mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
From our Old
Testament lesson this day: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob,
whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I
took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast
you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am
your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you
with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:8-10)
and one-sixth years, as Royce pointed out to us yesterday after the
Divine Service. Almost a century. It’s a good, long time
on this earth for anyone. I think reaching such an age speaks
volumes about how God has blessed an individual with both health and
it’s still a whole lot shorter than eternity, isn’t it? The
final verse of our Old Testament lesson for today, “fear not,
for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen
you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,”
was Gertrude’s confirmation verse. In this text, God gives words
of comfort and encouragement to His people. Even though they were
facing conquest and defeat at the hands of their earthly enemies, the
Lord wanted them to know that they will not be abandoned, forgotten,
or lost forever. He would be with them. In spite of what
they might see and experience, fright and discouragement were not to
overcome them and cause them to doubt the Lord’s love and faithfulness.
importantly, the Lord wants you and me to know by His promises that
although it may often look and feel as if we are being overpowered and
defeated by the temptations and snares of the devil, the world, and
our own sinful flesh, the horrible consequences of sin will not overcome
spite of the weakness of our flesh and all the symptoms of sin our earthly
body bears: aging, sickness, injury, infirmity, and finally the
death of that body—we will not be victims forever. The Lord
will come to our rescue. Indeed, He already has, in Christ Jesus.
He is with us in Word and Sacrament, strengthens us by the Holy Spirit,
and sustains us in faith until His victory is made complete in us on
the last day.
understood that, believed that, and clung to that—throughout her life
and even at the end. My visits with her over the past several
months were often very challenging, and I didn’t always know what
to expect. Some days she was very tired and disoriented; other
times very lucid and engaging.
even on the more difficult days, there was evidence of the Holy Spirit
working and sustaining faith in Gertrude, as she heard the Word of God,
received the body and blood of her Savior for the forgiveness of sins,
and remembered the promises made to her in Holy Baptism.
those promises are those words we heard from Isaiah 41 today.
The Old Testament is not all Law; it is ripe and heavy-laden with God’s
we reflect today on Gertrude’s life—and more importantly upon the
reality of what God has done and is still doing in her eternal life
through those promises—I’d like us to consider five key things that
God has done for us as well. These things are spoken of in chapter
41 of Isaiah, specifically in verses 8-10.
first thing I’d like us to consider is the word Chosen.
The people of Israel were chosen because God chose Abraham, the grandfather
of Israel (that is, Jacob) just like He had chosen Adam and Noah before
him. They were recipients of His promise of carrying forth the
bloodline that would one day provide the world with a Savior.
It wasn’t on account of anything special in Abraham; he was, in essence,
just a nomad—a “wandering Aramean,” the Bible describes him.
promises, however, are not only for His chosen people of ancient times—that
is, the biological offspring of Abraham. We who carry Abraham’s
spiritual heritage through belief in God’s rescue from sin and
death through the seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus, are the New Israel,
the Christian Church. We are inheritors of those promises, too.
We are chosen by God—we were chosen, even before the foundations
of the earth were laid.
as Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose
you,” we are not the active party in this decision.
Dead in our trespasses, we cannot animate or motivate ourselves to make
a wise choice to become one of God’s elect. There is nothing
worthwhile or meritorious in us that makes us deserving of this selection
by God, either. The only worthy Chosen One is Jesus—the Messiah,
the Christ, the Anointed One. He, too, was chosen before time
began to be the one incarnate of the Spirit and born of the Virgin—made
man to suffer and die on the cross. Gertrude was chosen as well,
and so are you.
second thing I’d like us to consider today is the word Called.
If God had only chosen us, and not made that choosing known, we would
still have had His promises because they are God’s doing. But,
how sad and discouraged we might be in this life, if we did not know
that these precious promises were ours.
doesn’t hide His promises from us, though. We might not yet
see Him in all His glory, but we have been called as well as chosen.
We have had His promises revealed to us in the reading and the proclamation
of His Holy Scriptures, and in the work of the Holy Spirit to give us
faith. As the catechism teaches, the Spirit has, “called
us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept
us in the true faith.” God wants His promises known, and
so He calls us through the preaching, teaching, reading, and singing
of His Word in His Church. Gertrude was called, enlightened, and
sanctified in that faith, and now has been called home and gathered
to God to be fully enlightened and perfectly sanctified, forever.
consider how God has Connected you. Just as Isaiah
writes, He will never cast you off. He bound Himself to you and
indelibly placed His holy name upon you when you were washed in the
waters of Holy Baptism.
only that: He also intends that you be connected, and remain connected,
to His body of believers in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church”—not just here on this side of heaven, but with all true
believers who have come before you and will yet come after you.
There’s no such thing as solo Christianity. We are bound together
to God and to one another as members of the body. You have a
personal faith, but it is not a private faith. You
can only live out your faith attached to the one, true vine, Jesus Christ,
living with and supported by many other branches and leaves, imperfect
though we be. We shade, protect, and feed one another. Apart
from the vine, you wither and die. I’m so glad that Gertrude
was able to come to worship quite late into her earthly life.
But even when she couldn’t, she remained connected to the Church by
receiving her Lord’s body and blood in fellowship with us, and with
angels and archangels and all the hosts of heaven. She now enjoys
that feast completely and continually in the presence of the Lamb.
let us consider the word Courage. We face many scary
things in life—debt, hatred, stress, crime, illness, danger, injury,
and so on, leading up to death. Apart from Christ and His Church,
we would face even scarier things in death—eternal separation from
God. Continual suffering and torment. Satan’s dominance
in hell. Assured that we have been chosen, called, and connected
to God and the great cloud of believers and witnesses in the body of
Christ, however, we have no reason to fear the eternal consequences
that will befall the faithless. Having that promise, we can indeed
“fear not,” for He is with us. We can truly
“be not dismayed,” for He is our God. We are strengthened
and helped to resist temptation, to trust His promises, and to withstand
the strains and stresses and hurts of this life. We know that
all this will pass away, and we will receive everlasting joy at the
moment of earthly death.
had such courage, even in the face of her suffering and her foreseeable
death, because she has been blessed with faith and sustained in that
faith by God. He worked through His Church to provide her with
the Word and Sacrament that conveyed His promises and the gift of faith
to trust in them. During the last visit at which Gertrude was
able to interact with me, she was very alert and lucid. Suffering
though she was, at several points in the liturgy of the Divine Service,
I could hear her whisper, “Yes, yes, I know.” She was adding
her courageous, Spirit-led “Amen” in response to the Lord’s promises
and gifts. Pray that you, too, will be strengthened and helped
to avoid fear and dismay as the challenges in life bear down upon you,
pressing from every side and giving you no seeming escape. Have
courage such as Christ provides you.
words: Chosen, Called, Connected, and Courage. But, to ask
the Lutheran question: What does this mean? Apart
from Christ, being chosen, called, connected, and courageous is meaningless.
If we are chosen or called by another, we might feel good, and it might
even make our lives easier. If we are connected to many other
people, we might be happy and think we are loved. But we have
no idea of any real depth of love until we are connected to Him who
separated Himself from the Father. Jesus felt His angry wrath
against our sin while affixed to the coarse wood of the cross, pierced
and bloody. We are not really connected until our lives are joined
with heaven and earth, into the mystical union of Christ and His bride.
righteous right hand by which God strengthens, helps, and upholds you
is none other than His own dear Son—the baby of Bethlehem, the carpenter
of Nazareth, the prophet of Galilee, the healer of Judea, the crucified
of Calvary, the risen and ascended Lord of heaven and earth.
the unfathomable, incomprehensible power and love of God, unbound by
time and space, He has already taken Gertrude by the hand and led her
before His throne. There she dwells forever in perfect joy, awaiting
the time when we shall all be united as one in the presence of the Father
and the Lamb.
I was leaving Gertrude’s room on the last visit in which we were able
to communicate, she kept saying over and over, “Thank you, thank
you, thank you.” She greatly appreciated that God’s gifts
had been brought to her once again. Yet we, too, can give unceasing
thanks—that her faithful witness strengthened our own faith; that
she has gone to be with the Lord; and that we have this time together
to be reminded of God’s infinite, saving gifts to Gertrude and to
“You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear
not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen
you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
came from the right hand of God to be crucified and raised for your
salvation. He ascended and sits on His throne as the Father’s
righteous right hand, to uphold you as well. In His holy name,