Una Sancta

Text: Acts 1:12-26; 1 Peter 4:12—5:11; John 17:1-11
Date: Easter VII + 6/5/11

The first time there was a Seventh Sunday after Easter the disciples were quietly waiting to see what would happen next. It was, after all, only six short weeks ago that the most tragic and horrific thing they had ever seen in their lives had been completely reversed as with an earthquake. For their Lord who had been cruelly treated and murdered, whom they themselves had shamefully denied and abandoned, suddenly appeared alive, first to the women at the cemetery, then behind closed doors, then on a road to Emmaus and a number of other times, appearing, then disappearing, then appearing again and disappearing as quickly. Then, just this past Thursday, the fortieth day since Easter, He appeared one more time. But this time He did not just vanish from their sight, but was lifted up into the air, going up until a cloud hid Him from their eyes. Our Lord ascended into heaven, to the right hand of the Majesty on high, there to rule and reign as King of the Universe forever.

But now…. He said, “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). So here they stayed. They waited for three days (today), then seven, then nine days and…nothing; nothing yet. They were expecting this “power from on high” which they understood to be “the promise of my Father,” namely, the Holy Spirit. How would they know when the Spirit had come upon them? So this is that darker, silent Sunday, between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, a time of waiting and wondering.

There they were, in the upper room. Luke takes inventory: there was Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas (who by now had learned not to go wondering off by himself lest he miss something more), Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James—(seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven…) all with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. So now what?

We have a hard time waiting. So sometimes we take matters into our own hands and get busy doing something. I always thought St. Peter’s idea of having a voters meeting in order to fill the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot was a bit presumptive and even contradicted to some extent by Jesus’ later appointment of Saul of Tarsus to that position. If they would have waited, God would see to it that there were once again twelve apostles. But what do we see all around but the super-abundant blessing of God. God led them to choose Matthias as the bone fide twelfth apostle. And then God chose Saul in addition anyway! As Sunday, the first day of the week, has, by the power of Christ’s resurrection, become also the eighth day of the week, the eternal day, one more day than we had before, and as many are ushered into this new, “abundant” life through water drawn from an eight-sided baptismal font to “more life than we had before,” so now there are thirteen apostles! Twelve like the old tribes of Israel plus one more. So also when our Lord returns to settle us in the new heavens and earth of eternity, it will be like Eden of old, but even better. We will not only be subjects of the King but will also reign with Him.

So to this day God is still blessing and adding to and multiplying His people. What a great day to have scheduled the Rite of Farewell and Godspeed to a Candidate for Ordination into the Apostolic Ministry of the Church, son of Incarnate Word congregation, David D. Herald! It is a great day, first, because of the coincidence of the readings appointed for this day all having something to do with the ordained ministry. Besides the call meeting of the first reading, the part from St. Peter’s first epistle is addressed specifically to “the elders (or pastors) among you.” The section that was left out of our reading is one heard at every ordination and installation of a pastor:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-5).

And then, of course, the Gospel reading with the first part of what has been called our Lord’s “High Priestly Prayer.”

David has made this a particularly enjoyable event for me, secondly, as, in addition to this day of Godspeed and Farewell, he has invited me also to be the preacher at his service of ordination and installation at Trinity Lutheran Church, Appleton City, Missouri on Sunday, July 31! So you’d think I’d be entertaining the double opportunity to lay on some sort of experienced if not sanctified advice after some 32 years of my own “shepherding, overseeing, not under compulsion, willing, not for shameful gain, eager, not domineering example to the flocks” to which I have been called and served. Yet I find myself to be more like the Seventh-Sunday apostles, waiting and wondering, not at all sure of what we ought to be doing today…if anything, besides just waiting.

Well, the one thing, the only thing I do know for certain to do today, and on July 31, and any Sunday for that matter is, as St. Paul urged young Timothy, “preach the word…ready in season and out of season…with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). And the word that stands out in today’s readings is the word “glory.” Peter repeats the word six times and Jesus six times. As Peter uses the word, in each case “glory” refers to the pure, sinless essence of God. It is the heaven and resurrection for which we wait “when Christ’s glory is revealed” and we “receive the unfading crown of glory.” It is the wonderful, liberating forgiveness of sins that is “the Spirit of glory and of God that rests upon you.” It is the glory of giving thanks to God for His grace.

When Jesus prays the Father to “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,” He is preparing Himself for His chief work of glory, namely, the bringing about of the forgiveness and taking away of the sins of the world by bearing them all in His body on the cross. “In the cross of Christ I glory.” Also it is the glory He had with the Father before the world existed, that is, His pure, divine nature that gave Him the power to die for the sins of the world and yet to rise from death as victorious Lord of life.

As the Lord commanded the first disciples to stay in the city until they were clothed with power from on high, so those presented, after preparation and certification by the Church to serve in the apostolic ministry, are to be set apart by prayer and the apostolic tradition of the laying on of hands by those in the ministry before them. Serving in the gospel ministry is a glorious vocation; it is to aspire to a “noble task” as St. Paul said to Timothy (1 Tim 3:1). Yet it is not to be confused with a “theology of glory” as Martin Luther put it. The same can be said of the preaching of the gospel by the gospel ministers. For a “theology of glory” is to confuse Law and Gospel and to try “to bring Christ down” from heaven or “up from the dead” (Rom 10:6-8). Rather, we say with the apostle Paul, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). This is the glory of God that saves sinners, that brings about repentance of sin, that gives the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

The glory of God is and will be always, dear brother David, as the word of the Gospel lodges, finds its home in the hearts of those to whom you are sent to preach and to speak. And that is the work of God the Holy Spirit alone, and not of your own winsomeness or influence. In fact, it will quite often be especially in spite of your ineffectiveness or failure, hence St. Peter’s words of warning of suffering. In fact, I have always been convinced that St. Paul’s words, where he says to Timothy, “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6) is the “gift” specifically of suffering, that is, the ability to “put up with” more opposition or conflict than the average Christian for the sake of the truth of the gospel. Unlike our Seventh-Sunday-waiting apostles, however, who would have visible and audible signs of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, the work of the Spirit through your preaching will be evidenced only in the miracle of a person’s confession of faith.

Our Lord prayed for the outward unity of His Church, “that they may be one” reflecting the perfect unity of the Triune God we serve. In the creed, because it cannot always be seen, we confess our faith, “we believe in one, holy Church,” in Latin, Una Sancta. It is the gospel of forgiveness that makes us one, that makes sinners “delight in [God’s] will…to the glory of [His] holy name.” The gospel begins and ends in glory. At Christmas the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest,” and on the Last Day our Lord “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” Beginning already now the Christian Church joins the eternal song of heaven with angels and archangels, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” In God’s word our own eyes have seen the salvation of God: a light to reveal Him to the nations and the glory of His people Israel. May God’s glory be in our preaching and our believing now and ever.

O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy Church that it might be again
The bringer of good news to men,
Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,
That in these gray and latter days
There may be those whose life is praise,
Each life a high doxology
To Father, Son, and unto Thee. [LSB 834:4]