Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 24:05 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everyone loves stories. You get together with a group of friends and someone tells a story; then that story reminds someone else of another story, and pretty soon everyone’s laughing and sharing stories. Listening to and telling stories is how we get to know each other. Stories are how we learn what is important to other people. Stories are so important to us that—it happens regularly—someone may make an assertion about the truth, and someone else will object, because: here’s what happened to me; or this happened to a friend of mine; or, I did this; or, this is my experience. Maybe people have always done this to some degree, but we are very good at it: facts and truth are counted as real only if we can fit them into our stories. Even God is real, or the Scriptures are real, or Christianity is real if it fits into my story, rather than the other way around.
Most people don’t believe in an over-arching story anymore, a story that encompasses all creation and all history and all people. Instead, all we have are our individual stories, and the only truth we have is our stories, so there are as many truths as there are stories. But we have a story that encompasses all things, because we believe in a God who has made all things, including history; a God who is going to accomplish the fulfillment of His will at the conclusion of this age.
Since most people don’t believe in that overall story anymore, they are left to themselves to figure out their own stories. They take from here and there, and put the pieces together into some semblance of a story. They write their own stories. And Christians sometimes fall into that way of speaking. We all tend to think this way to one degree or another. We make up stories, because they tell us who we are. We tell ourselves our own stories based on our political identities, our sexual identities, our gender identities, our religious, or cultural, or family identities. And we think that by doing this we can find some assurance or certainty about who we are. In fact, most people, if they heard me say those things, would say, Yes! Absolutely that’s what I’m doing. I’m free to write my own story! And in that story I’ll find my identity and my happiness.
But what happens is something far different. What happens is exactly what happened at Babel, when the people got together and said that they were going to make a name for themselves. God dispersed them and confused their language. We have the “freedom” to tell ourselves any story we’d like, and what happens? We are more dispersed, more disconnected, more scattered, more confused, and more despairing than maybe any other generation before us. We think we can find peace by writing our own stories, but all of our stories will end in death. Another word for making our own stories over and against the story of God is idolatry. We make ourselves the center of the story, which is to make ourselves our own gods.
There is only one story that is life, and it is a story that is given to us as a gift. It is a blessing, not a curse. It is the story that God is telling, and into which He has written you. It is the story that is summarized in the Creeds. The Creeds are not lists of things that you have to check off so that you can call yourself a Christian—although denying them puts you outside the Church of the Scriptures. The main thing that the Creeds are is a story that begins in the beginning and never ends, because it goes on into eternity. God rewrites the whole story of history and humanity in the blood of Jesus.
When you say, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, you’re saying not just that God made everything. You’re saying that this God who made everything is my God. He made me and gives me everything I need for body and soul in this creation. When you say, I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived, born, suffered, died, risen, ascended, and coming again, you’re not just saying all that happened. You’re saying that this Jesus, who did all this, is my Lord, and He redeemed and won me from death and the devil, and made me His own.
But that’s not the end of the story. This story continues with Pentecost. Pentecost is not first of all a New Testament festival. It is an Old Testament festival, a harvest festival. And God chose to continue this story on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus, by sending the Holy Spirit to begin the harvest of His people, to undo Babel. The Holy Spirit comes in power upon the apostles so that they speak the Gospel boldly, and everyone hears of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them in their own languages. He gathers those who are scattered, and undoes the confusion of different languages in the unity of the Gospel of Jesus.
I’ve said this before, but when I was young it seemed to me that the Third Article of the Creed, on the Holy Spirit, was where they put everything that didn’t fit somewhere else. The First Article is clearly the beginning of the story, with God’s creation me, and all things; the Second Article is clearly the story of Jesus’ life; but the Third Article just seems like a list of things: the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection, eternal life. But Luther’s explanation helps us see that this, too, is part of the story.
When we say, I believe in the Holy Spirit, we’re saying, I believe that I would never have believed in the story of Jesus on my own reason or strength or ability. I would have gone on preferring my own story to God’s. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, called you by the Gospel. He gathered, and enlightened, and makes me holy and keeps me in the faith. And He has gathered us all together here, a holy people gathered around the holy things. And in this Church, in this Body, He daily and richly delivers to us the forgiveness of Jesus. And that forgiveness has a goal, an end: the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is how the story goes, and you have been written into it. You don’t have to bear the burden of writing your own story, and making your own name. God gives you the story of Jesus, the story of Life itself, as a gift and blessing. He gives you His Name, and marks you as His own. The Spirit of God gathers you and keeps you, teaches you all things and keeps bringing to your remembrance all that Jesus has said. He gives you the peace of Jesus, which this world cannot give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. The Spirit will keep you in this story until He writes the whole creation into resurrection.
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, 6/3/22