John 15.26-27, 14.4b-15
The Spirit comes to love … just like Jesus!
I’m not sure if I should start this sermon with an apology or a warning. I just know I should start it out with something. I don’t think it’s going to begin like a normal one. It’ll be more ivory tower, I’m afraid. More academic. Geekier, than usual. At least, at the start. So please, bear with me.
It’s called “The Third Use of the Law.” And I bet, most of you never heard of it, before. Truth is, most of us pastor-types haven’t thought about it, at all, since seminary. But the third use of the law is one of those controversies that popped up, after Luther’s death. One of those things that, if he’d been alive, wouldn’t have become such a big deal. I think it surfaced along the border of what would become Switzerland and Germany, where the reformations of Calvin and Luther brushed up against each other. Where they scrapped up against each other, actually. Irritating each other. Chafing. Two different reforms. Two distinct agendas. And the third use of the law was a result.
As the phrase suggests, there were two other uses of the law about which both sides agreed. The first was, put simply, to keep us from killing each other. The law restricted and it restrained. And for sinners, that’s a good thing. The second use is to drive us to the cross! To god’s grace! To god’s mercy! And for sinners, that, too, is a good thing. Now this is where it gets … wonky. What role does the law play after we’re saved? How does it function after we’re born again? One group said that it becomes a teacher, a guide. A lamp to our feet. A light to our path. Piloting. Steering. Directing. Helping us decide which way to go. That’s the so-called third use!
We confess that we are in bondage to sin. We confess that we are captive. That we cannot free ourselves. So god does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. What we don’t do. What we won’t do. But once that changes, the one group says that the law becomes a positive influence in our life. A constructive one. Helping making us new. It’s that sanctification thing, all over again. That making holy we talked about all those Wednesday evenings leading up to Easter, this Spring. Article Three, Holy Spirit stuff. Needless to say, after all was said and after all was done, it was decided – at least, for us Lutherans – that there’s no such thing as a third use of the law! “Therefore, we reject and condemn as a harmful error, detrimental to Christian discipline and true godliness …” Blah, blah, blah. Yada, yada, yada. Okay. Now, back to the real world …
As Lutheran Christians … As a gospel-rooted people … we believe it’s god! All god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! God creating us! God redeeming us! And nowhere, at no time, does god say, “Now, it’s all up to you!” Nowhere, at no time, does god say, “You take it from here!” God stepping back. God walking away. But that’s what the third use promotes. God goes only so far. God does only so much. And – ultimately – in the long run, we’re the ones who “bring it home.” But that’s not the way it works. That’s not how any of this works.
God ends what god starts! God finishes what god begins! We’d like to think we can do it by ourselves. Dotting all the i’s. Crossing all the t’s. Jumping through all the hoops. We’d like to believe we’re all grown up. That we don’t need help from anyone. But we aren’t. And we do. But that’s where Pentecost comes in. Of course, we get swept up and carried away by the spectacle. Year after year, we keep coming back to the second chapter of Acts. Sound like the rush of a violent wind! Divided tongues as of fire! It’s all so … spiritual! So supernatural! And the crowd? It’s how crowds should be! Astounded! Amazed! And in the end, hundreds!, thousands!, join the church! It gives me goosebumps! What church wouldn’t want it that way?
But that’s not the way John tells it. That’s not his story. That’s not his Spirit, his Pentecost. John’s more subtle. More discreet. More full of grace, more loving. You see, the Spirit – John’s Spirit – comes for one reason and one reason alone … to continue what god began! To continue what god began in Jesus! The Spirit comes to call! Softly! Tenderly! The Spirit comes to gather and enlighten and make holy! The Spirit comes to motivate, to inspire! Put simply, the Spirit comes to keep on loving! Just! Like! Jesus! The only thing that creates more grace is grace! The only thing that begets love is love! And the only thing that can renew in us the image of god is the image of god! And that’s why the Spirit comes! To be that grace! To be that love! To be that image! All the rules, all the regulations, only get in the way!
But then, that’s why there is no third use of the law. And that’s why there IS a Pentecost! The Spirit continues what Jesus starts! The Spirit carries on what god begins! This day reminds us that we are never on our own! This day reminds us that we never fend for ourselves! That’s why, for John, Pentecost isn’t a holyDay deferred! Why it’s not put off for over a month after Easter! It happens the evening of that first day … Behind doors locked for fear … Jesus comes and stands among them … He says, “Peace!” Shows his hands and his side … Then, he breathes on them! He breathes on them! And he says, “Receive the Spirit!”
It’s not a law teaches; it’s the Spirit! It’s not the law that makes new; it’s Christ, Christ and the cross! We love because we’re loved! We forgive because we’re forgiven! We believe because god has never left us! We believe because god has never given up on us! My friends, it’s just like the song says! It’s grace, it’s charity, it’s love, that’s brought us safe, thus far! And it’s that same grace, that same charity, that same love, that brings us the rest of the way!