Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost Eve - Jn 14:15-21

                                                                                    Pentecost Eve
                                                                                    Jn 14:15-21

            It is said that “if it has not been for the second Martin, the first Martin would have been lost.” The “first Martin” is someone with whom you are very familiar – Martin Luther.  You may not know the “second Martin” – Martin Chemnitz.  However his work was crucial in preserving and advancing the confession of the Gospel and biblical truth that Martin Luther began. 
            Without seeking to do so, Martin Luther began the Reformation in 1517.  Over the course of the next thirty years he worked to reform the Church.  After the response that the Augsburg Confession of 1530 received, Luther and the confessors realized that the established church of their day was not going to reform.  They were not going to give up beliefs and practices that were based in ecclesiastical tradition, but were contrary to Scripture.  Because this was so, during the later years of his life Luther attended to the task of putting in place a church that would be able to continue to confess the Gospel – a church that would come to bear the name Lutheran.
            Obviously, Martin Luther was the giant of the early Lutheran church.  While he was alive his presence helped to guide the Lutherans through various questions about doctrine.  However, Luther died in 1546. The next year, the Lutherans suffered a disastrous military defeat at the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  What followed was a period of turmoil as the Lutherans tried to feel their way through life under a power that promoted the Roman understanding of what it was to be catholic. It was a time when a number of theological questions that had been simmering erupted as different groups attempted to claim Luther’s legacy.
            Martin Chemnitz was a Lutheran theologian who during the second half of the sixteenth century labored tirelessly to get Lutherans to work through these questions.  A brilliant scholar, he sought to be faithful to the Scriptures and to confess the doctrine that Luther had taught.  Working with other Lutheran theologians who had the same goal he helped to lead a process that eventually produced the Formula of Concord – a work in which he was a major author.  After thousands of Lutheran pastors signed the 1577 Formula of Concord, it was collected together along with other texts such as the Small and Large Catechisms and the Augsburg Confession to form the Book of Concord of 1580.  If it had not been for the second Martin, Martin Chemnitz, it is very likely that the Lutheran teaching of the first Martin, Martin Luther, would have been lost.
            While recognizing that all the persons of the Holy Trinity are equally God, Jesus describes something similar in the Gospel of John.  In the Gospel lesson for Pentecost Eve Jesus 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.”
            Jesus promises to send another Helper, the Spirit of truth.  It is not that Jesus’ work is somehow insufficient.  Rather it will be the Spirit’s job to take Jesus’ saving work and extend it to others.  The Spirit will help the disciples to understand who Jesus is and what he has done, and will help the disciples to remember what Jesus said.  Jesus says just after our text, “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.”
            Jesus promises in the next chapter that the presence of the Spirit will enable the disciples to bear witness to Jesus.  He 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 the Holy Spirit will enable this witness. And the witness will be all about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and so he does not call attention to himself.  Instead, he points to Jesus.  Our Lord will say in chapter sixteen, “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.”
            In this portion of John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it very clear that events must happen in this way.  Our Lord says that he is about to depart. He is about to return to the Father, just as the Father had sent him into the world in the incarnation in the first place. Jesus would soon complete the mission for which he, the Son of God, had become flesh.  He would sacrifice himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He would be lifted up on the cross so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  And he would rise from the dead, for as Jesus had said: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
            The departure of Jesus is something that would sadden the disciples. Yet Jesus says, “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.”
            On this Pentecost Eve we begin the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost.  We rejoice in the fact that Jesus kept his word.  He did send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, upon his Church.  And the Spirit has done exactly what Jesus said.  He called to remembrance in the disciples what Jesus had said.  He took what belonged to Jesus and made it known.  He enabled the disciples to bear witness about Jesus.
            That witness took place in the preaching and teaching of the apostles as they spread the Gospel in the Mediterranean world.  But it didn’t stop there. Indeed it continues on now through the inspired apostolic word.  As John says in this Gospel, “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.”
            What happened at Pentecost can be viewed from several different angles.  Tonight I want to focus on the Spirit borne witness to Jesus that continues on through the inspired, apostolic word.  Jesus said it was better for us that he depart so that he would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit.  We now meet Jesus through his Spirit inspired word. And this word is not only the audible word that is heard as it is read and preached.  It is also the visible word of the sacraments as Jesus gives us his saving word through the located means of water, and bread and wine.
            Pentecost leads us to ask how we are receiving the Spirit’s witness.  It prompts us to consider whether we are despising preaching and God’s word, or whether we are holding it sacred and gladly hearing and learning it.  We like to set the bar pretty low in our evaluation of gladly hearing and learning it.  Look around tonight if you need evidence of that.  You could have done the same thing last Thursday when it was the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  If the reading and preaching of God’s Word doesn’t take place on Sunday, well, then it doesn’t really count; no big deal if you are not there.
            I am struck by how this contrasts with places in Africa where people will travel great distances and endure hardship in order to take advantage of any opportunity to hear the word proclaimed and to receive the Sacrament. 
            Of course, you are here tonight, and so in one sense I am preaching to the choir.  Yet this example leads us to ponder other places where we set the bar very low.  Many of us spend far more time watching sports or doing hobbies than we spend in worship, Bible study and devotional reading of Scripture.  We spend far more time thinking about matters of leisure than we do pondering God’s word.
            Pentecost leads us to confront this fact and to confess it.  In that same Spirit inspired word we find assurance of forgiveness in Christ.  And through the work of the Spirit we also find the desire and motivation to make changes.  Pentecost leads us to see that in his word Jesus gives us something that required him to ascend and send forth the Spirit.  Stop and think about that.  Jesus said that if he didn’t go away, the Spirit would not come to us – the Spirit who called Jesus’ words to the apostles’ remembrance; the Spirit who bears witness about Jesus; the Spirit who takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us in the inspired word. Yet Jesus has ascended into heaven in order to make this work of the Spirit possible.  It is a work that we receive through the Scriptures – through God’s Word.  When we put it in those terms, we realize that this is a blessing we want to receive.        
            On this Pentecost Eve we rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus sent forth the Spirit to empower the Church’s Gospel witness in the world.  And especially, we give thanks that the outpouring of the Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem has given to us the word of Scripture through which the Spirit gives Jesus and his salvation to us. 

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