Thursday, April 28, 2011

Drought or Flood?

Will the rain every stop? I am sure that is the question we are all asking these days. From the farmers among us who can’t get out into their fields until they dry out to the weekend warrior who wants to cut his grass, to the little child who would just like to go out and ride her bicycle, I am sure that all of us are looking for a break in the clouds and fewer mud puddles.
Yet, while at this moment we are wishing for a hiatus from the rain, the time might soon come when we will be wishing for more. Often it happens that as the summer months drag on, the heat of the summer months dries out the ground and dries up all the water. It can happen that the muddied earth becomes dry and dusty and cracked. In those moments we pray for what we feel at this moment is more than enough.
If there is one lesson we should learn from history, it ought to be that God send His Word often the same way he sends the rain. God gives His Word and grace in torrential downpours that drench us and soak us through, not to bone but to our very soul, with His living waters. That Word refreshes us, causes us to grown in faith and life, it blesses us and strengthens us for our battles with sin and Satan. Yet foolishly sinful hearted human beings often despise this Word of God, feel like we have had our fill of it, and convince ourselves we could get by without it.
Dr. Martin Luther put it this way. “God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have [Islam]. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone, it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” [American Edition, 45:353]
Luther was warning the German churches that they take hold of the Word while it was present. When sinful hearts despise that Word, God takes it away and when it’s gone it’s gone. Consider his example of the Jews. They had the Christ, the apostles, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the Church. Yet they denied Christ, despised the Word and they have become for the most part and unbelieving people. Consider the Germans. The Lord blessed them with the Reformation. They made a staunch and soled confession of faith at Augsburg. They enjoyed a period of vibrant growth as they held tightly to the faith that they fought for. Yet they eventually gave in to rationalism and in modern times the German church is largely a secular church. The showers came. The Word of God poured down upon the people. They were refreshed and enlightened with faith. They despised that Word and now the Lord has taken it away. (Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 6:1-7)
Our own American churches are following that identical pattern. Consider the mainline denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, they were once vibrant worshipping Christian communities. They have despised God’s Word and laid it aside to subject it to academic scrutiny. Those Churches are withering in the drought. Consider the large mega churches. Instead of preaching the Word of God and Christ crucified they preach pop psychology and self-fulfillment. The world loves these messages and so they have numbers and money and fancy buildings. They do not preach the Word of God. Instead they are like tumble weeds that are blown the direction of the latest fad. (Psalm 1:4) The Church in America has despised the Word of God. His clouds of Grace are beginning to break and the heat of his wrath may soon dry up what remains of his grace.
The question for you to answer, St Paul Chuckery is this: will you go the way of the Jews, the Germans, and follow the footsteps of the churches that remain around you? You have God’s Word. Will you despise that Word so that God takes it away?
Only this past Sunday we were gathered together around God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament to be fed by God for faith and life. Just as your backyard is drenched and soaked with rain, so are you drenched and soaked with God’s Word and Grace. It has puddled up around you so that you have it in plenty. Yet do you despise that Word?
Our catechism teaches us that we ought not “despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Explanation to the 3rd Commandment) Have you received God’s Word and grace as that thing that is the most important? Are there other areas of life or even of the church that you have come to see as more necessary to you and your existence beside the Word? What is it that has replaced that Word? Sleep? Recreation? Sports? Money? How to run the church? That person who sits in the pew beside you? There are lots of things that Satan would use to distract us from God’s Word and Grace. (Matthew 13: 18-19) Do not be lead into that temptation. See the warning. Repent and receive God’s grace.
And God gives that grace in plenty. (John 1:16) Just as the rains fall from the sky and have the water ways brimming above their banks so does God give His grace. He pours it out like a monsoon that keeps coming and coming and coming. And the ensuing flood is a flood of forgiveness that washes away sin. The rains fall and cleanse and refresh and well up in a rushing flood that washes away the litter and pollution of sin that we have left to rot along the banks. God’s pure word overwhelms our sin and drowns our sinful nature so that we are once again made clean.
And after the flood comes growth. (Isaiah 45:8, Psalm 46:4) The water gives life to our life so that we become green and grow and bear fruit. We reach up our branches into the light of His grace and offer up our fruit to Him as a sacrifice of praise. (Psalm 1:3, Isaiah 55:10-11, Ezekiel 47:12) He prunes us, digs around us, fertilizes us so that we are a productive garden of believers. (Luke 13:6-9)
So let us heed the warning. Give attention to the history, not be made fools by our own carelessness. Instead let us hold God’s Word sacred. Let us receive it with joy and thanksgiving so that we gladly hear and learn it.

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