Sermon for May 21, 2017

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Texts:  John 14:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-7; John 3:16-18

Sermon Theme:  “Election and the Gospel”

(Sources: What Luther Says; Christian Doctrine by Edward Koehler; “Of the Election of Grace,” LCMS document, adopted 1932; original ideas; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 27, Part 2, March 5-June 4, 2017, Series A; Anderson’s Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; “What Is Faith,” Online Living Theology; Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Usually when we talk about “election,” we are talking about a vacant position or office that two or more candidates are running for, and we get to vote for one of them.  Recently, our Adult Bible Class teacher told me his class has been talking about another kind of “election,” and their discussion has raised more questions than answers.  He asked me for edification.

I applaud him and the members of the class for talking about such a difficult topic, and I can assure them that most people have similar difficulties when they discuss “election” or “predestination.”  Election per se is almost never the theme of a pastor’s sermon, because it needs to be discussed in context of the whole Gospel, so I want to talk about it today in context of what Jesus says in our sermon text from John.  I don’t think for a minute that I know all the answers to this topic, nor do the leaders of our Synod, nor do the leaders of other denominations.

According to Ewald Plass, the doctrine of Election caused Martin Luther, the founder of Lutheranism, many hours of deep spiritual disturbance.  I mention that fact to hearten any of you who might be struggling with the topic.

Let me begin by placing the Gospel of Jesus-Christ-in-a-nutshell side by side with the doctrine of Election or Predestination.

Here’s the Gospel stated in its most elemental form in John 3:16-18:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

Now let’s put that upside Ephesians 1:3-7,which is one of five or six Biblical statements about election:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He CHOSE US in Him BEFORE the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He PREDESTINED us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”

In the John 3:16 passage, we see salvation by grace through faith, and we see that God loves all people and He wants all to be saved.  In the Ephesians passage, we see that Christians are elected to be saved before the creation of the World.  Predestined, in other words.

First of all, we have to realize that while God loves all people and offers salvation to all people, not all people will believe and be saved.  At this point, we have to remember the work of the Holy Spirit, which is discussed in John 14:15-21, today’s Gospel printed on our insert.  In this passage, Jesus is speaking to His disciples (and to us who are His followers), to whom He is sending ANOTHER Helper, the Holy Spirit.  The first Helper mentioned in the Old Testament is God the Father.  So now the second Helper for us is the Holy Spirit, also called Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter.  In my life and in your life, the very first thing the Holy Spirit does is to bring FAITH into our hearts.  We cannot say to ourselves, “OK, now I am going to believe in Christ so that I will be saved,” nor can we say to someone else, “OK, I’m going to help you put faith in your heart so that you can believe.” Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.”

As a consequence, you cannot make someone “believe.”  You cannot make yourself “believe.”  Faith is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible teaches that by nature we are spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  “Therefore,” Luther says in the Explanation to the Small Catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.”  John 6:29 says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  In other words, “faith” is the work of God (specifically the Holy Spirit), not the work of a human being.

And 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  So we see how important the Holy Spirit, “The Helper,” really is!

The fact that God loves everybody and offers salvation to everybody by grace through faith does not mean everybody will be saved.

Some people think that “faith” is synonymous with “determination.”  They clench their fists in a strong desire to believe something is so, and then they can have what they want, — these are called “white-knuckled Christians.”  But WHERE does faith come from?  “I don’t know,” they say.  It doesn’t come from within a person.  Romans 12 says that Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith, and Romans 10 says that faith is a gift from God that we receive from the Word of Christ.

With all that in mind, let me give you the LCMS statement of doctrine entitled “Of the Election of Grace,” adopted in 1932, and still in effect:

“By the election of grace, we mean this truth, that all those who by the grace of God alone, for Christ’s sake, through the means of grace [Word and Sacrament], are brought to faith, are justified, sanctified, and preserved in faith here in time, that all these have already from eternity been endowed by God with faith, justification, sanctification, and preservation in faith, and this for the same reason, namely, by grace alone, for Christ’s sake, and by way of the means of grace.  That this is the doctrine of the Holy Scripture is evident from Ephesians 1:3-7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14,; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:28-30; 2 Timothy 1:9; Matthew 24:22-24.”

The LCMS document goes on to say that in essence we do not believe in “double predestination,” that is, while we believe there is an election to grace, or predestination to salvation, there is no predestination to damnation.  God’s love for all sinners embraces all people without exception.  Election is not a cause why people remain unbelievers when they hear the Word of God.  No, Scripture says that people judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life by avoiding the Word of God and resisting the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not some mischievous elf or gnome trying to keep faith out of our hearts.  No, He, as the third person of the Trinity, brings us faith and wants to give us faith.  We can shut the door in his face.  God knew from the beginning that the un-saved person would do that, but it doesn’t mean He wanted Him to.  Christians can and should be assured of their eternal election.

The Gospel appointed for this Sunday shows us not only how important the Holy Spirit is, but also helps us to view the Spirit as a loving, caring power in our lives rather than something we would want to hide from.  Not only does He bring faith into our hearts, but the text also shows us what else He does.

In the text, Jesus says to His disciples and to us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever.”  The ESV translates “Paracletos” as “Helper.”  Other translations render it as Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter.  The Greek word has the connotation of all four of these.  He does help us, even to understand Scripture.  He does guide and direct us, and He does comfort and console us.

To help us feel the warmth and dearness of each person in the Holy Trinity, think of it this way.  We can liken God the Father to a good doctor who brought us into this world (created us), and then, like a good doctor, diagnosed our fatal disease, sin.  Like a good doctor, He saw our illness inherited from Adam and Eve, and then He prescribed the remedy for sin, His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christ is the spiritual medicine who takes away the guilt of our sin.  But like many who are too ill to take the medicine themselves, we are too sick from sin to take the medicine that cures it.  So the Holy Spirit needs to be our Helper, administering the cure to us just as a nurse injects the medicine into the sick patient.  Thus, we receive the cure, our sin pardoned by Christ’s grace, and we are restored to spiritual health.

That analogy not only tells the Gospel, but it also shows us the need for the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit puts faith in our hearts, — we can’t put it there ourselves no matter how determined we are.  Then He helps us to become more holy, obeying God’s commandments, etc., and He serves as our Advocate to the Father.  As our Counselor, He guides and directs us and enables us to make Godly decisions and wise choices.  Because our sins cause us to lead a troubled and, and at times, a difficult life, He serves as our Comforter, giving us solace, encouragement,  support, relief, calm, and consolation.

Jesus says in the text, “You know Him [the Holy Spirit], for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  And Jesus adds, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  Whoever has my commandments, and keeps them, he is who loves me.”  That’s how you will know you are one of God’s elect, — you love His commandments (but need the Holy Spirit’s help to obey them), you love His Son Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has brought God’s grace to you.

We have to accept these, the great mysteries of God, by faith.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I’m not sure if I’ve helped to clarify just a little the doctrine of election or predestination, or not, or whether I’ve muddied the waters even more.  But as Luther would say, we must not let any doubts or confusion about the “Election of Grace” hinder the comfort, the joy, the peace, the hope, the spiritual strength, and the love our salvation through Christ has brought us.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.