Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost, Series B

Sermon on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 27, 2012 (The Day of Pentecost, Series B)

Have you ever heard someone describe himself as a “self made man”?  This phrase is usually used to describe someone who rose to a prominent position in life despite the fact that he didn’t receive as much education as some other people and didn’t start out life with any special advantages.  Some of the original founders of large industrial companies were described as self-made men.  They either immigrated into this country while they were very young or were born of poor parents and had no special advantages to speak of.  But through hard work, ingenuity, and being in the right place at the right time, they became leaders in their field.  Even many people who never became famous or made it big like to describe themselves as self-made men.  The culture of our nation values such independence, and very often a person would rather be self-reliant and independent, even if it means he will continue to be relatively poor and obscure by the standards of this world.  There are of course advantages to being a “self-made man.”  Such a person can continue to survive and even thrive even if the entire civilization around him is tumbling down.  He has much greater control over his own future and is less likely to be affected by the stresses of the busy, rushing, workaday world.

But when you look at it from God’s perspective, there is no such thing as a “self-made man.”  Even the most self-reliant, independent person is in fact a creature of God, and everything he has is actually a gift to him from his creator.  He didn’t make himself, God made him.  It wasn’t his hard work that got him to where he is today, it was God’s gracious providence and love.  Granted, if he hadn’t worked hard and learned how to accomplish things on his own, things would have been different for him, but nevertheless it was God’s gift to him of life and of health and of the ability to learn and to grow that allowed him to get where he is today.  God is the giver of all good things.  He made mankind, and that means He made every one of us.  There is no such thing as a “self-made man.”

This is even more true in the realm of eternal salvation.  Not only are we finite creatures who must rely on a gracious God to give us our every need, but in fact we are sinners.  Everything we do is corrupted by that stain of original sin within us.  No matter how hard we try, we are not able to please God with our own works.  Instead of loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves, all too often our so-called good works are done in order to earn something for ourselves, and that is not according to God’s plan.  True good works are selfless acts of love, acts which we would do even without any hope of reward for them.  But deep down, all of us have that Old Adam, hoping to earn the favor of God or of other men when we do something that is outwardly good.  For this reason, none of our works are truly pleasing to God apart from Jesus Christ.  When it comes to eternal salvation, there is no such thing as a “self-made man.”

Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ, having ascended to His Father’s right hand, has sent the Holy Spirit to us.  In our text, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Counselor.”  Other ways of translating this word would be Encourager, Helper, or Comforter.  The idea is that the Holy Spirit is sent to guide us and strengthen us on our journey through the Christian life.  We cannot save ourselves, so God sent His Son Jesus Christ to save us.  But we cannot even believe in Jesus Christ or make a decision to follow Him by our own reason or strength.  So Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to us to bring us into the true faith and to keep us there through Word and Sacrament.  As Luther puts it in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  Because we cannot do it ourselves, Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to grant us faith in Him and to give us the nourishment and strengthening we need to live as Christians in this sin filled world.

Christ describes the work of the Holy Spirit further when He says that He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.  In other words, the Holy Spirit will work through the proclamation of the Word by the apostles to crush the hearts of proud and unrepentant sinners and to recreate and strengthen the hearts of poor, miserable sinners.  Through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel the Holy Spirit will be working in the hearts of the sinful descendants of Adam and Eve and turning them into new persons, saints who will live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Let’s look more closely at each of the three things Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do.  Firstly, He will convict the world in regard to sin.  He explains by saying that this is because they do not believe in Him.  What this means is that the Holy Spirit will work through the preaching of the Law to crush the hearts of stubborn, unrepentant, sinful human beings.  Since all men are born sinful, they are incapable of, and unwilling to, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.  And this doesn’t just mean that we are by nature dumb lumps who need to be told about God in order to come to Him.  It means that we are hostile to God and to His will for us.  It means that we want to do things ourselves rather than thankfully receiving the gifts of body and soul from our creator.  In order for us to be what God intends us to be, we need more than information in order to make a decision.  We need to be remade into new creatures, and that means that our old sinful selves need to be destroyed and crushed by God’s wrath and judgement.  This is what is meant when Christ says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world with regard to sin.

Secondly, He will convict the world with regard to righteousness.  Christ explains that this is because He is going to the Father and we will see Him no more.  What this means is that God accepted the sacrifice of His Son, and because His sacrifice was acceptable for our salvation, Christ can ascend to His Father’s right hand, and plead with the Father in our behalf as our great High Priest.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness by the proclamation that everything has been done for our salvation.  The whole world has been declared righteous for the sake of Christ’s sacrifice.  Our works and our merits are not part of what lets us be saved.  Everything has been done by Christ.  We need not rely on our own efforts for our salvation, because Christ did it all for us and the Holy Spirit now simply declares us righteous through the forgiveness of sins.  This work of the Holy Spirit is what is happening in Holy Absolution as well as the proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Holy Spirit is declaring you “not guilty” for Christ’s sake.

Thirdly, He will convict the world with regard to judgement, which Christ explains means that the prince of this world is judged.  This may sound like a harsh, condemning description of the Holy Spirit’s work, and for those who follow the prince of this world, the unrepentant sinners and idolaters, it is.  But for us who are being saved it is a glorious announcement of our eternal victory.  We who suffer in this world because we are no longer of this world are reassured by the Holy Spirit that whatever trouble, persecution, or suffering comes our way in this life is only temporary and that those who trouble us and persecute us have been judged.  If it were not for the Holy Spirit’s work through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, we would not be able to face the troubles that the world throws at us.  But the Holy Spirit convicts the world with regard to judgment, and therefore we are reassured and strengthened by the knowledge that we have the eternal victory through Christ, and that we have an eternity to be free of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, living at peace with God and one another.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment