What Makes You Come Alive?

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost C, May 19th, 2013

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“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.”  [John 14:26]

This is the answer to the how questions that we Christians so often ask of God, and it is the answer to the questions our unbelieving friends ask of us.  “How can I make it through this?”  “How can I find the strength to get up, and to go on?”  “How can you believe in an invisible God?”  The answer, of course, is that on our own, that is with out the help of God we can not, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only will make it through what ever this world and the devil throw at us, we will in fact thrive after we pass through it.  Not only do we find strength to get up and go, but we get up and go with a purpose.  Not only do we believe in what the sinful world calls an invisible God, but we also hear and follow Him everywhere He leads.

Now to this response, some may ask, “How can that be?”  And our answer is that we abide in Christ.  That is that through the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who uses God’s Word and Sacraments to give faith, we not only believe that Jesus is with us, we abide in that truth!  This is what Jesus means in verse 23 of our Gospel reading (John 14:23–31) when He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Do you remember when Jesus used a vine as an illustration to describe what it means to love Him and trust Him?  He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  On the screen is a picture of a grape vine my wife has been tending to for almost 20 years.  Do you see how thick and sturdy it is?  Its roots go down deep and wide.  But that is nothing compare to its many branches that grow and thrive above the ground.  Look at this other picture now; can you see how it’s branches are growing and thriving up above?

In our children’s message, I held up a branch of that vine and asked the children if they could guess how many grapes I would get off of that branch if I took care of it.  Of course they eventually understood that I wouldn’t get anything off of it, because apart from the vine, it was dead.  They understood that eventually that branch would dry up and be thrown away.  It was hopeless… without being part of the vine.  The branch lives because it is part of the vine.  When it abides in the vine, it is as if its life song is “Glory to the vine in the highest, and peace to the branches who abide!”

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1–9), this is the very thing that God wanted the people to understand.  After the world was destroyed by the flood, God kept for Himself faithful Noah and his family as a way to restart fallen creation.  He wanted them to continue to be faithful and go throughout the earth and multiply.  He wanted their ancestors to remember that apart from living a life centered in Him, in His glorious presence with them, they would not have life.  He wanted them by faith to be obedient to His call to repopulate the earth with a people who knew Him and loved Him.  But something terrible happened… the subsequent generations began to forget about their God.  They became full of pride and no longer wished to venture out populating the earth, so they attempted to detach themselves from God’s presence.  They no longer gathered around His Word, which told them to go.  They thought that like the branch I showed the children, they could sprout roots and live; thrive with out the God who created them.  “Glory to man in the highest, and peace to their children who build!”

But what should we expect from a branch?  Not only can they not live outside of the vine, they can’t even no what’s best for them.  And this is the very message that God communicated to them when He came down and confused their language.  Now, instead of acting as one sinful heart and mind, they would be force into an obedience that God wanted to come out of them willingly, by faith.  When God confused their language He was punishing them for acting as if they were the vine; as if they were God!  “I am the LORD,” He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).”  It is as if He is saying, “In Me only do you have life and move and have your being.” [Acts 17:28]

Has anything really changed today?  Yes, I know, man did go forth and multiply; the earth is full of people, but what kind of people?  Don’t we still, each of us deep down inside, like to have things are own way?  Don’t nations still go to war against each other because we do not abide in the God who created us?  Isn’t there an abundance of resources available controlled by a few; enough to feed, clothe, and house the worlds poorest and yet we do not share?  So what’s the answer?  Is it politics?  Is it war?  Civil unrest? Communism or socialism?  No, it is none of those things.  The answer to these problems is you… or rather you who are abiding in Christ… you who love Him because He first loved you… you who keep His Word and are loved by the Heavenly Father.

It is you and the rest of us who make up the church, who are fed and nourished by God’s own Word and Sacraments; you who have heard the message of the cross, the emblem of not just suffering and shame, but God’s love for the entire world.  It is you who are a product of God’s mighty work of rebirth through the water and His life giving and life sustaining Word, who are then equipped to allow God to do even more mighty deeds through you.  You love Jesus, because you know that through His atoning suffering and death you have been forgiven of so much.  It is you alone who can love Jesus and please God by singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.”

But what about those who don’t love Jesus; those who won’t abide in Him by keeping His Word?  Well that is where the mighty work of God is continued through those of us who do!  We are a branch of the vine for a reason.  We abide in Him and He has made His home in us as individuals and as a church for a purpose.  We are to share His Word with those who still want to make a name for themselves, apart from resting in God’s glory.

In our epistle reading (Acts 2:1-21), we see God’s solution to both our problem of wandering and the problems of those who will not abide, or receive and rest in His real presence in their lives; it is the Word of God and the Spirit of God that is received in that Word.

Prior to that first day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit was thought to be almost the exclusive possession of the Jews.  Through their own selfish sin of pride, they forgot once again that they were to go forth and multiply; that is they were to share God’s desire of restoration with all humankind.  But just as God acted in a mighty way at the tower of Babel, so He acted on Pentecost.  In St. Peter’s sermon, His text came from the prophet of Joel, listen: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”  Who does God want to save?  All sinful human flesh!  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]

And now, witness dynamic proof, once and for all that God is serious about not sharing His glory with anyone or anything.  Witness the explanation mark upon Jesus declaration of “It is finished” before He gave His last life breath upon the cross for all sinful creation.  The Holy Spirit was in the house; like tongues of fire He appeared and He was saying that He is getting ready to make all things right.  He is going to make sure that all of those sinful branches that are disconnected from the vine understand that apart from Jesus there is no hope of life.

But the Holy Spirit is not just in the house, He’s out in the streets like a locomotive; like a tornado, tearing down strongholds, powers, and principalities, all so that God’s people can speak the gospel to their neighbors, just as Peter did!  Wouldn’t it have been a shame if the disciples never left the upper-room of that building?  Over 3000 people would not have heard the gospel Word, and would not have been returned to the vine that gives them life.

Isn’t it a shame if we refuse to go out into our community and speak gospel words of life to our neighbors who are also dying?

This morning God wants you to know that He still pours out His Spirit on all flesh; He wants His people who are separated from Him by sin to know that He still is coming to them.  We who believe in Jesus—are those whom the Spirit has called and gathered.  We are being enlightened and sanctified by God’s means for a purpose.  We are to prove to our neighbors that there is a God who loves them.  When we meet them, we are to invite them to come to the same vine that nourishes and strengthens us.  We are to invite them to come to church, even our little church and simply abide; to love Jesus who first loved them.  This morning Jesus wants us to know that through the Holy Spirit, He and the Father are targeting everyone with the same message of forgiveness.  While it is true that we may encounter closed doors, or broken branches that refuse to abide, who refuse to hear our testimony about God’s forgiving love, the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is still going about His work and will continue to do so without pause, until the very last day.

What makes you come alive?  Abiding in the vine; being obedient to go forth and multiply.  I pray that you will remember that without being a part of Christ’s church, that is apart from His Word and Sacraments, you can do nothing, but wither and die.  But by resting in Christ, receiving His means of grace, through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, you will not only abide, you will thrive.  I ask you then to both abide and thrive, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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