Saturday, April 24, 2021

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.

My fondest memories of childhood growing up in the Midwest most certainly include the numerous summer vacations my family took. We drove, by car, all over the western United States. I got to see the Badlands of South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and the infamous Wall Drug. I got to see Yosemite, Old Faithful, and Devil’s Tower. I visited California: San Francisco’s Lombard Street, the Japanese Tea Garden, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Los Angeles: Anaheim, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. San Diego: The Zoo and Sea World, and even Tijuana. And, that’s just scratching the surface. All by car, mind you, without seatbelts, sprawled out in the backseat, and myself, most of the time, lying in the back window of the car. We traveled thousands and thousands of miles in several Oldsmobiles, leisurely driving from destination to destination, and each time the car would slow or there was an change in the rhythm of travel, we kids would cry out: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And, the answer was typically, “We’ll be there in a little while.”

Still, though we weren’t “there” yet, we were “somewhere.” We were somewhere different from where we started, and we were somewhere different from the last time we asked, “Are we there yet?” My Father used to say, “Getting there is half the fun.” He was right, of course, though I couldn’t see it at the time. So, my sisters and I bided the time by playing Mad Libs, playing games on invisible ink pads, the license plate game, etc., anything to make the time pass by more quickly. However, the truth is that, if we would only have paid attention and looked around at the landscapes and the scenery passing by, there were countless signs of us moving ever nearer and closer to our goal and destination, to the “there” of our question, “Are we there yet?” No, we weren’t “there” yet, but we would be eventually, in a little while. Still, we were “somewhere,” and “somewhere” might not be so bad if we’d just lift up our heads, open our eyes, and take a look around.

Our Christian faith and life is like such a journey. We have a goal and a destination – to live with the Lord forever in heaven, in resurrected and glorified bodies – but, often, the wait, the traveling, the distance, seems unbearable. Sure, we try to amuse and to distract ourselves to pass the time, but, too often, this causes us even greater suffering, as our enemy Satan is all too pleased to help us take our eyes and our minds off the goal and get sidetracked into any of numerous distractions, idolatries, and self-gratifying and selfish behaviors and activities. And, while sensual desires and attractions are very effective diversionary weapons in Satan’s arsenal, pain and sorrow, suffering, and loss are often even more effective. When they befall you, it can feel like you’re locked in a car on a long trip that will never end. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How long will this last? Will it never end?”

Truly, even in our Christian faith and life, my Father’s advice about vacationing rings true: “Getting there is half the fun.” Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the word, precisely, but the Lord would have you see your life in Him now as being every bit as important as your destination and goal to be with Him then in heaven. The Word of God became a man and made His dwelling among us as our brother; He suffered and died, was raised, and ascended back to His Father, as a man, not only so that your body will be raised from death to new and everlasting life, but so that you might begin living that new life in Him right now.

And so, Jesus prepared His disciples for this time, the time of their journey, the time of their lives in this world, now, until He would return and deliver them to their goal and destination, then, in heaven. Jesus prepared His disciples saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Suffice it to say, they had no idea what He was talking about. “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” they wondered. Jesus was speaking, immediately, of His impending death and resurrection. Very soon, His disciples would see Him no longer. But, then, in a little while, in His resurrection, they would see Him again. Then, Jesus said, they would have joy that no one – absolutely no one – would take from them. Likewise, Jesus would leave them again for a little while in His ascension, and then they would see Him again in a little while in the resurrection of their own bodies, and they would never be without Him again.

And, Jesus described for them what that time would be like saying, “You will weep and lament, and the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” This statement, just like “a little while,” has a now / not yet quality about it. That is to say that, even now, in the little while of Jesus’ absence, our sorrows can be turned into joy, and that, when Jesus returns, there will be no more sorrow. To illustrate this, Jesus uses the example of a woman in labor of childbirth. In the pain and distress of labor, she may well be sorrowful and think that it will never end and that, if it does, she will never permit herself to go through it again. But, when the labor is over and the child is born, she views her pain and distress and sorrow as but “a little while,” a little while of sorrow that, now, doesn’t seem so sorrowful, but a brief distress that she will gladly endure again for the joy of the new life she holds in her arms.

But, Jesus’ point here is not only that you have strength to endure pain and loss and suffering for the joy that will be revealed “in a little while” when He returns – though, it is most certainly that – but, Jesus would have you count it all as joy. For, in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has passed away. And, the new life you live, it will never die. It is Christ’s life into which you have been grafted, as a branch is grafted into a vine and draws life and nourishment from it and is made fruitful. For, you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus’ death is your death, and Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Jesus’ life is your life. The Father has given Him all things, and Jesus shares all things with you, His beloved, His body, His Church, His Bride. Therefore, not only will you endure and persevere through pain and loss and suffering, but also you may find joy in these travails. For, there is a great difference between joy and happiness: Happiness tends to be fleeting and depends upon temporal factors like circumstances or other people, whereas joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances, but flows from baptism into Jesus Christ and faith.

Thus, St. Peter urges you as “sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” See, my family vacation analogy wasn’t that far-fetched. St. Peter’s point is that you recognize that you are on a pilgrimage, a journey, towards a goal and destination – an eternal reign with Christ in heaven – and that, even though you have not yet reached your goal and destination, you have already begun to live this new life that will never die. Therefore, how you live, and what you do now, in this life, matters. First, passions of the flesh and worldly pursuits are weapons in Satan’s war against your soul. He will use them to divert your focus from the way you should go, to distract you, or even to cause you to lose interest in your goal and destination. Second, how you live and what you do is a witness and confession of what you believe in your heart. Thus, St. Peter exhorts you to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles [among unbelievers] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” And, third, you miss out on the joy, the contentment, the peace, and the freedom that Jesus died to give to you by washing your guilt away in His holy, innocent shed blood and by forgiving your sins and justifying you before the Father.

Yes, we have a goal and destination – eternal life in heaven with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but, getting there is half the fun! Don’t permit yourself to be defined by things that are passing away. You are not your career, or your marriage, or your family. You are not your friends, or your neighbors, or what the television, movies, and magazines suggest you should be. But, you are children of the heavenly Father, purchased and won in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Live your life in this victory, this freedom, and this joy knowing that, even the dark and difficult times are for but “a little while,” and that the victory is already yours in Jesus Christ. Moreover, you are not alone. Though you do not see Him during this “little while,” He is here. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you, but to be with you always, even to the end of the age. He is here to fill you to overflowing with His grace, mercy, love, peace, and forgiveness. Not only will you want for nothing, but you are filled to overflowing with His rich and boundless gifts. He blesses you. You are blessed to be a blessing.

Are we there yet? No, and yes. The victory is yours in Christ Jesus now, but you do not yet get to enjoy it in its fullness. You are on a journey, a pilgrimage, and life with Jesus in His kingdom is your goal and destination. Do not be afraid. You will get there. Only, do not get sidetracked and distracted and miss out on the kingdom goal. But, take heart, you are not alone. Your Lord Jesus, who has already made the journey for you as your brother, is with you now, though you do not see Him, and He will comfort and strengthen you along the way. You will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: