Title: Witness, Mercy and Life together!
Text: John 17:14-17 (ESV)
14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan District's South and East Pastors' conference in Frankenmuth this past Tuesday. The main speaker for the conference was Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison the 13th President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. While our church here at Peace is relatively small, we are one of many partner congregations that make up the 2.3 million- members of our church body.
The focus and emphasis for the LCMS since President Harrison began his term as President is defined as Witness, Mercy and Life Together:
These phrases illustrate how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in Christ in our congregations, communities and throughout the world. And in all we do, Christ is at the center, leading us, sustaining us, keeping us focused on our mission. This will never change.
Today, I’d like to focus on the three parts Witness, Mercy and Life Together in the message for today beginning with the first …Witness.
The definition of witness says that it is: testimony of a fact or event, or it could be a person who testifies in a case or before a judicial court. Sometimes it might be someone who is asked to be present at a transaction, so as to be able to testify to its having taken place. Or it might be one who has personal knowledge of something. And finally it could be a public affirmation by word or example of usually religious faith or conviction such as the heroic witness to divine life.
From our first reading today in the book of Acts we read of the Apostles gathering together just after Christ’s ascension:
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts1:21-22)
To be the man chosen to replace Judas and take his place among the brothers had a list of qualification. He must have been one who had accompanied the other apostles during all the time Jesus went out among them in his ministry to the people. He had to have been with them from the time of Jesus’ baptism from John until he was taken up from them and ascended back into heaven and he must also be a witness to the resurrection so as to be able to testify to its having taken place.
This would be a person that God would use to proclaim the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done. This person would be a witness …an eye witness. He had to have been there and had to have seen Christ’s baptism, His ministry, His trial and betrayal and ultimately His crucifixion, death burial and resurrection. He didn’t just hear about it … he was there and saw it first hand with his own eyes as did the other disciples.
But what about you and all who weren’t there? How can you be a witness to the truths about Jesus if you didn’t, like Matthias and the other apostles, witness the resurrection first hand?
That is the blessing that you and I share. We have the witness of these eye witnesses to all that Jesus said and did when He was on the earth among them written for our benefit, edification and faith. Christ who ascended on high sent His Spirit to dwell among us and by this Spirit confirm that these accounts written for us are true and reliable. It is truly amazing that as time goes by more and more manuscripts become available, some in fragment form but the more they find the clarity of the witness for us becomes sharper in focus.
Becoming a witness with those who saw Jesus, walked with Him, saw His life, death and resurrection and wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit is something we can do because God has provided these first person accounts and by faith through his same Spirit we too can tell with confidence this story of a God who came to live, suffer, die and rise again just for you and me and for all who are far off who the Lord our God will call.
Witness, Mercy and Life together!
The second of our words from our mission focus is … Mercy.
It can be defined as compassion shown especially to an offender or compassionate treatment for example imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder. It also might be a blessing that is an act of divine favor or even a fortunate circumstance …it was a mercy they found her before she froze. Ultimately it is shown as compassionate treatment to those in distress as we see in works of mercy among the poor.
9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater …
11 And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John: 9a, 11-12)
The Mercy of God has come down. We who are deserving of death have this Good News of life in His Son through Christ’s resurrection. The apostle John connects this testimony of man written on scrolls by men with the testimony of God written on our hearts and the hearts of all who will receive God’s mercy in His name by this testimony. Whoever has the Son has life.
It becomes so very important that in bearing witness we bring this Good News that our God is a God of mercy. The even though we deserve death because the wages of sin brings death, God’s mercy in His Son covers all sin.
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3-4)
This newness of life is seen in the life of the believer bearing and bringing forth much fruit through acts of mercy. As we discussed a few weeks ago God is the vine and through His Son we are grafted into this vine of life to bring the newness of life we received in our baptisms to those who are in need. At times it is the witness to the reality of Christ and His work in the life of the believer. Other times it is the true mercy of service to God’s people here at peace, in our community and to the ends of the earth that need the compassion of Christians who bring Christ’s compassion to all they do in this life, not through works but through Mercy!
The third and last of the mission focus for our synod is Life Together!
11b keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one.
Life together, that they may be one even as we are one. This life together that we as a church share needs to be this message that we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, hold to one faith, one hope and one Lord while we wait for the blessed hope of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! (Titus 2:13)
Life together not with error but with truth; not with practice in worship styles … as the law of God … but with the same peace that Jesus brought to the upper room and the doubts that Thomas confessed that blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe. This life together becomes that Witness to the truth and the mercy that we share so that we have life together in Him … in the precious name of Jesus!
Witness, Mercy and Life together!
14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John17:14-19)
God in His mercy has sent His only begotten Son to die for you. He has given you faith by the Holy Spirit to Christ’s resurrection. He has sanctified you in the truth so that you live in Him and bring the mercy of Christ to others and He has given us life together in this place and in His name:
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)
Witness, Mercy and Life together!
As I left the pastor’s conference on Tuesday I was taken by the diverse men that God has called to proclaim the truth about himself to His people. Fat and tall, thin and small, young and seasoned in ministry or like me just starting a second career. God uses whom He chooses for His reasons but it is ultimately His truth, by the power of the holy Spirit, that convicts us through God’s law and brings us to repentance and also it is God’s truth, through that same Spirit, that comforts us in the blessed Good News that on account of Christ’s sacrifice we are forgiven! We thank God that by his Holy Spirit in us, He will see us to eternity, now and forever.