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The Day of Pentecost – Series B

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Title: “The Holy Spirit Has Not Stopped Working”

Date: Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

 “Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest, and make our hearts your place of rest, come with your grace and heavenly aid, and fill the hearts which you have made.” Hundreds of times, the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit or Spirit of God or the “Spirit of truth”…but in our day, you don’t hear much about Him in Christian churches. When you do, He seems to “get a bad rap.” For instance, sometimes you’ll hear about people speaking in tongues, muttering sounds and gibberish. And the explanation is: “I was overcome by the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes you’ll hear about people who suddenly fall down in the aisles at church, roll around on the floor. One might conclude: “Well, they have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.” You’ll hear about people breaking down and crying or laughing uncontrollably. People are dancing and running up and down the aisles of the church. What in the world is happening? The explanation is “They have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.” But is that what’s really happening? Is it the Holy Spirit’s job to cause these people to do these strange things? The answer is…NO! It seems that a lot of people get caught up in emotionalism…in the music, the swaying, and the crying. And they attribute that to the Holy Spirit. Many churches don’t even want to talk about the Spirit of God because they don’t want to be associated with these groups of people who look like they’re going off the deep end.
         Today, you are going to hear about God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. But first, let me say a few words about Pentecost…the day when God the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in a miraculous way. Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims for Pentecost. Estimates put the crowds at over 150,000 people that don’t sound like much to us, but it was huge number for that time. On one of the most crowded days of the year, Jesus brings His church out into the public for the first time. Because of this, some people maintain that Pentecost is the church’s birthday, but this isn’t quite accurate. Actually, it can be said that the church was born 53 days earlier on Good Friday, when Jesus suffered and then died in the darkness for our sins. In addition to this, there was already a church of 120 believers on the eve of Pentecost.

         This morning, you are going to come to understand that the Holy Spirit’s main job isn’t to cause people to fall down in the aisles or cry or laugh uncontrollably. It’s something else. We’re going to see Him in action among the disciples on Pentecost. And we’re going to talk about how He is still at work today.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit and calls Him “Paracletos,” which is Greek for “Counselor.” Just imagine one day, waking up, and finding out that you are being sued by someone. It’s a very complicated lawsuit – you don’t even understand it yourself. Who do you call? You call a lawyer…your legal counselor. He or she sits at your side…and explains all the complicated things about the law to you. Your legal counselor helps you to understand what’s going on, and what you need to do about the situation. Without your legal counselor, you’d be lost. In a similar way, without the Paracletos…the Counselor…the Holy Spirit, Christ’s disciples would be spiritually lost. Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to send them the Counselor and says: “[H]e will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit will come to them and cause them to understand and to believe everything that the Scriptures say about Jesus. That is the Holy Spirit’s job…to cause Jesus’ disciples to mature in their faith…to counsel or guide them in the truths of God’s Word…so that they can go out and testify about the Lord Jesus Christ to others.
         We see that happen on Pentecost in our Second Reading for today. The disciples are gathered together, celebrating the spring harvest festival of Pentecost. Perhaps they are in the temple courts, where they always gathered together. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends on them in a special way. There is the sound of a rushing wind. Something like tongues of fire rest on their heads. Suddenly the disciples are able to speak in foreign languages, even though they have never gone to school to learn these languages. Then the Apostle Peter stands up, and for the first time in his life, gives a sermon to a group of unbelievers…those spiritually dead in sin. The result is another miraculous thing happens…3,000 people are raised to spiritual life by the Holy Spirit and come to faith on that one day.
         Here, God the Holy Spirit does His job and works in a visible way and in a fast way. But today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nothing visible…no signs, no rushing wind, no tongues of fire…and nothing fast. Maybe converts to Christianity here and there over a longer period of time, but not 3,000 in one day. And sometimes this frustrates us! Why doesn’t God the Holy Spirit work more quickly and more visibly in our day? We might be tempted to think: “Maybe God the Holy Spirit isn’t working anymore. Maybe the Bible and the Sacraments aren’t the way to go anymore.” “Maybe it’s all up to us now…to make God’s church grow…to convince people to believe in Jesus. It’s all up to us!” Indeed, groups of Christians sometimes get desperate. They throw out the Word of God and the Sacraments and try all different kinds of things, especially the emotional kinds of things…hoping to see the Holy Spirit work in a fast way and visible way.
         Thankfully, Jesus forgives us for those times when we have fallen into that way of thinking. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit’s main job isn’t to “wow” you with signs. His job isn’t to shock you with spectacular religious moments. His main job, as Jesus says, is to testify about the Savior. His job is to cause people to understand and to believe all the things that Jesus the Messiah has done for them. And just how does the Holy Spirit do this? He does this through the plain Word of God. But as you know, that message is anything but plain. God’s Word tells you that you’re a sinner whose sins have been taken away by the blood of Jesus Christ. God’s Word tells you that Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. God’s Word tells you that someday Jesus will return, and until He does, He promises to be with you and bless you.

Every time you hear or read the Word of God…that’s where you find the Holy Spirit. And He’s working! You most likely can’t see or feel His work. Certainly there’s no rushing wind or flames of fire resting on your head. But as you spend time in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is working on you. He’s causing you to grow in your faith. He’s causing you to mature in your Christianity. The Holy Spirit is equipping you to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus with others. He does this in a very slow and a very quiet way. That’s how He works, and yet, His work is very powerful, and very life-changing.
         Years ago, engineers building a new bridge over the East River in New York discovered a wrecked hull of a ship, sunken many years before, lying right where the center piers were supposed to be built. Powerful machinery was brought in to remove the ship, but it wouldn’t budge. Then, one of the engineers had an unusual idea. Why not have the tide raise the ship. So strong cables were attached to the hull when the tide was low. The other ends were fastened to the barge above. As the tide came in, the barge gradually lifted the sunken ship up. It was then towed out into the ocean and sunk at a spot that would not cause future problems. God the Holy Spirit is like the tide. He comes very quietly, very slowly. But He comes to you with a great deal of power. He lifts you up from unbelief to faith…and from weak faith to strong faith. He comes slowly and quietly. But never, ever underestimate His power. When you see someone baptized, you’re seeing the Holy Spirit working. When you take the Lord’s Supper, or when you see someone take the Lord’s Supper, you’re seeing the Holy Spirit working. It’s nothing flashy. It will not make a highlight film.

But the Holy Spirit is still working…still lifting people up…still changing and transforming people…still today. As you hear or read and study His Word and make use of His Sacraments, be assured that God the Holy Spirit will keep working. He will never stop until the day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns on the Last Day. Amen.

 

The Ascension of Our Lord (observed) – Series A, B, C

Text: Acts 1:1-11 & Luke 24:44-53

Title: “Where to Find Your Purpose and Joy”

Date: Sunday, May 13, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         In our country and all over the world, sports are a big thing It’s no secret that those who play sports have winning as one of their goals. That is simply because winning is fun while losing not so much. In fact, as your team heads for the championship, you feel a sense of purpose. And if you achieve that goal and win, you also feel a sense of joy. However, after everything is over, there is a letdown. Not only is the celebrating over, the season is over too. That sense of purpose and joy you had before is gone. Now you are going to have to find another group or something else like a project or hobby to give you a sense of purpose and joy.

Today, I want to show you where you can find a sense of purpose and joy in your life that can last a long, long time. We start with The Ascension of Our Lord that we are observing and celebrating this morning. Ascension Day was actually this past Thursday…40 days after the celebration of Easter when the resurrected Jesus walked the earth forty days before He ascended into heaven. This morning, we are going to look at Jesus’ words and actions, and how our Lord spoke one last time to His disciples before ascending into heaven. In doing so, you are going to discover that if you really want to have a sense of purpose in your life, you do not need to look to this world for it. Instead, you can look to our ascended Lord. In Him, you will find a permanent sense of purpose and a deeper and longer lasting joy.
         To affirm this, let’s go to our Gospel reading from Luke 24, where we find Jesus and His disciples together…just a little over five and a half weeks after His resurrection. The Lord leads them out to Bethany, (Lk 24:50) which is just outside Jerusalem on the southeastern part of the Mount of Olives…the same general area where Jesus had been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to Acts 1, the resurrected Jesus gathers His disciples together because He has a few more things He wants to say to them before He ascends into heaven. As you observe these disciples, you see that they are still confused about why Jesus has come. Still holding on to the idea of Jesus restoring Israel as a Davidic superpower, they ask Him if He is now going to do that. (cf. Acts 1:6) Jesus responds by telling them not to be concerned about these sorts of things. (cf. Acts 1:7)

