GOD HAS VOWED TO BE FAITHFUL TO YOU.
In the name + of Jesus.
Four decades ago, God heard Gregory Gibbons swear in church. You swore an oath which included these questions: “Dost thou solemnly promise that thou wilt perform the duties of thy office in accordance with these Confessions and that all thy teaching and thy administration of the Sacraments shall be in conformity with the Holy Scriptures and with the afore-mentioned Confessions?” And “Wilt thou, finally, adorn the doctrine of our Savior with a holy life and conversation?” (The Lutheran Agenda) Invoking God's aid, you swore that you would. It has been forty years since God heard you swear that you would be faithful to him in your preaching and practice, as one who speaks and acts in the stead and by the command of Christ Jesus.
When we swear to God—whether for confirmation, marriage, or ordination—we are asking him to hold us accountable to our vow. A 40 year anniversary of your ordination vow certainly gives you an opportunity to reflect on the blessings you have enjoyed, but it also is a time when memories of disappointments and failures resurface. The devil is a good history teacher, and he likes to share lessons and stories of our past with us. He reminds us of the ways we have sinned against others, let them down, failed to follow up like we said we would, or just plain did not do what we were tasked with—whether that was due to fear, forgetfulness, or fatigue. Then the devil shares one more history lesson with you: You swore that you would not do that! The devil reminds you that God holds you accountable for your shortcomings and your sins—for favoring members who showered you with compliments, for despising members who criticized you and made your ministry difficult, and for being negligent in the word of God and in prayer.
The devil is good at history lessons, and your conscience testifies that the devil gets it right. But the devil is a liar. He does not lie when we replays our sins to us. He lies that they still stand against us. He lies that we remain under God's condemnation for them. He lies that we are judged based on the works that we failed to do or on the works that we did wrongly. The Apostle Paul teaches you a different history lesson which corrects everything the devil claims. He asks: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:35)
The love of Christ is not how much you love Jesus or how well you serve Jesus. The love of Christ is what Jesus Christ has done for you and how he has served you. Jesus did not overlook your sins. Instead, he acted to remove them from you. He put himself through tribulation, distress, persecution, nakedness, danger, and sword to make himself the atoning sacrifice for your sins. For, he was forsaken by his disciples—disciples who vowed they would never leave him. Jesus was betrayed by his friend, condemned by religious leaders, hung naked from a cross, and pierced by the lance of the soldier in his death. The Lord knows what it is to have people fail him, even when they swore they would not.
Nevertheless, God has vowed to be faithful to you. At the cross, Jesus fulfilled the vow God had made—that “the Son of Man would be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14,15) He applied his forgiveness to you in holy baptism with another vow: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) And the Lord Jesus continues to faithfully forgive and sustain you at the Holy Supper with another vow: “For you, for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28) God has vowed to forgive you and to save you, and the vows of God are much greater than yours. God does not need to ask for aid or strength to fulfill his vows. He means what he swears to you. Jesus was faithful in fulfilling every promise, and he lives and reigns to uphold them all. Since Jesus has faithfully completed what the Father vowed he would do for you, the sentence Jesus renders overrules any charge the devil makes. For, God does not lie when he speaks and he will not fail when he makes a promise. God has vowed to be faithful to you.
While a 40 year anniversary is naturally a time to look back and give thanks to God for his faithful love, the reading for this sermon does not look back at all. St. Paul wrote about what you possess now and what is to come. St. Paul wrote, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
The Lord Jesus has been faithful to you throughout your life, just as he vowed. He will remain faithful to you, just as he vowed. For, when the Lord swears an oath, he is bound to it. Paul claims that, no matter what—whether we are feasting on the fattened calf or we are the sheep to be slaughtered—“we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) We are victors over sin, over death, and over the devil by means of Jesus Christ. His love for us took him into death to pay for our sins, and his resurrection opens the gates of heaven and eternal life to us whom he has redeemed. Jesus lives and reigns, and he vows that we shall live as surely as he lives (John 14:19). He vows that if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12) Therefore, we are more than conquerors; for the Lord has sworn to give you a place in an everlasting kingdom for the sake of Jesus.
St. Paul goes on and states, “I am sure that ... (nothing) in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) There is only one thing that can make St. Paul so confident, and that is the word and promise of God. God has vowed to be faithful to you, to strengthen and keep you in the one true faith. What could possibly overcome God's vow? Our strength is poor. We cannot avoid temptations or overcome them. Our flesh fails us. We are afraid of pressures and personalities. Our boasting, our resolve, and our vows stand no chance against the forces of darkness in the heavenly realms. You are right not to be sure of yourself. But you can be sure of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. His promises never fail. God has vowed to be faithful to you.
It does not matter what you suffer now or what you will face in the future. We have the same confidence as St. Paul: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Ten times St. Paul uses the negative. A perfect number shows the complete impotence of anything that would stand against God's love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Neither death nor life nullifies the love of God. Neither angels nor demons nor rulers can cancel the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Neither the present nor the things to come will annul the resurrection of Jesus. Neither height nor depth—that is, nothing in heaven or in hell—nor anything else on earth can invalidate the word and sacraments which bestow God's salvation upon us. God swears by himself that he will be our Savior. There is no higher power God can swear by. And he has sworn: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Forty years ago, the Lord heard Gregory Gibbons swear in church. God entrusted you with his word and sacraments, to administer the same mercy and grace God has shown to you. Despite any failed efforts, faulty words, or feeble hands, the Lord has blessed his word through you and upheld his promises to his people. After all, it is Christ's Gospel. The ministry is his work. The Church is his flock; and you, dear brother, are one of them. God has vowed to be faithful to you. He has been. He will be. The love of God is yours; for you are Christ's.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.