Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eyes Fixed on True Joys…

Sermon for Easter 5A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, May 14, 2017.
    There’s a lot of stuff in our world to look at; there’s a lot of things we can fix our eyes on.  With Facebook and Instagram, our smart phones glued to our hands, there’s always something to see.  The 24 hour news cycle has plenty of images for eyes; sometimes they’re good and joyful, sometimes, or most of the time they’re not.  With everything out there to look at we can easily become distracted, we lose focus and pay attention to the wrong things.  Today we pray that the Lord would refocus us, that in faith, we might fix our eyes on the true joys of life. 
    There are a lot of joys in life, joys that include family and friends, gifts, and fun.  In fact we’re celebrating one of those joys today, Mother’s Day.  Not being a mom myself, I’m told that being one can bring great joy.  Seeing children grow and learn, watching them explore this world and enjoying life gives moms enjoyment.  Receiving hugs and hearing tiny voices say “I love you” makes all the hard work and stress, all the sleepless nights worth it.  There’s a lot of joy that we receive being part of a family, and we thank the Lord for it.
    We also have joy in gifts that we get.  Who doesn’t like opening a present?  But we also get joy out of giving gifts.  Parents and grandparents love to see the smiles on their children’s and grandchildren’s faces when they open Christmas or birthday presents.  We get joy out of giving gifts that make people happy, giving gifts that people may even desperately need. 
    We have joy in doing the fun things of life: walking around in nature, playing and watching sports, traveling the world, or just hanging out with friends around a nice dinner.  All of these are fun and all of these give us joy.  There’s a lot of joy in life...but there’s a lot of non-joy too.
    If the joys of life are numerous, so too are the non-joys.  Failure, lost, brokenness, sickness and disease, death, they all leave their mark.  Even though we get joy out of life, this joy doesn’t always last.  There’s strife and fighting in families.  Children get in trouble, moms and dads argue.  Husbands and wives get divorced.  Loved ones, young and old, suffer debilitating and fatal sickness and disease.  Natural disasters destroy whole cities, famines starve and wars violently kill.  The list can go on and on.  Life’s not all flowers and candy.  Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean your life will be nothing but happiness.  Because of sin there’s a lot of pain and suffering in our world, and when we go through this pain and suffering it can be all that we think about, all that we see.  We can become distracted by it believing there’s no hope.  We can forget about joy.  This could’ve easily happened to Stephen. 
    Stephen was one of the 7 men that was chosen to be a deacon to help with the distribution and care to the widows in the church in Jerusalem.  Scripture says that he was full of the Spirit and that he did many wonders and signs among the people.  However, a group of Jews stood up and disputed with him.  But they couldn’t withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke, so they falsely accused him of speaking against Moses and blaspheming God.  So Stephen was seized and brought before the council.  As he defended himself he explained how Jesus was the fulfillment of all of God’s OT promises and he rightly convicted them of crucifying Christ.  Hearing this, the Jews became enraged and took him out of the city to stone him. 
    At this time Stephen could’ve easily become distracted with the persecution he was enduring.  He could’ve focused on the painful stoning he was about to die from.  From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem like Stephen had anything to be joyful about...he was being killed for the faith, martyred...and yet he still had a joy, a true joy because of what he fixed his eyes on...Jesus Christ his Savior and the everlasting life that he had in Him. 
    As Christians, no matter what we go through, we still have joy, true joy because of Christ our Savior who died on the cross to pay for sin and who rose from the dead for everlasting life.  This joy isn’t just a feeling, in fact you may not feel it at all, but it’s still there.  This joy is the confident hope of forgiveness and everlasting life.  This joy is a certainty knowing that whatever non-joys we may be experiencing, there nothing compared to the joy of everlasting life that we’ve been given in Christ.  Christ took on our flesh, He died on the cross to pay for our sin, and He walked out of the grave for our life, so that we might not be troubled by the non-joys of life, but have the true joy of everlasting life. 
When Jesus was talking with His disciples on Maundy Thursday He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also….I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.  From now on you do know Him and have seen Him” (Jn 14:1-4, 6-7).  You have true joy because of that room in the Father’s house that Christ has prepared for you.  You have true joy because in faith you know that Christ is bringing you to Himself.  You have true joy because you’ve seen God the Father through Christ Jesus His Son.  You’ve seen His love and care, you’ve seen His grace and mercy as Jesus died so that you would live.  This is what we fix our eyes on, Christ and His salvation.  This is what Stephen fixed his eyes on, and this is why he still had a joy when he was being martyred, why he could say with his dying breath, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Ac 7:60).
    Even while he was being killed, with eyes fixed on Jesus and the true joy of everlasting life, Stephen prayed for his persecutors.  He was as St. Peter writes “[proclaiming] the excellencies of [Jesus] who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pt 2:9).  And this is our prayer that like Stephen, we’d fix our eyes on the true joy of Christ so that we too might proclaim His excellencies at all times. 
    We’re the body of Christ.  We live in the community of faith and we share the true joys of Christ with one another.  We fix our eyes on Jesus, looking to Him alone for salvation, and we encourage one another in this.  When one of our brothers or sisters in Christ is going through one of the non-joys of life, we walk with them, supporting them, and helping them.  We lift them up and remind them of the true joy that’s theirs in Christ.  We gather together to hear the Word of the Lord and to receive the gifts of His Sacraments.  We rejoice when a child receives the new birth of water and the Spirit in Baptism.  We have the joy of peace as we eat His Holy Supper, His body and blood for forgiveness of our sins.  As God’s people we share the true joy of Christ with another, at all times, and we share it with those outside the faith, so that they too can know Christ the Savior and in faith fix their eyes on Him, receiving the true joy of everlasting life. 
    In our world there’s a lot to look at, a lot of things that can steal our attention away from the true joy of life; the joy of Christ, His Word and Sacraments, and our salvation fulfilled in Him.  So today, and every day we pray that the Lord would refocus us, that in faith we would fix our eyes on our Savior, so that no matter what non-joys are going on around us, we may never look away from Him and our life in Him.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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