June 9, 2019.  Whitsunday.  S. Stephen’s, Athens, GA.  Mass, Confirmation, and Reception of those already confirmed

Saint Luke 9, verse 2 – And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

In the two lessons we have just read we hear our Lord’s prediction of the coming of the Holy Spirit after his Ascension and then in the Acts of the Apostles we read about the event itself.  From these lessons and elsewhere in Scripture I believe we learn that the Holy Spirit comes for two main purposes.

First, in the Acts the Holy Ghost comes on Pentecost to turn the Apostles into effective missionaries:  to inspire them so that they are able to spread the good news, the gospel, throughout the world. Christ says to the Apostles just before his Ascension,

[Y]e shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.  (Acts 1:8)

This power to witness to Christ is illustrated ten days later at the original Pentecost, when the gift of tongues and the sermon of St. Peter lead to the first mass conversion in Christian history.  The Church grows on that day from a little band of 120 followers of Christ, the original core group.  We are told, ‘they that gladly received’ Peter’s ‘word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.’ (Acts 2:41)  Ever since Pentecost, the Church has periodically, in the midst of persecutions and spiritual dryness and indifference, enjoyed sudden, unexpected, almost miraculous conversions.

Just 20 years after the most bitter and bloody of persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian around the year 305, another emperor, Constantine, presides over the Council of Nicaea.  Some of you will remember our late member, Anita Steinbeck Callahan, who was born in 1905 in eastern Germany.  In the 1970s she visited her sister in their hometown in Mecklenburg and on May Day watched a Communist parade through the main square.  The sister pointed to the church on the square and said, ‘That church watched the Nazis march by.  Now it watches these people march by.  The Nazis are gone.  These people will be gone.  That church will still be here.’  And so it is.  Who dares explain such changes without reference to Christ’s promise: ‘Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me…’?

So, first the Holy Ghost comes to empower the followers of Christ to be his witnesses and missionaries, to proclaim his Holy Name effectively, to lift high his cross before the eyes of our dying world, and to glorify the Holy Trinity:  all of which we do so as to convert men and women to the saving gospel of our Lord.

The second main purpose of Pentecost is the one emphasized by Christ himself in today’s gospel:  ‘to teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’  This purpose is internal to the Church.  The Holy Ghost preserves the Church in truth.  He teaches us ‘all things’.  Of course he does not teach us all things whatsoever: he does not teach us the names of all of the state capitals or quadratic equations or color coordination.  Rather the Holy Ghost teach us ‘all things’ necessary for our salvation.  He ‘brings all things to [our] remembrance,’ whatsoever Christ said.  That is, the Holy Spirit ensures that the Church as a whole remains aware of Christ’s teaching, so that she will never forget that teaching so deeply as to endanger her ability to lead men and women to God.

Our Saviour did not come to earth to bring us a book.  He came to earth to give us the Holy Spirit, whom he bestows in and through his Church.  The Church produced the Bible, the Church preserves the Bible, the Church teaches the Bible, the Church interprets the Bible.  If the Bible disappeared tomorrow, the Church would still exist, just as the Church existed for centuries before the canon of the New Testament was finally determined.  It is in the living, sacramental world of the Church that Scripture comes to life so that ‘all things…whatsoever [Christ]…said unto’ us are brought to our minds for our salvation by the Holy Spirit.

So, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father to lead and preserve the Church in truth, and then to enable that true Church to go forth into all lands in mission.  On the one hand, then, if the Church is not teaching the truth, its mission is useless or actually harmful.  On the other hand, if the Church is teaching the truth, but has no mission, no outreach to our dying world, then it is not serving her Lord well and is not obeying his commandment to make disciples.  True teaching and evangelical mission are both needed.

My text today is from Saint Luke’s version of our Lord’s missionary discourse to his disciples.  Our Lord sends forth his twelve disciples and gives them power and authority over diseases and devils and sends them forth to preach the kingdom of God.  Here again we see both an emphasis on teaching, on preaching the kingdom of heaven, and also an emphasis on effective mission, which in this case comes not only from the truth that is taught but also from the pastoral care that come from healing and exorcism.

Nothing really, my friends, has changed.  We still are called as a Church in community and as individual Christians and clerics to preach and teach the truth:  the truth rooted in the deposit of Scripture, the truth taught by the Fathers, by the Creeds, by the Councils of the ancient and undivided Church, by the doctors of the Church, and by the truth as preserved to our own day both by positive affirmations and by negative rejection of modern innovations and heresies and immoralities.  But teaching the truth alone is not enough.  We are obliged also to share the truth, to be effective missionaries, to go about as in the Acts we see Peter and Stephen and Philip and Paul going about, to preach and heal and teach, whether by an individual sermon or by settling for years in a city to form a stable community of committed Christians.

Our own Church has been one of the great missionary Churches in human history.  But in the United States Anglicans has historically not done very well in this respect.  The old joke was that the Baptist preachers walked west the pioneers; the Methodist preaches rode west on horseback; the Anglicans waited for the Pullman car.  I hope we have been good about preserving the faith once delivered to the saints.  I fear that too often we are like the unprofitable servant, who has taken his talent and wrapped it in a napkin and hidden it in the earth.  That, my friends, is not enough.  We are called to take the Church, taught us by the Spirit, and to share it by word and deed so as to convert and heal our world.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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