Heaven on Earth: Service of the Word
Third sermon in a series of six
Isaiah 55:6-11 // Romans 10:14-17 // Luke 19:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You’ll notice that I’m in the pulpit today, and that’s because today we meditate on the Service of the Word, the first high point in the Divine Service. Our sermon pursues all three texts read, especially these words from Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We are three sermons into a series on the liturgy, asking why we do what we do, what it means to worship the way that we do, how the liturgy is supposed to form not just this hour but every hour, every day, every year of our lives. And to that end, we study the Service of the Word. I would invite you to turn your eyes to the screen.
One question for our meditation today, two answers. The question we ask of the Divine Service is this: How does the Service of the Word form us? What kind of a pattern is it supposed to make in our lives?
Answer number one for today is that Christ is our down arrow. Answer number two is that our response ought to be “Thanks be to God.”
Christ is the down arrow – he’s God in pursuit of us. That’s what we find in Luke 19. Christ comes to Zaccheus. He pursues him. He invites himself into the man’s house, and then he declares, “The Son of Man came for the purpose of seeking and saving those who are losing themselves to ruin.”
This distinguishes Christianity among world religions. In no other religion but Christianity does God humble himself in order to die for our sins, so that he can pursue the world’s people with his gifts of salvation. In no other religion but Christianity does God wrap us in the robe of his righteousness, for the sake of the blood he shed while we were still sinners.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are purused by their savior. Their salvation is wholly in his hands, and they rest in his amazing grace.
It’s like a mother and a father who could be all kinds of worried about how their kids will grow up, but they know that their children are children of the heavenly father, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.
It’s like a bunch of 7thand 8thgraders that are learning again how their God has spent all that only God can spend to purchase and win them from all that can truly hurt them. Christ is the down arrow; he’s God in pursuit of us.
Our response is “Thanks be to God.” That is to say, in every and any circumstance, find a way to be grateful. I think about this in Isaiah 55 – those beautiful words of promise, that as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it before they water the earth making bread for the eater and seed for the sower, so shall my word be – this is God talking here – that comes out of my mouth, and here’s the promise God’s make: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
So, the question is, “What is the purpose of God’s word?” Much of the time when confronted by questions like this, I need to use the theologian’s primary answer: “I don't know.” But for this question, we know well: the purpose of God is that which has revealed as his purpose, as his essence, as his chief quality: his desire to have mercy.
All his Scripture as written to that end. All of his work in the world is to that end. All that our God does to bring this age to a close is so that all would see his mercy.
The trouble, of course, is that there are so many places where that mercy seems very far off, so many times when it seems impossible for us to know what God’s purpose is, let alone to say, “Thanks be to God.” And one of those places was the Siberian prison camp in communist Russia. I want to read you a story, from a priest who died last year.
“Father Placid, a 100-year-old Hungarian priest, a ... happy, gentle man [that] had spent 10 years of his life beaten, starved, and forced into hard labor in an inhumane Siberian prison camp.” What did he do to survive? Four things:
1. Don't complain. It makes things worse. Philippians 2:14-16
2. Find reasons to rejoice (an extra piece of potato in your thin soup; a guard who doesn’t make you remove your hat in the icy wind). Philippians 4:4-9
3. Remember you're never alone. Jesus is with you. Hebrews 13:5
4. Show the guards you're different because of your faith. Matthew 5:16
These principles can help us think and act like Christians whatever our circumstances, freeing us from all types of "prisons."
Thank-you, Father Placid!”
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that know their salvation is won by the merit of Jesus alone. They know that this truth doesn't change, and every week they come back again and again to remember it again.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man having a really bad day, the kind of day where everything is going just about as wrong as it ever could, and still it has been his habit to be grateful from the good, to be seeking out when and how to say, “Thanks be to God.”
It’s like a woman who’s first inclination is to let the few bad things in her life color all of the good, but then she steps back, she remembers how her savior has served her, and she can let everything be whatever it is.
It’s like farmers and city folk, young and old, clean cut and shaggy, suits and blue jeans, police and felons all coming into the same sanctuary to hear the same word, to respond the same way and to know that the same savior knows them better than they know themselves, the same savior has paid more than they can imagine for them, the same savior has given them a love that surpasses their understanding.
Thanks be to God.
Amen and Amen.
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