In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus. You may or may not know this, but Pentecost is actually an Old Testament festival, taking place fifty days after the first harvest of barley. Pentecost is also a harvest festival, called the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus, the beginning of the wheat harvest. It’s no coincidence that Jesus chose to send the Spirit on Pentecost, when He would gather the beginning of the harvest of His church by the words of the Apostles, which He had given them. The Holy Spirit was poured out so that Babel would be undone and the people of every nation would hear of Jesus, crucified and resurrected for them. And just as every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, is a little Easter, a little resurrection day, so also every Lord’s Day is a little Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit brings the word of Jesus to people of every tribe, and language, and nation, so that they would hear in their own languages what Jesus has done.
So it is that on this Lord’s Day, we are gathered and we confess again, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” What does it mean when the Church says with one voice, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? First of all, we believe that we do not believe from ourselves. “I believer that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” I believe that, in myself, I’m about as alive as those dead, dry bones in the valley which God showed Ezekiel. “Son of man,” Yahweh says, “can these bones live?” “You alone know, Lord Yahweh.” Long-dead people, lying in every place. I cannot believe or come alive any more than those bones could bring themselves together and begin to breathe again. “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel,” by the same words the Apostles preached on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection; the words of Jesus, crucified and risen for me; that this Jesus, true God and true man, has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from sin, death, and from the power of the devil, with His own blood and death, so that I might be His own. And in all of this we are made right with the Father, so that we can call on Him as dear children with their dear Father. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, we would be likely to make Jesus into a mere man, who taught us some nice things, like every other teacher of ethics. And we would make the Father into an idol, denying Him and worshiping His creation instead.
But the Spirit who calls me with the Gospel “has enlightened me with His gifts,” given light to my eyes so that I see that I have nothing good of my own; but even more, given light to my eyes to see Jesus as He is, who is Light itself and every good. “He has sanctified—made me holy—and kept me in the one true faith.” This is what the Holy Spirit does, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth. We are not called to be single individuals, just me and Jesus, but called and gathered together with the whole Church. It is in this Church—not the building where we happen to be—but in the communion of the saints of all times and places, even the whole company of heaven, that the Spirit daily and richly forgives me my sins and the sins of all believers in Christ. And because we have that forgiveness, the life and salvation that Jesus gives freely, on the last day the Spirit will raise up me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. By that Spirit, we say, Yes, this is most certainly true.
This is the movement of the Holy Spirit in this world, particularly since that Pentecost in Jerusalem so long ago. He moves, Jesus says, like the wind, bringing faith when and where He wills it. And this is not only the movement of the Spirit generally, but it is also the movement of the Spirit in each Christian’s life. This is what the Holy Spirit has done for each of you: Cameron, Lexi, Morgan, and Olivia. Each of you, with the whole Church, says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” What is true of the Spirit’s work for each person is true of the Spirit’s work for you. He called you by the Gospel, washed you in the water by His Word, applying the death and resurrection of Jesus to you as your own. He enlightened you with His gifts, as you baptized children of God began to learn everything that Jesus gave to His Apostles to speak. You also have been gathered together with His whole Church, and He alone keeps you in the true faith. Notice that none of the verbs are yours except “I cannot believe.” The rest of the verbs, the rest of the actions, are the actions of the Spirit. He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies. He daily and richly forgives your sins. He will raise the dead and give you eternal life. Today you are not confirming anything, really. You are simply saying publicly what every Christian says when he or she says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit” on the Lord’s Day. You are saying that the gifts God has given you are indeed yours. You are praying that the Spirit who called you would keep you in that faith, even unto death. And you are saying Amen to the promise of Jesus that His Body and Blood are for you, as a sinner begging for mercy. But the work is the Spirit’s. He is confirming the promises that He made, and He says that because He who calls you is faithful, He will surely do what He says. He gave life to you like He gave to those dry bones in the valley. He breathed new life into you, like Jesus does for the disciples after His resurrection. And the promise of God through Ezekiel is yours, as well. That on the Last Day, He will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, and bring you into the Land He promised from the time of Israel, the new creation, in which righteousness dwells.
So today we entrust you to the Holy Spirit, who alone can keep you in the faith which you will confess today. We pray for you in that Spirit, that He will continue to sanctify and keep you until the Day of the Lord. And we remind you that the Spirit continues to work only by His own chosen means. He is present only where Jesus is present with His own Word, and no other. He is working where Jesus is working with the Sacraments that He has chosen. He does not do it this way because He is limited, or because He is not free, or because He can’t do anything else. He has not bound Himself to this Word and these Sacraments for Himself, but for your sake. He has bound Himself so that you don’t have to wonder where Jesus might be for you; so that you don’t have to go looking for Jesus, looking for peace, looking for release from the burdens of sin and death. He has bound Himself to Word and Sacrament so that you can be certain where you might find the promised life of Jesus: wherever His word is preached purely and His sacraments given out according to His institution, you can be sure that the Spirit is doing His calling, gathering, sanctifying, forgiving, resurrecting work. And He is doing it for you.
When Jesus promised to send the Spirit, He told His disciples that He had told them all these things so that they would not fall away from Him, that they would not be torn from the Faith like branches cut from the Vine. So it is for you and for all the baptized believers of Christ: He speaks all His words, which no one can bear all at the same time, so that you will never fall away. Those are the words that the Spirit will continue to unfold to you throughout your entire life, the words of Jesus, who is Life itself. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it, for Jesus’ sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/23/15