Trinity Sunday Proper C
Rev. D.K. Schroeder
John 16:12-15 Sermon
May 30, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
131 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
138 "Most Ancient Of All Mysteries"
172 "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise"
136 "Come Thou Almighty King"
"THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING IT RIGHT"
TEXT (v. 13a): "13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth."
You may have heard me talk about this before, so perhaps you remember me confessing to you that I am not a very good mathematician. Oh sure, I can do the stuff I need to do to get along. I can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I can even work with fractions, and decimals and percentages and averages. I can use a tape measure and figure dimensions and square footages. But when you get much beyond that, I'm hopeless. Advanced mathematics courses such as calculus and physics just aren't my thing.
But yet, I know what is sufficient for me to get along in society and do the things I need to do. However I don't have what it takes to do architecture or engineering. If you asked me to design a bridge over the Missouri river, I don't think you'd want to trust it to get you to the other side. Or if you asked me to design a high-rise building, it might not survive a Nebraska windstorm. I know my limitations.
Even though I know my limitations, I also know that it is extremely important to do things right, especially when lives are at stake. If we look at the disaster that happened in Haiti with the earthquake, this is a gruesome and brutal reminder that building safety codes are important. In Haiti, which we now know as a place without any building codes, people put up structures just any old way they pleased. Maybe they were able to keep dry and warm under normal conditions; but when the earthquake hit, those structures fell like they were houses made of playing cards and matchsticks.
But I'm a pastor, and not an engineer or an architect. My area of expertise is not in numbers and angles and stress factors, but rather in theology, and grace, and faith, and eternity, and in other matters regarding the human soul and humanity's relationship to God. Now that's a mouthful!
There is one area however that's common to these professions; in fact, I would say it's an area that all vocations and even a person's various avocations share. It is important to get it right; because if something is not done right, the results can be devastating, if not disastrous.
When we look at the Bible, we have many examples of people who were just not getting it right. For example, the Israelites had continual problems with their relationship with God. The Pharisees were way off in their understanding of sin and grace. The Sadducees were way off in their understanding of the resurrection. The Corinthians were abusing the Lord's Supper. The Galatians were trying to bring people back under the yoke of the Old Testament law. And the list goes on.
Scripture itself has many examples of the right way and the wrong way to do things. I think the Apostle Paul had his hands very full in what he was doing. Besides being the chief missionary of the Gospel, he was also the master New Testament theologian. He had to deal with a wide variety of people who were all over the place in their theology. He had the job of seeing that people were getting it right in a variety of different circumstances.
This morning, we have before us a product that arose from the early Church that exists for this very reason. They knew the importance of getting things right. This lengthy creed we recited just a few minutes ago before the sermon is called the Athanasian Creed. Even though it bears the name of Athanasius, and it is certainly a very clear exposition of his theology, yet it came into existence approximately a hundred years or more after his death.
The importance of having the various historic creeds is to clearly summarize various key Biblical doctrines. The Athanasian creed is unique however in one key area, because it contains what are known as "damnatory clauses." These clauses are sentences at the very beginning and ending of the creed that say: "Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever," and "Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved." To summarize this even more, the creed is basically saying that if you don't believe what this creed says, then you can look forward to an eternity of shoveling coal into the devil's furnace.
This is not a popular thing to be saying, especially in this day and age of "political correctness" and "universal acceptance." How dare we as Christians come forward and tell everybody that our way is the only right way? How come we are so high and mighty?
But this creed has its place amongst most main-line Christians all over the world, including the Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, Orthodox, etc. Sad to say, it's sort of pushed into the background amongst some groups, however it is about the strongest statement of Biblical orthodoxy that has ever been written. And even amongst those Christians who do not officially subscribe to this creed, many if not most of them still agree with the truth that it expresses.
The Christian Church in its infancy was fraught with many theological and doctrinal issues. For example, there were those who outright denied that Jesus Christ was true God; or they were unclear as to the true nature of Christ being both true God and true man. One of the controversial questions had arisen from the Church in Alexandria; was Jesus the true and only-begotten Son of God, or was he just a figurative "son of God" like other Biblical figures?
And so the Emperor Constantine convened the first ecumenical council at Nicea (in present-day Turkey) in the year 325 to discuss various ecclesiastical matters. Out of the 1800 or so Bishops that had been invited, just over 300 actually attended. The well-known product of this council is what we call the Nicene Creed that we confess together as a congregation each Communion Sunday.
In our congregation's constitution, we state that we hold to the Book of Concord of 1580 because it is a correct exposition of Holy Scripture. You'll notice that we use the word "because" and not "insofar as" it is a correct exposition of Biblical doctrine, because to use the latter term would mean that we could pick and choose whatever portions of the Book of Concord suited us. Among other things, the Book of Concord contains the text of what we call the "three ecumenical creeds," viz. the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
One of the chief purposes for having a document like the Book of Concord is not to somehow replace the Bible. Rather, it came into existence largely due to the various errors and heresies that had infiltrated the Christian Church. And it not only states what we believe, but it also states what we don't believe, because it is contrary to Scripture.
The upshot of all of this, is that the Church Fathers realized the importance of doing things right, especially when human souls were at stake. For them, and rightfully so, they knew that false teaching could be disastrous. They took the words of 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 10 very seriously: "10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." And sad to say, this seems to be a concept that keeps getting pushed further and further into the background by Christians of today.
This morning, I have chosen to focus on part of our Gospel lesson for this morning. In John 16, the first part of verse 13 reads: "13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." These are words Jesus is speaking to his disciples in his rather lengthy discourse prior to his crucifixion. I'd like you to keep this in the back of your mind for awhile.
Thinking back on my college and seminary years, I can tell you that they weren't easy ones. We had to wade through an unbelievable amount of material. We had to learn how to distinguish between sound doctrine and heresy, we had to study church history and how that applied to us today, and we had to study the Bible in intricate detail--both in the grammatical sense as well as the historical and doctrinal sense. I'm only scratching the surface here.
I can even tell you some more details about the Nicene Creed. Did you know that there was a heated battle about what is called the "filioque," which is Latin for "and son?" If you really want a good mental exercise, just type in the word "filioque" into Google, and see what you come up with.
Just briefly though, there was a controversy about the wording of the Nicene Creed. In speaking about the Holy Spirit, the creed says, "who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified." Simple enough. However there were those who contended that the Holy Spirit proceeded from just the father and not the Son. So they wanted it to read, "who proceedeth from the Father; who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified."
As you hear this, you might be just shaking your head and saying "oh well, whatever." Why make such a big deal about this? Is it really that important to my faith to make this much of a fuss over those few words?
Another example comes from more recent history. In 1917, there was something called the "election controversy" that broke apart the old Norwegian Synod. One side said that man was justified "because" of faith, and the other side said that man was justified "in view" of faith. So what's the difference? Those who said that man was justified "in view" of faith made faith out to be something of human origin.
These seemingly small and insignificant details seem rather paltry in the grand scheme of things. However when anti-Scriptural doctrine creeps in, even in the small areas, it carries with it the domino effect. Even the core doctrine of Christianity, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, can be adversely affected.
Students who are preparing for the Public Ministry need to have it right. The Seminary faculty wants to be sure that when we are handed our diploma, and we move the tassels on our caps to the other side, that we have it correct. They do everything they can to insure that when a pastor steps into the pulpit and opens his mouth, he isn't leading his congregation down the path to perdition.
I must confess that as I sat through my classes, some horrible thoughts crossed my mind. I remember thinking, "What if all of this isn't true? What if this is nothing more than folklore or mythology? What if this is the product of someone who is perpetrating a hoax? What if all of this is nothing more than a huge waste of time and money?"
A little while ago, I read you a passage from our Gospel lesson, and asked you to keep it in mind. Now is the time to bring it back. In John 16, the first part of verse 13 reads: "13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth."
You know something? When you add the Holy Spirit into the equation, everything just falls into place. Through all of the intense study, through all of the classroom work, through all of the reading, through all of the Greek and Hebrew, the Holy Spirit is there.
Back in the days when I studied Greek and Roman mythology, I never even once thought it was true, even back in my high school days. It was mythology, it was fiction, and there was no doubt that there was no Medusa, or Zeus, or Thor, or Hermes, or Oedipus, or Narcissus, or any of those Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The Spirit of truth Jesus speaks about just wasn't there. There was no Spirit of truth in any of it.
But the more I studied the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit worked through that Word. Even though Satan tried to throw me off the track many times, God's Spirit was there with the truth to effectively stop him dead in his tracks. God's Spirit was, as Donald Trump would say, "the real deal." The Holy Spirit kept making sure that I was continually guided in the truth.
All of the complicated theology and hours of study brings us down to what I'm here today to do. I'm here to tell you about God's grace and love. God's law has convicted you of your sin. But because he loves you so much, he sent his only begotten Son Jesus to this earth to pay for your sins. He suffered the punishment for your sins, and now you are justified before God in heaven.
And what do you have to do to get the benefit of all this? Just believe it; nothing more, and nothing less. When you accept Jesus as your Saviour through faith alone, you have received this free gift of grace God has for you. Your eternity in heaven is guaranteed, without a doubt. How do you know this? Through the words of the Bible, God's Spirit of truth has guided you into all truth. You certainly have it right when you put all your trust in Jesus and his promises.
Today, I know you won't come to me with complicated mathematical algorithms or algebraic equations, and expect me to get it right. And if you ask me to build a bridge any bigger than putting a plank across a mud puddle, you're probably in trouble.
However you can be assured of one thing today. I'm standing here because I believe in what I'm doing. I'm telling you things that I personally believe. And I'm happy that I am in a position where I can share my personal faith with you.
Am I a sinner? There's no doubt about that. I remember one pastor that asked the question: "If your congregation could read your mind, would they still want you as their pastor?" Well, if you could see all the sinful filth that still rattles around up there, then probably not.
But my sins are forgiven. Jesus is my Saviour through faith. He has removed them from me, so I can stand before the judgment seat one day, and be judged according to Christ's righteousness, and not my sinfulness.
Maybe you're not acquainted with all of the controversies and heresies that have arisen in the history of the Christian Church. I wouldn't expect you to.
Today however, we can be thankful that we have had Church Fathers who knew the importance of getting things right. I know I am very thankful for that. The Spirit of Truth Jesus talks about today is what led these faithful people in the past. It's that very same Spirit of Truth that has brought you and me to faith, that has gathered us together here around his Word and Sacraments, that preserves this faith among us, and that will lead us safely to our home in heaven where we will dwell with God forever. As Dr. Martin Luther has said so often, "this is most certainly true."