“Behold, How Good and Pleasant It Is."

April 30, 2017

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!—Psalm 133:1

Each week, we confess together that we believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, otherwise known as the communion of saints. There is no more joyful fellowship than that which exists solely by the grace of God.  Through the working of His Holy Spirit, He has called each and every one of us to saving faith; with the result that we now are part of God’s family, sinners who have received Christ’s own righteousness as a gift, and who—as this Easter celebration has been about—look forward to spending eternity together in the glory of the Lord’s presence.  Ours is, indeed, a holy Communion.  As our text puts it, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] dwell in unity.”  

That being said, it also is tragically true that the opposite situation is disturbing and unpleasant.  This time, I am speaking, not of the One Holy Christian Church but, rather, of those visible churches or congregations where factions and conflict exist.  In the very place where the unity of being one together in the body of Christ should be celebrated, there is, instead, bitterness, rivalry, back-biting, and the refusal to love one another as we desire to be loved. 

This kind of disunity seems to be at epidemic proportions.  I have mentioned to you before that I serve as what’s called a ‘reconciler’ for our District and Synod, which takes me into these antagonistic situations in churches in order to try to mediate a God-pleasing solution.  And, needless to say, such a solution can only be brought about when we forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as God, through Christ, has forgiven each and every one of us. 

But instead of focusing upon the cross of Jesus Christ, by which God reconciled us to Himself, by cancelling out all of our sins, the attention is upon personal agendas.  Parishioners lash out against parishioners.  Pastors treat their flocks in a heavy-handed manner.

Members of the church compile lists of complaints against their pastors.  Secret meetings are held.  Anonymous letters are written. One group or individual vies for power against another.  And the faithful, who are caught in the crossfire, are tempted to leave the splintering church just to find peace somewhere else. 

And be assured that things are only going to get worse; for, as the Scripture says, “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:12). 

Our congregation, here at Good Shepherd, can be thankful for the peace and unity we presently share.  But that also means that we have to be all the more vigilant because, obviously, Satan does not share our joy.  We, therefore, must recognize where the potential temptations lie, where our faith is truly founded, and what is God’s power to strengthen and preserve us in the true faith. 

And this recognition begins with the opening words of today’s Epistle, wherein St. Peter declares, “if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

You call on God as your Father.  You are able to do so only because God had mercy upon you in spite of the fact that you were, at one time, spiritually blind, dead, and enemy of God.  Notice how the apostle says that God judges us impartially; meaning, in His righteous judgment, we were all as guilty as sin.  We had all fallen short of His glory.  How we view ourselves and our actions in relation to anyone else is of no consequence.  Each of us deserved damnation and there wasn’t a thing that we could do to avoid it.

Only God could do something about it; which He did, in sending His Son into this world to suffer and die for all of our cursed sins by becoming a curse in our place.  He ransomed us, not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood.  And that is something which we must always bear in mind, Peter says, so that we may, “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”

You are part of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  And yet, at the same time, we are still in the midst of our time of exile; meaning, though we are saints in God’s sight, heirs to a heavenly kingdom, we confess that we are still sinners living in a wicked world, subject to the influences of this world, to the temptations of the devil, and to the cravings of our own selfish pride. 

That means that, no matter how old you are, no matter how long you may have been a member of the church, it is still necessary that you conduct your life with a sense of fear before God.   

Brothers and sisters, the good that we would do we fail to do and the bad we wish to cease we keep right on doing.  And for this, we still deserve nothing but God’s temporal and eternal punishment. 

So how is it that we can feel justified in finding fault with others? What right do we think we have to gossip about others, even as we fail to explain everything in the kindest way?  Do we somehow think that the Eighth Commandment is the one commandment that we have a right to ignore?  Would we really be so foolish to think that way when these laws have been set down by God Himself? 

If you cannot speak of your concerns to someone’s face, and do so in a spirit of love, then you have no right to go behind someone else’s back.  Nor should you, at any time, allow yourself to be a sounding board for someone else’s tattling, for in doing so you make yourself a party to their sin.

The church is not a place for whispering about another’s supposed faults or of trying to catch someone in their mistakes; it is, rather, a holy place for you to come before God bearing nothing but your own guilt. 

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:37,38).

This, brothers and sisters, is what the Holy Christian Church is all about.  It is not about holding sins over anyone’s heads, but, rather, of desiring the forgiveness of sins; both for ourselves and for others.  It is about being born again in the waters of Baptism, so that we become different from the rest of the world, which is so consumed with getting dirt on other people.  It’s about being cut to the heart in our own soul; of dealing with the log in our own eye; of each of us confessing, “I am chief of sinners;” of coming forward to the Table of the Lord and recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread by which He gives to you—to you personally—His body and blood that He sacrificed for your salvation upon the cross, so that you can be forgiven and depart in peace; knowing that, “the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread,” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Holy Communion is not just a sign of our fellowship together; it is that gift by which Christ Himself makes us one with Him and binds Himself to us with His own divine flesh and blood. 

This is a fellowship that our Lord would have us honor and defend. And, therefore, I cannot impress upon you strongly enough that thethreats and dangers that we face are very real and potentially quite harmful.  We must understand that, as the time grows short, the temptation to find fault with others will increase, the scheming to inflict harm upon others, the sins of omission in failing to protect and support those who are part of your very own flesh and blood in Christ.  All this is nothing less than the work of Satan himself, who is a murderer and a liar from the beginning. 

You, however, have been called upon to encourage one another, to pray for each other, to look for opportunities to speak to each other in words that are formed by the indwelling of Holy Spirit in your hearts.  And it is a practice that begins in your own home, in your workplace, and in the surroundings in which you find yourselves in before you even step foot into this sanctuary.  To speak kindly, respectfully, and lovingly to your family, friends, and coworkers; with the understanding that the devil is intent on undermining a Christian home as well. 

Hold one another to this higher standard.  Remember, that when you speak to your brothers and sisters, especially when they are those who are closest to you, the truth is that you are speaking with those in whom Christ dwells—and choose your words and weigh your attitudes and emotions accordingly. 

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God,” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).  

This congregation has been richly blessed by the grace of God.  We have so much for which we can be thankful.  As we sang together, “Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.” And that will continue to be the case as long as we keep our focus on our Savior, Jesus Christ.  And, God-willing, this congregation will be one which always will provide a safe haven for those who are members of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

© Good Shepherd Lutheran Church - 2016    
3234 Mishicot Road  Two Rivers, WI 54241  920-793-1716
www.goodshepherdlcms.com