Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Pentecost B, May 28, 2015
It all comes down to this! Down to what? The coming, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, of course! Jesus said, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Now, I know the presence of the Holy Spirit is nothing new; His Work was essential, “In the beginning.. (when) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And (He empowered the Word of God when) … God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” [Genesis 1:4]
The Spirit was there with Adam and Eve as they were repelled out of Paradise, and it was the Spirit Who constantly reminded them of the Promise of restoration through the coming Champion who would destroy sin, death, and the devil, and bring humanity back to Paradise. The Holy Spirit was with Noah and the Animals as the Ark was built and the animals were compelled to enter the Ark in peace. The Holy Spirit was with Moses as He parted the sea and led God’s people to dry land. It was the Spirit who filled every one of the prophets of old and the Apostles of Jesus to speak Words of hope and new life, all once again centered around the Champion who has actually fulfilled the promise of Paradise restored. And that champion is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended!
Now this is all “good news” but it is not the only news on this day of Pentecost. The news of Pentecost is that not only has Christ risen, but also that He has risen for you. And here’s the best part of that proclamation, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually bring you a new life with God, and take you back to Paradise; back to a right relationship with God!
So, the Good News for each of you today, is that through the fulfilled Word of God, you have been given faith to believe in each and every promise God makes regarding your sin and Christ’s Work upon the cross to take away your sin. You have been given faith to know this truth as a certainty. Just as the Spirit at creation hovered over the waters to empower the Word of God to create everything out of nothing, so too He has empowered God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration and the waters of your baptism.
But here’s another truth…
Life without faith is desperate. In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a graphic demonstration of this desperation through the vision God gave to His prophet Ezekiel. The valley of dry bones is the ultimate expression of life overstepping its limits, which is the abandonment of hope in the Creator God.
Ezekiel’s vision is the reality of our world today. Certainly the Christian martyrs in the middle east must feel dry, desolate and alone as they die one by one through the demonic power of ISIS. But we do not have to go that far to know the feeling of emptiness and abandonment; how must the people of Detroit feel as they think back to better days when the economy was booming and neighborhoods and business were flourishing, but now all that stands are the burn out shells of homes and businesses that once were.
The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada created a large body of art showing persons engaged in a wide variety of daily activities, but each were depicted as skeletons. In one drawing he depicted a soldier riding through a valley of bones full of human skulls. What was he trying to tell us? Was he trying to say that hope in the government above or in place of our hope in God only leads to death?
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ezekiel’s vision is after the bones became skeletons, and after the skeletons were fleshed, what filled the immense valley floor? Bodies of real people who are simply dead because they lack the touch of the Holy Spirit; they lack the breath of life! This dear saints is the ultimate tragedy… not that people die, but that they refuse to live. The flesh without spirit, not the dry bones is the most haunting aspect of Ezekiel’s vision. A world of zombies, the walking dead if you will who are in that state and don’t know it, or worse yet they know but they do not seem to mind. But…
Life with faith in Christ overcomes the curse of the walking dead; it overcomes despair! Jesus declared to the world and to you personally on the day of your baptism, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10] He is the only One who can not only speak hope, but deliver it. He not only promises a restored and renewed hope, but His Word actually gives it.
Every Word that Jesus spoke and taught was to prepare each of you for that one moment in your life when you realize that there is something great and profound missing in life, and then receive it! When your moment of despair comes, and sometimes they come frequently like the waves on the ocean shore, when it comes it is God’s will that you recall His promises of forgiveness and restoration, which you have heard declared, read, or even sung, and then remember. Remember what?
Remember that although through His Word you have discovered that your sin is great, deadly, and terrifying, you must also remember that all of Christ’s righteousness has been given to you completely through His Work upon the cross and the declaration of the empty tomb.
But the Easter cry of “He is risen” is like a iPhone without a battery, if you can not or will not reply, “Indeed, He has risen for me!” And this is now getting at the power of the abundant life that Jesus has promised to the church, and through the church , to the world. This is where we discover that…
Life with Christ finds empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the church for the work of witness and missions! So it all comes down to this… The day of Pentecost is a demonstration of both the love and power of God, which takes the good news of forgiveness of sins and ensures that it will be declared throughout the world.
As Peter and the disciples gathered in the upper room right after their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, they must have felt alone and afraid. But they knew somehow they were not abandoned; they knew that Jesus would make good on His promise to send a helper, a counselor, and protector. And my, did he ever…
Some may say rightly that until that day when the Spirit showed up in power, Christians were just playing the part of church; they were playing around with the idea of Christ, not yet allowing the resurrected and ascended Christ to come alive in their midst. Again, they were like an iPhone without a battery, or better yet they were like a bus without an engine. But then something happened on the Day of Pentecost… Jesus made good on His promise; He sent the Holy Spirit.
The entire account given to us in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21) can not help but excite us and invite us into the story of the church. The imagery of the event comes alive as it glows with tongues of fire and the bewilderment of other languages. People seem to be staggering and stammering like drunken men. But when Peter speaks and the air clears, that which is testified to, is nothing other than the mighty works of God.
Dear friends, the mighty works of the Holy Spirit are still being performed today. We witness the same power as the dreams of the old and the visions of the young people refuse to play church, but actually become and behave as church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. And this mighty work is none other than the work of salvation; the translation of sinners into saints for “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”
When ever the Word is proclaimed, whether through the work of the sermon, Bible Study, personal witness, or when it is carried overseas to far way places, it is fulfilling the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Vs. 19, 20) So Pentecost is really the birth of Missions or the empowerment of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.
As you leave this place but not Christ’s presence, you leave reminded that you are on a mission to share the good news that sinners sins have been forgiven through the work of Christ alone. But you do not go alone; you have been empowered and you are protected by the Holy Spirit. And as you share the good news, what will be the response that you will receive from friends, neighbors, and family?
Now we are at the very heart of sinful mankind’s response to the gospel.
Humanity’s situation without God is so desperate and their opportunities with Him are so big that almost any response seems inadequate and even a little ridiculous. Do people fall to their knees and cry mercy or rise to their feet and cry glory; once they are converted by the Holy Spirit, do they spend a period of time in study and training or do they rise from the valley of dry bones in service to God and neighbor?
To dwell on questions like those can also be another way we play church and play with the mission of Christ. Why not face the facts as we know them; anyone who has been struck by the Spirit of Pentecost has received the breath of life; they’ve been recreated through the waters of Holy Baptism. In other words they have been reanimated. And what they do next is the very same thing we do every day…
We repent! We believe and we become what God has already declared we are… Redeemed! Repentance is the heart beat of the church. It is the radical turning of the whole self from itself, to a right relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ. To be baptized is to enter into the life and mission of the church. To receive the Holy Spirit is to allow the Sprit to shape your life in obedient witness and service to Him who first loved us! And yes, it may even mean making amends for past wrongs, selling or giving away what we don’t need and sharing the proceeds or other goods with the needy, sharing a common life with other Christians on days other than Sunday, worshiping daily and breaking bread in homes, the very transformation that marked the Christian community after the great day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:37-47]
SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. The Holy Spirit is among us in great power, just as He was in the beginning, just as He was with Adam and Eve, just as He was with Noah, Moses, the prophets and apostles of old, and just as He was that first Pentecost Sunday. In the past all who have made a difference within the building and growth of God’s Kingdom only did so because they were willingly being led by God’s Word and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. So it all comes down to this. Are you willing? I pray in Jesus name that you are… Amen!