Pentecost 17

Easter

Can I Just Get By?


I‘m in it to win it. Our family used to watch the TV show, “The biggest loser.” And that was a phrase you’d hear again and again. With that phrase they were telling everyone who would listen that they were not in that competition to just get by. No, instead, they were pouring all of their ability and all of their effort. If you asked them the question, “Is getting by an option,” they would say “no.” This morning God’s word makes us ask the same question, but not about losing weight. Instead, the Holy Spirit asks us that question when it comes to life itself. When it comes to our lives, it it possible for us to just get by? This morning we continue wehre we left off last week with Elijah and the widow. We read: 17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”” (1 Kings 17:17–18 NIV11-GKE)


In these words we see a woman who was desperately just trying to get by. Her life was a tragedy. She had lost her husband. And she had lost the family income. And she thought she and her son would starve. And then, out of nowhere this man of God showed up and her family was fed…every day. But then the Lord brought such immense pain into her life out of nowhere. Here she is, she just manages to keep her family alive by having enough food to live on day by day and then what happens? Her son gets sick and then dies. And there’s the irony: she has food. But all the food in the world couldn’t keep her son from dying.


And when her son dies, amidst all her pain, she asks the same question we would ask: why? Why did the Lord who, up to that point, had gave her son food now give her son death? And the only logical answer she can arrive at is that God is angry with her. God has changed his mind. She concludes that she had sinned in the past. And God never really forgave and never really forgot. Here she is: a woman who just wanted to get by. And the Lord would not let her. But she’s not the only one. We read: 18 have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” 19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”” (1 Kings 17:18–21 NIV11-GKE)


The widow isn’t the only one who is traumatized by the boy’s death. Elijah is too. Remember that this woman and this boy was Elijah’s congregation and his sort of adopted family. He looked at her like did a sister. He looked at this boy as an adopted, closely-held nephew. And in his heart too, he was just wanted their lives to go back to the way they were. So he prayed to God to make it that way.


Now my dear friends in Christ, is what Elijah did good or bad? The simple answer is that what Elijah did was both good and bad. It was bad in that he was a prophet of the Lord. This was a family that he was close to and shared God’s word with for hours every day. If this boy died believing in the Lord and it was clear that the Lord was the one who had put him to death, then Elijah should have been content with the Lord’s actions. But Elijah wanted their lives to go back to the way they were. They were just getting by. And that was ok with him.


But, also, my friends, don’t think too harshly against Elijah. For he took the same action our Savior did. In our gospel for today when Jesus comes face to faith with death—and even worse, the death of a child, he is filled with compassion. Elijah did the same. For, my dear friends in Christ, death is not normal. And death is not natural. Death is an effect of the fall into sin. Both Elijah and the widow, each in their own way, wanted to just get by. But my dear friends, what did their Lord want? 22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”” (1 Kings 17:22–24 NIV11-GKE)


The Lord did not want them to just get by. And, my dear friends in Christ, he does not want you to just get by. The Lord answered Elijah’s prayer not so that they could just get by and that their lives would go back to the way they were. No, it was for a different reason. The apostle Paul speaks about that in our second reading this morning: 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NIV11-GKE)


Your life is not about just getting by. Your life is not about settling for survival. You do not need a God that just ignores your sin. No, instead you need a God that forgives your sin—even if you are not able to forgive yourself.. You do not need a God that just forgives your sin. You need a God that forgets your sin—even if you are not able to forget. You do not need the sort of God that this widow was willing to settle for: a god that would provide for her body. No, you need a God who will provide for your body and your soul. You do not need a God who will just keep your home safe here now. No, you need a God who will keep your home safe here and give you an eternal home hereafter. Your Savior Jesus does not let you settle for survival. If we ask the question, “Can I Just Get By,” the answer is “no.” For our Savior has told us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV11-GKE)


But my dear friends, the full life is not what you hear from many popular preachers on TV. The full life comes with hardship and tragedy. The same Savior who says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” is the same one who says, “anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 NIV) So my dear friends, your life is not about “just getting by.” If that is how your are living your life, you are missing what the Lord was teaching the widow through Elijah. Our Lord gives to you the full life now and forever. But he does so amidst hardship even as he overcomes hardship. Amen.



Pentecost 16

Anchor

Can I Just Get By?


I‘m in it to win it. Our family used to watch the TV show, “The biggest loser.” And that was a phrase you’d hear again and again. With that phrase they were telling everyone who would listen that they were not in that competition to just get by. No, instead, they were pouring all of their ability and all of their effort. If you asked them the question, “Is getting by an option,” they would say “no.” This morning God’s word makes us ask the same question, but not about losing weight. Instead, the Holy Spirit asks us that question when it comes to life itself. When it comes to our lives, it it possible for us to just get by? This morning we continue wehre we left off last week with Elijah and the widow. We read: 17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”” (1 Kings 17:17–18 NIV11-GKE)


In these words we see a woman who was desperately just trying to get by. Her life was a tragedy. She had lost her husband. And she had lost the family income. And she thought she and her son would starve. And then, out of nowhere this man of God showed up and her family was fed…every day. But then the Lord brought such immense pain into her life out of nowhere. Here she is, she just manages to keep her family alive by having enough food to live on day by day and then what happens? Her son gets sick and then dies. And there’s the irony: she has food. But all the food in the world couldn’t keep her son from dying.


And when her son dies, amidst all her pain, she asks the same question we would ask: why? Why did the Lord who, up to that point, had gave her son food now give her son death? And the only logical answer she can arrive at is that God is angry with her. God has changed his mind. She concludes that she had sinned in the past. And God never really forgave and never really forgot. Here she is: a woman who just wanted to get by. And the Lord would not let her. But she’s not the only one. We read: 18 have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” 19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”” (1 Kings 17:18–21 NIV11-GKE)


The widow isn’t the only one who is traumatized by the boy’s death. Elijah is too. Remember that this woman and this boy was Elijah’s congregation and his sort of adopted family. He looked at her like did a sister. He looked at this boy as an adopted, closely-held nephew. And in his heart too, he was just wanted their lives to go back to the way they were. So he prayed to God to make it that way.


Now my dear friends in Christ, is what Elijah did good or bad? The simple answer is that what Elijah did was both good and bad. It was bad in that he was a prophet of the Lord. This was a family that he was close to and shared God’s word with for hours every day. If this boy died believing in the Lord and it was clear that the Lord was the one who had put him to death, then Elijah should have been content with the Lord’s actions. But Elijah wanted their lives to go back to the way they were. They were just getting by. And that was ok with him.


But, also, my friends, don’t think too harshly against Elijah. For he took the same action our Savior did. In our gospel for today when Jesus comes face to faith with death—and even worse, the death of a child, he is filled with compassion. Elijah did the same. For, my dear friends in Christ, death is not normal. And death is not natural. Death is an effect of the fall into sin. Both Elijah and the widow, each in their own way, wanted to just get by. But my dear friends, what did their Lord want? 22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”” (1 Kings 17:22–24 NIV11-GKE)


The Lord did not want them to just get by. And, my dear friends in Christ, he does not want you to just get by. The Lord answered Elijah’s prayer not so that they could just get by and that their lives would go back to the way they were. No, it was for a different reason. The apostle Paul speaks about that in our second reading this morning: 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NIV11-GKE)


Your life is not about just getting by. Your life is not about settling for survival. You do not need a God that just ignores your sin. No, instead you need a God that forgives your sin—even if you are not able to forgive yourself.. You do not need a God that just forgives your sin. You need a God that forgets your sin—even if you are not able to forget. You do not need the sort of God that this widow was willing to settle for: a god that would provide for her body. No, you need a God who will provide for your body and your soul. You do not need a God who will just keep your home safe here now. No, you need a God who will keep your home safe here and give you an eternal home hereafter. Your Savior Jesus does not let you settle for survival. If we ask the question, “Can I Just Get By,” the answer is “no.” For our Savior has told us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV11-GKE)


But my dear friends, the full life is not what you hear from many popular preachers on TV. The full life comes with hardship and tragedy. The same Savior who says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” is the same one who says, “anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 NIV) So my dear friends, your life is not about “just getting by.” If that is how your are living your life, you are missing what the Lord was teaching the widow through Elijah. Our Lord gives to you the full life now and forever. But he does so amidst hardship even as he overcomes hardship. Amen.



How Should I Use My Gifts? (Pentecost 11)

Holy Spirit

How Should I Use My Gifts?


Can he be a Christian? When you graduate from high school and begin to move off on your own, it can be an exciting time. But it can also be a challenging time. It’s challenging because, for the first time in your life you are on your own and you are meeting people who are not like you. They don’t act like and don’t believe the same as you believe. I remember meeting a guy who said he was a Christian, and yet he also believed many, many strange teachings. He believed in conspiracy theories and that if you got a Social Security number, you were receiving the mark of the beast and then wouldn’t get into heaven. I was confused. So I went to my pastor and asked him that question: can he be a Christian? Can a person pile up that much false teaching and still be a Christian? The pastor read to me these words—the words that Paul begins with this morning: 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:1–3 CSB17)


No one can say, “Jesus is Lord” (and mean it) unless the Holy Spirit created faith in that person. And when that pastor said that, it was so very comforting to hear. Whenever someone says, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, we need to stop, pause and rejoice in that. For there is only one reason that happened: The one Holy Spirit gave that person faith. But as Paul continues notice what he emphasizes. The one Holy Spirit gives faith. But then with that faith he gives a variety of gifts. We read: 4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God produces each gift in each person.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6 CSB17)


Now you’ll notice the word that Paul uses here. The word is service or ministry.1 Here Paul is speaking about spiritual gifts. He is speaking about gifts that have to do with God’s word. He is not speaking about gifts that everyone on the face of the planet has. And yet, even though he is speaking about spiritual gifts, what he says next could be said about any gift that a Christian has. Paul tells us: “A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good:” (1 Corinthians 12:7 CSB17)


Before Paul goes into detail, outlining the sort of spiritual gifts the one Holy Spirit gives, he first answers a question: how should we use our gifts? As Christians we use our gifts, whether spiritual gifts or not, for the common good. With that in mind we can walk through some of these spiritual gifts: “to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:8 CSB17) Here Paul is speaking about the spiritual gift of preaching and teaching. Next Paul writes: “to another, faith by the same Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:9 CSB17) Here Paul is speaking about the strength and power of faith. For there are those out there in the church that when God makes a promise to them, they simply, humbly, and strongly hold onto that faith without doubting or sometimes even wavering. That is a spiritual gift. 2 And Paul concludes the list this way: 9 to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of tongues, to another, interpretation of tongues. 11” (1 Corinthians 12:9–10 CSB17) What is fascinating about the remaining items on this list of spiritual gifts is that these are gifts that have faded away. After all, when I was called to be your pastor, “working miracles” was not on the list of duties.


But with all of these, notice the point that Paul is making. He keeps coming back to the main point. There are many different gifts. But there is one Holy Spirit. And we use these gifts for the common good. All of us have spiritual gifts. But each of us has different gifts. And even the gifts that we have that are not spiritual can be used in a godly, spiritual way. There is nothing spiritual about cleaning the church, counting money, mowing the church lawn, and bringing food for a potluck. But these gifts can be used in a very beautiful and spiritual way. They can be used for the common good.


But right there is where we see our very own sin, don’t we? As we grow up, we can ask the question, when will I have a gift? And then, when the one Holy Spirit follows up and gives us a gift, our next temptation is to say, “Look at me, I have this gift—and it’s a gift that you don’t have.” And then, the final temptation we face is that, instead of using our gifts for the greater good, instead we use them for ourselves, by ourselves.


And we might say, “look at my gifts.” But instead of looking at your gifts, look at your Savior Jesus. Look at the great, amazing gifts that he had. He raised people from the dead. He healed people. He preached. He taught. He healed. All these gifts he had. But how did he use them? He used them in line with his Father’s will, for the greater good. And because of this, when your Father above looks down, he does not see the times you pridefully said, “where are my gifts, O Holy Spirit?” He does not see the times you said, “Why don’t people appreciate my gifts?’” He does not see all the gifts that he gave you and you used for yourself, by yourself. Instead he sees his Son using all his gifts perfectly for the common good, even giving up his very life on the cross. And all this he does for you to pay for your sin.


How then should you use your gifts? Use them for the common good. This the sort of reading from God’s word that moves us to go home and ask the simple, but powerful question: what gifts has God given to me? And whether we take out pen and paper or make a mental list in our brains, we first of all, pause and pray to the one Holy Spirit who gave these gifts to us and thank him. Then we ask the one Holy Spirit to give us both a joy in using our gifts and opportunities to us them.


How will you use your gifts? Use them for the common good. But the final words in this part of God’s word read this way: “One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11 CSB17)


Notice those last few words: “as he wills.” One of the other temptations we can fall into is to yearn, pine away, and envy the gifts that the one Holy Spirit has given to others. What helps us use our gifts with contentment is knowing that the one Holy Spirit is the one who chose to give us our gifts. Those other gifts that others have do not fit us. It’s like having to return shoes to a store because they didn’t fit. They looked nice on the website. They had all the qualities that you wanted in a shoe. But they didn’t fit. It’s the same with the gifts the one Holy Spirit gave you. The one Holy Spirit knows perfectly and exactly what gifts fit you. He chose them for you. He custom tailored them for you.


With all this in mind, when you ask the question, how will I use my gifts, Hear the one Holy Spirit speaking to you from God’s word. Use your gifts for the common good. And use them with contentment. Amen.



1 “ⲇⲓⲁⲕⲟⲛⲓⲱⲛ” (1 Corinthians 12:5 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲧⲉⲣⲱⲇⲉⲡⲓⲥⲧⲓⲥ” (1 Corinthians 12:9 GNT-ALEX)

Where Will I Be Welcomed? (Pentecost 10)

Bread

Where Will I Be Welcomed?


Wealth can be used for wickedness. If you open any newspaper or follow any news feed, you will quickly realize that this is true. Graft, greed, bribery and embezzlement—it’s all there. The same was true in Jesus’ time. In Luke 16, Jesus tells us this story: 1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’” (Luke 16:1–2 NIV11-GKE)


In this story there’s a slave who is the manager of a household. This is a little out of our understanding today. But, while there were horrible examples of slavery throughout history, there are also examples of how, sometimes, people would choose to be slaves for a wealthy master rather than be on their own and be poor. So here, that’s what we have. He has used his master’s wealth for wickedness. And he is about to be called on carpet and held accountable. What’s he going to do? Is he going to run? Is he going to rise up and rebel against his master? Is he going to beg for mercy? Jesus tells us: ““The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—” (Luke 16:3 NIV11-GKE)


As we put ourselves into the shoes of this servant, the first detail we see are problems. He doesn’t want to lose his position and be kicked out of his master’s house. The first problem is his health—he is not strong enough for manual labor. The second is his pride—he is too ashamed to beg. Now, we would expect him to work from the problem to the solution. But that’s not what happens. Jesus says: “I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’” (Luke 16:4 NIV11-GKE)


Notice that before the servant thinks about a solution, he thinks out a goal. At the end of the day, what does he want? He wants to be welcomed into people’s houses if he’s kicked out of his master’s house. Right away we’re amazed and astonished at how thinking and smart this man is. We might think in terms of problem → solution. This man thinks in terms of problem → what do I want? → Solution. Smart indeed! But then what does the servant say? 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’” (Luke 16:5–7 NIV11-GKE)


His goal is that, at the end of the day, he would be welcomed into other people’s houses even if he’s kicked out of his master’s house. So what is his solution? He calls in the people who owe his master money. He decreases their debt and then demands that they sign their name to it. Notice what he’s doing: he is making them complicit. They are joining in the crime with him. And if he gets caught, he is taking them down with him. So, finally, he is done. He has acted wickedly. So then, what will happen when the master shows up and calls him to account? We read: ““The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8 NIV11-GKE)


We read this parable and we’re waiting. We’re waiting for the hammer to be dropped and justice to be served. But the master comes back and commends the wicked servant. And this is so strange for us to deal with. But the motivation from the master’s perspective is this: If this servant is so smart and driven when it comes to cheating me out of money, how much more so will he be when it comes to making me money. A guy that is that smart might steal from me, but just imagine how much money he will make for me! So there’s the story. But how do we make any sense of the story? Jesus tells us: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9 NIV11-GKE)


When thet servant got caught, what what was his goal? His goal was to be welcomed in other homes when he was kicked out of his master’s. And to get at this goal he used his brain to work with wealth. And that is what Jesus is asking us to do in these words. If wicked people can use wealth to get at their goals of having a home to be welcomed into at the end of the day, shouldn’t we? The servant used his brain to use wealth for bad. Can’t we use our brains to make use of wealth for good? And notice the pattern that Jesus lays out for us: First, we work hard enough and be wise enough to get and keep money. Second, we spend that money in ways that we gain friends. Third, as time goes by, we have the opportunity to share our faith with them. Finally, they die. And then we die. And even though the money is gone, our Christian friends welcome us into heaven.


But here is where we see our very own sin. For Jesus tells us: 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”” (Luke 16:10–13 NIV11-GKE)


How do you think about money? Years ago, when I first studied these words, they struck me like a hammer. I thought of wealth as the way you get food for myself or for my family. I thought about wealth as a way to have fun. But I did not think much more about it than that. I did not think to even ask the question, “how can I use worldly wealth to gain friends and then, when they die, and I die, they will welcome me into heaven?” The servant used his brain for wickedness. And my sin was that I didn’t use my brain for that much at all. And if we don’t think it through we can very quickly end up where our words conclude here, that we end up serving money instead of God. We end up having our money use us instead of us using our money.


Where will you be welcomed? The same Savior who spoke this parable to his disciples is the same Savior who promised to them that he was leaving them to prepare a place for them. And because of this, as each of them looked forward to their own death, they could know that they would be welcomed in heaven. And the same is true for us. And all of this is true because Jesus died and payed for the times we didn’t think it through. We didn’t think through much beyond food and fun. And our money used us instead of us using our money. Those sins are covered and forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection. And because of this, we will be welcomed into heaven.


But let’s not finish here. Jesus invites you to go home today, and whether it’s on your commute to work or when you’re falling asleep at night, think this though. Use your worldly wealth. Don’t use it wickedly. But instead, think it through. How can you use your wealth and make friends? A few weeks ago, when Karin and the girls were gone, I went hiking up to the north shore to go hiking. And I met a guy there who saw my motorcycle. And the next thing I knew, I had a friend. He asked if mine was an “R”. He had a “G” version of that motorcycle. 20 minutes were spent just talking about motorcycles. And all it took was for me to buy, have and own a motorcycle. The irony, my dear friends in Christ, is that there are times that our possessions do the work for us. You go to a baseball game or to a gym or start a hobby and when people find out, they naturally talk to you. And if given more time, you have the opportunity to be their friends. And if what you have bought with your money is important to you, what eventually you can share is what Jesus bought with his own blood: their salvation. For all the stuff we have will go away. But the real question is: where will I be welcomed when it is all gone? So be wise with your wealth. Use your wealth to make friends—real and true friends out there in the world. And then when it is gone, they will welcome you into heaven. Amen.