This sermon was delivered by President Robert Bugbee of the Lutheran Church—Canada at the service of installation of officers and others elected by the convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It is simply a superb example of what a Lutheran sermon is all about.
Every death brings with it a unique set of emotions and challenges but for a wide variety of reasons the death of a little child is one of the more painful experiences a human being can go through. What is a pastor supposed to say? What can he say, at a time like this? Pastor Larry Peters demonstrates the approach we hope we will hear from all pastors when they preach at the funeral of a little one.
Sermon preached for Nicholas David Stiltner, 2007-2013, on Monday, January 7, 2013.
Lessons: Jeremiah 31:15-17 – Isaiah 40:10-11 – Mark 10:13-16
David, Cyndi, Alex, and Tim.
Let me begin by simply saying that there are no simple answers to the question of why. No answer can fill en empty mother’s heart or end a father’s longing or restore a brother to you. We come here not for answers but for comfort. The comfort we seek is the Word of the Lord that endures forever.
And what does God tell us of His great love for children? The Psalms describe children as a treasure from the Lord, gifts from God to the wombs, hearts, and lives of His people. No life and no child is hidden from the Lord. No child suffers without the Lord suffering and no child’s cry is not heard in the ears of our heavenly Father.
Indeed God describes His great love for us in parental terms. Again the Psalmist says “as a Father has compassion upon His children so the Lord has compassion on His people. In that same Psalm the Lord reminds us that He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay our iniquity with punishment but He has removed our sin in Christ so that it is as far from us as the heavens above the earth. Yet, that said, the Lord knows our frame, and that our bodies are but dust. No love can erase this fact. Death passes to all and is no respecter of persons. But the love of God is manifest in the life He gives that is greater than death’s claim upon us.
Indeed the whole character of God’s steadfast love is so great that this is what parents speak to their children. His word endures forever. So we teach it to our children and pass it on to those not yet born so that all may set their hope in God and never forget His merciful works.
The Psalmist says that “precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of His own…” This means that as we grieve for Nick, so God grieves with us. He is wounded as we are when His enemy death steals away the life that God has given. But that is the fruit of a sinful world and the lot of a sinful people. The world is not as God wills it but has been marred by sin and its death. We come to God in our sorrow and in our mortality and He answers with the gift of His own Son. He gives Jesus to us, in our flesh and blood, to bear our suffering in His own suffering and to die for us the death the ends death’s reign once and for all.
We just celebrated Christmas, a season of holy and happy joy. Yet right in the midst of Christmas is another story of death. Herod’s anger sought to kill the Son of God and in his rage he killed the first born children of Bethlehem leaving the holy city of Jesus’ birth in sorrow. Matthew quotes Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted because they were no more.”
Today we come for weeping and lamentation, with hearts that refuse to be comforted because the grief of the loss of Nick is too great we think for us to bear. But the hope of the people then and our hope now lies with a gracious God whom we know in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
This is the Jesus who invites us to trust in Him. If even evil fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who call upon Him. Even in our greatest pain, God is still there and His steadfast love endures forever. He asks of us simply to trust in Him.
Faith is not an exercise of the mind but the trust of the heart. A child trusts without fear while we adults find our fears, anger, and hurts so great that we do not know how we can trust in God. Jesus speaks of this innocent and child-like trust. He rejoices that the ways of God are hidden from the wise and understanding and clear and plain to the children. This is God’s grace.
Who can know the pain of our loss? Like you, David cried out in pain at the death of his son. “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept for who knows if the Lord will be gracious to me so that my child may live.” Like David you prayed and prayed hoping that you would never hear the words a parent lives to fear. David goes on, “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” Like David we have a family that wonders if faith is worth while if it cannot restore their son. But listen to what David goes on to say: “I shall go to him but he will not return to me.” Look at the direction of hope. We cannot call back the dead from the grave but we will go to be with them in the arms of our Savior for all eternity. Our hope is in the promise of God.
We want our children to outlive us. No parent ever thinks the day may come when they must bury their children. But the world in which we live is not about fairness or justice. What we expect from God is far above fairness and justice. It is mercy. Mercy strong enough to bear our broken hearts and make them whole again. Mercy strong enough to hold a hope of the blest reunion to come. Mercy strong enough to fill our emptiness and teach us joy again.
God intervened into our suffering and in this world of death to deliver Nick from every pain or suffering. It was your intention to raise Nick in the faith. You brought Him to baptism where God claimed Nick as His own. “I have called you by name; you are mine.” You brought him to the services of God’s house. He heard the Word of the Lord and listened to your prayers. Know now that God is merciful and loving, that He reaches into our greatest sorrows with the rescue of a life death cannot steal. It is this confidence that calls to us now in this hour of sorrow.
Long ago the prophet Isaiah promised that the Savior the Lord would send “would gather the lambs in His arms and carry them in His bosom and gently lead the young. Those words became flesh and blood when God sent His Son to be that shepherd to carry the little lambs in His arms. In his baptism, Nick became a lamb of the Lord’s flock and a sinner of His own redeeming.
Remember how our Lord loves children. People were bring their children to Jesus that He might bless them. The disciples pushed the children away, thinking they were in the way. But Jesus was indignant and said to them. “Let the little children come to Me and do not prevent them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And Jesus took the children in His arms and blessed them.
So today I ask you simply to stop being an adult and trying to answer all your questions and to become like a little child and come to Jesus… Faith is not an intellectual thing but simple trust in Jesus… Bring your pain to Jesus… Bring your broken hearts to Jesus… Find your comfort not in explanations or reasons but in the hope and promise of a manger that held the Christ child, the cross on which He suffered to put an end to our suffering, and His death that gives us life. He gives power to faint, He fills the hearts of the empty and gives strength exhausted.
