10 May 2020†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† †St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Easter 5††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† Vienna, VA
ďAll or NothingĒ
Text: John 14:1-14; Acts 6:1Ė9; 7:2a, 51Ė60
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Easter season and our celebration of our Lordís resurrection is like a seesaw. Seven weeks of joy divided into two parts with a fulcrum in the middle. The first three weeks we hear of Jesusí appearances to His disciples after He rose from the dead. The final three weeks, which we are now entering, we hear Him teaching His disciples what He is about to do and what it means. And the middle, the fulcrum, is Good Shepherd Sunday, for Jesus is our Good Shepherd through it all - the Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep and then rose to care for us still. And so seven weeks of joy, because Jesusí victory over sin, death, and the devil is too big to celebrate for just a day or a week - a victory that changed everything. A victory to give us hope all through our lives - in good times and bad times, in joy or in sorrow, in the middle of life or at the moment of death.
So really, if youíre going to have a pandemic, there is no better time than the Easter season. To celebrate life in the midst of sickness and death. To proclaim the confidence we have in the midst of uncertainty. That a tiny, unseen virus can kill us, but it canít take our life. Because our life doesnít end at the grave - we live in the one who is the graveís grave and deathís death. So all there is left for us is resurrection and life. This virus may have spread throughout the world with its fear and death in just three short months, but ourís Lordís victory took only three short days - and unlike this virus, will last forever.
So today, we begin the second side of the Easter seesaw and begin to hear Jesus teaching what He is about to do for us. And appropriately, today we heard words that are often used at funerals, to offer comfort when face-to-face with death and the grave. Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . In my Fatherís house are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare them for you. And I am coming back to take you there to be with me, for life, forever. The disciples were about to see many troubling things, things they would be unable to unsee. But thatís good. Seeing a suffering Jesus and a dead Jesus would make seeing a triumphant Jesus and a living Jesus that much sweeter. And all this was for them. Jesus was not going unwillingly. Jesus was not losing. He would shed His blod and die, not to lose His life but to gain theirs. Just as fishermen had to prepare their nets before fishing and the tax collector had to organize his accounts before collecting the taxes, so would Jesus prepare a place for them, and then come back for them and take them there. So do not let your hearts be troubled. Look past my death, Jesus says. Tomorrow is not the end of my life, but the beginning of yours.
But as wonderful as those words are, and comforting for us in the face of death, Jesus then goes on to speak words that are, well, not so welcome by many. For when Thomas questions Jesus about the way to this house, this kingdom that Jesus is going to prepare, Jesus says to him: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. And in a world - then and now - filled with gods of all shapes and sizes, such a claim is rejected.
But just as the two halves of the Easter season go together - the before and after, the promise and the fulfillment - so too do these two teachings of Jesus. You cannot have one without the other. You have both or you have neither. You cannot have Jesusí kingdom without Jesus. You cannot have the Father without the Son. And the fulcrum between these two parts is what Jesus tells Philip: Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. . . . I and the Father are one. Both before and after the resurrection.
For the truth is not that there is a God in heaven and that Jesus has come down from Him to show us just one of the many ways to Him. The truth is that Jesus IS the one true God come down from heaven, not to show us, but to take us to be with Him forever. The God who heals the sick, who cleanses lepers, who casts out demons, who raises the dead. So do you want to see the Father? Do you want to see His love? His mercy? His life? His compassion? His glory? His power? If youíve seen these miracles, youíve seen it. If youíve seen Jesus, youíve seen Him.
And all that was going to be on full display for the disciples to see in the morning. They would see just how much God loves them when they see Him hanging on the cross. They would see the depths God was willing to go to save them. Them! Sinners, great sinners, every one. Those doubting, denying, objecting, glory-hounding, greatness-seeking little faiths! God came down into poverty for them. Into a world of sin for them. A place where foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), for them. That having no place here, we have a place there, with Him. Where there is no poverty or sin, only love and joy.
Thatís who your God IS. A God willing to die for you and your sin. To take it all upon Himself, that you have forgiveness and life. Which is why these verses are so comforting. Because they donít just tell us the truth of a heavenly kingdom, but of the way to that kingdom, and the life that will get us there. And Jesus is all of it. You have Him, you have His forgiveness, His kingdom, and His life.
But if you do not have Jesus, then you have another god, a quite different god. A god not willing to die for you, but who you must please and hope to get into his kingdom. A god who maybe will forgive your sins, but maybe not. A god who didnít come down to serve you, but whom you must serve and be good enough for. A god who you really cannot know because he goes by lots of different names and lots of different truths and has lots of different ways. So pick one, try hard, and hope for the best!
Really? Thatís whoís running the show? Thatís the kind of god we have? Truth is, thatís what weíre like. Thatís a god made in our image.
Perhaps thatís why Jesusí words are so challenging to us today. They go against the way we think and how we think things should be. But our hearts and minds are steeped in sin, and so donít think rightly anymore. They need to be corrected. They need to be resurrected. They need to be shown who God really is, and what He is really like, and what His ways truly are. And Jesus is that. He is the way things should be, and the way things will be for us, in Him.
Now, such bold claims would be nothing if (as we just sang) Christ had not be raised from death (LSB #486). Our faith would be in vain, death would be the end, we would be living a lie, and our sin and guilt remain. Christ is a charlatan, and His words deserve to die with Him. But if Jesus is risen from the dead - which the empty grave testifies to, which over 500 witnesses testify to, which the guards who had to be paid off testify to - then He really is the way, the truth, and the life. And there really is a resurrection for us and our sinful hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.
A resurrection begun already now when you are baptized. For there is where Jesusí resurrection becomes yours, His forgiveness is yours, and His life is yours. Baptism is Jesusí three days given to you in a moment of time, that dying with Him and rising with Him, you live a new life. A life of confidence, boldness, and peace.
Like Stephen. We heard part of his story today in the reading from Acts. A martyrís story. Stoned to death because He spoke the same truth that Jesus did - that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. That Jesus is the one true God. That there is no other Saviour. For those words he wasnít crucified, he was stoned. But while he was being stoned, he confidently, boldly, and peacefully spoke the words of the crucified: Lord, do not hold this sin against them. Those are the words of a new life. A new life that knows that death is not the end. The life that you and I now have.
So that when we are being stoned for speaking the truth about sin, about forgiveness, about Jesus, we also have no fear. Stones cannot take away what Jesus has given. Just ask the rather large one that tried to hold Jesus in the grave! And satan cannot harm those who are in Him who crushed his head. Jesusí words of absolution speak louder than all satanís accusations. And you hear them here every Sunday. I forgive you all your sins. And they all. All of them. None too big, none too small to be forgiven. All on Jesus, all on the cross, so none any longer on you.
Which means a new life. It really does. Like when I was little and did something wrong and dreaded when my father would come home from work and there would be a reckoning. All day long there would be worry and fear and images of the worst happening to me! Only . . . what if . . . when my father came home . . . instead of punishment there was forgiveness. Think I had, at that moment, a new life?
So you, too. We are not left wondering if we will be forgiven or about what will happen when Jesus returns - we know. For we have it all already now. And so a new life, now.
A new life that does new things - not the same old life with the same old sins. For like the two halves of the Easter season and the two parts of Jesusí teaching here, so too a new life that does new things go together. Itís who you are. For as the love, life, and forgiveness of Jesus is given to you and lives in you, so too the love, life, and forgiveness of Jesus flow out of you and is given to others. To fill a world in sin and death with exactly what it needs.
For so Jesus said to His disciples: whoever believes in me - and has this new life - will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Greater? Yes, greater! Not in the sense that we could do something even bigger and better than rising from the dead! But that this rising from the dead now goes into all the world through the Church. What Jesus did in Israel is for all the world. What Jesus accomplished in time is for all time. No one excluded or left out. There is love, life, and forgiveness for all. In Him.
So let not your hearts be troubled. Donít let troubled hearts get in the way of your joy, your confidence, your life, or your forgiving. Believe in God; believe also in the one He sent. Believe that the one who has kept every promise keeps them also for you. And so He is not just coming back - He is coming back for you. To take you to the place He as prepared for you. So that in good times and bad times, in joy or in sorrow, in the middle of life or at the moment of death, even in times of virus and pandemic, you know the way, for you know the truth, and you have His life.
For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.