Messiah Lutheran Church
The Day of Pentecost
May 24th, 2015
Grace mercy and peace....
A blessed feast of Pentecost to you, dear Christians.
What a wonderful day to preach my first sermon among you, the people of Messiah. It was on the first Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, that Christ poured out his Holy Spirit on the fledgling church. It was on that first Day of Pentecost that the Spirit empowered the disciples to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the many pilgrims gathered there in Jerusalem – and to do it miraculously, so that each heard it in his own language.
It was on that first Day of Pentecost that Peter preached his first sermon, and the people were cut to the heart, and said, “what then shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And some 3000 believed and were baptized that day.
While we certainly don't want to downplay the blessed events of that first Pentecost, neither should we think that it was an event so much unlike anything else God does. Some call it the “birthday of the Christian church”, but perhaps it's better to see it as just another step in the ongoing unfolding of God's plan for salvation in Jesus Christ. For now that good news of Christ would travel back with these pilgrims, from Jerusalem to their homelands. The Lord of the Church knows exactly what he's doing here.
Now the Spirit would work through the words they had heard, received, and believed... and the same Spirit would continue to convict in regards to sin, and righteousness, and judgment. The same Spirit would point to Christ. The same Spirit would call, gather, enlighten and sanctify. The same Spirit would bring life from the dead. Just like the Spirit always did, just like he always does.
The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. He had a hand in the creation, along with Father and Son. It was the Spirit that was breathed into the nostrils of Adam to bring him life. Indeed, the word “Spirit” in Hebrew – Ruach – means wind or breath. So the Spirit of God is the very breath of God. It's also why Jesus breathed on his disciples in John 20 as he said, “receive the Holy Spirit”.
Now take a walk for a moment back with me through Ezekiel 37, our Old Testament reading, and the Valley of the Dry Bones. There, Ezekiel saw a vision: he was brought by the spirit to this valley where a great battle had been fought, and the casualties were many. Imagine what Ezekiel saw as he pondered the skulls and femurs and ribs scattered about. The scene was terribly hopeless. There were no survivors to be found. None who were only wounded, but might just need some doctoring. None who were only mostly dead. No, there was none left alive. They were so dead, there was not even any rotting flesh left. It had been picked clean by the birds and left to bake in the hot sun. The bones were dry. They were not only merely dead, these bones were most sincerely dead.
But the Lord asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” What a question! Surely any sane person would say, “not a chance!” But Ezekiel also knows the Lord. He knows this is the Lord and Giver of Life. He knows there's more to the story here, so he leaves the question open: “Lord, you know”. And then Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy, to speak, to preach if you will to these dead bones – the word of the Lord. And well, you know how the song goes and how the story ends. The bones connect, the flesh is restored. And when he preaches again, the Spirit breathes life and they stand on their feet – a mighty army.
“These bones are the house of Israel”, the Lord explains. It is a great lesson Ezekiel, and for Israel, and for us. Though the people were as good as dead and worse, God would restore them. His prophetic word, and his Spirit, would bring life. And this whole account is also a not-so-subtle pointer toward another “Son of Man” who would one day give his life and bring life to the world.
One of my favorite bands, the Counting Crows, has a song lyric that goes something like this: “I got bones beneath my skin, mister. There's a skeleton in every man's house. Beneath the dust and sweat and love that hang on everyone, there's a dead man trying to get out.” It's a poetic reminder of something scripture teaches so clearly.
We are all dead in our sin. Inside of everyone is a dead man trying to get out. You may have a pulse and breathe and walk and talk. But in your natural state, your sinful nature is as dead as a doornail. The wages of sin is death, and you and I sin a lot, and death comes to us in droves. Apart from Christ you and I are just as hopeless and lifeless as a valley of dry bones. Even worse.
And a dead man can't help himself. He can't sit up and take nourishment. He can't scream or even whisper for help. A dead man can't do part of the work of bringing himself back to life. Only a miracle can do it. Only a resurrection.
But the Spirit of God is the Lord and Giver of Life. He works through the word of Christ who overcame death once and for all. The Spirit works to counteract and overcome death for you and me and for all - and to bring life where there was no hope – because the Spirit brings you Christ.
Whatever skeletons are in your closet. Whatever dead man lurks on the inside of you. However death has manifested in your life. There is hope in Christ, and that hope is proclaimed and promised and effected by His Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that brought Ezekiel to the valley. The same Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost. The Spirit of Christ, who comes to you today.
Yes, today, some may be surprised to hear, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit continues. The same God, Father, Son, and Spirit, works in the same ways he always has to call sinners to faith, and to bring life from the dead, yes even for you.
He did it, notably, at your baptism. When the Spirit hovered over the water and brought life to you who were born into sin and death. But buried with Christ and now raised to life again, your baptism is a daily comfort, not simply a one time event. You not only have been baptized, but you ARE baptized. The Spirit is upon you, in you, his living temple.
The Spirit gives you life, today, through God's word. Jesus lays out the work of the Spirit as three-fold: “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
First, he convicts the world with regard to sin. Like the hearer's of Peter's sermon who were cut to the heart. We, too, need the Spirit to convict us by sticking our noses in the mirror of God's law. Have you loved God with your whole heart? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Do you rebel, hurt and harm, lust and covet, gossip and complain? Do you put your neighbor ahead of yourself? Do you keep God's word, love his kingdom, obey his will? If the word of God's law doesn't convict you, if you think you can stand up under it, if you think you're a good person who deserves God's favor – then you need to look a little closer.
But if you've seen that image of a dead man, and you've been cut to the heart, and your spirit cries out, “what shall I do?” Then take comfort in the comforter, who would have you see Jesus. Take counsel from the Spirit, who would counsel you to trust in Christ. Be encouraged by the one who breathes again and again the promises of God in Jesus Christ, in whom we have life and have it abundantly. He will not leave you as a corpse or a pile of bones. He's already raised you once in your baptism. And you will rise again, and live with Christ forever.
For the Spirit also convicts us concerning righteousness. That is, he calls us to faith in Christ and keeps us in that faith. He calls us to believe that for the sake of Christ we have been made righteous and holy before God, blameless in his sight. Declared so by the one who declared “it is finished”.
And the Spirit convicts in regard to judgment, for the prince of this world stands condemned. Satan, our adversary, is the real loser in the cosmic courtroom. We've been judged innocent on account of Christ. But the devil and all his forces of evil – they are judged. The deed is done. One little word can fell them – for that Word is the word of God and it is Spirit filled and it is living and active and sharper than any sword.
Finally, Jesus tells us, the spirit he sends is the Spirit of Truth. He guides us into all truth. He takes what belongs to Christ, and gives it to Christ's people. The forgiveness of sins on account of Christ crucified. The Spirit declares it to you. He declares it to all nations, sinners of all tribes and languages. Thus he takes the dead and makes them alive in Christ, alive to live forever.
On this Pentecost Sunday, give thanks for the Helper, the Advocate, the Counselor, the Spirit whom Christ sends. For though he has gone away, he has not left us alone. Though we are dead in our trespasses, he does not leave us to the grave. But the Lord and Giver of life declares Christ to you – and you, dry bones, live again. Hear the word of the Lord. Receive the Holy Spirit. Believe it for Jesus' sake. Amen.