Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Memorial Day Message: God’s Love Abides in Us

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. 1 John 4:13-21 nkj

Dearly beloved of God,

Today’s epistle is a most difficult and dangerous text to preach properly. It is an exhortation to love one another as we abide in faith in Christ.

The difficulty and danger both lie in presenting the importance and even necessity of loving one another without making it appear that our loving one another in any way earns God’s favor or satisfies His requirements to enter heaven.

There is an episode from the Simpson’s that presents this danger in a cynical and exaggerated example that may set our teeth on edge, yet captures the truly diabolical message that lies beneath looking to our own good works for salvation. In this episode Homer poses as a missionary on a tropical island. As Homer enjoys the good life he brings "Christianity" to the native population and supervises the building of a mission church. His message – "Pick up a rock (to build the church) or go to hell."

Of course the message is rarely, if ever, so crass in real life. It is more likely to be something like, "If you’re not nice, God will be mad at you." Or, "Don’t you want to make God happy?" Or, "If you really believed you wouldn’t behave so badly." Or, "If you had any faith and really loved God you would tithe and our church wouldn’t have any problems." But the underlying message is the same, if you do not love and do enough things for God and other people God will not be pleased with you and you cannot get to heaven.

Of course it is true, we cannot get to heaven unless God is pleased with us. But here is the rest of that truth – for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us – God is pleased with us and we have already been taken to heaven in our Baptism.

Yet sadly, even preaching it rightly does not guarantee it will be rightly heard.

Decades ago, a comprehensive survey of active Lutherans showed that, even among a church body that is founded upon salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, 75% of her active members, when asked about why they thought they would go to heaven, responded with answers that relied upon their own good works to get them there!

Answers to the question, "When you die, are you sure you will enter heaven?" most often take the following form:
"I hope so. After all I was president, I tithed, I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday school, I never miss a Sunday unless I am sick." etc.

As almost any Lutheran who has gone door to door in evangelism efforts over the years will confirm, this is not an unusual percentage. Sadly, even many within our own church body adopt evangelism and stewardship programs reminiscent of the Homer Simpson claim – i.e. if you don’t grow God’s church people will go to hell and the church will die.

All of this does not mean the message to love one another should not be preached -- only that the pastor be careful to do so rightly and leave the right hearing and reception of the Word to the Holy Spirit, who accomplishes all things according to the Father’s will by the preaching and hearing of the Word – 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!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "LORD, who has believed our report?" So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. [Rom. 10:14-17]

Make no mistake about it, only God’s love for us in Christ received through faith worked by the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word saves anyone or grows His church– which is precisely the reason preaching today’s text is so difficult.

John’s words from last week’s epistle are helpful , and indeed necessary, if today’s epistle is to be preached, received, and applied correctly and faithfully: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." [1 John 4:10-11]

The words of today’s Epistle reading and text from 1 John remind us that our claim to love God (or as James says, our faith) is empty if we do not also love one another. The two go together. We love because He first loved us, and our love shows itself in words and deeds of kindness to each other.

Yet herein lies another difficulty, the world of unbelief is full of apparent acts of love and kindness. This is most especially evident as we observe Memorial Day and the lives sacrificed by patriotic Americans for love of country and fellow citizens. These great deeds are beneficial to people and society, and to be received with thanksgiving as gifts from God. Yet, as great and beneficial as they are, they do not identify one as a Christian or earn a place in heaven for those who do them.

The love and kindness of faith is defined by forgiveness.

Our text recalls John’s Gospel that Christ is the vine and we are the branches. He who abides in Him will bear much fruit. It defines the fruit by which branches of the true vine, Jesus, are known – that we love each other as God has loved us. And how has God loved us? By dying to forgive us.

"This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." [John 15:12-14 nkj]

Only Christ’s shed blood saves and gives eternal life. So Jesus is not telling us here to physically give up our life as a sacrifice for anyone’s sins. That would be blasphemy and denial that His death was and is sufficient for us. "It is finished." Salvation is won! Eternal life is a done deal, a dead lock cinch, a certainty no one can take away from you or anyone who is kept by the Holy Spirit with Christ in faith.

So today’s text doesn’t tell us what to do in order to be saved. It tells us what the faith of those who have already been saved looks like. When we die to sin in Baptism we are raised to live a life of forgiveness toward our brothers in Christ, and even to all the world. This is the unique work of every Christian even as each of us is given differing gifts and vocations to perform.

And yet look at how we so often hold grudges against one another for the smallest of things.
Nothing will kill a congregation more quickly and certainly than lack of love toward each other – especially in refusal to forgive one another the grievances that are bound to occur wherever two or three sinners are gathered together. Even when the gathering is around Christ and His name, sinners still bring their own baggage along with them.

But though congregations may suffer -- as we see in the case of the Corinthians who are not loving one another even as they come to the Lord’s Supper, and even in our own case as we are just as likely to complain about how someone serves in their elected or appointed congregational offices or duties as we are to thank them for serving. And though individual congregations may even cease to exist because of such lack of love for one another, still the Church of Christ will never perish. Why? Because the church of Christ is built not on our imperfect love for one another, but on the perfect love of the only begotten Son of God.

So while loving each other means forgiving all kinds of behavior that hurts and offends us personally, any teaching or behavior in the congregation (that is, the localized gathering of believers around the name and Word of God) that would in any way point to any one or anything but Christ for our salvation is to be avoided, confronted and cast out from among us. As Christ’s apostle, Paul, tells Pastor Timothy: "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." [1 Tim 4:16 NKJ]
It is no offense against love, which comes only from Christ Himself as delivered by the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, for a pastor and/or congregation to insist upon pure teaching and the application of that teaching in the worship life of the church.

As Luther says of anyone who would claim offense at such faithfulness: "They accuse us of offending against love... We are surely prepared to observe peace and love with all men, provided that they leave the doctrine of faith perfect and sound for us. If [they will not listen], it is useless for them to demand love from us. A curse on a love that is observed at the expense of the doctrine of faith, to which every thing must yield–[even] love...."

Why? Because we cannot have the faith to love one another – to truly forgive one another -- unless we abide in the love and forgiveness of Christ that comes only through the teaching (which is what doctrine is) of His Word.

... This commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

We have this commandment not to save us from going to hell, but that we would serve each other and that the world might see a reflection of God’s love for us in the life of Christian faith.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dearly beloved of the Father, hear again the Word of God by which you are given the faith, as well as the power and the freedom to love one another -- all of your sins are forgiven and you have been given eternal life . . .

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

+ + +

[Sermon first preached at Trinity Lutheran Church of Layton, Utah for the SEVENTH SUNDAY of EASTER: May 28, 2006]

Taking Jesus Seriously

Paul Proctor hits a home run in his article about the membership decline of the Southern Baptists.

He asks the penetrating question: "How can we expect the unredeemed to take Jesus seriously, if we don’t?"

While CPH, thankfully, is still offering solid material, his observations about the passions, obsessions, merchandising efforts, and peaceful coexistance guiding his national church body sound all too familiar.

"So, heretical harmony and brotherly blasphemy are better than iron sharpening iron, huh? Just how does one earnestly contend for the faith without debate, Ed – sit in a circle, hold hands and hum?

”'Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.'– 2nd Timothy 4:2

". . . Seems to me our obsession ought to be for the Living Word of God rather than the lost. After all, how can they be saved without Him? Shall we go into battle without our double-edged sword and offer merchandise and meditation instead?

“'So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.'– Romans 10:17"

For entire article, go to: http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor152.htm

So the question I would ask us to examine in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is this: "Are we taking Jesus seriously?"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Because I Live, You Will Live Also"

The man's obituary read: "If you are reading this in the paper then I am no longer of this world but have passed on to the eternal world promised by Jesus. Hopefully, I am headed up and not down."

How sad! God, our Father, does not want us to have any such doubt about the eternal world, about Jesus' promise. Our salvation and eternal life with him are secure and finished - that is what your Baptism means and delivers.

I hope that sometime between the writing of this obituary and his death this man heard the Word of His Savior and yours from our text today, or at least something like it: "Because I live, you will live also." John 14:19b

Do you see how simple, how direct, how powerful those seven words are? They are a veritable prescription for life – written by God, filled by His Son, and delivered by the Holy Spirit!
"Because I live, you will live also."

This is the commandment within the commandments of which Jesus speaks in our text today. When He talks about keeping His commandments, it is in the sense of how your doctor tells you to be sure to have your prescription filled and to take it regularly – as prescribed.
Jesus, the great physician, is wherever His Word of forgiveness of sins is to give you life: "Because I live, you will live also."

As certainly as Adam and Eve were given life by the very breath of God in the beginning, so to the very Words of God breathed upon you give you eternal life. "Because I live, you will live also."

Do you know anybody who thinks like the man who wrote the obituary – that hopefully (i.e. *maybe*) they will go up instead of down? Then as Peter tells you in today’s Epistle, "be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you." 1 Peter 3: 15 For just such a person with just such doubt gives you the perfect opportunity to speak to them about the Gospel you have received, and continue to receive, here at Trinity Lutheran Church. Every Sunday here you can count on receiving Christ’s prescription for eternal life – the forgiveness of sins. "Because I live, you will live also."

You will live!!! Tomorrow, next week, next month, next year -- in the year 2525, "if man is still alive," is neither a question, nor ever in doubt -- for in Christ you will live forever! "You will live" is a future tense without end because the one who says, "Because I live, you will live also," is the "same yesterday, today and forever!" [Hebrews 13:8]

This prescription for life, a life that begins with Baptism into the name of the one who gives it for the forgiveness of sins and continues every time you hear that Word of forgiveness and receive it along with His body and blood in the Sacrament, and the certainty of its effectiveness is given throughout Scripture. Hear more from the Word about that, starting with today’s reading from Acts:

"Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." Acts 17:16-31, NKJ

Last week’s Gospel:
John 14:2-3 "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (NKJ)

Perhaps the most beloved and oft quoted verse in Christianity:
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJ)

The Gospel from Good Shepherd Sunday:
John 10:27_29 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. (NKJ)

John 11:23-26 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (NKJ)

Eph 2:4-9 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJ)

Col 2:11-14 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (NKJ)

Rom 6:5-11 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NKJ)

So dear people of God, do not let your hearts be troubled. You need never wonder if you are going up or going down. Jesus promise is not a lottery, or a game of Deal or No Deal where you don’t know the outcome until the case is opened. It is not a matter of finding out only when you get there. It has been prescribed, pre-written in the book of heaven for you. Jesus the very Son of God, the risen Savior says:
John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (NKJ)

"Because I live, you will live also." For all of your sins are forgiven -- in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Earth Day Message

What does God's Word have to say about such things as man's worries about global warming and his efforts to save the planet?

1. Until our Lord returns on Judgment Day there will be all sorts of disasters throughout the world, and even the universe, that will cause all sorts of distress to men.
  • "'And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.'" Luke 21:25-26
2. The earth will not be destroyed and its people will not face extinction one moment before God's will for all His elect, predestined to be saved, is accomplished.
  • "'Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.'" Luke 21:32-33
3. Those who do not believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world, whose hearts fail from fear of what may become of the earth and of them, will get caught up in trying to prevent, forestall, or hide from the disasters. But those who believe the Son of God is their Savior, and abide in His Word, know their redemption draws near and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
  • "'But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.'" Luke 21:34-36
  • "'Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Then He spoke to them a parable: 'Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.'" Luke 21:28-31
More from God's Word to guide us in our thoughts about "Earth Day":
  • The earth is the LORD'S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters. [Psalm 24:1-2]
  • So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." [Genesis 1:2-28]
  • "Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him; nor can the number of His years be discovered. . . . God thunders marvelously with His voice; he does great things which we cannot comprehend. For He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth'; likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength. . . . From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; he scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, that they may do whatever He commands them on the face of the whole earth. He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for His land, or for mercy. "Listen to this, O Job; stand still and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know when God dispatches them, and causes the light of His cloud to shine? Do you know how the clouds are balanced, those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?
  • Then the LORD . . . will question you, and you shall answer [Him]. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb; When I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band; When I fixed My limit for it, and set bars and doors; When I said, 'This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!' Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It takes on form like clay under a seal, and stands out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and the upraised arm is broken. Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place, That you may take it to its territory, that you may know the paths to its home? Do you know it, because you were born then, or because the number of your days is great? Have you entered the treasury of snow, or have you seen the treasury of hail, Which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? By what way is light diffused, or the east wind scattered over the earth? Who has divided a channel for the overflowing water, or a path for the thunderbolt, to cause it to rain on a land where there is no one, a wilderness in which there is no man; To satisfy the desolate waste, and cause to spring forth the growth of tender grass? Has the rain a father? Or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth? The waters harden like stone, and the surface of the deep is frozen. Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion? . . . Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you set their dominion over the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, 'Here we are!'? Who has put wisdom in the mind? Or who has given understanding to the heart? Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven, When the dust hardens in clumps, and the clods cling together? . . . Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: "Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it." [Select verses from Job 38:1-40:2]

Therefore, based upon the Scriptures, when we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we realize that "the good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also." [Luther's Small Catechism explanation to the Third Petition of the Lord's Prayer]

And when we pray "Give us this day our daily bread," it is based on God’s own promise that he "certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. [Furthermore, this] daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like." [Luther's Small Catechism expanation to the Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer]

Furthermore we confess to the world that they may also believe that God is their Father that takes care of them:
"I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
"He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
"He defends me from against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.
"All this He does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him." [Luther's Small Catechism explanation to the First Article of the Apostles' Creed]

By this we mean to say:
"'That [God the Father, creator of heaven and earth] has given and constantly preserves (Psalm 36:6) for me my body, soul, and life. . . . He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever bears and produces. They include birds and fish, beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce (Psalm 104). They also include whatever else there is for bodily and temporal goods, like good government, peace, and security.' So we learn from this article that none of us owns for himself, nor can preserve, his life nor anything that is here listed or can be listed. This is true no matter how small or unimportatn a thing it might be. For all is included in the word Creator.
"Further, we also confess that God the Father has not only given us all that we have and see before our eyes, but He daily preserves and defends us against all evil and misfortune (Psalm 5:11). He directs all sorts of danger and disaster away from us. We confess that He does all this out of pure love and goodness, without our merit, as a kind Father. He cares for us so that no evil falls upon us. . . .
"Now, all that we have, and whatever else is in heaven and upon th earth, is daily given, preserved, and kept for us by God." [Luther's Large Catechism explanation to the First Article of the Apostles' Creed]

So on this "Earth Day," and indeed each of these Latter Days, remember and take heart at the Word of our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ:
"And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. Luke 12:4-9

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Doing the Work of God

SERMON for the 5TH SUNDAY of EASTER: April 20, 2008
"Doing the Work of God"
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Today our message is based on all three of our readings with special attention to these words of our Savior in the Holy Gospel of St. John: "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.... Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
The church is bigger than all of us, for it is built on the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ who alone is the way the truth and the life. This Christ doesn’t just show us the way to our Father who is in heaven. Since He has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, when He comes to reveal Himself and dwell among us, He shows us the Father in heaven Himself and brings us to Him.
Thus brought together in Christ by the very breath of God that is the Holy Spirit, the church that is bigger than all of us, is also built up of each one of us who believes that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, who as the Apostle Paul preached to the Thessalonians, the Bereans and many more, had to suffer and rise again from the dead.
In both our reading from Acts and from 1 Peter we see that the living cornerstone Jesus Christ, is rejected by men as an offense, because wherever Christ crucified and risen is preached, He turns the world upside down. In Acts 17 Luke records how in both Thessalonica and Berea, men arose who stirred up crowds against the preaching of Christ and those who delivered it. In the Epistle of Peter, we heard how men who perceive themselves as the builders of the church, reject the very living stone of Christ, who in spite of their misguided efforts establishes Himself as the chief cornerstone, by which we become the living stones which he builds into His church upon none other than Himself. Even in the Lutheran Church and our own synod it has been suggested that addressing our worship and prayers "to the name of Jesus . . . is unhelpful as Christian witness" with Muslims, and in order to prevent unbelieving Muslim visitors from being offended at our worship, "It would be best simply to avoid the term [Son of God] in our preaching and guide our people also to avoid it in their witnessing." [Rev. Herbert Hoefer, Missions Chair, Concordia University, Portland] Never mind the Apostle Peter’s message to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:11_12: "This ["Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead,] is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (NKJ)
Yet in this church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, Jesus repeats the words by which He prepared His disciples for His imminent departure – first departing from them in His death on the cross and after rising again from the dead departing in His ascension to the right hand of the Father. To the disciples and now to us who await His return amidst the howling of the devil and the raging of the world turned upside down, Jesus says oh so lovingly, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God believe also in me."
By these words, the disciples could not help but recall similar words spoken by the same Christ, who woken by the fearful disciples as they cowered in a little fishing boat on the storm ravaged sea of Galilee said, to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" (Mark 4:39_40 NKJ)
And again, this time with the disciples at sea without Jesus, from the land Jesus sees them struggling to row the boat in the wind, Jesus walks out on top of the water to them. When they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. (Mark 6:50_51 NKJ)
Stirred up by the master of deception and temptation known as the devil, the winds and waves of an unbelieving world will always be battering the boat that is the church of Christ. But never forget that Christ is in the boat with us. Even more, the church itself is built upon Him and we are the living stones united with our chief cornerstone, our Savior Jesus Christ.
When those winds and waves rage against the church, we like the disciples become afraid. We worry that Christ is sleeping and has forgotten about us, leaving us to fend for ourselves in unfriendly waters under life threatening skies. We are tempted to give up and abandon ship.
Dear friends in Christ and baptized children of God, you have not been abandoned. Christ is right here in the boat with you. By the waters poured over your head, by the forgiveness spoken to you throughout the Divine Service and even in the flesh at His Holy Supper, Jesus the Christ, our chief cornerstone, rises among us to say
"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.... Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
Believing in this Christ who is here among us, we will do the work of Christ because the Holy Spirit is here at work among us by the power of the Word uniting us with the Son of God. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10, NKJ)
Rather than shrink from the wind and cower at the waves, this Christ raises His people up to do great things for the spreading of the Gospel. In the face of the greatest of adversity, the Word of God persuades many to believe and join those who have spoken that Word to them in studying and receiving the Word with all readiness. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42, 47b NKJ)
Thus, joined to each other, and most importantly to the chief cornerstone Jesus Christ, His living stones work together to see to it that the Gospel of Jesus Christ always has a home in their midst and that from this home it is carried out to the world around them. The documents and Divine Service upon which we are founded as a congregation -- and as such the documents to which each confirmed/communicant member in general and each called and elected officer in particular is pledged to abide by and uphold in our congregation – these documents have been drafted and handed down to us by our ancestors of the faith, as has our Divine Service, to ensure that just this happens among us. Now it is up to us to abide in, execute according to, and financially support what we have been given -- but hear again, and examine for yourself how the One True God, particularly as He presents Himself in His Word and that Word made flesh to dwell among us supplies us with the work that we are to abide in:
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10, NKJ)
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42, 47b NKJ)
Notice how both this congregation in particular, and the Lutheran Church in general, were formed based upon these words of our Lord in order that we faithfully would always abide in them:
Whereas the Word of God demands that a Christian congregation not only conform to the Word of God in doctrine and practice (Psalms 119:105, Galatians 1:6-8, 2 Timothy 4:1-5), but that also things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40); therefore we, the members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Layton, Utah, set forth by this present document, signed by ourselves, the Constitution and the By-Laws in accordance with which our congregation affairs, spiritual and material, shall be conducted. [Trinity, Layton Constitution]
The purpose of this body shall be that of a religious organization, more specifically that of a Christian congregation established and maintained for the expressed purpose of disseminating the Gospel truth according to the confessional standards of the Lutheran Church, the Book of Concord of the year 1580, and for the purpose of Christian training of the youth. [Trinity, Layton Constitution]
The central article of the confessions contained in the Book of Concord states, "Also [our churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. God will regard and reckon this faith as for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
In the liturgy and sacrament of our Divine Service, Christ Himself delivers forgiveness of sins to us just as he has to generations of believers through the centuries.
As long as we abide in these things, we are in fact abiding in His Word and are being built upon the foundation of our Chief cornerstone that has been delivered and entrusted to us as a congregation.
Here at Trinity, we will soon elect officers who will pledge and be entrusted by God and this congregation to carry out our Constitution, our confessions, the very Word of God, and to see to it that the Divine Service always has a home here in Layton.
Right now, many spots remain to be filled, largely because of a fear of the storm and the rabble rousers like those in Thessalonica and Berea.
Luther makes it clear that those upright messengers of the Gospel will be maligned as heretics, apostates and even scoundrels. He says, "These critics that bear false witness against Christians seriously transgress the eighth commandment. Wherever there are upright preachers and Christians, they must endure having the world call them heretics, apostates, even seditious and desperate scoundrels. Moreover, the Word of God must undergo the most shameful and spiteful persecution and blasphemy; it is contradicted, perverted, misused, and misinterpreted. But let this pass; it is the blind world's nature to condemn and persecute the truth and the children of God and yet consider this no sin." [LC, 8th Com., Luther]
Dearly beloved and chosen of God, now is not time to cower in the boat or to be silenced by those who dissent from what we are called to be and do. Now is time to step forward as we hear and trust the words of our Chief cornerstone and Savior, Jesus Christ, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.... Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
As we step forward and heed His call, times will be tough as we see from today’s reading in Acts, as we saw last week in the stoning of Stephen as he also proclaimed and staked his claim on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as we see and are warned about throughout Scripture so that we will be prepared and not surprised when the storms rise against us.
Through it all, at times, because of the sinfulness in our hearts we are troubled and grow weary. Yet our hearts of faith look to the Word and to the Sacraments of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper where the one and only true God is with us to give us strength -- to pick us up when we fall short, to forgive us all our sins, and to go forth as the body of Christ to do many great things -- in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Am: The Good Shepherd

I Am: The Good Shepherd

The sermon preached at Trinity, Layton for Good Shepherd Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Easter, LSB) adapted with permission from a sermon preached by Pastor David Speers of St. Paul -- Altamount, IL.

Thank you for a timely and pointed sermon, Pr. Speers.

Our lessons for today, Good Shepherd Sunday, are amazing. We are in Easter season. Everything is amazing during Easter. And so that changes everything. We have a Lord who is risen. So that changes everything.
And yet as amazing as Easter is and as much as it changes things for us, still we remain sinners in a fallen world. Though Christ has done everything for us and is risen that we might ever look to Him and what he has done and continues to do for us, we still are all too often thinking about what’s in it for us? Whether we’re going to benefit -- get strength, comfort, protection from this evil world. We concentrate on what we are going to get, but we don’t pay attention to the one who is giving it. It’s kind of like Christmas when you are so excited and focused about getting the gift you don’t notice about who is giving it to you. Your parents have to remind you, who gave that to you and what do you say?
The reason its not hard to get caught up in this is because of our nature as sinners. So as we look at these texts we must ask, Who is doing the work? Who is active? Who is behind the pronouns.
God’s Word does not tell us to trust in the people that are pastors, or elders, or trustees, or presidents, or council members, or even congregations or synods. Has any of these ever met the expectations of God or His people?Jesus doesn’t say I was the Good Shepherd, now its your turn to do your part. Throughout Scripture , the Lord says I am doing, I am going to and always will do these things even to the end of the age.
Notice all the "I’s" in Ezek 34:11_17, the OT lesson often used for this Sunday: 'For thus says the Lord GOD: "Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. . . . I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord GOD. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment. 'And as for you, O My flock, thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. (NKJ)
I! I! I! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
WOW! These lessons are amazing! Jesus says to His disciples, "I am the Good Shepherd. and I have some from another flock and I will bring them in."
So you see, when we get our minds off the Good Shepherd then we can see all sorts of failures. An inept church that doesn’t accomplish much of anything. And the reason is because it’s about Him not us. Jesus makes the statement about this twice "I am the Good Shepherd and twice says the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And He says He will take it up again. It is emphasized by him over and over again because it is the heart of the church the heart of the ministry the heart of the mission the heart of all of these is that Jesus laid down His life. Paul says, "I have known nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified."
But our sins are the things that have put us in danger removed us from God’s care – our sinful nature. The problems we face in this world exist because of our sins. In the garden we heard that the world would be cursed and life would be a struggle and you will go back to dust and everything will be a struggle because of sin. there are some people that think if you are good Christian things won’t be so tough, things will be better because I am a better Christian. There is no such thing. "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Original and actual sins separate us and place out of God’s care unless we understand that the only way we receive care is through the work of Christ.
Yes, he feeds us, rain falls on us- just and unjust – but that is not what it means to be a part of His flock not what it means to say the Lord is my shepherd. Jesus is not just talking about food and drink, house and home, material blessings. Those things our Lord gives to both the just and unjust the sheep and the goats, believers and unbelievers.
Twice here He reminds us that He dies in order to save us. By His death on the cross He paid for our sins.
And there is no one else who does this work there is no other way into God’s care, into God’s protection, into God’s kingdom, into God’s love than through Christ. God so loved the world that He sent His son in this way you receive God’s love – the loves starts at the cross where Jesus took your sins and mine and paid for them once for all- The God-man, Jesus Christ Removes the barrier, the obstacle which would keep us from the Lord's flock the fold. Jesus says I am the door. you come through me – through faith in Christ.
This changes everything about our life here on earth. As you trust and believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins that he gave his life for the sheep as He says twice here – that changes everything. it’s \more than just feeding and taking care of our basic bodily, earthly needs.
Rather everything now works together for good because sin has been overcome in our lives. because we have been renewed and reshaped into the image of Jesus Christ in and through His blood Now, we are a part of His flock and now God says everything will work together for good to those who love God and who are called are according to His purposes. Everything is changed because the Shepherd gave His life for the flock, for His sheep. I am the Good Shepherd -- He came to do that. And if you come to believe and trust that it means the Good Shepherd is still working through His Word.
Not only that, the Good Shepherd does not leave his flock in danger. There are a lot of people, a lot of you, who don’t want to talk about fighting and struggles and the devil. You want to focus on those good things – He feeds me, he cares for me, he protects me, he loves me. But just like a good parent, like a good shepherd, he realizes there are dangers out in this world. This something that He warns about again and again. There are wolves out there who would destroy the flock. To dismiss this to make light of this warning is to make light of God’s word and Jesus word – even Jesus himself. it is to look the Good shepherd in n the eye and say it doesn’t make any difference, I don’t care. There are more important things to think about.
What are we thinking? Jesus puts the words about the laying down of his life as bookends to the danger. how much he cared that he would do this for you, take your sin upon him, sacrifice his life on the cross, send His holy Spirit with his word through his church and ministers. Do you really think He did all that so that we would ignore the fact there is a danger out there – that there are wolves about?
The very reason He does these things for us – He recognizes this danger and He wants us to also. This danger lives and breathes in the Word of God. We are born again through the Word of God, sustained and nurtured through the Word of God, sins forgiven through the Word of God, but there is a danger. The wolf comes to devour the sheep – to take away the Word. From the garden of Eden on the devil has been out there saying, "Did God really say?"Some people, maybe even you at times, think all we do in the church sometimes is fight about words. Well, if there are words that give life, if there are words that save and restore and renew, if there are words out there that really have the power to do that – and there is an enemy out there who wants nothing more than for you to be destroyed, for you to go to hell, if that is what this enemy is trying to do, then what’s he going to try to keep from you? What’s he going to do to try to stop these words from coming to your ears, your hearts, and your minds?
Jesus warns us against hirelings. It’s an interesting image, full of meaning for us. I am the Good Shepherd – but there are hirelings. Hirelings are folk who when they see the wolf coming, when they see there is going to be battle about words they say lets not worry about that so much. We have more important things to do. Let’s think about some positive things. Lets think about some good things. Let’s think about what we should be doing. And when the wolf comes to tear them up, they flee. They leave the flock. They say things like we shouldn’t be so worried about pure doctrine. We shouldn’t get so caught up with words. As long as we mean well and are on fire for the Lord and those unbelievers out there, that’s’s what really matters. After all, people are dying in unbelief out there. We have to stop all this insistence on pure doctrine – it’s a waste of time that can be better spent. Really? Is that what Jesus is saying here, His Word doesn’t matter so much as how we are spending our time?
Anyone who would teach such a thing and have us believe the intent and passion of a person comes before the Word of God in this way and says such things is a hireling. Because if the Word is what brought you to faith – that Word that’s proclamation of absolution, forgiveness, renewal, life, and salvation -- the Word that comes to you in Baptism, the Word that comes to you at the altar if that word gives you life and someone says we don’t have to worry so much about it – that person is taking and distracting you away from the Good Shepherd.But wait a minute, the pastor isn’t the Good Shepherd, is he? Well, no, but the pastor is called and sent by the Good Shepherd to preach the Word of God – all of it Law & Gospel, Gospel & Law – not his own opinions, not his own words but the Word of the Good Shepherd.
You can see this distraction from the Good Shepherd happen in churches where their leadership will go and try to keep everybody together, create unity, keep everybody happy. And slowly but surely they give up on things like sexual sin. Okay living together, that’s okay. Homosexuality- no big deal. A pastor must be the husband of one wife – well that doesn’t really mean a pastor has to be a man. When Paul said people were dying because the Lord’s Supper was being handled lightly without regard to what people believed that was just an exaggeration. besides, it was Paul, not Christ who said it. Six day creation, miracles, all easily explained by science. Besides, all these things are so controversial and offensive to people today. And finally, you have nothing left but people and their works rather than the work of the Good Shepherd. Sadly this is the life of the church all around us – even in our synod, our own little congregation.
The thing is, rejecting all, or even any, of these things puts the resurrection in question as well. After all, if Scripture stretches the truth and exaggerates about one thing just what can we trust as truth? Thankfully we Lutherans of Trinity and Missouri have not gone so far – yet. But it does exist within Lutheranism, and even in nooks and crannies of our own synod. We are not immune.
There are Christians, even Lutherans, that say Jesus never said the Words, "Take eat this is my body given for you. Take drink this is my blood shed for you." or at least He didn’t really mean them that way.
What does that do to God’s Word? What does that do to the Jesus, The Good Shepherd as the Truth, The Way, the Life? What does that say about His faithfulness if His Word does not really mean what it says but is only a way of motivating us at best and manipulating us at worst into doing His will?
And yet we allow that to exist among us at our tables when those who believe such things commune with us, when we use educational materials and programs from churches and "pastors" that believe and teach such things. And when we do, we feed the wolf and allow him to prowl among us and to ignore and deny the Words of Jesus and His loving care. To think that wolf is not out there wanting to take away your faith is to look the Good Shepherd in the eye and say, "I don’t care what you say. I don’t want to hear your warnings. There’s good stuff to eat over there Im missing. Look at all those people growing and having all sorts of success.This is troubling and dividing our synod today because we just cannot sit down and talk about the Word of God. Our conferences, and committee meetings end up being all about getting along and listening to each other rather than listening to the voice of the Shepherd and what His pure doctrine has to tell us. Our conventions and voters’ meetings are about getting people together and looking for leaders that can keep us happy and united around clever sounding programs in order to meet our financial goals. There just is no time to study the Word and wrestle with it together – besides that would be too contentious.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, warns us. The hirelings are not worried about much else than having a large group to give them power, a good paycheck, lots of prestige – lots of people = lots of money, lots of attention – and our envy. We look at a huge church like that of Joel Osteen filling up the Astrodome. All he is really concerned about is having large groups of people doing lots of stuff. Asked if he preaches about sin, he said, "No we really don’t talk about sin down here." Such talk just doesn’t put seats in the pew or money in the plate, does it?
But is that what church is really about? How can you talk about the love of God without talking about sin? How? How can you talk about the Gospel without the Law? It’s impossible. Old Lutherans used to say if you don’t preach the Law you just can’t preach the Gospel. At least you can’t unless you make the Gospel into the Law, something we sinners are prone to do. And that is all too often what happens in the visible church. Sinners turn the Gospel of what the Good Shepherd does for us into the Law of what pious people do for God.
These hirelings are interested in their own personal benefits. You can tell where they are not because you can see into their hearts, but you can see when the battle comes and the Word of God is being challenged they pack up and walk away. They don’t want to fight about it. They don’t want to struggle and contend for the Word for the sake of the sheep. They don’t really care about the flock so much as for their own comfort and well being When the wolf comes they aren’t interested in standing up for and with the Word to fight for the flock, they run away.
The problem for us is that we cannot see the heart. We cannot tell who are the hirelings and who are not on the basis of their heart. And we are not even called to somehow figure out who has the heart of a preacher and who has the heart of a hireling. We are not really to be looking for any person in particular. We’re not trying to find the great, great, great, preacher as opposed to the mediocre preacher or the guy who is a false preacher. We are actually supposed to be listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd. For His sheep know his voice and will follow no other. That is, we are listening for the pure Word and true doctrine of our Lord.
That’s all we can do, it's all we are to try to listen for and follow. Because he promises I am the Good Shepherd. he promises His voice will go forth and call you to repentance and faith. Just like his first sermon, "Repent and believe." Yes Jesus preached the Law. Remember the woman caught in adultery? Did he say that’‘s okay, don’t worry about it? No, he said, "go and sin no more." Repent and believe. Beautiful stuff.
We’re not to be looking for the perfect flock or the perfect preacher. We are to be listening for the voice of the Shepherd. And he promises it -- He -- will be there.
Notice at the end of John’s lesson he says, "I have other sheep to draw in. And they will hear my voice." He is talking about those who will believe by hearing the voice of the Shepherd through his apostles and pastors. Just as he told Thomas, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29, NKJ) The ones who will hear and believe because of the voice that goes out through His church by the power of the Holy Spirit – the voice that speaks forgiveness of sins through the work and merit of Jesus.
The Shepherd’s voice is what you are listening for. And anyone who tells you don’t be so worried about doctrine is telling you not to listen for the voice of the Shepherd – whether they realize it or not, whatever good intentions they may have, however nice they may be. Ultimately these are become hirelings because they want, or at least ask, you to follow and trust them regardless of whether what they say comes from the Word of God.
It’s a temptation to tell people what they want to hear from the pulpit and have them leaving all pumped up and feeling great, to have them say, "great sermon pastor. I love to hear that." There is a proverb used to teach preaching that goes something like this: "When nobody says a word to you about your sermon, that’s when you know you’ve done some good." Think about that for a bit. The voice of the Shepherd comes forth with the truth about our sin and His salvation.
He promises never to leave you or forsake you. He promises to be there. he promises his voice will go forth. So the only thing you are to listen for is whether your preacher speaks the Word of God. You’re listening for the voice of the Shepherd --not whether the preacher is skilled or artful or charismatic – but whether he speaks the Word of God, the voice of the Shepherd. Some might say, "Oh, yes, our pastor preaches a sermon that speaks the true Word of God and only teaches pure doctrine, but . . . ." What does our text say about this? Is there a but? ". . . the sheep hear his voice; . . . he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.(John 10:3_4 NKJ)
Somebody asked Luther once, "What do you think about our pastor. He is not a very good preacher is he? He does not speak very well." And Luther replied, "When you eat your venison Sunday afternoon do you care if you eat off a sliver plate or a wooden plate?"
The voice of the Shepherd is all that matters. "I am the Good Shepherd. I will seek my sheep." How does that happen? He still does it today. The Good Shepherd still works through His church (third article creed) to bring lost sheep into the fold. Jesus came 2000 years ago but he also said others later would hear his voice.
They will come in by hearing my voice also.
When the voice of the Shepherd goes out into your ears, He also begins to write that word on your heart. And as you support the ministry of the Word here, people hear the voice of the Shepherd from the lectern, from the altar, from the font, from the pulpit. And then they also here it from you as you teach your children Bible stories and the catechism, as you speak of the wonderful word you hear with friends and relatives and fellow workers in everyday situations and troubles.
In these things the world hears the voice of the Shepherd. It’s not about you and its not about me – hopw good and active we are – that’s another religiion. You see it all the time. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. . . . they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (Matt 18:20 NKJ) That is, where the Word of God is preached and proclaimed for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, there the voice of the Good Shepherd is being heard. There is the sheepfold, the very kingdom of God. And you are counted among the sheep and abide in the kingdom of heaven – in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Believing Is Not Seeing

