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October 17, 2011 @ 8:49 am

Pentecost 18

Dear Friends in Christ,

When the RMS Titanic was sinking in the Northern Atlantic is was very soon apparent that there were not enough life rafts available to save everyone who had booked passage for the transatlantic voyage. There were a select few places reserved on those life rafts, there were a select few opportunities to be saved from that sinking ship. The Ship's crew had to decide who would be permitted to board the life rafts and who would be left to go down with the ship. As it happened on that fateful night, the wealthy, the first-class passengers were given preference to board the life boats. The “upper crust” were apparently treated as though they were more worthy to be saved, while those who were among the poorer passengers were retained below deck. Choices were made, sure they wanted to save everybody. They could only save a few. They decided the rich were worth saving.

Dear Christian friends,

Worse than the Titanic, the world we live in is a sinking ship. She is going down to her destruction. In spite of her superior design and construction, built by the Lord himself, her passengers and crew – that is to say the human race – has run her to her destruction. The ship is going down. Some will be saved. But many will be lost.

But the Lord has provided a life raft. He has provided salvation for all so that none need be lost. The Lord has provided the church with ample seating for those left adrift in the sea. Yet still so many will perish. And many wonder why? Of all those who are milling about on the deck of our sinking ship, of all those who are out in the sea drifting aimlessly along, why me? How did I come to be saved and why are other still un accounted for? This question is taken up in our Epistle text for today.

In catechism class we call this the doctrine of election. The teaching of the scriptures as to how it is you have come to be saved. Our text tells us that those who are saved, those who receive the gospel are the elect. They have been elected, or chosen, or selected out for salvation. They have been dragged in to the life raft of the church through the influence of the almighty. God chose them. God pulls them in. God is responsible to save them.

In our text, the Apostle Paul assures his readers that they are among the chosen, that they are the elect. God predestined them and their salvation is sure. And the proof is in the marks of the Church. That is to say, the proof is in the power and work of the Spirit of God. God sent His Word, God sent his Spirit to accompany that Word. The Spirit moved unbelievers to faith and joy and righteousness. Hear how Paul communicates this message:

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Dear Friends, this doctrine of Election is given for our comfort. Paul makes use of this teaching to give comfort to the Christian in Thessalonica. In spite of their suffering, in spite of their struggle, they could be sure of their salvation. They could be sure that God would be with them and take care of them, they could be sure that God would see them through to the end because God had chosen them for salvation.

Imagine how comforting it would have been for those passengers on the Titanic if they would have been able to know that they would be saved. Think of how terrifying it would have been to be aboard that ship. There was the initial collision with the iceberg. Then the ship began filling with water. It began to tilt and be drawn further and further into the ocean. Experts today know that the ship went into the ocean front first and that the back end was sticking straight up out of the water before it broke in half and went down to the bottom of the ocean. Can you imagine how terrifying that would have been? To look up and see this huge ship with its back end sticking out of the water? Watching it go down into the sea? Yet what if you had the comfort, the assurance, that as all this was going on you would be saved. What if you had the promise that you were going to make it? What if it had been told to you ahead of time that the sinking ship, that watery grave would not take you? Because you were chosen. You were elect. Before you ever got on that boat you would set foot on land once again.

That’s the promise of election.

No matter how bad this world gets. No matter how much evidence we see of its destruction, it will not take you. You have been chosen by God. You are among the elect. You are going to be saved. You have that promise, that guarantee by God himself that you are going to make it. You will make it to heaven.

Paul gives the evidence of this to the Thessolonians. He tells them that he knows they are elect and his proof is in the Word of God and the accompanying power of the Spirit. Faith in the midst of struggle. Joy in the midst of suffering. Hope in the midst of death. Paul says to the Thessalonians. We know God has chosen you. You received the Word. You received the Spirit. You have the marks and the evidence of faith.

Yet, dear Christian friends, Satan would have none of this hope and joy and comfort while he is trying hard to steer this ship to the bottom of the sea. He is going down with the ship and he wants every single passenger to go down with him. He knows of Christ. He is aware that the Son of God built an unsinkable life raft that would save everyone, but he wants us all to perish, he wants us to doubt the strength and the sea worthiness of that life raft, he wants you to doubt your place in the church, so he does everything he can to take it away from you. He does this by attacking the words of promises of God. He does this by undermining the hope provided by the true doctrine discovered in the Word of God and twisting it into falsehoods. Satan takes away your comfort with false teaching and false doctrine; particularly here with the doctrine of election.

One of the tragedies from the sinking of the Titanic was the overconfidence in its design and the foolish belief that it was not going to sink. The Engineers thought they had hit upon a design that would withstand a rupture in the hull and they billed the ship as unsinkable. The passengers believed them. When the ship was sinking they were so confident in the strength of their ship that they refused to board the life rafts. Satan uses similar tricks to convince people that they don’t need to climb aboard the Church. He tells some that the ship isn’t sinking. He tells others that they are good enough swimmers to make it to shore without a life raft. This is foolishness. Put in these terms we can see it immediately, yet still many are convinced to jump out of the boat, to leave the church because they don’t think they need the gospel. I can make it on my own. I can make it to heaven without the church, without the gospel. I am a good salvation swimmer. Friends this is a lie from Satan and those who leave the safety of the gospel are doomed to drown in their sin.

Today we are honoring the work of the LWML – Lutheran Women in Mission. This wonderful organization represented here in our own congregation has dedicated itself to the mission of pulling people out of the water. They support the work of missionaries. They help local congregations. They support pastors and preachers – in other words they help support the life guards – those who are casting out lines into the icy ocean to pull aboard those who Christ would save. This is a necessary work. It is a needed work and these ladies have done it faithfully. They have held up the hands of pastors and missionaries, supporting them so that the work of evangelism might continue. This group and these ladies are worth honoring.

Sometimes Satan tries to discourage the work of evangelism. Remember he wants everyone to go down with the ship he has steered into the iceberg of sin and he wants to undercut and undermine this work of evangelism. He tells Christians that it’s not necessary. Sometimes he does this by way of a false teaching called double predestination – a teaching that says that God has chosen some for salvation and everyone else he has chosen for death. Because of this Christians conclude that evangelism doesn’t matter. If your elect, God will save, if your not, there’s nothing we could do about it anyway so why bother. Other times Christians don’t do the work of evangelism because they are board, because they don’t care, because they are preoccupied, because they are busy doing other things.

Christians, could you imagine anything so callous if while out on the high sea drifting along in a life boat with plenty of seats still to be spared the passengers save from the wreckage of the Titanic would have ignored the cries of those gasping for breath and struggling to swim on their own? Isn’t it mere human decency to respond to those cries for help by reaching out to save them, to pull them aboard? Shouldn’t we, shouldn’t you be scanning for those who need to pulled aboard? Do we instead deny their need for help because heaven forbid someone sit in my pew, heaven forbid that we should have to welcome them as they sit down beside us. Dear friends, the world is perishing. People are dying. The LWML reaches a hand out to the drowning, a hand of Christian love, and a promise of salvation.

Our text teaches us that Christ’s death was for you. You can be sure. You can be confident that you will be saved because of what God has given in his word and by his spirit. May we share that gift with a dying world.

Amen.

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September 30, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

Pentecost 18

The Gospel text for today follows directly on the heels of our Gospel from a week ago. It is a continuation of the same conversation between Jesus and his disciples. If you recall last week’s Gospel, Jesus set some time aside with his disciples because he was teaching them some very important and foundational things that had to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, namely that the Kingdom would be realized and initiated and founded upon the sacrifice that he had come to offer through his death on the cross. Jesus instructed his disciples that he, the Son of Man, would be given into the hands of people who would kill him. But after he had been killed he would be raised.

Now, for Jesus, this event was everything. This set the stage for everything he had come to accomplish. This was the sum and substance of his Ministry. It was the entire purpose for why he had come. Everything that he had to teach them was built off of this one single event. Everything he had in mind for them to do after he was gone was built around the cross. It was the foundation, the lynchpin. With it everything makes sense and holds together, without it the whole thing falls apart.

So when Jesus instructed his disciples about his upcoming crucifixion, he hoped the disciples would understand, that they would see the pattern he established. The Kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom of glory for this world, it’s a kingdom of forgiveness and life for the next. It’s not a foundation of earthly power, it is for power over Sin and Satan and hell. It is not a means to personal glory. It is a means to personal sacrifice in the interest of mercy and love and service and forgiveness all for the sake of salvation Jesus would win on the cross. This is what Jesus hoped the disciples would take away from his teaching.

They didn’t.

In fact they missed that message completely. Because the very first thing they did was begin and argument among themselves as to which one of them would have the greatest personal fame and glory when Jesus finally ascended to his throne in his kingdom. They couldn’t have been more off base. If the target was to the north, they were aiming south. The missed by a mile. Jesus told them so. They still did not understand.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus just got done telling them that whoever wanted to be first must be last of all and servant of all and that they should consider themselves to be servants even of the lowest of the low. But then one of the disciples, and Mark tells us who it was, it was John, he comes to Jesus bragging that he shut somebody down who had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Apparently there had been some unapproved or unsanctioned demon casting and John thought it was necessary to put a stop to it.

Now, it’s apparent from the text that Jesus was not so much in favor of John’s actions. But if you think about it, maybe John had a point. Maybe there was a good reason that he did what he did. I mean, you can’t just have people going around casting out demons. Didn’t this guy realize there were procedures to follow? There was a Casting Out Demons Committee that was a subcommittee of the Powers of Darkness Board that sat on the Discipleship Council. Not one of them had been consulted. He should have submitted his request in writing and then at the next subcommittee meeting they could have all sat down, discussed it, decided who had the authority for the action, planned the menu for the pot luck dinner afterward and made sure everything happened according to the constitution! But this? Just taking unapproved action? What did he think he was doing? You can’t just go around willy nilly casting out demons. Who did this guy think he was?

Turns out John and the disciples were a lot like us. We get so bent out of shape when it comes to the policies and procedures that we put together. We get so worked up over who has the right to do something or not to do something that we lose sight of the mission. We lose sight of the Gospel. We lose sight of the fact that this whole thing, this whole entire operation that we call Church is all about God’s mechanism for forgiving the sinner and healing the wounded and restoring the broken.

Luther famously said, “The Cross Alone is our Theology.” That fits right in with what the Apostle Paul said. We have been studying 1 Corinthians in Bible class – if you haven’t been coming you should– he said “We have resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.” The cross, salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus for sinners to set them free from Satan, this message at all costs, throw it all to the wind let it all come to nothing if only we can share that message with but one sinner, if only we can set one captive free, if only we can heal one more wounded, if only we could bring one more to repentance and faith. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. We come together to seek and save what? Ourselves? Our agendas? Our carved out section of St Paul Chuckery power? That’s our Old Adam talking.

You see Jesus calls us together into His body. We are one. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. The Body of Christ. The New Testament calls it koinonia, fellowship, or if you are familiar with our Missouri Synod emphasis and focus of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”, it is the Life Together. We are all bound to one another.

In response to John’s rebuke of a fellow disciple, Jesus offers this.

“If anyone causes the least of these to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

We are called to be responsible for each other. Caring for each other. Focused on the benefit and well being of one another. John had been concerned for the outward structure. John did what the world does, what our Old Adam does – who’s in, who’s out. Who’s included, excluded. Jesus said, “No, don’t divide. Don’t drive a wedge. And don’t cause each other to sin. Because if you do, if by your concern for yourself, for your power, your prestige you destroy another person, you will be judged and it will be better for you to have been drown with a millstone around your neck. So don’t do it. Jesus underscores this point.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter heaven with one hand than to go into hell with two. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter heaven with one foot than to enter hell with two. If you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter heaven with one eye than to keep the eye and enter into hell with two.”

This of course is what we call hyperbole. Over stating your case to make a point. We use this device in our everyday speaking all the time. “I’m so hungry I could eat or horse.” “Traffic was so bad, the entire state of Ohio must have been out on the road.” Things like that. But the point is there. We make our own issues, our own thoughts our own ideas, our own agendas so important that we allow them to lead us to sin. And then in our sin we lead other to sin.

We do it in our life together. We sin against each other and in the hurt and the offense that we cause them, we lead them to sin. We injure them so that they are filled, not with the joy of the Gospel but they are filled with grief and bitterness. And in the wounds that we have caused Satan comes to rub salt in them. He comes to cause them to sting and he keeps those wounds open and bleeding so that they continue to cause pain. So that he can stir up thoughts of bitterness and revenge.

Don’t you see how your actions can lead others to sin? Jesus says don’t do it. If your sin, if you are so tempted to sins of pride or selfishness or anger, if you have an agenda that you just can’t let go, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away. If you are holding on to some bitterness, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away. You are better off to enter heaven without it than to enter hell with it. It just is not worth it. Let it go.

You see, Jesus ties us together as Christians. He knits us together into one communion and into one community. WE are organized together around the Gospel. Around Jesus. Around forgiveness and mercy and love and honor and respect and self-sacrifice and service.

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give himself up as a ransom for many. This is what Jesus has done for you. And this is what Jesus call you to do for others.

In the name of Jesus.

Amen.

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