SERMONS - OCTOBER 2020
4 October 2020 - Pentecost 18 - Philippians 3:4b-14
It is a common human trait for people to be concerned about their status and reputation in society. There is a sense in which St. Paul encourages this. He writes in his First Epistle to Timothy that an overseer or pastor “must be above reproach,” and that “he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace.”
It is easy, however, for a legitimate concern regarding a respectable status in this world, and a good reputation in this life, to become infected with a boastful pride. We want people to think well of us, and we want our accomplishments to be noticed and appreciated. But that easily slips into being proud of ourselves, and proud of our accomplishments.
For this reason St. Peter, in his First Epistle, warns us against letting this happen. He writes:
“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”
In today’s text from his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul writes:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.”
In the world in which he lived - the first-century Jewish world - Paul, in his earlier years, had been on the high road to success and influence. First, he was a Jew, and not a pagan.
That was a circumstance of birth, but it brought with it significant blessings from God. But Paul was filled with pride and self-satisfaction because of it.
Paul had also received a very good education within the tradition of the Pharisees, from Gamaliel - one of the best rabbinic scholars of the day. That education would have equipped him to be a useful teacher, in service to his people. But this too was a source of pride for Paul.
Paul was likewise proud of his zeal. He was proud of his external obedience of the law.
His status in society was important to him. His reputation among others, and his accomplishments in the sight of others, were important to him. These things defined him.
But especially before God, these things defined him. In his own mind they made him to be someone who was acceptable to God and pleasing to God, so that he could earn for himself God’s favor and approval.
Paul believed that he had become everything that he was supposed to be, according to the law; and that he was doing everything that he was supposed to do, according to the law, in order to be righteous under the law, and in the eyes of God.
In his earlier years, Paul lived for these things. He strove to maintain them, because these things maintained him, and his standing and reputation as a righteous man.
People today don’t often worry about whether they are acceptable to God, and whether their lives are pleasing to God. One is more likely to hear the people of our time wondering out loud if God, or the idea of God, is acceptable to them.
Modern men and women flirt with atheism, or embrace atheism outright, when the idea of God no longer serves their needs. And if people of our time do believe in God, the God in whom they believe is likely to be a “designer God” who pleases them, by giving them the blessings they want, and by adapting his expectations to their self-chosen morality.
Paul’s quest for righteousness before God and man, and for a right standing with God, is not the quest of modern man. But it should be.
The fear of God, the reverence toward God, and the faith in God, that characterized the attitude of earlier generations, did not bring God into existence. These were normal and necessary responses to God’s revelation of his will and character in nature, in the human conscience, and in Scripture.
And so the unbelief and blasphemy of the current generation do not cause God to cease to exist or to disappear. God remains as a righteous and holy God. We remain accountable to him.
And therefore we properly remain concerned about whether God will judge us to be righteous: because he does get to judge us. We do not get to judge him.
So, Paul was on the right track as far as his interest in being acceptable to God was concerned. This was something important, which he should have been thinking about.
But Paul was not on the right track, with respect to his proud assumptions and human conclusions regarding the way of achieving and maintaining a righteous status before God.
On the Damascus Road, however, Paul found out how wrong he had been. And Paul found out that what God demands from us, God gives to us, when he gives Jesus Christ to us.
God gave Jesus to Paul in that jarring and life-changing encounter, when Paul received his new calling in life, and when Jesus said to him:
“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me, and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles - to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
God gave Jesus to Paul once again, when Paul was baptized by the hand of Ananias for his own salvation from the guilt and power of sin, and when Ananias told him:
“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
“The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone, of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
And God gave Jesus to Paul again and again after that - over and over, every day, in the daily comfort and renewal of the gospel that Paul embraced for himself and preached to others - as Paul lived out who he was in Christ, and who he was going to be in Christ, in daily repentance and faith. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
With Jesus, God gave Paul - always and every time - the righteousness of Jesus’ perfect obedience of the law; the forgiveness of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of himself on the cross; and the life and hope of Jesus’ victorious resurrection from the dead.
And so, in light of all this, Paul goes on to say in today’s text:
“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Uninformed people often claim that all religions are fundamentally the same, so that it doesn’t really matter which one you embrace. But this is not true.
Hypothetically, you can take Muhammad out of Islam, and you will still have Islam - because Islam is fundamentally about the teachings of Muhammad, and not about the person and work of Muhammad. For the same reason you can take the Buddha out of Buddhism, and you will still have Buddhism.
But if you take Jesus Christ out of Christianity, you will have nothing left, because the Christian faith is fundamentally about Christ: who he is, what he did, and what he continues to do.
The word of Jesus, in which we abide by faith, does not only give us information about him, but it connects us to him. The sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood doesn’t just put thoughts about Jesus into our minds, but it put Jesus into our minds, into our souls, and even into our bodies as a pledge and down payment of our own future resurrection in Christ.
If you find your true identity in your pride and in your reputation and status before men, or if you think that your status before God is based on what you give him and show him - rather than what he gives you - today is the day when this needs to change. Today is the day when you need to have a Damascus Road experience - in your heart if not in your body.
Today is the day when God will give you Jesus; and when he will give you, with Jesus, the righteousness, forgiveness, and life of Jesus. And you know what? Tomorrow will be a day when God will give Jesus to you yet again. And the next day, and the day after that too.
Our Small Catechism helps us to have a very Pauline perspective on this, as we with God’s help seek to live out our faith, and daily to know Christ as Lord and Savior: in the vocations that God gives us for this world, by which we do use our gifts and abilities to serve others; and in the salvation from sin and death that God gives us for time and for eternity.
Our baptism into Christ “means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
“Where is this written? St. Paul writes, Romans 6: ‘We are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that just as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.’”
The kind of earthly things that we are tempted to be proud of, and in which we are tempted to find our identity, are different than what Paul’s temptations were.
But whatever they might be - whatever is from us, and not from God, that we might think makes us righteous before God - has the same divine solution and remedy that Paul found, or rather that found Paul on the Damascus Road. And so, with Paul, we can say, and we will say:
“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Amen.
11 October 2020 - Pentecost 19 - Philippians 4:4-13
In the stress-filled world in which we live, anxiety, for many of us, has become a constant companion. We are anxious about the coronavirus pandemic, and wonder if we will get COVID-19. We are anxious about the struggling economy, and wonder if we might lose our job or our business.
We are anxious about the decline of our civilization, and about the fraying of the rule of law in many of the cities of our nation. We are anxious about our personal relationships, in view of the strains that are placed on families by a society that is increasingly hostile to the institution of marriage, to the authority of parents, and to the values that keep families strong and healthy.
We are anxious about the changes that inevitably come in life, as we age, or as we are forced by new circumstances to take on new and sometimes unwelcome responsibilities. For all of these reasons, St. Paul’s words about anxiety in today’s text, from his Epistle to the Philippians, get our attention:
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
First of all, we need to say that anxiety, or worrying, is a sin. Perhaps it’s not the worst of sins; but it is a sin, and not a virtue or a harmless thing.
Anxiety is a failure to trust in God, and therefore it violates the First Commandment. And anxiety has a darker side, too.
Worrying about things in the present or in the future that we cannot control, is a manifestation of our inborn sinful presumption that we should be able to be in control of everything. This goes back to when our first parents, in Eden, believed the devilish lie that if they ate of the forbidden fruit, they would be like God: that they would know what God knows, and thereby be in control of their own existence, and of their own destiny.
Of course, Adam and Eve did not become like God. In their fall they actually became like the devil: rebelling against God, and rejecting God’s rightful authority in their lives.
But the desire to be like God - to be in control as God is in control - has dogged humanity for as long as sin in general has dogged humanity. Our anxiety over uncontrollable situations is a symptom of the fact that we have not overcome this profoundly selfish and proud desire.
When you are anxious, therefore, and are frustrated by your inability to make things be the way you want them to be, you are back in Eden all over again.
When you fail to entrust your life and your circumstances to a wise and loving God who is in control, and refuse to give up all your attempts to be in control of these things yourself, you are listening to the serpent’s lies, all over again. You are eating the forbidden fruit all over again.
As a part of his Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus admonishes us:
“I tell you, do not be anxious 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?”
After giving some examples of God’s care for the creatures in nature - who are less valuable to him than we are - the Lord continues:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ ... Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”
So, the first thing to do, when you find yourself being anxious, or worried, is to repent. Repent of your lack of faith. Ask for God’s forgiveness that you have not feared, loved, and trusted in him above all things.
And God will forgive you. God does forgive you: through the merits of Jesus Christ your Savior, who did love and trust his Father fully, and submit fully to the will of his Father, for you.
Even Jesus’ enemies, with all their lies about him and all their mocking of him, did at least admit that he trusted in God. While he was hanging on the cross, suffering under the weight of our sins - including our sins of anxiety and worry - they said:
“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Of course, God the Father did not deliver his Son at that moment, because Jesus was in that moment paying the price of humanity’s redemption - by the shedding of his own blood.
But in the resurrection, after Jesus’ sacrifice had been fully paid and fully accepted, God did deliver his Son from the chains of death. And the resurrected Christ does declare to you his forgiveness, and his peace.
And, the resurrected Lord is indeed “at hand” for you, as St. Paul says in today’s text. His forgiveness is ever close and available, because he is ever close and available.
The Lord is at hand for you, in the cleansing and calming absolution that he speaks to your conscience through the lips of his called servant. The Lord is at hand for you when he is mystically in your hand - and in your mouth, your body, and your soul - in the sacrament of his true body and blood.
The Lord is at hand in these and in other ways, also to help you in your weakness, to build you up in your faith, and to deliver you from a faithless anxiety. Wherever and whenever his Word is proclaimed, heard, and meditated upon, Jesus is at hand - in and through his Word - to comfort you, and to guide you.
He is at hand, as the one who endured the agony of the cross for you, to remove from you the guilt of sin. And, he is at hand, as the one who victoriously rose from death for you, to remove from you the power of sin.
Remember what Paul had written to the Philippians - and to us - earlier in this epistle: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
And God is now working in you: enlightening your darkened mind, and liberating your bound will. Paul therefore writes to you:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Praying to God - in the midst of anxiety and worry, or at any other time - is not informing God of things that he doesn’t already know. God, who knows all things, certainly is already aware of the trying circumstances that have driven you to prayer.
But praying to God in such circumstances, and bringing to God your requests about whatever it is that is frightening or unsettling you, is an acknowledgment that God is in control, and not you. Such a prayer is itself an act of submission to the plan and purpose of God, whatever that plan and purpose may be.
It is an admission that if something can be done about the troubling situation at hand, God alone is the one who can do it. Implicit in any request for help, is the belief that the one you are asking is able to provide help.
And this is a well-founded belief, when the one who is being addressed is the almighty creator and preserver of the universe; and the loving Father of his children, who has demonstrated his love for them in the sending of his only begotten Son to be their Savior.
In answer to the prayer, God might change the trying situation, or deliver you from it. Or he might change you: granting you the patience to endure this trial with a renewed confidence in his goodness; and granting you the opportunity to learn something about him - or about yourself - that will be beneficial to your faith, in the midst of this trial.
But while prayer is always to be offered in a spirit of humility and ultimate resignation to the will of God, God does want us - in our prayer - to come right out and tell him what we want. Paul speaks of the “supplications” that we are to bring before the Lord.
A supplication is an earnest request. A nuance in the Greek word that is translated as “supplication,” is that this is a request for something that is really needed, and not just for something that is wished for.
As a way of accentuating the valid theological point that God answers prayer according to his will, and not necessarily according to our will, prayers are often worded in a conditional way: so that a praying person will say something like: “O God, if it is your will, heal my child of his illness,” and so forth.
But that doesn’t really have the ring of an earnest supplication about it. Maybe it would be better to say: “O God, I pray that it would be your will to heal my child”; or even, “O God, I ask that you heal my child. Amen.”
Tell God what you want his will to be. If what you request is not his will, then it won’t happen. But he doesn’t need your permission to do something other than what you are asking for, if he so chooses. So, just tell him what you want.
In our own minds, our prayers are indeed offered conditionally. That is, as we speak our prayer, we are always willing for God’s answer to be No. But we don’t have to use conditional wording in the prayer itself.
Your prayers should not sound like theological treatises on the doctrine of prayer. Your prayers should sound like prayers - like real supplications.
Think of the parable about the unjust judge, who gave justice to a persistent widow only after she went to him repeatedly, demanding his attention. Think of the parable about the man continually knocking on the door of his neighbor, until his neighbor got out of bed and gave him what he wanted.
Think of those parables. And pray like the people in those parables.
The more you pray like this, and from the heart offer your supplications to the Lord, the more you will be trusting in the Lord, and recognizing that he is in control. And the less anxious you will be, because you are not in control.
And when you pray, pray “with thanksgiving.” When God grants your request, thank him. When he denies your request, and gives you something else that he knows is better, thank him.
And, when he seems not to be listening at all, and not to be answering your prayer in one way or the other, thank him then, too. Thank him even at those times, because he is thereby teaching you how to trust in him over the long haul.
He is teaching you how to walk by faith, and not by sight. He is teaching you that the gift of Christ, in the gospel, is the one necessary thing; so that if God never gave you anything else, other than Jesus - and the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus brings and delivers - you would still have enough to thank him for, through all eternity.
Paul concludes this section of his epistle with these words: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
There is a peace to be received and enjoyed - a divine and heavenly peace - when you learn how to trust in God, in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving.
As you, with trust in God, face your fears, and the things that are causing you to be afraid, your heart and mind will be guarded, protected, and kept safe, by this peace.
Notice that Paul says “your hearts and your minds.” When you call upon the Lord for help in a time of bodily danger, he may respond by protecting your body, too. But maybe he won’t.
Everybody has to die someday. And, there is also no guarantee that you death - when it does come - will not be a relatively early death, or a physically painful death.
But even if your death is early, or painful, or both, your death will be a peaceful death, if you find your rest in Christ as you die. Your heart and mind will be kept safe and protected by the forgiveness of Christ, and by the promises of Christ, even as your bodily life ebbs away into the mortality that is the lot of all children of Adam.
In this world, death is the most fearsome enemy. The inevitability of death represents the ultimate failure of humanity’s delusion of being in control. Death feeds and fuels human anxiety at the deepest level.
But even death has been overcome by our Savior. Through him, we will also overcome death, and will emerge from death in the resurrection on the last day.
As our trust in God gives us this confidence for our future death; so too does our trust in God give us this confidence for our present life. Because our trust in God is worked in us by God - by the Lord Jesus Christ, who is always “at hand” to help us, and to teach us - this divinely-wrought trust overcomes the anxiety that is our own human creation.
You do not keep your own heart and mind strong and safe by trying to stay in control. In prayer, you relinquish your pretensions of control to God, who really is in control.
You do not guard your own heart and mind, by erecting a wall of anxious worrying around yourself. In trust, you open your heart and mind to the peace of God.
This is a peace with God, and within yourself, that comes from God, for the sake of Christ; that has been won for you by God, in the saving work accomplished by Christ; and that has been bestowed upon you by God, through the forgiving and faith-building gospel of Christ.
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
18 October 2020 - St. Luke - Luke 1:1-4
Please listen with me to these words from the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke, beginning at the first verse:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
So far the text.
St. Luke is described as an “Evangelist.” This doesn’t mean that he held Billy-Graham style crusades in large stadiums, but it means that he wrote on of the Gospels. “Evangel” means “gospel.”
But among the four Evangelists, Luke is unique. Matthew and John, as apostles, were eyewitnesses to virtually everything that they wrote about in their gospels.
And while Mark was himself not an apostle, his Gospel was written under the direct influence of St. Peter, whose protégé and translator Mark was. And Mark was likely an eyewitness to at least some of the things that he wrote about, since his family’s home seems to have been the place where the Last Supper was held.
Mark was probably referring to himself when he spoke of the “young man” who followed Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane and watched the events that unfolded there.
Luke was an understudy and companion of St. Paul, and therefore wrote under Paul’s apostolic authority. The church has therefore always considered St. Luke’s writings - his Gospel as well as the Book of Acts - to be apostolic, inspired writings.
But Luke’s Gospel was not written on the basis of what he had seen and heard with his own eyes and ears, in whole or in part. Rather, for his Gospel, he gathered information from “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” - as he indicates in his prologue.
For example, after recounting the events of Jesus’ conception and birth, Luke points to his source for this material when he writes that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” And again, after telling the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, Luke states that “his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”
We don’t know a whole lot about St. Luke. We do know his profession, however. In the Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul describes him as “Luke the beloved physician.”
And we also know that Luke was a gentile, and was not Jewish - as were all the other New Testament authors. In Colossians, Paul lists co-workers who were Jewish, and co-workers who were not. Luke is included in the second list.
Both of these facts - that Luke was a physician, and that he was a gentile - are significant.
The four Gospels give us a lot of information about Jesus’ miraculous healing of people with various diseases and infirmities, during the time of his earthly ministry. Ordinary physicians are hardly mentioned.
There is an unflattering reference to this profession in the account of the woman with the flow of blood, where we are told that she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”
There is also an oblique reference to the medical profession in this statement by Jesus, about his saving mission in the world:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
The Gospels describe the extraordinary events of extraordinary times, as they report not only the miracles that Jesus performed, but also the sermons that he preached, the suffering and death that he endured, and the glorious resurrection that he experienced when his Father raised him from the dead.
In comparison, we live in ordinary times. Jesus is not bodily walking the earth any more. Miracles are the exception, not the rule. Our spiritual life is nurtured by sermons that are preached by men other than Jesus himself.
And in these ways, St. Luke is like us. He too, in many respects, also lived in ordinary times.
His work as a physician was greatly valued by St. Paul. Neither Paul, nor those who were in his circle of association, thought that it was somehow a sign of a lack of faith to use the ordinary ministrations of a doctor in a time of sickness or injury, rather than expecting an extraordinary “miracle cure.” That’s not the way God usually works.
The Lord certainly does reserve the right to perform miracles, even today. Paul performed a few miracles during his lifetime, too.
But Paul did not perform healing miracles on himself when his bodily infirmities might have suggested that he do this. Instead, he called upon Luke - the “beloved physician” Luke - to treat him.
God today, in the ordinary times in which we live, serves us also through the vocation of physicians and other medical professionals. And God watches over us and takes care of us also through the vocations of many other people, who surround us with useful occupations from which we benefit in this world.
God keeps us safe through law enforcement officers. God brings beauty into our lives through artists and musicians.
God brings about advances in technology, and improvements in our quality of life, through scientists and engineers. And God forgives our sins, and bestows upon us his life and salvation, through the means of grace that pastors administer to us in his name and by his authority.
And, God calls each of us to his or her own vocation, so that through it we can be of service to others. In these ordinary times, God now gives us our daily bread, not through raining manna down from heaven, but through the jobs he allows us to have, and the honest income that we receive from those jobs.
This is not somehow an unspiritual way of looking at our life with God, and at God’s grace in our life. This is God’s ordinary way, for ordinary times. This is St. Luke’s way.
