Seventh Sunday of Easter | May 29 2022 | Rev. Paul Hinlicky | Sermon Transcript
Seventh Sunday of Easter | May 29, 2022 | Acts 16, Revelation 22, John 17
On this Memorial Day weekend in the United States, we remember with gratitude those who have served, especially those who had given the last full measure of devotion, for the protection of the nation, just as we long for the day when nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. How far we still are from that day! It has been a hurting time in these United States America after the killings in Buffalo and Uvalde on top of wars and rumors of war, hot war, cold war, culture war. Fear and despair are on the march. Do our Scripture lessons today speak a word of hope into this darkening reality in which we now live? Yes, but only if we let them also reveal a deeper truth about the mess that we are in.
Truth be told, too often we Americans are like those ancient citizens of the Roman Empire who ganged up against Paul and Silas when their preaching of the gospel threatened unjust profits built upon superstition and its exploitation. Paul and Silas were brave with the courage of faith to resist the culture, indeed to challenge it, but are we? For immediate example, quite deliberately for fear of offending, the lectionary omits the following verse from the middle of the reading today from the book of Revelation, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Are not we Christians in America obligated to ask conscientiously before God to what extent the verse may be describing us, supposedly on the inside? And, to mention the gospel lesson, do we really concur with Jesus's prayer "that we may all be one" even as he and the Father are one in love? One with those fundamentalists, one with those Catholics, one with those liberals?
One of the great truths of the Reformation which Martin Luther teaches is that the true people of God are they who bring the judgment of the cross to bear upon themselves – not the other guys – but upon themselves. In place of self-justification and scapegoating Christians confess rather than protest their sins. That thought is what launched the Reformation. The very first thesis of Luther's famous 95 states, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said repent, he meant for the entire lives of Christians to be ones of repentance" -- ever more deeply turning to the Lord who the end returns to us forever.
These searching questions of Scripture and the great truths of the Reformation apply first of all to us Christian. This can be stated in principle from the pulpit. But how they actually apply concretely to the sickening darkness of contemporary American culture is a discussion better undertaken in an open forum where there can be the give-and-take of honest communication built upon a foundation of mutual trust. True, some preachers ignore what's going on in the world as if Christianity were a bubble insulating us from it. But it is also true that other preachers too quickly seize upon superficial talking points borrowed from partisan politics and proclaim them from the pulpit as if the gospel itself. So I will not go there this morning. My duty as a preacher is to lay it upon your conscience before God to ask these serious questions of American self-examination and not quickly evade them by resorting to the easy platitudes and cheap bromides of our partisan politics.
What gospel can we speak into troubled consciences who worry about the state of American society and culture, who do not blame it all on the other guy, but earnestly seek divine light to see truly into our predicament? God's love is indeed poured out upon the sinner, but only as we are willing to be that sinner in need of mercy, that practitioner of falsehood who is willing to be exposed to truth, and become despairing of who we have been, like the jailer ready to commit suicide for failing in his duty when the intervention of an earthquake seemed to set the prisoners under his charge free. His was a kind of spiritual death at failure on the job, a job itself deeply complicit with a corrupt regime. The spiritual death is expressed in his despairing cry, “What must I do to be saved?" To which Paul and Silas opportunistically replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Notice what strange salvation they proclaim! The man is saved from being the jailer in service of a corrupt society and saved for membership in the new community of those baptized into Christ! He is saved from being a persecutor to joining the ranks of those being persecuted! And let's recall here our good old Lutheran theology. What Paul and Silas announce is not a good deal but good news. It's not a good deal in which the jailer does God the favor of believing and God, in turn, does favor of saving. It's not any kind of tit-for-tat exchange. It's what Martin Luther called a joyful exchange because in it we surrender our sin and death to the Lamb of God who bears it away to receive in exchange for his life and righteousness. That's good news! So Jesus summarizes his strange, new, joyful salvation in the passage from the book of Revelation today: " See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” So the jailer washed his robes when he was baptized with his whole household into Christ, surrendering his former way of life to join the beloved community in Christ.
It is a lifestyle change. Permit me to contemporize it this way: Dear Republican, you're going to spend eternity with many who are Democrats. Dear Democrat, you're going to spend eternity with many who are Republicans. Dear American, you are going to spend eternity with many who are Chinese. Dear Russian you are going to spend eternity with many who are Ukrainian. Dear white supremacist, you are going to spend eternity with many of African descent. Our worldly enmities are real but they are not ultimate because Jesus is Lord, not history. And in turn, we are broken out of the vicious cycle of recrimination and revenge which human history is when Jesus breaks into our worldly realities and puts us in fellowship with such earthly enemies. Just this is what eternal salvation is according to our gospel lesson today, which is called the high priestly prayer of Jesus.
From "before the foundation of the world,” ultimate reality is the eternal community of love who is the Father and the Son into whose life of love we are incorporated by their Spirit. That is Alpha! So that, when we are washed by baptism into union with Christ and through Christ we are united with all those others who have been baptized so that we may be one as they are one, namely one in mutual love. That is Omega!
Jesus’s high priestly prayer begins: "I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” So, he is talking about us, about you Rural Retreat Parish. And what does he mean when he says that you be one? Does he mean that you all be like-minded Republicans or like-minded Democrats or like-minded ELCA-ers or like-minded Americans? Does he mean that you be conformists with your in-group marching together in lockstep like a parade in North Korea? Does he mean that you be institutional loyalists who prefer false peace to disruptive truth? No! He wants you to be one in a new and wholly divine and unexpected way, as beloved community, as genuine individuals each in their unique and peculiar ways who gather together with other such really different people in the new synergy of divine and creative love.
Call it the outreaching Holy Trinity of God! “One as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” You know what really offends faith in Jesus as a stumbling block against those who would believe is any kind of religious hatred justifying, indeed sanctifying itself in the name of God. What really commends faith in Jesus is the living experience of beloved community in Christ. Your main mission and outreach in the community is to be the beloved community in Christ, a force for reconciliation that breaks the cycle of recrimination and revenge on the earth, here and now, in real life. Certainly, that will be a disruptive force in a sick culture causing earthquakes to undermine prison houses setting captives free. That is the concrete word of Jesus for us today. "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."