In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Perhaps Yahweh has abandoned His people for good this time. There was a rescue from Egypt after 430 years (Exodus 12:40-41). There was a return to the land after 70 years in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:21). But now? From the look of things, we are back in the time of Samuel: “[T]he word of [Yahweh] was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Samuel 3:1, ESV). Or perhaps the description of the time of the Judges is more apt: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25, ESV). How rare is the person who is willing to say, “Thus says the Lord,” without fear of a backlash! We have no king; everyone for himself. Individualism runs rampant, and every interpretation of God’s Word is up for majority vote. The churches shrink year by year, and the conviction of our fathers in the Faith seems to be a thing of the past. The Body of Christ seems to be splintered by heresy and schism, and the question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” appears to be unanswered. There is much to lament in the Church. You have your complaints and I have mine. Many are serious critiques of the state of Christianity, some are based on personal preference, but nearly all of the problems in the Church show us how short of the Scriptural ideal the Church falls. To some this situation is an excuse to abandon the Church of Christ altogether. To others it is an excuse to dig in and hold out for brighter days or death, whichever comes first.
But where is Christ? Does God dwell in our midst, or have we pushed Him to the margins for the sake of our agendas and causes? How shall we answer the Lord of the Church for our stewardship? The time is right for self-examination. The difficulty is that even if we get it “right,” whatever that might mean, we can do nothing to guarantee the success of our work. The Church, which will be fulfilled by the New Jerusalem, is not called faithful and true and righteous because of the people who dwell there, because of their faithfulness and righteousness. “Thus says [Yahweh]: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of [Yahweh of armies], the holy mountain” (Zechariah 8:3, ESV).
O holy people! Yahweh dwells in your midst! Jesus Christ is God dwelling in your flesh, and He makes you holy by His own blood. What a marvelous remnant you are, the people of God in a foreign land. From the oldest to the youngest, from the east to the west, all people who are called by the Name of our God find their place in His House. In broad cathedrals and narrow country chapels, there is the sound of conversation and laughter. These are my people and I am their God in faithfulness and righteousness, says Yahweh.
But there is ambiguity because, as we see it, you and I don’t quite match the picture painted for us by Yahweh through the mouth of Zechariah. The old and the young do not always sit together in peace in the streets of the holy city. Faithfulness and righteousness are in short supply. Who will call the Church, without the tongue at least slightly in cheek, “the faithful city”? We can feel the distance between what is and what should be, and sometimes it is painful. But though we know how much we lack, what Yahweh says about His people, what He says about you and me, is still true. We are indeed the holy people of God, and He does indeed dwell in our midst, as He continues to gather us around one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; as we eat one Meal, the Body and Blood of the one Savior. We do not walk by sight, because our eyes deny what we believe. We walk by faith, hoping beyond our limited vision in the full and promised beauty of the Bride of Christ. Together, we wait for that coming Day, when what we believe and what we see will be united in the presence of our righteous and faithful God. Though it is still in the future for us, Yahweh says, “I have returned to Zion” (Zechariah 8:3, ESV). When Yahweh promises something, it is as good as done. “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is [Yahweh]; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9, ESV).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/14/17