A Breath of Fresh Air
A sermon based on John 15:26-27
Sunday, May 15, 2016 - Pentecost C
You can't see it. You can't smell it. You can rarely feel it. And most of the time you forget that it's there. Yet, it's so important that without it, our economy would certainly be much worse than it is. Our military might would be much weaker. And it's no exaggeration to say that our very lives would end with out it. We need… air.
And how powerful it is, holding up massive cargo planes at hundreds or thousands of feet in the sky, indefinitely. When air is out of control, it can rip trees out of the ground and wipe out entire towns. When air is under control it can bring commercial buses and tractor trailers to a halt. It can break thick concrete on a freeway or tighten the lug nuts on your car's wheels.
And besides all of these displays of power, air is what keeps you alive every minute. If all of the air was removed from this room, within 15 minutes we would all become brain damaged. A few minutes after that, we would all be dead. Air is a necessity for life. And though, for the most part, we ignore it as it quietly goes about its business, every once in a while we are reminded of its awesome power and influence in our lives.
The Bible talks a lot about air. In the Old Testament it is called "ruach," in the New Testament "pneuma." Sometimes the Bible translates it "breath," sometimes "wind," sometimes "Spirit." And sometimes in the New Testament the Greek word "hagios" is put in front of "pnemua" so that it reads "Holy Wind" or "Holy Spirit."
Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, a day when we are especially reminded of the Holy Spirit's awesome power and influence in our lives. We're reminded how we cannot live without him. But he gives us a breath of fresh air -- of life-giving air -- in bringing us the Gospel. And by that gospel he gives us the ability to share the Gospel with others and fans into flames our zeal to do it. Listen to Jesus' promise of Pentecost and the breath of fresh air the Spirit would bring, recorded in John 15:26-27...
26"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
I. The Spirit Enables Us to See Jesus
A pastor once commented that it's too bad we don't offer private confession to our members the way we once did. To hear the comfort of forgiveness spoken directly and personally to you as an individual struggling with a sin, can be a wonderful and freeing moment, like a breath of fresh air. But another pastor responded, "Actually we do offer private confession. And our members use it often. We just don't call it private confession. We call it counseling. There we hear of the sins that infect our members' lives, we personally and individually assure them of Jesus' forgiveness, and we show them what this forgiveness means in their day to day lives."
Likewise, this is really the job description of the Holy Spirit. Jesus called him the Counselor, literally the Paraclete, the "one called to the side," who speaks the truth. He doesn't just hear of the sins that infect us, but he points them out. He's called the Spirit of truth, because that's all he speaks: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
First, he speaks the truth of who we are. He testifies about Jesus that he is perfect, sinless, and holy... everything that we're not. He points out God's standard for us as Jesus put it in Matthew 5:48 in the sermon on the mount, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." We may try to pretend that we're perfect or at least pretty good. We all cover up and hide our secret attitudes and thoughts. But the Holy Spirit speaks the truth. He shows us how we've denied the truth at times turning the 10 commandments into 10 suggestions. And to our great shame, he points out the horrible, ugly, damning thing that sin is. It's to us too, not just those at Pentecost that he says, "You, with the help of wicked men, put [Jesus] to death by nailing him to the cross." (Acts 2:23)
With one little puff he blows down the straw house we build around ourselves and exposes our sin for what it is: toxic and poisonous fumes. Sin is the poison that chokes the life out of us and leaves us spiritually dead. And just like one trapped in an airtight container with the breathable air running out, there was no chance of escape on our own. We were bound to die, not just physically, but eternally in hell.
And in stepped the Holy Spirit again to share with us the truth. "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." And that's exactly what the Holy Spirit did.
The poor woman went out too far in the ocean, the rip tide caught her and pulled her under. By the time the lifeguard had dragged her back to shore, she wasn't breathing. But the lifeguard was trained in CPR. He began to pump on her chest and breathe deeply into her lungs. Before long, she coughed up the brine in her lungs and started breathing again. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit has breathed spiritual life into us when we were dead in our sin.
He opened the door of the airtight container. He opened our eyes to see Jesus for who he is: the sinless Son of God. He open our minds to understand what he did for us on the cross, taking our place as God administered his full justice and wrath against our sin. He showed us how Jesus breathed his last as he died for us. He's And he's opened our hearts to believe these precious truths in spite of ourselves. Through the Word (whether read or heard) and through the Sacrament of Baptism, he's breathed life into us as he created the very faith that's in our hearts. And with a puff he's blown away every one of our sins so they're sent sailing as far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth! What a breath of life-giving, fresh air!
