Sermon, Pentecost, 2015, Gospel, John 14:23-31
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27) Thus far the text.
Today we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit in power to the apostles in Jerusalem on the feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came to the apostles and gave them the ability to be heard in many languages. They received what Jesus had promised they would receive. Jesus kept His Word, as He always does. Now with the Holy Spirit to help them, they would understand what Jesus had been teaching them. They would remember the things that He had done and the things that He had said. And they would tell and explain to others what they remembered. And others would come to faith by hearing what they said. Eventually they wrote down what they remembered, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, so that after they died, succeeding generations could hear of Jesus and come to faith in Him, come to love what He did for them. And through this faith, coming generations would partake of the same peace that Jesus gave to His disciples, the peace that the world does not, cannot give.
Let us pray: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed give unto Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey They commandments, and also that we, being defended by Thee from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness, through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.
A piece of newsreel film that hasn’t been available for seventy years has been made public on the internet recently on YouTube. It shows the signing of the surrender documents by the Japanese and the Allied powers aboard the battleship Missouri seventy years ago this August 15th, complete with sound and action. We see General Douglas MacArthur arrive on the battleship and greet Admirals Nimitz and Halsey, and then they all go to an upper deck prepared with a table and several pages of parchment laid out. The Japanese representatives of the Emperor and the armed forces arrive in a smaller boat five minutes before the scheduled signing. General MacArthur speaks a few words about the conclusion of a long struggle that has been decided by force of arms and now the terms of its conclusion are to be ratified by signing the documents and enforced by the Allied Powers. Peace is at hand, four years and millions of lives after Pearl Harbor, the invasion of China, Korea, Singapore, Wake Island and the Phillipines. A few months earlier in May of 1945, Germany surrendered in Europe, bringing that theater of war to peace. In our country church bells rang in May, and in August, blackout curtains came down, strangers embraced, people went to church and gave thanks to God, they rejoiced at the peace which finally came. The long nightmare of war and death was over for us here in America, won with the blood of over four hundred thousand men and women out of a population of 131 million. To equal that today as a percentage of military deaths would be 1.2 million. The relief that the killing had stopped was immense. But, as with all human peace, it was to last but a few years. World War II was followed in a few years by the Korean War, to be followed by the War in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Balkans, two wars in Iraq, and the current war in Afghanistan, all against the backdrop of the long Cold War and the current War on Terror. The peace that the world gives is sweet, but it doesn’t last long.
Jesus says to His disciples that He is leaving them His peace, giving them His peace. Not as the world gives he is giving to them. What is this peace? How is it different from the world’s peace. How long does it last? And most importantly, how do the disciples, and by extension, we, get it?
Well first of all, we don’t get it. We don’t win it. We receive it from Jesus who wins it for us. He wins it by going willingly, peacefully, to His betrayal, His arrest, His crucifixion, His death. Why does He do that? He does that because He has been anointed by the Father for the purpose of fighting the war against the Axis of sin, death, and the devil, for us. He is anointed with the Holy Spirit of God. He is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ.
The Holy Spirit, which conceived Him in the womb of the virgin Mary, was poured out on Him in power at His Baptism. The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and remained with Him. This Holy Spirit strengthened Him throughout His ministry to trust and submit to God’s will, to keep His Father’s Word, and to confess it even when it meant persecution, mockery, and hatred by society. This Holy Spirit calmed His troubled mind in the garden, when he saw the dreaded day of battle ahead, when he would face all the temptations of the devil and the world to abandon His way of fighting and to fight back as the world fights, by striking back at those who crucified HIm rather than praying and dying for them. This Spirit gave the peace of God to Him to keep the Word, to guard the Word that He had been entrusted with to the end. This Helper, gave Him the courage to rise to meet the foe. And this is the same Spirit that Jesus sent to the disciples in power at Pentecost, as He promised he would.
Jesus did not fight as the world fights, he did not gain victory the way the world wins, and He doesn’t give us His peace the way the world does. We remember that, we memorialize that, on this Day of Pentecost, the day in which the Spirit brings to remembrance the victory of Christ, the cost of His victory, and the peace which it brings, as tomorrow we will remember those who fought for victory in war, paid the ultimate price, and restored the fleeting peace we enjoy in this world.
In the Clint Eastwood films about the battle on the Island of Iwo Jima seventy years ago, “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”, we see that the soldiers on both sides knew beforehand what the outcome of the battle was going to be. The Japanese knew they were going to be defeated. They all expected to die in the coming battle. And indeed most of them did. Out of twenty thousand defenders, only 216 survived. The Americans knew they were going to win the battle. They had overwhelming force. The Marines hoped to survive it. The battle went on for over a month. Over four thousand American Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen lost their lives. Knowing that they were going to win didn’t make the battle any easier. In many ways, it probably made it harder–harder to risk their lives for a foregone conclusion. One of the most effective propaganda posters the Germans used in WWII against the Americans was one that was used in the last months of the war. It shows a soldier about to walk into an open grave, with the caption, “Don’t be the last one to die in the war?” The message was, “Don’t be a hero. The war’s over.”
One can’t help but think that the Marines going into Iwo Jima had similar thoughts. They were going into harm’s way to risk injury and death, knowing that their individual efforts wouldn’t make much difference in the outcome of the battle. But the Marines fought fiercely and bravely nonetheless, to save lives by getting the battle over as soon as possible, to shorten the war by denying Japan an island air base, to help their buddies fighting next to them, for the honor of the Corps and their own sense of personal honor. The monument to the Marines of the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi is a testament to their self sacrifice and courage.
We, as Christians are engaged in a war,an ongoing war, one whose outcome has already been predetermined. Christ fought and won the decisive battle on the hill of Calvary. His dead body was the flag of victory raised on the pole of the cross, won with His lifeblood. But even though Jesus won the war, the enemy, Satan, continues to rage in defeat, ferociously attacking the followers of the Christ with his angels, trying to win back the souls of as many as he can before his power is destroyed forever. Jesus knew this would happen. But He wanted us to not to be afraid. When He left to be with His Father He would send a Helper, the Holy Spirit to us, who would lead us in the battles to come, who would bring to our remembrance that Jesus had already won the war.t. He sent His Helper to you and me to give us courage, and to give us peace, not as the world gives peace, through force of arms, or through prosperity, but through faith in the word and promise of God, that we might keep that Word in us and confess it boldly.
The apostles who received the Holy Spirit in power at Pentecost already had been given that peace. They knew Jesus had won. They had seen him risen. But now His Holy Spirit gave them the power to understand all the things He had spoken to them, to remember all that He had done among them, and to boldly proclaim and confess all this to the world. They stood up to the antagonism of their Jewish enemies who wanted them silenced, enemies like Saul, who arrested and imprisoned them. They went to prison gladly. When they were released they went immediately back to preaching the Word that got them arrested in the first place. They confessed Christ and His Gospel to the death. They preached the Law which convicts and points to the Gospel which forgives. They paid the price, too, for their cheerful, peaceful confession. All but the apostle John are traditionally reported to have died a martyr’s death, and John spent many years in imprisonment and persecution.
The same peace that Jesus gave to Peter and John and the apostles on Pentecost, He gives to you today. Baptism is your very own personal Pentecost. God came to you and put His name on you and anointed you with His Holy Spirit. He adopted you as His sons and daughters. Permanent peace now exists between you and God your Father in Heaven. That peace will never be broken. He will never break the peace treaty. Your name is signed to it in the book of life with the blood of Christ.
Yes, we will still have battles in this life. The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature will continue to attack us, like the Japanese soldiers who were stranded for decades on deserted Pacific islands, still fighting, not knowing that the war was long over. The world offers you terms of peace, if you will only surrender the Word of God to public opinion, if you will abandon Holy Scripture, if you will lay down your weapons and your armor, the sword of the Word of God, the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, the helmet of faith. But that sort of peace which the world offers is only temporary. It only lasts until you are confronted again by your sins, your fears, your mortality, and the prospect of eternal death.
True peace, the peace that passes all understanding, peace that leads to eternal life, is not given by the world, cannot be given by the world, but only by God. That peace is the peace found here, in the bosom of the Church, the body of Christ, where sins are forgiven, where your brothers and sisters sustain and comfort you, and you, them, in prayer, where you hear Word of God preached in its purity, where you are given the body and blood of Christ to bind up and heal the wounds you receive in your daily spiritual warfare. The peace that Christ gives turns each day into a memorial day for the saints who have gone before you, who have fought the good fight and now have gone to their reward, who have set an example for you of honor and steadfastness in the face of persecution.
That peace which Christ gives reminds you that every good thing you have is given to you by God the Creator, so that you may confidently offer back as thanks a share of those good things in your tithes and offerings that support the work of His Kingdom. Now that you are in Christ, you no longer give as the world gives, begrudgingly, stingily, and reluctantly, but as Christ gave and continues to give– cheerfully, fully, and without fear.
Jesus gives His peace to you not as the world gives, and not where the world gives either. The world gives its peace where prosperity, success, entertainment, conformity to public opinion, sex, money, power, fame, talent, physical health and strength is found. Jesus’ peace is found where two or three are gathered in His name, that is, here in the Church. That is where He feeds you, His foot soldiers, for the battles to come. He refreshes your memory of the victories He has won. This is where he takes the burden of sin off your back so that you may stand straight with Him in the line. This is where he briefs you with the glorious vision of the new heaven and the new earth which He has promised He will restore from the rubble and ashes of this fallen world of sin when He returns as conqueror and judge on the last day.
There is a line in the movie “Twelve o’ Clock High.” that Gregory Peck, a wing commander of bombers in England during World War II, tells his men before battle. His men are demoralized. They don’t see the point of risking their lives anymore. He tells them to think of themselves as already dead. It will make things easier.
Let us think of ourselves as already dead, too. For our old selves were drowned in Baptism. As Saint Paul says, “We were buried therefore with Him in Baptism, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. May the Holy Spirit always give you the peace that only He can.
Let us walk in the newness of a life set free by the peace which Christ gives us through the power of the Holy Spirit, the peace only He can give. There are battles on the horizon. We must be prepared to stand our ground. But the war has been won. Let us always remember that and receive the comfort and peace that this knowledge brings. Amen.