Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Christ gives His Spirit to His Bride, the Church

Sermon preached on Pentecost, June 8, 2014.

   Three times over the last weeks we heard Jesus say to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.  When everything is ready, I will come and get you that you may be with Me, where I am...”  To us they are words.  To understand what Jesus is saying about the Church, you have to connect to the context.  So jump back 2,000 year with me to a time when families arranged their children’s marriages.

     The families would conceive a suitable match and, if there was no objection from their children, then a ketubah or contract was written up.  Then the negotiation of the dowry, and, when the price was paid, the marriage covenant was sealed.
    The young man would go to the house of his bride to be and light a candle, sitting at a table across from his beloved.  The families were there in the background keeping a watchful eye but at a distance.  The young man would take a skin of wine and pour a cup and slide it across to his intended.  As she drank, he said, “I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go, I will come again and take you to myself, that you may be where I am...”  "When will you return?" She asked.  "Only my Father knows."  Then the young man would leave to return to his father’s house to prepare a place for him and his bride to live.  The wedding awaited completion of the room on his father’s house.  (Think of Jesus' promise to prepare a room for us in His Father's house.)  From then on she wore the veil that showed she had been bought with a price and was not her own, she was his.
    Today on Pentecost we see how those words of Jesus are lived out in the life of the Church.  Our Lord spoke them first to His disciples at the Passover in the Upper Room, the same Upper Room where they would wait for the coming of the Spirit.  His disciples have repeated them in every generation to the Church. This is our Upper Room.  The words He spoke to them, He speaks to us.  We are His bride, the Church. We belong to Him.  He has promised that He will return to take us to Himself.  The contract has been written and the price paid with His own life on the cross.  The Church belongs to Christ -- we belong to Christ.  Now we gather to drink the cup of His blood and remember His promise.  So deeply is this marriage imagery embedded in Christ and His words to His Church, His bride -- but we so often miss it.
    The message of Pentecost is that we are not our own.  We belong to Him.  We wear the garment of His righteousness before the world to mark us as His.  Though we long to know when He will come to seal us to Himself for all eternity, our Lord says “only the Father knows” the day and the hour.  And that is enough for us. 
    We have His cup in the Eucharist.  As we drink, each time we drink, we remember, “I am going away but I will come back for you.  Do not fear.  I have give you the Spirit, the Helper.  He will teach you and guide you and keep My promise before you.” The Church is the beloved bride of the Lord, born of His Spirit.
    Just as the bride of old awaited the preparation -- generally a year of waiting -- so does the Church as the Pentecost people of God wait for Him to return in His glory for His bride, for the marriage supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom without end, and for the eternal consummation of our live together where sin is done and death cannot touch us.
    We are not alone.  We are not on our own.  We have His cup and His Word.  He has given us His Spirit – leading, guiding, keeping us in faith as wait for the day He comes to finish what He has begun.  We are the betrothed of the Lord.  We are not our own.  We cannot give our selves to another because we belong to Him.  Our only call and vocation is to be faithful to our Lord.
    Individually we are many.  We speak many languages.  We come from many cultures.  We call many places home.  We span time and the centuries.  But we are one in Christ, we are the Church, His bride.  One Lord.  One faith.  One Baptism.  One Spirit.
    Even now He is at work in us keeping us holy and blameless by the power of His absolution, washing our sins away and reminding us who we are that daily through repentance we might be reborn in hope, His pure bride without blemish or stain.  All so that when He comes, we may be ready.
    This is Pentecost.  The day we acknowledge His promise given and the Spirit imparted to His people.  We come to await the finish of what He has begun.  We remember the past but our focus is on the future.  As Christ is preparing for us, we prepare for Him, daily repentance, confessing our sins, being restored by holy absolution, listening to the sound of His voice as His solemn promise, and drinking His cup as we remember, rejoice, and look forward to what is to come.
    The Spirit is at work in us.  Though hidden, He is powerful. Though quiet, He is faithful.  Though pointing to Christ, He is the Holy Spirit of the Holy Trinity.  As long as we are kept in the Spirit and by the Spirit, we need not fear.  The promise will be complete, the promised future will come, and we shall be ready.
    Jesus says, “If you love Me, you rejoice with Him.  If you rejoice with Me, you remember the promise.  I tell you this before it happens so that when it happens you may believe Me.”  Pentecost as the long season of waiting around the Word and Table of the Lord reminds us that we are not our own, we have been bought with a price.  St. Paul encourages us and warns us at the same time:  “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.”
    Friends, now is the time of holy waiting, giving ourselves to the holy calling of worship, witness, prayer, and service.  Now we wear the white robes of our baptismal clothing before the world that the world may know we are not our own, we belong to Him.  We have been bought with a price.  We belong to Christ. And He will come to take us to be with Him.  That is the wonderful marriage imagery of Jesus’s promise and of our identity as the Church, the bride of Christ.  So, keep faithful.  Do not stain your wedding garment with sin or unbelief.  Endure!  He is coming.  That is the Spirit's focus and ministry to us and among us everyday!  Christ the bridegroom will return for His bride, the Church.  All we are called to do is to be faithful to His coming.  God grant it.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

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