Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Sending of the "Helper," the Holy Spirit

A Sermon on St. John 14:15-21
6th Sunday of Easter

Today we gather to receive the holy sacrament and to listen to the words of Jesus as it is recorded in St. John’s gospel. Today we hear a bit more of Christ’s last sermon before He is arrested and crucified. It is on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is in the upper room in the context of the Last Supper with the twelve disciples. Judas Iscariot has already been sent out. Judas is on his way to betray Jesus for money.

The words of Jesus in this last sermon of His are rather difficult to understand. They are abstract in a sense. Jesus communicates truth to the eleven disciples but His words are difficult to understand fully, even for us. Our goal for this meditation today is to understand that we are to love God and our neighbor. We are also going to ponder how it is that the Holy Spirit works in the church.

Jesus says, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” Of course, Jesus tells the disciples elsewhere that love is the fulfillment of the commandments. Love covers all things. Love covers a multitude of sins. The love of which He speaks is the love of God—faith in the Triune God. Jesus tells the eleven disciples that He will pray to the heavenly Father and the Father will send to them a helper—the Spirit of Truth.

This helper in Greek is Paraclete, another name for the Holy Spirit. Paraclete in Greek means “comforter” or one who “urges.” This divine helper will be the driving force behind the apostolic ministry of these eleven disciples. They will speak at the Holy Spirit’s bidding and “urging.” They will even give up their lives in martyrdom at the Holy Spirit’s divine “urging.”

But ponder this—Jesus says “if you love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus is telling them to love Him, then He will send the divine “helper.” But one can only truly exhibit a selfless love by the Holy Spirit’s doing. So, what is Jesus implying? Well, to believe in Jesus and to love Him, to believe in God the Father and love Him, means the disciples already have the Holy Spirit. So, what of this sending of this divine “helper?”

If you have the Holy Spirit, then you have the Holy Spirit, right? So, what is going on here? Jesus is hinting to the disciples that He is going to send the Holy Spirit to attend to the public ministry of the apostles. These disciples, because of the death of Jesus Christ, will have their public ministry bathed in the Holy Spirit. They will go forth preaching, teaching, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper and because they have been authorized to publically preach and teach, the Holy Spirit will be in the midst of it all sanctifying the church and building the church on earth.

Jesus even says that this “Helper” will be with these eleven forever. Well, certainly the Holy Spirit will be with us all and shall be with us forever in heaven, but Jesus is referring to the church and the public testimony of the apostles when He tells them that the Holy Spirit will abide with them forever. When St. Paul tells St. Timothy to give attention to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine, St. Paul understands what Jesus was telling the eleven.

When the holy scriptures are read in the public assembly, when a pastor expounds and gives an exhortation or sermon on a scriptural text and as doctrine is taught, the Holy Spirit is there abiding with the apostles forever through their words, actions, and martyrdoms. Put more specifically to our occasion, when you hear the lectionary being read in church and when you hear preaching based on the scriptures, the Holy Spirit is also abiding with you.

This Helper is abiding with the church forever. What establishes this eternal gift and blessing to the church is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What a shame when people have opportunity to go to church but repeatedly neglect coming. One can see why, then, that those who fail to come to church blaspheme the death and resurrection of Christ in God’s eyes. But, since the teaching of doctrine also brings with it the Holy Spirit, it is also blasphemous to the Lord when we fail to live by the doctrine and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Living in sin, and even failing to love but hating instead, also beckons God’s condemnation. Therefore, let us all come humbly to the throne of grace, confessing our wrongdoings, seeking the love of Christ to be showered upon us…There is something else that can be said about this giving of the Holy Spirit that is important for us. The Holy Spirit cannot be quantified. We could say that the Holy Spirit is “qualitative” not “quantitative.” It is not the case that we receive a small portion of the Holy Spirit at holy baptism, and then a little more of Him when we go to the Lord’s Supper.

Every time we receive the word and sacraments we receive the Holy Spirit completely. He dwells within each of us. The reason we go to the Lord’s Supper and come to hear God’s word in church is because we grow in the faith through His coming to us. As we walk this Christian road in this world we grow in wisdom as we go. The more we hear the scriptures and meditate upon the life and words of Christ, the more the Holy Spirit opens up to us the divine mysteries. The Holy Spirit imparts wisdom to us.

The more we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, the more we are at one with Jesus and the more we begin to think like the church—Christ’s body. This growing in sanctification takes place over the span of a Christian’s life, but the Christian must tend diligently to the word and sacraments, the means that Jesus has appointed as vehicles for the Holy Spirit to use.

We would not be able to receive, at the start of the Christian road, the depth and awe-inspiring wisdom of God’s holy mysteries in its fullness. We must grow over time and in the proportions that God sees as good for us. This is why St. Paul talks about some who are ready for the meat, while others are still at the milk stage of the Christian faith and life. Wherever you are in this walk we call the Christian road, you can be sure of this—Jesus loves you as He loved the apostles.

The church is here with her gospel fruits because of this love, and Jesus bids you to receive them with the confidence that your sins are forgiven. He will never leave you alone. He will never abandon you. No matter what your life is like, Jesus will be with you in Word and Sacrament. Through baptism Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to you and He dwells in you to this day. The Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says, is a deposit and a guarantee of our salvation (2 Cor. 5:5).

So, go in peace my brethren in the sure and certain confidence that it is the very promise that Jesus made to the disciples that night which has the church standing to this day—the reality that because Jesus was “going away to the Father” through crucifixion, death and burial, likewise the Holy Spirit has been present in the apostolic ministry, keeping you secure, protected, forgiven, loved, and sanctified in the one, Holy Christian and apostolic church.

Because of this promise and fulfillment of our Lord Jesus Christ, you have an inheritance waiting for you and, until then, you are kept near to Jesus through the holy sacrament and the Holy gospel. In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.

+Fr. Chadius