Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon for 13 December 2003, Advent 3C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

Luke 7:18-28 (29-35)

The One

Third Sunday in Advent, 13 December 2009

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

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

‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ How does Jesus answer this question? If He were as judgmental as many in this world are, He could have said, “What do you mean you don’t believe in me? Get out of my sight!” But no, our Lord has compassion upon those who are weak in faith so that their faith will be strengthened. As Isaiah 42:3 says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Jesus does not answer with words first, but with deeds. He heals and preaches and then says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

This is how Jesus handles weak faith. Lack of faith is another thing entirely. Some have said that a preacher’s work is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That’s true as long as the Law and the Gospel from the Holy Scriptures are rightly distinguished and used for those important tasks. The Law of God is preached to those who are comfortable in their unfaith, sin, or lack of compassion and good works. The Holy Gospel is proclaimed to all who burdened by their sins, and flee for refuge to the Lord’s infinite mercy.

Those with weak faith are in danger of falling away from faith completely. In our day, many people have been raised in Christian homes. They have been taught that Jesus is The One to come, yet they search for another. You have seen it happen.

Work is good and salutary. But when providing for one’s family means a work schedule where one hardly sees that family? Is it really worth it? What about when work conflicts with weekly opportunities to hear the Word of the Lord, receive His gifts, and offer Him our offerings and sacrifice of praise? How can we as adults model this so that our young people can say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t work Sunday mornings.”

Sports and physical activity are good ways to train and discipline the body, as well as support your community. How many times do we just sit there and watch instead of engaging in physical activity ourselves? How many times do we forget that a game is just a game? When sporting events conflict with Divine Service, how many times does a ball become a Baal, an idol, a false god?

Name the person, place, or thing, and under the right circumstances, it can become a false god to someone, replacing the one, true God. ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ Many were taught that Jesus is The One, but now look for someone or something else.

In the Large Catechism, Luther writes, “You shall have no other gods. What this means: You shall have Me alone as your God. What is the meaning of this and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to have a god? Or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God (Hebrews 11:6). Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”

Do you believe that Jesus is The One who is to come, or will you look for another?

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written, “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

The book of the prophet Malachi (3:1) is the source of this prophecy. John prepared the way for the Lord Jesus. What did the people go out to see? A prophet and more than a prophet. This has much to teach us about how to choose a church.

Look for good, faithful, Biblical preaching and teaching. Does the pastor use a lectionary, a system of readings? That can help prevent preachers from coming up with their own agendas. John prepared the Lord’s way by preaching the Word of God. Look for a pastor who takes his ordination vows seriously, and teaches in accord with the Lutheran confessions—not just what people tell him to say.

Any compromise of what God’s Word says is a reason to flee. On numerous occasions the confirmands have been taught to avoid false teachers: (Say it with me.) “Run. Away. As fast as you can. And never go back.”

Christians are not to choose a congregation based upon the personality of the pastor, the way he or the people dress, how friendly the congregation is, the style of music, the programs the church offers, a convenient location, the amount of parking, how good the coffee is, or what time the service is. We are to look for God’s truth and a faithful servant of the Word. To be sure, people may be turned off by a great number of things, so we must take care not to offend someone in an unnecessary way. We must always preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

John preached and administered a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus commends a hopeful, humble, repentant faith. He calls to repentance those like the Pharisees. The Pharisees rejected a baptism of repentance because they wrongly thought they had no sins to repent of. They went through the motions of piety without faith. It is the lack of faith that condemns.

31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, [Jesus continued,] and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

Much of so-called “Contemporary Worship” is similarly childlike, with religious songs where the emotion that the music creates in the “audience” is, in practice, more important than what the words say. This is psychological manipulation at best, and unfaithfulness in the worst cases. People are subtly taught by their experience that emotion equals being spiritual, and being spiritual means you have to have an emotional response. If you don’t have an emotional response, they begin to believe, then they doubt if God can really be present.

We hold to God’s promises. We know that God is present where He has promised to be, even if we don’t feel it. Our emotions can lead us astray. God’s promises will not. He promises to be with us where two or three are gathered in His name. We don’t need to worry about any other numbers other than loving concern for those who neglect to receive the Lord’s Gifts on the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s House. God has promised to deliver the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. He has given us the sacraments so that we would be forgiven.

If God said, “People of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Hear me! When you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I will forgive your sins,” wouldn’t you run right out and eat that peanut butter and jelly sandwich? That some would argue about what kind of bread, crunchy or smooth peanut butter, and what fruit the jelly is made out of is missing the point.

To put it another way, some may say, “I already know my sins are forgiven ‘cause I asked for that in the Lord’s Prayer. Why do I need baptism or communion?” Remember grandma’s Christmas tree? Rejecting Holy Baptism and Holy Communion after being absolved of your sins is like saying, “Grandma, thanks for the underwear. But I don’t need those other gifts from you that are still under the tree.” Does that make sense to anyone of any age? God has good Gifts for you in Christ Jesus. It is to your benefit to receive them by faith. It is only to your detriment to reject them—that’s unfaith.

The people didn’t want to follow John or Jesus. They wanted to do whatever made them feel good. They didn’t want to follow John’s rules and they didn’t like it when Jesus freely associated with sinners in order to bring them to repentance and faith. People then were scandalized and offended by Jesus. It’s no different today. The clothing, food, and government have changed, but not the darkness of human hearts apart from faith in Christ.

CPR [Modified] An article in the September 5, 2005 issue of Newsweek magazine, entitled, “Spirituality in America,” reported that over one thousand Americans were asked the following question: “Can a good person who doesn’t share your religious beliefs attain salvation or go to heaven? Approximately 79 percent of the respondents answered yes [, showing how little they knew the Christian Scriptures]. One has to wonder how many of them are scandalized or offended by Jesus when He speaks so clearly in John’s Gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (14;6). It should be noted that the margin of error for the Newsweek poll is 4 percent, give or take. Unfortunately, there is no margin of error when it comes to eternity and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ Jesus does not answer with words first, but with deeds. He heals and preaches and then says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

We know Jesus to be The One. Blessed are you who are not offended by Him. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.