Out of This World
To say something or someone is not of this world is usually a bad thing. It has the connotation of space alien, foreign life form, extraterrestrial. But there is a sense in which being out of this world can be good. I think of that Don McLean song about Vincent Van Gogh "Starry, Starry Night" and the line, "This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you." Or more fittingly for us Christians, I think of Hebrews 11 which speaks of believers being tortured, stoned, sawn in two, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, and then says, "Of whom this world was not worthy."
It's good that it's not bad to be out of this world because we're no more from this world than Jesus is. Jesus says this twice in the text. "They are not of the world any more than I am of the world." And then, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." Does this world look strange to you sometimes? You feel out of place here sometimes? You feel like a space case, an alien from another planet? No wonder; you're not from this world any more than Jesus is or ever was. But how did it come about that you and I who really are from the world originally should feel so out of place here?
As with everything in the life of the Christian, it goes back to Christ. Jesus is from heaven. That's His native land. He's from that place where all is good, right, and holy. There is no disease, no death, no suffering, no problems. From all eternity, before time, before the world was created, God the Son was in this perfect place. So why did He ever enter the world?
That's the story of Christmas. Jesus entered the world to bring His brothers and sisters out of the world. The world had been created perfect, holy, a paradise, but the devil slithered into it and ruined it completely, thoroughly. Rather than just scrap it and start all over, God willed to redeem His fallen creation and rescue His Children by sending His Son.
Now we're to the Good Friday story. Satan held us captive behind the bars of God's own Law. God had said His laws must be kept perfectly for a person to go to heaven and that every single broken law had to be paid for before a person could go there. Well, what could we do about that? We couldn't keep the Law at all, so the broken laws that we needed to pay for kept piling up at our feet. God the Son, Jesus, did keep all the laws of God perfectly, and went to the cross to suffer the hellish punishment the law required for all those broken laws.
Now we're to the Easter story. God the Son clothed in our flesh and blood had overcome sin and the devil by keeping the Law and by paying for our not keeping it. The only reason He died was to satisfy the Law. Once the Law had been satisfied death had to spit Him out because not even death can swallow divinity. Since our flesh and blood are attached to His divinity, we went where He did. Death spit Him out of the grave, so we rose with Him. God the Son reascended to His native heaven, so we went with Him. The Church, the Body of Christ, must go where Her Head goes.
The reality for the Church right now is as Colossians 3:3 says, "Your life has been forever hidden together with Christ in God." This is why the world looks so strange to you. Your life is no longer here but hidden with Christ in God. Think of that famous barroom scene from the original "Star Wars" movie. Do you remember all the different creatures, life forms, aliens in that bar? There is young Luke Skywalker walking among them bumping into creatures each stranger than the next. This is you and I in this fallen world. Having been redeemed out of it, it's very, very strange to us. And we are strange to it too. I Peter 4 speaks of those around the Christian pursuing sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries, and says those who do such things "think it strange that you do not run with them into the same excess."
We are from a totally different country, different land, a different world than they are. That's why the customs, the practices, the ways of this life are so strange to us, but the evil one is engaged in a constant effort to drag us back to this world. That's why our Lord Jesus Christ asks His Father to protect us from the evil one. Jesus prays exactly what He taught us to pray in the Lord's Prayer. The petition that says, "Deliver us from evil," can rightly be translated, "Deliver us from the evil one."
The evil one wants us to drag us back into this world, make us feel at home here, to stop our incessant resistance against the ways and things of this world. One of His prime weapons is "fleshy lusts." I Peter, calls upon newly confirmed Christians who are now "aliens and strangers" in the world to abstain from "fleshy lusts which wage war against the soul." Don't only think of sexual sins here. Think of what St. John says in his first letter. He warns against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life and says all to of these are not from the Father but from the world.
"Come back, come back," cries the world as it uses the same temptations that the evil one used in Eden. It uses the lust of the flesh in that it beckons us with something that feels so good, so right, so holy, even though it is wrong and alien to Christians. It uses the lust of the eyes in that what it puts before us is a delight to the eyes. Neither the devil nor the world tempts with the obviously ugly but with the O so beautiful. Adulterous affairs are beautiful to the people caught up in them. Sin never looks like the mutants from the "Star War" bar but like God, Mom, and Apple Pie.
And lastly the world uses the boastful pride of life. It proclaims to us what the evil one did to Eve, "You won't die but live and be as God." Satan leads us back to the damned world we've escaped by saying, "You won't die by rebelling against God, but only by turning away from the world." And our sinful flesh, like a wounded animal, fights and thrashes, bites and claws because it's true: the flesh will die unless it gets back to the world. The more we don't give in the more it thrashes.
Fleshly lusts that war against the soul is Satan's frontal assault on those rescued out of this world by the blood, sweat and tears of Christ, but he has a flanking move, a surprise attack that catches many. He doesn't come at us with the lusts of this world, but the education, the wisdom, the philosophy, the elementary principles of this world rather than those of Christ. Paul warns about this attack in Colossians 2:8. Later in verse 21 Paul says, "Why as if living in the world do you submit yourself to its decrees: don't handle, don't taste, don't touch."
Dear friends the world says if you don't think what it does, assume what it does, follow it's conventional wisdom, it's accepted logic and ways, then you cannot have life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Friends, when the teen feels weird and out of place because he or she doesn't dress exactly like all the other kids, the poor child is a victim of the devil's lie that whatever the world accepts is right and everything else is wrong.
You can probably see that, but can you see all the ways the devil politely, scientifically, technically, and politically correctly tries to bring us back to this world? Don't handle, don't taste, don't touch the world says about lots of things. Don't touch that paddle; you'll harm your kids. Don't taste that fat; you'll surely die; don't handle that tobacco, that alcohol, or that movie theater popcorn or you'll die. The world acts as if it can do exactly what Jesus specifically says no one can do, add time to a person's life span.
What am I saying? Eat sugar if you're a diabetic; chain smoke all day, drink beer like water, and eat butter by the stick? No, I'm saying beware of being enslaved by the world. It operates, thinks, and assumes totally different things than those of us in Christ do. The world only rewards those who live according to it's laws. You can only feel good about yourself if you keep it's ten commandments of good health, personal relationships, and successful living (principles and commandments that change every few years by the way). Christ on the other hand says He wants us to have the full measure of His joy within us whether we're in a nursing home, confined to home, in the hospital, or on the beech. In other words, Jesus wants us to remain free not only of the lusts of the world but of the laws of the world too. And how does He do this?
Jesus does this by means of His Word. Jesus prays to His Father saying, "Sanctify them by the truth;" and then says, "Your Word is truth." First that word "sanctify." It literally means to set apart for a holy use. Christ asks the Father to set us apart by the truth which is none other than His Word. Notice Jesus doesn't say that our actions are going to set us apart; He doesn't say that our words are going to set us apart; He doesn't say what we think will set us apart. This is good news since my actions, words, and thoughts are sinful, fallen, unholy. Jesus says the truth, which He identifies as God's Word will sanctify us, that is, will set us apart.
Notice that we are totally passive in this. The last verse of our text translates literally, "And in place of them I did set aside Myself, in order that they might be also having been and forever set aside in the truth." The world working in tandem with the evil one calls us to be verbs, to do this, don't do that, while God the Son in tandem with God the Father calls us to be nouns. Christ is our verb. He is the One who set Himself aside; we are the ones who have been set aside. Christ does: He keeps the law; He suffers, bleeds, and dies. We are given forgiveness, life and salvation.
Another way to say this is the Word made flesh, Christ Jesus, does the saving and through the Word He sets sinners like us aside for salvation, for life out of this world. By His Word of Baptism, Christ Jesus seals us for all time and eternity marking us as one who doesn't dwell on this earth but as one who belonging to the Lord of the skies. By His Word of Absolution, Christ labels us as one to whom heaven must open and hell must be locked. This Word of forgiveness sets us apart as one whom the blood of Christ has hidden the sins of. And By His Words of Institution, Christ tells us we have reservations not only to eat and drink with Him but to eat and drink Him. Here we have a banquet in which angels, archangels and all the company of heaven comes to earth.
This fallen, sin plagued world was never meant for those whom Christ has made beautiful by forgiving their sins. Being redeemed and sanctified by Christ, this world is not worthy of us though it continually tries to make us feel we're not worthy of it. However, Christ by means of His Word both the preached Word and the Sacramental Word continually testifies to us that we belong to Him; we've been rescued out of this doomed world for a new heaven and a new world without end. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VII (6-1-03), John 17: 11b-19