Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 13th's Sermon - Easter 4

Easter 4 – April 13th, 2008 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia + Amen
So, by now does that opening seem a little. . . old to you? Christ is Risen – we know – and Easter was three weeks ago, isn’t it done? Now, in the Church, we are in the Easter season for 7 weeks, but socially, you don’t see many Easter decorations out and about anymore. The Cadbury Eggs have already been marked down and sold off, the lilies are fewer and fewer, and things seem like they are just back to normal. A joyous shout of Christ is Risen/ He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – that almost seems out of place now.

It’s not that Easter isn’t worth celebrating this long – it’s not that we shouldn’t continually rejoice – but our celebrations in this world – it’s just hard to have them last this long, isn’t it? It makes sense. Life in this world is hard. It’s hard to focus even unto today on the joys of Easter when that’s three weeks in the past, three weeks of hardship, three weeks of aches and pains, three weeks of busy-ness, three weeks of perhaps sore trials and sorrows, three weeks of things that have gone wrong, terribly wrong. How do we keep up, how do we maintain the joy of Easter for this long?

Jesus knew that this would happen. You see, Jesus knows us and understands us better than we ourselves do – He knows and understands the burdens and struggles that we face in this life, the challenges and sorrows – how it can wear down a person. So, on the night when He was betrayed, there in the Upper Room with the disciples, Jesus takes some time to speak to His disciples about what life will be like after the Resurrection – words of comfort that make up the entirety of John 16, that set the stage for what life will be like in the New Testament Church. And those words are what we will be looking at until we celebrate Pentecost – those words are the words the Disciples kept in their minds as they waited for the Holy Spirit. So, even though we may be tired and worn with care, let us listen to our Lord’s Words from the Gospel and see what gifts He gives us through them.

A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me. This phrase gets repeated three times here in this passage, and although the disciples didn’t see then and there on that evening what Jesus meant, with the benefit of time and the writing of John’s Gospel, we see. That Thursday evening would yield to Good Friday – a mere 24 hours later and the disciples would have seen Jesus Crucified, put to death – taken away from them. They wouldn’t see Him any longer. Christ knows this is coming – but He also knows the resurrection is coming. They will see Him again, He will come to them after the resurrection and be with them. But His Words are true again - A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me. Christ doesn’t hang out with the disciples very long after Easter. On the 40th day He ascends – and there is sorrow and wonderment. But as the disciples learned from His death and resurrection – this parting is only a temporary one. The One who has gone to the Father will prepare for them a home for all eternity. While they don’t see Jesus in the days after the Ascension, that is only for a little while – and then will come to them the joys of being reunited for eternity with Christ in Heaven.

What we remember, what we know, dear friends – is that we here now are living in that same little while of the disciples. We know that the day shall come when we shall see Christ face to face, whether that happens when He comes again, or whether we should die before the last day – either way, we shall see Him. We live out our lives in that time of the little while – but what we remember is the same thing the disciples remember. Christ died, but Christ rose – He is good to His Word. If He says that for a little while you won’t see Him, but then you will again – His Word is true. We, likewise behold Christ’s death and resurrection, and we know that He will be true to His Word. That is why we can confess that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, that we expect the life of the world to come. We know it is coming.

But that doesn’t mean that our time, the little while we have here on earth, that doesn’t mean that this little time won’t be filled with difficulty. There are struggles and trials and sorrows – some that others cause us, many that we foolishly cause ourselves. While we still are sinners in this sinful world, there will be sorrow. Hear how Christ describes this: 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. The disciples would see this quickly. How they must have lamented when Christ was crucified. I can’t imagine. And yet, as they would soon understand, even that sorrow was turned to joy at our Lord’s Resurrection. They have seen the pattern – sorrow turns to joy. And this is what the Disciples remembered as they went out after Pentecost day to preach the Gospel. In their work, in their lives, there was much sorrow. There were persecutions, there were stonings and crucifixions of their own to face – all while the world rejoiced. For the Early Christians there would be lions to devour them while the crowds cheered. There would be faithful people hounded by the wicked. But always, there was the promise of joy, joy to come, joy that is theirs with Christ.

We must learn and remember what they remembered – for God is true to His Word. Does the world around you rejoice as you suffer? Do people seem to delight in making your life more difficult? Do you have to always be wary of the next scam or raw deal, do you have people who would rejoice to see you stumble? Yeah – and that’s the way it is in this world. And when we look at that – it’s easy to get down, to get overwhelmed, to get depressed. But there is a truth that we remember. Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia. That is true. The Sorrow of the Crucifixion moves into the joy of the resurrection – and we need to learn from that how God Works. He does not abandon us, He does not forsake us – but rather we can know and be sure that our sorrows turn to joy – that whatever it is in this life will indeed pass – that these sorrows will not overwhelm us – and that all of them will eventually yield and go away at the return of our Lord.

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. Again, another example to learn from. Sorrow leading unto joy. Childbirth is a mighty painful thing – and frankly I don’t like pain at all. Yet, women go on through it, and then have the joy of their child. God sees us through trials and into joy and happiness.

But notice something, and this is important. There is going to be sorrow in your life. There are going to be days that don’t feel all that great – there are going to be times when the world around you rejoices at your suffering. That happens. Jesus tells us that this will happen. So don’t believe people who say that it won’t. Don’t listen to the false preachers who claim that all the joy in the world can be yours right now and forever – because all the joy of the world is hollow and vacant and fades away. There will be sorrow in this world, because this world is full of sin – and anyone who tries to convince that in this life you can completely avoid sorrow – they are trying to sell you on the joys of sin. But that isn’t our joy. Our joy is that which comes from God. And so dear Christian friends – we don’t live our lives as Christians trying to pretend that nothing bad will ever happen, we don’t live our lives for the sake of our stomach or our wallets – we don’t approach this life fearing what may or may not come. The Christian life is different. Listen to what Peter teaches us – For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Sorrows and suffering and injustice comes – that happens – but how do we face them? We face them mindful of God. We know the promises of God, and we know that those promises are true. We have seen the world do it’s worst to our Lord and Savior – and yet He rose again. We have seen Christians before us tortured and put to death even – but they have the joys of heaven before them now. We have seen even our friends and loved ones who have fought the good fight of faith – and it is a fight, it is a struggle – and we know that they now rest from their labors. And they faced all of this mindful of God – as do you, for you too remember Christ’s death and resurrection and know that it is your own – that just as Christ was raised, so too you will be raised – and that joy no one can take away.

So yes, dear friends, we are right to repeat our cries of Easter joy – we are right to gather here on Sunday, on the Lord’s day, the day of His resurrection, no matter what sorrow we face. Christ has conquered all – and we know that our sorrow will turn to joy. This is most certainly true. Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia – Amen.

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