Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The holy joy of faith. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 9A, preached on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

    If being a Christian makes you groan, something is wrong. We groan under the weight of burdens, of demands laid on us, of duties we must fulfill.  Jesus insists that He has not come to lay a burden on us. Rather, He has come to bear the full weight of the hard yoke Himself.  His yoke on us is easy, His burden on us is light.  To be sure, faith is a complication of our daily lives.  Refusing to allow sinful desire to reign in us is not the path of least resistence.  That we heard from St. Paul in the Epistle.  But faith is not a great burden; Christ has born that burden for us.
    The burden of sin, the weight of its death, the loneliness of the cross, the coldness of the grave, the emptiness of death - Christ born all of this that you and I might be free.  Free through forgiveness of our sins... Free from the fear of death to really live life...  Free from the judgment of the world on us... Free from the impossible yoke of the law...  Free from sin's captivity to do good and be holy – the good and holy we could never be!
    It is the yoke of the Law that is heavy.  Its demand on us is nothing less than perfection.  It remember every sin and forgets every attempted act of righteousness.  Its power is fear – the fear of failure and the fear of our failure exposed and our secret sins made public.  Its threat is death – the slow living death of guilt and shame and eternal death apart from God.
    That yoke Jesus bore for you and me.  He met the Law with His holiness and righteousness.  He was obedient even to death on the cross.  This He did so that you and I might be free.  The yoke of the Law IS heavy but the yoke of the Gospel is light.
    If Christ is our perfection then you and I are free from the impossible duty of pleasing God with our worthless works and our failed intentions.  If Christ is our righteousness, then you and I are free from the pursuit of holiness that always ends in failure (undone by our flawed motives, sins, and its shame).  To be in Christ means to wear the cover of His righteousness, holiness, and perfection.  This is the yoke Christ has given us to bear.
    If Christ is our sin-bearer, then there are no sins left to slip out at judgment day, no embarrassment to endure or condemnation to fear.  If Christ is our sin-bearer then to stand in Him is to be saved by Him for sure.  In baptism we put on Christ like clothing, the new clothing of a new people washed, justified, and holy.  That is the yoke we are given to bear.
    If Christ is our death, then death is done.  Oh, to be sure we will exchange these earthly rags of flesh for the new flesh He already wears but death cannot take from us what Christ has given.  But the death we die as Christians is not the death we fear.  Instead, Christ has turned our  death into a tool of His promise and the gate through which we pass to be with Him forever.
    Now if you find your faith to be a burden, then it could be because you are carrying the burden alone and walking in the law instead of grace.  If you find your faith to be a heavy load, it could be because you have taken back what Christ took from you.  Jesus wants to keep the heavy load – your sin, your death, and your life.  In exchange He offers the easy burden of His forgiveness, of His new life, and of His everlasting salvation.
    Joy is not the same as the momentary happiness at things going your way.  Joy is the relief of the sinner who knows Christ has forgiven Him, the rest of the saints whose future is made secure in Christ and His resurrection, and the peace of those who have been saved not because of anything in them but purely as a act of free and rich grace.
    Certainly that does not mean we are immune from struggles or doubts or fears.  No one can nor should we expect a life without trials.  But our focus is NOT on these things.  It is on Christ.  It is on His cross.  This is the joy that the Spirit sustains in us even when our lives appear to be falling apart.  We carry this joy by faith.  Christ has borne all things for us for our salvation – the crushing weight of our sin, its burden of guilt and shame, our fear of death that keeps us from living life. . .  Stand in Christ and not under the impossible yoke of the law.  Then all these burdens must crush Christ before they can crush you.  Stand in your baptism.  Then there are no sins left to accuse you, only Christ's righteousness to wear.  Our joy is not a fragile thing but as strong as the One who carried the weight of our sins and death.  This joy is not a face full of smiles but a conscience free from blame in Christ and a life stronger than death because of Christ.
    Faith is not a drudge but a dance.  Christ is the lead.  You follow.  Do not try to steal the lead from Him or you will face the impossible burden of the Law all by yourself.  Faith lets Christ lead.  Faith rejoices in what He has born for you.  Faith gladly wears the easy yoke and the light burden of simple trust.  We do not know the future but we know that every day we will wrestle to focus the attention from us to Christ.  This focus on Christ and what He has done is the one surpassing joy that remains when happiness, pleasure, and laughter cease.  Don’t forget it.
    The world has no right to expect perfection from us sinners redeemed in Christ but they ought to be impressed with the contentment of our hearts and the holy joy of sinners who know their sins are washed away, their lives reborn to eternal life, and their futures sealed with Him who rose to lead us to our eternal home.  This faith is not easy but neither is it a drudge and a burden.  God grant it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen


Anonymous said...

You wrote:

"If Christ is our sin-bearer, then there are no sins left to slip out at judgment day, no embarrassment to endure or condemnation to fear."

Why then, is there a judgement day when we are automatically saved or damned as soon as we die? Isn't it a silly formality? What's the purpose in God having the ones to be saved standing in front of the judgement seat?

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters: This is as fine, as edifying, as liberating, as joyous an exposition of the blessed Gospel as I have read in a long time. Praise God and thank you.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart