The Fourth Sunday after Easter, 2017
The Epistle – James 1:17-21
The Gospel – John 16:5-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Christ is risen!
Today’s Gospel lesson is the second installment of three passages taken from the 16th chapter of St. John’s Gospel.
These verses today, precede last week’s but they run very similar.
These lessons…last week’s, this week’s and next in fact, are intended to get us to be as anxious about the coming of the Holy Spirit and His comfort and His gifts as the Disciples were to be.
The sending and the arrival of the Holy Spirit and His presence with believers should be a comfort to all Christians.
He is the way through which God continues to dwell with us and Christ remains present to us…and is accessible to us.
Our Collect today was our prayer. In it we prayed this way. Acknowledging first that only God alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men.
It is He who grants unto us the ability to love what He commands of us.
It is He who grants unto us the ability to desire what He promises to us.
So that among all of the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely be fixed on those things.
Fixed on loving what God commands.
Fixed on desiring what God promises.
We will definitely explore the Holy Spirit more at Pentecost when we celebrate His arrival and His work in these areas.
But in the mean time, Jesus goes on with His detailed preparation of the Disciples for what is to come immediately for them….and we should be prepared as well…though He is present with us as well now.
He notes that sorrow had filled their hearts when He said
that He was going away. This is
Jesus says He is leaving and they really can’t comprehend what He means. They have come to be very close. They have left all and followed Him.
And now He is talking about leaving them….and that He is going to the Father. But they won’t be alone and left as orphans because if He goes, He will send the Spirit.
All of this was very confusing to them. …as it would be to us also.
But He is trying to get them to do the same things as we prayed in that Collect. These are all put together for a reason.
He is trying to get them to fix their eyes on loving what God commands and desiring what God promises.
We should note again, that if we are asking that God would grant these things to us, it indicates that we cannot do them on our own or we cannot generate those feelings of desire….and those affections on our own.
He must inspire those things in us. To love what He commands is not easy for the natural man.
Desiring what God promises is not easy either since it again takes prayerful intentional effort to seek out what God requires of us…or what He promises to us…because we walk by faith and not by sight.
And these are the good and perfect gifts that James alludes to today…among others…and they only can come through the Holy Spirit.
Why do we need God to direct our hearts to love and desire what He commands and promises?
The answer is in that first line. We have unruly wills and affections.
We have inordinate desires.
We make unlawful designs and plans.
We have unclean thoughts.
We leave undone what we ought to have done.
We do things we ought not to have done.
There is no health in us.
These are what we love by nature. These are the natural inclinations and desires of sinful man. And we all share in these desires to one degree or another.
Jesus tells the Disciples today that when He is gone and the Holy Spirit comes, He will do three things.
He will: Convict the world of sin.
He will: Convict the world of righteousness.
He will: Convict the world of judgment.
In other words, He will convict the unruly wills and affections of sinful man to either have them…under that conviction… turn unto God or to turn further away from Him.
The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the elect to draw them to God the Father. Again, this is the work of God and not our own.
He alone can order the unruly wills and affections.
And we should look at these each in two ways.
The Holy Spirit convicting the world of these things can refer to unbelievers.
And yet He certainly works in each of we believers as well… as He draws us to the Father and works to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
First He is said to convict the world of sin.
The Holy Spirit, once sent by Christ into the world, works to show the world that it is in the wrong.
To reject Christ and to live without Him is wrong. To live to one’s own self and not to God is sinful.
The Spirit works even now to convict the world…meaning those in it who reject Christ that they must turn from their wickedness and live….and so they are without excuse.
And yet He works simultaneously in us to keep us from wandering into these same sins.
We also many times find ways to sin against God and it is the Spirit that draws us back to the Father in repentance…. convicting us of our sins.
Secondly the Spirit convicts the world of righteousness.
What did Pilate ask Jesus? “What is truth?” The world reasons this way. What is truth? What is really good? Isn't it relative?
What is righteousness? …A word we rarely use these days. Which is very unfortunate because it is scattered throughout the New Testament and many times as a direction for us to follow…or a goal toward which we are to strive.
Righteousness is to be Christ-like. To be righteous as He is righteous is our calling.
And this, again, is what is worked in us day by day. Slowly, gradually, almost invisibly and very hard to detect most of the time.
To our two points in the Collect. Righteousness is to love what God commnds and to desire what He promises.
And thirdly He convicts the world of Judgment. The word we do not care to hear most of the time…unless someone else is getting it.
The Spirit (says Jesus) will convict the world of judgment.
This is not going to only be a judgment to come…though that is certainly true…. but also of a judgment that has already happened.
The ruler of this world, who is Satan, says Jesus, has already been judged. His time is running short. His influence on people is drawing to a close.
The ruler of this world is cast out already. It is only a matter of time until this becomes fully realized.
“The Spirit will so powerfully lay this truth upon the conscience of all men, that it will lead to action in some to turn to God…and it will lead to further deepening of hatred toward God in others.”
The will of the Christian has been converted. This is what happens in regeneration. A new birth as taken place. A new will has been given. New desires are cultivated.
Yet the old will….the old man in us, as Paul calls it…still remains firmly fixed within us as well…though it is being purged day by day.
Listen to what St. Peter writes in his first Epistle. Words for us to remember about ourselves. Picture Peter saying these things to us right now.
“…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:9-11, ESV)
Doesn't that sound like today’s Collect’s admonition?
These are the things you are…so…
Fix yourself on loving what God commands.
Fix yourself on desiring what God desires.
There is definitely something unique about being a Christian as Peter points out here.
We are a chosen race.
We are a royal priesthood.
We are a holy nation.
We are a people for His own possession.
We are called out of darkness and into His own glorious light.
This is a separation that only God can bring about. This is a separation from the world in so many ways.
Though we remain in the world, we are not part of it any longer. So in all things, we should recall that and...then make it our life to live accordingly.
Once we were not a people (of God)
Now we are God’s people.
Peter here is using Old Testament Jewish people of God language and terms and applying them to the Church.
When he puts it in these terms, we are all the more convicted to love what He commands and desire what He promises.
Because we have already been made a royal priesthood.
We already are a chosen nation.
We already are a people of God’s possession, called out of darkness and into the light.
We are already seated in the heavenlies as Paul writes to the Ephesian Church.
He says, “…you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
There are so many passages like that for us to glory in.
There are so many passages like that which can certainly work in us a desire for God and to desire not only what He has done for us, but for what He promises.
Those are not only facts of accomplishment, but future things of glory as well. We should desire what God promises. There is nothing higher…nothing greater…nothing more fulfilling than what God has promised to us.
Our Prayer Book has that prayer which goes, “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art always wanting to give more than we desire or deserve.”
Our sights are always set too low.
Peter’s last line there is, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passion of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
That is the daily battle till the day we die. The daily war within the soul. Flesh against soul or flesh against spirit.
Fixing our desires on what He promises vs. fixing our desires on what we want….or on what we would rather have at the moment.
If you notice, things of devotion in the Church are also many times elevated. The crucifix…the processional-cross. The pulpit…causing us to symbolically look up to the Word of God preached.
Jesus’ ascension being taken up into heaven. The Disciples left standing looking up into heaven watching Him go.
All of these things are designed to make us look up to God. To desire what God has promised to us. To elevate our gaze…the gaze of our minds.
Even the concept of the resurrection is rising. Rising to life from death. In death we are laid in the tomb. In the resurrection we are raised up and out of the tomb and enter life.
So let us keep up our anticipation for the celebration of the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
But at the same time, let that same Spirit who is now in us, work to make us love what God commands of us and desire what He promises for us both here and in the life to come.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.