No, I am not talking about the Tigers’ record since they hired a new president – though it was sweet until they landed in Seattle. I am not even talking about the beautiful weather that closed out our summer and has carried us into autumn – though I could easily be talking about this, too. In some ways I am talking about Hymn 524 in the Lutheran Service Book, but that is not really clear enough. Specifically, I am addressing how the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear.
The first four verses of the hymn (in LW) speak the message very clearly:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away all fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole and calms the heart’s unrest;
It’s manna to the hungry soul and to the weary rest.
Dear name! the rock on which I build, my shield and hiding place;
My never-failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace.
By you my prayers acceptance gain, although with sin defiled.
The devil charges me in vain, and God calls me his child.
As I visited people in their homes last month, I read the first words of Jesus recorded after his conversation with the woman at the well. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12) In our conversations we often noted how much ugly darkness is in our world (and lives), and how often we feel it creeping closer and closer with its threats and foreboding. These sweet words of Jesus remind us that “The light (Jesus) shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (him)” (John 1.5) And oh, how, sweet, that reminder is!
Yesterday Monica and I attended two funeral visitations from our “Houghton Lake family” – that is, people on the street of our cottage association, which we have been a part of since 1975. One of the couples that we are the closest with had his brother (who also had a cottage on our street) and her mother (who Monica knew before we had children) die on the same day. The sequence for them was visitation for mom at 10:00 with funeral at 11:00, and visitation for brother in the evening with funeral on Thursday. When we got to the funeral home in the evening, many people were raving about the morning’s funeral. The message was simple and heartwarming: “You come here saddened by the pain of death, but you will leave with the joyous message of the resurrection.” In other words, it was all about “how sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ears, it sooths our sorrows … and drives away all fears.” Last week a professor at Macomb CC interviewed me as a part of her doctoral program at WSU. She is researching grief from a Lutheran perspective. After the conversation I emailed her the link to two recent funerals at STL with the suggestion that watching them (and particularly the sermons) might clarify my comments. Later in the week she sent me this message: “Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about grief and loss in the Lutheran Faith. I have a much clearer understanding of the concepts now. The videos are really helpful as well. I am struck by the kindness and hope in the service – that is peaceful for the family and community.” My thoughts? There is nothing kinder than the Gospel of Jesus, or “How sweet …”
Have you heard the story about the little boy who was afraid of the dark? Not only did he keep a light on at all times in his room, but he also forbade anyone from opening his closed doors! Why? He knew it was dark in the closet and was afraid that, if the doors were opened, the darkness would chase away the light from his room.
I am wondering how many of us live this same way in our day-to-day living. We are so concerned about the darkness overtaking us that we forget about the Light. Yet we know better: “The light (Jesus) shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (him).” (John 1.5) Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12) As Jackie Gleason used to say, “How sweet it is!”
This sweetness comes as we realize that in our baptism Jesus has wrapped his sweet story around our bitter one. The net result is a bittersweet story on earth, followed by total sweetness in the resurrection. And, have you ever noticed the word is bittersweet, not sweet-bitter? The promise is clear – the end of the story for all who walk with Jesus is always sweet.
Or, as I have said many times over, everyone knows the bitterness of the law – which always condemns us, but not everyone hears the gospel, aka the sweet name of Jesus. Thus that is what everyone needs to hear … the sweet message of his death and resurrection and how, in our baptism, we are raised to walk in the newness … or should I say sweetness … of the light of life – sins forgiven … death defeated … eternity secured. How sweet!