Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7)

28 May 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28; 1 Pet 4:7-14) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today is a great time of transition. This is Exaudi, the last Sunday of the Easter Season. Next Sunday, we move on to Pentecost. We celebrated the Ascension of our Lord this past Thursday. The paschal candle was extinguished. Next week, we will put away the white paraments. The extra alleluias will disappear from our liturgy, and, after next week’s celebration of Pentecost Sunday, we will leave behind the festival half of this church year.

Today is also a great time of transition for our many graduates. A time of leaving behind an old school, only to begin another adventure in a new school or in the school of hard knocks. It’s also a time of transition for our confirmands who will be confirmed this morning. They leave behind childhood in the church and take their places as confessing adults who join centuries upon centuries of those who will partake in the holy miracle of eating and drinking our Lord’s body and blood. For them, today isn’t a graduation, but rather, a new beginning. Today, they will experience the resurrected Christ in a way they never have before, and their lives will never be the same.

Today is indeed a time of transition, for this is just as it was for the apostles after the Lord had risen. They had just finished basking in the glow of 40 days of triumph as they once again beheld their Lord who had overcome death and the grave. They saw him enough times to know this was no daydream or hallucination. They ate with him and touched him – hence this is no ghostly apparition. But what does he do? He ordains them into the ministry, tells them what they must do, and promptly ascends into heaven, leaving them staring at the sky. They have been told what to do, but have not yet been given the tools to do it. Hopefully, they remembered what he said to them as recorded by St. John in our Gospel reading: “I’m sending you a Helper, who comes from the Father, and who testifies of me.” For he tells them great trouble is coming. While Christ is triumphant over sin, death, and the devil - the Church must still wrestle with all three for a while longer.

Jesus tells them they will suffer and be persecuted. They will even be put to death. And yet, the Helper is with them, confessing for them, giving them boldness and courage, providing them with words, and raising up more believers around the world until Jesus returns.

This is where you, our confirmands, are today as well. You become adult Christians today. You will swear to hold the Christian faith unto death today. Our culture would consider this a heavy burden for young people not yet in high school. It is, but yet it isn’t. For our Lord tells us that we must be willing to bear our cross and die, and then tells us his burden is light. It is difficult, and easy at the same time. For we have a Helper, the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was given to you at Baptism, and has been there in his fullness from that day onward. Today’s action is not a sacrament, it is not a “completion” of baptism, but rather a transition – a shift from being a child Christian to an adult. From this day forward, you are responsible for going to church, receiving the sacraments, and living the Christian life of repentance, forgiveness, and mercy, of being surrounded in the ways that God pours out his grace on us. It is no longer up to mom and dad, but now that adult responsibility falls upon you. Will you be up for it? Of course not. None of us are. That is, by ourselves. Jesus knows our frailty, our sinfulness, our laziness – and gives us a Helper. He sends us his Spirit to give us a sense of guilt and shame when we sin. Of conviction to do the right thing. Of motivation to come to God’s House where his Word is preached and his sacraments given out like there’s no tomorrow.

For indeed, there may be no tomorrow. As Peter tells us in our epistle: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers.” Dear Christians, the time for childishness and foolishness is past. This sermon may be the last one you ever hear. This trip to the holy altar to receive our blessed Lord in his holy sacrament may be your last. We never know when this life will end – either by our own deaths, or by the promised return of our Lord. One way or the other, it will happen. And this is why our Lord is with us physically. This is why he sends us divine assistance in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is why he, as well as we in the church, call upon every Christian to confess the faith to which we cling – even to the point of death.

For notice what the prophet Ezekiel promises: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

It all begins with a sprinkle of clean water – not just any water, but water combined with God’s word and promise, poured out in his Triune Name. This is what confirmation points us all to. It is a claiming, a grasping, of that promise of God. It is a confession, a confirmation of what God did in that miraculous encounter. For in that Holy Baptism, you were given the Holy Spirit, and it is only by that power that you have any righteousness at all.

It is only by this Spirit that we can, as St. Peter exhorts us, not think it strange “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you.” It is only by this Spirit that we can “rejoice” as we “partake of Christ’s sufferings,” that we can, when “reproached for the name of Christ” to count ourselves as “blessed,” for as the holy apostle confesses: “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is the same Spirit the blessed Ezekiel speaks of giving us a new heart.

But dear Christians, do not allow Satan to convince you that this heart transplant is instantaneous. We have the Spirit in the instant of baptism, just as we are heirs of the Kingdom enjoying full salvation and grace from that moment. And yet, the entire life of the Christian is one of being “under construction.” We should grow in our Christian lives. Of course, sometimes we have setbacks. We stumble and fall. We may even lose our faith and search after other gods like the prodigal son. And yet, the Spirit beckons us, pleads with us, calls, gathers, and enlightens us, frets over us, and moves us to repentance. The Spirit always points us to Christ, to where he may be found. And where is that, dear children of God? Where has Jesus promised we may find him? In his Word, of course. Where that Word is proclaimed, by those to whom Jesus said: “When they hear you, they hear me.” Come to this holy house and offer your worship and praise – and also listen to the Lord speak to you in the proclamation of the Scriptures and in the preaching of the Gospel!

Concerning his ministers, the Lord said: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” Come to your pastor, for he has been given a special gift of the Holy Spirit to forgive your sins. The Lord also charged his servants to celebrate Holy Communion, in which is found the Lord’s true, physical, miraculous body and blood, which is shed: “For the forgiveness of sins.” Come often to this Holy Supper! Come running! Can you imagine anything more important, more worthy of your time, than to partake physically of the Lord’s holy Body and Blood!

Indeed, this is a time of transition, just as it was for the apostles waiting for Pentecost. It is a time of transition for our confirmands, and it is a time of transition for all of us Christians. We continue to be crafted and molded by the Holy Spirit as we are exposed to the Gospel, and we submit to the Lord and to those he has authorized to act and speak on his behalf. We stand, like the Israelites between the rock of the armies of this world who seek to destroy us, and the hard place of walls of water, life in this fallen world, waiting to drown us out. But like the Israelites, we hold the trump card – we have our Lord Jesus Christ standing before us, we have the Holy Spirit guiding us, and we have the ark of the Church that protects us like a brooding mother, an ark that keeps us safe from the crashing waves of the devil. And in this Ark, just as in the Ark of the Covenant, we find holy things – powerful things – not only the ten commandments, but also the Holy Manna, the Bread of Life that nourishes us unto eternity.

Even as we stand in this time of transition from the tired old world and the new perfect world that is yet to come, even as we horrific sinners are also glorious saints according to God’s Word and promise, and even as we exist in this fallen flesh that is dying bit by bit, we know that according to the Spirit placed in us by virtue of the sacrificial death and promise of Jesus, we are incorruptible, immortal, and destined to live forever in glory that will have no end.

For every transition in the life of the Christian is one more step toward glory, one more day closer to that great day promised by our blessed Lord. My dear brothers and sisters, rejoice! For we are one day closer to realizing in full what has been promised us, and given us: “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne. Alleluia.
I will not leave you orphans; I am going away and coming back to you;
and your heart will rejoice. Alleluia.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 comments:

Peter said...

Lovely!

Whey Lay said...

Great sermon. Thanks for sharing it