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The following sermon, which was delivered today (April 9, 2014) in chapel at the LCMS International Center, is adapted from a sermon written by Chaplain William Weedon. The sermon is one of many included in a Lenten series published by Concordia Publishing House (CPH) in 2009 titled Sacred Head, Now Wounded. Find this resource (which includes a CD) here.
How many the wounds we inflicted upon our Savior in His Passion, suffering and death! And yet of all the wounds that our Lord received, none so struck, so terrorized and so weighed on Him as the one we ponder this morning. We did not inflict this one. It came from His Father — the wound of abandonment.
From out of the unspeakable depth of His agony on the cross, our Lord cries the words of Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The great Lutheran preacher, O.P. Kretzmann, ponders this cry of agony:
“Suddenly on a Friday afternoon a man was forsaken of God, cut off from the land of the living and the dead, utterly and ultimately alone. … The sudden emptiness in those shadowed eyes … . It was then, much more than afterward, that he died. … You see, this is sin. … It is not merely a matter of murder and adultery and gossip. … Something to do or not to do! … It is always loneliness. … It is cutting yourself off from God. … It is deliberate turning away from truth, from goodness, from heaven. … You see, this is redemption. … All this He took into Himself alone there in the dark. … He became sin for us” (The Pilgrim, CPH 1944, p. 47).
People loved by God, as all the sin of the world is laid upon the Lamb of God, as He owns it as His very own, He experiences in Himself what every one of those sins demands: “Leave me alone, God! Go away! Leave me be!” This is the bitterest dregs of the cup that He will drain down for us in its entirety. He will taste hell. He will taste it for us all. He will know the loneliness so profound that its pain is unutterable for us. How can we begin to understand what it was like for Him in that moment — the eternal Word who had delighted in the Father’s presence before the ages came to be; the eternal Word who took on flesh from the Virgin without ever leaving the presence of His Father; the Word made flesh who lived among us constantly as all men were meant to live: conscious of His Father’s never-failing love and the presence of His guiding hand. And all of this is now withdrawn, and He is alone. All alone.
People joke about hell, saying, “Well, at least I’ll have a lot of company there.” Wrong. Utterly wrong. Think of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In that story, the rich man is all alone. Lazarus has angels for company and Abraham to whom he is so close that he lays his head in his bosom. The rich man hungers and thirsts for a human touch.
“Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But no visit relieves the terror of his solitude. He is alone. All alone. And will be alone forever. You ponder that and you will begin to understand the reality of hell. You ponder that and you will see its true terror. You ponder that and you will bow in love before the Savior whose love for you was so great that He chose to enter that Himself and to endure it in your place that you might be set free from it forever. Never alone. Never again.
Because He endured the wound of abandonment that our every sin demands of God, because He drained the cup down to this, its last and bitterest dregs, you can look to your Savior and pray with the confidence of being heard.
Do you see it now? You will never have to know what He went through in those darkest hours. Not that you won’t suffer. No, He flat out tells you that you will. But you will never have to face life or suffering or death alone. He has made sure of it. He will be with you. He will walk with you every step of the way, and so hell itself is undone, death destroyed, sin forgiven. Your Savior, your Shepherd, He attends you through the valley of the shadow of death so that you fear no evil, for you are not alone, but He is with you. His rod and His staff, they comfort you. He brings you out from that darkest of valleys into the sunshine and the bright light of the day that never ends in the Kingdom of your Father.
Let’s let O.P. Kretzmann have the final words on this meditation on the wound of abandonment:
“Above His ‘Eli, Eli’ was the sound of tearing veils, of falling walls, of the glad crying of those who now had a home again after the long loneliness of sin. … They would continue to wander, groping, stumbling, falling, in all the black ways which man will walk when they turn away from God. … But there was a way back now, beyond Jerusalem and beyond thought and hope to the place where the open arms of the cross had become the gates of heaven” (The Pilgrim, p. 47).
LCMS International Center chaplain
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14
Last week I had the privilege of attending the groundbreaking of Concordia International School in Hanoi, Vietnam. During my trip, I had the opportunity to speak with parents and school board members who expressed their deep appreciation for the LCMS’ work in Vietnam. It was an experience that I will always remember and cherish.
Most memorable, however, were the teachers called to teach and lead the students of this school and others in the region. Their dedication to the Gospel, to the Church, and to the children they disciple humbled me. They are but a small sample of the men and women who serve in hundreds of parochial schools across our nation and the world — men and women who are shaping the next generation of our church.
The Lutheran ethos of our Synod is always in the hands of those who disciple the next generation of church leaders, and our teachers are often at the center of that activity. Their faithful years of service and long hours of work, in and out of the classrooms, sustain the Synod’s most precious resource, the children who will someday teach, preach, evangelize, and care for the Church.
