Dear Christians, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Life is full of “little whiles.” A little while ago, you called me to serve as your pastor, nearly 4 years ago now. That little while ago we came and had one child, a 6 month old. A little while ago Becky and I were newly married, coming upon 6 years. A little while ago, I graduated college (8 years) and high school (12 years). A little while ago I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church and began receiving Christ’s gifts in the Lord’s Supper, 16 years ago. As my mom celebrates her birthday today, I’m sure she thinks of it just a little while ago that she became a mother. I’m sure you can think of your own similar “little whiles.” For some, your little whiles may be at the time when I was born or even before. Days, months, years, and even decades go by and it’s only been a little while.
I recall Tom mentioning before a service not to long ago as we were preparing and talking with the acolyte and there was mention of how long a month away seems. He mentioned something in regards to perspective of time: for a 4 year old, such as my son, 1 year is 1/4th of all known time; for myself now it is 1/30th of known time; for Tom, I won’t mention it, but it is a much smaller fraction still. In such light, “a little while” has perspective meaning. As we draw near the end of this Lenten season and towards Christ’s Passion, it is good to reflect on life’s “little while’s.”
Several times Jesus states, “a little while.” A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me. So some of His disciples…were saying, “What does he mean by a little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” Jesus responded, Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
You see, the disciples were living real life Holy Week. Just as we are being prepared this Lenten season to receive the gifts Christ gives in His cross and passion, so to were the disciples being still prepared. The occasion for this little talk is in the midst of Maundy Thursday. In a little while they will be out in the garden, in a little while He would be on trial and brutally suspended from the cross for you. And for a little while no one would see Him as He rest in the tomb. In a little while Jesus would go the cross for which He became man, to take away the sin of the world. In a little while is not defeat in death but death given in glory. For it is in His death the sin is atoned for, that death is robbed of its power, and Satan as judged as the liar that He is. As He already told them, we are not left as orphans.
You see dear Christians, there is more. In a little while you will see Him again, in glorious resurrection. In a little while we will celebrate what was 40 days after Easter, as Jesus departs to the Father in the ascension. In a little while He will send the promised Holy Spirit in the day of Pentecost. All these little whiles. And so the “little while” of our text is also the whole span of time in which the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ Jesus and bestows His gifts. The “little while” of our text is these last days until our Lord’s Second Coming. It is the entire length of your earthly life until you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. During this time Jesus said, the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful.
“He will not speak on his own authority…He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” “Here Christ makes the Holy Spirit a Preacher. He does so to prevent one from gaping toward heaven in search of Him, as the fluttering spirits and enthusiasts do, and from divorcing Him from the oral Word of the ministry. One should know and learn that He will be in and with the Word, and that it will guide us into all truth, in order that we may believe it, use it as a weapon, be preserved by it against all the lies and deceptions of the devil, and prevail in all trials and temptations….The Holy Spirit wants this truth which He is to impress into our hearts to be so firmly fixed that reason and all one’s own thoughts and feelings are relegated to the background. He wants us to adhere solely to the Word and to regard it as the only truth. And through this Word alone He governs the Christian Church to the end” (AE 24:362)
This the Heavenly wisdom He comes to impart, as we sung in stanza 9. The comfort He brings is the comfort of what Christ has done. The Spirit comes and takes what belongs to Christ and declares it to you. He brings you Christ that His Word and gifts given in the Sacraments remain with Christ’s Church. The Spirit comes to proclaim through the Church what Jesus on earth has done and taught, that it may be our life and our teaching.
So watch lest foes with base alloy, the heavenly treasure should destroy. Alloy, a word we don’t use too often, except maybe those metal workers around. It means a mixture of a less costly metal with a more valuable one. It also means in philosophy a mixture of good and evil. Watch lest there those against the Gospel that come with things that sound close but not quite the Gospel. Things that sound spiritual but are not religious. False gospels that place an emphasis on our human actions and upon our doing. A false gospel that trusts in our feelings and emotions, which are truly roller coasters. A false gospel that takes words of the Scriptures and seek to make the church something other than the place where the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed through the gifts of Christ. This is why we are given the Holy Spirit, to continue to bring us back to Christ and His gifts.
There is a temptation to measure the Church and our lives not by the Word of God but by our wants and desires. The world takes joy in the little while of today’s pleasures or the little while of tomorrow’s promised earthly dreams proclaiming, “we will do such great things! We will be so happy! This will be so much fun!” Yet our Lord would tell us that while we have many little whiles of rest and joy, many little whiles of accomplishment and celebration, and these are certainly great things, there are still pains and struggles sufficient for today. All through our time in this world, there are “little whiles” of stress and sadness. There are “little whiles” of loss or lingering pain that can go on for years; that can reappear in a manner that seems like an “unending while”. Whether married or single, whether young or old, we all experience such “little whiles” and we will continue to do so. The Church weeps over her sins and over the world’s decay and for the miseries of her neighbors in a fallen world – or at least she should. You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.
“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.” How can we understand the weight and the reach of His words? Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Amid all the hollow promises of this world – Jesus issues one that is pregnant with steadfastness and faithfulness. Amid all the “little whiles” of this passing world – Jesus promises forgiveness of sins, an “eternal while” in which the source of our joy is joined to us.
All this flows from what is to come in a little while. It is what the next two weeks bring as we celebrate and recall His cross and passion beginning this Sunday. It was just a little while before speaking these words that He was baptized and called His disciples, 3 years previously. It was just a little while that which we celebrate this week occurred and He processed in on Palm Sunday to shouts of Hosanna. It will be just a little while, next week, that we celebrate and recall the Lord’s Passion on Maundy Thursday, the night of our reading, followed by His death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter.
Dear Christians, are you desiring for something other than the gifts of Christ in a little while? Do you think that God is not listening or present in your life? Do you think that God has not done enough, not provided enough value, enough entertainment, or made things to complicated? Is there daily reason for joy in your “little while” or do you just keep on keeping on bearing struggles that seem so great as to choke out any reason for joy?
Christ had his little while and it was for you. The disciples had their little while in awaiting to receive the cross and its fruits and in that little while they suffered. While Pilate may not crucify you, the crowds will turn against you and the devil will hound you to make life a living hell. So we await Holy Week. Where the little whiles come to their completion, in Christ’s cross and passion the sea of sin and suffering in which we live are no more and of our sin and death Christ declares it is finished.
In this little while, may God grant us thankfulness to receive His gifts with joy, that in the midst of trials and struggles of this world that our hearts may be ever fixed on Him where true joy is found. Jesus says “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.” The hymn and this Lenten Season then draws to a close where it began: “Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, with exultation springing, and with united heart and voice and holy rapture singing, proclaim the wonders God has done, how His right arm the victory won. What price our ransom cost Him! Amen.