Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4 sermon - John 16:16-22

          I was driving home from the Pastors’ Conference on Tuesday, and as I normally do, I was listening to Sports Radio – and it was right after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and the host was almost in shock, and he asked, “How do you tell your kids that we live in a dangerous world, I don’t even want to think about that.”  That stood out to me, because Christ Jesus our Lord has never hidden from us, indeed, He continually reminds us that we do live in a dangerous, terrible world – a world where people will indeed rejoice when we suffer.  Indeed, the story of the Scriptures is the story of suffering in the world, from Adam and Eve all throughout the Old Testament.  Indeed, we as Christians know that Christ Jesus came to this world to share in our Sufferings, to take them up upon Himself, to win the victory over them.  But that doesn’t mean that moments in our lives won’t be filled with terror and fear and suffering in pain.

Jesus knows that, and Jesus prepares us for that, indeed, He teaches them how to endure.  In our Gospel text, our Lord is speaking to the disciples on Maundy Thursday, on the night before He is crucified, and He speaks these words to them – A little while and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me.”  When Jesus speaks these words to the disciples, they are confused.  They are bewildered.  What in the world is Jesus talking about?  Jesus continues – Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, 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.  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.”

Now, Jesus here is directly speaking to His crucifixion.  In a little while, just a few short hours, the soldiers will take Jesus away, and they will put Him to death.  And the disciples will weep, they will fear, all while the powers of the world rejoice over the fact that they have crucified this Jesus.  Yet, on the third day, the disciples see Christ again, and they rejoice, they have joy.  They see and understand the joy of Easter, it is theirs.  They have it, they see Christ resurrected, and the sorrows of the crucifixion are done away with by the joy of the resurrection and the life and salvation which it brings.

          So why do we read this now?  Why would the Holy Spirit have John include this in His Gospel?  What importance is this text, this passage to us living in 2013, to us who from our earliest times have been taught and shown the joyous resurrection of Easter?  Is it meant to simply be an example?  See, Jesus shows care and compassion, see He gently guides the disciples through hard times.  Well, it is a good example, and you would do well to imitate Christ Jesus your Lord in His love and compassion, you would do well to make your words sound like His Words.  But that is something we can see and learn whenever we look at Christ.  No, John here is teaching us something beyond just Christ’s example.  Through John, Christ Jesus speaks these words to you, so that you may know where joy is, where joy remains, even in the darkest and deepest times.

          You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  What Jesus says here is actually very elegant.  Jesus lays out a contrast for us – weeping and lamentation versus rejoicing.  And indeed, Christ’s words were an accurate description of what occurred on Good Friday.  Yet dear friends, what we are to remember is that they also accurately describe all too often your life in the world.  The world still rejoices while Christians weep and lament. There are persecutions still going on, churches bombed, places where people are threatened and intimidated for the faith.  Many Christians are weeping and lamenting this moment as the world enjoys its persecution of them.

          But what of you and your life?  What of your tears, what of your sorrows?  You have them, do you not?  You don’t have to have any ties to Boston or Texas in order to know pain and sorrow – I’m sure you have plenty of your own.  You mourn the loss of loved ones – and Satan cackles at your tears.  You feel aches and pains, you see your own body fall apart – and the lord of lies rejoices.  But even more than that – you struggle and toil in your life, and people throw hardships at you – and they rejoice at your suffering, they delight in making your life less.  Does that not all too often describe our lives?  If I asked, could not each one of you list off several people who seem to delight in making your life harder – who seem to delight in aggravating you, berating you, and generally being an annoyance?  You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  This is nothing new, for ever since the fall it has been the way of the sinful world to be a dog eat dog place, where people are selfish and desire to dominate and control their neighbor, who demand their own way at their neighbor’s expense.  Do we ourselves not even fall into this on occasion, do we not feel our own flesh cry out to lash out, to strike back in anger?  Do we not often join in the world’s wicked rejoicing as we cause our neighbor to suffer?

          It’s a nasty, vicious cycle, isn’t it?  Someone hurts us, we hurt them in return.  Soon we aren’t speaking.  Someone bosses us around, we show them in return who’s boss, and then all thoughts of love are gone, and all that remains is power and having things done my way.  Someone insults us, we insult them back, and pain and suffering grows and multiplies.  Someone does something we don’t like, and so we do something they don’t like, and all becomes petty.  Things can turn nasty quickly, can’t they, in this sinful fallen world when we play along with the world’s rules.

          So how is this cycle broken?  How do we get out of it?  Whether we are down over the trials and sorrows of our life, or whether we are caught in those nasty fights that all too often happen, how are these cycles broken?  Christ our Lord tells us.  You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.  Why?  How will we have joy?  A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while and you will see me.  So often, when we look at our suffering, when we focus on our own pain – who are we not focusing on?  When we lament our lives, when we lament how unjustly we are treated, who are we not seeing?  We aren’t seeing Jesus.  The answer to how these cycles are broken is for the Christian to behold Christ.  Are you suffering?  Behold Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Did He not suffer more than you?  And yet He rose, and so shall you.  Do those who should be your friends despise you, treat you unkindly?  Was not Jesus betrayed by a kiss from His friend, His bosom companion?  And yet, Christ rose, and so shall you.  Our thoughts as Christians, as the very name Christian would imply, are to be upon Christ.  Draw out the contrast for yourself.  When you are hurt, when you are angry, are you thinking of Christ or of yourself?  When you seek vengeance, when you seek your own way, are you thinking of Christ or of yourself?  Of course at those moments of darkness you are not thinking of Christ, for God is love, and if you were focused upon Christ you would be filled with love.  Be focused on Christ – that is how to put an end to the cycle of misery.  Be focused on Christ, and view your own sufferings as simply a participation in His, let your own sufferings point you to Christ, for as Peter says, For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”  Be focused on Christ, and as Peter says, abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war on your soul.”  When this happens, when you see Christ in all things, when you see Christ in all times and in all places, you will have joy, joy that no one can take away from you for no matter what happens to you, Christ Jesus is yours.

            But how does this happen?  How does this come about?  How can your eyes see Jesus when you are surrounded by so much, so much pain, so much sorrow, so many who would do you wrong?  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and all too often we see not Christ, but rather simply pain.  Hear again what our Lord teaches us in the Gospel.  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.  Our eyes wander, they flit and twist and often go astray.  We know well our own wandering eye.  Yet what does Christ say?  Christ says, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice.”  Christ Jesus sees you, and He will give you joy.  Christ Jesus sees you, and He will draw your eyes unto Himself so that you see Him and Him alone.  Christ Jesus sees you, and He holds up His hands to show you the nail marks, shows you the spear hole in His side and says, “I have suffered all for your sake, and you are forgiven.  I have suffered all for your sake, and you conquer all.”  Christ sees you – and He continually sees you.  When you were Baptized, Christ saw you, saw you by the power of water and the Word as His own brother.  Even now this instant, He sees you as the Baptized, for you have Christ’s own name applied to you.  He sees you through His Word, for indeed He comes to you by the Word and says, “Behold all that I have done for you my beloved – I am with you even to the end of the age.”  He sees you and brings you to His altar.  Here, take and eat, let me give you my own Body to help your body endure in the face of its suffering.  Here, take and drink, let me give you my own Blood so that your blood might no longer run hot with anger but rather with the forgiveness which was won when this very blood poured from my side.  Christ sees you, sees you in the midst of your struggles, and He has compassion upon you, and draws your eyes to Him over and over again.

          Dear friends – in this world we all too often suffer.  We might try to forget that suffering happens, we might try to live in blissful denial, but no, we know what this world is like.  Indeed, often enough our own sin makes things worse for our neighbor.  But Christ our Lord beholds us, and draws our eyes to Him that we may be forgiven, and that being forgiven and seeing Him, in all things rejoice. This is true, and it stands out over everything else in the world.  Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

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