S. Easter 5.19 “Good News/Bad News Pt. II” John 16:12-22
This morning’s Gospel is really part II of the “Good News/Bad News” paradox of Christianity we began last week. “Is being a Christian a sorrowful or a joyful thing?” “Yes! You totally get it!” “Uh, no, Pastor, that was not a Yes/No question. It’s an either/or question like Kierkegaard says! Either Christianity is basically joyful/ or it’s basically sorrowful. Which is it?” “Yes! Yes! You totally get it!” “No! That is not a Yes/No question anymore than “How many in your party to see Santa?” is a question that can be answered “Yes! Today I am good! “Well, actually Yes, it can and is as David Sedaris long ago proved (and I’m glad to hear that today, you are good!)” Forehead slapping ensues…
To answer Yes! with a bright sadness—that Yes! Christianity is joyful and sorrowful, totally! powerfully shows that you really do get what the Real Thing is all about. Athanasius, Augustine, Luther (the big three of the church fathers for some of us) all realized that when you bump into a paradox, an idea you can’t explain or get your head around, a Story that writes you rather than you writing and controlling IT, you’ve cut through a lot of the BS that gets passed off as Christianity—then as now. You’ve begun to see how things really are. You’ve begun to get the Real Story of Jesus. You’ve begun to see how most of what passes for Christianity in popular culture is just a fraud and a sham: more about cinnamon buns, fund raising, totalitarian control, and pop music than Jesus.
John’s Gospel is all about this seeing into the heart of Reality. If I had to sum it up in a sentence (which I kind of need to do, as I have to cover half of John’s Gospel in bible study this morning) I would say John’s Gospel is about seeing that Jesus is Lord, God, Savior; One with the Father and the Spirit. But you cannot first see how things are and then believe. No. The paradox starts right here: in order to see how things are, first you must close your eyes, and believe Jesus. It is not, for Christianity, how it is for all the other philosophies, ideologies, religions of the world: you do not first, see, figure, analyze, calculate how things are and then form true beliefs and convictions. No! It’s the opposite, much more confounding(!) way around: you believe in order to see! You are grasped, enchanted, by the Word of Jesus and then believing Him, your eyes are opened to see how things really are in this world and the next.
The universal preference for seeing first, believing later is the reason so many are buffaloed by fake Christianities with needy, weak Jesuses who aren’t really God—by Christianities that are really just tools Imperial Forces use to control us for Caesar’s ends. It explains the popularity of Christianities that are all about the good works we have to do, the souls we have to save, the services we have to invent, the sacrifices we have to make for the greater good. And that’s all nonsense, really—though on the surface, all of these Pelagian and Arian heresies make perfect logical sense and present no paradoxes that enchant or mystify.
Athanasius and Augustine and Luther saw that when Jesus isn’t fully God as the Father is God then He can’t save all by Himself. You need to help Him. And if God needs your help, He needs your good works too. Faith alone won’t cut it (as the heretic James insists in his fake scripture contra the real Apostles—Paul and Peter, and the canonical Scriptures). And the reason these fake Christianities spring up is because powerful Imperial Forces see religion as a tool to control the masses (beginning with Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Constantine, Lincoln, et. al.). They require you to sacrifice and serve and do good works—ostensibly for God, ‘cause that’s the way Empires bend those works to serve Caesar’s goals not God’s (though, as C.S. Lewis well shows, especially in That Hideous Strength, the real power behind these thrones is the Devil). It’s why Athanasius and Luther were condemned, hounded, hunted, most all their lives by wicked Palpatine/Herod-type Emperors (Augustine wasn’t as well known by Emperors. He could hide on Tatooine, like Obi-Wan). Once God does it all, once He doesn’t need your help (not even to save the lost!) then you are free and no Empire can control you! And that, no Emperor of this world can ever tolerate!!!
But, until we believe this paradoxical and outlandish Gospel—that Jesus by His death and resurrection, through Gospel Word and Sacraments, by faith alone has done it all, has saved us fully and freely from sin, death, and the devil, forever—until we believe that without Our Savior there can be no Holy Cross, no Resurrection, and no Hope 🙂 we cannot see things as they really are. Until we believe without question, without demanding evidence, proof, logical sense—until we believe just because Jesus says so and we dig Him, we cannot see how things really are. But, being blind to Reality, we will be easy pawns for whatever Emperor has control in our time. We will be scared—of poverty, of unfriending, of death—and such fear is all the weapon the Emperor ever needs to enslave us.
Jesus says in chpt 8 of John “if you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the Truth and the Truth will make you free.” Only faith in the Word makes you free. You believe in order to see. Everyone else is a blind slave of sin, of whichever Emperor the devil’s propping up at the time…
Jesus says there will be a little while when we don’t see Him, and during that “little while” the world will rejoice and we will sorrow. But then we will see Him and our sorrow will turn to joy—joy no one can take from us. So: is Jesus with us or not with us, always? Well, this is one question that does not get a paradoxical Yes! Jesus is with us always, as He says in the last verse of Matthew’s Gospel!
And here’s where the believe in order to see becomes so important! The disciples did not see Jesus with their eyes during the 3 days He was in the tomb. The New Testament Church does not see Jesus by physical sight from the day He ascended in May of 30 A.D. until the unknown date of His Return. We see only by Faith! This does create some sorrow for us and joy for the world that hates the actual sight of Jesus. But when we believe without seeing, when we believe simply on the strength of His Word, the Story of Scriptures that utterly enchants, and on no other basis, then we see things as they are. Then, we see—by Faith! Jesus with us always—more wonderfully than when we see Him with mere earthly eyes…
This is the work and the gift of God the Holy Spirit. By Word and Sacrament, He points to Jesus so that with eyes of faith alone we see that He must be present even in the midst of our suffering, our sorrows, our magnificent defeats by the Empire. When we believe the outrageous but enchanting Word of Jesus, we see, even in the darkness—by faith alone.
“Believe, that you may see…” Jesus compares Christianity for us here to a woman in labor. It is sorrow, great pain, but at the Last—greater joy. Such blind faith knows that even when we don’t see Jesus, He sees us. And when we see Him at Last, all the sorrow will turn to much greater joy—joy which even now is peeking through, by His Word and Sacrament, as Peace, surpassing understanding, guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.