Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.
"The Mother of All Believers"
"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. John 14:28-29
Have you ever had a day when you didn't know if you were coming or going? Of course you have. We all have days where there is so much going on in our lives that we don't know if we are coming or going.
For many, if not most, of us there hardly seem to be enough hours in a day or days in a week as it is. Add to our ordinary schedules:
Predictable times of busyness - Christmas, Easter, the end of the school year, just before planned business trips and vacations.
Unpredictable times - death or illness in the family, weather related disasters, traffic and other accidents
. . . and knowing whether we are coming or going is truly an issue with which we struggle mightily and often.
Jesus was preparing His disciples for just such a time. In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is speaking of the day when He will leave His disciples and ascend to the right hand of His Father in heaven.
To be sure, a lot would happen before that blessed event of His ascension. Passion week was still to come. It would be a great understatement to say that it would be a time of great upheaval in the lives of the disciples. Truly if there ever was a time when one didn't know if they were coming or going, this would have been it.
In the span of less than two months, Jesus, their beloved rabbi and friend, would be betrayed by one of their own, one of the inner circle, one of His own; He would suffer and die right before their very eyes; He would be buried; His body would disappear and be replaced by an angel speaking some nonsense of a resurrection; they would be accused by Jewish religious leaders of stealing His body in some grand plot; even as they were trying to make sense of all this, they would huddle together in hiding for fear that those who had crucified Jesus would come after them next; then, perhaps just as the reality and momentousness of all that had occurred was settling in on them, there He goes again - this time defying gravity as they watched Him "taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." [Acts 1:9]
If ever there was a time when one did not know if he was coming or going, it would be those days leading up to and following the crucifixion of our Lord. Certainly those days that changed the world, those momentous days in which Jesus crushed Satan's head and secured the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for a dying condemned world of men - certainly those days must have been a blur to the disciples. Talk about a deer in the headlights, can you imagine? Those closest to Jesus must have wondered if they were coming or going.
Before all the excitement and tumult could sweep them up, Jesus took time to prepare them for just such a time. He knew what lay ahead and the confusion His chosen and beloved disciples would face. Jesus knew these men would be plunged into the grief of His suffering and despair of His death - fear for their own lives would send them running. Jesus knew these same men would then be lifted out of the grief and despair into an inexplicable ecstacy of His resurrection.
But Jesus also knew before the dust could settle, before there was any time for them to truly grasp what they had seen and experienced, the disciples would have to let go of Him who had been so torturously wrenched from them and miraculously returned such a short time ago. Thus for such a time as this, when the disciples would not know if they were coming or going, much less what to think of Jesus' bizarre comings and goings, Jesus prepares them by saying, "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
Certainly, the disciples must have been puzzled at this strange revelation. Even looking back and remembering these words of their beloved Jesus, how do you think the disciples felt as they watched Jesus disappear into a cloud in the sky?
After all that had happened, can you picture them, jaws agape? "Aha! Now it all makes sense, Jesus is going AND coming. Now I get it!"
And more than that, they should be happy about it?!
This is why Jesus concludes by saying, "I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe."
Jesus knows that they will never fully understand all that will happen, even though the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets spoke of it. He also knows the truth that the sinful hearts of men cannot love God or be happy at such things that run so contrary to sinful human thinking and desires.
So Jesus speaks words that they might believe, because "whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life."
And so it is with us. We were not there to witness His ascension and from our perspective, looking back at the moment and its meaning, we can rejoice and perhaps wonder how the disciples could have been so blind, how anyone living at the time of Jesus could not have known who He was. As believers we wonder how anyone hearing the same words, seeing the same Jesus and His love for us in His suffering and death, how can anyone not love this Jesus and His word.
To us who believe, as well as to His disciples that day, Jesus replie(s), "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
And we reply, "Oh, I do love you Jesus. I do obey the words of your teaching."
But do we really?
In the Third Commandment, God says, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Do we really love Jesus and obey the Words of His teaching?
The truth is we do not. In the busyness of our lives with so many things to do, so many places to go and so many people to see as we seek to please others, and probably more honestly as we seek to please and satisfy ourselves, Jesus and the Words of His teaching take a back seat.
Lost in the busyness of life and trying to squeeze every drop of pleasure, accomplishment and personal fulfilment out of it we can in the midst of the setbacks and disasters that inevitably confront us, like the disciples, we do not know if we are coming or going.
And sad to say, like the disciples, we seldom find joy in the fact that Jesus is in heaven while we are left behind here in this veil of tears. No, we look for joy and gladness almost everywhere else first. Do you need proof?
Memorial Day is coming soon. What happens to our church attendance as individuals and as a congregation during the summer months?
Very few congregations even celebrate the Divine Service in recognition of the Ascension of Our Lord (one of the great festivals of the church because of its importance in showing the divinity of Christ) simply because it falls on a Thursday - a day when we have other things that take precedence.
Think of the many reasons we use to convince ourselves that it is less than necessary on any given Sunday to attend church and receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith -
I really need my sleep, it was a tough week and Sunday is a day of rest.
It's the only day I have to do yard work.
Our guests from out of town will only be here until Sunday afternoon and we only see them every other year or so.
I can go to church any Sunday but the camping/fishing/hunting/football/fill-in-the-blank season only lasts so long.
We need to spend time as a family today.
I can worship God in nature.
You don't have to go to church to be saved.
Now please don't think I am only pointing fingers, because the truth is, in my own sinfulness and weakness there are Sundays when the only reason I come is because I HAVE to.
Now this being Mother's Day, can you imagine substituting camping/fishing/hunting/football/fill-in-the-blank for honoring Mom, and telling your mother that you can honor her in those places when she is not even there? Can you imagine even thinking you don't have to have a mother to live?
We need church as much as a child needs a mother. When we confess in the Third Article of the Creed, I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
What this means is: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
The church is to the baptized, to the Christian, what a mother is to her children.
Let us not fool ourselves dear baptized! We cannot make much of a claim to love Jesus or His Word when there are so often so many things that we place before Him and the place where He gives His Word to be publicly proclaimed for the forgiveness of sins.
But thanks be to God, He loves us! Because in our sin we do NOT love Him. And as we hear in today's lesson from Revelation, "But nothing unclean will ever enter [heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life." Rev. 21:27
This is why God sends His Holy Spirit to minister to us in Word and Sacrament to wash us clean and give to us again everything we need for our salvation and the building up of our faith so that we may be made holy for Him and His eternal kingdom: "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
And rather than leave us convicted of our lack of love and obedience, He leaves us forgiven.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27
This peace He gives through His Holy Christian Church, the mother of all believers. For Christ's church is a Revelation of heaven on earth. Christ's church is even today, as our lesson from Revelation tells us it will plainly be at the resurrection of dead, where even now, "it's lamp is the Lamb, the light by which people from all nations walk with God, where Jesus is the gate that is always open, and where there is no night." Rev. 21:23-24
So whether we are coming or going, God is here to forgive, renew and lead us, and is with us always in His church, the mother of all believers, even to the end of the age-
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.
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