Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 12)
July 28, 2013
Text: Luke 11:1-13

            Why pray?  I mean, God already knows what we need.  God already knows what He’s going to do.  He already knows what is best.  So why pray?  Well, part of the answer is as simple as this: Because He says so.  He commands it. It’s your Christian duty to pray.  You have not been given to know all the whys and wherefores of prayer.  You are simply commanded to do it.  Christians pray, and if you never pray, that’s a sin.  Repent, and then do it.  You also pray because God tenderly invites you to do so.  Ask, seek, knock, as Jesus bids you (Luke 11:9).  And, of course, there is the promise that God hears your prayer, and will answer: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (v. 10; ESV).  (C)all upon me in the day of trouble,” God invites, “I will deliver you,” He promises (Ps. 50:15).  And so, you do, trusting that He is both able and willing to help and to save you.  The proof is Christ crucified for your sins.  If God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you and for all, how will He not also along with Him graciously give you all things (Rom. 8:32)?  Christ is God’s yes to your prayers, and the guarantee of His good will toward you.  So you come before the throne of God through and in Christ, covered by His blood, with confidence in the God of mercy who calls Himself “our Father,” your Father, the Father of all who are in Christ Jesus.
            Jesus is the model for us to follow in prayer.  Often in the Gospels our Lord goes off to a desolate place to pray, to commune with His heavenly Father, and He does this for His strengthening and to pour His heart out to His God.  Prayer is communication with God.  And it is a two-way conversation that begins with God’s speaking to us in His Word.  Then, on the basis of that Word, we respond with our petitions, intercessions, thanksgivings, and praise.  In some sense, prayer is simply talking to God.  Why pray?  Well, why do you talk to your spouse?  Why do you talk to your parents, your family members, your friends?  Because that is what you do in relationship to others.  You communicate with them.  You listen to them.  You respond to them.  So with God.  And so it is that we find Jesus at the beginning of our reading from the Holy Gospel praying in a certain place, and His disciples come to Him with a request.  They ask on behalf of all of us disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).  And indeed, the Lord Jesus must teach us to pray if we are to pray in a way that is God pleasing.  This doesn’t come naturally to us, fallen in sin as we are.  But the Lord opens our lips, that our mouths may declare His praise (Ps. 51:15).  He gives us His Spirit, who prays for us and with us and in us, and brings our petitions before the throne of God with groans too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).
            And here in our text, the Lord Jesus graciously gives us the very words to pray.  Here we have the Lord’s Prayer, which is recorded in two places in Holy Scripture.  The expanded version with which we are more familiar is recorded in Matthew Chapter 6 (vv. 9-13).  Here in Luke our Lord gives us a slightly shorter version.  And don’t let that bother you.  Our Lord taught this prayer on more than one occasion, not always using the exact same words.  It is important for us to have a common version of the Lord’s Prayer that we all know by heart so that we can always pray it together, but of course we pray other prayers that are God-pleasing, and all of them in one way or another express the same petitions that we find here in the prayer our Lord teaches us.  The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer on earth because it comes from the lips of Jesus, and He places it upon our lips and in our hearts.  The Lord’s Prayer is the most complete prayer on earth, encompassing every possible need of body and soul.  So when you don’t know what to pray, pray the Lord’s Prayer, and you will have prayed for everything you could ever need.  I’m not suggesting you don’t pray other prayers too.  You can make your own prayers.  Especially pray the psalms.  Pray the hymns and collects of the Church and the Catechism prayers.  But definitely pray this one.  Luther suggested you pray it in the morning when you arise, before and after every meal, and in the evening before you go to bed.  This is not a law, but the point is simply that you pray it often, because you need it, and because it pours out your heart and soul to God in a way that no other prayer can.  And, of course, it is the very Word of God, so that even as it brings your petitions before the Father, it also feeds you as a means of grace.  Here we call upon God as “Our Father,” recognizing that He has redeemed us in Christ to be His own children (that’s the reality of our Baptism: God’s own Child as we sing).  We are His true children, and so we come before Him as any child comes before his earthly father, making our requests in faith that God will do what is best for us.  And we pray for and with all the other children of God in the holy Church, thus we say “Our Father,” not “My Father.”
            And notice all the things we ask of Him in this prayer.  We ask that His Name, which is already holy in itself, be hallowed (kept holy) among us also (Luke 11:2), both in terms of what we say about God (our doctrine) and how we live our life, which also reflects upon our Father.  We ask that His Kingdom come (v. 2).  We know it will, even without our prayer, but we pray that it would come among us, that God would give us and all others His Holy Spirit, “so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).  In Matthew’s version, we also pray that God’s will be done (Matt. 6:10), that God would break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of our three main enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  We ask that God would give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3), which, of course, He graciously does for us and for all people even without our prayer.  But we pray that He would lead us to recognize this, look to Him for every good gift, and give thanks to Him.  Here we pray for all the needs of the body, and the list is endless: “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like” (Small Catechism).  If you’ve prayed that petition, you’ve prayed for everything you need for this body and life.  Of course, we pray also that God would forgive our trespasses, our sins (v. 4), because we don’t deserve any of it, any of the things for which we pray, but we know that He gives them to us by sheer grace in Christ Jesus.  And we, having been thus forgiven, will surely forgive everyone who sins against us.  So also, we pray for God’s assistance against temptation (v. 4), that He would “guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory” (Small Catechism).  Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, our Lord teaches us to pray for deliverance from the evil one, the devil (Matt. 6:13), and of course from all the evil he would bring upon us.  In this petition we pray for divine rescue from all that would bring us spiritual and bodily harm, and that in the end we would have a blessed death, which is to say, that we would die in the faith of Jesus Christ and so go to be with Him in heaven.  To all of this the Church adds her doxology: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever,” and her hearty “Amen,” which means “yes, yes, it shall be so” (Small Catechism).
            And it is so, because our Lord promises.  Oh, it is true, God does not give us exactly what we pray for as we have prayed it.  Imagine if He did that.  We would be in a world of hurt.  But He always answers, and He always responds.  He always delivers exactly what we need, when we need it, in the way we need it, for our good, even if it be a cross.  We ask and we receive.  We seek and we find.  We knock and the door is opened.  Because God opens the rich storehouse of His treasures and pours out upon us grace upon grace.  He gives us His Spirit.  He gives us Christ.  And in Christ, we have all things. 
            But do our prayers actually change anything?  Abraham seemed to think so in our Old Testament lesson (Gen. 18:17-33).  And though the city was not spared, for there were not even ten righteous people in it, Lot and his family were saved.  St. James, the brother of our Lord, writes: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).  He learned that from the Lord Jesus Himself.  It is true, God already knows what we need, what He is going to do, and what is best.  But in His infinite wisdom, which so far surpasses our own that it appears to us to be foolishness, He has given us to participate in His activity by our prayers and intercessions for ourselves and for one another, for the Church and for the whole world.  That is our role as the royal priesthood chosen by God to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  Why pray?  Because it is your privilege as God’s redeemed children, because it is His gift to you, because it is powerful because God says it is, and you believe the promise.  And when you pray, you pray as one covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You come before the throne of grace covered by Christ, clothed in His righteousness by virtue of your Baptism.  God will not refuse you.  “For when any good Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, Thy will be done,’ God in heaven answers, ‘Yes, dear child, it will most certainly be done despite the devil and the whole world’” (Luther’s Large Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1978] p. 83).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 11)
July 21, 2013
Text: Luke 10:38-42

            Many things are necessary in this earthly life, things that are good and God-pleasing.  But these things become evil when they keep us from Jesus and hinder us from hearing and learning God’s Word.  For example, jobs are necessary, good, and God-pleasing.  If people didn’t have jobs, the world wouldn’t work.  There would be no one to provide necessary goods and services for others.  No one would have any money, food, clothing, or shelter.  You couldn’t provide for yourself and for your family.  We’ve had a great lack of jobs in our country in recent years, and it’s hurt us.  I think we can all agree that jobs are a good thing.  St. Paul agrees, when he writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (1 Thess. 3:10; ESV).  A job is a gift from God, a means of His provision for you and for your neighbor.  But “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  When your job keeps you from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing His preaching, that otherwise good gift of God has become a tool of the devil.  In fact, it has become an idol for you, because you have feared, loved, or trusted it more than you fear, love, and trust in the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It works this way with other things as well.  Relationships among people, family, friends, community, are good gifts of God.  They are necessary and God-pleasing.  God said from the very beginning that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).  God created us to be in relationship. But when those relationships hinder us from hearing Jesus Christ and receiving His gifts, what is otherwise good has become evil.  It even works this way with work in the Church.  For example, as a pastor, there are so many times I’m so concerned to get a sermon on paper that I fail to listen to the Lord Jesus and what He has to say to me in a particular text.  God forgive me.  I’ve forgotten the one thing needful.  It happens among Church members, too.  There are so many things that need to get done here at Church.  They are necessary, good, God-pleasing things.  Sometimes, though, we get so busy doing those things that we forget to stop and sit down at Jesus’ feet and listen as He speaks directly and intimately to us in His Word.  Or our mind is on other things that need to be done at home, or once again, at work, or whatever it happens to be.  And we forget that the reason for this assembly, the reason we come to Church in the first place, the reason this place called Epiphany Lutheran Church exists, is to hear Jesus and His Word, by which He forgives all our sins, and gives us eternal life. 
            Martha is distracted with much serving (Luke 10:40).  Jesus is her honored guest.  This calls for a feast.  She has invited all her friends.  And in this, of course, she is a model to us.  We ought to invite all our friends to the Feast where Jesus is present, here, in the Divine Service.  But she is anxious and troubled about many things (v. 41).  There is all the food preparation, the table to set, the house to be tidied, the guests to be attended, and all the things that go along with hosting a meal, being hospitable.  Martha is a good worker.  She has experience in this.  But by all rights, she should also have help.  Where is Mary, her sister?  Why, she’s just sitting there, making Martha do all the work.  It isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.  And Jesus, don’t you care?  Tell her to help me (v. 40).  Now, Martha has a point, don’t you think?  There is serving to be done, and someone has to do it.  Many hands make for light work.  It is necessary, good, and God-pleasing when Christians help and serve.  But there is something infinitely more important, and Martha has forgotten.  One thing is necessary (v. 42).  Mary has chosen the good portion, the one thing needful, and it will never be taken away from her.  Mary is sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus, hearing His Word, being forgiven her sins, receiving the eternal life that only the Lord Jesus can give.
            Everything that Martha was doing was good.  But in hindering her from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing His Word, it became evil.  It is good for Mary to help her sister Martha in serving the guests.  But not in place of hearing Jesus’ Word.  Mary gets the order right.  Hear God’s Word and receive the gifts of the Lord Jesus.  Then go serve on the basis of that Word and in the new life given by God through that Word.  You can serve and do all sorts of necessary things apart from God’s Word, but they will never be good and God-pleasing.  In fact, they will be evil, sinful in God’s sight, and damaging to your soul.  On the other hand, gladly hear preaching and God’s Word, and on the basis of that Word, go and do those same necessary things, and now they are good and God-pleasing, bathed in the blood of Christ, truly good works that glorify God by serving our neighbor.  What makes the difference is faith in Christ, which is given by His Word.  That which is done in faith pleases God, not because of the work, but because of the faith.  Jesus gives all the benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection by His Word.  Faith receives those benefits and makes them its own by clinging to the Lord Jesus.  And that faith, then, is always active in love and service. 
            Christians have been prone to mess up the order of all this from the beginning and throughout the Church’s history.  As a matter of fact, the Reformation was all about this very thing.  The problem that gave rise to the Reformation was the mistaken belief that the most important thing, the one thing needful, was not to hear Jesus and believe His Word, but to do good works, and in this way the Christian is saved.  Not so!  It’s not your action that saves you.  It’s not your good works that save you.  God saves you.  Jesus Christ saves you.  He does it all.  He fulfills the Law for you.  He dies for your forgiveness.  He is raised for your justification.  And so the one thing needful is to receive all of that from Him.  And He gives it, freely and generously, in His Word and Sacraments.  So the one thing needful is to sit at His feet and hear Him.  Then go serve.  That will naturally follow.  But your salvation is not based on your serving.  Rather, your serving is based on your salvation, which your Lord Jesus Christ gives you totally apart from your serving and before your serving, by His serving Himself all the way to the death of the cross for you and for all people. 
            So what things in your life hinder you from sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ and hearing His Word?  Family?  Friends?  Your job?  Fun in the sun?  Your pillow?  Even serving your neighbor in their time of need?  Even working here at the Church?  Repent.  These are all necessary, good, and God-pleasing things.  We should do them, and we should rejoice in them.  But when they hinder us from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing Him, they are evil.  You have to understand that when Jesus and His Word serve as the basis of your life, everything else falls into its proper place.  (S)eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” which is to say, hear and believe Jesus in His Word, “and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  When Jesus and His Word are just some subordinate part of your life, nothing is in its proper place.  Repent.  And hear the Word of the Lord.  All your sins are forgiven, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Your mistaken priorities, your thinking that there are things more important than being here in God’s House and hearing Jesus, your resentment against your neighbor for not helping you the way you think they should, your resentment against Jesus for seeming not to care when nothing could be further from the truth, all of that is taken by the Savior, Jesus Christ, and nailed to the cross in His flesh, where it dies with Him.  Your debt to God is paid in full.  You are free.  And you have eternal life.  For Christ is risen.  And He is here.  He is here to speak His Word to you, His justifying, life-giving Word.  Sit at His feet and revel in His gracious speech, by which He imparts to you His gifts.  And there’s something else.  You don’t give a Feast for Jesus.  He gives a Feast for you.  Here He sets the Table with the richest of foods, the true treasure, His body and blood given and shed for you, under bread and wine, for your forgiveness and life.  So don’t miss it. Not for any reason.  For this is all gift, freely given, for you, the one thing needful, the good portion, that shall never be taken away from you.     
            There are many things necessary, good, and God-pleasing in this life.  But only one thing is needful for the rest to fall into place.  That is Jesus Christ.  Hearing His Word, you have Him as your Lord.  Having Him as your Lord, all things are yours, which is to say, you have everything you need.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 10)
July 14, 2013
Text: Luke 10:25-37

            According to the righteous and holy Law of God, you and I should be like the Good Samaritan in the parable our Lord here tells us.  That is to say, we should give our very selves and all that we have for the sake of our neighbor in need.  And understand, that is precisely what the Samaritan does.  Remember the utter hatred between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus.  This is a good Jew lying there, having been beaten by robbers almost to the point of death.  The priest and the Levite, fellow Jews, religious authorities no less, consider him so far gone that it isn’t worth stopping and becoming unclean to help him.  He’s as good as dead anyway.  But along comes this hated Samaritan, and what does he do?  He has mercy.  He has compassion.  He stops to help.  This is where we get our custom of calling someone who stops on the road to help a fellow traveler a “Good Samaritan.”  Now, the Samaritan doesn’t know if the robbers are still in the area.  He risks life and limb for his mortal enemy, this Jew lying on the road.  Other Samaritans would probably say, “Good, let him die.”  And the Jews would say the same thing about a Samaritan under similar circumstances.  But not this Samaritan.  He goes to the man, stripped, beaten, and half-dead, and he binds up his wounds.  He pours on oil and wine to sterilize and medicate.  He puts him on his own animal and takes him into town, to an inn, and nurses him for the night.  This, too, is a great risk for the Samaritan.  That’s like an Indian in the Old West bringing a half-scalped cowboy into town on the back of his horse.[1]  Dangerous business.  In the morning, the Samaritan goes to great expense in giving the innkeeper two denarii (two days’ wages for the average laborer) to take care of the injured man, promising that he will repay any additional expenses when he returns.  Can you imagine this?  All this effort, all this expense, all this sacrifice?  Yet this is what you are supposed to do as a Christian, as a child of God.  You are to risk life and limb for your neighbor.  You are to provide personal care for your neighbor in his time of need, sparing no expense for his good.  You are to give all your possessions, your very self for his sake.  You are to die for him, if that is what is required.  And not just for the neighbor you like.  Not even for the neighbor for whom your feelings are neutral.  You are to do this for the neighbor who hates you, for your mortal enemy.  Can you do it?  Have you done it?  That’s what God’s Law demands of you.  That is what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.  You love God by loving your neighbor.  To do as the Good Samaritan does in our text is to love your neighbor as yourself.  Have you?  Because this is what you must do if you are to inherit eternal life by doing. You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). 
            But you aren’t.  You have not loved your neighbor as yourself.  You have not given all that you are and have for your mortal enemy.  You’ve driven past flat tires and accidents and looked the other way, hoping someone else will be the Good Samaritan.  Or even if you have stopped, you’ve passed by others in need.  You’ve known people who are hungry, and you’ve failed to feed them.  You’ve known people who are sick, and you’ve failed to visit them.  If inheriting eternal life depends on you doing as the Good Samaritan does, you’re doomed.
            But here’s the good news: Jesus is your Good Samaritan.  He does what you cannot and will not do, and He does it for you.  Too often this text is preached in sermons and taught in Sunday School as if you, the hearer, the reader, are the Good Samaritan.  That makes this text all Law, and you know where that gets you?  It damns you.  Yes, you should do these things, but you don’t, so you’re sunk.  But thank God, you’re not the Good Samaritan.  In fact, if you only had eyes to see, you would realize that you are the man, stripped and beaten and half dead, lying in the ditch.  And you’re a mortal enemy of the Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ.  That’s what you confess when you say that you’re born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  You don’t want His help.  But He helps you anyway.  He helps you where even the model citizens, even the religious elite, cannot and will not.  He goes to you where you are, lying in a pool of blood, the dust of the earth clinging to your wounds.  He binds you up with His Absolution, forgiving all your sins.  He pours out upon you the oil of His Spirit and the wine of His blood.  It is the medicine of eternal life.  He takes you to the inn of the Holy Christian Church and tends to you at great expense, His very life.  And He commends you to an innkeeper, your pastor, and in this way He Himself continues to care for you, with the promise of His immanent return.
            And by the way, He does fall into the hands of robbers.  He is stripped and beaten and crucified all the way dead for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins, for your eternal healing.  He’s killed because He stops to help you, because the Son of God took on flesh of the Virgin Mary and became one with you, taking your sin and death into Himself and nailing it in His flesh to the cross.  He was and is utterly hated by Jew and Gentile alike, by the whole world that does not know Him.  And He dies for them.  He dies for you.  It does happen among men, even among unbelievers, that someone risks his life for another, even dies for another, because he considers that person somehow worth the ultimate sacrifice.  We think here of our military or our police officers, those who protect us because they love their country and their people.  But here is the divine mystery of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; ESV; emphasis added).  Christ dies for worthless, ungrateful, hateful sinners.  Christ dies for you.  And in this way, He redeems you for Himself.  You are baptized into Him.  All of His righteousness, His good works, His being the Good Samaritan for you and for others, all of that is given to you as a gift in Baptism, credited to your account.  God looks at you as if you had done all that.  Christ fulfilled the Law for you.  And then He died on the cross for your failure to keep God’s Law, your failure to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  He died in your place, taking your punishment upon Himself, to pay your debt, to suffer God’s justice, that you might be justified.  And He is risen from the dead, God’s Absolution of the whole world, the forgiveness of your sins, that you might have eternal life.  And, indeed, you have new life now, already, in your Baptism into Christ, a life that is hidden with Christ in God, ready to be revealed on the Last Day, but fully yours now, so that you do love God, and you do love your neighbor, and you can give yourself in service to your neighbor in his time of need.
            Thus Jesus says to the lawyer and to you at the conclusion of His parable: “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).  Go and show mercy.  Go and tend your neighbor’s wounds.  Visit the sick.  Feed the hungry.  Give money to your neighbor in need.  Take him on as your own beloved burden, as St. Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  Confess Christ to your neighbor.  Bring him into the inn of the Holy Christian Church.  And die for your neighbor.  Sacrifice yourself.  Not because your neighbor is good, but because Christ is good, and has sacrificed Himself for you.  You see, you do this now not in order to merit the inheritance of eternal life.  Christ has taken care of all of that by His death and resurrection.  You do this because you already have eternal life in Christ.  Free of the demands and threats of the Law, you are free to love and sacrifice and be a little Christ to your neighbor.  Do so joyfully, knowing that with the gift of Christ, no sacrifice will deplete you.  You will never be spent.  You will never run out.  The more you give, the more you will receive, because Christ is a never failing fountain of good, who continually fills you anew. 
            Christ is your Good Samaritan, and He’s rescued you from sin and death, from the devil and from hell.  God “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light,” as St. Paul writes in our Epistle (Col. 1:12).  This is all by grace, all through Christ our Savior.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13-14).  And so, now, we are called to be full members of God’s Kingdom, heirs of His life, which means we are called to love God by loving our neighbor.  Such is the joyous and free privilege of those Baptized into Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

[1] One of the brothers at our local exegetical study shared this illustration, but I can’t remember who, or where he got the illustration.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 9)
July 7, 2013
Text: Luke 10:1-20

            This morning our Lord bids us to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2; ESV).  For “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  He is telling us that the time of harvest is near, which is to say, Judgment Day is coming soon, the Last Day, the Day of Resurrection.  And so the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ must go forth from the Church to the ends of the earth, now, in this time of grace, while the time is ripe, before the end.  It should not be lost on us that by happy coincidence we have with us on the same day as this text our deaconess student Caitlin Worden who is embarking on mission work in Lima Peru (and I urge you to stay for her presentation during Bible Study), and that we will have with us this week at our VBS Nicole Barthel who is doing mission work in Vietnam.  I pray that we will be generous with our money for both, for certainly as we pray for the Lord’s work we ought to aid and facilitate it with our God-given earthly possessions.  But here in our text, our Lord specifically bids us pray that the Church be provided with pastors.  It is a prayer for the preaching of Jesus Christ and His Word.  The Church lives by the preaching.  She lives by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  The Spirit goes out with the preaching, by the Word bringing sinners to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  And so this is a preaching text.  Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples in addition to the Twelve Apostles.  These men will be the first Christian pastors, and they are in training here under Jesus, the Chief Pastor of the Christian Church.  They are to go two by two into every town to prepare the way for Jesus.  And they are to heal the sick and preach the good news: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9).  This is actually a vicarage of sorts for them.  They are to go out and preach and do the work of the Lord, after which they are to return to Him for the remainder of their seminary training.  As they go, they are to preach Law and Gospel.  They are to bless those who receive them, but to shake the very dust off their sandals as a testimony against those who do not receive them.  The people of God are to provide for their earthly needs by their generosity, in thanksgiving to God.  And these preachers are to rejoice, not in their success in ministry (demons being subject to them in Jesus’ Name), but rather this, that their names are written in heaven (v. 20).
            We learn a lot about the pastoral office from this text.  And we also learn a lot about the responsibilities of the congregation from this text.  A pastor is to preach the Word in season and out of season,to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).  He is not sent to entertain or to inspire.  His call is not to scratch the itching ears and tickle the fancies of his hearers.   He is to faithfully proclaim God’s Word to all people, no matter the consequences.  Some will hear.  Others will reject.  And those who reject the Word will likewise reject the preacher.  So be it.  Our Lord told us to expect persecution.  The pastor is to live life under the cross, preaching the Savior who is crucified and risen, and suffering the crucifixion of his own flesh, that God may exalt him at the proper time.  Now, these seventy-two were given extraordinary gifts of healing which pastors today, in general, are not given.  Nevertheless, we see here that a pastor is to go to the sick with the good news that the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ the Savior, has come near, with the eternal healing of the forgiveness of sins.  The pastor is to pray with the sick, certainly for physical healing according to God’s will, and if not, for the grace to accept this affliction from the Father for that person’s good, looking forward to the perfect healing of the resurrection.  By the Name of Jesus, the pastor is to cast out the wicked spirits that afflict people.  This happens, again, by the proclamation of forgiveness in Christ.  And the pastor is to live by faith, trusting in God’s provision through His people’s generosity, “eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). 
            And here we see also the responsibility of the congregation toward their pastor.  To put it bluntly, yes, you are to give generously to the offering for the work of the Lord, and to provide for me and my family (in other words, my paycheck).  St. Paul refers to what Jesus here says when he writes, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).  Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:6-7).  Some of you may know that I’m simply quoting the passages Luther includes in the Small Catechism Table of Duties: What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors.  And let me take this opportunity to thank you for your faithfulness in this regard.  It makes a pastor a little nervous to preach about this, but this, too, is the Word of Jesus Christ.  The greater responsibility of the congregation, however, over and above providing for the pastor, is to hear the preaching.  Not simply to let it go in one ear and out the other, but to hear it in such a way as to take it to heart, to ponder it, to be taken possession of by it, to keep it, to obey it, to be molded and shaped by it, and most of all, to believe it.  So the writer to the Hebrews entreats us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).  He doesn’t mean that you should just do what I say because I say it.  He’s echoing what Jesus says to the seventy-two in our text: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).  He’s pleading with you to hear and obey the Word of God.  And when you do, it brings great joy to your pastor.  Remember, I have to give an account for you before the Lord.  Nothing gives me greater joy than to see you here, hearing the Word, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, and living by those gifts in your daily vocations.  That’s the joy the writer to the Hebrews is talking about.  On the other hand, nothing grieves me more than when our brothers and sisters absent themselves from the gifts of Christ, fall away from the Church, and ultimately reject the Lord Jesus.  To say that this is of no advantage to any of us is an understatement.  It is catastrophic. 
            What is the answer to it?  More preaching.  More of God’s Word.  The answer is Jesus!  Jesus comes by the Word.  Jesus comes by His preaching.  And He comes to you today by these means, forgiving your sins and giving you His Spirit and eternal life.  So we pray in these gray and latter days before the final end time harvest that God would send out laborers into his harvest field.  We pray not only for Church workers and missionaries like Caitlin and Nicole, but also for men to take up the Yoke of the Office of the Holy Ministry, men like our seminarian Alex Lange and the others we’ve supported in their seminary studies through the years.  We do this because those who pray for the laborers also support the laborers.  That’s how God provides for them.  And that’s how God provides pastors to His Church.  That’s how God provides for the preaching of Jesus Christ to the nations of the earth.  That’s how the Lord of the harvest sends out laborers.  And their message should be always and everywhere the same: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  Jesus has come.  He has died for your sins.  He is risen from the dead.  In Him you have eternal life.  Repent and believe the Gospel.  The pastor is to say what Jesus says.  Nothing more and nothing less.  And by this preaching, beloved, you have life.  Rejoice!  Your name and mine are written in heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.