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Choose Your Heroes Wisely – a sermon

The Lord be with you

Below you will find the text for today’s sermon with some additional material. This is what I have in the pulpit. I accidentally did not record this message so there is no audio copy. No preached sermon of mine is exactly the same as what I’ve written, but it comes close.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor

Pentecost 12
Proper 16
August 27, 2017
Commemoration of Monica, Mother of Augustine

Lections: Psalm 138 (8a); Isaiah 51:1–6; Romans 11:33—12:8; Matthew 16:13–20

Sermon: Choose Your Heroes Wisely
Text: Isaiah 51:1

Opening Hymn LSB 645 Built on the Rock
Sermon Hymn: LSB 677 For All the Saints
Closing Hymn: LSB 798 The God of Abraham Praise

The Lord Jesus Christ Is the Son of the Living God (from Synod)

Jesus asked His disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). The question is also put to us: Who do you say that He is? Flesh and blood do not reveal this to us, but by the ministry of the Gospel, the Father in heaven reveals His Son to us on earth, who has become flesh and suffered death for our salvation. Thus, we believe and confess that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). As He died for our transgressions and was raised for our justification, He looses us from all our sins and preserves our life within His Church, against which even “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18–19). His salvation is forever, and His righteousness “will never be dismayed” (Is. 51:6). He comforts us with the Gospel in His Church, so that “joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (Is. 51:3). Therefore, “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3), we also offer ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1) through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Psalm 138 (antiphon: v. 8a)

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.

1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
3 On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased.
4 All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
5 and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD,
for great is the glory of the LORD.
6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.

Isaiah 51:1–6
1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
that I might bless him and multiply him.
3 For the LORD comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4 “Give attention to me, my people,
and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
5 My righteousness draws near,
my salvation has gone out,
and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
and for my arm they wait.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

Romans 11:33—12:8
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Matthew 16:13–20
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

 

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Isaiah 51:1

In our Old Testament lesson, the Lord tells Israel to “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” We might naturally think that God would then tell them that he is their Rock. God is, after all, rather fond of that analogy. In Deuteronomy 32:15 he calls himself the “Rock of our salvation.” The same thought and name is found in 2 Samuel (22:3, 47), in Psalm 18 (:2, 46), Psalm 62 (:2, 6, 7), and elsewhere (Psalm 89:26; 95:1; Isaiah 17:10). So it is surprising when, in verse two, we read that the rock from which they have been hewn is Abraham, their ancestor.

Of course, it makes sense biologically. Abraham is, after all, their ancestor. But, in the end, Abraham was just a man, and one that had been dead a long, long time. What could he do to help them?

God, though, helps us to understand why he wants the people to remember and look to Abraham. He reminds us that Abraham was but “one” when the Lord called him, when the Lord promised him descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. As the story unfolds in Genesis 15 we find these remarkable words: “And he (that is, Abraham) believed the LORD, and he (that is, the LORD) counted it to him (back to Abraham) as righteousness” (15:6).

We are well acquainted with the verse because of how it is used by Saint Paul in the New Testament (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6) to establish that all who have been saved throughout time have been justified by grace through faith and not through their own efforts or merit. Because of our familiarity with the story, we might not realize that this story about Abraham is the first time the word “believe” is used in the Bible. That’s right. Sure, Adam and Eve believed. Noah believed. Enoch believed. We know they did because when God made promises they acted on those promise. But Abraham has the honor of being the first person, recorded in the Bible, as believing.

He, then, is the perfect person for God to direct the attention of the Israelites. “See this man, this man whom you call your “father?” What made him special?” It was his faith. Through faith he was made righteous. And we are not talking about some generic faith, but faith in the Gospel promises of God. It was the faith of Abraham that made him a hero for the people to look up to.

Today there are many heroes. I guess that may well be the case for every generation and for all nations. Some are fictional like Superman or James Bond. Some are flesh and blood, like a football quarterback or a movie star. Some are historic, like Martin Luther or Lewis and Clark. Some are political, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Some are military, like ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Schwarzkopf or Sargent York. Some are business heroes like Bill Gates or Andrew Carnegie. Some become heroes because they invent stuff, like the Wright brothers or Albert Edison. The list of types of heroes could go on and on.

When you think about it, the qualifications for being a hero today are not all that high. You just need to be very good at something and then get noticed. Of course, such heroes come and go. On facebook there is an endless number of quizzed that begin with: “Only 10% of people can recognize all of the following people from …” pick a year. Let us say the date is 1938. Then you would be shown pictures of people like, say Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Howard Hughes, Orson Wells, Joe Louis, Kate Smith, Bette Davis, Franklin Roosevelt, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Jimmy Foxx. All these people were heroes, at least to some people. But many are forgotten now, some are even remembered as villains. For example; Did you know that Jimmy Foxx was voted most valuable player of the American League in 1938?

One thing this list of 1938 heroes teaches us is that we should be careful about who we think of as our heroes. What a disappointment Hitler turned out to be! Here, in our reading from Isaiah, God picks a hero for the people to look up to, a hero of faith, Abraham. And they are to imitate his faith.

This is not just an Old Testament thing. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Now, of course, Jesus is our ultimate role model. It is into his image that the Holy Spirit is transforming us (Romans 8:29), not Saint Paul or Abraham. But this is not simply something that is being done for a single individual, it is something the Spirit is doing for all believers. Throughout the ages there are some that truly stand out as shining examples of saints that have been transformed into the image of Christ. Sure, sure, the transformation is never complete in this life. All must live lives of repentance. Still, when Luther stands up at the Diet of Worms before representatives of the Roman Church and the Holy Emperor, having been commanded to recant his teaching of Justification by grace through faith, we cannot help but be inspired when Luther said:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen.

How this reminds me of when our Lord stood before political and religious leaders on trial for his life. Of course, Jesus had no Elector Frederick to rescue him like Luther did. Then again, Jesus didn’t come to be rescued. He came to give his life as a ransom for humanity (Matthew 20:28). He came to rescue us from the dire consequences of humanities fall into sin.

Having heroes to look up to, to emulate, is, in a way, part of the reason for our liturgical calendar. Sure, it has the big events, like Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and so on. But it also has many names, people who have gone before us and clung onto their faith through all sorts of situations, as they strove to live in faith towards God and in love towards their neighbors. They provide us real, flesh and blood, heroes.

Take today’s commemoration as an example. On August 29 we remember Monica, who was the mother of Augustine. Tomorrow we will remember Augustine but today his mother. Why would we remember Monica? She is an example of perseverance in prayer with few peers. You see, while she was a Christian, no one else was in her family. She was blessed that her pagan husband allowed her to be a Christian.

Her son was brilliant, but was conformed to his times. He became an adherent to various false ideas, chased women, drank too much, and got a good education. Through it all, Monica kept her son in her prayers. After her husband died, coming to faith in Christ on his deathbed, Monica moved to wherever her son lived. Eventually that took them to Milan. After years and years of prayer, the Gospel finally penetrated his hard heart. The Preacher who reached Augustine was Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, whom we remember on December 7.

Monica trusted our Lord’s promise to hear our prayers. She trusted that our Lord came to redeem all people, which included her son. And she was blessed to see her son’s conversion. Now there is a heroin! A person we can all look up to and seek to emulate her prayer life. She learned prayer in the Church. She learned prayer from the example of her Lord. She learned prayer from the Word of God. And she has left us a Christ-like example in her prayer life.

So who do we look up to? Sports stars? Many of them may be physically exceptional, but they can be morally bankrupt. Do we idolize actors or singers? Again they may be very talented but many are morally corrupt. Many consider politicians as heroes. There certainly have been some exceptional ones over the years. Then, again, there have been some real losers, and I’m not talking about their political theories. I’m talking about bearing false witness, about deceiving people, about seeking their own good instead of the good of the nation. We might think of brilliant men who use their gifts to make breakthroughs in science, but also use their gifts to lead people away from saving faith. What happens when one of these becomes our hero? John Rockefeller Sr. may well have been the wealthiest man in the world, but his business practices were so underhanded that anyone who trusted him in a business deal was a fool. Is that the type of role model we want? A role model of greed and covetousness?

God directs the Israelites to Abraham – A man of faith, faith in Jesus, the promised descendant. Abraham was a man who lived that faith. Sure, he stumbled, on more than one occasion, but by faith he knew that God would welcome back a repentant heart. Like us, he didn’t know the full plan of God, but he believed. Shoot, no one can know the full plan of God. But we know that, in Christ, we have a loving God who has the best plans possible for us.

I believe that there is actually no way for us to go through this life without heroes, without people we look up to. So let us take a tip for God. Let us pick heroes of faith. They will be flawed, like all humanity. But they will show us that God is forgiving of the repentant heart. They will show us that trusting God is never the wrong move. They will show us that standing up for Christ is better than all the treasures of the world. So, pick your heroes wisely. Pick heroes of faith. Amen.

Comment(1)

  1. Reply
    R E LANGFORD JR says

    TY, Pastor! Not for failing to record what you said *viva voce,* but for posting in a digital format I can copy and paste. I enjoy showing off your homilies at Delphi Forums where I sometimes post to chats titled “Catholicism,” and “Free thinkers Perception Exchange.” TYVM.

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