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Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:10-13 KJV

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trinity 17

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

The Hymn #292
The Invocation p. 15
The Confession of Sins
The Absolution
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 Ephesians 4:1-6
The Gospel Luke 14:1-11
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn #207
The Sermon

The Offertory p. 22
The Hymn #287
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 #288

KJV Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

KJV Luke 14:1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer him again to these things. 7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, 8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; 9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. 10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. 11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

True Unity in the Invisible Church

Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The Ephesians passage is brief, yet it is one of the most recognized of all the Pauline verses – concise, full of meaning, its message honored chiefly today in being ignored.

For instance, I know of church leaders who insist on being called the right name. Any variation on what they have chosen is quickly corrected, so often that it has become a synodical joke. Others are so haughty that someone would scarcely be able to speak to a minister so high above everyone else. This is common in the business world. If I send an email to someone in the educational world, I am surprised if I get an answer, if the message is even acknowledged. Getting through to someone and getting an answer has spawned an industry in how to do just that. People are just too important to do their jobs.

Lowliness, meekness, and longsuffering are all qualities of the Savior. The New Testament always urges us to take on the attributes of Jesus rather than those of the world. The Gospel promises provide the energy to do exactly that. Where does this break down?

The temptation is to lay down heavy doses of the Law, to cajole people to be humble, forebearing, and meek. That is like taking someone to a clinic for tests, then prescribing even more tests as a cure. An x-ray will diagnose a broken bone, but it will not heal a broken bone. When x-rays were considered magical, they were tried as a cure, but disastrous results.

Broken bones need healing. Pain requires medicine. We are in the peak cold season, when children return to school and share their germs. When the throat is raw, the ears aches, and the nose shuts down, any medicine sounds appealing. Is it cold and raining, traffic backed up? We will jump in the car to get that medicine.

Our greatest sin, according to Jesus, is unbelief. Jesus said, in parting with His disciples, “The Holy Spirit will convict of sin, because you do not believe.”

KJV John 16:8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me;

How often do people hear they are sinners, that the solution is to do something more, to do that action better, or to stop doing something bad? Luther correctly observed that the Medieval Age, as we call it now, consisted of a thousand years of terrifying people with the Law. They were convinced of their sin, but knew little about the Gospel.

This haughtiness we find so commonly in the visible church is the direct result of people not trusting the Word of God, in fact, not trusting God. They think everything rests on their own shoulders. Hence, they put on an act which they think is consistent with success. They know it has worked with others.

When we attended the famous Church Growth congregations at Willow Creek and Community of Joy (Glendale), we never saw the senior minister, except on the stage. He was too important to mingle with the peasants after the service. When people mingle in the narthex after church and speak to the pastor, I wonder how many of them think about how pleasant that is, compared to looking at a celebrity who will not even greet the people who support him financially.

The old-fashioned pastors did in fact trust in God working through the Word. They did not think much of themselves. Luther said, “The older I get, the less confidence I have in myself, the more confidence I have in God.” Those traditional pastors thought that teaching and preaching the Word, visiting the sick and elderly, were all God’s work. God would bless it according to His will.

Simply put, the Word conveys Christ and all His benefits to us. The Word brings us together, Christ coming to us when we cling to the Means of Grace.

I just read an essay written by an atheist. She was encouraged by the news that Mother Theresa in India spent 50 years in despair, even as she grew in fame. Mother Theresa wrote to her confessor that she never felt peace in Christ. There we can see the impact of false doctrine. Someone who lived in the Law cannot find peace. A Catholic woman said she would never send her six children to a Catholic school because of the constant guilt forced on all the children. (Does that sound like your synod?) If Mother Theresa had been pointed to the sufficiency of Gospel instead of the need for works, she would have seen and experienced Christ in the true Means of Grace.

The Gospel of Christ creates faith in our hearts and sustains that faith through the Means of Grace.

I used to think a four-leafed clover was rare. Everyone said it was rare. They were so rare, no one ever looked for them. A gardening friend said, “They are all over the place.” He described how to find one. They are normally in patches of clover, especially where it grows tall. Once I knew where to look, I saw four-leafed clovers all over and picked them for others.

Complete and free forgiveness seems rare because people do not know where to look. They do not know because their guides are as blind as they are. They think, “We have the Gospel if the organization is prospering.” If the organization is not doing well, they begin flogging people with the Law. Nothing improves morale like a good flogging.

When Christ comes to us in the Word of God, in the hymns, liturgy, creed, lessons, and sermon, the blessings of the Gospel fill us with the working of God’s Word. God works. That is the essence of Christianity, the only faith where God gives to adherents rather than members working for Him.

Many times in the past, the Gospel seemed hidden from almost everyone. During the Age of Rationalism, preachers gave sermons on everything except the Gospel (sound familiar? – how to have friends, how to have more time, how to be successful). Nevertheless, the Gospel remained in the liturgy, creeds, and hymns. Over time a new generation of ministers began to believe again.

We use the term mysteries because so much is hidden from the unbeliever but revealed to believers. I knew two people from Hong Kong who laughed at the Gospel and scoffed at the Gospel. They heard the Word but did not understand. One day the Gospel converted them. From then on they were especially keen to hear God’s Word and to trust in its message. I recall so vividly one day when I gave one of my last sermons in the LCA. The couple from Hong Kong nodded in agreement when I spoke of the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. Two church council members frowned and shook their heads no.

That is one of the mysteries – how people can grow up with the Gospel and desert it while staying within the visible church, how people can grow up without the Gospel, betray their Asian families (from their perspective) by believing in the Word, and cling to its promises.