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Trinty 13 2020 - Luke 10:23-37

Trinity 13 2020

Luke 10:23-37

September 6, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

https://unite-production.s3.amazonaws.com/tenants/zionlutherannampa/attachments/262687/2020-09-06_09_23_44_.mp3

This morning in the Gospel reading we hear the beloved story of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  This parable has been so endearing and enduring that hospitals, care facilities, social agencies, and the like have been named after this Good Samaritan.  But have you ever noticed that Jesus doesn’t actually call the Samaritan “good.” We do that. Our Bibles insert the title, “Good Samaritan,” but it is not in the text. Jesus doesn’t use any adjectives at all. He only asks at the end, “Who became the man’s neighbor?” The lawyer calls him the merciful one.

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “Who is my neighbor?”  These are the questions that Jesus is answering, and in His answer, we learn of Jesus Himself.   Jesus, of course, is the Merciful Samaritan, and maybe that is a better description of this parable.  Jesus is speaking here of Himself, and He certainly is “good,” but the point in the parable is not on His goodness but on His mercy.  He is a despised outsider without any reason to help the one who is hurt, who helps when no one else will or can. He doesn’t pass by. He has compassion.  He takes care of and pays for everything and then He promises to return.

And remember, this parable, as all parables are, is about Jesus.  Inheritance of eternal life is not about your doing, but about Jesus’ doing, about Jesus’ work for you. To illustrate Jesus’ point that fulfilling the law perfectly is impossible. Jesus is the merciful Samaritan, you are the man beaten and left for dead. The Merciful One who took up flesh and was despised by men, but came and found you half dead and had compassion on you since the Law could help you as it passed by on other side. His compassion put on the oil of Holy Baptism and the Wine of Holy Communion at His own expense. He put you on His beast of burden while He walked as your servant. He took us to an inn of the holy, Christian Church for recovery. He rescued you, brought you to health, paid for your ongoing care, and promises to come back.

Having heard the Gospel, the lawyer, indeed every Christian, is to realize that everyone is his neighbor and that he ought to love them because God loves them. There is an expectation in Christ that having heard of the frees mercy of God in the Messiah that comes for those half-dead and in need of forgiveness and bestows eternal life on them, that the lawyer will be changed. In fact, the word “Christian” means “little Christ”, for the one who believes is being conformed into the image of Christ. He will therefore go and do likewise, taking the Gospel with him, witnessing to the mercy of God and the compassion of God, with both his words and deeds.

“You, go and do likewise,” Jesus says. That is a certainly a Law statement spoken to the lawyer.  But it isn’t an accusation. It is the 3rd use of the Law, a guide to the Christian, to instruct in the Christian faith.  There is no Christian without faith in Christ, and there is no faith without love, without compassion of Christ lived out and shared in neighborly love. Charity is an outward act of the inner man of the Christian.  Charity moves the heart to compassion, and it moves the hand to abundant giving. Compassion isn’t sufficient if it doesn’t give way to charity and help.  Nor is charity sufficient if it doesn’t proceed from compassion. There is no truly good work that does not proceed from faith in Christ (Romans 14:23). 

This is what we prayed for in the Collect of the Day, that the Lord grant us an increase of faith, hope, and love, to make us love what the Lord has commanded that we may obtain all that the Lord has promised.  This is the renewing of baptismal grace, not only for the grace to do the commandments but to love them, that our lives are conformed to the will of God, that our hearts are ordered to love the right thing to the right degree in the right way with the right kind of love.

So you, little Christ, don’t hear God’s law and become self-righteous, as though the words of Jesus were poison to faith. Rather, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates days and night.”  Psalm 1:1-2). The holy life of Christ is the most perfect example of virtue.  Go, and do as Jesus does, even though your attempts are imperfect because you are still infected with sin and the good work begun in you is not yet complete. The command to go and do likewise will accuse you. You know that you have not lived up to it. But do not despair. For the Father still loves you, Jesus still died for you, and the Spirit still sanctifies you to be His beloved child of faith.

