True to the Word

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Jesus said that in Matthew 5:37.

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

The Apostle James said that in James 5:12.

Plenty of folks spend time debating what is meant by either of these texts from God’s Word, but I’d say that if you keep them simple—that is, keep the verses in context, taking the words for what they are—you’ll find, ironically, that the way to interpret them is almost the same as their meaning: Keep things simple. In other words, know what you believe and stand on it. Or perhaps another way: Mean what you say.

Speaking of keeping things in context, I would add as a cross-referencing text the following from Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Let me add to that from James 1: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we would be a kind of first fruits of His creation. My beloved brothers, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness that God desires.…” (vv. 18-20).

Together, these texts set the stage for us to know a couple of things. First of all we learn that there’s really no way to argue the fact that, as God’s people, we are a means for blessing the world around us. Both words and deeds born from faith mean and do something. Second, as God’s people, we have been established as those born from the Word of Truth—which is Jesus Christ, Himself. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. By our baptism into Him, we are first fruits of truth in the world around us. This re-creates us into people who are quick to listen and slow to speak, which means that before we take a position on something and then move forward in response, we do our best to understand the situation fully, weighing it against the Word of God, all the while being willing to change our position as the Word of God catechizes.

We are constant pursuers of truth for the sake of faithfulness.

With all of this in mind, we really can give rather simple answers to complex questions—even in some very confusing situations, ones where 99% of the situation appears acceptable, and yet there’s that pesky 1% that’s not.

Lots of folks might argue what I’m saying as being impractical in this day and age, maybe even foolish. Take for example what happened to me on Monday.

I received a call from a representative of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) letting me know that I’d been nominated as a local celebrity (whatever that means) in Livingston County and was being asked to participate with a handful of others in the area in a fundraising event. They called it the Livingston County Lockup, and the details were that I’d be “locked up” at Aubree’s Pizzeria in Brighton for an hour or so with the hopes that people from my congregation, social media circles, and the like would donate toward my bail. In the end, all of the money collected would go toward the MDA’s research efforts toward to a cure.

It sounds great. But I said no. I’ve taken a position by God’s Word against supporting anyone or anything that promotes Abortion or the trades that keep the murderous practice in business. The MDA is one of the worst offenders when it comes to fetal tissue research. No insignificant percentage of their samples are actually the remains of aborted children they’ve purchased from suppliers like Planned Parenthood. In fact, Planned Parenthood is one of the MDA’s chief sources.

I can’t support that. I’ve taken a stand against ever doing so. And I can’t draw you into it either. When I raise money for the MDA, I’m putting money into the pockets of the folks at Planned Parenthood and thereby supporting an economic situation that actually gives them an incentive for staying in business. I want them out of business. But here’s where it gets tough.

“Isn’t Planned Parenthood already funded by the US Government?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t you pay taxes?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t there a chance that some of your dollars are going to Planned Parenthood?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to withhold your taxes from the Government?”

“No.”

“But Pastor Thoma, wouldn’t it be great to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t you think that the cost is worth the gain?”

“No.”

“I mean, these kids were going to be aborted anyway. Some were even the result of rape or incest, so isn’t it better that they would have an ultimate purpose, and that it would be one for good, perhaps saving millions in the future from a debilitating disease?”

“No.”

Each of the above “yes” or “no” answers is grounded in the Word of God. Whether its Ezekiel 18:20 teaching that a child shall not pay for his father’s sins, or Matthew 22:21 where we are instructed to give Caesar his financial due, or Romans 13:1-7 where we are mandated to honor those in seats of governmental authority, each answer is shaped by the Word of God. And when we let our yes be yes and our no be no, we set the stage for discussing truth as it arises from the Gospel of a love so incredibly wonderful, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can’t help but want to be in alignment with the One who won our forgiveness that we would be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.

I tell my sons that they need to be men of their word. When they say they will do something, they are to do it. If they take a position on something, they need to be unbending—even when human reason tests each corner of the enclosure and seems to provide a way of escape from an uncomfortable situation. But in the end, their efforts matter a lot less if their intentions don’t include humility or aren’t tethered to the pure Word of God. In other words, when the Word of God shows your error, change. And, for example, there’s no use in you refusing to do your homework because Ecclesiastes 12:12 says anti-contextually, “Much study wearies the body.” This is to pit God’s Word against itself in the same way the devil did in Matthew chapter 4 when he attempted to use the Scriptures against Jesus. Not good. But the world will try it.

