Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

JOHN 14:15-21


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     For the last number of Sundays, we have heard portions of Jesus' discourse to his disciples in the upper room where he had instituted the Lord's Supper.  Jesus was preparing his disciples for life in the kingdom of God after he would ascend into heaven.  Although Jesus would not be visible to them, that does not mean that he would abandon them.  And even though he is not visible to you, Jesus has not forsaken you either.  He has promised his Church: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  He keeps that promise by sending his Holy Spirit to you.
     Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth....” (John 14:16)  Perhaps “Helper” is not the best translation for that word; but then again, I don't know if English has a good one.  Some translations chose not to translate the word at all.  They transliterate the Greek to English, giving us the word “Paraclete”—not that this is any more helpful.  The word “Helper” means that Holy Spirit is literally “the one who is called to your side.”  He is at your side to encourage, to comfort, to guide and direct, to enlighten, to intercede, and to be your advocate in all circumstances of life.  While no English word can convey all of that, Jesus assures you of this: The Holy Spirit always serves for your good.
     Jesus promises “another Helper,” (John 14:16, emphasis added) because the Holy Spirit reveals what Jesus says and does for you and confirms Jesus' words and work in you.  The Holy Spirit reveals the Word made flesh only through the word of God whenever it is proclaimed in words and administered in the sacraments.  It is through this word that Jesus is manifested to you as the one whom the Father sent to set you free from your sins and to deliver you from death.  It is through this word that Jesus comes to you to bless you and to save you, to guard and keep you.  It is through the word—proclaimed by voice or administered with water or bread and wine—that the Holy Spirit gives new life in God's kingdom, strengthens your faith in his promises, and sustains your love for the Lord and his word of truth.
     Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given to you.  This is the very reason you come to church.  You do not come to church to learn new things.  Now, that may well happen, and I hope you continue to learn new things when you read and study your Bible.  But that is not the reason we come to church.  How many of you, when you came to church on Easter Sunday, came because you want to see how the story turned out?  You already knew!  Jesus is risen!  In fact, most of what you hear on Sundays you already know.  You know Jesus lived a holy life and died an innocent death on a cross.  You know Jesus is risen from the dead, and that he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  You may learn new things.  You may be fascinated to learn that Jacob and Esau were twins, that the judge Ehud was a lefty, or that Bethlehem means “house of bread.”  Such facts may be new and interesting to you, but those don't save you.
     So, why do you come to church?  Because here, Jesus manifests himself to you.  You do not come to merely learn facts about Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection; you come to receive the gifts Jesus won for you by his sufferings, death, and resurrection.  You do not come here to do something special for God.  You come because here, God serves you.  God supplies you with mercy, blessing, and salvation.  Here, God comforts you by forgiving all your sins.  Here, God assures you that death cannot really harm you.  Here, your heavenly Father puts his name on you and calls you his beloved child and an heir of eternal glory.  Here, God works in you so that you continue to pursue godly living, to love to your spouse, to serve your children, and to have compassion on your fellow man—whether friend or foe.
     Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given you.  Jesus declared, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  To hear it said this way, it sounds as if the Christian faith is all about obedience.  If that were the case, we would all have to ask: How well do I keep the Commandments?  Certainly not as well as God commands me to.  For that matter, not even as well as I want to!  So, if keeping the commandments is proof of my love for the Lord, I have to admit that my love for the Lord is pretty poor.  Some might even wonder if they are really Christians because they do not live as good as they should.
     While it is God's will that we obey his Commandments, Jesus' words are a bit broader than that.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) This is not “keep” in the sense of obey, although that is included in it; it is “keep” in the sense of guard, protect, or observe.  It is, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep, or guard, it.” (Luke 11:28)  Since you love Jesus, you will guard and preserve his word, because that word alone can save and comfort you.  People who don't come to hear God's word preached or receive his sacraments don't love this word because they don't think they need it.  They say they are too busy, which sounds like a noble excuse.  But let's rephrase that excuse to call it what it is: “I have better things to do.”  You know better; therefore guard what has been given to you.  You know you are a sinner who is going to die.  And you know that Jesus alone takes away all your sins, covers your guilt, and delivers you from death.  And you know that, through the Gospel—and only through the Gospel—Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to strengthen and keep you in the true faith so that your sins will never condemn you, so that death will not hold you, and so that you will not perish because you were too busy to receive the Lord's gifts.  Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given you by flocking to it again and again.
     Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  Love for Jesus means that we will take his words to heart and will fight to preserve it.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus met many people who challenged his word.  They tried to make Jesus backtrack or change his teachings because they exposed their sins or hurt their feelings.  Jesus, of course, never backed down or changed anything.  The Word stood firm.  You and I are not Jesus.  We still get challenged, and we get stumped.  Sometimes, we back off in fear.  Other times, we are stupefied, not knowing what to say.  And we are tempted to think that, since we don't know how to answer, we must be wrong.  In these cases, recognize that you have not mastered God's word.  Flee back to it where you are guarded and kept safe.  Although you may not have the strength or wisdom to fend off every attack, Jesus does.  He forgives you when you demonstrate your weakness.  And he guides you in word of truth.  You may, indeed, learn new things when you flee back to his word.  You will grow in your understanding of God's truth.  Most importantly, you will be kept safe by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you and keeps you in God's kingdom.  This is how you guard what has been given to you by the Lord.
     This is what life in the kingdom of God has been like since Jesus ascended into heaven.  If you want Jesus to manifest himself to you, then come to where he reveals and delivers his salvation to you.  Here, the Holy Spirit is given and sustained in you to help, to guide, to comfort, to admonish, and to encourage you throughout your life.  You have not been left as orphans; for you are God's children.  He gives you all you need, and he gives it abundantly.  Since you are the Lord's beloved redeemed, you love him.  And since you love Jesus, guard what has been given to you—for this saves you.

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

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