"On Thee the High and Lowly"#84-49
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 6, 2017
By Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What is that hope that Christianity can offer?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Exodus 20:10
Oh, God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. Therefore, grant to Your people that they may love what You command and desire what You promise, that among the manifold changes of this age, our hearts may ever be fixed where true joys are to be found. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Through the centuries, the Christian church has celebrated Easter Sunday with the following greeting: the pastor greets the assembled congregation by saying, "Christ is risen!" The congregation responds by saying, "He is risen, indeed!" This past Easter, that traditional greeting was rehearsed again in thousands and thousands of churches, but that was a month ago, and perhaps for you-a very long month ago. If I were to greet you today by smiling and saying, "Christ is risen!" You might respond by saying or at least thinking, "So what?"
Our weekday experiences often differ sharply from our experience in Easter morning worship. "Christ is risen" you heard a month ago, but have you had to go to the cemetery in the last month and lay a loved one to rest? How hollow our chest, how deep our pain, and how far away seem the splendors of Easter worship when the family circle has been broken by death. Christ has risen and Easter promises heaven to us, where perfect love and friendship reign through all eternity. Now, a month later, we wonder, why can't we rid ourselves of the bitterness and envy that make us enemies of one another and poison our relationships? Perfect love and friendship reign, maybe in heaven, but not now. The flower really has fallen off the Easter lily.
Christ is risen and therefore He is alive to hear our prayers. We take our family problems to Him and then wait for something good to happen, and we wait and we wait and we wait. Our experiences do not seem to be in sync with the Easter experience. Christ is risen. So what? That's not a sacrilegious question. If we ask it humbly, God must be delighted. This is what the Lord says in Isaiah 45, "I am the Lord and there is no other. I have not spoken privately or in some dark corner of the world. I did not say to Jacob's descendants, 'Search for Me in vain.'" God does have answers for the disparity between the promised peace and tranquility of heaven and the war zone that you sometimes find in your own home.
The answer begins by understanding that Easter is not over. It wasn't a month ago. Easter is now. That's what Sunday church services are all about. Every Sunday worship service is a celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Here's the historical explanation for what I just said. The New Testament did not change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Jews who became Christians continued to observe the Sabbath but they, along with the Gentile Christians who had not normally kept the Sabbath, began to gather on Sundays. Acts 20 tells us that the Christians in Troas met on Sunday for preaching and for communion. Revelation 1:10 tells us that Sunday was also called the "Lord's Day." These gatherings on Sunday were in honor of Christ's resurrection which had happened, obviously, on Sunday, Easter Sunday. Worship services on Sunday, on the Lord's Day, are a continuing celebration of the fact that our Savior has conquered sin and death.
When you participate in worship, when you join in the continuing celebration of Easter, you are in a better position to put your conflicts, your troubles around the house-even death-into a better perspective. You can do that because you are not chained to your present problems. Let me explain: Christian worship is done in the Name of the Triune God. A worship service usually starts with these words, "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Those words are the same words that were spoken over you when you were baptized. As worship continues the Easter celebration, it also reminds you of your Baptism.
Now, both of these elements, Christ's Easter victory over death, and Baptism, are discussed in Romans chapter six. "Don't you know that all of us who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death" (Romans 6:3-4). Did you hear those words exactly as they were written? There is no hint that your Baptism was a figurative burial with Christ. The text does not say Baptism is as if we had been buried with Christ. The words can be read only literally. We were buried with Him. Biblical scholars are not agreed on the exact year when Jesus died, but the Bible teaches that God, in Baptism, lifted you out of the limitations of present time and united you with that event, which occurred long ago and yet mysteriously transcends time.
Edmund Schlink writes the following in his book, The Doctrine of Baptism: "Through Baptism, the temporal succession of the earthly life has, in a peculiar way, been abrogated, even though it continues to exist." Talk about having one foot in the grave. By Baptism, you do, in fact, more than one foot-your whole self. This life you imagined you were living only in the 20th century died and was buried. How do you analyze your life? What I'm saying means that your life is much more and much better than your present problems might lead you to believe. This means that when you gather for worship on the Lord's Day or Saturday or whenever you are able to join other Christians in worship, you are reminded of Good Friday. You are reminded that Christ died for your sins and was buried.
When I go to church on Sunday, I'm reminded that I am one of those sinners for whom Christ died. He didn't die for the sins of the whole world except for me. When He endured the pains of Calvary's cross on Good Friday, He did it because I am a sinner. Whenever we have had disagreements in our family, I'm reminded when I go to church that I have played a part in the problems I have. I'll tell you something else from my marriage. Diane has had the same experience I've had, so have the children. When we gather for worship, we are reminded that Christ died for our sins. You know what the practical result of that is? We have never had an argument that lasted beyond Sunday worship. That doesn't mean that the issues disappear. They may persist. It does mean that the animosity disappears. The tenseness around the house goes away. It goes away because husband, wife, and children appeared before Someone who is greater. That Someone greater is God who reminds His people that we are not chained to our present problems and feelings because, by Baptism, we were buried with Christ. The calendars around our house say April 27, 1997, just like the calendars in your home, but when our family worships, we also know that we are part of the death and burial of Christ that happened for us almost 2,000 years ago.
Now let's continue that Romans passage. Romans 6:5 says, "If we have been united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection." This is a great promise that gives you hope for the problems you are having in your life. Christ was buried and rose. You've buried with Christ and you will rise. Therefore, you need not be overwhelmed by your weekday experiences. Indeed, your burial and the hope of glory change your reaction to the daily problems you encounter. Colossians chapter three: "Since then you have been buried with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." I'll grant you that this is mysterious, but this is what the Bible teaches, and what a great thing it is!
When people gather together in worship, they are not only continuing the celebration of Easter, but they are also-it's better that I say we are also-celebrating our own forgiveness and our hope of glory. You remember the "So what?" question? "Christ is risen" is the traditional greeting, and you are tempted to say, "So what? I've still got plenty of problems." Do you remember that God said in Isaiah that He did not tell us to search for Him in vain, that He can be found? We're on to the answer now. God wants you and your family to have peace. He wants you to know the blessings of His forgiveness, for the sins that have disrupted the peace of your home. He wants you to know that the hope of Christ's resurrection can also bring hope into your family life. That can happen when mom and dad, parents and children, young and old gather in worship on the Lord's Day.
I've been talking this month about the Third Commandment, the commandment that says, "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." In this Old Testament commandment, we see how God can gather families together in peace. The commandment goes on to say, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. In it, you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates." You see, everyone-including the stranger visiting in their home, even the cattle in the stalls-everyone was required to rest on the Old Testament Sabbath.
About 10 years ago, I was teaching a confirmation class at Holy Cross School in our town of Collinsville. I asked the children what it would be like if they had to-had to-spend a whole day at home each week with mom and dad, brothers and sisters, and even their pets. What answer did the kids give me? "Yuck. I wouldn't want to be with them that much." But I pressed them. "Okay," I said, "It would be tough at first, but what do you think would happen as you were together for a whole day week after week after week?" The children answered, "We'd probably get to know one another better. We'd get to like each other more." You see, way back in the Old Testament, God was working for family peace. The fact that mom and dad, parents and children, servants, strangers, and even cattle had to rest on the Sabbath was God's way of providing peace for the families of His holy people. That's the answer to "So what?" when you wonder where the blessings of Easter have gone. They haven't gone anywhere. They are available to you and to your family in worship on the Lord's Day.
When mom and dad, parents and children come to worship, you are continuing the celebration of Easter. That's not the celebration of someone else's story. It's your story too. Remember you were buried with Christ by Baptism and you will one day rise as He has risen. If you're a single parent, don't count yourself out of what I'm saying. If you're widowed or divorced, don't count yourself out. If you've never married, don't count yourself out. We sinners are all in this together. We want to see the relevance of faith for our daily lives. We hear the religious talk and we humbly ask, "So what? How does this apply to my life?" The answer is that Easter was not a month ago. Christians have a unique way of telling time. It's a joyous way. Easter continues for us all. It continues in the message of forgiveness and hope we experience each Lord's Day.
