July 27th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Fairview and Sidney, Montana
The Fullness of the Blessing of Christ
Romans 15:29, Isaiah 55:6-13, Matthew 28:16-20
He’ll never be as good. Concerning the next pastor of St. John and Trinity, the chances are extremely low that he’ll ever be as good as me, at shooting three pointers on the basketball court, that is.
That he may be a better teacher or preacher, that he may work harder or be better looking, these things are quite possible. That he will be more organized and less messy than me seems almost guaranteed. H e will have gifts I do not have, and he will serve you just the way you need to be served in the years to come, of these things you should be sure. But that he’ll be able to dribble off a pick and pull up to drain a twenty footer? That he will curl off a screen and catch a perfect pass on the move into a knock-down jumper? I doubt it. It could happen. But I know a lot of LCMS pastors, and for most, outside shooting is a gift long forgotten, if they ever had it at all.
Thankfully, you don’t need a pastor who can shoot jumpers. Truth be told, sometimes I go on hot streaks shooting the basketball, and other times, not so much. Playing basketball has been a valuable avocation for me these last ten years, allowing me an outlet for my competitiveness, and excellent exercise. But you don’t need a pastor who can shoot hoops. You need a pastor who will come with the fullness of the blessing of Christ. And of this, you have great reason for confidence. That a new pastor to comes to you with the fullness of the blessing of Christ is God’s will, and the Lord has set you up to help this happen in a number of ways, giving you earthly, tangible tools you can use to help insure this happy state of affairs.
Before we consider the ways each one of you can help your pastor come with the fullness of the blessings of Christ, it makes sense that we first understand what we’re talking about. What is the fullness of the blessing of Christ? When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, telling them that he planned to visit them on his way to preach in Spain, the Apostle said he would come to them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. A brief aside – there are not very many missionaries today who receive a call to go to a specific place mentioned in the Bible. Pretty cool. Not tremendously important, except for the Spaniards of course, but cool.
What is important for all people everywhere is to have someone come to them with the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Everywhere Paul went, he very consciously sought to come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. That is, Paul always sought to proclaim the full, radical, 100%-God’s-work Good News, that in the man Christ Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of God, sinners have forgiveness and righteousness before God. In Jesus, there is for every sinner the gift of justification, that is, the declaration that you are not guilty, and so are worthy to stand before God and live with Him forever. This gift is received by faith, completely apart from our works, when we believe that for Christ’s sake we are forgiven.
The fullness of the blessing of Christ is the pure Gospel, the Good News of the free gift of salvation for unworthy sinners, delivered to us today through Word and Sacrament, a work the Lord does simply because God is love. The Lord delivers the fullness of the blessing of Christ through His Word, which God promises will achieve the results He intends. God causes this to happen through Preaching, Baptism, Absolution and Supper.
Everyone, everywhere needs this gift, because we are all conceived and born sinful, and we fulfill that sinfulness in our daily lives. It’s my last Sunday, so I won’t go through a laundry list of your sins, or mine. Because you know, and so do I. If we ever doubt our sinfulness, all we need to do is examine our lives in light of the Ten Commandments, and our sinfulness will become apparent, quickly. All of us are sinners deserving separation from God, unworthy to dwell in His presence. So everyone needs the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Thinking of God’s Mission in these terms is especially appropriate for Spain. In Spain, they have Christ, after a fashion, but the fullness of the blessing of Christ is rarely proclaimed in the land of Don Quixote and Bullfights.
In Spain you will see many familiar signs of Christianity. Crosses, crucifixes, churches, images of Jesus, Christian names, including Jesús, and even many Christian expressions are all very common there. But while the vast majority of Spaniards would call themselves Christian, their faith is very cultural and not very Biblical, very much part of the background, but rarely delivering the blessings of peace and joy from sins freely forgiven. While the Roman Church is inextricable from the history and culture of Spain, the truth is most Spaniards are very secular, do not attend Church, and most importantly, do not understand the freedom that Christ offers in the fullness of His blessing. Even for those Spaniards who are faithful in worship, the adoration of Mary and the Saints and the depressing expectation of purgatory conspire, along with many other false teachings, to hide and drown out the Good News of free and full salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
And yet there is today a unique opportunity in Spain for Lutheran Mission, because the Spanish have an inbred sense of liturgy, and they do know the history of Christ, especially of His crucifixion and resurrection. That’s a big deal. Spaniards may not truly know the Good News, but they can be quickly told about the full blessing, because they know at least the outward form of the Church, and the key events in the ministry of Jesus. On top of that, life is increasingly hard in Spain, making many people ready for some truly Good News. There is an opportunity for the Lutheran Mission to Spain to connect by maintaining a good liturgical sense in worship, combined with always declaring the free and full forgiveness of Jesus. Many Spaniards will, Lord willing, be ready to hear.
And it’s really much the same here, in northeast Montana and northwest North Dakota. Most people around here, both long time and newer residents, will profess to be Christian. But we also know that for most people this self-identification is cultural more than spiritual, based in family history, or a sense of morality, but not based in the Word of God. People may know some things about Jesus, but they have heard too many preachers excessively focused on the works-we-must-do, thereby emptying the Gospel of much of its blessing. Worse, many have been taught by human wisdom to deny the efficacy of God’s Word to do what it says. Many have been taught to deny that God´s Word can forgive sins in combination with water, despite what the Bible says. Many have been taken in by the suggestion that God can’t make bread and wine to be also the Body and Blood of Christ, even though Jesus and Paul and the Evangelists all plainly say that the bread is Christ’s body, and the wine is Christ’s blood. By these errors people are robbed of the comfort that God truly forgives and saves us through His spoken Word.
And so we see there is also a unique opportunity for Lutheran Mission here in the MonDak. Wherever we live, our calling is to proclaim the fullness of the blessings of Christ, without compromising or watering things down. This is the calling of the Church, the public office of pastors, and the individual calling of every Christian within their daily lives.
You have many tools to help you and your next pastor insure that you are all proclaiming the fullness of the blessing of Christ. You have God´s Holy Word, and you have it rightly explained, briefly in the Small Catechism and at length in the Book of Concord. You have the full blessings of Christ proclaimed faithfully in hundreds of hymns, and dozens of faithful liturgies, developed and chosen across 20 centuries of Christian history. You have the right understanding and faithful administration of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
And, you have each other. You have each other, and you have other Christian pastors, like your Circuit Visitor Pastor Hageman and your District President Pastor Forke. You have your combined wisdom in Christ, plus theirs. You may not always know exactly what is wrong when you hear someone restricting the full blessings of Christ. But your instincts are good, and you should certainly ask questions. Many of you have done just this for me, dozens of times, gently correcting me when I began preaching something less than the full truth of Jesus and His Gospel, guiding me back to the path when I was straying.
When we listen and ask questions and gently correct one another, when we seek the council of Church leaders, and when we are ourselves open to correction under the Word of God, then we are being led by the Spirit to maintain the fullness of the blessing of Christ in our midst.
We all need help. We all need each other to stay on the narrow way of Christ´s Gospel, because in each one of us remains a self-righteous, proud sinner who does not want the full blessings of Jesus. Our reason, our emotions and our pride conspire to twist the good news of free salvation into an achievement, a work we do, with God’s help. As strange as it may seem, in our sinfulness, each one of us looks for ways to take some credit, to add at least the last 1% to the salvation equation, so we can boast in ourselves.
Perhaps we celebrate our baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but we reject that we also need all the things Jesus commanded His Apostles, things like daily forgiveness, daily hearing and growing in His Word, regular dining at His table of forgiveness, daily confession and absolution. It is the self-righteous sinner in each of us who says: “I’m a Christian already. Quit talking about the Cross and sin and grace all the time, I don’t need that anymore.” Of course we do.
We all need more than the right tools. As good and right as it is for all of us to know the pure Gospel, to understand the reality of sin and the necessity of living from the promises of Christ, as precious as these things are, they still aren’t enough. We have all the right tools, and yet we are still so prone to wandering away. We need more. We need more than just having the right teaching, and thanks be to God, Jesus gives us more, by giving us Himself.
We do need and we do have the right teaching, the right understanding, captured in Scripture, Catechism and Hymnal. But just having the Truth, just possessing the right teaching of God’s Law and Gospel is still not quite enough. For if we must apply it to ourselves, if we must use these tools to keep ourselves in the faith, we will, sooner or later, lose the battle. Having the doctrine, having the right teaching, clearly explained, as precious as it is, is not yet the fullness of the blessing of Christ. You don’t just need to have the Gospel, you need the Gospel, applied to your soul. You need someone to plant it in your heart, to take away your fear, to forgive you and lift you up. Pastors and people all need the same thing. To believe that the fullness of the blessing of Christ is really ours, and for us to endure in this faith, we need Christ Himself to come and give us faith.
And so He does. We should really be taking off our shoes when we gather for worship, or when we pick up the Catechism, or pause in our homes to read God’s Word and pray. For whenever we take up the Word of Christ, we are standing on Holy Ground, for then God is truly in our midst, invisible, but truly present with His nail scarred hands and feet, trophies of mercy in His glorified body. Jesus promised His disciples, “Whoever hears you, hears Me.” The Word of the Lord that He sends out may pass through human lips, but the Spirit of God goes with it, empowering it to achieve His goals. This is the good news of the promise Jesus made as He was about to ascend into heaven and leave the sight of the Eleven. Jesus promised them, and you, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And so it is not us saving ourselves when we speak the Truth of Christ to each other, but rather, God moves us to speak the Truth, and then God truly re-creates our hearts through those true words, through the water, through the bread and wine. Through these means, Jesus comes and delivers the goods, His full blessing, His new life.
And so you are forgiven, you are a child of God, not because I say so or you say so, but because, through my speaking, and your speaking, through the hymns we sing, through the meal we share, and through the mutual consolation of brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Himself is speaking to you, forgiving you, and blessing you.
Rest and rejoice in the fullness of Christ’s blessing, today, tomorrow, and forever and ever, Amen.