Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Pentecost, Patience, and Plundering

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2012
We have entered into the Pentecost season. Christmas and Lent and Easter and even Epiphany are pretty familiar to us. But the Pentecost season can seem a long drawn out season, especially as it takes up half the year. The festival of Pentecost itself is familiar to us. We know what that’s all about, with the Holy Spirit coming in a sound as of rushing wind, appearing as of tongues of fire over the apostles’ heads; the apostles speaking in languages they did not know but that were clearly understood by the hearers of those languages.

But now we’re in the Pentecost season. What is it all about? During the Pentecost season we don’t keep talking about the Day of Pentecost. So do we just talk about stuff? Are the things of the Pentecost season on a lesser scale than those of Christmas and Easter? While certain times and festivals of the Church Year do stand out, the Church Year is an organic whole. There really is nothing in the Church Year that does not do what every other part of the Church Year does and that is bring Christ to us. Whether it is the incarnation at Bethlehem or the glory of the Transfiguration or the riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday or the suffering at Calvary or the leaving behind of the burial cloths and death itself in the tomb that is now empty, the Church Year brings to us Christ and what He has accomplished for us.

Even the event of Pentecost is an event in the life of Christ and of what He has done for us. He had promised to send His Holy Spirit and so on Pentecost He did. If the first half of the Church Year follows the life of Christ, in the second half of the Church Year we follow the life of the Church. But one who pays attention to the Church Year sees that every day of the Church Year receives its focus from the Gospel reading. Even though we’re now in the Pentecost season and following the life of the Church it’s really just more of who Christ is and what He accomplishes for us.

That brings us to the second point and that is patience. Today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost. Pentecost is still fresh in our minds. We’re still eager for this new season of the Church Year to unfold. We’re not quite ready to begin all over again with Advent and Christmas. And yet, by the calendar months we’ll still be in this season of Pentecost we’ve just begun six months from now. It’s June now and when we hit October and even go into November we will still be in the same season of the Church Year we’re in now. During the summer and into the fall when we come to church we will be celebrating festivals with such dynamic names as the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost and the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. Celebrating who Christ is and what He has done for us or no, it can seem a little anti-climactic when you’re just adding Sunday upon Sunday to the days of the Pentecost season.

And it may not be a bad thing simply to admit this. It can seem old. It can feel that it’s not all that exciting. It can even feel that way about the entire Church Year itself, being as we repeat it each year. But this is one of the blessings of the Church Year. It teaches us patience. Children are often impatient. They can’t wait for what they want. They fail to see how waiting can be a good thing. But adults can be impatient also. When we’re at the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost and there are still several more to go we can become weary of the seemingly endless observance of the season of Pentecost.

One of the things Pentecost teaches us is patience. During this season of the Church Year we see that the Christian life is not one of spectacle but often of ordinary day to day living as servants of God. This takes patience. When the disciples waited for Jesus’ promise of sending the Holy Spirit they had to have patience. In the grand scheme of things they didn’t have to wait long. But once the Holy Spirit came in spectacular display, what happened then? There were no further tongues of fire and sounds of rushing wind. There was the almost ordinary day to day and week after week proclaiming of God’s Word and the Breaking of the Bread and prayer.

The Book of Acts makes it seem exciting how the apostles went around preaching and healing and the Church growing at a fast rate. And in a sense that is exciting. But the Book of Acts records only the beginning. The apostles continued on. The Church continued on after the apostles. We know from the Scriptures that the apostles and the first Christians were people like you and me. They had the same struggles, the same feelings, the same sins. We are no more prone to impatience than they were. In the Book of Acts we have recorded some instances where the Gospel was proclaimed by the apostles and thousands of people were converted. Do you think that happened every time they proclaimed the Gospel? Do you wonder what the apostles thought when they continued to proclaim the Gospel and not every time was followed by a mass conversion?

I believe the Book of Acts gives us this answer. They continued on in patience and faithfulness, as the Book of Acts deliberately doesn’t give us the details of the thoughts and feeling of the apostles as they continued on in making known the Gospel. This is to show that they continued to do what the Lord had called them to do even as it would continue to be done after the apostles were gone. In the rest of the New Testament we have the Holy Spirit-inspired writings of the apostles and those writings show us what kind of people they were writing to. They were people like you and me. They were sinners. They were people who had feelings and who were impatient and who had problems. All those mass conversions were wonderful, but the Church would continue on with sinners who need constantly to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments.

This takes patience. It teaches us humility. It shows us what faith really is about. It shows us that, just as in the Book of Acts, the blessings that come about in the Church are blessings from God. They come about through the Lord doing the work, and He does the work through the Gospel being proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. We may become impatient but our Lord is at work and He is accomplishing what He has promised to accomplish. He forgives sins and strengthens faith.

This brings us to the third point, which is plundering. For those who are faint of heart or those who want a Christianity that is all peace and love and a God who is only gentle and never harsh, the words of Jesus and the work He carries out will seem out of character and out of place. But for those who see what Pentecost is truly about and who are willing to be patient and let God do His work, Jesus’ work of plundering will be a refreshing surprise.

The first surprise comes when it seems that Jesus is doing some sort of aiding and abetting the enemy in His mini-parable on the kingdom of Satan. It almost seems as if He’s giving instructions on how the Prince of Darkness can further his kingdom: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

In the Gospel reading Jesus was confronted on several fronts. His family thought He was out of His mind, the religious leaders thought He was demon-possessed, and of course Satan assaulted Him by possessing many people. Jesus has come to do His work and while many people believed in Him there were many who did not. Those who rejected Him thought He wasn’t in His right mind or that He was demon-possessed so He showed that it’s impossible for Him to be of the devil if what He is doing is casting out demons. If He were doing what He was doing in the service of Satan then Satan would be working against himself and his kingdom would fall.

As it was, Satan’s kingdom was in full force and so Jesus was attacking him right back, head on. This is what Jesus means when He says that “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Jesus acknowledged that Satan was a strong man of sorts. Satan was on the prowl, like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He was grabbing hold of people with demon possession. He was wreaking his havoc as he does. But as strong as Satan was, there was one who was stronger. That’s why Jesus came. He came to plunder Satan’s house. In order to do that, He said, He first must bind the strong man. Jesus came with the Gospel flowing freely from His lips, the touch of His hands bringing forth healing, and the power of His word casting out demons. Jesus was binding the strong man. Having bound him He would plunder his house.

That’s what Jesus still does, we being a Pentecost Church and all. That’s what He continues to do, though some still think He’s out of His mind for thinking that He is truly God. It’s what He does even as we need to be patient as He was with His family. His work of plundering doesn’t sound all that proper of work, but it’s very proper when You’re God and Satan is seeking to steal the people you created away from You. God created us to be in relationship with Him and Satan seeks to destroy that relationship. He does so by attacking us. God attacks right back and He does so in the proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacraments being delivered to us.

Though some thought He was out of His mind, though some thought He was demon possessed, though many thought many things of Him, none of this deterred Jesus from coming straight into Satan’s kingdom and binding him. It may have seemed a pathetic end to a ministry of such spectacle of teaching thousands, healing many, delivering people from demons, when Jesus ended up hanging on a cross only to end up hanging there lifelessly. But this was how Jesus bound the strong man. Though Satan bruised Jesus’ heal, Jesus crushed Satan’s head. Satan can attempt to overcome people with power. Jesus overcomes Satan with love. In humility He was bound to the cross and God the Father laid upon Him the iniquity of us all so that we are no longer bound by them or Satan’s lies or attacks. Jesus is the stronger one. He binds the strong man, Satan.

In patience we see this plundering work of Jesus. He continues to comes right in our midst, in this very world where Satan continues to attack people and try to overtake them. People may think we’re out of our minds believing that Jesus actually comes to us in water connected with His word and in bread and wine that are connected with His word, but we will take Him at His word. It takes patience, no doubt. It takes faith, most definitely. But Jesus took care of that at Pentecost, when He sent His Holy Spirit. He took care of that in your Baptism, when He sent His Holy Spirit again and imparted to you faith. He takes care of it when He gives you His body and blood in His Holy Supper and strengthens you in your faith. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. Standing in His grace, you do. Amen.


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