Sunday after the Ascension
June 1, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
With apologies to Tom Petty, when it comes to the Spirit of God, the waiting is the hardest part. One of the last things that Jesus tells the disciples before He ascends into heaven is, “Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But you stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). The word that Jesus uses for “stay” literally means “to take a seat.” It’s kind of like when you go to the DMV and get your number, then you settle in for what you know is probably going to be a while.
Take a seat. Today we’re in the lull between Ascension (last Thursday) and Pentecost (next Sunday) and you can almost hear the seconds ticking away on the clock. Wait. It’s a theme in Scripture when dealing with God: Noah waited for the waters to subside; the Israelites couldn’t wait for Moses to finish speaking with God; over ten percent of the Psalms are about waiting for God (and you can tack on another eight Proverbs); nearly every prophet prophesies about waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises. But when it comes to the Spirit, the waiting is the hardest part.
What do I mean? Have you ever invited a neighbor to come to church with you? Have you ever spoken to a coworker about the hope that is within you? Have you ever worn yourself out asking one of your family members to get back to church? You were probably greeted with a blank stare, or a polite, “Thanks, we’ll think about it,” or a perturbed, “Oh, not again!” Rarely does the Spirit work on someone like He did on the Ethiopian eunuch, when Philip preached to him and he wanted to get baptized right away.
Lightning-fast advances in technology and our frantic society has trained our base nature—which is already inclined toward impatience—to expect and demand instant gratification. Probably most of you have in your pockets a device that’s able with a couple taps and swipes to give you access to just about any information you’d ever need. That same device will connect you with your friends and loved ones, wherever they may be; remember when you had to be near a cord for your phone to work? And is there anyone here that remembers a time when you didn’t even have a phone, and had to wait for a letter in the mail, or a personal visit?
When was the last time you saw a TV Guide at the grocery checkout line—are they even still there? Broadcast television is giving way to television on-demand: you decided what, where, and when you’ll watch your favorite shows. Or how about in the car? Do you feel your blood pressure rise when you’re stopped at a red light that’s taking forever?
We get annoyed at trivial things that take a few extra tics of the clock, but there are more significant things in life that test patience even more. The chronically ill wish that they’d hurry up and get better (or, perhaps, hurry up and die). The unemployed wish that they’d hurry up and find a job to support their family. The barren wish that they’d hurry up and have a child. We are not content waiting.
So it is in spiritual matters. There is nothing more disheartening than when you bear witness to Christ and that person does not come to faith. Which is the source of so many silly things in the Church. The Gospel does not promise immediate results; the Spirit doesn’t give instant gratification. So the Church, in order to get more quantifiable results, adapts the message of the Gospel to the culture, while in the process losing the Gospel itself. There are other spirits that are more than happy to deliver immediate results in exchange for denying the faith of Christ—St. John calls these the spirits of antichrist.
In all, we are terribly reluctant to allow the Spirit one ingredient He often uses to great effect—time. Our Lutheran Church teaches and confesses that the Holy Spirit works faith when and where it pleases God (AC V.2-3). Notice whose time the Spirit is on. God’s. He does not punch the clock for you.
Patience is a virtue, the saying goes. But it’s also a fruit of the Spirit, according to St. Paul. Human nature is inclined to impatience and despises waiting for the good stuff. When it comes to the Spirit, waiting is the hardest part. But when the Spirit comes, He gives us patience to wait on the Lord. Because
The Spirit Bears Witness to Christ’s Patient Endurance
When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, that One will bear witness concerning Me (v 26). The Spirit is the promise of the Father. The disciples were told to take a seat and wait for this promise to come. Those ten days between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost must have seemed like an eternity. But the Spirit did not delay any longer than was necessary. He came precisely at the appointed time in order to clothe the disciples with power from on high.
This power was manifest in many ways—from speaking in tongues to raising the dead—but in particular this power of the Holy Spirit gave the disciples patience and endurance in suffering. When they were arrested and beaten for preaching, they praised God for having been considered worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. St. Paul in particular recalls his many tribulations to the Corinthians—being whipped and beaten and shipwrecked and stoned, constantly in peril. These things I have said to you in order that you are not scandalized, says Jesus. They will cause you to be excommunicated from the synagogue, but the hour is coming when everyone who puts you to death will think that he is offering a service to God. And these things they will do because they do not know the Father, nor Me (16:1-3).
Mission facilitators and church consultants make a fine living off of promising that your congregation can have the same success as the disciples at Pentecost if you would simply follow their methods. But what they overlook is that more often the disciples’ preaching fell on deaf ears. They were ignored, rejected, and even persecuted for preaching the Gospel. Yet they continued.
The reason why they continued even in the face of failure and persecution is because of the witness that the Spirit bears. He bears witness concerning Me, Jesus says. He bears witness to the One who patiently endured the suffering of the cross. Patient endurance is the way that God works.
Why does Scripture speak so often of waiting for God? Because time is the one thing He has on His side. He is the Author and the Lord of time. He is the One who started the clocks ticking, and who stopped the sun in its path along the sky when it suited Him. He is the One who fills appointed times with His incarnation, His death and resurrection, His ascension, and His coming again on the Last Day. He is the One who was appointed before the foundation of the world to be the salvation of mankind. He is the One who died for you while you were yet a sinner.
Take heart, the Spirit bears witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, through the means of grace, and creates faith when and where it pleases Him.
But it’s not just the Spirit who bears witness. You also bear witness, because you were with Me from the beginning, Jesus tells His disciples (v 27). The disciples are eyewitness to Jesus from the baptism of John until the time when He was taken up into heaven. Their words and eyewitness accounts are preserved for us in Holy Scripture. It is through these words that the Spirit bears witness to you.
And you also bear witness when you bear the apostolic Word, when it’s in your heart and on your lips. You bear witness when you speak to your neighbors about the hope that is in you. You bear witness when you encourage your family to take advantage of the gifts Christ freely gives in the Divine Service.
You also bear witness to Christ by your patient endurance of suffering. This is perhaps the greatest sermon you can preach—being conformed to Christ, taking up His cross and following Him, patiently enduring tribulation with joy. When your coworkers, your neighbors, and your family see how you bear hardships with the hope of the resurrection, they will want to know how you do it.
It is the Spirit who gives you patience, because patience is a fruit of the faith He works. This is the hope that you have within you—that in time, God will bring you to the fulfillment of His promise and a joyful resurrection and restoration.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard