+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 9:37
Theme: Welcomed In Christ’s Name
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Faith never exists in a vacuum. Neither do sinners. We are not sovereign, self-determined souls. We exist only in context. We are contingent. Today we reflect on the history and context of God’s saints at Meribah. Certainly in the bigger context Christians have very meager spiritual beginnings.
Today we find the disciples acting very unsaintly. They had aspirations. They were competitive. They had egos. They wanted to make names for themselves. They were human. How far could they ride the coat-tails of Jesus? Perhaps they were counting their chickens before they were hatched? Regardless, we find them at this point to be poor examples to future generations. The problem would be corrected in due time.
It is human nature- and a particularly sinful expression of it at that- to presume. Presumption is an indicator of our spiritual attitude. We make plans; we take liberties regarding things we have no ability to control. Operating on false assumptions is very dangerous. God owes us nothing; a truth we must be continually convicted of lest repentance become only a hollow ritual.
Three women arrived at the gate of heaven at the same time. St. Peter came but he had some pressing business and asked them to please wait. He was gone for a long time. Finally, when he came back, he asked one of the women if she had minded waiting.
“No”, she said, “I’ve looked forward to this for so long. I didn’t mind at all.”
St. Peter then said, “Well, I have one question in order for you to enter heaven. How do you spell God?” She said, “G-O-D.” St. Peter said, “Go right on in.”
He went and got one of the other women, told her to come on inside, “Did you mind waiting?” She said, “Oh, no. I have been a Christian for fifty years, and I’ll spend eternity here. I didn’t mind at all.” So St. Peter said, “Just one more thing. How do you spell God?”
She said, “G-O-D.” St. Peter said that was good and sent her into heaven.
He went back out and invited the third woman in and asked her if she had minded waiting. “Yes, I did,” she said. “I’ve had to stand in line all my life; at the supermarket, when I went to school, when I registered my children for school, when I went to the movies- everywhere. And I resent having to wait in line for heaven! St. Peter said, “Well, that’s all right for you to feel that way. It won’t be held against you. There is just one more question, how do you spell Czechoslovakia?” God’s grace is sufficient for the day. We should never presume He owes us anything tomorrow.
Any celebration of the past should give us inspiration for the future. We are custodians of a glorious truth that is unintelligible to the unbelieving world. How can the Lutheran distinctive of salvation by grace through faith impact a typically secular person today? How is His truth made relevant? Synchronously with the proclamation of that truth the Holy Spirit works to give ears of faith to those who were otherwise deaf to its miraculous tone. This mystery of God’s initiative is never disclosed this side of heaven. Many are saved before they ever understand that they are saved because repentance transcends the faculties of the intellect. It seizes also the heart and the will.
The challenge is quite simple in a way: To faithfully and tirelessly articulate the unchanging Gospel to a constantly changing world. Manna never lasted more than a day1 -except on the Sabbath. In a sense that is true of the gospel. It has to be gifted to us afresh every new day of our sin. On the eternal Sabbath it will endure to immortality. But we are not yet free from the corruption of sin.
Still, we are free from the condemnation of the law. The God who has guided history is nevertheless with us in the present. We are post-resurrection, post- ascension Christians. At His ascension Jesus Christ did not relinquish His humanity and neither did He abandon us in His divinity. How else could we receive the sacred gift of His body and blood?
Today we reflect on the blessings of history. What of the history of God’s people? Every history involving humans has a checkered past. In Meribah’s case it’s right in the name. In the wilderness by the rock of Horeb God provided life-giving water to His people through Moses’ staff. But He named it Meribah because there the people argued. Meribah means ‘quarreling’2. Could it be more appropriate for Lutherans, really, who believe they are always sinners but at the same time saints by God’s grace!
This place is the house of God. Here He gathers His own and forgives sins that are unknown to anyone else. Here He meets with His people by name. A man who was conducting a survey knocked on a front door. A little boy opened the door and stared at him. The man asked the boy how many people lived in the house. The boy replied, "Well, there’s Jimmy & Mary & Sophie & Bobby..." The man impatiently interrupted the boy, "Just give me the numbers." The boy replied, "There are no numbers in this house, they are all names to me!"
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”3 The Shepherd says today, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me.”4 There is no anonymity, no ambiguity, no obscurity and no secrecy involved in the intimate fellowship believers have with the Father through His Son. You are not a number in God’s household. You are baptismally named. You are nominated for salvation. You are sealed personally by the blood of the Lamb.
The Scripture tells us “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”5
From font to grave, from baptism to death, from new birth to immortality, across centuries, across continents, across barriers of language, geography and culture – they are still called Christians. Named Christians because they are born not of natural descent or of human decision but of water and the Spirit. From the ancient martyrs to the medieval mystics to the renaissance reformers to modern disciples they are called Christian.
And here too, at Fountain of Living Waters Evangelical Lutheran Church, Meribah, South Australia they have been called Christians for 95 years. Christians who are still called- each lamb by name. Christians whose confession of truth rests on apostolic foundations; is informed by the creed of Nicaea; is inspired by the boldness of Luther; is challenged by the opposition of the world- but is still a living confession of the Holy Spirit.
Many worry about the future of the church. We must be careful to keep things in perspective. People have challenges. God has worries. He has committed Himself to the rescue of fallen humanity. It’s an incomprehensible task. Yet we are part of the narrative. The trajectory of the scheme of redemption is not one-dimensional. It is not limited to a tiny area called Palestine. Christianity is validated by its historicity by not confined by it. Christ is not hampered by the dimensions of time and space. The order of redemption flows through every font, every lectern, every pulpit, every altar where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to His institution.
What will the next 100 years bring? Yes, even believers continually conceive of all kinds of worries for themselves. Perhaps we believe that if we are bogged down in worries we are excused from other obligations in the kingdom. Perhaps we become too comfortable constructing and deconstructing our own dramas. But these things are best left to unbelievers.
We have enough legitimate things on our agendas.
We have sins. These we learn to name as our own so that they can become Christ’s and we can be freed from them. We have temptations. These we learn to identify so that we can pray with integrity for deliverance. We have frailties. These we learn are the consequence of mortality and foster in us a greater yearning to be released from this bondage to decay. We have fears. These are most powerful of all. We learn from fear that we are powerless without the all-embracing compassion of Him who has triumphed over Satan, hell, and death itself.
Satan would like us to have many worries. Most of them never come to pass. As we celebrate today we are mindful of what we do have. Christians have the lessons of the past, the blessings of the present and the promise of the future. We have Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We have a living Saviour still bearing the marks of sacrifice. We have participation in a fellowship that crosses the dimensions of time and space. Thanks be to God! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Meribah’s 85th Anniversary of the Building
23 September 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See Exodus 16:20
2 See Exodus 17:6-7
3 John 10:3
4 Mark 9:37
5 Acts 11:26