Ezekiel 36:22-28 (ESV)
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.  I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
The Sunday of Exaudi, an appeal to listen, That is what Exaudi means in Latin, listen. The Sunday marks a bit of a turning point in the church year, even if it may be a bit awkward. Easter ended on Thursday. Pentecost isn’t quite here. Thursday marked the ascension, 40 days after Christ rose from the dead, he ascended from the Mount of Olives to sit at the right hand of the Father, He left to be with us. As I noted in my Ascension day sermon. He is still with us, but he could not be with us, wherever 2 or 3 are gathered without first ascending. But the Ascension, marks the end of Easter. Well there are I guess opposing traditions on that some call it Easter right up to Pentecost. To me that is quite ludicrous. Easter is the celebration of the 40 Days Christ was with his disciples bodily eating and drinking with them, teaching them after the resurrection. And I know it is awkward to have this Sunday in between seasons, with sitting by itself. But it can’t be any more awkward than it was for the disciples who were told to wait in the city. Wait they did, wait and pray. They waited and prayed for the Holy Spirit to come on them as Christ had promised. Still meeting behind closed doors, I imagine the felt a bit abandoned and scared. But they waited, and prayed, best things to do in those situations. And so the church also prays for the Holy Spirit, continually, and that is the meaning of Exaudi.
Of course the Church already has the Holy Spirit, even as the Holy Spirit had already been given to the Disciples, and yet the Holy Spirit comes in many and various ways, is never really done coming to the Christian, is constantly returning strengthening and tending to the Lord’s Sheep. Jesus had given the Disciples the Holy Spirit in John 20 right after the resurrection along with the power to forgive and retain sins. Yet he promises the Holy spirit to come again. So it is with us Christians. We pray for the Holy Spirit constantly though we have him already. We pray for that which God promises us in baptism, which is what the text in Ezekiel is all about, baptism.
I chose to preach on Ezekiel today, because it is here in this reading that God promises the Holy Spirit to his church, as opposed to, as some might say just the disciples in the Gospel reading. We weren’t with Christ from the very beginning, though even there the warnings of persecution are strong reminders that being a Christian is not about being successful safe and secure. The Biggest external threat to the west today is Islam, and when they kill Christians they think they are offering a sacrifice to God, dealing the just penalty for blasphemy, which they think it is when we say God became man and dwelt among us. If you want to hear more about that come to my Bible Study.
But God promises us the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel 36 which is all about Baptism, of which there is only one and it necessarily uses water as God commands. “I will Sprinkle Clean water on you, … I will cleanse you and give you a new spirit… I will put MY Spirit in you…” In this verse Ezekiel prophecies concerning Baptism which will become a New Sacrament, replacing the old which is circumcision, Col. 2. And Baptism promises to do more. It is in and through baptism that God promises to give us the Holy Spirit, a promise which is not empty, but a promise that comes from God and is therefore true.
It is no use asking how it is God can give us the Holy Spirit through water. God is God, he does what he wants. But it is not as if everyone taking a bath is given the Holy Spirit. Baptism is necessarily accompanied by his word, his mandate, his command and in that is his promise that brings with it the Holy Spirit.
Neither is this a matter of saying this is the only way the Holy Spirit can come. The Holy Spirit comes in whatever way he likes, and whenever he likes, how he likes. But he necessarily likes to come through and in Holy Baptism because it is there that that God the Father, the Word and Jesus, as Well as He himself promises to come to us! God Says I will Sprinkle Clean water on you, I will give you a new spirit, I will give you My Spirit! The one follows the other. Who is operating? God is operating.
He does the baptizing, it is his mandate, his institution. Oh you might see the parents bringing the children up, you might see the pastor pouring or sprinkling water. Baptists tend to hate this verse, if they actually read it. I once had a Baptist quote it to me, trying to make an argument for baptism of the holy Spirit, this new doctrine that there can be a baptism without water and that is the one you want. He was caught just a little off guard when I mentioned that this passage talks about water and being sprinkled. I recommended to him that he read his proof texts before he try to use them against me. But it is God sprinkling the clean water, it is God, giving a new spirit, it is God giving us His Spirit in baptism, and it is a powerful thing. And whoever has been baptized need not doubt that God followed through with His promises.
See that is the thing. I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit comes to us in many different ways, and works on us even when we aren’t looking. But I never know if that warm fuzzy feeling I might have from time to time is really the Holy Spirit or heart burn, or another spirit trying to wrest my soul from me. Feelings are fickle. God’s word is solid and steadfast.
But infact the Holy Spirit’s work does not end at baptism, this isn’t a once and for all and you are good sort of thing. Baptism isn’t a one time deal, but a constant throughout the Christian life. It isn’t, you were baptized, but you are baptized. Just as it isn’t you were married, but you are married. And just as the love that brought you to the altar in the first place needs to be nurtured and cared for. So the faith that brings you to baptism and is given in baptism is in constant need of nourishment, as it is constantly growing or waning. So it is you are baptized, and in that baptism our faith grows as daily we put to death the old Adam within us, and rise to new life in Christ. And thus by going where the Holy Spirit promises to be found, we grow. It is this on going aspect of baptism and faith that is behind these verses that say seek God where he may be found, or promises of the Lord being Good to the soul who seeks him.(Lam. 3:25) These are promises to those who have faith, those who have the Holy Spirit already, they are promises to you and me. And these are no more vain than baptism itself! They are promises we do well to heed. They are promises to put our fears to rest, to strengthen our faith, to bless us with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to increase our understanding and wisdom, knowledge and fear of the Lord, to give us counsel and might. They are promises to keep us in the faith and make us grow in the faith amidst the toil, turmoil and temptations of the world. To prepare us to be strong in our faith, strong in our witness, and nothing compares to it, to prayer and devotion and the constant work of the Holy Spirit that begins in baptism and continues throughout life in the constant care he provides through the regular use of the Word and Sacraments and prayer in the life of the church.
Seriously, if you want to know how you can be a better evangelist, a stronger Christian, a more faithful witness, it’s simple. Be baptized, and in that baptism come to the Lord’s Supper, and read God’s word, find time to seek God in prayer and devotion. And you will grow. You will be humbled, lifted up, thrown down, You will find you are in constant need of repentance, but you will also find that the Lord’s cup of Grace is constantly overflowing. For the Holy spirit will not forsake you, but constantly return to you with the forgiveness of sins in which we find life.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.