12. May 2013
This Sunday between our Lord’s Ascension and the giving on the Holy Spirit used to be called Waiting Sunday. From the Ascension we look for his return “to judge the living and the dead.” The time of the church is between this Ascension and his coming again. The work of salvation is accomplished but the fruit of His saving continues. this is Christ’s work and He will accomplish it. We wait for its completion, having seen Him ascend and watching for Him to come again.
Today the church also cries out “Exaudi Domini” that is, “hear O Lord!” Hear us as we pray. Hear us as we struggle with our sin. Hear us as the world seeks our hurt and harm. Hear us as others profane your holy name. Hear us as our possessions and income fail us. Hear us as we doubt you are coming again. Hear us O Lord! Hide not your face from me!
We are waiting and we crying. We also live as if today is the end: attentive to our prayers, loving each other especially those closest to us, sharing all things in common, welcoming the stranger, serving all in their need. Thus today’s themes are waiting for our Lord’s return, crying out in prayer, and living in the end time. This is the life of the church between the Ascension and Christ’s return.
Last week our District President joined us for Divine Service, discussion, and a meal. The overall response was disappointment. Some expected more suggestions from him. Some wanted solutions. Others desired a heavy hand of leadership and maybe even a forceful command.
What did he offer? Was this perspective pointless? No, even though it was mostly what we already knew. We need to hear another perspective to gain the confidence we need to act. We need to know that God has preserved His church in the midst of difficult times and even despite us. President May gave wisdom from years of pastoring, counsel from his experience as district president, and encouragement to be the children God the Father made us. He followed His office of overseer and gave us perspective. He counseled us to wait, to pray, and to live as if today is the end.
President May reminded me of Jesus instructing His disciples in the upper room as they faced a difficult path. He could not promise their future would be easy. Indeed, it would not. He could not promise them clear sailing. The voyage of their life as His apostles would be rough and treacherous. He could not promise the world would listen. Their message would not be received but often rejected. For the sake of this message all but St. John would lose their lives.
He promises that He will not leave us as orphans but will come to us. We might follow our doubt and think that He has forgotten this promise. Perhaps having set His church in motion and has left us to fend for ourselves. That’s what His disciples thought after our Lord’s resurrection. They hid in the upper room or hid in their work, not quite sure if Jesus was a man of His word. They grew impatient. Their prayers faltered. Their mercy ended and the drew into their shells.
But He has not left us alone. “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). He will come and our hearts will rejoice. Apart from Christ there is no waiting but only impatience. Apart from Christ there is no cry of Christian prayer but only despair and panic. Apart from Christ there is no living but only hastily bull rushing our death. In Christ we wait with hope. In Christ we pray without ceasing. In Christ we die to sin and rise with Him and live.
Jesus said, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” The disciples were in for a difficult patch, rough sailing, indeed death at the hands of those who think they are worshiping God. And notice who in particular will cause them grief? Those who think they are serving God, from fellow believers.
This is a truth we want to ignore today. Who challenges faithful Christians to abandon the faith? Who heaps scorn and ridicule on right-believing believers? Yes, sometimes it’s the world and its unbelievers. But here Jesus wants us to to know that it is those who claim to believe who will seek our harm and ruin. The disciples will be martyred for the truth by those who think they have the truth.
Pontus Pilate asked of our Lord, “What is truth?” Today’s popular thinking has no idea. Literally. Maybe you and certainly your children don’t believe in universal truth. You have heard it said, “Truth is whatever you believe.” The “new” math is to let children decide what-and-what-equals-what. Most consider it arrogant to suppose any one person or group has a corner on what is true, real, or right.
The prophecy of Jesus and the experience of the Apostles tell us that that it not only those who claim a faith who will oppose Christianity. Even those who call themselves Christian will oppose the faithful. I read this week of a pastor and professor in another Christian denomination who was charged with false doctrine and threatened with expulsion for teaching what the Scriptures teach about Holy Baptism. This man was initially exonerated but the charges are being leveled again against him for teaching the truth. He is being threatened with loss of vocation and livelihood for teaching what Jesus teaches.
Sometimes we like to use the label “Christian” as an excuse to avoid refuting error. We’re all Christians, right? Shouldn’t we just turn a blind eye to their confusion and get along? No! The history of the Apostolic church is rich with times where error was refuted and the truth preserved. The creeds and confessions were written to confess the truth in the face of error. Christians died because those in error “have not known the Father, nor [Jesus].” Christians died defending the truth. They died to confess the creeds. They died waiting, praying, and living in the end.
How can you claim to know the truth? How can you possibly know with certainty that you believe the truth? Jesus tells you. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” When Jesus promised you would not face this time of the church alone, He promised to send the Paraclete, today translated the Helper. He is your Comforter and Advocate. He helps, comforts, and advocates by bringing you Jesus. He is sent from the Father to bring you Jesus’ by the Word. How has Jesus fulfilled His promise? His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, comes bearing the Word into your ears. When you hear Jesus speaking you are hearing by the Spirit. More importantly when you believe the Word of Jesus is the truth then the Spirit is doing His Spirit business. Notice the title Jesus gives Him: the Spirit of Truth. Not one truth, or some truth, but truth.
You know for certain that Jesus Christ is your savior, whose blood atoned for your sins, whose death destroyed death, and whose resurrection is your bodily resurrection. You know this is the truth for you have His Spirit, the Spirit of truth. You first received this Spirit in Holy Baptism when faith was given through was washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3). You continually receive His Spirit when your sins are declared forgiven. The Spirit preserves the true faith in your heart through the proclamation of Jesus’ Word. The Spirit joins Word to bread and wine to give you Jesus’ body and blood.
The growth of the church and her health in this place and throughout the world is not a product of our effort. We grow impatient waiting for God the Spirit to do His work. We often fail to pray for those in need, to speak of Christ to those who need to hear, to love the one who has sinned against us. But look how God the Spirit has preserved this place through discord, false teachers, and scandal. If this congregation were a result of our effort then it would have failed long ago. But we have been not left alone. We have been gathered and kept safe through the Word delivering forgiveness of sins by the Spirit through Jesus Christ.
Our lives bear witness to the overflowing grace of our Lord. We speak, live, and receive the truth here, in our families, and in our communities.. It is the Spirit who gives force to the witness of the Apostles. It is the Spirit who bears in us fruit to be faithful, charitable, and hospitable. Most of all he gives us the Word to say when truth must be spoken. He is the great defender of the truth. He raises up faithful Christians to defend the truth through word and deed before pagan, unbeliever, or hypocrite. By this Holy Spirit the church is glorified through Jesus Christ. By Him you receive Jesus.
We live knowing “the end of all things is at hand.” Having received the Holy Spirit, “you also bear witness…” How? Pray. Love one another earnestly. Cover each others’ sins with forgiveness. Be hospitable. Serve one another. Speak the Word. Hear the Word. Yes, times are difficult but you have not been left alone. By the Holy Spirit you can watch patiently for His coming, pray without ceasing, and live knowing the end is near.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church