Creedal Christianity is Hopeful
About every 10 years there is a song about how bad, complicated, or sad things are now and longs for the past. You know them: 1976, Ann Murray's "A Little Good News Today." 1986, The Judd's "Grandpa (Tell Me About the Good Ole Days)". 2004, Tim McGraw's, "Back When". 2007, Bucky Covington's "A Different World." We think in times past there was hope, but not now. We think this despite Ecc. 7:10's clear statement: "Do not say, Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." Creedal Christianity doesn't; it's hopeful today
Well, just a second. Creedal Christianity is hopeless about men and what they do. Our hope is not in medicine, military, government, politics, tech, or space. I say that but of course, I don't mean it. My hope was in the reelection of Donald Trump. I've done this before: I staked my hope in Pro-Life senatorial candidate, Woody Jenkins, in 1996. He lost an election he was favored to win amidst accusations of voter fraud. Then after I left Louisiana, David Vitter, an even more outspoken Pro-Life candidate won. Two-years later he was caught in the Washington, D.C. prostitution scandal. To paraphrase Peter Seeger, "When will I ever learn?"
When will I learn that when I say, "without any merit or worthiness in me", I don't mean just me but everyone? I'm not the only "lost and condemned person", but every single person is sold to sin, to death, and to the power of the devil. Rom. 3 couldn't be plainer: "There is no one righteous not even oneThere is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one." How vile we all must be for God to say, "Their throats are open graves. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their feet are swift to shed blood. There is no fear of God before their eyes." No wonder Paul concludes: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
I persist in hoping in men even though it's not only me but everyone who can't by their own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ as Lord or even take a step in His direction. The technology we're so enamored with that delivers us instant gratification repeatedly also enables more ways for men to kill each other. The medicine we hope in to relieve this or fix that has developed more efficient and "safer" ways to kill babies in the womb and it enables women to become "men" and men to "nurse." Ps. 33:17 says, "A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength." Horses and chariots were the technology of that day. Listen to what Isaiah says, "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in their abundance of chariots and in their multitude of horsemen" (31:1). Contrast this with Ps. 146:5, "Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God." Yet, no man can even take a step in that direction. So fallen, so base, so turned in on self are we.
In Psalms 42 and 43 the psalmist comes to this point 3 times: "Why are you so depressed, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Hope in God." Creedal Christianity is hopeless about men and what they can do, but hopes in God. We believe in God the Father almighty Maker of heaven and earth. The Lutheran pastor I listened to last Sunday quoted Annie Dillard, a self-described "spiritually promiscuous" author () saying if we really believed we were invoking the Maker of heaven and earth we'd want crash helmets, signal flares, and ropes to lash us to the pew as we came into His presence (www.youtube.com/ watch?v=x555Cyw5ttY) . She is wrong about where she says the power is unveiled but right about it being here. Isaac Asimov said, "There's enough energy in 10 minutes of one hurricane to match the nuclear stockpiles of the world" (Bk of Facts, 106).
That's a scary amount of power, but we don't confess to believe in raw power, a blinding light that so many think is comforting, but in a "Father" who does "all this only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy." I could jump right to the Second Article because while God is the Father of all humanity, His goodness and mercy are only known to those who have His Son as their Brother. But let's not pass by that the First Article gift is not merely creation but "and still takes care of them" and "He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil." Find a time, place, danger, or evil that God fails to provide for or protect from.
But Creedal Christians don't stay long at the First Article. Luther said when confessing we start with the Most High God, but when teaching we start with Christ's human nature (Peter's, Creed, 174). Our faith starts in the First but lives in the Second Article. The One begotten from the Father from eternity and born of the Virgin Mary in time "is my Lord." Read the Large Catechism. See how Luther goes off on Jesus being our Lord. He dwells on what it means to have God on earth, in our flesh and blood, as our Lord, who shows Himself our Redeemer, Purchaser, and Winner.
Here we come to another all'. He's redeemed, purchased, and won you from "all sins." And if from sins then from death because sin brought death into the world. Remove sins and death is defeated and since death is the Devil's trump card, remove death and the Devil folds. But Creedal Christians focus not just on the ends but the means. Two things are needed to be delivered from the unholy three: An innocent life lived in our place Jesus' blood remained holy and precious. He didn't pollute it with sinful deeds, evil words, or lustful thoughts. His life remained innocent but He suffered and died as all lost and condemned persons should and will.
The purpose of this? So that you might live in hope. O I know it doesn't say that, but doesn't one who lives under Him in His kingdom in a perpetual state of being righteous, innocent, and blessed before Him live in hope? If God doesn't see your sins but Jesus' righteousness; if the Father doesn't see your guilts but Jesus' innocence; if the Almighty doesn't see your cursedness but Jesus' blessedness, aren't you hopeful? As the resurrected Jesus lived free from sin's payment, from Death stalking Him and from the Devil hounding Him, so you get to live. Surely anyone living and reigning to all eternity lives in hope.
How does one get this hopefulness? By choosing hope over despair? By listing all the reasons you can and should be hopeful? Nope, by the Spirit giving it to us. As the person who makes themselves suffer is a masochist not a sufferer, so the person who makes themselves believe is dupe not a believer. So, the person who makes themselves hope is an Annie, a Pollyanna, a Guy Smiley, not a hoper. Even as believers are not born but reborn, so those who hope are. Creedal Christians cast off all hope on self, on others, on institutions, and look to the God who Created them and Redeemed them to give them hope. By the Gospel, He calls you to hope, gives you hope, and keeps you in hope. He does this "in this Christian Church". How? By daily and richly forgiving all my sins and the sins of all believers.
Being hopeless in the face of God's creating and redeeming you is sinful. I forgive you in Jesus' name and the Spirit assures you that God has not only forgiven it but forgotten that you were ever hopeless. Rather than seeing hope as something you have to keep burning, see the Spirit as continually giving hope to you. How? In your Baptism hope washes over you. In Absolution hopelessness is sent away from you. In Communion, hopefulness is eaten and drank by you in the Body and Blood of Jesus.
In these hope is given but where does our hope come from? The Passion. There you see what true hopelessness looks like. Ask yourself: why would God the Father put His Son through this and why would God the Son do it? Then see how you and I spit, crucify anew, and reject what Jesus does when we're hopeless, when our soul is cast down within us, and when with the Psalmist our souls "refuse to be comforted" (77:2). At times like this, it would seem the answer is the empty tomb, on an upbeat tune like "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less", but remember that song sings of Jesus' blood and righteousness and that leads us to the Passion at a dead run.
Run with me to see how hopeless God the Holy Son became. He, though guilty of nothing wrong, was rejected by the church. He was rejected by the OT church because although the Spirit does everything to keep us in the Christian Church, we wander and stray. Jesus was put on trial before the church shamed, beaten, tried, and convicted wrongly because we rightly could be, should be. Now then, the Father having given Him over to this and the Son accepting this in your place, do you think either One wants you hopeless about your life in the church, wondering if your sins are really forgiven, your death really died, and your devils really defeated?
There's more. You see Jesus betrayed by friends. That hurts. That dashes hope as few other things can. We can be betrayed by friends. And should sinners be surprised when other sinners betray them? Jesus didn't deserve to be betrayed but was painfully and pointedly. He was betrayed to pay for our sins, so God the Father would, could never betray us, so God the Son could be the Friend who sticks closer than a brother (Pv. 18:24). You know hopelessness. I want you to feel that weight, but multiply it. Increase the weight as if you did not have God as your Father, Jesus as your Brother, and the Spirit as your Hope. Think of yourself as cast off for your sins of betraying Jesus, of beating Jesus, of deserting Jesus, of killing Jesus, but then Jesus looks at you as He did Peter. His look recalls you to the fact that He endured your hopelessness, so not sin, not death, not devil have a right, a claim, let alone the ability to take away your hope.
So much so is hope yours that the Bible calls you "prisoners of hope" (Zech. 9:12). Not prisoners of Sin, Death, or Devil, but of Hope. No, wonder Creedal Christianity is hopeful. We're not just surrounded by it; we're imprisoned by it. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek 3 (20210321); Passion Reading 3, Second Chief Part