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The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, 07/03/2016

Sermon on Isaiah 66:10-14, by Samuel Zumwalt


10 
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
    all you who mourn over her;
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
    from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
    from her glorious abundance.”

12 For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
    and bounced upon her knees.
13 As one whom his mother comforts,
    so I will comfort you;
    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
    your bones shall flourish like the grass;
and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants,
    and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.

 

SERVANTS OF GOD: MOTHER JERUSALEM

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We, God’s baptized children, are people of hope always, and so we do not despair when terrorist attacks continue, with Satan’s rage, to “steal, kill, and destroy.” We do not despair when a majority of five judges continues, with Satan’s cool legalism, to “steal, kill, and destroy.” And we do not despair when despisers of the Church continue, with Satan’s own god-talk, to “steal, kill, and destroy.” We remember Paul, the former persecutor of Christ’s Church, has cautioned us: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are, of all people, most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We lift up our eyes to the hills from where our help comes. Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2). Today we rejoice for our mother, the Church, the new Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit’s workshop, where God claims, feeds, forgives, and sustains.

 

The Loss of Penultimate Hopes

People without faith in Christ are sadly prisoners of penultimate hopes. Yes, hope for this life is a necessary part of making our way through this valley of the shadow of death. Most hope for dreams to come true. Most hope for better days for this world. Most hope for better leaders. Most hope for better finances. Most hope their children, grand-children, godchildren, and other dear ones will have meaningful lives filled with love. Most hope not to hurt or to be hurt. And yet disappointments, betrayals, and losses do come along the way. And if our hope is only for this life, or if our hope is only based on fantasies rooted in our own hearts and minds, we are indeed to be pitied. There is a better way than the way of those who stake their hopes on the devil’s empty promises.

Israel in exile came face-to-face with the logical consequences of having placed their hope in the things of this world including their neighbor’s self-made gods. That is, of course, the problem with penultimate hopes. When you will make any compromise to satisfy your immediate wants or to silence your gnawing fears, then you are taking things into your own hands instead of placing your life in God’s hands. This should be no surprise for those whose gods are of their own making. But Israel knew better. Israel had seen what God had done for them repeatedly, but they went ahead with that age-old rebellion passed down from generation to generation. Israel feared, loved, and trusted in other gods, while ignoring the prophet’s warnings, and they had decades to reflect on it.

When Isaiah offered God’s Word of comfort to Israel in exile, they heard it as the restoration of what was lost – the promised land, David’s kingdom, and Jerusalem’s temple where they could again experience the forgiveness of sins and intimacy with God. When Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and gave the exiles permission to go home, they were intent on rebuilding what was lost. Mother Jerusalem came to be an end in itself, and, by the time the Lord Jesus began His public ministry, the priesthood and God Incorporated were so entrenched that the people were as deaf to God’s voice as Israel before the exile. We should take to heart the history of Israel and its replacing God with Mother Jerusalem as the source of its comfort. This worldly dreams are always seductive.

The Church Militant, Christ’s Church on earth, is not an end in itself. When we forget this, it looks like obsessing over our own significance in the world. It looks like church leaders making compromise after compromise with the world in order to be thought relevant or, worse still, important. Any church that has fallen in love with this world is not worthy of the Lord whose name she claims to bear. This world is dying!

 

Who Is The Source of Your Identity?

In Holy Baptism, God gives the only identity that endures beyond the grave. Do you find yourself embracing the lie that your body belongs to you? Hilary, Planned Parenthood, the five supreme justice majority have embraced that lie for the sake of power while claiming to be the only ones who care about people. Do you find yourself embracing the lie that making America great is a human work? Donald and his supporters have embraced that lie for the sake of power while claiming to be the only ones who care about the average citizen. If these two candidates are the best we can do at this juncture in history, we are perilously close to the end of the American experiment. “Don’t put your trust in rulers or in any child of earth,” says Psalm 146. Your identity is in your Baptism!

This means that all the celebration of diversity, typical of this age, does not belong in the Church. Sex, skin color, language, family, self-understanding, and all the other particulars of earthly existence are not what makes us who we are in God’s eyes. In fact, when these become, as they have for many, an end in itself, they actually become competitors with Holy Baptism as the source of one’s identity. The fact that many bishops and pastors in our own moribund denomination (the ELCA) seem not to grasp this basic doctrinal point is key to understanding how little our statement of faith means to them. Since these are not stupid people, what they believe is evident by what they do.

I have said many times in the 35 years since I was ordained to the pastoral ministry that church buildings and organizational structures are only useful to the extent they serve the Church’s mission to make disciples of all ethnic groups by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching the disciples to observe all that the Lord Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-19). When many so-called Christian leaders no longer believe Holy Baptism is the necessary and essential mark of Christian identity, all that is left is for them to affirm that part of the culture they find most attractive – all of which is the celebration of me and what I like.

But all of that is penultimate. It doesn’t survive the grave. God will indeed show His indignation against His enemies (66:14). It is called death, which is the end of me. Without being buried and raised with Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism, I have no real hope!

 

Mother Jerusalem as Servant of God

Now it may seem strange to speak of Mother Jerusalem as God’s servant, because this may seem to point to that embattled city in Israel today or to some earthly church with its various cultural trappings or perhaps even to some otherworldly theological metaphor (Gnosticism). But each of those options would point back again to ourselves.

The Word of the LORD that came to Isaiah pointed back to Himself, the Word made flesh, God’s Son Jesus, who came at the right time not just for Jews but for all people and to reconcile us sinners to His heavenly Father and to each other. When the Father through His Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon the 12 apostles in Acts 2, He sent them to preach forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name and to call the people to repent and be baptized. Holy Baptism was the essential mark of Christian identity then, and it still is today. But to be baptized, people need a mother who will give them the new birth from above (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit used the apostolic preaching to create the Church, which, in turn, gave birth to new beloved sons and daughters of God through no effort or merit of their own. How does this happen?

Martin Luther wrote: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will

raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true” (The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Small Catechism).

The Church is our mother and God’s servant. We rejoice that through our mother, the Church, God feeds us with Word and Sacraments, nursing us in our weakness. We rejoice that through our mother God comforts us with the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life and salvation, bringing us again and again from death to life, always anticipating the hope that will not be disappointed. We rejoice that through our mother God gives us the peace that the world cannot give, peace grounded in the promise of eternal shalom when all that is not right is made right, and all that is old is made new.

On this weekend when these United States of America celebrate 240 years of freedom, we American Christians give thanks for the freedom to worship and the freedom to practice our faith in daily life without governmental interference. These freedoms, which were paid for with the blood of those who fought on our behalf, may yet be taken from us. But the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. As the Hebrews writer says: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (13:14). The Church in this life may stumble and fall, but Christ’s Church, the New Jerusalem, will be His holy bride. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.

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

 



Samuel Zumwalt
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
E-Mail: szumwalt@bellsouth.net

Bemerkung:
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church


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