Monday, March 05, 2007

For Sunday's Ears, and All Week, Too

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

Luke 13:1-35/Lent2.07

Dear Christian, there are some things even God can't do. He can't be untrue to His Word. He can't deny Himself. And so I want you to put away all frustrations over those who will not gather at the Supper of our Lord; those who, no matter how we urge them toward the Gifts, simply will not come.

I'm not saying to quit praying for them, or to quit speaking the truth to them in love. I am not saying you should pretend that all is well and that it doesn't matter that they are not eating and drinking, hearing and confessing what will save them. It is not well with them at all. That is why our Savior grieves today: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"

This is the great sorrow of our Lord, which even He can't change. Jesus came to save His people from their sins, yet men prefer the darkness to His Light. Jesus will NOT therefore become darkness! He came and gave His flesh for the life of the world, yet men complain, "This is a hard saying," and they turn away. Jesus will NOT therefore quit giving us His Body and His Blood in bread and wine. But He also doesn't pretend that men not having Him is fine. He says, "Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Jesus is willing to leave men to their unbelief, if they insist. What else is He to do? Change His Word? He makes no such effort to be different than sinners need. He doesn't panic, as we do. We say: "What have we got to do or change to get people into the church?" OK, your pastor thinks like that. I panic over lots of things, as if I'm greater than God. But in this morning's Gospel, Jesus isn't panicking. In Him, the Kingdom of God has come. In Him, God smiles on sinners. In Him, the world is reconciled to the Father. In Him - by way of His cross and empty tomb, which now men say is not as empty as we thought - "Oh, no! What are we going to do?!" Relax. In Jesus, we have peace that passes understanding. Apart from Him? There simply is no peace at all!

And that's not something Christ can change. I'm not trying to question God's omnipotence, His all-powerfulness. I'm not saying God is limited. I'm saying that God has limited Himself and only works in certain ways. There is no being saved apart from Jesus! That's what Christ is saying in our Gospel for this morning. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . How I often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings . . ." Oh, come on! Just cut to the Almighty God part! What's up with WANTING people to be saved, and moaning over the fact that they aren't? Aren't you - GOD!?

There are whole groups of Christians who have trouble with this, so pay attention. People wonder how Jesus can REALLY mean to save all sinners, really WANT Jerusalem to come to Him, and then not have that happen. I mean, there just CAN'T be ANYTHING God cannot do, right? But that's what we hear today. "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How I would . . .but you would not!"

Again, don't make me out to be some kind of heretic; not for this at least. I'm not saying Jesus isn't God or that God's not almighty. I'm saying, God can't save a soul apart from Jesus! And Jesus cannot save a soul by being what He isn't. People want Him NOT to be the ONLY reason that we'll go to heaven. People want Him NOT to give out heaven just as freely as He does. People want Him NOT to pour out His forgiveness, even onto babies, in His Water and His Word. They want Him NOT to speak forgiveness to poor sinners through the mouths of men. And they want Him NOT to be the kind of God Who gives His Flesh and Blood for us to eat and drink in Bread and Wine.

Dear Christian, Jesus doesn't panic over that - how men do not believe, how they won't have Him as He is and how He gives Himself to us. He doesn't panic that they do not run to Him and live from everything that He commands. He DOES, however, grieve over it. But that won't make Him change His ways or be less of the Savior that God sent Him to be. Thank heaven!

In this morning's Old Testament reading, the people didn't like the way that Jeremiah spoke. He was telling them ALL the words that God had given him to speak, and some of them were not so easy. They were hard words, about God's judgment and wrath against men's sins.

In this morning's epistle, St. Paul says to keep our eyes on him and others like him, who hold to his example. "Many," says the Lord's apostle, "walk as enemies of the cross of Christ." He says that with tears, with sorrow. But he's not about to change the preaching of the Gospel. "Many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their god is their belly. They glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things." Paul says that through tears. So should we.

The enemies of the cross will never confess, "Baptism saves me." They'll never look to the absolution for their consolation in times of temptation or trial. They're sure they're really not that bad, and if they are, they'll just try to be a little better. They'll never live as if their one assurance of God's heaven is His Flesh and Blood for them in bread and wine, and so, they won't care what gets between them and this blessed Communion. Jerusalem of old was not attracted by God's Gifts, and people aren't today. They want to hear about success and how they get to make their own way with the Lord. No one's gonna tell them anything. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I would - But you would not."

Jesus and St. Paul grieve over that, but neither changed their preaching. How could they? God can't save a soul by lying, by casting Christ aside, by market-testing His Ministry and doing what appeals to sinners. I don't know if God - being God - could have saved the world a DIFFERENT way, but in the beginning, as we heard this Wednesday night, He promised He'd send JESUS. HE'S the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says our Lord, and NO ONE comes to the Father, except through Him.

So, through His grieving over men who will not have Him, far from changing His Gospel, Jesus tells Jerusalem, "You will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.'" He was pointing to His suffering and death, the innocent blood He'd shed for sinners. He was pointing to Palm Sunday, when crowds would line the streets and fill Jerusalem with cheering. Finally, Messiah had come! Only, He wouldn't end up being what they wanted. By Friday, He was just another disappointment. Nothing like they'd HOPED for. So they cried, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

God just can't make anybody happy, it would seem. Please don't say it's any different for you, dear Christian. If He's not satisfying your appetites, don't you growl like an empty stomach? If He isn't saying you can wallow in your filth, pursue your passions, set your hearts and minds on earthly things, don't you let folks hear about it? Check the way you speak to Mom and Dad when they are not accommodating your demands. And if someone rescues you from the endless downward spiral into godless self-destruction that we all, by nature, seem to find? If some Jeremiah warns you, "You're despising God and what He says"? If I told you that you're killing your kids by keeping them away from Jesus' Faith and Service, would you thank me? OK. You are!

Learn today - Lent just started! - that there's no being saved except where Jesus is for your salvation. Learn that when He says, "You will not see me till you say, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord,'" that means something more than just being in the crowd Palm Sunday. It means that Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacraments. He, who went to a cross for us, comes lowly, gracious, riding - not upon a donkey - not yet on the clouds - but He comes near to us through Words and Water, Bread and Wine. By these, He says your sins have been forgiven. By these, He says you live forever. By these, He rescues you from all that speaks against you or controls you.

Apart from these, where Christ has placed Himself for you, there's just no way for me to speak of God for you at all. People would LUV me to make up some new Faith, that says people who have no use for the preaching of the Gospel, who don't need to live from God's forgiveness, while we poor helpless brood take refuge under Jesus' healing wings - people would LUV me to say, "Sure, we wish they'd come, but we can't say they're not forgiven if they don't, as long as they believe!" Jesus says, "You will NOT see Me - apart from saying, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!'"

It's a miracle if anyone repents and holds to what I'm saying. We sing it every Sunday, as the Lord comes near to us in Flesh and Blood. We sing with the believers that Palm Sunday, and with Angels, Archangels and all the company of heaven, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, Who cometh in the Name of the Lord."

How the Lord would draw all men to THAT! To believing and confessing that the LORD is here to save us. Yet many remain enemies of it, of such a cross and its delivery to sinners. I know. I've preached it now for twenty years almost, and I can only ache for those who won't be gathered to it. I don't know what to do. GOD can't make them come, not if they're after something different; not if they won't have Jesus as He gives Himself to us. How He would gather them - on His own terms. But they will not. Such sorrow!

That's the cross we bear, dear Christian. Don't be its enemy. We so easily believe the Gospel's not enough! We so often worry that if we say EVERYTHING God says, men will stay away and be offended. But if only we'd conform to what they want - more exciting worship, shorter sermons, open communion - THEN we'd win them over! Or, as many say, if we'd just be less concerned about doctrine and more about the saving of men's souls - THEN our church would get somewhere! That's not friendship with the cross at all!

As foolish as it would be to scold a doctor for being concerned about a right procedure and demand instead that he just be concerned about the outcome of the operation, so foolish is it to say we ought to be less concerned for what God says and only be concerned for rescuing men's souls. A doctor who wants a good outcome must first of all concern himself with good procedure. So the church must always, above all else, concern itself with everything God says.

Whether we gain friends or make enemies because of that can't be our worry. Jesus grieved over an entire city one day. But He didn't panic. He didn't look for a new way of doing things, He didn't reinvent Himself, as if something other than His Gospel, His cross, His Ministry would save the world. He simply died and rose - even for the ones who would not have Him.

No one will be rescued by anything except such preaching - Christ Jesus and His Gospel. Grieve over those who remain enemies of it. Sorrow and lament that false teachers lead so many astray. And when you meet with someone who will not have Christ the way He is, who will not sing with us and gather with us and all of heaven, saying, "Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord," assure them, with all tenderness: "How we'd love to have you come. How we'd love to teach you, to wash you and forgive you. How our pastor would love to hear your confession, absolve you and admit you to Christ's Supper. How we'd love you living here with us beneath Christ's wings!"

Tell them that I'll even preach and teach toward that as if there's no tomorrow, as if we had all the time in the world and there's just no end to what I'm saying. You KNOW I will! It's why my sermons run so long and my Bible classes too. It's why I urge you all to absolution and to every opportunity to hear God's Word. Oh, Jerusalem, how Christ would have us live beneath His wings! But whether people will or not - we leave that to the God Who shed more than His tears for them. He shed His blood. He gave His life. Not only for the ones who will not have Him, but even for you and me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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