John 07:37-39 / Pentecost A / 12 June 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
In addition to the readings we just heard, I would add this verse from Ephesians chapter 4 verse 30: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Today is, of course, Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as Jesus breathes on His Church from the right hand of God and gives His Church breath and life to proclaim the good news of His saving death and resurrection. It’s a day full of grace and gladness, a day of promises fulfilled.
Pentecost means “fifty,” Fifty days after the Passover came the harvest festival, the ingathering of the winter wheat. Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection by which He passed over from death to life in our humanity comes the ingathering of the first harvest as 3000 hear the Word and are baptized. For the Jews of that day, Pentecost was also a day to celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai with the wind and fire of God. And so on Pentecost, Jesus delivers the “new Torah” to His Israel, His Church, with the same accompanying signs of wind and fire.
“I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” Jesus had promised His disciples. And here is the fulfillment of that promise. A great rushing wind and tongues of fire resting upon each of the believers who were gathered together.
Pentecost is not the “birthday” of the Church. There was a church already, a gathered community of 120 faithful gathered together in one place. They were gathered. Together. In one place. Disciples, the twelve apostles, Mary. We’re reminded on the Day of Pentecost that corporate worship is the only kind of worship there is. Individuals may have “devotions” and prayers, but only the gathered congregation can worship. Jesus promised His presence to a congregation as small as two or three gathered in His name, but a congregation nonetheless. Jesus appeared to His gathered disciples and not to Thomas who was off by himself. The Holy Spirit came to the believers who were gathered together in one place. There is no notion in the Scriptures of believers being temples of the Holy Spirit apart from their being living stones built into a spiritual temple, priests in a priesthood, members of a household, parts of a body. The individualism of our day is a heresy against the gathering work of the Holy Spirit.
This was the grand opening of the church, the beginning of the time of the church, the day when the doors are opened to the world and the world hears for the first time the great good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the name of Jesus. It is the first day of the last days when God would pour out His Spirit and God’s priestly people would proclaim Christ and bring people to the washing of rebirth and renewal in the water of Baptism. It was a unique day with heavenly wind and Gospel fire that did not consume and the apostles preaching in languages and dialects that did not know. The ancient curse of Babel that divided humanity was partially lifted – the diversity of languages remained but scattered people were united through Baptism into Christ.
The wind and fire and tongues were one time, for the grand opening celebration. The tongues popped up once or twice more in Acts, but never again wind and fire. What remained was apostolic teaching, Baptism, the Breaking of the Bread, and the prayers of the gathered believers. That’s how Pentecost continues and how the Holy Spirit comes to you. Not as a rushing wind with tongues of fire, but in the water of Baptism and with the Word. Your baptismal day was your Pentecost. Every Sunday is a Pentecost.
So why don’t we see it? Why don’t we experience what those first Christians experienced? Wouldn’t that help us believe? No, it actually wouldn’t help. Seeing is not believing. Faith comes by hearing, and the work of the Holy Spirit is to preach, to broadcast Christ, literally to stick the Word of Jesus into our ears. The Spirit works hiddenly, “in, with, and under.” You won’t find Him shining the spotlight on Himself but on Jesus. He’s the UPS deliveryman of the Trinity, taking what Jesus has from the Father and delivering it to us through the Word.
To get the proper grasp on the work of the Holy Spirit, we best hear it from the Lord Himself. John’s Gospel is a sourcebook of Holy Spirit sayings of Jesus. Together they form a composite, a collage of the Spirt’s work:
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
John 14:25 “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 26 But the Counselor, 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.
26 But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; 27 and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:12 “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Our problem is that we look for the Holy Spirit where He has not promised to be, and so we grieve the Spirit, in whom we were sealed in Baptism for the day of redemption. How do we do this?
We grieve the Holy Spirit when we seek Him apart from the sacramental Word – the Scriptures He has inspired, Baptism, the Supper, the preached Word. These are the instruments He uses to work faith in the hearts of those who hear when and where He pleases. While the Spirit is not bound to any place nor is He obligated to work whenever it suits us, we are bound to look for Him in the means He uses – in the Word of Holy Scripture, in the preached Word of forgiveness, in the watery Word of Baptism, in the Word of the Lord’s Supper. The Spirit always works through means, and apart from means He has not promised to work.
