Saturday, April 21, 2018

Easter 4 Sermon

Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – April 21st and 22nd, 2018

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
“You will weep and lament.... You have sorrow now.” Well, happy Easter everybody. We have reached a shifting point in the Easter Season – where instead of having lessons that emphasize that Christ is Risen, we have lessons that prepare us for what life in the Church will be like after Jesus has risen and ascended. Because this is a radical change for the disciples and for the Church. And what Jesus does on Maundy Thursday evening is that He spent lots of time giving the disciples a heads up, an explanation of how things were going to be. And what Jesus says is very blunt – but if you ride through the bluntness, you if accept it and deal with it, what Jesus says in full is utterly comforting. So, let's dive in.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me.” Jesus starts off our text today with a puzzler – a very cryptic and mysterious sounding phrase. And it threw the disciples for a loop. 4 verses are spent basically reiterating this idea – you'll not see me, and then you will. It gets spelled out three times. Now, we get this, we understand this. We live after the resurrection, long after the disciples had lived. There is a shift coming – Jesus will die, then He will rise. The Saturday after Good Friday, you aren't going to see Jesus – but you will see Him again come Easter. And indeed, you will see Him again for all eternity in Heaven – even though while you're running around doing all your apostle stuff or your normal life, you aren't going to see Him. We're used to this idea – we're the folks from John 20 who have never seen and yet have believed. But think about what a shift this would have been for the disciples and the early Church. If you were a disciple, you lived with Jesus. You woke up – there's Jesus. And you ate your meals with Him, you spent your day with Him. You saw Him all the time. If you were a believer in Galilee, you could hear Jesus preach regularly.

That's coming to an end for the disciples. 50 some odd days out, and they're going to be the ones doing the preaching. That's a big shift – and that shift isn't going to happen nicely. There's not going to a graduation ceremony where they get a nice piece of paper – it's going to happen after Jesus gets nailed to the Cross. How's that for pomp and circumstance? And when Jesus is crucified, it is harsh. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” And Jesus wasn't lying. It's hard enough having a loved one die – now imagine there's a crowd jeering and cheering for their death. And Jesus doesn't soft sell how hard this will be – You will be sorrowful. Good Friday was a miserable day for the disciples. Even that first Easter was miserable – everyone was confused and afraid. Yet Jesus promises – but your sorrow will turn to joy. Your sorrow will turn to joy, so much so, in fact, that eventually we'll end up calling that day of sorrow “good Friday” because it is in fact a good day, the great day, the day when Christ defeats sin and death.

A moment if you will, to pause and think on joy. What is joy? What is meant by that when we come across that word in the Scriptures? I would remind you, friends, that St. Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. When we speak of joy, we aren't talking about a mere feeling. We aren't talking about “happiness”. This is a joy of which “no one will take your joy from you.” Why? Because by the Holy Spirit you know Christ's death and resurrection, and you know that it is for you. That's the joy – it's akin to the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Let's consider the example Jesus uses – 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. My mom was in labor for 36 hours with me – and while she might have often brought that fact up when I was doing something that annoyed her – she had joy. Didn't always mean happiness – there were plenty of times I annoyed the tar out of her – but there was still joy. Joy isn't describing an up and down emotion, it is the knowing and realizing that something is good – that everything really in Christ is good and will be good – even if right now doesn't look good.

Disciples, you are sitting here confused, you don't get what I'm saying to you – but really, everything is under control, everything is working out for your good, for your salvation, for your rescue. Even though the world jeers, even though sin fights hard to mess with you – I am still Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, and your rescue and salvation is in the bag. Now, when you see Me rescue you, it's going to scare you a bit, because I'm going to rescue you through death and resurrection, but it is good. And when I am raised, you'll know this as joy.

This also was the operating pattern for the Early Church – a promise that they needed to hear. The Early Church, the first generation or two, they expected Jesus' return – now. Lots of the New Testament is devoted to calming the fears of people who were wondering why Jesus' second coming didn't happen now. 1 Thessalonians deals with comforting those who mourned – those who have died are with they Lord, they don't miss the second coming, it's okay. John in chapter 21 has to warn people that he himself might die before Jesus returns, because there was a rumor that Jesus just had to come back before John died. No, that's not what Jesus said – He said that no man knoweth the hour, so you can't time the second coming by me. And so Jesus' words “a little while and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me” served as a reminder that the second coming was in fact coming – but coming on Christ's time table. Don't be surprised at the sorrow – don't be surprised at the persecutions that come and what Emperor Nero does to you in the coliseum. But know that you will see Christ in the end, and you will have joy that no one can take away.

And to be honest, it is also a reminder that for us now who are in the world, waiting for Christ's return – well, things will be hard on occasion. Maybe even often. You're going to have sorrow. You are going to be sinful people in a sinful world, surrounded by folks who do you harm. And here's the thing that is terribly hard for us. We see so much junk. So much terror and sorrow. And actually technology just makes it worse. Think about how quickly we can hear bad news today. Think about how quickly we can see it – images, pictures, videos of atrocities from the other side of the planet. And think about how terribly people can hound us, mock us, jeer at us. With social media for the kids, you can't hardly escape it. Bullies aren't just at the lunchroom – they can post junk about you all night now. And it's easy for us to see just the terror, just the junk – where we can't pull our eyes off of it, where it's everywhere we look, where it threatens to overwhelm us. If you want to be angry and offended and upset, if you want to live in a state of rage against the world, it is easier now than ever – from Fox News to Facebook, from MSNBC to Instragram – the world wants to shove sin and anger in your face – wants to rob you of all your joy.

And it's hard. Often we see the negative – often we want to see the negative, we want to see what stupid things “they” are doing. Or sometimes this is closer to home – we want to see the worst in our classmates and co-workers, even our family, and we wait like predators just waiting to see some flaw or weakness to jump upon. And it's a cycle and it feeds itself. That's the world of sorrow. And that is why Jesus notes that when we see Him, we will have joy. This is why we are instructed to focus our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. This is why Jesus reminds us that these people around us, the ones we want to call enemies – well, what you have done to the least of these my brethern, you have done it unto me. When we look at the world, we ought to see people for whom Christ Jesus died. We ought to see brothers and sisters in Christ. Even as the world shovels sin and hatred and disdain at us, we ought to see those whom God loves dearly.

And often we don't. Often we have a hard time ripping our eyes off of sin and death, and our flesh wants to run wild with it. Which is why Jesus says something very important in the last verse of our text. There is a subtle shift in the action that is very, very important. So also you will have sorrow now, but **I** will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Jesus has promised us that we will see Him – but our seeing Jesus isn't something that is done by our own strength or power. It doesn't rest upon us. Not by our own reason or strength – because it if were, well, we'd be up the creek without a paddle. With might of ours could naught be done. But Jesus says that HE HIMSELF will see us. Jesus is the one in charge here – not you, not the sorrow of the world, and He sees you, He knows your struggles, He knows your hardships. So He sees you, and He makes you to see Him, He turns your eyes off of sin and pulls you back to Him by His Word and Spirit. Jesus makes you repent – refocuses you to where you see Him and His forgiveness and mercy and love. He gets in your face about it. He gets in your mouth about it – here, take and eat, take and drink. See Me and My love for you.

And you have joy that the world cannot take away. You're baptized – that's what your Baptism means – it means that Jesus sees you, knows you by name, and that you are His, not the world's, not Satan's, not sin's – that you don't belong to that sorrow, but rather you belong to Him. And the world can never change the fact of your baptism – the world can't change the fact that Jesus died and rose again, and that His death and resurrection was for you. It might distract you from it – your sinful flesh might want you to focus on things other than the fact that you are a baptized child of God, than the fact that you are the light of the world because Christ Jesus is the Light and He is your Lord – but it can't change the fact that you belong to Christ Jesus – that He sees you, and that He loves you, and that He is well pleased with you. That He sees you not as a sinful, sorrowful mess – because He took that all up on the Cross and did away with that, because He washed you clean in your baptism so that you are spotless and radiant in His sight. Jesus sees rightly, because He sees you always through His death and resurrection, through your baptism. And when we see poorly, when we start to see mainly the sorrow and sin – He comes to us again and again and makes us to see His love and mercy and forgiveness – He even calls us to pour out that love and mercy and forgiveness upon others in this world so that they would see something beyond sorrow, so that they would see Jesus too.

That's what life in the Church is. That's what being New Testament people is – we are folks who have received the Holy Spirit so that we still see Christ and know that He sees us, even in this world. We're going to spend the next few weeks hearing and learning about how the Spirit focuses us upon Christ – and that good, because Jesus really has won it all and conquered it all for you – even the hardships. Therefore, we still rejoice and say – Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia.

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