Sunday, May 17, 2015

Homily for Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter 7)

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.

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