“A Helper to be with you forever” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Sixth Sunday of Easter May 17, 2020

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      Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            Our theme for today is “A Helper to be with you forever” from the Gospel lesson John 14:15-21 previously read.

God gets all the glory for your salvation, not most of it, or the largest part of it, but all of it. If you are lost, of course, that’s on you.  But if you are to be saved, it’s not because you figured it out, wisely connecting the dots. It’s because God chose you and created faith in your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:  “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.”   

            That’s not a minor point, because too many imagine faith is their work to begin and their responsibility to complete, rather than being a gift of God and work of the Holy Spirit.  But claiming credit for any part of my salvation, even my faith in Jesus, robs Christ of His glory as the One Who did 100% of the work to make me a child of God.  That’s why our catechism teaches:  “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 

            Gifts may be received and gifts may be rejected, but the glory always belongs to the Giver.  That’s the heart of Scripture and of Luther’s Reformation: We are “justified by grace through faith apart from the works of the Law.”                

But never forget God not only saved you from sin, death, and the devil, but He saved you for something.  Jesus tells us today:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” God saved us for Jesus’ sake, without any merit or worthiness in you and me, but God also calls us (to quote the catechism again) “to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”

            In our Gospel, Jesus says, “You are in Me and I in you.”  You were put into Christ in Holy Baptism.  There in God’s water and Word we were made to share in the life of our Triune God, and in the Lord’s Supper Christ is being put into you and me. When the Good News of salvation in Jesus is preached and we receive the holy body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, Christ is put into us, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re forgiven and cleansed, strengthened in faith.  Faith isn’t really a muscle we build up.  It’s a gift, nurtured and strengthened and fed by Jesus’ death-conquering, life-giving flesh and blood.  Again, our Gospel says, “The Holy Spirit lives with you and is in you.”  Paul wrote: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, you are not your own, you were bought at a priceTherefore, glorify God with your bodies.”

            I like to think of it like a classic car collector.  If you found an old, rusted out classic car in someone’s pasture.  You might buy and take it home.  Maybe it was a car you loved as a kid, and you want it.  If to no one else it means anything, it does to you. But when you get it home, you don’t just let it sit up on blocks, you start fixing the upholstery and filling dents and patching rust until you have it the way you want it.  But then if you really love the car, you get it out and drive it and enjoy it and show it off. 

            Well, God the Father purchased you “not with gold or silver but with the holy, precious blood” of Christ.  You are “new creations” in Christ “to do the works God Himself prepared in advance for you to do.”  He didn’t buy you to sit in a garage.  You might have started out a rusty old mess, but God fills you with His Spirit and sends you out into the world.  You aren’t called to Christ to hide behind church walls but to carry your faith into the world as God’s own hands and feet and lips serving and loving your neighbor. And if you don’t know how that should look.  Look at the 10 Commandments.  “If you love Me, keep My commandments!”  It’s really not that mysterious.  God’s commandments direct you to love God with all your heart; and to love your neighbor as yourselves.  Honor those in authority.  Do good to those in need.  40 million of our fellow citizens are without work.  There are so many opportunities through the Red Cross, the Rescue Mission, and please communicate those needs to me or your elder.  And by all means, pray for our emergency, medical and civic leaders. 

            Christian life flows in 2 directions.  We live in Christ passively through faith – simply receiving God’s free forgiveness and grace.  But in this world, be active.  Don’t avoid, but search for ways to serve, and “do all things through Christ who gives you strength.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll obey what I command.” 

Now, of course, no classic car owner restores the car and fills the tank with kerosene.  High performance needs good fuel.  Our Christian life is powered with God’s pure, heavenly food, which is Christ Himself, and forgiveness in Him.  That’s why, even your sanctified lives aren’t your work, but “God who works in us both to will and to do.”  Faith is tireless and active because it’s the presence of the Living God at work.  Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

            Your life isn’t a collection of wasted moments. You are significant and your life connects in ways no one else’s does.  Ephesians 2 says, “You are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which God prepared in advance for you to do.”  Your parents are yours to love and honor and respect.  Your children, yours to lead to Jesus.  Your spouse yours, to teach you not to be selfish but empty yourself for another.  Your lips aren’t to gossip and tear down, but to encourage and build up.  Your eyes aren’t for sinking into the cesspool of sexual sin, but to see God’s beauty in the world and see opportunities to serve God in your neighbor. 

            The Christian life is like a piece of iron placed in fire.  When the blacksmith fires those bellows, the fire burns until the super-heated, the iron glows fiery red and burns with the consuming power of fire.  The iron hasn’t changed but the power of the fire radiates through it. 

When the Triune God lives in you, you don’t become God.  God’s radiant love glows and burns in you and through you.  Each person you see, including the one sitting next to you right now, is a person God wants to warm with the fire of His love. You are His “lights of the world,” emptying yourselves in service to God by serving your neighbor, consecrating your homes to Christ, speaking up for justice and your neighbor’s need.  Within your church, your family, your work, or circle of friends, what can we be for Christ?  What can you do for His Kingdom?  Resolve today that by God’s grace, you will take up this sacred task.  Because you love Jesus, do what He commands with joy to His glory. 

Remember, in this world we’re both forgiven saints and struggling sinners at the same time.  These days of pandemic trial remind us that life from beginning to end is continual repentance and returning to the cross of Christ.  Too often our words have betrayed rather than confessed; our actions been selfish rather than serving others.  Name those ugly sins, those known and those forgotten, and leave them at the cross.  Humbly return to God’s heavenly food - the precious Gospel of salvation in Jesus to be forgiven and strengthened, declared righteous because by the Spirit’s power God sees us clothed in the holiness of our Risen Savior. 

Jesus didn’t die to save perfect people.  He declared sinners perfectly forgiven in His blood.  And filled with the Holy Spirit Helper – the Spirit of Truth – He carries us freely forgiven into the world to freely forgive and forever serve.  And the glory is forever His.  For us sinner-saints, the promise of our Savior in this Gospel is precious:  “Because I live, you will live also.”  Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.