17 April 2008

Homily for Cantate 2008

[Isaiah 12:1-6 / James 1:16-21 / John 16:5-15]

Beginning with today, the season of Easter begins to tilt wildly toward its fulfillment on the Day of Pentecost. You’ll never get Easter until you see that all that your Lord did for you by His suffering, dying, rising and ascending to the Father was accomplished so that the Holy Spirit could come to you and establish in you a beachhead of the Age that is to come. Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, is the grand culmination of the plan of God in what we call the Age of Grace, which is the time when God keeps colonizing for His unending future smack dab in the middle of an Age tottering toward its own dead end.

Please don’t think I’m feeding you theological mumbo-jumbo today. Get this and you will be filled with joy! You will see what God is up to in this world and in your life!

In our first reading, Isaiah foretells of a time when the people of God will be recognized by their song of joy. “Sing praises to the Lord for He has done gloriously! Let this be made known in all the earth. Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Here’s the secret of the Church’s joy: God dwells in her midst. The Holy Spirit, sent from the Father, comes to bring to her the life of the age to come, and so she lives in this world, in this age, which the apostle says “is coming to an end” a life of praise and worship because her life in Christ cannot and does not come to an end. He’s burst right through death! He’s reigning at the Father’s right hand, and He will come again in glory to bring in the triumph of Love. The Church LIVES from His victory right here and now already and so she sings, as she dishes out the waters of salvation to all who thirst for a life that is so much more than just the dead-ends of this age. She sings the songs of Zion – where the thanksgiving goes on forever. By her song, she summons the world to share her trust in the Lord Jesus, and so “not to be afraid” – even though the earth trembles and totters, or our lives feel shaken to the core. She reminds us that this world that comes to an end is not our home, and our home never shakes or totters – it is eternal, kept for us in the heavens.

In our Epistle, James reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes down to us, comes from the Father of lights, who never changes – an inexhaustible fountain of good! He’s the one who gave us a new birth through the word of His truth. New birth, because the old birth only lands you in death. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." But the new birth, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," it brings you beyond death to the life that never ends. He wants us then to be a kind of firstfruits of His creation. He wants to show off in us what the future of this age will really be. That’s why the apostle exhorts us to be different from the world. The world is quick to speak, quick to anger, slow to listen. The world always thinks it's right and don’t bother it with the facts. Also the world that lives in us. James reminds us that that’s not the way of God at all. The future that is coming is rather quick to listen, but slow to speak and certainly slow to anger. Human anger simply can’t produce the righteousness of the age to come, where love is all. So James says that we are to put away all of that naughtiness – all of our hasty anger and nasty words and vicious thoughts – and he tells us how that can be: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Quick to listen to others, yes, but above all, quick to listen to God and to His Word and what He says! Let that word dwell in you, listen to it, and learn from it about the sort of life God would prepare us for: a life where only love rules, and where human anger has been stilled; and the nasty words silenced for good. The Word can do it, it can give us a share in God’s future, if we let it. And that’s how it saves us. Not a one time saving, but an ongoing renewal of the life that is REAL life.

And then onto the Gospel reading, where Jesus tells his disciples that He has so much more He wants to say to them, but that they can’t bear it at the moment. No big deal. He points to the culmination: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak,” and here are the big words “and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

What does that mean? I used to hear that and think the Spirit would let them on the secrets of how this age would come to an end. Prophesies about the destruction of the world and such.

How wrong I was! He declares “the things that are to come.” He shows you and gives you a share in even, in the goodies of the final Age, the Age that is to come, when Love is triumphant over all, when Life has vanquished death, when earthly sorrow has given way to heavenly joy, when the sufferings of this life have been swallowed up by the blessedness of our welcome home to the Father’s house.

And that is how the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. He take the things that belong to Jesus – the life that is His forever beyond the grave, the love that no hatred could destroy, the forgiveness that wiped out the sins of the entire world in fell swoop on a Good Friday afternoon so long ago – and all of this He declares to you. He shows it to you as being yours.

Do you get it? The Holy Spirit comes to you today to wake you up from settling down in this dead-end age as though it were the real thing. He comes to enlighten your understand and to stir up your thirst for the Age that is coming, so that you do NOT settle for your life as it is, as it has been. He comes to make you ACHE for your life as it SHALL be.

His Church exists then to continually give you the taste of that, to give you the gift of dying to all that is dead and dying in this world – all its anger and rage and temper and bitterness and biting and devouring – all that characterizes the fallenness of this world. And His Church exists to let you leave it all behind in the Baptismal water and rise with Christ to a brand new life – a life of love so strong that death will never be able to hold it.

In His Eucharist, THIS is the life the Holy Spirit reaches you. The life of the future – and that’s why we confess that it is truly right to give thanks always and everywhere to God our Father through Jesus our Lord - crucified, risen, and returning. That’s age to come talk, but it’s the life that’s reached us in the Body and Blood that were on the Tree for us, and that were raised from the dead for us, and that plead for us constantly before the Father’s throne – the Body and Blood that call us to live in utter forgiveness, in love, in thanksgiving always and everywhere and for all things – for we sing our songs to Him who has given us the life of the age to come by the gift of His Son and by the sending of His Spirit – to whom be glory now and ever and unto that ages of ages – our true home forever. Amen.


Christopher Esget said...

Re. the Spirit declaring the things to come: that is a great insight. Thank you for sharing it.

elephantschild said...

Printing this off to mail to my deployed-to-Iraq brother. Thank you.

Rev. James Leistico said...

thank you. after all the words this week about the Pope, Portland profs, and Purple Palace BCS meetings (see the latest at Augsburg 1530), not to mention some of the stuff going on locally, this sermon helps prepare me for the challenges of this week. It's almost good enough for me to consider going one year so I can preach it next year.