Day of Pentecost (John 14:23-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Day of Pentecost + June 9, 2019

Text: John 14:23-31

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” When Jesus says this, sometimes it makes us feel pretty good about ourselves. After all, when we look at what we’ve done, we might find that we make a pretty convincing case that we’ve kept Jesus’ Word. After all, we’re here at Church. We do good for our families and in our communities. We are good people. And we like to hear that Word of God proclaimed. Therefore, it means that we love Jesus.

Sometimes we feel good about that. Sometimes we don’t. Because we all have, at times, found that we failed to keep Jesus’ Word. We ignored it. We got angry with it. At the time, it didn’t give us what we wanted. It told us not to fall into that sin that we like so much. It told us that we had rebelled against a good God by being evil. And since we did, we do deserve death and hell. When it suited us, we did not love Jesus. We did not love the Father. We did not love the Holy Spirit. All because His Word was not our word, which is much more enjoyable to keep.

Our own word—the word that I came up with. The word that makes sense to me. The word that we think everyone else foolish for not listening to. We turn to that instead of Christ. My word looks out for me. My word lifts me up.  My word tears down those against me. My word speaks my reality, what I want. And my word can take me where I want to go, by any means necessary. My word doesn’t have time to be patient when the Lord says wait on Him. My word doesn’t rely on the Lord to provide for what I need. My word looks out first for myself, and others I’m not too busy. And that’s why my word is sinful. My word is evil. My word must end.

In our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 11, there were a whole group of people gathering around their own word in the land of Shinar. Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly…Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  You notice how much that sounds like a twisted version of the Creation?  By their own word, they were going to build a tower, and by that tower they were going to reach heaven. They were going to make a name for themselves. A name that was over every name. The Lord took their words, and confused the languages. And He did it for their sake. For if their word remained united, there would be no sin impossible for them to inflict on themselves, each other, and the world

The same is still true today. Have you ever found the people you disagree with the most seem to be talking a different language than you do? They say one thing, but you know those words mean something else than what you mean? The Lord is still at work, protecting both us and our neighbor from our sin becoming even worse than it is. We may dream of what it would be like if congress could get along, or the world didn’t have so much division.  But the trouble isn’t in the disagreement; it’s in our sinful hearts.  The Lord has set a limit on the sin of Man. And anything that exceeds it never lasts long.  History shows us that again and again. The Lord is patient, but He is also merciful. Our own word never goes as far as we think it should. And that’s good news.

But there is better news than that. Because there is a Word that breaks through the barrier of language and confusion. A Word that breaks through our sinful desires, and the plans of our neighbors. A Word that breaks through sin and death to deliver life, and light, and forgiveness, and salvation. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the Word of God was spoken in Jerusalem. Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians heard them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. Telling of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus told His disciples, “…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” What Jesus said, His Word: That He was crucified, died, and was buried, and that he rose from the dead on the third day. In this, He brought peace. Peace for the rebellious, evil sinner. Peace with God. Not peace as the world gives. Not peace according to my own word, which is a peace that only lasts until I can get something better for myself. Jesus gives an eternal peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace that comes from a sacrifice that pays for everything. The sacrifice of the Son of God. Jesus, the Lamb, who died for your peace. So now, you can stand before Holy and Almighty God. No longer as an enemy awaiting their sentence. But now a beloved child with a home, and a place forever.

The Word of peace from your Lord, of your Creator, settles your heart in a way that human words could never do.  In the face of overwhelming loss and deep suffering, human words evaporate like mist.  When the “earth gives way…and the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” human words are empty.  But the Word our Lord speaks, and plants home in our heart, that Word alone can support us.

Yet Jesus still said to His disciples, “You heard me say to you, I am going away.” Although He ascended into heaven, it is better for us that He went away. Jesus is here differently, but absolutely still here. He’s here by means of His Word. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is Jesus. He even gives us His body and His blood. So His presence is not just in spirit only, but physically as well. 

And still, Jesus is bold to says to them, and to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The world’s word, our own word will still lead us into sin and evil. Even when we think that it’s for our good. The sinful nature is that strong. And fighting against it feels overwhelming. It always sounds so much easier to let that other word sweep us away, into where we believe it will take us, good or bad. Yet, Jesus dares give us hope. Jesus dares give us assurance. Just like He did to the disciples. Just like He did for those on the Pentecost after His resurrection: The sin and evil of this world, the sin and evil festering inside our own hearts has been overcome. That His cross and His sacrifice are sufficiently powerful to overcome it all. That His Word is stronger than our deepest-felt pain. That His Word is stronger than our loneliness. That His Word is stronger than our loss. That His Word is stronger than our sadness. That His Word is stronger than our sin. That His Word is stronger than death. That the Word of Jesus Christ is more powerful than all the other words in the world, because He has already overcome the worst that sin, death, and the devil can dish out. And He died, rose, and ascended for you, and He will come again in glory. 

