Such Joy!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2010
Click here for audio of this message

“So also 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)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  Does anyone here know anything about sorrow?  I’m right there with you.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced that rest through God’s Word and His Sacraments, give God glory right now and thank Him!  God is good isn’t that right?

 Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to be a part of the body of Christ so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, and then you can help them carry theirs.  Again, I say, God is good… Amen!

 But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not people.  So where does He send you after you’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  Well, He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom.  In other words, God wants you to be kingdom builders!

 I. This morning, in our gospel reading we are given a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “me against the world”!  The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  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.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through the fellowship of other each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

 Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world “WE” WILL experience both sorrow and joy; but He assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and still be walking with the Lord? 

 Dear friends, there is simply no way you could have made it through the troubles you’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding you!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit the promises of the gospel break through and assure us that God’s dwelling place is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are in this together.  Isn’t it a great joy to be part of His body?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

 II. But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  We freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality when we forget that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our Epistle reading this morning Peter along with all of us have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has made clean. 

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly, like Peter we must protect God’s Holy Word and the correct understanding of it.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  Our liturgical heritage is a gift from God and it finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  May God protect us from becoming so fixated on a European heritage that we block out all other cultural heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

 III. So what is the only way to ensure we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that WE ALL might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of our salvation!

 Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but we will also learn to rejoice in God himself.  If we will simply rest in Christ then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are more than any circumstance in our life.  That he is greater than all his gifts.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives.  You will learn that just as He promised, He is with us through the Holy Spirit guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches.  And as you go through these things, you will learn that God is giving you the very thing He is after, faith and such joy in your salvation!

So hold on dear saints!
  Help isn’t on the way, it’s already here!  As one heart, God’s Spirit is inviting us to walk and work together with Him.  And remember, we are all serving and waiting together for the same goal—The day when each of us will be with God as His people, and He will be with us as our God.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Rev. 21:3-4]

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