Monday, October 28, 2013

Reformation Festival Sermon - Psalm 46

October 27, 2013 at First St. John Lutheran Church – York, PA

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

As we commemorate Reformation Day this afternoon, our service has mixed two moods with our hymns. There has been a mood of dependence, of needing help. The first two hymns were direct prayers to God for aid: asking the Holy Spirit to be among us, then asking for divine help to remain steadfast in the faith. Then there has been confidence expressed in our singing. We were exhorted to rejoice and proclaim the victory that God has won for us. And the mood of confidence rose with those words: “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.”

That confidence found its greatest expression in the lyrics of the ancient song that we prayed: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Those words of Psalm 46 drip with assurance and faith. Only those who have full confidence in the Lord can speak such words. And as many of you may know, the psalm’s text was the foundation for Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.

Think again on that first line and what it testifies about the Lord: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Calling something “a refuge” means that entity is where a person can flee to. Calling something “a strength” indicates that entity is a support. The psalm states that we are to consider the Lord an individual that we turn to in order to receive support from Him. But is God our refuge and strength, as the psalm declares? The heart of the Reformation movement is wrapped up in that question: “Is God our refuge and strength?”

Oswald Bayer, a German Lutheran theologian, notes that the Reformation was really about that important question. After noting how people panic with changes in economic statuses or changes in culture and society, Bayer observes: “Precisely this reminds us of the sort of question that the Reformation tried to answer: What can we stake our life on with utter certainty in life and in death?”[i] We could rephrase the question: What gives us the confidence that we could say that God is our mighty fortress and we should rejoice over His victorious actions for us?

The answer to that question is not found in ourselves. That much is obvious, since we are calling God our refuge and strength, not saying that we are self-sufficient. But the reason for that confidence in God is found in what He has expressed concerning Himself, what He has revealed to mankind through His words and deeds. Faith, hope, and trust are placed in them.

So what did the psalm say about the Lord’s words and deeds? You prayed the verses: Come, behold the works of the Lord, how He has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’” Those statements reveal an active God, one who has control over nations and armies. For the ancient Israelites, those words would resonate greatly when considering the Lord’s victories over the Egyptian army at the Red Sea or the Philistines at the Valley of Elah or the Assyrians encamped around Jerusalem. Each of these events demonstrated the exercise of the Lord’s power and strength for His people.

But for us, the Lord’s words and deeds have been revealed in a greater way. We still look for His victorious acts, but we do not look to the Lord to fight against nations. Our concern is over enemies much greater than Pharaoh, Goliath, or Sennacherib. What can bring us deliverance from our sinfulness? Will we have a victor over death? Who can fight against Satan? What works has the Lord done to deal with those opponents?

The heart of the Reformation message concerns the answer to those matters, the issue that Bayer summarized in one question: “What can we stake our life on with utter certainty in life and in death?” The answer to that is found in the Lord’s words and deeds. It is shown to us in what God has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.” Just as the words of Psalm 46 formed the basis for Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” those words of Romans 3 were the source of the words of another of his hymns that we sang portions of today:

God said to His belov├Ęd Son: “It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown, and bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free; slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever.”

The Son obeyed His Father’s will, was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother.
His royal pow’r disguised He bore; a servant’s form, like mine, He wore
To lead the devil captive.

Jesus identifies Himself as the One who deals with the enemies of sin, death, and Satan: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And we have heard how He bestows this freedom to us. It comes not through our works of obedience but through reception of Jesus’ works through His word: “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That word of Jesus comes to us through the Gospel proclaimed from the pulpit; it comes to us with water in the font; it comes to us with bread and wine on the altar; it comes to us in the minister’s words of absolution. Each time we hear it, that word of Jesus declares to us the truth about His work for us, His propitiating sacrifice that redeems and justifies. That truth sets us free—free from sin, free from death, free from Satan.

We needed safety from our enemies, so God became someone that we can flee to. We needed aid from above, so God became our help. He has revealed this through His words and deeds. It is the basis for the Reformation message. That is what gives us confidence to exalt the Lord among the nations and in the world:

With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ, it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

Those words confess the truth about the Lord expressed in the psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. And that is what we stake our life on with utter certainty in life and in death.

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

[i] Oswald Bayer, “What Is Evangelical? The Continuing Validity of the Reformation” in Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. XXV (2011), p. 1.

