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Sermon "What Does the Lord Require of You?"
Blessed be the Name of the Lord Most High, who has himself provided all we need, by his grace and for his glory. Amen.
How has the Lord wearied you? This is the question our God asks through the prophet Micah. Why do we so despise our Lord? Why, when the Lord our God grants us all his blessings through Jesus Christ, do we pursue our own way, our own wisdom, our own ideas of what might be righteous? The fact is, every last one of us acts as if we don't like God very much. We don't seem to value what he has said to us. We don't seem to think he really has authority. We might not think he's very smart. We may even look at the world and think that God isn't very good. Maybe we're angry with God, even though most of us wouldn't want to admit it. So our Lord asks how he has worn us out. What has he done to incur our wrath? He's delivered his people out of the land of bondage. In Christ he has delivered us from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life. He has taken all our sin and shame upon himself. How is this offensive to us?
Am I being too harsh? Maybe you think I must have forgotten who's sitting there in the pews. After all, I've had the opportunity to watch you. I know that as a whole you are faithful members of this congregation. You value God's Word. You believe in Jesus. Most of the time you aren't ashamed to confess that before the world. When push comes to shove, you are ready to live for Jesus no matter the cost. I'm aware of that. No doubt about it.
So what am I talking about? Let me give you a brief anecdote. I've engaged in a little bit of Christian counseling for years. Usually it isn't for too many people, but it isn't uncommon for people to come to me for counsel. Here's one of the situations that has come up time and time again. It won't betray any confidential situation because it is so common. Here's how it works.
A person comes to me with a problem. Something is causing strife. It may be a substance abuse problem, unemployment, hostility within the family, a medical issue, you name it. The presenting issue doesn't actually matter to the illustration. We start getting together to look at what God's Word says about living and dealing with the situation. And God's Word is not at all silent about suffering, temptation, or communication. We find the Scripture rich with help and encouragement. I spend a lot of time asking questions and listening at first. We look at some Scriptures together. I usually assign some sort of passage to memorize and maybe some sort of activity assignment as homework. We pray and continue meeting, praying, studying, and hearing how the situation is developing. We strive to bring Christ and his answers into the troubling situation.
About the third or fourth session, the person who has been coming to me often tells me something. If it's a female, she leans forward and her eyes get big. If it's a male, he usually leans back and mumbles. Know what comes out? "This just makes me feel terrible. But I've got to admit it. Sometimes . . . sometimes I'm angry with God. And I know that's just awful. I don't know what to do."
Now don't worry. I don't leave the counselee there. It's such a hard thing to admit. But the fact is, I've heard it enough times from enough people that I've come to the conclusion that this is one of the more common sins we commit. And we read here in Micah that even God thinks it is a real problem. And yes, it is bad. It's essentially saying that our Lord is not who he has said he is. It's making God a liar. It's denying our Lord.
Know what? God doesn't beat us up about it. He sees it is real. He sees it is sin. He confronts us with that sin. And then he suggests some of the solutions we might have come up with. We might want to make more offerings. We might want to reform ourselves and live a perfectly holy life before him to atone for our sin. We might want to change our mind and actually trust God for a change. We might want to sell all we have and give to the poor so that we will earn his forgiveness. But, as our Lord says here in Micah six, all that we can do will not accomplish anything.
Here's the good news. We don't earn that forgiveness. We have sinned against our Lord. We don't trust him. We are angry at him. And since we wouldn't really go to the effort God would require to earn our forgiveness, and even if we wanted to we couldn't, because of God's great love for us, he came in the person of Jesus, Immanuel, God with Us, in order to live that perfect life of love for the Father then to suffer condemnation on our behalf. God the Son has purchased our forgiveness. He has done what we couldn't and wouldn't do. He has died to take upon himself the enmity that the Father had against sinful man. He has died to secure our lives. He has done all that we need for holiness. And he's done it on our behalf. Jesus' perfect righteousness is right there, staring us in the face, just waiting for us to believe it. Jesus' forgiveness is right there, proclaiming us forgiven. Jesus has given himself to accomplish what all our offerings, all our prayers, all our works of righteousness could never do.
So what does the Lord require of us? What shall we render to the Lord for all his benefits for us? We offer the cup of thanksgiving. That's a quote, by the way, from the offertory that we don't seem to sing. Maybe we ought to try it. We wouldn't sing it too well the first couple of times, but we'd get over it. What does our Lord tell us to do? We see it in verse 8 of Micah 6.
Micah 6.8 (ESV) He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
How are we going to do this? We can't do it by offering sacrifices. We can't do it by changing our behavior. We can't do it by enforcing a change of behavior on other people. We can't do it by exalting ourselves in any way. In fact, all that our Lord leaves us with is to look at his own perfect love, his own character, his own work on our behalf, and to rejoice in what he has done.
Salvation is of the Lord. It is not our doing. Let us look to our Lord in faith and trust.
Lord God, heavenly father, you have seen us act in anger toward you. You see and know all manner of sin that we would like to deny and to hide. And yet, though we treat you like we despise you, you have remained faithful to love and cherish your people. We thank you for your merciful gift to us, lavishing upon us hope and salvation. We thank you that you responded to our anger with your love. Commit our hearts today to walk in the light of your loving kindness, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Sermon: "Repent, Believe, Follow"
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I had a pastor some years ago who would very frequently look at Scripture through a pattern he called, "repent, believe, obey." It isn't a bad pattern, all in all. In fact, it almost became a sermon title for today. But instead, looking at our Gospel lesson for today, I thought "obey" didn't exactly fit. There's something that seems to work better about "follow."
What do we see in Matthew 4 when Jesus comes onto the scene? Jesus' message from verse 17 is very simple. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (ESV). And that's that. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is present. We aren't God. Therefore we need to repent. God's demand is that his people be holy as he is holy. God's demand is perfect faith and obedience. God's demand is that we be utterly righteous. He cannot accept that which is not perfectly holy. As people who are fallen, people subject to a sinful nature, we can't obey him, at least not perfectly. Yes, we want to try. And as partakers of God's divine nature, imputed to us by Jesus who died to put our flesh to death, we have a desire to please God. He gives us this desire to obey him. But we all know it isn't a wholehearted desire. We all know that we sin, in sins of commission and sins of omission, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. For that matter, every one of us, if we are honest, can say that in the time since I proclaimed God's forgiveness at the start of the service, we have failed to think and act in a manner pleasing to God. Time to repent again.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent!
Is there some good news in there somewhere? Of course there is. If our Lord didn't care about us, would he call us to repent? Would he not rather leave us to wallow in our sin and shame? He certainly would. We would have no call to repentance, we would have no presentation of the loving and forgiving presence of Jesus, God in the flesh, if it were not for the love of God. A message of repentance is a message of love. Is that the way a call to repentance is always used? No, sadly it is not. It's kind of like that walking stick that I sometimes use when my knees or ankles are hurting a lot. I have an impressive walking stick one of my students made for me some years ago. I'm pretty sure it is black walnut. Some sort of very dense wood. It's about four feet long and a bit thinner than a baseball bat. Yes, it could be used to great effect on a hostile dog, or a hostile person for that matter. But do you know what it's really for? It's to keep my creaky knees from hurting as much when I go walking. It's a prop, not a weapon. It brings comfort, not pain. The message of repentance before God is just the same sort of tool. It is to bring comfort. Repent of your sin! God loves you too much to leave you hurting that way.
When people hear that message of repentance, some of them believe. After all, repentance without belief is foolish. Do we repent of our sins and then not believe they are sins, or not believe God is the one who forgives sin? Do we repent of our sins so as to live as enemies of God? No, not at all. We repent of our sins because we believe that our Lord hears our plea, that he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We repent of our sin because Jesus, the light of the world, has come to give us light and hope.
Again, we see in Matthew 4 that we have people who are repentant. They believe Jesus is who he says he is, that he is telling them truthfully of God's forgiving grace. In the same way, we are gathered today, primarily people who believe in our Lord and Savior. Primarily? Yes, primarily. Are there some among us who don't believe? Are there some who are skeptical? Are there some who think the love of God is just too outlandish to believe? It's quite possible. In fact, in a healthy congregation, there are normally some people who are looking at the claims of Christ, people who are not sure they believe, people who want to hear more. Maybe it's more likely that we all fit into the pattern of the man who told Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief."
So we are called to repentance. We repent of our sins and we believe, at least as well as we have it in us, that our Lord is forgiving us. We confess that the same Holy Spirit who lives in us is in charge of our repentance and our belief. But somehow we manage to mix in a little doubt anyway. Gives us something to repent of, I suppose. Not that we need to go out of our way. We have plenty to repent of, just as we have plenty to believe.
So we repent. We believe. But then what do we see the people in Matthew 4 doing? Not obeying. All right, they are obeying too. The believer does that. We try to obey. But these people go ahead to follow Jesus. That's more important. When the light of the world has come, what do we do? Try to shine our own light? Create our own plans for how to celebrate Jesus? Try to demonstrate that Jesus is relevant to our world? No. We follow Jesus. We look at what he is doing and we go along to see what he will do next.
What is Jesus doing in this passage? He's teaching. He's proclaiming the gospel. He's healing people. He is providing his followers with all they need.
In Matthew 28 and in John 20, Jesus presents himself to some of his believers. He gives them authority to forgive. He sends them to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey. Jesus promises his presence with them always. The light of the world, God incarnate, has presented himself in his own person. And he has commissioned his servants to continue the work as instruments of the Gospel. He has provided laborers to proclaim repentance. He has provided Christian ministers to remind people of the one in whom they believe. He has raised up countless Christian leaders through the ages whom we can follow, watching the way Jesus has worked in and through them.
When you call your new pastor, when you have someone here week after week, year after year, calling you to repentance, to belief, and to follow Christ, I want you to know, that man is someone who is commissioned by our Lord. He is someone who is appointed as God's servant. By God's grace, you can hope to have a man who is bold to call for repentance. By God's grace, you can hope to have someone who reminds you of Christ's death on your behalf and his presence with you as he promised. By God's grace, you can hope to have someone who will follow Jesus and with whom you can walk as you follow Jesus too.
Let's go this week. Let's see what Jesus is doing.
Lord, we pray you would give us eyes to see what you are doing. Even more importantly, let us look at this world through eyes that see your death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf as your greatest mercy upon us. Let us believe you care for us that much. And let us follow you wherever you are going. Amen.
Sermon: "All I Need"
Our Lord, you have given your people every spiritual gift, providing for all our needs. Speak now through your word, give us ears to hear and a heart to believe in your great and mighty promises, through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
We've seen these promises before. God will supply your every need by his riches in glory through Christ Jesus. This is God's promise. He intends to take care of all we need. Our Lord will work in and through us. And our Lord is able to keep his promises. But how does he do this?
Yes, or course, through Word and Sacraments. But how is this worked out? In our passage from 1 Corinthians we see that believers in Christ are enriched in all speech and knowledge. Jesus' testimony is confirmed among them. They receive spiritual gifts. And they see Jesus as their sustainer. But by what means does God accomplish this? How does he enrich the saints? Just how does he put this strength, vigor, zeal into his people? How does he work to apply his word to his people?
There was a period of Church history which I think was very unfortunate in this regard. You may be familiar with it. It was called the "Second Great Awakening." This movement, primarily during the 19th Century, had an emphasis on a fervent belief on Christ, personal Bible study and prayer, and a life of holiness. Sounds good, right? We should be fervent in our belief. Look at the apostolic age of the Church. They were praying and proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners – no holding back, even if it cost them their lives. There was this unshakable character about their faith. This is a very good thing. Do we think that all believers should be commited to a thorough knowledge and understanding of Scripture? Sure! Read that Bible during the week. Pay attention to what the Lord says. Jesus is the one with the words of life. We want to take in those words. And how about that life of holiness? The apostle Paul puts it well. Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Don't be ridiculous! Rather, we fight against sin in our lives, striving to live a life of holiness in the Lord.
Indeed, we do believe that Christians should be fervent in their faith, that they should be committed to the Scripture, that they should live a life of holiness. But there was a deep failing in the work of the Second Great Awakening. During that time period, again and again, revivalist preachers would shed whatever they could find from historic Christianity. In their emphasis on personal faith they created an atmosphere of "me and Jesus" where the guidance that nearly 2000 years of Christian life, ministry, and theology could give was rejected. Instead, if you wanted to be truly holy, you were to cast off all that the past had to offer. Don't understand something? Retreat to the cabin in the woods with your Bible and read and pray until you do understand it. Along with this, there was an attitude that said anyone who was a trained theologian or Bible scholar was probably irrelevant and maybe dangerous. Therefore, anything that believers in the past said was suspect. Our world went through a time looking for a new revelation. At the same time, since people became suspicious of established tradition, they were also operating outside of the auspices of the local church. The revivalists threw up tents where they would have their meetings. They would reject what went on week after week in the church buildings in towns. Instead, they would tell people to pursue holiness and a fervent, biblical faith in their own way, the way that the local church wouldn't.
I've seen this over and over again. It's still around. It was around in the church plant a block from my house. My colleagues in the denomination I used to be in asked me to be involved in approving it as a home mission work. They wanted me to be involved in nurturing the young man who was planting the church. I like that young man. He's fervent. He's smart. He knows the Scriptures. But he wants to "do church like it's never been done before." I can't support that. It's departing from orthodoxy. It's rejecting all the safeguards history has given us. It's denying that our forebears had any wisdom at all.
That young pastor is not alone. There are thousands of others like him. There are innumerable para-church groups. Motorcyclists for Jesus. Bungee Jumpers for Christ. Society of Christian Tractor-Pull Enthusiasts. Coffee-Drinkers for Christ. And they all make claims that they will nurture you in your faith, that they will help you know how to live out your beliefs in this world, that they will be able to reach the world for Jesus, with your help and cooperation, in ways it has never been reached before.
Now we want to encourage a fervent faith. We want to encourage people to holy living. Christians shouldn't be in the habit of self-destructive behavior, drinking or eating themselves to death or doing other harmful things. We do think that people should rejoice in the Lord always, in every place. We do think that believers should be ready to pray for one another and encourage one another in the faith. And we think all Christians should be faithful in reading and studying the Scripture, knowing what God's Word says about their world. But we don't want to reject that long history of Christianity, in which people have dealt with all the kind of struggles you are going to deal with in the upcoming week. Do we really think that difficult situations with relatives are new? Do we really think that only modern-day believers have had to deal with difficult bosses or co-workers? Do we really think that we're the first people in the world to have jobs we didn't like but to think we'd better avoid losing those jobs? Really, Christians throughout history have dealt with just the same kind of problems. But I'm afraid there are a lot of times we've been influenced, all too much, toward the kind of "me and Jesus" way of doing theology that came out of that revivalist movement.
The difference I see in historic Christianity is this. Throughout history believers have realized that God's gifts are active in the context of God's assembled people. True, our Lord works in and through individuals, but he most often seems to do it through those people when they are gathered together. He appoints times for Israel to gather for worship and sacrifice. He appoints festivals which will be centered around the proclamation of and instruction in the Scripture. And in the New Testament the pattern continues. Think of how 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14, talking about all sorts of spiritual gifts in operation, happen in the context of the corporate worship. Think about the way in Ephesians 4, verses 11 and following, the various people who are gifts to the Church work among the people, building the people up. You'll see there that it is until we all grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ. And in Romans 10 we see that people need to hear the Gospel, but they will not be able to without some preacher who is sent to proclaim God's good news to them.
Yes, Christians live this life for Christ in a community. We are in this together. And we look to godly people for our motivation and example. We look to the consistency of a local congregation where we can gather and hear God's word. We look to a fellowship of saints where we can turn to one another for prayer and encouragement. We look to our life in community. This is where God will provide us with all our needs. This is where we are enriched in all speech and knowledge. This is where the testimony of Jesus is confirmed. This is where we have spiritual gifts in operation. This is where we see Jesus as our sustainer.
I'd like to encourage you as a congregation. Over the past few months, as it has been my privilege to serve you in Word and Sacraments, I've seen you pulling together. I've seen you encouraging one another. I've seen you depending on one another. You've looked to me for some things and you've looked to one another for other things. This is good and healthy. If I were a permanent pastor, no doubt you would turn to me for some additional needs and there would be some differences in our relationship. But you're doing really quite well. This is why your congregation has remained about the same size it was when Pastor Maynard took another call.
You're now in the process of finding another pastor to call. How are you going to welcome that pastor into your midst? How are you going to encourage him in his faith, even as he is encouraging you in yours? Are you going to be courageous enough to welcome him with open arms, to get to know him, and to let him get to know you? Maybe I should ask the people who have begun coming in the past three months how they think you'll do. Or maybe not. We can all do better. We've all done worse. Another important question is how you will expect your pastor to serve as God's instrument in your lives. Do you really expect that the pastor is God's gift to you, to build you up? Do you really expect that the pastor is going to bring you words that you need, week after week? Do you really expect that the pastor has been called by the Lord and is able to act in the stead of Christ, bringing our Lord's forgiveness to you?
