Sermon “Joyful Disbelief” Luke 24:41
Lord, confront us with the power of your resurrection, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
I hung up the phone after the discussion, not sure quite what to think. The school had called me to get a recommendation for one of their applicants, a person I knew from a school situation and who also attended the church where I was ministering. In the course of this very odd conversation the school administrator began talking about my specialty and whether I would be interested in teaching some courses there. She did not know that at that time there were people trying to assasinate my character and abilities in the school where I taught and that my future hopes there were looking increasingly fragile. Within a week I had agreed with the school where I now teach to run some classes outside of the hours when I would be present at the classroom school. I wouldn’t be able to be as involved in the local church, but I would have a layer of protection if something went wrong at the other school. The recommendation for someone else turned into an interview for me. God provided for my family through a completely unexpected opportunity, one which seemed too good to be real, one which still often seems too good to be real.
Before we move farther into this sermon, I should pause to observe that this congregation, by letting me teach some classes, more than I want to this year, has been reaching out to provide Christian education to homeschoolers on four continents, giving some missionary families options which may allow them to remain on the mission field, keeping some military families together when they would otherwise be separated by many thousands of miles. On behalf of The Potter’s School and the families I serve, thank you very much.
Yet the point of this sermon is not how God keeps me working at more jobs than one human should have at any one time. It isn’t about us providing for the needs of people in far away places. It is, in fact, about how much God loves you. It is about the kind of promises God has given each one of us in Jesus Christ. Like I reacted to that phone call in March of 2001, the disciples reacted with a sort of joyful disbelief when they saw their risen Savior. The reality seemed to good to be true. It was outside of their experience. They may have tried to pinch themselves and see if they were dreaming. But that didn’t work. They could pinch their arms until they were black and blue but it still wouldn’t make Jesus, risen from the dead, standing right there and talking with them any more reasonable.
In the end, though, the Christian faith is not about how reasonable God’s promises are. It’s about how good his promises are. Just how good are the promises of God? We see his promises throughout the Divine Service from beginning to end. Let’s look at a few of them and see what kind of joyful disbelief we have. Let’s see how good they are.
At the start of the service, after the processional hymn, I claim you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Some of you follow what I’m doing and trace the mark of the cross on yourselves, showing who you belong to. Let’s remember how that works. You use two fingers and a thumb, referring to the Trinity. The other two fingers are tightly folded down inside your hand the way Jesus’ divine and human nature are folded together. And you mark yourself in the name of the Father (head), the Son (heart) and the Holy Spirit (active in this world, moving here and there). Can you believe you are a possession of God through Christ Jesus, guarded every moment by the Holy Spirit?
We enter into the presence of God, singing or proclaiming his glory. By the way, Krista Burton is getting opinions from people about our experience of singing the introit during Lent. If you liked it, didn't like it, or have no particular preference, please tell her. In the Introit we confess that God is hereto bring his gifts to his people. We enter into his presence, we don't call him to come into our presence. Can you believe you are brought into the presence of the Lord of all when you gather in worship? The Bible calls us to enter his presence with thanksgiving. Again this seems to be too good to believe, but it's absolutely true.
During the Kyrie – oh, wait, some people have trouble pronouncing some of these parts of the service. But you can learn to say other things. We had the introit and now we have the kyrie. It's got a longer name, kyrie eleison which means “Lord, have mercy.” We shorten the name just to “Lord” but see how we ask him again and again to have mercy. It's for the reason of showing his mercy that our Lord came in the first place. He delights in our asking him to have mercy, so we do, for all sorts of things. Did you ever listen carefully to the things I pray for that you ask God to have mercy on? Once again, we're asking God to take care of all the evils in this world. And his response? He has called us into his presence to ask that he will have mercy. He's going to do his will. Do you believe this? It's too good to believe. Yet the resurrection is also. We can look at God's promises with that joyful disbelief. He really did promise to pour out his mercy on this world. And he will keep his promise.
Our church services remain full of unbelievable promises as we turn our attention to reading the Scripture. And here we receive the words of life that our Lord has given us. Do we even begin to realize how great it is that God has revealed himself in Scripture? Do we have an inkling of how great it is that probably everyone in this room – no, wait. If you don't have a copy of the Bible of your own, I want you to look in the rack in front of you in the pew. You can adopt one of those or talk with anyone in leadership of the church and we'll be sure you have a Bible of your very own. There. Now everyone in this room has a copy of God's Word. If you can read (no, stop laughing, some people in this room can't read and that's all right) you have the ability to take God's revelation of himself in Christ Jesus and read it for yourself. If you can't read, you have a copy of the Scripture and can find someone to read it to you. God's promises are there. His word will accomplish its purpose. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting right to our hearts, revealing how the Lord would change us from inside to out. This is God's promise. Do we believe it? I want to commend people who have been following our Bible reading challenge. Some people have said they are participating in it but that they can't keep up. That's all right. You'll finish in the next couple of years. It isn't a race. It's a reminder that a page at a time we can fill our hearts and minds with all God's promises.
I'll continue with something that should inspire joyful disbelief. We'll just keep walking through the divine service a bit more. In the sermon, which some people conider the heart and center of the church service, God continues to give us his incredible promises. In Romans chapter 10 we see that faith comes by hearing, specifically by hearing the Word of God. By the chance to have God's Word read and explained a little bit our Lord creates faith in our hearts. He leads us to believe that his promises are true and that they are for us. Years ago I stopped counting the number of times I heard discouraged people tell me that they didn't bother coming to church because they weren't sure they really believed. I continue to tell them, “If you aren't sure you believe then the place you need to be is in church. The Holy Spirit can confirm your faith and strengthen you for every challenge. When you're having a difficult time you need God's Word working in your life more than ever.” To those who say their faith is strong so they don't need to attend church I would simply ask what they are going to do when the challenges arise and they have not been nourished by Word and Sacrament. Sunday morning gives us probably the most valuable three hours in our week. Let's make the most of it. God's promises are unfolded before us. He will develop in us what is lacking. We'll need it. Receive it joyfully!
Three more quick pieces of joyful disbelief. What about confessing the creed? How supernatural, how wonderful, how gracious is all that we confess, especially about Jesus' incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension? Like those early Christians we too can see the risen Lord and look eagerly to his coming again. And in the meantime there is nothing we need to fear. There's no reason to think that he will stop guarding us. There's plenty of grace and mercy for all of us for every day, because we know and confess that the Holy Spirit has given us his gifts, including the Church, baptism, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. What beats that? Nothing at all. Do we believe? If we do not, may it be that joyful disbelief that says we can't understand how or why the triune God would do all this for us.
We then have a time for prayers. What if we didn't think the prayers in the Kyrie were enough? We turn around and pray for some other things. Are your prayers ever going to be boring to our Lord? Not at all. Is he ever going to become tired of you praying the same old thing over and over again? Not at all. Our Lord invites us to pray, using his name and authority, trusting that he will take care of all our cares. Cast your cares upon the Lord for he cares for you! Really? What if you're chronically ill and wonder if God cares. Jesus suffered in your place. He knows all of your struggles. He delights to hear from you. What if you are thankful for something but think it's trivial? Give thanks anyway! Our Lord delights when we receive his blessings, great and small. Just how big is this? God actually cares for us and hears our prayers! Yes, we can rejoice in this too. Jesus is no longer dead. He has risen as he said, and he sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us, hearing our prayers and passing them to the Father of mercy. What if you don't believe that? It's still true.
Then, near the end of some of our gatherings, we get to receive the true body and true blood of our Lord, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Just how great is this? It is the capstone of divine worship. Here God gives his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, through his servant, into your hand and into your mouth. He makes you a bodily partaker of his glorified body. I said that some people think of the sermon as the heart and center of the worship service. It may be, but if the sermon is the heart, communion is the brain. Your heart doesn't keep pumping unless your brain tells it to. Christ crucified for sinners, delivering himself to us, that's what gives all the rest of our Christian life its life. Without Jesus risen from the dead, coming out of the tomb with his body and blood for you there is no Christian faith. You might as well just stay at home if we are not bringing Jesus to you in the divine service. Is he here for you whether you receive communion or not? Sure. But when you get to receive communion he is specially, physically here for you.
All these promises are too good to believe, just like Jesus' appearance to his disciples that night was too good for them to believe. What was their response? Though they couldn't explain it all, they believed. They accepted Jesus' unbelievable promises and they walked in the joy of the Holy Spirit. May our Lord give us grace to see his incredible promises and to believe him as well, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.