Monday, May 13, 2019

Listening to the Voice

[This message was shared yesterday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Today, five of Living Water’s young people will affirm their desire to live in the covenant God made with them at their baptisms. 

Confirmation is not a one-and-done thing though. In Holy Baptism, we are crucified with Christ, our old selves drowned in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that our new selves can rise to everlasting life with Christ. But because we still live in a fallen world in bodies that haven’t yet physically died and risen, the Christian life is a matter of daily returning to Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and to renew our covenant with God. The old sinner--the old Adam, the old Eve--continue to ride around in these dying carcasses until the days we die and rise into the presence of God. 

Martin Luther writes about this as he explains the daily purpose of Baptism in The Small Catechism:
What is the significance of baptizing with water? It signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil desires, should be drowned by daily repentance and sorrow for sin, and be put to death, and that the new person should come forth every day and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Our young people--Sam, Ethan, Benji, Lexi, amd Ellie--along with the rest of us who confess faith in Christ, will need to daily turn to Christ and hold on tightly to Him each and everyday. That’s because while Christ will never walk away from us, we are daily tempted to walk away from Him. 

That’s especially so these days. We live in an era in which faith in Jesus is increasingly ignored or condemned. That makes grasping Jesus’ outstretched hands of grace, forgiveness, and life hard: countercultural, not extolled or appreciated by others, thought to be a sign of weakness or dimwittedness.

It has always been hard to turn to Jesus though. It goes against our sinful natures to trust anyone or anything other than ourselves as our deity. 

On the day that Luther was ordained as a priest, he was so terrified of God and judgment that he nearly spilled the whole chalice of wine on the sanctuary floor of the monastery in Erfurt, Germany. Later, his father-confessor, Johann von Staupitz, heard Luther in his small cell, crying out for forgiveness. When von Staupitz recognized that Luther was angry with a God he knew so little that he wasn’t even sure that God was there, he gave Luther a cross as a reminder of the God Who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, so that anyone who turns to Him in faith, however weak that faith may sometimes be, will live with God eternally. 

And he told Luther, when faced with temptations or doubts or troubles to call out to the God revealed in Jesus, “I am yours. Save me!” Luther would develop his own version of that prayer in later years. He would refute the world, the devil, and his sinful self by crying out, “But I am baptized!”

I pray similar prayers nearly every day of my life. When I consider the duties to which God has called me, I recognize that I am incapable of doing them in my own power. 

Mark Daniels can’t be a good husband in my own power.

I can’t be a good father, family member, or friend in my own power. 

I can’t be a good pastor or dean or regional convener in my personal power. 

And like every other human being, I can’t resist sin in my own power. 

I can’t even want to resist sin in my own power. 

Nor can I have joy. 

And I can’t love God or love my neighbor. 

To be even a passable human being, not to mention a disciple of the Lord Who died and rose to set me free from myself, I need Jesus, true God and true man, Who has conquered sin and death and hopelessness and fear on my behalf.

Jesus puts it more succinctly, “...apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 


As we turn to Jesus each day amid the craziness of our lives, we position ourselves to hear His voice. 

We hear Him say things like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 

And, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) 

And, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) 

And He will show us that all of His promises are underscored, guaranteed, by God the Father, Who sent Him to us and by His innocent death on a cross for us and His triumphant resurrection from the dead.

God the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Jesus as the Messiah when we turn to Him and listen for His voice in the Scriptures, in the Church, in the bread and the wine, in prayer in Jesus’ name...whenever we dare to trust that He is there, even when our faith is weak or challenged. 

What I learned as a young man who turned my back on my former atheism and embraced Jesus as my God and Savior forty years ago and have to keep learning each day is that when I refuse to listen for Jesus’ voice, demanding that He prove Himself to me, I can’t believe in Him and I can’t have the faith, life, and joy He wants to give to all people

But when I turn to Him with a willing heart and an open mind, He makes it so clear that He is the Messiah, my God and my King, that I wonder how I ever could doubt Him!

In today’s gospel lesson, John 10:22-30, Jesus is confronted by people who tell Him, “If you are the Messiah [the Christ, God’s anointed King], tell us plainly.” (John 10:24) 

This confrontation took place during the Feast of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah or the festival of lights. Yet the people who confront Jesus during this festival of lights are completely in the dark. 

They had witnessed or heard about things like Jesus turning water into wine, healing a man who had been unable to walk since birth, feeding 5000 men and their families with a few fish and pieces of bread, and healing a man blind from birth, to name a few. These miraculous signs all spoke volumes about Who Jesus was and is: Only the God Who has power over life and death could have performed them. But the men who confronted Jesus didn’t see this.

They apparently remained clueless as Jesus told them, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me,  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

This is the assurance that we have through the turmoil and uncertainties of this life, the assurance that we have beyond the moments we die and face God in eternity, the assurance our confirmands have as they begin their lives as adult disciples today: All who listen for Jesus’ voice will hear it and belong to Him.  
We will, like the prodigal sons we all by nature are, be tempted to walk away from Him, but He will always call out to us, always seek to lead us again into His presence where He saves and frees us from sin and death.

We can reliably hear Jesus when we look to His Word and to the power of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. They communicate everything we need to understand that Jesus is God, that He loves us, and that He saves those who turn to Him in faith

And so, confirmands and other children of God gathered in this sanctuary this morning, the message for us today is simple: Always listen for Jesus’ voice. He will always call you to rest in the arms of God to Whom you belong. Amen