In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Since 2009, a Pakistani mother of five had been imprisoned on charges of blasphemy.  Āsia Bibī is a Christian in the Muslim-majority country. The particular charge stemmed from her drinking water from a tin cup also used by Muslims—a big no-no for an “unclean Christian.”  She has been arrested, severely beaten in front of her children, abused by prison guards, and sentenced to death by hanging. Two government officials who expressed support for her were assassinated.  There have been public calls for her to be beheaded, and violent protests against her release. Voice of the Martyrs and other Christian organizations have been advocating for Bibī’s release, and the American Center for Law and Justice has been advocating for her around the globe and in the courts of Pakistan.  On October 31st— Reformation Day, All Hallows’ Eve—the news came that the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned her blasphemy conviction and death sentence. Mobs still threaten her life, but no longer is she in prison or under threat of death from her government. Thanks be to God for the faithful witness of Āsia Bibī, for her freedom, and for those who tirelessly advocated for her and prayed for her.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11–12).  Based on her experience, we can certainly see Āsia Bibī exemplifying this, the last of the nine Beatitudes. She gives a powerful witness in the face of near-certain death and continuing threats.  What of us? How do we do? As believers in Christ, God calls us all saints, holy ones, and in view of the lives and deaths of those who have gone before us in the faith, we protest, “Really? Come on!  I’m no saint.” David Scaer, one of our longtime seminary professors at Fort Wayne, well expresses our sense of inadequacy in this regard:

From our own experience we know that we are not as good as God says we are.  We might try to find ourselves in the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” but we have a more difficult time finding ourselves in the last beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  Some are persecuted for the sake of Christ. We rarely are and, if we are, it [usually] does not involve a torturous death. Compared to the men and women who confessed Christ and paid the price with their lives and fortunes, we don’t want to call ourselves saints, at least not in the superb sense that they are.  All Christians are equally justified by God through faith on account of Christ, but it is also true that God has accomplished more through some people than He has through others.

Indeed, we name churches after those saints of old: St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, St. Mary, … Lutheran.  How many lives have been touched and changed by the testimony and the writings of the Apostle Paul? Too many to count.  His epistles are read week after week, century upon century, in all the churches of God. The works of Martin Luther are voluminous beyond belief.  We memorize his Small Catechism. Churches around the world still sing his hymns, even Roman Catholic churches. Will we be remembered as long on earth as they?  We are content that God remembers us, and that our names are written in heaven.

My wife Linda has been leading a Bible study on Wednesday nights on the names and titles of Jesus.  Scripture has dozens of names and titles for Him, easily well over a hundred. Some may be counted as variations on another, yet each variation has its own significance.  Many come readily to mind, while others are less known, even obscure: Jesus and Christ, of course, Lord, Messiah, Lamb of God, Great High Priest, Immanuel, Son of God, Son of David, the Bridegroom, the Light of the world, the Crucified One, the Risen One, King of kings, the Last Adam, the Apostle of the Father, Overcomer (or Conqueror) of the world, the Propitiation for sin, the Lord Our Righteousness, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Branch, the Poor Man, and many, many more.  Likewise, Scripture has many names and titles for us Christians, we who are in Christ. Some we will readily recognize, while others will have us saying, “Really? That’s in there? God’s Word calls us that?” I wrote up a list of some of the ‘names’ and ‘titles’ Scripture gives Christians, printed on an insert in your bulletin. (There isn’t time to read them all here.) It wasn’t long before I found others that weren’t on the list. I’m sure you’ll find still more to add to it.

Jesus said, “The world … hates Me because I testify about it that its works are evil” (Jn 7:7).  Indeed, the world despises Jesus the Savior from sin. Oh, the world likes, even loves Jesus the good teacher, Jesus the moral guide.  But for the world to confess Him for what He came and claims to be, the Savior from sin, why then the world would have to confess its sin—and that’s simply unacceptable.  In the same chapter as our Epistle reading, the Apostle John says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 Jn 3:13). Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Mt 10:22; 24:9; Mk 13:13; Lk 21:17).  “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. … Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:18, 20). The early Christians were slurred with names based on false charges, such as “cannibals” for eating Christ’s body in the Supper, and “atheists” for rejecting the traditional ‘gods.’  The world still gives many ‘names’ and ‘titles’ to Christians: Hypocrites, Divided, Divisive, Haters, Bible-thumpers, Self-righteous, Narrow-minded, Bigots, Intolerant, Anti-science, Know-it-alls, Uptight, Strict, Moralistic, Judgmental.

We must confess that sometimes we have earned those monikers, and we must repent of our words and actions which inspired them.  We confess and repent, for we know that our God is a merciful and forgiving God, who looks upon us, the baptized, and sees His beloved Son: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).  We also know that some in the world will always hate us simply because we are followers of and believers in Jesus Christ. Christ calls us to warn a person who continues in sinful ways, to warn him out of love for him and concern for his eternal welfare, so that he may repent and be forgiven, and have eternal life in Christ.  Let the world, which excels at making rules, be in the morals business. The Crucifixion is no moral example; it is, in fact, a stunning example of the world’s failure to live up even to its own rules. The Crucifixion is the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world. So we are in the forgiveness business.

Look at those names and titles, and see how many are the result of God’s work, and how many are the result of what we have done.  If we consider each one carefully, we realize that none of these names or titles are given for what we ourselves have done. All are God’s work for, in, and through us, for the sake of Christ Jesus, as the Holy Spirit has worked through the Means of Grace.  As St. James declares, “Of His own will [the Father] brought us forth by the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (Jas 1:18).  (That’s one I missed.)  And the Apostle Peter has written, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar (preserved, acquired, [His] own) people, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pe 2:9).  I like that, a peculiar people.  It makes us sound rather odd.  The Greek word means that we are “acquired” and “preserved” as God’s own, which does make us odd in the world’s eyes.

Each of these names and titles speaks comfort and certainty, peace and joy to our hearts and minds.  More than Conquerors bespeaks the victory which is already ours through Christ our Victor, the Overcomer and Conqueror of the world.  Elect of God tells us not that He chose us one by one, but that He chose Christ, and by choosing Christ He chose the Church in which you were placed in Baptism, Born of Water and the Spirit.  There is one name, though, which, in a most important way, speaks better than any other.  “Behold what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called Children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1a).  Remember back a few Sundays ago, three Sundays in a row, when we heard in Mark 10, Jesus blessing the children, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child shall not enter it” (vv. 14–15); then the rich young man who sought the one thing to do to inherit eternal life; and then Jesus teaching the disciples “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 23).  The disciples are astonished at His words, even wondering, “Who then can be saved?”  What is His Word of Promise to them?  “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24–25).  Did you hear how Jesus addressed them? “Children!” According to Jesus—and He ought to know—what belongs to children? The kingdom of God!  When Jesus names His disciples—when He names us—Children, He’s saying in effect, “You’re in!  Don’t worry!  You are Children of God, and He is Your Father, and His kingdom of life eternal is yours!”  Why does God do this?  “Only out of [His] fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us].”  Or to give a shorter answer, closely bound to our name, Children of God, let’s hear St. John again: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 Jn 3:2a).  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is Love.  … In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  … By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 Jn 4:7–8, 10–11, 13).  You are {a work of love,} the work of the Holy Trinity who dwells within you.

Many years ago I saw a sign at a church which said, “He who is born of God should grow to resemble his Father.”  That means growing to be like Jesus, your Elder Brother. That means your mind will be transformed to be like the Mind of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ.  That means becoming virtually unrecognizable to the world. But God will always know you and never forget you, never deny you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.