Easter 7 – John 15 and 16 – May 7th and 8th, 2016
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – Amen
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – Amen
This world can be a kick in the teeth. Actually, that's often soft selling it. If we listened to Jesus, if we believed Him when He warned us about hardship in this life, we would not only say that this world can be, but we would be expecting the world to kick us in the teeth, repeatedly. Well, how's that for a cheery start to a sermon? “My dear Christian friends, expect your life to stink on ice”. Pastor Brown, that's not the positive message we want to hear; that's not the sort of stuff that's going to sell well down at the Christian bookstore. Oh well. Because really, in this Easter Season, as we move towards Pentecost, what we hear from Jesus is warning after warning about how life in this world is going to be hard. We get the climax of that in our Gospel lesson today - “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
Now, let's talk about this for a bit historically. In the Roman Empire, there was no freedom of religion as we think of it today. In Rome, there were religions that were legal and religions that weren't – and if you practiced one of those illegal religions, you were viewed as an enemy of the state, a corrupter of society. You were liable to be punished. Now, Judaism was a legal religion. Rome respected it because of its antiquity – and at first the early Christians were considered a variation of Judaism... hence, legal. But what happens within in the first few decades? The Christians are put out of the synagogues. They are legally no longer Jews (especially not once they start preaching to those gentiles, oy vey!). Which means they are open to persecution. Which means when Nero takes the throne in the 60s and he wants to blame someone for all the social unrest – there you go Christians, enjoy the lions in the coliseum. When Jesus says you'll be put out of the synagogue – that is Jesus telling the disciples that from Rome's perspective, it will be open season on them. And even more than that. They'll be killed. Of the 12 disciples in that room, only 1 of them dies of natural causes. That would be John, the fellow who writes this Gospel, and he dies in exile. All the others, they get killed off. Quite often gruesomely. By folks who think they are doing God a favor in slaughtering them. How's that for a nice, chipper message for us this day? Why? Why such a downer Jesus?
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” And again, “But I have said these things to you that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” Jesus knows what is coming. He's hours away from His own crucifixion when He says this, and He knows how lousy that's going to be. He knows fear; He's going to sweat blood in Gethsemane come this night. And He knows what Satan is about. Satan will use the world to try to scare the dickens out of the disciples, to have them flee and abandon the faith. And so Jesus is giving them a heads up – bad stuff is coming, be prepared. It's an utterly refreshing honesty. Jesus isn't some dentist who says, “this won't hurt a bit” before he inflicts utterly excruciating pain upon you – He's straight forward and honest. That way the disciples can be prepared.
In fact, Jesus knows they won't be prepared by their own power. Jesus knows that they'll all be running away while He gets arrested. He knows fear and terror are going to run wild in their lives. And so He says something of great importance at the start of our text. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Here Jesus is pointing forward to Pentecost, to the coming of the Holy Spirit. And note what the Holy Spirit, the Helper, will do. He will bear witness about Christ Jesus. He will bear witness about Christ the Crucified. He will bear witness about that same Jesus who is handed over to the Romans, beaten, whipped, and Crucified. He will bear witness to that same Christ Jesus who cries out to forgive folks from that Cross. He will bear witness to that Christ Jesus who declares, “It is finished.” He will bear witness to that same Christ Jesus who rises from the dead and shows up to the disciples in the midst of their terror and says, “Peace be with you.” And the Spirit will do this, even when they are being kicked out of the synagogues, even when people think they are doing a service to God in killing them. At all turns the Spirit will point to the Truth, to Christ Jesus Himself who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Spirit will bear witness to the truth of Christ's victory, of the salvation Christ wins, of the eternal life He brings, even as the world kills them. Even as the worst falls upon the disciples, the Spirit will say, “Behold Christ – the worst fell upon Him, and it was for your sake that it did. He died, yet He rose. So do you. Peace be with you.”
But now, what of you? What of you, living here, showing up here this fine day in Herscher, Illinois? As much as we complain about persecution, it's not really as likely to hit us as it hit the Apostles. Indeed, there are plenty of places, especially in Africa or the Middle East where Christians are killed daily – I'm sure some will be killed today. But what of us in the middle of America? When Jesus paints a rather dour picture of life for the Apostles, indeed, for the Church, He notes, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Jesus' honesty, His constant reminders that we ought not be surprised when the world hates us, a theme that is echoed often throughout the entirety of the Scriptures, is designed so that we know, that we see and understand what happens in this world. As Christians, we know that we are sinners living in a sinful world. We know that sin is rebellion against God, is a hatred of God. Thus, we of all people shouldn't be surprised in the least when things in this world go badly, especially when they go badly to us. Luther once said something along the lines of, “We should not be surprised when some misfortune befalls us; rather if ten misfortunes ten times worse hit us ten times every hour it wouldn't even be a tenth of what we deserve.” We get just how badly sin has messed up the world, and we should know and expect sin to mess with us.
But what happens? What are our expectations? There is this nasty expectation that we have as American Christians where we think and expect that everything should go our way, that if we are just nice little Christian boys and girls that God will pat us on the head and give us blessings (by which we mean stuff) out the wazoo. This is what American Christianity sells – it's what you find in the bookstores, on the radio. Even the fire the brimstone preachers want us to get our act together so that God will bless us instead of smiting us. Everything revolves around us doing good so that then we can make God do good stuff to us. We are taught to be spiritual capitalists – invest a bit of time with God and get a giant yield.
The problem is... it's all a lie. It's not taught by the Spirit of Truth. Jesus – Jesus spends His time warning us that this world will kick us in the teeth. “But what if we're really really good, don't we deserve something then?” Well, you ain't as good as Jesus, and in this world even He got crucified. And here's what happens, here is what is so diabolical about all this prosperity junk – Jesus warns us so that we won't fall away, so that we won't be surprised when the lousy comes. Indeed, He sends His Spirit to see us through the lousy times that inevitably will come. But how often, how many folks do you yourselves know who have fallen away from the faith because they had false expectations, because they thought that being a Christian meant life would be easier... more stuff, nicer family, happier life, better job, well behaved kids who never touched the drugs, so on and so forth... and then it wasn't, and then they get angry at God, at the Church, at everything, and run away? Do you see, my dear friends, what Satan is trying to do? Satan wants to sell you a bill of goods, sell you stuff God never promised, so that you get angry and despair.
Instead of this, Christ gives us His forgiveness and life and salvation, so that we actually stand defiant against Satan and the world, even as they do their worst. We don't sell platitudes here, our songs are not sentimental pap like you get on the radio. No, what did we open with today? “When through fiery trials your pathway will lie, My grace, all sufficient, will be your supply.” Alright world, bring it on! Or how we'll close - “Jesus lives! The victory's won! Death no longer can appall me.” “Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal. This shall calm my trembling breath when I pass its gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense; Jesus is my confidence.” Do you hear the defiance, the boldness – not in ourselves, but in Christ Jesus and the victory that He has won? The world can do nothing to you, death can do nothing to you, for Christ is risen and His is the victory over all these things.
In fact, here is the truth. We here have nothing to fear from death. We've all already died. That's what baptism is – it is your death. You have died already – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” Your sinful nature has been drowned and destroyed, and you have been given new life, eternal life, in Christ. “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.” You've been joined to Christ in your baptism, you've been given the Holy Spirit, you have life in Him. And now we live learning to see and understand that our sin is forgiven, learning to beat down, to daily drown our own sinful flesh so that Christ's love would flow forth freely, enduring our time of labor and trial until for Christ's sake we are raised to life everlasting, raised to share in Christ's victory forever. You are baptized! You are forgiven! You are fed upon Christ Jesus Himself, joined to Him never to be parted from Him!
All around you, the world rants and rages. It makes false promises to lure you away from Christ, and threatens to kill you if you don't comply. And you know what – this is nothing new. You're going to face the same junk the faithful in all ages have faced. But with you, at your side in all this, is Christ Jesus your crucified and risen Lord, who has claimed you in the waters of Baptism, who has given you the Holy Spirit, indeed, who has declared and made your body to be the temple of the Spirit. Jesus knows Satan's game plan – and He's beat it. And Jesus tells you what Satan's tricks are so that you are not knocked off balance or too upset; He sends His Spirit to draw your eyes again to Himself. The Spirit bears witness to Christ, what He has done for us – and that same Spirit bears witness through us to Christ's Victory. Satan cannot win, for Christ is ours. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +