Wednesday Matins Chapel
St. Peter Lutheran School
1st Article of the Creed
October 29, 2014
“The Gift-Giving God”
Psalm 98, Job 38, LSB 726 “Evening and Morning”
Let’s say the first article of the creed. What does this mean?
On October 31st, Friday, we celebrate something. What?
Besides Halloween, in the church we celebrate the Reformation.
What was the Reformation?
Martin Luther reformed the church; or better, God reformed the church through him.
Luther taught that God justifies us by faith in Christ alone without the works of the law. That means salvation is a gift. But Luther did more than just teach people about the way to heaven. He also reformed the teaching of the church about God’s commandments, so that people would know what pleases God and what are good works in His sight.
He also taught people to know God rightly. And that meant teaching the Apostle’s creed in a simple way so that children could understand it.
One of the things He taught about God is that He is the gift-giving God. He doesn’t just give us salvation, but He also gives us our lives and everything we need for our lives in this world as a free gift.
He gives us our lives and everything we have in this world by grace. How many of you are going trick-or-treating on Friday?
When you go trick-or-treating, do you have to do anything to earn the candy? No, you just put your bag or plastic jack-o-lantern out and wait for them to drop in that sweet, sweet candy.
That’s a lot like what we learn in the first article of the creed. Let’s say it again: what is the first article of the creed? I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
What do we have to do to get God to make us and give us life? Nothing? Even less than you have to do while trick-or-treating. God just made you. And after He made you He gives you all kinds of other gifts, not because you earned it, but just out of mercy and kindness. Out of grace.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
October 26, 2014
“God is just”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God is just. People fight against this fact in every generation because it is unthinkable [for us as fallen people]. If God is really perfectly just, if He really insists on absolute goodness in people, who can stand before Him?
That makes it unthinkable for people and they reject it. If God is perfectly just and condemns all unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds, there is no way out for us.
So through the ages people have invented escape routes from God’s justice. They have tried to redefine God’s justice so that it isn’t so unbending, so that an imperfect person could still be righteous before God. The Jews in Paul’s day told themselves that they were righteous in God’s sight because they knew His commandments and kept them outwardly. In the time of the Reformation, four hundred ninety seven years ago, some preachers came out and told people that if they bought an indulgence from the Pope they were guaranteed heaven.
If the church is going to be reformed and be what God wants her to be, the continuing task of the church is to shut those escape routes. Every time someone tries to open up a new one the church’s preaching has to show that these escape routes are really traps from the devil. God is just. Because He is just, there are no escape routes. You are either righteous, in which case you will receive God’s praise, glory, and eternal life. Otherwise you are a sinner and an enemy of God.
He is just. That means He doesn’t tell us lies to make us feel better. If you stole something, God doesn’t say, “That’s ok. You were just a kid, and after all it was just something small. And now you’re sorry.” If you stole, you’re a thief in God’s eyes. If you’ve lied, you’re a liar. If you’ve slandered you’re a slanderer. If you’ve fornicated, you’re a fornicator.
O Almighty, merciful God, gracious Father in heaven, I will declare from my heart Your praise, honor, and eternal thanks, because You have protected me once again through the guardianship of Your joyful spirits, the holy angels, so that I have lived to see this day fresh and healthy. I place all my doings and things left undone, my beginnings and endings, into Your will. I pray You that You would from this moment graciously pity me, and rule all my intentions and aspirations, my heart, senses, courage and understanding, and all my words and works, so that I might understand what is good and evil. Grant that in this evil and changeable present time I might walk and live apart from my sins, and carry within myself a heartfelt longing after the eternal fatherland, which Christ my Savior has purchased and won for me, and not make a joke of it by an evil, sinful life. To this end, please graciously help me with Your divine love and the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your dear Son. Amen
Evening Blessing on Wednesday (Marburg Hymnal)
I thank You, O great and mighty God, kind Father, that you have once again graciously protected me this day from all harm and evil. I pray You, through Your divine goodness, that you would cover the sins that I have committed today with my heart and mouth against You and Your holy commandments; that you would not forsake me, Your creation, which You have paid for dearly with the blood of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ. Defend me this night under Your almighty, gracious wings against the evil foe, who goes around me as a roaring lion to devour me. Let me rest and sleep securely in the shade of Your goodness and mercy, that the evil foe may not come near me nor do me any harm. Amen.
Therefore if a soul is awakened, by all means it ought to be advised: “Seek Christ and his Light! Nothing else does any good!” But they should be directed into God’s Word and told: “This is what bears witness to him!” He must not be told to seek the revelation of God upon his knees, but rather to receive the revelation and epiphany of God that is present in the Scriptures upon their knees, full of gratitude and joy. He ought to be shown from God’s Word, with simple, powerful passages who Jesus is, what his office and calling is, his great faithfulness. Then he can be addressed in a perspective and in the confidence of a saved child of God among the angels: “Now you know him. He is all present, that is, where his Word and his name are remembered. He loves those who sought him not, why not those who seek him? Which of his promises can you possibly nullify even if your heart is contrary and despairing? None of them, none! His is mercy and faithfulness, even if you are ungracious and unfaithful to him. He knows that, He knows you. Trust his Word, only there will you not err.” Everything else may let you down, with everything else anything can happen. But his promise to you will never fail. In the world you will have trouble—so what? With him, in his promises, you have peace!” If someone has hemmed in a soul so narrowly (Voos’en’s autobiography contains good examples of this) that they must finally despair of themselves, that they finally must give up, to then become blessed upon the Word, then, from then on, he’ll not trust his preparations, or prayers and watchfulness, never trust our running and striving, but they will retain the same means that had introduced those souls to Jesus, that is, unconditional faith in God’s Word and promise. Whether one comes into persecution, temptations, heartache, whatever it might be, if he always retains a strict distinction between God and people, God’s Word and feelings, God’s faithfulness and human faith,–and in this way presses on to unconditional faith, despite feelings, that clings solely to the Word of God—he is back upon that narrow road of Thomas, not to see and yet to believe. The Defender of Israel be thanked and praised, who doe\s not slumber nor sleep, who knows all beleaguered souls and their woes and therefore has manifested to them such glorious heart-gripping Words of his irrevocable covenant of peace, so that those who are surrounded by hounds and wild beasts can have an unassailable light for their feet; his promises, rising over them like the sun above them that can never set but that comes with salvation under his wings. In this way those souls are given a point outside this world so when everything below becomes unhinged, it turns their sorrow to pure thoughts of peace. That’s how peaceful, steadfast hearts are made, that patiently persevere in the battles of life! Whoever practices such a blind (yet enlightened!) reliance upon the Word, becomes experienced in the fight of faith. He doesn’t merely throw his arms around the Word, but, in the Word, around the Lord himself, who is called the rock, and by and by, he takes on the nature of the Rock himself, as he gives way to nothing that would bring him to fall from his roots and foundation. Persecuted souls are shown universally, and in every particular case, that all weaknesses disappear, all sins are forgiven, whenever one turns to the Word of the cross with unconditional trust, yes, that all your complaints along with all your sins therefore end up always giving way to God’s promises by a pure faith and reliance on them, despite all feelings. This is the goal sought for any sort of malady in spiritual life, to prayerfully apply a few short, bright, clear passages of the Scripture, in all simplicity, for the comfort of troubled souls. Practical advice from human wisdom or dressing God’s wisdom in human garb don’t help in this. God’s Words imparts God’s mind, presented and taught to the heart. If one use it (for without using it, no one will be led into real glory!) it accomplishes much more than all worldly advice. Even if afflicted hearts often barely heed it, they must be lifted up by their pastors to see what angels apprehend, turning their weak eyes away from stubble to God’s Word. God will hardly be understood by speaking only in baby talk, much less by using intricate human conclusions and illustrations of the certainty of eternal life. “I simply believe it all” says the comforted heart of one dying in the Lord, as he justly shuns all human comfort. No one should have scruples as if it were wrong to base mankind’s salvation on a few proof passages. It’s certainly impossible to exhaust all the divine comfort in all God’s Word when telling it to people. But highly educated people can do that no better than untaught laymen. One also ought not fear that the spirit of their affliction must teach us to apply some different passage than we’ve learned, since every passage is absolutely true and has a heaven full of salvation. One may confidently stick with a few passages and use them repeatedly. By using them faithfully and repeatedly he will be assured those passages are God’s word of eternal assurance, but all men are liars. Nothing in Scripture is expendable, and nothing from man, even when it is well applied, is as effective, by which people might look to other men, who are passing away and do not remain, but one must learn to always turn to his God alone, to appropriate his comfort from out of God’s Word alone. If one is assailed by doubt, then do not bring him to overcome his doubt by proofs from reason. For then that person under attack will perceive that doubt comes from reason, but that it stems from not having enough knowledge or understanding. He will believe that it is a matter of right reason even when he doubts. But if you hold God’s Word before a doubter and you faithfully stand upon it, that it is greater than all doubts, such confidence for faith by a pastor (Seelsorgers) strikes down doubt and awakens trust when it has fallen asleep. Obviously the despising of God’s Word by opposing reason, which sets itself against God, will drive them from the plan of salvation. –So if one is in deep contrition, then the Absolution is declared to him with divine authority and he is preached that the Absolution is greater and mightier than all the sins of the world. If one is in the throes of death, then a prayer of thanks is said in which yet a third Word of eternal life is spoken from the Scriptures, and the great assurance of God’s promise is praised to the one dying, compared to which even death, with all its threats, becomes a shameful lie. If one is attacked by Satan’s deceit and might, we know what sort of sword we have to place into one’s hand. If one wants to reassure and justify himself, he is shown God’s judgment over all people in his word and how God’s judgment shatters every human whim. If one wants to sin, he is shown in God’s passages God’s love and warning, wrath and curse—what else can be done?
That’s how Christ wages war against his foes—the serpent and the serpent’s seed, and overcomes them all—until: “It is finished!” In that way Luther, in the Name of God, struck the eminence of the papacy and all his lies. Thus can each one win victory for himself. When one always, in word and deed, in every case confesses God’s Word, that is the best, sharpest, most peaceful conscientious Protestantism. For without being grounded in the divine Word, faith floats in the breezes and in the fog, as a human dream or delusion.
This path makes for peace. It seems easy, but there is nothing harder than this—walking and teaching to walk upon it. Look at most preacher and their sermons, what are they? Nice words, well ordered sentences, practical tirades, presentations, a torture and a cloud of words. But they know nothing of the way of faith, of grounding souls upon God’s Word. Among our preachers and caretakers of souls (Seelsorgern) there are a hundred mystics and preachers of works to one who desires to speak nothing but what God says with all that he says in a self-denying love for God’s Word; to just one who does not want to increase his own honor but lets God’s Word triumph over and above him and his gifts, instead of his gifts and wanting to be turned into their savior. If more preachers had found their peace in God’s Word, there would be far fewer babblers in the pulpit and, among them, more men with stable minds, who knew with assurance whom they believe, who in trouble and death could peacefully assert: “my friend is mine and I am yours.”
Consider this, dear souls—and if it’s false, say something better, for it is worth the effort to talk about the path to peace!
Peace be with you! Amen.
18th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 22:34-46
October 19, 2014
“The Law and the Gospel”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Every week the catechumens are supposed to write a worship report where they summarize the sermon. At the end of it there are two questions: “How did the sermon proclaim the law?” And, “How did it proclaim the Gospel?”
The Gospel reading for this week shows us an example of this distinction between the law of God and the Gospel of God. So, I hope the catechumens are paying attention! I know a lot of you still have trouble telling the difference between the law and the Gospel. And oftentimes older Christians struggle with it too, the distinction between law and Gospel. And even those who know the difference between law and gospel still struggle with applying the law and the gospel in their lives. And yet our salvation depends on the law and Gospel being rightly applied to us. We teach this to kids, but it is not child’s play!
In this Gospel reading we can see the law and the gospel in the questions asked by the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees ask about the law of God: “Which is the greatest commandment?” But Jesus asks the Pharisees about the Christ. And the Gospel of God, His good news, is good news about the Christ, the Messiah.
The Pharisees ask Jesus this question about the law to see if they can get Him to say something wrong. They knew that no part of God’s law could be set aside or minimized. But because Jesus was so friendly and gracious to sinners they couldn’t imagine that He would uphold God’s law.
But Jesus did. In fact, earlier in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
Jesus was kind and compassionate to sinners, yet He did not relax any of God’s laws. This was hard for the Pharisees to comprehend. And it’s hard for us to comprehend in our time. We think mercy and compassion means you set aside the strict requirements of the law. So when people find it too difficult to wait until they’re married to have sex, people think it’s mercy for the church to overlook it and not insist on the 6th commandment too strictly. Or they think it is merciful to no longer say homosexual activity and lust is sinful.
