Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rejoice That Your Aames Are Written in Heaven

Sermon on Luke 10:1-20
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 7, 2013 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Jesus commanded the seventy-two to proclaim, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”  The Kingdom of God is synonymous with the King Himself.  God comes near, and the way in which that message is received says a lot about what a village thinks about God Himself.  Those who reject Jesus are rejecting their Creator.  It’s not a message to be taken lightly, and Jesus has some very judgmental things to say about those towns which did not recognize Him for who He is.  But what about us?  Do we always realize who it is that we meet here in this place?  Are we always aware that the God whom we worship really is present here where two or three of us are gathered in His name?  Are we always aware that this Jesus who is our friend, this heavenly Father who urges us to call Him Abba, or Daddy, this Holy Spirit who is our Encourager and Comforter, that this Holy Trinity is the creator of heaven and earth, that the One in Three whom we meet personally here is more important and powerful than any movie star, politician, or other famous person?  People get very excited about meeting a famous movie star or the President of the United States.  Roman Catholics turn out in huge numbers when the Pope comes to town.  The Holy Trinity is more important than any of these people.  Do we always recognize what a wonderful privilege we have to meet God and hear Him speak to us words of forgiveness and even to dine with Him?

I think perhaps we need to pinch ourselves and wake up sometimes so that we remember just what it is that happens in connection with the Church.  The Kingdom of God has come near you.  All too often people tend to think of the Church as “their church,” and want the services to be run according to their tastes.  Pastors, too, all too often turn into dictators or business managers and try to run the Church for the sake of their own personal glory rather than to the glory of God.  But this isn’t your church, and it’s not my church.  This is the Church of Jesus Christ in this place.  It’s His church.    This building is where the Kingdom of God comes near to the Elmwood Park community, just as surely as the Kingdom of God came near to those villages because the messengers Jesus commissioned passed through them and preached in them.

This is truly a wonderful opportunity we as Christians have.  When you speak to your friends and neighbors about what Christ has done in your life, they see you as a representative of this Church.  And remember that this Church is the presence of the Kingdom of God itself, and of Christ Himself, in this community.  This is true of me in my office as your pastor, and it is also true of you as you go about your daily life and confess Him before your neighbors.  Christ has sent me specifically for the purpose of preaching His Word and representing Him to you.  And He Himself is really present and speaking to you when I preach the Word of Forgiveness to you, when I baptize your children, and when I give you His own body and blood in the Holy Sacrament.  And every one of you who is seen in the community as being a part of this Church is a representative of Christ to those with whom we come into contact.  Whether or not you see yourself that way, that’s how they are going to see you.  Again, I think we need to pinch ourselves and wake up to the wonderful opportunity this gives us.

But there is something even more wonderful about today’s Gospel lesson than what we have discussed.  It’s good and right to realize that this church, where Christ’s Word is preached and His Sacraments are administered, is the very presence of God Himself, of the creator of heaven and earth among His people.  Yes, it’s true we all too often forget that fact and allow ourselves to get bored with Church because it doesn’t meet our personal tastes.  But there are Churches that focus so much on the worldly side-effects of God’s presence among them that they lose sight of something even more wonderful.  There are Churches, and you see many of them on TV, that focus so much upon what God might possibly be doing here and now, on the secondary blessings that can sometimes come along with Christ’s presence (your best life now), that they forget the most important thing.

God never promised that every one of His people, or even every one of His ministers for that matter, would be able to heal the sick and to drive out demons as the disciples did in our Gospel lesson.  God never promised that He would always heal everyone we pray for either privately or together either, nor has He threatened to not heal people if we neglect to pray for them.  Our corporate prayers here in this place, and the prayer chain that a number of us are involved with, is a good thing, because God commands us to pray for our fellow men.  But if we forget to pray for someone or it doesn’t get posted on the prayer chain (or I forget someone in the Prayer of the Church on Sunday morning), that doesn’t mean that God won’t act.  God can and does heal people whom nobody prays for.  He is not manipulated by our prayers.  As the catechism puts it, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone, even without our prayers, also to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”  There are lots of little things God does for us in our lives in this world, in addition to the big things He does simply by giving us food, drink, cothing, shoes, house, home, and so on.  Whether what He does for us in this life is big or little (or whether it seems big or little to us), we dare not focus so much on these things that we lose sight of what is truly important.  “Catching God at work in your life” is all well and good, but there’s something that’s a lot more important than the fact that He helps you find your keys or puts you in the right place at the right time or that He answers a prayer for a blessing in this life, even if that blessing is a restoration of health.  Christ says, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  God helps non-Christians find their car keys, too, if it suits His design, even though they don’t know to thank Him for it.  He grants food, drink, clothing, shoes, and so on also to non-Christians.  God works in these kinds of ways in everybody’s life, not just Christians.  Granted for Christians He may so arrange things that we only find our keys, or that our relatives are healed, after we prayed that He would help us, for the same reason that parents teach their children to say “please” and “thank you” when giving them something they want.  But our uniqueness as Christians isn’t in these kinds of this-world things.  God makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust.  A non-Christian might even be able to drive out a demon, if it suits God’s purposes that the demon be driven out.  What makes us Christians unique is not that the demons are subject to us, but that our names are written in the heavens.

The real thing we need to pinch ourselves and wake up to is the fact that we are destined for eternal life.  That is really what makes the Church special, because here is where eternal life comes to us through Word and Sacrament.  If you think that the things God does for you in this life are special, those things are child’s play compared to what He really does for us.  All of the little blessings that God works in our everyday lives will pass away, because this world is passing away.  But we are destined for eternal life in a new heavens and a new earth which will not pass away.  After all, Christ’s purpose in coming to this earth and to ancient Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem was not simply to heal the sick and cast out demons.  These were mere side-effects of His presence.  His purpose was to suffer and die and rise again on the third day so that after we suffer through the troubles of this world and eventually die to them we too might rise again and live eternal life with Him.  The paradox is that this eternal life is already ours by faith, delivered to us in Word and Sacrament, and because of this paradox sometimes eternal life does break through to this world, in the form of a healing the doctors can’t explain or other miraculous happenings.  But our rejoicing is not so much in the fact that eternal life sometimes manifests itself in this world in random and unexpected ways, but that we have the glorious reality that stands behind these miracles, namely that we are heirs of that place where demons, sicknesses, pains and sorrows will never touch us, and where we will always be in the presence of our King, where the Kingdom of God is not just near us, but is forever the center and focus of our lives.  Your names are written in the book of life.  Rejoice in that.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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