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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
August 4, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Colossians 3:1-11
Subject
Pentecost 8C
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: August 4, 2019—Pentecost 8C

Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

 

“Don’t Talk About That” (Sermon #2)

 

          In his Large Catechism, Luther wrote thus on the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

 

That is, you are to regard (God) alone as your God. What does this mean, and how is it to be understood? What does “to have a god” mean, or what is God?

 

Answer: A “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. [3] If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.[1]

 

          Luther wrote the Large Catechism in 1528-1529. His words are right on target. Anything our heart relies and depends upon, money, family, holders of public office, or God himself—is our God.

 

          But Luther himself failed miserably in upholding this commandment in 1525, during the Peasant’s Revolt in Germany. For the sake of maintaining good order, Luther wrote to the ruling classes:

 

For if a man is in open rebellion, everyone is both his judge and his executioner; just as when a fire starts, the first man who can put it out is the best man to do the job….Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.[2]

 

          For the sake of good order during a dangerous time, Luther placed his trust in the ruling classes as “the servant(s) of God to execute…wrath on the wrongdoer,”[3] quoting Romans 13. And the ruling classes listened. In fact, they missed those parts of Luther’s tract about “proceeding with fear”. They slaughtered 100,000 poorly-armed peasants. They took Luther’s rhetoric about being “servants of God” and used it to act as God.

 

          Luther later harshly criticized the ruling classes for their brutality, but the damage had been done. He laid out a theological justification for mass slaughter by the state—or for those who think they are acting on behalf of the greater good.

 

          Why this disturbing history lesson, you may ask? I assure you, I did not want to preach on violence today. I had a nice sermon, written and re-written, about money. About the dangers of our reticence to look at what we do with our money. I talked about how Jesus goes to these sensitive topics, about how he makes us into new people who can approach everything, including our money, in a new way. I thought I had written a challenging, but thought-provoking sermon.

 

          And then a mass murder in El Paso happened on Saturday, followed by another mass murder in Dayton, Ohio this morning. While we know nothing about the Dayton shooter as of yet (except that he “acted alone”), the El Paso shooter was a young, white man, who likely posted a manifesto online filled with “white nationalist and racist hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics, blaming immigrants and first-generation Americans for taking away jobs and the blending of cultures in the US.”[4]

 

          When are we going to say enough is enough? Enough of hatred being normalized, enough of young white men murdering scores of people in shopping malls, music festivals, churches, nightclubs, and schools? When are we going to take a good, hard look at the death cult that has grown and reared its ugly branches until its hideous fruit has grown ripe and take the appropriate steps as a nation to end it? When are we Americans going to be honest with what we really value? How long until we Lutherans look at our own faith heritage and see where that death cult has grown like a cancer around the pure Word of Jesus Christ?

 

          I remember the Columbine shooting in 1999. That shocked and horrified me, as I’m sure it shocked and horrified you. I had no clue that what happened would kick off a wave of mass gun violence in public places. No clue at all. It’s been twenty years since Columbine. How long are we going to sacrifice human beings on the altar of weapons, power, racism, nationalism, and toxic masculinity? How long?

 

          Paul’s letter from Colossians is clear that we Christians have already died to what we were. In fact, we have broken so completely to what we were in this realm that is it like we’re already dead. And having died, Paul says that “our life is hidden with Christ in God”. Since we’re dead to this realm and alive to Christ, we’re urged to “put to death” those things in ourselves that separate us from God, including indignation, animosity, malice, blasphemy, obscene speech, lying, impurity, malign desire, and greed, which Paul notes, is idolatry.

 

          The good news is that Jesus has mortally wounded all these things in us, even though they still rear their head and cause terrible harm. Jesus has sounded the death knell for all the hatred, all the greed, all the animosity, all the malice, all the bad desire we have, so that we can live for him and in him. Jesus has mortally wounded that old grasping, scraping, subhuman creature so that we can rise up as a new person, fully human, united with Christ. So that we can be people who can examine ourselves and our need for grace. So that we can be people who not only know what is right but have the wherewithal to do it.

 

          Jesus makes us new. So let us live as the new people we are. New people who don’t ignore our violent heritage or present reality, but who live as the embodiment of Christ in our day. Amen.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

[1] Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 386.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 46: The Christian in Society III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 46 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 50.

[3] Ibid., 52.