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2 Cor 9:6-15 "The Treasures of the Church"

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The Treasures of the Church

Commemoration of St. Lawrence (observed)

Midweek Summer Service

August 12, 2015

Early in the third century, a man named Lawrence was born in Spain.  As he was going to school, he met a man who would eventually become the bishop of the Rome, Sixtus II.  After Sixtus became a bishop, in the year 257, he asked Lawrence to move to Rome and he ordained him as a deacon and appointed as the head of the seven deacons in Rome.  We read about the establishment of the office of deacon in our first reading today from Acts 6.  At this point in history, a deacon was an ordained clergyman who was in charge of the care of the poor, the widowed, the needy, and the distribution of the church’s goods.  While ordained into the pastoral office, his job, basically, was comparable to the church treasurer and trustee all wrapped up into one along with assisting in the worship services. 

During this time in the Roman Empire, things were not so good for Christians.   The Roman Emperor Valerian had recently ordered several priests executed, and imperial troops to raid churches and homes of Christians.  The Emperor wanted not just to get rid of the Christians but in his greed to take whatever goods they had. He knew the church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the treasures of the church.

On August 7, 258, standing before the Roman Emperor Lawrence asked for three days to gather up the treasures of the church and to present them.  The Emperor happily agreed to give him this time. So Lawrence went back to church and basically liquidated everything.  He sold all the paintings, the statues, the paraments, the vestments, melts down the chalice and communionware.  Then he distributes all that had to the poor and needy of the city. 

At the end of the three days, on August 10, Laurence brought before the Emperor the poor, the lame, the sick, the needy whose lives had been touched by Christian charity and says to him, “Behold, the treasures of the church, they are yours.”

Obviously this makes the Emperor mad, so he threw Lawrence in prison. He was so enraged that he denied executing Lawrence in the typical way a Roman citizen would be, by beheading, and instead ordered him beaten and burned alive.  The legend goes that Lawrence was tied to a great gridiron, with hot coals beneath it.  After Lawrence had suffered the pain for a long time being roasted above the coals, the legend concludes that he made his famous cheerful remark, "I'm well done on this side. Turn me over!"

This is one of the great things about Lawrence.  It’s not his wit when persecuted, nor the humor in the face of death.  But it’s that he shows a free and easiness with the things of this world.  Not just Lawrence, but a lot of the early Christian martyrs, illustrate this extremely well.  They face their persecution, threats of their personal safety, and even their death with a sense of playfulness.  They just can’t take the world as serious business because it’s fading away, it’s time is coming.  In other words, they know their lives rest with Christ, in the kingdom of God and the things of this world are fading away.

With all the things that have been going on in our country recently, it’s easy to fall into a panic, of a sense of anxiety over the sin and evil we experience.  There’s already been lawsuits filed against Christian churches refusing to conform to the demands of the culture in regards to gay marriage and other things that threaten to take away the tax exemption of the churches.  We’ve been used to a long tradition of religious freedom unburdened by taxes and many other restrictions.  What happens if the government decides that the church is not worthy of such a status?  Well, we do the same thing that the early church did-we live as God’s faithful people trusting in His provision and proclaiming His goodness toward us in all things.  We give to the church how we can, for the work of the church, for the public proclamation of the Gospel, for helping those in need, recognizing that the treasures of our bank account are good and helpful and gifts of God to be used for His glory, but it is not the true treasures of the church. 

Our Lord was serious when He said in Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If one wants to see what is most important to another (where their heart is), it is most telling to look at where that person spends most of his money (where his treasure is).  Does one spend it mostly on fancy coffee every morning, expensive clothes, a nice car or house?  Does one spend it mostly on the latest gadget, the newest iphone, the biggest TV? Does one spend it on helping the needy, the poor, the hurt, the lonely, the widowed?  Does one spend it on the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel to one another and our community?  The Lutheran School or Daycare to educate our children in the ways of the Lord and to be good citizens of this earthly kingdom?

And the Lord was also serious when He says that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom and to focus upon the treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  The true treasure of the church is the Gospel of Christ, that good news that you, God’s people, are redeemed by the blood of Christ upon the cross. Your sins are forgiven. That Jesus has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold of silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness (SC, 2nd Article Explanation). This is how St. Paul can write in 2 Corinthians, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency, all contentment, in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

As Christians, we don’t need to worry too much about the things of this world.  The Lord will provide. The Church will remain, for not even the gates of hell can overcome it, much less a Roman Emperor, or any government of this world.  It may not always look like we want it to, and it may not always be easy. But Luther wrote of this in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress, “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Through these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” 

We live our lives here and now in light of the resurrection. This gives us perspective on all things that happen around us.  This is what St. Lawrence had that we need to have in our day – faith in Christ who not only died to save us from our sins and was raised three days later, but who also is coming again to bring the completion of His eternal Kingdom. In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ephesians 4:1-16 "One in Christ"

Ephesians 4:1-16

“One in Christ”

Proper 13B, Pentecost 10

August 2, 2015

 

I want you to look at your hands. Front, back, each finger, nails, lines, whatever. Consider your hand. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? Are there any particular strengths or skills that your hand has? What does it enable you to do? Are there any particular ways that your hand has been difficult or painful to you? 

I want you to look at your knees. For many of you it is covered, so you’ll have to remember what it looks like under the clothing. But think about your knee. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? Are there any particular strengths that your knee has? What does it enable you to do? Are there any particular ways that your knee has been difficult or painful to you?

Consider both your hand and your knee. How do they benefit you? What would your life be like if you did not have your hand? Your knee? Both hands? Both knees? Both your hands and your knees are gifts to you, gifts from God. Sometimes they may be painful to you. Sometimes they may not do what you want them to, what you expect them to. But they are yours and you are much better off with them than without them. They are yours; parts of you unified as one body.

Now, look around the church, not at the walls, but at the people, not at their hands or knees, but at them. What do you like about them? What don’t you like about them? Are there any particular strengths that they have? What do they enable you to do? Are there any particular ways that the church has been difficult or painful to you?

Like your hands and your knees, they, the Church, are a part of you. You are a part of them. We are all parts of the body of Christ. He is our head. Just as your hands and your knees are gifts to you, gifts from God, so are the people around you gifts from God. They may at times be very pleasant gifts from God. At other times, like your hands or your knees or other body parts, they may be difficult or painful to you. Like your hands or your knees, they may not always do what you want them to. But, you know what? They are still part of you. Just like your hands and your knees, you are much better off with them than without them. They are yours, you are theirs, parts unified and growing together as one body, the body of Christ, the church.

This, basically, is the message that Paul has for the Ephesians here in our epistle text. Paul has just spent three chapters captivating them with the marvels that Christ has done for them, many of which we have read over the past three weeks in the epistle lessons. He has proclaimed to them that Christ has predestined them to be His, and Paul comforts them with that thought. Christ has saved them by His gracious intervention on the cross and by His glorious resurrection. He is risen. He has made them alive when they were dead.

Paul then makes a shift in chapter 4.  “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”   He lists some characteristics (elsewhere called fruit of the Spirit) like humility, gentleness, love, patience and peace.  This is what the Christian life looks like. This is what our lives ought to look like.  This is the life that we are called to as Christians.

Then Paul focuses on the major theme of the entire letter to the Ephesians, our unity in Christ.  Seven times (note the completeness of the number seven), Paul writes of our oneness in 4:4-7, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  As Christians, we are one in Christ, brought into the unity of the Church through baptism, and kept there through God’s Word and Holy Communion.

The fancy name for this is the una sancta.  This Latin phrase comes from what we confess in the Creed, that we believe in the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church.  Broadly speaking, there is only One Church, one spiritual body of believers in Christ, who one and only head is Christ.  This One Church is to be found where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

What is at stake here for us is not the true unity of the Church, but our continued connection to it.  Our old Adam desires to do his own thing, strengthened by the individualistic American culture in which we live.  Our old Adam desires to redefine God’s Word, to pick and choose what to believe in or not believe, to be enslaved by what feels good at the time or what may please man.  We want to do it on our own, by ourselves.  We cannot sacrifice our unity in Christ for the sake of uniformity to the world.

Our unity is not based upon us, but solely upon the very Word of God as the source and norm of our faith.  It is not of human making, it is the work of Christ. Nor is it of human preserving, it is the Spirit’s gift.  Nor can it be destroyed by human neglect or hostility, it has Christ as its cornerstone.  The true unity of the church is always a perfect, holy thing, because it is of God.

