Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tested but Guarded

Sermon preached for Easter 2A by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, April 19, 2020.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He’s risen indeed!  Alleluia!
               Easter Sunday has come.  Christ is risen.  Death is defeated.  That means everything should be great, right?   Nothing left to fear, no test or trial to grieve us  ...  But there is, isn’t there?  We still fear.  We still suffer tests of faith.  And we will continue to endure testing until the outcome of our faith is complete, until our salvation is fully revealed.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope; because even in the midst of tests and trials our faith is being guarded, we are being guarded, kept for salvation. 
               The faith of the Disciples’ was tested right away.  The women saw the empty tomb, heard the angels’ message, and ran to tell Jesus’ disciples.  Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw for themselves that it was empty.  But even with these eyewitness testimonies of the resurrection, they weren’t free from tests of faith.  That evening the disciples gathered together in a room, with the doors locked, because they were afraid.  They were afraid they’d be arrested.  And this wasn’t the only test the disciples would face.  For the rest of their lives they would suffer for the name of Jesus. 
               They suffered social pressure and physical persecution.  The high priest and other religious authorities tried to stop the disciples from proclaiming Christ.  The apostles were arrested and beaten.  This persecution eventually led to the martyrdom of the apostles.  If these aren’t tests of faith, I don’t know what is.  Christ’s disciples suffered mightily for His name.  They feared for their lives and gave up their lives because of their faith, and we still suffer the same today. 
We aren’t free from trials and tribulations.  Christ doesn’t promise us an easy life.  Our faith is tested every day.  We’re experiencing that right now as the Coronavirus is turning our lives upside down.  It’s preventing us from living normal lives; keeping us from work and shopping and socializing.  But more than that, it’s keeping us away from our normal life of faith.  We can’t gather as we usually do around God’s Word and Supper.  Again, if this isn’t a test to our faith, I don’t know what is.
All over the world, just like the apostles, many suffer the threat of death.  Thanks be to God that’s not a threat we fear here today.  But that doesn’t mean our faith isn’t tested by fear.  We still fear cancer diagnoses, loss of jobs, and the death of loved ones.  And it always seems that these faith testing things happen all at once.  They leave us questioning.  Like Thomas and the rest, we doubt.  We don’t see the salvation Jesus won for us.  All we see is trials, fear, and uncertainty.  But the Lord doesn’t leave you alone in this.  He doesn’t leave you isolated in a locked room.  He comes to you with His Word of peace.  He comes to you with His Body and Blood.  He comes to you with the life giving Word.  And through all of it, He is guarding your faith, guarding you, keeping you for salvation.
               None of us like testing.  We don’t like to struggle.  That’s why I’m not a fan of hard exercise.  It’s uncomfortable.  But just like our muscles need testing to be strengthened, so does our faith.  St. Peter, who endured great testing, encourages us in this.  “In this rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 1:6-7).  Just as gold is refined by fire, our faith is refined and strengthened by trials.   The more we endure, the stronger our faith becomes. 
And this isn’t our own doing.  Our own personal strength doesn’t withstand trials.  It’s all God.  Again, St. Paul who suffered for the faith encourages us:  “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).   On our own there’s no way we could endure tests and trials.  But you're not on your own.  The Lord is with you.  He is keeping you.  It is by God’s power, by the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments that you stand.  He keeps your faith.  He keeps you for salvation, and nothing will take that away. 
It’s a fact of life, your faith will be tested.  But it’s also a fact of life that the Lord is guarding your faith and you.  Nothing can steal away your life in Christ.  Christ is risen.  Death is defeated.   So rejoice in tests and trials.  Lean on Christ and know that He will bring you through with stronger faith, obtaining the outcome of your faith, your everlasting salvation. 
Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He’s risen indeed!  Alleluia!

No comments: