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Sermon for Sunday 5 June 2016

FIRST READING 1 Kings 17:17-24

17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” 19And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”


PSALM Psalm 30

1I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. 2O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. 3You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. 4Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness. 5For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. 6Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. 7While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.” 8Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. 9I cried to you, O Lord; I pleaded with the Lord, saying, 10“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? 11Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.” 12You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 13Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.


SECOND READING Galatians 1:11-24

11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.


GOSPEL Luke 7:11-17

11Soon afterward {Jesus} went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.



Last week we began a 4-part series on the core values of the NALC. One thing we need to take note of, as we continue the series, is that these values, in many ways, build on each other: We can’t fully understand each succeeding statement until we’ve explored the ones prior. Last week we briefly examined what it means to be Christ Centered.
As followers of Jesus, we understand that we’re called to look to Jesus as an example of how to live a God-pleasing life. Additionally, we acknowledge His supremacy not only over all creation but in every aspect of our lives. And finally, we understand that as disciples, we’re called to follow God’s commands, to “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow [Him],” (Matthew 16:24) even when those statutes are perplexing, counter cultural or challenging. It also means that we have a mission, one that requires us to “go”. And before ascending to the Father, Jesus was clear about what our mission was to be.
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Because of Jesus’ command, we in the NALC believe that the mission of the Church is to share the Gospel with all those around us and to make disciples for Christ. We believe that making disciples — in our congregations, in our communities and nations, and around the world — must be a priority of the Church in the present age. And as Luther was famous for asking in the Small Catechism, “but what does that mean?” What does being Mission Driven mean for Christ’s church today?
Mission Driven is the second core value of our denomination and being Mission Driven is what we’ll be exploring today. And as I mentioned a moment ago, to understand each value, we need to understand the values that proceed it. Therefore, to be Mission Driven means that we first must center our lives on Christ, knowing He will give us the strength we need for the mission.
In St. John’s gospel Jesus said, “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
The call to discipleship brings about the reality of having Jesus Christ as one’s Lord. Being a disciple doesn’t mean, first and foremost, subscribing to a particular course of instruction or a discipline of service and morality. It primarily means to be in fellowship with Jesus Christ, and thus to persevere in the calling to hold fast to His person.
As we read in scripture there is a “complex discontinuity” separating the band who followed Jesus along the trails of first century Judea — the Twelve, the Seventy-Two (Luke 10), and their larger circle — and the multitude of us who have been brought into fellowship with the Lord after His crucifixion and resurrection. Quite simply put, pre-resurrection discipleship failed. It ended in sinful betrayal, denial, and fear. Jesus told the Twelve this would happen: “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26:31-35).
The Lord had chosen them to accompany Him to His Passion — an end He clearly, patiently, and repeatedly explained to them (Matthew 20:18; Luke 18:31; Mark 10:33). He described fellowship with Him as, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). But when His hour came, as foretold, they denied Him instead. The cross marked the end of the disciples’ road with Jesus. It stood in judgment of their guilt in abandoning Him, just as it stands in judgment against the pathology and complicity of the whole fallen human race (“This Jesus, whom you killed,” Acts 3:15; 5:35). However, in light of the empty tomb, the cross also marks the beginning of post-Easter discipleship. With Jesus’ death on the cross, everything changed.
Jesus not only died for those who denied Him, but for the sinners of every time and place who handed Him over to death. He took our pathology upon Himself, before His Father in heaven. And risen from the dead, He Himself is our righteousness. The post-resurrection call to discipleship is therefore a sacrament of the forgiveness of sins. Holy Baptism is this call and sacrament: it is both the inception of fellowship with Christ and the enduring bond between the Lord and His disciples.
No one is “fit” to be a disciple; in Baptism, the Holy Spirit grafts dead sinners onto the True Vine of their living Lord (John 15:1) and exchanges our sin for His righteousness. And because of this grafting, we as disciple receive a priceless treasure: “victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with His gifts” (Large Catechism 4:41). To be a disciple is thus to be redeemed, delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the ownership and kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).
