Art by Norma Boeckler.
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Bethany Lutheran Worship, 8 AM Phoenix Time
The Hymn #260 O Lord Look Down 1.4
The Confession of Sins
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual Romans 8:18-23
The Gospel Luke 6:36-42
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn #225 Come Holy Spirit 1.39
The Bridge to God’s Gracious Love
The Hymn #261 Lord Keep Us 1.93
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #452 The Son of God 1.10
KJV Romans 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
KJV Luke 6:36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? 40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
Fourth Sunday After Trinity
Lord God, heavenly Father, who art merciful, and through Christ didst promise us, that Thou wilt neither judge nor condemn us, but graciously forgive us all our sins, and abundantly provide for all our wants of body and soul: We pray Thee, that by Thy Holy Spirit Thou wilt establish in our hearts a confident faith in Thy mercy, and teach us also to be merciful to our neighbor, that we may not judge or condemn others, but willingly forgive all men, and, Judging only ourselves, lead blessed lives in Thy fear, through Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.
The Bridge to God’s Gracious Love
Every Scripture lesson is a opportunity to dwell on some aspect of God’s gracious love for us.
The opening of today’s Gospel is a good example. We normally associate commands with the Law.
One person asked a boy, “What does it mean when your parents say – Share?”
The boy said, “That means – give it to your brother – right now.”
Today’s lesson begins another way – Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful.
KJV Luke 6:36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
This spiritual advice is based upon the Gospel of forgiveness, which permeates all of Scripture. There are six items in all:
1. Be merciful, as your Father is.
2. Judge not, and you will not be judged.
3. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.
4. Forgive and you will be forgiven.
5. Give and it will be given to you in overflowing amounts.
6. The measure you use is the measure used for you.
Luther has many good comments on this passage in the low-cost sermon set. This lesson concerns faith and works, so Luther said we ascend to God with Christ alone, through faith.
So many people begin with justification by works – and that is especially true of the clergy. “I did this” and “I did that.” Even worse – “My family did this or that.” One person went even further by excusing bad leadership this way – “Her family has done so much for the synod.”
Christianity is the only religion where God serves man instead of the reverse. The sheep do not seek a shepherd. The Shepherd seeks them. Isaiah says:
KJV Isaiah 65:1 I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.
Justification by our works only leads to all the sins of the flesh, often begun with covetousness, evil thoughts and malice. Since we cannot do anything for God, who does everything for us, works are directed toward our neighbor.
Mercy is not godly mercy when we do good things for our friends and those who can return our favors. Mercy is defined by patience during difficulties, by forbearance toward the shortcomings for others, since we deserve nothing but condemnation from God, who shows us mercy through Christ. If mothers gave out equal justice, for example, children would not be fed, clothed, and delivered to their appointments because children are never as thankful as they might be for all the benefits they take for granted.
So are we in our relationship to God. We are never as thankful to Him as we might be, and that is often the root of our problems. We ascribe all benefits to our virtue and hard work, all difficulties as the fault of God for being lax in His duties. Luther called the cross (hardship from faithfulness to the Word) – the precious, holy cross. That is difficult to comprehend; yet it is true. Bearing the cross is God’s plan to purify our faith, so we see the cross of Christ more clearly.
In struggling to explain the problems with Pietism, I keep coming back to the brief definition from Hoenecke: “They confuse sanctification (good works) with justification and make sanctification the cause of justification.” That is so concise and accurate that it requires explanation.
Pietism came from a Reformed concept which Spener (a Lutheran) copied – having groups where piety was encouraged through prayer and Bible study. The diagnosis was accurate – Lutherans had plenty of problems at that time, including a lack of Scriptural understanding. If accounts are accurate, the clergy barely studied the Scriptures at seminary. Instead they focused on philosophy and scholarly disputes. One man lectured on Isaiah and quit after the first chapter (Schmid) because no one was interested.
They lost track of the bridge – the Means of Grace – as the way in which Christ comes to us. Instead they taught others to rely on the experience of God’s grace, without the bridge. So they looked to themselves and their emotions as the test. Oh yes, now I feel forgiven and I am secure in the faith. In contrast, the Word is our foundation and its truth remains, no matter how we feel at the emotions. If we are saved by our emotional experience of joy then we are also condemned by our emotional experience of dread, condemnation, and guilt.
Losing the Biblical Means will always multiple the false bridges – such as the cell group, the amount of prayer, the agony of prayer, the “breakthrough of grace” and the good works. Pietism caused people to leave the church because the local congregation was “full of hypocrites.” One man told me that, so I asked him, “What is a hypocrite?” He said, “Someone who says one thing and does another.” I said, “That makes me a hypocrite.” He said, lowering his head, “I guess I am too.” He came to church from that time on, with his wife.
The separatism of Pietism was—and is--really spiritual pride, as if belonging to the conventicle made people free from sin (sanctification causing justification). My theology professor belonged to one such group and to a Lutheran church. The group was called, in German, Separated Christianity. He would say things like, “Most churches have trouble raising money. We just raised $40,000 without any effort.” The superior attitude just oozed.
This may sound like condemning the faults we all have, but I am trying to show how taking away the bridge to Christ magnifies those problems. If someone is superior from being in a cell group, then that superior attitude is going to come through in malicious gossip and arrogance toward neighbors.
This is what Jesus is aiming at in His spiritual advice. Since we cannot give good works to God, our good works are the fruits of faith in Christ and directed toward our neighbor.
We have all had experiences of never doing anything right, having someone ready to pounce, even if their condemnation is a figment of their imagination. That is what happens when people rest on their own good works and righteousness and do not rely on the mercy of God in Christ.
The opposite is patience, forbearance, and understanding. When people are motivated by the Gospel, these fruits are abundant.
KJV John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
The purpose of the Bible is to produce faith in what God has already done. That takes people from a state of condemnation to one in which God declares they are justified by faith.
The importance of faith has been misunderstood by those who do not grasp the order of salvation. The Biblical meaning of faith is trust in the Promises of God, specifically in the crucifixion of Christ as the atoning sacrifice, the reconciliation.
The question is not whether this is true, but whether someone continues to trust in it. Therefore, God provided a variety of ways to build that trust, the visible and invisible Word. He also lays the cross on each believer, to purify faith, remove the dross, and remind us of how much the Old Adam still reigns in us.
At first the second part of this lesson seems to be taking off in another direction, but it is connected with the first part. When people trust in their own merit instead of Christ, they glory in their works and become blind guides. Several ministers tried to verify their worth this way:
1. “My congregation quadrupled in size while I was there.” (The Church Doctor)
2. “My congregation doubled its income in a few years.”
My question in each case was – “Then why aren’t you still there?” The missing statement was – God has worked through the faithful application of the Word. Paul did not count members or income. He said the only requirement was that a steward be found faithful.
KJV 1 Corinthians 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
If a church sees its worth in material terms, it will not value spiritual treasure. Any metro area will reveal glorious church structures built during the glory days of that neighborhood. Doubtless the dedication day was full of grand feelings of permanent glory, never dreaming that the structure would become an albatross for 60 members years later. Other dangers lurk in worshiping material success, such as having millions in endowment funds.
One of the rich congregations, Glide Memorial, became famous for its outrages, some of which cannot be listed. An innovative minister there removed the cross from the sanctuary – certainly symbolic of where that church was headed.
Blind guides include those outwardly successful ministers who say they are blessed because of large movie screens, expensive sound systems, and short-term memberships among the hordes of people who flock for the entertainment. These members are called “scaffolding” because they help the superstar minister reach a higher level.
Blind guides point toward themselves rather than Christ. They may talk about Jesus, but they take away the bridge to Him, leaving everyone confused. They offer a Christian life but one built around idols.
The treasures of the Gospel are constantly available through the Word and Sacraments.
"Whoever comes to faith can only say that the Holy Spirit comes when and where and to whom He pleases at the time He pleases. He comes when and where He pleases, and also gives a person as many gifts as He pleases." What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, II, p. 665.
"That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparation and works." Augsburg Confession, V. #1-2. The Ministry. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 45. Tappert, p. 31. Heiser, p. 13.
"He [Paul] thus extols co-laborers that they [the Corinthians] may not despise the external Word as if they were not in need of it or knew it well enough. For although God might accomplish all things inwardly by the Spirit, without the external Word, He has no intention of doing so. He wants to employ preachers as assistants and co-laborers and to accomplish His purposes through their word when and where it pleases Him. Since, then, preachers have the office, name, and honor of being God's assistants, no man is so learned or holy that he may neglect or despise the poorest preaching; for he does not know when the hour will come in which God will perform His work in him through the preachers." What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed. Ewald M. Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House 1959 III, p. 1118. W 17, II, 179; SL 12, 436; sermon #3572; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10