Monday, April 16, 2018

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 15, 2018)

1 JOHN 1:1 – 2:2


In the name + of Jesus.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     St. John begins his first epistle with the comment that he has seen the Lord who was crucified and has risen.  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you... (1 John 1:1,3)  
     One of the main messages of Easter is that the risen Jesus was seen, heard, and touched by the disciples who knew him and confessed him.  We heard that in our gospel reading from Luke: (Jesus) said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  (Luke 24:38-40) 
     The reason for this emphasis on actually seeing, hearing, and touching Jesus after he had risen from the dead is to demonstrate that Jesus' resurrection is a real, historical event.  The risen Jesus shows the reality of salvation.  Therefore, when the apostles went out to preach the Gospel, they were not merely proclaiming an idea.  The good news declared from pulpits today is not based on pondering, “What if this happened?” or “What if that happened?”  This is not a mental exercise where we wonder, “What do you think happens when a person dies?”  When you confess the Creed, you are not proposing an idea; you are declaring the truth.  The Christian faith is not a theory; it is a historical fact that truly delivers us from sin and death.  The risen Jesus shows the reality of salvation.
     There are many people who would like to pass off the Bible as a book of legends or stories which are supposed to convey some kind of truth.  If that is all it is, then we would put it on par with all religious thought, with Aesop's Fables, or with whatever lessons can be learned from children's programing on PBS.  St. John insists on much more.  He proclaims a flesh-and-blood Savior who died a real, excruciating, cursed death on the cross, but who is now truly risen from the grave in that body and who lives forever.  Jesus is not a teacher of ideas; he is your Savior.
     Jesus has come to deliver you from your enemies of sin and death.  These are not just ideas either.  St. John warns about denying the reality of sin:  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8,10)  Sin is real, and it produces real damage.  If someone has sinned against you, you feel the betrayal, the anger, the pain, and the sadness from it.  Sin wrecks marriages, destroys friendships, and sends nations to war.  Sin is demonstrated in people doing and saying awful things to each other.  Sin is not some flexible idea about what is right and wrong which adjusts itself to culture, era, or person.  Sin is whatever defies God's word.  God is light, in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)  But we see the darkness of our hearts exposed by sinister words and selfish acts. 
     The result of sin is death.  Just as sin is not an idea, neither is death.  Anyone who has stood by the grave of a loved one knows the grim and painful reality of death.  We grieve over others who have died, and we fear our own death.  Sin and death cannot be overcome by ideas or by giving them different names.  We cannot save ourselves from them.  Someone else must act to deliver us from sin and all of its consequences.
     Therefore, when God acted to save us, he did not send an idea into the world.  He sent his Son who became a man.  God came into the world as a flesh and blood man to deliver mankind from sin and death.  The sufferings and death of Jesus are well documented facts, even outside of the Bible.  There is no denying the reality of that.  But what God reveals is why Jesus suffered and died at the cross.  St. John wrote: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  In other words, Jesus is the sin offering which has satisfied the wrath of God against sinners. 
     God cannot ignore our sins, and he does not dismiss them as if they were never really offenses against him and his word.  Therefore, Jesus took into his body all of our guilt and shame—and not just ours, but the guilt and shame of everyone on earth.  He suffered and died the hellish death that sinners deserve.  The punishment Jesus suffered was real; therefore, your forgiveness is real.  Forgiveness is not something you wish for or to pretend you have; it is given to you by Jesus who has paid for all of your sins with his innocent sufferings and death.
     Forgiveness is not an idea; it is an establish fact.  Jesus gives it to you.  Here is what God promises: The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)  The blood which St. John witnessed flowing from Jesus' side was poured out for you.  That is the blood which was poured on you in baptism.  That is the blood which is poured into you in holy communion.  The blood of Jesus cleanses you and renders you pure before God.  God does not love you in theory.  God's love for you is not just an idea.  God demonstrated his love through a Savior who bled and died for you.  God applies that love to you through physical things such as water, bread, and wine.  By these, Jesus takes away your sin and cleanses you of all unrighteousness.  By these, Jesus marks you for eternal life.  By these, God saves you.  He rescues you from darkness and death, and he brings you light and life because he loves you.
     The risen Jesus shows the reality of salvation.  Just as the Christian faith is not a theory, neither is the Christian life.  St. John proclaimed the risen Jesus to reveal the new life that we are to have in him.  “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1)  Forgiveness is not a license to sin.  Forgiveness means that we get to live as God's own people and we get to do the good that God has created us to do.  The risen Jesus reconciles us to God and restores our fellowship with the Lord.  It means that the Lord's mercy, his favor, and his heavenly kingdom are ours.  Nothing can take these away from us—no enemy, no difficulty, not even death.  For we are Christ's redeemed.  We are a new creation, created in Christ to do good works for the good of one another.
     The risen Christ assures us that, even in our weakness, we need not fear.  We are still the Lord's.  For, St. John assures us: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)  You may recognize that your works are not as pure and your motives are not always as innocent as they should be.  Fear not!  The risen Jesus purifies you of all unrighteousness.  God is pleased with you.  He delights in your works, and he benefits others through them.
     The risen Christ shows the reality of salvation.  We don't live theoretical lives.  We are God's flesh-and-blood creation.  We live and work among others and strive to provide real benefit for them.  We have been saved from sin and all its consequences so that we are not haunted by guilt.  And we don't have to guess what happens when we die.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave with his body living and glorified, so will we.  We will live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever; for that is what our Lord created us for.  And that is what he has redeemed us for.  St. John saw and heard and touched the evidence for us.  He does not proclaim to you an idea; he declares what is true: The Lord is risen.  Your sins are forgiven.  Salvation is certain.  And God loves you dearly.

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

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