SERMON FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
All 10 verses of Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice. And aren’t you glad you did. More than any other hymn, that hymn, written by the blessed Dr. Martin Luther, was responsible for spreading the pure doctrine of the Lutheran Reformation; more than any other source, perhaps even including the 95 Theses.
Ordinary folks could sing the faith, in a straightforward clear way, that they could learn of their sinful condition, their helplessness in judgment were it not for Christ, his death, resurrection, and ascension. Ordinary Christians could sing about the giving of the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and joy. No other hymn teaches the faith so completely and clearly as that hymn.
In our first reading this morning, Isaiah had foretold a time when the people of God would be recognized by their hymn of joy: “Sing praises to the Lord for He has done gloriously! Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
In our introit this morning we sang “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has revealed his righteousness…break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” Oh yes. Jesus gives us plenty to sing about. Yet in our Gospel text this morning, when our Lord delivers his sermon, the disciples aren’t really in the singing sort of mood.
Now I am going to him who sent me … but because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. For years now the disciples had shared a fellowship with the Lord that was so sweet and so wonderful. They had seen him walk on water, and heal the sick. They had seen him console the helpless, and raise the dead. But now he is going away to suffer and die. Something the disciples can scarcely understand. Just prior Jesus had warned the disciples that they would be kicked out of the synagogues. This means their comfortable lives, if they had any acceptance from the world, was now officially over. Jesus told them that those who would kill them would think they are doing God a favor.
I tell you the truth, said the Lord, 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.
It is at this time of year that we begin to edge toward the festival of Pentecost, in which we celebrate the glorious giving of the Holy Spirit. The word our Lord gives for the Spirit is Paraclete. The word means helper, or comforter, or advocate, one who comes alongside you.
When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. He will convict the world ... concerning sin, because they do not believe in me. Unbelief is the root of all sin and rebellion against God. He came to his own, after all, and his own people did not receive him.
The whole world even today lies in sin and unbelief. All of human history is a desperate attempt to find some sort of life and happiness apart from the God of love, but every single effort, every single undertaking is a miserable failure. Even those who fashion themselves as so-called spiritual people are dead in their sins, apart from Christ and the giving of the Spirit.
The Ministry of the Spirit convicts the whole world of sin. Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, writes St. Paul, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Surely this unbelieving world will be condemned, but this work of the spirit also hits close to home for every Christian. Because your Old Adam doesn’t believe either. Your sinful nature wants nothing to do with Christ. The prayer of every Christian will remain, Lord I believe, help my unbelief. That is why we pray in the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.
Your sinful nature, that Old Adam, will not be reformed. He will not be improved or gussied up by your own best efforts. The Old Adam can only be killed, only drowned, and put to death in the waters of Baptism, through repentance, and faith, that new man may joyfully confess Christ.
No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. In other words, only the Holy Spirit can call you by the Gospel, enlighten you with His gifts, sanctify you and keep you in the true faith.
Jesus said, He, the Holy Spirit, will convict the world … concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father. Dear Christian, hear this message well. This righteousness is Christ. The death of Christ for the sins of the world is the righteousness of God. Jesus “goes to the Father” by obeying his Father’s will – by dying a sinner’s death, suffering hell and wrath in our place. The righteousness of Christ’s death is the only source of salvation for the world.
The Holy Spirit will convict the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. These sound like threatening words, but not so for the Christian heart. These are words of great consolation for every believing child of God, born anew through the Holy Spirit. The judgment of God that the sinner is righteous for Christ’s sake sets you free from the judgment of the Law that the devil uses to condemn you. These words of Christ are fundamentally a threat, a terror, and judgment upon the devil, who cannot accuse you of sin or lay a single charge against you.
There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made you free from the law of sin and death. And so, if God is for you, who can be against you?
Jesus said, He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. There is no other work of the Spirit than to bring Christ and His righteousness to you, that everything that He is and everything that he has should be placed in your lap. This is what St. James is getting at in our epistle when he writes that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
And the most perfect gift from above is Christ. Behold his body once sacrificed – behold his holy blood once shed – now freely offered. This morning pastor and ministers, the world over, will hold up perfect gifts from above - heavenly food and heavenly drink, and Jesus’ words become so very clear. When he said, “He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” This is my body – this is my blood. Take and eat this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
The world calls you fools for resting your hope in these things, but the Spirit of God has made you wise. A preacher’s voice announcing the Word of God, a few splashes of water on a little baby, some bread and wine declared to be the living body and blood of Christ. These things that you hear and see every Sunday are those things the angels peer in upon with holy rapture and singing.… The world rages, but Christian hearts rejoice and sing. Isaiah prophesied about the things that you see and hear in the Old Testament this morning. Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
This is ultimately the secret, kept hidden from before the foundation of the world. This is the secret of the church’s joy! That God dwells among us. This world with its allurements and popular culture, which looks as if it was beaming with life and excitement, is in fact nothing at all, a joke in comparison with life in the church, life of forgiveness and filled with the Holy Spirit. A life of communion with the love of the Trinity, blessed saints, and holy angels – the blessed company of heaven.
And so that is why those sorrowing disciples in our Gospel text could become such bold confessors: they were converted, they were called to faith in the Gospel and enjoyed uninterrupted forgiveness and eternal life in God’s Kingdom. And even amid suffering martyrdom they were transferred to heavenly light – where the song goes on.
For those of you who find yourself in sorrow this morning, be comforted. After all you’re here. The Holy Spirit has conspired to bring you here to the Divine Service. Here you are, in the Spirit, confessing your sins and confessing that the Lord is your righteousness. This is not your own doing! It is the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
There’s nothing left to do but sing. And 10 verses of Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice. Hardly enough, but a good start! In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
O Father of lights, every good and perfect gift comes down from Your gracious hand. Remember Your children and bless our heritage. Fill us with Your Spirit of truth, that we would be clothed in the holiness and righteousness of Christ, who alone is our salvation. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, You have revealed Your righteousness in the sight of the nations. Remember those whom You raise up to make known Your deeds among the peoples. Bless all pastors and missionaries, that the Word of truth would be proclaimed in all the world. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, Your Son has promised that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His Church and has charged us to love our enemies and pray for them. Therefore, we earnestly implore You to remember in mercy the enemies of Your Church, that they would be made to hear Your Word of truth and be led to true repentance and faith. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, all the earth worships You and sings praises to You. Kindle the fire of Your love in all those who make music to You. Cause them to beautify the world and spurn the works of darkness. Bless especially all those who make music, sing, plant, tend and beautify this holy house of prayer. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, Your anger toward us has been turned away by the work of our High Priest, whose sacrifice on the cross is the propitiation for our sins. Yet, for the sake of good order, You still must rule Your left-hand kingdom with law and justice. Give wise counsel to all in authority, especially the president, Congress and justices of the United States. Bring an end to violence and chaos, especially that which is inflicted on the weakest among us through abortion, infanticide and assisted suicide. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, be the Helper of all those who are sick, hospitalized, or homebound, especially including Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. Grant them healing and peace, in accordance with Your holy will. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enable us to recognize that we have come to Zion here in the Church, and that great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel, even Jesus our Lord. Bring us to the holy altar in repentance and faith, that we would eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith and the certainty of our eternal salvation. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
O Father of lights, sustain us in our sojourn through this changing world, and bring us, together with all Your saints, to the unchanging life in Your eternal Kingdom, where You live and reign with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.