Sunday, June 12, 2011

What Does This Mean?

The Day of Pentecost
Ecumenical Council of Nicea, 325
Confirmation Day
June 12, 2011
Acts 2:1-21

Anya and Cory, don’t ever let anyone tell you you shouldn’t ask questions. You are a Christian. You are a disciple of Christ, a child of God. Children ask their parents questions. Students ask their teachers questions. You may have a lot of questions and throughout your life you will have a lot of them, so ask them. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you shouldn’t.

But now let me take the liberty to tell you how you should ask them. Fire away with your questions, but ask them in humility. Don’t go to the Scriptures thinking you are right in what you feel or think and that you can make the Bible say what you feel or think. Don’t ask God your questions in a demanding way. Seek the answers to your questions in humility, ready to hear what God has to say to you.

While you should always feel free to ask questions, you should be aware that some questions are not really questions. They are veiled attempts at attacking God’s Word. When you ask in skepticism, you are not really asking. When you ask in doubt you are not really seeking. When you ask in humility you are truly asking and that is exactly what God wants of you. He doesn’t expect you to know all the answers. He knows you don’t. But as a loving Father and a faithful Teacher He is ready and willing to listen to your questions and answer them.

It’s good to ask questions. You need to do it in humility. Now I will tell you how you will be able to ask questions in the right away. Hearing. You will be able to ask your questions in humility by hearing the Word of God. Hearing is a receptive action. You are doing something, but you are the one receiving. True enough, real hearing means listening. You have to pay attention to what you’re hearing. If you’re daydreaming then you aren’t really listening, and so are you hearing? Notice the true miracle that happened on Pentecost Day. It was hearing. Yes, the apostles were speaking in all different kinds of languages, the Holy Spirit giving them that ability at that moment. But why was that? It was so people could hear. It was so that they could receive the blessings of God, the promise of His salvation.

What happened at the Tower of Babel? Nobody could understand what anyone else was saying. They heard words but couldn’t understand what was being said. God had confused their speech. Why did He do this? Because they decided they didn’t want to hear God. They wanted to listen to themselves. They were asking questions, but only questions that suited themselves, to bring about means for their own good. What is to prevent us to build a tower that will reach the heavens?

Now, Cory and Anya, you may not lately have planned on building any towers to heaven. But how have you attempted to go beyond God? You’ve gone through two years of Confirmation instruction. Will you seek to continue to be instructed in the faith your whole life through? Will you make the effort to hear the Word of God to better understand it and grow in it?

God likes to use language to communicate with us. You and I speak English and that’s how we communicate with each other with the Word of God. There are thousands of languages in the world, it doesn’t really matter which one you speak. The Word of God is made known in all of them. When the people at Pentecost heard the Word of God being spoken they heard it in their own language. They kept asking, How is it that we hear the Word of God being spoken in our own languages? And as good Lutheran catechumens who learned from the Small Catechism, you’ll appreciate their next question: What does this mean?

People were asking this question long before Martin Luther came on the scene and put that question down in response to the things of the faith. It’s a good question. You should be asking it your whole life. Some of the people at Pentecost were skeptical. They assumed that the apostles were drunk. Some were genuinely seeking what God had to say to them. Did you catch how Peter responded to all of these people? Whether they were genuinely wanting to know more about God or whether they were mocking Him, Peter said to them: “give ear to my words.” Don’t just hear the words, pay attention to what is being said.

Anya and Cory, when you ask your questions, because you will throughout your life, do it with the intention of giving ear to the Word of God. Pay attention to it. Listen carefully to what it says. God doesn’t just say things. As the question “What does this mean?” suggests, the things God says have meaning. When God speaks, the words have meaning. It’s not just that when God says something it’s important. It is very important, of course, but it also brings about what it says. You may not be able to remember most of what I’m saying in this sermon, but if you are hearing it and giving attention to what is being spoken then you are hearing it in the sense that you are receiving what it says.

When you go up to the altar today for the first time to receive the Lord’s Supper you will be hearing the words that you already know, because you have learned them: Take, eat, this is My body, and Take, drink, this is My blood. These words have meaning. They bring about what they say. When you hear these words and you ask “What does this mean?” give ear to them. Pay attention to them. Jesus is speaking to you. He is bringing about what He says to you. He is giving you His very body and blood for your forgiveness.

The entire liturgy is filled with this kind of stuff. If you just go through the motions you’ll miss most of it. But if you listen, if you pay attention, you will hear stuff that you can’t get anywhere else. After you receive the body and blood of Christ today listen for the words that come next. You’ll probably recognize them because you’ve heard them many times before. But today and every time you receive the Lord’s Supper you will be hearing them spoken to you. After giving you the body and blood of Jesus I will say, “The body and blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the true faith, now and to life eternal.” Now there’s a lot there—and you should probably be asking, What does this mean?—but for now, I want you to pay attention to one particular word in there, ‘strengthen’.

Do you know what this means? It means that the body and blood of Christ are confirming you. Today you are going to stand before this altar and confess the Creed. You are going to promise to be faithful to the Creed and to your Lord Jesus Christ even to death. You will be confirming what has already been given you in your Baptism. And you should do that. But what I really want you to hear today is the other confirmation that is going on. What I want you to go away with today is the word ‘strengthen’ ringing in your ears. I want you to go from here this day knowing not just that you promised to God that you would be faithful to Him but especially that He is faithful to you. He proves this by strengthening you, confirming you in His Body and Blood. I want you to hear these words and hold fast to them, because they are going to be what gets you through, not your own promise you made. You will falter at times, you will be weak at times. You will wonder at times what it all means.

In those times, go back to the Word of God. Go back to the words of your Lord in which He has said to you, Take and eat, this is My body, for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, for you. In going back to those words then you will know that that is exactly what you have received, His body, His blood, for you. The very body that hung on the cross for the sins of the world, which includes yours. This is given you to eat for the forgiveness of your sins. The very blood that was shed on the cross for the forgiveness of the world, which includes you. This is given you to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. These words mean something. These words bring something about. They mean you are forgiven. They bring about your very forgiveness. The body and blood of Jesus strengthen you. They confirm you.

There’s one more thing. When I say to do this in humility I don’t mean that you need to approach this altar in fear and trembling. As I’ve taught you in how to be an acolyte, we do approach the things of God in reverence and awe and even in a certain respect, fear. But when you approach the altar of God and hear His Words in humility that means another thing as well. It means you hear Him in joy and gratitude. When your parents give you a gift that you never saw coming and it’s something better than you ever expected, are you somber? No, you are grateful and joyful and humbled that they would love you in such a way! That’s the way it is here. That’s what it means. Amen.


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