Sunday, May 22, 2011

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.

“This is for your own good.” Many of you likely heard those words some time ago when you were children. You likely heard those words as you were bent over your father’s knee just moments before his outstretched palm, or maybe his belt, found contact with your rear end. You likely heard those words because you had done something wrong and you were being disciplined, not punished. And, while I do not intend to make a judgment before you as to the appropriateness, the effectiveness, or the potential good or harm of spanking, I do intend to remind you that the discipline meted out was for your own good; for, true discipline is always an act of love, and it is always for your own good as you are turned away from behaviors that cause yourselves and others harm.

Discipline is teaching and correction according to a rule. The one who receives discipline is a disciple. And, it is good for the disciple to receive teaching and correction, to receive discipline, for that is how the disciple learns and grows and becomes conformed to the rule, conformed even to the teacher. However, teaching and correction can sometimes be an unpleasant and even painful process. For, behaviors, attitudes, and habits must be changed, and some must be discontinued altogether. All the while, new behaviors, attitudes, and habits must be learned, often requiring great diligence, hard work, and patience. Thus, the disciple is not so unlike a raw block of marble awaiting the sculptor’s hammer and chisel. While each blow of discipline causes the disciple discomfort and even suffering, gradually the image becomes clearer and after many blows and the shedding of much dross, the sculpture is finished, and the image born from the mind and heart and hands of its creator is complete. For, a disciple is the image of his teacher and he is a public witness to his master’s teaching. Thus, discipline continues even after the image has been realized; indeed, discipline is a new life and a new way of living. And, when the Master is Jesus the Christ, and you, dear Christians, are His disciples, your lives must be the image of His humility and selflessness, of His love, mercy, grace, charity, and forgiveness.

After eating the Passover meal with His disciples that Holy Thursday evening before His betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus taught His disciples at length about the mocking, suffering, and persecution at the hands of the world that they would experience because of Him as His disciples. Then Jesus taught them about His going away, first in death, and then in His ascension to the Father, and of His sending of the Holy Spirit. But, the disciples stopped listening at the part about their mocking, suffering, and persecution at the hands of the world. Even at that late hour, just hours before the fulfillment of the prophets’ and Jesus’ own teaching about His betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection on the third day, the disciples were still clinging to worldly, fleshly, and material possessions and the concerns, the passions, and the desires of the flesh. Thus, in a final teaching before His going away, Jesus taught His disciples saying that it was for their own good that He was going away. For, “If I do not go away,” Jesus taught them, “the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

The disciples needed the Helper, it was for their own good, and you and I need the Helper too, it is for our own good. However, the thing about a Helper is that you must be willing to admit that you need help and that you cannot help yourself. Fortunately, one of the things that the Helper does is convict the world concerning sin; that is, the Holy Spirit causes you to realize that you are a sinner and that you fall short of God’s glory, that you need help. This we confess about the Holy Spirit in the Small Catechism, “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.” This also we confess with the Psalmist David singing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Apart from this work of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, you could never be turned in repentance and would remain in your sin, separated from your God.

But, the Helper does more than that. The Helper also convicts the world concerning Righteousness. The world and your flesh count righteousness according to works. The world’s righteousness is one of vengeance, and revenge, and of putting one’s self over another by hook or by crook. But the righteousness of God is revealed in Christ’s death for the sins of the world. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And, lastly, the Helper convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God declared the world righteous through Him. Therefore Satan is judged and condemned. The prince of this world has been cast out as a pretender by the coming of the true King. But, still, that great liar Satan continues to make and to keep his own disciples, teaching them to despair of forgiveness and righteousness, or to find righteousness in themselves and in their works. Thus, the Holy Spirit continues to convince the world of Satan’s judgment and condemnation that men might be turned from their works and their ways to faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus the Christ.

It is for your good that Jesus has ascended to the Father and is no longer bodily with you, for now He has sent to you the Helper, the Holy Spirit. It is for your good, for, though your sins have been atoned for and Jesus has conquered death and Satan for you in His victorious death and resurrection, these become yours only through faith. You must be turned from your sin in repentance. You must be turned from discipleship to the passions of your flesh, the world, and Satan. And, for this, you need help; more than that, you need the Helper, the Holy Spirit. For, it is only by the Holy Spirit through the Holy Word and the Holy Sacraments that your being turned in repentance is possible. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and the Truth is Jesus the Christ. The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to you; and all that belongs to the Father is given to Christ – all this is declared to you by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.” Sin is covered because of Jesus. Righteousness is ours because of Jesus. Judgment is not against us because of Jesus. He becomes sin. He gives us His righteousness. Our heavenly Father judges us worthy of everlasting life because of Jesus. The Helper, the Holy Spirit is a gift of your Father in heaven from whence every good and perfect gift comes. As James writes in the Epistle, Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” You are the LORD’s disciples, His children, called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept by the Helper, the Holy Spirit. As disciples you are disciplined, it is for your own good, that you may be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, ever being conformed in the image of your Master and Teacher Jesus the Christ.

And, “In the same way [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active in Christ’s Church, calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping, forgiving, creating, strengthening, and sustaining faith when and where He pleases in those who do not refuse Him.

It is for your good that Christ has gone away to the Father. But, as the way of Christ to the Father was through the cross, so also is the way of Jesus’ disciples through the crosses that He chooses for you. You will have sorrow and grief, says your Lord Jesus, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. Let us, then, have sorrow and grief for the proper things, the needful things. God the Father of lights has given you the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift of joy that no one will take from you. And, He has made you the firstfruits of His creatures, new creations. Let us, then, even in our little while of sorrow, sing to the lord a new song; let our souls praise the King of heaven, let us live boldly in the mystery of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let us join with the Holy Spirit as he glorifies our risen Lord Jesus Christ, both now and unto eternity!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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