Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5) – 2017

14 May 2017

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!

Before His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples what was going to happen.  He told them that they were going to Jerusalem.  He told them He was going to be arrested.  He told them He would be tortured, mocked, and crucified.  He told them He would die.  He told them He would rise again.

Their response typically was to just ignore it.  Maybe they thought this was some kind of parable.  Maybe they just couldn’t wrap their heads around the promised Messiah dying on a cross. Maybe they had visions of crowns of gold for them rather than a crown of thorns for Him.

Jesus notes that none of them asks Him: “Where are You going?”  And our blessed Lord tells them why they don’t: “Sorrow has filled your heart,” He says.

They were sorrowful because they knew deep down that things were going to change.  We don’t like change, but change is part of this fallen world.

If our world were perfect, it wouldn’t change.  It would remain perfect.  And James tells us in our epistle reading that God Himself, the eternal and perfect Creator is the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

The first change that removed us from our perfect unchanging condition of perfect unity with God and with creation was sin: the disobedience of our ancestors in the garden.  God didn’t change, but our relationship to Him did.  Our communion with Him was broken.  We changed because we then knew good and evil.  We chose evil.  We became mortal.  We invited death and corruption to be part of our fallen human existence.  

Of course, in our fallen world, not all change is bad.  Sometimes things change for the better.  And we certainly thank God for those kinds of changes.  But there is one change that we all have to look forward to, one that in the words of our Lord, causes sorrow to fill our hearts: we are mortal.  We will die.  Death is the wages of sin, and it is where we are all going.  Death separates us from those we love.  And no amount of money or power can prevent it.  Death is the great equalizer, and it is ruthless.

But, dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus does what we cannot do: He defeats death.  He slays the devil.  He forgives our sins and restores us to perfect communion with God.  And He is restoring the world to its perfection, where we will once more enjoy unity with God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

And part of our Lord’s going away involved a change of a different kind: His ascension to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church, “the Spirit of Truth” who “will guide you into all the truth.”

Our Lord goes to the Father and encourages us to change for the better, to grow up, to take leadership.  For though He doesn’t abandon us, He chooses to work indirectly in this world through His church.  He uses pastors to baptize us, to forgive us, and to feed us with the body and blood of Christ.  He uses fathers to sire us, mothers to birth us, parents to nurture us, and all of the above and many others to teach us the truth: to educate us about the world and to catechize us about the faith.  

Our Lord sends the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to gather us into the church and to “declare to us the things that are to come.”  The Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life, has given us the Holy Scriptures: the living, breathing, revelation of God.

And though we, like the disciples, often do not want to face the truth, though the truth sometimes brings us sorrow, we also know that our sorrow is temporary.  For Jesus has not come to bring us sorrow, but rather joy.  Jesus has not come to leave us slumbering in the grave, but rather to awaken us to everlasting life.  Jesus has not come to preside over a fallen world in constant need of repair, but rather to reign over a restored and perfect universe of the redeemed who will live forever in peace and joy.

Dear friends, though we surely deserve the wrath of God on account of our sins, because of the cross, by virtue of the blood of the Lamb, though the love of the Son for us and by His obedience to His Father’s will, we receive pardon and peace and mercy and joy instead.

As the prophet Isaiah prayed, so do we: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.”

This comfort spoken of by the prophet is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, dear friends, He who went away for our advantage, who has sent the Helper to guide us into all the truth, and who is coming again in glory.

This is our comfort!  This is our joy!  “Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”

This is why more than a billion Christians on the planet refer to this Sunday as “Cantate” – “sing.”  For we opened this service by singing together the song of the Psalmist: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!  Alleluia!  His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.  Alleluia!”

We sing, dear friends, because Jesus has triumphed.  Our song is new because we are made new: victorious over sin, Satan, and yes, even death itself.  And though this fallen world seems to lord over us and beat us down, the world’s seeming victory is just an illusion.  For Christ has triumphed over sin, over the evil one, and even over the grave.  They have no power over us.  They are defanged, crushed, and pulverized into chaff to be blown away with the wind.  For “His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.”

And His victory is our victory.  Our new song is the eternal song of the angels.  Jesus told us what was going to happen.  And He has done it.  Let us cast away all sorrow and celebrate our eternal victory.  Let us sing our song in the faces of our friends and foes alike, for our song is a hymn of adoration to our victorious Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and glory, now and even unto eternity!  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.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4) – 2017

7 May 2017

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In all of our ongoing celebrations of the resurrection of our Lord, amid our rejoicing in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and even as we rightfully continue the feast of Easter – a triumph that will indeed continue on into eternity – we dare not forget that we still live in this fallen world. 

Even as we wait for our Lord’s return, we must still contend with the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  Although the war has been won and the ultimate victory is ours, we still find ourselves squaring off in battle.  And though we know how the war turns out, battle is still painful, for this world still conspires against us, the devil still hates us, and our own flesh betrays us.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says our Lord, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”  For lest we become too comfortable and cozy with the world, let’s not forget that the world is our enemy.  We’re in it, but not of it.  And until our Lord’s return and the restoration of paradise, Satan remains the prince of this fallen world, the chief demon at the top of the dunghill, the lord of flies.  And though flies cannot kill us, they nevertheless buzz around us and remind us, like miniature vultures, of the nature of this world: a place of death.

Jesus died to defeat death.  Our Lord’s death assures us that we too will conquer our own death.  And yet this fallen world remains a place of death.  So let’s not become too comfortable in it.

Dear friends, dear Christians, dear brothers and sisters, we are not here in this world to become comfortable with sin, death, and the devil, to excuse them, to see them as benign, or to invite them to dine with us.  We are here to fight the enemy.  We are here to rescue the victims.  We are here to treat the wounded.  We are here to let our light shine in the darkness.  The world is our enemy, and our enemies are prisoners of the darkness.  We are here to show them a more excellent way; we are not here to camouflage ourselves to the shapes and contours of the world.

This reality becomes most apparent to us when the world steps out from behind its fa├žade of tolerance and acceptance and bares its hateful teeth toward us.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  It reminds us of to whom we belong.

Dear Christians, the world hates you.  The world (meaning the larger culture in which we live and work) is hostile to Jesus, hostile to the church, and hostile to you.  They may tolerate you so long as you don’t express any opinion contrary to those positions approved by the world.  They may tolerate you if you keep your religion to yourself.  Maybe.  Don’t be fooled. 

For what does our Lord – the Lord who was Himself crucified as the enemy of this world – what does He tell us will happen?  Not might happen, but will happen: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

The world mocks us and calls us bigots.  The world takes great joy at the fact that the Kleins, followers of Christ Jesus, have been fined $135,000 for not baking a cake. The world cheers when courts who claim to support the constitution rule against our God-given liberty.  The world mocks Baronelle Stutzman, a soft-spoken gray-haired Christian florist who is looking at losing her life savings and even her house, because she refused to accept a job that would have violated her Christian faith and conscience. These are our brothers and sisters whose lives are devastated by the hatred of the world.  And all around the world, our brothers and sisters are being imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded.

When sports, movies, and television, the public schools, the universities, popular music, and every aspect of the culture  all array themselves to be openly hostile to Christianity, and conspire to target your children to pressure them to give up their faith – the world makes it clear that it is not our friend.  We are not welcome in this world, dear friends.

The sooner we come to grips with this reality, the better.

So what do we do?  We do what we have always done: we baptize our babies, we read the Bible to our toddlers, we catechize the youth, we attend worship with our children as they grow, we take part in Holy Communion, we pray, we read scripture, we support our congregation with our presence, with our time, and with our money, we do not back down or compromise, nor do we go out of our way to look for trouble.  We confess our sins and we confess our faith.  We are prepared to give an answer for the hope within us even as we live in the desert of this world that seeks our destruction.

That, dear friends, is how Christians address the sorrow of the world’s hatred.  This is how early Christians could gather at the stadium, not to cheer the team, but to pray and sing hymns before being fed to wild animals in the face of a cheering crowd.  It was abundantly clear that the world hated them.  But they remembered our Lord’s word: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

But, dear friends, we are not abandoned in our sorrow and in the hatred of the world.  We are not left to the tender mercies of our fallen nature, of Satan, nor of the grave.  For we have a Savior who has come to rescue us from the prison of this world and the shackles of the grave.  For our Lord said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joy, dear friends.  Even when the cheering mob assaults us.  Even when the government and the courts seek our destruction.  Even when it seems like our faith will die in a generation because the minds of the young have been poisoned.  Jesus said that our sorrow will “turn into joy.”

It is like when a mother gives birth.  She suffers immensely during labor.  But once the baby has been born, her sorrow turns to joy, and her pain is pushed to the back of her mind, because pain endured out of love is not resented.  Such pain is offered to the beloved, for it is endured for the sake of love.  The love a mother has for her child may be the closest thing we have in this fallen world to the kind of love God has for us, the love we see impaled upon the cross, the love that forgives our sins (though we do not deserve it), the love that destroys the power of the devil (though we often allow temptation to have its way with us), the love that delivers to us everlasting life: the very opposite of the death and decay offered by the world.

Our Lord told us that we are not of the world, the He has overcome the world, and that we will not be overwhelmed by the world.

In fact, dear friends, we should see our trials and tribulations in this world as a blessing.  For we can clearly see who the enemy is.  Far too often, we try to befriend our beguiling foe.  Far too often we think we fit in – when we never will.

Let us take up our cross and remember whom we follow.  Let us not be discouraged, for we know that we will rejoice.  Let us endure our sorrow in good cheer, knowing that the war has already been won by Him who has overcome the world, all for you.


Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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