Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sermon: Pentecost

23 May 2010 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.

The Lord God created man in His own image. He gave him a mind and reason, as well as a way to communicate. And when many people communicate with one another, it is as though our brains are wired together in a kind of super-computer. We build on the thoughts of each other, and we advance in knowledge and technological prowess. And this technology can be used for good or for evil, to either obey and praise God, or to rebel and dishonor Him.

Since the Fall in the garden, we have been wont to do evil.

Around 2000 BC, near what would later be the sinful city of Babylon, the people rebelled against the Lord’s command to spread out around the earth. Instead, they used the latest building technology – bricks and mortar, to do the opposite: to gather all the people together in a single city on the plains of Shinar. And to compound their sin, our ancestors sought to make a name for themselves by seeking to use their reason to conquer heaven in the form of the world’s first skyscraper. And the thing that drove all of this technology was man’s ability to communicate – for the “whole earth had one language.”

And lest anyone underestimate the power of those made in the image of God, it was God Himself who observed: “Behold, they are one people, and they all have one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. Nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them.”

For post-flood man wasn’t interested in obedience, in repopulating the earth. He was rather interested in his own technology, in making a name for himself, in building and concentrating wealth, in challenging God’s authority and undermining His rule.

And the result for man – just like every other time when we poor miserable sinners choose our own way instead of the Lord’s way – was tragic. Not only was this wonderful technology (that could have been used for good), suddenly arrested, not only was the city (that could have been a place for God’s honor) abruptly abandoned, but mankind’s unity was tragically destroyed. The languages were multiplied as humanity was forced into tribalism.

And with this division quickly came wars, prejudice, and the inability of mankind to work together as before. As a result of our rebellion, of our sense that we could enter the heavens on our own terms by our own technology, by disobeying God, by misusing the wonderful gifts of mind and language – we found ourselves cursed with division, distrust, and a destroyed ability to speak with one another.

But the Lord is merciful, dear brothers and sisters. For even as the Lord said 2,000 years before Christ: “Let us go down there and confuse their language,” so too does our Lord, 2,000 years afterward, come down to us to be born, to walk with us, to teach and preach, to open our eyes to the Word of God, to heal and forgive and restore to life, to give us baptism and absolution and His very body and blood on the cross and on the altar. He rises to bring us to everlasting life. And then He does something else, something unexpected apart from His promise to do so. He sends us God the Holy Spirit who comes down to us not to confuse our language, but rather to unite us in speech – not so that we can climb to the heavens, but rather so that the heavens may descend upon us through the preaching of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit does not come to scatter sinners, but to save them by scattering the Word through them.

On that first Pentecost after our Lord’s crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit came rushing like a wind and dividing like tongues of flame on the heads of the apostles – reminding man that his tongues were divided as a result of sin. And then the apostles, “filled with the Holy Spirit… began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

The Jews from around the empire, who themselves had been scattered and who themselves were divided in tribe and tongue, were brought together in Jerusalem for the feast. The Lord drew them in to hear the Gospel. But the Lord did not make them all speak the same language, but rather empowered the Church to preach to all of them – whether their tongues were Parthian, Mede, Elamite, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. The good news of Jesus Christ was preached to the glory of the Father by the Creator Spirit by whose aid the curse was nullified and the foundations of the Church first were laid.

This Pentecost miracle was promised by our Lord along with the admonition that “if anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him and make our home with him.” For our Blessed Lord promised “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name.” The Holy Trinity works in unity to draw His scattered sheep into one fold, into unity, into one holy Church. And not even the curse of Babel, not even the multiplicities of languages spoken by the people of God, and by those to whom they preach – will interfere in that promise and plan.

For the Lord has promised us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” The divisions of the great linguistic dispersion are swallowed up by our Lord’s Word even as death was swallowed up by our Lord’s death. All of those things that accompanied the great dispersion – our inability to communicate, our hatreds and prejudices, our disunity and tribal warfare – all things which stand in the way of godly peace – are swept away by the purifying flames of the Holy Spirit.

And though there is still much division and warfare to come in man’s history, though there will indeed be “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke,” and though the “sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” the same Helper who broke through the confusion of tongues will break through our fears and anxieties, bringing us peace, harmony, and Christian unity as we await “the day of the Lord… the great and magnificent day.”

For the Spirit testifies through the Church, the body of Christ, the truth told in every corner of the globe and the proclamation preached in every tongue: “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Dear friends, the curse of Babel has been rolled back. The dispersal is now not a punishment for sin, but rather a remedy for sin. For now, we are commissioned to “disperse over the face of all the earth” baptizing and preaching the good news as the Spirit gives us utterance, in every tongue, the “mighty works of God.”

And according to the mandate of our Lord, “Rise, let us go from here.” Let us confess the truth, proclaim the day of the Lord, preach the forgiveness of sins unto all the world, and herald the good news in every tongue and to every tribe. For we are no longer building a skyscraper of brick and bitumen to reach our way sinfully to heaven to make a name for ourselves, but rather we are being formed into a holy temple, an edifice of living stones of flesh and blood, as our mighty and merciful Lord has come down to us, not in judgment and punishment, but in love and mercy. And it is His name we proclaim and praise.

For the Spirit of the Lord fills the world. Alleluia.

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

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