T Exaudi Sunday – June 5th, 2011 T
Text: 1 Peter 4:12 – 5:11; John 17:1-11
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.
Our god has been so wild lately, he doesn’t seem to listen, he doesn’t obey my commands and I can’t even bribe him with treats; he’s gotten so out of hand he may even have to be put down.
Isn’t that just one of the most frustrating things about God? He refuses to follow the plans we make for him. If he’d only stick to our way of doing things, everything’d be fine. That’s how we prefer things – not right side up – but my side up. My kingdom come. My will be done.
But that’s not the way Jesus prays. “Father, if it be your will take this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Even the Son, by whom all things were made, starts his prayers with, “Father.” For God’s ways are not our ways.
Christianity is often like the Poseidon Adventure – down is up. And even more often it’s the opposite of what we expect: with God the pains are pleasures, weakness is strength, suffering is cause for rejoicing, insult is blessing, foolishness is wisdom, the humble are exalted; and what we take for as failure is, very often, in the eyes of God, a reason to claim victory. For there is more joy in heaven over one sinner – one prodigal, one outcast, one tax collector, one harlot, one serial killer, one corrupt politician, one chief of sinners - who repents than 99 righteous who need no repentance. Yes, you will be surprised at who is glorified in the new creation. Thank God the Church is the place for sinners.
And these backwards ways of God are the backwards ways of his Son. Listen to Jesus’ prayer: “Father the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Hours before his death, he prays for glory in everything he is about to suffer. Arrested, bound, tried – glorified in that? Slapped, cursed, spat upon, mocked – glorified? Nailed, pierced, dead and buried – glorified? Absolutely. That is what Jesus means when he says he has accomplished the work he was sent to do. Jesus is enthroned in bloody, shameful, crucified glory. And the Father is glorified in his Suffering Servant and so are you.
Here the eyes of our sinful flesh glare with utter disgust – that’s opposite of how we expect God to operate. For when people say, “I don’t think God would do this or that;” they really mean, “my god won’t do this or that”…in other words, “I don’t like this or that; I’d rather be in charge.” And if there’s one thing we don’t like, it’s being put out of control. We have myopic beatitudes:
Blessed are the strong for they will conquer the weak.
Blessed are the wise for they will conquer the foolish.
Blessed are the rich, the successful, the powerful for they will be live long and prosper in the land.
We live the way our first parents did. We live by sight, by what looks good, what is pleasing to the eyes and whatever our hearts desire to make us wise. But that is only what you see with your fallen eyes. Your eyes deceive you.
We are very good at rejoicing in suffering, at least when we can call attention to ourselves and ignore the pain and suffering of others just long enough to ease our own suffering. But how will you see the backwards ways of God with eyes blinded by sin? Repent. Scrub your eyes in Baptismal water and stick them into your ears, for that is where the real seeing takes place.
You, blessed Saints of God, see all of life through your ears. The same Word Jesus manifests in John, with the disciples is the same Word that enters your ears and tells you who he is, what he has done for you. And so you remain fixed on the Word like a watchful lookout with their ear to the ground.
This Word reveals the truth about yourself, that you a rebellious son of Adam and daughter of Eve, that you who despise God’s preaching and teaching, you who love yourself far more than your neighbor, it is you the outcast, the sinner, the prodigal for whom Christ went to the cross to glorify himself in crimson stripes. You are the one for whom Christ died, Christ rose, Christ ascended.
Rejoice, for Christ not only shares in your suffering, but takes them on willingly and bears them in his body, burying it in his tomb forever. And because he was insulted, mocked and killed you are blessed. For while we were conceived and born in sin, Christ was conceived and born of without sin, of the Virgin. While we were following the easy, broad way that leads to destruction, Christ was walking the narrow way to give eternal life to all. While we were busy doing whatever we desired, Christ was busy fulfilling the desires of the Father, perfectly for your sake. And while we were chasing after vain glory in our own merit, Christ was chasing down your glorification in his passion on the cross – that by his death, by his suffering, by his agony, pain and bloody sweat – we too might be glorified in him and he in us. And in these backwards ways of God you are led forward to a heavenly glory prepared for you before the world existed.
This heavenly Aaron has entered the Holy of Holies by his blood. There he takes your weak and feeble prayers and speaks to his Father – and he is heard. In his ascension he at the right hand of power, not absent from his bride the Church, but present with her to fill her with his very life. There your Greater Elijah offers double portion for your sins – and he is heard. Even now, Jesus prays for you.
So when suffering comes - and it will, as Jesus and Peter remind us – we have a great High Priest who abides with us in our weaknesses. One who suffered, died, rose, ascended in triumph over that sin, death and hell. For when you suffer in this life, all theorizing is over, all the books and plans and relaxation methods are tossed aside and you are left with no one but God alone. That is part of what it means to suffer, to wrestle with God, to contend with God and win. For you, our greater Jacob wrestles with God and wins. He never loses. His blood guarantees that you will never lose either.
Rejoice in suffering?! Blessed by insult? Yes, but don’t take my word for it listen to Jesus’ word, after all he’s the one who suffers for you and with you.
And these backwards ways of the Son are also the backwards ways of his Church. John 17 gives us back-stage access behind the divine curtain, an ear pressed to the door of heaven’s conversation: Jesus prays for his Church. He prays that you are kept in the Triune Name washed over you and in you. He prays that we would be one with him and the Father by the Spirit. He prays that you would be kept holy in his Word.
This is the key to the Church’s survival. This is what has kept the Church going for the last two-thousand years. The Church has survived persecution, false teaching, and some of the grossest mismanagement in recorded history. She has survived popes and councils, annual budgets and voters meetings; hostile governments and friendly governments; dictatorships, demagogues, and democracies. And she’ll survive much more before our Lord returns.
Because the secret for those 120 in the book of Acts wasn’t any found in a program or a publishing house, financial security, schools or endowment funds; they had no synodical buildings, bureaucracy, church buildings or even adequate storage space. They had what the one holy, catholic, apostolic Church will always have: Jesus - glorified in his Word; Jesus - glorified in your Baptism; Jesus - glorified in bread and wine. Jesus praying for his Church. And that is really all you need.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.