Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homily for 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.

You have to wait for a lot of things in this life. Throughout your working years, you have to wait as you faithfully make contributions to your 401k or to some other retirement plan, watching it slowly rise and, sometimes, watching it radically fall, all with the hope that it will, over time, increase to a sufficient amount to carry you through your retirement. And, when you were younger, it probably seemed like you were always waiting for the next milestone in life. When you were sixteen you could drive a car. When you were eighteen you finally graduated high school, you could vote for the first time, and you could be drafted into the military. When you were nineteen, or maybe twenty-one, you could legally enjoy a beer. And then, when you were twenty-five, well, perhaps you stopped counting. And, if you have young children or grand children, you know how hard it is for them to wait patiently for that promised bowl of ice cream, for their chance to use the computer or to watch TV, or for that trip to Disney World. To them, it seems like the promised reward will never come. It’s hard to wait patiently in hope and faith that what is promised will actually be delivered and fulfilled.

On the day before His death, Jesus comforted His disciples saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” He was referring to His death, which would cause His disciples great fear, pain, and suffering as they would witness their Lord’s betrayal and arrest, His unjust trial and conviction, His mocking and scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial. Jesus knew that His disciples did not fully understand or believe what He had been teaching them concerning His death and resurrection, so He comforted them, much the same way you might comfort a young child, by saying, “A little while….” “A little while…” is comforting because it suggests, it promises, that, after an unknown, but, nonetheless, determinate period of time, the disciples would see Jesus again. John tells us that they didn’t understand Jesus’ words “A little while…” and that they were confused, so Jesus gave them an analogy to help them out. Jesus compared the little while of weeping and lamenting and derision by the world that the disciples would face to a woman in the pangs of childbirth. Certainly, in the throes of labor, the pain and anguish can seem overwhelming and never ending. Yet, when the child is born, there is only joy and rejoicing so that she no longer remembers the anguish. Indeed, many mothers who cry out in labor “Never again!” after the delivery willingly, joyfully go through it again and again. Jesus used this analogy to comfort His disciples saying to them, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” As the Gospels proclaim, that Thursday evening, that dreadful Friday, and all that somber Sabbath, the disciples did weep and lament in fear, doubt, and confusion. But, on Sunday, the First Day of the Week, when Jesus appeared to them alive, resurrected in the flesh, still bearing the wounds of His crucifixion, they were glad when they saw the Lord.

Jesus walked and talked and ate and drank with His disciples and countless others for forty days after His resurrection from the dead, and then He ascended, in the flesh, to the right hand of His Father in Heaven from whence He came. His ascension, too, Jesus had in mind when He said “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Indeed, you and I stand with Jesus’ disciples and with all Christians since Jesus’ ascension in this little while of nearly two thousand years! And, to be sure, amongst the faithful, there is weeping and lamenting while the world around us rejoices, mocks our faith, derides our values, and calls evil good and good evil. But your Jesus assures you, just as He assured His disciples nearly two thousand years ago, that it is but a little while, and then you will see Him.

Now, you may be thinking that our Lord has a rather confused understanding of time and of the possible meanings of a little while. Well, I assure you that our Lord is not confused and neither is He ignorant of how time works, rather it is that He has a different perspective from which to view time and He would have you share this perspective with Him. St. Peter explains Jesus’ perspective in this way, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” That is to say that your God and your Lord have an eternal perspective that sees all things at all times at one time. This is why Jesus can say to you that in a little while you will see Him, because He sees this already as an accomplished fact! Indeed, God saw your salvation in His Son before He created the foundation of the world! How is this possible? God has an eternal perspective while you, if you use only human reason, limited by your perceptions and experiences, focused only upon fleshly and material things, have a temporal perspective. Dr. Luther helps us to understand this with the analogy of a great and tall tree. When the tree is standing and we observe it longitudinally, we cannot see the entire tree at once but only the bottom, or the middle, or the top; however, if the tree is fallen and lying transversely on the forest floor, then we can gaze upon its bottom, its middle, and its top all at the same time. In a similar way, God does not see time longitudinally [looking from one end to the far end]; He sees it transversely. This is part of what it means that your LORD is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End; He has created all things, He sustains all things, He has redeemed all things, and He fills all things. Now, that’s an eternal perspective!

However, that, for your God, one day is a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day, this is not some mathematical formula for you to use to calculate time and by which to predict events in the future as some are want to do. For example, a certain contemporary false teacher is proclaiming that you and I will not gather here in this place next Sunday, for, he claims, Jesus is going to return this coming Saturday, May 21, 2011 and all living believers will be raptured out of this world; Then, five months later, on October 21, 2011, this earth and world will be completely destroyed – all this, despite Jesus’ clear teaching, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

No, you are not given to know how long a little while might be – indeed, not even Jesus knows that! – nevertheless, there is great comfort in knowing that God the Father knows and that He, in fact, already sees Jesus’ return and your resurrection as an accomplished fact. And, when you adopt the eternal perspective of your LORD through faith, you will receive strength to persevere through all of life’s unpleasant little whiles knowing that, in a little while you will see Jesus in glory and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. The Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz wrote concerning this matter,

It’s human and understandable to feel that times of difficulty and suffering last a long time. Time goes very slowly when we suffer. Yet the apostle Paul says that our affliction is momentary and weighs little. He can say this because he sees suffering in the big picture. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). That’s the correct perspective. It shows us that it really is only a little while.

And yet, the apocalyptic false teachers who would attempt to calculate the date of the Lord’s return are certainly right about one thing; to quote Bishop Giertz once more, “It’s a common and disastrous mistake to think that Jesus’ return is a long time off and that we have plenty of time to fix all ‘that stuff about God’ later.” Since no man will know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return we must live each and every day as if it were that day. It is in this spirit that St. Paul writes both to warn and to encourage you to live as sojourners and exiles in this world, abstaining from passions of the flesh and worldly desires which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct honorable so that no one may have anything against you. Be submissive to human institutions of law and justice as to the Lord, for He utilizes these means to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. Live in the freedom of the Gospel, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Honor everyone. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be a good and honest employee to your boss, whether he is good and just or evil and unjust. The point to all this being, the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.

And, while suffering and sorrow may seem like more than you can bear, you can take comfort that everything that happens in this temporal life has an end, yet the LORD remains the same and His years have no end. Further, the LORD has given us a foretaste of eternity now in His blessed Word and Holy Sacraments which feed and nourish, comfort and strengthen the good work of faith that the LORD has begun in you and will preserve and keep it until He completes it in you at the Day of Jesus Christ. And to this Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in whom you live and move and have your being, be all glory now and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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