Posted on March 4th, 2016
“Allahu Akbar!” the Taliban insurgents cried. Combat Outpost Keating, in northeastern Afghanistan, was under heavy fire. It was before dawn on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009. The enemy was inside the wire, and air support would not arrive for hours. Sergeant John Francis reported, “The gates of hell just opened up on us.” Taking fire from a sniper, Sergeant Jonathan Hill tried to fire back. He missed high. Then he missed low. His friend, Sergeant Francis, barked at him through cracked ribs the same words Hill would say as a drill sergeant: “Practice your … fundamentals!” He went through his routine, and when the next opportunity came, he did not miss. (Adapted from The Outpost, by Jake Tapper)
Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 8:4-15) is about the fundamentals – surviving when your environment is trying to destroy you. When hell opens up on you, when you are beguiled by success, enticed by the pleasures of the flesh, when your marriage seems to be ending, when everything you trusted is falling apart, the Parable of the Sower tells you what is fundamental: to be a patient, trusting hearer of God’s Word and promises.
Our Small Catechism gives us the fundamentals. The fundamentals are those things which, when under fire, guide us back to our center. These fundamentals are the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Holy Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, along with our daily prayers and Table of Duties.
Success in anything requires a devotion to the fundamentals. A football team must know how to tackle. A musician must know the scales so that they come automatically, without thinking. An ER nurse must know what to do when a patient has a seizure.
The fundamentals are important. But there is a great difference between learning and practicing the fundamentals of the Christian Faith, and being a Fundamentalist.
“Fundamentalist” has become a pejorative term for strict religious belief, even a slur that puts Muslims, Christians and others all in the same category. “Fundamentalist” is used to slander people, saying they reject rational, scientific thought, want to enslave women, and impose theocracy.
This is inaccurate and unhelpful. The term Fundamentalism comes from a series of writings from 1910-1915 called The Fundamentals, which led to the creation of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association. This movement heavily influenced Baptist, Presbyterian, and other denominations in the first half of the twentieth century.
In 1966, Milton Rudnick’s book Fundamentalism & the Missouri Synod was published. His original title was Fundamentalism in the Missouri Synod, as he set out to prove the Fundamentalist influence on our Lutheran church. He ended up changing his thesis and title as he researched the book. His conclusion is that the LCMS
is remarkably free of Fundamentalist taint. At the grass roots, however, there was some absorption. The Synod made the English language transition during the Fundamentalist era, and, lacking an adequate English literature of their own, some Missouri Synod Lutherans used the biblicistic writings of Fundamentalists. Frequently the Synod’s doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is cited as evidence of Fundamentalist influence. However, the actual source of this doctrine is the theology of 17th-century Lutheran Orthodoxy.
In his later assessment of his book and the response to it, he noted how carelessly people use terms to exclude others and shut down debate. Five decades later, this is even more true. If you hold, for example, to a doctrine like closed communion, or support traditional marriage, it’s not uncommon to be labeled as “Taliban” or “Al-Qaeda.” After all, you’re a fundamentalist, they’re fundamentalists, all religions are the same, and suddenly a mild-mannered Lutheran pastor is labeled a terrorist. This is how societies transform quickly into doing things like rounding up all the Jews, or all the Christians. I pray that doesn’t happen here. But if you have eyes to see, the pieces are all being moved into place.
So how will you respond, if you are slurred as a Fundamentalist, if you are fired from your job for being a Christian, as happened last year to Kevin Cochran, a fire chief in Atlanta – or fired for being pro-life, as happened last week to Harmony Daws, who worked for a cleaning company in Oregon?
It need not be dramatic. The assaults of the devil, the world, and the flesh may not be seen. But you feel them, choking your life, pecking away like birds gobbling seeds. How will you respond?
Listen to your Lord Jesus:
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (Lk 8:11–12)
Salvation comes through believing the Word. What does that mean? Remember those fundamentals: The Word in the Ten Commandments says, “Repent! You have not loved God with your whole heart. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself.” The Word in the Creed then says, “Look! God has made you. The Son has taken on your nature and redeemed you with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. The Holy Spirit has called you, sanctified you, and He will raise you up at the last day.”
What are the things that threaten your trust in this Word? Your anxiety, even about mundane things. Jesus says that the “cares, riches, and pleasures of life” strangle the Word. Your cares are the things you are anxious about, worrying about. Remember Martha, who was upset that her sister wasn’t helping enough in the kitchen. Our Lord rebuked her for her worry, her anxiety – and said that Mary, sitting passively on the floor listening to Jesus, was seeking the better thing. Now, we need to eat, and the kitchen does need cleaning – but it isn’t even close to the most important thing.
Don’t we have an amazing capacity to put almost anything ahead of listening to God’s Word, and avoid casting our anxieties on Him by our prayers? What does that say? “I have to deal with my problems; God is no help.” Anxiety says, “The Lord is not my shepherd; unless I take care of myself, I shall be in want.” But faith says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We work, but our work is transformed into service to God and neighbor, not service to our fears. Then after work, we gather for Eucharist, for giving thanks, which becomes our aid in temptation. Listen for that guidance in the earliest written sermon outside the Bible, called 2 Clement:
Therefore let us also be found among those that give thanks, among those that have served God, and not among the ungodly that are judged. For I myself too, being an utter sinner and not yet escaped from temptation, but being still amidst the engines of the devil, do my diligence to follow after righteousness, that I may prevail so far at least as to come near unto it, while I fear the judgment to come. (2 Clement 18:1-2)
We are not Fundamentalists—but we must pay heed to the fundamentals. For we are under assault, more subtle but every bit as deadly as a sniper taking aim at us. Open your mind to the Law and Promises of God. Guard your mind from temptation: pride, despair, lust, and anger. Scatter the temptations as birds you shoo away, for they flee at the name of JESUS.
The beauty of the good soil is it does nothing—nothing but hang onto the seed—the Word. The Lord does the work; Jesus is your Jesus, your Savior. Hold, cling, keep to His work, His cross, His resurrection, His renewal in you, His return. He will do it. Wait on Him. Wait, I say, upon the Lord. +INJ+
Preached at Immanuel, Alexandria, January 31, 2016