A “yes” or “no” arising from faithfulness to Jesus and His Word cuts through that nonsense. And in my experience, it’s pretty amazing the levels of courage that are mustered when facing off against a world seeking to consume everyone and everything that doesn’t get into line.

Having said all of this, I suppose I’ll leave you with the encouragement to trust your Savior that you would be a child born of Truth who is seeking faithfulness to the One who is Truth in the flesh. Trust your Jesus in the face of difficult situations that sometimes require an uncomfortable answer. Set your efforts on His shoulders. He’s stronger than you. Get behind Him. He is your rock and your fortress, an ever-present help in trouble. Knowing this, be strengthened to let your no be no and your yes be yes.

You’ll be amazed at how much bluer the sky will become, and how many more hues you’ll discover in the gift of a sunrise. I say this because the peace God provides His people in times of struggle isn’t just something we talk about as an abstract. It’s real. Take a look around. You’ll see some Christians who’ve been through an awful lot, and yet they’re still standing.

The Experts Have Nothing on Jesus

Common sense often has very little to do with the Christian faith.

Here’s what I mean.

If you recall the text from Luke 5, the fishing night, the time when fishing would be accomplished successfully had passed. Jesus had traveled to Lake Gennesaret (which is also the Sea of Galilee). He’s been followed by crowds of people pressing in around Him, and as the text says so succinctly, they are doing this because they want to hear the Word. It’s there by the shore that Jesus meets Peter, along with James and John. They’re fishermen, and they’re calling it quits just as He approaches—washing their nets and packing up their boats and tools with nothing to show from a long night of work.

Jesus climbs into Peter’s boat and asks him to push out into the shallows. Strange, and as I chatted about it with Pastor Heckert last week when I went to visit him at home, perhaps even rude, especially knowing that Peter had been fishing all night. Most likely he was tired, and if he’s anything like the rest of us (and I know he is), he just wanted to go home and rest.

But so strangely, Peter doesn’t resist Jesus’ request. Perhaps out of respect for the Rabbi, he does what he asks. No big deal. What’s another hour, right?

With that, Jesus preaches to the people, and as He concludes, He turns to Peter and his assistants and stretches the boundaries of their hospitality a little further. Jesus tells Peter to let down the nets into the deep water for a catch. It’s at this point in the story that I can almost hear Peter give out a sigh as he thinks, “Wait a minute. I’m tired. We’re tired. We worked all night and caught nothing. The best time for fishing has long since passed, and with that, we’re done. And you saw us packing up and cleaning our nets, right? Do you honestly expect us to go through the trouble of dragging them out and casting them again, especially during the most inopportune time to fish? Don’t you realize what a colossal failure that would be?”

A colossal failure. Sounds and feels very familiar to me. Why? Because I’ve had my share. And I often find myself convinced that with a little bit of common sense, I can avoid future failures by doing this or that. In one sense that’s true. But in another, it couldn’t be any further from the truth.

This carries us back to what Pastor Heckert preached with regard to the power of the Gospel. As believers—people converted and convinced by the Gospel—we are those who live and die trusting in the powerful Word of Jesus of Nazareth, who, when He speaks, does not give empty words even as we recognize that His Word won’t always jive with what we are thinking needs to be done in a particular situation. You, the people of this congregation, are living proof to this wonderful trust. So often you continue in Holy Worship—Sunday after Sunday—no matter what the secular world may try to tell you, no matter how tired you are from the previous day’s efforts, no matter what common sense might urge as a better use of your time and resources. You are here because the Gospel Word of Jesus has power and it has changed you. It is for you the greatest story ever told, and it is message of hope and deliverance you can trust even when it seems to drive us toward scenarios where we are to drop the nets in the deep waters when common sense and experience tells the experts there won’t be any fish.

The Gospel had this very same effect on Peter. He’d been carried to a point where it would have made sense for him as the fishing expert to seize control of the situation and advise the Lord in a better way. But he’d heard the preached Word of the Gospel before Jesus called for the impossible. Peter, a man who had been cultivated by Jesus’ preaching, could not end his sentence to Jesus about the long day and the cleaning of the nets with a response of refusal. Instead, he says so simply, “We have fished all night and caught nothing… but at Your Word, I will let down the nets.”

