Text: John 16:5-15
Grace and mercy to you from God our Father and from the Savior, Jesus Christ. (Amen)
Sing! Sing to the Lord his own marvelous deeds. Sing the song of our God's victory over sin and hell and death. For plain words will not do: they are not enough. All lovers are moved beyond mere words to poetry and song: and you are the beloved of the Lord. So sing.
Sing of death and life, darkness and light, sin and grace. Sing the dark and minor chords of your fall into sin. Sing with David's mournful psalms: “Against you, and you only, O Lord have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Do not pretend that you do not know the tune. But confess and repent – and you will know that even in this there is reason to sing. For the song goes on: the bright and joyous strains of forgiveness and life come next: “I have removed your sin, says the Lord, as far as the East is from the West.”
So sing the song of Adam's fall and Eve's Seed who will crush Satan's head. Sing the song of Noah's killing flood that lifts up those in the ark and keeps them alive. Sing the song of Abraham's son: his father's only-begotten, offered up as a sin-offering – but Lord provides the real Lamb. Sing the song of Israel, enslaved in Egypt yet made free by waters that usher them into life but cast Pharaoh's horse and rider into the sea. Sing the song of Joshua, the LORD's salvation as the enemies of God fall back from his mighty sword. Sing with David and declare against all expectation that the LORD will not abandon your soul to Hell nor let his Holy One see decay. Sing like Isaiah and Jeremiah and tell how God's people, though their sins be as scarlet will be made as white as snow, for the LORD himself will be their righteousness.
Sing the song of Mary: for the Lord has cast down the mighty from their thrones and blessed the poor and meek. Sing with Elizabeth for the barren is with child. Sing John's river-bank song: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World!
And listen as the Lion of Judah sings with roaring voice: It is finished! And then a rest – apause – but the song is not over. On the third day the song bursts forth from the tomb again: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not dead, but arisen!” And he is not just risen: but he even says: “I am with you always to the end of the age.”
So sing the marvelous deeds of the Lord, beloved. And know that you need breath to sing – and another word for breath is Spirit. For as Isaiah says, the LORD GOD is our strength and our Song. And so Jesus tells his disciples that he will send upon themThe Comforter, the Spirit, and teach their dry bones how to sing. And on that Easter night he did just this: he breathed on his disciples and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven, if you retain them they are retained.”
This is the Spirit's work: to forgive and retain sin. To convict the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus and to teach the children of God to sing the song of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins. He is to kill and make alive, to condemn and to save. The world is condemned of all sins because they do not believe in Jesus. You are acquitted of all sins, for you trust in your Lord Jesus and he has taken all your sin away. This is the message and ministry of the Spirit.
And as Jesus here shows, the Helper, the Comforter, the Spirit, wishes to use humble means to do this mighty work. The real Holy Spirit is not the stuff of televangelists and phony faith healers and hustlers. The real Holy Spirit does not employ gimmicks and tricks and stage lights and blaring music and ginned up emotions. The real Holy Spirit is breathed into the apostles by Jesus who tells them to go out forgiving and retaining sin, conducting the Lord's Supper, preaching to all nations, and baptizing them for the forgiveness of their sins, life and salvation.
It all looks so ordinary. So plain. We secretly hope for something different, something a little more flashy. Like the leper Namaan, who was disappointed that all Elisha told him to do in order to be healed was wash in the Jordan river, we expect a little more pizazz. Can it really be as simple as getting washed with a little water? Do you mean to say, Jesus, that the coward Peter, the arrogant Paul, and the clueless Andrew are authorized to forgive sin? What looks, feels, and tastes like bread and wine, can it really be what you say it is: your body and blood? Can my spiritual life really be centered in these simple things? Isn't there something more? Can't I graduate from these and move on to a higher level?
This is the way of the Lord. It really is this simple: for it is all the Lord's gift. It is all from him and he is all in all. This is how the Spirit works. He has promised to raise you to life in Baptism, to forgive you in Absolution, and to feed you with the very life Blood of Christ in the Supper.
To our eyes these all appear as simple and unimportant things. All we see is water, a man in a funny robe saying a few words, and a little bread and wine. But so has it ever been with God. Moses was an unimpressive man who could not even speak properly: but the Lord's Word lifted him up and made him the mighty prophet who saved a people from slavery. Our Lord himself appeared frail and feeble before Pilate and no one could have guessed that this beaten, bruised, and crucified man was God in the flesh.
So also now the Lord's means of grace, the ways he uses to get his mercy and grace to us, appear as trifles to the eyes of the flesh. But Christians do not see with their eyes, but with their ears. The Word of God says that Baptism now saves you and that by it you receive new spiritual birth. The Word of God says that Christ sends out his servants with the authority to forgive and retain sin. The Word of God proclaims that the Lord's Supper is indeed the true body and blood of Christ given to us for the forgiveness of our sins.
There is no graduating from these gifts of the Lord. You cannot out grow them in this life and find a realer, truer, more fulfilling spirituality. These are your piety and righteousness, for these are how God himself is delivered unto you. Apart from these what do you have? If the health of your spiritual life must rest with your efforts – how healthy can you be? Since you can never fully shake off the brokenness of sin, trying to save yourself with your acts of piety – your prayers, kindnesses, good works, trying your best, etc. - is just adding sin to sin. You cannot atone for sin with more flawed works.
No, there is no hope in ourselves. There is no hope at all except in Jesus. And that is why we sing his song and declare his marvelous deeds. For he has given us everything. He holds nothing back. And there is nothing more we could ask for: for he gives you all good things. He has made you his own child in Holy Baptism and he will never forsake you. He has breathed over you the breath of forgiveness by the power of the Spirit in Holy Absolution and you stand forgiven in the presence of God. He has lavished upon you the very body and blood of Jesus Christ – and your body too shall rise from the dead. Truly, you all have much to sing about.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes understanding protect you and keep you in Jesus Christ our Savior.