Our sermon hymn for this Sunday is the great hymn Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us, a great and beloved hymn on Christian love and charity. It was written by Eliza Alderson, one of our few women hymn-writers, whose brother, John Dykes, wrote the famous tune to “Holy, Holy, Holy”. She was a pastor’s wife and the granddaughter of a pastor, living in England for all of her life. She was a gifted poet and painter and was active in those things for most of her life. This hymn appeared in a collection of 12 hymns by her, simply called Twelve Hymns.
I believe the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Epiphany, sets the tone for the hymn. It comes from Leviticus 19.
9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
Here’s stanza 1:
Lord of glory, You have bought us
With Your life-blood as the price,
Never grudging for the lost ones
That tremendous sacrifice;
And with that have freely given
Blessings countless as the sand
To the unthankful and the evil
With Your own unsparing hand.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has bought us by sacrificing himself on the cross for us. We hear this all throughout Scripture, including this from Hebrews 10:
8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Jesus has given Himself as the sacrifice to take away our sins, and the hymn points out something about that sacrifice that is truly amazing. He doesn’t hold a grudge against us for it! Despite the pain and agony he endured, he holds no grudge, no resentment, no anger towards us. This is an astounding truth that we often overlook, but the hymn-writer wisely picks up on it. Along with the salvation we gain through the sacrifice of Jesus, our loving God and Lord also gives us what Luther calls “everything I need to support this body and life.” He provides for all who believe in Him, but also for all who do not. God provides food, clothing, shelter, family, community, and much else to all people. Jesus points this out in our Gospel reading for this week, from Matthew 5:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
God loves and provides for people who live in darkness, who despise what is good, and who lives as enemies of God. This should serve as a stern reminder to us that we are to love and care for our enemies, for we, left to ourselves, would surely deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.
Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to give You
Gladly, freely of Your own.
With the sunshine of Your goodness
Melt our thankless hearts of stone
Till our cold and selfish natures,
Warmed by You, at length believe
That more happy and more blessed
‘Tis to give than to receive.
Having dealt with the way that God freely and lovingly gives, we now move on to how we are to give. First of all, we must understand that everything we have is a gift from God. This is why the second verse (line) says “Gladly, freely of Your own.” This sort of glad, open-hearted giving can only come from God’s love working in our hearts. How fitting, then, that for decades we in the Lutheran church sang these words from Psalm 51 as we brought the offering forward:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that we can have believing hearts that will want to give and not receive. We are given the wealth of the world in order to help our neighbor who is in the world. John speaks it this way, in words of intense law, from 1 John 3:
16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Create in us clean hearts, O God!
Wondrous honor You have given
To our humblest charity
In Your own mysterious sentence,
“You have done it all to Me.”
Can it be, O gracious Master,
That You deign for alms to sure,
Saying by Your poor and needy,
“Give and I have given to you”?
This “mysterious sentence” comes from the parable of the sheep and the goats, found in Matthew 25:
34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
It is a truly wondrous, profound mystery that we are the body of Christ and that in caring for each other we care for Christ Himself. Because of this, when we see our Christian brothers and sisters in need, it is not them, but Christ Himself, who cries out to us for assistance. How can we say that we love Jesus and neglect His body when He cries out in need? Our example from God in terms of giving is perfect and we are to follow that example. Lord, have mercy upon us! Jesus will tell us again at the end of Matthew 5:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Is the Law of God starting to hit you yet? God doesn’t just want us to love a little more, or try to be nice, or go do one good deed during the week to prove that we listened to the sermon. God wants us to follow His perfect example and love and give perfectly as He has given perfectly to us. This is a good thing! The law of God is good and wise and it sets our sins before our eyes. And so, as we conclude the hymn, we return to the love of God, repeating part of stanza 1, and always trusting in the love of Jesus Christ.
Lord of glory,
You have bought us
With Your life-blood as the price,
Never grudging for the lost ones,
That tremendous sacrifice.
Give us faith to trust you boldly,
Hope, to stay our souls on You;
But, oh, best of all Your graces,
With Your love our love renew.