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the sermon for

the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

30 July 2017

Small Catechism, The Second Commandment
The name of god is Grace and Charity and Love!

07302017It's the thirtieth of July! And other than being, at least for this year, the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, there's not much more to it. No lesser festival. No commemoration. But it is the fifth Sunday of the month. And as I said earlier, for the past decade or so, that means today's sermon is rooted in the Small Catechism. Nothing organized. Nothing intentional. It's not like we started with page one and we're slowly making our way through the booklet. More often than not, I simply reach into the hat and pull something out. And this time, as you see, it's the second of the ten commandments. "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God." Or, if you prefer King James, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain!"

But to be honest, the choice wasn't all that surprising. You see, about a month ago, Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the E.L.C.A., appeared in a sixty-second clip on the E.L.C.A.'s Facebook page talking about this particular commandment, about this morsel from the Catechism. In fact, some of you might have seen it since I shared it on the congregation's page. And frankly, it sounded pretty much like the advice from any first-year confirmation class. Don't say, "God," but "Gosh!" Don't type O-M-G in your texts. So, I wanted to spend some more time thinking in through. This week is my chance.

"You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God."

First of all, an important thing for us to realize is that the name of God isn't really God! Not even when we capitalize it! The word 'god' is not a proper nous, a naming word! It's just a plain, old, ordinary, everyday, run of the mill, common one. It's like the word 'god'. It applies to all canines in spite of breed or pedigree! It's the name – Rover or Fido – that, actually, identifies a specific individual! "God" point to deity-in-general! The name of god identifies the specific, particular god we mean. For instance, in the Old Testament, when Moses meets "God" at the burning bush and Moses asks for "God's" name, God doesn't say, "My name is God!" God says the name is "Yahweh!" "I am who I am and I will be who I will be!" In the New Testament, of course, the name of God is Jesus!

Just an aside... The whole reason we call god "God" and not Yahweh is because of this commandment. The name Yahweh, they believed, was so holy, was so sacred, that it was a sin for any human being to speak it! Blasphemy! Sacrilege! And so, they addressed Yahweh with adjectives! The Highest! The most holy! The Almighty! They, even, used formal terms of address like Sire and Lord and Sir! By anything and by everything other than the name Yahweh.

Now, as far as wrongful use... Like I said, Bishop Eaton's explanation seemed a tad... simplistic. It was saying, "God!" when we're frustrated! Texting, "OMG!" when we're shocked! But Luther takes it deeper than that. In fact, most of the four, five, and six letter words we, normally, think are cursing are not. In fact, I'd guess that ninety percent of them have nothing to do with the second commandment. Are they socially unacceptable? Yes! Sinful? Not by a long shot! Cursing – biblically speaking – isn't being a "potty mouth". It's wishing, it's wanting, others ill! Cursing is the opposite of blessing, just as damning is the flip side of saving. It's casting into the outer darkness where there's unquenchable fire and gnashing of teeth! And by swearing, Luther envisions a courtroom! So help me god! God as my witness! It's when we use god to back our lies and our deceit! Using god's name to aid and abet! Wrongful use, you see, isn't the occasional verbal faux pas. It's using god to accomplish the ungodly! It's using god's name – Jesus, Savior – to do everything but!

It's using Jesus' name wrongly to frighten and intimidate and exclude and condemn! Not rightly to rescue and to save and deliver! Luther wasn't concernment, first and foremost, with the vocabulary of our everyday conversation. He was concerned – obsessed – with how we speak, with what we say, here, in worship, on Sunday mornings! Setting limits on god's grace! Putting conditions of god's love! Rationing mercy, regulating forgiveness, based on miles or hours or, even, dollars! That's what making wrongful use of god's name is all about! Whether that name is Yeshua or Iesous or Jesus! The vanity is using god's name for selfish reasons! Using god's name for something other than love! And along the road, on billboard after billboard and bumper sticker upon bumper sticker, on our way to Taos and back, we saw the second commandment not just broken, but shattered, by the most well-meaning, best intentioned people.

"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die... and for his sake, god forgives..." That's how rightful use of god's name is made!

"The body of Christ given... the blood of Christ shed..." That's how god's name is taken meaningfully, significantly, importantly... not in vain!

What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God's name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

But then, if we do that – when we do that – the commandments cease to be the yellow brick road leading to heaven! And instead, heaven comes to us! Heaven always comes to us! Instead of morals and ethics and principles showing us the way, the commandments drive us to the only place that matters... the foot of the cross! And we learn to speak – rightly – the only name that's important... Jesus! Savior! It isn't about saying, "God!" And it's not about typing, "OMG!' There's more to it than that!

God is a god who sees us! God is a god who hears us! And god is a god who comes to us! Rescuing and redeeming! Suffering and breaking! Bleeding and dying! All that we might, as last, live! Live fully! Abundantly! There's no other way to speak of god... not for god to be who, what, god has always been! There's no other way to speak of god... and not for god to continue to be god! The name of god, my friends, is Yahweh! The name of god is Jesus! The name of god is Father, Son, and Spirit! The name of god has been, is now, and will always be... Grace! Charity! Love!

 
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the sermon for

the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

23 July 2017

Matthew 13:24-30 , Matthew 13:36-43
The church is rooted only in the grace and mercy of Christ!

by Gretchen Shults, deaconess

07232017"Jesus told another parable about the kingdom of heaven: 'Wheat was planted in the field, but then someone else also planted weeds. What must be done with all these weeds?' Jesus said, 'Wait! Don't pull the weeds! Let both wheat and weeds grow together. At harvest I will take care of it.'"

Parables are meant to pull us in. Think of this parable as drawing us into the workings of the kingdom of heaven. The phrase 'kingdom o heaven' can be misleading. For some, it means a place where God lives or where people go when they die. In scripture, that phrase is not a place, but the way God rules with mercy – God's mercy management for the here and now!

I was reading what others wrote about this text. One person said, "I don't know how to preach this parable in the Lutheran Church! Help!" When some hear this parable, they zero in on "bundles to be burned" and "throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then they race to the end times and panic sets in! Lutherans don't talk much about the modern obsession that others have with heaven, hell, and the end times! Like Paul, "We have decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." [1st Corinthians 2.2]

Surprisingly, the bible only drops hints about heaven and hell. Jesus seldom spoke of hell. And Paul wasn't too concerned. He was at peace with the unity he had with Christ. We would do well to limit our wildest speculations. Much of our current popular beliefs are shaped by our movies, songs, and books. We don't have to figure out God's every saving move. We know "Christ has triumphed! He is living!" [ELW # 367] The one who spoke this parable gave his life over to death on the cross so 65ht God's mercy for all people would be proclaimed! By God's grace alone Christ has snatched us from the jaws of evil and "The gates of hell will not prevail against us!" [Matthew 16 . 18] Nor will the weeds overtake us!

Our parable, today, is from the gospel of Matthew. It has bookends. Matthew begins his story with, "She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins..." [Matthew 1 . 21] "They shall name him Emmanuel which means 'God with us.'" [Matthew 1 . 23} Matthew, then, closes his gospel with Jesus' words, "Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age." [Matthew 28 . 20] Matthew wants us to hear that God is present in the person of Jesus – he is the messiah! But in the middle of the gospel, there are many dos and don'ts for carrying out the kingdom work. The struggle between the Davidic Messiah versus the Mosaic Law is seen throughout.

Matthew himself and the base of his community were, certainly, Jewish. They carried the heavy baggage of the Old Testament Law. Matthew's gospel is both the most Jewish of our Gospels and the most inter-Jewish. The church was in transition. During this time, many problems plagued the early church... hence, the wheat and the weeds! A lot of rule keeping was enforced. God's people were comfortable in the Law. They thought they were right with God by what they did, practicing many rules. They, also, protected themselves by excluding the outcasts.

However, Jesus stood opposed to that kind of faith. He turned everything upside-down. Christ came with steadfast love and abundant mercy for all! The biblical story tells us that those living on the margins of society mattered most to Jesus. Jesus interacted with tax collectors and sinners. He always found room at the table for thieves and, even, for those who denied him. Jesus chose mercy! "Don't pull weeds," he said, "Let them grow together with the wheat! Move away from apocalyptic fury to grace and mercy!"

We, too, need God's grace and forgiveness! Religious people are often obsessive rule keepers. Most of us have spent more than a little time worrying whether we measure up. I know I have. We are tempted to ask, "Am I wheat or a weed?" It's dangerous to judge who is headed for heaven or hell. We can easily be pulled into believing that on the basis of our own achievements, God determines who is 'in' and who is 'out.' We need not strive to earn our way by being nice people! We don't have to look inward to tally up our "wheat-points!" Christ, our redeemer, is the only remedy that will undo the ugly stubbornness of our deep-sown sin of trying to free ourselves!

A few years ago, Readers Digest magazine conducted a survey to determine the three most-read chapters in the Bible. The winners were Matthew 5 , 6, and 7! The Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the Golden Rule! In the United States, this material is not just Scripture, but part of our cultural heritage! As American as The Bill of Rights! But I was sad when I read that. Where is Jesus? Where is the cross? Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 may be good words, but they won't save us! They tell us what we must do and not do. But the problem, of course, is that none of us can, possibly, succeed in doing all that we should! We never do enough to earn God's love. "Lord, save us by your grace!" Jesus is our hope and security amid the chaos and confusion in our world, today!

God's mercy and God's grace have been given to you! You have been marked with the cross of Christ, forever! In his death and resurrection, he has defeated everything that would crush, worry, or demean you! His everlasting love will never abandon you! You are not alone! You are a beloved, adopted child of god, bundled in his care and keeping and "made a joint heir with Christ!" [Romans 8 . 17] Christ has triumphed... for you! He is living... for you!

Together, we have been planted in this small congregation in West Texas to grow! Together! The congregation where I grew up was large and everyone was from the same place – Columbus, Nebraska! There was not another person from anther state! Not one! But here at Midland Lutheran, we have people from many states! Texas! Oregon! Pennsylvania! California! Kansas! Oklahoma! Minnesota! Ohio! Illinois! Arizona! Louisiana! Michigan! Montana! Nebraska! North Dakota! Arkansas! Isn't that amazing! Though we come from different places, we are very much the same! Each one of us, at the same time, is both wheat and weed! Saint and sinner, growing together! Because we are free from pulling weeds, we spring up together! Loving one another! Loving god's world!

Today's Old Testament reading says: "Do not fear or be afraid... You are my witnesses!" [Isaiah 44 . 8] I like the fourth verse of our Tanzanian Hymn that sais it like this: "Rise, then to spread abroad God's mighty word! Jesus risen will bring in the kingdom!" {ELW # 491] We are here to be part of God's mercy-management in the world, rooted together in the overflowing gift of Christ's love and grace!

 
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