Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sermon: Cantate – 2011

22 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our Lord did not return yesterday. Some Christians are today confused. Some will lose their faith. The world mocks. The Church looks foolish. This happens every time one of these predictions fails to materialize, even though our Lord clearly said to us: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

On this day, our Lord Jesus repeats to us: “But now, I am going to Him who sent me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.”

Our Lord ascended to the Father, and the disciples were sorrowful. They loved their Master, their Savior, their Redeemer. Being separated from Him caused them grief. And yet Jesus tells them it is for their good.

How can the Lord use grief to bring us blessing? How can suffering be beneficial to us? How can a cross be used for good?

How can a cross be used for good? There, dear brothers and sisters is the beating heart of our faith. The Lord indeed uses the cross, the suffering, passion, and death of His innocent Son – He who knew no sin to become sin for us – to turn bad to good, to conquer evil with righteousness, to discipline His children and to make them strong.

The cross is where the Law and the Gospel intersect, where the vertical and the horizontal combine into one, where sin meets atonement, where suffering meets joy, and where death meets life. For the evils of our fallen world are pasted over even as the bloodied body of our Lord covered the cross and absorbed God’s wrath in our place.

And even as the Lord bore a cross for the sake of us poor miserable sinners, the Lord tells us that we too must take up our cross and follow Him who has atoned for us and made us saints by virtue of the cross.

The crosses we bear in this life – sadness, sorrow, disappointment; anger, frustration, physical sickness; temptations, trials, and death itself – only exist because of sin, and yet the Lord turns these crosses into crowns even as He draws life from death and pulls Easter out the stingy and seemingly impenetrable fingers of Good Friday.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” says our brother St. James, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Even our crosses are a gift, an opportunity to overcome sin through Christ’s righteousness, a time to demonstrate mercy instead of vengeance, and even to show love where one is shown hatred.

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…. Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Our crosses give us the opportunity to focus on the Word. Our struggles encourage us to depend on the Lord above. Our sorrows turn us to Him in ways that we don’t when all is well.

And when we are being chastened, we can pray with Isaiah: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.”

The Lord Jesus ascended to His Father, but did not leave us as orphans. He sent us “the Helper,” literally, a “comforter” or an “advocate” – one who is fighting for us when we are too weak or overwhelmed to defend ourselves. He is the “Spirit of Truth” who guides us into all truth.

And what’s more, the Lord has promised to remain with us to the end of the age – be it the year 2011 or 20,011. He is with us in His Word, in His Sacraments, in His forgiveness, in those who bring comfort and service to us, in those who speak the Word of God to us, in those who show mercy, in those who teach the Word, in those who support us in good times and bad, and yes, the Lord is even hidden in those crosses sent to us that we cannot figure out.

For just as we are not given to know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return – even as the Word of God tells us not to bother trying to figure it out – so too are our crosses a mystery. We do not know why we must endure them, why they have been sent to us, nor what is the ultimate purpose. In many cases, our crosses seem almost arbitrary and of no purpose at all. But one thing is for sure: crosses and sorrows will come in this fallen world – and we do well to ask the Lord to strengthen our faith for when they do.

In the words of the ancient prayer, may we “bear all crosses, sickness, and trials with patience and trust until You grant us deliverance, peace, and health.” And, dear friends, an even older prayer of the Church comes from one of the last words of the Holy Scriptures: “Come, Lord Jesus.” This is not just a children’s table prayer, it is also the eternal prayer of the Church Militant who bears her cross, who suffers in this world, who struggles against sin, death, and the devil, and indeed who has conquered in Christ, but yet awaits the final coming of the Lord.

Let those who see the Bible as a book of secret clues continue to chase around the trees and miss the forest. Let the world laugh and mock. Let Satan continue to accuse us and abuse us. But come what may, let us remain faithful to the end, with the prayer ever on our lips as we wait expectantly the for Lord’s return: “Come, Lord Jesus.” For “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.” 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.

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