Sunday, June 28, 2020

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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  We don’t get to change it, or ignore it, when we don’t like it, when we judge it outdated, outmoded, or not up to our own “woke” standards.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

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Third Sunday after Pentecost

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.”[1]  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.       

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Second Sunday after Pentecost

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.    

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (A)
June 7, 2020
Text: Matt. 28:16-20
            Every Divine Service begins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  That is to say, we begin in the baptismal water, immersed in God’s Name and in the very communion of Persons in the Divine Trinity.  There we are where God has placed His Name upon us, to mark us as His own, redeemed by Christ the crucified, temples of the Holy Spirit, children of the heavenly Father.  It begins with a death.  Old Adam is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires as we confess our sins to God.  We are crucified with Christ.  Then the pastor declares that our sins are forgiven in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and is risen from the dead, once again in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And now there has been a resurrection.  We are raised with Christ in the Holy Absolution.  A new man, a new creation in Christ, emerges and arises from the baptismal waters to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Remember, it isn’t just that you were baptized on the day your parents brought you forward or you ambled up to the font.  It is that you are baptized, present tense, ongoing reality.  So you daily die as you drown Old Adam in repentance and confession of sin.  And you daily emerge and arise as you live by faith in the Holy Absolution won by Christ on the cross and given to you in the Word and holy Sacraments.  And that whole reality is played out concretely here and now at the beginning of the Service. 
            And then what?  What takes place right after the Confession and Absolution?  The teaching!  The Service of the Word!  It is the teaching of all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded.  And so you see how that which is happening here today, now, among you, the Divine Service, is the fulfillment of our Holy Gospel from Matthew 28.  Jesus tells His Apostles, His “sent ones,” there, on the mount, that as they go… after all, He has sent them!  Now they are to go, and as they go… “while going” the text actually says in Greek, “while travelling and going about their business”… they are to disciple-ize all the nations.  Jesus gives His Apostles, His officially sent ones, the authority to do this very thing, the authority He Himself has been given, the authority He has always had as God, now bestowed on Him by the Father as a Man.  And this authority is to be exercised in a very particular way.  Baptize.  In the Name.  The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  And teach.  Not just anything, but the things I have commanded you.  And not just some of the things, but all of the things, whatsoever, that I have commanded you.  Even the things that are hard.  Even the things you don’t like.  Even the things that are beyond your comprehension… like the Trinity!  So we in the Apostolic Church are to do, grounded in Baptism, sins forgiven, now given to hear and learn the Word, keep it and treasure it. 
            And then what?  The Promise.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20; ESV).  This, too, happens concretely in the Divine Service.  Where and how?  At the altar.  Under the bread and wine.  The very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  The crucified and risen Lord Jesus meets you, not just spiritually, but bodily, and invades you in the eating and drinking, to be in you, to possess you, to enliven and strengthen you.  And where Jesus is, there is the Father, and there is the Spirit.  For Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the Father, and as the Son now covers you with Himself in Baptism, and is within you, entering by your ears in the Word and by your mouth in the Supper, the Father now looks upon you as He looks upon Jesus, His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.  The Father holds you within His bosom, and from the Father and the Son proceeds the Spirit who is poured out upon you, who takes possession of you and fills you with Himself.  And you are disciple-ized.  Right here.  Right now.  In this gracious encounter with the living God in His Service of Word and Sacrament.
            But this is not just a Sunday morning reality.  Luther tells you to begin each day, each morning as you wake up, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  You begin each day in the baptismal water, immersed in God’s Name and as God’s own Child.  You begin each day in repentance and the forgiveness of sins, in the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.  And it is in that reality and confidence that you go.  You get up and get to work and go about your daily life.  And while going, you confess the faith into which you are baptized and you love and serve your neighbor in your vocations, the callings, the relationships into which God has placed you in the world.  And in this way the leaven of the Christian faith works its way through the world.  In this way, you are salt, to season and preserve the world, and light, to enlighten the world to the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation in Christ.  To light the way here, to the font, to the teaching, to the disciple-izing, and the bodily presence of Jesus with and for His people. 
            So what happens here in the Divine Service goes out with you into the world.  You stand firmly rooted in your Baptism, immersed in the Name and salvation of God.  But so also, you go, and while going, you speak and act as Christ’s mouth and hands in the world.  And when you come home again from your daily work, before you go to bed, you once again invoke the Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Just as we end in the Name with the Benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and + give you peace” (LSB p. 202).  “The Lord, the Lord, the Lord.”  You go out with His Triune Name, sins forgiven, new life bestowed, His saving presence with you always.  So you go to bed each day with His Name upon you, all sins covered by the blood of Jesus, secure in the life He bestows no matter what should happen in the night, knowing He is with you always, even through the very valley of the shadow of death. 
            Man cannot rationally comprehend what it is that God is one God, yet He is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is not an article of doctrine to be understood, but to be believed and confessed.  Now you’ll bring out your children’s books about apples and eggs and shamrocks, and for the deficiencies of those as illustrations, I will simply refer those of you with a sense of humor to the Lutheran Satire video on St. Patrick’s bad analogies.  For the rest of you who have forgotten how to laugh, I will simply warn you here that each one of those illustrations ends up in one or more ancient heresies, so maybe let’s stop trying to illustrate what is beyond our mortal capability to grasp, and simply believe it and confess it as it has been revealed to us in Holy Scripture. 
            This morning we did just that in the Athanasian Creed.  We confessed the one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the Substance.  We confessed the incarnation of the eternally begotten Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and all that He has done for our salvation by His life, death and resurrection, and is doing to deliver us on the Day of Judgment when He comes again in glory.  We confessed our Triune God, who has created us and all things in heaven and on earth, redeemed us as His own by the blood and death of Christ, and sanctified us to lead holy lives here in time and there in eternity. 
            Now, some of you have hang-ups about this Creed, and I suppose we should briefly address the objections.  The first is its length, which you just need to get over.  You have nothing better to do than confess the sublime things God has revealed to you about Himself. 
            Second, many people get tripped up by the word “catholic.”  This is not a reference to Roman Catholicism.   The word “catholic” comes from a Greek word that simply means “according to the whole,” as in according to the whole doctrine of Christ which should be taught and confessed by the whole Church of Christ of all times and places, as Jesus Himself says here in our text, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (v. 20). 
            Then there are a couple more serious concerns.  After confessing line after line about the incomprehensible mystery of the tri-unity of God, we say “Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.”  The concern, I suppose, is that maybe you have to have a certain rational grasp of very complicated dogmatics to be saved.  Fair enough if that were true.  But remember, this Creed was written and is confessed by those who baptize infants.  So it can’t mean that, and never has.  Infants can’t grasp complicated dogmatics, obviously.  The point is, this is the God in whom you are to believe and whom you are to confess… this God alone, this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons.  You cannot be saved by any other god than the One this Creed confesses.  Which is simply what Jesus says: No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).  And what the Apostles declare: There is salvation in no one else.  There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
            Finally, there is the line toward the end about those who have done good entering into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire, which is to say, hell.  But this is simply a summation of Matthew 25 with the sheep and the goats.  By grace alone, through faith alone in Christ, all the bad the sheep have done and all their deficiencies are cancelled out by Jesus’ righteousness and covered in the blood of Christ.  So they are not mentioned, those bad things and sins.  Evil does not follow Christ’s sheep into eternal life.  Only the good God has accomplished through His Christians follows them.  But the goats are without Christ.  They have rejected Him.  They do not want Him.  So they only have their own works.  And all human works outside of Christ are only evil all the time.  And they only lead to eternal fire.  So there is nothing said in the Athanasian Creed that is not from the Holy Scriptures.  This is simply the scriptural truth, which is precisely what we are to confess. 
            And what a joy to confess it.  It is the sublime reality in which we are grounded and live each day and for all eternity.  It is the sublime reality bestowed concretely here and now in the Lord’s Church, in His Divine Service.  There is only one Name, as there is only one God, but this one God is three Persons.  And we are baptized into Him, immersed in His Name, taken into His unity, into His eternal communion.  It is a splendid mystery, an incomprehensible reality.  And we speak it again as we trace the sign of our salvation upon the body He has redeemed: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.