Sunday, October 31, 2004

Matthew 11:11-15 - "Violence?? What Violence?"

Reformation Day (alternate text)
Saturday, October 30, and Sunday, October 31, 2004

Saturday – put up poster of questions from youth compiled before, explain the connection to Luther
Sunday – have children give questions during children’s sermon, children put up poster

The questions that these students have asked are very violent. I mean, really, “Why should we believe in God? Why preach about God? Do you all really believe in Jesus? Why are you here?” Those are violent questions, just as Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” were violent.

Oh, but you say, “Violence?? What violence? There’s no fisticuffs, no blood, no broken bones, no explosions, no guns, no bombs. Really, these questions are just questions from our students. There’s no violence in these questions. . .is there?”

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent will take the kingdom of heaven by force.” People are going to violently attack God’s kingdom, His people, His church, and the appropriate reaction to this attack is violence. Jesus is calling us to be violent, take the Church back by force. It’s a little difficult to see this, but this verse is talking about two different groups of people: the people who attack the Kingdom of God and the people who defend it. The people who attack, attack with violence. The people who defend, defend with violence.

But still even though Jesus said this, you still say, “Violence?? What violence? Who’s attacking the Church today? It doesn’t look like anyone is attacking the Church, and certainly not violently. And those questions from the students, I mean, they’re not violent questions, are they? They’re just asking questions, right?”

Ah, yes, it all seems peaceful today, but perhaps in those questions posted on our door, perhaps there’s an extremely violent confrontation going on. In order to understand just how violent it is in here today, let’s take a look at a violent scene from the Reformation. Perhaps then we’ll understand the violence in our church today.

Today we celebrate the Reformation, how Martin Luther in 1517 set the Church on a course of reexamining what it taught, of reexamining the Bible, of rediscovering the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that we are not saved by what we do, but that we are saved by grace, as a gift of God, through faith and trust in Jesus. Luther and those who searched the Scriptures with him wanted to reform the Church, change what the Church was teaching, but when the Roman Catholic leadership rejected this change, Luther and others were forced out, forced to be a separate denomination.

While these tensions would lead to civil war in Germany, would lead to much physical violence, that’s not the violent scene from the Reformation that I’m talking about. In order to understand just how violent it is in here today, we have to see the violence on October 31, 1517, the day Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door, the day Luther publicly began to question what was being taught in the Church. Luther was announcing that he wanted to debate these issues surrounding the essential question of how we are saved. And in asking those questions, Luther was reacting with violence, was defending the Church with violence, was taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force.

You see, the kind of violence Jesus was talking about is not the blood and gore, the hit and crush, the shoot and kill kind of violence we think of first. The kind of violence Jesus was talking about is the violence of faith versus faithlessness, of belief versus unbelief, of truth versus false teaching.

Luther had seen the violence of faithlessness, unbelief, and false teaching in the Church, and Luther reacted by taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force, by violent force. When Luther questioned what was being taught, when he announced that he wanted to debate these issues, when he brought attention to the fact that the truth of the Gospel was being lost in what the Church was teaching and doing, these were the kind of violent acts Jesus was talking about. Luther was defending the Word of God against the violence of false teaching.

Again, what violence was being committed against the Word of God in Luther’s day? The violence of changing the message, of hiding the Gospel, of making the faith to be about our works. In that way, the Kingdom of heaven was suffering violence, because the people were not hearing the hope and forgiveness of Jesus. The people were being chained to the Law, were being told that they could only have eternal life if they did enough. The Church was ripping apart God’s Word.

As one author put it, “The necessary response to such violence is a faith which must also be violent, that is, violently stubborn in confession. The violent take it by force, that is, Christians with faith born of the word of God who will not back off from their confession by the threat of violence against them. For Christian violence is not the same as the violence of the world, but is, rather, a violence of the heart and mind" (Every Day Will I Bless Thee, 494).

What the Church had been teaching was doing violence to Luther’s heart and mind. He was overwhelmed with guilt and his heart ached. He only understood Jesus as a terrible judge who would condemn him to hell for his sins. To this violence against his heart and mind, Luther reacted with a violence of heart and mind.

He questioned what the Church was teaching; he asked the Church to look again at the Bible, to study again what Jesus had taught. He found hope in the Gospel, found that forgiveness and peace that he had desperately needed, and now he wasn’t going to let anyone take that forgiveness and peace away from him.

When Luther put his “95 Theses” on the door, he was committing a terrible violent act. He was showing that he would not back off from his confession, his belief. He would remain stubborn about teaching the truth of God’s Word. And that, my friends, is the same as this violent act of our students today.

Look at these questions again that the students have asked: “Why should we believe in God? Why preach about God? Do you all really believe in Jesus? Why are you here?” Those are the questions they want to ask you. In them is a violence against unbelief. They are calling you to really know the faith, to know the truth about God. When they ask, “why are you here,” they’re really questioning whether you’re just going through the motions. Perhaps these students sometimes sense the violence that you do against the faith—the violence of unbelief, of false teaching, of hypocrisy, of putting on a good show, of not really knowing the Gospel. Sensing this violence against the kingdom of heaven, these students have violently asked their questions today. These students will not back down from their faith. These students will not let you do violence against their hearts and minds, not let you trample their hope of forgiveness and peace in Jesus.

But you say, “Violence?? What violence?” You say, “Where have we been violent against the Word of God?”

Unfortunately, I do see violence committed against the truth in this congregation. When I hear you telling each other that you have to do good works in order to please God, you are doing violence to the Gospel—which says we cannot please God by our actions and we are saved by faith in Jesus. When parents tell me they want their children in church to learn the Ten Commandments, especially the one about honoring parents, you are doing violence to the Gospel—because that most important thing students learn from the Church isn’t the Ten Commandments but rather learning that they are forgiven in Jesus. You have done violence to the Gospel when you act as if people can’t be Christians unless they meet your expectations. You have done violence when you say that going to Church is just about getting a nice feeling for the day, ignoring the spiritual, eternal importance of the faith.

Because you have done this, because we have all done this, because we have all violently opposed the Word of God at times with what we say and do, because of this, the students have asked us some difficult questions today. They aren’t going to let our violence destroy the preaching and teaching of truth in this place. They will not back down from the faith. And when they ask these kind of questions, when they react with a violence of heart and mind, they are calling us back to the truth.

And when they call us back to the truth, that truth forgives us for our violence, for our unbelief, for our faithlessness. The students aren’t asking these questions to condemn us; they’re asking these questions to point us to the hope and forgiveness in the truth of Jesus Christ.

Of course, these students don’t always remain faithful themselves, and of course, you often are boldly committed to the faith. In other words, we all sin, and we all need forgiveness. However, I think these questions are indeed good reminders for us today—how are we doing violence to the Word of God? Are we lacking faith and trust? Are we teaching something other than the Gospel of Jesus? We must be willing to ask these questions, so that we can defend the Word of God against false teaching—even when that false teaching comes from ourselves.

And how do we defend the Word of God, how do we react against violent attacks on the truth—besides writing up questions to tape to the door? We defend the truth by clinging to Jesus who defeats the devil. We defend the truth when we believe and trust the Word of God, when we believe that Jesus will save us from death and give us life forever. When that Word of God is preached and taught, that does great violence against false teaching.

We defend the truth by clinging to Jesus who defeats the devil. We defend the truth when we ask our children what they’re learning in Sunday School and make sure that they hearing that Jesus loves them and forgives them. We defend the truth when we attend Bible study and don’t let anyone change the message of God into a message of being saved by works. You defend the truth when you check what your pastors are preaching against the Word of God, questioning us when you think we’ve gone against the Gospel.

We defend the truth by clinging to Jesus who defeats the devil. We defend the truth when we explain to others the differences between Christianity and other religions, that only Christianity teaches that salvation is a gift from God. We defend the truth when we explain to others the differences between our denomination, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and other denominations, that we don’t want to remain separate from other Christians but that we will not let anyone teach something in the Church that makes the Gospel less important, that makes it harder to hear forgiveness, that doesn’t focus our attention on Jesus Christ alone.

You see, there’s violence going on here today. The students have asked some violent questions, not backing away from the truth of God’s Word, because I think they correctly realize that the kingdom of heaven is being attacked even by some of us in here today—by faithlessness, unbelief, and false teaching.

Yet, while the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence here today, the violent are also taking it by force. Through your faith in Jesus Christ, you are reacting with great violence against those who would destroy the truth. You are committed to Jesus Christ. You are not letting anyone change the message, holding onto our hope that we will be saved by faith not by works. You will not back away from your faith which seems ridiculous to the world. You are committed to the Word of God.

When they asked Luther to take back everything he had written and said about the Gospel, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by scripture…, I cannot and will not recant [take back] anything, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” His conscience was captive to the Word of God; he was committed to the Word of God over against anything else.

There’s a lot of violence in here today when you remain committed to the Word of God, when your conscience is captive to the Word of God. There’s a lot of violence when you won’t let the truth be attacked, the teachings of Christ be changed, when you won’t let the world destroy the hope you have in God.

So now I am going to incite you to violence, stir you up to commit a violent act. Most of the time if I encouraged a group of people to be violent, I could be arrested, charged with inciting a rebellion or leading a mob. Yet, I am going to ask you to do a most violent act that won’t be recognized by the world as violent. I’m going to ask you to commit an act of spiritual violence, defending the Church against the violence of faithlessness, unbelief, and false teaching.

Join me in the violent act of confessing our common Christian faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Please stand. The Creed states our faith in Jesus against all other beliefs. With this Creed, we violently declare that we will not back away from the faith—the faith that gives us forgiveness through Jesus Christ alone.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Luke 16:19-31 - "Same God, Same Promise"

Pentecost 19 (Year C - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, October 9, and Sunday, October 10, 2004

Why are the youth going away next weekend for a retreat to study the Old Testament prophets? Why is Pastor Miller’s class tracing the history of God’s people in the Old Testament? Why would the Sunday School use a curriculum this year and every other year which focuses on the Old Testament? Why do we have our sixth grade confirmation class do a project called Tracing the Promise, looking at the Old Testament? My Sunday morning Youth & Adult Bible class has been studying the stained glass windows the last two weeks. Why would many of the symbols be directly inspired by the Old Testament? And why would we name our congregation, Redeemer, a word found in the Old Testament?

The reason we do all of these things and more can be explained by the story that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel reading, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. So as we take a moment to study this story, I want you to remember those things from our congregation: RYMS Fall Retreat, Pastor Miller’s class, Sunday School curriculum, sixth grade confirmation project, the stained glass windows, and our congregation name. Remember those things as we pull apart the story Jesus told.

The rich man doesn’t get it, even in hell. There the rich man is suffering torment when he sees Lazarus being comforted in heaven, reclining at the table of the heavenly feast with Abraham. The rich man still figures that Lazarus is a nothing, someone to be bossed around, someone to serve him. So he asks Abraham to send Lazarus down to hell with a cool drink of water.

Then Abraham explains. “Remember that you got your good things in your life, but Lazarus got bad things. But now he’s being comforted, and you suffer. Plus, between us and you, a great chasm stands, so that the ones from here can’t come to you, and so that no one can come from there to us.”

This finally causes the rich man to think of his five brothers. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers that they’re going end up in torment like him if they don’t change their lives.

Abraham says, “No, they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear these.”

The rich man thinks that Moses and the prophets are not sufficient warning. His brothers will need something more like a miracle, someone rising from the dead. “No, Father Abraham, Moses and the prophets aren’t enough for salvation.”

Would we agree? The Old Testament is not sufficient? The Old Testament isn’t enough? We often make the mistake of thinking that the New Testament contains Gospel and the Old Testament only contains Law. Salvation after all only comes through Christ—who is only in the New Testament. We have heard of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But who has ever heard of the Gospel of Moses or the Gospel of the Prophets?

But this story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is told by Jesus Himself. Why would Jesus teach that people should look for a way to heaven in the Old Testament if it isn’t in there? What is Jesus saying in this story?

Jesus is saying that throughout Scripture this is true: Same God, Same Promise. Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, there has been a promise from our gracious God that He would show His grace to us. We trace this promise of grace throughout Moses and the Prophets, and we find that yes, God has always been the same and He has always held out the same promise of salvation. Same God, Same Promise.

So when Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus, what is He trying to tell the Pharisees? Same God, Same Promise. If they don’t accept the promise of a Messiah in Moses and the prophets, they will not accept the promised One. Yet, here’s the irony. Jesus says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear these,” but the Pharisees felt they did hear. They felt they were experts in Scripture and the Law. But Jesus is saying they don’t hear the promise correctly, because they want a Messiah who will follow their interpretation of the Law. They prided themselves in getting their theology correct, and according to them, Jesus didn’t fit. But Jesus has come to show that He is the true Messiah.

Jesus is saying, Same God, Same Promise. Jesus is the fulfillment of the same promise they have heard. Jesus is from the same God they worship. He is not changing anything; the Pharisees have had the wrong interpretation of Scripture. Jesus is showing that He is consistent with the promise that God will show His grace to His people.

In that way, then, the Old Testament is sufficient for salvation, a way to heaven, because it speaks about God saving us by grace through faith. Moses and the Prophets didn’t just preach Law; they also preached the Gospel and promise of God. The Gospel of Moses and the Prophets.

Many prophets proclaimed how Israel had broken God’s Law and how God would bring destruction upon them for their wickedness. For instance, today we heard Amos preach against Israel: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion.” Yet, he ends his book with God’s promise to restore Israel, a promise of salvation in heaven, to be planted in the holy city and never be uprooted again. The Old Testament certainly is sufficient for salvation, because it carries the Gospel message. The Old Testament is sufficient, because it is the same God, the same Promise, as we have in Jesus Christ.

Do you still remember all of those things I asked you to remember, the things from this congregation—RYMS Fall Retreat, Pastor Miller’s class, the Sunday School curriculum, the sixth grade confirmation project, the stained glass windows, and our congregation name? Are you starting to see why we would teach the Old Testament with those things?

For instance, take the sixth grade confirmation project. They are learning something about each of the 66 books of the Bible, and as they study the Old Testament, they are seeing how God’s promise of salvation keeps coming up. In fact, not only will they learn that Amos, the prophet of today’s Old Testament reading, not only will they learn that Amos is the prophet of doom, preaching God’s judgment against the people’s sin. Their project will help them realize God’s promise in Amos, the promise that He will save His people. The students will realize that in the Old Testament, we have the Same God, Same Promise as in Jesus.

We’ll come back to the rest of those things, but I want you to start to see—we teach the Old Testament because it has Gospel, Good News.

When we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we already know what happens—Jesus is killed on the cross, raised from the dead, and still people reject Him and His disciples. So when Jesus says in the story, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” the Pharisees and disciples probably didn’t understand His meaning at that point, but we who know the rest of the story, we who know that Christ did rise from the dead, we know that His resurrection didn’t and still doesn’t convince people of His message. The resurrection of Christ doesn’t mean anything if people aren’t willing to listen to the Old Testament, to see how Jesus fulfills the promises of the Old Testament, to see that this is the Same God, Same Promise.

That is what Jesus wants us to take away from this story. Same God, Same Promise. This is what He was saying to the Pharisees, but it’s also what He is saying to us. Same God, Same Promise. Therefore, we turn our backs on God when we put aside the Old Testament, when we look at the Old Testament as only being Law, when we consider the Old Testament insufficient for salvation. Jesus is claiming a consistent message from the beginning of God’s Word through to His ministry, death and resurrection. How can we put aside the Old Testament? The Same God, the Same Promise, is behind it all.

