Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 16)
August 25, 2013
Text: Luke 13:22-30

            Our Lord tells us that many will seek to enter the Kingdom of God and will not be able (Luke 13:24).  They will seek to enter in many different ways: Good works, other religions, being “basically a good person,” comparison with others who are not as good, bargaining with God, and the list goes on.  The possibilities are endless.  But the door to salvation is, in fact, narrow.  That is to say, there are many broad doors, wide open, but every one of them leads to destruction.  The narrow door, the only way to be saved, is Jesus Himself.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).  He’s the only way to heaven.  So no matter how much people strive, no matter how good they are from our human perspective, it can never save them.  There is only one door, and that door is Jesus.
            How different this is from the way our culture thinks.  Our culture thinks that every religious road leads to the same place.  All the religions have the same god by a different name, it is said.  Even Christians are susceptible to this point of view, because we’re trained to think this way in our culture.  That is why we have big interfaith services in our country, where people from all sorts of different and incompatible religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., all pray together as if to the same god.  This is called syncretism.  It is condemned throughout Holy Scripture.  You remember all the bad kings from the Old Testament?  Their big sin was trying to reconcile the worship of the one true God with all the other gods of the nations, like Baal and Asherah.  This is a First Commandment issue.  God is very clear: “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Ex. 20:3; ESV), literally “no other gods in my presence.”  As it turns out, all religions do not worship the same god by different names.  Our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a jealous God.  He will not share us.  He will have us wholly to Himself.  He alone will be our God.
            So, Jesus says, many will seek to enter the Kingdom of God, but they will not be able.  It’s not that God doesn’t want them to.  As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33:11).  It’s not God’s fault that they aren’t saved.  It’s that they refused to enter through the narrow door that is Jesus Christ.  They sought any and every other way of entry.  And all for naught.  And the tragic part is, they were suffering from The Grand Delusion: They thought they were godly.  They thought they were reconciled to God.  Some of them thought they were Christians!  I mean, they claim that they ate and drank with Jesus and heard His teaching.  Still, they were trusting in something or someone else for their salvation.  So  He says to them, “I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, all you workers of evil” (Luke 13:27).  You see, instead of coming before Him with Jesus’ own blood and righteousness as their covering and their merit, they came with their own righteousness, or their human reason, or whatever other covering and merit man can invent.  And that simply doesn’t get you anywhere with God, except to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, which is to say, hell.
            Jesus is the only way to be saved.  His life, death, and resurrection alone are the payment for our sins and our eternal life.  We are saved by faith in Him, and by that faith alone.  On the other hand, it really is this simple: Jesus is the only way to be saved.  Believe in Him, and you have that salvation.  That’s it.  There are no conditions.  If you believe in Jesus, you’re a Christian, and you have all the benefits of His saving work.  “Now, wait a minute, Pastor,” you might be saying.  “It can’t be that easy.  It takes more than that.  You have to be a good person.  It takes a reformation of life, a change of behavior, too.  For example, surely the town drunk can’t be saved unless he cleans up his act.”  Yes, he can.  Even the town drunk.  Of course, he should clean up his act, and certainly if he is a Christian he’ll want to do so out of love for Christ and thanksgiving for salvation.  But that has nothing to do with whether or not he can be saved.  In fact, he may be very repentant and struggling with his addiction.  You can’t know that.  Only Jesus can.  So Jesus eats and drinks with prostitutes and sinners.  We will be surprised by who is in heaven.  Some we thought were beyond saving will be there, radiating with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In fact, some of them we considered least and last will be first and greatest.  Then again, some of them we considered first and greatest will be least and last.  But they’ll be there.  By grace.  Every one of them will be there by grace.  None of them deserved this.  None of them merited it.  They are all there because of Christ.  They are all there because the Holy Spirit gave them faith in Christ as a gift.  And so you.
            You will be in haven by grace, too.  Not by any merit or worthiness on your part.  You are a Christian now by grace.  You didn’t choose this.  Not one of us would have chosen to go through the narrow door.  The Holy Spirit gave us this faith in Christ in our Baptism and in the Word.  And it is the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the faith.  “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” as we confess in the Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).  The Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel and enlightened me with His gifts in Word and Sacrament.  And that’s how you enter by the narrow door.  The Holy Spirit does it, directing you to Christ by the Gospel.  So Jesus turns the question back upon the questioner in our Gospel reading. He turns it back upon you.  Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (v. 23).  Jesus doesn’t answer directly.  Instead He gives an admonition, an imperative: You “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (v. 24).  Be concerned with your own salvation.  Remain in Christ.  Remain in Him by remaining in His Word, in His Church.  Be in the Divine Service.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament. Because there, in the means of grace, the Holy Spirit does His work.
            And there’s room for everybody at the Table.  This one (pointing at the altar).  After instruction, of course.  That’s all we mean when we talk about closed Communion, that you should be instructed and confess that you believe what you’ve learned before you come to the altar.  But this Table is for people from all backgrounds, from all ethnicities, for men and women, for high and low, for rich and poor, for young and old, for healthy and sick, for the popular and the despised.  This Table is for sinners who know their sin, who suffer under their sin, who mourn over their sin, who know all too well that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  It is not for the unrepentant.  If you don’t think you need forgiveness, if you don’t think it takes the blood and death of God to save you, don’t come.  This Table is closed to you.  But if you know and believe that you are in fact a poor, miserable sinner, by nature sinful and unclean, who has sinned against God by thought, word, and deed, by what you have done and by what you have left undone… if you know to the heart and core of your soul that you are unworthy, then this Table is for you.  In a great paradoxical reversal, at this Table, those who believe they are worthy are unworthy and should not approach.  Those who know their unworthiness but have faith in these words, “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins,” these are worthy, not in themselves, but in Christ.  This Table is for those who have nothing to bring to it but their own sin and filth and death.  And here your Lord Jesus takes all that away and gives you in exchange His true Body, nailed to the cross for you, His true Blood, gushing from His wounds for your forgiveness, His righteousness, His resurrection life, and nothing short of eternal salvation.  He’s the narrow door.  And this is where you enter: Baptismal font, Absolution, Scripture and preaching, and here at this Table.
            There are not many roads to salvation, but there is one sure road, Jesus Christ, the Savior.  Today He calls the nations to Himself by His Word, a multitude from the East and the West and from every corner of the earth.  Today He calls you.  This Word is for you.  This God is for you.  This Jesus is for you.  Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, Jesus Christ died for you, for your sins.  They are paid for, in full, every last one of them, by His death on the cross.  Christ has redeemed you for Himself.  And He’s risen from the dead, which means that in Him you have eternal life.  He will raise you, too, on the Last Day.  Everybody is seeking God in one way or another, according to their own human wisdom.  But you have been given the wisdom from on high, the wisdom of God, in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  Foolishness to the world, but able to make you wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), given to you by grace, through the Holy Spirit’s call.  So the Lord Jesus will never tell you to depart.  His Word to you is “Come!”  Come and enter the joy of your Lord.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 15)
Aug. 18, 2013
Text: Luke 12:49-56

            This is not a feel-good sermon, because this is not a feel-good text.  Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51; ESV).  Do these words surprise you?  This doesn’t sound like what we think Jesus should be saying, does it?  After all, didn’t the angels sing to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth: “peace on earth, goodwill to men”?  Indeed, they did (cf. Luke 2:14).  So what can Jesus mean that He comes not to give peace on earth, but rather, division?  Well, first, the peace on earth of which the angels sang in the Christmas song is peace with God on account of Jesus’ coming to save us from our sins, to pay for our sins in His death on the cross, to cover our sins with His blood.  That peace Jesus does bring.  That’s why He came.  But the peace of which our text speaks, the peace on earth Jesus did not come to bring, is some sort of happy, live-and-let-live tolerance-of-all-perspectives-and-all-worldviews-so-no-one-gets-their-feelings-hurt peace.  You know, the peace the hippy movement was all about in the 60s and 70s, which has led to moral relativism and the denial of universal truth today.  The fact is, the Word of God is not tolerant.  God is not tolerant, and if you think He is, you’re worshiping a false god.  Forgiveness is not the same thing as tolerance.  God forgives sin on account of Christ, but He does not tolerate sin.  The Word of God claims of itself that it is absolute truth spoken by an absolute God.  Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).  In other words, the only way to heaven, the only way to be saved, is believing in Jesus.  And now you know from experience what Jesus means when He says He did not come to bring peace, but division.  Just try saying some of these things at a party where unbelievers are present, or even Christians of another persuasion, and see how popular you are.  Some of your peace-loving and tolerant friends will begin to hate you for the things you say.  But they’ll call you the hater.  If you’re steadfast in your confession of God’s Word, you may be asked to leave the party.  And what is true of the party is true on a much grander scale of life in this unbelieving world.  Confess Christ and His Word and peace-loving, tolerant people will have no tolerance for you.  They will hate you and call you a hater.  And if you remain steadfast in your confession, they may ask you to leave… As in leave this world.  In other words, they’ll kill you in the name of tolerance.  It’s not that far-fetched.  Just ask one of the martyrs.
            So here we comfortable Americans are faced with a crisis.  Maybe Christianity was never meant to be this comfortable.  Maybe we’ve been living in a bubble that is about to burst.  Certainly we are living in a bubble of false security that could burst at any time.  And the question becomes whether we will continue living by faith, or give up because of the things we see; whether we will remain steadfast under persecution, or capitulate to the world; whether we will interpret the signs rightly (these things are a sign that Jesus is coming soon), or close our eyes to the truth and go on in blissful ignorance.  The Word of the Lord is not neutral, and so neither can the Christian remain neutral.  The reason Jesus and His Word are so divisive is that the Word of the Lord demands nothing less than the death of the sinner.  And that is not pleasant.  That is why the world (and frankly, you and I) would rather listen to the religious sounding false prophets of the day rather than to the true preachers of God’s Word.  The Law of God slaughters you.  It burns you up and it crushes you to pieces.  It hurts.  Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).  It does this, because by His Word the Lord is accomplishing a death and resurrection in you.  He crushes you, that He might make you alive in Christ.  The Law kills.  The Gospel raises you from the dead.  In other words, the Gospel gives you faith in Christ.  Understand that in your Baptism you died with Christ.  You were crucified with Him.  And so you have been raised with Him in Holy Baptism.  You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  That is why you don’t fear death.  You have a life in Christ that can never be extinguished.  That life will be revealed in all its glory on the Last Day when Jesus raises you in your body from the grave.  But in the meantime, we are called to suffer, because our life is, as St. Paul says, hidden.  We are called to be persecuted to whatever degree God determines, to be scorned, to be hated, to be called haters.  So be it.  We suffer in hope, a hope that is as sure and certain as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
            So we live by faith, not by sight.  We live by faith, and in so living we walk with a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1).  Some of those witnesses you heard about last week in the Epistle lesson (Heb. 11:1-16) and in Pastor Mues’ sermon.  We heard about some more this week in the Epistle (vv. 17-40).  Every one of them suffered, and every one of them teaches us by their example how to live by faith in the midst of suffering.  Thank God every day that you’ll never be called to do what Abraham was called to do in the sacrifice of his son Isaac.  The Lord spared the boy at the last moment, but it was not apparent to Abraham that that would happen as he raised the knife to sacrifice his son.  He believed, though, in spite of all appearances, that God could raise the dead, and as it happened, another Son of Abraham did have to die as a sacrifice on a mountain, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all the nations of the earth are blessed.  He died as the sacrifice for our sin, and God raised Him from the dead, vindicating Abraham’s faith and ours.  Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, they all suffered in this life.  They were all hated by the unbelieving world.  But they bore the burden by faith, trusting that in the end, God would make everything right.  Moses was a marked man from the beginning, saved only by the water of the Nile, just as we are saved by the water of Baptism.  When He chose to be faithful to God and His Israel over the comforts of Egypt, he suffered reproach and had to flee for his life into the wilderness.  Israel itself had to flee Egypt through the Baptism of the Red Sea and into the wilderness, where they were hated by all the nations.  But they looked forward to the Land God had promised, even as we look forward to heaven and the resurrection as we travel through the wilderness of this fallen world.  So many other saints mentioned in our reading from Hebrews.  All of them suffered on account of Christ.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats,” a grotesque torture where the skin of the animal would shrink around you as it dried, until it squeezed you to death, they were “destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy” (vv. 35-38).  Christians are given to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-14), seasoning this fallen world with wisdom and shining light on the path to eternal life, our Lord Jesus Christ.  But the world will reject you for it.  Know that for certain.  You are the rude guest who always brings up religion at the dinner table.  You’re the one at the party that your peace-loving, tolerant friends love to hate.  Christianity is not so comfortable after all.  And Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth… not that kind of peace, at least, but rather, division. 
            Jesus says a strange thing about this, though.  He calls you blessed.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).  Your hope in the midst of persecution is not that your guy wins the White House and restores religious liberty to this nation and the nations of the world.  Your hope is not in Supreme Court rulings or even in the First Amendment of the Constitution.  Your hope is not in winning the war on terror or the struggle with secularism.  Your hope is not in men.  It is in God.  It is in the God who became man for your sake, Christ Jesus.  Your hope is the God who was killed for His religion.  Your hope is the Man who is risen from the dead and who will raise you.  Rejoice and be glad, indeed.  The world is not worthy of you.  And the end of the story is this: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).  In other words, in the end, all that is divided will be united in praise of Christ, whether willingly or unwillingly, and you will be vindicated by God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.