Monday, May 3, 2010

Sorrow Now.... Joy Forever

Sermon Preached for Easter 5, 2 May 2010.

     Only days from Easter and it is but a faded memory in the face of our ordinary lives, where both feet are firmly planted on soil touched by strife and struggle and where sorrow dogs us at every turn.  How hard it is to recall the joy of the Risen Savior under these circumstances.  Has Jesus come and gone only to leave us here in the valley of the shadow?  When will our hearts rejoice and no one and nothing will steal that joy away from us?  When will possess the joy that sorrow and struggle cannot diminish?
    Jesus has much to tell us that we do not want to hear.  He tells us that He must ascend to the Father, that His visible form will depart from us for a while.  He will not leave us but His visible form will be gone.  But we all know what we see is more real to us than what we do not see.  So what are most real to us are the sufferings, struggles, disappointments, and difficulties we see in this mortal life.  Less real to us is Jesus’ presence and His joy.
    It will seem that we are all alone to face life’s struggles.  And that is how it seems, isn’t it?  Does it not seem to you as if God has left you to your own devices to face the full weight of life’s anxiety, fear, disappointment, and sorrow?  But Jesus has also told us that we need to be careful how we judge things.  Do not be deceived and do not fear, says Jesus, because all is not as it seems or appears.  What you see is not as real as His Word and promise that He will be always with us.
    Many have told us that things are not as bad as they seem but we know they were not telling the truth.  Jesus is not telling us a lie but urging us to see with eyes of faith as well as the eyes in our heads.  Believing is also seeing.

    Jesus tells us that weeping will give way to laughter, sorrow to joy, and despair to endless hope.  All this is well and good but when?  While tears flow, while sorrow is so real and hope seems fleeting, we are forever asking God “when” ... when will it end... when will it change... when will things be different... When, indeed.
    Jesus points us to the example of a woman in childbirth.   Childbirth appears to be painless and safe because of our medical technology.  But we dare not forget how dangerous childbirth really is.  Read of the bizarre practices used in the past to deaden the pain or try to safeguard the life of mother and child.  As recently as a few hundred years ago as many as 40% of women might die during childbirth.  As dangerous as labor is for mother and child, so dangerous is the labor of faith until Christ is fully formed within us.
    Luther reminds us of this when he describes the time of labor as a test of endurance and how it is unknown if she will live or die.  In the midst of this anguish and anxiety, the end is not seen.  But in a moment it all changes and the danger and anguish of childbirth is forgotten in the face of happy mother and child.  Luther says this is how it is for the Christian facing the strife of this mortal life. "A change like this is also experienced here in this Christian life. Sadness will not last forever; it will turn into joy. Or our condition would be hopeless and helpless."
    We carry in us the death of Jesus and we carry in us the life of Jesus by baptism and faith.  So we are called to see the struggles and strife of this mortal life and even the very reality of death through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We view our lives not through the lens of the sufferings of this present moment but through the lens of Jesus death and rising again.
    For now it seems we are captive to every sorrow and struggle that life sends our way.  But as quickly as a new mother forgets the pain of her labor because of the child born to her, so quickly does the pain of this mortal life fade away in comparison to the life and joy which Christ has prepared for us.
    If any preacher or Pastor tell you there is a way to avoid life’s struggles, they are not telling you the truth.  But if we view these through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are no longer captive to them.  For now we have sorrow but not forever.  Though now for a little while we suffer all kinds of griefs and trials, then, when Christ comes, we shall know only joy and peace and contentment.
    Most generations that came before us saw life as something endured until the resurrection brought its fullness of joy.  We tend to see life very differently.  We expect that life will be happy and good.  We see sorrows and struggles as intrusions and look for God to take them away.  We are not so easily consoled by heaven’s promise of joy because we want a better today more than we want an everlasting tomorrow.  But this is a fairy tale view of life and God does not speak to us in fairy tells.  God speaks truth.
    So, “what shall we say then to this?” - as St. Paul put it.  If God be fore us who can be against us?  When we face the struggles of this mortal life, we respond by holding on tightly to the Risen Savior.  Our hope is tied to Him, to what His death has accomplished and to His resurrection victory.
    The Alpha and Omega is ours.  If we know the beginning and we know the end in Christ, the middle cannot disappoint or distract us from all that God has prepared for those who love Him.  The outcome of our faith is not uncertain – whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  Whether death come soon to us or late in our mortal lives, we belong to the Lord.  Whether the day be filled with troubles and trials or seem easy and free, we belong to the Lord.  Whether we find much happiness or our lives find little joy to balance out our sorrows, we belong to the Lord.  Our lives here are like a woman in labor, waiting for the fruits of her labor.  Our lives in Christ here on earth are like a labor awaiting the fruit which is Christ and eternity.
    We know how the story ends  – we are in doubt about is the timing but not the ending.  Sorrows touch us, but joy is eternal.  Strife accompanies us, but peace is forever.  Pain is felt but relief is without end.  Weariness dogs us but everlasting rest is His gift.  The joy of the Lord, flowing from the cross and empty tomb... in and through You faithful people...
    We know how the story ends... and knowing the ending, supplies us the strength to risk the fragile beginning and to bear the burden of the big uncertain muddling middle, and to face the darkest fears of the end.  We belong to the Lord.  It is not what we see or feel that defines us but what has been promised to us in blood in Christ, our Savior.  We belong to the Lord.
    The good times can mask the truth of life’s struggle.  In the joy of first being pregnant, it is easy for forget the pain and danger of childbirth.  And the pain and danger of childbirth can mask the joy of the outcome, the fruit of that labor.  So do not despair... do not give up hope... do not grow weary... for the sorrows of this present moment are not worth comparing to the ever lasting joy which God has prepared for those who love Him.
    Today our Lord calls us to endure... to endure through the days of sorrow and struggle in His gracious presence in Word and Sacrament... to endure and not to judge by this present moment but to define our lives by His own death and resurrection... to endure through this brief time of struggle until He delivers to us the full measure of His everlasting joy... to endure and not to lose sight of or trust in what He has accomplished for us by His death and resurrection... to endure in this labor until it has born the fruit of Christ fully formed in us, in culmination of His work, forever in heaven.  Amen.

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