“Confidence, Unity, and Joy: God’s Gifts to Our Church” (1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19)
Today we are very happy to receive yet another family into our congregation. That makes seventeen new members added to our little church so far this year. Seventeen! That is remarkable. From out of the blue, quite unexpectedly, God has gifted us with these brothers and sisters in Christ, who are joining our church. Thanks be to God!
Yes, today we give thanks to God for the gift of these new members, who already are being a real blessing to our church. But now I want to tell you about some other gifts that God has for our church, and these are gifts that are spoken of in the Scripture readings for today. And they are these: “Confidence, Unity, and Joy: God’s Gifts to Our Church.”
Confidence, unity, and joy. Yes, God wants us to have these gifts. In fact, he has already given them to us, and now he simply wants to strengthen us in them. So let’s find out how God has gifted us with these things.
First, confidence. Confidence comes from knowing what is yours and knowing that no one can take it from you. And that’s what we have, by God’s grace. Listen again to what we heard in the Epistle for today, from 1 John: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” And what is this testimony? John tells us: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Did you know that you can know this? Did you know that God wants you to know this? And that he has made it possible for you to know this, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Know this, dear Christians: You have eternal life.
Now some people might say, “Oh, I hope I’m going to heaven.” And here they’re using “hope” in the very weak sense of “I wish, but I’m not sure.” Really, though, when the Bible speaks of “hope,” meaning our hope in Christ, it is always a sure thing. Firm and solid. Certain and secure. And you know what? You are not bragging, you are not being boastful, if you say, with great certainty, “I know that I have eternal life.”
Why is this not boasting? Because you are not boasting in yourself; you are bragging on Jesus! And that’s a good thing. You can be sure of what Jesus has done. You can have firm faith in the promises of God. His word is sure. This is the reason for your confidence.
Resting on ourselves, we would have no confidence at all. And if we did, it would be wrongly grounded. For our works, our goodness, our reason for boasting, would be like building a skyscraper in Nepal: It would quickly come tumbling down. Shaky ground at best on which to build our hopes for the future. Because, truth be told, our righteousness will not stand the test when it comes time for God’s judgment. His eye is too piercing; his knowledge, too far-reaching. He sees our sins. We cannot hide them from him. We cannot fool God or pull the wool over his eyes. No, God’s Law is like a sin detector, and it searches out our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and exposes them to the light.
So if there is no basis for confidence in ourselves, where shall we find it? In the completed work of Christ. In the promises based on his work. And it is the work of Christ to take away our sins. He removes them from our record. The cross of Christ is like the giant “Delete” key for our woeful record of disobedience. Paul says in Colossians: “God made [us] alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” And so in place of that record of sin, God puts into our account the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is more than enough to pass the test of God’s judgment.
With our sins forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness supplied, the result is that now we have life, eternal life, to look forward to. This gives us all the confidence in the world. Literally. We know that our future is secure in Christ, and that nothing can shake this. Not the devil. Not the world. Not sickness or suffering or death itself can break our hold on eternal life. Or better yet, can break God’s loving hold on us. God will keep us in the true faith, and even strengthen our faith, through his means of Word and Sacrament.
What confidence this gives us! If God is for us, who can be against us? Answer: No one. Do your worst, world! Bring it on, devil! Muslim terrorists, go ahead, lop off my head. Cancer, heart disease, that grave that’s waiting for me in the cemetery? Take they our life, but they cannot take away our salvation in Christ.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” So that is the source of our confidence: the work of Christ and the promises of God.
Now the second gift God has for our church: Unity. Jesus prays for our unity in the Holy Gospel for today. He says: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” This unity that Jesus prays for and that God gives–in what does it consist?
Our unity does not come from us all joining hands and singing Kumbaya and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. That would be a human-manufactured unity, which may not last. Our unity does not consist in us being a friendly church where we know one another and greet the new people and all that–although that certainly is true of this congregation, and it is a nice thing. But that is not the basis of our unity. That would be putting the cart before the horse.
No, our unity is grounded and founded once again in what we can be sure of and count on and that does not change. And that is always in what God does. He establishes our unity. He makes us one.
How so? By uniting us in Christ. By uniting us around Word and Sacrament, things we can be sure of, because they are God’s work. God has placed his name on us in our baptism, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We have this in common. We are children of God, washed clean in Christ, and gifted with the Holy Spirit. We all share in the same things. We receive together the body and blood of Christ, binding us into a unity, the communion of saints. These are things we can count on, these objective, sure realities that we share. So it is God who establishes our unity.
And now that we are one, we demonstrate this oneness in the life that we share, our life together. We love one another. We care for one another. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. When one suffers, we all suffer. We are church, not just for an hour and eight minutes a week, but we are church 24/7/365. God plants us in this family, and it is for our mutual good.
And for a witness to the world. Our church is planted in this community to be a beacon and a light to all around. This is an outpost of the gospel, in a dark and lost world. Our world needs what we have. People may not realize it, they may not recognize it, but God is using us, his church, to bring the greatest treasure into their midst, free of charge. It is the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life only to be found in Jesus. And it’s right here at little old St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri. And you, our members, you know the people who need this treasure. They are your friends and neighbors and family members who do not know this hope, who are not connected to Christ and his word. Perhaps you and I and us together–we can be the connecting link to get people here where they can find Christ, here in his church.
Confidence, knowing that we have eternal life. Unity, our life together in the church. Now a third gift, joy. Jesus prays to his Father and says: “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” It’s the joy of Jesus, and he gives it to us! Think of Jesus’ joy. Hebrews says: “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross,” etc. Jesus’ joy was focused on fulfilling the mission on which the Father had sent him. Jesus saw that the cross was the way for it to happen and that the outcome would be joy. Overflowing forgiveness, enough to rescue all the sinners who have ever lived. That goal in sight, that joy–that’s what kept Jesus going, God’s plan being accomplished.
And so it is! The barrier between God and man has been broken down. The joy of heaven is before us. The light is dawning over the horizon. This brings us joy, this brightens our days, even now. In spite of our hardships, in spite of our sorrows, we have joy. The joy is greater than our sadness. It’s Jesus’ joy, and he lets us in on it. He fulfills it in us. So now we’ve got some singing to do; that’s what you do when you’re joyful. Songs of praise and victory resound through the camp. The Lord is in this place. He’s with us all the way. There is rejoicing now. There will be rejoicing for eternity.
Yes, dear friends, fellow members of St. Matthew’s, members old and new: Confidence, unity, and joy–these are God’s gifts to our church today. And we thank God for them.