Sunday, May 29, 2011

Easter 6 - Zion, Alva

Easter 6 – Zion Lutheran, Alva – John 14:15-21 – May 29th, 2011

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
“If you love Me, you will keep my Commandments.” Oh great – Pastor Brown is going to preach some fire and brimstone law today. Keep my commandments – this one is going to be so rough that it could peel the paint off of a barn. Is that what you thought when you heard that verse in our Gospel lesson? Or perhaps you thought, “Finally, Pastor Brown is going to preach a real barn burner – just like that person over there needs.” Nope. Because here Christ our Lord is not acting like some mean, angry Tyrant, wagging His finger at you. If this was to be cruel Law and threats, the next verse wouldn’t be about the Helper coming – it would be about the executioner coming, ready to smite you for your being so lousy at doing stuff. If you love Me, you will…keep… My commandments. The problem is we don’t understand the word “keep” anymore. That is because we have been raised in a land of Pharisees who think that the Christian faith is defined by what You do for God. We have been raised with the voices around us all proclaiming works righteousness. We hear that word “keep” and we think “obey.” Some of you probably read translations that use the word “obey” here. The NIV does… and it’s wrong.

What does the word “keep” mean here? The Greek word is trepho – to hold fast on to, to protect, to cherish. It’s a word of safety, of safe guarding. It’s like the old phrase – a man’s home is his castle and his keep. That doesn’t mean he obeys his house – it means that his house is where he dwells, and when he is there he is safe. This is what Christ Jesus is saying to you this morning. If you love Him – cling to His Word, cling to His commandments – observe them, hold fast. This is the same word used in the Great Commission – teaching them to observe, to keep, to hold fast to whatsoever I have commanded. And what is that? Forgive. Proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until He comes again. Declare that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Gather together around His Word, around His Gospel proclaimed, hold fast to Him.

Why? When we are in the Word, what happens? “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” When we are in the Word, when we holdfast to it, when we cling to it, we are kept by the Spirit in the truth of God’s Love for us, we receive it, and it flows out from us so that we love God and love our neighbor. Remember with me for a moment – From the Small Catechism – what is the meaning to the 3rd article of the Creed? I believe that 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. When we are in the Word, when we keep fast to it, the Spirit comes, and by His power He keeps us in the true faith. If you love God – remain in the Word, hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it – because that is where and how the Holy Spirit works upon you – in the Word of God, in the Gospel, in the declaration of the forgiveness won by Christ upon the Cross.

Again, in all things, we need to remember that we are connected to Christ by His Word and Spirit – and if we wish to remain connected to Christ, we must remain in His Word and Spirit. Jesus says, “You know Him [the Spirit], for He dwells with you and will be in you.” And what does the Holy Spirit do? He points to Christ, points to the Word of God. At Pentecost, when the Spirit descends upon Peter, what does Peter do? He preaches Christ and Him Crucified. Paul, speaking by the Spirit, says that He is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Our focus is always to be on Christ. Our Lord says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.” How and why do we still see Christ? Because that is what the Holy Spirit is constantly doing – taking the Word of God and using it to focus your eyes upon Christ Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith.

But here is the rub. Here in this sinful world, where your sinful flesh loves to rebel, Satan will do everything in his power to try to prevent you from being in the word. He will try to keep you from keeping the Word, Satan will present before you every reason in the book for you to just not pay attention to the proclamation of Christ Jesus and His love for you. You’ll be too busy. You’ll have something else going on. You won’t like the preacher. It will be too boring and you could be having more fun doing something else. None of your friends will be doing it, and if they don’t care, why should you. That person a pew over was mean to you, so you won’t want to be anywhere that she is, and if she’s at church, why should you go there? Well, you’re fine with it, but your spouse doesn’t like so and so, and you know how they can be. You’ll just not feel like.

Any of these sound familiar? Recognize these for what they are – they are the tempations of Satan designed to hinder you in your faith, to prevent you from being in the Word of God, from receiving God’s love and mercy proclaimed to you, to keep you from this altar and receiving the life giving Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Why? Because Satan does what he has always done – he tries to cut you off from God by making you ignore the Word. Satan said to Eve, “God’s Word is stupid, eat the fruit.” And then Adam and Eve were cut off from God – they didn’t want to be around Him anymore, they wanted to go and hide. Satan tells you the exact same thing – God’s Word of forgiveness and life is stupid. It’s not relevant, it’s a waste of time, ignore it. He tries to cut you off from God, from the God who loves you and would hold sweet conversation with you, speak His comfort and mercy to you over and over, so that you might stand in the face of the trials of this life. Christ Jesus sends you His Spirit through the Word of the Gospel to fight against this, to beat down Satan, to keep you in the One true faith so that you may have confidence and life a life of love.

Listen. “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Do you not see? Your life is Christ’s life. This is why Paul says that it is not I who live but Christ who lives within me. I want you to think for a moment of a garden hose. You attach the hose to the faucet and turn the faucet on, and water runs through the hose out into the garden. That is the picture of who you are – you are a hose attached to Christ, and His love comes into you and flows through you and out into the world. You receive Christ’s love, and then you show love to others – you can’t help it, you just will. You receive Christ’s mercy, and you will show mercy to others, you just will. You receive Christ’s forgiveness, and you will show Christ’s forgiveness to others, you just will – for you are a new Creation in Him, His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that you will just walk into.

But what happens to that hose, if you detach it from the faucet? There is no more water flowing through it. And it sits in the hot, Oklahoma sun. It and dries out, and becomes brittle and not very flexible. And the garden also withers in the heat of the sun. The plants die, the hose deteriorates, and the garden is destroyed. What happens to you, to your faith, when you cut yourself off from the Word? You’re still in the world, and the world is still tough and harsh… and you get worn, and weary. You don’t put up with people any more. You don’t care about them. You don’t seek to show them love and mercy… you want to put them in their place. You stop loving them… and they are hurt and are less for your lack of love. And you become more and more brittle, and your faith crumbles, because you are cut off from Christ Jesus – He who gives out streams of living water.

This is not what Christ Jesus desires for you. His love for you is wondrous and immense. His love for you takes Him to the Cross, where He Himself takes up all the bitterness, the hatred, the pain, the suffering of the World – and from His pierced side flow water and blood as He gives up His Spirit for you – to give you forgiveness and life, to sustain you now and to bring to unto the life everlasting. “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.” This is what God desires – what He has desired from the beginning. To be your God, to be God for you and God with you. To dwell with you, to protect you, to bless you, shower you with His love. God said to His beloved Son: It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of My crown, and bring to all salvation. From sin and sorrow set them free; slay bitter death for them that they May live with You forever.” This is what Christ Jesus did for you with His life and death – and this is what He gives to you whenever He preaches His Word of forgiveness and life to you, this is what He gives to you at this altar as you receive His Body and Blood. It is in His Word, in His Sacraments, where Christ Jesus “manifests” Himself, where He comes to you, to be with you.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus, our Lord is not some law giving bully. The Christian faith is not the wagging of fingers. We do works, but that’s just because of who we are in Christ – we are those who are forgiven, who are overwhelmed by His love – who dwell in His Word richly and so are weekly, are daily brought to repentance and forgiveness, daily strengthened by Christ Jesus who is near to us and gives Himself to us through His Word. God grant that we avoid the temptations of Satan, and by the power of His Helper, the Holy Spirit, ever cling steadfast to His Word – for blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

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