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September 2016 - In the Presence of God, Now and Eternally

In the Presence of God, Now and Eternally

            I’m pretty sure that when you have visited other Lutheran churches, you probably have witnessed the same thing as far as seating arrangements (besides the “you’re sitting in my seat” look you might get) – the front pews are generally empty or very sparsely filled, while the back ones are fairly packed.   We often kid about such things, (quicker exit, relief from the hot air of the pastor…) but you may recall that I have made an observation about such a practice or habit that puts a very positive spin on the situation.  I have noticed during my visits to other churches and denominations over the years that it is the churches that believe in the Real Presence of God that have their members generally sitting toward the back.  They realize Whose Presence they encounter that morning and what that means.   When we have the Invocation, we know that we are entering again into the very same Real Presence by the Name we first entered His Presence in our baptism.   This is Holy God and we are immediately stricken with a sense of awe as well as our sinful lowliness.  Thus, we of course are led to follow that Invocation with a Confession of our sins, and then joyfully receive the sweet comfort of His Absolution/forgiveness of our sins in Christ and know we can eagerly receive His gifts there in His presence.

            That’s quite a moment.  That is heaven on earth, though veiled behind Means in this fallen world to protect our frail, mortal flesh.   God is Holy, and we are reminded of it.  That most certainly explains why we might tend to avoid the front pews.  

            In our current society, where itching ears do not want to hear of the Holiness and Righteousness of God, who do not want to be exposed as sinners but want to excuse any and all manner of evil in the name of a “loving God”; God is viewed as some kind of doting, kind-hearted grandfatherly type who smiles permissively upon His impetuous children, or at best, some kind of good ol’ buddy who is friend to all, and overlooks all.

            That is not the God of the scriptures, the One Who is Holy above all Holies, the One Who has commanded that we are to be perfect as He is perfect.   Lost it seems is the understanding of just how detestable sin is in God’s eyes.  What sin has done to His perfect creation.  How some of the Holy Angels rebelled against God, forsaking their condition and place and becoming the most loathsome of demonic creatures, perverted and twisted so that their sole thought and being is to abuse God’s creation, especially the pinnacle of His creation, mankind.   Their every thought is to harming us physically, emotionally and spiritually, and ultimately hopefully to drag us into the fires of hell that awaits them.

            And there is what sin has done to those most loved by God, those alone created in His image – man.   Oh how we have been twisted and perverted from how we were made.  Our rebellion has left us as brothers and sister of the devil, those who despise the will and Word of God – noble creatures that have become lovers of self and haters of others.   God has not changed, we have.  He is Holy, we are sin-filled and depraved.   That is the truth that the Law of God exposes in us, the truth our sinful natures dearly love to avoid or reject.  How can He love such as these?

            But once again, we are left awe-struck when we are reminded in His Word of how His Love fulfilled His Justice by the substitutionary work of God the Son for us.   God is Holy and Just, and Love.   Loving enough to pay the highest of costs to save us from guilt of our sin and begin to restore us back into His image.   Again, reminded of such heights of love, we are left stunned, and in awe feel a need to keep a respectful distance from our Holy and Loving Creator.  We sit in the back.

And one of the things we should also be aware of is that the Holiness of God is not going to end with creation.  John Stephenson writes in his dogmatics volume on Eschatology: “Almighty God will not shed one ounce of His holiness even as His very face is beheld by the saints in heaven; God is not trivialized in the beatific vision, to which the creaturely response is not chumminess towards God but rather an eternal outpouring of awestruck doxology.”

What that means, is in Heaven after our death, and in the New Creation after the Last Day, though all sin will be gone forever and we will be holy and pure as we were created to be, we are not just going to be slapping God on the back in “chumminess”.  As we behold His Face without veils and Means, we like the Holy Angels will fall down in awe and respect before THE Holy One, totally in love and totally filled forever in His sight.  We will continue to “sit in the back” so to speak.

No matter where we like to sit in the sanctuary (and it really doesn’t matter where you sit – as long as it’s not in “my pew” J), as Lutherans we understand that in the Divine Service, we have entered into the Real Presence of God and truly experience DIVINE service – the Holy and Loving Triune God Who comes to us veiled in His Means of Grace and serves us with His love and grace – it is literally a taste of Heaven on earth, a foretaste of our eternal life in the New Creation.  What an awesome and humbling thought, front pew to back pew!

 

Pastor Reiser

 

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