Sermon audio here.
Today we as we celebrate the festival of St. Luke, we thank God that the Holy Spirit inspired the Holy Evangelist to record our Lord’s Words faithfully. He didn’t soften them any in an effort to make them easier or more appealing.
Listen to the shocking things our Lord says in Luke 14:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:26-35)
Harsh words from our Lord. Our Lord wants us to know the incredibly high cost of discipleship ahead of time. He doesn’t want us to be caught by surprise and give up halfway through. He has no use for disciples who’ve lost their salt. They’re not even good enough, He says, for the manure pile.
Following our Lord—obeying His call to radical discipleship—is like going into battle with 10,000 men against an army of 20,000. It’s not easy. Christ stresses the necessity of putting God first in about as harsh of language there is: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Now I could stand up here and make excuses for our Lord or try to explain the difficulty of His Words away, but sometimes it’s okay to just let the tension stand.
St. Luke didn’t soften our Lord’s words even though he knew our Christ’s radical call to discipleship wouldn’t be popular. He just comes out and tells it like it is: if you loved God above all things, you would immediately say, “Amen” to everything He says—even that discipleship requires you to hate your father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even your own life. But like Adam and Eve, you don’t trust God. You’re suspicious of what He says.
Our Lord is equally demanding in today’s text. There, He sent out the seventy-two, and that’s where we get that famous passage about praying to the Lord of the harvest to send out pastors into His Church.
So far so good. But then Jesus tells them He’s sending them out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Who wants to sign up for that? But He calls them to faithfulness, to preach the same unpopular message of repentance that He Himself preached. If there’s one thing we don’t like, it’s being told we’re wrong.
And to make matters worse, they weren’t allowed to take any money with them! They were left to depend on the kindness of strangers to support them in the Word and Sacrament ministry. Ultimately, God wanted them to trust that He would provide for their needs as He saw fit.
Our Lord wants His Church to have that same level of trust today. His expectations are impossibly high—but the one thing we must never do is soften His demands or forget what He requires. This is important because when you lose sight of how bitterly you’ve failed, you can no longer hear the sweetness of the Gospel.
The demands our Lord puts on us are equally as demanding as those He once put on the seventy-two. God does not want us to find security in storing up wealth for ourselves, but to find our security in Christ and use what we’ve been given in service to the Gospel.
We see the opposite of this in Luke 12, where our Lord tells a parable about what we would consider a responsible financial planner. He literally had more wealth than he knew what to do with! His barns were overflowing, and the only thing he could think to do was to tear them down and build larger ones. But just when gets his endowment in order, God calls him a fool and informs him that he’s going to die that very night. Then, God asks him, what will happen to all of his precious wealth?
About a year and a half ago the board of stewardship became aware of what’s been called a “financial crisis” here at Zion. We’ve been spending more than we’re bringing in. The board of stewardship will update you with the specifics when they give their presentation in November, but numbers aside, it’s common sense: you can’t keep spending more than you have forever. Eventually the money will run out.
But a congregation’s problem is only money if they exist to keep the doors open, and when that’s the case, they’re better off closing down. Christ’s Church exists so that sinners might hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments.
The Lord has numbered all of our days, both as individuals and as a congregation. We are neither to cling to life at all costs nor end it prematurely, but to do what we’ve been given to do for as many days as Christ gives us. As the psalm says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90:12). The Church endures forever, but individual congregations do well to remember that they are mortal.
The money may or may not run out here. Membership could hold steady or it may increase. Maybe it’ll decline. Congregations have ebbs and flows. When this place was packed nobody would have predicted there would be a time when our attendance would be in the 50’s. 50 years from now this place might be packed again. Maybe in 50 years we won’t be here at all. Quite frankly, that’s not our concern.
We exist solely by the grace of God, and He will sustain Zion as long as He pleases—not a day more and not a day less. Our job is to be faithful, to do the work Christ has given us to do as long as He gives us to do it.
One of the ways we’ve tried to do this is through our endowment. An endowment can be a blessing—and ours is a big reason why we’re still here. And for that, we give thanks to God!
But we need to remember why Christ has put us here. He wants us to use what we’ve been given in service to the Gospel. Remember the parable of the talents? God was pleased with those who put what He’d given them to work. The guy who buried his talent in the ground was only trying to do the responsible thing, to preserve what he’d been given. But he didn’t please his Master and even the little he had was taken away.
The sinful flesh is a magician when it comes to turning God’s gifts into idols. If our goal is to preserve our endowment rather than use it to further the work of the Gospel, we’re no different than the guy who buried his talent. God has given us everything we have that we might use it to His glory. When our security is tied to the balance of an account rather than Christ, we no longer have an endowment, we have a golden calf.
How long we have the privilege of receiving God’s gifts in this place is entirely up to Him. We do well to bear Solomon’s words in mind:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3:1–3).
We have been called, like the seventy-two, to be faithful. Only God knows how many days He’s given to Zion, Summit—and when it’s time to die, whether that’s in 1 year or 100, or even if this congregation remains until our Lord’s Second Advent—our task is to rejoice that God has accomplished His purposes here.
In the meantime, Christ has called you to be faithful in coming hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments. Faithfulness also means giving your offerings and supporting our Lord’s work as you are able. Remember, you may miss church once in a while, but the bills have perfect attendance. When you miss, make up for it the next week.
This also means that difficult decisions sometimes need to be made. We don’t like seeing the balance of our investments decrease, but given the choice between doing the work of the Gospel and preserving the endowment, we must never choose money over Christ.
For everything there is a season, which means there are also seasons for things we don’t like. There is a time to die, to pluck up, to kill, to break down, and yes—even to liquidate. Unpleasant though they may be, these too are gifts from God, and He intends them all for your good. God holds the times and seasons in His hand. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father. Fear not, therefore; Zion is of more value than many sparrows.
God’s expectations may be impossibly high, but His grace is infinitely greater. He calls us to faith and hope, not worry and doubt. The minute we start worrying about money or anything else, we’ve lost sight of Christ and the reason we’re here. We are here to glorify Him for as many days as He’s given us, and when those days are up, to say, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord!”
Christ loves this congregation, sinners though we are. We are His Beloved Bride, for whom He shed His Blood, for whom He has faithfully provided pastors for over 140 years. He continues to baptize sinners, to preach His Gospel, and to feed you with His Body and Blood. Christ is faithful, and He will see to it that Zion is around until His work in this place is done.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 10:1–9
The Festival of St. Luke, Evangelist: “Endowment or Golden Calf?”
Zion, Summit: https://www.facebook.com/zionlcms
Immanuel, Hodgkins: https://www.facebook.com/immanuelhodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies: http://www.whatdoesthismean.org/bible-studies.html
Sermon audio here.
In many ways, St. Luke picks up his Gospel account where the prophet Isaiah leaves off. Listen to Isaiah’s words again…
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
Sounds like a medical transcription report. People can’t see, can’t walk, can’t speak. Diagnosis, prognosis, treatment. Isaiah depicts the Lord as a Divine Physician, the Healer of the Nations.
So does St. Luke, whom we commemorate today. From the evangelist’s perspective, the moment Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the sign on the stable door says “The Doc is in.” He heals the blind, opens deaf ears, and makes the lame to walk. This Great Physician speaks peace, because He is the peace of God in human flesh.
And that’s why sends the 72 out with the message, “Peace be with this house.” They are His apostles of peace. This is the message of the Church today, that God has reconciled Himself to sinners by the blood of Christ. This is the peace that Luke writes about in his Gospel. Jesus is a physician of peace.
Now peace may be the last thing on your mind when you go to the doctor’s office. The waiting room isn’t always a very peaceful place. Sure, it might be painted with soothing colors and be filled with toys, magazines, or TVs. Even so, a trip to the doctor can be terrifying, whether you’re a child in need of a dreaded shot or an adult waiting for the lab results.
But there’s no white coat syndrome with Jesus, no need to fear your Savior. This despite the fact that He knows the full history of your spiritual health. He knows you are sick, that you’re a sinner. But that doesn’t stop Jesus. You are precisely why He was born, why He suffered, bled and died.
Your sin gives you every reason to fear the judgment of God. St. Paul says you were dead in your trespasses, cold and lifeless on the operating table. But what is greater, your sin or Jesus’ death that atones for your sin?
Jesus walks in to the waiting room of our fallen world to breathe our poisoned air. He takes your disease of sin and death upon Himself to restore your life forever. All of your sin is quarantined in Jesus’ body on the cross. He becomes the curse of sin for you in order to give you a clean bill of health. The Doctor dies for the patient in order to bring you back from the dead. You are forgiven.
But the more we examine our lives, the more we see our sinful condition, and the more we see just how desperately we need healing.
But we need the right diagnosis before we can get the right treatment. And that’s one of the reasons we give thanks to God for St. Luke, the evangelist. He records God’s Law faithfully, through which we begin to see our sinful condition.
God’s Law is the scalpel of your Good Physician, and He’s an expert Surgeon. With precision His law cuts and kills you in order to heal and make you alive. Each commandment is an accurate incision of the Law.
You have not feared, loved, and trusted God above all things.
You have failed to use God’s name properly and call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
You have not valued preaching and God’s Word as highly as you should.
You have disobeyed your parents and other authorities God has given you.
You have not helped your neighbor in every physical need.
You have not led a sexually pure life in all you say and do.
You have been a poor steward of your possessions and income.
You have not spoken well of your neighbor and explained everything in the kindest way.
You have coveted more people and things than you can even remember.
The diagnosis is terminal. But Jesus doesn’t delight in torture or punishment. Your Good Physician cuts with the Law in order to heal with the Gospel. He kills you in order to make you alive. The Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. All of those commandments you have broken, Jesus has kept for you.
Jesus perfectly fears, loves, and trusts the Father for you.
Jesus calls upon God’s Name for you.
Jesus heard and spoke the Word of God for you.
Jesus honored father and mother and all authorities for you.
Jesus helped his neighbor in ever time of need for you.
Jesus led a sexually pure life for you.
Jesus was a faithful steward of all God’s creation for you.
Jesus explains everything about you in the kindest way, through the lens of His suffering and death.
Jesus does not scheme or entice, but preserves and restores.
All your sickness of sin, Jesus has made his own. The Great Physician turns the scalpel on himself. He stands under the two-edged sword of God’s Word for you. He keeps the Law for you, yet suffers the punishment you deserve, all so He can bring you healing. Jesus is bruised for your iniquities and by His wounds, you are healed.
Jesus is the Great Physician that Luke, the beloved physician, was called to write about and proclaim.
“Peace be to this house”.
The 72 give as they receive. Jesus gives them peace, the same peace that Christ won by His life, death, and resurrection.
In Luke 2 the angels sang:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.
At long last, Simeon finally held the 40 day old peace of God in his hands and announces, “Now I can depart in peace.”
Jesus entered into Jerusalem on His way to the cross while the crowds cried out: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Jesus makes peace between God and man by his death on the cross.
Jesus spoke to His disciples after His resurrection, saying, “Peace be with you”.
Thanks to Luke and the other evangelists, this peace is still yours today. Thanks to the 72. Thanks to faithful pastors whom Christ has sent. The peace that Jesus won for you on the cross by shedding his blood, by dying your death, by rising again—all of that is given to you here.
What the 72 proclaimed in the Holy Gospel, Christ’s ministers still proclaim to you today: “Christ’s peace be to this house!” What great news! The Good Doctor makes house calls and brings you His peace!
We sing of Christ’s peace around the Altar: “The peace of the Lord be with you always”. The peace of Christ comes to you when you eat and drink the Body and Blood of your Lord. Here is the medicine of immortality, the antidote for your sin.
The peace Jesus gives is no placebo. It’s not temporary like our vain efforts at peace. Jesus doesn’t appease sin and death, He destroys it. In Christ’s death you live. Jesus takes on your sickness you are made well.
Peace be to this house! The kingdom of God has come near to you.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Sam Schuldheisz, edited for Immanuel by Eric Andersen