Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Holy Spirit, the martyrs, the living sacrifices...

JESUS' WITNESSES


But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me   from   the   beginning.  I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.  John 15:26ff

THE church is not the dainty affair that many like to portray today.  It is not about designer   coffee, climate-controlled convention centers, or teaching scatty people how to live happy lives.  To the contrary, Jesus warns His disciples that to be His follower is a perilous business, and that the hour was coming, He told them, that anyone who would kill them would be convinced he was offering worship to God.

We don't face such extreme prejudice today, but anyone who studies history knows that many of the Lord's disciples did; and anyone who follows the news knows it is happening today, albeit in far-away places, but the storm clouds are gathering, and the culture that once welcomed what the church had to offer has turned sharply against her; and should the persecution continue on its present trajectory, the day may come when we will face violence as well, so let's take a closer look today at the Lord's prediction, "whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God."  That's how it's translated into English, but in the original Greek it says something a bit different.  That whoever kills you will think that he is offering a sacrifice of worship to God.  In the same way people brought animals to sacrifice before the Lord in the Old Testament to atone for their sins and to offer their worship, now   anyone who killed a disciple of Jesus would think he was doing the same, and what the Lord predicted came true.

All who were present with Him that night, with the exception of St. John according to church tradition, were put to death on account of their witness, and for nearly three centuries thereafter it was a criminal offense to practice the Christian religion anywhere in the vast Roman empire.  During that time many who would not recant their witness courageously accepted grisly death in imitation of the Lord who suffered for them -- and to His magnificent praise and glory -- but they did not consider their sufferings to be political accidents or senseless acts of violence, but rather sacrificial offerings of worship to the Father who loved them and to the Son who suffered and died for them.  These are the men and women we call martyrs, a word which mans "witness," who by their patient suffering and death gave the strongest possible testimony to the Gospel of their Lord.

Today we are the Lord's witnesses, not by spilling our blood, knocking on doors, or adorning our social media with religious symbols, but rather our witness is given here, in God's house, as we gladly hear and learn His Word; as we pray, praise, and celebrate the holy Sacrament which is the pinnacle of Christian witness and Christian worship.  This is what St. Paul is getting at when he writes, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  He is talking about the very thing we are doing now, for it is here, in God's house, that we present our bodies as living sacrifices, because worship, you see, is not simply a matter of the mind, but it includes our bodies as well.  It includes sitting, standing, bowing, crossing ourselves, folding of hands, modulating of voices,   approaching the altar, closing our eyes and opening our lips to eat the sacrifice of God!  The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which remits our sins, and gives us joy and gladness instead.

The power source of our witness is the One whom Jesus names the Helper and the Spirit of Truth in today's gospel lesson, only don't think of this Helper as your subordinate, for that would be blasphemy, but as the Lord and Giver of life, and as the church's Counselor, Leader and Director.  As the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, even so Sacred Scripture proceeds from Him.  He chose and inspired its writers to record the Perfect Witness to the salvation that is found in the cross of Jesus alone.

By this same Scripture, He who is the Keeper and Expositor of all truth leads us into all truth.  In the Bible He unveils the mysteries of God to us.  By it He teaches us how to repent, how to believe, how to worship, how to love one another, and how to live sober-minded and self-controlled lives in this present evil age.

Although it is a sticky point with Lutherans, let us recognize today that the Spirit doesn't only use sacred Scripture for His work, but sacred tradition as well.  What is sacred tradition?  First is this divine liturgy we now pray, which is nothing else than the Word of God in use by the people of God for His glory and our salvation!  Traditional also includes the church's creeds and confessions by which we witness to all men, not only what the Bible says, but also what it means.

There is sacred Practice as well which includes matters of liturgical actions, art, architecture, decor and much more; things that while not explicitly commanded by Scripture, are taught    to us by the Spirit of Truth, given to us by Him for the church's edification and for the praise and glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

By our intelligent and steady use of such things:  sacred Scripture, tradition, and practice, we too prove martyrs; witnesses of Jesus who sprinkled us with baptismal water, cleansed us of our sins, gives us His Spirit, and makes us the people of God.  To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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