Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saint Simon and Saint Jude (John 15:17-21)

“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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon as we commemorate the apostles Saint Simon and Saint Jude, is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: love one another, that is Jesus’ request, His command to all who will follow after Him. Love one another, for the world will give you only hatred. “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” Love one another, bear one another’s burdens, sustain one another in the midst of a world that hates you all. You, dear friends, are Christ’s gifts to each other, given to love one another even unto death. Tradition has it that Saint Simon and Saint Jude, after having preached the Gospel in many and various places, journeyed together to Persia to proclaim the resurrection of Christ in that place, and there they were martyred together. “These things I command you,” Jesus said, “so that you love one another.” They loved one another as Christian brothers even unto death, they did not face the evil of this world on their own, but with the promise of Christ and the love of a brother Christian, they suffered even death for their Lord. They showed to each other the very love that Christ showed them, as they faced the very hatred that Christ endured.

We should not be surprised that the world hates us; it should come as no shock, no great mystery to those who have heard the Gospels, those who have read of Christ’s passion. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” Christ was sent into this world, to fallen humanity, not to destroy us, not to bring God’s judgment upon our heads, not to condemn us to hell. We were doing a good job of bringing God’s judgment upon us without Jesus’ help. Instead, He came as our Savior, to spare us from the judgment we deserved. He came to show us love, to love the unlovable, to comfort the mourning, to fill the hungry and thirsty with His righteousness, to give the meek and humble the inheritance of a cleansed and purified new heavens and new earth. He came to love. But the world showed Him only hatred. He came to raise this world out of the prison house of sin and death, and it delivered its redeemer to be scourged. He came to conquer this world’s enemies, and it delivered Him to those who persecuted Him. He fed this world with His Word and refreshed it with living water, and it gave Him gall and vinegar to drink.

But Christ did not despair. When He came to save, when He came in love, He found only hatred. But He did not for that reason give up His task of salvation, He did not at that moment change from a loving Savior to a wrathful destroyer, wiping humanity from the earth. He knew that the hatred of this world was not simply hatred of Him, but hatred of His Father. “They do not know Him who sent me.” Hatred of Jesus means hatred of God, hatred of the Creator. When they put Jesus to death, they were crucifying God, they were committing an incredible, almost unthinkable act of rebellion against their Creator. He came to give life, and they chose death, He came to deliver from hell, and this world desired the flames of judgment more than the glories of heaven. But Jesus didn’t for this reason give up on fallen man, He didn’t simply ascend into heaven and leave us to deal with our sin on our own. He submitted to the hatred of this world, He in humility delivered Himself into their murderous designs. He faced the blows, the scourge, the whip, and the cross because the hatred of this world did not diminish His love, and in love, He gave up His life into death for the sin of the world. He used the hatred of this world to save this world, to bring life and immortality to light.

Salvation has been won, despite and through the hatred of this world, but this world wants nothing to do with it; as it hated Jesus before and during His crucifixion, so they still hate Him after He has been raised. And in its hatred, this world will die eternally for sin that has been paid for and forgiven, it will face the judgement from which it has been released. In self-destructive hatred, this world will remain on death row when the doors have been burst open. But from the mass of hatred that fills this world, His Gospel call goes out, and many believe. He chose you out of this world, a world destined for destruction, when He preached the Gospel to you, when He baptized you into His Name. Rejoice, dear friends, rejoice in the hatred of the world. Rejoice that the world hates you, because if you belonged to this world, it would show you only love. “If you were of this 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.” Dear friends, if the world loved you, you would have the same destination as the world: hell. But because the world hates you, rejoice, for you are not of the world. You are loved by Christ, and He chose you out of this world, so that you will not have this world’s destiny, or its penalty.

Do not despair, do not become callous. When the Gospel is met with indifference, with apathy, or with murderous hatred, we are tempted to give up. Indeed, that is precisely what the world is earnestly desiring. It wants you to give up, to go home, to be quiet and to speak no longer in Christ’s Name. But if Christ had done that, you and I would be lost. If He would’ve left this world when He faced its hatred instead of going the cross, you and I would still be in our sins. If He would’ve taken His Church out of this world when she was sorely attacked again and again, you and I would never have been baptized, or heard of the forgiveness of our sins, so that we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would believe. Do not lose hope, do not cease speaking of Christ, do not stop doing good to your neighbor, for you bear the hatred of the world for the sake of Christ. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” If your proclamation and service brings forth one believing neighbor, or even if you manage to raise one believing child, rejoice. And if you see more fruit than that, count yourself especially blessed. “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.” The one who strikes the Master will not show kindness to the servant; the Head cannot wear a crown of thorns while the body reclines in comfort and luxury. This world is not persecuting you, it is persecuting Christ. Let it scorn and sneer today, let it rage all it wants. Let this world take everything from us, even our lives. The day will come when it discovers what its fate and what ours will be. We know what our verdict is, but on that Day, the world will hear an unbearable sentence.

The love the world shows its own is fleeting; it will all evaporate on that terrible and glorious Day. The love that Christ’s shows you is eternal, it even reaches beyond the grave, and no one or nothing can take it away from you. The world did not conquer Christ; He rose again in victory on the third day, unable to be contained even by the grave, and neither will this world conquer you. His love is indestructible. And it is that same love that we are to show to one another. “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” We do not love one another as the world loves its own; we love one another as Christ loves us. We love one another because if the world hates us, and Christ promises us that it will, then we need the mutual conversation and consolation of one another to help us to endure. That is one important reason why we gather together in congregations, why we assemble as a group in worship. Christ does not choose out from the world any ‘free agent Christians,’ but He puts us in community, for the good of one another. You are certainly in worship first and foremost to receive the gifts of Christ, but you are also here for each other. And living in the love of Christ means you are forgiven when you fail to show love to one another, and that you forgive others when their love fails. You are here to love one another, even, if necessary, like Saint Simon and Saint Jude, unto death. “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” The world shows hatred, we show love, the very love of Christ Himself. In His Name, Amen.

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