The Fourth Commandment

 

St. Paul gives us a sermonette on the Fourth Commandment when he writes to the Ephesians, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” He gives this teaching after speaking about the blessed estate of marriage. Marriage is the institution created by God where He brings husband and wife together to love and support each other, for their mutual companionship, and for the procreation of children. In all things husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and wives should love and respect their husbands out of reverence for Christ.

St. Paul is laying out for the Ephesians a fundamental institution in creation – the family. He begins at the top with God. Then he moves from God to God’s representatives in the family, the parents. From the parents, St. Paul then moves to children. Psalm 127 says children are a gift from the Lord. Parents are given the responsibility by God to raise faithful Christian children, and children in return are to love and honor their parents, for mothers and fathers serve in divine offices. This is what the Fourth Commandment teaches. God has set up a structure – the family – and He blesses it with many good things. He teaches us in the Commandment that we are to love and honor Him (the First Commandment) by loving and honoring our parents.

Let us hear our text today from the Catechism, “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” We get an opportunity today to talk about something called the doctrine of vocation. Notice – vocation, not vacation. Your vocation may be like a vacation, but more often we take vacation from our vocation. The doctrine of vocation teaches that we are all given different positions in life by God. This is also called your “calling.” We each have different abilities and talents, and having been called into the family of God through Holy Baptism; we use these talents and abilities to love and serve Him in the different stations He has placed us in life.

We all have many vocations, or another word would be “offices”, in life. You may be a mother, sister, daughter, grandma, coach, nurse, and den mother all at the same time. All of these are different ways you may express your Christian freedom and individuality, while seeking to love and serve Jesus. See, in the Middle Ages, it was taught that the only God-pleasing walk of life was to become a monk, nun, or priest. However, the true teaching is that the body of Christ is made up of many members with many different functions, and we are all called to function together to love and serve God and our neighbor. Our topic today leads us to talk about two fundamentally important vocations, or offices: parent and child.

Children come first, because that is the voice given to us in the Commandment, Honor your father and your mother. First comes the question we all ask as teenagers; Why? Why should we honor our parents? We should do so because this Commandment is connected at the hip to the First Commandment. As we love and honor God, so should we honor His representatives, our parents. God has placed upon parents the divine responsibility of raising Christian children: feeding them, clothing them, housing them, training them in righteousness, and teaching them to be conscientious members of society. Being a parent is not an easy office to bear. Think about it, if God had not provided parents for us, and others who served in their place, we all would have died many times over before we even learned to walk. And so this Commandment is in a fixed orbit around the First: children, if you love and honor God, pray that you also honor His representatives in the family, your parents.

Now parents, do not think this Commandment has nothing to say to you. If your children are commanded by God to love, honor, and cherish you, you should also be fulfilling your vocation as parents. What does that mean? First, and above all other things, see to it that your children are taught the true faith of Jesus Christ. He alone is both your and their savior, who purchased eternal salvation for them and you by His atoning sacrifice on the cross. This teaching happens not just on Sunday morning, but in your daily lives. It happens in prayers around the table and at bedtime, in family devotions, and as your children observe your conduct while you teach them how to be human beings. While you are doing these things, parents, know that Christ will aid your work by the Holy Spirit. As you teach your children, He will work through the Word and through the waters of their Baptism to create and sustain a living and active faith within them. This is the most sacred and precious work you do as parents.

Now, one of things that we discover through studying the Commandments is that we are don’t keep them. We’ve all been disobedient children, if not in action, then for sure in word and thought. And if not toward our earthly parents, then without doubt toward our heavenly Father. Parents, the temptation is always there to neglect your duties to teach your children the faith, and continue to do so as they grow older. Also, sometimes we as adults forget that we are also children of our parents. The Fourth Commandment has no statute of limitations. You never stop being children of your parents and parents of your children. But, we also find in Scripture that there is no Commandment given that Christ did not fulfill for us and for our salvation.

Let’s look at a few examples. In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph bring the boy Jesus to the temple for the Passover. When the feast was over they left, but Jesus stayed behind. When His parents finally found Him, His reply was that He must be in His Father’s house. Jesus was seeking to love and honor His heavenly Father, but the text says that He did leave with His earthly parents and was submissive to them, in keeping with the Fourth Commandment. After this it says He increased in wisdom and age and in favor with God and man. Tradition teaches us that Jesus likely followed the path of Joseph by becoming a carpenter.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He attended a wedding with His disciples and family. When they ran out of wine, His mother asked Him to do something about it, and He did. He honored His mother’s wishes in keeping with the Fourth Commandment. Later, as Jesus hanged from the cross, it was His turn to care for His mother. Seeing His mother standing before Him and knowing that He could no longer look out for her, He said, “Woman, behold your son!” Then, He said to John, “Behold your mother!” From that moment John took Mary into his own home, loving and honoring her as he would his mother.

What does this all mean? St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ…and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” That means, we who have been baptized, have all received a new relationship with God. He is our true Father, our heavenly Father. In Baptism, He has washed away our sins and clothed us with the righteousness of His Son. And having put on Christ, we have also received the Holy Spirit in our hearts. This new relationship we’ve received and the new heart created in us through Baptism leads us to love and honor God, (which is the First Commandment), and to honor those whom He sends to care for us, our parents. (This is the Fourth Commandment).

Let’s look back at the meaning of the Commandment for a second. It says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities.” What does that mean? Well, it’s probably the topic for another sermon. But what we should say today is, that though the Commandment is directed first to the relationship between children and parents, it also speaks to other relationships. There are other offices which God has instituted for His purposes on earth. The government acts in God’s stead and by His command when it punishes and restrains evil and promotes and rewards good. Also, there is the pastoral office. The pastor acts in God’s stead and by His command when He preaches and teaches the Word, forgives the sins of those who repent, and administers Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of sins. To these offices we also owe due respect and honor, in keeping with this Commandment.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that children are to obey their parents in the Lord, for that is right. God promises to children who honor their parents in reverence for God a long and blessed life, ultimately fulfilled in the eternal life of heaven. To parents, St. Paul encourages you to honor this commandment by raising your children in the Christian faith, knowing that in doing so, you are doing a most blessed work. In both vocations, child and parent, Christ has promised to bless you and keep you, and to forgive your sins by His grace. We also have this assurance, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

 

Christ, the Way of Love

Texts: 1 Sam. 16, 1 Cor. 13, Lk. 18

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in our Epistle reading about the enduring importance of love in the life of a Christian. You cannot have a right faith before God if the fruits of faith, love especially, are not displayed in your life. Paul uses himself as an example. If he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, he would be as useless as noisy gong or clanging cymbal. If he were to have the gift of prophecies and a faith that was strong enough to move mountains, without love, he would be nothing. If he gave everything he had, even his own life, without love, it would all be for nothing. To paraphrase the blessed saint, if you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’.

The same is true for us. If we do not have love and if we show ourselves to be unloving people, then it seems that our faith is misplaced. For, a living and active faith in Christ necessitates, and actually produces, love for our neighbor. But let’s stop for a second here and talk about Christ and His love. Our fathers in the faith selected our texts today and placed them on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Sunday before the 40-day journey to the cross, for a reason. In the Epistle, St. Paul extols love. It is patient and kind; it bears and endures all things. In the Gospel reading we heard Christ speaking of the things which He’ll endure for us: being mocked, spit upon, flogged, and being killed. The reason He undertakes all these things is the same as why He gives sight to blind Bartimaeus, and it’s the same reason why David, though the youngest of his brothers and last in line to be king, was chosen to shepherd God’s people: love. As we enter the season of Lent, we see in Christ the way of love. By choosing David over His older brothers, and by healing the blind beggar others rebuked, Jesus shows Himself to be the true way of love.

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We see this play out a few different ways in our readings this week. In our Old Testament text the boy who would become King David is anointed by the prophet Samuel. The current king, Saul, disobeyed the Lord’s Word and was rejected as king, though not immediately deposed. Samuel also anointed Saul to be king earlier, and one of the things that Scripture notes is that Saul was the son of a rich man. He was handsome, a head and shoulders taller than anyone around. Even though he was of the least of the tribes of Israel, he still looked the part of a king, and so he was. But, one of striking things that we see through the Lord’s Word is that He doesn’t always do things the way that would seem right. Particularly for Samuel and us, He doesn’t choose the strongest or the oldest for His inheritance. The Lord spoke to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

And so it was that the Lord anointed David, the youngest, to be king. This is just like how, out of Abraham’s sons, God chose the younger – Isaac. Of Isaac’s sons, it was Jacob who received the birthright and inheritance. Out of Jacob’s sons, Christ does not come from the line of Reuben, the firstborn, but from Judah. And now, here, is David – not the oldest, not the strongest, but the still the one from whom an offspring will come who will sit on the throne forever. This is how God works. He doesn’t choose us because of who we are or what we do, but because of who He is and what He’s done in Christ. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, including we, who like St. Paul, are untimely born. We all live two millennia after Christ walked the earth, and yet He dwells among us now in grace, truth, mercy, and love, in His Word and Sacraments. He daily and richly forgives our sins and binds up our broken hearts.

In His love for the lost and fallen, Christ reaches out to the untouchables, those scorned and rebuked by society and considered least in the eyes of the world. In our text from St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus is already on His final journey to Jerusalem and draws near to Jericho. This will be Jesus’ final miracle before His passion, and it is a work of love. Along the roadside sat a blind beggar, and when he heard that Jesus was passing by he began crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” What he could not see physically with his eyes, he saw with the eyes of faith. This Jesus is the Son of David promised so long ago, who would usher in the kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins. The crowd rebuked the man and told him to be silent, but Jesus stops. He shows Himself the true Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is attacked by robbers on his way to Jericho. Now, here in Jericho, Jesus stops to have mercy on a man in need. Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately the man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God. All the people around also gave praise to the Father.

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In choosing David, the least of his brothers, and by healing the blind man who was worth so little in the eyes of the world, Christ shows us the way of God, the way of love. Christ Himself is the image of the invisible God, the embodiment of love. He is patient and kind. He does not shame us for our sin, but daily walks with us and forgives us when we fall. He does not envy or boast. He is not arrogant or rude, and He doesn’t resent us for all our transgressions against Him. Instead, He bears and endures all things for us, even the cross. This Sunday puts us at the brink of Lent. In just a few short days we will adorn ourselves in ashes, marking the Church’s season of focused repentance. Christ teaches us about all the things that His love for us will lead Him to endure. He says,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

St. Paul wrote that if he were to have power to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if he had faith to move mountains, and if he delivered up his body to death, but had not love, it would all be for nothing. My friends in Christ, Jesus is love. He is mercy, grace; forgiveness. These are what drove Him to the cross for you. It’s what lead Him to endure being handed over to the Gentiles, being mocked and treated shamefully. He bore being spit on and being flogged. Then, His love for you led Him to allow those nails to be driven into His flesh with hammers, and to hang there helpless, bearing in Himself the wrath of God against sin. He did this all so that, as He rose from the dead, so, too, will all those who believe in Him.

This love that Christ has for us, the mercy that He showed by choosing us for salvation from before the foundation of the world – and that not because of our works, but because of His grace – will never end. All things will pass away. In Paul’s language, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away, but love will not. In this life we don’t always see things clearly, for we know only in part and see as through a mirror dimly, but soon we will see the love of God in Christ Jesus face to face. And though our lives seem like one great Lent, a time full of trials and cycles of sinning and repenting over and over again, soon we shall know fully the eternal love that Jesus has for us. And while we are in this life, He looks past our sin and shame, past our weaknesses and temptations, and He brings us the forgiveness that He won for us on the cross. He chose David, the least of his brothers, and He healed blind Bartimaeus, to show to us His way: love. As He shows us His love, through His Word and Sacraments, He also strengthens us to show forth that love. May He ever continue the preaching of His Word and the administration of the Sacraments among us, both gifts of His love, as we enter His Lent and look to His Easter.

 

 

The Parable of the Sower

Text: Luke 8:4-15

There was a something in my sermon last week that I’d like to visit again today in light of our text. Last week I said that the parable of the vineyard shows us that God’s grace is shown equally to all sinners. This means that no one is more sanctified than anyone else. Rather, all sinners receive the same grace of God in Jesus Christ – the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life that are given through faith. You will receive the same grace whether you were baptized as a baby, or you are convicted by God’s Law and receive His Word in faith on your deathbed. If this is the case, that God is so extravagant in showing mercy, why is it that out of 7 billion people in the world, only 2 billion are Christians?

Or, maybe the more traditional way of asking the question will make more sense; Why are some saved and not others? This question could take us into some heady realms, where theologians and pastors argue past each other, or we could keep our heads down here where Jesus is in the parable. To put it bluntly, Jesus’ ministry was met with two responses. The overwhelmingly popular one was rejection. Jesus indicates in our text that to His disciples, and to the others who received Him in faith, it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. But to the crowds, who pressed in on Jesus from every side, seeking not forgiveness but food for their bellies, it has not been given. That is why Jesus spoke in parables, so that the words of the Holy Spirit through Isaiah are fulfilled, “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

Jesus teaches through the parable why some are saved and others not. There are two reactions to God’s Word: rejection or faith. Many hear the Word, but it goes in one ear and out the other. Others receive the Word with joy, but when times of persecution come, or the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, they fall away. But, all is not lost. For, by the grace of God there is another group: those who receive the Word in faith, and hold it fast in their hearts with patience. Though the broadly-cast Word of God is met by many with rejection, in those whom it takes root, it bears fruit – even a hundredfold.

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Since this is the second week in a row that our text one of the parables, it’s important to get something out there. Not everything in a parable is filled with meaning. In allegories, another type of story, different elements can all have different levels of meanings. A parable is different. There is usually one central point, and everything else given is to support that one point. It’s kind of like spokes in a wheel, but instead of going out from the center, they go into the center. In the parable of the sower the central idea is that the seed is sown generously and bears much fruit when it takes root. Jesus says the seed is the Word of God. The sower is Jesus. Now having said that, let us hear the parable.

A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.

In the parable Jesus compares Himself to a sower, who goes out to sow His seed. This parable is first about Jesus and His ministry, but then it is also about how He continues to sow His Word among us today. He does this through those who follow in His stead: His disciples, the Apostles, pastors, teachers, missionaries, and all others who teach and spread His saving Word. The sower in the parable scatters the seed just about everywhere. Some fell along the path, some on the rocky soil, some fell among the thorns; but some fell into good soil. This teaches us about the spread of God’s Word.

When Jesus came to preach the Gospel, He didn’t come to share it with just a few people. Rather, He directed that all nations be baptized and taught. The Good News is not just for some, but for all. The scattering of the seed all over, even in places where it wouldn’t have been sown otherwise, is like how Jesus sends us out to the byways and alleys, to sinners and tax collectors, to those who dwell in the shadow and darkness of death, to share with them the light of His Gospel. His will is that all be saved through the preaching of His Word, and through it be brought to repentance and faith.

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Therefore, God broadcasts His Word throughout all the world, and will continue to do so until time has reached its fulfilment. But, now we get to the hard question: why aren’t all people saved? We learn in the Catechism that the temptation to sin comes from three places: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Luther gets that partially from this text. Jesus contrasts the two types of hearers in the parable: those who reject the Word and those who keep it in an honest and good heart with patience. These are represented by the different types of soil.

Some of the seed fell along the path and was devoured by the birds. Jesus interprets this for us, “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Notice that devil isn’t too concerned about people hearing the Word of God, but it’s their hearts that he battles for. It is with the heart that we believe and are saved. The seed that falls along the path represents those who hear the Word preached, but it goes in one ear and out the other.

These are not just the open unbelievers, unfortunately, but even some who go to church. There are some who come to worship, not to receive forgiveness and the gifts of our Lord’s body and blood, but purely out of habit or custom. And when the sermon comes, they check out, and the words are lost. There is no repentance, there is no progression in the faith, for the devil comes and steals the Word before it takes root.

Others are like the seed that falls on rocky soil. These are the ones who hear God’s Word and initially receive it with joy. But, as we learned from the Transfiguration, there is no glory without the cross. The Christian will be faced with persecution for the sake of Christ’s name. And many, when faced with the hatred of the world, fall away. They might not be openly divorced from the Word, but they dilute it just enough fit in and siphon off the world’s ire. And still, there are others who receive the Word, but then the cares and pleasures of life come. This was St. Paul’s point last week, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” For many, the Church is not seen as the place where forgiveness and grace are, but as an inhibitor of life’s pleasures. And for that reason, many depart from God’s Word and surround themselves with teachers who will tell them what they do want to hear.

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This is all painting a pretty grim picture, but it confirms what we see in the world around us. Many people reject Christ and His Word – most even. That’s because God’s Word always produces one of two reactions: rejection, or faith. Faith is the reaction that God desires and creates. It’s why He casts the seed all over, so that as many as possible can hear the Word. In the parable, some of the seed does fall into good soil. It takes root and grows, yielding even a hundredfold. The interpretation that Jesus provides is that these are the ones who hear the Word and keep it. Though faced with many a persecution, the cares and pleasures of the flesh, they hold the Word and bear fruit in patience.

Though so many hear the Word and fall away, all is not lost. The fault is not with the seed. God says of His Word, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth.” Neither is the difference in the soil, for the Scriptures clearly testify that all are equally conceived dead in iniquity.

The difference is that some, according to God’s will, receive the Word in faith. They are forgiven their sins through the washing of Holy Baptism and in the words of Absolution spoken from the altar. They are fed and strengthened in the faith with the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, and are led to take up their crosses and follow. They weather the persecutions and hatred of the world, and they refuse to be ruled by the pleasures of the flesh. These are the ones who bear fruit with patience. We are the ones who bear fruit with patience. Soon, the seed of Christ’s cross will bear fruit that is one hundred-fold, the eternal triumph over the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh in the resurrection to eternal life.

Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” May He ever grant us those ears by His Holy Spirit, so that hearing the Word, we receive it in faith, casting off the hatred of the world and the pleasures of the flesh, and according to His will, abide until the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.