LSB Proper 25C Sermon - Luke 18:9-17

October 27, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’”

It’s interesting to overhear conversations. People don’t hide their feelings or beliefs when they don’t think that others can hear. You can glean all sorts of thoughts when sitting at a restaurant, as the people in the next booth ramble on and on with no filter. There are other times when the people actually want those around them to hear their conversation. It’s meant to seem like you are unintentionally overhearing them, but it’s actually not an accident or a coincidence of acoustics. No, they desire to have every word from their mouths reach your ears. They want you to receive their message and think about them.

That’s the case with the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. You were given the opportunity to overhear his prayer. It was a public praying meant for you and all around him to hear. Jesus talks about what this Pharisee said in his prayers: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”

The Pharisee’s prayer is couched in terms of thanksgiving. It’s designed to sound like an expression of gratitude offered to the Lord for what he has received. But when you listen to his words, there actually isn’t any gratitude. The focus isn’t on what the Lord has bestowed to him. No, the Pharisee is thankful for what he has done, for the special status that he has carved out for himself. Thanksgiving is basically offered to himself: “I’m thankful that I’m not like those other people who openly break the Lord’s Law. The stark difference between them and me is based in what I do—my acts that show just how unique my piety and devotion are.”

These words are meant to accent the better status that the Pharisee believes that he possesses. But the words also have a more sinister character. All those around him are meant to hear that. He desires that they see him standing apart from them, separated and distinguished by his godliness. And as they see him segregated from them, they are meant to hear how lousy they are in comparison—particularly that tax collector standing over in the corner of the temple courts. The Pharisee in the parable epitomizes the audience that Jesus wants to hear His story: “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”

The problem with the Pharisee’s prayer is that it contradicts reality. What he says is not really the case. Not that the Pharisee was lying about his twice-weekly fasting and his tithing of all income; that was very much true. But the reality is that the Pharisee is like the other men in the temple court: he is like the extortioners, the unjust, the adulterers, and the tax collector. There is no difference between them when it comes to the demands of the Lord’s Law. It is the truth expressed in the Epistle Reading for Reformation Day that will be read this afternoon: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But the Pharisee completely misses this truth about himself. For that reason his prayer is not regarded by the Lord. It is rejected, just as the Lord had no regard for Cain and his offering. This is why Jesus says that the Pharisee does not go home from the Temple justified. No, he returns back to his house without receiving what the Lord desires to give: forgiveness, life, and salvation. He goes home empty-handed, as Jesus declares: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”

Self-exalting is not the case for the tax collector. He knows the truth about himself in light of the Lord’s Law: he is a sinner. He takes no pride in that reality. And he doesn’t try to create a fiction that will overlook what is true. You heard how he prayed: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” The ugliness of the situation is put forward before the Lord’s face. It is not hidden. The tax collector does not plead ignorance about what he had done to anger the Lord like Cain did when confronted by it. No, the tax collector speaks the plain truth about himself, even though he is nearly too ashamed to say it.

But note what else is present in the tax collector’s prayer: he believes that God has the remedy to his guilt. The tax collector acknowledges his sin. He faces that truth head on, not concealing any of it. He believes what God has disclosed about his offenses. But he also knows the truth about God. He believes what God had disclosed about divine mercy and compassion. The tax collector is relying on the statements that the Lord had spoken concerning Himself, about the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He wishes to bestow on sinners. So the tax collector places himself completely in the Lord’s hands. In essence, he says to the Lord: “Do with me as You please. But I know what You have said is pleasing to You: to show mercy and steadfast love.” And what does Jesus say about this tax collector: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified…. The one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That is what Jesus wants you to know. His parable is a warning against any thoughts that you may have to rank yourself better than others. His parable is also a direct shot against belief that you have established a right relationship with God. Such thinking is not reality; it is a delusional fiction. You have broken the Lord’s Law. You have been extortioners, unjust, adulterers. If those haven’t been your particular sins, pick another of the commandments and evaluate whether you have actually kept them. Will you dare to place before the Lord’s presence a statement that you have never misused His name, never neglected His Word, never felt contempt toward His representatives, never harmed anyone physically, or never spoken uncharitably about another person? If that is the case, Jesus has a message for you: “You will not return home from here justified. Your self-exalting will bring you a divine humbling, especially when I appear at the Last Day.” It is a warning rooted in what was prayed from the Psalter: “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.”

