“In this way–in this way–we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus.” That way is not ours to choose and define. This way is commended to us, by the Word of His grace.
Eighth Sunday after Trinity / 22 July 2018
“We Must Help The Weak”
20:27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.
35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. (Acts 20:27-38)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Doctors call that “atrophy,” the process whereby once toned and vibrant muscle tissue starts to decline and grow weak. It’s difficult to win any trophies when your body is in terminal atrophy. We have other words and phrases for it, “out of shape,” “out of condition,” “out of practice,” “past your prime.” Whatever we call it, few like the results in the end. Aches and pains, unsteadiness, stumbling, a tad too little wiggle and far too much jiggle in your walk, if you know what I mean. Atrophy saps us all of our balance, coordination, strength, energy and endurance in the end. In the end, atrophy will take your strength, too.
Many of you here are athletes, outdoorsy types, fitness and sports-minded folk–much, much more so than me. Many of you love to play ball and work out. I love to study, read old books, learn new things, translate Greek, work with computers, write articles, teach, hold quiet conversations and listen to people’s real life stories. In some ways, we couldn’t be more different. In others, we’re somewhat alike.
Almost everyone seems to prefer being strong, though, or at least thought of as strong Christians, very strong in our Christian faith, strong in Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” That Philippians 4:13 verse is stuck in our heads. It’s stuck up on the north doors to the church, to remind us and encourage all who come in there to our strong church. We don’t greet each other or our visitors with the words, “I’m barely making it today. Lord, have mercy, I need some more help!”
Maybe we should. Be honest. There’s probably a reason we don’t choose a different welcome verse, one like 2 Corinthians 12:9, “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Talk of weaknesses makes me feel like I might actually need those churchly helpers God sends into my life. Talk of weakness means one might finally be forced to look to others, rely on Christ’s grace and strength working in them for help just to endure. Talk of weakness makes one feel needy, like I might really need other spiritual people to help me, too. If I’m that weak, I just might need my wife’s help. I might need my kids to help me. Maybe I need a boss to critique my work. Might I need a ‘nosey’ neighbors’ kindness or perhaps even need a little old ‘grandma’ like you in my life.
Am I that weak? Are you so weak? Are we so weak that we need God and His Word coming at us from outside of us. Or are we so strong we can do all things by ourselves, without any help? We need a God who sends others, not mired in our own subjective, self-centered, self-reliant, self-serving, and embarrassingly corrupt own humanity.
“If we say we have no such weakness as sin, we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us.” “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Christians, here is good reason we print those words on the first page of the Divine Service to greet us when we come here to Jesus. God knows, our help must come from outside of us. Our true help only comes from outside of us. If it came from within, it wouldn’t be rightly called ‘help.’ We are all that weak! Week after week, month after month, year after year, we must all come in here and confess, we are all still so weak that we need His external Word to help us by God’s grace.
This is one thing you and I have in common. This spiritual weakness called original sin is one attribute we each, every one of us, shares. Our newest member is that weak. So is our oldest member and every one in between them. In our most frustrating human weakness, God’s grace must be sufficient for us. His power must be made perfect in our weakness. And it must come exactly as God sends it, from outside of us. Such help is ours, coming from God, through the external Word of His grace.
The Lord tells you and I, “in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of our Lord Jesus, how He Himself said ‘it is more blessed to give than receive.'” The Blessed Lord Jesus must stand alone and remain the single, most blessed giver we know in our lives, all our lives long. The word of His grace given for you is able to build us up and give us the inheritance among all the saints. The Word of His grace sent for weak sinners speaks of their perfection before God in Christ Jesus. “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation” bestowed for you in your weakness. Here Christ removes all your shame in having such weaknesses!
We have no real choice in the matter. All alone our souls atrophy, apart from that Word. Our spirit continues to wither up in our sin. Our own “wretched body of death” (Rom. 7) idly wastes away and watches as our strength in this life and the next escapes us without Christ. But Christ comes with a Word that topples the proud. Our pride in our fading strength must die and the most Blessed Jesus alone give us His help by the Word of His grace, from outside of us.
Many grow weak and weaker still, week after week, starving themselves of the Bread of Life, refusing to bathe in the waters of Life that is your Baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. Many grow weak like wild shoots whose fruits just rot on the ground rather than remain in Christ and be pruned, tied up and gathered around that true Vine. Such weakening souls shrivel and dry up as dead kindling for the fires of hell. They cut themselves off, becoming so weak and numb they can’t even feel their own need for this Word or sense they need such loving neighbors whom the Lord gives to be their help.
The Lord Jesus says it will not go well for those who say, “We need not such weak shepherds as these! Oh, we do just fine growing wild apart from that Vine! We’re not so weak we can’t sense and find God removed from all that foolish preaching of the Word of His grace. We need no churches for helping the weak—that’s not our thing.” How right they are. Hear a the word of their judgment from Jesus Christ your Lord:
“18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7, ESV)
Lawlessness. These know no Sabbath with Him.
We gladly shall confess this truth: we only grow weaker the longer we’re away from the Word of His grace. We we have not outgrown our need for the help He gives us as our inheritance in His Church. We confess we also must be built up from outside ourselves by the Word of His grace. His Church is the place where He sends it for you.
We need this Church of God, bought with his own blood. In that Church, Jesus alone is honored as the most Blessed One, the Giver of help which we all must receive. That Church does His command to help us with the Word of His grace. Such Christians do not despise the weak, but are sent to serve them. God’s flock and His Shepherds are compelled so to help the weak and remember the words of their Lord Jesus Christ, when He himself said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” This church, bought with His blood, shares in their Lord’s giving blessedness. His faithful shepherds stand alert and eager to speak the Word of His grace for the weak.
There exist such things as strong Christians. Still, they are seldom the ones who consider themselves to be strong. Quite the contrary, the strongest Christians only do such things as their Lord bids them do through Christ, who himself strengthens them. They consider themselves weak. Strong Christians freely admit they’re far too weak to on their own be of much good, until God should graciously bless and work through them. These strong Christians boast of their weaknesses, in order that Christ’s power may be made perfect in their own weaknesses, for you.
This whole atrophied world, weakened by sin and death’s sting–our world needs that true, Blessed Church of the Weak. We need those people God bought with His blood on the cross. And you are those people. This atrophied world needs you. Outside of ourselves, the Lord calls and gathers us here to help us. He bids us be dressed in his righteous robes, take our place at His table, and together dwell here in the house of the Lord. “In this Christian Church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all Believers in Christ.” In the midst of this communion of saints, Jesus is present and gives out much needed strength. Just as we pray week after week, our Lord does refresh us through these salutary, healing gifts. Here He strengthens us through the same in faith toward Him and fervent love for one another.
In His Church, the Good Shepherd tends His to His blood-bought flock by the Word of His grace. He sends that gracious Word as glad tidings for all who are weak. Having strengthened us by His grace alone, then the Lord points us outside of ourselves to love and help our own weak neighbors. “In this way–in this way–we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus.” That way is not ours to choose and define. This way is commended to us, by the Word of His grace.
Your Church, Christian, is preserved here through these years for one purpose: we must help the weak. Blessed are those who receive their help in the name of the Lord. Even more blessed are those who for the sake of the weak show up here to stay strong and give God’s help to one another with humility, compassion, and love. But most Blessed of all is this Jesus, who comes here and gives help for all the weak to receive. Thus we cling to and share in the Word of His grace. It is sufficient! Its power is only made perfect in our weakness. So we shall teach it and preach it. We shall sing that word to each other and we pray that word together as one. For only this external word, coming from outside of us, gives us this inheritance among the saints and preserves us for our life now in weakness, until at last we are raised up in strength for eternal life, in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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