Sunday, May 17, 2015
John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“You also will bear witness about me,” says Jesus. Now, likely you believe that Jesus means that you will speak about Him to others, that you will evangelize people by sharing the good news about Jesus. Yes, surely He does mean that. However, that is not all, or even the most important thing that Jesus has in mind when He says that you will bear witness about Him, for, the word translated as witness here, μαρτυρεῖτε, truly means martyr. Thus, what Jesus is truly saying to you is that you will be martyrs, you will be martyrs for Him. You will die for Him. Indeed, all Christians die as martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ. After all, what did you think Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me?” He wasn’t kidding. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. Jesus’ way passes through suffering and death, not around it, into life with His Father in heaven. That is the way that you are called to follow as Jesus’ disciple. You will bear witness about Jesus. You will be a martyr and die for your faith in Jesus. That is your purpose and your calling. And, that is why Jesus chose you and called you out of the nations, the Gentiles, and the hoi polloi. Jesus chose you and called you to deny yourself, to die to your self, and to follow Him, giving witness to Him by being a martyr and by dying for Him.
Indeed, this was the purpose and the calling of the nation of Israel in the first place. Don’t think for a moment that there was anything peculiar or special about Israel. There was not. Abraham was a pagan, a polytheist worshipping many gods of wood and stone when the LORD chose Him and called Him to pack up and head out for an unknown land that the LORD was going to give to him. Moses and David were lowly shepherds when the LORD chose and called them. Later, Peter and Andrew, James and John…, they were fisherman. Matthew, he was a tax collector. What were you when Jesus chose you and called you to be His disciple, to take up your cross and follow Him, to be a martyr for your faith in Him, and to die for Him? Were you an adulterer or a fornicator? Were you an addict, a thief, or a murderer? Or, were you just, you know, your average white bread kind of sinner? The point is, there was nothing peculiar or special about you. Like Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus’ disciples, you were an idolater and a worshipper of false gods, even if your false god may have been yourself. Yet, the LORD in His mercy and grace chose you and called you to follow Him. And, don’t think that this was some choice that you made. It wasn’t. Jesus Himself declares that you did not choose Him, but He chose you. And, no one can come to Jesus at all, unless the Father calls him.
Truly, the LORD made this abundantly clear in our Old Testament lesson today from the Prophet Ezekiel: “Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations.” The LORD’s prime motive in rescuing Israel from exile was not love, mercy, or grace – though He is the essence and epitome of those things – but the LORD’s prme motive in rescuing Israel from exile was concern for His holy Name. Just as the LORD had chosen and called Abraham, Moses, and David, His Israel, that she should be a light to the nations, to the Gentiles, and glorify the Name of the LORD, so has the Lord Jesus has chosen and called His disciples, His Church, and you, not for your own sake, but for the sake of His holy Name, a Name which you, too, have profaned among the nations.
Now, this Word from the LORD should help to put things in perspective for you. Indeed, that is precisely what it was spoken to do. You, and I, and all people have profaned the Name of the LORD, and the LORD’s Name will be vindicated. The LORD’s Name was first profanced when our First Parents believed and trusted in the Word of one who was not the LORD, and acted according to a will that was not the LORD’s will. Because of our sin, we interpret this rebellion as a minor infraction, even an exercise of our God-given free will, certainly not meriting the harsh judgment of the LORD, separation from His presence and temporal and eternal death. However, we believe this way because our sin corrupts our knowledge of the LORD and of Jesus. We would make the LORD in our image, according to our likeness. But, it is the other way around. Thus, the LORD has spoken, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” The LORD is before all things and the very source, origin, and sustenance of all things. Apart from the LORD there is nothing, just as in the beginning.
Thus, it is sinful, prideful, arrogance to believe that the LORD acts for your sake. He does not. But, the LORD acts for the sake of His holy Name – a holy Name that has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, The LORD loves the world, but not because the world is loveable. Rather, the LORD loves the world because the LORD is love – that is part of the LORD’s holy Name. You are loved, not because of your faith, your piety, your works, or your prayers, but you are loved because God is love, and because Jesus is the love of God incarnate, poured out for you as a sin-offering to vindicate the LORD’s holy Name which you have profaned. You were bought with a precious and priceless price. You are not your own, but you are the LORD’s. Your life and breath, your possessions, your reason, skills, and talents are the LORD’s. This is the proper perspective and context for your life. The LORD redeemed Israel out of exile for the sake of His holy Name. And, the LORD has redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil for the sake of His holy Name.
And, yet, still you suffer. And, you will suffer; your Lord Jesus has promised precisely that. Indeed, today your Lord teaches you saying, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” If you read or watch the news, you know that the Word of the Lord in this matter is profoundly true. Yet, it is not only the graphic and horrible executions of Coptic and Ethiopian Christians in Libya at the hands of ISIS of which the Lord speaks, but it is political, financial, social, and cultural persecution and martyrdom that Jesus promises His Church and Her members will suffer for the sake of the LORD’s holy Name. While you may not be cast out of the synagogues, there are forces at play today, and increasing and intensifying daily, that would force you to pray, worship, and practice your faith strictly and only within the confines of the church building or your own home. The same forces seek to eliminate all religious, and particularly Christian discourse from the public square. Faithful, Biblical, orthodox Christian speech is rapidly being classified as hate speech. Yes, truly the hour is coming when whoever kills you, when whoever arrests you, when whoever taxes you, forces you out of business, slanders you, mocks you and ridicules you, does not tolerate you, and hates you will think he is offering service to god – but that god is Satan, under the guise of equality, fairness, and tolerance.
Yet, that is not all that Jesus has said or promised. Jesus has also promised to send you a Helper, the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit will bear witness about Jesus, and He will equip you and help you to bear witness about Jesus with your words and deeds, with your life, and, ultimately, with your death. Jesus has told you about the suffering that will befall you at the hands of men and the world so that “when their hour comes you may remember that [He] told them to you.” Likewise, St. Peter also teaches you saying, “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. But 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.”
It is not for your sake, but for the sake of His holy Name that the LORD has called you and redeemed you. You are His. Your life is His. Your possessions are His. Your works are His. And your witness, your martyrdom, your death is His. The LORD has redeemed you from all your idols. Therefore, do not submit yourself once again to their slavery. You are free – truly free. You are free to stop living for your self and for the pursuit of your selfish pleasures and desires. You are free to live for Christ, as Christ’s life lives in you and through you, making you fruitful with His life-giving fruits that benefit others and glorify the LORD’s Name. Therefore, St. Peter exhorts you to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” and “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” For, the LORD will vindicate His holy Name, and the LORD’s holy Name will be vindicated through your witness, through your martyrdom and death. For, the LORD has given you the Helper, His Holy Spirit on account of the death and resurrection of Jesus so that you are clean from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols. The LORD has given you a new heart and a new spirit – the heart and spirit of Jesus – that you may walk in His statutes and obey His rules.
He has told you these things so that, when their hour comes you may remember that He told them to you. That hour has come, and it is coming, and it comes even now. But, do not fear. You are not alone. The Helper, the Holy Spirit of God is with you. He will sanctify, equip, and keep you through trial and tribulation and even death. Moreover, your Lord Jesus is with you, and He has suffered before you and for you, and He lives and reigns victorious over heaven and earth, and He will preserve and keep you through suffering and death with His victorious life, Word, and promise. Even now He has prepared a feast of love and life and forgiveness for you, in the presence of your enemies, that you may not faint, but be strengthened and persevere. Come, eat and be strengthened. Come, drink and be forgiven. Come, and live in Jesus’ life – life victorious over death and the grave.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is power in prayer, but from whence does that power come? Is there power in the one who prays; is there power in you? Is there power in the words that you pray? Is there power in your faith as you pray? Or, is there power in the One to whom you pray, power in the Name in which you pray? Surely, it is the latter. Indeed, there is power in prayer, just as there is power in absolution. And, as the power of absolution does not lie in you – in the words of your confession, or in your faith, or in your piety – but, the power of absolution lies in the One to whom you confess, so too does the power of prayer lie in the Words, the promise, the faithfulness, and the righteousness of your LORD, to whom you pray, who alone is righteous, and who has promised both to hear and to answer your prayers in Jesus’ Name.
St. James has written, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Unfortunately, St. James has commonly been misunderstood to mean that it is your righteousness and the fervency of your faith that makes your prayers to be efficacious and powerful. This creates at least two serious problems. First, if the efficacy of your prayer depends upon your righteousness, then there is no hope that your prayers will ever be heard, let alone that they will be effective. Second, if the efficacy of your prayers depends upon the fervency of your faith, then you will either despair that you have not believed fervently enough, or, perhaps worse, you will come to believe that your faith is indeed fervent and strong, so that your faith will be in your faith and not in Christ who alone is righteous. But, the efficacy of your prayer does not depend upon your righteousness – except that you are declared to be righteous by the LORD because of your faith in Jesus Christ His Son. And, likewise, the efficacy of your prayer does not depend upon your faith – except that you have the gift of faith created in you by the Holy Spirit of God.
Moses was a righteous man. Well, he was not righteous in himself, but the LORD declared Him to be righteous because he trusted in Him, his faith and his trust were a work and gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, when the people were bitten by poisonous serpents, they cried out to righteous Moses to pray to the LORD on their behalf, that He would remove the snakes. And so, Moses prayed, and his prayer was effective – it was heard and it was answered. Moses’ prayer was heard and answered by the LORD because the LORD counted Moses as righteous. And, perhaps, so that the people, and even Moses himself, did not get the idea that it was their righteousness or their faith that made their prayers efficacious, the LORD did not give them what they prayed for – the LORD did not take the snakes away. In fact, people continued to get bit and to die from the poisonous serpents! However, the LORD did answer Moses’ prayer, though in a different way. The LORD instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it up on a pole. Then, whoever had been bitten by a poisonous serpent, when they looked upon the bronze serpent raised up on the pole, would not die from the snakebite.
You see, the LORD did not give them what they wanted, but He gave them what they needed. The people wanted physical safety and relief from suffering, but the LORD knew that they needed faith and trust in Him and in His Word. The reason the LORD sent the serpents in the first place was because the people did not trust in the LORD to care for them. They even accused the LORD of intentionally leading them out of slavery in Egypt to starve to death in the wilderness! Remember what they said, “There is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” They grumbled against the LORD. They did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things. They even despised His providence and accused the LORD of evil. Therefore, it was out of mercy that the LORD sent the fiery serpents to bite them. It was loving and merciful discipline so that the people would see their sin and repent. And, they did! But, still, all they cared about was a release from the poisonous serpents. Though they repented, they did not understand that what they lacked was faith and trust in the LORD and in His Word. That is why the LORD did not take the serpents away, but He did give them a way out so that, though they might still be bitten and suffer, they would live if they trusted in the LORD and in His Word and looked upon the bronze serpent raised up on the pole.
The LORD fixed His Word of promise to a physical object, even the emblem of their suffering, a bronze serpent, with the promise that, if they looked upon the bronze serpent, they would live. Similarly, you and I have been bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan. We each have been conceived and born with the corruption of original sin – sin that is real sin and personal sin, sin that leads only and always to death. However, the LORD has provided for you and for me, and for all the people who will ever live, a way that we can, despite our sin, live and never die. No, He did not take our sin away – that is to say, we still sin, daily, and much, in thought, word, and in deed – but, the LORD has given us a way to escape the penalty of sin, which is death. This time, the LORD did not command a bronze serpent to be raised up on a pole, but, instead, the LORD gave His only-begotten Son, Jesus, to be crucified and hanged upon the cross for our sins and for the sins of the entire world, that anyone and everyone who looks to Him in faith and trust may live, even though they die, and have their sins forgiven.
Thus, Jesus, before His crucifixion and death, taught His disciples, His Church, you and me, about prayer. Jesus said, “In that day,” that is, the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, “you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you. […] Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” “In Jesus’ Name” is not some magical incantation that manipulates the LORD to answer your prayer; beware that you never think or believe such a thing! But “in Jesus’ Name” means that you should pray for all and only those things that Jesus would pray for and would have you pray for, all things that are in accord with the LORD’s Word and will. Thus, it should be obvious that this precludes prayers for new Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets, right? Additionally, however, all material and worldly things must take a lesser status in your prayers, for Jesus drew His sustenance, not from bread alone, but from every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and Jesus had no home or place to lay His head, knowing that His true home was with His Father in heaven. This is what Jesus means when He says that you should ask that your “joy may be full.” What is the source of true joy? Is it worldly, material possessions? Is it comforts and pleasures of the flesh? Is it reputation and esteem among men? Is it health and well-being? No. Even if you are blessed to have these things, you know that they are fleeting. To strive and struggle to obtain, keep, and maintain them is a losing battle that only brings suffering for you and for others. Rather, you should receive them as gifts from the LORD and give thanks for them. But, beware not to make these things idols and false gods. For, true joy is the forgiveness of sins, the washing away of the guilt of your sin, reconciliation with the Father, and life that never ends. That is what Jesus would have you pray for, that your joy may be full – that you may be full of true joy, not all manner of cheap, imitation, false, and fleeting joy.
Therefore, St. James also wrote, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before, God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Truly, St. James says quite a lot here. First, though it is popular today to say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” St. James suggests that there is a religion that is “pure and undefiled before God,” and that is a religion of selflessness and service, visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and remaining unstained from the world. Second, the practitioner of this “pure and undefiled” religion will bridle their tongues. Clearly, this is wise counsel of the highest degree. It is St. James, after all who speaks at length of the evils of the tongue. However, this counsel has a relation to the topic of prayer today as well. The prayers of the righteous man will not consist of “meaningless repetition” and “many words,” but they will consist of the righteous Words of our righteous Lord and God. Therefore, the best possible prayer is the prayer that our Lord Jesus has taught us. First, learn this prayer and all that it encompasses, and then, learn from it how, and for what, to pray.
Yes, there is power in prayer, for there is power in the One who has commanded you to pray and has promised to hear and to answer your prayers. And, yes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” For, Jesus is the righteous man, and His Words are effective, His faith is fervent. These He shares with you who are baptized into Him, and who trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Look to Jesus in your time of trouble and distress, and give Him thanks and praise for His providence, goodness, grace, and mercy. Let your prayer be like that of the tax collector in the temple, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” For, that man, and not the Pharisee, went down to his home righteous and justified. In this way, you are the righteous man, when you trust not in your own providence, faith, and righteousness, but in the LORD and His Word alone. Then will you be a practitioner of the “pure and undefiled” religion, and your joy will be full. Even now, He who was lifted up for you is present with His Words and with His Wounds to fill you to overflowing. Come, eat and live. Come, drink and be forgiven. Be fulfilled. Be joyful in the Lord who has done all things well, who has made all things new, even you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 3, 2015
John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In what ways is the Holy Spirit a helper? Quite likely not in many of the ways of which you’ve heard in popular Christian devotions, articles, and studies, from Christian televangelists, or have even thought yourself.
For example, the Holy Spirit was not given that people should have a reason to boast. Yet, even a brief pass through the “holy channels” on your TV will reveal smartly dressed preachers on gaudy stages boasting about their gifts of healing or prayer or tongues or any number of things which merit the admiration of their disciples and the luxurious homes and cars and clothing they own and desire to own. Yes, the Holy Spirit does provide spiritual gifts and fruits, but they are never given that people should have a reason to boast, but they are given to benefit the Church and the world, that God’s Name may be glorified as people come to believe and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
Additionally, the Holy Spirit was not given to protect people from temptations. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for Christians struggling with temptation to be chided, by other Christians, with the accusation that they are tempted because their faith is weak, or that they lack the Holy Spirit altogether. This is the worst kind of legalism and confusion of Law and Gospel, serving only to rob those suffering temptation of Christ’s comfort and peace because they are being assaulted by the devil. This is precisely the time that they need to hear the clear proclamation of the Gospel, that Christ has withstood all temptation for them and has defeated the devil. You are not saved because you are able to resist temptation, but you are saved because of Jesus Christ who has withstood temptation for you. No, the Holy Spirit will not protect you from all temptation, -the Scripture nowhere says that He will - but He will counsel you with the Gospel that you may persevere through temptation.
