Monday, May 20, 2013

Sermon on John 14:23-31, for Pentecost, "Taught by the Lord"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Isaiah 54:13 prophesied a day to come when “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Jesus fulfilled this in His teaching, and among those who heard and learned from the Father, and came to Him (John 6:45). Being “taught by the Lord” was carried forward when the Holy Spirit was outpoured on the apostles at Pentecost. In a sudden and miraculous fashion, the apostles were able to teach the Good News about Jesus’ redeeming work, in many different languages—and people heard and understood in their own native language, about the mighty deeds of God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus teaches about how the Spirit will come and teach the disciples, after Jesus’ departure. We’re among the future generations that are “taught by the Lord” until His return. Today we celebrate a significant passing on of Christian teaching, from one generation to another, as 5 new confirmands profess their faith, believing with their heart and confessing with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. For two years they’ve deepened their understanding of the Christian faith as we’ve studied God’s Word and the Small Catechism together. Yet they’ve been reminded, as I’m now reminding all of you—that we never finish studying or learning from God’s Word, but that it remains a life-long endeavor, so that we’re truly lifelong students of His Word, taught by the Lord. Now they’re ready to confess that the faith into which they were baptized is their own—“confirming” that they believe and make this their confession also. So the faith is passed on from generation to generation, from parents and pastors and teachers, to this generation, and from theirs to the next generation afterward. The pattern of sound words that we study in the Creeds and Catechism ensure that we are faithfully passing on the same content of the Christian faith that has always been the heritage of the Christian church.
Jesus shows us in the reading, what Christian discipleship looks like. First of all, the Holy Spirit ignites a fervent love for Jesus, that shows itself when we keep His Word. Only a believer knows this heartfelt love for Jesus and devotes their life to Him, surrendering to His care and leading, boldly taking up His call to go and serve, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the kind of deep love that knows Jesus’ otherworldly peace—the peace that dwells in our hearts because of sins forgiven, and our relationship made right with God. A believer knows the peace of a heart that’s not troubled or afraid, but rests secure in the love of God, against all fears and dangers. This is the way the sheep love Jesus their Good Shepherd, because they hear His voice, know that He calls them, and that He feeds, shelters, and protects them. In short, our love for Him is built on the knowledge and the delivery of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. As John writes in his epistle, “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” and “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19). That is to say that God’s all surpassing love for us, most especially in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, creates a reciprocal love in us—a love that loves Him in return, for what He has done.
And this love isn’t a dormant, sleepy quality that remains invisible to the world, but rather it’s a love of word and action. It’s a love that keeps Jesus’ word. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you are a true Christian if you don’t keep His Words. Jesus says here, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Jesus challenged all would-be followers, in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” So if our lives are in open contradiction or defiance to Jesus’ words and teachings, we’ve no right to claim the title “Christian”. Same also if we deny our sin before God. The apostle John wrote about this in 1 John. He explains that the Christian who loves God makes a practice of obeying His commandments, and must not make a practice of sinning, or disobedience. But even as believers strive to obey God’s Law, we’re also still afflicted by sin, and must admit or confess our sins to God, to be cleansed of them. For those who confess their sins, Jesus advocates for us, and forgives us before God. 
The Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of believers, dwells in and with us. This is no trivial thing, but means that God has cleansed us and made us holy. Since God cannot dwell with sin, He first had to cleanse and purify us through Jesus’ death on the cross, and we’re joined to that death and resurrection through our baptism. Where before we were an unfit dwelling place, now in Christ Jesus, our hearts are made new, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence to keep us holy and free from sin. Taught by the Lord, He leads us away from sin and into what is just and upright. He sets God’s Word and commandments always before us, so that we don’t fall back into old ways of sin, and grieve the Holy Spirit.
Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit our Helper, whom the Father sends in Jesus’ name. How does He help us? The Lutheran theologian & pastor Johann Gerhard said that whenever our hearts fail us because of the conviction of our sins, or the accusations of the devil, the Holy Spirit does the best thing of all, that is to hold us up, “so that we don’t plunge into doubt and misgivings.” We may face times when our heart and conscience can’t comfort us, but rather accuse and condemn us for breaking God’s commands. But the Holy Spirit, our Helper, our Comforter, is still greater and stronger than those accusations, and stronger than our heart, and He alone can comfort our heart and conscience. How? Not by denying our sin, but by “speaking to our hearts and holding up to them the precious payment that Jesus has made for all our sins.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us with troubled hearts, but with a peace and all surpassing joy in our love for Jesus and what He’s done.
Yet one more way that the Holy Spirit takes root in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, goes back to where we began: He teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus has said. The Holy Spirit as teacher, keeps all of Jesus’ teachings before our eyes. Just as in the Old Testament, the children were to be taught God’s Word day and night, wherever they went, and to have them set before them on their hands, foreheads, and doorposts (namely everywhere they went and looked), even more now, the Spirit keeps God’s Word ever before us. He is our living tutor, dwelling in us, teaching us God’s Word. Not teaching novelties or mystical secrets found nowhere else, but rather reminding us of Jesus’ own Word, which Jesus in turn received from the Father. Jesus says of the Spirit’s teaching, that it bears witness about Christ (15:27)—that is it points to Jesus, and not somewhere else. And He says in John 16:13, the “Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Therefore the Spirit teaches us by keeping us from straying from the Word of God, the Holy Scripture. He’s not a different authority from Jesus or the Father, but promotes the very same truth and Word of Jesus, so that all of Jesus’ teachings live in our memory. And not only live in our memory as dormant thoughts, but be translated into action and love, as we said before—that the believer in Christ loves Him and keeps His Word.
“Taught by the Lord”…Yes, we’re taught by the Lord. We know His Word and its implications for us. Life as disciples of Jesus is life in the Holy Spirit. It’s a life enfolded by the threefold love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for us. A life built on that love, and overflowing with the expression of that love toward others. And it’s a life helped and comforted by the Holy Spirit who lives in us and teaches us, reminding us of the great self-sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the cross, and how that releases us from fear, anxiety and guilt. Teaching us day by day, so that we never forget God and His love for us, that we never forget Jesus and the Truth of His Word. We are blessed to call this Christian life our own, by the gracious gift of God in sending us His Holy Spirit. May the same Spirit richly bless our confirmands, and each of you, as you live and walk in that confession of faith, that Jesus is Lord. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What does the believer’s keeping of God’s Word and commandments show about their attitude toward God? What does God do in return? John 14:15, 21; 8:51; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-4. Does this love for God and obedience toward His commandments begin with us and then receive His response, or the other way around? 1 John 4:10, 19.

  1. How does God make His dwelling or “room” with us? Ezekiel 37:24-28; Leviticus 26:11-12; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 3:16-17. What must we avoid lest we grieve the Holy Spirit? Eph. 4:30

  1. Jesus said in John 14:26, that the Holy Spirit’s teaching traces back to Him (cf. 15:26; 16:13-14). Jesus’ own teaching traces back to whom? John 7:16; 8:28; 12:49, etc. How does this show the perfect unity of the Trinity?

  1. How is the Spirit’s wisdom different from that of the world? 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 John 2:20, 27.

  1. What is different between the peace Jesus gives, and the peace that the world gives? John 14:27; 16:33. How does it give us comfort and courage?

  1. Read John 14:30-31. Jesus’ cross would show the world that He loves the Father, and it shows that the devil (the ruler of this world) has no claim or power over Jesus. 

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