Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon for Easter 6 - Zion Lutheran Church, Lahoma

Easter 6 – John 16:23-33 – May 29th, 2011

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” These are the words by which Christ Jesus wraps up three chapters worth of dialog and discussion with His disciples on what life in the New Testament Church will be. This is Law, and this is Gospel – in the world there is sin, your own sin and the sin of others, and this will make life difficult for you. That is Law. Christ Jesus has overcome the world, has conquered sin and death and hell for you. This is Gospel. This is the shape and center and heart of preaching in the Church – that now you have troubles, some of your own devising because of your own sin, some just as a result of being in a fallen world where things are harsh – but Christ Jesus has gone to the Cross, and He reigns now resurrected and victorious and your sin is done away with and you are delivered. This is what the Church proclaims, what Christians proclaim with every breath.

Or at least it should be. Often it is not. Martin Luther, at the very beginning of the Reformation, when he was talking to his fellow Augustinian monks, made a very wise observation. This observation was that in the Church, among people who claimed to be Christians, there were really two basic types, two streams of theology. On the one hand, there was a theology of Glory – a theology that asserted that because we are Christians, because we are good little boys and girls, that we will have blessings and power and might in this life. A theology of Glory that focused on things of power and success – all with the assumption that if we just did enough, were righteous enough, were obedient enough, we could obtain all these blessings and more, even salvation, from God. It was the very same theology that had led a young Martin Luther to the monastery, where he was convinced that if he just led a good enough, a holy enough life, he might someday finally win favor from God.

And Luther learned by the grace of God and His Word that this was false. That this was not what our Lord Christ Jesus teaches in the Scriptures. Christ doesn’t proclaim a theology of glory, a theology where the good little boys and girls impress their heavenly Father and He gives them treats. Instead, our Lord teaches what Luther calls the Theology of the Cross. In this sinful, fallen world, there will be pain and sorrow and despair. That’s the consequence of sin. Yet God in His mercy will not let us suffer alone, and so He sends Christ Jesus into the world to take into Himself all the pain and suffering and consequences of sin that we face, He sends Christ Jesus to go to the Cross, so that we might be forgiven and have life everlasting. And that is what He has done. Does this mean that everything now is perfect? Hardly – there is still sin and shame and hurt and pain here – but God shows His love to us still. He does give us blessings, blessings which we in no way earn or merit. He forgives us our sin, He strengthens us to face down the trials of this life confident in Him, and He has promised us life everlasting even in the face of all this. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The problem is this. That false theology of Glory still dominates in this world, even among those who would be Christian. That whole predict the end of the world, all that rapture talk. That’s all theology of Glory. You are the bad people, but we’re the good ones, and you’ve got it coming to you. God likes me, but you’re toast. Or most of the books in the Christian book store – if you want blessings, just pray this right prayer. If you do the right prayer, you’ll get blessings now. If you do X, God will give you Y. All about what I do. I’ll be honest, it depresses me. It all ignores what Christ says – in this world you will have tribulation. I wish it weren’t so – I wish I had the magic three step solution to make all your troubles go away – but I don’t. I’d be lying if I said I did. I’d be lying in God’s Name and taking His Name in vain if I preached some cockamamie plan I had come up with. And all of this Theology of Glory tries to put our hopes, our dreams upon what we do, and we expect to see the fruits now – and it kills faith. Tragedy comes. The people of Tuscaloosa, of Joplin, of Piedmont see disaster. Does that mean that God doesn’t love them anymore? That He’s rejected them? You see disappointment in your own life… that venture fails, that relationship crumbles, the kids turn out to be jerks and never call, whatever it is. And if we think, if we are told that if we were “really” Christian, that if God really cared this wouldn’t have happened, we are left battered and broken and crushed, trampled under foot by the false and cruel theology of Glory.

“In the world, you will have tribulation.” That’s all your sufferings are. You are still in the world, still in this fallen place, and in this sinful, fallen world lousy things happen. It’s the nature of this place now – we see around us the impacts of sin, nothing more, nothing less. And with might of ours, with our own power, we can’t topple sin. As long as you live there are going to be days where your life will stink on ice. But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. Far from it. Consider Christ Jesus your Lord and Savior. Does He know the trials you face? And by this I don’t mean just “is He aware of” the trials you face – but does He know them, has He experienced, has He shared in them? Or in other words, Has God become Man and stood in this fallen world just as you do right now? Yes. Has He with His own eyes seen heartache and pain? Yes. Has He wept bitter tears, just as you have? Yes. In this world, you will have tribulation – and in this world Christ Jesus Himself has had tribulation. And in order to defeat that pain, that sorrow, He Himself faced the ultimate tribulation, the ultimate scorn and shame of the world – He went to the Cross.

This is why, dear friends, we are focused upon the Cross. This is why St. Paul is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Because when we consider the Cross, we are comforted. Does Satan, does the world try to tell you that God doesn’t love you, that if God had loved you, surely your life would be different, would be better, would be more of this or that? Behold the Cross – behold there Christ Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son. In this world, even He whom the Father loves faced tribulation – your sorrows do not mean that God doesn’t love you. Your trials you face don’t mean that God doesn’t care. Indeed, God cares so much, that He will share in your trials, that He will come down and bear those burdens, face them all, pain, suffering, even death – all so that He might rise and say conclusively – I have overcome this sinful, fallen world. I live, and because I live, you too, My brothers and sisters, will live.

This is the joy that we do have, joy that a world fixated on stuff will never be able to understand, joy they will never be able to take away. Because Christ has been raised, because He lives – we too will be raised. Because He endured and suffered all, we will endure whatever we suffer – the world cannot crush us, it cannot defeat us because it could not crush or defeat Jesus. Christ has overcome the world. “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.” Peace. Confidence. Security. Stability. Assurance. These are the things that Christ has given us – peace so that we might stand when the world tries to knock us down. Confidence in Christ’s love and compassion for us, no matter what we see here. Security, knowing that Jesus Himself has secured our future…He has won salvation for me; my failures can’t ruin it. Stability – for Christ Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His steadfast love endures forever. Assurance, because Christ Jesus has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism and even gives Himself to you here today in His Supper. In the midst of a sinful world, we have peace.

And we grow in this peace. So often, we do not know what to pray for. So often we get lost and scattered and confused. So often we feel pulled in every and all directions at once, and peace is the furthest thing from our mind. We let the glory preachers set our expectations, we let the world tell us what we should want – and we become stretched and worn and tear and break. And in the midst of this, Christ Jesus comes. He was not alone, for the Father was with Him, and this gave Him peace. Christ Jesus says to you, Peace be with You, for I am with you. You are mine and I am yours, and even in the middle of the worst storms that this life can throw at you, I am with you. And I have faced down death, and I have risen, and you will be with Me in that resurrection.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus – note that lovely “in Christ Jesus” that we say and hear so often – dear friends in Christ Jesus – you are connected to Jesus by the gift of faith, given by the Word of God. His life is your life. And yes, as your Lord faced trials and tribulations in this life, so will you. But as He endured in the face of them, so will you, for He will bring you through them all – He will be with you as you take up your cross and follow Him, even until the day when He does return, and with the voice of an archangel and the cry of command He calls you to stride forth from the tomb in your resurrected body and follow Him. Take heart, He has overcome the World. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia. Amen.

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