Thursday, December 13, 2007

Proper 9 of Series C (preached 7/8/07)

Please be kind- this was the first sermon I ever wrote....

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our text for this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ--- I was only a senior in high school during the terrible events of September eleventh, two-thousand one, and like many of you, I can remember exactly where I was when the towers came down. I was at school, in fact I had just arrived at school when the first tower collapsed, and would watch the second go down in the history room. One of the places where I always watched TV during those terrible days was during an independent study period in the library. My study period happened to fall just as the reporters crammed into press rooms to hear the morning briefings. I’m sure you can picture the same scenes, if not from the aftermath of terrorism then from any other major newsworthy event or even from a movie. The president’s chosen representative and spokesperson, the press secretary, faced the media himself, answering all their questions on behalf of and with the authority of the president. He did not take that podium representing himself in any way, but instead his sole purpose was to represent, to speak for, the president. What was more, the media in the room understood this relationship and received his words as those of the president. On the other hand, when they rejected what he said, they rejected the ideas of the president. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus sent out his own messengers to speak for him and represent him in the various towns on the way to Jerusalem. These men, like the president’s press secretary, did not come bearing their own authority or message, but instead they came with Christ’s authority and his message. As Jesus says in verse 16, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” The seventy-two men sent out by Jesus in our Gospel lesson were not the first to be sent out by Christ, nor were they the last. He has been sending men out in every age, to every nation, to speak on His behalf and to bear His authority. These men are called pastors, and what Christ has said continues to be true for all those He sends out until He comes again- “The one who hears you hears me.”
In Luke chapter ten we find a detailed explanation of what the seventy two are to do as they go before Jesus into the cities of Judea. But this is not simply a story about men who received their instructions from Jesus and then disappeared! These instructions are preparing all those who follow Christ for what lies ahead- both for those who will shepherd the church in His absence and those who will be shepherded. Just a handful of verses earlier, in chapter nine verse 51, we read that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” What awaited Him in Jerusalem? Death on a cross, followed by a glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven. Christ would not be physically with them much longer, and now His followers needed to know how the kingdom of heaven would be built.
What will these messengers do to build this kingdom? First of all, they will prepare the way for Jesus. Several times Jesus tells the seventy two to proclaim that “The kingdom of heaven has come near to you.” What is that kingdom of heaven? It is Jesus Himself! He embodies the kingdom of heaven in himself, so wherever Christ is, there the kingdom of heaven is. This kingdom fully came in His death and resurrection, establishing a kingdom of life that will not be overcome. Therefore, pastors today still prepare the way for Christ, proclaiming that His kingdom is near, so near that it is actually coming to you and me every time we gather in this place. It came in the death of Jesus and is still being established through the proclamation of this word and the administration of His sacraments. On this very day the kingdom of heaven will come near to your lips in the most holy Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood. That is what the messengers of Christ have always proclaimed- that the kingdom of heaven was established in the death and resurrection of Christ and still comes near to us in the Gospel preached and the sacraments given.
This sounds like quiet a triumphant mission, and we are tempted to ask ‘with the authority of Christ behind them, how can they fail?’ But Jesus is barely a sentence into His speech to the seventy two before He gives the first hint of danger. “Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” In the two-thousand years since these words were spoken by Jesus, the image He draws remains an unpleasant one. If we can imagine a shepherd sending a handful of sheep into the midst of hundreds and hundreds of wolves, we can quickly get the idea of what Jesus is talking about. But who are these wolves? Jesus tells us in the seventh chapter of Matthew- “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The wolves that will oppose the seventy two and every proclaimer of the Gospel since, are false teachers, which distort and attack Christ while proclaiming the ways of the world. These wolves will oppose those sent by Christ at every turn, rejecting the message they bring. And how will they reject this message? By rejecting the messengers sent by Christ. As Christ was rejected by the cities of Galilee, so His messengers who represent him will be rejected. In our text, Jesus condemns several cities, all of which He ministered to during His time in Galilee. Each of them rejected Him, despising both His message and the miracles He performed there. Therefore, Jesus is not simply letting off steam and calling down a few curses before He sits down for supper- no, He is telling the seventy-two, and all messengers of Christ, that what happened to Him in Galilee will happen to them in Judea and to the ends of the earth. They will be rejected, as He was. Not only that, but in the act of rejecting Christ’s messengers, those people to whom they were sent will be making the greatest mistake of all. In rejecting the seventy two and every pastor since, these people are rejecting Christ. Jesus states it quite plainly- “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” By despising and rejecting Christ’s messengers, they have disposed of the very means through which Jesus wished to save them. Because Christ comes through these messengers, through their proclamation of the word and administration of the sacraments, rejection of them means the rejection of Him.
But Christ does not talk only about rejection- His focus is on the reception of His messengers. Their greeting that the kingdom of heaven is near is not a woeful proclamation of doom, but a word of peace. Those who recognize that this is a message of peace, a message of Gospel, will receive the messengers of Christ into their homes. As we see in our text, this go far beyond simply making a pastor welcome at your church. The seventy two were welcomed into a home, eating and drinking what was set before them. Now, I am not saying Christ’s messengers should never have to cook their own meals or live under their own roof. But I am simply echoing Paul when he says in our epistle for today, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” Christ gives great gifts through his messengers, and he expects that they will be taken care of. To receive Christ’s messengers in this way demonstrates that you agree with and support the message they bring. And what is the result of this? Jesus tells us in verses eighteen through twenty of our text. “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Through the preaching of the seventy-two, Satan was already being defeated! He was hurled down, because people received Christ’s messengers and the message they brought. And ultimately, names were written in heaven, as the Holy Spirit worked faith in people’s hearts and they believed unto salvation.
After hearing all that, it is easy for you in the pew or me in the pulpit to feel pretty secure. Christ has warned His messengers that they will be rejected, and that those who reject them will be condemned. We can think to ourselves that all those people outside of these walls are the ones in trouble- we have taken time out of our weekend to be in this building listening to God’s word and receiving His sacraments, so at least we’re safe. To a certain extent that is true. There are plenty of people ‘out there’ who have rejected the means by which Christ has promised to come to sinful man- through the Word of Christ proclaimed by pastors and the sacraments administered by them. But if we look closer at ourselves, examining our thoughts and actions, we will see a different picture. The third commandment is “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Luther teaches us the meaning in the catechism- “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” How often do we gladly hear and learn the Word of God and receive His gifts? Too often in our lives the other cares and worries take the focus away from hearing God’s Word or receiving his sacraments. They can become commonplace, simply something we do instead of another opportunity to receive the wonderful and needed forgiveness of God. We often gossip about those whom God has sent to us, and do not lend them our full support as our shepherds in the gospel. Or we may despise the fact that God has even given us pastors in the first place, and believe that anyone can do that job. The means of grace can seem as folly to us, and we find it hard to believe that God would truly use such lowly means to give us forgiveness. In all of these ways we reject those means which God has given for us and those appointed to administer those gifts. We daily and in many ways scorn God’s gifts, and sin against Him by rejecting the means He has chosen to give life.
We can see already in our text today that Jesus was no stranger to rejection. In fact, He had faced it at every turn. Just before our text, Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans, and then laments, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus Christ, true God and true man, did not even have a place to stay. He was utterly outcast by all. His road led him from rejection in Samaria and Galilee, past those few who received the seventy two and the many who didn’t, to Jerusalem. I said earlier that Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem not long before this text. He was headed there to be received in triumph and then only days later to hear the final rejection of ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ The king of all creation was then led on His final journey to Calvary, where sinful men would nail Him to a cross.
But this was not the end of His rejection, because on that cross, God, His heavenly Father, rejected Him as well. Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God Himself turned His back on Jesus, making Jesus, the sinless Son of God, truly rejected by all. Why did God do this? For you and for me! Rejection was Christ’s mission, because it was the only way He could save us. He chose to become man, leaving behind heavenly glory to become like us in every way, except without sin. He was rejected on that Good Friday by men and by God so that we never have to be rejected for our sin. We often fail to adequately recognize and receive the gifts of God, sinning against Christ and rejecting Him once more, but the good news for you today is that Christ has taken all of that sin and guilt away by subjecting to rejection by God on our behalf. We deserved to be rejected for disregarding the gifts of God, but Christ chose to take on the rejection of God during those hours on the cross so that we would never face an eternity separated from Him in hell.
But Jesus did not remain rejected by men and by God- instead, God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf and raised Him gloriously from the dead. Now Christ gives us the gifts of life and salvation, won through His death and resurrection, richly and abundantly through His bride the Church. As our Old Testament lesson for today puts so beautifully, the church as the new Jerusalem nurses us from her abundance. “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The Church has been given such wonderful gifts to give to God’s people, gifts that give forgiveness, life and salvation to all who believe. Earlier today we heard from the sinful lips of a pastor the words of absolution. We have the promise of Christ in our Gospel that we can trust these words as coming from Christ Himself!—“The one who hears you hears me.” We can be assured that our sins truly are forgiven because Christ has promised to work through those men and through those means which He has appointed to give grace and every blessing to His people. They are sent out not by their own authority, but through the authority of Christ who sent them, and they are sent to preach the Word and administer the sacraments, and to care for those whom Christ was rejected for. Those who receive these means and these men receive Christ, and have everlasting life with Him in heaven. Then in our new life with Christ, founded in Baptism and strengthen by the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of the Word, we continually come back to this place to receive Christ’s abundant gifts, which flow from him through these means like a life-giving stream. Here in this place, the kingdom of God comes near to you, and all the wolves of this world cannot change that.
And what is the result of this? It has not changed one bit from the time of Jesus. Through the preaching of the word and the administration of His sacraments, Satan falls like lightning and names are written in heaven. That’s right, whenever the Gospel is preached from this pulpit and you receive the holy, precious body and blood of Christ from this altar, we proclaim that SATAN IS DEFEATED, and we have the assurance that our names are written in heaven. Christ’s Word does what it says, and in this place it promises forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. May the Lord grant this to us all, Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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