"The Holy Spirit Works through His Means"
Pentecost Tuesday (transferred) Vespers
June 7, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
I am truly amazed by the stories I hear from our sister churches in other countries. I hear stories from Kenya and the Sudan, where Christians have been openly persecuted, especially in the Sudan, where the confession of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is getting stronger and stronger as the Holy Spirit has blessed her growth. I hear from Haiti, where the pastors are overworked because there are so many congregations; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Haiti is gaining members much faster than the seminary there is able to turn out pastors, and this is taking place in an impoverished nation where the chief religion is voodoo, and these members are becoming rich in the Christ, our Chief Cornerstone. News from the former Soviet republics is encouraging, as stories come out about the strides made by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in places where godless Communism oppressed the people before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church emerged after that. Even though the Russian Orthodox Church has sought to hold a monopoly on Christianity in the former Soviet Bloc, the truth found only in Lutheran doctrine is being taught. Many elderly people there held on to their Lutheran faith even during the decades of Soviet oppression, as they remembered the Liturgy and the Word of God contained therein! I marvel that the confession of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is gaining strength in areas that have endured persecution for so long. All praise and honor and glory go to the Holy Spirit, who has done His work in these lands, for He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
What is happening in these nations is that the Word works, for the Holy Spirit is doing His work among these people, as He has since the beginning. We are now beginning to see the fruits of the labors of the pastors and missionaries and teachers, whom the Lord has sent. The Lord sent Peter and John to the town of Samaria. The Samaritans had received the Word of God. They heard the Word, and it took root in their hearts. Peter and John came to give them the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit they themselves received on Pentecost, which we just celebrated a few days ago. Samaritans were held in low esteem by the Jews, for Samaritans were only half-Jewish, intermarrying with Gentiles. These were half-breeds in the eyes of those who considered themselves purely Jewish. But this group of half-breeds was about to receive something the Jews no longer possessed: the Holy Spirit. They heard the Word of God, and they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. They needed apostolic confirmation of the work of the Lord. The Apostles were the means by which the Holy Spirit operated in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit continues to operate through means this very day; He does not work immediately—that is, without means—but He works mediately—through means, as attested to by Holy Scripture. To this end, we believe, teach, and confess the words of the Augsburg Confession, the charter document of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church:
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22). He works faith, when and where it pleases God (John 3:8), in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake.
Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word. [AC V]
Yesterday was commonly referred to as 6/6/06, the "date" of the Antichrist. There were some people who actually believed that the world would come to an end yesterday. Some even went so far as to declare that God told them that this would happen. Was God wrong? No, God does not err; He does not lie. He did not tell them that the world would end yesterday. Our Lord does not communicate with His people outside His Word, the Holy Scriptures. Yet we too find ourselves thinking "pious" thoughts that we would like to think came from God, even thoughts that cannot be supported by Scripture. We like to think we can worship God on our own, but we cannot rightly worship God when we are out camping or on the lake because God does not give His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation outside the means He has prescribed and to which He has willingly bound Himself: to His Word and Sacraments. We may behold the beauty of God's creation, but we do not hear that our sins are forgiven, nor do we taste and see that the Lord is good as He comes in His body and blood. When we convince ourselves that God has spoken when and where He has not, we make gods of ourselves.
Let this be known this very moment and forever after: The Word works! It works because God has sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts through the preaching of His Word. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith. How does He accomplish this? We hear again from the Lutheran Confessions:
We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sin in preached in the whole world (Luke 24:45-47). This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, "Where two or three are gathered" (Matthew 18:20) and other such verses (especially Romans 1:12). [SA III IV]
The Word works! Why does it work? It works because the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us fulfilled the written Word by His death and resurrection, and He has sent us His Spirit. Before His death, Christ promised that He would send the Holy Spirit, who came to His apostles ten days after the risen Lord ascended. Christ died for you. Christ rose for you. Christ sent His Holy Spirit into your heart through Baptism for you, so that through faith (which the Spirit works in you) you would one day enter your heavenly Father's mansions through the Door that is His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, where you "will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places," as the prophet Isaiah says in our Old Testament reading (Is. 32:18). Thanks be to God that He has given us His Word, for the Word works. Thanks be to God that He has given us His Sacraments, for with the Word the Sacraments work. Thanks be to God that He has given us His Holy Spirit, for the Spirit works within us, creating, sustaining, and strengthening our faith in Christ through His Means of Grace.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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