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               Divine Liturgy 10:30 AM

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Lord Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word

July 14, 2018

Verse: Ephesians 1:13–14

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
July 15, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 8
Lord Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word

O Lord you granted your prophets strength to resist the temptations of the devil and courage to proclaim repentance. Give us pure hearts and minds to follow your Son faithfully even into suffering and death …

May God answer the church’s prayer today!

May he give her strength to resist the devil; courage to proclaim repentance; and pure minds to joyfully follow Jesus even into suffering and death.

To that end we have today’s readings from Sacred Scripture, all three of which, work together to teach us what this means.

In today’s Old Testament lesson we encounter the Prophet Amos whom the Lord sent to wake up and shake up his church.

He did it in a very brash way because when people harden their hearts in sin against God they become like stone. Like flint. And often a hammer and chisel is what’s needed. But not only were his words a hammer, sans velvet. But so was his person.

Firstly, Amos was not a prophet by profession. He did not come from a prophetic line, nor was he schooled or skilled. He was a vintner by trade, and knew nothing about being a prophet until the Spirit got hold of him, that is, and gave him the words to speak.

And speak he did! Read his prophecy when you go home today and you will be amazed at what we can do when God strengthens us.

Secondly, Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah, but God sent him to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to preach. The two were mortal enemies. If Israel did not want to hear God’s Word from her own prophets, she most assuredly did not want to hear it from this yokel of a prophet from down south.

Thirdly, as regards his message, it could hardly be more offensive.

King Jeroboam will die by the sword!
Israel will be carried away into exile!.
The songs of the temple will become dirges.
And the land will overflow with dead bodies!

No wonder Amaziah, upon hearing Amos’ message cried out: “The land is not able to bear all his words.” (7:10)

It was true then, and is true today: the land is unable to bear the Word of God’s judgment. But it must be spoken. We all need to hear it, lest we become confirmed in our sins, hardened in our sins, and die in them.

But those who speak it put themselves in peril, now as then. That is why the church puts today’s Collect on our lips. A prayer that God should grant his church, and her ministers, courage. And bless her people pure hearts and minds to accept it, whatever the cost. Because believing God’s word is just as perilous as proclaiming it.

Perilous because a Christian is required to be rational, and that is almost impossible in today’s climate where hysteria is the rule of the day.

Perilous because a Christian is required to exercise self-control, something our flesh objects to mightily.

Perilous because a Christian is required to deny himself the things that flesh loves, and to take up his cross and follow Jesus day by day.

More than that, in as much as you display your Christian faith, people will “unfriend” you, and not just on FB.

The culture will hold you at arm’s length. You may be exiled as Amos was, as St. Athanasius was, as St. John Chrysostom was. You might even lose your head, like John the Baptist did. That very thing is happening to Assyrian Christians today at the hands of Muslims.

If anyone sitting here today is not willing to accept such risk he should either pray today’s Collect as if his life depended on it; or hand in his resignation.

No. The land was not able to bear Amos’s words. Nor were King Herod and his ill-gotten wife able to bear the preaching of John the Baptist.

Herod, like many Christians, was happy to hear God’s Word if nothing else were required. St. Mark makes it clear that Herod had a godly fear of John. That he revered him as a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe from the wiles of his scheming wife. Moreover he loved to hear John preach, even though he could not grasp much of his message. No surprise there because God’s Word is spiritually discerned, and Herod was without the Holy Spirit. But at the end of the day Herod chose expedience over righteousness, and handed his wife the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

But, still, God’s Message has inherent power to cause those who hear it to believe. You are hearing it now. No other thing is ever spoken within these walls except God’s words, now will they ever be. Will you be like Amaziah the Northern Prophet who sent Amos packing upon hearing it, or like Herod who finally cut off the head, to silence the mouth?

Or will you be like the newly baptized Christians we meet in today’s epistle? St. Paul says this about them: When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, you believed in Christ, and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down-payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.

If God will graciously answer the church’s prayer today; If he will give us the courage to proclaim the gospel, as we are doing at this very time; If he will give us pure hearts and minds to believe it; and even to suffer for his sake … then we will indeed be like the newly baptized Ephesian Christians in today’s epistle. “To the praise of his glory.”

Then, rather than suffer the burning judgment the Northern Kingdom suffered; or the condemnation King Herod received at the hands of God – we will be blessed. Because by faith “we have passed from death unto life;” (John 5:24) and so will be endowed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

And, in spite our deadly sins, we now stand “holy and blameless” before God. Forgiven! “To the praise of his glorious grace.” We have an inheritance awaiting us, beyond what we can imagine. Our futures are bright. Our eternities glorious. And we have the Holy Spirit, now, as the “down-payment” of that splendid inheritance.

Though the fullness comes later, the Spirit is ours now, and he fills us with spiritual wisdom and insight.

If he did not you would not be able to believe the gospel you believe, or hold the hope you hope. The church’s words would be non-sense to you. You would have no comfort before God when you sinned, no consolation when life turns sour, and no courage to suffer when suffering is called for.

But as it is you do have redemption by Christ’s blood, the promised Holy Spirit, and an eternal inheritance awaiting you. And so stick to your faith. Cling to your religion like you would a pile of gold. Devote yourself to the “study of the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42), and make your faith the most important thing of your life.

There is nothing better than that.