Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (C)
May 16, 2010
Text: John 17:20-26

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

To confess “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church,” is to confess an article of faith, not of sight. Jesus prayed for His disciples, including those coming after them who believe on account of the apostolic Word, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21; ESV). But again, the reality of this oneness is an article of faith, not of sight. If we rely on sight, the Church appears to be anything but one. To state the obvious, there are how many denominations within worldwide Christendom? Of course, the divisions that separate Christendom into denominations are sinful, but they are not superficial. To use just one example, consider the Lord’s Supper. We maintain that it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, received orally, under the elements of bread and wine. Most Protestants maintain that it is only bread and wine, or grape juice as the case may be, merely symbolizing Christ’s body and blood. Rome maintains that the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ, so that there is no bread or wine left, but only the appearance of bread and wine. And in spite of our post-modern American inclination to be relativists, to maintain that we are all right in some sense, the plain truth is, we cannot all be right. Logically speaking, we can all be wrong, but we cannot all be right. All three options are mutually exclusive. Nor is this an unimportant issue. The issue is whether we believe the Word of our Lord, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Church dividing doctrinal issues finally boil down to the issue of how one regards the Word of the Lord. To sweep these issues under the rug is dishonest. The father of lies would have us ignore doctrinal differences. We dare not give in to his temptation. The goal of the Church must always be to resolve our doctrinal differences on the basis of the Word of God, and so come to visible and complete unity, resulting in altar and pulpit fellowship, and a united confession of Christ to the world. But in a fallen world, where even many sincere Christians distort the Word of God (one can be sincerely wrong), there will always be doctrinal division. St. Paul even says that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Cor. 11:19). And so there are denominations in Christendom.

Even those who share a denominational name are divided into even more denominations. There is the hodgepodge of initials within Lutheranism: LCMS, ELCA, WELS, ELS, ELDoNA, TAALC, CLC, LCR, and the list goes on, and these are only the Lutheran churches in the United States. But this sin is not unique to the Lutheran Church. There is the Christian Reformed Church, the Reformed Church in America, the United Reformed Churches, all of these related to the other Calvinist bodies, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and on and on it goes. There are Southern Baptists and American Baptists and 60 some different Baptist associations in the United States alone. There are Roman Catholics and a whole host of other Catholic churches that have separated themselves from Rome. And even within denominations, there are separations: conservative vs. liberal, traditional vs. contemporary, doctrinal vs. missional (as if those two could ever be opposed to one another!). And it’s not much better within congregations. In the local congregation there is always the danger of dividing over the silliest things, like the color of the paint on the walls or which dishes go in which cupboard in the kitchen. We must always be on the watch for the work of Satan in our congregation, ever standing firm on the issues of God’s Word and doctrine, but ever yielding in love to the will of the other in matters of indifference, always repenting of our unwillingness to do either, because both are hard. And we must ever confess, in faith in the Lord who prayed it and promised it, the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”

The oneness that Jesus prays for in His Church is not a “Can’t we all just get along,” group hug, sweep our differences under the rug, kind of oneness. We are not talking about the feigned bi-partisanship of politicians. Jesus prays for a union that can never be achieved by human efforts. It is a union that can only be the gift of God, for it is the union of the Triune God. It is the union of the Father and the Son, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21). That can never be the result of our own works. That must be gift. Given by grace. Received by faith. Notice the basis of the oneness in our text. It is to know the Father. “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me” (v. 25). This knowledge is faith. To know Jesus is to know the Father, for Jesus gives His disciples such knowledge: “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26). In knowing the Father, knowing His Name, the very love of God, the love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells in Christians, and among Christians, that they may be one. It is a profound mystery, a work of the Holy Trinity, a gift.

The oneness of the Church that we confess, by faith, not by sight, is bestowed in Baptism. There you are given the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Baptism, you are made a member of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. There you are given the Holy Spirit, who gives you faith as a gift. There you are brought into the invisible reality of the Church. The Church is holy believers in Jesus. We often use the word “church” for denominations and institutions and congregations and church buildings, and these are all proper expressions. But in essence, the Church is people. And not just any people. The Church, strictly speaking, is believers in Christ. Those on the church rolls, who belong outwardly to the congregation, but do not believe in Jesus, are not members of the Church. But every believer in Christ Jesus is a member of the Church. And this is an unseen reality. We cannot see into the human heart. Only you know if you are a believer or a hypocrite, one who confesses the faith outwardly, but secretly rejects Christ. And God knows. He knows the full number of those who are His. He grieves over all those who are lost. He preserves His believers in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, and He adds daily to the number of those who believe. Every Baptism is church growth. Every conversion by the Word is church growth. Every new believer is a new member of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. And by the way, the one holy Christian and apostolic Church does not shrink when one dies in the faith. When one dies in the faith, that person can never be lost from the Church, but is a member for all eternity. The blessed dead are where Jesus is, in heaven, where they ever behold the glory He has had with the Father from all eternity.

And we who are still living in the Church militant, the Church on earth, are one with those who have entered the Church triumphant, the Church in heaven. This is by faith, remember. Not sight. But it is real. Very real. In fact, nowhere is this oneness more real than here in the Divine Service, as the Church of God gathers around the Word, and especially as the Church of God gathers around the altar. At the altar, we both confess and receive the oneness that is the gift of God. We confess it. In coming to the Lord’s Supper at this altar, we confess that we believe the doctrine of this fellowship. We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. We confess that we are united in doctrine and life. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, gathered around the family Table. The joys of one are the joys of all. The sorrows of one are the sorrows of all. The needs of one are filled by the other. Out of many grains, there is one loaf. Out of many grapes there is one cup. Many members make up one body, and you are the Body of Christ. And this one confession and one Body are the gifts of God, given and sealed by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper. So we come and we kneel to be gifted from the pierced hand of Christ Himself. He gives us His death and His resurrection. He gives us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. And we receive and we sing, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. As we gather around the altar, the Church in heaven gathers with us. It is one unending feast.

And so the Father answers the prayer of the Son with a resounding “Yes!” We are one in Christ, one holy Christian and apostolic Church. It is the gift of God. One with Christ, we are one with the Father, one with the Holy Spirit, one with one another, forgiven for our sinful divisions, covered by the blood of our Savior. And so having received this gift of God, which is invisible, the oneness we confess by faith, there begins to develop a certain visible unity. It is always imperfect in this life and this fallen world. But it is also always forgiven. It is unity of doctrine, a unity of confession, a unity of love that manifests itself to the world, so that men see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). God sanctify us by His Spirit, and grant us such unity. And may He bring us finally out of the Church on earth to the Church in heaven, where there are no denominations, where there are no divisions, where we may see the glory that the Son has had with the Father before the foundation of the world. God is faithful. He will do it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

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