April 13, 2008

Sermon for Jubilate: John 16.16-22

St. John Chrysostom said, "A mother to become a mother passes through pain." So has God ordained the Christian life - joy is on the other side of pain, and the joy cannot come except through pain. In explaining His coming crucifixion, our Lord uses the example of a mother’s pain in childbearing to show the necessity of His suffering on the cross, but also to give them the hope that the resurrection will shortly follow. But see how He joins His suffering to theirs, and His joy to theirs? The same is true for you: He invites you to bring your own pain, your own suffering, your own battle with sin and sorrow, to Him. He endures your pain, and will give to you the joy of His resurrection.

He also compares childbirth to the coming joy in this way: in the day of resurrection, the former sorrows will not even be remembered - they will fade as a bad dream is forgotten in the light of day. “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

But even now, on a day of joy for Aaron and Elizabeth, and for Don and Ruth Ring, and during a season of joy for all Christians, we nevertheless get this Gospel that says: Now you will weep and lament, now you will be sorrowful. That is because, even on this day of joy, it is a time of war and fighting. St. John Chrysostom said: "It is a time now of war and fighting, of watch and guard, of arming and arraying ourselves. The time of laughter can have no place here; for that is of the world." Should a soldier joke while he is under fire? When Jesus says, "The world shall rejoice, but ye shall be sorrowful," it is because the Christian knows what sin is, and what death is, and both cause sorrow. You will see a world gripped by death, you will mourn and lament your sins, you will be oppressed by the devil, and so the things that the world rejoices in will not give you happiness.

And what is all the more challenging to grasp, difficult to accept, is that all of your afflictions, all of your hardships, are a good thing! The Psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes" (Ps. 119.71). And again, "Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord" (Ps. 94.12). So the man of God is told, "If thou come near to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation" (Sir. 11.1). Throughout the Holy Scriptures, we see tribulation described as needful, so that we grow as children of God and learn to depend completely, utterly on the grace and mercy of God.

But in the midst of all this tribulation, Jesus gives not only to His disciples but to you this firm declaration: “Do not give up hope.” Why? "I will return." “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” From our vantage-point in time, we can see a double-meaning in this. He returned from death on Easter, and He will return on the Day of Resurrection.

In all things, Jesus points us beyond both the joys and sorrows of this world to something eternally more important: His return and the coming kingdom of God. What shall we make of this life?

If you have money, it may be taken by theft, by taxes, by bad investment or bad fortune.

If you have power, you will find many who resent it and become your enemies.

If you have beauty, time will take it.

If you have strength, injury or sickness can snatch it from you.

The people you love will die, the food you crave will become tasteless, the sounds you love will be silenced, even the memories you cherish will fade from your mind.

And to all these things, Jesus says something disconcerting: “Yes. That’s how it will be. You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

If you want your best life now, you have the wrong Jesus.

If you want to become a better you, you have the wrong Jesus.

If you want something to give you hope for this life only, you have the wrong Jesus.

Our Lord promises that you will have tribulation in this world. You get a cross, you get a discipline, you get a drowning.

But with that you also get a joy that no one can take. You get the resurrection, you get sins forgiven, you get life in God's kingdom.

And that whole package is wrapped up in Baptism. In Holy Baptism is both: sorrow and joy. For we don’t baptize the righteous, but sinners. We baptize very fragile babies, that can and do die. We baptize those born without fear of God, who have an amazing capacity to be selfish. In baptism the entire Christian life is pictured: drowning and reviving, death and resurrection, submerging and emerging.

God makes a promise to Caroline today, and as an infant, she is a perfect picture for us of how that promise works: she cannot earn it, decide for it. It is not her act of obedience, but God's act of mercy. He loves her. As her God, He wishes to give her gifts. He gives to her the joy that no one can take. Aaron and Elizabeth undoubtedly have hopes for Caroline’s earthly life, as is natural for parents; but surpassing that is their hope for her eternal life. That’s why a parent brings a child for Baptism, and continues to provide for her spiritual growth. The Lord said through Peter (regarding Baptism), "The promise is to you and to your children." God's Word performs what it says. The One who had power to trod upon the waters, to pass through a locked door, to feed five thousand men, to rise from the dead, likewise has power, by His Word, to give faith and salvation even to an infant. He has power to feed us with His own body and blood, by His Word. He has power to raise up your dead bodies, by His Word. Everything depends on His Word and promise. He gives His Word and promise today to Caroline in Baptism, He gives it again to you all in the Sacrament of the altar, and He will bring it to completion in the day of resurrection. That is the joy that no one can take from you: the promise that in death you will be with the LORD,  and in the day of resurrection, the LORD will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Knowing Christ’s Word and promise is how you bear this world’s sorrows.

You may have lost children.

You may not have been able to have children.

You may have children who rebelled and turned away.

You may live in a prison of fear and tyranny, a loveless home, a thankless job.

You may have a body full of pain, a mind full of fear and uncertainty.

You may struggle with sin deeply, sins you commit and sins committed against you.

But to every one of you, the LORD repeats His promise: "You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you."

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