Homily in Remembrance of Tom Madison

July 22, 2017 in Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - John, Cross of Christ, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Faith, Funeral Service, Law and Gospel, Resurrection, Sin

Acts 26:28–29 (NASB95)
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

The passage that I have quoted today contains Paul’s witness to a Jewish king named Agrippa. Two years prior to this exchange, Paul had been unjustly imprisoned and had remained in Roman custody that entire time, awaiting a trial, awaiting his freedom. At the end of those two years, however, the Roman Governor Festus was prepared to deliver Paul into the hands of his enemies; consequently, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal for justice to Caesar in Rome; his appeal was granted.

Shortly after he made his appeal, King Agrippa arrived and Festus decided to use Agrippa to help him explain to Caesar why Paul was being sent to Rome. Festus permitted Paul to explain why he was in prison; Paul, as was his custom, used the opportunity to preach about Christ. He wanted to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian. So Paul highlighted the way Jesus had fulfilled all the promises that God had made throughout the Jewish Scriptures – “that the Christ [God’s chosen Ruler of the world] would suffer [and die], that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23). Jesus is proof of God’s intention to reconcile human beings with Himself.

This may seem an unusual passage for a memorial service. But it is fitting for this reason: even as Paul had suffered in prison for about two years, our beloved brother Tom suffered in a prison of sickness these past two years. Tom would not have chosen that trial for himself any more than Paul would have chosen to be imprisoned. Far better to be free, far better to be well, and able to do what he was accustomed to doing.

But Tom knew, even as Paul did, that his Heavenly Father had some purpose for his suffering. Consequently, Tom used his suffering to speak to others about Christ. Tom’s faith was always strong – as the testimonies we have heard illustrate. But these last couple years Tom’s faith was even deeper; his perception of eternal realities clearer; and his understanding of the fragility of life keener. Though Tom suffered much in his sickness, he suffered in faith. When I would meet with Tom to encourage him, I would regularly go away encouraged. For he would remind me of God’s promises, remind me of God’s purposes, and remind me of God’s lovingkindness. Perhaps Tom did the same with you?
I was reminded of Agrippa’s encounter with Paul as I spoke with Connie and the children this week. They told me of a conversation that Tom had with an unbelieving friend in which he spoke of Christ and repeated Paul’s words in our text: I would wish to God…[that you] might become such as I am, except for this cancer. Tom would want all to know the hope of being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ and having hope even in the face of suffering and death.

So I am here to repeat Tom’s urgent appeal; I am here to remind you of the fragility of life; I am here to tell you that you will die and face your Creator and your Judge; and the only way to look forward to that moment in hope, as Tom did, is if you have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Your sins – your failure to worship your Creator as you ought, your acts of selfishness and spite, your mistreatment of your spouse, your unjust divorce, your anger and bitterness, your lust for money, for sex, for control, for youth – your sins have separated you from God; if you should die and stand before your Creator with those sins between you and Him, you will perish eternally.

But hear the Good News: God has been gracious to you – He has offered clear and irrefutable evidence of His existence and of His determination to reconcile you to Himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection are that proof – proof that God has provided a sacrifice to forgive your sins and reconcile you to Himself and proof that death is no longer a cause of hopelessness for those who believe in Jesus. So I am here to plead with you: be reconciled to God before it is too late. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of Sacred Scripture:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

These words remind us that our condition as sinful human beings is so dire that there is no way to deal with our sin and be reconciled to God other than through Jesus; He is the only sacrifice for sins. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). These are the only two options. Believe in Jesus or face the judgment of God.
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Despite God’s gracious proof of His existence and His purpose to reconcile us to Himself, many continue to resist Him and refuse to believe in Jesus. The Scriptures say again:
This is the [sober truth], that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God… (John 3:19-21)

So what of you? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator? Are you willing to come to the light and have your deeds exposed now? Or will you try to hide and hope that the day of death will not overtake you? Tom’s death illustrates that that hope is vain. It is appointed unto all men to die once and after this to face the judgment. So hear Paul’s wish once again: “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” Let us pray.

Baptism speaks about us and about God

March 6, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Children, Ecclesiology, Sin
Exodus 20:4–6 (NKJV)
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
This morning we have the privilege of baptizing Carly Bryan. Permit me to say a few words before we do so.
Baptism says something about us and baptism says something about God. First, baptism says something about us. Baptism declares, in no uncertain terms, that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ. And the baptism of infants announces the sober reality of original sin. Even this child, not yet old enough to know her right hand from her left, has been born in sin. By nature, she is a child of wrath, even as the rest. Christian parents don’t have magic sperm and eggs that prevent the transmission of corruption – would that it were so! Baptism reveals that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ – only He can save us, we cannot save ourselves.
Second, baptism says something about God. It announces that God has graciously provided a way of salvation, a way to be cleansed of our sin, cleansed of our corruption – both the original sin with which we are born and the actual sin that we ourselves begin to practice. God has provided a sacrifice to cover the guilt of our sin in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism reveals God’s grace.
And the baptism of infants declares something further about God’s grace. The baptism of infants reveals something remarkable about God – His grace is not confined to atomistic individuals but extends itself from one generation to the next. In this baptism, God promises Carly that He will be her God and the God of her children after her – for He has been her parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ God before her. Notice our text today:
For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

And so Mary, the mother of our Lord, sings in her Magnificat: “For God’s mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). Baptism reveals something about us – our sin; but it also reveals something about God – His abounding grace. And praise God for that!

We are far too easily pleased

November 2, 2016 in Glorification, Human Condition, Quotations, Sanctification, Sin

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”


          C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Whatever Things are Noble

October 17, 2016 in Bible - NT - Philippians, Depravity, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Sanctification, Sexuality, Sin
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that we “may approve the things that are excellent” (1:9b). In order to do so, we must be able to identify these excellent things and, in our text, Paul catalogues some of them. He calls us to meditate on these things – to give them our attention, mull them over, and let them shape our attitude and actions.
So let us meditate on whatever things are noble. This word noble is “used in classical Greek in the sense of ‘venerable, inviting reverence, worthy of reverence.’ The word exhorts here to a due appreciation of such things as produce a noble seriousness.” (Wuest) Other translations endeavor to capture the meaning with the English word “honorable.”
P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, once remarked, “No man ever went broke underestimating the public taste.” His remark reflects a sober truth: our sinful nature lends itself to that which is base. Taking advantage of this sinful corruption, much of the entertainment industry has become horribly degenerate, appealing to our baser instincts.
Yet even though our sinful nature gravitates toward that which is base and corrupt, we still possess a longing for nobility, a longing for that which is honorable and upright. Because we have been created in the image of God, we still retain a sense of the divine and, at times, long for those things which reflect His glory, long for nobility. This longing is cleverly expressed in an old poem of unknown authorship:

  I have three tame ducks in my back yard,
  Who wallow in the mud, and try real hard
  To get their share and even more
  of the overflowing backyard store.
  They’re fairly content with the task they’re at
  Of eating and sleeping and getting fat.
  But when the wild ducks fly by
  In a streaming line across the sky,
  They cast a wishful and quizzical eye
  And flap their wings and attempt to fly.
  I think my soul is a tame old duck
  Wallowing around in the barnyard muck,
  It’s fat and lazy with useless wings
  But, once in awhile when the north wind sings
  And the wild ducks hurtle overhead
  It remembers something lost and almost dead,
  And it casts a wistful eye
  And flaps its wings and tries to fly.
  It’s fairly content with the state that it’s in

  But it isn’t the duck that it might have been![1]

Paul calls us, in our passage, to follow those wild ducks; to meditate on what we were created to be; to delight in that which is noble, honorable, and glorious. He calls us to delight in the boy who opens the door for his sister; to rejoice in the wife who honors her husband and shields his faults; to esteem the man who keeps himself free from pornography; to admire the businessman who pays his employees well; to honor the soldier who lays down his life for his friends; to worship the Lord Christ who sacrificed Himself for us all. “That’s what I want to be like,” we should say, “that’s who I want to be.”
So reminded of our call to meditate on whatever things are noble, let us confess that we often gravitate toward that which is base instead. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.



[1] http://www.christians.org/grow/grow13.html

Who is your God?

June 12, 2016 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Sin, Worship
Psalm 4:4–5 (NKJV)
4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.
The call of God upon us as His people is very simple and straightforward – He wants us to serve Him, not man; to trust in Him, not in created things; to love and cling to Him, not to the idols which we create with our own hands.
Each of us faces the choice of whom we shall serve: will we serve God or will we serve some idol? And note that this is not a choice that admits of middle paths – there is no third option; no opportunity to plead that we have been placed in a false dilemma. The dilemma is real; the antithesis stares us in the face; you must choose whom you shall serve. Who will be your God? Who is your God?
Have you given yourself to the gods of this age? To glamour, wealth, power, sex, academic prestige, simplicity, health? Do you sit and worship at their feet?
Or have you given yourself to the Triune God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the fountain of true glamour, of lasting wealth, of real power, of meaningful sex, of profound wisdom, of unpretentious simplicity, of blessed health? Do you sit and worship at His feet?
It was here that David sat and he knew as one who sat at God’s feet what the Lord required and summarized it quite well –
         Be angry – Fear God, and in fearing him despise wickedness and those who practice wickedness; be indignant for God’s Name.
         Do not sin – Remember in all your indignation, that to love God is to hate evil and the ways of wickedness; and that it is not first and foremost to hate the evil out there but the evil in here, in your own heart; so in loving and fearing God, turn away from sin.
         Meditate in your heart upon your bed – When you are laying down to rest and your mind begins to go over the day, to consider where you’ve been and where you’re going, do not let your thoughts wander wildly but instead bring them into subjection to the Word of God. For it is by meditating upon God’s law, His promises and assurances of love toward us that we will be able to…
         Be still – If we meditate on the Word, if we let our thoughts race not on our own anxieties but on the Word of God then we shall be equipped to be still – God will care for me; God will bless me; God will remember me. And so it is in this knowledge of God’s care for me that I…
         Offer sacrifices of righteousness – I come before the Lord faithfully every Lord’s Day in company with His people, I serve the Lord with gladness of heart every day; I rejoice in his precepts; delight in His law; pray; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
         Trust in the Lord – Don’t succumb to the allurement of the idols – many of them are carved quite cunningly, beautiful with their gold and silver accents – but remember that despite all their cunning beauty they cannot do anything for you.
So what is God’s call upon us as His people? David tells us: Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.

As we come into the presence of our Lord to worship, reminded that our calling is to trust wholly in Him and no doubt convicted that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

The Flesh conquered by Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

March 6, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 John, Church Calendar, Easter, Good Friday, Meditations, Sin
1 John 3:4–6 (NKJV)
4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
For the first three Sundays in Lent, we addressed our three chief enemies as Christians: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we are outside of Christ, these forces dominate our lives and compel us to sin; they drive us away from our Creator. So having identified each of these enemies, let us, in the next couple weeks, highlight the way that Jesus, through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, has conquered each of these enemies. Lent, recall, is a time of preparation – a time to prepare for Good Friday and Easter, to remind ourselves anew of the glorious Good News that Christ has died and risen again to free us from our slavery to sin, to the devil, and to the world.
So notice that our text today emphasizes one reason Jesus was manifested. John writes, “And you know that He was manifested” – He was revealed, He took on human flesh – “to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” Jesus appeared to take away our sins. How did He do this?
First, Jesus died on the cross to take away the guilt of sin. Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And even as the lambs under the old covenant had to be perfect, without blemish, so Jesus was without blemish, “in Him,” John writes, “there is no sin.” So as the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus offered Himself as our substitute. He died in our place. We are sinners, enslaved to the world, the flesh, and the devil; we deserve God’s wrath and curse. But Jesus, the one who was free of the world, free of the flesh (the sinful nature), and free of the devil, offered His own life in place of ours. Consequently, through Jesus’ death on the cross we can be forgiven – glory be to God! Jesus appeared to “take away our sins.” No matter how heinous your sin, Christ died to take it away, died that you might stand before God holy and blameless – not because of Your goodness but because of His. By His death Jesus frees us from the guilt of sin.
But not only did Jesus “take away our sins” by dying on the cross, He also “takes away our sins” by His resurrection from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead that we sinful and rebellious human beings might have new life; that the resurrection power of Jesus might transform our fallen nature that we might live lives that honor and please our Creator. So, John tells us, “Whoever abides in him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” Jesus did not come simply to forgive you; He came to transform you. All those whom He forgives through the cross He transforms through His resurrection from the dead. By His Spirit, He dwells in us and we dwell in Him and He frees us from the power of sin.
Good Friday and Easter, therefore, are the foundation of our deliverance from sin – our deliverance from the flesh, from our sinful nature. Jesus frees us from the guilt and power of sin. And, praise be to God, one day Jesus shall return in glory to free us and all creation from the presence of sin. Truly He was manifested to take away our sins.
So have you praised God for the blessing of forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice? Have you praised God for the blessing of new life through Jesus’ resurrection? Or have you been making light of your sin instead? Perhaps claiming that you don’t need to be forgiven? Or claiming that you’re really a pretty good person on your own?

If so, the Word of God comes to you today, reminding you of your sin and the impossibility of taking away your sin by yourself. There is only one who can take away your sin – Jesus Christ. So reminded that it is Jesus’ death and resurrection that frees us from sin, let us confess our sin and praise the Lord for providing for our forgiveness and new life.

The Seriousness of Sin

February 14, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Numbers, Church Calendar, Meditations, Sin
1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 (NKJV)
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as [our fathers] also lusted… 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. As I mentioned in my newsletter this week, Lent is a period of preparation like the season of Advent. It is time to anticipate the arrival of Easter and the glorious good news of new life as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection. As the historic acclamation declares, Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ shall come again.
So let us consider in the next few weeks what focusing on Christ’s death and resurrection teaches us. First, Lent serves as a reminder of the true severity of our sin and the reason for Jesus’ death on the cross. While we often treat our sin with a breezy familiarity, Jesus’ death on the cross forces us to reckon with its true gravity and pervasiveness. We simply cannot save ourselves but stand ever in need of Christ – in need of His substitutionary death on the cross for forgiveness and in need of His resurrection power for obedience.
This week for my OT Bible reading I was in the book of Numbers. Because of their sin and unbelief, our fathers were doomed to wander 40 years in the wilderness. While wandering, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram compounded this sin by organizing a mass demonstration against Moses and Aaron. They complained that Moses wasn’t being sufficiently democratic; that they should be able to perform the same duties as the priests. “You take too much upon yourselves,” they complained, “for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Haven’t you ever heard of the priesthood of all believers, Moses? God didn’t look kindly on their protest and judged their rebellion, commanding the earth to swallow some of them alive and consuming others with fire.
One would think that our fathers’ response to God’s visible and powerful judgment would be contrition and repentance. But not so. “On the next day,” Moses writes, “all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord.’” Rather than acknowledging the real cause of the calamity that had struck them – their persistent and ingrained sin and rebellion against God – our fathers chose to blame Moses and Aaron. “The calamity that struck Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was your fault, Moses and Aaron! You are to blame!” Because of this renewed sin, God acted in judgment once again – plague began to make its way through the camp. So Moses urged Aaron as the high priest to enter into the camp and to burn incense, intervening between God and the sinful people. Aaron listened to Moses, God listened to Aaron, and the plague was stopped.
This story reminds us of two things – two things that Lent was crafted to highlight. First, it reminds us of the ingrained and serious nature of sin. As Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And this sin deserves the wrath and judgment of God for it is an attack on His Lordship and an affront to His holiness. Second, the story reminds us of the mercy which God has displayed in raising up a Great High Priest to stand between Him and His sinful people. Just as Aaron stood between God and Israel, interceding on Israel’s behalf, so Jesus stands between God and us, interceding on our behalf. Jesus stands between God and us, covering the guilt of our sin by His sacrifice and assuring us of God’s blessing rather than His curse. As we sing in the communion hymn:
“You who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here [in the death of Christ] may view its nature rightly here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load, tis the Son the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”

And so reminded of the seriousness of our sin but also of the greatness of God’s mercy in Christ, let us confess our sins to the Lord – our sins and the sins of our people – and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.

Original and Actual Sin

February 5, 2015 in Baptism, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Genesis, Newsletter, Regeneration, Sin

This week one of the questions we recite from the Westminster Shorter Catechism concerns our sinfulness:

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.


The catechism reminds us that our fundamental problem as human beings is not what we do (actual sins) but what we are (original sin). Our problem is that our nature is corrupt. And it is from this corruption of nature, a corruption which all human beings share, that our actual transgressions proceed.

And this, I believe, is one of the reasons that God has always dealt not just with believers but with their children – commanding our fathers to circumcise male infants and (I would argue as a good Presbyterian) commanding us to baptize our male and female infants. Even those precious, cuddly, warm and snuggly infants have a corrupt nature. Hence, apart from the grace of God, they too will perish in their sins. But thanks be to God! He shows mercy to our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations.

This also reminds us why we are wholly dependent upon God for our salvation from first to last. Paul reminds us that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” It is not simply that we “do not” please God but that we “cannot please God” – we lack the ability and the desire. Left to ourselves we will consistently choose to worship idols, to abandon the Living God, and to spurn His good law. So we depend on God to draw us to Himself (Jn 6:44), to enlighten our minds (Mt 11:25ff), and to free us from the shackles of our sin (Jn 8:34-36). When He does so, our only fitting response is one of praise and thanksgiving!

This week we study the Call of Abram – God in His grace and mercy reached out to Abram when he was in Ur of the Chaldees and called him to faith. This was wholly of grace – even as our call to faith is wholly of grace. So let us join our voices with Abram’s in giving thanks to God.

Sins of Omission and Commission

January 22, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Church Calendar, Confession, Newsletter, Sin

This coming Sunday we recite question numbers 14-15 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Question number 14 directs us to the topic of sin:

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

The Westminster divines remind us that sin entails both acts of omission and acts of commission. Acts of omission are covered in the first clause – “Sin is any want of conformity unto…the law of God.” When we fail to do that which we know we ought to do, that which God has commanded us to do, then we have sinned. As James reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). So be sure to listen to your conscience and to implement the good things you think of doing – don’t just think about them.

The catechism also addresses sins of commission: “Sin is any…transgression of, the law of God.” To rebel against God, to hear what God says and then to do the opposite, is also sin. Hence, the Apostle John reminds us that “sin is lawlessness.” Sin is an attempt to act as god; to pretend that we are the lawgiver and the judge; who will rule over me?

During Ordinary Time we confess our sins with the following words: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” Sins of omission and sins of commission.

Thank God that in His grace and mercy He has not abandoned us to our sins of omission and commission but has rescued and delivered us through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord! He has rescued us and given us His Spirit that we might, by the power of the Spirit, do those things which honor and please Him. So don’t be discouraged: confess your sins of omission and commission and then rise up and hear God’s word of pardon and forgiveness, giving thanks to His Name.