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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Sacrament Of The Word - 05/24/2020

Part of the conversations around the suspension of in-person worship in this time of pandemic has been theological, naturally. What does it mean to be Christ’s Church in this time?

One consistent theme in these discussions is Word as Sacrament.

You may be wonder, what is a Sacrament, precisely? One way to say it is a sacrament is when something holy happens, when God is poured out for us and through us, like in waters of forgiveness and belonging; like as the bread of life and a cup of salvation. We can feel that sacramental presence of God in so many ways … in the answer to an anxious prayer, a hike in the woods, at the birth of a child, in the dignified death.

The two places we Lutherans hold as the perfect and inclusive Holy Sacraments set apart for all equally and with all confidence are Holy Communion and Baptism. Here’s an interesting thing though, you may remember this from your confirmation class: these are only Sacraments when their earthy elements are combined with God’s Word. Without Word, the water of baptism is the water of our everyday life – precious indeed, but not necessarily sacramental. Without Word, the bread and wine is the same as the food and drink at the family dinner table – nourishing, yes, but not necessarily sacramental.

Like us, Martin Luther lived through a time of pandemic. He thought and wrote about theology and the sacraments in times like this too. Luther was passionate and strongly opinioned when it came to these earthy elements being combined with the Word to become our Sacraments. However, in times of emergency such as these, he advised, if one had to choose, the Word is greater and holds sacramental power of its own.

So a Lutheran approach to the experience of pandemic is “when we cannot share our bread or a gathering place, we can share God’s Word – a Word that accomplishes what it promises.” (From a Zoom presentation by LSTC Prof Ben Stewart – “worship during quarantine – theological, historical and ritual perspectives,” 5/21/2020.)

I’m going to lean into this Sacramental Word a little differently today. I’m going to read our texts more conversationally and interject thoughts and observations as we go along.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps 19.4) Amen.

FIRST READING: ACTS 1:6-14

6When [the apostles] had come together, they asked [Jesus], "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

This visualization of the Holy Spirit’s activity may seem a little different this time. Jesus’ disciples – then and now – receive power from the Holy Spirit and it compels them to be spread the story, first among their own people and then in the wider region and so on to the “ends of the earth.” It is like a virus of Holy Spirit life-giving power and it is a strong response to all manner of virus that may afflict us in this life, figuratively and literally.

9When (Jesus) had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." 12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

After the apostles saw Jesus ascend into heaven, they returned to Jerusalem and they isolated themselves in the safety of the upper room they had borrowed when they first came to Jerusalem with Jesus. And they waited as household for the Holy Spirit to come with this power and hopefully some direction, some clarity … sound familiar?

And in the meantime, what did they do?

All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

Word of God. Word of Life. Thanks be to God.

 We read portions of Psalm 68 today. I invite you to read it responsively with me if you have it in front of you.

1Let God arise, and let God's enemies be scattered;

          let those who hate God flee.

2As smoke is driven away, so you should drive them away;

          as the wax melts before the fire,

          so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

3But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God;

          let them also be merry and joyful.

4Sing to God, sing praises to God's name; exalt the one who rides the clouds;

          I AM is that name, rejoice before God!

 

5In your holy habitation, O God,

          you are a father to orphans, defender of widows;

6you give the solitary a home and bring forth prisoners into freedom;

          but the rebels shall live in desert places.

7O God, when you went forth before your people,

          when you marched through the wilderness,

8the earth quaked, and the skies poured down rain,

at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,

          at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

9You sent a bountiful rain, O God;

          you restored your inheritance when it languished.

10Your people found their home in it;

          in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.

32Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;

          sing praises to the Lord.

33You ride in the heavens, O God, in the ancient heavens;

          you send forth your voice, your mighty voice.

34Ascribe power to God,

          whose majesty is over Israel; whose strength is in the skies.

35How wonderful you are in your holy places, O God of Israel,

          giving strength and power to your people! Blessed be God!

 

And now, the Holy GOSPEL, according to John, the 17th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.

1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples] …

… wait a minute, what words? These words: “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:31-33).

After he had spoken these words to his disciples …

…he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

In our bible study on Wednesday, we talked quite a bit about John’s use of the word “glory” or “glorify.” Our ears hear it from our 21st century perspectives. Maybe you think of being at the top of your game, a victory or individual fame. Maybe you think of the old saying – “all the work, none of the glory!”

Or maybe like some of us, you thought of Bruce Springsteen. “Glory days well they'll pass you by/Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye/Glory days, glory days.” This earworm of a song is about glory as something fleeting and long-since passed.

That is all very different than this Jesus-kind of “glory” this story is all about – Jesus asking to be glorified by God is a prayer to use him and the disciples to make the presence of God visible to all.

3(Jesus continued), and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

6(Jesus kept praying) I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

This is us. This is our Lord and Savior praying for us. This is the one who over that last few weeks has promised that although he returns to God in heaven, we are not abandoned. This Good Shepherd finds all kinds of ways to protect us, lead us, feed us, bring us peace, and to chase us down and bring us back to the fold when necessary. This is you and me and all followers Jesus is lifting to God in prayer. We are in very good hands.

 9(And Jesus continued) I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."

The Sacrament of the Word accomplishes what it promises. Listen again to the promise accomplished for us in Christ:

“… I am no longer in the world, but (my disciples) are in the world,” Jesus prayed. “And I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."

The Gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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