Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sermon: Pentecost – 2011

12 June 2011 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 in our sinful, fallen state are very good at one thing: taking that which is good and corrupting it into something which is bad. We do it all the time, and it explains much of the misery we see around us, the struggles we must endure, and even death itself. For death is the wages of sin, and sin is the corruption of that which God made perfect.

For example, language is a gift of God. We humans, created in God’s image, were equipped with ears and mouths so that we might communicate by words. And it is through the Word that God created all things: “Let there be… and there was….” But what do we do with this marvelous gift? Instead of hearing God’s Word, we open our ears to gossip, curse, and misuse God’s name. Instead of building up one another in Christ, we build monuments to ourselves like the Tower of Babel. Instead of obediently spreading around the earth, we concentrated in one place. Our use of language became so corrupted that God had to confuse our tongues in order to make us submit to His will.

Technology is also a gift from God. We have brains and the capacity to learn. We are created in the creative image of the Creator God. And yet, what do we use technology for? To build a tower of rebellion, to harness the power of the atom to slaughter innocent people by the millions, to put pornographic images in cyberspace, to tune in as comedians and respected media figures bring disgrace upon Christ and shame upon His Church, to create entertainments that take the place of preaching and God’s Word – all distractions from God’s grace.

When God confused our tongues to humble us, there was the added complication that it divided people into tribes unable to peacefully communicate with one another. Different languages means different cultures – and to sinful people, that means hatred, war, covetousness, ethnic strife, and the frustration of not being able to communicate. How many Americans become resentful when we are offered service in Spanish or when the voice at the other end of the phone bears an Indian accent? How many wars have been started because something was lost in translation? How many people never heard about the good news of Jesus Christ because of a language barrier?

And that, dear friends, is the good news of the miracle of Pentecost! The curse of Babel has given way to the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Church. The refusal of man to scatter to populate the world has given way to the obedience of the church to “go and make disciple of all nations.” The old tribal feuds and nationalistic pride have yielded to a trans-global and transcultural Church that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, knowing no race or tribe or tongue, a unity under the headship of Christ.

"If anyone loves me,” says our Lord, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” That Word is accessible to Jews and Greeks, to Romans and Barbarians, to “mad dogs” and Englishmen alike, saying “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Our Lord makes His home in palaces and mud huts, in tents and igloos, in mansions and shanties. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell in the hearts of those who believe and who confess the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – regardless of the language of that confession.

Our Lord also tells us in this troubled world yet plagued by wars and feuds: “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.” For we are not to be divided by tribe and tongue, race and culture – but rather we are to offer thanks and praise to God among every tribe, tongue, race, and culture for what the Lord has done for us, the entire world: “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

For that is the source of true and lasting peace, eternal peace, between between men and between God and mankind. It is the peace of forgiveness, the peace of the reconciliation of the cross, the peace of the blood of Christ crying out for the builders of Babel and the builders of bombs. It is the peace of God that passes all understanding, poured upon us in gracious baptismal water, pronounced upon us in life-giving words of absolution, fed to us in the mystery and miracle of the Lord’s forgiving presence in the Holy Eucharist.

And yet, dear friends, the world (for whom the Lamb was slain, for whom the Lamb was sacrificed) still hates Jesus, despises the Church, and wishes to destroy the truth. The world still clings to the corrupting notions of the Serpent in the garden and the vainglory of the architects of Babel. And like a foreigner in the midst of people of another tongue, the world does not understand.

Pentecost was the Holy Spirit’s antidote to this lack of understanding, this barrier of language between men, and between God and mankind. In burning flames of purification and divine love, the Holy Spirit came to bring us the peace proffered to us by the Prince of Peace, who promises: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” For indeed, The Son has gone to the Father and He has sent His Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. And in that conviction stands the cross, calling to the world to repent, to seek the blood of Christ, to yield to the Spirit’s beckoning for life and salvation.

Dear friends, Pentecost is not just the fiftieth day after Easter. Pentecost is not only Acts 2. Nor is Pentecost something as shallow as the seeking out of spiritual gifts – real or imagined – to puff oneself up. Pentecost is the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel, in her relentless missionary work, in her day to day administration of the sacraments, and in the eternal reality we Christians confess concerning the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

And although we are still adept at corrupting that which is good, the Lord Himself is far more abounding in mercy to redeem that which is corrupted. And although death is the wages of sin, life is the wages of divine mercy. And by the Holy Spirit, may the Church continue in this proclamation and confession until the Lord returns. Amen.

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

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