Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2013)

JOHN 14:23-29
OUR HELP IS IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     The Psalms teach us to pray, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)  Unfortunately, words can have various shades of meaning.  When someone confesses that the Lord is our “help,” that person might consider the Lord to be on the level of a thyroid pill.  It might balance things out, but you can still pretty much get by without him.  He is only to be used in times of grave danger or difficulty.
     But that is not the case.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is much more than a knee brace or a pair of corrective lenses.  He does not give crutches to the lame or even sessions of physical therapy.  He tells the lame man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (John 5:8)  He gives sight to the blind.  He makes the deaf hear.  He loosens the tongue of the mute.  He drives the demons out of the man who is possessed.  He raises the dead.  He does not teach you, “Apart from me, things can get pretty rough.”  He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, emphasis added)  Our Help is in the name of the Lord.  He is the Helper who saves those who are hopelessly lost. 
     In our Gospel, Jesus was speaking to his disciples during Maundy Thursday.  He was preparing them for the fact that he would not be with them much longer—not just for the next few hours, but for the rest of their lives.  He was taken from them by crucifixion, and he was restored to them by his resurrection.  For forty days, Jesus came to his apostles and taught them about the kingdom of God.  But after that time, Jesus ascended into heaven.  They would not see him again.  It would have been easy for the apostles to think—and for you to draw the same conclusion—that, if Jesus is gone, then his promises are at best iffy.  For many people, Jesus is “out of sight, out of mind.”
     The apostles had heard Jesus’ teachings.  They learned his promises.  But once Jesus ascended, would they remember them?  And if they would be Jesus’ witnesses to the world, would they get their message right and keep it straight?  Therefore, Jesus told the apostles, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26)  The apostles were not on their own.  Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to teach them, to remind them, and to guide them in recording Jesus’ words and promises.       
     You may hear that people are not interested in religion and that it is best not to talk about it.  That is untrue.  Even atheists are interested in religion, even if it is expressed by their vehemence against Jesus.  The problem is not that people don’t care about God; the problem is who they think God is.  Just this past week, NBA player, Jason Collins, announced that he is a gay man.  The response to his announcement was predictable.  For the most part, he was celebrated by athletes, celebrities, and politicians.  However, when ESPN reporter, Chris Broussard, was asked what he thought about the announcement, he said that Mr. Collins is violating God’s word.  He also stated that any violation of God’s word is sin, and that people should repent of their sins.  Broussard was right.  Every infraction against God’s word is sin.  All sin is damnable.  Every sinner must repent.  Unfortunately, because of whatever pressured he faced, it was not Collins but Broussard who has since repented of his statement.  God’s word was rejected.  Sin has been upheld.  And those who take their stand with God are vilified.
     You need not stop the presses to learn that Mr. Collins is a sinner.  You are one, too.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The response to sin, however, is where the real story is.  And sadly, it was no surprise—because sinners always turn to themselves to be their own authority for ethics, for morals, and for judgment.  We long to be our own gods.  Satan still convinces sinners, “Don’t listen to what God has to say.  He does not really love you.  Listen to your own voice.  Do what pleases you; for that is best for you.”  And we, too, try to find comfort in our opinions.  We assume that God always agrees with us.  Our actions are always righteous, or at least justifiable.  And when we have pangs of guilt, we turn to our friends because we count on them to excuse us for our sins and to assure us that we are right when we do what is wrong.  This is no help to you at all.
     You will not find peace in defying the Lord.  It will not matter if your neighbor is guilty, too.  It will not matter if your co-worker is worse.  It will not matter if the whole world feels it is right.  Sinners presume that they have the right to speak for God.  Sinners often feel that God needs correction.  This is blasphemous.  Refusing to heed God’s word is rebellion.  The Holy Spirit reveals this so that you will not try to find solace in your excuses or peace in your friends telling you that you are fine.  Do not confuse your friends’ praise of you with God’s assessment of you.  You have turned a deaf ear to God’s word.  You have not obeyed.  You are guilty, and you are accountable.  Your sin does not produce peace, but punishment.  You’ve earned your death.  You are hopelessly lost.  Repent.
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  He comes to save those who are hopelessly lost.  He has given his words and promises to the apostles so that they could write them down for you to read, learn, and take them to heart.  They are given so that you would know Jesus provides complete salvation for you.  Yes, your sins deserve death and damnation.  But Jesus has taken the cup of God’s wrath and has drained it down to its dregs for you.  His crucifixion pays for your sins.  It does not merely help you on your way; it saves you completely.  And Jesus’ resurrection shows you that his innocent death is the full price for you to receive a place in Paradise.  Jesus does not merely help you to see the way.  He IS the way.  Jesus fought your enemies of sin, death, and the devil for you.  Jesus conquered them for you.  And he gives you the spoils—forgiveness for your sins, victory over the grave, and life everlasting.
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  He provides the only peace that will last.  Therefore, take Jesus’ words to heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Jesus gives you a peace that stands against every foe, every battle, every weakness, and every fear.  It is the peace of knowing that Jesus forgives your sins.  It is the peace of knowing that you are not condemned for your weaknesses.  It is the peace of knowing that you are God’s beloved even when you despise yourself.  It is the peace of knowing that heaven awaits when this world is filled with pain.  It is the peace of knowing that, when people desert you, criticize you, or vilify you, God’s judgment is the only one that matters. 
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Your salvation and your peace remain in Christ; therefore, your salvation and your peace remain constant—in times of joy or sorrow, in times of celebration or trouble, in times of persecution, destruction, or death.  The word of the Lord endures forever.  The Holy Spirit does not forsake you.  God’s promises do not wobble.
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Therefore, you will never be severed from his heavenly peace.  Jesus has sent you his Holy Spirit through the very words he had given to the prophets and the apostles.  This is where God imparts life and faith and salvation to you.  The Holy Spirit who taught reminded the apostles of all that Jesus had said and done teaches you that Jesus saves you.  The Helper reminds you that Jesus says you are his own.  You are not helpless.  You are not even in danger.  You are sealed with the Holy Spirit through your baptism.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, and so we are saved. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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