Call service, 28.5.2011 Christ Lutheran church, St Catharines, Ontario Rev. Juhana Pohjola
Leaving a legacy! Yes, Christ has gathered his disciples into the upper room. It is farewell time. I’m leaving the world and going to the Father. This is the final session together. They have travelled a long time together. Now the hour has come. It is time for Jesus to leave his legacy to his disciples and then walk alone the path from Gethsemane.
And what is the legacy that Christi is leaving to his disciples and to his church? He is leaving them, he is leaving you three promises.
The first one is his name. Truly I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. What was the greatest gift that Moses received and through him the people of Israe? Was it the law, the 10 commandments, the collection of rules that we can read about it the second Book of Moses? No. What was it, then? If I come to the people of Israel and say to them: The God of your Fathers has sent me to you’ and they ask me, What is his name? What shall I say to them? Yes, Moses received the name of God. The name which guaranteed access to God, not only access but a gracious access! The holy name of God was the great gift for his people. They were taken under his name. The holy name dwelled among them in the tabernacle. And that is why the second commandment deals with the Holy Name: we should not profane it.
What is the greatest gift that Christ is giving to the pillars of the New Testament people, not to the twelve tribes but to the twelve apostles? His name. And he adds a promise to his name: whatever you ask in my name, he will give it to you. Does this not sound like a golden heavenly credit card given at your disposal?! Like something too good to be true. But Christ really means what he is saying. This is not any cheap pre-election promise. No he stands behind this promise also today.
What would you then ask in his name? Think big here. Not only good health, a bigger house, a permanent job and all the good things we ask for in the petition for daily bread! What was the biggest thing Moses could come up with? Do you remember what he asked God! Show me your Glory! Moses asked to see God! To have unhindered, open access to God’s holy presence! To see God, that is beyond our comprehension, but it is what heaven is all about! Moses got the answer: You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live!
From this perspective it is amazing to hear what Jesus says to Philip in the upper room: Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father! Whoever has Jesus, has unlimited access to God’s gracious presence, And whoever has Jesus name has Jesus himself. And whoever has Jesus has the Holy Spirit who makes the name known to us through the word. When Christ gives his name to the disciples, it is not a sign that he is abandoning them, that his name is to remind them that he once was with then. No! The given name is a reality that guarantees to the disciples that he is with them to the end of the age!
His promise was not only for the apostles but also for you. You have received his name. You were taken under his name’s protection when the pastor took water and said: I baptize you in the name... What a joy, what a privilege it is for you say boldly today to God : I have the holy name: You are my Father, I’m your child! I belong to you! And what does this mean for a called and soon to be ordained servant of Christ? It means: I’m not dependent on my name, my strength, my wisdom but it is for me to bring his holy name, God gracious presence to those who by nature have no access to God’s holy presence. In his name forgive sins, in his name baptize, in his name consecrate the life giving bread and wine, in his name pray for God people!
This is his legacy! What about the two other promises? What more can you still ask if you have received God himself in his name! Jesus says that two things necessarily come out it.
The second part of the legacy is the cross. In the world you will have tribulation. Jesus does not say you might have some hard times, it is possible that you might face persecution. No. It is a given fact. And this means not only the hardship of life. This is tribulation because of his name. We must take our cross. Why? Because the world does not recognize Christ’s name. The world opposes and your flesh fights against his name. Are you prepared for tribulations as a Christian? Or do these words of Jesus apply to you: You will be scattered and will leave me alone? What is the point when you are done with Jesus? I’m not asking what is the point when you stop paying tax-deductable donations for the church? I’m asking you when it gets too costly for you to confess his name in word and deed? When do you keep quiet although you know you should speak up? When do you step on the sunny side of the majority, when you know you should defend the biblical truth and be in a minority? Don’t think that pastors are free from this temptation. How often we are more interested in our good name than Christ’s name. How often we are more concerned that people like us than that they hear what God has to say to them in his word. How often it is more important for us to be successful in the eyes of men than to be faithful in the eyes of God. Tribulations. This is a part of Christ’s legacy that we do not need to go looking for, but at the same time we cannot escape and avoid them in this world.
But did you hear what goes together with tribulations? I have said these things that in me you may have peace! This is the third promise. Peace in him. Dr Luther tells about a man in Wittenberg who fell down from the roof. Miraculously he did not hurt himself. When he was back on his feet, he said: Now I know that God loves me! Yes this is the natural wisdom of you and me. When life goes smoothly, when business is running well, the kids are getting good grades at school, the grandparents are in good health, your favourite team is winning, and even your neighbour’s dog is not barking at you! Then you have peace, then you can say: Yes, after all somebody up there seems to like me! It is good to be grateful to God for his protection and for all the gifts that he gives us. But this is not the peace Christ is talking about. This is the peace that the world can give. The peace of this world consists in happy days, healthy days, peaceful days. No sorrows, no distress, no pain, no cross. This is peace according to our understanding, but his peace passes all our understanding. His peace you can see at the deathbed of a Christian, who is scared by his ruined body but at the same time also comforted by the everlasting word. It is the peace that you see when you meet a Christian who has lost his job and the future looks gloomy, but you can hear the silent words of hope: But I still have you, dear Jesus! The peace Christ gives is not only a happy face and calm heart, but also assurance of his love and of his gracious presence in the midst of tears and a broken heart. It is the peace that can say: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me! His legacy is not peace before or after the tribulations but peace in the midst of the tribulations. And that is why you can say even with a broken leg and arm, I know that God loves me because he has given me his saving name. His saving name, his sacramental presence in his name is our peace also in tribulations!
His name, his cross, his peace. This is the legacy. But only during our earthly journey. At the moment his name, his presence is hidden under lowly earthly forms, his cross feels sometimes heavy to carry and the peace of our heart is often challenged. But our true inheritance is waiting us in glory. My question to you as a Christians, as students prepared for vicarage and as a called servant to be ordained to the office of the Holy Ministry: Is Christ’s legacy enough for you or is it too much or too little?
Maybe it is common here also but I know that it is common in Finland to say, that to all other places the devil sends his assistants but when the election of a pastor or the reading of the will of the deceased takes place, then the devil himself comes in person. When the question is about Christ’s legacy, then then the devil will be there. Christ’s testament, his will, his word is challenged again and again in this world, in your life, in your journey, in your ministry.
That is I want leave you with the words that I saw when I was walking along Church Street in St Catharines and passed City Hall. There I found these Latin words written. They were new to me but are familiar to you: A Mari usque ad Mare (From Sea to Sea). As Psalm 72:8 says: May he have dominion from sea to sea. Do you hear? Not the devil, not tribulations, not even yourself but He, Christ, has dominion in your life from the waters of your baptism through all the storms of your life till the end, when there is a new heaven and new earth and the sea is no more. From sea to sea under his name. Not only across Canada. But all the way home. This is your legacy in Christ, he is your true inheritance!