The Work of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:1–21; John 7:37–39, The Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2020
Today is the birthday of the Church. God’s people should celebrate this day in much the same way we celebrate anniversaries and birthdays as individuals and institutions. Yet the festival of Pentecost is something of a forgotten stepchild in the church year calendar. We get a day or two off for Christmas. We even get some recognition of Easter by local merchants who will fill an aisle with baskets, bunnies, and candy. But Pentecost, the third great feast of the church’s calendar, doesn’t get diddly-squat. It is almost completely ignored, lost amid the graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Memorial Day’s start of summer.
I am not sure that the Holy Spirit really minds that we do not make a big deal about Pentecost. I am not sure what the Holy Spirit would think about some sort of version like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny attached to this day. Many theologians might even tell you that the Spirit is actually quite shy. He is unwilling to draw attention to Himself, at the expense of Christ. The Holy Spirit’s self-defined task is to teach us about Jesus.
That being said, I remember Ms. Norma Evans comment that she thought the Christians too often neglected the Holy Spirit. I would contend that the Christian, who does this, does so at some risk.
In our sinful human nature we have a natural tendency to take credit for things which in actual fact belong to God. In truth, without the Holy Spirit you and I are spiritually helpless, infantile, and weak. The Christian who forgets the Holy Spirit’s role can easily take credit for his or her own Spiritual life. You may hear it like, “I made a decision to accept Him”.
Whether it is putting our faith in some sort of a decision process, or speaking of our own acceptance of Christ, or perhaps even thinking that we are good enough, this is dangerous for the Christian.
When push comes to shove, even our own decisions are a very shaky place to put our confidence. How do we know that any decision on our part is genuine? We cannot. Satan has, in fact, lead a lot of people to think that what separates them from the lost is that they have made a choice for Jesus. When they face the accuser, this will not be enough.
However, when we don’t give proper attention to the Holy Spirit, we can also fall off the horse on the other side, making too much of the Spirit, in effect replacing Christ with the Spirit. You can see this in many other church groups whose focus on the Holy Spirit is such that the saving work of Christ is obscured. It is rather important for us to keep this somewhat straight and properly confess the third person of the Trinity.
To be fair and honest many of those who use decision language, really do understand that God gave them the decision to make. Even when we regret their sloppy language, we cannot deny their faith.
A healthy Christian faith suggests that a Christian does well to pay some attention to the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is essential to show us Christ. It is Christ whom the Father raised from that dead that saves us on the cross. The Spirit did not die, and He did not rise on Easter. Those events are the events through which God saves the world.
The role of the Spirit is often thought of like an extension cord. A lamp which is not connected to the outlet cannot light, even though the power is right there. It needs the cord to convey the energy to the bulb. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. He connects us to the work of Christ. Without the Holy Spirit we would be half a world away, and two thousand years late for our salvation.
With the Holy Spirit, however, we are connected to Christ’s work and we are saved. It is through the Holy Spirit that we can extend our hand when the pastor says, “Take and eat,” and we are in that upper room, in Jerusalem, those many years ago, with Peter, James, John, and the rest of the saints since, and we are partaking of God in the flesh. Without the Holy Spirit we are eating nothing more than a simple piece of bread.
We also see the Holy Spirit working in many ways in the life of a Christian. What sets our great traditions apart from most Christians is that we understand this Spirit of God uses parts of creation as a means of communication. We know the love of God because the Spirit has touched us with that love in our baptism. We have Christ inside of us because the Holy Spirit has put Him there in the Lord’s Supper in which we eat His body and drink His blood. This Holy Spirit even uses the broken vessels of human beings to convey a great treasure, the very forgiveness of sins.
If you were to point to the work of the Spirit of God in our midst, to what would you point?
Maybe you would point to brothers and sisters gathered together in a place we call church. It is the Spirit that calls and gathers us here this morning. I know I’m not the only one who recognizes that there is a sense of the holiness about this place. Many of you have experienced something totally unexpected in worship. Maybe a hymn suddenly connects to the sermon in an unintended way, or a person is touched by a sermon in a way the pastor never intended.
The Word proclaimed and taught to the needs and understanding of His people. The Holy Spirit is behind this, and in the hearts of the hearers. We are able to point to the Word doing some amazing things in our midst, lives changed and improved.
Yet I must give a word of caution here. There could be times when it is tough to see the Spirit in our midst. It could be during past voters meetings that turned into turf wars and were filled with great anxiety. There could be many times where people try to manipulate the process to get their way. Hypocrisy easily rears its ugly head and people say one thing but do something else.
It could be tough to see the spirit when there are unforgiving attitudes and bitterness, and strife that never go away. This is often seen when people are not attending church. Do we pay more attention to our smart phones than we do to our God? That is another example when people are effectively bowing to an idol of some sort under the name of Christian. All of these are the works of the flesh which Paul contrasts against the fruits of the Spirit.
But God is our Father and Savior even when we are not thinking about Him. There are things that are true about a Christian whether we are conscious of them or not, we are always the children of God, forgiven by Christ. The Holy Spirit has taught us to love and be the children of God.
The presence of the Holy Spirit radically transformed those who heard the disciples that first Pentecost day. The disciples had been more or less sitting in a room. They were not out there preaching or anything, but they were sitting there waiting. In this way, I guess they look a little like us today.
The disciples were not exactly what you might think would be suitable instruments for the kingdom of God to come. They were poorly educated, sometimes quarreled, they did not always listen very closely to Jesus and apparently were just as human as any of us. Yet they became the instruments of God to a whole generation of people.
Now, you have a message to speak, a language to speak in, and you can be bold about it. You have gotten the same Holy Spirit in your Baptism, and He has transformed you too. Amen.