Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | June 12, 2011

Sermon on John 16:5-11

Hey, Holy Spirit!  What’s going on?

  • Order of Service: Divine Service II (CW: Supplement, p28)
  • Hymns: 176, 377:6-10, 183
  • Lessons: Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:1-21, John 16:5-11

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

What a sermon Peter preached.  He expounds his Old Testament texts from Joel and Psalms, applies them to the dead, resurrected, and ascended Christ, blames the crowd for crucifying Him, and then says, “Amen,” leaving the crowd dumbfounded.  They were cut to the heart, Luke writes, and cried out, What shall we do (Acts 2:37)?  Peter told them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38).  And 3,000 did.  Daily more and more joined those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).

And here we sit at just over 100.  What happened to all the Pentecost success?  Have we lost the Holy Spirit who blew so powerfully in those heady post-Ascension days?  Most certainly not.  Hear the ironclad promise of the One who doesn’t lie.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you (John 16:7).  Earlier in this same conversation, Jesus said that this Counselor will be with you forever (John 14:16).  So, either something’s wrong with Him or something’s wrong with us.  And since the Holy Spirit’s God, that leaves us with the unsavory, yet obvious, conclusion, it’s us.

That seems painfully obvious when we look around.  We preach the Word, to others and ourselves, and it just hangs there.  Momentarily we’re cut, but the wound quickly heals.  Briefly we’re enthused, but the fever dies down.  Invitations are made and sent and the response is desultory.  Or even when it’s strong, what we want to happen next doesn’t materialize.  Good talks don’t lead to new behaviors.  It’s just more of the same.  Confirmations come and confirmands go.  The love of most seems to so quickly grow cold.

Worse, the Word doesn’t only seem ineffective, it seems pointless.  What does it say to a world where surgeries turn boys into girls?  Where government-funded drugs end up in kids home-made bongs?  Where whole countries are held hostage by head-chopping drug lords?  Where moms and dads kill, rape, and abandon their children?  Confronted by this, “Jesus loves you,” sometimes feels so weak, so empty.

Again, we ask, “Is this God’s fault, or mine?”  And since He’s God, the answer boomerangs back upon us – mine!  We’re the variable factor, the x in the equation.  The Bible is the most published, most purchased, most perused, and most read book in the world.  Yet it clearly remains the most unknown.  That’s not God’s fault.  Then it must be ours.  Sermons are preached, sacraments are administered, classes are held, instruction is given, counseling is offered, yet look around and see familiar faces made unfamiliar over the years.  That’s not God’s fault.  Then it must be ours.

And there’s truth to that.  Loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbors as ourselves isn’t always our strong suit.  God gets some of our hearts, sometimes most, but rarely, if ever, all.  Likewise loving our neighbors, because they’re usually jerks.  And when they’re not, they should be loving us.  And when it comes to the ministry of the Church, well, let’s be honest, we haven’t always given it our best.  Discipline is left undone.  Opportunities are left untaken.  Excuses reign supreme.

Though that’s not the whole picture, is it?  We do see many familiar faces and at the same time a delightful number of new faces.  We do see rebirth and renewal.  We do see joy and laughter.  We do see and feel refreshment from the Gospel after the Law cuts.  We do see friends and family kneel together at the altar to receive Christ.  We do see baptized babies turn into adult Christians.  We do see love of God and neighbor.  We do see faithfulness to the Lord and the work He’s given.

All the more confusing then.  Why do I lose this confirmand to the godlessness of this world, but gain that family?   Why does this delinquent respond with repentance and joy, but that one with shrugs and irreverent jokes?  Why does this man give me the finger about close communion, but that one sees it through and sheds tears of joy when I place the body of Christ into their hand for the first time?  Why is some seed snatched and scorched and choked, but some produces fruit 30, 60, 100 times!

In other words, what we’re really asking is, “Why did the omnipotent God choose to work through such seemingly impotent things?”  Like me, like words, like water, like bread and wine.  We could cop out and say, Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor (Romans 11:34)?  But, true as that is, it’s not satisfying.  And it’s not the final answer.  Jesus told Nicodemus:  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8).   The Spirit works faith, when and where it pleases God in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (Augsburg Confession, V:2).  And the Spirit testifies through Isaiah, [My Word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11).  As Jesus said, the Word, especially the Gospel, remains as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14) before the coming of the end.  God’s tools are not impotent.  The Word works.  Baptism saves.  The Lord’s Supper forgives.  The Spirit has been sent.  He is where Word and Sacraments are.  Where Word and Sacraments are, there He is, at work.  Thus, Pentecost and 3,000 saved.  Thus St. Mark, and results as yet undetermined.

But we’re confronted by the fact that those same things – Word, Baptism, Communion – have also seemed to result in billions of unbelievers, in so many friends and family members drifting or fallen from the faith.  God’s Word works.  Through Paul, the Spirit says, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden (Romans 9:18).  Or, as Jesus says, the Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).  There is urgency in these words.  The Spirit’s work isn’t just saying, “I’m ok and you’re ok.”  He exposes and rebukes sin.  He announces condemnation upon unbelief.  The Spirit says, “You don’t want to listen to God’s Word, you don’t want to rely on Christ?  Fine.  Have it your way.  You will weep and mourn when you see Jesus, whom you crucified, on Judgment Day.”  Thus, the hardening of Pharaoh after repeated rejections of God’s Word.  Many, most, don’t like such words.  This hurts.  This irritates.  This ticks off.  It drives away.  But some do cry out, “What can I do?”  And to them the Spirit says, “Christ whom you crucified, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, He is Lord and Christ!  Repent!  Turn from your evil ways!  Believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins!  Be reconciled to God!  Look forward with joy to the return of Christ, your righteousness!”  And finally, a message for both the believer and the unbeliever:  “It’s all over.  The ruler of this world, the devil, has been judged.  Jesus crushed the serpent’s head.  The Devil’s work is destroyed and crushed.  Jesus holds the keys to heaven.  So, you can fight for the lost cause, or you can be a part of the triumphal procession.”

This may not ease the pain, the burden, and the confusion as you look at a world filled with believers and unbelievers, as you wrestle with a seemingly unsuccessful ministry or stagnant ministry, or gripe about that wildly exploding ministry doing all the wrong things.  But it puts Pentecost in perspective.  It puts the Spirit’s work in perspective.  It’s not about numbers (though God wants all men to be saved).  It’s about repentance and forgiveness of sins.  The roaring wind, the tongues of fire, the speaking in tongues were not a show, but a means to an end – announcing God’s wrath upon sin, His anger over the crucifixion of His Son by you, so that He could also announce the concomitant truth, that in that dreadful death was your death.  This filled the disciples with grief, that Jesus went here.  But it was for their good, and yours.  Because it means the Spirit can say both the hard word and the good word.  He can say:  “Sin!  Guilt!  Hell!” and point to you.  But He can also say: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  And then say:  “That’s for you.  And for your children.  And for all who are far off.”  As often as you stumble, the Spirit stands ready to rebuke.  And equally as often, He raises you up and comforts you with Christ.  That’s Pentecost.  That’s the Holy Spirit.  That’s for you.  Amen.

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