Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 21)
September 26, 2010
Text: Amos 6:1-7; Luke 16:19-31

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1; ESV). It is a prophetic Word for a people who have become complacent, who have neglected the poor, who do not mourn for the afflicted, who have made Mammon their god. This is the Word of the LORD to those who lie on beds of ivory and luxuriate on their couches, feasting and drinking wine by the bowlful, while the precious lambs whom our Lord Jesus Christ has purchased with His own blood are sacrificed in their name on Mammon’s altars. These are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. These are not grieved over the ruin of God’s people. This Word of the LORD is a warning for all those who worship at the altar of pleasure and possessions and riches: The Judgment is coming! “Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,” says the prophet Amos to the rich in Israel of old, “and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away” (v. 7). But the message is not just for the rich in ancient Israel. It is a message for us today, for every one of us who is enticed by the false promises of the god, Mammon… every one of us who look to our savings accounts and our jobs and our real estate, or any created gift, for security… every one of us who place our own comfort and security above that of our neighbor in need. That means that this message is for me. And that means that this message is for you, beloved in the Lord. Repent.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable this morning is one who is at ease in Zion. He has become complacent, which is to say, self-satisfied, self-righteous, smug. He neglects the poor in their time of need. And for the rich man, this is not just a theoretical negligence. He has a flesh and blood poor man named Lazarus lying at his gate. The rich man cannot plead ignorance. Lazarus’ plight is obvious. He is covered in sores. He has no one to care for him. He has no shelter. He has no food. He is sick unto death, and begs only the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, the crumbs that go to the dogs. The rich man withholds even this mercy. Only the dogs have compassion on Lazarus, licking his sores. Finally, Lazarus dies. And so ends the earthly part of the story.

It may surprise you, though, to learn that the rich man is devoutly religious. The people who gather at the rich man’s table for the daily feast love and revere the rich man for his great piety. He is held in honor by all. He is quite possibly a Pharisee, a religious leader, and in this parable Jesus is certainly indicting the Pharisees, who were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). In any case, the rich man is considered a shoe-in when it comes to eternal life. He zealously obeys the Law of Moses. His outward conduct is blameless. As for his riches, one might say he earned them. Clearly the material blessings enjoyed by the rich man are a result of God’s favor. Or so the rich man thought, and so thought his admirers. It is not uncommon for Christians today to draw similar conclusions. One who is materially blessed is perceived as favored by God. And of course, if this is the case, then one who is poor must not have God’s favor. Perhaps the poor have committed some grievous sin by which they merit their desperate condition. At the very least they must be lazy. “Get a job!” we say, and of course, there is a point to be made here, as Paul says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). But you know and I know that not all poor people are poor for lack of initiative. An economy like ours at the present moment makes this point all-too-clearly. But you get the idea. If the story ends with the death of Lazarus and the feasting of the rich man, which is to say, if we only see the story from the earthly perspective, we may think that the rich man has God’s favor, and Lazarus has God’s wrath. Both men get what they have coming to them.

But whatever the rich man’s wealth can buy, he cannot buy his way out of death. So the rich man also dies, and in death, we now see things from God’s perspective. In spite of his poverty and helplessness, Lazarus is in heaven, Abraham’s bosom, where he awaits the resurrection of the dead. In spite of his riches and honor, even in spite of his meticulous keeping of the Law, the rich man is in hell, Hades, the prison where the spirits of unbelievers are kept in torment for the Day of Judgment. There is a wide chasm between Abraham’s bosom and Hades, so that none can pass over from one to the other. The rich man, who enjoyed his good things and lived for his good things and worshiped his good things in this earthly life now had no good. He longed for even a drop of cold water from Lazarus’ finger to cool his burning tongue. Lazarus, who had no good thing in this earthly life now enjoys all that he lacked: comfort, healing, mercy. But it is just here that we may miss the whole point of the parable. It is not the riches of the rich man, the good things, that finally condemn him. It is his idolatry, his god, Mammon. Nor is it Lazarus’ poverty and suffering that save him. No beloved, don’t get the wrong idea here. Wealth is not condemned, but the love of money and the worship of Mammon. Poverty is not commended, but rather spiritual poverty, helplessness, the very opposite of the supposed self-sufficiency of the rich man. Lazarus is utterly helpless. He must be saved by someone else. He can do nothing for his own salvation. Beloved in the Lord, Lazarus is saved by grace alone. Lazarus is saved by faith.