And then we watch Peter very closely. We watch what the world would call foolishness. Peter will trust the Lord, and he will witness the catch of fish and then he will fall to his knees in confession, asking the Lord to leave his presence because Simon is a sinful man and unworthy of being near Him. And still, thanks be to Jesus, He doesn’t agree to Peter’s common-sense advice. Instead, He stays with him and absolves him, “Do not be afraid, Simon. From now on, you will be a catcher of men!” In other words, you are forgiven, and now by the power of the Holy Spirit in this same Gospel, you will preach a Word that matches the backward events of this day. You will preach the powerful Gospel of Christ crucified!

It wasn’t that many years ago that someone warned me that this church and school, like so many other churches and schools, would almost certainly be closing her doors in six months. But here we are many years after the prediction. Sure, we have our struggles, but one thing is for sure…

The so-called experts have nothing on Jesus.

Even better, when I think on these things, I’m glad that this particular reading from Luke 5 occurs during the leaner summer months. I need to hear it and remember. I’m even more satisfied that it lands near the beginning of the church’s annual budget cycle. This reading is a Gospel-filled encouragement to continue in faithful stewardship with the gifts the Lord provides, trusting Him and seeking only faithfulness to Him, even as the world around us continues to tell us that we need to do this and that, to use the Law to frighten and bring guilt and shame to motivate givers and attenders. The Lord doesn’t say that kind of stuff. Instead, by His Word He preaches, “Keep Word and Sacrament in this place, and keep it pure. That’s what makes Christians. From that, be strengthened, be patient and teach my people to be Christians. Raise them up by the Gospel of forgiveness that they may know not only the joy of giving back to the One who gave everything for them, but they may know My love, that they would share this love, that they would seek first the Kingdom in all things, and they would be with Me in the eternal joys of paradise.”

So, with that, I say “Thanks be to God that there are Christians in this place, who when their trust is called ‘foolish,’ their first inclination is to smile and say innocently, “You should read Luke 5, because so is fishing in broad daylight in the deep water.”

At Your Word, dear Jesus, I will continue to trust you even when it doesn’t make sense. And by the power of the Holy Spirit through Your Gospel, I will let down my net for a catch.

There’s No Place Like Home

First off, while vacations are nice, it’s always good to come home. In fact, knowing the significance of what “home” represents, the Lord points out in John 14:23 that when it comes to the most precious of all places and relationships we possess in this life—the ones in which dwell and interact because they comprise all that would make for a place to call our home—is none other than the “where” and the “who” we are in fellowship with when we gather together to receive His Word in both its verbal and visible forms—or in other words, God is present with us through Word and Sacrament. And so, naturally the Lord speaks: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Second, another part of what makes this place something to call “home” is you. There’s nothing better than a familiar face, an embrace welcoming you back, and a kind word that is sure to let you know that while you were gone, you were missed. You did this for me this past Sunday, and for that, I thank you. It reminded me just how wonderful being home can be. And it moves me to encourage you to count Our Savior as your home, as well. We are your Christian family. You belong here. And no matter what you’ve done, this is a place where those who are repentant will always be received-and not only by our gracious and loving Savior, but by those within whom the Holy Spirit is at work by that same Gospel of overarching grace.

Grace.

This, of course, means that none of this is true by our own doing, just as you didn’t choose your family. You were born into it. Similarly, you were born into the Christian community through Baptism into Christ, the One who gave Himself on the cross to win for you your place before the throne as an heir of heaven.

I think that’s pretty great stuff. And I hope you think it’s pretty great stuff, too. It is a Gospel that changes the way we deal with one another, and it strengthens all of us to be honest with ourselves—to recognize our need for a Savior from sin—and then, together as a family, to kneel before His throne of grace to be absolved of anything and everything that would cause us despair.

Again, that’s pretty great stuff. And I guess one more thing that makes it truly spectacular is that because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, it’s all free—free as the breeze that jostles the leaves on the tree in your backyard.

Breathe it in. It is your Baptismal right as a member of this family.