Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

4th Sunday Pentecost

  1. Pentecost 4.17 “The Unfashionable What” Matt. 10:34-42

So, I learned this at my last Southeastern District Professional Workers conference (they are as averse to calling pastors pastors as they are to discussing actual theology at these things): that the big mistake I and some of my brethren are making is that we start with “What”—stuff like sin, forgiveness, heaven, hell; whereas this guy, a professor from the St. Louis seminary, says we should always start with “Why?” especially this: “Why don’t people come to church?” And to find that answer (the Professor strictly admonished us) you need not go searching the Scriptures, no, no! Simply ask the unchurched why they don’t come, and if they say (this was his example, not mine) that, “Uhm, unlike Ikea stores, y’all don’t have fresh cinnamon buns when we walk in the door,” well then! Give them cinnamon buns, for heaven’s sake, and the world will flock to your door! It’s all about the cinnamon buns; apparently, this is the new church growth program…

I like cinnamon buns as much (probably more!) than the next guy. But this is not the answer, I’m afraid, though I think it does show a huge problem with the modern church; she says: “Give the unwashed masses whatever they want!—cinnamon buns, praise bands, social justice, a syrupy gospel of prosperity! Suggest to them that Jesus is like a free ATM, a worldly Mr. Fixit to get you ahead at home, office, or school, and poof-bam! The pews and coffers overfloweth!” That’s where you get if you start with “Why?” That is the Plan in most LCMS district offices, for the St. Louis Seminary President, the big church pastors, as best I can tell.

It’s the thinking of most of American Christendom, truth be told (and African and Latin American, even more so!). We’ve been working mightily for the last century on “Why”: why doesn’t Christianity fit in with modern American expectations of success, popularity, health, wealth, and happiness? And how: how can we make it fit? This is no easy thing to accomplish, I assure you! “Top men” have been working on it for decades; “top… men.” And cinnamon buns, quite honestly, is far from the worst answer they’ve come up with for their “Why?”. Oh, on a side-note: I learned at my continuing ed event (not to be confused with pastor’s conference) last week, a class on Hermann Sasse taught by Ft. Wayne Professor Pless (a man who starts always with “What” 🙂 that Prof. Cinnamon Buns has been dismissed from his appointment by the new Board of Regents of Concordia Seminary St. Louis (which we helped elect at the last convention). Apparently, they took his advice and started with “Why?” as in “Why do we have this guy on staff?” and could come up with no answer…

Jesus, in our Gospel today, like His good friend Jeremiah in the Old Testament lection, is hung up on “What”. What is it to be a son or daughter of God? What is it to be a follower of the Christ, the Savior of the world? What would this look like? What sort of life follows from heeding His call and following Him on down that less traveled by road?

That’s the question! And Jesus pulls no punches, does not sugar-coat it, offers no cinnamon buns, as His servant Jeremiah did not. What a wonderful reading from Jeremiah! The Gospel of Prosperity preachers have been with us from ancient times, you see. Hananiah was a card-carrying member of that heretical, but popular, guild. Jeremiah had been telling them the Babylonian captivity of their king and nobles would last 70 years and if the rest of them did not surrender, French-like, they would be killed, horribly. And Hananiah had a belly full of that defeatist trash talk. He said “No way! The Lord will bring back the captives, put a chicken in every pot, broadband fiber in every home, provide good, high wage jobs to every Israelite.” And Jeremiah gives the most sarcastic “Amen! Oh, yes, the Lord do so!” And then a serious: “the prophets of old prophesied war, famine, pestilence against many countries, great kingdoms. They wore t-shirts that had rifles and zombies’ heads exploding and the caption: ‘The only thing that will be difficult, with the Zombie Apocalypse, for me, when it comes, will be pretending I’m not excited’.” NIV translation there, sorry…

As for the prophet who prophesies, peace, prosperity; well… Jeremiah says “when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.” Oh, side-note. Hananiah opposed, humiliated, mocked Jeremiah for this word. And Jeremiah said, at the Lord’s behest, “Listen, Hananiah: the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth; this year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the LORD’.”And he did die. And the Michigan District did not pick him up on the waiver wire as a mission exec. Do you love Jeremiah the way I love Jeremiah? I wonder…

Jesus lays it on at least as heavy: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth [no matter how many people do think that, and no matter what high offices they may hold in the church]. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…” He came not to preach family values (as we demand of Him today!) but to set son against father, mother against daughter, to bring upheaval, enmity even in the household. Hate as a family value. Jesus can do that. Check out Psalm 139 and David’s perfect hatred. Man after God’s own heart. Sometimes our love for Christ shines bright in what we hate…

“Whoever loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than Me,” Jesus says, “is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” There you go! A stake through the heart of all prosperity gospels [which are no Gospel!] of all times and places, even those which start with “Why?” and have bewitched our own beloved Synod.

What will we get if we follow you Jesus?” That was Peter’s question long ago, another guy after my own heart, hung up on “What”. Don’t just start with “What”. Stick there. Finish there. It may the be the road less traveled by, but the end of that Road? Oh, IT holds great promise! Go with Frost on this, and Peter, and the rest. Jesus answers Peter: “make no mistake: you won’t get peace, prosperity, wealth, health, success, fame as the world counts such things. In fact, you’ll get pretty much the opposite with Me. But, by the loss of all the world holds dear, by My Cross, by losing everything that looks lively to you, you’ll find, in Me—by My death—eternal life, Heaven’s Delight, a name, honor, real glory; a Kingdom…”

The Unfashionable What. This is what we preach, with THE prophets and apostles—no ifs, maybes, or whys. Peace Jesus gives, indeed, but:not as the world gives(!). Not at all. Not as our sinful little hearts so often desire and pine for. Jesus has something much better than that to give—the gift of Himself. He has power, strength, life that you cannot imagine; but the only way you discover the real power of IT is losing your grip on all you’ve clutched dear, the cinnamon buns, the worldly ways and adulation. Let that go. The cross will relieve you of that burden. And in the darkness, in that moment of loss (and only there!) you will find the much greater Kingdom and Life of Jesus overwhelming all…

The Unfashionable What of Jesus. It’s yours. And Peace surpassing understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Advent Vespers –

Wednesday, 15 December 7:00 p.m.

17  December 2017

3rd Sunday Advent

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 – Sunday School and Adult Bible class

Classes for ages 3 and up

Advent Vespers – Wednesdays – 7:00 p.m.

December 6, 13, 20

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – DS w/Comm

7:00 p.m  24 December 2017

Christmas Day Service – DS w/Communion

11:00 a.m.  25 Christmas 2017


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.