20th Sunday after Pentecost October 15, 2023
295, 297, 321, 45
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O mighty and everlasting God, who by Your Son Jesus Christ mercifully helped the palsied man both in body and soul, we beg You, for the sake of Your great mercy: Be gracious also unto us; forgive us all our sins, and so govern us by Your Holy Spirit, that we may not ourselves be the cause of sickness and other afflictions; keep us in Your fear, and strengthen us by Your grace that we may escape temporal and eternal wrath and punishment, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our meditation is based on the healing of the man with palsy. You will see that no sinner approaches the Word of God without a bit of compulsion, but that the Savior embraces you near in grace, nonetheless. Again, the Lord Jesus saith:
Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
Lord Jesus, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.
Not every family car ride to church turns out to be the most peaceful adventure. Occasionally a child must be wrangled into the vehicle, throughout the trip putting up a tantrum, and if not forced kicking and screaming through the door, at times carried in unconscious, tuckered out from the struggle.
A member in Montana told me the trip to church wasn’t so bad as the adventure in the pew. For nearly two decades, she had never heard a complete sermon, admitting that the hour long chore of getting her children through a service made her question some weeks what anyone had gotten out of it.
Every parent knows of such pew adventures. So does the pastor. He sees more action from up here than you might think. From keeping toddlers pacified through the sermon to gathering the family together for home devotion, the wisdom of the Lord to “Train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) can be a wearying task. One which at some point has made every parent lament, “What is anyone getting out of this?”
A question which can trouble the mind still once the children are well past grown. As struggles and arguments between people and personalities can make simply sitting in a pew across the room from them an agitating chore. Experiences and encounters completely outside of church, so captivating, distracting the mind, that though the body be here, the mind is left elsewhere. And in the oddest twist of the fallen human mind, personal shame—which can find no better healing than through the Word. Oh, how backwards it is that personal shame, over whatever it is you might have done, makes church the last place you want to be brought.
Try as we might, though, try our best to appear in the house of the Lord, over time the body with age distances the soul. Simply getting up in the morning and moving about makes the trip to church increasingly filled with aches and throbs. And with the ability to hear less and less, the sermon becomes a fainter and fainter echo.
Add to this how we put that Word we hear into action (or not). How we drag ourselves before neighbors we wish not to see, our slumps of personal piety and devotion at home, you can begin to see how the devil can eagerly take hold and twist the Law of God into doubt in the heart.
“Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.” Or as Luther explains: “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
The operative phrase and stress here being *gladly* hear and learn it, leads one to wonder that if I can’t do it gladly, perhaps it is better not to be there and hear in the first place.
Likewise of the command to love thy neighbor *as thyself*… that if my heart’s not in it, may be best not to do it at all.
But of course if you don’t, if we don’t somehow force ourselves to, must we not face the alternative, a kicking and screaming, weeping and gnashing of a place you most definitely don’t want to go.
To avert this end, dear friends, “going through the motions” simply will not make the cut.
The struggle then can’t really be all the children’s fault, can it? For though the Christian might be spotless in outward behavior, the mind still kicks about the question and is tempted some days to scream aloud, “What am I getting out of this?” Well, the Holy Scriptures give the answer, “Eternal life.”
And what of that question, “Is it worth it?” Again the Scriptures: “Yes. Yes, it is.”
And in our gospel lesson today you find perfect example: the man with palsy brought before Jesus by friends. He cannot walk to the Savior on his own, cannot stand before him. The evangelists indicate he may have suffered from some sort of disorder not unlike the involuntary spasms of advanced Parkinson’s. Thus, he needs to be carried to Jesus by force. His lack of muscle control fighting against his friends’ best intentions, needing to be retrained for transport, all the while his mouth emitting a variety of inappropriate noises. Though in this sense, he is dragged before the Savior kicking and screaming, he receives words of blessing and life: “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”
This is the same Jesus who cast demons from men who outwardly writhed, struggled, and fought, who vocally slandered God. Men who in no way could have been set free, regardless the motivation or means, had appeared before His gracious presence.
