Preached June 8, 2011
1 St. Peter 4:7–11
St. John 15:26–16:4a
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Easter season proper has come and gone, and now we are in the short season of Ascensiontide. This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, marking the return of our Lord Jesus Christ into the realms of eternal glory, His final departure from the earth until His Second Coming at the end of time. Shortly before returning to the Father, our Lord Christ told His disciples that He would send to them the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, but only after He had ascended into heaven. At this point in the drama, the Holy Ghost has not yet come, so we are in that “in–between–time,” the time when the disciples were left waiting, wondering exactly what was to come next.
As the Gospel lesson for the day begins, Jesus is speaking, and He says, John 15:26 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: He is telling the disciples that He will send the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, who will come from the Father. Notice how the Holy Ghost is characterized as the “Spirit of truth,” that is, “truth itself.” In our relativistic age, when the very concept of truth is scarcely understood, the idea of the Holy Ghost as the very embodiment of truth is extremely difficult for many people to grasp. And yet, all that not withstanding, truth is absolute, and the Holy Ghost is indeed the essence of truth, come to us from God the Father at the command of God the Son. We, as Christians, are incredibly blessed simply to be given the concept of absolute truth. This simplifies our lives, makes correct choices possible, gives us a certainty in life that forever eludes the relativist. The relativist thinks that relativism is freeing, but it actually enslaves him to uncertainty in every decision he ever makes.
We have here also a very clear identification of the Holy Trinity, and of the concept of Order within the Holy Trinity. The Son is obedient to the Father. The Holy Ghost is responsive to both the Father and the Son. And yet, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all coequal God. Jesus says that the Holy Ghost will testify of Him. This is the principal work of the Holy Ghost in the world, to witness to the Son and make Him known throughout the world.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that they too will bear witness to him. They will be strengthened by the power of the Holy Ghost, and they have the commission to do this because they have been with Him from the beginning of His ministry.
He then makes a statement that we may easily misunderstand: John 16:1 These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. The difficult word that may cause us to misunderstand is the word “offended.” It means “to cause to stumble.” Thus Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, these things so that what happens as a result of them will not cause us to stumble. It is a warning to us, a caution, that we are going to be facing difficult times, and we must know that Jesus has not led us into this unawares. If we thought that Jesus did not know this was coming, we would be likely to lose faith in Him. If we know that He has prepared us for all of it, then we can follow Him with faith. Then He specifies the particular difficulties the disciples and we are going to face.
Jesus says that two things are going to happen, a double sword hanging over the disciples. They are going to be put out of the synagogues on the grounds that they are unbelievers, and secondly that people will try to kill them, saying that it is done for God’s sake, because they do not know either the Father or the Son. We know, of course, that exactly these things did in fact happen historically, just as our Lord predicted.
I suggest that we bring these two warnings forward to the current time and think about how they are being lived out in our current age.
First consider the matter of being put out of “their churches.” Look at what has happened to the many mainline churches in America today as they have turned away from Christ. They have embraced the standards of the world, and they have turned their backs on the Gospel of Christ more and more. Environmentalism, social programs, voter registration, UN Millennium Development Goals, etc. have often completely replaced concern for the salvation of souls. In each denomination, there have been small groups who have resisted, who have tried to hold fast to what their denomination has stood for historically, but what has happened to them? They are progressively turned out. If they try to leave quietly in small groups, such as a single parish, taking their buildings and property with them, they are usually sued and destroyed.
Christians, and Jews, are killed often by muzlims on jihad in the name of the false moon god of Arabia, even in America. Mestizos from Latin America, even though claiming to be Roman Catholics, invade America where they steal, rape, kill, and destroy, while they say they are in search of a better life. They bring with them the American Indian/Roman Catholic fusion cult Santa Muerte (Saint Death) that is based on idol worship and paganism as I recently saw in San Antonio, TX. Simply standing up for that which is right and true is usually an invitation to be attacked, at least verbally and sometimes physically in our modern, politically correct land. Anyone who holds to the “old fashioned” idea that truth is absolute is considered an enemy of modern society where liberalism has decreed that all ideas are relative and that nothing is absolute. To contradict this is to invite at the very least a verbal attack from those who preach tolerance but practice none at all. Christian ideals are definitely not the defining guidelines for our society today.
In the days following the Ascension, the disciples thought that they were in the last days. As the days passed, Pentecost came and went, but they continued to think that they were still living in the last days, and it is this sort of thinking that we see reflected in St. Peter’s epistle lesson for today. It is particularly appropriate for our times today where we truly seem to be in the last days. Notice how St. Peter begins: 1 Peter 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. He does not say, “Eat drink, and be merry” but rather, “be sober and watch unto prayer.” Whether this is truly the end of all things, or it only seems so, what St. Peter advises is always the better choice.
St. Peter goes on: 1 Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Now the word translated here as charity is agaphn, agape. This word means an all inclusive, undeserved love, so Peter is calling for a this sort of love, which is well described by the word charity understood broadly, among Christians. By having this sort of general charity, a willingness to accept each other as they are, to help, to support, to live in harmony, this will cover a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:10–11 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. God has given different gifts to each of His people, and they are to be used, used for the benefit of His people and to the glory of God. No man is to keep the gifts of God simply for himself, hoarding what God has given him as his own, to keep for himself. Rather those gifts must be ministered to the whole community. Thus if one is rich in the things of this world, they must be shared for the benefit of the community. If one is given knowledge, it must be taught to the community that all may benefit. If someone is given skill or strength, this is for the benefit of the community that God may be glorified. If one is called to be a minister of God, it is for the benefit of the community and not for the benefit of that individual. All of these gifts are from God, and all are to be used and glorified through Christ. All gifts are given through the grace of God to be used for the well being of His people to His glory through Jesus Christ. This is what St. Peter said to the early Christians, and it is equally applicable to us today, whether we are truly living in the end times or not.
All of this is possible only through the power of the Holy Ghost, present in our lives. Thus, here in this time between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, we are grateful that in our lives, the Holy Ghost has in fact already come. We still celebrate the feasts today, but the coming of the Holy Ghost into the world happened almost 2000 years ago, and for that we can be most grateful. We see His work around us every day, and we live by faith that we are supported by the Holy Ghost in our lives each day.
Let us pray again the Collect for the Day:
O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven: We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless: but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.