(This is the 56th installment of the UPI series of sermons. In the light of Israel's current crisis, the Rev. Christopher S. Esget, pastor of Imanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va., reflects on the cancer of sin).
This sermon is based on John 16:5-15.
In our lives, in our hearts, there are many defects, flaws and evil things that must be exposed so they can be corrected. The Bible calls these defects sin.
One of the most difficult things for people to do is to admit their sins. Oh sure, everyone will say, "I'm not perfect." But to actually confront our corruption for what it is, to acknowledge that we need forgiveness, and then to try to amend our sinful lives -- that is rare indeed.
The Holy Spirit's work is to lead us to the truth, to the one true faith. Popular today is "spirituality." No one wants to be religious, that is, to be bound to a confession: the Creed.
No one wants to submit to God the Creator. Instead, people make themselves to be the god they worship. There are gurus aplenty itching to guide you into this false spirituality.
What did Jesus call such people who lead the ignorant away from God? "They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch."
Let us listen to the Holy Spirit, who leads us blind sinners to Jesus Christ, "When ... the Spirit of Truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for ... he will glorify me."
This is how we discern the Holy Spirit from the diabolical spirits of sin and wickedness: Is the work of Christ -- his cross, resurrection and ascension -- glorified? Are the gifts of Christ -- Baptism, Absolution, Eucharist -- extolled?
Is the Gospel -- the forgiveness of sins -- proclaimed? This is how you can tell the Spirit of Truth from the "blind leaders of the blind."
The Holy Spirit begins working in Holy Baptism, as it says in Titus, Chapter 3, "(God) saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." James says, "He brought us forth" -- i.e., gave us new birth, in Baptism -- "He brought us forth by the Word of Truth."
Which Word? "I baptize you, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This is why Baptism is not a past event, but an ongoing work in our lives -- because forgiveness is not a past event, but something we constantly need, and constantly need to give to others.
Jesus tells us what the work of the Holy Spirit will be: "And when (the Holy Spirit) has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
This word convict means, "to expose." This is what the Holy Spirit does for us: He shows us our sin. That's the work of the Law: to show us our sin. The Law shows us our sin so that we can be forgiven. If you don't know your sin, you can't confess it!
The Lord says in Revelation 3, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." Rebuke, convict, expose -- in Greek, it's all the same word.
The Lord rebukes us through the Spirit out of love, so that we will repent, receive forgiveness, and amend our sinful lives. We are not surprised if a coach, a teacher, a boss, shows us our mistakes and helps us correct them.
Why, in the most important matter of our lives, the most important thing there can be -- the worship of God and our life as his children -- why do we expect so little, and treat it so lightly, or become angry if we are rebuked, convicted, if our sin is exposed?
The Church, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, rebukes (exposes) sin so we might all turn away from it. When the situation becomes severe, the Scriptures even say to expose it publicly.
Paul writes to Timothy, "Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear."
Christians confront sin because we know how serious it is. When sin is left unchecked, it has a way of destroying everything it touches.
Sin is a cancerous growth in our lives, ultimately killing us. When there is sin in a relationship, and the sin is not exposed and rebuked, it grows into hate.
This is why God says in Leviticus 19, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge ... but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am I am the Lord."
What God says is that sin must be confronted, exposed, for the purpose of forgiveness, lest it grow into a grudge, and hate. If someone sins against you, go to the offender intent on forgiving and being at peace.
"When (the Holy Spirit) has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
Better to accept the Lord's judgment now, by confession and forgiveness, than to face the Lord's judgment on the Day when he comes to judge the living and the dead. What will you say to Him then about your hatred and gossip and grudges?
When a person is being led by the Holy Spirit into Truth, that is, into Christ, how does he live? Again, James says, "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls."
From this day forward, let us pray every day the words of Ps. 25: "Lead me in your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation, on You I wait all the day."
And at the great day of resurrection, the Spirit will lead us to Christ the Lamb; for the Spirit says in Revelation 7, "The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."