Don't Despair!
Friday of Pentecost 11
30 August 2019
I remember with great vividness being caught up in the "charismatic movement" of the late 1970s. For a teenager this movement was attractive, because it emphasized emotions and experience over all things. The hallmark of the teen years is that they are filled with passionate involvement in the budding adult emotions and experiences, which make it a time fraught with struggle and trouble. It is hard enough being a teenager, but harder yet when a teen is enticed into believing that Christianity is merely about their personal experience of faith.
The charismatic movement pointed the individual back to his own heart for support in struggle, sustenance in trial, and certainty of salvation in the midst of guilt. This is exactly the wrong direction to point the growing adolescent. First, because it reinforces the perversely natural interest in the interior life that is characteristic of a developing teen. Interiority needs to be overturned or turned out of itself to a life that is exterior to itself. Another's life must become the focus of those who are by nature self absorbed. Second, the Christian faith specifically calls on us to turn away from ourselves in repentance, to hate our own life, and to lose it, in favor of the life of that Other.
Faith cannot be established on the whims and feelings of the immature heart. God calls us out of ourselves to the maturity of confidence in the Word of Christ. Another becomes our life through the Word (Gal 2:20). The charismatic movement also tended to be legalistic and therefore to lead the believer away from Christ rather than toward Him. Charismatics emphasized all the things they thought you needed to do to have a full spiritual life: such as to work miracles, to speak in languages you had never been taught (oh, what I wouldn't give for that gift!), to convert as many as Peter on Pentecost, etc. The obvious failure to pull all this off in my young life only drove me to despair. For if I couldn't do the same things as the apostles in the Bible, then there must be something wrong with me and with my faith. The charismatic movement's legalism led to crushing guilt.
Christ calls us back from this ditch of despair. He has redeemed us from guilt and the despair that comes from it. The charismatic movement enticed the believer away from the work of Christ and into the believer's own works or efforts. And as pious as the movement sounded, anything that takes our eyes off Christ is not from God, but from our enemy. Christ's gospel must be the entire focus of our faith, the lens through which all things are seen and understood. Our good works and efforts must not shape or give focus to our faith. For we shall fall into legalism becoming prey on the one hand, to self righteousness or on the other, to despair. If we are led by the Spirit of God we will see Christ and His grace first in all things (Col 1:18). Christ is the One who lifts us from the ditch of despair and embraces poor struggling sinners like us. He wraps us in with his own righteousness, so that clothed in Christ and His holiness. Then we can judge rightly that we stand before our heavenly as holy and righteous in His sight. Don't despair!

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"The Holy Spirit is sent forth in two ways. In the primitive church He was sent forth in a manifest and visible form. Thus He descended upon Christ at the Jordan in the form of a dove (Mt 3:16), and upon the apostles and other believers in the form of fire (Acts 2:3). This was the first sending forth of the Holy Spirit; it was necessary in the primitive church, which had to be established on such visible signs on account of unbelievers, as Paul testifies: 'Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers' (1Co 14:22). But afterward, when the church had been gathered and confirmed by these signs, it was not necessary for this visible sending forth of the Holy Spirit to continue.

"The second sending is that by which the Holy Spirit, through the Word, is sent into the hearts of believers, as is said here: 'God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts' (Gal 4:6). This happens without a visible form, namely, when through the spoken Word we receive fire and light, by which we are made new and different, and by which a new judgment, new sensations, and new powers rise in us. This change and new judgment are not the work of human reason or power. They are the gift and effect of the Holy Spirit, who comes with the preached Word, purifies our hearts by faith, and produces spiritual motivation in us. Therefore there is the greatest possible difference between us and those who persecute with art and strength the doctrine of the gospel. We, by the grace of God, are able to declare and judge with certainty, on the basis of the Word, about the will of God toward us, and also about all laws and doctrines, about our own lives and those of others. On the other hand, the papists and the fanatical spirits are unable to judge with certainty about anything. The latter distort and pervert the Word; the former persecute and blaspheme it. But without the Word it is impossible to form any sure judgments about anything."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.6
Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians - we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine."
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'" (ESV)
O Lord God, heavenly Father, we give You thanks that of Your great goodness and mercy Your only-begotten Son became incarnate to redeem us from sin and everlasting death. Enlighten our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that we may forever give You thanks for Your grace and be strengthened in all times of tribulation and temptation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Mani Swamidass and her unborn child, that the holy angels would watch over them
In thanks to God, that He has given us the gift of labor and its fruits
For those who are struggling with family conflicts, that the peace of Christ might lead them to repentance and family harmony
For good weather, that the fruits of the earth might be assured to us, though we have not deserved God's bounty
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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