Jesus’ parable also warns against making such thinking part of your behavior toward other individuals. Not only is such self-aggrandizing not to be brought before the Lord’s presence, it is also not to be shoved in the face of others. Remember that the Pharisee’s prayer was not only uttered for the Lord to hear, he also desired that those around him could listen in. Such boasting is not to be found among the prayers or conversations of the Lord’s people.

But this need not be the case for you. Each time you have sinned, the Lord’s Law has challenged you. It is a confrontation like the Lord had with Cain: “What have you done?” That divine question is meant to elicit the truth of the matter: “I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed. I have sinned by what I have done and by what I have left undone.” And the truth about the Lord is to be declared: “You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You.”

Yet, you have a prayer to utter. That prayer is rooted in the truth about yourself and the truth about the Lord: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collector’s words shall be your own. Those words acknowledge that you are in the Lord’s presence now because of His favor. You stand before Him because He has not considered you according to your faults and failures. He actually views you in light of what Jesus has done for your benefit—the great expression of divine steadfast love shown in His propitiating sacrifice offered for you. That is at the heart of your prayer, as you can say with the Psalmist: “Through the abundance of Your steadfast love, I will enter Your house. I will bow down toward Your holy temple in the fear of You.”

So your prayer for divine mercy is spoken. So is your confession of faith in what the Lord has done for you, so that you can stand in His presence. Those are words that can be spoken aloud for all to hear. You can kneel with all the others in this room and say: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” You can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow believers and pray the Creed that confesses the truth about the Lord’s identity and work. What Paul wrote to Timothy can become your words that you can openly say: “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing…. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.”

Such words do not boast in what you have done, but in what the Lord has done and will do for you. They are words that do not exalt yourselves. No, they are words that express helplessness and dependence, but that also state trust in where your remedy and support is found. And to those prayers, the Lord has but one response for you: “You will go home justified. You have humbled yourselves, but I will lift you up forever.”

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

LSB Proper 24C Sermon - Luke 18:1-8

October 20, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night?’”

Again this week, Jesus speaks with a parable. What you heard this morning is similar to a parable that you have heard earlier this year: the story of a man who had surprise guests. That man had visitors come to him in the middle of the night, so he kept knocking on his neighbor’s door until he was given needed food for his visitors. Today, you heard a story about another person who kept on asking until what was needed was received. This was the story of the persistent widow who finally got what she needed. The lesson learned from each of these stories is about persistence and trust, when the Lord’s people ask for what they need from Him. The Gospel Writer makes this very clear with his introduction of Jesus’ parable: And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

Hear again about the characters in Jesus’ parable. The widow in Jesus’ story keeps going to a judge, asking for justice in her case: “There was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’” She has an opponent, someone oppressing her. Jesus doesn’t tell exactly what the situation is, but what a widow would suffer is not too difficult to imagine. Perhaps someone wasn’t giving the widow access to her late husband’s property and goods. Or maybe a landowner was demanding an unreasonable rent for her dwelling. Could her own children be mistreating her? Not every detail is disclosed, but Jesus explicitly tells His audience that this widow constantly went to a judge for help, for justice.

But Jesus says something very unsettling about this judge before whom the widow must plead her case: “He neither feared God nor respected men.” This is the last thing that anyone would want to hear about the men appointed to ensure that justice is dispensed and enforced. However, that is the situation. The judge has the last word in the situations presented to him; what he says is done. And you were told that when the widow approached him, the judge would not answer her: “She kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused.”

The judge’s lack of fear for God and respect for people drove him not to answer the widow’s pleas. He wouldn’t do anything for her. He did not care whether she was oppressed or not; neither was he concerned whether a lack of justice was found in his area. The judge knew that he had authority, but his lack of concern for what the Lord demanded of people in places of authority kept him from doing anything positive for the widow. He would not do what was truly just and right.

That was the case until the judge considered what would benefit him: “Afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” In essence, the judge is saying: “This widow constantly bothers me with her petition; and every day that I show up at my courtroom, she is there again with her complaint. I’ll give her what she wants, so I won’t have to see and hear her anymore.”

In the end, justice is served: the widow’s petition is heard and answered. She is given a judgment against her opponent. But the motivation of the judge’s action wasn’t justice; it was expedience. His action was driven by wanting to be rid of the situation, to remove what was bothersome to him, to serve his own purpose. And Jesus wants you to get that point: “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says.” Jesus tells you to listen to what the unrighteous judge says, because He is going to compare Himself to that man.

That’s the point of the story Jesus tells. Notice what the Gospel Writer calls Jesus: “the Lord.” This is a teaching of Jesus that points out His identity. He is telling us: “I am the Lord. But I am not an unjust or uncaring Lord. My actions are not done out of an unjust or self-serving motivation.” Understanding that Jesus is a caring and listening judge is important for your lives as disciples.

Paul told Timothy that the Lord “is to judge the living and the dead.” The Son of Man is a person of ultimate authority. But the authority He possesses is exercised for your benefit. Hear Jesus’ words about that: And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.” The Lord Jesus is promising justice for your cause, your petitions against your opponent. And who is that opponent and what is your petition? Remember what you will pray together as Jesus’ disciples: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.”

Every day you can come before the Lord’s presence with these petitions. He is constantly having us before Him making these pleas. He can’t get away from them. He’s like that judge who has the widow incessantly showing up with her demand for justice. So Jesus answers you. But you don’t receive an answer because Jesus wants to get rid of you. Jesus does not respond out of expediency or self-service. The Lord answers your petitions because He desires that you receive justice and judgment against your adversaries. Jesus desires that you be forgiven of the sins that you commit; that you stand against the temptations of your flesh, the world, and the devil; that you be preserved from the assaults of Satan, so that you will see him eternally conquered, put under Jesus’ feet forever.

So Jesus answers your pleas. And He wants you to know that, to trust in that, to rely on that. Remember how the lesson ended? Jesus poses a question: I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?You have the petitions that Jesus has given you to ask of Him. You have the promise that He will hear and answer. But do you trust that? Do you believe what Jesus says? Will the Judge of the Living and the Dead find faith on earth when He comes to administer justice on your behalf for all eternity?

There will be faith on earth, there will be a group of faithful, as long as Jesus’ disciples respond to the need that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Remember, that’s the purpose of this parable. It’s also the same purpose that Paul gave to Timothy, as you heard this morning: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. No matter what the situation is, be persistent in faith. Don’t lose heart. Don’t go wandering off for some other source of help or salvation. Don’t neglect to make the petitions that Jesus has given you.

Jesus’ parable is meant to teach you that you ought always to pray and not lose heart. Your situation is just like what the widow faced, but with one very significant difference: you are not widows approaching a judge who really doesn’t care about your plight or the lack of justice in his district. No, you are the Bride of Christ who not only is asking a Righteous Judge for what you need, but who has her Faithful Husband on the justice seat. That is why you can certain that your pleas are heard, why you can ask and be sure of answer.

So you approach your Lord with your petitions: “Forgive me. Keep me safe in times of trial. Preserve me from the Evil Foe. Grant me justice against my opponent.” And Jesus says: “I am the Lord, who shall preserve you from all evil and will preserve your soul. I will judge the world with righteousness and My people with equity. Your petitions are granted.” That is what you and I and every single Christian on earth need to hear. That is what the Church needs to trust and bank on receiving.

That faith is what the Lord desires you to have and to act on. Regardless of what may oppress you, what may rise up against you, whether it be of body or spirit, Jesus wants you to turn to Him. But not only is it something expected of you, it is what He empowers you to do. Remember the question that He asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” The answer will be “No”, if you become focused on your enemies and opposition and are overwhelmed. The answer will be “No”, if you turn to your own power and strength to get out of your situations of trouble in body and spirit.

But the answer can be “Yes” for you. If you cling to Jesus, if you place yourselves where He is present, if you constantly come before your Judge, then there will be faith found on earth. For that will mean you are in the places where Jesus makes His gifts present—the locations where forgiveness, life, and salvation are distributed freely to you. It means that you are where Jesus’ disciples corporately bring their petitions before Him. It means that you are found where the Holy Spirit dwells with His ability to create, sustain, and preserve faith—the faith that the Son of Man desires to see when He arrives.

So Jesus exhorts you again today: “Come before Me with your petitions. Here I am to deliver justice to you, to bring judgment against Satan and his allies. Be assured that your sins are forgiven; you are not abandoned in times of trial; deliverance and rescue is here for you.” The truth is that this promise will be fulfilled. It may not be totally accomplished in this age, but your Lord will return to judge the living and the dead. So He tells you: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed. I shall never leave you or forsake you.”

With those words of Jesus in your hearts and minds—the words that not only describe a reality but also create it—you will persevere. You will seek out Jesus and turn to Him for aid. You will receive the everlasting righteousness that your Redeemer has earned for you. And you shall have the justice that your Judge will grant to you, His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night. That is what the words of Jesus promise to you today.

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

LSB Proper 23C Sermon - Luke 17:11-19

October 13, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.”

Giving thanks is one of the proper uses of the Lord’s name. We teach that truth to those who are learning the faith. Our catechumens hear about the improper uses of the Lord’s name: cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, and deceiving by that name. But then they receive instruction about what the Lord’s name should be used for: calling upon it in every trouble, praying, praising, and giving thanks.

The Lord expects to hear His name used that way. He desires to have His people recognize the goodness that He has bestowed upon them. That should seem to be automatic. But you heard how it wasn’t in today’s Gospel Reading. An entire group of individuals received a great benefit from the Lord, something they had asked for. That was the heart of the event: “As [Jesus] entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.”

Just how much goodness had these individuals received? They had their entire life restored to them. Their leprosy served as a near-death sentence. The ten lepers were outcasts, sentenced to live outside the community as long as their disease endured. They were cut off from friends and family, declared unclean by the Divine Law. For some of them, their illness would be a literal death sentence; they would die as their disease disfigured and destroyed them. But when Jesus encounters them, He provides healing and life. Jesus purifies them of their disease and restores them to being clean.

Hearing what Jesus did for these lepers, the Lord’s people would expect to hear about the thanksgiving that flowed from their mouths. Perhaps it would be an act of worship. Or maybe a bit of the Psalter would be remembered and recited. But that isn’t what you heard in the Gospel Reading, is it? Nearly all the healed lepers go on their way without a simple statement of thanks offered despite all that Jesus had done for them.

So why isn’t there a great pouring out of thanksgiving from the group of healed lepers? There might be countless reasons why not. But they could be summarized into a few types. First is complete focus on the gift: exuberance over being healed, over having everything in their lives restored, simply occupied all their minds. It’s kind of like the reaction that children have when opening presents on Christmas Eve—the whole focus is on the gifts, so that there’s no thinking about who gave them. Another reason is not recognizing the giver: Did the lepers fully understand that Jesus had healed them? We might think that should be obvious, but there are times when people don’t know who gave them something. Or perhaps the lepers thought they deserved something good from the Lord. Was this healing the rightful pay out for all the suffering that they endured? If so, then this isn’t a matter where gratitude was needed.

No matter what caused the lack of thanksgiving, none was offered. That is, there was none offered except from one of the healed lepers: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” This leper saw that he was healed. He realized that this was a gift granted by God, so he praised God loudly for the restoration of his health. But there was the important detail noted by the Gospel Writer: not only does the leper thank God for being healed, he also recognizes that Jesus was the One through whom that healing was given. That is what drives him to assume the fullest posture of worship at Jesus’ feet and give Him thanks.

This healed leper does what all the others do not. And Jesus notes it. He notes that what the leper did is a matter of faith: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” The healed leper recognizes the gift that has been extended to him. Jesus did have mercy on him by cleansing his illness. He had no claim to what Jesus gave, and he knows it. And even though his entire life was changed, the healed leper is not distracted so much by what has happened that he doesn’t recognize the giver. His returning to Jesus, kneeling down at His feet, worshiping and thanking Him are all part of his belief—the belief that saves him.

The healed leper displays what should be seen in every single person who has received benefit from the Lord. But those other nine lepers show what is so often the reaction, even among those who should know better. Lack of gratitude driven by a lack of recognizing what the Lord has given is sinful. When it is driven by a sense of entitlement, then it is much worse, since that not only fails to recognize what the Lord has done, but overestimates humanity.

