Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon: Rogate – 2011

29 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:23-33 (Num 21:4-9, 1 Tim 2:1-6)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“The hour is coming,” says our Lord, “when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

For much of His ministry, our Lord teaches in parables. He uses stories and examples and drops hints. He reveals who He is and what the Kingdom is like in a roundabout way. But now as the time is drawing near for Him to go to Jerusalem, to suffer, die, and be raised from death – He is starting to speak bluntly with the disciples. And He promises them that the time is coming when He will completely drop His guard and fully reveal the Kingdom to them.

Indeed, they will see the full revelation of the Lord’s glory when He dies on the cross. For when the sacrifice is offered and accepted, when “it is finished,” when they see the Lord “crowned as Lord of all” with thorns, with the power of Jesus’ name being hailed by mocking soldiers, and with the wormwood and the gall – there they will see the Lord “speaking plainly” from the cross, taking our punishment so that we might be pardoned, and dying so that we might live.

This revelation is why St. Paul can say that the “Word of the cross is the power of God.” The Word of the cross is the Word of the Law: of confession and repentance. The Word of the cross is the Word of the Gospel: of forgiveness and new life. The Holy Spirit guides us, the Church, sinful and yet beloved of the Father – into “speaking plainly” our confession of sin, of guilt, of unworthiness, and even of our helplessness to help ourselves out of our predicament. There is nothing for us to do other than to “speak plainly” the same confession as the snake-bitten children of Israel: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.”

The serpent has been tormenting us since the Garden of Eden. The Lord permits him to tempt us, but not to separate us from the Christ’s love. The serpents can bite and the serpents can even take our lives – but no serpent can take away our salvation and eternal life. And in fact, Moses was instructed to nullify the power of the serpent by means of a serpent, raised high on a pole, a sign of the love and healing power of God, raised up so as to draw ailing sinners to healing righteousness.

But the serpent’s days are numbered. Indeed, the Seed of the woman was promised to come and crush his head. The serpent continues to tempt us, but the Lord’s love has fallen upon the serpent in the form of the heel of the Son of man. The serpent can torment us and even kill the body with its venom – but no serpent, no malignant being, no manifestation of evil, can destroy body and soul in hell. And in fact, our Lord Jesus Christ was sent to nullify the power of death by means of death, raised high upon a cross, a sign of the love and healing power of God, raised up so as to draw ailing sinners to healing righteousness.

And yet, we still live in a world broken by sin and corrupted by evil. The final encounter between the serpent and the Son is yet to come – even though our Lord has already triumphed over the old evil foe, taking all of us as prisoners of war, as trophies won in battle, spread at His feet, not to be imprisoned as captives, but rather as captives to be liberated.

And in every war there are casualties, there is combat, there is struggle, uncertainty, and there are those who do not come back from the front lines alive. “In the world you will have tribulation” says our Lord to His beloved Church militant. We are at war, dear brothers and sisters, we are in constant battle against the fiery serpent Satan and in mortal combat against the venom of evil that courses our veins, seeking our destruction. We struggle, we fight, we win battles, we lose battles, we grow weary, we take our lumps, we regroup and rejoice to see reinforcements on the horizon, and in the final analysis, we look to the cross, knowing that it is in that battle, won by our Lord, that we too are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be a warrior, to follow Him into battle, not knowing where we will be led other than knowing that we will be led to victory. For He tells us “plainly and not using figurative speech” that we shall “have peace.” For again, dear friends, our Lord speaks plainly to us the comforting revelation in the midst of our warfare that “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Take heart, dear Christians, take courage, be brave, hang in there, fight the good fight – for the Lord has already won: “I have overcome the world.”

This is how it is that our Lord can exhort and promise us: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

For the one thing that a warrior values and appreciates more than anything else is peace. He knows the cost of warfare, and he knows the blessings of peace. He knows that peace is not merely the absence of war, but rather the benefit of having conquered the foe. The enemy of the church is the serpent, and the Lord, lifted high on the cross for all mankind to see, has “overcome the world” and its serpentine prince.

As a result of this victory, we can indeed pray as St. Paul urged St. Timothy, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” When the war is concluded in victory, it is indeed the peace itself that has been won and secured. Jesus is the almighty Prince of Peace, and He has won eternal and living peace over and against the wretched prince of this temporal and dying world. For our Lord “gave Himself as a ransom for all.”

And the Lord tells us plainly, without figurative language, that He “desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And we look upon this truth, this incarnate truth, this eternal truth, and we live: forever, abundantly, and in peace. 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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