Third Sunday of Advent (Readings from Adv 2B) December 11th, A+D 2011
Mission Sunday – Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, Rev. Joshua Gale
Isaiah 40:1-11 and 2nd Peter 3:8-14
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
And so we have reason enough to involve ourselves in outreach, because the Lord wills that all should reach repentance, that all should know and turn in fear from their sin, to behold the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the Lord’s will, and so we who belong to the Lord share this desire. The fact that the Lord has made possible the salvation of all, and wills repentance for all, and has given us the message of repentance, this these are reasons enough for every Christian to be mindful and deliberate about the tasks of outreach the Lord puts in front of us all.
But there is more reason than the will of God, which is the law for us, the law we sinners struggle to fulfill. There is God’s will, and also there is the promise of joy. Oh the joy to be involved, even by observing, as the Lord draws another sinner to Himself, through the Savior’s forgiving blood, to see an act of earthly kindness open up a conversation about heavenly things, to be present, and involved, as the Word of Christ creates a new, believing heart in yet another sinner, to hear the confession of faith and hope in Jesus from someone who formerly had no hope for eternity, maybe no hope for today. These are incredible gifts from the Father above, gifts that belong to those He calls into the support of His mission outreach.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. This, in a nutshell, describes the work of Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, a new mission, organized and primarily supported by a coalition of Missouri Synod Churches in the Philadelphia area, a mission to take the love of Christ into the meanest streets of the City of Brotherly Love, a city that despite her name knows hard times, a city whose heart and center has become a wilderness of poverty, both physical and spiritual.
Comfort. The poor and the homeless in Philadelphia, like the poor and homeless in any American city, are not so due to a lack of resources. Caring for them in their physical needs takes some money, but throwing money at the problem and expecting it to go away is foolish. There are issues and roadblocks in the lives of the poor, in the communities they live, in the society we have crafted for ourselves, issues that will suck in mere cash support and spit out more suffering people. No, for material and financial support to impact lives, for real and lasting improvements, such support must, among other things, be carried to those in need by people committed to the long term, by people who know the people they are helping, who are a part of their lives and can be on the ground, seeing up close what works, what is really needed, and what should not be done.
And so, Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries is seeking to be in the community, permanently, working to develop centers that become permanent fortresses of hope, new and lasting resources in the community, centers from which to reach out, to do the daily, repetitive work, the long term, enduring work, that has a chance to make a permanent impact in people’s lives. Real comfort, for real people.
Comfort, and pardon. Committing to the long term support of earthly needs also sets up the proper conditions for truly and evangelically addressing the eternal needs of these same people. Churches have a tendency to abandon inner city areas, for real and legitimate reasons. Churches also have a tendency to abandon inner city areas for false and sinful reasons. Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries seeks to take the Church back into the heart of the inner city wilderness, and the comfort work, the mercy work that they are pursuing, creates the opportunity. For the poor and needy are also sinners, sinners very often ready for a Savior. The down and out are often obvious, big time sinners, visibly suffering from their sins, and the sins of others, hating the sin that entangles them, but unable to free themselves.
They are, in many ways, not like us. Oh, we are real, big time sinners too, just as much in need of God’s salvation. But our relative riches give us the means to hide our sin, to appear to have things under control. Which of the various groups described in the Gospels would we appear most like? Relatively wealthy, outwardly religious, maintaining an façade of righteousness? The Pharisees come to mind. But the sinners, the sick and lame, the prostitutes, the demon possessed, the tax collectors despised by all? These seem more like the poor and homeless of our big cities, and even of some not so big booming oil towns, too. And of course, it was not the Pharisees, but these poor and lowly who were most receptive to Christ when He came with comfort, and the word of pardon.
We all need pardon for our sins, but the needy people that Pastor Joshua Gale and company at Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries are seeking to serve are in many ways a bigger opportunity, more receptive to listening to the word of pardon, because they cannot pretend to not be sinners. And so, leading with a work of comfort, generating opportunities for conversation by meeting real human needs, Pastor Gale then is in an excellent position to speak of God’s pardon, to declare the wholly unexpected way God in Christ has addressed the great need of sinners, by putting all human sin onto the Sinless One, and having Him bear it to a Roman cross, there to suffer and die, in order that sin and the eternal death it brings are swallowed up and washed away in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
In many ways, the Lutheran Church in America began in Philadelphia, almost 300 years ago. In parts of Philadelphia today, the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments is ancient history, long forgotten. Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries is striving to change this sad reality. Just as Paul encouraged outlying congregations in the early Church to support the suffering saints in Jerusalem, it is good for us to take an offering to support the Church in the American mother city of Philadelphia, for there are people there in need of comfort, sinners in need of pardon.
I pray also that we learn from Philadelphia. For situations, challenges and opportunities vary from place to place and time to time, but the truth is every community, large or small, is filled with people in need of some kind of comfort, and even more surely is filled with sinners in need of the only true pardon, the “double back for your sins” pardon of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, the only Savior.
I pray that we learn from Philadelphia for the sake of the people coming to our community, and for ourselves. For in truth, we are them. We are sinners, suffering in ways that perhaps seem petty compared to the inner-city homeless, but suffering none the less with problems we cannot overcome, like fighting and anger in our families, as those closest to us pull away and reject each other, problems like depression, and cancer, and chronic pain, problems like substance abuse, and hidden sinful habits that ought not be spoken of, but must, for the sake of salvation. We are not so open to being helped with our earthly needs, pride and reputation being precious to us. God grant that we learn to recognize and seize opportunities to help people, to help each other, and to accept needed help. And even more, God grant us ears to hear, and hearts to believe the Good News, the life-giving news of free forgiveness for sinners, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. Comfort and joy are yours, through the bountiful mercy and grace of God. For your many earthly blessings, give thanks to God. For the opportunity to share, body and soul, in the work God has given Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, and also to share in the work God has given Trinity Lutheran Church of Sidney, give thanks to God. And most of all give thanks to God, for He has ended your warfare, He has purchased your pardon, and He is here today, to deliver His joy to you, in Christ Jesus our Lord, the One who came, and will come again, the one who is present to save by the power of His Holy Word, Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent December 11th, A+D 2011
Mission Sunday – Kenya Lutheran Hymnal Project
Isaiah 40:1-11 and 2nd Peter 3:8-14
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. And so we have reason enough to involve ourselves in outreach, because the Lord wills that all should reach repentance, that all should know and turn in fear from their sin, to behold the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the Lord’s will, and so we who belong to the Lord share this desire. The fact that the Lord has made possible the salvation of all, and wills repentance for all, and has given us the message of repentance, these are reasons enough for every Christian to be mindful and deliberate about the tasks of outreach the Lord puts in front of us all.
But there is more reason than the will of God, which is the law for us, the law we sinners struggle to fulfill. There is God’s will, and also there is the promise of joy. Oh the joy to be involved, even by observing, as the Lord draws another sinner to Himself, through the Savior’s forgiving blood. To be able to sing out at a baptism, “Dearest Jesus we are here, gladly Thy command obeying, with this child we now draw near, in response to your own saying, that to you it shall be given, as a child, and heir of heaven.” To see a procession of confirmands, approaching the altar, singing “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” To send a saint on to heaven, singing “I know that my Redeemer lives,” joy even through tears at a Christian funeral.
Through Isaiah God gives a wonderful command and promise: A voice says, "Cry!"And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"
Yes the Word of our God will stand forever, accomplishing that for which the Lord sends it out, the implanted Word which is able to save your souls, the sword of the Holy Spirit, sharper than any earthly sword, able to divide joint from marrow, even able to divide a sinner from his sins. Yes, the Lord has spoken peace to His enemies, through the Cross of Christ. The Church’s only real task in mission is to repeat this good Word, for the assurance and strengthening of the faithful, and to bring unbelievers to repentance, to sorrow for their sin and faith in Christ, faith worked by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of His Word.
To repeat the Good News of Christ is the calling of the Church, and of each Christian in whatever station of life God has placed you. But here we find a problem, don’t we, for we struggle very much with this simple task, far too often failing to try, let alone reach completion.
Our struggle to repeat the Good News takes numerous forms. We lack memory. The Catechism lays out the faith in pretty straightforward terms, and most of us have memorized much or all of it at some point, but we do not keep the Catechism in our memory, and so we are unsure of the Word of Christ, and fail to speak it for fear of saying it incorrectly.
We lack memory, moreover, because we lack dedication. Maybe you really aren’t good at memorizing, although most of could keep the whole Catechism memorized if we reviewed one chief part every day. But we do not dedicate the three or four minutes a day this would require.
But even without ‘learn by heart’ memorization, a little dedication could easily keep the teachings of Christ clear in our minds, clear enough for us to express in our own words, at least. But we don’t. We don’t because we’re lazy, and because we don’t want to take the risk of confessing the faith in our daily life.
And sometimes, to our even greater shame, we don’t want to speak of Christ because we don’t want to agree with Him. Our sinful flesh takes pride in being pretty good, in doing good things, in being a good person, and so we resist living in daily repentance. We resist acknowledging the truth about Christ, because the truth about Christ says that we are shot through with sin and cannot save ourselves. We don’t want to admit that any day of the week, except maybe Sunday, and then only once, in the morning, along with everyone else. Without confession of sin, forgiveness makes little sense, to us, or to our neighbor.
What should God do with people like us, so lacking in dedication, so lacking in willingness, that we rarely do even the simplest things to confess Christ to a neighbor, that they might hear and believe? The Lord has sent His Word to us. We have no excuse. He would be more than justified to leave us in silence, to stop speaking His Word, to let our faith die with our memory.
But He hasn’t. That is not who God is. Despite our all too frequent failures to take advantage of the availability of His Word, for ourselves and for our neighbors, the Lord still speaks. The Lord still sends, preachers and teachers and parents to teach and proclaim His mercy. And, in keeping with our mission emphasis today, He still sends tools, books, Bibles, and music, and hymnals.
Precious books, these hymnals, full of God’s redeeming Word, made more accessible to us, because His Word is set to music, set in forms and melodies that help us hear, and understand, and remember. The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, who abides with me, and you, singing to us the remarkable good news that God loved the world, so that He Gave, His only Son the lost to save. And so my hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, for by grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless. What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, when I survey the wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died. O Sacred head now wounded, Lord Jesus, think on me, and keep us steadfast in Thy Word. For you are the way, through you alone, of the Father’s love begotten, crown Him with many crowns. Yes, we praise you O God, our redeemer, creator, for indeed, a mighty fortress is our God, since Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia, hearts to heaven, praise to the Lord, the Almighty. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise, by singing Thy strong word, cast like seed upon the ground. Savior again to Thy dear name we raise, Hosanna, loud Hosanna. Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will to men.
It is most fitting, for the Word of Christ to be set to song, songs for His people to sing, faithful songs that speak the truth about our sin and His grace, songs old and new that preach law and gospel. For Jesus’ life and ministry were filled with singing, as when Mary carried God, no bigger than the end of my thumb, God in her womb who gave her voice and faith to sing: “My soul now magnifies the Lord.” Or Zechariah singing of his son, John the Baptist, and his forerunning ministry: “Sing praise to the God of Israel, sing praise for His visitation.” Or Simeon, holding the Christ child and chanting: “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.”
From angels serenading shepherds with “Glory to God in the highest,” to Jesus and the Eleven, singing a hymn just after the Supper, in the Upper Room, just before they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before He was betrayed, right down to Jesus beginning the 22nd Psalm as He hung, crucified for the life of the world, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We don’t sing our Psalms here at St. John, but the Jews did, Jesus did. Do you suppose He sang His question from the Cross?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s no doubt hard to sound a clear note when you’re bearing the sins of the world. But we do know that the song of Christ goes on, in heaven, the new song of blood washed robes sung by a multitude from every tribe and nation and tongue, a multitude too great to count, singing glory to God, and to the Lamb, who reigns, the concert master of heaven, for to be in His presence leads all His faithful to sing, in joy, in gratitude, in wonder and awe.
Our song on earth is not so awesome, and yet it is part of the same song, the song of the Lamb. For us to give a bit from our bounty to help Lutheran Christians in Kenya have hymnals of their own, with faithful liturgies and hymns in their own language, bound hymnals to replace scraps of paper, hymnals that will last, and bless, this is a beautiful thing to be a part of. The Lord will not abandon His Church to silence. He has caused His song to go on through the Church, through many centuries, and it will continue. Oh the joy we have to sing, even if off key, to sing, and to help share the new song of Christ with our brothers and sisters in Kenya.
So get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, St. John, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, and of Kenya, and of the MonDak, "Behold your God!" Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Savior, like a Shepherd lead us, that we may sing praise to your name, today and forever, Amen.