Sunday, November 07, 2021

The Things That are Caesars

 Matthew 22:15-21

Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said.  And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.  Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?"

But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?  Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius.  And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?"  They said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."

Sermon for 23rd Sunday after Trinity                                     11/07/21

 The Things that Are Caesar's

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The debate is over 2,000 years old.  It rages on today.  It has been going on for as long as men have served the true God, I suspect.  The debate began when God created man and placed him in society.  He tells us in His Word that the government is His, and the authority it exercises is His.  He commands us to good citizens.  Many religious leaders impress on us the need to serve God first – We ought to obey God rather than man.  They often suggest that being a good Christian is at odds with being a good citizen of the state.  And how we divide this up and how we act it out has been the focus of controversy ever since.

I wish I could say that Jesus settled the argument in our text, but things are never settled in the church.  Jesus gave us guidance, but the debate is never settled among men.  It just keeps coming up again and again.  There are answers, but the Old Evil Foe does not permit us to rest long on them – the answers are just contrary to the flesh, and so we tend to travel from one extreme to the other like a pendulum swinging back and forth.  So we need to keep coming back to Jesus and the Word to hear how we might properly deal with the issue of God and Caesar, of Church and State.  Our theme this morning is The Things that are Caesar's.

The setting of the Gospel lesson is late in the ministry of Jesus.  The enemies of Jesus are becoming bolder, and more aggressive.  The Pharisees have decided that it is time to trip up Jesus.  They choose the unresolvable issue (at least for the Jews) of how to deal with the foreign occupation.  If Jesus answers the question that one should pay the Roman taxes and humble themselves to this Gentile domination, then He would multiply His enemies, and probably disappoint the masses because they were fed on a daily diet of ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, and hatred for Rome.

On the other hand, if Jesus answers that they should not pay taxes, He would be guilty of fomenting revolution and the Romans would take care of the Jesus problem.

If Jesus tried to be coy and take a middle ground, or not answer clearly and definitively, they could use that too to damage His reputation, and turn the more aggressive and radical groups against Jesus.  In any case, they figured, they had Jesus caught in a "no-win" situation.  It was politics as usual back then just as much as today.  So they sent their disciples along with the Herodians, government sympathizers and friends of King Herod, and sprung their trap on Jesus.

Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?  Of course, there is the double-edged trap.  Is it morally and religiously lawful?  They expected the answer to be "No."  Is it socially and legally in the sense of Roman law, lawful?  They knew that the answer would have to be "Yes."  So they figured that they had Jesus, with witnesses no matter which error He slid into.  But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?"

Then Jesus did the unexpected.  He asked them for the coin with which they would pay the poll-tax.  When they produced it, a denarius, He asked them "Whose likeness and inscription is this?"  In other words, whose coin is this, who issues this money?  And they had to admit that it was Caesar's – and then Jesus said those famous words, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."

Jesus answered the question by implying that there were things that were properly under the regulation and possession of the government, and things that were not.  He also suggested by His answer that the Pharisees were guilty of confusing what belonged to God and what belonged to the state – and apparently were "rendering" to neither one the appropriate things.  They were not giving government its due, and they were withholding from God what truly belongs to Him.

So the question this morning is, which are the things that are Caesar's?  Logically we then also need to consider what are the things that are God's?

First of all, we recognize that everything is the Lord's.  Psalm 24 says, "The earth is the Lord's and all it contains."  Since God has created government, and all the authority which government exercises is from God, generally the things that are Caesar's are what Caesar says they are.  The things that are Caesar's change throughout time.  As the government changes, so do its demands and controls.  In our nation, we have had a great deal of freedom.  We acknowledge as a society the right to certain freedoms that people in the time of Jesus did not enjoy.

Caesar's things include whatever Caesar chooses, except when the government attempts to take the things of God.  And so, to understand Caesar's things, we must recognize what it truly God's.  And God's things are very simple and basic.  God created you, so God has the right to tell you how to live.  You owe Him obedience.  You owe Him thanks for the simple fact of your existence.  Besides all of this, God has created everything you need for life, and daily and richly provides.  For these things you owe God genuine and heartfelt appreciation, great thanksgiving, and your unwavering trust.  You should love God!

That isn't how we feel, or how we behave as a rule.  We take the good for granted and grumble about the difficult or painful.  We disregard God's plans and will for our lives and our behavior, and we serve ourselves and hurt one another.  We sin against God, and by our sins we deserve to be wiped from the face of creation and forgotten by God.  His Word even says that this is what we deserve.  But God does not discard us.  He does not destroy us.  He does not wipe us away, but He has redeemed and rescued us.  When we had set ourselves up as His enemies, He still sent His Son Jesus to face our sins and die our death and receive on the cross all that our sins merit before God.

God has taken our sins out of the way by punishing them in the body of Jesus by sufferings, pain, and death on the cross.  He has demonstrated that our sins are forgiven by raising Jesus from the dead.  And now God declares through the preaching of His Word that anyone who knows what he has accomplished in Jesus Christ, and trusts Him for what He promises because of Jesus Christ, has forgiveness of sins and eternal life, starting right now!

Therefore we owe God thanks and praise, to serve Him and worship Him with holy lives and to give ourselves freely to our neighbors for Him.  The things that are God's are our intellects, and our wills, and our affections and values.  The rest is Caesar's.  

We are to pay taxes cheerfully, for the government is simply a servant of God for the purpose of social order.  We are to obey the laws, even the ones we do not like or agree with, because the state exercises God's own authority – and we owe God obedience.  When we give God what is God's, we end up being good citizens, because serving our neighbor by good citizenship is will of God – it belongs to the things of God which we should give to Him.  We owe Caesar good citizenship, for when we disregard the government, we disregard God.  When we disobey the government, we disobey God.  When we rebel against the government, we are rebelling against God Himself, with the single caveat that when the government command us to do what God forbids, or commands us not to do what God commands us to do, then we must recognize that the government has itself rebelled against God and has no authority, and then we ought to obey God rather than man.

But even then, when we disregard Caesar for the sake of faithfulness to God and for the sake of conscience, we owe it to God to endure whatever standing for the truth costs us in terms of pain, or social pressure, or fines, or prison, or even death.  Those are the things of God.  We owe it to God to bear faithfully the cost of being faithful, whatever that cost might be.  Sometimes the cost is faithfulness to the government when we don't want to be faithful, and sometimes it is bearing government sanctions for being faithful to God by disregarding the government.

We owe God our values.  We owe God our love and our affections (that is, what we choose to value here on earth).  We owe God our intellects – to use them for Him and His purposes, which means for the welfare of our neighbor,  And we owe God our wills – to desire and to will what God desires and wills.  The rest of the stuff, our time, our money, our property, and even sometimes our lives in this world, fall into that category of the things that are Caesar's.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, November 01, 2021

Taking the Kingdom by Force

 


Matthew 11:12-15

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Sermon for the Reformation Day 10/31/21

Taking the Kingdom by Force

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Commentators say that there are two ways to understand the verses before us this morning. One is that men have seized the kingdom of heaven by force. The other is that the kingdom of heaven has come upon us in a mighty way — with great power.

Both interpretations are fitting on Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517 something ordinarily insignificant happened. Luther nailed an invitation for a cordial, academic debate on certain esoteric theological points to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in the form of 95 theses. Yet, in the next 13 years God did something marvelous and great. We celebrate that great thing, the rediscovery of the Gospel and the freeing of the church of God, on the anniversary of that "little thing."

At the time of Luther, men had seized the kingdom of heaven by force. The church had become rich and politically powerful. It had also become thoroughly corrupt. Many priests were entirely ignorant of the Bible and of Christian doctrine. Offices in the church were commonly sold to the highest bidder. From local parishes, to bishoprics, to the cardinal's cap itself, and even the Papacy could be bought for a price. Greed ruled and indulgences – supposed to be special grants of forgiveness of sins – were sold.

But worst of all was the false doctrine. No one heard or knew of salvation or forgiveness. Oh, they heard the words, but the truths of Scripture behind those words were unknown and untaught. Works were exalted. Men were taught that they still had to pay for their own sins. The monastic orders, often little more than slavery for the church and frequently houses of debauchery, were declared holier than the keeping of the whole Law of God.

God was pictured as utterly holy, distant from man, essentially unknowable, angry, and judging. Men were taught that they could not pray to God. They were told instead to rely on the intercession of the saints. Mary took her place at the throne of heaven as Queen, in command even over the Son of God Himself, and the Sacrament of the Altar became a twisted thing which was believed to sacrifice the Lord Jesus for the sins of the people again, each time they celebrated it.

The faith of many fell somewhere between a desperate, urgent desire to earn righteousness and appease the ever-angry Judge, and those who winked at the silly superstition of religion gone mad and simply used the system of their society for their own ends.
Satan ruled. He had shut up the hopes of men, chained men to idolatry and pagan sacrifice again, and the kingdom of heaven – at least as it was visible on earth and open to mankind — had been seized by force, taken captive, and doors to the kingdom of heaven were closed to man.

Then came the Reformation. Luther unlocked the kingdom of heaven with the keys of the Reformation doctrine — the great "Solas" of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura - by Scripture alone, Sola Fide -through faith alone, Sola Gratia- by grace alone, and Solo Christo -in Jesus Christ alone.

Luther answered the darkness and ignorance of his age with the revealed truth of the Word of God. No longer did anyone need to wonder, the Scriptures answered! The darkness of human values, opinions, superstitions, and attitudes were swept aside by the light of the authority of Scripture.

God had spoken to man. He had revealed Himself, His will, His justice, His love, and His grace. Suddenly, one man standing with Scripture could stand alone against the whole world. Scripture was right. Let every man be proven to be a liar, God's Word is still true!
And it is clear! No man needs to wait upon the wisdom of another. God's Word is clear for the child — and still deep and challenging enough for the greatest scholar. Every man could read and see for himself what is the gracious will of God.
And what is the will of God for us? [our salvation]

God's will is that all men should come to faith and know the goodness and love of the Lord. God has taken the Law out of the way. Faith, not obedience to rules – but faith, is now known to be how God has appointed for us to receive His love and grace. Faith is now revealed to be that obedience which God seeks. Faith — which trusts the promises of God, which takes God at His Word when He tells us that He loves us, that He wants only good for us, that He will never fail us or abandon us, that He will never allow us to be destroyed - that faith lays hold of the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Works of holiness, sacrifices, intercessory prayer, and penances of great price are of no value to salvation. That is not to say that they are all bad things to do, or without their uses, but they have no power or worth before God to earn or to grasp salvation.

But faith, which looks only to the promise of God for Christ's sake, is the channel through which God has chosen to pour forgiveness, salvation, resurrection. Such faith trusts God, often in spite of what the believer sees, hears, and feels, simply because it is God who has promised. It is the trust of the heart that forms and shapes every attitude and deed in the light of its confident expectation of God's goodness, love, providing, and protection at every moment.
This faith can receive the blessings of salvation because Jesus has earned them for us already and because God has chosen to give eternal life to all who believe. His choice in this matter is called "Grace." Grace is the third key of the Reformation. It sets man utterly free from the slavery of the Law. Man is saved by Grace Alone.

The answer to the "why?" of salvation rests not with the social status of the individual, nor with the piety and the good works of the individual, or the attitudes of the individual, but with the goodness of God. It is God's good pleasure to forgive us for Jesus' sake. It is God's kindness and grace that causes Him to choose from among all men to save and rescue us.

Before Luther, the answer to why some are saved and others are not was thought to rest in the efforts and attitudes of man. But Luther taught that anyone who is saved is saved from himself and in spite of his works and value, rather than because of those factors. We are saved by God's free, gracious choice. Every man, woman, and, yes, even child has earned death and hell, and it is grace alone which accounted for salvation.

