v.33 [Jesus said], "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world."
Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Dear friends in Christ, today is Rogate or "pray" Sunday. The sixth Sunday of Easter is set aside especially to uplift Christians in the duty and privilege of prayer—granted to us as a gift through faith in Christ. This year, this Sunday also happens to fall upon Memorial weekend in the U.S.—a time set aside to remember and honour all those who have died while serving in the United States armed forces. Truly, there is a great deal for which we ought to give thanks to God and pray.
Of course, prayer is becoming more and more of a lost virtue in our day and age—even among Christians. We struggle with finding the time and energy to humbly fold our hands, bow our heads, and offer up our petitions, thanksgivings, and praises to the One who is Lord of all. We scarcely have time to say a few quick words before gulping down our supper on our way to our evening activities—and by the time those activities are completed—after a long, hard day—it is difficult to focus the mind and heart before sleep overtakes us in our beds. And yet there is much for which we must pray.
St. Paul in our epistle reading today gives us some particular direction in this regard. Indeed, he urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." I just attended the Minnesota LCMS pastors' conference a couple of weeks ago, where one of the main speakers was a pastor from the Minnesota Family Coalition—urging us (pastors and congregations) to lift up our leaders: federal, state/provincial, and municipal, in our prayers. The men and women who serve in these capacities desperately need our prayers and support as they seek to govern justly and wisely and make good and decent laws. We must try to get to know them—love them and support them—especially in prayer.
The past couple of weeks have seen both the good and the bad in terms of laws enacted by elected leaders. We have been blessed to witness some astounding pro-life laws pass in certain states. This is good news for the cause of life, and we ought to rise up and give thanks to God for these leaders and for any law that promotes and protects the gift of life that God gives. We have also seen some disturbing laws passed—most recently, the Equality Act just passed by the House in the U.S. This law is almost like an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which stated that it was illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon their race, ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, disability, etc. That was good law. However, the Equality Act comes with a twist. It inserts the phrase "sexual orientation and gender identity" under the heading "sex," meaning that it will be illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon their sexual preferences or current gender identities. We have had such a law in Canada since 2010.
So what? Isn't that a good thing? We don't want to discriminate as Christians, do we? Of course Christians don't condone discrimination, but this new law will open the door to force people to act against their religion and their own consciences—even down to the very words we say. To operate in the public sphere (which has also been broadened to mean more than hotels or grocery stores, but now includes any act, good, or service done in the public realm) will effectively put people of conscience on the chopping block should they disagree with the LGBTQ agenda. No one will be protected—not the baker, the florist, the photographer, the teacher, the pastor, the church—no one. Again, we have much to pray for.
The situation seems to be rather desperate. We have effectively lost the culture war. Our children and grandchildren and we ourselves are being constantly bombarded with ideas and messages that are in direct conflict with what the Holy Scriptures teach about human sexuality and identity. The world is fine with our teachings on greed, respect, work ethic, etc., but cannot and will no longer stomach the Christian teachings on sexual morality or life: from heterosexual fornication outside of marriage, to pornography, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc., to abortion and euthanasia—the message is coming across loud and clear. If you hold to Biblical teaching on these issues—you are a bigot, a hater, and no longer deserving of basic rights and protections. We have seen people lose their livelihoods to this already—and there will be more.
So, beloved, what are we to do in this desperate situation? Roll over and give up—give in to the culture around us—forsake the Scriptures and our faith in Christ? No! God forbid! What then? Should we separate ourselves as much as possible into tiny Christian communes away from it all—live more like the Amish—maybe even move out of the country to another place where Christianity is more welcome and tolerated? Again, not a good option for most of us. What then are we to do? First, we must pray. As St. Paul urged us to do, and as Christ commands his church—pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray for those in authority. Pray for wisdom—cool heads—for changed hearts and minds. Speak out in love the truth that God has given to us, even while receiving hatred and scorn and mockery—remembering to keep your enemies forever in your prayers—that God would have His way with them and bring them to faith in Christ through your gentle and persistent witness.
Our text focuses on the night when Jesus was betrayed. He is speaking to His disciples, telling then that the Holy Spirit will come and comfort them, even as they suffer. Jesus tells us this to give us peace—for in this world we have trouble. As I have just outlined, boy do we have trouble—tribulation—hardship—affliction as a direct result of persecution. Yet what else does Jesus say? Take heart! Be courageous! Have confidence and firmness of purpose in the face of danger or testing. How? How can we remain steadfast and strong in the face of such adversity—when our livelihoods—our freedoms—our families—even our lives are threatened? By remembering that Jesus has overcome the world—He has conquered it—been victorious over it (this is the Greek verb of the noun for the goddess of victory—Nike).
Jesus, with His suffering and death on the cross, has been lifted up so that all who look on Him in faith may believe and receive the forgiveness for their sin He earned with His own shed blood. Moses lifting up the bronze serpent on a pole in the middle of the desert so that those bit by venomous snakes could be saved, was but a foreshadowing of the greater One who would be lifted up in order to save all mankind. By His sacrifice on the cross Jesus has broken the curse of sin, destroyed the power of death, and cast down the devil from his rule of this world. Jesus lives! Jesus reigns! He is God in the flesh! It is to Him that we look and pray in good times and in bad. It is Christ whom we trust in no matter what. We don't need to explain away His Word—be embarrassed by it—but boldly proclaim it. He who has given us this Word is not a bigot or a hater, but the epitome—indeed, the very incarnation—of love itself. He loves all people—and desires everyone to be saved by coming to faith in Christ alone for their salvation. And we proclaim this full and free forgiveness to EVERYONE—NO MATTER WHAT. Be they our persecutors or enemies—or misguided souls who have fallen into sin—the blood of Jesus is enough to cover it all—to redeem it all—and bring life.
That means that our sin—our failure to keep God's commandments—to speak out—to live out our Christian faith (be it in sexuality or life issues)—even our failures to pray as we ought—are forgiven by the blood of Jesus. We turn to Him now in prayer and supplication and intercession and thanksgiving. For He has given us our lives—and preserves our faith by the giving of His own Holy Spirit. You, beloved, are His children. You have been washed by the blood of this Lamb of God who came to suffer and die for all sin. You look to Him who was lifted high upon the cross and see your salvation. No matter what the world may throw your way—no matter the tribulation and persecution you may be called upon to endure—you stand victorious already—for the Lord Jesus has declared you forgiven and free and granted you eternal life in His blessed name. And He has crushed all your enemies under His foot when He gave up His own life into death on the cross. But now it is He who reigns victorious, now and forevermore. In Jesus you have overcome the world. For Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.