Sunday, June 4, 2017

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.
“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.” These words, once again, are part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” in St. John’s Gospel spoken to His disciples on Holy Thursday, before His Passion, crucifixion, and death. In these words Jesus promises that God will dwell with, and make His home with, those who love Him and keep His Word. This is nothing other than a description, even a definition, of His body, the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ consists of those who love God and keep His Word. Now, I suspect some of you will be surprised that there is no mention here of faith. Does not the Church consist of those who believe in Jesus? Yes, indeed it does! But, what do we mean by faith and belief? After all, Satan and his demons believe in Jesus, yet they do not have faith, and, consequently, they are opposed to Him and are not the Church. Likewise, Jesus also teaches that many will say to Him “Lord, Lord,” and will even perform miracles and cast out demons, and yet the Lord will say to them, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.” Indeed, C.F.W. Walther once explained in a Pentecost sermon, “In our text Christ wishes to impress that only a faith which is not a dead head knowledge makes one a member of His Church. His faith must be a divine power, which changes the heart of man, melts it, and fills it with holy fear of every sin and impurity.” Truly, this is what Jesus means when He says that you must both love Him and keep His Word. It is not enough to merely believe facts about Jesus that even Satan and unbelievers affirm, but you must believe with your heart so that you are changed by His Holy Spirit and love Him and keep His Word in humility and repentance, even when it demands hard things of you, exposes your sin and unworthiness, and convicts you.
Truly, there are many who claim to believe in Jesus, and even to love Him, who demonstrate in their words and deeds that they do not love Jesus, for they do not keep His Word. Indeed, St. Peter demonstrated precisely that when He answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with his great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then, Jesus commended Peter for his confession, even proclaiming that the confession of Jesus Christ would be the rock upon which He would build His Church. However, when Jesus began to teach His disciples concerning His suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter refused to accept and believe this Word of the Lord. Then, Jesus rebuked Peter with the harshest words saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” At that point, Peter had neither true and saving faith, nor did he truly love his Lord Jesus, for He rejected and refused to keep His Word.
How sadly ironic it is that, on this very day, many sermons will be preached in many places bearing the name “Christian” that will laud and celebrate the great unity we enjoy in Christ, when those very same congregations and denominations actively reject and refuse Jesus’ Word and teach others to do the same. In fact, just a short distance away from here this afternoon, a Roman Catholic congregation will hold a Commemoration of the Reformation at which a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will represent Lutherans and the heirs of the Lutheran Reformation of the Church. And yet, the ELCA, as a denomination, actively and officially rejects and refuses Jesus’ Word concerning female pastors, homosexuality, and abortion, just for starters. And, of course, the Roman Catholic Church still officially and actively rejects and refuses Jesus’ Word concerning our justification by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ, apart from any works, merit, or love in us. One cannot love Jesus and refuse and reject His Word at the same time. Those who attempt to do so may prosper in this world, but they have only the peace that the world gives and not the peace that Jesus gives those who love Him and keep His Word.
Now, I do not mean to say this of all who attend heterodox fellowships, for all wheat fields, even our own, regrettably, have weeds and tares sown in their midst. Indeed, outwardly, the weeds often look and appear very much like wheat – saying and doing the right things and earning the favor, respect, and praise of men. We cannot tell what a man believes in his heart. However, the Lord of the harvest knows, and, on the glorious day of His reaping, He will gather His precious wheat into His heavenly barns, while the weeds He will burn with unquenchable fire. No, merely believing in Jesus does not make you part of His body, His Church, but faith does. And, faith is not mere belief, but faith is trust, which is always accompanied by love and obedience. Surely St. James said it the best: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works,” and “so also faith apart from works is dead,” and “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Thus Jesus teaches, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word.” Again, Walther proclaims, “So according to Christ’s own words only they belong to the Church of the new covenant who not only know Christ, speak much and often of Him, and believe that He is a Teacher of the truth, but who also love Him. Moreover, only those who not only have Christ’s word, diligently hear it, and seek and search in it, but who also keep it.”
Jesus taught these things that you might have peace – true peace that flows from love and communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, be careful not to become like those who claim to love Jesus with their lips, but then view His Word with fear and rebellion as an oppressive tyrant in their hearts. Such people go through the motions of being a Christian and often deceive many, even themselves, but their peace is a fleeting and worldly peace that provides no lasting comfort or security, and they will be cut off from the gracious presence of the LORD in the next life as they refused to love Him and rejected His Word in this one.
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word.” Love. All the LORD’s commandments, the Law of God, are fulfilled in this word: Love God, and love your neighbor. And, if you need a refresher on what true love is, then take a read through First Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen, where St. Paul writes: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Remember also Jesus’ words: “Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.” Thus, love is selfless and sacrificial, always concerned more with the welfare of others than the self. Moreover, love does not fear, but it trusts. In this sense, love is faith, love is trust, love is obedience, and love is peace.
The Jews understood the Feast of Pentecost as the marriage feast of God and His people, the conclusion of the Passover cycle of sacrifice and redemption. The word Pentecost, meaning “fiftieth,” was the Greek word given in translation of the Hebrew Shavout, or, Feast of Weeks. Shavout / Pentecost came seven weeks after the celebration of the Passover, or Easter Sunday. Seven cycles of seven were observed, plus one day, thus fifty days later, the Feast of Shavout / Pentecost was observed – the commemoration of the Spirit of God appearing to Moses on Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah, the Word of the LORD. As in that momentous occasion when God came to His people and made His home with them, sealing them with His Spirit and giving them His Word, so at Pentecost was the Holy Spirit breathed out upon Christ’s Church and His Word was given for the life of the world. The Jews tend to think of Shavout as the birthday of Judaism, even as Christians often consider Pentecost the birthday of the Church. The significance of this festival, coming forty-nine days plus one after Easter, must not be missed: This day is the Eighth Day following the completion of the LORD’s work of re-creation and redemption, a day upon which the sun will never set. This is why Jesus taught His disciples before His Passion that they should rejoice that He was going to the Father, for He would send His Spirit, and He and the Father would make their home with them, if they would love Him and keep His Word.
Another important connection to Pentecost is, of course, the undoing of the curse of Babel. In our Old Testament reading today you heard the account of the Tower of Babel. In their sinful pride, the men of the world gathered together to make themselves to be god. It was an act, not of punishment or vengeance, but of mercy, that the LORD confused their language so that they left off their plans for the tower and were scattered. “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do,” said the LORD, “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” The LORD was not jealous of man’s power, but He knew that they were under the influence of Satan and that, if they continued, there would be no hope of turning them back in repentance and restoration. Thus, on the Day of Pentecost, the LORD gave His Church His Word, that they would speak, confess, and proclaim it together in the many languages of men to the ends of the earth. Though we speak many languages, together the Church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
This is the peace that Jesus gives – the peace of unity and communion with God and with one another in Jesus Christ. Peace is communion in love and in Jesus’ Word. That Word matters, and what we believe, teach, and confess concerning that Word matters. Just as the LORD spoke to Moses in the bush that burned but was not consumed, so on the Day of Pentecost did the LORD speak to His Church accompanied by non-consuming fire. Though they were many, and they spoke in many different languages, the Word they proclaimed was one and the same. In this way, all could see and hear that the LORD was present and active. That is why keeping Jesus’ Word, all of it, at all times, even when it seems difficult and demanding, even when it convicts us and exposes our sin, is crucial to our life together in the body of Christ, the Church, for in loving Jesus and keeping His Word is the only source of peace.
Jesus knew that, in order for us to love Him and to keep His Word, we would need His help, and so He promised to send the Helper, the Paraclete, His Holy Spirit to teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that He has said to you. On that very night, in conjunction with these words, Jesus celebrated one last Passover with His disciples, a Passover which He transformed and reinterpreted in terms of His own sacrificial death that would cause the LORD’s wrath against our sin to pass over us. And He commanded us to do this in remembrance of Him – not merely to remember Him, but that we may have peace in Him through this Sacrament of His body and blood, knowing that we are at peace with God, and that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has made His home with us. Then, as a sign of His promised presence among us, He sent forth His Holy Spirit and united His Church in one faith, one confession, and one doctrine, that we might have peace in Him. Where Jesus’ Word is not kept, there is confusion and doubt, but where Jesus is loved and His Word is kept, there is indescribable peace, peace which passes all human understanding, peace which the world cannot give. That we might have that peace always until He returns, Jesus has sent us His Holy Spirit that might have a right understanding in all things and rejoice in His holy consolation – that is to say, that we might love Jesus and keep His Word.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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