This is the Word that we treasure. This is the Word we keep close to our hearts. This is the Word we love. The Word-Become-Flesh, who made His dwelling among us. The Word through whom we are loved by the Father. The Word that forgives us, raises us from the dead, gives us eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pentecost Day (Confirmation Sunday) (John 14:23-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Churches, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Pentecost Day (Confirmation Sunday) + May 20, 2018
Text: John 14:23-31

It’s a beautiful thing to witness young men and women on Confirmation Day confess their faith publicly.  The flowers are beautiful, they look handsome in their best duds, but the really wonderful thing, the true miracle of the day is seen in response to the words of Jesus: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
What’s not so beautiful is the statistic that half of confirmands leave the Lutheran confession for box churches, or leave the Christian church entirely.  Many congregations see the effect of this and wonder where all the middle-aged and younger people are.  Studies are proposed, blame is assigned, and surveys are conducted all to figure out what happened.
Worrying that we will lose our confirmands amounts to idolatry of self.  Yes, really.  If only we were clever enough to come up with an attractive youth program, if only we had one of those praise bands that people say the kids like (but secretly it’s them who are bored with liturgy and hymnody), if only our pastor were a miracle worker who could use a shepherd’s crook to draw in more people (and of course the kind of people we think God’s church needs).
You hear the common thread with all these suggestions?  It’s our work that we’re worrying about.  Now it’s possible that curmudgeonly Christians could drive people away by being overly judgmental and cold toward people they view as outsiders.  It’s possible that the young woman who makes a bad decision and gets pregnant, is shunned by people who claimed to be her church family.  But assuming we’re a sincere Christian congregation that endeavors to love everyone, there’s another place to look for keeping confirmands in the true faith.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
For the past two years, these young men have read, learned, and inwardly digested God’s Word.  They have regularly and faithfully given up their Sunday afternoons and been immersed in the Word of God.  But that’s just two years of their life.  Once they’re free from their parents telling them to go to Junior Confirmation, they might decide sleeping in is preferable, or hanging out with their friends who aren’t burdened by religion and have the whole weekend to themselves.  The same goes for when they move out after they graduate.  If they go away to school, their parents have no control whether they keep going to church or not.
If this is your worry, repent.  Though we were to drag someone to church or scream into their ear, we could not make one single convert to Christ.  That task is beyond the ability of parents, pastors, or any Christian. It is a divine work: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
This is where those beloved words of the Small Catechism come to bear: “I believe 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.” (Creed, 3rd Article)
These young men are here today because of the work of the Holy Spirit (and yes their parents brought them), but the day is come for us to rely on God the Holy Spirit.  Recall that at one time, many of you were in the same position, and here you are today.  Others never were, and yet here we are today.
Our Lord teaches us in John 3, 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8)   Even though on Pentecost, the disciples were given a vision of the Holy Spirit’s work, now we simply see His working much the same way we see the trees blow in the breeze.  We now hear His voice (the Word of God) and we see men born again, confess faith in the one-and-only Savior, and remain true to Him.  We see boldness and sacrifice when these men and women put their faith above other things in life.  We feel a peace which the world does not give, because we have a God who rules over the heavens and has secured our eternal home.  We do not see this, the way the world sees, but we know and confess that it is the Holy Spirit who does all this.
It’s a reminder and comfort for all of us, when we worry about the state of the Christian church in this place, other parts of the country and world.  We long for the days when churches were packed and out the door, but I can almost guarantee you that was not just the Holy Spirit at work.  It was social pressure, it was the fact that there was nothing on TV and the stores were closed.  But in the midst of social pressure and so many distractions, the Holy Spirit’s work comes into better focus.
Our Lord promised, “On this rock [the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God], I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).  That promise remains true no matter what year it is, no matter what ideas are popular today, or who you meet on the street.  The Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit, and what He creates is more powerful than anything in this passing life.
So, our hope is in the Lord who works all of this.  No need to worry, no need to devise plans, only pray and believe the promise in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Amen.  This is most certainly true.