1 June 2014
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!
This seventh and final Sunday of the Easter season is a bit awkward and confusing. For Jesus has ascended to the Father, but the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet come down at Pentecost. For the Lord’s first disciples, this was not only awkward and confusing, but scary. Maybe the appearances of Jesus weren’t real. Maybe this promised Helper to come is equally unreal. But what is most certainly real is that the Church has a lot of enemies: the mighty Roman Empire that put the Lord Jesus to death on a cross, and the entire Jewish establishment, that could now point to the death of Jesus as “evidence” that He was a false Messiah. The Church had become a target.
But the disciples had something more powerful than their doubts and fears, namely, the promise of Jesus, the Word of God. They could trust His Word and look to the future coming of the Holy Spirit. “But when the Helper comes,” Jesus had told them, “whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” And history was to prove our Lord’s words as the Holy Spirit did come and embolden the once-frightened apostles with their death-defying and world-changing confession of Christ.
And even as we bridge Easter and Pentecost, we bear witness to Jesus today, and we do so on this Lord’s Day by welcoming our newest Christian, Clara Hart, in the holy waters of Holy Baptism. For the Holy Spirit has descended upon her according to the holy promise and Holy Word of God, the Helper, the Spirit of truth. All of our Lord’s benefits that He earned at the cross have been given in their fullness to Clara, and she has received those gifts in faith. And she too bears witness about Jesus Christ by her very existence, by her baptismal regeneration, by her faith, which like her very life, is a gift given to her purely by grace. Clara is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and she is a living reminder of the Lord’s promise, fulfilled in her and in all the baptized: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…. I will put My Spirit within you.”
People who are filled with the Spirit of Truth cannot but speak the truth. This is why all baptized Christians are confessors: confessors of their sins, confessors of Jesus Christ, confessors of the one true faith. This is why the Lord tells the future recipients of the Holy Spirit “you will bear witness.”
And sometimes, as our Lord warns, that witness causes people to hate us and to oppress us. “I have said these things to keep you from falling away,” says our blessed Lord. “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”
A few days after Anna gave birth to Clara, another Christian woman, Meriam, gave birth to a baby girl named Maya. Meriam, a young doctor, gave birth to Maya while chained to the floor of a filthy dungeon in Sudan where she lives with her 20 month old son, imprisoned away from her husband, under a sentence of death by hanging before which she is to receive 100 lashes – all because of her confession of Jesus, all because she trusts in Him alonefor her salvation. Meriam was given an opportunity to walk free, simply by denying Christ. She calmly and steadfastly refuses to renounce the faith of her Lord, the faith of her baptism.
“Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.” Meriam and her family are witnesses about Him, for they bear the Helper, the Spirit of Truth sent by the Father. And unlike Meriam’s stony-hearted captors who do not know God, this family has hearts of flesh, careful to obey the Lord’s commandments, bearing the promise: “You shall be My people, and I will be your God.”
Such is the Spirit put into each one of us at Holy Baptism. For if we were to rely on our own reason or strength to confess the Lord Jesus Christ, we would most certainly fail. As we confess: “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.”
Being kept in the one true faith is the work of the Helper, dear friends! This is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, promised by our Lord Jesus Christ, sent by our Father in heaven, and poured into us at Holy Baptism! The power and courage of the confession of our sister Meriam has been given to our sister Clara, by the word and promise of Him who was crucified for us and who rose from the dead!
We do not know what life has in store for Clara, nor for us. We do know that it is getting more and more difficult to be a Christian in our decaying culture. We do know that we Christians are increasingly challenged as to whether we will fall away or remain in the faith of Jesus Christ, the faith of Holy Baptism, the faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. Most of us will never be called upon to display the steadfast confession of Meriam and of the many martyrs and confessors of our faith throughout the ages. But we do have this comfort, dear friends, the Lord has sent us the Helper. The Spirit of Truth is in us and with us, just as “He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
Our little sister in Christ bears the name “Clara.” This is Latin for “clear” or “bright.” Her name is a reminder to all of us to be clear in our confession of Christ, who is the very light of the world. And today, Clara has been given not only a new heart and a new spirit, but another new name as well: “Christian.” She is a believer, confessor, and witness to the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, our crucified and risen Savior, “the world’s Redeemer, the lover of the pure, the font of heavenly wisdom, our trust and hope secure.”
St. Peter’s Spirit-inspired words become more relevant with each passing day in this corrupted and fallen world: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers…. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
This inspiring and inspired courage to face the lash and the noose with the calm faith of our dear sister Meriam is the work of the Helper, dear friends. It is the Spirit who calls us and keeps us in the only faith by which we have salvation, the one true faith of Jesus Christ and faith in Jesus Christ. It is the clear and bright faith of Clara, and of all of us who have been baptized into Christ.
God’s own child, I gladly say it:
I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it,
Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many?
I have one worth more than any.
That brought me salvation free.
Lasting to eternity!”
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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