Sunday, May 28, 2017

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.
Because of their idolatry, apostasy, and unbelief, the LORD delivered the children of Israel into exile in Babylon. Yet, more than their idolatry, apostasy, and unbelief, what incensed the LORD against His people was that they profaned His Name among the nations. Rather than being the holy people they were called to be, set apart from the nations by their obedience to God’s Law, instead they adopted the culture, the religion, and the practices of the nations around them, and they blended in with them, and did not glorify the LORD. Thus, when the LORD disciplined them by delivering them into the hands of their enemies, the Babylonians chided the Israelites and derided their God saying that He was unable to help them, or that He couldn’t be bothered to – they profaned and blasphemed the Name of the LORD. Therefore the LORD commanded the Prophet Ezekiel, “Say to the house of Israel, ‘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 to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great Name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the LORD God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”
The past several weeks we have heard Gospel readings from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse from St. John’s Gospel, chapters fourteen to seventeen. Making up nearly twenty percent of John’s Gospel, our Lord delivered these words on Holy Thursday during the course of the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal by Judas and arrest by the Temple Guards under authority of the Sanhedrin. This may seem somewhat out of place in the weeks following the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but they serve a crucial purpose in our life together in this world after Jesus’ Ascension until His Parousia and return on the Last Day. In this discourse, Jesus was preparing His disciples then, and now, for what we would face after His Ascension: “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.”
For, our Lord knew that we would be tempted by, and that we would succumb and capitulate to, our world and our culture, that the temptations would be strong and severe, and that our fear would be great. Indeed, like the children of Israel, we too have profaned the Name of the LORD in idolatry, apostasy, and unbelief. We too have adopted the culture, the religion, and the practices of the world, and have acquiesced and blended in with them. Not only is divorce accepted among us, for example, but no one bats an eye when a couple cohabitates and fornicates outside of marriage. Many of us turn a blind eye towards abortion and justify it as mercy and compassion for an unwed mother, for a mother lacking the financial means to raise a child, for a child who is expected to suffer severe abnormalities or a short and painful life, or for victims of rape and incest. We support our children to participate in sports, the performing arts, to study, or to simply to sleep in and get some rest on the Lord’s Day, and then we wonder why they don’t believe that church attendance is important, and why they adopt the language, the culture, and the practices of their peers. But, we do all these things with good intentions, right? Yes, yes, truly our Lord Jesus was right – in doing these things, we think we are offering service to God. Would we be more merciful than God Himself and, in so doing, set aside His clear Law and commands? No, but God’s Word must be the only rule and guide of our faith and life, the only lamp for our feet and light for our path.
“But when the Helper comes,” says Jesus, “whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Because we have profaned the LORD’s Name among the nations, we have been poor witnesses. We have not been a light shining in the darkness or a city sitting on a hill, but we have assimilated the culture and values of the world and have blended in with the darkness. Nevertheless, we will be the LORD’s witnesses, not for our sake, but for the sake of His Name, Jesus. Jesus has said all these things to us to keep us from falling away. Truly, the temptation to compromise and to acquiesce, to bend the truth of God’s Word, to, in the best intentions of course, bless what the LORD does not bless and speak peace where there is, and can be, no peace, is intense. Indeed, to stand firm in the Word and commands of our LORD is uncomfortable and, at times, perilous, inviting ridicule and mocking, hatred and derision, and defaming and reputation-staining accusations of bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and more. “Indeed,” Jesus says, “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
Just this week, Muslim extremists besieged a caravan of Christian pilgrims in Egypt and ruthlessly murdered twenty-eight of them in cold blood and hatred, believing they were serving God. A New York times article about that horrible attack says that, “In its determination to kill Christians, whom it gleefully terms as its ‘favorite prey,’ the Islamic State [ISIS] has underscored its intent to wage a war of sectarian bloodshed in Egypt akin to the one it inflicted on Syria and Iraq.” Coptic, Egyptian, Christians, in particular, seem to be a favorite target of these enemies of Christ and His Church. We must not only pray for these brothers and sisters in Christ, but we must rise to their defense in any godly way possible and not ignore their plight, casually going about our comfortable lives. To paraphrase the words of the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller following the Holocaust in World War II, “First they came for the Jews, and I remained silent because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Syrian Christians, and I remained silent because I was not a Syrian. Then they came for the Coptic Christians, and I remained silent because I was not an Egyptian. Then they came for me, and there was no one to speak for or defend me.” Now, in no way do I mean to suggest that the trials, tribulations, and persecutions we now face, or are likely to face in the foreseeable future, are to be compared to the religicide our Syrian and Egyptian brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering, but only that we must stand with them against a common enemy and not make their martyrdoms seem inconsequential or insignificant. Yet, we do precisely that when we fail to stand firm upon God’s Word and commands and acquiesce and capitulate to our pagan culture. We trivialize our faith, we trivialize their martyrdoms, and we trivialize our God, and so we profane His Name among the nations.
“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act,” says the LORD, “but for the sake of My holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations.” “Through you I will vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our LORD and God has done this for you and to you in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. You have each received this work of the LORD personally in your Holy Baptisms. The LORD has washed you clean of your sin, guilt, idolatry, and apostasy, and He has removed your heart of stony unbelief and replaced it with a heart of flesh. He has breathed into you His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth to guide you into all the Truth. Yes, you stray, often daily, and you will sin much in thought, word, and deed. Yes, you will succumb to temptation and are weak to stand before those who mock, ridicule, hate, and persecute you because they mock, ridicule, hate, and blaspheme your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore, return to the LORD in humility and repentance and be restored, daily, to holiness and righteousness in Christ our Lord. And, gather here with the body of Christ, the Church, around His Words and His Holy Wounds, that you may be forgiven, renewed, strengthened, equipped, and sent to be His witnesses, His martyrs, before the nations to the glory of His Great and Holy Name.
Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven where He reigns and rules over heaven and earth and fills all things. He has sent His Holy Spirit upon His Church, upon you. The Holy Spirit bears witness about Jesus, and He causes you to bear witness about Jesus too in your words, in your deeds, in your lives, and in your deaths. Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit that you might not fall away, for, as St. Peter warns, “the end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” And, “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 in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
The LORD has vindicated you, not for your sake, but for the sake of His Holy Name, for the sake of Jesus. But, this is good news for you! The LORD has vindicated you, not because of your faulting prayers, not because of your imperfect works, not because of your grudging obedience to His commands, not even because of your weak and little faith, but because of His Holy Name, because of Jesus’ faith, prayers, works, and obedience unto death for the sake of His Holy Name. You will be His witnesses for the sake of His Holy Name. When the fiery trial comes upon you, remember that the Lord has said this to you in advance, and that they do these things because they do not know the Father, nor Jesus. In your witnessing, in your martyrdom, in your selfless love and sacrificial service to all, let them see Jesus that His Name may be glorified. In this way you die every day and are raised to new life in Christ. For, to live must be Christ, and, therefore, to die is gain.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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