The Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 1-2, 2010
Text: John 16:12-22
Dear Friends in Christ,
Back in Michigan, where I grew up, originally, there were two Lutheran congregations. They were about a half mile apart, around the corner from each other. St. John was formed in Germany by a group of immigrants. Originally they were served by Pastor Sievers from Frankenlust. For those of you whose history is rusty, Sievers was second greatest missionary in the history of Missouri Synod, second only to F.C.D. Wyneken. He started numerous congregations and traveled all the way across the state of Michigan, crossed the lake and continued as far as Red Wing, Minnesota. In his later years, Sievers would become the father of foreign missions in the Missouri Synod. However, St. John suffered a split. That led to formation of this other congregation. No one today remembers why there was a split. In fact no one even remembers the actual name of the congregation. It is simply remembered by the local slang - it was the “Arbeiter” church. This name however suggests a great deal. Arbeiter means “workers”. So this was the workers church. I suspect that they were German socialist who had slipped into the immigration group, fleeing Germany after the failed revolution of 1848. When the colonist discovered this, these people were considered outcasts. The congregation they formed was part of the old Michigan synod, which was quite loose. The Michigan synod pastor serving the Arbeiter church made a bet with his head elder that he could drink three glasses of beer during the sermon and no one would know it. The pastor lined up the three glasses of beer inside the pulpit and preached on this text. Three times during the sermon, to illustrate the point that in a little while they would no longer see Christ, he ducked down inside the pulpit. No one, other than the elder, knew the real reason he was ducking down into the pulpit. No one caught on to what he was doing. The pastor won the bet, he had drunk three glasses of beer during the sermon, and no one caught on. Let me assure you than I don’t have any beer in pulpit.
Our text was spoken by Christ in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. The term Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin “mandatus” which means law or mandate. It was on the Maundy Thursday that Christ told His disciples: “I give you a new command, that you love one another.” Christ, in our text is speaking in double sense. In a little while they would not see Him. He would be crucified and placed into the tomb. But in a little while they would see Him again because He would rise from the dead. But also, Christ is pointing forward to His ascension. This is why we place this text at this time of year. We will be celebrating the Ascension in just two weeks. In both cases they will be sad. They would prefer the Christ remain with them. But these physical separations are necessary. And both will result in great joy. Christ compares this to childbirth. They are in the time of labor, but soon their will be joy of new birth.
Christ also speaks of sending the Holy Spirit. This foreshadows Pentecost. Christ here also gives us great insight into the nature of the Trinity. We often speak of the will of God being located in the Father. Christ repeated says that the He came to do His Father’s will. The Holy Spirit here is also spoken as an agent of another. The Holy Spirit will speak of Christ. He will speak what He is given to speak. This is the error of the Pentecostals, that they would make the Holy Spirit a free agent who does as He pleases. Rather, Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit always points us to Christ.
It is often said that almost all churches are in practice unitarian. We struggle with the doctrine of the Trinity. The difference is a question of unitarian in which article. Unitarian-Universalists are unitarians of the First Article. That is they equate God with the Father. Most traditional Christians, such as Lutherans, are in practice, unitarians of the Second Article. That is we equate God with Christ. And Pentecostals are unitarians of the Third Article. They equate God with the Holy Spirit. In fact, Scripture speaks of the three persons of the Trinity interacting with one another. However, Scripture show us that God revealed is God the Son - Jesus Christ. It is the will of the Father that we see God in Christ. The Father points us to the Son at Christ’s Baptism and Transfiguration. The Holy Spirit is sent to glorify Christ. So if one is thinking Scripturally, they will primarily associate God with Christ. That’s where all three persons of the Trinity want to us to look for God.
Why is it good that we look for God in Christ? Because in Christ we see fullness of God’s will for us. This is especially true when we understand how Christ interacts with mankind in the Old Testament. Christ is the One who speaks to Israel from the top of Mount Sinai giving the Ten Commandments. Even earlier, it is Christ who pronounced the curse upon mankind on account of sin in the Garden of Eden. But Christ is also the One who became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ is also the One who came to earth as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ is the One who will return to judge the living and the dead. Christ is God who deals with man. It is for this reason that we are to look to Christ as God with us.
In little while you will see me no more, in little while you will see me again. Christ will return to His heavenly Father. Christ will return to heaven. But the Holy Spirit will come and convey Christ back to us. So through the Holy Spirit, Christ is still here. It’s not just that we will see Christ when we get heaven. Rather, through Word and Sacrament, which are the means of grace, the tools of Holy Spirit, Christ is right here among us, giving us all His gifts.