Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5)

20 April 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our risen Lord says: “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away…”

He tells us the truth, but we’re not too keen on hearing it. He promises to go away, and the apostles are sorrowful, but not a single one of them asks for more information. Why? Because they know Jesus will tell them the truth, and the truth is not always what we want to hear. This is why our Lord says: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth…” He is saying to them: “Even though nobody wants to know what’s happening, even though you are sorrowful, nevertheless, I’m going to lay out the whole unpleasant truth for you right now.”

When the truth isn’t what we want to hear, we are sorrowful, and we shut our ears to the truth. We push back and squirm when the Scriptures say things we don’t like, when God hits us with the law, when we are given doctrines that are hard for us to understand or are at odds with what is popular in the world.

Our sinful flesh would rather hear pleasant lies than unpleasant truths.

Dr. Luther compared preaching of the law to throwing a stick into a pack of dogs. Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me, but the good doctor’s observation is spot on: that the dog that gets hit with the stick is the one that yelps. We don’t like to hear the truth of God’s law, and we yelp when the law pops us in the back of the head.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.”

The truth is good for us, whether we want to hear it or not. For our Lord loves us, redeems us, brings us into communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit, and promises us eternal life in a kingdom that has no end.

But in spite of it all, we still see the truth as our enemy. That’s because the truth is that God is God and we are not. The truth is that we are not the Creator but creatures, made in submission and subordination to Him. And egged on by Satan, betrayed by our flesh, and led astray by the world, we would rather reject the good truth and embrace the evil lie.

The disciples are sorrowful because God’s plan is not their plan. Jesus is going to the Father, sending the Holy Spirit, and putting the apostles to work. The apostles are sorrowful because they are by nature sinful and unclean, lazy and selfish. They love their lives more than the One who gave them their lives. For after our Lord ascends to the Father, the apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will continue our Lord’s wearisome work of making war on the devil, of preaching, of being persecuted, of having to tell people unpleasant truths, and of being rejected by men just as their Lord was.

For through the apostles and their successors, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The apostles are to hurl the sticks of God’s word into packs of dogs who hate the truth. Those dogs will howl, will turn on the apostles, and will viciously attack them. The world does not sit by quietly in being convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

In these last days, the Word of God is less and less tolerated and respected – if it is even recognized. In our culture, belief in a Creator is mocked, while the unscientific, absurd notion that order can suddenly grow from disorder, that something can come out of nothing, is treated as truth. The obvious created order that men and women are not interchangeable is ruthlessly targeted by an increasingly sorrowful and pathetic culture, and yet we are called upon to say in response: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.”

And thanks be to God, for all of their grousing, the apostles do tell the truth – to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Gospel is indeed proclaimed worldwide because the “Spirit of truth,” the Holy Spirit, has come. “He will guide you into all truth,” says He who is the way, the truth, and the life. And furthermore, “for He will not speak of His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come.”

For no matter how much the devil tries to confound the truth, listen to the words of St. James: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father.”

That, my beloved brethren, is the truth that our sinful rebellious hearts don’t want to hear. We want to earn our keep, not receive handouts from God. We want empowerment rather than grace. We want self-esteem instead of mercy. And when someone calls us on it, hurls the stick of the call to repentance to us, what do we do? We howl, we turn and bite, and we tell prideful lies rather than receive the truth in humility.

This is why St. James implores us: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This is why he instructs us: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Our Lord tells us truths we don’t want to hear, not out of domination or spite, but out of love. For this is the truth proclaimed by Isaiah: “And in that day you will say: ‘O Lord, I will praise you; though You were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid…. For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst.”

The simple unpopular truth preached by the apostles and proclaimed by the Church ever since is the simple truth that we are sinners, we are helpless, and though we don’t deserve it, we are rescued by the crucifixion and death of our Lord. God’s anger is turned away, and we are comforted. Christ is in our midst! For even though He has gone to the Father, sending us the Holy Spirit to guide our preaching, teaching, confessing, and bearing the fruits of repentance, He is still in our midst in His Word and in His Sacraments.

For even as sorrow fills our hearts, waiting for our Lord’s return, we have the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth guiding us into all truth. Christ is in our midst! And all things that the Father has are Christ’s, and our Lord Himself declares: “Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

We have been given everything! He has told us the truth. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us. We have been given the “implanted word” for the salvation of our souls. When we repent, the truth is no longer a stick that stings us, but rather that truth, that sweet truth, is our “strength and song. He also has become my salvation.”

The truth is not our enemy. For even as we live in an age and a culture that denies the truth, we Christians must, with our Lord, say: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth…” We who have been given the Spirit of truth know and confess that it is the truth of the cross and water drawn from the wells of salvation that sets us free.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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