The true Pentecostal church is the church that clings to the apostolic Word, to Baptism, to the Lord’s Supper. We grieve the Spirit when we seek Him apart from the Word and look for him in our thoughts or feelings or the inner workings of our hearts. Or when we judge that the Spirit is not at work in spite of the fact the the Word is preached, the Baptism and the Supper are administered, that sinners are forgiven in the name of Jesus just because we didn’t feel it.
It grieves the Spirit when we fail to “test the spirits to see if they are from God” and assume that every spiritual burp and hiccup is of the Holy Spirit. When we justify our own agendas by claiming the Spirit’s inspiration, when we assume that just because the church said it or the preacher said it, it must be of the Holy Spirit, when we become so enamored with our words we no longer hear God’s Word.
It grieves the Spirit when we despise the humble preaching of God’s Word and look to the church to entertain us and make us feel good about ourselves. The Spirit’s work is to convict the world on account of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Where the Spirit is at work, you aren’t going to feel good about yourself. Those who heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon were “cut to the heart” and in despair. They realized they had killed the Messiah, the Lord of glory. They cried out to Peter, “What shall we do?” How much of what passes today as “spiritual” in our churches is really the work of the Holy Spirit and not simply the spirit of our age?
It grieves the Holy Spirit when we pay lip service to our confession, when we do not do as we say, when we claim to be “poor miserable sinners” and yet do not seek the word of forgiveness or have no time or use for the Body and Blood of Christ, when we can’t wait for our sweet hour of prayer to end before we get back to the “more important things” of work or play. When we needlessly delay in bringing our children to Baptism as though Baptism did not save, when we ourselves let anything get in the way of our hearing the Word and eating and drinking the Sacrament as though these did not matter.
It grieves the Holy Spirit when we see nothing more of the church than its manmade institutions, when we put our faith, hope and trust in synodical structures, church bodies, or men; when we assume that what works must necessarily be of the Holy Spirit, when we measure the Spirit’s work by how many or how much, when we equate worldly success with enlivening work of the Spirit, when we become so preoccupied with things temporal and things visible that we lose sight of things eternal.
It grieves the Holy Spirit when Christ crucified for the justification of the sinner is not central and preached, but where Jesus is preached as an example, a guide, a guru, a coach, a model. When the Scriptures He inspired are bent to conform to our agendas and purposes instead our being transformed by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus. When our worship becomes a form of entertainment conforming us to this age instead of transforming us to the age to come.
The psalmist David prayed rightly in Psalm 51: “Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” We must pray the same. Penitently. We have grieved the Spirit of Christ, who once blew like a mighty wind with tongues of fire. We have quenched the Spirit and He would rightly blow in another direction.
But solely for Jesus’ sake, He doesn’t. He stays with us. He will not abandon His Church who clings to His Word. You are baptized, sealed with the mark of the Spirit for the day of redemption. God does not go back on His Word. Instead, He calls us back to His Word. Continually. Daily. Through daily baptismal contrition and repentance. Killing us and making us alive. He drills that Spirit-ed Word in our ears and says to us, “Listen and live.”
The traditional prayer for Pentecost needs to be prayed each and every day in the church and by every baptized believer. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
Come, Holy Spirit, our hearts have grown cold. Warm us with your Gospel fire.
Come, Holy Spirit, our faith has grown dim. Blow on these dimly burning wicks of faith and ignite them anew.
Come, Holy Spirit, our tongues have grown silent. Loosen them to speak the good news of Jesus in the languages and dialects of our day.
Come, Holy Spirit, our love has grown cold in these gray and latter days. Bring us your love, the love of the Father who gave His Son for us, the love of Jesus who loved us to death on a cross.
Come, Holy Spirit, quench our fevered thirst for religion, drown our sin, fill us with your baptismal grace that from our faith-filled hearts might flow streams of living water welling up to eternal life.
Come, Holy Spirit. It’s your Day, a day full of grace and gladness.
In the name of Jesus, Amen