“Your Sorrow Will Be Turned to Joy” – Jubilate – John 16:16-22

21. April 2013
John 16:16-22

The Scriptures describe our reality as an exodus, a journey between two worlds. The old world is one of bondage to sin under the tyrannical rule of the Law. This world is marked by suffering, grief, anguish, and death. And roaming about the world is its ruler the Devil. We were born into this world, born of the flesh, to suffer and die as all have since Adam.

Your loving and merciful God wants all to be saved from this body of death. Thus, He sent His Son Jesus in the flesh, to redeem those of flesh. His Son gave himself into your bondage, lived under the law, suffered in your sorrow, and died for you. By His death, He destroyed death’s stranglehold, released you from your sin, and tore you from the Devil’s grasp.

This became yours in Holy Baptism. Satan’s demon was exorcised, all your sin forgiven, your flesh crucified, the old Adam drowned. Each day, by Baptism, your sin is forgiven, your death gotten over with, and Christ’s righteousness given to you. A new Adam rises from the ashes of the old. Being done. God’s work-in-progress. And on the last day God will raise you and all the dead and give to you and all believers in Christ eternal life. Done. Complete. Here in time and there in eternity.

Thus, your life is an exodus, passing from death to life. St. Paul describes it as running a race, a marathon. All along the course of this life, you are still haunted by sin, devil, and death. They nip at your heels, trying to drag you back to Sheol. Your mortal enemies want nothing better than for you to lose faith, lose sight of the goal, to lose Jesus. These defeated enemies are relentless. They have lost but have not given up.

But you are not without hope. You see with faith’s eyes the finish line. You see and know full forgiveness, the resurrected body, and unending life with Christ and all the saints. Christ Jesus blazed the trail of salvation. He entered into the holy city as king, then to be crucified, and die at the behest of the Jews and the hands of the Romans. All cried out to crucify Him. God died your death with weight of the world’s sin upon Him. He was buried but on the third day rose from the grave.

Jesus has shown you the way of salvation. It is to die with Him and then to rise with Him. By Baptism, you were buried. And by Baptism, you also rose. This good work of God is begun in you and will see its completion in the day of Jesus Christ. Thus we are pilgrims, exodus-ing with Christ Jesus on the way He trod. Yes, we will die but so will the old Man finally be laid to rest. And with Christ’s command, with the voice of a trumpet, He will call us out of the grave, resurrected and living in His holiness and righteousness forever.

Jesus describes this reality in today’s Holy Gospel. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” This became real for the disciples twice. First, Jesus “departed” into the grave but after “a little while,” some three days, He appeared to them again. He rose from the dead and appeared before them as proof. they saw Him and believed. St. Thomas put his hands in the resurrected Savior’s wounds. They have seen and testify this is the truth. Then, after fifty days, they saw Him no longer for Jesus rose into the heavens and is seated at the Father’s right hand. They will not see Him in the flesh again until another “little while,” when He comes on the Last Day. Their faith rested on His promise of return.

Today, we stand with the disciples in the midst of the second “little while.” We cannot see our Lord apart from faith in the Evangelists’ testimony. Indeed, over these recent weeks we have witnessed events that would lead us to believe our Lord is gone and absent from creation. The trial of serial murderer-by-abortion Kermit Gosnell began. Witness after witness described the brutal killing of children born alive. We heard of the explosion of a chemical factory in Texas with a dozen killed and many more injured.  There was the earthquake in China, killing 157 and injuring thousands. Storms blew through the country with many floodwaters still rising and destroying property and possessions. And there was the bombing this week in Boston, killing three and injuring many.

If we look for God in these things, we despair. During this “little while,” Jesus’ words ring true. “You will weep and lament…” Our weeping and lamenting begins for the lives lost, homes and possessions destroyed, and the gruesome murders in that Philadelphia clinic. We weep and lament because we see how corrupt our world is. We witness tragedy after tragedy. We see how nature itself is at odds with us, seeking to destroy us. We observe the corruption of mankind as we struggle to understand the bombers and their motives. As we look to these things we see only the terrifying old world of sin and death.

Our weeping and lamenting won’t end when the sting of this week’s tragedy and deaths fade. Our sorrow continues even when things seem better. When the sun shines, the flower blooms, and even when life comes into the world, we Christians still cry tears. Why? We know the reality of our fallen flesh and corrupt world. We don’t hope for a better life now. We confess our sinfulness in sorrow and contrition. Dear Lord, we want to do better!

