Tuesday, June 2, 2020

God's building. . .

Sermon for Pentecost, preached on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

    We love to tout what we have done.  Children rush to parents and peers, “Look, what I did!”  All around us we celebrate accomplishments from baby’s first words or steps to graduations from high school and college.  Adults are no different.  We want the world to know and acknowledge all that great things we have done.  How sad we are when we do something we think grand and nobody notices.  We crave recognition.

    The Scriptures are replete with accomplishments but if you look at them, the good ones are not ours but God’s.  He is the one with the grand plans and resources and He works through the flawed and failed servants we have come to call saints.  Some of you have traveled to the Creation Museum to see a replica of the ark.  Though it is named Noah’s Ark, it never was Noah’s.  God was the architect and Noah merely a day laborer in his grand plan.  When the ark was full and the rains were about to come, it was God who closed the door and sealed in Noah and his family, eight souls in all, with all the animals.  It is not all that much to see, really.  Not a yacht but a floating barge of giant proportions but not all that much for the eye except size.  Even worse, it had no means of propulsion.  It was not meant to get somewhere, merely to float and to protect those within.  From beginning to end, the whole thing was dependent upon the Lord’s grace.

    All of this stands in stark contrast to the things man decided to do.  From Nimrod’s Tower of Babel to the golden calf of the children of Israel, the things conceived in the mind of man did not fare so well.  In most cases, it was God who was left with all the broken pieces of man’s foolishness and God who had to fix what man had screwed up. That is the whole story of the Gospel but it is also the story of Pentecost.  The confusion of languages and cultures is resolved not in one mighty nation or one triumphant culture but in the voice of the Spirit speaking the universal language of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  That is what we hear today from the apostles upon whom tongues as of fire burned and unlearned languages poured forth from their lips.  Jesus Christ our Savior.

    In one small child from the womb of Blessed Mary, in one obedient life among so many sinners, in one cry of pain amid so many desperate cries, in one last gasp in death amid so many dying and dead, the Lord comes to undo man’s prideful sin or arrogance.  In one grave lay all the dead who die in the Lord and in one resurrection are the hopes of all who will be raised.  This was St. Peter’s message to the Jews from so many places.  This was the hope God had planted upon the ruin of man’s plots and plans – even the plot and plan of those who thought they were in charge when they pronounced a sentence of death upon Jesus.  That is why we are here because God has built His new ark and His new people upon the ruins of the old.  This is the day the Lord has made.

    You can bet if we had built the Church it would have picked and chosen a culture and a people to be first and best.  You can bet that if we had built the Church, we would have lifted up one language and one identity to reign over all others.  But God those to embrace all of humanity in the flesh of His Son and to grant to Jew and Gentile the promise of redemption through the common blood of the uncommon Savior, through the common message spoken in uncommon tongues, by the power of the one Spirit who teaches the hearts of men to laud not their accomplishments but God’s doing to save us.

    The people around the undertakings of God are always rich with judgment against God’s plans.  That boat will not float and besides it is not even raining?  What good comes from Nazareth?  Are not these speaking ignorant Galileans?  Who are these a bunch of drunks?  Well, all of this is true from the vantage point of what we esteem to be great and the foolishness of the world in rejecting God’s wisdom.  But from the vantage point of faith, God is building.  A plan to reveal His salvation at the right time and day.  A people who are great because of the Son of Mary who will save all sinners. A cross that gives life from an instrument of death.  Nobodies through whom God speaks His mighty Gospel.  A Church created not from the brightest and smartest but from those who believe the Word of God and keep it.

    We focus on the spectacle.  But the greater mystery and miracle is in the plan of God from a foiled tower to a universal Gospel.  The tongues were reversed not by a common vocabulary but a common message for all tongues and all people and all places. From the first beginning in the Garden to the ark that rescued humanity from itself to the Tower of Babel that limited man’s pride to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness to the tribes and their kings to the remnant of a people governed by a Roman stooge, God was in the details unfolding His salvation.  And now it is here.  Not for the few or the exceptional or the worthy but for every sinner who confesses Jesus Christ.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

    This is the reality of a Church spread over every continent and spoken by more people and languages than ever before.  This is the reality of this congregation whose reach is across the world through the missions of our Synod.  This is the reality of a congregation planted by people who built a house for God here some 61 years ago.  This is the reality of doors that open every Sunday to welcome new people into this house of God, of people who come here for the first time and of people who return because here the Word of the Lord is preached and here the Sacraments of Christ are administered.  This is the reality of parents who bring their children to baptism and of all ages gathered in Bible study to know Christ through His Word.  This is the reality for so many churches opening again from the prison of fear and the pandemic threat.

    Pentecost is not about an event or a day in history but God working to build His Church, to send forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, to open the Kingdom to all who believe, and to rescue sinners by the blood of Christ.  It began in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, St. Peter preached, and 3,000 were baptized.  In Christ the chief cornerstone, God was building a living temple and the saints before us, there here now, and those who will come because of our preaching and teaching, are living stones with which God is still building His Church.

    None of this looks like some flashy business enterprise cooked up on Madison Avenue, financed by Wall Street, and shaped by marketing gurus.  No, it is nothing like that.  It is the work of God, not of man, not selling the Gospel but giving it away, and not out for profit but for the rescue of sinners, one soul at a time.  Like Noah of old, we are ridiculed.  Like the martyrs we are threatened, persecuted and marked for death.  Like the apostles we are just men and women whose only virtue is Christ and whose only power is His Word.  But nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ and nothing can prevent the Lord from finishing His new creation, in this age and in all the days to come.

    Unlike those who tried to build a stairway to God, God has built a staircase down to us and come to us down that ladder laden with the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Unlike those who left confused and divided, this Gospel makes clear what matters and what counts and unites the divided with one baptismal name and one future promised in heaven.  Unlike those who snickered at the apostles on Pentecost, people are being led by the Holy Spirit to faith and repentance, to rejoice in His mercy and to hope in His love.

    On this day as we recall what God did on that day to begin the building project known as the Christ’s Church, we rejoice that the building is still going on, the Word is still being preached, the Holy Spirit still dwells in us, sinners are still being forgiven, the weary are still be uplifted, and the dying still given life that death cannot overcome.  It happens right here where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered.  It happens throughout the world where congregations like us gather.  It happens on the mission fields far and near where those in darkness are enlightened in Christ.  And it will continue to come to pass, that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  That is the Spirit’s work.  Then.  And now.  Amen.

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