Reformation Sunday – 2014 LSB #621
Text – Romans 3:19
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced & the whole world held accountable to God.
Before refrigerators, food was preserved in something called an icehouse. It would have thick walls, no windows, & a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams & lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled & placed into the icehouse, then covered with sawdust. The ice would often last well into the summer.
One time a man lost a valuable watch while working in the icehouse. He searched for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, yet found nothing. His fellow workers looked with him & they too, found nothing. An ambitious young boy heard about the fruitless search. He slipped into the icehouse while the men were at lunch & soon emerged with the watch.
Amazed, the men asked the boy how he found the watch so quickly. “I closed the door,” replied the boy, “lay down in the sawdust, & kept very still. Soon, in the silence, I heard the watch ticking.”
497 years ago, a Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the history of the entire world. Western civilization was going to hell in a hand basket, & the Easter hemisphere was already there. In the third chapter of Romans, the almighty Creator of the universe tells us why He wrote His law upon your heart. He did so in order that every mouth may be silenced.
On the Last Day of time, the Law is going to hold every human being accountable to God. The atheists, who are trying to get rid of every public display of the commandments, the cross, or any other symbol of the Christian faith, will be silenced & held responsible for their actions. It’s what the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write. People who are twisting the Words of Holy Scripture, to make their case for the acceptance of evolution, on the Last Day, will twist the Word of God no more. Their lies will be silenced & they will be held accountable for their false & blasphemous teaching.
Pastors, judges & politicians, any of whom have worked to overturn our nation’s laws against the practice of gay marriage will find that the Laws of God are not subject to re-writing. The mouths which decreed their stand against our Lord’s design & blessing shall be silenced & they will be held accountable for their rebellion.
Clearly, the majority of the leaders in our nation have no use for the Law of our heavenly Father. They now believe they have every right to make up their own law, & if they refuse to repent of their sins, they shall die for them – eternally:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced & the whole world held accountable to God.”
David, the mere boy who defeated the warrior Goliath, with nothing more than a slingshot, wrote in Psalm 36: “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all.” (Psalm 36:1 NLT) Jesus Christ is loving, kind, gentle & forgiving. He absolutely does love everyone, & yet, He is also Lord of the universe.
He designed it, created it, sustains it. He gave us the Law so that our sin-twisted heart might know how to live. As much as the devil tells the lie, atheism, evolution & homosexuality are not about life. They are death disguised to look pretty. Haven’t you heard this before:
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, & that it was a delight to the eyes, & that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit & ate, & she also gave some to her husband who was with her, & he ate.” (Genesis 3:6 ESV) You see, the heart of mankind does need to be silenced. For the evil that we have done & for the good that we have left undone, someone must be held accountable. If not, how could anyone respect our heavenly Father for allowing the horrifying evil, that goes on in this world, to continue with no consequence? “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts.”
You’ve heard that whisper, haven’t you? In last Sunday’s sermon we learned that the prophet Isaiah turned his attention away from the nation of Judah as a whole. It was refusing to hear Yahweh’s message anyway. Isaiah began directing his words to the godly people of his day. St. Paul is doing much the same thing in today’s reading from Romans 3.
Paul is not preaching to the atheists, or the evolutionists, or to the gay marriage crowd. He is preaching to the religious people of his day. He’s preaching to the ones who are in the synagogue each Sabbath. The Apostle Paul is preaching to you. He’s preaching to me. He’s preaching to the choir, because even the choir is making excuses for their sin.
In the opening illustration, the boy closed the door, lay down in the sawdust, & kept very still. Soon, in the silence, he heard the watch ticking. The question is not whether God is speaking to us, or trying to lead us. The question is, are we being still enough or quiet enough or humble enough to hear & to see & to feel the presence & the will of our almighty Creator?
As Jesus said in the gospel reading for today, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In a similar vein, you might remember the story of the young man who came to Jesus asking, “…what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 ESV) After the man leaves, sorrowful, because he’s unwilling to do it, Jesus explained to His disciples:
“…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the reign of God.” (Matthew 19:24 ESV) The greatest hurdle, or obstacle, is in allowing God to rule. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced & the whole world held accountable to God.” Haven’t you noticed that all human beings are “team players” as long as they get to make the rules? How willing are you to be held accountable to God for the evil you have done, & for the good you’ve left undone? There’s only one way that’s possible!
The apostle dramatically shifts gears beginning with verse 21: “But now a righteousness of God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law & the Prophets testify.” In Martin Luther’s day that meant no more purgatory. Gone were the days of paying money to have your sins forgiven through an indulgence.
“This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God, & are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” How much you pray, how much you pay, & how well you obey are no longer the definition of saving faith.
Now, you can freely & willingly come to cross to be held accountable to God. Without Jesus’ suffering, death & resurrection there’s no way we could, or would, openly confess our sins. Without Jesus’ work on our behalf there’d be no point in confessing our sins. We’d be damned anyway. The glory of the cross is that Jesus was held accountable in our place.
Yahweh designed the cross in order to take away the sin of the world, & Jesus is the Lamb of God who was sacrificed there. Our Lord does not back away from the mess of our sin. Instead, He plants the cross smack dab in the middle of it. He plants the people of the cross, you & me, there as well. He plants us there to share the love & the hope we have in Christ.
Yahweh has created you – designer creatures – washed, strengthened, whatever your darkness & calamity, for Himself & for His world. He created you the moment you were conceived & He re-created you with a clean heart, the moment He brought you to faith in Jesus. Yahweh sent His only-begotten Son that you might be set free of the prison of your sins. It’s in that freedom, which we can honestly look at all the immorality & depravity of our time, & even of our own heart, & still find rest & healing. We find them because Jesus has guaranteed all of His promises by the shedding of His blood & by His resurrection from the dead.
Not atheism, nor the theory of evolution, nor the extremist agenda of the homosexual movement can overcome the Alpha & the Omega. In five weeks Advent begins. 60 days from today we’ll remember the birth of Jesus as He entered our world of sin in order that in heaven He could wipe away every tear from our eyes.
The righteousness of God rests outside of us in God’s judgment on His Son, so it’s as firm & immovable as God Himself. All whom God declares righteous are without sin, even though all the world & all devils condemn you, even though your own conscience pronounces you guilty. In Christ your heavenly Father sees you as silent & humble & holy.
Martin Luther found peace in a Savior who gives to us God’s holiness & righteousness. The Law was given, not to frighten us into living holy lives. It was given so we’d become conscious of our sin, & most importantly, so we’d become conscious of our need for Jesus. By the power of God’s Holy Spirit we can now say to the whispers of sin – Silence! Amen.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence & with fear & trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand Christ our God to earth descending comes our homage to demand. Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way as the Light of Light, descending from the realms of endless day; comes the powers of hell vanquish as the darkness clears away. At His feet the six-winged seraph, cherubim with sleepless eye, veil their faces to the presence as with ceaseless voice they cry: “Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, Lord Most High!” Amen.
 Hamilton, J., Directions: Insights for Christian Living. (Beacon Hill, 1976).
19th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 24) LSB #398
Text – Isaiah 45:2
I will go before you & level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze & cut through the bars of iron…
Nebuchadnezzar is a name many older Christians know well from their days in Sunday School. He destroyed the city of Jerusalem, leveled its temple & carried off its people. Yet nothing in history happens outside the lordship of Yahweh. So we could say He roused His servant Nebuchadnezzar to save Israel, & the world, from what they’d made of themselves.
Yahweh created heaven & earth. He created Israel & Caesar & Nebuchadnezzar. If there’s darkness or calamity or woe, if there is disaster, the Lord God created that too. What you are frightened of & what you are bemoaning is the work of Yahweh. He has not absconded or abdicated. He has simply upped the ante by tailor making an exile just for Israel.
It was a designer exile. It was not for the people of Isaiah’s day to avoid. It is not their place to escape, or pray their way out from under what their Creator had created. It is not for them decide what is improper or unfit or impossible for their heavenly Father.
He is Master of all things, because He has created all things, including us here so He could work on us, strip us, & cleanse us, creating a new heart within us, & a new people. When the southern kingdom of Judah finally got there, into that designer exile, God activated His messiah, Cyrus of Persia, to free His people.
Yahweh would restore them, not just to the land of Judah, but to Himself, for the purpose of stripping, cleansing & saving the world. That is His most creative work. The Lord God creates heaven & earth & a lot of things, but His most precious creation is shalom between God & man. Shalom the world cannot manufacture. We can never gain it for ourselves. Shalom is like a lot of other ‘God things’ that surpass all human understanding. Verse 7, of the OT reading, translated that as well-being. It is so much more than well-being. True righteousness it is, not the phony kind we dress ourselves up in. As the people of Judah would become prisoners of Nebuchadnezzar, we are also prisoners, held captive by our very own sin.
We see the troubles of our world & blame them for our anxiety. Ebola is on the loose & spreading. ISIS is marching through Syria & Iraq, oblivious to air strikes. Our nation’s economy is still creating too few good jobs with good wages for people who want to work. In spite of the coming election, our politicians, from the president on down, still do nothing.
Yet, none of those things make prisoners of the children of God. Jesus said, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Joh 8:36 ESV) Our heavenly Creator is every day setting us free, but in ways we don’t expect, or even understand, until we mature in the faith. Like the people of Judah, we also need to be saved from what we have made of ourselves.
In the present section of Isaiah, the prophet of God turned his attention away from the nation of Judah as a whole. It was refusing to hear Yahweh’s message anyway. Isaiah begins directing his words to the godly people of his day.
Hearing his declaration of coming exile & knowing that as members of the nation they also were implicated in its sin, they saw exile as certain & might have surrendered to despair. In chapters 40-56 Isaiah brings comfort to the godly people of his time, assuring them that exile would not last forever, but God would deliver His people & bring them back to their homeland:
“I will break in pieces the doors of bronze & cut through the bars of iron…” Yahweh was literally going to break them out of jail, just as He had done when they were captives, prisoners & slaves in the land of Egypt. “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36 ESV) In verse 6 of the OT lesson, Isaiah brings the purpose statement for this whole reading: “So that people may know, from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting, (& every place in between) that there is none besides me; I am Yahweh, & there is no other.” Yahweh is a Hebrew word that roughly means, ‘I was, I am & I will be.’ He is the Alpha & the Omega, the Beginning & the End.
Yahweh created light to eternity, light in eternity, light for eternity so that people may know Him. The earth will open up, open wide; salvation & righteousness will spring forth. I Yahweh have created this. I created the world for this. I have created you, Cyrus the Persian king, for the world, for this; I have created.
The place where all this energy narrows to one moment in history is the cross – the designer cross. The meeting place of darkness & calamity with light & shalom. I create heaven & earth, I create calamity & darkness & light & shalom, all of which surpass human understanding. But the place I show myself – it’s at the cross; the glory of the cross!
It’s at that place where all of history meets & centers, where evil around us & in us is met head on, where forgiveness flows & a new Spirit sanctifies & enables life in a broken heart & in a broken world. Our heavenly Father does not back away from the mess of our sin. Instead, He plants the cross smack dab in the middle of it. He plants the people of the cross there as well.
Yahweh has created you – designer creatures – washed, strengthened, whatever our darkness & calamity, for Himself & for His world. He created you the moment you were conceived & He re-created you with a clean heart, the moment He brought you to faith in Jesus. Yahweh sent His only-begotten Son that you might be set free of the prison of your sins.
It’s in that freedom, which we can honestly look at all the immorality & depravity of our time, & even of our own heart, & still find rest & healing. We find them because Jesus has guaranteed all of His promises by the shedding of His blood & by His resurrection from the dead. Not ISIS, nor Ebola, nor corrupt government can overcome the Alpha & the Omega. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of our Savior, “I will go before you & level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze & cut through the bars of iron…” In the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son! Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, to set the captives free, to take away transgression & rule in equity. He comes with rescue speedy to those who suffer wrong, to help the poor & needy & bid the weak be strong; to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light, whose souls condemned & dying, were precious in His sight. Amen.
18th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 23) LSB #458 v.1-4
Text – Isaiah 25:8
He will swallow up death forever; & the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, & the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
If you’re a flying trapeze artist, soaring through the air from one height to another, there comes a time in every act when the audience will be challenged to believe in the skill of the artist. That often involves a routine where one person lets go of the rope & soars through the air with nothing in sight to land on but the safety net far below.
Coming from the other direction will be another artist frequently hanging upside down from a bar. Two pendulums, arcing through the heights, in perfect timing & harmony.
The catcher has the task, with his strong hands, of grabbing the flyer from out of thin air. During this routine the flyer must never attempt to catch the catcher. Instead, the flyer must wait in absolute trust that the catcher will catch him.
If we boil it down, that concept completely captures the essence of living the Christian life, doesn’t it? As children of God, living in a broken & twisted world, you & I truly are waiting for the Catcher to catch us. Already at this moment in time everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior is eternal, & is now experiencing the reign of God in each aspect of our lives.
