The Lutheran Church has the greatest show on earth
- Order of Service: Common Service, p15
- Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:25-27
- Hymns: 185, 188, 190, 183
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
We live in a world where people wait for Pentecost to happen over and over and over again. Hundreds of millions of Christians around the world call themselves Pentecostals. They go to church, read the Bible, and live expecting the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. So far so good. However, Pentecostals also teach that what happened on Pentecost should happen to you. Thus, Pentecostals often speak of getting messages from the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, even performing miracles, especially healing, often called “faith-healing.”
As you can imagine, Pentecostal worship looks different than worship in a church like ours. The songs sound different, sometimes more like what you hear on the radio. People respond verbally to sermons, and I don’t mean while we’re shaking hands saying, “Good sermon!” I mean, “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” Pastors do more shouting and sweating. People lift their hands as they pray. On top of that, you have the speaking in tongues and healing being done by worship leaders, calling people up front to receive the healing, or experience tongues speaking for themselves. It’s quite a show, and it attracts many. Some criticize churches like ours for being, in contrast, so quiet, so staid, so unemotional, so boring. “Where’s the Holy Spirit and His gifts among you?” they might ask. They honestly believe that the Lutheran church has ignored the Holy Spirit and prevented Him from doing His Pentecostal work.
I’m tempted to respond with one of the cheers I used to shout at basketball games, minimally altered: “We’ve got the Spirit, yes we do! We’ve got the Spirit, how ‘bout you?” We don’t need to look for and try to find the Holy Spirit, like the Pentecostals. We already have Him, even if it doesn’t look as spectacular as your run-of-the-mill Pentecostal church. We don’t need to wait for our own personal Pentecosts, walking around each day hoping today to speak in tongues, because the Baptism that God promised His Church has happened. It happened on the first Pentecost when He poured out the Spirit upon the apostles, just as He promised weeks earlier when He promised to send the Counselor, the Holy Spirit.
Take it further. Pentecost wasn’t about the spectacular gifts: winds, fire, speaking in unknown languages. It was about the Spirit using the apostles to teach and remind people about Christ, just as Jesus promised in our Gospel: the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26, NIV84). That happens Sunday and every day. The Spirit reminds us about the gift of peace through Jesus, not because we speak in tongues, or heal (which God can certainly pour out again as He has done in the past, if He desires, if the Church needs it). Instead, day after day, the Spirit tells us once more about Christ, about forgiveness, and about life. The Lutheran church, despite appearances, despite criticisms, has the greatest show on earth.
The Lutheran church has the greatest show on earth because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, not the “Baptism of the Spirit” or any of that charismatic fluff. Pentecostal churches, perhaps unintentionally, separate Christians into two groups. They talk about those who may be Christians and those who have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. You’ll know if you have, because you’ll speak in tongues or some such thing. But that makes faith and salvation all about you, just as it was for one of my co-workers at Van Heusen, where I worked summers during my college and seminary years. She confided to me that she never really knew if she was saved or not until the day she spoke in tongues. And so, that part of the show – the speaking in tongues – becomes the sine qua non, “that without which” salvation cannot occur. Imagine the pain and agony suffered by us here who, to my knowledge, have not spoken in tongues. Imagine the guilt of those who forced themselves to speak in tongues. Imagine the doubt of those left to wonder, “Did I really speak in tongues or not?” What monstrous uncertainty!
But that’s not the Spirit’s show. We know that from the name Jesus gives Him in John. He calls the Spirit Counselor. The Greek word is Paraclete. Jesus uses it throughout His Maundy Thursday talk with the disciples. John also uses it in his first letter. There the NIV translates it one who speaks to the Father in our defense (2:1, NIV). A number of other translations go with the word Advocate (e.g. NASB, KJV, ESV). Jesus pictures the Counselor in legal terms. Here think all the positive thoughts you can about lawyers, despite the jokes and stereotypes. Lawyers help. Lawyers advise. Lawyers speak for you. Lawyers hold you around the shoulders and keep you steady as you deal with tricky legal situations. Lawyers come to your side to encourage you. That’s the Spirit’s work. He counsels, encourages, advises. He holds you steady. That’s the opposite of what Pentecostals seek. They seek a Superman-Holy Spirit turning you into Superman yourself: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and speak tongues faster than a speeding bullet.
Jesus emphasizes this role of the Spirit when He says, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you (NASB). The Holy Spirit steadies and encourages by teaching and reminding. He comes from God with the Word of God. Even though the Spirit worked spectacularly on Pentecost with tornadic winds, miraculous fire, and a variety of languages, what Jesus really focuses our attention on is the Spirit teaching and reminding. Again, not that the Spirit can no longer work this way, or that there’s no chance that miracles and speaking in tongues could ever be legitimate, but rather, that’s not the Spirit’s primary method of operation, nor even His greatest gift.
The Spirit’s greatest gift, which makes what we have in the Lutheran church the greatest show on earth, is teaching and reminding us about everything Jesus said and did. Which means you attend the truly Pentecostal Church, because this church, the Lutheran church, St. Mark, is filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit even if no one here ever speaks in a tongue other than baby-talk. We have the Spirit teaching us in the Word every moment, especially as we gather together on Sundays. Hear the Large Catechism: So, until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit abides with the holy congregation or Christendom. Through this congregation He brings us to Christ and He teaches and preaches to us the Word. By the Word He works and promotes sanctification, causing this congregation daily to grow and to become strong in the faith and its fruit, which He produces (II:53). The Spirit reminds us of Christ, not just in the Word heard, but in Word seen, the sacramental Word that creates and strengthens faith. A few weeks ago we watched God wash Lennon Coleman clean in Baptism and the Spirit reminded us of Christ’s resurrection, making it Lennon’s resurrection. Today the Spirit reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins as He gives us the forgiveness that sacrifice won in the body and blood of Christ in Communion. You attend the true Pentecostal Church because you get the gifts of the Holy Spirit here: faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.
So we have peace. Our hearts can beat untroubled because the Spirit reminds us about Jesus. He reminds us about how the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – committed Himself to you. You have a happy mind because through faith in Jesus you have a good situation. He says that He went to heaven to prepare heaven for believers. He says that when you’ve seen Him you’ve seen the Father. He says it. And He did it. You don’t need to be dissatisfied with only being taught and reminded about Jesus. You haven’t missed out by not having your own personal Pentecost. You have peace with God through the Spirit’s reminding and teaching in Word and Sacrament, not any charismatic gift you might possess. Because the Spirit teaches and reminds you about everything Jesus said to you. And Jesus said: My peace I give you. Not the world’s peace, but Jesus’ peace. Sins forgiven. Life eternal. Knowing that the Spirit will teach you about that and remind you about that means that the Lutheran church does indeed have the greatest show on earth. Amen.