The fundamental difference between the rich man and Lazarus is not wealth, or the lack thereof. It is faith. The rich man has wealth, but he has no faith. Lazarus has no wealth, but he has faith, faith in Christ, and in faith he is rich beyond all earthly treasure. He trusts in God. He trusts in His Savior. He brings nothing to the table in his dealing with God but his poverty and disease and inability to help himself. And he places it all at the foot of the cross. He casts himself on God’s mercy. The rich man does not trust God’s mercy. He does not believe he needs God’s mercy. Remember, he is self-sufficient. He is at ease in Zion. But it is an illusion. The rich man shows that he does not understand God’s mercy, because he does not have mercy on Lazarus. His lack of mercy demonstrates his lack of faith. It is only in hell, where he is beyond help, that the rich man shows any concern for others, namely, for his unbelieving brothers who are living just as he lived. “Send Lazarus to them, Father Abraham.” But God has already given the brothers the Word, Moses and the Prophets, the Holy Scriptures. And if they do not believe the Word, they will not believe even if someone should rise from the dead.

Beloved in the Lord, you cannot be saved by your wealth. Nor can you be saved by your poverty. You cannot be saved by your meticulous keeping of the Law. Nor will earthly suffering merit you God’s favor. You are saved by Jesus Christ alone. You are saved by His suffering. You are saved by His death for you. You are saved by His victorious resurrection. You are saved by faith in Christ. Faith is trust in the mercy of God on account of the sin-atoning work of Christ. By faith, you will stand with Lazarus on the Last Day. If you do not believe, if you reject the mercy of God, if you believe you are self-sufficient, then you will be in agony with the rich man in hell. By faith, when you breathe your last, the holy angels will carry you to the bosom of Abraham. In unbelief, the demons will drag you with them into everlasting torment.

But God’s mercy is so great, His love so steadfast, that He has given you the Word, the Holy Scriptures. And more than this, of course, someone has risen from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death and hell forever, for you. The Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, bring you the crucified, yet living and risen Christ! He is your Savior. He speaks His saving and forgiving Word to you. You are Baptized into Him. You have tasted, and will taste again this morning, His body and blood, given and shed for you for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. By these means of grace, your Lord Jesus Christ grants you His Holy Spirit, who creates and strengthens faith, so that you need not fear hell. Heaven is yours, because of Christ.

For rich or poor in terms of earthly wealth, you are poor in spirit. Like Lazarus, you can bring nothing to the table in your dealing with God but your poverty and disease and helplessness. You can bring nothing to the table but your sin. And it is precisely this that He heals. You are blessed, for the Lord Jesus came to save sinners. He came to save you. So do not be among those who are at ease in Zion. Do not allow Mammon to lull you into complacency at the expense of your afflicted brothers and sisters. Do not worship at that altar. Worship at this altar (pointing to the altar). YHWH is your God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is your God. Jesus Christ alone is your help and salvation. He showers His mercy upon you. So, receiving this mercy in abundant and never-ending supply, may it flow through you and to your neighbor in need. For your neighbor is not just theoretical. There are Lazaruses among us here this morning. There are Lazaruses living next door to you. The Lord has placed you here to help them. He has given you good things to help them. You do this not to earn salvation, but because you have been granted salvation already in Christ Jesus. This is your sacrifice of thanksgiving. This is the godliness with contentment that Paul speaks of in our Epistle, in which there is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). “[F]or we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (v. 7), except those who will believe in Christ on account of His mercy bestowed through us. That is our heavenly treasure. That we can take with us. But it is all by grace. The steadfast love of the Lord comfort you according to His promise in Christ Jesus (Ps. 119:76). For by His mercy alone, we live (v. 77). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 20)
September 19, 2010
Text: Luke 16:1-15

God, our heavenly Father, has made us His stewards in the world. Just as He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to work and tend His creation, so He has placed us in the world and given us a stewardship, a management, over His creation. So all that we have is a trust from Him, to be used for His glory, and in service to the neighbor. The plain truth is, we own nothing. All that we have belongs to God and has been entrusted to us for a time, namely, the time span of our earthly lives. It is to be used for God’s purposes, and not for selfish ends.

On Judgment Day, when our Lord Jesus returns visibly to judge the living and the dead, the books will be opened and our accounts examined. How have we used that over which the Lord has made us stewards? This is a frightful question, beloved. This question ought to strike terror in every heart. For how have we used our Master’s possessions? How have we used our money, our possessions, our vocations, our influence, our bodies, our families, our friends? How have we used that over which God has placed us in this life? Judgment Day is the Day on which an accounting must be made. And here is the dreadful reality: We have been unfaithful. We have neither used our Master’s possessions for His glory, nor out of love for our neighbor. We have kept back for ourselves that which does not belong to us in the first place. How can I give to my neighbor when I’m saving for retirement, for vacation, for a new toy? How can I give toward the mission of the Church when the economy is so sour and I could lose my job at any moment? How can I volunteer my time in service to my elderly next-door neighbor when there are so few hours in the day? How can I spend an extra hour in the house of God, when I’ve hardly have any time to relax? “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager’” (Luke 16:1-2; ESV; emphasis added). It is a frightful indictment. For God is the Master, and you are the unfaithful manager who has mismanaged and wasted God’s possessions.

What are you to do? The manager in the parable says to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (v. 3). You see, you have no ability to work your way out of this predicament. You have no ability to save your own life from poverty and death. You have no ability to work your own salvation. Nor can you beg it from others. When the Master pronounces judgment, you are helpless. Jesus tells this parable beforehand, before Judgment Day, so that you will know now what the verdict will be on that great and terrible Day if you are left in your sins. Just as there is a time in the parable for the dishonest manager to examine his accounts and ponder the coming judgment and the bleak future, so there is a time for you, from now until your death or the Day that Christ comes again. This time, a time of grace, an undeserved gift of God, is given to you so that you may come to a knowledge of your sins, of your mismanagement, and realize your utter helplessness before God’s righteous judgment. This time is given to you so that you may despair of your own abilities to work you way out of this predicament, that you may despair of all earthly help, that you repent. And that you cast yourself on the mercy of the Master, who is good and true; that finally you plead nothing but the blood and righteousness of Christ alone.

The dishonest manager, having despaired of himself and all earthly help, casts himself on the mercy of the master. He banks on that mercy. Knowing the master’s character, that he is an honorable man, the dishonest manager hatches a shrewd business plan that will bring favor to himself and favor to his master on the part of the master’s debtors. He calls his master’s debtors to himself and slashes their debts. The result will be an even greater devotion on the part of the debtors toward the master and toward the manager. The manager banks on the master’s mercy. For of course, the master can respond to this shrewd business deal in one of two ways: He can reverse the manager’s deal, demand the full debt be repaid, and throw the manager into prison. But if he does that, the debtors will despise him and remain devoted to the manager. Or he can honor the manager’s deal, have mercy on both the manager on the debtors, and be the object of the people’s love and devotion. The manager’s wager proves wise. The master is merciful. He is honorable. He honors the manager’s business deal and even commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

Now understand, Jesus is not commending dishonesty. He is commending shrewdness. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (v. 8). The dishonest manager, knowing the impending judgment, takes the master’s time of grace and plans for the future. Christians could learn from this, Jesus says. Be shrewd. This is your time of grace. Bank on the Master’s mercy. For your Master’s mercy is even more sure than that of the master in the parable. For your Master is not just some businessman. Your Master is God, and it is of His very essence to be merciful! It’s a sure bet. Jesus tells you to follow the example of the dishonest manager: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (v. 9). For that is a right and proper use of God’s gifts, of that over which He has made you stewards. Use what God gives you in service to your neighbor. Be generous. Be reckless. Give it away. Do you really think God will leave you in a lurch? Do you really think God will withdraw His hand of blessing? Do you really think God will run out of gifts to give you?

The question is really, are you living for this life, and the stuff of this life, unrighteous wealth, what Jesus calls “mammon”? Or are you living for the life to come? Because you can’t serve two M(m)asters. You can’t have two G(g)ods. Either you’ll hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. “You cannot serve God and money” (v. 13). If money is your God, if possessions are your gods, if things and people are your gods, if you’re living for this life and storing up treasure for this life, you’re wasting the Master’s possessions. Repent. You cannot work your way out of this predicament. You cannot make up for your unfaithfulness. Your only hope is in the Master’s mercy.

And beloved in the Lord, merciful He is! This is what He does for you. He sends His Son to forgive your debt. Not just 20% or 50%, but 100%! In His mercy, the Master sends His Son to pay your debt in full. He sends His Son to die, to be betrayed and suffer and be crucified, to endure the punishment for your unfaithfulness in things great and small, for your wasting of God’s possessions, for your living for self. Jesus Christ, in His grace, though He was rich, almighty God and ruler of all things, for your sake became poor, that you by His poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). He gave His all for you, all that He has and all that He is, to redeem you. And having thus submitted Himself willingly into this humiliation for your sake, He has been exalted by God His heavenly Father, who raised Him from the dead and seated Him above all power and authority to rule all things at God’s right hand. All of this, beloved, is for you!

Can you really live for mammon after all of this? That is the old life, the life that you must crucify, the life that you must daily drown in the waters of your Baptism into Christ. That is the old sinful flesh. That would be like the dishonest manager, after having been commended by the master and restored to a position of honor, immediately reverting back to his old ways and once again facing the judgment and righteous wrath of the master. You’ve been freed from this, beloved. Do not enslave yourself once again to unrighteous wealth. Instead, use what God has entrusted to you for His glory, which means fulfilling the needs of your neighbor. Give alms. Help the poor. Be charitable. Tithe for the mission of the Church. Give your money. Give your time. Give your talents. Because your treasure is not in the stuff of this life, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Earthly wealth will fail you, if not in this life, then in death when you have to leave it all behind. Nor will any of this stuff help you in the Day of Judgment. Jesus is your priceless treasure. He is your only help. He is your only salvation: Christ, and Him crucified. And you are His treasure, for which He paid the price of His precious blood.

God has made you a steward over all that He has made. Everything good thing you have comes from God to be used for His purposes, for the Gospel, for your neighbor. Most importantly, God has given you mercy, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because without Him you cannot but fall, He preserves you from all things hurtful, and leads you to all things profitable for your salvation. You can bank on His mercy. For even when you are faithless, He is faithful. He cannot deny Himself. He must have mercy. He must forgive. He has forgiven you, and called you His child. In Christ, He has given you all things. And in the Day of Judgment, the only verdict pronounced upon you will be “Righteous,” on account of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in your place. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 19)
September 12, 2010
Text: Luke 15:1-10

The holy angels sang when God created the heavens and the earth (Job 38:7). They sang to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:13-14). When the heavenly choirs of angels lift their voices in songs of great rejoicing, great things are taking place. So it is profound when Jesus tells us “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10; ESV). Indeed, more than this, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7). The angels sing when a sinner repents, because the new creation wrought by the blood and death of Christ and manifest in His resurrection, bursts in upon the sinner, putting him to death, and raising him to new life in Christ. Here the word “repentance” is used in the broad sense meaning the entire conversion of a person from unbelief to faith in Christ. But it is not just that first conversion, the conversion from utter unbelief to faith in Christ that takes place when a sinner is first brought into the life of God by the Spirit working through the Word and Baptism. This repentance is also the conversion that must happen everyday in the life of the Christian, a continual returning to your Baptism where God drowns the old sinful flesh in you so that the new man in Christ daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity, which is to say, to live before God in faith. Martin Luther writes in the first of his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[1] The entire life of believers is to be a return to Baptism. The entire life of believers is to be that of death to sin and new life in Christ. And when this happens, the angels sing, and God delights in His sons and daughters, those redeemed by the blood of Christ, those who address Him as “Our Father.”

To repent is to return to God. But notice how this happens. This is not something that happens on the sinner’s own initiative. It is not a decision of the sinner to turn from sin and come to Jesus. The song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” gets it all wrong. It is the Lord Himself who takes the initiative. He finds the sinner. He decides to rescue the sinner. The action is all God’s on behalf of the sinner. And Jesus illustrates this for us this morning by means of two parables.

The stupid sheep leaves the shepherd and the ninety-nine other sheep and goes off on his own where there are wolves and robbers and poisonous weeds, and no protection from the shepherd. It would serve that rebellious sheep right to be left out there on his own to die. Once he’s out on his own, he’s helpless. He cannot help himself. He cannot find his way home to the shepherd. When a sheep realizes the danger he’s in, he’ll lay down and curl up and refuse to move. He’ll be a sitting duck when the predator comes along. But what happens in the parable? The shepherd, moved with great love for his one lost sheep, leaves the ninety-nine and goes out into the wilderness to find the lost one. The shepherd faces the same perils that threaten his sheep. He willingly puts himself in danger and suffers great pains to find his stupid, rebellious sheep. And when he finds the huddled mass out in the wilderness, too scared to move, even at the call of the good shepherd, he picks up that sheep and bears him on his shoulders all the way back home to the sheep pen. And then he throws a party. The whole neighborhood is invited. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (v. 6). The shepherd rejoices when the lost one is returned. So God, and the whole heavenly host, rejoice when one sinner repents. But again, notice how it happens. The sheep did not decide to return home. The shepherd decided to find the sheep. The shepherd returned the sheep. When the sheep was faithless, the shepherd was faithful. The shepherd’s faithfulness leads to great rejoicing.

The second parable further illustrates the helplessness of the lost one. There was a woman who had ten silver coins, drachmas, each worth about a day’s wages. This was probably the woman’s life savings, possibly even her dowry. One day she loses one of the coins. What can the coin do to find its way back to the woman? Nothing, of course! It’s a coin! It can only lie there and remain lost and become filthy with dust and tarnish. But the woman seeks the lost coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps the whole house until she finds it. And when she finds it, she throws a party. The whole neighborhood is invited. “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost” (v. 9). So God, and the whole heavenly host, rejoice when one sinner repents.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and you, beloved, are the one lost sheep. Jesus leaves the 99 to find you. You do not decide to come to Him out of the wilderness. He decides to rescue you from the wilderness. He decides to rescue you from the predators who can rip you to shreds, from sin and certain death, from the devil and from hell and from your own corrupt sinful flesh that got you into this mess in the first place. He makes His decision for you, and He comes at great cost to Himself to rescue you. He faces all the dangers you face, willingly. He submits Himself to those dangers. As the shepherd in the parable lifts the burden of the sheep upon his shoulders, so Christ our Good Shepherd lifts your burden upon His shoulders, bears the burden of your sin and your death, the burden of the holy cross upon His shoulders. He bears it all the way to Calvary where He suffers and dies as the atonement for your sin. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). He bears the consequences of our lost-ness. He suffers for our wandering off in sin. And then He rises from the dead, picks us up, and bears us home and throws a great party, a party at which we, along with the holy angels and the whole host of heaven, rejoice and eat this morning.

The Church is the woman with the ten silver coins, and you, beloved, are the lost coin. The Church, the Bride of Christ, lights the lamp of the Gospel, the message she is charged to proclaim, sweeps diligently through the mess of this fallen world, and finds the lost coin. For the coin is precious to the Church and precious to the Lord. You are precious to the Church and precious to the Lord. The Church picks you up and throws a great party at which the Lord Jesus Himself is present with His body and blood. There is great rejoicing as the Church feasts in celebration, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10).

Notice, though, that there is no rejoicing over the 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. That is because there really are no 99 righteous persons. There is rejoicing over the tax collectors and sinners because they know they are sinful, lost, and they have been found and restored by their Savior. The 99, the Pharisees, are lost, too. But they glory in their self-righteousness. Jesus tells the parable out of love, not only for the tax collectors and sinners, but for the Pharisees, too. They think they need no repentance. They do not believe they are lost. They do not desire the Shepherd to come and find them. They refuse His help. They do not want a Savior. This is not cause for rejoicing. It is cause for grieving. And it is cause for preaching. Jesus preaches, and the ministers He has called preach, and the Church confesses the faith, so that the Pharisees come to know their sinful condition, their lost-ness, and so be found by the Lord. Preaching is the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. We preach the very Word of Christ, that the Pharisees and all people might come to number themselves among the tax collectors and sinners and draw near to hear Jesus. We preach the very Word of Christ, that you may know that you are a sinner, but that you have a Savior from your sin, a Good Shepherd who rescues you. His Name is Jesus Christ. He receives sinners and eats with them. He receives you and throws you a feast.

And when the Lord leads you by His Word and Spirit to the knowledge of your sin, when He opens your lips to confess your sins and your lost-ness, when He pronounces over you the forgiveness of sins, the angels sing. When a little baby, or a fully-grown adult, is baptized, there is rejoicing in heaven. When poor sinners come again to the Supper of the Lord’s body and blood to receive from Him forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, they join the festivities of angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. God Himself rejoices, for His lost children are home. Jesus has brought them back. It was not your decision. It is all by grace. The Christian life of repentance is a daily returning to your Baptism. There the Lord claimed you for Himself. There He wrote His Name upon you. So He claims you for Himself each day as you live in your Baptism. And He now throws a feast for you in celebration. Dear Christians, rejoice this day, for you are no longer lost. In Christ, you are found. Praise be to God! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Ninety-five Theses,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, Harold J. Grimm and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1957) p. 25.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Pastor as *Seelsorger*

From George Henry Gerberding, ‘The Lutheran Pastor’ - http://gnesiolutheran.com/the-importance-of-seelsorge/ (Note: Seelsorge is a German word meaning "the cure of souls")

It all has to do also with seelsorge. His office, call, private and public life all look to seelsorge. His gathering, building, moulding, and guarding his church is seelsorge. His work and acts in the house of God are seelsorge. But it all looks to and is more or less seelsorge; seelsorge in regard to his parish as a whole. Even those acts that have to do more directly with the individual still pertain to the general work.

When he baptizes a babe, by the act and by his words he instructs and admonishes all who are present; so when he confirms a catechumen and administers the Lord’s Supper. Even when he unites a couple in marriage it ought to be seelsorge, not only for those who stand at the altar, and for whose souls he will afterward care, but the ceremony itself is an object lesson and a sermon for all. And so with all his ministerial acts. They are blessings to those on and for whom they are administered, and solemn lessons for all who are present.

Seelsorge ! What a beautiful and expressive term. We have nothing to correspond with it in English.

It means the cure and care of souls. Souls are sick, sin-sick. They need to be cured and cared for. This is what a pastor is for. He is a seelsorger. What an honor ! What a privilege ! What a responsibility !

But there is not only a general, but a special and private seelsorge, e.g., a care for the individual.

It is seesorge in its narrower sense, this individual soul-cure, that we shall now consider. The pastor is not only the shepherd of the flock as a whole, but also of every individual sheep and lamb...

Deyling (in Walther) thus: “An evangelical pastor is bound not only to instruct his hearers in public, but he must instruct them privately whenever he has an opportunity; he must bear each upon his heart, and, according to the disposition of each and the different circumstances, apply to everyone entrusted to him what will further his salvation. For the teachers of the Word are called pastors, shepherds (Eph. iv. 11). Therefore, they must take care not only of the whole flock, but also of every sheep in it . If, then, one of these has wandered, the shepherd seeks it without delay, brings it back to the fold, strengthens it and heals it. The minister of the Word is stationed by God to be a watchman for the church, after the pattern of Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah (Isa. Hi. 8; Jer. vi. 17; Heb. xiii. 17). How could he be said to watch if he did not keep an eye on every part, on every member of the congregation? Further, a minister must give an account of the whole congregation entrusted to him. He must carefully inquire into the life of everyone, and instruct everyone, both publicly and privately. Pastors again are called bishops, i. e., overseers, and are commanded to oversee the flock, as well singly as collectively (Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet . v. 2). They are also called workers together with God. As now God is concerned not only for our salvation in general, but for the salvation of every particular man, so His co-worker, the minister of the Word, is bound to the same.

Cowherds and shepherds know everyone of their beasts and are interested in each; why should not the shepherd of souls bear on his heart the souls bought with the precious blood of Christ? So Paul did not cease to admonish everyone not only publicly, but specially from house to house (Acts xx. 20, 31; 1 Thes. ii. 10). Such visitation from house to house and such admonition is part of the duty of a minister. John Chrysostom, in his Thirty-fourth Homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews, emphasizes this, saying, ‘Thou must give an account of everyone entrusted to thee, men, women, and children. Think in what peril thou art! It is a thing to be wondered at, if one priest be saved.’”

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 18)
September 5, 2010
Text: Luke 14:25-35

When you set out to do a project, be it large or small, you’d be a fool not to calculate the cost, weigh the risks, and consider the resources at your disposal. Can you do it? Should you even start? What happens when you run into a roadblock right in the middle of the project? The same is true for discipleship. Jesus tells us to count the cost. For discipleship is costly. Now understand, grace is free to you. The forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, all come at a great cost, but it is Jesus who pays that cost in full. He pays it on the cross. He pays it with His suffering and death. And He offers it to you freely in the Gospel. So I’m not talking about any cost you have to pay for grace or forgiveness and all that comes along with that. Nevertheless, nowhere in the Bible does it say that being a Christian is easy. And that’s where many people, including many of us, go wrong. We think that being a Christian should be easy. We think of being a Christian, a disciple, literally one who follows Christ, as just one component of our life, namely, that component that is supposed to make our life easy and good. But of course, according to this way of thinking, there are other components and other contributors to the goodness of our life. Family, possessions, jobs, money, recreation, all of these things are also components of our life. Jesus may be a part of our life, maybe even the most important part of our life, but there are other components and other resources as well, and each of these demands our time and attention and loyalty, sometimes at the expense of Jesus. And we think that drawing on all these resources we can build our lives, build what Jesus calls our “towers.” But what happens when we find that these resources are insufficient? What happens when these resources are faulty? What happens when our enemies, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh come and attack us and the construction comes to a screeching halt?

Building a Christian life is like building a tower. If you want to be a disciple, you have to sit down and count the cost. Who in his right mind sets out to build a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost, asking the all important question whether he has enough resources to complete it? What a failure it would be if, after laying the foundation, he were unable to erect the tower! Beloved in the Lord, what you have to understand about our Gospel lesson this morning is that Jesus here teaches that we have absolutely no resource with which to construct the tower of the Christian life other than Christ alone. And in making this point, He goes for the jugular. He shocks us. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (v. 26).

Hate them? Really? Hate family? Hate self? This is where the Gospel becomes a great offense. You cannot dismiss the word “hate.” It comes from the mouth of our Lord Himself. The temptation is always to water it down, but that doesn’t really help either. The word is there. You have to deal with it. Here hate is not the opposite of love and honor. Jesus is not preaching against the Fourth Commandment, honoring father and mother. He is not contradicting the commandment that we love one another, that we love our neighbors as ourselves, including our family members and even our enemies. No, the point is that if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, He alone can be your God. Anything or anyone else that you fear, love, and trust above Him is an idol. We are especially prone to make family our idol. It even sounds good. In fact, it sounds sanctified. Family first, family values, the slogans of the religious right. And in terms of our civil life on this earth, the horizontal plane, yes, family first. But in our relationship with God, the vertical plane, no, family does not come first. Jesus does. Family is not the source of our Christian life. Only Jesus is. Only Jesus can be. When we make family the source of our Christian life, be it father or mother, spouse, son or daughter, brother or sister, we make them our gods. We look to them for every good. But family can fail us. Family can even lead us away from Jesus! They can lead us to sin. They can lead us to believe false doctrine. They can lead us away from the house of God and frequent use of Christ’s gifts. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I’ve heard as a pastor something along the lines of “We haven’t been in church because Sunday morning seems to be the only time we can get together as a family.” Beloved, repent. Your family can’t save you. Hating your family on the vertical level means despairing of them for salvation and rejecting them as your gods. Discipleship may mean speaking the truth in love to a family member who doesn’t want to hear it. Discipleship may mean dragging the family to church for family time with the whole family of believers, with Christ our brother, and God our heavenly Father. Discipleship definitely means looking to God alone in Christ for every good gift; fearing, loving, trusting God alone in Christ as your God; despairing of all other things and all other people for life and salvation.

You have no resources with which to build the tower, and so finally you must even hate your own life, all your possessions, all that you have, all that you are, and realize you have nothing within yourself to be saved or live a Christian life. All your good works count for nothing on the vertical plane. All you have to offer God is sin. If you begin to lay a foundation on your own resources, you will find that not only must construction come to a grinding halt, even your foundation is worthless and crumbling. Finally, you must die to self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha. Understand that your bearing of the holy cross has nothing to do with earning salvation. Your salvation has already been earned by Christ on His cross. You are already saved. And in fact, you have already been called to be a disciple in your Baptism. But now you walk in the way of salvation. It is a narrow path. You must follow Christ, or you go off that path. Christ is the only way. And His way leads to Good Friday and Golgotha. It is the only way to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of the Dead. To go this way would be impossible for you on your own. You would suffer and die without end. That is called hell. The only way through the cross to the resurrection is Christ Himself. He will get you through alive, because He has already been through death, and He has come out alive! Christ is risen! He is your only resource.

And it is important that you know this now, because the Christian life is also a great battle. It is a battle between God and Satan for your eternal life. The devil and his minions, the world, and your own sinful flesh, are constantly attacking you, tempting you to sin, leading you to doubt Christ, seeking to lead you off the path of faith. Outside of Christ, you are totally outnumbered. You have no hope of winning. Outside of Christ, you might as well surrender. But just as YHWH fought for His people Israel of old and won the victory on their behalf, so YHWH, even Jesus Christ our Lord, fights for His people Israel, the Church… He fights for you and wins the victory. He doesn’t do it by adding His resources to yours. You don’t have any resources. He does it fully on His own strength. He comes with His righteousness. He gives it to you. He takes your sin. He suffers. He dies. He rises. He wins. Jesus Christ is your victory over the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. Stay with Him. Take up your cross and follow Him.

Your cross was laid on you at Baptism, when you died to yourself, died to sin, and were raised to new life in Christ. Your cross is the suffering you will have to endure now as you live in your Baptism. It may be suffering on account of your family members. It may be suffering the afflictions of the devil within your own soul. It may be the suffering of persecution, the loss of family and possessions and even your life for Jesus’ sake and for the Gospel. Whatever it is, the cross will find you. You don’t seek the cross. It seeks you. But these sufferings are given you as a precious gift of God so that you despair of yourself and every earthly resource, even your loved ones, and look to Christ alone for salvation and every good. You are given the cross so that you realize your salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

For finally your cross only has meaning in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is on the altar of the cross that our Lord Jesus was sacrificed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is on the altar of the cross that our Lord Jesus was sacrificed as your substitute, paying your debt to God, suffering your punishment, that you might be forgiven, declared righteous by God, set free from sin, and given eternal life. There, on the altar of the cross, our Lord Jesus shed His precious blood. There, on the altar of the cross, our Lord Jesus spoke His Word of love, absolving His enemies, absolving you. There, on the altar of the cross, our Lord Jesus breathed His last and gave up His spirit, suffering Adam’s death, suffering your death. There it is finished: sin, Satan, hell, done to death. Christ’s death is the death of death itself. Christ has died once, for all, that all may live in Him. For Christ is risen. And the one who believes in Him, even though he die, yet shall he live. You, too, will rise!

So take up the cross now, in the faith of the resurrection, and follow Him. In this way, you will be what God has made you by His Word and Spirit: Christians! Disciples! And so you will be the salt of the earth. You will season the world with your love and confession of Christ, and root out the decay of this fallen creation as God uses you as His instrument. Not to bear your cross, to deny the faith, makes you worthless, like unsalty salt. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Die to self. And so live in Him. Your tower is already built… He built it! Your battle is already won… He won it! So abide in Him. Look not to any other resource, be it father or mother, spouse or children, sister or brother. Look not to yourself or your possessions or anything within you. You are dead to those things. Look to Christ alone, the author and finisher of your faith. Survey His wondrous cross! And come receive the fruits of His death for you in His crucified and risen body and blood. For He is your life. Live in Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.