Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sermon for 5/18/14--Easter V



Speak the Gospel Clearly

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

How much of the confusion that exists in this world about the Christian faith is due to unclear speaking? We cannot really know, but it is a good bet that at least some of the confusion rests there. Of course, there are the mysteries of our faith which defy easy description. But when it comes to matters which apply directly to our salvation, those can be clearly spoken. Whether or not they are believed and accepted is another matter, one over which we have no control. But at the very least, we can work at speaking these truths in ways that are clear and faithful. The stakes are enormous. Misrepresenting and misbelieving God’s truth leads to damnation.

Jesus told His disciples that He was about to leave them. But it was to their advantage that He was going, because He would send the Holy Spirit to teach them. This brings to our attention a point of crucial significance. To speak the Gospel clearly and faithfully is no assurance that it will be heard and believed. Faithful hearing is the work of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, the words of the Gospel are only words; they will say nothing. But when words are invested with the power of the Holy Spirit, they have the power to do exactly what they say they will do. When the Holy Spirit uses words to call us to faith, the power to believe is in those words.

And that is what our Lord Jesus wants us to understand. When the Gospel is spoken, mere words become Spirit-filled words, words with the power to do just as they say they will do. The words of the Liturgy we pray each week are Spirit-filled words which give us precisely what they promise. The words that come from this pulpit are Spirit-filled words which invite you to listen and enable you to hear them with understanding. The words of the Gospel you speak to your neighbors are words with the power of God to save and bless. This is why it is so important that we speak these words clearly and faithfully. These are the ways God hands on His message of love and mercy to sinners; through the words we speak. There is no substitute for clarity and faithfulness when speaking the words of the Gospel.

The essence of sin is rejecting the forgiving grace of God in Jesus Christ. To believe in Jesus Christ is to be saved from sin. To not believe in Jesus Christ is to remain in sin; to perish forever in sin. This is the Spirit’s work, a work He does through words. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ will escape the consequences of sin. This conviction of the Spirit will rightly crush the hearts of some and lead them to repent of their sin. Sadly, it will also harden the hearts of others who will resist the Gospel even more strenuously. The Spirit will do this through the Word of God. The work of the Spirit is to convince sinners that true righteousness is found only in Him who has passed from the cross to the right hand of the Father in heaven. And this work the Spirit does through the words we speak clearly and faithfully.

The Spirit teaches about true righteousness. True righteousness is only and always a gift of God’s grace. God declares us righteous, not because of anything we have done or ever could do, but for the sake of Jesus Christ who suffered and died in our place as the sacrifice for sin, and who rose from death to show us that His sacrifice was accepted by the Father in heaven. And now, Jesus told His disciples, He was about to return to the Father, which meant that His mission was complete.

But there is one more thing. The love of God is what lies beneath all that is said here about sin and righteousness and judgment: His love that wishes none to perish but come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. And so we must also speak in a way that speaks convincingly of the love of God. You know very well that not only what is said is important; how something is said can be equally important. The Spirit will use the words we speak clearly and faithfully to convince the world of sin and judgment. But He will also use those words to communicate that His love and mercy shown in Jesus Christ is what He wishes to give them above everything else. It is for us, then, to speak not only clearly and faithfully, but also lovingly. For we ourselves have known this great love of God that forgives sin, gives the righteousness of Christ, and spares us from judgment that is yet to come. That is the work the Spirit has done with us; this is the work the Spirit would, through us, do with others. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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