Sunday, October 27, 2019

Festival of the Reformation (observed)

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 4:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” That’s a first century Judaic way of saying, “There’s no satisfying you. There’s nothing that can be done to make you content.” Jesus says that’s what the Jews of His day were like: They were like discontent and unsatisfied children. When John the Baptist came preaching to them, they thought he had a demon because he fasted and abstained from wine. And, when Jesus came preaching to them, they accused Him of being a glutton and drunkard, cavorting with tax collectors and sinners. However, Jesus says that such discontent and dissatisfaction with both John and Himself are indicative of a much more serious problem – the people and their religious leaders were inflicting violence upon the kingdom of heaven, attempting to take it by force.
What Jesus is speaking of is much less physical violence against John and Himself – though they violently opposed them and murdered them both – but Jesus was speaking of their violence against the Word of God. Both John and Jesus came preaching the Law and the Gospel of God, but like the prophets before them, and the evangelists after them, the people were discontent and unsatisfied. They reacted violently against the Word of God and the preachers of His Word. They sought to take God’s kingdom by violence, according to their own wisdom and judgment of what is right and wrong, good and evil. They would not tolerate God’s Word. They closed their ears and shut their eyes tight, making themselves to be spiritually deaf and blind. They set their wisdom and word above the Word of God. “The Word they still shall let remain nor any thanks have for it,” then, now, and always. 
This is the work of Satan, who continually inflicts violence upon the kingdom of heaven by inflicting violence upon the Word of God. Satan began his attack in the garden, tempting our First Parents to doubt the Word of God asking, “Did God really say?” Then he attacked and murdered those preachers of the Word, the Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, and Martyrs who undauntedly called men to repentance through their faithful and persistent preaching of Law and Gospel. Satan tempts men to prideful self-righteousness, resulting in their resentment, fear, anger, and hatred of the LORD and His Word of Truth that continually shows our sin, guilt, and iniquity and stains our conscience and enslaves us. Willfully men close their ears and eyes and hearts to the Word of God still as Satan snatches the Goodly Seed from their hearts so that they do not and cannot believe. Generation after generation of men forgot the Word of God and sought to justify themselves by their works. Whereas Satan inflicts violence upon the Word of God by distorting it and tempting men to doubt it, men inflict equivalent violence upon the Word of God by trusting in their works to justify themselves. For four hundred years before Christ the Word had not been heard in Israel. No prophet called men to repentance nor proclaimed the Gospel of the Messiah. By the time the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, there was but a remnant of faithful watchers upon the earth.  
Over millennia, men have forgotten the Word of the LORD. Today, we do not teach it to our children. We do not bring our children to Jesus. Generations come and go and the Word of the LORD seems now an alien word, a myth, a bigoted and hateful word, foolishness and something of which to be ashamed and to discard as the primitive superstitions of an unenlightened people. That is where we are today. That is where we were in Luther’s day. That is where we were throughout the four hundred years of silence before the coming of Jesus. We do not remember the Sabbath Day or keep it holy, and so we forget. When men hear the Word of God today they hate it, and they hate you who keep it, they hate Jesus, and they hate God. Is it any wonder that our congregations are in decline? Is it any wonder that our culture and government are embracing evil and godlessness? Is it any wonder that our schools teach that there is no God but that you are gods, or the government is god?
And so, today we do remember. Despite our sin and accommodation to the fallen world and our own sinful flesh we strive to remember. Today we remember the Word of God and we keep it sacred and holy amongst us. Today we remember the many reformations the Church has undergone throughout the millennia. Luther was hardly the first to cry for reform, and, God help us, he will not be the last. Ecclesia semper reformanda est – The Church is always being reformed. How do we remember? We remember by keeping the Sabbath Day holy. We remember by gathering here at this place and time to hear the Word of the LORD and to receive His gifts. And, how do we keep the Sabbath Day holy? We “fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The Word of our LORD is our life, apart from which we die. The Word of the LORD is the bread of which we eat and live, a spring of living water of which we drink and never thirst. The Word of the LORD is not practical advice for living, though it is good and helpful for you. The Word of the LORD does not promise you happiness or success or prosperity or health, but faith, contentment, and strength to persevere and endure. For, this world and this life is not the fullness of your life, but it is the first baby-steps of your life that will never end. The things that you believe in this life and the works that you perform in this life matter, not as works that earn and merit you forgiveness and justification, but as fruit which are the proof and confirmation of your forgiveness and justification. Those who try to earn or merit the kingdom by their works despise the Word of God and attempt to take His kingdom by violence.
How do we remember? We remember by receiving God’s Word, and His Word made visible, touchable, and tasteable in the Blessed Sacraments, the Word made flesh, Jesus. Our Lord Jesus commands us to make disciples by baptizing and teaching all He has commanded. However, Christians have forgotten this Word of the LORD and seemingly despise it. They declare people to be Christian simply because they feel that they are, or say that they are, even while they willfully and defiantly live and act in disobedience to His commands and teach others to do the same. No, in place of a steady diet of holy things, things that are truly good for us and give us life, we have indulged ourselves upon garbage, a sewer of entertainment and corrupt media, not to mention the indoctrination of the public school system which actively seeks to destroy belief in God, in the Christian faith and its doctrines, in biblical morality, values, and ethics. We do not bring our children to the altar of Jesus, but we bring them to altars of football and soccer, of television and video games, or just sleeping in, and we wonder why they don’t believe in God, why they don’t behave like Christians, why they view pornography and engage in pre-marital sexual acts, and experiment with drugs, and have short attention spans and will not tolerate anything that demands patience and attention and analysis and critique, anything that does not gratify immediately but takes work and effort. We wonder why they don’t come to church, when we their parents don’t bring them, when we their parents don’t come to church. We wonder why people leave and others do not come. It is because we, as a people, even as a people who consider themselves to be Christian, do not remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy, but we despise preaching and the Word of God and crave and lust for the words of men.
And so, we despair and wring our hands and contemplate lowering our standards, modernizing, and becoming more friendly and welcoming to a culture that stands in direct opposition to the Word of God and His commandments and hates and despises them. God has given us an Ark, but we choose to stand outside its doors cursing His Name and drown in the flood of His wrath. Or, perhaps the problem is messenger? That is what Satan would have you believe. He causes your ears to itch and tempts you to find a false prophet who will scratch them preaching, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace.” Well, there is an easy and surefire way to tell if your pastor is a false teacher, but it requires your not despising and inflicting violence upon the Word of God. Check what he preaches and teaches against the Word of God – the real and true Word of God, and not some baloney you’ve heard elsewhere or made up yourself. The question that faces every Christian individually and every congregation corporately is this: Does the Word of God claim authority over me, or do I claim authority over Him? If your answer to this question is the former, then you are a Christian and God’s child. If your answer is the latter, then you are no Christian and you have made yourself to be your god.
This is my God (point to crucifix) – Christ crucified. This is your God. This is the God of all true Christians. Now, how does this look to the world, to man’s reason and vaunted wisdom, and to the culture? Weak, sad, pathetic, pitiable, humiliating, a disgrace. Well, as the world views Christ, so does it view you, O Christian. Satan tempts you to do violence to the Word of God, to do violence to Jesus Christ and Him crucified, to remove the offense and speak not of it, to hide it away in shame and speak of more seemly things. But, you are called, O Christian, to confess Christ before the world with the promise that He will confess you before His Father in heaven. But, if you deny Him before men, He will deny you saying, “Depart from me, you wicked; I never knew you.”
This time last year it was 500 years since Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, also known as the Castle Church, effectively beginning what we now commonly call the Reformation. Contrary to what many believe and claim, Luther was not protesting anything at all. Indeed, the subject of all 95 Theses was the singular practice of the selling of indulgences by which believers were told they could purchase the forgiveness of sins for their loved ones in purgatory. This idea that you can justify yourself by your works, by following the world’s word and wisdom or your own, is violence against the Word of the God. You cannot take the kingdom of heaven by violence and force. You cannot earn or merit it by your works. But, you must receive it as it comes to you from your merciful Father through His beloved and righteous Son whom He has put forward as a propitiation for your sins and for the sins of the world. Ecclesia semper reformanda est, the Church is always being reformed. I say to you that our church must be reformed still, and that reform starts right here, right now, in repentance, which is faith, and by remembering the Sabbath Day to keep it holy –not despising preaching and His Word, but holding it sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the kingdom from Your Son and bring to naught all He has done.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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