And to our great delight the Spirit continues to keep us in the faith, through the Word and through the Lord's Supper, reminding us again and again how Jesus took away our every sin! He reminds us how Jesus rose from the dead to guarantee our victory! He reminds us in those beautiful words of absolution, "Your sins are forgiven," that God does not and cannot hold any sin against us anymore! The Holy Spirit will not assign any penance to perform. He will not point you to your feelings. But will always point you to that sweet breath of fresh air: that Jesus has forgiven you of every sin!
And that's not all. The Holy Spirit doesn't just breath spiritual life into us, but he fans our faith into a bright, burning flame that cannot be contained! He not only enables us to see Jesus, but he also motivates and enables us to share Jesus.
II. The Spirit Enables Us to Share Jesus
You know that fire needs three things to burn: Heat, fuel, and air. When the service is over this morning, one of the ushers will snuff out the candles on the altar. And to do so, they don't even need to touch the wicks, but simply cover them up. Without air, the flame cannot continue. That's why you see the camper who's struggling to get the campfire started, down on hands and knees blowing gently on the flames. Feeding it oxygen or using the billows, fans the smaller flame into a raging fire.
Likewise, in our Christian lives, the Holy Spirit breathes a breath of fresh air through the Word and Lord's Supper to fan our faith into flames to keep our faith burning brightly, even raging out of control so we cannot contain it! Jesus told his disciples: "the Spirit of truth... will testify about me. And you also must testify..." It would be their job to, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (cf. Mark 16:15) But they wouldn't do this job alone. The Holy Spirit would help them every step of the way, just as Jesus promised in Acts 1:8: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth."
And this job, this Great Commission of making disciples of all nations (cf. Matthew 28:19), belongs to us too (since Jesus said it would last "to the very end of of the age" - cf. Matthew 28:20). And we are not alone in our task either. The Holy Spirit promises to help us in our task. Remember what Peter told the new Christians on Pentecost? "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39) And that last phrase -- "for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." -- includes us!
We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit! And he helps us in our task! With the gospel he fans into flame the zeal of your hearts so you're fired up to share with others the beautful truth that Jesus has paid for their sins, just as he's paid for yours! We can't help but talk about the exciting thing he's done for us.
Now you might be thinking, "I could never be like Peter and stand up in front of a crowd of over 3,000 people and talk about Jesus. I have difficulty giving a report at my job in front of a handful of co-workers. I'm not qualified to talk about religion or about Jesus!" Dear friends, witnesses, testifiers, remember how the Holy Spirit describes you through that same Peter? In I Peter 2:9 he wrote, "you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." You are qualified to talk about what the Holy Spirit has done for you!
In fact, you testify right here in church as you witness to one another confessing the faith you share. You already witnessed to your neighbors when they heard the car doors shut and your car pull out and they knew where you were going. Now use that opportunity to tell them why you give up some extra sleep each Sunday morning. Witness through those relationships you've already established at work, in school, or in your own family.
And you know the best part? The Holy Spirit is the one who works through the Word that you share. It's his job to breath a breath of fresh air into them, to bring them to faith, and to resuscitate them with his breath of life.
So, pray to the Holy Spirit asking him to breath into you a breath of fresh air and fan your faith into a blazing fire that cannot be contained. Pray that he would help you to see the opportunities to share your faith -- the opportunities that surround you. Pray that he would give you the words to say when those opportunities come -- his words of truth.
How the air in the sky can hold up a massive jet is incredible. That it can break through concrete or rip trees out of the ground is amazing! That it is an integral part of our everyday life is undeniable. But better by far is how the Wind, the "pneuma," the Spirt, works. By his Gospel, he breathes a breathe of fresh air into us. He displays his awesome power by breathing life into the dead! He displays his ceaseless grace by keeping us strong in our faith as we continue to breathe in the life-giving Gospel! He shows his love by breathing through us and through our words, the Word of life into the hearts and souls of others! Take a deep breath, friends, and thank God for his breath of fresh air! In Jesus' name, and by his Spirit, amen.