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THE HOLY SPIRIT TRANSFORMED THE CONFUSED DISCIPLES INTO BOLD MISSIONARY PREACHERS OF JESUS CHRIST
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-11, Psalm 103, Galatians 5:16-25, John 20:19-23


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting 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" (Acts 2:1-4).


Today we celebrate a crucial event in the life of the Church, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon her with power, enabling the timid and confused group of Jesus' disciples to finally understand his mission to the world and empowering them to preach the basic gospel message with authority and great effect. With the gift of the Holy Spirit they could now fulfill the mission to the world that the risen Jesus had given them, to "preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15) and to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Only now, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, could they put it all together and finally understand all that they had heard and seen during Jesus' ministry, death, and Resurrection.


How could they preach effectively if they themselves didn't understand what Jesus' mission was or what the gospel message was that they were supposed to preach to the whole creation? We remember the many places in the gospels where we are told that the disciples did not understand Jesus. But now at last they finally have a great breakthrough. Their understanding is clarified for them and they begin at once, on that very day of Pentecost, to preach the good news of salvation through faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


What caused this great change that transformed Jesus' timid, frightened, and confused band of disciples into such bold missionary preachers to the whole creation? It was the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.


This is important for us too, for we too can be a band of timid, fearful, and confused disciples of Jesus who do not know how to put it all together and so are, like Jesus' first disciples, unable to really properly preach the gospel of God's salvation to the world now available to all who believe in Jesus Christ, his atoning death on the cross for our sins, and his glorious Resurrection for our justification. It is the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit that will change all this for us so that at last it finally all make sense to us too, as it finally did to Jesus' disciples on Pentecost, so that we too will have a message that we are eager to preach to all who will listen to us or read our sermons.


All Christians who have been baptized and confirmed have received the Holy Spirit, but we may be in need of awakening the Holy Spirit within us. We may still need a special grace of God to activate this gift in us so that we no longer remain in a passive state of fearful confusion, but rather, like the first disciples, are suddenly overwhelmed with the tremendous meaning of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and want to preach this good news everywhere so that everyone can be forgiven, justified, sanctified, and eternally saved by him through their faith in him. It is the Holy Spirit who will work this transformation in us, giving us a mission to the world to make Christ known to all we can reach.


Jesus says, "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses" (John 15:26-27).


We need to pray for this gift of the Holy Spirit, as the disciples did, so that he will come upon us with power and bear witness to Christ within us so that we will finally understand and appreciate his message and mission to the world and so also become his witnesses to the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will testify to us about Christ and transform us into his witnesses before the world. "He [the Holy Spirit] will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses" (John 15:26-27).


The risen Jesus said to his disciples, "You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise [the Holy Spirit] of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:48-49).


So Jesus "charged them [his disciples] not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise [the Holy Spirit] of the Father, which he said, ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 1:4-5).


So the risen Jesus said to them, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).


And that is what happened. When the day of Pentecost arrived, the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit and began boldly preaching Christ and his death and Resurrection and the need to repent and put faith in him for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit.


On that very day of Pentecost, St. Peter stood up and preached to the crowds his first truly Christian sermon, saying, "Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it ... Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:22-24, 36).


"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37-38).


St. Peter preached Jesus' death and Resurrection, the forgiveness of sins in his name, and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit for all who repent and believe in him.


The inner logic and reason why forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit were granted through faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is that Jesus was the ultimate sin offering who was put death in punishment for the sins of the world so that God could finally fully and justly forgive and declare righteous all who accept him and his atoning death and Resurrection with faith.


Jesus is the Suffering Servant of the Lord, promised by Isaiah, the final sacrifice for sins, the final sin offering - a human sin offering - that fulfills all previous sin offerings. He would have our sins placed upon him by God, and then these sins would be vicariously punished in his flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4) for the salvation of all who repent and put their faith in him. Thus Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:


"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).


The Holy Spirit enables us to understand, believe in, and then preach this message, this good news, this gospel, to the world. This is the good news, the gospel message, that we are to preach.


Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, the apostles and their successors (the bishops and priests of Christ's Church) have the power to forgive sins in Jesus name, because they minister the merits of Christ's atoning death on the cross to all who make use of the sacrament of reconciliation, putting their faith in Christ's atoning death and repenting of their sins, as the risen Jesus says in today's gospel reading:


"‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23).

 

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