Follow the Leader

Follow the Leader

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Accompanying the much-needed rain which our part of
Texas has finally received over the past several weeks in answer to our many
prayers, my yard has been over-run by a huge number of small visitors. These
visitors have been hundreds, if not thousands, of ground snails, so maybe
‘over-run’ isn’t the right term. Maybe ‘over-slid’ or ‘over-oozed’ would be a
more proper description.

These little creatures come out of the grass during
every significant rainfall, and for the next several hours they’re found all
over the place: On the sidewalks and driveways; climbing the walls, doors, and
windows; sometimes they even make their way up onto the tires and wheels of the
cars. They certainly make navigating the walkways an adventure, especially in
the dark. I try to be careful, and I always feel a little pang of guilt when a
small tell-tale “crunch” is heard under one of my shoes.

Yes, I know there are snail repellants available that
will keep these little sliders away. However, I’m married to a veterinarian
and we have a house full of pets, and snail repellants are toxic to many
mammals. Therefore, I’m not authorized to engage in any form of chemical warfare
which may be dangerous to the non-combatants.

But that’s OK, really. The snails aren’t really such
an inconvenience that I feel compelled to kill them off or drive them away. In
fact, they’re fascinating to watch sometimes. They can even be funny,
especially when they’ve gotten themselves into some sort of predicament from
which they can’t seem to figure out what to do next.

Even after the rain has gone and the snails have
returned to the grass and gone underground, one can still see the trails of the
shiny fluid they left behind on the hard surfaces. From these trails, we can
see the paths these snails followed. We can see points of decision where they
changed direction. We can see points of intersection where they crossed the
path of other snails on their slow journeys. We can see the evidence of conflict—collisions
where two snails arrived at the same point at the same time, and had to work
out who would proceed first.

Now and then, you see places where the trail ends in a
small pile of shell fragments and a brown splotch, and you know that’s where
some clumsy human like me hadn’t avoided that helpless, slow-moving snail.

Occasionally you might even see a place where a trail
suddenly stops in the middle of the surface, and you wonder: Is this where
someone or something grabbed the snail? Were they gently placed in the grass
to reach safety before the hot Texas sun returned? Were they carelessly or
even savagely thrown somewhere? Did a bird or raccoon or possum discover a
delectable treat—escargot on the go, perhaps? No matter, really. Every trail
tells a story, and unless the trail ends suddenly, we can follow each trail and
at the end of it, we’ll find its maker.

It’s not hard to track down the Church, either. All
you have to do is follow the trail of blood. It begins in the wet soil under
the body of Abel, murdered not by a stranger but by his brother Cain. Cain
hated Abel, the believer, because he hated the believer’s God. The haunting
crimson road winds onward, throughout the Church’s history, even now and in the
future. Blood flows from young and old alike—from the infant boys of Egypt and Bethlehem, and from the gray-haired martyrs who would not deny their faith simply on
account of some worldly tyrant’s decree or some angry pagan’s twisted sense of

In this world, the Church and its members never have
peace—certainly not peace as the world understands it. Wherever she goes, the
Church is forced to leave behind the tell-tale sign of her passage through that
time and place. Just follow the trail of blood, and you will discover the
lineage of the Church.

Jesus tells His disciples in our Gospel lesson today:
“See that no one leads you astray.” His words are for you, as
well. Do not be led astray, away from the painful but necessary path. Many
voices in this world will come to tell your itching ears what they crave to
hear: “Your religion doesn’t have to be like this. We can have peace. No
more blood needs to be shed. Wink at the golden calves and mind your own
business, rather than laying down the law and insisting on only one saving

These voices insist that we will find favor if we
learn how to compromise, how to play our political cards right, how to sweeten
our speech with opinions rather than confessions. All we have to do is learn
to crawl around on today’s multi-colored religious landscape like some sort of
theological chameleon. If we do, the world will smile and sheathe its sword.
The demons will retract their claws. The haunting, bloody, crimson road will
come to an end… but then, so will the Church.

Deep guile is the weapon of Satan, the one who
masquerades as an angel of light, but is really the prince of darkness. He
opened Eve’s eyes to what he sold her as a “better way”, free of that Word from
God that seemed to deprive her of a more fulfilling life. At least, that’s
what she thought at the time. It was Satan who convinced Solomon that it was
wiser to build temples for his many wives’ false gods than to risk family
turmoil by insisting on the worship of the one, true God as He had given it.
It is Satan that tells you it’s fine to applaud Luther and the other Reformers
for their bold stance on the Bible’s faith in their own day, but to ignore or
poke fun at any serious attempt to follow these teachings and confessions in
our own time.

With such means does the god of this world entice our
weak flesh. The temptations he offers make the world look like a house of
candy to us Hansels and Gretels who wander through it. We have had our share
of its sweetness, too. And it’s always easier to rest and nibble in that candy
house than to trudge onward in a dark and threatening world, following that
trail of blood.

Yes, such is the sweet temptation of the devil’s candy
house. Woe to the believer, and woe to the church that crosses its doorstep.
So deceptive and seductive are its inner charms that few will escape it. But
it’s not really a candy house, it’s a dungeon—dark, dank, and reeking of death.

See to it that no one leads you astray from the narrow
and straight way that leads to the Jerusalem above, for it is the only saving
path. Though the way that leads you away from suffering is broad and smooth,
it leads to the suffering that will never end.

The narrow path is bloody, it’s true. It’s steep and
seems impossible to follow at times, but it’s a trail of truth. Along the
bloody and sometimes painful way, however, your heavenly father gives you
way-stations such as this Divine Service, where He re-clothes you in Christ’s
righteousness, re-arms you with the gifts of the Spirit, and feeds and fills
you with the body and blood of Him who has trod every inch of this trail—both
long before us, and with us every step.

We’re not traveling alone, after all. Leading our
journey is the Son of David, and in his hand he holds the severed head of
hell’s Goliath—the giant we could never defeat, the serpent who could bruise
His heel and poison us to eternal death, but who fell by the sword of the
Spirit. No matter how weak and frail and frightened you are, it doesn’t
matter—it is not you who fights, but God who fights for you, and through you.

He parts the waters so you may pass through,
swallowing up your foe behind you. He who prophesied that the glorious earthly
temple would fall has already knocked down the walls of the Jericho of sin that
stood in your path. He fights, He wins, and He places the crown of victory on
your head.

For all your compromises which weakened the Church, he
made the good confession before Pontius Pilate. For all your avoiding of the
light crosses He would have you bear, He took upon Himself the crushing load of
your sin and bore His cross for you. For your silence you hoped would save
face, He did not turn his face from the spit and the fists and the blood and
the gore. Willingly he did it, that you might be bought at a steep price—perhaps
not the largest, but certainly the purest, the most precious spot along that
trail of blood which marks the Church.

Follow the trail of His blood, the blood of the
crucified Christ. Each step of the way you will behold the life of the
Church—your life. For the Church’s life is in nothing else but the blood of
Jesus. Not in glory or fame, not in numbers or power, but in His holy, saving
blood. It speaks a better word than the blood of Abel; the blood shed on the
cross gives what all the blood of beasts slain on the altars of stone or bronze
in tabernacle and temple could not: The blood of Christ gives eternal
forgiveness, and thus eternal life—a single sacrifice, once for all.

Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice. At the end of
the day, we enter the holy places by the blood of Christ. We will find
ourselves at the gates of the strong city; the Jerusalem which has lasting
foundations, for its architect and its builder is God. Salvation has come to
you—from sin, from falsehood, from hopelessness and false hopes; from crumbling
fortresses and from those false candy houses the devil has constructed to lure
you off the path of blood. Your very present help in the troubles of life you
face along that path is the mighty fortress, your God.

Christ is the lasting temple. Wars and earthquakes
may destroy the structures of man, but you have a holy place of sanctuary, a
place of eternal peace and comfort which you enter by the new and living way through
the curtain of His flesh.

Therefore we will not fear to tread upon the
difficult, painful, and even bloody way of faith in Christ alone. Though the
earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its
waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging, we will not
fear. The kingdom is ours. Forgiveness is ours. Life is ours.

We are washed in the blood of the Lamb, fed with manna
from above, surrounded by legions of angels who shield and protect us from
those devils who fill all the world and are eager to devour us. We may see
signs of calamity all around us: wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes
and all the rest. But be at peace; the peace we cannot see in this world, the
peace the world can never give.

Christ is before and behind you, on your right and on
your left. He is above you and below you, and His Spirit fills you and
sustains you. That Spirit gives you words of comfort in the face of danger on
the bloody trail, and He gives you both the words and the courage to speak of
Him in the hour of your trial. You may be hated for His name’s sake, but
nothing will separate you from Him who shares your flesh and blood. He will
grant you endurance to the end, and by His grace, through faith in the
sacrifice He made of Himself, you will be saved.

In the blood of the Lamb whose name we share, Amen.