That’s a very idealistic statement, yet so true in every way. The struggle in living the Christian life is that our senses & our emotions do not corroborate the Bible’s teaching. The reality of everything God is doing right now is hidden behind the corrupting effects of sin.
On the surface, we see a couple ending their relationship in divorce. Beneath the surface, one or more people affected may be growing in their willingness to trust Jesus to catch them. Our heavenly Father hates divorce yet He loves to rescue sinners from their sin. In our heart, those are totally contradictory emotions. When the full force of hatred & mercy are pulling on your heart or mine it is extremely difficult to function in a godly manner. We might keep our composure for a few moments, but then we come unglued & snap in one direction or the other. We either totally let people off the hook, or we hold a grudge against them.
For the flying trapeze artist, they have to practice allowing themselves to be caught, over & over again. Practice is needed because in their heart are the conflicting emotions of trust & fear. As they float through the air unattached to anything that can support them, both emotions are at work pulling their heart & mind in two.
To be successful at their craft, the greatest lesson the trapeze artists need to learn is how to balance those conflicting emotions. They need to learn how to use the gift of self-control if they’re going to amaze & challenge the audience with their skill.
Now, Christians aren’t about amazing & challenging people with our faith, however, we are witnesses to the One in whom our faith does rest. Either we are faithful witnesses, or we’re unfaithful, but it is our calling as children of our heavenly Creator to reflect the light of Christ’s love to everyone we encounter.
If we truly believe that Jesus has rescued us from the damnation of an eternity without love, or goodness or kindness, there’s no question we want to faithfully represent the One who saved us from our sins. The struggle you have is in carrying out that witness because you’re afraid. If you don’t know what you’re afraid of, how can you practice trusting Jesus?
For those of you who are indifferent to witnessing about God’s love for you, your love for God has to come into question. If you don’t love your Lord enough to tell others about how He has worked miracles in your life, how can you practice trusting Jesus? How will you ever learn to let Him catch you? The prophet Isaiah is writing to such a people, to men, women & children who are indifferent to the love of their heavenly Father. He’s writing to people who are afraid to witness about the miraculous deeds of Yahweh. Isaiah is writing to people who have forgotten their Lord, rejected Him, walked away & left Him behind. The OT reading for today is from a section of the book referred to as the Isaiah Apocalypse. This is how it begins:
“Behold, the Lord will empty the earth & make it desolate, & He will twist its surface & scatter its inhabitants. The earth shall be utterly empty & utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word.” (Isaiah 24:1 & 3 ESV)
That chapter of Isaiah is clearly introducing a revelation of the judgment to come. It falls alike, upon those who believe & upon those who have rejected believing. Judgment is the Last Day for all who are evil. It is the beginning of an eternity of grace & blessing, for those who believe in our Lord & Savior.
Chapter 25 then begins by describing the results of The Judgment – including “a strong people” glorifying Yahweh, as well as “cities of terrifying nations” who now fear Him. Today’s OT lesson announces the “great reversal” of Yahweh’s judgment. These verses are solely for those who believe in Jesus as Savior:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” This verse is a picture of heaven & details a direct reversal of the judgment found in 24:9, “No more do they drink wine with singing…” (Isaiah 24:9 ESV)
The heavenly wedding feast can now begin, yet Isaiah also introduces a far greater reversal than that of the ban on drinking wine: “[Yahweh] will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever…”
St. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is
eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Death is the greatest & most feared aspect of God’s judgment upon sin. Yet even death will succumb to the “great reversal.” In Christ Jesus our Lord, death in this dimension has been converted into the gateway to eternal & everlasting life. In other words, through God’s death, Jesus has swallowed up death forever.
In every case, of the death of a Christian, Jesus is the hero who has overcome death for us. Isaiah described death as a covering that had been cast over all peoples. King David described that covering as the valley of the shadow of death. As we hear the words of Isaiah regarding the Last Day, we are comforted by our Lord, even as we face our own death.
Yet, our heavenly Father will comfort us in an even greater & far more ultimate way when the Last Day arrives. As verse 9 of the OT reading points out: “It will be said on that day,
‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad & rejoice in His salvation.”
You & I can rejoice in those words even though our eternal life is hidden for now behind the corrupting effects of sin. Our senses & our emotions may not corroborate the teaching of Holy Scripture regarding eternal life, yet we know God’s Word is true because the disciples were willing to die for their faith in Jesus.
Our Savior’s resurrection was not simply a mirage or wishful thinking. Otherwise, His disciples would not have been willing to suffer death just to preach in His name. Like the trapeze artist has to wait in absolute trust for the catcher to catch her, we too are given the task of waiting in absolute trust for Jesus to catch us on the day that our death arrives.
It is our joy & privilege to share the good news about that Jesus because He is the one & only reliable source of comfort & hope when walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The comfort & hope our Lord offers to us, however, is not simply emotion. They are something far deeper & far more profound. We might say they are something far more eternal. They are aliens to this world because they come from a place of holiness & life, rather than from a place of sin & death. The comfort & hope that God’s Holy Spirit brings to us is from heaven itself. To live is Christ & to die is gain because Jesus has swallowed up death.
Today, Yahweh Himself is bringing His feast right here to us. As the OT reading began, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…” we could say instead, “Today on this altar the Lord of hosts has made for us a feast of rich food…” Jesus’ body & blood will be present with us to cleanse us & wipe away our sins & our tears.
Already in Isaiah’s day it was clear to him that Yahweh was about the work of establishing the reign of His kingdom, even through the judgment of Israel! One day, the defeat of all evil forces will be undeniably manifest as we see Christ’s return at the end of time. Until then, when our senses & our emotions fail us, we cling to the words of Proverbs 3:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, & do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5 ESV) As you read those words, you might even pretend that you are a flying trapeze artist soaring through the heights, patiently waiting in absolute trust for the strong arm of your heavenly Father to catch you & take you home to perfect joy & rest. Amen.
Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down, His people to deliver; destroying sin, He took the crown from death’s pale brow forever: stripped of power, no more it reigns; an empty form alone remains; its sting is lost forever. It was a strange & dreadful strife when life & death contended; the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly says that death is swallowed up by death; its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!
17th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 22) LSB #869
Text – Isaiah 5:4b
When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
YIELDING WILD GRAPES
With the elections held in March of 1933, the ruling Nazi Party gained over 17 million votes. The next closest party had 7.5 million. The Nazis ended up with over 43% of the elected positions in the German Reichstag, & Adolph Hitler was the leader of that party.
The nation of Germany had been devastated by the harsh conditions of the peace treaty following WWI. When the United States descended into its Great Depression, Germany was dragged down even further. Hitler had promised to restore the economy & the glory of the German nation. In 1933, millions of the German people were voting for their wallet.
That’s a greatly simplified version of everything going on behind the scenes of that election. Nevertheless, it was the last time people all across the nation were free to vote until the year 1990. Then the Berlin Wall had fallen, the communist government had collapsed & Germany was reunited. 1933 was a watershed year in the history of the German nation.
Back in the 1700’s, lived a man named Edmund Burke & credit has been given to him for the saying, “All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” That was the case in Germany, & across Europe, as Adolph Hitler came to power & proceeded to butcher upwards of 11 million helpless people. Around 50 million Europeans died due to the war.
What a turn of events came out of that one German election in March of 1933. The American Family Association reports that 90 million Christians are registered to vote in the United States, but in any given election as many as 39 million of them do not vote.
In our last national election, in November of 2012 – just short of 127 million votes were cast. The Christians who did not vote were estimated to be around 12 million. That’s almost 10% of the total who did vote. The 12 million Christians who did not vote could have positively affected those elections. “All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
Mathematically speaking, you may recognize that your one vote hardly does make a difference. Yet, when adding all the Christians in our country together, indifference to voting could actually destroy our nation. People around the world suffered because one very twisted & corrupt politician was elected in 1933. Fast forward now to the year 2001.
“Detroit had been down on its luck for a long time, & after more than half a century of decline, the people were starved for a leader who could bring about change & finally get the city back on its feet. They needed a hero, & thought they found him in a young, charming, energetic state representative named Kwame M. Kilpatrick.
His campaign slogan: ‘Our Future: Right Here, Right Now.’ His inaugural address put goose bumps on people’s arms as he urged metro Detroiters to “rise up” & help him resurrect Detroit. He preached about the region finally coming together & moving on from the racial tensions that had defined its past.
At 31, he became the youngest mayor in Detroit’s history. By age 38, he had become the worst, most corrupt mayor in Detroit’s history.” “Kwame Kilpatrick was as charming & inspiring as he was corrupt & arrogant.” “…one of the things that stings so badly about Kilpatrick: He took advantage of hope & tried to get rich off a broke city.”
The prophet Isaiah knew well stories of men like him. Listen again to the ballad he wrote at the beginning of chapter 5:
“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it & cleared it of stones, & planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, & hewed out a wine vat in it; & he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem & men of Judah, judge between me & my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
If you translate the Hebrew there in a raw manner, wild grapes is literally, “…rotten, stinking grapes!” Our heavenly Father asked, after every thing I have done, why did my people yield rotten, stinking grapes? Why? If you & I are going to learn from the city of Detroit, & from the nation of Germany, if we’re not going to fall into the same trap of voting for corrupt & immoral leaders, if we’re not going to fail in our Christian duty to choose godly leaders, do the words of Isaiah the prophet offer to us any sort of wisdom?
Some evangelical Christian groups have designated today as Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Their point is that for far too long, pastors & the children of God have been silent concerning the duties & responsibilities that come along with the freedoms we have in the United States. It is not just a privilege to vote, & it is not simply our right. It is also our responsibility.
If we do not live up to that responsibility, evil will certainly fill the vacuum we leave through abdicating our Christian duty. If you aren’t convinced, just observe how ISIS has filled the vacuum in the nation of Iraq. Consider what Hitler did with the vacuum in Germany & Europe. On a closer scale, think of what Kilpatrick did in Detroit?
“All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” In the day of Isaiah the prophet, Yahweh refers to the people of Israel as His vineyard. He loved them, sacrificed for them, & did everything possible to make them a fruitful & a productive estate. They had been planted to do good works, to bring justice & righteousness to all people.
Yet the good men of Israel did nothing. They left a vacuum & so evil had prevailed. Ahaz was the king in power during the 5th chapter of Isaiah & he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Though Yahweh had done everything possible to make Ahaz productive & fruitful, he yielded nothing but rotten, stinking grapes.
Yahweh tells His people what He will do in response: “I will remove its hedge, & it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, & it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, & briers & thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”
Nowhere does the Lord say He will uproot the plants, but He does remove every
protection & blessing. The only way the people of Israel can survive now is to humble themselves & turn back to their heavenly Father. Their kings & armies, even the walls of their cities, have been rendered useless & helpless before the righteousness of God.
Although the evangelical Christian groups that designated today as Pulpit Freedom Sunday had a good idea, I was sadly disappointed when online, I watched two different mega-church pastors preaching. They lead churches with thousands of people in attendance. Both talked about the duties & responsibilities of Christian citizens to vote for godly character.
Each one of them preached for almost an hour & neither one ever mentioned the name of Jesus Christ during their sermon. Although they both spoke eloquently & persuasively about God’s call for us to impact our culture, not one & not the other said anything concerning what our Savior has done for us that compels us to vote, or to be godly citizens of our nation.
Any patriotic atheist could have given their message. Since, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing, those sermons were nothing more than rotten, stinking grapes. As Isaiah wrote, on behalf of our heavenly Father: “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
Shortly after coming to power in 1933, Adolph Hitler boasted that the Christian church was impotent & posed no threat to the Nazi agenda. He confidently declared:
“I promise you that if I wished to I could destroy the church in a few years. It is hollow & rotten & false through & through… We should trap the priests by their notorious greed & self-indulgence… They will swallow anything in order to keep their material advantages… The parsons will be made to dig their own graves. They will betray their god to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs & incomes.”
Martin Luther once wrote: “…the pastor who fails to publically, boldly & honestly rebuke the sins of government not only strengthens the wickedness of the tyrants, but ‘becomes a partaker in it & bears responsibility for it.’” In 1940, Nazi Germany was near its zenith – the
nation’s power, prosperity & prestige were at their highest levels in history. The Jews had been systematically excluded from the life of the nation, deprived of the protections of citizenship & the law, gradually disappearing into the spreading network of concentration camps.
That year, at the height of Hitler’s power & popularity, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered the following assessment of responsibility for what was taking place within his country:
“I am guilty of cowardly silence at a time when I ought to have spoken. I am guilty of hypocrisy & untruthfulness in the face of force. I have been lacking in compassion & I have denied the poorest of my brethren. …the church must confess that we have not proclaimed often or clearly enough our message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all times in Jesus Christ & who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself… The Church was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven. She has failed to speak the right word in the right way at the right time. The church must confess that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical & spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred & murder, & that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims & has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest & most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ… She has not borne witness to the truth of God… By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows to be right.”
