Biblical Text: John 16:23-33, Acts 16:9-15 draft 1.0
I was trying for something a little different here. In my simple reading of the text I found two themes: 1) Prayer and 2) Jesus overcomes the world. It is the juxtapostion of those two things that was interesting to me because prayer seems to be the weakest thing in the world. From a purely materialist standpoint, and we are all de facto materialists, it does nothing. Yet this is what enables us to overcome the world.
What I latched onto was a comparison to the letter. I attempted to mine an old emotional connection and reflect on changes and what has been lost. How losing personal letters makes prayer that much more difficult to understand. The core of the comparison has two points. Every letter (at least good ones) was an act of love and an invitation into that persons life. Every letter was also a plea or a promise to come, we will not always be separated. We will see each other in the flesh. Prayer is the same. It is God’s Spirit present with us, and it is the promise that we will not always be so separated.
I wish I could have carried it off better. But…
THe hymn of the day left in the recording was LSB 779 Come My Soul with Every Care. I think the hymn in its verses recognizes this movement of prayer. At first it is a law – Jesus bids us pray. Then it is petitions of a King – just big stuff. But then there is a breakthrough, the big stuff is the sin and guilt that separate. This is the gospel recognition. The fourth verse moves prayer from this real to that personal love. “Lord, thy rest to me impart, take possesion of my heart.” Your kingdom has come, let it come to me also. The final two verses capture what it points toward. “While I am a pilgrim here, :et they love my spirit cheer.” Pilgrims eventually reunite at home. But verse six is the recognition that I as a pilgrim have a duty. “Show me what is mine to do.” The prayer has started simply as law and ends as pure gospel. Because of love, because of the beloved and His presence in prayer, I seek what I should do. Not out of compulsion, but love.
This is a tough passage to preach on. In part because Jesus just repeats himself. He knows he has things to say, but it is like the only language he has is modern English. Until Pentecost, or until after the little while, none of it will really make sense to Aramaic Peter. For me it forces a meditation on sorrow and joy and the appropriate time we can expect them. When Jesus uses ‘a little while’ the immediate meaning is clear to us – after the Supper until Easter Morning. But Jesus connects ‘a little while’ to the eschatological – the time between the advents. For a little while we lament, and that little while is now. But we also have the same joy that cannot be taken away as those disciples – He’s risen. What we do not yet have is our completion, our final sanctification.
So, now, we share in the cross, or we share in nothing. We also share in the resurrection, while we groan for our new birth as true humans.
Recording notes: 1. The recording chip fell out of my suit pocket, so this is a re-recording. 2. The hymn references in the sermon is LSB 756 Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me. I’m sorry I lost the recording because this is one of those deep hymns. Gerhardt does a better job of the sermon than I do. The tune it is paired with I find touching as well. Here is another recording of it.
Given the recent Pew Report on American Religion I’m surprised the image of dry bones hasn’t been used. I suppose it is because Satan knows scripture and there is a sturdy reply in this text. But we have heard some church members, and I myself at times, sounding like Israel in the Ezekiel text, “Our bones are dried up, and our Hope is lost.” This sermon is God’s answer to that. It is the answer of Pentecost. Therefore prophesy, and say to them, thus says the Lord God: “Look, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” Therefore prophesy and say to them, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live…Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
The text continues one of the LCMS divergences from the revised common lectionary (RCL). In that RCL John 16 is never read on a Sunday. I’m somewhat surprised as this is all part of Jesus’ final teaching to the disciples at the last Supper, and chapter 16 has a bunch of important and practical teaching. The themes seem to be the Spirit, life in community post the resurrection and prayer. Now if I was a conspiracy sort I’d say it’s because Jesus, especially in today’s text, is at his most Trinitarian and High Christological (i.e. Jesus = God). The RCL has its origin in Vatican 2 and has significant input by church bodies like the Episcopal church and other mainline bodies. And let’s be kind, portions of both of those bodies at the time of the RCL’s creation weren’t exactly big on such clear teaching and were guided by hot at the time critical readings that thought of such parts of scripture as “secondary additions”. Some have continued down that path, others have reformed.
Anyway, the theme of the day was prayer with the trouble with prayer being found in our problems with the 3rd commandment – remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Luther explains that commandment in terms of the Word. We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. In Luther’s simple way to pray, which is summarized in the application section of this sermon, prayer that starts with the Word is put forward. Our problems with the clear Word is often what stands between is and prayer. We can’t even start to pray because we despise the Word. We have put so much between us and the Word, that we can’t hear it or commune with God in prayer over it.
Paradoxically, prayer and the Word are the answer. We learn in prayer to let God work on us and teach us. When we set ourselves under the word we also set ourselves under its promises. What God wishes to give to us through His Word in prayer, is the fulness of joy, peace and the grace of Christ. And that is the gospel. While the devil, the world and our flesh conspire to keep us out of communion with God, Christ has overcome the world. Our tribulation in the world, ultimately has already been defeated.
We had a little malfunction with our audio equipment this week, so the recording portion of the sermon is a recreated reading. The hymn and lessons of the day are from Sunday. It is interesting, just one of those coincidences, that the sound system chose this week to “pop”. I say that because with most of my sermons, later in the day or on Monday when I write this posting, I have the general feeling of: this phrase would have worked better, I missed that fertile preaching ground completely, nobody got that allusion, and the list goes on. This sermon, after struggling with the text most of the week, in between trying to put the right words together for a funeral I dearly wanted to honor, didn’t have many of those criticisms. If you were asking me to pick out pieces for the portfolio, this one would go in there. And the system just fails. One of those thin spaces where you might actually believe we are not fighting flesh and blood, but something darker.
The wordle picture above is all scrambled this way and that. I thought that is highly representative of how the Holy Spirit is taught. We are big on the Spirit blowing when and where he wills. There is definitely a mystery in how the Spirit acts, but there is an underlying solidity as part of the promise of Christ. And that is what I think this sermon presents solidly. The Spirit has a role and typical means. In Luther’s words the Spirit, “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies”. The Spirit prepares us to bear the Word. The Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ. And until we are ready, when we can’t bear it, Christ does. It is not that the Spirit says something new, but that the Spirit enables us to hear the old old story where we are. And the Spirit acts through the same old old ways – Word, Sacrament (baptism), Repentance and Holy Living. Those are the means of the work of the Spirit. Not sexy, just true. When the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all truth.
Poor Pentecost, it is one of the three High Holy Days of the Church Year (Christmas, Easter and Pentecost), and yet it is the one that often gets forced to share its celebration with a secular holiday. A couple of years ago it was Mother’s Day. This year Memorial Day. In a odd way though that might be appropriate. The Spirit doesn’t call attention to himself. The other thought is that its really hard to make a materialist celebration out of the Spirit.
Putting those thoughts aside, the juxtaposition of Memorial Day and Pentecost makes for some tough but I hope enlightening comparisons. The driving force of memorial day is to hallow something, to make it holy. The graves of soldiers who died fighting the nation’s ware we have a good and natural desire to make holy. The problem is that our efforts still are over the dead. Even the most powerful and permanent of our memorials have limits. These too will pass. But Pentecost, the work of the Spirit, is not to make dead tributes but living stones. It is the work of the Spirit that sanctifies our efforts, gives them life and turns them to the glorification of Christ who released us from our dead stone.