Lent 5 – Judica March 29, 2020
v.51 Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
Dear friends in Christ, these words of Christ stand in stark contrast to the situation in which we find ourselves. The COVID-19 virus continues to spread at a phenomenal rate all around the world—even here in North America—and the death toll continues to rise. During this staggering flue pandemic in which so many are dying—Christians too!—how can Jesus say this? We want to rise up in anger and declare, "Liar! Liar! Jesus, there is death all around us—even your followers are succumbing to this terrible disease. Your words ring hollow and false in our ears as we see the death that has come."
Of course, though this pandemic has certainly brought the frailty of life into sharp relief, yet the fact that death takes us all—even Christians—is nothing new. We've all lost loved ones over the years—we've all been to funerals—laid dear departed friends and family to rest. And yet Jesus' word stands, "Amen, amen, I say to you…" Amen, amen—yes, yes it shall be so. Despite the death we witness all around us, yet Jesus still says, "if anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death—yes, yes, it shall be so."
No wonder the Jews of Jesus' day though he was either crazy or demon possessed—or both! Only a mad man would say such a thing! Only a crazy person would look at their fellow human beings and announce, "If you listen to my Word—you won't see death." It's absolutely ludicrous!
Of course, people today think similarly of Christians when we speak these words of Jesus as though we actually believe them to be true. They think we are nuts to hold to the words of a man, which seem to be proven false time and time again. "Look around you, you crazy Christian! You Christians who keep Jesus' words—you still die! Every day! How can you still believe what Jesus said? It doesn't make any sense!"
But you see, it all depends on the person speaking the words, doesn't it? The Jews recognized this immediately. Abraham was the great patriarch of the Jewish nation—father of all the Jews—chosen directly by God Himself—yet Abraham died. Is Jesus greater than Abraham? More on that in a moment.
What about all the prophets? Moses and Elisha—workers of wondrous miracles. What about Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel—preachers of God's own holy Word—they all died. Is Jesus greater than them? How could He be? Why, Jesus would have to be God Himself! EXACTLY! That is the point! Jesus is greater than Abraham and all the prophets because He is God in the flesh!
Jesus is God's own Son. It is the Father who gives glory to the Son because the Son does the Father's will. Jesus knows Him from eternity and keeps His Word. What is more, Jesus is the speaker of the Father's Word—why the Father is always reminding us to listen to Jesus. Jesus is, indeed, the very Word of God made flesh—and what He speaks is TRUTH—even if it offends us—even if it is difficult for our senses and reason to accept. What Jesus says is good, right, and true—IS good, right and true! So, when Jesus says you who keep His Word will never see death—He actually means it—and it is really true.
Abraham saw Jesus. Abraham saw Jesus on the greatest and most terrible day of his life—when he was about to slay his son, Isaac—the fruit of the promise of God's word. But just before the knife slashed down, God called to Abraham to stop. When Abraham looked up he saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns—and Abraham took the ram and offered it up to God in place of his son—a blood sacrifice—on the mountain on which the Lord would provide for His people.
Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God come to take your place under the specter of death—He has come to suffer the deadly punishment of your sin—to shed His innocent blood—so that you and I might be spared. Abraham saw this and was glad! You, too, have seen this Jesus. You have heard His Word proclaimed about Him—you have received His body and blood in the sacrament of the altar for the forgiveness of your sins—you have been bathed in His redeeming blood in your Baptism. You have heard the sweet forgiveness of your sins declared into your ears through holy Absolution. Truly, you have seen Jesus—and believed.
And yet still Jesus' opponents persist in their doubt—hardened hearts blaspheme the holy one of God—calling Him a liar! Again, Jesus drops a bomb shell on them—"Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." He openly declares that He is the great I AM—Yahweh—the holy God—there in the flesh. Jesus is who He is—God incarnate—come to give His life as a ransom for many—for me and you and all people—that we may not see death on account of our sins, but rather may live in His forgiveness and grace.
Jesus speaks. It is truth. It is life. Even in the face of death. This is why Christians can face all—even a deadly flu pandemic—with absolute trust—knowing we will never truly see death—for our Lord Jesus has gone before us. He has gone before us into death by way of the cross—and He has punched a hole straight through death's belly so that now we who keep His Word and believe it may have life and have it to the full.
Dear friends, the blood of Jesus which flowed from His sacred veins has forgiven your sin, which is the cause and power of death. Having been washed in Jesus' redeeming blood—death can't touch you anymore. Instead of death, we receive life in Him who died and rose again for us.