The poet extolled the worship of the Lord's Day this way, "O day of rest and gladness. O day of joy and light. O balm of care and sadness most beautiful, most bright. On thee, the high and lowly before the eternal throne sing, 'Holy, holy, holy,' to the great Three-in-One." Until next time, remember that on the Lord's Day, the high and lowly, moms and dads, young and old-all of us-celebrate the presence of Easter in our daily lives. Amen.
Action in Ministry for August 6, 2017
Guest: Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer Timelessness of the Easter
Mark Eischer: We just heard Dr. Dale Meyer from 1997, but Dr. Meyer joins us now in the studio to discuss some of those points he mentioned in his message.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, he's with us today. He's currently serving as the president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. It's always great to have him back in The Lutheran Hour studios. Dr. Meyer, welcome back!
Dale Meyer: Well, thanks, Speaker Seltz. I'm glad to be here. This is a thrill for me, an honor, so thanks for having me.
Mark Eischer: Well, Dr. Meyer, we've celebrated 20 Easters since you originally preached that message back in 1997. I'm wondering what, if anything, would you do or say differently if you were to preach that same sermon today?
Dale Meyer: Twenty years have taught me a lot of things. I mean, we mature as we get older and we continue, I hope all of us, to study and think and learn. One of the things that has impressed me more and more as I've gotten older, and I've hit my threescore years in 10, is that I believe God grinds us down. I believe that He grinds us down, sooner or later. Quickly or slowly, He takes away from us all the good gifts He's given to us, you know, family, possessions, health and, finally, life itself. I think He does that so that we will look to Him, more and more. We don't enjoy this, but I interpret this as a blessing from a Heavenly Father who says, "Dale, this is what's good for you."
The Rev. Dr. Arnold Kuntz was president of the Pacific Southwest District, and he wrote in a devotion, and the title of the book is marvelous, Devotions for the Chronologically Gifted. This was about 20, 30 years ago. Concordia Publishing House put this out, but Dr. Kuntz wrote, "Life narrows down and crisis comes and suddenly only one thing matters and there in the narrow place stands Jesus."
Gregory Seltz: That's right. Right in the middle, He's the only thing left, but He's all you've ever needed, right?
Dale Meyer: Yeah, and that makes Easter and this message even more relevant to me today than it was 20 years ago.
Gregory Seltz: I know, I remember in your classes you used to talk about, "Hey, guys, when you're preaching these sermons, really deal with these kinds of questions because people are having them." Maybe today the response might be, "Christ is risen. Whatever." Like, "Who cares?" That sense of irrelevance that you described in 1997 has taken on a harder, more derisive edge in the 20 years since. Talk to us a little bit about how is Concordia Seminary preparing pastors to share the reality of Christ's resurrection in an increasingly skeptical and even hostile culture?
Dale Meyer: You're absolutely right. I had a great LLL guy, Lutheran Laymen's League person, ask me what the seminary is doing about millennials. I said, "Our students are millennials."
Gregory Seltz: Yeah.
Dale Meyer: We are doing things about millennials. Our new curriculum is very sensitive to the changes that you've talked about. The thing that I have to trust more than anything is that our seminary students who know and love the Bible, they know that the Bible's promises are centered in Jesus, they have the hope of glory. They want congregations to thrive; they're going to figure it out.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, I think of all those listeners who heard that sermon preached back in 1997 but have since passed away. How are they still part of that ongoing Easter with us?
Dale Meyer: When I go to church and Communion is celebrated, I always think of them during the preface: "with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven," and that includes those who have gone before. That's my dad, my father-in-law, mother-in-law. I literally start to think of them at that time. Then the rest of the liturgy goes on and I'm still thinking of all those people. Yeah, there is only one church. There's not a church on earth and then a separate church in heaven. We're one church. We just happen to be on the earthly side of the Jordan right now.
