Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pentecost 13 (Proper 16), Series B

Sermon on Mark 7:1-13
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 26, 2012 (The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

Today marks the opening worship service for Concordia Lutheran School.  At the very beginning of the school year, it’s appropriate that we remember why it is that we own and operate a Lutheran school together with our partner congregation, Faith Lutheran in Sturtevant, and why it is that we encourage parents to send their children to our school.  After all, operating a Lutheran school, especially in the midst of a recession, is not exactly easy.  The public schools are paid for by tax money.  Our school is paid for by our offerings and by tuition that is charged to the parents who send their kids here.  And, partially because we also have to pay the taxes that support the public schools, coming up with enough money to support a Lutheran school is not easy.  And so it’s a good idea to remind ourselves what it is that we do all of this for in the first place.

Our Gospel lesson for today, however, reminds us of at least one bad reason for owning and operating a Lutheran school, and for sending our children here.  Operating a Lutheran school, sending our kids to a Lutheran school, and even teaching at a Lutheran school, is not something we ought to do because we think that we will earn God’s favor by doing it.  But, as with everything we do in connection with the church, it’s a huge temptation to think we are doing something extra-special, extra-pleasing to God, because of our school.  It’s tempting to think that we are somehow more holy or stand higher in God’s eyes because we’ve made the sacrifices necessary to keep this school open and to pay for the education of our children here.  It’s tempting for teachers (as well as pastors) to think that we are somehow more devoted to God because our daily work is done in connection with the church.  But these are wrong reasons for owning and operating a Lutheran school, or for choosing a career that is connected to the Church.

The Pharisees were a group of people who thought that they could please God by their own choices of how to spend their money, where to spend their time, and so on.  They even came up with a whole series of rules you were supposed to follow in order to ensure that you didn’t even come close to breaking God’s law.  And their system of rules was complicated, too.  Some rules took precedence over others depending on the situation you were in.  One rule that Jesus points out in particular in today’s Gospel that was simply wrong, was that one could avoid the duty of loving the closest neighbors we have in this life, our own family, by giving the time, talents, and treasure we should devote to caring for them, to the temple or the synagogue.  Jesus flatly contradicts that one, calls down woe upon them, and even calls them hypocrites for following it.

Of course, sinful human nature doesn’t get the idea.  Fifteen hundred years later, a former monk by the name of Martin Luther had to fight against the same idea.  People would join monasteries, and wall themselves off away from the world, and even from their own families, because they thought that they could better serve and please God by doing works of service in connection with the church, instead of simply serving their neighbor in love in connection with whatever vocation they might find themselves.  Monasticism, and the whole medieval system of merit and penance and indulgences and whatever, was a return to the very Phariseeism that Jesus criticizes in today’s text.

The fact is, every area of life in this world, every neighbor whom God places in our path, every duty we find placed in front of us by the ordinary interactions with our fellow human beings in this life, is done in service to God.  One vocation is not holier than another.  God is working through every legitimate vocation to give His people everything they need for this body and life.  Everything that is done, as long as it’s not outwardly and grossly sinful, is done in love toward God and service toward the neighbor.  The only difference (and I do need to emphasize that it is the only difference) is that jobs in connection with the Church are there to preach and teach the Gospel, the good news that because of Christ’s death on the cross we are reconciled to God and we get to spend eternity with Him.  Even bringing up our children in a more moral lifestyle with “Christian” values, is not the real difference.  Granted, today’s public schools do a pretty bad job at that, but that hasn’t always been the case in our nation’s history, and we owned and operated Lutheran schools even during those times when the public schools did a very good job of making kids into moral, upright, and responsible citizens.  The real difference, the only difference that matters, between what we do here and what anybody else does, is the Gospel itself.  Every legitimate vocation serves God.  Most serve people in this life, church workers serve people for the life to come.  But that doesn’t make them holy.  Our only holiness comes from Christ’s death and resurrection given us in baptism.

The sad thing is, I’ve heard story after story after story of pastors or other church workers who neglected their families and became workaholics, but who thought they were doing God a service by doing that.  Everything they should have devoted to serving their closest neighbor, their own husband or wife or children or aged parents, was, in effect, Corban.  Even in the Missouri Synod, people get the false idea that they don’t have to follow the Fourth Commandment (or even the Sixth) to the extent others do, because they are serving God.  And the result is broken marriages, pastors’ kids who are notorious for having worse behavior problems than the rest of the class put together, and a whole host of other things which give people reason to criticize our schools and churches and to disbelieve the Gospel we preach.  And the only one made happy by that situation, is the devil.  The fact of the matter is, Tina is more important to me than my call as pastor here.  And that’s not just because I love her (though I do), but because my vocation as husband comes before my vocation as pastor.  And that is as it should be.

Well, I said at the beginning of this sermon that it’s a good idea for us to reflect on why we own and operate a Lutheran school.  So far, however, I’ve spend most of my time reflecting on, and condemning, certain false, bad reasons for having such a school.  But I did hint at what is the real reason why we do all this.  It’s the same reason we have Lutheran churches.  For the sake of the Gospel.  It is precisely because having a Christian school gives us the opportunity to catechize our children in the Christian faith and to respond to the false world-views that cause doubt in our children’s minds, that we do all of this.  It’s simply because we want our children to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for the forgiveness of their sins and that they will live forever with God, that we do this.  Will good values and morals and responsible citizenship follow from that?  Hopefully, yes.  But those things are not the point.  Eternity is.  And that’s what God freely gives us here.  Amen.                       

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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