“Rejoicing in the God Who Has Taught Us” (Sermon on Psalm 71:17-18, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“Rejoicing in the God Who Has Taught Us” (Psalm 71:17-18)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” These words from Philippians remind us that we have much to be joyful over. And indeed we do. Think of it: It’s Advent, almost Christmas, and so we rejoice over the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, first at Christmas, coming in the flesh to be born and live and die and rise again as our Savior, and coming again at the Last Day, a day we look forward to with great hope and anticipation, knowing that God will raise our mortal bodies to everlasting life and restore this fallen, sin-damaged creation to new and greater glory. This is real Advent hope, and it fills us with joy.

And if that’s not enough, today we have even more cause for joy. Today we rejoice in the confirmation of our adult catechumen, Michelle. She has been through our instruction class and is now ready to confess her faith and to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We rejoice to welcome you into our church, Michelle! What a joy and a blessing it is to see how the Lord has been working in your life! What lessons he has been teaching you–and giving you the faith to believe and confess these sacred truths of Scripture. Oh, make no mistake, we may have been using Luther’s Catechisms in our instruction, and I have had the privilege of being your teacher, but ultimately it is the Lord himself who has been teaching you, through his holy Word.

And you know, all of us here who are confirmed, communicant members–we all have been catechized in this same doctrine. We all share in the same divinely given faith, all of us having been instructed by the same Lord in the same Word. And so our theme this morning: “Rejoicing in the God Who Has Taught Us.”

Our text is a portion of the psalm we read earlier, Psalm 71:17-18, as follows:

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.

What we have heard with our ears and seen with our eyes, this we believe in our heart, and our mouth proclaims. Isn’t that what the psalmist is saying? With his ears he has heard the promises and the instruction of the Lord. With his eyes he has seen and experienced the faithfulness and steadfast love of the Lord. With his heart, therefore, he trusts in the Lord, even amidst all adversity. And with his mouth, the psalmist is ready to proclaim the goodness of God–his wondrous deeds, his might and his power–to anyone who will hear.

And isn’t that the way it is with us? We have had the same experience, haven’t we? We have heard the promises of God. We have seen his faithfulness, carried out in the life and mission of Christ, and even in our own lives as the baptized children of God. The Holy Spirit has given us hearts to believe, praise his name. And so our mouths are ready and open to sing God’s praises and to proclaim the good news to our friends and relatives, our associates and neighbors–really, to anyone who will listen. We’re just like this psalmist, aren’t we?

“O God, from my youth you have taught me,” the psalmist says. And for many of us, this has been the case. We can identify with what Paul wrote to Timothy: “how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Yes, there is great blessing in being raised in the church and in the faith. I know I am constantly grateful for the good Christian education I received, from a little child on up. Many of you here, likewise, were raised in the church and were taught the faith and catechized and confirmed at an early age.

But for others of us, maybe that was not the case. Perhaps we did not have the benefit of receiving a solid biblical background as a child. We may not have had the churchly upbringing we should have had. Well, even so, God has his ways of tracking us down and calling us home, bringing us into his church, whether after a long time away or even for the first time. The point is, now we’re here. God is wanting to teach us. He’s not through with us yet. We still have lessons to learn, not just in our head, but also in our experience, in our daily walk with God, which never is finished. This makes life exciting, doesn’t it? What does God have in store for me next? How can I be of service to my family, to my neighbor, to my church? These are areas and opportunities for growth, in living out the faith we have learned and the love we have received. This is the lifelong catechesis we all are engaged in.

And it starts with the basics and always returns to them. Michelle, you have been instructed in those basic parts of the Christian faith this fall. The rest of you, likewise, even though it may have been many years ago, you were taught the same. And we always come back to those basics.

First, the Ten Commandments, God’s word of Law. In those commandments, we see how God has designed his human creatures to live according to his will. His will for us is good: to love him with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But the problem is, you and I have rebelled against our Creator and his will for us. We became inward-directed, clutching and grabbing for what’s mine–me, me, me–turning in on ourselves, tuning out what God has to say to us, and often turning against our neighbor. And so the Ten Commandments hold up a mirror to my face, and they show me my sins. They convict and condemn me as a sinner. I need help, and I can’t get it from inside myself or from the world around me, which is also lost in the dark.

And so we move from the Ten Commandments to the Creed. And here I receive a different word from God. Instead of condemnation, now I hear consolation. Instead of judgment, now I hear grace. Instead of Law, now I hear Gospel. And what a sweet word it is! This Creed tells me of, it reveals to me, the God I did not know, the only true God, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father who loves me and cares for me and supplies all my needs. The Son, Jesus Christ, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary”–that he is “my Lord, who 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.” This Creed–a summary of the New Testament, really–tells me of the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word to give me faith in Christ, and to lead me into the life of the church, where I receive the forgiveness of sins, and therefore have the sure hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This faith in the triune God is the Christian faith, to which we can say, most confidently, “This is most certainly true.”

Now that I’m a Christian, a dear child of our heavenly Father, now I can approach the Father in prayer, as Christ himself taught us to pray. The Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, is our daily prayer, the very words we can pray, as well as the pattern and the model for our further praying. Life presents us with many difficulties, many opportunities, and many challenges. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to come to God with all our needs, casting our cares upon him, for he careth for us.

“Rejoicing in the God Who Has Taught Us,” this is our theme today. And in his Word, God teaches us also about the several sacraments he has instituted for our benefit. There is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which we are first brought into the church, God’s family. God places his name on us in those baptismal waters. The Father claims us as his own. He makes us his children. He washes away our sins and joins us to Jesus and his life and resurrection, forever. He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, to lead us in our Christian life. What a work God does in Holy Baptism!

Then there is Holy Absolution, that word of forgiveness that God speaks through the voice of his called and ordained servant of the Word, in order to assure you that, yes, this forgiveness is for you, for your sins, free and full forgiveness, yours, for the sake of Christ.

And then we come to the Sacrament of the Altar. The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion–it goes by several names, but the essence and benefit is the same: This is the very Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Believe it! It’s true, and it’s for you!

Dear Michelle, dear Christian friends, this is the faith we believe, teach, and confess, to one another and before the world. What wondrous deeds of God we have been taught and we get to proclaim! Rejoicing in the God who has taught us, we can say with the psalmist:

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.

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