Festival of the Reformation (John 8:31-36)

Zion Lutheran Church, Corvallis, OR

Festival of the Reformation + October 29, 2017

Text: John 8:31-36

“The Son Sets Us Free with His Word”

 

The Reformation was truly a blessed turn in Church History.  It meant that the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread into a world that was darkened with the teaching that sinful men must make it up to God by striving to do good works.   The Gospel freed people from the burden of believing they earned their way to heaven.  That’s why this text from John 8 has been chosen for the celebration of the Reformation.

 

One of the great outcomes of the Reformation was putting the Word of God in the people’s language.  For centuries in Western Christianity, it had been enshrined in Latin, which only the educated knew.  On top of that, only those who could afford it could be educated.  It was a situation which ensured the ignorance of the people in the pew because they couldn’t hear from God first-hand.  They relied on their clergy to tell them who God was, what He was like, and how He regardedthem.  If they said He was a stern judge who had to be appeased by good works, the people believed it.  If they were told that their dead father was in purgatory, and that paying for a Mass to be said in his honor would shorten his stay, people paid up.  How could they know any different?

 

In 1521, Martin Luther sought to change that by translating the New Testament (and later the Old Testament, 1534) into the German which people on the street were speaking.  Yet when he set out to do this, he didn’t start with the Latin which was the official version of the Church.  You see, Luther lived at a time when there was great interest in going back to the original sources and learning in the original languages.  The Latin Bible in use at that time had been handed down, revised here and there, but still it was a translation.  It would be like if someone sought to make a new translation and went to the King James Bible.  Luther went back to the original languages of Greek for the New Testament and Hebrew for the Old Testament.  Those were his sources, so that his translation was freed of the baggage that human tradition created.

 

Luther wasn’t the first to make this attempt. Others before him had tried—and been executed for their efforts, like Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Hus.  But Luther’s efforts came at the right point in history and God blessed his labors to spread the Bible in the language of the people.  With the help of the printing press the German New Testament made its way into the homes of common people.   It was the first time in Christian history that God’s Word was so widely available and that it was in the language of the masses.

 

This brought a tremendous freedom to its readers and hearers.  Instead of being slaves ordered around by the whims of their learned teachers, the whole congregation was now able to receive God’s Word first hand.  “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  The Son of God sets us free with His Word.

 

 

Through Luther’s German Bible, He set people free to read for themselves what God says, and to see that it didn’t match what their teachers had been telling them.  They read in 1 Timothy 2, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”—not the practice of praying to saints or Mary.  In Romans 3, they read, “We conclude that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law”—that there is no good work or amount of works we can do to win God’s favor.  The people read for themselves the warning words of the Lord Jesus in Mark 7, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”—

and they could see that no person, not even the pope, has the authority to add or subtract teachings from the Word of God.

 

By having the Word of God purely preached and taught, the people were free to be Christians.  They could humbly confess their sins, confident that the forgiveness which their pastor spoke was in fact Christ’s forgiveness.  They could wake up in the morning and mark themselves with the sign of the cross, not out of empty ritual, but in thanksgiving for the act by which God made them His own child.  They could go to the Lord’s Supper, receiving it according to the way Christ intended—His Body and His Blood with the comfort of the forgiveness of their sins and the new life that is theirs in their risen Savior.  They could serve their neighbor, knowing that their daily callings of family and work are pleasing in God’s sight and blessed by Him.

 

The legacy of the Reformation continues today, because God’s Word is so freely available in so many languages.  Wycliffe Bible Translators reports that the complete Bible is available in 636 languages, and the New Testament is available in 1442 more.  That means that people of over 2,000 different tongues can hear God’s Word and of Christ the Savior, that they might repent of their sins and believe in Jesus.  That works out to 5.82 billion people who have the Bible available to them.[1]  It’s simply astounding what’s happened over the course of 500 years!

 

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Through His Word, the Son truly sets us free!  He has freed us from sin—“whoever believes in Him is not condemned.” He has freed us from death—“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  He has freed us from the power of the devil—“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”[2]

 

But it’s all too easy for us to return to Egypt, to the house of slavery.  How could this happen?  By not abiding in His liberating Word  Before the Reformation, when the Scriptures were in Latin, the people had to rely on their teachers to tell them what the Bible said.  Today, in 21st century America, we have the Bible readily available for everyone to read, and yet we defer all kinds of teachers who claim to be biblical.

 

 

Take, for instance the widespread believe that a person must accept Jesus into their heart in order to be saved.  This goes hand in hand with the belief that children ought not to be baptized until they reach a maturity when they become “accountable” to God for their spiritual life.[3]  Even though these beliefs are widespread, would it surprise you to hear they are not found in the Bible?  The Bible does not talk about conversion in terms of a our conscious “acceptance,” but rather “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”[4]  Everywhere (including here in the Gospel today) God speaks about our spiritual condition as enslaved, or elsewhere as dead, or needing to turn and become like a newborn child.[5]  If we want to speak about how an enemy becomes a child of God, we should actually use the language God does.  After all, He’s the only One who is able to bring us to Himself, and only He actually knows how it happens.  “Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ.” and “Whoever has ears, let him hear.”[6]

 

Another teaching that’s widespread in Christianity today is that of the rapture and the millennium.  This teaching was popularized by John Darby in the 1830’s.  Think about that: It was not taught for the first 1800 years of the New Testament Church, and now people accept it as true?  As for the rapture, there are only two “proof texts.”  One of them, in Matthew 24, says, 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.”  Uh oh! Better not be “left behind.”  But just read the context: 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”  Jesus is telling of His return, and He is comparing it to the Flood.  The wicked were the ones who were swept away and taken!  So if you actually read the text for yourself, you find that you do want to be “left behind” because it means by faith you are saved from destruction.

 

The 7 year tribulation and the millennium can be debunked too if you read the Word of God as a whole, and don’t let cherry-picked verses from Revelation or Daniel be the primary teaching.  Ready all of Matthew 4 and 25.  There, you will find that Jesus describes a single Last Day, which will come like a thief in the night, that “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  Chapter 25 details how to be ready for that last Great Day, because the Day of Christ’s return is the Day of Resurrection and is the Day of Judgment.  There’s no need for more testing or second chances because salvation happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Last Day judgment is whether or not men believe that!

 

The point is that Christians today can still be greatly deceived if they entrust their faith to Johnny-come-lately preachers who pull Bible verses out of context.  At best they have a marred understanding of God, and at worst they become members of a cult.  It doesn’t matter who said it if it can’t stand against the scrutiny of God’s own Word.  Jesus tells us in more than one place how to interpret the Bible: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  And regarding the task of preaching the Word, He says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”[7]  Anything apart from this is false teaching and of the devil—even if it has chapters and verses all over it.

 

The Reformation was a momentous occasion in Church history because it was a wake-up call to hear and believe the Word of God.   It didn’t have anything to do with Martin Luther, and it’s a sad state of affairs that Christians are associated with a mere man’s name.  But this day I am proud to be a Lutheran because of what that name stands for.

 

“Lutheran” stands for a Christianity that is firmly rooted in the almighty Word of God, and refuses to be diluted by human wisdom.  Lutheran stands for preaching the Word of God, trusting that this Word which goes forth from His mouth is always effective.[8]  The same Lord who created the heavens and the earth in six 24-hour days is also able by that Word to bring sinners to repentance, enlighten minds darkened by sin, to forgive sins by a word put on the lips of a man, to consecrate water to be a washing of regeneration and for bread and wine to be the very Body and Blood of Christ.

 

Why Lutheran instead of others?  It all comes down to the pure teaching of God’s Word, unabridged and without human annotation.  Whoever would teach you something contrary to that Word is a false prophet and can only bring you back into slavery of sin, death, and the devil.   It doesn’t matter if they’re likable or charismatic, and that’s the reason their church is packed.  It doesn’t even matter if their intentions seem to be good, as when the condemnation of sexual sins is minimized in an effort to “minister” to them (the ministry they truly need is the call to repentance and faith).  Wherever the pure teaching of God’s Word is, there is the Church of God.  This is what Luther taught and this is what it means to follow in that tradition.

 

The Reformation isn’t just something that began 500 years ago, and it didn’t happen just under one man.  As Martin Luther penned in his Small Catechism, it is the Holy Spirit (He’s the real Reformer) who “calls, gathers, and enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  It is God’s will that we should be freed from sin, death, and the devil by His Word.  As we pray the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer—for God’s Name to be hallowed, for His Kingdom to come, and for His will to be done—we are praying that the Reformation continue in every age until Christ’s glorious return. Amen.

[1] https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/about/our-impact

[2] John 3:18; John 11:25-26; 1 John 3:8

[3] John MacArthur, a popular teacher defends this doctrine: https://www.gty.org/library/Articles/A264

[4] John 3:6-7

[5] Ephesians 2:1, Matthew 18:3, 1 Peter 2:2

[6] Romans 10:17 and Matthew 13:9

[7] John 5:39-40; Luke 24:46-47

[8] Isaiah 55:10-11

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 22:15-22)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost + October 22, 2017 (Baptism of Miles H)

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

We like either/or questions, like do we need to pay taxes or NOT?  We’d love the answer to be as simple as a computer flipping between 0 and 1.

 

It still seems like a simple matter when Jesus takes the coin and divides between rendering to Caesar and rendering to God.  Would that it were that simple, that we knew what belonged to our temporal life and we were perfectly dutiful to parents and other authorities, that we would build ideal societies marked by justice and equity, that people would always treat each other with dignity because we are members of the same human family.

 

Maybe paying taxes isn’t really that hard, but what about the other thing? “Render to God the things that are God’s.”  Just as there is an image on the coin, there is an image on men and women.  God put it there in the beginning:

 

God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27         So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

 

We were made as image-bearers for God—righteous and obedient, holy, loving God and what is good, pure in thought, word, and deed.

 

What happened?  Sin happened, and brought with it unrighteousness and disobedience, hatred of God and love for what is evil, and uncleanliness down to our very heart.  On top of all that, death came into the world as the just consequence of sin.  “And death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12)

 

Using the image on the coin as an analogy, when sin came into the world, the image that God had made us in was marred down to the core.  What remains is but the faintest shadow of the original.   It’s like a penny that’s been rubbed beyond recognition, except worse than losing its outward appearance, even the metal inside has become corroded.[1]

 

Because the original mint (Adam and Eve) were corrupted, so have all their offspring been.  “Flesh gives birth to flesh,” our Lord told Nicodemus in John 3:6.  Because of sin, “flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”[2]  There is no solution of vinegar and salt to clean away sin, because it goes much deeper than the surface.  There is no alchemy which can make us pure to the core like our first parents once were.

 

Yet, we must still give account and render to God what is God’s.  What can possibly be done?!

 

God could have destroy us altogether and started from scratch.  He came close before the Flood when it says,

 

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

 

Right there, He could have made an utter end to the whole mint of humanity.  Back to the drawing board.  But God didn’t.  Instead, in verse 8, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  His solution was not to destroy the flesh He had made, but to redeem and renew it.

 

His solution is to send “one like a Son of Man”[3] who stands in our place.  He is like us in every way except without sin, for He was born of the Virgin Mary.[4]  He is at the same time the exact imprint of His divine Father,[5] and at the same time our brother in human flesh.  Therefore, He is able to render to God what we owe.  He is the perfect man, Jesus Christ the Righteous, Behold the Man—James 1, 1 John 1, John 19.

 

Baptism is the beginning of restoring that image to render to God what in reality was His all along.

 

Romans 6:3-4 (p. 942) – Jesus saves us by His death and resurrection, and Baptism brings that saving work directly to you.

 

Titus 3:5-7 (p. 999)

God’s way of saving us is actually through water.

Baptism has the power of regeneration—it is a new creation.

Baptism has the power of renewal by the Holy Spirit

 

Colossians 3:1-10 (p. 984)

In the baptismal life, God is at work.

He puts to death and destroys what is corrupt in us

He is restoring His image in us, restoring us to the image of Christ the sinless Man.

 

Romans 8:29-30: 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

 

This is God’s eternal plan: To bring us out of corruption and into immortality through Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus, our Savior, has rendered to God what none of us was able to.  He paid the price of our sin by offering up His sinless body and soul on the cross.  Because He has paid your way, you are free.  By His Holy Spirit you are being restored into the image God made you to be and into which you will be for all eternity. Amen.

 

[1] Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article II – Original Sin

(http://bookofconcord.org/fc-ep.php#I.%20Original%20Sin)

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:50

[3] Daniel 7:13-14

[4] Hebrews 2:14-17 and Hebrews 4:15

[5] Hebrews 1:3

Christian Funeral of Helen May Daily (John 10:11-16, 27-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Christian Funeral of Helen May Daily – October 18, 2017

Text: John 10:11-16, 27-30

Helen was a woman who was full of service.  From her twenties on, she served in this congregation, working in the Ladies Aid.  She loved gardening, so she helped with the flowers and bushes around the church.  She helped prepare and serve meals both at church and to those she invited to her home.  Best of all, she loved doing it.  When I would visit her while she was homebound, she always mentioned how much she missed being at church, being involved in the activities and the fellowship, serving together with others.

 

With such a fervent desire to serve, it was painful to see her health ailing so much that she couldn’t be where she wanted to be, doing what she was so inspired to do.  I would tell how everyone missed her and was thinking about her and praying for her.  But I would also tell her that sometimes the Lord takes our ability to serve away.  (In fact, this is what makes the way for new faces to be inspired by the Lord to serve!)  But for Helen, it was still sad to know that time had passed, and all she wanted to do was have liberty to be at church!

 

Where did this spirit of serving come from?  What made her so generous with her time and enlarged her heart to do what she did?  It came because she knew her Good Shepherd, Jesus.  Who is He?  Hear Him tell it, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Of all the serving that Helen did, Jesus served first.  Of all the love that she showed her family and others, her Savior loved her first.  The Son of God saw the world in its need—every person—and He entered our world on Christmas to serve us.  He says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”[1]  And serve He did, completely, and to the very end.

 

If there would be any hope of being saved from condemnation, every person needs to be pure and holy before God.  If someone asks, who deserves to be with God in heaven, you might get a lot of answers.  Helen, someone might say, because of all the good that she did.  Maybe great philanthropists who gave and gave to others would also make the cut in our opinion.

 

But what does God say about worthiness?  In Psalm 15, He says, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?  He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.”  But God excludes every person except One in Psalm 14, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”  If we, who are flesh and blood, are indeed to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” (Psalm 23:6) it must be on the merits of Jesus alone.  And in Him, we have been clothed in the holiness needed to live in God’s presence.

 

Jesus, the Good Shepherd came seeking the lost.  He found us just as we are in our sin, and He served us in this, our greatest need.  Without a hint of deserving it—even before we might ask Him to—He laid down His life on our behalf; He gave everything He had for our good.

 

It’s this love that filled Helen with gratitude and inspired her generous service to others.  Her service was not anything extraordinary by itself.  Rather, it was the amazing result of being one who is redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  So she simply served with the abilities with which God had gifted her, and she was happy to do it—after all her Savior had done for her and her family.

 

When Jesus laid down His life for Helen and all His flock, He not only served our greatest need, but He also gave us eternal hope.  Jesus says about His flock, 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  Everyone who the Lord has gathered around Himself in faith has this firm bedrock for their life.

 

Helen had a very slow decline of health, but even as her body withered, she drew nearer to what the Lord had won for her—eternal life.  This she could confidently hold to, because as Paul says in Romans 8, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

 

This hope is also what undergirds all our life, for there is one flock under one Shepherd.  We’ve seen a lot of our brothers and sisters leave this life, who have served for many years.  Yet the Good Shepherd is still with us, just as He is with them.  We believe; they see Him face to face.  The one flock spans heaven and earth, and in that we have confidence for today and whatever may come in the future.   Just as the Good Shepherd was faithful to lead Helen and others we know who have fallen asleep in the faith, He will still guide us.  Whatever may come in this life, whether prosperity or affliction, we will follow because He goes before us.

 

Commend your lives into the care of Helen’s Good Shepherd and yours!  Serve Him gladly out of the great love He has shown you.  He is always faithful, and always strong to comfort, restore, and strengthen His flock to follow Him. Amen.

 

[1] Matthew 20:28

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 22:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 15, 2017

Text: Matthew 22:1-18

In both the Old and New Testaments, God describes His people as  “kingdom of priests.”  In Exodus 19 He says, “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  The Apostle Peter reiterates this when he writes to New Testament Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[1]

 

But really, what does it mean that God calls us a royal priesthood?  Are we to walk around in long robes and never stray far from the proverbial temple?  Does the command to “touch no unclean thing” mean we should isolate ourselves from those we think are unbelievers?

 

This Gospel reading gets at one of the main things it means for the Church to be a kingdom of priests is to represent God to those around us.   That means praying for people and showing them the love and mercy our heavenly Father.  But, it sometimes means being His messengers.  Remember how God desires all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth?  To this end He sent His Son to die to the sins of the world, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  This is what He wants for all people—every person we meet.

 

In this parable, we see two ways that plays out.  The first is that the Church is to call people out of false security in this life.  The Church is sent out with the unique message that everyone must repent and be reconciled to God before it’s too late.  We are to warn them to flee from the wrath to come and return to the Lord—whether this means showing them their sin by their false ideas about God, the lapsed attendance and avoiding hearing God’s Word, or amending a life that is not God-pleasing.  But this isn’t always successful, as we hear in the parable:

 

First they go out to invite them on the King’s authority.  That should be enough, because if the King invites you, you do well to listen.  But they ignore this summons.  Then, the messengers go out with the good news, “See I have prepared my dinner…everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!”  If their refusal were a matter of ignorance, this ought to eliminate that obstacle.  Now they even know that the King who summons them bids them come on His expense to a great banquet.  But even the Good News is met with indifference or hostility.

 

That’s how it is in our generation, and has been in the past.  Today the Gospel is more widely known than perhaps at any other time in human history, yet in the Western world it is met with the greatest apathy.  If Wal-Mart were giving away free 65” TV’s, you would have more people line up than would come to the divine service where God freely bestows peace with Him and the hope of eternal life.  We find more pleasure in the things of this life—our jobs, our stuff, and our families—than in the heavenly peace which could undergird our enjoyment of all these temporal gifts.

 

When the Church gathers them in, it’s also to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Every person who comes through these doors should hear the Bible.  They need to know how serious God is about His holy Law, how we have fallen short of the glory of God, and that for the sake of Christ, your sins are forgiven.

 

It’s too easy for us to make this about “going to Church” and satisfying a religious desire or nostalgia.

 

The situation of the man without the wedding garment is pitiable because—as far as humanly possible—he should not have been allowed to be a false saint in God’s Church on earth.  He should have heard that God wrath is not appeased by simply “going to church” and acting like a good Christian.

 

On the other hand, it’s pitiable for him because perhaps he did hear this and he refused to heed the call to repentance.  Perhaps he persisted in his preference for “old time” religion that talks about hell but doesn’t actually believe in such a place, or talks about Jesus but more as a mythical figure to help us psychologically deal with guilt.

 

So we see that the Church isn’t just a social club vying for increased membership, fighting against the tide of being obsolete.  We also see that the Church isn’t just another non-profit “after your money.”

 

What we are called to be is a light to the world, the salt of the earth.  We are a kingdom of priests to our God, whose calling it is to witness to those around us that there is salvation in no one else except Jesus Christ.  There is no way to have assurance and peace in the face of disease and death except through the promise of resurrection.

[1] Exodus 19:5-6; 1 Peter 2:9

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 21:33-46)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 21:33-46

 

It’s the call to every generation to not make the Church our own possession.

 

You have certain privileges as a renter, and certain other privileges as a homeowner.  A renter may have permission to paint the interior, but maybe with the condition that they paint it white when they leave.  When it’s cold, a renter can put plastic on the windows, but can’t rip the windows out to replace them.  Renters also have responsibilities to the owner—to maintain the property and not endanger it, to come up with rent money on time, to leave if asked.

 

We are renters of a sort of His Church and the things of God.  Example of the Pharisees who had coopted the Holy Law and made themselves masters of it.  The papacy claiming it had the authority to open and close heaven, and to free souls from a supposed purgatory.  Lutherans thinking they have the only true understanding of God’s Word (let the reader understand putting Lutheran before Christian), or making the Lord’s Supper their private judgment of who is worthy.

 

Everything we have is on loan and we are but stewards.

 

What we’ve been given is not a castle, but a vineyard.  It’s meant to produce fruit for the joy of salvation.  We’re never to keep this inheritance to ourselves, but to share it with everyone the Lord would have—meaning, all people.

 

This is something Lutherans (including their pastors) today are especially guilt of.  We become exclusive and isolationist.  Let me just have my little corner of the Christian church and I’ll be comfortable.  Let put all my ducks in a row, the doctrine, the liturgy, the music (I’m preaching to myself), and that’s what it means to be church.  But this is not the fruits of the Lord’s vineyard any more than the Pharisees.  The fruits of faith are in showing the world who our God and Savior is by word and example.

 

James says religion that is pure and undefiled is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  It’s a faith that is lived out in mercy and compassion for our neighbors and still holds the pure Word of God.

 

For everyone who tries to make the Kingdom of God their own possession will find themselves not only empty handed, but cast into the outer darkness.  We must repent of our wicked ways, and the Lord will forgive and restore because even though the people of His planting should become unfaithful, He remains faithful to His work: He forgives and renews the people who are called by His Name.  He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relents of disaster.

 

This is a challenge to us to work this part of the Lord’s vineyard so that it produces fruit in its season.  If this is indeed a place where Jesus Christ and His Word are faithfully proclaimed, prove it by inviting your friends and neighbors.  Don’t worry if they will think the liturgy or hymns are foreign.  Let the Spirit work on them through the Word (after all, it’s laced through the whole service).  You might be surprised!

 

It’s also a challenge for our community of faith to get outside of these four walls.  Look in our community and listen for opportunities.  How can we be of service to show God’s abundant, no-strings attached kind of love to our neighbors?  Are there needs we can rise up to meet where we might have an opportunity to witness to a person who would never dream of entering a church.

LWML Sunday (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

LWML Sunday – October 1, 2017

Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-5

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

 

Usually it’s helpful to know ahead of time what to expect.  Before you leave on a trip, it’s helpful to know if there’s going to be traffic.  But sometimes the news of what to expect can be overwhelming or scary.

 

  1. These words tell us what the Church is up against.
  • Paul writes this warning to Timothy to prepare him for what he will face, and in some ways what he might already be facing.

 

  • This isn’t earth-shattering news, because this is how it has been in the fallen world between God’s people and the messengers He sends. But like the prophets of old, Timothy is to preach the Word regardless of how people receive it, and to do this with patience and teaching.

 

  • 500 years ago this year, during the time of the Reformation, this was also true. God put His Gospel on the lips of men even though they were persecuted by those who called themselves church.

 

  • It seems to be even more true today, facing a hostile culture and a post-Reformation world where everyone with a Bible and Google thinks they are an expert in God’s Word.

 

  1. But pastors can’t and don’t do it alone.
  • Spreading the Gospel to thousands across the Mediterranean did not happen overnight, and it did not happen solely through the missionary efforts of Paul. He was helped by other apostles, new pastors like Timothy, couples like Prisca and Aquila, and the support of Christians at various congregations.
  • The Reformation was not done by Martin Luther alone, but by other professors, hymnwriters, publishers, and especially by parents using the Small Catechism along with bringing their children to church regularly.
  • So it is today that pastors are not the heroes of the Church, single-handedly holding congregations and the Church at large together. They are only one part of many others in whom the Spirit moves.  They do it with the prayers and prayerful giving of auxiliaries like the LWML.

 

  • And it succeeds and bears fruit not because of God’s blessing upon the Word preached at the Word believed.
  • 75 years ago when the LWML was formed, the women saw the dire need for a world which needs to hear God’s Word and believe in Jesus as Savior. The women knew they themselves weren’t going to become missionaries, but they pledged their support of those who do.  They gave their money and pooled it together, and along with their prayers they have been able to help spread and preserve the Gospel to people from all over the world.  Such a little thing as change in mite boxes, the Lord uses to do glorious things.
  • In 2017, we reflect on all that’s happened since the Reformation, but even while it was spreading like wildfire, Martin Luther noted, “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all.” Such a great thing as the Reformation which changed the landscape of the Western Church for centuries, was accomplished by the Word not by human ingenuity,
  • The Word of God is at work as it is preached, your hearts just as it was in generations past. It didn’t happen through just one or two people, but as members of a body Christ has been at work.  The Gospel which is preached all over the world is God’s work bringing men and women into His Kingdom forever.
  • So it is that Bethlehem Lutheran Church would be nothing except that the Word has been at work in you, in parents teaching their children and bringing them to Sunday School and Church. The Spirit has been at work moving men and women to build up this congregation, to come together as a fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ.