Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon Seventh Sunday of Easter 5-17-15

Easter 7B – May 17, 2015
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA
The Rev. Maurice C Frontz III, STS

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

He ascended into heaven,
and he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
When I was younger,
I had this image of God the Father on his heavenly throne,
and on his right (which would be left from my perspective)
Jesus sitting on a lower throne.
Truth be told, it’s hard to get rid of that image.
I doubt that it will ever be erased from my imagination
until I see God face-to-face.

So if this is not the literal image we are to have,
then just what does it mean?
We are saying that Jesus has been given authority.
He has been revealed as the one who has authority over everything,
not simply his own, but the Father’s who sent him.

We have a remnant of this in our language;
when we say that someone is the bosses’ ‘right-hand man’
it means that the person is so close to the boss
that whatever he says is what the boss says.
The ‘right-hand man’ represents authority,
and speaks with authority.

So in ascending to heaven,
Jesus has been given authority over all things.
What he says, goes.
When he says, ‘Sins are forgiven,’ they are forgiven before God.
When he binds the powers of evil so that they can no longer harm us,
they are bound.
When he destroys the power of death,
it is destroyed.
When he proclaims that the Law which accuses us is set aside,
it is set aside.

His ascension to the seat of power
is the confirmation of his rule over the world.
And yet it is hard to grasp this
as we meditate on what we see each day
over our televisions and our radios and the internet.
I was thinking about this earlier in the week.
Over the radio came the sounds of crying women and children
who were drifting in the Indian ocean,
Muslim refugees fleeing militant Buddhist persecution in Myanmar.
They had been in the clutches of human traffickers,
but there was a legal crackdown on trafficking by the Thai government,
and so the traffickers had abandoned them at sea.
They had been drifting for over a month.
The Thai military did eventually drop food and water to the ship,
but no government will allow them to land.
After all, they reason, if they allow some to land,
then thousands upon thousands of refugees will follow,
and when will they stop?
Meanwhile, the boat continues to drift,
full of rootless, homeless, stateless human beings.

How do we see Christ’s rule in a world
that sees this sort of suffering and cruelty?
This is the most potent argument against Christianity in particular
and religion in general.
Jesus cannot be the Messiah
because he has not brought in the Messiah’s reign of peace.
There can be no good God in the world
because no good God would allow such suffering.
We don’t even see
any kind of progress toward a just, peaceful, and good world.
No one can even agree on what that means.

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
In our liturgy we sing that Jesus has begun his reign over the world.
The powers of sin, death, and evil refuse to acknowledge this rule.
But the Church does.
And the Church proclaims that these powers cannot triumph,
because Christ has triumphed over them.

I look at the saints.
They did not live in an easy world,
but they were able to be faithful even in a world
that did not have evidence of God’s glory.
They often were in times and places of terrible suffering.
They were subject to death, like the rest of us.
Oftentimes, they didn’t even have the luxury
of living a long life before they died,
but they were put to death for what they believed in.
This is not simply long ago.
We think of Oscar Romero,
shot to death while celebrating Communion.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, hung in Flussendorf seventy years ago
only a month before V-E day.
We think of those murdered by ISIS.
Though they died, death was not victorious over them,
because they refused to fear death because of Christ’s promise of life.
I believe I can see Christ’s reign in them.

I believe I can see Christ’s reign
because those who cannot undo what they have done
and cannot start over,
can still find forgiveness and hope in Jesus.
I believe I can see Christ’s reign
because the spell of evil can be broken
by the power of his name.

I believe that Jesus reigns
because sin, death, and evil end with death.
When we die,
the worst has already happened to us,
but if Jesus is raised from the dead,
then he can also raise us from the dead.
And so our death becomes victory.

When Jesus prays for his disciples,
he does not ask the Father to take them out of the world.
Instead, he prays for their protection in the world.
He prays that they would be joyful
in the midst of a world that disturbs and distresses,
He prays that they would be made whole and holy
in the midst of a world which is broken and sinful,
He prays that they would be sent
as messengers of word and deed
into a world of pain and loneliness
which doubts God’s love and God’s very existence.

And so he prays,
and so God grants,
for the Church is here.
No, we don’t see it in perfection,
or perhaps even close to it.
But in the Church,
Jesus’ name is known,
to forgive, to deliver, to save.
The saints are made holy,
those whose names we know
and those who are anonymous.
Even we are made holy,
and even though we don’t know how it’s happening,
we trust that God is working his purposes out even through us.
I believe I can see Christ’s power and authority among us,
where his Word is preached and his Sacraments are administered
and where the Spirit is present.

The Spirit of holiness, the Holy Spirit,
is the guarantee of God’s victory.
and Christ’s reign among us.
Even in the world,
we are with God.
And so, he ascended into heaven,
and he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
How do we see Christ’s rule in a world full of suffering?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.