"Truly the Worship of God"#85-44
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 1, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Truly the Worship of God)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Acts 10:34-48
I was talking to a member of the city council in our town of Collinsville, and our conversation drifted to the divided nature of public life today. The council member remarked that some people come to city meetings and won't talk to their opponents, won't even listen to them. "I'm right. You're wrong. You're the one who needs to change." That's not a prescription for the common good. You've seen this in your life, too. In our social media world, we associate with people who think like us, who accept our views, and reinforce our opinions. Tweets and Facebook posts are not conducive to conversations that make for the common good. We're in echo chambers of our own making. And sad to say, you can find this in churches, too. Now and then I get a letter admonishing the seminary for something without even an initial conversation. Years ago, commentator Leonard Sweet described this as "tribalism." He wrote, "The problem with this new tribalism is that people start seeing enemies. We need to teach people that you don't start killing other tribes." This week Americans celebrate July Fourth and Independence Day. The state of our union is fractured, tribal. Can you and I change it? I doubt that, but I am confident that people of faith can begin to model getting to know and appreciate people who are different than we are. To that end, let us pray.
Grant, O God, that Your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our division being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let's look at the story of a Christian who had a difficult time associating with someone who was different. It was more than difficult. At first, Peter resisted. Yes, this is about the great St. Peter, a Jewish follower of Jesus who resisted going to the house of a Gentile named Cornelius. You can find the story in Acts 10, and I'll share some of it with you, but for the moment, let me cite Acts 10:34. Peter, the Jewish follower of Jesus, is now standing in the home of the Gentile Cornelius, and here's the first thing he says: "So Peter opened his mouth and said, 'Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.'" "Truly I understand," Peter said. How did he come to understand that God shows no partiality? No partiality to Jews or Gentiles, no partiality to Americans or Westerners? How did Peter come to understand that God shows no partiality to Anglos, shows no partiality to Hispanics or to Asians or to Africans or to African-Americans? How did Peter come to understand that God shows no partiality to Peter himself or to me or to you? How did Peter get out of his tribal mentality? "Truly I understand," he said. It's a present tense, literally "Now I grasp it." Now I grasp "that God shows no partiality, but in every nation (every people group) anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him."
The answer is that Peter got out of his personal comfort zone-got out of his comfortable synagogue cocoon-and got to know someone who was different. That wasn't easy for Peter. He was a Galilean Jew. It was as a Jew that Peter followed Jesus. True, Jesus did interact with Gentiles. For example, Jesus went into the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon.
The Bible reports, "A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syro-Phoenician by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' But she answered Him, 'Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.' And He said to her, 'For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.' And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone" (Mark 7:25-30).
There are other stories like that, Jesus bringing His mission to all people. In Mark 13:10, Jesus said that the Gospel would be proclaimed to all nations, not just to Israel. That said, most of the time Jesus did minister among the Jews. For whatever reason, Peter didn't get the Gentile mission into his head until ... Acts 10.
At the start of chapter 10, Peter had a strange dream. It was noon, he was praying on the housetop, and he was hungry.
"... he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.' And the voice came to him again a second time, 'What God has made clean, do not call common.' This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven" (Acts 10:10-16).
Now that's a strange dream, and it puzzled Peter, too. "I should eat food that is unclean? My whole life long I have only eaten ritually clean food. This is my faith!" And what happened next? Knock! Knock! Three men show up at the door and say,
"'Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say'" (Acts 10:22).
This must have been difficult for Peter. "I should go into the home of a Gentile? He might be a good person among his kind of people, but I'm not one of them." Now the theory of the Great Commission gets personal for Peter. Peter obeys, gets out of his personal comfort zone, gets out of his church cocoon, I know my religion and my religion is right! He ventured out and got to know people who were different and didn't know about Jesus. That changed Peter and also gave Peter an opportunity to tell Gentiles about Jesus.
So also for us. As we get out of our personal comfort zones, our comfy church cocoons, and get to know people different than we are, we put ourselves in positions to grow in faith and grow our witness to Jesus. Let me make a point clearly. I am not talking about us getting to know other people from our own tribe. If you're a church-goer, I'm not talking about getting to know someone in your congregation whom you don't know.
Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's good to do, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I am talking about us who know the Lord Jesus getting to know people who don't know the salvation Jesus brings. That's what Peter did with Cornelius, a believer spent time with someone who didn't yet know Jesus. Let me give a rationale for this: a biblical rationale. Where does the worship of God take place? Most church-goers would probably say in a church, in the Sunday service, in those appointed times where people come together, and the Spirit uses Word and Sacrament to nurture our saving faith in Jesus.
That is true, but that is too restricted an understanding of worship. It suggests that the first three Commandments, our duties toward God, make the rest of the Commandments less important. As you may know, Commandments one through three talk about our duty toward God. Commandments four through ten talk about our duties toward other people. Interestingly, commandments four through ten aren't talking only about fellow church members, our own religious tribe. They are about people, period, from our tribe and other tribes. If we think that worship is only confined to the times when like-minded believers get together, we have too restricted an understanding of worship. A scholar named Phillip Melanchthon was Martin Luther's right-hand-man during the Reformation.
Melanchthon wrote, "We should learn that the works of the Second Table are truly the worship of God, that is, when our works are guided by the fear of God and by faith." Think about the Commandments of the Second Table. When we followers of Jesus give attention to the bodily needs of people who don't yet know Jesus, that's the positive side of the Commandment about physical life, "You shall not kill ...." When we followers of Jesus give attention to the family life or broken family lives of others, that's the positive side of the Commandment about marriage, "You shall not commit adultery ...." When we give attention to the economic needs of others, that's the positive side of the Commandment that says, "You shall not steal ...." When we give attention to the reputations of other people, that's the positive side of the Commandment that says, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor ...." And when we fulfill these positive duties toward other people, not just avoiding the negative and prohibited conducts but actually doing the positive because we fear and love our God and Savior above all things, then we are truly worshipping God. Again, we should learn that the works of the Second Table are truly the worship of God, that is, when our works are guided by the fear of God and by faith. It is too small a thing to compartmentalize the worship of God only to the First Table of the Law or to the Sunday sanctuary. After all, Jesus does tell us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," and then adds "Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).
Does this in some way diminish the gifts God gives us in the divine service? Does this somehow tilt us toward what was called a "social gospel" that is devoid of justification by grace through faith? Absolutely not, so long as we do the good works of the Second Table acutely aware that God is an impartial judge to whom each of us must look in fear and reverence as our only Savior. In doing the works of the Second Table, those positive works to help the lives of others, we gain an incentive for the First Table. When we concern ourselves with the bodily, familial, economic, and reputational needs of people who don't yet know Jesus, we will see the devastation of sin in our world. We will see the hurt, the hopelessness, and the despair that comes without faith in the grace of God freely given in Jesus. We will face the hard truth that our programs, our policies, and our statements are not sufficient to the ravages of sin. Only Jesus is. To meet people who don't know Jesus, to meet them in their needs, will drive us more and more to worship God, to call upon Him, and be ever more dependent ourselves upon him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,
"It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman ... a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. ... I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world-watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia (repentance); and that is how one comes a man and a Christian.
Thus our involvement with people in the world will drive us even more to the gifts God gives us through Word and Sacrament.
It wasn't easy for Peter, but when he went into the home of the Gentile Cornelius, he had been prepared and was ready to present the truth that God wants "all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). Here's what Peter said.
"Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. As for the word that He sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the Baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witness of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name" (Acts 10:34-43).
"Everyone who believes in Him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through His Name." The world is dangerously divided, the state of the American union is fractured, and too many people would rather condemn than converse. We've gone "tribal," as Leonard Sweet described it. You and I can't change the world, but we will grow in our faith in Jesus and His forgiveness as we get out of our personal comfort zones and our comfy cocoons and go to others. And as Peter wrote later in 1 Peter 3:15-16: "Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." Amen.
Reflections for July 01, 2018
Title: TRULY THE WORSHIP OF GOD
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Dr. Dale Meyer. Now, Pastor Ken Klaus joins us from his home in Texas. Hello!
Ken Klaus: Hello, Mark. Good to be with you today, in spirit, if not in body.
Mark Eischer: Well, we just heard Dr. Meyer talking about "tribalism." Your thoughts?
Ken Klaus: I have to be honest: one of the things the good doctor does--and he does it better than any other minister I've heard in recent years is this: he sees things differently than I do.
Mark Eischer: Such as?
Ken Klaus: You mentioned it. You said his sermon was about tribalism. I think I could live to a ripe old age, but I never would have thought of calling any of my congregations a "tribe." And yet, tribalism is spot on-the absolutely right word.
Mark Eischer: It certainly gives us a different perspective on things, and I think I can even recognize examples of tribal thinking in my own congregation.
Ken Klaus: When I think back on some churches I've visited over the years. I recall one Sunday the pastor gave everyone a minute or two where they could get out of their pews to walk around and say "hello" and "God bless" to everyone. Not enough time for any kind of lengthy conversation, but with everyone getting out there, nobody should have felt unloved or unwanted. It's a nice idea, and one that should have worked beautifully.
Mark Eischer: Should have but didn't?
Ken Klaus: Let's say it didn't work as it was intended to work.
Mark Eischer: What happened?
Ken Klaus: The pastor said, "Let us greet each other this morning in the name of the Lord."
Well, it's kind of amusing, and kind of sad what I saw happen.
Mark Eischer: Or maybe, what you saw that didn't happen.
Ken Klaus: That's exactly right. What I saw was a husband turning to his wife and saying, "Good morning." I saw a mother turn to her kids and say, "God bless you."
Mark Eischer: And then, what?
Ken Klaus: A few shook hands with the person in front of them or the person behind, but most just sat on their hands, turned to the front of the church, and waited for the service to resume.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer would probably say these people were stuck in their comfort zones.
Ken Klaus: In saying that, he would be right. A comfort zone is a lot like comfort food. You know, a food that is enjoyable to eat and makes you feel less stressed, even though it may not be all that good for you in the long run.
Mark Eischer: Have you ever seen spiritual comfort food being served up in a church?
Ken Klaus: A great many times. I'm thinking back to some of the voters' meetings I've attended. At most of my congregations, the voters were the final decision-making body of the organization. Some of those meetings got to be pretty loud.
Mark Eischer: Is that because they were discussing some very important and weighty matters?
Ken Klaus: That's the point. No, they weren't. The biggest battles we fought were about things like what time the early service should begin or whether we should have the Easter sunrise service at sunrise on Easter. We debated for hours as to which hymnbook we should use.
Mark Eischer: Right. It is going to be the red one, the blue one, or the burgundy one?
Ken Klaus: It seems to me that most of the big battles were fought over our comfort zone. They were about spiritual comfort food.
Mark Eischer: How do you feel about that today?
Ken Klaus: At the time, I thought those battles were incredibly important. Today I see how they robbed us of our energy and took our eyes off the goals toward which we should have been striving. The problem is some of these things were incredibly important to some of our people.
Mark Eischer: For example?
Ken Klaus: I remember at one church I was in a supermarket when suddenly an immensely filled cart, a cart whose driver I couldn't see, came right at me. I thought I was going to be run over. The cart was piloted by a lady I had never seen before. She stopped two inches away, came out from behind her cart, waggled her finger in my face and said, "I left your church! I left your church!"
Trying to defuse the moment, I joked: "Well, if it is my church, I think you made a wise move. If it's only my church, and not Christ's, I think I'll join you. Where shall we go?"
She didn't laugh. Without missing a beat, she asked, "Don't you want to know why I left?"
"I'm going to find out, aren't I?"
She said, "You weren't meeting my needs!"
"Ma'am," I said, "I'm sorry, but I don't remember ever having met you before! I'm sorry I haven't met your needs. When did you tell me about your needs?"
After a moment's reflection, she admitted we had never met or spoken before now. Even so, I hadn't met her needs. I hadn't provided her particular brand of spiritual comfort food! Now, don't get me wrong; there is a place for comfort food at church, and comfort zones aren't all bad.
Mark Eischer: However, when this comfort food becomes the only thing that's offered on the menu, I don't suppose that's so good, either. So, what's the solution?
Ken Klaus: I think it's reminding people that the church is composed of two groups: the first is the church we have on our records, our present membership. The second group is the one which God alone can see.
Mark Eischer: Who's in that group?
Ken Klaus: Mark, it's the group that God wants us to reach. It is the names and the souls of all those folks whom the Holy Spirit can reach through us, if we are doing all we should to get out of the Spirit's way.
Mark Eischer: Very good, and what's coming up next week?
Ken Klaus: We're going to be talking about being disappointed with God because God doesn't seem to do what we want.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Take My Life, O Lord, Renew" arranged by Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)