The Holy Spirit gives us the Church to serve the world First St Johns Memorial Day May 24, 2015

[For the audio version of this sermon click on the link above]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, AMEN

Today is Pentecost, the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended on those who were chosen to establish the church and to bring it into the world. The church was given authority by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is why the church is important, because through Pentecost it was empowered to preach, teach, administer the sacraments, keep the keys and be representatives of Christ on earth. Nothing, no one, there is no other way that Christ’s ministry is conducted on earth than through His church. I emphasize HIS not mine, not yours, not the people who built it. This was built and has been maintained under the direct authority that Jesus has given it through the Holy Spirit. So when someone tells you they don’t need the church, about worshipping God sitting at the beach or on a mountain, that is just pure rationalizing nonsense. The church was authorized by Jesus, this is when the church was born, on Pentecost, the church is the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth, He is the Son of God which He demonstrated through His life, as Luke says at the beginning of Acts: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1: 1-3 ESV)

Today is also Memorial Day, which is an unusual juxtaposition of topics. The ultimate hope and promise of the world is in Jesus, that hope and promise ministered through His church. We take for granted, that the church is a constant reminder of Hope and promise, it is the church that is always there at those most important points in life; birth, being a part of the church, death, those times in our lives when we need more than the limitations and superficiality of the world, the empty platitudes of a shallow, sinful and hopeless world. We, in the church don’t dwell on the emptiness of this life. We focus on the hope and promise of eternal life. That hope and promise is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and culminated in the appearance of God the Holy Spirit in the form of flames dancing on the heads of those who Jesus appointed to be the evangelists and ministers of His church, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). That is our hope and promise, not what man does in the world, but what the Holy Spirit does in the church of Jesus Christ. It is only through Him who works through His church that we have the hope and promise of life eternal, real life, life more abundant in the resurrection.

Memorial Day is an important day, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who remembered Jesus’ words when He said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13 ESV) The beginnings of Memorial Day were right after the American Civil War, a war that has close meaning right here in York. Some local activity and especially west where the greatest battle in North American history took place, the Battle of Gettysburg. Men and women who died in a war to free those who had been kept in slavery, so that they would be free to live their life.

Memorial Day was instituted as “Decoration Day” in 1868. War often has many noble causes, and certainly those who died in serving their country have given their all, regardless of the nobility of the war, have without doubt served nobly to put themselves in harms way to serve their fellow man. But there is a sobering reality of war, in that nobility there is such terrible tragedy. Charles Oliver was a chaplain in the confederate army during the Civil War and wrote the following during and after the fighting around Chancellorsville, Va in May 1863: “War is such a strange thing. Here we are gay, careless, jocular, yesterday we ran for our lives across this very field, while death dealing shot were sweeping over its hills. Today some of us laid the shattered remains of our brave comrade T.E. Dillard in a soldier’s grave; at this moment though the sun shines so brightly, and the breeze kisses our cheeks so kindly; yet are we now in the midst of a great terrible battle … All this day I have been oppressed with the thought that it was the Sabbath.”[1] A man of God who willingly rushed to serve those in the midst of terrible tragedy, remembering amid tragedy that we all will kneel in worship of God.

Specialist Emily Thompson wrote the following while serving in Afghanistan: “There is a numbness inside that I can’t seem to figure out. I miss home. Yet, I think about those who gave their lives before me, those who are dying right this instant, and I miss home for them even more. Such a sense of guilt is present when I think about home. I wish to leave so badly, yet I do not feel worthy of leaving this place. Going home leaves a part of me behind, one that I will never get back. A piece so lost, like those who have fallen and given their all for someone like myself. Six feet under and remembered as a memory; I pray for peace. I swear to live for them, to drink and celebrate the greatness that they are, and to breathe in the life that they have lost. For each and every one are my blood and my heart, the reason behind my tears, and the intense encouragement to face another day with nothing but sheer gratitude.”[2]

The world is never going to be an easy place for the genuine Christian. For those of us who understand that there is death in living, we are baptized and the old man is put to death, we are reborn in the Holy Spirit and become true sons and daughters of God the Father, He is our Father, He is the Father of Jesus Christ, God the Son and from the Father proceeds the Holy Spirit. To be His son or daughter means to be a part of the sacrifice of the Son. It also means to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit as Christians have been since the Holy Spirit became part of the disciples and then guided them to build the church of Jesus Christ and has been guiding Christians since then to build the catholic and apostolic church. Without the church who will reach out to the lost, who will serve a hurting world, who will be there when you need guidance? There is no one else who will be there to show you true salvation and eternal life in Jesus. You can come to this church, you can call me, and I will talk to you, I will listen to you, and sometimes, yes, that might be at a difficult hour of the day or day of the week. I would hope that in times of crisis, tragedy, genuine struggle that you would call me and want me to help you. That is what the church is there for and not just from me, but other brothers and sisters in Jesus. Tell me, where else are you going to be served like that? Who else will come out and minister to you in times of genuine need? Christ’s church is to be there in times of genuine need. There is no one else who will be there for you when you face times of doubt, desperation and tragedy. That is why, among other vital things, that Jesus established His church. That is why the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and led them into the world to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus and to be a beacon of light and hope in a desperate and sin filled world.

Dr Martin Luther gives us the best way to reconcile Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the establishment of Christian discipleship in the world and the mess of sin and tragedy in the world: “It is not enough simply that Christ be preached; the Word must be believed. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to impress the preaching upon the heart—to make it in here and live therein. Unquestionably, Christ accomplished all—took away our sins and overcame every obstacle, enabling us to become, through him, lord over all things. But the treasure lies in a heap; it is not everywhere distributed and applied. Before we can enjoy it, the Holy Spirit comes and communicates it to the heart, enabling us to believe and say, ‘I too, am one who shall have the blessing.'” [3]

Finally I ask you to remember fellow Coast Guardsman Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal who was killed in action and made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq on April 24, 2004.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] Brinsfield, Davis, Maryniak and Robertson  Faith in the Fight quoting Charles J Oliver pp 103-104

[2] Emily Thompson  Face Book post May 22, 2015

[3] Martin Luther, about Pentecost, from his 1523 church postil

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