But there is a grave danger that Christians can fall away from this divinely given unity.  Twentieth century theologian Herman Sasse once commented, “No one can split the body of Christ. But what can happen is that we cease to be members of this body, that we defect from the Una Sancta by the grave sins of schism and heresy.”[1]  The unity of the Church is at the same time a gift that is given by God in Christ and a task in which we are to work toward maintaining in the Spirit.  We are to maintain, to hold fast, to keep, to treasure that which has been given to us. Christians are one, Christ makes us one, Christ provides the gifts to maintain the oneness, and all Christians are to seek it as our goal. 

We should always seek to be and remain part of the Una Sancta, the One Holy Church, by sincere faith in Christ and faithful to that visible gathering of God’s saints where the Gospel is purely taught and Sacraments are rightly administered.  It really does matter which denomination you belong to, and it really does matter which congregation you attend.  We should avoid false teachers, false teaching, and false churches so that we are not tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, we are to grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head of the body of the church, built up in the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 4:14-16).  “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word…” Amen.

Some of this sermon is reworked from the Homiletical Helps found in Concordia Journal, Spring 2015, Vol 41, No 2, pp 171-172.

 

[1] Quoted in Concordia Commentary on Ephesians by Thomas Winger, CPH 2015, pp 485.

Ephesians 3:14-21 "Rooted and Grounded in Love"

Ephesians 3:14-21

Rooted and Grounded in Love

Proper 12B, Pentecost 9

July 26, 2015

 

How big are we talking here? That might be a question that you have discussed if you have ever built a house or a church or any other kind of building.  Before we start building, we want to know the size and scope of the project.  That is the question Paul seems to be addressing in Ephesians 3:14–21. In Ephesians 1 and 2, Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that they are chosen in Christ and that they are saved by grace through faith, not through works. This is foundational for Paul’s main concern in Ephesians: that is, should the church, the body of Christ, be for both Jews and Gentiles, indeed for all people?

While there had at one time been a building with a dividing wall to separate Jew from Gentile, there is no longer such a wall for those in Christ.  The temple of Christ’s body was put to death on the cross and then raised so that there is only one new man, one new temple, that is, the one body of Christ. Paul brings back the imagery of a building in 2:19–22 to explain what the new building project looks like. The foundation is the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. All who believe in Christ are being built into the dwelling of the Spirit of God.

Paul is praying that all who hear this Word of the Lord will be able to see the blueprints, so to speak, for the new church construction project, that is the building project of the church of God, the body of Christ. Of course whenever you have a major building project, you always have to ask how big it will be, who will be allowed to use it, who will pay for it, and so on. And who will be paying for, working on, and completing this massive project? That answer comes in 3:20–21: the Lord of course, who is able to do more abundantly than all we ask of think.

How big are we talking here? This question really must first be asked of the builder.  What is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God?  How big is He really?  Big enough to take all your sin to the cross. Big enough to swallow up death itself.

For this reason, Paul kneels in prayer before the Father.  He’s not afraid of looking too Roman Catholic or being too high church.  He bends the knee in a posture of worship and acknowledgment of, of the depths of God’s love revealed in Jesus, and of Jesus’ sovereignty.  Faith does not leave the body unmoved.  Our outward actions are to reflect our inward belief.  Both in our praise for God and in our love for others.

This is where Paul takes us in Ephesians chapter 3.  He commends God’s people for their faith in Christ and now offers a call to action.  Our love, that flows from God’s love for us in Christ, is expressed throughout all aspects of our lives.  Not just a love expressed in word, but also in deed. 

This part of St. Paul’s letter is a prayer to that effect. It’s a prayer that we might have the spiritual strength to do the good works that God has prepared for us to as ones who have been saved by grace through faith.  Our love for God, even though it is small, cannot be separated from faith. Our love and glory is not something that we can render to God from our own resources.  But these belong to God, reflected back to Him by those who stand in His presence. It is Christ who gives us access to the full glory of God and who enables our praise back to Him and our service to others.

We must do good works, not in order to be saved, but because we are in Christ, rooted and grounded in His love for us upon the cross.  In Christ, we are rooted and grounded in His love.  What do roots do? They anchor the tree into the ground.  They hold the tree steady when the winds come. From the roots come nourishment that feeds the tree. 

We are rooted and grounded in the love that God has for us in Christ.  That is what keeps us steady when we are tossed around in our lives by heartache, by temptation, by sin, death, and the devil.  And then our love grows up and out from the love that Christ has for us.  We are nourished by Jesus’ love for us, watered by baptism, delivered to us in His Word, fed by His body and blood.  This is why Word and Sacraments are so important. This is why attending Church is so important. Because this is how and when God roots us in His love and causes our faith to grow. 

