Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Feast of Pentecost with The Rite of Confirmation

Pentecost - contemporary


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 Feast of Pentecost is about the Word of God in opposition to the word of man, the devil, or anyone else. It is the effective undoing of the curse of Babel, when God confused the languages of self-centered man so that peoples could no longer understand each other nor cooperate in their godless efforts to establish their own hellish version of heaven on earth, with creaturely humanity being their only god. Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, upon His Church, just as He promised that He would. And, the Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance all that Jesus has said to you in His Word. The Holy Spirit guides you into the Way, the Truth, and Life – into Jesus. And, He comforts you with the Peace of Jesus, peace that the world cannot give, Peace that comes only from the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.

This is what the Holy Spirit does – He calls you to, He creates in you, and He keeps you in faith in Jesus Christ. Truly, it is as simple as that! And yet, Christians are too often confused about the work of the Holy Spirit and His gifts and His fruits. You are tempted to go immediately to those things that seem the most fantastic and spectacular, thinking them to be of greatest benefit and thus to be most desired – things like speaking in spiritual tongues, healing, visions, and the like. However, what is spectacular to the sinful minds and hearts of men and to your fallen and sin-corrupted senses is of much less importance to our heavenly Father and giver of all spiritual gifts. Furthermore, you must hear the Scriptures and mark that they speak of both gifts and fruits of the Spirit. The Sevenfold Gifts of the Spirit are described in Isaiah chapter eleven: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” This is a Messianic prophecy, fulfilled in the Baptism of Jesus and in His obedient life and ministry, suffering, and death. St. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians chapter five saying, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Thus, you see, the Sevenfold Gifts of the Spirit refer to Jesus firstly and directly. They also refer to you, not directly, but in and through Jesus. Likewise, the fruits of the Spirit are all selfless, self-sacrificial fruits that, like the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, most truly and fully describe, not you, but Jesus. Yet, once again, they do describe you in and through Him. In these key passages there is no mention of the more fantastic and spectacular gifts that too many Christians build their faith and religion upon and put their trust in so as to make them idols. However, such gifts are mentioned, most completely by St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter twelve: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. […] there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Here Paul intends to stress that any and all true spiritual gifts come from the one and only Holy Spirit of God. Moreover, the gifts of the Spirit are to be used for the good of the whole body of Christ, the Church. Therefore, spiritual gifts are by their very nature selfless and self-sacrificial as Paul described them in the epistle to the Galatians. They are gifts, which means that they are not your possession, but they belong to God. You are given stewardship of them to use for the benefit of others to the glory of God. These gifts flow from the Holy Spirit of God in and through Christ Jesus. And, the Holy Spirit works always, and only, through the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments, which are the Word of God attached by His institution, command, and promise to material, visible elements that you may see, touch, taste, and receive upon and into yourself, that you may have true and lasting comfort and peace.

Indeed, the greatest and the most dangerous error that we can make concerning the Holy Spirit is to believe that He works apart from the Word of God. This is simply a lie and a deception of the devil! In what is often considered to be his “last will and testament”, Martin Luther wrote in The Smalcald Articles, which are included in The Book of Concord, the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit—without the Word and Sacraments—is the devil himself.” (SA III.VIII.x) The Holy Spirit of God proceeds from the Father, sent by the Son, through the Word of the Father – which is the Son. The Spirit does not come in any other way or through any other means. Because of this truth, you can be certain that He is present and active where God’s Word has promised Him to be. And, this is why He is the comforter and guide to true and lasting peace, because He comforts you and guides you to and gives you the peace that the world cannot give – the Holy Spirit comforts you and guides you to and gives you the Peace that is Jesus.

Our catechumens have been catechized over the past two years – much longer when you consider their participation in the Divine Service and Sunday School – in the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. They have studied Luther’s Small Catechism and the Six Chief Parts of the Christian Faith: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Baptism, the Office of the Keys / Confession and Absolution, and The Sacrament of the Altar. Along the way they have listened to and discussed the major stories and themes of Holy Scripture, all which testify of Jesus. They have confessed their sins and have received Holy Absolution. And, today they stand before God their Father and you as witnesses to confess their faith in the Holy Triune God and in Jesus as their only Savior. This is not a new work, but it is a confirmation of a work that was begun in each of them by the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism when they were very young. Then, they were the pure recipients of the work that God the Holy Spirit was doing to them. Now that they have been instructed in the doctrines of their faith, they will confess with their mouths what they already believed in their hearts. Likewise, unlike the teachings of some Christian denominations, the Holy Spirit is not given anew, nor was some portion of the Spirit withheld before and given now. No, indeed the fullness of the Holy Spirit was given to each these young souls as a free gift in Holy Baptism. Indeed, it was the work of the Holy Spirit in and with them throughout these tender years that worked to create in them new hearts and minds, and give them new lips and hands with which to confess Christ before men and serve their neighbor with the gifts they themselves have received.

“Peace I leave with you;” Jesus said, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” But, what is this peace to which Jesus refers? It is the peace, the contentment, the security, and the comfort that comes from knowing that nothing that can happen to you in this world can separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ. The world can only offer a false and a fleeting peace, a peace that comes from satisfying the desires and the cravings of the flesh and its passions. These feel good enough, for a short while, but then they fade and pass away. Typically, they leave you feeling unfulfilled, and craving, and desiring ever for something new, something fresh, something more. And, too often, they leave you feeling guilty, dirty, and in despair. But, not so with the peace that Jesus gives. Jesus’ peace is unchanging, and therefore, it is certain and true and dependable. Jesus’ peace is not grounded in your fleeting and fickle emotions, but it is grounded in His Word, sealed in His Holy Spirit.

Our confirmands need Jesus’ peace as much as, and maybe more than, anyone. For, they have grown up in a world and a culture, and they will live their adult lives and raise their own families in a world and a culture, which no longer believes in truth or morality, but preaches a false gospel of peace saying, “Do whatever makes you happy, so long as you’re not hurting someone else.” The very objective nature and truth of God’s Word, which they have been taught in catechesis will be contradicted and undermined in every facet of their lives. If they remain faithful unto death, by the grace of God, as they will soon pledge themselves, they will be mocked and ridiculed and maybe even suffer violence because of their faith in Jesus Christ. And, this is no joke, for Satan seeks to sift them like wheat, and, quite likely, God will permit it that they might be proven true.

But, do not let this dire reality cause you to quake with fear or your hearts to melt within you. Jesus has sent to you the Holy Spirit of His Father to guide you, to comfort you, and to keep you in the Truth, to keep you in Jesus. He is the Peace and the Comfort of Jesus, who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. And, if you have Jesus, then you have everything; if you lose everything you have but Jesus, then you have lost nothing at all. Yet, the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of timidity, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Jesus has promised, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” To keep His Word is, as you learned in the Third Commandment, “to hold it sacred and to gladly hear and learn it.” Therefore, on this Confirmation Day, be reminded that Confirmation is not graduation, but it is maturation. That is to say, today is not the end of your studies and meditation on God’s Word and the receiving of His gifts in the Holy Sacraments, but today is the beginning of a fuller participation in His Word, and a life lived in His Word, both in His Body, the Church, and in the world through your vocations. And, as you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, let not your hearts be troubled, for the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit will abide with you this day and always.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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