30 March 2017

Homily for Lent 4 Evening Prayer

"Re-creation--Third Article"
Apostles' Creed, Third Article
(fifth in a catechetical series)

The art of living by faith starts to see a certain modus operandi—way of operating—on God’s part. God’s way of operating opens our eyes to see Him at work in our world and within our lives. This art of living by faith then leads us to receive and embrace God’s gifts as our very own.

We’ve seen this over the past couple of weeks. We’ve seen how our God and Creator remains present and active in His creation. Despite our ongoing misuse and abuse of it, He keeps His creation going. We’ve also seen how God comes into the world to be active and present in a very unique way—as an embodied human being. He does this in order to rid His creation of the sin and evil that Satan and we humans brought into it. Now, God comes to be present and active in another way. Now, He brings His creation to fulfillment as the result of Jesus’ saving work. This time, God sends His Holy Spirit into us, into our bodies. He does this to renew and remake us for the new age and the new world to come. It’s the re-creation taught the Third Article.

This week we come to the divine breath that breathes the life of God into His creation. As we saw with our Lord Jesus, this is not the first time that the Spirit has been present and active in the world. The Holy Spirit was there in the beginning, hovering over the waters of creation like the wings of a mother bird spread out over her chicks and gathering them to herself. The Spirit was there piling up the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites might pass through. The Spirit was there appointing, guiding, and equipping Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings as God’s plan of redemption unfolded. The Spirit was there at Jesus’ baptism anointing, appointing, and identifying Jesus as God’s prophet, priest, and king for all time—all wrapped up in one person. And now the Spirit of God’s Son (Gal. 4:6) brings God’s gifts to us and gives us life. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (SC, Sac. of Altar).

The Old Testament word for Spirit is ruach, which means breath, wind, or spirit. The New Testament word for Spirit is pneuma, which also means breath, wind, or spirit. This Greek word gives us English words such as “pneumatic gun,” which simply means “air gun.” And in Latin the term is spiritus. When medical people say that someone has “expired”—that is, they have died—it simply means that the breath has left them. So, it’s not surprising, then, that God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is identified in the Nicene Creed as “the Lord of Life.”

That’s what breath does. It enlivens. It animates. It creates movement. When God breathed into Adam, he “became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7), a living, moving being. In the Bible, to be living means to be moving. If you are not moving, you are dead. One time, an x-ray technician x-rayed a woman in her nineties who was vibrant and alive. The technician asked, “What is your secret to life?” The woman answered, “Keep moving!” Think about it. If you stop moving, you’re dead. And nothing animates us like our breath.

So how does the Spirit give us new and eternal life? By speaking words carried on the breath of others. When we speak, we breathe, and we utter words within the breath. God is present and active by speaking with us. This is not new; God has been speaking from the beginning. Dr. Robert Kolb even describes the God of the Bible as a “chatterbox.” God begins talking and does not stop talking. And His speaking does what it says. Think about it. God speaks and a blue planet appears. God speaks and trees and flowers appear. God speaks and fish, birds, and animals appear. God speaks and His creation bursts forth with abundant life. God speaks and His Son enters the world as the Word of God made flesh.

And now God speaks yet again—as the Holy Spirit. He speaks life-giving, re-creating words to us. What are these words? They are words that say, “You are forgiven. God has justified you. God has welcomed you home. You are a new creation of God!” These words are promises of God for us now and into eternity. God speaks them. God stands behind them.

These promises seek to engender and strengthen faith. They seek to arouse faith that embraces God’s gifts and does a happy dance for them. Consider this: why do we make promises to other people? What do we hope to accomplish by making a promise or giving our word? I suspect that we are trying to give other people confidence and faith that we will do as we say. Think of the best known example: promises made at the wedding altar. The bride and groom speak their vows, their promises, to each other. They promise to be there for each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” The purpose of the promise is to give the spouse confidence and joy. So it is with God. He promises to engender faith. Promise and faith go hand in hand. This is the relationship God establishes with us—speaking and hearing, promising and believing.

What does this mean for the art of living by faith? It means we get to live by those words of promise that God makes to us. We cling to those words. We cherish them in our hearts. Our faith is not directed inward, toward our feelings or emotions. No, our faith is directed outward, outside of ourselves. It clings to a word that is spoken from outside of us, a word that breaks into our lives. Do you remember the first time a high school or college sweetheart uttered the words, “I love you”? Did you repeat them over and over to yourself? Did it give you a new outlook or new lease on the future? That and so much more is what happens as faith receives and clings to the promises of God. Faith is the new life, the re-creation, that the Spirit breathes into our bodies and into our cold, lifeless hearts.

Where do we find these life-giving words and promises of God? We find them on the lips and tongues of fellow Christians—our parents, our spouses, our pastors, our teachers. Just as God works through His creatures to bestow the gifts of food and water upon us, and just as God worked through the human body of Jesus to accomplish salvation for us, so the Spirit does His speaking through human creatures. Yes, they are the very creatures who once rejected God’s words, but they now become His mouthpieces. We are the people who have heard God’s promises. We have been gathered by those promises. Now we speak those promises to others. Pastors do so as their full-time calling. Others do it as part of their vocation in the world as parents, citizens, employers, or employees. It’s why Luther can speak of the church as both a creature of the Word, gathered by the Word, and as a “mouth-house” where the Word of God is spoken.

But aren’t these plain, ordinary people? How can ordinary people do the extra-ordinary thing of bringing the life-bestowing Word of God to others? This is how God works. Plants are ordinary, but by God’s blessing they convert the sun’s energy through photosynthesis into food that we can eat—an extraordinary process and gift. So also with people.

The art of living by faith sees the pastor speaking words of forgiveness and hope. It perceives the parent speaking words of forgiveness and hope. It hears the Christian friend speaking a word of forgiveness and comfort. All of this as God Himself speaking to us. As Jesus said, “The one who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16). In these words faith perceives the voice of the Holy Spirit. Faith perceives the Word of God making the water of Baptism into a life-giving water rich in God’s grace. Faith perceives Jesus’ words bestowing His Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

God’s commitment and faithfulness to us, His rebellious people, is truly remarkable. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of creation (Genesis 1), He now hovers over the waters of Baptism, creating and gathering a new people to Himself. God breathed the creating breath of life into us when He first created us, making us living creatures (Genesis 2). Now the Holy Spirit has breathed and continues breathing into us not just the breath of life, but also the breath of eternal life. Amen.

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