May 27, 2012 is Pentecost Sunday.  It is not unusual for Pentecost to fall around a three-day weekend. This is Memorial Day weekend and would normally be a bank holiday weekend here in the UK, although this year it will be next weekend for Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Pentecost marks the Church’s birthday, when Christ sent us the Comforter — the Holy Spirit. What follows are reflections from a Lutheran pastor and Martin Luther on this great feast day.

The Revd Larry Peters is Senior Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Clarksville, Tennessee. Two years ago he wrote about the importance of Pentecost (emphases mine):

Sunday is Pentecost but you would hardly know it where I live.  First of all most of the churches are non-liturgical so they do not follow a calendar which might tell them what to name the day.  Second, so many things have displaced the feasts, festivals, and commemorations of the liturgical calendar, that some find it hard to remember the Biblical day in the face of graduations honored and other things from the secular calendar.  Finally, as we approach Memorial Day we are ready to proclaim it finally summer and with summer, a vacation from things churchly.  So if it where not enough to fight the things happening on the calendars at the end of the school year and the wedding season, we also have the onset of the very time of year when vacation, vacation home, and time off becomes a higher priority than the things of the Lord’s House.  This is a sad day because Pentecost is so strongly tied to Easter (just as Ascension) and it is like leaving in the midst of the meal to duck out before the promise of the Father in Jesus’ name is fulfilled among God’s people — the climactic end of the festival side of the Church Year.

The Revd Johnold Strey is Associate Pastor of St Mark’s Lutheran Church (WELS) in Citrus Heights, California. In 2010, he took for his sermon text John 15:26-27 — Jesus’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to us:

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

In preparation for his sermon, Pastor Strey studied what Martin Luther had to say on the importance of the Holy Spirit to the Christian. It is a highly personal relationship, as Luther explains below.  The excerpts below are from Luther’s Works, American Edition, Volume 24. I shall only include a few, so please take the time to visit Strey’s blog for the full text.

Christ wants to say: “I will give you a gift over and above the comfort I afford you in the revelation of My own fate, over and above this disclosure of the behavior of the world, namely, that it will rave and rage against the truth in spite of its better knowledge and against its own conscience. This additional gift will be My Spirit, who will renew in your hearts these words I am now speaking to you and will fully clarify them for you, so that you will understand them ever better and know what both I and the world mean in your lives. He will give you strength and courage to enable you to continue to adhere to Me and to pursue your course. For if He were not with you and you were to engage in daily combat with both the devil and the world, you would not be able to bear this. Therefore it is surely necessary for Him to be with you, not only to have His words resound in your ears but also to strengthen your hearts with His light and His fire. Then you will be able to persist; you will have power exceeding that of both the devil and the world with all their malice and might. …

The devil has two weapons with which he assails the Christians respecting either their office or their own persons, in the hour of death or at other times. These weapons are sin and the penalty for sin. The stronger of these is the terror of sin; by means of this he renders the heart fearful and despondent by saying to it: “You have done this and that.” He is a past master at this. He not only cites the sins which you yourself must confess, such as murder and adultery, and blows them up with his fiery breath to such proportions that your heart melts like salt in water; but he can also transform your good conduct and your best works into many kinds of sin and shame, so that you do not keep even a speck of them. Anyone who has engaged in real combat with him a few times is well aware of this.

Then the devil deals in the same way with the penalty for sin. He says: “With this or with that sin you have deserved to be broken on the wheel, to be put to the rack, to be killed a hundred times, and to be damned to eternal hell in addition.” He makes things so hot and horrible that man considers heaven and earth too cramped and wants to hurl himself into fire from fright. Man lies there and tortures himself with thoughts such as these: “O Lord God, what have I done? If it is bad, it is not good; if it is good, it is far worse.” If the devil takes hold of you there, and you do not know how to defend yourself, he has soon gained the victory.

