Sermon for Trinity 2, June 25, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. Amen.
Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 9 In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."
Jesus prepared a feast of salvation for you.
Dear sojourners in a troubled land,
What do we do with the problem of guilt?
This past week I saw the picture of an accident near my home town in which a sixteen-year-old driver somehow drifted onto the shoulder of a road and struck and killed a man riding a bicycle. Viewing that picture, I found myself wondering, how will she be able to live with herself knowing that in a moment of neglect, she has killed an innocent man?
Another day, I read of a grandmother who backed her car out of her garage and over her grandchild, and again, I found myself wondering, how could I live with myself if I did that to my grandson? So, I wonder, what will that teenage driver, and that grandmother, do with their guilt?
As terrible as these two incidents sound, though, the truth is I am also guilty of these things, because the Bible says that “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) Thus, since I have, at times, forgotten to look out for my neighbor, and I have been careless on occasion, I am just as guilty. And, so are all of you.
So, what do we do with our guilt? Do we sweep it under a rug like some lazy housekeeper? Many people try to hide their guilt. Much like Adam and Eve, we don’t want anyone to see how bad we are, and we certainly don’t want God to notice.
Sometimes, as consciences grow dull, people try to put their sin on a balance scale so they can compare it to someone else’s, and that way, it doesn’t seem so bad: “Well, I only hated for a moment, so I’m not as bad as someone who actually pulled a trigger.” “I only looked at the pictures, so it’s not like I cheated on my wife.”
Others try to rationalize their guilt: “Well, he kind of had it coming.” Or, “If I didn’t take advantage, someone else would have, anyway.” Or, do we say, “Well, if that person wouldn’t have hurt me, I wouldn’t have done what I did.” Other times, we try to bargain our way out, “I’ll do better next time.” Or we try to buy a pass, “I’ll get her some flowers and that will smooth things over.”
The truth is, guilt troubles us a lot. Depression can often be traced to guilt that gets bottled up inside. Guilt makes me wonder whether I am worth someone’s love. Guilt makes us worry about what will happen if, or more likely when, someone catches our mistakes.
Guilt can even drive a wedge between us and God. That is perhaps the devil’s favorite scheme. The devil likes to make us sin, but he doesn’t really care if we sin. Rather, what he really wants is to separate us from God’s love. He knows he can’t make us sin so bad that God won’t forgive us, but as soon as Satan gets us to sin, he turns on us and becomes our accuser. Satan tells us that we can’t make amends, and he tells us we’re worthless since we fell for his trap. Then, the serpent even slanders God and tells us that our sin is so bad that maybe God won’t forgive it, and that sometimes grows into a worry that God can’t forgive us. When that happens, the devil is winning, because a guilty sinner who doesn’t think God can forgive will only try to avoid Him.
The people of Israel had a lot of guilt. That’s why God sent Isaiah to proclaim against them. They were guilty of many things but especially of idolatry, and lest we think we are better, remember that we too are guilty of that sin if we have ever worried, or wondered if God is really in control and whether we will be okay. We are guilty of idolatry every time we think we can handle everything by ourselves without turning our problems over to the Lord. So, yes, we carry a lot of guilt.
However, when God sent Isaiah to preach to Israel, God didn’t just give the prophet a message of judgment; God gave us all a message of peace. Along with the threat of condemnation, Isaiah was to tell the people, “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.” God told His people about a banquet He was preparing for them—a banquet that would feed them the very best of the very best. In fact, it is a feast of grace, love, forgiveness, victory, and peace with God.
