THE ONLY ONE

5.14.17 Easter 5A

Easter Season A

John 14:1-12

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

It’s the trip of a lifetime.  The suitcases are packed.  The oil is changed and the gas tanked topped off.  Everything fits into the trunk magically like Legos.  The whole family is in the car ready to go three minutes early.  Your favorite driving music is cued up on the road trip playlist.  Mom must have been in charge of it.

With all the preparation and work that goes into planning an epic family vacation, could you ever imagine dad turning to mom with a blank stare while the car sits in the driveway to say, “So, can you tell me where we are going and how to get there?”

Now, in our high-tech generation that might not be so devastating, because two family members would offer him a GPS enabled phone with three possibilities depending on what kind of route you wanted. All Dad would have to do is listen to the GPS lady say, “In 500 feet turn left.”  Then, detours could be added and subtracted all along the way until those magic words: “You have arrived.”  Although I don’t imagine anyone would pack up and getting ready to go without first having a destination and a route in mind, it could be done.

When we see Thomas, Philip, and the other disciples in our Gospel today, it isn’t that simple. There is no OnStar.  There is no GPS.  There are no planes, no trains, no automobiles to get them were Jesus was going.  It was unsettling for them to hear Jesus speak the way he does that night before he died.  He says, “I’m leaving you, but you know the way.”  You can almost picture the look on their faces.  Stunned. Shocked.  Worried.  It is as though Jesus is giving them an impossible task rather than a trip of a lifetime.

Does it feel like that for you?  Does it feel like Jesus has given you a destination but no directions on how to get there?  Do you feel like Thomas asking, how can we know the way?  I think that is a very important question for us to ask, because life is not always the joyful journey we want it to be.  Sometimes we find ourselves distracted or lost without much direction.

In this road trip called life, do you notice when that is happening?  Do you recognize when the surroundings are changing and the signs are confusing?  It’s not because Jesus took the GPS away.  It’s not because he is no longer there for you.  This trip gets hard when we think we don’t need him as much.

When kids start to think they don’t need Sunday school, that worship is boring, or when you spend time memorizing video game hacks over spiritual facts in Scripture, that’s when the distractions are grabbing hold.  When teenagers are listening to their science teachers more than the creator of science, when you are going to parties and competitions more than worship and Bible study, when you are listening to your changing bodies more than your changeless Lord, then potholes are doing some serious damage.  When people put their career goals before God’s goals, when you focus on building a home and family without the foundation of Christ, then that road starts to crumble and breakdown.  When parents jostle for center stage for their kids, even though there is already someone fulfilling that role perfectly  for them, that’s a dangerous direction to follow.  When kids make life harder for their parents on purpose, that’s not a good road to be on.  When retired folks spend their last years reliving the past rather than promoting the one who provides an eternal future, that can’t get you back on track.

There are so many obstacles, distractions, recalculations that we add to life’s road.  These things don’t pop up because Christ is gone or because he has forgotten about us.  They pop up because we are trying something different or we might just be forgetting the way.

That’s probably why Jesus begins this whole conversation with this encouraging reminder: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God and also you believe in me.”  Jesus simplifies things. He tells me that I don’t need to make things work out.  He says I don’t have to trust in my abilities or my knowledge or my personality.  I don’t need to follow after everything my family or my friends are doing.  I don’t need to be enamored with celebrities or athletes.  I don’t need to crave more money or popularity.  To start this conversation today, Jesus makes it really simple.  On this road trip of life, the reason you don’t have to worry or be distracted is because God gave you faith.  Your faith clings to his promises and Jesus’ salvation.  You faith wants nothing more than follow Jesus.

But every now and then you and I might wish for a little more.  We want the road of life to be just a bit better. Maybe it’s a simple request, “Jesus, I know you have given me what I need, but what about just a little more, something that I’m looking for. Give me something I can use.”  That sounds a little bit like Philip, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”     Philip had Jesus right there.  The Savior of the world was right across the table.  Jesus had everything under control.  But Philip wants just a little bit more than what he already has.

Thinking we need more from Jesus is so dangerous because then you might start thinking that the way you are going in life is all wrong.  You begin to question everything.  And like Thomas you find yourself wrestling with way to go.  “Lord, where are you going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus has a great answer to this question.  An answer that isn’t angry or annoyed.  It’s just what we need when we are distracted like Philip or worried like Thomas.  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  If you need direction, if you’re feeling lost or distracted, if you are trying to find your way on this road trip of life, Jesus is your answer.  His free and full forgiveness and salvation answers all the question and worries we can come up with.  He is literally the only answer.

Imagine if Jesus would tell us, “I am a way, a truth, and a life.”  Wouldn’t you feel let down a little bit?  Wouldn’t you think that there could be better options?  There is a big difference between ‘the’ and ‘a.’ ‘A’ is part of a group.  It’s generic.  It’s common. There is nothing exciting or special about ‘a.’ If you don’t believe that there is a difference, then which of these statements would you say to your mother today: ‘You’re a great mom,’ or ‘you’re the great mom’.  Those two statements are not the same.  ‘The’ is specific.  It takes a stand. It’s exclusive.

Jesus didn’t tell us, “I’ll show you the way,” like a gas station clerk trying to help you with directions.  Jesus says, I am the way. Jesus didn’t say, “I have the truth,” like a lawyer in a courtroom.  He says, I am the truth.   Jesus didn’t say, “I will lead you to life,” like 21st century TV evangelist.  He tells us, I am the life.  There is nothing generic about Jesus.  He isn’t ‘a’ Savior, one of many different options. He is the Savior and the only way to heaven.  And just to make it all crystal clear, he says No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the way through this life to God’s home for us in heaven.  When our world talks about religion it uses ‘a.’ It says there is a god out there and a better place.  Find whatever works best for you.  Find your god and your way and everything will be ok. When so many voices are distracting us like that and pulling us into this idea that there are many different paths, Jesus is the only way.  When suffering and loss grab you, Jesus is your only way out of sadness and depression.  When your future looks dim and dismal, Jesus is the only truth that enlightens you for eternity.  When your past mistakes and problems try to drag you down, Jesus is the only life that is free of sin and guilt.

That’s why we keep coming here to this place. Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life.  Without the Way, you are going to wander off.  Without the Truth, you’re going to listen to so many of these opinions and half-truths going around.  Without the Life, you’re going to die for eternity.  Jesus is  what you need for the road of life.  You don’t have to wander around.  You don’t have to keep searching.

The trip of a lifetime would become quite annoying, and even worse, if you didn’t know where you were going half the time or if you kept getting distracted and lost.  That’s why we have GPS or a map.  And you know the important thing about GPS or a map, right? They are only good at getting you from point A to point B if you use them.  What good would a GPS be if you turned it off during the middle of your trip and then turned it on again only to realize you missed three turns?  What good would a map be if you shove it in the trunk?

Do you know what God gives you so that you know The Way?  He gives you his Word, not as a list of directions to follow, but as his living Way, who paved the way to heaven for you.  He gives you his Word, not as a collection of truths and moral absolutes, but as his Truth of forgiveness and salvation.  He gives you his Word, not as a way to keep the idea of Jesus living, but as his living and enduring testament of love that he will never leave us forever.

Brothers and sisters, don’t lose it.  Don’t turn off the GPS that God has given you.  Don’t shove it under a bunch of things in the trunk. Use the GPS God has given you. Use his Word every day.  Use it by yourself.  Use it with family and friends.  Use it until you know The Way really well and then use it some more.  Jesus is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the one who conquered sin, death, and hell for you.  He’s the one who is preparing a room for you in God’s house right now.  He is the one who promises that you will be with him forever.

Amen.

WHEN GOD SPEAKS…

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John 8

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

 

What makes a church what it is?  What defines it?  What gives it an identity?  On a day when we are celebrating the Lutheran Reformation, it’s a good question for us to ask.  A big part of the answer to that question has to be what the church teaches.  It’s not uncommon at all, therefore, that if someone is checking out a church they will probably wonder, “What does your church say about…  Where does your church stand on…”

Do you know how to answer those kinds of questions?  I’ve come to realize over the years that the real question is not what we believe or teach about this, that, or the other thing, but how do we get to our answers, what process do we use to answer questions, how do we arrive at our doctrines, or what means do we make use of.

One of the huge things that makes our identity at Our Saviour’s (and throughout WELS) is that no matter what the question is, no matter what topic comes up we will always and ONLY listen to God speak through his Word; we will go to the Bible for the answer.  It’s not going to be the Bible and popular opinion or philosophy.  It’s not going to be the Bible and traditional writings or practices.  It’s not going to be the Bible and churchly hierarchy.  It’s not going to be the Bible and family ties.  Jesus makes that clear.  He says if we’re talking about the identity, the fingerprint, of a church, of his disciples, then it needs to be his words. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”  It’s the Bible, Jesus’ word, and that’s it.

That means when Jesus speaks, people should listen.  But that hasn’t always been the case for churches and religious people.  That was one of the huge problems going on for these Jews that we hear about in John 8.  They had the Old Testament Scriptures.  God had spoken his laws and promises through prophets and kings so that people would have everything God wanted them to have to recognize the real thing, the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus.  God had said things like: he would be born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, he would stay safe in Egypt for a while, he would be perfect, he would save people, and he would be rejected by many – you know, all that stuff that totally happened when Jesus came.  These Jews had even listened to Jesus for a while, but then they started to hear things that they didn’t like as much.  So as time went on they plugged their ears because he wasn’t what they wanted.  Instead, they focused on their ancestry to Abraham, as if your family line is what opens the doors to heaven.  They left out certain details.  They added traditions.  They threw the truth away. When God spoke, they didn’t listen.

This kind of thing continued on.  It happened in the Dark Ages, too.  The people had the Scriptures.  God spoke in the Old Testament, all his laws and promises.  And then God spoke in the New Testament.  The Word Incarnate lived here on earth.  Jesus fulfilled every law and every promise for us. He died for our forgiveness.  He rose to free us from death and hell.  He sent the Holy Spirit to work through Word and Sacrament.  But all of that was hidden away in monasteries and in the Latin language that common people couldn’t understand.  It was hidden by traditions and decrees of men who wanted power and control.  They threw the truth away.  Not many heard God speaking.

This kind of thing still continues.  God speaks in the Bible.  He shows us our sin in the law so that people will realize that heaven cannot be earned, and then God shows us how he, himself, earned it for us in the person and work of Jesus.  But people don’t want to admit that there is such a thing as absolute truth, or they tinker with it to make it sound more acceptable, or they hide some of the more offensive parts.  The truth is still being thrown away.  When God speaks, people still aren’t listening.

Plain and simple, this is called sin.  And we aren’t immune to sin, are we?  It’s a sin to plug your ears to even the smallest part of what God says.  It’s a sin to think that you have it all under control.  It’s a sin to say, “I’m a fourth generation Christian, I’ve been a member at this church for decades, I know plenty about God.”  It’s a sin to hold man-made traditions on the same level as God’s Word.  It’s a sin to put popular trends on par with God’s power.   It’s a sin to go a month, a week, even a day without listening to his voice.  There’s just so much of this kind of stuff in our lives.  It pops up everywhere.

Jesus gives us a term for this, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”   It’s true!  We get entangled by half-truths that sound close enough.   We get trapped by full-blown lies that seem to be so good because they work so well for other people.  When God speaks, we get caught not paying attention.

Maybe we try to argue like the Jews. “Slaves! We aren’t slaves.  We don’t fall into the same traps as those people.”  They were lying. They must have forgotten about 400 years in Egypt, exile in Assyria, another exile in Babylon, and that at this time they were subjects of the Roman Empire.  Later on, the Roman church lied, too.  They were forcing people to take what traditions and church fathers said and what councils and popes decided as if it was from God himself.  We often forget the times when we are dragged along by friends or family to say or do something we know is wrong, to “just let it go so there won’t be a disagreement,” or to plug our ears to God’s voice on a certain topic for a while.

Jesus goes on to describe what that slavery means, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  These Jews were holding onto their own ideas and so they weren’t children of God or of Abraham.  Abraham listened to God’s truth, even when it was hard.  He believed and trusted in God’s promises.  These Jews were living a lie and so they belonged to the one who speaks lies.  The Roman church was holding to their own ideas about the Bible and the church.  They were living the same old lies and so they belonged to the one who speaks lies.

The same can be said of us.  Too often, we are listening when the liar speaks.  And he isn’t interested in your welfare.  His lies won’t help you; he’s out to get you.  He’s an evil master who wants to make your life miserable with a combination of guilt and pride.  He’s a murderer, using the same stealth that brought death to Adam and Eve and this whole world.

But there is one person who does not belong to the devil and never has.  There is one whose words do not imprison us to a life of lies.  When he speaks, his words are truth.  That means when God says that he spoke everything in existence in 6 24-hour days, it’s the truth.  This world did not evolve from a big bang over billions of years.  That’s a lie.  That means when God says that plain old water can be so powerful that when it is connected with his Word the Spirit delivers forgiveness and faith, even to newborn babies, it’s the truth.  Baptism is not some outward ceremony of dedication.  That’s a lie.  It means that when God says his Supper of bread and wine is also really and miraculously the body and blood of Jesus, and that this supper offers the benefits of Christ’s death, namely the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, it’s the truth.  The Lord’s Supper is not just some representation meal to remember Jesus’ death.  That’s a lie.  This means that when God says salvation is a free gift of his grace, dependent completely and totally 100 percent on Jesus’ work and zero percent on our good works, it’s the truth.  To think an ancestry, a life good works, a long list of religious traditions, or anything else we do can in some way help God save us or earn us his mercy, well, that is a lie.

When God speaks, it’s true. But how do we know that it’s the truth? Because he’s the perfect God, who cannot lie.  But there’s another reason: Jesus.  2000 years ago he actually walked on this planet.  It happened.  It’s true. The Bible is not the only record we have of Jesus’ life and times.  There are other sources that acknowledge Jesus’ life.  Even the most skeptical of unbelievers admit that he was a Jew who lived in Palestine and died a Roman death on the cross.  Because those are true facts.

After Jesus died, he rose from the dead in the most stunning accomplishment of history.  And for a period of 20-40 years, there was no New Testament to prove it.  People didn’t have the written record yet.  Do you know what they did have?  Their eyes and ears.  They had the testimony passed on by eyewitnesses.  And during that time, almost a half century, people still believed that Jesus was God in flesh living in Palestine, that he had died on a cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins, and that he rose from the dead on Easter to defeat death and open the doors to heaven.  Thousands and thousands of people believed it to be true. Even the most skeptical people admit that many, many people believed the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  They don’t know why and they might not agree, but they can’t ignore the facts that before that New Testament was written this good news spread like only the truth can.

Those facts of Jesus are still the facts now.  Nothing has changed.  If we have a God who loved us so much that he would come to save this world, if he really did live, die, and rise for us, then you would expect him to be a God who also speaks to us.  You would expect that God would want people to know him and you would expect that he is fully capable of pulling it off. When God speaks through the Word, we would expect it to be the truth from cover to cover, on the big things, on the small things, and on the historical dates and names. When God speaks, we would expect it to be everything we need to know, not a good starting point, not something that needs additional information.  You’d expect it to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me.  You’d expect that revelations and the verbal inspiration that authored such a book to stop at some point, so that we would know that God gave us everything we need. You would expect that when God speaks it is crystal, perfectly clear, not confusing, not subject to many interpretations.  You would expect that if you open up this book and read it, taking it at face value, that you would understand that God loves you, that Jesus saves you, and that you have a new life to live for him.  Finally, you would expect that if God speaks in this book that he would ensure its survival.   And he has.  There are 5300 copies that have made it down through the years. There is no other book translated into as many languages as the Bible.  This Bible, these words of God, it’s the truth just as much now as it was before it was written down. And that’s how we have arrived here today.

It was 499 years ago that these facts found a lowly monk in Wittenberg, Germany named Martin Luther.  He wasn’t much, but this message, this truth is. And because of that fact, this lowly German monk was willing to take a stand for the truth.  He didn’t want lies to continue to imprison people with guilt or pride.  He didn’t want a church to hide it any longer.  It wasn’t his power that accomplished such a great thing, it was the power of God.  When God speaks, it’s the truth.  And so a lowly monk took on the task of speaking it, even when the big church told him not to, even when it threatened his life.  And do you know what happened?  This truth spread like God was carrying it from heart to heart.  People were released from the guilt and pride of sin.

And this truth spread to you and me.  Here we are in a Lutheran church, where the truth is present and where God’s power is working.  If that’s true, then there’s one more thing you would expect, that we would love to hear it.  If that’s true, then when that one day a week rolls around, just two hours a week, you’d expect that his people would love to be there.  If that’s true, then the things you’d expect to hear in the homes of his people would not just be the news, sports, or funny sound bites but also and most importantly the voice of the God who speaks.  You’d expect that we would obey what he says. You’d expect that our whole lives would be built on the foundation of his truth, not his words and popular opinions, not his word and politics, but his pure Word.  You’d expect that the truth would be our greatest treasure because it tells us the we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.  And you’d be right, because when God speaks the truth sets you free.

Amen.

WISDOM DOESN’T COME FROM ITCHING EARS

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God p may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 

Do you feel that, the spot that starts like a little tickle?  Maybe you can avoid it, thinking it will go away on its own, but then it keeps nagging you.  Before you know it there’s so much irritation that you are screaming for relief. And so you scratch, thinking, “It’s not that bad, just a little itch and it will go away.”  Only, that’s not how this itch works.  It’s quiet for a while, and then spots start popping up again.  What started as a little nuisance is now so hard to ignore and it’s not going away.

We’re not talking about chickenpox or poison ivy.  We’re talking about the ideas that pop up at work, in school, around the neighborhood, and even in churches.  These little ideas start so small. You might not even recognize them right away, but that itch is there and it’s festering.

The subtle itch might say, “Cable or DirecTV, you must have one or the other, and a 50 inch TV to watch it on.” “A parent needs to be first and foremost a friend for their child.” “This new diet craze or these new dietary supplements will make you feel so alive.  You need them for a better life.”

Maybe you can avoid scratching at some of the smaller annoyances, but what if they spread, what if they get more intense?  “If you want to live the dream and if you want every problem to be taken care of, then you need a great government.  This election is a going to fix everything. Get out and vote!”  “In order for us to have a peaceful life, we need to be accepting and supporting of every lifestyle and every choice.”   “Young ladies have to dress a certain way if they want boys to pay attention to them.”  Similarly, “If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, sex has to be a part of that relationship.  Then, if things are getting serious, you have to move in together to see if you are compatable.” “It’s her own body, she has the right to chose what she wants to do with it.”

Maybe all of these can be summed up with the common thread of our world right now: “knowledge is a free-floating system that has no foundation and no correspondence with any absolute reality.”[i]  In other words, if you think something is wise or true, then it is.  Someone else might not think it is, but that’s OK. Wisdom doesn’t need an absolute basis in objective facts anymore. People have their own ideas and you have yours. That’s the rash that has been spreading all over the place.  It’s not going away…

…and it’s spreading into churches, too. Paul writes, For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  What exactly do these scratchy spots look or sound like?  Well, like a lot of skin irritations, it starts small.  “Jesus is the Savior; so believe in him and be a generally good person and you will go to heaven.”  Did you catch that little itch in there?  Or this, “Jesus  plus going to worship,  Jesus plus giving cheerful offerings,  Jesus plus penitent prayers, Jesus plus service to the church will get you to heaven.”  One final subtle itch that churches scratch. “Let’s not get too bent out of shape about sin, because God loves people and forgives people.”  Do you feel that little itch every once in a while?

Maybe you’ve even scratched it before.  But that doesn’t make it go away.  It leads to bigger ones.  “We should have open communion for everyone.  It gives the wrong, judgmental, superior impression when we tell people they aren’t invited.”  “We should let women vote and have authority positions in our church, because all are equal in God’s eyes.”  “We need to join the club and support the LGBT community so that our church can celebrate all shapes, size, styles, background, and types.”  Or should we go along with what the pope has been saying lately? “Churches should join forces more.  We can do more good for Christianity if we work together.”

These are some of the wise things that churches are saying, which God simply does not say. Do you know what happens when we scratch these irritating spots?  They don’t just go away.  Rashes spread.  The bug bite irritates more.  When you give in to those itching ears, it’s not going to make it better.  It might even start to be painful after while.   Paul says when people start itching they turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  A myth isn’t going to do anything good for you.  It’s going to leave you on the opposite side of truth.  It’s going to leave you opposed to God.  I mean, you can’t turn lies into the truth because so many people are saying it, doing it, believing it.  Myths don’t turn into facts because they sound good to our itching ears.  The problem is the itch not the truth.

It’s always going to be wrong to treat your child like a friend.  Parents, you aren’t friends.  You are a parent.  You are a representative that God is using for a child.  You are an example of real, selfless love.  You are the example of right and wrong.  You are the moral compass for you children.  You provide the structure and discipline that God designed for the family structure.

It’s always going to be wrong to fall into the trap of our oversexualized world.  You don’t have to dress provocatively.  You don’t have to move in together before being married.  A person cannot chose their gender.  You don’t have to go along with a definition of marriage that contradicts the way God designed it.

It’s always going to be wrong to think that the government can save the nation.  Trusting in our political and economic systems is putting worldly circumstances ahead of God’s promises.  That’s a recipe for eternal disaster.  This election, and for that matter any prior or subsequent election, won’t fix what’s really wrong.  Only Jesus does that.

It’s always going to be wrong for a church to pursue things that don’t come from God in his Word.  We are built on something much bigger, much better, much holier than popular gimmicks and trends.  When a church tries to change or improve the foundation God has laid, how do you think that’s going to work?

When people start scratching those itching ears it makes things worse.  We end up with mass confusion and chaos.  There’s entitlement rather than hard work.  There’s selfishness rather than humble service.  There’s lust and lies rather than love and truth. There’s single moms in high school with under cared for kids rather than the unit of a mature man and wife loving their children.  There’s abortion, rape, school shootings, terrorism.  There’s acceptance and support for every kind of religious distoriton.  Churches become a place where Jesus is merely mentioned as a positive influence and not the only source of truth, life, and salvation.

Does that sound like a good thing?  No! But people have been scratching ever since the serpent slithered and crawled through the Garden of Eden.  Peopele were scratching in the days where false gods were little statues and big monuments.  People were scratching in the days of Paul and Timothy as they argued the meaning of life and the proper philosphical study.  People were scratching during the darkness of the Middle Ages.  And they still are today.  Are you?

If you are, do you realize where that leads?  It’s worse than having an itch you can’t scratch.  It’s worse than having a rash spreading all over your body.  It’s worse than physical pain.  When people give up the truth for the myth, we’re talking about a place where the itch is never cured and where the pain is neverending. It’s called eternal death for a reason.  There is no wisdom in that.  None. Period.

But with a loving God there is something better than scratching the itch.  With a loving God who knows where we struggle and succomb, there is real hope to clear it all up.  God has the cure for all the different itches we have.  He comes to us with love and compassion, seeing the rash of problems that our itching has caused. He comes to us with the simplicity and sufficiency of his Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  There’s the cure.  It’s the wisdom that comes from the Bible.

Do you know why God’s Word works so well at curing those itching ears?  Because all Scripture is God-breathed.  I didn’t come up with it.  I didn’t have to go searching for it.  I didn’t have to decifer or decode it’s message.  God gave me the simple and true message of his forgiveness through Christ.  With his power and his love, he tells me how this world was made when he spoke.  Without trying to soften the blow, he tells me how it was all wrecked because of my ancestors.  He points out each and every spot and scar where my itching has wounded me.  He tells me with clear language that my sins mean death and hell.  He tells me how God became man so that man could live with God again.  He tells me about his own Son, Jesus, who faced the punishment I deserve.  He tells me how Jesus wiped every scar from my itching away.  He tells me how the Spirit cleansed me with water and the Word, so that I would be pure in God’s eyes.  He tells me how much power and presence he has, that nothing can step in to take me away from him.  He tells me about the home that is mine because of Christ’s payment.  He tells me how I can be a part of his work force so that others won’t have to keep itching.  He tells me all of this good news.  And he makes his good news my good news.  It’s all here in the Holy Scriptures.  This is the wisdom that you and I have because God breathed it into us.

See, God doesn’t use worldly wisdom.  He doesn’t use popular opinion.  He uses his simple and divine power  found in the Word to cure me and to cure you of those itching ears.  So if I’m cured from all sin by the forgiveness of Christ, then that means I don’t have to itch any more and neither do you.  Instead, Paul says Preach the Word.  People need the cure for itching ears.  They need to know the truth and wisdom that gives salvation.  People need Jesus.  So give it to them.  Don’t give them popular opinions.  Don’t give them worldly wisdom.  Give them God’s Word.  You know, Paul doesn’t say you need to have a certain degree or specific training.  He just says use God’s Word.  Use the simple and superior wisdom that comes from heaven.

Be prepared in season and out of season.  Think of hunting season or football season.  When pheasant season is open, that’s when you have all of your equipment, and clothes, and everything else ready.  When the NFL is in full swing that’s when you watch the games and talk about your team.  God’s Word doesn’t have an off season.  Paul is saying that we can use it when it is popular and when it isn’t popular.  We can use this good news when people are feeling great and when people aren’t.  We can invite friends and neighbors when it seems like there is a good chance they will say, “Yes,” like at Christmas or Easter or maybe when we have no idea what they might say.  It’s always the time to be ready to share the good news of Jesus.

Correct, rebuke and encourage.  Sometimes people need to be corrected because they aren’t listening to the truth but to myths.  Sometimes people need to be rebuked when they won’t listen the first or second time.  Sometimes people need to be encouraged because their guilt is overwhelming and their sin is crushing.  The Word of God has all of the above.  It gets people back on track or finds people who didn’t know they were off track.  It shows how bad the rash of sin has spread.  But the Scriptures also show how completely Jesus has cured us.

But it might take some time and some clarity.  Paul says use the Word with great patience and careful instruction.  If you lack one of these things, don’t worry.  Your God doesn’t.  He is patient and careful with you.  So spending time with his Word is going to help you with this.  Maybe now’s the time to review in a BIC class.  Maybe now’s the time to get involved with one of our Bible study groups.  Maybe now’s the time to go over your catechism that you had when you were a kid.  It’s always a good time to be connected to the Scriptures.  It’s always a good time to listen to God’s Word.

This is how to avoid those itching ears. This is how to be thankful for God’s truth.  This is how to serve in ministry and take care of our church.  It’s with the Holy Scriptures, the true wisdom that comes from God. Brothers and sisters, thank God for the truth that gives salvation.  Thank God, and then use it. Amen.

 

 

[i] © 2012 Clayton J. Whisnant. All Rights Reserved

Citation: Clayton J. Whisnant, “Some Common Themes and Ideas within the Field of Postmodern Thought: A Handout for HIS 389,” last modified November 19, 2013, http://webs.wofford.edu/whisnantcj/his389/postmodernism.pdf

NARROWING POPULAR BELIEFS DOWN WITH THE TRUTH.

warning

 

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

 

 

I have to do it; I have to start the sermon with the Olympics again.  This past week as I was considering this section from Luke 13 it was volleyball that caught my attention.  Now, you might know that I’m not really a fan of volleyball at all, but it’s the Olympics.  On Tuesday night it was beach volleyball. Americans, Kerri Walsh Jennings, who was the 3-time defending Olympic champion, and her new partner, April Ross, were the world number one.  They were up against a Brazilian duo in the semifinals.  The winner would go onto the gold medal match.  Anybody who knows anything about sports would say the defending champion and world number one would win.  I don’t know much about anything when it comes to volleyball but Walsh Jennings and Ross had not lost at all during the entire Olympics going into that match.  They were unbeatable.  They were going to dominate.  But by the end of the game the Brazilians, not the Americans, were celebrating their victory and the chance to go for the gold.  Then…then, it was indoor volleyball this past Thursday.  Surprise, surprise we were ranked number one.  We were the defending world champs, undefeated and the shoo-in for gold.  We were up against Serbia in the semifinals.  And you can probably guess what happened.  We lost.  The team that couldn’t be stopped was beaten.  Sometimes what everybody thinks will happen, doesn’t.  Sometimes what everyone believes to be true, isn’t.

Now, sports fans from all over the world are familiar with this.  This kind of thing has happened before and it will happen again.  The number one team or athlete doesn’t always win.  That’s why they play the game. That’s why these games can be so thrilling. Sometimes the hail Mary pass is caught.  Sometimes the underdog pulls off a stunning upset.  Sometimes the result that everyone is expecting just doesn’t happen.

Sports are one thing, but what if it was something bigger and more important?  What about when heaven is at stake?   Nobody wants to miss out on that.  Go ahead and ask your family, friends, and neighbors.  None of them want to go to hell.  Even if people aren’t sure about religion or God or what happens after death, not many people that I have talked to are ready and willing to face hell.  Everybody wants to go to heaven.  And for the most part, people think that’s what is going to happen, right?  Pretty much everyone goes to heaven, except for maybe the real scum of the earth.  Is that true or not?  For that answer we don’t have to square off against another nation in the Olympics, but we have to check with the one who has the truth.  After all, this is not a game where the loser misses out on a gold medal, but this is life where the loser misses out on heaven.

So, that’s what this man is doing in Luke 13.  He doesn’t want to watch the game where you think and you believe that there is only one possible result, but then it doesn’t happen and throws everything upside down.  He doesn’t want the popular beliefs of the day.  He doesn’t want various religious answers.  He wants the truth.  So, he asks Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”  This guy was hearing Jesus along the way and so he asks, “So you’re telling us, Jesus, that our number one ranked team isn’t a sure thing?  Jesus, you are saying that all the popular teachings about getting into heaven might not be right?”

And Jesus has a way of answering that shocks people back then and still shocks us now.  He kind of goes against the grain a little bit.  He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Jesus tells the man that he’s right.  He says the number one ranked team isn’t invincible. He says that popular ideas that go around aren’t true just because so many believe it.  If you know there is a heaven and you want to be there, it doesn’t mean you’ll make it in.  Because many try to enter and will not be able to.   A lot of people think they have it right.  But thinking you have it right, doesn’t always mean you have it right.  All you have to do is ask American volleyball fans about that one.

For the Jews around Jesus time, they thought they had it right.  They thought they were shoo-ins to heaven because they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the founding patriarchs of the Jewish nation).  They thought they were God’s people just because they were born into the right family.  They thought that memorizing and following their Torah and man-made traditions was the right way.  But Jesus tells them they have it all wrong.  He says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made it into God’s kingdom, the prophets of the Old Testament made it into heaven not because of who they were related to or what laws they learned but because they believed in God’s promised Savior and trusted his forgiveness through faith.  For the most part the Jews that surrounded Jesus rejected God’s promised Savior and were trying to gain entrance with their family genealogy or their good life.  Jesus says there’s a problem with that; it’s not the door into heaven.  It won’t work.  That’s kind of like thinking that having your name on a church directory database means that you’re in heaven’s directory – as if just showing up in a certain book or church building or throwing some loose change in an offering plate is all that it takes to enter God’s eternal home.  That’s like saying you get into the Olympic 100m final because you once ran a school record 100m in high school.  Sorry, that’s just not going to cut it.  The doorway is a lot smaller than that.

Jesus does such a great job of telling us the truth when everybody else is focused on popular beliefs.  He rejects all of ways that are not God’s way.  Another one of these popular ideas that we hear all the time and maybe even we get caught thinking it sometimes, that there are many paths that lead to heaven.  It’s this common misconception that says all religions have some truth to them. Let’s celebrate the similarities instead of sweating the small stuff.  All these different religions are finding ways to worship the same God.  We’ve heard it before, we’ve maybe hoped that it’s true for some family members and friends. It feels like it should be true.  I mean, the number one ranked team should win the gold.  But it doesn’t always happen that way.  Popular beliefs should be true because so many believe it, right? However, Jesus doesn’t want us to get caught following the crowd the wrong way.  There are so many walking the wide, easy road that leads to this great big inviting and deadly door.

Jesus once said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” For our inclusive and accepting world, that is a very exclusive and limited message.   And it has to be this one way.  Imagine the confusing uproar if everyone got a gold medal at the Olympics. Imagine how this subjective and selfish culture would react if everyone could have their own way.  Imagine if there were all these paths to heaven.  There would be no order.  There would be no purpose.  No one would think about God.  No would care about heaven.

But people do wonder and speculate about God.  How many different religions are there?  Too many to count! (4200 if you ask Google!) The fact that people do still think about it and talk about it, means people are looking for the right answer.   If millions of people know there is a god and a heaven and if so many think they will be there, then that next question is pretty important: “Why?  Why will you be in heaven?”  That’s where popular beliefs fail so many.  I’ve heard so many people answer, “I’m not sure.  I hope I will.  I’ve been good enough.  I think that should count.  I’m not as bad as some, I guess.”

I want you to think about this:  If your neighbor told you this week that they want to compete in the next Olympics in Tokyo, you might ask them, “Well, how are you going to get there?  What event?  How will you train?”   If their answer is “I’m not sure.  I hope it will work out,”  you might want to encourage them that the “how” is really important.

It’s not just about knowing God.  Many of the people in Jesus’ day were not too worried about the “how.”  They thought knowing about God would be good enough.  Here’s what Jesus says, “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Those would be people who were following the popular beliefs that all you have to do is know about God and be good enough.  That’s like thinking the number one ranked team or athlete always wins.  It seems to make sense, but it just isn’t true.  The “how” of getting into heaven is not about knowing God.

Sinners can’t get into heaven because of their knowledge.  That’s the difference between Biblical Christianity and those other 4199 religions.  All those other religions and so many church-going people think religion is about knowing God and making peace with him.  But before that, sinners need their sins to be paid for, there needs to be forgiveness.  First, Jesus needs to know you.  Did you catch that in the story Jesus tells?  All those people said, “Jesus, we know you. We saw you in the streets.  We shared some laughs.  We ate and drank with you.”  But Jesus says, “No, that’s not it.  The point is I don’t know you.”

I heard this great way to illustrate Jesus point and I’m going to change it just a little bit.  I know the Brewers.  I watched them as a kid.  I collected their baseball cards.  I went to their games.  I worked as a Miller Park usher for 11 years.  I know their Minor League teams.  I know the stats.  I know the ownership and management and coaches.  I know the Brewers.  Do you think that will help me get free tickets whenever I want?  Do you think my knowledge will get me the President of Baseball Operations job?  No, not at all.  But what if the Brewers knew me?  What if Mark Attanasio (the owner) and David Stearns (the general manager) and all the players knew me?  What if one of them would call me up and say, “A position just opened and we think you would be perfect”?  That would be different, wouldn’t it?

Salvation is not about knowing about the owner, it’s about the owner knowing you.  Salvation is not about you knowing that God is out there and heaven exits, salvation is about the God of heaven and earth putting his name on you forever.  Salvation is Jesus knowing you so completely that he could pay for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Salvation is God coming down to you in Word and sacrament.  This message of Jesus is so exclusive when it says Jesus is the narrow door.  But Jesus narrows it down for us into one way through one narrow door because he knows the one solution to all of our sins. He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He knows the way because he is the only way. He has the truth for us because he is the truth. And has life for us because he is the life.

It may be narrow, it may be exclusive, but this message is the most inclusive message in the whole world, because Jesus came for every person that has ever lived.  When you watch the Olympics and think of all the people, the 7.4 billion in the world, Jesus came for every last one of them.  He came to be their door to heaven by shedding his blood on the cross.  There is no one excluded from God’s grace and from his saving plan. There is no one left out.  God wants all people to be saved.

But it’s only through Jesus.  Only Jesus could fight off the devil perfectly.  Only Jesus could give his life in place of ours.  Only Jesus could destroy the power of death and hell.  Only Jesus can clothe you with his righteousness in Baptism.  Only Jesus can feed you his forgiveness in the supper.  No other prophet, no crazy-eyed cult leader, no motivational speaker, no Buddha or Vishnu, no piece of technology can do that.  But the Son of God does.  And that’s why he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one goes to heaven except through him.  No amount of prayers or good works could take away my sin.  No amount of gifts or service could get rid of my guilt.  No amount of gold medals could give me spiritual peace forever.  But the Son of God did… by dying for my sins, rising from death, and opening the narrow door to heaven for me.  He says it’s not about me, but it’s about him.

And that’s why you can be so absolutely sure that this very exclusive message is for everybody.  Jesus has made a promise about it.  Did you hear about it? People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Jesus paid for that spot so that people from all over could come, not for some games that conclude after a couple weeks but for an eternal banquet at God’s table. And he did that because he knows you and loves you.

There’s a lot of glory that goes along with winning a gold medal.  Most will never experience that kind of glory.  But there is something better.  Popular beliefs won’t get you there.  But Jesus’ narrow door does.  He gets you to the glory God forever.

And now this God, who has put you on the narrow path and is walking you through the narrow door, is calling you.  He narrows it down for you to make it simple and yet so powerful. He calls you to take this message out to people who are lost on a wide and easy road heading in the wrong direction.  He gives you the message to point them to this one open door that leads to the feast of heaven.

Amen.