We will have trouble understanding who Jesus if we don’t study the promises of the Old Testament. Yes, Christ alone has salvation; all must come to Him to have eternal life. But if all of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, is centered on Christ, then the Old Testament is a vast store full of wisdom into understanding our Promised One.

We must learn the promises of Moses and the Prophets. This story of the rich man and Lazarus affirms the importance of understanding the Old Testament, learning the Scriptures and realizing that our God is always the same, consistent. He has held out the same promise of salvation, the promise that He will defeat the sin which enslaves us, the promise of being saved by grace through faith not works.

Learning about God’s promise in the Old Testament helps us to understand what it means that Jesus saves us. Therefore, next weekend’s RYMS Fall Retreat will help the youth learn about four of the Old Testament prophets, seeing how those prophets shared God’s message of hope with the people. When the youth come back from the retreat on Sunday morning, they will set up Prophet Stations so that everyone can learn a little about these prophets.

Pastor Miller’s class is tracing the history of God’s people in the Old Testament, because through that history, God sent Jesus to save us, to make us His people.

The joke often is that the Sunday School answer to any question is Jesus. Any question asked in Sunday School or a Bible study can often be answered by saying, “Jesus.” However, by using curriculum that teaches the Old Testament, our students will learn how Jesus is still the right answer, even when we’re talking about the Old Testament, how the Old Testament points to Jesus—which, as we already talked about, is exactly why the sixth grade confirmation project is about the Old Testament.

Who would have guess that many of the symbols in the stained glass windows would be directly inspired by the Old Testament? Yet, as my Sunday morning class studied these symbols, we realized how those symbols constantly point us to Jesus, our Savior.

Look at this. I know you won’t be able to see all of them from where you’re sitting, but let me point out some of the ways that these windows are related to the Old Testament. You can check it out later on your way out of church today.

It starts way back here with this first window all about Genesis, the Creation of the world, and Christ was there at the Creation. The second window shows the 10 Commandments, the burning bush where God appeared to Moses, and how God turned the staff into a snake to show Moses that He was real. The giving of the Law make us realize our sin and our need for a Savior. Here there’s a rose symbolizing Jesus, but the image comes from the book of Song of Songs in the Old Testament. The next window is about Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple when he was a baby, but understanding the sacrifice of two doves and the temple itself, for that we’ve got to go to—you guessed it—the Old Testament.

Jump up here to this symbol for the Transfiguration when Jesus appeared in all of this glory, and Moses and Elijah were there representing the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament points to Jesus.

Come up toward the front, and you’ve got the Lamb of God. John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God. But the idea of the Lamb of God goes back to the Passover in the book of Exodus, the lamb’s blood marking the homes of God’s people, protecting them from death.

Finally, up here is the Good Shepherd window, showing that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. However, God said He would send His Shepherd to lead His people to safety, God made that promise in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

We teach the Old Testament, we remind ourselves of the Old Testament, our windows are about the Old Testament, because it is the Same God, Same Promise that we have in Jesus Christ.

Even the name of our congregation is a way of saying Same God, Same Promise. A redeemer is a person who buys a slave in order to give them freedom. We call Jesus the Redeemer, because He bought us from slavery, freed us from slavery to sin and the devil. Yet, the idea that God would send a redeemer, would send someone to save us from sin, that idea goes back to the Old Testament. “I know that my Redeemer lives” is a familiar phrase, a familiar verse from Scripture, a familiar hymn. Yet, do you ever forget like I do that this phrase comes from the Old Testament book of Job? The name of our congregation isn’t just a New Testament name; it’s also an Old Testament name.

Same God, Same Promise. And if God is the same, if the promise is the same, then we can trust it will continue to be the same. Jesus is pointing us all to see this. The Promise is the same. We are saved from sin not by whart we do. We are saved by God’s action; we are saved by God’s forgiveness. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise, the promise of the Old Testament. He is the fulfillment yesterday, today, forever.