SERMON for The THIRD SUNDAY of EASTER: April 6, 2008
"Believing Is Not Seeing"Our Gospel lesson this morning presents a fascinating question for the examination and edification of God's people today:
"Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32 NKJ)
And yet, their eyes were not opened and they did not know Him until He sat at the table with them, . . . took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. (Luke 24:31 NKJ)
What is more, once "their eyes were opened and they knew Him; . . . He vanished from their sight.(Luke 24:31 NKJ)
Why is that?
Why is it that today’s Gospel reading, about two disciples walking to Emmaus after the resurrection, reveals yet again a story of discouraged and depressed disciples – even though they were in the very presence of the risen Christ? Why is it that they relate to the stranger on the road a message of despair and disappointment? Even more, why is it that He remains a stranger to them? Why is it that in the very presence of the risen Christ they still do not get it and instead bemoan, "we had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."? (Luke 24:21 NKJ) Why? There is a very simple explanation. This is what happens when we rely on our emotions, rather than the Word of God. It is what happens when we believe our eyes before the Scriptures – when we place our earthly senses and human reasoning above the Word of God.
The lesson that we learn here is the lesson Paul teaches:
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.(2 Cor 5:6_7 NKJ) And that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom 10:17 NKJ)
In other words, believing is not seeing the things of this world, but hearing the Word of God that speaks of unseen, heavenly, forever things.
While one can hardly blame these men for being emotional over the events of the past seventy-two hours, their conclusions were made apart from the words the Lord had shared with them, His words by which He had clearly told them what would happen and why, His words of absolute truth.
[SINE NOMINE DAILY DEVOS for the 3rd Sunday of Easter’s Gospel]
We are no different today. We get emotional over the various events of our lives –particularly the crosses we carry. And Jesus talks with us on the road of life too. Our hearts burn within us as He does, and yet we do not truly recognize Him in these worldly things either -- "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:20_21 NKJ)
No one truly recognizes God until He takes bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to us. Why? Because until we see Him as the risen Christ who has risen precisely to show us His wounds, we do not see Him as THE Savior.
This is what Jesus’ famous bread lecture following His feeding of the five thousand is speaking of:
Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven__ not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."
. . . Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? . . . It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:53_63 NKJ)
Until we see Him as the risen Savior, the One crucified in the flesh and pouring out blood for our sins, yet risen and still bearing the wounds in His hands, feet and side – we see only one who came to show us how to get to heaven rather than One in whom "it is finished" and so brings heaven to us. Until we receive that forgiveness from His lips to our ears, from His heart to our heads, from His hand to our lips, we see only one who comes to rescue us from those sinners out there, rather than one who comes to rescue us from our own sin.
We are all -- each and every one of us here in this sanctuary, even each and every person on this earth whom God desires so dearly to teach and give the bread of life that they may see and know His salvation is in Christ and Christ alone – we are each of us a disciple on the road to Emmaus. While our hearts burn within us with our own passion for the Lord and what we think of Him or what He should be, we do not see and know Him until He teaches us from the Scripture that He is the One who took on flesh to go to the cross and until He gives Himself to us to see for ourselves with the eyes of faith – like he did for the women outside the tomb, like he did for the disciples behind the closed doors of the upper room, like he did for Thomas again behind the closed doors of the upper room, like he did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus – in His sacrificial wounds still born by His risen body.
Today, and each Lord’s day here at Trinity Lutheran Church -- and wherever the Gospel is purely proclaimed and the Sacrament observed according to His command -- our crucified and risen Savior walks the road with us in the Divine Service, where He expounds to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself; takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to us. So that then our eyes are opened and we know Him, just like He did with the disciples.
And remember this, as soon as the disciples eyes were opened in faith, Jesus vanished from their sight – and ours. As he sends us out onto the Emmaus road of your life in this world, remember that believing is not seeing. He is with us even to the end of the age as we disciples go forth and make more disciples, teaching the world everything He has commanded us and baptizing into His name and forgiveness all who will receive Him even as we are baptized, forgiven and have eternal life now and forever in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen