Sermon Fragment–19th Sunday after Trinity
I am reduced to fragments because I never get through the editing process before Sunday morning. I have to edit on the fly. Though I would like it to be different, I am afraid it will be the same this week, since I have two funerals and a houseguest. If I really want to get my sermons shorter, what I think I need to do is plan to preach on about half of one point that I want to make.
19th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 9:1-8
October 14, 2012
“I Will Build My Church”—Week 3: Divine Service, Scripture, Prayer
“Built by the Authority of the Son of Man”
You who have been consecrated to be God’s dwelling place by the authority of Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are God’s house of living stones
Built for His own habitation.
He by baptismal grace us owns,
Heirs of His wondrous salvation.
Were we but two His name to tell
God still with us would ever dwell
With all His grace and His favor.
When Jesus promised Peter that He would build His church, He was already signaling that He was a different kind of Messiah than Peter thought he would be. The glorious King of the Jews from David’s house was going to build a temple for the Lord in the last days, the Scriptures said. But Jesus said that He was going to build “His Church,” which means a gathering of people.
To us a king’s church calls to mind a cathedral with ceilings arching into the heavens and walls of cavernous, echoing stone. It’s difficult for us to get comfortable with the idea that when Jesus said, “I will build my church” He didn’t just mean the city of God with 12 pearly gates that comes down from heaven in glory on the last day. Is it possible that He envisioned the church on earth between Pentecost and judgment day appearing not only in churches with pews packed full of smiling people but also in congregations less than half full, congregations where funerals outnumber baptisms, churches that die slowly through persecution or through rejection of God’s Word? Or congregations wracked with conflict, where members sin grievously against one another, where pastors feed themselves and not the sheep, or where there is more joy over the 99 that need no repentance than over one sinner who repents? How could it be possible that the Messiah would come to build that kind of a temple?
Jesus’ Church is holy. On the last day the church’s holiness and radiance as the pure bride of the Lamb will be visible before all creation. Those who truly belong to Christ will be manifest. But now the church’s holiness is hidden. The sinful flesh of Christians makes the perfect holiness which Christ put on them in Baptism invisible. False Christians also are in the midst of the visible gathering of the church, along with false teachers. Together they cause divisions and harm the witness of the church, but it is not always possible to root them out without also destroying or harming weaker members of the true church.
So the church on earth suffers and is weak. You don’t necessarily find it in buildings that are beautiful, or full of nice people who are dedicated to serving God. This is very hard for us to accept. If Jesus is God, how could His temple be so weak and small and afflicted?
It was also hard for Peter to accept. Right after Jesus praised Peter for confessing, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, right after He promised to build His church, Jesus began to teach the disciples that when they went to Jerusalem, Jesus would not be seated on David’s throne and begin to rule the whole earth. Instead He would suffer at the hands of the chief priests, be killed, and then be raised on the third day.
Peter, who had just confessed the faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, begins to rebuke Jesus for saying this. And a few minutes after praising Peter, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” He went from blessed to Satan in a few minutes. Why? Because he believed Jesus was the king of the Jews, but his reason couldn’t accept that this mighty king would then be rejected and put to death.
That is why it is so hard for us to accept that Christ’s church can really be found where there is great sin and weakness and suffering. How can weakness and suffering be the work of a God who loves you? How can God’s temple be being built if it is suffering and dying?
The same way that God was found in a man who was condemned to death as a blasphemer, then whipped, mocked with a crown of thorns, presented to a crowd in his humiliation who screamed for His crucifixion. If that happened to you, would you have a hard time believing God was with you? Yet we say that the true God can’t be known or found apart from the man who died in this shame and weakness. We preach that there is no other tree of life than the dead tree He dragged out to Golgotha, and His blood that stained it and the body that hung dead from its limbs is the fruit of the tree of life. We say that only in the curse pronounced by God upon Jesus—“Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”—does God bless us and make His face shine upon us. His face shines upon us in the face that poured bloody sweat onto the ground in the olive grove, the face in which we spit and tore out the beard (Is. 50? 52?), bleeding from thorns, the face that pleaded till death for His Father’s blessing and forgiveness for us.
If Jesus’ death on the cross saves us, if our Lord and Savior is the one who died on the cross, then it is a simple fact—the way of the cross is the way of salvation. Jesus’ church inherits the life everlasting. It is being saved. That means that instead of looking as though it is being built up, we can expect it to look like it is being torn down and destroyed. The one that Peter said was the King of the Jews and the Son of God later had a sign above His head that said “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”—and His head was bloody from a crown of thorns, and His hands were nailed to a tree. And what little He had in the way of earthly possessions and honor was torn down and thrown in the dust.
That is the rock on which Jesus builds His church, against which the gates of hell can never prevail. The rock is Himself, the King of the Jews, who dies on the cross and rises from the dead and takes away the sins of the world. Because this is who He is and what He does, He has the authority from God the Father to loose people from their sins. That means that He forgives sins, but also that He sets people free from the power of the devil, and all that goes with the devil’s kingdom—death, sickness, misery, slavery to sin.
In the New Testament, “authority” usually means not only power but also the right to use it. Lawful rulers have authority from God to punish lawbreakers with death—that means God has given them the right to do it. Parents have authority from God to punish their children. In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows that He has been given the right by God the Father to loose people from their sins. He not only has the power to do it, but He has been authorized by God.
In contrast, the devil and demons are sometimes described as having “authority”, but their authority is really only power that they have stolen from God. The devil does not have the right to twist God’s Word, or to tempt us to give glory to ourselves or our idols instead of to God (which is the same thing as giving glory to the devil.) When the devil lies and tempts, and then dominates sinners, the devil is stealing from God. He has power, but he has done this against God’s will.
In the same way, sinners are able to steal from God. Those who are under the power of sin take God’s gifts and do not thank Him. They love and serve and trust God’s gifts instead of Him. They have the power to do this, but not the right. Adam and Eve were authorized to have dominion over all the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, and to eat all of the fruit in the garden except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had the power to take from that tree, but not the authority. And once the devil had gotten them to step out from under God’s authority, he now was able to control every person who was not brought to repentance by God. Since that time, people are born taking what God has not given them authority to have. We judge and condemn and take revenge on those who sin against us—even if that is only in our hearts—but we have no authority to do this. We put our own honor above God’s honor; we put our will above God’s will. We give the love, praise, and worship of our hearts to other things besides God, to whom it belongs. When God does not give us what we want or think we need we go and take it for ourselves.
That’s why it was such a shocking thing for Jesus to tell the paralyzed man, “Take courage, child. Your sins are forgiven” or better, “Your sins are loosed from you.” Even when you sin against another person, your offense is most of all against God. If you lose your temper and insult and curse your neighbor, you have sinned against them, but you have also sinned against God, because He has not authorized you to condemn and curse and injure those who sin against you—not even to punish them in your heart. By taking revenge, you dishonor the true God and worship another, because you are saying, “God is unjust and will not take care of me, so I have to get justice myself.” The same thing is true with every sin against our neighbor—they are all dishonoring God—not trusting Him above everything else, not loving Him above everything else.
Even though we are Christians we have a difficult time believing in original sin, because our society has eliminated sin from its way of thinking. We believe that there are bad people, but those are usually people who do evil against other people on purpose. The fact that from the time of birth we dishonor God—not trusting Him to give us what is good, not loving Him more than we love His gifts—we don’t think of as sin, but rather as weakness that God would be unfair to be angry about. The fact that it is natural for us not to pray or want to hear God’s word, to disobey and dishonor parents and authorities, to hold grudges, to lust and engage in sexual sin, to attack people’s reputation and covet their things—we think that since we can’t help it, it can’t be a punishable offense. God in a sense owes us forgiveness.
But when someone is born with some flaw that they have little control over that causes them to harm us repeatedly, we behave differently. They say that sociopaths are born without the ability to empathize with other people’s pain, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting angry when they run us over. People are born with mental illness, and we may give them some breaks, but if they are dangerous to society we don’t say, “Well, they can’t help it, so we won’t lock them up.” They say Hitler was abused when he was a child, and the reality is that those who are abused quite often become abusers when they become older, but no one says that Hitler should be excused. And in the same way, we were born in sin, and as a result we dishonor God every day and refuse to acknowledge Him as God. If we say, “I can’t help it, so I shouldn’t be punished,” what we are really saying is that God is at fault for our sin.
Which is indeed what we said when we crucified Jesus.
That is why it was a shock when Jesus said, “Your sins are loosed.” Human beings can’t forgive sins. God must forgive sins. They are committed against Him.
Is that why Jesus forgave—because He is God? Yes and no. Notice what Jesus calls Himself—the Son of Man. Jesus is not on earth simply to show that He is God. He has put aside His divine power and put on our likeness—the likeness of sinners who are subject to death and God’s curse. He only uses His divine power when it is necessary for fulfilling His mission. He never uses it to make things easy for Himself, because He is on earth to be what we are. He has come to do what we cannot do—live under God’s authority without sin. We disobey God and live as we wish. Even when we repent, we find our flesh rebelling against the will of God. Jesus came to do what we could not.
So it is not simply as God, but as one of us that Jesus has authority to take sins away, to take them off of people, to set them free from their power.
To show that He had this authority and power from God, He did a shocking miracle. With a word He told a paralyzed man to get up and walk home.
Yet Jesus acts as if it were a better thing, a greater thing, to simply say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Your sins are loosed from you.”
That is because it is. Because if your sins are taken away, God erases them from His book. They are gone. His wrath then is gone, death is gone. God becomes yours, and everything that is His. Not in the sense that you get to do what you want with it, but in the sense that it all serves you; He makes it all work for you. It’s all yours, but not in such a way that you can destroy yourself by misusing it.
That authority—to forgive sins—is how Jesus builds His church—how He creates a holy assembly who belong to God and are free from sin, and able to live forever in His presence. Who begin to love their neighbor.
When Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…” He was talking about this authority—to forgive sins.
Jesus has given this authority to the Church, and He has authorized ministers to exercise this authority so that people may be loosed from their sins, set free from Satan’s kingdom, and delivered into the Kingdom of Jesus, the church, in which we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, unity with God.
How is this authority exercised? Through Jesus’ word and sacraments. That is why the church is not found where there is earthly glory. We know where the church is by where Jesus’ gifts are—where His authority to forgive sins is being used. There, even though human beings are exercising the keys, Jesus is present, working through His church.
It’s not that we simply need information. We need to be free to be Jesus disciples.
Jesus’ power, connected to His sacrifice on the cross.
Sacrament of the Altar.
Growth in love
Confession and absolution.
It looses us, just like the paralytic, but spiritually.
It is better to be a paralytic and have sins loosed.
The tremendous gift—we are free, and we are not alone.
The whole Scripture points to Jesus and gives us the Spirit.
Claiming our authority as sons of God when the gates of hell close in on us.
Bringing our paralyzed neighbor to the Father.
Rev. Karl Hess
- He Is Not Here. Holy Easter Day 2017–Mark 16:1-8; 1 Cor. 5:6-8
- Died and Was Buried. Good Friday Tenebrae 2017. Psalm 88, John 19:38-42
- Good Friday, Chief Service 2017. Why is This Friday Good?
- The Blood of the Covenant. Maundy Thursday 2017: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32.
- Consider Your Place In Life. Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent, 2017. Matthew 15:21-28
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