Written in the book of life
Job 19, 1 Corinthians 15, John 14
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Revelation 3:5 – “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him her what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The sermon text that I’ve chosen is met by the readings read earlier, the same readings that were chosen for Herb’s wife Betty, when she passed away two years ago January. They tell the tale of a God whose words have weight and of a Savior that conquered the grave. Two stories and two lessons for today as we reflect on the readings before us.
First from Pastor Dahl. I was talking with Pastor Dahl yesterday about Herb, and he said that whenever he came to the old farmhouse where Herb and Betty lived, he would sit down and they would shoot the breeze a little bit, and if you knew Betty and Herb, you knew that Betty did most of the talking. Herb wasn’t much in it for the small talk, at least with the pastor, and so they would talk for a while and it would come time for Pastor Dahl to take out his communion set. He would ask, “Can I offer you communion?” And this part, he says with a twinkle in his eye, Herb would sit up straight. He would bring his hands up on the table, and he would be ready, because he knew that this was the reason for the visit.
Herb knew that there were times to talk about the weather and times to talk about faith. Times to talk about little things and times to talk about big things. Times to let the hours pass by and times to get to the point.
Lesson number one is to remember what you should sit up straight for. Remember what is important in this life. Remember that the most important things of this life aren’t even of this life – they are a foretaste of the feast to come. They are the reason why Job could declare before God and man in the midst of pain, of terrible suffering, “I know that my redeemer lives and at the last I will see him on this earth.” They are the reason why all those baptized into the blood of the lamb can depart in peace, for his word has been fulfilled.
As often as we remember when salvation washed over us like the water of our Baptism, salvation is ours. As often as we recite the truths of the Bible that we’ve learned from our mother’s knee, those promises become real again. As often as we taste the bread and drink the wine, forgiveness is ours in bodily form. As often as we hear the weighty and true words of Scripture that point us toward a Savior who lived, died, and was raised to life for us, his resurrection is ours.
Second, from this last week. I talked to Gary before the Wednesday service, and he indicated that Herb had been going downhill, and asked that I come. After service, I came down and about 8:00 we spoke the Apostle’s Creed and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I made the sign of the cross both upon Herb’s forehead and upon his heart, the same sign of the cross made over him in his baptism, marking him as one redeemed by Christ crucified. We prayed, and I left Gary and Jeff as they settled in for the night. It was the next day when I heard that the night was not long. His breathing had slowed, and he passed away moments after I left.
It is never ours to know the day or time when our loved ones pass away, but know this: that our Lord and Savior had been preparing Herb’s room in his Father’s house since before he was knit together in his mother’s womb, and he would bring him home in his time. Herb’s name had been written in the book of life, and no one, absolutely no one, could blot it out.
Lesson number two is to trust our Savior to do exactly what he needs to do for you, exactly when he needs to do it. Whether you know the reasons yet or not. Whether it seems to make sense or not. Whether it meets your expectations or not. He is the way, he is the truth, and he is the life, and he will guide you along at his pace, in his time, to his end, even unto eternal life.
It is in the cross of Christ that our Savior proves to be stronger than the strength of men. It is in the cross of Christ that our Savior proves to be wiser than the wisdom of men. It is in his death and resurrection that our Savior guides us along in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He has faced the valley of the shadow of death for us. And he has won.
Today, I invite you to rest in the promises of God knowing that his goodness is beyond measure. I invite you to take ahold of the peace that passes understanding, knowing that our Savior holds us in his hands already. Stay here today as we speak words about life and death, words that matter, and as we rejoice as we cling to the promise that our Savior has brought life out of death, and in the last all those clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness have their names written in the book of life and will stand to see our God face to face.
Hope in Every Place
Focus: Jesus Christ brings hope to every place.
Function: that the hearers find hope in every place
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today we continue in our five-part sermon series focused on distinctively Christian hope – Where it comes from, what it points to, what it makes us do now. This is the fourth of five, Hope In Every Place.
Where do you expect to find God?
I can tell you most often where American culture would like to find God: nature. It would have you climb up into a tree stand at 4 in the morning to see the sun creep up over the horizon. Our culture would have us climb mountains and stand under waterfalls to feel transcendence. It would have you go to the same places every culture would have you go, to ancient places, to rare places, down into the depths or up in to the highest heights.
And also, I can tell you what the Christian answer is: Church. And I can tell you what one friend of mine said when I asked him about his summer Sunday morning routine, which involved one or two rounds of golf, and he said: Paul, wouldn’t you rather me on the golf course thinking about church than in church thinking about the golf course?
Now, that’s a smart-alecky response, but it helps us remember how Christians usually think of church. We think of it as a place filled with all kinds of beautiful artwork and reminders of God’s promises, and it’s a place where pastors do their thing, where members come to worship, where God comes to us in Word and in Sacrament, and where people leave worship to serve God in their daily lives.
Dear Christian friends, the text we have before us is a text where Jesus reconciles these two views, but he doesn’t do it how you would think he would. Last week, Jesus had been in Capernaum and all kinds of small towns before coming to Nazareth and doing much the same thing in Nazareth that he had been doing around other places, and in last week’s text, we saw Jesus go to work preaching. This week, we see all the other kinds of ministry that his preaching led to.
You see, Jesus didn’t enter into a vacuum when he was born of a virgin, grew up, and began his ministry. He came, preceded by the prophets, preceded by John, preceded by the temple, the synagogues and all kinds of opportunities for his people to hear the words about him, day in and day out. When he comes, he comes into the midst of his people so that he can bring those words to life.
And then things get real. First, the Spirit leads Jesus to a synagogue to preach and a man with an unclean spirit shows up. And then, the same word that had just explained the Scriptures in a new way – and with authority – is the word that rebukes the demon and restores peace.
Second, the Spirit leads Jesus into Simon Peter’s house to see his mother-in-law, and the same word that had rebuked the unclean spirit now rebukes a fever and brings peace, a peace that lets Simon’s mother-in-law to heal so completely that she return immediately to normal life.
And after rebuking all kinds of physical and spiritual ailments, third, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where the purpose of Christ once again becomes clear. He’s no physician who heals himself – His father is sending him to other towns still.
So, where does this get us with our question? Where do you expect to find God?
Well, it seems as though the first place that we found God in our readings for today was in the synagogues. The same God who had been with his people in the flame of Moses’ day also filled the temple of Solomon’s day with the cloudy train of his presence and the same God who filled their hearts with sorrow and joy in the reading of the book of the Law in Nehemiah’s day also gathered his people in synagogues to be with them as they remembered his promises to them in the day of Jesus.
Because back then as well as today, Church isn’t a place; it’s a people. It’s a people that gather around God’s word so that they listen with their ears and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and let that simple confession of the early church fill their hearts and their lives.
So, first, our answer to this question is to say that we find God where he promises he’ll show up and he says, where two or three are gathered, there I will be. He says, you are the body of Christ and all of you are body parts in the body of Christ. He says, find me in the bread and body, the wine and blood that I’ve shed for you. He says, find me in the waters of baptism that wash over you to deliver to you a faith that reaches far, far deeper than simple understanding. It delivers to you a relationship we can only begin to describe by calling God “Father.”
If it doesn’t start here, it doesn’t start. If it doesn’t come from the promises that God has told from the beginning of humankind, then as Paul says, It is a false gospel told by a false angel, and as a starting point, it’s worthless. The hope that flows from the second person of the Trinity and his ministry is the same hope that the Father has sent through the Son and now delivers to us in the Spirit. If it weren’t then it wouldn’t be hope.
But notice in our text where Jesus goes. From the gathered congregation around, he brings the church to all kinds of places. He takes them to the daily places of their lives – “to the privacy of Peter’s house, to the common streets of the city, and then in the roads that travel to [all kinds of] other places in the world.”
From the Word spoken in the synagogue, Jesus does something remarkable. Second, our answer follows Jesus from the synagogue to the streets. He begins to claim the whole world as his own. He rebukes demons and fevers. He is absolutely letting His word do its work wherever he would go. Because he’s on a mission to save the whole world, first the Jews, then the Greeks. First to redeem man, then to redeem the whole kit and caboodle. And this is important. “Jesus claims all places in him as places where he can bring hope.”
Do not be afraid to walk highways and byways with Christ. If you are searching for the church, you need look no further than the people of Christ doing the things of Christ. You need look no further than Christian carpenters making really good tables, you need look no further than kind and generous people hurting for others and rejoicing with others, you need look no further all kinds of broken and hurting people hearing as for the first time the promise of God’s forgiveness, and that can happen at any time, in any place where the people of God are listening to the Word of God.
Third, notice that Jesus doesn’t just go to these places. He transforms them. He fills them. Where unclean spirits would torment men, Jesus leaves a trail of people-made-whole. Where ailments would pull people onto hospital beds, Jesus leaves a trail of people grateful to God for how hope had come to their place. When he searches out among the common streets and the highways, they become the holiest temple of God, where God’s word is spoken, where the release of the kingdom of heaven changes lives, where God himself shows up in his promises, and where people lie prostrated on the ground worshipping their God. He brings hope to many places and then that hope transforms them.
C.S. Lewis writes it like this: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has rise: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Knowledge of God and worship in his word transforms every place, whether it’s beautiful or common, into a place of worship. But it does so not as to replace his word but as an extension of it.
This is the reason why we teach our children memory verses – so that those verses and stories follow them around all their days. This is the reason that we remember feasts and festivals, why we speak the same rich words week in and week out. So that, when we really need them, the words are there. They come to life in a way that took years of repetition to deepen.
And I would ask you to hold one last insight: Christ is there before his disciples and followers. That is, the people following Jesus around are following him around. They trail where he leads. And more than that, as Jesus walks around, he is led by the Spirit on his path and the Father sets all kinds of people in his path.
One of the prayers that our office people pray at the beginning of our day together is that God would bless all the god-ordained divine appointments we have today, whether we scheduled them or not. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are joking, talking, laughing and crying with people within whose lives our Lord and savior is already moving, working, and guiding. The God of the universe precedes you into their lives, and he will be there working even after you are gone.
So, in our days, I would urge you to pray this prayer: Dear God, Thank you for letting me be a part in this person’s life. Please show me where you are already working. Lead me to be a part of what you’re already doing, and when we part, please keep on following them around with goodness and mercy all their days. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Lamentations 3:20-24, Revelation 21:1-6, Matthew 28:18-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we meditate I’d like to tell you two stories today, two stories from Reuben’s life, and two lessons from those stories.
Story number 1. Pastor Griffin and I spent some time reminiscing about visiting Reuben, and Pastor Griffin told me, many times when he’d go to see Reuben, Pastor Griffin would say the Words of Institution, and together they would remember the promises of God, and he would hand Reuben the bread that Christ calls body and Reuben would take it and hold it up to the light, and say “Pastor, I need this.” And he’d answer back, “Yes, Reuben, you and me both.”
Dear Christian friends, I didn’t know Reuben in his heyday. I didn’t know Reuben in his golden years. No, I knew him in his twilight. I knew him in his need. I knew him in the Janesville Nursing Home and in the Cottagewood Grove Facility as he neared his last days. And I can tell you in his twilight, he knew deeply his need. That he did not deserve God’s grace. That his need was great, and he couldn’t fill it on his own.
And I can tell you something more: that the saving knowledge of his Lord Jesus Christ had taken root deeply, more deeply into his heart, that he was saved by grace, not because of his own works but because of the free gift of God so that no one can boast. The saving knowledge of his Lord Jesus Christ had taken ahold of him ever more firmly even as his own grasp of this world grew weak. The saving knowledge of his Lord Jesus Christ, that he held to firmly from his mother’s knee, now holds him firmly, as it ever has, because that is who his savior is and that is who his savior always has been and that is who his savior always will be and that, my dear Christian friends, is good news, really good news.
Lesson number one is that I would urge you in your days to know your need, or as Revelation says it, to know your thirst. In his twilight years, Reuben came to terms with his sins, his failure and his need for a savior to wash all of them away. Our savior is eager, absolutely eager to take away our sin, to do away with our guilt, to wipe every tear from our eye, to give to the thirsty the living water of pure, unadulterated, fresh Gospel without condition, without stipulation, totally and utterly free. Our Good Shepherd is eager, absolutely eager to take from us the crushing weight of our sin and to set us free like an earthbound farm boy flying a plane for the first time. Can you imagine that?
Story number 2. I remember in my times visiting Reuben, after communion I’d say the words of the dismissal blessing – “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you now unto life everlasting. Amen.” And he’d say, “Oh, that’s good.” And then I’d say, “There’s more, Reuben” and sing the Song of Simeon – Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” and he’d say, “Oh, that’s really good, pastor.” And then I’d say “But there’s more, Reuben” and I would say the benediction – “The Lord bless you and keep you…” and he’d let out a “Whewww!” in the way that only Reuben could, and he’d get all kinds of worked up and just go to town.
As often as he ate that bread and drank that wine, he was granted forgiveness from on high. As often as he ate that body and drank that blood, his sins though they were like scarlet were washed as white as the pure driven snow, and if you’re wondering what that looks like, just wait until Monday. As often as he remembered that his savior had bled and died for him on the cross, salvation for his soul was given to him. As often as he heard God’s Word and held fast to His promises, Reuben could see that God’s mercies had been new every morning, and that they still are new every morning, and every morning that is a morning begins with a shout to God “Great is thy faithfulness,” and that’s good news, really good news.
Lesson number two is that you would know God’s mercies when the dawn is clear and the sun is bright, yes, but that you would know them especially when the morning is clouded and the sun is hidden. Do you hear Jesus’ promise in Matthew 28? I am with you to the very end of the age. Do you think he means “I am there with you until things get pretty tough?” NO! Do you think he means “I am there with you until you really screw up?” NO! Do you think he means “I am there with you until the day you can’t see me anymore?” NO! He means I am with you, and that will never change. I am with you always, I am with you all your life, I am with you to the day of your death, and I am with you beyond into eternity. I am with you always, because I am your good shepherd, and I do what a good shepherd does: I follow you around with all kinds of goodness and mercy, whether you’re keeping to the path or I have to chase after you a little. I am with you beyond what you can even fathom, even to the very end of the age.
Today I invite you to hold fast to the one thing that really matters in this life – hold fast to the promises of God. Hold fast to the story of Jesus Christ. Hold fast to the hope of your salvation. Because that’s good news. Really, really good news.
Amen and Amen
Hope Made Real
Focus: God’s promises are made real in Christ.
Function: that the hearers find their security in Christ.
Today we continue in our five-part sermon series focused on distinctively Christian hope – Where it comes from, what it points to, what it makes us do now. This is the third of five, Hope Made Real.
What does it take for something to become real to you?
For me, when I think of making something real, I remember my last year of seminary school in the spring. I had been running on the same shoes for about a year longer than I should have and at the end of a run, I ran up the ginormous last hill into campus, I slowed down, stretched and started up the steps to my dorm room. And then I heard it. My right knee sounded fine, but my left sounded like quuuuuukkkkkk… like a rock tumbler. And in that moment I got clued into the reality that had been around me all that time – if I wanted to keep my knees, I needed to treat them nice. It became real to me. If I wanted to keep my body, I had to take care of it.
I tell you that to tell you this, for most of us, or for me at least, it takes us actually getting down into the reality of the situation, bucking heads in the nitty-gritty of the moment, before we have a real appreciation for the reality that’s been there the entire time. For some pastors, it takes putting on the stole for the first time before they understand what it means to be a pastor. For newlyweds, it takes the first major fight to realize that marriage has always been hard work, and it's the hard work that makes it good. For the man sitting in the hospital, it takes getting his first stint put in after his heart attack to understand what he’s been doing to his body all these years and how something needs to change…
When have you been in that moment, where your perception of reality and what’s important comes up against reality itself and what’s actually important? What does it feel like to you? At least for me, when that happens, first I get angry. I think, “This can’t be true. It must be a mistake.” And then I start to feel ashamed. I think, “I don’t want to face this because I never should have let it get to this point.” But then I start to realize that I have two choices, and either I can face reality and do something or I can give up and try to ignore it, knowing full well that it can’t be ignored.
