Sunday after Ascension – Exaudi
“Confessing the Truth in Love”
St. John 15.26-16.4; Ezekiel 36.22-28; 1 Peter 4.7-11
02 June 2019
Seminarian Simeon Cornwell, Vicar
G. K. Chesterton, a contemporary and close friend to both C. S. Lewis and J. R. Tolkien once wrote: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Chesterton does not mean that it is hard because one must work one’s way into heaven by accumulating good works. It is hard because as Christians, we all must suffer on account of the message we bring out into the world. A world that is strongly opposed to this Christian message.
And not only is it difficult because we must struggle with opposition from the world, but also because we must struggle with our own sinful flesh, which seeks comfort, ease, and pleasure, and runs away from hardship and suffering.
All throughout the history of God’s people we can see examples of those refusing to listen to this truth of God’s Word because they either must be persecuted for it, or give up something they hold dear.
When Jeremiah called the people of Judah to repent of their idolatry and warned that if they did not, they would be destroyed by the Babylonians, Judah listened instead to those false prophets who did not rebuke them for their sin. As a result of preaching the truth of God’s Word, Jeremiah was eventually cast into a cistern and given meager rations of bread and water.
Herodias, who Herod had taken from his brother Philip to be his wife, hated John the Baptist because he preached that it was not lawful for Herod to have her. In the end, this preaching of God’s truth, this call to repentance, caused John to lose his life.
Even throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly says that people are refusing to come and believe in Him because He, the Light, exposes the dark evil of their deeds. Instead, they love the darkness.
Nevertheless, Jesus continues to preach the evil of their deeds and their need for repentance, not because Jesus likes to antagonize people, but because He loves them.
Because He desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But He knows that in order for this to happen, the truth must be preached. Otherwise, just as in the case of God’s people with the false prophets, they will continue to wallow in their sin and be lost forever.
And so in our reading for today, Jesus tells the disciples of the persecutions that will come on account of the Gospel. But He does this, as John writes, so that they might not fall away.
So that when they do go out and spread His Gospel, they might not be surprised when it is rejected and when they themselves are ridiculed and even put to death for it.
So that they might not think that perhaps they have it wrong and that because they aren’t preaching God’s Word truthfully, this is why they are being persecuted.
Because Jesus spoke these difficult truths to them, they were able to constantly look back and take comfort and encouragement from these words of His. They didn’t need to be surprised when they were persecuted for preaching the Risen Christ because Jesus promised that would happen.
For He Himself said shortly before this, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20)
Their persecutions would no longer be instances in which they would question whether they were being punished by God for preaching the message of the Gospel. Rather, they would be confirmations of the validity of Jesus’ message AND of God’s love for them.
These persecutions we as Christians must endure, both from without and from within, are what make Christianity difficult, as Chesterton puts it. These persecutions are what cause many Christians to fall away from the faith.
This sad truth is seen all around us. For how many of our friends or family have abandoned the faith on account of persecutions?
It probably was not because of persecutions of the body, such as beatings or imprisonments, but there is a great host of those who have been deceived by much less.
Maybe it was entering into college so that they might be part of a particular group of friends. Or maybe it was because they entered into a relationship with someone who did not share their beliefs.
At this moment in our country, persecutions have not reached the severity that they were at the time of the Apostles and soon afterward. But one doesn’t need to be a historian to see where we were even ten years ago compared to now to realize that we are quickly heading that direction.
Though less severe, persecutions in our day are still trying. You’ll be called a bigot or unloving if you do not approve of men marrying men or women marrying women. You’re a prude if you decide to refrain from sex before marriage. And you’re certainly not normal if you don’t view pornography.
We are labeled as those who hate women because we do not support abortion or the use of birth control. Or because we acknowledge that the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church.
We even face persecution from those who call themselves our brothers or sisters in the faith because we don’t ordain women, as is clearly spoken against in Scripture.
From the same we receive the charge that we are unloving or don’t want everyone to be saved when we don’t allow any and everyone to partake of the Lord’s Supper before being examined in the Christian faith.
Overall, the world and those in it see these teachings of Christianity as unloving. And being unloving, they cannot be from God, because as everyone knows God is love. So as Jesus says, by persecuting the Apostles and us, His children, they think they are offering a service to God.
But because they refuse to hear and take to heart the truth of Christ’s words, they cannot understand how these things are, in fact, loving. For love is not tolerance of evil so that we might all “get along”.
It is not loving for a parent to stand back and watch their child play in the busy street. Or to give them candy for every meal (which if you ask your child what they want to eat, it is bound to be unhealthy).
As Christians, we do not witness against these evils in order to build ourselves up as morally superior. We do it, so that they might recognize the harm and danger into which they are placing themselves and turn before it is too late.
But these words are also for us as was said before. Because as the world grows more threatening, as persecution increases and grows more fierce, we will be tempted to give up witnessing to the truth of God’s Word. Or water it down so that it is more tolerable, as so many Christians in our day choose to do.
But remember who you have received: the Spirit of the Truth. Of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The very Spirit of Jesus Himself who before Pilate made the good confession, even though doing the opposite could have spared His innocent life. Jesus who faithfully witnessed even unto death and an innocent death at that.
And not to gain glory for Himself, but for you! To win for you forgiveness of all your sins and a new life. A life free from the slavery to sin.
We have been given this boldness and courage to witness to the truth of God’s Word in our Baptism, where we received this gift of the Spirit of the Truth.
It is this gift of the Spirit that has given Christians such boldness throughout time to risk their very lives rather than speak or uphold anything contrary to God’s Word.
The writer of the Hebrews describes some of these when he writes: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy…” (Hebrews 11:35-38)
Because they had been given the Holy Spirit, the Helper, they were able in faith to step forth into a world which vehemently opposed Jesus and His message and proclaim it boldly.
We too, have this same boldness to be able to witness in love to this broken and dying world because we have received the same Spirit they did. We need not fear those who can only harm the body but can do nothing to the soul.
For Jesus has gone before us and overcome this fearful and threatening world. In Him we have boldness and confidence to witness to the truth of His Word in the midst of all persecutions and to remain steadfast in the faith until the end.
May the Father grant us to be strengthened with His Spirit to be bold witnesses in our world.
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen