The Lodge Problem
You've heard it whispered before about a church, "You know they have a Lodge problem." That means some of the members of the congregation are also members of the Masonic Lodge. Every Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation has a clause in its constitution which says you can't belong to a Lodge and hold membership in the church. Much time and heartache is spent dealing with the Lodge problem when it arises, but I'm here to tell you the real problem facing us is not members of the church who are in the Lodge, but the Lodge being in our church.
Yes, we have the Lodge right here in our church. Don't believe me? Most of us think that Jesus came to make people better. He came so that we would put away our false gods, stop cursing so much, come to church more, obey those in authority, not hurt or harm our neighbor, lead sexually pure lives, not steal, not gossip and not covet. We think that Jesus came to help us be better people. Friend, that is exactly what the Lodge teaches their purpose is. They exist to make people better.
If Jesus came to make sinful men better, than He failed miserably. Paul in Romans 7 doesn't seem to be any better at not sinning. No, he claims that the good he wants to do, he doesn't do, and the evil he doesn't want to do, he does. Likewise, Elijah after boldly standing up to the prophets of Baal can only conclude that he himself isn't any better than his idol worshiping ancestors. Or how about Peter? If Jesus made him better, then how come though he was taught by Jesus several times that there is no such thing in Christ as unclean food, years later he still acted like there was?
How about you? Are you any better? Can you now control that lustful heart? Doesn't gossip appeal to you any more? Are you now all of a sudden content with everything you have? O, and I'm sure you don't fear, love or trust in anything else above God. Yeah, right. If Jesus came to make us better, than He failed miserably.
The Lodge thrives in our church and in our hearts because we don't see the depths of our problem. We think of our lives like garments that just need patching here or there. We've got most of the Commandments down; it's just here and there you might find a hole. For that hole we need Jesus. Yes, yes, we will admit that we are not perfect. We have this hole there and this rip here, and we will gladly use Jesus to patch the holes in our lives. But by and large we are satisfied with our garments. They may be in a state of disrepair but they can be patched.
Or to use another figure Jesus used. Our Christianity, our religious life may have run out of gas. We may need a refill, but we are quite happy with our life. There are some people better than us, but most are worse. We just need some of Jesus' power, Spirit, forgiveness, or grace poured into us and we will be on our way tanked up and ready to get out there and do better.
Friends, it is desperately important that you can see what I'm talking about. Unless you can see that our problem is much more serious than patching or filling can ever take care of, Jesus has nothing for you. Let me use a different illustration than Jesus did. Our problem is not that we do bad things, and we need Jesus' forgiveness or help us do good or better things. It is NOT that we need a little training, guidance, or motivation from Jesus, so we can do and be better. Imagine a person in a pool of sewage up to his chin. It would not help him to train him, guide him or motivate him to move. No matter what he did, no matter how he did it, he would still be up to his chin in sewage, and everything he did would stink.
However, the fact that patching or refilling sinners doesn't help them is not the worst of the matter. Using Jesus as a patch, using the Gospel as fuel not only doesn't save the old it destroys the new. The Gospel, the forgiveness of sins for Jesus sake, ceases to be the Gospel when it is used or preached as a patch or as fuel. When we use it as a patch for this or that sin of ours, we only take a part of it. Jesus' blood and righteousness are not our beauty and our glorious dress, they are only a patch for us. But Jesus won't be divided. He's a package deal. It's all or nothing. Taking part of the Gospel is no different than using part of a new garment. The patch you take destroys the new garment.
Likewise, thinking you just need your life fueled with Christ's holiness, won't lead to your being saved, and it will result in the holiness of Christ being lost to you. By thinking your old life just needs a refill, you're trying to save it, and what did Jesus say about that? He said the one who wishes to save his old life loses it. Furthermore, the old life can't appreciate or use the righteousness of Christ. The old life is incapable of containing the new, and so loses it. Trying to fill our sinful self with the Gospel is like trying to fill an old wineskin with new wine. The new bursts the old and both are ruined.
The Lodge in our church is a very big problem. It leads us either to self-righteousness or despair. Self-righteousness when we conclude that in fact we can or are getting better. Despair when we conclude that though we try and try we are the none better. The answer to the problem of the Lodge being in our church is to have Jesus in her.
Jesus knows that our garments are old and torn. He is the one who tells us in Isaiah that our righteousness is as filthy rags. In Zechariah, the Lord describes us as being clothed in filthy garments. The Lord never describes them as garments that just need patching. But what is the only way a new garment can help a filthy, old garment? We know that patching it doesn't help, and you can't wash an old garment in a new garment. No, the only way to help and old garment with a new garment is for the new to cover the old.
This is the symbol behind the gowns I wear. The first gown I put on is totally black. It's blackness stands for our old, filthy lives that can never be made any better. This is what Paul says about them in Romans 8. Our sinful natures are not subject to the law of God and they are not able to be. Think of how funny and useless it would be to cut patches of white cloth and sew them on to this black robe. I would look like a dalmatian! So nothing is done to the black robe. It is left as is. It is not retrained, reformed, made better, or motivated. It is left as it is.
Over the top of the black gown, I place this totally white gown. This white gown stands for Jesus' blood and righteousness, His innocent life and His sacrificial death. It goes over the old gown; it doesn't replace the old but covers it. Here before your eyes you have a picture of what Jesus does for you. He doesn't reform your old, black self. He covers it, so that God no longer sees it. All God the Father can see is the perfect holiness of Jesus. And dear friend, that's all you have to see too. You're not suppose to peak under the white gown to moan and grown and try to reform the black. You are to count your sinful nature as covered, forgiven by Jesus' white holiness.
Do you see? Jesus doesn't go around barking orders. Do this; don't do that. He doesn't go around trying to patch up old garments; He goes around covering them. He doesn't go around instructing people in cesspools on how to live. O, no, He climbs down into the cesspool and takes our place. Jesus brings us out of the cesspool covered in filth, but He is right there with His spotless garment to cover us up.
We need Jesus in our church. Jesus knows we're old, brittle wineskins. Nobody puts new wine in old wineskins because the fermentation process will burst old wineskins that can no longer stretch. New wine is for new wineskins. So what does Jesus do? He first makes us new by baptism. He puts us into Christ by means of Baptism. Now, "if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things are passed away; behold all things are new," says Scripture. Then Jesus gives us the New Wine. The New Wine He gives us is His blood. Christ doesn't give us the New Wine of His Blood so we can get out there and do better. No, He gives it to us to save us all the way. He doesn't give it to us to get us on the road to being better, but to get us all the way home to Him.
The only thing that can drive the Lodge from the church is Jesus. The voice of the Lodge is the same as Moses: do this, don't do that. There is information in what Moses says but no help. Only the voice of Jesus helps. In our text, the Pharisees and John's disciples only heard Moses. That is what the question of fasting was all about. God had appointed only one day to fast. The Pharisees had added 104 days and John disciples who hadn't followed Jesus went along. The 104 other days were Monday and Thursday of each week. They chose those days because Moses went up to get the Law on a Thursday and came down on a Monday. The Pharisees believed God's kingdom would come when they were good enough. They used the Laws of Moses and the days of fasting to help them get better.
They didn't see that their garments weren't just torn but filthy and stinky. Their wineskins weren't just empty but old and brittle incapable of holding the new wine at all. Because they couldn't see how bad things really were, they didn't need a Savior as complete as Jesus. They kept plugging away at their fasting, kept trying to be better and better each day. Their lives were one long cycle of either kicking themselves for what they were not or congratulating themselves for what they were. In either case, they didn't need Jesus, and therefore, they didn't rejoice in His presence.
It was quite another matter for the disciples of Jesus, for you and me. He is a Bridegroom to us. Jesus uses this figure because it means something to both the Pharisees and the disciples of John. Even the Pharisees didn't fast during the marriage week. It was to be a time of constant festivity. And John had told his disciples that the friend of the groom who listens to the voice of the bridegroom rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Neither the Pharisees or John's disciples were rejoicing because they weren't hearing the voice of the Bridegroom inviting sinners to a feast. They were listening to the voice of Moses telling them to be better.
And how about you dear friends? Are you listening to the voice of Moses? Are you going the way of the Lodge? Do you still think your life is in need of a patch here or a little new wine there? Or do you see that the Bridegroom has covered you with His garments making you totally new? Ah, then now isn't the time for fasting. Now's the time for feasting on the Body and Blood of Christ. Now's not the time to look at your sins, at all you are not; now's the time to rejoice that Christ is with you as a loving Groom is with His bride! No sinful groom points out, or wants his bride to dwell on, her failings and faults. Even sinful grooms make sure their brides are dressed in pretty white clothing. Your holy Groom Jesus doesn't want you to dwell on your failings either. He wants you clothed in the pure white garments He provides. He doesn't come to make you better, that's what Moses and the Lodge come to do. Jesus comes to save you completely. Break out the bridal garments; uncork the new wine. It's party time! Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany VIII (2-27-00) Mark 2:18-22