Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 9)

July 6, 2014
Text: Matthew 11:25-30

            We are children of the heavenly Father.  That is our posture toward Him.  Little children.  That means that we are utterly helpless apart from His care and providence.  We can do nothing for ourselves.  We need Him to feed us, cloth us, put a roof over our heads, keep us safe, comfort us when we are hurting or in distress, nurse us back to health when we are sick.  We need Him for everything.  And most especially we need Him to rescue us when we are in mortal danger, for we cannot save ourselves from sin and death any more than an infant can rescue himself from the clutches of a violent predator.  God must do everything for us.  So that’s what He does.  He created the world and everything in it, the universe and all that exists, created it all out of nothing, by His almighty Word.  And in this world He provides for all our needs of body and soul.  He gives us, as every Catechism student learns to recite: “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).  He rescues us from that violent predator, the old evil foe, from sin, and from the very jaws of death.  For He sends His Son, Jesus, who (again, as we learn in the Catechism), “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  And that we may receive all of this, know that it comes from our gracious God, and believe in Him and trust Him for help and salvation and every need, He gives us His Holy Spirit, who “has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 
            As is often the case with children, we take for ourselves much of the credit that properly belongs to our heavenly Father.  We’ve earned this.  This stuff is ours.  We can provide for ourselves.  We can protect ourselvesWe know what is good for us and what is bad for us.  And so we get a little too big for our britches.  Children always point out the stuff that belongs to them as if it weren’t Mom and Dad who actually paid for it.  They act as if they own the house, the food magically appears in the refrigerator, and the money for all their stuff grows on trees.  They think they can do just fine without Mom and Dad’s wisdom, Mom and Dad’s protection, Mom and Dad’s rules, but even when they go off to college, they’re more than happy to have Mom and Dad buy some groceries, do some laundry, take them out to a nice restaurant.  But you know what, Mom and Dad are happy to do that, because they’re Mom and Dad.  That’s their job.  That’s their office.  Whether the kids recognize it or not.  And so God our Father in His dealing with us.  We think we don’t need Him.  Except when we do.  And it is in those moments that we realize we always need Him.  And He always provides.  He always helps.  He is always God for us.  He is always our Father.  He reveals this not to the wise and learned, those who think they know enough on their own and don’t need Him.  He reveals it to little children, you, when your labors and burdens bring you to the end of yourself and you realize how utterly dependent you are upon God for every moment, every breath, every beat of your heart.
            God must do everything for you, as a Father for His infant.  And He does it through His only-begotten Son, Jesus.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who took on our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  He became a little baby for us.  He was utterly dependent on His mom, for us, who are utterly dependent on His Father.  He is the Word through whom the Father created all things (John 1:1-3).  He is the Word by which the Father sustains all things (Heb. 1:3).  He is the Word by which the Father cares for you, the Divine Wisdom by which the Father teaches you (Prov. 2:6, etc.), and it is He who became flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to redeem you, to pay for your sins by His death, to give you eternal life.  Now He is risen in that same flesh, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  And the Father has handed over to Him all things.  He rules all things for us and for our salvation.  And He reveals His Father to us by sending His Spirit, who works right here in His Church, in the preaching of the Word and in the holy Sacraments.  The Son reveals God to us, not as a God of wrath, not as a God far removed, but as “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Our God, for us.
            And that takes all the burdens off of us.  I think about this sometimes, how there were times when I was a child when I was literally without a care in the world.  Because Mom and Dad took care of everything.  Those were great times, if only I had recognized it then.  For example, when we would go on a family vacation, Mom and Dad paid for everything.  I had no idea it even cost anything.  They just took care of it.  They drove.  They made sure we got where we were going safely and efficiently.  They made sure we were well fed.  They made sure we had a place to sleep.  None of this was ever of any concern for me.  I wish my kids knew how wonderful this whole thing is they’re about to experience.  Now I’m the dad, and I have to worry about all of it.  Except I don’t.  Not ultimately.  Sure God has called me to be responsible for all of this for my family, humanly speaking.  But ultimately, who is responsible for all of this, right down to the last detail?  God is.  Our Father is.  He takes care of it.  I suppose as a kid I thought I had a few things to worry about.  Would we get to go to my favorite restaurant?  Would I get the souvenir I really wanted?  But when we grow up, we realize those aren’t really cares.  In those moments when we realize God, our heavenly Father, has it all covered, we also recognize that we don’t really have any cares.  We don’t really have anything to worry about.  He’s got it.  Just trust Him.  He’s in the driver’s seat.  We just buckle up, and go for the ride.
            This is what Jesus means when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28; ESV).  You can rest knowing that it is ultimately Jesus who bears your labors and your burdens, that He bore them already to the cross where they have been baptized by His blood, sanctified, made holy, all sin having been washed away. He would have you take up His yoke, which is His Name given to you in Baptism.  We’ve been talking about that yoke the last couple weeks in terms of persecution.  I suppose that is burdensome.  He would have you learn from Him, learn His Word, come to know it by heart so that it just becomes a part of you.  I suppose that is laborious.  But His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  Because He is the one who ultimately does the labor and bears the burden.  He does that on the cross.  And He gives you rest.  Rest in Him.  Rest in His Father.  Rest as a little child who simply trusts in your God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
            It has been a tough week for our congregation, and I can tell you one very important thing about our two dear sisters as they lay on their death beds.  There it became clear to them that they are little children of the heavenly Father.  They could do nothing.  But that’s okay.  Because Jesus has done everything.  And He continues to do everything, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  All they could do is trust in Him and rest.  And so you.  Trust your Father.  Trust Jesus.  Come to your Savior with all your labors and burdens.  Come here to His Table.  For here He gives you rest.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

    

Saturday, July 05, 2014

In Memoriam +Norma Ruth TerAvest+

In Memoriam +Norma Ruth TerAvest+

July 5, 2014
Text: John 20:11-18

            Norma is one of the matriarchs of this congregation.  If I know my Epiphany history, one of the inaugural (if not THE inaugural) meeting of the congregation-to-be was held in the farm house living room, Norma and Bob serving as hosts.  God has given us many gifts through this dear saint.  Many of the members here learned the faith in her Sunday School class at St. Paul’s.  Many more learned the faith from her confession of Christ and her Christian example.  And many learned the best that human wisdom has to offer at her feet in the schoolhouse and classrooms in which she taught for so many years.  Norma is a teacher at heart.  And this morning she continues to teach us in Scripture and hymn and liturgy as through this service she confesses her risen Lord Jesus Christ.
            This is, after all, what her Lord called her to do in her Baptism into Christ on February 9, 1920, when the Lord Jesus called her by name and put the very Name of God on her, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  She was called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one who learns of Him, and then passes on what she has learned, that others may come to believe in the Lord Jesus and be strengthened in their faith.  Susan mentioned that Mary Magdalene was a hero of Norma’s in this regard.  Mary, as we heard in the Holy Gospel, was the first to see the risen Lord Jesus on Easter morning (and touch Him – Matt. 28), and she was charged to go and proclaim the Resurrection to the Apostles.  She to whom the Lord Jesus had shown great mercy by casting out seven demons (Mark 16:11), she who had followed the Lord and cared for Him in His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3), who stood at the foot off the cross and wept for her Teacher (John 19:25), who served Jesus even in His death, coming to His tomb early that morning to anoint His body with spices (Mark 16:1), she was given to see Him, risen and living.  She did not recognize Him at first.  In her grief, she could not see Him clearly, though there He was, with her in her grief, with her to comfort and impart faith.  She supposed Him to be the gardener.  Until He spoke her name.  “Mary,” He said, and that was all it took.  “Rabboni!” she replied, “(which means Teacher)” (John 20:16; ESV).  For she recognized Him when He called her by name. 
            And this is the pattern of Norma’s life, is it not?  He first called her by name in her Baptism into Him, into His death and resurrection.  She learned to recognize Him at the font.  In great mercy, the Lord Jesus made her His own, forgiving all her sins, bestowing on her eternal life and salvation, teaching her Divine wisdom in His holy Word, feeding her with His Body and Blood at the altar, providing for her every need of body and soul.  And He opened her lips by His Spirit to teach God’s people His own Word.  She taught what Jesus first taught her.  She gave what she had first received.  She loved, because He first loved her (1 John 4:19).  She loved and she served in the love of Christ.  She followed her Lord and cared for Him by caring for His people.  She served Him by serving His people, serving His Church, even planting this congregation with her brothers and sisters in those exciting early days with Pastor Lach.  For the love of God poured out upon Norma in Jesus Christ flowed through her to others, to us, and to so many.  And she confessed Him.  She confessed her Teacher, her Savior, her Lord.  “Christ is risen!” she would say.  “He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!”    
            And so she could face death with peace, with hope, even with joy.  Because Christ conquered death in His death and in His resurrection from the dead.  And He has promised to raise Norma and all of us, bodily, on the Last Day. 
            It was a really beautiful experience Susan and I had in Norma’s final moments on earth.  I had stopped in, made small talk with Susan for a bit, Norma was sleeping soundly.  Moving to her bedside, we began to pray the Commendation of the Dying, portions of which we had already prayed a number of times.  This time we prayed it in full.  There was the Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of all Norma’s sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  There were Scripture readings and prayers, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, a commendation of our dear sister to the Lord, and His three-fold benediction.  Among the Scripture readings which were the last Norma heard were these words from the Holy Gospel coming up tomorrow, the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the eleventh Chapter: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Jesus said, “Norma, come to me and rest.”  And Norma did.  By the time we finished the prayers, the holy angels had taken her to behold the face of her Savior in heaven.  He called her by name.  And for the first time she saw Him clearly.  He in whom she had believed, He whom she had confessed, she saw Him now for herself, sees Him now, just as Mary Magdalene did, her risen and living Savior.
            It is hard for us to see Him, though, in our grief.  In our sadness because we miss Norma.  In the other things that weigh us down in this earthly life.  Our sins, our heartaches, our sicknesses and pain.  But He is here with us.  Just because you can’t see something with your eyes, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Just because you can’t see Jesus with your eyes, that doesn’t mean He isn’t with you.  He’s hidden, for sure.  But when someone is hidden, that necessarily means that person is present.  Jesus is here with you.  And just like Norma and Mary Magdalene, you recognize Him when He calls you by name.  You see Him by faith when He calls you in His Word and in Holy Baptism.  You’ll see Him for yourself when He calls you to come to Him at the end of your earthly life.  Learn from Norma.  She’s teaching you, here.  Come to Jesus and lay your labors and burdens at His pierced feet.  Take His yoke upon you, which is to say, the confession of His holy Name, as Norma did throughout her life.  And learn from Him, as Norma did, learning His Word, and then teaching it to others. 

            And be comforted.  All the things the Lord Jesus has done for Norma, He does for you.  He calls you to be His own.  In great mercy, He forgives all your sins and bestows on you eternal life and salvation.  He provides for your every need of body and soul.  He teaches you.  He gives you His Holy Spirit.  And He consoles you, even in your grief.  And His Words aren’t just empty sentiments.  For He has conquered death.  He is risen.  He will raise Norma on the Last Day.  And He will raise you, too.  That’s what Norma taught.  This congregation exists because she and Bob and their fellow founders believed it.  And now, she and Bob together, they see it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.