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The 4th Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42 by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt, STS
The 4th Sunday after Pentecost July 2, 2017
Matthew 10:40-42 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Everyone has an old sinner lurking inside us. We Lutherans call that old sinner the old Adam or Eve. When our first parents rebelled against the Lord God their Creator, they made a conscious choice to place themselves as creatures at the center of all things, that place which belongs only to their Creator. And let us be perfectly clear, each made a clear, conscious choice to be the center. The man blamed the woman and God who made her (Gen. 3:12) She blamed the serpent. An old professor used to say: “It was the very first case of “Cover-Your-Behind.”
So, then, let us be clear. The Lord God created us male and female for perfect intimacy with Him and with each other. As we learn from Genesis 3, we did not fall into sin, as if it were some kind of accidental mishap like tripping over a raised section of sidewalk or some other weird event. We rebelled against God, and we continue to do so repeatedly because we are born in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. And what was the logical consequence of our rebellion against the Lord God? We lost Paradise. We lost intimacy with God and each other.
After the rebellion and the loss of Paradise, the Lord God tried through Noah and his family to call all humanity to the God-centered life. It did not work. Then, the Lord God tried through Abraham and Sarah and their offspring to call all humanity to the God-centered life. It did not work. The Lord God tried through King David and his sons to call all humanity to the God-centered life. It did not work. The Lord God tried through His faithful prophets to call all humanity to the God-centered life. It did not work. Finally, the Lord God sent His beloved Son, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man, to call all humanity to the God-centered life. And, as He described in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matt. 21), we crucified Him in a vain attempt to seize this world for ourselves. And continuing to try to be the center that belongs only to the Lord God, we still crucify God’s Son again, vainly attempting to claim the center.
The entirety of Matthew 10 has been about proclaiming the coming of God’s King, His beloved Son Jesus. The calling of disciples and sending them out to proclaim the King has been about Jesus. It is always and only about Jesus. So, then, the kingdom of God is not some Marxist vision of a glorious workers’ paradise in which everyone has things her or his way. It is not some fabulous celebration of human diversity springing forth from the minds of those sequestered in ivory towers or behind L.A.’s mansion walls or well-manicured hedges in the Hamptons or visioned in Silicon Valley. The Kingdom of God is God’s King Jesus who has come to save us from ourselves, to free us from the stark, skeletal clutches of sin, death, and the old evil one.
And so we have heard again recently that fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons cannot be the center where the King is ruling, for that is what the Kingdom of God is: the rule and reign of God’s King Jesus. Those who hate the Truth, God’s Son Jesus, truly God and truly human, are the real haters among us. Why is there such hate for Jesus? Because He stands among us still showing us what we were made to be, telling us what we were made to be, and we cannot bear to hear the Truth like the people in His home village who rushed at Him to throw Him off a cliff (Lk 4:29). Those who hate Jesus most would revision Him, give Him an extreme makeover until He has become their reflection, until He has been remade in our image!
We do not welcome Jesus, the Living Word of God, whenever and wherever we pretend that it’s about us and, by extension, about the people, the things, the ideas we do welcome and embrace. The reason we and all the people and things of this world are passing away, and indeed will be no more as we and they presently are, is that we live in the loss of Paradise and cannot return to Paradise on our terms or by our own reason or efforts! We and all things pass away!
At the 8:30 Eucharist, Claire Noelle will welcome Jesus with more than a cup of cold water. Through no effort or merit of her own, she will be crucified with Christ, marked with His holy cross, and sealed with the Holy Spirit in the washing of Holy Baptism. This will be the beginning of her new life in Christ, and the beginning of the end of the old Eve who came into being at her conception. By bringing Claire Noelle for Holy Baptism, Andy and Liz, her parents, are obeying their Lord’s command to baptize all people. Andy and Liz are welcoming the Living Word of God who will, by the Holy Spirit, take Claire Noelle’s sin and death and give her freely His own life and righteousness as a gift. The pastoral hands that wash Claire Noelle are by His promise the nail-marked hands of Christ. The pastoral hands that anoint Claire Noelle with the holy cross and gently grasp her head in them bestow the Holy Spirit upon this new child of God. They are Christ’s hands. This is Christ’s apostolic authority bestowed at pastoral ordination.
All of us baptized with water in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit) have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life in which He dwells as King. Yes, hierarchy is indeed built into creation itself, and it is reasserted in the washing of Holy Baptism. What do this mean? The one God is God, and all who are not God are His creatures. In Holy Baptism, we are restored by and for the Truth, the Living Word of God, Jesus. At the end of all things, we share in the eternal life and love of the one true God intimately. Until that day, we share in His life and love incompletely, because the old Adam or Eve is not yet fully dead.
Those who have gathered here to receive the Lord Jesus in Word and Sacraments are welcoming Him as He comes to claim those whom He has made. He comes to forgive sins and to deliver us again from sin, death, and the devil by joining us to His death and resurrection. This does not happen in some mere spiritual sense, as if worship were an out of body, out of this world experience. Worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth involves hearts, minds, and bodies! It is more than an emotional high by which we can escape this world. It is welcoming the true God!
So, then, the reason the Lord has called pastors, including the six pastors in this parish, is that we might bear His creative and redeeming Word to all the world. On the day of ordination, many of us surrendered our entire lives to His service. Before taking the vows of pastoral ministry, we placed our bodies flat on the floor in front of the altar. I remember quaking inside with holy fear and joy as the congregation and choir sang the hymn of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Hoyer’s father George, serving as deacon, gently raised me from the floor and led me to the bishop’s representative who ordained me. At the conclusion of those vows, I knelt and some eight pastors laid hands on me praying for the Holy Spirit’s empowering in my life and work. Thirty-six years have come and gone since that day. Today marks thirteen years with you.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us clearly how to distinguish those whom God has sent from those whom He has not: “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet” (28:9). In other words, the congruence of the prophet’s message with divine Truth will be made known not by how many people are gathered around him, and not by how many people like him, and not by how eloquent or entertaining he is, but solely by his fidelity to the one true God. When the one true God (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit) is faithfully proclaimed in Word and Sacraments, Christ Himself is present, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through those who have welcomed Him and the Father who sent Him. Faithful pastors are necessary, because Christ has called emissaries.
Sometimes a pastor is not a faithful emissary of the Lord. This is a most grievous thing for Christ’s Church and a most dangerous thing for that pastor and for those who taught that pastor wrongly! The grievousness consists in infidelity, unfaithfulness to the Lord, which is none other than refusing to welcome the Lord Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit as the one true God. All the baptized have a responsibility and indeed make promises to welcome those whom the Lord Jesus has sent as His emissaries and to pray for, encourage, and support their work. All the baptized have in Holy Baptism the call to faithfully welcome the one true God (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit), and so it is that all are responsible to see the Word is rightly proclaimed and enacted. It is a matter of eternal life and death for those who hear the Word and receive Him!
You the baptized are the Lord’s witnesses. Many of us remember Mrs. Vera, who sat by the front doors and welcomed visitors. She would learn their names, make sure they received a Luther Rose sticker signifying they were visitors, and signed in to the visitors’ book. The next week they always came back, and Mrs. Vera remembered their names. More people have joined this congregation because of Mrs. Vera than because of the pastors. We need people to be like Mrs. Vera every week to welcome visitors as they come to us. If you remember Mrs. Vera, try to be more like her. Welcome visitors. Get to know their names. Welcome them in Jesus’ name.
You the baptized are the Lord’s witnesses. Wearing a cross is more than a fashion statement. It is pledge of fidelity and a witness that you have been crucified with Christ in Holy Baptism and are willing to be crucified with Him daily as you renounce the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises. This is thankful living. This is welcoming the Word. Fidelity to Christ, the Living Word of God, may cost you a job, and you may be “unfriended” for that fidelity to Christ by those you love or like. Praying daily, worshiping weekly, reading the Bible are life-giving acts of fidelity as your old Adam or Eve is crucified again with Christ, and you declare with your time, talents, resources, and, yes, your body, that your life is no longer your own. Now Christ lives in you! You follow Him in humble service. You make spiritual friends.
Today we are grateful for the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this land. It is not a matter of idolatry to give God thanks for our country whose Constitution guarantees freedom to worship and to live openly without fear as the baptized children of God. America is not the Kingdom of God. These United States, and creation as we know it will pass away, when Christ makes all things new at the last. Until that time, we live in this land and pray for those who lead.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Bulletin insert
Thankful Living: Welcoming the Word
“In your loving kindness, O God, you have adopted us into your family as children of light: Grant that we may not become entangled in the darkness of error and lies, but may always live in the brightness of your truth; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 616).
Matthew 10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me…”
St. Hilary (4th century Bishop of Poitiers): “He who receives a prophet receives him who dwells in the prophet, and he becomes worthy of a prophet’s reward by receiving the prophet because he is a prophet. And a like reward is allotted for receiving a righteous person. One who does this becomes righteous by honoring righteousness. In this way righteousness is attained through faith, taking on mercy as its duty” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 1-13, 213).
Matthew 10:41 “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive…”
Origen (3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt): “This passage has a deeper meaning. One who has properly extracted the meaning of the apostle’s writing, and has not misunderstood it is receiving the apostle as well as Christ who speaks and dwells in the apostle and is the source of the apostle’s teaching. And since the divine mind of the Father is also in the Son, one who receives the word ‘of wisdom’ and everything that is Christ is receiving God the Father of all things. The first part refers mystically to the new covenant, the last part to the old covenant” (213-214).
Matthew 10:42 “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water…”
St. Hilary (4th century Bishop of Poitiers): “He teaches that no deed of a good conscience is useless. It is no crime for a believer to have hope that transcends another’s unbelief. For he foresaw that there would be many who glory merely in the name of apostleship but whose every actions proves they are unworthy. They deceive and lie perpetually. And yet when we grant these people the favors that are due them because of their mere appearance of religiosity, he does not withhold from us the reward of doing his work and of hope” (214).
Matthew 10:42 “…truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
St. Jerome (5th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible): “But there are many false prophets and false preachers who perhaps make this doctrine difficult. He has also cured this stumbling block by saying, ‘He who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.’ Then again, someone may object and say, ‘I am prevented by poverty. My own lack prevents me from acting as a host.’ Jesus eliminated this excuse, too, by the easily fulfilled command that we should offer a cup of cold water with our whole heart” (215).
1. Have you been “unfriended” for Jesus’ sake?
(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)
Christian Questions with Their Answers
Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament
[The “Christian Questions with Their Answers,” designating Luther as the author, first appeared in an edition of the Small Catechism in 1551, five years after Luther’s death].
After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions:
19. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?
First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.
20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2 (Luther’s Small Catechism).
1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend why God wants us to examine our hearts prior to our receiving the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. If we are not sorry for our sins or do not believe ourselves to be sinners in need of Christ, what are we, in effect, saying to the Lord Jesus as He comes to us by His Word of Promise in His Holy Meal?
4. Make a habit of taking a Bible from the cart outside the door and, before communing, read through all Luther’s questions and answers on pp. 1065-1066.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”