Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 31, 2009

Sermon for the Festival of the Coming of the Holy Spirit (2009)


  1. Total Recall
  2. Heavenly Peace

Text: John 14:25-27


Their daughter had just graduated from high school.  Fall approached, and it was time to start packing up the car and making the three-hour drive to the college where she would begin her undergraduate program.  Her parents drove her and all her packed belongings to college on moving day, helped her get settled, and then took her out for one nice dining experience before cafeteria food became the norm.

While at dinner, her parents wanted some promises and assurances from their daughter.  “Study hard, because we’re helping fund your education and we don’t want you to take this investment in your future lightly.”  “This is your copy of our credit card.  Use it if you have an emergency, but only if you have an emergency.”  “Stay out of trouble.  There are some great kids here, but there are also some kids who will lead you down the wrong path.  Be smart, keep your nose clean, and don’t do anything that would hurt your future.”  And as much as any 18-year old college freshmen doesn’t like to hear a long list of parental demands just before she’s taking the next move in her life, I think we all recognize that the parents are being quite reasonable when they ask their daughter to make some promises about her upcoming year before they say good-bye and drive home.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus tells his disciples that he was soon going to say good-bye to them.  This was going to be the mother of all good-byes!  After his death and resurrection, he would return to his Father, and his physical presence on earth would be no more.  But before he leaves, Jesus talks about some promises between him and his disciples.  He’s not asking his disciples to make him promises like the parents did of their daughter in the story I just shared.  In fact, it’s the other way around.  Jesus makes promises to the disciples before he leaves them.  And the specific promises Jesus makes in our reading have to do with Pentecost—the birthday of the Christian Church that we celebrate this morning.  Jesus’ Pentecost promise to his disciples included two unique and special gifts: total recall, and heavenly peace.


Have you ever listened to someone give a speech or participate in a conversation, all the while wishing you could remember exactly what they said?  Perhaps the person was speaking in a persuasive and highly informed manner about a subject that is important to you.  At a time like that, you wish you had an audio recorder or at least a pad of paper so you could jot down some notes.  Without some type of aide, chances are you won’t remember the exact words and phrases as well as you’d like to remember them.  Relying on your memory won’t give you perfect recall of everything the person said.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples didn’t have yellow pads of paper to jot down his comments or handheld audio recorders to capture his words.  But Jesus’ Pentecost promise was even better.  He promised them total recall!  “All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

New Testament Illustrations 072Jesus spoke these words on Thursday of Holy Week, but he was addressing events that would take place some time after Good Friday and Easter.  He anticipates his Ascension, when he would no longer be with them, and he speaks about Pentecost, when his Father would send a special gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  That’s what we heard about in the Pentecost account in the Second Lesson (Acts 2:1-21).  Part of the Spirit’s gift that day was to enable the disciples to proclaim the gospel in the native languages of the visitors in Jerusalem.

Another part of Jesus’ Pentecost promise was total recall.  The Spirit would bring to their minds everything Jesus had taught them over the last three years.  And given their track record of listening to Jesus and then forgetting what he had to say, this was a rather significant gift!  But think about what Jesus’ Pentecost promise to the disciples means for us.  If Jesus gave them a special gift of the Spirit, if they had the gift of total recall for his words, then what does that say about the New Testament Scriptures?  Jesus’ Pentecost promise, backed up by his Easter resurrection, assures us that what we have in the New Testament are his words and his teachings, and not the mere ideas of average men.

Have you ever heard the expression, red-letter Christians?  A red-letter Christian is someone who only takes the words of Jesus to be authoritative, but not the other New Testament writings.  Some Bibles print the words of Jesus in red, so that’s where that term comes from.  But a red-letter approach to Christianity fails to see Jesus’ red-letter Pentecost promise of total recall to the disciples.  And some take this approach even further.  The Jesus Seminar, a group of critical Christian theologians founded in 1985, actually vote to determine what words Jesus actually said in the Gospels and what words later writers essentially put in his mouth.  So much for trusting the guy who rose from the dead and his Pentecost promise for total recall!

But this kind of thinking isn’t confined to the Jesus Seminar and red-letter Christianity.  Even good ol’ traditional Christians like you and I are quite good at playing the smorgasbord game with Scripture.  Jesus said before his Ascension, “Go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  But then we hear the harshness of God’s law, or seemingly outdated moral instructions, or clearly unpopular teachings—whatever it is, we find that page in Scripture we don’t care for, and we mentally rip it out and throw it away because it doesn’t fit our own preconceived notion.  Or we hear Paul’s mission-minded question, “How can [people] believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14).  But then we look at our friends and family who don’t believe in Christ and we think that they’ll find their way to heaven even if we never tell them about Christ—and we rip out another page of Scripture.  Unfortunately, the list could go on and on.  But sooner or later we will come across this verse with its sobering reminder: “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:19).  The Holy Spirit didn’t die and put us in charge.  When we select what we like in Scripture and ignore what we don’t care for, we are taking the Spirit’s place, but God has no place for that kind of sinful arrogance in his presence.

But listen—listen to the words recalled and recorded in the Scriptures that convey the forgiveness we hardly deserve but desperately need!  Saint John was not recording human opinion when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  And Saint Paul was not writing down his personal philosophy when he wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by [Christ’s] blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”  And Saint Peter was not musing about an empty hope when he wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  Jesus’ Pentecost promise of total recall to the apostles assures us that the words of Scripture are his trustworthy and reliable words.


New Testament Illustrations 039Today we celebrate Pentecost, but our reading records words Jesus spoke on Thursday of Holy Week.  These Holy Week words of Jesus promised Pentecost.  But it’s helpful for us to keep the original Holy Week setting in mind when we listen to Jesus’ words in verse 27.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  The disciples were distraught about Jesus’ impending death, but he tells them not to trouble their hearts.  They would act like scared mice at the moment of his arrest, but he tells them to not be afraid.  Instead, he leaves them peace.

Maybe “peace” sounds flippant to our ears.  Maybe you think of a guy in a tie dye shirt holding up two fingers and saying, “Peace!”  But Jesus doesn’t mean that.  “My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.”  The New Testament is written in Greek, but Jesus probably spoke the Hebrew word shalom when he made this statement.  That term wasn’t referring to some sort of generic peace, but peace that resulted from a right relationship with God.  He does not offer his disciples a worldly peace that fades away with the sunset.  He offers them a certain peace, a heavenly peace that they could carry with them daily to calm their hearts and quell their spiritual fears.

Peace in this world is elusive.  Just read the newspaper, and you’ll see plenty of evidence—foreign nations testing nuclear weapons, a sinking economy with rising unemployment and inflated currency.  There’s plenty to trouble your hearts on this side of heaven.  Earthly peace is elusive.  But Jesus gives us peace that is out of this world, literally!  Jesus’ Pentecost promise to his disciples and to you is heavenly peace.

Jesus brings peace to your conscience because his righteous life counts for you before his Father.  Jesus brings peace to your soul because his blood has washed away your guilt from the eternal record.  Jesus brings peace to your mind because his resurrection from the dead gives you a firm answer about your future forever.  Jesus brings peace to your heart because he has sent his Spirit into your heart through Word and water, and declared you to be a cherished and loved member of his spiritual family.  And nothing in this world or out of this world can take away or trump the heavenly peace Jesus brings you through the Holy Spirit.


Last week, when we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension, I said that Ascension was pretty much a forgotten holiday.  Well, Pentecost is right up there in the forgotten festival category.  But don’t let its status in the secular world fool you.  Pentecost is important.  It is essentially the birthday of the Christian Church.  We’ve gathered to celebrate that birthday today, and in usual birthday fashion, there are presents involved.  But the presents aren’t from us to Jesus.  The presents are from Jesus to us.  His Pentecost promise to his apostles for the gift of total recall brings you his gift of heavenly peace through the pages of his Word.  And those promises are not vague words.  Those promises are not empty political rhetoric.  Thanks to the resurrection of Jesus, you can bank on his Pentecost promises with total certainty!  Amen.



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