Because of a pulpit exchange Pastor Walter conducted services this week at Salem Lutheran Church, in Barron, Wisconsin.
Sermon (Salem, Barron)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 29, 2010
Text: Luke 14:1-14
Dear Friends in Christ,
The face of American Lutheranism is changing. Old bodies are breaking down. New bodies are being formed. More congregations than ever are choosing to be independent Lutheran congregations, rather than being part of a church body. There is a strong anti institutional attitude developing in both religious and secular politics. Ironically, this anti establishment attitude has been most strongly expressed, to date, by the Harry Potter books. But we see it also in the Tea Party movement. One aspect of this is that of generational change. In many ways, the world we live in is the one created for us in the late 1940's by the World War II generation. Attempts to create a new order in the 1930's were never quite completed. The ideas didn’t quite work when put to the test. In spite of all the New Deal programs, the U.S. remained mired in the Great Depression. Only after the war, when Truman eliminated war time taxes, did we finally see recovery. So it is this period, the late 1940's, when our world was really created. Structures were established, that would later be expanded. Those structures were copied in the church, the Missouri Synod. Where a generation earlier, the synodical headquarters was the president’s enclosed back porch, you now had a large bureaucracy. Soon there were also district offices with full time staffs. They mimicked government departments with many staff persons and many secretaries, and lots of paper work. Baby boomers were impatient to coopt these in institutions for their purposes, but in the end, made no effort to change them. To have the right people controlling them was enough. Now come the post baby boomers. Now they are taking the reigns and something is happening that terrifies many in the generations before them. Post baby boomers don’t want to control of the structures of church and state. We are the barbarians come to end them or radically change them. We don’t think like our parents or grandparents. We think like our great-great- great grandparents. And the world is holding its breath as they wonder what the changes will be.
The most obvious change is that the Missouri Synod replaced 67 year old Rev. Kieschnick with 48 year old Rev. Harrison. Age tells part of the story. But the paths of the two men to the presidency of synod tells another part of the story. Rev. Kieschnick worked up the ladder in the Texas district, until he became president of the district. From there he promoted himself around the synod and was elected president. Rev. Harrison was an inner city pastor at Zion, Fort Wayne, where several of our seminary professors are members. He began to write many articles and books on various theological subjects. He was selected to be the director of LCMS World Relief. This was a small little agency that didn’t do much. Under Harrison it exploded onto the scene, being front and center at nearly every disaster around the world. Harrison continued to write, translate, and edit serious theological works. As Rev. Harrison went around the country to promote LCMS World Relief people began to say, that this is the kind of man we should have as our synodical president - someone who has actually done something.
Front and center to this the work of mercy. As Christians we are called to have mercy upon our fellow man. Here we need to lay a careful foundation, however. Otherwise, we confuse mercy ministry with the Gospel itself. We come before God as beggars holding empty sacks. In the Divine Service, Christ fills our sacks with grace, mercy and forgiveness. We then go out into the world and share these things with our neighbor. Then we return to the Divine Service the next week with empty sacks and Christ fills them again. And again we go out into the world and again share grace, mercy and forgiveness with our fellow man. We are made right with God so that we can serve our neighbor.
Our text is about serving our neighbor. The context that Christ uses for this bit of teaching is a feast given by one of the Pharisees. He noted how they acted, how they sought to bring honor to themselves. Christ noted how this was just a social game, where one would invite a person to their feast, and then in turn expected to be invited to the other person’s feast when that came around. I remember as a child my parents asking themselves if it was their turn to visit or the other family’s turn to visit us. Christ then suggests something rather revolutionary. Instead of this social tread mill, why don’t we invite people who could not possibly invite us back? Why don’t we have compassion on our needy neighbors and feed them? This is one of the ways we empty that sack. The Apostle James points out to us that the mercy we have for others needs to be the mercy that they need right now. If its winter, we don’t just ask God to bless them and keep them warm. We give them a coat. We invite them inside to warm up. Or on a day like today, to cool off. This is not the Gospel. But it is mercy. And it is a reflection of the Gospel. Throughout the history of the Church such mercy has opened the door so that we could tell people about Jesus and the forgiveness He won for us on the cross.
At the root of this is grace alone. Christ saves us by bearing the entire cost Himself. We pay nothing. We receive forgiveness and life for free. We share these things with those in need without cost to them. We give as we have been given. This is important to understand. We have nothing to give. We ourselves are beggars. We can only give what Christ has given us. Since we give nothing of our own, we can claim no credit. We are simply sharing what Christ has given us. But wait a minute! How can we say this when we are talking about charitable gifts to others. We certainly have earned our money and our possessions. Not according to the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. As Luther teaches us, all things, even our material blessings come from God. God gives us a peaceful society. God gives us employment. God gives us rich soil, fish filled lakes, game filled forests, lumber and stone to build, as well as the knowledge and skill to use these things.
Pastor Harrison has laid this vision before us. It is his vision for the synod. But he does not ask us to embrace it because it is his idea. Rather we are to embrace mercy ministry because this is what Christ gives us to do. Mercy ministry is simply taking that sack which Christ has filled out into the world and sharing with all we meet. We are to provide mercy to all in need because Christ has already met all our needs. Christ has forgiven our sins and given us life everlasting at no cost to us. When we are people of mercy we are reflecting the mercy of Christ. We open the door for Christ’s Word to be shared. For feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is not the end. Rather it is the beginning of sharing Christ with the world. In mercy, we open the door so that people can hear that their sins are forgiven in Christ and that He would give them life everlasting. Amen!