The Reformation principles — the "solas" — changed the world. Human effort did not save: it could only serve the Savior. Man could not sell what God alone could give. Faith replaced works. Scripture replaced the authority of the church and her various leaders. Grace made each person important and every station in life holy. And it was all in connection with Jesus Christ — and Him alone!

The Reformation fostered the political idea of individual personal worth — or personality. The Reformation encouraged the idea of personal, human rights. The Reformation was the driving force behind the development of public education, for every man needed to be able to read God's Word for himself. The Reformation taught mankind the concept of vocation — a calling from God — that every man in every type of employment was called by God — placed in his work and family to do holy service to God by serving those closest to him. The ordinary work-a-day duties and tasks of life were properly identified at last as truly God-pleasing good works. Luther himself championed the freedom of religion, the concept of self-determination, and that God meant life to be enjoyed, not merely endured, all to His glory.

Without the Reformation, the American Revolution — and even the principles upon which our nation was founded — might never have happened. Look at the French revolution, with its excesses and instability for so many years. They tried to do it without God and in defiance of God and His existence and failed. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone, are the keys of the Reformation which set the kingdom of heaven among men again, and opened her gates to all who believe.
But today the kingdom of heaven is being taken by force again.

Men deny Scripture again. Men in the church! They deny the divine Author, and therefore the divine authority. They teach that it is just the word of men, and would make us dependent again upon professional scholars and exegetes to tell us what the "word of God" really means.

Men deny the power and value of faith once again. They lay before us social agendas – and works – and attitudes to which, they say, we must conform to be saved. They sell salvation on television with ‘magic cloths', anointing oils, and all manner of deception. They say you have to experience a certain experience or feel a certain feeling in order to have any assurance of heaven.

The Church is being used again for political power - look at politicians who use the pulpits of churches from which to campaign. Just as the Humanists said in their manifestoes should happen, the service of earthly human need and the glory of human endeavor have become the primary mission of many church bodies. But the worst thing is that false doctrine is rising again, even within our own Synod.

Church Growth Principles replace the power of the Word of God for many. Novelty and variety - which is to say "entertainment' — have replaced faithfulness and confession in the hearts of many. Many focus on feelings, and the emphasis on the "experience of faith" has taken the focus away from the content of the faith, the very Word of God which is to be believed. The living of the Christian life — often referred to as the "Christian Walk"— has replaced trust in the grace of God, and made faith a human work, rather than the work of God within us in many hearts. The prayer, the decision, the obedience, and the pragmatic reign. Nowadays God is not only the angry Judge, but His "opinion" hardly matters as homosexuality and LGBTQ2+ commands increasing acceptance in the church, and so-called Christian leaders rush to dialog with — and pray with – Jews and Moslems, and the rush to approve such things divides churches.

We need to turn once again to the keys of Luther's Reformation. We need to reclaim the centrality of the doctrine of Justification of the sinner by the marvelous grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. We Lutherans need to celebrate God's gifts to us and give thanks. Romans one, verse twenty-one, begins a catalog of sin and the first sin in the catalog is, "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."
We want to rejoice and give thanks for the treasures He has poured out on us.

In Luther's day, the kingdom of heaven came among men with great power by the preaching of God's Word by Luther and those Lutherans. It seized men, making powerful disciples of the truth of men such as Philip Melancthon, Martin Chemnitz, John Gerhardt, and later C.F.W. Walther. The whole world needs to hear that same word of God's loving and gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation purchased and won by Jesus Christ by his death on the cross in our place, and His resurrection, which boldly proclaims our forgiveness. We need to apply Holy Scripture to our faith and our lives, and let God guide our hearts, our minds, and our deeds. We need to rest in that firm confidence of God's promises of forgiveness, of resurrection to life eternal, of salvation as His sure gift of grace through faith. We can do that only by the power of God's Holy Spirit working in us through the hearing of the Word of God. Then the kingdom of heaven will come powerfully among us, seizing us with power and making of this generation mighty witnesses to His eternal truth and glory.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Believing

 

John 4:46-54

He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off. And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.' So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed, and his whole household.

This is again a second sign that Jesus performed, when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Sermon for 21st Sunday After Trinity 10/24/21

Believing

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There is believing -- and then there is believing. I can say that because the official, whose son was healed in our Gospel lesson, discovered several different ways of believing. The Bible itself speaks of believing in a number of different kinds, and not all of them are viewed as saving faith in the Scriptures. This morning I would like to take the opportunity of the text to look at what the Bible says about believing. So, that is our theme: Believing.

In our Gospel this morning, an official comes down to Cana from Capernaum. He is called a royal official, which tells us little. This Official's son was sick. We don't know what illness he may have had, but it was thought to be potentially fatal, and that it was about to end the life of the child. The man appeared to be completely out of options, so he went to see the local miracle worker. He had undoubtedly heard things about this Jesus-Rabbi, and so he came to where Jesus was – in desperation. How do I know this? Jesus looked into the man and saw that there was no real faith yet, just mainly desperation. "Unless you see signs and wonders, You will not believe." Clearly, the man did not yet believe - although he believed enough to come to seek out Jesus. I suppose that is a kind of believing. He was desperate, and little more, "Sir, come down before my child dies." The man did not say, "Come down or else my son will die," but "Sir, come down before my child dies." He still seemed to expect the boy to die, down deep in his heart.

Then Jesus said, "It's taken care of." "Go your way, your son lives." No waving of the arms. No mysterious chants. No potions. No signs and wonders. Just the Word of God, "Go your way, your son lives." And John writes that the man believed the word which Jesus spoke to him, and started off. There is believing. He heard, and he took Jesus at His word and headed home. What faith!