Therefore God has been gracious to us and has given us a Comforter to counteract this spirit of terror—a Comforter, who, as God Himself, is much stronger with His comfort than the devil is with his terror. And now when the devil also comes along with God’s Law, advances against your works and your life, and shatters these so thoroughly that even your good works appear to be evil and condemned—an art in which he is a master and an excellent theologian—the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, will come and whisper consolingly to your heart: “Be of good cheer and unafraid. Go, preach, do what you have been commanded to do; and do not fear the terrors of sin, death, or the devil, even if these terrors present themselves in the name of God. God does not want to be angry with you, nor does He want to reject you; for Christ, God’s Son, died for you. He paid for your sins; and if you believe in Him, these will not be imputed to you, no matter how great they are. Because of your faith your works are pleasing to God; they are adjudged good and well done even though weakness does creep in. Why do you let your sins be falsely magnified? Christ, your Righteousness, is greater than your sins and those of the whole world; His life and His consolation are stronger and mightier than your death and hell.” …

Secondly, He is also called a Spirit of truth who opposes all lies and false arguments. For the world, too, is always full of spirits, as the saying goes: “Wherever God erects a church, the devil builds his chapel or tavern next to it”; that is, wherever God’s Word springs up in its purity, the devil ushers in sects, factions, and many false spirits, who also deck themselves with the glory and the name of Christ and His church. But it is all false to the core, without truth or certainty. Christ says: “I will give you the Spirit who makes you sure and convinced of the truth. Then you need no longer have any doubt regarding the truth of this or that article pertaining to your salvation, but you can be convinced of your stand and be judges competent to pass judgment on all other doctrines. Thus He will not only make you warriors and heroes, but He will also confer the doctorate on you and call you doctors and masters who can determine with certainty what is true or false doctrine in Christendom. The devil will not prove cunning enough, and no spirit will be smart enough, to falsify your doctrine or to lead you astray” …

Through these sects the devil works far greater harm than he does through tyrants. For even though the latter attempt to frighten us away from the true doctrine with violence and threats, still they are few in number. But when the devil spits out his venom in the name of the Gospel and of the Christian Church, and offers to help souls from error on the pretext that hitherto they have been incorrectly instructed or never sufficiently instructed, and that they will now receive better and different information, then it happens that not only one or two people but a whole city and country falls away. In one hour he tears down what has taken many years to build. This is what happened to us through the schismatic spirits and others.

Therefore Christ promises to give us a Spirit who will not only strengthen our hearts and increase our courage but will also make our faith sure, remove all doubt, and enable us to judge all other spirits. Such a promise is necessary, in order that we may successfully resist the devil’s lies. For he can present these so attractively adorned and embellished “as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect,” as Christ declares in Matt. 24:24

In the third place, Christ says: “When you have been comforted and emboldened by the Holy Spirit, and your mind and understanding have been kept in the certain truth, He will also impel you to testify of Me. First He will bear witness internally in your hearts; then also externally by means of miraculous signs and by your confession and preaching. He will enable you who were with Me from the beginning to tell what you have heard and seen. Such testimony will exalt Me both against the angry lion and against the wily dragon, that is, the murderer and the spirit of lies.” These words must be carefully noted; for with them Christ defined the work of the Holy Spirit or rather portrayed to us what His teaching and testimony would be and what it would not be. Christ says: “He will bear witness of none but Me. This will be known as the Holy Spirit’s sermon. Therefore He will not be a Moses or a preacher of the Law such as you have had and still have; but I will put into His mouth another and more sublime sermon than the one Moses gave to you. Moses taught you nothing but the Law or the Ten Commandments, which he had received from God; he told you what to do and what not to do. But this One will make of you preachers and confessors who tell and testify, not of their own deeds and life but of Me.”…

Therefore he who has comprehended this revelation and testimony of the Holy Spirit can judge all such doctrine well and correctly and differentiate as follows: There are two types of life and work. The one is my life and work which must be carried out in accordance with the Ten Commandments; the other is that of Christ my Lord, which is recorded in my Creed. My salvation and happiness and all consolation for my conscience depend on the latter. With this differentiation I can meet the devil’s attacks on me and say: “May God forgive me if my life does not conform perfectly to the Ten Commandments; but I cling to the life of this Man who died for me, whose Baptism and Sacrament I have received” …

Here there must be a life and piety higher than the life and piety of all men; here there must be Christ our Lord, who died and rose again for me, and Baptism, which I have, not by virtue of my works but through Christ. This alone shall and must do what is required. Then I have certainty both with regard to doctrine and with regard to life; then I cannot fail

Soon, we will be moving into Sundays ‘after Pentecost’, ‘after Trinity’ or — the modern and banal-sounding — ‘Ordinary Time’. The vestments will be green to reflect this. It can seem like a less interesting period in the Church calendar, however, keeping Martin Luther’s words in mind will help us better understand and appreciate the Comforter in our lives. May we never hesitate to ask the Holy Spirit for greater discernment, wisdom, fortitude and other gifts so that we can put them to good use in our daily Christian walk.

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