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       John 14:15-21 - Easter 6:  "Whispering The Lyrics"

Many of you probably have stashed away in a drawer somewhere around your home the old 45 rpm records. If you have some from the 50s and early 60s you will have Elvis' grinding out "Hound Dog," Buddy Holly and the Crickets' hiccupping "Peggy Sue," Chuck Berry's joyful hot licks in "Maybellene," the Coasters' slapstick tour de force "Charlie Brown," the mournful "Tears On My Pillow" by Little Anthony and the Imperials, the impenetrable and probably scandalous "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen, and the teenaged gropings of the Paris Sisters' "I Love How You Love Me."

Here and there in these dusty stacks, one can find an occasional recording by the great blues master Jimmy Reed. A share-cropper's son, Reed brought the throbbing harmonica-and-guitar-driven black rhythm-and-blues of the Mississippi Delta into the popular rock-and-roll mainstream. Many of us, when we were in high school, fancied ourselves a budding rock band. My friends and I did. We would play and replay our 45s attempting in vain to capture the sound. But how do you imitate someone like Reed. The pain-soaked cries of his mahogany voice could not be imitated by our too-tight, too-white, suburban throats.

There's an interesting story behind the Jimmy Reed records. In placing the phonograph needle again and again in the grooves of Jimmy Reed's records, you began to notice something curious. If one listened very carefully, there could sometimes be heard, ever so faintly in the background, a soft woman's voice murmuring in advance the next verse of the song. The story that grew up around this -- and perhaps it is true -- was that Jimmy Reed was so absorbed in the bluesy beat and the throbbing guitar riffs of his music that he simply could not remember the words of his own songs. He needed help with the lyrics, and the woman's voice was none other than that of his wife, devotedly coaching her husband through the recording session by whispering the upcoming stanzas into his ear as he sang.

Whether or not this story is accurate, Christians will surely recognize a parallel experience. Jesus tells his followers that the role of the Holy Spirit is, in effect, to whisper the lyrics of the gospel song in the ears of the faithful. When Jesus was present, he was the one who instilled in them the right words, coached them through the proper verses, taught them the joyful commandments. But now that Jesus approaches his death, now that he draws near to his time of departure, now that the disciples will be on their own without him, that task is to be handed over to the Holy Spirit: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth ..." (John 14:15-17).

The primary task, then, of the Holy Spirit is reminding the faithful of the truth, jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus about all of his commandments so that they can keep them in love, whispering the lyrics of the never-ending hymn of faithful obedience in their ears. It may surprise us to think of the Holy Spirit in this way, as a quiet, whispering teacher of the commandments of Jesus. Often the Spirit is advertised in flashier terms: The Spirit gives ecstasy; the Spirit evokes speaking in unknown tongues; the Spirit prompts dramatic and miraculous healings. Indeed, the Holy Spirit of God does perform such deeds, but these are all derivative of the one, primary activity of the Spirit -- reminding the children of God about everything that Jesus taught and commanded....

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What Is Unique About Christianity?

The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what's all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We're debating what's unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that's easy,” answered Lewis, “it's....

 

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