What's With Whitsunday?
Whitsunday is the English name for today either because it was the Sunday in colder climates they baptized on and people wore white or because "wit" is the Anglo Saxon word for wisdom which is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Reed, 516). In either case Whitsunday is a big holiday. Like Easter and Christmas, Pentecost has services appointed not just for the day of but the day after. And unlike Christmas but like Easter, Pentecost also has service appointed for the second day after. Ever been to a Pentecost Tuesday service? Me neither. I haven't even been to a Pentecost Monday. So what's with Whitsunday?
The giving of the Holy Spirit on this day is no big deal to us because we don't realize how much we need Him. We think this way: I have the facts of the faith; therefore, I have faith. We study the Bible and/or engage in the defense of Biblical truth. We argue, correctly, that the Bible teaches creation not evolution, that the Flood really was worldwide, that Moses did cross a parted Red Sea, and Jesus did rise from the dead. We think we have faith because we have knowledge of the facts. What need do we have of the Spirit if we already know all the facts?
Then again maybe we're in the other group that says I have feelings of faith; therefore, I have faith. We're upbeat, positive, certain about Jesus, and because we have good vibrations towards Him we just feel He has them right back at us. We don't need Jesus sending the Spirit from heaven to us; our feelings lift us up, up, Dolly Parton-like all the way to heaven.
When we think knowing facts or having good feelings about Jesus is the same as having saving faith in Him what we have is arrows versus bullets. In the late 19th century Americans went to the Amazon to get a share of the rubber trees. They tried to reach an agreement with an Amazon warlord. He listened to their proposal. Then he asked to see one of their arrows. An American gave him a bullet from his Winchester. The warlord studied it turning it over in his hand. He then tried to wound himself with it. Finally he dragged the round across his bare chest. Nothing. He handed the shell back, took one of his own arrows, stuck it in his own arm without flinching. Then he turned away in contempt. Not long after that the warlord attacked. Not much later all 100 of the warlord's soldiers lay dead from bullet wounds (Mann, 1493, 257).
If you think your knowing the facts of the faith or your feelings of faith can stand up to Satan's fiery darts, you are as foolish as the warlord who thought bullets were harmless and could be beaten by arrows. If you think facts and/or feelings make you spiritual and therefore you don't need the Spirit and so there's nothing much to celebrate today, you haven't been singing the offertory on Sundays. You haven't been crying out with David in Psalm 51, "Renew a right Spirit within me; take not Thy Holy Spirit from me, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit."
Don't you need holding? Don't you need the Holy Spirit? Don't you need to be renewed daily? You do if you realize you're the dry bones pictured in Ezekiel; you do if you see you're the spiritually blind Paul talks about who have no natural capability in spiritual things; you do if you remember the terrible drought of last year. You remember how you could keep grass, flowers, gardens green with man delivered water, but your "manmade" water couldn't grow them? Remember how they sprang to life again when God sent just a little water from heaven? Faith that finds certainty in knowing or feeling is man made. Such faith looks green but it isn't growing, it isn't saving, and it's no match for Satan's fiery darts.
Thirsty? That was the cry that burst forth from Jesus on the day of the Feast that culminated with water being ceremonially poured out. This Feast celebrated water coming from the Rock in the wilderness. Paul tells us that Rock was none other than Jesus. Jesus cries out, "If you're thirsty, come to Me and drink." So are you thirsty? Are you dry bones? Are you in need of the Spirit to hold you, to help you, to keep you in the true faith? Do you need water to quench the flaming darts of Satan that are burning through your man-made certainty and positive feelings like a grass fire through drought stricken hay?
Turn to where David the adulterer, David the murderer, David the sinner who was certain he was going to hell for his sins turned. Turn to Jesus. He has the Spirit without measure. Although true God, the Man Jesus was given the Holy Spirit at His Baptism, and unlike David and us, the Spirit never departed from Him. Jesus never became dry bones, drought stricken, devoid of the Spirit trying to fend off the devil's fiery bullets with puny, dull arrows.
The Devil had no claim on Jesus. Here was a Man upon whom the Holy Spirit descended and stayed on. He didn't need the Spirit to create a clean heart or renew a right Spirit in Him; He had both already. He didn't need to ask that the Holy Spirit not be taken from Him or that God uphold Him with that Spirit: Jesus never sinned, never faltered in trusting God, so the Spirit was always with the Man Jesus.
But you and I need the Spirit. You and I without the Spirit can't see the true God, won't trust the true God, in fact will run hell-bent away from Him. Only the Holy Spirit can save such dry bones as we, and then quench the fiery darts of unbelief, doubt, worry, lust, greed, that the Devil rains down upon us. But how did God the Father get the Holy Spirit out of Jesus? Why He beat Him out. He whipped Him out. He ridiculed, mocked, and spit the Spirit out of Jesus. He tortured Him out. He crucified the Spirit out of Him.
Read John 19:30. After declaring, He was finished keeping the Law in your place, after saying He was finished always fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things in your place, after saying all of God's wrath against the sins of the world was finished being poured out on Him: The text says, "Jesus bowed His head and handed over His Spirit." That's literal and that's accurate. There's a crucifix that depicts this. It shows Jesus nailed to the cross, but one hand is free. In that hand is the dove of the Holy Spirit which Jesus is releasing into the world, to give to you, to me, to all.
So we're thirsty now. "Evermore give us to drink of this Spirit," we pray. On Pentecost the ascended Jesus having won the right to pour out the Spirit on fallen humanity pours it directly on the apostles, but you know the story. The rest of the people got the Spirit by the Words of the apostles. Just like in Ezekiel the dry bones got the Spirit by the prophet preaching over them. These Words I have been speaking to you are just what Jesus says His Words are in John 6, "They are Spirit and life."
But it's not just audible Words that are Spirit and life so is the visible word: the Words Jesus attaches to visible elements. Jesus attached the rebirthing, regenerating, Holy Spirit to the waters of Baptism, so that when little Elizabeth was baptized she received the Spirit and everlasting life. Jesus attached His forgiving, lifesaving, salvation-giving Word made flesh to Bread and Wine so that when we eat and drink them we don't only eat and drink Jesus' Body and Blood we eat Spirit and drink life.
It's not for nothing in each Divine Service that we chant David's cry for a renewed Spirit, to retain the Spirit, to be held by the Spirit before we celebrate Communion. Those prayers are answered in Communion. The pastor tells you as much when he dismisses you. He says that this Body and Blood are to strengthen and preserve you in the true faith to life everlasting. Can't you hear Satan's fiery darts sizzling out? Can't you smell the Devil's burning arrows snuffed out by the Body and Blood of your Savior? You haven't faced the Devil's high powered bullets with the puny power of your knowing or feelings, but with Jesus' Spirit.
You don't come away from this altar, or from that font, or from this pulpit with a faith based on knowing all the facts, proving all the facts, or feeling all the faith. You come away from Absolution, Baptism, and Communion with a Spirit worked faith which is a miracle. Can you see why generations before us celebrated this day so much? I've always thought you in Texas should be able to, and let me tell you why.
When I was a pastor in Michigan, we would need rain at times but nothing like Texas cries for it sometimes. In a Louisiana church for over 9 years, never did I have to water a lawn. Once I was hunting with a member and he pointed out how dry it was and that this was a drought. True it was drier than usual, but it wasn't what any Texan would call a drought. That's why I always thought when Jesus compares the pouring out of His Spirit to water for thirsty people, dry bones, desert lands, Texans could really appreciate it; I never actually saw that till last October.
While away dove hunting, I was attending a rural church that has an annual barbeque. During the service for the first time in a year the skies broke open with rain. This meant their outdoor plans were ruined, but as the people stood under the covered walkway, their kids 18 to 24 months old, stepped into the rain. Never in their lives had they been in this sort of downpour. They stopped, looked up in wonder at the strange drops hitting their face, they laughed, and then they played till they were soaked to the skin. No fiery dart of the Devil had a chance of staying lit on them.
On Pentecost the heavens broke open with the rain of the Holy Spirit. He came down in fire that did not burn but enlightened. He came down in waters that did not drown but saved. He came down in words that did not frighten or enslave but freed. He came down in the forgiving Body and Blood of Jesus for us to eat as Bread and drink as Wine. Get on out there and turn your face up in wonder at this amazing outpouring of grace, mercy, and peace. Get on out there and laugh at the threats the Devil makes. Get on out there and know while the Devil has arrows you're the one with the bullets.
You know how a good rain in Texas can make you feel good for days? Well the outpouring of the Spirit is more than a good rain; it's a salvation giving, faith producing, devil drowning downpour. Go ahead; feel good at least through Tuesday. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Pentecost (20120527); John 7: 37-39a