Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Spirit of Truth

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, [6] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 (ESV)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
It’s a strange thing that Jesus switches from a present tense, he dwells with you, to a future will be in you, as he speaks about the relationship of the disciples to the Holy Spirit. It’s one of those strange things. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, the day he appeared like a rushing wind and lit flames of fire on the heads of the disciples. Yet, we know that the Holy Spirit was already with the disciples before then. When Jesus visited them in the upper room he breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. And already here he says that the Holy Spirit dwells with them. But when Jesus leaves, the Holy Spirit will come to them with a new task and purpose, and new gifts to help them in achieving that mission. So it is even today that the Holy Spirit is with us, and yet still comes to us ever anew through the word and sacraments to give us what we need in this life to accomplish the will of Jesus our Lord and savior. It isn’t always a fantastical thing, but then again always a miraculous thing. The Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism, he takes up residence within us at that time. And yet throughout our Christian life, the Holy Spirit will continue to come to us through the work of the church in the word and in the sacraments to keep us in the one true faith, to constantly forgive our failings, and sustain our faith, to give us the gifts we need to continue the work of Christ in this world.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love is the fulfillment of the commandments. The greatest two of them being to love the Father with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. But here the commandments of Jesus are so much more than all that. But to keep his commandments is to hold fast to his word even despite our failures.
It’s an odd thing today. Many interpret having the spirit as reason to ignore the words of Jesus and his disciples. “The Spirit is leading us” they say. I’m not sure what Spirit it is they are talking about. But it would not be the Spirit of Truth which Jesus speaks of here, the Spirit of Truth that dwells in the words of Christ because his word is Truth. And Truth is Truth. What is true is true for me and true for you. It is objective and not subject to change. God’s word is truth. And the Spirit is not in conflict with God’s Word. The World however is, and the World is in conflict with the Spirit of Truth whom they cannot receive. So it ought to give us pause when we hear fellow Christians saying that the Spirit is leading them in what seems to be justifying a change to accommodate the world and the world’s viewpoint, to follow along with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the day. Say for instance that without biblical warrant and despite biblical testimony, that which we have received as the word of truth, the Spirit is invoked to justify women’s ordination, or to condone the homosexual agenda and lifestyle, indeed to even bless it. Or perhaps on an individual basis, the Spirit is invoked to justify any sort of sin we might be tempted to. There is a world of difference between condoning and forgiving, by the way.
It should be noted that all too often that just as the Spirit can be invoked and the word of God ignored to justify all sorts of libertine behavior, there is also a danger that we ignore the Spirit and play loose with God’s word to justify purely legalistic matters. Our church body in the past has been subject to rather faulty Biblical interpretation following legalistic patterns popular in the day, the zeitgeist of that period. For instance, 40 years ago, the women of this church would have been invited to cook for our potluck, but asked to remain silent during the voters meeting. I have skimmed through old Walther league journals and have seen condemnations written concerning dancing and playing cards, and sort of like the Mormon Church and Pepsi, we were at one time not allowed to buy life insurance until we decided to have the AAL. This is why we must keep the commandments of Jesus, to hold fast to his word. We must always be searching his word and making sure we are interpreting and applying it correctly in our lives. We must always be ready to repent as individuals and as the church when we are lead astray into legalism or libertinism. It is in the word that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. When we lose sight of his word, then we lose touch with the Holy Spirit.
We dare not confuse the Holy Spirit with our conscience or feelings, nor especially feelings of guilt. This is a danger I see all too often today. “I felt the Spirit.” Feelings of calm, feelings or ecstasy, burning bosoms, liver shivers, being at peace. These things are not necessarily the work of the Spirit, and there is really no way of discerning the Spirit based on feelings, at least not feelings alone. It should be noted here that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete. Thus he is not a fear monger, and when fear is guiding our lives we ought to take a moment to reassess. When we are reading so-called Christian material and it is causing us to despair, we might question which Spirit it is we are listening to. There are other spirits at play in the world, and they love to torture a Christian’s soul, even with the word of God. But the Holy Spirit, he points to Christ. We call him the Holy Spirit because he makes us holy, and he does that by washing away our sins and constantly forgiving them that we might grow in the Love of Christ and keep his commandments, hold fast to his word.
The Spirit allows us to do this, it is the Spirit’s work in our lives. To show us the word of God, the commandments of Jesus and to bring us to repentance when we stray. And this we can do in bold, confidence realizing that with him there is forgiveness, so to admit guilt is to banish guilt and receive forgiveness. And to walk in forgiveness the newness of life being guided by the Spirit in the word, is to walk in repentance, and in the love of Jesus who is the truth, the way and the life who asks the Father to send us the Spirit that we would walk in Truth.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus Our Lord. Amen.    

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