He will renew your strength… He will restore you… For the pain of this day will give way to the promise and hope of that which is to come… when tears will flow with joy instead of sadness and all our questions of why fade away in the presence of the Lord, in the reunion with those whom we love who depart in the Lord, and in the unending future of joy He has prepared for us.
So put away the doubts and fears and simply trust in Jesus. Let go of the quest for answer and reasons. Lay down the bitterness and anger. I ask you to become like the little child Nick was… to simply trust in the Lord. He knows your pain and His own heart grieves with you and for you. He will bind all things together in hope and comfort… enough for today and for an eternal tomorrow. Enough for the blest reunion we look for when our Lord returns to claim the rest of His flock for the eternal pasture of His grace. Amen.
“Wood, Hay, Stubble”
Kenneth F. Korby
The Cresset, April 1979
Death is not a real foundation for living. Nevertheless, most individuals and civilizations build their lives on avoiding, evading, or postponing death. By a strange and reverse worship, they assert and confess the lordship of death. To them it seems to be the only sure foundation of power. The power to kill is fundamental, and apparently sure. The threat of death is the ultimate fear, and apparently viable.
When hosting the Lord of Life, full God manifest in the vulnerable and weak flesh, the builders of civilizations and religions did what they had to do to insure the edifice they had built. They exercised sure and necessary power to kill Jesus, using the power of God against God!
Death may be painful, but, culturally seen, it is at least sure. Almost. Although the nature of death is such that it dulls its victims, there are still uncertainties. Notes from the underground, as it were, disquiet the illusion that death might be an easy slipping into nothingness. The preludes of the absolute terror and loneliness may be quieted by devices of culture and religion, but some uncertainties remain.
Hence, a rock was put in front of Jesus’ grave. It seemed a fundamental guarantee of the finality of the power of civilization and religion to make death sure. But the death of Jesus was not merely the revelation of the mystery of iniquity. He was also the revelation of the mystery of the will of God to destroy death by dying it. Death did not shatter Jesus. Jesus shattered death. Death is not lord. Jesus is Lord. By His death and resurrection from the dead, in a body of glory that cannot die again, Jesus is the foundation for living a life that does not evade death or end up in death, but one that ends in life.
The consequence of this work of Jesus is the building of a new race, a new humanity, the Church. Mortified with Him in His cross, vivified with Him in His resurrection, this new people is a living, growing organism. Created by the Holy Spirit, she is the carrier and agent of that life-giving spirited word. Even while she lives I the wilderness, pursued by death, she is nurtured and built on the foundation. Living in the midst of cultures and civilizations that are built on the deceit of evading death, she is built in truth with wisdom. Such building activity is a delicate business.
The temptation of the craftsmen who are charged with building her is to use materials that are shoddy and cheap. The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3) calls them “wood, hay, and stubble.” The enticements of the temptation contain the threat and promises of the deceits of civilizations and religions: “You will not die; you will be as gods.” The promise is an invitation to mistrust the Lord. The threat is the pressure: if you want to be something, buy our wares. And so, many who build on the foundation advocate proposals with variety and enthusiasm, promising new keys to success, guaranteed formulae for church growth. Renewal is promised through ritual. Effectiveness goes with certain evangelism programs and techniques. Church growth is worked out with scientific and business-like acumen and industry. These things have become as popular as the New Measures of the nineteenth century. Added benefits increase the allurements: there will effective and influential ministry, authentic and supportive communities. And who, in God’s name, can be against these? And then, the best of all worlds: these various building materials will be promoted from a “Lutheran point of view!”
Meanwhile, a hidden, alien catechesis works quietly to shape a different spirit and form, a different content and pattern of life. The Apostle warns against using wood, hay, and stubble, noting these materials are flammable. They are fuel in the fire of judgment and the day of the Lord. The smallest piece of wood will ignite, even if it has been tinkered with! Those who build on the foundation with such materials will indeed escape with their lives, but their work will be consumed and they will be left naked.
The apostolic master-builder suggests “gold, silver [and] precious stones”—very poor fuel for fire—as the building materials. There is a simplicity about these materials, as there is a simplicity in the way the church is built on the foundation. It is the simplicity of the new life by the Spirit in the water and word of Baptism, or nurturing the life of faith and love on the vitalities of the Lord’s Body and Blood, of reordering the relationship of the sinner to God by the word of forgiveness of sins spoken into the ear from the mouth of another. The simplicity of the catechesis is the handing of this word from mouth to ear in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father. The shape and content of the word are the shape and content of the life: repentance, faith, holiness.
The celebration of Easter—with its participation in the eating our Passover Lamb—is the call to purge out the influence of malice and wickedness, the call to keep the least with the simple bread of sincerity and truth.
The church is God’s temple. Those who desecrate her will be desecrated.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching in the pulpits of our church and I am growing increasingly concerned that we are moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Lutheran preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a confessing, orthodox Lutheran, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity with the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord. As you’ll see, this is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is also a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.
The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.
The Entertainment Temptation
Public speaking, once becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.
The Hurry It Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, and here I’m speaking only of my own church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad (Law), some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us (Gospel) and then reference to the Sacrament. I’m tempted to do this when I know that there is a full service with communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament. For all I love the Sacrament of the Altar and love that we are celebrating it more often, the Sacrament of the Altar must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the church of Word and Sacrament, not word AND SACRAMENT. I think that we are forgetting this.
The Grind My Axe Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Grind My Axe” temptation.
Do you have more temptations to add to this list?
My pastor recently preached a great sermon on worry, here is where you can listen to it.
A while ago, I came across a sermon posted on a Lutheran pastor’s blog. I was shocked at its length. It could not have been more than eight minutes long, if that! It was probably only six or seven minutes long. This is, sadly, not some exception. It is in keeping with a disturbing trend in Lutheran preaching: shorter and shorter sermons. Let this much be clear: I am a huge advocate for every Divine Service communion, but not at the expense of preaching. We can not expect our congregations to remain healthy and put them on a preaching starvation diet. In addition to the sermon in question being ridiculously brief, it was an anemic sermon, short on law and Gospel, not one actually preaching on a text, not a sermon actually teaching the people anything. This should not be so among us.
Here’s the sermon I preached for Thanksgiving Day Divine Service, at St. John Lutheran Church, Topeka, Kansas. You can listen to the MP3 file.
I’ve heard it said over the years that “Lutherans do not give eulogies” at funerals. Baloney! Of course they do, but it is how they do it that sets apart a genuine Christian funeral sermon from one of those syrupy-sweat, empty eulogies the world is used to, and desires and craves. Here’s a post for seminarians reading this blog site. You want to learn how to preach a funeral sermon? Just read Pastor Weedon’s funeral sermons. Tremendous. Keep in mind Pastor Weedon knows very well the person about whom he is preaching in sermons like this. He has been their father in Christ for many years. He knows his sheep, and knows Whose voice his sheep have heard through the years. He would be the first to tell you that you would never want to preach with such assurance of a person’s salvation unless you, as a pastor, were clear in you own mind about their public confession. So, enjoy this sermon. Do yourself and your future hearers a favor: do not turn a funeral sermon into an abstract dissertation on the doctrine of death, or heaven, or otherwise. Preach to the hurting hearts, and point those hearts to the Healing Physician, Christ Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, the One who conquered death, for us, by His death, and wins life, for us, through His life. If they are not teaching you to preach this way at funerals, then I suggest you learn from faithful pastors like Pastor Weedon.Why? Because he knows how to preach a deeply personal, practical, meaningful, Christ-centered sermon at the death of one of the Lord’s saints. And you can, and will, by God’s grace, do the same thing!
[Job 19:23-27; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 6:7-15]
Dear Clara, Donna and Robert, Joyce and Daniel, Lynn, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family and friends of Roy Henkhaus, there are ultimately only two paths in life. Either you live your life praying: “Thy will be done” and so know the peace of God or you live your life praying: “My will be done” and so in constant fretting and anxiety. I do not need to tell you which way Roy lived, do I? His rather unshakable calm witnesses all by itself to the path he pursued.
His godly parents set him upon that path on the day when he was baptized at the ripe age of 12 days old. His parents brought him to old St. Paul’s and the water was poured over him in der namen des Vaters und des Sohns und des Heiligen Geistes. Amen! That day he was born anew into God’s family, his sins forgiven for his whole life long, the promise of eternal life given to him, and he was put on the path of those who learn to deny their own wills and to pray that God’s good and gracious will be done in their lives, in the lives of their family and friends, and of this world.
He walked that path through many joys and many sorrows. Of the joys, certainly of the brightest for him was that amazing Clara Lienemann agreed to go with him on that first date – and ever after he was happy to show his lucky $2 bill and share the story. It was always in his wallet – one of the most romantic gestures I could imagine. He rejoiced that in praying for God’s will to be done, God provided him with a wife and companion to walk the way and share with him all the ups and down. And well did the vacancy pastor here at St. Paul at the time of your marriage, Clara, remind you both of the Our Father and teach you that this prayer would guide your marriage in the ways of the Lord, so that together you learned to deny your own wills and to pray for God’s good and gracious will to be done – even when you pray that prayer with tears.
And tears there were a plenty. The tragic and sad loss of brother Allen and later of Harry and Earl; the unspeakable sadness of Terry’s untimely death; the horrific thanksgiving morning when news came of Jennifer’s accident. The sorrows mount in this life, and you either face them with praying “Thy will be done” and so finally come to peace, or you lose all peace as you rage that your will wasn’t done, that your plans were shattered, your hopes and dreams destroyed. Roy walked the way of peace. It wasn’t about his plans or dreams; it was about the Lord’s will and purposes.
But it wasn’t all sorrow – the Lord’s ways never are. There was also joy unspeakable. For Roy, YOU were his unspeakable joy – his wife, his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren -each of you he counted an undeserved and wondrous blessing from God. And so the peace that you could see on his face – even when his face had streams of tears running down it. In the end, his tears were for you, for he hated to leave you, but he knew that it wasn’t a forever farewell. It was only “till we see each other again.”
You see, he knew what old Job confessed. That we have a Redeemer. That in the end He WILL stand again upon this earth. That though our flesh is destroyed, yet in that flesh we shall see God whom our very eyes shall behold and not another. It’s a day when all that has been wrong is set right. To believe and hope for that day and its arrival is live in peace – and when a child of God prays: “Thy will be done” as in the Lord’s Prayer he is praying to see that day of Resurrection.
But there is another factor in walking that way, and that is remembering that there is nothing, absolutely nothing you will ever face in this world that can deprive you of the love God has shown you in Jesus Christ. No one, I don’t believe, can come to pray “thy will be done” until they’ve realized that no matter how painful the crosses the Lord may see fit to send us, they all come from One who loves us more deeply than words can ever begin to tell, a God who is determined that the life we’ve tasted in His Son is a life we shall never lose, a God whose ultimate will for us is that we share His own eternal blessedness.
It was in the confidence of that love that Roy could and did pray the Our Father and it is in the confidence of that love that he was granted the fullness of what he prayed for his whole life from that moment when the pastor laid hands on him and prayed Vater unser der du bist im Hmmel until that moment when his eyes were closed to this age and he saw God’s kingdom – all the saints and the angels, his brothers, his son, his granddaughter, his parents – all the saints gathered around the throne, and all praising the holy name and asking that God’s good, gracious and perfect will continue to be done on earth as they taste it even now in heaven. The moment when he was at last delivered finally from all the evils of this age, and now he waits with them the even greater glory of resurrection morning.
But for you who still are on pilgrimage, from whose eyes the tears have not yet been wiped away, how better can you honor and remember your Roy than by becoming one with him in his praying the Our Father, especially asking that God’s will be done in your life, not your own will, not your own plans, not your own ways, but His will and His will alone, the will of Him who has loved you in His Son with an everlasting love and promised you through His Son’s death on your behalf a share in that life which death will never be able to take from you? Amen.
Roy H. Henkhaus, age 85, of Hamel, died at 9:25 p.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, at Hitz Memorial Home in Alhambra. He was born on May 27, 1924, in Alhambra, the son of the late Edward E. and Sophie A. Henke Henkhaus. He married Clara L. Lienemann on May 2, 1948, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel. She survives.
Along with his wife, he is survived by two daughters: Donna K. and husband Robert Zerrusen of Vandalia and Joyce A. and husband Daniel Newby of Glen Carbon; daughter-in-law: Lynn Henkhaus of Edwardsville; grandchildren: Eric and wife Tonya Rodgers, Todd and wife Dena Willeford, Daisy and husband Greg Zykan, Angela Henkhaus, Megan Newby and Brooks Newby; great grandchildren: Madalyn Rodgers, Parker Rodgers, Gage Zykan, Luke Zykan and Hayden Willeford; a brother: Ted and wife Velma Henkhaus of Alhambra; sister: Ruth Kelley of Alhambra; and sisters-in-law: Irma Henkhaus of Hamel and Verna Henkhaus of Staunton.
Along with his parents, he is preceded in death by a son: Terry Lee Henkhaus, who preceded on Aug. 24, 1985; brothers: Earl Henkhaus, Harry Henkhaus, who preceded April, 1987, and Allen Henkhaus, who preceded in 1948; brother-in-law: Samuel Kelley; and grandchild: Jennifer Willeford, who preceded on Nov., 1993.
Roy was born in Alhambra Township on the family farm. He attended West School, St. Paul Lutheran School and Suhre School. He worked as a farm hand and entered the U.S. Army from 1946-1947. After his service he worked at US Radiator in Edwardsville and then drove a truck in St. Louis for American Car and Foundry. He became a full-time farmer and retired in 1992, selling the farm and equipment and moving into Hamel. His memberships include St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel, former member of the Madison County Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau Senior Club.
A sermon by Pastor William Cwirla:
It was a long, slow seven miles from
Jerusalem to Emmaus for two disciples on that first day of the
resurrection. Cleopas, whom some believe to be the brother of Joseph,
Jesus’ uncle so to speak, and another disciple are walking back to
their homes. As they walked, they talked about all that had happened
the past week. The arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the burial, the
odd news from the women of the open, empty tomb, angels (were there one
or two?), the report of Peter and John. But no sight of Jesus.
had staked their lives on this Jesus from Nazareth. Everything they
had. They thought He was the one. A Prophet powerful in word and
deed. He made blind men see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He
raised the dead. They hoped He was the messiah, the promised One who
would redeem Israel. And then in one short week their hopes seemed to
come to ruin. Jesus was dead, buried, and now nowhere to be seen.
disillusion, grief, bewilderment, confusion, sadness. What words can
describe what goes through your mind as you walk that lonely Emmaus
Road? You trusted Jesus and now He seems to have disappeared without a
trace. You feel betrayed, used maybe, certainly sad. Rumors don’t
provide any comfort. Even reports of a vision of angels rings hollow.
It all seems to hang on that little sentence, “But Him they did not
They had to see Jesus. Unless they saw Him, they would
not believe. Unless they saw Him, there would be no point in going
on. Unless they say Him, all they could do is walk the seven miles
back from Jerusalem to Emmaus as the late afternoon sun was setting.
stranger caught up with them. It was Jesus, but their eyes were kept
from recognizing Him. Note that. It wasn’t that they were so caught
up in their grief that they didn’t recognize Him. It wasn’t a case of
the “eyes made blind by sin.” They were not permitted from recognizing
Him. Jesus concealed His identity.
Why? Why play this little
game with two grieving disciples? Why not just show yourself, as Jesus
did to Mary Magdalene? Jesus is still the Teacher. First, He wants to
hear from their own lips what they believe about Him. It’s something
like walking into a room where people are talking about you and don’t
know that you’re there. What they say to Jesus about Jesus betrays the
fact that they do not yet take Him at His word. He said He would die
and in three days rise. They’ve been counting the days. They knew it
was the third day, and getting late. Yet they did not believe the good
news from the women.
Jesus chides Cleopas and the other
disciple. “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the
prophets have spoken!” The reason they were sad and moping was that
they were being foolish, that is, faithless, with heart slow to
believe. It wasn’t their eyes, it was their hearts that were messed
up. Hearts weighed down by sin, alienated from God are slow to
believe, even when they beat in the chest of a near relative and
another close disciple. Our hearts are slow about the things of God,
alienated from God, turned away from God and turned inward on self.
Our hearts do not naturally believe the promises of God. They must be
made new, softened by the Word, enlivened by the Spirit.
with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the
scriptures the things concerning himself.” He taught them the proper
way to interpret the Scriptures. Not as a book of rules or an owner’s
manual for life. But as God’s revelation of His Son. It doesn’t say
exactly what Jesus talked about, but I imagine He talked about the
Passover, the Exodus, the sacrifices, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and
all the images behind which He had been hiding. It must have been
quite the Bible class on that Emmaus Road. The two disciples reported
that their hearts were burning, which means they were taking it all in
and everything was clicking at lightning speed.
Have you ever
had a case of Scripture heartburn? I call it “seeing in primary
colors,” everything is so crystal clear, all the pieces come together,
you think you’re head is about to explode for joy. That’s the power of
the Scriptures when they are read through the death and resurrection of
Christ. Jesus had said that the Scriptures were speaking about Him.
He speaks through the Scriptures. As the OT dots are connected, and
Jesus is revealed as the Lamb of God chosen from eternity to bear the
world’s sin in His dying and rising, slow hearts become believing
They still don’t recognize Jesus. Their eyes
are still kept from recognizing Him. He wants to teach them so they in
turn can teach others. He would not be seen for too much longer.
Forty days, to be exact, and then He would ascend in glory and be
hidden from their eyes until the Last Day. How would they hear from
Him? Where would they go when their hearts were slow and sad? To the
Scriptures. To the Word of God.
There’s a popular old Easter
hymn by C. Austin Miles back in 1912 that you don’t sing around here
for good reason. It’s called “In the Garden.” It has a refrain that
He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
I know this isn’t on the cutting edge of contemporary Christian music,
but the sentiment is still popular that Jesus walks with us and talks
with us as He did with Mary Magdalene in the garden. But the Emmaus
road teaches something different. He walks with us and talks with us
in the Scriptures. Do you want to have an Emmaus walk with Jesus?
Then take and read. Come to the church and hear. Take a stroll through
the Scriptures searching for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and your
slow, sad hearts will burn too. Save the garden for bird watching.
came a fork in the road, and Jesus pretended to go in the other
direction. Still hiding Himself, still more to give. The two
disciples urged Jesus, “Stay with us, it’s almost sundown.” So Jesus
went to their house. At supper, He seems to take over the house and
make it His own. He takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and
begins to distribute it to them. Sound familiar? It should! Echoes
of the upper room the week before, the Passover table, the breaking of
the bread. “This is my body.”
And then, at that very moment,
with the bread, their eyes were finally opened and they recognized
Jesus. Just as suddenly, Jesus disappeared from their sight. Poof!
He was gone. Curiously, they didn’t ask, “Where did He go?” They
didn’t have to ask. They knew where they could find Jesus. It was
where He promised to be for them – in the Scriptures and in the
Breaking of the Bread. Word and Sacrament, as we Lutherans like to say
I hope you can see how the Emmaus Road shaped Christian
worship from the earliest centuries. We hear from Christ in the
Scriptures; He reveals Himself to us in the Supper. And that’s the
point of the Emmaus Road. This in-between time, between Jesus’
resurrection and our resurrection, is not a time for seeing with our
eyes but of hearing with our ears the Word and receiving with our
mouths the Body and Blood. This is how Jesus walks with us and talks
with us and tells us we are his own. The liturgy is our Emmaus Road
from death to life, from sorrow to joy, beginning with our death and
burial in Baptism, walking the Scripture road with hearts aflame with
faith, leading to the table where Jesus is made known to us in the
Breaking of the Bread.
There is a beautiful prayer for Easter evening when our journey on the Emmaus Road comes to its ending:
Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.
Abide with us and with Your whole Church.
Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world.
Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing.
with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the
night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near.
Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever.
In the name of Jesus,
Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands,
and take your hand and place it in my side. Be not faithless but faithful.”
And Thomas answered: “My Lord and my God.”
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus:
Several years ago, the cover story of U.S. News and World Report was
titled: “In Search of Jesus: Who Was He?” The article highlighted a
number of Bible “scholars” and their approach to understanding Jesus,
among them: Robert Funk, the leader of the notorious Jesus Seminar,
which annually votes on whether or not the words of Jesus as recorded in
the Bible were ever really spoken by Jesus; Marcus Borg, a former
Lutheran who after studying the mystic novelist Carlos Castañeda,
philosopher William James, and Buddha, concluded that there were “two
Jesuses”—a “pre-Easter Jesus” and a “post-Easter Jesus”; and John
Crossan, who rejects most of the Gospel records as inaccurate, including
the accounts of the Last Supper and the appearances of the risen Jesus
(U.S. News, April 8, 1996, pp. 46-53).
With all of these so-called “scholars,” we see the same kind of
skepticism as St. Thomas’ in our text. He simply would not believe until
he could see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands.
And yet, our resurrected Lord declared: “Blessed are those who have
not seen, yet believe.” Jesus is speaking of you and me and every other
Christian before us who has lived by faith—who has believed in his
resurrection, has trusted in him as Lord and Savior, and who confesses,
“Yes, Jesus loves me . . . the Bible tells me so.” For the words and
promises of Jesus Christ, recorded in Holy Scripture, are what make it
possible for you and me to be “Not Faithless, But Faithful.”
And yet we live in such a subjective and faithless era—a time and a
place where the category of “truth” has been all but completely discarded.
No longer do we debate whether or not something is true on the basis of
its reality or lack of reality. Rather, truth today is defined according to
whether or not we like the reality which is presented to us. In other words,
we believe what we want to believe.
And yet, when you think about it, just because we may like something
or dislike it does not determine whether or not it is real and true. For
example, in less than two weeks, it will be April 15th. Whether you like it
or not, taxes will be due, and your preference for or against taxes will not
change the truth of their existence or the deadline which that day will
bring. If you choose to deny the reality of that deadline, sooner or later, it
will catch up with you. One simply cannot deny what is real and true
simply because he or she does not like it.
And so it was with Thomas. We read in our text that on that first
Easter evening, the disciples were together behind locked doors for fear of
the Jews. And there Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be
with you.” After this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the
disciples were glad when the saw the Lord. When they saw the marks of
his crucifixion, then they knew that this was really and truly the same
Jesus who lived with them and who had suffered and died on that Roman
cross just two days before.
But Thomas hadn’t been there on that first encounter with the risen
Christ. And when the others told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he said:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails
were, and unless I put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Well, one week later, he got that opportunity. For Jesus came again to
his disciples behind locked doors and stood among them and said, “Peace
be with you.” Then he said to Thomas specifically: “Put your finger here,
and see my hands, and take your hand and place it in my side. Be not
unbelieving but believing.”
When Jesus came to Thomas, Thomas believed. No matter what his
own desires and opinions might have told him before, now his faith cried
out, “My Lord and my God.” You see, Jesus had come to Thomas in a
way far bigger and grander than he could ever have imagined.
The story is told of a young man who was attending a Lutheran college.
When he began his studies there, he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted
to be a pastor, but just in case he did, he decided to take Greek, just to see
what it would be like. He liked it. The Greek classes were good for him,
and he enjoyed learning this language written in funny letters.
Now the Lutheran college this man was attending was not a Missouri
Synod college, and so the required religion courses weren’t exactly the
greatest. For instance, in one of the courses he took, the professor taught the
class that Adam and Eve, and Noah, and Abraham, and probably even Moses
never really existed in history—that they were actually just literary characters
that someone along the way had invented to tell a story about God.
Well, all of this would have been one thing, except that this young
man I’m telling you about gradually began to believe what his professors
were teaching. They did it so persuasively, and it seemed to make so much
sense that he was pretty much convinced. After all, couldn’t all those old
Bible stories still be good stories and teach us something about God even
if they’d never really happened?
Meanwhile, back in Greek class, the professor made an assignment for
the end of the school year. Each student was to pick a Gospel reading from
one of the Sundays coming up. Then they were to copy the whole thing
out in Greek, word for word, leaving about two inches of space beneath
each line so that they could “parse” or detail what each and every word
was—whether it was a verb, a noun, an adjective, and what kind of verb,
noun, or adjective it was. Then they were supposed to research all that
they could about the text—who wrote it, when it was written, why it was
written, to whom it was written, and so forth.
Well, needless to say, this was a lot of work, but it was worth it because
our friend really learned his Greek that way. But he also learned something
else. You see, the passage he picked was the Gospel reading for this
morning, and the part that really hit home to him in his study of the text
were the words: “But these things are written that you may believe that
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God . . .” You see, he still believed that Jesus
was his Savior, the Son of God, and if Jesus could still be believed in—that
he lived, and died, and rose again for us, in history, and not as some mere
literary character—then the rest of the words written in Holy Scripture—
from Adam and Eve to Moses, to John and the Book of Revelation—could
also be believed. All of it was true. All of it really happened. And all of it
could be believed, because all of it pointed to Jesus.
The words changed his life. It was the beginning of this young man’s
turning back to the scriptural and apostolic faith—all of it, and not just the
parts that seemed reasonable to a young college student. I know it was,
because I was that young man. That was some 25 years ago almost to the
day. This was the Greek New Testament I copied those words out of. And
yes . . . I did eventually, by God’s grace, become a Lutheran pastor.
We live in a faithless world, dear friends. Yet, Jesus comes among us
even today—in his Word, in his Sacrament, for real—that you might
believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might
have life in his name.
“Not Faithless, But Faithful”
Week of Quasimodogeniti, A.D. 2008
Sermon by Rev. Jon Vieker
Delivered at Concordia Publishing House
April 2, 2008
Is His love like a burden or has His yoke become too heavy? Do you want to once again depend on the world and your own righteousness? You say: "Oh no, no, but my heart is weak and doubtful, and sin is mighty!" Do not despair. There will be enough temptations, trials and sin, yeah, you may be overcome by your body’s weakness. But you are not depending on your own heart but on your Jesus who saves you from your sins, gives you renewed mercy in Word and Sacrament; forgiveness of sin surrounds you like the air, yeah it is spread out around you like the sky. He is faithful, the one who has called you. He will do it for you. You just hold on to His Word and Sacrament; do not forsake prayer. Death might meet up with you whenever and wherever it wants, it will only lead you into the eternally new year, into the right peace and bliss. And even while you are in the throes of death, this beautiful name will lighten your way and bring you safely across: J E S U S!
from a sermon by Pastor Friedrich Wyneken based on Luke 2:21
January 1, 1868
Concordia Lutheran Church
Saint Louis, Missouri
Pastor David Petersen offers on his blog site, in the following words, some very wise and helpful advice to preachers. This is a lesson most men new to the preaching office are usually oblivious too until they get some good, practical, life-experience under their belt ministering to real people with real problems. Sadly, however, some pastors never do get it. I’m going to produce here Pastor P’s thoughts, then follow them by a comment I made in response to it. I really appreciated his thought-provoking remarks, and I hope you do too.
Preach to pain.
by Rev. David Petersen
We sometimes forget this at Christmas. Strangely, I think we even forget it sometimes at funerals.
We need to remember that Christian joy is not giddiness and generic
feelings of happiness or good will toward the world. It is not simply
gratitude that we have nice families who like us and a day off work.
Christian joy is better captured by the mood of Silent Night than it is
by Jingle Bells. It is solemn and serious. It runs deep. It knows
suffering and sorrow and fear.
Shepherds quake at the sight of God laid into a manger in infant
weakness. So should we at the thought of it. It is not all glitter and
eggnog and new toys. There is something deeply troubling in the sorrows
of Mary and the hardships endured by her Son already during His first
night on earth.
Those who have mourned for years are more conflicted and troubled at
Christmas than most any other time of the year. They don’t know how to
feel. They are hurt and yet they are at peace. They joy is painful.
That pain is righteous. The faithful are disappointed with the world,
outraged at its injustices, weary of its failures and disease. At
Christmas they glimpse anew the love of God that has entered into our
brokenness to restore and recreate us. The good work that has been
begun in them is not yet complete. They are waiting. They are eager for
the end. They are full of fear and love of God and awed by the
magnitude and consistency of grace. Faith is always disaffected with
the world, always eager for the new creation, and on this side of glory
it always hurts.
"Preach to pain," Dr. Deffner used to say, "and you’ll always have active listeners."
Not only that, I say, but you might actually help them. You might give
them some understanding of their suffering, some encouragement that
their suffering is not in vain, and some hope of the Day when what they
long for will be delivered in full.
Dave, I’ve been thinking a lot about this post. Among the many
wonderfully thought-provoking things you’ve posted here, I think this
is truly one of the finest. I would encourage you to expand this into a
full-blown article for the CTQ, or LOGIA.
I have come to a point in my own preaching that I recognize that this is precisely the very thing that is key to making preaching, preaching, as opposed to:
Rhetoricizing (is that a word?)
Musing on certain random irrelevant concepts
To preach to pain; often, to preach through pain, to pain, is what preaching is all about. It is one sinner declaring the reality of sin and the comfort of the Gospel, to another. It is one hungry man saying to hungry people, here is where will find the bread that lasts. It is one man parched with thirst showing others where, and how, to find the living water. It is one sick man saying to sick people, here is healing; one dying, to the dying, pointing them to Life Incarnate.
We tend to come out of seminary believing that if are able to parse
every verb, decline each noun, analyze grammar, syntax and theme,
we will have a good sermon; similarly, we tend to think that if we are able to give a
dogmatic lecture, more fitting for the seminary classroom, or bible
class, we have a good sermon. We are under the impression if we follow a somewhat
slavishly formulaic pattern that goes: law, gospel, come take
communion, we have preached a good sermon. Then, some, in reaction to this, fall into the other ditch: preaching sermon that are not much more than expanded Hallmark greeting cards, or more akin to stand-up routines.
As I read the sermons of the fathers, and listen to good sermons, I am
struck, repeatedly, by precisely what you say in your post. "Good
sermons" — those that reach me the most deeply, that speak to me most
profoundly, are sermons that are actually speaking to the hearer. The
pastor is talking to me. He is preaching to me. He is not trying to
impress some long-distant seminary professor. He is not attempting to
"follow the formula and get it just so." He is not trying to manipulate me.
He is preaching. He is, as you say, preaching to pain. The pain of my
sin is preached to, with clear words of God’s judgment against that
sin. The Gospel is preached concretely so that the great "for you" is
The more I ponder these things, the more I come to appreciate and
understand what was said about our Lord, "And looking out on the crowd,
he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a
All of which is to say, Pastor Petersen: well done and many thanks for a fine post!
We are having a good discussion about my recent post about sermon length. One younger brother in office told me that he felt I was saying that pastors who preach ten minute sermons are being unfaithful. I can understand why he might feel that was my intention. He also indicated he preaches 10-12 minute sermons, etc. Jim, my friend, I was not saying you are being unfaithful because you don’t preach twenty minute sermons. And that goes for the rest of you.
I certainly do not believe that short sermons are necessarily bad, but I can’t help but wonder how or why we have moved from regarding the sermon and its length differently than all our fathers in the faith, from the Early Church period to the Reformation period, down to our own times. This is what I mean by a "starvation diet." If I do say so myself, I can’t help but wonder if I might have a point. Bear with me, if you will.
One comment in particular in the previous post’s discussion, I thought, nailed the point I’m trying to make. Dr. Aaron Wolf is commenting on something my good friend Pr. David Petersen said about this subject. I’ll just put Aaron’s comment here for your consideration.
Pastor Petersen writes that "I think [the Rev. McCain] wants expository, didactic sermons." He also notes that "This, despite what he wrote in Law and Gospel, was Walther’s view. It was also Luther’s view despite what he occasionally said. So also: Chyrsostom, Leo the Great, Gregory, Augustine, etc."
Doesn’t that jibe with the quotation from the Apology below?
"On the contrary, in our churches all the sermons are occupied with such topics as these: of repentance; of the fear of God; of faith in Christ, of the righteousness of faith, of the consolation of consciences by faith, of the exercises of faith; of prayer, what its nature should be, and that we should be fully confident that it is efficacious, that it is heard; of the cross; of the authority of magistrates and all civil ordinances [likewise, how each one in his station should live in a Christian manner, and, out of obedience to the command of the Lord God, should conduct himself in reference to every worldly ordinance and law]; of the distinction between the kingdom of Christ, or the spiritual kingdom, and political affairs; of marriage; of the education and instruction of children; of chastity; of all the offices of love."Click through to the rest of the post as I put forward some more thoughts.
Contrast this with what another friend posted about the goal of sermons. I think we have here a helpful "case study" in precisely what is going on today with sermons.
My thoughts on sermon length and the content are simple: it should be
as long as it takes to tell your flock that they are sinners who
deserve nothing more than eternal damnation from a holy and just God;
God, the One Holy Trinity, has looked upon His people in mercy and has
sent His only begotten Son, true God and true man, to earth to live the
holy life we are unable to live, to die as a holy, perfect and complete
offering for our sins, and to be raised to new life for our complete
justification. This Jesus Christ is our sufficiency, our completeness
and in Him we live new lives. In Him we are everything God wants us to
My reaction to this comment would be simply to say, respectfully, "Really? Is this really the only point of our sermons?" If so, frankly, you could simply stand in the pulpit and say these very words, in all of two minutes, if that.
Here is another post from a younger brother in the ministry that well summarizes what we have all been taught at the seminary for the past several decades.
Is a preacher first and foremost a herald of the Gospel, or is he first
and foremost a teacher. Is my goal on Sunday morning to proclaim Law
& Gospel, or is it to teach the hearers something new? I believe in
the former–but many of the sermons found on Sunday mornings seem more
geared toward the latter. Do we "intentionally" preach sanctification
in our sermons (in other words, do our sermons end with "Go and do
likewise"), or do we simply preach the sternness of the Law and trust
that the Holy Spirit will work all three uses of the Law in the lives
of the hearers? I haven’t made up my mind on this one. My basic point
is that our church could do a better job distinguishing a "theology of
This is a very interesting comment and points to precisely where I believe we need to do some serious, very serious, rethinking. Is the pastor a preacher or a teacher? I would say he must be both. We are commanded to keeruxon ton logon, to "preach the Word" and the same Apostle who penned those words under the Spirit’s inspiration listed this as an absolutely essential attribute of one who aspires to the churchly office he must be apt to teach. I believe we have probably gone wrong by making this distinction in such a manner as to suggest that the sermon is preaching and teaching is teaching. We never want to teach anything "new" but we do want to declare the whole counsel of God.
Let’s keep mulling this over brothers. The Church deserves our best thinking on this and I for one have over the past fifteen years or so gone through a serious reconsideration of all these things, particularly as I have spent more time reading sermons from our fathers in the faith.
My pastor, Rev. Dr. David Smith, is a great preacher. One of the reasons he is so good is because he is clear, to the point, and blunt. He does not attempt to impress us with big words, complex rhetorical devices or flights of rhetorical fancy. He just preaches, clearly and to the point and is a master of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. This morning the Gospel lesson was the account of Mary and Martha. Pastor Smith used the opportunity to teach what the primary, and first, definition of worship is all about: receiving from Jesus, being served by the God who serves, just as Mary was doing when she sat at Christ’s feet, hearing him teach the Word of God. Pastor Smith said that one way to boil it all down is to realize that often we just have to "Shut up and listen to Jesus." Terse. Blunt. To the point. Spot on true! I like that advice. It’s one of those "stick to your ribs" type of sermonic observations that you will remember for some time.
One of my favorite hymns features the account of Mary and Martha: One Thing’s Needful: Lord This Treasure by Johann H. Schroeder. Here are the words. I encourage you to prayerfully meditate on these powerful words:
One thing’s needful; Lord this treasure
Teach me highly to regard;
All else, though it first give pleasure,
Is a yoke that presses hard.
Beneath it the heart is still fretting and striving,
No true, lasting happiness ever deriving.
The gain of this one thing all loss can requite
And teach me in all things to find true delight.
Wilt thou find this one thing needful,
Turn from all created things
Unto Jesus and be heedful
Of the blessèd joy He brings.
For where God and Man both in one are united,
With God’s perfect fulness the heart is delighted;
There, there is the worthiest lot and the best,
My One and my All and my Joy and my Rest.
How were Mary’s thoughts devoted,
Her eternal joy to find
As intent each word she noted,
At her Savior’s feet reclined!
How kindled her heart, how devout was its feeling,
While hearing the lessons that Christ was revealing!
For Jesus all earthly concerns she forgot,
And all was repaid in that one happy lot.
Thus my longings, heav’nward tending,
Jesus, rest alone on Thee.
Help me, thus on Thee depending;
Savior, come and dwell in me.
Although all the world should forsake and forget Thee,
In love I will follow Thee, ne’er will I quit Thee.
Lord Jesus, both spirit and life is Thy Word;
And is there a joy which Thou dost not afford?
Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure,
Jesus, lies concealed in Thee;
Grant that this may still the measure
Of my will and actions be,
Humility there and simplicity reigning,
In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training.
Oh, if I of Christ have this knowledge divine,
The fulness of heavenly wisdom is mine.
Naught have I, O Christ, to offer
Naught but Thee, my highest Good.
Naught have I, O Lord, to proffer
But Thy crimson-colored blood.
Thy death on the cross hath Death wholly defeated
And thereby my righteousness fully completed;
Salvation’s white raiments I there did obtain,
And in them in glory with Thee I shall reign.
Therefore Thou alone, my Savior,
Shalt be All in all to me;
Search my heart and my behavior,
Root out all hypocrisy.
Restrain me from wandering on pathways unholy
And through all life’s pilgrimage keep my heart lowly.
This one thing is needful, all others are vain;
I count all but loss that I Christ may obtain.
My colleague, Rev. Robert Baker, served us well here at CPH this morning in our chapel service with this message for Valentine’s Day. A blessed Valentine’s Day to you and yours!
1 John 4:7-21
Dearly beloved, Love has a face.
Love has a face, hands and feet, fingers and toes. In fact, one can say that love comes packaged in human flesh. Bundles of joy, spousal delight, the rush of emotion when seeing our kids after a long day’s work, the stroking of the silvery hair as the eyes dull and the breathing becomes labored and finally stops. Love, dearly beloved, has a face.
We live in a world that tells us that Love has no face. This faceless love, the world says, lies within us. It has a name, to be sure. But no face. It is feeling, emotion, or arousal, all within the misty confines of our hearts. It is love of ourselves; the kind of love where whatever it is inside our hearts has placed upon it photo shopped image of another. Self-love, but not face-love.
The apostle John, writing late in the first century AD, saw Love face-to-face. He saw and he heard and he ate and he drank and he wept and he rejoiced in this Love. John saw that Love does come from God. This Love is so powerful that it gives new spiritual birth. This Love is so meaningful it allows one to know God. This Love is proof of God’s Love because it is God’s Love. This Love exudes and imparts eternal life. This Love sacrifices itself and in so doing bleeds and dies and atones for our sins. This Love gives us freely of God’s Spirit. This Love, of whom John bears witness, has a face. This Love is Jesus.
Our knowledge of this Love is complete and nothing is lacking. But among us this “love is made complete” by living in this Love and loving in this Love. The same love of God, the same love of Jesus, is loving someone with a face. You, loving the face, the hands and feet, the fingers and toes, of another.
The world doesn’t know this love. It does not know that “God is love.” It only knows its own self. It only serves itself. It has no confidence, but only the “fear of judgment.”
But you know this Love, because this Love-with-a-face has looked into your face. The Word of Love you need to hear in a sermon or in Christian conversation. The Word of Love in the means of grace. Love gazing upon you graciously and lovingly so that you are enabled and inspired to love one another.
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so,” John writes, “we know and rely on the love God has for us.” We know and rely on God’s Love. We know this Love because this Love has a face. And the face of God’s Love is Jesus.
Robert C. Baker