August 14, 2016

12th Sunday after Trinity + Mark 7:31-37 + August 14, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 3 Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now
Hymn #30 Oh, that I had a Thousand Voices
Hymn #26 Praise the Almighty, My Soul Adore Him

Introit - Psalm 70:1-2a, Psalm 70:2b
(Antiphon) Make haste, O God, to deliver me! Make haste to help me, O LORD! Let them be ashamed and confounded Who seek my life;
Let them be turned back and confused Who desire my hurt.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Isaiah 29:18-19
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
Mark 7:31-37

Collect for Trinity XII
Almighty and Merciful God, of Whose only gift it cometh that Thy faithful people do unto Thee true and laudable service, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may so faithfully serve Thee in this life that we fail not finally to attain Thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         He has done all things well.” That seems like a bit of an understatement, doesn’t it? Jesus has opened the ears of one of who was deaf. He has loosed the tongue of one who was mute. In this miracle Jesus shows Himself once again for who He truly is. He is the Only-Begotten Son of God. He is the Word of God the Father, existing alongside the Father from all eternity. He is the Word by which all things were made, including man’s ears and tongue. Being the creative Word by which the heavens and all that is in them were made, He alone can restore the fallen creation. Jesus shows Himself to be much more than a mere man. Jesus demonstrates that He is not simply a man of God as were the prophets of the former days. The prophets were able to do great wonders and speak great things because the Word of the Lord came to them. Jesus has no need for the Word to come to Him, for He is that same Word of God which gave the prophets their power and speech. Jesus is always teaching us who He is because in every age of the world there are scoffers who want to make all sorts of counter claims about Him. They want to make Him a mere man whom God adopted to be the Messiah. Others want to make Him the first creature of God, before God created the heavens and the earth. But the testimony of Jesus’ works will allow none of these sorts of things. It is as Jesus says, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:37-38). He is able to do all things well because He is God Himself in human flesh, the incorruptible creator of all that is, restoring His creation one by one from the corruption of sin and its ill effects.

2)         Jesus does much more than though than simply giving this man back His hearing and speech. That would have been enough! But there is another element to Jesus’ miracle, just as there is another element to each of Jesus’ gracious acts. What Jesus does to this deaf mute, He does not promise to do to every deaf mute. But what He does to this deaf mute, He promises to that great work to all who are spiritually deaf and mute. What I mean is this. All humanity sits in the seat of this deaf mute. Man is, by nature, deaf to the Word of God. Consider how many people aren’t here on a Sunday morning and you see that is true. Consider how many refuse to hear God’s Word. Consider how many in our world not only neglect preaching but despise it altogether. The world is full of those who think they hear just fine, while in reality their ears are stopped up with the wax of self-righteousness. The world imagines that it speaks just fine, except its mouth only speaks words of praise towards self and destruction towards others. Not hearing the Word of the Lord with their ears, they cannot use their tongues for that which God created them. So many can only use God’s name to curse, swear, to gossip, to lie or deceive. By nature, no one truly prays, praises God, or give Him thanks as he was created to do. Like this deaf mute, everyone is born with the disease of sin that our ears are shut to God’s Word and our tongues are stuck to the roof of our mouth, unable to be used for their divinely-ordained purpose.

3)         And this is why the eternal Word of the Father, the Only-Begotten Son of God, assumes Human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we could behold His glory, “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is because He is gracious toward His creation that He comes to earth enfleshed in our humanity, bearing our burdens and our infirmities. Once this man’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus takes him aside from the crowd and does the oddest of things. He “put His fingers in his ears and He spat and touched his tongue.” Jesus might be signaling to the deaf mute His intentions. “I am going to clear out your ears and moisten your hardened tongue.” But it is more than that. Jesus is always teaching us how He works. When Jesus sticks His fingers into the man’s ears He wants us to remember that with those same fingers He drove out demons, for He said in Luke 11:20, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” With this He shows that it is by His own almighty power which He saves sinners. Previously the finger of God had engraved the Law upon two stone tablets. But now that same finger of God drives out demons and heals closed up so that they cannot hear God’s Word. In this Jesus shows us that for all the glory the ministry of the Law possessed, it was nothing compared to the ministry of the gospel, for the Law brings about sin and death, but Christ brings grace and truth, salvation for all who hear and believe.

4)         Christ continues to demonstrate how He works by spitting and touching the man’s tongue. Saliva comes from the mouth, does it not? Jesus once again teaches that He heals men’s infirmity by means of that which proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Jesus’ saliva signifies His Word, since both come from His mouth. And this saliva is salvific because, as Augustine wrote, “The Word is applied to the element and it becomes a sacrament.” Jesus then speaks one word, “Ephatha,” that is, “be opened.”  Jesus combines His word with a visible element, a most common and ordinary element which all men possess, spit, and that spit makes the deaf mute whole. In this Jesus shows us how He still works among us today through His Word and Sacraments. He still takes elements which are lowly and common, the water of Holy Baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, and combines them with His Word of promise, and those common elements because sin-forgiving, life-giving sacraments for all who believe. This is why the church’s worship has always been centered in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, for these are Christ’s means for bringing His incorruption to sinners, His righteousness to the penitent unrighteous, and His grace to those who are afflicted with the disease of sin. This is why we have preaching and the sacrament every Lord’s Day, for they are the Lord’s instruments for bestowing salvation upon us week after week.

