The Day of Pentecost St. John, Galveston 5/23/21
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear confirmands, family and friends of these young people, friends in Christ, this is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Today, the sons and daughters of three families and of this congregation are about to be confirmed in their faith. The faith they will soon confess isn’t a faith that first came to them when they began their studies two years ago in confirmation. Rather, it is the faith that was given to them in and through the water of their baptisms.
I was honored and privileged to baptize four of these young people who will soon stand before you this morning. The other two came to us having already been baptized in another Christian congregation. Regardless, in the water of baptism and by the power of His Word, God called them to faith that day in His Son Jesus Christ. He adopted them into His kingdom, and He gave them all that belongs to the true heirs of the kingdom, namely, forgiveness, life and salvation.
The rite of confirmation, which we are about to witness today, doesn’t complete what was begun in Holy Baptism, rather it continues it. Each of these young people will soon stand before this congregation to bear witness to God by confessing their faith in Him and in all the blessings that He gave them on the day they were baptized, the day when they were marked with the sign of the cross, both on their foreheads and on their hearts.
I hope and I pray fervently that none of you who are about to be confirmed today view this day as the day you graduated from your study of the Scriptures, or, from communion with the Church. Confirmation represents neither of these things. To see it as such is to deny the very Word of God and the Holy Spirit who led you and guided you, from the day you were adopted as God’s very own child, to this very day. What you learned in Luther’s Small Catechism regarding faith is most certainly true. “God has called you by the Gospel. He has enlightened you with His gifts and He has sanctified and kept you in the true faith.”
And so, today is not a graduation of any sort. It is rather a continuation of the outpouring of God’s gift of faith to you. It is also, of course, Pentecost Sunday. It is fitting that you are confirmed on this day because, of all the Sundays in the Church Year, this is the one where we put the most emphasis on the Holy Spirit and on what He accomplishes in each of our lives.
The Holy Spirit, I think, is often misunderstood. Years ago, my family and I attended a worship service in an LCMS mission congregation in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The service was somewhat different from what we were used to. What struck me though and stayed with me over all these years was the confession of what was titled the Apostle’s Creed. Apparently, the Pastor of the church thought the words of the traditional creed were too stilted, or, too outdated to use in a contemporary setting. The creed was completely rewritten. I’ll never forget the words of the third article of the creed, the article about the Holy Spirit. It said, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the power of God within me.”
While the Holy Spirit is within every believer, He is much more than God’s power in you. In fact, to state one’s confession of the Holy Spirit simply as the “power of God within” is to restate a 4th century heresy. More than a power within you, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, which is to say, He is God.
In our English translations of the Bible, He is variously referred to as the Helper, the Comforter, the Counselor or even the Paraclete. Each of these terms intends to convey the nature of the relationship between you and the Holy Spirit. He helps, He comforts, and He counsels. The last word, however, perhaps describes that relationship the best, He walks along side of you.
As He walks along side of you, the Holy Spirit’s work is primarily two-fold. First, He leads you into the truth. That work of the Holy Spirit is incredibly important because our culture comes at us today with all sorts of supposed truisms. You know, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d use the word “wokeism” in a sentence, much less in a sermon. But our culture has its own definition of what is true and what isn’t, and it gives the exalted title of “Woke” to those who wholeheartedly accept and confess its version of the truth. Whether or not that truth agrees with the Scriptures is considered insignificant and unimportant. Those who establish norms in a culture of “wokeism” are considered the supreme arbiters of what is true and what isn’t. And, of course, the ally of “wokeism,” its enforcer, if you will, is “cancel culture.” Those who fail to tow the line of “wokeism” are summarily canceled.
But Jesus says, it is the Holy Spirit, who, by the way, speaks only in and through God’s Word, who leads you into the truth. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” And so, I say, first to our confirmands, but also to all of you here today, hold on fervently and fiercely to God’s Word, for, as Jesus says elsewhere, “My Word is truth.” Cultural and norms come and go, but “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Finally, aside from leading you into all the truth, the Holy Spirit’s work is to bear witness to and to glorify Jesus. Is God for me or is He against me? Does He love me or is He ambivalent toward me? Does He want me to live with forgiveness and peace or does He want me to rehash my sins over and over again and to lament that I ever even came into the world?
Like John the Baptist, who stood in the Jordan River and pointed his finger to Jesus, declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” so the Holy Spirit directs you to Jesus for the answer to the questions that arise in your heart and mind regarding your relationship to God. God’s Law is forever written on your heart, and it constantly bears witness to your failings and your inadequacy. The Gospel, however, is not written on your heart. It comes to you by way of proclamation, by way of the Word of Truth. “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Scriptures say, the author and finisher of your faith.”
The Holy Spirit, like John, points you to Jesus. He points you to this bread and wine, to the body and blood of our dear Lord. He points you a salvation that is outside of yourself. In doing so, He assures you that God is indeed, FOR YOU! Indeed, we, you are “more than conquerors through him who loved us (says the Apostle). For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Again, you young people are gathered here today to confess your faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, He has enlightened you with God’s gifts and He has sanctified and kept you in the true faith. God grant you an abundant measure of the Holy Spirit as you live out your lives as the children of God. Above all, God grant that the Gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ, will forever ring clear in your ears and in your hearts and that you will know that, in all things, God is for you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +