Monday, February 28, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34, for Preschool Sunday, "Chains of the Heart"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today I want to welcome all of our preschool families and children, and thank the children for their excellent recitation of the Bible verses for today, and for their beautiful singing! The verses they recited for you are the focus of my message today, and that whole Gospel reading from Matthew 6 addresses us in a common area of our lives. That is anxiety and worry. While not everyone is a chronic “worrywart,” always anxious about something, I suspect that there are few of us who can avoid the trap of worrying altogether. Worry and anxiety rob us of confidence, sleep, peace, and even of health. How many of you have been stressed out or lost sleep over the family budget, especially in our current economic times? Or dealing with a crisis at work or in the family? Or facing difficult health concerns?

Jesus teaches us in this reading that we shouldn’t be weighed down by the worries and the concerns of this life. Don’t worry about tomorrow because today has enough troubles of its own. The concerns of life are so numerous that no one can handle more than a day’s share (Scaer, 225). But how does one get weighed down and anxious about everything in the first place? About what they will eat, or drink, or wear? Jesus leads into this teaching about worry by first saying that no one can serve two masters—you cannot serve both God and money. So what’s the connection between not serving both God and money, and anxiety and worry? The connection is that if we’re devoted to money and material things, then our heart will be chained to things that are passing away (Mahaney, 99). Temporary things. Jesus put it this way: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Probably most of us haven’t thought about our “stuff” in that way. Our money, our bank accounts, our home, our food, clothing, car, entertainment system, books—whatever it is that we accumulate for ourselves and consider our treasure. It all falls in the category of “material things.” Everything that money can buy. Our hearts are easily “chained” to these material things. How much time do we dedicate to them in comparison with other pursuits? If the pursuit of our lives is to accumulate “stuff”, then it isn’t hard to see how money can become our ‘god’ or idol, like Jesus said. We want more and newer, better, faster, larger things—and the way to get that is with more money. And so our hearts are chained to our “stuff.”

How does that create worry and anxiety, like Jesus said? For one thing it’s because we’re in the constant pursuit of accumulating more. But this is driven by greed. One author noted several insights from King Solomon, who authored of several books of wisdom found in the Bible, and is mentioned by Jesus in our reading (Jeremiah, 243). These are five points that King Solomon discovered in his own experience with money and greed:

1) The more we have, the more we want (Eccles. 5:10).
2) The more we have, the more we spend (Eccles. 5:11)
3) The more we have, the more we worry (Eccles. 5:12)
4) The more we have, the more we lose (Eccles. 5:13-14)
5) The more we have, the more we leave behind (Eccles. 5:14-17)

So contrary to what we’re naturally inclined to think, having more things won’t solve our problems, and having more money won’t make worry go away. Not that money troubles aren’t a major source of worry, but having more money and possessions creates new worries. You aren’t satisfied with having enough, or you increase your spending to match your increased income. You face the new worry of trying to protect your money and possessions for fear of losing them, and become a hoarder. And finally you cannot ultimately ensure that you won’t lose it all. People from the middle-class and the wealthy alike, have seen their savings or fortunes disappear. Overnight millionaires have lost their money through squandering it. Or as Solomon observed, when you die, someone else will enjoy your things. You can’t take it with you. All those points about money and greed taken together should show us that money can’t be our ultimate deliverance. Money makes a very poor god, because wealth sprouts wings and flies away. Ironically, our enjoyment of material things grows less with the more we get. Yet so many choose to make money and the material things it buys their ‘god’ or master.

This pursuit of material stuff produces so much worry and anxiety simply because those things are passing away and temporary. Since money and goods don’t last, it’s easy to become frantic about keeping them or getting them. Things break down, get lost or stolen. They become outdated and we become jealous of what others have. But Jesus presents a totally different alternative. He shows the blessing of worship and serving the true God, and having God alone as our pursuit and master. First He shows us that it isn’t necessary to worry about food, drink, or clothing. He argues from the greater to the lesser, showing that life is more important than food, and the body more important than clothing (Scaer, 218). Which is easier to produce? Are you worried or concerned about your life, or how your body came into existence? Isn’t that a far more difficult thing to make than food or clothing? And yet you aren’t concerned about that. So how much more can God take care of and supply the lesser things of food and clothing—if He has already given you life?

Then Jesus makes a second argument, this time from the lesser to the greater (Scaer, 218-19). Birds of the air and lilies of the field are worth much less than we are, and yet God provides for them too! If God cares for these little things of His creation, that have such a short lifespan, how much more is He going to provide for and care for you? Now that doesn’t mean that we should just sit back and not lift a finger while waiting for loaves of bread to rain down from heaven, without our work or effort. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” we’re not expecting bread to fall down out of the sky. But we should realize that God works through human labor to produce and provide for those things, as He blesses the earth. The farmer, the harvesters, the truckers and millers and bakers and store-owners etc, are all involved in supplying us with food and daily bread. The same goes for our clothing and other goods. But God will see to it that we’re provided for and have enough. He even blesses many of us with a surplus of things, so that we can be a blessing to others by caring for the poor and the hungry. In this way, through understanding God’s love, we can care for our neighbor as well.

So what are we worried or concerned about? No one can completely safeguard their life against unexpected changes. So don’t worry about tomorrow, as Jesus says: “tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” So Jesus isn’t promising Christians a trouble-free existence in this life, or that we won’t experience the changes, chances, and troubles of life. But those things don’t have to control or dictate our lives. We don’t have to be consumed by worry about material things. Jesus comes to break those chains from our heart, and to liberate us from worry about things that are passing away. And here we come to the main point, that the preschoolers so beautifully emphasized for us today in their words and song: “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

If we worship and serve God, and His kingdom is our pursuit, then our hearts will be free of those earthly chains. And instead of having prison chains that bind us to things in life that simply won’t last—we can attach our heart to the kingdom of God that is eternal and will last. If you want to stretch the analogy a little further, we could say that instead of chains weighing our heart down, we can have our heart chained to the anchor of our souls, Jesus Christ. An anchor chain that extends upward to heaven, and buoys us upward on the troubled seas of life, and provides stability in times of transition and doubt. By attaching our heart to eternal things, we’re freed from the worry and anxiety that cloud our daily horizons, and we’re free to live at peace and with security, knowing that God greatly loves us and provides for us with gracious care.

But what does it mean to seek God’s kingdom first, and His righteousness? The kingdom of God is shorthand language for Jesus to refer to God’s saving work in the world. In other words, Jesus at work rescuing mankind from our sins. The kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom like a nation with a King—as Jesus made clear when He said “my kingdom is not of this world.” Rather it is a spiritual kingdom—a heavenly one. And Jesus is our King. He’s the one to whom we owe all our allegiance. Not to money, not to earthly powers or political rulers, or any other commitment. This is why Jesus is so emphatic that we cannot serve both God and money—God does not allow divided allegiances. He will not share our loyalty with money. We must be devoted to one or the other.

This makes it clear that we cannot misuse Jesus’ words here to promise that seeking God’s kingdom is the way to “get rewarded with stuff.” It would turn Jesus’ words upside down to read them that way. He says “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” It’s a distortion of Christianity and Jesus’ teachings to use a passage like this to lure people into the church with the promise of future wealth (Scaer, 224). Rather, Jesus is assuring us that God will provide for our needs, and that if we pursue heavenly things, we don’t need to be concerned about lacking earthly things. God and His kingdom itself is the reward of seeking Him first. His kingdom means rescue and eternal life for us.

And that rescue and eternal life comes from the second thing Jesus told us to seek—“His righteousness.” We’re to seek the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Righteousness is the perfect, flawless innocence of Jesus—who lived a life of complete obedience to God. How does that help us? Because by faith in Jesus, by seeking His righteousness—His innocent life is credited to us by faith. Many people are familiar that the Bible teaches that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and so took our guilt away. But more than just removing our sin so that we’re free of guilt, Jesus supplied something positive in our place. His life of perfect obedience—His innocence or righteousness is counted to our credit. That means when we appear before God to be judged after our life is over, we have the perfect innocence of Jesus to our credit, and will be clean of our sin because He has forgiven us. That’s a true and worthwhile treasure and pursuit, and it doesn’t cost us anything—only faith or trust in God. Seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. For that eternal treasure—a treasure that will always last and remain ours—we can gladly be free of the earthly worries and pursuits that chain our heart to the world. Those things can offer us no lasting peace or security—but the true peace and security is found in God’s kingdom. That is why the True God in heaven makes a far better master than the poor and helpless so-called ‘god’ of money. The True and living God provides for all people and gives us promises and treasure that doesn’t rust or fade away. Let us praise the True God of heaven and give thanks to Jesus Christ His Son. In His name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Why is worrying and anxiety such a problem? What effects does it have on us? What are the things that you personally worry about?
2. Why can’t we serve both God and money? What happens when we try to divide our loyalty? Why are money and material things a poor object for our trust and loyalty? What happens to them?
3. Review these five points that Solomon makes about money and greed: The more we have… the more we want (Ecclesiastes 5:10), the more we spend (Eccles. 5:11), the more we worry (Eccles. 5:12), the more we lose (Eccles. 5:13-14), the more we leave behind (Eccles. 5:14-17). How then is it an illusion that money will solve our worries and give us security?
4. How does Jesus argue from the “greater to the lesser” to show us that God can provide our food and clothing? Matt. 6:25
5. How does Jesus argue from the “lesser to the greater” to show that God cares for us? Matt. 6:26-30. So how is worrying shown to be unnecessary?
6. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread”—how does God provide for our physical needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing? How do we participate in that?
7. What is “God’s kingdom?” See Matthew 10:7, and parables in Matt. 13. Compare to John 18:36. What is “his righteousness?” Romans 5:18-20; Phil. 3:9; Why is that a true source of security, and a lasting treasure. Why then is the True God a far better God than money?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, for the 7th Sunday after Epiphany, "The Lord's Supper 2"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today is part two of our sermon teaching series on the Lord’s Supper. Last week I informed the congregation that in March, we’ll begin offering the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. I spoke about how Christ gave us the Supper and instructed us to do it often, in remembrance of Him, and how this gift of love for us is Jesus’ own body and blood. Last week I referred to this understanding of the Lord’s Supper as the “real presence” or “bodily presence” of Jesus. Today I will answer the question, “Is this Lutheran understanding of the “real presence” the Biblical one—that is to
say, the Christian one?”

That is the essential question—because by “the Lutheran understanding” of a particular teaching, whether the Lord’s Supper or otherwise—we don’t mean something new and unique and apart from Christianity. If it were, we certainly couldn’t call it a Christian or Biblical teaching. When we as Lutheran Christians talk about “what we as Lutheran’s believe,” or talk about the teachings of the “Lutheran faith”—we don’t mean a different faith from the Christian one, or that it’s more important to be a “Lutheran” than a Christian. But unfortunately the term “Christian” gets used so loosely and incorrectly that it can lose its meaning. It gets applied so loosely that virtually any person, any religious group, and any opinion might be called “Christian” without full consideration of what they believe, teach, and practice—and whether that agrees in any way with the Christian Bible. Opinions and practices that are quite contrary to the Bible might be held by those who still claim the label “Christian.” Of course the same can also happen to the term “Lutheran” or any other name. In its true definition, Christian should mean someone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, their Savior, and accepts all the teachings of the Christian faith.

So every single teaching needs to be examined against the Bible, no matter what denomination or confession of faith it comes from. So we approach the question this way: Is the Lutheran, the Roman Catholic, or the Methodist or the Pentecostal or the non-denominational, etc., understanding of the Lord’s Supper the true Biblical one? Or is something else? Be clear that I’m not at all suggesting that only Lutherans are Christians, or that there aren’t Christians in other church bodies. I’m not saying that at all. I fully expect that a person who calls themselves a Baptist Christian or a non-denominational Christian, etc., would believe that their church’s beliefs are a correct and appropriate expression of the Christian faith. I would expect that they would disagree with points that I believe as a Lutheran, and would also be willing to defend their beliefs and have them tested under the same light of Scripture as us.
We simply don’t all agree on certain teachings of the Bible, such as Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the meaning of grace, etc. And if there are two or three or more conflicting understandings of a particular teaching—they cannot all be true. They could all be wrong, but they can’t all be right. Some churches might be correct on most teachings, but could be wrong on several others. This is not to say that having all the correct beliefs and teachings makes one “more saved” than others. But that doesn’t free us from the responsibility to always be sure that everything we teach is fully in line with the inspired Word of God. So our original question: “Is the Lutheran understanding of the Supper the Biblical one?” is really the right question to ask.

Our teaching is laid out simply in the questions from the Catechism that you have printed in your bulletin. In those questions and answers you see the Lutheran understanding is that we receive in the Supper Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. The next question, number 288, is a very important one: “How does the Bible make it clear that these words are not picture language?” Without having time here to go into all the nuances of what various other churches understand about the Lord’s Supper, there are many who do understand Jesus’ words as just picture language. That when He says of the bread, “Take eat, this is my body” and of the cup “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood of the covenant”—that He doesn’t actually mean that we are eating His body and drinking His blood. That He meant the bread and wine were a picture of His body broken on the cross, and a picture of His blood poured out.

So in that non-Lutheran understanding, the bread and wine are merely symbols, and Jesus was only saying that they represented or symbolized His body and blood. So if you believe that symbolic interpretation, it follows that when you receive the Lord’s Supper, Jesus isn’t truly present in His body and blood. All you receive in hand and mouth is bread and wine, nothing more. Those who hold this understanding the Lord’s Supper might use the language of a memorial meal, or sign of what Jesus did, and maybe that it helps us to experience the “presence” of Jesus in our hearts. They might speak of a “spiritual presence” in your thoughts or faith, but mean that Christ’s body is truly far away in heaven—not at all physically in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. This general view, with perhaps some variations is held by the majority of Protestants, excluding the Lutherans. So at the risk of oversimplification, its generally true that Baptists, the Reformed, Methodists, non-denominational churches, many Episcopalians, and other Protestants hold to a more “symbolic view” of the Lord’s Supper.

So how does that view square with the Bible? Does that view agree with the Bible better than the Lutheran one, that Jesus’ words be simply taken at face value? If you have a Bible with you, please open to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. It’s also printed for you above the prayer requests on your bulletin insert. There Paul speaks about the Lord’s Supper in contrast to pagan feasts that were eaten to celebrate idols and false gods. Pay special attention to vs. 16 & 21. He says:
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In verse 16 Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The word translated there as “participation” is sometimes translated “communion”—which is where we get the name “Holy Communion.” The original word in Greek is koinonia. It means to share in something, to participate in. Paul uses the words “drink” and “partake” in parallel with the meaning of koinonia in verses 16 & 21. So what is Paul saying we participate or commune with? When we drink, we participate or share in the blood of Christ. When we eat the bread, we participate in the body of Christ.

Which is that body of Christ and blood of Christ that we are speaking about? That is important to clarify because the Bible uses the word “the body (of Christ)” in two different ways, even here in this short passage. One way is to refer to the body of believers that make up the Christian church. It’s clear from context that this is what Paul means in verse 17: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” He says “we who are many are one body.” But the primary meaning of the “body of Christ” is of course the actual flesh and bones—the physical body—of Jesus that was born, lived, was crucified and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. In verse 16, Paul makes it clear that he’s speaking of Christ Himself and not the church, by saying that we are communing or participating in the “blood of Christ” and the “body of Christ.” Here he cannot mean the church, but Jesus’ actual body, because the blood of Christ is nowhere used as a description of the believers who make up the Christian church. It refers only and literally to the blood of Jesus Christ—the blood that coursed through His veins and bled on the cross. It’s this blood of Christ that we participate in when we drink the Cup. This passage alone should prove the Lutheran understanding of the Supper as the real presence is the Biblical one. But our minds rebel against this shocking truth, and seek ways to explain it away, like making it into picture language or a symbol.

But maybe instead of starting from the assumption that it’s impossible, we should consider this: could Jesus have made Himself any clearer if in fact He really wanted to convey the idea that one who receives the Lord’s Supper is truly receiving His body and blood for their forgiveness? Luther argued that the words are straightforward and clear, saying:

If these words are not clear, I do not know how to speak German. Would I not understand, if someone were to place a roll before me and say: “Take, eat, this is white bread?” Or again, “Take and drink, this is a glass of wine?” Therefore, when Christ says: “Take, eat, this is my body,” even a child will understand perfectly well that he is speaking of that which he is offering…These words are quite clear and explicit…For this reason we stick closely to the words and close our eyes and senses, because everyone knows what “this is my body” means, especially when he adds “given for you.” We know what Christ’s body is, namely that which was born of Mary, suffered, died, and rose again. (Luther, quoted in The Blessings of Weekly Communion, Wieting, 30).

Since the words are so plain, the first option must be to understand them literally. Jesus couldn’t have put it more simply if that’s what He wanted us to believe. His words call us to faith—because His body and blood are not able to be seen or recognized by our senses. As one Lutheran put it, “We believe that the bread is there on the evidence of the senses; we believe that Christ’s body is there on the evidence of the Word” (C.P. Krauth, quoted, Wieting, 26-27).

So by faith in the Word of Christ, we believe in His real, bodily presence. But still, someone might ask—what difference does it make? What difference does it make if someone believes in the real presence, instead of taking the symbolic view that Jesus is not really there? It makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between Jesus being absent from the Supper, with bread and wine that are mere symbols and cannot do or bring anything, and Jesus being present here among us, Himself the host serving us His own body and blood for our forgiveness and to unite us in fellowship with Him. Without His presence, bread and wine are nothing more than that, and can convey no spiritual blessing. But with His presence, it is a sacrament—a holy mystery that brings us God’s forgiveness—and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Our Lutheran view of the Supper is the Biblical one because it fits the words of Christ and Paul, and it explains its blessings most simply. It shows the source of great comfort and peace that the sacrament brings. It simply believes the real presence on the basis of Jesus’ words, without attempting to explain the “how” with philosophy, or explaining it away with rationalism. It recognizes the Biblical truth that the reason the sacrament gives such great blessings is because of Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and that He is present here offering us His gifts—not because a priest or pastor is “re-sacrificing” Jesus’ body and blood as the Roman Catholic church teaches.

We cling to the clear and simple words of Christ: “This is my body;” and “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We cling to those words by faith, and so cling to the Lord of Life who was once crucified for our sins, but rose from the dead to give us life. We eat His body and drink His blood in the Supper, and so are assured that this forgiveness—this great salvation—was “given and shed for you.” One cannot get closer to God than this on this side of heaven. Believe it because of Christ’s words, and have the assurance that this forgiveness is brought personally to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen. Next week will be Preschool Sunday, so I will preach on another topic, but we will resume our teaching series on the Lord’s Supper on March 6, Transfiguration Sunday. Then we will talk more about the spiritual blessings and benefits of the Lord’s Supper.


Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

Questions and Answers about the Lord’s Supper
287. What does Christ give us in this sacrament? In this sacrament Christ gives us His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Matt. 26:26, 28.
288. How does the Bible make it clear that these words of Christ are not picture language? Christ’s words in the Sacrament must be taken at face value especially because
A. these words are the words of a testament, and even an ordinary person’s last will and testament may not be changed once that person has died; 1 Cor. 11:25; Gal. 3:15. Note: Compare also Heb. 9:15-22
B. God’s Word clearly teaches that in the Sacrament the bread and wine are a communion or participation in the body and blood of Christ; 1 Cor. 10:16
C. God’s Word clearly teaches that those who misuse the Sacrament sin not against bread and wine but against Christ’s body and blood. 1 Cor. 11:27, 29.
289. What are the visible elements in the Sacrament? The visible elements are bread and wine. Matt. 26:26-27. Note: “The fruit of the vine” (Luke 22:18) in the Bible means wine, not grape juice. See also 1 Cor. 11:21
290. Do Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament replace the bread and wine, so that the bread and wine are no longer there? No, bread and wine remain in the Sacrament. 1 Cor. 11:26
291. How then are the bread and wine in the Sacrament the body and blood of Christ? The bread and wine in the Sacrament are Christ’s body and blood by sacramental union. By the power of His word, Christ gives His body and blood in, with, and under the consecrated (blessed) bread and wine. 1 Cor. 10:16.
292. Do all communicants receive the body and blood in the Sacrament, whether or not they believe? Yes, because the Sacrament depends on Christ’s word, not on our faith. 1 Cor. 11:27. Note: All communicants should receive both parts of the Sacrament, since Christ said, “Take and eat; this is my body….Drink from it, all of you” (Matt. 26:26-27)
293. Are the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament sacrificed again to God for the sins of the living and the dead? No, the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament are the one perfect sacrifice offered to God once and for all on the cross and are now distributed to us in the Sacrament together with all the blessings and benefits which this sacrifice has won for us. 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 10:14; Heb. 10:18. Note: We speak of the “Sacrament of the Altar” because an altar is a place of sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed His body and blood on the cross for the sins of the world once and for all. In the Sacrament of the Altar, He distributes this same body and blood until the end of time.
294. What does Christ command when He says, “This do in remembrance of Me?” Christ commands in these words that His Sacrament be celebrated in the church till the end of time as a living proclamation and distribution of His saving death and all its blessings. 1 Cor. 11:26.


From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission. www.cph.org.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 26:26-29, for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, "The Lord's Supper, 1"

This Sunday I would like to announce to the congregation an important change that will be coming to our worship services, and over the next few Sunday’s I’m going to do a teaching series of sermons to explain and prepare us for that change. The change is that beginning in March, when we start the season of Lent, we’re going to move to having the Lord’s Supper available every week. The exceptions will be when we have Preschool or Children’s Sunday services, or combined outdoor services, etc. Presently, the elder’s will be responsible for the additional communion setup, though we welcome new volunteers from our church members to be trained to help in communion setup. I’m very excited to bring this change to the congregation, and believe that it will be a source of blessing for us as we gather each week to receive God’s two holy treasures for us: the Word and the Sacrament.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In today’s sermon I want to talk about what the Lord’s Supper is and what it means, and answer some questions about why we should receive it often. Over the next few weeks I want to teach through some of the main points about the Lord’s Supper, so today we’ll start from the basics. First off, we have to ask the most basic question: who gave us the Lord’s Supper and set it as a pattern to follow? For this we turn to our sermon text for today, Matthew 26:26-29,

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Here in these words, we see that it is Jesus who gave us the Lord’s Supper. Now perhaps that seems so obvious as to not need mentioning. But it is the most important truth to begin our understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

Because it is Jesus’ Supper, it isn’t a man-made tradition or idea, it isn’t an add-on or occasional extra—but it has the command of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Where is it commanded? In those words you just heard me read. We call them the “Words of Institution.” They’re found in three of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as in the letter of 1 Corinthians. So these words are the foundation and the source of our Christian doctrine or teaching about the Lord’s Supper. Any theology that tries to understand the Lord’s Supper must begin with these words.

When we say that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, we mean that He established it, and gave the words and the instructions for how we are to practice it. The pastor repeats Jesus’ own words whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. While the wording of Jesus’ “words of institution” is not word for word identical in each of the four places it’s found, they all include these essential words: that He took bread, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body,’ and took the cup and said ‘This is my blood of the covenant.’” These words define for us what the Lord’s Supper is. With four voices speaking in harmony, they all convey what is happening each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. What is at first ordinary bread, after the blessing with the Lord’s Words, is Jesus’ holy body. What is at first an ordinary cup of wine, after the blessing with the Lord’s Words, is Jesus’ holy blood of the covenant. In a coming sermon we will look more closely at this, what is called the real or bodily presence of Christ, and some opposing views.

But what kind of reverence, what kind of holy awe and amazement ought to fill us when we consider those words?! That the body and blood of God’s own Son are given to us to eat and to drink? In a mystery that surpasses our ability to comprehend, the bread that we take in hand and mouth is not merely bread, but it is truly the body of Christ, sacrificed on the cross for us. In the same way also, the cup of wine that we drink, is not merely wine, but it is the true blood of Jesus, shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Not a picture or a symbol, not a mere reenactment, but as true as Jesus’ own words, we eat His body and blood at His invitation for the forgiveness of our sins. This is a mystery that should move us to holy fear and reverence of God, to humble repentance of our sins, and to songs of thanksgiving and praise for what He has done. This mystery of the Lord’s Supper draws us higher and deeper into worship of our God.

Because it is the Lord’s Supper and not the “Supper of the Christians”, we are reminded also that it is God who is at work here among us. It’s not primarily about our activity. One Lutheran pastor wrote that if it weren’t for the fact that worship was where God is at work among us, he’d find jogging or cycling or a variety of other personal interests to be far more tempting on Sunday morning than going to church. But he goes on to say, “There is only one place to find God at work in our lives the way He is in the liturgy of the Divine Service—offering healing at the core of life” (Richard Eyer, quoted in The Blessings of Weekly Communion, by Kenneth Wieting, p. 18). How true and yet also so different from the way we’re used to thinking about worship? In worship, we’re not the main doers or actors. God is the One who is doing, and He’s the One who’s working His forgiveness in our lives through the Word of the Gospel that’s preached, and through the blood of the covenant which is poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s a true reason to be in worship—because there God is working in your life to heal and restore your sin-sick soul.

Several years ago, Lutheran lay person asked his pastor this question: “Pastor, if the Lord’s Supper is everything that the Bible and the catechism say it is, then why don’t we have the opportunity to receive it when we come for worship each week?” Initially, that pastor, Kenneth Wieting, set out to establish the reasons for why they offered it every other week. But instead, through a great deal of study of the Bible, of early Christian practice, and of the practice of the Lutheran Reformers 500 years ago, he was led to share the same view as his church member, and has written a book about it, called The Blessings of Weekly Communion. In a similar way, I’d like to help us grow a great appreciation for what the Lord’s Supper is, and see the value of restoring its place together with the Word of God as the twin treasures of the worship service, where God is at work among us.

Now the Bible does not prescribe a minimum or maximum number of times that we must receive the Lord’s Supper in a year, which would turn this gift of God into a legalism or law. And so my intention is not to require or pressure anyone into receiving communion every week, but rather to offer it as often as possible, so that you do not miss out on receiving this treasure. It’s the difference between “I must” and “I get to.” If some of you wish to continue communing only twice a month, for your own reasons, that’s fine. But if you have desired to commune every week, now you will be able to.

I also want to respond to two common objections sometimes heard among Lutherans to weekly communion. First that it’s “too Catholic,” and second that it will make it “less special.” So to the first objection: is weekly communion “too Catholic” a practice? Working backwards historically, we should first point out that communion every week is an entirely Lutheran practice—even if it hasn’t been so for the last 200 years or so. Going a little further back to the Reformation in the 1500’s, the Lutherans specifically made a point in our confession of faith, the Augsburg Confession, article 24, that they were falsely being accused of doing away with the Lord’s Supper. Rather, they said they continued to practice it with greater reverence, and offered it on every holy day and also on other days when the people desired it. So it is a completely Lutheran practice back to Luther and the Reformers themselves.

But of course we need to go much further back than that. To the church of the apostles themselves. In the first days of the newly born Christian church, in the book of Acts, we read in chapter 2:42 about their early pattern of worship: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The “breaking of bread” and “fellowship” are references to the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus broke bread and gave it to His disciples. Their worship was centered around the Word—the teaching of the apostles, the Christian fellowship of breaking bread together—the Lord’s Supper, and the prayers. This is the outline of Christian worship as it has spread across the world through more than 20 centuries! Later in Acts 20:7, we read about Paul worshipping with the Christians in Troas: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” So weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a “Catholic” or “Lutheran” practice, it is a Christian one!

Also Paul, when recording the words of institution as the Lord had given them to Him in 1 Corinthians 11, wrote: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Here we see that Jesus instructs us to “do this,” namely celebrate the Supper to remember Him, but also to do so often. Paul goes on to explain that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we continue to give witness to the world about the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who gave His body and blood for our salvation. Through it we also proclaim His coming return to save us.

The second objection was that having communion every week would make it less special. It would be a harmful mistake to compare the Lord’s Supper to something like going to get ice cream once a month with your grandma—something that might seem less special if you did it every week. Instead of comparing the Lord’s Supper to something that is an occasional extra or appendage to the worship service (see 1995 LCMS resolution 2-08A), as Wieting says, we should compare it to the other supernatural gift of God—His Word. Would the Word of God be made any less special if we preached on it every week, instead of every other week? Would we make the same argument that reading God’s Word would be less special if we did it more often? Or with prayer? Clearly these things are the lifeblood and the daily bread of the Christian—they are the things that sustain our Christian walk. They are not superfluous, and neither is the Lord’s Supper. So we should rather see how the frequent reception of the Lord’s Supper is for our spiritual strength through forgiveness. It is not ice cream, it is part of the meat and vegetables of our healthy diet in worship.

Again, my intention is not to suggest that churches who don’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper each week are any less Christian, or that you are any less Christian if you don’t wish to receive it every week. The question shouldn’t be, “how often must I commune?”, but rather I would ask, “why wouldn’t you want to commune as often as you can?” It’s again the difference between law and gift. No law compels you to receive it often, but the inviting hand of our Lord and the assurance that He is here in worship, bodily present in the Lord’s Supper working for you and for your salvation should bring us joyfully to His table. For He says, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me!” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

Questions and Answers about the Sacrament of the Altar
I. The Nature of the Sacrament of the Altar
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Where is this written?
The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

285. What are some other names for the Sacrament of the Altar?
This sacrament is also called the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, Holy Communion, the Breaking of Bread, and the Eucharist. 1 Cor. 11:20; 1 Cor. 10:21; 1 Cor. 10:16; Acts 2:42; Matt. 26:26. Note: Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “giving thanks.”

286. Who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar?
Jesus Christ, who is true God and true man, instituted this sacrament. 1 Cor. 11:23-24.

295. Why are we to receive the Sacrament often?
We are to receive the Sacrament often because
A. Christ commands or urgently invites, us, saying, “This do in remembrance of Me”;
B. His words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” promise and offer us great blessings; Matt. 11:28
C. We need the forgiveness of our sins and the strength for a new and holy life. John 15:5

Note: In the New Testament, the Sacrament was a regular and major feature of congregational worship, not an occasional extra (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). In Reformation times, our churches celebrated the Sacrament “every Sunday and on other festivals” (Apology XXIV 1).

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission. www.cph.org.


In the 1995 National Convention of the LCMS, they passed the following Resolution 2-08A, “To Encourage Every Sunday Communion”

WHEREAS, Our Synod’s 1983 CTCR document on the Lord’s Supper (p. 28) and our Synod’s 1986 translation of Luther’s Catechism both remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra; therefore be it

Resolved, That the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in convention encourage its pastors and congregations to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to every Sunday communion with a view to recovering the opportunity for receiving the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day.”

Monday, February 07, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 58:1-14, 5th Sunday after Epiphany, "True or False"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In the Gospel reading Jesus talks about how our witness as Christians is like salt or light—and that our witness is voided or lost when we don’t have salt in ourselves, or if our light is hidden or obscured. The reading from Isaiah 58 shows examples of how that happens, and how our witness can be undermined or voided. Since the reading only included verses 3-9a, I’m going to read to you the whole chapter of Isaiah 58. The chapter talks about how the Israelites were expecting God’s blessing in return for their fasting. Fasting is when you refrain from eating for a period of time to give greater attention to God and His Word. Listen how God describes the hypocritical and self-centered kind of fasting that they were doing, with the sincere and self-giving kind of fast that He desired, that turned outward in concern for others.

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Outward they appeared devoted to God, but it was just that—an appearance. Their heart wasn’t in their worship or fasting. They weren’t honoring God by their fasts, but instead were only looking for recognition and a reward. And their actions proved their words false. They complained that God wasn’t paying attention and blessing them when they fasted. He wasn’t hearing their prayers. Rather than creating true humility and attention to God—their fasting only made them quarrelsome and violent with each other. Despite their supposed humility and repentance, they continued to oppress. They put on sackcloth and ashes so that everyone would think that they were humble, but they were caught accusing and pointing the finger at each other, and speaking evil. They used the Sabbath day for their own pleasure, instead of worshipping and honoring God on the day of rest and worship. For all these things, God decried their so-called fast to be a sham and a fraud.

Likewise, the quickest way for Christians to discredit their witness, is by their life’s example. What if we claim to follow Christ, and do all the outward acts of devotion—go to church, be a volunteer, put on a humble face—but when we leave, we lose our temper and explode with a string of profanities at the person who cut us off on the road, or we go to our job and we’re abusive to our employees or colleagues, or we’re dishonest in our personal lives and betray the trust of others. Or we go around pointing our finger at everyone, finding fault in everyone but ourselves. Or, instead of honoring the day of worship, we use it to serve our own pleasure instead. Believe me, non-Christians watch and take notice. They’ll be quick to point out when you “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.”

Being a Christian isn’t about “putting on a face.” That’s literally what the word hypocrisy meant in New Testament times. It originated from actors putting on a mask to pretend to be someone else. People will see through that. Our faith must be genuine, and so while we still struggle and wrestle with sin, we don’t try to pretend once a week that we are holy and better than the rest—but instead we come to confess our sins, laying down the guilt of the past week and asking Christ to forgive it. We can afford to be transparent and humble and vulnerable before God because He’s faithful and just to forgive our sins. In fact, we can’t afford not to be transparent, humble and repentant before God! Because He sees and knows all our heart and actions. There’s a far more powerful witness for a Christian to give when an unbeliever sees our human struggles and how we turn to God for forgiveness and strength, than for us to pretend that we’re without sin, and want only to look good in the eyes of others.

Another way of putting it is that we should be watchful that we don’t “unsay with [our] lives [what we] say with [our tongues]” (Richard Baxter). Our actions can quickly unravel the witness that we’ve built up with our words. One man told of how he’d lost the little faith he had while he was in college, because he saw a bishop of the church who couldn’t take a beating in a game of tennis like a good sport. He admits this was a poor reason for him to lose faith, but then again, if one of the chief models of Christianity behaved so poorly over losing a game, what hope was there for a guy like him? (H.R.L. Sheppard). Do you see a similar example in your own life? A time when your witness was undermined, and your actions betrayed your words? Was it just a moment of weakness, where frustration boiled over? Or is it a regular habit? It might not make a difference to the person who takes offense at your actions and wanders away thinking “their religion is good for nothing.”

Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “That’s me.” I’m saying it too. The truth is that we so often fail to give the same witness with our lives that we do with our mouths, and so undermine our witness to Christ. We may even have our fellow church members convinced of our holiness, knowledge, and honesty—yet the rest of the week it’s a totally different story. But we can’t live two lives, because even if it fools men, it can’t fool God. The sinful identity, the old nature has got to go. The Bible has one prescription for this—death to the old sinful nature. We put the old sinful identity to death through constant repentance of our sins and returning to our baptism, where we died with Christ and the new nature is raised with Him.

When we put that old sinful nature to death by repentance, and turning away from our sins, we don’t put up a fa├žade in its place, to act as though we’re righteous and holy on our own. Instead, be honest and humble about our sinfulness. This leaves us open for God to show us a totally different kind of fasting. The true, sincere fasting that He wants. Instead of trying to make a false show of humility through religious acts, God wants us to stop wickedness and break oppression. To help the mistreated and vulnerable. That our “fast” would turn us outside of ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless and the poor. To do for the least of these as though we were doing it for Christ.

God says this “fast,” not a false one, will bear fruit and blessing. For those who worship and honor God’s name not merely in word, but also in deed. He desires to hear and answer their prayers, to bless them and protect them. We’re soon coming into the season of Lent, a season of repentance and humility, and considering our sins. Lent takes us to the cross and resurrection of Jesus on Good Friday and Easter. Many Christians fast during Lent. But as this passage shows, and as Jesus also taught, it’s really important how we carry out that fast. Will we do it for show or attention, so that other people take notice? Or will we practice a fast like God describes in Isaiah? The true fast that God desires is different in this way—to give up something so that it can be given to others, not just for themselves. Like giving your bread away to the hungry and sharing your home with the poor. Giving clothing to the naked. Not just giving up something for yourself, but giving it away to someone else.

Another prophet of the Old Testament, Joel, wrote in a similar way about true and false fasting. In a time when they were facing God’s judgment for their sin, God called to them, saying “’return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13). Rend your hearts and not your garments. Traditionally, people who were in deep mourning over sin, would tear their garments as they fasted. But here God says rend your hearts, not your garments. In other words, don’t tear your clothes to show your repentance—tear your hearts. What does that mean? It means that we should present a broken and humble heart to God—sorrowful over our sin. He will not turn away from a broken and humble heart.

But why does God want us to do that? Who wants a “torn” or broken heart? Because repentance is our return to the Lord, and he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He wants our repentance so that He can heal the broken heart. That He can fill us with an overflowing love and mercy that will heal the wounded and strengthen the despairing. So that our heart overflows with love instead of anger and malice, with humility instead of pride, with generosity and kindness instead of selfishness and quarrelling.

For a Christian whose fast is to humbly do good and to practice love and charity to those who are around him in need, God will surround them with light and He’ll hear their prayer and cry for help. He’ll guide them with light in times of darkness. Not because we deserve it, or because we fast so that God will hear us and take notice of us. But because God is gracious and merciful, and shows compassion to the humble. Reflect for a moment on those words from Isaiah 58:6-7. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

If there’s even a small, insignificant way in which we’ve partially done those things, we have to admit that we’ve fallen far short of that incredible and admirable standard. But there’s One who has perfectly kept that fast. Jesus Christ. He loosed the bonds of wickedness and lifted the yoke of the oppressed when He broke the power of sin over us by His cross. He took the heavy yoke of our sins and guilt so that the weak and weary might be comforted by the Lord of strength, who carried our sins on His cross. He preached the Gospel that set the captives free. He fed crowds of thousands with fish and bread, and while He had no home to lay His head, He has gone to heaven to prepare a heavenly mansion to house all those who believe in Him and so die and go to their eternal home. On this earth He still gives and provides a home for us in the church, even when we have no other place to turn. And He clothes us with the priceless clothes of His innocence, with which we can stand before God, forgiven of sin and clean in His eyes. Surely Jesus kept the true fast for us, and by His forgiveness and cleansing we have a new heart that overflows in love and service to others. And through Jesus’ interceding with the Father, we can call out to the Lord in prayer, and be confident that He will answer, “Here I am.” Brought near to God in Christ, let our lives always shine with His light and give a pleasing flavor of salt to the world, as we carry our witness of Christ before others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Read Isaiah 58, the whole chapter. What were the examples of hypocrisy in the Israelites’ fasting? Cf. Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18. What selfish reason did they have for fasting? What should be our reason for fasting or acts of charity, service to the church or community?

2. How does a hypocritical life discredit a Christian’s witness to Christ? What examples of hypocrisy are there in our own lives? How do we “take off the mask” and return to God?

3. How can we “unsay with our lives what we say with our tongues?” How do we get rid of the old, guilty habits of our sinful nature? Romans 6

4. What is the true fast that God desires? Isaiah 58:6-7; Joel 2:12-13; Micah 6:6-8. What difference does leading this kind of life give to our Christian witness? Matt. 24:34-39

5. How does God receive a torn and broken heart? What does He do with it? Psalm 51:10-17; Ezekiel 36:26; Heb. 10:22

6. How has Jesus perfectly kept the true fast for us, which we could not do? Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:16-30