Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: John 13:34
Theme: “As I Have Loved You”

Dear worshippers of the risen Jesus,

People want results. This is true for believers and unbelievers alike. Christians learn to understand (and appreciate) that many of the results they seek are delayed until the time of the new creation. Unbelievers are likely to scoff at the wisdom of such thinking. Consequently Christians always feel themselves under the burden of proving the integrity of God’s activity. Jesus says today, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”1 Of course humanists can “love” others too. They can also be very moral. But they do not understand unbelief as sin. And they do not see the Christian faith as any help in addressing their deepest concerns. How does the believer respond?

Trite platitudes about God giving meaning to life will hardly satisfy those who search for answers to the deepest questions, or those encumbered by darkness, doubt, and despair. God must be confessed as He is and for what He wills. The truth can never be spoken too plainly, too explicitly, too clearly, or too often. But we can only confess God clearly if we know what He says about Himself. He is inescapably formidable but immeasurably gracious. He wills the destruction of evil and falsehood in all its forms and yet inexplicably forgives the penitent from the darkest sins. He dwells in self-created glory- the majesty of His own nature- yet He condescends to dwell with the lowly and undertakes to raise them to glory.

The seeker, or skeptic, or soul near despair who begins to be drawn into this biblical perspective- the person whom the Holy Spirit confronts with the holiness and compassion of the incarnate Christ- can be transformed only by this power. The Scripture says, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper then any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”2

A conversation once took place between a popular actor and an eminent preacher. The preacher queried the actor about what drew the crowds to see him. “Tell me the difference between us,” the preacher asked the actor. “Night after night your performance of fiction keeps drawing people. Meanwhile, I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth and hardly anyone seems interested at all.” The actor responded, “That is quite simple. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.” Surely, we have here a critique for modern Christianity. How easily does the church undermine its own mission by not giving a credible witness?

The last thing the church should do is send the message to unbelievers that Christians are guaranteed to have a more comfortable life in the here and now. In fact, life as a believer often becomes a lot more difficult. Satan puts in extra effort to sidetrack Christians. The best thing for a person’ spiritual well-being at any particular time might well be the withdrawal or denial of material blessings. God desires that we find comfort and satisfaction in Him. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments relate to contentment. Contentment is a divine gift (as a fruit of faith) and a perspective on meaning that Christians should always seek to cultivate.

Jesus’ command to love raises again the importance of understanding the distinction between faith and its fruit, named generally, love. Is the grace of God best assessed by anecdotal evidence? That is, should the blessings in your life be used as evidence to convince skeptics that God is merciful? The proposition is problematic at best. For every case of health and happiness there is a case of sickness and sorrow. Do these cases prove the absence of God’s blessings? For every claim of answered prayer there is the claim that prayer fell on deaf ears. Of course many of God’s blessings are directly tangible and to be upheld as evidence of His love and provision. But they are never to be considered indisputable proof of God’s favour. Lack of personal comforts can never be equated with apathy or neglect on the part of God. The gospel never depends on the measurable quotas of human expectation.

Faith finally rests on the ‘naked’ promise of God’s Word. This where trust is really tested and refined. All the circumstantial evidence must be shut out. The only evidence that finally matters is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the declaration that He has made the sacrifice for the sins of the world. The moment we attempt to decipher the intention or commitment of God based on personal circumstances of comfort or struggle we depart from the fundamental truth of how God is known. Remember what the Scripture says about God’s people under the old covenant, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”3

God promises the baptized an eternal inheritance. The relative prosperity or poverty of your earthly circumstances cannot alter that. The certainty of God’s will is revealed in His Word. “God our Saviour…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”4 Cling to that promise. You are no exception. The Apostle Peter says, “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”5 The crucifixion wasn’t a general historic event. Christ was hung on the cross for you and for your salvation.

The validity of your faith does not depend on the ever changing nature of human emotion. God is reliable. Consider worship and communion. When you approach the altar don’t concern yourself with whether you’ll feel elevated to God when you take communion. Don’t fret about whether you’ll really feel drawn closer to Him; take God at His word. In the sacrament He forgives you. Christ is there. And it is important to know why He is there. He is there because He has made that promise. He is there whether the skeptic approaches to challenge Him, the unbeliever approaches to mock Him, or the faithful approach to revere Him and receive His gifts. The first two elicit judgment, the last blessing; but none negate His presence or invalidate His promise.

God calls us to love. Christians love others not by ignoring or overlooking sin and falsehood but by being willing to persevere with kindness and compassion. We adhere to God’s promise that to follow the truth is always and only the proper way to love. Here lies a great temptation and deception. It is the pressure to tolerate or even condone that which is contrary to God’s will for the so-called “sake of love”. But true love always seeks the ultimate well-being of another in body and soul. To love even in the face of resistance, resentment, and rejection is to practice love driven by Christ’s steadfast compassion. Christians can love even their enemies for the sake of the greater purpose of God’s kingdom.

Christ alone is the perfect image of divine love. Even if a person never in his life properly experienced Christian love- Christ’s compassion would be no less certain. Faith will experience its reward. Its hope will be realized. We are directed to the fulfillment again today. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”6 May God make it so according to His good pleasure. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday of Easter
2 May 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 13:35
2 Hebrews 4:12 3 Hebrews 11:13
4 1 Timothy 2:3-4 5 1 Peter 1:3 6 Revelation 21:3-4