Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Advent Midweek Vespers 1 Dec. 6, 2017

Advent MW 1.17 “Speak to… Jerusalem” Is. 40:1-11

I’ve often said that a confusion in modern Christendom about mission and how it’s carried out is one of our biggest problems. Quite honestly, if you look at the last 50 years when the modern view of missions really took hold, you’ll see that the churches that embraced it have suffered massive declines in membership. I, for one, don’t put much stock in numbers. Jesus said the church would be a small, harassed and despised minority in the world. But since numbers and growth are the main reason for adopting the modern strategy of missions it seems someone needs to point out the Emperor’s utter lack of biblical clothing. Might as well be me. Taking a page from George Costanza: if what you’ve been doing for years isn’t working, why not try the opposite?

Our reading from Isaiah is all about missions. The first thing you notice is that it’s God’s mission to save the world, not ours. The prophet is simply a mouthpiece through which the Word does His awesome and strange work. Nowhere in the Scriptures (especially not in Matt. 28:19-20!) does God tell us to go somewhere or do something for Him. No, He promises He Himself will come, as the last verses of our reading tonight promise, with “a strong hand” and “His arm shall rule for Him; behold! His reward is with Him. His work’s before Him. He feeds His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, gently leading those with young”—not us! He, the Lord God will do all of this for us! We are God’s helpees, never His helpers. So that’s Thing One on missions, a thing that Luther got 100% right and few who’ve come after them (even and especially those who sling his name around!) have gotten at all…

Thing Two on missions: God’s ways are not our ways. If we want to reach the whole world with a message, we’ll hire a big Madison Avenue ad agency and spend millions of dollars to reach every single person directly with our message. God does the opposite. When He wants to reach a sinful and stubborn world with His salvation, He does reverse psychology, opposite-land on us…

He does not send His prophet to speak comfort to the world. No! What does the text actually say?! “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.” Not: “speak to the world or the masses or the sincere or the religious and mission-minded. No! Speak to Jerusalem—for she and she alone has received double for all her sins. Two words for David’s royal city are used in this reading: Jerusalem and Zion. They refer to the same reality but in different ways. Jerusalem primarily means the geographic city where David was King and Jesus was crucified and raised. Zion means the heavenly City of God which is inhabited by the faithful even now on earth, and which is the real home of God’s people and in heaven will be the only City there is, glorious beyond imagination, eternal, secure, perfect.

But Jerusalem is an earthly anticipation of Zion. The two are never utterly separate. But notice this weird paradox: by sending a single prophet, one lone voice crying in the Judean wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…” the glory of the Lord is revealed and all flesh shall see it together!!!! How can that be? How can a message carried by a lonely voice in the wilderness to a small city in Palestine be a revelation of God’s glory that all flesh sees together all at once?

I’ve often told you that if you’d only read more sci-fi and magical realistic fiction (like Murakami and Mitchell and my old classmate Mark Z. Danielewski) you’d get the Bible better. But even without taking the advice, you can still get it by just attending to the Word and letting it sink down through your ears and lodge deep in your heart and mind…

Groucho Marx once said “I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have me for a member.” If one of the root dispositions of sin is pride as St. Augustine thought (and he’s got a strong argument for that position!) then flattery and the direct approach will get you nowhere. Reverse psychology, on the other hand, is much more promising. It’s why Porsche salesmen ignore everyone who walks in the showroom and act like they’re doing you a huge favor even acknowledging your presence. By pretending they don’t want to sell you anything, that you’re probably not worthy, they make you keenly interested in their cars—because proud alpha types tend to frequent such places. With the meek and lowly, you need to convince them they’re worthy. With the proud, you need to knock ‘em down a peg before they’ll listen…

So. when God wants to reach a proud and arrogant bunch of sinners, He acts like He just doesn’t care. He picks the stiffest-necked, most arrogant people (who have the least reasons for being so, because they are really the smallest and least of the peoples) and sends His prophets to them, to Jerusalem. It is to these poor and lowly wretches that He promises peace and glory. And when the powerful and proud nations around them see the hand of God working wonders among little Israel, they pay attention. When they come and ask if they can get in on this too, they get the cold shoulder. “You probably wouldn’t like it. The entry rite involves circumcision.” “You mean I have to have what cut off to get in the club?! OK! We’ll talk about this another time!”

But the grandeur of the glory that God shows to little Israel, the power of Kings like David over giants does make the rich and powerful consider maybe the cutting and the blood and the pain is worth it? Maybe God really does dwell here in Jerusalem; and God’s insouciance, lack of interest in reaching them makes them even more eager to get in on the Secret…

By flooding the whole world and only saving Noah and his family, God sent a message that most of us are probably not interested in eternal salvation, and really, that’s fine by Him. Israel suffers much for the right to be the people of God. Jerusalem gets burned to the ground more than once in history. It never really has power like Rome or Babylon or Washington. And yet… there’s something about the things God says to Jerusalem and to her alone that makes everyone else want to be Jerusalem too.

That’s the trick. God doesn’t hard sell, cajole, or coerce. He lets the game come to Him. He woos and wins. He plays hard to get, aloof, insouciant. Eternal life and glory, Jedi powers, a mountain city paved with gold, a mansion of your own, a new Name, the Divine Life of the Holy Trinity to live—that probably doesn’t appeal to you. It’s probably over your head. You probably wouldn’t be able to handle it. Too much glory, honor, majesty for the likes of you, right?

And the hook is set. Cross and suffering? Dying with Jesus? His yoke is easy and His burden is light! I don’t want to be happy. I want to be with You. The treasure you find buried in a field that is so enchanting, you sell everything you have to buy that field, to have that Treasure… That’s how God carries out His mission! Without trying. By sending a cryptic word to a recalcitrant bunch of desert nomads in a little mountain town in Palestine. By Gospel Word and Sacraments, by a dying and rising Savior. When you quit trying, it is all done gratis. And the Peace, that surpasses understanding, guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Services

23 September 2018

18th Sunday after Pentecost

8:30 Divine Service with Communion

11:00 Matins

9:45 Sunday School

Adult Bible Class with Pastor

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.