Monday, November 16, 2015

God doesn't need anything from us.

WHAT SHALL I OFFER TO THE LORD?

What shall I offer to the LORD for all His benefits to me?  I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.  I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.  Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.  Psalm 116:12-15

THAT question, "What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me,"  is a question born of faith; a question that springs from the soul that has been redeemed by Jesus.

The question itself makes sense to any reasonable person.  When someone saves you from great harm, or does you a great deal of good, it is natural to ask:  what can I do in return, how can I express my thanks?  But God needs nothing from us!

Yet there is an answer to the question, and David who asks it teaches us the answer, "I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD."  Such an answer, dear Christians, is only known to those who have the mind of Christ; those who are baptized and catechized by the Word of God.  You are those people.

If we were to reduce the answer to a single word it would be faith.  Our Lutheran confessions teach this over and over; that faith is the highest form of worship there is.  The confessors did not invent this answer or pull it out of thin air as some seem to do, but it is the steady teaching of God's Word.  Holy Scripture says that, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  In the 106th Psalm we learn that Israel, "believed God's Word and sang His praises."  And in the Book of Jonah we find that the people of Nineveh, "believed Jonah's divine message and repented of their sins."  This is the faith that causes all of heaven to resound with joy and is the highest form of praise there is.

The faith we are referring to is not humanly generated faith, neither is it attached to the things that people normally award their trust to: other people, human institutions or so-called march of human progress.  Rather it is faith gifted in baptism that is anchored in the death and resurrection of Christ; God's own sacrifice complete, that frees us from our sins and delivers us from death and the devil.  There is no greater good, no greater salvation, and no better honor of God than to believe the Gospel with all your heart.

That being the case it is no mistake that the church has always connected this Psalm with the Lord's Supper.  It is quite possible that the Lord and His disciples sang these very words as part of the Passover they celebrated on the night in which our Lord instituted the Cup of the New Testament in His blood!  It is the cup that our Lord first drank by His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death; a cup so appalling that even the Son of God recoiled from it, praying that, if it were possible, if there were any other way, that this dreadful cup should pass from Him, but there was no alternative; no other way to balance the cosmic books, to right all that our trespasses make wrong, or to release us from the servitude we so happily sell ourselves into as often as we cater to our broken desires.  The Lord delivered Himself into evil, in order to deliver us from it, and delivered we are because the cup our Lord gives us to drink in holy communion is drained of all bitterness and "runneth over" with health and salvation.

That said, we should also know that the church of the ages has consistently understood this Psalm not only as eucharistic, but also in connection with martyrdom, especially the verse "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints," for the two always go together.  When the Lord asked James and John if they could drink the cup He was about to drink or be baptized with the baptism He was about to receive, He was establishing the essential relationship between the sacraments and our dedication to follow Him along the way of the cross.

In the church's early years, when the sleeping dog of state might wake at any moment and deal grisly death to a Christian, martyrdom was the believer's supreme identification with the Lord's death.  Though it was a frightening prospect, it is also one they embraced and held dear because they trusted in what awaited them thereafter, and because they knew that God would give them special strength to endure it.  He will do the same for you in all your trials.

We have not been called upon to make that sacrifice, but it is a rare moment in history when Christians somewhere are not suffering for their faith.  It happened countless times during the 20th century under Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and the Soviet communists.  Not only Jews were persecuted, but Christians, too, were targeted for extinction, especially clergy.  It is happening today in the Mid East where Christians must live under unbearable conditions of servitude to their Islamic masters or die.  Those are the choices and many have suffered the fate of John the Baptist, or of our Lord in recent months.

No, we have not been called upon to make such sacrifices, but there are sacrifices for us to make.  The writer to the Hebrews teaches us to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God."  He then goes on to teach us what that means: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."  We learn the same thing in our Old Testament lesson today, that God's people should do justice, love to perform acts of mercy, and walk humbly with their God.

There is nothing that God needs from you, but He is most highly praised, honored and glorified when you believe His word and receive His gifts; and when you extend the mercy you have received to other people whatever their needs may be.  As the days of the church year, of our lives, and of the world dwindle down, let us so engage in these things.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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