Sunday, June 12, 2011

Homily for the Feast of Pentecost (Confirmation)


John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The great city of Babylon was but the end result of what our First Parents, Adam and Eve, set out to build for themselves when they succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and rebelled against God, taking and eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden – they sought to make for themselves a name in the world and they sought to elevate themselves as gods unto themselves. Indeed, God Himself acknowledged this saying, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” So, the LORD drove the man and the woman out of the Garden of Eden and placed an angel there as a sentry with a flaming sword that turned every way to keep the man and the woman from entering the Garden and from eating from the Tree of Life.

The serpent, Satan, did what Satan always does, he lied. Yes, true enough, he told Adam and Eve the truth in part, saying that their eyes would be opened and that they would know good and evil, but he lied to them in saying that they would be like God, for, the tragic irony here lies in the fact that they were already like God, created in His image of holiness and righteousness. But, when they ate of the forbidden fruit they sinned and they lost that image, they ceased to be like God. And, from then on they began to die, not just physically, but they died spiritually right then and there. Thus, it was in mercy that God barred our first parents from the Tree of Life, so that they would not eat of its fruit and live in eternal separation from God and His eternal life.

However, God’s will for man was still that he would be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing on the earth, for, in that way, God would be glorified in His creation as all living things recognized Him as their benevolent and loving Creator and God. But, man failed to disperse throughout the earth and instead, gathered together in one land as one people having one language and there began to finish what Adam and Eve had started, saying altogether, “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.”

Too often man’s endeavors have in mind only man’s self-glorification and not the glorification of God. Consider the towers we build for ourselves of pride and self-sufficiency, how we imagine them to be untoppleable, reaching into the heavens, that is, of course, until our co-worker gets a promotion, our neighbor gets a more fashionable car or a sexier wife, or until another takes aim at your towers to advance his own, and then they come crumbling down in a pile of rubble and shame leaving us angry, defeated, hopeless, and despairing.

In what may be a bit of Mosaic humor, God had to come down from the heavens to find the tower that represented the ultimate achievement of man’s intellect, strength, prowess, and talent. I am reminded of God’s words to Job,

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone...? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?

The problem is that man wants to worship the creature rather than the Creator, and that is idolatry and a sin against the First Commandment of God. Ultimately, however, idolatry is the only sin, for, if you break any of the Commandments numbered two through ten, you always break the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” and you place your fear, your love, and your trust in something or someone, even in yourself, more than, above, or in opposition to God. All sin is idolatry; all sin is a failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That was Adam’s sin. That was the sin of the Babylonians. And, that is your sin as well. Repent. Confess yours sins and your towering idolatries to God and receive the forgiveness He has provided for you in the sacrificial suffering and death of His Son, Jesus the Christ.

Truly it was in mercy that the LORD confused the language of the Babylonians and dispersed them over all the face of the earth. Sometimes God frustrates and thwarts your plans and activities when they will lead you into idolatry, for, when you stop trusting in your own strength, wisdom, and works, when you are empty handed and on your knees, or your back, with nothing to offer, then you are in the best possible position to receive fully and freely from God by grace.

It was by grace that Jesus died to give you peace, not the fleeting and false peace that the world gives which is here today and gone tomorrow, but true, lasting, and unchanging peace, peace with your Creator, peace with God. Jesus won and secured that peace for you in His death on the cross. Then, on Pentecost, He sent the Holy Spirit, just as He promised, to seal you in this peace. In Holy Baptism you died to this world and to the ways of sin, death, and the devil, and you rose a new man who knows, loves, and wills the will and the commandments of God. You were united with Christ in the Holy Spirit, sealed in the Name of God, and given peace with God in Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior.

That is what our young Confirmands will confess this day. They will confess with their mouths what they believe in their hearts about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They will confess the faith they received as a gift when they were baptized, confirming that faith today after having been instructed in the doctrines and confession of the Christian faith. Additionally, today is an opportunity for each of you also to re-confirm the faith you received in Holy Baptism however long ago you received the blessing of that Divine Sacrament.

And so it is that, in an unique way, Pentecost is the undoing of Babylon, the undoing even of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, as all mankind is now drawn together from the ends of the earth as one body in Christ Jesus, with one head, one faith, one baptism, and one voice and confession saying,

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

This is the Christian faith, and this is the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith. For, that is what faith is, a confession, a speaking with the mouth of what is believed in the heart. The Lutheran faith is a confessional faith that does not merely say that it believes but always says what it believes. And, what the Lutheran faith believes is confessed, not only in words from the mouth, but in actions and deeds. Thus, everything the Church does in word or in deed is a confession of what the Church believes and of what Her members believe in their hearts. How we worship is a confession. What we sing is a confession. What liturgical actions we perform is a confession. How we dress and carry ourselves both in worship and in the world is a confession. How we treat our bodies is a confession. What we do with and how we care for our possessions is a confession. How we use our money is a confession. And how we love our spouses and children is an outward confession of what we believe in our hearts.

Anything that interferes with your confession of faith, anything that gets between you and your Creator God, is an idol and a false god, it is a Babylonic tower that must be abandoned or destroyed. Jesus taught that if you have the faith of the very tiny mustard seed that you can say to a mountain, “‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Well, have you moved any mountains, O you of little faith? Ah, but what about the towering, mountainous idols you can uproot, displace, and destroy if only you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead?

The promise and the blessing of Pentecost is that the Lord has not left you as orphans to fend for yourselves or to get along by your own reason, wisdom, or strength, but He has sent you the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, just as He promised. And, the promise of the Holy Spirit is that you will confess in word and deed what you believe in your heart about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost quoting the Prophet Joel,

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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