Joy in the Fray
1 Corinthians 15:12-25
April 5, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today is a day of joy. The lilies are out in full force. The tympani and brass are here. The voices of God people fill the sanctuary and threaten to shake the rafters with joyful singing. Today is a day of joy, and nothing will rob us of that joy. For today is the dayof resurrection. Earth, tell it out abroad. From death to life eternal, / from sin’s dominion free, / Our Christ has brought us over / with hymns of victory. And here’s the best part about the joy of resurrection: it’s not for today only. It’s for tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that, and each and every day we walk this side of heaven. Today may be Easter Sunday, but the joy of the resurrection is ours every day. And nothing can rob us of that joy.
Although, if I’m going to be completely honest with you, I have to admit that I’ve felt my joy has been under attack lately. Our theme for this past Lent was “Life in the Fray,” and I’ve been feeling the fray lately. Maybe you have too. I’ve been bombarded with summons to sadness. I’ve been frustrated and hurt and even angry. Some of it is due to the way our country and the people around me have been portraying Christ and his Word in the ongoing debates about religious freedom in our country. I’m not one who usually gets drawn into political debates or the accompanying social outrage, but this past week I haven’t been able to pull my eyes away. The current debate strikes me to the core, for it seems that everywhere I look the teachings of our Lord and of his church are being misrepresented in order to set them up as vicious straw men. It’s frustrating to sit by as our Lord and his Word is dragged through the mud by those who don’t care to understand it past a snide headline or picture they can forward on to their followers.
But it’s not really the present circumstances that have been trying to steal the joy from my life; it’s fear for the future. It’s the realization that if things continue down the path they are currently on, there will be a day in the not too distant future where I and every Christian pastor across this country will face the choice to either capitulate to the demands of a secular society or face jail time, crippling fines, or worse. Once all the Christian bakeries and pizzerias are out of business, the Church could be next. Christian pastors have already been subpoenaed in Texas to turn over their sermons as evidence of hate speech. It seems that we are at the dawn of a new witch hunt, of a new inquisition, and because I cling firmly to the unchanging truth of our Lord’s Word, I’m now a target. I honestly fear for my future as a Christian pastor, and for the future of all who publically confess the truth. I fear for your future as Christian men and women in a world that is no longer content to simply mock and deride Christians by lobbing insults from the cheap seats, but rather seems intent on stomping out the confession of the truth all together. That fear has been trying to steal my joy this week
But that’s not the only would be thief looking to snatch my joy. There’s the poor woman in Colorado whose unborn baby was ripped from her womb and left to die in a bathtub. And while I grieve for her loss, I’m frustrated and angered by the fact that the woman who did this to her will not face murder charges. It frustrates me that our society decided long ago that the unborn are not worthy to be considered people, that they can be aborted or killed with no consequence, as long as the mother herself is the one doing it. It saddens me that this recent tragedy is simply the next logical step in the progression, that if the unborn aren’t considered people when their own mothers want them dead, why would it be any different if a stranger takes their life? It saddens me that we live in a world so determined not to control its lust and greed that it would rather see innocent children murdered than reign in the passion of the flesh or put a career on hold. It is hard to be joyful in a world that so casually embraces death and turns a blind eye to the consequences of its actions. It’s hard to be joyful in a world that clamors and complains about the rights of one person who can’t get the cake they want while at the same time largely ignoring the brutal murder of the unborn. How can we be joyful in a world whose priorities are so distorted?
There’s also the things that strike closer to home that try to take our joy. There’s the onslaught of cancer and death that keeps popping up not in the nightly news, but in our own lives. We’ve had more than our fair share of it around here. Young children and parents of young children. Older men and women who had dedicated years of their life to this church and school. The banner of names we had last November for All Saints’ Day was as full as I’ve ever seen one. Death and the threat of death has spread its cloud over my family recently. I’m sure you’ve had to deal with it too. Family members. Close friends. Coworkers. There is not a single person alive today who has not been scarred by cancer, disease, or death in some way. And it gets tiring. Seeing the pain on people’s faces as they grieve, or feeling the hurt in our own hearts gets to be too much to handle. It tries to suck the joy out of our lives.
But that’s why today is so special. For today we are reminded that even amid the fray of life in this fallen creation, amid the daily battles and struggles of our existence, nothing can rob us of our joy, for Christ lives. And because Christ lives, we know the victory is won. Because Christ lives, we know paradise awaits us. Because Christ lives, and because we know that we too shall live in paradise, we know each and every day of our lives here and now is filled with meaning and purpose. Christ lives, so now we set out to live the lives he has given us to live, in the families he has given us, in the jobs he has given us, in the neighborhoods he has given us. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and our faith useless. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our lives have no meaning beyond the present hardships. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then Christians are the most pitiful people on earth. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then neither will we be raised from the dead. Then this life with its sorrow and heartache and bitterness and bickering will be all there is. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then the loved ones who have died in the faith and whom we look forward to seeing again are in fact truly gone for good. If Christ is not raised from the dead, then death has won. Then we are all just food for worms, circling the drain in this toilet bowl of life, waiting for our number to be called and our time to be up. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiful people on earth, for we would have placed our hopes in an empty dream. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then we have no hope, and we have no joy.
But Christ has been raised from the dead, and that changes everything! Christ lives! And He is but the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His resurrection was the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last. He’s the firstfruits, and we’re next. When this world tries to rob us of our joy, we rejoice that this world can’t touch our joy, for our joy is safe with Christ, as are we. Politics and media misrepresentations and slander and hatred and name-calling and mudslinging cannot take our joy, for Christ lives. A culture of death cannot take our joy, for Christ lives. A world marred by disease cannot take our joy, for Christ lives. Christ lives, which is why the people of God are now, and always have been, a people of joy. As our own President Harrison notes, joy is everywhere you look in the Scriptures. There’s joy in the Psalms, even the penitential ones. There’s joy in Moses and the Prophets and the wisdom of Solomon. There’s joy in the Gospels and on the lips of Jesus, and on the lips of those whose life he touched. There’s joy in Mary and Elizabeth and at the manger and at the empty tomb. There’s joy in life and joy in the midst of death. There’s joy in worship and joy in hardship and persecution and suffering. There’s even joy in God himself, for there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 self-righteous people who feel no need for repentance.
Our Lord is a Lord of joy. Our Lord is the one who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame. He endured it for you, to win you back from this melancholy world mired in misery and mourning. Redeeming you is what fills our Lord with joy, and he has done it. He has won. He lives! So now with Paul we rejoice at all times, even in the midst of suffering and persecution, for Christ lives. The victory has been won. Let the world rant and rave and rage all it wants. They are but the death throes of a conquered foe. They are the last frustrated outbursts of an enemy whose ship is sunk. The sufferings of this present darkness are not even worth comparing with the joy of the life to come. Yes, they still hurt; and yes, they still produce tears. But all the tears of this life added together are but a drop in the ocean of eternal joy that awaits us as the people of God. For Christ lives, and if Christ is for us, who can be against us? What shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice. Scatter the darkness, break the gloom; / Sun, reveal an empty tomb / Shining with joy for all our sorrows, / Hope and peace for all tomorrows, / Life uneclipsed by doubt and dread: / Christ has risen from the dead!
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
 “The Day of Resurrection” (LSB 478 st. 1)
 Harrison, A Little Book on Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World p. 2-3
 Hebrews 12:2
 Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16
 Romans 5:3
 Romans 8:18
 Romans 8:35-39
 Philippians 4:4
 “Scatter the Darkness, Break the Gloom” (LSB 481 st. 1)