Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 20, 2018)

NOTE:  This sermon was preached on a day when four teens observed the Rite of Confirmation.

JOHN 14:25-27

THE SPIRIT MAKES YOU 
MINDFUL OF CHRIST.

In the name + of Jesus.

     In just a few moments, you four teens will be observing the Rite of Confirmation.  You will be confessing your faith, which we have studied intently for the past several years.  You are, by no means, done with the word of God.  But our studies enable you to make your confirmation vows in a confident and informed manner.  Perhaps the most alarming question in the Rite of Confirmation is this one: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”
     I suppose people might think that question means: Are you willing to die a martyr's bloody death for your Christian faith?  Our Lord has let his people confess their faith with their blood in the past, and in some parts of the world, currently.  Odds are, you won't have to; but I don't know what the future holds, either.  But one thing is for sure: You are going to die at some point.  And at your deathbed, the only thing that will bring you peace are the promises your Savior has made to you.  Those matter more than the promise you make today.  I pray that you will be faithful to your confirmation vows, just as I pray that those who sit behind you will remain faithful to theirs vows, too.  But our comfort and our peace will always be from the promises Jesus has made to us.
     Jesus spoke to his apostles the night before he was crucified.  He told them that he would be leaving them soon, and he commissioned the apostles to be his witnesses to the world.  That commission not only included preaching, but also writing the words and works of Jesus in the Gospels so that forgiveness, peace, and salvation would be made known to future generations.  These words make us mindful of Jesus Christ and his peace.
     Now, if you recall from the Gospels, there are a number of times when these disciples said to Jesus, “Could you explain the parable to us.”  Or you might recall Jesus chastising them, “You of little faith, do you still not understand?”  These kinds of comments are a bit unnerving.  If the apostles did not always understand Jesus' teachings when he was with them, can we really trust that they remembered his words after his ascension?  You were assigned memory work for Catechism Class.  I had you memorize the Three Articles of the Apostles' Creed three years in a row.  How well could you recite them right now?  How well do you think the people sitting behind you would do years after their catechism instruction?
     If you have concerns about the memory of the apostles and, therefore, the record of Jesus' words and works in the Gospels, Jesus alleviates your fears and concerns.  He told them, “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 Spirit made these apostles mindful of Christ—all he did, all he said, and all the blessings he won for us by his life, death, and resurrection.  The Holy Spirit also worked through the apostles in their preaching and their writing so that we have the words and works of Jesus recorded accurately and truthfully.  Though Jesus did and said other things which are not recorded in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the words which he wants us to have.  These are what we need for direction, for correction, for comfort, for encouragement, and for salvation.  The Spirit makes you mindful of Christ through them.
     Through the Scriptures, we also receive the blessing which Jesus gave to his apostles: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)  Jesus gives you his Holy Spirit who gives you peace.  But he does not give as the world gives.
      You teens are entering a time of your life when you will discover that the world offers countless distractions and pleasures.  Some are good.  Some are harmless.  Some are destructive.  You will be promised that worldly pursuits and pleasures will give you all you need, and that these will make you happy.  It is a lie.  To be fair, worldly pleasures and pursuits may give you a moment of happiness.  If you give into greed, you may get more money.  But no one on his deathbed wished he had a larger bank account.  If you give into lust, you may get a moment's pleasure.  But it will be followed by the pain of being used or the shame of using another for your own pleasure.  If you learn to manipulate people, you will get them to perform for you.  But your momentary triumph will cost you long-term friendships.  No matter what blessings you get in this world, they are slowly lost over time.  That is the best the world can give.  For a moment, it might seem like a pretty good deal.  But that is all you get—a moment.  In the end, you lose everything—worst of all, your soul.  Beware.  It happens far more easily than you think.
     But the Spirit makes you mindful of Christ who says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)  Jesus gives you an enduring peace.  It is not lost when you lose friends or possessions.  It is not taken away when life gets hard.  It does not shatter when your world falls apart.  The peace that Jesus gives was secured by his sufferings, death, and resurrection.  By his sufferings and death, Jesus has taken away your sin.  No matter what you have done, Jesus' holy, precious blood washes it away.  His innocence covers over your shame.  He pardons every offense.  And the Savior who went into death to pay for your sins also conquered death by his resurrection.  Jesus, who has redeemed you and made you a child of God, will also deliver you from the grave.  He grants you eternal life.  Nothing can erase Jesus' sufferings and death.  Nothing nullifies his resurrection.  Therefore, nothing can take your peace away from you.  Even amidst tears, you still have Jesus' promises.  Even when your world is falling apart, Jesus' promises remain rock solid.  Jesus still has his Holy Spirit dwell in you to comfort and sustain you.
     Jesus gave his Holy Spirit to the apostles so that they would proclaim the works of Jesus which has secured your peace.  The Church gathers to hear those words again and again because we will always need that comfort and assurance.  Granted, much of what you hear in sermons will not be new information.  That's why people are tempted to think that Confirmation is like graduating from religion.  After years of studying the catechism, you have learned quite a bit.  But Christians do not go to church just to gain knowledge.  We go to be strengthened and sustained in the true Christian faith.  We go to hear the words of Jesus and to receive the Holy Spirit's gifts.  It is like a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary.  A man buys his wife a card and writes a note expressing his love for his wife.  No woman looks at those words and shrugs, “Yeah, well, I already knew that.”  She is grateful for his words and cherishes them.  Many women will even keep that card—not because it was news, but because it is an expression of their love and commitment to each other.
     The Holy Spirit still comes through the words which he inspired the prophets and aposltes to write.  Chances are, you will still discover things in God's word which you have not recognized before.  But we come to hear our Lord's love for us, and to respond to him with our confession and with our praises.  The Holy Spirit makes you mindful of Christ.  He sustains and keeps you in the faith by that word—whether it is preached or whether it is added to the sacrament.  A faith that is not fed will die.  But a faith that is fed will keep Christ's peace.  A faith that is fed will remain steadfast.  It will persevere through trials and temptations.  It will suffer all things, even death.  And it will preserve you through death to a joyful resurrection.
     Dear friends in Christ, and especially you catechumens who are about to be confirmed, God is on your side.  Jesus bestows his peace upon you.  The Holy Spirit is working to keep you for time and eternity in God's care.  These blessings are given each week from this pulpit.  They are fed to you from this altar.  They sustains you whenever you read the Scriptures in your own private devotion.  In this way, you will be faithful to your confirmation vow.  In this way, the Holy Spirit will keep you mindful of Christ.  And in this way, you will be assured that Christ is always mindful of you.

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