Friday, July 1, 2011

Pentecost/Confirmation Sermon

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

One of my good friends from my early 20’s grew up in the Lutheran tradition but found himself in one of the more charismatic and evangelical communities in American Christianity, his name was Mike. I like to think that our friendship provided each other with some balance and accountability. It definitely provided us with some great conversations about some things like salvation, infant baptism, the power of sin, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Because you see Mike held the all too common perception that the mainline churches including those who claim the name Lutheran are no longer able to talk in any significant way about the Holy Spirit or worse yet, the Holy Spirit is no longer even at work in our churches. I remember at one time saying to Mike, we can talk about the Holy Spirit we even have a day devoted to the Spirit its called Pentecost. He looked me square in the eye and said yeah but Matt where is he the rest of the year. Now if I was as clever then as I am now I would’ve said in the creed. Mike’s thoughts of the Church’s inability to perceive the work of the Holy Spirit should serve as a wake-up call and not simply a zinger to be ignored. We should ask ourselves what we are doing or not doing to lead people like Mike and author Anne Dilliard to ponder the spiritual poverty in our churches. Anne Dilliard’s quote is a favorite of mine.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
The truth is brothers and sisters we as American Lutheran Christians would do well to remember the importance of Pentecost, not as a day in our church calendars or a day that took place millennia ago but as an ongoing event, and a gift from God. Because as Paul reminds us in the letter to the Corinthians as our ability to talk about the Holy Spirit goes so goes our ability to call Jesus Christ Lord.
God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church manifested itself in such a miraculous way on the first Pentecost we heard all about it today. That same Holy Spirit continues to manifest itself in an equally miraculous way; by creating and recreating faith in the hearts and minds of us sinners.
The creation of faith is a miracle because it allows Christ’s disciples to get out of bed and face dire pain and suffering day in and day out. It is a miracle because it empowers us to set aside our will and desires in order to pursue God’s will. It’s a miracle because it has called, gathered, and enlightened 17 of our young people today and enabled them to call Jesus Lord. Appropriately on Confirmation Sunday I want to offer two quotes by Martin Luther. The first is one we who have gone through confirmation in the Lutheran tradition should be familiar with. In his explanation to the third article of the Creed in the Small catechism he writes.
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has calls me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith, Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
And again he writes in the large catechism he writes.
Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe on Him, or have Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.
You see brothers and sisters, being able to receive God’s gifts and acknowledge God as the giver of all good gifts are in themselves a result of God’s greatest gift. It is this gift of the Holy Spirit we celebrate today and we rejoice to see it especially today as our confirmation students are blessed with the ability to say yes to their baptisms. Brothers and sisters the Holy Spirit is alive and well at Christ Hamilton, it is evident in those confirmands, it is evident in those friends and family members who gather around them in love and support, it is evident in the many ways we have reached out to the wider community.