May 27, 2012

Sermon for Pentecost

God Our Comfort
Psalm 68, Acts 2:1-11, John 14:15-21
May 27, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The message of Whitsunday, or, Pentecost, is God our comforter. The idea of a comforter brings several images to mind. We can think of the sense of comfort the people of ancient Israel felt knowing that the hills surrounding their city made them secure from attack. We can think of the sense of security of a small child embraced in his mother's arms and knowing his father stands, strong and ready to protect him from harm. We can think of the comfort we find in the love of people who love us. We can think of the comfort we find in the love and power of our Saviour, the Good Shepherd, of whom David said, "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." All of these invoke feelings of comfort and security, and remind us that God is our comfort in a way no human person or institution can ever be.

Let's think together about two ways in which God is our comfort. First, He is our comfort in the work of Christ who gave Himself on the cross, that "whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." There once was a barrier, called, sin, that kept us from God. Christ bore our sin in His own flesh, and when His body died on the cross, our sin died with Him. So that barrier is gone. We have free access to God through Christ. And Christ Himself spoke comforting words (we call them "comfortable words" in Holy Communion), saying "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest [comfort] unto your souls." Second, He is our comfort as He dwells in our souls through the Holy Spirit. If you are in Christ, that is, if you truly believe in Christ as He is revealed in Scripture, God lives in you. He makes His home in you, and He brings you into Himself to enable you to live in Him. The great God of eternity, almighty, all wise, all good, all sustaining, lives in you, makes His dwelling, His home, in your being. I have no words to adequately describe such a thing. Every word in every language I know is trite and empty and powerless to express the meaning of this reality. It has to be embraced on a level that is beyond words. Please embrace it.

The Collect for the day is a prayer of thanksgiving for the Gift of the Holy Spirit. God "didst teach" and make us rejoice in the comfort of the Spirit, "through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour," we pray in the Collect. The word, "comfort" comes from today's Gospel reading. In John 14:16 our Lord says, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever." If you look a little further down the page of your Bible you will read in John 14:18, "I will not leave you comfortless." I am going to make a very profound statement here, so please listen intently. Comfort is the opposite of comfortless. There, aren't you glad you have me to explain these intricate theological complexities? But I didn't say that just for a joke. To be comfortless in this world is to dwell in spiritual darkness and despair so deep and heavy it crushes the life out of your soul. Darkness, in this sense means to have no knowledge of ultimate reality, and it means to have no hope of ever gaining such knowledge. It means to have no way of knowing truth or goodness or right morality. It also means to have no way of knowing God, or even if there is a God or not, or whether you're going to Heaven or hell or nothingness. This kind of spiritual darkness is the underlying cause of the despair and angst that grips our world today. Dwelling in darkness, people cannot know whether God exists or not, or what constitutes good choices that contribute to happiness and meaning in life, or if anything "matters" or not. They don't know anything, except that they will die one day, and death scares them because there might be a God and there might be a hell.

Comfortless means to be in spiritual despair because you are left with nothing but your own opinions and experiences upon which to make decisions that will decide your destiny today and forever. Comfortless means to live in the knowledge that any or all of your decisions can be wrong, and probably will be, and there is nothing you can do about it. There is no comfort in this kind of darkness, only an ever widening and deepening whirlpool of despair that will eventually drown you no matter how hard you swim, no matter how good a swimmer you are. Even believing that all people are in the same condition is no comfort. I know people who say they know they're going to hell, but at least they won't be alone. There is no comfort in that. It is only despair multiplied by billions of souls.

But Jesus said He would send the Comforter, and Pentecost is the annual celebration of the arrival of the Comforter of God, the Holy Spirit. The Comforter dispels the darkness and despair I just spoke about. He replaces them with knowledge for He is the Spirit of Truth. He teaches us the things of God. He reveals the truth to us. He gives to us the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of God is life to our minds and souls forever. He dispels our despair by giving the sure and certain hope of our resurrection unto life eternal in the Paradise of God. He enables us to believe. I think this is probably the single, most important work of the Holy Spirit; He makes sense of life for us, He makes sense of God for us, He makes sense of the Bible for us, and then He enables us to believe what He has taught us, so we may receive the gift of eternal life by faith.

Then, the Holy Spirit, comforts us by enabling us to abide in the faith forever. He keeps our faith alive. That doesn't mean it will always be a bright and shining bonfire. Sometimes, I know, it will only be a smoldering ember, barely hanging on. But it will hang on. Isaiah 42:3 says of God, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench." There will be times when the trials of the world, the flesh, and the devil will make your faith feel like a smoking flax; like the barely glowing edge of the candle wick after the flame has been extinguished. He won't let it stop glowing. He will keep it alive. He will not quench it Himself, and He will not allow anything else to quench it. He will bring us into that place of unimaginable joy, and we shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever. That is comfort to the soul.

I must make one more important point before I end this sermon. The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago marks the beginning of the New Age; not as it is defined by a current fad, but as it is defined in the Bible. It marks the beginning of the end time and the last days; not as they are defined by current pop theology, but as the Bible refers them, as the final era and the last kind of day before God brings this present creation to an end and ushers in the Kingdom of God in complete fullness. It is the character, not the number, of the days that make these the last days. It is the character, not the place on the calendar, that makes our era the end time. You will save yourself much needless grief and prevent yourself from being fooled by those who say they have the return of Christ all figured out if you will simply learn and remember this; the end times are the era in which the promises of God in the Old and New Testament begin to come into fulfillment. The last days are the days when the plan of God for His creation begins to become reality. The Lord is gathering His elect and bringing them into His Kingdom, which is the Church. He is forgiving their sins and making them right with God and with each other. In the fullness of time He will end creation as we know it, and will restore it to its original goodness, populated by people who know, love and obey Him. The details of this plan are hidden in the mind of God, but the knowledge that it is happening is comfort to His people.

So God is our comfort in ways nothing else can be. And His comfort is primarily the comfort of the soul of those who "truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel" which is the promises of God" declared unto mankind In Jesus Christ our Lord." One of those promises is that He Himself will draw us into Himself and dwell within His people by His Holy Spirit.

"O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.