Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pentecost 21 Sermon -- Mark 10:46-52 (LSB Proper 25B)

October 25, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The cry of Bartimaeus is what the Lord God wants to hear from His people. He wants you to request with urgency whatever you need from Him. That is why He invites and even commands you to pray to Him. For it is His will that He would provide what you lack, especially in matters of salvation.

Urgent requests were demanded of the Israelites in the Old Testament Reading for today. The prophet Jeremiah discloses the Lord God’s message to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The city will fall to the Babylonian armies. Death will be felt by many; others will suffer the existential crisis of being exiled away from the Promised Land to the land of Gentiles. But the Lord God’s will is to bring them back to Jerusalem. So He commands them: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save Your people, the remnant of Israel.’”

The Lord God had promised to answer His people’s cries. They arise out of need, out of lack, out of deprivation and desperation. Those who have all good things of themselves—or who deludedly believe that they do—will not ask. But those who suffer want, who experience the negative effects of living in this imperfect and hazardous world, will not hesitate to ask and beg for what the Lord God has which they need.

That is seen with Bartimaeus. Mark tells us that he was a “blind beggar.” He sat at the side of the road asking for whatever his fellow citizens of Jericho could spare. But on this day, the crowd was large, as they followed Jesus out of the city. As the entourage passed into earshot of Bartimaeus, “he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth.” And without hesitation, Bartimaeus cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even when the people rebuked him, “[Bartimaeus] cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

Nothing would keep Bartimaeus from having Jesus address his needs. No, his faith moved him to beg and beg and beg again for what Jesus had to give. His belief in Jesus’ identity and ability is seen in his cries. The blind beggar believed that Jesus was “the Son of David,” the promised Christ from the royal line of Israel. He knew the prophecies; he knew the divine promises. And he was going to get his share of what the Lord God was giving through Jesus.

Bartimaeus’ cry—“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”—reached Jesus’ ears, even over the rebukes of the crowd. The Gospel Writer tells us: “And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him!’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.’” Bartimaeus’ begging was being answered. “Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Called by Christ, the blind beggar will receive the Lord God’s mercy.

But then Jesus asks Bartimaeus an interesting question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” The Christ asks the blind beggar what he wants. What is your request? How the blind man answers will determine what he gets. It will also disclose what he believes about Jesus’ being the promised Christ. Will he ask for earthly things: a few more drachma or denarii for his purse? Will he ask for honor: a place at Jesus’ left or right hand in His kingdom, like James and John did? Will he ask for vengeance: some sort of punishment for the citizens of Jericho who ever mistreated or ignored him? Jesus asks: “What do you want? What do you believe I can do for you?” And the blind man must answer.

So Bartimaeus responds to Jesus’ question: “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” Aha! A request based upon who Jesus truly is. The blind man calls Jesus “Teacher.” He begs Jesus: “Let me see again,” knowing that the prophecies said that the promised Christ would restore sight to the blind. The beggar asks Jesus for what He had been anointed by the Lord God to do. Bartimaeus believes what he has heard about Jesus—from the Scriptures and from the accounts of the people who have encountered Him—and he is holding Jesus to it.

Hear again what Jesus said to the blind man: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Perhaps a little more literal rendering will better show Jesus’ statement: “Go; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus is commended by Jesus for his belief. The meaning of Jesus’ words is this: “You were right about Me. I am the Christ, the Son of David. I have the ability and desire to heal you. Your request is not ignored; it is exactly what I want to hear from all people’s mouths. You believed that I can heal and you acted on your belief. That has made you well, and I have answered your request.”

And look what happens to Bartimaeus after his request was answered: “Immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” Bartimaeus’ faith made him well, but his faith in Jesus’ identity and ability also drove him to follow the Christ wherever He went. Needs were met; faith was confirmed. That is what is seen in this event from Jesus’ life.

What Jesus commended Bartimaeus for is what He also wants to find in you. Bartimaeus serves as a great example of faith. He knew what was wrong with him and did not hide it. He knew what he believed about Jesus’ identity and ability and asked to benefit from it. When called by Christ, and asked what he wanted, Bartimaeus didn’t make a falsely humble request; rather, he begged for the restoration and healing that the Christ can give.

So it should be among you, the Lord God’s people here in this place. The incessant cries from Bartimaeus’ mouth did not receive the Lord God’s ire. Other citizens may have been perturbed at hearing Bartimaeus yell louder and louder, but Jesus hears and answers. In the same way that the blind man begged of Jesus, you also may ask things of Him. From your mouths come the same words: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Think on how many times those words or similar ones will come from your mouths today. Four times in the Kyrie. Twice in the Gloria in Excelsis. Multiple times in the Prayer of the Church. Three times in the Agnus Dei. Your worship is really nothing more than hearing of who Jesus is and what He was to accomplish, confessing that it took place, knowing He is present here, and requesting things based upon His identity and ability. But that is what the Lord God desires to hear, for He wants to answer your cries for aid. In fact, He commands you to ask.

Think on the prayer that you will recite in about 10-15 minutes. It is full of requests: “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Do not lead us into temptation. Deliver us from evil.” That is the mercy that you cry out for from Jesus. And each request is answered: “I will provide for your needs. Your sins are forgiven. You will not be deceived by Me. I have overcome sin, death, and Satan for you, so you will dwell eternally in My presence.” Jesus answers because He is the Son of David, the promised Christ, and His identity is wrapped up in delivering salvation to you.

That is what the Author wrote in the Epistle Reading for today: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but [Jesus] holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” So much is contained in those two sentences. But for today, know that Christ saves you, that He is the One who brings your requests for salvation before His Father, and that He affirmatively answers them because of His death and resurrection.

Like Bartimaeus, you can make the proper confession about Jesus’ identity and ability. You can say of Him: “You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us! You are seated at the right hand of the Father; receive our prayer! For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.” And with that confession and the requests for mercy, grace, and forgiveness, you place your plight in the hands of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David, the Promised Christ.

Jesus will answer in the same way He answered Bartimaeus: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus says: “You are right about Me. Your sins are forgiven. Your health of body and soul will be restored. For so I have desired it to be for you who follow Me, who trust in My death and resurrection alone for your salvation, and who ask Me alone for what I can give.” May you so believe, so ask, and so be answered, always praying like Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on Me!”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

St. Luke, Evangelist Sermon -- Luke 10:1-9

October 18, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go.”

The Gospel Writer whom the Church commemorates on this day authored those words. St. Luke records Jesus’ action that authorized the Seventy-Two to go out and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. It is an appropriate event in Jesus’ life to hear on this day, as the Church remembers the Evangelist who was not an apostle, not a relative of Jesus, not even a relative of the Twelve.

Jesus’ action in sending the Seventy-Two demonstrates that there will be people beyond the Twelve apostles who will bear His authority. They will bring the Gospel of Christ—the words and works of Jesus that provide salvation—to other places that the Twelve would not get to. So it is for all who follow in the footsteps of the Twelve and the Seventy-Two.

Looking at Jesus’ instructions that He gives to the Seventy-Two, we see the authority that He conferred upon them. Jesus tells them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him. But if not, it will return to you.” Jesus gives the Seventy-Two His own greeting to use in their work. The Seventy-Two will bring the declaration that the Lord God desires reconciliation, not retribution. And those who receive such message receive that reconciliation.

Jesus also gives the Seventy-Two instruction regarding hospitality: “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.” The Lord’s instructions tell the Seventy-Two to act like He did: eating and drinking and associating with those who receive them. So Jesus did, and so the ones He sends shall do.

Jesus also instructs the Seventy-Two regarding their agenda, what they will do: “Heal the sick in [the town that receives you] and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” The Lord gives the Seventy-Two power over the effects of sin, even illnesses. He authorizes them to disclose to the people why these things were happening in the towns they visited. The Seventy-Two extend the sphere of influence that Jesus has in this world; the kingdom of God is expanded by the reception of their authoritative actions.

That is why this Gospel Reading was selected for a day to commemorate St. Luke, one of the Four Evangelists. What is seen in the instructions that Jesus gives to the Seventy-Two is the kingdom of God on the move, the Gospel going out. It is evangelism—the word with Gospel at its heart. [euvagge,lion = “gospel” in Greek; evangelium = “gospel” in Latin] In His graciousness, Jesus wills that people receive the benefits that He brings to this sinful world. He desires that people receive the salvation which He earns, including His victory over sin and all its effects.

That same desire is why Jesus continues to authorize people to go out to cities and villages today. The Sending of the Seventy-Two gives the pattern for what takes place among you as a congregation of Christ’s people. You will not have one of the Twelve apostles come to this place. No matter how hard you would wish for it, Peter, James, John, Andrew, and the others will not step foot here in Calvary Church. But the Lord Jesus does authorize others to go on ahead of Him.

For those of you who were here in the Winter and Spring of 2008, you learned much about that authority. You learned how the Lord of the Harvest sends workers out to His people. A man comes who is invested with Christ’s authority, but not for any action. No, the authority is given for specific acts, just as Jesus listed them for the Seventy-Two: “Bring My greeting of divine peace to My people. Stay among My people, not looking to jump to another house. Associate with My people. Bring My healing to their diseases, to the effects of their sin. Proclaim to them that the kingdom of God has come here among them.” That is what those who have and who currently hold the office of the ministry do with Christ’s authority in this place.

The reason for such action is simple: Jesus desires that you also receive His salvation. He desires for you to be part of His kingdom. Jesus desires that you have the fullness of His Gospel: the mercy that He shows to penitent sinners, so that they are forgiven and made heirs of everlasting life, even living out newness of life in their day-to-day activities. And so this can take place, Jesus authorizes men to proclaim His words and works, the very proclamation of what delivers you from eternal death.

The words and deeds of Jesus fulfilled what God the Father intended to take place. Jesus’ work as the Redeemer of the world is to reverse the effects of sin. Your faults, your imperfections, your misdeeds all separate you from the Lord God. Because of those things, you lack righteousness and by your own abilities know nothing of the Lord God’s favor and grace. But listen to what the Lord God said the effects of the Christ’s words and works would be: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.”

Jesus puts an end to ignorance and lack of knowledge of divine righteousness. The effects of your faults, imperfections, and misdeeds are reversed. As the kingdom of God comes near to you—which is simply having the Holy Spirit given to you through the proclamation of Jesus’ words and works—you are no longer blind, deaf, lame, or mute. Instead of your souls being barren wastelands of sin and corruption, they have the springs of eternal life in them.

That is what the Gospel of Jesus does when it is brought to you and you believe it. That is the end goal of evangelism—again, which is nothing but the proclamation of Jesus’ words and works which carries the Holy Spirit to those who have yet to receive it. As you and others receive it from those who are authorized by Jesus to bring it, you are changed by Jesus’ actions, by His kingdom coming near to you. It is just as Martin Luther described in the Small Catechism: “How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” This took place in the cities and villages reached by the Seventy-Two; likewise it happens here.

That proclamation of Jesus’ words and works is what heals. It is how the Lord God fulfills the description of Him in the psalm: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” It is how your status is changed, so that you are no longer under divine condemnation. You are not blind, deaf, lame, or mute in matters of righteousness. No, you know what holiness is and that you have been given it because of Jesus’ actions done for you—His death and resurrection. The healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments puts to flight the diseases of your souls, so that with willing hearts you may ever love and serve the Lord God. So now, as you believe His holy word, as “the kingdom of God has come near to you,” you receive the Lord God’s favor, just as the psalm states: “the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” That is what the evangelism you received from those who carried Jesus’ Gospel has brought to you.

The proclamation of Jesus’ words and works is what St. Luke’s life became all about. That is what he did as an Evangelist, leaving behind his physician’s practice to travel with St. Paul. Even today, we have his proclamation in a written form. As it is repeatedly read, we hear the words and works of Jesus. The great deeds of Jesus which delivered sinful human beings from sin, death, and Satan are heard and known by old and new groups of disciples.

That is how the Evangelist Luke was involved and is still involved in the extension of God’s Kingdom. That realm now includes you who live centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit is still given to you so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity. That same task of proclamation is what those who follow in the steps of the Seventy-Two are all about. May you receive the effects of Jesus’ words and works through it, the salvation that brings you to everlasting life.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pentecost 19 Sermon -- Mark 10:17-22 (LSB Proper 23B)

October 11, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

As [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man’s question for Jesus is easy to understand. But the man’s question is also illogical. It can’t be answered, because what the man asks about is an impossibility.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Substitute any item for “eternal life” in that question. What must I do to inherit my father’s house? What must I do to inherit my mother’s china? What must I do to inherit my grandfather’s estate? What must I do to inherit my business partner’s share of the company? How would you answer such questions? Be a good son or daughter. Be a generous and caring grandchild. Be a wise and trusted coworker and entrepreneur.

All of those would be good answers, even typical answers. Jesus gives such an answer to the man who asks the question to Him. Listen to what Jesus said in response to the question: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” Jesus basically says: Be good. That’s His answer to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And yet, Jesus also said: “No one is good except God alone.” That should eliminate any idea of being good leading to eternal life.

Why should the idea of being good leading to eternal life be eliminated? First, because Jesus’ words are correct: “No one is good except God alone.” Despite the man’s bragging, he was not good. He told Jesus: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Perhaps he had kept the letter of the law, but didn’t keep the full intent of them. But secondly, even had he kept all those commands, it still doesn’t address the issue of original sin: that one is born without fear, love, and trust in God, and that such a lack is damnable. And even if that weren’t so, the issue of inheriting eternal life still arises.

The real issue with the man’s question—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”—is that no one can do anything to inherit something. The man wants to know what action he must perform in order to inherit eternal life. Yet, the matter of inheritance is dependent upon someone else’s action. Go back to the questions asked earlier: What must I do to inherit my father’s house? What must I do to inherit my mother’s china? What must I do to inherit my grandfather’s estate? What must I do to inherit my business partner’s share of the company? There are no actions that you must do. For you to inherit your father’s house, your mother’s china, your grandfather’s estate, your business partner’s share of the company, the original owner has to give it to you. It’s a basic concept. You need to have a status conferred upon you: that your father, mother, grandfather, or business partner elected to place you in their will and list you as an heir.

Inheritance is a matter of dependence, not self-reliance. You must be given a status. You had to be chosen by the testator. The testator had to find you worthy of owning their property after their death. The testator had to ensure that your name was listed in the will. If the testator’s actions didn’t take place, it wouldn’t matter if you were a good son or daughter, a good grandchild, a good business partner. No matter how hard you tried, no matter your efforts, to inherit something, you had to be the recipient of another’s actions for your benefit.

That truth about inheritance is seen in how the dialogue between the man and Jesus progresses. After Jesus’ listing of the commandments and the man’s insistence that he had kept all of them from youth, Jesus acts for the man’s benefit: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” Jesus loves the man, and He tells the man what must be done for him to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to abandon self-reliance: get rid of everything of the man’s possessions in which he found security. But Jesus goes further: He calls the man to be His disciple.

Jesus is acting on the man’s behalf, giving the man the status which he needs in order to inherit eternal life. Those who believe in Jesus, who follow His way of life, who are placed under His discipline will have great treasure in heaven. It isn’t their choice; it isn’t a result of their own effort. No, it is what Jesus chooses to give them. He calls them away from error, away from the bondage of sin, away from the power of Satan.

The inheritance of eternal life is what you have been chosen to receive. Jesus chooses you despite the fact that you do murder, you do commit adultery, you do steal, you do bear false witness, you do defraud, and you do dishonor your father and mother. You may claim, like the rich man: “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.” But such a claim would not be true. And yet, Jesus still chooses you to follow Him, to receive the great treasure in heaven which the Eternal Father has to give.

Why can Jesus do such a thing? Why can He make this selection, this choice for you to follow Him and be an heir of eternal life? It is because Jesus meets the criteria that He listed for the man. Jesus knows the commandments, and He did keep them from His youth. But even more than that: Jesus divested Himself of everything that He had and gave it to you who lacked everything. That is the great result of His Incarnation: the Son of God emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant and made Himself subject to all the Law of God. And that action led to His giving His own life for your sake, making you and all sinful humanity eligible to be chosen to receive the inheritance of eternal life.

Salvation is a matter of dependence. You cannot be self-reliant and obtain eternal life. No, it must be given to you. It must be made yours by someone else. But note how the man in the Gospel Reading reacts to that truth: “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Though Jesus loved the man and disclosed the way of life to him, the man does not receive it. He will not make himself reliant on Jesus’ actions. No, the man will keep to the delusion that eternal life is something that he can obtain by his own effort. How sad that is! How awful for the man to be chosen by Jesus to follow Him, but for him to refuse it. It is as if the will was made, but the heir listed chose to have his name deleted.

This is one of the reasons why this incident in Jesus’ life is heard year-after-year in the Church. All of you must know the way that eternal life is given, that it is the result of Jesus’ actions for you. But you must also know that the status of being chosen can be rejected and abandoned. Making yourself your own savior is a great temptation. It is the idolatry that all sinful beings revert to. And such thinking repeats the error of the rich man in the Gospel Reading.

That is the great error which you must avoid. The worship that we do in our Divine Service helps to avoid it. As you speak the Confession of Sins, you hear again that you have not kept the commandments from youth and that you are loath to give up reliance in your own selves. The pleas for mercy in the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, and Agnus Dei acknowledge your dependence upon the Lamb of God who takes away your sins and the sins of the world, even the sin of pride and self-reliance. The presentation of forgiveness in Holy Absolution and the Lord’s Supper confirms the fact that salvation is given to you through Christ’s work, not earned. Recitation of the Creed and invoking the Triune God’s Name affirm the baptismal identity bestowed upon you, when you were made heirs of eternal life.

The question that the rich man asks—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”—cannot be answered with a method or prescribed action. No, the real question is: What must Jesus do for me, so that I can be given eternal life by His Father? The answer to that is simple, the same answer which Jesus gives to the rich man: “You lack one thing. Come, follow Me.” You lack salvation in yourselves, but being called to discipleship by Jesus and believing in His words and works brings it to you. Do not be deluded into self-reliance, but be dependent upon Jesus and His actions. For by them, you have been given a blessed status, and so you shall inherit eternal life.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 2009 Parish Letter

“Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church. Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death. . . .”

[Collect for St. James of Jerusalem]

James the Just is commemorated by the Church on October 23. Some of you might ask, Just who is this “James the Just”? James is known for two major things besides sharing a name with two of Jesus’ apostles: (a) being the brother of Jesus and (b) leading the Jerusalem Church, even suffering martyrdom for his faith.

In this twelve-month period, when Lutherans have been and will gather together in conventions, perhaps it is good to speak about James the Just. The Acts of the Apostles describes a great council held in Jerusalem sometime around AD 50. (The events of the council can be read in Acts 15.) This council faced a great question: What should be done with all the new Gentiles who had been led to faith in Jesus through the preaching of Paul and Barnabas? Was it required of these new believers to abide by all the requirements of the Old Covenant, including circumcision and dietary laws?

As bishop of the Jerusalem Church, James was the chairman of this council. The author of the Acts of the Apostles includes the judgment that he made in consultation with the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, including the chief apostle, Peter. In his decision, James recounts the Old Testament prophecy about the Gentiles’ being given the identity as the Lord God’s people: ’After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’” (Acts 15:16-18) James believed that the great things that Paul and Barnabas told about their mission work among the Gentiles were fulfilling this prophecy.

Regarding the question about the requirements of the Old Covenant, James decided that the Gentiles were not to be bound to all of them. This is laid out in the apostolic decree issued by James and the apostles and elders of Jerusalem: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”(Acts 15:19-21) The Gentiles would not have to undergo circumcision; their dietary restrictions were limited to not eating meat from strangled animals and consuming blood. As with all believers in Christ, the new Gentile believers were to avoid idolatry and all that it affects.

With this apostolic decree, the Gentile question was solved. Important to note are the descriptions that the author of the Acts of the Apostles gives about this decision: It as seemed good to us, having come to one accord. . . . It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements. . . .”(Acts 15:25, 28) In the decision made by the Jerusalem Church, the unity of Christ’s followers is seen. James leads a convention that produces a great consensus, as the people there are led by the Holy Spirit. So it is when the Spirit of the Lord binds the Body of Christ together.

This unity which the Council of Jerusalem typifies is praised in the Psalm prayed on October 23: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”(Psalm 133) This dwelling in unity would be found among those who abided by the apostolic decree from Jerusalem. Hebrew Christian and Gentile Christian were part of one Church, bound together by the Holy Spirit. But where the apostolic decree of James was ignored, there this tie was threatened. Unfortunately, such break was recorded in the Scriptures, as seen in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Such is what the actions which do not seem good to the Holy Spirit, not done in one accord, will bring to the Church.

James’ desire for unity based in the wisdom of the Lord God and His teaching is also seen in his letter to the Church. Portions of it have been read during August and September in our parish. In that letter, James writes: Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”(James 1:16-21)

As our congregation, our District, and our Synod—along with other churchbodies—meet in council and convention, it is good to remember James the Just, his instruction, and the decree of the Jerusalem Council. What is good, what leads to one accord, is to believe and act upon the wisdom that the Lord God reveals to us through the testimony of His Spirit. This is found in the Scriptures which have been handed down to us. We should be just as James says: “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We should be especially quick to hear what the Lord God has declared and deliberate in speaking that truth in love, even when tempers flare and opposition rises.

Such is the example which our Lord’s brother, the Bishop of Jerusalem, has left us. Let us follow it, just as the collect for October 23 says: “following his example in prayer and reconciliation and being strengthened by the witness of his death.” That is the path of harmony and accord on which the Lord God leads us, just as He led His Church in its nascent days through the leadership of James the Just.

~Pastor Zimmerman T

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pentecost 18 Sermon -- Mark 10:2-16 (LSB Proper 22B)

October 4, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus’ words are appropriate for more than wedding ceremonies, though that is when we hear them most often. They are meant for more than premarital conferences, though they form the basis for what is discussed with prospective brides and grooms in our parish. Given what has transpired in the past three years since the Church has last read these words together in sanctuaries around our nation, it is good that our ears hear them again.

Our Lord speaks of what He has designed for man and woman. “From the beginning of creation,” it has been this way. Before the birth of Jesus, before Moses’ Law, before the Fall into sin, the Lord God had willed that a man would find a helper suitable for him, and so He created one from the man and gave it to him. They were to be bound together for eternity, for what the Lord God had united, none of His creatures was to separate.

But the Fall into sin corrupted this arrangement. Even during the temptation of Eve, a rift was being created between her and her husband. Did she trust Adam’s words which repeated the Lord God’s command? Did she believe that this was for her benefit? Or would the woman seek out what was not meant for her, thinking that her judgment was greater than her husband’s restating of her Creator’s will?

You know the answer. In her desire to be like God, Eve abandoned what the Lord God had given her: perfection and the care of her husband. Led by her hardened heart, she left what was safe, perfect, and good, exchanging it for much, much less. But not only did Eve do this, Adam did so as well, forsaking the Lord God’s design and decree.

It is the same with their descendants. For all who are born according to nature think and act likewise. Out of the hardness of their hearts, they refuse to conform to the Lord God’s will. They do not walk in His ways or fear Him, let alone love Him. And it is even so concerning the institution which the Lord God had designed and established “from the beginning of creation.”

Jesus says: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” His words are applied to the matter of divorce. Rightly so, for they are spoken in response to the Pharisees’ question regarding that matter: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” But the Lord’s statement has greater application. It refers to anything which would jeopardize and damage the institution of marriage and the Lord God’s design for it. Anything which questions whether marriage is a union of one man and one woman. Anything that would lead to a husband not holding fast to his wife. Anything that questions whether it is the Lord God who unites husbands and wives together.

It doesn’t matter who initiates such divisive things. For the tempting question—“Did God really say . . . ?”—can come from any sinful person’s mouth. It can be spoken by the Serpent’s mouth. But it can even spew out of the mouths of people who bear titles of honor among the Lord God’s people. Note again who bring the question to Jesus: the Pharisees ask about the lawfulness of dissolving what God has brought together. So it should not surprise that there are those who bear the title bishop, teaching theologian, biblical scholar, task force chairman, and voting delegate who also whisper in voice or writing: “Did God really say that ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’?”

But there is forgiveness for all those who have attempted to separate what the Lord God has joined together, as it is for all who repent of their error. The promise of redemption was given the very first time that the Lord God’s decrees were broken. That redemption was delivered by the same One who addressed the hardness of people’s hearts and Moses’ command, the One who abided by the divine decree concerning marriage.

The author of Hebrews wrote: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through the fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This is what took place in the Incarnation of Christ, so that you who are flesh and blood may be rescued from your slavery to death and sin—even the thoughts and actions contrary to the divine design of marriage.

By His death, Jesus has destroyed Satan for you. By His holiness, Jesus has given righteousness to you. By His resurrection, Jesus has given true life to you were once were dead. Jesus’ actions were not to help angels, but to aid you who were destined for eternal condemnation, as you substituted your will for the Lord God’s. Through His actions, the Lord Jesus sets you right, so that you may walk in His ways and fear the Lord God, as today’s psalm describes. And all who do so are given the Lord God’s blessedness.

This is what has been given to you because of Jesus’ right actions, even His own abiding by the divine design for marriage. The author of Hebrews provided a very interesting description of Jesus’ incarnation: “Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Those two sentences are full of meaning, even concerning the divine design for marriage.

Jesus was “like His brothers in every respect.” This was so, even as the Lord God says what a man will do. Remember the Lord’s statement: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus has done this, for He has taken a wife. He left His Father’s dwelling place in heaven and came down to this earth. And in His salvific work, “He loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The Church is Jesus’ Bride for eternity.

But Jesus also “suffered when tempted,” so that “He is able to help those who are being temtped.” As His wife, the Church on earth gives all sorts of reasons for Jesus to be rid of her. Yet such temptation is not followed through. Instead, Jesus “holds fast to His wife,” not letting her go, not “writing a certificate of divorce and sending her away.” No, Jesus remains faithful to her. He is present with the Church, with you, to aid you when you are tempted to abandon Him who loves you and chase after another. He is here to soften your hardened hearts and renew your devotion to Him.

That devotion includes honoring what the Lord God has designed and defending what He establishes as good and salutary. This is so even with the institution of marriage: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” That applies to all of us in the Church. Let us not be the people who are whispering “Did God really say or mean this?” in our thoughts, words, or deeds. Where those questions of doubt are asked, even by those who bear ecclesiastical titles with lots of letters after their names, let us ignore them and hold fast to the truth which the Lord God has given us.

The goodness of the divine design of marriage is temporal and eternal. It is a blessing on earth for spouses who together abide by it in their unions, just as today’s psalm described. But even when it is not kept perfectly due to our errors, the divine design is upheld by Jesus. He keeps us as His Bride, cleansing us of all spots and wrinkles, so that we may partake of His eternal wedding feast in our heavenly dwelling place. Let our Lord be praised for holding fast to us, so that our union with Him which He has brought together will never be separated.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.