Jesus is no liar. He is the Truth. When He says, "Amen, amen" He means it—and what He says—happens. In times of great fear and distress—look to Jesus—see His cross—His wounds—His life—given for you. Trust in His Word and believe His promises. He is your life and your salvation. Nothing can take that away from you—no person—no virus! He who loves you is faithful—He will surely do it. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
All Saint's Sunday November 3, 2019
Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17
Before and After
v.4 and 9 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144, 000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…
Dear friends in Christ, this section of the Revelation to St. John that serves as our text takes place during the vision of the opening of the seven seals. John has witnessed horrifying scenes introduced by the first six seals—scenes of destruction that would have melted John's heart like wax with awe and terror. Before the opening of the seventh seal, however, he is given this vision to uplift and strengthen him. For here he sees the church of Christ in two ways: the church militant, which struggles while on earth—and the church triumphant, which glories before God's throne in heaven. This serves to give us a kind of "before and after" picture of the church of Christ—to comfort the church amidst its trials and tribulations—to comfort you and me.
Let's begin by examining the first image. After witnessing the vision of the four horsemen of the apocalypse who are charged by God with bringing destruction upon the earth, an angel comes and commands them, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the tree, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." Then John hears the number of the sealed, 144000, from the twelve tribes of Israel. These 144000 represent the church on earth—the church militant—drawn up in battle order as they make their way through the world.
They are sealed by God, which means that even though God's people will suffer as they fulfill the mission of their Lord—proclaiming the risen Christ to all people—yet He will protect them in their faith. They are marked—identified and signed with God's own signature as belonging to Him—they are His personal property and are under His authority, care and protection. Though they may suffer—yet they will be preserved by their loving Savior.
You and I, beloved, have been sealed unto the Lord our God—marked on our foreheads in Holy Baptism with the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. We know that we belong to God and that He has promised to protect us in our faith in the midst of all the tribulations we endure. We have been prepared by the Spirit to meet the onslaughts of the world as we carry out Christ's mission on earth. By God's grace, we advance in battle against the spiritual forces of this world, a complete and perfect army, fully equipped and ready to do God's work—having been prepared by the Lord's own Word and Sacraments for the task ahead of bringing the Word of Christ to a hostile world, bent on our destruction.
Of course, you and I know that to the human eye the church looks anything but perfectly ordered. The church is torn asunder by schisms, tribulations, scandals, and persecutions. One not need look very far to see much evidence of this as the church faces violence at the hands of hateful men around the world. We see it in the abuse scandals that have become so regular and dominant in the church across all denominations. We see it as congregations fight amongst each other over false doctrine and poor practice. And we could go on and on.
But in God's eyes, the church on earth is in perfect position for the purpose of the mission of Christ—to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them into His holy name and teaching them His blessed Word. For the church on earth—the church militant—the church that struggles here and now—is also the church ordered under the kingdom of God's grace—upheld and sanctified by His Word and Sacraments that give us the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. You, beloved, have been redeemed by Jesus' blood—and by faith have received His righteousness. You are at peace with God—and so no matter what you are called to endure in this life—yet you are confident in God's love and mercy for you—on account of Christ's death and resurrection.
This leads us to the second part of John's vision in this text, which describes the church triumphant. As the elder points out to John, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Note that this host that John actually sees is beyond number. Rather than being arrayed in battle formation, as was the church militant, these saints of God appear to be at rest and peace around the throne of God, celebrating the results of the mission of the church on earth. All they are waiting for now is the final act of God's judgement and the resurrection on the Last Day. They will never again experience tribulation and persecution on earth.
What a beautiful picture this is for us to meditate upon. People "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…" surround the throne of God and the Lamb, singing praises to the heavenly Father, worshiping Him with the Word that Salvation belongs to Him alone—for He has won our salvation through the blood of the Lamb—the Lord Jesus Christ—who poured out His life's blood on the cross of Calvary to pay for all sin.
This picture of the church triumphant—this declaration that the saints in heaven are sheltered by the presence of God—no longer affected by hunger or thirst or scorching heat—for the Lamb of God is their Shepherd, guiding them to the springs of living water that flow from His spear pierced side—that He wipes every tear from their eyes, meaning they no longer experience hardship or toil or pain or suffering or sorrow of any kind—this is a picture of YOUR future, dear friends in Christ. This is the promise of God to you who, though you endure much suffering of all kinds on earth—yet in heaven this will all be removed. Your loved ones who have died in the faith already enjoy this perfect peace with God and all the heavenly host—and your place with them is assured—by the blood of Jesus shed for you.
