Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7)

4 May 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ez 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We Christians are stewards of a treasure called “the Gospel,” that is, “the good news.”

Only this good news is a very different kind of good news than that which the world expects or seeks.

For to the world, good news might go something like this:

You will be rich, comfortable, popular, respected, free from pain, and impervious to disease. You will never have family problems, money problems, or marital problems. You will never be gossiped about, slandered, stabbed in the back, robbed, hurt by deliberate violence or by random accident. You will have every material thing your heart desires. You will eat sumptuously, and drink of the finest wine. And you will live forever.

But listen to that portion of Holy Scripture we call “the Gospel” that has been read in your midst today. Hear the good news as proclaimed by our Lord Jesus Himself:

“They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”

And listen to the holy words of the blessed apostle St. Peter: “Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” He goes on to tell us that we Christians will “partake in Christ’s sufferings” and that we are likely to be “reproached.”

So, the good news that I have for you, dear brothers and sisters, is that people will not only seek to ruin your reputation and isolate you from the community, but they will also desire to murder you, and will have no twinge of conscience when they sometimes succeed. In fact, they will consider it a holy and righteous act to kill you. And as if that weren’t enough, dear Christians, you will partake in our Lord’s sufferings. You can expect a cross of your very own, along with the shedding of blood, sweat, and tears, pleading with God to take this cup from you, and in the end, being betrayed and made to feel forsaken by God Himself.

The world hears this gospel (which to our sinful flesh doesn’t sound like good news at all) and seeks another one, one that lacks a cross and persecution. Even many who claim the name “Christian” reject this genuine gospel of Jesus, and instead seek another gospel that promises health and wealth, usually in seven steps or less, all wrapped up nicely in a 30 minute upbeat message that millions of people will find uplifting and inspiring.

The only problem is: that kind of good news is a lie. There’s nothing good about it at all.

For we can trust our Lord’s promises, not the promises of men. We can trust the Holy Spirit’s inspired and inscribed Word. And when we are charged to proclaim this good news to every nation, we can trust our Lord that what we preach is, in fact, the genuine good news.

For this gospel is a true gospel. It does not tickle our ears and tell us what we want to hear. But rather it tells us what we need to hear. And that Gospel is this, dear friends: You have been redeemed by the Lord’s death on the cross, a death that defeated death and Satan, that overcame the stain of sin and the corruption of our covetous flesh. And that victory, won on your behalf, marks you as an enemy of the evil one.

So when we are attacked, why shouldn’t we rejoice? Our attacker has already been overcome. If Satan is desperate to destroy us, it is only because we are a threat to him. And that can only be because the Helper, the Holy Spirit, has been sent to us. He has sealed us as Christ’s, and has turned the devil into our very mortal enemy. And that Spirit given to us testifies of our Lord Jesus, the Victor, the God-man, the Priest who is also the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

What good news indeed that Satan is arrayed against us, that he is so desperate as to hurl all his might against us! This is why St. Peter instructs us to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” and “blessed are you” when you are reproached, for the apostle declares: “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

To be a Christian is not only to be a warrior, but an immortal and eternally victorious warrior. We have already won, because He has already won. Satan hates and loathes us because he hates and loathes his Master, his Lord, the one who crushed his head on the gory field of battle and humiliated him before all the universe. That seething hatred for Christ is given to you as well, dear friends. And though it means a cross in this life, though it means temporary suffering and periods of great persecution, temptation, and even pain, sickness, and death, it also means eternal glory for us in whom the Helper dwells, in whom the body and blood of Jesus are found, upon whose heads holy baptism has marked and adorned with a victor’s crown.

The victory given to us by our Lord is far greater than any passing material riches or fly-by-night praise of men. The good news is that because we are marked with the Lord’s cross, we too shall not only bear, but also overcome, our own cross.

This kind of good news is a paradox. For only those redeemed by the Lamb are targets for the crafts and assaults of the devil. And when trials, temptations, and even persecutions come, we have cause for rejoicing, for not only are these things a sign of our membership in the Lord’s church, we also have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. Every day we wrestle with sin, with our mortality, with family and financial struggles, with sickness and anxiety – we are one day closer to the eternal triumph and victory feast of our Lord.

The worse things look for us, the greater we can rejoice. For considering that our Lord has already won the battle, we can be just as audacious as the Marine General Chesty Puller, who when his situation looked bleak, being completely surrounded by the enemy, he remarked to his marines: “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29 to 1. They can't get away from us now!”

What General Puller told his marines is not all that different than what our Lord Jesus tells His saints, what Peter tells his fellow soldiers of the cross.

And our Lord tells us these things to prepare us, to strengthen us, and to ensure that even when we are perplexed, we are not in despair, even when we are down, we are not out. “These things I have told you,” says our Lord, “that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”

When you need strength in times of trial, you will be given strength. It will not be your own, but rather the strength of the Holy Spirit. For listen to the beautiful gospel as proclaimed by the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you… You shall be My people and I will be your God.”

Indeed, Christians, we are given crosses that may seem too much at times for us to bear. But our Father who art in heaven sends us a champion, His Son who has won the victory for us, who puts the Holy Spirit in us to fight and to protect us from all harm and danger. We are surrounded by foes to our left and right. We are encircled by the devil in front and behind. And we are encased in sinful, mortal flesh that seeks to betray us to the enemy. We are outnumbered and outgunned in the eyes of the world. But this is a cause for rejoicing, for the enemy cannot escape now!

And remember the false gospel sought by the world? Well, though we are at this time bearing burdensome crosses, engaged in desperate battle, being sorely tested and tried by the enemy, we know the outcome of the war. And all those things sought by the world in this life will be ours in eternity:

You will be rich, comfortable, popular, respected, free from pain, and impervious to disease. You will never have family problems, money problems, or marital problems. You will never be gossiped about, slandered, stabbed in the back, robbed, hurt by deliberate violence or by random accident. You will have every material thing your heart desires. You will eat sumptuously, and drink of the finest wine. And you will live forever.

The Lord has given you a new heart. This love given to you through Christ covers a multitude of not only your sins, but enables us to pray: “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and God rests upon you.” Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

2 comments:

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Off topic: My son, Caleb (now off at a liberal arts college) just got a job at HOllywood Video in Monmouth, IL.

I'm blogging at blogstuhl.blogspot.com

"blogstuhl" a twist on Beichtstuhl.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Joel:

So, Caleb has joined the brotherhood. I hope his co-workers are as fun as mine were.

What other job can you get paid to watch "Luther"? The second greatest thing was watching "A Christmas Story" in August when the temps were near a hundred.

I'll have to check out the Blogstuhl. I guess you are the Father Blogfessor!