Lord’s Day 25 (Q/A 65-68): PROOFS, PLEDGES, PROMISE: DIVINE-HUMAN ENGAGEMENT

65   Q.    It is through faith alone
                that we share in Christ and all his benefits:
                where then does that faith come from?

A.    The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts^1
by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it
by the use of the holy sacraments.^2

^1 Eph. 2:8; John 3:5
^2 Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:22-23

66   Q.    What are sacraments?

A.    Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and seal that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise:
to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life
by grace
because of Christ’s one sacrifice
accomplished on the cross.^1

^1 Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:11; Deut. 30:6; Lev. 6:25; Heb. 9:8-9, [11-]24; Ezek. 20:12; 1 Sam. 17:36[-37]; Isa. 6:6-7

67   Q.    Are both the word and the sacraments then
                intended to focus our faith
                on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross
                as the only ground of our salvation?

A.    Yes!
In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us
and by the holy sacraments confirms
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.^1

^1 Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27

68   Q.    How many sacraments
                did Christ institute in the New Testament?

        A.    Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.


 

LORD’S DAY 25 (Q/A 65-68)
“PROOFS, PLEDGES, PROMISE: DIVINE-HUMAN ENGAGEMENT” 

Freddy and Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” have this famed dialogue:

Freddy:
“Speak and the world is full of singing,
And I’m winging Higher than the birds.
Touch and my heart begins to crumble,
The heaven’s tumble, Darling, and I’m… “

Eliza:
“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars Burning above; If you’re in love,
Show me! Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire. If you’re on fire,
Show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don’t talk of spring! Just hold me tight!
Anyone who’s ever been in love’ll tell you that
This is no time for a chat! Haven’t your lips
Longed for my touch? Don’t say how much,
Show me! Show me! Don’t talk of love lasting through time.
Make me no undying vow. Show me now!
Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don’t waste my time, Show me!
Don’t talk of June, Don’t talk of fall!
Don’t talk at all! Show me!
Never do I ever want to hear another word.
There isn’t one I haven’t heard.
Here we are together in what ought to be a dream;
Say one more word and I’ll scream!
Haven’t your arms Hungered for mine?
Please don’t “expl’ine,” Show me! Show me!
Don’t wait until wrinkles and lines
Pop out all over my brow,
Show me now!”

You can view it on YouTube beginning at 0:34 at this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8zyF0ZOy3k

As 21st century people, we are a people of words, multiplication of words, no longer merely in written form, but in a TGIF world as Leonard Sweet describes it, i.e. a Twitter, Google, iPad, Facebook world. The exponential growth of words are beyond human comprehension.

With words come the ways we relate, engage one another, communication to purvey information, communication to make promises and pledges. Yet, we experience so many times, as with the number of words that make up those pledges, promises that are broken again and again. Countries that pledge aid relief in the midst of natural disasters, but are forgotten a few months or a year after the fact. Banks and investment firms that promised secure investment and sound mortgages, but then as millions found in 2008, billions in exposed mortgage securities, leaving many homeowners and investors out in the cold. On a micro- level, broken relationships, marriages that struggle. Or we grab hold of what sounds like a healing balm of comforting words from well-meaning family and friends who assure in the midst of trial, “Things will be okay.” We take it as promise. But then, the prayer concern turns awry, and rather than resulting in healing for the terminally-ill loved one, death comes knocking.

God knows our hearts, God knows our limitations, God knows what we desire; after all the triune God is the Creator of us all and knows us better than we know ourselves.

What distinguishes the one, living and true God, the God of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, and Esther, revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is that God is not mute, God speaks, God acts (see Isaiah 44:9-22).

God speaks words, God spoke the first word (Genesis 1:3), and God is the Word (John 1:1), the Speaker, the Word Spoken, and the Breath of God, to borrow a famed analogy used by Orthodox theologians.

Eliza Doolittle expresses what we need as human beings: proofs of the pledges of the promise. We are sentient beings, and, therefore, we need to engage all senses for words to be internalized. Our cognition is enhanced, for instance, when studying for a test, if you memorize facts by writing it down on flash cards, saying what you’re writing, looking at what you’re writing, hearing yourself say the words. If it be possible to eat each flashcard with a distinctive flavor as like the prophet Daniel eating the scrolls, and allow the facts to metabolize, that would enhance our test-taking abilities!

But you get the point. And that’s what God provides in the sacraments – gifts of God for the people of God.  The promise proclaimed in the Gospel – Jesus Christ came, lived, died, and rose again to redeem and reconcile humanity to God’s self in the power of the Holy Spirit—comes to us through words spoken, read, digitized, incensed, poured, splashed, baked, eaten, fermented, drank.

Several years ago, I lost a dear friend to a sudden heart attack. God worked faith in his life at an older age, and in the eight years that Roland Romero and I served together, he was passionate about teaching from the Scriptures, lucidly articulating the doctrines of the Christian faith in ways that made anyone go, “Thanks be to God.” In one Bible study as he was discussing God’s work of election in our lives, he explained:

Imagine that you are a hungry man. But you don’t realize that the refrigerator in the kitchen has food for you to eat and that food has been provided for you. Not only don’t you realize it but you don’t have the will to go to the refrigerator because of your ignorance of that source of nourishment, and because your will is turned towards other sources that don’t nourish at all. What the Holy Spirit does in this situation is to transform your understanding so that it is illuminated upon your mind and heart that the refrigerator has food and that food is for your benefit. But the clear understanding is only one critical element. You also need the will and the strength to walk to that refrigerator, having now recognized it as source for nourishment, and to open that refrigerator, obtain the food that has been given, eat the food, receive nourishment, delight in the food and the giver of the food, and, then tell others of what you have seen and heard and tasted.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit renovates our lives again and again. Faith is not a quantifiable entity that the Holy Spirit gives. It’s not a soothing balm to anyone to say in the midst of suffering or to pray, “You need more faith”; that was the error of Job’s three friends in accusing him of not having enough faith or a weak faith.

Faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, the One who illuminates our understanding, who gives us wisdom to what is God-given and salutary for our lives, who unleashes our wills to follow the ways of God, who strengthens us when we are too weak, who directs our course to delight in the giver of every good and perfect gift. (James 1:17)

Q/A 65-68 describes God’s provision of the gifts that our human minds and hearts need. The promise given in the Gospel are embodied by tangible elements: water, bread, cup. While God is supremely and distinctly sovereign, our human responsibility is to be in the hearing, receiving, and tasting of the means by which the Gospel promise is communicated clearly to our lives: in preaching and in the sacraments.

The word sacrament comes from the Latin sacramentum, which the third century theologian Tertullian translated from the Greek word mysterion (from which we get the word “mystery”).  Sacramentum was a pledge or oath that a soldier gave to a Roman  army commander, and more so, to the Roman emperor, who was regarded as a deity. Tertullian appropriated that term as the pledge that assembled Christians make in placing allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even as we pledge our allegiance to the Lord Christ, the triune God is pledging a unilateral promise to us in the sacraments: to be with us, to be for us, to be in us. The proof? As the Gospel attests and to which the Scriptures testify, and of which water, bread and cup seal for us: God’s’ self-giving of Himself in Jesus Christ is the proof-positive of that promise.

So, whenever you come in the hearing and receiving of the Scriptures, of preaching and teaching, and whenever and wherever you see one being baptized, or when you touch or splash holy water, and the next time you receive bread (or a wafer or a cracker) at the Table, and the next time you drink from the communion cup, or intinct the bread in the cup, receive the promise of God.  Receive God’s promise – Jesus the Christ. The mystery has been revealed , the mystery has been given.