Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sawyer Sermon

Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

John 16:12-22/Acts 11:1-18/Easter5.07

Children . . . the One Who labored hard for you to bring forth life, to deliver you, His little ones, from sin, death and the power of the devil, the Lamb Who laid His life down for you to raise you up is so concerned about the ones He saves that sometimes, He doesn't say as much as could be said. He spares us.

In this morning's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." He will leave something for the Holy Spirit, through Whom the work and Ministry of Jesus still goes on.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit will take what's His and make it known to us. So, the Ministry of handing out repentance and forgiveness? That's the Spirit's work, because it's Christ's. Baptizing in the Name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? That's the work of Jesus, so His Spirit carries on by means of it, delivering us from all our sins. Same with Holy Absolution and this Supper. PLEASE! Jesus couldn't make it any clearer. "He will take what is Mine and declare it to you." So, when your pastor takes the bread and says, "This is My Body," and the Cup and says, "This is My Blood," right there, the Holy Spirit is taking Christ's own flesh and blood and declaring them to you!

Don't let anyone or anything prevent you from saying "Amen" to that, and receiving the extra things that Jesus says He wants you getting. But be honest. The things that Jesus has to say are sometimes more than we're prepared to hear. They were for His disciples, before the sending of the Holy Spirit. And even then, Christ's men were sometimes on the wrong end of the learning curve.

In today's first reading, Peter confesses how he'd never eaten certain kinds of foods. Peter was raised, like all the other disciples, like Jesus Himself, to observe the dietary regulations of the Old Testament. According to what God had laid down for His people, Israel, some foods were clean and some were unclean. All that pulled pork barbeque you love? Unclean. All those crawfish boils you have, those crabs, shrimp, even that lobster? Unclean.

God never told US we couldn't eat such things, so go ahead and pork out! Work your way through bottom feeders like catfish and mudbugs. 'Tsgood eats! God only told Israel - before Jesus - to keep themselves from such wallowing, slimy, crawly things, not because they're bad, but to teach them self-restraint, repentance, some awareness of their sins and set-apartness. If God says, "Eat this," eat it. If God says, "Drink this," drink it. If God says, "Don't," then don't. And by that, God was teaching Israel faith, leading them to Jesus.

Before Jesus, Peter had always been told, "Don't eat this or that." Now, since Jesus, God was saying, "Kill and eat." That's the vision Peter got. "I observed beasts of prey" - unclean! "and reptiles" - unclean! - "and birds of the air" - unclean! "And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat!'" And that just went against the grain for Peter.

Time for Pete to go to school, to learn some repentance and faith! So the voice said from heaven, "What God has made clean, do not call common," or unclean. This happened three times, to the one who had denied the Lord and been restored, after breaking fast with Jesus by a charcoal fire.

Peter was learning to live from God's Word, from the Promise of the Gospel. If God says sinners are forgiven, don't go calling them unclean, unacceptable, unworthy of consumption. They're clean.

A man named Cornelius and all his household got the Holy Spirit preached to them because of that. They were Gentiles, people who stuffed their faces with things that turned poor Peter's stomach! Things like Rabbit, bacon, ham, pulled-pork barbeque, catfish, shrimp, crabs and crawfish.

Peter was obviously learning that even Mississippi's not beyond salvation! Part of the "many things" that Jesus left for the Holy Spirit to pass on. Taking from Jesus, Who died and rose for all, the Spirit gives out heaven - proclaims it - through a man like Peter, so even bottom feeding folks like us can hear the Gospel, be baptized, and partake of the holy, heavenly things of God!

That's why this little church exists, and others like it, where the Gospel is preached purely and the Sacraments are handed out according to Christ's institution. Jesus died to save the world. There isn't anyone for whom He hasn't shed His blood. So, don't go saying SOME folks aren't quite up to having you or me kneel down beside them and partake of heavenly treasures. Holy things for Holy Ones; for God's baptized, instructed, examined and absolved. Who and what the Lord calls holy, forgiven, don't you call unclean.

That's got all sorts of things to say to us about our living peaceably with one another, doesn't it? About not rolling our eyes when certain people come our way, not shutting out the ones we figure aren't acceptable. Jesus died for them. He wants them rescued from their sinful ways, washed clean, forgiven, wrapped up in the saving work of Jesus and His Holy Spirit. Wants them eating and drinking CLEAN things here with us!

So, Peter's gonna have to get beyond his life-long aversion to Gentiles, to hanging around with folks who eat like they were raised in Belzona! He's gonna have to remember what he said when Jesus said what all His Jewish hearers thought was so repulsive: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." No good Jew would EVER eat a human's flesh. And no good Jew would eat the flesh of ANYTHING - even clean things - as long as it still had its blood in it. We've learned that from Leviticus, remember?

People raised a certain way, according to God's Law, found what the Word of God Made Flesh was saying too repulsive, hard to bear. Read John 6. They turned away. And when the Savior asked His men, "Will you leave me also?" Peter answered: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." So, even though he'd NEVER tasted flesh with blood, Peter stuck with Him Who gave His Flesh and Blood for us, not only on a cross, but here for us to eat and drink in bread and wine. "You have the Words of eternal life."

Dear ones . . . Children . . . The Lord is patient. He spares us. That's why He gives His Holy Spirit. That's why we have the teaching and the preaching of God's Word today. It's hard, sometimes, for people coming into church and seeing how much different all this is from anything they've seen or heard before. Give 'em a break. Encourage them. They may call unclean what God calls clean! Let's pray and help them stick around and learn with Peter.

The liturgy is clean. It's not the unclean thing that people seem to mean when they say "formal," "boring," or - even "Catholic." It's Christian.

Infant baptism is clean, though many Christians find it as hard to swallow as St. Peter did the thought of eating Delta-raised catfish. Baptism is no common, ordinary thing. As the Catechism teaches, it is "not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's Word." That makes it a holy and life-giving washing, which makes YOU holy and living, set apart from a world of unbelievers. It makes you clean.

Individual absolution does the same. It too is clean. Even Lutherans have a hard time hearing that! Read John 20. Read the Catechism. Individual Absolution is no more to be despised than is making the sign of the holy cross! You mean, THAT'S in the Catechism too? Yes, and by it, remind yourselves each day that you are clean, not common, not made for the trash heap.

The Bread we break is also clean. It is Christ's own Body. A little boy told me this week, "We never chew the Body of Christ. We let it dissolve on our tongues." Well, even though Jesus only said, "Eat," that boy's piety regarding how one MAY, in freedom, consume the Flesh of Christ is instructive. If only we treated fellow MEMBERS of Christ's Body in such a gentle fashion, instead of ripping and tearing through the Body of Christ!

Maybe a little reverence before the Blood and Body of our Lord in bread and wine will teach us holiness in how we treat each other! So, bow and say "Amen" to the Holy Things that make you holy ones. Take your gum out, children, before communing. These are Holy Things, not to be chewed on for awhile and then spit out, the way we do our gum, or seem to do to others when they've lost their sweetness and their flavor - for shame!

The Chalice too is holy, clean, despite some common, ordinary fears of modern people. The Chalice is full of Jesus' Blood in wine. Yes, wine. That's a clean thing according to God. Jesus says it's clean. Do not call unclean what God calls clean. That would be a sin, to reject God's saving Gift because of how some people feel about alcohol. God told Israel not to eat things like catfish. He NEVER told His people - OR us - not to drink wine. In fact, Jesus took wine, blessed it, and said, DRINK! In the Old Testament, God included wine in the gifts that Israel was to bring. If GOD accepts wine as gift, it's clean. If the Holy Spirit says that God will set a feast for ALL peoples, even catfish-eaters and crawfish-suckers here in Dixie, giving us the best of meats - namely, Jesus' Flesh in bread - and the finest of WINES - namely, Jesus' Blood in this Cup, then, eat and drink! 'Tsgood Eats! In fact, it's GOD's own Feast, laid out to give us a foretaste of heaven. Please, do not despise it.

Even though our children in this country grow up never drinking wine, here they ARE to drink - even before the age of 21, if they would be Christian. Even when man's law prohibited the use of wine in the last century, still, GOD'S people set their lips to what the Lord has given. What God calls clean, do not call unclean. We live from God's Word! That's faith. And God's Word tells us, "He took the CUP - not cups - after Supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave IT to them, saying, 'Drink ye ALL - of IT.'"

Please, do not call the COMMON or shared Cup of our Lord's Blood common, ordinary or unclean! I'm not saying we can't use the little cups that men have introduced, but do not call what Jesus gives unclean. He will not give you what is to your harm. We may LIVE in Dixie, but Jesus didn't give us Dixie cups! He gave the CUP of our Salvation. Only unbelief and unrepentance - not germs - can turn this to our harm. People didn't die in Corinth because they drank the Cup and caught a cold. They died because they ate and drank in unbelief and unrepentance, treating the Bread and Wine as ordinary, not recognizing Jesus' Flesh and Blood, not recognizing and fleeing their wretchedness and sin, not remembering that Jesus gave His Body and His Blood for us and gives them to us in this Meal, to eat and drink for our salvation.

Children, I don't want to tell you more than you can bear. This Cup is filled with what preserves you, not for heaven only but for now, in time, on earth, for those around you, to do them good. Eat and Drink and learn not to call unclean what God calls clean. Rising then from your salvation handed out in what appear so ordinary - bread and wine - which God makes extra-ordinary when He says they are His Flesh and Blood - Rising up from that, as the Holy Ones He calls you through such Holy Spirit Gifts, receive the neighbors God now places next to you. Receive them, with all their germs and foibles and failings and sins, along with all the circumstances in your life, good and bad - even those that draw a tear. Receive them as if God only gives good things, as if they are clean because of Jesus. Receive them as if YOU are clean and therefore all your life is clean; as if the Son of God died even for the likes of bottom feeders here in Mississippi. He did. In Jesus' Name, Amen

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