Sunday, April 24, 2016
Homily for Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)
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.
Sorrow, loss, grief, and pain are natural, normal, and human. Your Lord Jesus experienced all of these just as you do. However, your enemy Satan attempts to use these to keep you in your place, stuck, as it were, in a rut, unable to see beyond your present pain, robbing you of hope, peace, contentment, and joy, attacking and destroying your faith. So he did with Jesus’ disciples. Their sorrow, loss, grief, and pain would not permit them to see beyond their present grief at Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be leaving them. Seemingly, they could not hear the good news of His destination, that He was returning to His Father’s right hand in heaven, and that this would be a good thing for them. And so, they were afraid, they were hopeless, and they were despondent, and Satan used their sorrow, their loss, their grief, and their pain to tempt them to unbelief. And, he was successful, to varying degrees, with all of them. But with one of them, it literally cost him his life and, potentially, his salvation.
You see, Satan uses your sorrow, your loss, your grief, and your pain to sidetrack you from your pilgrimage journey back to Eden, to paradise, to heaven with God. When Jesus first prophesied that He must suffer and die and be raised again on the third day, way back then, early in His ministry, His disciples, communally, did not understand, and they said “No! Never!” Jesus’ leaving them was a stumbling block for them. His suffering and death scandalized them. After hearing the first part of His prophecy, that He must suffer and die, their sorrow, their loss, their grief, and their pain prevented them from hearing the good news that He would rise again on the third day. Even on the night in which He was betrayed, even when Jesus told Peter directly that he would deny Him three times that very night, Peter did not believe that Jesus would rise, none of them did, and he was so overcome with grief and sorrow, hopelessness, and despair that he went and unwittingly fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy and denied his Lord, his Master, and his dearest friend three times before the cock crowed at dawn. Even after His resurrection on the third day, Thomas refused to believe until he could see and touch Jesus with his own eyes and hands. Thomas’ sorrow and grief, along with his reason and intellect, which Satan also uses against you, blinded him to the Truth of Jesus’ Word.
Dear Christian, you are on a journey through a barren and desolate wilderness. Like the children of Israel before you, you are an exile journeying to a promised land. Just as Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, so this world is not your home. Your First Parents dwelt in paradise with God. Their sin and rebellion necessitated their, and your, exile. But Jesus, the Second Adam, has atoned for your sin and has justified you before God, and has returned to paradise with God as your Redeemer, your Lord, your Brother, and your Bridegroom, that where He is, you may also be.
Israel was redeemed from Pharaoh’s hell and was sent into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. They were exiled and were taken captive by the Babylonians and the Assyrians before being restored to their own county. Likewise, today, the Church of Jesus Christ lives in exile as a stranger in a strange land, having a different language and a different culture, different values, and different priorities which this world neither values nor shares nor tolerates. Yet, each of these exiles, each of these uncomfortable displacements, each of these wilderness pilgrimages are, and have been, fulfilled in Jesus’ own self-exile from His Father in heaven to make His way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that is this earth and world and your own human life and experience, that He might redeem you and lead you forth out of exile in death and hell and into the Promised Land of life everlasting life with your Holy Triune God.
How to get back to Eden and to God? That is the question. God answered that question and promised to provide that way almost immediately after our First Parent’s rebellion and fall. In truth, according to the inscrutable wisdom of God, He had it all planned all along. He would send His Son into the world of His own creation as a man to fulfill what He created man to do and to be from the beginning and to then offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for man’s sin and guilt, to die the death man had earned and merited, and to be raised up and to return to His Father, blazing a trail for your own resurrection and return to God and heaven, to Eden, and to paradise restored.
Satan knew that God had a plan, but he didn’t know the details, the who, the why, the where, the when, or the how. How did Satan know? The same way that you and I know anything about God and His will and His ways – from His Word. Satan knew that a “seed from the woman” would strike his head. But, who? When? How? The answers to those questions Satan would have to learn, for he is no more privy to the mind and the thoughts of God than are you or I. Satan learned something about Jesus when he tempted Him in the wilderness. And, Satan learned something more about Jesus when He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons from the possessed, and forgave sins. Still, Satan never could have guessed what would happen when he struck Jesus’ heel and sunk his venomous fangs into His flesh upon the cross. He thought he had won at last. But, he was wrong – dead wrong. For, what Satan didn’t know and couldn’t see was that Jesus was not merely the Son of God, which Peter had confessed before Jesus’ crucifixion, but Jesus was God Himself, which Thomas confessed after Jesus’ resurrection, who willingly laid down His own innocent life and satisfied the justice of God’s righteousness that had been transgressed by the sin of humanity. Righteousness had been restored, and Satan was the tool God used to make it happen. Now Eden and the paradise of heaven stands open to all who trust in the blood of Jesus and enter therein. That is the truth! All Satan can do is tell you lies, hoping that you will believe them and get sidetracked in your journey, and miss out paradise regained and restored.
Sorrow, loss, grief, and pain are natural, normal, and human. Your Lord Jesus experienced all of these just as you do. However, Satan attempts to use these gifts of the Lord against you to take your focus off of your goal, to attack and to destroy your faith. But, do not fear! Take comfort in this good news: You are not alone. Though you do not see Him, your Lord Jesus is with you, always, just as He promised. Moreover, He knows the way of your pilgrimage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for He has walked it before you, and He unlocked the gate of death and the grave that would keep you in so that they have become for you an open portal through which you may freely pass into His Father’s house, into Eden, into paradise, and the Promised Land forevermore.
You are not alone. Your Lord Jesus is with you. He walks with you on your way, He talks with you through His Word and through prayer, He washes, cleanses, and restores you through Holy Baptism and Absolution, and He communes with you and comforts you through His Body and Blood in the Holy Supper. And, He has sent you His Holy Spirit to comfort and to counsel, to help and to guide you, and to protect and keep you in faith. Indeed, it was necessary that Jesus ascend to His Father and leave you physically and visually that He might send to you His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps you, comforts you, and keeps you by convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin because He exposes the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness because “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment because “the ruler of this world is judged.” Satan is defeated. He has no claim on you. His only weapons are lies and deceptions through which he seeks to deceive you and make train wreck of your faith.
Thus St. James exhorts you this day, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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.” Jesus and His Holy Spirit are the good and perfect gift of God the Father that will never change. Satan will try to deceive you into believing that this is not true. He will use your sorrow, your loss, your grief, and your pain to cause you to doubt God’s faithfulness, to doubt His love for you, to doubt that He is able to help you, and to doubt whether He exists at all. But the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter will guide you and protect you. Open yourself to Him by making use of the means through which He works: The Word of God and the Blessed Sacraments. As you gather regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ around these Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit comforts, counsels, guards, protects, and keeps you in faith, safe from Satan’s attacks and deceptions, and He preserves you in your pilgrimage back to Eden, the Promised Land, the Paradise of Heaven with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. Come, now, and draw water from the wells of salvation, both now and forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.