But this can be avoided. There is an answer to this sin of ingratitude. It is what we prayed for in the Collect of the Day. Note again the words that began that prayer: “Almighty God, You show mercy to Your people in all their troubles.” That factual statement makes the true confession of faith about the Lord’s identity and character. It is rooted in what the Lord says about Himself: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….” This is not just an empty statement; the Lord follows up His words with actions. He acts and He instructs His people to call upon Him to act when in trouble.

We also prayed to avoid the ingratitude shown by the other nine lepers: “Grant us always to recognize Your goodness, give thanks for Your compassion, and praise Your holy name.” The recognition of the Lord’s goodness shown to us requires that we have it revealed to us again. What the Lord has done for us needs to be continually in our hearing, so that it remains in our hearts and minds. Today’s Psalm endorses that idea: Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is His work, and His righteousness endures forever. He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.” But no delight will be found in the Lord’s works, if they aren’t studied or remembered. No, then we will fall into the type of thinking that asks God: “What have You done for me lately?” Or we will have the mindset that doesn’t recognize that what we have has been given to us. That is the hazard of not having the Lord’s works set before you.

But you have been given to know what the Lord has done for you. Your leprosy has been cleansed: you have been redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, made to be holy and righteous in the Lord’s sight. This is what is remembered over and over again by the Church, just as the believers of old recalled the deliverance that the Lord had given to them. The Psalm’s words can stand as the Church’s charter today: “The works of [the Lord’s] hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name!” The eternal covenant is what Jesus has established for you and all the faithful to remember, to be done often.

And that is what will happen today. You will again hear how your sins were cleansed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. You will confess that Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away your sin, and you will ask Him to show mercy on you. You will proclaim the Lord’s death by eating the bread and drinking the cup. These will be your actions, as you seek to receive the promise that Jesus has attached to such eating and drinking: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

But as you do so, what else takes place? There are the prayers that give thanks for what Jesus has done. The Lord’s Supper is a Eucharist, a time of thanksgiving. And there are the praises offered to Jesus, including the Triple Holy that you speak during the Sanctus. And after the eating and drinking, there is the great statement that acknowledges that you have seen the salvation that the Lord has prepared for His people.

This is all part of the praise and thanks that we offer to Jesus for the cleansing that He has bestowed to us. Our sin and guilt are put in front of us. But as Jesus has answered that sin and guilt by giving us His holiness and righteousness, we are led to take the same actions as the healed leper: we come to Jesus, we kneel before Him, we praise Him loudly, and we give Him our thanks.

These proper uses of the Lord’s name take place among us today. They are not the actions that stem from the lack of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. Instead, they are the God-pleasing response of faith, the greatest act of worship that we can offer. And Jesus’ words to us are the same as He spoke to the thankful leper: “Rise and go your way. Your faith has saved you.”

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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

LSB Proper 22C Sermon - Luke 17:1-10

October 6, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’”

“Increase our faith!” It’s quite the demand that the apostles make of Jesus. Why do they make this demand? What drives them to speak this way? The reason is seen in the statements that Jesus has been making of His disciples. For the past several weeks, you have heard these statements from Jesus. He mentions all sorts of demands that are placed upon those who would follow Him: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple…. Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple…. Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings…. You cannot serve God and money…. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”

These demands are stated very plainly. And then Jesus adds some more, including solemn warnings and commands: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through which they come!... If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” Every single one of these statements requires devotion and obedience. Jesus spells out what is expected of those who would be His disciples.

Each of Jesus’ statements requires the hearts, minds, and souls of people to be set on Him. The apostles realize that. They recognize the seriousness of what Jesus has said. They also understand the challenges that face them when attempting to fulfill these demands. The apostles had experienced those challenges. Jesus had already sent them to cities, carrying the message of the kingdom of God. They had undergone the criticisms leveled against their Lord and them. The Twelve had felt want and the temptation to be drawn to placing fear, love, and trust in money and possessions. And so when Jesus finishes listing the series of demands placed on His people, the apostles respond with the only words that are fitting: “Increase our faith!”

The apostles’ demand identifies what they need and the source of it. They do not turn to someone else for aid. They do not look to their own selves for help. No, they ask it of Jesus, the same one who had put the demands on them. The apostles do this because of what they already believe concerning Jesus: they know that He is the promised Messiah; they recognize the authority that He carries; they want a share in the good things that He will bestow to them in the future life. So they ask Jesus for the assistance that only He can give.

So how does Jesus respond to them? “And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” Jesus does not say that the Twelve lack faith. He does not say that they have become unbelievers. No, He declares to them what even the smallest amount of fear, love, and trust in Him will bring about for them. Even the tiniest amount of faith found in the apostles will effect great things for them. But what Jesus will give them is not a mustard-grain amount of faith. No, He will grant them what He would give to Paul and Timothy and others who followed in their path: “a sincere faith…a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control…a good deposit entrusted to them.”

This is how Jesus answers the cries of His people. He does so in the same way that the Lord answered His prophet Habakkuk. The prophet knew the demands that the Lord had placed on him. He was to speak what was given to him, to recount the divine vision shown to him, to abide by the provisions of the Covenant. And this was to be done even when everything seemed in vain. The jarring nature of this was seen in Habakkuk’s laments to the Lord: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You “Violence!” and You will not save? Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the Law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.”

But even in the midst of this experience, Habakkuk still has his fear, love, and trust placed in the Lord and His statements. He does not chuck it all in. Instead, he perseveres in being a faithful member of the Lord’s people and living as a prophet: “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” And when the Lord gives the words to Habakkuk, he does write them on tablets and await their fulfillment, even if it seems like what the Lord says will take forever to come true.

These actions are driven by the faith that the apostles and prophets have in the Lord. They had taken the same position as the psalmist had, a position of dependence and reliance on the Lord’s identity and ability: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Fear, love, and trust were seen, even when Habakkuk lamented or when the apostles demanded help or when Paul shared in suffering for the gospel.

This is so for you also. You are no different than Habakkuk, the psalmist, the Twelve, or Paul and Timothy. True, you haven’t been made spokesmen for the Lord or authors of the Scriptures. But you have been saved and called to a holy calling by God’s own purpose and grace. You have been given a sincere faith. You have received the deposit of the Gospel of Jesus, the One who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. The Holy Spirit dwells within you.

And what do you hear from Jesus? You also hear the demands that He places on all who would be His disciples. And what do experience in the world? You see all the destruction and violence, the injustice and wickedness that makes it seem like the Lord is just sitting idly on the sideline benches. You see the people who take pleasure in falsehood, who bless with their mouths but inwardly curse.

So what do you do about it? Do you turn to your own souls and try to find help there? Do you look at the world and decide to join in the lives contrary to the Lord’s Will? Do you just chuck it all in? No, that is not what you do. If it were, then you would not be here. Instead, you make the same demand of Jesus: “Increase our faith!” You call for Him to increase your fear, love, and trust in Him. Even with the faith as small as a mustard seed, you believe in what Jesus has done and will do. You make the same statement as Paul wrote to Timothy: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

The life of discipleship has been entrusted to you. Jesus’ gospel has been entrusted to you. The inheritance of life everlasting has been entrusted to you. This is what the Lord has chosen to be so for you, even before the ages began. Power does belong to Him, as well as His steadfast love for you. And when you pour out your heart before Him, when you wait for His aid, the Lord answers your demand.

From your mouths, the words come forth: “Increase our faith!” And how does Jesus respond to your request? He does not ignore it. He does not dismiss you. He does not declare you unworthy to receive His aid. Instead, He turns and answers you: “I’ve already placed the mustard seed of faith in you. I’ve given you the deposit of the Holy Spirit. It’s been yours since you were called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Holy Spirit’s gifts. You have the salvation that My death and resurrection have earned. Each time you hear what I have done for you, that mustard seed of faith grows in you. You have been given a place in the Father’s household. Your sins are forgiven. You can tell the doors of Paradise to open for you, and they will. You have life everlasting through the sound words that you have heard about Me. The Holy Spirit who dwells in you will keep you in that true faith until life everlasting.”

This is the Lord’s response to you, as you come to this place. Here He answers your demand: “Increase our faith!” The spirit of power and love and self-control is invigorated by Jesus’ gospel and gifts bestowed to you. The patience and steadfastness needed to abide in the way that the Lord has established are given. It is not because you are worthy of it. It is not because you have deserved it. But the Lord’s own purpose and grace has made it so. He is able to guard what He has entrusted to you, even the salvation that comes through fear, love, and trust in Him. Faith as small as a mustard seed can bring about the miraculous uprooting of trees, but the even greater faith that the Lord has given and increases will bring you from death to everlasting life.

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