Kruiz edited
Church of Sinners
Thursday of Lent 5
22 March 2018
Like many Lutheran pastors, I wear a clerical collar to mark me as a pastor in public. While at the national convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I was approached by young professional woman at breakfast, who wanted to know if I was with that Lutheran church group that was meeting there. Since I was wearing my clerical collar, I asked, "What gave me away?" Later in a very pleasant conversation, she volunteered that she was a lawyer for a U.S. government intelligence agency (you can't make this stuff up). 

Just as we can recognize a police officer by his uniform, so a Christian pastor can be identified by his clerical collar. I can't count the number of opportunities the wearing of a collar has gained me, especially in hospitals, where people stop me and ask me to pray with, or for, a sick loved one. When asked why his pastor never wore a clerical collar, a layman shockingly responded that the collar was the sign of "a child molester." He was thinking of the grave scandal of child molestation in the Roman Catholic Church. Should our pastors stop wearing clerical collars if those who have worn them have perpetrated such scandalous crimes? If we lived by that standard, what good could ever survive? What good gift of God is not susceptible to perversion by the human heart?
 
The church itself would have to be outlawed by this standard (and perhaps that is where our society is headed). In it are wicked people like me, St. Paul (1Ti 1:15) or King David (Ps 51:5). In the church, people are more than willing to use its structure to hide nefarious motives. The most appalling crimes may be cloaked under hypocritical sanctimony, as was the case of Victor Hugo's Archdeacon Claude Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who often acted in ways completely at odds with Christ's compassion for the weak and downtrodden. Despite Frollo's weakness and evil, the Cathedral of Notre Dame stood unchanged after he fell to his death from one of the ancient bell towers. So though the cathedral was spattered by the filth of this man, she still stood and now stands. This is true of God's church, which is the redeemed little flock of God. No matter what wickedness is perpetrated upon her by false sons, she remains God's immaculate possession. No matter what filth she is spattered with, she still remains the holy bride of Christ, chiming out the gospel from the towers of the faith. No wonder David prays that He might live in the House of the Lord forever (Ps 23:6).
 
How easy it is to reject the church because of the lies and hypocrisy emanating from the mouths of those who claim to be the church. Many people reject joining a Christian congregation because they can point to the hypocrisy of the members. That is a slam dunk. But it is like declining to attend a Major League Baseball game because the umpires will occasionally miss a call: "He missed the tag! He missed the tag!" as Bob Uecker so humorously points out. It is easy to criticize the call from the bleachers. No one in the stadium is always right. So it is for the church which belongs to God. Only God is always right.
 
The church claims to be the community of sinners forgiven by God through the merits of Christ. Why should we be surprised at the sinfulness of sinners, as all true Christians continually confess they are? Unfortunately, some Christians portray themselves as morally superior to others, which hardly squares with the Bible's continual call to repentance (Mt 3:2), nor with the confession of sins we hear on the lips of Paul (Rm 7:18-19), or the other great saints (Ps 32). This "holier-than-thou" attitude gives the church a poor reputation because it is easy to see the falsity of the claim to moral superiority. Instead, the church must portray herself as the poor little flock of those dependent on the generous forgiveness of the good Shepherd. That Shepherd is calling you to dwell in the house that bears His Name, that He might feed and pasture you. Yes, you are a sinner. Join the community forgiven by the Lover of sinners.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"We should also sincerely pray and ask God, as David does in the last verse of the Psalm (Ps 23:6), that we may keep this possession and never fall away from His holy Christian Church. Such a prayer, however, is extremely necessary, because we are very weak and have that treasure, as the Apostle Paul says (2Co 4:7), 'in jars of clay.' And our adversary, the devil, is murderously hostile toward us because of this treasure. Therefore he does not rest, but goes about like a roaring lion seeking how he may devour us (1Pt 5:8). He also has another claim on us because of the old sack of our flesh, which we are still bearing around our necks and in which there are still many evil desires and sins. Moreover, the dear Christian Church is bespattered and befouled with so many horrible offenses that, because of them, many fall away from it. Therefore I say it is indeed necessary that we pray and preach the pure doctrine without ceasing, and thus protect ourselves against all offense, so that we may endure to the end and be saved (Mt 10:22).
 
"The mad, blind world knows nothing at all of this treasure and precious pearl. Like a sow or other unreasoning beast, it thinks only about filling its belly; or, at best, it follows lies and hypocrisy and abandons truth and faith. Therefore it does not sing a psalm to God for His sacred Word. Rather, when He offers it the Word, it blasphemes and damns this Word as heresy. It persecutes and kills those who teach and confess it as corrupters and the worst scoundrels that the world bears. Therefore it will undoubtedly be up to the little flock to know this blessing and, together with the prophet, to sing to God a psalm or song of thanks for it.
 
"'But what do you say about those that cannot have the Word of God, for example, those that are dwelling here and there among tyrants and enemies of the Word?' It is true that wherever God's Word is preached, there fruit will not be lacking, as Isaiah says in his fifty-fifth chapter (Is 55:11); and pious Christians in such places have an advantage that they truly prize. For Christians consider it a great privilege to be at a place where God's Word is taught and confessed openly and publicly and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's command. But such Christians are not very plentiful, for there have always been many more false Christians than devout ones. The great throng cares nothing about God's Word, nor does it acknowledge it as a blessing that it can hear this Word without harm or danger. Indeed, it soon becomes sated and disgusted with it and considers it a burden to hear it and receive the Sacraments. On the other hand, those who must submit to tyrants cry for it day and night with great longing. And if by chance they get even a small fragment of our bread, which Christ has richly distributed to us, they receive it with great joy and thanksgiving and make very good use of it. Our sows, however, who have this precious bread in abundance and many basketsful of fragments (Mt 14:20), are sated with it and do not even care to smell it. Indeed, they thrust it about with their snouts, root around in it, trample it with their feet, and run over it (Mt 7:6).
 
"Thus the saying is true: When something is in common use, it is not appreciated but is despised, however precious it may really be. Unfortunately such a saying is proved especially true in the case of our dear Word. Where men have it, they do not want it. But where men do not have it, there they would be sincerely glad to have it. Where men have the church, in which God's Word is taught, at their doorsteps, there they go strolling along the marketplace during the sermon and sauntering about the moat. Where they have to go ten, twenty, or more miles for it, there, as we read, they would gladly go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving (Ps 42:4)." 

 Martin Luther, Psalm 23, 23.1
Romans 7:7-25

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
 
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
 
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, I will gladly go up to Your house where You dwell by Word and Baptism and Supper. Rescue me from the hypocrisy that accuses hypocrites of hypocrisy. Call me continually to repentance that I might abide with the community of sinners forgiven by Your generous and overflowing grace. Amen.
 
For all those who are experiencing inclement weather, that they might be kept safe and that they would cast their cares upon their Lord God
 
For all those who are suffering from illnesses, especially Arlene Murray, that they might recover their strength so that they can carry out their offices in service to others for Christ's sake
 
For all our military chaplains, that they might still proclaim Christ to those who serve the nation in our armed services
 
For Herbert Mueller, Sr., the first vice president of the LCMS, that he might be upheld in every good deed
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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