[Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska]
"We Seek the Lord Because He Is Here"
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Seventh Sunday in St. Laurence' Tide
September 18, 2011
IN NOMINE JESU
Have you ever lost something and then had to go looking for it? I'm pretty sure that has happened to all of us. I'm also sure I'll be doing that a lot after my bride and I move into the parsonage later today. Have you ever known someone who did? I used to laugh at my parents when they did that. I thought it was funny, a sign they were getting old and forgetful. Then I started doing it, and I realized it's not so funny, after all. After you've found what you misplaced, how often have you told others that you found it in the last place you looked. Now there's some insight! Once we've found what we were looking for, that place where we found it is, in fact, the last place where we looked. Nobody—at least nobody I know—looks for something, finds it, and then keeps on looking for it. That would be foolish. When you played "hide and seek," you didn't find everyone who hid from you and then kept on looking. You found them all; there's no point to keep on looking. And if you do, then after a while you'll be playing "hide and seek" all by yourself. And if you do that often enough, people will be looking to stay away from you.
We seek many things. We seek things that we've lost. We seek to reestablish communication with loved ones. We seek great deals on the things we want to buy. Some people seek fame and fortune. Many seek romance. We all, to varying degrees, seek happiness, depending on how we each define the word. And when the going gets tough, we seek relief. We have more seeking to do, and that is to seek the Lord. The Lord wants us to seek Him. He sent the Holy Spirit to inspire the prophet Isaiah to speak and write these words of comfort to His people. Jerusalem had fallen in the sixth century BC, and the people of God were seeking comfort and hope. God sent one of His pastors, the prophet Isaiah, to bring them words of comfort, words of Gospel, so that they would not lose heart. These words are recorded in Scripture and read today so that you would not lose heart, that you would not let your hearts be troubled. The Lord extends to us not a command but a gentle invitation: "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (v. 6). It is very good to have the Lord near us, for where He is, there are His gifts, the gifts He greatly desires to shower upon us. As we sing in a wonderful and recently-written hymn: The gifts Christ freely gives He gives to you and me To be His Church, His Bride, His chosen, saved and free! Saints blest with these rich gifts are children who proclaim That they were won by Christ and cling to His strong name. [LSB 602:1]
Christ gives His gifts freely, but He doesn't give them willy-nilly. To do that would be casting pearls before swine. What the Lord seeks of His people is repentance. He says through Isaiah in our text: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (v. 7). God is seeking sinners, so that they would repent of their sins because God wants to forgive sinners—sinners like you and me. He wants us to seek Him and His forgiveness and to call upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving while He is still near to us. If God departs from us, we are in seriously deep spiritual trouble. What does this mean? It means that, if we do not seek Him where He is found, we are in danger of spending eternity in hell.
We risk eternal condemnation when we do not seek Him where He is found. Where God is found is where He has willingly bound Himself for our sake. The God who is without limits has freely and willingly bound Himself to His Word and Sacraments. It is there that God gives His gifts of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. It is only there and nowhere else that the Lord is to be found giving His gifts. This is a sure, certain, and iron-clad guarantee, for God has promised this to us in His Word. When it comes to our souls, we need certainly. When we look elsewhere for Him, somewhere He has NOT promised to be found, we have doubt, and doubt is never a good thing where our salvation is concerned. When we look somewhere else for God instead of where He has promised to be, we are telling God that we don't think His gifts are good enough for us, that we want Him to deal with us on OUR terms, NOT His. We've heard the excuses; we may have given these excuses ourselves. We may think, We can worship God when we're on the lake or when we're out camping. If this is true, then how do you hear that your sins are forgiven? Remember that St. Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. We see the beauty of God's creation, but we don't hear the forgiveness of our sins.
We may also think, We can hear the Word of God when we're listening to "The Lutheran Hour," and that's good enough for us. "The Lutheran Hour" has been blessed in bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to the Church—NOT the nations just as far as their radios. The long-running radio program exists to introduce people to Christ who have not yet come to know Him. It has never been meant to serve as a replacement for our being in the Lord's house, especially if one is physically able to be here. For those not able to come because of illness or complications of age, the Church has an obligation to go to them, as their pastors have the charge to bring them the Word and the Lord's Supper. And as far as the Lord's Supper is concerned, you may listen to "The Lutheran Hour" and hear that God forgives you, but do you get to taste His forgiveness on your lips? Can the radio give you the Lord's Supper? That imaginary little man in that sound box is not going to come out of there wearing a robe and a stole. But that weekly broadcast does is direct the listener to the Church and learn more about their Savior, not to just sit at home and think that's all they need to do.
We may yet further think, We can all worship God in our own ways. If that's the case, then 4000 years of Jewish liturgical tradition and 2000 years of Divine Service in the Christian Church have been a complete waste of time. It's true that God never said, "Thou shalt have a liturgy," but the people of God for thousands of years have gathered together in the synagogue, the temple, and now the church—gathered together around the Word of God, and that is the basis for the liturgy that has been handed down to us today. In our hymns, and in the words we speak, we are using words that are true and sure, for these are words God has first spoken to us. The Church, in her wisdom, has preserved this order and handed it down to generations upon generations of her children, that they—and we today—would hear of the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ. In our use of the Divine Service, in our speaking, singing, and praying the words of our liturgy and hymns, we are acknowledging before God His promises to us, and we are reminding ourselves as God comes to us in Word and Sacraments, even now in the year 2011. For us to come up with supposedly creative and unique ways to worship God, rather than seeking Him where He is found in His Means of Grace, is the epitome of arrogance, and we act as our own gods. You see, when we go down the road of creativity and uniqueness for its own sake, we place the spotlight on ourselves and our work rather than on God and His gifts. We want God to notice us, but He wants us to repent of our foolishness and our sinful pride. He reminds us through Isaiah, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (v. 9).
If we are looking for ways to seek God, we can look to the Psalms, the prayer book of the Church. We can look to Psalm 116, our Psalm for today, for from it are the words we will sing in the Offertory in a few moments. 12What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? 13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the LORD, 14I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people. 17I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the Name of the LORD. 18I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people, 19in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!
The Psalmist did not come up with these words on his own. He wrote this Psalm as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, just as all of Holy Scripture—including the parts we quote in the Liturgy—are inspired by God the Holy Spirit. We are heirs of this God-pleasing tradition, for in it we receive by hearing and by taste the forgiveness of our sins. King David writes elsewhere in the Psalms, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Ps. 34:8). We take refuge in our Lord at His gracious invitation, for we are burdened by our sins, and we get to come to Him for rest. It is here in our Lord's house that He invites us to unload our burdens, burdens Jesus has already taken upon Himself all the way to the cross. He took our wicked ways and our unrighteous thoughts—our sin—and became our sin, dying on the cross in our place. It's hard for us to understand because God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts, but yet it is all so simple for us to appreciate: God sent His Son Jesus to die for us because He loves us, for God is love. It's so simple that we can recite that love God has for us. It's God's John 3:16 love for us: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
"Whoever believes in Him…." Whoever seeks the Lord while He may be found…. The Lord is saying the same thing through Isaiah and St. John. He is inviting all people to believe in Him. He helps us seek Him. He sends us His Holy Spirit, who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith. We seek the Lord, and the Holy Spirit leads us to Him. He leads us to where the Lord is to be found, in His Word, just as you have heard it pronounced to you in Holy Absolution (that God has forgiven you), just as you have heard it read to you from the lectern, just as you have heard it proclaimed to you from the pulpit, the Good News that God has forgiven your sins for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit leads you to where the Lord is to be found; He has led you to Holy Baptism, where God called you His child. The Holy Spirit leads you to where the Lord is to be found, in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given in, with, and under bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit also leads us to call upon the Lord while He is near. Our Lord has made that easy for us, because He is right here! He is right here—in His house—where He gives His gifts through His Word and Sacraments! We don't seek Jesus at the cross. He isn't there. We don't seek Him at the tomb. He isn't there, either. Why not? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! The gifts Christ won for us on the cross, where He bled and died for you and for me, He gives to us here in His house, around font, lectern, pulpit, and altar, where He has promised to be found.
Listen to these words from Martin Luther in a sermon he preached in 1538: When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us—but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people.
Thanks be to God! Amen!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.