On his way home, his servants met him. Cana is twenty, maybe thirty miles from Capernaum. Since they did not yet have cars, and even with a horse (if they had one) thirty miles is a long way, it took the man the rest of the day – with an evening resting under the stars or at some inn somewhere – and part of the next day to get home. Before he made it all of the way, however, he was met by his slaves coming to meet him with the happy news that his son was now better. He asked at what time the boy began to mend, and they said it was about 1:00 P.M. – the seventh hour (since they started their daily hours at about 6:00 A.M.). The man recognized that it was just about at that time that Jesus had said that his son was going to live. Then John writes the most peculiar thing – ". . . and he himself believed, and his whole household."

I thought that the man had believed in the first place, but Jesus saw that it was not real faith but more a sort of desperation. Then Jesus promised that his son would live and the man headed home, with John writing that the man believed. And now, all of a sudden, having heard that his son is recovering, the man believes. Apparently, there is believing, and then there's believing.

What we are seeing is different kinds of faith. First is the half-believing, half-disbelieving, skeptical but desperate kind of thing that brought the man to travel for two days to get to Jesus. Next, we see a faith that kinda-sorta believes. He took Jesus at His word, but it still appeared to be a wait-and-see kind of thing. He got what he could, and went home with hope, and not much else. How do I know? Because when he heard that his son had recovered, he had to ask when he started to get better. Even with the news that his son was well, he couldn't quite believe that Jesus was responsible for it. He had to double-check. He had to ask.
Then he really believed. He discovered that the fever broke at the moment Jesus said that his son would recover. Now there was no doubt. He trusted Jesus for far more than just this healing. Now he understood who Jesus was and what that meant for his life.

Our experience of coming to faith in Jesus Christ is often similar. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us by the Word of God. That is instantaneous and complete by God's power, but our experience of it, our consciousness of it often feels much like this man's path. When God proves Himself to us, then we believe.
Many Christians, so-called, have that historical faith. That is faith like the Bible says demons have: "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder." They never learn to trust God. This is the faith that one professor of mine once said was nothing more than the intellectual assent to propositions of low probability.

What is missing from such faith is trust. God has forgiven you all of your sins. He paid the cost of your sins by killing His Son of the cross instead if you. He made Jesus bear your pains and your guilt and your shame. Jesus died for you, and, as a result, God has forgiven you every sin. He demonstrated the sufficiency of the death of Jesus for your redemption by raising Jesus from the dead. Saying that this is forgiveness real is one thing. Trusting it is another. There's believing, and then there's believing.

What does it mean to trust in God? It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins.. It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost – the very lifeblood of the Son of God and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.

Do you trust God? Then you forgive, as He has told you He would have you do. Then you set your priorities as you know God would have you set them, and not as they appeal to you, necessarily. Then you put first things – God's things – first.

Do you trust God? The official came to pray to Jesus, but he clearly was prepared to go home without what he asked for. He didn't really expect that Jesus could heal his son, or that Jesus would, so when he prayed to Jesus, he was doing what I call and "just in case" prayer. You know, just in case God is listening, and just in case He is interested, and just in case He wants to help, I will pray. Do you pray like that, or do you pray with confidence that God will answer?

Do you pray expecting God is going to take care of things? God does not always give us precisely what we want, but if we ask for His will to be done, then we ALWAYS get what we pray for! That's believing.

What does it mean to trust in God? It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins... It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost – the very lifeblood of the Son of God and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.

Do you see what I mean? Simply acknowledging the truth is not the same as trusting in God.

Now, does God demand that every Christian be a radical Christian? YES.

"Radical" means "to the root". We are to be rooted in Christ and hoping in Christ, not in this world. We are to lean on God and trust in Him and not trust our own wisdom, or strength, or understanding. When we do that, we will do everything in the light of that faith, ruling our actions and our words and our attitudes by our trust in God and hope in forgiveness and expectation that we will rise from the grave to live forever. That's believing.

The man in the Gospel saw Jesus in action. He trusted from that moment on that Jesus could and would take care of him, his family, and his needs.

You, too, can let every pain, every crisis, every need rest in the hands of Jesus. This faith is more than just believing that it is true, it is believing that it is for you and that God counts you precious to Himself and watches over you, and will bring you through all things safely.

That is believing.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Called - And Chosen

 Matthew 22:1-14

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.  And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.  

"Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."'  But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.

"Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'  And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

"But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?'  And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

"For many are called, but few are chosen."

Sermon for Twentieth Sunday After Trinity                                    10/17/21

Called – and Chosen

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Many are called, but few are chosen.  What a difficult saying.  We like to think that if we hear the call of God and join His people, we are "the chosen ones".  This passage puts that in doubt.  We feel called, and yet this seems to suggest that we may be among "The Called" without being among "The Chosen".  Look at the man in the Gospel lesson this morning.  He was invited, he came, and then he was thrown out.  He wasn't one of those who stoned the prophets.  He didn't rebel.  He just wore the wrong outfit, and, whammo!, he is cast out into that outer darkness.  What could this mean to us?  Let us take a look – our theme is Called – and Chosen.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.  This is a parable.  We have to assume that every detail is not significant, but we can align some of the images Jesus uses in this parable to what the Old Testament used, and see what Jesus was saying.  The King, for example, represents God – the first King of Israel, and the only true King.  Until the people rejected God and demanded Saul, God was King, it is called "a theocracy."

The Son is the Son of God.  Pretty easy stuff, so far.  The wedding feast is the fulfilment of the Kingdom and the outpouring of salvation which we see as the Church.  We even talk about heaven as the wedding feast of the Lamb with His bride , the Church, even today.  God was all set to fulfill the Messianic promises, and to send His Son and to work our salvation, and when He sent out word through His slaves, the Prophets, to the people of Israel, those who, according to the story Jesus was telling, had been invited but were unwilling to come.  They ignored the summons of the Prophets.  They ignored the call to repent.  They were all so busy with their lives and the blessings which God had poured out on them that they had no time for – and no real interest in – the God who had blessed them and made them a people.  Too many choices, too much wealth, too much to do to pay much mind to God.

Was the King to be deterred?  No.  He sent even more slaves.  Still, the people would not listen.  Their farms, their businesses, their pleasures, and their families were just more important.  In fact, they found the crying of the prophets growing more irritating by the day until they could bear it no longer and they began to punish and finally to kill the messengers.  "How dare they tell me I am sinful?!"  "How dare they tell me that my priorities are out of place?!"  "How dare they preach repentance to me?!"  "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them."

Many are called, but few are chosen.  It is interesting to note that the Jewish presence in the Christian Church died out about one hundred years into the life of the Church after the death of Christ.  The whole nation had been called, and so few ever believed and received eternal life.  In fact, the destruction of which this story speaks was Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and destroying of the independent kingdom of the Jews which happened in 70 A.D.  "But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire."

"Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'  And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests."  Ahh!  Here we are.  These three verses cover the whole of the next two thousand years of history.  This is the Christian Church.  God has sent out His servants to invite everyone we can find to the wedding feast.  That means the preaching of the Gospel.  Anyone and everyone who would accept the invitation and come to the feast is welcomed.  But keep in mind how many - who call themselves Christians today - believe something other than the Gospel we proclaim, the Gospel that the Scriptures teach.

Remember the call that went out in the parable.  It is the same call today.  "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' The dinner is prepared.  Jesus has taken our sins to the cross, and paid for them and met the justice of God in our place with His death on the cross.  Our sins have been forgiven, and God is pouring out eternal life to all who hear the invitation to the feast of salvation, the wedding feast of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.  All is ready, or as Jesus put in from the cross, "It is Finished!"  The cry of the prophet is the same message as the proclamation of the pastor, "Repent and believe."

Now – this second part of the parable takes us forward to the final day, what many call Judgment Day.  The King comes in to look over the guests.  The guests are all of those who have come into the church – but not the holy Church as the assembly of all those who believe, and only those who believe.  This is the church as we see her on earth, with believers and hypocrites mingled together.  There are those who are truly Christ's, and then there are those who are represented by that one man without the wedding garment.

In ancient times, the kings provided the wedding garment to everyone who came to the wedding.  These clothes were festival clothes, sometimes brightly colored, always brand-new.  One of the benefits of being invited to such a wedding was that you got a new outfit.  This was in a world where people generally wore their entire wardrobe everyday.  New clothes was almost better than money – and often served in the place of money, for those who could afford it.

God has clothed each one of us who believes with the wedding garment of holiness, the robe of Christ's righteousness which is ours in the forgiveness of sins.  In other words, you are both called – and chosen.  To keep this image clear, remember Adam and Eve in the Garden.  When they sinned, they were naked.  Sin is nakedness, and God's forgiveness, and the gift of righteousness which is ours in Jesus Christ, is true clothing.  The wedding garment, then, is the forgiveness of sins, and salvation, and the righteousness which is the gift of grace to all who take God at His Word and trust Him – in other words, to those who believe.  That is what tells me that this man was the hypocrite among us.  He was in the wedding hall and among the wedding guests, but he was not wearing the wedding clothes.  This is not just any unbeliever.  They did not enter the wedding hall.  They are already outside in the darkness throughout the story.

The question was simple.   "Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?"  If you are in the church, you are expected to be wearing the righteousness of Christ.  Can some in the Church not wear the garment?  Sadly, yes.  They are in the vicinity of the Church, and look to be part of the Church, but they are not, they are merely part of the visible church - the local congregation.  Some belong to churches that claim to be Christian, but teach dependence on one's own works - or on one's own preparation for salvation –  or on one's own decision and prayer for salvation.  They think they have heard and accepted the invitation to the banquet, but they came in without the garment of the grace of God in the Gospel because they never really heard it - but they were told they were just as Christian as anyone else - more Christian, even.

On the other hand, how can anyone who actually hears the Gospel regularly not wear the wedding garment?  Answer:  They do not believe.  One group of this sort does not believe that they are all that bad – you know, sinners.  So they do not really ever repent, and therefore they never have forgiveness as their own, because they don't see any point in it.  The Gospel has no value to them, and they don't bother with actually believing.  There are people like that in the church.  They think everyone else is just like them.  They come for the music, or how it makes them feel to come to church, or they come for the social interaction.  They never understand that they are different – except for being not like those religious fanatics who make them feel uncomfortable with all their God-talk and exaggerated (to them) piety and stuff.

Others don't wear the garment because they don't believe, period.  They don't trust God.  They want to earn it all for themselves.  They don't understand this forgiveness stuff – after all, they know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Some of these people believe some of our doctrines, but they know that they can't accept all of that nonsense that the pastor preaches.  They say, He has his opinions and they have theirs.  It is a matter of interpretation, right!?  They like the crowd, they feel comfortable in the congregation, and, so what if they don't believe all of that stuff the pastor preaches?  They look around themselves and see that it is obvious many in the Missouri Synod don't believe it either.  They tell everyone they meet that they are just as good a Christian as any of them, and they pretend that they belong as much as the next man, and they are hypocrites.

Still others just can't stop moving long enough for the Gospel.  They have their riches.  They have their pleasures.  They have their sins.  Surely God isn't going to hold them accountable for that.  They don't repent because they don't need to.  They have a "right" to their sins, their unfaithfulness, their lukewarm-ness to the Gospel.  They don't need to be in church every Sunday.  They don't need to go to Bible Study to get into heaven.  They give God that one hour out of the 168 He gives them, and they are sure that they have done what they need to do.  They never look back.  They never examine themselves.  They never give God another thought as they do that Old Testament thing of getting lost in the blessings and forgetting the One who blessed them.

The important point is that however they make it to the wedding – that Last Day – without every really wearing the wedding garment they have been given.  They may have even worn it for a while, but it got too hot, too restricting, too old-fashioned, and they took it off and never looked back.  When the King enters, He will know the difference.  He can see what we cannot.  He can see who is wearing the wedding garment and who is not, who is real and who is just faking it.  The result, the outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, is hell.  It is eternal misery and torment, augmented by the knowledge that they are cast out into it because they did not take care to wear the garments of salvation which Christ has won and God has freely given to everyone to wear.  And notice that there is no excuse for not wearing the wedding clothes.  He was in the hall, he clearly had been given the garment.  Not wearing the gift is a deliberate act of rebellion, just as unbelief in the church is never an "OOOPs, I didn't realize" but always a cold-hearted and wicked rejection of God, of His grace, of His love.  Jesus said, And he was speechless.

Many are called, but only those few who place their hope and their confidence in Jesus and what He has done will enter the wedding feast of eternal life in glory with Christ.  Those who trust in Him are also called "the Chosen".  The number of the saved will not be small, it will just be few in comparison to those to whom the invitation has been given.  The hypocrites will be separated from the people of God by the only Person who can see the difference, the person of the Son of God, who sees into your heart and knows what you believe and who you trust.

The feast is ready.  You are all seated in the banquet hall.  We have the foretaste of the feast here at the altar today.  Today we invite you once again.  Everyone who enters this church and hears the Word of salvation is invited - called.  Each of you has been presented the wedding garment, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.

Take care to wear the garment of salvation.  Examine yourselves daily, whether you are in the faith, and cling to Christ in His Word and in the Sacrament.  For many are called – all of humanity, in fact, – but few are chosen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Look of Faith and of Unbelief

 


Matthew 9:1-8


And getting into a boat, He crossed over, and came to His own city.  And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven."  And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes."  

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, ‘Rise, and walk'?  But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" – then He said to the paralytic – "Rise, take up your bed, and go home."  And he rose, and went home.  But when the multitudes saw this, they were filled with awe, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity                               10/10/21

The Look of Faith and of Unbelief

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel, this morning, is one of my favorite Gospel lessons.  Jesus demonstrates His power to heal, and His authority to forgive sins, and He puts His adversaries in a quandary, and He does it all with such style and simplicity.  It is a marvelous text, and I love to preach it, and I have preached it often.

This morning, I want to focus on one specific element of the account.  These men carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  Mark and Luke also tell of this moment, and they tell us the other details - about how crowded it was around Jesus, and how the men climbed to the roof of the house that Jesus was in, and how they tore up the roof tiles and lowered their friend into the room near Jesus.  Matthew did not tell us these details, but they help us understand what the text says, that Jesus saw their faith.  That is our focus this morning, the look of faith - and of unbelief.

It is an exciting account!  Jesus has begun to draw crowds wherever He goes.  He is home in Capernaum, where He lived during His adult life.  Once people found out, Jesus was swamped.  The crowds around Him were so thick that these friends of the paralytic could not shoulder their way into the presence of Jesus.  So, being creative, and convinced that Jesus could heal their friend, they climbed to the roof of the house and lifted the roofing material out of the way.  It wasn't like one of our roofs, all nailed down and weather-proof, but it took some work - and they had to fix what they tore up later, but the Bible doesn't go into that detail.

Anyhow, they lower their friend into the room.  He was undoubtedly lying on a stretcher-type thing.  It made for easy transport, and it made for easy lowering into the room.  Just a rope at each corner, and they could lower him safely, as though it were an elevator of sorts.  Jesus saw how desperate they were to bring this man to Him, and how hard they worked to do it.  He could look into their hearts, too, and see what drove them to such extremes, but it was clear that they just knew that Jesus could heal their friend, so they came on.

Jesus' response tells us that He saw that they believed that He was the Messiah, the Savior promised for so long.  I can tell that by Jesus' first words, "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven."  Why would Jesus speak these words of comfort and encouragement, except that He saw that they would be met with faith?
His bold pronouncement was met with immediate anger by the Scribes.  They didn't say anything out loud, but they were thinking, perhaps even muttering to themselves, that Jesus was blaspheming.  They judged Him so because it was a fundamental article of their faith that only God could forgive sins.  By saying, "Your sins are forgiven", Jesus was declaring that He was God, or equal to God, which to the Jews of Jesus' time was the same thing.

Jesus could see that, too.  The text says "Knowing their thoughts" Jesus said, "Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,' or to say ‘Rise, and walk'?"  The difficult part of the question was that only God can do either thing.  Of course, it would be easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven".  No one could see if it was true.  That was the basis of the charge of blasphemy.  Who could tell?

On the other hand, "Rise, and walk" required that the paralytic be healed, made whole, and be able to get up and walk away.  I would guess that this paralyzed man was known in the community, perhaps well-known.  They knew that he could not simply get up and walk.  So, the answer was obvious, but no one could have spoken the answer out loud without also being charged with blasphemy!  But Jesus doesn't wait for any answer.  He never tempts people to think or speak evil.  He made His point with the question, and then He proved His authority.  He said to the Scribes, "‘But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' – then He said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home.'   And he rose, and went home."

Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, just as He has the authority to heal.  That is where the authority of the absolution you heard this morning comes from.  Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, and He has given it to the Church and commanded us to do so, in His name.  That is why you hear me say, "I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins."  It is the command of Jesus, who had the authority to forgive!  Your sins are forgiven, when I speak His absolution on your confession, just as surely and as truly as that paralyzed man got up and walked home, healed and whole!

What I wanted to take note of was that Jesus could see the faith of those men.  He could see it in their actions.  He could see that they believed that He had the power to heal, and He could see that they believed that Jesus was the sort of God who was willing to heal.  That they thought He was God showed in the fact that they asked Him to do what only God could do!  Their faith - even specific things that they believed about Jesus - was clearly visible in their actions.

The unbelief of the scribes was not so readily visible.  Jesus could see it, but many others might not have.  They were simply accepted as good and faithful church members.  They were leaders.  Some may have had their doubts about them, but there was no outward sign.  Evil doesn't always leave an outward sign.  It shows ultimately, but it can lie in wait for a time, and simply fester in the hearts and thoughts of evil men.  But evil is evil.

Their evil was simply unbelief.  They doubted that Jesus had the authority to do what He was doing.  They dismissed the power of the Word He spoke.  They accused Jesus of a terrible sin – and all of that falsely, because they could simply not accept Jesus for who He was, nor believe the truth that He spoke.

It is the same today.  Faith cannot help but work, doing things that reveal the specific things that the believers believe.  Do you believe that your sins are forgiven?  That faith will show in how you handle guilt, and how you deal with your sins when you come to see your behavior as sinful.  You don't hide it or deny it, not even to yourself.  You confess it, and repent, and believe the gracious words of forgiveness which Jesus speaks to you.  

Do you believe that the will of God toward you is good?  Then the hard parts of life are not so spooky and confusing.  Yes, pain is still pain.  When it is your loved one that dies, it is still a tremendous sorrow.  But You know that God is working all things for good for those who love Him, for those whom He has called according to His own purposes - and those purposes are good.  They are life and salvation!  So, when sickness raises its head, you know that God is still with you and will hold you by the hand and sustain you.  It doesn't make the illness less, it simply means that it doesn't rob you of the comfort of knowing that everything will be all right, in God's good time and way.

Do you believe that God has the power to heal, repair, and put things right?  Can God guide the course of your life?  If you believe that, and you trust that His will toward you is good, then prayer is one action that shows your faith.  Faithfulness is another - because you know that what it looks like and what it is may be two different things!  God can make anything possible, and turn every situation into blessings.  He doesn't call on us to win every battle, or to feel good at the end.  That is how fairy-tales work.  This is real life, lived in the presence of God, who loves you enough to send His Son to die a gruesome death in your place, and who pays such close attention to you that He knows the number of hairs on your head at any given moment!

Faith shows.

And so does unbelief.  It looks timid in the face of challenges.  It may roar with false bravado, but it cannot face the guilt of sin, so it pretends that good is evil and evil is good.  Unbelief cannot trust God to fix things, so it has to fix them, often by denying God and doing what is wrong, rather than counting on God to make it work out all right.  Unbelief does not expect God to have a good will toward itself, and so it rails against God and grumbles about blessings and difficulties alike.  It expects no good thing, and so it gets angry, just like the Scribes in our Gospel.  Unbelief expects no healing from God, and so it falls victim to despair.

And every one of us stumbles at one time or another into the behavior of unbelief.  We do not believe as we should, and our flesh works to overthrow the Spirit that God has given us.  When we discover that we have been less faithful and less believing that we know we can be, it is no good to pretend that it is not so.  We need to confess our weakness and our sin, and ask God to create that "clean heart" that we sing about so often in our services.  We need to humble ourselves, and acknowledge our sins, and ask for forgiveness.

"And when we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  It is that simple, and it is that hard.  Have you sinned?  Then repent, and hear the word of forgiveness - Your sins are forgiven!  Those are the same words Jesus spoke to comfort the man who lay paralyzed before Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  But don't stop with my words, come and kneel at the altar, and ask God to give you His assurance.  He will, you know.  He will feed you with the very body He nailed to the cross in your place so long ago.  He will give you the blood that He shed for your sins, to drink.  He will fill you up with Himself, and cleanse you of your sins.  And when you eat His body and drink His blood you can have no illusion that maybe it was meant for the man or woman next to you, and that God did not intend to be gracious and forgiving to you.  He places His body in your mouth, and His pours His blood through your lips for you, so that you may know with utter certainty, and you may be confident that Jesus loves you!  Your sins are forgiven.

Then you may arise and go home, just like the man in the Gospel lesson.  You can walk, and walk in the way of faith, comforted by forgiveness, and living out your trust in God.  That is the look of faith.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, October 03, 2021

God Means What He Says

 Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  And He said to him, "‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.'  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity                    10/03/21

God Means What He Says

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This morning I intend to preach on only half of the Gospel lesson.  It is not that the whole Gospel and all of the words are not important - it is just that I want to focus on the answer Jesus gave about the greatest commandment in the Law.  For a change, I don't want to talk about the context of the lesson or what else may have been happening in the Gospel - just the words.  These words of Jesus mean the same thing no matter what other context you apply.  They answer the question more completely than the questioner probably intended.  The message I want you to take away with you this morning is the title of my sermon, "God Means What He Says."

Of course, God means what He says.  Why else would He say it?

But if He means what He says, why do so many people act as though He has not spoken - or say that they know what He has said, and then act as though He did not really mean what He said?  When Jesus gave this answer, it was uncontroversial, according to scholars.  It was the answer anyone would give to this question.  When Jesus faced this question according to the account in Luke 10, He challenged the Lawyer who asked it to answer it for himself, and the answer the lawyer gave was the same.  The Jews have known it since before the time of Christ.  Christians have known this answer ever since the time of Christ, and yet none of us seems to live according to the answer Jesus gave.

All that the Law, the revealed will of God, commands, desires, and encourages is love.  God commands that we love Him with all that we are and have, and that we love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves.  We don't see a lot of that, of either sort of love - love for God or love for our neighbors - that measures up to the command of God.  We don't see it in society and we don't see a lot of it in the church, do we?

The first thing the Law commands is that we love God.  God isn't talking about some simple emotional thing.  He isn't saying that you should feel all warm and squishy about Him.  That is where the current crop of Christian music seems to get it wrong.  They talk about feelings.  I am so uplifted by God, and my heart soars, and I feel so wonderful because my God I so great and warm and good to me!

God says you should love Him with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind.  He doesn't mean love - as in a feeling you get.  He means love - as in how you think and speak and behave.  When you love God with all your heart, your love for God controls and gives form to the emotions and passions of your life – not that you have a specific emotion about Him, but that all of your emotions are shaped by Him and His value and presence in your life.  It is a love that includes emotion, but which also transcends them and shapes their power in your life.

You are to love God with your entire soul as well.  The soul, in Biblical imagery, is the seat of the will.  You are to use your will in connection with - and guided by - love for God.  Everything you want, and all of your plans and intentions are to be shaped by love for the Lord and, therefore, by His will.  For the child of God, the lusts of the flesh are to take a back seat to God and His will.  The desires for comfort and beauty and such are secondary to love for God.  Personal goals and plans are made in the presence of one's commitment to the true God and in the light of what is God-pleasing and God-serving.

Finally, you are love the Lord your God with all your mind.  Every thought is to be taken captive to your love for God.  What you know, and what you choose to know, is subject to God and loving Him and serving Him.  We often waste our time and our brains on things which have no relationship to God - baseball statistics, football standings, the words to our favorite country music songs.  Those things are not evil - and you can do know them as a faithful Christian.  It is just that loving God with all your mind means that everything you take the time to know is part of your love for God, somehow - and that you use your mind in service to your love for your Lord by learning and knowing the things most clearly and closely connected to Him.

Think about it.  We experience puppy love pretty much the same way.  When a young person, for example, has a crush on someone, they teach themselves what the one they love likes and they try to share those emotions - like the same things.  They plan their lives around the other, changing their desires to coincide with the beloved's so that they have more in common and more to share.  They will often learn things just to please their new love, and to experience who they are more completely.  Oftentimes, for teen-agers, they discover quickly that the desires and interests and knowledge of the other does not fulfill them, and they grow tired of the infatuation, and "fall in love" with someone else.  Sometimes they don't fall out of love, but grow into a deeper love - something most husbands and wives do quite deliberately.  They learn to like and to share the will and thoughts of the one they love, and find that sharing pleasing.

That is how love for God works within us.  You love God with the use of your emotions, rather than just as an emotion.  You love Him with your desires and will by shaping it around Him and His will.  And you place your mind in the service of knowing Him and that which enables you to live in Him and for Him more fully - and so know Him better and love Him even more.  Of course, the Law commands that you do this perfectly - with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind.

Who among us does it perfectly?  Instead, we love the fun, and the comfortable, and the pleasant.  We enjoy the titillating, and the salacious.  The dirty story tickles us.  Comfort of the moment and temporary happiness pleases us.  We love them even when they have no connection to our love for God - and often even when it is clearly contrary to our love for God.

We all want the good life - whether that is the best thing for us or for the mission which our Lord has given us.  We desire for ourselves - when God commands us to think about the other guy first.  We will to our own advantage, even when the better thing is to ignore our advantage and take care of the other guy.  It is just simple human nature - and we are, by nature, sinners.

We often fill our minds with thoughts and images which are not holy, but profane.  We use our minds for thinking how to take advantage of the other guy – or to rationalize our values and behaviors which are not consistent with our professed love for God.  We use our minds to explain away the commands of God and our failures to be the sort of people we know that God would have us be.  Rather than loving God with our whole mind, we use our minds to justify our sins and our ignoring what we know is the will of God.

But God means what He says.  He not only expects us to love Him with every fiber of our being, He commands us to love our neighbors in the same way as we love ourselves.  If we want to be comfortable, we are to see to the comfort of our neighbor.  If we want to be respected in the community, we are to respect our neighbor - each and all of them.  If we love ourselves by feeding ourselves, we are to see to it that our neighbors have food to eat - good food.  If we expect people to take the time to listen to us and understand how we think and how we feel - then we are to love our neighbors in the same way, with our time, our attention, and our understanding.

This is the conduct and life of the child of God.  This is not optional, as though you could choose to do it or ignore it, nor are we allowed by God to decide it is too hard for us, and quit.  Forgiveness does not alter the validity of this command.  These two commandments are the sum and substance of the will of God contained in all of Scripture.  God wants - and commands - and expects every Christian to do these things.  God means what He says.

But who is equal to all of this?  Who does it perfectly?  No one.

Well, that is not precisely true.  But only One has.  Only Jesus has loved God with this perfect love - and His neighbor in the same way as He loved Himself.  He loved God with His affections by making God's love for us His own.  He placed us higher on His table of values than Himself.  What does it say in Philippians?  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And He loved God enough to go all the way to the cross and the grave according to the plan of the heavenly Father.

He loved God so completely that God's will became His own - and even in the depths of terror - "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death" - His Father's plan and His Father's will were His own, and He prayed, "Not My will, but Thine be done."

Jesus knew where He was going and what was going to happen, and He knew what He must do — even to the point of crying out in thirst when He had no intention of drinking, but only that every word of Scripture might be fulfilled.  He knew everything He needed to know - and chose not to know the things that He did not need to know, things that we not for Him to know - so He could honestly tell His disciples that no man knows the day or the hour, not an angel in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father knows the hour of the end of the world.  He loved God with all His mind.

And He loved us, His neighbors, in the same way and just as much as He loved Himself.  A greater love has no man that this, that He lay down His life for His friends.  He loved us to the cross, and into the grave, that we might be redeemed and our sins forgiven.  Because of Jesus, your sins, whatever they may be, have been forgiven, and you are given the gift of resurrection from the grave and everlasting life in glory with Him.  Death and illness no longer have a claim on you.  You will not die, but live.

And we have His promise that in this world He is with you to keep you and guide you, and that all things will work together - by His deliberate direction - for good for you and for all those who love God - those who are called according to His purpose.

The perfect love for God and man has existed, and does exist in Jesus Christ our Savior.  It is poured out on you.  Your sins and lack of love have been completely forgiven.

Now, go and sin no more!  God means what He says.  Forgiveness does not wipe out the will of God or invalidate it.  God still wants you to love Him with that love which commands every fiber of your being - your heart, and your soul, and your mind.  And He still commands us to love our neighbors - the people around us - as we love ourselves.  It is time to re-examine our lives and our priorities and our thoughts and our desires - and shape them according to our love for God.  No excuses.  Jesus has fulfilled the law of God in your place - and your sins are forgiven - but they are forgiven in order to redeem you into the glory of God and holiness of life - not to excuse deliberate and on-going sin or exempt you from His will.

After all, what is the will of God for us? <Our salvation.> And who would want to be exempted from that?  Remember, God means what He says.  Love God, and love one another!  And give thanks!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)