You’re at the Wrong Place


Dr. Nagel, a professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis pastored a Lutheran Church in bombed-out London after WW II. Crowds of needy people regularly gathered outside the door for bodily help. He preached a sermon entitled: “You’re at the Wrong Place”. The Church’s main task, one only She can do, is to provide spiritual sustenance the Bread of Life not daily bread. You’re at the wrong place if..,

…you’re here for the peace and quiet. While on vacation we all stayed in one big house. One midday meal was eaten outdoors. I ate mine indoors. Several grandkids came through asking what I was doing. I replied to each, “Eating my lunch.” Finally, a 5-year old asks me the same question and I answered the same, and he replied: “Nu-huh. You’re in here for a little peace and quiet.” Busted. But aren’t we all after that? Well, if you’re here for peace and quiet, Jesus says you’re at the wrong place.

Why? I think Jesus’ words in our text are quiet clear: "’Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Mat 10:34-35). Mind you this is not His purpose in coming. His purpose is to bring peace on earth and God’s good will to men. But that results in a sword, a separation in the most intimate of human relationships. The reality of this hangs above every faithful Christian like the famed Sword of Damocles’.

The Prince of Peace brings division. How can this be? The same way the perfect Law of God brings dirt and death to sinners. Church Fathers lived the reality of this long before us. Apollinaris, 4th century, says that “unbelievers think that peacemaking is their proper duty. They say, “’Do not believe that it is best under all circumstances to be saved, for you owe it as a duty to be at peace with all’” (ACC, NT I, 210). That’s what is called an “evil peace.” So says an anonymous 4th century Church Father. With unbelievers there “is a single sinfulness, and there is a common agreement to sin. For unbelief and iniquities are born through the encouragement of a demon, but they are preserved though peace” (Ibid.). While in the process of leaving the LCMS, one of you pointed out to me, rightly so, that the most persistent thing the LCMS president said about that synod was things were calm, at peace. It's an evil peace, where Open Communion and Closed Communion kneel at the same altar. It’s an evil peace, when those abiding by the Order of all Creation commune with those who have no use for it. If you’re looking for those whose mantra is “give peace a chance” or those who cry, “Peace! Peace!” when there is none, you’re at the wrong place.

You’re at the wrong place if you think you are worthy apart from Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Now this could be true: if you don’t love father or mother more than Jesus; if you don’t love son or daughter more than Jesus; if you do willingly lose your soul, your self, your life for Jesus’ sake. If all the above our true, then you are righteous before God. You indeed love Jesus more than anyone else even yourself, and if that’s the case you’re at the wrong place. This is place for those who with St. Paul count themselves chief of sinners, ungodly, enemies of God, wretched men in desperate need of deliverance (1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 5 & 7).

You can’t do this with adults but you can with Junior Confirmands. When teaching the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods” which means “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things”, you say: “Quick write down the top 3 things in your life.” First year kids will often leave God off. Second and third year know God should be on it somewhere. But the truth is if God isn’t number one, He isn’t on the list at all. You know how in a decision where there is no “thus saith the Lord” you have a person flip a coin, and before they look ask which do they want? Do that and have the two sides be God and family; God and spouse; God and parent. Flip the coin. Which side do you see first? Augustine says in a sermon, and this can haunt you so be warned, of a potential spouse: “’I will love you in Christ, not instead of Christ. You will be with me in Him but I will not be with you, without Him.’ Of parents he says: ‘Should I obey the ones who raised me and lose the One who created me’” (ACC, NT 1, 212)?

Unless we have God number one and all else second, we’re unrighteous before God. But it get’s harder. If you think it doesn’t matter if you reject the cross of Christ that He gives you, you’re not worthy of Him. All the other places Jesus mentions our cross it's take up, carry. Here, and here alone, Jesus says, “The one who won’t receive his cross and follow behind Me, not of Me is worthy.” When it comes to crosses, we’re like the cow sticking it’s head through the barbwire fence to munch the grass on the other side, though she has plenty on her side. Like her, our sinful will wants nothing to do with receiving a cross that God wishes us to receive. I’ll receive cancer not Alzheimer’s; I’ll receive a difficult boss not a difficult spouse. This is the illustration: A man complains to God so much about his cross, God lets him go into His storehouses of crosses to pick his own. The man looks and looks till he comes out with the tiniest one. “O my” says the Lord. “The cross I had picked for you is much smaller than that.” If you’re able to accept God’s cross and not want the greener grass across the fence, then you’re at the wrong place. You don’t need what’s here.

And, finally, you’re in the wrong place if you’re active rather than passive. This is also a Nagelism: we are nouns who spend our whole lives trying to be verbs. This is what I’ve noticed in Contemporary Worship songs. The verbs do not usually apply to God but to us sinners. We are to love this, believe this, lift Jesus up, hope, confess etc. But aren’t the verbs in our text referring to us: loves, find, receives? You got that right, but first our text exposes what follows from Jesus coming into our world: division, separation. The second paragraph outlines what it takes to be worthy and  shows us that is manifestly not us who never at anytime, fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus earlier in Mt. 5:20 dropped this bomb: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Outwardly, these were more righteous than anyone else, and Jesus says you need even more righteousness than they have.

Did you notice the prominence of the word reward in our text? Jesus speaks of receiving a prophet’s reward, a righteous man’s reward, and a little one’s reward. A few things: The Greek for reward, mithos, is never used of meritorious reward but only a reward of grace (Buls, Sermon Notes, Gospel A, 20). That is: without any merit or worthiness in me. A tip is not a reward of grace; an inheritance usually is. A grant is really not grace if it’s grade based or even need based. Jesus righteousness only comes by grace not merit on our part. Only Jesus’ righteousness exceeds that of the most religious, most faithful, most dedicated. Never did He sin in deed, in word, or even in thought. Not once; never-ever. That’s the active righteousness we need placed before God for us. The passive righteousness is Jesus going to slaughter, to torture, to mockery, and ridicule in our place without complaint. He suffered all of God’s wrath in the depths of a hell we can’t even imagine. That suffering, sighing, bleeding, crying and dying was for us, in place of us.

Ultimately if you follow this chain of reward all the way back, it’s linked to receiving the one sent by Jesus. We get Jesus and His righteousness by receiving the ones Jesus sends. A lot of receiving going on in this text, but there are subtle distinctions being made. The Greek word for receiving one sent by Jesus is dechomai. Dechomai is also used for receiving a prophet, a righteous man, or a little one. The word I translate for ‘receiving’ your cross is lambano. These are considered synonyms with this difference. Lambano is to receive without indicating necessarily a favorable reception (Vine, 7), i.e. you don’t have to like your cross to receive it, but the one sent by Jesus is not just received but received favorably. 

Why? Because in receiving the one sent by Jesus you receive the true God and His grace. So, the true God is found in Word and Sacraments not your opinions, views, or even understanding. The goal is to have the mind of Christ not to give Him, or others for that matter, a piece of your mind. Paul says, Philip. 2:5, “For, let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus” (YLT). Paul tells the woebegone Corinthians that no one should be of such a mind as to instruct the Lord and that, "We have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16). If you actively want to teach Jesus, you’re in the wrong palace, but if you want to passively receive His Mind, His Ways, His Truth, His forgiveness, then ‘do’ as Psalm 81:10 directs: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Read how the Lord provided for millions in a wilderness, and know that God still reigns, rules, loves, gives and forgives in Jesus. Run to the place with an open mouth that He is there for you. Here is that place.

After the worst of the Blitz was over for England, Churchill famously said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” In this place we have not reached the end. This is not heaven, but here in this place, among the gifts of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we have a window that opens on a vista where we can see all the way to the end where neither Sin, Death, nor Devil win, rule, or even exist. I want to be at the place that gets to look out this window. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20230709); Matthew 10:34-42