All Vocations are Saintly – St. John the Evangelist 2012 – John 21:20-25

27. December 2012
The Day of St. John the Evangelist
John 21:20-25

You follow me!” Christian vocation does not take one from the home, or workplace, or world to a higher calling. As Luther helpfully taught us in the Small Catechism, we serve God by fulfilling His commands attached to the stations in life. Indeed, if you had to chose between feeding your child and coming to church who would choose church? Not even God. You love, honor, and worship Him in all things and with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Luther said: “There is no doubt it is Satan’s own doings that divine worship is confined only to churches, altars, masses, singing, reading, offerings and the like, as if all other works were vain or of no use whatever. How could Satan mislead us more completely from the right way than when he confines God’s worship within such narrow limits, only to the church and whatever is done in it?”

Sometimes we like to think of these saints as more beloved by God because of their great and noble deeds. St. John the Evangelist wrote a Gospel, Epistles, and even an Apocalypse. He autobiographically referred to himself as the “beloved disciple” and “the one whom Jesus loved.” He followed Jesus those three years. He even stayed with Christ at the cross. Surely this sets him apart from the gentle husband, lowly mother, diligent worker, or obedient child?

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them… [Peter] said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” It is as if Jesus were saying: “Why are you so worried about the one who will betray? What if this guy lives until I come again, what does that matter? Who should you be concerned about? Yourself! Be faithful to your vocation. I have called you to follow me, now do it!”

We’re always tempted to worry about the other guy. Is he Christian enough? Will he stay in the faith or fall from it? Do I measure up to the other guy’s impeccable Christian standard? Learn from St. Peter. Don’t do it. Be concerned with your faith and vocation. Follow Christ and live.

You can’t measure yourself without looking to your works and the works of your neighbor. Isaiah calls even our righteous works filthy menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6). This applies even to St. John’s most noble works: the glorious Gospel, the fantastic Revelation, and the bold confession of his first Epistle. Filthy, bloody rags. We, like Peter, want to judge ourselves based on how “beloved” the next guy is. We’re always trying to live up to some impossibly high standard and thereby think we’re pleasing from God.

Listen to Jesus: “You follow me!” There you have it. What’s your purpose in life? Have trouble deciding what to do next? Debilitated by the fear of making a wrong choice? Don’t worry about it. Ask yourself, what has God called me to be? And then be who God has called you.

If a pastor, be a pastor. Hold fast to the trustworthy word. If a layperson, listen to preaching, receive instruction, support the ministry financially, and respect your pastors. If an authority, rule with justice and honor. If a citizen, submit to your authorities and pay them taxes. Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Parents, do not exasperate your children but train and instruct them of the Lord. Children, obey your parents. Workers, obey your masters. Masters, treat you workers with respect and fear. Youth, listen to the older. Widows, pray without ceasing. Everyone, love your neighbor as yourself and pray without ceasing.

It is often asked how one can be a good Christian. From Jesus, it’s easy “you follow me!” Your works are worthless before God but are loving service for your neighbor. Love your God by being who He has given you to be. This work will undoubtedly fall short of the glory of God. But these works are not for your benefit. You’re not trying to measure up to God’s perfect standard. Your works are for your neighbor and God well supplies them.

If you look to your God-given vocations you’ll find ample to keep you busy and your time will be too short. You’ll have neither the strength nor the resources to fulfill them. But do not look to your works. God does not deal with you according to them. Your reward is not attached to them. Stick to your duties. As it is written, “let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (1 Cor 7:17)

Notice St. John wants no credit in the Gospel he writes. He only refers to himself by the handle “the beloved disciple.” He’s not comparing himself to others but merely speaking of his place in the apostolic band. But notice too that he repeatedly states his purpose for writing. The beginning of the Apocalypse reads: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the thing that must soon take place.” St. John was called to the vocation of Revelator and his work on the book is the fulfillment of God’s calling. The purpose of all his work is to testify to Christ that your joy may be complete in Him.

Just as with St. John, we can learn to be humble in our boasting and in all things give God the glory. The mother changing the diaper, the father working the factory, the child obedient in his work all work to God’s glory. Even in suffering and death we can boldly give God the glory. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Or as Jesus said, “You follow me!

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Pentecost Vigil ’12 – John 14:15-21

26. May 2012
Pentecost Vigil
Joel 3:1-5; Romans 8:12-17; John 14:15-21

When it comes to the Christian church today, many have been led into and continue in error. Error can take many forms. Different errors lead to different churches and disunity in the body of Christ.

Error can twist of the truth into a falsehood, e.g. teaching that Christians have retained a perfect image of God after the fall. Error can add leaven to the truth, e.g. saying that Jesus died for you and you can merit salvation by your works. Error can leave out a portion of the truth and thus nullify the whole, e.g. “Jesus died for you” and then never getting to the Holy Spirit Church part. Error can run in the way of idle speculation and let our minds trump the mind of God, e.g. teaching that Jesus give us His body and blood physically because He is in heaven with the Father. And finally the worst error of our age is the idea that there is no truth and everything is relative.

No wonder there are so many Christian denominations. We’re split up into factions based on our error(s) of choice: the twisting of Scripture, the addition to the Word where it is silent, the ignoring of the clear testimony of Jesus in part or as a whole, distortions to the Holy Word based on the thoughts and intentions of our heart, and those who frankly don’t give a damn.

One mark is common to all: ignorant and malicious sinners. Every one of us has the capacity for error. Not only that, but apart from Christ, we walk in one or more of these errors each day. All error is a despising of God’s Word.

Consider how we treat our neighbors. Hatred? Check, I’ve got enough of that to last me an eternity. Coveting another’s spouse or stuff? Yeah, and not only that, I resort find ways to steal and have adulterous thoughts (and maybe actions) without anyone seeing or knowing. Honor my own father and mother, nonetheless my grand and great-grandparents? Not really. I don’t care what they thought was right and wrong, I’m more enlightened. Never mind our fathers and mothers in the faith, who handed over to us a faithful tradition of liturgy, rich hymns, and pointed and sincere prayers. We know better now how to “do church.” We can stomp on their honor with the bold rejection of our heritage.

Our attitude towards our Father is little different. Do we hold God’s Word sacred by gladly hearing and learning it? No, our prayers falter, attending to His Word in Bible study optional, and God’s own service to us with Sacrament disregarded for family vacation or the golf course. We mope about like Eeyore saying, “woe is me! There is no hope!” when we should call upon God’s own name for help. We don’t even give thanks to God for our everything we have, especially when others might be watching. And idolatry? We make our idols in spades. Gold cows are replaced by new idols we love and trust in more than our Father.

This is what St. Paul calls “to live according to the flesh.” To pursue the thoughts and intentions of your wicked heart is vanity. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die.” Any and every disregard for God’s own Word, for His precious things, [His] silver and [His] gold, results in death. Not just death to the body but death to God and eternal separation and damnation from Him.

Casting off truth for error is to reject the Holy Spirit. And nothing good comes of such retaliation against the Holy Trinity. Indeed, “swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own head.” A life lived in error, in the truth mixed with error, or animosity to the truth will always result in God’s wrath and death. Error is not some plaything, to be toyed with, petted, and tolerated. Error is a beast, devouring truth and those who stand in its way.

The Father cannot abide by error. He does not want you twisting His Word to mean something different than He intended. He doesn’t want you making new laws and finding new hope apart from His own speech. He cannot abide by you ignoring his commands and gifts where they make you uncomfortable. He certainly will not tolerate you limiting Him and His work by your own reason or strength. Your Father wants you to know the truth and only the truth, so help you.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.” The Father has given us a great gift in His Holy Spirit. For by the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the body and live. Today, we recall again how the Spirit, promised by Jesus before and after His death and resurrection, now dwells in us. He has made our body His home. He has swept it clean of our idolatry. He has purged it of adultery and theft. The desires and intents of our heart are put to death again so that He who is holy once again has a holy habitation in us.

That is what is meant by “being led by the Spirit of God.” We are like the tabernacle in the wilderness, wherein God himself dwelt as the people of God made His home with him, a home that moved and journeyed unto it final mount of Jerusalem. We are being led by the Spirit out of death and into eternal dwellings not made with hands. And so, we are sons of God. Sons of truth and righteousness not error and iniquity.

Despite the filth of sin still clinging to our bones, despite our insistence on keeping and even believing in error, we have this adoption and this promise. We have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” We are children of God, and if children then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. 

Now, as heirs, we know the truth. We know what is good and right and it has exposed what is evil and wrong. Therefore we cannot abide with error any longer. In our hearing, receiving, and meditation on God’s Word, our sin is exposed and our error brought to the life. There again the Spirit crucifies all falsehood and doubt with suffering. Yes, suffering is the consequence for sin but is claimed by the Spirit as a purging fire.

Burning hot is the Spirit operating by the Word. Burning the chaff away and granting new life to the ashes left. He is the Helper, the Paraclete, who keeps us in Christ. Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. No one holding to error abides in Christ.

This is why the world cannot receive Jesus. This is why Christians go after falsehood and error. Our sinful nature cannot handle Jesus unless it is dead and buried and we are raised to be holy homes for the Spirit. Having  been buried with Christ by the Spirit and now raised to new life by Him, the Holy Spirit dwells with you and you know Him. He is the Spirit of life because He is the Spirit of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit does this great work of killing evil and raising us in the truth by the Word and blessed Sacraments. Baptism is the washing away of error and the new life of truth. Absolution is declaring that God has forgiven you and holds your sin against you no more. Despite what your heart and conscience may tell you, this is the truth. Preaching is the authoritative truth of God declared by the Spirit into your ears. The Holy Supper is truly Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. By these great gifts the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you. He dwells in you and thus Jesus dwells in you. Not only that you know the Father and now call upon Him, “Abba.” Jesus loves you and has made Himself manifest to you by the Spirit. Receive and believe.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana