It may seem hard to believe, but in the month of May eight years ago I officially accepted the call to be pastor at Good Shepherd. Time goes by quickly and it may not seem that long, but to put things in some perspective, consider this: When I arrived at Good Shepherd, Becky Peterson was coming forward and sitting here in the chancel for Children’s Catechesis.
When I had received the call and began to learn about Good Shepherd, it quickly became apparent that Pastor Schmidt had already put in place many things that I could build upon. He had already done the hard work, and so I could just take up where he had left off. So, for example, I was thrilled to learn that every Sunday celebration of the Sacrament was already a well established practice. Unlike my previous parish, I wouldn’t have do all the work of teaching and then implementing this. It was already there and was part of the piety of this congregation.
Another example of this was Learn by Heart. I was excited to find that Pastor Schmidt had established the expectation that in addition to the typical catechetical time with the seventh and eighth graders, there was a half hour session when the catechumens and their parents met together in church for a catechetical service that involved weekly speaking of the Catechism and instruction. This involvement of parents was a tremendous idea and it reinforced the truth that at the end of the day, the most powerful force for the formation of children in the faith are their parents.
My arrival at Good Shepherd coincided with the publication of a new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book. Once we had purchased the hymnal and had begun using it, I learned from other pastors that it contained a wonderful resource. The “Service of Prayer and Preaching” in the hymnal had been created as a brief catechetical service. It was perfect for what we do in Learn by Heart and for a number of years now it has been what we use there, and also in the Catechumenate with adults.
During the last nine months, those youth and children who have been preparing for today’s First Communion have been attending Learn by Heart with their parents and have been using this service. The Old Testament lesson is a great fit for today, because this text serves as the Old Testament Canticle at the beginning of that order of service – that’s what the children sang a little while ago. As they prepared to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, they have been singing Isaiah chapter 12. And on the day when they will receive the Sacrament for the first time, this text serve as the Old Testament lesson for the day.
Our text this morning breaks forth in praise of God. It calls upon God’s people to join in praising Yahweh because he has saved his people. Yet while our text is marked by a tone of joy, the first verse acknowledges that this had not been the case in the past. We hear, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.’”
God had been angry with his people. This statement calls to mind the very first verses of the book of Isaiah. There the prophet wrote: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’ Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”
Now it wasn’t that God’s people had ceased to worship God. They were still offering sacrifices as the Torah instructed. But while they were doing the things the Torah instructed about worship, they weren’t actually keeping the Torah in faith and Yahweh called them on it. Isaiah wrote, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”
Yahweh called the people to repentance. He told them to turn away from the behaviors that violated his Torah. He said, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
Isaiah’s words confront us and call us to repentance as well. They warn us against just going through the motions. They alert us to the fact that we cannot take the Gospel and Christ’s Means of Grace for granted. This is a message that is important for today, a day when these seven young people begin receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. It is a reminder that through the work of the Spirit the Gospel moves us to live in ways that imitate Jesus Christ. As I have said many times, this not how the Christian life works: “I like to sin, and God likes to forgive.”
Instead, the Gospel calls us to a life of struggle against sin. Through baptism you were born again of water and Spirit. In Christ you are a new creation - you are the new man. But as we wait for our Lord’s return, you are also still old man. You are attacked by the devil, the world and your own sinful nature. And so you face difficult decisions. Do you respond with angry words, or do you forgive? Do you do things in the way of the world and have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or do you wait to share in God’s gift with your husband or wife? Do you join in sharing the gossip that tears down your neighbor, or do you speak in ways that build your neighbor up?
Israel failed to be God’s people in truly spectacular ways and it brought God’s judgment upon them as they were conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. and taken into exile. Your failures often may not seem as dramatic but as sin against the Holy One of Israel they have the ability to take you into exile – exile from fellowship with God and his people. Your sins are sins against God and if things were left there you would have no hope.
However, hope is something that is not in short supply in our text this morning. We hear, “You will say in that day:
‘I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’”
Isaiah speaks of a day that is coming – a day when God’s saving comfort would be revealed. And Isaiah doesn’t mention this only once. In fact he comes right back and says a second time, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.’”
Isaiah speaks of “a day.” But what day is this? Well, Isaiah has just said in the previous chapter: “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” The root of Jesse – the Messiah would bring the restoration of God’s people. Isaiah says about him in chapter eleven, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
The root of Jesse appeared when Jesus the Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary in the house of Joseph, the son of David. The Spirit of the Lord came to rest upon him at his baptism in the Jordan as he was designated as the Servant of the Lord. And then, though he was high and lifted up as true God, he humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities as the suffering Servant. He did this to win forgiveness for us. He did this to take away our sin and allow us once again to have fellowship with the Holy One of Israel.
And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. God the Father did not allow his Holy One to see corruption, but instead he defeated death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and gave him a transformed body by which he began the resurrection of the Last Day – by which he began your resurrection.
Because God has done this in Christ you know that when there are failures in the struggle against sin, you can return to God in repentance. You can return to the God who comforts you with forgiveness. In our text Isaiah says, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.’”
You can do this because “that day’ to which Isaiah refers is now. In Christ it is today. The apostle Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” In the death and resurrection of Jesus all has been accomplished for your forgiveness and salvation. All the promises of God find their “Yes!” in him.
And so we draw water from the wells of salvation. You return to your baptism for there you were washed and made clean. There you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of your God. You return in faith to the forgiveness God has given to you.
But that’s not all. In the previous chapter Isaiah wrote, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples, of him shall he nations inquire.” Isaiah had just described what this root of Jesse would bring. He says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” The prophet describes how the Messiah will bring the renewal of creation itself – the new creation.
That day – the Last Day – has not arrived yet. We live in the now of the day of salvation, and at the same time we experience the not yet of waiting for the final day of salvation. We wait. But we do not wait with nothing to sustain us.
Later in the book when Isaiah speaks about the final salvation and the defeat of death he describes that salvation as a feast. He writes, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”
In the Sacrament of the Altar our Lord gives us a foretaste of that feast. He gives us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Those who partake of this meal are assured that they will take part in that great feast on the Last Day.
Today, some of our young people receive this foretaste for the first time. They receive it for the first time and they begin to be fed with food for the new man as they look for our Lord’s return in glory. With them, we again receive the true body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us. We do not know how many more times we will receive this Sacrament. But because we do today, we know that on the Last Day we will join with all the saints in the words at the end of our text: “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”