25. März 2018 | Palmarum | Kirche St. Johannis Belville, Kapstadt/Südafrika

“We are liberated by the grace of God”

22. März 2018 von Gerhard Ulrich

Predigt im Gottesdienst anlässlich der Konsultation durch eine Delegation der Nordkirche bei der Cape-Orange-Diocese (COD) der Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA)

Isaiah 50, 4-9 / Psalm 8

Grace be with you and peace from our father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear sisters and brothers!

What a story did we hear this morning! What a gospel!

We are invited to stay at the street, seeing Jesus is coming to Jerusalem. Here in South Africa and in Germany, where we are from and all over the world:

We are living in different cultures, are talking in different languages, living far away from each other. But when we hear the gospel; when we sing the hymns; when we pray and come together at the table of our Lord we experience: we are united, we are one in Christ. We are not alone, we have a powerful voice in the world, praising, rejoicing: Hosanna!

Jesus is coming to Jerusalem. There is a feast in Jerusalem. Because the king is coming! Everything will turn to be good: don’t be afraid!

People dance, sing, clap hands – like you are doing here in this service: you are praying, singing, listening with body and soul, more than we do in Germany. But here and in Jerusalem: people get out of control when they rejoice: Hosanna the king of kings! And they take off there cloths and take palms to welcome the Lord, riding on a monkey!

Yes: Jesus is welcomed in Jerusalem like a king: Hosanna to the king of kings.

That reminds me on an old prayer, written down in the holy Bible, the Psalm No 8, a rejoicing hymn, a special expression of the hosanna:

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;

The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

This Lord is coming to Jerusalem. This Lord is in Jerusalem to be consequent in his love. We know: his way takes the direction to the cross! Those, who rejoice “hosanna” in the morning will cry out: “crucify him” in the evening!

And what are we to do as people in faith? Who are we as church in the world? What is our mission? What is our foundation, which we can stand safe on and built the house of life and faith?

People experienced in Jesus Christ, who they are themselves. The dignity of every one became clear and trustable. When Jesus told the fishermen, the weak and the sinners to be his disciples: they suddenly understood: God wants us to be his children, beloved and respected! Black, white, colored. Without any performance or achievement. Just we are wanted and meant. Jesus is coming, who teared down the fences between people near and far away!

That is why they welcome Jesus like a king in Jerusalem.

Every person needs the experience of being accepted. Everyone strives for praise and approval, yet over and over again we experience failure or inferiority. So how are we accepted, how are we justified? We are justified by God’s grace alone. This is one of the theological insights Lutherans can offer to Christianity. God’s grace and mercy are free and unconditional gifts. God’s grace and mercy and his love are revealed in Jesus Christ – in his words, in his deeds, in his suffering and resurrection. That's what people felt when they met Jesus. That's what they felt when he arrived Jerusalem on Sunday Palmarum. That's why they ran to him. That's why they cheered and rejoiced. They experienced: God’s liberating  mercy and grace shine through him.

This insight had been long forgotten in the church. Martin Luther gave it back to us again.

When he read in the Bible, he found out: It is God in Jesus Christ who comes near to us. It is not me who can come near to God. He is the active part in the relation to us all. He says “Yes” to each single person. He carries us into life. We don’t have to do things, we don’t have to do good works to be saved, but we are allowed celebrating that we are set free by Christ.

Therefore let me answer my opening question:

Who are we? We are the people liberated by mercy and grace! Whom are we belonging to? We are God’s people by whom we are liberated.

This is reason to marvel. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”

And then at once comes the surprising answer: “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet…”

This will keep being an ongoing mystery: God loves us, each one of us. Not because we are perfect beings; not because we did great things. No! God turns to us and calls us his children even though we are what we are: not perfect, but sinful beings. God loves us, even though we disobey his will.

Looking at the world with all its peacelessness, all this mercilessness with which we exploit creation, radically graceless - we must raise this question: did we misunderstand God’s mercy as a blank cheque to do, whatever we like?

To be free does not mean to do what we want. But it means to be free to feel responsible for the world and the neighbor, to be free to do God’s will!

Yes, we are only a little lower than God, but we are not God! People seem to forget again and again. Yes, we are images of God, but not cloned idols. We are not the rulers of the world. That is only God himself. We should acknowledge this and remind our neighbours, friends, partners, enimies. And then protect and preserve the world. God wants us as his co-workers. Co-workers who are acting according to His will. We forget what the ancient word ‘humbleness’ means. Mercy requires that we accept God being the almighty power.

Because God looks at me with love, I am what I am: a loved and valuable child.

III

I am a granddad by now. I have the privilege to watch three grandchildren grow, learn to crawl, speak and walk. It is amazing how they discover the world, how they show undisguised what they are thinking and feeling.

When our grandchildren are with us, we are able to see and feel the world anew. When those small arms wrap themselves around my neck, I am able to feel, how great and unmerited the love is that I receive. “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes” prays Psalm 8. And Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mk 10).

With my grandchildren I experience God’s mercy through those new life stories.

The love of children that I experience as a granddad is responding love, is the answer to a bright and shining face over the baby crib that promises peace. This is the ungrounded fulfillment of the Aaronite Peace: “The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Love only exists as responding love: Yes, through the love of parents shines the mercy of God with which he calls us all into life and makes us  free, to live and love.

There on the wall I can see the writing, remembering the 500 years jubilee an reformation and giving the headline of the Lutheran World Federation:

Salvation – Not for sale:

The experience of salvation, the gift of salvation first takes us to the cross! We are looking to the cross during this today beginning holy week. Those who rejoice: hosanna, cried out: crucify him! Because the one, the son of our God, shows up consequently that love does not mean: everything is good. He shows up the power of changing things. He refuses to do like the world does. Jesus, who comes to Jerusalem is the one who starts to stop the circle of violence as the prophet Isaiah says in Chapter 50: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced Therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”

He himself, Jesus himself shows the world his face like a flint: I know my Father’s will, he says!

And I am quite sure, that I am not able to do like him. I am not Jesus. I have not to be like him. Yes: we are made only a little lower than God. But we are not God. We do not have to bring salvation to the world; He is doing so: “He who vindicates me is near”, Isaiah says, “who will contend with me? Let us stand up together!”

Yes, dear sisters and brothers: let us stand up together.

Liberated by God’s grace we are freed to care for mankind and creation and we have to guard their integrity. God has called us to be citizens who love and care for their neighbours and creation. Mankind and creation cannot be regarded as commodities whose value can be measured in terms of profit. They are not for sale. As Christian citizens in the world we raise our voices against injustice and exploitation. We will speak out when the dignity of individuals or certain groups is violated.

We are not free to built new fences and new walls between people and countries. That would be like crying: crucify Him!

Unity does not mean no variety. But unity does mean to know that we are all God’s beloved children.

In the world we experience mercilessness without end. I am very much afflicted about the steadily and dramatically increasing number of refugees who have to leave their homes because they are scared to death, because they are persecuted and fear for their lives. What they are looking for, is nothing but grace, nothing but the Lord’s face shining upon them. They do not seek wealth or adventure. They run and flee to regain their dignity. But far too often those people have to encounter mercilessness - also in my home country Germany. We as churches have the power and the mission to welcome and to shelter the poor and the weak people.

I am glad to experience being together with you, that you live this gospel of mercy and grace here. You are joining hands to other people through the work you do day by day. Your witness is to stay together with others, in the factories, at the schools and wherever you live. I believe that the richness of the Lutheran Church here is openness. It is your openness and your wide horizon – given by God as a gift of his mercy and grace.

May God bless you and your witness! Let us walk together in his spirit. Together we are deeply involved in the worldwide message of the gospel and together we trust in God. So we have enough strength to live as Christians in our everyday life. And also, in the global horizon of the one world – borderless God’s good world.

Looking to Jesus on the way to his cross we do remark the crosses of the one world, we are living in. And looking to His cross we can be sure:

He who vindicates me is near!

Hosanna!

Amen.

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