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2024-05-19 Pentecost

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Welcome to Pentecost Sunday! It happens every year, at about this time. 50 days after Easter, the celebration of God the Holy Spirit commences! And along with it, and the explosion of the Christian church. The illustrious color of red adorns our church paraments and banners! Red is a very bold color. So much so that a whole urban legend arose about red vehicles being more likely to be pulled over by the cops! They stick out like a …red vehicle! And now, as a result, 81% of vehicles are some shade of depressing, communist-concrete grey! Only 5% of vehicles on the road today are red. Ain’t that a travesty?! Imagine going to a car show and all you see is a sea of muted and monotone grey cars! Yuck! Red, on the other hand, is exciting! It’s bold and daring! It’s courageous! It’s strong! It’s the colour or love and fire and blood! No wonder red has become the signature hue of Pentecost. The fire of the Holy Spirit and the blood of the martyrs who readily gave their lives in testimony to Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The history of the church is both fiery and bloody. It’s exciting and serious. It has its highs and its lows. It really is a story of “rags to riches.”

Everyone has heard that phrase before, right? Rags to riches? It’s used to describe someone who was very poor, at the end of his rope, and then, through a sudden turn of unexpected events - or a long arduous process of hard work and determination - that poor person becomes super rich! Numerous CEOs of Fortune 500 companies started out this way, packing groceries at the CO-OP or flipping burgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. Sometimes, these people have struck it rich with an amazing invention, like James Dyson the vacuum cleaner genius and sometimes they’ve completely struck out, time and time again, like the people you see with dumb inventions on Dragon’s Den.

The Church shares this same rags to riches story. From the very moment that the first disciples responded in faith to Jesus’ call to follow Him, right up through His arrest, His trial and crucifixion and even after His resurrection from the dead, the Apostles were a rag-tag bunch. They were a hap-hazard collection of fishermen and tax collectors and they seldom ever understood what Jesus was trying to teach them. When Jesus was arrested, they all took off and abandoned Him – even Peter the most boisterous of the bunch flat out denied Christ three times. After Jesus died, the disciples went into hiding, fearing they would come to the same fate as Jesus! Then, when the women came and told them the reports that Jesus was alive, they didn’t believe them. Even when our resurrected Lord Jesus appeared to them they either didn’t recognize Him or still doubted.

It’s from exactly this ragamuffin bunch of people - dense, deserters, deniers and doubters that the Church is born and has endured for the last 2000 years! More over, this same bunch of people became faithful, fervent, and fearless defenders of the Good News – that Jesus Christ came to save sinful people! But this couldn’t possibly have come from human power alone. Simply put, it is the power of God the Holy Spirit that makes this transformation possible! Jesus promised them that they would receive power after His ascension. The Helper would help them in the task Jesus was calling them too. And what was that task? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (MT 28:19) And, He promised to be with them always (20). And even though Jesus gives them the Confirmation lesson of all time by opening the Scriptures to them about Himself (LK 24:32), it was not until after the Spirit of God descended upon the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues that they began to walk courageously in Jesus’ words.

So too it is with us. Despite all of our doubts and fears, our stubborn refusal to believe, despite our turning our backs to Christ, He still looks at us with His forgiveness and His cross in mind. He still looks at us as His co-workers in Mission and Service. Jesus still sends to us the promised Comforter, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, especially when we are gathered together as the Church, the Body of Christ. Therefore, we should expect another Pentecost each time we gather together on the Lord’s Day in the Divine Service – just as we expect another Easter! We should expect to be transformed by our Lord’s Word and Sacraments into more fearless, faithful followers of Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit transformed and enabled the disciples to do this monumental task. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (JN 15:26-27). Bear witness. It doesn’t seem like all that difficult a thing. Share what you know about Jesus with others. This is who He is, this is what He does for us and our salvation. But it is quite a serious thing. The original Greek language word used here “martus,” the same word we get our English word “martyr” from. Witnessing to Jesus is the mission and many of the disciples paid the ultimate price for this as they literally became martyrs - they were killed for their faith in Christ. They were willing to give up everything, including their earthly lives rather than to deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead. St. Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword. St. Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt being dragged by horses through the streets. St. Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his preaching. St. Peter was crucified upside down on an ‘x’ shaped cross, because he felt unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus did. Beheadings. Flogged with whips. Stabbed with a spear. Shot with arrows. Killed with stones. St. John was boiled in oil but miraculously was delivered from death and sentenced to work in the salt mines of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. Nearly all the disciples gave the ultimate witness to Christ to their deaths.

This is why, dear friends, the Confirmation vows we make say “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession of the Christian faith and to suffer all things – even death – rather than fall away from it?” These are heavy words! Too many of us have often taken them too lightly and agree to out of custom rather than conviction! Yet each of us who have been Baptized and brought into God’s Kingdom have been called and ordained as witnesses for Christ. This is our primary objective in all of life. It is our mission. It is our vocation. Confirmation is designed to equip us for this mission. It teaches us the very basics of the Christian faith so that we can give a strong witness to the truth of the Scriptures. We know the difference between right and wrong as established in the Ten Commandments. We know and trust that our sins have been forgiven free and clear by the blood of Christ shed on His cross and how the Sacraments of the Church unite us to our salvation. We know that as we confess our sins God who is faithful and just will forgive them and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We know the Lord’s prayer that draws us closer to our God and Lord. We know the Creed that confesses our Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our creator, redeemer and Lord.

We know the Lord Jesus Christ who has forgiven our sins and promised us eternal life. He has ascended that we may know and cherish His presence with us. And we have received the Holy Spirit who has brought life and immortality to light. His power prepares us to give witness to all we have seen and heard in the Scriptures, but also in our own lives. This my friends is often the most compelling witness. What does our Lords’ death on the cross, resurrection and ascension mean to us? And what witness to it in thought, word and deed are we willing to show to our friends, neighbors and family? May the Holy Spirit bless you in this important witness for the life of world, now and forever more! Amen!

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