By Paul Koch –
What a great day to be here in our Lord house! What a great cause for celebration and rejoicing! For today we welcomed into our midst little Kayley Lynn as she was added to the household of the faithful. Now we’ve been on quite a roll here, three baptisms in the last 4 weeks is something to celebrate. It is this promise of life that makes it fun to come here. Because let’s be honest, there are plenty of times that we don’t really want to come here. It isn’t all that fun; we aren’t looking forward to it. It’s okay, you can admit it. Look I don’t always want to come here either. I’m not always thrilled to be with you. I mean, I still come; but I know full well what it is like to be at church while desiring to be somewhere else, even if it is just to stay in bed. But man, not today, not these last two weeks. It’s really been a joy! The lectionary readings have been leading us through the incredible words of St. Paul to that young pastor Timothy, and we’ve been able to see how the language and promise of baptism just pours from his words. And while learning from him we’ve actually participated in the rite of Holy Baptism.
Now as I’ve said, and as you know, it’s not always a joy to be here. In fact, there seems to be a cycle, or an organic movement to things in any given congregation. There are good time and bad times. There are times of joy and times of immense sorrow. I often think of Pastor Yaspelkis who served his entire career as a pastor, all 46 years, right here in this place. Imagine, in that length of time the immense highs and devastating lows that he must have experienced. The joys of breaking ground for the first time and dedicating a new building. The excitement of opening a school and seeing church membership soar. And then the devastation of doing funerals for those who helped to build the structures we now enjoy. The pain of making hard decisions that alienated brothers and sisters who ended up leaving. The hard gut check of closing a school.
The church, the household of the faith, is not a stale picture or a model that is static. It doesn’t have a straight line trajectory where success is bound to come if we employ certain strategies. No, the church is you, and so it is a living and breathing thing. It means it is full of unexpected twists and turns along the way. Most of you, I’m sure, have memories of church that you love and memories that you find hard to forget, though you would like to. There were times you felt that this gathering of God’s children was a beautiful picture of the true love and compassion of God. There were times when you were pretty sure it was nothing but disappointment and judgment. And all of this, both the good times and the bad, are a faithful picture of life together as God’s children.
The reason that there are cycles or seasons to the life of the church, the reason that there are times you love being here and times when you could think of a hundred other things you’d rather be doing, is that suffering is real. Suffering is not kept locked out at the doors of the church. If church was always the same, if church was always uplifting, always a joy, always fun and inspiring, I think that it would mean the church was fake. It wasn’t really a part of our lives but rather some sort of escapism, like going to the movies. But our lives, our celebrations, our victories and failures cannot be separated from the church. And so long as the church stands in opposition to the world, so long as the Devil as at work, so long as sin wreaks havoc in our lives, there will be suffering.
But the church is not this building. In reality you are the brick and mortar of the church. It’s not just the oppression of the institution that will brings suffering and change to the church, but your own personal struggles will affect it. We gather in this place today and with smiles on our faces because we washed Kayley in the waters of righteousness. Life and salvation were freely given and you could feel the whole place sort of explode of with confidence and hope and joy. But there are others times: times of deep sorrow, times when you bring right into this place your doubts and worries. Perhaps they are the times when you feel abandoned by your family, or when you feel ashamed of your actions, or when your faith is just hanging on by a thread. You’re beat up and worn down, tired of being hurt by those who are supposed to love you, tired of trusting those who let you down, and this place begins to groan under the strain of the suffering.
We can even get to the point that we just want to walk away from all of it. I can remember years ago leaving a counseling session with a young teenage girl of the congregation in which she had confessed that she was pregnant and that she was scared and alone. She was well aware of her sin and confessed it out loud. I then had the privilege, the honor, to declare to her that she was forgiven all of her sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In tears she embraced me knowing how much she would need the gifts of our Lord’s church to endure. And within minutes of her leaving my office, another member of the flock came in and handed me a list – an actual hand-written list – of all her grievances that she expected me to address. Including things such as the pastor’s facial hair. Let me tell you, I can understand why we might want to just walk away from it all.
But then we hear these incredible words of St. Paul, words needed for the living breathing church of our Lord, words we cling to, for suffering and trial are never far from us. He says, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” he goes on to say, “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Paul correctly sees this life as one where we are locked in a battle and therefore calls us to be good soldiers of our Lord Jesus Christ. And just what is this good Christian soldier supposed to do? Is a good soldier absorbed in the ups and the downs of everything around him? No, a good soldier keeps his eyes on the task at hand, on the one who enlisted him, and on the goal set before him. A good soldier doesn’t get entangled in civilian affairs.
In this way Paul describes that we are to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ with the promise that his Word is not bound. You see, we are bound. We, in our lives, are bound by the limitations, the trials and the struggles of this life. We know disappointment and hardship and we are well versed in doubt. But God’s Word, the Word that enlisted you and me and little Kayley into his army is not bound. It is not limited by our understanding; it is not bound by our strength or dedication. It is this Word that we need if we are to endure the ups and the downs. In this Word we find correction when we are wandering and comfort when we are lost.
And so Paul speaks incredible words for you today. For though we find joy and celebration today we know that harder more difficult days will no doubt come. And so he says, “This saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”
Take note, for this is that unbound Word Paul is talking about. If we have died with him, well that is exactly what happens in the washing of holy baptism. There just like Kayley today, there we died with our Lord. In those waters all our sin was crucified with Christ where his perfect blood declares you to be forgiven, forgiven from all yours sins. And so if we have died with him we will also live with him. And if we endure, if we do not run away, if we press on until the day of the resurrection of the dead, why then we will reign with our Lord.
Now surely, if we deny him, if we reject what he has done, if we not only walk away from the church but away from the blessings of Christ, then he will deny us. After all we know that there is no other name under heaven by which men shall be saved. To deny Christ is to deny our hope and salvation. But then listen to that line. Paul says, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful.” That, right there is the unbound power of the Word. Even when we fail, even when we are overcome, even when we sleep in instead of coming to hear our Lord’s Word for us, why he is still faithful.
God is faithful. That is our great hope, that is our confidence, that is our joy and our courage to endure. He has promised you life and salvation. He washes you and clothes you in the garments of Christ. He feeds you his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. He declares this day that you are forgiven and free to live as his children and in all of those Words, in all of those unbound promises – God is faithful.
Now that is truly a reason to be happy.