Saturday, February 10, 2018

Divine Service at Concordia College New York (Bronxville)

Isaiah 40:21-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood?” Dear students, I pray that you will not hear such words at the end of the semester, let alone on the Last Day when your Lord returns as King and Judge. Truly, that will be a weighted final exam. Indeed, the LORD questions Israel in such a manner only somewhat rhetorically. For, the LORD would have you consider the magnitude of His creation, and the smallness of your place in it, that you might know that He is the LORD and there is none other. The LORD has stretched out the heavens and has called forth the stars and the planets, and you, you are like grasshoppers, even more like the grass and the grain they devour. Therefore, humble yourself before the LORD who made you, who gave and sustains your life and all things. Bow down before Him in lowliness and humility and repentance, and then lift up your eyes on high and see.
It’s easy to be cocksure and confident when you are young and vibrant. It’s easy to think you know it all and do not need to be taught. It’s easy to think that a college education is something to be endured in order to get the now obligatory college degree and subsequent paying job. I know, because I’ve been there, a couple of times. Indeed, the only thing worse than a college freshman, in this regard, is a first-year seminarian, and I’ve been both! Oh, the patiences I have tried and the mercies I have been afforded! However, through it all I learned an invaluable lesson: I didn’t know it all, and I still don’t. And, when I humbled myself and opened my ears and my eyes and my mind to receive the wisdom of others, I gained knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and light for myself. But, I had to bow myself down so that I could look up and receive. No, that’s still too positive, still too self-righteous; I had to be bowed down so that I might look up and receive and learn and live. Therefore, some practical advice for you: Call upon your professors, your teachers, your pastors, your parents when you are struggling, when you have a question, when you have an idea you’d like to test and expand upon; they are eager to hear you and to teach you. But, you have to seek them out and come to them. You have to look outward and upward to others, and not inward to yourself.
Our reading today from Isaiah was lifted from the rich Gospel proclamation which begins with the familiar Advent cry, “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.” Those words were fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the coming of the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ, by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and by baptizing as a sign of God’s promise that would be fulfilled and kept in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, the LORD’s promise of comfort came directly on the heels of His prophecy that Israel would be conquered and taken away in captivity in Babylon. Because God’s people had placed their fear and trust, not in the LORD, but in their own wisdom, enlisting the Babylonians to protect and defend them from their perceived greater Assyrian threat, the LORD would judge and discipline His people by giving them into the hands of their enemies that they might repent, look up and see, and receive comfort and peace in the LORD alone.
We are about to enter the season of Lent in which we will reflect and meditate more intensely upon both the terrible cost of our sins and our LORD’s tremendous love and mercy shown to us and all the world that He would lay down His life and suffer and die for us all that we might be spared the penalty of our sins and be restored to a right relationship with Him again and live with Him forever in His kingdom. We return to Him in repentance and thanksgiving that there is someone to return to. He was always there, before the foundation of the world, it’s source, origin, and creator. It was we who left Him, not the other way around. Moreover, we rebelliously attribute the things that He has made and the forces He has set in motion to either human ingenuity or chance of nature, and, consequently, we live our lives as if we made Him up who has made us and all things. Repent, and return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. And, from your posture of repentance, lift up your eyes on high and see.
We return, again and again, because there is someone to return to. Repentance and humility are good for us, for they restore us to a right relationship with our LORD and God. In our humility and repentance we can lift up our eyes on high and see our true and living, loving, merciful, and gracious LORD. That’s the way He created things to be. Your ways are never hidden from the LORD. Yes, He knows your sins, but He has blotted them out. Therefore, when you confess your sins, you expose them to the Light and they vanish, like darkness at the rising of the sun. Yet, even more than that, He gives power to the faint, He strengthens the weak, and He refreshes the weary. He will help you. He is eager to hear you and to teach you. Why do you say, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God?” “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood?” “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.” Return to Him; return to the LORD. Return because there is someone to return to, someone who has been watching and waiting for you. Return because the LORD is good and gracious, merciful and forgiving. Lift up your eyes on high – far away from yourself and your self-centered pursuits – and see Him. He is your help. He is your strength. He is your hope. And He is your life. And, He is here, present for you now, in His Word and Water, Bread and Wine, that you may listen and hear Him, lift up your eyes and see Him, open your mouths and taste Him, His goodness, grace, and forgiveness, and live, now and forever to the glory of His Name. For, what He gives to you He would have you share with others and so glorify Him as you place your fear and love and trust, not in yourself, not in idols, but in the God who made you, heaven and earth and all things, and still preserves them. You are blessed to be a blessing.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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