Eye-opening, uplifting, and liberating

On account of distance rules there were “only” 180 people in the church—a rather unusual picture in the large church in Karlsruhe. The Chief Apostle found the perfect tone to strengthen and comfort the congregation in these difficult times.

Already in reading the Bible text, which was taken from Psalm 146, the Chief Apostle’s sermon was sketched out: “The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.”

The term “prisoner” involuntarily makes us picture a person who has done something serious and has been imprisoned as punishment, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider began his sermon. In the Old Testament, however, the term “prisoner” always refers to prisoners of war. Armies who defeated a country took people captive and deported them as booty. “Man has not been free since his fall into sin. In fact, we are under the dominion of sin. We are prisoners and God wants to liberate us from this captivity, and He does so through Jesus Christ.”

Freedom to the prisoners

Jesus Christ wants to deliver human beings from the power of sin, from the rule of evil. “He regards every human being as a unique individual. His work is not mass production but precision work,” the Chief Apostle said. This is not possible without our consent and co-operation, he said, and recalled the story of Peter. When Peter was arrested and had been thrown into prison, he was in a bad way. He had been chained between two soldiers with no chance of escape. But then the angel of the Lord came and ordered Peter to get up, get dressed, and to follow Him.

The Chief Apostle summed the story up: “Peter’s reaction was good: he trusted the angel, got up, got dressed, the chains fell off his hands, the gates opened by themselves, and Peter went through the gate and out into the street,” the Chief Apostle said, getting to the heart of the story. God loosened the chains, opened the doors, held the guards’ eyes shut, but Peter had to believe, get dressed, and follow Him.

Opening the eyes of the blind

This is also an image for salvation, the Chief Apostle preached. Jesus once reproached His disciples for being blind. When He told them about the kingdom of God, they had completely misunderstood Him. He scolded them for their blindness because they did not understand their mission. This blindness still exists today, the Chief Apostle noted, even among Christians. People don’t understand the mission of Jesus Christ properly. “Many people think that if they believe in Jesus Christ, if they pray and go to church, then God will protect them. And then an accident, a death, or an injustice occurs and leaves them shaken. Why, they ask. I did everything right.” This is a form of blindness, spiritual blindness.

The purpose of faith in Jesus Christ is not to spare the faithful from misfortune: “No, the point of Jesus’ activity is to deliver us from sin. He wants to lead us into His kingdom despite our afflictions and problems.”

Chief Apostle Schneider mentioned another form of blindness. “You want to remove a speck from your brother’s eye but don’t notice the plank in your own eye” (cf. Matthew 7: 3). Our self-assessment is usually flawed. This is a thought we come across quite often in the Bible, also in Revelation, where the Lord writes to His congregation in Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3: 17). Regarding this the Chief Apostle said: “This makes me think. How can we be so blind? Focus on Jesus Christ! Don’t compare yourself to your neighbour, don’t compare yourself to people. Use Jesus Christ as your standard!”

Many people are blind to the sufferings and needs of others. Everybody only thinks of themselves and does not consider the consequences of their actions, their behavior for their neighbour—for their marriage, their family, or society in general. “Often, when we hear about suffering we find it disturbing, as though suffering were contagious. The Holy Spirit wants to open our eyes also in this respect. He has poured the love of God into our hearts and is working on us so that this love can develop in us.”

Raising those who are bowed down

The Chief Apostle was very insisting when he said the following: “God has not given up on you. It is not too late. For no one! God has not condemned anyone for good!” The Holy Spirit provides comfort, hope, and confidence. “He tells all of us: Don’t give up, it is not too late for you! You haven’t missed everything! Salvation is still there, you can still find redemption in Jesus Christ.”

God also wants to comfort the despondent through His congregation. “Jesus Christ expects us to uplift the despondent, to comfort one another, and to encourage one another,” he underlined. He is worried, he said, that one or the other will fall by the wayside after the COVID-19 crisis. He expressed concern because some say that no one inquired about them or called them. And the response from the congregation was that they had disappeared completely; no one heard anything from them.

Perhaps there was also reluctance for fear of getting too close and imposing: “If I call them now, they’ll think I want to check up on them and put pressure on them to come to divine service—and then they don’t dare call.” And this results in the following discussion: “The one says, no one asked about me, no one contacted me. The other says, they did not contact me, they disappeared completely, and we don’t want to intrude.” The Chief Apostle’s recommendation is as follows: “Dear brothers and sisters, don’t neglect your soul! Don’t wait until someone calls. Take the initiative and act and ask how your neighbour is doing.”

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Peter Johanning
Chief Apostle, Divine service