The world rejoices while Christians cry over sin. The world thinks disobedience before God a figment of our imagination. The world cheers in mockery when you drag yourself to church. They think it hilarious that we would acknowledge your nature before your God.  And not just sin but forgiveness, too! They laugh at your faith, thinking it absurd that God the Father for the sake of Jesus forgives you. Salvation in Jesus alone is too good to be true. Life eternal is a joke for late-night TV.

For the world and it’s errors, we also are in sorrow. That so many, even those closest to us, would find the true faith to be a joke—that also grieves us. We mourn that so few listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word. We weep that too many ignore the truth and follow after error.

Jesus has a special word for us. “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.For now, while we are on this journey, our lives are full of grief and sorrow. We lament that state of the world and our flesh. We grieve that so few believe that forgiveness in Jesus’ blood is the only lasting remedy for this sorrow. But do not grieve without hope. We know that Christ is raised and that we, too, will be raised with Him. On that day, all fear and sorrow will be banished. Only life and joy will remain. Our sin will be forgotten. No trace of death will remain. The evil one gone.

Like the woman giving birth, Jesus says, the sorrow only lasts for a time. Yes, all creation cries out in the pangs of childbirth. Daily dying to sin and rising in Christ comes in those difficult words of contrition. It’s difficult business. The journey is hard, the warfare long. But through this difficulty, your lives are being transformed. God’s image and likeness is being restored in you through repentance and forgiveness.

Just like the mother whose baby is delivered, so also for the children of God. You grieve for now but in the end you will no longer remember our anguish. Each day, through Christ’s forgiveness your sorrow is turned to joy. And when the work of your rebirth by the Holy Spirit is complete, you will have forgotten this present darkness. The way of salvation is known. Christ Jesus has crossed the finish line already. You get to ride in on His coattails as a free gift. On that day you will see the “man born into this world,” Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of God, born of St. Mary. Now in the Lord’s Supper you see Him as in a mirror dimly but then you will see Him face to face. And when we see Him, your hearts will rejoice, and “no one will take your joy from you.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Reminiscere 2013 (Sunday) – “Feasting in Faith when Yes Looks like No”

Sermon – Reminiscere – February 24th, 2013
Grace Lutheran Church, Dyer, IN
Matthew 15:21-28
“Feasting in Faith when Yes Looks like No”
Rev. Tom Chryst (http://lcms.org/chryst)

I suppose there’s a misison theme today in that the Cannaninte woman is an outsider, and at least previously, a pagan – an unbeliever in Christ whom our Lord encounters and helps and saves. He says he is sent only to the sheep of Israel, but shows by his actions that he welcomes all who come in faith. The message of the Gospel, it is clear, is not just for Jews or Germans or Americans, or even for only LCMS Lutherans. The true Israel includes all who believe in Christ, whether in Jerusalem, or Dyer, Indiana or far away Singapore. To that end, even now, He sends pastors to proclaim the word, far and near, to administer his sacraments in every place that His Spirit gathers people, and to give gifts freely as he wills.

You know that old saying about how God answers prayers either with a yes, no, or “wait”. I think of that as I read this passage about the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter.

Someone else in her shoes might be discouraged when Jesus initially ignored her. Maybe the answer to her prayer was, “not now”. But she persisted. After Jesus finally tells her, “it’s not right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs”, another might have concluded the prayer was certainly answered, “no”, and move on in disappointment. But this woman persists. She doesn’t take the apparent “no” for an answer. Here is the mystery.

Surely Jesus’ actions are strange here, putting off this woman at first, calling her a dog, telling her it wasn’t right for him to help her…. but take note of the strange persistence of this woman, who apart from the fact that she was asking for a supernatural solution to a supernatural problem, also had a supernatural persistence where others would have given up.

Jesus knows the heart. He knows what people need. He knows her and He knows what He is doing. So, too, he knows you. He knows your needs and problems better than you do. He knows what you think you need, and what you really do. He knows your timetable, but he also knows the “proper time”. And he means to do you good, even when it looks like he is ignoring you, putting you off, or even doing you evil.

And faith knows its object, that is, the Savior. Faith knows the character of this merciful Jesus who comes to help and rescue. Faith looks to Jesus for all good things, for daily bread as well as daily renewed life.

Now you. You have just as much right as this woman to expect good things from God – zero. She was an outsider, a pagan, and surely a sinner. The affliction of her daughter by this demon, who knows what caused it. Who knows what the cause of any calamity or affliction is in this life. But what we deserve for our sins is surely far worse. Your problems may be bigger or smaller. Your suffering may or may not compare. But what you bring to the table is the same – nothing good. Nothing with which to say, “Hey look, God, you owe me one here.”

Oh we try, in our twisted minds, to appeal to our own supposed merit. As if holding our temper for a bit against some annoying person impresses the Lord who is truly slow to anger. Your anger was likely sinful in the first place.

Or as if writing a check to support a good cause shows God how good your heart is, and now, He’ll send you some benefit in kind. But just try to hide the darkness bubbling in your heart from the one who knows all. He’s not fooled by a donation here and there. You can’t pay off the debts you truly owe.

Or maybe you go out of your way for people who never appreciate all you do, day in and day out, quietly suffering their sheer ingratitude – surely God must look at all they put you through and reward you this time. A friend of mine used to say, “Get off the cross, we need the wood”. There is only one whose sacrifice is pleasing to God.

God isn’t impressed with your martyrdom, your charity, your patience, or any other supposed merit you bring. Our best works are as filthy rags. Our shining example is a pile of garbage to him. Tainted and corrupted wholly by sin, we are beggars through and through, who can only ask and plead for what we don’t deserve. Just like this woman. Just like a dog, begging at the master’s table.

But the dog knows, and the woman knows, and the faithful know – that the master delights in feeding the beggar. He joys to be patient with the sinner, to give heavenly riches to the poor in spirit, and to sacrifice himself for those who bring nothing. Christ goes to the cross for this very reason.

This woman’s faith is truly a remarkable example. She doesn’t become indignant with Christ, “who does He think He is? Calling me a dog…. we Canaanites were here before those Jews….”. She doesn’t appeal to some imagined basis for his help, as if she deserves it – “But Jesus, I’ve been such a good mother.” Nor does she give up and go away discouraged. She simply persists in trusting the giver of good things for even the smallest crumbs, and finds herself lavishly blessed and fed.

God moves in mysterious ways. At least mysterious to us, fallen sinful people. But somehow, faith “gets” it. A hymn puts it this way, “Behind a frowning countenance faith sees a smiling face”. Behind the apparent “no”, faith sees the “yes” in Christ. You see your sins, but God sees Christ’s righteousness. You see death all around you, but the Word says you are alive – and alive forever. You see shame and destruction and chaos and meaninglessness…. but the promises of God stand in the midst of the swirling mess and proclaim a sure, certain, profound truth – that God loves you in Jesus Christ and is busy blessing you now and for eternity. It is a great mystery that things which appear one way, with God, are so often another. Faith hears God’s word, and contrary to what the eye can see, faith believes.

And the mystery is also to be eaten and drunk. For under the bread and wine are the most precious gifts of Christ’s flesh and blood. Not crumbs from the table, or sips sneaked from the master when he’s not looking – but a lavish feast, a spread unlike any other, and a foretaste of the feast to come. Here your sins are forgiven. Here your faith is strengthened. Here you receive Christ, really and truly, for your good.

There is no better remedy for what ails you than Christ. There is no other promise you can rest in, hope you can stand on, or future worth having apart from Christ. And there is no food for your faith but the bread of life that he provides, and the living water he gives to quench the thirsting soul. Jesus is everything.

Even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. And even sinners like you, are welcome to feast in faith, in Christ our Lord. Even when it looks like a big “no”, “all the promises of God find their yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20)

Quinquagesima 2013 – Luke 18:31-43

10. February 2013
Luke 18:31-43

Jesus took aside the twelve and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on third day he will rise.”

“See,” he says. See? How can they see? What Jesus describes is unbelievable. This man—whom the crowds receive, who attracts the sick, the lame, the leprous, and the sinner, who speaks with authority—this man will be crucified, dead, buried, and will rise on third day. How is can they believe? Indeed, they did not. “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” But why not? See, he says. “See…everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” The prophets had already told them but they did not grasp either the prophets or Jesus.

Everything written by Moses, David, and the Prophets testified to Jesus work of saving you from your sins. For example, the Psalmist sang, “You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people.” What does He mean? The Psalm might tempt us to think of our God as some kind of miracle worker. Or perhaps as a mighty warrior who will defeat our mortal enemies. But the Psalmist confessed that our God redeems His people with His arm. Who is God the Father’s arm—His right hand man—but His son Jesus Christ. How has God then worked wonders? How has He made His might known? How has He redeemed His people?

Jesus gives us the answer key, the secret decoder ring, to understand the Scriptures. Understanding our Lord and grasping our reality requires the saying to be revealed to us. He has shown us in definitive action by cross, grave, and Easter morning. Our eyes are opened to understand how Jesus’ death and resurrection is the key to unlocking the Scriptures. Faith is not blindness. It is knowledge and trust grounded in Jesus. It is seeing through the eyewitnesses the fulfillment of the promises of God in Jesus.

As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. Immediately after he testified to the spiritual blindness of the twelve, St. Luke recalled the opening of the eyes of a blind man. This is no coincidence. Three times Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem and there He will die. Nine chapters previous He said: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44). But they did not understand what He was saying. Only after His resurrection will they see the prophecy fulfilled and see its goodness and believe its purpose. For now they are still blinded by their false expectations and confused hopes.

It has been said that the problem with the Gospel isn’t that it is complicated but rather it is too simple. Christ Jesus gave His life for to redeem me. He shed His blood for my forgiveness. He rose again and so He will give to me the resurrection, too. That can’t be it? There must be something more. Something to do. A complicated set of dogma to memorize. A set of steps to follow or hoops to jump through. The “something more” clouds our salvation vision and confuses the clarity of the Gospel.

Not with the blind beggar. When he heard the crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” two times. He may have been blind physically but spiritually his eyes were open. At the name of Jesus he confessed him the Son of David and pleaded for His mercy. He didn’t know exactly what mercy Jesus would have but he knew it would be good. And Jesus stopped … [and] asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”

With Jesus’ statement the connection between eyes and faith is made. Believing and seeing go together. But did you notice the order of things? Seeing did not give him faith but rather hearing. Only then was his sight restored. First, he heard, then he believed, and then he saw.  So also for us. First we hear the Word of God—the testimony of Moses, Prophets, Evangelists—then we believe their testimony. Having faith, we see Jesus for who He is.

Those who act only in the moment and do not consider the future we say lack vision, are near-sided, need perspective, can’t see the big picture, have tunnel vision. And for those who are missing the obvious we say they lack the ability to see what is staring them in the face. They cannot see the writing on the wall. They’re blind to reality. Seeing is important for the present and future reality.

Seeing is also believing, it is said. To see is to know. “I see!” means “I know!” Saint Thomas begged to see the Lord’s wounds and to touch them. “If I only put my hand in his side… then I’ll believe.” Believing is a physical thing. If Christ is not raised from the dead in His body then our faith is vain. To believe that Jesus has forgiven your sins requires the death of Jesus to be the acceptable sacrifice for that sin. If Christ still lays in the grave then all your sins are still yours. To believe in the forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting requires the eyewitnesses to speak to you, those who beheld His glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.” We see not with eyes of our own but through the eyes of the Apostles, the women at the tomb, Philip and the eunuch, and all the witnesses. Their eyes are our eyes. Thus we can say with all confidence, I believe that Jesus Christ suffered, was crucified, and was buried. I believe He rose on the third day. I believe He rose into heaven. I believe because they saw. They saw and they testified. John the Evangelist says it this way: “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35). We have not seen and yet believe.

Therefore our faith is not blind. It fully sees the reality of Jesus, of our sin and salvation. It is revealed by God through His Holy Spirit. Our eyes are opened to see Jesus through the eyes of witnesses. This is unlike those claim to know and believe in a god or gods but have no reason to believe. The world is full of such blind faiths. You might have even come to believe baseless lies. “That’s just what I believe.” “Pastor, that’s between me and God.” If your faith lacks any evidence then it is empty and pointless. If your faith was not revealed to you by God to His holy prophets, Evangelists, or Apostles, and delivered by His holy Christian church, you have no idea if its true or not.

That evidence of faith cannot be the inner workings of your mind or heart. Faith is not first about how you feel, what you think, or who you think you are. Faith is begins with how God feels about you, what He thinks of you, what He calls you. The actor is God and the actions are His. They come from outside and are seen. When they are heard and thus seen, then they are believed. Only then does faith results in feelings, thoughts, and an identity, all grounded in Jesus.

Like the seeing-again man, we follow this Jesus and glorify God. To believe in the forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting begins when the eyewitnesses to speak to you. Then by the power of the Holy Spirit, you believe this Word to be true and for you. Believing, you follow Jesus and receive Him in the gifts He gives. Thus, your eyes are open to behold His glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth. Believing you see and seeing you are saved.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana