“If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” – John 8:46-59

17. March 2013
John 8:46-59

Even Christians are tempted to think they can hide from God. Some use fig leaves and others use their works. Others cover themselves with excuses like “that’s just how it these days” and “I can’t change how I’m made.” But there is no hiding from God. His holy Law always discovers your hiding places and reveals your secret sins. You are exposed, naked, guilty, and ashamed before your Creator.

This is to God’s glory. You are exposed to be hidden in Him; naked to be clothed in Him; guilty to be forgiven in Him; ashamed to be reconciled in Him. The Father washes you with Christ’s blood, clothes you in Christ’s righteousness, and feeds you with Christ’s body, forgives you in Christ. Your sins are atoned for—forgiven. You are shrouded in His mercy. You are healed with holy medicine. You are fed with food for eternity.

While we cannot hide from God and this is a good thing, sometimes it seems like God is hiding from us. We suffer poverty, sickness, and even death and wonder “where is God to heal?” We are tormented by our stupid mistakes, failures, and neglect of others. “Where is God to rescue?” We are mocked for our faith, criticized for our antiquated views, and crucified in the court of public opinion. “Where is God to vindicate me and to defend my cause?”

Today, Judica and Sunday of the Passion, we begin the ending of our annual exodus through our Lord’s suffering and death unto His resurrection and ascension. The ancient custom on this Sunday is to veil our crosses after the reading of the Holy Gospel. This pious tradition is meant to confess what happens when you refuse Christ in His Word and the means of the Holy Spirit. Christ is hidden from you, the Holy Spirit departs, and the Father’s love is unknown. Hiding from God leaves you in doubt of salvation, without hope for tomorrow, and in fear of death.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. The Jews sought to destroy Jesus for three reasons: 1—He is eternal Son of the Father, 2—Those who believe on His Word will never see death, and 3—those who refuse to hear this Word are children of the Devil. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This teaching scandalized them. They could not bear to hear it and sought to kill Jesus. While the true glory of God was revealed in Jesus Christ, they hid from God’s mercy and grace with their unbelief. By their unbelief blinded them to God incarnate and made Him their enemy. They could not see through the veil of His flesh to God in His glory.

Many cannot bear to hear His Word. It’s stark reality shocks and awes. It is not composed of moral platitudes, good advice, or gentle niceties. It challenges our flesh’s preconceptions and expectations. It undermines our will and false hopes. It annihilates the old Adam. Our reason cannot bear it. Our strength is decimated by this Word. It calls us to believe that we are worms, lost sheep, and dust.

The confession of sin, devil, and death is not the only unbearable Word. Many cannot bear that salvation is given by the Father through faith alone in Christ alone through this Word alone. This, too, is a scandal for it requires no effort, no power, no worked up emotions your part. We want to contribute, to assist, and earn forgiveness. We would try to work out our problems apart from Christ, away from His Word, without His forgiveness.

Yet, we hold His Word near. We hear the call to repentance and confess our sins. We, the devastated ones, are raised up by Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness. As forgiven children, we have life and salvation in His name. It is received in faith as a gift. Scandalous to reason and glorious to faith.

It is true that many of those who call themselves Christian cannot bear to look upon Jesus, to hear His Word, and to receive Him in His promised gifts. We, at Grace, know this as well as any congregation. Many on our membership roster rarely or never attend the Divine Service.What would keep a Christian from regularly darkening the doors of this place? What does the Word of God say that offends? Is it fear of judgment? Is it the confession of sins? Is it the scandal of the cross with Christ’s corpse?

The Jews in today’s text help us understand.  This Word of Jesus is so contrary to our natural religion that they assume it comes from the Devil himself. They said to Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They could not be more wrong. Christ is from the Father. His Word is truth. They are of their Father the devil. His word is only lies. By listening to their itching ears and corrupt hearts, they no longer heard the Word rightly and were deceived. While they believed their religion true and right, because it was not from the Word of the promise, the Word of Jesus, it was not the truth.

Our fallen flesh resists this Word as God has ordained to give it. When we listen to the whisperings of the Devil, the murmuring of our heart, or the ideas of our mind, our faith falters and even fails. The Christian who does not keep the Word near will soon become confused, conflicted, and in doubt. But Jesus does not hide from you. Our Lord Christ gives us His Word generously and we ought to eagerly receive it and learn it.

For those who hear and are forgiven, there is great benefit. This Word of Jesus is the only source of salvation. Only Jesus can save you from your sin. Where Jesus is forgiving, there you are receiving life and salvation. So today, Jesus wants you know to know that He has not just cleansed you of sin and healed your soul but He has defeated the last enemy—death. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. 