That growth takes place out into the world.  So, how big are we talking here, Zion Lutheran Church?  Have we conceived of the building project of Christ’s church as too narrow, too short, too shallow, or too small?  Have we as a congregation been hesitant to include a certain demographic in our neighborhood as the Jewish Christians were excluding Gentiles in Paul’s day? Have we said, or thought, or acted as though we should not do something in our community because it might attract the wrong kind of people? 

These are hard questions, and we are called to repent of our sinful exclusions, our attempts to take over God’s building plan of His church, of trying to root our faith and our actions in anything else but Jesus.  Repent, and believe in Christ the crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. He is our cornerstone. He is our builder. He is about6 do to for more abundantly than all we ask of think, for to Him be the glory in the church, throughout all generations. Amen.

Ephesians 2:11-22 "Brought near to Jesus"

Ephesians 2:11-22

Brought Near to Jesus

Pentecost 8, Proper 11B

July 19, 2015

 

Every Sunday morning we, along with billions of Christians across the world, gather together in worship.  It is quite an amazing thing, really, that despite everything that has happened throughout history, the diversity of world cultures and languages and persecution and apathy, that approximately 1/3 of the world’s population is Christian. It takes Divine Intervention.  In fact, that’s actually the whole point.  We sometimes treat going to church like it’s a club, where we gather together with likeminded members of our community.  But Scripture tells us a very different thing.

St. Paul writes, “You who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  Notice the verbs here, “have been brought.”  That is in the passive tense.  You are not the ones doing the bringing, but God is the One who is doing the work.  Luther explained this well in his explanation of the 3rd article of the creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him…” You see, Christianity is not like a ladder that we climb to try to reach God.  That is what the tower of Babel attempted, and we all know that didn’t work out well.  Luther continues though, “but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

This is what St. Paul is talking about.  You want to draw closer to God?  Good.  But remember this: our sin separates us from God.  And our sin keeps us from God.  It makes all us equal opportunity offenders toward God.  Dead in our trespasses and sins, separated from God, far away. But in the incarnation, God draws close to us. He comes down from heaven to dwell with sinners.  And He draws sinners to Himself, He draws sinners together around Himself.

God gathers a people to Himself. These people are to be holy and blameless. Notice what He doesn't say. He doesn't say God gathers the perfect.  He doesn't say God gathers the righteous.  He doesn't say God gathers those who have it all together. But God gathers, strangers, aliens, those with no hope, the godless.  Broken by the weight of our own sin and that of the world. Needy. Beggers. Not even able to go to God.

This is what Jesus is doing today, here, now. Through the waters of your baptism, He has gathered you to Himself.  And through His very body and blood, He draws you to partake of Himself, to receive His forgiveness and life.  And finally, to build you up into a temple of living stones, who breathe with the Spirit’s breath.  Israel not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, a church incorporating children of Abraham who believe as he believed in the Christ to come.  Built upon the prophets and apostles, founded upon Christ Himself, with the cross standing high and proud.

There is a place for you here, because there is peace and reconciliation for all in the body of Jesus. All believers have been brought near—to God and to one another—by the blood of Jesus (3:13). He killed the hostility for all on the cross. No longer is any believer a stranger or a foreigner here in the assembly of the baptized. All share the same foundation, the same cornerstone; Jesus Christ.  It is through the bestowal of the Triune name of God in our Baptism that we receive our place in the temple, the dwelling place of God.  That’s why we begin our service with the Trinitarian invocation and make the sign of the cross.  It’s not just a tradition, not just a reminder, but it is reality. We belong here, because Christ has come near to us and brought us near to Him.  And in Jesus Christ all belong here as citizens with the saints and members of God’s household.

Member of God’s household.  The Christian church is communal.  That’s why we confess that we believe in the one holy Christian and apostolic church, the communion of saints.  That’s you the Creed is talking about, people of God, gathered together by His Spirit into one faith, by one Lord, through one Baptism. We find ourselves brought near to God, but also to each other. 

This shapes our relationships with one another and with the world.  No longer are sinful divisions to exist among us, because Christ has died to bring us together. “When you try to maintain your hatred or your anger or your separation, it’s as if you are reaching into the wounds of Jesus—where all of that sin went—and pulling it out again. Give the separation up! Let go of the anger! Leave it in the wounds of Jesus. He has reconciled you to God, his Father. Now, be reconciled to one another! For you are saved by grace, through faith, and this is not of yourselves so that no one may boast, but it is a gift of God.

