Sunday, August 29, 2021

Who Is My Neighbor?


Luke 10:23-37

And turning to the disciples, He said privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them."

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered and said, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS, AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.'
"Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?"

And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him."

And Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

Sermon for Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity 08/29/21

Who Is My Neighbor?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

It is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everyone knows it, even those who are not Christians often know the substance of it. It has changed the perception of the word "Samaritan". We now think of them as nice people – and they probably were, but that wasn't how they were seen by those to whom Jesus told the parable. They were the first century B.C. equivalent of the modern Palestinians. They were from outside Israel, originally, although they had lived there for generations. They had their own religion. In the case of the Samaritans, it was a corrupted form of Judaism that did not see the Temple in Jerusalem as the holy place. And Samaritans were hated - and hated the Jews in return - with the same sort of hatred we see distorting the Middle East today.

The point of the parable was not to instruct us in good works or charity, as most people understand it. The parable was the answer to a question. The question is our theme this morning, and we shall look at our Gospel lesson and try to find the answer to the question, "Who Is My Neighbor?"

The whole thing began when the disciples of Jesus – the Seventy, not the Twelve – returned from their preaching mission. Jesus had sent them out to heal the sick and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. It was kind of like a vicarage, except they had the authority our modern vicars do not. They could heal the sick, and drive out demons, and do other miracles. When they returned, they were all a-twitter with excitement at the things that they had seen and heard, and that they were actually able to do the miraculous things they did. And Jesus told them, as our text opens, that they were blessed - for they had seen and heard things that the greatest men of old had desired to see and hear, but had not been granted the blessing of seeing or hearing.

Then this lawyer – that meant a Bible scholar in the days of Jesus – stood up to try to catch Jesus in an error. Apparently, things were going too well for Jesus, and they had to do something to slow Him down or embarrass Him. He asked Jesus "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He clearly understood that what Jesus was preaching was eternal life, and if He had the authority to share healing power with His disciples, it seemed clear that if He wasn't stopped soon, He would soon be unstoppable. Obviously, he did not understand that Jesus was born unstoppable.

Jesus answered the challenge with the perfect answer. He let the Bible scholar answer it to the best of his knowledge. The answer from the lawyer, of course, was the Law, summed up in the two summary statements of the Law; "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus agreed with Him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live."

The answer, of course, was, "Keep the whole Law perfectly." "Love God with all of your emotions, with your will, with everything you do, and with everything you think or take the time to know." That is what the summary of the First Table of the Law means. And which one of us can even imagine that we have done a good job of keeping that command? Then we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. It appears that the lawyer thought that there might be a chance for him here if he could get a favorable ruling on the definition of neighbor, so, suffering from a guilty conscience and an apparent sense that this test of Jesus was turning on Him and not turning out well, our text says, "But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'".

Jesus was quite clever in His answer if you think about it. He didn't tell the man, He simply told the parable and let the lawyer deduce the answer to the question, and then gave His seal of approval to the answer. So, you see, the parable was given to answer the question of who my neighbor is, not to instruct us in how to be Good Samaritans.

Who is my neighbor? Most answer the question by saying that our neighbor is anyone we meet. But the robbers were clearly not acting as neighbors. Another answer I have heard was ‘anyone who has need of us.' It sounds good, and very pious, but the definition didn't work in the case of the priest or the Levite. The man who was beaten nearly to death needed their help, but they did not give it, and they were not neighbors to him. Even the lawyer could see that.

My neighbor, however, is the one who shows mercy toward me, or toward whom I show mercy. In other words, we make people our neighbor by our compassionate dealings with them. And the parable makes it clear that being a neighbor – showing compassion – is not something we can necessarily expect from those we might think would do it. The ties of blood relations did not work for the Jew who had been beaten and robbed. The ties of religion were not sufficient to make either priest or Levite act as a neighbor, although one would think they should have. Neither blood relation nor religious obligation can work compassion in those who choose to be without compassion.

The man who felt compassion and showed mercy was the hated enemy. He was guided by compassion to overlook the fact that the man before him would surely hate him, and was such a man as he would normally have hated in return. It was compassion, seeing the need and caring about the other that made the difference. And then Jesus spoke to the man who would have cleansed his conscience by rationalizing his failure to be a neighbor away by carefully parsing his words. There is no escape there. He was found guilty of failing to have compassion, failing to show mercy, and therefore failing to love his neighbor. Jesus simply said, "Go and do the same."

I think we can look at the parable through the lenses of a couple of questions: Is the parable of the Good Samaritan Law or Gospel? Are you and I supposed to be the Good Samaritan, or are we the injured man, lying on the side of the road? And, what is the medicine, the oil and wine for us?

First, is the parable Law or Gospel?

The best answer, I think, is "Yes".

The parable is both Law and Gospel. As Law, it commands us and condemns us.

Who is my neighbor? You are, and I am your neighbor – unless you convict yourself of failing to show compassion. The people across the aisle are your neighbors or should be unless you withhold yourself from being their neighbor.

Second, are we the Good Samaritan in the story, or the beaten, helpless, injured man?

In one sense, you and I are the Good Samaritan. The question is a question of compassion. It is a question of caring, of loving the neighbor, and of putting yourself in their shoes, and feeling with them and feeling the desire to help them through their pains and sorrows. It is such a powerful thing, this compassion, that it does not let the most ancient and powerful and firmly rooted animosities stand in the way. In that sense, it is Law, showing us how we are to be, and accusing us of our failures to be like the Good Samaritan.

Who is my neighbor? You are, and I am your neighbor – unless you convict yourself of failing to show compassion. The people across the aisle are your neighbors, or should be unless you withhold yourself from being their neighbor. l that is holy in action, in word, and in thought. That sets up the natural animosity of the original story - our hatred for God, by nature, and His wrath against our sins.

Then, we are victims of sin. We have been beaten bloody, so to speak, and are unable to help ourselves. We wait on the side of the road, beaten and in desperate need of rescue. Our sins are the cause of our misery. And yet Jesus' great compassion for us as our Good Samaritan led Him to do the most amazing things!
He took on flesh and blood for us and became one with His creatures who had rebelled against Him. He endured their hatred and scorn and returned only truth and love. He took upon Himself our guilt and shame and sin and stood before His heavenly Father in our place to take the wrath of God which we have deserved and earned. He bore our sins to the cross and nailed them there in His flesh, and died in our place so that we might live in His place, and be clothed with His righteousness just as He was clothed with our sin.

Just as the Good Samaritan poured out oil and wine to soften and cleanse and disinfect the wounds of the man who had been beaten, Jesus cleanses us with Baptism and "disinfects" us from sin with the healing balm of forgiveness. He pronounces your sins forgiven in the Absolution, and here in the sermon as I speak these words – your sins are forgiven!! He then places you in the inn and supplies all that you need to recover and grow strong. The inn is the Church. Here is the place of forgiveness and love. Here is the heavenly banquet where He not only declares us forgiven, but gives us forgiveness to eat and drink as we receive both His true body and blood in the Heavenly Table set before us. In fact, the true medicine in this story is the Holy Supper of Christ's body and blood – the Medicine of Immortality given for us Christians to eat and to drink for forgiveness, strengthening, and healing from the dread violence of our sins.

As the Church, the body of Christ, we are to be "God with skin on" in the world. We are to be holy. God doesn't wait for us to work it up in ourselves, but He declares us to be holy, and what He declares is so. We are to be like Christ. We have His Word to preach and proclaim. And we have His compassion to feel and share with one another, and with the world outside of the Church, a world that likes to pretend that such a thing is foolish and not workable in the world of the twenty-first century. God doesn't wait for us to work that up in ourselves either, but He creates that compassion by the same Word through which He does all of His work within us. "Go and do the same," is not a suggestion, or impossible goal, it is the life of those who are called to be members of the body of the great Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ.

Doing this, feeling and showing compassion toward one another, and then those who do not know Christ, is a fundamental part of what the Holy Spirit works in us. He works it through the Word which you hear preached today and every week. He works faith, that "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." You now have become those disciples about whom Jesus has said, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them." You may not be able to work the miracles of healing or the casting out of demons that those original Seventy did in our Gospel, perhaps, but you can work the miracle of life by sharing the Gospel, and miracle of healing by loving one another and showing compassion toward those around you. And it is good to remember that not all injuries are on the outside, where you can see them.

You are God's people, forgiven and healed by His great compassion. Unlike the lawyer in our Gospel, you have no need to justify yourselves. Christ has done that for us. Your sins are forgiven. And now we know the answer to the question, "who is our neighbor?" - and we have the word Christ commanding – and encouraging us – to go and do the same.

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

Sunday, August 22, 2021

He Can Make You Hear

 Mark 7:31-37

And again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.  And they brought  to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated  Him to lay His hand upon him.  And He took him aside from the multitude by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said  to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!"  And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was remov

ed, and he began speaking plainly.  And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it.  And they were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Sermon for Twelfth Sunday After Trinity                                        08/22/21

He Can Make You Hear

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We have talked about this reality before: Jesus rarely did miracles just to be doing something nice.  It is not that He was not that kind of guy – He is.  But socially useful and pleasing deeds is not all that Jesus came to do.  He was not here simply to do good deeds.  He came to rescue all of mankind from sin and death and hell - and that would take more than a healing here or a miracle there.  It would require His death - innocent of any evil or wrong-doing.

The Gospel of Mark, at the point of our Gospel lesson this morning, seems to be a collection of events in the ministry of Jesus.  The events are not necessarily chronological.  They are just individual snippets of the teachings and works of Jesus.  They are reported here the way they are, and in the order they appear, for theological purposes.  This is not so much a "life of Jesus" kind of Gospel, but a "message of Jesus" book.  The miracles are described to teach, about the authority and the will and the raw power of Jesus.  In other words, Jesus did the miracles to show us something.  In our Gospel this morning, Jesus was exercising authority over the troubles of life, which is to say, over the consequences of sin.  In doing so, He blessed the deaf man, and He showed us something - in the words of our theme, this morning, he showed us that He can make you hear.

Jesus came as the Savior from sin, so it suited His purposes to demonstrate that He actually had power over sin and its effects.  They brought a man to Jesus who could not hear and was unable to speak clearly.  The people asked Jesus to lay hands on Him, clearly looking for a healing.  We have no record of the conversation, or what else might have been transpiring.  We just have the account of Jesus' healing of the man.  Jesus took the man aside, which makes it clear that this was not done as some sort of side-show act to attract attention and praise.  This was done out of compassion for the man.

Jesus healed the man of His deafness and set His tongue free to speak.   He accomplished all that He did by His Word.  He spoke, and the man was healed.  Sticking His fingers in the man's ears and touching his tongue were for the sake of the afflicted man.  It was communicating without words – although Jesus did speak out loud.  But remember, the man was deaf.  Jesus spit to illustrate getting rid of the impediment to clear speech.  Some of the translations say that Jesus touched the man's tongue with His spittle.  Aside from being a gross kind of image, it is something that the original text doesn't actually say.  Jesus simply communicated His intentions by pantomime for a man who could not yet hear.

This miracle of healing was done at least in part as an illustration.  Jesus was after something more than simply changing the life of one deaf man.  He surely intended to do that too, but His primary purpose was to show us something.  This miracle was meant to be a sign.

Apparently, it worked, Mark says that the crowds were "utterly astonished".  The Greek says that they were ‘astonished' or ‘amazed' "beyond measure."  That is the typical response of sinful men in the presence of the divine.  They were really impressed and even a bit frightened.  What frightened them was that they were seeing One that they had assumed was a mere man do works which only God can do.  Standing in the presence of God at work is a terrifying thing for sinful men and women.  The only reason that they were not frightened out of their wits was that He was doing good and friendly sorts of things.  They were standing in the presence of God as He overcame the symptoms of sin in this man - as He healed Him.  Can you imagine what that would have been like?  Wouldn't you like to be able to witness that?

Well, you can.  Jesus is still performing that particular miracle.  He still makes men hear.  He is fulfilling the promise of Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson appointed for today; "And on that day the deaf shall hear words of a book."  That's Isaiah 29:18.  The prophecy says that He will make men hear – and He does.  The Word of God opens our ears and our understanding and creates faith in us.  We say the same thing in our Catechism, in the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed, "the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with is gifts . . ."  He also makes us able to speak - to sing and speak the praises of Him who died for us, as Paul writes, "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."

The Word that gives us life is the word of the Gospel.  It is there that we hear that Jesus took our sins to the cross and nailed them there in His body.  He died for us, that we might be forgiven, and we are!  We hear that Word in the Absolution.  In the Gospel, proclaimed and served to us in the Holy Sacrament, Jesus works in us, demonstrating His power over sin by forgiving us, and giving us new and everlasting life by grace, through faith.  But He doesn't wait for us to decide that this Word is true.  Just as Jesus did not wait for the deaf man to be able to hear Him, but created the ability to hear with the same Word He spoke to heal the man, He creates the faith we need by the preaching of the Gospel.  We are brought to trust in Him by the same Word which forgives us our sins and gives us the power to confess His name and our hope in Him before others.  That is how Jesus makes you to hear!

You see, we are the deaf man in the story.  Oh, not physically.  Jesus healed that man in a specific time and place in history.  Still, we are to understand that we are by nature like him, deaf and in need of Jesus to heal us by the Word of God.   And He can make you hear!  We do not understand or believe God's Word by our natural abilities.  We are naturally incapable of doing so until and unless God works on us and in us with His Word – just like the deaf man in our Gospel.

Our faith is created just as that man's hearing was restored, by the Word of God.  Just as our Epistle lesson says, "And such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Jesus makes us hear.  He comes to us, who are deaf by nature, and with His Word He reaches in and changes us, transforming us from the deaf to the hearing, from the dead into the living, and from enemies of God into His own beloved children.  He teaches us to know the Gospel, which is not about fingers in our ears and such as much as it is about nails in His hands and a cross to die on and His taking our punishment so that we might receive the reward He has earned and we can only dream about.

Because of Jesus and His death on the cross, we have been forgiven, and that which was our death has been taken away, and our deafness to the things of God has been transformed into life and hearing and joy for those who believe.  Better yet, we have been given the key – we have the power to do the same thing for others.
You see, just like Jesus did for the man in the Gospel lesson, He makes us able to speak, too.  He has touched our tongues by His Word and given us His Word to speak to others that they, too, might believe.  He has given us the Word of His saving love and promises and has charged us with the mission of sharing it with everyone else.  Notice how the witnesses to the healing could not keep from talking about it.  Jesus sternly commanded them not to go about talking about it, but they couldn't help themselves.  If you believe the good news of your salvation from sin and death and hell, you can't keep it to yourself either.

