Sunday, June 28, 2015
Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Their father loved him so because he was the child of his old age and the son of his favorite wife Rachel, and that made them jealous and angry and filled with hatred for him and for their father as well. And so, they plotted against him, and they threw him in a pit and they sold him into slavery to some Midianite traders. And then, to cover their evil deed, they brought the symbol of their father’s love for him, the object that inspired their jealousy and hatred, the beautiful robe of many colors their father had given him, tattered and torn and smeared with animal blood, and they told their father that his beloved son had been attacked and killed by wild animals.
Approximately twenty years later, they traveled to Egypt to obtain grain, as there was a severe famine in the land. Pharaoh’s second-in-command was merciful to them and provided them grain for their families. When they returned a second time, Pharaoh’s second-in-command revealed himself to his brothers. The brother they envied and hated, whom they sold into slavery and lied to their father about saying that he was dead, he was alive and powerful and merciful.
But, still, they were fearful and full of jealousy and hatred. Though they knew he was their brother, and that he had shown them mercy and kindness instead of wrath and punishment, still they feared him and they hated him. They murmured amongst themselves, maybe he will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him. And so, they continued their deceit and they devised yet another lie. They sent a message to their brother saying that his father had given this command before he died, that Joseph would forgive his brothers and, get this, himself too!
Joseph wept. Jesus wept. God the Father weeps. Why do they weep? They weep because we human creatures are so very, very corrupted by sin that we are truly blind and cannot see. They weep because we men, women, and children have such huge, sinful logs in our eyes that we cannot see the grace, mercy, and love that is being offered to us. Moreover, we are so very, very corrupted by sin that our flesh and reason do not want God’s grace, mercy, and love. We do not trust it. We resent it. We fear it. And so, we lie, and we flee, and we hide. We plot murder, we try to kill God, and we make excuses to cover it all up. We are afraid of being caught, of being exposed, and so we hide like cockroaches in the darkness of our sinful depravity. We assuage our feelings of guilt and fear by judging and condemning others, so that we can feel righteous and justified ourselves – at least, more righteous and justified than others.
Joseph wept. He wept because, though he had shown them nothing but mercy and compassion, still they feared him and did not trust him, still they hated him and despised him. Joseph wept because, despite all that, he did love them. Joseph loved his hateful brothers who wanted him dead. Joseph loved them because he loved God, and he knew that God loved both him and his brothers. Joseph did not judge himself better, holier, more righteous than his brothers. There but for the grace of God go I, he confessed. Joseph knew the grace and mercy he had received from God, how God delivered him from his brothers, from the Midianites, from Potiphar, and ultimately from Pharaoh himself. Therefore, Joseph loved his brothers, even though they hated him. Joseph loved his brothers despite themselves, and he could see, he knew, that God had worked everything – even all the evil and hatred of his brothers and the treachery of Potiphar’s wife – Joseph knew that God had worked everything for good, just as He promised in His Word. When his brothers threw themselves down before him and offered their lives in service to him – because they could not see his grace, mercy, and compassion, but thought only evil of him – Joseph wept and said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them. He gave them the best land in Egypt and provided for his father, his brothers, and their families.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” Any of you heard that lately? I have, exclusively from folks who were very happy about this week’s ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States making the right to same-sex marriage the law of the land. Such folk like to cherry-pick passages like this to make the case that Jesus is all about grace, mercy, and love, not judging and condemning. And, ya know, they’re right about that! But, that’s not the whole of it. Jesus is full of grace, mercy, and love for those confess that they are sinners and turn in repentance. However, for those who deny that they are sinners, who refuse to repent, who claim righteousness in themselves, while He continues to love them and call to them, Jesus can be very, very heavy wielding the Law of God.
Indeed, Jesus follows His teaching, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned,” with one additional couplet that gets conveniently left out, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Why do they leave that part about forgiveness out, I wonder? Ah, it’s because they don’t believe that they need to be forgiven anything. They haven’t sinned, right? They certainly don’t believe that homosexual relations are sinful. So, they just ignore that part. They just leave the forgiveness bit off. Therefore, they completely miss Jesus’ point in this teaching. They cherry-pick and take His words out of their context, and then they misunderstand, misrepresent, and misapply it.
So, what does Jesus mean to teach us in this Gospel? It is this: Do not judge, do not condemn, but forgive, because the holy and perfect Law of God judges and condemns you all, and what you all need, whether you recognize it or not, is forgiveness. That is why you are like the blind leading the blind – you are all blind in your sin and will fall together into the pit of death. That is why you cannot help your brother to remove the speck from his eye, because you have a giant log in your own eye obscuring your vision.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how timely is this Gospel for us today! We are in no position to judge or condemn anyone, for we, ourselves, are sinners in need of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Let us learn this lesson, not only from our Lord today, but from the example of Joseph who, though he was wickedly wronged by his brothers, would not judge and condemn them, but showed them grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Joseph could do this, Joseph had to do this, because he knew what a wretched sinner he was himself, and he knew the boundless grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness the Lord had shown him.
Still, only sinners can be forgiven. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. There is a judge of sin, and that is the Lord and His Word. No, it is not our place to judge. We are judged ourselves. But the Word of the Lord is the judge of all. All who confess their sin and repent receive the forgiveness Jesus died to give. But, those who refuse and reject His forgiveness, claiming they righteous and just and without sin, they are judged and condemned already. When it comes to homosexual acts, these sins are no worse than others before the Lord. But, they are sins, and they cannot be blessed or accepted as anything but. We do not judge or condemn those who practice such sins, but we must show grace, mercy, love, and compassion to them as brothers and sisters who are sinners in need of forgiveness just like us – There but for the grace of God go I.
However, our culture, and now our government, has put us in a difficult position. The culture and the government refuse to acknowledge such acts as sin, but they have instead blessed and accepted such sinful acts as normal, acceptable, and even good. Increasingly, Christians who simply say what the Lord has said in His Word about these acts, that they are sinful, are called bigots and hateful. Now that the law of the land embraces, blesses, and celebrates such acts, it is likely that the Word of the Lord will be declared hate speech and that the freedom to exercise our religion will be ghettoized to our churches and homes alone. It is even likely that congregations will lose their tax-exempt status, which will place an enormous financial burden upon the church, likely crushing a small congregation like Christ the King. What can we expect in the weeks and months to come? Hopefully, not much. But, I agree with what Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George said back in 2010: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” However, that is not all that Cardinal George said. Though it is less frequently quoted, Cardinal George continued by saying that “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
“For, the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” We are all sinners. Our sin goes all the back to our First Father, the First Sinner, Adam. Adam plunged all of his progeny, even all of creation, into sin, and corruption, and death. Ever since then, creation has been trapped in an endless cycle of deterioration leading to death. Joseph knew this, and he wept. Jesus knew this, and He wept. God knows this, and He weeps. This is why we must not, we cannot judge or condemn. We’re all in the same sinful, sinking boat!
But, we are not like those who have no hope! No, indeed! Even as Joseph, despite all the evil that had been done to him at the hands of his brothers, and at the hands of enemies of the Jews, did not despair, but he recognized that, though they meant evil against him, God meant it for good, so, too, will God work this terrible situation for good. For, if this causes Christians to study His Word more and to receive His gifts more, to pray more, and to seek to live according to His Word more, and to witness more in their vocations, to uphold God-instituted marriage more and to faithfully love and serve their husbands and wives and children more, to chasten their laxity on divorce and premarital sex and co-habitation more, and to unite with like-minded and like-hearted Christians of other denominations more on issues in which we agree while not capitulating on those issues in which we disagree, then, that is a good thing, and a hopeful thing, and a blessed thing, and a necessary thing!
Truly, we have behaved much like Joseph’s brothers towards our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father. We have been jealous of Him and have feared Him and have even sold Him into slavery and murdered Him. And yet, He says to us, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Because of His love for us, and His grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, we do not judge, and we do not condemn, but we stand firm on the Word of our Lord, never flinching on the Truth, while loving and serving in grace, mercy, and compassion, just as we have received these in fullness and abundance in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Luke 15:1-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11; Micah 7:18-20
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” Or, so goes the oft-quoted poem from J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” which today is frequently pasted to the bumpers of motorhomes and a multitude of recreational vehicles traveling our nation’s highways and byways. Unfortunately, while this may be true of Tolkien’s mythological Ranger/Messiah/King figure Aragorn, it is unequivocally untrue of every human being who has ever lived, save one – the one that Tolkien’s Ranger Aragorn served as metaphor of, the only Son of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Truly Jesus is the only man who has ever wandered far from His home so that He had no place on earth to lay His head, and yet, Jesus was everything but lost. Indeed, Jesus came to seek and to find, to save and to restore, and to bring home those who were lost – you and I. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks, finds, and saves His lost sheep. Jesus is the woman who diligently searched her house until she found her lost coin. Still, the key thing to recognize and to confess today is that you were lost, but now you have been found. Jesus has found you. His Holy Spirit has called you by His Gospel, enlightened, sanctified, and kept you in faith. Before Jesus, without Jesus, you were a straying, wandering, and lost sheep – and often still you stray and wander. Before Jesus, without Jesus, you were as completely helpless as an inanimate coin dropped between the floorboards, lost to all – and often still you become spiritually listless and lifeless. But, you are precious to Jesus and His Father, and He has forsaken everything to find you, to purchase you, and to restore you. Jesus wandered far from heaven, far from His Father’s home, to seek and to find His Father’s lost children, His own lost sheep. He found you, and He did what was necessary to save you and to restore you. He gave all that He had, even His very life because He loves you, and He loves His Father who loves you, and you are precious to Him, you are precious to the Holy Triune God. You are His sheep and His children, and He will never let you go.
But, there are many layers to the onion of Jesus’ parables of the lost. And, I will but scratch the surface of them with you today. Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes who grumbled that tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus and were eagerly listening to and receiving His teaching. However, what really offended them was the fact that Jesus welcomed these people and joyfully ate and drank with them. Jesus treated them as equals, as brothers and sisters, as fellow children of Abraham and children of His heavenly Father. Those lost and broken people were precisely the people Jesus came to seek, to find, to save, and to restore. Ironically, that was the work the Pharisees and the scribes were supposed to be doing! The Pharisees and the scribes were supposed to be the shepherds, pastors, and teachers of Israel proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News, that God was seeking, saving, and restoring His people just as He had promised after man’s fall in the Garden. But, somewhere along the way, the shepherds of Israel became hardened in their hearts and self-righteous. What they failed to see, to remember, and to confess was that they themselves were also lost and needed to be found, saved, and restored. They believed that they kept God’s Law pretty well – and, truth be told, they did, except that they bent and lowered the bar of the Law repeatedly in order to make it more do-able in their eyes and in the eyes of men. And, so, the reality is that they did not keep the Law of God – for, no one keeps the Law of God – but they deceived themselves into believing that they did keep it. They were lost, but they could not see that they were lost; therefore, they could not be found. They were sinners, but they did not believe or confess that they were sinners; therefore, they could not be forgiven. And, because of their self-righteousness – which is no righteousness at all – they judged others guilty of sin and of failing to keep God’s Law, and they condemned the very children of Israel that they were called and sent to seek, to save, and to restore.
Jesus compared them to shepherds, which offended them, for they did not see themselves as shepherds and they considered shepherds to be lowly and beneath them and unclean. Moreover, Jesus accused them of losing a sheep. You see, He didn’t say that the sheep wandered off and got themselves lost, but that the shepherd lost a sheep. The lost sheep Jesus was referring to were the sinners and tax collectors that were lost and needed to be found, whom the shepherd-Pharisees refused to acknowledge, let alone look for or take any risk to find, save, and restore. And yet, Jesus’ parabolic shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in his flock in order to find the one that he had lost. Now, I don’t think that most anyone would consider this a wise move – to abandon ninety-nine sheep in order to find one; it just doesn’t make good economical sense. And, yes, there are many biblical commentators who suggest that there were other shepherds to watch the ninety-nine. Well, maybe, but Jesus does not say that. Therefore, I think that we can take from this a deeper theological meaning – the ninety-nine sheep are just as lost as the one. Yet, the shepherd in Jesus’ parable picks and chooses which sheep to care for and which to simply ignore and abandon. The Pharisees and the scribes did just that in practice, because they considered themselves among the ninety-nine sheep that were safe and secure in their own self-righteousness. They could care less about those they judged and condemned as sinners and unclean. They were not the Lord’s sheep in their eyes, let alone the children of Israel, of Abraham, and of God.
And, then, Jesus hits them a second time by comparing the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees to a woman, to a woman who has also, once again, lost something – she has lost one of her coins. Again, the parable seems a bit exaggerated from the judgment of human reason: She has ten coins. Why the panic and fuss over one lost coin? Again, commentators speculate on the great value of the lost coin, or that the coin represented her husband’s pay for one week of work and that she was given the great responsibility of managing his money. Well, maybe, but, again, Jesus does not include any such details. The important point here is that the lost coin was important and precious to the woman so that she stopped everything and searched the whole house until she found it and it was restored to her treasury. The Pharisees and the scribes had no such zeal for the lost sheep of the Lord’s flock and the lost children of Israel. Consequently, Jesus ends both parables with the summary explanation of what they mean saying, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
“Not all those who wander are lost?” The point of Jesus’ parables of the lost is that we are all lost and need to be found. Indeed, there is rejoicing in heaven over each and every sinner who repents. To be found is to repent. To repent is to recognize and to confess that you are lost, that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. Notice, there’s no talk about good works, great faith, sincerity of repentance, etc. Jesus simply states that there is rejoicing in heaven over sinners who repent. To repent is to be found. Only the lost can be found. Only sinners can repent. And, repentance is not a work that you do, but it is something that is worked in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Lord. Think of it as the Good Shepherd’s call to His lost sheep. The sheep remain lost until the Shepherd calls. Then, they hear – and, hearing is a passive activity – and they respond; but responding is dependent upon the call: no call, no response – period.
Thanks be to God that He has sent His Son, the Good Shepherd, to call His lost sheep, to call you and me, to repentance. Thanks be to God that He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us, creating faith and trust in our hearts and turning us from our wayward path of sin and destruction back to Jesus who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. His Gospel call has gone, and goes, out to all through His undershepherds, His pastors and priests and ministers, and through you, the Priesthood of all Believers. Jesus continues to eat and to drink with sinners, and the angels of heaven continue to rejoice over each and every sinner who repents.
“Not all those who wander are lost?” You were lost, but you have been found. Now you get to participate in the searching and the seeking and in the calling and the restoring. Do not despise those wayward sheep who are sinfully pursuing their sinful paths – they are lost. But, go and find them. Call to them with your Master’s voice, His Holy Word which is the vehicle and means of the Holy Spirit. Call them to repentance by showing them mercy and compassion while sharing with them the hope that is in you. And, return here, to the flock, where your Good Shepherd is present with His Words and with His Wounds to forgive you anew, to heal and to restore you, to nourish you and to protect you, and to build you up for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Holy Name. Let us rejoice with the angels of heaven over each and every sinner who repents. To the glory of God the Father, through His Blessed Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The social dynamics of the dinner party invitation are a fascinating case study in human behavior. As it goes, we inherently feel more comfortable being the inviter than the invitee. But, why is this? Is it not because the inviter is in control and independent, whereas the invitee is obligated to respond to the inviter and, supposing he accepts the invitation, dependent upon the inviter to some degree? We have a deep-seated aversion to this arrangement, for we do not like to be beholden to others or dependent upon them. Therefore, if we accept the invitation, what do we do but shuffle and scramble to ask, “What can I bring?” We feel obligated to bring something, and that makes us uncomfortable. We feel dependent, thus we are desperate to satisfy our debt and make ourselves independent once again. Truly, we’d rather not go at all, but, it is rude to decline without a good reason, and we are loath to reveal our true feelings and motivations. So, what do we do? Simple, we make excuses.
What are excuses, but attempts to justify ourselves, to alleviate our guilt, and to deny or push off our obligation and debt upon another. Such was the tactic of our First Parents in the Garden when the LORD came a calling after them. Adam blamed his wife, whom the LORD had given him. Eve blamed the serpent and the LORD who had made it. And, that was but three chapters into the Holy Scriptures that started our perfect, righteous, and holy! Truly, the desire to be independent and in control of our lives and our situation is deeply ingrained in us. Truly, this desire is the fruit of the Original Sin that is deeply ingrained in us – Original Sin that is truly sin, and truly our sin, sin that truly hates God and hates our dependence upon Him, because what we truly desire is to be gods ourselves, to be independent and in control, beholden and accountable to no one at anytime.
Yes, this is why we make excuses. This is why, though we would never admit it, the worst thing in our estimation is grace. The very idea that we cannot contribute anything at all to our justification, to satisfy our debt to the LORD, or to gain independence, rattles and infuriates us at the very core of our being. And, so, we run and we hide, we make excuses to cover ourselves, to justify ourselves, but the LORD sees through it all. And, so, we have two choices: Keep running from the LORD in fear and hate. Or, let the LORD’s righteousness have its way with us and kill us, that He might raise us up to new and eternal life in Him.
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This is most certainly true! Eating bread in the kingdom of God is blessedness, what it means to be blessed. Apart from this, nothing is blessed. Who could possibly not desire such blessedness? Who, indeed? Those who are not interested in being blessed by someone or something external to themselves. You see, Jesus told the Parable of the Great Banquet to the host and guests at a dinner party at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Jesus observed that the guests the inviter invited were other scribes, lawyers, and Pharisees, men of great wealth and repute. Jesus also observed how they each vied for seats of honor in relation to their inviter and host. He taught them saying, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the Just.”
Blessing goes both ways, but not in the ways our flesh desires. Those who confess that they have need and that they are dependent are blessed by those who have. Likewise, those who have are blessed in blessing those who have not. Further, as Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, there is blessing in poverty, hunger, thirst, reviling, and persecution, for those who suffer such are in the best position to receive blessing and grace. However, the flesh desires, truly, not to be blessed at all! To be blessed implies that one has need and is dependent, and that is something that the flesh denies, detests, and abhors. Therefore, those who believe that they are independent and self-sufficient invite those who are most likely to benefit them in some way – with their reputation, with their wealth, or with the likelihood of a reciprocal invitation. But, this is not an invitation of grace, but of selfishness and manipulation. The invitees are not guests to be blessed, but they are resources to be used to build up one’s own appearance of independence, reputation, and wealth. Thus, Jesus teaches that true blessing is in giving to those who cannot pay back, for that blessing comes, not from man or mammon, but from the LORD who gives all things to those who can in no way pay Him back.
Those who were first invited each made excuses and refused to come to the banquet. They dishonored the inviter and refused to be in his debt. They considered themselves independent and free. They were concerned only with meeting their own needs and tending to their own affairs. They thought themselves the originators of their own success and prosperity. They had no need for blessing, but that they were a blessing unto themselves. And so, the invitation went out to those who confessed their dependence and need. “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” This is First Commandment stuff folks! “You shall have no other gods before me.” What does this mean? “You shall fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things.” There is only one Inviter, only one gracious Host, and that One is the LORD. To refuse Him, to reject Him for any reason at all is to fear, love, and trust in something or someone other than Him. That is why fearing Him is wisdom. That is why knowledge of the Holy One is insight. To deny Him is foolishness. To reject Him is death. Your excuses do not cover your sin any better than did the fig leaves Adam and Eve wove together to cover their nakedness. God can see right through them. Moreover, all those things you deem more important than the LORD, more important than His invitation, His banquet, they are even now perishing. Their end is death, and sooner than you think! The field bears weeds and thorns and poisonous herbs. It is depleted and bears fruit no more. Your oxen age and die of disease or predators. Even your spouse you cannot keep forever, but they perish and are no more.
But, Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn her pillars, slaughtered her beasts, mixed her wine and set her table. It is finished. The feast is prepared, for you and for all. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be sated. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But, will you come? Will you eat and drink? Will you be blessed by the LORD? Or, will you make excuses? Will you deny that you have need? Will you refuse to submit yourself, to indebt yourself to Him? The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, because fear, love, and trust in the LORD confesses the truth about yourself, what the LORD has said about you: You are a sinner in need of forgiveness. You are dead and in need of life. And, you are invited by the LORD to the feast that He has prepared for His Son – a feast at which He is both Host and Meal. Come, eat the Bread of Life and live. Come, drink the life-giving blood of Life Incarnate for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life everlasting. You are invited, but do not attempt to bring anything besides your wretched self. And, do not try to buy or merit your way in. This feast is by invitation only, without cost, and with expectation of reciprocation. However, do know this: If you eat and drink of the LORD’s banquet, you will not return home the same as you came. You will be changed. You will be filled. And, you will be blessed. You will be blessed to be a blessing to all who will not refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation. You will be His servants and His messengers. You will be His hands, and His heart, and His voice, loving, not in word and talk, but in deed and in truth, to the glory of the Father, in the Name of the Son, and through His Most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today we enter the Trinity / Pentecost season of the Church’s Year of Grace, otherwise known as “that long green season”. But there’s a reason for the color green, for, green symbolizes growth, and the Time of the Church is the time of the Church’s growth by the Holy Spirit sent on Pentecost. For it is the Holy Spirit that grows the Church, not men, no matter how pious or earnest, not evangelism programs, no matter how well intentioned, not ecclesial bureaucracies, no matter how much they might appeal to human pride and wisdom. And, providentially, for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this time of the church year coincides with the Gregorian calendar in terms of seasons so that we are in the middle of Spring approaching Summer and have finally progressed beyond the last killing frost. Now is the time of sowing seeds, of planting, watering, nourishing, fertilizing, weeding, of growing. There is work to be done while the daylight is long and the conditions are good, the work of spreading the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection of the life of the world.
This time of the Church Year focuses and directs our attention upon, and teaches the Church anew, how the Holy Spirit accomplishes this work through the body of Christ, the Church. Now is the time in which the Church remembers and learns anew Who She Is and why She is, that She exists for the sake of the people Jesus died to save, that She exists for the life of the world. But, it is the Holy Spirit’s work, the sowing, planting, watering, nourishing, fertilizing, weeding, and growing, through the Church, while there is yet time. For, the harvest is coming, today, tomorrow, or the day after. Pray that when the Lord comes to reap His harvest, the Church may be found actively leavening the world with the Gospel Word and Holy Sacraments.
But, the Enemy tempts the Body of Christ to grow complacent, to become fat and lazy, lethargic, self-righteous. The Enemy lulls the Church to sleep saying, “Your Bridegroom is delayed. Perhaps He’s not coming at all. Take a little rest, you’ve been faithful in much, you’ve done well, you’ve earned it. After all, those people out there, they’ve had their chance to hear, but they’ve closed their ears and cursed you. You’re much better than them. Take some rest, you deserve it.” Or, the Enemy tempts the Body of Christ to take matters into Her own hands, believing that it is men who must grow the Church. And, so, men create program after program and build towering bureaucracies rivaling the Tower of Babel, treating the Church of Christ like a business, utilizing marketing and strategic planning aimed at selling a product to fickle and self-serving consumers. “If people aren’t filling the pews and the coffers, then we need to redesign, repackage, and remarket our product.” The questions become “What do consumers want? What do consumers like?” Rather than “What do sinners need?”
In the first case, the Church becomes self-serving and unconcerned with those outside Her walls. We become like the Rich Man in the parable, feasting sumptuously on the feast of God’s Love and forgiveness in Jesus, but greedily keeping it to ourselves, passing by and disparaging the Lazarus’s outside our doors. But, as the Apostle warns, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” Do not be deceived, every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire. The Time of the Church is a time to be reminded and instructed anew who the Church is and why the Church is. The Church is the Body of Christ consisting of all believers, and She exists on earth today to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and devil for the life of the world. This is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church, through you, in your divine vocations, to forgive sins, have mercy, show compassion, grace, and charity, to love your neighbor, your brother, with the love of God, in Christ Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And, this work starts when you leave this place, for, the Spirit goes with you, in you, and through you, that you might be a leavening agent, a light, in this world of sin, darkness, and death. What happens out there matters! We are not here to serve ourselves. You are not here for yourself alone.
In the second case, the Church, again, becomes self-serving, but, by being overly concerned with those outside Her walls. That is to say, the Church becomes an end in Herself; the most important thing becomes, not faithfulness to God’s Word, but the growing the institution. The bottom line, numbers, is the Gospel of such a church, and, the bottom line is to be increased by any means necessary. If the Name of Jesus is offensive, then it must be removed. If liturgical appointments, altars, pulpits, crosses, liturgy, hymns are offensive, then they must be removed. If the preaching of the Law is offensive, it must be removed. If Sacraments are seen to be tired traditions not relevant to today’s culture, they must be removed. Give the people want they want, no mind to what they need. Entertain them, make them feel good, give them the latest self-help advice, a practical do-it-yourself therapy, something positive and self-affirming. If you build it, they will come…, for a while, then it needs to be redesigned, repackaged, remarketed, “New & Improved”, “the Church 2.1”.
This is a powerful temptation today. We look at the empty seats and we wonder “Where is everyone? Are we doing something wrong?” Add to this concern the financial concerns of the Church and we are tempted to alter our message or change our ceremony, or develop some new program, marketing approach, or whatever, to make people come to church. We become like Abram who, in his old age, despaired that he had no son, no heir, that his line would end with him. “What was it all for?” he thought. Even though God promised Abram that he would have a son, an heir of his own flesh, and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, he took matters into his own hands and went into his wife’s maidservant Hagar, and she conceived and bore him a son, Ishmael. The Lord made Ishmael into a great nation, but He did not give Ishmael his blessing and much wickedness and strife came from, and still comes from, the descendants of Ishmael. Church growth tactics, taken from the business schools, may produce growth in attendance and money in the coffer, but they are quite often at the expense of faithfulness to God’s Word and in contradiction to, and denial of, the workings of the Holy Spirit in and through the Bride of Christ, the Church.
For, the bottom line is this, the Church of Christ is the Church of Pentecost, born of the Holy Spirit, birthing Christians by the fiery Word of the Gospel and the watery womb of Holy Baptism, feeding, nourishing, forgiving, and strengthening those born again of water and Spirit with the flesh and blood of the incarnate Word of God Jesus Christ. By the workings of the Holy Spirit, over three thousand souls were added to the Church on the Day of Pentecost, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. And the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, in and through you, His Church, continues to add to the number day by day those who are being saved.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.