Topic: Biblical Verse: John 16:23–33
Sixth Sunday of Easter[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
This is the feast of victory for our God!
Do you remember the last time you got to go to a victory celebration? Last June after the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, people took off work and school to go into D.C. to join the celebration as the team paraded through town. Occasions like that give you a chance to get together with teammates, family, friends, fans, and everyone else who wants to take some time to enjoy one another’s company and camaraderie, rallying around a big accomplishment. Did you defeat your archrival at end of your team’s season? Are you successfully graduating from school, or did you get a job promotion after years of hard work? Maybe you recently made it through a couple of years of Lutheran Confirmation. Congratulations! It’s good to celebrate a victory.
Victories come out of winning. There’s a lot of pressure in our culture – and in our region of the nation, in particular – to be a winner. Have you felt it at work, in school, in games, in sports? Have you put that pressure on someone else? There’s this perceived expectation that you must be better than the rest in order to succeed… and it’s largely true. You have to play the game better, work harder, be faster or smarter to be the winner. And then you must keep winning, keep overcoming challenge after challenge after challenge: the next season, the next grade, the next job, the next… whatever. Winning is the objective for most games and contests, because who really wants to lose?
You might rack up victory after victory, but can you ever win at life? What would that even look like? On one level, we Christians in America have experienced a pretty comfortable ride in our society for decades upon decades. That era seems over and done. Christianity no longer holds a “preferred” status in our culture. That’s not a bad thing, nor is it a new thing. Life isn’t going to be easy for our Lord’s disciples, because he sends them as his ambassadors. The world rejected him, so it will reject them, too – first century and 21st century, alike.
When following Jesus, hardships and suffering shouldn’t come as a surprise; you’re going against the flow. As Christians, we believe that Jesus would know what he’s talking about when he says, “In the world you will have tribulation.” The tribulation – the pressure – that the world throws at you will come. Jesus has told us it’ll be that way. Life in Christ isn’t usually going to look like winning in the world’s eyes, because you’re not going to be playing by their rules. Life in Christ presents an alternative to the way of the world and a redefinition of winning: loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
As people who are at odds with way the game of life is usually played in this world broken by sin, you and I need to be on guard against overconfidence in our own strength. No matter how good you are, you won’t win life on your own merits. In today’s Gospel flashback to Maundy Thursday, the disciples think they’ve finally got Jesus figured out. They don’t. They thought that Jesus was going to win big as the divinely appointed leader for God’s people. Even after three years following him, they had no idea what was about to happen over the next three days. You and I have the benefit of being on this side of Easter. Even so, we mustn’t be lulled into thinking that we know it all or have life figured out.
Listen to Jesus: you aren’t in it alone. “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” You are “in that day.” That day is now. You don’t have to face the world alone, because you are in Christ. You get to ask what you need from the Father Himself in Jesus’ name. You have direct access! Trust Jesus’ promise that the Father loves you. His peace is with you.
Thinking back to the Washington Capital’s Stanley Cup victory last year: how many of us here in the D.C. area had anything to do with their success? We might have cheered them on along the way, maybe helped pay their salaries by buying tickets to game or merchandise to take home with us, but most of us didn’t really do much else to make their victory happen. You and I had even less to do with Jesus’ victory over sin and death – as in, nothing at all! Jesus is the “solo” victor on your behalf. Still, he invites you to join in his celebration.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The word that Jesus uses for “overcome” springs from the same root word as the Greek word for “victory” (νίκη – or “Nike” for us Americans). Jesus has won the victory over this world wrecked by sin. He is the champion. And because he has won, the victory is yours, too. We are the champions, my friend. Where’s our confidence? Jesus!
Take heart. Be strong and courageous! Jesus’ victory stands above the hardships and pressures that the world throws at you. Remember: Jesus is saying this to his disciples on Maundy Thursday, before the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday. He has overcome the world by living the perfect life before God that you and I haven’t. And he did it for you. The resurrection that we celebrate in this season of Easter was the confirmation of Jesus’ victory. The hope that you have in faith isn’t merely for making it through the world and getting to your resurrection in Christ. It’s for living, as a disciple and as an ambassador.
In John’s vision of the new Jerusalem, we see the city of God, the new Jerusalem coming into the world. This is the one holy Church, the bride of Christ of which you and I have been made members by God’s grace. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:23) Jesus is our light now in the Church as we follow him, and into the age to come. His light shines through you as his people. You are subsumed into Christ, who is the glory of God and the light for the nations. As John tells us, the gates of the city are never shut – they don’t need to be, because Jesus has won the victory. The gates remain open because the welcome never ends. And you and I get to carry that welcome out into the world as Christ’s ambassadors, as Paul and Luke did at Philippi. (Fun fact: Lydia, the woman who heard the good news about Jesus’ victory from them, is the first European convert to Christianity recorded in Scripture.)
As our nation celebrates Memorial Day this weekend, remembering and giving thanks for those who laid down their lives in the service of freedom, we are also observing Armed Forces Sunday with other LCMS congregations. Those who serve give of themselves so that we all might continue to enjoy the rights and privileges we know in these United States. Through them, God guards our freedom to gather and worship Him openly, to speak out against the injustices of this world, and to share the faith that brings us together today. Let us entrust those who serve to our Lord’s gracious care, knowing that he has won the greatest of victories for them and for us.
Jesus’ victory is yours. As God gathers us together today, we get to celebrate his victory with a banquet. He’s prepared the table for us in Holy Communion. The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, and he welcomes you to come in from the world of tribulation that you might share in his peace. Take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world.
This is the feast of victory for our God. Come, join in the celebration!
[i] Passage for memory:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33