The Day of Pentecost (B)
May 24, 2015
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
“I Want to Be A Victorious Christian”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the assigned Gospel lesson from John chapters 15 and 16.
My dear friends,
I want to live the victorious Christian life. I do, I really do. I want to be one of those super-Christians to whom others look up, with a faith that never wavers, and who always knows just the right thing to say. To stand up and preach like Peter on that first Pentecost, without fear, to be Spirit-filled to the brim. A Christian that God can really use—and one he can be proud of. A Christian others look at and say, “Wow! Being a Christian is cool. I want to be a Christian just like him.” So come, Holy Spirit, come. Please. Fill me up and start a fire in my heart and life. I’m ready to go.
But is that really what the victorious Christian life looks like? If so, I never will attain it. For rather than being like this, I’m more often like the disciples who were habitually filled with fear and doubt, and continually said and did the wrong things. I’m more often like the prophet Ezekiel, looking around at the world and seeing only dryness and death. I see the wreckage of life. Embattled families and marriages. The carnage of wars and natural disasters, of addiction, of terrorism and hatred. I see churches sacrificing the truth to attain popularity. I see my own struggle with sin, which so frequently gets the better of me and I can’t seem to overcome, no matter how hard I try. The victorious Christian life. Whatever. Seems more like a myth, right?
What about you? Are you weak, tired, struggling, doubting? If so, today is for you. Pentecost is for you. To set the record straight. To teach you the truth about what the victorious Christian life really looks like, and—best of all—to give that life and victory to you. It’s not something you do. For the victory has already been won. It’s what we’ve been celebrating this entire Easter season—that Christ’s death and resurrection is our victory over sin, death, and the devil. And so Pentecost is not about leaving that all behind and now putting the ownership on you to follow in Christ’s steps and be victorious. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit taking what is Christ’s and giving it to you. It’s the daily living out of Easter victory.
And so, only hours before he’ll be arrested, in the Gospel lesson Jesus tells the disciples what they should expect not many days after, after he’s died and risen and ascended, when this day of Pentecost – the festival of the giving of the Holy Spirit – comes. The Spirit bears witness to the fact that the victory I cannot win has been won for me by Christ, there on the cross, once and for all. And that victory I now live as I live in Christ.
So it’s not that the victorious Christian life is a myth; it just looks different than many people think. Because it looks like the cross. It’s not lived above and beyond the problems of this life, as if we Christians can somehow float above them. No, it’s lived exactly in the midst of them. A victorious Christian life is not a Disneyland experience, it’s in the dark and desperate places where people rarely want to go but find themselves anyway. For so Jesus came into our midst and gave life to all who were dried out, chewed up, and spit out by sin. He came and planted his cross in the midst of our lives, dying for us that we might rise with him to a new life. A new life, not with our heads in the clouds, but with our feet firmly planted on earth, living the cross-life, the Christ-life.
Which means we’re victorious not when we stop sinning (which is impossible), but when we repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness and victory of Christ. Christian life isn’t a hands-on-hips victory pose, it’s when we fall on our knees and hear those wonderful words “I forgive you all your sins,” and the Spirit takes the forgiveness of Christ and gives it to you. We’re victorious not when we grow up and stop needing to rely on Jesus so much. We’re victorious when we rely on him more every day. Every day remembering our Baptism and who we are as children of God. Every day dying and rising with Christ. Every day receiving his victory, life, and salvation. Growing not up and away from him, but growing into him. The Spirit taking the life of Christ and giving it to you.
You are victorious not when you have everything you want, but when you serve others and make sure they have what they need. You are victorious not when others look up to you, but exactly when they don’t have to—because you are down with them. In the muck and mire, in the blood and carnage, in the sin and wreckage of life, bringing Christ and his cross of victory to a world in need of hope. To a world filled with dry, dead people.
When Ezekiel looked at that valley, he saw death. We see it too. But God sees life waiting to happen. Life through his Spirit, giving the gift of life. As Ezekiel would tell you, when the Spirit comes, life happens. The life of Christ. The life of our Savior, who came to us and hung on the cross as a bag of dry, dead bones. Then he came out of the valley of the shadow of death alive and now gives that life to us.
And so “it is to your advantage that [Jesus] go away” (16:7), for he has sent you his Spirit of life. “The Lord and giver of life,” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. And in him all things are yours, for Christ is yours, and you are his. And so you are victorious. You may not look it. You may not feel it. You may not think it. But the Spirit reveals the truth that you are.
Victorious in Christ. You want to be a victorious Christian? Friends, you already are in and through Christ and for that fact let us give thanks to the Lord for His love never ends, and all God’s people said…