We heard another tidbit about that celebration God promised in our Gospel lesson this morning. In His ministry, Jesus gave several glimpses into that magnificent marriage feast of God’s Son. The point isn’t to show us exactly what foods will be on that heavenly table, but that God was preparing the very best of things for those who heed His invitation. And, perhaps most important for us, it shows that this feast is prepared for all people—people of every tribe, nation, color, or occupation. Not that all will eat of that heavenly feast, but that is what God desires. The New Testament affirms this for us promising: “God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Isaiah was not only shown that God would give a banquet of peace, but he also tells us how and where the LORD would do it: “On this mountain he [the LORD Almighty] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah describes a woven cloth that covers all the people of the world. That shroud separates us from God. It keeps us from truly knowing God, keeps us from knowing God’s goodness and mercy. Honestly, this shroud is sin. Sin keeps us separated from God. Sin keeps us from truly knowing His love. Sin causes all people to suffer death. Sin causes all our suffering, pain, tears, and guilt. But, the Lord Almighty was swallowing up sin forever, swallowing along with our sin the curse of death that goes with it.
Our English translation makes God’s actions future events, but Isaiah saw them as already completed because God had spoken and God’s spoken word is all powerful; therefore, whatever God says will happen. Later, looking back, St. Paul would rejoice, saying, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
On the night Jesus was betrayed into the hands of His tormentors, He prayed in the garden, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done." (Matthew 26:42) In that moment, Jesus was fulfilling the promise given through Isaiah. The Son of God who had never known sin was drinking down the sins of the whole world. That horrible cup, that awful shroud of darkness and unbelief, became Jesus’ sin and Jesus’ death. The separation that had kept us from God because Jesus’ separation from His everlasting Father. No wonder Jesus pleaded with His Father for another way. No wonder Jesus trembled, when “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Yet, in that dreadful moment, Jesus faithfully took what the Almighty had planned from the beginning. And, that dear friends, is the Good News that brings us together here today. Because there on that mountain of peace, known as Jerusalem, Jesus drank down sin and death for you. There, Jesus prepared a feast of salvation for you. All the sins you have ever committed, all the guilt you have ever felt, and far more, was charged to Jesus, and Jesus carried your evil to the cross and bore the punishment you deserved, and threw your guilt into the bowels of hell, paid for in full, because that is the only way God could justly say to you, “Friend, come into My house and celebrate with Me.”
By His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus became righteousness for you. By dying on that cross, Jesus destroyed what the devil had planned, and Christ’s victory is for you, dear friends. For you and me, Jesus took away everything that could separate us from God’s love. That day, Jesus literally opened the gates of heaven for us. And from that moment on, we have the joy of celebrating just as Isaiah foretold when he wrote, “In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." This is the song we will be singing for eternity after eternities long after this world passes away, because life has been restored to those who were dead. Forgiveness is given to sinners who hear God’s proclamation of redemption. Holiness is put on those who had been unclean, but through faith in Christ Jesus are now washed clean and dressed in the perfect holiness of Him who never sinned yet drank down all sin so that we could be made holy. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
What do we do with our guilt today? We take it to Jesus in repentance. We hear Him say, “Son, your sins are forgiven you. Go in peace.” The devil keeps trying to lead us into displeasing our Father in heaven. The devil keeps trying to torment us with the guilt of our sins. He’ll try anything to get us to think that God doesn’t love us, or God won’t forgive us, but God has already loved you with an everlasting love. He gave His own Dear Son to live and die and rise again so that you can be called holy in His sight, so that the Almighty Lord can welcome you home as His dear children.
That, dear friends, is what Christianity is all about. It isn’t us satisfying God with perfect obedience. It isn’t about worshipping God with the exact right ritual. It isn’t us jumping and dancing and feeling good about ourselves. It is Jesus bearing the sins of the world and crushing the devil’s head. It’s the Holy Spirit coming to us in Word and Sacrament to give us this blessed faith that connects us with our Savior in an unbreakable bond of love that removes the shroud of sin and death, cancels our guilt, and makes us welcome in His Father’s presence for all eternity.
Rejoice, my fellow believers, heaven’s gates have been opened for you. Your invitation has been sent through the apostles and prophets. The banquet feast is ready. Forgiven and cleansed by God’s grace, and dressed in the pure righteousness of His Son, enter God’s presence with thanksgiving and praise; Jesus has prepared a feast of salvation for you. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.