Faith Lutheran Church Desboro
Can You Hear Me Now?
St. Mark 9:30-37. ESV
The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
“Can you hear me now?”
Have you heard someone say those words? Maybe you’ve said it: “Can you hear me now?” The cellphone signal starts to drop. There’s a bad connection on the landline. Waves of scratchy static cover the voice you are straining to hear. You can make out some of the words, but the message is just not quite getting through. You hold your phone outside the car window, hoping to get better reception; you climb to higher ground; you adjust your handset to speak right into the receiver.
“Can you hear me now?”
How Jesus must have felt like that: as if He were talking on a cellphone that was continually cutting out and losing the signal. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise” (v. 31). Plain words. Simple meaning. The heart of Christ’s mission to the world. The very core of our faith; the foundation for life and for eternity. The death and resurrection of Jesus.
That was His message. The Teacher teaching His disciples. Rabbi instructing His students. But, the signal dropped. Like a missed call. “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him” (v. 32). The prophet Isaiah saw that this would happen. He prophesied: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed” (St. Matthew 13:14b-15a). Of all people, you would expect the disciples would hear and understand Jesus. Sadly, no. For already, once before, the Lord had told them that He was going to suffer, die, and rise again (8:31). And after today’s prediction of His Passion, Jesus would again tell them a third time that the cross and empty tomb was about to happen (10:33-34). As if the Lord were saying to His disciples, “Can you hear Me now?”
Well, no. They didn’t. The mission of Jesus wasn’t on their minds. They were holding a different, lively discussion amongst themselves along the way: ‘Who was the greatest?’ On their minds, they were picturing crowns and thrones, not the cross and tomb. Who was the greatest, first after Jesus? Not that they told the Lord. They kept silent when He asked. They felt guilty. The disciples were not paying attention to Jesus.
That’s sin. That Old Adam, sin-in-us, keeps us from hearing the Word of the Lord, His message of Law and Gospel from the Bible. So many distractions close our eyes to the Word of the saving Gospel: from glorious plans for greatness, to our Facebook feed; from the state of the weather, to what’s for dinner. No matter what stops up our ears, hearing is crucial. Salvation is by faith alone: a saving faith in Jesus that comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we don’t hear, we cannot be saved.
So, Jesus keeps calling.
Three times, Christ clearly told His disciples about His saving death and resurrection. Sunday after Sunday, from this pulpit, the Lord continues to call out with the saving Gospel of His cross and empty tomb. Let the one who has ears hear!
Here’s the Good news: the Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men and was killed on the cross to open our ears to hear, to take away the guilt of sin in our hearts. He died for us! After three days, Jesus rose to life again to give life to our bodies after we die and are buried. He rose again for us! God Himself came down from heaven to earth, taking the very lowest place by His shameful death and burial to raise us up from the dust of the earth to be resurrected to everlasting life in heaven. Jesus made Himself last to put us first!
So, hear this: baptized believers in Jesus are the children of God. Through that water-bound Word of God, the Holy Spirit gives us heart-felt humility that forgets about getting glory for ourselves, and instead puts the needs of other people ahead of our own. Like the wonder that fills the face of a small child, the Holy Spirit gives us childlike faith that trusts in God our heavenly Father and holds fast to His promises. Today, Jesus speaks His Word of blessing into our ears, and joins His real presence to bread and wine to wrap His loving arms around us.
Look around you. God’s children are seated all around you in these pews. Receive one another in the name of Jesus. And receiving each other, you are receiving the Father in heaven.
Jesus is calling. The Lord speaks salvation into our hearts. To God’s children He calls: “Can you hear Me now?”
Love For The Truth
I John 4:1-11. ESV
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
“I take out the garbage because I love you.”
He looked deep into his wife’s eyes and said those words before hauling the trash bin and recycling to the end of the lane. Sure, he brought her flowers now and again to show his love for her. He would surprise her with a bracelet or a pair of earrings on a special occasion. But taking out the garbage, week in and week out, this was a labour of love. Not that he delighted in this chore: packing up the stinky, messy trash. No, he did it for her.
“I take out the garbage because I love you.”
St. John says a lot about love. The Apostle tells us that God loves us in Christ. When we trust in God’s love, we will love other people. This Scripture invites us to love the truth. What is truth? Just this: that God sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s how He shows His love for us. Christ crucified and raised from the dead is the truth that saves us. When we ourselves believe this, we love the truth.
Which means that we reject the lies. When St. John urges us to love one another, he does not mean that we should be gullible. Loving others does not mean agreeing with everyone, believing everything that you hear. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit,” he writes, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (v. 1). Now more than ever, we need to test the teachings that we hear. Not everyone who claims to speak for God speaks the truth. Like counterfeit money is worthless, there are counterfeit teachers: false prophets who spread a worthless, counterfeit message about God. Already in John’s day the spirit of the antiChrist was in the world. This antiChristian power has only grown over the centuries.
The Pot of Gold box was passed around. “Pick one—but only one, mind you—any chocolate you want.” The boy took the box and read the description of each one carefully: hazelnut, nougat, coffee, strawberry creme, caramel. Which one should he take?
Choosing truth and rejecting lies is not like choosing a chocolate. Candy can leave a bad taste in your mouth. False teachers lead away from Jesus and leave souls in hell.
How can you love the truth and reject the lies? How can you recognize false teaching about God? The Apostle gives us this simple, but critical test: anyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God, but antiChrist. To deny the God-Man, Jesus Christ and His saving cross is to rip the beating heart out of the truth, given to us by God. Every one of us has the duty to reject lies when they are taught in the name of God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask our Father in heaven to protect us from “anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word [and so] profanes the name of God among us” (SC III:5). It may not seem like the loving thing to do. But love for the truth—for the truth of God’s love for us in Christ—will give us courage to condemn error as false and damning.
We, as members of the Lutheran Church, must be ready to defend the truth against error. The Apostle St. John wrote to churches who loved the truth: congregations who fought false teaching and paid a heavy price. People accused them of being unloving. Their faith in the love of God was shaken to the core as former members left the church to join the world. Cherished brothers and sisters left to follow false teachers. Their love began to grow cold. Do you love God? Are you ready to reject the world’s lies and love the truth? With each passing day, it looks like the world is gaining strength; that false teaching is winning out over the truth; that Satan’s lies are more popular than God’s love. Yet consider what is at stake: those who believe the devil’s lies will lose heaven and wind up in hell. Love for others makes us love the truth.
And this is the truth: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (v. 4). Our eyes tell us that the world is winning: it looks like Satan is the most effective at marketing his product. But turn your eyes to God’s Word. Listen to what He says to us: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them” (v. 4). No matter how fierce the fight against Christ and His people, God is greater. His love is stronger. We confess this before the world at Confirmation. Christ Jesus lives in our hearts by faith; He has poured His rich Holy Spirit into us in the water of Baptism; He gives His body and blood to be a part of us. In Him, we have the victory. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (v. 4).
We love the truth; for this is the truth: “God is love” (v. 8). We stand on the side of truth, we fight for the truth, we listen and believe the truth because only the truth reveals God’s love to us: the powerful, saving, deathless love of God for us in Christ. False teachers deny Christ, teaching us to trust in ourselves, to save ourselves. God in His Word tells us His unparalleled love for the world in Christ. Out of love, the Son of God, Jesus Christ came into our world in the flesh. His holy life was lived for us. He died on the cross to save us from our sins. He died for the world. Here, we see the love of God in action: He gave up His dearest and only Son to save us from the devil’s lies, from the guilt of our sins, and from an eternity of hell. This makes us love the truth: “God is love” (v. 8).
How do we love others? Doing household chores. Speaking a kind word. Praying for them in time of need. We love because God in Christ first loved us. That’s the truth.
His Salvation Still Shines
Psalm 125 ESV
“What are you doing that other churches are not?” What program are you following to have success at Desboro?” Twenty years ago, a lady asked me that over coffee at a Hanover Circuit function. She was saddened and frustrated to see losses in her own church and across the East District generally. Although we do have our own problems, to her, things looked pretty rosy here in Desboro.
“No special program,” I answered her. “We just preach the Gospel. Anything good that happens here comes from God.”
The answer then, is the same answer today, two decades later. The Church exists and continues, the Church stands or falls by the proclamation of the Gospel.
It’s All About Jesus
And, the Gospel is this: the good news of God’s love for the world—the world on its way to perishing in hell forever because of its disobedience, that is, sins of breaking the Ten Commandments. To save us from perishing, God the Father gave His perfect Son Jesus into the shameful agony and death of the cross to remove our sins’ horrible penalty.
Now here’s the good news: faith in Jesus, who died, but rose to life again, saves us. Trust in the Lord Jesus gives us life forever in heaven. Through faith, Jesus saves both notorious scoundrel and respectable citizen. Christ Jesus gives us this saving gift apart from what we say or do: through the faith worked by His Word, the Bible, delivered to us in our Baptisms, strengthened by Jesus as He comes to us in Holy Communion. This Gospel message was preached, taught and believed by Christians at this church 125 years ago. Like a light shining in a dark place. 125 years later, the same Gospel is now preached, taught and believed by Christians here in 2021. His light still shines.
The light of salvation in Christ Jesus shines on us. His gracious love is like the sun and the rain that makes the crops grow (Isaiah 55:10-11; St. Matthew 5:45b). “I am the light of the world,” (St. John 8:12), Jesus declares in the Gospel of John. The light of His salvation shines us in the grace our Baptisms, poured out on us in water and the Word of God: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (St. Luke 1:79).
The light of salvation in Christ Jesus also shines in us. In His Word, the Bible. The word is preached into the air, enters our ears and finds a home in our believing hearts. St. Paul says it like this: “The word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9). Jesus also joins His Word to bread and wine so that the light of His salvation is in us, that is in our very bodies. Again, St. Paul writes: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (I Corinthians 6:19). And, by the very act of receiving the Lord Jesus Christ with all His gifts here at the altar, the light of His salvation shines through us. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
After 125 years, the light of salvation in Christ Jesus still shines through us. The Lord has blessed us so richly by His grace, His free and undeserved favour in Christ. We are not just to keep these blessings to ourselves, but to bless others. Like light shining in the darkness, the light of Christ shines through us into the lives of friends, neighbours, coworkers and all the people we meet. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (I Peter 2:9). Through Isaiah, God says, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). His salvation shines through us.
For this great task of shining the light of salvation into the world, the Lord promises that He is with His people. The Psalm writer, approaching Jerusalem for the Passover festival looks at the landscape of Palestine and pictures God’s loving protection. Mountains surround the holy city, Jerusalem, forming a natural barrier. Just as the city of Owen Sound lies nestled between two ridges of the escarpment. Protected. So, God protects His people. The twin guards of His Word and Sacraments surround us: we are shielded from attacks on our faith from the devil, world, and our sinful nature. In the centre of Jerusalem, the temple itself was constructed on the rock: Mount Zion. Storms of life may try to shake us. Those who trust in Lord stand strong. The Lord is the mountain. He cannot move.
The light of salvation in Jesus still shines. Even though there have been so many changes in the church and world over the last 125 years, know this for certain: the future of the Church depends on God, the Lord of the Church, not on us. “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God in those who hear the good news” (AC V:2). Jesus promises, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (St. Matthew 24:35).
The light of His salvation still shines.