The Gospel Presumed
Tuesday of Pentecost 8
1 August 2017
Some years ago at a conference for pastors, the keynote speaker assured me that our church body, the LCMS, had the gospel and its doctrine all sewn up. According to this speaker, we didn't have to spend any time on the gospel; the gracious forgiveness of sins, the work of Christ, the power of the sacraments, etc. All that could be presumed! We could move on to more important things, such as getting the church to really grow. At the time, I suspected that this was not true; I had plenty of empirical evidence to indicate that was the case. I had heard the preaching that actually had been delivered in the church; often quite devoid of the holy gospel. Of course, the contention of this particular speaker simply reinforced my intuition that the gospel had been abandoned where it is presumed. What is presumed is no longer particularly important to those who presume it. What is presumed is no longer the treasure of the holy church. Where the gospel is abandoned we have given up what moth and rust cannot corrupt for those things which are entirely corruptible and therefore will not endure (Mt 6: 19-21) in the end. How presumptuous to presume the gospel!

The true treasure of the church is the gospel of God. Oddly enough, this treasure is not kept by the church in a strong box. Instead, the treasure of the church is given away generously, abundantly, even with wild abandon, as in the parable of the sower (Mt 13: 1-9). Some seed falls on rocky ground, is burned up by the sun, is eaten by the birds of the air, is unfruitful, is wasted. "Oh, what of that and what of that" (LSB 586:4)? This does not stop God from sowing it. The gospel is the thing. God will continue to sow it no matter what the outcomes might be. The more generously we so the more abundant the outcomes. The more we give away, the more we will have. The Bible is full of figures of speech glorifying the value of the gospel. However, the Bible gives us economically disastrous examples in the parables. Who leaves ninety-nine sheep behind to look for one lost sheep? Who pays laborers who work one hour the same amount of pay as those who labor all day? Who sells everything they have to buy one field. Who sells everything they own to purchase one pearl? This doesn't make any sense. God would fail at the Art of the Deal. He could never be on The Apprentice. He would never succeed on Shark Tank!

This is exactly the point. God does not do what we fallen humans expect. God does not measure the value of His church the way we do. He does not measure us. He doesn't evaluate us to determine if we are worth buying. He does not try to negotiate a better deal. He pays the most for the least. He gets hamburger quality for filet mignon prices. We pass Him by, and He reaches out to us. We proudly point out our sufficiency without Him, and He humbly begs us to return to Him. We flee to other loves, He chases us to wherever those counterfeits lead us, proving His love for us at every turn. We play hard to get. He gets us the hard way: by suffering and dying. We commit spiritual adultery, but He will always be true to His bride. We who were his captors, He frees. We who enslaved Him, He liberates. We who bound Him by our sin, He has loosed. He returns here to us as the high priest of the good things that are to come. He embraces sinners like us valuing us by His blood. He does not measure our worth. He measures us by His worth. He does not measure us by our righteousness. He measures us by His righteousness. He does not measure us by our works. He measures us by His good work. He does not expect us to be a treasure. He treasures us. He does not expect us to be the pearl of great price. No, He makes us so. The most fabulous beauty of holiness has been offered for us. That is love. He, who is love, has paid the price to the utmost. This is the gospel. And it cannot be presumed. It is far too rare for that.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"The gospel of God is something which is not very well known to a large part of the church. Therefore, I must speak of it at greater length. Christ has left nothing to the world except the gospel. Also he has handed down to those who have been called to be his servants nothing else than minae, talents, riches, and denarii, in order to show by these terms which speak of temporal treasures that the gospel is the true treasure. And Paul says that he himself lays up treasures for his children (2Co 12:14). Christ speaks of the gospel as a treasure which is hidden in a field (Mt 13:44). And because it is hidden, it is at the same time also neglected.

"Moreover, according to the Apostle in Romans 1, the gospel is a preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace (Rm 1:3-6). It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace. Isaiah says, 'How beautiful...are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness' (Is 52:7). But the law is a word of destruction, a word of wrath, a word of sadness, a word of grief, a voice of the judge and the defendant, a word of restlessness, a word of curse. For according to the Apostle, 'The power of sin is the law' (1Co 15:56), and 'the law brings wrath' (Rm 4:15); it is a law of death (Rm 7:5, 13). Through the law we have nothing except an evil conscience, a restless heart, a troubled breast because of our sins, which the law points out but does not take away. And we ourselves cannot take it away. Therefore, for those of us who are held captive, who are overwhelmed by sadness and in dire despair, the light of the gospel comes and says, 'Fear not' (Is 35:4), 'comfort, comfort my people' (Is 40:1), 'encourage the fainthearted' (1Th 5:14), 'behold your God' (Is 40:9), 'behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (Jn 1:29). Behold that one who alone fulfills the law for you, whom God has made to be your righteousness, sanctification, wisdom, and redemption, for all those who believe in him (1Co 1:30). When the sinful conscience hears this sweetest messenger, it comes to life again, shouts for joy while leaping about full of confidence, and no longer fears death, the types of punishments associated with death, or hell. Therefore, those who are still afraid of punishments have not yet heard Christ or the voice of the gospel, but only the voice of Moses.

"Therefore, the true glory of God springs from this gospel. At the same time, we are taught that the law is fulfilled not by our works but by the grace of God who pities us in Christ and that it shall be fulfilled not through works but through faith, not by anything we offer God, but by all we receive from Christ and partake of in him. 'For from his fullness we have all received' (Jn 1:16), and we are partakers of his merits."

Martin Luther, Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses, 62.
Matthew 13:44-52
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"Have you understood all these things?" They said to him, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (ESV)
Lord Jesus, continue to give to us Your gospel although we have often presumed upon it. Forgive us our presumption and hard-heartedness. Continue to show us Your love, as You give yourself entirely over to our need. Help us to be generous with the gift of the gospel, as You have been so generous with us. Amen.

For Jill Stoneburner, that the Lord of the church would watch over her and guard her in body and soul

For the Director of Parish Music committee of Memorial Lutheran Church, that its members would have wisdom and joy in their labor

For Robert Paul, Headmaster of Memorial Lutheran School and the faculty, that the Lord of the church would give them joy in their labors as they prepare for a new school year

For all physicians, that they might bring healing into people's lives
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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