You are brought to Jesus by the blood of Jesus.  Come now, for the table is set, the body and blood of Jesus give for you, offering you the peace of God that passes all understanding, the forgiveness of your sins, life and salvation.  

Ephesians 1:3-14 "Blessed... In Christ"

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed… in Christ

Pentecost 7, Proper 10B

July 15, 2015

 

Our Epistle reading for this morning begins 8 weeks of reading through St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  What we heard today is a prayer that the themes that he will discuss later on as he delivers God’s word to his hearers.  And so it serves the same for us, introducing many of the themes that we will be focusing upon during our next 8 weeks.  And it all centers around who God is, what He has done in Christ, and who you are in Christ. 

But the most wonderful thing is, He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  Think about this for a moment. God has elected His people before the foundation of the world.  Before the heavens and the earth, the sun and stars, the plants and animals, Adam and Eve, God had predestined His people for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.

God who has invested so much in us that He chooses us from the beginning will keep his promises to us. Paul emphasizes the holiness and blamelessness of those adopted by God. God has done all of this because of the riches of Christ’s work on the cross, where He has redeemed us and forgiven us all things. God is rich toward us both according to his grace and according to the gifts he lavishes on us, including wisdom and understanding.  But make no mistake, this is purely by grace.

We live in an age of entitlement.  We often look at things in life as that which we deserve.  Our culture is wrapped up in this over and over again.  Who has the right to do this or that?  As Christians, we fall into the same type of trap.  Too often we pay lip service to salvation by grace alone through faith alone, yet we act as though God owes us blessings.    Make no mistake, God does not owe us anything, not His Word, not His Spirit, not His grace.  We do not deserve Jesus.  That is how serious sin is. That is how corrupted our nature is.  No injustice is done to those who are punished and received the wages of sin.

Solely out of God’s love, in Christ, He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places/matters.  God’s blessings of life, salvation, forgiveness are yours.  And here’s the key, this is all accomplished and delivered “in Christ.”  Without Jesus, there is no life, salvation, nor forgiveness. Without Jesus, there are no spiritual blessings.  Make no mistake, there is no salvation, no forgiveness, no spiritual blessing outside of faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. These benefits have their manifest fulfillment at the cross, where the long–term plans of God are revealed and fulfilled for those with eyes to see by faith, but where those who choose not to believe see nothing worthwhile and have their hearts hardened.

But in Christ, we obtain His inheritance.  What Jesus deserves as the only begotten Son of God, that He gives to those who believe in Him.  Our election is founded not on our godliness or virtue, but on Christ’s merit alone and on the Father’s gracious will.  Therefore, when we His children sin and stumble, He calls us to repentance again through the Word, and the Holy Spirit wants by that Word to be effective in us for conversion – for out justification and our sanctification. 

This is truly amazing, but there comes that nagging voice in your head, the whispers of the devil and guilty conscience, placing doubts within you.  “Is God really talking about me?  How can I know for sure if I am part of this, or if I just think I am?  Am I really part of the elected faithful, or am I just going through the motions.” Our pride tempts us to trust in our commitment to God; doubt makes us worry that we are committed enough.

St. Paul has an answer, which centers in Christ.  “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” Jesus blesses us by leading us to repent of our sinful pride and calms our worried hearts.  Our election, our salvation is sure, not because of what we do, not because of how much we believe, but because God has acted in Christ.  In your Baptism, He adopts His children and seals us with a guarantee, the Holy Spirit. Through His Word and by His Spirit He sustains us in the truth faith to life everlasting. By the body and blood of Christ, we are fed the food of immortality. According to the riches of His grace, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, that He has lavished upon us in Christ.

The righteousness of God in Christ Jesus has provided us with the abundant assurances and benefits of being God’s special people, chosen by Him from the beginning.  We are predestined by God in Christ, and He does as He wills. Our life is therefore a manifestation of His praise and glory. It is through these promises applied to us that we find both the faithfulness and strength to love our neighbors, marking us as those distinctive people God has chosen from the beginning.  It is in the assurance of our salvation in Christ, in our justification, being made righteous, we may begin to do good works and to obey God’s Law.  We receive the Holy Spirit for the very reason that new life may produce new works, new dispositions, the fear and love of God, hatred of lustful desires, to serve and love others with the grace of God in Christ.

By faith in Christ, O people of God, you are the elect of God in Christ.  Sins forgiven. Life bestowed.  To the praise and glory of God, in Christ. The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Mark 6:7-13 "Sending out the Church"

Mark 6:7-13

Sending out the Church

Proper 9B

July 5, 2015

 

Last Sunday, over 4500 women and a few hundred men gathered together for the national convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. Among other things, they voted on where to send $1.8 million in grants throughout the world for missions.  One of the most memorable things I remember hearing was from one of the invited speakers, Rev. Dr. James Lamb, director of Lutherans for Life.  He was speaking to the LWML about the work of Lutherans for Life and how they try to equip normal, everyday people to be faithful witnesses to Christ in life and death issues.  He explained nicely what Lutherans for Life was trying to do: "Get the pious posteriors of God’s people out of the padded pews into the public square with the proper motivation."

There you have it.  That’s what the Gospel reading for today is all about.  Jesus commissions His Twelve Disciples to do just this.  As the Twelve Disciples went out into the world, they had to rely solely upon the good will of the people that they came across and the provision from God. They go out two by two, preaching repentance in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is nothing else than the preaching that John the Baptist and Jesus Himself proclaimed concerning the Kingdom of God.  This probably scared them, for at the beginning of Mark 6 we hear of Jesus’ not so warm welcome in his hometown of Nazareth, the offense they took at Jesus, and how He could hardly do anything because of the ramped unbelief of those there.  And now Jesus is telling them to go out with the same word, to do the same work, and to expect the same response. 

Now, our text doesn’t say how they were received as they went out.  It doesn’t give us an idea of who received them and who rejected them.  Most likely, that’s on purpose.  The point is that they were sent out by Christ to proclaim the Word of Christ and to depend upon Him to provide for them in doing this.

The Lord is still doing this. He sends pastors out to serve God’s people with His Word and Sacraments. He sends those wet with Baptism and fed with the body and blood of Christ out into the work place, into the home, into the schools, with the same Gospel. That is why we get our pious posteriors out of the padded pews into the public square because we have the proper motivation-for Jesus’ sake, our sins are forgiven. And what are we to expect as we go?  The same treatment that Jesus received – the cross, and the glory of God.

We live in a culture, in a country, that legalizes sin over and over again.  You, the Church, the bride of Christ, are sent out into the world that is hostile, that is frustrated, that is angry, that is dead in their trespasses and sin, that is lost in despair and hopelessness for this life and eternity.  And the worst part is, so many don’t even realize it!  This is the world in which we live.  This is the culture in which we find ourselves.  Lord, have mercy.  Some will receive you as you go in the name of Christ. Some will reject you as you go in the name of Christ.

But do not lose heart.  We have a word of hope that the world does not have and does not want, but desperately needs.  And though the world will take offense, may shun, chastise, hate, and reject, the Word of the Lord remains forever.  The preaching of repentance will be proclaimed in connection to faith in Jesus Christ.  Repent, for the kingdom of God has come in the advent of Christ. This Christ has been crucified. Christ has shaken off the dust of death, for He is risen.  No matter how great the sin, no matter how evil the heart, Christ died for sinners.  This is the same word that the Twelve were sent out with.  We share that Word with the prayer simply that the Holy Spirit would work through the Word of Christ, to create and sustain faith.

This is the beauty of it all.  The power is in the Word, used by the Holy Spirit, spoken by the lips of sinners to sinners.  The Word brings to the font to the altar into the world to proclaim the Word which brings to the font to the altar and then into the world… This is how it worked for you.  Who was it in your life whom God sent to you with this saving Gospel?  Your parents?  Your spouse?  Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A friend, a coworker, a pastor, a teacher, a student.  Whomever it was, you have heard the preached word of Christ.  The Holy Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified you.

The Lutheran Hour gets this right.  The Lutheran Hour is the longest running religious radio broadcast in the world. Does anyone here remember what their motto is?  “To bring Christ to the nations and the nations to the Church.”  That could be a motto of every Christian.  When you leave this place this morning, you don’t go alone.  Jesus does not send you out by yourself nor ill equipped.  But He sends you out with His Spirit, equipped with His Word. Get your pious posteriors out of the padded pews into the public square because we have the proper motivation—Christ died to save sinners. Christ is risen. 

Mark 4:35-41 - Keep Calm, the Lord Speaks

Mark 4:35-41

Lord of Creation

Proper 7B

June 21, 2015

 

When I was young, we lived for a few years in central Texas.  One of my favorite parts about living there were the big thunderstorms that used to come up every now and then.  I remember going to school and having tornado drills, though we never had a tornado where we were. But I also remember running outside on occasion when one of those big storms was coming.  To stand there and feel the thunder shake you down to your bones and the smell the rain coming in the dry air.  Once the storm came, I didn’t stay outside, but my brothers and I would watch it from the living room window, fascinated by the lightening and thunder, the wind and rain. 

In our Gospel reading, the disciples weren’t all that excited about a storm as I was as a child.  Many as fishermen knew the dangers of such wind and rain and waves while out on the Sea of Galilee.  It could sink boats and drown people.  They had a healthy and realistic fear of such things, which led them to wake Jesus up from sleeping through the storm.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they cried out.  You can almost hear the panic.

And so Jesus wakes up and deals with the situation, both with the storm and the disciples.  It’s interesting, the storm shows a greater recognition of Jesus’ divine power than the disciples.  All it takes are some short words, “Peace! Be still!” and it was so.  It was instantaneous and complete.

The Disciples ask, “Who is this that the even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  This Jesus is not just a miracle worker. Not just the Christ.  But He is the Christ who works miracles upon creation because He is the Creator.  Just as God spoke, “Let there be” and there was, so He speaks “Peace! Be still!” and there was.

He still speaks these words today, both over His creation out there in the world, and in here in this building. He speaks this to us as well.  God’s Word does not simply describe something, but it performs it. It does what it says.  And yet, the storm still listens better than we do. We look around at the world, we feel as though we’re being tossed about, up to our neck in worry, in debt, in trouble, in fear.  Life doesn’t seem all that peaceful when we hear of shootings in churches. Life doesn’t seem all that peaceful when we hear of wars, famine, trouble on the horizon.  Look up, for your redemption is drawing near. The King of Peace comes into His creation to restore His creation.  He comes to give His life for you, and to take that life up again never to die again.  He has defeated the cause of strife and conflict and a creation groaning from the effects of sin.  His peace is yours, because you are His.  So be still, and know that Jesus is the Lord. 

This peace and stillness is what we need.  Stillness is hard for us.  We are uncomfortable with it.  Especially the younger generations have a hard time, but it affects us all.  In an age with radio and television, computers to ipads and smart phones, stillness is hard.  In fact, we don’t like stillness much.  It’s uncomfortable.  When was the last time you sat down in a chair or on your couch and were just still for more than 5 minutes without simply falling asleep?  I don’t know the last time I did that…

But this being still isn’t the same as turning off your mind or twiddling your thumbs.  To be still is only the first step, then to listen. The stillness of the storm came by hearing the Word of Christ proclaimed and responding to the will of God.  How much better if we were to regularly be still and listen carefully to hear God speak in His Word.  How much better if we were to hold our hearts still from fretfulness, hurt and fear so that we could be more receptive to God as His gives Himself to us in His Word and Sacraments.  How much better it is when we simply sit still and simply be the children of God who we are and let the Word of the Lord do what it says.

Peace, be still.  Listen not to the wild racing feelings of our own hearts, but to the sure and certain promises of God’s Word.  This is the greatest thing in worship and in relationship with our Lord.  Simply be still. Hear the Word of the Lord. Receive God’s peace that He gives in His Word and Sacraments.  After the Words of Institution, the pastor stands before congregation and says or chants, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  This isn’t just a greeting, not just a nice thing to say, it’s not a question, nor wishful thinking.  This is the same peace that Jesus spoke calming the storm. This is the peace that comes from the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for your forgiveness.  This is the peace that surpasses all understanding and that which keeps your heart and mind on Christ Jesus.

These are stressful times for Christians.  Uncertainty is everywhere, sin and evil are rampant giving rise to storms and waves that threaten to sink the ark of the Christian Church.  But we need not fear.  For the Creator still works in His creation and our Lord promises that not even the gates of hell will prevail against His Church.  We as the Church look past the constant storms that come up in life. We look beyond the uncertainty, the fear and confusion of being tossed around and beaten up by a sin effected creation.  In Christ our Lord, we have in every age a hope and a future.   

 

Some of the info in this sermon, especially in regards to being still, is reworked from Harold Senkbeil, “Engaging Our Culture Faithfully”, Concordia Journal, 40:4. 311.

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