Sunday, June 8, 2014
Homily for The Feast of Pentecost
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.
In the days preceding His crucifixion and death, Jesus taught considerably concerning the sending and work of the Holy Spirit. You have heard our Lord’s teaching on the Spirit, particularly from John’s Gospel, the past two Sundays. Now, today is the Feast of Pentecost, the day upon which we remember and celebrate our Lord’s pouring out of His Holy Spirit upon His Church. And as we remember and celebrate the gift and the work of the Holy Spirit, let us not forget our Lord’s teaching about the Holy Spirit before He was sent.
Jesus taught that the Spirit would convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment. Jesus also taught that the Spirit would guide you into Truth, that is, into Jesus, for He would declare to you the things that belong to Him. And, Jesus also taught that the Holy Spirit would be a Helper, a Counselor, and a Comforter. These things are the proper work of the Holy Spirit. These are His work for you and upon you through which He calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps the whole Church of Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
What your Lord Jesus did not teach about were spiritual gifts or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, except that the Holy Spirit Himself is a gift from God the Father and the Son to you and the Church. Why then do Christians waste so much paper and ink, time, money, and energy preaching and teaching about, trying to acquire and to take inventory of, and exhibiting so-called “spiritual gifts?” It is true that St. Paul mentions and even names several gifts and fruits of the Spirit, however, we are not to place St. Paul’s teaching higher than or in contradiction to our Lord’s own teaching about the sending and the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, what we learn from St. Paul’s teaching is that the gifts and fruits of the Spirit are precisely that – gifts and fruits. They come from Him and they are bestowed by Him when and where He pleases. Men do not choose the gifts they receive, though, in their sinfulness, they may hinder them. Likewise, no one can say that one spiritual gift is better, more esteemed, or holier than another, for their source is one and the same, and each gift is given for the good and benefit of others, the Church, and for the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
Moreover, each and every Christian has gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit, and none are precisely the same. While St. Paul names and identifies several distinct spiritual gifts, his list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. There are surely countless more spiritual gifts than those he names. To demonstrate this, let us simply remember that St. Paul lists these gifts in his epistles to the Corinthian congregations, infamous for their doctrinal confusion and immoral practices. Nevertheless, St. Paul writes to them saying, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” Though they were confused and corrupt and immoral, St. Paul states that they lack no gift of the Spirit. How can this be? Surely many Christians today would judge such a congregation to be false, heretical, or worse. But, remember, the gifts are of the Spirit, even the Holy Spirit Himself. Either He is present or He is not. If there is faith, even small and weak faith, then He is present. If the Word of God is heard in its truth and purity, then He is present. If the Holy Sacraments are faithfully administered, then He is present. The Holy Spirit is present because He is the gift of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ who have promised Him to be present. When and where He is present there is no lack of His spiritual gifts. What hinders the manifestation of spiritual gifts, rather, is human sinfulness, selfishness, and unbelief. If these are quelled and constrained then faith will grow and increase and the gifts of the Spirit will likewise grow and increase, bearing fruit, when and where the Holy Spirit of God pleases.
And so, again, Jesus is the true teacher, preacher, and giver of the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts. What does Jesus teach that the Holy Spirit will do? “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” What is it that your Lord Jesus has said to you? It is the Word of His Father, the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is sent forth and works through the Word of God alone. Thus, Jesus does not teach that you will find the Spirit in marvelous signs and wonders, in acts of healing, or deeds of power, but in the Word and in the Holy Sacraments, the Word made visible, alone. This we confess with Luther, the Reformers, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Smalcald Articles, “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.” The Holy Spirit is sent forth and works through the Word of God alone, and He always and only directs you to Jesus, your Savior, to the glory of God the Father.
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word,” Jesus teaches, “ and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, through the means of His Word, to help you, to counsel you, and to guide you in keeping Jesus’ Word. You see, Jesus is both the Giver and He is the Gift. The Gift of the Holy Spirit, which He gives to you, will help you to receive and to believe, to trust and to keep Him who is the Gift. While there are many spiritual gifts, they are all given by one and the same Spirit. St. Paul compares the multitude of spiritual gifts to the many members of the body saying, “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—[…]—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” If you are a Christian, you are a Christian by the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. If you are a Christian, then you have that spiritual gift, the gift of the Spirit Himself, and you have many spiritual gifts as the Spirit pleases to give you. But any and all spiritual gifts are of the Spirit and from the Spirit and are given to the body of Christ, the Church. You are a member of His body, and each member is given unto the others so that the body grows and functions and prospers.
Not coincidentally, this day we are blessed to celebrate the Confirmation of three young souls. I do not say to you that they are three new members, for they were made members of the Christian Church many years ago when they were baptized. These three youth, like the Corinthian congregation, are true members of the body of Christ, the Church, and they lack no spiritual gift. What they will be doing in a short while is confirming their faith, faith they already had, faith they received as a spiritual gift – a gift of the Holy Spirit, even the Holy Spirit Himself! – when they were baptized as infant children. For, the gift of faith they received was not left orphan, it was not abandoned, but it was nurtured and nourished, kept, cherished, and protected by their parents, by their extended family, and by their family the Church. They were fed a steady diet of the pure milk of God’s Word so that they now have grown up into salvation, having tasted that the Lord is good. They have received the gifts of the Spirit through Word and Sacrament and have studied God’s Word and doctrines in Sunday School and Confirmation Catechesis from the Bible, the Catechism, and the Hymnal. Today they will stand before God and you witnesses to make confession of their faith as Confirmation that the gift of faith they received once in Holy Baptism has grown and is growing still, maturing, and is bearing good fruit to the glory of God’s holy Name. They will pledge themselves, by the grace of God, to remain steadfast in these gifts and to continue in faith and service of their neighbor to the glory of God until the Day of our Lord’s glorious return.
Therefore, let us all this day recommit ourselves to keep the Word of the LORD through times of joy and plenty as well as through times of tribulation, sorrow, suffering, and persecution, encouraging these young confessors to remain steadfast in their adherence to God’s Word and the faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments that they might be a blessing and a comfort and joy to their neighbors and persevere unto eternal life. And let us rejoice with them this day and days continuing that the Lord so graciously enlivens and strengthens His Church, equipping Her and blessing Her with every spiritual gift through Her members so that no spiritual gift is lacking and we may have peace – Christ’s peace: Peace, not as the world gives, but true and lasting peace that passes all human understanding. Father, grant us this gift of your Holy Spirit for the sake of Jesus.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.