Sunday, May 5, 2013

John 14:21-29 Easter 6

 Every time I study the Bible for my sermon, I have to wrestle with it.  I ask myself, “how is this going to help us?’  Especially these verses—I had to wrestle.  In the last verse Jesus said that he was giving us peace, but what he said right before that might not make us feel peaceful at all.  It actually makes me worry and wonder if I really do love him.  This is what happens a lot of times when we read the Bible.  Maybe we aren’t sure what it means, and what Jesus meant to say gets all mixed up in our minds, and the result is anything but what Jesus intended.  Instead of peace, we get fear. 
If only Jesus were here to help us understand what he was talking about, so we can have that peace that he promised.
Jesus knew that we would be in this spot.  He was leaving us to go back into heaven.  As he sat at the table with his disciples on the last night before he died, one of them asked a perfectly innocent question, “Why will you reveal yourself to us, but not to the world.”  Instead of answering the question straight up, he did it in a way that makes us all look at ourselves and wonder how well any of us really know Jesus love him.  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”  If you love him, you will obey his teaching, he and the Father will make their home in you, and the Holy Spirit will be your teacher.  But what if I don’t obey his teaching?  What if I don’t sense the presence of God dwelling in my heart?  What if I am not aware of the Holy Spirit’s voice, reminding me of the things Jesus said?  What if it really doesn’t look like the Holy Spirit is teaching me at all, because I have such a hard time understanding Jesus’ words and I don’t get that peace that he wanted to give me?  Does that mean that I don’t know him and don’t love him?  Well, yes, it kind of does.   But stay tuned, and let me tell you why you’re saved.
Jesus was sitting at that table with people who didn’t love him like they should and didn’t understand his words like they should.  They were not ready to live as Christians all on their own.  He was talking to Peter, who would deny him, and other disciples who would run when the soldiers came to arrest him.  These were men like the apostle Paul, who would join the group later, who lamented that he just wasn’t able to do the good that he wanted to do, and just couldn’t manage to stop doing evil things.  These men, like us, were not ready to be Christians all on their own, and yet it was time for Jesus to leave.  But at the table that night he promised that they would have another teacher, another Counselor who would teach them and remind them of everything he said.  The Holy Spirit teaches us to find that peace Jesus was talking about.

So, the question I was wrestling with this week was “How do we find peace in these words?”  The Answer:  The Holy Spirit teaches us.  He was teaching me this week, and I have a neat little acrostic outline for what I’ve learned.  He teaches us the ABC’s of Jesus’ peace.  This is the big point that you need to remember.  A—The Holy Spirit teaches us to Admit our sin.  B—the Holy Spirit teaches us to believe in Jesus.  C—This ones a stretch; The Holy Spirit teaches us to “See” his work.

A—When we come to those really tough passages in the Bible that make us look inside of ourselves, and we see that we haven’t been doing what we are supposed to be doing, don’t try to cover it up.  Don’t try to wiggle out of it, or interpret the words in a different way.  Admit it.  Nobody has ever found peace by trying to cover up his guilt.  You may convince the whole world that you’ve done nothing wrong, but in your heart you know the truth.  God knows too.
 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” If Jesus is saying to you that you don’t love him very well, admit it.  Confess your sins to him. 
Jesus told a story about people who say they love him but don’t obey his teaching.  There were three men walking from Jericho to Jerusalem, and all of them passed a wounded man on the road.  Two of them were men of God—a priest and a Levite who worked in the temple.  They didn’t stop to help this man.  It was the third man who did, the Samaritan.  He was the one who loved God and acted like it.  We shouldn’t be comfortable with acting like the priest and the Levite.  We shouldn’t try to cover it up either. 
Lord Jesus, we have not loved you and obeyed you like we should.  You commanded us to love each other as you loved us, but we have acted more like the sinful people in our world.

B—When we see that our faith and love for God really aren’t as good as we had thought, the Holy Spirit teaches us to Believe in Jesus.  Now, after we’ve been thinking about how our love for Jesus really isn’t all that good, what would you tell me if I asked you how you know that you will be in heaven?  Some of you would tell me that you have been baptized.  Others would talk about the Father’s forgiving love, or Jesus’ death for your sins.  Others would tell me that you have received the Lord’s Supper, with Jesus’ promise of forgiveness.  All of this is really the same forgiving love that God shows to us in Jesus.  It isn’t our love for him that saves us at all, it is his love for us.  The Holy Spirit has been teaching you to believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.
I’ll give you another reason to believe in Jesus, something that the Holy Spirit taught me from these words this week.   Jesus knew that he was talking to sinful disciples like us, who aren’t ready to be Christians all by ourselves.  We need the Holy Spirit to keep on teaching us after he went back to heaven, otherwise we would probably forget his words entirely and not love him at all.  There wasn’t anything especially holy about those disciples.  They did exactly what we would do, if we had been there in the Garden when Jesus was arrested…they ran from him and denied him.  But Jesus didn’t think that they were too filthy for him to live with them.  It isn’t any different for us.  In fact, Jesus and the Father want to be so close to us that it can even be said that they have made their home in us.  Now our holy God is going to need to do some housecleaning before he can live in these sinful hearts…that’s what we call forgiveness.  First he makes us clean in his sight, then he moves in and teaches us to do better.  When we are afraid because of our sins, the Holy Spirit teaches us to believe in Jesus.

C—Now the last letter is “C,” because the only thing left so that you can have peace is to “See” some evidence that Jesus has been doing what he said, that the Holy Spirit is teaching us, and that he and the Father really do live in us.  If we never obeyed any of his commands, and never sat to listen his Word, we would really have to wonder if we actually are believers.  Most of the time, when we get scared that we aren’t seeing the Holy Spirit making any progress in our hearts, the problem isn’t that God has left us.  Usually, it’s that our guilt is weighing so heavily that we can’t see what the Holy Spirit actually is doing.  The Holy Spirit teaches us to Admit our sins, Believe in Jesus, and See his work in us.

First of all, you are all still here and listening, more or less.  That’s amazing.  The Bible says the sinful mind is hostile to God, and nobody is forcing you to stay.  You are currently obeying Jesus’ teaching, like Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, even though there was so much work to do.  You are loving Jesus right now.  Wherever people are listening to Jesus’ words, the Holy Spirit must be working.  He is teaching us to love Jesus and obey his teaching.

I’ve noticed how some of you volunteer extra time for your church.  Once again, nobody is forcing you to do that.  We had an Easter breakfast, when some of you did an awful lot of work.  Many of you brought an offering to thank God today.  Some of you left early for church to pick another person up along the way.  I see you give your time to help other people.  You love like Jesus loved when help other people, visit them when they are sick, and pray for them.  Nobody is forcing you to do any of that.  The Holy Spirit has convinced you that the Word we preach is worth it.  He is teaching you to love Jesus and obey Jesus’ teaching.
It’s a good thing, every once in a while, to “See” what the Holy Spirit is doing in you and in other Christians. 

Christian life can be a mixed up mess without a teacher.  Sometimes you come to church and hear things that make you feel awful about what you’ve done wrong.  Other times you hear something that makes you feel very confident in Jesus your Savior.   Sometimes you’re supposed to think about what you’ve done wrong, today I just got done telling you to think about what you’re doing right.  That can get all mixed up in our heads so that we aren’t sure what we are supposed to do anymore, and the peace that Jesus wanted to give stays a mystery.  We need our Teacher to help sort it all out.  Remember your ABC’s.  Admit your sin to God, maybe to your pastor, and to anyone you have wronged, and you will have peace.  Believe in Jesus and his love to save you, and you will have peace.  “See” the good things that the Holy Spirit is doing in you, so that you will know that God doesn’t think you’re too disgusting to live in you and teach you, and you will have peace.  Amen.