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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zacchaeus and the 9th and 10th Commandments

A reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 19.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Please turn to page 322 in the Lutheran Service Book as we recite together the 9th and 10th Commandments.
The 9th Commandment. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. … What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or to get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
The 10th Commandment. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor's wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … It finally happened. One person broke all Ten Commandments simultaneously. “How could this happen?” you ask.
Last Friday, Oklahoma State Police arrested Michael Reed Jr., a 29-year-old Oklahoma man who suffers from bipolar disorder, after he threatened to kill President Obama and spat on a picture of the president in the Oklahoma City Federal Building. He later told agents that Satan instructed him destroy the Ten Commandments monument in front of the Oklahoma Capitol. He drove his car into the granite monument, breaking The Ten Commandments into several pieces. Michael’s mother said her son is a devout Christian who wanted to be a pastor but has been wrestling with mental illness for the last two years.
Meanwhile, the rest of us wrestle with how not to break one commandment at a time. Today, the commandment deals with covetousness.
One dictionary defines covet as wishing for longingly or feeling an immoderate desire for that which is another's. Its root is the same Latin word as St. Valentine’s Day characters, cupids, from cupere, meaning to desire.[1]
We may not have had covetousness in our hearts when we sent Valentine’s Day cards to 3rd grade sweethearts and buddies. However, the commandments forbidding coveting apply to those who could alienate anything from neighbor, even if we could do so with honor in the eyes of the world. This way, no one could accuse or blame us though we obtained it wrongfully. So says Martin Luther in his Large Catechism.[2]
Whereas common folk who steal outright break the 7th Commandment, the 9th and 10th are for pious folk, who wish to be praised and called honest, upright people.[3]
So it would seem in Luke’s Gospel. Those who saw Jesus go into Zacchaeus’ house to dine with him grumbled. True, Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a rich man. He became rich through corruption. Nevertheless, as mercy and table fellowship are dual themes of Luke, it appears Zacchaeus received God’s mercy when he responded to Jesus’ invitation to dine with Him. Doing so, salvation came to Zaccaeus’ house, proving once again that the Son of man came to seek and save the lost.
The Son of Man came to seek and save not only people like Zacchaeus, but also people like the Pharisees. Covetousness, however, filled the hardened hearts of the Pharisees for what Zacchaeus now possessed was the gift – the gift of faith.
How did Zacchaeus go from being a dirty, rotten scoundrel to a true son of Abraham? He accepted Jesus’ offer of table fellowship, repented for the injustices he committed, gave to the poor and welcomed Christ into his home and into his heart.
Like the blind man in the story that immediately precedes this one, Zacchaeus overcame the difficulties presented by the crowd that surrounded Jesus. Jesus reached out to him in spite of the crowd’s objections. So will it be among those who enter into the kingdom and are saved on the day of the Son of Man. God reaches out to save us. All we have to do is receive his grace.
Having received God’s grace through Word and Sacrament, may we not become like those who objected to Jesus dining with Zacchaeus. May my heart not be filled with covetousness because one is richer than I. Whatever people have that I desire, I must ask for the grace to be kept from sin, from breaking the 9th and 10th Commandments.
But because the devil never stops tempting us, take a few moments tonight before going to bed and reflect on how easily we break the last two commandments, if not outright, at least within our hearts. Then, ask our merciful God for forgiveness and the grace to right our wrongs and be a true son of Abraham. When you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Please stand as we recite together the Nicene Creed found on the inside back cover of the hymnal.

[2] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Translated by Charles Arand et al. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2000), 425ff.
[3] Ibid.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Revelation, Reformation and Roman

God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. My focus is Revelation 14:6-7: “I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”[1] Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
My sermon has three R’s, but nothing to do with what I learned in school. The first R stems from Revelation. The second R from Reformation. The third R from a Roman reformed.
First, Revelation. Revelation began where the Gospels ended. The Gospels narrated Christ’s incarnation, life and paschal mystery. Revelation narrated His second coming into eternity. Therefore, always read Revelation through Christ.
We can sum up Revelation’s purpose in a word: preparation. Christians were to prepare for persecution. Preparation through baptism or washed in the blood of the Lamb strengthened Christians to accept the Church’s mission on earth while they waited for the Lord to return.