We cherish hearing of God’s Word and receive it regularly for particular readiness. The Word is the only power to save, thus only by receiving the Word are you prepared to die. If anyone keeps this Word close by, always as the ready, then he will never see death. Instead, he will taste and see that the Lord is good. He will be like his father Abraham who rejoiced that he would see the day of Christ. He saw it and was glad. The Christian can stare death in the face and say, “I am forgiven! You have no power over me!”

St. Stephen said while being martyred, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! Even in the face of a terrible death, He did not lack hope. He knew the promise of the resurrection and was well-prepared. Like Abraham who saw forgiveness and life in the promised Messiah, so Stephen saw the ascended Christ as victor over death. While the stones were cast, St. Stephen saw the day of the Lord and was glad.

Even when it seems your sin has gotten the best of us, our enemies persecute us, or even death is knocking at our doorstep, you know that Christ is near. He has not hid His face from you but has given you the joy of His salvation. He gives himself freely to you through His Word and holy gifts. His Word is proclaimed and heard. You are the children of the Father who receive it and keep it. God’s salvation is not hidden but seen in faith. The crosses may be veiled but the glory of God is revealed to you. Therefore you will never see death but even now rejoice and see the Lord’s day.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Thanksgiving 2012

21. November 2012
Thanksgiving Eve

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Thanksgiving. Thanks and giving put together. Word order matters. It should be Givingthanks. First you are given and then you receive with thanks. That’s how it works. You say thanks only after receipt. We teach this to our children. First say please, then receive, and then say thanks.

Thanksgiving presumes we have received something and something worth giving thanks for. Everyone takes time before their big buffet tomorrow to say thanks to someone for their food. We say thanks to Mom or Grandma for slaving over the hot stove. Dad cooked the turkey and he gets a thanks. Our friends or family arrive and we say thanks for coming. These are good gifts—food, friends, and family. No doubt they are worth their thanks.

These are gifts given by God. God gives us homes, family, friends, food, and everything we have because He loves us in Christ. Thanksgiving is really about giving. God’s giving. Gift. Free. Generous. Bountiful. Loving. You’re here to receive. You’re here for the blessings. Free, underserved, and generous as God gives. God the Father gives you Jesus Christ. He forgives you, washes you clean, feeds you holy food, cares for your body and souls through bread in the ears. You receive everything needed from God.

No one wants to be dependent on another. Only reluctantly will someone resort on food stamps. Only out of complete desperation will they ask family, friend, or stranger for cash. To be a beggar is to be inhuman or so we were raised to think. Not with God. There is no more taking credit for your life. You know better. You are beggars and this is good. God made everything. The earth is full of His creatures. He makes the grass grow for the livestock and plants to grow for man to harvest. God gives us food from the earth and wine to gladden our hearts. (Psalm 104)

The pagans worship the god of their stomach and Football. They give thanks to the gods of hard work, fortune, and luck. They have been blessed by God but something is missing. The gifts of the Spirit—forgiveness, life, and salvation in His holy church—are notably absent. They feed their body and their eyes but pay no attention to their souls and their future death.

The pagans get the God part wrong. They also give the thanks part wrong. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, Jesus teaches us that thanksgiving is not a merely word but it is a giving. Word order matters. God gives and we return thanks by giving. It’s the divine “pay it forward” scheme. Thus, when you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground… and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there… You shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.

There it is. Thanksgiving. Giving an offering of the first of the fruit in thanks. An offering is given not out of obligation, or duty, or even necessity, but in thanks. How many of us can lay our offerings before the LORD and then rejoice in all the good that the Lord [our] God has given to [us] and to [our] house[s]?  Too few. We hold the purse strings too tight. We love our wealth too much. Jesus says: take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

You are completely dependent on your God. He gives even without your asking. He gives you daily bread and gives you faith to realize this is from Him. There’s the rub. God gives and faith receives. Without the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Giver is ignored or dismissed. You’re here today not for turkey, smashed potatoes, or sweets. You’re here to receive bread from heaven, the Word that gives faith. And in receiving you realize God’s blessing and receive everything with thanksgiving. You receive and give thanks to the Giver of every good gift.

The thanks only come after the giving. If there is no gift, then there is no thanks. Christian worship is all about the gift: Word preached, absolution declared, water and word washed, body and blood of Jesus fed, blessing given. Such great gifts received and what happens? Anything? Wake up! The glory of God is revealed in His gifts. The Lord rejoices to give and gives that you receive. Receiving God’s gifts changes you. He gives you blessings that make you whole again through forgiveness of wrong. They are seals of a promise to be with you until the end of time. They give the inheritance of heaven from His last will and testament.

To the one who keeps the Lord’s treasures for himself, God calls a fool. It is foolish for you to receive and never give. It is foolish reap bountifully and then store in barns. It is foolish to give thanks and withhold charity.  It is foolish to receive the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament only to horde this bounty for yourself. God gives, we receive, and we give thanks, not merely in word but in deed and truth. Lord, grant us the humility to receive with thankfulness and share with those in need.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana