"REMEMBERING HIS WORKS"
The Day of Pentecost
June 9, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done; I ponder the work of Your hands.
Psalm 143:5 (ESV)
On a number of occasions I have made the observation to my family and friends that I probably should have lived during an earlier period in history--that I probably should have died sometime in the mid-1950s--at about the time that I was actually born. I say that because I'm sure that I would have been far more comfortable in that world than I am in the present one. As I talk to other people my age I find that this is by no means a unique idea. I'm not the only person who feels this way. I guess deep down inside we all long for "the good old days"--the days when everyone knew what was right and wrong, even if they didn't always do what was right and avoid what was wrong. Life was a lot simpler back then. Things like abortion, "gay marriage," transgender issues, and physician-assisted suicide were unheard of. Yes, the world of the past was a lot more comfortable for those of us who consider ourselves to be traditionalists. It was a world in which values and morality were more clearly (and more simply) defined--a time when, as at least one humorist has put it, sex was dirty and the air was clean.
There are those who are of the opinion that this attitude--this longing for "the good old days"--is a major problem for the Christian Church. These people (who, incidentally, come from both within and outside the Church) contend that instead of growing and adapting itself to the time and culture in which it finds itself, the Church instead simply buries its head in the sand and pretends that it is still living in the Middle Ages when its power was supreme and when nobody dared to oppose or even question its teachings. As we in the twenty-first century celebrate this Pentecost morning the birth of what we know as the Christian Church, we bear in mind especially that the Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit. Meditating on these words from Psalm 143, let's pay close attention as the psalmist's prayer gives testimony that the Spirit makes us remember and that the Spirit guides our meditation.
Even though living in the past may indeed be counterproductive, remembering the past is certainly useful. That's why the psalmist, in the passage before us, says: "I remember the days of old." That's also why Jesus, in this morning's Gospel, says to His disciples (including us): "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). We do not live in a vacuum and that is especially true for those of us who are Christians. The Christian Church did not begin when I was baptized, nor did it begin when I first began to be able to understand and articulate the Christian faith. There are centuries of Christian history that took place before I was born and there are perhaps centuries more that will follow after I am dead. In the "big picture," I am not all that important--and neither are you, for that matter. The often-quoted words of the philosopher George Santyana are well taken: "Those who cannot remember the past," he said, "are condemned to repeat it." The Holy Spirit has a lot to teach us through the people and the events that have gone before us.
But of all the things that the Spirit "bring[s] . . . to [our] remembrance" (John 14:26), the most important of all are the things that are revealed to us in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God--especially the atonement that He made for our sin by means of His life of perfect obedience to God's Law and His innocent suffering and death on the cross. This knowledge and this knowledge alone is what is “able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The knowledge that we have been justified in the sight of God by the perfect sacrifice of atonement offered to Him on our behalf by our Savior is what gets us into heaven--and that saving knowledge of Christ comes to us only by the Holy Spirit, who reveals these precious things to us in the Gospel of Christ, which He communicates to us verbally in the Word and actively in the Sacraments. Through these means of grace He creates and strengthens saving faith within us.
The same Spirit who has given us the Gospel of Christ through these means of grace also guides our meditation on the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for the psalmist and for us to "ponder the work of [the Lord’s] hands." And when Christians ponder the Lord's works, they have something far more powerful and more profound to think about than the beauty of a sunset or the heights of the mountains or the strength of the sea. First and foremost among the glorious works of the Lord are His works of redemption--the works that He performed when He, out of love for us, chose to become human in the Person of His Son in order to identify completely with lost sinners like us. His miraculous conception in the virgin Mary, His virtuous life of perfect obedience to the Law of God, the miracles that He performed to help those in need, His suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation--none of it happened by chance--and none of it is insignificant. In meditating on the life and ministry of Jesus we truly encounter Immanuel--God with us.
What God said and did in human flesh is well worth meditating on because it is through these things that the Holy Spirit leads us to "ponder the work of [God's] hands." When we meditate on Jesus--especially on His suffering and death on the cross--we are in fact meditating on our salvation--indeed, on the salvation of the whole world. The suffering and death of Christ is more than just history--more than drama. It's even more than the most graphic example of man's inhumanity to man to be found in all of human history. The suffering and death of Jesus is our justification before God--the forgiveness of our sins--the winning of our salvation. And the resurrection of Christ is more than just the most amazing miracle that ever occurred. It is the guarantee of our own resurrection from the dead and of the everlasting life gained for us by our Savior and given to us by the Holy Spirit as a free gift of grace.
As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and give thanks for the Spirit's work in us, among us, and through us, we remember that our meditation “on the work of [the Lord's] hand[s]" results in our becoming ourselves the evidence of His work--living examples of what He has done. Sinners though we are, we have been cleansed from sin and unrighteousness by the blood of Christ. Spiritually dead though we were, we have been called to New Life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. That Spirit, working in and through the Gospel of Christ, guards and protects us against the ongoing assaults of the evil one throughout our days here on earth and brings us at last into the glorious presence of our Lord and Savior, there to live forever in perfect joy and fellowship with Him and with all who are His.
May the God who has so graciously poured out His Holy Spirit upon His Church cause you to use the power of that Spirit in the service of your Savior. To this end may He preserve you in His grace and bring your faith to completion in heaven. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. A