Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon for 5/17/15: Easter VII

My computer is still down. Though I hope to have it back soon, there have been some complications in getting it repaired. I won't have audio recordings until I get it back. My apologies.

That You Would Not Fall Away

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

James and John, you may recall, wanted the best seats in heaven, right next to Jesus. Peter denied Jesus three times. Thomas rejected the witness of his fellow disciples to the resurrection. All the disciples hid in fear. Controversies and disagreements would shake the Church to its very foundations. And Jesus had told his disciples: "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away." It almost sounds as if His words had fallen on deaf ears.  
Luke tells us that, after Jesus ascended, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. But can't you imagine, human beings as they were, that soon they began to feel the absence of their Master, and discouragement and disillusionment began to set in? Even after the glory of Pentecost, the disciples stumbled, and the Church struggled mightily. They weren't successful by worldly standards. They were rejected by the religious leaders. They were forced to worship in secret. The Pharisees had more money, bigger congregations, political control, and better working conditions. They enjoyed worldly success. The multitudes attended their synagogues and believed what they taught. But that is exactly the point. The apostles weren't sent to preach the kingdom of the world. God's true messengers are measured by different standards. They are sent to teach the truth to a world that would rather not hear it. They are sent to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God.
In the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone, a stumbling block and foolishness to the world. But upon Him the Kingdom of God is established. And He spoke to His disciples as He did that they would not lose that faith. He spoke to them that they would faithfully confess the truth. For doing so, they would face persecution, ridicule, worldly failure, disaster, and death. In other words, they would share in the sufferings of Christ. But with the eyes of faith they would see in these sufferings Christ's victory over the world. They would see the ultimate victory, won for them by the shedding of His precious blood.
So it is for you. Faith in Jesus Christ does not promise worldly success. Christians do not always live happily ever after in this world. Nor does faithfulness to God's Word carry with it any earthly guarantees. That is not how God works; that is not what He has promised. In the Kingdom of God, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. Those who proudly claim to have earned first place may well have hell to pay. The proclamation of the true Gospel always brings persecution and suffering in this world, not success. What the world counts as truth draws men away from salvation. Love covers a multitude of sins; to remain silent in the face of error is not an act of love. And so we are to speak the truth in love and hold to the Word of God and the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. Do not think it strange, as Peter said, that you would actually suffer for doing this. Rejoice that you are blessed to partake of the sufferings of Christ.
God has called you out from this world; He has set you apart. He has baptized you with that one Christian baptism given to the Church through the Apostles. There all your sins were forgiven. There the sinful creature you were born was drowned and died. There you were brought to new life in Christ. There you received the pure confession of the one true faith. There the Word of God and water washed you clean from sin. There God gave you a new heart and put His Spirit within you. And because Jesus rose from the dead, so will you. Your tomb will be opened and you, too, will rise. And because Jesus ascended into heaven, so you, too, will be changed, given a glorified body like that of the risen Jesus, and then gathered, body and soul, into everlasting life. And there you will live forever in the joy of the Lord. And so, in the face of persecution, in the face of the false beliefs of this world, in the face of worldly failure, and even when facing disaster and death, you have been given to see with the eyes of saving faith the victory of Jesus Christ over this world. This blessed gift is given to you so that you would not fall away. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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