Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon: Exaudi (Easter 7) – 2017

28 May 2017

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord’s warning seems to have been ripped from the headlines: “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

In the history of the church, Christians have been persecuted and killed by Jews, Romans, factions within the church itself, by native peoples served by missionaries, by Atheist revolutionaries such as the Jacobins in the French revolution, the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution, and their Communists comrades in Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and other Marxist totalitarian states.

But today, we are seeing more persecution of Christians by those who truly believe they are “offering service to God” – those who hold the religion of Islam.

Just this past Friday, yet another incident happened in Cairo, Egypt.  A caravan of Christians on a trip to visit a monastery was stopped by men impersonating police forces.  All of these Christians: men, women, and children, were ordered off the buses.  Twenty eight were shot in old blood.  Twenty eight men, women, and children were killed in the name of offering service to a false god called Allah in devotion to a false prophet named Muhammad.

And Jesus explains why they do this: “They will do these things because they have not known the Father nor Me.”

These people do not worship the true God.  For if they did, they would not consider it “offering service to God” to slaughter those created in the image of God in this way.

Our Lord tells us that this would happen immediately after reminding us that “the Helper” is coming, He whom Jesus “will send to [us] from the Father.”  This Helper bears witness about Jesus, even as this Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, brings us into all truth.

We know who this Helper is, for Jesus told us that He is the Holy Spirit, who indeed came to the Holy Christian Church on Pentecost, accompanied by signs and miracles and courageous preaching and the baptism of some three thousand people.  Next week, the church throughout the world will hear and ponder anew this fact of history and this remarkable empowerment of the church through the Third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

But there are some who think they know better than two thousand years of Christianity, than the fathers of the church, than the Bible, than even our Lord Jesus Himself!  There is a Baptist pastor named the Reverend Ian Mevorach who claims to have the answer to the violence that plagues the church at the hands of Islam.

Instead of understanding that the Helper that our Lord spoke of refers to God the Holy Spirit, we could just change our interpretation to believe that this Helper is Muhammad, as the Muslims do, as the terrorists who shot our martyred brothers and sisters do.  Yes, this activist pastor with a doctorate degree from Boston University and a journalism job with the powerful Huffington Post actually suggests that if only Christians become Muslims, then we could stop the violence.  He says, “the time has surely come to recognize [Muhammad] as a prophet.”  He says, “I invite Christians everywhere to look carefully at our scriptures, search our souls, consider our history, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in answering the question: ‘Has the time come for Christians to see Muhammad as Spirit of Truth?’”

I find it very hard to believe that we are not living in the very end of time.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Our Lord Jesus warned us that things would begin to get very grave for the church as that time approaches.  Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart – not in 30 AD, not in 1530 AD, not in 2017 AD, and not when He returns amid the tribulation and persecution of those whose hope lies in Him and in His cross.

Dear friends, more Christians are being martyred today than ever before in history.  Our Lord warned His disciples, which includes us, concerning these things, “to keep you from falling away.”  Indeed, as the Lord’s apostle St. Peter spoke to us anew: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Indeed, in the history of the church, what is strange is when we Christians have been at peace, unafraid of violent attacks from those of other religions, from Atheists, and from governments, foreign and domestic.  Those are the unusual times in our history.  We Americans still live with a great degree of freedom to believe, to worship, and to express our faith.  But that could change, dear friends, and it could change quickly.  Remember what our Lord said, “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.”

For nothing is more important that your Christian faith.  Nothing.  Not your education.  Not your job.  Not your house.  Not your life.  

We must not take our faith for granted, nor ever tire of hearing His Word and partaking of His sacrament.

We must pray for strength in times of persecution.  We must pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit.  We must pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, for our country, for our churches, and for our children.  We must study and teach, learn and catechize.  We must worship and join in the church’s ongoing eternal liturgy in song and in sacrament.  We must fortify ourselves and our youth, for Jesus says: “They will do these things.”  They will. 

And St. Peter tells us that when these things happen, “rejoice, insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Peter cuts to the chase: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

We must truly take to heart what Dr. Luther taught us to recite: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

The True Faith, dear friends, the faith given to us by the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to Jesus, to the One who suffered infinitely more for us than we could ever suffer for His sake, He who died upon the cross as the complete and final sacrifice for our sins, whose blood brings us into perfect communion with God by the forgiveness of sins and the full and free gift of eternal life.  And not even death can sever us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

No matter what happens, in times of prosperity or want, in times of comfort or persecution, let us remember and confess the Word of God, the promise spoken through the true prophet Ezekiel, “I will put My Spirit within you….And you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” 

“To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  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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