Sunday, June 5, 2011

Seventh Sunday of Easter A (2011)

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

Text: John 17:15
Theme: Protection From The Evil One

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Heaven is the dimension of God’s glorious presence that is inaccessible to humans under the corruption of sin. The two states of existence are wholly incompatible. Though God occupies every domain, people are limited by the constraints of this time and space. That is, until the resurrection of believers from the dead. Yet, Jesus prays for His disciples today saying, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.”1All things in their time and according to God’s good pleasure.

Thursday marked the ascension of Christ and 40 days since His resurrection. Our concern is not that the ascension involved an upward movement of Jesus- though that was clearly the orientation as He departed from His disciples- but that Jesus was enthroned in the place of His Father’s honor and power. Christ “sits at the right hand of God, the Father, Almighty.” This means that as true God and true man He fully exercises His divine power over all things. It means that the Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary has been received by the Father as “the atoning sacrifice…for the sins of the whole world.”2 The implications are enormous.

Dear friends, many things are sent to try us. Yes, trials, hardships and testings of a physical, emotional, and spiritual nature. Sent- but sent by whom? God? Yes, by God, but often planned by Satan and then filtered by God. God does send us things to test us but there are far more evils that He intercepts to protect us. He does this through Christ in the Spirit’s power. Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”3 The you here refers to all the disciples. By extension it applies to us.

Satan shoots his precise and fiery darts but the shield of faith4 extinguishes them. Satan launches his hang-grenades but Christ causes them to drop harmlessly to the ground. You have trials and they can be severe- pain, loss, loneliness- as a result of the power and effect of sin. But we need not deny that God sends His own or filters Satan’s according to His will. He does this for the exercise of our faith. To the unbeliever such trials can only cause one to doubt God, hate Him or despair. But the believer is led to a deeper trust, a more naked faith in the One who reveals His love through the cross. The Holy Spirit nurtures the faith first given in baptism by continually withdrawing comforts, pleasures, or accomplishments by which our self-righteousness is built up and resting us back on the righteousness and grace of Christ.

So we exercise ourselves daily in the word of the crucified and risen Lord. He prays today for us, “Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth.”5 Faith is bound up with Christ who is all in all. If faith is lost even a lifetime of love comes to ruin. You are forgiven by the sheer promise of Christ’s mercy, nothing else. In the past the Reformers fought hard to maintain this truth. Of their opponents they said, “They teach us to be confident that we obtain forgiveness of sins because of contrition and love.”6 Such ideas are alive and well today. Here the subtleties of Satan easily deceive people. Our repentance- the honest recognition of our sinfulness- doesn’t trigger the release of God’s mercy. The forgiveness of sins cannot be acquired through the genuineness of a heart poured out to God. This puts this onus right back on us. It makes the gracious favour of God dependent on our ability to move His heart.

We gravitate to this practice because it puts us in charge and leaves us in control. It’s a sort of spiritual game we play with God; a type of plea bargaining. We admit our fault, yes, but then make an extra effort to prove our devotion, and in exchange we hope to receive a quieted conscience and peace of mind. After all, if God is so loving is He not obligated to recognize both our humility and our commitment! The Lutheran Confessions say, “This is nothing but teaching the Law, the Gospel being blotted out, and the promise about Christ being abolished.”7 We can never move the heart of God. Christ does this. We don’t rely on our efforts, but Christ’s sacrifice.

It is clear that one of the purposes of Jesus’ prayer today was to unify His disciples for their coming ministry. They would have to rely on each other as they went to the ends of the earth with the gospel. There is a story about an out-of-towner who drove his car into a ditch in remote area. Luckily, a local Amish farmer came to help with his big strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, "Pull, Nellie, pull." Buddy didn't move. Then the farmer hollered, "Pull, Buster, pull." Buddy didn't respond. Once more the farmer commanded, "Pull, Jennie, pull." Nothing. Then the farmer nonchalantly said, "Pull, Buddy, pull." And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch. The motorist was most appreciative and very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The farmer said, "Oh, Buddy is blind, and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn't even try!"

How true it is to our human nature. We often don’t have the confidence or courage to try things on our own, even if we know it’s the right thing to do. Or we are tempted to follow the way of the world. God doesn’t tell us to look around and see what the people of the world are doing so that we might imitate them. We are to be blind to the evil and unbelief of the world. This doesn’t mean we remain ignorant or simple-minded. It means to be very intentionally discerning. Christ said to be “wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.”8 Yes, we must be savvy to the way the world operates so we know both how to approach the unbelieving culture with the gospel and to learn to be alert to its temptations.

The Holy Spirit will exercise us in these things. And they won’t always be comfortable. But He won’t fail to absolve us with His forgiveness, buoy us with His promises and feed us with the sacrament of His body and blood. The Incarnate Word does this as the One who ascended and is ruling eternally at the Father’s side. The prophet Daniel witnessed the ascension and enthronement of Christ many centuries before it took place. “There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”9 God grant us participation in that kingdom for all eternity. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday Of Easter
5th June, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 17:15 2 1 John 2:2
3 Luke 22:31-32 4 See Ephesians 6:16
5 John 17:17 6 AP XII (V) 194, 75 Reader’ Edition
7 ibid 8 Matthew 10:16
9 Daniel 7:13-14