in Sermons

30. September 2012
St. Michael and All Angels
Matthew 18:1-11

God has constituted His creation in a wonderful order for two reasons. One, that we would love our neighbor as much as ourselves and two, that we would love God with our entire being. This is why asking “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” is a totally bone-headed question from the disciples. This is why asking “who is the greatest in the family?” is also stupid. This is why asking “who is the greatest at Grace Lutheran Church?” is the wrong question. All these questions seek to elevate yourself as greater than other.

God does not care for greater or lesser. He loves all equally, whether old or young, influential or peon, wealthy or poor, Indiana or Illinois native. The only-begotten Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, since all are sinners and all are in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

This does not mean that there is no distinctions in this world nor that our world is ordered by God. Not all are given to be civil leaders, politicians, or business owners. Some are called to be citizens and workers. This is God-ordained and this is for our good. It is also the same for the home. Being the head and father is not a matter of power but a matter of God-given authority for service. It does not mean that dad is more important or more saved by God. It simply means God has given to dad special duties and responsibilities for the blessing of the family.

But we sinners are always concerned about our identity. We jockey for the best position at work. We do what we can to outpace the Joneses. We always thank God we’re not like the other guy. We distinguish ourselves by age, economic status, race, and other worldly standards. We care what others think of us, especially if it makes us look better.

This is why gossip is on our tongues. We see to destroy our neighbor’s reputation not because we care about them. No, not at all. We ruin them so we look better in contrast. This is why we desire our neighbor’s stuff, his wife, or even his life. We desire what is theirs not to help them support and keep it but that we might have what they do not. And so it goes. We do not love our neighbor as much as we love how God has made us and supported us.

All your sins against your neighbor—whether greed, gossip, hatred, theft, civil disobedience, and adultery— are fundamentally sins against God. God gave you authorities including your parents not to belittle you but to protect you and care for you. God gives life as a blessing to care for family, church, and world. God institutes marriage as the locale for life-giving, for the raising of these children, and because it’s not good than man be alone. He orders the cosmos with rain and sun and all we need so that we may be equipped to love Him and the neighbor He has given us. He gives us the gift of speech to live together, support each other, and most importantly communicate the Gospel. God rejects greed because it is unbelief that God has given you exactly what you need in every way.

We do not like hearing that God actually gives to some more and to others less. We despise God for giving authority to some and not to others. We hate that we cannot be the final arbiter of life, both when it is given in the womb and when it becomes too difficult to manage. As the current political debates make evident, some would rather have a government that is the great leveler, making all equal. This is fundamentally disordered and chaotic. If life, the universe, and everything is all about you, then ultimately you care nothing for the neighbor and despise the station where God place you.

The church is not immune to struggles against order. Just as the world and the family, it is ordered for the giving of the Lord’s blessings. All receive justification through Jesus’ shed blood equally and fully. When it comes to salvation, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. All are children of God and inheritors of heaven. Yet, not all are given equal authority. The church is ordered for the giving of blessing. St. Paul says it this way:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:11–16)

According to St. Paul, the order of authority in the church is given that we would grow into mature faith through sound teaching for the work of service. The goal is the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. That is, all being joined to the head, who is Christ, would grow in Him to be like Him, full of grace and truth. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Who is the greatest in the family? Who is the greatest in the church? All wrong questions.

For your sake, Jesus gives you an example: And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Dear Christians! Humble yourselves before your God and Father. Turn from your idolatry of self, your desire to get ahead or take what is your neighbors, and your hatred of authorities. Repent, that is, turn and become like children. Submit yourselves to God and His Word. Obey your parents and leaders. Love your neighbor. Use what God has given you for service. Submit to God’s ordering of things.

Christ Jesus did not leave us in the disordered state of sin but has redeemed us with his shed blood, purchased and won us from captivity to death and devil, and promised to us the blessings of eternal life. This is the greatest blessing and reorders our world. He has once again ordered you as children under the heavenly Father.

All approach the rail, kneeling like children, humbly receiving the life giving food of Christ’s body and blood. Knowing this eternal truth, we free not to quibble about whether we have or have not, are in charge or in submission, free to speak or bound to listen, and the like. Our reward is certain in Christ and we are free to live now in the station where God placed us.

Jesus says, “whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones to believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” 

Better for him! It is absolutely imperative, in Jesus’ own words, that we care for the unity of the faith in this place. It is disorderly and contrary to our calling to abide by false doctrine. When someone preaches, teaches, or lives contrary to God’s Word, they are not tolerated but called to repentance. If they refuse to repent, they are set apart, or excommunicated, from the congregation until they recognize by God’s Word and Holy Spirit and repent. In faithful repentance, this once gangrene limb of the body is restored to health and grafted again into Christ.

Jesus charges His pastors in John chapter 20: “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them,  “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21–23)

In today’s Gospel, he described the retaining of sin in this way: “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.”

We don’t like this teaching of Jesus. If someone is causing the children to sin, cut them off or pluck them out? Understand where Jesus is coming from. People who speak or live contrary to God’s word, who have no contrition and repentance are in open rejection of God’s Word. They are rejecting the wonderful ordering of all things. Therefore, we are duty bound by the Word to call sin to repentance for the sake of the children.

We teach our children to submit to us for their good. Then many advocate we ignore God’s Word when it doesn’t suit us or makes us uncomfortable or places us in a position of humility. What does this teach the children? God’s Word doesn’t matter. Be all you can (and want) to be.

This is what is often lost in the discussion of all the hot button errors in the church, whether it be open communion, women pastors, gay marriage, abortion, or the like. All these false teachings undermine the ordering of God and threaten to destroy the faith of the little ones. Consider gay marriage: in countries that have embraced this disorderly conduct, we now see that heterosexual couples stop marrying. What was given to us by God is rejected by the allowing of error.

Lies, every one of them, have their source the chief lier Satan. He wants nothing better than for us to despise the little ones by confusing God’s Word and its given order. Perhaps this is by confusing Law and Gospel, withholding forgiveness for the contrite but forgiving the sins of the unrepentant? Perhaps this is by withholding the Sacrament from those who confess the true faith but have not meet some magical age or expectation or tradition? Perhaps this is by living in open and unrepentant rejection of God’s Word or by failing to exercise the authority given to Father or pastor. This battle began in the garden of rejecting God’s order and Word still continues today.

So it began when the archangel Michael and his angels cast down the dragon and his angels from heaven. That ancient Serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. The devil continues to tempt us to sin, accusing us day and night before our God. There is no doubt, this is a time of trouble, such as never has been.

But we shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. For we have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! Despite the battle, the outcome is certain and Christ’s victory sure! Yes, Satan tempts you day and night. Yes, you struggle against evil and disorder.

Even in the midst of this struggle, we need not fear! Our Lord Jesus has given us a wonderful little promise: all his little ones are guarded by the angels. Part of the wonderful ordering of the cosmos includes the Archangels and angels and all the heavenly host. Despite the battles we fight, the lies of Satan and his accusations, and every chaotic evil of this fallen world, we are cared for. Our Lord Jesus loves us until the end. He will always be with us, giving us His own flesh to restore us and keep us in Him.

And to assist him in this work, he has set the angels with us in wonderful order. He sends His holy angel to watch over us. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. Yes, we walk in danger all the way. Life is full of temptation to sin, undermining God’s good order. But there is no need for fear, despite the chaos and disorder. You, children of God, are cared for by the holy angels who remind you and keep you in the truth forever. Christ’s victory is assured and you are children of God forever.

4. I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me;
All Satan’s power is held at bay
When heavenly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
I walk with angels all the way.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana