January 26, 2020 Eternal Embrace
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
You may recall that our emphasis last Sunday was for The Sanctity of Human Life.
We focused on the idea that Satan’s challenge to Adam & Eve was just an outright lie when he said “Did God really say …you shall not eat any fruit?” As a result of their fall into sin, WE continue to arrogantly question God about how He wants to run our lives. Even tho He alone is God; & we only have life because He gave it to us; and even tho the only life we have is lived in His world; … yet, we still doubt & question Him.
All the issues of our life connect & relate to how God alone gives & values human life. Maybe not all Scripture is directly connected to ‘life issues’ such as abortion or euthanasia or physician assisted suicide; but all of God’s Scripture IS related to our human & earthly lives, and how God has valued US enough to plan out our salvation, and send us His own Son.
Even in our gospel lesson today -from Matt.4- we can see how our Creator values human life; that means He values YOU.
When we know that, when we trust & believe that, then we will care for ourselves, and we will care for & value others, no matter who they are, or of what stage of human development they are. We are ‘Lutherans For Life,’ because the God we confess teaches us to hold human life as sacred, and that every human being has a soul that needs the gifts of God’s Church in order to be saved eternally. ******************************
Before we get to Matt.4, let’s consider 2 pictures: one is an etching and the other a painting. Etchings are scratches made on wood or metal; it can be done as a picture itself,
or a surface can be etched & coated with ink, so as to make a printing on paper or cloth.
This particular etching & painting are both by the same artist, & are both of the same subject; but there’s an interesting difference between them.
The artist is Rembrandt, and the subject is Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Son of Luke 15, also called, The Prodigal Son. In 1636, Rembrandt created a small etching of this Bible scene. Then, 32 years later, He came back to the same theme and painted a larger masterpiece, which he also called The Return of the Prodigal Son. People have looked at these 2 works and discussed the difference between them.
In the etching, Rembrandt is using action. The scene is filled with movement.
People are descending a staircase; some are watching their steps; one looks to the side, another looks downward; but all are rushing to join the father who (Jesus says) ran out to meet & embrace his son. The father himself looks like he’s moving forward, like he was in mid-stride as he’s rushing to reach out & grasp his son.
Now, -years later- with the painting, the picture is different. Here, Rembrandt creates a sense of stillness. He focuses on presence rather than action. No one is moving; everyone is stationary. The few other people in the picture, whether standing or sitting, are fixed in place, focused & absorbed on one central thing: the father, leaning over his son; the repentant son is on his knees, & leaning into his father. These two people are locked in an eternal embrace ===
== that’s how it’s been described: ‘an eternal embrace.’ It’s as if time has stopped, and they are caught up in that sacred moment, when the father /acknowledges, /reclaims, /forgives, /receives, /blesses, /& loves his son. So, Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, that’s his full name, Dutch artist of the 1600s ) he uses paint to depict for us an historic moment; a moment of love, made up of repentance & mercy; the father embracing his son.
If you keep that image with you, now we can move on to our gospel reading, where Matthew does something similar. Rembrandt uses paint and Matthew uses words, but both are helping us see God’s eternal embrace of love. One important difference between earthly paint & Spirit-filled words is that the words are written so that we would be comforted by God’s love and join His embrace as He reaches out to our world today with forgiveness in Christ.
At first glance, there’s a bit of action going on in our reading. John the Baptizer is imprisoned; he has been handed over to the authorities, and arrested & jailed. There are dark powers at work seeking to crush any voice that tries to speak of the kingdom of God in any way different than what the popular & powerful people want. When Jesus hears this, He leaves His hometown & moves to Capernaum. He doesn’t move in order to hide or be silent;
He moves to enter into action. As it was His Spirit that directed & empowered John, so now Jesus picks up where John left off, and preaches about the coming of God’s kingdom.
He doesn’t stay in one place but wanders about the region. We find Him on the seashore and in the synagogues, speaking to people. And His words have power.
He calls Simon & Andrew, and immediately they drop their nets & follow Him.
He calls James & John, and immediately they leave their father with the nets & follow Him. And not only does Jesus call people, but He casts out demons & heals diseases. There is a lot of action here; and yet, the Spirit doesn’t want us to be distracted by all of the action.
He wants to help us look beyond the action, and see a more important thing: God wants us
to see ‘an eternal thing.’
If it’s an important thing AND an eternal thing, that means that’s it’s not a secret thing, and it’s been revealed before. So, Matthew takes us into the Scriptures to hear a prophecy from the book of Isaiah. What Jesus is doing is certainly new & exciting in the sense that
HE is present -in the flesh- to DO it; & yet, the work of God is eternal. It causes these fishermen to drop their nets & follow. It caused their neighbors, and non-Jews to drop whatever they are doing & come along = to hear & believe. It caused many to pick up their sick & their paralyzed, and travel great distances, carrying these people to come before Jesus.
Jesus is doing ‘calling, teaching, & healing’; but Matthew -like Rembrandt- wants us to stop & see something deeper going on. In the midst of all of this new Messiah~action, Matthew wants us to stop & see something very old. We are to see God’s eternal plan,
His ancient mercy, His unchanging promises, His plan of future hope & fulfilment for us.
The Holy Spirit recalls for us a promise thru Isaiah: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles == the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
This place where Jesus begins His ministry is not the center of power & influence in
the world. Jesus is not starting in the largest or most powerful city of the Roman Empire.
The King-of-Heaven did not demand an appointment with the emperor Tiberius Caesar.
No, Jesus is coming into -what some would consider- the boondocks, the ‘sticks’ & the backwoods. An area that ‘important’ people neglect; He comes to people who are unimportant; the ‘country bumkins’ & the rednecks of His day. Jesus begins His ministry in what some of our politicians call ‘fly over country.’ & except that this time around we have a senator who is running for president, Minnesota is largely a fly-over state.
Yet, Matthew wants us to know =that is, to remember & believe= that this land of darkness & obscurity has not been dark or obscure to God. For the good of the whole world, God has kept track of the ‘wilderness beyond the Jordan’ for centuries.
Actually, God has known this common place AND these common people before time itself began. From eternity, these people were God’s choice, & they would see His salvation first, and then bring it into the whole world. They were part of God’s eternal plan. All the way back in the time of Isaiah, God had already seen these people (beyond the Jordan) who needed ‘calling, teaching, & healing.’ At the right time, His hands knit them together in the womb; His power brought them forth by birth into the world. And now, His word would call them to repentance,
& His arms would reach out & hold them in His eternal Son = Jesus.
As His plan goes, this 1st century visit from the Son was just the beginning. Ultimately, Jesus would offer them an eternal embrace as their Savior. His work in this world would lead to His death on the cross. There, He would offer His sinless life as the perfect sacrifice
for all sin. He would then rise from the dead to let ALL people know that He had conquered sin & death. Each one would hear of the promise of a baptism-cleansing of sin, so that nothing would ever separate them from the eternal love of God. Jesus came for Peter & Andrew, James & John; for Gentiles & Jews, male & female, young & old, for all nations & languages = that is: ALL people = including you & me. And He promises to hold us in the eternal embrace of the Father’s forgiving love.
So Jesus cries out, “Your sin blocks you from Me; Repent! Turn away from your sin. The kingdom of God is at hand.” With words & actions, Jesus has taught that God has brought you into His kingdom, He claims you as His own, and promises to hold you in an eternal embrace of love. This is what Matthew wants us to see: God’s eternal love. He loves, not because of who you are, but because of who He is. God is mercy. He called you, before you were born.
Out of love, He called to you when you wandered astray as a ‘prodigal’. He never lost track of you when you have tried to hide, or go away to a far country, walking in darkness, & squandering the life He gave to you. When He caused His light to shine on you, it was so that you could see your sin; but the light also showed you His Savior -Jesus- who extended His arms on the cross in an eternal embrace for us.
God used the faith of Rembrandt to use paint so that we could picture the love of God in Christ Jesus. God used the faith of Matthew to use the written word to open our eyes of faith to the eternal embrace of God’s love. God called out to Simon & Andrew, James & John,
to follow the Savior, and to share the good news with others. Our Heavenly Father continues to call people to serve His kingdom in that way; He has called YOU.
You have been brought into God’s kingdom, baptized & confirmed by a faithful confession of the Bible’s truth; and this is a great & eternal blessing for your body & soul. And then, our lives have another use; our lives show to others that God has an eternal embrace for them, too.
In Jesus’ day, the world was full of fly-over country & unimportant people. There are still dark & obscure places in our country today. But it’s not just rural America; there are places, like in the womb or in the nursing home, that are out-or-sight & out-of-mind; there are people who live in the shadows at the very beginning of life & at the very end of life. The unborn, the sick, & the elderly are easily overlooked, === or worse. In some ways, the world has made them an endangered species.
They cannot speak for themselves because they are not powerful or important.
So, those in power talk about them in terms of their ‘burden’. That means that those who know the Creator need to speak up for them, to speak of their value in the sight of God.
They have eternal value because only God could give them life; & only He could put them in their time & place. And let’s remember that we were once all like them; we were all once in the womb; we’ve had our own times of illness & infirmity; and we will be as old as them one day = who will speak for us? We pray it will be a faithful Bible believing follower of
Jesus Christ, who knows & is committed to the sacred value of each human life. When we are in the shadows, it will be one of God’s faithful servants who will reach out to us to remind us of God’s eternal embrace of forgiveness, love & care for us.
That’s why we have a specific Life Ministry in our church body: Lutherans For Life. They have a year-round organization for action in the name of our Savior & Lord of Life.
They have information for our issues and questions; they work especially on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. They want to assist you & me to bring God’s eternal embrace to the vulnerable & weak ones in our world.
We can do that /with our prayers, /with financial support, /by writing to our political representatives, /and by reading their booklets, /& keeping up with what is changing in our laws & in our culture.
So, we can close with one more picture; this one is not by Rembrandt, and it is not of The Prodigal Son. It is a moment of Bible activity we know pretty well: that of Jesus gladly receiving the children being brought to Him by responsible adults. I wonder if this particular scene happened a number of times in Jesus’ ministry as He went from town to town to teach & preach about the kingdom of God; about repentance & forgiveness for young & old.
As for you & me, in Christ, God has brought us into the kingdom of Heaven. He has joined us to Jesus, and holds us with Him thru His Word & Sacraments. Now, He sends us into the world, to extend His call & teaching to those who might be neglected or forgotten.
It’s God’s hands that knit them, and His arms that hold them. It’s God’s desire that ALL receive His eternal embrace of love.