Monday, June 04, 2012

Sermon on Acts 2:1-21, Pentecost, "Call on the Lord!"

            “Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen” The day of Pentecost has arrived, the name meaning fiftieth, as it has been 50 days since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead! Also 10 days since His ascension into heaven. On this 50th day, our church seasons shift from Easter into Pentecost, the season of the Holy Spirit and the growth He works through Christ’s church. On this 50th day, as you heard in our readings, the disciples gathered in the upper room, were “baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire” as Jesus promised, as tongues of flame appeared over their heads and they began to speak in other languages. Pentecost was already a festival day long before the New Testament, way back into the time of Moses, a harvest festival. But this first Christian Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection took on new significance as the disciples launched the Good News of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, out into the world in an unprecedented way.
            As with the two other biggest religious holidays in Jerusalem, there were huge crowds of pilgrims—religious travelers come to the Temple to worship God and make offerings. And so the harvest festival made a fitting opportunity for a great “spiritual harvest” that was going to take place. But these pilgrims came speaking many different languages—most were Jews, yes—but had long been scattered to new homelands in distant countries. 12 apostles of Jesus, with their task in hand—give witness to Jesus starting in Jerusalem, and working outward in expanding circles like the ripples in a pond, to the very ends of the earth. A monumental task to kick off, to say the least, and here faced with a diverse and multi-lingual crowd. Those 12 apostles, all Galileans—they might possibly know 2 or 4 languages among them?
            It may have seemed a new turn on the feeding of the 5,000 with only two loaves and five fish. How could they meet the need? The obstacle? But just like then, God provided—He multiplied what was there, and suddenly the disciples were speaking flawlessly in languages from at least 15 regions around the Mediterranean! People were astonished that suddenly they heard the mighty wonders of God being proclaimed in their own language. They heard and understood in their heart language, what God had done in Christ Jesus. The language barrier was instantly and miraculously bridged so that no time would be lost, no delay would occur before these pilgrims could hear, cherish, and believe the good news in their own language.
            God’s mission advanced under its own force and timing, not according to the timing of men or the strategy of the apostles, or through their own powers. Rather, when God poured out His Holy Spirit, the gates were open and the mission of the church—God’s mission to the world—was gloriously begun. And once it began it has never stopped. The mission of God is still moving and advancing and embracing the globe, as missionaries, witnesses, men and women and children, disciples and pastors and all who bear the name of Christ carry on that beautiful task of telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.
            Ours is an “audio gospel”—its meant to be spoken and its meant to be heard. Heard around the world in English, which wasn’t even spoken at the time of Pentecost! Heard in Japanese, Hindustani, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, Spanish, and Sign language! It’s our joy to tell about what God has done in breaking the power of sin and death through Jesus Christ, and giving us the ultimate freedom and hope of forgiveness and eternal life. And wherever this good news of Jesus’ mighty deeds—His death and resurrection—is spoken and heard, there the Holy Spirit is active and working, just as on the day of Pentecost. Seeds of the Gospel are sown far and wide, and they will bear fruit in God’s timing.
            And there are challenges to the mission today just as there were then. There are hearts that are closed by unbelief, there are those who believe death is the ultimate and final end, there are hearts that have been seared by unimaginable grief or loss, and have despaired of any hope for repair. There are obstacles from people who “know” more about Jesus from pop-fiction and pseudo-documentaries about Christianity, than truly knowing Him from a real encounter with Jesus in His Gospels. But like the first Christians, God provides for and equips us as He needs for every challenge and obstacle, and He sees to it that His mission continues to go forward. His Word can penetrate even the most stubborn heart and bring peace to those who have despaired of any help or forgiveness. You are here today, to hear and learn His Word and receive His Sacrament for your ongoing feeding and nourishment for that task.
            Peter’s message as he quoted from the Old Testament prophet Joel to show how this was all being fulfilled just as God foretold, ended with these crucial words: “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The kingdom of God rippled outward from Jerusalem, with the message of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, of His winning eternal life for all who believe in him. And as it did, many hearts believed it, and some did not. But all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. You Christians here, have and continue to call on Jesus’ name for your salvation. In a few minutes, several of our youth are also going to publicly call on the name of the Lord Jesus as well. Our confirmands have prepared through two years of study, to come and confess the faith into which they were baptized. They come to confess the same faith that Peter and the apostles preached at Pentecost. The same Christian faith that has rippled around the world and created generation after generation of believers in the Lord Jesus for 20 centuries. They are prepared to call it their own, to say that they have studied and learned, and they also affirm that this is the faith they believe, the faith in which they are growing and learning just as you and I continue to grow and learn.
            They have learned what it means to confess their faith. To confess means to “same-say” or say the same truth that God has spoken to us. So as we confess our sins, we acknowledge before God what He has told us is true, that we are all sinful, and have fallen short of His glory. So as we confess our faith in the words of the creed, we acknowledge before God that He has truly revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that through the birth, life, trial, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has won for us forgiveness of all sin and eternal life. To confess is to speak God’s true words with our own mouths. It’s to acknowledge His great deeds as true also of you, as you call on His name. Romans 10 ties this confession of our faith together with calling on the name of the Lord:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The faith of our hearts in Jesus Christ, necessarily gives rise to our confession of Him with our mouth. And this confession of Jesus Christ as Lord will not put us to shame, Scripture says.
            God is unfailing in His promises, and we should never delay or hesitate to call on His name. Yet as I mentioned in my sermon on Pentecost last year, so often we neglect to call on God. Like a person who needs a repair done at home, and has a business card for the repairman, but never calls. Does it do them any good to have the card but not use it? Don’t fail to use God’s name—don’t “hang on” to the name but never use it—call on Him daily in prayer. Call on Him in the day of trouble, and He will answer.
            Adults, you also look back to remember when you were confirmed as a youth, or when you publicly affirmed your faith. Remember the words “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death.” And the response: “I do, by the grace of God.” How with that vow and similar ones you pledged to suffer all, even death, rather than forsake Christ and His church. Take those words seriously, knowing that there is truly nothing that compares to the treasure of having Christ and being part of His body, the church. Saving our life, our skin, while surrendering Him, would be to hang on to the life with an expiration date, while giving up the life that is imperishable! A thousand things could take our lives, or none of them at all. Sickness, accidents, heart attacks, murder, natural disaster. But none of these, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
            That God’s love is so certain, so profound, so unshakeable, is every reason for you to call on His name and be saved. That His love is a love that reached all the way from heaven and came down to us in the person of Jesus Christ, is every reason for His gospel to continue to advance and spread around the world, into all the deepest jungles and remotest habitations, and into all our neighborhoods and into every family and every heart of those around us. His mission will continue until it is fulfilled, so that all who call on His name will be saved—and by His powerful Spirit and in His timing He will bring it about! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Pentecost, the “Feast of Weeks” or “Festival of Harvest” is actually an Old Testament celebration. Ex. 34:22; Deut 16:10; Num 28:26; Ex. 23:16a. Pilgrims would gather in Jerusalem, and on Pentecost morning, a flute player would lead the farmers up Mount Zion as they sang the “Song of Ascents” (Psalm 120-36). When they reached the temple, the farmers would present a basket of grain as an offering while reciting the words from Deuteronomy 26:5-10a in Hebrew. (The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 1835).
2.      How did this day of Pentecost present a significant opportunity for “harvest” for the apostles and early Christians? What significant obstacle needed to be overcome? (cf. Gen. 11:1-9). How did God provide?
3.      How has the advance of the kingdom of God proceeded around the world, and into many languages? Why is it so precious for people to hear the “mighty works of God” in their own heart language? Why is it important for us to tell the mighty works of God in our own language?
4.      Describe what it means to confess. Romans 10:9-10. Why does Jesus call for our public confession of Him before others? Matt. 10:32-33
5.      The Holy Bible says that “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How do we make use of this promise? Can we bank on this promise? Absolutely! But how easy is it to neglect? Rom. 10:9-13. 

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