“We are His”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it appears that our time together has come to close. Wait, let me rephrase that. I mean to say that, while West Portal Lutheran Church will continue strong as a place where our gracious God continues to gather His people to receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament, my time of sojourning among the saints here has come to an end. I was politely advised that it is the practice for the outgoing vicar to make his final sermon a farewell sermon. And so, I set out to make that my goal – not realizing how difficult that would be. It has certainly been an incredible year. I could have never guessed in August 2012 what the next 12 months would hold for me. I am reminded today of our Psalm, Psalm 100. This is actually the same as the one used on Easter evening. It reminds us of the salvation accomplished for us on the cross as it exhorts us to make a joyful noise to the Lord. We rejoice and offer our thanksgiving today because it is God who had made us, who supports us; and we are His.
(I. Sing to the Lord with praise!)
(II. He is our God and His steadfast love endures forever.)
This psalm of praise begins, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing…enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!” (vv. 1-2, 4) What incredible words! Would that I had such exuberance and were given by the Holy Spirit to write that. Although we do not know exactly by whose pen that was written or when, its placement in our worship on Easter Sunday points us in the right direction. This is not just a psalm of praise, but it is prophetically so. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” it exclaims. “Your salvation has drawn near and now is come,” it means to say. That joyful Easter all that needed to be had been accomplished. Our Lord Jesus Christ has forever crushed the head of that ancient serpent and lives in His eternal glory. The psalmist also offers this prophetic vision – all the earth sings joyfully to the Lord for He Himself has redeemed it. On the Last Day, on the Day of His triumphant return, all creation will witness the glory of our Savior and be made new. And those who are among His people will be there. We will be there.
We sing triumphantly and with joy. For our salvation we continually give thanks and bless His name. Every week we gather to sing hymns of praise to our God and Savior. We receive His precious Sacrament and His Words are put into our mouths. Empowered by Him and guided by the Holy Spirit, with the psalmist we proclaim to those around us that our savior is here, the One who rescues us from sin, death, and eternal damnation. Every day we are given the opportunity to share this joy with our neighbor, and especially the youngest among us who attend our school, naught but parking lot away.
Today I would like to offer my own thanksgiving and praise to our God above who has seen fit to lead me here to worship among His saints at West Portal Lutheran Church and School. I could not have comprehended the grace and mercy He has shown towards me through each and every one of you. Scripture tells us that the Word of God is living and active and I have certainly seen that in real life. I’ve seen the Spirit active in praise for a job well done, in admonishment for situations that call for correction, and in encouragement when spirits are low. In all these I have seen that we have a living God and savior, Jesus Christ, whose has triumphed over sin and death forever and feeds and strengthens His people here with His love and forgiveness.
As the Apostle Paul was in Athens some of the people took him to the Areopagus, to hear this allegedly new teaching that he was speaking. As he looked around and observed all the objects they had around, he notices that there is an altar to an unknown god. Paul says to them that what they previously worshipped as “unknown” is in fact the God who made the world and everything in it – our God. He has made everything and continues to give breath and life to all mankind. Paul even quotes these words from two of their philosophers: “In him we live and move and have our being…for we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:28) Paul shows here not only his knowledge of Greek philosophy, but of Scripture. Verse 3 of Psalm 100 says, “Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” (v. 3)
This is why we gather today, why we sing joyfully to the Lord and give Him thanks. It is what I myself have continually kept and will keep in mind through the twists and turns of college, the first two years at seminary, this year on vicarage, and now my final year before becoming a pastor in an entirely new place. Our God, your God and my God, is the Lord. It is He who has made us. He formed us in the womb and brought us to new life in Holy Baptism. It is by His Spirit that we are called through Holy Scripture. Against the will of the Old Adam in us, it is He who brings us here to worship now. In English the text says that we are His, but both the Hebrew and the Greek say something different. They read, “It is He who made us and we are not our own.” This means that everything we are and everything we have is not our own, but it is all from God. We acknowledge this in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray for our daily bread which certainly includes not only food, but everything that has to do with the support of the body and life. For everything, for the clothes on our backs, for the padding in our pews, and for the opportunity to worship here, where receive holy absolution and partake of our Lord’s Body and Blood we are to pray, praise, and give thanks.
“For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.” (v. 5) This is verse that every one of us should know, or at least have said it at some point in the liturgy here. Today we are singing songs of praise and being thankful for all that we have and all that we are, but sometimes we don’t do any of that. We forget, we purposely don’t go to church, we begin to live our lives as if we are our own. But, dearly beloved in Christ, we are not our own. We are His. We have been bought not with gold or silver, but with His blood. By His suffering and death Jesus Christ has paid the cost of our sin and now we are His. And since we are His, He will always take care of us. Even when we are unfaithful, He remains. He continues to call us to hear His Word and sing songs of praise, for His love endures forever and in all situations. In all our comings and goings, in those days at work where the hands on the clock go backwards, in fights at home and in the sleepless nights that follow, He remains faithful. His love is not for moment but for a lifetime and even more. His love goes even beyond the grave. We deserve none of it. We deserve death, but the Lord is good and His steadfast love endures forever. He is faithful through all generations.
It is with these words that I leave you, “It is He who made us, and we are His.” Because we are His, “The Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever.” In all situations we give thanks to the Lord for His love and faithfulness towards us. It has been such a joy and a pleasure for me to be here this last year. The Lord has truly been good to me, and I know that He will continue to bless His saints here for years to come. Through all the changes of the world, we know that He remains constant and His love for us through Jesus Christ will remain eternally. In His Name. Amen.