Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper 21B, preached on Sunday, September 30, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
“Do as I say and not as I do!” Parents say this all the time because we want to teach our children to live right, to make good and wise decisions, to develop good habits, but this rings hollow if mom and dad aren’t doing these things. Even at a very young age, we understand that actions speak louder than words. People don’t just listen to what we say, they look at what we do, and if the two don’t agree, then our words fall flat. This is how it is with our Christian lives. We can confess the Gospel with complete purity and orthodoxy, and yet, if our lives contradict what we say, we become a stumbling block. Instead of encouraging others in the faith, we cause them to sin.
Jesus talked about this in our Gospel reading. The disciples came to Jesus and said they saw a man casting out demons in His name. Now you think this would be a good thing. This man was helping others in Jesus’ name. But the disciples tried to stop him, because he wasn’t part of the “group,” he wasn’t one of the Twelve. But Jesus rebuked them. He said don’t stop this man, “for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mk 9:39-40). Jesus explained to His disciples that what this man was doing, it wasn’t in conflict or competition with Christ. It was in agreement with Him, it was a work of God. Just because he wasn’t part of the Twelve doesn’t mean He wasn’t one of God’s own. By God’s grace, He used this man to help others. By God’s grace, He chose him to do mighty works in Jesus’ name, just as Christ chose the Twelve to follow Him by grace.
This is who we are. We’ve been chosen to follow Christ by God’s grace. We did nothing to deserve the name Christian. God has given this name to us. He has chosen us. The Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel; through the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. In the waters of Baptism, we’re clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we’re made God’s children. And as His faithful children we live out this righteousness, encouraging God’s other children, encouraging other little ones, encouraging all God’s people in the faith.
Jesus continued saying, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mk 9:42). When Matthew recorded these words, Jesus actually called a young child to Him and placed him in the midst of the disciples. There’s no way around Jesus’ words. He’s saying that it would be better for us to die a watery death than for us to cause a child to sin. Think on the seriousness of that. Death, drowning, is better than causing a child to sin. And not just a child, but all people.
God’s children aren’t just those who are 12 and younger. God’s children are all who have faith. And God has called us to encourage one another; to build one another up in the faith. So how do we do that? How do we encourage? How do we build one another up? By God’s grace, doing the things the Lord has given us to do. I’m talking about the Law.
We often think the Law is bad, because salvation doesn’t come from the Law. We often think the Law is behind us because we’ve received the Gospel. But that’s not true. God’s Law isn’t bad, it’s not behind us. God’s Law is good and He’s given it to us for our benefit.
Think back on your catechism instruction. What are the three uses of the Law? What functions does it do? First, it’s a curb, to stop anarchy, to protect us from rampant evil. Second, it’s a mirror that shows us our sin, shows us that we need a Savior. These two uses are for all people, whether they’re of the faith or not. But the third, that’s just for you and me, for God’s children. The third use is as a guide, leading us through life, showing us what good works in God’s eyes are, showing us how we live as His children.
The works the Lord has given us are those actions and words that benefit others, actions and words that show the love of Christ. The whole second table of the 10 Commandments describe these acts. For example, instead of engaging in gossip and talking negatively behind people’s back, we should stand up for them, putting the best construction on everything. You see, by engaging in gossip, we not only hurt the person we’re talking about, but we’re causing those we’re gossiping with to sin. We’ve become a stumbling block for them.
The first table of the 10 Commandments also gives us actions and words that specifically and directly encourages others in the faith. If you’re a parent, you encourage your children by living out the faith. For sure, this means coming to church and bringing your child to Sunday school and Catechism class and Youth Group and VBS. But it also means living the faith out at home through prayers and family devotions. It means prioritizing worship over other things. The biggest influence on our faith is our parents. This has been proven. When faith is lived out in the home, our children are more likely to continue in that faith.
This is also how we encourage and build each another up in the faith. When you come to church, you’re encouraging your brothers and sisters in Christ. When others see you here, they see the importance of being where the Lord comes in Word and Sacrament. It encourages them to be in this place. Just think about how you’re encouraged when you walk into this sanctuary and you see your fellow siblings in Christ. When we confess the Creed and sing our hymns, we proclaim what our Lord has done for us. All of this is encouragement and a building up in the faith.
We build one another up when we follow God’s Law. When we strive to obey His commands, we’re less likely to be a stumbling block. When our actions agree with our words, we honor our Lord’s name. For sure we won’t do it perfectly. We’ll stumble and cause others to stumble. We’ll still sin. But with faith, we repent of that sin and we want to do what the Lord has given us to do. And by grace, He blesses this.
He blesses us and those we serve. Through our hands, He helps those in need. Through our words, He speaks His Word. His everlasting life is proclaimed to all as we live in the everlasting life He’s given to us. He brings about peace between His children as we forgive one another, just as He’s forgiven us. He builds all of us up in the faith, strengthening our trust in our Savior.By God’s grace, He’s chosen us to be His people. Out of unending mercy, He sent Jesus to redeem you and me from sin and death. By the cross, by the blood of Christ, by the waters of Baptism, God has made us His children, and calls us to act as such. Our words and our actions should match. We should be at peace with one another. We should encourage and build one another up instead of being a stumbling block. Our lives should speak well of our Savior, showing forth His love. And through this, our Lord bless us, and others, in this generation, and in all future ones. In Jesus’ name...Amen.