Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Day of Pentecost (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Acts 2:1-21
Theme: The Work of the Spirit

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The actions of God always have restorative power. Mortals experience the passing of time by succumbing to decay. Time moves along and our bodies and minds progress from maturity to deterioration. The eternal God, however, reverses decay and suspends the eclipse of time. The implication for believers is that even in the midst of this fallen existence we can participate in Christ’s new and eternal creation. Christ is the means. The Holy Spirit is the facilitator. Baptism is the ‘method’. On this Day of Pentecost we rejoice that through the Spirit’s work we have become recipients of Christ’s redeeming work.

The giving of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the historical out-pouring at Pentecost. God is not bound by time. The Holy Spirit lives and works among and within us concurrently with Christ through His word. The Holy Spirit is not merely the energy, dynamism, or power of God. The Spirit doesn’t relate to the Godhead like our soul relates to our body. He’s not just an intangible force that animates the commands of God. The Holy Spirit is fully God, fully divine, and yet a distinct person of the Trinity distinguished from the Father and the Son. As such He is to be worshipped and glorified.

False teachings on the nature of the Holy Spirit’s being were largely remedied in the early centuries of the church. (Though they have re-appeared in sectarian teachings like that of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.) Yet the work and presence of the Holy Spirit is still commonly misunderstood. The Holy Spirit is not a sort of religious “catch all” to sanction whatever we deem to be our valid spiritual interests. The issue at stake is both the source and authority of our religious knowledge.

A prevalent teaching of our day is the validation of truth and authority based on our individual feelings. Decisions are made accordingly. In certain contexts this is just the logical outcome of preferences. Suppose you are wondering if it’s cold enough outside that you need to dress more warmly. How do you know? You might go outside and notice that it feels cold. So you plan your day accordingly. Or you might hear the weather forecaster has predicted a high of 15 degrees, and without feeling for yourself you take similar measures. Either way, the result was the same. But if the forecast is wrong you will adjust accordingly.

However, this analogy cannot be universally applied. Consider this example. Suppose you feel capable enough to drive home after having a few drinks. But if you let your feeling be the sole measure of truth you could soon be in for a lot of trouble. The number you blow when breath-tested is much more important than how you feel. The source of your knowledge is important, as is the authority that it has.

What we imagine or intention spiritually has no basis of certainty apart from the word of God. Inclinations or intuitions- regardless of how intense- are not necessarily the promptings of the Holy Spirit. A situation in which we may feel comfortable or content may well be in conflict with God’s truth. Conversely, we may feel nervous or uncertain in another context, yet God’s word should assure us that we have His blessing. God’s word has authority because He is its author. The Holy Spirit speaks through it.

Pentecost began a reversal of confusion and chaos. Those scattered at Babel are brought together at Jerusalem as a preview to the heavenly Zion. Christ re-established God’s authority; not as a maverick working independently, but at the fulfiller and advocate of the Scriptures. We can be certain that His word of law and His gospel message have validity. Our trust follows accordingly. For example, true repentance, says Luther, “does not debate what is or is not sin. Rather, it hurls everything together and says: Everything in us is nothing but sin, there is nothing in us that is not sin and guilt.”1 It’s useless to spend time and energy rationalizing, negotiating, or bargaining. Our pride must be set completely aside. God wishes to forgive us only on His terms.

The natural knowledge of God is still accessible to all people. It is revealed in the created order. It follows logic. It makes sense to us. Rebellion invites punishment. Obedience curries reward. Acknowledging that violence and harmful behavior must be kept in check doesn’t require the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Society must only come to agreement on acceptable parameters. But to abolish guidelines altogether invites judgment. To use a culturally sensitive issue, homosexuality is not a widening of the parameters. The difference is not a matter of degree- adjusting the boundaries-, but of kind- rejecting the whole pattern.

Saving knowledge of God, however, is possible only through special revelation. God as the unconditional Lover that condescends to creation; God as merciful redeemer who intervenes to rescue humans from impending doom; this God is only made known to us through the Scriptures. Only through the Holy Spirit can we understand the God who sets in place the natural order as the Saviour who takes extreme measures to rescue us from the final collapse of that same natural order. This truth can only be nonsensical to unbelievers.

In other words, Christians see the world from a different point of view. The apostle Paul says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”2 Paul certainly isn’t saying that there is some kind of secret knowledge for insiders or the elite. Christianity is nothing like Masonry or Mormonism. The work of the Saviour is not covert. Nothing happens underground. The clearest truth ever proclaimed, the clearest news ever circulated, the clearest knowledge ever taught is the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. Every language group, nation, and race is the intended audience of the message of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has no other aim and no other purpose than to grant saving faith in Him who was crucified for the sins of the world.

Pentecost sets the pattern for the global communication of the gospel. The apostles articulated the Good News to those present in their native tongues. Inwardly the Holy Spirit was illuminating hearts. Saul of Tarsus was a pre-eminent example. The scales fell from Paul’s eyes. His spiritual blindness was cured. A lifetime of progressive persecution was turned to passion for people to know the gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. It took centuries, but the world was dramatically changed.

In most of the West Christianity has again lost the influence of strength in numbers. In current parlance we might say that it’s lost mechanism of peer pressure- for good or for ill. Taboos or expectations of a majority Christian segment of society would influence the choices and opinions of others not directly associated with the faith. Now the situation is nearly reversed. Christian voices are often a minority in an increasingly secular world that howls down anything it believes challenges its freedoms or ideals.

But true freedom is found in Christ. We are His baptized children. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”4 We are fed by His body and blood. We have the Spirit of Truth, the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Helper, the Counsellor, and the Comforter. You can be absolutely certain God says this to you in real time: Your sins are forgiven. Christ has made amends. He alone can make it valid for eternity. Rejoice on this day of Pentecost in knowing that when you have God’s word the Spirit is with you. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Luther, Smalcald Articles
2 1 Corinthians 2:14
3 Hebrews 1:1-2
4 Titus 3:5

The Day of Pentecost
8 June 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt