Sunday, May 3, 2015
Homily for Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)
John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In what ways is the Holy Spirit a helper? Quite likely not in many of the ways of which you’ve heard in popular Christian devotions, articles, and studies, from Christian televangelists, or have even thought yourself.
For example, the Holy Spirit was not given that people should have a reason to boast. Yet, even a brief pass through the “holy channels” on your TV will reveal smartly dressed preachers on gaudy stages boasting about their gifts of healing or prayer or tongues or any number of things which merit the admiration of their disciples and the luxurious homes and cars and clothing they own and desire to own. Yes, the Holy Spirit does provide spiritual gifts and fruits, but they are never given that people should have a reason to boast, but they are given to benefit the Church and the world, that God’s Name may be glorified as people come to believe and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
Additionally, the Holy Spirit was not given to protect people from temptations. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for Christians struggling with temptation to be chided, by other Christians, with the accusation that they are tempted because their faith is weak, or that they lack the Holy Spirit altogether. This is the worst kind of legalism and confusion of Law and Gospel, serving only to rob those suffering temptation of Christ’s comfort and peace because they are being assaulted by the devil. This is precisely the time that they need to hear the clear proclamation of the Gospel, that Christ has withstood all temptation for them and has defeated the devil. You are not saved because you are able to resist temptation, but you are saved because of Jesus Christ who has withstood temptation for you. No, the Holy Spirit will not protect you from all temptation, -the Scripture nowhere says that He will - but He will counsel you with the Gospel that you may persevere through temptation.
Neither was the Holy Spirit given to keep people always well. While it is true that sinful, indulgent, and abusive behaviors can lead to illness and other great harm, it is incorrect to claim that the Holy Spirit will help a believer to be always well. This is actually taught among some popular sects of Christianity. Ill persons are told that their illness is the result of weak faith, or that it is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s absence. Or, those who are ill believe it wrong to seek medical attention for their illness, believing that, to do so, would be to disbelieve, or to not have faith and trust in the Holy Spirit to protect and to heal them. Some Christian parents refuse inoculations and vaccines for their children, and some cancer patients refuse treatments for this very reason. While the Holy Spirit certainly has the power to heal, and the power to heal people through other people, the Spirit does this when and where He pleases. The healing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be manipulated or coerced. Likewise, it does not depend upon a person’s faith, but upon the will and the Word of the LORD alone.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit was not given to tell people whom to marry. The Holy Spirit was not given to cause people to roll on the floor, laugh maniacally, or to be slain in the spirit. The Holy Spirit was not given to harm or injure people. And, the Holy Spirit was not given to make people indolent and not read the Bible, believing that the Spirit gives all instruction and guidance necessary for life and salvation apart from the Word of God.
Then, for what purpose did Jesus send the Holy Spirit? In what ways is the Holy Spirit of God a helper? Well, there is no better place to go for an answer than the words of our Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” But, what does it mean to be convicted of such things? The word convict, in this usage, is very similar to the way it is used in a contemporary court of law. Convict means “to bring to light, to expose, to set forth,” therefore, the Holy Spirit will bring to light, expose, and set forth the nature of sin and righteousness and judgment. “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me”: Sin is unbelief. “Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer”: Only Christ is righteous and can enter the Father’s holy and righteous presence. “Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged”: Satan has been judged a liar, a fraud, an usurper, and a murderer. These things are true, they are facts, but men’s sinful minds, corrupted by sin and deceived by the devil, cannot see them or know them. Thus, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of these truths; He brings them to light, He exposes them, and He sets them forth, that you might repent and throw off the shackles of the devil’s lies and deceptions and live in the freedom of Christ and the Gospel to the glory of God the Father.
This is the purpose for which Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. And, this is how the Holy Spirit is a helper. The Holy Spirit helps you to see things for the way they are. That is to say, the Holy Spirit exposes the Truth. And, that is to say that the Holy Spirit leads you to Jesus. In fact, that is precisely what Jesus says the Holy Spirit does: “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. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Pretty clear, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit will guide you to the Truth. He will guide you to Jesus. Nothing about boasting of yourself or your spiritual gifts. Nothing about being protected from temptations. Nothing about keeping you healthy, or telling you who to marry, or causing you to behave like a lunatic, or not to read the Bible because the Holy Spirit is going to reveal something to you personally apart from God’s Word and Blessed Sacraments. Nope, not a single thing about any of that nonsense. Oh, but, what about those spiritual gifts and fruits Paul talks about, you say? Yeah, so, what about them? Does St. Paul contradict Jesus? No, he most assuredly does not! Then, let us begin with the Truth about the Spirit that our Lord reveals to us, and then consider St. Paul’s words in light of that Truth – Scripture interprets Scripture, always.
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” writes St. James, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The Holy Spirit is the good and perfect gift of the Father, for the Holy Spirit directs you to Jesus in whom there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. This Truth can never change. The Holy Spirit is not given to give you something to boast about, to protect you from temptation, to keep you healthy, to find you a spouse, to make you act like a lunatic, or to give you a special revelation apart from the revealed Word of God. But, the Holy Spirit is given you that you might know Jesus and receive from Him forgiveness, life, and salvation, and bear His fruits – yes, Jesus’ fruits – and glorify His Father. He will glorify Jesus, for He will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to you. All that the Father has belongs to Jesus, therefore, the Holy Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to you. That’s His job. That is the way in which the Holy Spirit is a helper, and helps you. The Holy Spirit helps you to see the Truth, that everything belongs to Jesus: Your wealth, your health, and your reputation; your spouse and your children; your life and your salvation. Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar? It all belongs to Jesus, even Caesar belongs to Jesus. Therefore, do not permit the stuff of this world, even your spiritual gifts, and even your life, to become for you an idol. Thou shalt have no other gods before me? That’s right, thou shalt not – not that there are any other gods. Everything belongs to Jesus. The Holy Spirit will help you to see, to believe, and to confess this truth. Thanks be to God.
O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will – Your will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found – In Jesus, to the glory of Your Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.