Sunday, May 8, 2016
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.
Was the cross of Jesus a good thing, or a bad thing? Careful, now, I know that you want to say it was a bad thing. After all, how can you gaze upon the tortured, pierced, torn, and bloodied body of Jesus on the cross and not see the evil, the wickedness, and the hatred that nailed Him there? How could anyone call the cross a good thing? Well, God calls it good. Thus, perhaps you need to consider the possibility that you are not seeing things correctly. You see, you often mistake a good thing for a bad thing, and a bad thing for a good thing. In contrast to yourself, however, God simply calls a thing what it is. God calls Jesus’ crucified body on the cross a good thing, for it was the means through which you, His prodigal son, His prodigal daughter, were restored to Him, and by which Satan, your enemy and the cause of your sin-wrecked relationship with God, was defeated and lost all claim upon you. Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death upon the cross were a good thing – they were good for you. Therefore, do not dare to gaze upon the cross, the crucifix, and call it bad.
God calls a thing what it is, and so should you. God calls your deviant, rebellious thoughts, words, and deeds sin, and so should you. God calls your separation from Him death, and so should you. And, God calls His Son Jesus, dead upon the cross, satisfaction and redemption, paid in full for all your sins so that, through faith and trust in Him alone, He now calls you what you are in Him – holy, pure, and innocent – and, so should you.
However, you must understand that it was not for your sake that your LORD gave all for you, but it was for the sake of the His holy Name, which you had profaned, and which you continue to profane when you sin. Does this sound odd to you, that “it is not for your sake” that God acted, but “for the sake of [His] holy Name?” It is understandable if it does, for popular Christian thought is much more you-centered than it is God-centered or Christ-centered. Further, I am not at all convinced that most Christians have a clue what God’s Name is or means. Because of that, I really appreciate this comment in the Lutheran Study Bible: “God’s Name is a capsule-word for everything He is and has revealed about Himself. Its essential characteristic is ‘holiness,’ i.e., transcendence above all limited human concepts, definitions, and comprehension.”
This is why I preached to you last week about Jesus’ Name, and what it means to ask anything of the Father in Jesus’ Name, in the assurance that He will give it to you. The Name of Jesus, the Name of God, is so very much more than a proper noun, a title, or a designation. God’s Name is holy. It is everything that holiness is and must be, and the only holy thing through which other persons and things may be made to be holy. And so, no, it is not for your sake that the LORD acted, but it was for the sake of His holy Name. However, you were once a part of the LORD’s holy Name, and it is His will and love for you that you be restored to His holy Name once again. This, Jesus has done for you in the good thing of His suffering, crucifixion, and death. And, the LORD raised Him up again on the third day, that in Jesus, His Name, He might raise you up and restore you to a right relationship with Him once again.
Despite what your eyes see, this is a good thing. You must learn to see with your ears. Indeed, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Name and the Word of God made flesh. No one could know this simply by gazing upon Jesus with his eyes. To the eyes of men, Jesus looked to be the son of a carpenter from backwater Nazareth, a young rabbi with a somewhat radical interpretation of scripture, a zealot seeking to gather a following presumably to begin an overthrow of their Roman occupiers, etc. Yet, there were a few who could see the Truth with their ears and, thus, with the eyes of faith, most notably John the Baptist who pointed to Jesus proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John judged not by what his eyes saw, but by what his ears saw. He called Jesus what He was, the Paschal Lamb of God for the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter had a similar experience when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And, also the centurion stationed at the cross as Jesus died who confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” And also, St. Thomas on the Sunday following Easter who confessed of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
It is a good thing that Jesus died for you, even as it is a good thing that He was raised for you, and it is also a good thing that Jesus has ascended back to His Father for you. Do not overlook or neglect the importance of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ ascension back into the holy presence of God is also your ascension, reconciliation, and restoration to God. It was your flesh and blood that Jesus took up when He was conceived of the Virgin Mary, was obedient under the Law of God, suffered and died for your sins, guilt, and transgressions, was raised from death on the third day, and, lastly, ascended back to His Father in heaven, guaranteeing a place for you there through baptism and faith in Him. A human Man now sits in the presence and glory of God, and that Man is Jesus, and through your baptism into Him and faith, that Man is you. You must see with your ears by hearkening to this Word of the LORD, and you must call a thing, not as it appears, but what it truly is. In Christ, you have an audience with the King of Creation, the LORD and Holy Triune God. You have the same audience as His eternal Son, Jesus – full access, the King’s ear, and His promise to bless you and keep you in and through all things.
Jesus has said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. You must not be deceived by mere appearances. The mighty works of the LORD are often accomplished through the humblest and most unassuming means. Moses was but a stuttering shepherd. David was young, inexperienced, and mild. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, a tax collector, and women, among the least in their community. Your pastor is but a sinful man like you vacillating between pride and humility, anger and gentleness, condemnation and forgiveness, hardness and compassion. And the most powerful works of the LORD are accomplished through the Word spoken, water applied, bread and wine given. Through these means sins are forgiven, faith is created, nourished, and strengthened, and disciples are equipped for service to the neighbor and for battle against Satan and his demonic forces. Though you are nothing to look at, you are God’s children and Jesus’ body, the Church, militant in warfare against Satan for the life of the world. Do not be deceived by the humble, weak, and even sinful appearance, but call a thing what it is, what God in His Word says it is: You are the Church, the called and chosen of the LORD in Jesus Christ, holy, pure, and righteous as Jesus Himself before God and man.
But, the world doesn’t see you for what you are. Men do not consider you holy, pure, and righteous, but evil, hypocrites, bigots, and worse. You must not be surprised at this. The world and men do not keep the Word of the LORD or have any care for it. Therefore, they call evil good, and good evil. But, you must simply call a thing what it is. Let your yes by yes, and let your no be no. And, because you are God’s yes, you must be yes to your brother and sister in Christ, you must be yes to your neighbor, and you must be yes to the world. That is to say, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” This does not mean that you bless what God has condemned, but that you bear with and show love to all, even to those who hate God and who hate you and consider you to be evil. You must discern between right and wrong, good and evil, yes and no according to the light of God’s Word and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, but it is not your place to judge and condemn. You must be merciful, as your LORD and God has been merciful to you. You must love with His love, bear with one another with His patience and longsuffering, and forgive with His forgiveness, “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Did I just in happenstance describe mothers? Yes, surely mothers are an example of this kind of love and patience and longsuffering. Even when motherhood is wrought in pain and tribulation, even when their children disobey and disrespect them, even when husbands withdraw and seem unsupportive or disconnected, mothers see and feel and believe and cherish an unseen truth – Motherhood is a sacred and holy vocation. Children are a gift and blessing of God. The love of a mother may be the most like the love of God. May the Holy Spirit give us all eyes to see what mothers see and new hearts and new spirits to love selflessly in humility and longsuffering all of God’s children as well as those He would have yet to be His children.
Do not be deceived. Things are not as they appear. Open your ears to the Word of the LORD and see in the way that He sees. Do not be surprised at the fiery trial you often encounter in your lives these days in this world that is not your home, but rejoice insofar as you share in 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. The Helper has come and is with you. The Holy Spirit bears witness in Word and Sacrament and in your own hearts to Jesus Christ to keep you from falling away. Next, we will celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Through the Spirit of God poured out in Christ Jesus you are His people and you will dwell with Him forever as His people, with the LORD as your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.