St. John 15:26-16:4
June 2, 2019 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus tells His disciples what will happen to them. They will be put out of the synagogues, removed from their families and friends. They will be tortured and killed in shameful ways. They will be despised as though they were child molesters. Their killers will be made into heroes for ridding the world of them.
He did not warn them so that they could avoid it. He only told them so that they would not fall away. They will follow Our Lord and die as He died. As He prayed to His Father in Gethsemane, they will pray and they will receive the same answer that He did. There is no getting out of their sorrow or martyrdom.
If we measure in the ways of the world this sounds horrible but not if we measure in the ways of God. The apostles get the Holy Spirit. The Spirit bears witness of Christ to them and then He also bears witness of Christ in and through them. They become ambassadors for Christ, envoys of heaven, and heralds of Good News. They are put out of the synagogues but they gain an enduring country and city, an eternal family bound by water that is thicker than blood. The fear of the Jews is replaced with the fear of the Lord. The love of life and health and reputation is replaced with the love of God and love for His Law which does not pass away. The avoidance of pain and embarrassment is replaced with the avoidance of sin and an embracing of humility. The apostles get the peace that passes all understanding, love that does not fail, and faith that overcomes Hell itself. They were insulted for the Name of Christ but they were blessed and the Spirit of glory and of God was and remains upon them.
For all of that, we might thank God that we are not apostles. We might be spared martyrdom. But we won’t avoid suffering. We can’t. Even though we aren’t apostles, we still follow Christ and therefore we have crosses to bear. The student is not above the teacher. This is not a surprise to any of you. You have all had plenty of sorrow. And we are, to a man, hyper-aware of our own tribulations and lack, of every small and large deprivation or of any insult or slight that we’ve ever suffered.
What you may not realize, however, is that you are not unique. There is a kind of self-righteousness that creeps into our suffering. We are tempted to indulge a fantasy where we are the heroes. We imagine that we have fought hard in life and for the truth and suffered for it. We think most other people, if they are successful, are just lucky, if they are not, then they are lazy. We think almost everyone is ignorant of the great battle raging all around them and how important we are in it. Repent.
Suffering waxes and wanes over a lifetime. Sometimes it is greater and sometimes less. Some of it is public, but most of it, and typically the worst of it, is very private. So it is possible at any given moment that you are suffering more than someone else. But nothing has befallen you that is not common to man. If in a particular moment, you are suffering more, remember when you weren’t. Remember how uncaring and discompassionate and deliberately ignorant you were then about your neighbors. And remember that people typically suffer the worst of their sorrows secretly. Remember and repent.
We pray that none of us are tortured and martyred, humiliated before the world, and that our children won’t be destroyed. But we know that none of us is going to get out this world alive or take our stuff with us or can ensure a future for our children or our beloved institutions. No one really ages gracefully. The only reason that death is sometimes a kindness is because it is always tortuous and evil. More painful than death, is life. Even when it is free of physical violence, it is still full of failures and regrets, mistakes and sins, addictions and perversity. And that is just what we do to ourselves. Life is also afflicted by the sins of others: betrayals and disappointments, heartbreak and frustration, abuse and neglect. We don’t write any of that up in Christmas letters or obituaries. But there hasn’t been a life lived yet that was free of them.
Again: you know that about yourself. You are keenly aware of it. Sometimes you are nearly obsessed with your own pain and circumstances. Remember again that nothing has befallen you that is not common to man, that everyone is hurting and hurting, over time, just as deeply as you. Do not judge by outward appearances. Crosses are custom-made. You do not know what other people are enduring or have endured. You are not a hero. You are not worse off than your neighbors. You are not “unlucky” or singled out for some cosmically significant event.
What you are is baptized. I am telling you all this so that you do not fall away or think your sufferings are strange. You are special to God and He counts every hair on your head. He has died for you, ransomed you, on purpose, deliberately. You are chosen. That doesn’t mean you won the lottery. It means you get a cross and chastisements and duty. You are part of the family and engage in the family business. And the family business is loving the world including the imperfect and highly flawed people who have hurt you. You are called to look past the sins of the brother-in-law who is always boasting about how busy he is, the sister who posts fake homeschool victories on Instagram, and the friend who is always late and only ever talks about himself. You are called upon to endure vanity and insults and even stupidity from your brothers and sisters in Christ, to think of and explain their motives and actions in the kindest way possible rather than thinking poorly of them. You certainly aren’t to imagine yourself to be superior to them.
You are called to eschew jealousy and covertness. Stop comparing yourself to others. Love one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins. Like all of God’s Holy Law this catches the old man in us in his sin. It accuses us. We are jealous and covetous. We do think that other people have it easier than us and it is not fair. So we repent. The Law exposes our thinking as not only false, but actually evil. We thank God for showing us our sin so that we would know our need for a Savior and so that we would know what is good. We want to be good like Him. We want to love the way that He loves. This command to stop comparing ourselves to others shows us how to live the best and most satisfying life. It is what we were created for. Comparing yourself to others is bad for you, not just spiritually, but also psychologically and even physically. It is not healthy. No sin is healthy or good for you. When you think yourself superior to others you harm them and you harm yourself. Good works are good for you and for your neighbor. That is part of their goodness. It comes from the reality that God’s Law is itself good.
In the end, the life of faith is a life that is learning to measure in the ways of God and not of men or mere physicality. You aren’t an apostle but you still get the Holy Spirit. You are also an ambassador for Christ, an envoy of heaven, and a herald of Good News. You do have to make judgments. You do have to issue warnings. Loving your neighbor doesn’t mean endorsing or even tolerating his self-destructive behavior. You are witness in this world. That witness starts with the reality that this world is not all there is, that there is a better way to live and a need for repentance. You are a witness also to the forgiveness of Christ that is offered to everyone. The love that covers a multitude of sins, that befriends a boorish braggart or suffers the insults of tactless woman so caught up in her own pain that she has no self-awareness, or that lets an idiot who doesn’t know how to do a zipper merge into traffic, shows the world that you are Christ’s disciple.
You have fiery trials. They are real and they hurt. They are exhausting. You struggle to love your family and friends as yourself, to not lash out and seek vengeance or to force pity when it is lacking, even as you strive to love your enemies. That is hard. Maybe it is not as hard as being an apostle, but maybe it is, because nothing has befallen you that is not common to man and crosses are custom made.
In any case, with the Spirit bestowed in Holy Baptism you get the peace that passes all understanding, love that does not fail, and faith that overcomes Hell itself. You might be insulted for the Name of Christ and you might be surrounded by imperfect people, but when you love them, and forgive them, and have compassion upon them, even when they don’t appreciate it or notice it, you are blessed and the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
So rejoice and be glad. This world is passing away. The Christ has not failed you. He went to His martyrdom with no second thoughts or regrets. You were and are worth it to Him. He keeps His promises. The life He gives, along with the crosses He inflicts, certainly aren’t easy, but they are good. You are being made good through them. You won’t fall away.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.