Saturday, June 11, 2011

"For your own good, I am leaving you." Feast of Pentecost

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Christians Redeemed by Christ’s Word and Spirit:

“This is for your own good.” When was the last time someone told you those words? When your mother gave you castor oil? When your father got out the yardstick? When your teacher had you write, “I will not talk in class” one hundred times on the blackboard?
“This is for your own good.” Usually in this life those words are used before those in authority bring down the hammer. “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.” they say. But in the end, they weren’t the ones who couldn’t sit down for a week.
“This is for your own good.” The lead-off phrase used by dating teenagers and young adults who want to make a big change in the life of a family member or employee or next-door neighbor.
“This is for your own good.”
We take that announcement with a grain of salt because we know this is the Law talking. This is the language of discipline. This is the language of boot camp and the world’s version of “tough love.” “This is for your own good” is code for “I’m going to discipline you, and you need to take it and endure it and learn from it so that you’ll do a little growing up and not let it happen again.”
That’s why we winch a little when someone comes up to us and says, “This is for your own good.” Those words in our ears do not make our heart sing out for joy. They begin the process within us of getting ready for the blow that we think will surely follow.
Dread and sorrow and fear of what is just around the corner. So it was when the disciples heard Jesus’ words to them just before his arrest and suffering and death.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the 16th chapter:

[Jesus said,] “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, … . … because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. ...”
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:1-14 ESV)

If the world coming and laying down the Law wasn’t enough, now our Lord Christ comes to us and says, “I am bringing this upon you for your own good.”
“But now I am going to him who sent me, [Jesus says,]… . … because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, … .” (John 16:5a, 6, 7a ESV)
Now we know that when the fallen world and our old, sinful nature says “It is for your advantage that I go away.” the real meaning is far from pure, selfless concern for the other. Just like when we hear people begin a sentence with the words, “It really isn’t any of my business …” or “I’m not telling you what to do …”
In these last days, when we hear a self-absorbed world say, “For your good — because I care about you, … .” we have a pretty good idea of what’s coming next, and it’s not going to be pretty.
So what’s Jesus doing here in John, chapter 16? Is he toughening-up his followers for heaven’s heavy hand of discipline? Is Jesus saying, “It’s time for you to grow up and begin relying on your own strength and ingenuity. And so, for your own good, I’m out of here. I’m kicking you out of the nest. You need to take wing and fly. I’m not going to be your mother robin anymore. It’s high time you stood on your own two feet.” ?
How many parents have had that conversation with their teenage son or daughter? Is that what our Lord is doing here? Booting believers out of the nest to wean them off of Christ’s immediate and constant care? Isn’t that what the Rite of Confirmation is all about?
Ten days ago the Christian Church commemorated Ascension Day. A great and glorious day for Christ as he returns to heaven in all his resurrected splendor — but what about those left behind? What about those of us who are still stuck with our daily battle against devil, world and sinful flesh?
Part of us is not at all happy that Christ has ascended above all heavens and seemingly left us here alone to try and fend for ourselves. We find ourselves right along side the disciples on the road to Emmaus pleading with our Lord, “Stay with us, for it is evening and the day is far spent. Do not leave us.”
Today, the Feast of Pentecost — fifty days after our Lord’s resurrection and ten days after our Lord’s ascension — is a great opportunity to hear straight from the mouth of our Lord that when our Redeemer tells us, “This is for you good,” we can truly believe that — for once — it really is for our good.
For all of Scripture stands as heaven’s clear, Spirit-inspired witness that all that Christ did, he did for our good. From the manger to the cross, it was for our good, for our salvation, for the world’s redemption. Every bit of it, from each miracle to each step that brought our Lord Christ closer to the Cross. For your good, for your benefit, for your salvation. And none of that changed the day Christ ascended above the clouds to take his rightful seat at his heavenly Father’s right hand.
“This is for your own good.” means something is coming that we didn’t invite, we didn’t ask for, we didn’t anticipate, but between Christ and those who put their faith in Christ, the things we didn’t ask for or anticipate are always great and glorious and merciful in a way that the world knows nothing about.
“But now I am going to him who sent me, [Jesus says,]… . … because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:5a, 6, 7 ESV)
“I am leaving you — and this is for your own good.” Jesus says to his own, says to you and me. “Because I truly care for you, I am leaving you. Because I love you with a self-sacrificing love, I am going to my Father in heaven. Because you mean the world to me,” Jesus tells us, “I am leaving this world, that I and my Father might send to you the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper.”
Yes, Christ has ascended high above the heavens, but he has left us that he might — through the Holy Spirit — distribute his merciful presence and the gifts of redemption won upon the cross abundantly to all who will receive him in faith.
None of us here this morning, upon hearing the Word of God, would have received saving faith — except Christ had ascended and, with the Father, sent the Helper.
The Helper, not in the sense of some spiritual sidekick provided to give us a leg-up on our salvation. The Holy Spirit the Helper, the Enabler, our Champion, without whom not a soul would be saved.
That’s what we believe, teach and confess every time we speak that Third Article of the Creed — and the Small Catechism’s Explanation of it:
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith
In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true. (Lutheran Service Book 323)

That’s the greatness of what Christ and his Father in heaven have sent the entire Christian Church on earth by his ascension into heaven. That’s the greatness of what Christ has sent you by his ascension into heaven. It is the Spirit sent who has called us, enlightened us, sanctified us and keeps us in Christ as he daily forgives us our sin — until that day when we and all believers will, by the grace of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, follow our Lord into heaven.
Christ says to you, “By my ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit has been sent to freely give all the redeeming benefits won for you upon my Cross.”
And our new, Spirit-created nature replies, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” Amen