How could you keep quiet about the gift of resurrection or eternal life?  How could you not tell others about the comfort and peace and joy of forgiveness of sins?  Is it that you have no sins?  Is there no shame or guilt that you would not set aside?  Sure there is!

You have sinned, just as I have and as every person in this church – or outside of it.  You might want to pretend that it isn't such a big deal, that your sins are less serious than someone else's.  But you would be pretending.  For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Not one of us is who we want to be if we are honest with ourselves – and we aim so much lower than God desires for us.  He would have us be perfect in holiness.  It is the knowledge of the coming reckoning with God in the face of His expectations and demands that makes so many hate God and be frightened of death.  It is the reality of sin that makes us grow old and get sick and die.

And it is Jesus who has set us free from sin and death!  He has forgiven us our sins – not merely ignored them like an indulgent parent, but Jesus has taken our punishment and borne the wrath of God against our sin.  Jesus has born our grief and sorrows and the stripes which we deserved for our sins so that He might forgive us and clothe us in His perfect righteousness.

If you believe this Gospel is true, and true for you, could you keep such a thing silent and to yourself?  They say that religion is one of those things you should not talk about in public.  Well, they do not know Jesus and they do not know forgiveness and they obviously do not possess the peace which passes all understanding if they can keep silent about the one thing really worth talking about - and, if you can keep quiet about it, neither do you.

Jesus makes us, who were deaf to His grace hear through the Word of God.  The miracle of changing us from unbelievers and enemies of God into believers and loving children of the heavenly Father is what our Gospel lesson points our minds to - He can make you hear!  He has, that is why you believe.  And He gives us a part in that miracle for others.  All there is for us to do is speak of His love and grace.  He does the rest.

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

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Pharisee and the Publican


Luke 18:9-14

And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

Sermon for Eleventh Sunday After Trinity 8/15/21

The Pharisee and the Publican

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This has always been one of my favorite parables; The Pharisee and the Publican. Of course, we don't call the man a "publican" anymore, he is now a "tax-gatherer" or a tax collector, but to me, he will always be "a Publican". The name sounds better -- more mysterious and evil. So, the title of our sermon this morning uses the old, King James Version name of the parable, The Pharisee and the Publican.

It's a good story; clear in the details, and the characters are well-defined. The story is an illustration of the point that the Gospel makes before Jesus tells the story, and which Jesus makes after telling the story. Jesus told the parable, according to Luke, to certain individuals who thought that they were particularly righteous, and who viewed others - less righteous than themselves in their own humble opinions - with contempt. I think everybody knows somebody like that.

In its original telling, the parable was devastating. Jesus did not explain before telling the parable what His goals were in the telling, as our Gospel lesson does. He just started to tell the story. You can imagine that the Pharisees gathered to spy on Jesus were going right along with the story. Here in the story was one of their own, pious, obedient, meticulous in his observance of the smallest nicety of the Law. As Jesus told the details, I can imagine the Pharisees checking off a checklist in their minds and proudly saying, "That could be me!"

Then Jesus dared to compare this marvelous example of Pharisaic morality to the dreaded and disgusting Roman sympathizer, the Publican! What an easy comparison! How good the Pharisees looked in the bright light of the contrast between the holy man of God and the sinner who stooped to stealing from his neighbors – for that is what tax collectors did in those days – and collaborating with the occupier of Israel! A Pharisee and a Publican! It's like shooting fish in a barrel!

When the Publican spoke in the parable, you might even imagine the Pharisees thinking that ‘that miserable sinner had better be hiding his head and beating his breast!' God be merciful! Hah! At least he had one thing right, he called himself the sinner!

Imagine their horror and confusion when Jesus got to the punch-line and said that the Publican went home forgiven and in a right relationship with the Lord, rather than and in contrast to the wonderful, sterling Pharisee. I know it isn't a joke, so the summary should not normally be called a "punch-line", but it had to have struck with the force of a physical blow! The Pharisee went home without the favor of God, without justification, without approval. The "sinner" went home forgiven and at peace with God and therefore confident of God's blessings and favor! And every one of them who had counted each boast of the Pharisee off on their personal checklist stood there as guilty and condemned and without hope as the man in the story - only he was fiction, and this was their lives that Jesus was talking about!

And maybe it was your life, as well. Now, I hope that none of you are so foolish as to measure your stewardship of money and think you have it hands down over someone else. I cannot imagine that many of you actually look around you and compare yourself to others and say, "My! How good and God-pleasing I must be!" I have met some people who do, but I don't think that any of you fit that profile. Your connection to this parable is different.

Your connection is anytime you fail to be more like the Publican than the Pharisee. Both characters were extreme examples, deliberately. That way you cannot miss the message. The message is, "everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

Most of us have learned that the Pharisee was wrong - not wrong to try to be as much like he understood God wanted him to be, but wrong to boast before God and believe that he was somehow superior to the Publican.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," is in the New Testament, and it hadn't been written yet, but "There is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not" hand been - it comes from Ecclesiastes 7:20. And there was Isaiah 64:6 which says, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." God doesn't leave us room to boast about ourselves - and anything might be considered boasting other than repentance.

You know that feeling, the one that tells you that you're doing alright. You aren't perfect, but, hey!, nobody is. I think the parable applies to us when we have that sense of satisfaction with where we are and how we are managing our life spiritually and morally. I know that applies to some of us, at least, because we tend to live our lives as though we are independent. We think of ourselves as "us" and others - even the congregation in some sense - as "them". We imagine in the pride of our hearts that our lives are ours to live, and all about us, and we choose to do things with them – and we think we have chosen fairly well and responsibly and in a Christian manner.

And you may have, that's not the point. The point is that we are all beggars, as Luther had written on the piece of paper they found in his hand after he had died. We stand before God as utterly unworthy and not deserving the good things we possess at this moment, let alone forgiveness, life, and salvation. We have each taken our lives into our own hands and did with them things we know we should not have done. We have dismissed others around us as less - less holy, less Christian, less Lutheran, less worthwhile as human beings. And you might be right, in some cases, on each count. The problem is dismissing them as though we can thank God that we are not like other people - particularly that Moslem, that Jew, that criminal, or that Protestant over there.

We are just like them in more ways than we are different when we stand before God. We are sinners. We take our blessing for granted, or, worse, think we have earned them and others who have less have not earned good things like us. We have taken the goodness of God without thanksgiving and applied it to ourselves as though it were our just deserts and not a gift from the kindness of God. We use our stuff as though God had no use for it - or us. And when our stuff is threatened, we worry and fear, as though God is not there to bless and keep us, and as though anything could happen to us without our heavenly Father being there to witness and to turn it to our good, and to keep us. We forget who we are - - - God's chosen and beloved, adopted into His family as His sons and daughters.

It is sin. It is sin to forget the price that Jesus paid for our redemption — and to fail to factor into our thinking the love of God that brought Him to send His Son to the cross on our behalf and in our place. It is sin to disregard all that Jesus has done so that we might be His own and know His grace and goodness. It is sin when we fail to praise Him and give thanks, and rejoice! Our fears and our anxieties all deny God's grace and goodness and call His promises to us into question. Our self-centered thinking and using of our gifts as though our lives are about us is sin. Our lives aren't about us. Christ's life was about us. Our lives are about one another - and about Jesus. Thinking that your life is about you, primarily, is sin.

It is sin of which every one of us is guilty. We should be like that Publican, beating our breasts and crying out for the mercy of God – "God be merciful to me, the sinner!" When we fail to be the Publican, we just naturally tend to play the part of the Pharisee.

But when we humble ourselves and confess to God that we have sinned, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment, when we humble ourselves and cry out to God for His mercy, instead of taking it for granted and thinking we have a leg up on others, then God does forgive. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

He is faithful means that He forgives us each and every time we humble ourselves and come to Him for cleansing by forgiveness. His righteous to do so because Jesus already bore our punishment. He took it in the whippings and beatings and mocking of Good Friday. He bore our grief and carried our sorrows, as Isaiah said when He died in our place on the cross. Because He died, we do not have to - at least not the death in hell which we deserve. Our bodies will one day die - but we do not, we go to live with Christ in the presence of the Father immediately upon the death of our bodies.

And we will rise again - body and soul reunited for everlasting life. Jesus showed us on Easter that it is possible, and what it is that God has in mind for each of us on that last day. It is part of the great exchange of the Gospel - Christ took our sins, and we receive His righteousness as a gift, and with it receive all of the love and favor of God which His only-begotten Son deserves. This gift is poured out upon all who humble themselves as did the Publican and cry out for mercy to God.

When we do, then we "go down to our houses justified", forgiven and at peace with God and therefore confident of God's blessings and favor, just like the character in the parable.

God doesn't want us to wander around feeling bad about ourselves. He wants us to know the truth, and never forget who we are, and what we are, and who He is and what He has done - and to rejoice in that knowledge. Then we don't approach others as less, or beneath us somehow. We come up beside them, knowing that we are just as they are, except God has shown us wonderful things and taught us to believe. Then we can avoid the trap of saying, "Let me give you a hand up to where I am," and say instead, "What a good and loving God we have, look at what He has done. Isn't it wonderful?!"

God wants us to be -like the Publican - humble, like the Publican - repentant, and - like the Publican - resting completely on the grace of God. "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

And that is the message of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

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

Monday, August 09, 2021

The Things Which Make for Peace


Luke 19:41-48

And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make
for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.

And He entered the temple and began to cast out those who were selling, saying to them, "It is written, ‘AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,' but you have made it a DEN OF THIEVES." And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging upon His words.

Sermon for Tenth Sunday After Trinity 08/08/21

The Things which Make for Peace

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are things that can be done to encourage certain behaviors or circumstances, and there are things one can do to discourage them. Taxes, for example, are used to manage social change. If you desire some behaviors, you avoid taxing them and reduce taxes that may infringe on them. If you want people to stop doing something, tax that behavior. That is why, for example, the government taxes cigarettes. Part of it is a desire to make money off of the nicotine addiction, and part of it is to make smoking as financially painful as possible. They tax liquor and beer for the same reasons - to take your money when you do something you enjoy (and that way supposedly you won't feel so bad about them taking your money) and to discourage people from drinking. Just making it illegal didn't work in the twenties, and it cut the government out of the loop for the money.

Reward someone for doing something, and people are more likely to do more of it. Similarly, Jesus speaks about things that make for peace in our Gospel. There are things that promote peace, and there are things that work against it. This morning, I invite you to join me as we look at our Gospel and talk about the things which make for peace.
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem in our Gospel on His Palm Sunday ride - which is reported in Luke in the verses just before our Gospel lesson. As He approached, He began to weep over Jerusalem because He knew what was coming for the city, and why. When Jesus spoke about what He saw He was not just predicting future events, but pronouncing judgment on the city and her inhabitants. Their failure was that they had not recognized the time of their visitation. In other words, they were facing destruction because God Himself had come to live among them as man, and they rejected Him and would not accept what they could actually see with their own eyes.

Yes, the Jews of Jesus' day could tell that Jesus was the One who fulfilled all of the prophecies of the coming One. They stubbornly refused to accept it and found ways to question what they were clearly seeing, not unlike reporters who don't want to hear what they are hearing or see what they are seeing today. Jesus did the miracles. They saw them and knew that they were real. He healed the sick, refreshed withered limbs, fed thousands miraculously, and even raised the dead - the undeniably dead were undeniably alive again. He spoke the Word of God and taught as no one had among them in a long time. They knew who He was, and what it all meant, but they just couldn't let themselves believe it.

Of course, some did believe, but the leaders and the majority of the teachers did not, and their flocks often followed them blindly, just as the flocks of the false teachers today will follow their leaders stubbornly, even, at times, to drinking the poisoned Kool-aide. Because of their violent rejection of the Savior, their city was to be destroyed violently. Jesus described the siege of Jerusalem that took place between sixty-six and seventy A.D. Because they broke faith with God completely, God wiped their city out and kept His covenant with them by abandoning Old Testament Israel.

The theme of the sermon came from the words of Jesus in verse 42, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes." It is ironic that the sorrow of Jesus over Jerusalem is because they had not known the things which make for peace. Ironic because the name of Jerusalem means, "the city of peace", or "the place where peace dwells". There He was, and they did not know it.

So what are the things which make for peace? Obviously, they are the things that Jesus brought to Jerusalem that Jerusalem refused to see and believe. First of all, I would list the will of God. God chooses us and by His will He has prepared salvation for us - so the will of God is one element of the things which make for peace. And what is the will of God for us?

Grasping that truth with our minds and our hearts brings that "peace which passes all comprehension." Just knowing that God's will is always for our good and blessing and that whatever we may endure or perceive around us, we have the God-given certainty that His will is for us and is good for us, and we may rest in peace while we live, and not just when they bury us.

That certainty, of course, is what we call "faith" It is not the things we can accumulate that bring peace. We often discover that it is the pursuit of our desires that is the most enjoyable, not the possession of them. How often haven't you wanted something, and worked to find it and buy it only to discover after a very short time that is hardly touched, not often used, and much less important or enjoyable than it appeared during the pursuit? Things don't bring peace - they bring worry - about the first scratch, about someone stealing it (or them), about wear and tear, and the like. No, things don't make for peace, not even really good things.

Money doesn't do it either. Money can smooth the road some, but either it is in danger of running out, or someone wants to take it, or - for some who find riches too suddenly - it makes them feel guilty. Faith, on the other hand, comforts us with the assurance of God's promises and makes us look beyond the moment and our circumstances to the promise and the hope.

Then there is the Gospel, with the forgiveness of sins. It is the substance of the faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The Gospel tells us what Jesus has done, and what it means, and how certain the promises are. The cross and the empty tomb remind us of how far God has already gone for us, to save us, so that we know that we can always depend on Him and His blessing and protection in our times of need. The death of the Son of God for you demonstrates that God will do whatever it takes to keep you – and the resurrection of Jesus on Easter preaches the full and free forgiveness which He won on the cross for us. The resurrection means that God accepted the exchange of Jesus and His righteousness before the bar of His justice for us and our sins. If Jesus' death had not been enough, He would not have risen from the dead - but He has. Even His enemies, who desired to keep His resurrection a secret, testified that Jesus rose from the grave. They testified with the limp little story about those frightened fishermen overpowering Romans guards and stealing the body. Oh yeah, they said the soldiers fell asleep on duty! Anyone who knew Romans soldiers would know right off that it was a lie. First, Roman soldiers did not fall asleep on duty - to do so was a death sentence. Second, even if one did, it was not a good way to continue living to run around saying that a soldier fell asleep on duty. The Romans would want to silence that kind of talk immediately. Nope, Jesus rose from the dead, and your sins, and mine, are forgiven.

Repentance is another thing that makes for peace. Guilt has a way of eating at you. Repentance is the one sure way to be certain that God has heard about your sin, and has addressed it with His grace. "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

And then there is prayer. Jesus points out the importance of prayer when He cleanses the temple. "It is written, ‘AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,' but you have made it a DEN OF THIEVES." His actions in the temple bought things to a boiling point. Luke says that the leaders were trying to destroy Jesus after that. I can personally testify to how much trouble those words can bring in modern times when one quotes them in regards to sales and dinners and such - but Jesus was first, and attacking the income of the priests and leaders of the temple by driving those money-changers and those who were selling animals and such out of the temple. He did it in part to fulfill prophecy, of course, but He also did it because prayer is so important.

If you need peace, there are few things you can do that will help you as much as a heart-to-heart talk with God. I know, I have experience with long talks with God. He listens so well - and things do change. And prayer is part of all those other things that make for peace. You pray in worship, and you pray in repentance, and, of course, you pray in faith because God invites you to do so, and commands you to do so, and makes such wonderful promises to us about answering our prayers and blessing us when we pray.

It is appropriate, also, to note that as Jesus pronounces this judgment against Jerusalem, He indicates that their time is up! They cannot come to this understanding later. Jesus says, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes." They haven't killed Him yet. The destruction of Jerusalem still waits thirty-five to forty more years, and yet the judgment is done. The city continues for a while yet, in all appearances alive and "save-able", and yet the Judgement is done. God has hidden it from their eyes now because they so flatly refused to see the truth before.

We need to take from this the warning that we do not have as much time, necessarily, as we like to imagine. God's Word says, "Today is the day of salvation", "Now is the right time." We don't have time to postpone placing our trust in God, and our friends and acquaintances may not have the luxury of all of the time of their earthly lives, either. We will always treat everyone who does not believe as a potential convert because we do not know, but it is a sobering thought that God may close the book on someone before He closes their eyelids in death. Today is the day of our visitation, and we should make the most of it in faith and in confessing our Lord and Savior.

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

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Using What You Have


Luke 16:1-9

Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'

"And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.'

"And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?' And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?' And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.'

"And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."

Sermon for Ninth Sunday After Trinity 08/01/21

Using What You Have

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever had a bad day? Of course, you have. But, I am willing to bet that it wasn't as bad a day as the day described by Jesus in the parable in our Gospel lesson this morning. That man was having a really bad day. Jesus tells the parable to make the point about using what you have to the best effect. I want to take you through the lesson and discuss that point. Our theme is, "Using What You have."

In order to make sense of the parable, you need to remember a couple of facts about what Jesus refers to as a "steward" in our Gospel. In English, we might call someone in his position a manager or an administrator. In the day and culture of Jesus' Israel, the office was called, in Aramaic, a "shaliak". A Shaliak would be a manager with extraordinary authority, from the twenty-first-century perspective. He could make deals that his master did not approve of, and the deal was made as surely and with the same authority as though the master had done it himself. That is why the "squandering" of the master's possessions was such a serious thing. His employer had no recourse to recover mismanaged funds.

Everyone in Jesus' day would have known this. The master in the parable discovered the problem in time to keep from going broke, and when he fired the steward, the steward had to leave his employment with the shirt on his back and nothing more.

So, the man was moving from relative wealth to absolute poverty overnight. He faced reality squarely. He was not cut out for heavy labor - probably due to age and long inactivity, and he couldn't bear the thought of begging. Back then, you worked, or you begged and depended on the generosity of the townspeople, or you starved. It was a simple equation.

Our hero faced an existential dilemma. His conduct had deprived him of his livelihood, as the ways of the foolish often do, and he was unable or unwilling to do the things that were left open to him. When he took stock of his situation, he found himself left with only one option; lie, cheat, and steal. He could use the remaining hours of his authority over another man's riches to build a nest egg for himself at his soon-to-be-former master's expense. That is what he did.

He reduced the debts of his master's wealthier debtors by significant amounts, with the understanding that they would owe him for his duplicity on their behalf. He certainly expected a return on his graft. That is what "so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes" meant.

When his duplicity was discovered, "his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly". The parable doesn't tell us if he managed to keep his job, or whether his scheming worked or anything like that, because this is, after all, a parable - and not a real recounting of historical events. The point of the story has been made, so Jesus did not need to add any more to the story.

The point is, "the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light". People tend to exercise more intelligence and realistic thinking when they deal with the passing things of this world than Christians do dealing with the eternal realities of Christ. People manage their portfolios with care. They know where their money is. They calculate cash-flow and appreciation rates and know how this or that action will serve their self-interest before they act. This is not universally true, but generally, people pay attention to their things - and generally, they follow principles for self-preservation and self-advantage.

Christians are not so ‘shrewd'. We often say we believe something, but we then act as though we do not. We frequently value the things of this world in ways that suggest that they are more permanent and significant, and faith and fellowship with our fellow-believers and doctrine, and the life of our congregation take a back seat to toys, and personal pleasures, and ideas and activities, some that directly contradict our faith. We see Christians placing the esteem and society of the unbelieving before the people and things of our faith. And we behave as though life in this world is to be clung to at any cost, seemingly to confess that the promises and hope of the Gospel are not real.

Jesus intends to draw your attention to that by means of this parable. When he says, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings", He is addressing the disconnect between what we confess and what we actually do.

The ‘mammon of unrighteousness' refers to the ‘stuff' of this world. When Jesus says to make friends for yourself with it, He doesn't mean to use it to make friends of society or people around you, but to use it in ways that are consistent with your confession.

If we were to look at the church with the expectation that how we used our gifts of faith, doctrine, forgiveness, and the ‘mammon of unrighteousness' we would come away with an entirely different picture of what the Christian faith was about than what we say we believe. Synods and church bodies would appear to be about the accumulation of buildings and nest eggs filled with cash and promoting a progressive social agenda in society at large. Teaching about that guy in the Bible would not appear to be a priority at all. Sound doctrine and clear confession appear to have no particular place here. Advancing Biblical morality takes a back seat to looking good in the eyes of our neighbors and garnering the esteem of the secular authorities.

Judging by their actions, many congregations would appear to be having a race about size and impressive buildings. Our congregation seems to be about having an optional worship service on Sunday and providing care for a family cemetery next door. Sharing the good news of the grace of God, helping people to hear about their salvation, and encouraging one another to stand firm in the faith once delivered to us does not appear to dominate our congregational activities very often. The most active churches in our community give away food to anyone who wants to take it, provide clothing for those who want to wear hand-me-downs, and host concerts and other cultural events for the community. Garage sales are big, although they rarely seem to be raising funds for the actual spread of the Gospel.

Finally, individual Christians often behave as though everything else in life is more urgent than the faith - - or the other faithful people around them.

The Church is here, and presumably will be tomorrow, and next week, and next month, so the weekend visit to someone in some other place is more urgent. One ‘needs' the things of life, and we can theoretically give more tomorrow, so we buy things today that aren't needs, and treats the Gospel and the fellowship of the faithful like something that you might attend to when there is nothing more exciting - nothing interesting - to do. You really do care about fellow believers, but your projects, your relatives, your vacation get away's, and your (you can fill in the blank here) are urgent, and consume your attention.

But let's talk about the truth: what is more important than God's Word? What do we need more than the gifts of God which He delivers to us in worship? Who is really more important than our brothers and sisters in Christ, given to us by God to love and to care for and to encourage? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to lose his own soul? Are we dealing with the things of Christ as we will want to when we face that day of accounting? How are you using what you have?

What Jesus is teaching by means of the parable is that we ought to be more shrewd in our dealings with the things of the world in ways that reflect and under gird our confession and our hope.

Being "shrewd in relation to your own kind" as "sons of light" means dealing with one another as beloved brothers and sisters in the household of God. That means we care about one another, and know who is hurting, and who is in need of something we can provide, and understanding – or at least thinking about – what we can do to encourage one another and help each other live lives of peace and contentment here and now as the children of God in Christ Jesus.

Our failures in regard to one another are legion - and when I preach like this, I suspect I stir up a bit of guilt. Some of you probably think that I am preaching down to you, as though I think that I do this stuff all the way it should be, and you are the only ones to miss the mark. But I recognize that I am not as "shrewd" in regard to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I might be either. My only comfort is that we are, together, "sons of light". We are the children of God, redeemed and forgiven for the sake of the death of Christ on the cross on our behalf, and His resurrection for our justification.

So, if you fall short of this shrewd stewardship of the mammon of unrighteousness, take comfort; your sins are forgiven. But take a lesson from Jesus about using what you have. God has given you all that you possess for His purposes, not merely for your own. Think about the parable and ask yourself how will you want to have used what you have when you are called to give an account of your stewardship? 
Christians, believers who trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation are going to go to heaven because of Christ, so that is not the issue. The question is, how do you want to be using what you have as one of God's chosen and beloved children?

He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

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