Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the seventh Sunday of Easter 5/16/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Easter7 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the seventh Sunday of Easter, click here.
This last Thursday marked 40 days since the Feast of Jesus’ resurrection. Forty days from Easter Sunday. Forty days of absolute joy.
Joy because… He who was raised up on the cross has been raised from the tomb; He who was taken has returned; and He whom we handed over has handed Himself back to us – alive, glorified, triumphant, and visible to everyone.
But Thursday marked something else, too. Three days ago was the Feast of the Ascension. Three days ago, after forty days of resurrection joy, Jesus ascended into Heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of the Father.
It’s like as soon as we had Him back, Jesus was taken away again. So how can it be that the Apostles returned to Jerusalem with great joy? How can they go on? How can they carry out Jesus’ mission in the world if He is not in the world?
Didn’t He say that He would be with them always, even to the end of the age? So how can He say that and then moments later, ascend into heaven, leaving them behind?
For years Jesus has been there with them every day. He walked next to them; He prayed with them; He answered their questions; He shared their meals. But Jesus is no longer part of their world.
In these days after the Ascension, Jesus is more. He is not part of their world. Jesus is their world. He is their universe; He alone is their life and their breath. He alone is their hope and their joy.
It’s true that things are different from what they once were. The disciples can no longer keep Jesus to themselves. And yet they understand that Jesus still keeps them. That’s why the disciples went back to Jerusalem and to the Temple with great joy. They go on with joy because He who once filled their living room now fills all things.
Jesus’ ascension means that He is no longer limited by time or space. So, when Jesus says He is no longer in the world, it means that He is no longer in the world in precisely the same way they are. And strange as it is, this is actually better.
It’s better because now, in His Word and Sacrament, Jesus can be with everyone. Which means that Jesus’ disciples, wherever they are, are not left as orphans.
But neither are they at home. Jesus’ disciples remain in the world, though they are not of the world. They are from a different place.
They are citizens of God’s Kingdom, and no other allegiance may compete. This is no longer their world. Jesus is their world. And the world has hated them for it.
The world has hated Jesus’ disciples because they are foreigners, aliens. They are from another place.
Jesus’ disciples don’t think as people of the world think. Jesus’ disciples don’t walk as people of the world walk. Jesus’ disciples don’t speak like people of the world speak. And they are hated for it. It’s a bit like this:
Ten years ago, I spent a good long while backpacking across Europe. The biggest stretch of that was spent in northern Spain. On a typical day I’d walk about 15 miles. And while I relished the peace and quiet of those days, I never could keep myself from talking with folks.
I’d spend hours chatting with anyone about anything, but every conversation ended the same way. “You’re a foreigner, aren’t you?”
I ate their food, drank their coffee, and spoke their language. But my accent always gave me away. Though I was in Spain, I was not a Spaniard. And I’d never be one of them. Not really.
But they’re hospitable. I did my best not to make waves, and they gave me the benefit of the doubt. One kind man even said I was a citizen of the world.
Of course, he was just being polite. And I took it as a compliment because that’s what vain men in their twenties do. I said, “thank you.” But I wish I’d said something better.
“No. I’m not from there either. I’m a Christian, and a citizen of Heaven. God the Father is my King. Jesus is my Savior, Brother and Friend. The Holy Spirit is my Guide. I’m a pilgrim – and not just here. Between now and Heaven, I’m a pilgrim everywhere.”
That’s what I wish I’d said. But most people I met were rigid atheists and hostile to the Church. And I didn’t want to be hated. I wanted to get along.
But that will never be truly possible. You will never be able to just get along.
You are Jesus’ disciples. And you are in the world. But you are not from here. You speak their languages fluently, but I hope that your accent gives you away.
I know that you want to be liked, and so do I. That’s why I know that this is very difficult to hear: I hope that you are hated. I hope that the world hates you. I hope that the world hates me. I hope the world hates my wife and my children.
It sounds terrible, but it’s better than getting the false idea that we are at peace. We’re not. So, this morning before Service, as I prayed, I prayed that the world would hate you; not because you should walk around being a jerk; but on account of Jesus and His Word.
Because if they don’t; if the world loves you and adores you and fawns over you, then you can’t be Jesus’ disciples – not when Jesus says that the world will hate you on account of Him.
You have been born of Word and Water in Holy Baptism, you owe this world and its rulers no allegiance.
For the sake of their true citizenship, Jesus’ disciples are despised. For the sake of the Word, Jesus’ disciples are hated. And they expect nothing less. More than that, Jesus’ disciples desire nothing less.
As we hear Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit, the words which immediately precede that promise provide some necessary context. Jesus said:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. John 15:18-21
All that said, nobody desires peace more than Jesus. Nobody wants everyone to come home more than Jesus, who prays to His Heavenly Father:
As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:18-19
For their sake, Jesus consecrates Himself to crucifixion. For your sake, Jesus devotes Himself to destruction. For the sake of a whole world that hates Him, Jesus has suffered death and hell. And now, for the sake of everyone everywhere, Jesus sends His disciples.
As the Father has sent Him, so He has sent them. They are in the world, but not of the world. You are in the world, but you are not of the world.
You bear it no allegiance. It is not your home. You are a pilgrim. Note, by the way, that I say “pilgrim,” and not “wanderer.” You are not wasting time, meandering along. You have a destination and a purpose.
To speak as Jesus speaks, to do as Jesus does, to pray as Jesus prays, and love as Jesus loves. “To be sanctified in truth.” To be holied in and by the Word of God.
That (outside) is not your world. That is not your home.
You are not even American Christian. There’s no such thing – or there shouldn’t be. You are a Christian in America. You are a pilgrim, a stranger in a strange land.
So, what do you owe this world that hates you? Again, a servant is not greater than his Master. What does Jesus give the world that hates Him?
Love, mercy, and truth. Be self-controlled and sober-minded. Do not return anger for anger. Show hospitality without grumbling. Use your gifts in service to one another and the world.
In all this you will not be glorified. But Jesus will be.