15th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 20) LSB #’s 766:1-3, 8: 584; 526
Text – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is good, & it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth.
KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH
Emperor Charlemagne once ruled most of Western Europe. He was known to be ruthless & yet strongly supported the Christian religion. In the year 814 he died. As the story goes, when his funeral procession came to the cathedral that’d be his final resting place, people were shocked to find the gate barred by the bishop. “Who comes?” he shouted.
The heralds answered, “Charlemagne, Lord & King of the Holy Roman Empire!” Answering for God, the bishop replied, “Him I know not! Who comes?” A bit shaken, the heralds answered, “Charles the Great, a good & honest man of the earth!” Again, the bishop responded, “Him I know not! Who comes?”
Now completely crushed, the heralds confessed, “Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.” “Him I know,” the bishop replied. “Enter!”
In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Those are the words with which you & I remember our baptism & thus officially enter into the presence of God. Right here, in this time & place, the Creator of the universe has promised to be with you & to bless you by taking away all of your sins.
That knowledge of the truth is something most of the world’s people do not have in common with you & me. It is singular to the Christian faith. There are not many paths to heaven. There is only one, given to us by Jesus Christ Himself. Unless you know that truth you are not living life! Unless you know that truth you are lost.
How much do you value your salvation? How much time do you spend living in it?
How much do you value the truth? Your life depends upon knowing it because eternity will never end. Yes, the struggle here is difficult, & tedious, at times exhausting. Certainly there are more fun things to do, but your memory of them will bring you neither peace nor joy if you end up outside of heaven.
There are plenty of fun things to do in life that draw the attention of millions of people. Because of that, & because of Christ’s love for us, He gave this advice, based upon a truthful diagnosis, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:13 ESV)
From the perspective of our sinful nature, following Jesus appears difficult, tedious & exhausting. We want it to be fun. That’s why so many churches today hold services designed to entertain people. Let’s be honest, it is our nature to look for the way that is easy. We do make decisions by following the crowd.
We do that in spite of Jesus’ warning, “For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many.” Satan has designed his plan to appear easy because he well knows our sinful nature. His deception of Adam & Eve led them right into it. You & I have inherited that broken & self-centered nature from our ancestors.
In all our doings & in all our relationships, we inherently look for reassurance by following the crowd, & we instinctively are searching for the easy path. For me, that battle especially shows up in sermon writing. My sinful nature loves to take the broad & easy path. My saintly nature believes, however, that entering by the narrow gate is the will of God.
St. Paul is advocating for that narrow gate when he writes to Timothy words such as these, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty & self-control, not with braided hair & gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” (1 Timothy 2:8-10 ESV) Paul’s advice is for women to adorn themselves with good works instead of following the crowd by shopping in New York at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Paul’s advice is for men to lift up holy hands in prayer instead of lifting up their hands with anger or quarreling. By nature, men are much more ready to resort to violence than to prayer. You only have to follow the news to see the violence, & even in church circles, how often are the men eager to lead everyone in prayer?
Maybe some of you have these words of Holy Scripture memorized: “But I say to you, Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) Do you know what the rest of that sentence tells us? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:45a ESV) It’s not telling us to earn our sonship. It is simply stating what sons will do.
The sons of Yahweh love their enemies & pray for those who persecute them. You should recognize this, that is not the broad & easy road. It certainly is not following the crowd. So how do we get there? How do end up where we turn to prayer before violence? How do we find the desire to adorn ourselves with good works instead of what is sold at Saks Fifth Avenue?
I gave the answer immediately after the opening illustration. It begins the 4th paragraph of this sermon, “In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Those are such simple words, & we’ve heard them so often that we have learned to tune them out.
We do not recognize the profound privilege we have of speaking those words. We can barely begin to understand the power which those words convey. When we speak them we are entering into the very presence of God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven & earth. It is with Him that all life & all living begin! Life does not begin in the name of Satan, who is the father of lies, but in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. It is death that begins with the Devil. God became a human being in Jesus Christ so that He might rescue us from death. That rescue is singular to the Christian faith. It is the only path, not just to heaven, but to life itself. Until you know & believe that truth you are truly dead.
If you are dead, then anger & violence are normal instead of prayer. If you are dead, then shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue takes precedence over adorning your lives with good works. The way that we begin to live is when the Holy Spirit turns us to Jesus – the author & perfecter of our faith. It is by the Holy Spirit’s power alone that we take up our cross & follow Jesus.
It is not a decision that we make. It is a gift that we receive. Certainly the confession of our sins is part of that gift, for without the knowledge of God’s love for us, it is pure insanity to confess them. No good could come of it unless our Lord promised to take them away. His death, & resurrection from the dead, are the fulfillment of that promise.
St. Paul wrote: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, & thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings & all who are in high positions…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV) Jesus said, “…Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) Those can be difficult, tedious, exhausting & seemingly impossible tasks.
Where & how do we begin to pray for everyone, let alone for those whom we hate, for our enemies & those who persecute us? Lifting our hands in violence against them is so much more intuitive than is praying for them. The honest & truthful place to begin is by 1st acknowledging that I am a poor & miserable sinner who deserves to suffer an eternal death.
And guess what comes immediately after the invocation at the beginning of our service? It is the confession of our sins. It didn’t happen by accident that our services are constructed in that manner. In our denomination, they are intentionally designed that way even though many Christian churches today no longer include the confession of sins at all. The broad, easy road is to skip that part. After all, Jesus died for our sins on the cross. It’s a done deal. He said, “It is finished.” But skipping the confession of sin hampers our ability, eventually even blocks our ability, to rest in God’s love & to serve others through God’s love.
I can only love my enemies & pray for those who persecute me if I approach God in absolute humility on account of my own sins & my own failures. If I see myself as someone with unlimited needs, then I can pray for others.
A very important place in reaching that point of humility is at this railing as I kneel before our Creator to seek a clean heart, O God, & the renewing of a steadfast spirit within me.
Prayer, as God would have it, is always a response to His mercy & grace at work in our hearts & minds. And the 1st commandment makes clear that our relationship with God should be the 1st priority in life because all true blessings flow from that relationship. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. Knowledge of the truth reveals that to all who are God’s children.
As Jesus stated in John 8:32, “…& you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.” We have been set free of all the things that entangle us & weigh us down. As God’s children we truly have nothing to fear. That is our heavenly Father’s design & will. Even if the road is not broad & easy, it is possible to pray for everyone, including kings all who are in high positions.
Faith & truth & life bestowing, open now the Scriptures, Lord, seed to life eternal sowing, scattered on the wind abroad. Let not hearts, Your Word receiving, like a barren field be found, choked with thorns & unbelieving, shallow earth or stony ground. May the Spirit’s power unceasing bring to life the hidden grain, daily in our hearts increasing, bearing fruit that shall remain. So in Scripture, song & story, Savior, may Your voice be heard. Till our eyes behold Your glory give us ears to hear Your Word. Amen. LSB 584.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet