May 7, 2017
St. John 16:16-22
Let's be honest. There are lots and lots of people who live just fine without Jesus. They don't have to worry about dragging themselves out of bed on Sunday morning or putting any of their income in the plate or being bound by any rules or commandments. Their lives may not be extraordinarily awesome but they're not horrible either. They live just fine without any real notion of God or Jesus or sin or forgiveness or faith. And so, in order to attract those folks, churches often try to advertise the Gospel and Jesus and faith as something that will make their lives better. Offer them something more. Give them something exciting. And they might be interested for a bit. Come and check it out. But then they'll soon realize that religion is just one more thing to worry about and they can let it go. They did fine without Jesus and they'll do fine again without Him. Maybe. Until they die.
You know, Christians are often accused of only thinking about the afterlife so that they don't pay any attention to this life. But here's the thing: This life is full of sorrow. You can have a good life, a decent life, a more or less trouble free life but in the end, something is going to happen. If nothing else, you'll die. And nothing you've done in this life or tried to do will prevent it. Can stop it. Can beat it. So, yeah, Christians DO think about the life to come because there IS a life to come. We recognize, because our Lord has taught us by His Word, that in this life we will have sorrow. And as long as we can't see Jesus with out eyes, we're going to have sorrow and suffering. But the time will come when our sorrow turns to joy. When our sadness becomes gladness. When death and darkness and sin and gloom are no more and there is eternal life and the glory of Jesus and the saints around us and a new heaven and a new earth forever. Why SHOULDN'T we think about that? Ponder it? Long for it? It's what the Lord has promised us.
Consider Jesus' disciples with Him before His suffering and death. “I am going away and you will have sorrow but then your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Jesus is going to fulfill what He came to do. To suffer and die for sinners. To face the ultimate in sorrow and sadness and suffering. Then to rise again. They disciples, when they finally realized Jesus was alive, were full of joy. But then our Lord ascended and while there was still joy, there was much sorrow and suffering ahead. But Jesus promises that He will see them again and their sorrow will be turned into joy. It is this promise, that He will see them again, which keeps them from falling into despair when they face that sorrow. That is the promise that He will rise from the dead. It's also the promise He will return in glory. He fulfilled the first, so there's no reason to doubt the second. Our Lord WILL come again. And when He does, our sorrow will be turned into joy.
And you and I need to hear that promise. We need to be assured that this whole church thing is not some big waste of time! For that's what our sinful flesh concludes. The world around us seems to get along just fine without Jesus, why should I bother? What good does it do me? That's the “only here and now thinking” the devil wants you to have. But Christ has rescued you from such despair by telling you: He will come again and you will see Him and your sorrow will be turned into joy. Both Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations and Peter in his epistle tell us that suffering is a fact of being God's people. As long we trust in God, the devil and world and sinful flesh will be against us. And they will rejoice at our suffering and be glad to see it. It's hard to have such opposition. It would be easier to go with the flow and give up on Christ. So Christ Himself gives us His Word to strengthen us. “I will come again and you will see Me and your sorrow will be turned to joy.” This promise is true because He rose again. It's the first proof that Christ keeps His Word. But more than that, He's baptized you. Absolved you. Feeds you with His body and blood. Gives you His Word which is there to strengthen and comfort you and remind you of His promise that He will come back and that your sorrow will be turned into joy.
The world laughs at our weeping and lamenting. When we struggle with sin, the world laughs and calls us hypocrites. When we suffer wrong the world laughs at us and says, “How's turning the other cheek working for you?” When we suffer in our bodies and minds and offer up our pleas and prayers, the world laughs at us wondering to whom we're talking? When we die and mourn at death, the world laughs at us as fools for thinking the dead come back to life. But the time will come, dear Christians, when you will laugh and be full of joy and the world will weep and lament its judgment. It tried this once already with Jesus and He was alive three days later. It will try it with you but when Christ returns, He promises that your sorrow will be turned into joy. While the world laughs, cling to your Baptism and the body and blood of Jesus and His Word and there you will have the promises with which the Holy Spirit gives you strength to endure this sorrow until it is turned into joy.
As Christians, we all have our callings and vocations to worry about. Taking care of children. Taking care of parents. Doing our jobs. Loving our neighbors. Being part of the body of Christ and this particular congregation. We work to do those things well now, in this life. But we DO think about what is to come. We think ahead because our Lord has promised that our sorrows are turned into joy. Just think about an expectant mother. She knows it's going to hurt to have that child. And when the child is born, it DOES hurt. But then suddenly that is all past and there she is, holding her newborn baby and rejoicing in that gift from God. That's how it is for us. We suffer. We sorrow. We know we'll endure such things. But then, when our crucified and risen Jesus appears again on the Last Day, that will all be forgotten in a moment as the joy and gladness of eternal life is given to us forever. The world doesn't get that and it never will but it's our hope and life and strength in this life. We know that it's true because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.