Monday, May 15, 2023

Not orphans. . .

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (A), preached on Sunday, May 14, 2023.

Growing up I thought very little about the gift of family.  I had grandparents, a great-grandfather, many aunts and uncles, and a host of cousins.  I had no conception of what it means to be alone.  Now at the other side of my life, I am an orphan.  My father died over eight years ago and I am coming up on the first anniversary of my mom’s death.  There is no generation in my family older than I am and the generations younger are dispersed throughout the nation and not as close as they were when I was a child.  I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere and more of my family is here than anywhere else.

We live in different times.  There are not many families like the one in which I grew up.  We are cast to the winds.  While this is certainly true of military families, it is also true of almost all of us.  We depend upon screens to connect us because of the distance between us.  We have lived long enough to learn what it means to be alone.  It is not a pleasant feeling and for some of us it is our worst fear.

On this day when our society honors our moms and reminds us of the gift of family, our Lord has made us a promise.  I will not abandon you or forsake you.  I will not leave you as orphans.  This is a profound and amazing promise.  In a world of broken promises, our Lord insists that He will be with us always, even to the end of the age.  We ought to spend a moment thinking about that.

This is not an empty promise.  You know how it is when illness or death strikes and people say to us, “Let me know what you need.  You can count on me.”  Jesus is not giving us pious platitudes.  He is making an absolute promise.  I will not leave you or forsake you.  You will never be alone, never be orphaned in a world unfriendly to you because of Me.  The promise is easy enough for us to understand but how does our Lord keep it?

First of all, this promise is not something attached to our death or to the life of the world to come.  He makes this promise to us right now – in this life and in this age.  He has warned us that the world appears friendly enough but as the world hated Him, the same world will hate us.  We will find persecution and trials not because of anything we did but only because we belong to Him.  Our Lord does not sit on the sidelines of our lives to see how we handle these things.  He is with us, present among us by His Word and Sacraments so that we will not be overcome.

Being here in God’s House, around the Word and Table of the Lord, is not some benefit or blessing for God to enjoy.  We are here because Christ is here.  The same Lord who was born in our flesh, who suffered for our sin, and who died our death is here right now.  He comes to us as the glorious Easter Savior who is no longer bound by time or geography.  He comes to us through the locked doors of all that this world counts as real to bestow upon us a greater reality than anyone has ever seen before.  Part of that is hidden in baptism.  Do you recall the banner we give out to those baptized?  On it are words from Isaiah 43.  “I have called you by name; you are mine.”

He promises the Spirit whom the Father will send in His name.  The Spirit is come so that we may abide in Christ and Christ in us.  The Spirit bestows the faith that sees Jesus and believes in Him.  The Spirit is at work to keep us one in Christ until that day when the earthly reality fully and finally submits to His heavenly glory.  The Spirit has but one job.  He works through the means of grace to impart faith to our stubborn and fearful hearts and to keep that faith living and active until He presents us to the Father clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  

Our weekly gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord is not some random accident but it is by God’s design and for His purpose.  Here He is in our midst, the God of salvation who has saved us by the blood of Christ, is right now saving us by His grace, and will on the last day save us to everlasting life.  He does this through the Holy Spirit.  It is an amazing grace that God so deeply and profoundly loves us and is working in us, through us, and for us, that we may be His own now and to everlasting life.  This is a great comfort but this a profound blessing.

If this is indeed what the Lord will do for us, what do we need to do so that all that He has promised, we may know.  It is interesting that our Lord points us here to His commandments.  If you love Me, keep my commandments.  The great temptation is to believe that this is about behavior.  If you loved Me, you would shape up your lives and keep the commandments.  But His life among us and in us is not conditioned upon what we do.  It is at work through His Word preached and read and through His sacraments of life and worship.   Here the commandments are not the conditions of His presence among us but the fruits.  Our love for God is not a feeling or an emotion but the desire of new hearts bestowed upon us in baptism, hearts that love and seek the will of the Father before all other things.  If we love Him, then His love will dwell in us and in what we value and desire.

Christ will not abandon us and now He calls on us not to forsake Him.  The Church is our mother in Christ, the place where we received the new birth of water and the Spirit and constant voice of God saying and doing what is good, right, and true .  Let us live like our Mother, walking in the ways of our Savior even we rejoice in His good and gracious gifts for us and our salvation.  Christ has established the Church to be our mother, the womb of the font whereby we are born again, and the table where He feeds us heaven’s food.

Having a mother is a great gift.  She is not simply the one who gives us birth but who sustains our lives.  God bless those who show us a mother’s love.  But it is exactly this love that our Lord shows us through His Church and the means of grace that are the beating heart and life of that Church.  He has done everything so that we might never be alone.  Now He calls us to do everything so that we will not orphan ourselves by disdaining His Word that is the lamp to our feet and the light to our paths and by forgetting the baptismal gift of new birth and by forgetting to stop by His Table where He has set us a place and feeds us still.  If you would have Christ as your brother, you must have the Church as your mother for therein is the work of Christ done that reborn by baptism you may be sustained to everlasting life.

Our Lord will never leave or forsake us but we leave and forsake Him all the time. We take His name in vain instead of calling on it in prayer and praise.  We do not honor His Word with our full attention.  We do not honor the gift of family as God made us and still sustains us.  We live in lies instead of the truth of His Word and we kill one another instead of honoring our relationship and life together as fellow members of the body of Christ.  We dishonor the body of Christ the Church as if our lives in Christ were less important than our individual life in Him.

Let us rejoice that Christ who has kept His promise, has given us new birth of water and the Spirit, leads us by His voice in Scripture, and daily and richly feeds us His food for life in this blest Communion.  Let us rejoice in the earthly institution of the family and order it rightly according to His Word and intent.  Let us live within the unity of His Church where He keeps us close to Him.  Let us rejoice to love Him who loved us more than death and loves us enough to grant us eternal life.  Let us pray by the Spirit that the words of our mouths and the actions we take are for Him, reflective of His love, and serve His glory.  Let us keep the faith and be faithful to Him who died that we might live. In the holy name of Jesus. 

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