Such Joy!

Easter 5-C
May 19, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“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.” (John 16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  We all know the bitter tears of sorrow.  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 true forgiveness of sins through God’s Word and His Sacraments, then you know both rest and joy.

Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s you against the world, and He doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  That’s why 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.  God the Father has called  you to be a part of the body of His Son, so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, as you help them carry theirs. 

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 sinful people.  And to make this truth clear to you, think about where He sends you after you’ve been given both rest and joy;  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 our gospel reading for today (John 16:12-22), we are shown a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “us 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 upon a cross!  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.  No, we must never think that we are alone, because Jesus assures us that 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 this  fellowship we have with 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 also 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 are going through, with our faith in-tack?  

Let’s be honest friends, there is simply no way we could have made it through the troubles we’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding us!  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 breaks through our fears and feelings of defeat and abandonment, and He assures us that He 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 with Him together as His Church.  Can you see what a great joy it is to be part of His body, the Church?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

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.  If we aren’t mindful of this, we could 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 we have forgotten 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 first reading this morning [Acts 11:1-18] Peter along with all of us, have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has both declared and 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 St. Peter, each of us are called to protect God’s Holy Word and Sacraments.  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.  And our liturgical form of worship is a gift from God, which finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s Divine Service through His 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 our historical Western heritage that we block out all other cultures and heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

So what is the only way to ensure that 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 so that we all who believe might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of salvation and eternal life!

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 that we will also learn to rejoice in God Himself and each of us who comprise the body of Christ.  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 greater than any circumstance in our lives.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives, and that just as He has promised, He is with us guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches of life, giving us the very thing He is after, faith, forgiveness and joy in His gift of salvation and eternal life!

So hold on dear saints!  The day is coming soon when God 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. [Revelation 21:3-4]  Amen and Amen!

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