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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 5/24/2015

In a perfect world, Pentecost rather than Mothers Day would be the day that’s right there with Christmas and Easter relative to attendance. It is a major festival, one that brings to a close the festival half of the church year, plus the fact that you could say that of the three, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, Pentecost is most about us, being understood as the celebration of the personal presence and energy of the one true God becoming part of our lives. The personal presence and energy of the one true God; take a moment to let that sink in. That’s a huge statement, but that’s the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit that we celebrate today.

When the Apostle Paul wrote about the Holy Spirit, which he did a lot, including today’s verses from Romans, he was talking about the spirit of the Lord himself, the one God of Judaism, the God of creation, the God of the Exodus, the God of Abraham and Moses, Elijah and David, the God who spoke through the prophets. That’s all part of Paul’s vision but then he goes on to make the even more radical connection of the Holy Spirit with Jesus understanding as he did that Jesus was the revelation of the one true God, the Lord.

This image and understanding of the Holy Spirit is heavy stuff, not easy to wrap our minds around. People talk a lot about the spirit and being spiritual, but if we’re honest, we still have to admit that in a lot of ways, we don’t know what we’re talking about. Spirit is not a concept that’s easy to get a handle on, the Holy Spirit is probably even more difficult, an image and aspect of God that is not easy to simplify which is probably part of the reason the celebration of Pentecost never caught on like Christmas and Easter.

When you think about it, Christmas and Easter are just as heavy and difficult to understand, dealing as they do with Incarnation, God becoming human, and Resurrection, new life out of death, but we manage to tone Christmas down to a sentimental story about a baby in a manger, not to mention bringing in Santa to deliver presents, and then Easter becomes a spring festival of bunnies and baskets and flowers.

Pentecost isn’t so easy, not so easy to tame and tone down with its images of noise and wind and fire, all of which resist control. Not that we don’t try to control them; not that we don’t sometimes succeed, but still, noise, wind and fire are all things that can break free of whatever constraints we place on them. And so it is with the Holy Spirit. Efforts to limit it are made, sometimes by the church in leading people to think that the church, with its rituals and sacraments is the only place the spirit is present; but the Holy Spirit will always resist such limitations. We believe that the Holy Spirit is present in those rituals and sacraments, but it will also show up in places and in ways that can’t be predicted because the work of the Holy Spirit is not always neat and tidy.

Today we celebrate one of those rituals of the church, the rite of Confirmation, Confirmation being something else that is not always neat and tidy. What we do today is now more accurately called Affirmation of Baptism although everyone continues to call it confirmation, but as I told the confirmation class last week, they’re already confirmed as confirmation is actually the laying on of hands part of baptism which for all of them has already been done. I’ll repeat that part with Ben today with the words, “Stir up in Ben the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.”

I’ll come back to that, but first, you should know that confirmation has changed. When I was confirmed, when many of you were confirmed it was mostly memorize the catechism, the Lord’s Prayer, the creed, the Ten Commandments along with “What does this mean?” Some of you longingly remember the good old days of the public examination prior to confirmation. I’m pretty sure those good old days are not coming back because confirmation has changed and as is the case with most change, there’s probably both good things and bad things about it. In any case, whatever confirmation is, it’s definitely not about just memorizing the catechism anymore. We still use the catechism, don’t get me wrong, and we still pay attention to Martin Luther’s answers to “What does this mean?” but there’s a whole lot more emphasis on the students answers to “What does this mean?” in the changing world in which they live.

I confess that I, as well as many other pastors, struggle with confirmation and what to do with it, specifically wondering what exactly is the point of it for today’s youth, what’s the goal, or what do I hope the kids have learned by the time they’re done? I also confess that I don’t have a clear and definitive answer to the question but I’ve come up with a few things. High on my list is that the students have some understanding of the concept of grace, of God’s unconditional love, that it’s not our being good enough that keeps us in relationship with God, but that it’s God’s love for us. For me, that’s at the heart of what it is to be Lutheran, so I think they should know that.

What I also hope is that they are able to find truth in the stories of the Bible, not that they find them literally true, but that they see truth revealed, truth about God, truth about humanity and the world. We’ve spent time looking at some Bible stories just this way, not studying them as history but trying to figure out what they say to us. In essence it’s a matter of asking the same question that Luther asks repeatedly in the catechism: What does this mean? Related to this, I would hope that they understand the truth of Jesus as the revelation of God and that they understand resurrection not just as something that happened to Jesus, but as the revelation of God’s will for the world, that new life and hope are always possible, second chances are always possible, even in the darkest of situations. As Christians we live in hope; that doesn’t mean that we live in denial of the reality that’s out there, but that we trust in God’s ability to transform the world.

On Pentecost Sunday we would say that we trust that the Holy Spirit is still at work in a broken world. Actually, everything I’m talking about has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit as it is that very Spirit that gives us the imagination to perceive truth, to host images of reality that include more than what is rational and reasonable according to the wisdom of this world.

That brings me back to the words from the baptismal service, the words that are repeated today, words that summon the gifts of the spirit, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. Those words come from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah and they are followed by the image of the peaceable kingdom where the wolf will live with the lamb along with the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, predators and their prey all living together, and a little child will lead them. The wisdom of this world would say it’s impossible, but the whole passage, starting with those gifts of the spirit, is about the impossible possibility of new creation. The Holy Spirit makes the impossible possible. For all of the confirmation kids but especially for Ben today, I hope they are able to entertain and imagine those impossible possibilities.

As I was thinking about today as Pentecost Sunday and as I continue to think about confirmation and what it ought to be, I thought, it would also be nice if there was some evidence of the work of Holy Spirit in what we do. But how do you know, particularly as you acknowledge that the Spirit often doesn’t show up in predictable ways, but I might have a for instance of the not so neat and tidy work of the Spirit.

As I said, for the past few months we did focus quite a bit on stories and especially on the truth they contain and with the help of Tonya Perry, the culminating project was to make a film that depicted their version of a story. We were planning to be done on May 3rd with the possibility that we might need one more class on the 17th to finish up and that proved to be the case. But then, on May 3rd, the boys said, “That’s not enough. Can we come back next week too.” Mrs. Perry and I reminded them that the next Sunday was Mothers Day and families might have plans but their response was pretty much, Yeah, who cares, sorry mothers. And so they showed up on that next Sunday for an extra class.

What I was thinking though, was that in the 500 year history of Lutheran confirmation this might have been the first time a group of kids ever asked for an extra class. Was that the work of the Holy Spirit? I don’t know, but it was sure nice to see the enthusiasm. It was an example of a spirit of joy in your presence which is the last part of what will be said to Ben in a few minutes. It gave me hope for the future of confirmation.

They are a great group of kids, Ben is a great kid and so we celebrate the affirmation of his baptism with him today.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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