What the Lord really wants them to focus on is their purpose in life now that He is about to leave them. Over the past three years, their purpose has been to follow Him and to watch Him fulfill every single Old Testament messianic prophecy that was ever written about Him. Now that He has…He opens “their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Lk 24:45) Their purpose has been to watch Him suffer and die and rise from the dead. They will come to understand very soon…with the Holy Spirit’s help…what all these things mean. But for now, they are done following and learning. Now, Jesus is going to give them a new vocation…a new purpose for their lives. Listen to Jesus’ words and what He tells them: “You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:48) In Acts 1:8, the Lord declares: “…[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This is what Jesus wants His disciples to do. This is their new purpose in life…to witness to other people the things they have seen, heard, and learned relating to Christ.
         As a Christian in today’s world, this is your purpose too. Through God’s Word, you watched Jesus as He suffered and died, but then rise again from the dead. Even though you did not see those things with your eyes, you heard about it from witnesses and believed it with your heart of faith. God the Holy Spirit has led you to understand that Christ died as the sacrifice for your sins and is the reason your sins are forgiven.  God the Holy Spirit has also led you to understand that Christ overcame sin, death, and the devil by rising from the dead, thereby assuring you the certainty of eternal life.

And because of His death and resurrection, your Lord is the One who directs you to be a witness of these things to others…to “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt 28:19-20 ESV) Listen to God! Hear Him loud and clear! He has put you on this earth to come here to His Church and worship services in order to feed on His Word and Sacraments, so that you are fortified and capable to do this “good, right, and salutary” or beneficial work of making disciples!
         Sometimes, though, you get mixed-up about the purpose of your life. It is true that you have temporary, earthly purposes. In this life, you are suppose to earn a living…to look for ways to help other people and make this world a better place. You are supposed to be a good and obedient son or daughter…to be a loving mother or father or spouse. That is why on this Mother’s Day, you and I are reminded to thank and praise God for giving us our imperfect mom and thank her for her love…whether you are able to express this to her or if she has gone ahead of you into heaven. In honoring your God-fearing mom, you recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in her as she models God’s love to her family and teaches that Jesus loves them.

To honor moms, I want to read a summary describing the God-fearing Proverbs 31 woman: · Bring your husband good, not harm · Work with eager hands · Get up while it is still dark · Provide food for your family · Set about your work vigorously · Open your arms to the poor · Cause your husband to be respected · Be clothed with strength and dignity · Laugh at the days to come · Speak with wisdom, and faithful instruction · Watch over the affairs of your household · Do not eat the bread of idleness. As a result, the writer of Proverbs 31:28 says, "Her children will arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her."

 Indeed, Christian mothers are to show God’s love daily as they do the 101 things it takes to see to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of their children. Moms show their love as they embrace, teach, listen to, and encourage their children. If by chance your mother has not loved you this way, forgive her because God chose her to be your mother and He loves her and has already forgiven her. And no matter how old you are…appreciate, respect, and obey your mom, for your mother is truly a blessing from God.

         As for each and every one of us and our earthly purposes in life, there is something deeper…something more spiritual. If you want to know what it is, do not look to this world. Look to the ascended Son of God who will someday come back in the same way the disciples saw Him go into heaven. (cf. Acts 1:10-11) His purpose will be “to judge the living and the dead.”  Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension leaves no doubt anymore that Jesus is the God of the universe…the King of heaven and earth. Witness these things about God to others…not only to those who are spiritually weak or lost, but also to those who are spiritually dead in unbelief. Witnessing Christ is having conversations with your enemies and those you despise and cannot stand…witnessing about the spiritual things of God and what Jesus has done and will do in the future.

         Today in the Scriptures, you watched Jesus ascend but He is not locked up in heaven! His ascension means that He is present in a new way for you and even now is giving you a foretaste of the promised feast to come. The Lord’s ascension means He comes to you here and now…in His Holy Word, in Holy Baptism, and in Holy Communion…giving you His gracious gifts of forgiveness, life, salvation, and His Spirit. In coming to you this way, Jesus reminds you of your deeper purpose in life and gives you a kind of joy that you cannot find anywhere else. “You are witnesses of these things” and that means never hesitate to witness God’s love, hope, and joy to a spiritually lost sinner. Amen.

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