THE 6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER AD 2020
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.  Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities"—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.  And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean."  Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,  for
" 'In him we live and move and have our being';
as even some of your own poets have said,
" 'For we are indeed his offspring.'
 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
1 Peter 3:13-22
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;  yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,  in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,  because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
I will not leave you as orphans. That’s a good word for us in these trying days, isn’t it beloved? Orphaned. Yes, we could feel a little like that, as we are asked to live our lives cut off from so many that we love. I simply can’t tell you how much it has broken my heart, not to be able to hug some of you, when you have so desperately needed it, or be there for you in the flesh in the ways that I have been called to be there for you with Christ’s Word and gifts.
Orphaned. Yes, we could feel a little like that, as the little while of the first two weeks of having to separate ourselves from others has dragged on into months. Some are saying that we should call what we’re doing “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” because they want us to focus on being socially connected, even while we physically stay apart. But using the term “social distancing” calls a spade a spade, because you simply can’t physically distance yourself from others without socially distancing from them as well.
Yes, we have all these wonderful new gadgets, that let you see people from a “safe” distance but seeing your kids or grandkids, or for that matter your pastor, on a video screen is not the same as being with them in the flesh, no it’s not. It’s not the up close intimate life that God created us for in the beginning. No, believe it or not, there were no video screens, no tablets, computers or as beyond belief as it may be, smartphones, in Eden. No, there was only up close personal contact and in the flesh speaking, complete with horror of horrors, those nasty respiratory droplets.
Orphaned. Yes, we could feel a little like that in these days, in the loneliness and helplessness, that comes from being physically distanced from the whole world, including those nearest and dearest to us. Yes, it is socially distancing when you have to keep loved ones at least 2 meters away, but it also is, when strangers visibly avoid you in public, as though you have the plague, which is how we’re being advised to treat each other. As it is socially distancing when you, in turn, do your duty and give others a wider berth at the grocery store, or even when passing them on the street.
I will not leave you as orphans. Yes, that’s as good a word for us now, as it was a good word for the disciples, when Jesus spoke it to them on the night when He was betrayed. He spoke it to them then, because He knew that we would need to hear it now. Indeed, beloved, we need to understand this about the Word of God, while it is spoken in a real moment in time for a specific situation, the Lord knows the whole unfolding of history and speaks that word in that moment with all of that unfolding history in mind. What Jesus says on that night was for the disciples in that moment, but what He says is a Word that will speak to many, from that moment into eternity.
And so yes, the Lord told the twelve, “I will not leave you as orphans” because He was about to be taken from them to be crucified, but He also said it for us, His scattered Church in 2020 as we go through these trying days of the Covid 19 pandemic and what it has done to us and our world. “I will not leave you as orphans,” the Lord Jesus says in this moment and time to each and every one of you. I want you to know that in this dark hour, when your life together with Me has been taken away from you, as you can’t gather as one to be one with Me. I want you to know that, when the pastor, that I have sent to you to be with you in my stead, is cut off from you in so many ways. No, despite all that you may feel and see, I have not left you as orphans.
The Spirit of truth, that I sent to be with you forever in the waters of your baptism, speaks out to you in this word today to help you to hold on to the truth that I am indeed with you. No, nothing can take you from me or take me from you. I have bound your life to mine as completely and surely as I am bound to the Father. You and I could only be torn apart if the very being of the eternal Trinity could be torn apart - which it can’t. My life with you is as sure and certain as God Himself. Your life with me is as eternal as I am.
Your sin cannot separate you from me, because I took it all into me, when I joined my life to yours, so that I could swallow it all up with my righteousness. Death cannot separate you from me, because I took your death into myself to devour it up with my life. Hell cannot separate you from me, because I overcame its power over you when I made my victory on the cross your very own. And so no, Covid 19 cannot separate you from me, not even when you can’t join me with your brothers and sisters to lift up the cup of salvation and call on my name at my altar.
This is the truth that the Holy Spirit sets before your hearts and minds today, beloved, as He is at work in you as the Helper, that Jesus asked the Father to send to you, to help you grab hold of it and hold on to it. He sets this truth against the lies of your own flesh, the world and the devil. All three want you to question that Word, to doubt that Word and live as though it were a lie. They want you to believe that your sins cut you off from God. They want you to feel like death can steal life away from you. They want you live as though hell still has a claim on you.
No, no, no! The Spirit proclaims though today, in the midst of the darkness of these trying days. “Look to Christ alone,” He says, “Hear what He says to you this day. No, He is not and never will be distanced from you, socially or physically. Not by your sins. Not by death. Not by hell. And no, not by Covid 19 either! You are in Him and He is in You. He left to go to die on the cross, but He came back to be with us always. He has not and never will leave you as an orphan. He has risen to be with you always, even unto the end of the age. As He lives so shall you live with Him forever. And yes, that includes yesterday, today and tomorrow.
A little while, yes, we are in one of those “little whiles,” beloved, when we can’t share in the fullness of our life together with each other and Christ in the flesh, respiratory droplets and all, but it is only a little while, even if it has stretched from weeks into months, because even months are only “a little while” in the endless sea of eternity. And that is what lies ahead for us, beloved, an endless eternity with Christ and each other. As little as it may be, however, our dear Lord knows how hard it can be for us and so He says to us again this day, “I will not leave you as orphans. Take heart my little ones, behold me in my Word, and know and hold on to the truth that I am with you, now and forever. Amen.”