Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Sunday of Easter (B) 2012

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

Text: John 17:6-19
Theme: Holy Pray-er, Holy Prayer

Dear friends of the Risen Lord,

God gives the greatest opportunities. The sinful human tendency is to exploit them. God gives sinners opportunity for repentance. The Holy Spirit prompts us to seize such opportunities immediately. The window for repentance may seem so large that its frames are not in our field of vision. But it could close in an instant. God’s patience may appear parameter-less, but it will reach its limit in the blink of an eye. God is not absent-minded, preoccupied, or inattentive. The boundlessness of His compassion does not mean His tolerance of godlessness is open-ended.

If you are making light of your sinfulness on the assumption that God doesn’t really care, can’t be bothered, or won’t judge you; you are laboring under a very dangerous false understanding. Your sins are never overlooked or excused. They must be forgiven. In fact, His justice necessitates an end to all evil and wickedness. The Father will act for the sake of the Son on behalf of the faithful. Christ is never lax in fulfilling the Father’s will.

Today’s gospel contains one of the most passionate and profound examples of prayer in the Holy Scriptures. Christ is in fervent prayer to the heavenly Father just hours before His crucifixion. His focus is on the well-being of His followers. He says, “They are not of the world anymore that I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”1 Prayer is our communication line with the Father and we have access to Him through Christ.

As in the Lord’s Prayer, Christ prays today for protection from Satan and evil. He prays for holiness, attained only through His word of truth. These spiritual concerns are always uppermost in our prayer life. We believe that when the spiritual aspects of our lives are given priority temporal matters will follow consequentially. Our temporal concerns might be more mundane, but that makes them no less burdensome. We may struggle daily with strained relationships, difficult work situations, personal failures or addictions. These will all affect our faith too. Prayer involves the privilege of calling on God as Father- not something to take for granted.

Many people are apathetic about their devotional life because they believe it fails the pragmatic test. Unless they are convinced of some practical result- some advantage- why bother? There may appear to be little hope of return on the investment. To put it quite bluntly, it seems to be a waste of time- that precious commodity is such short supply already. Can’t we always call on God if we really need Him? Otherwise, why be too fussed? Remember last week the titles for the lukewarm Christian hymnal. Here are a few more: “My Faith Looks Around for Thee”, “I'm Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives”, “Self-Esteem to the World! The Lord is Come”, and “Blest Be the Tie That Doesn't Cramp My Style”.

But even the posing of the question betrays a misapprehension of the whole matter. Can a person call on God as a last resort and still do so in faith? Would it be nothing more than a hollow exercise in desperation? Will the expectation be motivated by trust and acceptance of God’s will or a last-ditch effort at averting disaster? God knows all things. He hears every secret conspiracy. He knows our words before we speak them. Are we brazen enough to presume upon God if our motives are insincere?

When we stand at the precipice of mortality there is use for neither wishful thinking nor naïve speculation. There is no automatic transition across the threshold of death. Science, human wisdom, and personal merit all have nothing to offer in this regard. Our absolute fragility is laid bare. Nothing short of the Redeemer’s own blood will do. We have hope because we have Christ. The last thing the Bible suggests is that bland, religious platitudes will give us true peace of mind. Kind words may be soothing and positive thoughts might ease anxiety but only truth will carry the day. The soul rests in the merits of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners.

This peace of mind cannot be generated by any ability or resources we possess. Church attendance or charitable activities may add an outward decorum to life, stroke the ego, and serve practical goals, but certainty of salvation can be found only at the cross. Christ reconciles sinners to the Father through the cost of His blood. His sacrifice was not a sentimental gesture. It was the price of redemption. Christ was not constrained by angelic powers, subdued by earthly rulers, driven by self-interest, or goaded by peer pressure. Freely- to the greatest extent that we can describe or understand the freedom of a self-existing being- He yielded His life to the point of collapse so that death might be overthrown. To this extent we now possess freedom from sin’s guilt and death’s power. It is never an independent freedom but the ultimate liberty enjoyed because of the security we have in Christ. Forgiveness is not a fine-sounding cliché. It is a promise sealed in blood. It is a living fruit of Christ’s resurrection.

Through neglect prayer life can grow cold and perish. It is often a symptom of anemic faith. In a Spanish town called Segovia there is a Roman aqueduct built in A.D. 109. For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, “This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labour.” They did; they laid modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest. And the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.

Guess what? You are still useful. Despite any arguments you may offer to the contrary, you are still useful to God. You know that because you are still here. God has not taken you to glory. It may be a simple fact but it still has profound and very practical consequences. Remember what St. Paul said in his mature years, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.”2 The Lord still had a purpose for Paul. He was still a useful instrument in the struggle. You remain on in the body because you still have a purpose in His church militant.

Today we meet in God’s house of prayer between the celebration of Christ’s ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. In the creeds of the church the ascension is connected chronologically and theologically with Christ’s enthronement. This is expressed in the phrase referring to His “sitting at the right hand of God [the Father].” As the victorious Redeemer Christ now rules the cosmos and especially intercedes for the church. He provides for the preaching of the gospel and the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. We do not know when the window for the Spirit’s work will close. But we know Him who intercedes for us and has opened the gate of heaven. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday of Easter
20 May 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 17:14-17
2 Philippians 1:23-25