Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4)

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.
Last Sunday we sang, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” This is most certainly true! However, as good as this earth and life may be, for the LORD has truly blessed us richly in many and various ways, this earth is not our home. Therefore, we must not become too comfortable and complacent in it, nor complicit with it, but we must live our lives as pilgrims and sojourners, as though in a strange land. Thus, on the night in which He was betrayed, in midst of His Last Supper with His disciples before His suffering and death upon the cross, our Lord Jesus shared these words with them and with us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”
How could our Lord Jesus speak of joy in the full knowledge of what He was about to suffer at the hands of sinful men, knowing that even His closest disciples and friends would betray and abandon Him? In a word: faith. Jesus had faith, which is trust, in His Father. Jesus’ faith was, as the Preacher to the Hebrews defines it, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Because He had faith and trust in His Father’s goodness, righteousness, and love, Jesus did not despair of what He was about to suffer but, “for the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame.” What joy was that? It was the joy of returning to His Father in the full knowledge that He would fulfill His Father’s will to redeem and restore us to a right relationship with Him once again. In His ministry, Jesus taught that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. Our justification, repentance, and restoration to the Father causes Jesus, and all the heavenly host, inexpressible joy, and for this reason He laid down His life for us, in love for His Father, and in love for us.
Out of love for His Father and for us, Jesus became the Prodigal Son and left His Father’s home in heaven to squander His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness upon us. Though He was the Son of God, He did not consider His Father’s will to be a slight against Him, but He emptied himself, becoming a servant, born in the likeness of men. As a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. And, He counted it all joy. Jesus became the Prodigal, but you and I, we are the prodigal. All we sons and daughters of Adam are one, huge, rebellious, prodigal son. We have squandered our Father’s love and kindness on the idols of fleshly passions, desires, and lusts, material possessions, and the praise of our fellow men. In sinful rebellion, we disrespected our Father and treated Him as if He were dead or did not exist, and we lived for ourselves and for our own selfish pursuits. But, all the things we thought we wanted failed to satisfy. Their joy was fast, ephemeral, and fleeting. When spent, it was gone, and we had nothing. When we came to our senses we found we had no father, no family, no way to satisfy our hunger, our thirst, and our desire to be fulfilled. There was no joy, but only loneliness, emptiness, and the gnawing suspicion that we were meant for something better, but no longer remembered what that is.
Jesus compares the sorrows and sufferings of our lives to a woman in the throes of childbirth. When the pains of labor are upon her, they are all consuming, her only thought and concern. But, when they have passed and the child is born, she knows only joy – joy unlike anything one can imagine who has not suffered and labored through childbirth. “She no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” “So also you have sorrow now,” says our Lord, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Our Lord Jesus bids us to take up the crosses that have been appointed for each of us, and to follow Him in His cruciform way. The only way to life is through suffering and, ultimately, death. We cannot live forever in this flesh and this world – this is not our home! – anymore than the infant can live forever in his mother’s womb. The womb is not the infant’s home, though it is certainly comfortable; similarly this world is not our home, though creature comforts and pleasures tempt us to settle for slavery and for the food of pigs.
That is why we must be born again of water and spirit in Holy Baptism. We must die to this life and world, and we must die to this flesh with its fallen passions, lusts, and desires, and live to God in Jesus Christ. And so, our Father uses the crosses He gives us to chasten and to discipline us, to slough off the dross and burn off the chaff that keeps us impure. Though we cannot always see it, and often we do not feel it, our sorrows and sufferings are both necessary and good for us, just as the pains of labor are both necessary and good in bringing forth the joy of new life. Thus, St. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” And so, we have sorrow now, but we will see our Savior Jesus again, and our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take our joy from us!
St. Peter urges us, as sojourners and exiles, to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls. Such things are food for swine; they may stave off hunger and thirst for a time, but they can sustain life neither temporally nor eternally. Rather, let us eat of the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live, and let us drink deeply of the Spring of Living Water that, even though we die, we will live and never die. We will weep and lament while the world rejoices, but our sorrow will be turned into joy when the birth pangs have passed and we see our Lord again.
The world hates us because we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. Therefore, how we live in this world matters. Let us not be gloomy and despairing, for our hope is in the Lord of Heaven and Earth who has conquered death, who reigns now at the right hand of God the Father, who is returning to raise us up from death to life that cannot die. Let us heed the exhortation of St. Peter: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” “This is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
It is but a little while until we see Him again, until the sons of God are revealed in the sight of all the world. Already we are sons, adopted in Jesus Christ, but our glory has not yet been revealed. But, it is there, hidden in humility and lowliness, just as Jesus’ divinity was hidden in the humility of His human nature, just as the infant is hidden in his mother’s womb, just as Jesus is really and truly present with us now in His Word, Water, and Supper. But, when He comes, then every eye will see Him, and every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and confess Him as Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Then, our glory, too, will be revealed, and our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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