Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sermon: Pentecost - 2018

20 May 2018

Text: John 14:23-31 (Acts 2:1-21, Gen 11:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Once again, we hear the promise of Jesus to the disciples, to the Church, that the “helper, the Holy Spirit” will come.  And the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.”

He then reminds us of His mission: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”  The peace of Jesus, dear friends, is not the peace that the world gives, which is, at best, a temporary ceasefire.  The peace that Jesus gives to those who believe on His name is peace with God, the forgiveness of sins, the neutralization of death, the resurrection of all flesh, the conquest of hell, the reconciliation of mankind, and the complete restoration of the universe when this current age passes away and all things are made new.

This is the ministry and work of Jesus, which reaches its pinnacle at the cross. 

The Holy Spirit continues to help us, to call us to repentance, to draw us to the Word of God and to the sacraments, to bring us to Christ, to point us ever toward that which is eternal, to sanctify us by His grace, and to draw us closer to our eternal destiny.  The Spirit turns curses into blessings, even as it was by a tree that we became cursed slaves of sin, and so also that by the tree of the cross we became blessed new creatures in Christ.

At the feast of the Pentecost, fifty days from that first Easter, on the third day after the Lord’s ascension, the Holy Spirit turned yet another curse into a gift.

Suddenly, when it was the will of God for this promised event to take place, “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”  They saw the manifestation of the Spirit as “divided tongues of fire” landed upon them.  “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Tongues, that is, languages, had been a curse: the punishment for the hubris and disobedience of our human race.  For in the years following the rebuilding of humanity after the flood, “the whole earth had one language and the same words.”  The people refused to obey God’s command to spread out and repopulate the earth.  Instead, they gathered at the Plain of Shinar and decided to challenge God’s sovereignty using new technology: “Come, let us make bricks…. Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Instead of hallowing the name of God, they sought to glorify their own names.  Instead of worshiping the God of heaven to seek His favor, they sought to force their way into heaven by means of their own power.  Instead of obeying the will of God to repopulate the earth, they sought to consolidate and do as they pleased.

God cursed our sinful ancestors with the curse of the multiplicity of tongues.  For divided tongues led to divided tribes, to divided nations, to a divided mankind.  Human beings divided themselves up into “us” and “them” and made war on those who spoke differently than they.  And even when the intent was not malicious, how many misunderstandings resulted from the confusion of languages?  How much misery flowed from this curse?

And the Babel of the Book of Genesis is why the Pentecost of the Book of Acts is so utterly remarkable!  The Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Spirit of Truth came into our dysfunctional and broken world, and for the sake of Christ, brushed aside millennia of confusion, division, hatred, and the curse of the multiplicity of tongues.

Just as the curse of the cross became the gift of the cross, so too, the curse of tongues became the gift of tongues.

And even as our tongues are engines of sin, filled with curses and disobedience and hatred and gossip, in Christ, our tongues are being transformed into means of blessing and obedience and love and proclamation of the Gospel of Christ!  This, dear friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit in our own day!

For what did those “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia” hear in their own languages on that Pentecost?  What do the French and Germans and Africans and residents of Louisiana hear in their own languages on this Pentecost?  By the Holy Spirit we hear what they heard: the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ at the cross, His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and the gracious gift of our redemption in His name through Word and Sacrament! 

And we should hear the preaching of the Gospel with the same wonder, just as they were “amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘what does this mean?’”  We too should marvel, asking ourselves how it is it that I, a poor, miserable sinner, can be declared a saint by means of the blood and water shed by our Lord at the cross, and through the blood and water of the Holy Sacraments, and under the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins?  And indeed, we study the Word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, repeating the refrain from our catechism again and again, “What does this mean?”

And even when we are mocked as those Pentecost preachers were, we scorn the insults of those who hate us, and we join St. Peter in the great confession of Pentecost, proclaimed to those gathered in every tongue known to man: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

That, dear friends, is the peace that the Lord leaves with us.  That is the peace in which we live and the peace which we proclaim.  It is the peace of God that passes all understanding.  It is the peace that gives the Church in every generation the strength and the courage to say along with our Lord, “Rise, let us go from here!”

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

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