Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)

John 16:5-15; James 1:16-24; Isaiah 12:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord’s talk of leaving them and of going to His Father filled the hearts and the minds of His disciples with such great sorrow and fear that they could not be comforted by the good news of where He was going and why, but they were overcome by sorrow and fear of what might happen to them once He was gone. And, you are no different. Indeed, just like Jesus’ disciples, you are prone to fear, sorrow, hopelessness, and despair because, though you hear the LORD’s Words and Promises, you do not believe them, wholly, and you do not trust in them, but you believe that you are on your own and have to fend for yourselves. Therefore, Jesus’ Words to His disciples are also His Words to you this day: “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.” This Word is meant to direct you away from your fallen reason, wisdom, and deceptive emotions, to His sure and certain Word and promise. Jesus has not left you alone. There is no reason for fear and sorrow and despair. Jesus has sent you a Helper, His Holy Spirit, who “will guide you into all the truth.”
In today’s Gospel, your Lord Jesus provides you the clearest, most direct and forthright description of the Holy Spirit’s work in all of Scripture: The Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” That word convict, in this usage, means to expose, to prove, or to convince of the Truth. Hence Jesus proclaims, “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, [….] He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” However, men do not often like to hear the Truth. Indeed, today people are want to believe that there is no such thing as Truth, but only human constructs, opinions, identities, and beliefs. Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit is a much resisted and rejected work. What the Holy Spirit exposes and proves and convinces of is denied and rejected and covered up by people who prefer the darkness to the Light of Truth.
The Spirit of Truth will convict the world concerning sin. He will expose, convince, and prove to us that we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. Now, no one likes to have their imperfections and failings exposed, how much less to be shown that they have sinned and are sinners throughout. We often react in anger and self-defense when someone tells us that we are wrong. However, the conviction of the Holy Spirit is much more serious than the conviction of men. Those who accuse us and expose our failings eventually go away. Not so the Spirit of Truth, but He is always with us, always convicting, always, exposing, always proving to us that we have sinned and that we are sinners. We experience this work of the Holy Spirit as conscience, and it makes us feel guilty, because we are guilty and are stained by sin. Surely this is an uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling. We do not like it, and, generally, there are two likely reactions: Deny the accusation, justify ourselves and insist that we are correct and not wrong, and convict, judge, and condemn those who convict us. However, when the one who convicts us is the Holy Spirit, to convict, judge, and condemn Him is to call good evil and evil good – which is nothing less than the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit and unbelief. And, ultimately, that is precisely what the Spirit of Truth has been sent to expose. The proper response, of course, is to accept the conviction, to repent and humble oneself before the mercy of the LORD. For, the purpose of the Spirit’s conviction is not to drive you into unbelief, but to drive you to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ that you may receive forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Needless to say, this is an extremely important and necessary work of the Holy Spirit, for, as we confess in the Catechism, in the Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We need the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, that we may repent and be forgiven and live. This work of the Holy Spirit is a precious and vital gift of the LORD for which we must be thankful and praise His grace and mercy, and glorify Him in repentance and humility, faith, and love.
The Spirit of Truth will also convict the world concerning righteousness. He will expose, convince, and prove to us that there is no one who is righteous except the LORD. Once again, this is not something that our sinful nature likes to hear or wants to believe. We like to think that we are good people, at least better than most. After all, we go to church, we are generally kind to others, we give to charity if sometimes grudgingly, we often let someone merging into traffic pass in front of us, but two is enough, after that no one’s getting in, etc. Ha! Do you see how absurd our justifications and self-reassurances of our goodness and righteousness are? Even the things we boast of doing that are good have extremely low limits and thresholds before we consider that we are right in withholding from others. Our self-righteousness is a lie perpetuated by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, a lie that can keep us from repenting and seeking forgiveness in Jesus. After all, if you are alright on your own, then what do you need Jesus for? That’s what Satan wants for you. He doesn’t need to terrify you and tempt you to worship him. No, he doesn’t need to do anything that obvious and flamboyant. All he needs to do is to get you to believe that you are alright, just the way you are. And, he accomplishes this by tempting you to have an eagle eye for the sins and failings of others, but to be virtually blind to those of your own. Indeed, Jesus teaches us not to judge others, not because judging itself is bad, but because when you judge others for their sins and failings you are unable to see those of your own. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus has gone to His Father and is no longer with us to teach us about the dangers of self-righteousness, therefore He has sent the Spirit of Truth to expose, prove, and convince you of your own unrighteousness that you might place your fear, love, and trust in the righteousness of God revealed in His Son Jesus Christ and receive His righteousness as your own, even as your brother and sister in Christ, your neighbor, the stranger, and even your enemy must receive their righteousness. Once again, this work of the Holy Spirit is a precious and vital gift of the LORD for which we should be thankful and praise and glorify Him.
Lastly, the Spirit of Truth will convict the world concerning judgment. He will expose, convince, and prove to us that the ruler of this world, Satan, is judged. If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to get us to believe that he doesn’t exist, a similar trick is to get us to believe that he has won, and therefore we should simply go along with the ways of the world as if nothing truly matters. St. Paul puts it this way: If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. We are of all people the most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. “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 [….] 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.” In His death and resurrection, Jesus won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. When Satan sunk his venomous fangs into Jesus’ heal, the Son of Man crushed that serpent’s head and destroyed his power. Therefore, the last enemy, death, has been defeated and has lost its sting. Death and the grave could not hold Jesus, and they cannot hold you. Therefore, if even death and the grave cannot hold you, why do you live as though this mortal life is all there is? Why do you live each day in fearful selfishness, greed, and hatred, fearful of what you don’t have or of what you might lose? These are the chains of hell and Satan from which you have been freed. If you give yourself over to fear, selfishness, greed, and hatred, you willfully bind yourself with chains that Jesus died to set you free from.
Yes, the Spirit of Truth will make you uncomfortable. That’s a good thing! That discomfort is a gift from the LORD to remind you that this world and this flesh are not your home. You were created for full communion with your Holy, Righteous, and Just God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That communion has been damaged and destroyed by sin, the original sin of our First Parents, and your own personal and actual sins that you have committed and continue to commit daily in thought, word, and in deed. If Jesus had not sent you His Spirit, you could not know Him, come to Him, or believe in Him. But, the Spirit has come, and He is with you as a Helper, a Counselor, and a Guide that you may receive, believe, and trust in Jesus, and share in His Holiness, Righteousness, Justice, Life, and Sonship with His Father. And, the Spirit of Truth comes to you through the Word of the LORD, and though the Sacraments, which are the Word of the LORD made flesh, visible, hearable, touchable, and tasteable. Therefore, do not be deceived. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights who never changes. Therefore, be quick to listen to His Word, and slow to speak in judgment and anger. And put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness as you receive the implanted Word of the Spirit of Truth, which is able to save your souls. This is the Holy Spirit’s work: To convict you, to expose to you, to prove to you, and to convince you concerning your sin, the righteousness of God revealed in Jesus, and the judgment of Satan.
Blessed Cantate! Sing to the LORD a new song. That is, sing a song of freedom in Christ to the praise and glory of God! Sing of His grace, mercy, and love shown to you in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sing of His Spirit who testifies of Christ and His victory over sin, death, and Satan. Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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