Sunday, May 29, 2016
Sermon for First Sunday after Trinity - Lk 16:19-31
In a 1789 letter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” There is certainly much debate today about the status of the Constitution in the functioning of American government. But while there may be disagreement related first part of Franklin’s statement, I think everyone will agree that the second part is just as true now as it was then.
In our experience, death and taxes are certain – there is no avoiding them. Apart from the return of Christ, everyone here is going to do die. The Fall brought sin into the world and people have been dying ever since. And apart from the return of Christ, next April 15 the government is going to demand that you pay taxes. The government wants to spend money. It has the power to demand money from you. It is going to require that you pay taxes.
I have always found it interesting how this pair “death and taxes” – this inevitable duo – also aligns with some of the most important and pressing ways that the Christian faith has meaning for life. Surely there is no time that faith in Jesus Christ is more important that when we consider the topic of our own death. It is this way when we think about it in the abstract – and it means everything when a person actually faces the reality that he or she is about to die.
Much the same thing can be said about taxes. Taxes are about our money – what we are forced to do with it. They matter because money is so important to us in so many ways. And again, the real meaning the Christian faith has for our life becomes apparent when we consider what we do with our money. We see it in the offering we choose to give; in the things we choose to buy and how much we spend; in the ways we use it to help others.
Today’s Gospel lesson is in fact about this pair – death and money. It teaches us about what Jesus Christ means for both of these in our life. More broadly, it reminds us that those who believe in Jesus Christ act in certain ways because of the Gospel.
Our text this morning is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This is, of course, a familiar parable of our Lord. While we know it well, it is also a great illustration of what we have been talking about in Bible study recently. As we look at texts in the Gospels we want to pay attention not only to what that specific text says. We also need to pay attention to what comes before and what comes after it. The individual readings do not stand on their own, but instead the Gospel writers have arranged them in a way so that they build on one another and convey meaning in doing so.
Just before our text in this chapter Jesus had told one of his more unusual parables – the parable of the unjust steward. About to be fired for mismanagement of the master’s affairs, the steward had quickly acted to cut a deal for the people who owed his master, so that they would treat him well when he was out of job. Surprisingly, the master then praised the steward for acting shrewdly. It’s an odd parable and presents challenges. The basic point seems to be that like the steward, we need to recognize the critical moment we live in because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we need to use our resources in ways that show this. After the parable Jesus says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
It becomes clear that Jesus is talking about how we view money and wealth – what we do with it living as Christians in the world. Luke tells us, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.”
So it is not by chance that shortly after this Jesus begins by saying in our text, “There was a certain rich man….” The rich man is described in the most extravagantly absurd terms: he was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every single day. The parties at the capital in the Hunger Games come to mind.
In stark contrast, we learn that poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate in hopes of getting some of the scraps from the rich man’s table. He was not lazy, but instead sick and destitute – he was covered with sores that the dogs came and licked.
Now it is important to recognize that the Torah has much to say about how the people of Israel were to treat the poor, the widow, the orphan and the sojourner in their midst. God had rescued them from slavery and taken them to be his own purely on the basis of his grace. He had fed and provided for Israel. And now living in the covenant with Yahweh they were to act in this way toward those in need. This Old Testament background established the giving of alms – money to help the poor – as an important part of first century Jewish piety.
We learn that Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side – he experienced salvation. On the other hand, the rich man died and found himself in the torments of hell from where he was able to gaze upon Lazarus and Abraham.
The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve his burning tongue – as if Lazarus were still below the rich man. But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”
Now there is more going on here than just the idea each one was finally getting the opposite experience to even things out. When Abraham tells the rich man that it is impossible for anyone to pass from one place to the other because of a chasm, the rich man responds, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And then the rich man answered, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
In the word “repent” we find that the rich man was not in the suffering of hell just because now it was time for him to experience something bad. Instead he was in hell because of his sin. And the sin in view is how he treated Lazarus – the fact that he didn’t help this man. Read in light of what Jesus has just said about money and wealth, it is clear that money was the master he served, not God. If God had been his master, then he would have helped Lazarus.
By the same token, it is not that Lazarus was finally getting what he deserved. Instead, this is an example of an important theme in Luke’s Gospel – that of “the great reversal.” It is first heard in the Annunciation – the words Mary spoke when she visited Elizabeth and said, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus humbled himself so that we can be lifted up. He descended from heaven as he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He allowed himself to be nailed to a cross so that he could bear the sins of all. He offered himself to be plunged into the depths of God’s judgment, so that we can be raised up from the water of baptism as forgiven children of God.
That is what God has done for you in Christ. But Jesus teaches us in the Gospel lesson that things don’t stop there – they can’t stop there. What Jesus has done changes how we are to view things. Saved by God’s undeserved love, no longer are we to grant more attention and status to money than it deserves. Certainly we are not to turn it into a god by loving and trusting in it more than the God who acted in Jesus Christ to save us.
In our text, the example of Lazarus shows us what this means. It means that we use our wealth to help those in need. We use it to help Christians in the Middle East who have been displaced by Islamic persecution. We use it to help those in Marion whose ability to feed their children this month will be challenged.
What we are talking about is faith and love. These are distinct, yet they are intimately related in Christ. Martin Luther wrote in his work The Freedom of the Christian: “We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love.”
You live in Christ through faith, believing in him as your Lord who died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead. You live in your neighbor through love as you seek to serve the needs of you neighbor. Because you have faith in Christ’s loving service for you, you now share that love with others in service toward them.
This involves your money – your wealth. But it is not limited to that. It involves your time, your effort, your attention, your compassion. And you don’t only find the neighbor to whom you provide loving help on the other side of the world or on the other side of town. You also find your neighbor on the other side of the church, and other side of the dining table and the other side of the bed.
Today we hear a familiar parable. It reminds us – and because of the old man who still clings to us we need reminding – that faith in Jesus Christ changes all of our life. It leads us to Christ as our Lord and instead of our money or wealth. It leads us to use that wealth in Gospel ways – ways that share God’s love in Christ with others in word and deed. It leads us to live in Christ and in our neighbor - in Christ through faith and in our neighbor through love
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Commemoration of Esther
Today we remember and give thanks for Esther. Esther is the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means "myrtle." Her beauty, charm, and courage served her well as queen to King Ahasuerus. In that role she was able to save her people from the mass extermination that Haman, the king's chief advisor, had planned (2:19-4:17). Esther's efforts to uncover the plot resulted in the hanging of Haman on the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai, her uncle and guardian. Then the king named Mordecai minister of state in Haman's place. This story is an example of how God intervenes on behalf of his people to deliver them from evil, as here through Esther he preserved the Old Testament people through whom the Messiah would come.
Collect of the Day:
O God, You graced Your servant Queen Esther not only with beauty and elegance but also with faith and wisdom. Grant that we, too, might use the qualities that You have generously bestowed on us for the glory of Your mighty name and for the good of Your people, that through Your work in us, we may be advocates of the oppressed and defenders of the weak; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity - Isa 6:1-7
It was the year that King Uzziah died. This in itself made it a memorable time if you were living in Judah in the eighth century B.C. To be specific, the year was 742. For more than forty years Uzziah had been king over the southern kingdom of Judah.
A kingship of that length in Judah was certainly notable. But what made the period of Uzziah’s rule so remarkable was that during the same stretch of time Jeroboam II had been king over the northern kingdom of Israel. Now nobody was ever king in the northern kingdom for that long. Kings were always dying by assassination or because of God’s judgment upon their wickedness.
Yet for forty years both Judah and Israel had only one king. It was a time of incredible stability. And there was one other factor that had made this into a time of tremendous prosperity and success. During this stretch of history there was a power vacuum. The major powers in the Near Eastern world were weak, divided or distracted. Israel and Judah were able to work together to promote trade and extend their influence.
However, four year earlier, in 746 B.C. Jeroboam II had died. And three years earlier a new leader had arisen in the great power of Assyria. His name was a mouthful: Tiglath-pileser III. But it was clear that he meant business and that Assyria was going to be a problem sooner rather than later. And now, on top of all that, King Uzziah had died. It seemed like everything was falling apart.
That was the moment when Isaiah had the experience he describes in our text. We normally understand this to be Isaiah’s call as a prophet, because immediately after our text Yahweh says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And then Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me.” The timing was definitely significant because God was about to use Assyria as his instrument of judgment against Israel.
If the moment was memorable. The experience itself was absolutely unforgettable. As Isaiah was in the temple he saw Yahweh sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. Yahweh is the king of the universe, and so of course, he was seated on a throne. We are told that the train, or edge of his robe filled the temple. And you’ll notice that Isaiah’s description of Yahweh himself never gets any higher than that.
