Friday, March 16, 2007

Lent 3 Preaching

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Brandon, MS

Ezek 33:7-20; I Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9/Lent3.07

Dear Christian, we walk in danger all the way, and so the Lord does not permit His mouthpiece to be quiet, as if sin were not an issue. This world, our friends and family, our sinful flesh—all of that transpires against us —to make it seem as if God’s Word is not of any real importance. Oh, sure, God’s Word says such and such . . . But what does any of that have to do with me and how I think or speak or live?

St. Paul warns the people in the Church of Corinth that Israel was baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all communed on Christ, eating and drinking from that Spiritual Rock of their Salvation, Who accompanied them. Yet, warns the Holy Apostle, God was not pleased with most of them, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

That happened as an example, says St. Paul, for the Church in his day. Take it as an example and a warning for yourselves, dear Christians, and do not be idolaters. Israel, who communed with God, who sat down in His presence and ate and drank, got up to play. They engaged in sexual immorality, and twenty-three thousand fell in a day. That happened in Numbers 25 when the Israelites began whoring with Moabite women. One Israelite took a Moabite woman into his tent, in full sight of God’s people. Phinehas impaled them both on a spear.

Learn your Bibles, folks, and do not put Christ to the test. Israel did, and they were destroyed by serpents. They grumbled against God, and were destroyed by the Destroyer. We know about this for our instruction. For our repentance. We know this, that we might live the Baptized life, putting to death the Old Adam, so that by contrition and repentance we die to sins and all evil desires, and a new man daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

I have no choice but to poke around and raise a stink today, dear Baptized. You’ll understand. God tells the prophet he’s a watchman for the house of Israel. If God warns the wicked, yet the prophet does not repeat that warning and the wicked continue in their wicked ways and die in their iniquity, their blood is on the prophet. He is held accountable, and that can’t save a soul.

So, please don’t be surprised that—contrary to the false Christ who is leading people to hell in Houston right now, saying there IS no sin! —or your friends, who go along with your sin —or even your family, who may complain, but still enable your sin —don’t be surprised that your pastor, mindful of St. Paul’s admonition in I Cor. 5 not to even eat with those who won’t repent of their sins —don’t be surprised if your pastor actually warns you, maybe even telling those who won’t repent to stay away, excommunicating them from this altar.

I’m not trying to make anyone more holy and righteous by doing that, the way people think, who take such pride in cleaning up their lives. Your sins can’t make you worse and your not sinning can’t make you any better. I warn you because of what St. Paul says in today’s epistle. When you kneel down to eat and drink the Lord’s Salvation . . . When you pass through the Water, being baptized into Jesus—and then, rise up from His forgiveness to play —that is, to join the world in its behavior—that’s idolatry. It’s unbelief.. Left unchecked, it can destroy many!

There is a reason we keep living like we’re of this world and not of Christ. We believe we can. We believe it doesn’t matter. We believe God’s Word is just white noise we can ignore, and that preacher’s only spouting off. If he were more in touch with life here in the real world, he wouldn’t expect us to be any different from what’s going on around us.

Dear ones, that’s just plain unbelief. It’s calling God a liar and following your own religion, which can only damn you, dragging with you anyone who follows your example. As Jesus puts it in our Gospel today, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.” Shut off the TV then, and forget about what’s making headline news, what horrible person is doing such horrible things. Recite the Ten Commandments and learn to recognize the sin that YOU’RE withholding from the Lord’s forgiveness. Yes, that sin you think is not a sin—that sin that you indulge in, because it’s only what your friends are doing and you think it’s not that bad.

Dear Christian, if it’s not that bad, it isn’t something Jesus had to die for. And if He didn’t die for it, it’s all on you! THAT’S the danger St. Paul wants to rescue us from here today! THAT’S why the holy prophet has to speak and warn the wicked. THAT’S the reason Jesus tells His parable about the fruitless fig tree, saying, “Unless YOU all repent!”

Jesus is the LAST person who is going to pretend there’s nothing wrong with sin! He dug around in how we live, and came up stinking! One day, folks raised a fuss with Jesus over Galileans who were slaughtered. Then Jesus speaks about the 18 who were crushed beneath the tower in Siloam. Jesus knows that all of these were sinners. He’s heading to Jerusalem, remember? He’s heading to the cross where He would die beneath God’s wrath because of all our sin. Jesus KNOWS what bad can happen on account of sin. It raises enough of a stink without us pointing fingers, thinking we can pinpoint how much worse a sinner someone is than we are! No, says Jesus, pay attention to yourself. Get a whiff of YOU! YOU repent of all the things YOU do, or don’t be so surprised if someone drops a house or something worse on YOU!

These are some pretty hard sayings this morning, aren’t they? Don’t think they’re coming at you from the blue. This is the speaking of the God Who tells His Father, “Leave that fruitless tree alone a year, and let me dig around it for awhile. I’ll put manure on it, and if it then bears fruit, well, fine. If not, then cut it down.”

Jesus dug around, dear Baptized. Dug around in your life and mine and died for all our sins. Now, He’s digging even more in what we’re all about. We get so packed into our sinful ways, we even take the Gospel and transform it into something self-destructive! “God forgives me, so it doesn’t matter what I do.” Do you realize what faithless, godless unbelief that is? As if Christ is of no benefit at all! As if what matters only is what I want and what I like and to hell with anybody else!

Dear Christian, do not fall for the lie that since we’re saved by grace we ought not fight temptation. Pray, “Lead me NOT into temptation!” Pray that God would not allow you even in temptation’s neighborhood! But when temptation comes, as it comes to all of us, remember: Your sins have been forgiven. You are God’s dear sons and daughters, having passed through the waters when you were baptized into Christ. You kneel down and you eat and drink. His Body and His Blood have made you lords of life, and one day, even death will have to bow to that and recognize you as its master! So, when temptation comes your way, hold onto the Gospel! Recite your Catechism, pray the Creed, turn to your Father for help, and know that He will give it! Only, do not make your being saved in Jesus some excuse for giving way to sin.

St. Paul says, “Be careful, lest in thinking that you’re standing firm, you falter!” Be sure of God’s forgiveness, because I point you to your baptism, and because I say that “I forgive you all your sins,” and because you are admitted to the Body and the Blood that say you’ll live forever. Be sure of all of that. But then, be careful. Satan roams around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; wanting to unseat you from the Gospel and drag you back beneath the Law. He wants to corrupt your freedom and turn it into license to sin, so that, instead of a clean conscience, you have a troubled one. Instead of boldness and confidence before God, you live in secret, shameful ways, hoping nothing happens that will make “it” public.

Christ did not redeem you, children, so you would have to hide in fear like that. That’s what SATAN does. Christ sets you free, and now, be sure that no temptation is beyond what you are able. Not because YOU’RE strong enough to get THIS close to sin and not go all the way! Jesus didn’t even think like that, but prayed for Himself in the wilderness and in the garden! So, when some temptation comes YOUR way, know this: GOD is faithful. HE won’t let you face temptation without also giving you the means to bear it. And here is how you bear it. Say, “Jesus has defeated sin and death and Satan in my place. I am baptized into Christ! My pastor called my sins absolved; he said it here again this morning. He feeds me Christ’s own Flesh and Blood in bread and wine. My JESUS says I have no sin now, Mr. Satan, so WHAT, please tell me, are you trying still to wrap me up in?”

The answer to that, dear Christian, is “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” You and I are sinners. The devil cannot make us more than that. He can only make us LESS than sure of what we are in Jesus. In Jesus, you are holy. In Christ, your sins have been forgiven. The ONLY thing the devil’s able to accomplish is to make you doubt what God has said. And that’s idolatry, believing more the shame of sin and the strength of its temptation than you do the grace, the mercy and the peace that come to you in Jesus. Don’t fall for it, dear Christian.

The Israelites ate and drank and then got up to play, becoming sexually immoral. The Corinthians bickered and fought, and even boasted in their freedom to live whatever way they wanted. Jesus says He’ll dig around in that awhile, and pour on His life-giving fertilizer. That’s where I come in! The Lord dug around in what we are and died for it; for YOU. Now, He’s digging even more, exposing roots, so that He can get at them and do some good. “O son of man, warn my people!” I am. I hope you hear that clearly. But then, He says He’ll pile on His manure. That’s laying Christ on you, dear children, the smell of death to those who now are perishing, but the sweet and savory aroma of God’s acceptance in His Son. A load of you know what to most people—who think that such manure as this can’t really make a difference. But Jesus says, “I’ll spread it anyway. I’ll pile it on. I’ll tell you that the devil’s been defeated and your sins have been forgiven.”

And He hopes that makes a difference. It’s the only thing that can. So if it doesn’t? “Then cut it down.” There’s nothing left to do. But as long as He is piling on the Gospel, His forgiveness; as long as sinners are passing through the Water and sitting down to eat and drink the Body and the Blood of Jesus, there’s hope. There’s life. There’s His salvation. For you! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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