Their work is truly an investment in the future — with phenomenal dividends; yet, children in our society, and in our Synod, face ever-growing spiritual challenges with eternal consequences. Satan is not a respecter of persons, at any age. Can there be a more sinister plan of attack than to strike at the children of the Church?
Jesus suffered the little children to come unto Him. These words from Matthew’s gospel resonate with profound meaning today. The Savior rescued children from sin and death by His atoning work on the cross. It is the Church’s privilege to nurture these young believers in the faith at the earliest age less they fall victim to the ploys of the devil.
Parents, pastors, and teachers all have vital roles to play in caring for the spiritual wellbeing of our children. Each brings the gospel to children in their respective roles. Teachers, in many cases, spend more hours with children than do parents. Can we not but pray for and encourage these teachers? May it always be so.
God grants His grace and mercy to the Church. He gifts His Church with teachers. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to call faithful teachers to nurture and prepare our children for faithful lives in service to Him. Amen.
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true. If we walk in the light, as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
Lutherans have lived in a variety of cultures and countries. Our faith has guided our lives and living in society, and we have made significant contributions to society as a result of our convictions. Yet, not every culture has welcomed the values that Lutherans share as Christian people. Stumbling blocks persist, most notably regarding the cornerstone of the faith — the person and work of Jesus Christ. In spite of this, we continue to proclaim Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ coming again. And, we continue to love those who are our neighbors.
As society morphs and shifts, it is all the more important for us to sustain our culture as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Identifying and articulating Synod’s core values highlights the importance of sharing and shaping a culture that is rooted in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This “Lutheran ethos” permeates the teaching, preaching, caring, living and witness of our church.
Temptations abound for compromise. Sometimes temptation is a matter of convenience. Sometimes it is for gain. Sometimes it is rooted in fear. In every case, compromise of the faith has led to failure. History is replete with the drift of God’s people from the one, true faith. Time and again, God has patiently called his people to repentance. Even so, He calls us today.
Faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Confessions has anchored the Synod during a time of cultural change and global challenges. Her fidelity has been a catalyst to enhance relationships with church bodies within the United States and abroad and within and among congregations. Faithfully sharing Christ through Word and Sacrament has never failed the Church.
Let us find assurance in this faith rooted in Christ our Lord and confessed by the Church. Let us stand firm on the finished work of Jesus whose grace and mercy shall never fail.
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Stories abound about apparitions – that is, an instance of something’s appearing. One of the more famous apparitions is commonly referred to as, “Our Lady of Lourdes.” A young 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, reported that she spoke to a woman in a cave near her hometown of Lourdes, France. After her first encounter with the lady in February 1858, she had 17 more meetings with her that year.
Unlike Bernadette’s mysterious encounters, pastors regularly and most predictably experience apparitions during Christmas. They have numerous encounters with parishioners who appear at the celebration of our Savior’s birth, not to be seen for another year with possible exceptions at Easter. They come to hear, once again, the preacher in the pulpit share the story about baby Jesus.
Christmas, although filled with excitement and anticipation of celebrating the Messiah’s birth, can become a litany of appearances. Christians are crushed by shopping sprees, mandatory social gatherings and endless parties. Before they know it, Christmas fatigue sets in — often by the third Sunday in Advent. Divine worship becomes another “event” for them to attend. They make their appearances and subtly grow indifferent about the birth of Jesus.
By now, they wonder what more can be said about Christmas, and there are12 days of Christmas ahead of them! What more can be said about the birth of the Savior? For sinners there is much to share. The law has enslaved humanity under its curse. Redemption is hopeless without God’s intervention and God makes his remarkable appearance at Bethlehem; redemption has come. He came in the flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth. He is man born of woman.
God’s redemption has come for all humanity to see, touch and hear. It is no illusion conjured in the hearts and minds of men. God has come in the flesh. Simeon says it so beautifully as he takes the Savior in his arms and says,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
May the grace and peace of God manifest among us in the Savior sustain us always in the one true hope that endures for all eternity. Amen.
Rev. Gregory Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
On November 22, 2013, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin held that the clergy housing allowance is unconstitutional. Specifically, the judge entered an Order and Opinion declaring 26 U.S.C. Section 107(2) unenforceable because it violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The judge entered an order enjoining the IRS from enforcing the provision but provided that the injunction will not be effective until all appeals have been concluded or the deadline for filing an appeal has expired, whichever comes later.
This Order and Opinion most certainly will be appealed, and we expect voluminous amicus briefs to be filed in support of a reversal of the decision. For this reason the Opinion will have no immediate impact and will not be effective until all appeals have been exhausted.
Synod General Counsel has been monitoring this case and earlier similar cases for many years and has been reporting on the issue to the LCMS Board of Directors.
Given the recent release of the court’s ruling, church bodies, religious organizations, and legal counsel are assessing the options for response and the potential impact of this ruling. We will provide updated information as it becomes available.
Ronald P. Schultz,
Chief Administrative Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod