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The Day of Pentecost

June 8, 1014

Text:  Acts 2:1-21

Message:  “What Difference Does Pentecost Make?”

Pastor Paul Clark

 

So here we are.  This is Pentecost.

What difference does it make?

Much of today’s contemporary church has trivialized or even ignored the Festival of Pentecost.  Even the culture ignores it.  Our culture has sought to secularize and commercialize both Christmas, by emphasizing Santa Claus, Frosty, Rudolph, and holiday shopping; and Easter, with some giant mutant bunny that apparently lays or hide eggs and fills baskets with chocolates; but the world knows nothing of Pentecost.

Considering the way the world views Christmas and Easter, that’s probably a good thing that the world ignores Pentecost.

But the Christian Church?  Sad to say, many Christians make it a point to be in church on Christmas and Easter, even if they, sadly, are not regular churchgoers, but Pentecost?  Very few people are intentional about coming to church on Pentecost.  Very few look at their calendars and plan ahead for the celebration, even reading the hymns and readings ahead of time to prepare.  Why is that? Are we that lazy?  Are we that neglectful?  Well, yes, we are, because we are sinners, and that seems to be part and parcel of the problem, to place more importance of secular things such as work and sports and vacation than on holy things such as the celebration of Pentecost.  So yes, we are all guilty of that to some degree, but thanks be to God, He forgives us all our sins, and calls us back to where we are this day.

So then, “What difference does it make?”  We must be clear and concise here and answer the question, “What difference does Pentecost make?”

Well, apparently for the early Christians, it made a huge difference.  The word Pentecost means fiftieth, and described the fiftieth day following Easter, when the disciples of Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded them before His Ascension into heaven.  They suddenly heard a sound like the wind, and flames of fire appeared over their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  The promised Comforter had come. 

The early church placed great emphasis on the Feast of Pentecost.  Even in the fourth century, Easter and Pentecost had become huge festivals. This continued throughout the centuries, and certainly continued during the time of the Reformation, as Luther understood the great importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to faith in Jesus.

But something has happened in our day and age.  Probably partly to blame is that secular influence that gives more attention to Christmas and Easter.  But the Church should know better.  If it were not for Pentecost, there would be no New Testament Church.  The Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church.  The Holy Spirit keeps the Church going, keeps it faithful to Christ, brings new people into the Church through baptism and the preached Word.

What difference does Pentecost make? 

First Corinthians 12:3 reminds us that “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  If it were not for the Spirit, we would not be able to call upon God as our Father in heaven.  We would be estranged from Him and only subject to His wrath.  We would not know Jesus.  We would not know of His love, His grace, His sacrifice.  We would, in fact, despise and ridicule the Lord Jesus and the Bible and the Church, if it were not for the Holy Spirit who has brought us to true faith and keeps us steadfast in that faith unto the end.

That’s what difference Pentecost makes.

In the mountains of North Carolina, less than five miles apart, are two tiny towns.  One is named Trust and the other is named Luck.  In one sense everyone lives in one of these two towns.  We either live by luck or we live by trust.  The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh lead us to live by luck.  But only Pentecost, only the Holy Spirit, can cause us to live by trust in God.

Now, it is true, some things happened on that Day of Pentecost that do not happen regularly since.  The so-called speaking in tongues, for example.  But it is important to make something very clear here.  The tongues heard were those of existing languages.  It says so very clearly, right in verse 6:  “Each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  And they were all amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  How is it that we hear, each of us in our native language?  Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, Jews and Cretans and Arabians?”

God is not a God of confusion.  He is a God of order.  He wants people to understand what they are hearing.  His desire is for clear communication.  This is very different from much of what passes as “speaking in tongues” in today’s Pentecostal or charismatic churches.  And what is it that they all heard in their own language?  Verse 11 tells us:  “They heard them telling in their own language the mighty works of God.”

This is what the Holy Spirit doesHe takes the Word of God and plants it deep within our heart.  He enables us to grasp onto and believe in the Good News, the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Christ.  He shows us that the power to save is not in ourselves, not in man, not in nature, but in God, in the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all sin and restores to us what was lost in Eden – our inheritance of a new world that God will give to all those who are His.

The Holy Spirit cannot be controlled.  We cannot pull this lever or push that button and make things happen.  Some Christians are told that if you use this gimmick or a certain type of worship or music, the church will grow.  But that is absolutely false.  The Church grows in one way – by the power of the unadulterated Word of God, taught in its truth and purity.  Then the Holy Spirit works in His own way through the Word, but where and when He wills, and not according to our ways and our will.

Very important distinction!

But you and I can truly celebrate Pentecost, because even though we may not speak in languages that we have not learned, we have each been made witnesses of Christ and of the truth of His Word.  The Spirit leads me to know that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that He rose again from the dead.  He did this to give me – and you – and all of us – life everlasting in His name.  And He brings us daily strength, comfort, help in trial, through the days of this life, through the often dismal fogginess of what passes for everyday life in 21st century America.

He guides us along the pathways of truth, according to God’s Word, which is truth, and He leads us to take a stand on issues of the day based not on the wisdom of men, but the power of the eternal Word of God.  He gives us courage, as He gave the apostles courage, to speak the truth, to witness to salvation in Jesus Christ alone, and to expose the many idols and false gods that abound in this fallen world.  In other words, the Holy Spirit makes us Christians and enables us to speak boldly like Christians, and to NOT be ashamed of our faith, whether at work, or with relatives, or in school or college, or on the sports field, or in the Congress of the United States.  You are a representative of ChristStay true to Christ and the Bible.  Stay true to what we believe and confess by the power of the Holy Spirit.

70 years ago this week, the swastika waved over the English Channel and flew over the vineyards and orchards of the French countryside.  That swastika represented the evil power of a ruthless madman, who believed that his empire – the Third Reich – was destined to rule the world.  But on June 6, 1944, that began to change.  The beaches at a place called Normandy turned red with the blood of those who gave up their lives to turn back evil, and to stand for what is good and right and true.  If you walk now through those fields at Normandy, you may not know the names of all those who lie buried there, but the men who are under those white stones are heroic in this one thing: They paid the price.

Jesus paid the ultimate price for our freedom from the most ruthless, most evil dictator of all timeSatan.  He paid the price to give us life that would go beyond death, life that would be blessed forever.  That payment was the suffering, the blood, the life of God’s only Son Jesus, given now for you and for me in, with, and under that bread and wine that you receive today in Holy Communion.  But unlike those bodies that lay at rest at that field in Normandy, and for that matter in cemeteries everywhere, the body of Jesus is not to be found, for it lies in no tomb.  Christ is alive, risen from the dead, and one day the bodies of all believers will likewise rise and live again.  The soldiers at Normandy heard the call, when General Eisenhower said, “Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade…the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you….You will bring about the destruction of the German War Machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.  Your task will not be an easy one.  Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle hardened, and he will fight savagely.” But then Eisenhower went on to say, “The tide has turned.  The free men of the world are marching together to victory!” He concluded, “And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

Normandy taught us something that has been taught in every just war before and since – there is no victory without great cost, and that cost is the death of soldiers in the battle. 

This is PentecostWhat difference does it make?  It makes a difference because the Holy Spirit brings to you salvation in Jesus, and through the knowledge of the Gospel, He makes you aware of the cost of this salvation.  There is no victory without dying.  Jesus died on the greatest battlefield of all time – so that we could have life, and have it abundantly.  None of this would be possible without the work of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, it makes a difference.  It makes a difference in how we view trial in our life, cancer, disease, disability, even death.  It makes a difference when we mourn the loss of a loved one.  It makes a difference when we see evil apparently triumph in the world and we wonder, “How long, O Lord?  How long?”  It makes a difference when we may need to risk all for the faith, like Christians even now being persecuted in many lands, and know that the Holy Spirit will give us power and the words to make our stand.  It makes a difference because no matter what happens we are never alone, that He comforts us and counsels us and draws alongside us as the Paraclete, that we might continue to trust in Jesus, that we might march forth to join the battle for the faith that has been handed down to us.  It makes a difference, and do not ever doubt that.  For the Holy Spirit given on Pentecost, and poured out on you in your baptism, gives us courage and boldness, places the name of Jesus on our lips, and fills our hearts with Christian hope, so that we can navigate day by day the road ahead, even when that road enters the valley of the shadow of death.  For believe me, then Pentecost will most certainly matter, for when the smoke finally clears and the trumpet sounds, we shall join with the fallen believers buried at Normandy and all other cemeteries and obscure places of the earth, and we shall go to meet the Lion from the tribe of Judah – our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… the One who has conquered in the fight… The One who gives us victory through the Cross…The One into whom you are baptiuzed…in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon 01-26-14

 

Thanksgiving Day Sermon

 

Reformation Day Sermon

REFORMATION DAY

October 27, 2013

Text:  Romans 3:19-28

Message:   “Unmasked and Free”

Pastor Paul Clark

In the film The Elephant Man, the moving true-to-life story of John Merrick, a man hideously deformed by a genetic disease, Merrick tries to mask his loathsome appearance by the use of a fabric hood that he places over his head, with slits for eyes, nose and mouth.  It is a mask, but no mask could hide his huge, misshapen form.  Yet as the movie moves on, one discovers that under that grotesque appearance is a man – a man of much sensitivity and gentility, even a man of faith.

We all wear masks of one kind or another, and I am not talking about on Halloween.  The masks we wear are our attempts to cover up the things we do not like about ourselves, or the things that might reveal us to others in a way that we do not wish them to perceive.

But as in the Elephant Man, our masks are just as useless.  No mask can cover up our sins, our selfishness, our lust, our greed, our ego, our covetousness – for no mask can cover up the stain of our sin from the all-seeing eyes of Almighty God.

The great Reformer, Martin Luther, once wore a mask.  In the midst of a terrifying thunderstorm, after almost having been struck by lightning, Luther promised he would give himself to God and become a monk.  But as a monk, he wore a mask.  He tried to put on a false appearance.  He tried to be holy, to not sin, to be somehow pleasing to God.  But as much as he tried to forsake sin, sinful thoughts and desires cropped up even more within his heart.  No pious mask he could wear could cover up this crookedness, this iniquity that was within his heart.  Under the withering gaze of Almighty God, Luther fell into near despair.  He could not please God, no matter how much he tried.  He never could do enough. He felt like he was in prison.  He felt trapped, under the stifling and heavy load of his own sin and shame.  No amount of good works could ease that feeling.  He just could not ever do enough to compensate for his sin.   No man could.  All sin and fall short. 

But then by God’s glorious grace and the work of His Spirit, Luther discovered anew the Gospel.  Meditating especially on the words of the book of Romans, it is as if he heard for the first time the wonderful news that God loved him and saved him by grace, by and through Jesus, who died for him on the cross.  He listened to those words from Romans 1 – “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.”  He read Romans 3, our text for today, that “A man is justified by faith, apart from the works of the Law.”

And the mask fell off.  Luther needed it no longer.  His sins were laid bare before God and yet – and yet – he was free!  Those sins – they were forgiven!  He was absolved; the chains fell loose; the dungeon door was opened; the darkness fled and the bright light of God’s amazing grace shone fully upon him.

From the very beginning, the time of the fall into sin in the Garden, man tried to hide himself from God.  Adam and Eve tried to mask their shame with fig leaves.  But it didn’t work.  God saw their sin.  But as one of our hymns today said, “Only God can cover sin, as he took their leafy garments and he clothed their shame with skin.”  Fig leaves just wouldn’t make the grade here; rather it took animal skins, the first sacrifice, for blood had to shed to cover the evil that man had done.

In physic there is a phenomena known as a vortex.  A vortex is described as a liquid or gas that spins around an axis, drawing everything toward the center.  In weather, a tornado or a waterspout is a type of vortex.  The water going down a drain forms a natural vortex.

The coming of sin into the world has caused a vortex of terrifying strength that sucks all goodness and hope and even our humanity down into an abyss.  Sin is destructive to the extreme.  Sin eats away at the fabric of our families and our culture.  Like a F-5 tornado, the vortex of sin brings ruin and destruction to everything that it comes into contact with.

In Romans 3:10, there seems to be no escape form this vortex.  God’s Word there tells us that “No one is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  And in verse 20:  “Therefore by the works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

The Law.  It is not pretty.  God hates sin.  He judges – yes, even us.  All people.  No one is exempt.  The Law strikes us, kills us, condemns us.  God does not just let us off the hook.  Thus, under the Law, as with Luther, we feel like prisoners, enslaved to sin and its passions, trapped with no way out and no hope of entering God’s heaven.

Yet, as with Luther, there shines upon us the Gospel of grace.  Good News from God – this Reformation Day and beyond, for poor miserable sinners like us!   For though we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, verse 24 says that we “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

Here is abundant good news indeed – for world-weary sinners.  God unmasks us.  He strips away our self-glory, our human efforts to cover our sin and guilt, and in its place He gives us forgiveness.  And in the place of death and hell - He gives us life.

All of this is given through Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.  He is called the propitiation here in our text.  That is the word that means the sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath and satisfies His justice.  What does that?  Not what, but who!  “Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever!”

Jesus is the new mercy seat, the place on the Ark of the Covenant, inside the Holy of Holies, where the blood of the sacrifice was splashed and atonement was made for the people.  Their sins were forgiven, as this yearly Day of Atonement was observed, year in a year out, along with the countless daily burnt offerings, peace offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings – the entire sacrificial system of Israel, set up by God Himself, was all a foreshadowing of the cross, of the very Son of God made flesh, who would suffer for our sake, who would die for our sins, who would shed His most-holy and precious blood to cover our guilt, our shame, and to die our death so that we who are baptized into Him may live.

No need for masks any longer.  Or fig leaves, for that matter.  No need to wonder if we have done enough good works.  God has done it all.  Everything necessary for our salvation has been done here at the cross, as the One who loved us, in naked shame “would offer on the cross His blood outpoured.” 

And how do we receive this gift?  Sola fide.  By faith alone.  Robert Preus once said, “Faith is nothing else than accepting the finished reconciliation.”  Did you get that?  The “finished” reconciliation.  It is FINISHED!   All this for you Jesus has done.  Now it is yours by faith.

So, remember that vortex, the one that sucks everything down into destruction and ruin?  Well, now there is a new vortex that takes its place.  It is not the vortex of sin any longer; now it is the vortex of the Word.  Everything revolves around the Word, and we are drawn into the Word, but not to death and ruin, but to life and everlasting joy.

At the vortex is the Word, and that Word is the attack by God upon all human history, all human shame and vice, all human suffering and failure, all human pain and loss.  This attack – God’s Word – creates and sustains the Church – and furthermore – it leads the Church of God in the struggle against all that opposes God in this world.

Therefore, fear not, the Lord is with you.  He is your God.  You are His because there is a bloodline now, a blood claim, so to speak, upon you – Christ’s blood, poured out upon you in Holy Baptism, given for you in the Supper, marked upon you every time you are absolved of your sins.

You can strip away the mask.  You have no need of one.  You are no longer slaves of sin and of the devil.  You are free, because the Son makes you free, because you are His disciples, because you abide in His vortex, in His Word, and thus know the truth, and that truth sets you free.

Leonhard Kaiser was a pastor in a small town in Bavaria during the time of the Reformation.  He began preaching the Gospel, the free forgiveness of sins through Christ, received through faith alone.  He was then accused of being a Lutheran – which at that time, meant that you were considered a heretic.  Standing before the court in Passau in 1524, he gave in and renounced his Lutheran convictions.  But he found no peace.  He resigned his position and in 1525 went to Wittenburg to study.  After 18 months, he received news that his father was dying.  He went back to Bavaria, even though he knew this might be dangerous.  He saw his father, but shortly thereafter he was apprehended and accused once more of being a Lutheran – a heretic.  This time he was more firmly grounded in the Word of God.  He defended the pure teaching of the Gospel and was handed over to the secular authorities.  He was burned at the stake on August 16, 1527.  He asked  his friends and the people attending his execution to sing the hymn, “Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove.”  His last words were, “Jesus, I am Yours; take me to heaven.”

You have no need this day to apologize for being Lutherans.  Stand tall – not in pride or conceit, but in the power and the conviction of God’s holy Word.  Sing, and sing out loud, for behold the salvation of your God!  When we sing “A Mighty Fortress” we really sing “A Mighty Fortress” – because God IS our Mighty Fortress, just as Psalm 46 reveals to us.  A pastor once wrote about how when he went on a trip to Germany.  He writes in his journal, “I must say that one of the most exciting experiences I ever had was to worship in a German Lutheran Church when they sang “Ein Feste Burg Is Unser Gott.”  They sing it with great solemnity and power, with great authority and great thought on every word.”

That is because the Word of God is the vortex that brings us into God’s presence.   The Word of God is the Truth, and the Truth sets us free.

Remember:  The motto of the Reformation was Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum – “The Word of the Lord endures forever!”  We will sing a hymn written by Pastor Stephen Starke at the conclusion of this Reformation day Service that says the same thing – “The Holy Word of God Endures Forever.”

Stand tall, then.  You are heirs of the Reformation.  By grace alone you have been saved, and this through faith, a gift of God.  Christ – and Christ crucified – is our salvation.  His blood is upon us, and in us, and we are unmasked and free.  We are the People of God, the Church, the communion of saints, and one day we shall see heaven.

When in doubt, when tried by fire, when Satan assails you fiercely, as he so often does ---  Stand your ground!  Stand as soldiers of Christ, as heirs of the Reformation.  Remember, when Satan is there, tempting, accusing you, trying to shame you, you have the Word that endures, the Word that has power, the Word that does not fail.  ONE LITTLE WORD DOES ALL THIS.  ONE LITTLE WORD destroys death.  ONE LITTLE WORD cast down Satan and overthrows his kingdom.  ONE LITTLE WORD lifts you out of the mud and mire of despair, and the darkness of guilt, and the prison of your sin-laden conscience…and it takes you into a place of hope and peace and light.  ONE LITTLE WORD – the Gospel – that YOU, dear people, are saved by grace alone, by Jesus alone, and all this is through faith that brings you all things in the name of the HOLY ONE, in the name of your GOD, in the name of JESUS.

AMEN!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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