+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 17:20
Theme: Future Faith
Dear Saints of our Risen Lord,
Heaven is not a remote, confined location. Heaven is the dimension of God’s unmediated presence- as close as the person sitting next to you. Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ ascended bodily into heaven. The parting promise to His disciples was that He would return in the same manner in which He had left. His return will bring to an end existence in this fallen world. He will come again not to atone for sins, but to gather to Himself those who believe. The Scripture says, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”1 In this context, “to bring salvation” does not mean to proclaim the gospel, but to deliver believers from this world of sorrow to the bliss of eternity.
Meanwhile, as the church eagerly and confidently awaits His bodily and glorious return, the challenges of this world must be faced. The scope and influence of the Christian church in the future is beyond our knowing. What plans God has ordained for the nature and size of His church is a mystery that is revealed to us only as it happens. But this much we know with certainty: The word of God will accomplish its purposes and future believers will be gathered into the fold. Jesus prays today saying, “My prayer is not for them alone (the disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message.”2 This general promise of future faith is realized in the specific details of the Holy Spirit’s work.
The church is entrusted with the means by which faith is created and nurtured, and is charged with being diligent in administering these gifts. The Augsburg Confession says, “In order to obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel.”3 The Holy Spirit converts and sanctifies and He is pleased to do it through the Word of God committed to the church.
Here we must come to terms with some fixed realities. Firstly, we are born in a state of condemnation. We are not born in a state of faith, but in a state of unbelief. That is the upshot of original sin. Left to ourselves, we are certainly lost for eternity. Secondly, even as believers, we do not have the luxury of playing fast and loose with God’s will. Nor do we have the leverage to negotiate or manipulate or even plea bargain. Going ahead with our sin, and planning to repent later, or arguing about exactly what constitutes a transgression of God’s will and what doesn’t only seems make headway from our perspective. In reality it’s like standing on the brow of the Titanic dreaming of a joyous reunion. Denial doesn’t change reality. It’s playing with fire. We are not in control.
And, thanks be to God that we are not in control! Salvation is by grace through faith. It is the work of God for us. Then we see that the living of our baptismal life mirrors our justification. Our growth in the faith, our place in the church here and now, our role in living Christ-like lives is molded, shaped and directed by the Word and Spirit. It is a life filled with joys, challenges and surprises. It is a life under the freedom of the gospel. We must understand that the details of our service to God are in His hands.
Today is the Sunday after the Ascension. Next Sunday is Pentecost. Fifty days after the resurrection the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples. And so begins the season of the church year in which we focus on living in the grace that is freely ours through Jesus Christ. In other words, the fact of our conversion- our being brought to the faith through Holy Baptism by the gospel- is worked out in our daily routine of living before God.
The church grows spiritually and adds new souls as it continues to center its life around the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Life under the cross becomes not flippant and frivolous but focused and confident. Baptismal living is not aimless but purposeful. In Christ we learn the reason we exist. We have specific vocations in the real world. As we engage the challenges of sin we know the power rests with Christ. The Scripture says, “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.”4
Under the humility of the cross, but with confidence in the message of the cross, the Christian church must continue to let the world know that Christ has been sent from the Father and salvation is found only in Him. Everyday your lips and your lives attest to this message. We are the body of Christ in this place and within this community. What is your Christian vocation? You are not Paul. You are not an apostle. You may not stand before kings or councils as did Luther. But you are called to be a faithful witness of Christ to your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your friends, your boss, your co-worker; perhaps most importantly to people you don’t even like or even know. Will you be flawless in your witness? No! Will you often fail? Yes! If you didn’t your claim to be a Christian would be a sham. Does your seemingly small part matter? Yes; in absolutely every way. For Christ working through you will not fail. And this makes an eternal difference.
As Christians, we cannot be self-fashioned individuals going our own way. We are members of a living organism with Christ as the head. In unity of heart and mind we move forward in Christ’s mission. Resources must be ventured. Opportunities must be seized. Failures must be recognized. Transgressions must be repented of. Trust must be maintained. Love must prevail. Truth must always be adhered to. Forgiveness must always be sought and applied and believed. Christ seeks not a utopia on earth, but that on earth sinners may be shown the gate of heaven. One day all believers will trace the path of His ascension. Heaven is where Christ has already banished sin. It is our future.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Seventh Sunday of Easter
8 May, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Hebrews 9:28
2 John 17:20
3 The Augsburg Confession, Article V
4 Romans 8:10-11