Pentecost Day – 2023

The confessional Lutheran preacher who ascends to the pulpit on Pentecost often finds himself in a bit of a quandary. To our right stand the unruly mass of Charismatics and Pentecostal denominations and non-denominations. We clearly want to distinguish ourselves from this movement with its excesses. We are very suspicious of those who speak in tongues, claim to be prophets, and purport to perform miracles. It is not that we deny such things can happen, but we have been burned enough times that we are very suspicious. It seems that too often such movements have quickly devolved in to schemes to enrich the one who claims the Spirit’s blessing and lead many astray.

But if we turn to look the other way, toward our closer cousins in Catholicism, we are confronted with another issue. Take a moment to look at almost any Catholic depiction of the day of Pentecost and you will see the 12 apostles, tongues of flames upon their heads, hands raised in praise to God. So far this is good, but always, prominent and central to that tableau, will be Mary, tongue of flame atop her head, leading the apostles in the prayer and praise. We do not deny the presence of Mary. In Acts 1:14 it does mention her specifically as being in the gathering group of disciples, but she is not at all mentioned in the Pentecost Day account. The account seems to focus on the preaching of Peter, something with which we are much more comfortable as Lutheran preachers.

We probably need to untwist our undies several notches at this point and remember a couple of things. First of all Jesus told us that the Spirit blows when and where He chooses (John 3:8). Peter also speaks to the Spirit of God being poured out upon all humanity, per the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-21). The usual confessional Lutheran response has been to be silent about the Spirit, ceding the field to those who have made the Spirit central to their proclamation and displaced Christ from His rightful place as the center of our attention. But this is a failure on our part. Luther and the Confessions have a robust vocabulary and language for speaking of the work of the Spirit which we need to reclaim. Yes, some have used those same words to make claims which we would not accept, but their misuse of a word does not negate its proper use by us. Preach the day, preach the Spirit of God. Jesus pouring out that Spirit is an act of His salvation!

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