Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sermon Chapel at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (September 6, 2017)

This sermon was delivered 
for the chapel service at
in Saginaw, Michigan.

NUMBERS 6:22-27


In the name + of Jesus.

     King David taught us to pray, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)  Jesus taught a similar petition: “Hallowed by thy name.” (Matthew 6:9)  And Martin Luther taught us what this means: “God's name is certainly holy by itself, but we pray in this petition that we too may keep it holy.” (Luther's Small Catechism; 2nd Petition of the Lord's Prayer)
     Now, what does it mean that God's name is holy?  You probably remember a basic definition of being “holy” means being without sin.  But that is not entirely right.  We use phrases such as the Holy Bible, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion.  That is not the Bible without sin, Baptism without sin, or Communion without sin.  The term “holy” means something which is set apart by God for his special purpose.  The Bible is not just any book.  It is the book which is set apart as the very word of God which proclaims God's will and God's salvation.  Holy Baptism is not just plain water.  It is water set apart to wash away sin and to bestow new life.  Holy Communion is not merely a special meal.  It is bread and wine set apart to be the body and blood of Christ for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  That's what makes these things holy.  They are set apart by God for his sacred purpose.
     God's name is holy.  That is because God himself is holy.  It is true that God is without sin, but it is also true that the name of the Lord is set apart from all other names.  It is by that name that we are created.  It is in that name that we are redeemed.  It is through that name that you have been set apart from a world which is cursed and dying.  In the Holy Baptism, the Lord has put his name upon you and marked you as his own.  It is like the way you mark your notebook as your own.  You scrawl your name on it to mark it as yours.  It is set apart for your use.
     The Lord has put his holy name upon you.  You were baptized into his name.  You have been cleansed of all your sin.  You have been set apart as children of the Most High God.  You bear his name; for you are Christians.  You are his saints, his holy ones.  As his saints, you have been set apart for doing God's work and living according to his will.  If you bear the family name, then you also are to demonstrate the character of your heavenly Father.  You have been set apart to live up to being the children of God which you are.
     How is that working out?  Not so good, right?  Chances are, you have had friends or co-workers rub it your face that you do not act like a Christian.  Even though some of those people have no interest in obeying God's Law, they know that you are supposed to.  By our sins, we sully God's name.  Other people know that Christians are supposed to be honest and respectful.  We are not supposed to be jealous at the good fortune of others.  We are not supposed to slander people who are different or mock people because of their quirks.  We are not supposed to give in to greed or lust, or brag about getting drunk or thievery.  You were not set apart to be children of God and still act like worldly people.  And yet, we do.  Repent.
     When the Israelites gathered for worship at the tabernacle, they witnessed the sacrifices which were slaughtered on behalf of them.  Innocent blood was shed for them to proclaim that they were beloved by God, redeemed by him, and set apart for him.  It was not because they had distinguished themselves as saints.  It is because God had mercy upon them for their sins.  The Lord did not revoke his name from them.  Rather, the Lord's blessing declared that they were still set apart for blessing, still his saints.  The LORD commanded the blessing and promised: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)
     And so it is with you.  Innocent blood has been shed for you.  And the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies you from all sin. (1 John 1:9)  You are not children of God because you behave better than others.  God has not set you apart because you have distinguished yourself so well.  God has brought you into his family because Jesus Christ has taken your sins from you.  He shed his innocent blood to atone for all your sins.  He sprinkled that blood on you in your baptism to purify you from all unrighteousness.  He pours that holy blood into you for the forgiveness of your sins.  In this way, the Lord sets you apart and works in you so that, more and more, your life conforms to his will.  The Lord has put his name on you so that you remember you are his.
     At the end of every service, you hear the Lord's blessing: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)  It is no accident that these are the last words in the service.  If you did not hear God's grace proclaimed in the sermon because you were daydreaming, or if you are still bothered that your life never measures up to the word 'saint,' God still has the last word.  With that last word, the Lord puts his name on you again to remind you of who you are.  You are his redeemed.  You are his holy one.  You are God's beloved child.  You are set apart for his glory, for his mercy, and for everlasting life.
     That is why we cherish the holy name of Jesus.  It is set apart above every other name.  It is the only name by which we are saved.  And that is why we sing with King David: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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