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"Day of Pentecost

    May 19, 2013

    Passage: John 14:8-27

    Speaker: Alan Goertemiller

    Category: Sunday Services

    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

    It hasn’t always worked out for us to have Confirmation on the Day of Pentecost but, when it does, it’s a nice convergence. In truth, however, our four white-robed young people today, in their recent studies and catechetical training, have likely focused a whole lot more on God and Jesus than the Holy Spirit.

    That doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is the neglected and “weak sister” of the Holy Trinity, but it may mean that the Spirit is more elusive and harder to define, though who of us can truly define God?

    As the Apostle Paul writes to his Christian friends in Rome: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34).

    And, in case you’re wondering, yes, the Holy Spirit is mentioned far less in God’s Word – and God is, by far, of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the most often referenced in the Bible.

    God is mentioned more than 4,000 times in the 66 books of Scripture (!), though there is a book of the Bible, the Book of Esther, in which the name of God does not appear at all! I will say, however, in defense of the Book of Esther that in its message God’s love and care for His chosen people is clearly shown.

    But while God is mentioned more than 4,000 times in the Bible, and there are almost 1,000 references to Jesus in the New Testament, the references to the Spirit throughout Scripture number just more than 600; still, that’s a pretty great number.

    I recently read an article which alleged that some claim Jesus taught very little about the Holy Spirit. That is simply not true. Jesus has a good deal to say about the Holy Spirit in Scripture and, in our Gospel today, there are some important teachings about the Holy Spirit of God.

    You might have noticed that not once, but twice, the Spirit is called the “Advocate” in our Gospel text (John 14:16, 25). An advocate is one who pleads the cause of another. An advocate is a supporter, a defender, a proponent. This tells us that in the realm of the Divine we all who are in Christ have friendly counsel: the Holy Spirit is our champion and backer!

    This is not to deny that there are passages in Scripture that imply that God will one day be our impartial judge. Yes, God is both merciful and just – and God expects, in our dealings with each other, that we will be the same. And the day will come when God will make that final determination about us. God will be objective and equitable; fair and just.

    But the Holy Spirit of God will not! The Holy Spirit is and will be active in the heavenly realm pleading the case for us, representing our best interests, advocating on our behalf. We have a very good friend in the third person of the Trinity.

    But the Holy Spirit is not only our friend in heaven and beyond this realm. The Holy Spirit is our companion, comforter, and guide right now! So Jesus says in our Gospel, God the Father “will give you another Advocate (that, by the way, implies that Jesus is our Advocate also) “to be with you forever” (John 14:16b).

    You could think of the Holy Spirit in this role as a kind of divine chaperone – God with us – a resource that we may rely upon as we journey through this life.

    Of course, if we turn away from God, if we choose to live apart from our Christian identity, if we choose to neglect God’s Word and the hearing of it, then the Holy Spirit of God will likely be mostly dormant and inactive within us – but then that will have been our choice.

    And that’s not to say that sometimes the Holy Spirit does its work even among and within people who are oblivious and even unaware (!), though those are two adjectives which may not often describe people enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

    I say this because our Gospel text speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth,” and truth means wisdom and knowledge, not oblivion and unawareness (John 14:17)!

    I hope you won’t be surprised to hear me say that Martin Luther, for one, stressed the connection between the Word of God and the Spirit of truth. According to Luther, God’s Word is truth, and the Holy Spirit brings that truth to life in people of faith.

    The first thing the Holy Spirit does through the Word is to convince us and the world of sin. In God’s Word the Spirit enables us to see ourselves as we really are: as sinners. The Spirit, through the Word, enables us to see how ugly and twisted things are, both in our lives and in the world around us.

    But, through the Spirit and in the Word, we also learn what Christ has done for us on the cross to make things right. This is God’s truth revealed to us by the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God leads us to the assurance of faith in our hearts.

    Now it’s true that we may not always feel such assurance, such confidence of faith. Life can be troubling and worrisome; life can be irritating and even burdensome and painful. But even when we are perplexed and disturbed within, even when doubts and disappointments assail us, even then the Holy Spirit of God may be at work within us.

    Martin Luther, in explaining the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, says that we don’t come to faith in Jesus Christ “by our own understanding or strength.” If we have faith in Jesus, if we trust in Christ at all as our Savior and Lord, it’s because the Holy Spirit has planted that faith in our hearts.

    The Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, calls us through the gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and keeps us in the true faith – “just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith” (Small Catechism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 1162). This is most certainly true. Amen.

    May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.

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    "Day of Pentecost"

      May 27, 2012

      Passage: Acts 2:1-21

      Speaker: Alan Goertemiller

      Series: Acts

      Category: Sunday Services

      Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Today is the Day of Pentecost, and within the book of Acts, Pentecost takes place shortly after the ascension of Jesus. We might think of the Ascension, Jesus ascending bodily up into heaven, as a spectacular event that filled the disciples with awe.

      Well, maybe, that’s somewhat true, but many scholars more likely believe that those disciples would have experienced it as a profound disappointment. They were all thinking the resurrected Jesus would bring in the kingdom of God, and so their work would end. They even asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)”

      So, no, they most likely didn’t realize the gritty, dangerous, and exhausting work of bearing witness that lay just ahead of them. After the Ascension, we’re told in Acts that two men in white robes asked the disciples why they were standing and staring up into heaven.

      Some have speculated that even divine messengers, if that’s what they were, can sometimes ask dumb questions! And we might wonder why the disciples didn’t respond, “Well, because our master, Jesus, just floated up into the sky and was covered over by a cloud, that’s why!”

      Even before the disciples became the church they misunderstood the mission, and they longed for the good old days when they could depend on Jesus, on Jesus’ strong leadership. Those two men in white robes standing there may well represent divine instruction, a word from on high to the church.

      But the church has never done everything right. The church always has needed a corrective word from heaven to know what to do next.

      If the church stands around when it needs to do something else, we hope that word will come through scripture and modern-day prophets.

      The disciples take care of some administrative details and then head to Pentecost. The disciples come back to full strength, Peter emerges as a capable first leader, but we don’t know how they understand their game plan. They have their mission: “... you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).”

      At this point, the disciples still consider themselves faithful Jews, and so they attend Pentecost. Jews celebrated Pentecost, also known as the Festival of Weeks, as one of three major festivals of their faith, along with Passover and Tabernacles.

      At Pentecost, the people of God offered gratitude for the first fruits of the harvest. The disciples had attended many of these festivals, but never one like this festival!

      Whenever we feel discouraged about the church, whenever we feel ready to throw in the towel, whenever we feel despair, we should remember that the rush of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost took the church completely by surprise. No one expected this to happen. No one expected the infusion and rush of the Holy Spirit. No one expected tongues of fire to come to rest on each person.

      If church attendance lags, if our influence seems to fizzle out, if some people choose to ignore us, let us remember that God’s spirit of power came unexpectedly at Pentecost. We never know from where the next rush of wind might come. Let us expect the unexpected. Let us take hope in God’s surprises.

      The experience at Pentecost brought unity.

      We may mourn the division of the church today into groups, and even into groups within groups. With all of our disagreements over doctrine and polity, over politics and social issues, let us remember that the church began in unity, with everyone hearing in the right language.

      Let us not discount the possibility that the Spirit will enable liberals to hear conservatives, and moderates to hear liberals, Republican Christians to hear Democratic Christians. As it stands now, many of us are talking past each other, or not talking to each other at all. Maybe the Spirit can enable us to hear each other once again.

      I sure hope we don’t miss what happens in this Acts, chapter 2, text. With the Holy Spirit rushing through the crowd, with the walls separating people crashing down, with God pouring energy into the disciples to become the church, a few cynics stepped forward and sneered at the whole thing, “They are filled with new wine.”

      Those cynics found it easier to believe that this whole crowd was drunk that early in the morning, rather than believe that God was working through them in the amazing power of the Holy Spirit.

      If people today dismiss the church, ridicule the church, poke fun at the church, ignore the church, we should all remember that such attitudes go all the way back to the very first few minutes of the church’s life.

      I don’t hear anyone today accusing the church of a drunken stupor every Sunday morning, but they make other accusations: boring, irrelevant, out of touch, self-righteous.

      And, to be honest, no one who has hung around a church for very long can dispute some of those charges being true some of the time. We’ve all experienced the boredom of an exceptionally-long sermon – though never here, of course!

      We’ve all barely tolerated the tedium of a long church committee meeting, the silliness or even viciousness of a church dispute or fight. Many of us could point out other sad things about the church.

      But I would also hope we also see the power behind and within the church. We see our children learning the faith. We see the commitments and sacrifices of Sunday school teachers, committee members, elders and directors, and choir members. We see the inspiration that carries people through crisis. We see the mission work being done around the world.

      We can scoff and sneer at the church. Scoffing and sneering might make us feel smug. We don’t need the church; we can worship God out in the woods (even though very little worship happens there).

      We can sneer; we can protect ourselves from the risk and danger of the Holy Spirit. Those who dismissed the early church as a bunch of drunks kept themselves safe. They didn’t face the persecution, the jail cells, or the angry mobs.

      Those who dismissed the church as a bunch of drunks also missed the joy, the faith, and the love of the early church. They missed the bold encounters with the world, the great courage of the missionaries, and the steadfast faithfulness of martyrs like Stephen.

      They missed the shock and delight of seeing Paul transformed from an angry bully to a loving brother and effective missionary. Even though the Spirit came to the early church in an overwhelming way, the church still needed faith to see what happened as the work of the Holy Spirit.

      Only when Peter leaped up and connected the dots back to the prophet Joel did the church truly understand what they had experienced. We might feel a tingle walking in the woods on a Sunday morning, but the church helps us interpret that tingle.

      We choose also. Does God still work in power through the church? Do we still have relevant ministry to do in this broken world? Can we dismiss the work of the church as unimportant?

      Let us see how the Holy Spirit still empowers the church. Let us open ourselves to the risks to which the Spirit leads us. Let us claim our heritage back through all of the dots where God has led us.

      Let us act generously in a greedy world; let us show courage in the midst of fear; let us claim hope when others give up. Let us go out in the power of the Spirit to bear witness to the transforming work of the Resurrection. Amen.

      May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.