The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 21-22, 2010
Text: Luke 13:22-30
Dear Friends in Christ,
Historically, this is the kind of text we would see in October. It is pointing us toward the judgement. So it is a little odd that we have this at this time of year, which has historically been focused on the mission and ministry of the church. This is where the three year lectionary still needs a little tweeking.
This text is about faith and salvation. In our age many people believe in universalism. Even within our churches we see people who say I don’t believe God would send anyone to hell. That wouldn’t be very loving. Aright, consider this. You have a faithful Christian, say a Ukrainian Lutheran, who spends years in the Gulag, though he has committed no crime. Now you say he must live with Stalin and all those who tormented him. Would that be loving? But that is exactly what one is saying when they insist that God condemns no one, that He saves everyone. They are saying the just must live with the unjust for all eternity. And of course it is not loving to place the faithful together with those who gave themselves over to evil. It is not loving because it is unjust. True love requires justice as well as love. God, out of love for His people, condemns the unrighteous to hell. So even God’s condemnation is an act of love - not love for those He condemns, but love for those He saves. He will not allow His people to ever again face their tormentors.
Luther spoke of the Gospel as a passing summer shower that comes and then is gone. That shower is just hitting Africa right now. It has largely departed Europe. It appears that we in America are on the trailing edge of the shower. We cannot count on the Gospel being preached and taught in the future. It is here now. This is part of the warning the Christ gives in our text. Those who don’t believe now may not get a second chance to come to faith.
Another aspect of this warning pertains to church membership. How often do people act as though they are saved because they are a member of this or that church. Perhaps they were confirmed and once communed. That would be the eating and drinking in Christ’s presence. The same would apply to someone claiming baptism as simple fire insurance. If we listen to the words of the baptismal rite, we learn that baptism is only the beginning of baptismal life. There is to be instruction and continued faithfulness.
Many Americans seek a vending machine Christianity. They want to push the button, get their eternal life policy and put it away in the lock box until it is needed. I took care of that church thing, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Christ tells us that such as these will find themselves condemned. They will not be in heaven. God’s gifts of word and sacrament are intended to produce faith. Faith is knowledge of God and trust in Him. Such faith changes who we are and how we relate to other people. Those who claim Christ apart from faith in Him will not be saved.
The first sacrament most of us experienced was the Lord’s Supper. Probably, before our mothers knew that they were pregnant, we received the body and blood of Christ through our mothers. Shortly thereafter, we began to hear the Word of God. We would have received, along with our mothers, the Word of absolution. When we were born, we were baptized. All of these things are intended to produce faith in Christ. They all are vehicles through which the Holy Spirit works in us, producing such faith. As we continue to learn the Word, we understand more of what God has done for us.
Faith is not a leap, nor is it blind. We trust in a God that we know. But faith must be constantly nourished. Faith is totally dependant upon grace. So we rightly say that the most important thing is God’s grace, in which we trust or have faith. It is the grace and mercy of God which nourishes faith. In short it is the constant forgiveness of our sins. Our sins are forgiven each day as an ongoing application of our baptism. But there is this sense of it. You have word from the judge that you will be acquitted but you must come to the court for it to become official. You come to court and the verdict is given. There is no surprise, but it is now official. That court is the Divine Service of the Church. Luther uses this analogy; We come as beggars with empty sacks. We have nothing for God. Then, in the Divine Service, God takes our sacks and fills them with grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We leave the Divine Service with full sacks. Then we spend the week sharing those gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness with everyone we meet. It is God’s will that we give away all that we have been given. Then the next week we come again before our King with empty sacks and He fills them up again, with grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Some who are first will be last, and some who are last will be first. Some who claim Christ in this world, because they think that they’ve earned His favor, or because they once pushed the right button, will not be saved. Many will try to claim Christ and be rejected. There is but one path that leads to eternal life. It is the path of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It is the path of beggars. Those who will not come as beggars will be locked out. But those who come as beggars, those who plead like the Publican in Christ’s parable, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, will find peace and rest. It doesn’t matter how great a theologian one is. In fact many theologians will not be heaven. It doesn’t matter how prominent you were in your congregation. Many prominent church people will not be saved. God is just in doing this. For we are all sinners. We are all conceived in rebellion against God. Salvation is a gift. It is a gift that God intends for all sinners, that is for all mankind. But it is a gift received by means of faith. It is a gift received by humble beggars, who plead for mercy and receive from Christ exactly that for which they have asked.