Owning the Mystery

Third Sunday of Easter

Text: Psalm 116

Hymn of the Day – No. 940 – “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name!”

Title and Theme – “Owning The Mystery”

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Before I get started – there is no more glorious a hymn than that which we just sang!  Simply an incredible hymn!  Just saying . . . and now, our text

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1 I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. 2 Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. 3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. 4 Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. 5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. 6 The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. 7 Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. 8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.  9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10 I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: 11 I said in my haste, All men are liars. 12 What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? 13 I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. 14 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. 15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. 16 O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. 18 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people, 19 In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord.

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And so we sing, in the those very words, the traditional post-Communion canticle (sing the canticle).  There is not a sentence or a word in our text that all of us have not known in our lives, even the young folks among us.  It is a “universal cry” of every believer, pointing us at once toward Jesus, and to our sinful selves as we cry for forgiveness and “rightness” with God!  As my friends who know me would agree, and might even laughingly say “It’s all he thinks about!” – I plead “guilty” as charged and call this one of the “Communion Passages” of the Old Testament – showing Israel what to expect of their Savior to come!

“I will take the cup of the Lord, and will call on the name of the Lord.”  I love those words, I love how they sound in the canticle, and yet, those words depress me, too.  For the Lord Jesus, the night in which he was betrayed and Whom with the Apostles could not remain awake – pleaded with His Heavenly Father to let that very “Cup” pass from Him such was His human Nature so beset with taking on the sins of the world, which had already begun then!  But in His humility, and literally sweating blood at the sheer horror about to befall Him, He uttered those words that should be repeated at every Communion table:

“Nonetheless, not My will but Thine be done.”

Let’s look at our text.  There is so much Gospel in it  I’ll just have to start at the beginning!

“I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.  Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.”

Those are not the words of some newbie to the faith, all excited about being found by Jesus and all excited in the faith and his new fellow believers and all of that, which is itself a very good thing.  No – those are the words of one in the faith who has struggled mightily against sin, death and the devil and seeming lost more than once, and yet finds the Lord’s mercy, which then reminds me of the confession of the younger son the story of the Prodigal, confessing his uselessness even as his father embraced him and ordered the finest robes and sandals and the fatted calf slain for a feast!  And lurking behind that joyous news, the shedding of the blood – the guarantee of forgiveness – that which we share in taking the cup of the very Blood of the Lord at the Holy Altar right behind me!  The Lord hears my cries, I can trust Him for life!  Hell beat the living dickens out of me and He heard me and delivered my soul!  Then He feeds me the sacrifice – His own Son!

If I said “Amen” right there, I would have “done my job this morning,” so to speak.  But as is always the case with God’s grace, there is no “enough” in God’s lectionary of the Gospel, and we read beginning with verse 5:

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.  The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.  I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

If we want a perfect example of what is meant by “Law and Gospel” – there it is!

It was back in 1977.  I was a newly minted Lutheran, as charged as I could be!  Pastor assigned me to one of the three person “evangelism teams” that went through the visitors’ cards and scheduled visits.  I still remember to this day ole Jake – dying of cancer and after 70 years, finally a child of God who, on the  day of Adult Confirmation, insisted on walking to the front!  He wouldn’t accept any assistance, either.  For him, this was as personal as anything had ever been in his life!  Cancer or no cancer – Jake was gonna walk up there!

Ya had to be there!

The next day or so, at the Buick plant, Flint MI lunch room where I worked, my  friend and fellow Christian – Ted – met me as usual for our lunch breaks.  He was black, and an elder at his Church, I was the newbie.  We called out selves “Salt and Pepper” and got along famously!  Needless to say, we talked about things of the Faith.  I was excitedly telling him all the details, and he was quite happy as well.  The he said to me:

“Jeffrey (he always called me my full name, not “Jeff”) – it was not long ago Jake was you!  You were close – so close, but not there just yet.  (Ted waved the palm of his hand about an inch off the floor) The Lord, as the Psalmist said, had to bring you low, that He might raise you up!”

The verses bear repeating:

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.  The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.  I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

Those words are directed not just at me, but at every Christian who has ever lived – and especially today, to each of us, and to me – again!  The Lord permits the work of His Holy Law to expose to ourselves to be the sinners we truly are – not merely in thought, word and deed, but in our very natures.  It’s not at all pleasant, that!

Would that we still had Private Confession and Absolution on Saturdays – Luther said, properly understood, it IS a Sacrament!  Then, alone with God and our Pastor, who has sworn upon his soul to repeat nothing to another soul (and most of us try to forget it all, too – right away!), we could empty our heart, mind and soul of every sinful burden.  That is what the Psalmist was doing in our text – emptying himself, that he might then take the cup of salvation – 0f Christ and His Body and Blood – and be filled anew!  Imagine the change that would make if all of us carried that whole thought with ourselves us to Holy Communion!  There would be a new awakening in the Church!!!

Then – the meat of the Gospel in our text! –

“I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, All men are liars. What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

Those words are so familiar to those of us who love the Divine Liturgy – I have never tired of singing or chanting them. The sinner realizing four critical things in his salvation:

1) he or she is greatly afflicted, and it affects our every relationship!

2) How can I pay the Lord back or beg His favor – which we quickly realize we cannot do?!

3) Take the cup of the Lord, which is life and salvation in His Body and Blood, and yet again learn it is upon Him we rest our every hope; and

4) Precious in is sight is the death of his saints???

Okay, Pastor, we were right there with you till you got to that last one!

“You mean the ‘Precious in is sight is the death of his saints?’”

Okie dokes – let me repeat what I chanted just a bit ago;

“It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks to you,  Lord God Almighty, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who on this day overcame death and the grave . . .  And together with the angels and arch-angels and ALL the company of Heaven” –

Did you catch that?  ALL the company of Heaven.  We ALL laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising you and saying – then we sing the Sanctus to the Holy Trinity!.  But who is that ALL??

To all those who have suffered through losing the closest to you to death – be it wife, child, parent, grand-parent, brother, sister – they are not here – as the angel at the tomb told the women about Jesus.  They are with the Lord, and every single time we sing those words just before Holy Communion – we sing WITH ALL the Communion of Saints – who surround the Lord’s throne in untold number as do we at this Altar, to join us in their praises to the Lord!  Think on that for a minute, or a year or a lifetime!  I worship with my dearly departed wife every time I take the Sacrament – the “Foretaste of the Feat to come!” – and she is lending her voice to mine, as are the entire Communion of Saints!

Gospel, Gospel, GOSPEL!

That can only be realized and understood by the Faithful.  The Psalmist is, hundreds of years before Christ and way, way WAY before our lifetimes, revealing the nature of God’s forgiveness and HIS VIEW of His saints!  Yes, their death is blessed, because in death, they enter new life in Christ to be joined to the Father and Holy Spirit as well.  God will not let us forget that, for that is Who He is and what He does in Christ!  So indeed, blessed in the Lord’s sight are the deaths of His saints, for they now join the Heaven chorus, all of the whole Church in Heaven and on earth worshiping the Lord!

And all of it “when?”  Just before, and as we take the cup of the Lord in His Body and Blood – given for us on that Cross!  If anyone here knows of something better than all of that, I don’t wanna know about your sumpin better, because in Faith we already have the best there can be!

And so, we can join together in the praise the Psalmist offers in his close to our text:

“O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.  I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.  Praise ye the Lord.”

We all know those words, we have sung the post-Communion canticle forever.  They are the only praise we can give the Lord!

Because, in Christ, and quite mysteriously, God has been merciful to us sinners.  We “Own the Mystery!”  And – the secret to the “Mystery?“

God truly does love us.

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

Amen.

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