So, you little Christ, seek holy love.  The holy love of God and the love of the neighbor.  Foster the virtue of compassion and charity. Love the neighbor that is commended to you by God.  If he is worthy of your love, then you should love him who is worthy.  If he is not worthy, love him anyway, for the God whom you serve is worthy.  By loving even your enemy, you show yourself to be a friend of God.  Whoever your neighbor may be, Christ chose to die for him, to have compassion for him, and desires to rescue him (Romans 14:15).  In all things, behind your neighbor, see the Cross, the final revelation of God’s love to the world. 

Trinity 12 2020

Trinity 12 2020

Isaiah 29:17-24; Mark 7:31-37

August 30, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Jesus had undertaken a trip to the borders of the Gentiles, to teach and preach there and to indicate that the time had come for the wall between Jews and Gentiles to be torn down.  It was time for His Gospel to be preached in all the world. 

While He was on His way, some people brought to Him a deaf and mute man.  Notice something very important here.  This man was brought by others, by the faith of others who wished the man to encounter Jesus.  This is no different than parents who bring a child to Jesus to be baptized, you who bring a friend to hear the Word of God and receive His healing.  To bring others to Jesus in prayer, asking for those who cannot help themselves, who are lost and isolated, trapped in a world of darkness and silence from God.

A person doesn’t come to Jesus of his own accord, by his own strength or reason.  It isn’t the person’s choice, but faith in Christ comes by hearing the Word of Christ, and so those who have heard and believe bring a man who cannot hear so that his ears will be opened to the Word of God and his tongue loosed to sing praise of God. 

Notice the bulletin cover.  The man depicted is tongue tied.  He is bound.  His hands and his feet are crossed.  He’s a mess - deaf, dumb, hopeless, and hamstrung to sin.  Jesus approaches the unapproachable, He touches, He gestures, He speaks, and it happens.  Long before COVID, Jesus doesn’t social distance. He isn’t worried about getting sick, he has come to take the sickness away. 

Jesus’ ministry to the deaf and mute man fulfills Isaiah 29:18, “on that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book.”  Elsewhere Jesus also alludes to this passage as evidence of His ministry and His identity as the Messiah.   And so here in this miracle, Jesus is demonstrating His power over a fallen creation and His compassion. 

The devil had stopped up the poor man’s ears so that he could not hear God’s Word, and had bound his tongues so that he could not speak God’s praise.  Jesus wished to open the man’s ears so that the Lord God could speak to Him by His Word. He wished to untie the bond of his tongues that the in prayer he would speak with God and express his praise and thanksgiving. 

Jesus could have performed this with one word, as it is written in Psalm 33:9 “For He spoke and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.”  Even so, He wanted to accompany this miracle with special means.

First, He took the man aside to Himself.  This is an indication of the man being brought from a fallen world of corruption and under the grace and reign of Christ.  People can see what is happening, and Jesus motions and touch communicate divine blessing.

Second, Christ placed His fingers in the man’s ears. God created ears so that we could hear His Word.  Because Jesus has assumed human flesh which is a life-giving flesh, He gets up close and personal in order to enable within the man what he is unable to do himself. 

Third, after spitting Jesus touched the man’s tongue. According to Jewish (Talmudic) tradition of the day, could be seen as a healing agent.  If this is the case, then the man would be aware of the connection between spitting and healing and know what Jesus was getting at.  Regardless, it is not the spit that unties the man’s tongue, but what comes next. 

Fourth, Jesus looks up to heaven and He sighs, or groans. This is exactly what Jesus does in the miracle of feeding the five thousand. He does this to show that what He is about to do is not some magical trick, but that as the Son of God, He is doing the will of His Father in fulfillment of God’s promises in the past. 

And then the Word of God speaks.  “Ephaphtha,” “be opened.”  By His word the man’s ears are opened to hear God’s Word and his tongue is untied to sing God’s praise. 

Since all bodily miracles that Christ performed on earth are pictures of spiritual benefits, we should also regard this miracle as such.  For by nature, all humanity is deaf and mute before the Lord God.  Because of the corruption of human nature from Adam’s sin, we are unable to hear the Word of God in faith, and if we are to be helped, it must be through Christ alone.  If we are to heed the word of God and hear it to good effect, then He must first open up the ears of our hearts. If we are to proclaim God’s glory, He must first open our mouths and untie our tongues. This is why David says in Psalm 51:14, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.” 

This miracle “shows us that if we are to be loosed from the devil’s bonds, and possess ready tongues and good ears, this can happen only through the external Word and preaching, through external means. We must, first of all, hear the Word, not neglecting baptism or the Sacrament either, and the Holy Spirit will then be present to free the ears and tongues.” (Luther’s House Postils (1533), 398-99). 

When Jesus healed the deaf and mute man, He told those who saw not to tell anyone, but they did anyway. This miracle was only a part of the work He was to do, and He was not done.  The true healing, the lasting healing, would take place on the cross. There, in Christ’s crucifixion, is perfect healing for our bodies and souls.  Christ’s death destroyed our death.  His resurrection from the dead is our absolution and the word of our salvation.  The declaration of forgiveness that we hear, believe, and confess as God’s word of truth and life comes to us from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  That is why we seek it out and listen to it.  That is why we believe and confess it.  Since God chooses to deal with us through His Word, His Word is what we should hear, and His Word is what we should confess for His Word is what we believe. He who opened the deaf mute’s ears and tongue, has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

This sermon is partially based off of one from Johann Gerhard, “On the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity”, Postilla Vol 2 (Malone, TX: Repristination Press: 2007), 129-136.

Trinity 11 2020

Trinity 11 2020

Genesis 4:1-15

August 23, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

We have a parallel in our Old Testament reading and the Gospel for today.  In each account, two men worshiped God with sacrifices of thanksgiving or prayers. One worshipped in an unworthy way; the other in a manner pleasing to God. This morning, we are going to take some time to think about these differences and what a right sacrifice looks like.

So let’s begin with our Old Testament reading for Genesis 4, the account of Cain and Abel.  These are the first two children of Adam and Eve, the first human beings who God created. This was near the beginning of creation, long before the covenant that God made with the people of Israel through Moses. There was no Leviticus yet to detail and describe what a sacrifice should be and how it should all be conducted. There was not even a command to offer sacrifices to the Lord.  Even so, Cain and Abel gave offerings to the Lord. Apparently, Cain was a farmer, and Abel a shepherd. Both had honorable work, and there was no difference in the value of their offerings.  Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground, while Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. Both offered their crops without God's command to worship, but to thank God for His blessings. 

And then, in what has caused so many minds to wonder, Scripture tells us, “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”  Cain is angered that Abel receives God’s favor, angered and filled with envy to the point of the murder of his own brother.  Here in Genesis, we aren’t told what Cain and Abel were thinking, nor even their attitude, as they brought their offerings, just the results. It is certainly helpful therefore that the author of the Hebrews explains why God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. In Hebrews 11:4 we read, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” By faith, he was commended as righteous.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Gospel reading.  Here in Luke 18, Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both offered sacrifices of thanksgiving and prayer to God.  The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men, other lesser men, other sinful men, like the tax collector.  He did what he was supposed to, he played the part, fasted and tithed.  Not like the tax collector, as least presumably. Tax collectors were considered sell outs, an employee for Rome, the foreign and pagan empire.  They were notorious as collecting more than what was due to line their own pocket.  For most of the Jews, they were treated as traitors and cheats, thieves. This man too offered a sacrifice of prayer to God, saying only this, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  Both the Pharisee and the tax collector made their offerings to God, but Jesus notes the difference, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  The tax collector was thus declared righteous by faith.

You see the difference between Cain and Abel, between the Pharisee and the tax collector, is one of misbelief and faith, of being righteous in one’s own eyes and being righteous in God’s eyes, that is the righteousness that comes by faith.  This really is the foundational issue of the Christian faith, and is the foundational issue of your salvation, the thing that is of first importance.  Either, you trust in your own sacrifices toward God, your own works and efforts and attempts to please Him or ignore Him, or you trust in the works and efforts of God, of God’s sacrifice for you. 

This is the Gospel which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved.  Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice for the world.  By faith, a perfect fear, love and trust in His Father in heaven, He is the Righteous One.  His sacrifice is well pleasing to God, accepted by the Father to cover the sins of the whole world. Christ died, was buried, rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.  Good works do not justify anyone in the eyes of God. Our good works could never be enough to justify us in the eyes of God. Only the blood of Christ on the cross are we justified by faith in his promise. So, justification is by grace, not by works.

The Pharisee in the temple despised the tax collector as Cain despised his brother Abel to the point of killing him because they trusted their own merits and expected to receive more from God than those around them. This is not the attitude for making our offerings to God. Consider a song we sing sometimes, the offertory in Divine Service 1, from Psalm 116, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.” We can return nothing to God except the vows of praise and thanksgiving, of calling upon His holy name, only those things that the Lord Himself has given. And even this is only acceptable to God in humble faith and trust in His righteousness. 

May our faith bear fruit in good works, not for the sake of winning God's favor, or to give back so that we can get more, but to show God's love to others and bring them into the Church of God, the refuge of the redeemed.

Trinity 10 2020

Trinity 10 2020

Jeremiah 7:1-11

August 16, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

In the middle of the 900s BC, when King Solomon had finished building the temple in Jerusalem, God said to him “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’” (1 Kings 9:3-10). 

About 350 years later, the prophet Jeremiah stood in the gate of this very temple to remind them of God’s Word.  Over the years, God’s people had treated the Lord’s house as a sort of good luck charm that warded off destruction and somehow guaranteed their nation in the land regardless of how unfaithful they were and how much they rebelled against His commands.  They had a false trust in the security of the temple, not in God whose glory filled the temple, but in the majesty of the building and the work of their own hands.  “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” they chanted. They thought they were safe all the while turning God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. But they only deceived themselves, as Jeremiah pointed out and called them to repentance. 

Jeremiah’s message proceeds to challenge their spiritual hypocrisy, where they steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and even worship other gods but then come to the temple and act like that’s enough. Again in Isaiah 29, God says through Isaiah, which also is later on quoted by Jesus, “because this people draw near with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me…”.  God will not allow the desecration for long. The judgment that came upon Judah was the upcoming Babylonian exile, the diaspora. God’s people driven from the promised land because they continued in their sinful ways. The Divine Landlord serves the eviction notice to the people.  So too Jesus wept over the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem and the people’s rejection over Him as the Messiah.  That’s what the prophets have always challenged the people of God with: that if they don’t change, that they are going to spiritually die. That they may literally die.

It doesn’t matter if it occurs in Judah or America, by Jews or pagans or Lutherans, and it is the same abomination to the Lord in the 21st century as it was in 600 BC in Jeremiah’s time, or in the first century Jerusalem.  The house of God should be a house of prayer, not a den of robbers who try to steal God’s grace in order to continue on in sin.

We might not burn incense to other gods, but what have we put in the place of real worship, and beyond that, really longing after what God longs after?  Do we go about the other six days of the week however we want, every which way but loose, and then show up and go through the temple, and assume everything’s “good” with God? Some are tempted to place their trust in the possession of orthodoxy, or right belief, or of right ritualistic rules, or in saying prayers just the right way, or in the amount of service or offerings given as a sort of magical ward against bad things happening.  Are our hearts right, or are we just fooling ourselves? Are we assuming that because we’ve convinced ourselves, that God is convinced, too?

