GOD IS PRESENT
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built? 1 Kings 8:27
THE hardest thing for a Christian to believe today is that God does indeed dwell on the earth, not just by virtue of his omnipresence, or in our hearts by faith -- those things are true -- but they are not hard to accept.
To believe that Jesus is factually present in the church, in the word and the sacraments, proves too much for us to handle. When confronted with that fact, sinful nature wakes up from its slumber and frantically douses any sparks of faith that might give us comfort. It then doubles its efforts to make sure that God is nothing more than a spiritual reality for us, one who sends His best to be sure, but who is separated from us by time and space.
That's the way the old man works and there is nothing we can do with him except declare war against him and put him to death. This is what Jesus means when he instructs: if any man would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. St. Paul teaches us the same thing when he says: make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires...for if you live according to the flesh you will die!
Like Martin Luther (after whom no boulevards are named) we should learn to say whenever we are tempted, or feel weak, afraid or ready to give up, "but I am baptized!" I belong to Jesus! I am a new man in Christ, risen from spiritual death, qualified and equipped by God's Spirit to conduct spiritual warfare.
It isn't only sinful nature that makes us doubt our Lord's bodily presence in the Word and Sacraments, but also the persistent influence of Puritanism, which is in the water we drink and the air we breathe. Many Christians believe that Jesus gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. They believe in the cross and in the redeeming blood of Christ, but they scorn the delivery system that the Savior established and flatly deny it to their people. Too many Lutherans, pastor and layman alike, think that these religionists are our friends, and that we have something to learn from them. We do not. Neither must we poison our minds by tuning in to their radio stations, their internet sites or by using their deadly devotional literature (such as "Our Daily Bread.") Instead let us learn once again that God does indeed dwell on the earth, not merely as a notion within our minds, but factually in the Word and the Sacrament. Whenever we hear God's Word in the church it is Jesus speaking to us. The lips are those of his designated servant, but the voice is the Lord's own. This is why pastors wear vestments. It is not the man who is the center of attention, but Jesus himself, and what God speaks with His mouth he carries out with His hand. He promised to redeem us from our sins, and he gave Jesus to be our Savior. "You will call His name Jesus," the angel told St. Joseph, "for He will save His people from their sins." And what a good thing that is! Where would we be without the Gospel, without the promise that our sins will not reap the temporal and eternal punishment they deserve, but that God pardons them all, and blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ?
We should never think lightly of God's love for sinners. God is not a co-dependant who pretends like they never happened, or sweeps them under the rug. Instead Jesus, who dwelt from eternity in the blessed society of heaven with saints and angels, left His throne to take up residence with sinners on earth. In answer to Solomon's question: Does God indeed dwell on earth? Jesus answers yes! The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He chose to humble Himself and to assume the form of a slave; to become one with His brothers and to bear human nature with all its weakness, misery, suffering and death. To be certain, His death was very different from ours, for it is the one, eternal sacrifice that deletes the sin of the world, reconciles us to the Father, and promises endless joy and lasting peace to all who believe. We are those people!
While many Christians would agree that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, it is in the faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that Jesus still dwells among us; in the Word, as we said above, and in the Sacrament of His body and blood which is the focal point of Christian worship and Christian joy.
John Calvin, the spiritual father of all the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, did not believe that our Lord dwells on earth. He said of the Sacrament that: the finite (bread) cannot contain the infinite (Christ). A very nice proposition, one that the devil happily endorses to be sure, for he fears faith in the Sacrament more than anyone. You see, the wonder of the Gospel is not just that our Lord dwelled among us once upon a time, but that He still does; that the infinite God-Man graciously does consent to come to us in, with and under the bread and the wine, and to be factually present in the mass so that no matter how troubled we are or how far we have strayed from mercy, we always know where, "to obtain mercy and grace to help in times of need."
We can be certain, just as Solomon's prayer shows us, that what is transacted in the church is transacted in heaven. When we pray here in God's true temple which is Christ, God hears in heaven and answers. When we seek remission for our wrongs, God forgives. When we pray for constancy in our vocation, devotion to duty, and to remain in the one true faith unto life everlasting, the prayer prayed here is heard in heaven and God grants it.
Now thank we all our God. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras