University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus words in the Upper Room have the tone of a commencement address. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” Something new is about to commence. He will no longer be with them in the same way that he was with them for the three years of his visible ministry. And yet he is with them always even unto the end of the age. It is a commencement, after all, not an ending. Not the end of things but their fulfillment and coming.
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.
The Comforter, the Spirit of the Truth, is coming. We will celebrate that event next week, which is Pentecost. He had always been there, of course. He was there before time began, brooding over the waters. He was there when David repented from his faith-killings sins and sang (“in the Spirit” as Jesus says): “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”
But something new will commence. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of the Spirit will be offered up in the fire of God’s wrath on the altar of the cross for the sins of us all. He will rise and ascend into heaven, bringing our humanity back to the Father. And he will send the Spirit in a new way. He will brood in our hearts through the waters of His baptism. As it says in Ezekiel:
“I will take you from the Gentiles and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and you will hold onto my just decrees and do them.”
And again it says in Jeremiah 31: After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my instruction in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
It is commenced. You, the baptized, have a tremendous advantage. Adam lost it and had only the memory of it. Abraham and the patriarchs did not know it. Moses and the Law could not accomplish it. But in baptism you have God’s Spirit not just working on your hearts as He did for all believers in the OT, but dwelling in your hearts. The new man in you delights in the things of God and wants to walk in his ways. You have this now. You are temples of the Spirit. It is commenced. The Spirit, the Comforter is come. As St. Paul says: He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Jesus’ commencement address is of a different sort. The world preaches of an earthly kingdom. It says: “This world is your home.” You can change the world. Progress. We can get there. We have to get there, or else die trying. There is no other hope. This is why, at its extreme, the world can think that killing Christians is progress. Christians stand in the way of progress. They preach another Gospel and kingdom which is not of this world.
Contrast that to Jesus, who says to you: This is not your home. Home is Jerusalem above. You have a sure hope. Only believe the Word and wait. Don’t look for progress in the world. Don’t look at your enemy as an obstacle to your progress. Love your enemy. Pray for him. Suffer him. He is not your obstacle. Don’t look for paradise here. This life is not all there is. See: I go to the Father to prepare a place for you. I send my Spirit to Comfort you and bring you home.
Dear Christians, it is okay to be homesick; to feel not quite at home here. It is okay to long for the kingdom which has commenced to arrive finally in full. Jerusalem above is free, and your citizenship is there. Your progress is there. Your paradise is there.
True: As you live by faith in God and love toward the neighbor you do make this world better. You are salt and light. Just think: if there is any beauty in this world, any peace, any good, any justice, any joy, any truth, it is because of God’s Christians, his church. Were it not for the Christians, God would have no reason to preserve the world and give daily bread as he does. For the sake of the church God preserves the world and keeps evil within certain limits.
But things will not linger on as they do forever. That there is good in the world for the sake of the church is not the same thing as the religious dream that man can save himself and this world can go on indefinitely. But you know better. You know that human progress is a myth. Evil is real, you see it in your own heart even as it is inbred in all hearts from birth. You know that human ingenuity will never drive back the demons, cure every disease, or undo death.
There is only One who undoes death, drives back the demons, and absorbs the evil into himself. He is this Jesus, of whom the Spirit testifies for your comfort. Jesus calls him the Spirit of truth, which is to say, He is the truthful Spirit. He comforts you with the true comfort of the Gospel as opposed to false comfort of salvation through policy reform, medical advance, or just trying harder.
The Spirit’s words to you are truth and life. So relax. Be comforted. Jesus lives. He sits at the right hand of the Father ruling all things for the good of his Christians. He is with you to the end of the age. You encounter him at the altar, flesh to flesh and Spirit to spirit. You are a new creature. Be homesick for the heavenly Jerusalem, but not too much. For here, in this place, you are already home. The Father himself loves you. The Son himself feeds you. The Spirit himself comforts you. The saintly cloud of witnesses surrounds you. In this sacrament, heaven is on earth, and you are finally home. It is commenced.
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.