Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sermon - Easter 6 - John 16:23-33

Easter 6C
May 13th, 2007
John 16:23-33
“I Have Overcome the World”

Are you a fan of the Olympics? Seems like most people have at least a casual interest, at least in some of the events. Most of us would like to see the U.S.A. do well in the competition.

Though it hasn’t been decided yet, I understand that Chicago is in the running to host the Summer Olympics in 2016. If that happens, not only will Racine probably see an economic boost even in our area, but people like us will be able to go and see, in person, world class competitors in all sorts of different sports.

I’ve always wondered, though I will never know, what it’s like to be a world champion – of anything. To be the best runner, or gymnast, or weightlifter. To wear that gold medal around your neck and know that at least for a moment – you are the best of the best. I think we all have a certain respect for someone who can achieve such a rare status as “world champion”.

Jesus concludes his remarks to the disciples today with the words, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” But what he wins is not for himself, but for us. What he wins is not a gold medal, but forgiveness, life and salvation. He overcomes the world by dying, rising, ascending and reigning for all eternity.

“The World” is a theme running through our readings today. The nations of the world, anyway, have come into focus in this late Easter season. The book of Acts has been detailing the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s people. Today we read about Paul going to preach in Macedonia. We see also, the holy city of Jerusalem, a picture of the Christian Church in her glory – and into that city the “kings of the earth will bring their glory”. And we already know the inhabitants of heaven are “from every tribe, nation, people and tongue.” There is a missionary undercurrent and backdrop – the message of Christ crucified and risen is a message that must be shared with the world!

But “The World” can also mean (and usually does in John’s Gospel) all that which is opposed to God. Being “in the world but not of it” is this same idea – that though we Christians must live in this hostile territory – behind enemy lines – our true citizenship is in heaven. And we are on our way home. But we must deal with the world. We must face it, for we live here, in the world. And the world, Jesus says, hates his disciples. This can be a problem.

It can be a problem when we are persecuted for our faith. I just saw another story this week about persecution of Christians – this time in Iraq, where radical Muslims are trying to force Christians to convert to Islam or suffer the consequences. We don’t face that kind of persecution where we live- but it could happen some day.

The hatred of the world works on us in more subtle ways. Our world hates God’s ways, and fills our heads with lies and temptations. Pastor mentioned last week the dangers of materialism – a message we all need to hear. But the world around us also seeks to shake our faith in the truth of God’s word, to make us doubt the perfect standard of his law, and in our me-first culture, to elevate our own needs and wants above everyone else’s. By our sinful nature we are selfish, greedy, petty, insincere, gossip-mongering, self-aggrandizing, fearful, disrespectful, and many things worse. And the world would cultivate all these things within us. The world would have us, too, be enemies of Christ and of his word and his way.

But Christ has overcome the world. And in Christ, so do we.

Christ has overcome the world by his death. A funny way to fight a battle, by laying down your life. A strange way to win the ultimate victory, by counting all as loss. But God’s power is made perfect in weakness. So instead of climbing the pedestal to the tune of a national anthem with a gold medal around his neck, Christ’s victory over the World is seen hung on a cross with thorns around his head, for all the world to see his shame and agony. But he declares the contest over with those powerful words, “it is finished”.

And though the price of our redemption was paid, and the work of our salvation was finished at the cross… Jesus’ work as our savior would go on. He would rise for us, appear for us, ascend for us, and reign in heaven for us. There, on his divine throne, at the right hand of the Father, with everything under his feet, Jesus has surely overcome the world, and rules it for us in love.

When Jesus was speaking to his disciples in our reading today, he had not yet gone to the cross. But he knew he would, and that by it he would conquer all his enemies. He speaks of his victory as a present reality, even though it hadn’t been fulfilled just yet.

We too know Christ’s victory over the world as a now-and-not-yet reality. For the cross and the empty tomb are accomplished and stand behind us. And yet, his return in glory is still on the horizon. We are the victorious people of God, but when we look around us we see defeat at every turn. The world seems to have its way with us. Sometimes it all seems hopeless.

“But take heart; I have overcome the world” Jesus says.

We get a glimpse of our future as we read Revelation and see the glories of our heavenly home. Our imaginations run wild at the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. So that even in the darkest moments of life, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we can and do “take heart” for Christ has “overcome the world”.

He does it not for himself, but for us. We couldn’t have done it ourselves. When it comes to the world, we win some, we lose some. We have our ups and downs. But we could never be free of worldliness, were it not for someone “out of this world”, namely Jesus Christ. He who “came from God” and has returned to God, also came to bring us back to God.

His victory is not a moment in time, or 15 minutes of fame. He will not be defeated by the next challenger. He has overcome the world. His victory wasn’t a narrow one, just barely winning the day. This contest was decided long before it started. He has overcome the world. His victory over the sin-filled and sin-scarred world brings wholeness and restoration, as he makes all things new. He has overcome the world. And in him, so do we.

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