Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter - Exaudi

                                                                                    Easter 7
                                                                                    Jn 15:26-16:4

            A great deal of parenting involves telling children what they don’t want to hear.  It comes down to telling children things that they don’t believe are true.  We tell children that they need to eat vegetables at dinner – even though children say they are yucky and that they don’t want to eat them.  We tell children that they need to go to bed now – even though children say that they should be able to stay up later and that they will be fine the next day.  We tell children that they can’t spend all of that money they just received on a toy – even though our children protest in tears and tantrums that they must have that toy now.
            And of course, the reality is that we as parents are right. Children don’t want to hear these things.  Children don’t believe that they are true.  But none of that changes the realities of life that we as parents have learned – often by our own experience.
            So, vegetables have vitamins that bodies need to stay healthy.  Children who stay up too late, end up being crabby and difficult the next day.  Habits of saving must be fostered and developed if children are to manage their money successfully when they are older. The list of these kinds of things goes on and on.  Saying these things wears on parents because we are saying things that are true, only to have our children respond in ways that demonstrate they don’t want to hear it and don’t believe it is true.
            However, as we listen to our Gospel lesson today, it is we who are the children.  We don’t want to hear what our Lord has to say.  We don’t really believe that it is true.  And so for our own good, the Lord speaks the truth to us once again.
            Our Gospel lesson this morning is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” that covers chapters fourteen to seventeen of John’s Gospel.  The setting for Jesus’ words is the trip from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Our Lord is about to be betrayed and arrested.  He will be tried and tortured, and at 3:00 p.m. the next day he will be dead on a cross.  By the time the sun goes down the next day he will be buried in a tomb.
            All of this is just about to happen.  Yet here Jesus talks about what will happen after it.  He talks about his resurrection and return to the Father.  He talks about the sending of the Holy Spirit. And he talks about the opposition that the disciples will receive from the world.
            In our text Jesus says, “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. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”   Our Lord says that he will send the Spirit who will bear witness about Jesus.  And the witness of the Spirit will be accompanied by the witness of his disciples.
            In our text, Jesus then goes on to explain that he has been telling them about this in order to prepare them.  He adds, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
            Throughout this portion of John’s Gospel, there are three themes that repeat.  The first is that Jesus is leaving them and going to the Father.  The second is that Jesus is going to send the Spirit.  The third is that the world will persecute them.
            Now that Jesus will be leaving them is clear.  He says in this chapter, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
This is of course Jesus’ ascension into heaven that we celebrated on Thursday.
            Jesus will be leaving them.  He will no longer be present in the manner that they had known him during the last three years – in the manner that they had known him since Easter and the resurrection. As Jesus explains to the disciples what will happen after this, the second and third points are twin themes that run together.  It is something that is announced the first time Jesus mentions the sending of the Spirit.  He says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  The opposition of the world and the work of the Spirit are two sides of the same reality.
            Immediately before our text, Jesus had said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
            Our Lord is clear about what awaits the Church. We will receive the world’s hatred. Jesus tells us that his answer to this situation is the Holy Spirit whom he will send.  He says, “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. 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.”
            Now frankly, we see many reasons to be afraid.  We live in a changing world – a world that seems to be undergoing a seismic shift.  Where there was once the simple matter of right and wrong, now there is only your perspective and my perspective.  Where once it was entirely normal to say that something was wrong and a sin, now this can draw the accusation that you are intolerant, bigoted and have a phobia. Where once Christians felt comfortable in their world, now they feel threatened as culture and the government begin to exert coercion against Christian beliefs and practices.  And the threat isn’t only on the outside.  We see many who claim to be Christian inventing new ways to abandon God’s Word and embrace the world around us.
            Our answer to these things would definitely not be for Jesus to leave us.  Yet that is not the way Jesus sees things.  Just after our text he goes on to say, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
            Jesus declares that it is to our advantage for him to go away, for only in this way can the Spirit be sent.  If we ask why this is, we don’t get an answer. And that doesn’t satisfy us.  Like small children we whine and carry on because we don’t want to hear this; because we don’t think it is true.
            But Jesus says otherwise.  And so on this morning we need to put on our big boy and big girl pants, and listen to the Lord.  We need to admit that God is God and we are not.  We need to recognize the truth that the Lord Jesus knows what he is talking about.  And so we need to listen to what Jesus says the Spirit does in our midst.
            In our text Jesus says, “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. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”  Jesus says that the Spirit bears witness about him.  And he sets the witness of the apostles parallel to this. 
            The reason is that the Spirit is the One who was at work through the apostles.  Jesus says, “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.”  It is Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will be at work in the apostles to teach them and to cause them to remember the things Jesus said.
            The work of the Spirit will be to deliver Jesus.  After our text the Lord says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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.”
            Jesus Christ says that in the face of the world’s opposition, what we need is for the Holy Spirit to give Jesus and his saving work to us.  And that is what the Spirit does through the apostolic Scriptures he inspired. The Spirit breathed Word of God continues to be the means by which the Holy Spirit bears witness to us about Jesus.
            The Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us.  He makes it known to us in ways that create and sustain faith in the crucified and risen Lord in spite of the world’s opposition.  He sets before us the truth about Jesus, that, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The Spirit assures us that because the ascended Lord was lifted up on the cross, we now have eternal life.
            We don’t claim to understand fully why it is better that the Lord Jesus has departed to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit, the Helper.  We can see that where the incarnate Lord was located in one place as he lived our human existence, the Spirit is now at work throughout the entire globe wherever the Gospel is shared.  He is at work in millions of places through the Scripture he inspired – the Scripture that continues to be the vehicle for his work.
            Yet, surely, there is more to it than this.  In our text, Jesus declares, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” “These things” are both the fact of persecution and also the sending of the Spirit.  Jesus says the Spirit of the ascended Lord is what we need in order to face a world that is hostile to Jesus and the Gospel. 
            There is a mystery here that we don’t fully understand. And really, that should not surprise us because in this Gospel our Lord says that the work of the Spirit is mysterious. In chapter three of this Gospel Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
            And so rather than saying that we don’t want to hear it; that we don’t believe it; or that we don’t fully understand it, we simply rejoice that our Lord says it, and therefore it is true.  We give thanks that the Spirit sent by Jesus has given us new life as we were born again of water and the Spirit.  We embrace the Scriptures – the inspired Word of God – through which the Spirit makes Jesus known to us.  As John says near the end of this inspired Word of God: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

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