How Long Will I Put Up With You? (Proper 27)

Faith

How Long Will I Put Up With You?


Satan works slowly. Years ago, In World War II, the Nazis trained men to be torturers. But how they did this was fascinating. If they wanted a guy to be a torturer, the first step was to just put the guy in the same building as the torturing. The next step was to have him sit outside the room where the torturing happened. The third step was to have him hand the tools to the torturer. The final step was to have him actually do the torturing. There are more happy ways to begin a sermon—I admit. But I hope my point is clear. Satan often works slowly. But not always. Sometimes he works fast and forcefully. Sometimes he uses the shock and awe approach. And in these words he uses the second tactic. With sudden shock he tries to dominate this world and everyone on it. And so, in Mark 9 we read: 14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran to greet him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?” 17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”” (Mark 9:14–18 CSB17)


Notice the force that Satan uses here. Mark isn’t the gospel writer to throw down one paragraph after another of details. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels. But notice here he gives one detail after another of how forcefully and horribly Satan treated this man’s son with demons. The demon seizes him.1 It throws him down.2 It makes the boy foam at the mouth.3 It makes him grind his teeth.4 Finally then, it makes him paralyzed like a dry weed.5 Mark throws down all of these details to show us the force that Satan has and uses to intimidate people.


It was true then. It is true now. But, for us it’s perhaps and even sadder story. This man saw his son tormented by this demon for years. Today Satan often comes to us with weaker force, and we are tempted to give in. It happens in the science classroom when the teacher goes out of his way to find the kids who believe that God created the universe in 6, 24 hour days. And if the children do not give in and agree to what the teacher preaches about macro-evolution, then there is punishment. It happens at work when the boss or even co-workers say, “Do this or else you will lose your job.” Sad to say, it can even happen at Seminaries across our land. There’s a man I met who was going to a Seminary that held the name, “Lutheran”, but long ago abandoned what the bible taught. And he said that his advisor at the Seminary told him that if he held to saying that the bible was all true, then they would not let him graduate from that Seminary.


This is how Satan deals with us. Yes, he can give us the slow-boil treatment, slowly wearing us down. But, from these words, realize that he can also come at us with blunt force. How then does this father deal with the force that Satan uses? 19 He replied to them, “You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked his father. “From childhood,” he said. 22 “And many times it has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:19–24 CSB17)


Notice that what followed Satan’s blunt force, was this man’s fear. And what flowed from this man’s fear was truly sinful and horrible. He spoke the word, “if” to Jesus. He said, “if you are able.” Jesus gets angry and speaks some very blunt words to him: ““‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”” (Mark 9:23 CSB17) Notice what this man’s fear had done to him. Just as Satan paralyzed the boy, this man’s fear paralyzed himself—even to the point that he would blame God for his own doubt. We don’t get to do that, do we? We don’t get to blame God for our own weak faith, do we? But it shows how Satan works. If we are strong in an area, all he does is shifts his attack to another area. If we are not afraid of what can happen to us, Satan makes us fear what can happen to us in the next life. If we are content about what will happen to us when we die, he plagues us with fears about this life. If we are content that God will take care of us when it comes to our role at work, then what does he do? He comes at us and after us, making us fear what happens at home while we are gone. And if we were strong and had an unfailing and unfaltering faith in all these areas today, all Satan would do is just wait till tomorrow comes. And so the father finally cries out in desperation the words of a true believer. He says: ““I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:24 CSB17) Each of us has a new person in us and an old person as a Christian. We believe in Jesus even though there are times we will not act like it.


Can you see now why Jesus with such sadness and sighing asks those two questions: How long will I be with you; How long will I put up with you? And he says that question not just to the father of that boy. He says those words to us today. How long will I put up with you? For there are times our trust in Jesus breaks with far less pressure than was put on this man. How long? In these final words, look at how Jesus answers that question: 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 Then it came out, shrieking and throwing him into terrible convulsions. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.” (Mark 9:25–27 CSB17)


Jesus asks the question. And the logical, common sense reaction Jesus should have had was to just walk away. They were acting like unbelievers. But Jesus doesn’t walk away. Instead he stays and heals the boy. And the reason he stays is that Jesus stays as long as Satan’s force is disarmed. Every now and then I watch old country western movies. And the old gun-slinger is fearful and terrifying as long as has enough ammo. But what happens when that fifth and final bullet leaves the chamber? Nobody’s afraid of the man anymore because he’s now a target, not a terror. The same is true with Satan. Jesus was aware of Satan’s power. But Jesus never gave into fear. And especially, he never gave into fear in the very specific way that this father and we are tempted to: we give into fear, doubt, and then blame God for it. No, Jesus always trusted in his Father’s promises.
But even more than that, Jesus died for our sins. Jesus died for the times we doubted when we knew better—and even those times when we might have blamed God for our doubting.


How long? That’s the question Jesus asks. How long will Jesus put up with us? The first answer is: as long as Satan is disarmed. But there is a second answer: as long as we cry out to Jesus in faith. My dear friends, look at this man. He flat-out says that he has unbelief. But then what does he do? He cries out to Jesus in faith. Learn from this man. When there are those times we are tested and tempted by Satan’s blunt force, cry out to Jesus for strength. But should our strength fail, and we give in to fear, even more so, cry out to Jesus. For just as he forgave this man, he will do so with you. And just as he strengthened this man’s faith, so he will do with you.


How long will I put up with you? As long as Satan’s force is disarmed. And as long as we cry out to him in faith. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲧⲁⲗⲁⲃⲏ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

2 ⲣⲏⲥⲥⲉⲓ

3 ⲁⲫⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓ

4 “ⲧⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓⲧⲟⲩⲥⲟⲇⲟⲛⲧⲁⲥ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

5 “ⲝⲏⲣⲉⲛⲉⲧⲁⲓ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 26—All Saints

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

Hold Onto The First Resurrection


Stand back a little. If ever you go to New York, it would be good to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, if you look in the right place, you’ll find the impressionist art collection. And there you’ll see the paintings of Degas, Renoir and others. And what is amazing about their paintings is that, when you see them you’ll realize they aren’t made with brush strokes. No, instead, every face and every flower is made with little tiny dots. That’s impressive. In fact, it’s so impressive you can get pulled in to looking at the dots. But the problem with this is that when you look so close that all you see is dots you miss the picture and the point the painter was making. Reading this last book of Revelation is much like that. By God’s Holy Spirit, John speaks in beautiful word pictures. But the key to understanding these words is by keeping these words in context. So, in Revelation 20, we read: 1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1–3 NIV11-GKE)


The Holy Spirit gives John a vision. And what does he see? He sees and angel chaining Satan for a thousand years. Now, notice how John speaks. First he says that there’s this angel who chains a dragon. Then John goes out of his way to tell us that he’s speaking figuratively. This is not a literal dragon with scales and wings. No, John tells us that this angel is Satan. John goes out of his way to tell us that he is speaking figuratively, painting word pictures to fill our imaginations. This is important to know because right after he says that there is this angel that ties and binds Satan we learn that the time-frame for Satan’s imprisonment is 1000 years. This is not a literal 1000 years. In Revelation 10 is the number for completeness. 10 x 10 x 10 then is super-duper completeness. What is this complete amount of time? It is the New Testament Age. It spans from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus return on Judgment Day.


I mention this because, if you look at these words like me looking at that painting too close you see dots, but not the meaning in context. There are many who get this wrong today. There are many who conclude that these words are speaking about Jesus coming down to earth and ruling here for a thousand years. But the words here are speaking are a word picture, speaking about the complete amount of time that Satan is tied up and tied down, under Jesus’ complete control.


But the other reason I mention this is what Jesus mentions at the end of verse three: 4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)” (Revelation 20:4–5 NIV11-GKE)


At first John sees and angel chaining Satan. Next John sees souls sitting on thrones. Now here I’m going to do what I have never done before. I would like you to go home today and where is says, “Came to life”, instead, write the word, “lived.”1 You see, the point God is making here is not that Jesus is going to come down to earth and reign here and along with him disembodied souls are going to rise up like zombies in a bad Halloween movie. No, instead, John sees souls living and reigning with Jesus in heaven for 1000 years. And remember what that 1000 years is: the entire New Testament age.


What the Holy Spirit wants us to see in these words is the loved ones we had in this life who knew Jesus and died trusting in him. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that their faith was not in vain. For they live with Jesus in heaven. And even more than that, they rule with him in heaven. They are safe from all of this world’s harm and Satan’s lies.


These words are worthy especially on this day of thinking about and pondering. But as we do so we see that we face two real temptations in lives as Christians. First, There is the temptation to obsess over what we can see. Satan wants us to go to hell. And one of the ways he does this is by taking the good gifts that God gives to us and then make them into idols. You drive through the country side and you think to yourself, “it’d be nice to have a home on the lake.” The challenge and temptation though is that Satan wants us to absorb ourselves in that home on the lake so much that we forget that, at any moment, that home and the lake could go up in flames on Judgment Day. We could say the same about our bodies. God wants us to care for them. But if we spend so much time counting lbs and calories that we forget that, at any moment, like these souls that John sees, we could have our souls ripped from our bodies in death, then we are sinning by losing sight of our heavenly goal.


But the same is true on the opposite side. Just as there is the temptation to obsess over what we can see, there is the temptation to obsess over what we cannot. This happens when we lose a loved one through death. That person was a part of our life. They worshipped with us, maybe even here in our church. But then what happened? They died and they are now with the Lord. And when that happens, it can be ever so tempting to ask the question, “Why am I still here?” And if that is given room in your heart you can easily end up saying “there’s no point in me living anymore.” And so, one temptation is idolatry. but this temptation is despair. Since our loved one is not with us anymore we want to give up running our race here with perseverance.


And so, Satan that ancient dragon really exists. And he really tempts us to sin. What is the solution to this ancient enemy? In our closing words, we read: 5 This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5–6 NIV11-GKE)


If Satan is so good at tempting us either to idolatry or to despair, then who can stand up to him? Not you. Not me. No, instead, the one who stood up to him is Jesus. Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, but never gave into Satan’s lies. And Jesus paid for our sins of idolatry and despair on the cross. But he did still more. He gave us the promise that if you have the first resurrection then you will have the second too. What is he talking about? The first resurrection is unbelief.2 God raised you from the dead in those waters of baptism and gave you the gift of faith. And if you have this gift of faith (and you do), then the second death (physical death) will have no hold on you when you die.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, you have this first resurrection, faith in Christ. Now what should you do with it? Hold onto it. Read your bibles. Come to bible study here after our worship time. Grow in your faith. And as you do this the most wondrous change will happen. When you’re doing those sit-ups at the gym or you’re taking the dock out of the lake you can appreciate the gifts God has given you now, but yearn—yearn for the better life God has waiting for you—a life where you will see those who have gone before you in to heaven. And even more, you will see Jesus face to face. Hold onto the first resurrection. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲍⲏⲥⲁⲛ” (Revelation 20:4 GNT-ALEX)

2 cf. Ephesians 2

Proper 24

10 Commandments

What If You Tested The Teacher?


Let’s test the teacher. Years ago, when I was at Martin Luther College, we had to learn our languages by memorizing them. And let’s face it, it’s not easy to make memorization fun. Sometimes memorization is just plain hard work. Our greek professor told us that the key to making it easier was to memorize all the time. He told us, “I should be able to call you on the phone at 2 AM and ask you what the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ are, and yo u should be able to rattle them off without thinking and then go back to sleep.” Well one night, one of my classmates had an idea. He thought to himself: let’s test the teacher. So he waited till ab0ut 2 or 3 in the morning on a Friday night and then called our Greek professor on the phone. The professor answered. And the student said, “Give me the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ, now!” The professor laughed and, from memory, rattled off the proper answer. Then he said, “Peter, I will find you and get you back.” (His name wasn’t Peter.) There are those times we wonder, what if I tested the teacher. That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. These words are spoken on Holy Week. Jesus has just been tested by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. And he told them, “Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s.” He is tested by the Sadducees letting them know that marriage is for this life and our resurrections are in the next life. And there’s this expert in the law who sees all of this and is amazed. And he is so amazed that he can’t help himself from testing Jesus. And so, in Mark 12, we read: 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”” (Mark 12:28–33 NIV11-GKE)


After all the testing and trapping is done, a man, an expert in God’s word steps forward. And he asks him the simple, but extremely important question, “out of all the commandments, which one is the first, the most important?” And notice what happens. When a teacher tests the Teacher, The teacher, Jesus, answers his question. The heart and soul; the height and depth of the commandments is love—for your neighbor beside you, for you Lord above you. And the man essentially repeats what Jesus said. He tells Jesus that loving your neighbor and your God is better than piling up sacrifices to the Lord.


This man was amazing. Because as he studied and studied God’s word he avoided the traps that others fell into. He avoided the trap that says that God doesn’t care about the commandments. That’s the trap the Sadducees fell into. That’s the view of the commandments that God is nice, and God is good. So then we can do as much bad as we want. He avoided that trap. He avoided the trap of carelessness with the commandments. He also avoided the trap of being coerced by the commandments. This is the trap that says, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it. And as soon as you’re gone, I’ll stop doing it.” He avoided the trap of carelessness and the trap of coercion. And finally, he avoided the trap of being consumed by the commandments. This is the view of the commandments that says, “You say, ‘jump’, I say, ‘how high?’” There’s a reason our church body has been against the Boy Scouts for more than 50 years now. The first reason is that it blobs all religions and all denominations into the same category and says they all go to heaven. But the second reason is found here. They teach about the commandments in such a way that a person is consumed with them. They teach a boy to be kind and nice to his neighbor not because that person is a person, but instead, as a tool to please God and earn their way into heaven.


This man avoided all these traps. He avoided carelessness with the commandments, being coerced by them and also being consumed by them. And, after all of his continual studying, what he found was that the heart of the commandments was love—first for God, then for the neighbor. And you have to look at him and realize how alone he was. He got it. He understood that the heart of the commandments was love. But, on the one side, he had the Sadducees who didn’t care about the commandments. And on the other side, he had the Pharisees, who were consumed by them. And then he heard Jesus speak the beautiful truth that the heart of the commandments was love. Oh how refreshing and amazing it was to hear this from Jesus. So he had to test Jesus. And how thankful he must have been to have Jesus answer his question. But, my friends in Christ, Jesus didn’t stop here. He didn’t just answer the question. He also then, right after that, questioned this man’s answer. We read: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34 NIV11-GKE)


There’s the old saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” There is a difference between being “close” to the kingdom of God and actually being “in” the kingdom. This expert avoided so many traps. And yet he fell into a trap that was just as bad as all the others. Yes, it’s true that the heart and soul of the commandments is love. But he never stopped to ask another important question: Can I actually keep these commandments? You see, the problem isn’t with the commandments. The problem is with us. WE cannot keep them. And so this man might have been expecting a pat on the back, a “Well done” comment from Jesus. But instead, he let the expert know that he still was not in the kingdom of God.


So what if you tested the teacher…what would happen? The teacher would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. But finally, he would give the only answer to the real question. Love is what God commands and demands in the commandments. And Jesus is the only one who not just knew what the heart and soul of the commandments was but actually did it. Jesus was not careless with the commandments. He kept them. Jesus was not coerced to do the commandments. He did them freely. Jesus was not consumed by the commandments, making his fellow humans tools to please his Father in heaven. No, he actually, really and truly loved those around him. And the hugest example of this is what happened only a few days after the expert in the law tested the teacher. Jesus died. He died to pay for all bad traps we fall into today and they did in Jesus’ day. He loved perfectly both us and his Father in our place.


And with that fact we know our sins are forgiven—even all the lies and traps we tell ourselves about the commandments. But he does so much more than that. The perfect and complete love that he had for his Father and his fellow humans he gives to us. Through his word he created faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith he gave us another, new nature to wage war against the old one. And this new nature is actually able to love without carelessness and without being coerced and without being consumed by the law, making people into tools. In short, what John says elsewhere is so very true: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)


So what if…? What if you tested the teacher? What would he do? He would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. Finally, he would give you the real answer to the real question. Amen.


Proper 23

Faith

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?


What do you want? There once was a teacher who had a classroom. And she cared. She cared about the topic she was teaching. She cared about her students. But, early on in the class, there was a student that whenever she would say something, he would lean over talk to the person beside him. Hour after hour, week after week this would happen. While she was teaching, he was talking. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore. And she told the young man, What do you want? He looked up at her and said, “I want to hear what you’re saying. And with this loud heating vent right beside me I can’t hear anything.” Very quickly she realized that he was not speaking out of disrespect, but instead, just the opposite, a hunger to learn and pay attention. This morning we meet a man who is talking. And he’s talking at the very same time Jesus is teaching. In Mark 10, we read: 46 They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Mark 10:46–47 CSB17)


This morning, in your brains, walk with Jesus. There you are walking with Jesus and what is he doing? He is teaching and teaching and teaching. And then, off in the distance, what happens? There’s this guy on the side of the road who keeps crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” If you were the teacher, how long would you put up with this? There that guy is, shouting those words, and he won’t shut up. Well, since Jesus didn’t tell the man to shut up, the people took the matter into their own hands. We read: “Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”” (Mark 10:48 CSB17)


He is told to shut up by many people, but instead of shutting up, he shouts the same words over and over again. So what happens next? 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” 50 He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:49–51 CSB17)


Jesus is still a little ways away. So he tells those who are near the man to summon him over. Here too, this is something to picture. Picture the blind man stand up, throw off his outer cloak and stumble toward Jesus. And when he gets close to Jesus, Jesus asks him that question, ““What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17) Now, my dear friends in Christ, we might ask the question, ‘why did Jesus ask such a foolish question?’ The guy has been sitting there shouting for a long time what he wanted. Everybody knows what the blind man wants. But you’re forgetting one simple fact: this man cannot see. Facial expression, body language—all of that is useless to this man. So Jesus asks him the simple, but all-important question: What do you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus answers: ““Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17)


Now notice what happens next. Jesus does not say, “I am good and gracious, so I can’t stop myself from healing you.” Instead, this is what he says: ““Go, your faith has saved you.”” (Mark 10:52 CSB17) Now my dear friends in Christ, these are some very important and impressive words that Jesus speaks. Jesus did not have to heal this man that day. In fact, there were times when Jesus did not heal people at all. Earlier on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus preaches in his hometown. And at the end of the day, we read these words: 4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:4–6 NIV)


Jesus did not have to heal blind Bartimaeus. But he did. He tells Bartimaeus that his faith is what counted. All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. In other words, Jesus does not perform miracles so that people might have faith in him. Instead, he gives them faith so that they would know him and then appreciate the miracle. Jesus could have said “no.” But this man was given a living, active, powerful faith. And we see it by the names that he calls Jesus. If you’re going to play it safe, what do you call Jesus? You call him, “teacher.” Everyone else did. But this man didn’t. He cried out and shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The title, “Son of David” was a very powerful one. It was one of those parts of the Old Testament that shouted out and cried out that the savior and messiah would be both God and man.


What if, my dear friends, what if you were blind and could no longer see? What if Jesus asked you that simple question, what would you say? What would you like me to do for you? I don’t know about you, but I might say, “What took you so long?” I might pray “O Lord, heal my body, but who really cares about my soul?” But look at blind Bartimaeus. He calls Jesus who he is, both God and man. Here is a man who knows that Jesus is his Savior. So when he says, “I want to see,” there’s more going on. As one pastor once said, even though he has no eyesight, he has so very much insight.


And what Jesus says about us, we pray for ourselves. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” And first of all, our prayer is that, like this blind man, he would give us faith to find him in the darkness. How many long months and years did this man wait for the Son of David to arrive? And when the Son of David came he neither hurled rocks nor insults at him. My dear friends, there will be those times when the waiting will wear you down. When you get hurt, you need time to heal. And the same is true not just for our bodies, but also for our souls. And we sin when we either give up on the Son of David or even worse, blame him. But Jesus does the same for us as he does for this man. First, he does not assume anything. How thankful we are that we do not have to trust in facial expressions, hand gestures or body language when it comes to our Savior. He is just as clear with us as he was with this man. Second, he forgives us. He forgives us by being perfectly patient in our place. He forgives us by being treated like the son of hell in our place instead of the Son of David. He does all this so that, like this Bartimaeus, we would know that our sins are forgiven and then find him in the darkness.


That, my friends, is our prayer, that we too would find the Son of David in the darkness. But if Jesus asks us that question, let us also have another prayer. Let us pray that he would also give us such a strong faith as this blind man so that would follow Jesus in the light. In the final words of this part of the bible, we read: “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” (Mark 10:52 CSB17)


Do you remember what happened at a different time, when Jesus healed the ten lepers? We read those words on every Thanksgiving Eve. Jesus heals ten lepers and then how many come back to thank him? There was only one—one! This man is healed. And does he run home to his missed friends and treasured family? No, in joyous faith, he follows. That is our prayer too. There will be those times when the Lord answers our prayer—when he takes away a pain, pressure or disease. And our knee-jerk reaction will be to forget him. But the Son of David doesn’t just forgive our sins. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to follow him and live for him. And with that new person placed in us through water and word instead of forgetting Jesus, we follow him.


What do you want me to do for you? That is the question that the Son of David asked blind Bartimaeus. He still asks that same question of all of us today. And our prayer is that he would give us the same strong faith as Bartimaeus. We pray that he would give us faith to find Jesus in the darkness and follow him in the light. That is our prayer. And the Son of David will answer it. Amen.


Proper 22

Children

God Made Them Male And Female


Simple truths are often the best truths. Years ago there was a new pastor. He was an intelligent man. And he had gone to school for years to become a pastor. One day, a member in his congregation had him over to his house. He told him, “You’re preaching way up here; you need to bring it way down here.” Often the simple truths are the best truths. When we go back and look at Jesus teaching and preaching, so very often he shuts down his opposition not with huge five-syllable words, but instead with simple statements. In Mark 10, we read: 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:2–6 NIV11-GKE)


The Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question—but not to learn from him. Instead, they asked the question to test him and tear him down. The question was about divorce. Notice Jesus’ answer. It was not a long theological lecture. It was with quick, simple statements that Jesus answered. He told them that at the beginning God made them male and female. Before anyone speaks about marriage, divorce and remarriage and all the other issues one could bring up, there is the simple, solid truth we need to understand and build on: God made them male and female. For ever since the fall into sin, every human being has been busy denying that basic truth. 50 years ago the sinful world abused that truth by overemphasizing it. On the internet now, there are massive archives of advertisements from that time. And, if you read them, you’ll see that you aren’t really a man unless you can rebuilt your car from scratch and do 100 push-ups. And you aren’t really a woman unless you can bake a cake from scratch while wearing a pretty dress and keeping it spotless at the same time. And there are worse examples of this. But today the pendulum has swung the entire opposite direction today. If there was an over-emphasis on male and female (in an often abusive way), then today, there is an under-emphasis. Consider this guideline from the Minneapolis public school website:


Gender is often used as a classification for dividing classes, prerequisites for participation, or access to facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Advoid using gender as a characteristic for division whenever possible. Create an all gender option for facilities and allow student to self-select to the group they would feel most comfortable in.1


Notice the point that they are making on the site: First, there are more than two genders. There is not just male and female. There are more options out there. Second, according to them, you choose your gender. If you choose to be a boy for a while, everyone has to endorse that. If you then choose to go back to being a girl, then the world has to recognize and affirm that choice. But these words are so very clear, aren’t they? God made them male and female.


Why can’t people get this straight? Why 50 years ago did people over-emphasize male and female to the point of abuse? And why today do people under-emphasize this simple truth to the point of absurdity? The answer is simple: People often listen to what is popular.


We too face the same temptation. It is popular today to conclude that you can choose to be either male or female or even a third self-defined category. And it’s easy for us to conclude that that’s the truth for one simple reason: that conclusion is popular. But it’s not the truth. Jesus says it so simply and clearly. At the beginning, God made them male and female.


And what follows is the answer to the question, why: 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:7–12 NIV11-GKE)


Why did God make them male and female? He made us male and female so that they would be one. The general path laid out for us is that boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And one man and one woman marries each other. They become one. Now notice what Jesus is not saying in these words. My spouse is not my soulmate. And my spouse is not my savior. Instead, my spouse is a gift to me as a treasured friend and companion for this life and for this life alone.


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at all the traps—all the ways we can sin by not getting this straight in our own minds. We can abusively over-emphasize this truth. We can under-estimate this truth along with the rest of so many today, denying that God is the one who made us male and female. And even when we get married we can sin by making our spouse our soul-mate and even worse, our Savior.


But look what Jesus does. First, Jesus understands perfectly what male and female means. And then he treats them perfectly as they are, male and female. And he does this in our place. Second, he dies and pays for those sins on the cross. For those times I abusively over-emphasize or absurdly under-emphasize them, Jesus pays for them. For the times I forget that my spouse is a companion, not a soul-mate and savior, Jesus paid for those sins.


So Jesus made us male and female first of all, so that male and female would be one in marriage. But, as we read these words we see there is another reason he made us male and female: 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13–16 NIV11-GKE)


He made us male and female so that we would be one. But he also made us male and female so that in marriage we would bring many into this world. Now here is where we need to be careful. For here is where I have people usually throw down objections. So let’s deal with them right here. On the one hand, there possibly some proper objections to having children. If financially, you have severe problems supporting two people, adding more into the family might be a real reason. If you biologically cannot have children, that too is a real reason. And there might be others.


But there other improper objections. And let me speak about two this morning: Selfishness and fearfulness. It is an ever-present temptation to not have children because life would not be as comfortable as it is now. Children take away your money. Children take away your time. And so, if you look at so many cities across our nation what you will find is young married men and women who choose to have a dog instead of children. But there is another reason too: fearfullness. The idea of starting a family is terrifying. There is the real fear of messing up. What happens if the child dies, either at our hand or by others? What happens if that child grows up and leaves the Christian church? I had all of these fears and I had a good, solid example of what marriage should look like since I had a mom and dad all my life. How much worse and more fearful this is if a husband and wife were missing a mom or dad as they grew up.


Look at what our Savior does. First, he speaks a command: Let them come to me. Second, he speaks a promise: The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. If Jesus goes out of his way with both a command and promise to tell you how much he cares for children, won’t he also take care of you as you take care of them? When you mess up and sin (and you will!), won’t he forgive you? Won’t he teach you what it is to be a father and mother through his word? And won’t he remind you that, at the end of the day, these children are cared for by you but they don’t belong to you. They belong to our Lord and Savior Jesus.


And so, always remember the foundation: God made us male and female. He made us male and female to be one and to bring many. Amen.



1 Policies Supporting ALL Genders

Proper 21

Lamb of God

Why This Waste?


What does waste look like? Several weeks ago, I saw a mom walking down the street with her little boy. It was a busy street. And, as you might expect, there were objects that people dropped along the way on the ground. As they were walking down the road the boy stopped, reached down and picked up a piece of candy and ate it. The mom had to stop what she was doing and evaluate what was going on when there was a tug on her arm when the boy stopped. And before she could stop him the candy went into his mouth—dirt and all. This then began the lecture and lesson on why it was bad and wrong to put food that was on the ground in your mouth. And after a very clear, logical presentation of the facts, she said, “So don’t put candy that is on the ground into your mouth.” But I looked at his face. And every detail of his face cried out, “what a waste!” There’s this perfectly good piece of candy on the ground that was just going to waste if he didn’t eat it. And this makes us ask the question: what does waste look like? That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. In Mark 14, we read: 3 While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. 4 But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.” (Mark 14:3–5 CSB17)


What a waste! That’s what all the people said. How much of a waste was this? Perfume—good perfume was expensive. This little jar of perfume was a little less then a year’s wages. Think of one bottle of perfume that was worth a year of your wages. And what does this woman do? She breaks it. With an item that precious you want to make it last and stretch it out. That’s not what this woman did. She broke the container and let the perfume flow over Jesus’ head and the fragrance fill the room. And so the people cry 0ut: “why this waste?” She could have stretched this perfume out. She could have sold it and given the money to the poor. But Jesus’ reaction to what she had done was totally different. They say, “look at the waste.” Jesus, instead, has us look at this woman: 6 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:6–9 CSB17)


The first detail that Jesus tells us about this woman is that what she as done was noble and beautiful.1 What she did was noble and beautiful for two reasons: first, they would always be able to worship Jesus by helping out the poor, but they wouldn’t always have Jesus around, face to face, as he was at that time. Second, What she was doing was driven by why she was doing this. She was pouring perfume over his head to prepare for his burial.2 she was pouring perfume over his head to show that she understood what all the others in this room didn’t, that Jesus was going to die. The fact that Jesus was going to die drove her to consider many other details before she walked into that room with that jar of perfume. First, she considered her sin, how real and true her sin was. Second, she saw her own inability to pay for her sins. Third, she saw that, in order to pay for her sin, Jesus could not just dump a large pot of money into the temple treasury to pay for her sin. Her sin was so bad that the only price that could pay for her sin was the death of the sinless Son of God. All of that then drove her to ask the question: why this waste? But she did not ask this question in her soul about the perfume. No, instead she asked this question about herself. What a waste it would be to pay with your own life to redeem a person who would sin after you paid for her life just as much as before. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did for her.


My dear friends in Christ, look at this woman. For we too could ask the same question: not ‘why this waste’ when it comes to perfume poured on Jesus’ head; no instead, we ask ‘why this waste’ when it comes to us and Jesus paying for us. The people in that room had an excuse. They had not seen Jesus die on Good Friday and rise on Easter. But, through God’s word, we have. And yet our great sin is that we so easily forget the price that Jesus paid. And we show it by going out and doing the very sins that Jesus paid to free us from. And so we lie, we cheat, we steal, we lust, we hate. Look at this woman for she saw a Savior’s love that filled her with awe and appreciation enough to break this jar and pour out this perfume on his head. And her Savior’s death on the cross wasn’t just enough to pay for her sins. That price was big enough to pay the world’s sins. That means your sins and my sins too.


Why this waste? From every true and realistic point of view the price that Jesus paid for us was a waste. But Jesus did it anyway, making it valid, true, and full of worth. And so, we might start out asking, ‘why this waste?’ But this morning we end up asking, ‘why this act of worship?’ It was not enough for her to use cheap perfume to prepare for Jesus’ burial. And it was not enough to use a little perfume. She gave Jesus her best in worship purely out of thanks. And the same is true for us. Today Christians give their best to their Savior purely out of thanks.


Now, for the time that remains here this morning, please let me give you two examples of what this looks like. The first is an example of what giving our best does not look like. Years ago there was a grandma. She had a piano in her house. Her children and their children had learned to play the piano on that piano. But now some keys would not depress and some strings were broken. She called Goodwill to see if they would come over and take it. They told her that unless it was in good, working condition, they would not take it. So what did she do? She called her sons and had them come over, put the piano in the back of the truck and then dump it off over at church. That, my dear friends in Christ, is junk for Jesus. That is not our best.


The second example is just the opposite. In my last congregation we wanted to have a processional cross. The processional cross is what we use at Palm Sunday and Good Friday. It is a way of picturing our Savior, who he is and what he has done for us. So I asked one of my elders to look into getting us a processional cross. In the worship books it gave this description: you could take the Christmas tree, and cut it up and then strap together two branches, making a processional cross. Months later, he showed up with this large, beautiful cross I had never seen before made of oak. And he told me, “Pastor, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tie together two branches and pretend that that was worthy of our Lord. I wanted to give my best.” And so he did. And it still stands there in that church as an example of giving our best to our Savior Jesus, purely out of thanks.


I use both of these as examples for each of you. Each of you has gifts, skill, talents and abilities that God has given to you. And like this woman, we give our best to Jesus to worship him and thank him.


And so, we start out asking, “why this waste?” Why would Jesus waste his life to pay for my sins? And when we see his great and undeserved love for us we begin to ask a different question: “why this worship?” We give our best to Jesus purely out of thanks to him. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲗⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:6 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲓⲥⲧⲟ ̄ ⲉⲛⲧⲁⲫⲓⲁⲥⲙⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:8 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 19

denarius

What Drives Our Giving?


People are fascinating. When I first started High School, we had to take fine arts classes. So I signed up for drama classes. And one of the first homework assignments I had was to go out somewhere and study someone so that we could act and pretend to be that person for a minute or two. So that’s what I did. I went across the street from our home to the grade school. I took out a notebook and a pen and studied the children. And there was this boy who began to tie his shoes. But half way through he realized that it was work to tie his shoes. So he put on the saddest face—the sort of face that makes mom’s sigh and dads act. And then he said, “Teacher, I need help.” And as the teacher kneeled down and tied his shoe for him, this smug, self-contented smile spread across his face, as if to say, “Life is good. My mom makes me tie my shoes at home. But I just successfully trained my teacher to tie my shoes at school. Life is good.” I walked home after that thinking to myself one thought: people are fascinating. But I was not the only one who thought that people were fascinating. Jesus too thought that people were fascinating too. And they were so fascinating that they were worthy of time to observe and study. And in our gospel for this morning that’s exactly what Jesus does. In Mark 12, we read: “Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury.” (Mark 12:41 CSB17)


As we read these words, it’s important to see the setting. It’s Holy Week. Jesus is in the temple area. He has just answered every tough question brought to him. And now no one is coming forward to test and challenge him. And so, for a rare moment in time, he has spare time. But he doesn’t let it go to waste. He sits down. Then he stares at and studies the people in the temple because they are fascinating to him.1 And as he does this, what is it that he sees? 41 Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.” (Mark 12:41–42 CSB17)


What Jesus sees first is crowds of people coming up and dropping their offering into the temple treasury. But then, as time goes by, he sees more. He sees how there were many rich people who stopped by and dropped large sums of money into the treasury. This is a reminder for us that in those days there was no such thing as a check or credit card. If you had masses of money you had to carry it. One of the parts of the Old Testament that I thought was funny when I first read it was the description of Abraham. In our english versions it just says that Abraham was “rich” in gold and silver. But in the Hebrew it says that he was weighed down with gold and silver.2(Genesis 13:2 BHS-T)}} If you were rich, it was hard to hide it. Everyone could see the masses of money that these rich people brought because they had to carry them. Or, to be more specific, they had people to carry them. And as all of this happens, Jesus is just sitting there. But then there is this change in Jesus. And we hear about this in the verses which follow: “Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:43 CSB17)


So Jesus is sitting there watching one person after another. But then he sees someone get in line. And what he sees fascinates him. He sees one woman. He does not see teams and groups of people, as with the rich people. And he sees that she is a widow. There is no husband to go with her and support her. And then the final detail we learn about her is that she is poor. There was no trust-fund for her or life insurance. Her income died with her husband. Jesus sees her and studies her. In fact she is so fascinating to him that he calls his disciples over to him. And he tells them all that this one woman gave more than all the others who showed up that day. And then he tells them why this was true: “For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:44 CSB17)


Notice the contrast Jesus sees. On the one hand, what drove all these people to give was the fact that they had enough if not even more than enough. And because they had enough, they could give some to the Lord. But just the opposite was true with this poor, lonely widow. What drove her to give was her lack. She did not have a husband. She did not have and income. And with that lack she arrived at a conclusion: “I can do no nothing because I have nothing.” And that was what fascinated Jesus. For from that conclusion she arrived at an even more important conclusion: “Since I can do nothing, the Lord will have to do everything. He will have to be the one who will save me from sin and from starvation.” And from this conclusion she arrived at a final conclusion: “since the Lord will provide for me, I can give freely and joyfully to him.” And so she did.


Joy in Christ—that’s what drove her giving. But for us here today, what is it that drives our giving? Here is where we face two temptations: first, our temptation is to give out of apathy and peer-pressure. After the sermon ends and it’s time for the offering we look around and all the other people are giving. I guess I should. And so, without much thinking and pondering we put our money in the plate. That’s one temptation. But the other temptation is just as bad. The second temptation is to give out of panic and desperation. We publish these numbers in our bulletin every week. And if we don’t understand them properly, we they can lead us to sin. If I see a negative number here in the bulletin, it’s so easy to conclude, “I have to give because if I don’t this church might close down.” And that’s not true at all. I’ve been in many congregations over the years and what causes churches to close down is a lack of love for God’s word, not a lack of money. The lack of money is an effect, not a cause. In one of the churches I served in, there was a guy who bought into a false teaching. And when our congregation refused to give into that false teaching he left. And he left with a strange sort of glee. You see, he was a very generous giver to the church—and everyone knew it. And, with glee, he left the church, expecting it to fold because he was no longer there. But the church didn’t collapse. In fact, it grew. It was a powerful reminder that that church belonged to Jesus. He died for those people. He gave them faith. He gave them their daily bread. And our great trap is to either care too little about our offerings (apathy) or to care too much (panic and desperation).


Those are our temptations. But what is the truth we see in these words? Just look at that widow. Did Jesus rescue her from her sin? And there’s the amazing part: we find no hint that she even knew he was there. But she knew her good and gracious Lord would forgive her sins. And the same is true for us. And did Jesus rescue her from her starvation? Year after year we walk through these words in catechism class. And I ask the kids: “So, do you think that this widow put her coins in the box and then went home and died of starvation.” And, in all my years of asking that question, they all had the same answer: “no.” They knew that the same Savior, Jesus, who died for us will also provide for us.


So where does that leave us this morning? That leaves us in the same place as this one poor widow. What drives us to give is our great joy in Christ. And what this joy in Christ drives us to do is to give freely. So when we get to that part when I say, “We continue with our thank-offering,” care about that money that you put in that offering plate. But do not let your care be driven by pressure or panic. Give freely, out of joy in Christ. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲑⲉⲱⲣⲉⲓ” (Mark 12:41 GNT-ALEX)

2 ”וְאַבְרָ֖ם כָּבֵ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד בַּמִּקְנֶ֕ה בַּכֶּ֖סֶף וּבַזָּהָֽב׃“

Proper 17

Moses

Take Away The Weight


It’s out of my hands. Part of being a doctor—especially an ER doctor, is that it’s your job to save lives. And the situation you can get yourself in if you are that kind of a doctor is that you get good at your job and you begin to conclude that you can save all people. But then there are those times you cannot save them. There are those times where you realize that both the problem and the solution are out of your hands. In Numbers 11, Moses faced the same situation, that both the problem and the solution are out of his hands: 4 The riffraff among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites wept again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”” (Numbers 11:4–6 CSB17)


Here we are again in the desert, just as we were several weeks ago. And here we are reminded that there was this “mixed-multitude” coming up out of Egypt along with the Hebrews—or to use the word here, the “riffraff.” These many people who fled from Egypt continually tried to lead the Hebrews astray. But, sad to say, as we look at these words, we see that the Hebrews wanted to be led astray. So what happens next? 10 Moses heard the people, family after family, weeping at the entrance of their tents. The Lord was very angry; Moses was also provoked. 11 So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.”” (Numbers 11:10–15 CSB17)


Week after week, month after month, the people complained about their food. And look at Moses. The Moses here is a different man than the one we saw months earlier. He is worn down. He he demoralized. Moses wasn’t the one who created these people. It wasn’t Moses’ plan to take them out of Egypt. And he wasn’t the one who was providing food for them in the desert—It was the Lord who was doing that. And yet, he felt the weight of a problem that was out of his control. So, in a low and lonely moment, he prays to the Lord that the Lord might murder him.1 And he prays that the Lord would just take the weight away.


Now, before we move on in these words, realize that nothing at all has changed from Moses’ time to our own. Christian congregations often have a habit of blaming a pastor for issues that are out of his control. Years ago there was a pastor who was called to a congregation after a long vacancy. And there were people who had left that church and weren’t coming back. But yet, when he got there, the leaders in the congregation made sure he knew that his job was to get those families who weren’t coming to church back into church. That was an issue that was out of his control. But the congregation was more than happy to pile on the weight. So the ancient Hebrews weren’t the only ones who face this temptation. Today Christians face the same temptation.


Now, if you were in the Lord’s shoes, what would you do with these problems? Notice then what the Lord does: “The Lord answered Moses, “Bring me seventy men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you.” (Numbers 11:16 CSB17)


Moses cries out, “Take away the weight.” But is this what the Lord does? The answer is “yes” and “no.” He still leaves the weight of caring for souls on Moses’ shoulders. But, notice what he also does. He spreads the weight. He chooses 70 elders to help Moses out in his ministry to the people. And there are some important details to learn about these men. We read: 24 Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. He brought seventy men from the elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed the Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they never did it again. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other Medad; the Spirit rested on them—they were among those listed, but had not gone out to the tent—and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my Lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would place his Spirit on them!”” (Numbers 11:24–29 CSB17)


Notice the two points these words teach us: First, elders are called servants of the word. But they only have a part of that ministry. Elders are not pastors. But they carry out pastoral work in a very limited way. Second, Moses says, “If only all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29 CSB17) Moses says this because only a very small number of men will have the gifts to serve as an elder. I know of congregations of more than 500 members and they have no elders. And the reason for this is very clear: there will be few men who will have the maturity in God’s word to serve in this ministry. Notice what it is to be an elder. An elder is a man who loves God’s word and loves God’s people. And from this fact there arises two temptations. The first temptation comes from the congregation. The call, work and role of an elder is to spend time in God’s word. He needs to be reading God’s word at home. He needs to be sharing that word with his family. He needs to be coming to bible study class at church for one simple reason: Elders are asked pastor-level questions. But they do not have a pastor-level education. So they need to be in bible study class, immersed in God’s word. And the temptation the congregation faces is to take this man whose call has to do with God’s word and then divert him to other service in the church. So, instead of spending time reading God’s word, praying and studying God’s word with the pastor, the congregation has the elder fix door knobs and faucets. That is a real sin. But there is a second temptation. That is the temptation for the elder to divert himself. I have no desire to clean my office. I don’t. But when Saturday morning rolls around, all of a sudden I have this deep yearning to tidy up my office. Why is that? That is the time when I write my sermon. And my sinful nature wants me to do anything rather than get the sermon done. Since the fall into sin in the Garden it has always been this way. And it’s the same for elders in the church. Their work is carrying your weight. Their work is to pray for you. Their work is to grow in God’s word so that they can share that with you. And it is a sad and shameful thing when we divert them from that work.


And what do we do with this shocking realization that our energy and efforts are diverted? We repent of it. We turn to the God we see here in these pages. We turn to this God who has such amazing patience. If God was patient with his people and prophets in the Old Testament, won’t he be the same with us? And hasn’t he already been in Christ? Look at our Savior, Jesus. He was continually and constantly being invited to divert himself from the ministry of the word. But, in every example, he said, “no.” And he did this as our substitute, so that in the times we divert ourselves or others divert us—those sins are forgiven in Christ. And they are paid for on the cross.


With all of this in mind, how should we treat our elders in our congregation? Treat them as tremendous gifts. For there are congregations who do not have any. Thank God for them. But also help them. An elder’s primary role is to be in God’s word. So then, my dear friends in Christ, help him in that. If there is an elder who gets caught up in fixing doorknobs and dishwashers in this church, what should you do? Make sure that he is reading God’s word. Make sure that he is coming to bible class, for again, elders are asked pastor-level questions without a pastor-level training. And so that they can spend time in growing in God’s word, take that work away from them. Fix the doorknobs and dishwashers for them. Do this so that the weight of caring for you can rest on their shoulders once again. For each of us as pastors and elders at some point in time cries out, “take the weight away.” But our Lord, in is mercy toward us spreads the weight out among pastors and elders. Amen.



1 הָרְגֵ֤נִי נָא֙ הָרֹ֔ג Numbers 11:15

Proper 16

Faith

Faith Chooses Us


You do not want to leave too, do you? In the words we just read, that was the question that Jesus asked his disciples. And the fascinating part of that question is the word, “too.” They could see multitudes and masses of people walking away from Jesus because, to them, he was speaking above their level of comprehension. And Jesus, no doubt, with sadness in his voice, tells them, “All the rest are walking away? Are you?” Peter lifts up his voice and says those words, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68 NIV) And the question we ask is “how?” How is it that Peter stood with Jesus when all the rest walked away? The answer is that Peter’s confidence came by faith. Peter did not choose to have faith in Jesus. No, instead, God the Father gave Peter faith so that he could choose to stay with Jesus. Or, to put it differently, Peter did not choose faith. Instead, faith chose him. And notice that this amazing gift of faith that God gave to him was not frail and faltering. No, instead, it was fierce and forceful. All of this we look at this morning because we see the same pattern and example 1400 years before Peter. We find the same example in Moses. In the book of Hebrews we read: 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter 25 and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin. 26 For he considered reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since he was looking ahead to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24–26 CSB17)


Faith chose Moses. But notice that this gift of faith was not frail. It was strong and forceful. And it needed to be. For Moses was caught and ensnared in a powerful web. Moses was a Hebrew baby. And Pharaoh had commanded that all the Hebrew boys be put to death. But Pharaoh’s daughter found a Hebrew baby in the Nile. She adopted the child and made him her own. But this makes Moses’ life weird, strange and dysfunctional. Today, they talk about Stockholm syndrome. It’s this condition where a person is kidnapped and then abused and then, after a while, bonds with the person who kidnapped them. And that’s nothing compared to what Moses grows up in. His adopted grandpa went out of his way to kill all the Hebrew males he could get his hands on. And yet, there in his own household is a grown-up Hebrew male that he calls his own. And what is it that keeps Moses there, living in denial of his family and his faith? All the wealth of Egypt is his.


And this is a warning to us. We are citizens of two kingdoms. The bed where you lay your head at night is your earthly home. But the promise of heaven is where you lay your heart. Worldly wealth is the tool this sinful world and our sinful hearts use to rob us of our earthly promised kingdom. Earthly wealth wants to give us such joy that we forget about the joy promised to us in heaven. Earthly wealth wants us to put our trust in it. And even worse, we can look around us and see so many people being enticed by it.


What was it then that led Moses out of that trap, and us too today? The answer is faith. This gift of faith that our Father in heaven gives to us is forceful. This faith chooses us. And it chooses us to say, “No!” And that’s exactly what Moses did. He had every ability to stay with his mother and have every benefit of worldly wealth. But his soul cried out, “no!” His faith in Christ led him to say, “no” and suffer with his fellow believers because the treasures he was promised in Christ were far bigger and far better. The wealth of Egypt gave him fame and power. But it did not give him forgiveness. It did not give him the truth. And the same is true for us. This gift of faith chooses us to say “no” to worldly wealth. And what moves us to do this is the promise of forgiveness promised to us in Christ. And what a great, amazing promise that is! For all those times we, in such a dysfunctional way loved our worldly wealth more than our Savior—that sin is forgiven in Jesus who loved us enough to lay down his life to pay for our sins.


Faith chooses us. This gift of faith chooses us to say, “no” to the enticement of worldly wealth. But as these words continue, we see that faith chooses us in another way: 27 By faith he left Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses persevered as one who sees him who is invisible. 28 By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites.” (Hebrews 11:27–28 CSB17)


Here we bump into some of the strangest words you could possibly bump into as you read the bible. God tells us that Moses was not afraid. But that’s the exact opposite of what we read in the book of Exodus. And we know why Moses is so afraid. He’s afraid because he just got done murdering and Egyptian and burying him in the sand. How do we make sense of this? The answer is that in between verse 26 and 27 in these words 40 years has passed. Moses was a different man 40 years later. And in this too we see a huge temptation to sin. Moses’ faith was forceful. It was not frail and faltering. But what was the problem? His faith was not formed and informed by God’s word. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. But Moses took vengeance in his own hands, without a call and without a command from God. We too can fall into the same trap. There are those times we are put on the spot and put to the test. And then, when that time of testing comes, we take our stand with Jesus and shout out, “no!” But then we fall into another trap. We might do so without love and compassion for the person we are speaking to. We might do so like Moses, not just showing sin, but also bringing divine wrath and punishment. And all of this happens, because, just like Moses, instead of having our faith formed and informed by God’s word, we choose to live in ignorance. And so we have a faith that is forceful; but it is also foolish.


The Moses that we see in these closing verses was a different man. He wasn’t different in that, somehow, he stopped sinning or even that he sinned less than before. No, instead, he was a different man in that, for 40 years, he was one who kept continually seeing the One who was Unseen. The Lord hid himself and spoke to him out of that burning bush. But that’s not all he had. He also had God’s word shared with him through his Father in law, Jethro, who was a high priest of Midian. Moses had God’s word and grew in it. And that same invitation is here for you today. The faith that God has given to each and everyone of you is forceful. But what is it that moves us to actually open up our bibles and read them? Just like Moses, there in those pages of the bible, the Jesus that is unseen, we see. We see his great love for us in forgiving the times we have been cowards. We see his great love for us in the times we found how forceful our faith was and then became fools by going in directions God’s word didn’t—how he forgives our foolishness. And if you want an example of that, just look at Moses. Such shame he had for decades at murdering an Egyptian. But why was he so unafraid of Pharaoh and so unafraid to have Pharaoh call him a murderer? In God’s word he saw Christ, the Savior from his sins. That’s why we read God’s word. Our sinful natures have every reason and right to call us, “adulterer, slanderer, lier, and even murderer.” But in God’s word we see the Jesus who is unseen. And he calls us, “forgiven.” And in God’s word, he calls us, “friend.”


And so, my dear friends in Christ, don’t let your bible be this dry and dusty book on your shelf. Open it. Read it. And as you read it you will find your faith grow and be stronger. It will lead you to say “no.” But right along with that, I will also form and inform you as you see Jesus, who is unseen. Amen.


Proper 14

Bread

Flee From Idolatry


How did this happen? Years ago, in the town we used to live in, there was a bridge over the river. And the bridge had become so worn down that vehicles, especially trucks, weren’t able to cross it safely. So they shut the bridge down. Then people asked the question, “how did this happen?” You would expect the answer to that question to be, “time and rust.” But no, the question was getting to a different answer. The question says, “how,” But what it really means is “who?” Who did this? And how incompetent can they be so as to let this happen? When we see tragedies like this, it’s hard to not ask that question, “how did this happen?” And we aren’t alone. In the apostle Paul’s day, it was the same. In 1 Corinthians 10, we read: 1 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–5 CSB17)


The Lord God led thousands of Hebrews up out of Egypt. They were rescued from Pharaoh’s army as it was drowned in the Red Sea. They drank water from a rock. And even more amazing, Paul tells us that that rock that watered them was Jesus. Well, if they were so blessed by God, then how did this happen? How is it that other than two men, that entire generation’s bodies died one by one and never made it into the promised land? How did this happen? They concluded that they were saved for their sins instead of from their sins. This is a warning for us too. We have been baptized into Christ. Through water and word he has delivered the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross to us. But it is possible to throw that gift of salvation away and not make it into the promised land of heaven. How is that possible? In the words that follow, Paul tells us: 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did. 7 Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party. 8 Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in a single day twenty-three thousand people died. 9 Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And don’t complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.” (1 Corinthians 10:6–10 CSB17)


How is it possible to throw heaven away? The answer is idolatry. That’s not a word we use very often. So we need to ask the question, what is it? Luther, in his large catechism puts it this way:


What does “to have a god” mean, or what is God?
Answer: A “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.1


Where do you go to find fulfillment and joy? And where do you go when things fall apart? Where you go is your god. If we go to any other place than to our Triune God, either when things fall apart, or to get fulfillment, that is idolatry. And Paul gives two example of idolatry from the Old Testament. First, There is the example of sexual immorality. Second, Paul gives the example of grumbling. And notice what Paul says about these sins: “These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 CSB17)


Why does the bible record the fact that many Hebrews committed sexual immorality and then were put to death? Why do we read that thousands of them grumbled and then were bit with burning poison until they died? Were these events written down for them? No, they died. They were written down for us. And so we take these words to heart. When the bible warns us against the idolatry of sexual immorality, we listen. Guard your eyes. There are places on the internet that should never be seen by anyone. But now they are easily accessible to all. Guard your eyes so that you don’t go there. And if you go there by accident, quickly run away. Also, guard your hearts. For those of you who are married, be very careful what you think and say about your spouse. Infidelity starts in our hearts. It starts when we begin to conclude that someone else has better assets and attributes than the person God gave to us as a husband or wife.


Idolatry is like a salty spring. You go to it expecting to have your thirst quenched. But you end up worse after than before. It’s true when it comes to sexual immorality. But it’s just as true with grumbling and complaining. I hear it as a pastor. Some hymns are too short. Some are too long. And the difficulty with this grumbling and complaining is that its thirst is never quenched. If the number of verses isn’t enough, then the next target is the style of music isn’t enough. And if it’s true here in the worship setting, then it’s also true out there in the world. It’s shocking that now, on Facebook, you can post a shocking, eighth commandment-breaking insult to hundreds of people. And you never have to actually speak to that person. Grumbling is a salty spring and an empty well. That’s the sort of idolatry that it is. And that brings us to the final words of this section of scripture. Paul urges us to flee from idolatry. But what does that look like? Paul tells us: 12 So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. 13 No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12–13 CSB17)


Paul brings up two important points. First, sin is common to humanity. Every sin is common to humanity. God’s word wants us to hear these words because each of us is capable of the worst sins. The people in prison are no different than you are. If put in the right circumstances each of us is able to do horrible sins. And even though we might conclude that gossipping and grumbling isn’t as sinful as sexual immorality, God says just the opposite. And shockingly, there is a very real comfort in that fact. How so? When there are those times when we fall into sin, and we feel guilty because we are guilty, Satan will be there to tell us that some sins are forgivable—but not yours. And when that times comes, we can remember this verse: “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB17) That heinous, horrible sin I committed is able to be forgiven by Jesus. And that’s exactly what he did. Each one of us can say that, for all the times I thought impure thoughts or took impure actions; for all the times I gossiped and grumbled—those sins are paid for. They are paid for by a perfect Savior who never sinned even once. They are paid for by Jesus who as true God and true man died to pay for them.


So no temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But notice what he says in these closing words: “But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB17)


Now, notice what these words do not say. These words do not say that God will magically take away the temptation. No, he says that along side the temptation there is a way out. God has placed his Holy Spirit in us. He has given us a new person, born of water and word, to combat that old person. There is a way out. There is a way to say, “no.” There is a way to flee from idolatry.


So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, flee from idolatry. Do not give into sexual immorality or into gossipping and grumbling. Flee from it. Do so by remembering that no temptation has come on you except that which is common to humans. Do so by remembering that your Savior Jesus forgives these sins and promises to give you a way out—a way to say, “no” to them. Amen.



1 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 386.