Our Light, Our Shield, Our Peace

Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
Date: Proper 7A – Pentecost II + 6/22/14

The season of the Time of the Church, these green Sundays after Pentecost, picks us up today with proper 7 and then throws us right into the struggle of living the faith in the Church Militant. The title “Church Militant” refers to what we’re going through right now, living by faith and not by sight, living, as Luther put it in his famous hymn, “though devils all the world should fill.” We are encouraged in our struggle, however, by our unity with the Church Triumphant, those saints who have gone before us, we therefore being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” as the letter to the Hebrews says it, cheering us on as it were to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). In the Church Militant we live by faith on the promises of God still in the midst of a world not only separated from God by sin but actively at enmity with and antagonistic toward God their enemy and aimed at those who claim to believe and represent God, aimed at us. As St. Paul says today, the world and those who belong to it let sin “reign” in their mortal bodies, to make them obey their passions (Rom 6:12). The world of unbelief does not understand that “the wages of sin is death,” and does not believe or know that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). The world doesn’t think of sin but that death is just a normal part of life and that “eternal life” or salvation is had not as a free gift but as something you must earn by your good works.

Because of this the Hymn of the Day is from that section of the hymnal called “The Church Militant.” Right next to the great Reformation hymns “A Mighty Fortress” and “Preserve Your Word, O Savior,” the hymn “Lord of Our Life” is a prayer for God to preserve us among the foes of God and the great spite and fiery darts of their animosity toward us, toward Christ’s Church. Think of all the raging protests of the so-called atheists these days taking offense at every public expression not only of the Christian faith but even of all Judeo-Christian expressions. Think of the many mainline Christian denominations that are giving in to the world’s demands of abortion or same-sex marriage and the like. And lest you think the words of this hymn are only poetic hyperbole, in today’s world the ancient religious war with Islam once again is on the march slaughtering Christians in its wake. It is of greatest importance that our government should wake up, see and admit that in Syria and Iraq this is a religious war, and that not every so-called “religion” necessarily ought to be protected by our Constitution if it breeds hatred, murder and true social unrest.

The prophet Jeremiah, called by God the “iron” prophet (Jer 1:18), called often by us the “weeping” prophet (Jer 9:1) and according to today’s reading we could even call him the “angry” prophet (Jer 20:7-10) is the classic example of living faithfully to God amid a people who have turned against God.

Even in today’s Gospel we hear our Lord’s warning to His disciples of the rejection of unbelief they will encounter, even to the point of death. “Brother will deliver brother over to death,” He says. Hatred and persecution must not be unexpected but must be fearlessly endured. “Have no fear of them…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…fear not, therefore.”

Jesus assures us today of the Father’s love and care for us. Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from our Father’s knowledge. You are of more value than many sparrows. God knows you. “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (which in my case, of course, is a matter of simple math). “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

How do we, how can we acknowledge the truth, profess Jesus before the unbelieving, antagonistic world? Not by our own power, but by the power of faith enlightened and emboldened by the Word and Spirit of God. We sing and pray today, “Lord, be our light when worldly darkness veils us.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” More than that, He is the God who brought light into existence in the first place. As the sun gives light and our eyes are enabled thereby to see things as they really are, so the light of Christ enables us to see however dimly our true need and God’s promise and purpose for us even “when worldly darkness veils us,” the darkness of sin and unbelief, doubt and death all around.

We acknowledge the truth and profess faith in Jesus also as “our shield” especially “when earthly armor fails us.” ‘Problem is that we rely on earthly armor, our good intentions, our good works until we encounter opposition in spite of our goodness. Fortunately we have God’s promise that He shields his own from harm, from failure. We confess in our Lutheran Confessions, God’s foreknowledge of the wicked will of the devil and of men means “a limit and measure is fixed by God to the evil which God does not will, how far it should go, and how long it should last, when and how He will hinder and punish it.”[1] Oh, we may even succumb to rejection and death. But that does not mean God has failed us for, in Christ, He has conquered even the power of death.

The hymn goes further, “And in the day when hell itself assails us….” When is the last time hell itself assailed you? tried to make you despair? tried to convince you that you are unworthy, unfaithful, unholy, everything God condemns? In the midst of all those attacks we have Christ’s resurrection promise, “Peace be with you.” So the hymn therefore has us pray, “Grant us Your peace, Lord.”

What is this peace? “Peace in our hearts, where sinful thoughts are raging.” This peace calms hearts with the promise of the forgiveness of all our sins. This peace enables us to sing as in another hymn, “Satan I defy thee; Death, I now decry thee; Fear, I bid thee cease” (LSB 743:3). “Do not fear!”

“Peace in Your Church, our troubled souls assuaging.” How much conflict there always is in the Church Militant! Still, the peace of Christ reigns in the unending supply of forgiveness, patience, kindness and goodness.

“Peace when the world its endless war is waging” because we have the eternal promise of “Peace in Your heaven.”

That’s always the last word for all of us. Peace. Peace in the forgiveness of a lifetime of sin. Peace in the faith we have held onto in the risen Christ. The peace of our existence beyond this world, beyond understanding. The peace of the Lord be with you always. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon and give you…peace!

[1] Formula of Concord, Thor. Decl. XI. Of God’s Eternal Election, Triglotta p. 1065.