15 May 2017

Homily for Easter 5 (Cantate) - 2017

"The Next Big Thing"
John 16:5-15

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In 2007, Apple came out with a really big thing—the iPhone. People stood in line—camped in line—for hours just to buy the very first smart phone. The first iPhone was so big that Apple sold 270,000 iPhones in the first 30 hours of sales. Four years later, came “the next big thing”—Samsung’s marketing campaign for its smart phones. And so big are all of these “next big things” that smart phones are, well, almost omni-present in our lives and culture today.

Today on the church’s calendar, we turn our attention to a “next big thing” of a completely different sort—a much more meaningful “next big thing,” a truly eternal “next big thing.” Back on the Third Sunday of Advent we had the joyous anticipation of Christmas—God the Father sending His only-begotten Son into the world. Back on the Fourth Sunday in Lent we had the joyous anticipation of Easter—the Son of God sacrificing Himself for us in His crucifixion and bringing life and immortality to light through His resurrection. Today, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, we get the joyous anticipation of “the next big thing”—the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Teller and Teacher of Truth. In fact, He is the best and most perfect “next big thing,” the best and most perfect gift that comes from above, “coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

This is what Jesus is telling His disciples in our Gospel reading. These words are part of His last conversation with them before the final ordeal of His suffering and death for the sins of the world. Before those dark hours of His departure, Jesus promised them that the Helper would come. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come only after Jesus completed His work of saving the world from sin, death, and the devil. Once Jesus removed the curse on the world, once He forgave the sins of all, then “the next big thing”—the Holy Spirit—would come. He would come to help Jesus’ followers and to provide the answer to the world’s greatest need.

Now, you would think that the people of the world would be glad to receive the offered help and deliverance. But, alas, not so! As Jesus told His disciples and still tells us: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you…. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…. 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” (John 15:18, 20; 16:2).

And how did the disciples react when Jesus warned them of these things? They were disappointed. They were sad. They were despondent. They wanted to retreat. They were no longer concerned about Jesus’ future. So Jesus said, “Now I am going to Him who sent me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’” (John 16:5). The disciples were concerned only about themselves. And so sorrow filled their hearts.

It’s not so different with us, is it? As Jesus’ followers today, we’ve been given a work that goes beyond just our everyday lives, a work that goes beyond just our service to other people. We actually have the privilege of helping other people become followers of Jesus too. But we often lose interest in that task. Often we are not concerned about it. We often lack the courage to speak up. We often find it much easier to talk about anything else—the weather, the flooding, the news, the Blues, the Cardinals—rather than talk about the hope and faith that fills us. So we need Someone to inspire us, Someone to help us, Someone to speak for us.

You see, going against the opposition of the world and the powers of darkness is a lot like soldiers equipped with bows and arrows marching against an army that has jets, tanks, and machine guns. It seems like such an impossible task. But Jesus says we have Someone to help us. That Someone is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Helper. He is the One who counsels and assists us. He is the One who intervenes and supports us. He is the One who is able to overcome the world.

This is why Jesus says, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). You see, once Jesus finished His work of suffering and dying for the world’s sins, He had to rise from the dead to bring life. He also had to return to His heavenly glory in order to share and distribute the gifts of His work with all people. It would be the work of the Holy Spirit to carry out the sharing and distribution of the Jesus gifts. That’s the real, life-changing, always-meaningful “next big thing.”

And yet, the devil would be allowed to continue his work of promoting unbelief and persuading people to do and live in all sorts of evil and wickedness—for that “little while” that we heard about last week. But the Helper, the Spirit, would be sent forth to work faith and the fruit of faith—things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). This is what Jesus promised His disciples. This is still Jesus’ promise to all His followers, including you and me, today.

So Jesus also tells us what to expect from this best and perfect gift—this “next big thing”—of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “when [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The Spirit’s first work is to “convict the world…concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Why is that? Because the world thinks lightly of sin…if they think about it at all. What else do you call killing unborn babies, or committing acts of terrorism, or turning blind eyes to criminal activity, or—most of all—thinking and acting and living like there’s no God, or if there is, like He’s an absentee landlord? But through God’s Word the Holy Spirit shows what sin really is: rebellion against God, not believing in Him. And He shows what lies at the bottom of all sins: unbelief, that is, rejection of what Jesus has done to save us, and that continuing in unbelief eventually leads to eternal doom.

The Spirit’s second work, Jesus says, is to “convict the world…concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” This work is most necessary. You see, the world’s idea of “righteousness” is a false one. The world sees people who appear good and charitable and respectable, and says, “That’s righteousness!” But that’s not all that God wants of people. In fact, because of sin, any and all of these outward achievements falls far short of what God seeks. God wants righteousness before Him. And righteousness before Him is possibly only through Jesus, who suffered and died to take away our sin and make us right before God once again. That right relationship—that righteousness—is a gift from God when the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in Jesus.

The third work of the Holy Spirit is to “convict the world…concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” It really is most distressing to see so much of the devil’s work in the world—the murders, the immorality, the conflicts, and many other evils. But “the ruler of this world is judged.” Our Lord Jesus conquered him when He died on the cross. Our Lord Jesus conquered him and the power of death when He rose from the grave.  The devil may try his hardest to rant and rave and sow his chaos. But he is like a mean Rottweiler on a chain. He and his evil minions are restricted until the Day of Judgment. At that time Satan and all who belong to him will be rejected forever from God’s presence.

This is the work of the Spirit of Truth—to convict and convince the world and bring the message of Truth to all people. It’s a message of sin and judgment. But it’s also the answer to sin and judgment. It’s the Good News of forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus Christ.

And the Spirit doesn’t just bring the message of Truth to us. He also strengthens us in the Truth. He also nurtures us in the life of love. He gives us the new birth in the waters of Baptism. He comforts, sustains, and strengthens us by feeding us the nourishing food of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Our Father in heaven has indeed given us every good and perfect gift for body and soul, for faith and life. But the best “next big thing” and the most perfect gift of all is the Holy Spirit. He comforts us by bringing us to Jesus, by filling us with His Truth and Life, by inspiring us to share that Truth and Life with others until the Last Day. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” Amen.

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