Sunday, July 26, 2020
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10A)
July 12, 2020
Text: Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23
The Word of God is powerful to do what it says. God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3; ESV), and there was light. God spoke creation into existence out of nothing. The firmament, the dry land and the seas, vegetation, sea creatures and birds of the heavens, livestock and creeping things and beasts of the field, and then His crowning achievement, man, to be the recipient of all that He had created, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it. God spoke, and so it was done. To this day, creation works, and is sustained, and children are born, because God spoke it so in Genesis 1.
And as it is in the matter of creation, so it is in the matter of salvation. God spoke His Son into the ear and womb of the Virgin for us men and for our salvation. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus is the Word of our Father, the revelation of God as our God, gracious and merciful toward sinners, forgiving our sins and granting us life. Jesus spoke. He preached. He taught. He healed and cleansed by speaking it so. Wind and wave, the very demons were subject to His Word. He spoke as they crucified Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And so the forgiveness of sins flows to sinners from that very place. He spoke from the cross, having suffered all in payment for our sins: “It is finished” (John 19:30), and so it was, our atonement complete. Now He is risen, as He said. And how is His saving work given to men? Preaching! God’s speaking! The Word! Your sins are forgiven, you are told in Scripture and sermon and Absolution, and so they are! You belong to God as His own child, for He speaks it so, names you with His Name, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in Baptism. And then, here is Jesus, for you, as He says: “This is my body… This is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He speaks, and so it is. It is simply what we read from the Prophet Isaiah this morning concerning the Word: “it shall not return to me empty” says the LORD, “but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11).
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Word, the Word, the Word. That is how God does it. That is how He brings us to faith in Christ, so that we receive all the benefits of our Lord’s saving work in His death and resurrection. And the Word is mighty to do it. That is why we preach. That is why you confess Jesus and speak His Word in your daily life and vocation. And there is the Promise that keeps us going: It will not return empty. It will succeed. Period. Exclamation point!
Then why do so many hear the Word and reject it? It is a heartbreaking question, and it isn’t theoretical, because every one of us has a real, flesh-and-blood person in mind when we ask it. Probably several people. Perhaps many. People we love. People to whom we’ve confessed Christ. Maybe even people we thought believed at one time or another, people who came to Church, but don’t anymore, and don’t seem to have an interest. People who don’t want to hear it from us. Maybe children we raised in the faith. Maybe grandchildren. A brother. A sister. A dear friend. We know they’ve heard. And though in every case we’ll let God be their Judge and we’ll confess His great mercy toward them… as far as we are concerned, it appears they have no faith in Jesus. How do we account for the preaching of this Almighty Word appearing to result in… nothing? Directly counter to the Promise.
The problem is not the Word. It is the person who hears the Word. Jesus says the Word is Seed, cast by preaching and by confessing. We like to see ourselves as the Sower as we go about witnessing, but really, that role belongs only to the Savior. He is the Sower who goes out to sow. Yes, we witness, or in a preacher’s case, preach. But that is still the Savior doing the sowing of His Word. In this parable, we are the soil into which the Word is sown.
Now, Jesus says, there are several types of soil that are not capable of growing a crop of faith, that are hostile to the Seed of the Word. The first is the path. The Sower sows on the path, and the birds come and pick off the Seed. Well, that seems pretty obvious. The birds are the evil one and his demons. When a person hears the Word without understanding, the Seed is pretty easy picking for evil spirits. “God can’t really mean that, can He?” So they whisper. “That doesn’t make sense. That isn’t very loving. That doesn’t square with reality. Or science! You know better than that.” There are any number of ways they do it, but as the Seed is sown, it bounces off a hard-packed heart and is immediately snatched up by the devil and his lackeys. These are the folks who hear the Word and simply reject it.
Then there is the rocky soil. These receive the Word at first with joy. Jesus, love, life, wonderful things! But there is a hardness underneath the soil. No room for deep roots. So faith comes for a time, while everything is joyful and easy. But then things get hard. They always do for Christians. Your Lord promises it. Personal struggles and suffering in fallen creation and as the devil attacks. Persecution for the faith on the part of the world. The person who wants only a happy, feel-good religion (which describes so much of American Christianity), will shrivel up and die when the going gets tough. They’ll compromise with the world. Always. They’ll sell-out. And before you know it, there will be no crop, no faith. If anything, just pious, sentimental religiosity. But not the Jesus of the cross.
Then, of course, there is the Seed sown among thorns. The Word is choked out by the stuff of this life, worldly cares, the deceitfulness of riches. This is where Christianity becomes compartmentalized in a person’s life. Jesus gets only His little slice of time and attention, and that slice is ever dwindling. “I have to concentrate on my job. I have my weekend get-aways and vacations. I work so hard, I need my rest and relaxation, and that can’t include Jesus and His Sunday morning demands. I’ll get to Jesus later, when I’m not so busy.” I’ve even heard, so many times it would shock you, family named as the thing that prevents attendance at Divine Service and reception of Jesus’ gifts: “Oh, Pastor, we’d love to come to Church more, but you know, Sunday morning is our only chance to enjoy time together as a family.” Now, these are all good gifts of God to be enjoyed and tended: Jobs, vacations, family. But they’ve crowded out Jesus and His Word. They’ve become idols. And so they’ve become a curse. Thorns… as in thorns and thistles and the sweat of the brow!
But why is the Sower so reckless as to sow on all those inhospitable soils in the first place? Shouldn’t He sow only into the well-cultivated and prepared soil? This brings two very important truths to light. First, the prodigal grace of God. He’ll sow the Seed of His Word anywhere and everywhere! Because He does not desire the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his wicked way and live (Ez. 33:11). He desires all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Second, where in the world are you going to find good soil apart from and before the Sower’s sowing of the Word? Do you understand? You aren’t a believer because you were already good soil when Jesus came across you. You are a believer because Jesus came along, cast His Seed on the beaten and compacted, rocky, thorny soil of your mind and heart, and the Word transformed you. By grace. Don’t be such a semi-Pelagian as to think you prepared yourself by your good works and disposition to receive God’s gracious Word, and so come to faith. No, apart from the Word, you are every one of those other soils. The other soils aren’t just other people. That’s you apart from the Word. Repent of your hardness of heart. Repent of your desire for feel-good religion. Repent of prioritizing other people and things above Jesus. That is the Word of the LORD that calls you to such repentance. Even as the Word is sown, it is doing the plowing, the cultivating, the watering, the fertilizing. It is the Word that makes the soil into good soil, the Word cast by Jesus, implanted by the Holy Spirit, sinking through the beaten path, roots busting through the stone, choking out the thorns. If the Sower didn’t sow on the hostile soil, He couldn’t sow at all. But He does sow, because He loves you and has called you to be His own.
Why some and not others? Oh, you turkey. That is the question, isn’t it? We’re butting up against the doctrine of Election. We’re perilously close to looking into things into which we’re not given to look. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). Do not venture to look into the hidden things of God. The question actually is not one for you to answer. But you do know what is revealed. And that is this: God does not desire the death of any sinner. He wants all to be saved. Jesus died for the sins of all people. Jesus is risen and lives for all people. The Gospel is to be preached to all people. It is the Gospel, the Word of Almighty God, that brings a person to faith in Christ, so that thy receive all the saving benefits of Christ. And when they believe that Word, God gets all the credit for that. They didn’t do anything to prepare for it, or to merit it. Not so much as a decision for Jesus. To God alone be the glory. The Holy Spirit has worked faith by His Word. Just like God alone grows the seeds, so God alone grows faith. And if that Word is not believed, the blame rests on the unbeliever and the devil, and not on God in any way. God is not the Author of that evil. Do not try to solve the logical dilemma. That has not been revealed to you. Stick with what Scripture says, and live in the tension. Let God be God, and you just be His child. And rejoice that the Word has taken root in you, by grace alone.
And trust the Promise in spite of all appearances. The Word is doing what God sent it to do. Always. It is hidden from your eyes, but that doesn’t change the fact of it. Think again of that person, or those people, on your mind and heart throughout this sermon. God loves them even more than you do, and He desires their salvation. Christ died for them! Christ lives for them! We are only to view the doctrine of Election through the lens of Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Only God knows how the Word will accomplish His will for them. So do not lose heart. Keep speaking. Keep confessing. Keep praying to the only One who can make faith grow. The Word by which God created all things, the Word by which He redeemed all things, is preached to create faith when and where it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel (AC V). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. God is faithful. His Seed is sown. And His Word transforms even the most inhospitable soil into a rich yield. It can happen, and it does. Just take yourself, for example. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. God has spoken, and the speaking continues to the end of the age. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Sunday, July 5, 2020
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8A)
June 28, 2020
Text: Matt. 10:34-42
God’s Word says what it says. We don’t get to change it, or ignore it, when we don’t like it, when we judge it outdated, outmoded, or not up to our own “woke” standards. God’s Word says what it says, because God is who He is. He is true to Himself, and His Word is truth. And anyway, since when are you and I the judge over Him? Are you really surprised that you don’t like everything He says, or that your thoughts and feelings, your will doesn’t line up with His will as He reveals it in His Word? You are a sinner. And that is your sin. The answer to it is not to change or ignore God’s Word. The answer is to repent. The problem isn’t God’s Word, it is you! It is good for you when the Scriptures rub you the wrong way, make you cringe, offend your sensibilities. God is exposing your rebellion against Him. The Law of God is doing its work. It is killing you. So that God can raise you up anew in Christ, who died for this very sin of denying His Word and rebelling against it, who covered this very sin with His blood, and who is risen from the dead to bring you life, so that you live in His Word.
God’s Word says what it says, and that requires the daily death of you in repentance, drowning your old Adam anew in the baptismal waters, and your daily resurrection to new life, Christ Himself arising in you, granting you His Spirit. So that you believe His holy Word, and confess it, no matter the cost.
And there is a cost. Not only does the Word of God create a conflict within you that demands nothing less than a death and resurrection, it creates conflict between you and the world. And that may even include your own family members. Now, you know that as a congregation and a Church-body, we’re pro-family. We love marriage and children and promote strong family structures and good family values, the home as God would have it. Jesus is not anti-family when He says what He says in our Holy Gospel. He wants you to honor your father and your mother according to the Fourth Commandment. He wants you to love your children and raise them in the fear and admonition of the LORD. He wants you to receive your in-laws into your family as your own, to treat your parents-in-law with all the honor and respect due your own mother and father, to love your children-in-law as you do your very own sons and daughters. That is the ideal. That is the goal of Christian love.
But our Lord knows that in this fallen world and among sinners, His Word doesn’t always have such a unifying affect on our relationships. In fact, all-too-often it is quite the opposite. His Word is a sword. It divides. Because it says what it says. And your friends and co-workers, your fellow citizens, and even your own family members can’t believe that you believe it! It’s scandalous! “And if you’re the kind of person that would believe what a bunch of silly old Scriptures, from an outdated worldview, say… I want nothing to do with you.”
The division isn’t the Christian separating himself with disdain from the unbelieving friend or family member. It is never to be that. Insofar as it depends on you, you are to live at peace with all people. You are to love all people. You are never called to hatred. It is rather that the unbeliever separates himself with disdain from the Christian. And the temptation for the Christian, who understandably doesn’t want to experience the pain of such a division, is to capitulate to the unbeliever’s demands. “Okay, whatever you say. All other gods are basically interchangeable with ours, and there are many paths to salvation. Believe what you want. Abortion is great. Gay marriage is great. There is nothing wrong with fatherless homes and that surely can’t be the reason for the breakdown of society. Go ahead, live together outside of marriage. Sure, mutilate the child’s body parts and give the hormone blocking drugs before they’ve even reached the age of puberty. Yes, the Church should be silent on all the issues. We shouldn’t have any real convictions. I won’t insist on anything God’s Word says anymore, because I don’t want you to call me stupid or hateful or bigoted. And most of all, I don’t want you to stop liking me.”
But do you see what you’ve done? You’ve made your friend or co-worker, your mother or father, your son or daughter, your god. This is how idolatry works. You take the good gifts of God and elevate them above Him. And that is the problem Jesus diagnoses in the Gospel this morning. Idolatry. In this case, particularly of the family. It is not a question of who you love, it is a question of who you love most… God, or your family members. It is a hard word, but it is necessary. This is one of the greatest temptations for Christians, because we’re all for family values and we all want peaceful family gatherings, but we end up being more afraid of offending our loved ones than offending God. That’s a problem. That is sin. Repent. I know what that is. Believe me, I know, and I am guilty. It is a great temptation for me not to preach these things to you, because I know you don’t like them, and I love you, and I don’t want you to reject me. God have mercy. This is painful. But the point is, whenever there is a conflict between God and a family member… whenever we cannot please both… we must remain true to God. We must remain true to His Word, which says what it says… like it, or not. We love our family members, but we must love God first, and even above our family members. We must love God first for the sake of our family members. Because they are not gods. That isn’t fair to them to place them in that position. And because their salvation depends upon it.
Jesus did come to bring peace on earth. Just not that kind of peace. Not the kind of peace where we deny God and His Word so as not to offend. In that sense, He came to bring a sword. Jesus came to bring true peace, peace with God to sinners who have offended Him, peace in the forgiveness of sins, peace by His blood and cross which makes atonement for your every denial of Him before men. The cock is crowing. Weep your bitter tears, but know, the Lord is looking upon you in compassion. He will not deny you. He receives you back. Always. Always covering your sin with His blood and with His perfect righteousness. Always making intercession for you and restoring you to the Father. When the Law has done its work of killing you, Jesus raises you up and gives you life. His life. Eternal life. Real life. By the preaching of the Gospel.
So take up your cross and follow Him. If you want to find your life in this world, with honor in the eyes of men, you will lose your life for all eternity. But if you give up your life in this world for the sake of Jesus Christ, you will find it, real and true, for all eternity. Confess Him. Do not be ashamed. Confess that He is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God who is the flesh and blood Son of Mary. Confess that there is salvation in no one else. Confess His cross, His death for sinners, His resurrection victory over the grave. Speak His Word in love… love for all. That is why you speak it. Yes, we love homosexuals. Why else would we be so concerned to speak God’s Word to them about their condition, when that brings so much hatred upon ourselves? Yes, we love women who have aborted their precious babies. Those women are just as much the victims of the abortion industry as the babies who have been slaughtered. But there is healing and hope and restoration in Christ. Even for abortion doctors. There is no hatred of any person here. Only love and mercy and forgiveness. For we ourselves are sinners, and we know it, and we confess it. But we also know Jesus and His salvation.
Love reaches out with that. Love is not the same thing as being nice and pleasant all the time, only saying things that affirm others in their thoughts and behavior, and don’t rock the boat. Oftentimes love means the opposite of that. Love is honest and true… as in, of the truth, of God. Love says the hard things when the hard things are the good things that need to be said. Love says, and love does, what is necessary, even when that is unpleasant. Love even invites hatred and rejection upon itself from the beloved, when such is necessary to suffer. You know this with your children when they are young. But it isn’t any different in any other situation. So in love, you say to one you love, “You know, what you are doing to yourself and others in that sin is destroying you. It is destroying your relationship with God. It is destroying your relationship with others. It is killing you. But I love you, and I know a way out. Take a word of advice from a fellow-sinner. Jesus Christ is your Savior and your life. He has not rejected you. He loves you and has mercy and forgiveness for you. Repent and believe in Him.” Yes, such a word will often bring rejection and could even get you killed. But remember what Jesus said to you last week: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Fear God alone, who has the power of life and death over body and soul, heaven and hell. Love Him. Trust Him. He will not forsake you. Speak His Word in love, with gentleness and respect. But do speak it. And suffer for it. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.
And remember those who speak that Word to you, hard as it may be to hear it. Remember that whoever receives you when you speak God’s Word, receives Jesus Christ. And whenever you receive the one who speaks that Word to you, you receive Jesus Christ. There is great blessing and reward for those who receive a prophet or a preacher for Jesus’ sake. And when you do something so simple as give even a cup of cold water to the lowest and least disciple of Jesus Christ, for the sake of Jesus Christ, because he is Christ’s disciple, God sees in His heaven, and you will by no means lose your reward.
And if that is true of a cup of cold water, it is true of any suffering you endure for faithfulness to Christ. The way of resurrection and eternal life is always through the cross and suffering. But that suffering cannot even be compared to the life that awaits you in the end.
God’s Word says what it says. Love your family enough to speak it to them. Love God enough to hold His Word sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. And suffer for it. But know this, always… What God’s Word says of you is this: Your sins are forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. You belong to Him. Baptized into Christ, you are God’s own child. Whatever the suffering, whatever the conflict, you have peace in Jesus. You have peace, and you have life, as surely as His Body and Blood are on the altar for you to eat and drink. He will bring you through. Because He is faithful. His Word says what it says, and His Word cannot lie. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7A)
June 21, 2020
Text: Matt. 10:5a, 21-33
“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” So writes Dr. Luther in his explanation of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” And the explanation of each subsequent commandment begins with the words, “We should fear and love God so that…” Fear, love, and trust. We like the love and trust part. But what to do with the word “fear”? Fear is not a nice word. We don’t like to think of God as One to be feared. Truth be told, we like to think of Him as our nice grandfather in the sky who winks and nods at our mischief. But that is not to take God seriously, and it is not to take our sin seriously. Nor is it to take the Gospel seriously. God is truly righteous and holy. And as such, He cannot abide sin and evil, all that is not righteous and holy. And that is us. That is us in our rebellion against God and His Commandments, His holy will for us. The Gospel is so precious because the situation between us and God is just that dire apart from the saving work and sin-atoning death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. So you should fear God. You know what God would rightly do to you, O sinner, apart from Jesus Christ? Kill you, soul and body, eternally, in hell. God loves you, no doubt. That is why He sent Jesus. But apart from Jesus, you would have to be very afraid.
Fear has its place. The Christian must, however, understand the difference between disordered fear and rightly ordered fear. In this life, in this fallen flesh and in this fallen world, disordered fear reigns supreme. Old Adam is afraid! And there is so much to fear. These days we fear a devastating and pervasive virus sweeping through the world, and perhaps more devastating, we fear one another as pathogens, as agents of death, and we dare not get too close. And we fear the consequences of the government’s response to the virus, economic devastation due to the shut-down, and statist tyranny. We fear civil unrest even as we grieve the tragic death of George Floyd and the racial grievances brought to the surface once again in very painful ways. Rioting, looting, wanton destruction. The evil one is having his day.
Jesus points us today to another disordered fear that afflicts Christians in particular. It is a fear that prevents us from engaging in the one activity that would actually help bring healing and wholeness to the world and to our crumbling society. That is the fear of confessing Jesus Christ and His Gospel when such confession will inevitably result in the alienation of friends and even family members, the hatred of the world, and persecution, perhaps even unto death. The disciple is not above his Master. If they did these things to Jesus, they will do these things to you. Every Christian is called to be ready to make such sacrifices. You promised it at your Confirmation. But none of us wants to. We fear it. And that is Old Adam in us. It is a disordered fear. Because it does not take into account the Promises of God in Christ, God’s Promises to you.
The Promises, which is to say, the Gospel, lead to a rightly ordered fear. First the Law drives you, by the knowledge of your sin, to fear God’s wrath, which is a real thing. Yes, your sins are just that serious. What are you doing, fearing these earthly eventualities and calamities, when you ought to fear the living God against whom you have rebelled? God preaches the Law to bring you to just that realization, to slay you, to cut you down, to kill you. So that He may bring you to life again, applying the healing and life-giving balm of the Gospel. All that wrath you have merited by your sins? It was poured out on Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Every bit of it. Jesus paid for your sins. Jesus died for your sins. He stood in for you. He became your sin. He took your punishment. He swallowed the bitter cup to the very dregs. Hell on the cross, for you. To make atonement for you. To free you from your sins. To satisfy God’s righteousness, and quench His wrath. Do you see? You are released! You are forgiven! And more than that, you are alive. For Christ is alive. God raised Him from the dead. The Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son. In fact, He is the One who gave His Son into death for this very purpose, to deliver you from your sins and make you His own. His own child. Which is what He does in Holy Baptism, where He washes away your sins by baptizing you into the death and resurrection of Christ. Where He drowns Old Adam in you and raises you up, a new creation in Christ. Where He writes His Name on you in water and blood, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and brings you into His family, the Church, to be fed and nourished by His preaching and at His Table.
Now fear has taken on a different meaning with regard to God. Now you fear Him, not in His wrath over sin, but as your loving heavenly Father. Which is to say, you revere Him. Reverence, a quality we do well to reclaim in the Church. You honor Him. You don’t want to disappoint Him. You want to do what He commands. You want to live according to His good and gracious will for you. Thus Luther’s explanations, “We should fear and love God so that…” It is not a quaking in your boots kind of fear. It is a fear born of love. The love of your Father for you. Your love for the Father who loves you and makes you His own. That is a rightly ordered fear. That is the fear of the LORD which is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10).
So “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28; ESV). That is disordered fear, to fear the things and people of this earth who can only rob you of your temporal life. But this is rightly ordered fear: “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And that is God alone. And immediately upon showing us that we have nothing to fear in this life, that we should fear God alone, Jesus gives the Promise: Two sparrows, the meat of the very poorest of the poor, sold for two pennies, considered insignificant by man, a trifle… not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father. And if that is true of sparrows, what does that mean of God’s care for you? Do you realize, even the hairs of your head are all numbered? God knows and He cares when the least, the most insignificant hair falls from your body to the ground. If that is true, what does that mean of God’s care for you when you suffer from a virus, or lose your job, or suffer an injustice? And what does that mean of God’s care for you when you confess the faith and suffer rejection, betrayal, persecution, death? Do not fear those things, because your Father knows. He knows and He cares and He acts. What can they do to you? Stop your heart? Snuff out your breath? They still haven’t killed you. You go on living! You live because Jesus lives! Do not fear them. Fear God. Love God. Trust God. He loves you. He sent His Son for you. Confess Christ. Boldly. Clearly. And suffer whatever comes to you, because God will be with you in it. Jesus Christ will be with you in it. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Disordered fear can lead you to deny Christ before men. Because you fear having to suffer for Him. Then there is reason to fear, as in quake in your boots, for then Jesus will deny you before His Father in heaven. Repent of such fear.
But rightly ordered fear leads you to confess Christ before men, because you know that Christ will not leave you to suffer on your own, and in the end, He will give you a crown of life. The one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 22). He will confess you before His Father who is in heaven. He will say of you, “This one is Mine!” And the Father will say to Him, “Amen, my dear Son. And, in fact, this one is Mine! My own dear child, baptized into Your suffering, death, and resurrection, redeemed for Me.”
In Christ, God is not a God of wrath to you. He is your Father! Fear Him. Love Him. Trust Him. Not the people and things of this life. This is Father’s Day, and what better time to reflect on what it means that God is your Father? Earthly fathers have many sins and failings, and perhaps you didn’t have a very good father growing up. Then again, maybe you did, but he still fell far short of the standard. God is the very definition of Fatherhood. He will always protect you. He will always provide for you. And He will always lead you in the way you should go. Yes, He disciplines you, which isn’t pleasant at the time, but it is always for your good. God your Father loves you with a perfect love. And if you ever wonder about that, just look what He has done for you in the sending of His Son. Look upon a crucifix. Read of our Lord’s passion and death for you in the Holy Gospel. Jesus feared His Father with a rightly ordered fear unto death for your salvation. God so loved the world, loved you, that He gave His only-begotten Son into the death of the cross, that you not perish, but have eternal life. God loves you, He saves you, and He gives you life. That is what it means that God is your Father. So when it comes to fathers and to gods, look for no other. Believe in Him. Confess Him. Suffer for Him. We should fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things. Because nothing can rob us of the life He gives to us in Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6A)
June 14, 2020
Text: Matt. 9:35-10:20
Jesus gives you pastors because He loves you. He provides His sheep with shepherds. The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” Jesus is, of course, the Chief Pastor, the Good Shepherd. And it is out of compassion for you that He Himself comes to you with His healing and life-giving Gospel, and sends men who are trained in the Lord’s Word and examined, called by the same Lord through His Church, and ordained by the laying on of hands by other pastors, who thus recognize the pastoral candidate as a fellow minister of the Gospel and lay the yoke of this Office upon him.
As Jesus went through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and affliction, He saw the crowds, the masses of sinful humanity, bowed and broken, dying and dead, helpless and without shepherds. For the Pharisees were unfaithful shepherds, laying burdens on the sheep they themselves would not bear, filling their own pockets and their own bellies. The Sadducees, chief priests and keepers of the sublime Temple liturgy, embraced their power and stood on ceremony, but could not even be considered believers, denying miracles and angels, heaven and the resurrection of the dead!
Is the situation any different today? In a time and in a nation that has effectively denied God and His Christ, who serves as shepherds? The rich and famous? The media? The trendsetters and arbiters of what is politically correct and sufficiently woke? Politicians? How is that working out for you in this time of crisis? As hatred boils and cities burn, pestilence threatens and blood flows in the streets, we may even long for the good old days of Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus sees that we are sheep without a shepherd, bowed and broken, dying, dead, and utterly helpless, and He has compassion. The Greek word for “compassion” literally means He suffers it in His guts. You could say it is a gut-wrenching sight when Jesus sees us in mortal danger under the weight of our sins. Not unlike that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you watch the evening news these days. Only Jesus bears the weight of compassion for the whole world.
So, He says, the time is ripe. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. The sheep need shepherds. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers into His harvest field. Pray that the Chief Shepherd would send out shepherds for His sheep. Pray that the Chief Pastor would send pastors. And before the people can even utter a breath of the prayer, Jesus answers the petition. He calls twelve of His disciples and authorizes them as Apostles. We are all disciples, all of us who are Christians, who follow Jesus’ discipline. But we are not all Apostles. An Apostle is one officially sent, authorized to speak and to act with all the authority of the one who sent him, in the matter for which he is sent. So when an Apostle, sent by Jesus to do what Jesus does, proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven, heals the sick, raises the dead, cleanses lepers, casts out demons, pronounces and dispenses the peace of God… It is really Jesus Himself who does it.
Now, this was just a trial run for the Apostles. You might even say, it was their vicarage. They were sent out two-by-two, an ecclesiastical buddy system. And for now, for their training, they were to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Later, their mission would extend to all nations, as we heard in our Holy Gospel last week. But for now, they keep it local. They are not to do it for money. But don’t let our treasurer get any ideas. The point is, it would be awfully tempting for someone with the extraordinary gift of healing to charge the big bucks for his services. Apostles are not to be in it for the money, and neither are pastors today. But they are to rely on the provision of those they serve, “for the laborer deserves his food” (Matt. 10:10; ESV). I like how Paul says it, quoting Moses: “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18; Deut. 25:4). So biblically, you can call your pastor an ox, but you have to make sure he can feed his family.
Pastors are not Apostles. There were originally twelve Apostles, named this morning in our Holy Gospel. When Judas abandoned his office to go to his own place, Matthias was appointed by lot. Strict qualifications for an Apostle. He had to be an eye-witness of Jesus’ ministry from John’s Baptism all the way to the Lord’s Ascension into heaven, and he had to have seen the risen Lord Jesus with his own eyes. You can read all about it in Acts Chapter 1. And then, of course, Paul is a special case. You know, he may have been a witness of our Lord’s earthly ministry from the perspective of the opposition. We know he was a student of Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. But even if he wasn’t among the Pharisees constantly antagonizing Jesus, he certainly saw the risen Lord with his own eyes in his conversion on the road to Damascus, and subsequently as the Lord Jesus Himself taught the Apostle, probably during the three years Paul spent in the wilderness, and in his great visions of heaven.
I must confess that, though I long for that Day, I have not yet, with my own earthly eyes, beheld our risen Lord. And neither have my brothers in Office. We are not Apostles. We are of the Office that carries on the apostolic ministry, those appointed by the Apostles in every place, ordained by the laying on of hands, to shepherd the flock of God, to be Jesus’ undershepherds in the Christian congregations.
What is the Office of the Pastoral Ministry? What is the purpose of a pastor? What is he to do? He is not an independent contractor. He doesn’t get to make it up as he goes. He is a man under authority. You might even say, as the Scriptures do, that he is a slave… of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is bound. He is yoked… like an ox. That is what the stole and the chasuble mean. He bears the authority of Another, of Jesus, the Chief Pastor of our souls. And the only tool of this authority is the Word of the Chief Pastor, the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God. He is given to dispense this Word and the saving benefits this Word conveys in preaching and pastoral care, in Baptism and Absolution, and the Holy Supper. These are the means by which Jesus Himself, who in His great compassion, died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, and who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to be your life, gives you this salvation. So the pastor is to be about that task. In all that he does, he is to preach Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners, risen for sinners, crucified and risen for you. He is to forgive your sins in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Yes, even the stuff you don’t like and don’t want to hear. He is to be with you and bring God’s Word to bear on all your joys and sorrows. He is to visit the sick, the suffering, the grieving, the dying. He is to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the prisoner. He is to baptize, to teach, to pray, to rebuke, to console, to admonish sinners in their sins, to bind up the brokenhearted with the balm of the Gospel, to steward the mysteries of God, to feed the sheep with the Body and Blood of Jesus… and so to dispense the very life of Jesus, to tend one and all under the authority of the One who, in great, gut-wrenching compassion for you, comes Himself among you to do these things through the mouths and hands of His servants. In hearing your pastor, you hear Jesus Christ. In receiving the ministry of your pastor, you receive the ministry of Jesus Christ. Christ Himself deals with you in the dealing of your pastor. He is to speak God’s life-giving truth, clearly and boldly, to the world and for your sake, in the very face of death. And he is to suffer all, even death in the line of duty, in fulfilling this Office, if that should be the Lord’s will. And in this way, the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, and you are healed of your sins and of your death. By Jesus, who speaks, who enlivens, who heals in His life-giving Word.
Now, what of your vocations? To say these things of the pastoral office is in no way to demean your dignity as a royal priest of God, who also serves as the mouth and hands of Christ in the world. Nor does it release you from your own responsibility to speak the Gospel to your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community, in Christian confession. Confess Christ, and do so boldly and joyfully. And suffer, if it be God’s will. That is your priestly sacrifice. It is simply to say there is a difference in vocation, in calling from God. The callings are equal, but they are distinct. Among Christians, we are all disciples, but we are not all Apostles. We are all priests, but we are not all pastors. If every sheep is a shepherd, chaos will result. We are seeing something similar before our very eyes at this moment with regard to policing… If there are no police and everyone does what is right in his own eyes, the cities will burn and the streets will run red. That is not God’s will for you. Chaos and wanton destruction are from the evil one.
But you have a high and holy calling, especially in this moment. You are to speak the Word of Christ to all who will listen. And you are to love and serve your neighbor, and so be a peacemaker. You are to faithfully attend your station in life. Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Are you a sibling, a nephew, a niece, an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent? Are you a citizen, a Church member, a friend, a mentor, a confidante? What has God given you to do in this moment? Teach? Learn? Feed? Clothe? Transport? Clean? Manufacture? Repair? Some combination of any or all of those things and more. Do them faithfully, for your neighbor, in love, as for Christ. Take care of your family. Be faithful to your spouse. Be chaste if you are single. Pray… That is one of your most sacred priestly responsibilities. And serve your Church. Give an offering. Yes, pay your pastor. Give to the poor. Get busy and help your neighbor out with what he needs. The world cannot do without these vocations, and God has placed you here and now to do them on His behalf. When we pit pastor and laity against one another, as so many do in the Church, we demean both, and the whole Church suffers. May it never be so among us. Both are holy callings. Both are given by God. Both are needed by the world. And we, pastors and laity, need each other.
God gives pastors because He loves you. So pray the Lord to send more workers. For you, for your children, for your grandchildren, for sinners throughout the world. Come to Church. Revel in the Lord’s gifts and rest in His salvation. Be His sheep. He is your Shepherd. In His great compassion, He has brought you to this Church and given you this pastor, with all his warts and weaknesses, sins and failings. But with the Lord’s own authority to declare to you: The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, here and now in Jesus. And though I don’t have the extraordinary gift of physical healing, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I give you the greater healing: I forgive you all your sins. I preach to you the Gospel that breathes life at this very moment into your soul. And I declare to you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Jesus will raise you, bodily, healed and whole, on that Day. And at that preaching, the demons are cast out and the unclean spirits must flee. It is a full-on exorcism this day. You are not shepherdless. You belong to Jesus Christ. You are sheep of the Good Shepherd. He suffers it in His guts for you.
Okay, the ox has tread long enough for the moment. To the Table we go. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.