Monday, October 4, 2010
Doctrine is Life
19th Sunday after Pentecost – October 3rd, 2010
Text: Luke 17: 1-11; 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.
You are what you eat. Our parents were right all along. Doritos cheeseburger chips and a cold crisp Coke may taste great, but it's no steady diet; just ask the guy who lived on McDonald's for a month. What goes into the mouth may not corrupt the heart, but it certainly may affect your health. What we eat matters. But I'm not here representing the Food Network to give you 10 tips for a better Christian diet. For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Even at Church, you are what you eat.
And if what goes into the mouth matters, what goes into our ears matters even more. For that which goes into the ears can corrupt our sinful heart. What you eat matters. Words matter. Teaching and preaching matters. The liturgy, words and music, all of it matters.
What kind of meal are you receiving when you attend this church – or any other church? If the sermon and the Divine service are meal – and they are; God is feeding you with His very own Son in flesh and blood, Jesus-for-you-presence in His Word and in His Sacrament – if this is the meal, what is your church serving up? Spiritual junk-food? Or a solid meal, heaping with generous portions of God's Word and the abundance of Christ Crucified for you from Invocation to Benediction? And if it's not a solid meal – what are you doing eating at that table?
"Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus," that's how St. Paul instructs young pastor Timothy. That's how he instructs us. So, you should expect nothing less from your pastors – or any other Christian who speaks the Word of God. Jesus takes His Word very seriously:
"Temptations to sin are sure to come but woe to the one through whom they come!"
And now I must subject you to a brief Greek-geek moment. When you hear "temptations to sin" think of the word–scandal, offensive, stumbling block. Scandals of faith will surely come. They are as sure as the devil, the world and our old sinful flesh. Where there is faith, a scandal will seek to lead you astray. Where there's sheep there's a wolf trying to devour you. And that wolf loves to disguise himself as an angel of light – false teaching, false preaching, false faith, false hearing, false thinking, false religion. Scandals and offenses not only make sensational news stories they also fill the pews and pages and coffers of many a church.
"Woe through whom these scandals come…It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin." Woe to those who would mislead the little ones in faith. Woe to those purveyors of purpose-driven pragmatism; they exchange the good deposit of the Gospel with all its treasures for the fool's gold of self-help and pop-psychology. Woe to all goat-herders – they are not shepherds – who preach anything but Christ and Him Crucified for your sins. It would be better for them if a millstone were hung around their neck and thrown into the sea.
At ordination, pastors vow to conduct all their preaching and teaching in conformity with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. At your confirmation, you confessed that you would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the confession of faith in the Lutheran Church. That's how serious Jesus is about doctrine – teaching, His Word, His gifts. That's how serious Jesus is about those of childlike faith who trust in Him.
"Watch yourselves"– Jesus says to the disciples. "Follow the pattern of sound words."
It's easy to preach the Gospel of prosperity. But not so attractive to preach about sin and death and a Crucified Jesus; why else do you think Paul was in prison? It's easy to lighten up the liturgy with feel-good music and language our culture finds palatable. But not so popular to attend Divine Service where we are not the center of everything we sing, confess and hear. It's easy to preach the Gospel – "Jesus died for your sins" – and then steal it away in the very next breath:"if you would just give him your heart and trust in him completely, he will forgive you."
This so-called Gospel is easy to preach, like sweet music to Old Adam's ears. But there's just one problem. It's not the Gospel. The Gospel is not pop-psychology Jesus, not Jesus your financial planner; not Jesus and Jiminy Cricket moralism; not Jesus and His list of rules for a better you. For whether its spiritual guide-Jesus, practical Jesus, or prosperity Jesus, you're really getting the same thing - the Jesus known by another name – Satan. False teaching is demonic.
It is a common saying in our time that urging doctrine only hinders and destroys the kingdom of God…people say things like: "instead of arguing about teaching you should be taking care of people's faith and leading them to Christ; we need a reformation of deeds, not creeds."
"As it would be folly to chide the farmer of the ground for his diligence in obtaining good seed, and to demand that he should be eager only to obtain good fruit, so it would be folly to chide those who take heed unto the doctrine above all things, and to demand of them that they should rather endeavor only to save souls. For as the farmer of the ground must be eager to obtain good seed if he wishes to reap good fruit, so must the Church care for sound doctrine above all things, if she wishes to save souls." (Walther, On Pure Doctrine for the Salvation of Souls).
And that's just the point. His Words matter. Not for the sake of our pride, but for the sake of the Gospel, for the salvation of many. His Doctrine is life. It is a heavenly seed of regeneration for everlasting life. True doctrine is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh; and by His Word He gives life. God's mission for the Church – to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations – depends on Jesus' doctrine. Mission without doctrine is blind and doctrine without mission is gibberish.
Shall we take away from the man who is dead in sin even a single means that God has given to resuscitate him from death? Shall we take away from the man who grieves at his sins even a single consolation that God has granted him for comfort? Shall we take away from the man who is ill the only medicine which will truly cure him?
"Lord to whom shall we go? You have the pattern of sound Words for eternal life." Lord, increase our faith. The righteous live by faith. Trust. Not perception, not feeling. Faith is as great as the Jesus it clings to. And even faith the size of a mustard seed clings to Jesus, with all His devil crushing, Death destroying, graven opening, life-restoring crucified and risen power.
The very faith you need, Jesus gives. All rebuke, He bore in crimson stripes so that you would receive forgiveness, not once or twice, but 7 x 70. He must forgive you. Jesus can't help Himself. He who knew no offense of sin became the most despicable sinner. He redeems us from the curse by becoming the curse for us. For unworthy servants He took a servant's form and still bears it. Your humanity is exalted in His. Your life is exalted in His death. Your glory is found in His Crucifixion. Your life is buried and risen in Him: heaven, life and salvation, carved out for you in the flesh and blood of Jesus, your Savior. He wore the millstone so you don't have to.
But He doesn't stop there; He casts Himself into the depth of the sea to pull you out. He drowns Himself in your death so that He can drown you into His life by Water and Word. His Word keeps you; guards you, treasures you. His Word absolves you. His Word declares you righteous by faith in Christ. His Word fills your hungry sin-ridden bodies with good things. His Word puts the devil to flight and quenches your sin-parched lips with the cup of brimming, salvation dripping, life-restoring body-and-blood-given-and-shed-for-you, forgiveness. In Christ, you really are what you eat.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.