Friday, November 6, 2015

On hardship, persecution, and struggle with sin while in this world


"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. 16:1 "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. "I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 15:26–16:4 ESV)

Dear Fellow Redeemed:

Betweenity is a hard place in which to live, and that’s where we are. We live between the past and the future, between yesterday and tomorrow, between celebrating the Ascension and Pentecost and between our Lord’s Ascension and His Parousia, His coming again in glory and judgment. So what is life like in Betweenity? It’s difficult. That’s what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus prepared the disciples for the time between His death and resurrection and for the time between His Ascension and His glorious return. And what Jesus says to those disciples is meant for us too.

Jesus says that in this world you will have hardship. And while you know that to be true, Jesus lovingly warns you of it so you will not fall away when it happens. For the hardships of this world have a tendency to choke faith out, especially if you think they’re not supposed to happen, as many erroneously teach. When the job is lost, when the diagnosis is dire, when the prayer is not answered as you desire, when the loved one dies too soon or too cruelly: have you not doubted the Lord and his care for you? Have you never wavered, never fallen away? Have you never been blinded and confused and scandalized by the lies the world, the devil and the false church tell about these hardships?

They tell a story that’s tempting to believe, but it’s all lies. For this world has everything backwards: as Jesus says, the world even thinks it is doing God a favor by killing His Christians. And if the world gets this wrong, is it any wonder that it gets so much else wrong as well? The world would tell you that your worth is determined by how much you make, rather than by who made and redeemed you. The world, via its music, and television and movie screens, shouts the tired old message that rather than the mysterious union of husband and wife for the procreation of children, God's gift of sex is really just a toy like any other to be used as we wish. For instead of seeing our bodies as the Temples of the Holy Spirit, the world claims that we in our bodies are really nothing more than apes with clothes on. The world tells husbands to abandon wife and children if it suits him, and it tells mothers they may abandon their children even while they reside in the womb.

Such demonic lies prove beyond any doubt that the world really is under control of the father of lies. And because the world believes and follows that liar, it is utterly dysfunctional with sin. And the hardest thing is that world resides in each of us as well. Though you may well thank God that you have avoided these obviously worldly sins, you will still have reason to strike your chest and pray to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” for make no mistake: our Lord says that cruel words against your neighbor are just as  murderous as abortion, lustful thoughts are just as adulterous as abandoning your spouse for another, and the love of money, which is our real national past time, leads to untold sorrow.

So as you follow Christ who gave His life for you, the world will throw you out of its synagogues. The world will kick you around, hardships of all sorts will come, and friends will despise and forsake you. And what do you do then? Rejoice. Rejoice because in each of these hardships the Lord is teaching you there is a better life outside the synagogues of the world, for they are not your home. In each of these hardships the Lord would remind you not to get too comfortable here. Your citizenship is in heaven, your life is hidden with God in Christ.

Yes, the world will mock you for following a God who gave His only-begotten Son over to a cruel, shameful death. Yes, the world will think you’re mentally unbalanced for believing that the Almighty God of the universe delights to be called your Father and counts the hairs of your head. Yes, the world will be falsely pious and call you cruel for daring to say that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ.

Beloved, Jesus came to take those lies of the devil and the world to the grave and leave them there. He came to take away the sins of the world by bearing in His body all your wrongs, your transgressions, your rebellion against heaven, your fears, all your alliances with the sinful world, all your cruelties, all your lies, all your brokenness and sin: He came to bear it all that He might take it from you and give you His holy life as your own.

That’s how Christ saves you and all the world. He paid no homage to the world's wisdom and did not care that it called Him a fool. He let the world do its worst to Him so that it can never do its worst to you, for our Lord Jesus Christ took all the sins of the world to the tomb and left them there by rising from the dead. Sin, hell, and death now have no mastery over you because they have no mastery over Him, and you are in Christ by the power of the Helper, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He has drowned you in baptism and left your sins at the bottom of the font while drawing you forth to new life. In your baptism you were plunged into Christ's death and resurrection and this is your new reality. You are forgiven and free. You are the baptized child of God. You are risen from the dead.

So this world’s threats are meaningless. The devil, the world, and the flesh may prowl around like a roaring lion seeking whom they may devour: but for those in Christ, all the devil may do is roar for he has had his teeth and claws pulled out. So do not be afraid when hardship comes. Do not think for a moment that your heavenly Father has abandoned you. For the Father Himself loves you, and has saved you for His own Name's sake. He has gathered you out of the world's Synagogues to be His own Holy Church, the spotless Bride of Christ washed clean in baptismal waters flowing from the spear-pierced side of her Husband. He has replaced your stony heart with a heart of flesh and breathed into you a new spirit. For though your heart and flesh are corrupt, He gives you the incorruptible Body of Christ for your food and fills you with the Blood that the heart of Christ pumps. Though your spirit was foul and twisted, He has filled you with His Spirit in Baptism – and indeed He breathes this sweet breath of the Spirit over you again and again as you come to receive Holy Absolution.

For the Lord always has gifts to give, and you have come to the right place to receive them, for here, in His Holy Church, the Lord offers to you all He has, for He offers you all that He is. The Lord is your strength, your life and your light – and He is here again to fill you with His forgiveness, love, and mercy. For that is what the Divine Service is: the Lord's service to you. That Service was performed on the cross – and now what Jesus did for you on the Cross is delivered to you here as He comes to you personally, as He gives you the very fruits of His cross in His Body and Blood. This is true reality where all is set right and square, where the madness of the world and its lies is held at bay. For where Christ, the God-Man, is, there is your home, your peace, your comfort, your joy in all hardships, your key to eternal life, and your promise of the resurrection.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts
and minds through Christ Jesus.

Pr. Timothy J. Landskroener

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