Easter3 (Jubilate) - St. John 16:16-23a - April 26, 2015

Order of Holy Communion (pg.15)
Hymn #204 Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
Hymn # 523 Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me
Hymn #201 Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won

Readings
Lamentations 3:18-26
1 Peter 2:11-20
St. John 16:16-23a

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, Who showest to them that be in error the light of Thy truth to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness, grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession and to follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Sermon


1)         We live in an age where personal experience has become the source and norm for people’s beliefs. Personal experience is one of the most popular false gods of our age. People look to their experiences in life to decide what is true of themselves, the world around them, and God. Take for instance the cohabiting couple. Often they will defend their living together without marriage by their own experiences with marriage. They fear the divorce they lived through as children. They fear losing the independence to the old ball and chain. They’ve seen too many marriages dissolve. Their experience with marriage tells them that marriage is dead on arrival at worst and an archaic institution at best. They cohabit to avoid abandonment and prevent pain they know by experience. When the cohabiting couple is bothered with a different source and norm for faith and life, the Holy Scriptures, they often reject what the Scriptures say about the sacredness and holiness of marriage because personal experience, not the Word of God, has become their theological teacher. We see the god of personal experience all over the landscape of our epicurean culture. Things that were once defended by stalwart Christians are now receiving approval because of personal experience. Everyone is against divorce until it happens in their family. Most agree with the Scriptures that homosexuality is a sin until a family member or friends ‘comes out.’ Swarms of people in organizations calling themselves ‘church’ now accept women as pastors, contrary to the Word of God, because they claim to have experienced God speaking through female clergy. The hallmark of this post-modern age is the reliance upon personal experience as personal truth. Because everyone’s experiences are varied and different, everyone has their own specific version of ‘truth.’ What is true for one person may not be true for the next. These are dark days to be sure. But our day is no different than the disastrous days of the Judges of Israel, a time in which “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

2)         In today’s appointed Gospel lesson Jesus teaches His disciples not to trust in what they experience in their hearts because the experience of the heart is often the opposite of reality. Not only this, but personal experience is not how God has promised to revealed Himself to His disciples. So they are not to use their personal experience as the lens through which they view God. Christ teaches the opposite rather, that we are to interpret our personal experience always through the Word and promise of God. Jesus tells the disciples on Maundy Thursday, “A little while, and you will not see me; and again a little while, and you will see me, because I go to the Father.” (John 16:16) The disciples do not understand this. Jesus is speaking in a shadowy way about His death and resurrection. He had spoken openly out it throughout His public ministry and they had not understood Jesus so why would they understand Him now? They ask among themselves, ‘what does this mean?’ So Jesus explains it further. Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” (John 16:20) Jesus is leaving His disciples for a period of time. He goes to His death. This is the “little while” of which He speaks. During this “little while” they disciples will weep and lament while the world around them rejoices. We see this in Christ’s passion. He removes Himself from His disciple’s presence so that He could be tried, wounded, crucified for the sins of the world. In that “little while” all hope vanished from the disciple’s hearts. All joy they had enjoyed in the presence of Jesus evaporated into sorrow.

3)         During those three days the disciple’s personal experience would rage against their faith. Jesus had given life to the dead. Now He Himself hangs there dying. Jesus has spoken peace to people’s troubled hearts. Now He was at the center of conflict. Jesus had saved men’s lives. Now He refused to save His own skin. The disciples would experience abandonment. They would experience sorrow. They would experience God as a distant being who turned a deaf ear to their prayers and willed to crush them just as He was crushing their Lord Jesus upon the cross. What would personal experience have told the disciples? What would it have taught them? It would have taught them that Jesus was not who He said He was. Personal experience would have taught them that Jesus’ Word was not true. Personal experience would have them believe that God is against them rather than for them, that God was their enemy instead of their defender, and that their faith in Christ Jesus had been misplaced so that they were to the most pitied among men.

4)         You understand this, don’t you? You have experienced the “little while” often in your life, haven’t you? You have experienced those times in which God seems to hide His face from you. You have surely experienced times in which it felt as if the Lord of Heaven and earth was set against you, not for your life and good but to bring you evil and destruction? You are not unfamiliar with sorrow over a diagnosis that changes the rest of your life. You are not unfamiliar with the wound of abandonment by those you love in some way, shape, or form. You are no stranger to anxiety about the future, terror over sins of the past, and worry about today. Everyone experiences times in which it seems as is God is distant, that He is full of wrath and anger. If, in these moments, we believe our personal experience and cling what we are experiencing as the truth about how God feels about us then we will remain in sorrow and eventually slide into an unconquerable despair. If we are to trust personal experience as God’s self-revelation to us, then we have an idol who changes with our moods and emotions. For this we must repent and hear the Word of Jesus.

5)         Jesus teaches His disciples about this “little while” so that they do not get stuck in that time and the distress and despair that it brings. Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” (John 16:20) Jesus calls this time for the disciples “a little while” because it is not permanent but temporary. In the midst of the “little while” is feels permanent. But is only to last “a little while.” The disciple’s sorrow would last three days then it would be turned into a joy that the world cannot take away. Where sorrow had filled their hearts that their Jesus was dead, now He is alive! Where despair over their sins had consumed them and Satan had accused their fragile consciences, now Christ was appearing to them alive, saying, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) Where the world had made a scoffing shout that it had won and conquered faith, the disciples see their risen Lord and make a joyful shout that their sorrow has past because Christ is risen. This joy cannot be stolen from their hearts. Just a woman forgets the pains of childbirth once her baby enters the world, so Christ’s disciples forget the sorrow of “a little while” with Christian joy.

6)         Christ instructs His disciples not to rely upon their personal experience, what they think God thinks of them, or what their hearts tell them. The heart can never be trusted, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) This instruction is for you as well. As you experience the “little while” when Christ seems absent, do not look to what you are experiencing as a barometer of God’s favor. When your conscience accuses you of sins of the past and Satan desires to drag you into despair through that evil conscience so that it feels as if you are experiencing Hell itself, hold onto Jesus’ word “a little while.” When it feels as if Christ has been removed from you so that all you experience is dread, anxiety, and fear, cling tightly to Jesus’ word that this will last only “a little while.” It was necessary for Christ to rise from the dead so that He could come to His disciples again and comfort them with His presence. So He will do for you also when you experience your “little while” of fear and dread. Christ will not abandon you just as He did not abandon His disciples, for how can Christ abandon those for whom He has shed His blood? It is not Christ’s will that you remain in sorrow but that you be filled with everlasting joy. It is not Jesus’ desire that you remain terrified of your sins but that He be raised and speak the peace of forgiveness to you when you confess your sins. It is not Christ’s desire that you be stuck in the Hell of an evil conscience so that you are unable to abide in His Word in faith, but that you cling all the more firmly to His promise that your suffering, tribulation, and cross will last only “a little while.”

7)         Much is made of personal experience in our age. We must forsake what we experience, however, so that we may cling firmly to the sure and certain Words of Christ in the pages of Holy Scripture. We cannot judge God by what we feel, think, or imagine Him to be doing, but only by what He promises to be doing when He preaches His Word and administers His sacrament. When suffering and cross are laid upon you, do not stare into the sky and ask, “What does this mean?” Instead look to your baptism and hold fast to the promise Christ made to you in those waters to never leave or forsake you. Believe confidently the absolution of your sins spoken from Christ’s called and ordained servant in Christ’s stead and in His place. Kneel at the altar and receive what Christ gives you, His very body and blood to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith so that you might not falter under trial and cross but firmly believe all His gracious promises in your time of need. Hold fast His Word in the pages of Holy Scripture, for there are all His promises at your fingertips. And give thanks that Jesus has told you that your sorrow lasts only a little while. It is not permanent. It is not forever. But the joy He promises, that will be permanent and forever for it is a joy which the world, the Devil, and an evil conscience can never take away. Amen.

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