How cognizant, aware, and complicit could the deaf-mute have been of what was about to happen to him? While he was dead to the world around him, it was the Word made flesh which opened his ears, mind, heart, and lips to understand the importance of the One who stood before him.
Those who found it difficult, even a torture, to love others, that it was an agitation even to be around them, namely sinners. The Scriptures say: “He first loved us.”
You see, as the only righteous Man to live, Jesus openly embraced the troubled in heart and the outwardly bothersome, of all ages. In those great crowds which flocked about Him willingly, little ones were undoubtedly in tow. Children have always been children, and He saw it all from His pulpits of the fishing boat bow and the hillside crest. The disciples thought it best they not be around, lest their kicking and screaming distract and spoil the worth of an encounter with Jesus. Yet He blessed them as His precious own: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
He dispels in full that devilish burden of mind that you could somehow be bothering your God.
And in one last miracle of this theme, the prime example of one brought before Jesus against all strength or will. A young man had to be chased down and arrested, who had to be dragged before a court, screaming blasphemies against authority, kicking against those who restrained him. All to no avail… This man—a thief, a malefactor—was strapped down to wood by executioners, his hands pierced through with nails, and lifted up to spend three quality hours hanging from a cross next to the Redeemer of all mankind. Oh how he must have writhed, struggled, and fought, as if he could free himself, until he came to realize how the Man crucified just to his side did nothing of the like.
Somehow, at some point—by grace—he gave up his fight, he counseled others to do the same: “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly… but this Man hath done nothing amiss.” (Luke 23:40)
Jesus receiving here one last unwilling, unwitting visitor, by no choice of his own. A criminal who had he not been forced to Goglotha, would have been left kicking and screaming for eternity. Instead, he hears the precious words: “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
It’s by that same grace, you find yourself here, that today you’d hear and receive the same. As we so often sing in the familiar verse:
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. (TLH #388:3)
Trusting that whatever it is that brings you to the Lamb, is the subtle, unperceivable working of the Spirit of God… that your soul might learn what the Gospel openly and undoubtedly reveals.
For that Man who forgave the one sick with palsy, the Man cast out demons from those who wrangled before Him, who embraced the troublesome toddler, was the Son of God sent from heaven above, to receive you as His blood-bought own.
Let nothing, then, keep you from Him. For you, dear child, were on His heart too, in the sins He bore for me and for you, meaning that prayer, “Lord, remember me” always finds answer in how Jesus came into His kingdom and embraced you in forgiveness full and complete, in the victory of Easter morn.
That’s why we do it. That’s why it’s worth it. Because He is worth it, because this Gospel, the story of Jesus, always works: “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth. It shall not [it cannot] return unto Me void.” (Isaiah 55:11) A life-giving Word which ever and always accomplishes that which our God pleases, prospering and flourishing, whether you realize it or not, “in the thing whereto [He] sent it.”
Thus, Jesus’ words to the man with palsy: “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Two blessings tied together in one compact sentence, spoken all at once in one breath. The good cheer comes from the good news itself. It’s not the process of getting here, not the struggle of being here, but Jesus’ Word alone.
Thus it should be no surprise that a certain amount kicking and screaming, within or without, precede the experience, be felt throughout. The journey’s not always a pleasant one, maybe not the hour itself. We do it anyway, by faith in the good cheer and eternal joys that await.
Now certainly the Scriptures make clear that faith is not about going through the motions, but let not that deceptively pious thought keep you away, keep you from seeing the worth of where those motions take you!
No, the heart won’t always be in it, because the motivations are not always pure. But it’s not about your heart anyway. It’s about the heart of God revealed through this Gospel Word. Marvel, dear children, that He so draws you and so blesses you to draw others in the same way.
Whatever it is forces you into the car, into a church, whatever brings you to His Word, before a neighbor in need of your love, have no doubt, through Jesus’ blood and merit, the encounter is blessed, by the Spirit of God, with eternal reward.
Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.