Easter 5 Cantate
A Song of Trust
May 19, 2019
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
I’ve heard it, maybe you have too. Why don’t you liturgical Lutherans sing praise songs or have a praise service. My response is usually something along the lines of, “We do. We praise God every single time we gather together. We sing praises over and over again. We sing all the time. Song is the natural expression of the spirit that is free, and no one is so free as when they are dependent upon Christ as salvation. We literally sang a song title “Hymn of Praise: This is the Feast.” Our opening and closing hymn, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing” is all about praise. There are hundreds of Biblical hymns of praise, especially in the Psalms. Our introit today from Psalm 98, “Sing to the Lord a new song… make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth, break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (Ps 98:1a, 4). And so we sing the praises to God, we sing the Christian faith, we sing the truth of Scripture, and we sing our salvation in Christ alone.
And then there is our Hymn of the Day, “The Lord God is My Strength and My Song” which is part of the Service of Prayer and Preaching that we often use in our school chapel, is a praise song. Isaiah 12, the text of our consideration this morning, describes the joy of deliverance, but it’s not merely a description, it is a praise song of God’s people who are delivered.
And in fact, that is why we sing. The source of our praise is that God’s anger has been removed and that He has now become a source of comfort and support. Since God’s anger is based on a just cause because of our sin, the comfort of God comes only after sin has been punished. Since our sin is an offense against the Creator and even the creation itself, it cannot be dismissed. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness for sin.
And so we give thanks to God, we sing our alleluias, we praise Him for turning His righteous anger away from us because our sin, and comforting us with the Gospel. “Behold, God is my salvation” expresses this truth that there is no salvation apart from God. It is not merely that He saves, but that He is salvation. To know Him is to know deliverance, and not to know Him is to face His wrath over your sin. That is why Isaiah, and all the prophets, are so persistent in warning against seeking deliverance and help in the might of this world. Liberation from sin, from the sorrow of this world, from hardship and pain and suffering, is found in God alone or not all.
God alone is our only strength and our song, and He has become our salvation. He has won the victory, and He alone is worthy of praise. “God comes to save us. Just as the people of old had been saved from the slavery of sin and death through the death and resurrection of the Son of God Jesus Christ… He brings salvation to us as a gift. He doesn’t require from us to redeem our own sins, but grants forgiveness to repentant sinners at every liturgy. And it is only in Him that a soul of a sinner who is thirsty for forgiveness and reconciliation with God may find rest.” (Vsevolod Lytkin, Sermon on Cantate Sunday. Quoted in TLSB, pp. 1112.)
This is what Isaiah has been appealing for. Whenever Israel focuses primarily upon her own needs, she is in difficulty, for supplying those needs becomes the ultimate goal. God, then, becomes a means to end: appeal to Him so He will bless you, give Him enough praise and He will give you back whatever you want. This is just the false gospel of health, wealth, and happiness. And it is a recipe for spiritual disaster.
Praise and thanksgiving are essential to a healthy spiritual life, not because God needs them from you, but because you need to give them. It is the only way to refocus your attention upon God Himself and how much you receive from Him as your loving Father, and thus stop attempting to use Him as our idol to grant whatever you wish. The song of the Christian is not about the Christian, it’s the song of Christ, of the Living Water drawn from His well of salvation.
“And you will say in that day, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples, proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.’” (Isaiah 12:4-5). The restoration of God’s people leads His people to commit themselves to Him, but also to want all those to know who He is. The world must know of this. The world must hear the song of the Church, the Song who is the Word of God in the flesh, the One in whom salvation is found because He is our salvation. May the Lord give us strength the sing this song of salvation in Christ to the nations, to give a confession of what He accomplishes in Christ.
So sing, shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. For God in Christ not only saves us, but He dwells with us, He is still Immanuel, still the Holy One. The meaning of God’s self-revelation, that He, the Holy One of Israel, might dwell among His creation. The phrase “Holy One of Israel” only occurs 29 times in the Bible. 26 of those occur in Isaiah. Denotes God’s character, one that is radically different than any other idol. He is upright and clean, pure and true. His otherness from His creation grants us hope. Where humanity is fickle and perverse, He is faithful and true. His greatness is our midst is not some theoretical thing, but it is the presence of the risen Christ, the Word of God made flesh, the One who is salvation, who dwells among us.
The Lord’s service calls forth our service – in sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to Him and in loving service to one another. Having been called, gathered, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we receive His gifts with thankfulness and praise. With psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we joyfully confess all that God has done for us, declaring the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Our song joins with the song of every saint from every age, the new song of Christ’s holy people…” (LSB viii)