5)         And as we are always sick with sin, we always need the medicine of immortality. So many Christians imagine that the Christian life begins with the forgiveness of sins that then quickly moves on to other more exciting topics and adventures. In reality though, since we live our days in the flesh and carry around with us what Luther so often called this stinking maggot sack of the sinful flesh, we are daily in need of God’s grace, especially His chief grace which is the forgiveness of our sins. And while the Christian does their best to fight sin in their mortal body and not offer their members as slaves to unrighteousness, we still daily find ourselves turning back to our former condition of being deaf mutes. This is the sin that is far more difficult to detect in oneself than something like murder, hatred, adultery, immorality, and the like. Those are external and easy to see for the one who is vigilant against them. It is the sins against the first three commandments which are often hidden from our own eyes because they deal with our tongues and our ears.

6)         Consider this. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of the afternoon being shocked by this thought, “I have not yet prayed today?” How often does it strike you, “I have not yet given thanks to God for the many blessings He has given me?” Do you make it to the end of the day and think to yourself, “In the midst of such a busy day, I have not yet made time to hear the Word of the Lord?” This thought struck me very clearly at one point this week, that I had been slothful in my prayers and slow to hear the of the Word. It was at that point, when I found myself asking those questions of myself, that I realized I was the deaf mute from today’s gospel lesson, spiritually speaking, of course. My ears had been closed up to the Word. It was not malicious. I simply had things to do that, in my sinfulness, I thought more important. My slothfulness in prayer was not premeditated negligence. I had simply imagined that I could put off my prayers until later. It seemed that my tongue had grown an impediment that restrained it from its proper use of prayer, praise, and giving thanks.

7)         So we must always be on our guard against returning to our status as deaf mutes. Being justified by faith we ought to always seek the Word of God, that He put in our own tongue as He put His spittle on the man’s tongue, for when God places His Words on our lips, then we cannot help but speak it back to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. That is what David means when He sings, “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise” (Psalm 51:15). His Word, when we hear, read, mark and learn it, opens our ears to hear of His mercies. His Word, when He places it upon our tongues, gives us a thousand voices to sing our savior’s praise and to confess Him boldly before the world for the sake of men’s salvation. Consider how you are hearing the Word of the Lord. Consider your prayers and your thanksgiving to God. But most of all consider the great things He has done for you in Christ Jesus, and the great things that He does for you through His preaching and through His sacrament. Then you will praise Him with lips and heart, confessing that truly, “He has done all things well” for you. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard you hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

August 10, 2016

11th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 18:9-14 + August 7, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #294 O Word of God Incarnate
Hymn #342 Chief of Sinners Though I Be
Hymn #526 In God, my faithful God
Introit - pg. 77

2 Samuel 22:21-29
1 Corinthians 15:1-10
Luke 18:9-14

Collect for Trinity XI

Almighty and Everlasting God, Who art always more ready to hear than we to pray and wont to give more than either we desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of Thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Jesus’ target audience for today’s parable were those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Christ shows the righteousness of the Pharisees for what it truly is, that it is not righteousness at all. “Two men went up the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” The Pharisee who enters the temple to pray really has no reason to pray, other than that he desires to be seen by others. He has no reason to pray because He doesn’t need anything from God. Apparently he has everything he needs already. You might say, “But Pastor, He gives thanks, and isn’t that a reason to pray?” And while that is most certainly true, that we should at all times give thanks to the Lord, this Pharisee is not truly giving thanks to God because he thinks he has received nothing from God. He’s done it all himself! He thanks God that he isn’t like other men. He gives thanks for an imagined moral superiority. He may very well not rip people off. He may very well be quite righteous and upstanding. He may be faithful to his wife. But in the end he is thanking God for his own righteousness, his own faithfulness, his own goodness. This is the first trap into which the Pharisee falls headlong. He imagines that he is righteous before God and gives thanks that for that righteousness. He needs nothing from God.

2)         That feeling causes him to simultaneously fall into a second and related trap, which is that, needing nothing from God, he offers his own good works to God as a sign of his righteousness. Good works are necessary. The Lord commands His children to do good works. But they are not necessary for salvation. They are necessary because they are the Lord’s will. Notice which works the Pharisee wants to offer to God. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” The good works he offers to God aren’t even the good works God has commanded. Someone might answer, “But Pastor, fasting and tithing are indeed good works, aren’t they?” But works are only good and God-pleasing when they are the works that God has commanded. God did not command the Israelites to fast twice a week. There is nothing wrong with fasting in order to discipline one’s flesh so that you learn how to subdue sinful desires in your flesh. But fasting is not commanded by God, therefore it cannot be a good work. We are commanded to subdue the flesh and not live according to its desires, so if fasting is done to subdue the flesh, then sure it is a good work. But it if this Pharisee fasts just for the sake of fasting, then it is not a good work. Tithing as well is a good and proper practice. Without faithful tithing, the ministry would suffer in any given place. Tithing is one way of saying “thank you” to the Lord for that He provides the Holy Ministry for you. But the Lord does not command tithing. If you tithe out of thankfulness and appreciation for the gift of the Holy Ministry, then tithing is God-pleasing, since we are to gladly hear the Word preached. But if one tithes because He has to, or so that others will see his piety, then it is not God-pleasing.

3)         This Pharisee shows us how not to approach God. He trusted that he was righteous in and of himself and he offered his man-made good works to God as if they would impress God all the more. The Pharisee, though, aside from being a grotesque picture of the spiritually smug and self-righteous, is a picture of what sinful human nature does without the aid of the Holy Ghost. Everyone is tempted toward spiritual pride, to think that they are righteous because of their works, or because they abstain from certain evil works. From time to time we all face the temptation to think ourselves better than our neighbors because they do certain things that we don’t do. There are moments when each us is tempted to think within ourselves, “I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” When we look down on others for their sins, without seeing our sins, whatever they might be, we fall into the first trap of this Pharisee, to trust in ourselves that we are righteous. If we dwell in that place for too long we soon fall into the second trap of the Pharisee, to begin to imagine that our works, no matter how good, churchly, or helpful they are, gain us God’s favor. From this, good Lord, preserve us.

4)         But Jesus isn’t just telling this parable to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” He is also telling the parable so that those who do see their sinfulness and lament their sinful condition. For the parable continues, “The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Here you have the very opposite of the Pharisee. This man looks inside himself and sees no righteousness at all. He can’t play the game of “good by comparison” because he’s at the bottom run of the ladder. He might very well be the extortioner, the unjust, the adulterer. What’s telling is that we don’t know exactly what sins plagued this man. It’s not necessary to the story. In fact, it’s better that we don’t know what sins were his pet sins that beset him and tormented him regularly. If we did, we couldn’t put ourselves as easily in his shoes. Whereas the Pharisee “gave thanks” that he didn’t do certain sins, this tax collector doesn’t confess specific sins. He confesses that he is “a poor, miserable sinner,” who has “justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment.” He most certainly has specific sins which stick to his flesh, actual sins which he has done which he regrets and desires to be rid of. But they are so numerous and run so deep that he can only let out a penitential cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” It is not wrong to confess our individual sins to God. He desires that we do just that. But Jesus here teaches us that it is not simply our actions that need forgiving, but our entire person. We don’t just bring individual sins to Jesus, we bring the whole sinners before Him.

5)         This man has no good works to rely upon. He knows that the best of works is not good enough and that all a sinner does is sinful, no matter how glamourous it looks in the eyes of the world. This man does not want to meet God at the tribunal of divine justice and try to argue that He is already righteous and has no need for God. Those who approach God with their own works and righteousness will only find judgment. Even the great saints of the Holy Scripture know better than to seek God at the tribunal of the Law. David says in Psalm 143:2, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous.” This tax collector knows this. He feels his sins. He is ashamed of them and wishes he had never committed them. He does not flee to the tribunal of the Law to be judged by God according to His works, for he knows what awaits him there. Instead the tax collector flees to the throne of God’s grace and there he approaches God not on the basis of his own works, but on account of God’s mercy. This is what Jesus teaches us to do as well whenever we feel our sins. All sinners are to flee to the throne of grace, which is Christ Jesus Himself. We know that God will be merciful to all who seek mercy from Him in Christ. St. Paul teaches the gospel to us this morning when He says, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3). It is to this gospel that sinners are to flee for refuge from their sins, the guilt of their sins, and its consequences, for there and only there has God promised mercy.

6)         This is what Jesus teaches in the parable. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” God only declares sinners righteous through faith in Christ. Righteousness cannot be won through works of the Law. Nor does God declare all men righteous at the cross and absolve them from all their sins before faith in Christ, for faith alone justifies. Jesus does not teach a pre-existent justification as the Synods teach just as He does not teach a righteousness through works of the divine or human law. He speaks this parable to us so that we who are His Christians will be on guard against spiritual pride and arrogance, lest we think we do not need a Savior from sin at all times. He tells this parable to console us when we are convicted of our sins so that we might immediately flee to Christ as the place where God promises to be merciful to sinners. He tells this parable so that we might remain humble towards ourselves and others. For He says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” As we see neighbors caught up in trespasses and sin, we out not to think ourselves better than they are. Rather we ought to truly give thanks to God our Father for His mercy toward us, so that like St. Paul we can say, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:10). When we see our neighbor in sin we do what is in our power to restore them through repentance and faith in Christ, always in truth and humility, remembering that we too are sinners in need of mercy.

7)         This is a wonderful parable. By it Jesus clearly teaches us the gospel that we are justified by faith in Christ and not our own works or merits. We are also taught what it is truly give thanks unto God, so that we receive the forgiveness of all our sins and rejoice, not that we are better than others, but that we have a God who is merciful to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, a God who is “wont to give more than either we desire or deserve.” Amen.

May the peace of god, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.