Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (May 31, 2009)
“The Helper” (John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

Wouldn't it be nice to have your own personal assistant? Someone to jot a quick note down for you to remind you about something you'd probably forget five minutes after you thought of it? Someone who is right at your beck and call at any time of day, any time of night, to help you with those pesky little tasks that you'd rather not do yourself? Run errands, take out the garbage, make your coffee in the morning, listen to your voice mail messages and delete the unimportant ones, do those things that would help make your life more productive?

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “The Helper.” But the Holy Spirit is so much more than just a “personal assistant.” After all, he's not going to run errands for you or take out your garbage.

But how does the Holy Spirit act as our “Helper”? There is a lot of confusion in the Church today about the role of the Holy Spirit. In some parts of Christendom, the Holy Spirit seems to be emphasized more than in others. Claims are made that certain Christians or congregations are more filled with the Spirit than others. Revivals come and go where the Spirit supposedly falls upon people, causing them to fall to the ground, their bodies seemingly going into convulsions, others laughing uncontrollably. There's even a movement afoot today called “Tokin' the Holy Ghost” where people claim to get stoned on the Holy Spirit's influence, as if he were a drug.

But is this really the work of the Holy Spirit? Or is it blasphemy … complete and utter irreverant behavior before our holy God? Should we expect all kinds of wild manifestations to prove that the Holy Spirit is truly present? On that first New Testament day of Pentecost, there was the sound of a mighty rushing wind, flames of fire upon the Christians gathered there, and the ability to speak in other languages. But nowhere does the Bible say that we should expect these things as sure signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus' words from today's Gospel shed light on the way in which the Holy Spirit is our “Helper,” or as other translations put it, our “Comforter” or “Counselor” or “Advocate.” The word in the original Greek is “Paraclete.” That word appears in some of our hymns. For instance, in the last stanza of the hymn “There Is a Time for Everything” (LSB 762) we sing “O Holy Spirit, Paraclete, Your timely work in us complete.” The word “paraclete” literally means something like “one who is called to one's side for help.”

Why do we need help? We like to think we can do things on our own. At times we are either too embarrassed or too proud to ask for help. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual matters. Our old sinful nature likes to think that we can do it on our own … that we can either make our own decisions or change our hearts by an act of our will. But when it comes right down to it, you and I are absolutely helpless when it comes to spiritual matters. We desperately need a “Helper.” We need someone to come alongside of us … someone to dwell within us … to help us. And that's exactly what the Holy Spirit does for us.

The Helper helps us to know Jesus (15:26). In our text, Jesus was preparing the disciples for his departure. His death was just around the corner, his death which would pay for the sins of the world. Jesus knew that sorrow filled their hearts. They were terribly saddened by this news that he would be leaving them. He would come back to them alive, that was for sure, although the disciples still didn't fully understand nor believe. But after his resurrection, our Lord's destiny was also to ascend back into heaven, to take his place at the right hand of the Father, the place of all honor and power and authority. His visible presence would be removed from them. But Jesus promised that he would not leave them alone. He promised that he would be with them always. And he also promised that he would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to them: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

That's one of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit … to bear witness about Jesus. The Holy Spirit has been called “the shy member of the Holy Trinity.” He doesn't draw attention to himself. He draws our attention to Jesus. “He will glorify me,” Jesus said.

The Holy Spirit is indeed an equal member of the godhead. He is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, coeternal and coequal with the Father and the Son. But he is sort of like the director of a movie. He is behind the camera, giving the actors on screen the latitude to use their talents and to tell the story. The actors get all the glory and attention, although the director certainly gets his name in the credits. Likewise, the Holy Spirit puts Jesus front and center. The story of salvation is all about him. But the Holy Spirit gets credit for helping us to know Jesus through the Scriptures, pointing us to Jesus, making sure that Jesus gets all the glory. After all, remember St. Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 12, “No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) That is to say, no one can confess that Jesus is God in the Flesh, the Savior of the world, nor trust in him for salvation, unless the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God and the washing of Holy Baptism, had instilled faith in their heart.

The Helper also helps us to tell others about Jesus (15:27; 16:12-15). This is always a sticking point for us, isn't it? “I believe in Jesus. But don't ask me to talk about him.” We find ourselves getting tongue tied and shaking in our boots when confronted with competing truth claims, or when someone simply asks us to explain what we believe. What help and comfort does today's text give us in this area?

First, we can be assured of the truth of the Apostles' testimony recorded in the Scriptures. Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The disciples spent three years personally being taught by Jesus. But they also were taught directly by the Holy Spirit after they were filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. As Christ's authoritative ambassadors, the Holy Spirit guided them into all truth. The Spirit reminded them of all that Jesus said and taught. They didn't make this stuff up. It came directly from God.

That same Holy Spirit who guided the Apostles into all truth is our Helper who guides us into all truth through the Word of God. Every single word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore we can trust those words. And we can use those words as we bear witness to Jesus. Let the Spirit-inspired, God-breathed words of Holy Scripture and the Gospel do their work when it comes to converting dead hearts to believe in the Savior. And don't be afraid. What have you got to lose? Being called a religious fanatic? I've been called worse. Maybe you have, too. But listen to what St. Paul said when he encouraged young Timothy in his ministry: “...for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord … I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Tim. 1:7-8, 12-14) You and I, too, have been entrusted with that good deposit of the message of the Cross of Christ. And guarding it doesn't mean keeping under lock and key. It means diligently proclaiming it with care and concern toward others who don't know the Savior.

Finally, our text tells us that the Helper convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (16:9-10). Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world … concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Unbelief is the chief sin. It's a direct assault on the First Commandment. Apart from the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, no one would be convinced that they are a sinner needing to repent. You and I would not be convinced that we are sinners needing to repent. We must turn away from the sins named in whichever of the commandments we are breaking, because they all lead back to the First: “You shall have no other gods.” And my other god is me. I want to be on the throne of my life. I want things my way. God is not really the most important thing in my life. And that really proves that we need to be convicted of our unbelief and our need to repent.

Thankfully, the Helper moves us from convicting us of sin to convicting us of righteousness. And the way Jesus put it is this way: “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” Why was Jesus going to the Father? Because he would soon be finishing the work that his Father sent him to do … to live a perfect, righteous life, without sin, and to do so in our place … and then to die the death that you and I deserved, with God's righteous wrath laid upon his own Son at the cross. Moreover, in rising to life again, Jesus proved his victory over death and the devil, “the ruler of this world” who is judged to be defeated. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of the judgment hanging over Satan and show that all who reject the Righteous One who conquered the Evil One will face the same condemnation as he faces. But God's judgment over our sin and unbelief was laid upon Jesus. Now all who repent and trust in him are forgiven and set free, free to live a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led life of joy and hope.

The disciples probably felt rather joyless and hopeless when Jesus told them that he was going away. They felt deserted. Alone. Fearful. Anxious. Sorrow filled their heart. Perhaps that describes you today. Remember that Jesus promised to be with you always. He gives you his body and blood today. And to top it all off, he promised to send you a Helper. You received him in your Baptism. He dwells within you to comfort you, to console you, to renew you, to give life to dry bones, to kindle in you the fire of God's love, to come right alongside of you in your time of need, and to remind you of what a precious gift you have in your loving, forgiving Savior Jesus.


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