Today is the story of Jesus confronting an ugly and false reality in his hometown. He’s been walking around preaching the same message in all kinds of small towns up to this point, and he travels home to do the same thing in Nazareth. He reads these verses from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind” (that’s Isaiah 61), and “To set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (that’s Isaiah 58).
And then Jesus says these words: Today, this Scripture is fulfilled.
And the crowd goes ballistic. They just go bonkers. You see, these texts from Isaiah were understood to talk about the Messiah, about how the Messiah would come and what he would do to set all things to right, and the crowd had a picture in their mind of the reality that the Messiah would usher in.
Their perception of reality at this point included a hometown boy (which Jesus was) going around (like Jesus was doing) healing people, gaining popularity, and now that he’s come home, he’s going to heal people and gain popularity right there in his hometown. And they’re pretty happy about the whole affair. It’s a win-win situation for them.
Except for the fact that Jesus can see into their hearts.
The hometown boy quotes this against them, he says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’” Those are the same kinds of words they say to him on the cross, “He saved others, why will he not save himself.” And it echoes in our society when people say “We spend X amount of billion dollars overseas. Why don’t we just use it all to take care of our own?” We should take care of our own. And then he uses the examples in the Old Testament about Gentiles that the prophets healed, and they become enraged to the point that they would throw him off a cliff and drop stones on him.
The false reality they held in their hearts was twofold. First, they thought they had a favorable status with Jesus because of things that didn’t matter to him. Second, they confused good things like healings with the ultimate thing: salvation.
And they go ballistic. They just go bonkers. They are confronted with a reality that doesn’t match up with the one in their mind, and their first reaction is to reject the hope that’s made real right before their eyes. In their anger, they choose to follow their own wishes rather than their God.
Jesus says to his people then, your perception of reality doesn’t square with the mission that I have here. My mission is a ministry to all. My mission is a running after the poor, the impoverished, those who have no favored status with the divine. My mission is to first give salvation and then pour out all kinds of gifts on my people, so that they can do the same. My mission is to look you unflinchingly in the eye and see the worst sins that’ve set down deep in the hearts of my people. My mission is to dive down to the bottom of your soul, to dredge up the mucky bottom of your hearts, to pull up all kinds of nastiness, all sorts of failure. My mission is to sink down with the lowest of the low, to die the lowest of deaths so that I can be humiliated with the burden of the whole world’s sin.
Because before all healing, all health, before all social standing, before even food and water and shelter, your need, Jesus says, your need, is forgiveness and salvation. Everything else in this life and beyond flows from forgiveness and salvation. Every day is the best day ever, because you are saved, and you are forgiven. Every night is the best night ever, because you are saved, and you are forgiven. Every success and every failure is ok, because you are saved and you are forgiven.
You’re free to do what God has designed you to do.
Christianity is about strong morals and doing the right thing. It is about being good to your neighbor, and suffering patiently in affliction. It’s about supporting the God-given authority of those in power and assisting them in what is right. It’s about social justice and putting clothes on backs and food in mouths and helping people to stand on their feet.
But none of those is the most important thing.
It is Christ and Christ alone who is offensive to all other religion. It is Christ, the God-made-flesh that sets our Christianity apart from the religions of the world. It is Christ who is the stumbling block and Christ who is the lynchpin of our entire life.
So then, the question is, how then shall we live? How do you live as if forgiveness and salvation is the best thing ever?
First, we recognize that excess in this life is toxic. To the Nazarenes, the best thing in this life looked like having a specially favored relationship with the Messiah, with all the perks that come with it. To a hungry man, the best thing in this life looks like a crust of bread. To a fat man, the best thing in this life looks like a good diet. To a love-starved lonely man, the best thing in this life looks like the companionship of marriage. To a man fed up with his family, the best thing in this life looks like peace and quiet.
The lesson that we learn in each of these is first that excess in any category is toxic. But here’s the greater lesson: even in a life without excess, toxic things still creep in.
Second, we recognize that the very best thing of this life is not in fact of this life. He is beyond this life begotten before all creation, and he decided to come to us, so that in the end, we might go to be with him.
Amen and Amen.
Focus: God reconciles us through Christ.
Function: That the hearer live in the hope of reconciliation by reconciling with others.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the start of the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a season of light and of awakening. It means revealing, and in the next five weeks, we look at how Jesus reveals all kinds of hope in all sorts of ways with all kinds of different people.
So, then, what is hope? That’s our first question. One theologian put it like this: “Simply defined, hope is an expectation of the future…” It’s looking ahead into the unknown with expectations for how it will be. And he goes on: “Hope involves a larger story, as the past, the present, and the future are woven together in a delicate, life-changing balance.” And if that’s too opaque for you, he gets specific: “hope occurs when a past experience generates trust in a certain future that changes one’s … present.” End quote. When the past helps you see a future, and that future makes you change what you do in the present.
Hope happens every time a dying man remembers God’s faithfulness in his baptism, knows it extends past his death and faces that death with strength. Hope happens every time a mom and dad remember past mistakes, look for their children’s future and keep working in the present for that purpose. Hope happens every time a struggling couple remembers their wedding vows, looks to the future of how Christ will come back for his bride the church, and starts acting like Christ for their spouse, starts finding ways to lay down life for his spouse.
So, what kind of hope do we find in our text?
Well, first we should remember what the people gathered around John remembered for themselves. When they saw John, they thought about how Elijah was supposed to come back from the dead. They thought about how the Messiah was supposed to rule like a king and subdue all the nations that had done them wrong. They thought about the promises that God gave to Adam, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Judah, to David, to Isaiah. They saw with their own eyes a man who looked a lot like a Messiah, a man named John the Baptizer, and started to believe in their own hearts that he would lead Israel as an agent of God’s anger toward the nations.
That’s the hope they had, a hope in God’s righteous wrath, God’s punishing wrath, coming for the people who hate. But a hope in the anger of God to punish the nations, it’s a dangerous kind of a hope. It’s dangerous because it expects God to come in the clouds with a scale to weigh others in the balance, to weigh their good and their bad and find them lacking. It expects God to come to smite Israel’s enemies. It expects God to come to exercise his perfect judgment among us, because we know our enemies are lacking.
And, that’s all in the psalms, and that’s all true. If you look at John the Baptizer’s teaching, you see him pile on more of the same when he says, “Whoever has two tunics, you should share. Whoever has food should have meals with others. Whoever deals with money should not extort.” And guess what? That’s not even the end – Jesus revisits this in his sermon on the plain. He says, “You’ve got to do all that, but it’s not only for your friends but most especially for those whom you dislike, not only for people of goodwill but moreover for persons of ill repute, not only when you’re having a good and generous day but especially when you’re having a really, really bad day.” And when you think of it like that, if that’s that standard of perfection, it becomes harder and harder to see ourselves as the righteous few and easier and easier to see ourselves as the guilty many.
But that’s not the only picture we see from the Old Testament. Isaiah pictures the Messiah as a conquering king, yes, but also as a humble servant, one who will turn the tables on justice, one who instead of being glorified, he will be humiliated, a shepherd who will take the stripes that his sheep deserve.
And not just for the lost sheep of Israel. When our God considers to save Israel only, he says, “No, that’s too light a thing.” No, he came so that Israel would be a light for the nations, drawing all peoples to himself. The future is a vision that God didn’t just come as a conquering king. No, he came as a king who is a servant.
Did you notice that little piece in the text? John says, “I’m not worthy to untie his sandals.” As you might know, it was customary when a guest came into your home, if you were a Jew you’d have servants untie sandals and wash feet. And again, by custom, if you had a Jewish servant, this task was too lowly a thing for the Jew to do, so they would have a Gentile servant do it. So when John says, “I am not worthy to do even this,” he means, “I’m not even worthy to do the lowest work of the lowest servant for this man.”
Now, fast-forward to John 13 and take this in: Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Jesus does what was too lowly a thing for a Jewish servant to do. It was too great a thing for John the Baptizer to do for Jesus, and here we have the king of all the universe wrapping his outer garment around his waist and washing the feet of those who would disown him, deny him, and betray him. That’s the picture of life everlasting with Jesus. He’s a king who is a servant, who serves us even to our salvation, even when we are still sinners.
So, if the past tells us of the God who is king coming among us and he will judge us for our deeds, if the future reality is that this king is also a servant and he will get on his hands and knees to serve us his salvation, then what should it make you do?
In this present I would ask you to take hold of the picture of God we find in Jesus rising from the waters. Do you see the way the Trinity comes together for this brief and fleeting moment? Look at the Father, who is cracks open the heaven like a door, who declares Jesus beloved, who greatly favors Jesus to live the life that will make all dead men rise. See the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove, sent by the Father to the Son, to be sent by that same Son into our hearts by the very same baptism that all believers share in Christ. See Christ pray to his Father in perfect submission, knowing for himself the path he would have to walk. Look and revel, just soak in this picture of the perfect harmony of sacrifice, submission, salvation, perfection, of the three in one and one in three.
The title of this sermon is Hope Reconciling, and I was listening to a preacher the other day that made the distinction between forgiving and reconciling. He said, Forgiveness only takes one, but reconciling takes two. Forgiveness is burying the past. Reconciliation is looking toward the future. Forgiveness is breaking down barriers. Reconciling is building up trust. Who do you need to build trust with?
And so we see the hope of reconciliation in our text. First in our text we see the way that the Father, Spirit, and Son, are absolutely of one will, they’re perfectly harmonious, without needing reconciliation because they have what reconciliation brings: trust, harmony and an unbroken relationship.
And then Paul in Romans goes there for us: He says, not only does God have what reconciliation brings, but when you’re brought into the body of Christ, you die with Christ and live again in him. In 2 Corinthians, he says it like this: you are a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come. When you become a new creation – when the barriers of sin are broken down by the relentless forgiveness of God – then God begins the work of restoring the kind of relationship that has perfect trust and harmony. And then he says, you’re now an ambassador of that reconciliation. It’s your job to go around reconciling, building trust and harmony, not with the kind of people that believe the same kinds of things that we do, but moreover with all kinds of people that don’t want our kind of trust and harmony.
And John adds this to the end: He says, At this time, we experience brokenness at the same time that we experience harmony. There will be a day when the king who is a servant comes back and fixes all that is broken, heals all that is hurt, reconciles all that is irreconcilable in these days. Have you ever had a bridge you thought was too badly burned for you to cross again?
It’s called the kingdom of Heaven, and our God has brought you in on the ground floor. He’s called you to be part of how the Kingdom of Heaven breaks into this world and associates with the kinds of people that the world says we shouldn’t associate with, and shares food with all kinds of people, for the express reason that we’re all human and we get hungry, and confesses sins alongside the kinds of people that the world doesn’t think are worth forgiving.
In conclusion, when I think of reconciliation in our text, I think about the heavenly banquet table, the one that Pastor Griffin says has only sausage and cheese on it, but I imagine it with all kinds of good things, and I look to my right and to my left, and I see among the saints and the kindly old ladies, I see the people that disturb and annoy me the most, sitting next to me for eternity, and in the here and now, I ask the question, am I glad? Am I glad to be surrounded by murderers, racists, the unkind, the cruel, the angry, the deceitful, the self-righteous? Am I glad to be surrounded by the great cloud of those whose sin makes us like scarlet, so that his blood can wash us white as snow? If, in that day, full reconciliation is joy to the fullest, then it is also the start of joy in this life. Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters