Monday, May 8, 2023

Stop playing games. . .

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (A), preached on Sunday, May 7, 2023.

The Gospel for today makes little sense without looking at the context.  It is Maundy Thursday.  The disciples are gathered in the Upper Room.  Jesus used the occasion to further teach them not simply of the cross that awaited Him but of the fruits of that redeeming work that would be theirs.  So He speaks of heaven.  He urges them not to let their hearts be troubled.  He was not abandoning them but going on ahead to prepare for them.  He will come again that they will never be apart.  But they were not listening.  Worse, they felt like Jesus was playing word games with them when all they wanted were straight answers.

Finally Thomas opens his mouth.  We do not know anything.  We do not know where You are going.  We do not know the way even though You said You are leading where we will follow.  So Jesus makes it plain.  Look at Me.  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  I am the way to the Father – the ONLY way to the Father.  If You had known Me and paid attention to everything I had told you, you would see the Father.  But look at Me now and you will see the Father.

Apparently that did not help.  Philip stepped up and said what was on the rest of their minds.  Stop playing games with us, Jesus.  Show us the Father and be done with it.  At this, Jesus does not hide His dismay.  How can you even say this?  Don’t you believe Me?  Don’t you believe in Me?  Haven’t you see the works I do?  Haven’t you heard the words I have said?   

We are much like the disciples.  We think it is God who plays games.  But it is not God who plays games with the way, the truth, and the life.  It is not God who plays games with words.  It is not God who plays games with our hearts.  We are the ones who play games.  We have turned faith into one big game.  The Lord has spoken through His Word and acted as He said to deliver us.  He gave up His one and only Son to the womb of the Virgin, to life under the law, to suffering for the sins of others, to death upon a cross, and to the coldness of the grave.  He rose so that life would be given to a people content to make their peace with death.  He went ahead to prepare a place for us, rooms in the mansion above, that we might be forever where He is.  He placed Himself into the Word that does what it says and the Sacraments that deliver what they sign.  These are not games unless we make them out to be.  God could not be clearer but the sad truth is that we could not be more dense.

Religious games have taken the place of true faith that meets God where God has placed Himself.  We have turned faith into a warm and fuzzy feeling about God and the things of God.  We have reduced truth to the level of preference – as wide and as deep as one person.  We have chosen to meet God on the level of our emotions.  We worship ourselves under the guise of what we find meaningful or satisfying.  We treat morality as if it were a wind vane that moves with the times until we live in a world in which we cannot even define male or female.  We live with strange notions of equity, justice, and diversity to replace faith, hope, and love.  We are left with sins that are not evil and evils that are not sins and death is just part of the circle of life.  It is no wonder that we do not know Jesus or where He is going or how to follow Him.

The Lord Jesus insists that the game is off.  He refuses to play games with us.  He gives us the truth that is yesterday, today, and forever the same.  He shows us the way that was and is and will always lead to the Father through Christ. He points us to a goal that is not some spiritual existence after shedding the worn out clothing of the body but a place, a room, prepared for you and for me, so that we may be forever where Christ is and Christ may be forever with us.  Faith is no game to play or win.  Faith’s eyes are opened that we may see Jesus and seeing Jesus see the Father and the future He has prepared for you and me.  Is this enough?

Worship is no game either.  We worship God not where we want to find Him but where He has placed His promise.  We meet God not on the level of our feelings or our emotions but in the facts of His suffering, death, and resurrection, and in the means of grace that serve us with the gifts of His grace. We know God not through our efforts but through His revelation and self-disclosure and the Spirit who works faith in us and keeps us in faith by His Word and Sacraments.  God never plays games with our salvation but we play games with God as if none of it were real or none of it mattered all that much.
Christ does not show us the way; He IS the way.  Christ does not show us the truth; He IS the truth.  Christ does not deliver life to us; Christ is our life.  God has given you all things in Christ.  Are you willing to trade all that God has given for something worth less that cannot deliver what you need?   Why are we so worried about squeezing everything we can from this life but treat eternal life as if it were no big deal?  Why do we settle for the comfort in the moment over the gift of eternity?  Why do we give up everything for happiness but nothing to be holy?

God has given us all things in Christ, including the revelation of His own face and His own heart.  When we see Jesus, we see the Father.  It is the work of the Spirit to make Jesus known so that we can see the Father.  This is not the answer to our curiosity but the redemption of our lost lives.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  How much more serious can it get?

Games are distractions from that which is real.  We live in a world in which we gladly pay more to those who play games in front of us or entertain us than we do for anything else.  Maybe we cannot prevent the world from becoming a playground of our imaginations but we must surely stand up and insist that faith is not a game, worship is not a game, and our redemption is not a game.  It is the most important thing of all.

This is even more critical today than ever before.  We live at a time when virtual reality competes against the disappointing reality from which we would all escape. We have artificial intelligence that offers us more leisure and less of a focus on the things once so basic to life.  We deal with digital realities more than we deal with physical ones.  Even our doctors will meet us on our screens.  Not everything can be a zoom meeting.  Not worship, not the shape of our life together around the Word and Sacraments, and not the pattern of prayer and daily life in Christ.  

Like us, the disciples were frustrated.  They thought Jesus was toying with them or playing with them.  In reality, Jesus was and is the plain talker who says what it and does what it takes to bring it to pass.  He does not toy with us or treat us as playthings.  He acts with the love more real and profound than any love ever known to save us by His death and resurrection.  He promises not some vague life in the Spirit but a concrete and real life.  We live that now in the voice of His Word that speaks and our sins fall away, in the water that splashes us clean and gives us new birth, in the bread that is His flesh and the cup that is His blood, feeding us not until the next meal but to eternity, the marriage feast of the Lamb without end.

The worst thing we can do is to play at eternity while we work for the moment.

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