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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

What John the Baptizer Spoke Has Come to Pass - 06/09/2019

What John the Baptizer spoke about has come to pass … “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” (Luke 3:16)

It is an extraordinary thing that has happened here and I think it’s worth taking a moment to remember that to begin with today. Because this is one of those texts that can suffer under the weight of familiarity. We hear it every year on this Festival Day because it is so extraordinary and yet because we hear it nearly every Pentecost, I think we can become rather desensitized to it too. The story’s edge of astonishment and wonder gets softer and rounded over time until it’s like a dull knife … it looks like a knife, but it doesn’t really act like one when it meets a tomato.

We read the story in our familiarity and remember … “Oh yeah, this is that story of how all the disciples were once again gathered following Jesus’ ascension, and there was wind and these licks of flame coming from somewhere unknown to hover above their heads. And suddenly these pretty rough and mostly uneducated people were able to speak a whole bunch of foreign languages too.” Only we say that as though we are reading the instructions on how to operate a toaster or explaining how to make an ice cube or something.

So, in the Spirit of our Confirmation weekend, I thought we could start with a return to a favorite of Lutheran confirmation students from throughout the last 500 years or so … Luther’s Small Catechism. Does it still elicit a little catch in your breathe? Good, because that’s the start of a reaction that is a little more appropriate for this shocking story we have from Acts today.

This is the Holy Spirit we are talking about here. That unpredictable, opportunistic, chaotic activity of God in this world that can upset everything we know or make us uncomfortable, and is also acting on behalf of what is life and what is love …. It is acting of behalf of what is God.

So … I urge you to read along with me from page 1162 of your hymnals.

The Third Article: On Being Made Holy

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Was ist das? Luther continues in his own tongue and then spells it out for us a little more.

We continue … “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins – mine and those off all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

Now, some of us may have to put this 500-year old text through our 21st century filters and get ourselves past some of the archaic and outdated language here, but the essence of what Luther says remains true and astounding.

What God is up to in the Holy Spirit – in the Advocate entering creation and alighting in each of us – is remarkable. Luther reminds us that it is not through our own minds or hearts or work that we come to believe in Jesus the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world. We are incapable, too distracted, too flawed to call that redemption into the world for ourselves, let alone others, and so God sends the Holy Spirit for that purpose. This is God’s Grace poured out upon us. The Holy Spirit comes upon us and plants that belief in us through the Word and the Sacraments, through our passions and dreams, our gifts and skills, and through the church and faith communities like ours.

Luther reminds us that it is also through this Holy Spirit in the world that we are forgiven our sins continually, daily dying to those sins and rising to new and unstoppable life in Jesus. That truth of the Jesus-following Way is particularly what our confirmands Ian Albright, Jacob Mattson and Connor Salo say this weekend as they reaffirm their baptisms – as they remember who they are and what defines them; as they begin to participate in this faith community as adults.

They will remember – as we will – that although they have made mistakes in the past, though they will make mistakes again in the future, maybe before they even lay their heads on a pillow tonight, those mistakes are not what define them. Rather, they – we – are defined by the eternal cross of Christ on our foreheads, the amazing ways God has created us and the ongoing and abundant forgiveness of sins that frees to love God and one another in the radical ways of a Christian.

And finally, Luther reminds us, the Holy Spirit delivers us to the promise of the eternal life God has already made ready for us through Jesus’ death on a cross and his annihilation of the dark isolation of the tomb.

This is remarkable stuff, friends, well beyond toaster instructions and ice cube recipes. The Holy Spirit’s activity in us and this world is extraordinary, accomplishing creation-changing answers to prayers and solutions the world cannot even touch – like belief in Jesus, true unity of Christ’s Church, radical forgiveness and an unbreakable promise that our earthly death is not the last word.

And this is the primary actor – this Holy Spirit – of our story today. This side of God that has come into the world to conspire and inspire for the sake of God’s will. This activity that comes on the rush of a wind and the flicker of a flame. It is meant to astound us, to catch our breath and make us wonder with great anticipation and awe … “What is God up to?”

The Spirit brings with it surprising and unexpected gifts too, which is another part of this account I really want to lift up today.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that the Spirit’s influence upon the humble, no-name disciples in our story resulted in them suddenly being able to speak all these languages – 15 languages by the count of the story.

That is so strange and remarkable on several levels. First of all, it truly is unexpected that a bunch of regular folks like me and you were suddenly able to share the story of Jesus in the native tongues of so many. It’s a miracle, really, something that only God could accomplish. So that’s pretty cool …

Also cool is what it tells us about who God wants to invite into this story. First it was the Jews and then the Gentiles who lived around the Jews and now it’s even wider and more encompassing then that. It seems that every time we grasp that God is making the circle wider, God finds ways to expand that circle again.

And I thought of our confirmands too.

You know when we stop and talk to these young men, or the students who have come before them and those who are coming up behind them, it sometimes seems like they are speaking another language.

Here’s an example … in one confirmation class this year we were brainstorming some words to describe what makes a good friend. They came up with some expected things like honesty and loyalty. They thought it was important a friend be reliable and a good confidante. And they said a good friend should have brap.

“What the heck is that?” I asked. It’s the noise a snow mobile or dirt bike makes, they explained. It’s true. I looked it up to make sure they weren’t tricking me into saying something inappropriate. According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s another name for a dirt bike or snow mobile or quad and any toy with a small displacement engine. Used in a sentence, one might say, “Hey bro, go grab your brap, brap and let’s go to the gravel pit.”

It’s another language – and we may often think that when we hear our youth and younger siblings in Christ speak about the world and their experiences and expectations of it … it seems like they are often speaking a different language … and you know what? They probably are. It’s their job to take what they have learned from us in the generations before and slough off all that is outdated and outgrown and bring in something new.

So this is one of those places, I’m certain, where we need to lean into that belief the Holy Spirit has delivered to each of us and remember to trust that even though we may not understand fully, it is the Spirit working new God activity in them.

It leads us to something else Jesus says in our Gospel reading today. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these …” he said. God through the work of the Holy Spirit, will bring about great things through these young men. They are being prepared to respond to the world around them in powerful ways, in that ever widening circle of God. The Holy Spirit will work through them in greater ways to respond to things like climate change and systemic racism. And even if we may not be able to understand everything they say, we can trust our faith that God is up to visions and dreams of inclusivity and unity in them that we haven’t even known to imagine.

Just think of all the possibility they bring when we place them in this story – Ian and Jacob and Connor and all the disciples were gathered together in one place … “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:2-4)

Glory be to God – what a wondrous and hope-filled story this is taking shape among us! Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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