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The End of Exile (St. John 16.16-22)

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Jubilate

“The End of Exile”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

St. John 16.16-22; 1 Peter 2.11-12

03 May 2020

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet. 2.11-12; ESV)

We are sojourners and exiles in this world, says the Apostle Peter, since by Baptism into Christ, you are citizens in heaven above, a royal priesthood, a holy nation the Apostle says, called to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Which tells us that this world is not your home. Dr. Martin Luther equates the idea of living in this world as sojourners and exiles to staying in an Inn or Hotel for a time – one makes use of the Inn and enjoys its comforts and blessings while there, and treats the Innkeeper and fellow guests well, but always knows that home is somewhere else. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” the Apostle Paul says.[1]

Today, many of you are foreigners and exiles even in your own homes, not just as Christians in the world. Many of you have been exiled to home for safety’s sake, and for those who are in high risk age groups or who have health concerns, it has been for your safety to exile you away from direct interaction and fellowship with others.

But with the behavior of some of our governors, and with the seeming arbitrary rules imposed – where hundreds are allowed to cram into Kroger, Sam’s Club, Lowes, Menards, and other such entities – but we Christians have been threatened with warnings and potential fines if we dare cross a threshold of ten worshippers in a sanctuary seating 250. Our own governor trampled in during Holy Week, trying to dictate Communion practice. While he has thankfully backed off that and has even relaxed rules for churches starting this week, this virus exile has reminded us Christians are not welcome here, not really and truly. We live in a post-Christian western culture.

Even without recent events, however, too many of you know the pain of exile and sojourning just through experiencing life: people hurt and harm you, relatives and friends become sick, and sometimes death wins the day. Relationships grow cold, families strain and sometimes break apart. People become exiles and foreign to each other, when they should be unified in faith, hope, and love of God and in love for each other. Exile and sojourning is not what God intends for His created children, not what He intends for you.

In that light, hear our Lord’s promise to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed from today’s Gospel reading:

A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.

and

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

The “little while” Jesus refers to is His death on the cross, to be followed by His resurrection on the third day. The disciples’ grief over the Lord’s horrific crucifixion under Pontius Pilate was indeed turned into joy. The Lord appeared alive unto those men, bringing them peace and forgiveness. “You will see me,” said Jesus, and they did, to their great joy.

Now we find ourselves in the “little while” between the Ascension of Jesus, and the Last Day. We wait for the Lord’s return in His full and visible glory upon the Last Day, when He comes to judge this world. While we wait, we are sojourners and exiles, strangers and pilgrims, suffering the crosses of life, weeping and lamenting, and sorrow to the plenty.

And what Jesus said to His twelve is also true now of us: “The world will rejoice at your sorrow.” To be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, to be Jesus’ disciples, we must deny ourselves daily, take up our cross, and be conformed to His image— humbled, bloody, beaten, and crucified—through many sorrows and sufferings, through mockery and shame in this world, the travails that come upon unwelcome sojourners and exiles.

However, you do not have sorrow and suffer as exiles with no hope. You do have a homeland ahead. Christians alone bear suffering with hope and purpose, since we are fully confident that we do not suffer for our sins, but as freed and forgiven children of our gracious Father. Christ has suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us back to God.

The Bible has this surprising exilic perspective on life throughout its pages. It is good to suffer, Lamentations says in today’s Old Testament reading. It is good to be afflicted, insulted, and even have your mouth in the dust. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. The affliction of the Lord is not from His heart, Lamentations says. It is not a sign of His hatred toward His Christians. Instead, our sorrow and grief in this life will cause the hopeless soul to call to mind the only hope that truly comforts: The Lord’s steadfast, undeserved mercy in Christ. He remains faithful. He is our portion alone. Every false comfort must be crucified, that our hope be in the One who raises from the dust the dead, and breathes life into the slain of this world, those sojourners and exiles who longed for that better country to come.

We planted our garden yesterday: tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, peas, and carrots. These good things come only after the seed is planted. But it is necessary to bury that seed for it to germinate, grow, and bring forth fruit. In your families, good things come after a child is conceived. But it is necessary for the child to be in the womb unseen for a long time, and then to undergo labor pains. Both mother and child experience a lot of pain and discomfort before and during birth.

In our children’s catechesis every Saturday morning, it was necessary for our catechumens Adam, Hailey, and Amanda to undergo two years of intensive training in the Scriptures and the Small Catechism. At times they may have thought it painful. They were buried in the blessings of memorizing the Catechism, and working to take to heart all the doctrine their minds could hold. Today was to be their confirmation day. They are waiting, “a little while” longer, bearing with patience for their time to come – we pray for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, to be their day.

But they know, and all of you listening ought to remember, that the Way as a disciple of Christ, is a lifetime, to-the-death commitment and battle that must be waged in Christ and with His help and power. This means that you will have grief and suffering and hard times in life, and the world will even rejoice at your cross-bearing. God has given you the truth, that not every day is Easter and Christmas joy on this side of heaven. Some days will be immensely difficult and painful. You know why that is so, and who the true enemy is behind it.

In God’s plan of salvation, good things come after and because Jesus died, for He came for us to be our fellow sojourner and exile, to share totally in our sorrows and grief. It was necessary for Him to suffer, die and be buried in the tomb. After a little while, the good and wonderful came forth, resurrected and glorious and free of all that shackles and harms us, and by grace, through faith in Christ, His freedom is ours, His victory is ours.

Just as there is joy in seeing the fruit borne by the seeds we plant, just as there is joy in seeing the newborn baby emerge from the womb, and just as there is joy that three more young people will hopefully soon be admitted to the Lord’s table to commune at this altar, so there is great joy in the promise that  in this “little while,” in the midst of all that hurts and grieves us, Jesus comes to us and sees us – not to judge or condemn us – but to give us what He has earned, to make us the first fruits of His resurrection, to give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Him. This He does in His Holy Christian Church, proclaimed from pulpit and absolution, washed over you in Baptism’s saving waters, fed you in His life-giving Body and Blood.

Paul Gerhardt’s Easter hymn, Awake, My Heart, With Gladness imagines a sign hung on the gates of heaven: “Who there my cross has shared, finds here a crown prepared; who there with Me has died, shall here be glorified.” We follow Christ in bearing the cross, suffering, scorn, and even the daily frustration and temptation of sin, from which we long to be fully free. But the Lord’s comfort here is that it will not last. The sojourn to heaven will end. Exile will be a thing of the past and the holy nation will be assembled in an uncountable throng in heaven’s golden courts. Sorrow will be turned into joy that no one can take away. The Resurrection of Jesus has guaranteed it. The last day will reveal it.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

[1] Luther, Church Postil III, sermon on 1 Peter 2.11-20; AE LW v.77, 194-202.

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