What Is It All About?
Have you ever noticed how the world takes "our stuff" away from us? What do we celebrate on December 25? Christmas, right? But what is Christmas? Is it Santa and candy and gifts? Hallmark Network tells us it is a time of sharing and caring and family. How did Jesus get 'hoovered' out of the holiday? Even most Christmas cards have forgotten the "good news of great joy which shall be for all the people."
In March or April we celebrate the greatest story ever told, the most amazing events in human history: a bunny rabbit that lays candy eggs?
What happened on June 25th? March 25th? What do we celebrate on October 31st?
Now I would guess that most of you have learned that October 31st is Reformation Day. The majority of the English speaking world calls that day "Halloween" without much of an idea why. It is just the day of pumpkins and ghosts and witches and candy, lots of candy! And Trick or Treating. Even if you are not Lutheran, the day should be pointing towards the commemoration of those who have gone before us in the faith and are now with our Lord - All Saints Day (All Hallows, of which October 31 is the Eve - or 'een'), November 1.
This "Hoovering," (named after the vacuum cleaner) happens for two reasons; first, the world hates us and the Christian faith, and second, Christians are easily bored.
For some reason, people feel the need to sell our holidays to people who do not believe. It is nice that the world around us wants to celebrate on December 25. It gives us Christians the day off for worship and thanksgiving. But they do not celebrate what we celebrate because they cannot! They cannot celebrate the Son of God come in the flesh for our salvation because they do not believe that Jesus did that, or that He is the Son of God, or that there really is a God, and if they think there might be a god, they have no idea who He is or what He is about or what He wants for us or from us. They may be able to articulate parts of our theology, but they don't believe it and cannot truly understand it because they need the Holy Spirit and faith to understand it. At least that is what God says in the Bible.
Christians have been guilty of trying to make their somber religious holidays more fun for themselves and their children. That suggests that they do not truly appreciate what we celebrate, and may not really believe it all that much themselves.
Halloween is a good illustration of that principle. Aside from the Reformation, it is not really much of a holiday. It is the night before the Church pauses to remember and praise God for all those who have gone before us in the faith, especially those who have gone before us in the last year. For Immanuel in the last year that would include Elliott Jares and maybe Marvin Runyan in September 2020, if we expanded our year enough (to 14 months) to include the last two names.
The world has no idea how to use a holiday like All Saints Day, so the silly superstition about the day gave it a way to lead away from the faith. Because All Saints Day is about God's holy people, it was re-imagined into "the holiest day of the year." Then, the night before became the mythical night when evil was at its strongest, only to be reigned in again by "All Hallows." So ghosts and goblins and witches became the possessors of the night. A superstitious society and a church full of people who could not read and had to rely on word of mouth spread the fear (and the fun) like wildfire - much like the Covid misreporting has spread fear and anger in our day.
So, in the Medieval western world, Halloween became something other than just the day before and took on its own meaning. The coincidence of Luther nailing the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on that day gave us Lutherans another way to look at the day. By our age, Halloween is seen by most as a farce and a candy day, although the practitioners of the Black Arts still honor the day in some places. Nonetheless, Christians do well to remember what the day, and the next day, is all about and do not honor the occult.
In general, we would make a clearer and more consistent witness to the faith and our hope of salvation if we stubbornly refused to let anyone empty our special days of their true significance. So what if the unbeliever does not find meaning in our holidays? We don't celebrate for them. We celebrate to remember the great truths of the Gospel and the great events that formed and fill our faith. We tell the story to one another to remember and rejoice together. Outsiders are welcome to listen and perhaps come to faith, but once we have clearly spoken the truth of the Gospel, using God's Word, whether they believe or not is between them and God. We cannot afford to "dumb it down" for them or their amusement. The danger is too real and the blessings of the promises of God are just too wonderful.
We need the holidays - note they changed that too, not "holy days" but "holidays" - for our own enrichment and rehearsing of the great truths of the Gospel. We need to remember the miracle of the Incarnation - December 25 - which is coupled with the annunciation - March 25, when Mary heard the good news and believed the angel. We need the truths of Easter repeated and celebrated, rabbit or no. We Lutherans need to remember that on June 25, 1530, Lutheran Laymen (and not the pastors) presented the Augsburg Confession before the Emperor at Augsburg to remember when God restored the pure Gospel to His Church.
And Halloween reminds us both of the great events of the Reformation, starting on October 31, sort of, and of the many who have gone before us in faith - parents, relatives, teachers, and friends. Many people think it is too much to pay attention to. For us it is a rehearsal of the faith, and I for one am not willing to let the world around me rob me of our holidays. Hopefully, you are not willing to let the world rob you either.
Yours in the Lord,
Sunday, September 26, 2021
And it came about when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching Him closely. And there, in front of Him was a certain man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" But they kept silent. And He took hold of him, and healed him, and sent him away.
And He said to them, "Which one of you shall have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" And they could make no reply to this.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor; saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both shall come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Sermon for The 17th Sunday after Trinity 09/26/21
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It had to be a difficult way to live. Jesus probably experienced the reality of modern celebrities way back then. People were watching Him, looking for an opportunity to do Him in. They were not merely content to wait, they were baiting the trap, setting up situations where Jesus might do something they thought they could use against Him. They would quiz Him, hoping for a sound-byte that would serve them. In our Gospel, they set a man in front of Him who was sick and just waited for Jesus to do something they could use against Him. Our theme is "Humility".
Not that the adversaries of Jesus had any. They apparently had no shame either. He is invited out to dinner at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, and they set a seriously ill man in front of Him. They knew that Jesus had this proclivity to heal, and I suspect that they wanted to use the Sabbath Law of absolute rest as a weapon against Jesus, if He should heal the man.
Jesus took the question directly to them. He asked them, speaking directly to the head Pharisee and the Bible Experts who stood around him. He said, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" They could not answer – or they chose not to, and since they could not condemn that action in principle, they lost the ability to use it against Jesus in this situation. So, Jesus healed the man. Score one for Jesus.
But He didn't just leave it there. They had put Him to the test, and He returned the favor. He pointed out that what He had done was just common decency and concern, something that every one of them would likely have done, if the situation were just a bit different. And He said to them, "Which one of you shall have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" And they could make no reply to this. He pointed out that even if it were an animal, they would have rescued it. There was no shame, no violation of the Law of God in rescuing one of their fellow-men from evil, even on the Sabbath. Their silence speaks clearly. Jesus was right, and even their test was wrongly conceived.
Their problem was their pride. The word you probably hear used in such circumstances is "Hubris", although it is usually pronounced "Hyoobris." They were the leaders, or so they thought. They were the clever ones and they were to be respected and feared! Their pride showed itself in the way they went about seeking the best places at the dinner.
They lay around the dinner on pillows. The "important people" would have certain places where they would lie, and everyone else sought the good spots, close to the important people, where they would be able to participate or at least hear the conversation. Jesus seizes upon the competition for the best spots and uses it as a parable about pride and humility. The elements of the parable are drawn from the activities around them, but are extreme, to focus on the lesson.
He says to choose the lowest spot - the least desirable place, rather than going for the best spot. If you choose the best spot, and someone more important than you, in the eyes of the host, arrives, you will be humiliated and forced to slink off to the lowest place, the place everybody avoided, and so it is the only one open. Jesus says to choose the least desirable spot. Then the host will see you, and invite you to move up, and you will have honor in the eyes of everyone else.
Practically, does it work that way? I don't know. I suspect sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no. But this is a parable - and everyone can clearly see the principle here. Pride can lead to humiliation. Jesus says, in fact, that before God it always does. Humility avoids the pitfalls of pride - and can bring the delightful moment of what Jesus calls "exalting" when you are asked to move up. Again, in the presence of God, humility is always rewarded.
But this is about the Gospel. Within the Gospel, there is no room for pride. We don't earn or deserve a thing. Earthly position and human effort accomplish nothing, and holding them out as our rationale, our hope, or our sense of entitlement is pointless. Not one of us deserves the invitation to the dinner which is eternal life. If we don't just naturally belong at the dinner, our place at the dinner is also not ours to choose. We may think that we are something, or that we deserve something – but we don't. I think St. Paul was pointing at this very thought in Philippians 3: "If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ."
It doesn't matter who we are. It is of no account what we are able to do, or what good things we have done. Our sense of deserving is wrong, because it always overlooks our sins and measures our worthiness by the wrong standards. In the Gospel, everything is gift. Everything is Christ! He died, not us, even though the sin and the guilt is ours. He gives us undeserving people His life and His eternity and His love. If we presume to claim a place, an honor, an importance even here in our congregation, we claim something that belongs to Jesus, and it is His to bestow as He wishes.
Only true humility can see that and accept that. True humility is to see yourself in the Law, and know that there is no way you can deserve what you so long for – God's favor, and salvation. Our hope is not found in self-assertion, or self-promotion. Our hope is found in humility - that is in repentance. We have to be humble enough to see ourselves as we truly are and confess our sins and seek God's forgiveness. Only when we take that lowest place at the dinner, can our Savior invite us to ‘come on up higher' and give us a place at the table of salvation. Then we truly have honor in the eyes of all, not the honor of someone who thinks he is something, but the honor of being chosen, beloved, truly valued by God Himself, and made a member of the household of God in Baptism, and invited by one no less glorious than Jesus Himself to break bread with Him and eat at His table.
Then, in life, we go where He sends us and do the things He gives us to do. Who we think we are isn't important. What we want or what we think we may deserve for whatever reason is irrelevant. Our very presence at the Supper is the delightful gift of our Lord. Better the lowest seat in the kingdom of heaven than the highest glory in the kingdom of Hell. Our salvation is all about Jesus. He won it, and He gives it. He forgives you all of your sins, and He calls you by name into His family and makes you are sharer in His glory both now and for eternity!
So what if life didn't turn out the way you had dreamed? You have everlasting glory instead. So what if you are bearing a cross you would rather not bear, a cross which you did not anticipate? Jesus already bore the cross on your behalf, and He is giving you something important to do - but important in His eyes, not necessarily in your own.
Humility. It is the state of those who know themselves, both as sinners, and as those who have possession of something that they just have no business having – the grace and favor of God. But they have it because Jesus has seen them and invited them to move on up, and exalted them in the presence of all humanity.
When Jesus teaches the importance of the attitude of humility, He is not engaged in some abstract speculation on ethics. In fact, while He was teaching it, He was already living it out. He humbled Himself to be born human. He humbled Himself to live among sinful men. He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And therefore, by His stripes, we are healed! So, when Jesus is urging humility, He is not just recommending a successful approach to social engagements, He is telling us how we may be like Him, and what it is that shapes the minds and the lives of those who will sit at table with Him at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God in glory.
So, your life is the gift of God, both here and now – and in eternity. It is grace and forgiveness and not deserving or self-chosen glory. But you can only accept that, if you exercise true humility. So, repent, and believe, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (or preferences) In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
The name of the game is "humility".
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity 09/19/21
Jesus Felt Compassion
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This miracle account is full of drama.
Life, in the person of Jesus, confronts death, in the person of the dead son of the widow of Na'in, in a cosmic battle.
Jesus, the Rabbi under the unfriendly observation of the Scribes and the Pharisees, disregards the customs and traditions - yes, even the law - and walks up and touches a dead body - or at least the bier upon which it is being borne, thereby defiling Himself and risking scorn and condemnation.
Jesus, the miracle worker, speaks to the dead man and commands Him to sit up. There is drama upon drama in this short Gospel lesson.
If this were a radio melodrama, this is the point at which the announcer would say, "Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to our story."
But it isn't a radio drama, it is history, an account of Jesus coming upon the procession of grievously sad funeral. The drama is real.
Death confronts life, and life, death, and life come out the victor!
Jesus touches the funeral bier and instead of being defiled by the touch of death, the whole thing is cleansed by His touch and His Word and life takes possession of the funeral, and joy simply drives away the sorrow.
Jesus commands the dead to get up, and the young man springs to life, and rises from the bier, and speaks - and Jesus presents Him alive again, to His suddenly frightened and delighted mother.
And everyone starts babbling about God and His work among his people and about the healing and resurrection of this one young man.
And it all happened because Jesus felt compassion for the grieving mother. And that is our theme, Jesus Felt Compassion.
The story itself is amazing, and you could get lost in the details, and forget the over-arching message. Here was a woman who had already lost her husband. Her son was her only support. Now, suddenly, he is gone as well. I know that it is suddenly, because they buried their dead on the same day they died, in Israel, unless they died quite late in the day – and then they would be buried on the next morning. This woman was devastated. He only child was dead. The true depth of her sorrow, and the troubles that it was bringing to her could be measured in the crowd of mourners - "a sizeable crowd was with her", according to Luke.
Now, I am informed that in that culture you were obligated to join the funeral procession, if you were aware of it. It was an affront to the Creator for anyone to ignore it, and pretend that it did not touch them - because death will finally touch everyone, and death is part of life, and we ought always to recognize and honor life, even - perhaps especially - when it has been extinguished.
Jesus is approaching Na'in from Capernaum with a large crowd following Him. This miracle was no small, private affair. It was well witnessed and well-attested to. When Jesus surveys the scene, he felt compassion. I am sure that the meeting appeared to be pure chance - and I am certain that God timed all things that this meeting would happen just as it did. And it happened not just to show us the power of Jesus, or that He could do it, but to show us the compassion of Jesus.
He could have ignored it - or joined in with the crowd to wail and mourn at the visitation of death and all the attendant sorrows and troubles it brings. After all, death was nothing unusual even back then. In fact, death was more common, and less postpone-able then than it is now. And when somebody died, they were taken home and cleaned up and wrapped up and buried that same day - there was no mortuary and no dressing the body up and putting on make-up so that the dead appeared merely to be sleeping. But Jesus did not ignore it, this time. He did not play along. Perhaps it reminded Him of His own coming death, and His mother's approaching sorrow. Whatever the cause at the moment, Jesus felt compassion.
So He healed the man, that is, He raised him from death and caused him to be alive again, and gave him back to his mother, to the joy and wonder and fear of everyone there. Life conquered death. Jesus spoke to the dead man as if he were merely asleep, and the man heard Him and awakened from death itself. Of course, he had to die again, one day, but that is another story for another day, and it is one that the Bible does not take time to tell us. What is striking - aside from raising the dead, of course, is the compassion of Jesus. Although it happened - this raising the dead thing happened only occasionally in the ministry of Jesus, He has that same compassion towards us all.
"He died for all", the Bible tells us, and "God so loved the world" - not just certain persons in it - "that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." That was His compassion. He saw our need in sin and He healed us, raising us from the dead, so to speak, since we would have died eternal death in hell without Him. But, through His Word, He has called us to life eternal and made us heirs of glory with Him.
Our Gospel lesson this morning doesn't just say Jesus has the power to raise us from the grave - although it does make that point powerfully - it says the Jesus has compassion. It teaches us about the caring of our Lord - something we often forget to think about because life has rough edges and sharp corners and we have to deal with pain, and tragedy, and terrorism, and hurricanes, and what all. But God would, by the words of our Gospel lesson, show us the compassion which moves Him, so that, in the words of our Epistle Lesson today, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."
The Greek word in our Gospel for "felt compassion" means "moved in his guts" or "felt it in his viscera". It means that it is not some abstract, academic notion, but the same sort of compassion you feel when you turn on the news and watch children wading through a flood, or see a pile of lumber in some town somewhere and realize that before the tornado or whatever that it was a store, or someone's home. Jesus knows how we feel. He understands the hurts and the fears. He doesn't fear the way we do, never did, because He was never without hope - and He had the certainty of the good will of God for us, and for Himself. But He knows - and He understands fear and pain from a very personal standpoint. He can feel it right along with us - that is what compassion means; to feel along with.
In all of our troubles, He is there. He knows our pain and He is watching over us. He takes no pleasure in our pains and suffering - which is why He died for us, to spare us the greatest suffering of all. Remember, He was under no obligation to stop and care for the pains of this widow woman. Surely there were thousands of other opportunities to do just the same in the lives of others, where He did not. But for this one Jesus felt compassion, and He acted to assuage her pain and meet her needs.
We know that we stand in a special relationship with Him, by virtue of our Baptism, and His choosing of us to be His children. That choice comes with certain troubles connected to it, guaranteed. But it also comes with His compassion guaranteed. Those troubles come because the world hates Christ, and we show the world Christ shining through us in His Word and in His worship and in His working through us. In these troubles, we have the promise of God that He is with us every step of the way to strengthen us and that we shall not have to bear more than we are able to endure.
He also gives us His Word and the fellowship of the saints, and the powerful gift of the Holy Supper to help us and strengthen us and encourage us. When we partake of the Holy Supper, we receive Christ's true body and blood, and with that forgiveness and strengthening and His presence in us and with us to make us equal to the work which He gives us to do, and the cross which He calls us to carry in His name.
That doesn't mean that pain will not hurt, or that we will not be genuinely challenged by the cross which we must bear. It would not be a cross if it did not bring pain and hardship. But Jesus feels compassion. He will not give us more than we can endure - and everything we must endure is stamped with His purpose. We may not see the purpose, or the increase that results from our cross and our work. We are never promised that we will understand it all, or finally see how what we did and what we endured worked out His holy will. We are only promised that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Our work is faithfulness. What we do and how it accomplishes the will of God is His work.
But in the hour of trouble, or pain, or sorrow, we can find great comfort in knowing that Jesus feels compassion for us just as He felt compassion for that woman in her sorrow and deep need, so long ago. He acted, miraculously, to help her and comfort her – and He will act on our behalf and for our comfort and blessing as well. He has acted, in redeeming us, and He continues to act through Word and Sacrament for our comfort and strengthening. And He will act in our lives and in our needs - by means of our brothers and sisters in the faith, and by means we may not imagine, and many not recognize as His acting until much later.
But be of good cheer. In every situation, we may trust that our God knows and is working our good and blessing - we see an example of it in our Gospel, where Jesus felt compassion.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, September 12, 2021
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?
"And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you."
"Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Sermon for Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity 09/12/21
Do Not Be Anxious
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There are times when preaching this text is simple and safe. Life is good, and everyone is happy and telling people not to be anxious or worried about life is a comfortable thing. This is not one of those times. We have just witnessed another hurricane devastate Louisiana and flood New York City. Our nation has just surrendered to an army of terrorists in Afghanistan, equipping them with 86 billion dollars worth of state-of-the-art military equipment. We still face a pandemic funded by our own government and unleashed as an act of war by our major global adversary, and our national economy stinks.
The long-term effects of these events are still unimaginable. We have seen a jump in gasoline prices. Long term it looks even more expensive. In short, the aftermath of all of these things could be devastating for the whole country. It is in the face of these conditions that the Word of God speaks to us today and tells us, in the words of our Lord, Do Not Be Anxious.
It is a matter of faith. Our Lord reminds us in our Gospel of the familiar facts that God feeds the birds, and He clothes the fields in beautiful flowers. Neither one of them labors for what they get. The flowers of the field simply grow there. They are, nonetheless, beautiful. The birds do not sow or reap or store up grain, and yet God feeds them. In the same way, we may depend upon God. He knows what we need, and He will provide. But to get there, and find comfort in these circumstances will take faith.
O.K. So there are a lot of birds dead in the face of our recent drought. God knows we all have need of food and clothing and shelter, and yet all of those things are in short supply in Afghanistan, for example, today. It is tempting to look at the human needs of our nation and those we left behind and say, "how do such things square with the text?" "Where is the supply of which Jesus was speaking?"
Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. To be honest, we are not witnessing a lot of seeking of God or His righteousness in the midst of the world events recently. But that isn't the answer - at least not the whole answer. Part of the answer is in the fact that whether we experience every moment as richly supplied or not, we experience it. God has preserved us. We currently do not have to deal with the deprivations of a war-torn region. We see it, and we can respond to it - we should respond to it somehow. But it is not our suffering, and so God has been true to His promises and provided us with all that we need, even if it is not all that we want.
He has also preserved those who have survived there. They might have preferred to have survived in comfort, and have their worldly possessions preserved - but, as in the book of Job, when we start judging God on the basis of how we respond to how He is blessing us, we are trying to suggest that we could do a better job of being God than He does. Of course, that is silly - and blasphemous - on its face.
Besides, we want to remember what Jesus actually said. He did not promise that we would always have everything we desire just the way we want it. He said that God knows where we are and who we are and what it is that we need and that all of our fretting and worrying cannot make it better. Jesus asked, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?" While I am not certain how much 18 inches - a cubit - of life adds to your span of life, when measured in years, the point is that our worry doesn't empower us to change the immediate circumstances of our lives any more than the clear frustration of the victims of the Kabul mess has made them able to make safety and peace appear out of nowhere. Someone has to bring it into circumstances like theirs, and when they do, that someone was sent by God - whether they realize it or not.
And of course, some of them will die for lack of water, or food, or shelter, or because of Covid. If they die, it is because God has appointed that moment for their death - and death would have found them in Minnesota, fishing on a clear and cool lake - if it was their time - just as certainly as it found them struggling in the midst of the wreckage of Afghanistan or facing the pandemic. God will take care of each of us while we are here, and summon us out of this world when our time is done. It is precisely at that moment that the kingdom of God and His righteousness will become of paramount importance for us.
The promise of our Gospel is that when we have sought the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things - the stuff of life - will be added unto us. Now Jesus knows that we cannot search for God or choose to believe - so He is telling us to pay attention to the most important stuff, and trust God to handle the rest. As the beloved children of God, can we imagine that God will short us on the necessities? I would say no - and looking about the room, I see that all of us have had all that we have needed for life up to today - and many of us have enjoyed a whole lot more than simply what we needed.
We are the chosen of God. He has set His love upon us. He has loved us with the greatest love: a greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for His friends. Jesus laid down His life for us on the cross, to redeem us from sin and death and hell. Because of Jesus your sins are forgiven, and when your body dies, that is not the end, nor is it the worst moment - but merely the beginning of the better and more lasting life with Christ in glory. He has promised that you will even get your bodies back, refreshed, renewed, and repaired; better than when you laid it down. He has taken care of you here, and has planned and executed your rescue and redemption for the hereafter.
While we live in this world, we live as God's favorite people - favored with His love and under His watchful care. Nothing can happen without God's care for you. All of your needs will be met, and many of your desires, right up to the time appointed for your home-going. At that moment, it may appear to the world around you that your needs have failed to be met. It might seem that you lack the needs of the moment. But the truth is that your greatest need will have been fulfilled: life beyond the grave, a life that has no ending or sorrow, or sickness - only fullness of joy and glory with Jesus Christ.
Between this day and that, you can trust God. You don't have to worry about what you shall eat or what you shall drink or what you shall put on. Your heavenly Father knows that you have needs of these things. Everyone is looking for them. The ungodly in Kabul, by the kindness of God, are searching for food and water and shelter. The chosen people of God who have survived the pandemic this far are searching for them. God knows – and He will provide. He says so – and by faith, we may trust Him and depend on Him and not worry.
So, do not be anxious. Just look around you. Breathe in and out. Take note. You are alive. You have food enough for the moment. You have plenty of air to breathe. The needs of this moment are taken care of, and the reason that they are taken care of is the goodness and kindness of God.
Tomorrow may present new needs, but that is tomorrow. Jesus says that the troubles of today are enough for today. We take it one day at a time. You cannot fix tomorrow until you get there. I imagine that many of those who lived in Kabul thought that they had next week pretty well in hand until events changed their situation forever. You cannot do tomorrow today, nor can you fix yesterday tomorrow. You have one day, today, and a loving heavenly Father who will take care of you. So, do not be anxious. Live in today's blessings today, and have a little faith in God. He loves you with a proven love - and He has promised to add all the rest that you need - now that He has clothed you in His righteousness and marked you as one of His chosen and beloved children.
Do Not Be Anxious.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, September 05, 2021
And it came about while He was on the way to Jerusalem, that He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a certain village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" And when He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And it came about that as they were going, they were cleansed.
Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine – where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well."
Sermon for Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity 09/05/21
Your Faith Has Saved You
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In many ways, this Gospel lesson is the quintessential lesson for the Church. Jesus does great things, and says some pretty important stuff in the course of this lesson. There are several lessons neatly coiled up in this pericope, and any one of them could fill a sermon. There is the lesson about doing what the Lord gives us to do. There is the lesson about the power of Jesus, and His willingness to heal. I have heard many sermons, and preached a few myself, on the lesson about thanksgiving in this account, and then there is the lesson I have chosen for the theme – the lesson about how faith saves. I will try to touch on each of these lessons, this morning, but our main theme is, Your Faith Has Saved You.
Jesus is traveling. He seems to have done a lot of that. His ministry was called a "peripatetic" ministry, which means He did it while walking around. He is traveling to Jerusalem, but He is passing between Samaria and Galilee - a Gentile area and the most Gentile area of Israel in the time of Jesus. In other words, He is traveling among a mixture of Jews and Gentiles and not among the most orthodox practitioners of Judaism. It is in this mix that He comes upon a mixed group of lepers, as He approaches an unidentified village. It was unusual for Jews and Gentiles to mix, although this was the most likely area for that to happen, and Lepers were, generally, outcasts, and so what difference would it make to them whether the next leper was a ‘pure Jew' or an ‘unclean Gentile'? They were all unclean and all outcasts.
They approached Jesus at a distance. I imagine that they stood between Him and the city gates, making it possible to speak to Jesus without His simply entering the city and locking their cries for mercy outside - not that Jesus would do that, but how were they to know for sure? Anyhow, they cried out loudly. They said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
The word "Master" is interesting, because it means ‘commander' or ‘chief', you know, someone with the authority to give orders. It wasn't, strictly speaking, a religious title. They simply recognized Jesus as having authority. Then they cried out for mercy. That is the cry of sinful man to God. It means exactly the same thing in our liturgy when we sing, "Lord, have mercy upon us." They were in trouble, and they needed help, and they cried out in their desperation to Jesus for relief. The only difference between them and us is that they were confronted by their leprosy with the urgency of their need. We often can pretend that we are quite alright.
The first lesson: Jesus did not say anything about mercy - He just told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Jesus gave them something to do that did not necessarily make a lot of sense at the moment, and He did not promise - or even speak of - healing. The best we can do with the words of Jesus is note that the first step for one who has recovered from or has been healed of leprosy, according to the Law of Moses, was to show themselves to the priests for examination. We must presume that their healing depended on their doing what Jesus told them to do, and yet He didn't say so, or indicate that the going would cleanse them.
Jesus often places us in circumstances where we know what we should do, but other ways and other things may be more inviting. Jesus is looking for faithfulness - and faith always does what is faithful and not what is appealing or holds forth the presumed promise of greater effect. The first lesson tells us that we are to do what Jesus gives us to do, and not whatever else may appeal to us. Sometimes, that is very hard.
The second lesson is about the will of Jesus to heal, and the power of Jesus to heal. The lepers had faith of the sort that said that Jesus could heal, and that Jesus was the sort who would, so they obeyed His command. We should also act on the basis of the trust that Jesus has a good will toward us, and that He can do what we need done, whatever that may be. That would mean that we should not despair of God's mercy or believe that just because things haven't gone the way we want them to so far, that God isn't aware of our plight, or interested in helping us. In other words, trust God – trust His goodness, trust His good will toward you, and trust that He can make the difference you need. Even when things don't seem so good, this Gospel would encourage us to live each moment in cheerful dependence on God and His good will toward us.
The third lesson is the thanksgiving lesson. There were ten lepers. All ten were cleansed as they went on their way. Only one turned back to give glory to God and thanks to Jesus. Strangely, that one was a Samaritan, the hated Gentile. We could look at the proportion: one out of ten. Is that a realistic proportion? Some days we might want to say yes, and other days we might be uncertain. The point is that thanksgiving is far more rare than no thanksgiving.
But then we can note especially that those who were Jews, the ones who should have known better, whose religious upbringing should have prepared them, were not grateful, but the Gentile - the outsider was. I have seen that too. I had two weddings on one specific day. It turned out to be among the hottest days of the summer. The wedding party of the church members who were getting married were drunk and disorderly and showed no reverence for the place they were to sanctify their nuptials. The unbelievers who had come to be married - and had gone through pre-marital counseling and weeks of training in the fundamentals of the Christian faith just so that they could use the church for their wedding were humble, and pious, and treated our church with reverence and awe and gratitude. This lesson could be about how familiarity breeds contempt and how those who should treasure the riches of their faith and heritage often take them for granted and forget all about thanksgiving. This, then, would be a cautionary tale for us.
We are certainly encouraged by this event in the ministry of Jesus to remember thanksgiving. We daily receive wonders and blessings from God, and all too often take them for granted, and forget to give thanks. Of course, there is nothing saying that the others were not thankful - they just did not turn back and give Jesus the thanks and praise. They were busy doing what Jesus told them to do. Perhaps they were just more focused on getting what they came for than anything else. The one man, the Samaritan, was so overwhelmed by the wonder of the gift, that he couldn't help himself. He had to go back and give thanks and praise to God. The others were more of a mind to expect a blessing, and to take it for granted. I mean, what took God so long!? Now that they had it, they were not going to miss a beat and mess it up. Just the Gentile was dumb enough to turn back. The nine had, at the heart of it, a shortage of thanksgiving, and perhaps a sense of entitlement, as the Chosen People.
Do we have that attitude as Lutherans? Life-long Lutherans often forget what is so good about being a Lutheran, something those who come in from outside rarely forget. Some people come to church out of a sense of duty rather than out of the delight in the goodness of the Lord. Some of us are the nine, perhaps, doing what we oughta, and some of us have come to give thanks and praise for the abundance of blessings that Jesus has given to each of us. And some weeks we may fit the nine and other weeks we may truly be the one. Kinda spooky, isn't it?
It is when you recognize yourself - and you are not the Samaritan overcome with thanksgiving and praise - that the Gospel is so sweet. Jesus died on the cross, innocent of any sin of His own, so that He could take your punishment and meet the wrath of God that you have earned and deserved, so that He could cleanse you of your leprosy - sin. Your sins are hatreds and evil deeds, unbecoming thoughts and desires, and wicked words. Your sins include not just bad things you have done, and so disappointed yourself, but also the decent things you did for selfish reasons, and without a thought for Jesus and His sacrifice for you. Your sins even include forgetting - or merely and wickedly neglecting - to give thanks when and where it is merited - and in this life of sin, every good thing and every blessing merits our heartfelt thanks.
Like those lepers, Jesus has commanded us to go and show ourselves as cleansed. He announced our forgiveness from the cross when He cried out "It is finished!" He has sent His servants to remind us with the preaching of the Word and the Holy Absolution that we have been redeemed by Christ the Crucified. He has washed us in Baptism, and fed us with His body and blood in the Holy Supper. It doesn't necessarily make us feel any different. This forgiveness, life, and salvation doesn't impose on us a specific code of conduct, although there are always those ‘out there' who want to tell us that it does - that we must walk the Christian walk in order to be saved. But Jesus set us free from our behavior by His own. We are redeemed and forgiven and set free from the Law into the glorious liberty of the grace of God.
And like the one leper, the one we would hope to emulate, Jesus says to us each time we leave the altar after the Supper, or the assembly of the holy people of God after Matins service, "Rise, and go your way; your faith has saved you." We receive all the good that we get from God by grace through faith. Your faith, not your church attendance, or your good works, or your good thoughts, but your faith has saved you.
I know that the text of your Bibles probably says, "Your faith has made you well", but the original words of Jesus mean literally, "Your faith has saved you." It is interesting to note that Jesus uses the word "cleanse" and the word "heal" in this Gospel lesson - but what He said to the Samaritan who had been cleansed was "Your faith has saved you." The other nine merely received the healing. This tenth man received something more, for He believed something more, and acted out His faith -which demonstrated it. He recognized Jesus for who He is, and when he returned, he was giving thanks and praise to God in the person of Jesus. He believed more than just the healing - in fact, the healing was his whether he came back to Jesus or not - but the salvation he got – he got by grace through faith, just like we do.
Lesson four in this Gospel is the lesson of salvation - Your faith has saved you. Such faith should lead us to lives of holiness. It should drive us to heartfelt thanksgiving. It should lead us to trust Jesus for more than just heaven - and so guide us to do what Jesus has laid before us to do, even when doing it does not present us with immediate advantage for ourselves. But regardless of what it should do (and all of the things we earnestly desire for ourselves that our faith will accomplish in us), what it actually does is receive the wonders of forgiveness and life which Jesus has won for us and pours out on us through Word and Sacrament. Your faith has saved you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)