Gregory Seltz: Well, thank you, Dr. Meyer, for reminding us that we are one church. We're one people through the gifts that God has given us. You've talked about the Lord's Supper and our Baptism-how this identifies us and literally gives us a whole different perspective on life. Thanks for being with us today.
Dale Meyer: My pleasure. Thank you.
Gregory Seltz: That's our Action in Ministry segment today to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 6, 2017
Topic: What is that hope that Christianity can offer?
Mark Eischer: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener writes, "Christians talk about hope and yet, with all the terrible things we see happening in our world today, for example, mass shootings, murders, terrorism, random killings-what is that hope that Christianity can offer?"
Gregory Seltz: Wow, Mark! That's a great question and it is very timely. But first, I think we need to ask, what is our definition of hope? You see, the hope that's spoken of in the Bible is not a collection of wishes as we look to the future. It's not seeking something that we'd like to see happen like "I hope my team wins" or "I hope my candidate wins" or "I hope we don't experience those kinds of tragedies in our city." Those are all wishes over which we have no control. We've got no idea whether or not those wishes will come true. That is not hope. It's wishful thinking, and there's no way we can predict that.
Mark Eischer: Are you saying then that the Bible talks about a hope that's different from the hope the world seeks?
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, I am. That's right. Human hope has no comparison with the hope that's spoken of in the Scripture. The hope we find expressed in the Scripture, something that we know for a fact, because it's not grounded in our wishful thinking. It's grounded in God's Word and God's work. We know that God doesn't lie. What He promises will come to pass like they always have.
Mark Eischer: It really does seem like there's so much hopelessness in the world today.
Gregory Seltz: I think you're right and our situation would be hopeless if we depended only on ourselves or the people in this world. Here, again, I think this is where the Christian faith offers real hope. We know God's in charge. He knows the situation of this world and the situation of all who live here amidst all the changes and challenges of the world. The Bible proclaims a Lord who is still in charge, the One who came to save us so that we might live in hope forever with Him.
Mark Eischer: In that sense, it's great to be a believer but it also means we can share that hope with anyone, especially with those who've lost hope.
Gregory Seltz: In fact, that's why we're here. When the world is looking for hope in its leaders, its armies, its wealth-wishing something could be done about the situation it's facing-the Christian is able to calmly say, "Well, with God in charge, we know that what is happening will ultimately turn out for our best whether it's what we have wished for or not."
Mark Eischer: I'm also thinking that for those who look for hope in this world alone, the sad answer for them is that there really is no lasting hope. This world and all that's in it will some day pass away. The good news for the Christian is that we have a hope that is eternal.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, you've touched on something that is a major difference. Our hope lies in Jesus Christ. He alone really gives us real hope. He offers a full life on earth when He says, "I've come that you might have life and have it more abundantly," but He came to give us life in eternal salvation through His life, death, and resurrection. To the believer, hope is eternal.
Mark Eischer: For many, however, this life here on earth is all there is. There's no hope for them beyond the grave. They believe all hope will end with death.
Gregory Seltz: In the Bible, that's no hope at all. Here's the thing: our faith is not a privilege that takes us out of this world. We definitely share in its pain, its suffering, its evil, but even there we're here to testify to the greater hope that we all can have in our Savior Jesus. He's the One who promised, "I'm the Resurrection. I'm the Life. He who believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." Because of who Jesus is for us and for others, we can live in this hope with a new energy and faith that trusts what the Bible says: that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.
Mark Eischer: I'm thinking here of that hymn that says, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, real lasting hope. That's hope for today, tomorrow, and forever. That's the hope that the believer has, but that's hope that the believer can share no matter the chaos of the world all around us.
Mark Eischer: It's a hope that's rooted in the actions and promises of God, ultimately, in Jesus Christ.
Gregory Seltz: That's something we can count on and boldly trust and believe.
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Living Bread from Heaven" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Hope of the World" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)