Neither was the Holy Spirit given to keep people always well. While it is true that sinful, indulgent, and abusive behaviors can lead to illness and other great harm, it is incorrect to claim that the Holy Spirit will help a believer to be always well. This is actually taught among some popular sects of Christianity. Ill persons are told that their illness is the result of weak faith, or that it is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s absence. Or, those who are ill believe it wrong to seek medical attention for their illness, believing that, to do so, would be to disbelieve, or to not have faith and trust in the Holy Spirit to protect and to heal them. Some Christian parents refuse inoculations and vaccines for their children, and some cancer patients refuse treatments for this very reason. While the Holy Spirit certainly has the power to heal, and the power to heal people through other people, the Spirit does this when and where He pleases. The healing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be manipulated or coerced. Likewise, it does not depend upon a person’s faith, but upon the will and the Word of the LORD alone.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit was not given to tell people whom to marry. The Holy Spirit was not given to cause people to roll on the floor, laugh maniacally, or to be slain in the spirit. The Holy Spirit was not given to harm or injure people. And, the Holy Spirit was not given to make people indolent and not read the Bible, believing that the Spirit gives all instruction and guidance necessary for life and salvation apart from the Word of God.
Then, for what purpose did Jesus send the Holy Spirit? In what ways is the Holy Spirit of God a helper? Well, there is no better place to go for an answer than the words of our Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” But, what does it mean to be convicted of such things? The word convict, in this usage, is very similar to the way it is used in a contemporary court of law. Convict means “to bring to light, to expose, to set forth,” therefore, the Holy Spirit will bring to light, expose, and set forth the nature of sin and righteousness and judgment. “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me”: Sin is unbelief. “Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer”: Only Christ is righteous and can enter the Father’s holy and righteous presence. “Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged”: Satan has been judged a liar, a fraud, an usurper, and a murderer. These things are true, they are facts, but men’s sinful minds, corrupted by sin and deceived by the devil, cannot see them or know them. Thus, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of these truths; He brings them to light, He exposes them, and He sets them forth, that you might repent and throw off the shackles of the devil’s lies and deceptions and live in the freedom of Christ and the Gospel to the glory of God the Father.
This is the purpose for which Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. And, this is how the Holy Spirit is a helper. The Holy Spirit helps you to see things for the way they are. That is to say, the Holy Spirit exposes the Truth. And, that is to say that the Holy Spirit leads you to Jesus. In fact, that is precisely what Jesus says the Holy Spirit does: “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the Truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Pretty clear, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit will guide you to the Truth. He will guide you to Jesus. Nothing about boasting of yourself or your spiritual gifts. Nothing about being protected from temptations. Nothing about keeping you healthy, or telling you who to marry, or causing you to behave like a lunatic, or not to read the Bible because the Holy Spirit is going to reveal something to you personally apart from God’s Word and Blessed Sacraments. Nope, not a single thing about any of that nonsense. Oh, but, what about those spiritual gifts and fruits Paul talks about, you say? Yeah, so, what about them? Does St. Paul contradict Jesus? No, he most assuredly does not! Then, let us begin with the Truth about the Spirit that our Lord reveals to us, and then consider St. Paul’s words in light of that Truth – Scripture interprets Scripture, always.
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” writes St. James, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The Holy Spirit is the good and perfect gift of the Father, for the Holy Spirit directs you to Jesus in whom there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. This Truth can never change. The Holy Spirit is not given to give you something to boast about, to protect you from temptation, to keep you healthy, to find you a spouse, to make you act like a lunatic, or to give you a special revelation apart from the revealed Word of God. But, the Holy Spirit is given you that you might know Jesus and receive from Him forgiveness, life, and salvation, and bear His fruits – yes, Jesus’ fruits – and glorify His Father. He will glorify Jesus, for He will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to you. All that the Father has belongs to Jesus, therefore, the Holy Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to you. That’s His job. That is the way in which the Holy Spirit is a helper, and helps you. The Holy Spirit helps you to see the Truth, that everything belongs to Jesus: Your wealth, your health, and your reputation; your spouse and your children; your life and your salvation. Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar? It all belongs to Jesus, even Caesar belongs to Jesus. Therefore, do not permit the stuff of this world, even your spiritual gifts, and even your life, to become for you an idol. Thou shalt have no other gods before me? That’s right, thou shalt not – not that there are any other gods. Everything belongs to Jesus. The Holy Spirit will help you to see, to believe, and to confess this truth. Thanks be to God.
O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will – Your will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found – In Jesus, to the glory of Your Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
My fondest memories of childhood growing up in the Midwest most certainly include the numerous summer vacations my family took. We drove, by car, all over the western United States. I got to see the Badlands of South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and the infamous Wall Drug. I got to see Yosemite, Old Faithful, and Devil’s Tower. I visited California: San Francisco’s Lombard Street, the Japanese Tea Garden, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Los Angeles: Anaheim, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. San Diego: The Zoo and Sea World, and even Tijuana. And, that’s just scratching the surface. All by car, mind you, without seatbelts, sprawled out in the backseat, and myself, most of the time, lying in the back window of the car. We traveled thousands and thousands of miles in several Oldsmobiles, leisurely driving from destination to destination, and each time the car would slow or there was an change in the rhythm of travel, we kids would cry out: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And, the answer was typically, “We’ll be there in a little while.”
Still, though we weren’t “there” yet, we were “somewhere.” We were somewhere different from where we started, and we were somewhere different from the last time we asked, “Are we there yet?” My Father used to say, “Getting there is half the fun.” He was right, of course, though I couldn’t see it at the time. So, my sisters and I bided the time by playing Mad Libs, playing games on invisible ink pads, the license plate game, etc., anything to make the time pass by more quickly. However, the truth is that, if we would only have paid attention and looked around at the landscapes and the scenery passing by, there were countless signs of us moving ever nearer and closer to our goal and destination, to the “there” of our question, “Are we there yet?” No, we weren’t “there” yet, but we would be eventually, in a little while. Still, we were “somewhere,” and “somewhere” might not be so bad if we’d just lift up our heads, open our eyes, and take a look around.
Our Christian faith and life is like such a journey. We have a goal and a destination – to live with the Lord forever in heaven, in resurrected and glorified bodies – but, often, the wait, the traveling, the distance, seems unbearable. Sure, we try to amuse and to distract ourselves to pass the time, but, too often, this causes us even greater suffering, as our enemy Satan is all too pleased to help us take our eyes and our minds off the goal and get sidetracked into any of numerous distractions, idolatries, and self-gratifying and selfish behaviors and activities. And, while sensual desires and attractions are very effective diversionary weapons in Satan’s arsenal, pain and sorrow, suffering, and loss are often even more effective. When they befall you, it can feel like you’re locked in a car on a long trip that will never end. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How long will this last? Will it never end?”
Truly, even in our Christian faith and life, my Father’s advice about vacationing rings true: “Getting there is half the fun.” Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the word, precisely, but the Lord would have you see your life in Him now as being every bit as important as your destination and goal to be with Him then in heaven. The Word of God became a man and made His dwelling among us as our brother; He suffered and died, was raised, and ascended back to His Father, as a man, not only so that your body will be raised from death to new and everlasting life, but so that you might begin living that new life in Him right now.
And so, Jesus prepared His disciples for this time, the time of their journey, the time of their lives in this world, now, until He would return and deliver them to their goal and destination, then, in heaven. Jesus prepared His disciples saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Suffice it to say, they had no idea what He was talking about. “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” they wondered. Jesus was speaking, immediately, of His impending death and resurrection. Very soon, His disciples would see Him no longer. But, then, in a little while, in His resurrection, they would see Him again. Then, Jesus said, they would have joy that no one – absolutely no one – would take from them. Likewise, Jesus would leave them again for a little while in His ascension, and then they would see Him again in a little while in the resurrection of their own bodies, and they would never be without Him again.
And, Jesus described for them what that time would be like saying, “You will weep and lament, and the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” This statement, just like “a little while,” has a now / not yet quality about it. That is to say that, even now, in the little while of Jesus’ absence, our sorrows can be turned into joy, and that, when Jesus returns, there will be no more sorrow. To illustrate this, Jesus uses the example of a woman in labor of childbirth. In the pain and distress of labor, she may well be sorrowful and think that it will never end and that, if it does, she will never permit herself to go through it again. But, when the labor is over and the child is born, she views her pain and distress and sorrow as but “a little while,” a little while of sorrow that, now, doesn’t seem so sorrowful, but a brief distress that she will gladly endure again for the joy of the new life she holds in her arms.
But, Jesus’ point here is not only that you have strength to endure pain and loss and suffering for the joy that will be revealed “in a little while” when He returns – though, it is most certainly that – but, Jesus would have you count it all as joy. For, in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has passed away. And, the new life you live, it will never die. It is Christ’s life into which you have been grafted, as a branch is grafted into a vine and draws life and nourishment from it and is made fruitful. For, you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus’ death is your death, and Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Jesus’ life is your life. The Father has given Him all things, and Jesus shares all things with you, His beloved, His body, His Church, His Bride. Therefore, not only will you endure and persevere through pain and loss and suffering, but also you may find joy in these travails. For, there is a great difference between joy and happiness: Happiness tends to be fleeting and depends upon temporal factors like circumstances or other people, whereas joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances, but flows from baptism into Jesus Christ and faith.
Thus, St. Peter urges you as “sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” See, my family vacation analogy wasn’t that far-fetched. St. Peter’s point is that you recognize that you are on a pilgrimage, a journey, towards a goal and destination – an eternal reign with Christ in heaven – and that, even though you have not yet reached your goal and destination, you have already begun to live this new life that will never die. Therefore, how you live, and what you do now, in this life, matters. First, passions of the flesh and worldly pursuits are weapons in Satan’s war against your soul. He will use them to divert your focus from the way you should go, to distract you, or even to cause you to lose interest in your goal and destination. Second, how you live and what you do is a witness and confession of what you believe in your heart. Thus, St. Peter exhorts you to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles [among unbelievers] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” And, third, you miss out on the joy, the contentment, the peace, and the freedom that Jesus died to give to you by washing your guilt away in His holy, innocent shed blood and by forgiving your sins and justifying you before the Father.
Yes, we have a goal and destination – eternal life in heaven with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but, getting there is half the fun! Don’t permit yourself to be defined by things that are passing away. You are not your career, or your marriage, or your family. You are not your friends, or your neighbors, or what the television, movies, and magazines suggest you should be. But, you are children of the heavenly Father, purchased and won in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Live your life in this victory, this freedom, and this joy knowing that, even the dark and difficult times are for but “a little while,” and that the victory is already yours in Jesus Christ. Moreover, you are not alone. Though you do not see Him during this “little while,” He is here. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you, but to be with you always, even to the end of the age. He is here to fill you to overflowing with His grace, mercy, love, peace, and forgiveness. Not only will you want for nothing, but you are filled to overflowing with His rich and boundless gifts. He blesses you. You are blessed to be a blessing.
Are we there yet? No, and yes. The victory is yours in Christ Jesus now, but you do not yet get to enjoy it in its fullness. You are on a journey, a pilgrimage, and life with Jesus in His kingdom is your goal and destination. Do not be afraid. You will get there. Only, do not get sidetracked and distracted and miss out on the kingdom goal. But, take heart, you are not alone. Your Lord Jesus, who has already made the journey for you as your brother, is with you now, though you do not see Him, and He will comfort and strengthen you along the way. You will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.