Outdoor Service

Preached: August 21, 2011

Meditations on the Apostles' Creed from the Psalms
Psalm 19, 22, 51

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A. God the Father: Our Creator

Psalm 19:1 -- The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (NIV1984)

This is the word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ:

There's a joke about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson on a camping trip. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up Watson and ask “What do you see? ”

Watson stares up from his sleeping bag and says, “The stars! ”

“And what do you deduce from that, ol' chap? ” Holmes ask

Watson thinks and answers, “Ah, it's a clear night. Not like those foggy London evenings. ”

“No, my good man, think again! ”

Watson contemplates. “How big and vast the universe most be, if each of those stars is like our sun. ”

Now Holmes, who had no use for astronomy or philosophy, was becoming quite frustrated with his assistant. So Watson hurriedly guesses, “Um, um, does it mean that there aren't any tree branches above us? ”

“No, you fool! ” Holmes fumes. “Someone stole our tent! ”

The stars seem to tell people lots of different things, from astronomy to astrology, from science fiction to space exploration. But the Scriptures don't leave us guessing as to what it means when we see the stars. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands ” (Psalm 19:1 NIV1984).

How huge and vast the universe is! Some estimate that the observable universe has a diameter of 90 billion light years. That gives a volume in cubic miles of 8 followed by 70 zeros. Or if you just count stars, they say that our galaxy alone has 200-400 billion stars and that there might be over 100 billion galaxies. That would give a number of stars that would make even the federal debt seem insignificantly small in comparison. How great and awesome our God is! The Maker of heaven and earth. Only a fool says there is no God.

But as you look up, you see not only the stars in the night heavens, but what do you see in the daytime sky? The sun and clouds, of course, but what about the birds that fly above? Think about how God takes care of them. They don't care about crop prices or yield per acre. They don't worry about rain or hail. You don't see them buying or planting seed. They don't have barns or silos to store up a harvest. Yet your heavenly Father takes care of them.

You see, God is not only the Creator, he also your Father who takes care of you, providing for you and protecting you. He preserves your life.

But why would he do that for you or me. Aren't we sinners? Doesn't our conscience expose our guilt? Shouldn't he punish us instead of care for us? The more we look into ourselves for a reason, the more hopeless we become. And looking into the world around us only feeds our doubts. Yes, he takes care of the birds but what about the sicknesses, disasters, and tragedies in the world? Is he really my Father? Does he truly care for me? How can I be sure? How can you be sure?

The skies declare our God's glory but they only tell us so much. Only his Word, the Scriptures, drive out doubt so that you believe. Only the Scriptures revive the soul and teach true wisdom. Only the Scriptures bring genuine light and joy. His Word is more precious than gold, sweeter than honey.

What does his Word reveal that we cannot learn from the skies or anywhere else? His Word reveals that the Father gave his Son for you. The sacrifice of his Son takes away your guilt, even your hidden faults, the sins you're unaware of. Only in the Son are you truly sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. Only through the Son can you call out to the Creator, “My Father! ” Only because of the Son can you live in full confidence that your Father is taking care of you no matter what.

Why did he give you his Son? Don't look into yourself to find this answer. Nothing we have ever done or will do or try to do earns or deserves such a gift in any way at all. Rather he gave his Son because he is good and merciful. He is loving and gracious. His good will and pleasure earnestly desires for you to be his own dear child. So he gave his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, for you. We'll have more to say about that under the Second Article a little later.

But, dear Christian, know that through faith in Jesus God is your dear Father and you are his true child. His Word promises it. The promise Baptism sealed to you.

Now since he has given you his Son, since he is your dear Father through Jesus, won't his goodness and mercy certainly take care of you? Trust him. Trust him to provide what you need. Show that trust by generously and cheerfully using what he gives you in his service no matter what the cost. Trust him to protect you until he brings you safely to his heavenly home, your Father's house. Under such protection, why worry? Trust him and strengthen that trust by meditating on his word. Treasure it in your heart as more precious than gold. Inwardly digest it, for it is sweeter than honey. Your heavenly Father is your Rock. Trust him.

Please listen to the full Psalm. Psalm 19:1-14

B. God the Son: Our Redeemer

Psalm 22:1, 16c-18, 22, 30b, 31 — My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning … [T]hey have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you … [F]uture generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn -- for he has done it (NIV).

This is the word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ:

Darkness filled the sky. It was not night but noon. Yet darkness covered the land, for the sun had stopped shining (Luke 23:44, 45). Three hours later, a voice calls out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabchthani ... My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ” (Matthew 27:46 NIV1984).

“If you think of sin but lightly

Nor suppose the evil great,

Here you see its nature rightly

Here its guilt may estimate. ” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal,Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, Thomas Kelly 127:3 )

That's how serious sin is!

Sometimes stories are told about people selling their soul to the devil. But sin already has made all of humanity slaves to Satan. He doesn't have to make any deals. We were born as his slaves. That's how serious sin is.

As slaves, we could not gain our freedom. No price was enough to turn God's anger away from us. No effort or work could escape the chains of our inborn natural condition. In fact, as slaves to sin we imagined that the devil wasn't all that bad, at least not as bad as the oppresive God who demanded complete obedience and punished even the smallest infraction with the unending torture of hell. How dark our minds! We were lost and condemned creatures. That's how serious sin is.

Only the Champion, only God himself, could free us from our slavery. So the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity and true man, born of the virgin Mary. The Son became flesh and blood, like you and me but without sin, in order to be our Substitute, our Ransom.

What a price Jesus paid to redeem you! The ransom he paid to God was nothing less than his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. The blood of God shed for you! How vividly Psalm 22 describes his death a thousand years before it happened! Picture Jesus nailed to the cross. “They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and casts lots for my clothing ” (Psalm 22:16-18 NIV1984).

For you see, the holy Son of God became your sin. The Innocent One had your guilt counted against him. He was forsaken so that you may never be. In his cry out of the darkness, hear your hell. For he suffered your full punishment for all your sins in your place. He is your Substitute and Sacrifice. He is your Ransom and Redeemer, for he paid the only price that could set you free from slavery to sin. So he is your Lord, and you are his blood-bought people.

Believe it, dear friend. Believe that his ransom truly and fully redeems you to be his very own. For the same Jesus who bled and died for you rose from the dead on the third day. Psalm 22 reminds us of this as well. For through David, the same Jesus who spoke those opening words from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ” (Psalm 22:1 NIV1984), later in the Psalm also says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you ” (Psalm 22:22 NIV1984; Hebrews 2:12). How could he do that, unless he who died also rose from the dead?

Notice that he calls you brothers. He does so not only because he shares our flesh and blood, but because he shares his righteousness with you. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ ” (Galatians 3:26, 27 NIV1984). Through faith in Jesus you are clothed with his righteousness, so you are his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

Think about that. Your God became your Brother to redeem you into his family. Now your Brother reigns over all as your God. Since at God's right hand Jesus lives and reigns eternally, we serve him, for we are his blood-people and he is our Lord. We serve him by proclaiming his righteousness to our children and to those not yet born. We proclaim his righteousness to those who are near and to those who are far off. We proclaim that his righteousness counts for guilty sinners, for he has paid the ransom for all. Then they too may believe in Jesus Christ, their Redeemer, and no longer be slaves to sin and Satan.

Listen now to Psalm 22:1-31

C. God the Holy Spirit: Our Sanctifier

Psalm 51:1, 2, 11, 12 — Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me (NIV1984).

This is the word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ:

Out in the country, away from the city lights, away from any farm or yard light, how much can you see at night? If there's a full moon, you can see quite well. But what about on a moonless, cloudy night with heavy fog hanging in the air? It's so dark, you can't find your way. You can't even see the fog; you only feel its dampness clinging to you. Such darkness! In such darkness you couldn't see the stars or the birds. You couldn't see a cross on a hill.

So also our natural minds cannot see the Father's love that cares for us or the Son's sacrifice that redeems us. For we were born in darkness, spiritual darkness. The Apostle Paul writes, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned ” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV1984). Blind and lost, we were crawling, walking, running straight towards hell.

“But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel ” (Small Catechism, Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, Martin Luther), we confess. “[T]he people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned ” (Matthew 4:16). Jesus is that light, but only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to see him.

Through the Gospel in the water and word of Baptism, the Holy Spirit burst through your night. He opened your eyes to see Jesus washing away your sins, cleansing you with his blood. Through the Gospel in the Scriptures and the Sacraments the Holy Spirit works.

He was at work in the heart of King David. Through the words the prophet Nathan, the Holy Spirit confronted and convicted David of his sins of murder and adultery and of the unbelief that tried to hide it all from God. Through the promise spoken by the prophet, the Holy Spirit turned David's heart to the Lord bringing him to trust the Lord's promise of forgiveness. As David calls out in the Psalm hear that Spirit-worked faith clinging to the Lord's loving mercy that had promised the Savior from sin: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin ” (Psalm 51:1, 2 NIV1984).

Through the Gospel in Word and sacraments the Holy Spirit has worked that same faith in your heart, dear Christian. Although Jesus died for all, the only way you benefit from his ransom is through faith in Jesus. Otherwise, like so many millions who do not trust Jesus, we too would end up in hell forever, despite the ransom Jesus paid.

But you no longer walk that dark road. Through the Gospel the Holy Spirit has turned you around to believe, so that with David you confess: “Yes, I am a guilty sinner, but Jesus died for me. His blood washes even me clean. He presents me to the Father not as a dirty rebel covered in my own filth, but as his bride, washed clean, spotlessly clean. No matter how great my sin has been, Jesus' blood gets out even the deepest, darkest, foulest stain. ”

How much we still need the Holy Spirit! Faith fights against the sin that still lives in us. Faith earnestly strives to joyful obey our Savior. Faith prayers with David, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me ” (Psalm 51:12 NIV1984). That's the faith the Holy Spirit keeps on working in you through the Gospel. For his work doesn't stop with bringing you to faith. Through the Gospel he works in you each day to will and to act accordingly to God's good purpose. He works in you so that you do what is right in God's sight from a heart that loves your Savior. This is an ongoing battle in us. We need his aid every day. We need the sword of the Spirit to battle our sinful desires and the temptations of the devil, the world, and our flesh. Don't leave the Spirit's sword in its sheath. Open your Bibles. Don't let it grow rusty. Continually train in his Word and use it in faith.

There is so much more we could say about the Holy Spirit and his work. But as you listen now to Psalm 51, think about how through the Gospel the Holy Spirit has brought you out of the darkness into faith that trusts Jesus and his forgiveness and how through the same Gospel he works in you to do what is good in God's sight. (Psalm 51:1-19)

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313