Pastor Mark Maas is a familiar face here at Trinity Lutheran School. Throughout the 2018-2019 school year he has preached to the TLS schoolchildren at chapel every week (as have Pastors Marcus Baikie and Joshua Scheer of Our Savior Cheyenne and Pastor Lincoln Winter of Trinity Wheatland), during which time he has also taught Theology to our upper school students. But Pastor Maas’s familiarity goes back much further than just this year: he served as Trinity’s interim day-school principal from 2003 to 2006. As head of school, Pastor Maas guided TLS through the implementation of a classical educational model, saw us through some challenging years of renewal and growth, and in general helped us to “stay the course.” All in all, you might say that Pastor Maas has a sort of grandfatherly standing here. In fact he undeniably does, both literally and figuratively— his grandson is one of our students!
Pastor Maas preached the following sermon at Trinity Lutheran Church on Jubilate Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Easter). In it he touched on several wonderful themes, themes which are especially apropos as we come to the end of another school year, anticipate the arrival of a new pastor, and thank God for the unmerited blessings He has bestowed upon us, even His Son Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Jubilate, the Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 12, A+D 2019
Christ is risen, Alleluia! He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!
The Word of the Lord from John 16[:21-22]:
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Today as you know is also Mother’s Day, and while normally I wouldn’t bring it up in a sermon, with the text just read there is good reason to do so. It is good for us to consider the truth that motherhood is one of the most important vocations in the world. Motherhood is how the Lord brings life into the world. God could have kept creating people out of dust and ribs if He wanted to, but He opted for nine months of development in utero. This means that moms have a nine-month jump start on parenting that we dads do not. They have to adjust schedules, abstain from certain medications and alcoholic beverages, and in general watch their diets. There are risks like morning sickness, diabetes, and other complications. There’s the sacrifice of one’s figure as the weight gains and the baby grows. This explains a lot about maternal instincts and a mother’s love for her children: she’s been sacrificing for them for forty weeks before they’re even born.
Because motherhood is such a holy calling, it’s therefore no surprise that it’s also one of the most underappreciated by the world. Among some fringe subcultures in America, parents are contemptuously called “breeders,” a lower class of humans who produce more children to keep the human race going so that others can just have their fun. That’s the extreme, but in mainstream thought a stay-at-home mom is still considered less successful, is less valued than a woman who forgoes motherhood for a career outside the home. For fashionistas, stretch marks are a cosmetic horror! Theologically, perhaps they ought to be a badge of honor signifying that the Lord has appointed that woman as one to bring more life into the world.
All of that is something to keep in mind, since Mother’s Day is today. I speak of it because Jesus speaks of it in our text. The scene is the Last Supper: His death is imminent, and He is teaching His disciples one last time before He is crucified. As the text begins, Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, whom He’s already been discussing in John 16. He says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” They’re already anxious and sorrowful. Jesus has already told them that He’s going away—alarming enough—and (worse still!) that one of them is going to betray Him. He’s told them that they will face persecution, too. Things are about to change. The disciples are on edge. Even though He has more to tell them, they can’t bear any more right now.
The Lord uses this giving-birth analogy to point out to the disciples the truth of what lies ahead for them: “You will sorrow, but I will see you again.” The disciples would indeed have their “little while” of distress and disappointment, for after this discussion the Lord would be arrested, convicted, crucified, die and be buried. For three days they do not see Him. They are in the upper room, locked-in out of fear. This is their “little while” experience. But then—joy of joys—He is risen! He is before him. They see Him and rejoice.
But their “little while” is still not done: Jesus ascends into heaven. Once again, they do not see Him. They have their “little while” of sorrow, of weeping and lamenting. As they speak the message of Christ, proclaiming salvation through Him, they are again in their “little while” of the world rejoicing while they hurt and struggle in their work, as Jesus is gone, as the world doesn’t just rush to them desiring this message. But then their sorrow will turn to joy—a joy that comes upon them and will never be taken away from them in the heavenly kingdom, where the Lord will see them again.
Dear believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, that same analogy of the mother giving birth, her anguish and then her joy, is as true for you as it was for the disciples. You are at this moment in the Time of the Church, specifically the time of the Church Militant. You are in the time of weeping and lamenting and sorrowing. You see it. You experience it. You look at the world in which you live and wonder, “How bad is it going to get?” You see the attacks on marriage and family and on life itself, and you wonder, “What is going on in this world? Where are people’s heads and hearts?” You see this vibrant culture of death in all its forms, and you worry not just for yourself but especially for your children and grandchildren. What kind of world will they grow up in? The march into darkness—deep darkness—is not slowing. How long will it go on? How long will the Lord permit it to go on? How will my children and grandchildren deal with what is going on?
Which—a brief aside here—is why what you have going on at your school is so very vital, so necessary, that these children can be trained and taught in a Christian environment, receiving a superior education from a Christian perspective. That cannot be lost and is something for which sacrifices to maintain it need to be made. How precious Trinity Lutheran School truly is!
The concern for the family doesn’t cease as the darkness pervades and you sorrow over the steps it takes. And that sorrowing and lamenting doesn’t cease there, for you know how little the Word of God is accepted, how little the authentic practice of the Christian faith is tolerated. As you would stand for the teachings of Scripture, as you would speak the word of God to various societal practices, as you would address contemporary issues, the world will not applaud you; rather, they will rejoice at your humiliation, rejoice at your being brought down, calling you names and threatening your existence. The apostles experienced it, and the times are here and increasing where the same will be true for you. It is easy, then, to ask “why” in the midst of the struggles, saying, “If God were as powerful as He claims, why am I struggling? If God loves me as He claims, why am I in this period of lamenting? He should release me from these burdens. If God is just and I stand up for Him, then why am I the one suffering? He could change it, and He hasn’t. Maybe He isn’t the God I thought He was. I should look for another.”
Dear believer, in the midst of such thoughts and experiences, you recall the Word of God, you recall these words. This is your “little while” of not seeing visibly the Lord. Believer, this “little while” will not overcome you as you look outside yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ. You entrust your family, your children, and your grandchildren to the care of this Lord. For while you don’t visibly see Him, you know where you encounter Him: in His Word and in His sacraments. For He is yet present with you. As you endure the struggles that come upon you, you recall His Word where He tells you through the prophet Isaiah, “He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might He increases strength.” You are reminded in this Word of God, that in the midst of all that you experience from this world which has turned from God, you can rejoice for “you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” As Paul proclaimed: “The God of all grace…after you have suffered a little while will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” You see the Lord Jesus uses the experiences of your life to keep you faithful, to keep you looking upon Him in the midst of these stresses. While indeed they are stressors, the only answer to them is this Lord Jesus Christ. It is this Lord Jesus Christ who has told you that He has overcome the world. As Jesus has overcome it, so, too, then shall you. You have nothing to fear!
Yes, the world will mount up against you, the believer; the society will seek your downfall and rejoice when it occurs; the devil will dance as the Word of God is suppressed. But you have the promises of God, and the presence of God with you. For while there is this time when you do not physically see the Lord, that does not mean that He is not present here with you. Just as with the woman who is pregnant, the child is unseen to the eye, not physically before the mother. Yet, the mother knows the child is there: there are these changes happening that reveal it. So it is with your Lord Jesus Christ. He is present also. While you are in this life, He comes to you through the means of His Word and Sacraments. Changes take place. Heart and mind are touched. Scripture is opened and revealed. You the believer change under God’s mighty hand. That is why you count it all joy when various trials come upon you, as James testifies: you count it all joy not because you are having the trials, not because you are a masochist and take delight in the struggles. Rather, it is because you have the honor of suffering for the Christ who suffered for you. You have the honor of wearing His name and revealing Jesus to the world around you through these struggles. You have the understanding that through these struggles and difficulties the Lord Jesus is seeking to keep you faithful, as these struggles continue to move you to call upon the Lord and seek refuge in Him. As the Scriptures declare, “The Lord is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” These struggles turn you to the Lord as you see the need for Him to bring you through them. For while this is a “little while,” it is the “little while” you know and in which you live. It is the “little while” of your present life and the lives of your loved ones. This is why the promise is yours that the Lord is with you always. Through the Lord Jesus you will be the one who overcomes the world as well.
For it is the Lord who desires to see you. The struggle is that in the midst of what you face it becomes “the all”— all you can see, all you can handle, all that there is. But it is none of those! For with the Lord you can endure all things through Him who strengthens you. It is he who told Paul—and also you—“My strength is made perfect in weakness.” No, this remains the “little while” through which you must endure. You will do so because of who your God is! You do so because you know this is not all that awaits you. This is a little while because of how these years compare to eternity. You know there will be the day when you will be seen in the presence of God, and Jesus will see you before Him in the heavenly home! He will see you without sin, stain, or blemish for an eternity, for even those times when you gave in to the struggles for the moment, they by the grace of your Lord through faith have been forgiven you. You will be there in that eternal home with all who have gone before you in the faith, and you will be free from worry, stress, strife, and struggle. It will be a joyous time, a timeless joy that will not be taken from you. It will be the occasion at which the suffering gave birth to joy eternal. It is yours, believer, from your Lord Jesus Christ, who has promised it to you, for Christ is risen, Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.