Reading Ramblings – May 15, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – May 15, 2016

Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 143; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

Context: Pentecost marks the coming of the Holy Spirit to the believers in Jesus Christ. First, to the apostles, but as the book of Acts makes clear, the Spirit comes and creates faith in the hearts of others. Those who hear Peter’s sermon that first Pentecost Sunday, to Gentiles and foreigners and locals alike. God pours out his Holy Spirit to comfort, enlighten, guide, sanctify, and keep the faithful in Jesus Christ until the day of his return. We do not need to pray for or invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts or worship or times of prayer – He is already there! It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to those times in the first place!

Genesis 11:1-9 – The unity inherent in creation is finally broken. Bits and pieces of it remained after the Fall, through the generations that followed Cain and Abel, through the Flood. But now the descendants of Noah, in contradiction to God’s command in 9:1 to be fruitful and fill the earth, have been fruitful but have not dispersed to fill the earth. Instead, in the sinful desire for self-glorification, in the vain attempt to once again become like God, they have decided to stay together and combine their efforts towards those ends.

So they are scattered. Those who were not content with the names – with the status of creations – given to them by God are stripped of their ability to communicate to one another. God’s command is fulfilled. Confusion and distrust now reaches fruition between people who don’t know how to communicate with other people. Mankind will not be allowed the illusion of self-sufficiency and unity without God. We still cling to and claw after this goal today, with our desires to unite under a single authority, a single language, a single culture. We suspect that by doing so, we will improve our lot, elevate ourselves as the people in Genesis 11 sought to. But we would do well to learn from their mistake. Short of God’s reunification of all people by his Spirit, we can unite only to our own harm.

Psalm 143 – The psalmist pleas for mercy in the knowledge of his sinfulness. She acknowledges the enemy’s mastery of her life – not just a mortal antagonist in this case but a diabolical opponent that she cannot prevail against. Hope, in verses 1-4, has been lost. But in recognition of self-failure, the psalmist contemplates the works of God. He ponders on what God was able to do for people who could do nothing for themselves, and this meditation prompts him to come to God in prayer and supplication. Perhaps the God who acted on behalf of others will act on the psalmist’s behalf (vs.5-6).

Time is of the essence! Surely God will not ignore the plea of his servant! The psalmist’s spirit fails, the human spirit fails – but the Spirit of God, that Spirit prevails! God can guide the psalmist as well as rescue him. The Spirit of God can be the guide of the psalmist, not simply for the benefit of the psalmist, but for the glorification of God. It is the good pleasure of God to rescue his people, and it is our privilege and duty to sing of how He has done so in our lives and most importantly through the gift of his Son and the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:1-21 – In response to the jeers and amazement of the crowds, Peter refers them to Holy Scripture. In what God has already written is the answer to the situations of the day and the days to come. In turning to God’s Word, we are able to make sense of the world around and within us, and we should not be surprised if some of God’s prophetic Word comes true in our own midst and hearing!

But the fullness of God’s prophetic Word is that all who hears it and calls upon God’s name will be saved. This is the ultimate goal of God’s Word, and the ultimate goal of the Holy Spirit’s mighty presence on that first Pentecost and still in the world today. This is the goal of God’s plan of salvation – that people would hear and respond in faith and be saved. To this end the Holy Spirit labors, and for this reason there is no person or peoples whom we can say God is not at work in them. They will surely never turn to God! The power of God the Holy Spirit is such that no heart is safe from his powerful work. Wherever the Word of God is available to be read or heard, the Holy Spirit is at work bringing people to conviction of the truth of Jesus Christ. What a power we hold in our hands, that we proclaim in worship or share with one another! The very power of God for the salvation of the hearer!

John 14:23-31 – Jesus works to comfort his disciples on his last night with them. The ultimate comfort comes not simply from knowing what will happen in the future, not from knowing how the story ends, but rather in the abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus does not abandon his disciples. He does not leave them bereft as orphans. Rather, He promises them the Holy Spirit of God to teach and bring to memory what Jesus has said and done. This is still the Holy Spirit’s work – pointing people to the person and work of Jesus the Son of God. He still works to teach the faithful and lead them to deeper knowledge and love of God, in the process transforming their lives little by little to more and more closely resemble the lives they will lead in eternity in perfect obedience with the will and purpose of God.

We lament that we did not see and hear Jesus personally, but Jesus clearly thinks that the presence of the Holy Spirit is of greater and more lasting value than his personal ministry – not in terms of salvation, but in terms of sanctification and the support and encouragement of the faithful.

The Holy Spirit continues to be an enigma. A source of encouragement and hope. A source of wisdom and understanding. But also the very power of God expressed in and through us, in ways that sometimes astound and confound and frighten us. Imagine if we were to begin speaking in a foreign language in front of a roomful of strangers! Yet the Holy Spirit granted the disciples the strength and courage to speak freely. We as Lutherans tend to speak hesitantly about the Holy Spirit. Not that we would ever deny his presence and work, but rather in an effort to remain distinct from those groups who turn the Holy Spirit’s gifts and works into a new law, a new metric of determining worthiness other than faith in Jesus Christ.

It is this Holy Spirit who creates unity out of dispersion, the undoing of the separation at Babel in Genesis 11. This healing is made possible by the Son of God’s undoing of the Fall in Genesis 3. While we may still be separated by ethnicity or language or culture, believers in Jesus Christ are bound together as brothers and sisters in the faith, as different parts of one body. A unity is created that transcends all other definitions, that refuses to allow for any separation or distinction, any elevation of one at the expense of another. This has been a hallmark of Christians – albeit imperfectly. This is the source of our peace in the midst of suffering and uncertainty, and should be not merely a touchstone or catchphrase, but the defining reality for Christians everywhere.

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