PENTECOST, A – June 4, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 104; Num. 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2

 

Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is always associated with fire, as the Holy Spirit’s presence was revealed in the tongues of fire that rested on Christ’s followers. This is reflected very well by the flames on our banners behind the altar. But, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit is also revealed in water, a connection that Jesus makes in John 7. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” He cries out. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” He was speaking about the Spirit, whom He would send as a river of living water. John the Baptist combined the fire and water when he said of Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matt. 3:11) Our banner on the left reflects this by the dove upon it, recalling how the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus as a dove when He was baptized.

Now, of the two, fire and water, water is the more gentle. Our earthly lives begin in its gentleness as we grow within a bag of waters in our mother’s wombs. We are born from those waters and then washed with water. It is cool and gentle as it washes over us and cleanses us, and throughout our lives it refreshes us as we drink it in.

Our lives with God, our heavenly lives, begin in the gentle waters of Holy Baptism. God comes to wash us and cleanse us of our sins and fill us with His Holy Spirit, to then go forth with us and lead us in Christ as we grow.

When we are confirmed we recall our baptisms, but in a different way. Now, by and for ourselves, we confess God’s saving and guiding presence with us that began in baptism, and we commit ourselves to following Him. Confirmation is moving from the passivity of a child, the passivity of being led, to actively and intentionally confessing God as our Father and following Him. It should be no surprise, then, that in Confirmation we move from the gentleness of water to the fearsomeness of fire, which burns. As confirmands we are asked such questions as:

“Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

And to this, we answer: “I do, by the grace of God.”

Death. Suffering. Why are such fearful words part of our Confirmation vows? They are part of Pentecost. They are the fire that follows the Holy Spirit’s gentle presence in water. They are part and parcel of your baptism, for you are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.

This is seen on the very day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes upon Christ’s followers in tongues of fire and fills them, and they begin speaking about Jesus in languages that they had not known. The people who hear them are amazed; but some mock them and accuse them of being drunk. The Spirit’s presence doesn’t just burn within Christ’s followers and warm them with the fire of God’s love in Christ. It also brings the heat of opposition to Christ, the heat of His cross. The fire of opposition will grow as Jesus’ disciples confess Him, and it will burn them.

So it is in our lives as we grow in the faith and follow Jesus. As children, our lives in Christ are fairly calm. We are gently washed with our Father’s love and forgiveness in Christ as we learn in church and Sunday School of His love. But, as we grow, along with the gentle love and forgiveness of our heavenly Father there increasingly comes the fire and burning of misunderstanding and opposition. People begin to mock your faith and make fun of you. You speak a different language, you see. God the Holy Spirit has revealed to you what is gibberish and nonsense to those who do not believe:

Ø  That God is the Father almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. We are dependent upon Him and must answer one day for how we have lived our lives.

Ø  That the man Jesus is truly God, come in our flesh to save us. By His death He paid the price for, and won forgiveness for, our sins, and by His resurrection He prepared for us a new and holy life.

Ø  That this forgiveness and new life with God is given to you by God the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and Sacraments, beginning with your Baptism. By it God lives within you and brings forth from you a new and holy life.

“Nonsense! Foolishness!” That is the response of those who do not believe. You are foreigners to them. You speak a different language. Although with God’s good words and by your kind and merciful actions you say that every person is created and redeemed by Him and so is valuable to Him – everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” God’s Word declares; Christ’s salvation is for all – your very words and lives burn those who don’t believe. You will then, get fire in return. Confirmation prepares for this. Living with your God will get harder!

When you face the fire of opposition and feel its burn, remember Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit’s presence was revealed in the divided tongues of fire that rested on each one of Christ’s followers. Each tongue of fire was a smaller version of the large pillar of cloud and flame that went before the people of Israel in the days of Moses. That pillar of cloud and flame, of water and fire, was God, made visible to His people. He first appeared before the people as Moses led them from Egypt, the land of their slavery. He spoke face to face with Moses, that he might then speak to the people for God. He took some of the Spirit with which He had filled Moses and gave it to others, that they might help him lead the people. God, in that pillar of fire and water, went before Israel until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan. Now, on the day of Pentecost, that visible Presence of the Almighty God came upon and filled each of the believers in Jesus. God the Holy Spirit led them forth in His strength.

That powerful Spirit of God also fills and leads you, who, through the fire and water of Holy Baptism, have been joined to Christ. You do not face opposition alone. God the Holy Spirit, the powerful fire of God, is with you! He lives within you!

So, stand up and speak. Confess your great God and Savior. And, stand up and live in Him and for Him. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord” – including you! – “shall be saved.” In the holy and blessed name of Jesus. Amen