As I mentioned last week, citizenship in Christ’s kingdom entails responsible recognition of His lordship — both reliance upon Him in His Word for life and salvation, and acknowledgment that He is worthy of obedience. Post-Easter, the bond of fellowship conveyed in Christ’s command to “take up your cross and follow me” is incorporated into the reality of the Paschal Mystery: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). To have faith thus entails holding fast to our Baptism, our bond with Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection, an identity that isn’t of our making or choosing, but stems from the Lord’s command. We are therefore no longer naked in our sin and hiding from the sight of God (Genesis 3:7) as did Adam and Eve, we now stand with Christ before the Father and, in the Holy Spirit, wear the righteousness of our Lord Himself. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27). But as Christians we understand that repentance is more than simple confession, it also means contrition, (Isaiah 66:2, Psalm 51:17) a turning around, a reversal of course, a deep desire to move from a life of sin to a life of righteousness.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans uses the word “reckon,” in describing the active engagement of faith with Baptism (“So you also must consider/reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” Romans 6:11). The Lutheran Confessions frame this reckoning as consciously wearing the “daily garment” of Baptism (Large Catechism 4:84) and the continual return to Baptism in repentance, always adhering in faith to the forgiveness that flows from the vine of Christ. “If we wish to be Christians,” writes Luther, “we must practice the work that makes us Christians… [and] where amendment of life does not take place, Baptism is not being used but resisted” (Large Catechism 4: 85, 68). When we, as the branches, remain on the source of our life, flowers and fruit will readily appear (John 15:8). As I’ve said many times, salvation is the easy part, it’s being a Christian, the daily remembrance of our Baptism, repentance, study and prayer that’s the hard part. In other words, being a Christian means obedience to God, servitude in God’s kingdom and the sacrifice of our own desires.
With Jesus’ ascension, the post-Easter call to “follow after Christ” has changed. Discipleship no longer means to follow a visible person; instead, it means to be joined to Christ’s Body by the Holy Spirit and to hold fast to the Risen Lord by the means of grace He personally specified. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit brings us into the Church, “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God” (Large Catechism 2:42). To do this, Christians of all ages are called to engage actively with Holy Scripture.
Indeed, the “first and most basic way” one recognizes the authority of God’s Word is by reading it and listening to it being read. Parents thus promise at the Baptism of their children to “place in their hands [and in their ears] the Holy Scriptures.” The daily study of Scripture is therefore an essential part of the “reckoning” of faith. In addition, we’re not called to keep the Bible to ourselves, but to share in it.
In the assembly of the baptized, Scripture is read publicly, and exposition is offered. The Gospel is proclaimed in the midst of Christ’s people. This proclamation is the apostolic message; St. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 engaged the Scriptures to declare to the people both the advent of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32) and the coming of the Davidic Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of God. Then, “cut to the heart” by the Spirit through the Word and with Peter’s instruction, three thousand people followed the Lord’s command: they repented and were baptized. And as St. Luke writes, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The three thousand that responded that day also acted in obedience to another command: to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). These words “are addressed to disciples of Christ; hence whoever would be one of them, let him faithfully hold to this sacrament, not from compulsion, coerced by men, but to obey and please the Lord Christ” (Large Catechism 5:45). Trusting that Jesus is precisely where He indicated, the baptized receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the nurturing of their faith and life in Him.
The “specific and concrete way” in which the Lord has specified His availability to His disciples is in Holy Communion. Before all else, to be Christ-centered is to recognize the Eucharist at the heart of discipleship: obedience to the command and reliance on the accompanying promise. “The fellowship consists in this,” writes Luther, “that all the spiritual possessions of Christ and His saints are shared with and become the common property of Him who receives this sacrament.” The Lord’s Supper, like Baptism, is a means of grace, it serves up the fullness of salvation, an honest-to-God foretaste of the eternal feast to come.
However, the public reading of God’s word in the assembly, the proclamation of Law and Gospel, and the giving and receiving of the Sacraments, do not constitute the full scope of sharing God’s Word. The entire service of the assembly is rich with it. “Let the word of Christ dwell in/among you richly,” writes St. Paul, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
In the liturgy of the Word — the “public work” of the Church is to declare to the world who she is and what she’s about — the Church rehearses and celebrates the entire Gospel story, the wondrous love of salvation history. In the liturgy, the body of Christ practices confessing the faith together in the Creeds. Here the Church prays together in clear imitation of our Lord Himself, instructing its members to approach their heavenly Father in like manner in the name of Christ with every need, concern, and opportunity for thanksgiving throughout our daily lives.
The liturgy isn’t provided to suit the perceived “religious needs” of people, but to praise and honor the Holy Trinity, and thus to form the assembly in orthodoxy (“right praise”). The service of Word and Sacrament, and the liturgy in which it occurs, is therefore the primary form of sharing the Gospel, and its task is the formation of disciples of all nations and ages. In the eucharistic assembly formed by the Holy Spirit, one is made a disciple, fed as a disciple, and learns what it means to be a disciple. But our call as disciples isn’t to remain within the confines of the structure, but to go and share all that we have heard, learned and shared.
Along with the bath and the meal, the proclamation and the praise, comes the instruction. “Make disciples of all nations,” our Lord said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). This teaching accompanies Baptism, both its inception and its continuation. At every stage of faith and life, intentional and thorough instruction remains the “solemn responsibility of the Christian community.” Christian teaching occurs in multiple forms and settings: one-on-one, in small groups, and in larger educational circles.
Adults coming to the faith prepare for their Baptism through measured instruction. Parents of children to be brought to the font prepare for their promise to cultivate their children’s faith by consciously reviewing their own. Young people raised in the Church prepare to affirm their Baptism by studying the content of the faith in which they were baptized. Those who have returned to the Church after a time of absence prepare to rejoin the assembly by reviewing the blessed heritage that is theirs.
Concrete human relationships are a fundamental part of this instruction, but they are not unmediated. In every stage and in every form, Christian teaching is congregationally focused. It involves the disciple in the liturgical life of the community, its worship and its fellowship. And fellowship with the Lord in Holy Communion remains the center of our teaching — as with Baptism, both as to inception and continuation. And having been forgiven, fed and instructed we are then commanded to go.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Catechizing into the faith entails holding one another accountable to the Lord’s commands, and prominent among them are the two commandments upon which “depend all the Law and the Prophets”: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). A life centered in the assembly of Word and Sacrament is formed for service in courageous joy in the common tasks and relationships of human community. “Go in peace, serve the Lord,” we say; and so, disciples go forth into the world to serve, bearing the peace of Christ with them. We go to be salt, to prepare and preserve the world for its final fulfillment. We go to be light, reflecting in dark places the True Light that shines on us. We do this as teachers, physicians, soldiers, farmers, millworkers, merchants — any number of vocations — sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and practicing humble kindness and justice for the glory of God.
Discipleship in the world calls for careful, measured obedience to Christ in love. “It seems to me,” writes Luther in the Large Catechism, “that we shall have our hands full to keep these commandments, practicing gentleness, patience, love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, etc., and all that is involved in doing so. But such works are not important or impressive in the eyes of the world” (Large Catechism 1:313). Baptismal identity interacts with civic responsibility, and the fruit of the Spirit is transformative of human community in many and various ways. The righteous pursuit of civil justice is an arena for discipleship, as government is an estate ordained by God to curtail the outward effects of sinful violence and thus make possible the peaceful sharing of Christian love.
In the shifting circumstances of life, a disciple is called always to wrestle with the baptismal mystery of having died to sin and risen a new creation in Christ. And the world being what it is, the yield of such persistence in faith will mean suffering. Jesus bluntly explains this reality: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).
To follow Christ as Lord is to be partisan: to remain steadfast in the external Word of God, a Word that is blessedly accessible to all, but uncompromisingly opposed to alteration. To know the truth of the Lord is to be free from the empty promises of the devil, and holding fast to Baptism means refusing to “submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). To be a disciple means to confront the forces of evil with the discerning mind of Christ and the courage of faith, and to suffer the consequences — even unto death — with the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit and the sure and certain hope of life everlasting before us. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide… (John 15:16)
To be a disciple is to be formed by the Word of God. And in obedience to our Lord’s Great Commission, we, in the NALC, must understand our call to be Mission-Driven in the context of the baptismal vocation to be Christ-centered and congregationally focused. The NALC was formed precisely as an act of discipleship — to speak the truth in love, obeying the Risen Lord’s command to “feed my sheep” (John 21:17) by faithful discernment in wisdom and committed action in accountability to ensure that the Gospel is properly preached and the sacraments rightly administered (Augsburg Confession, Article 7).
We’re living in a time when the story, content, and morality of the faith are alien to the world around us, a world that is rapidly engaging in open hostility toward the Gospel. Our Lord’s command is to make disciples: to sow the seed of the Word and to tend the stalks of faith when they sprout forth. We should use Luther’s Catechisms regularly as serious introductions to Holy Scripture and indispensable tools in the reckoning process of faith (“What does this mean for us?”). We’re called to go and teach what it means to be chosen by our Lord in Holy Baptism and to adhere to Christ and be conformed to Him in Holy Communion, proclamation, sharing the Word in reading and liturgy, and daily prayer. The Church is called to prepare disciples of all ages to confess Christ, to live out their calling, and to suffer for the Lord’s sake amidst the changes and chances of life.
Therefore, to be Mission Driven is to recognize that bearing fruit, first and foremost, means we must stay connected to our eucharistic source in the worship life of the congregation, which is where discipleship occurs. Being Mission Driven then means taking what we’ve learned and been blessed with out into the world. This is life together in the Body, the totus Christus of the Paschal Mystery: complete participation of disciples in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Discipleship in human community thus depends upon active incorporation in the divine community: with the Son, before the Father, in the Spirit.

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