St John 14.23-31 Pentecost
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.5.19
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why do we celebrate Pentecost? It's an Old Testament, Israelite observance prescribed by the Mosaic Law in Exodus, chapter 34. There it is called the Feast of Weeks; seven weeks to be exact; actually seven weeks, plus one day to be exactly exact. / It was a required Feast Day, which meant that all able-bodied males must attend the ceremonies, which much later meant that some of them had to travel many miles up to Jerusalem (normally on foot, probably uphill both ways). For Israel, it was the celebration of the Harvest-time; each head of the household must bring his first-fruits as an acceptable offering to the Lord. For us Christians, / Jesus is that first-fruit. He was the once and for all time acceptable offering, made on our behalf. So I ask again, why do we celebrate Pentecost?
Of course, there's more to the history of this day then just the Israelite observance. There is also the account of that one Pentecost, where Jesus' disciples were gathered together, and the Holy Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire and they began speaking in different languages.
OK. Pretty neat. But (again) what does that bit of history have to do with us? Why do we celebrate Pentecost?
We celebrate Pentecost, because without Pentecost none of this [point around room] / and none of Scripture [point to lectern], / and none of you / would be possible. Salvation history (which began all the way back in Genesis, chapter 3) salvation history did not stop with Jesus' death / or even his resurrection / or even His ascension. Pentecost was just as necessary for the salvation of the world as any event was. For Salvation is given through faith. And faith comes through hearing the Gospel. But how are people to hear unless someone preaches to them? That's Pentecost, for that's the work of the Holy Spirit: to reveal salvation, to show us the One in whom alone is our salvation; the Spirit comes to do the necessary work of revealing and giving faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Without this revelation, without faith in Jesus, salvation is not possible, the Church is not possible. It is the Spirit who makes all this saving work possible. And it was on that one, special Pentecost, that all this first took place.
And so on this Holy Day, the earliest of Christian Holidays in fact, especially today / the Church celebrates with this message: Happy Birthday, Church!Pentecost / is the Church's Birthday!
For this first half of the Church Year, we have walked with Jesus through His Birth, His Baptism, His Transfiguration, and especially His bitter suffering and death, and then on to His Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus is the eternal Bridegroom. He died for His bride, the Church. Today, we begin the other half of the Church Year, where we are shaped and formed into the immaculate and pure Bride of Christ, whom we will celebrate in full on the last Sundays of the Church Year at the end of October. But before we are formed into that immaculate Bride, like any living being, the Church must first be born. Hence, Pentecost, the Birthday of the Church.
Now one of the first things that parents begin to do when they learn that they will soon be birthing a child into the world, / is to name the child. It is no different with the living being which shall become Christ's own eternal Bride. She must be named. And so she is. And she is named by none other than her Lord and Bridegroom, Christ Jesus.
The first time this name is used is by Jesus, after Peter makes his great confession, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. In response, Jesus says this: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my / church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” / “Church” is Her name. And like all Biblical names, it means something, because it tells something about the one it names.
The name Church literally means, 'to gather-out of'. And that is precisely what happened. It was that action of unity, of making one out of many, of gathering together / what was scattered abroad. That was the moment of the birth of the Church. It was the work of the Holy Spirit / through the preaching of the Apostles / on that one, very special, unforgettable Pentecost.
But if something is gathered together, then it must mean that it was first scattered. Yes, the people were scattered. The people of the earth were not one people, they were many, they were “the nations”, the Gentiles; only one of those nations was God's people. But God did not create people to play favorites; He created all people and loves them all. So, if the people of the earth were not like this from the beginning, how then, did they get to be this way, when did they get scattered abroad?
The answer / might surprise you, / or maybe not. The Old Testament Reading for today gives us this answer. In short, it was God who did it. God is the one who scattered the people abroad. He is the one who made all those competing and conflicting Gentile nations. When? At the Tower of Babel. Listen again to the result of that event (from Genesis, chapter 11):
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Jump forward now a few thousand years to what is recorded in our second Reading for today from Acts, chapter 2. With this scattering and confusing of languages in mind, listen again to what God the Holy Spirit does on the first Pentecost after Jesus' Ascension:
"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. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language."
The Lord scattered the nations out / and He brought the nations back in. Was God just being mean? I mean really, / it seemed like those people had a pretty good system going: one language, one prosperous people, making much progress. Doesn't God want us to make progress in this life? // Yes, / but not like that. The people were progressing. Fine. But what good was it? They were forgetting God again. Some scholars say this event happened only about 100 years after the Flood, and already the were forgetting the one who saved their great-grandfather Noah and His descendents, themselves included. For goodness sake, Noah himself was still around at that time. What a disgrace, what shame he must have felt.
As Genesis 11 recounts, those people were unified for the sole purpose of “making a name for themselves.” They were unified, they were gathered together / around their own name. They had it all backwards, for, as Scripture says in another place, “there is [only one] name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” That name is Jesus' name. He is the Savior. The people who are united around any other name, are doomed to failure from the outset. They are already lost. God, by scattering them, was saving them from an imminent destruction. / So that, a few thousand years later, he might gather their children's children back together around the name which saves eternally.
Jump forward a couple more thousand years to this day, May 19, 2013. God the Holy Spirit is still doing His saving work, he is still gathering the nations back together. His Gospel message is still being proclaimed and He is still revealing and giving faith in Jesus.
Dearly beloved, / God is one, He is united. And you / are invited by the Lord Jesus, through His death and resurrection, to participate in that unity, to be brought together into one, eternal, immaculate, pure, living being, / to share in his divine oneness. Baptism does that. Baptism destroys the work of Satan, the work of the sinful world, and the work of your sinful nature. Those evil enemies only wish to divide, to divide and then conquer. Baptism thwarts their attacks, and sends them running, for Baptism unites. You are joined together with the other Baptized and all of you together, all who have been gathered out of the clutches of the evil one, you are the Church. You are the beloved of the Lord. He came on that rescue mission 2000 years ago for you / and He sends His Spirit (even today) to manifest Himself to you, to help you progress in the right way, that is, in His sanctified, holy life, and finally, to lead you to heaven to meet Him face-to-face.
So Happy Birthday, Church! It's a great day to gather together and celebrate! And look, our Lord has even provided the Meal. Truly this is the Day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and give thanks.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.