Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jubilate, May 11th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
5 Cs and a J – John 16:16-22
Almighty God, You show those in error the light of Your truth, so that they may return to the way of righteousness. Grant faithfulness to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Church, that they may avoid whatever is contrary to their confession and follow all such things as are pleasing to You.
Why do we err? Why do we so often do the wrong thing, or say things about Christ and salvation that aren’t quite true, or think thoughts completely opposed to God’s Word? Consider the Collect of the Day for this Sunday, the summary prayer that collects the themes of the readings and which we pray together as we enter into the Holy Space God creates as we hear His Word. A few minutes ago, we together asked God to return those in error concerning the Truth, that they be returned to the way of righteousness, and that those who have publicly entered into Christ’s Church be assisted to avoid all things contrary to their confession, and that we follow Christ in a God-pleasing way. No grand and glorious aspirations, today’s Collect is more of a prayer to be drug across the finished line of faith, a prayer for God to protect us from the ruin that is always nipping at our heels. Which all too often is the prayer we need most.
Why do we err? Why do we turn away from God and His Way? Well, it is true to say, “Because we are sinners,” but is that all we can say? Can we say more, understand a bit more, about why we sin? I think so, and this morning we’ll use a little memory device that might help us understand and remember a bit more about this life as sinner-saints. For Christians are sinners who have been declared holy by God, through faith in Jesus Christ. The acronym is CCCCCJ. 5 Cs and a J. O.K., that’s a lot of alliteration, but maybe not the best acronym ever. But let’s see how it works.
Confusing: The first C is for Confusing. The Word of God is good and true and powerful, and without error. But we often err in our understanding of the Word, like the disciples in our Gospel. Jesus, speaking of His imminent crucifixion and resurrection, tells His disciples: "A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me." The Eleven don’t get it. Even though Jesus had predicted His death and resurrection many times, they can’t seem to understand that Jesus is again referring to it. This “now you see me, then you won’t, then you will again” is easier for us to understand, knowing the whole story, from this side of the Resurrection. But that’s hardly the end of confusing statements in the Bible, or even in just today’s readings.
Like Peter’s declaration: For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. It is gracious, a gift from God, to suffer unjustly? Have you ever suffered unjustly? Is there anything that feels less like grace than taking the blame and suffering the consequences for doing the right thing? Does this mean that we should go around, trying to irritate people with our pious living, so that they’ll attack us?
It’s confusing, as the Word of the Lord is so often to us. And why wouldn’t the Word of the Creator, the Almighty, be beyond us mere humans. And yet, the Lord does not want us to remain confused. So, let me give a brief explanation of the grace of suffering. Being joined by faith to Jesus Christ also brings us into unity with His suffering, suffering which was entirely undeserved, but from which flows the grace of God for us sinners. So, yes, suffering for being a Christian is a gracious thing, even a sign of faith, for we trust in and cling to the One who suffered in our place. God is for us, and has proved this in Jesus, who suffered to save us. So we can face all things, even suffering, in Him, and that is a gracious thing.
At the same time, while suffering as a Christian is a gracious thing, the Bible never tells us to seek suffering. No, Christians suffer because they have been favored by God in Christ, and the world hates that. To seek out suffering is perilously close to self-righteousness, as if by suffering persecution we are earning God’s favor. Seeking to be persecuted is not a Christian goal. Seeking closer and closer unity with Christ is the goal of the Christian, and in that pursuit, suffering will come, as God wills. But we are not to seek suffering, which is a perverse way of trying to puff oneself up.
But back to confusion. Our fallen minds are just as impacted by sin as our aging, aching bodies or our sinful desires. Our minds cannot on their own understand what God has to say. God’s Word is confusing to us. This is especially true when evil surrounds us, when death threatens us, or takes one we love, when we really want the good, but we keep seeing bad. The key thing to remember is that we must have the Holy Spirit’s help to rightly understand. And He will help us. We will not reach perfect understanding in this life, but God will keep us in faith, by His Word. He has promised. Confusion is not to be accepted, nor used as an excuse to give up trying to grow in the Word. But confusion does not disqualify us from the kingdom.
Confronting and Convicting: The next two Cs are Confronting and Convicting. Sometimes we may use confusion as an excuse to avoid the real reason we reject a particular Word of God. Some passages of Scripture and some articles of faith are all too clear, and we don’t like them, because of the way they confront us in our sin. We may willfully run away from the Word that says suffering is a gracious thing. Or we may explain away or simply ignore the “Thou shalt nots” that we don’t like. Every thought, word and deed that is contrary to God’s way of righteousness, every hint of selfishness, every perversion of a good gift into an evil excess, such as we do so well with sex and food and money and technology and freedom, every time we declare our independence from God, every time we sin, God’s Word confronts and convicts us. And our sinful natures’ hate that.
Our sinful natures do not want to die. Submitting to the truth of God’s Law, submitting our wills to His will, is to kill our sinful nature. We may succumb to the power of sin and reject God and His Word. The difficult truth, that this struggle with sin is a daily affair, may even tempt us to give up trying. But because God wants you, His Word still comes. The conviction that the light of His Truth brings into our souls tempts us to run away, defying and fleeing the God who seeks to be close to us. But where can we hide from God?
And of course, conviction brings guilt. At times the worst suffering of the Christian is dealing with the conviction that God’s Word brings, revealing sins we thought we had hidden, even from ourselves. But however long we hide away, God continues to send His convicting Word, so that He can bring us to this morning’s final two Cs.
Conversion and Confession: These last two Cs are Conversion and Confession. When we are guilty, when we are broken, when confusion and conviction bring us to our knees, when our struggle to understand God’s Word combines with the realization that we are guilty sinners, unworthy of God’s continuing concern, then, God by His amazing grace converts us, again. When we are weary and heavy laden, when we realize that our way ends in ruin, God sends His Word again, His better Word, His converting Word, the Word of Jesus, risen from the dead, reaching out His arms to show us His nail scarred hands, Jesus, saying “Peace to you.” “Fear not, I have overcome your sin, your guilt, your death.” “Fear not, you are forgiven.” “Your sins, which were as scarlet, are covered over and made white as snow by my scarlet red blood.”
And so with Thomas we confess, “My Lord and My God.” What joy in that Confession. God re-creates our hearts by His word of grace, by the Word of Jesus, crucified and resurrected. God re-creates our hearts, turning us from confusion and sin and guilt, turning us to see our Savior, reaching out to us again, speaking words of blessing, gathering us to His table, reminding us that the promises He made to us in our Baptism last forever. In joy we confess. Our hearts cry out “Yes, I believe.” Tomorrow, this afternoon, all too soon we know that confusion and conviction will make us cry out again: “Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief.” But still, our hearts cry out. Still we confess our faith in the One who has made us believe in Him for forgiveness, mercy and life. We believe in the One who, for the Joy set before Him, endured the Cross, that He might have us for His very own.
Joy. The J, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is for Joy. The light of the Gospel shines on us, and our hearts are filled with joy. Like a mother, overwhelmed with love and joy to be holding her newborn baby, we rejoice in the Gospel, knowing that we have been re-born, through our risen Savior Jesus Christ. Confessing His victory for us, we go forth in joy. This is what we prayer for this day, and every day, and so, let us pray it again: Almighty God, You show those in error the light of Your truth, so that they may return to the way of righteousness. Grant faithfulness to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Church, that they may avoid whatever is contrary to their confession and follow all such things as are pleasing to You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.