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Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-22

by pastorjuhl ~ May 15th, 2011

A reworking of a reworking of a William Weedon (I think) sermon. Soli Deo Gloria!

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

Joy can be easily taken from us. Ask a mother who lost a child. Ask a son who watched his mother’s health deteriorate. Ask a daughter who has no relationship with her father. Ask a father who suffers from watching one of his children destroy himself.

When joy is taken away and our darkest fears come true, then our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel seem shallow. Jesus says, you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. He also says our sorrow lasts a little while. Psalm 30 says weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Distresses are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.

This might sound like another “chin up, cheer up” speech we’ve heard or perhaps given to others. Is that what Jesus means? No. He urges us to look beyond tears of sorrow and misery. Christ also is saying so much more. Unlike what we say and hear, Jesus is not making promises based on vague notions that things will be better soon. He is grounding His words in Himself, not in life experience or the ability to know and understand more. Jesus bases and establishes His promise in what He has accomplished for us – and continues to work in us to this day and every day.

This business of a little while is not about our afflictions as much as it is about Christ’s afflictions on our behalf. Jesus endured afflictions not to understand what it’s like to be human. Jesus endured suffering and death so we would not have to go through what He went through. His suffering and death is not about our possibilities, but about true hope.

True hope is not a wish about what could be. True hope is the Holy Spirit Who gives us confidence to believe that what Jesus says is true. The Means of Grace matter. Christ’s life is now lived in us, even as we live in Him. With that Spirit-given confidence, we have hope that is both defiant and firm. We have hope that allows us to face our fears, own up to our faults, live through our sicknesses, laugh during our grief, and stare our own death in the eye without blinking. That’s what stands behind our Lord’s promise about a little while.

There’s an even harder to imagine promise Christ gives us in today’s Gospel. Jesus gives us a joy that no one can take from us. What sort of joy is that? Surely, it must be more than the many joys we experience. Our joys quickly sour, just as our hopes and dreams are often disappointed.

The joy Jesus gives us is the joy of His Holy Spirit. A joy goes beyond emotion. This joy burrows into the very marrow of who we are. However deep our fears go, however hidden our unhappiness and troubles, however entrenched our sinful lusts and dissatisfaction – there is the Holy Spirit, there is the hope He is, and there is the joy He produces.

The Spirit’s joy is not a pious wish or a rosy prayer. Consider when we sing the portion of Psalm 51 right after the sermon. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” These words are the fulfillment of our Lord’s Word, the realization of His promise lived out on our lips. This is possible only because of our Lord’s little while. The Lord’s little while is where He Who fills all things was swallowed by the grave and hell. His little while is when He Who is almighty was defeated, when Life Himself was dead.

Yet God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead. In that resurrected flesh, our Lord speaks His Spirit into our spirit. The Holy Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Who can harm us? Who can undo what the Lord almighty, the death-destroyer, gives us? Even if we are overwhelmed by sorrow, and our bodies wracked with unending pain and our minds continually afraid – who can take away our joy? The Lord and Giver of Life has given us the Life that our Jesus is. In so doing, He has united us in God – in a communion that our Father will not revoke.

The only sorrow that remains is the sorrow of refusing the joy our Lord gives at His altar, the joy that truly lifts up our hearts and allows us to give thanks unto the Lord our God. Yet even this sorrow our Father, through His Son by His Spirit, works continually to overcome. Some of us have returned, even though we may have never departed! All of us know the joy of our Lord’s never-hesitant, always-relieving forgiveness.

Endure the little while. We enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations. Do not lose heart. Though we have sorrow, our Lord Jesus sees us now and again in His House. Our hearts rejoice, for we have the joy that no one can take from us.

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

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