Go to Church!
Cantate Sunday (Confirmation)| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 6, 2012| St. John 16:5-15
“But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
When we are confirmed in the Lutheran Church we confess that we agree with our baptism. Most of us were baptized as babies when we didn’t know how to talk. When we are old enough we publicly confirm our baptism. We confess the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the only God who has ever existed and he is our God. We also confess the teaching of the Church as our confession of faith. The teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism is the teaching of the Bible. This means that it is the teaching of the Holy Christian Church. We confess that it is true.
When we are confirmed we promise “to be diligent in the use of the means of grace.” That means going to church. That’s our topic this morning. Consider with me three rules pertaining to church attendance that apply to all of us: First, go to church. Second, go to a church that teaches the truth. Third, pay attention in church.
First, go to church. We go to church because that’s where the Holy Spirit is and we need the Holy Spirit. We cannot continue in our Christian faith and confession without the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit, not only to call us to faith, but to keep us in the Christian faith throughout our lives. And the church is where the Holy Spirit is.
I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. . . He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. He takes what belongs to Jesus and he makes it known. You go to church because you need Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the one who brings Jesus to you and keeps you trusting in Jesus as your Savior from sin.
The church is not a building with a steeple on top, pews down the middle, and an altar and a pulpit up front. The church is wherever the gospel is preached purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. This is the Holy Spirit’s work. This is how the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and gives it to you.
You can skip church. You can go to work, sleep in, drive somewhere, or just sit in your chair contemplating your life. When you avoid going to church you are avoiding the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and giver of life. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter Jesus promised. He is the One who takes what belongs to the Father and the Son and gives it to you. To be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of a lifetime of going to church faithfully. To stay away from church is to walk away from our baptism, from our identity, from our salvation.
Second, go to a church that teaches the truth. Listen to what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth because he reveals the truth to us. Jesus promised his apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. He did. We can be confident that the New Testament is true because the Spirit of truth led its writers into all truth. Since the truth is written down for us we can know the truth. Jesus promised that if we continue in his word we will know the truth.
This is why we go to a church that teaches the truth. We don’t attend a church because it has a beautiful facility, a friendly pastor, or a welcoming atmosphere. We belong to and attend a church because it teaches the truth. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. He doesn’t make us holy by telling us lies. Jesus prayed to his Father, “Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.”
We believe, teach, and confess the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Not all churches hold to the whole truth of God’s word. Some churches reject holy mysteries they cannot understand. Some say that baptism does not give us the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit but is just an outward expression of our faith. Some say that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are just symbols of Christ’s body and blood but not his real body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. Some claim that the Bible has errors in it and question the accuracy of what the Bible reports as having happened, whether the six day creation, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, or the miracles of Jesus. Some ordain women as pastors when God says no. Some reject other commandments of God. Some add commandments of their own. Some teach salvation by good works, and not by faith alone.
Go to a church that teaches the truth. The Spirit of truth sanctifies us through the truth. It is wrong to judge people’s hearts. We can’t see someone else’s faith to judge its sincerity. That’s God’s business, not ours. But it is necessary to judge the teaching of the church to which we belong. We must do that. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by the truth, not by falsehood. Jesus himself is the One who warns us about false teachers and false prophets.
Third, pay attention in church. Going to church isn’t for show. And it’s not for sleeping or daydreaming, either. Assuming that you are attending a church that is faithful to God’s word, the Holy Spirit is actively exposing the false religion of the world and showing it to be wrong. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. You need to listen, to pay close attention. You’re not hearing in church what you’re hearing out there in the world. In fact, you’re hearing the opposite of what you take in through popular music, television, internet, and just about every other source of information, amusement, entertainment, and conversation out there. Specifically, the Holy Spirit tells you that the world in which you live seven days a week and fifty two weeks a year is wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. These are important topics. You want to be on the right side. That’s the side of the Holy Spirit. So listen up!
The world is wrong about sin. How is that? Jesus explains: “Because they do not believe in me.” The world thinks sin is offending against its standards of right and wrong, and since those standards change, so does sin. Years ago, the world said that homosexuality was a sin. Now the world says it is a sin to say that homosexuality is a sin. The world lets popular opinion – not God – decide what is and is not sin.
And one thing you can be sure of. The world doesn’t think it’s a sin not to believe in Jesus. God says it is. The Father points to his beloved Son and says listen to him. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they don’t believe in Jesus. Jesus says, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins,” in other words, “If you don’t believe that I, Jesus, am the one and only true God and Savior you will be eternally lost.”
The world attacks this teaching, but the Holy Spirit will not be silent. There is no God but the God who sent his Son. There is no God but the Son who went to the cross to suffer and die for our sins. There is no God but the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin because they don’t believe in Jesus.
Only Jesus can take away sin. This is why the greatest sin, the sin that will not be forgiven either in this world or the next, is the sin of not believing in Jesus, not trusting in him for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. The world is wrong about sin because the world is wrong about Jesus. So says the Spirit of truth.
Pay attention in church and listen to the Holy Spirit convict the world of righteousness. The world is wrong about what is and is not righteous before God. The world points to all of its great achievements and claims: Here is righteousness. Here is justice. Here is beauty, purity, and goodness of every description. The Holy Spirit says no. All your greatest achievements are nothing but sin and failure. The Holy Spirit compares the holiest and most righteous deeds of humanity with what we flush down the toilet. That’s how impressed God is with the world’s boasts and brags.
True righteousness is Jesus going to the Father. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more.” Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by going to the cross and suffering and dying. It was pure and holy obedience to God, even in the face of mockery, torment, and suffering. More than that, it was offered to God for us. Our righteousness before God is not anything we do. It is the obedience of Jesus that he did for us.
We can’t see Jesus. We can’t see our righteousness. Jesus is hidden from sight. But he is quite active. He pleads for us before God. He points to his obedience for us, done as our substitute, and for his sake God reckons us to be righteous. The world cries out: Pay attention to our wonderful works! Pay attention to our great achievements! The Holy Spirit says, No! You’re wrong. Anybody trusting in his works is trusting in sin and will surely be lost. Jesus Christ alone is your righteousness before God.
Pay attention in church and listen to the Holy Spirit convict the world of judgment. The world follows its prince. Jesus calls him the father of lies. He is also called Satan. Satan accuses Christians. God says they are righteous. God says they are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. God says that their sins are forgiven and the obedience of Jesus is reckoned to them as righteousness so that they stand before God as saints. So says God.
Satan argues with God. He says the saints aren’t saints. He judges them to be fools and worse. But the Holy Spirit shows Satan to be wrong. He is judged. His judgment came at the cross where Jesus crushed Satan’s head, destroying his ability to accuse God’s saints.
Don’t ever forget your status as Christians! You are saints! Not because of anything you have done, but because of the suffering and death of Jesus and the declaration of God! God says that your sins are forgiven and that Christ’s righteousness belongs to you. This is God’s judgment against the powers of darkness that would stand in judgment of you.
The devil is a bully and a liar. He leads you into sin and then says that that sin defines you. This is how he lures you away from God. He judges you and cons you into thinking that he speaks for God. But you know better. You know that God forgives penitent sinners. He justifies them, restores them, and keeps them safe in his holy word. You know this because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth has convinced you.
Go to church. There is the Holy Spirit. Go to a church that teaches the truth. The Holy Spirit makes you holy through the truth. Pay attention in church. The Holy Spirit shows the world is wrong about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. This is how he comforts you and keeps you steadfast in the true Christian faith until the day you die. Amen