Rev. Kurt Lantz Easter 6 C Acts 16:9-15
May 22, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people who have been invited,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, right away, we see clearly that Paul’s plan for the Second Mission Journey was thwarted. Jesus actually prevented Paul from going where he wished to invite people to come to Jesus and His Church. Rather, Paul is the one who received the invitation when, in a dream, a man from Macedonia invited him to cross the Aegean Sea and come and help the people there. Paul and his fellow workers recognized that this invitation was from God Himself, and so they went (Acts 16:9-10).
It is a good reminder for us that God is the host who issues the invitations. I am sure we have all heard well meaning Christian family and friends talk about how they invited God into their heart, or Christian committees that have invited God to be a part of their program, but the Scriptures put it the other way around. God is the one who invites us. He takes the initiative, often going against our own intentions in order to invite us to Himself.
The hymn we just sang, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (LSB 556), spells it out the way that God’s Word speaks, not the way we would like it to be.
Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day; In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
... and so on. You see we were in no fit state to invite the Lord to come into our heart. In fact, we shut the door to Him, even in our self-generated efforts to do good for the world and for the church.
My own good works all came to nought, No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s judgment fought, Dead to all good remaining...
There is an oft quoted passage from Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz’ novel “The Hammer of God” where the young vicar wants to make sure that the old pastor knows he has given has heart to Jesus. And the old pastor replies: “Do you consider that something to give Him?...The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap... but a wonderful Lord passes, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him” (Pages 122-123).
The hymn puts it like this:
But God had seen my wretched state Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart; He did not choose the easy part
But gave His dearest treasure.
He gave His Son to us. That is how it goes. We don’t give Him our heart; He gives us Jesus. Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). That is why we pray, “Create in a me a clean heart, O Lord” from Psalm 51(:10). He rescues our rusty heart off of the junk pile, takes it home and polishes it up because it is something precious to Him.
Right before Paul started out on this Second Mission Journey that took him over into Macedonia at the invitation of the Lord, he and Barnabas had been in Jerusalem telling the apostles about how God had given salvation to the Gentiles on their First Mission Journey. Peter added to their testimony what he had seen the Holy Spirit do when the Lord invited him to the house of the Gentile Cornelius, which we heard about last Sunday. Peter said to the apostolic council, “And God who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).
God in His grace and mercy rescued the junky hearts of the Gentiles just as He had rescued the rusty hearts of the Jews to whom He proclaimed the Christ. Peter concluded: “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11). And so, when Paul was again travelling around trying to expand on the area where Christian communities had been established on his First Mission Journey (a strategic move on his part), it became clear once again that God is the one who issues the invitations into His kingdom. He prevented Paul from going where it made sense (Acts 16:6), and invited him to skip over to Macedonia instead. It all happens from the Lord’s invitation. In the dream, Paul saw a man from Macedonia inviting him, but they concluded that God had invited them to preach the Gospel there (Acts 16:9-10).
Our sister congregation, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Snyder, has the joy of receiving their new pastor this afternoon. In all of the meetings and consultations and prayers that have led up to today’s installation service, it will be important for them to remember that their new pastor is there by God’s invitation. There may be any number of people who think this was not the right way for the congregation to proceed, and there may be some who believe that they have successfully directed the process the way that they wanted it to go. But we believe and confess that the Holy Spirit is the one at work through the Church to invite pastors to serve in particular places. It is again God turning to us His fatherly heart and giving a dear treasure to rescue us off of the junk pile. “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
And it is the same for each Christian individually. It does no good for us to invite Jesus into our heart. That is not a very nice place to entertain Him. Rather, He invites us into Himself. And wow, talk about moving up, from the junk heap to the holy heart of Jesus; from the lake that burns with fire and sulfur to the holy city having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel (Revelation 21:8, 10-11).
It is this message of the rescue that God brings to us rusty cans on the junk pile, this invitation to the heart of God in Christ Jesus, that is our salvation. It is His compassion in sending Jesus to us, not our determination to come to Him. It is Him opening Himself up to us, not us inviting Him into our heart. It is Jesus taking our place on the junk heap, taking our sins upon Himself, dying in frail human flesh on that hill outside the city, so that we might enter through open gates of pearl to live eternally with Him in the new Jerusalem.
This was the invitation that the Lord issued down by the river outside of the Macedonian city of Philippi. As Paul spoke of God’s forgiving and cleansing love for us in Jesus, a woman named Lydia... opened her heart to Him... No, the Scripture clearly says that “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). She did not invite Jesus into her heart, but He came by and rescued her heart off of the junk pile. He picked it up and opened it and cleansed it inside and out with the words of the Gospel, the love of God in sending His dearest treasure into our flesh to suffer and die for us, that we might be cleansed and purified by His grace.
Lydia did not invite Jesus into her heart. He opened her heart and went in. She did not invite Jesus into her home, but He invited her whole household into Himself through Holy Baptism. He washed and cleansed them with water and the word of promise. “He sanctified her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without any spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Jesus Christ issued the invitation so that Lydia and all her household, young and old, servant and heir, male and female, Jew or Gentile, might be in His holy city with a radiance like a most rare jewel.
She was a merchant in opulent purple, but He clothed her with the righteousness of Christ. She made her living in purple dye, and He cleansed her of every sinful spot and stain with His precious blood. And she was from Thyatira, the very region where Paul had planned to expand on his mission work, before the Lord invited him over to Macedonia. Paul wouldn’t have found her in Thyatira. Jesus knew she was in Philippi.
After the Lord opened her heart through the preaching of the Gospel and Holy Baptism, Lydia invited Paul and his fellow workers to stay with her family. It wasn’t opening her heart to Jesus, but it shows that Jesus created a clean heart within her, and she invited the Lord’s workers into her home to care for those who had come into her life by the Lord’s invitation. Yet again, it was Lydia living her baptismal life in Christ. In Christ the good works poured forth. From her faith in Christ the invitation was issued by Christ to Paul and his fellow workers to stay and preach.
Jesus is still the one who issues the invitations. He is the one who has a home for us. He is the one who takes us to Himself by uniting us to Himself in Holy Baptism, cleansing us and purifying us through the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that is ours only in Christ Jesus. And to all of you baptized in His name and taught to observe what He has commanded us to do here, he invites you to His table where He is the host and the sacrifice, the giver and the given, to rescue you from the junk heap of your sins.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ.