Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter

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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.
A visit to the Holy Land isn’t a vacation, it’s a pilgrimage. I’ve never been so aware of being a stranger in a strange land as I was in Israel. It was a great place to visit, indescribably inspiring and awesome, but it was not home, not even in a miniscule way. It was utterly foreign, from the languages and dialects spoken by the masses who throng there from all over the globe, to the extreme differences in culture and custom, to the food, and even the elevators in the hotels on Shabbat (they are programmed to stop at every floor so that the religious Jews do not have to push any buttons!). And, as I packed my bags for that trip, I packed lightly, carefully, and judiciously so that I would have only what I needed and nothing that would unnecessarily weigh me down and make my pilgrimage more difficult.
And, this is the Word of the LORD for you today: You are pilgrims here, strangers in a strange land, just passing through. This earth, this life, this is not your home, but you are citizens of the heavenly kingdom where Jesus Christ reigns over heaven and earth. And, because this earth, this life, is not your home, you must pack lightly, carefully, and judiciously so that you have only what is needed and nothing unnecessarily weighs you down. That is what St. Peter exhorts you to saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Not only does Peter consider you travelers, pilgrims, and sojourners, but he considers you as outcasts and exiles. No, this earth, this life, this is NOT your home! Do you feel this?
Do you feel uncomfortable and out of place? You should. You need to! Otherwise, it is quite likely that you have permitted yourself to get a little too comfortable here; maybe a lot too comfortable! If you are not waiting and watching in hopeful expectation for the Lord’s return on a day and at an hour you cannot know, then you might be caught by surprise and unprepared like the foolish virgins in our Lord Jesus’ parable, or you might be caught looking longingly back at this world’s pleasures and possessions like Lot’s wife, or like the children of Israel after their Exodus from Egypt, or like the rich young man whom Jesus told to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and then come and follow Him.
I believe that the Church, and our little Lutheran corner of it, enjoyed a long period of time in these United States and its culture when we were generally accepted and thought well of. During that time our congregations grew, rather effortlessly, and we built great institutions, and our pews were filled with families and children, and it was great and wonderful and awesome and… not at all the way our Lord, or St. Peter, or any of the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles describe our Christian pilgrimage here in this life and world. I believe that, during that time of plenty, we grew content and complacent, we became weighed down with worldly and fleshly cares and concerns, and we became less vigilant and aware that we are truly pilgrims and exiles here, and that this is not our home, but that we are children of the heavenly Father and citizens of His heavenly kingdom.
Perhaps the cultural change in our nation is for our good? Perhaps the LORD means to call us back to the one thing needful, His Word and Sacraments? It wouldn’t be the first time that He permitted His people to be displaced and on the outs with the world that they would repent and return. Indeed, the history of God’s people is replete with such examples. The chief story of the Bible is the Exodus, where the LORD placed His people in a new land, a land already occupied by others, as a test to see if they would trust Him and obey Him and not succumb to the worship of false gods and idolatry of the culture they were set in the midst of. Of course, they did succumb, and the sorry history of Israel recorded by the Prophets is the result. Indeed, the history of the children of Israel, and the history of the Christian Church, demonstrates again and again that the Church grew, not in times of popularity and acceptance in the world, but in times of persecution and exile. Indeed, the 2ndcentury Church Father Tertullian stated that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Peter’s counsel to you this day concerns how you are to live and conduct yourself in this life and world that is not your home. Peter says to keep your conduct among the Gentiles, among the unbelievers, honorable. That means, do not act like the unbelievers. Do not take pleasure in the things they enjoy. Do not consider glorious or virtuous the things they consider glorious or virtuous so that, when they speak evil against you – and they will – they may condemn you, not for doing evil, but for doing the works of God. You are to submit to the rulers and authorities the LORD has placed over you, be they good or evil, “for it is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrow while suffering unjustly.” The way of the disciple of Jesus is the way of Jesus Himself, and that is the way of the cross. However, you do not get to choose the crosses you bear, nor do you need to seek them out, but the Holy Spirit will select them for you and place them upon you. They are God’s gift to you, for your good and for His glory.
And, if you think your crosses too difficult to bear, then hear this word of comfort today from Jesus: It is but for a little while. Oh, that doesn’t bring you comfort? Well, let me add some color to the image. Truly you are able to bear and endure many things in life if you know how long it will last before you will be relieved. For example, if you are undergoing a root canal, you can get through it if you know that it will end, and when it will end. Well, the Lord does indeed promise you that it will end, even if He doesn’t reveal to you when it will end. There, He calls you to trust in Him, that He is good, that He loves you, giving the example of His own suffering and death for you as proof of His love and faithfulness towards you.
But, what does He mean by “a little while?” In answer to that question your Lord Jesus offers the example of mothers – and how appropriate is that on this Mother’s Day! “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come,” Jesus teaches, “but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” You mothers know that this is true! In my years as a pastor, not to mention the experience of the birth of my own children, I have witnessed mother’s cry out in agony in the midst of labor some form of “Never again!” who then, after the birth of their child, overcome with tears of joy, would gladly go through it all again. In truth, many do, fully knowing what suffering they will face. So, Jesus teaches, you will have suffering now. Did you hear that? You WILL have suffering now, there is no doubt about it! “But,” Jesus promises, “I will see you again, and your hearts WILL rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In fact, Jesus followed His own advice in taking up His cross and suffering and dying for your sins;“for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame.”
We are pilgrims and sojourners in this life and world, even exiles. This is not our home. We are children of the King and heaven is our home. You must view your life in this world in this way and so follow your Shepherd King Jesus through this valley of the shadow of death into His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. Jesus has already blazed the trail for us, and even now He accompanies us as we make our way. Along the way He guides us, chastens us, feeds us, and protects us. However, we must not look back or become encumbered with the cares and concerns of this world, with the passions and desires of our flesh, and with the material and worldly things the world and culture value, lest we become weighed down, complacent, and stop watching and waiting for our deliverance, and so miss our heavenly goal. Therefore, take heed of your Shepherd’s Word and Voice and of that which is truly needful throughout this little while.
Christ is risen! Christ is coming! May you be found faithful, watching, and waiting, O little flock.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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