Rev. Paul J Cain
Rejoice, Children of Promise
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare, 15 March 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Rejoice, children of promise. In Christ you have been set free. By faith, you are true descendants of Abraham and are members of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.
Dr. Pieper taught us that there are only two religions in the world, Biblical Christianity and works-righteousness. The latter says, “Do” and “Don’t.” True Christianity confesses with Jesus, “It is finished!”
Even some Christians get Christianity wrong. Centuries after the Reformation, many American Evangelicals are theologically indistinguishable from medieval Roman Catholicism. Human opinions, recent traditions, and faddish practices are elevated to be equivalent to the authority of Scripture, whether decision theology, contemporary entertainment worship, the explosion of Christian media that isn’t really that Christian, and the disturbing trend of overemphasis of our role in the Christian life.
Centuries after the Reformation, worship among some Christians has again devolved to be again more about what we do than what God does for us. If we know we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to God’s glory alone, that we are saved by God’s action and not ours, why do so many allegedly Christian theologies of worship put more emphasis on what we do on Sunday morning than on what God does? Consider this Lutheran alternative:
Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.
How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship throughout the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day--the living heritage and something new.
Norman Nagel, Introduction to Lutheran Worship
There are only two religions in the world, Biblical Christianity and works-righteousness. Religions based on what we do, whether new or ancient say, “Do” and “Don’t.” True Biblical Christianity confesses with Jesus, “It is finished!”
Consider the two covenants of Galatians 4:
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
Few people anymore are blatantly honest enough to say that they think they’re getting into heaven for being good, for doing more good than evil. Yet, that is the comfort many seek at a modern funeral. Jesus is downplayed even in some Christian funerals. The good works of the deceased and amusing stories about them are the only pseudo comfort left. Lutherans discourage eulogies because they come from traditions that place some responsibility for earning and deserving salvation with the deceased. Since a Lutheran Christian funeral is a worship service of Jesus Christ, we don’t do eulogies. Either Jesus is a 100% Savior or He is not. What a memorial service looks like reflects what those involved believe about the Bible, the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the gift of salvation in Christ alone. You will see unique Scriptures, Psalms, hymns, and personal accounts in my sermon at one of our funerals so you can actually tell who we’re laying to rest in Jesus’ Name.
Galatians 4 reviews Genesis, especially the promises of God and the mistakes of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah was unable to conceive. She thought her husband could have a son with her slave woman, Hagar. Unsurprisingly, Abraham thought this was a good idea. Ishmael, father of all Arabs is that son. Yet he was not the son the good Lord promised Abraham and Sarah. He was one born of blood, of the will of the flesh, of the will of man. He was born according to the flesh, not according to Promise. Promise is a wonderful Old Testament Gospel word!
The analogy that Paul fleshes out is that those who want to work their way to heaven are really illegitimate sons of Abraham. His true sons, even if not descended from him genetically, are those who shall live by faith. Slavery awaits all who remain under the burden of the law, to do it all. We, of the heavenly Jerusalem are free in Christ. Father Abraham had many sons. No wonder Isaiah 54 urges Sarah to rejoice. Her descendants through Isaac include those of Israel who believe in Christ in addition to all Christians who believe in Christ, including you.
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
The Lutheran Confessions, in article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession explain the difference between depending upon law versus the promises:
84 Fourth. Forgiveness of sins is something promised for Christ’s sake. It cannot be received except through faith alone. For a promise cannot be received except by faith alone. Romans 4:16 says, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed.” It is as though he says, “If the matter were to depend on our merits, the promise would be uncertain and useless. For we never could determine when we would have enough merit.” Experienced consciences can easily understand this. So Paul says in Galatians 3:22, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” He takes merit away from us because he says that all are guilty and included under sin. Then he adds that the promise (namely, forgiveness of sins and justification) is given, and he shows how the promise can be received—by faith. This reasoning, derived from the nature of a promise, is the chief reasoning in Paul and is often repeated. Nor can anything be devised or imagined by which Paul’s argument can be overthrown. 85 Therefore, let not good minds allow themselves to be forced from the conviction that we receive forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, through faith alone. In this they have sure and firm consolation against the terrors of sin, against eternal death, and against all the gates of hell.
Rejoice, children of promise. In Christ you have been set free from sin and its guilt. By faith, you are true descendants of Abraham and are members of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.