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Taking What Is God’s and Keeping It His

St. Mark 7:1-13

Pastor Mark Schlamann

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Shepherd of the Hills Evangelical Lutheran Church  
Morgantown, Indiana

Sun, Aug 27, 2006
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

"Taking What Is God's and Keeping It His"

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Mark 7:1-13

August 27, 2006


What does it truly mean to worship God?  In the Athanasian Creed we confess, "This, however, is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance," and again, "Therefore it is the true faith that we believe and confess that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once God and a human being."  From the Lutheran Confessions we find these words that we believe, teach, and confess:

And Christ says in John 4[:23-24], "[T]rue worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth."  This passage clearly condemns the notions about sacrifices that imagine they avail ex opere operato {by the work being performed}, and teaches that one should "worship in spirit," that is, with the deepest activity of the heart and faith. [Ap XXIV 27]

True worship of God comes from the heart, but it is from the heart that God has cleansed through His Word and Sacraments.  Again, from the Confessions we believe, teach, and confess:

Because the righteousness of Christ is given to us through faith, therefore faith is righteousness in us by imputation.  That is, by it we are made acceptable to God because of God's imputation and ordinances, as Paul says (Rom. 4:5), "Faith is reckoned as righteousness."

We must speak technically because of certain carping critics: faith is truly righteousness because it is obedience to the Gospel.  Obedience to the edict of a superior is obviously a kind of distributive righteousness.  Our good works or obedience to the law can be pleasing to God only because this obedience to the Gospel takes hold of Christ, the propitiator, and is reckoned for righteousness.  We do not satisfy the law, but for Christ's sake this is forgiven us, as Paul says (Rom. 8:1), "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  This faith gives honor to God, gives Him what is properly His; it obeys Him by accepting His promises.  As Paul says (Rom. 4:20), "No distrust made {Abraham} waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God."  Thus the service and worship of the law is to offer and present our goods to God.  We cannot offer anything to God unless we have first been reconciled and reborn.  The greatest possible comfort comes from this doctrine that the highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness.  About this worship Christ speaks in John 6:40, "This is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life."  And the Father says (Matt. 17:5), "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." [Ap IV 307-310]

Listen to this sentence once again: "The greatest possible comfort comes from this doctrine that the highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness."  Where does our Lord give us the forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness we desire?  He gives these gifts to us in His Word and Sacraments, the Means of Grace, the means to which our Lord has willfully and willingly bound Himself so that we would receive these gifts we desire to receive and that He desires to give us.

The Pharisees and scribes knew of no such righteousness, for they knew of no such faith, as they placed their faith in their own good works.  They took the commandments of God and added to them.  The Lord Himself summarized the Law into two commandments, but the Pharisees had 613 laws in their code.  They built hedges around the Divine Law to its very exclusion.  They held the hedges higher than the Holy One's actual commands.  The blessed Evangelist St. Mark notes in our text: "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.  When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.  And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches" (vv. 3-4).  They obsessed over becoming ceremonially clean so much that they thought nothing of being morally and spiritually unclean, and they enforced these extra-biblical man-made rules and regulation on an unsuspecting laity.  "Therefore the Lord said," as recorded by the prophet Isaiah in our Old Testament reading, "'Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.' …Surely you have things turned around!  Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing be made say of him who made it, 'He did not make me'?  Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Is. 29:13, 16).

We too have turned things around in our understanding of the holy things of God.  Contrary to the views held by many who claim to be Lutheran, the "Page 15" service in The Lutheran Hymnal is NOT divinely inspired; it did not come to us directly from God.  As a matter of fact, there is no commandment for the use of a liturgy to be found in the New Testament.  However, we do see in Acts chapter two that there was a liturgy in use already around 30 A.D., as the people of God "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).  Doctor Norman Nagel writes in his introduction to Lutheran Worship now the old "new" hymnal in our Synod,

The rhythm of our worship is from [God] to us, and then from us back to Him.  He gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them.  We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Our Lord gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink.  Finally His blessing moves us out into our calling, where His gifts have their fruition.  How best to do this we may learn from His Word and from the way His Word has prompted His worship through the centuries.  We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition.  Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day—the living heritage and something new.

The text of the Divine Service used here is a relatively recent development of the Liturgy in the history of the Church, for the text is drawn from what is known as the "Common Service of 1888," over 50 years before the publication of TLH.  In the new Lutheran Service Book there are five settings of the Divine Service!  The words are slightly different, language is updated in places, and new tunes are composed, but since these are "new," they cannot be any good, we think.  We tend to be TLH-only people, even though the Church over the ages put the Liturgy together, all the while drawing from the words of Holy Scripture, so that we would speak back to God what He has first spoken to us, repeating what is most true and sure.

Yet we hold what Scripture says about the Lord's Supper, namely, closed communion, to be nothing but the pastor's rules or opinion.  Closed communion is not the tradition of men but is a clear teaching of Scripture.  We have forsaken what we have been taught (and what we have confessed to be true) regarding the Lord's Supper.  A former president of our Synod, the sainted Dr. Alvin L. Barry, wrote a few years ago on fellowship in the Lord's Supper, writing in part:

While the Lord's Supper is always a personal matter, it is never a private matter.  That is an important truth that is often overlooked.  Those who commune at the same altar are thereby declaring publically that they are united in the doctrine of the Apostles (Acts 2:42).  Therefore fellowship is the Supper is church fellowship.  This is what is taught in 1 Cor. 10 and 11.  Here is how one of our church's teachers explained this truth.

…"This passage in Corinthians strikes a crushing blow at unionism.  To admit those who believe differently to our Communion, and so to our church fellowship, is a contradiction in itself.  For those who approach the same altar together profess to be one—one in all points of Christian doctrine and practice—while in reality they disagree.  It would be shameful hypocrisy on our part if we would have those who actually profess a different faith than we do join us at the Lord's Altar." [Stoeckhardt]

Doctor Barry also quotes the first president of our Synod, Dr. C.F.W. Walther, who says,

The Holy Supper is one of the marks, one of the banners of the church, one of the seals of the church's doctrine and faith (Rom. 4:11; see 1 Cor. 10:21; Ex. 12:48).  In whichever church one receives the Holy Supper, one is confessing that church and its doctrine.  There cannot be a more inward, brotherly fellowship than that into which one enters with those in whose fellowship he receives the holy Supper….  Even one who confesses the Real Presence [of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament] cannot ordinarily, except in the case of death, be admitted if he is and wants to remain, not a member of our orthodox church, but rather a Roman Catholic, Reformed, so-called Evangelical or Unionist, Methodist, Baptist, in short, a member of an erring fellowship.  For the Sacrament, as it is a seal of faith, is also the banner of the fellowship in which it is administered.

For those who think it is unloving to practice closed communion, Dr. Barry continues, writing:

Our Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations offers the following helpful explanation of why we practice close[d] communion:

"Close[d] communion seeks to prevent a profession of confessional unity in faith where there is, in fact, disunity and disagreement.  It would be neither faithful to the Scriptural requirements for admission to Holy Communion (1 Cor. 11:27ff.; cf. 10:16-17)) nor helpful to fallen humanity if the Christian Church welcomes to [her] altars those who deny or question clear Scriptural teachings.

"The reasons for the practice of close[d] Communion are often misunderstood by Christians who have been accustomed to an 'open Communion' policy.  In a tract titled, Why Close[d] Communion? The rationale for the practice of close[d] communion is explained in this way:

"'So it is not that a Lutheran congregation wants to bar fellow-saints from the blessings of the Eucharist when they practice Close[d] Communion.  It is not that they want to be separatistic, or set themselves up as judges of other men.  The practice of Close[d] Communion is prompted by love and is born of the heartfelt conviction, on the basis of Scripture alone, that we must follow Christ's command.  This means refusing the Lord's Supper to those whose belief is not known to us.  It is not showing love to allow a person to do something harmful, even though he may think it is for his own good.  It also means that if they are members of a Christian body which departs from the full truth of the Scripture in some of its doctrines, that we must not minimize the evil of this false teaching by opening our fellowship to any and all Christians who err in the faith.'" [Deffner]

For us to do otherwise, to enforce this false doctrine of man, is to really be unloving, or, in other words, to love someone straight into hell, and we will be held accountable for our sin, and me even more so, as a steward of the mysteries and the overseer of souls in this place and the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.  For this reason the rather lengthy communion statement is included on the inside front cover of the bulletin each Lord's Day and another, briefer statement is included in the worship insert so that no one receiving this spiritual medicine would thus be ingesting poison, eating and drinking judgment upon themselves, sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

To this end our Lord says in our Old Testament reading, "Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden" (Is. 29:14).  He has given His people the Gospel that is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  The blessed Apostle St. Paul writes, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:16-17).  The Lord sent Paul to

"preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written [in our Old Testament reading]: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the disputer of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the LORD'" (1 Cor. 1:17-31).

The Lord has taken the ordinary things of this world and made them extraordinary by His Word.  Our salvation has come by a Man, the Man Christ Jesus, begotten of the Father from all eternity and born of the Virgin Mary in time.  The prophet Isaiah writes, "He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.  He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him" (Is. 53:2b-3).  But through our God-given faith we behold His beauty, as St. John notes, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14).  A then-common form of execution, an old, rugged cross was the means by which our Lord, the Son of Man, was lifted up to draw all peoples to Himself through His death, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and has had mercy upon us.  The Lord, risen and ascended on high, descends to us this day as He comes hidden in the form of ordinary things: words, water, wafer, and wine.  Our Lord has taken these ordinary elements, attached His word of promise to them, and given us His Means of Grace.  Through the Word He has attached to simple water He has declared us clean, and we do not need to baptize our cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches for this purpose; our heavenly Father has already declared us clean for His Son's sake and through Holy Baptism, and He continues to declare us clean in the forgiveness of sins.  Our Lord takes common bread and wine and attaches His Word to it, giving us an uncommon Meal, which He prepares for you this day.  It is Christ's body given and His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  The Sacrament of the Altar is not given out willy-nilly and is not up for grabs, but it is for us who come before Him in repentance and faith, confessing the faith confessed at this altar, the faith that confesses faith in the words "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."

To those who confess a faith different from ours, we invite and encourage them to first hear the Word of the Lord and be instructed in what we believe, teach, confess, and practice before receiving this Blessed Sacrament.  To those who share in our confession of faith, we invite you to come, "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8).  It is the Lord's Supper; He is the Host, and we are His guests.  To all who believe in Christ, whether of our confession or another, we pray for the day when all divisions within the bride of Christ, the Church, will have ceased, for "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27), as we hear in our Epistle.  Until that Day when all divisions will cease we join St. John in saying, "Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20b).

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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