Monday, May 20, 2013

Sermon for 5/19/13--The Feast of Pentecost



Keep My Word

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

There is both a sense of triumph and a sense of wonder that accompanies the celebration of Pentecost. He who died for our sins and was raised to life on the third day has returned to the right hand of the Father in heaven. And from there He has sent the Holy Spirit to His Church, as He had promised. The coming of the Spirit means that our Savior has been crowned in heaven with eternal glory, and that He rules over all things for the sake of His Church. The Introit for the day voiced some of this: “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered…” In Jesus, sin, death and hell have more than met their match. Whatever failures we experience along the way are only momentary, because the ultimate victory has been won, and heaven has been secured for the saints of God.

It still amazes us to consider what has taken place, to realize that at one moment we were looking into the gaping jaws of eternal death, and the next we see that the kingdom of heaven has been opened wide to all believers. On that Day of Pentecost, wonder was accompanied by amazing signs: a heavenly wind; tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples; and then the unlearned ability to speak the languages of the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven.” Suddenly, amazingly, the Gospel was making its way out into every corner of the earth through those who were gathered that day.

But Pentecost is also a solemn day. Pentecost was the first step in a long, hard road. The Apostles could not let themselves be deceived. Jesus told them what things would be like after He was gone. Just as His had been a hard-won victory over sin, death, and hell, the Church’s eventual triumph of faith would also be hard-won. Even with the triumph and wonder of the Day of Pentecost, the operative words for Jesus followers were—and still are—“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up His cross, and follow Me.” And now, before leaving them, He said to them: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not Your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Peace is the promise. But make no mistake: after He was gone, there would still be battles to be fought and won.

In the light of Christ’s glorious resurrection and ascension, and with the Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the disciples soon found ways to carry on and even thrive in what their Master had left for them to do. The very same is true for us. We know that we are absolutely dependent on our Lord Jesus Christ. The thought of being without Him is one that would lead us to utter despair. And yet we know that He strengthens us, and that by His Spirit, who does His work with and in us by the Word and the Sacraments, we are able to carry on in peace in the course our of vocations.

Peace is one of the gifts that comes with Pentecost. What did “peace” mean to those disciples on that eventful day? What does it mean to us now? The giving of peace was the common form of greeting in those days. Perhaps it had lost much of its significance in common usage, as is true with so many things. But coming from the lips of Jesus, the word “peace” was once more given all the fullness of meaning God had intended for it. The peace of God never simply means the absence of trouble. Indeed, God’s peace can be at its fullest when we are surrounded by trouble. The peace that Christ gives is the peace that is all for our good, every blessing of body and soul from God. By contrast, the peace the world would offer us is the peace of escape, the peace that comes from the avoidance of trouble and refusing to face what life hands us. We wonder at times how those disciples were suddenly so bold and courageous in their witness. This is the reason. At Pentecost, with the coming of the Spirit, what Jesus had promised them finally began to sink in and take root in their hearts.

Do you know what it’s like in the eye of a hurricane? It is a strange sensation. Not many miles away, the storm is raging with destructive force. But in the eye there is a sense of peace and calm that is almost unearthly. If it is daylight one can look up and see clear, blue sky; if it is night one can see the stars. Of course, that peace is momentary because the storm is always on the move. The peace that Jesus leaves with us, the peace that is one of the unique gifts of the Spirit at Pentecost, is like being in the eye of the hurricane. Around us, the world may be breaking apart, but in the eye there is the peace that surpasses understanding, the peace won for us at the cross, the peace which the Spirit brings now to the faithful of Christ. But unlike the hurricane, this peace stays with us. All around us the storm wails away, and yet our peace is never broken. When Jesus ascends, peace is what remains. And that peace of Christ is what sustains us until we see Him face to face. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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