Less than five years later Bonhoeffer was dead, hung naked from a piano wire noose at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. Germany had been destroyed, her great cities bombed out of existence, her ancient cathedrals reduced to piles of rubble. In the face of monstrous evil “He who keeps silent shares the guilt. He fails God.”
The traditional German children’s prayer, “Dear God, make me pious, so that one day I may go to heaven,” underwent a tragic mutation during the reign of Hitler. As the children played their games during those years they sang this rhyme instead, “Dear God, make me silent, so that I don’t end up in Dachau.”
You & I face no such risks today, but the silence from the pulpits of America is deafening nonetheless. The collapse of morality is wreaking havoc in the lives of people across our land. Yet we remain silent. We’ve allowed ourselves to be deceived & intimidated. We cannot afford the luxury of a pious retreat from the world & its problems. Such isolation may have worked in simpler times, but it will not work now.
We cannot allow the world to set the church’s agenda & determine the content of the church’s message. That would reduce us to mouthing the trendy slogans of every new political & social movement that appears on the scene.
It’s true; the practical problems involved in being the salt of the earth are outrageously difficult. It is sorely tempting to wash our hands of the sordid business of politics, but there is too much at stake for us & for the people whom God has placed into our care. The chilling precedent of German Christianity’s failure to respond to the evil of Nazism makes that clear.
Elections have consequences. Is November 4th marked on your calendar? We have the responsibility given to us by God of choosing godly leaders, men & women who will not lie to their people, men & women who will work to understand what religious freedom is & protect it, rather than cram immoral policies down the throats of their people.
The people of Detroit & the people of Germany paid a heavy price for electing men with ungodly character to lead their government. In far too many elections there seems to be no clear cut man or woman of God in the running. We are often faced with nothing more than choosing between the lesser of two evils. Yet our own sins leave us no different.
That’s why we worship Jesus, because God’s justice & God’s mercy intersect on the cross! His holy justice is accomplished at the same time as His undeserved mercy. What more could God do for His vineyard than to give the life of His only-begotten Son. You & I take that intersection out into the world in our daily decisions, in our daily living.
For children of God, voting in a democratic society is never simply a political decision.
As we vote for the lesser of two evils, yet also in the cases where we are able to discern that one candidate has godly character & the others do not, we can yield good grapes & a bountiful harvest, by first yielding up to God a repentant heart. Exactly that is what we’re talking about as we prepare for Holy Communion with the words:
“Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them to the Lord.” We are accountable to God for our decisions. When we decide who to vote for, that’s a decision which Jesus pictures in His parable of the vineyard from the Gospel reading. Are we voting for the vineyard owner, or against Him? Are we lifting our heart to the Son He sends, or, are we lifting our heart against Him?
That is the question Isaiah means to lay upon your heart this morning. If you seek to give yourself a new heart by voting for your wallet, or for any reason other than God’s will, you will find yourself with a Frankenstein heart. But if you lift up a broken & repentant heart to the Lord, He will heal you through the forgiveness of your sin.
In response to that love of our almighty Creator & Savior, we take on even the distasteful task of trying to decide which politician or bureaucrat to vote for. Elections have consequences, & not putting in the time & effort to vote is allowing the vacuum you create to be filled by evil.
Now is the day of salvation! Now is the time to repent & turn to your Savior to receive the bountiful harvest of His healing & His forgiveness. “Lift up your hearts.” Amen.
With the Lord begin your task; Jesus will direct it. For His aid & counsel ask; Jesus will perfect it. Every morn with Jesus rise; & when day is ended, in His name then close your eyes; be to Him commended. Let each day begin with prayer, praise & adoration. On the Lord cast every care; He is your salvation. Morning, evening & at night Jesus will be near you, save you from the tempter’s might, with His presence cheer you. Amen.
 Austin, D., Meet the Five Worst Mayors in Detroit History, (Detroit Free Press, July 23, 2014).
 Conway, J.S., The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1968), p. 16.
 Berggrav, E., Man and the State, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1951), p. 308.
 Bonhoeffer, D., Ethics, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1975), p. 112ff.
 White, L., Reclaiming Our Squandered Heritage, (The Lutheran Clarion, September 2014), p. 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet