Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The glory You gave me, I have given you. . .

Sermon for Easter 6C, the Sunday after the Ascension, and the occasion of the Retirement of our Cantor, Rocky Craft, after 22 years of service, preached on Sunday, June 2, 2019.

Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them. . . that they may be one.” 

The sad truth is that despite all our technological tools, we tend to live somewhat solitary lives.  The chronic condition of people today is loneliness.  We have been imprisoned by our technology, alone with our ear buds and play lists and screens.  If it is true that we feel distant from one another, this it is certainly true that we feel distant from God.  At its root the problem is not simply technology but us. It is sin.

Though the incarnation of our Lord in our flesh and blood was meant to break through the barriers that divided us from God, sin had so stolen our hearts and muted our voices that it would require nothing less than the Holy Spirit to prompt us to faith, teach our voices to sing, and lead us from the shadows of fear into the bright light of Christ our Savior.  This Sunday fits into that time of waiting when Jesus has ascended and the Spirit has not yet come, at least on our church calendar.  And it feels like that.  Like we are without the presence of Jesus to fill our eyes and the Spirit to fill the emptiness within.

Into this Jesus prays.  He prays not that we would be happy or satisfied or live long and well but that we might be one.  He prays that He might fill our loneliness and our longing so that we would venture forth from our retreats and refuges into the glorious presence of God.  That is what we do here, each Sunday.  We come from our homes and enter into the presence of the Most High, where, surprise after surprise, He serves us with His gifts and grace in Word and Table.

The glory that Jesus was given by the Father is the glory He gives to us here and now – not fully but in anticipation of the fullness to come.  We receive it in part with our eyes but mostly with by faith.  Hidden in water is baptismal power to join us to Christ’s death and resurrection so that we might be His own. Apart from the tyrrany and uncertainty of feelings, our life with God rests in His act and promise in water given life by the Spirit. 

The glory that Jesus was given by the Father is the glory that we hear not simply in our ears but with hearts that recognize in the voice of the Gospel the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.  We hear His voice and know His voice and He knows us and leads us and we follow Him.  God’s Word is the unchanging voice that actually delivers what it says. 
It speaks and we are granted forgiveness of our sins.  It speaks and we are called to life stronger than death.  It speaks and our hearts burn with desire for that which is good and right and true, as laid out for His in His perfect Law.

The glory that Jesus was given by the Father is given to us in the Table where Jesus is priest and food, where He delivers to us the Lamb of God that fulfills the promise of Passover and fills us with the foretaste of the eternal feast to come.  Our hunger for God’s good gifts is whetted by the promise hidden in bread and wine, the very body and precious blood of Christ.  We come to the honored places prepared for us to eat as invited but unworthy guests, who marvel at God’s mercy.

And then what?  How do we respond to such grace and glory?  From ancient times the presence of the Lord has caused His people to erupt in song.  With a voice of singing, we receive His glory and give it witness to the world.  Moses taught the people to sing when God gave them deliverance from Egypt.  With Job we sing “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  With the Psalmist, we recount the marvelous works of God and give voice to the liturgy of what God has done to save us.  With Mary we magnify the Lord for the unspeakable joy of God who dwells in us.  With the angels, we sing “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth.” With the heavenly court, with cherubim and seraphim, with angels and archangels, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” 

Singing unites our voices as one.  It gives our silent lips a cause.  It manifests here on earth, the hidden unity we have in God.  Music is, as Luther said, the handmaid of the Word.  Where God’s Word lives, God’s people sing.  Within that song of praise, our loneliness is transcended and our solitude is broken, and as much as is possible this side of glory, the prayer of Jesus is fulfilled among us.  “Make them one.”  God’s gift is music and its purpose is His praise and its fruit is joy as we give thanks for all that the Lord has done.

Rocky, for 22 years you have lead our praises, directed our voices, accompanied our song, sounded the trumpet to rally us to the cause of God and His glory.  You have not only taught us to sing but given us the opportunity to listen into the voices of the choirs who sing their praises to God and inspire, encourage, and uplift our faith.  You have pushed us past the comfortable and easy, into the work of worship and for the best for God’s glory in a magnificent pipe organ.  God worked through you and we are so grateful for your presence and partnership these 22 years. 
We cannot help but sing.  The Lord has done marvelous things.  It is impossible to stand silent before such abundant grace.  It is impossible to be born anew in baptismal water and be made new people in Christ without also being moved to sing our thankful response.  It is impossible to receive forgiveness of our sins without returning the song of praise.  It is impossible to hear God’s Word and not sing “Glory to You, O Lord.”  It is impossible to be fed and nourished at the Lord’s table without singing with Simeon, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace.”  God has given us music as a gift and Rocky as the teacher, leader, and accompanist of our song. 

How can I keep from singing?  That is the question that haunts a people who have seen the works of the Lord in their midst, who have been comforted in moments of sorrow, who have been calmed in turmoil, who have been encouraged in despair, who have been strengthened in temptation, and who have been given hope even in death.  We do not sing because we are happy or because it is our job, but because it is our duty and delight.

The song of faith unites our many voices into one, it transcends time and culture, and it anticipates the eternal future that God has prepared for us.  Jesus has made known the glory of the Father and delivered that glory into our midst.  He does so every Sunday.  And from that awesome encounter with the eternal God and His precious gifts, we sing.  We sing back to God the Word that He has made known to us.  And though the day comes when we depart God’s house and our formal time together comes to an end, we carry this song of grace with us as we go, wherever we go, until that day when we are reunited to sing in the heavenly places the blessed song of God’s saving works and our gratitude for all that He has done.

With all the Church, with the apostles and prophets, with the saints and martyrs, with the angels and archangels, with all those who have gone before and those still about us in flesh, we sing: “We praise You and acknowledge You, O God, to be the Lord.”  Others will come to continue what Rocky has done among us and for us, but the song of faith will not end.  It will sound above the sound of destruction when this heaven and earth must give way to the new heaven and earth that is eternal.  It will sound as we pass through the gate of death and the grave to our own joyful resurrection with Christ.  It will sound in Revelation’s heavenly courts where Christ is life and light, the Lamb and the Temple, and death is no more.  Rocky, thank you.  Thank you, and God bless you.  We praise God for you. Amen.

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