Sunday, August 17, 2008
Dearly beloved of the Lord,
If last week’s Gospel of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s sinking is one of the most well known, most often told Bible stories of all time, today’s Gospel is perhaps one of the most difficult.
A Canaanite woman, desperate desires to have Jesus relieve her little girl from being severely possessed, and no doubt traumatically tormented, by a demon. She comes begging and crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”
The disciples’ response takes us by surprise and causes no little distress: "Send her away, for she cries out after us."
Jesus response is even more distressing, depressing and disheartening: Having at first answered her not a word, Jesus seems to take the disciples’ side, and stunningly out of character and contrary to everything we think we know of this Son of God, Jesus replies, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Ouch! This woman of Canaan, a land and people hostile to Jews then and to this very day, appears to be outside of the loving providence of the Son of God.
Undeterred, she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"
This persistent, yet humble alien woman stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees who worshiped the Lord in the manner we see in Luke 18:11, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. And even helps to reveal the weakness of Peter’s little faith in desiring to walk on water, instead of falling to his knees like this Canaanite woman, who having been rather harshly rebuffed continues to throw herself on the mercy of this seemingly merciless Jesus, who still again seems to have no desire to have anything to do with this unworthy one, answering her ever more fervent plea, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs."
I don’t know about you, but about now I can tell you that in all likelihood, I would be done begging and move on to other possibilities. A man can only do so much groveling. But this woman replies "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
And now finally, we see the Savior that we thought, that we believed, that we should have known this Jesus to be all along. At last the Lord relents and has mercy as she has requested, begged and pleaded. He looks upon her, in front of the disciples and says, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Now if this isn’t a powerful enough statement in front of the disciples who wanted to send her away as a pitiful nuisance, unworthy of their Rabbi’s attention, consider the words of Jesus to peter from last week’s Gospel, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Where the disciples, or at least Peter, who had seen their Jesus feed the five thousand with two fish and five barley loaves, not to mention the countless other miracles to which they had been witness and the Scriptures that they had been raised in, had so little faith that they needed even another sign in order to believe, this woman of an enemy land who most likely had heard and seen little scraps of Jesus works and mere crumbs of His words has faith to throw herself at Jesus feet and cling to His mercy.
As much as this Gospel account recorded by Matthew is about the great and persistent faith of this woman in the face of severe testing, it has far greater significance. Clearly, Jesus reactions and words were also, perhaps even more so, directed at and for the benefit of the disciples, who apparently still did not get Jesus’ purpose for being there with them.
And certainly, the fact that this encounter with the Canaanite woman has been recorded by the Apostle tells us even more that they have great significance for all who would read and/or hear them in these latter days.
As John tells us in His Gospel, these were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. John 20:31
Over against a faith that desires the glory of walking on water and ends up in sinking, Matthew – and more importantly, our Lord Jesus Himself – exalts the faith of this lowly woman who wants nothing more nor less than to be granted mercy for herself and her precious daughter.
Do not ever forget the amazing comparison and contrast of Jesus’ own words in assessing the faith of Peter fearing for his life on the raging sea and the faith of the woman, whose own life was not in question but who only cared for her daughter and the mercy of the Lord. [Peter!] O you of little faith, why did you doubt? [Dear woman] great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.
As Jesus also said, "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [John 14:13] Whatever a believer faithfully asks in Jesus’ name will be consistent with asking that the Father’s will be done. And the Father’s will is to glorify the Son.
Peter sought to glorify himself by walking on water. The Canaanite woman sought to avail herself of the glory of the Lord, which lies in His merciful goodness toward us. As merciful as Jesus was in healing the woman of Canaan’s daughter, it was only a glimpse, only a crumb compared to the mercy He ultimately showed to the Canaanite woman, Peter, the disciples, to all the world, to you and me, on the cross.
The lesson for us is simple, and witnesses to everything we do in the Divine Service here at Trinity. Our true act of worship is to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord. We confess our sins and we receive His merciful goodness. From start to finish, as Luther tells us in the introduction to the section of Confession/Absolution in the Small Catechism, “When I urge you to go to confession I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”
In presenting this account of the Canaanite woman’s encounter with Jesus, you and I are simply being urged to be Christians, to confess our unworthiness, to admit we are like dogs before the Lord, truly deserving of nothing, not even His attention – yet receiving it out of His bountiful and merciful goodness.
This account also speaks of how we should come to the Lord’s Supper – not demanding to be served what we deserve, for that would be death. But humbly begging for that which we do not deserve -- the mercy of God that gives us life in His name.
At the same time, this account of our Lord speaks even to why we bring our infants before the Lord to be baptized. Just as the Canaanite woman is unworthy by her own works and her child has done nothing deserving of the Lord’s mercy, the infants we bring to the Baptism of our Lord are helpless to fend for themselves, let alone do any good work to earn standing before God. Like each of us, the infant is conceived and born in sin, and thus in dire need of the mercy of the Lord.
Yes, in this precious Gospel of our Lord given through the inspired pen of St. Matthew, we hear that our Lord is merciful to us poor miserable sinners, giving us far more than the crumbs we do not even deserve – forgiving all our sins, and giving us his full attention for eternity in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Monday, August 11, 2008
The the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the perfect word to summarize and characterize both Contemporary Worship and Church Growth [heretofore CW/CG] in light of
- the close Scriptural connection between idolatry and adultery
- the praise worship and outreach that is born of human passion and lust for numbers
- the selling of the Gospel that is CG
- the employment of priestitutes in the holy office of the public ministry
- going to church doesn't save a person -- all you need is Jesus in your heart; as long as you love Jesus; your faith saves you, etc.
- you can worship God wherever and however you want -- all you need is God/Jesus in your heart; as long as you love God/Jesus; as long as you pray to God and praise Him
It is the thinking that fuels the CW of ABLAZE! and the LCMS. And it is that promotion of the Synod that is a contributing and motivating factor for the "firing" (now there's a nice ABLAZE! image for you) of many faithful pastors, not to mention undermining the faith and jeopardizing the souls of of countless "seekers" and baptized children of God.So, while my laughter has turned largely to tears, perhaps you will find some humor and irony in the term Lutheran Whorship, and maybe a way to see the connection between CG/CW, the idolatry of the Old Testament, and the adultery of what Lutheran pastors are ordained to present as Christ's pure and faithful bride.
Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly-- and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:1-2, NKJ
Sunday, August 10, 2008
TEXT: And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." So He said, "Come." Matthew 14:28-29a
Today’s Gospel is perhaps one of the most well known, most often told Bible stories of all time. It captures the imagination and excites us. It is what being a disciple is all about, doing extraordinary things – walking on water. That is way cool!
Or is it?
If the purpose of this account was about disciples doing extraordinary things by faith like walking on water, it seems that Jesus would have summoned all the disciples out of the boat and had them all walking about on the water and safely to land. Or at the very least, after giving him a helping hand, Jesus would have sent Peter off to do it right without sinking.
But Jesus didn’t do either. He rescued Peter from his own flailing efforts and helped him back to the boat.
Dearly beloved of God, as His baptized, forgiven and rescued children, God has placed you in the boat called Church, with Peter, the rest of the disciples, and every believer from Adam and Eve to the saints on earth today. Do not ever forget or take for granted this greatest of earthly blessings where Jesus brings heaven to earth and dwells with us to give us peace and comfort from the Father. While it is true that your going to church does not save you, that’s not because church doesn’t matter. It is because nothing you do can save you. Church is about what God does for you in Christ, the Rock of our Salvation. And so, it is likewise true that those whom God saves He saves only through the power of the Holy Spirit working in, with, and through His divine rescue boat, the holy Christian church.
Do not make the mistake of Peter. The rescue and comfort is in the boat. That is the lesson of our Gospel today. Miraculous walking on water is for Jesus. Riding in the boat, rowing together through rough seas and casting out nets to do some fishing is for us disciples.
Peter’s trouble came before he ever stepped out of the boat. Listen carefully and see if you can tell where Peter’s trouble starts:
But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! I AM; do not be afraid."
And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."
So He said, "Come."
And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"
Peter’s trouble started with one little word, “If.” “If it is you, Lord, command me to come to You on the water.” The trouble starts in Peter’s doubt that Jesus, the I AM Son of God is there. "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Peter, you had a perfectly good boat, brothers in the faith to help row and weather the storm, and now Jesus, the Son of God Himself was coming out to be with them in their time of trouble. Why did you have to walk on the water?
Notice it was not an initial invitation from Jesus that bade Peter to walk to him. It was Peter’s desire for another sign. “Jesus, if you are the Christ, prove it to me now by having me walk on the water.” Peter was talking just like the Pharisees, making demands of Jesus according to his own desires.
• Lost in looking to his own faith rather than to the Lord right there in front of him – Peter just had to have more proof.
• Lost in trying to prove something by his own works – Peter just had to do something.
• Lost in his own enthusiasm – Peter just had to show how excited he was to see Jesus.
• Lost from his own vocation – Peter just had to do something other than what he was given to do, captain the boat.
So Jesus invites Peter to do what he must, what he has insisted on doing himself. And it goes swimmingly at first, because the Word of God, and Him made flesh is powerful. What He bids and commands us to do, He accomplishes. That is what God’s Word does, what God’s Word has done since Genesis and the beginning of creation. By the Word of God were all things made that have been made [John 1:3]; by the Word of God all sin, death, and the power of the devil have been defeated -- for you and all men “it is finished!” salvation is won and given to you by the Word; and by the Word of God did Peter walk on the water . . .
until . . .
the one Jesus had named the Rock did what all rocks do when on water – he started to sink. He didn’t belong walking on water, he belonged in the boat. The boat was designed to stay afloat, Peter was not. The boat, under the watchful eye and in the protective presence of the Christ, the Son of the living God, would get them where they were going – and on the way perhaps they would even catch some fish as well.
Clearly, at least to the eyes of faith, Jesus was coming to be with them on the boat. But Peter, the Rock, just couldn’t wait. So Jesus gives him what he asks for. Remember that little bit of wisdom your grandma or grandpa might have taught you, “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”? And Jesus makes it happen. He bids the sea to hold the weight of that beloved Rock of His.
So if Jesus is there bidding Peter on, what goes wrong? Well Peter, like "he who received the seed on [rocky] places, . . . hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” (Matt 13:20-21 NKJ)
So now with Peter sinking fast, flailing about in his own enthusiastic if wrong-headed efforts, Jesus does what I Am, the Son of God, does -- He saves Peter. He saves the rock from drowning. But even more, He saves Peter from himself. He saves Peter from his temporary lack of faith and reliance on the Christ . He saves Peter from his own work. He saves Peter from his own enthusiasm. And he saves Peter from being something he was never meant to be.
And how does Jesus save Peter? He stretches out His hand, and catches Peter – and takes Him back into the boat. And in the boat, together, the disciples worship the Son of God.
That is how church works. Or better stated, that is how Jesus works by means of the church. Jesus has designed this blessed institution, this sacred craft called church, to keep you afloat even in the troubled, contentious, boisterous seas of this world. The boat is what Jesus has given and sent to get you where you are going – heaven -- because Jesus is in the boat with you and heaven is where He resides, forever at the right hand of the Father. And along the way, like those fishers of men before us, while in the boat we get to catch some fish too.
But also like Peter before us, there are times we just have to have more, more proof, more of our own work, more of our own enthusiasm. It is not enough for us to be in the boat worshiping, fishing and weathering the storm, we want to walk on water, we want to conquer the storm. Lord, if it is you, can’t you make me do something spectacular? Look how excited I am to see you! I am tired of doing the same old thing. Let me do something special, something fantastic!
And indeed Jesus may let us do our thing for a while, like He did with Peter, saying, “Walk on water if you must. See for yourself.” Why? Why does he let Peter and us rocks walk on water when inevitably we are bound to flail away and sink? Because it is only then when we allow Jesus to be what He is – the I AM who saves His people. When we start sinking and have lost all hope of saving ourselves, our Savior stretches out His hand and sends out the Holy Spirit who catches us and takes us back to the boat. And here in the boat we worship, rejoicing that here truly is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
The Small Catechism Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed states well this lesson Jesus teaches Peter and the other disciples in the boat.
“I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
We all know someone who has left the boat and is out there trying to walk on water. In fact we were once out trying to walk on water ourselves -- and may indeed try it again some day, whether because of disgust with the actions of the sinners and hypocrites we must ride along with, or simply because we don’t think it as enjoyable, urgent, or worth our time as other things we could be doing. But when we inevitably succumb to the gravity of our sin and begin sinking fast like the rocks we are, the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, rescues us by our baptism that places us into His boat called church, and stretches out His hand through those He has placed in the boat before us.
And now, it is for us who remain in the boat to stretch out our hands, cast out the nets our Lord has given us and bring the flailing, sinking people that remain out there in the stormy world into the boat with us. We don’t have to walk on water – in fact we dare not. For like Peter, and rocks, if and when we do we are sure to sink as well.
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Be of good cheer! I AM! Do not be afraid.” These are Jesus words for you today and everyday. For He came not just to walk on water, and certainly not to make you walk on water – it is not necessary. He came to walk to the cross bearing all of your sin.
And now, having finished that work of salvation, He has placed you in this little boat called Trinity where there is safety because Jesus is here with you. And this is how you know He is here – because here is where you receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
Sunday, August 3, 2008
When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food."
But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish."
He said, "Bring them here to Me."
Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. ( Mathew 14:13-21, NKJ)
Dear people of Trinity, do you see what has happened here? We have here gathered a multitude of people around the Word of God, though of course there were many more who did not come, and God fed them through the Word.
What does this tell you? When you are gathered around the Word, which is what the Holy Spirit does in the holy Christian church, God provides. He takes your meek and meager supplies and multiplies them so that no one will go without what they need to sustain them in body and soul unto life everlasting.
It is rather amazing, one might say miraculous, how our Lord has chosen to place this text before us here at Trinity through the readings selected and appointed by the church for this 12th Sunday after Pentecost
given the financial update presented to you in the bulletin today and all the talk and meetings we have been having over what we can and should do to solve our financial woes.
Do you think that you have given all that you can possibly give and the only way to save our church is by cutting corners, scrimping and saving on the church budget, or by getting more people in to help us pay the bills?
Are you worried about what you will have to eat, or what you will have to drink, or how you will pay your bills, or be able to take that vacation, buy that new car or pay for that gas to go in the old one if you have to put more money in the collection plate to pay the pastor so he can pay his bills and do some of those same things that you have to work so hard to be able to do?
Our Lord is speaking to you today. In feeding well over five thousand people with a couple of little fish and pieces of bread, the Lord was giving a real life illustration to this crowd who had followed Him across the lake from where He had been teaching and preaching to them about the kingdom of heaven as well as performing many miracles. Surely many of the 5000 had been following Jesus since He spoke the sermon from the mount which included these words Matthew records for us:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt 6:24-34 NKJ)
Well its one thing to read or hear this story about a people long ago that lived much differently than we do today during a time when the Lord Jesus Christ was actually walking and talking with them in the flesh. It’s a far different thing to hear these words from a pastor who not only cannot work the miracle of putting food on your plate, but expects you to pay to put food on his plate.
And yet the point of this miraculous event is that God our Father provides every want of body and soul, and this always in and through the Word – for the 5000 it was through the Word made flesh to dwell among us, for us it is through the Word as breathed by the Holy Spirit through the holy Christian church and the pastors called and appointed by God to serve her.
Oh yes, God provides even for the unbeliever and this through the work of men and women and the sweat of their brows. But even this provision is by the grace of God through the Word who created every blessing of this earth in the beginning, as we confess when we say “I believe in god the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” – which means 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 that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that i need to support this body and life. . . . All this He does only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
Is it really? Is it true for you. Are you living your life as if it is true for you?
Well, the truth is, no one can of their own volition. And that is part of the point of our text. The people were mainly attracted to Jesus for what kind of earthly blessings and miracles He could provide. They were following Him because they wanted and expected Him to work miracles. And here Jesus obliges them by providing food for them out of a pitiful little offering presented to Him.
I don’t know, but do you think that out of 5000 men -- many of whom brought their wife and children with them – there were only 5 loaves of bread and two fish among them?
Well, maybe. But what we know for sure is that Jesus took those 5 loaves and two fish from the disciples and fed all those souls with enough left over to feed many more. Can you imagine? The disciples are standing there with Jesus at the end of the day expecting to eat their supper with Him surrounded my a hungry mob of people. They want to eat their fish and bread in peace. And what does their leader do? He takes their food and makes them give it away! In this account of the 5000 it is the disciples meal Jesus takes and has them distribute to the people. Can you imagine the looks on their faces and what they must have been thinking at the end of a long day of work and travel to not only have to give away their own food, but to have to do the work of distributing it as well? Jesus made 12 tired, hungry men do the work of feeding well over 5000 men, women and children.
Now imagine how these perplexed and grumbling men must have changed their tune as they did the work and gave away their treasured food. No matter how much they gave away, there was always more to give. Talk about encouragement! What could be a greater boost to the weary soul as such an unexpected and miraculous occurrence?
And lo and behold, when they were all through, there was not only enough for them to have their meal, but enough for many meals to come.
In doing the work the Lord set before them, giving away even the last of what they possessed, not only were they able to bless the multitudes but they too were blessed to receive more than what their meager and reluctant contribution was in the first place.
Dearly beloved of God, there is a saying attributed to Martin Luther that captures the difficulty we face when addressing the finances of the congregation: “the last part of a man to be converted is his pocketbook.”
In other words, it is comparatively easy and painless for one to believe – or at least say one believes -- Jesus loves them , forgives their sins, and will take them to heaven one day. It is a far greater and more difficult thing for one to believe that Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven with Him now and will provide even their earthly needs (though not necessarily desires) when one turns everything over to Him for the sake of the salvation of souls.
It was true of the disciples that day our Lord had them feed the 5000. It was true for the rich young ruler when jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor. And it is true for you and I today as well.
But since we have learned and believe that conversion is a work of the Spirit that lifts the sinner convicted by the Law to repentance and the forgiveness of sins of the Gospel, we must understand that right giving of offerings comes only as a result and fruit of hearing the Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Luther helps us further understand this firstfruits giving as he addresses good works in general: “Good works are works that flow from faith and from the joy of heart that has come to us because we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.” (“What Luther Says, #4847); and again, “Whoever does not do (good works) voluntarily, merely through the influence of friendly exhortation, is no Christian; and whoever forces the unwilling by the restraints of the Law is simply no Christian preacher but a worldly jailer.” (“What Luther Says, #4893) This last quote comes from his sermon on Romans 12:1-6, in which Luther makes the point that Paul here says, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren,” as opposed to commanding them. Elsewhere, Luther asks, ”What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not.”
I would submit that firstfruits giving is really no different than any other good work of the baptized. It is not that God needs and demands them for himself, but that he works through us to do them for the sake of our neighbors who need them. We give to others because God has first given to us. Thus firstfruits giving as a fruit of the Spirit springs forth out of faith in the Gospel and thankfulness for God’s gift of forgiveness that frees us from worrying about what we will eat, or drink, or wear, or do for fun tomorrow. This worry is the reason we so often give from what we might have left after we have taken care of everything else we want and think we need, rather than from the top of our paycheck – which is itself a gift from God.
Your paycheck, and all these things [over which you worry and trouble are] the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Jesus fed the 5000 – and the disciples too. Will He do any less for you as you give of yourselves that your neighbors might be saved and fed by the Bread of Life whom you bring?
As baptized children of God, He does not only forgive you all of your sins but He also gives you everything else that you need when you need it – for your sake, and for the sake of the neighbor you serve. For this is the kingdom of heaven, and it has been given to you -- in the in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen