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

Sunday, April 06, 2008

On to Emmaus

What is happening on the road to Emmaus? It is a question that puzzles many a Christian. It is curious because the two Emmaus disciples seem to have lost hope. Their words to the "stranger" on the road seem to be words of despair, despondence, and finality. "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. "

In addition, the two disciples do point out to the "stranger" on the road that even the women at the tomb had reported that they had seen a vision of angels at the tomb who testified that Jesus was alive (St. Luke 24:23). If that wasn't enough they even add that a couple of the disciples went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said (verse 24). It should add credence to these disciples that the disciples who went to the tomb to check it out were even "those were with us," part of the "twelve disciples," meaning St. Peter.

St. Luke even reminds the church that Jesus had prophesied of His death. The angels remind the women at the tomb (St. Luke 24:6-7) [see St. Luke 9:22]. Again, in St. Luke 24:44 [see St. Luke 17:22]. And, the most obvious of all is that this stranger, who was supposedly ignorant of who Jesus was, begins to preach the Old Testament in a Christological way.

Back to the question--"What is happening on the road to Emmaus?" More to the point, what is wrong with the Emmaus disciples? Why does it say in St. Luke 24:16 that "their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him"? The eyes could be their physical eyes so that they do not recognize the appearance of Jesus. But what about His teaching? A Rabbi has a distinct way of teaching and a Rabbi's disciples know him well. After all, disciples not only learned the information from their Rabbi, but they learned how to speak like their Rabbi. They should have known Jesus.

So, are the eyes that cannot see considered to be their eyes of faith? And, more to the point, is it their own sin that prevents them from recognizing their Lord? Critical to the proper meaning of this account, is verse 16. The Greek verb for the "restraining" of the eyes is krateo, which means "to seize." What is important about this verb is that it is in the imperfect tense and the voice is passive voice. This "seizing of the eyes" is being done *to them.* It is not their own doing. The action is coming from someone else, in this case, Jesus. Jesus "seizes" their eyes of faith and understanding in order that the church catholic may be taught something valuable. Ironically, the disciples even hint at this, unbeknownst to them. In describing Jesus to the "stranger" they say of Jesus that He was "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." St. Luke likes this emphasis on Jesus' "deeds" and "words."

Its catechetical. We are not just a church that studies words. We live and breathe in a distinct way and Jesus taught the church how to live as well as how to confess--orthodoxy and orthopraxis (right confession and right practice). (Incidentally, we see this in Acts 1:1 as St. Luke points out to Theophilus, "The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.") St. Luke is telling us that his gospel is an accounting of Christ's teaching and practice. This informs us as to what is happening in the Emmaus account.

Jesus has seized the eyes of the disciples on the road in order to encourage them as He teaches them how to practice the faith in the midst of the realities of His resurrection. The very fact that Jesus sits at table with the Emmaus disciples and we are told that "He sat at the table with them, took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them" is the example of "orthopraxis." The disciples are losing their grip and Jesus needs to redirect them into what is the new practice of the church--the Eucharist.

It is during the Eucharist that Jesus serves them and their eyes are opened up and they see Him. He is reminding them of the institution of the Eucharist in the upper room just before His arrest. There was a reason that He instituted the Eucharist. It was to be the way that the church would come face to face with Jesus in the post-resurrection, New Testament church. Jesus, the teacher, teaches the church how to practice.

They caught on because we hear in Acts 20:7 that "on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight." Again, the verb for gathering together is important. It is a participle, denoting continued action and emphasizing the customary nature of breaking bread on the first day of the week.

What does the first day of the week symbolize in the church? If you guessed the day of the resurrection, then you are correct. All of these things come together. The promise of the resurrection, the distinct way that Christians behave, and the Holy Eucharist are all connected.

It makes sense, then, that if we were asked what does it mean to be a Christian, then in Emmaus fashion, we would reply simply--"What does it mean to be a Christian? To go to the Holy Eucharist."

+Fr. Chadius

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Calls and Changes

I have not had much time lately to to write on this blog because I recently accepted a call to a new church. I have been in transition and, consequently, have not had much time to think about writing.

One thing that is on my mind right now, though, is the process of change. It is a strange feeling. Completely uprooting and leaving a people that God has placed me in charge of is strange. Being in a church, serving the people in a particular place with Christ's holy gifts, and getting to know them is a natural part of the landscape of being a pastor. You dig roots that way, and you grow to love those people as you get into their lives and as you let them into your own life.

Leaving them behind is strange. It is a feeling and experience that I don't want to experience too many times. It is painful to leave God's beloved people behind.

It is a blessing, though, to be received by another flock of Christ's. Now, I am a bishop. While I grieved at my leaving one beloved flock, another of God's beloved flock has graciously embraced me. They have shown me how widespread the aroma of Christ really is.

I am thankful to be in my new parish. The reason I write this tonight is because this process of longing, grieving, and being rejuvenated by Christ's people here brought to mind a few things I have read in the past. (As usual I am keeping my theme for this blog centered around Early Church studies and thought). The Venerable Bede in his ecclesiastical history recounts the call of St. Gregory the Great to the position of Pope. In it Bede tells us that Gregory, when he reluctantly accepted the call, brought with him to his new post a few of his fellow monks who had been with him in the monastery.

My copy of Bede's history is still in Iowa, so I must go off of memory. I seem to recall that these monks came with Gregory specifically to aid him in his transition. They came in order to urge Gregory to continue to pray the liturgy and encourage him in the midst of the struggles of change. This is very important for a couple of reasons.

First, we need our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ during times of change. We leave the familiar which we call home for a new landscape. Often, in times of longing, distress, and sadness, the one thing we struggle with is prayer. We need gentle urgings from other Christians to lead us into the liturgy. The liturgy (if it is uniform throughout the church) is home and no matter where we are, we know we are home when we are in the midst of the liturgy. In addition, it is synoymous with the thinking of the church to want to be in the midst of things familiar. A foreign concept to the church is that of continual and constant change (this is something you church growthers and lovers of great variety should ponder--think of what you are doing to your people).

St. Augustine wasn't all that different from Gregory in terms of wanting to be home, in the midst of things familiar. St. Augustine, it is said by Van Der Meer, did not like to venture too far from home. He always grew nervous when he had to sail the Mediterranean Sea for Rome. He was more content to stay in Hippo where he was bishop.

A bishop likes to stay at home with his own kind. It should be that way, but when we go forth at the Lord's calling, it is good and God will take care of His people--both the flock of Christ and the bishop. God uses one another to do just that. The bishop enters the pulpit with his mouth full of the gospel, absolving and comforting God's people. Instantly, the people are at home with their new bishop. The people care for the bishop and show him the love of Christ just as he does them and suddenly it is Christ Who is seen in the midst of them all.

I see the love of Christ in the midst of God's people, in the midst of His church and I rejoice. You know, I am glad to be where God has placed me. I miss the Christians I left behind, but I haven't really left them behind. I have simply embraced a new sheepfold and they have embraced me and we are all together as we sing Te Deums and Alleluias, gathering around the throne of grace to take Christ onto our lips as we await the heavenly reunion. For it is there in heaven where we will partake of the love of Christ in its richest measure, which we have only begun to taste here.

+Fr. Chadius