24 May 2020†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Easter 7††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďOne and Strong in ChristĒ
Text: John 17:1-11; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11
Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Weíre in this together. Thatís the message in our country and even around the world these days. You see it in TV and internet ads, in memes and hashtags, and on signs all over. Weíre in this together. If there was a new phrase that could be called the popular rallying cry of the 21st century, that just might be it.
And the derivations of it, which say that weíre stronger together. That started with the term ďLivestrongĒ in 2004 and has since been used whenever a disaster or tragedy happens as a rallying cry. And so weíve have #BostonStrong,#JerseyStrong, #AmericaStrong, and the list could go on and on. Weíre all in this together. We can get through it together. Weíre stronger together. And thatís certainly good, and true, and desirable. As far as it goes.
But how far does it go? How deep does it go? How long does it last? Truth is, what we have seen . . . not very deep and not very long. As soon as the time of crisis or hardship is over, the togetherness seems to vanish as quickly as it came. In fact, it even seems that for some, the divisions that were there before become even deeper and wider, as people not only return to their old ways, but go even farther away from the togetherness and unity that got them through.
So when Jesus today talks about being one . . . well, it sounds familiar. Itís our modern day rallying cry, after all. So maybe we should be #JesusStrong, or #ChristianStrong!
Except . . . Jesus isnít here issuing a rallying cry to His disciples. In fact, Heís not even talking to His disciples - or us - at all. Heís praying. Heís talking to His Father. He is about to go to the cross and lay down His life for the life of the world - an event that will seem quite disastrous and tragic to His disciples. And they try to be in it together. They try to be stronger together. They really did. They get together on that first Easter night behind locked doors and try to be #DiscipleStrong! But it doesnít really work. They are stronger together than apart, but even together they are not nearly strong enough. They are frightened and uncertain and anything but strong. And no rallying cry or hashtag was going to change that.
Because the true unity those disciples had, with themselves and even with us today, is in being sinners. They were #SinnerStrong! And sinners are definitely stronger together than apart. In a world that questions the truth of Godís Word, itís easier for us to question the truth of Godís Word. In a world where lies are only bad if you get caught, itís easier for us to lie. In a world where sexual activity of any size, shape, and kind is the norm, where marriage is optional and divorce taken for granted, itís easy for Christians to fall into those sins, too. And in a world where the only recognized authority for many is your own feelings, thoughts, and desires, the First Commandment takes on a whole new meaning. You shall have no other gods before me, has become: I shall have no other god besides ME. And yup, weíre all in that together. #SinnerStrong
But when Jesus today talks about being one . . . of course, it is a very different kind of oneness He is talking about. A better one. A stronger one. A more lasting one. And a oneness not of our own making, of our own strength in banding and standing together, but of His making. Of the Holy Spiritís making. A oneness from the very depths of our hearts to the highest heaven, and a oneness that will last for eternity.
A oneness achieved on the cross - the cross that Jesus, as He prayed this prayer, would be hanging on in just a few hours. For there Jesus became sin - all sin united as one on Him. There Jesus became the sinner - all sinners united as one in Him. And all the wrath of God upon all the sin of the world was put there on that one man, on Him. That is a oneness man could never achieve, for it is a oneness transcending time and place. For all time and space comes together there, in that one place. That one place where Jesus was one, alone, and looked weakest and defeated.
But from the cross of Jesusí shame flows life eternal in His name (LSB #561, v. 4). For if all the sin, death, and condemnation of the world came together upon Him in that one place, then in the same way all forgiveness, life, and salvation burst forth from Him from that one place into all the world. Making the cross a place of glory - Jesusí and ours. Glory that is not ours as we band together as sinners trying our best, but when we are united to Jesus and His cross in baptism, receiving His best. When our oneness as sinners is overcome by water and the Word and we are made one with Jesus. #BaptismStrong - a oneness that transcends time and place as we are united with saints from the beginning to the end of time, and from every corner of the globe. A oneness impossible for us to achieve.
But a oneness the Holy Spirit can. And does. As He brings Jesus to us and us to Jesus and unites us to Him. As He brings us the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross and gives it to us. As He creates the Holy Christian Church, calling, gathering, and enlightening through the Word. And as He will on the Last Day by raising all the dead, and gathering and giving eternal life to you and me and all believers in Christ. That is the oneness Jesus is praying for in the words we heard today. Oneness in Godís Name. That is, the Name put upon you in baptism. The name we start every Divine Service here with. The Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With that Name, in that Name, bearing that Name, we are truly one. United in Christ.
The thing about this oneness, though, is that you might feel and seem very alone. In the world but not of the world. And so alone in a world that is #SinnerStrong and getting stronger, as sin begets sin and together sinners are emboldened in their sin. The truth you speak and live as a baptized child of God isnít going to make you one with sinners, but will widen the division with the world. That truth got Jesus crucified, early Christians fed to beast and flame, and Christians nowadays beheaded and persecuted. The world wants you to be #SinnerStrong with them. And #BaptismStrong doesnít do that.
Thatís why Peter wrote to the Christians in Rome, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. You are sharing Christís sufferings. But you are also sharing His glory. For remember: the shame of the cross is the glory of Christ. The glory of His self-sacrificing love for you. The glory of the forgiveness spoken from the cross. The glory of a God who made Himself one with sinners, so that we could be one with Him in His kingdom - even as He and the Father are one. And that oneness forever is worth a little fiery trial here and now. Or as Peter put it: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Which is to say that although you may feel and seem very alone in this #SinnerStrong world, you are not. Your adversary the devil may prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, but He is the one devoured by Christ and His love and forgiveness. Even while hanging on the cross - Jesus devours the devilís hate with His words forgiveness and love, and He devours the devilís death with His words of life.
And now Jesus calls us to devour Him. To eat His body and drink His blood, the fruit of the cross, that sin, death, and hell be unable to devour us, and so we be #SupperStrong. Which again isnít a unity or oneness of our making, but of His. And so as we are #BaptismStrong and #SupperStrong, that just as sin begets sin and together sinners are emboldened in their sin, so too does Christ beget Christians and we Christians are emboldened in our faith, living not in our own strength or our collective strength, but in His strength. Christís strength. A humble strength. For humble strength is strength that doesnít come from ourselves, but from outside us and is given to us. From being one with the one who is all strength, even when He was hanging on the cross.
So as we come to the end of this rather unusual Easter season, it is with that confidence and joy and strength that comes from our oneness with Christ. A confidence, joy, and strength that enables us to live the truth we believe, even if it makes us quite different than the world, and even in opposition to the world. To speak the truth in love, do the truth in love, and rejoice in the truth in love.
So even though we havenít been able to be all together in church, one together here in this place as the Body of Christ, even though weíve been separated and isolated and distanced, we have - still! - this oneness that gives us such confidence, joy, and strength, that transcends time and space, and that isnít dependent on what we do, but what Christ has done for us. So no matter what this #SinnerStrong world can throw at us, no matter what the devil can roar at us, no matter what we feel or what seems to be, these words of Christ, this prayer of Christ, is not our rallying cry, but our reality. We are one. His prayer has been answered. We are one in Christ. And where He is, there we will be. One. A oneness not yet visible to the human eye, but which we will see when He comes again, as He promised, in glory.
For Christ is ascended! [He is ascended 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.