Luke believed that Jesus was and is the Son of God, and that he died and rose again for humanity’s salvation, on the basis of the testimony of others, and not on the basis of his personal experience. “Seeing is believing” is a common axiom. But St. Luke did not live by this axiom.
He believed that Jesus was miraculously conceived without a human father, and therefore without sin. He believed that a company of angels appeared to the shepherds and praised the newborn Savior. And he believed that the Temple in Jerusalem was the house of Jesus’ own divine Father.
He believed these particular things, not because he had seen and heard them for himself, but because Mary had seen and heard them, and had experienced them. And the Holy Spirit bore witness to Luke’s heart, through her bearing witness, that these things were most certainly true.
And so Luke based his faith, and his eternal hope, on these things. God led him to include these things in his Gospel.
Luke believed what was reported to him by all the reliable eyewitnesses he interviewed. And by writing these reports down for us, he has made it possible for us to hear and believe these reports, too.
We do hold that Luke wrote by divine inspiration, and that the Gospel that bears his name is Holy Scripture. But God did not inspire Luke in a mechanical way that bypassed his mind and personality.
The Holy Spirit used Luke’s unique curiosity, his education, and his skills as a historian and story-teller, as instruments in producing the Gospel that we have today, and that is so precious to us today. And the reason why Luke’s Gospel is so precious to us - together with the other three Gospels - is because our saving faith in Jesus Christ is birthed and nurtured through these sacred texts.
Like St. Luke, we do not live by the axiom, “Seeing is believing.” We are willing to believe things that are of eternal significance for us, and that fill us with the comfort of divine forgiveness in Christ, on the basis of what others have faithfully reported.
Our wills have been liberated and enlightened by God’s Spirit through their word, which is also God’s Word. And in this, Luke is like us, and we are like him.
Luke is like us, and we are like him, also in the fact that we - at least in this congregation - are gentiles. Our ancestors were not among the chosen people of God in ancient times. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not our forefathers.
There were many in Jesus’ time, among the Jews, who would have thought that our not being of Jewish heritage would keep us cut off from God - or at the very least would place us in a permanent second-class status with God.
The first major controversy in the early church was the debate over whether gentiles should be allowed to receive Christian baptism without previously having received circumcision, and thereby first converting to Judaism.
The apostolic council of Jerusalem - which St. Luke describes in the Book of Acts - made it clear that gentiles as gentiles were indeed welcome into the fellowship of the Christian church, and that they would have equal standing in the church with Jewish believers in Jesus.
Few if any today imagine that Christianity is a faith just for Jews - although many of our Jewish friends think that it is a faith that is specifically not for Jews. What Luke represents, is not only the loving truth of the Great Commission that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for gentiles as well as for Jews, but more broadly that this gospel is for everyone. It is for all nations, and for all people within each nation.
We quote from St. Luke’s Gospel, as he quotes what Jesus said to his disciples:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. ... Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Today, the lines that people sometimes draw regarding who should or should not be expected to believe in Jesus, are not ethnic or racial lines. They are instead cultural lines, or lines between the educated and the uneducated.
But Luke’s ministry as an Evangelist, and his very existence as an educated Greco-Roman man, erase those lines.
The message of Christ crucified for sinners, is a message that is for all sinners. No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. What you have been taught in this church about God and his will for you, is all true.
It is most certainly true that God created you, so that you are accountable to him, and are loved by him. It is most certainly true that God redeemed you through the saving work of his Son, who is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and who is your righteousness.
It is most certainly true that God is sanctifying you even now through the working of his Spirit, who brings the blessings of Christ to you, who gives you the mind of Christ, and who recreates you in the image of Christ.
It is a good thing - a very good thing - that God provides unchanging written Scriptures that allow the church in each generation to know his unchanging truth, regarding these and other things. And so we can appreciate what Luke writes in the prologue to his Gospel, when he says:
“It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Amen.
25 October 2020 - Reformation - Psalm 119:46
“I will also speak of your testimonies before kings, O Lord, and shall not be put to shame.”
We sang these prayerful words from Psalm 119 in today’s Introit. This is what that Psalm says in the larger context, before and after that particular verse:
“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your precepts.”
“I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.”
This prayer is a good summary of what it is about the Reformation of the sixteenth century that we celebrate. And this prayer is a good summary of what it is about the Reformation of the sixteenth century that continues to speak to us today, and to guide and instruct us today.
“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.”
Christians are saved from the guilt and power of sin, and they are restored to fellowship with God, by God’s grace alone, and not by their own spiritual efforts or religious works. God’s steadfast love comes to us, before we do anything to earn that love, or to make ourselves worthy of it.
And God’s salvation in Christ comes to us from outside of ourselves, to give us a spiritual life that must be received from God as his gift, if it is to be had at all. We are by nature sinful and unclean. A new nature, in the image of Christ our Savior, is birthed by God’s Spirit within his penitent and believing people.
The promise of salvation is made to us, and we are invited to believe that promise - and personally to receive all its benefits - not because of who we are, but because of who God is. And that promise comes to us, so that we can know it and grasp it, in God’s Word.
We trust in God, when we trust in the Word of God. In his Word God tells us what he is really like. Fallen humanity, left to its own imagination, would probably assume otherwise: but God’s Word tells us that he is holy, and does not wink at sin, or at the pain and human destruction that it causes.
And in his Word, God also tells us what we are really like: so that we can see and admit what our deepest needs and problems are; and, so that we can recognize God’s gracious way of satisfying those needs, and solving those problems, in the gospel of his Son.
The Scriptures in particular are a special gift of God to his church, so that his voice among us will never be silenced. In the Scriptures, the church has an accurate, objective standard by which God’s genuine voice can be recognized - in the midst of a cacophony of contradictory human and demonic voices that would seek to confuse us and distract us.
We do not trust in those voices, even when they flatter us. We do not trust in those voices, when they lie to us about God, about God’s grace, and about our need for God’s grace.
Instead, we join our hearts to the prayer of the Psalmist, when he declares in humble gratitude to the Lord: “I trust in your word.”
The prayer of the Psalmist, and our prayer, continues with these words:
“And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your precepts. I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.”
The divine Word that we have heard, has produced some major changes: changes in our relationship and standing with a righteous yet forgiving God, and changes within us. One of the things that God’s Word has instilled in our hearts and minds, is a desire to speak that Word.
This touches on what Luther and the Reformers were talking about when they spoke of the common priesthood of all baptized Christians. This doesn’t mean that every Christian can be his own pastor. But it does mean that every Christian is a child of God, who can pray to God, and speak of God to others.
Jesus, of course, was the true and ultimate priest sent from God. As the divine-human Savior, and as our substitute, he made satisfaction for our sins, and offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross: to redeem us, and to break down the barrier between humanity and God that humanity’s sins had erected.
And now, as we trust in that sacrifice, and receive the benefits of it by faith, we, as God’s holy priesthood, offer our own sacrifices. The sacrifices we offer are not the same as the sacrifice of Christ.
We do not appease God or earn his favor by anything that we do or offer. God has already been fully and completely appeased by the atonement accomplished by Jesus.
But as a response to Jesus’ sacrifice, and as a response to the deliverance from divine judgment that the sacrifice of Christ has accomplished for us, we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. Here in church, and out in the world, this takes the form of the testimony that we give before others, in thanksgiving, of what God has done for us.
We invite fellow Christians to rejoice with us in the mercy of Christ. And we invite those who do not yet know him, to receive what we have received, and then to join us as well, in praising God for his goodness.
In the prayer of today’s text, we do not ask God only to preserve his Word in our hearts. Instead we say: “take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your precepts.”
And then, in the verse that was included in the Introit, we declare to the Lord: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.”
Lutherans often apply this verse to what happened when Martin Luther stood before Emperor Charles at the Diet of Worms in 1521, and declared, “Here I stand.” They also often apply this verse to the day when the Augsburg Confession was publicly read in 1530, likewise in the presence of Charles.
But these are not the only times in history when God’s people have had opportunities to proclaim the message of Christ before individuals of high earthly authority.
And even if you don’t know any kings or rulers, and even if you never have a chance to speak with such people, you can speak with those whom you do know: passing on to them God’s message of redemption and reconciliation in Christ, and inviting them to believe what God says.
And there is no embarrassment to be felt when you do speak of these things.
If the adherents of deadly and deceptive religions are not ashamed to proclaim their false beliefs around the globe, and from door to door in our neighborhoods, why should we be ashamed to proclaim to all nations the loving message of a loving God: who created all men; who has been reconciled to all men through the death of Christ; and who desires all men to be at peace with him, and with each other, through faith in Christ?
Indeed, as witnesses of the Lord, and of his good and gracious will for all men, we “shall not be put to shame.”
And finally, today’s prayer from Psalm 119 goes on to say this: “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.”
As far as the law of God is concerned, we recognize that the Ten Commandments convict us, when they impress upon us what God’s law demands of us; and when they compel us to admit that we have often failed to fulfill these demands. God’s commandments in this sense show us our need for Christ, and drive us to repentance.
But for those who do repent of their sins, and who rejoice in the forgiveness that Christ has won for them, the Ten Commandments become a guide, and not just a threat. The Christian’s new nature is a nature that loves God and his law, and that wants to serve God by serving the neighbor, in God’s name.
According to this new nature, we eagerly seek to grow in our understanding of what God’s law teaches us for the fulfilling of our vocations in this world: regarding the value of all human life, both born and unborn; regarding the integrity and purpose of marriage and family; regarding the respect that is to be shown toward the reputation and property of the neighbor; and regarding our calling in general to be a friend to the friendless, and a helper to the helpless.
In this respect, we do “delight” in God’s commandments.
But the concept of a “commandment” from God can also be seen as a gospel concept. Sometimes we speak of the “mandatum Dei,” or of the commandment or mandate of God, in conjunction with our Lord’s institution of the sacraments.
Jesus told the apostles: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” He also told the apostles: “Do this in remembrance of me”; “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And with the faith that Christ’s Spirit has given us, and that he continually strengthens within us through the means of grace, we deeply love these special commandments of Jesus, because we deeply love the sacraments that these commandments of Jesus established and set in motion for us.
The Sacrament of the Font that Christ commanded his church to administer and receive is a miraculous “washing of regeneration.” We are baptized only once, but the saving power of our baptism remains with us, as we walk with Christ in newness of life.
Every day, your baptism calls you to die to self once again in repentance, and to rise in Christ once again by faith.
The Sacrament of the Altar that Christ commanded his church to administer and receive is a miraculous bestowing of his true body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins; and for the renewal of the life and salvation that always accompany this forgiveness. In the most intimate of ways, Christ abides with us, and lives in us, through this mystical Supper.
In word and deed, we will testify before princes and paupers - and before everyone else - that we will not give up these divinely-instituted sacraments, for we find our delight in these commandments, which we love.
In word and deed, we will testify before all men that we will not give up the divinely-revealed faith that we embrace, and that has embraced us.
And in word and deed, we will testify to our friends and neighbors that we would greatly rejoice if they, too, would receive and embrace this faith.
We believe that what Jesus says is true. While we await the eternal fulfillment of God’s saving promises in Christ - for as long as we have life and breath - we will therefore hear and heed what Jesus says in today’s Gospel from St. John:
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
God’s Word and sacraments bring God’s grace to us, in accordance with the truth of Holy Scripture. In faith we receive what God gives, and are set free from the guilt and power of sin by his forgiveness.
By God’s grace and with his help, we will abide in this hope, and in the Word of our Savior, until the end. And, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings, O Lord, and shall not be put to shame.” Amen.