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 We don’t get to change it, or ignore it, when we don’t like it, when we judge it outdated, outmoded, or not up to our own “woke” standards.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.