Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6) - 2018

6 May 2018

Text: John 16:23-33 (Numbers 21:4-9, Jas 1:22-27)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
“In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world,” says our Lord Jesus.  This is an elegant translation, but I think it might be a little too elegant.  When Jesus says, “take heart,” the Greek word used here carries the connotation of “be bold and courageous.”  It reminds me of some advice I once received from a dear old friend, an aristocratic Virginian and veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.  He said, “Always look your enemy in the eye.”

Jesus tells us to look our enemy in the eye – even if we are being mocked, oppressed, tortured, or even killed.  We can look our enemies in the eye: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature – and we can look them squarely in the eye –
because our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome them.

And this is also a weak translation: “overcome.”  This word actually means “conquered.”  It is the word that the Greeks chose for the name of their goddess of military victory.  In the Latin translation used by the church for a thousand years, the word is “vici.”  It is a word famously uttered by Julius Caesar when he said, “Veni, vidi, vici” – “I came, I saw, I conquered.”  But as mighty as Caesar was, he only conquered a few territories, and was then killed.  He did not defeat sin, death, and the devil.  He did not die to redeem us and give us eternal life.  He did not rise from the grave.

Jesus is the true conqueror.  He came: incarnate in the flesh.  He saw: with His own eyes, our suffering and misery in this fallen world.  He suffered: in our place.  He died: atoning for our sins.  He rose again: to celebrate His victory over death.  He conquered: not just a territory, but the world.  He overcame sin, death, and the devil. 

So Jesus tells His disciples (including us) that though we suffer tribulation, though we are oppressed and abused, we are to defiantly look the enemy in the eye, for Christ Jesus has conquered him.  Our Blessed Lord has already won the war.  And because He is the victor, we too are more than conquerors.  Because He looked death in the eye, we can live forever with our heads held high – in victory, in joy, in love, in communion with God Almighty, and in courage to face whatever the world throws our way.

Of course, these tribulations are horrific: be they afflictions like cancer, or a troubled mind, or seemingly insurmountable problems with family or work, anxiety or stress, the loss of friends and loved ones, uncertainty about the future, and a myriad of other things this fallen world throws at us.  These tribulations can even manifest themselves as things which shake our faith, as persecution, as being declared an enemy of the state and imprisoned, of being subjected to torture.  These tribulations are real and genuine suffering, but these tribulations are temporary and in vain.  For Christ has conquered.  He has defeated all evil.  He has won eternal victory for us at the cross, at the empty tomb, at the baptismal font, at the communion rail, in the preaching of the Gospel, and in the declaration of Holy Absolution: Jesus has overcome!  So take heart, dear friends.  Look your enemy in the eye because Jesus has conquered!

And so often, to look our enemy in the eye is to look into the mirror.  So often we are our own worst enemy, our impatience and lack of faith being the cause of much of our suffering.  The children of Israel grumbled against Moses in their impatience; even to the point of longing to go back into slavery for the sake of better-tasting food.

The Lord got their attention by means of a plague of “fiery serpents” that bit the people and delivered the sting of death to them.  “We have sinned,” they confessed.  They prayed for deliverance, and the Lord gave them victory over death: they looked upon the figure of the bronze serpent held up on a pole.  The people did as the Lord commanded, and they lived.

That bronze serpent lifted upon the pole prefigured our Lord Jesus Christ lifted high upon the cross.  We look to the cross, dear friends, and we live.  We do as the Lord commanded: we repent and we believe the Gospel, we take and eat, we take and drink, we live out the new birth and new life given to us at Holy Baptism – and we live!

We are victors, but only because Christ is the victor.  We overcome the world, but only because Christ overcame the world.  We take heart only because Christ courageously stared down death and Satan, and gave His life as a ransom for us, delivering us from the deadly venom of the fiery serpent that has plagued us from the day of the fall in the Garden.

And in living the Christian life, dear friends, this life of grace, this life delivered to us as a gift by God’s mercy, by the cross, by the victory of Jesus, we are doers, not merely hearers, of the Word.  For we have not been healed for the sake of just looking in the mirror and forgetting what we look like.  No indeed!  We hear the Word of God, and that Word, dear friends, enables and emboldens us to live, to do, to act.

It is not enough to be spiritual, but we are indeed called upon to be religious.  We are not called to simply pontificate and virtue-signal, but to actually serve our neighbors bodily, in what we do, in how we act.  We are to bridle our tongues and control ourselves.  We are to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” and not merely complain and grumble like the Israelites.  We are to keep ourselves “unstained from the world” instead of becoming indistinguishable from the mass of unbelievers.

Spirituality apart from religiosity – that is the “religion that is pure and undefiled,” such a “spirituality” is nothing more than idle talk that is also idolatry’s walk.  Because Jesus has conquered the world, we can go out into the world like the conquerors that we are in Christ – not like Caesar, but rather like our Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, Jesus has won the victory for us and has secured the peace: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace,” says our Lord.

This peace, won for us by our Lord at the cross, is that peace that passes all understanding.  It is the peace of knowing that our enemies have been defeated.  And even in the midst of the tribulation of this fallen and hostile world, we can indeed take heart.  For Jesus has overcome the world.

Always look your enemy in the eye, dear friends.  Christ has conquered!  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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