Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter (B) 2015

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

Text: John 17:11
Theme: Holy Intercession

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christ understands the distresses of this mortal life. He has lived through them. The Scripture says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.”1 It’s not surprising then that He continues to mediate for us. Today’s gospel is a beautiful illustration. This intense and richly worded prayer is often called the High Priestly prayer. It gives insight into Jesus’ work of intercession on our behalf. He never tires, He never rests, He never lapses, He never stops until we are resurrected with Him in heaven.

But we are not there yet. In the incarnation of Jesus time and space are redeemed, but time and space are also transcended and marked for collapse. Christ’s birth into the world means that time is no longer just ticking away endlessly and aimlessly without purpose. It means that this dimension of space in which we dwell has been reclaimed by its Creator. Everything is moving towards consummation in Christ. Denial, resistance, or ignorance will not spare the unbeliever from the judgment. But the repentant soul who takes refuge in the mercy of Christ never needs to doubt His forgiveness. John summarizes succinctly today, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”2

Jesus does not pray today that the disciples are immediately taken to heaven with Him. Rather, He prays fervently for protection from the evil one. Satan’s attacks are more sinister than we often acknowledge. Often we engage him childishly or naively, discounting both his intent and his influence. One of the most persistent symptoms of sin is overconfidence in our spiritual abilities and a false sense of security about our worthiness in God’s eyes. The world teaches that all people are basically good; they’re only in need of some prompting. The Holy Scripture says we are naturally full of utter darkness; worthy of condemnation. Both propositions cannot be true. They stand in contradiction. The crucifixion shows which conviction is true.

Dear friends, it’s remarkable that Jesus prayed these words just before His suffering and death. He was single-minded about the task before Him: Loving the world until the end. It alerts us to remember our priorities. You do not have the strength, the time, or the energy to pursue all the things you are most passionate about, let alone the things you have less interest in. How do you prioritize? Do you give precedence to those things which are financially lucrative? Do you put family first? Do you chase happiness? Are you driven by guilt? Do you find yourself being pulled in many directions at once without clear conviction about what is most important? No one can do everything. What motivates us to value the things we invest most in? What motivates us to love? What do we risk?

C. S. Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin or your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers...of love is hell.”

Perhaps your prayer life has fallen on hard times? The busyness of your schedule or the apathy in your heart has pushed it aside. Perhaps it’s bogged down with formality or frail from superficiality? Maybe the devil has almost convinced you that it’s a waste of time; it just doesn’t work, your prayers don’t seem to be answered. Nagging, threats, or condemnations may convict you, and in-so-far-as they facilitate true repentance they are necessary. But the law gives no strength to accomplish what it demands, even in the case of prayer. The power rests with God alone. You are freed to pray because by grace Christ has set you free.

The unbeliever prays to an idol or prays aimlessly for that’s all he or she can do. But the baptized people of God lift their hearts and their voices to the Father of light, through the Son crowned with thorns, in the presence of the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit prays for you. Christ intercedes for you. As surely as the dead are raised; as surely as Christ has been resurrected from death, your prayer life too is raised, renewed, and recreated from the doldrums, from the darkness, from the ashes. For prayer is nothing more than one response of faith and faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Faith can move mountains because it draws on Him whose mighty power set the earth on its foundation. How often our prayers are not too assertive, but too paltry! Nothing is impossible with God. Christ Himself requests of the Father that we be sanctified in the truth. He says, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name.”3 What more can we ask for than the Son as our Mediator, Redeemer, and Judge; the Spirit as our Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor; the Father Himself as our Rock, Refuge, and Fortress? The angels, too, are not remiss in their attentiveness.

Thursday marked the Festival of the Ascension; forty days since Easter. In the ascension Christ passes with His humanity into the majestic presence of God. We are to think of this presence not only in terms of light and beauty and holiness, but also in terms of power, rule, and intercession. Christ lifts sinner to the right hand of God. The right hand of God is not a distant and dreamy place; it is right here where Christ breaches time and space through His means of grace. The Scripture says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).”4

The Christ who dwells at God’s right hand is not different from the One who promises “I am with you always.”5 It’s not as though Jesus is gone and we must get by with the Spirit until He returns. The Holy Spirit is not Christ’s vicar. His role is not substitutionary. The Spirit points to Christ and attests to Him. The Holy Spirit discloses the mind of Christ. Christ seeks the glory of the Father. The Spirit seeks the glory of the Son.

Where does the penitent go; the soul aching for pardon? To the risen and ascended Christ in the sacrament. The lonely widow or widower? Where do they meet the Immanuel, God-with-us? In the sacrament. Where does the person bruised in conscience and battered in heart go to meet the Suffering Servant who still bears His scars in the flesh? In the sacrament. Where does the person who desires to leave regret behind “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead?” 6 To Him “who is and who was and who is to come,”7 in the sacrament. Christ is among us as One who serves. Our prayers are carried by Him. Our salvation is secured by Him. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday of Easter
17 May, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 4:15
2 1 John 5:11-12
3 John 17:11
4 Romans 10:6-8
5 Matthew 28:20
6 Philippians 3:13
7 Revelation 1:8