God’s Word through Jeremiah makes it clear, however, that He is not interested in mere ritual compliance and outward observance.  You can’t go on living a life of sin and then come to church only to go on doing all these abominations.  This is more than a matter of hypocrisy, this is unbelief.  It is not sin that damns. It is unbelief, remaining in sin, unforgiven sin. It’s not the sin of Israel that dooms them but instead their rejection of the Lord and His promises and His Christ. And also you and me, and the whole world. We are born in sin and unbelief, and only by God’s grace He rescues us out of it in the waters of baptism, by His promise of forgiveness and salvation for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection.

So what are we to do?  Hear the Word of the Lord, all you who enter these gates to worship.  Disrespect for the divine Word of God is one of the greatest sins.  God’s Word is the only means to bring us from sin into repentance and reconciliation with God.  This is the house of God, the house of prayer, an all who enter here should expect an encounter with the risen Christ. 

And amend, literally “make good”, your ways and your deeds. When lust enters your eyes, turn away.  When thoughts of anger and hatred toward another come into your mind, pray for yourself and for those whom those feelings have been directed.  When idols present themselves to distract you from Jesus, remove them and look to Jesus. The Word of the Lord proclaims, “Rend your hearts and not your garments! Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” As drops of tears fall from Jesus’ face over sin, more importantly, drops of blood flow from His pierced hands, feet, and side.  These too are shed because of the sinfulness of the world.  They are shed for you, not out of sadness, but out of love.  They are shed that you may have life.  For Jesus has cleansed your heart your heart by His holy Word to prepare it for proper service in faithful devotion toward Him and love for others.  

 

Trinity 9 2020

Trinity 9 2020

1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Learning from the past

August 9, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”  This is a phrase that is usually repeated in high school and college history classes trying to get students to recognize the importance of learning history.  Some people really like learning about the past, the people, the places, the events.  Others dread the dates and names.  Some have a hard enough time remembering what happened last week or even yesterday, not to mention thousands of years ago. 

Regardless of how much you may like history, there is no denying the kernel of truth in that phrase.  One of the greatest dangers to Christianity occurs when people forget their past, when they forget who God is and what He does for them in Christ. The amount of people in today’s society who forget their faith is staggering and extremely sad. There are too many people who have grown up going to Church, going to Sunday School, baptized and confirmed, who forget the mighty works of the Lord.  Tearing down statues and revising history is bad enough, but it won’t destroy our history. What will destroy it is ignorance of God’s Word.

The book of Judges is a sad example of this.  Over and over again, Israel strays from the Lord, forgetting who He is and what He has done for them. As a result of this forgetfulness, they fall into idolatry.  Then another nation invades and oppresses Israel, so that they cry out to the Lord for deliverance.  The Lord provides a judge that delivers them from oppression and leads them to right worship and living.

This cycle continues today.  We continue to be doomed to repeat history all over again.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 states, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”  Whether in our own personal lives, or the church as a whole, we live in this constant state of sin and being called back from it to God; from being called from death and into life; from crying out in distress and being rescued by a mighty deliverer. This is why we spend so much time focusing on the Word of God – reading it in the Divine Service, praying it in our prayers, confessing it in our creeds, studying it in Sunday School and Bible studies, meditating on it in our devotions.  This is one of the great benefits of the repetitious nature of the Divine Service.  We do these things so that we may know our past, and therefore know our present, and rest secured in our future.

We learn from our past, our history, our ancestors, in the Bible.  This isn’t just to learn facts and dates and names.  This isn’t for information and there is no pop quiz.  This is how we often treat the Bible though.  Too often we look back to Jesus and think only of history from 2000 years ago. While we read and hear Bible stories, these are so much more than mere stories.  Knowledge is good, but it’s not the point.  The point is faith in Christ.  St. John writes near the end of his Gospel account, “…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). 

Through this life-giving Word of God, by faith, we learn a few things: First, we learn: flee from idolatry.  St. Paul writes of this in today’s Epistle reading.  This is an issue of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”  Over and over again we see idolatry in the Bible and the devastating effects of it, both in this life and into eternity.  St. Paul writes of our past, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”  For those refusing to know history, for those who refuse to know the Scripture, idolatry is the issue.  It is saying “I” am more important than those who have come before me and those who come after. It is saying “I” am more important that what God has done, still does, and will do in Christ. 

Second, we learn: repent, or perish. The verses right before our Epistle begins speak of Israel’s sinfulness during the Exodus. They had seen and received good things from God, yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). They put Christ to the test, and they sinned against Him.  It’s not that they couldn’t have been forgiven, but that they refused to repent over their sin.  The continued to eat and drink and rise up play, indulging in sexual immorality, and grumbling against God.  Because of their refusal to repent and their stubbornness of continuing to sin intentionally, they were not welcomed into the promised land. This serves as an example to us, in the same way as the sinfulness of the Corinthians does.  Just as the Israelites were unfaithful to God, so God would judge the Corinthians, and us, if we do not live in repentance and faith in Christ.  As Christians we ought to flee from treating God and the Christian faith as something unimportant, we ought to live a sexual pure and chaste life that reserves sexual activity exclusively for the marriage relationship between one man and one woman as God established it for, and live a life of gratitude toward God for all the gifts He gives to us.

Third, and most importantly, we learn: God is faithful. He hears the cries of His repentant children and He answers them in Jesus.  He proves His faithfulness in the cross of Christ.  The Father sends His Son to face the temptations of this world, to overcome them, and to provide an escape for you – an escape through turning people from their sin and to Him for forgiveness and life. Where there is repentance over sin, there is forgiveness in Jesus.  And where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation. And that is yours, by virtue of faith in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Trinity 8 2020

Trinity 8

Jeremiah 23:16-29; Matthew 7:15-23

August 2, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Fake news all around. How do I know what to believe? Things change faster than we can keep up. New information, changing decisions, different views practically every day.  It’s exhausting trying to keep up.  At the end of the day, if you even try anymore, you are left with questions about what to believe, who to believe, and if there is any kind of objective reality or truthy anywhere in the world anymore. 

Even those who don’t think they are trying are still looking to find some kind of truth, something to anchor their lives in, some authority or source for guidance.  Some look inward at their own feelings and thoughts. Some look to their education or credentials. Some prefer a news source of one kind or another.  But more and more people in our culture are looking toward things like technology, politicians, social justice warriors, experts in a field that match what a person already thinks to be true. 

A look to technology and medicine or politicians or celebrities to be our savior is an act of idolatry, plain and simple.  It has become a false prophet, spreading a false gospel that produces false hope and false security. Now sure, there might be an effective treatment and vaccine to the coronavirus developed and it should be our hope and prayer that this is the case. And yes, social injustices and evils need to be called out and corrected when and where they appear.  But that is only a superficial treatment to a symptom of the deeper disease and evil.  That disease is sin, and it has a 100% mortality rate. In order to treat the root cause of evil, you’ve got to get down to the heart of the matter.

And yet we get so easily distracted by the worries and the cares of this world, and we chase the symptoms all day long. And then false preachers and false messiah’s take advantage of the uncertainty and anxiety.  It’s been this way before.  During the days of Jeremiah the prophet, God called out those who speak visions of their own minds, the delusions of their own dreams, and not the words from the mouth of the Lord.  They thought they could manipulate God’s word and God’s people by their lives and their deceit.  And Jesus warns near the end of the Sermon on the Mount that false prophets could come, ravenous wolves in sheep clothing.  You will recognize the false prophets by their fruits, by their words, for that is what a prophet is judged by, the message that he proclaims. False prophets preaching a false gospel – current social justice issues are not the Gospel.  Virtue signaling and identity shaming are not the Gospel.   Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  If the message does not relate to this, is not centered on this, does not have its main focus on this truth, then it is not the true Gospel. 

Some might say, it’s not that big of a deal. There are a lot of well intentioned, well spoken, well mannered, people claiming to have an answer.  As long as they are mostly right, or speak what itching ears like to hear, then it’s not that big of a deal.  But it is a big deal.  Satan deceived Adam and Eve not with a big lie, but by mixing a little lie with the truth, by leading them away from what is most sure and true – God’s Word. They lost their trust in God and no longer believed what He said.  Instead, they believed Satan’s lies.  When Satan deprives people of their trust in God, it’s not surprising that they become proud and despise God and other people.  Then their values and morality change. Eventually they will run to adultery, murder, theft, slander, and so all.  Letting go of God’s Word is the root of all temptation.  It results in the destruction and violation of all God’s commandments. Unbelief and misbelief are the source of sin. And sin leads only to death.

With the Shepherd, we are safe. The wolves cannot stand against Him and death has no power over Him. They sink their teeth into Him and cannot pull them out again. They are destroyed by killing Him. His death satisfies the Law’s demands and ends all of Hell’s accusations. There He declares His sheep to be innocent and His own. The wolves cannot have them.

The wolves cannot stand against the Shepherd so they seek to separate us from the flock. Rather than simply wait for us to fall away from the Shepherd, they infiltrate the flock and attempt to mislead us into an ambush. This is the cause of persecution and of misbelief. 

To guide us throughout this dangerous life, the Lord blesses His people with undershepherds.   We call them pastors. They stand in the stead of the Shepherd and hearken us back, again and again, into the fold, back to the Shepherd where we are safe.  Pastors are supposed to fufill a prophetic role, that is to say, to speak God’s Word to God’s people.  That is my main job as your pastor – to say, “this is the Word of the Lord.”  The undersheperds can’t be trusted. I can’t be trusted, not fully. No earthly pastor, no priest, no pope, no seminary professor, nor president of synod or Lutheran hour speaker, can be trusted fully. The wolves can dress up like any of them. And even those who aren’t wolves, who mean well, can fail. They can break promises. They can crumble under pressure.  They can make wrong decisions.  Pastors are sinners too. 

What, and who, can be trusted? God’s Word. That is the standard by which the sheep must judge the undershepherds. That is the sole source and norm of all our doctrine and life. Not the woke mob, nor the politicians nor media nor fancy dressed pastors or popish pretenders. Only and always the Word of God, the Word of Christ.  This is the message that the world needs to hear, this is the medicine that is needed to what ails us, this is our only hope and source of comfort in a crazy world.  

So what are we to do in the crazy, mixed up, world full of sinful people, and of fear and lies and death?  Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis.  “The world turns, the cross remains.” (Motto of the Carthusian monks. While they certainly don’t have it all together, they do get this point correct.) 

Trinity 7 2020

Trinity 7 2020

Romans 6:19-23

July 26, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

To be called a slave is not usually a desirable thing. This is especially true in our current political and cultural climate. To hear the word “slavery” in our American context brings to mind the Civil War and the fight to free black people from the oppression of being treated as property. 

However, the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans long before our American context. At that time, “slave” did not carry with it all of today’s racist overtones. It was an institution in the ancient world and a common part of everyday life among the Greeks and Romans. Slavery crossed all racial lines and often dealt with a person’s economic standing rather than ethnicity or the color of your skin. In fact, if people had no way to make a living, some sold themselves into slavery. Slaves were sold into bondage and had to belong to a master and remain in his service until set free by him.  Yet, don’t misunderstand, being a slave in Paul’s day was an extremely oppressive life.[1]

And here to the Roman Christians Paul explains our relationship to sin and to Christ in light of slavery.  He says that you are slaves to the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience to God, which leads to righteousness.  Whoever we serve, whether it be sin or God, will control us and shape our lives.  Paul confesses that since the fall of Adam all people are by nature slaves to sin. Your thoughts, desires, and behaviors are taken captive to what is wrong and sinful according to God’s commandments. 

There may be no visible chains that shackle. But as a slave to sin, weakness traps a person. Patterns of behavior ensnare the sinner. Jesus Himself says this in John 8:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”  The devil lurks behind every evil desire, every wicked thought, and every immoral behavior. He is a relentless slave master. He is deceitful and cruel and unyielding, shouting lies into your ears, shoving shame into your face, and grinding guilt into your conscience. He seeks to divide countries, divide races, divide Christians, and divide families. 

His sinister plan is to beat every last ounce of hope and strength out of your body. He won’t let up until he strips every last weapon of faith from your existence—he wants you to stop praying, studying the Word, and serving others in love. His every waking desire is to keep you caged in the pain of your hurt, trapped in the filth of your depravity, and chained to your sin.  Sin darkens the mind, blunts the conscience, and deadens the soul. The consequence are wages, the payment due and the reward earned. Death.

That’s why Paul’s declaration that we have been set free from slavery to sin is so important. But this isn’t just any kind of freedom.  Real freedom is found in submission to Christ, it is enslavement to Christ, not in doing whatever you feel like at the moment.  That is enslavement to your passion, to the sinful flesh, to lawlessness. Christianity is not a form of libertarianism.  There is no middle ground here, nor any independence.  We are not to pass from one master to no master, but from one to another, from one slavery to another. You are a slave to whomever you obey.  Slaves to sin or slaves to Christ, slaves of righteousness.  When sin ruled, sin was master and you were free from righteousness (Romans 6:20).  When Christ rules, He must be Master and sin put away.  Only when we are “slaves” to God do we have freedom to be the people that He created us to be. 

You, baptized into Christ’s name, have been enslaved by God. You have been bought by a price, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  He did this so that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  You are united with Him by faith so that He is your and you are His. You are duty bound to Him and to live according to His word, in His service. The accusations of the devil cannot condemn you or throw you under God’s wrath even though you don’t keep the Law as perfectly as you should.

St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the stand are teaching to which you were committed.” (Rom 6:17) This is not forced obedience, but a willing commitment that is born of faith. Notice what Paul says here. The wording is important. “You were committed.”  God’s people don’t commit themselves to Christ, they are committed by God’s power in Baptism where a person is connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

The wages of sin is death. Death is what sin earns, what slavery to sin deserves.  But look at how St. Pauls writes these words.  “the gift of God is eternal life.” He doesn’t use the word payment here. Previously, Paul taught that we do not obtain eternal life because of our works as a reward, but out of pure grace for Christ’s sake through faith. That is why this is a gift.  Enslavement to Christ does not earn anything. Your servanthood does not deserve anything.  You are only doing your duty, what is expected of you. It is all earned, all deserved, all paid for by Christ.  The life of the Christian is not the consequence of his goodness, but in spite of his sinfulness.  Death can be deserved, life cannot.  It is pure gift, given freely by the Life of the world. 

Because a Christian knows that through God’s grace his sins are forgiven and blotted out, he obtains a heart that is hostile toward sin.  Even though you still feel evil thoughts and the temptation to sin, faith and the Spirit are present to inform your conscience to do what is right and deny what is evil. God’s gracious gift of a good conscience before Him which is hostile toward sin and fights against it. You enter a different obedience since you have been delivered from sin, serve God, and are devoted to doing what is pleasing to Him.  You are called to confess your sins, fight against ungodly passions, and strive to live as the sanctified people Christ has made you to be—no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness and to God Himself.  That is why St. Paul says that “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22). This is the true freedom and it is a pure gift of grace.  So live free, live in slavery to God, bound to Christ and His freedom for eternal life.


 


[1] Some of this sermon was adapted from a letter by Minnesota South District President Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford.  http://www.mnsdistrict.org/engaged-in-mission/2020/7/15/slaves-of-righteousness

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