Monday, May 30, 2011

Easter 6 of Series A (John 14:15-21)

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, though it only consists of two letters, the word ‘if’ carries with it significance much greater than its size. It can introduce uncertainty and perhaps even doubt into our lives, it can make us stop and ponder what could happen in the future. So when we hear the word ‘if’ in our text, it makes us a bit uncomfortable: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you love me, Jesus says. Our love is shown in keeping His commandments. Now, a little explanation is needed. What we have translated here as ‘commandments’ doesn’t mean just the moral principles that Jesus gave us. No, in fact, it encompasses all of Jesus’ words, both Law and Gospel. And to keep those words means to hold onto them, to preserve and cling to them. So this isn’t just keeping the rules, but instead believing in Jesus, holding to Him in faith. However, even with those explanations, we haven’t removed that little word ‘if,’ have we? There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether we can actually hold onto His Word, whether we can hold onto Him, and for good reason.

You don’t need me to tell you that this ‘if’ is a tall order. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Whether it is the commands of God that Jesus gave to us and clarified throughout His ministry, or the beautiful message of His death and resurrection for our sake, holding onto Jesus seems impossible, for we are struggling against a sinful world that cares little for Jesus or anything that He had to say. Sure, they like to claim Him for their own causes, listening to His Word when it is convenient for them. The whole Jesus? That is a bit too much for our world to swallow. Our world doesn’t want to be shackled to any morality; those around us are having too much fun living only for themselves. And that’s only the Law; the Gospel of Jesus is just as offensive. Jesus declares that “No one comes to the Father except through me,” but our world wants to see many paths to God. The world is deeply offended that ‘good people’ could end up going to hell. To hold onto the Word of Jesus in the midst of this world, which doesn’t believe in sin and therefore doesn’t need a savior, appears impossible. But there is more to our plight than simply an evil world. We can see ourselves as a firm rock in the midst of a raging river of unbelief and immorality, but we know that we are also struggling against ourselves. Our own sinful nature doesn’t want to hear any of Jesus’ words; we don’t want God to be in charge, instead we want to call the shots. Deep down we rebel against how Jesus has described the life of a Christian. Our sinful nature also rebels against the Gospel. It wants to work itself up to God, it wants to earn the favor of our Creator. Try as we might, we fail each and every day to hold onto Christ’s Word.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That ‘if’ is a lonely word. We love Jesus, but it is wearying to struggle against this sinful world. We feel like we’re the only one who care about Jesus, we feel alone. Why should I be the only one to even try to live according to God’s Law? Why should I be the only one who trusts in Jesus for salvation? What has it earned me but the scorn of the world, the ridicule of my neighbors, turmoil within my heart? Our friends don’t believe in Jesus, even our family has seemed to abandon Him. Our neighbors live in immorality, we read about a world that seems to be going more and more down the drain each day. Does anyone else even care? That’s exactly what Satan wants us to think. He wants us to feel alone, he wants us to feel orphaned. He wants us to be isolated, to feel like we’re the only Christians around. That’s how Satan works; he separates, he isolates. He wants us to wallow alone in our sin, he wants us to stay away from the comfort of others. He gives us reasons to skip church, to avoid the fellowship of believers, and when we take him up on his offer, he rejoices. He wants to deal with Christians one by one, he wants to make us feel like we have been abandoned by God, and you know that often he succeeds. It seems that Jesus has orphaned us, leaving us behind in this cruel, dark world with an impossible command. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That ‘if’ mocks us in our isolation. It’s almost like Jesus had said, “If you love me, but you don’t, you will keep my commandments, but you can’t.”

Satan paints that dreary picture, a picture of isolation, a picture of us standing alone in a sinful world. But the truth is much different. Jesus knows the challenges that you face in this world of sin, He knows Satan’s tricks. Jesus knows that the life of His followers here upon this earth will be a difficult, lonely road, and so He has not left us alone. “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 Holy Spirit is our helper, our companion in this dark and lonely world. The Father sends Him to us to create and strengthen faith, to be with us each and every step of our journey. The great promise of God in the Old Testament, spoken again and again, is that “I AM with you;” in Matthew twenty-eight, Jesus promises, “Behold I AM with you always, even to the end of the age,” and here Jesus teaches us that the Spirit, our helper, will “be with you forever.” The Spirit is the One who fulfills those promises by bringing us the presence of God, to comfort and strengthen us. The Holy Spirit isn’t known by the world, for He is the one who works faith within us, through the Word and through the waters of Holy Baptism. Where He is, there faith is being created and strengthened. The world doesn’t know the Holy Spirit, for it has rejected the Word, it has rejected faith. But in you, in me, the Holy Spirit is active doing the work He delights in. He has given you faith in your Baptism, He has strengthened that faith today and every day through the Word of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is working, even if we can’t ‘feel’ Him; in fact the Holy Spirit is working especially when we can’t ‘feel’ Him, for He does His work in the midst of our weakness, as we struggle to hold onto Jesus in this world. We can only cling to our Savior through Him, for it is He, not us, that sustains our faith. He holds onto us, especially when our hold upon Jesus is weak and faltering. He keeps us in the faith, He keeps us in Christ’s Word, it is only through His work that we love Jesus.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is how Jesus fulfills His great promise: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He is departing, going forth from the upper room that very night to accomplish salvation. “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more,” Jesus says. The world will not see Him for it will kill Him, executing Him by hanging Him upon a cross. The world refused to see Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God come to free all creation from the bondage of sin, but instead they saw Him as a threat, as an imposter. They nailed Him to the tree, but in being killed Jesus would bring salvation for even those who condemned Him, even you and me. For He died bearing your sins, He died bearing your corruption. He died to forgive your lack of love toward Him or your neighbors; He died to forgive your inability to keep His Word. He loved you when you were unable to love Him; He kept His Word when you couldn’t. His departure means salvation, His departure means forgiveness, His departure means victory.

“Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus departed to accomplish salvation, but He returned, just as He promised. He returned alive, victorious over death, bearing the wounds of salvation for all eternity. Because Jesus lives, because He triumphed over the grave, you also will live. You possess eternal life, for the Holy Spirit has worked faith within you through the Word and the washing of Holy Baptism. You have been baptized into His resurrection, as Saint Peter teaches in our Epistle lesson: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him.” Because Jesus lives, because you have been baptized into His death and resurrection, you too will live. You will live, even though you die, for Jesus has conquered death. Because Jesus lives, you will abide forever in the fellowship of the Trinity: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” The Holy Spirit brings us Jesus in this world of sin, and when we are joined with Jesus, we are in fellowship with the Father as well. You are not alone, for even now you are in the fellowship of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are in relationship with your God, for your sins are forgiven and you have been adopted as God’s children through the washing of Holy Baptism.

Jesus concludes our text by returning to the way He began it: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” In a sense, these words are just as daunting as when Jesus said them before; we cannot hold onto our Lord on our own. But with the words of Jesus in our text, we have the assurance that we are not left alone, that the Holy Spirit is working to create and sustain faith, faith which clings to Jesus throughout this life’s journey. The Holy Spirit reveals to us Jesus, He makes our crucified and risen Lord manifest to us, strengthening us in this world. Jesus was made manifest to His disciples in His resurrection from the dead; He is made manifest to you in the wonderful gifts of the Word and the Holy Sacraments, and He will be made manifest to you forever in the resurrection of the dead. Because He lives, also you will live. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

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