But Jesus was compassionate toward sinners without relaxing the law of God in the least. His answer to the Pharisees about the great commandment of the law was one with which any traditional Jew of his time would have agreed. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.”
The first great commandment which Jesus quoted was actually part of a creed or prayer that Jews were supposed to say every day. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
It was something they were supposed to say every day. But saying it is one thing, and doing it is something else. This is what the law does and teaches. The law says what we are supposed to be and to do to be pleasing to God. What if you fall short of it? The law doesn’t make any exceptions or give any breaks. If you want to be pleasing to God you have to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. If you don’t love the Lord your God that way, God says in His law that you are a sinner and condemned.
The Pharisees asked about the great commandment of the law. But it didn’t occur to them that even if they knew it and said it every day they didn’t keep it. This is the way people naturally think. They figure that God wants us to be good and do good, but they also figure God’s standards for being and doing good aren’t so high that we can’t reach them. They figure God’s requirements are within the reach of human beings.
But the Law of God exposes this as falsehood. It says, “Unless you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, you are displeasing to God and a sinner. God will not accept you as you are. He wants His commandment kept.”
Think about what it means to love God with all your heart. If we suddenly got a check, unexpectedly, for 20,000 dollars, who wouldn’t be on top of the world? It would be hard not to tell everyone about it.
But at Church we hear the Gospel that God is pleased with us and has given us eternal life. We receive the body and blood of Jesus that take away the sins of the world. And yet it barely affects us. What does this show us? It shows us that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. If we did we’d be far more happy to receive God’s grace than a check for a big sum of money.
But we are fallen and unable to love God above all things. Adam and Eve were that way, but we are not. And as long as we are the way we are we are transgressors of God’s commandments.
If the Pharisees had taken this to heart, they wouldn’t have been so eager to ask Jesus about the great commandment of the law. They would have been asking, “How can I be saved when I can’t do what the creed I recite daily says?”
This is the law’s work. It exposes sin. It reveals that we are sinners; it exposes God’s holiness and it terrifies sinners. It shows us what is good and pleasing to God. But we are not able to fulfill it. That’s why people always try to relax the law and make it so that we are able to fulfill it. But God’s law, when it is preached correctly, doesn’t allow that. It holds us captive and condemns us, even when our sin is not murder, adultery, or stealing, but simply that we don’t love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.
Then Jesus turns and questions the Pharisees. He doesn’t ask them about what God has commanded. He asks them about what God had promised. And what had God been promising all the way through the Old Testament? Alongside the law which Jesus has just summarized here, God always had the prophets deliver His promise that He would send the Messiah, or Christ, who would deliver people from the curse and condemnation pronounced by the law.
This is the question the Pharisees should have been asking. “Who is the Christ?” Because actually without answering that question they can’t begin to keep the great and first commandment, “Love the Lord your God.”
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” The Pharisees say, “David’s Son.” That was right, as far as it went. The Messiah was supposed to come from the house and lineage of David and reign on his throne forever.
But there is more to the Christ than that. Jesus quotes a psalm to them, where David wrote: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” And He asks them, “If David, speaking by the Holy Spirit, calls the Christ Lord, how can He be David’s Son?”
Why does David call the Christ “Lord?” Because the Christ is equal to God. God has Him sit at His right hand and puts His enemies under His feet. God is a jealous God. He doesn’t put a mere human being at His right hand. He doesn’t make an angel or a human or some lesser being equal to Him. The Christ is David’s Lord because He is the LORD, YHWH.
He is David’s Lord and David’s Son, being born of a virgin betrothed to one of David’s descendants. This is the Gospel, God’s good news. God’s good news is the Christ, who is true God and true man. Why is that good news?
Because the law condemns us for not loving God with our whole heart. But here in the Christ God comes to us and becomes one with us under the law. He takes on our flesh and blood. He takes on our human nature. And He comes to fulfill for us the law in its entirety. He is what the law commands us to be. He loves God with all His heart and all His soul. He loves us, His neighbors, as Himself. Soon the priests will be plotting to kill Him. Judas is only a matter of hours away from betraying Him. And Jesus, the Lord and the Son of David, is preparing to lay down His life to cover and atone for all our transgressions of the law.
What the law commands and we have not done, Christ is coming to do on our behalf. The Son of God dies for our violation of the law. He has made our enemies—sin, death, and the devil—His enemies by becoming the Son of Man. He has already defeated those enemies in His death on the cross. And He reigns at the right hand of the Most High until all those enemies are put beneath His feet forever for our sake.
It is the LORD who has come to our rescue. In the Gospel, He proclaims us released and forgiven of the sin that remains in us. He proclaims us free from the law’s condemnation. He proclaims that we are counted as having fulfilled it for His sake. He fulfilled it and by faith His obedience and His death for sins are counted to you.
Now do you grasp the distinction between the law and the Gospel? I hope so. In the law God proclaims His requirement and command that we love Him with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. He exposes our sin and our powerlessness to keep the law.
The Gospel is when God proclaims His promise to cover our sins for the sake of the Messiah, who is true God and true man. He has fulfilled the just requirements of the law and justified the lawless by being put to death for our sins and raised for our justification.
There is one thing that remains to be said, and that is about the proper application of these two words from God. Who is to hear the law and who is to hear the Gospel?
The law should be preached to everyone, but especially to the godless and unrepentant. That includes people who are living in sin and committing great crimes and who are not worried about their souls. But it also includes those who look righteous to the world, who live upstanding lives, and yet they do not love God with all their heart. The law reproves the whole world and shows it that everyone is godless and wicked who trusts in their own righteousness while they don’t love God with all their heart, soul, and mind. It proclaims the coming wrath of God on all breakers of His law.
But the Gospel is for repentant sinners, for those who are terrified because of their sins. The good news is for those who are condemned by the law and fear God’s punishment. To them God wants the Gospel to resound, so that they hear that “while we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5).” To repentant and terrified sinners, God wants them to hear nothing but the good news that Christ was crucified for them. That the true and living God became flesh and blood for them, served under the law for them, fulfilled it in their place, and gave Himself up as the atoning sacrifice for their sins (1 John 2).
To crushed and terrified sinners God has only this word to say to them: “Be of good cheer. The Lord God of hosts, your Lord, has become man to cover your ungodliness and to blot out your transgression with His blood.”
This Gospel is truly good news. In the Old Testament, the people of God only heard again and again that the Christ would come to redeem them from their transgressions. But they had to believe and wait in faith and hope for His coming. Today God’s good news to us is that the Christ has come and that He has redeemed and justified us from the curse of the law by His one sacrifice on the cross. Now He reigns at God’s right hand to put all our enemies under His feet—to put sin, death, and Satan under His feet and ours. It is not just good news that is to come—that we will reign with Christ in innocence and blessedness and no longer have sin. But it is good news that has already come—that our sins are already blotted out and not counted to us by His one sacrifice on the cross.
This is the good news that the most Holy God wants proclaimed to those who feel the law’s condemnation. He wants them to hear His good news and believe it and live in confidence because of it. His good news is that the Lord Himself has become man and freed us from the guilt of our sins by His obedience and death. He covers the sin that remains in us while He daily puts to death our old nature until we come into the fullness of our inheritance and are wholly in the image of Christ. The Pharisees were busy asking about the great law, but Jesus was eager to proclaim the good news of the Christ and to fulfill that good news by going to the cross.
So be comforted by the Gospel, all sinful, anxious hearts! It is the Lord of heaven and earth who became man to save you. It is the Lord who was born of a virgin who died to blot out your transgressions! You are wrapped in the Lord’s own righteousness and cleansed with the Lord’s own blood.
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
On the Divine Word, as the Light that Leads to Peace by W. Loehe (from Der Lutheraner vol. 3, p. 56 trans. Joel Baseley)
So why is it that with so many preachers which God has given to his people in recent years, we see so many who don’t press on into the peace of justification? –St. John in his first epistle 3.4 says with great assurance of himself and his people: “My beloved, we are now children of God” –v. 14 “We know that we have come from out of death into life”–and he addresses them in 4.4 “Little children, you are of God!” So one has a surety of being children of God. People who are able to say that about themselves have pressed through from death unto life. But these days why are there so few such people? Why are most people terrified when the question is posed to them point blank, yes or no: “Are you born again? Are you a child of God? Are you in the life that comes from God?” Why is the answer so seldom given those questions a quiet, humble, steady: “Yes, just as you say!”? Why is it usually a shame faced “No!”, a tentative, “I don’t know!”? Why do so many, especially young hearts awakened by those sermons of evangelical preachers, listening to them raptly and attentively, wrestle and struggle for faith because those sermons are so forthright to assure them that it must be within their power to believe; –but then, after a few years, their circumstances change, they get married and start a new family and their youthful Christianity disappears with their red cheeks; and what about even those whose awakenings had elicited great hopes, who were the pride and joy of their teachers, but turned out to be as the flowers of the grass who had sprung up not from beyond, but from the earth, who only have their season, as all things in the world? Why do some experienced men and sober minded women look back in poignant bemusement at that awakening in their youth and assert that this awakening was just part of their joy of youth as everyone experiences joy in youth,–and like all others’ youthful joy, even if it was, by all means, more pure and chaste, yet it had only been enthusiasm (Schwaermerei)? How does it happen that so many look back upon their youth in the initial awakening of their glowing souls with dismissive thoughts to say: “I thought it important, but it was nothing!”?
