Sunday, June 2, 2019

Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It has been the custom in western culture and tradition that a woman who weds a man takes his family name as her own. Along with her husband’s name comes his reputation and the reputation of his family. The wife assumes both her husband’s name and reputation just as he, in turn will be impacted by his wife’s behavior in upholding and defending his name and reputation, and vice versa. Name and reputation are very important to our LORD and God, thus He has given us two specific commandments concerning the proper use of His Name (the Second Commandment) and our upholding and defending the names and reputations of our neighbors (the Eighth Commandment). Remembering this fact will help us to understand the somewhat surprising statement of the LORD in our reading from Ezekiel today, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.”
The LORD’s name and reputation had been profaned among the nations, among the pagans, among the Gentiles, by His own people, by His own Bride. By adopting the practices, culture, customs, and religion of the surrounding nations, the people of Israel had tarnished God’s holy name and reputation, making Him appear no different than the gods of the Gentiles or any other pagan god or idol. They took the LORD’s holy name in vain when they feigned to be His people and yet behaved and worshipped like everyone else. And, we do the same today when we do not hallow His name, keeping it sacred and holy in our lives, words, deeds, and worship. We do the same today when we divorce our spouses, live together and / or engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, when we bless as good and God-pleasing what God Himself has called an abomination and has forbidden in His commandments, and when we support deeds and civic legislation that is in direct contradiction to the LORD’s clear Word and commandments. We do the same today when our worship becomes focused upon what we want and feel and upon what we do for God rather than upon His objective word and promises in Word and Sacrament through which He does everything needful for us. Thus, just as when the LORD saved Israel from her enemies, so does the LORD save us, not for our own sake, but for the sake of His holy name which we have profaned among the nations:
“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
All this the LORD has done for you by His Holy Spirit through His word and Holy Baptism, not for your sake, but for the sake of His holy name, especially now, at the end of all things.
St. Peter says in today’s Epistle, “The end of all things is at hand.” Those words were penned nearly 2000 years ago. When will the end times come? Are we living in the end times? Now! Yes! The end times began 2000 years ago with the coming of Jesus, and they will end the day when He comes again and the dead are raised, and not a moment before. These are the end times, the last days; and they have been and will continue to be until the Lord returns in glory. Therefore, how then shall we live? St. Peter answers, “be self-controlled and sober-minded,” “keep loving one another earnestly,” show hospitality without grumbling, use the gifts you have been given for the good of all, “in order that in everything God might be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Now, there are those who claim the title Christian for themselves who will take away only one thing from Peter’s list of appropriate end-times behaviors – Love. They will point particularly to Peter’s statement, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” And, they will misinterpret Peter’s words to mean that, because of love – because of Jesus’ love and our love – there is no such thing as sinful behavior any more. That is not at all what Peter’s words mean, however. In fact, to conclude such is effectively to throw the rest of the epistle, the teachings of Sts. Peter, Paul, James, John, the Evangelists, and Jesus Himself, the entire New and Old Testaments into the crapper! What Peter means, and what his words clearly and plainly state, is that we continue to love our sinning brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, neighbors, and everyone despite their sin. What Peter does not mean, however, is that we should treat their sin as if it were no sin at all and therefore fail to call them to repentance. That is to do precisely what the prophet Jeremiah warned us not to do, to falsely proclaim peace with God to those committing willful and intentional sin when there is in truth no peace with God at all. It is to leave them in their sins, in rebellion to God, and without His forgiveness and true peace. Such is, in fact, the exact opposite of the love that St. Peter and Jesus have called us to.
Now, mind you, speaking the Truth in love is unlikely to win you many friends in this world today. In fact, that is precisely what both Peter and Jesus have told you in advance so that, when it happens, you will remember that they told you these things. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. […] If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Likewise, Jesus says the same, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Our Lord Jesus was perfectly loving of all, even His enemies, yet not once did He tell a sinner to keep on sinning, saying that it was alright with God, don’t worry. No, in fact, He instructed them to repent that they might be saved and to go and sin no more.
It’s hard to say the right thing, to remain faithful to the LORD and His word and commandments. It’s so much easier to go with the flow, to take the easier path and justify our silence by a misunderstanding of what it truly means to love our neighbor. And, that’s why Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to counsel and guide us in the way we should go. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, not of lies and misinterpretations. Speaking the truth will bring you suffering; your Lord Jesus and the Apostles and Evangelists have made this clear with their teaching and with their own persecution, rejection, suffering, and deaths. But, take heart, when you suffer for the sake of Jesus and His name, you join Jesus in His own sufferings, and the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon you and strengthen you that you may endure and persevere. Through the ministry of the Spirit of Truth, we are cleansed from the deceit of our idols and given a new heart and a new spirit, the heart and Spirit of Christ.
Yet, it is not for your sake that the LORD saves you and preserves you, but it is for the sake of His holy name. As He calls you out of death to life, from sin to righteousness, from selfishness and hatred to love that truly loves all so that you truly desire for all to live and not perish, the LORD works through you to bring these gifts to all the world. Which is why you are here today. You are not here today primarily to praise and give thanks to the LORD, although you will surely do that, but you are here today primarily to receive from the LORD His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that you may be truly able to praise and glorify Him in your lives lived in the world, but not of the world, in service of others. Therefore, you do not have to be here, but you get to be here, you need to be here. You need to receive His absolution. You need to hear His word proclaimed to you. You need to receive His body and His blood into yourself in Holy Communion that you may have something, not of yourself, but of the LORD, to give to others, that you may forgive with His forgiveness, give with His gifts, and love with His love – for there truly is no other gift that is of any value at all. In this Divine Service, this Gottesdienst, God’s service of you, the LORD renews His Spirit within you, causing you to walk in His statutes and to obey His rules with the promise that you will dwell in the land He has promised you and that you will be His people, and He will be your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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