Monday, May 24, 2010

Homily for The Day of Pentecost


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

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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.

What does this mean?

Pentecost is the Festival of the Church commemorating the sending of the promised Holy Spirit upon the Church of Christ. Pentecost is a transition point in the Church’s Year of Grace bringing to a close the Festival Half of the Church Year, which focuses upon the life of Christ, and beginning the Time of the Church, which focuses upon the life of Christ in and through His Church. Sometimes Pentecost is referred to as the birthday of the Church, for, by the gifts and working of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and the young Christians in that early Church finally began to understand the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection and were equipped with powerful, holy words and signs to bring the gifts of Jesus by the proclamation of the Gospel Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments to Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The work of the Holy Spirit is called Sanctification, which means, literally, “to make holy” or “to set apart”. To be holy means to be like God, righteous and without sin; God commands that you be holy as He is holy. To be set apart means that you are not to be conformed to this world and its prince, the devil; you are to be in the world, but not of the world; you are to be leavening agent in the world effecting it by the leavening Gospel of Jesus Christ and scattering the darkness of sin and death by His Light.

But, that is not all that the Holy Spirit has to do. The Holy Spirit creates faith in Jesus Christ where and when He pleases. Through faith, the Holy Spirit delivers all that Jesus won for you by His suffering, death, and resurrection, particularly the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. And, the work the Holy Spirit begins, He does not abandon, but He feeds, strengthens, sanctifies, and keeps believers in the faith until He brings it to completion in the resurrection of your body.

The Holy Spirit creates faith in Jesus, joins you into Jesus’ death and resurrection, teaches you about Jesus, and nourishes you with Jesus’ body and blood in the Holy Church that is the body of Jesus, through the proclamation of the Gospel Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments. That is to say that the Holy Spirit calls you and the whole Christian Church by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith, and, in the Christian Church He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and the sins of all believers.

That is the work of the Holy Spirit; that is what the Spirit does. And, where does He do it? The Holy Spirit does His work in and through the Holy Christian Church. Now, I suspect that some of you might be a bit uncomfortable with this doctrine. For, our post-modern culture insists that such absolute claims of truth are untenable and not politically correct. And, Pietism within the Church balks at this doctrine, maintaining that the Holy Spirit cannot be limited to such a narrow sphere of operation. And, Christians and unbelievers alike cry out “Which church? The one with the pedophile priests? Or, the one with the thieving evangelists? Or, the one filled with hypocrites?”

Yeah, that’s the One! For, there is only one holy Christian Church that will remain forever, and that Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. The Gospel Word and the Holy Sacraments are the Means of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ; that is, the Preaching of the Gospel, the administration of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar are the means by which and through which the Holy Spirit creates faith and sanctifies and keeps in the true faith. The Gospel Word is the Means of Grace by which the Holy Spirit calls you to faith in Jesus and the Holy Sacraments are Means of Grace by which the Holy Spirit seals, nourishes, and keeps that Spirit-created faith in Jesus Christ. These gifts were poured out upon the Church on the Day of Pentecost. These gifts gave birth to the Church. And, it is by these gifts, and around these gifts, that the Church continues to gather today, and every day, until the Day of Resurrection when the Church Militant will be shown to be the Church Triumphant.

It is faith alone (sola fide) in Jesus Christ alone (sola Christus) that saves, and that saving faith is the creation and gift of the Holy Spirit – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Further, the Holy Spirit has been sent by the Father through the Son to work through the means of grace established by Jesus, the preaching of the Gospel Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments, in the communion of saints, the Church, called by, and gathered around, these gifts. This is not a limiting of the Holy Spirit’s work by man, but it is a promise from God where His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation may be found. For, the gifts of God, won for us by Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, are found in the Holy Christian Church and nowhere else. Thus the Church of all times and in all places has always taught and confessed Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, “outside the Church there is no salvation”. And, Dr. Martin Luther concurs with this doctrine, writing in his Large Catechism “outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not found, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness.”

Just as there is no life without conception and birth, so the Church is the holy mother of those conceived by the Holy Spirit of God, born from the womb of the Church, the font, in Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism, the Spirit of God creates faith in Jesus Christ, wholly apart from human reason or strength. And, that is why Jesus points to a little child, even a newborn infant, as an example of how faith is completely and totally the work of the Holy Spirit. A person chooses or decides to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord no more than he or she chooses or decides to be conceived and born. We are the passive recipients of God’s grace in Jesus Christ through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

However, faith that is born of the Spirit does not remain passive, but such faith is alive and active and bears the fruits of righteousness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And so, the Church grows as Her children bear the fruits of the Spirit in their God-given, divine, and holy vocations, in loving service of the neighbor to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

This is exemplified today as Kristen Figliola is confirmed in the faith. A confirmation is not a beginning of faith, but it is, as the word implies, a confirming of faith that already exists. When Kristen was baptized thirteen years ago, she was given the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as a free gift by the working of the Holy Spirit. As an infant, she was the passive recipient of God’s free gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. But her infant faith did not remain passive, for faith is living and active.

Her faith has been built up and nourished by the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Church. She has studied the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism and now can confess with her mouth what she has believed in her heart. Her faith is not new, but it now uses voice, reason, and strength to confess and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And, just as confirmation is not a beginning, so neither is it an end. Confirmation is not graduation. The faith given by the Holy Spirit, born in Baptism, continues to grow and mature through the Means of Grace in Christ’s Church. His vehicle is the Word of God, Christ Jesus, spoken forth from the mouth of God. And the Word has gone forth from the mouth of God and does not return void, but it brings about what He has said. The Holy Spirit gives what Jesus died to give you, and the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance all that Jesus has said and done. It is finished, you are forgiven, go in peace. And the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Amen, come Lord Jesus; come quickly, come. Amen.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Do you mean, pastor, that the pedophile priests and/or "Thieving evangelists" belong to an organization where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments rightly administered?

If so, what was the Reformation all about? Couldn't you, today, just as well be Catholic as Lutheran?

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Anastasia, the Church is not an "organization" made by men, but She is born of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel Word and Holy Sacraments. There is no "organization" as such where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments rightly administered, as if the oganization is what makes that possible.

Rather, where the Gospel and the Sacraments are present, there the Holy Spirit is working to create and sustain faith, to forgive sins, keep and sanctify in the faith. He may even use pedophile priests and thieving evangelists.

What was the Reformation about? Why not be Catholic? Submission to a certain manmade ecclessial structure or "organization" does not constitute Church or make the Word and Sacrament efficacious and valid. Augsburg Confession - Article VIII states:"Properly speaking, the church is the assembly of saints and true believers. However, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled with believers, it is allowable to use the sacraments even when they are administered by evil men, ...."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Then allow me to reword my question. Do you mean that priests, pedophile or otherwise, and TV evangelists, thieving or not, may perhaps preach the Gospel purely and administer the Sacraments rightly?

Do you know any who do? Or are you speaking theoretically?

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

"May?" Yes.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

So far, so good...

"May? Yes. And "do?"

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Anastasia: Did not forget about this, but wish that you would ask the question you really mean to ask, perhaps offering your assumptions about ecclesiology to illuminate why / what you're asking. Nevertheless, McCain posted the following (see link), and I agree completely.