There is good reason for this. Isaiah shifts and tells us that above Yahweh were six winged serephim who covered their faces before Yahweh as they flew. Now we often see angels depicted as either beautiful or cute creatures. We don’t know exactly what seraphim are, but this is the thing to keep in mind. The Hebrew root that is the basis for the word means either “serpent” or “fiery.” So these are apparently either serpent like creatures with wings, or fiery creatures, or both. And these are the guys who were covering their faces so that they didn’t look at Yahweh. These seraphim were calling back and forth to one another saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The foundations of the thresholds of the building shook and the temple was filled with smoke. And how did Isaiah respond to this up close and personal experience with God? He said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Isaiah experienced God in a way that you never have when he was called as a prophet. Yet here is a truth of the Feast of the Holy Trinity that I want you to let sink in: You know more about God than Isaiah did.
In the Old Testament, God’s people knew with absolute certainty that there is only one God. As Deuteronomy chapter six states: ““Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” They knew that every other god was a false god – it was not the true god.
But that is all they knew for sure. There were hints that there was more to the story – but nothing more than that. They did not know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In fact Peter tells us, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
You on the other hand know that the One true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. You know that the one God is three persons who in fact stand in relation to one another without ceasing to be one God. You know this because the Father sent forth the Son to be incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit. You know that at Jesus’ baptism, he stood in the water as the Father announced, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. You know that after his resurrection Jesus told his apostles to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and teaching them all that Jesus had commanded. Because you live on this side of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God, you know more about God than Isaiah did.
Now one thing Isaiah knew for sure, was that God is holy. He stood in the presence of Yahweh and heard the seraphim calling forth, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah stood in the presence of God and was overcome with the sense that he did not belong there because he was not holy. He said “Woe is me! For I am lost – or more literally, “I am completely undone;” for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Standing in the presence of the holy God, Isaiah intensely sensed his own sin. Now you haven’t had this exact experience. But you have an idea of what was going on. You know what it is like to lash out with angry words, and then later regret the hatred that came forth from your heart. You know what it is like to share gossip about another, and later recognize that you broke the Eighth Commandment. You know what it is like to lust after someone who is not your spouse or to look pornographic material, and then to feel guilt because you have broken the Sixth Commandment. You know what it is like to be plagued by sin.
Isaiah stood before the holy God and felt completely undone. But we hear in our text, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” God acted to take away Isaiah’s sin.
We know more about God than Isaiah – we know about the Holy Trinity – because God has carried out his one and for all action to take away our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our very knowledge of the Trinity exists only because the Father sent forth the Son to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit. The Father sent Jesus Christ the incarnate Son to die on the cross bearing our sins – to die in our place as the atoning sacrifice. But then, the Spirit raised up Jesus on the third day. Because of this you have forgiveness and can stand before the the holy God now and on the Last Day.
In our text, Isaiah hears the seraphim cry “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” God has the angel touch his lips and take away his sin. Isaiah did not know God as the triune God because the incarnation had not yet taken place. We live on the other side of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and therefore we know the Holy Trinity.
Yet in Isaiah’s experience we are reminded that while man’s knowledge of God has changed, God has not changed. He is still the God who is holy. He is still the God who acts in his grace, mercy and love to take away the sins of his repentant people. He is still the God who does this through located means.
In a few moments we will sing the words of the seraphim. In the Sanctus we will sing “Holy, holy, holy” as we join the angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven. And then God will touch your lips and give you forgiveness. Yet now it is the Son of God who will touch your lips with his true body and blood in the Sacrament, given and shed for you. The Son, sent forth the by the Father, incarnate by the work of the Spirit, crucified, raised by the Spirit, ascended and exalted at the right hand of the Father is still the incarnate Son of God. In the miracle of the Sacrament he gives you his true body and blood – the very price he paid as the atoning sacrifice for you.
On the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we give thanks to God that we now know more about him than Isaiah did in our text. We do because God sent forth the Christ prophesied by Isaiah. We know more because the Father sent forth the Son who was incarnate by Holy Spirit. We know God to be the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who has acted in fulfillment of Isaiah’s words to give us forgiveness and eternal life.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21
Today is the Feast of Pentecost. And on this day when you look around, you will see symbolism that evokes one aspect of the remarkable event that happened on the day of Pentecost. On our bulletin cover you see flames that have come down from above. On the banner behind me that Jean Adams made for Good Shepherd, you see the words, “Receive the Gift of the Spirit” surrounded by tongues of flame.
It’s not surprising that flames of fire are associated with Pentecost. After all on that day what appeared like tongues of flame were distributed on the disciples’ heads as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. But while we usually focus on the flames, that wasn’t really the most significant thing that happened – the thing that called attention to the outpouring of the Spirit. In our text we hear, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
We learn that there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind and this sound filled the house. I think for the rest of my life when I read about this sound, it will always call to mind the experience here in Marion on May 8, 2009 when the inland hurricane passed through. While the force of the wind was impressive, what really caught my attention was the sound. It was blowing so hard that the wind made a constant whirring or buzzing sound.
When it comes to Pentecost, we often focus on the flames. Yet this is not what got the attention of the people in Jerusalem. We hear in our text, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together.” It was the sound that prompted these pious Jews to come together where the disciples were.
The fact that God used a sound like a mighty rushing wind to announce the outpouring of the Holy Spirit should probably not surprise us. After all, the Hebrew word for Spirit – ruak – can also mean wind. In fact when Jesus spoke to the Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit he said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus’ words remind us that wind is rather mysterious. You can’t see it and yet there it is physically acting upon things. You can’t see it coming. You can’t see where it is going and yet there is no denying its presence. And of course our Lord does so in order to illustrate the fact that the work of the Spirit is mysterious and not easy to understand. Yet this does not change the fact that the Spirit is present and at work.
The Jews who came together because of the sound of the wind were bewildered. But it was no longer the sound that had their attention. Instead they said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” The disciples were from Galilee. They were not the kind of people you expected to speak languages from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world. Yet here they were speaking in all of these languages as the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to do so. As our text tells us, they were declaring the mighty works of God.
We focus on the flames of Pentecost rather than the sound of the wind because the flames are easier for us to understand. At least we can draw flames. How do you depict the sound of a rushing wind? And that difficulty illustrates the challenge that Pentecost – and the Holy Spirit himself – present for us.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. This means that while there is one God, the Spirit like the Father and the Son, is distinct and able to interact with the other persons of the Trinity. This in itself blows our mind. And then on top of that, at least when we think about the Father and the Son, we have some basis for understanding what this means. After all, we have experienced fathers and sons. But “Spirit” – that is a different matter.
And then Pentecost too presents challenges. It all seems anticlimactic. Jesus Christ has died on the cross for our sins and risen from the dead. His saving mission for us is completed. He has ascended into heaven. And then, ten days later, along comes Pentecost. Today, it’s often an afterthought in the Church. Families gather to celebrate Christmas and Easter, but who does that for Pentecost? After all, what’s the big deal?
Before Jesus ascended he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” He told them to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
When God poured forth the Holy Spirit, it was impressive. Yet even at that moment, unbelief was still able to reject the Gospel. The response of some that day was to say, “They’re drunk.” But Peter stood up and declared that nothing could be farther from the truth. He said, “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
Peter declared that the outpouring of the Spirit was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel and a sign that the last days – the end times had arrived. He went on to announce that the Jesus Christ they had crucified had been raised from the dead. More than that, he had ascended into heaven. And the proof of all of this was what was happening on Pentecost. Peter announced, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
It is easy to look at the events of ten days ago and conclude that the Lord Jesus has abandoned us. After all, he ascended into heaven. We don’t see him anymore. But the day of Pentecost answers back that this is all wrong.
Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins in order to win forgiveness for you. He rose from the dead as he defeated death and began the resurrection of the Last Day that will be yours. And now the ascended and exalted Lord has poured forth his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Christ for his Church. The Spirit is, after all, the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit creates faith in Jesus. The Spirit strengthens faith in Jesus. The Spirit prompts and moves the Church to tell others about Jesus.
When Peter had finished speaking, those who heard it this were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Pentecost makes us think about our own baptism. In the water of baptism the Holy Spirit was poured out on you. As Paul says in Titus chapter 3, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” In Baptism the Holy Spirit has applied Jesus Christ’s saving work to you. How do you know you are forgiven? You’ve been baptized!
But Pentecost teaches us that the Spirit does more than just make sure we are forgiven. He is the power from on high that enables us to live as those who are in Christ and to tell others about Jesus. The apostle Paul told the Romans, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” As the Spirit comes to us through the Means of Grace he leads and enables us to turn away from sin. He gives us strength to put do death the old man – to crucify him – so that the new man created by the Spirit lives in the world sharing love in word and deed with others.
And the Spirit provides the power by which we are able to speak about Jesus Christ to others. In the book of Acts this is in fact the primary thing that Luke highlights. Where the Church is slow in speaking the Gospel the Spirit prompts – and even forces – the Church to speak Christ beyond the narrow circle she had drawn.
The Holy Spirit continues to do this in the Church today. The question we must face is whether we are stifling the Spirit. When we find ourselves in conversations and settings, and we sense that there is the opportunity to speak about Jesus, do we try to find reasons why we shouldn’t? Or will we instead allow the Spirit to lead us in bearing witness to Christ?
On the day of Pentecost the ascended Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit on his Church. He fulfilled the prophet Joel’s words in an action the announces to us that we are living in the last days. Through the Spirit – his Spirit – the Lord Jesus has called us to faith and keeps us as members of his Church. The Spirit continues to be active and at work among us until our Lord returns on the Last Day. He helps us to suppress the old man so that we can live in the ways of Christ. And he leads and enables us to share the good news about Jesus Christ who died for the sins of all and rose from the dead.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Sermon for Pentecost Eve - Rom. 8:12-17
“Father, Father!” Literally that is what Paul says we cry out to God through the work of the Spirit. The Church of the first century was a place that still retained some of the Aramaic language that had been used by Christians in Palestine in the very beginning. We see an example here, where Paul first uses the Aramaic word for “father” and then adds the Greek word. He writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” The apostle tells us that the Spirit poured out on Pentecost now leads us to cry out to God as “Father” on the basis of the new status we have received in Christ.
Tonight the Church begins her celebration of Pentecost – the event in which Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples in Jerusalem. Pentecost marks a new and final stage as God’s saving work unfolds and moves towards its consummation. Our incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, having completed his mission of death and resurrection for our sins, ascended into heaven and was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. On Pentecost he poured forth his Spirit whose work it is to extend the saving reign of Christ through the Gospel.
In Paul’s writings, the work of the Holy Spirit clearly identifies the time we live in as the Last Days. Paul says that the resurrection of the Last Day has already started – it started on Easter in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As he told the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Just before our text, Paul had told the Romans that the Holy Spirit was involved in the resurrection of Jesus. And he went on to say that the presence of the Holy Spirit within us – the Spirit poured out on Pentecost – is the means through which God will also raise us up. He wrote: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
The Holy Spirit is the One through whom the resurrection power of Christ is at work in us. And in our text, Paul goes on to teach us about two important implications of the Spirit’s presence within us. Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
The first implication has to do with our status. Because the Spirit of the Son is within us – the Son who has won for us forgiveness and defeated death – we have received the Spirit of sonship. We are no longer slaves to sin, death and the devil. Instead we are the sons and daughters of God. The Spirit is the One who has created faith within us and enables to cry out to God in faith, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit is the One who testifies within us that we are the children of God – the One who gives us the peace of knowing that fellowship with God has been restored in Christ.
And Paul tells us that if we are children of God, we are also heirs. We are heirs of God and coheirs with Christ who was not afraid to call us brothers and sisters in order to bring us back to the Father. The Spirit within us testifies to the saving work of Son and in doing so assures us that we will share in all that Christ was won for us – resurrection and eternal life.
This is all good news – it is Gospel. But Paul also tells us in our text that for the present, those who are in Christ are also called to suffer with Christ. The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a joyous event for the Church. Moved by the Spirit she went forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Yet in that work, the book of Acts tells that Stephen and James were soon martyred, and that the church in Jerusalem was scattered by persecution. The call to live Spirit motivated lives in Christ is a call to take up our cross and follow our Lord.
And it is also the call to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh – the sinful, fallen nature. At the beginning of our text Paul says, “So then brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”
Life led by the Spirit calls us to struggle against sin within ourselves. It leads us to return to our baptism in repentance – to return to our own personal Pentecost in which the Spirit was poured out upon us and joined us to Christ. For in our baptism we find forgiveness for our failures. And in our baptism we find the source of renewed life – renewed life in Christ as we are led by the Spirit.
Our celebration of Pentecost begins tonight. Paul’s words teach us that through the work of the Spirit we are able to call out to the Father in faith. We are able to live in the knowledge that we are the sons and daughters of God. And we are able to look forward to sharing in resurrection glory with Christ.
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