Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6)

16 May 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:23-33

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

If you wanted to sum up what it means to live as a Christian in a fallen world in fifteen words, I can think of no better way to do so than our blessed Lord does today: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”

In this life, our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t promise us prosperity and wealth, freedom from illness and pain, and a life untouched by physical and spiritual struggle. Far from it. But there are a lot of religious hustlers and flimflam men out there selling millions of books with this nonsense. But what does our Lord tell us? He speaks plainly and without figures of speech, saying: “In the world, you will have tribulation.”

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells us to expect to be removed from respectable society, and that people who try to kill us will think they are doing a good deed. And we know how Christians were slaughtered by the tens of thousands in the first centuries of the church – even as the church is persecuted in many places around the world to this day.

But the word “tribulation” isn’t only the stuff of arenas and burning stakes and concentration camps. The word can also be translated as “pressure.” For even though most of us today are not being threatened with death, we face severe pressure from the world to abandon our faith. We have peer pressure: “respectable” people who mock our Christianity, including pompous scientists and philosophers whose ability to mock far outshines their use of reason and honest scientific inquiry. We have time pressure: the cares and worries of this life that choke out our time and energy to pray, to attend Divine Service, to teach our children the catechism, to study God’s Word, and to volunteer to serve the body of Christ. We have the pressure of the sinful flesh: our own greed and laziness that we satisfy and all-too quickly indulge by ignoring the Lord’s attempts to draw us closer to Himself.

And instead of tickling our ears with a “prosperity gospel,” the Lord Himself soberly warns us that we will have pressures in this world.

As people watched in horror while the unthinkable was happening (the collapse of the Roman Empire), St. Augustine wrote a book called The City of God. In this book, Augustine compares the world (the City of Man) with the church (the City of God). And he showed the difference between the kingdoms of the world and God’s kingdom.

For the world doesn’t operate like God. This world is fallen. This world runs on force. This world is wearing out and running down. And just like the City of Rome being overrun by Barbarians, this dilapidated universe will one day come to an end.

By contrast, God’s Kingdom is everlasting. The Church is eternal. The City of God operates based on the premise, as our Lord said: “the Father Himself loves you.”

And yet, we do live in both worlds, both kingdoms, both cities. But which should take priority: the corrupted world of tribulation, or the eternal kingdom in which the Lord forgives all of our sins, claims us as His own, and gives us everlasting joy and peace? Should our loyalty be with the City of Man that pressures us, persecutes us, and hates us? Or should we consider ourselves to be first and foremost subjects of our merciful King who died for us?

In The City of God, St. Augustine uses a term that is as true today as it was then. He speaks of the world as being governed by the “lust for domination.” For the fallen world operates by force, greed, power, and control. And this is why our Lord tells us: “In the world you will have tribulation.” This is why we have crime, corruption, bullying, sadism, hatred, malice, and the desire for control. This “lust for domination” has been in the universe since Satan’s rebellion and has been in our world since Adam and Eve lusted for dominion over the one Being to whom they were to submit.

In Augustine’s day, the people were stunned that their country had been conquered. It was unthinkable. Their whole way of life was changing. They wondered how God could let such a thing happen. They were frightened for themselves and their children.

But St. Augustine did what he was called to do: preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, forgive sins, and pray for the coming of our Lord. He bade the people to store up treasures in heaven, and put not their trust in princes.

For the only thing that can bring anyone comfort in time of trial, persecution, and even death is the fact that we know how the story ends. We know that sin, Satan, our flesh, and the world do not win the day. We know that the City of God overtakes the City of Man. And this we know not from Augustine’s words, but rather from God’s Word, spoken by the mouth of the Lord Himself in the flesh: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart.”

“Take heart!” dear brothers and sisters – not because Augustine says so, not because I say so, but rather because your Savior, your Redeemer, your very God of very God says so. “Take heart,” says the Lord, for as He Himself says: “I have overcome the world.”

The word translated “overcome” really means “conquered.” It is a form of the Greek word “nike” which means “victory.” Jesus has defeated the world, has conquered the devil, has beaten down death, and has redeemed our sinful flesh by His own perfect flesh. He won the victory on the cross, and hands that victory over to us in Baptism. He declares that victory in the preaching of His Word. And He renews that victory in us every time we are absolved of our sins. His victory is our victory. The lust for domination is overcome by the love of the One crucified and Risen for us. And by the one who is both God and Man, the eternal City of God overcomes the tottering City of Man.

The Lord doesn’t promise that we will necessarily be rich in this world, but He does guarantee that we are spiritually wealthy beyond measure. The Lord doesn’t promise us that if we have enough faith, we will never suffer or struggle, but He does guarantee that we will overcome all these things by His power and grace, His might and mercy. The Lord doesn’t promise us that we will not suffer due to the lust for domination, but He does guarantee that this lust that lurks within us has been atoned for and will be removed from us in the fullness of time, even as He has “overcome the world.”

Dear brothers and sisters, it is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to feel defeated. It is easy to fall away from the faith in bitter disappointment with the world and with our own sinful selves. But you have heard with your own ears the glorious command of the Lord that is truly an invitation to share in His victory: “Take heart!” That is to say: “Have confidence! Have courage!” He tells us plainly and without figures of speech: “I have said these things to you that, in Me you may have peace.”

For Jesus has won the victory. He has conquered the author of the lust for domination. He has overcome the world, and in Him, we too have overcome and conquered and won the greatest victory of all. 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.

1 comment:

Matthias Flacius said...

Pr Beane,

Keep up the good work in the Big Easy. Blessings on your ministry. I enjoy reading your posts, especially very good sermons.

Augustine has always been a favorite theologian and writer.