Archives - October 2020

Let Him Hear

October 25, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this Reformation Sunday weekend comes from our gospel text, especially where Matthew records Jesus’s words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Those are the words that escape our Lord’s lips after an interesting encounter with the disciples of John the Baptist. They relay the question from their now-imprisoned teacher to his holy cousin: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

It’s then that Jesus begins speaking to the crowds: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

“What did you go out to see?” That’s the question that Jesus poses to them. If it sounds a little terse, perhaps even a bit antagonistic, that’s because it is. This is something of a turning point in Matthew’s gospel account, and you are able to see more readily that the opposition to Jesus’s ministry is growing. The people were becoming discontent with what He had been doing. Like children, they were fickle and flighty – Jesus compared them to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” They were inconsistent whiners, incapable of being happy or content. God saw fit to send to them a man who proclaimed His Word while wearing camel hair and eating locusts … but their sensibilities were offended and they scoffed, “He has a demon!” Then when the Son of Man came, and He ate and drank with sinners, in horrified revulsion, they cried, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” They wanted the gifts God had to give … but they wanted those gifts on their terms.

That’s the core issue of this text, what Jesus is convicting the crowds of: the issue of men – then, now, throughout history – wanting to put God into a box, making Him in their image. The men of Israel, in particular, thought they had it figured out, what to expect of God’s actions in their midst, what He would do, how He would save them. They wanted salvation, but they wanted it their way. They wanted the prophets to speak God’s Word, but only the words their itching ears longed to hear. They wanted the Messiah, but they wanted Him to conform to their preconceived notions of who He was supposed to be. They were not content with the way that God saw fit to send His salvation, His Messiah … and this was part of the reason they were violent against John and, ultimately, Jesus. They may have had ears, but they refused to hear.

Alas, even after Jesus’s victory over sin, death, and the grave, men who claimed to be of God still continued to harden their hearts and close their ears to the truth of His salvation. Over the centuries, through countless small deviations, the Church based in Rome had gone from proclaiming the good news of Christ and Him crucified, to, by Martin Luther’s time, declaring “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul up from purgatory springs.” They were still discontent with the way that God chose to save His people – purely by His grace, with no input or works of ours. That wasn’t good enough; still, they wanted salvation, but they wanted it their way – not through Christ, the crucified and resurrected Lord, but through the intervention of the saints and Mary and the pope. They wanted more than God’s Word; they also wanted the words of popes and councils – which often contradicted themselves. They still wanted to make God in their image, painting Him as this terrible, vengeful, wrathful monster … so the people would pay at the reliquaries and indulgence stations to avoid damnation. “So much salvation … for so little coin.” They may have had ears, but when the Rev. Dr. Luther attempted to call their attention to the abuses and the error, they refused to hear.

Nevertheless, thanks be to God, there were ears to hear what Jesus had to say – during His earthly ministry, and during the Reformation. Dr. Luther, plagued by the image of God that Rome had painted, went back to the source, the Scriptures. What he found there was not a God of wrath, who delighted in damning sinners to hell, but a God of love who showed “His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He found a God no sinful human being could ever fabricate or invent; His ways are far too high and wonderful for us to imagine. He found a Savior that does not demand sacrifices of gold or silver, of bulls or goats, but who offered Himself as a sacrifice, a satisfaction and propitiation of the wrath of God for our sins. He found and proclaimed a God who is God, who cannot be put into a box and who will not be mocked. Today is a celebration of Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the actual gospel of Jesus Christ, Him crucified and resurrected for us, and we thank God that there were, and continue to be, ears to hear that Word.

Because the truth is, man does not change – he is still the same sinner he has been since the first man fell into sin. Man has always tried, and continues to try, to put God in a box. Even Christians today, even those of us who have the benefit of being the spiritual descendants of the Reformation, are not immune to this dastardly form of idolatry. We may not have reliquaries and indulgences, we may not have hard-hearted people who want to do violence to God’s prophets, but we would be fools of the highest caliber if we thought that we were above the malcontent with how God has chosen to save His people. It is endemic to our sinful nature, and none of us are immune to it. However, those who have been redeemed by the Spirit of the living God in the waters of Holy Baptism are given ears that hear His Word, that are kept steadfast in and by it. God is still doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He is still giving to the world His Word of salvation simply, and only, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazarath for the sins of the world. This was the message of the Reformation, and it’s the same today, as it was then, as it was in the days of the apostles: Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday, today, and forever! He who has ears to hear … let him hear.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

A Truth We Need to Learn

October 18, 2020
By Rev. David French

As I began my study of this week’s text, it became very clear that Matthew has something very important to share with us today. Now I know that Matthew has something important to share with for the next ten weeks or so, but this is different. What really caught my eye on the first reading of this text is that five times in these eight verses the Holy Spirit guided Matthew to use the Greek word Idou which means to behold, sometimes also translated as to see or to know. There are several ways in the Greek language to say to see or to know. That’s why the choice is so noticeable.

A quick scan shows that we are to behold those who bring their paralytic friend to Jesus. Jesus beholds or sees their faith in this action. We are to behold how some of the scribes who were present accuse Jesus of blasphemy for forgiving the paralytic his sin. Jesus beheld or saw the wicked thoughts of the scribes and the crowd, beheld or saw this miracle and were filled with awe. All of them the same Greek word … Idou.

So, what does this mean? To begin, we need to understand that Idou is God’s way of saying “Hey, pay attention, important things are happening or are going to be happening!” Some examples of Idou’s use in other places: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son. Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which is for all people. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold I am always with you. Behold, I am coming soon.” You get the point. This is a word that signals the fact that something very important, a truth we need to learn, is being taught.

So, behold, some people were bringing a paralytic lying on a bed to Jesus. And? And, that’s it. Remember, behold isn’t just a sentence starter. So, what do we see? We’re seeing what faith does! Faith comes to and calls upon Jesus. 

Next, Matthew tells us that Jesus beheld or saw their faith and says to the paralytic, who Mark tells us has just been lowered through the roof, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” Did you notice anything? Jesus doesn’t heal him. He doesn’t even hint at the possibility of a healing. Jesus simply gives this man the one thing needful: the forgiveness of his sins. 

And how do the scribes respond to this word of forgiveness? “Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming!’” Again, what are we seeing? The scribes are inwardly making a charge that carries the death sentence against Jesus for forgiving sins. So why is it so important that we pay close attention to this wicked behavior? The key is in noticing the fact that Matthew never says that the scribes were talking with each other. The text is very clear in stating that they were talking to themselves within the privacy of their own hearts and minds. They never put voice to their wicked accusation. They only thought it. It’s here we’re told that Jesus beheld or knew their thoughts! They never said a word out loud. No one in the crowd had any idea what the scribes were thinking. There was no public accusation that required Jesus to defend Himself. So, why not let it go?

Well, here we’re reminded Jesus doesn’t let it go because God desires the death of no man. God is not content to just let people live in the darkness of sin. Our Lord loved those wicked scribes enough to speak first; to force them to see what they were doing. “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins [and all Israel believe only God can forgive sins] - he then said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’” And that’s just what he did. 

Matthew next tells us that the crowd who beheld this miracle “were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” That is, they feared and loved God because He was with them. So, what do you think? When Jesus beheld the faith of the friends, what exactly was He seeing? Was it their deed or was it the faith that produced this God-pleasing fruit?

It’s important that we remember that Jesus saw the evil thoughts of the scribes. They did nothing that would draw any attention to their disapproval. And yet, Jesus saw their wickedness, and He called it out. Surely, Jesus can see the hearts of those who brought their paralytic friend to Him as well. And what he saw wasn’t just an act of kindness, but a fruit of their faith. Keep in mind: The scribes and Pharisees were always coming to Jesus and He never once speaks about their faith. 

So, what does that mean for us today? At this point, I could take the easy path and turn this into a law-heavy sermon and just tell you what you need to do or not do so that God will look at you and see your faith. While it’s sad that is more often than not what people really want … just tell me what I need to do ... it is, of course, missing the whole point and not how it works. Not to mention that would be putting the focus on you and what you do or don’t do. But, even if I were to say, “What you have to do is follow the Ten Commandments,” you would still eventually compare yourself with how others are doing and not what God expects. And, I know I don’t have to tell you, but we do have a habit of quickly moving past a works-righteous examination of ourselves to the self-righteous judging of others. That is, we start looking for faith or sin in others instead of ourselves, because I guess we think Jesus needs our help.

My friends, what do you see when you come here? Don’t you receive forgiveness though ordinary bread and wine? Receive the gift of His Holy Spirt through His words combined with plain ordinary water? Don’t you hear of God’s continued love for you with ordinary simple words, from an ordinary and unimpressive half blind sinner in the pulpit? It’s all so … just not what you’d expect from an almighty God.

But, look closer. Look through the lens of your God-given eyes of faith. Don’t you also behold that right now Christ is in our midst? By grace, through eyes of faith, don’t you see His very body and blood given and shed for your forgiveness? Don’t you see the font and hear the words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and in your heart give thanks to God for washing you clean? For clothing you with the robe of His Son’s righteousness and remember the promise He spoke to you by name: that He would never leave nor forsake you? Don’t you in your heart hear Jesus and not the pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins”?  

My friends, I can’t make you see any of this, and God won’t make you see any of this. But, He will, by the faith He gives, open your eyes so that you can see, and by grace, believe the important truth of God’s love for you, His imperfect but forgiven child.

In His name, Amen.

Two Birds with One Stone

October 11, 2020
By Rev. David French

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” It’s a good question but … why does Jesus ask it?  On the surface it may seem like Jesus is simply turning the tables on the Pharisees, sort of giving them a taste of their own medicine. And if that was His purpose, we’d have to say He succeeded as we read, “… from that time on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” That is, He silenced the Pharisees as well.

Was Jesus just setting them up so that He could humiliate them when they inevitably give the wrong answer? Of course not. If you know Jesus, then you know that’s just not how He does things. The truth is, Jesus asks this question because He loves these misguided shepherds of Israel who, with the very best of intentions, are leading God’s children astray because of their traditions and pride.

You see, the problem is they think they know the Scriptures. They do know the words, but they have a wrong understanding of those words because of many of their traditions and their pride in who they saw themselves to be. Remember why they tested Him? It was because He had silenced the Sadducees, so this is just a chance to look smarter than the Sadducees and make Jesus look bad in front of the crowd, sort of a “two birds with one stone.” It’s that same pride that kept them from truly listening to all the Law and the Prophets, that is, God’s Word as we see from their reply, “the Son of David.” And that’s true, but only half right, which when it comes to the Christ of God means it’s wrong.

You see, Jesus asks this question because the answer they give, no matter what they had said, provided the opportunity for Him to speak the truth about the Messiah. At that moment, the light of God’s Word was shining on the darkness of their ignorance and wrong belief. Yes, they knew the Christ would be the son of David, but never say a word about Him being the Son of God. The truth is, if the man in front of them is only a son of David, he is not the Christ.

And that’s the problem. The Pharisees only believed and held fast to what they could understand. Any teaching that wasn’t in line with their understanding of “truth” was simply rejected as false. The Messiah, as they understood him, was going to be a great and powerful man of the lineage of David who would lead Israel to be the economic, spiritual, and social epicenter of all humanity. In their minds they we sure they would recognize the Christ. And they certainly knew the true Christ would never sit and eat with prostitutes and tax collectors or hang out with lepers and Samaritans who God clearly despised and was punishing. 

Now, we get that the Pharisees didn’t understand the truth about Jesus or that God’s plan for the salvation of mankind had to include pain, suffering, and death on a cross. We get that they didn’t understand that sin was a death sentence pronounced on all those born of Adam and really didn’t understand the teachings of the Law (of Books of Moses) and prophets who taught about God’s unconditional grace and mercy for all those born of Adam … including lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, and Gentiles.

That’s why our Lord comes to us today. He doesn’t come to us just to point out the faults of the Pharisees. He comes to us today because He loves us, asking us the same questions, because like the Pharisees, we also might be tempted to think we know it all and stop hearing or reading God’s Word. Remember, it’s easy to come up with right words about Jesus, but what we understand those words to mean is seen by the fruits we bear. That’s what we confess every day.

You see, we really are just like the Pharisees, because by nature, “our ways are not His ways.” They haven’t been since the fall into sin, and they won’t be until Christ returns. In Romans 7 we read those “The good I want to do I don’t do …” verses which end with Paul asking, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” My friends, you know the answer; not just the words, but the answer. The One who can save us from bonds of sin and the pain of death is Jesus, the son of David and the Son of God who is the Promised One of God made flesh.

Think about or better yet, seriously ponder what the Creator of all things was willing to do to save you from your sin. The wages of sin is death, both physical and eternal, and yet our Lord loves us so much that He willingly took on human flesh so He could suffer and die to pay the debt of sin we owe, but would never have been able to pay.  

Now, if you try and make sense of God’s plan using sinful human reason and logic, you will arrive at one of two conclusions. Either your sins aren’t really deadly, and your “good works” contribute to your salvation, or your sins are so great that even Christ’s blood won’t cover them. Those are the two places we can get to on our own when confronted with the Scriptures teaching on sin and salvation. That’s why God doesn’t ask you to do anything to save yourself. Instead, He mercifully enables you, by the working of the Holy Spirit, to believe Him when He says, “It is finished.” It’s why our Lord calls us to have the faith of a little child; that is, a faith with no questions.

We who are already jaded by sin allow the ways and wisdom of the world to guide, influence, inform, corrupt, and finally kill us. Human wisdom has taught us there are no free meals, that there is always a catch. But with our heavenly Father, there is no catch. He had it written down in plain old human language simple enough for a child to understand. The Bible, His inerrant and infallible Word, reveals that the wages of sin is death and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It also reveals, God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to live and die in our place and that whoever believes in Him for the forgiveness of their sins has eternal life.

You see, it’s to the cross that God directs our faith throughout Scriptures as the place to put our hope, for there the fullness of His wrath as well as the fullness of His grace and mercy and peace and love are poured out for you and for all. On the cross we see both what God thinks of sin and what He does for sinners. So, ponder God’s love for you, but don’t over think it. Simply believe it, humble yourself, repent of your sins, and give thanks because you are forgiven. You have been redeemed by Christ’s blood and baptized into His body. You are, by grace through the faith the Holy Spirit created in you, God’s precious child. 

In His name, Amen.

Humble Enough

October 04, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this 17th Sunday after Trinity comes from our gospel text, especially where Luke records, “Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor … For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

In the little town of Mosinee, Wisconsin, there was a coffeehouse called Beatitudes. Their fantastic drinks aside, this little mom-and-pop shop appealed to the 18- and 19-year-old me because it was touted as a Christian coffee shop. The staff was all very friendly. The mugs had Scripture verses written on them, if memory serves me correctly. The walls, likewise, had Scripture verses scrawled trendily on them and there were other pieces of Christian décor and knickknacks scattered around the shop. I remember one night in particular, as I ordered my usual drink, noticing one piece of décor in particular. It was just a plaque, meant to be hung on a wall or placed on a desk, and I studied it, mulling over the message written as they prepared my order. The message was this: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

I guess I didn’t have a good grasp of what humility is at the time because I found that plaque profound enough that I still remember it over a decade later. I had thought humility was something of a mental self-flagellation that one ought to do when one starts to think too highly of oneself. I’d never really thought of humility in these terms before, and I found the sentiment to be quite profound. I still do.

I find that our gospel text reflects this. Jesus is invited to the house of one of the Pharisees to celebrate the Sabbath meal. We’re told that “they were watching him carefully,” presumably to see if he would slip up and give them cause to arrest him or worse. Now, in front of Jesus was a man with “dropsy” – what we now know as edema. Whether he was placed there intentionally as a trap or not, Jesus doesn’t even wait for the lawyers and Pharisees to ask the question he knew was on their hearts. He poses the question to them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They remain silent, but Jesus answers for them by healing the man and sending him on his way. The follow-up rhetorical question He poses to the dinner party makes the point more clear: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

It’s only after this interaction, noticing how people arranged themselves in places of honor for the meal, that Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast. In it, he warns against choosing for yourself the highest place of honor – that is, thinking more highly of yourself than you ought – because you may not be the most honored person at the banquet. How embarrassing would it be for you to take the seat of highest honor … only to have the master of the feast tell you to move to the other side of the room, because someone more important than you was present! It would be better for you to choose the lowest place. Who knows? Perhaps the master of the feast will invite you to a more honorable position! How wonderful would that be?

It’s funny. If you’re like me, you may hear Jesus saying, “Be like the latter man! Better to think lowlier of yourself and have the master lift you up than have him put you in your place!” I think, however, the message here is more subtle. When you stop and think about it, neither man is actually humble. Both men are attempting to secure for themselves the seat of honor, next to the master; the first is bolder and ruder, trampling whoever gets in his way. The latter man, however, seeks the higher seat of honor by hypocritically dropping into the very lowest spot. The motives of both men are self-serving, but where the prior man is more honest about his intentions, the latter is more duplicitous.

True humility doesn’t regard the self at all. True humility seeks always to serve those around them, even to the detriment of self. It seems to me that this is the lesson Jesus was attempting to teach the Pharisees and lawyers at the dinner party – “You arrange yourselves according to your false impressions and understandings of humility and honor, when none of you, for fear of appearing to break a commandment, would heal someone with dropsy or save someone caught in a well. You think you’re humble enough; but the reality is you’re not humble at all.”

No doubt, that harsh reality was the reason behind their silence … and perhaps it should give us pause as well. Be honest with yourself. Do you aspire to be the second man, humbling himself … in order to get the place of honor? Is your attempt to be humble nothing more than a façade to give the impression of humility while thinking you deserve better? Is humility … a means to an end for you? I know it is for me.

The reality is that our best works are tainted with sin, and our attempts to be humble, to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, are no different. We selfish sinners always have ulterior motives, though we may not even be cognizant of them. We want the appearance of humility … to serve a purpose, to be of benefit to us and our own glory. It’s the Old Adam within us, the incurvatus, inwardly-focus, navel-gazing narcissists that we are, concerned only with numero uno. Jesus … is the antithesis of such arrogance.

Unlike us, Jesus genuinely gives no thought to self and cares only for those around him. Though the Creator of the cosmos, he humbled himself in the Incarnation, taking on our frail, broken flesh, veiling his glory and majesty, abandoning the glories and splendors of paradise for our pain and toil and suffering. When he could have used his miracles and healings for his own benefit and glory, he charged those who bore witness to stay silent. When he could have abandoned the mission given to him, he instead stayed the course, declaring to the disciples as he was being arrested, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” He could have easily overthrown the Romans, become the nouveau King David and conquered the world … but chose to subject himself to Pontius Pilate, and his acquiescence to the people’s demands for crucifixion. At the cross, as he breathed his last and yielded up his spirit, he humbly submitted to the unbearable punishment that we deserve but could never endure.

Paul puts it best in his letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” He’s the only One worthy of being proud … and yet, on account of his love for us, he humbles himself. Make no mistake: we sinners will never be humble enough, but he is humble enough for us all.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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