04 May 2008

Homily - Easter 7 - Exaudi

Witnessing of Christ
John 15:26-16:4

Dr. Robert Kolb, professor at Concordia Seminary here in St. Louis, said this about witnessing: “Believers are…called to give witness to their faith and the hope which lies within them. As a matter of fact, we cannot do otherwise. Our peace is reflected in our actions and raises questions from those who do not have it…. Our call to witness is one which we can never lay aside or avoid. We can only practice it better or worse.” (Teaching God’s Children, 8-10)

Dr. Kolb simply restates what Jesus Himself said: “You also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Today Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes, Christians will naturally bear witness of Christ.

Six weeks ago we broke forth in great joy. Christ rose victorious from the dead! He conquered our worst enemies—sin, death, and Satan. He trampled down death by His death, and by His resurrection He gives life to us mortals who end up in the tomb. For 40 days we’ve done what the first disciples did: we’ve sat at Jesus’ feet, and we’ve listened to what His resurrection life is all about, how it changes all of life for us. This past Thursday we had another victory celebration, and a great one at that! Christ ascended to heaven. He sits at God’s right hand. He rules all things in the universe for the good of His Christian Church. He restores us to being fully human. Great days indeed!

But now we live in the in-between-time. Today, the 7th Sunday of Easter, falls in between Jesus’ Ascension (this past Thursday) and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (next Sunday). Today also reminds us that we live in between Jesus’ Ascension and His glorious, visible return at the end of time. So, what are we to do? How are we to live? First, we look back to the great saving deeds of Jesus in the past. Then we also look ahead to the future when Christ will return riding on a cloud. And, as if that isn’t enough, we get to live in the here and now of this life. What do we Christians do? We bear witness. We testify of Christ.

Jesus tells us today that the Holy Spirit will testify of Him. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” This is now the fourth Sunday we’ve heard Jesus teach us about the coming Holy Spirit. Today we hear three things about the Holy Spirit.

First, the Holy Spirit is our “Helper.” The Greek word is “Paraclete,” which means “Advocate” or “Defense Attorney.” We know what it’s like to be accused of our sin. The devil is always telling us, “You’re not worthy to be a Christian!” Our own conscience always accuses us. When we hurt or harm someone else with words or deeds, we know it’s wrong, and our conscience keeps trying to remind us that it’s wrong. But the Holy Spirit comes as our “Helper,” our “Advocate,” our “Defense Attorney.” He defends us against the charges of our sin by drawing our attention to Jesus Christ and His cross-won, blood-bought forgiveness for us. The Holy Spirit comforts our conscience by reminding us that God loves us and has mercy on us because Christ died and rose for us. So the Spirit is our Helper.

The second thing we hear about the Holy Spirit is that He is the “Spirit of Truth.” As one saying goes, “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel or a tavern next door.” That is, where God’s message of mercy is taught in its truth and purity, the devil will also give false preachers, false churches, and false religions. Where God puts a church focused on Christ and His forgiveness and life, given in the Gospel and Sacraments, the devil will erect a church that focuses on things like successful living or some purpose-driven life that you make for yourself. Who will help us see what’s true and what’s false? The Spirit of Truth. He shows us that the teachings we learn in the Bible and the Small Catechism are true. He makes our faith sure, He removes our doubts, and He enables us to discern the false teachers and false spirits. He is the “Spirit of Truth.”

How does the Spirit do all this? This is the third thing we hear about Him: the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ. Some people think that the Holy Spirit comes and works through ecstatic experiences, such as dreams or untranslatable languages. Some people think that the Holy Spirit works through emotions and feelings. But remember what Jesus says: “He will testify of Me.” “Testify.” A very unemotional, un-ecstatic word! The Holy Spirit will bear witness of Christ. The Holy Spirit shows us that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. He shows us and tells us that Christ shed His blood to cleanse us from all our sin. He testifies to us that Christ rose victorious from the grave and gives us His perfect, divine life. The Holy Spirit works through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ and thus brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. You see, He wants us to be absolutely certain of our salvation and life with God, so He testifies of Christ, and of Christ alone.

Since the Holy Spirit is our Helper and the Spirit of Truth, and since He testifies of Christ, now we also bear witness of Christ. Remember how Dr. Kolb said it, “we cannot do otherwise…. We can only practice it better or worse.”

You see, when we are born again in our Baptism, each of us is automatically a witness of Christ. There’s no special training required. It’s like being called to be a witness in a court of law. You take the stand. You swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You don’t ask the questions, but you do answer the questions asked of you. And how do you answer those questions? You simply tell the truth of what you’ve seen and heard in Christ’s words and works. “Yes, we humans are fallen and sinful. Yes, I am a sinner. But also, yes, Christ has come into the world. He has suffered and died and risen again to rescue me and all people. Jesus Christ gives forgiveness and eternal life to me and all who believe in Him.” That’s the faithful and true testimony.

Now when Jesus first said, “you also will bear witness,” He was talking to His apostles, the first pastors and preachers of His Good News. When they would preach their sermons, they would bear witness of Christ. Isn’t it absolutely marvelous how their work has continued and multiplied over the centuries? Even to this day Christian pastors faithfully bear witness of Christ and His saving deeds. Don’t be hoodwinked by church executives and bureaucrats who try to make you feel guilty as if the church is not doing her mission! She is—all the time. She cannot do otherwise. Every time a Christian pastor proclaims the Gospel of Christ, every time a Christian pastor baptizes, and every time a Christian pastor distributes the Lord’s Body and Blood, he is bearing witness of Christ. That is the Church’s mission.

But are pastors and preachers the only witnesses of Christ? Of course not! You who faithfully gather around Christ in His Gospel and Sacraments also bear witness. When you come to church, you get to hear with your ears and “see” with the eyes of faith the wonderful deeds of Christ. Then you get to go back to your daily vocations and bear witness there. Some of you get to bear witness to family and friends who are outside the Church. Others get to bear witness to a troubled co-worker. Perhaps you get to bear witness to the clerk at the grocery store, or perhaps you get to bear witness to the doctor or nurse at your annual check up or when you lie flat on your back in a hospital bed. As Dr. Kolb said, “Those who know we are Christians form impressions of Christ from our lives, whether good or bad. Those who do not know we are Christian still see some glimpse of what gives us our ultimate sense of identity, security, and meaning, and whether it is working or not.” So, every Christian bears witness of Christ. You constantly bear witness of Christ!

Yes, “Our call to witness is one which we can never lay aside or avoid. We can only practice it better or worse.” But with the Holy Spirit always helping us and giving us the truth of Christ, with the forgiveness and life that come only from Christ in His Gospel and Sacraments, we can and we do bear witness of Christ. Amen.

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