Monday, August 27, 2018

Sermon - Christian Education Sunday - Deuteronomy 6:4-15

Christian Education Sunday- August 26, 2018
Deuteronomy 6:4-15
“Christian Teaching; Christian Learning”

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves children. He says “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them”. He uses children as an example, a paragon of faith. And there is much we could say about this. But on this Christian Education Sunday, we're going to focus especially on these words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”

This passage comes as part of Moses' farewell to the Israelites. You know the story of the Exodus, how God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh's armies. How he brought them to Mount Sinai, met with Moses there, and gave them the 10 commandments, and established a covenant with them. He had them construct a tabernacle, and the ark and all its appointments. He gave them a system of sacrifice to deal with sin. He promised to be their God, and they would be his people. And he was bringing them to a good land – flowing with milk and honey.

They grumbled and rebelled. It would take 40 years, an entire generation, before God decided they were ready to take possession of their inheritance. Through it all, he sustained them with daily bread from heaven. And he would also go before them to conquer the Canaanites and deliver the promised land to them. This story would be repeated by the prophets and the people throughout their history, and even we gentiles repeat and rehearse it today – for through this little nation he was working out his plan of salvation for the whole world. From this nation would come the Savior Jesus Christ.

Moses wasn't going with them into Canaan. He would die on Mt. Nebo – just overlooking the border into that land. But before he died he wrote them (by the Spirit's inspiration) a farewell sermon – Deuteronomy. That name actually means, “second law”. It reiterates the words and promises of God, as well as his commands. In fact the 10 commandments are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. So when Moses teaches them the word of God here, it isn't the fist time they heard it; it was a repetition.

And Moses is encouraging the people to keep repeating these words of God, in various ways, as they also teach them to their children. Morning, noon and night. Rising and sleeping. Sitting and walking. In and out of the house. Anywhere and everywhere. Anytime. The word, the word, the word. We do well to heed his advice.

Christian Education is nothing other than receiving the very Word of God. So in some ways, it seems superfluous to have a “Christian Education” emphasis – as every Sunday we gather – Christian Education is going on. Of course this happens first and foremost in the Divine Service. When we gather around God's word. We read it, hear it, learn it and inwardly digest it. In fact Jesus Christ, as the living embodiment of that word is central to it all. When we receive the Word of God, we receive Jesus, and vice versa.

Oh, and it's not just an intellectual “learning”, by the way. Though surely there is a head-knowledge component. But Christian Education is a training of the heart in God's word more than anything. It is a spiritual matter, an exercise of faith. The sermon is less a classroom lesson and more a proclamation. So if you didn't “learn anything” on a given Sunday in church, that's ok. You're still hearing the word – and faith comes by hearing. And the central gathering of Christians for this endeavor is in our weekly worship.

But just as Moses implored the Israelites to eat, sleep and drink the Word in various ways, so we modern Christians have our own ways of fulfilling these commands. For about 100 years we've had something called “Sunday School”, in which we intentionally teach the Bible to our children at age-appropriate levels. Sure there's arts and crafts and fun and games, and if you're lucky some flannel-graph visual aids, but that's not what it's all about. It's about Jesus. It's about God's word. It's about teaching our children this precious heritage of faith that we have received, and which they will not receive in a world that has grown increasingly hostile. Thanks be to God for those who teach, and those who learn in our Sunday School classes.

We have for years hosted a Vacation Bible School – and engaged the wider community with an invitation to come hear and learn about Christ.

So also, we've established here, a Christian school. Like many Lutheran Churches, we recognize the value of providing this service to our own members and the larger community. What a blessing to learn not only the 3 r's, Latin and History, music and art – but to do it all alongside of daily training in the Word. And as a classical school, the children in our care also learn by great emphasis on repetition – and certainly by repeating and memorizing the Word of God. Thanks be to God for the blessings of Lutheran Schools, and of the School we are blessed to operate at Messiah. Apart from the ministry of Word and Sacrament, our school is our greatest mission and our primary cooperative undertaking as a congregation. Let us continue to support it through our prayers, our gifts, and our encouragement.

Ah, but what of the adults? Does Christian Education exclude those of us who have graduated from school, been confirmed in the faith, who've been Christians our whole lives and perhaps even have a Master of Divinity degree? By no means! Aren't we beyond all that? Are we past it all? Haven't we heard all this before?

Moses wouldn't have any of that. These words of God – his commandment and promises – ought to be on our hearts and minds as children, and on our lips also as adults. We are never to stop teaching them and rehearsing them and cherishing them. Nor ought we ever think we've mastered them. We are all disciples of Christ, that is to say, students. Or to use a more modern buzz-word, life-long-learners of the faith.

For our sinful nature is stubborn. Our Old Adam does not go gently into the night. He is hard-hearted and hard-headed. He needs the Law of God to continually expose his sin. He needs to be knocked off his perpetual pedestal of self-righteousness. If we could only just stop sinning – maybe it would be different. But as long as the flesh is with us, as long as sin clings to us, the law must teach us our true need for Christ.

But likewise the Gospel – it's not a one-time deal. Jesus sacrificial death for your sins, and his rising from the dead to destroy death for you – this isn't just the introduction to our faith, it's the meat-and-potatoes of our faith. It is the everyday joy and blessing, the living water of refreshment and the daily nourishment for our soul. The grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, the promises of peace and hope and life in Christ – Christians should be steeped in the good news. It is a daily blessing. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our constant and sure stronghold against all storms of the world, assaults of the devil, and doubts of the flesh. Repeat, repeat, repeat the good news of Jesus. Hear it again and again and again. It's so good, this news never gets old.

(Catechesis) Hear from Dr. Luther about learning the catechism:

But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as
learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and
mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have
time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read
and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten
Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and
study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but
must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so
gladly.(Preface to the Large Catechism)

If the great reformer can so humbly remain committed to his own Christian Education, and even in the simplest terms. If your own pastors remain students of the word. And your fellow Christians continue to join you as disciples and students of the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ. Then surely you also do well to abide in his word every day.

There's always more poking and prodding the law will do to you, exposing sins you didn't even know you had. Showing you the way of holiness God expects. And there's ever more grace to be seen in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ever more mercy to be found in him, ever more blood to cover your sins. And so we teach the children. And so we learn, ourselves. And so we grow in knowledge and faith and fear of the Lord. To our last day, when the pastor at our bedside speaks those same precious words and prepares us to enter his courts forever. God's word is our great heritage, and shall be ours forever. In Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 12 - 1 Kings 19:1-8

1 Kings 19:1-8
“Food for the Journey”

Elijah was having a rough go of it. Sure he'd had his moment of glory. Actually, it was to the glory of God that the prophets of Baal were defeated in that famous contest on Mt. Carmel. You build your altar, I'll build mine to Yahweh, and we'll see which god is real. Yahweh sent fire down to consume Elijah's sacrifice, and the altar of stone as well – but Baal was silent, well, because he doesn't exist. And Elijah even had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death by the sword. For Elijah it was a great victory. A triumph, even.

But not when wicked queen Jezebel heard of it. She put a contract out on Elijah's life. And she meant business. She'd put many other faithful prophets of Yahweh to death already. Elijah would be just one more. But this once bold confessor who stood up to his opponents on Mt. Carmel and prayed for fire to come from heaven – and had faith to believe that it would – now turns into a coward and flees from the northern kingdom, flees even from the southern kingdom, flees all the way into the southern wilderness. Quite a contrast. Almost unbelievable.

Unless you read your bible. And you see the many other people of faith with their shocking ups and downs. Abraham's faith to sacrifice his son Issac, but his fear that the Pharaoh would kill him and take his wife. Moses' faith to stand before another Pharaoh but his self-glorifying fall when he struck the rock to get water. David's faith to fell the giant Goliath, remain faithful to a wicked king Saul, and fight the Philistines by their thousands, but his fall into sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Even in the New Testament – the disciples of Jesus, especially Peter, are commendable in faith one minute, and faltering in fear and failure the next. They confess him, then they deny him. They believe him, then they doubt him. And so it goes. The Bible is full of these sinners and saints.

And the contrast is also observable in your life. You can seem to fight the good fight for a while, but then temptations come and you fold like a house of cards. One day your faith feels strong like a fortress, the next you feel the sand shifting beneath you. You're confident of grace and God's love in Christ over here, and right over there you forget it all, and despair and doubt. Like St. Paul who struggled between his flesh and the new creation, every Christian goes through it. Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – for he does it – in Jesus Christ.

And so God is continually pointing us outside ourselves. He's continually surprising us with the Gospel, with his love, grace, mercy, and providence. He's continually speaking to you, sustaining you, providing for you, even feeding you.

Take Elijah again. He's out in the wilderness. Threatened by enemies, but now also hungry. Despair is getting the best of him. “O Lord, take away my life...” he prays. But God's not having it. He has work for him to do. He has plans for his servant Elijah. He will go to Horeb. God will speak to him there. And Elijah will return and face his foes again, to pronounce God's word of judgment.

And so God strengthens him for the journey. In the middle of this wilderness, he lets him rest, and he gives him bread. Not just once, mind you, but twice, he feeds the prophet. He sends an angel, a messenger, with food for strength and words of encouragement. Food that Elijah didn't prepare or even ask for, but God knew he needed. “The journey is too great for you”. But nothing is too great for our God, in him all things are possible. In him, and in Jesus Christ – we have food for the journey.

Jesus Christ is the living bread from heaven who sustains and feeds us with his very self. He gives us strength for the journey of this life, indeed he gives us this life, sustains us in this world of enemies and this wilderness of sin. He speaks to us through faithful messengers who set his word before us, for the journey is too great for us. He feeds us with his own body and blood, not just once, but as often as we do this in his remembrance.

He's not a point-you-in-that-direction and see-you-at-the-finish-line kind of Savior. He's a with-you-every-step-of-the-way Savior. An ever-present help in trouble. A constant friend. A faithful shepherd. He will not leave you alone, wandering. He promises to be with you always, not just when it seems like fun. And if that were not enough: He even sends you his Spirit, who guides, comforts, enlightens, encourages and even prays for you along the way.

If you are tempted to despair, or give up, if you have had enough of sin, death, and of their wake of destruction and the mess they bring into your world. If you are longing for death, or just to check out and not be bothered with your vocations. If you even question God's goodness and mercy, or think that maybe he's forgotten or forsaken you. Consider this.

The God who went to the great care of sending his own son, even giving him into death, he will not leave you to your journey without his aid. He's gone to far too much trouble for your salvation.

For Jesus' part, he, too was a prophet who made his share of enemies. He, like Elijah, made a journey into the wilderness of his own. Only Jesus wasn't running away, he was driven by the Spirit there, to face the ultimate enemy, and to prevail. There, in his hunger, the Tempter said, “turn these stones into bread”, but the Living Bread answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”. There, in his 40 day journey, Jesus didn't despair, but he kept the fast and stood firm against temptation. And like Elijah, angels came and ministered to him.

Elijah sat under the small comfort of a broom tree, but Jesus labored under the shadow of another tree – a cross - a tree of suffering that had his name on it, that he would endure to end all suffering. A tree of curse, to reverse Adam's curse. A tree of judgment for the forbidden fruit of sin, by which he would win for us the fruits of righteousness again.

Elijah's journey wouldn't end in death, like he suggested. But Jesus' journey to the cross could only be to die. Yet he never turned away, never flinched, never failed to drink the cup appointed, or to bear the sentence that was pronounced. Mocked by men and forsaken by God, he truly was the only one left to bear that awful load.

How will God, who spared not his own son – how will he not also graciously give you all good things? How will Jesus, who endured all that suffering and such a bitter death – how will he not, also, graciously sustain you? He didn't do all this for nothing. He did it for you.

He did it because he knows the journey is hard. He knows you couldn't make it on your own – it's too great for you. But you, traveller, have a path and course marked out for you. You, wilderness wanderer, have a forerunner who's already stormed the gates of death and hell, and marked out the way back to paradise. Better than that, he doesn't just show you the way, he brings you with him. And he's with you all along the way, sustaining you come what may.

Enemies abound. The Devil rages and schemes for your demise. But what of that? You have shelter in the arms of Jesus. Death looms, and it may come for you. But what of that? For in Christ, death is but the gate to eternal life. The wilderness of the world is a wasteland of sin, violence, pain and sorrow. No matter. Jesus has the journey covered. He's with you every step. He'll even feed you along the way, over and over. And your destination is beyond comparing to this vale of tears.

The journey's too great for you. But not for Jesus. Come to his table today. Be fed once again. Remain in him, and your journey will be blessed.