Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Increase Our Faith

SERMON for the Nineteenth Sunday after PENTECOST:
October 7, 2007

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

And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." Luke 17:5

Ah what gold lies buried in the mine of this simple passage!

What does this innocent little question posed by the Apostles of Jesus say about making decisions for Christ, or accepting Him as Savior?

Indeed, it lays ax to the root of pietism that began with the temptation in the Garden of Eden: [When] the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,..." Gen 3:4-5 – and extends into the current millenium in the form of phenomena such as "The Hour of Decision" and other altar calls, WWJD, and "Purpose Driven living."
If faith is something a man could do out of love for God, why did the apostles ask His Son for more of it?

No by these three little words, we see faith itself "is a gift of God, not of works so that no one can boast." Eph 2:8-9

A gift, which Paul tells young pastor Timothy, dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. That is, a gift that is handed down from one generation of the baptized, the church, to another – and that passing along of the one thing needful, sitting at our Savior’s feet to hear His Word.

As we learn from the Third Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. -- We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it."

Today is designated as Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) Sunday in the LCMS. In her Fall 2007 Message, LWML Pres. Rosenwinkel writes:

"I have had a very hard time writing this article. I just could not think of anything to say. then I realized that life has been so crazy that I have stopped to spend time with our Lord and His word. We are so busy being Martha’s that we don’t take the time to be Mary. I asked for God to forgive me and, as your president, I ask your forgiveness, too.

"We can not feed others if we are not being fed and nourished ourselves. In order to recover from this harried "busy-ness" I’d gotten myself into, I had to stop and drop what I was doing, put on some Christian music and be still."

Well using Mrs. Rosenwinkel’s own references to Mary and being fed, Mary did not incline her ear to "Christian" music for feeding, but to the teaching of her Lord.

And the task of feeding the sheep was given to the Apostles and those who would carry on the apostolic ministry by the Good Shepherd as He tells Peter in John 21:

"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" ... "Feed My lambs."

He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" ... "Tend My sheep."

He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"

Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep."

Christian musicians, authors, tele-evangelists etc. have neither the call nor the authority nor the responsibility of the office of the ministry. Their only constraint is what will sell. And what sells is what feels good, that is, what "itching ears" desire to hear as per 2 Timothy 4:3.

For example, the popular "Christian" song, "In the Garden," sweetly sings, "I come to the garden alone – While the dew is still on the roses; and the voice I hear falling on my ear The son of God discloses. And he walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."
Now this sounds nice and makes us feel good – until one examines what the lyrics are really saying – or not saying. There is no hint of the Church or the hearing of the Word that occurs within her. There is no gathering of two or three in His name -- and so there is no Christ in this lonely garden at all. Furthermore, to claim God shares a joy with any one individual that no one else has ever known is to deny the presence of angels and arch angels and all the company of heaven that Christ brings with Him wherever He goes, as we sing in the Preface to the Sanctus of Holy Communion.

As one Pastor has rightly observed, "The authority is in the Word, not in the experience."

That we are to lean not on our own understanding, or feelings, or experience is what we confess as Lutherans:

"... enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism. Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil." – Smalcald VIII.10

And this we confess, because it is what God has first revealed and spoken to us in His precious and holy Word:

Rom 1:15-17 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
Rom 10:14-15, 17 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" ... So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

Therefore, when we [with] the apostles say to the Lord, "Increase our faith," He in effect tells us not to worry about the magnitude of our faith, as He actually ignores the disciples request. Rather, He directs them and us to abide in the magnitude of His Word, its unlimited capacity for forgiveness, and that preached in the tradition of the Apostles as the work given them to do by their master.

Therefore in our Epistle Lesson, one of those servants of the Master, the Apostle Paul, in our Epistle: "thanks God, whom [he] serve[s] with a pure conscience, as [his] forefathers did, as without ceasing [he] remember[s] [young pastor Timothy, who is to carry on this work] in [his] prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see [Timothy], being mindful of [his] tears, that [Paul] may be filled with joy, when [he] call[s] to remembrance the genuine faith that is in [Timothy], which dwelt first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice, and [Paul is] persuaded is in [Timothy] also. Therefore [Paul] remind[s] [Timothy] to stir up the gift of God which is in [him] through the laying on of [Paul’s] hands. 2 Tim. 1:3-6

For the Word of God does not come to isolated individuals in the privacy of their own thoughts or unique experiences. But it comes with the Holy Spirit and great power to save, by the preaching of those called to serve you, as it keeps you in your Baptism with the resurrected Christ and the fellowship of all the saints -- where he daily and richly forgives you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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