The more prepared Christians were, confident by faith that they were going to heaven because of Christ’s merit; the more the Spirit moved them to enter heaven. The more Christians desired the glory of God in heaven, the more the Spirit moved them to witness through hope[2], which is, if you recall from last week, a personal living relationship with someone who will vindicate you.[3]
Revelation revealed much about the suffering and judgment of the human race and the world, but it also recorded a great celebration of God’s people, who believe in the triumphant, exalted Christ. We read throughout the book how the saints confidently sang and celebrated their worship of God and Christ, which is even more striking when viewed against the terrible suffering and warfare they endured.[4]
Today’s passage describes the first angel flying in mid-heaven proclaiming the eternal gospel to all people. Normally, we associate Gospel with the forgiveness of sins through faith in the work of Christ. We read in Romans that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”[5] Here, however, the Gospel includes the somber news of judgment, for the angel’s cry is, “Fear God and give him glory … the hour of his judgment has come … worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”[6]
John’s aim was to move people to heed God’s judgment (Law) and worship (Gospel) for Christ’s return would be the final deliverance of His people from the dragon, its two beasts, and their hosts.[7] Hence, John based the eternal Gospel or eternal message of God’s judgment and grace on Christ’s saving work.
In view of his coming judgment, the purpose of these verses was to move people to fear, glorify and worship God. Fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom,[8] comes from learning about God through hearing His word,[9] and is an essential part of contrition over sin and repentance.[10] To worship God is the result of fearful repentance through the redemption wrought by Christ.[11]
To worship God results from fearful repentance through the redemption wrought by Christ. That brings me to my second point, Reformation.
When we talk about the Reformation, we mean the 16th century movement in Europe that aimed at reforming some doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church that resulted in the establishment of Protestant churches.[12] Martin Luther did not intend to establish a new Church. He attempted to reform it. He attempted to reform it through repentance, which is why I chose the reading from Revelation.
To reform means to improve an existing institution, law or practice by altering or correcting abuses. Individually, we experienced personal reform when we gave up a reprehensible habit or immoral way of life. When Doctor Luther posted his 95 Theses, he intended true reform in the Church and in every member. He intended that we take steps to form again our corporate and personal lives and give glory to God.
The posting of Luther’s Theses was a moment hastened by the darkest centuries in the history of the Western Church. The papal monarchy was a bloated bureaucracy with an insatiable appetite for money and power. The clergy corrupt. Religious life corroded. The need for reform was universally acknowledged, but thwarted by self-interested church hierarchy and secular rulers who profited by the abuses. As a result, dissatisfaction and anticlericalism assumed threatening proportions, creating a powder keg awaiting Luther’s spark.[13]
Luther and other protagonists saw the Reformation as the recovery of the pure revelation of primitive Christianity, the “word of God undefiled,” while the Catholic Church saw it mainly as a rejection of Christian truth.[14] From my perspective, it was a happy fault, for the Reformers sought the pure gospel and succeeded in presenting it to Christians in the face of grave deformations. In many ways, they simply re-asserted ancient Catholic truths, for in Church history; reformatio also meant renovatio, or renewal in the double sense of back to the original form and a new start.[15] Like Revelation, Luther based the eternal Gospel or eternal message of God’s judgment and grace on Christ’s saving work.
Read Jeremiah. “The Lord said, ‘Behold, I put my words in your mouth. I set you over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’”[16] Or Romans. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[17] Or Revelation. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”[18]
We can sum up what Luther sought in one word, metanoia, a theological term for repentance and a transformative change of heart.[19] Read his 95 Theses from October 31, 1517. Notice the first one reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[20]
Repent. Be prepared for the eternal message of God’s judgment and grace based on Christ’s saving work.
Rightfully, Luther taught that every baptized person had the right and duty to teach and spread the word of God.[21] His visits to churches revealed great ignorance among people, which he corrected through his Large and Small Catechisms and hymns, making Luther the great religious instructor of his day.
Luther affected politics, religious practice and theology. While some seized the moment for political gain, others welcomed Luther’s call to return to our Christian roots, while Calvin and Zwingli separated themselves from Luther over their understanding of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Reformation was not a single event, but began with a moment that changed the Church forever. We could and should spend a year studying the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, only then would we begin to appreciate Luther’s contributions, but we cannot do that in a Sunday sermon. So, to quote Forest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.[22]
That brings me to my third point, a Roman reformed. By Roman reformed I mean I was a Roman Catholic. I was baptized, confirmed, educated and ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. My undergraduate and two of my three graduate degrees are from Catholic institutions. I served as a Catholic priest for 21 years. I know more about the Catholic Church than all your Catholic friends know. Nevertheless, like the Reformation, there was a moment in my life that changed all that.
Moments change people’s lives. We define moment as a brief, indefinite interval of time; a specific point in time, especially the present; or a particular period of importance, influence, or significance in a series of events or developments.[23] Its root is the Latin word momentum meaning movement, motion, moving power, alteration or change.[24] An event that lasts only an instant can change world history – the Resurrection, signing of the Magna Carta, posting 95 Theses. A moment on a particular date can change a nation – July 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; September 11, 2001. Personally, I experienced moments that stay with me because they changed me – my ordination on May 23, 1987; my mother’s death on November 1, 2006; our wedding on August 7, 2010. Now, this Roman reformed will unite Revelation and Reformation to our personal lives.
If Reformation means not only that moment in 16th century Europe that resulted in the establishment of the Protestant churches, but also personal reform when we gave up a reprehensible habit, then we’re onto something. I suggest we read Reformation’s most influential books – Bondage of Will, Pilgrim’s Progress, Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Book of Concord and so on, but start with Luther’s 95 Theses and ask ourselves how his first thesis applies to my life.
When Luther wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance,”[25]do you think the Doctor had us in mind? Do you think Jesus had you in mind when He cried, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”? Do you think John had us in mind when he urged persecuted Christians to be prepared and cling to Christ, their hope who would redeem them? My friends, the Christian life is all about repentance. It is all about repentance, but not understood in the sense of gaining merit. Rather, in the sense of being motivated by love for Christ and what He did for me, for us, for all humanity.
If Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance, and He did, is repentance evident in my life? Is repentance evident in our life as Church, as a denomination, Synod or congregation? If, as Luther and others have said, that the church is always to be reformed, what does that mean for us as Church and for me individually?
Reform, repentance or change came at the price of great anguish for Luther. For that matter, it comes at a great price for anyone who heeds God’s call. Luther posted no bill haphazardly. His theses came after searching his own heart and soul. Fortunately, for the Roman Catholic Church, what he did created an opportunity for reform that occurred outside the Roman Curia and Papacy. Luther’s act gave rise to Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila – vital figures of the Counter Reformation.
Luther’s visitations led to an educated clergy for all of Christendom. His catechisms led to a simpler method of learning the truths of Christianity. His translation of the Bible did for the German language what Shakespeare did for English. Luther’s initial achievements affect the Roman Church today, through a seminary system, catechesis and a renewed sacramental system. For that, all Christians should be grateful to Luther and celebrate Reformation Sunday.
That is the good news. The bad news is that none of the students in my sixth grade confirmation class knows anything about Martin Luther or why we are called Lutherans, let alone the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. … That is not their fault. So, here is what I want you to do to celebrate Reformation Sunday: Read something on Martin Luther, the Reformation or the teachings of the Lutheran Church. You do not have to buy anything. You can start with the Lutheran Service Book or the pamphlets we provide in the lobby. As you await the return of our Lord, be prepared through joyful repentance. Prepare yourself with a joyful repentance that would make Luther and our Lord Jesus proud. And may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. … Please stand for our offertory.

[1] Psalm 122
[2] Louis A. Brighton, Revelation. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999), 7.
[3] Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2006), 59.
[4] Brighton, 3.
[5] Romans 1:16.
[6] Revelation 14:7.
[7] Brighton, 381 (See Rev 19:1-16, and fn 16 in Brighton).
[8] Psalm 11:10; Job 28:28.
[9] Deuteronomy 4:10.
[10] Acts 2:37-38.
[11] Brighton, 382.
[13] R. Emmet McLaughlin, “The Reformation” in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, General Editor. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers (1995), 1091.
[14] Joseph Lortz, “The Reformation” in Sacramentum Mundi: An Encyclopedia of Theology, Volume Five, Adolf Darlap, General Editor. New York: Herder and Herder (1970), 215.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Jeremiah 1:9-10.
[17] Romans 12:2.
[18] Revelation 21:5.
[21] Lortz, 221.
[22] This is the 20th Anniversary of Forrest Gump.