Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Test of Faith

 Matthew 15:21-28

And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."  But He did not answer her a word.  And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is shouting out after us."

But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"

And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."  Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.

Sermon for Reminiscere Sunday                                      02/28/21

A Test of Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel, this morning, is a wonderful account of a woman in prayer, and, in the words of Jesus, expressing a profound faith.  It is sort of like situations that we find ourselves in at times.  Our situations are not always as extreme as this woman's, and our results are not always as much the way we desire them to be as this woman's results were, but she can serve us as a lesson, illustrating the way prayer works, and demonstrating how faith works as well.  This woman passed a test of faith.  And that is our theme, this morning; A Test of Faith.

The narrative is simple and clear.  Jesus is walking alone, minding His own business.  He is apparently trying to avoid just the sort of attention that this woman gives Him.  I say "apparently" because I suspect Jesus knew she was there and what would happen if He withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon on that particular day.  Jesus was walking through Gentile territory, where it might be reasonable to think that people would not pester Him - since they were not Jews and not looking for the day of the coming of the Messiah.  That would appear to be part of His thinking, although He might have known where this woman was, and sought out her opportunity for her.  In any case, as He is walking, this Canaanite woman comes out to meet Him on His way, crying out after Him about her daughter.  

And Jesus ignores her.  Wow.  Is that a familiar feeling?  We pray and pray and hear nothing, and see nothing happening, and wonder if God is going to intervene in our situation on our behalf.

The woman seems undeterred.  She continues to follow Jesus and cry out to Him.  She confesses her faith by calling out to Him as the ‘Son of David', a Messianic title.  She acknowledges Him for who He is, Lord and Savior, the promised One of God.  His disciples, on the other hand only notice that she is continuing her caterwauling and ask Jesus to send her away and give them some peace.  Apparently, this goes on for a while, as Matthew notes that she continues to call out after them, and Matthew says the disciples "kept asking Him" to send her away.

Finally, Jesus speaks to the woman.  He tells her that He "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  These were words of dismissal and rejection.  I have no business with you, is what it meant.  Worse than getting no answer at all, she seems to meet an affirmative rejection.  She doesn't seem to notice that.  What she notices is that He is paying attention, and talking with her, even if it is just to tell her to go away.  She seems encouraged by this and renews her plea, "Lord, help me!"

Then Jesus tells her that it is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.  He tells her that He is not there for her, and that it is not right to take what is meant for the children of Israel and give it to Gentiles like her.  He even ends up calling the woman a "dog".  The woman takes it all in stride.  She doesn't even try to argue.  She takes what Jesus says to her and uses it as part of her prayer - saying that if she is a dog, well, even dogs get to lick up the crumbs that fall from their master's table.  She keeps pushing for her need, asking again for he blessing she seeks.  Nothing turns her aside, not rejection, not insults, not being ignored.  She believes that Jesus is able and ultimately willing to help her, so she continues to pray.

Finally she receives what she asked for.  Jesus speaks admiringly about her faith - "You have great faith, woman!"  We don't know what she knew, or specifically what she believed, but we can see how tenacious it was, how faithfully she believed, and nothing could turn her away!  Responding to her faith, and to her request, Jesus gave her what she wanted, "be it done for you as you wish."  And her daughter was healed at that very moment.

The woman confronted a test of faith, and she passed.  She was clearly not merely a curiosity seeker, or someone who was giving Jesus a try as a last resort, "just in case".  She knew Jesus could help her, and she was confident that He would, even when it seemed otherwise.  So kept praying persistently.

Jesus did not answer her because she bugged Him, or to get her off His back, or even because she was so persistent -He answered her prayer because she trusted in Him to do so.

We also face times when we want or need something, and so we pray.  We should pray like this woman - persistently and believing.  You also know who Jesus is, and what He is like, and what He can do, and what His will is like toward you.  So, you should be able to pray and pray with confidence, and expect an answer, and pray with persistence until you have what you pray for, or clearly see that it is not going to be the way you want it because God knows a better way or a better answer.

You should never doubt the will of God toward you, sinking to the feeling that God doesn't want to bless you.  I often do not know what to pray for because I want something, but I am not certain that having what I want is the best thing for me or anyone else - and I am uncertain as to what the will of God is, so I pray, but I pray that His will be done.  And I pray that prayer until I see the answer.

But there are times in life that we need or want something so strongly that we want to push God's hands, as it were.  In those cases, although we want to pray, "Thy will be done", we have a strong interest in seeing a particular resolution to the situation.  In such cases, we need to be like this woman, asking God for our outcome, and accepting that although it may not work out the way we want it, we will ask until we see the answer, and plead our case before the throne of heaven - because it pleases God when we do.  He is pleased when we trust in Him and in His good will toward us and we boldly come before Him to pray ans plead and seek our relief.  He has commanded that we do so, and promised to hear us and answer us.  The Old Testament says, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me."  In the New Testament, Jesus says, "Whatever you ask the Father in My name, believing, He will give it to you."

But be prepared.  You may face a test of faith, too.  God doesn't always answer as quickly as we would like, not does it always come the way we expect.  God will let you hang out there for a while, and the old evil foe will be glad to make you frustrated and depressed about the length of time you plead your cause and hear no answer.  Sometimes God is testing you, to see if you trust Him, or you are just taking a chance that you might get "lucky" and get something out of the prayer.  And, by the way, He already knows the answer, just as Jesus knew the woman would be there, and would jump all of the hurdles because she had such great faith.  Her predicament and her prayers were done, and recorded, for us, and for our learning.

How can you know what the will of God is?  In specific requests, you cannot.  But you know what His will is toward you.  You know His love, and how deeply He is committed to your welfare.  You can see it on the cross.  The pain and the death of Jesus Christ are the testimony to how far God is willing to go for you.  He became one of us to rescue you.  As Paul observes in Romans 8, if He has gone this far, what can you imagine that He will withhold from you now?  "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"

The woman in the account had heard about Jesus, but she had not seen much.  She took the word about Jesus to heart and believed - undoubtedly believing because she had heard the Old Testament promises.  You have heard the Old Testament promises, and have seen the New Testament fulfillment - and you have been baptized and have eaten of the Holy Supper.  How much more you have than the woman had.

God will not perform like a trained animal, nor will He do ‘wish fulfillment' like some mail-order catalog company.  He will always be God.  But you know who that is, and what His will toward you is.  And what is the will of God toward you? Our salvation.

So let us face the test of faith, and meet it with faith.  That means we want to act as though the things we say we believe are true - and that we actually believe them.  We cannot give up, or decide that God doesn't want to be good to us any longer.  Doing either of those things means that you are no longer a Christian.  Whether we are praying, or witnessing, or just living out what we confess, we can be faithful.  The things we confess are true, and we can and we must dare to live as though they are true, if we want to be found faithful.

So, trust God when you weigh your moral decisions.  Trust God when you plan your stewardship.  Trust God when you plan your weekly, or your daily schedule.  Trust God when you pray.

And trust God as we worship.  Come and eat and drink and be forgiven and strengthened and equipped for life here, and prepared for everlasting life there.  Consider the Canaanite woman, and her test of faith, and face your own challenges as similarly a test of faith.  You can trust God.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2021


Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”

Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”  Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”  Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Sermon for Invocavit Sunday                                                                                  02/21/21


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel this morning is the familiar account to the temptation of Jesus.  These temptations echo the temptation of Eve.   Jesus was recapitulating the testing of mankind, taking a second run at it if you will, only Jesus didn’t fail – He faced the same temptations as Adam and Eve, only His were far more dramatic and urgent – and He resisted.   When Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil that day, He passed the test that Eve, and Adam, had failed.  He resisted precisely the temptations that mankind had failed.  And they were far more pressing upon Jesus than upon Eve.

On this day in the life of Jesus, the playing field is not quite level.  On the one hand, Jesus is God.  That gives Him an advantage.  On the other hand, He is living in humility, clothed in human flesh and blood and human nature, not accessing all of the powers and prerogatives of God.  That gives the devil an advantage.  Jesus has just spent forty days and forty nights without food.  Matthew highlights the disadvantage to Jesus in saying, seemingly without any real need to, that Jesus was now hungry.  Matthew says it, however, so that we don’t get some fancy philosophical notion that Jesus was immune to hunger, and that this wasn’t a real test.

The playing field of temptation is never level.  You should learn that here and now, if you didn’t understand it before.  Everything was pretty much stacked in favor of the devil, when he confronted Jesus.  Things are pretty much that way when he tempts us.  He cannot grow tired, while we can and do.  He knows our every weakness, while we rarely understand them ourselves.  He is perfectly deceitful, while we are not perfectly anything, and not always looking to be deceived.  He has power and we simply do not.  That is why this lesson is so important for us.  We need to learn from Jesus about the best defense against temptation.

First Jesus faced the temptation of food – physical need.  Eve faced it too, when the devil said, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"  He was challenging the goodness of God and the confidence she had in God’s providence.  She answered, and in answering she added to the command of God, indicating that maybe she thought God was unjust, or extreme, or something.

And what was the answer of Jesus?  It was the Word of God.  Jesus never went on offense.  I image that He could have, but we cannot, and so He did not.  He showed us how to do it when we are tempted.  He did everything He did as One of us.  Instead of claiming power, He claimed the fortress of God’s Word.  Jesus expressed His confidence in God:   “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” He resisted the temptation to doubt God’s provision.  When Eve sinned, she failed that test.  Genesis tells us that one of the reasons that she took from the tree was that the fruit was good to eat.

The second temptation of Jesus listed in Matthew was the one in which the devil took Jesus to a high pinnacle of the temple and tempted Him to jump down, quoting Scriptures and saying, It is written.  That was a temptation to doubt the Word of God.  You might say, Jesus was tempted with bad exegesis.  The devil took the Word of God right out of Jesus’ hands and used it to tempt Him.  He set before Him an impossible situation, and then said, “Don’t you trust God?  Here is His Word saying that He will catch you and take care of you and protect you!”  The temptation came once again with the “If you are the Son of God,” clause.  It was as much as saying, “Surely God will do all of this for you, since you are His Son!”  The temptation was to doubt God’s Word, and so test Him, to see if He would keep His promise.  It looked like faith, and it sounded like a legitimate promise, but neither was true.

We face disbelief in God’s Word disguised as bad exegesis all of the time.  Nearly every debate about doctrine with another confession is a debate about a misunderstanding of the Word.  Some swear that alcohol is forbidden, so they cannot see using it in church, as we do in communion.  Some cannot comprehend how a child can believe, so they reject baptism for infants.  Some demand that we worship on the Sabbath, some insist on keeping the Law, some think that the Jewish people are the chosen people and the true Israel of God.  Every one of them marshals Scripture to their cause.  They all have their passages.  And they are all wrong.  They apply half-verses and half-truths just as Satan did, that day against Jesus.

Eve faced the same temptation, when the Devil said,  "You surely shall not die!  For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  The devil was tempting her to doubt the Word and promise of God.  God had spoken the truth about sin and death, and His will was not to restrict her or deny her anything, but to protect her.  The devil invited her to doubt God’s Word about the result of sin - and God’s goodness and honesty as well.  Eve doubted God.  Jesus trusted God, and refused to be pushed into a test which would actually show that he did not trust God’s Word, but trusted His own judgment more.  Jesus answered with the Word of God – sound doctrine.  He answered a temptation clothed in a Bible quotation with the Scripture which answered the real temptation, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

Finally, the devil stopped hiding and simply offered Jesus the easy way.  He knew what Jesus had come to do.  He knew that Jesus could see the cross and all the pain and torment.  He knew that Jesus had years of difficult work ahead, and he offered Jesus the easy route.  Just bow down to me, worship me once, and I will let you off the hook.  You can have the whole kit and kaboodle.  Genuflect to me and recognize me as your superior, worship me as your God and I will spare you the cross and give you the whole creation as your prize.

Like every temptation, it was filled with lies.  The world does not belong to Satan.  It is not his to give.  The price that Jesus was going to pay for our redemption was not paid to the devil.  It was paid to satisfy the justice of God.  If Jesus had given in to the temptation, He would have become just like us, only more so.  That would have been Satan’s victory over God and our absolute ruin.  There would have been no glory to give to Jesus, nor would the devil have given it, if there had been.  He is a liar, and the father of it, as Jesus once pointed out.

Eve faced the same temptation.  The devil told her that the fruit would make her just like God.  This was a good thing that Eve expected God could give her.  The devil wanted her to doubt God’s goodness, and take matters into her own hand, and grasp the supposed good for herself, rather than wait for God to give her every good thing.  – and she yielded to the temptation.  Genesis tells us that one of the reasons she ate of the fruit was that it was desirable to make one wise.  She became like God only in that she suddenly understood both good and evil.  She understood good (having once been holy) and evil (having become evil).  God understood both without ever becoming evil, so she wasn’t much like God.
Jesus answered with the Word.  “It is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.”  He answered with the Word of God, and faith. The thing that Eve forgot, which Jesus kept in mind, was that God is first, and we come second. That is the only position that a Christian can take. It does not matter what the stakes are, or what is offered, or how appealing it may be made to appear.  When one trusts God and places Him in the proper place in our lives and consideration, then we wait on God, and we accept from God what He gives to us with thanksgiving and faith.  We are called to be faithful, and we must first be faithful to God. If we fail in that, there is no faithfulness left for us to assume.

We face similar temptations.  First is the temptation of physical need – or physical desire.  Many times we are not able clearly to distinguish between the two.  We just know what we want or need, and it seems more important – more urgent – to us to meet that need or fill that desire than anything else.  The temptation is always to take care of Number One first.  We cannot let some theology, some bit of religious stuff – we cannot let some mere rule stand in the way of our need.  That is how the temptation often presents itself.

Like Jesus we want to answer this first temptation with the Word of God and place God first, trusting Him in all our needs.  We want to take Him at His Word that He will not forsake us, that He will always provide – as Jesus said, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

The second temptation was the temptation to doubt God’s Word.  Funny thing is that it doesn’t usually look like a temptation to doubt the Word of God.  Jesus’ temptation looked like a challenge to Him as to whether He really trusted God.  The faithful and sincere thing seemed to be to jump off the temple and trust God to do what He had said that He would do.  But that would have been a species of unbelief.  That would have proven that Jesus didn’t trust God, because He would have foolishly put God to the test for nothing more than proof.  Faith is not seeing, not having the proof in front of it, but still trusting.

We get tempted in this way by false doctrine.  We are often challenged directly: Do you mean to tell me that I could go out and kill someone and still go to heaven?   Or, How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  What difference does it make which church I belong to, as long as I believe in Jesus?  What right do you have to judge someone else’s faith and keep them from taking communion?  These are some of the question we hear commonly.  This is only a small sampling of the questions we face.  These sorts of questions all do what Satan did on that mountain – they presume to challenge our presumed unbelief with a truth, but actually they challenge us to doubt God’s Word and act or speak on the basis of false doctrine and confused interpretations of Scripture which place God at odds with Himself.

Let me show you what I mean.  Do you mean to tell me that I could go out and kill someone and still go to heaven?  This question sounds so good, but it challenges us to doubt the grace of God, as though it is our behavior that wins eternal life for us.  The answer is, ‘Yes, you could.  But the more interesting question is, would you?’ If you have murder in your heart, are you likely to be a true believer?  
How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  This question places God’s love in competition with His justice as though He could only be one or the other.  The Bible says God is just and loving.  

What difference does it make which church I belong to, as long as I believe in Jesus?  The best answer to this question is to ask, What difference does it make?  Then we really need to get into the question of what differences there are between different denominations, and what we believe about Jesus and who this Jesus is – things which are by no means the same necessarily from one church body to another.  

And finally the question that has been asked here more than once, What right do you have to judge someone else’s faith and keep them from taking communion?   This question confuses rights with responsibilities.  Besides, in Closed Communion we actually refuse to judge, and simply take a person at their confession – not what they say with their lips today, but what they confess with their life.  Where they worship is their open and public confession.  If that confession is not honest, how can we trust what they say to us in a moment in our church?

The temptation is to ignore God’s Word for the sake of feelings.  To do that is to doubt the truth of God’s Word, and count something or someone as more important than God.  Jesus answered with faith, and clear doctrine – you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.  We need to put the truth first, and and trust God’s Word no matter what.

The third temptation Jesus faced is common in our lives today.  We face this temptation each and every time we are offered the faster way, the easier way, the more effective way than what God invites or commands us to do.  Jesus said, you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only!  We need to remember whose church this is, and why we are really here, and how Christ’s church works.  We are here to receive His blessings – forgiveness, won for us on the cross, the Holy Spirit to create faith in us and keep us supplied with faith, and strength, and wisdom, and courage, and faithfulness to live each day as His people, a light in a very dark and evil world.  We worship God by being faithful, and trusting God to grant us the increase.  We can even win by losing — by being faithful.

 We can trust God, after all.  We serve Him not by what we do, so much, as by trusting Him.  Jesus once said to the Pharisees, Learn what this means, I desire compassion not sacrifice.  And His will, summarized in the First Commandment is that we hold Him first in all things, and trust in Him alone, and love Him more than life itself.  And love for God is a love that is seen in love for one another.  This is the same will as what we see on the cross, where He died for your sins so that you might be forgiven and come to know Him as He is, gracious and merciful, full of love and compassion, and desiring your salvation first and last.

When we confront temptations, we can have no better pattern than that which Jesus provided.  Keep your mind firmly fixed on Jesus, and everything else will sort itself out.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Only Jesus Gives Sight


Luke 18:31-43

And He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again."  And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.

And it came about that as He was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting by the road, begging.  Now hearing a multitude going by, he began to inquire what this might be.  And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  And he called out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  And those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he had come near, He questioned him, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  And he said, "Lord, I want to regain my sight!"  And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he regained his sight, and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday                                    02/14/21

Only Jesus Gives Sight

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel lesson stitches together two seemingly disconnected bits of the life of Jesus.  In the first half of the lesson, Jesus is telling His apparently clueless disciples about His approaching crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  As we read those words, we can picture every single event, but it hadn't happened yet, back then, and the disciples could not imagine what He was talking about.  Luke tells us with painstaking detail that "they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said."

The second half of the Gospel lesson is a brief account of Jesus healing a blind man on the road just outside of Jericho.  At first glance, the two might seem to be disconnected and not addressing the same things at all.  First glance, however, would be wrong.  The Church across the centuries has stitched these two elements together as the Gospel for Quinquagesima for a reason - they both address the same thought, but from different perspectives, and with a subtly different meaning.  The lesson is our theme this morning, Only Jesus Gives Sight.

The second half of the Gospel reading tells the easier part of the lesson.  Of course, by "easier part" I mean to say the easier to understand part, not easier to do.  Jesus heals a blind man by simply telling him to receive his sight.  That is something that only Jesus can do - since He is God, He has the power to do stuff like that.

There are several striking points in the account of the healing.  The blind man hears that Jesus is passing by.  His curiosity was piqued by the sound of a crowd - usually a noisy thing - passing by.  When he asks why this crowd is passing by, what's the occasion, so to speak, he is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.

Now we do not know for sure what this man has been told about Jesus.  We can venture to guess that he has heard of Jesus' power to heal.  It is possible that he has been party to someone's speculation that Jesus is the Messiah, God come in the flesh to rescue His people.  Perhaps this blind man was told that Jesus was kind and was the sort of man who would help if He could.  Whatever he had heard led this man to begin to cry out for Jesus.  He cried out, confessing faith in Jesus, by saying "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

The appeal was a cry of faith, because the title, "Son of David" was a Messianic title.  It had belonged to the kings of the Davidic line, but there hadn't been a legitimate heir of David on the throne for hundreds of years.  In the time of Jesus, this title was used of the Promised One, the One who would sit finally and forever on the throne of David and reign and save God's people.  "Have mercy on me", is the cry of the sinner when he comes face-to-face with God.  It is a cry for help, greatly needed, for relief from the pressures and consequences of sin.  So this blind man obvious identified Jesus with God - or God's chosen One.  Someone told him something that led the blind man to see the truth about Jesus.  He asked Jesus to do something that everyone knew, and certainly that would include this blind man, everyone knew that only God could do.

In that light, it is almost ironic that when Jesus asks the man what he wants from Him, the man asks for his sight.  Here is it obvious that he could see the truth which seemingly escaped so many in the time of Jesus - and today - and what he wanted most was to see.  And note, too, the words Jesus speaks: "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."  Actually, Jesus said, "Your faith has saved you."  His faith had done much more than simply return his sight.  

In fact, his faith had not returned his sight - only Jesus gives sight.  Jesus gave him his sight - "Receive your sight!"  Jesus simply coupled the healing action to the announcement that the man's faith had saved him as an outward sign of that reality.  His faith had saved him from his sins, and Jesus demonstrated the truth of it by alleviating the gross, outward symptom of sin in his life, his blindness.  Jesus did not heal this man just because Jesus was such a nice guy, or because the man asked nicely.  He healed him as a sign, showing how blindness is healed by the gift of God - and demonstrating both kinds of blindness - physical and spiritual.  The blind man was physically blind, but he could see the truth about Jesus.

He disciples, on the other hand, were inwardly blind.  Even when Jesus laid out the coming days and their deeds, the disciples were unable to see. "And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said."  There was nothing obscure or mysterious or symbolic about what Jesus told them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again," and yet they did not understand.  They did not understand because the saying was hidden from them.  They were not given to understand it at this point.  It was deliberately incomprehensible - although not in what was said, or how it was said - it is just that only Jesus gives sight.

Why would Jesus withhold such understanding from them?  The Bible doesn't say, but we can speculate.  He may have known that if they understood, they might have tried to stand in His way, as Peter did once.  Jesus had to rebuke him strongly, calling him "Satan", and telling him that he was thinking like a man, and not according to God's ways.  Perhaps He withheld this understanding so that only after all things were accomplished they would have the "Aha!" moment and realize that Jesus had predicted every single thing that happened to Him, and that none of it was an accident, or misfortune, or even unanticipated - at least by Jesus.

Their lack of understanding, and the blind man's faith, coupled with his healing, demonstrate for us the truth of our theme, only Jesus gives sight.  The things of faith are given to us.  We believe by His gift, and we also possess the ‘what' of our faith by God's gift.  Our doctrine is not ours by invention or by our wisdom - it is all revealed in the Word of God.  Our faithfulness to the Word is also not our own talent or worthiness, but the gracious gift of God to us.

So, what do we do with this lesson?  We live it out.  First, we must give thanks, daily.  Our faith and our hope and our salvation are all gifts of God.  So is our health and our wealth and our ability to enjoy these good things and recognize them.  The Blind man in our text immediately he regained his sight, and began following Him, glorifying God.  So, we also give thanks for all the gifts of God, both temporal and spiritual, and that God has given us the eyes to see them and the ears to hear about them - by which I mean, of course, faith.

Living in the truth that only Jesus gives sight would also include humility.  We did not earn, nor did we deserve all that we have and all that we are.  God gave it all to us.  So we should understand ourselves as blessed and not as important in and of ourselves, or someone special because of what we possess or what we can do that others may not be able to do.  In fact, we should recognize that we have what we have for God's purposes, and for the welfare of our neighbor, not for ourselves, primarily.

Then we should live in trust toward God and confidence about life.  God made us who we are and has taught us to see the truth in Jesus Christ, and has place in a congregation where His Word is taught in all of its truth and purity.  With so much good already poured out on us, we know that God is good and loves us and is watching over us and is abundant toward us in all things.  We can be confident as we live because we know the good will of God toward us - and what is the will of God toward us?  (Our Salvation.)

So, how do you live out that knowledge and that confidence and that trust in God?  You live your life for His purposes.  You spend yourself, and even your stuff, on caring for and caring about your neighbor.  What do you have to share?  Time?  Energy?  Ideas?  Abilities?  Money?  
And where is it needed?  

Can we do more as a congregation than we are doing today?  

You can pray.  You can give thanks.  You can live a life which is openly holy.  You can wear your confidence in God on your sleeve.  You can faithfully gather where God dispenses His gifts - in worship and among His saints in Word and Sacrament - as though you know and actually believe what God is doing in worship and how precious it truly is.  You can encourage one another, and submit to one another and support one another with word and deed.  And we can reach out to all those outside of this sanctuary who do not see what you have been given the gift of seeing.  There are so many out there who do not see.  They are blind, and lost in sin, and dead in their transgressions and unbelief until now, and only Jesus gives sight.

We are children of light- walk as those who can see.  Live your forgiveness by losing the fear of the future, as though God is going to finally turn on you and give you trouble.  Live your forgiveness by forgiving others.  Live the love of God by loving those God gives you to love - those around you.  Live the unmerited grace of God by being unnecessarily kind and good.  You can do, as they say, random acts of kindness.  Live the gift of holiness by being holy.  Live the truth of the great gift of eternal life, which you possess already, by living as one who is not going to die, and doesn't need to be frightened by it, or worried about it.

In short, live the truth Jesus has given you to see, not just what passes for the truth that the world pulls over your eyes to blind you to it.  Live Jesus, because only Jesus gives sight.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Why Me?

 Luke 8:4-15

And when a great multitude were coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up.  And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out.  And other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great."  As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be.  And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.  Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.  And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.  And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.  And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.  And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance."

Sermon for Sexagesima                                                      2/07/21

Why Me?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The parable of the Sower presents us with a picture of how the Gospel works and of the Grace of God.  It can be understood by a child, after a fashion, but there are some very challenging thoughts here.  This morning, you will have an opportunity to ask yourself a question that many don't ask, that many are unwilling to understand, and which some people simply refuse to accept.  Our theme, this morning, is "Why Me?"

There is a part of every one of us that doesn't want to hear about God, no matter what.  Generally, people want to hear about something else and to call that something God, but our flesh does not desire to deal at all with the God who exists.  Our Sinful flesh wants to avoid the reality of the holy God because of sin.  It has been that way since Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden.  That is part of what makes this simple parable so challenging.

Even we Christians want our religion to be the way we dream it ought to be.  We want hell to be filled only with people we don't like.  We want our sins to be less evil than the sins we never do.  We want God to be on our side no matter what.  And we really don't want our religion to demand anything from us that we aren't quite eager to give anyhow.  We want the Bible classes to be when we want them, or not at all, and to be at least as captivating as our favorite T.V. show.  We don't want to be bothered by church during the week unless it is for fun or food.  And we don't want to need to give anything we have not already decided to give – not money, not time, not work.

But what we have is the Word of God.  It tweaks our noses and pokes us in our prejudices and crushes our egos.  God is always unexpected to one degree or another, because He is God – and we think differently than He does.  He says so in Isaiah 55:  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."

So, what is it that I think you won't enjoy hearing?  Most people are not prepared to hear that Jesus spoke in parables in order that some people would not understand, because if they understood, they might believe and be saved.  Frankly, the first time I read that and understood what it meant, I was taken aback.  I had always been told that Jesus taught in parables to be clear.  He was such a good and wise preacher and teacher.  But here Jesus said it Himself, in verse 10 of our text,  And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND."  You have been invited to know the grace of God.

The sower who went out to sow is Jesus.  The seed He sows is the Word of God.  The soil types in the parable represent different types of hearers.  We know that because Jesus explains those details Himself.  What is often overlooked are the words of Jesus between the parable and the explanation.  Jesus says to the disciples,  "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God"

You will look long and hard to find a better illustration of grace.  To you it has been granted.  You will notice that there is no suggestion of one's worth or of one's intelligence or of one's decisions.  It has been granted – that is, given –  to understand the mysteries of the Gospel.  That is pure grace.  Who decided who should know?  Obviously, God did.

He granted it to them – to you – to know.  We hear from Jesus, here, that faith is a thing of knowing.  It isn't just feelings.  It isn't just some kind of free-floating credulousness.  It is knowing.  It is specifically knowing the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  Now a mystery, in the Biblical sense, is something that one would not know, except that it was revealed.  These mysteries are things no one would have invented, and no one would have reasoned out, except that God revealed it.  These mysteries are all the blessed realities of the Gospel.

The mysteries of the Gospel – the things we would not have known if God had not revealed them – are things like the love of God.  Sin had us convinced that God was angry, and that we had to appease Him.  That is why so many cultures had human sacrifices – and many others had incredible rules and demands of righteousness to lay upon the guilty heart of man.  But God loves us!

Another mystery is that God Himself is to be our Savior, that He would come into this world as one of us, to live for us, and suffer for us, and die in our place so that we might be rescued, redeemed, and forgiven.  Who would have thought?  But Jesus, the very Son of God, has redeemed us by dying in our place.  And God has forgiven us with the result that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Another mystery is that this is all by grace through faith.  No works are required to be fit or ready or deserving – God knew that we would screw up the simplest demands.  Adam and Eve already proved that!  God simply invites us to know, and then to believe, and then to trust Him to be true to his Word.  And God gives us both the faith, and the power to believe through His Word which teaches us to know, and creates faith in those that believe.

That is what this parable is really about.  God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, so the Sower goes out to sow, and scatters the seed of the Word everywhere.  His Gospel is freely proclaimed everywhere.  But the seed does not all prosper, that is, not all men believe it.  Why me?

Of course, some never hear.  Those people are not even in the parable.  They have no hope and no chance.  This is Satan's finest victory.  These are also our burden, as we are those whom the Sower has chosen to use to broadcast the seed.

Satan stops others from ever believing, even though they hear.  These are  represented by the path, where the seed falls, but Satan – who is represented in this place in the parable by the birds who eat the seed on the path – snatches it away, so that they do not believe and therefore are not saved.  He has a hundred tricks to turns their hearts hard to the Word, and thousands of willing servants to decry the Word as ignorant and superstitious so that others will not take time to hear.

Other people, represented by the shallow soil, come quickly to faith.  They receive the Word with joy!  We have all known such people.  Their faith burns bright and hot – and then dies out.  It has no root, and temptations of sin or fame or success or some other enticement step in and they cannot bear it, and so they soon fall away.  They are among us for a while, and then, just as quickly, we don't see them anymore.  They think they have more important things to do when we try to encourage them to return.  Their hearts were still too hard for the Word to take firm root, so their faith does not endure.

There is yet another group that do not make it to the end.  They are pictured as falling among thorns.  Jesus says that the worries and the riches and the pleasures of this life choke out their faith.  The bills, or their families, or the comforts of retirement, or the boat and the family parties and the millions of things that offer themselves to us simply eat them up, and squeeze out of them the time for worship and the will to do anything to keep them in the Word, and finally, the worries and the riches and the pleasures of this life, choke out their faith.  They may not even know that they stopped believing – they just stop bearing fruit, and you know that a tomato plant that never bears any tomatoes might as well be a weed or dead.  Likewise, a Christian who bears none of the fruits of the Spirit cannot have the Spirit – who always bears fruit.  And if you do not have the Spirit, you are not really a Christian, even if you hang around the church.

Finally, there is that seed that falls into the good earth, and it bears fruit.  That is the believer who finally enters eternal life because he or she held fast and faithful until the end.  The fruit is the life they live.  The good works they do are simply the things they do living out the faith that they have.  Their fruits are numerous, and they are produced by simply being the believer.

Now, those who are hard of heart or who fall from the faith have actually rejected God for something else.  They have spurned the grace of God for something less.  Although God would have all men to be saved, when men firmly reject Him and refuse His grace, these same individuals suffer spiritual blindness.  So Jesus taught in parables, that those who refused God's grace would be without any hope at all.

Of course, these pictures of the various kinds of hearers of the Word is how they look from the end of time, at the harvest, not how things look to us day by day.  We cannot see which hearer is which sort of soil, so to speak.  We cannot act towards others on the basis of these judgments.  Plus, God still desires to save each and every one of us.  But since we have no power even to make ourselves believe, we have to wonder why Jesus tells us all of this.  Why me?

The answer is that to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  That means the answer is the grace of God.  This parable calls on us to examine ourselves.  If we see ourselves represented there, we are to repent.  The parable also calls on us to attend to the Word.  Jesus cried out, He that has ears to hear, let him hear!

So, take heed.  If you have ears to hear, then hear the Word of God.  Don't just let the sound of it bounce off of you, but listen, understand, believe, and rejoice!  That is the way of the grace of God.  He uses His Word – it enters through the ear and goes right to the heart.  Then it passes from the heart to the life and the lips.  The parable calls out to you to hear, believe, and repent, because, to you it has been granted.

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