Red. Most years, it’s the least used color of the year. As we go through the life of our Lord each year, there are four colors – blue for Advent – a time of preparation, Purple for Lent – a time of penitence, Black for Good Friday – a time of death, and White for Christmas, Epiphany and Easter – a time to celebrate the fulfillment of the promise. The Holy Spirit only gets one color – red.
We devote nearly half the church year to the life of Jesus, and one Sunday to the Holy Spirit. And we re-use that color for things like ordination, Reformation, anniversaries, and so on. Some churches are all about the Holy Ghost. They talk about him a lot more, they focus on his work a lot more. They seem so on fire. And on Pentecost, we hear of the mighty rushing wing, the tongues of fire, the mighty preaching of Peter, and three thousand baptized, and it sounds like a pretty good idea. Maybe if we focused on those things, we could have powerful sermons, exciting events, and if not tongues of fire on our heads, then at least some extra baptisms here and there.
But, even the apostles didn’t get to live on Pentecost Day forever. The tongues of fire happen in chapter two. In the following twenty-six chapters, there is no more mighty rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no thousands baptized on a single day. Even in the wonder-filled life of the apostles, Pentecost is a dramatic and very different day.
Today is the day that the disciples stopped cowering in fear, and began preaching, teaching in the temple. The same men who were behind locked doors, were suddenly standing up to the Sadducees and Pharisees. They received the Holy Spirit, and they boldly confessed. But do not think that the Holy Spirit just made everything rosy and easy for the early church. It would be misreading scripture to say, “If we had some extra spirit, then it would be easy to go out there, evangelize, convert thousands, heal people,” and so on. As the book of Acts makes clear, while Pentecost was a turning point, there were still good days and bad. Not everything was suddenly easy. There were controversies, and disagreements, difficulties, cash shortages, poverty, persecution, more persecution, people arrested and killed for the faith, believers scattered, imprisonments, beatings. But, all of this was in service to the Gospel. And so, Acts constantly talks about how – regardless of the reverses or the difficulties, the Holy Spirit continued to work, the Gospel continued to be preached, the people continued in the doctrine, and the church continued to pray, praise, and give thanks.
The Gospel is not the story of the Holy Spirit working among the twelve on Pentecost. The Gospel that is preached on Pentecost, and whenever the apostles gathered, is the good news of Jesus death, resurrection and ascension. God becoming man for the forgiveness of sins. That is the substance of the Peter’s preaching on Pentecost. It’s what St Stephen preaches just before he is martyred for the faith. It is what Paul preaches in every town on his missionary journeys, yes, even the ones where he had to leave suddenly or face a lynch mob. Jesus reconciling us to God is what the apostles preach. Today does not mark the birth of the Spiritian church, but the Christian church. We are of Christ. He is the one who died to save you, and rose again so that forgiveness of sins could be given to you.
The day of Pentecost is the day of the Holy Spirit. But what does the Spirit do? Luther says, “The Holy Spirit, as his name implies, makes us holy.” That is, he claims as God’s own, set apart for his work, our bodies now not for the lusts and passions of the flesh, but temples of the holy spirit. How does the Holy Spirit do these things? Through the Holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus explains the work of the Spirit this way, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Spirit works not by amazing feats of daring-do on the part of Christians, Not by a constant stream of miracles, but by teaching us what Jesus says and does. That is the work of the Spirit. It seems so ordinary, so everyday. Jesus doesn’t even mention the tongues of fire. Why not?
Because as amazing and exciting as that is, it’s an extraordinary event. It is not the ordinary way of working. And even in the lives of the apostles the ordinary way of working is different than what happens on Pentecost. Small numbers, faithfully working, teaching, preaching, worshipping, and praying. This is what we see and hear about. The Gospel goes to every corner of the world, it is true. And after Pentecost we see the church explode with Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so on. Paul takes the Gospel even to the City of Rome itself – where there is already a church preceding him. Exciting times, great stories of conversion, of faith, of laboring in the fields of the Lord and reaping a bountiful harvest. And yes, it is the spirit working through the apostles that does this. But it happens most often through the ordinary, everyday things.
And the work of the Spirit in all of this is not the dramatic Spirit-filled Pentecostal vision, but bringing Jesus to people. That’s what starts happening on Pentecost. The work of Jesus continues through his Holy Christian church – as the salvation he won for us is given out through the preaching, through the baptizing and feeding.
The change of Pentecost is that no longer is there the fear of the law – the Holy Spirit brings to the apostles the everlasting joy of the good news about Jesus. That’s what the spirit does – teaches – teaches what – Jesus. He brings to remembrance all that Jesus has said. That is, he keeps the church focused on Jesus. Because Jesus is the way – the only way – to the Father.
The forgiveness you receive is earned by Jesus, but the Spirit gives faith to grab hold of the promise and receive the gift. It is his work to bring you to repentance and to change your heart of stone into a heart of flesh so that you would believe the Gospel.
When Paul goes into a new town, he tries the synagogue first. When that fails and he is kicked out, he takes a few who follow his word, and proclaims to the Gentiles. And then, it often doesn’t take long for the rest of the town to get upset at this man who is saying stop buying idols from the idol makers. Stop offering sacrifices in our wealthy pagan temples. Stop supporting the tourist attractions that bring in visitors and money. And so, off he goes to another town. But the small persecuted group that he began is blessed by the Spirit, and continues in the faith.
The world sees it all as so much foolishness. The idea that Jesus forgives our sins by his death!??! How is death anything other than weakness. We need someone who can conquer Satan in a glorious epic battle. But of course, that’s what the cross is. By faith we see the glory, the salvation of the cross. That’s why it’s posted here and there. And Jesus is on both of them. It’s easy to see on the processional cross. It’s a little harder to see on the altar cross, but the letters IHS are there. They are the first three letters of the Greek word Iesus. Jesus is on the cross because Jesus saves us from sin. And the work of the Spirit is to teach us about Jesus.
And that brings us back to Red. The Anchor – the sure and certain hope of we have in Jesus. Hebrews 6:19 “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” The inner place behind the curtain is the holy of holies, which Jesus went into at his crucifixion. He offered the sacrifice in the holy of holies with his own blood. That was the cleansing sacrifice.
The boat – a symbol of the church in Baptism. 1 Peter 3:20 “When God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That is why the main part of the church is called the Nave – The same as Navy – boat. You are in the ark of the church by virtue of your Baptism, when you were washed with the new birth of water and spirit.
And the dove, as we have in our Baptism window – the spirit descended as a dove on Jesus when he was baptized, and the voice of the Father came from the cloud.
So why do we have red for things like ordination, confirmation, martyrs of the church? It is not the Holy Spirit shares his color. It is because without the Holy Spirit there is no church. Without the Holy Spirit there is no faith. There is no confession, there are no pastors, no martyrs. The Holy Spirit calls by the Gospel, enlightens with his gifts, he makes you holy, keeps you in the faith, just as he does all those things as he gathers the church around the word, around the gospel, the good news, the promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake. That is the feast of Pentecost, rightly understood. The Spirit coming to you to bring you Jesus, through the water and the word. It is by the spirit we confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the glory of God the Father.