Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 13, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Doesn't Fit)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 17:14-17
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Dear Lord, the world has frequently tried to transform the Savior and make Him less than He is. Send Your Spirit so all may know the power of His love and the strength of the sacrifice He made to save us. Grant this Lord, unto us all. Amen.
It has been a good many years since I found myself searching for an office manager for my church. Far more than a secretary, her job was to keep both church and school organized and moving forward. It was a job which called for skill and an overwhelming dedication to accuracy. If you think that is an exaggeration, then I encourage you to talk to two brides whose weddings had been scheduled on the same day and at the same time or explain to a family why a grandchild's name was left off the list of mourners.
Well, the search for such an individual was not an easy one. Eventually, I found an ideal candidate for the position at the office of a local divorce lawyer. Salary seemed to be the only problem. The church couldn't come close to matching her present salary. I was shocked when she told me, in spite of the major cut she would have to take, she was willing to work for the amount we were offering. Of course, I asked her, "Why would you do that?" Her reply was simple: "I think it's time I started working for the Lord's people rather than the divorcing couples."
To make a long story short, she joined our team and brought with her a level of organization which soon had things running like a well-oiled machine. For three years, we were all incredibly happy. At the end of those three years, she came to me and said, "I think it's time I started looking for another job."
In shock, I asked, "Why would you do that?"
She said, "I need a change. I thought I was working for the Lord's people, but most of the time, I see Christians treating each other worse than the divorcing couples did in the lawyer's office. Church people argue more than divorcing people; church people will argue longer than divorcing people; church people don't forgive as easily as divorcing people."
It was a pretty scathing critique. Was she right? I don't know. In truth, it didn't make much difference if she was accurate. That's the way she felt and for her those points were all true.
Since that day, I have run into many others who agreed with that office manager. Most of the time, they like her list and have points of their own. By far and away, the most familiar criticisms of the church I've heard are one, the church is filled with hypocrites and its leaders can't be trusted; two, I like Jesus, but I don't very often meet Jesus in church services and three, worst of all, the church is incredibly boring. I remember one person whose dissatisfaction was summed up in the sentence, "Church is a boring pastor standing up and telling his boring congregation that they are supposed to be even more boring."
Since I was wearing my clerical collar, I refrained from giving him the thrashing he so richly had earned with his disrespectful words. Instead, I tried to see things from his perspective and point of view. Sadly, when I did, I found that sometimes, in some situations and circumstances, the man was right. He was right because, like the Reformer Martin Luther, he had concluded as long as we live in this world we are simul justus et peccator. That's a Latin expression which means we are both justified and sinners. It means, even though Jesus' people remain sinful, because of the forgiveness won by Jesus through His life, suffering, death and resurrection, they are forgiven and justified, that is, they are declared innocent before the Lord.
Now, those are some highfalutin, heavy-sounding theological sentences. In practical terms, those sentences mean you are never going to find a perfect church with a perfect pastor and perfect people. Never. That is because every parish is made up of sinful pastors and people. As my old office manager discovered, church people remain sinners living in a sinful world. We would remain miserable creatures indeed if it were not for the Holy Spirit taking us to Jesus' cross and His empty tomb. There, repentant hearts are given forgiveness and faith in the Savior whose life was made as the payment which released believers from the pains of eternal damnation.
Get it? We are simul justus et peccator. As long as we live on this earth, we Christians will sin. Understand, we don't want to sin, but we do. As we live our lives, we often end up doing the very things our faith says we shouldn't do. And it is that weak, sinful disobedience which the unbelieving world finds so offensive and so unappealing. Our all-too-visible sins are what make the world condemn the church as being hypocritical, argumentative, and boring. Tragically, and unfortunately, the unbelieving world also assumes that because the Lord's people are such big disappointments, Jesus will also be a disappointment, that because we have let them down, Jesus will do the same. And it is that assumption which is totally, terribly wrong.
Let me explain. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says, "...in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." The actual, physical resurrection of Jesus is the doctrine on which all of Christianity and our salvation rests. In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. Now a person might be tempted to say those words are a lie, and another individual might say those words are rubbish, or they are a figment of the disciples' over-active imaginations. But Scripture is clear: in fact Jesus rose from the dead, and anyone who suggests otherwise is 100 percent wrong.
They are just as wrong as anyone who holds to the relatively recent opinion that the Savior is both irrelevant and boring. To be totally fair, those who counted themselves as enemies of the Christ, that is the high priestly family, along with the Jewish Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, never used those adjectives to describe the Redeemer. On the contrary, the very people who most hated, vilified, persecuted, and were most responsible for crucifying the Christ, thought Him too extreme to be safe; too dangerous to let live. Shortly after Jesus had performed the most significant miracle of His career-that is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, those leaders went into a panic. The Gospel of John reports how "the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation." Jesus was not boring to them. On the contrary, He was so dangerous they felt that He could, if left unchecked, destroy their way of life and their nation.
When Jesus walked among us, those who were in power feared Him and plotted His murder. Today, the power of Christ has been demoted in the minds and hearts of many. Today, Jesus is innocuous, harmless, bland, and boring. Well, my friends, today Jesus can't be forced into, nor will He remain in, that ill-fitting description. The night the Savior was betrayed He spoke at length to His Father in heaven. One of the things He said was this, "(Father), I have given (My disciples) Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."
With those words, the Savior was very plainly saying, in effect, that "I am not going to fit your mold." And it's true. Many of the people He met, including His own disciples, expected Him to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and restore the power and kingdom they had enjoyed when David ruled the land. Jesus didn't do that. After the Savior fed the thousands with the most meager of rations, the people tried to make Him King, so He could keep feeding them. Jesus didn't accept that. Again and again, Jesus refused to be defined by our expectations, so He might fulfill His Father's plan to seek and save the lost; Jesus declined to be an earthly ruler, so He might be our heavenly Redeemer.
Read the Scriptures and hear Jesus repeatedly tell the crowds that "Trying to make Me fit into your preconceptions will not work. It won't work any better than putting new wine into old wine skins." Think about that illustration for a moment. Leather, no matter how well it has been cared for, will, over the years, dry out and grow brittle. Fermenting wine, on the other hand, is a pretty powerful concoction. Years ago, at my high school in Milwaukee, one of my friends tried to make hard cider. He added the yeast and the sugar. Then, so as not to be discovered in his illegal activity, he sealed the jar tightly, and put it on a closet shelf to ferment. The cider fermented in that glass jar. It fermented really good. When the bottle finally exploded, it blew open the door of the closet and embedded pieces of glass in a cinder block wall.
Well, Jesus blows away our preconceptions, too. That's because He was not a continuation of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies; He was their fulfillment. He was the Maker of a new Covenant, a new agreement, a new relationship between God and man; a relationship forged by heavenly grace and divine sacrifice. To try to force Him into another role, a lesser position, simply will not work. He will not fit.
And it's true, you know. Try to make Jesus into a mere prophet or a learned teacher, and He won't stay. Try to minimize Him, ignore Him, forget Him, He won't stay. Try Him, crucify Him, bury Him, He won't stay. He is the exciting, powerful Savior of the world. He is the One whose blood has washed away our sins. He is the One whose presence comforts us in our losses; whose power strengthens the weak; whose grace reaches out to those who have no hope. Anything else, anything less than Him being the world's Savior, the fulfiller of the Law, the Redeemer of lost humankind, is unacceptable. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and He cannot be confined to a lesser job, a minor roll. He will not stay; He will not fit.
Of course, you might not feel that way. Perhaps, for you, Jesus is boring. Perhaps your entire relationship, if you have any relationship with Him at all, is boring. Perhaps your association with the Lord can be summed up as getting up at the same time on a Sunday and going to the same boring church service. You stand and sit at the same boring times. You hear the same boring prayers about the same boring people, and you leave with boredom in your heart. Little wonder you put the Savior on a boring shelf and forget about Him until you have to take Him down the following boring Sunday. Does that describe your relationship with the Savior, or is it possible you don't even have that?
Well, I used to feel that way myself and I understand. But, can I tell you a secret? The problem was not that Jesus was boring, it was me. I didn't expect anything from Him. Indeed, I liked Him boring. That way I was in control of my life. It was like I was on a tandem bike. I was in front, Jesus was behind. All I wanted from Him was a little power as I steered my life where I wanted it to go. When the pedaling got difficult, when I had a problem, a need, a difficulty, I called upon Him for help. But I wanted Him in the back and me in the front. No wonder Jesus seemed boring. But that was my choice, never His. Put Him in the front seat where He controls the direction of your life, and you are going to see changes, and one of the first of those changes will be the realization that the Savior isn't who you thought He was.
At the beginning of this message, I spoke of how Christians can let you down and give you a wrong impression of the Savior. I'm not going to say that can't happen. It does. But I would also like to share there are believers who have encountered the transforming Savior I've been talking about. A month ago, I met Steven and his father. Steven is a young boy monitoring classes at a local Lutheran school. Jesus is not boring to Steven. In the Sudan, from which Steven has just arrived, his family was under persecution. They had a choice: stay and deny Jesus, stay and be killed, or run for freedom. They ran. Actually, they walked 100 miles to a boat, which took them to a plane, which took them to another boat, to another plane, to Dallas. Jesus was with Steven's family through many a perilous situation. Jesus is with them now as they establish a new home. No, I doubt if Jesus will ever be boring to Steven.
Today is Mother's Day and I have been remiss in recognizing those special women who have given us life, and those extra-special ladies who first told us of the Savior's salvation. I hope you will allow me to conclude this message about such a mother who, like her Savior, doesn't fit in. Her name is Mary and she lives in the Sudan. Her two boys had been taken from her home and drafted into an organization where they would be given new names and be taught to be soldiers and fight for a new god. For three months Mary had tried to find some trace of her children. Going from camp to camp she hunted for them, always without success. Finally, she believed that she had traced them to this camp. She begged and pleaded to be allowed to see if her boys were there. Amazingly, the authorities gave her 10 minutes, one chance to walk through the camp and scan the faces of those boys now dressed in their new uniforms. She had one chance for God to answer her prayers and restore her children. If she did not find them, she would never be allowed to return and look for them again. What if she missed them among the crowds? What if they were shut up with the sick boys? What if their captors had hidden them so that she could not find them? All that she could do was pray, and look, and sing. She sang a hymn of the Savior and His love. It was a hymn she had sung when her boys were babies. She sang and they came running. To Mary, a Christian mother, Jesus, and that song about Him, will never be boring.
And for you? How about you? All I can say is this: Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. You can get to heaven only through Him. If you need help meeting this living, loving, defeater of death, all you need to do is call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Reflections for MAY 13, 2018
Title: DOESN'T FIT
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Pastor Ken Klaus. Dr. Dale joins us now here in the studio and we were reminded once again, it is Mother's Day.
Dale Meyer: And let me take this opportunity to extend a warm, loving, Happy Mother's Day to my own mother who is in Paris, Illinois. And I know that our daughters and grandchildren are saying the same to wife, Diane.
Mark Eischer: There you go, and I'd also like to acknowledge my wife, Debbie and my mother, Lois, up in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Well, mothers have a vocation as Luther would describe it, a particular role that God has given to them as mothers.
Dale Meyer: Absolutely. I love the hymn, "Now, thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom His world rejoices; Who from our mother's arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love and still is ours today."
Mothers have a special vocation. And I've got a story about that. Our daughter Katie graduated from high school. The next morning, I was sitting on the porch in the rocking chair and Diane came out. She'd just gotten up and had found a letter that Katie wrote to Diane. And in that letter, Katie thanked Diane for being a stay-at-home mom and recited all the ways by which that made a difference in Katie's life.
Now, this is not against mothers who have to work. Statistics show that those children can turn out well, too. But Diane was moved to tears, by that gratitude that she had pursued her vocation. Vocation is where God has put you and mothers have one of the most important vocations of all, to raise up the next generation especially in the fear and love of God.
Mark Eischer: Now, you brought a bunch of papers into the studio with you today. What's that all about?
Dale Meyer: I've got a whole sheath of papers with me, and they come from a 2017 study of young adults. This was done by the Department of Youth Ministry in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and it has much to say about how we, as mothers and fathers and congregations, raise young people.
One of the key findings is that transition and crisis are times when parents and congregations should be with young people. I'll read the first conclusion of this study. "Parents and congregations must prepare and engage young people during times of transition and crisis."
An example of transition is leaving high school for college. That's a time when a lot of young people get away from the church. A crisis is the death of a young person. I think most of us have seen the total shock and horror when a high school classmate is killed. This is not part of youth life. Another crisis is a terrible childhood disease, for example, childhood cancer. These are times when parents and congregations must be present and engage young people.
Mark Eischer: And parents play a critical role as well. How can parents do that better?
Dale Meyer: Quoting again from the study, "Young people cannot emulate faith behavior they don't see." When parents don't prioritize worship and congregational engagement, young people won't either. Children learn what they live. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
My father-in-law used to say, "They don't learn it from strangers." Going back to my own mom and dad, there's no question, you're going to church on Sunday morning. It's what we see our parents do, and I've noticed that in my own life. Children emulate what their parents do.
Mark Eischer: Besides modeling attitudes and behavior, parents can also, I think, model types of service perhaps?
Dale Meyer: Absolutely. That's a good point, Mark. Thank you for bringing it up. Years, years, years ago, the Search Institute, out of Minnesota, found that young people stay in faith or at least tend to stay in the faith, when they have participated in service projects. And this 2017 study by Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod confirms that that is still true.
One of my memories of growing up was my mom was a secretary of the Sunday school for many years. We would go to the church on Saturday and set up the chairs for Sunday school and the other things that had to be done. It took an hour, maybe two hours. That was a little service thing that taught Dale, Bruce, and Pam that service is part of faith. After all, it's not just the First Table of the Law, loving God but it's also the Second Table, doing good works for other people.
Service projects are extremely important as we raise children-not just going to church on Sunday but showing them Christ's love in action.
Mark Eischer: What's the role of the congregation in all of this?
Dale Meyer: To be there in times of transition and crisis. I have two little snippets that I'd like to read if I may. This comes from a 22-year-old woman. "I was diagnosed with cancer my senior year of high school. My diagnosis challenged everything I had been taught about what it meant to suffer as a Christian. I grew angry with God and with my church community because I didn't feel my questions were being answered or my experience validated. I was hurt and confused and tired. That season in my life has made me reluctant to attach myself to a church community again."
It's devastating. Congregations, just like parents, friends, need to be there when a young person is going through a transition or a crisis. Here's another one. "I do not like many of the attitudes of the people who attend. To be completely honest, my husband is Mexican. He doesn't even feel comfortable walking into most churches due to the kind of people I mentioned above. I don't blame him either. Seeing how they have felt about him has really made me feel that they are accepting, to a point."
Mark Eischer: That sounds again like Pastor Klaus' office manager that we heard about in the sermon.
Dale Meyer: Absolutely, and I just thank you, Pastor Klaus, for that true-life story. When we get new workers at Concordia Seminary, I will often say to them, "Understand that you are not working here in heaven and on earth." We are, as Pastor Klaus said, saints and sinners at one and the same time. But sometimes, when you are closer to the church, you have to be more careful about your spiritual life because you see people do things that they ought not to do, and you have to understand we are saints and sinners.
On the other hand, confession and receiving the word of forgiveness implies that we clean up our act. When I went to confirmation class, it was called Amendment of Life. There are plenty of stories in the Bible that you go and sin no more. And I think we might forget that sometimes in our life as members of the church.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Christ Is the World's Redeemer" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)