this a.m.at the Southern Illinois District Convention. Text was Revelation 2:8-11:
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Constancy. Robert Frost once wrote: “And when at times the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far, we may choose something like a star to stay our minds on and be staid.” In Revelation, the stars are in the hands of Jesus, seven of them, a mystery, they are “the angels of the seven churches” - that is, their pastors, His messengers. A comfort for the pastors to know that they are in His hands.
But these stars are simply not worth staying your mind on. You heard Bishop Weber yesterday warn us “trust not in princes they are but mortal.” Sometimes you will hear the well-intentioned but utterly misguided say that the problem with us in Synod is that we don’t trust each other. Oh, what nonsense. Love one another, forgive one another, explain one another's actions in the kindest way - yes, yes, and yes. But TRUST one another? Show me that in the Bible! Send whoever says that to you to memorize Jeremiah 17:5: “This is what the Lord says: Cursed is he who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength.” I don’t care if the man is Harrison or Scharr or Mueller. Cursed is the man who trusts in THEM. Stars they may get to be in the hands of Jesus, but don’t trust in them.
Better than any star in the hand of Jesus is the mighty word that comes from His lips. Oh, people loved by God - THAT is what you can utterly hang upon, it is constant to you and it will give you constancy. And not just in prayer, but in life itself! The words of Jesus, the words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. The words of the One who did the cross and who burst open the grave. His are words you can cling to, or rather His are words that cling to YOU.
His words to Smyrna was that he knew their trouble, their poverty (even though they were really were rich in Him!), and the slander of those who spoke against them. Nothing there that He hasn’t seen with His bright eyes and noted. He says it to you too: He knows your trouble, your poverty, and the slander that is spoken against you. And to it all He says: “Do not fear.” He tells them that hard times are coming - the devil about to test some and some tossed into prison. Yet He says: “ten days.” That is, it has limit that He has fixed. And on the other side of the trouble, the poverty, the slander - they will find Him. “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”
He doesn’t speak that as a condition, but as a fact. Not IF you are faithful to death, THEN I’ll give you the crown of life. Rather, I will give you the crown of life so be faithful unto death! Which is His way of saying: I’ve got forgiveness bigger than all your sin; I’ve got life for you bigger than all your death. You’ve got nothing to fear. I was faithful to death - utterly constant - precisely to crown you with my own divine life. The one who conquers doesn’t need to fear the second death at all - hell can’t hurt you - not when give ear to the Spirit’s words that he speaks to the Churches and let those words dwell in you.
One thinks of St. Polycarp, whom our Synod commemorates on February 23 - pastor at Smyrna and who was martyred for Christ about Christ about 155 - he would have been a young man when John wrote those words down and sent them off to Polycarp’s church. He was urged to deny his Lord, and he refused: “Eighty and six years have I served Him and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” To the fire he went singing the praises of Him whose word had kept him in faith even to death. “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly set in the heaven! Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Those words will see you through all the way - just as they saw blessed Polycarp through.
Better far than any star - including the stars in the hands of Jesus, His pastors or even his martyrs like Polycarp - better far are His words of promise to you. These and these alone you can trust. They hold. And they will hold you. Constant. Safe. Through life. Through trials. Through death itself. They will bring you through to the life that never ends. And for that Te Deum laudamus. Te Dominum confitemur!