Aug 18, 2019 – Roots!
Do you like wine? I like wine. Wine is good. Medical reports tell us of the benefits of drinking wine – in proper amounts – as being good and healthy. But do you know what makes healthy wine? Good grapes. And you know what makes good grapes? Healthy vines. And do you know what makes healthy vines? Good roots. When a vine is planted in soil that nourishes a good root structure, you get grapes that produce good wine, which is healthy for you. That root structure is a blessing to the wine.
Speaking of a good root structure, in a news article some years ago former senator George Allen from Virginia disclosed that his maternal grandfather is Jewish. This became a story because Allen seemed to be unaware of that in his last campaign, when a reporter had asked him about it. Since then it has come to light that his mother had sworn him to secrecy after telling him as an adult, of his Jewish heritage. Rabbi Efraim Mintz confirmed that Allen was invited to deliver the keynote address to about 600 people attending the National Jewish Retreat in Reston Virginia. “George Allen is interesting to the American Jewish community especially because of his discovery late in life of his Jewish ancestry.”
I bring this up because I want to make it clear to all of us that we too, like Allen, share a Jewish heritage. Our roots as, Christians, are also Jewish and we need to be clear about that. In the epistle letter today, written to Jewish Christians in the 1st century, (that’s why it’s called the book of Hebrews), we learn, about some of the God-given roots of our sacraments. We see that both baptism and communion have a Jewish heritage. Listen again to verses 28 & 29. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land.
We see that in their passing through the waters of the Red Sea, the Jewish nation went through a baptism of God’s grace. By passing through the sea, by going ‘under those waters’ so to speak, they came through the other side only by the grace of God. That ‘baptism’ saved them, like our baptisms remind us that, we too, are saved by God’s grace alone.
And yet in the gospel lesson Jesus speaks of the baptism He was still to go through. It’s a baptism mixed with fire as spoken of both in the gospel and in the old testament lesson
“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? And the cross upon which Jesus died, that is the hammer that breaks apart the sin that seeks to keep us trapped under its crushing weight. Jesus endured that punishment of crucifixion in our place. If we reject that, if we refuse to acknowledge that it is in His name alone we have redemption, then we remain under that same crushing weight of God’s anger on sin and His eternal wrath. And so, Jesus’ baptism of death of the cross was filled with all the wrath of God in it, so that we may indeed have a baptism unto life in His name.
And in these same verses from Hebrews our Jewish roots are exposed in holy communion as well. That’s because it’s in the Passover that’s spoken of there, that the blood of a lamb was sacrificed. In that way, on the night the deadly destroyer came through Egypt, the children of the Hebrews would be ‘passed over’. And that’s a blessing for us, since it’s in the shed blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that we partake of in the sacrament, that we’re spared from the death we deserved by our sin.
Sacraments are the core blessing for us. Our joy comes from them – they’re like the roots of a grape vine; they give us, who are the branches, our foundation. Those roots nourish us and feed us with the food of God. They’re our root blessing.
And as we’ve pointed out already the sacraments are Jewish as well. That is, by being Hebrew in nature, they’re a ‘both-and’ sort of thing not an ‘either-or’. They are both an end in themselves and they’re a means to an end.
They’re an end in themselves in that they do indeed deliver to each person who receives them, God’s grace. That can’t be overstated. God touches each of us in an uncommon way, with common things. Water, bread, and wine. But the sacraments also, in addition to standing alone, are a means to an end.
Think of sacraments like this; while they’re made of common and ordinary elements, they deliver God’s extraordinary heavenly grace and promise to us. So, with and by God’s word, they stand as the means by which God delivers to us His full and free pardon. In that way they’re both Jewish-earthly and heavenly. In dying on the cross and rising to new life, Jesus won for us pardon and redemption, the forgiveness for sin. And sacraments are the means Christ uses to deliver that redeeming gift to us.
Along with this, we use them to guide and strengthen us daily. Again, like a grape vine, we’re given nourishment for our daily growth by the sacraments. So, while they deliver to us the security, the foundation of our heavenly future, they’re also the guide and root of all we do each day, each moment.
We’re never far from our baptism. Each day as we pray and repent of our sins, God’s baptismal grace touches us and reminds us that we are His own child. Having gone through the waters of baptism we’re made clean in the repentance of our sins by the promise delivered to us, that forgiveness is ours. And we then live each day in that grace and mercy given to us at the font.
And communion ties us regularly to the death and resurrection of Christ so that we remain grounded in Him. Again, like a grape vine that has its roots well grounded, that’s what we learn from today epistle lesson. Our grounding is both Jewish-earthly and heavenly. Our roots are planted in Jewish and heavenly soil.
One of my favorite movie scenes helps to illustrate this. A man, who makes wine, gives a glass of wine to a girl and asks her to describe it. She yammers on about it being ‘bold and fruity’ but she obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He then takes out a box that has vials of various herbs and other things, like rosemary, mushrooms, currants and the like; all things that grow in the soil around his vineyard. And after explaining this he opens each individual vial and asks the girl to sniff them. He then gives her back the glass of wine to drink, and now she beings to understand. She understands that the wine’s aroma and flavor is totally influenced by the soil in which grow the roots of the vine that grew the grapes that made the wine.
We are like that wine; we take in, from the ground where we’re planted, the influence, flavor and character of the soil. And our soil is both Jewish and heavenly. In the epistle lesson we learn that, among other influences from the Old Testament, baptism and communion have in their background the Passover, the exodus story.
It’s enough today, to see what Jesus Christ has done for us, scorning the shame of the cross, and what He bestows on us through the sacraments, which carry a Jewish flavor, our Jewish-earthly roots. We’re tied to those roots and we take in the aroma of the Passover meal when we come to communion.
And we’re rooted to heaven as well. We have the nourishment of the grace of God alone through these sacraments that He’s given to us. In baptism the word of God pours life into that water so that we are changed. And any time we come to communion, bear in mind that we are being fed with heavenly food. The common earthly things of water, bread and wine are made uncommon and holy by the word of God. As such, our roots are strengthened as we run the course through this life laid out for us in Jesus Christ – In His name we pray, amen.
Sermon #1041 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Jeremiah 23:16-29
16 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ 18 But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? 19 See, the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked. 20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart. In days to come you will understand it clearly. 21 I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.
23 “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.
25 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
Epistle Reading Hebrews 11:17-40; 12:1-3
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Holy Gospel Luke 12:49-56
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?