GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, IN WHOM WE LIVE, MOVE, AND HAVE OUR VERY BEING!
TEXT: I Kings 8: 22,23, 41-43
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
The older name for Memorial Day is Decoration Day. My father always called it that. It comes from decorating the grave of departed loved ones—particularly soldiers who now have passed on. We marked that day with my great uncle Carl’s 48 star woolen flag which my grandmother had received when he died after serving in WWI. It was hung on the old house. Then, since it was Minnesota, we usually spent most of the day planting tender crops in the garden, like tomatoes and other seeds! In our family, remembering the dead and planting new life went hand-in-hand.
In God’s Church, remembering His mighty acts of salvation has always been coupled with visuals, too. And today we are given the visual image via words, of God’s greatness in the form of Solomon’s temple. This temple was planned out in the reign of Solomon’s father, King David. But Solomon was given the honor of building it. By today’s standards it wasn’t large—not much bigger than our church and hall in square footage. It was also quite simple in architecture with very clean lines. And yet, it was considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. Why? Because it had amazingly elegant ornamentation and gold was over-layed over much of it. It gleamed like the sun—in this case, the Son of Righteousness.
Those decorations were meant to be a human reminder of the splendor of God. And His splendor and majesty were grounded in and known by—not just His almighty power but by His gift of salvation to come through His Son, Jesus Christ. Note well that in that ancient world all the others “gods” were based on fear over human’s offending them and risking their wrath, but the Trinity was meant to be known for love, kindness, and grace. So it is in the church today. The Gospel is our drawing card, not the Law.
Of course, the Gospel is the good news of salvation in Christ. It is the mind-boggling truth that God out of pure love would agree to become human, take on all our sins, die for them to make us right with Him, and then rise from the grave to give us a new life through faith. That’s why the Gospel is so precious—it alone saves our soul! That’s also why St. Paul is so vehement in today’s epistle in saying: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” This free gift from God in Christ sets us free and woe to anyone who tries to subvert it!
Solomon knew the Gospel and believed it. You see it in his prayer of dedication at that 1st temple. “Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue whole-heartedly in your way.” The Gospel is that agreement of God’s love for us!
No one is born with an automatic right to God’s grace or to a heavenly home. No, we’re all born sinners. We’re all born as aliens of God’s family and foreigners to His grace. That’s why mission work is so important. The Church’s work, its mission, is to bring those people into its fold by using Godly grace. Recently we have had 2 baptisms in our midst with more to come in future weeks. Baptism is the application of God’s love to sinners. It is our induction ceremony into His extended family. Through it we are born again of water and the Spirit. Each of you here today is a product of that mission work. We all owe our “newness” of faith to the activity of the Triune God via missions.
Solomon picks up on that theme in his prayer when he says: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the people of the earth may know your name and fear (respectfully honor) you.”
Today’s Gospel also reiterates that truth in the form of the Roman centurion in Capernaum. He had come to faith as well through the Gospel. He knew Christ was the Son of God Who would save his soul eternally. So, when his servant is on his deathbed, church elders plead with Christ to save him. Christ agrees. And while on His way, that same centurion sends friends to tell Jesus: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself with appearing on scene, just speak a word of healing and I know it will be done!” Obviously, this man respectfully honors Christ as his Savior because God’s love has changed his heart—just like you and me.
Every temple of God or every church—from humble to magnificent—are magnets designed to attract hurting souls. They are all adorned with what really counts—God’s grace. Every Christian church possesses the Gospel. Every Christian church possesses God’s sacraments. Through these “decorations of grace” He decorates our lives with light and love. Some erstwhile followers of God forget this saving truth. They get hung up on human decorations and abandon the Gospel. That’s why St. Paul is so forceful with his Galatians about their turning from God’s grace to human wisdom about what makes them right with God. The mission of the Church is not primarily to feed the body or make everyone successful in business. It is to feed the soul and give us the ability to cope when things get tough. It is to show us that heaven is our home and that God has set us on the road to heaven by His grace alone.
Memorial Day traces its origins back to about 1868. That was the first formal decorating of graves for the Civil War fallen. This weekend countless graves throughout our land will be adorned with flags, flowers, and bouquets. That is as it should be, too. But, I leave you with this thought: What decorates your life right now? What decorates God’s Church right now? What will not get moth eaten like my great uncle Carl’s woolen flag, or decay and die like a bunch of roses on mother’s grave? What will decorate us eternally? Isn’t it God’s grace? So like Solomon of old, today we thank Him for it! Amen