A Quiet Mind
In our Collect we pray that we may serve the Lord "with a quiet mind." Don't you want a quiet mind? Others sure do; people pursue hobbies, counseling, New Age meditation, drugs, and alcohol all in search of a quiet mind. Where can a quiet mind be found?
Well, it's not found in something happening. To some a quiet mind is like the carrot on the stick in front of the mule. If this happens or this stops happening, then I can be at peace. Still waters for my soul will be available as soon as I get over this, get done with that, do this. Your mind will be quiet when your kid is out of trouble. It will be quiet as soon as you pay off this bill, get that promotion, get over this illness.
The problem is the carrot forever remains in front of you. There is seldom a time when everything around you is quiet. No sooner are your children doing fine then your parents start having trouble. No sooner is your car fixed then your wash machine breaks. As soon as things are quiet in your home, things at work become agitated. You are condemning yourself to a perpetually troubled mind if you look for a quiet one in something happening or not happening.
Jesus slept quietly in a boat on a storm tossed sea. "But He's God," you say. Okay, how about Paul who says that in whatever state he found himself in, poverty or abundance, he was content? Or how about David? When Saul watched his house to kill him, he sung of God's kindness. When trapped by Saul in a cave, his soul took refuge in the shadow of God's wings. When his enemies surrounded him, David said, God would redeem his soul in peace from the battle that is against him. All of these found themselves in disturbing situations yet had quiet minds.
Well, then, what did these people do to have quiet minds? Wrong question. A quiet mind cannot come from what you do. That's important because you can read Scripture or hear preachers using Scripture in such a way that you get the impression a quiet mind is found in what you do. For example, Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is focused on You." Or Psalm 131, "O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely, I have composed and quieted my soul."
A quiet mind is promised, to the one who can keep his or her mind focused on the Lord. Can you? Your soul can be composed and quiet as long as your heart is not proud, your eyes are not haughty and you don't go rooting around in great matters. Does that describe you? Yes, a quiet mind can come from what you do, but only if you do it perfectly. The Law is filled with promise, but only for those who always do what it says.
You Lutherans are running for cover now. You're running where you always do, to faith. A quiet mind comes from believing. You tell yourself that you won't be ruled by what happens or doesn't happen around you, you'll be at peace because Jesus died for you, because He controls the situation, because He promises everything will work out. You say, "I will believe these promises." Then you kick yourself every time you have a doubt, become disquieted, or feel peace slipping. The more you're determined to be at peace because Jesus says so, the more agitated you become. That's because "faith" has become something you do, and everything sinners do is tainted, flawed, ruined by sin.
What miserable sinners we are! What hope can we have of having a quiet mind? None if a quiet mind is based on us not being sinners, but it isn't true what the devil whispers in your ear, "If you could just overcome this or that sin, then you would have a quiet mind. If you would just stop worrying, you could have peace." The devil lies. A quiet mind is not found in ceasing to sin or overcoming sin.
All of Matthew 18, not just the 6 verses of our text assumes the ever-present reality of sin. It opens with the disciples sinfully wishing to know who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Next follows a warning about making little ones fall away from Jesus. Then comes the fact that sheep do get lost and brothers do sin against brothers. They sin so much that the chapter ends with Jesus warning against limiting our forgiveness towards our repentant brother.
All of Matthew 18 assumes that sin is a part of the Christian's life. Jesus doesn't say, "If your brother sins against you," as if he might not. No, Jesus says "if ever" or "whenever" expecting that this will be the normal experience. Jesus expects there to be sinners in the church who will need to be confronted and called to repentance. Jesus set His Church up with the reality of sin in mind because He knows His brothers and sisters are sinners.
That isn't news to you. What will be news is being a sinner doesn't mean you have forfeited the privilege of having a quiet mind. You think that since you are a sinner you must expect to be unsettled, disquieted, agitated. If you could somehow stop sinning, stop worrying, and start believing God more, well then you could have peace. But until that day comes you're going to have put up with being troubled, tossed, and disquieted. Not so. I have good news for you. A quiet mind doesn't come from the absence of sins but from the forgiveness of them.
Did you see that in the Collect? We prayed, "Grant, merciful Lord, to Your faithful people pardon and peace that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve you with a quiet mind." The pardon and peace, the cleansing from all sins comes first, then the quiet mind. We didn't pray, "Grant to Your faithful people that they may put away all their sins and serve you with a quiet mind." No, forgiveness not works quiets the mind. What you're given, not what you do quiets the mind.
Isaiah 59 describes sin as a wall between you and God. When small children can't see their parent, they get fretful, anxious, disquieted. Our sinfulness, not just this or that particular sin, but our fallenness, our sinful nature are a high wall preventing us from seeing God. When we can't see God, fear, distrust, and uneasiness arise in our hearts because of our sins.
Forgiveness breaks down that wall. God comes to us and says, "For Jesus' sake I forgive you." Because Jesus kept the Law in your place, there are no laws left for you to keep before God can be pleased with you. Because Jesus suffered and died to pay your debt of sin, God is no longer angry with you. Forgiveness says, "God has put away your sins; you will not die." Forgiveness says, "God has everlasting pity and mercy on sinners." Forgiveness means you aren't ever "up in the air;" You're always in the hands of your Father. Your future is never unsure, but always written by the hand of the Father in the blood of His Son.
God's forgiveness - in your Baptism long ago, in the Absolution I spoke to you, in the Holy Communion I give to you - is what quiets the mind. Forgiveness assures you there is nothing but good thoughts in God's heart toward you. Forgiveness assures you that no matter what you're going through, God's intention isn't to make you pay for sins. Forgiveness guarantees you that even when you feel tossed about God's intention isn't to scare you even as no father tosses a toddler to scare him but thrill him.
Forgiveness is the chief gift of God toward sinners. Health is fine but healthy people without forgiveness go to hell. Wealth is fine, but wealthy people without forgiveness go to hell. Earthly peace and quietness are fine, but people with peace and quiet yet without forgiveness still go to hell. Forgiveness is what we need. Christ thought it so important that He placed His forgiveness wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together in His Name. Where would we be if there had to be 2 or 3 hundred gathered together in order to have forgiveness? Christ thought forgiveness was so important, something we couldn't live without, that He located it where just 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.
You know why simple plain forgiveness is the antidote for a disquieted mind? Because the essence of being troubled is that everything seems up in the air, uncertain, unsure. If only you knew how your sickness would turn out, even if it were bad, you could handle it. If only you knew how the decisions you make will affect your kids, you could deal with them. If only you knew how your actions would impact the situation, you could be much calmer. What we crave is something certain on which we can stand to deal with everything else. Jesus makes forgiveness that certain, sure, firm thing on which you can stand.
He places forgiveness in the mouths of people and says, "What they give down here in the area of forgiveness is valid and certain before Me in heaven." What we counsel, advise, direct people to do is always unsure. That's why Jesus tells us to forgive them. Ask yourself this? In any given situation could even 2 of us agree what someone else should do? No, but we all agree that when sins are confessed they are to be given forgiveness. And when we give it that is certainly done for us by our Father in heaven.
When we forgive someone it means their sins do not stand before God. It means God will not deal with them according to what their sins deserve. Having forgiveness means there is no up and down, hot and cold, good and bad between you and God. That's why God wants you to be so sure about forgiveness, where it is located on earth, and how valid and certain it is in heaven. When your forgiveness is sure, your salvation is sure. When your salvation is sure, where you'll spend eternity is not up the air. When your everlasting life is not up in the air, your mind can be quiet even when your day to day life isn't. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost(20080831); Matthew 18:15-20