.

My responsibility as your pastor is to pray for you, to call you to faithfulness, and to forgive your sins. Your parents’ obligation at this point, as you move into young adulthood, will increasingly be to advise you, to grace you with their wisdom, and to teach you how to be Christian men and women. This congregation’s calling is to pray for you, encourage you in the faith, and to stand side by side with you as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We all speak the English language, but we suffer from the sin of divisions – whether based on ethnicity, what neighborhoods we live in, how much education we have, or what generation we are part of. But in the Church, we speak one language, we share one culture, we have a common musical heritage, we have a common language of liturgy prayer that unites us, we have a shared formation in God’s Word, and an equality of unworthiness according to our sins, but a shared worthiness through Jesus Christ.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we are indeed a united family even when we seem to be a divided and petty groups of babblers who worship technology.

When the languages were first confused, the people were dispersed. But curiously, when the miracle of tongues happened, the people were also dispersed – this time not as a punishment, but as a calling to spread the gospel.

You three are going in different directions, to different schools. Your lives may eventually even take you to different continents. You may speak different languages in the future. And this may well be the Lord’s will for you to be his witnesses unto the ends of the earth. And whether you end up living in West Africa, Western Europe, or on the West Bank, you have been deemed a holy people, bonded to your brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, called by the Holy Spirit within your confession of the Christian faith. When you take the sacrament anywhere in the world, you take it with all of us.

The Holy Spirit has been sent to you as an act of love. Jesus calls Him the Helper. He is there to comfort you, to strengthen you, to keep you in the faith, and to protect you – no matter where you are or will be. He is there to point you to Christ, to the cross, and to the holy sacraments. He is there to keep you in His Word, for as Jesus says: “The word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

Our Lord has promised all of us Christians: “He [the Holy Spirit] will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” You may stumble over calling to mind the exact words of the catechism – though I cannot stress to you enough its importance. But the Holy Spirit promises to “bring to your remembrance” these words of our dear Lord: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Sadly, many people miss out on this peace, this blessed assurance, by falling away from the faith after they have been confirmed and take communion for the first time. But the most important communion isn’t the first one, but the last one, the ongoing eternal communion we have with God.

The Holy Spirit beings you the very peace of the Lord, the same peace he spoke to the disciples after His resurrection, the same peace symbolized by the dove carrying the olive branch to Noah, and the peace of the dove that hovered over the baptismal waters of our Lord.

We baptized Christians have that peace that passes all understanding. And you confirmands are here this day to claim that peace by confessing the faith, by receiving a blessing, and by taking the holy sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood.

The curse of Babel has been rolled back. The peace of God is yours. The presence of the Holy Spirit is given to all the baptized, and “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Amen.

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

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