27 April 2015

Homily for Easter 4 - Jubilate

"Christian Joy"
John 16:16-22

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus had gathered His disciples together on the night when He was betrayed into the hands of sinners. He knew that in a matter of hours He would be brutally executed on a cross. His disciples were filled with sorrow. So He comforted them. And just as He comforted His disciples in our Gospel reading, He also comforts you now with the very same words: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn. 16:22).

So, dear Christians, where is your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?

Friedrich Nietzsche lived from 1844 to 1900. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor as well as a German philosopher. Nietzsche developed a very bitter, anti-Christian, atheistic philosophy. He viewed Christianity as stain on the history of humankind. Hermann Sasse said this about Nietzsche: “His desperate destitution and loneliness is the loneliness of the modern man” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, I.70).

Yet we Christians can learn something from this bitter, unbelieving philosopher. Here’s one thing Nietzsche said to Christians: “You must sing me a better song so that I learn to believe in your Redeemer; Why are his disciples so joyless in their salvation?” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, I.70). So, dear Christians, where is your joy?

Today we have a good, God-given answer to Nietzsche. As Psalm 66(:1) says, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” That’s where today gets it’s name: Jubilate - “Rejoice! Sunday.” Why make a joyful shout to God? Why rejoice? Because of God’s great Easter victory! In Jesus Christ, God has conquered death. He has restored all of His creation. He has given new life and new meaning in life. It’s something to shout about. It gives great joy, great delight. And, as lonely, bitter Nietzsche reminds us, it’s what the world needs to hear: CHRISTIAN JOY.

So, dear Christians, where’s your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?

Perhaps it’s hiding. Perhaps your joy is hiding under the sheer burdensome weight of worldly sorrow. The disciples were weighed down with sorrow. Their Lord was leaving them. What would they do? How would they survive life in a hostile world? You see, they’re not that different from us. Nor are we that different from them.

Each of us has personal sorrows, to be sure. Perhaps it’s family turmoil, a son or daughter who just won’t listen and obey, or a parent who just doesn’t seem to understand. Perhaps it’s stress at work; the boss never seems satisfied; you feel like you can never do your job well enough. Perhaps it’s illness—physical illness, such as cancer or arthritis, or mental illness, such as depression. Perhaps it’s the loss of a loved one—and that sorrow never seems to go away completely. Perhaps it’s trouble paying the bills, or losing those few extra pounds. We have our sorrows.

And nature around us brings many sorrows too. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes remind us how small we really are. We’d love to be in control of life and nature, even figure out the path of the tornado or hurricane, or when an earthquake will hit, so that we can avoid the damage and loss of life. But when the natural disasters strike, we get a wake up call. We are pretty small compared to the ominous, dark, green clouds, the high-voltage lightning strikes, and the powerful, rumbling earth. Yes, we have our sorrows.

But the greater sorrow comes in how the unbelieving world treats Christ and His Christians. Christ was crucified because people did not like it that they were wrong and He was right—about God, about death and life, about sin and forgiveness. They did not like it that God would come into the world in the flesh and teach us to repent of our sin. They did not like it that Jesus—not they—would restore the world. And Jesus restores not by demanding better lives, but by defeating death and giving grace and life.

So, to use Jesus’ words, we weep and lament, but the world rejoices. You see, the world did not like Jesus and His followers. It still doesn’t. Christians and Christian preachers are told, “Don’t mention Jesus,” in their prayers and messages. More Christians in Africa have just been martyred by ISIS, complete with videos of the barbaric brutality for all to see. Closer to home, Christians are fair game for lawsuits and government action and conviction by media firestorms and even death threats just because they choose not to participate in so-called “same-sex marriage” ceremonies. We can even hear and read editorials claiming that it’s high time for someone to force—compel—Christians to accept the LGBT lifestyle. Yes, we have our sorrows!

So, where’s the comfort? Where’s the joy? It’s in the words of our Lord Jesus. He tells you what He told His disciples: “a little while.” The sorrow, the pain, the burdens of life in this sin-infected world last only a little while. The disciples would be separated from Jesus only a little while. He would go to the cross, but He would rise again and return. He would go away from them, but He would come back after a little while. And He did, and that’s a good thing. You see, when Jesus went away, leaving His disciples in sorrow, He trampled down sin and death, He reunited all people with God, and He brought life and immortality to light. He did that for His disciples then, for you now, and for all people. In His bitter death and sweet, delightful resurrection, He wins life and wholeness for you. Now that gives great joy!

And think about the joy that you receive every time you come into this place. Church is like no other place on earth. It’s heaven on earth. You see, here Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes in His message of mercy read, proclaimed and sung. He comes in His holy, precious Body and Blood. Here’s God, in the flesh, showering you with His grace and mercy, giving you His life. That’s Christian joy! A little while, and you will see Me, Jesus says. Here you get to “see” Jesus with the eyes of faith. You get to hear Him and taste Him. Here’s Christian joy!

So, what helps you endure the sorrows and burdens of life in this broken world? The joy of life in Jesus. What helps you make a difference in the world, in the very lives of people around you? The joy of Christ’s victory over death. What is the only thing that spurs on the Church to carry out her mission in the world? The sheer delight and joy that in Christ you are forgiven, in Christ you have life, in Christ you have perfect peace with God. It’s a reality, and it gives great joy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer proclaimed this great line in a sermon in 1933: “Without the church, the whole world is joyless and miserable, and there is no end to hunger and thirst” (Ascension Day Sermon, 1933; cited in Little Book on Joy, p. 169). Do you want to see Christian joy? Look at how we rejoice even in the face of sorrow and death! Look at how we delight in Christ and His victory over death! That’s Christian joy. And it’s a joy that we can gladly show to the world. Amen.

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