Perhaps many sorts of reasons could be proposed why these sad circumstances occur. I might especially propose the following for your consideration. Consider, my brothers, might what I’m saying here be true?
When a soul has awakened and now seriously asks: “what must I do to be saved?”, it is quite right to say: “Seek Jesus and his light! Nothing else does any good!” But where one ought to seek Christ, as a rule, is left pretty vague. Most point those asking to seek the Lord upon their knees, to call to him with a yearning and desirous spirit, so he will not fail to appear–in his own time, at his own appointed hour. Now the poor soul forsakes everything. He cries. He won’t let go of the All-present One until he blesses him. And the All-present one who hears the cries of the young ravens, also blesses them with a joyful awareness of his nearness. The blissfully awakened gets up off his knees and believes–he believes that he has now found his Savior. His trembling heart would be content to die, like Simeon. For it has experienced God’s salvation. –But alas, now that’s done. Young people may have many such times in Christ. But the older he gets in Christ, the more seldom he receives these waves of joy. And if that has been the gauge of his Christianity, it’s fading away. He is best in a forlorn longing for the past, and thus, he turns into a pitiful pillar of salt, like Lor’s wife, who looked back, and, because of that never reached Zoar, that peaceful harbor of salvation that lay before her.
Dear brothers! That path does not lead to peace, nor to the God-given confidence that nothing can ever again separate us from thelove of God. That path is obviously nothing but a path of feelings and of works. When a person is awakened, it must then be our first task to tell him that his feelings of excitement or whatever joy attends him (for not every awakening is attended by feelings–and they may be sweet or bitter) are transient and are not even the most important part of what’s happening. He ought rejoice as if he were not rejoicing, nor place such a great value on hi sfeelings, as if when they were missing the main pillars of his existence would shake and quake. Much more, from beginning to end, he must–and this is the main point we are making–he must not look to himself, who is constantly changing, for his spiritual life, but rather to the unchangeable promises of God’s Word, which, God be praised!, stand outside us, untouched by our feelings, that are a divine surety and guarantee and a pure letter of assurance and peace to redeemed souls. Yes, we must present these promises of God to a newly awakened Christian as even greater and more important than their faith. For in the work of our salvation faith is what is in people and entrusted to people, but, even so, faith itself is not always the same, now weak, now strong, while God’s Word stands fast and never wavers in a thousand years. As much higher as God is than man, so much higher is God’s Word and promise than our faith. Faith waxes and wanes, God’s Word is now as it is at any other time. God’s Word is God’s manifest faithfulness and tender mercy. God’s Word is God’s presence in grace or wrath, whether man wants it or not. –Where ever God’s Word and promise is, there is also God’s strength of grace and life.
17th Sunday after Trinity + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. Luke 14:1-11 + October 12, 2014
“ The Lowest Place“
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said the Pharisees loved the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. They loved to have people call them “Rabbi,” “Teacher.” They loved honor.
So no surprise that at this Sabbath dinner all the guests of the ruler of the Pharisees are choosing the best seats for themselves. They want the places of honor.
The Pharisees may have been good at not working on the Sabbath, fasting, tithing, memorizing Scripture. But they lack one thing without which all their righteousness falls apart. They lack love for their neighbor. They want the places of honor and they are ready to have their neighbor go sit in the lowest place. They keep close watch on Jesus, scrutinizing Him to find something wrong, something with which to discredit His reputation of being the Christ.
That’s not love. Love doesn’t rejoice when someone else falls. It doesn’t seek the best for itself at the expense of one’s neighbor. It rejoices when a neighbor is honored just as much as in one’s own honor.
What good is tithing, fasting, knowing Scripture, going to church if you don’t have love for your neighbor? The Law doesn’t command simply that we do this work and that, but above all that we love. Without love for our neighbor as ourselves, all knowledge of God’s Word, all works profit us nothing. We are just knowledgeable, religious transgressors of God’s commandments.
The Pharisees weren’t the only ones who liked to sit at the places of honor. Remember how upset Peter became when Jesus began to tell His disciples that He would be rejected in Jerusalem, suffer many things, and be killed? Peter wasn’t upset just because his Lord was going to be humiliated and die. He was upset because he didn’t want to accept that to follow Jesus is to walk in the way of the cross, the way of loss and shame and death, the way to the lowest place.
And Peter wasn’t unique among the disciples. James and John tried to arrange for themselves to sit at the places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Only a short space before His death, Jesus had to explain to His disciples that the greatest among them should be like the youngest and the leader like the servant of all.
The disciples were also lacking in love. They were seeking the best seats in the kingdom of God even as Jesus went to take His seat in the lowest and most dishonorable place—the cross.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. God honors the one who fulfills His law, who keeps His commandments. And the man who keeps God’s commandments loves his neighbor as himself. Love is not proud. It is humble. It is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant and rude. The man who loves his neighbor humbles himself and serves his neighbor and seeks his good. He’s happy if his neighbor gets to sit in the seat of honor even if it means that he sits in a dishonorable place.
In fact, the man who loves his neighbor willingly takes the dishonorable place so that his neighbor can have the better place.
Does that sound like you? Or couldn’t what Jesus said about the Pharisees also be said about you? “They loved the best seats, and to be greeted in the church and to be honored by men.” You say you are a poor miserable sinner, but don’t you expect to be regarded as a good person? Don’t you think of yourself that way? Are you content to sit in the lowest place so that your neighbor may take the higher place? And even if you do that without complaining, isn’t the craving of your heart to have people speak well of you and honor you? Doesn’t this desire to be honored and praised take precedence over God’s commandment to love Him above all things and your neighbor as yourself?
That’s why God taps you on the shoulder and says, “Give your place up. You must go down to the lowest place.”
The place of honor in God’s kingdom does not belong to those who exalt themselves and seek their own honor. The place of honor belongs to Him who loves.
It belongs to Jesus, who loved His neighbors as Himself. Before the foundation of the world Jesus foresaw our fall into sin and misery, and He loved us and chose to make Himself our neighbor by becoming one of us. Jesus loved you and so He became man and put Himself under the law to fulfill it for you. He loved you before you were born. He loved you when you were dead in your trespasses and sins and were God’s enemy. And now that you believe in Him but are still weak, still subject to much lovelessness, Jesus loves you. At the right hand of God, on the throne of the Most High, He loves you, intercedes for you, and seeks your good.
Because He loved you He humbled Himself for you. He humbled Himself and came down to you in the lowest place, the depths of sin, death, and despair.
Why should the Lord Almighty, the creator of the earth, humble Himself for you and me? There is no conceivable reason except that, inexplicably, He loves us. If God the Son had wanted to stay aloof from our dishonor and shame and pain He could easily have done so and remained in the highest place at God’s right hand and never troubled Himself with our misery. But instead He humbled Himself and took upon Himself our nature, our obligation to fulfill the law, and our unpayable debt of sin.
Finally He humbled Himself to suffer death on the cross for our sins under the just condemnation of God’s law.
And having taken the lowest place, the Father did what Jesus said in His parable to the Pharisees. He had Jesus move up higher, all the way from the grave to the throne of God. That was not Jesus exalting Himself. He went no higher than He had already been from eternity. But He brought our nature, our flesh and blood, to the right hand of the most High. And in doing so He exalted us. Because all who are baptized into His body He raised to sit and reign with Him. All who partake of His flesh and blood are exalted with Him to the Father’s right hand even while they remain in this world.
So you are exalted in Christ. In fact, He comes down to you today and exalts you to heaven. For He comes to us in His flesh and blood in the bread and wine. He comes to us as we are today, with our anxieties, our present troubles, our fear of death. And He unites us to God. It is God’s body and blood that we eat at this feast. Here there is healing for our lovelessness and pride. Here he assures us that we are reconciled to God.
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria