Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7 or The Sunday After Ascension)

16 May 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Once again, the risen Lord Jesus is revealing deep and profound truths about the Most Holy Trinity. He teaches us that He, the Son, will send the Holy Spirit to us, the Church, from the Father. The Spirit “bears witness” about the Son, and the Spirit is our “Helper.”

And it should be obvious that this title “Helper” for the Holy Spirit means that we need help. The Lord Jesus, having ascended, having retaken His full heavenly glory at the Father’s right hand, means that we no longer have our fleshly human God – our Lord, Master, Redeemer, and Savior – walking the earth with us as He did when He ministered with His apostles in the first century.

And yet, Jesus does not leave us defenseless.

In fact, He doesn’t leave us at all. By the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, He is physically present with His Church. By the mighty power of His Word, His voice still resounds around us, surrounds us, and protects us from all harm and danger – even from the evil one himself. And the Lord has given us another manifestation of the Triune God, the Helper.

The Helper has come because we need help as embattled sheep of the Good Shepherd, sojourning in a hostile world, ever stalked by a “roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

The Helper not only helps our Lord shepherd us to green pastures and still waters, but more importantly, He helps us when we are attacked by Satan. As long as the devil lives, as long as we are in the sinful flesh, as long as our fallen world limps along until the Lord recalls it for re-creation – we will be attacked, assaulted, harried, hassled, abused, and abased by the father of lies and his ugly hordes.

But once more, it is because we are in need of help that we have a Helper. For Jesus tells us forthrightly the cost of discipleship. We Christians make enemies. In our confession of the cross, we are made to bear the cross. The authorities of this world will, and indeed do, remove Christians from respectable society. We are mocked and marginalized. We are accused of believing in a flat earth and abhorring science. We are accused of bigotry and intolerance. And in many places around the world, we are persecuted and killed – just as the holy apostles and those who followed after them. In fact, in some places, the killing of Christians is seen as a holy war, a sacrifice made to appease a false god, “offering service to God” in their murderous jihad. And our Lord says: “They will do these things” – not they “might” do these things – but rather “they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

Apart from the Holy Trinity, into whose name all Christians are baptized, no-one knows God.

It is our Lord’s prayer that we not fall away from the faith. Salvation is free for us Christians. It is a gift. But the living out of that gift, the Christian life, costs us our very lives. As the Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer confessed: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” The Holy Spirit gave life to Dr. Bonhoeffer’s words when he was given strength to die on the Nazi scaffold in 1945.

The Christian faith is a martyr’s faith, even as our Lord taught us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” It stands to reason that we followers of our Lord Jesus follow our Lord Jesus. We march behind him as soldiers of the cross, and we march to the cross. Our Lord laid down His life for us, and we are called to lay down our lives for our neighbors and for the sake of the kingdom. And Satan cannot stop us. The Helper, the Lord and giver of life, strengthens us for the journey – even as our Lord stood firm in His suffering out of love “for us men and for our salvation.”

We follow Him to proclaim good news to the captives. We follow Him in His manhandling of the demons. We follow Him in forgiveness and love, in gentleness and self-control. We follow Him in being attacked and denounced. We follow Him up Calvary’s hill, and we follow Him down to the grave. And, we follow Him in His triumphant march out of the sepulcher. We follow Him to eternal life itself. And He has sent the Helper to strengthen our resolve and keep us in step.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to beat back every assault, every temptation, each and every incitement to quit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to resist the lure of sin, Satan, and even our own fallen flesh. No power in the world – not even the might of empires nor the brutality of concentration camps can defeat the will of the Father, carried out by the Son, and helped along by the Holy Spirit – given to us as a free gift.

As the Danish Lutheran pastor, poet, and martyr Kaj Munk – who, like his fellow martyr Bonhoeffer, was executed by the Nazis – summed it up: “Kill us on Good Friday, and we shall rise on Easter Day!” The Holy Spirit gave life to Pastor Munk’s words when he was given strength to die at point of a Nazi gun in 1944.

This faithfulness unto death is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. For Jesus was faithful unto death. We follow Him. And we indeed need help in that walk.

But how often the Holy Spirit is mocked by preachers who paint a very different picture of Christianity – one marked by financial success, bereft of the cross and suffering. How often the Helper’s miracle of empowering the apostles to speak in earthly languages that they have not studied is turned into a joke of people jumping around and rolling around on the floor babbling nonsense, claiming this is the work of the Spirit. How different this is from the resolute faithfulness of Bonhoeffer and Munk, of the promise of the Helper given us by our blessed Lord! How different is this from St. Peter’s Spirit-inspired exhortation that we be “self-controlled and sober-minded.”

Dear friends, the work of the Spirit is to guide us to a holy life, and if necessary, lead us to a martyr’s death. The Spirit teaches us how to pray, gives us the words to say, instills within us a confession of the faith, glorifies Christ, comforts us, and hovers over the waters of the world and the baptismal font – calling us to repent and giving us courage in the face of evil.

The Helper draws us to be where the Lord Jesus is. The Helper guides us to incline our ears to hear our Lord’s Words. The Helper gives us the strength to bear our cross to the very end – even to death.

The word “courage” is related to the Latin word for “heart.” For the courage of the martyrs is not of themselves. We can take comfort in that, dear brothers and sisters. For if we need such courage, the Holy Spirit is promised to be our help and stay. As the Lord Himself has promised in the Spirit-inspired Word through the prophet:

“I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you… you shall be My people and I will be your God.” Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Blessed Kaj Munk
"Never the Chameleon"

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