Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (May 11, 2014)

JOHN 16:16-23
JESUS GIVES YOU AN IRREVOCABLE JOY.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus told his disciples, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.  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.” (John 16:16,20)  These apostles would soon have their Messiah suffer and die.  Few would witness it; most would desert him and hide in fear.  They would have heard reports of Jesus’ burial in a tomb, but they would not expect to see him again—despite Jesus’ own promises.  Their last memories with Jesus would have been memories of their fleeing from Jesus in Gethsemane, a denial, a betrayal, and perhaps even feelings of being such fools for having followed a Messiah who was now dead.  It was enough to drive one of the disciples to suicide.  The others hid, confused, saddened, and afraid.
     Jesus told his disciples, “A little while, and you will see me no longer…” (John 16:16)  This would fill them with sorrow and anxiety.  You can think of the same feeling when, as a child, you lost sight of your mother in a crowd.  You may have been familiar with the place, but if you could not find Mom, you were lost.  It was scary.  No comforting words from friends or strangers were going to make you feel better.  Only Mom would make everything better, and it would not get better until you saw her. 
     It was all the more true for the disciples.  They trusted in Jesus as the source of truth and life.  They had witnessed Jesus healing the sick and diseased, feeding the multitudes, stilling the storm, and even raising the dead.  If he were taken away, who would they cling to?  Who would teach them, guide them, comfort them, and encourage them?  They would still live in a familiar land, but they would feel lost, afraid, and sorrowful.  And all the words that are supposed to comfort people would be seen for the meaningless piffle that those words really are.
     The lesson is often learned in the most painful of ways:  In this world, everything is temporary.  In this world, you will suffer pain and loss.  You may lose a job, a car, a house, or your savings.  If you have not done so already, you will bid farewell to grandparents and parents.  You may bid farewell even to a spouse or a child.  All the blessings you see will be removed from your sight.  And in those painful days, you will understand that those things are not where your faith belongs.  While God’s blessings may give aid, support, and comfort, they do not save.  While you can and should be thankful for God’s blessings, do not put your trust in them.
     But they did not grasp the other part of Jesus’ message to them: “… Again a little while, and you will see me.  … Your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:16,20)   Jesus would give them an irrevocable joy.  They would see Jesus again.  They would see a Savior who had risen from the grave.  They would eat with him and talk with him.  Jesus had gone into death to save them and all mankind from everything that is corrupted by sin.  Jesus is the God who suffered for all he has created.  He is the man who endured the curse for all mankind.  He is the Eternal One who paid the price for all people of all time.  He is the Omnipresent One who chose one place to die for people everywhere.  He is the Immortal One who died for you.  But now he is risen!  Jesus has slain death by his resurrection from the grave.  Sorrow has gone.  Joy has come.  Jesus lives, and the joy stays.
     Jesus gives you an irrevocable joy.  He has taken away all your guilt and your punishment.  You no longer have to live with the shame or regret of your sins.  You are forgiven.  You no longer have to fear the grave.  It has been overcome.  It holds has much threat for you as your bed.  You no longer have to think that God has it out for you.  Even if he withdraws blessings from you—if he takes away your family and friends, your senses and health—that does not mean he withholds his love from you.  By removing from you the blessings you can see, Jesus shows you that these were never really what were supporting and sustaining you.  Though they are blessings, they are not the source of your hope or joy.  Jesus is. 
     Jesus gives you an irrevocable joy.  Jesus forgives sin and conquers death.  Jesus makes you a child of the resurrection and an heir of eternal life.  Jesus shall raise you up with a body that will forever be free from weakness or pain, to a world that is free from disease and death, and to a life that will never know sorrow or loss.  These promises are not yours because you can see or feel them.  They are yours because Jesus proclaims them to you.  Therefore, you do not need to see Jesus for them.  You listen to Jesus to receive them.  Though Jesus ascended into heaven and is no longer seen by his Church, he has not withdrawn his promises, his mercy, his forgiveness, or his salvation.  These are yours and are regularly proclaimed and administered to you where the words of Jesus are preached and where the sacraments of Jesus are given.  These are where you are sustained and supported.  These are where you find your hope and joy.  And just as no one can undo Jesus’ death and resurrection, so also no one and nothing can undo Jesus’ promises to you—not sin, not loss, not sorrow, not pain, and not even death.  Jesus gives you an irrevocable joy. 
     It may seem that the world has it right as people rejoice and party through life.  They seem to have no worries or problems.  Do not be deceived by this; for their joy and peace are very fragile.  The blessings that they see and love will be taken away; for in this life, all things are temporary.  When those blessings are gone, so is the joy and the hope of those who love them.
     But Jesus gives you an irrevocable joy.  Skeptics and critics may mock you for believing in what is unseen.  Granted, you can’t see Jesus, just as you can’t see forgiveness, eternal life, the resurrection, and Paradise of God.  For that matter, you can’t see joy either.  But fear not, and do not get discouraged.  Jesus told his disciples, “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.” (John 16:20-22)  Your risen Savior gives you an irrevocable joy.  Your days of sorrow and struggle will not endure forever.  Even these are temporary in this world.  A greater, everlasting joy is coming—so much so that you will no longer remember your trials and struggles now.  These are momentary.  The joy is eternal.
     But even in the midst of your trials and struggles, you do not live in misery.  Jesus has already given you a joy that cannot be destroyed by anyone or anything.  You have been relieved of your guilt.  Jesus has covered you in your baptism and has washed away all shame and disgrace.  Jesus also comes to you from this altar where the body and blood he gave into death for you are delivered to you for strength and forgiveness.  Here, you receive life in the midst of a dying world.  Here is something holy in the midst of a corrupt world.  Here is a peace in the midst of fears, joy in the midst of sorrows, and a firm hope which stands when everything else is stripped away.  Though everything else in life may be taken from you, Jesus does not withhold or withdraw his mercy and salvation.  Though everything in this world is temporary, Jesus gives you an irrevocable joy.  It sustains you though life now, and will be celebrated without interruption in the world to come.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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