Monday, May 6, 2013

Sermon for Easter 6: "Before and After"

+ 6th Sunday of Easter – May 5th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33

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

Before and after. You’ve all seen these kinds of photos in weight-loss commercials, girly magazines or home renovation shows. One day the home looks like an episode of Hoarders, then poof…the next day: outdoor living room, heated bathroom floors and a living room that transforms into a home theater with the push of a button.  Even if we know they’re fakes, or exaggerated, we like before and after photos. They appeal to our sense of longing for things to be right, or at the very least, better than when we started.
Today’s readings are a bit like that…a before and after story.

Look at Paul’s life before his conversion; now look at Acts 16. Look at the church on earth. Now look at the church in heaven in Revelation. Look at Jesus’ disciples before his death and resurrection in John 16; later they’ll be preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in the public squares and synagogues. Before and after.

However, our sinful nature has this notion, that (in the words of the John Lennon song) every day, in every way, things are getting better and better. We think “before and after” ought to mean my life will be “better and happier.” Our fantasies rarely meet reality especially when we apply take the way the world thinks and expect Jesus and our Christian faith to play along nicely. But don’t blame TV or airbrushed magazine photos. Those are merely symptoms. The problem is our expectations. And deeper still…the problem is our disease of sin.
Jesus also tells a “before and after” story. But it’s radically different  from ours (thankfully). Jesus was with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion. Praying. Eating. Drinking. Washing their feet. And teaching.

Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).
I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3)
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
I am the Vine; you are the branches. (John 15:5)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20)
I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).

 Jesus spoke all these words – and more - before his death, for His disciples. But also for you, so that you would be prepared for what happens after his resurrection. Jesus promise is two-fold: He promises tribulation and triumph both on account of His Name.

It makes you wonder, is the Christian life hard or easy?
Now, TV and radio preachers will tell you, with smooth tongues, slick hair and a smile, that if you have Jesus, then everything in your life will be better, happier, and more prosperous. And if you do suffer it’s because you haven’t given enough…or or prayed enough or had enough faith. They declare our emotions and prosperity and happiness as gospel. That might sell books and pack stadiums and fill the airwaves on Sundays, but that’s no gospel, no good news…and no salvation.

In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite – in this world you will have tribulation. We don’t need a God who has no room for suffering or pain. Those are cheap and easy to find. But, a God who’ll stick his hands and head and body into the filth of our suffering and sin to make us clean – now there’s a God who has done something about your suffering.
Just look at the apostles’ lives. If anyone knew tribulation, it was them. Persecuted. Beaten. Stoned. Martyred for the faith.

Peter was crucified upside down in Rome (unwilling to die in like Jesus). Philip and Bartholomew were also both crucified upside down. Andrew: crucified on an olive tree. James: beheaded. Thomas: run through with spears. James, the son of Alphaeus: stoned to death.

Paul’s life was also marked by suffering: imprisonments, beatings, rejection by his own people, expulsion from the synagogue, antagonists and false teachers, congregation problems, health problems, a shipwreck until his beheading in a Roman prison.  

Although John didn’t die a martyr’s death, he knew tribulation: exiled on Patmos while his churches were besieged. Christians were tortured and martyred. False teachers wormed their way into the churches and deceived Christians with seductive lies. The fabric of society was coming apart at the seams. Government was corrupt, the family was weakened, immorality reigned. Everyone did whatever they thought was right in their own eyes.         Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Just another day in the life of the first century Christian church.

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world”
There’s an old saying, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. You can see why after a list like that. But what really makes that statement true isn’t the blood the martyrs, but the blood of Christ, the Chief Martyr. The martyrs’ blood cries for justice. Christ’s blood cries out with righteousness. Christ’s blood makes peace for the disciples. For the world. For you.

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” How? Look no further than Jesus Crucified and Risen.
That’s how the disciples go from running away from Jesus and denying Him to giving their lives, often by horrible, torturous deaths, as martyrs for Christ. That’s how they go from caring about what the world thought about them to not caring at all what the world said about them or did to them.

Before and after.
What a difference Jesus’ cross and resurrection make. By His death and resurrection...The power of hell is destroyed. Satan’s accusations are hollow. The sting of sin and death has been drawn from your flesh like a venomous bee sting, sucked out by Christ’s death for you.

Jesus has overcome the world. Neither the devil, nor the grave, nor the world could overcome Jesus. And neither will they overcome you.
 “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Yes, in this world we will have tribulation. We will have fall victim to cancer or dreadful diseases. We will suffer sudden, inexplicable tragedies. We will experience financial and family crises. We be racked by grief, sorrow, and death.
“But take heart, be of good cheer,” Jesus says. I have overcome the world. I have overcome your disease. I have overcome your tragedy. I have overcome your doubt and fear. I have overcome your sin and death. There is no greater tribulation than the cross. Jesus suffered pain, beating, hell and death for you. And His tribulation is greater than all your pain, suffering, sin, and death.

That’s great you say, but I’m still in the world. I still see suffering and death all around. And that’s precisely why Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, why He speaks them to you today…because you are still in the world with all its temptations and sin. Because you still need His crucified and risen peace. Because you have not yet arrived.
In this world you will have tribulation…But in your tribulation, you are not alone. When one member suffers all suffer.  When Corinth suffered and the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna suffered, Paul and John suffered.  And when you suffer – whatever it may be - you are not alone. Look at the people in front and behind and next to you in the pews. The church is not an army of one. It is the body of Christ. And when one member suffers, He suffers with you even as He suffered for you.

So, is Christianity hard or easy? Well honestly, it’s both. In this life a war rages on. You’re on the front lines. The church is an outpost, an oasis. And yet, Christ is your Mighty Fortress: inside the walls of his body you rest in peace. The battle is won. Christ is risen. He pours out living water from his side into the font and over your forehead washing your tribulation away. He seats you at His banqueting table where He feeds and nourishes you with His flesh and blood.
On days of tribulation it’s comforting to have words like these from Revelation: And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23).

That’s the difference between those “before and after” photos and John’s vision in Revelation. What John saw is not only your future reality. It’s present tense. Heaven, eternal life, salvation: it’s all yours because you belong to the Lamb. Jesus has made peace with you in Baptism. Jesus speaks His peace to you in absolution. Jesus feeds you His peace in His Supper. Your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life – before the foundation of the world - and today and forever. All that John reveals is already yours. In the new creation there is no before, the former things are gone; there is simply an endless happily ever after.

In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. Jesus is your peace in a world of tribulation. Jesus has overcome the world for you.

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


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