Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 25, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: John 14:15-21

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day when we remember those who gave their lives fighting for our country.  Why were they willing to do this?  To be honest, some did it because they had no choice.  They were drafted and forced to fight in an unpopular war.  Some were drafted and fought out of a sense of duty and honor in a noble cause.  Others signed up voluntarily.  They were willing to serve because they loved their country and the principles of freedom for which it stands.

What goes through the mind of a soldier in the hours leading up to a battle?  Will I survive this?  Will I live another day to see my comrades?  To be able to go home eventually and see my family?  While soldiers are trained intensively to steel themselves for the horrors of war, I’m sure there is still a measure of fear and uncertainty underneath their courageous visage.

What was going through the minds of the disciples as they listened to Jesus the night before his crucifixion?  Did they fully understand what Jesus was talking about?  Did they know what he was preparing them for?  Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of the encouragement the Lord Jesus gave to the disciples as he prepared them for his death and departure.  The disciples were confused and uncertain.  They didn’t quite understand what Jesus was doing or talking about.  He acted as a lowly servant and washed their feet.  He foretold that one of their number would betray him and that Peter would deny knowing him three times.  The disciples had followed him and learned from him for some time, but now Jesus says, “Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33).  Jesus knows the devastating sorrow the disciples will face in the next few days.  Yet he also foresees the glorious outcome beyond all the suffering he would endure, and so he gives them hopeful promises.  He promises the help of the Holy Spirit and his own enduring presence and life.

The love of country leads a soldier to do his duty.  In a similar way, our love of Jesus leads us to keep his commandments.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Also, the words of our Introit from Psalm 119 call us to “delight” in God’s Law:  “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (Ps. 119:82-83).

Now, at first this sounds discouraging.  We’re not so skilled at keeping the Ten Commandments.  This leads us to doubt our love for God and God’s love for us.  This is when we need to remember that Christ did not come to be a new Moses, a new Lawgiver.  If that were the case, then it would have been unnecessary for him to bear our sins upon himself at the cross.  Jesus did not come to lay a further burden upon us that we could never bear.  Instead he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Likewise, in 1 John 5, the apostle writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).  The word for “law” and “precepts” in Psalm 119 are broader terms that include all of God’s counsel.  God’s gracious promises are included here.  They are the words that give life, not the Law.  The Gospel calls us to faith and brings forth faith in our hearts.  The Law, on the other hand, brings wrath (Rom. 4:15).  It shows that we have not measured up to God’s expectation of holiness.

The commandments which Jesus says we will keep are these:  faithfully preaching about him, carefully guarding and administering his Word and Sacraments, showing affection and harmony for one another, and patiently bearing all adversities that come our way because we belong to Jesus.  Our love for Jesus and his truth will lead us to willingly observe all these commands.  More importantly, it’s what Jesus has done for us that empowers and motivates our love for him.  “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  He gave his life for us and shed his blood for us.  Therefore we gladly live in harmony and friendship with one another, listen and apply what we learn in his Word, and avoid creating division in our midst.[i]  Our prayer in today’s collect is answered as we “think those things that are right” and by God’s “merciful guiding accomplish them.”

Up to this point, the presence of Jesus has given the disciples strength and courage.  Now, he tells them he will soon be leaving.  In his Ascension, Jesus would remove his visible presence from his disciples.  And so, he promises to ask the Father to send “another Helper.”  Jesus had been their “Helper.”  He had been the one who was their constant companion, the one who walked along side them to be their support and their advocate.  But now, he would send “another Helper to be with you forever.”

Jesus calls this Helper “the Spirit of truth.”  He is the Spirit of truth because he points us constantly to Jesus who is “the Truth.”  This is also why Jesus says, “the world cannot receive [him], because it neither sees him nor knows him.”  The world is deceived by the devil’s lies … in particular, the lie that there is no such thing as “truth.”  The unbelieving world has no concept of the Holy Spirit working through Holy Scripture and the preaching of Christ.  But Jesus says, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  For you and me today, we have that same Spirit, given in the saving waters of Holy Baptism and in the forgiving Word of the cross.  The devil will attempt to make you doubt the Spirit’s presence.  He will try to get you to compare yourself to the greatest of saints and make you think “I can never be as faithful as them.  Maybe I do not have the Holy Spirit.”  That’s when you must recall that you are baptized.  God promises that in baptism “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) and that baptism “now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  And consider how “Every bit of faith, love, obedience, every holy motion, delight in God and his Word, its promises, comfort, etc., is both a mark of the Spirit’s presence in us and of our knowledge of who and what he really is.”[ii]

Jesus has promised that he would not leave us as orphans.  In fact, not only did he send the Holy Spirit as another Helper.  He promised that he himself would continue to be present among his disciples.  “I will come to you,” he said.  The world would see him no more, but he would show himself to his followers.  After his resurrection, he appeared publicly only to his disciples until his Ascension.  But then came Pentecost and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  Once Jesus’ work of dying and rising again for the forgiveness of sins was completed, then the full work of the Spirit commenced.  Now, the disciples would know fully the truth of the presence of Jesus for his Church.  “In that day,” Jesus said, “you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you … He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  And this is the way you and I “see” Jesus, too.  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are united together in the love of God … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Spirit dwells with you and is in you.  Jesus comes to you.  Because he lives, you also will live.  He is in the Father.  At one with the Father, Jesus shares his eternal life with you.  You are in Jesus.  Jesus is in you.  You love him.  The Father loves you.  Jesus loves you.  He manifests himself to you.  You are wrapped up in the love of Christ and his resurrection life and the life and love of the Holy Trinity.  And since this is the case, then death and hell can never claim you.

A small orphaned boy lived with his grandmother.  One night their house caught fire.  The grandmother, trying to rescue the little boy asleep upstairs, perished in the smoke and flames.  A crowd gathered around the burning house.  The boy’s cries for help were heard above the crackling of the blaze.  The front of the house was a mass of flames.  No one seemed to know what to do.  Suddenly a stranger rushed from the crowd and circled to the back where he spotted an iron pipe that reached an upstairs window.  He disappeared for a minute, then reappeared with the boy in his arms.  Amid the cheers of the crowd, he climbed down the hot pipe as the boy hung around his neck.

Weeks later a public hearing was held in the town hall to determine in whose custody the boy would be placed.  Each person wanting the boy was allowed to speak briefly.  The first man said, “I have a big farm.  Every boy needs to grow up around animals and to work outdoors.”  The second man told of the advantages he could provide:  “I’m a teacher.  I have a large library.  He would get a good education.”  Others spoke. Finally the richest man in the community said, “I’m wealthy. I could give the boy everything mentioned tonight: farm, education, and more, including money and travel.  I’d like him in my home.”

The chairman asked, “Anyone else like to say a word?”  From the backseat rose a stranger who had slipped in unnoticed.  As he walked toward the front, deep suffering showed on his face.  Reaching the front of the room, he stood directly in front of the little boy.  Slowly the stranger removed his hands from his pockets.  A gasp went up from the crowd.  The little boy, whose eyes had been focused on the floor until now, looked up.  The man’s hands were terribly scarred.  Suddenly the boy emitted a cry of recognition.  Here was the man who had saved his life.  His hands were scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe.  With a leap the boy threw himself around the stranger’s neck and held on for life. The farmer rose and left.  The teacher, too.  Then the rich man.  Everyone departed, leaving the boy and his rescuer who had won him without a word.  Those marred hands spoke more effectively than any words.[iii]

The scarred hands of Jesus declare that he is your rescuer.  He is the one who promised, “I will not leave you as orphans.”  He is the one who sacrificed his life for yours.  His sacrifice moves you to love him and love what he commands.  He is the one who is present for you today in an even greater way than he was for the Twelve.  He is your exalted Savior who is seated at the right hand of the Father, yet who also comes to you in the bread and wine.  On this Memorial Day weekend, Jesus gives you more than just a meal to remember him by.  He is truly present for you with his body and blood in this meal of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is the one who sends the Spirit of Truth into your heart to bind you to the love of the Father so you can face your daily battles with courage, with comfort, and with confidence in Christ Jesus your ever-present Savior.

Alleluia! Not as orphans
    Are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us;
    Faith believes, nor questions how.
Though the cloud from sight received Him
    When the forty days were o’er,
Shall our hearts forget His promise:
    “I am with you evermore”?[iv]


[i] Thoughts in this paragraph borrowed from Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, p. 102). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
[ii] Lenski, John, 1001.
[iv] LSB 821:2

No comments: