Pentecost-Sunday - May 11, 2008 Acts 2: 1-13 “WHAT IS THE WORK OF THE CHURCH?” In the name of Jesus, who promised and sent the Holy Spirit, dear Christian Friends, Today is my birthday! It’s yours too. Did you know that? Today is the birthday of every soul, living or gone to heaven, who believes Jesus is their Savior? You see, everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior is a member of the New Testament Church, and Pentecost is the birthday of that New Testament Church. Today is the day, according to the promise of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples, showed the powerful presence of his Word in tongues of fire upon their heads, and led them to preach in different languages the gracious love of their Savior, a preaching that has continued until this very day. Birthdays are good days for reflection - a time to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. On our this birthday how about together we do some reflecting upon where we’ve been and where we’re going as a church guided by the Holy Spirit? What better way to do that than by looking back through the eyes and ears of Scriptures to the first Pentecost. It’s there we shall see: “WHAT IS THE WORK OF THE CHURCH?” 1. We wait for the Spirit. 2. We speak in tongues. 3. We suffer for Jesus’ name. I. Why do we have the drive-through window at MacDonald’s, the express check-out lane at the grocery store, and the ten minute Jiffy Lube oil change? Aren’t all those company gimmicks an attempt to make the waiting game as painless an experience as possible? Waiting is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. They wanted to go out and change the world. They wanted to do it right now, but not necessarily in the right way. Sometime during those 40 days after Easter when Jesus was with them, they asked: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were really asking Jesus if it was time to get an army together, drive out those hated Romans, and establish a Jewish Empire like it was under great King David. After all that instruction from Jesus those disciples were still being worldly and unspiritual. Jesus’ answer was a patient one. Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. The work of the Church is not political. It’s not social reform. The work of the Church is not to get rid of all the racism, or to bring on world peace or do away with poverty and human suffering. The work of the Church is to wait for the Holy Spirit. You see, the Holy Spirit provides a power stronger than loud-mouth demonstrators, a power sharper than army swords, and a power more effective than any social program. The Holy Spirit provides the Word of God with which he changes the hearts of sinful human beings. Jesus told his impatient disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” Today, on our birthday, we can learn no more important lesson about why we exist than to listen to Jesus tell his disciples: Wait for the Holy Spirit. Do churches today know what the real work of God’s people is when they get so involved in political action groups, or so busy with fundraising spaghetti suppers and pancake breakfasts, or when they build crystal cathedrals and radio and T.V. empires to impress the world, instead of calling sinners to repentance and pointing them to Jesus? Are churches waiting for the Holy Spirit when they do not bow to the Word of God on all its pages, but turn instead to their own ideas about life, death, and salvation? Are churches waiting patiently for the Holy Spirit when they relegate the Bible’s teachings to the scrap heap of being too old-fashioned, and arrogantly devise their own teachings about marriage, divorce, a woman’s role in church, homosexuality, abortion, and church fellowship? Still today the hardest thing for the Church of Jesus to do is wait for the Spirit. Scripture declares: “No
one can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” Will you and I keep waiting for the Holy Spirit so that we can always say in humble faith, Jesus is my Lord? Will we keep coming here Sunday after Sunday, not to hear something new, but to hear that same old wonderful stuff called the Law and the Gospel? After we kneel here on our confirmation day, will we keep kneeling at this communion rail every chance we get? Will we keep on opening our Bibles and studying them from cover to cover our whole life through? If we are Mom or a Dad, will we keep growing personally in our knowledge of Jesus so that we might continually be strengthened for the calling he’s given us of parenting his little lambs? Will we keep gathering our loved ones everyday around this book for a family devotion? Those the ways you and I wait for God the Holy Spirit! He will come to us and convict us of our sins. He will bring us to repentance. He will show us our Jesus and the certainty of his forgiveness for all our sins. The Holy Spirit will put our hand in Jesus’ hand so that Jesus can give us the answers to every decision we make and every direction we take. Through trials and temptations the Holy Spirit will keep us in Jesus’ hand so some day we and our families can live forever with him in heaven. Yes, never stop waiting for the Holy Spirit to touch our hearts with faith. That’s the work of the church! II. There’s another part. That’s waiting for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of others. Upon those first disciples who waited, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit with obvious power. He sent him with visible, flaming tongues of fire. He sent him with a gift, the gift of tongues. Jesus sent his Holy Spirit with this gift to his Church on its birthday so that it would always remember to use that gift to speak in tongues. What exactly is the gift of tongues? Lots of wrong ideas are floating around about this thing called speaking in tongues. We can understand what the gift of tongues is only when we see what the early disciples did with that gift. Gathered in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost were visitors from all over the world. Most of them were Jews who had come back to their homeland for the spring religious festival. Most had lived in foreign countries for generations and could no longer speak their native Aramaic. For the Holy Spirit to reach their hearts, he had to give the disciples the gift of tongues, that is, the gift of being able to speak in foreign languages. These uneducated fishermen and tax collectors began to preach the Word of God in each of the languages of the people present on that day. The result? 3,000 sinners repented of their sins and were brought to faith in Jesus as their personal Savior. Do you know the Christian Church still has the commission from the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues? We are not only to wait for the Holy Spirit for ourselves - to come to church and base all our teachings on the Bible. We are not only to build our buildings, train our own children, and make sure nobody takes what we have. Since the day it was born Christ’s Church is to use the Spirit’s gift to speak in tongues so that the family of God grows and grows. The work of the church is to spread the Gospel in every place. Jesus says: “Go into the world and preach the good news to all creation…Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations…You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Jesus is saying those things to you and me. We are the Church! It’s our birthday. Are we thinking today about what we have done in the past by speaking in tongues? Are we thinking today of how we can speak in tongues in the future? Maybe you didn’t know that you have been speaking in tongues. For some 40 plus years your WELS missionaries have been speaking about Jesus in Japanese in the Land of the Rising Sun. About a hundred years ago, a Wisconsin Synod missionary was the first white man to put the Apache language into letters and written words, and then he wrote a Bible translatioo into that language. As I stand here this moment, missionaries are speaking about Jesus in Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, and any number of African dialects. We bring our offerings so they can speak in tongues for us. We pray for these missionaries. But it doesn’t end there. Some of you young people are going to Christian high schools where you could prepare to be a Christian pastor or teacher. Please prayerfully consider such a calling for your life! Some of you will go to public high school here in Janesville. You will graduate, get
a job, raise a family, and perhaps spend all of your life here. Some of you will move away and work in some other part of the United States. All of you have a calling too! Every one of you children and teens and all of us grown-ups have been called by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues for Jesus. So on this our birthday, no matter who we are, we ask the Holy Spirit for this gift to speak in a language that will save countless souls. We live, work, and play in a heathen country that desperately needs to hear about Jesus our America! The reason you and I are living in this moment of history isn’t just to send out missionaries, but to be one of Jesus’ missionaries. You don’t have to know Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese or Apache or some African dialect. People in America will go to hell unless each of us has the courage to speak in plain English to them about their sins and point them in plain English to Jesus’ cross and then tell them from a caring heart in plain English that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. That’s the work of the church! III. One more kind of work the Holy Spirit has called us to do. We are to suffer for Jesus’ name. On the first Pentecost some who heard these uneducated disciples speak in different languages dismissed this miracle by calling them a bunch of drunks. That was only the beginning of their troubles. Stephen was stoned to death. Peter and Paul were locked up in gloomy dungeons. All but one of the apostles lost their lives for preaching Christ, and the one who didn’t was exiled to a lonely island when he was a very old man, because he preached Christ. The early Christians were beaten, ridiculed, kicked out of cities, driven underground, shunned as kooks, and fed to lions. Yet, in this book of Acts it says of those first disciples: They rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name (of Jesus). Is that always the way we feel when we can stand up for Jesus? It’s a lot easier not to do that because we’re afraid of what our friends might say, or what the neighbors might think, or what the rest of the crowd might do to us? And when we do stand up for Jesus, be sure of this. That unbelieving world out there will get on our case, from calling Jesus’ disciples kooks to feeding us to the lions. But like those first Pentecost disciples, it is still an honor for a Christian to suffer for Jesus’ name. Listen to what your Jesus’ says about that honor: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Our almighty Lord promises whatever this wicked world may try to do to us, when we stand up for him, he will always take care of us. That’s an honor alright. Through Paul’s pen Jesus promises: “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Somehow and in some way, Jesus will see to it that we will make a difference for him in this world. What an honor that is! Jesus says: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven…Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” To someday have Jesus point out to his heavenly Father every last one of us, and then say; “They stood up for me and stuck with me until their dying day. Now, Father, I want you to give them the everlasting crown of life in heaven”. Oh, that will be the honor of all honors! I hope you don’t ever forget Pentecost Sunday is your birthday. But I also pray with all my heart not a single one of you ever forgets what this birthday of the New Testament Church means for the days you have left in this life. Wait for the Holy Spirit everyday here in the Word so he can keep you always with Jesus. Every chance you get, speak about your Savior to others with the Spirit’s gift of tongues. Until you get to wear that crown of life, remember yours is the great honor to also suffer for Jesus’ name. Amen.
Peached by Pastor Mark P. Lindner at St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Janesville, WI.