We're to encourage one another, so I'll also ask you to think about how you will serve as God's instrument in the life of your pastor and his family. While he is nurturing you, he can benefit from your encouragement and prayers. Change is difficult. Will you make the transition a joy or a burden?
There's much to be learned from the past. There's much to be learned from the biblical saints and from those who have come before in some two thousand years of Christianity. Let's look to this living hope that we have. Our Lord has given us all his gifts. He has provided us with what we need. And he provides that through his saints, assembled together in his name.
Let us pray. Our Lord Jesus, you have given us all we need. By your death for our sins you took on our sin. By your resurrection from the dead you have given us an assurance of eternal life. You have given us Word and Sacraments. You have given us your messengers to nurture us in the faith. Let us build one another up in this most precious faith, bringing you honor and glory in all things. Amen.
Sermon "Gently Urgent"
Lord, grant us your mercy, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe you've been in a situation where someone has directed you to do something right away. You've been brought to a stop or re-directed by a police officer. Or maybe someone has had you take a step to the side and you then saw you were in a place which was dangerous in some way but you are now safe. As someone who has worked in music, theater, and ballet productions, I know that when the person dressed all in black grabs you by the elbow and moves you somewhere you want to go there without complaining.
Our Lord and Savior is a little like that stage hand or that police officer. He has a purpose for his people. He is working diligently toward that purpose. He will not give up until it is accomplished. And this purpose is, in fact, a matter of life and death. We, on the other hand, normally don't have a very clear grasp of the overall picture. We are haplessly standing in the way, ready to be run down by a truck, closed into the lion's cage, or have a piece of scenery lowered onto our head.
We see our Lord Jesus here in Isaiah 42. He is God's "servant." As we look at the passage it becomes quite clear that he is none other than the very God who saves us.
Jesus is the one who will be coming again in judgment. He's the one that everyone will look to for salvation, for a righteous decision. He's the one who, being the very righteousness of God, is able to give a righteous judgment. He's the one who, being truly man, is able to live and die in our stead.
Jesus, like the servant of God in Isaiah, is the one who overthrows sin, death, principalities and powers with no army, no revolutionaries, no riots or explosions. In fact, a movie about most of Jesus' work could hardly be considered an action film. It seems more like an inaction film. Jesus teaches some people. He walks here and there. People try to do things to him. He doesn't actually seem to be doing anything. He eventually ends up being put to death and buried. One author compares Jesus' saving work to the lifeguard who sees a drowning girl. He walks into the water, swims over to her, and drowns along with her. Then three days later he walks out of the water all alone and says the girl is fine. This doesn't seem like a salvation story to us. But by faith we believe, teach and confess that Jesus has accomplished salvation by his death, burial and resurrection. He didn't have to blow up the temple. He didn't have to kill all the people who opposed him. There isn't even a good chariot chase in the Gospels. No, Jesus doesn't create a stir, he doesn't raise his voice. He just saves us.
Jesus, like the servant in Isaiah 42, is the one who rules over all the earth. See how verse 4 is very universal in its scope. We see him bringing "justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law." He doesn't seem to limit himself. No, Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. He has come with his promise which is for you, for me, and for all who are far off, as many as he will call. And that call is extended to everyone. All who believe Jesus has died for their sins, all who trust that Jesus is the savior, all those people are called and redeemed.
So what is our status in all of this? In verse three we see "a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench." In verse seven we see he came "to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon."
The picture of the reed is a picture of a lamp and its wick. The oil lamps used throughout history have used rushes or reeds for wicks. That was actually common up into the nineteenth century. What happens when the wick is broken? What happens to a candle with a broken wick? We've seen it many times. That's why we remind acolytes to just hold the snuffer over the candle and let the candle go out. We don't want to break the wick because then the candle is really difficult to light. But wicks get broken. Reeds get bruised. And when they are bruised they are about to break. The reed breaks and the light goes out. What is Jesus' attitude toward us when we are bruised, battered, even broken and about to burn out? Jesus will not quench that faintly burning wick. He came to give life, abundant life at that. Jesus came to give us his light, the light of the world. He came to heal and restore. Jesus cares about us when we are downtrodden.
What if we're wandering around in darkness? We are prisoners, blind prisoners, who couldn't find the way out of the prison even if it were unlocked. What has our Lord done? He himself is the key. Just as we heard when we were looking at the O Antiphons during Advent, Jesus is the one who has unlocked forgiveness. He is the mighty king, the one who rules on the throne of David. He is the one who has come to deliver his people. He is the one who releases us from prison, from death.
So what are we to do with this servant of God? What's our part to play? How are we to throw off our shackles? Are we to clean ourselves up to present ourselves to our Lord? No, not at all. Not that we sin so God's grace can abound. But we who have been purchased by our Lord have already been moved from death to life. We don't make ourselves holy. Only God can do that. We whose eyes have been opened, the redeemed of the Lord, those he has set free from prison now walk in the light. He grabs us by the elbow and moves us. We go where he puts us. It brings us no glory. It brings us no honor. There is no power sharing. Remember Isaiah 42.8. Salvation is by God's glory and by his glory alone. No, there is no other name given by which we should be saved. We call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, God's servant, who has called us to himself.
This is our hope. Jesus has come. He has been baptized as one of us. He who washes our sins away has himself entered into the dirty water of humanity. He who brings us life has shown himself to us. He has come to suffer as one of us. And in his suffering he sets us prisoners free. Yes, Jesus, God's servant, has come to move us from death to life by placing himself into our death and giving us his life. This he has accomplished by himself. And like the man who comes to Jesus with a demon-possessed son, we say, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sermon: "Where's Jesus?"
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Maybe you remember a series of books and activities called Where's Waldo. Or maybe you've looked at one of those I Spy books where you are given a poem full of clues and you get to find all the objects in a very busy picture. Or you may have played "I Spy" with small children, letting them figure out that the green thing you see is their eyes. I think most of us have played hide and seek. The object is always to find something or someone. Sometimes it's something hidden. Sometimes not. But we aren't satisfied unless we find what we're looking for.
How about looking for Jesus? We need to ask ourselves where Jesus is. In our Gospel passage today Jesus went with his family to Jerusalem as he did every year. But this time while they were in Jerusalem they lost track of him. It took three days to find him again. Why did it take them so long? Was Jesus hiding? Was he moving around like the people in those old movies who pop in and out of doors in a house looking for but never finding each other? Not at all. Jesus was, in fact, in plain sight, in a public place, doing perfectly normal things. He was not being the least bit secretive. But his parents were looking for him in all the wrong places.
Where do we look for Jesus? What do we expect him to be doing? Are we looking for him in the right places? Do we miss seeing him because we don't expect him to be doing what he's doing?
We realize that Jesus is the ruler of all creation. Despite this lofty status he has promised to be present for us in Word and Sacraments. There are two very important words in that statement. Did you notice? "For us." A couple of weeks ago I talked briefly about the "Deus absconditus" and the "Deus revelatus" - the hidden God and the revealed God. The hidden God, Deus absconditus, is in a way plainly visible. Look at an insurance policy sometime. Do you see a mention of "acts of God" there? Odd, how acts of God are always bad things in insurance policies. They're always the acts of God revealing his power but not his personal love. They're always the acts of God who is moving but is not expressing his care for his people. You never get an insurance policy that talks about an act of God like a beautiful sunrise, a blooming flower, a good harvest, or good health. But since this isn't an insurance office and I'm no insurance agent, I can talk to you about the God who is there "for you." He has promised that he will be present for your good in Word and Sacraments.
Where we are gathered in his name for his forgiveness, Jesus has promised to be with us. Recall that in the upper room Jesus came to his disciples. What the Father gave to him, Jesus gave to the disciples. He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive sins. That's why we are told to confess our sins and pray for one another, so we may be forgiven. Jesus has promised that if his word abides in us then we are his disciples. We are intimately involved in that same life of forgiveness which he has given us. We hear the Word of God and we believe him. He is present for us.
For that matter, along with the promise that our Lord is with us in his Word, we see in Matthew 28 that he promises to abide in us to the end of the world as we go, baptizing people and teaching them. How are people baptized? In Greek it is strikingly clear. People are baptized "into" the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is something that theologians call "performative speech." We believe that the Lord has made certain promises and that when we speak and act in accordance with those promises he will in fact accomplish something. Our Lord transfers us from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life when we receive baptism. We are washed, se are cleansed, we are placed into the divine kingdom. God's forgiveness, purchased on our behalf by Jesus on the cross, is applied to us in baptism. We are cleansed from sin, a cleansing which we receive by faith as we believe daily that we have been cleansed.
What about Jesus' presence in communion? As we are celebrating communion today it's a good time to remember specifically that Jesus promises to be with us. We confess a real presence of Christ. This doesn't mean he is only symbolically and spiritually here. Jesus, in fact, says very specifically, "this is my body." The New Testament is very clear throughout. The passages in the Greek text don't have the variant readings in manuscripts that you'd expect if people in the first few centuries thought Jesus was saying the bread and wine were to serve as symbols of his presence. The verb "is" doesn't vary. It's always "is," never "represents," never "seems like." Always "is." Paul tells the Corinthians that the bread is a "participation" in the body of Christ and the wine is a "participation" in the blood of Christ. He clearly believes that Jesus is very truly and physically present. This resurrected Christ, who ascended into heaven, who is sitting at the right hand of the Father, is still God. He's still omnipresent. Though we can't understand it, we confess it. That's why we say, "this is my body" and "this is my blood."
How does this compare with most of what we see in modern American Christianity? Almost uniformly believers try to explain the presence of Christ. Roman Catholic people explain that the bread and wine are no longer bread and wine but that they are now body and blood. Protestants by and large explain that the bread and wine are just bread and wine, symbolic of Jesus, but that Jesus is present only spiritually, or that believers' spirits are ushered into the presence of Jesus' spirit in heaven. It's pretty much only the Lutherans who don't flinch at Jesus' saying that he is here for us in communion. And I'm afraid many of us flinch as well.
I have good news for you. Jesus is in fact present. He's present, for you, right here, right now, giving you and giving me forgiveness, life, hope, salvation. He will continue working in and through us as we receive his provision by faith. He will continue working with us as we bring his grace and mercy to the world.
I first said that Jesus has promised to be present for us in Word and Sacraments. So we can find him right here, right now. But what about this afternoon? What about tomorrow? What about people who don't attend a church or who attend a church where the true Gospel is not preached? What hope do those people have?
There's much hope in every way. The Bible presents Jesus as the savior of the world. The Scripture says he gave his life as a ransom that all should be saved. We see over and over again in the Bible that God pours his mercy and grace out on people who are in need, all sorts of people, the righteous and the unrighteous alike.
There's a great little book I'd like to recommend. It's called God at Work by Dr. Gene Edward Veith. I don't have a copy of it to show you. Every time I get one I seem to give it away. This book lays out a picture of Christian vocation. Think about it. Everything you do, every situation you are in, every interaction with your friends, co-workers, neighbors, even strangers, everything you do is an opportunity to be used by our Lord and Savior to show his grace to this world. Notice I said "to show." I didn't say "to bring." Why is that? Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has already brought his grace to the world. But we are his means of showing the world what they have. Just like finding Waldo in the book, Jesus is right there in the world. People are waiting for God's provision. Some of them want to see him. And they are welcome to see Jesus in our good works. They can see Jesus as we are used by God to provide people with their daily bread. They see Jesus as we do the works that our neighbors need. We are God's hands reaching out to this world. We do God's work, loving and serving our neighbor, providing the neighbor with what he needs. In a very real way, Jesus loves the sick person through the hands of the doctor or nurse. Jesus feeds the hungry through the farm laborer, the person who transports food to the store, the person who puts it on the shelf, the person who runs the cash register. Jesus provides warmth for people on cold winter days through the person who maintains the electric lines, through the person who buys goods from that cold person's employer, allowing the employer to pay the staff, through the person who built the house years ago, through the person who made the insulation for the walls. You name it. Whatever you need, whatever you do, it is God working. In fact, your going to work tomorrow is an "act of God" even though it isn't something included in the insurance policy. We are all interconnected. What we do is God's work, showing his grace to this world.
With that said, let's pray together.
Our Lord, you have shown yourself to your people. You have shown us that you are present right here, right now, for us. We realize that we have done nothing to deserve your love or favor. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Use us, your people, to bring this news of your love to our world. We pray that you would use us in service to you. We pray for those we will come in contact with, that you will awaken in them a desire to hear where their hope comes from. We pray that you will draw our community to you in faith. We pray for those whom we will serve in the upcoming days and weeks, that they will see you as the one who has redeemed the world to yourself. We pray that you will give us a love for this lost and dying world that is like the love you expressed, coming and dying on our behalf. Grant us this, we pray, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.