6 Pentecost Proper A12
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52 Sermon
July 24, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
9 "O Day Of Rest And Gladness" (now playing)
459 "Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare"
473 "The Church's One Foundation"
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
TEXT (vs. 51-52): [Jesus asked his disciples] “’have you understood all these things?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”
Back in the middle of the 17th Century, an era of world history began, known as "The Enlightenment." It didn't last very long, only about 150 years. Somewhere between the end of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, right about the end of the 18th century, the "Age of Enlightenment" period had come to an end.
Many scholars pinpoint the beginning of this age to the thoughts, writings, and work of a Jewish Dutch philosopher by the name of Baruch Spinoza. Historian Jonathon Israel describes the base of his philosophy as: "Democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state." He goes on to say, "After 1650, everything, no matter how fundamental or deeply rooted, was questioned in the light of philosophic reason," and further describes him as: "the chief challenger of the fundamentals of revealed religion, received ideas, tradition, morality, and...divinely constituted political authority."
I know that's a mouthful, but that's about the best way I can condense the various tenants of his philosophy in a very few words.
The "Age of Enlightenment" was the time when human reason and intellect was the primary source of everything. In this way of thinking, there was no room for anything that was based upon faith or belief. Everything had to be rational, logical, and provable. And since man was the final authority in all things, people could basically create their own morals, do whatever they wanted to do in society and only be subject to human authority. There was really no such thing as divine authority and accountability.
You can right away see what this did to the church. Biblical Christianity and religion in general was dealt a very strong blow. The Jewish people basically disowned Spinoza, and the Roman Catholic Church pronounced an anathema on him, and banned his books and writings. When you take the faith out of religion, what's left?
There were those, like Rene Descartes, John Locke, and others who weren't as radical as Spinoza. They liked some of the ideas, but didn't want to completely eliminate the faith angle. So they used the ideas of The Enlightenment to make an attempt to reform religious belief.
This affected different European cultures on different levels. In England, the government basically ignored it, and the people only marginally accepted bits and pieces of it. In Germany, it was something that was prominent amongst the middle class and the clergy. In other European nations, it permeated governments to a greater or lesser degree. In Austria for example, King Joseph II threw out virtually everything traditional, so that revolts broke out and most of his reforms were eventually reversed. Historians call his regime "a comedy of errors."
I think you can readily see how this has affected our society today. History has this tendency to repeat itself, and society keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again, just the same old stuff dressed in new clothes.
One thing in the church that came from this period of history, is a Biblical school of thought called "The Graif-Wellhausen Form Hypothesis." These Jewish scholars contended that the first five books of the Bible; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, were not written by Moses. Instead, they believe that they were a collection of writings by four different schools, identified by the letters J, E, D, and P. The "J" school identifies God as "Jehovah" or "Yahweh." The "E" school identifies God as Elohim, which is the Hebrew word for God. The "D" school consists of the Deuteronomists, responsible for the book of Deuteronomy. And the "P" school consists of those who wrote the Priestly Code, or all of the ceremonial laws, including worship and sacrificial rites and rituals.
So what's the problem with all of this? Why couldn't God have used these four schools to create the first five books of the Bible?
Well of course he could have if he had wanted to, but he didn't. Without getting too technical, there is enough internal evidence that shows there to be one author, and not four different schools of thought, possibly involving many different authors.
But the most compelling reason of all is Jesus himself. Jesus, more than once, clearly identifies Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible. So if Moses didn't write those books as Jesus says, then Jesus is either ignorant of it, or he is just plain lying to us. Neither explanation is right. But taken to its logical conclusion, that's what people would have to believe if they accept this J, E, D, and P theory of authorship. There are numerous seminaries and Bible schools that teach this still today. And that's why we have a section in our congregation's statement of faith that clearly rejects this theory.
There are other similar theories about other parts of the Bible. There are those who contend that the book of Isaiah was written by two different authors: one author for chapters 1-39, and another author for chapters 40-66. That theory has also been shown to be wrong. The same goes for questioning the authors of the four Gospels in the New Testament. It just doesn't stop.
Today in our Gospel lesson we have a total of five parables Jesus is using, namely: The parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the yeast, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price, and the parable of the fish in the net.
I’ll deal with most of these at least a little bit; but today I’m focusing on the final two verses of the Gospel lesson, which are Jesus’ final words to the disciples following all of these parables. He asks the disciples if they understood what he had told them. They indicated that they did indeed understand. Then in verse 52 Jesus says: “…Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
This isn’t really a parable; it’s more of a simple metaphor Jesus is using. In effect, he’s describing the actual work of the public ministry. In one simple sentence, he describes what faithful pastors spend their entire ministry doing.
In doing this, it isn't a matter discarding what is old and replacing it with some hair-brained idea somebody has dreamed up. It's not a matter of replacing what we accept through faith, and making it something that appeals to our sense of logic. And it's not a matter of replacing God's moral law with our own idea of what that should be.
God's Word is both timeless and true. What we do is take those old established truths and apply them to a new day. We're faced with new situations. As individuals, we're faced with unique situations that are all our own. We have this need to hear what God is saying to us, and how that applies to us.
And so, we go to that storeroom. We look at those old treasures, and we do so with new eyes and new situations. And suddenly, those old truths have new meaning for us. We can say, "Yeah God, I see what you're saying to me! I see where you want me to go! I see how you want me to act! You know what's going on in my life!"
In our text today, Jesus specifically addresses his disciples, and makes direct reference to people who have been theologically trained. He calls them “teachers of the law who have been instructed about the kingdom of heaven.”
Theological training amongst pastors, at least in our circles is no overnight process. It takes a four-year college degree, plus four years in the graduate school, which we call seminary—three years of classroom work, and a year of vicarage or internship. The seminary courses have these funny sounding names too, like: homiletics, dogmatics, isagogics, exegesis, apologetics, symbolics, liturgics, etc. etc. What this boils down to, is that future pastors are being instructed about the kingdom of heaven so we can function in the office of the public ministry.
It’s a humbling experience really. A person walks through the door of the seminary thinking he knows everything, and it doesn’t take too long before he realizes how much he doesn’t know.
A pastor needs to be able to apply the age-old truths of God’s Word in today’s society. A pastor needs to not only preach the text, but also apply it. If a person can’t apply that Biblical truth to themselves in their own lives, then it doesn’t do them much good at all.
Why is all this so important? If we consider all of the parables in Matthew 13, Jesus makes it clear that God wants all the people of the earth to be part of his kingdom. The Word has power to convert, to nourish, and to sustain. The faith in a person’s heart, even though it may be as small as a mustard seed, is still a saving faith and therefore very precious indeed.
Two of the parables in today’s Gospel lesson bring home the importance of the work of the ministry in a very big way. These two parables are the hidden treasure in the field, and the pearl of great price. What does the hidden treasure and the pearl represent?
They represent you and me, members of the human race. Even though we are sinners, even though we have transgressed God’s law in many ways, even though we’ve tried to completely shut him out of our lives, yet he still loves us. He considers our souls as valuable treasures.
In both instances, the man who discovers the treasure and the pearl goes and gives up everything he has in order to obtain them. That’s exactly what Jesus has done for us.
Jesus gave up everything to buy us. He came to this earth and set aside his divine glory. He lived the life we could not, and died the sinner’s death in our place. He even separated himself from his heavenly Father and gave up his own life. He gave everything to buy us from sin, death, and the devil. He did this because he loves us.
And then he gives us faith. He gives us the faith to accept Jesus as our Saviour. He gives us the faith so that we are willing to make Jesus the Lord of our lives. He gives us the faith so that through it we will be permanent residents of heaven for all eternity.
That faith may be as small as a mustard seed. That faith may be as insignificant as a few grains of yeast. But a faith that is nourished and continually fed will grow like that mustard shrub from that tiny seed, or increase in abundance like the yeast does throughout the whole batch of dough.
During the Age of Enlightenment, the whole concept of faith was laid aside in favor of human reason and logic. God had been replaced by what people could find roaming around between their two ears. Historians claim that the Age of Enlightenment began in the 1650's by Baruch Spinoza, the so-called "father of enlightenment."
I contend that it started much earlier than that. In Genesis chapter 3 verses 4-5 we read: "4 But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" Spinoza's idea of enlightenment started way back at the beginning of history with Satan, the "father of lies." Some things have never changed, and never will.
This morning, I'm going to conclude with one final bit of history that applies to us today. Many people have asked me over the years why the Lutheran Church is a liturgical church. We have a liturgical order of service, and we follow a liturgical calendar. Liturgics is an entire course we have to take at the seminary, so it is pretty important stuff.
Liturgy is historical, because it is something that started back in the Old Testament Church, and continued in the New Testament Apostolic Church and beyond. It is Biblical because it faithfully proclaims the Biblical message of Law and Gospel. It repeats the Biblical songs of praise: "Glory be to God on High, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men," the song of the Christmas angels; "O Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," the message of John the Baptist; "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth," the song of Revelation; "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace," the song of Simeon, and so forth.
But the real lesson here today is what happened during the Age of Enlightenment back in the 16th and 17th centuries. During that time, there were untold examples of false doctrine being preached from the pulpits. Theology was coming from small groups in German coffee houses, and not from the Bible. The truth was being either lost or changed by those who were being unfaithful.
The only thing that didn't change during this time was the liturgy of the Church. For that to have changed in those days, it would have taken an official act of the government. And they weren't about to do that.
During the Age of Enlightenment, the liturgy was the only touchstone the Church had with God's truth. It was the only witness of God's unchanging Word in a society lost in human logic and moral relativism. It was what kept the Church intact through some very trying times.
So the next time we question the importance of liturgy, we must remember how important it was during the Age of Enlightenment, which was not that long ago. It is indeed a pearl and a treasure in our heritage. It is something old and historical that is brought forth again and again to a new age and to new generations, all to the glory of God.