The church militant will be the church victorious. We will all be clothed in the white robes of Christ's righteousness, washed in His blood; we will wave palm branches of victory in our hands—for the Lord Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil—for us! He has conquered them with His own suffering and death—and has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us by His side.
Though now you feebly struggle, yet you will in glory shine. For the victory is yours through faith in Christ Jesus. His Word has absolved you of all your sin—His body and blood has nourished and strengthened your faith—and His Baptism has washed you clean of all guilt and shame. You belong to Jesus Christ. You have been sealed with the Holy Triune Name of God at your Baptism. What can the world do to you? What can the devil do to you? What can your own sinful flesh hope to accomplish? You have been set apart by Christ—and He has declared you to be His own. So do not fear, whatever may come, for your final hope and reward is secure in Christ Jesus. And He has promised to wipe away every tear from your eyes. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Reformation Sunday (Observed) October 27, 2019
The Ugly Truth
v.31-32 [Jesus said], “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Dear friends in Christ, today we celebrate a pivotal moment in the life of the church—the Reformation. One of my favourite movie quotes is from the 1992 Tom Cruise/Jack Nicholson blockbuster hit, “A Few Good Men,” in which Tom Cruise’s character is cross-examining Jack Nicholson’s character (an army colonel). Cruise states, “I want the truth!” To which Nicholson simply and arrogantly retorts, “You can’t handle the truth.”
Such is the case today, dear friends. We claim to want to hear the truth—we as a nation spend millions of dollars every day in the pursuit of “truth” in the justice system. We hire private investigators, buy expensive spy equipment to keep tabs on our neighbours—all so that we can know the truth about what’s going on around us. But when it comes right down to it. When we must turn the powerful microscope upon our own lives and examine our personal motivations behind the things that we think, say, and do—we can’t handle the truth either.
For the truth—the cold hard reality of who we really are—and where we stand before a holy and righteous God—is pretty ugly—and we can’t bear it.
Take for example, the Christian church—we are supposed to be about the truth, right? We are supposed to be upfront and adamant about doing all things openly and in accordance with God’s Word—for we are followers of Him who is Truth incarnate—the Lord Jesus who said of Himself—“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
But when it comes right down to it—when we must face the stark reality of who we are as human beings before a holy and righteous God—the truth...hurts. The truth is...our sin is much, much worse than we want to admit to ourselves—or anyone else for that matter. We come up with clever little mind games to try and trick us into thinking that “we’re not so bad...I’m a good person...After all, nobody’s perfect, right? It’s Ok, God doesn’t mind the bad things we do...as long as we try our best...etc., etc., etc.” Lies all.
The ugly truth is as St. Paul described in our epistle reading, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And our sin is no light matter. It’s not as though sin were no more serious than a common cold—a bad case of the sniffles—no big deal—you’ll feel right as rain in no time! No, the truth is... “the wages of sin is death.” That’s the serious nature of our sin. That’s what we deserve from God for each and every sin we commit—in addition to the fact that we are by very nature fully corrupt and contaminated by sin—with no way to cure or heal ourselves.
This truth is what the Reformers sought to proclaim—the total depravity of the human nature—the total deadly estate of human beings before God Almighty. Did people want to hear it back then? No more than they do today. People flock every which way to hear what their “itching ears want to hear” rather than what they need to hear—the bold-faced truth of God’s clear Word—that we are by nature, sinful and unclean—deserving of nothing but death and eternal damnation.
Of course, you and I know that that isn’t the whole story. There is so much more. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is the Gospel. For though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
You see, dear friends, as awful and ugly as the truth is about our sin, there is yet an even greater truth to bring us comfort and hope and peace. For justification—being made right with God—having our sins forgiven and being restored to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father—is all free gift! Now that sounds too good to be true! That sounds as if it were just a fairy tale. But it is the Truth!
For God’s love knows no bounds. His love moved Him to send Jesus His Son to suffer and die in our place—to shed His blood—die the death that God’s judgement requires for each and every sin—this is what Christ Jesus did for you, for me, for all. Not because He had to—but because He chose to—for such is His love for you that He desired to be lifted up on the cross in weakness—in shame—in humility and suffering—even death—so that you and I might live forever.
The truth is...beloved, as great as your sin may be—as heavy as it is to bear—as large as it looms in your mind—Jesus has taken care of it all. He has borne your guilt in His flesh on the cross—He has removed the crushing burden of your sin from your shoulders and borne it Himself. No matter the size of your sin—Jesus’ blood and redemption is bigger still.
There is no sin too great that the blood of Christ does not wash it away. There is no sinner too far gone that Christ Jesus cannot call them back to repentance and faith through His Word and Sacraments. For He has loved each of you so much—that were you the only person on earth—He still would have come to pay the deadly price for your sin so that He could give you the gift of His life and salvation.
Now, some people today don’t like to hear such talk. They feel like talking about sin is a “downer” and a “dirty” word, even in the church. But if we fail to talk about sin—fail to grasp how serious and deadly our condition truly is—then the Gospel loses all meaning. For what does it matter if Jesus came to save sinners if you and I aren’t really sinners?
But Jesus did come to save sinners—of whom I am foremost. But chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me. And the truth is...there are many lost and hurting people out there in the world—in our community—in our own homes/families perhaps—who need to hear this Good News. Just like we do each and every day.
For the Christian life is one of constant repentance, dear friends. A life lived in constant confession before God and each other that we are poor, miserable sinners. But also a life lived trusting in the promises and mercies of God poured out for us through faith in Jesus Christ. He comes to you this day in bread and wine to give you His very body and blood so that your sins may be forgiven, once again—so that you may be strengthened and upheld by His glorious Word of absolution and healing.
The truth is...you and I are in bondage to our sin and cannot free ourselves. But by God’s grace we have come to hear and know of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, who has died that you and I might live on high. Trusting and believing in Him who is truth—you are set free from all sin, from all death, from all damnation—now and forevermore. And that’s the beautiful Gospel truth! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 18 October 20, 2019
A Question of Interpretation
v.35 & 41 And one of them [Pharisees], a lawyer, asked Him [Jesus] a question to test Him…Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question…
Dear friends in Christ, if you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you have no doubt run across this situation. During the course of a conversation, a question has been raised regarding some teaching in the Bible. Upon giving a clear and reasonable response to this question, the other person (who no doubt disagrees with what you just stated) remarks, "But that's just your interpretation. There are many different ways of looking at this issue—so your view is probably wrong." This is a sleight of hand approach designed to end all discussion or, at least, discredit the Biblical truth claim you are making by saying that that understanding of Scripture is just one among many—and who is to say what the true and proper interpretation ought to be?
Beloved, if you have ever been on the receiving end of such an approach to theological discussion, you can understand just a little bit about what had been happening to Jesus. Throughout Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is engaging with His opponents (both Pharisees and Sadducees) about the proper way to interpret the Scriptures. This happened in regard to healing on the Sabbath, eating and drinking with "sinners," and a host of other issues. Jesus is operating with a very different set of principles to interpret the Scriptures than the leaders of the day were used to. He kept on talking to them about God desiring mercy, not sacrifice. He indicated that God was gracious and able to forgive any sinner any sin. This was completely contrary to the way they were reading the Scriptures, however, and it frustrated them greatly.
So much so, that they sought to destroy Jesus. Hence this question during Holy Week. Both Pharisees and Sadducees had been attacking Jesus relentlessly, but Jesus continued to prove that His interpretation of Scripture was superior to theirs—for He taught as One who had Authority. He had just disgraced the Sadducees for the last time, and so the Pharisees take up the cause in a last ditch effort to publicly discredit Jesus. A lawyer is chosen to test Jesus with the question, "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus gives a twofold answer: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." At first glance, this isn't very controversial. Jesus gives the standard answer from Deuteronomy that loving the Lord God above all else is indeed the "great and first commandment." But then He goes on to explain that this commandment is never alone. Secondarily, those who love God rightly will also love their neighbor in all things. This, of course, wouldn't sit too well with the religious leaders who generally loved themselves above all others. Their failure to love their neighbor, however, shows their hypocrisy about their stated love for God. For you cannot perfectly love God while failing to show love to your neighbor. As John puts it in his first epistle (1 John 4:20), "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."
Yet these words of Jesus strike us to the heart as well, don't they, beloved? For we know that in our sinful state we do not love God with all our heart, soul, and mind—and neither do we love our neighbor as ourselves. Our selfishness is evident when we examine the inner workings of our own hearts. We seek our own good above all others—we strive to put ourselves first as number one—rather than looking to the needs and welfare of others. We fail to look at our neighbor in love—see their need—and act to fill it as best we can. Our love continually falls short.
And if this is our interpretation of the Bible—if we think that the entire heart and center of the Bible's teachings is about loving God and neighbor—then where does that leave us? For when we are brought face-to-face with our sinfulness—we would have nowhere left to turn—but to crumple in despair.
However, note that this is NOT where Jesus leaves us. Finally having all the Pharisees gathered together in one place to hear His words, "Jesus asked them a question, saying, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?' They said to Him, 'The son of David.' He said to them, 'How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord?...'"
Jesus here is seeking to reset their Biblical interpretation. Rather than interpret the Scriptures from a perspective of the Law (of which every sinful human falls short), Jesus wants them to see Who is truly at the heart of the Bible and all theology—Himself. He quotes Psalm 110:1 in which King David calls his own future son, "Lord." This would never normally be done because the Father/King would have more dignity and honor than any future son. How could David call him Lord, if he is his son? The answer is found in the person and nature of this Son of David—the Lord Jesus—who is not only man—but also true God in the flesh.
So, in answering the question of how to properly interpret the Scripture—to answer the question of "What's the Bible all about?"—we discover that it is Jesus. He points people to Himself. He is the greater Son of David—who is David's Lord—because is the Lord God of all come in human flesh.
Because of our failure to love as we ought, God sent His only-begotten Son to save us from our sin. He did so out of love for us. The love of God the Father moved Him to send the Son to take up our sin and be crucified for it on the cross. Jesus is the One who has come to put all your enemies under your feet. He has paid for your sin with His own precious blood. He has defeated death with His own death in your place, and then was raised to life for your salvation. Because He now lives and reigns at the Father's right hand for all eternity, not even the devil himself can accuse you and bring you down. For you live and breathe in the love of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Dear friends, Jesus is the heart and center of the Sacred Scriptures. Jesus, and no other. It all about Him. As Jesus says in John's Gospel (5:39), "You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…" The Scriptures proclaim the true nature of the Messiah—He is both God and Man—and He has come to save us. You could not—and you do not—keep God's Law perfectly. Neither the first and greatest commandment—nor the second that is like it—nor any other commandment found in all the Law and the Prophets. There is but One who has—and His name is Jesus of Nazareth.
This same Jesus who is David's Son and David's Lord is your Lord too! Jesus is the Saviour of the world—come to fulfill God's Law for you—and to suffer the punishment you deserve for failing to keep God's commandments, great and small. He suffered your death on the cross in your place. He shed His blood to give you forgiveness and life. This same Jesus is here each week in Word and Sacrament to offer you the great mercy of His sacrifice. Jesus declares you to be forgiven and righteous and holy—and so you are—by the blood that He shed—moved by the love of God Himself. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 17 – Canadian Thanksgiving October 13, 2019
A Worthy Walk
v.1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…
Dear friends in Christ, Paul's letter to the congregation at Ephesus was a letter designed to urge the church there to come together in the unity that they had been given through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, Ephesus was a free city in the Roman Empire, well situated as a major trade center, with a thriving Jewish population, which enjoyed considerable privilege. Paul had spent a great deal of time there on his third missionary journey—the most time he spent at any congregation. Because of his deep relationship to the church there, he writes this letter in response to division that had been occurring between the congregation's Jewish and Gentile members. Throughout this letter, Paul returns to the themes of unity, Baptism, and prayer. He would later instruct young Timothy to travel to Ephesus to serve as Bishop there because of the false doctrine that was afflicting the church. Ephesus would eventually become a leading church in Asia Minor, and the apostle John would ultimately settle in Ephesus for the final years of his ministry, along with the aged Mother of our Lord.
But at the time Paul writes this letter, he is in prison at Rome, awaiting trial before the Emperor. He had begun this letter instructing the Ephesian Christians, once again, in the blessed good news of the Gospel—the call to faith they had received through the Word of the death and resurrection of Jesus for them—both Jews and Gentiles. He has been reminding them that they are one in Christ Jesus—who shed His blood for them, sinners all.
As Christians, therefore, who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, it is important that "you walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." We are called to repentance and faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments. We are called to forgiveness and life in the shed blood of Jesus that is given to us in our Baptism into the Triune Name of God: Father Son and Holy Spirit.
This faith in Christ as our Saviour is what sets us apart from all other confessions of faith, and unites us, one to another, even as we are united in faith to Christ our Head. This common confession of the doctrine/teaching of the church—founded on God's Word of Truth—is what forms us into the body of Christ as the church. Therefore, what God has formed and joined together, we should be eager to maintain and guard and treasure by serving one another in humility and gentleness and peace, bearing with one another in love.
Indeed, we who have been forgiven much—we who have had all of our sins washed away by the cleansing tide of Christ's blood that flowed from the cross—now long to walk (live our lives) in accordance with this divine calling. We love God and our neighbor—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ by serving each other in humble-mindedness—looking to the needs of others before our own. We do so with mildness—an attitude of behavior that is not harsh when dealing with others. We patiently serve those around us in a state of emotional calm, even in the face of provocation or misfortune, without complaint or irritation. We do so enduring all possible difficulty and affliction with patience, so that we can exhibit God's love toward our neighbor.
We do so because we recognize what a great treasure and gift this unity of the Spirit is that we have been given as Christians. To know that we can look at each other sitting in these pews and know that we are looking at our true brothers and sisters in the faith—our true family—a family created not by our own doing, but by the working of God the Father through the suffering and death of the Son. By God's grace, we all confess the same Lord, trust in His mercy, and have received His Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of all our sins. And all this is doing of God our Father.
Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, our walk of faith does not often resemble what Paul describes here, does it? So often we are not gentle or patient when dealing with our neighbors—even our church family! Too often we grow angry or annoyed or frustrated by the words and deeds of those around us. We focus on those things that irritate us, failing to bear with one another in love. In our sinful pride, we often seek our own good as the highest, rather than our fellow members of Christ's body. We demand our way. We want our desires to be prioritized. Truly, our sin has a way of disrupting the unity we are to have in the church.
We are even tempted to blow off the clear Word of God—our joint confession of faith—when and where it suits us. We know the Scriptures teach us that the Holy Supper is a gift reserved for, and to be shared with, only those who are of the same confession of faith. For this Supper is for the unifying of all believers around the body and blood of the One Lord Jesus Christ, given in the Supper for the forgiveness of the sins of God's people. When we partake of the Supper at a church that holds to a different confession of faith (even Lutheran, like the ELCA/ELCiC) we inadvertently break fellowship with everyone here. Furthermore, we give the people in the other congregation the impression that we are truly united with them in all that THEY teach and confess—even when we are not. When we look upon the Lord's Supper as something that is no big deal to be messed around with—that it is to be considered a "free for all" with no understanding of God's Word, sin, repentance, and faith—then we sin against each other, and inadvertently break the bond of peace and unity that we are called to share and rejoice in here in this place.
Sadly, our celebration of the Lord's Supper can sometimes look like a family Thanksgiving dinner—with all of the bickering and fighting that sometimes entails. Beloved, what are we to do, when we fall victim to such temptations and sin? Repent. Repent of it. Turn away from it—and focus our attention once more on the Lord Jesus Christ. Cast your sin and stubborn pride away—hold firmly to the unity we have in Christ by holding on to Jesus—treasuring His life-giving Word and Sacraments—even when it is difficult to do so.
Remember that the description of how we are to walk as Christians with all humility, gentleness, patience, and love has been fulfilled for each of us by the Lord Jesus Himself. He walked in that manner His whole life—perfectly serving God and neighbor alike. Loving people perfectly, even when it was difficult. Loving us perfectly—even unto death on the cross. He walked the long road to Calvary, humbly bearing the burden of your sin, patiently enduring the scorn and the shame, suffering the penalty for your sin and mine. Why? For the joy that was set before Him. The joy of knowing that by His own shed blood—you and I might receive His righteousness and mercy. By His blood you and I are united not only to God through faith in Christ who died and rose again, but also to each other. His body died and was buried in the ground, like a seed, so that by His resurrection the body of the church might spring forth to life everlasting. You and I are members of that One body—by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone.
So walk, dear friends. Walk to the Lord's Table that has been prepared with His own body and blood to strengthen and serve you and me—the body of Christ. That by sharing this holy meal for the remission of our sins—we may be united as one body—to sing praises to the One Holy God—to have our faith strengthened and sustained—to nurture the unity we have with one another as the body of Christ—and to love and serve our neighbor in joy and gladness. We do so with thanksgiving for the mercy we ourselves have received. For He has borne our sin in His flesh to the tree of the cross—that you and I might forever be united to Him and each other—through faith granted by the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.