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Real and Present

January 27, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

Psalm 16

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this morning is from our Old Testament text, Psalm 16, especially where the Psalmist writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

This upcoming week is National Lutheran Schools Week, and across the Missouri Synod, this is cause for joyous celebration! We celebrate this rich heritage that has been an integral part of our mission and ministry since its inception; indeed, the emphasis that Luther himself placed on education laid the groundwork for our synod’s call to educate our children in faith and life! We’ve had, as a synod, the joy of impacting children and families in our country and around the world: nearly 2,000 Lutheran early childhood centers, elementary schools, and high schools across the United States, totaling more than 200,000 children hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And here at St. James, this mission is of the utmost importance; it has been since our congregation was established! The joy that has been mine when I share the Gospel with your children and grandchildren, the joy when I see the gears in their heads turning as they consider theological concepts they’d not heard before, the joy that I have to pray alongside them to our God and Lord is beyond adequate explanation! To hear little children speaking the Apostles Creed alongside our older kids is overwhelming, and to hear such children ask to be baptized in the Name of our Triune God is unparalleled! This is an incredibly fertile field for the harvest, and I, for one, am honored and humbled to be a worker in this field!

Now, each year, as I’m sure you know, synod develops a different theme for our Lutheran schools, and this year’s theme is “Real. Present. God.” Basically, in our school and in schools across the synod, our students, staff, and families have been immersed in the Book of Psalms, looking at a different Psalm or a portion thereof each week. With the psalmists, we celebrate the only true God Who deigned to reveal Himself in the Person and work of Jesus, Who is called the Christ. We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, the One Who, through the Means of Grace, is truly present with His people and where our God is present, there is real joy!

Our Old Testament text for today, Psalm 16, sees this joy exemplified as David writes, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. … You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” David understood that, in the presence of the real God, there is real joy.

But we must remember that joy is not the same thing as happiness – something that Scripture makes very clear. The same David who wrote the words of our Old Testament text also confesses his sin in Psalm 51, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” David writes these words in response to Samuel’s call to repentance, showing him the sin he had committed in his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. One could hardly call this heart-rending confession “happy,” but there is nevertheless joy found here, as David implores a little later in that same psalm, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. …  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Even in the midst of sorrow and contrition, we have joy in knowing that there is forgiveness and salvation in the Messiah for whom David longed: Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

That is, after all, why Jesus manifested in the flesh … why He came into the world that He created. The writer of Hebrews tells us of this joyful mission that Jesus had. “He who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” His joy was in our salvation from everlasting death and damnation. He was willing to endure the agony, the shame, the sorrow, the bitterness, of death on a cross … to bring to us the joy of His presence.

In our schools, and definitely here at St. James, you see this joy, the joy that comes from walking with the Living God, every single day! He is present as baptismal promises are remembered and renewed “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” He is present as His Word is taught in the classroom. He is present as the chapel message is proclaimed and preached. He is present as school families gather for worship and as the Sacrament of the Altar is shared with those who partake of His real presence in a worthy manner.

And because Jesus is present here, there is the joy of His forgiveness here, extended from students and staff alike as they forgive as they have been forgiven. There is the joy of God’s peace here when our daily prayers include petitions for a child who is ill or a family that is grieving. There is the joy in seeing all our students’ abilities and gifts, but especially in remembering these talents and abilities are gifts from our gracious, loving God, and should be treated thusly. In Jesus’s presence in the Lutheran school, there is fullness of joy. There is the joy of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Now, we are realists, knowing full well that our students, staff, families, and partners do live in the real world, where life is messy. There are no rose-colored glasses here; we recognize that we are all sinners living in a sinful, broken world. Lutheran schools are not always happy places. St. James is not a perfect place; none of the staff are perfect, including me, and none of our students are perfect. School ministry takes place in the real world. Pastors, principals, board members, staff, students, and parents deal with dynamics that remind us daily that we are sinners in a broken world.

Nevertheless, Lutheran schools are joyful places because Jesus is there. The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins is there. The instilling and nurturing of the one true Faith in the next generation is there. Our schools offer much more than the joy of the presence of children, the joy of academic excellence and professional staff. No, our joy … begins and ends with Jesus. King David boldly proclaimed, “Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” In a world that desires to shut us up and shut us down for having the audacity to instill the one true Faith in our children, there is real comfort and joy in this reality. The promises of eternity are real, and here at St. James and in our Lutheran schools across the globe, we educate for eternity.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.