Thursday, February 11, 2016

God gives more than gifts. . .

One of the greatest revelations to me was to begin to understand that the Giving God whom we know in Christ is not merely the bestower of gifts but the One who gifts us with Himself.  Perhaps I could blame parents or Sunday school or simply my fallen nature for the mistaken idea that God is a larger version of Santa Claus who gives gifts not once but all year round.  Prayer is the same as sitting on the lap of old St. Nick and whispering in his ear your hopes and wants and dreams -- all the while acknowledging that he already knows before we speak and will watch to see if we are naughty or nice or worthy of the things of which we have asked.  Nevermind where I got it, I venture to say that it is the typical and usual understanding we have of God, of prayer, of grace, and of His gifts.

So it is not unusual for people to be disappointment when they have poured out their hearts in prayer and rehearsed all the reasons why what they wanted is both reasonable and they are worthy of these gifts . . . and then nothing seems to happen.  It is not unusual for Christians to worship regularly, to do their Christian "duty" in all things as they see them, and then find out that they are subject to the same ills and illnesses that characterize the mortal life of non-Christians as well.  We have fallen back into the default idea that the gifts are greater than the Giver, or at least of greater concern and importance to us than He who gives them.  We have left our focus upon the things He gives and not upon Him who gives them.

The gift God gives that is most amazing and most surprising is the gift of Himself.  He gives Himself to us as a Child born of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit.  He gives Himself to us in the Lamb of God revealed in Jordan's baptismal water and acclaimed by John for all the world to see.  He gives Himself to us in the righteousness that covers all the unrighteous and in the sacrificial blood that cleanses filthy sinners from their sins.  He gives Himself to us in the cold darkness of death's grave and in the life that refuses to go gently into the dark night but rises with victory for all the dead.

We are transfixed by water into wine, bread magnified to feed thousands, lame that walk, deaf that hear, mute that speak, sick healed, and dead raised.  We want this from God when God has given us so much more.  He has given us the gift of Himself.  Epiphanytide was all about this -- the revelation not of works but of God in flesh for us.  Lent will show us what this God in flesh is all about.  But until we realize that the gift is great but the Giver greater still and that the Lord of Life has given Himself to us, it is too easy to be both fixated upon earthly gifts and disappointed that Christians do not seem to fare much better than non-believers when measured by earthly standards of health, wealth, and happiness.

In fact this is the exactly why the health and wealth preachers do so well among us.  We want to believe what we hold dearest -- that the greater gift is an easier, happier, healthier, wealthier, more successful life and that God and eternal life with Him are extra bonus gifts on top of what we really want.  This is why they are both so successful and so dangerous.  They distract us from the Giver who gives Himself.  Only sacramental churches who acknowledge the vibrant and robust means of grace in which God has hidden Himself in word, water, bread, and wine have an immediate presence of the Most High as their refuge and joy.  Apart from the God who gives Himself, everything is but a bartering tool and faith but a negotiation to get what we want right now.

From Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ’ s Supper of 1528:
These are the three persons and one God, who has given himself to us all wholly and completely, with all that he is and has. The Father gives himself to us, with heaven and earth and all the creatures, in order that they may serve us and benefit us. But this gift has become obscured and useless through Adam’’s fall. Therefore the Son himself subsequently gave himself and bestowed all his works, sufferings, wisdom, and righteousness, and reconciled us to the Father, in order that restored to life and righteousness, we might also know and have the Father and his gifts.

But because this grace would benefit no one if it remained so profoundly hidden and could not come to us, the Holy Spirit comes and gives himself to us also, wholly and completely. He teaches us to understand this deed of Christ which has been manifested to us, helps us receive and preserve it, use it to our advantage and impart it to others, increase and extend it. He does this both inwardly and outwardly——inwardly by means of faith and other spiritual gifts, outwardly through the gospel, Baptism, and the sacrament of the altar, through which as through three means or methods he comes to us and inculcates the sufferings of Christ for the benefit of our salvation. 
(LW 37:366)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pastor Peters, for an edifying, inspirational posting. Indeed, this giving God deserves our trust, but even when we fail to trust, He continues to give. Blessed is our God, for He has made us to be “the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart