Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Third Sunday of Advent (Matthew 11:2-10)

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ: a Sunday morning worship service is one of the few remaining places in our society where you can find people from every walk of life gathered together. Think about it—we’ve divided and subdivided out society so much, we live in silos, isolated from people that are not like us. We socialize with those who have the same interest as us, who are the same age, who have the same social or economic status. We divide our children into grades, we put out elderly in nursing homes, we have different hangouts, even different stores, for those who are different from each other. Especially in a city, you don’t have to interact with people who aren’t like you if you don’t want to. But one of the few remaining places where all sorts of different people interact is where you are sitting at this very moment—a church sanctuary. Here, in this room, are rich and poor, high status and low status, infants, teenagers, adults and the elderly, all gathered together. In Sunday morning worship it doesn’t matter what your bank account says, it doesn’t matter whether you watch the Walking Dead or no TV at all; it doesn’t matter what your race, age, or gender is. All that matters is what you came here for.

But maybe that is the greatest difference of all. We are all here together, sharing the same room, interacting with one another, despite our difference, but are we here for the same reason? Jesus had watched the masses go out to John, the residents of a diverse city all running into the desert to see and hear this preacher. And now that John sits in prison, Jesus asks the question that is asked of you today: Why? “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Why are you here? What did you come to see? What drew this diverse group of people to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church this day? “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” Did you come to seek a shaking reed, a flimsy plant that moves this way and that in the winds of this world? Did you come to this place, as many came to John, to have someone tell you what you want to hear, to have your itching ears scratched?

Did you come here today seeking affirmation, seeking to hear someone say that the sin you are living in is not really a big deal, that it doesn’t matter? Do you come here to present yourself before the altar of God in unrepentance, wanting the church to tell you God doesn’t care about how Christians live their lives? Your ears are itching to hear that what the rest of your body and mind is engaged in is not actually sinful; your ears want to receive the stamp of approval from the Church on how you choose to live your life. Your ears want to hear God’s black and white Word made into a nice shade of gray, they wish to hear that the teachings derived from the Scriptures are flexible, changeable, that they can move with the winds. They want to hear that this doctrine, or that command, is not really binding, that it doesn’t really matter. They know how the winds of this world blow, they know how unpopular the teachings of the Bible are, from Jesus as the only way to heaven to free will to the six-day creation, to greed and adultery, and they want to hear a flimsy reed tell them that it’s just fine to blow in the wind, that none of this really matters. What about you? Is that what you came to see?

Or did something else draw you? “What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing?” Did you come here today because this church is your social club, the place where you gather with your friends, where you might meet that cute guy or girl you’ve been keeping your eye on? Did you come only because someone expected you to, so that you can fulfill your family obligations? Did you come here to keep up appearances, to make sure everyone considers you a Christian man or woman?

Or are you really interested in those fancy clothes? Did you come here today seeking prosperity, hoping to hear how the teachings of Christianity can give you a healthier body, a more robust bank account, or better kids? Did you come here today itching to hear how Christianity can make your life better, how you can have your best life now? Do you join with the masses on Sunday morning to collect some biblical principles to apply to your work, school, or relationships? Your ears are itching to hear how Christianity will benefit you in the here and now; they want to find out the secrets to having the job, the relationships, the life that you want. Your ears are seeking to know how to make God act and answer your prayers in the way that you want them answered. What did you come here to see? Did you come to see a man in a high-dollar suit, telling you how the Scriptures can make you as successful as he obviously is?

If that is what we came to see, we, like the people who ran from Jerusalem to the Jordan to see John, will be very disappointed. Jesus doesn’t think that we’ll find much in the way of fancy clothes when we go out to hear from those whom He has sent. “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.” John didn’t care much about clothes, or money, or power; he gave up everything to serve as the appointed messenger of the Lord. And it hasn’t changed much today, even if your pastors don’t take a vow of poverty. It doesn’t matter how much we paid for our suit; we cover it with a robe. No, this is not the place to have itching ears scratched; this is not the place to see soft clothing and hear how you can get some for yourself. Repent of all the sinful reasons for being in this place and learn from Jesus why we come here: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” Did you come seeking a Word from God, spoken through His messengers? Did you come seeking a Word that calls you to repentance and then forgives all of your sin? Did you come to hear what God has to say to you this day, both Law and Gospel?

Why do you come here? What did you go out to see? You came seeking many different things, but what you see is a finger pointing to Jesus. That is what John was, and that is what the Church is, a finger pointing to Jesus, a voice speaking His Name. “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” As John prepared the way for Christ’s earthly ministry, so the Church prepares for Christ’s return in glory, speaking of Him, pointing to Him in the midst of your affliction. Are you trapped in the bondage of sin? Here the finger points to Jesus, who died for that sin and forgives it in this place through His powerful Word. Are you lonely, disconnected from others in this sin-sick world? Here the finger points to Jesus, who creates true fellowship through His common grace, fellowship that has its highest expression at the Lord’s Table, but also is found in the other activities in this congregation. Do you struggle under the sufferings of this life? Here the finger points to Jesus, who comforts you with His presence and the promise that the darkness will end and the Light will shine forth in glory when He returns.

What did you go out to see? More than a prophet? Yes, more than a prophet; in this place you hear from your Savior. You came to this sanctuary and you hear Jesus, speaking through His servants, speaking the Word that you desperately need to hear. You came and you hear Him say to you, sinner though you are, ‘I forgive you all you sins.’ You came and you hear Him say to you, ‘I died for you; I suffered all that your sins deserved in your place, that you would have a place in heaven.’ You came and you hear Him say to you, ‘I rose in victory on the third day that you would live even though you died, so that on the Last Day you will be raised as I was and you will live forever, as I do.’ You came here and you did not simply to hear that Jesus died and rose again, or even that He will return one day. You can read that in the Bible, or other books, at home. You came and this day you hear from a fellow human being, one sent by Christ to speak these very words, that Jesus died and rose again for you, and that He will come again in glory to raise you up in victory and give you a place in the New Heavens and the New Earth. That is why the messengers of the Lord cannot be reeds shaking in the wind; their task is to proclaim to you Jesus, consistently, constantly, and they are accountable to God for that work. Saint Paul says, “It is God who judges me.” Not the winds of man, not the opinions of others, but God Himself, who has sent Him, who has sent the Church, as He sent John the Baptist, to speak of Jesus.

The way of the Church isn’t to issue a survey, asking people what they want and then giving it to them. The Church gives to all people what they need. It seems we are not united in anything here: not in age, not in social or economic status, not in our interests and desires. We are not even united in why we walked through the doors this day. But we are united, we are one, in what we truly need and what Jesus desires to give in this place: Himself. We are united in that we are all sinners in need of mercy and grace from a loving God, and we are united in that God has shown us this mercy and grace in the death and resurrection of His Son. Rich or poor, young or old, we are all together sinners saved by Christ; we are all together those for whom Christ died. This is the rock-solid message that the Church is built upon, that the Church has the privilege to proclaim; she is not built upon the whims of men, she does not proclaim the satisfaction of wants and desires stained by sin. The Church is no flimsy reed, for she is built upon the Word which is immovable, though all else give way. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Thanks be to God, for it is this Word, and this Word alone, that gives us Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

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