Be Thoughtful (The Last Sunday)

Alpha and Omega

Be Thoughtful (The Last Sunday)
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Be Thoughtful


Think it through ahead of time. The toll booth taught me to plan ahead. When I was in PA there were many bridges. And with the bridges came the toll booths. And one one of the interesting traits about toll booths is that they either let you go through if you have an EZ pass or you need to have coins. But, in our modern age it’s almost as if you never need coins for anything anymore. I certainly thought that was true—at least until I rented a car. I didn’t have my EZ pass. And I didn’t have any coins. So there I was at the toll booth with no way to pay. So I had to just break the law and drive through. Sometimes it pays to think it through ahead of time. It’s true in our every day life. But it’s also true in the context that Jesus is speaking about in God’s word this morning. In Matthew 25, we read: 1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; 4 but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5” (Matthew 25:1–4 CSB17)


In these words Jesus introduces us to ten virgins. And these ten women are waiting for the bridegroom to appear so they can go into the wedding banquet. Fiver were stupid.1 And five were thoughtful.2 And already in these words we see a huge hint as to how thoughtful they were. Each of the five thoughtful virgins brought extra oil. And in the words that follow we see them show their thoughtfulness: 5 When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 “Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’” (Matthew 25:5–9 CSB17)


The bridegroom delays in coming. This should not surprise us. Even today, one of the occasions which is most difficult to keep on time is the beginning of a wedding. The bridegroom delays in coming. And all of them become tired and fall asleep. And all of them then run out of oil in their lamps. The stupid women ask the thoughtful ones if they can share their extra oil. And here is where it gets interesting. The thoughtful women say, “no!” They say “no” because they are afraid that if they share with others they will not have enough fuel for themselves.3 This might sound somewhat strange and even rude to us. After all, we are taught to share and help those in need. But remember, these are the thoughtful women who say these words. They have thought it through ahead of time. The bridegroom could come at any time and they needed to be ready. How then do the words end? 10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’ 12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’ 13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:10–13 CSB17)


The story concludes. The stupid women go away and come back with their oil and lamps. But the door is shut. And the bridegroom says, “no.” This too seems harsh. But remember that we have far more access to light today than in those days. If you were going to be in the procession that ushers the bridegroom in, you needed to be there at the right place at the right time. You needed to be ready. The people who show up later, after the doors are shut, are the party crashers. And so Jesus concludes with these words: “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 CSB17)


So what’s the point of the parable? Is Jesus’ point that we should all go out and invest heavily in commodities—especially olive oil? No, he’s speaking about Judgment Day, isn’t he? Jesus is admonishing and encouraging us to be thoughtful because he could come at any time to judge the living and the dead. The problem though is that there are many temptations to not be thoughtful. There are many temptations to conclude that there are second chances when Judgment Day comes. Sadly, we find even Christian churches teaching this. Some teach that when you die, if you haven’t been good enough, you can get a second chance where your sins are slowly burned away over many years. Others believe that Jesus will not come openly and publicly, but instead, secretly. They say that he will secretly snatch his own and take them up to heaven. But the rest who are left behind will have a second chance to become Christians. The problem though is that passages like this and throughout the bible consistently say that there will be one Judgment Day. And they also say that we do not know when that day will be.


We probably know enough about the bible to steer clear of those misleading teachings. But sadly, we can end up in the same place just by living in the world we live in. You can live as if there are second chances by living for yourself in this world. What is it that brings you joy? Is it sitting down in front of the Vikings gave with that helmet with horns coming out of each side of it with a beer in one hand and a sandwich in another? Is it the perfect shot for the perfect deer on the perfect day? Is it in the summer time in the boat or on the beach? In each of these there is the temptation to forget and behave foolishly. For in each of these examples we can conclude that this is the good life here and have the worldly pleasures slowly drive out our spiritual pursuits. Time on the beach pushes out time in the bible. Time in the woods pushes out time in worship. We can say that we don’t believe in second chances after Judgment Day. But we can show sometimes in our actions that our words and actions aren’t lining up together.


And the same can be true when we live for others instead of living for ourselves. I’ve bumped into many parents over the years who wanted to spend quality time with their children. And so, for their children they sacrificed such mass amounts of time and money so that their child would be good at sports or music. And then, when Sundays came along, for years at a time, they were away from worship.


Now, here is usually where, when I’ve preached on these words in the past it is easy to fall into the ditch on either side of the road. One extreme is to find no pleasure in this life either for yourself or others. The other extreme is to only be absorbed in earthly pursuits, never looking to heaven and what is there. The thoughtful course is what we see here with the five thoughtful virgins. How many women fell asleep and even ran out of oil in their lamps? All of them did. There are going to be those times in our lives when our focus is on ourselves or on others. But then the focus has to keep coming back to this simple, thoughtful fact: We do not know the day or hour. The five virgins were thoughtful. And we know this because even though they fell asleep, they also thought ahead and brought oil with them.


So be thoughtful. Be thoughtful because you do not know the day or hour. And there are no second chances on Judgment Day. But also be thoughtful for another reason. The thoughtful life is the good life. There will be those times when you can enjoy a moment and say to yourself, “this is the good life”—and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when that’s the only thought. We bought our house a year ago. And it has this thing called a “gas fireplace.” Somewhere, somebody came up with the idea of having a fireplace that you don’t have to chop wood to make a fire. And I remember a year ago, about this time, firing up that Heat-n-glo staring at those flames in a comfy couch thinking, “this is the good life.” But my dear friends, whatever good times you have here should only be reminders of heaven to come. A warm fire place is a reminder of the place where there is no scorching sun by day nor cold by night. And if we settle on a fireplace in the winter instead of continually focusing on our life in heaven, it’s like sitting in the nose-bleeds when instead, you could be sitting on the grass on the fifty yard line. And only when we are able to appreciate this fact are we able to put our lives in this world in their proper place and perspective.


So be thoughtful. Live your life everyday knowing that at any time Jesus could come and judge the living and the dead. Be thoughtful because there are no second chances on Judgment Day. And be thoughtful because the thoughtful life is the good life. Amen.



1 “ⲙⲱⲣⲁⲓ” (Matthew 25:3 GNT-WAS)

2 “ⲫⲣⲟⲛⲓⲙⲟⲓ” (Matthew 25:2 GNT-WAS)

3 “ⲙⲏⲡⲟⲧⲉⲟⲩⲕⲁⲣⲕⲉⲥⲏⲏⲙⲉⲓⲛ” (Matthew 25:9 GNT-ALEX)

Who Gets To Sit With Jesus? (2nd to Last Sunday)

Sheep

Who Gets To Sit With Jesus? (2nd to Last Sunday)
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Who Gets To Sit With Jesus?


Iwanna sit at the big table. When I grew up, at big holidays like Thanksgiving, there were two tables. There was the big people table and there was the kiddy-table. And it was the goal of little child at the kiddy-table to get to the big, grown-up table. But there was always a test involved. First, there had to be space. And second, you had to act like a grown up. This morning we do not have an invitation to move up to the big table for Thanksgiving. Instead, we have the invitation to sit with Jesus in heaven. But that makes us ask a very important question: Who gets to sit with Jesus? In Matthew 25 we find the answer to that question: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matthew 25:31–36 NIV11-GKE)


It’s the end of the world. It’s Judgment Day. And Jesus takes his seat on his throne. And where we would expect a long, drawn-out trial, instead, there’s a separation. And he says to the people on his right, “come!” And again, we hear this and we ask, who—what kind of people get to sit with Jesus? And Jesus heavily hints at an answer in the words that follow. First, he speaks of an inheritance. An inheritance is not a gift you grasp for an earn. It is undeserved. Second, he says that this inheritance was prepared before God built the world.1 Before they had done anything—whether good or bad, God chose them. All of this heavily hints that this inheritance is not a gift they deserved.


But the story continues. Jesus gives a reason why they go automatically into his kingdom. He was in some bad situations here on this earth: stranger, naked, hungry, thirsty, in prison. And they were there. The sheep then react to this statement by asking Jesus a question: 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’” (Matthew 25:37–39 NIV11-GKE)


The ones who are welcomed into heaven wonder when they ever helped Jesus out in his time of need. Jesus then tells them: ““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV11-GKE)


In his own way, Jesus has already answered our question. Who are the ones who get to sit with Jesus? The Righteous. And notice from these words both what righteousness is and who fit that description. Righteous means to be holy and perfect. These sheep are righteous—they are holy, perfect, and blameless. But it’s not a righteousness that they earned or deserved. It was a righteousness that was prepared for them from eternity, bought for them by Jesus, and given to them by his holy word. From the beginning to the end, they had no part in this righteousness. They simply had the joy of receiving this righteousness. And the righteousness that they wear in these words is the same righteousness that you wear. It’s the righteousness that Jesus won for you on the cross and gave to you in your baptisms. And so, because of this, heaven is a place to look forward to, not a place to live in fear of. But these words continue: 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:41–45 NIV11-GKE)


The righteous sheep enter straight into heaven. But there’s another group: the goats. Jesus sends away the goats. He sends them away because they did not help him in his time of need. And here is where we need to read these words closely and listen closely. For the goats ask the question, “when?” And that, right there, tells us pretty much everything we need to know about them. One of my professors used to say that All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. And here we see what that looks like. The righteous are perfect, blameless, and holy as an undeserved gift. And, since they appreciate this undeserved gift, they spontaneously and naturally show their thanks for helping those around them.


Not so with the goats. The goats ask the question, “when” because heaven was a task to earn, not a gift to receive. And here, in them we see what happens when we confuse where righteousness comes from. When we conclude that we will pass the trial of getting into heaven with our own righteousness what happens? There are two tragic consequences when we go down this road: First, our neighbor becomes a tool instead of a person. Your friend, your co-worker, your family member—you look at that person not as a real human who needs your care and love. Instead you look at them as a tool, that if you are good to them, you can build up a list of good works and climb your way into heaven. And people aren’t stupid. When they see you treating them like they are a tool instead of person, your relationship with them will be short-lived. But the second consequence is even worse: If your neighbor becomes a tool, then Jesus himself becomes a fool. Jesus says, “Here, take my righteousness. I won it for you on the cross. I gave it to you in your baptism. Wear it.” And in response, we say, “I’d like to wear my own righteousness instead.’” We’re like the two year old who stubbornly refuses to let anyone help tie his shoes. And then when he realizes that he can’t tie his own shoes, he gets angry at everyone else. All throughout our lives we will continually find this tragic attitude in our hearts. And all throughout our lives we will need to recognize it and repent of it. For the warnings that Jesus speaks here are real. But notice where these words end: ““Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”” (Matthew 25:46 NIV11-GKE)


We repent of our sins. And in joy then we receive the promise of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us here. Let us then rejoice that, when it comes to this trial that we will face when we die or when Judgment Day comes, in a very real way, it’s over before it really begins. And that’s true because there is only one group of people who will sit with Jesus. The righteous will sit with Jesus. And we are clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. Let us then thank him. This morning we have songs from our handbell and voice choirs that urge us to thank our Lord. In these words we hear why. Who gets to sit with Jesus? Only the righteous do. And purely by God’s grace, we are in that group. Amen.



1 “ⲁⲡⲟⲕⲁⲧⲁⲃⲟⲗⲏⲥⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲩ” (Matthew 25:34 GNT-ALEX)

I Told You Ahead of Time (Third to Last Sunday)

Sanctification

I Told You Ahead of Time (Third to Last Sunday)
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I Told You Ahead of Time


It is good to know ahead of time. You could avoid many problems if you knew about them ahead of time, couldn’t you? This fact is so true and so important that there are dozens of proverbs we use in our every day life that echo this fact: First:An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Second:  Forewarned is forearmed. Third: And now you know; and knowing if half the battle. This morning that is what our Savior does for us. He tells us important details ahead of time. In Matthew 24, we read: 15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Matthew 24:15–21 NIV11-GKE)


In these words Jesus is telling the people of his own time about the persecution that would happen to the people of Jerusalem in the decades after his death. But then, as quickly as he brings these details up about his own time, he then looks ahead. He lets us know that in the last days—the days we are in, there will be persecutions too. And here, today, we see that these words are true. Across the world there is immense pressure put on the Christian church to give up the truth and conform to what the world wants. In China, Africa, and in Indonesia, there are real consequences for holding to your Christian faith. And here in our own land there is persecution too. It is not as ‘in your face’ as it is overseas. But it’s here. If you hold to what the bible says about gender or marriage you will stand out in our society. And our society will let you know that you are out of step with what they preach. So Jesus tells us ahead of time. There will be big persecutions. But what also will there be? 22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:22–23 NIV11-GKE)


Notice how bold Jesus is. In his own way, he is telling us to not be naïve. We teach our children that not everyone who wants to give us candy at Halloween is a friend. Jesus is telling us that not everyone who claims to be a Christian prophet or pastor should be trusted. And then he even adds some more details to this: 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:24–25 NIV11-GKE)


Notice what Jesus says here. For these words are easy to overlook. In these last days there will even be false preachers who will even be able to perform miracles. Now here is where it’s important to think about these details. I used to think that if God were in favor of a prophet and his teaching he would allow that man to perform miracles to confirm what he is preaching. But notice the pattern that Jesus lays down for us here in these last days. In these last days the ones who are held up as being false teachers are the ones who perform signs and wonders. Years ago I asked myself the question, ‘why would the Lord allow this?’ And in our first reading God gives us the answer: to test us.1 We know who the true teachers of God’s word are not because of signs, wonders, and miracles in these last days. Instead, we look to their teaching. If what they teach and preach is in line with the bible, then we listen to them.


So notice what Jesus tells us: First, there will be big persecutions in these last days. Second, there will be big signs from false prophets. And Jesus says, “I told you ahead of time.” But, sadly, our temptation is that when Jesus says “I told you ahead of time,” we can get bored and uncaring. Persecutions—that’s what happens to other people in other countries. I can tell you that there are many Christian Parents who brought their children to church Sunday after Sunday, but then when those children went to high school and universities, they were, month after month pressured to give up their faith. And they did. And those parents would tell you that the persecutions are subtle, but they are real and sustained.


And the same is true when it comes to false prophets. Jesus speaks very often about false prophets. But when a faithful Christian pastor goes into detail, showing areas where there are churches that preach the truth and, on the other hand, there are areas where there are churches are not in line with God’s word—when a Christian pastor does this, it is ever-so-easy to become uncomfortable that he’s correcting the false teaching or false teacher. Or just as bad, we can conclude that false teaching in Christian churches isn’t really that bad at all.


Those are our temptations to sin: to not care when it comes to pressure from the outside the Christian Church or from false preaching from within the church. We repent of those sins. And look what Jesus does. He gives us good news. And here the good news is to tell us ahead of time.


First, he gives us details of what it will look like in these last days ahead of time. It’s as if he’s giving us this big check-list for our comfort. Wars and rumors of wars: check. Persecutions: Check. False prophets: Check. How comforting this is that when it seems as if the world around us is falling apart and our churches are crumbling from within, Jesus tells us ahead of time. He lets us know this is how it’s going to be. But he preserve his church for us—for the sake of the elect.


Second, Jesus promised a payment for our sin. It’s not just the persecutions and false prophets he told us about ahead of time. It’s also what will happen on Judgment Day. When the last day comes or when we die, we will stand before Jesus and all the times that Jesus was sober, alert, zealous, and diligent will cover over all the times we were careless. Jesus promises us this ahead of time.


Third, Jesus tells us ahead of time a massive detail that we need to know: 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:26–28 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus tells us ahead of time with such words of comfort that we are not going to miss his arrival at the end. He gives us two pictures. First, the lightning. When there’s a massive thunderstorm, it’s hard to miss. The ground shakes and the light flashes from one side of the sky to the other. You can’t miss it. That’s what Jesus return will be like. Second, You can’t miss where the carcasses are. In PA I used to visit a shut-in in Altoona. And, on many occasions I’d travel down a mountain valley. And there at the other end of the valley there would be all these birds circling around. And when I got close I found what they were circling over. There was a dead deer there. When I saw this, what could I be sure of? Whenever I saw the birds circling overhead, I knew there was a dead deer below. You can’t miss it. Jesus tells us ahead of time that we will not miss his return.


In three ways Jesus says to us good news. He does this so that we would know our sins are forgiven and look ahead to heaven. But he also does this so that we would repent, wake ourselves up and recognize that there will be big persecutions from the outside of the church. And there will be false prophets with big miracles from within the church. Jesus tells us all this ahead of time. And now you know…and knowing is half the battle. Amen.



1 Deuteronomy 13

What Could Anger Jesus? (All Saints)

Sheep

What Could Anger Jesus? (All Saints)
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What Could Anger Jesus?


Some people are very humble. Years ago, when I was studying to be a pastor, we had a classmate who was very humble. He grew up in South Dakota. And all his classmates—especially those from Wisconsin made fun of him for growing up in South Dakota. And it was interesting, as an outsider, to see the progression. They made fun of him. And the guy was so humble that often he made fun of himself. And that had this strange reaction that it was no longer fun to make fun of the guy that makes fun of himself. And so, would seem them saying how South Dakota “wasn’t that bad.’” And at the end of all of this, you ended up asking the question, “What could get that guy angry?” This morning we meet a man far more humble than anyone who grew up in South Dakota. Jesus was very humble. What then is it that could make him angry? In John 11 we find an answer: 32 As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” 33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked. “Lord,” they told him, “come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”” (John 11:32–36 CSB17)


In order for us to understand what is going on here, we need to ask the question, “who was Lazarus?” Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. And evidently, as Jesus got to know Mary and Martha well, he also got to know Lazarus well. And they shared a strong friendship. And when Jesus sees Mary and Martha he breaks down and weeps. And even the people gathered there take note of how strong of a friendship he had with Lazarus.1


That’s who Lazarus was. But when Jesus sees Mary and Martha and confronts the fact that his friend is dead, what is Jesus’ reaction. He becomes angry.2 Very, very rarely will you find me criticizing or correcting our english versions. But here is one place where they should have worked harder. Jesus is deeply moved. But he is also angry. And the important question to ask is the one we started with: What could make Jesus angry? And the answer is here, staring at us. Death is what makes Jesus angry. One of the fact about living in a fallen world is that death is all around us. We see it when we see raccoons dead at the side of the road. And even more so, we see it when our loved ones die and are no longer part of our lives. And our great temptation to sin is to hear the sermon that the world around us preaches and conclude that it’s true. When the world tells us that, whether we’re talking about a raccoon on the side of the road or a human in a casket, it’s natural; it’s normal, we have this real temptation to conclude that they’re right. When we lay our loved one to rest in the ground, we have sorrow. But there should also be some anger there. Look how broken our world is: Take our relationship with our parents and grandparents as an example. We spend years growing up and so very often not appreciating them as best we should. Then we grow up and we appreciate them but then we’re busy—with kids and with work. And then they are taken from us. And death is what does that horrible and terrible work. Doesn’t that make you even a little bit angry? Here Jesus is angry. He is angry at death for the times we should have been but was not. What is it that could make this humble man and Savior so angry? Death. But there’s more: 37 But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 “Remove the stone,” Jesus said. Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”” (John 11:37–40 CSB17)


Again Jesus is angry. But look at what Jesus is angry at. Look at the clear doubt they show. They say, “He healed a blind guy. Couldn’t he have also healed Lazarus?’” Their doubt, as raw and resisting as it was, was what drove Jesus to anger. And here is where we have to understand where Jesus was in his earthly ministry. This was not just beginning his earthly ministry. He was at the end. In just a few days he would be hanging from the cross slowly dying for them. But instead of listening to his sermons, they listened to their own doubts. How many miracles had he already performed? How many months of sermons had they already heard?


And so, Jesus is angry at their doubt. But he is also angry at ours. Death and doubt go hand in hand. Does an afterlife and eternal life really exist? Are these words that we read so often really true? Will I die in agony or peacefully in my sleep? What will happen to my children and grandchildren after I die? All these great and many doubts we have because we are driven to them by death. And just as he was angry at their doubts amidst so many promises from him, he in angry at ours too. And here is where these words take a beautiful turn: 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.”” (John 11:41–42 CSB17)


Their doubt and death itself drives Jesus to anger. But here is where these words are so precious to us. For Jesus uses his anger in a way that we would not expect. Jesus uses his anger to pray. And notices who it is he is praying for. Jesus is not subtle or sneaky. He bluntly says “I am saying this for you”. He wants them to know that he is praying for them. What is it that dispels their doubts? Jesus’ prayers. And the same is true for you. When you doubt that eternity in heaven exists, or that these words are true, or that your sins are really forgiven, Jesus still today prays for you and for me. He prays for our faith and against our doubt. And still today our Father in heaven still answers his prayers. That’s how he uses his anger: to pray for us. But he uses his anger in yet one more way: 43 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”” (John 11:43–44 CSB17)


Jesus uses his anger to give life. These are words you have to use your imagination and picture. In his anger Jesus shouts at Lazarus and commands him to come out. And Lazarus obeys. With the strips of linen still on his hands and face, he comes out. Jesus does this for the benefit of all those gathered there thinking that death is normal and natural and that there’s nothing we could do but slowly accept it. No, in his anger, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead to let us know that life, not death, is normal and natural. Death destroys our earthly life. That is true. But in his loving anger for us, Jesus destroys death’s power over us both by paying for it on Good Friday and by rising on Easter Sunday, promising that we too will rise.


And because of that this Sunday is a special Sunday. This is All Saints Day. This is the Sunday where we get to lift our eyes to heaven. For there in heaven are all those who have died in Christ, believing in him. And there in heaven we will be too. And there is this great comfort and promise from Jesus in knowing that if time, or age, or distance kept us from getting to know our loved ones as we would have liked, there in heaven it will be normal and natural to spend all eternity getting to spend time with them. There in heaven it will be normal and natural to never have death affect us again. That, my dear friends in Christ, is why Jesus got angry. That is why he got angry for you—so that he could pray for you and so that he would give you what is normal and natural: eternal life. Amen.



1 “ⲓ̈ⲇⲉⲡⲱⲥⲉⲫⲓⲗⲉⲓⲁⲩⲧⲟⲛ” (John 11:36 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲃⲣⲓⲙⲏⲥⲁⲧⲟ” (John 11:33 GNT-ALEX)

Let Us Be Theologians of the Cross (Reformation)

Reformation

Let Us Be Theologians of the Cross (Reformation)
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Let Us Be Theologians of the Cross


What is a theologian of the cross? 501 years ago Martin Luther nailed up 95 topics for discussion and debate in the town of Wittenberg. And that was the beginning of the Reformation. But it wasn’t exactly the clearest and best beginning. People knew that Luther was against selling indulgences. But they didn’t know what he was for. Word of this monk, Luther was spreading. So the Pope ordered his order, the Augustinian order to deal with the Luther problem. So, a man by the name of Johann Von Staupitz, Luther’s superior, held a meeting of the Augustinian order. But instead of holding the meeting to crush Luther. He held the meeting to give Luther a chance to clearly explain these “new ideas” that he was thinking of. It was the perfect environment for Luther. For Augustinians loved Augustine. But they loved God’s word even more.


And so, one by one, Luther brought up one theological topic after another. And about half way through he gets to a theme. He writes: “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is.”1 Luther shows us the bad guy. The bad guy is the theologian of glory. The theologian of glory tries to answer theological questions by looking inside himself and out there at the created world. But the one place he does not look is the bible. The theologian of the cross looks to the bible. So this morning, we have as our theme and prayer, “Let us be theologians of the cross.”




Free will, after [the fall into] sin, exists in name only.2 When I took history class in college, we learned about the Holy Roman Empire. And the first fact our professor taught us was that the name didn’t help us at all in understanding what the Holy Roman Empire was. For, he said, it was neither Holy, nor Roman, and not even much of an empire. Freewill is like that. It has a name. But it’s a name without much meaning. Humans have freewill when it comes to earthly issues, having to do with reason—eating a burger or burrito for lunch. But freewill is a useless name when it comes to spiritual issues. And Luther illustrates it this way: When we do what what comes naturally to us, it leads to death. There was this idea in Luther’s day (and it’s still here in our’s too), that people, as they come into this world do not know who God is. But there were two solutions to this problem. First, you do what comes naturally to yourself: you seek God and do works that are pleasing to him.3 Second, God will see your good works and then do the rest of the work to let you into heaven. And Luther lets us know that the bible tells us that this is wrong. Our will is not free to do good. As we come into this world, before we are Christians, we are not able to do good at all. We have no freedom to do good. But we do have a freedom to yearn for and plan evil. In that context we are perfectly free. A theologian of the cross what it actually is. Each of us has this selfish, sinful voice inside of us that wants to play a role in our salvation, to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. But at theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is. Freewill exists in name only. For we are slaves to sin. But the good news is that Jesus came into this world. And he set us free from sin. He set us free from sin by dying and paying for our sin. He set us free by giving us a new person to wage war against the old. A theologian calls a thing what it actually is: freewill, after the fall, exists in name only.




The invisible God is not known through what is visible. The theologian of the cross calls something what it is. God is invisible. What he is is invisible. The Holy Spirit and the work he is is invisible. The gift of faith that God creates in us is invisible. Luther reminds us that a theologian of glory tries to find out who God is and what his glory is by looking at what is visible. Instead, we should look at what is invisible. This is a statement that we have to think through a little. For one of the traps we can fall into as Christians is that we can know who God is by looking at creation, or even worse, thinking that God talks to us through creation. For example, if you go away camping for a weekend and you see the leaves falling, you can conclude, “God must be good because of all these pretty colors.” But another person could well and truly conclude that God is evil. Why? He turns these leaves pretty so that he can cause them to die. If you want to see who God really truly is, you cannot look to what is seen—especially creation around us. But this theology of glory gets even worse. The theology of glory concludes that since Jesus visibly rose from the grave, victorious over sin and Satan, the church and Christians in the church will have a victorious life. So then, according to the theology of Glory, the true church is the one that is always growing. The true church is the one in which its members have the best life now instead of having the best life in heaven.


The theology of the cross, however, calls a thing what it is. Luther writes: “The person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who understands the visible and the “back side” of God [Exod. 33:23] seen through suffering and the cross.”” 4 If you want to see Jesus; if you want to see the Father’s glory, don’t look at the leaves. The leaves do not sweetly sing to you. Do not look at your life. For there you will find many failures. Instead, if you want to see the Father’s glory, look at Jesus. Jesus himself tells us this in John 14: 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8–9 NIV11-GKE) If you want to see the Father’s glory, look to Jesus. But even more than that, look at his suffering. Look at his shame. Look at your Savior bleeding and sighing there on the cross. Then and there you will begin to see your God’s glory. For there you will begin to see and take to heart your God’s love for you and forgiveness won for you. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is.




What is a saint? You can tell a lot about people by the expressions they use. One of the expressions I’ve heard over the years goes like this: “Well, I’m no saint, but…’” Notice the point the person is making. There are really good people out there. There are people who are better than I am. They are better because they work harder with their hands than I do. They are better than I am because they work harder with their hearts than I do. They deserve to be called, “saints.” But, my friends in Christ, that attitude is wrong. To use Luther’s language, that is the theology of glory. How do? Luther puts it this way: “The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “Believe in this One,” and everything has already been done.””5 The theology wants to look to things it can see. The theologian of glory wants to see progress and improvement in his or her life so that there is proof of being a Christian and also then proof of having a place in heaven. The problem though is that if you look to yourself for proof, you always need more proof. And you end up in despair. That’s the theology of glory. But the bible and the theologian of the cross has a different definition. Luther puts it this way: “And the law… commands what faith obtains.” 6 God’s word demands that we be perfect if we are to get into heaven. Faith gives us that perfection. But make no mistake. It is not our perfection that faith claims. It’s Christ’s perfection. And the result is that when our Father looks at us, through this gift of faith, he sees Christ’s perfection on our behalf.



1 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 99.

2 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 95.

3 Facere quod in se est

4 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 99.

5 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 103.

6 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 103.

What Is Better Than Wonders? (Pentecost 22)

Faith

What Is Better Than Wonders? (Pentecost 22)
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What Is Better Than Wonders?


Wonders don’t work. When I was a child the time of the year when we got our toys was Christmas. And part of the excitement of Christmas wasn’t just seeing what presents we got, but also seeing what presents our friends got. And I remember visiting a neighbor up the road. He got the Millenium Falcon. That was the sort of gift that very few children got both because it costed lots of money and because they were usually sold out before you got to the store. But my friend had that sort of gift that would inspire the thought, “wow!” inside me. But weeks later I went over to visit him. And the Millenium Falcon was in pieces in his room. Here, he had this wondrous toy that so many only dreamed of having. But it was wasted on him. Why? Wonders don’t work. The problem is not with the wonders that wow us. The problem is us. That’s the thought that Jesus brings to our brains as we begin to read these words in John 4: 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”” (John 4:46–48 NIV11-GKE)


There’s a man who comes to Jesus expecting and pleading for a wonder. And in response Jesus says, “unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never ever believe!”1 Jesus brings up here a fact of every day life in a fallen world. We look to wows and wonders in our lives. But what happens when we receive them? We become bored with the wonders and even worse: we are tempted to trust in the wonder rather than the one who gave them. Look at our lives. Our good and gracious Lord gives us peace from wars and disasters so that we are able to use our brains to develop technologies that would be truly wonders to every other generation before us. But the wonders we see around us become boring. And we are tempted to trust in them instead of the one who gave them to us. And yet, what does this man do? He is persistent and tells Jesus: “The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”” (John 4:49 NIV11-GKE)


It’s good for us to have a look at this man for a moment. He is a royal person.2 When you are rich or royal or both you have people to travel for you. But notice what happens here. The royal official leaves his boy on his death bed and walks out to find Jesus. And he begs Jesus to come with him. But what does Jesus do? We read: ““Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” (John 4:50 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus gives him a better gift than wonders. Jesus does not go with him. Instead, he sents him away with the bare-bones skeleton of a promise. In our english versions Jesus says, “Your son will live.”3 And that sort of gets at the point. But a little more precise is that Jesus is saying, “your son continues to live.” Jesus tells him that his son is still alive and hints that the situation will work out.


Jesus gives him a better gift than wonders. He gives him the ability to wait. Now, here is where both this royal man and we today might ask the question, “Why is waiting better than wonders?” The problem with wows and wonders is that they don’t work. We receive something that truly “wows” us and then aren’t content with it. We receive a wonder and then we are tempted to trust in the wonder rather than the one who gave it.


But look at this man. Look at what Jesus did with the waiting. This royal man walked more than a day to get to Jesus. He has a short conversation with Jesus and then he has to take a two day trip back home. If a man were unburdened, had food and water, and were in really good shape, he could make the trip in a day. But this man isn’t an olympic runner. And the road is steep and there’s a mountain pass. So he walks back home throughout the day and sleeps overnight—or at least tries to. And the entire time he is asking himself, “Is my boy still alive?” He, not doubt, is saying to himself, “If he dies before I get there I will not have had the chance to say ‘goodbye.’” He wonders whether this man who he had never met before would keep his word. This man has to wait. And the waiting yields results: As every hour goes on, the wonder he was looking for became more needed. And as every hour dragged on he realized that Jesus was the only one who could provide this wonder. And finally he arrives at home. And then what happens? 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”” (John 4:51–53 NIV11-GKE)


The royal man arrives at home. His servants run out to meet him. And they tell him that the fever left his son and his son was well and healthy. But that isn’t enough for the man. He has to ask that next important question: what time? What time was he healed? And he learns that it was the precise time when Jesus was speaking to him. And in this we see why the waiting was worth it. His infant, fragile faith grew up. His faith drove home the fact that Jesus was the only one who could work this wonder. And Jesus worked this wonder not from ten feet away, but instead from miles away. And we see then the result of all that waiting: 53 So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.” (John 4:53–54 NIV11-GKE)


What Jesus did for this royal man he does for us. Waiting is so much better than the wonder. Because in the waiting Jesus so graciously gives us one gift after another. First, Jesus gives us contentment in our waiting. How often is it that we receive a wonder in our lives and the joy and contentment is washed away by by the next problem and stress? But, as we see one promise fulfilled after another by Jesus, that teaches us to be content even while we wait. Second, Jesus gives us trust in our waiting. We learn not to confuse the gift with the giver and the wonder with the wonder-worker. The waiting, just like this man walking on the road, causes us to see and appreciate that our Triune God is the one who works all wonders and gives all gifts. And finally, in this waiting we remember the one who waited perfectly in our place. When I think of waiting I think of a different boy than this boy in Capernaum. I think of the boy Jesus in the temple. There he is, with more knowledge than all his teachers. They are wowed by him and surround him to talk about God’s word with him. But then his parents come back and what does he have to do? He has to go home with them, submit to them, and most of all wait. He waits for a decade and a half before he can officially and publicly be who he is. But my dear friends, he did all of this waiting willingly and perfectly in our place.


And so, my dear friends when those times of waiting come, remember this royal man. Remember that so very often what is even better than the wonder is the waiting. When you have to wait till you grow up; when you have to wait for your children to come home at night, when you have to wait for results of the doctor’s test; when you have to wait for Judgment Day itself—when you have to wait for all these and more, remember that it is precisely in the waiting that God gives us contentment, trust, and the powerful reminder of his great forgiveness won for you in your place. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲁⲛⲙⲏ … ⲓ̈ⲇⲏⲧⲉⲟⲩⲙⲏⲡⲓⲥⲧⲉⲩⲥⲏⲧⲉ” (John 4:48 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲓⲕⲟⲥ” (John 4:49 GNT-ALEX)

3 “ⲟⲩ̈ⲓ̈ⲟⲥⲥⲟⲩⲍⲏ·” (John 4:50 GNT-ALEX)

Come To A Royal Wedding (Pentecost 21)

Jesus

Come To A Royal Wedding (Pentecost 21)
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Come To A Royal Wedding


Some invitations you cannot turn down. Months ago there was a royal wedding in England. And part of the challenge for us over here in the USA is to recognize how huge of an event this was for them. To us, getting a seat at that wedding would be like getting season tickets to every Superbowl for the next 50 years. But all of these examples and illustrations are pretty wimpy compared to the invitation we read about here in God’s word. For the people that Jesus speaks about here in this story are people who are invited to a wedding for a king with power. In Matthew 22, we read: 1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.” (Matthew 22:1–5 NIV11-GKE)


What does God working in this world and through his word look like? It looks like a wedding. But not just a normal wedding. No, it’s the wedding a king puts on for his son. When a king sends invitations to that sort of wedding, who in the world could say no? And yet, in these words, that’s exactly what we see. The first group of people are personally invited through these messengers. And what was their response? They didn’t care.1 Again, they had a once in a lifetime opportunity. And they didn’t care. But there was another reaction from another group: 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7” (Matthew 22:6 NIV11-GKE) The second group cared—they cared enough to kill the messengers.


What happens next is not too surprising then, I suppose. We read: “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matthew 22:7 NIV11-GKE) The king is angered and offended. So he brings justice to them and ends them.


The picture then shifts back to the wedding banquet. As the army is marching away to kill the murderers the meal is getting cold. So what does the king do? 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10” (Matthew 22:8–9 NIV11-GKE) Here we find an odd pattern. Would invite “anyone you could find” to your wedding? That would bring up so much room for someone to wreck your wedding. But that’s what the king does. But he does this with a context in mind. He says that the first group of guests were not worthy.2 In that context he sends his servants out inviting anyone they could find. And so we read: 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 22:10–13 NIV11-GKE)


The servants went out and found both good and bad people. And it showed. For the king went into his banquet hall to look at his quests. And he found one who was not wearing clothes appropriate for a wedding. Now whether the expectation was a fancy and expensive clothing or just that the man would take a shower and put on his best clothing, we don’t know. The context is clear though that what everyone expected, he didn’t wear. The king throws him outside where there is darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. And what was the reason for this? Jesus concludes with these words: ““For many are invited, but few are chosen.”” (Matthew 22:14 NIV11-GKE) Many, many people were invited to the wedding. But few would end up at the wedding with the right attitude and right understanding.


So, my dear friends in Christ, how do we make sense of this parable and apply it to our every day lives? With these words Jesus exposes our sin. Each of us has a standing invitation to the wedding banquet in heaven and a foretaste of that every Sunday. And Jesus exposes sin in these words. But he does so from the outside in. When Jesus invites people to be at his wedding supper in heaven, he invites everyone. Some will receive that invitation and will not care. Others will receive that invitation and will care enough to try and kill Jesus and those who follow him. But Jesus quickly narrows down to the one who sins in a far more subtle way. He narrows in on the man who should have known about the wedding clothes, but was speechless. And we can see ourselves in his very own example. Like the man without the wedding clothes, our temptation is to conclude that God should be content with our stinky sins like the king should have been content with the unshaved, un-showered man who sat there eating his food. We face the temptation to conclude that our sins really aren’t that bad. And God above and those around us should have to be content with them. In short, our sin is not wrestling against sin and instead being quite at home with sin.


But the other temptation is just as bad. We face this real sin to not rejoice at the wedding we have an invitation to. Each of us has an invitation to the wedding supper there with Jesus and all the saints in Christ who have gone before us. That should fill us with enough joy that we willingly get up, get showered, get to church, stay awake with joyful eyes as we sing our hymns and hear those sermons. But so often the cares of our every day life crowd out our joy of being there at the wedding in heaven.


This parable is a challenging one because it is one that exposes our sin, again and again. This is not the sort of parable where you can read it, close your bible and then say to yourself, “Well isn’t that a nice part of God’s word.” No, these words stab us and shock us. For each of us wants to not wrestle against our sin and have everyone in the world be content with our sins. And each of us should find joy in this picture and promise of a wedding in heaven. But we don’t have that joy.


If you are looking for good news in this parable, it’s there. You just need to look a little farther. In this parable the murderers are the ones who are killed. In reality, Jesus is the one who is killed to pay for sinners. In the parable we see that we, just like the man without wedding clothes, expect those around us to be content and sometimes even approve of our sin. But Jesus wrestled against sin and temptation. And instead of finding room in his heart for that sin, he said “no” to it. And he did this for each and every one of us. In this parable we see so many people who fail to rejoice at the prospect of going to a wedding, and through them we see the same in ourselves too. But what does Jesus do? A little later on in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”” (Matthew 26:29 NIV) Jesus doesn’t just tell us that there will be a wedding banquet in heaven, what does he do? He gives us a foretaste of that wedding banquet right here and now in the Lord’s Supper. He does this both to forgive our sins and to whet our appetite for the perfect wedding supper in heaven. And finally, in the final verse, what does Jesus do? He chooses us, unworthy as we are, he chooses us and gives us a place there in heaven with him. And all of this is his work, not ours.


With all of this in mind then, Jesus gives to you an invitation: Come to the royal wedding. You are ready for the royal wedding on the last day. But until that day comes, continue to wrestle against your sins and repent of them. And cling to Jesus who hasn’t just invited you. He has also chosen you. Amen.



1 “ⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲥⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ” (Matthew 22:5 GNT-WAS)

2 “ⲟⲩⲕⲏⲥⲁⲛⲁⲝⲓⲟⲓ” (Matthew 22:8 GNT-WAS)

What Will You Wear? (Pentecost 20)

Christian

What Will You Wear? (Pentecost 20)
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What Will I Wear?


What am I going to wear today? This is the time of the year that we ask that question. On any given day here in Minnesota it can go from 40 degrees to 80. And so, what are you going to wear? Layers: that’s the answer. But my dear friends in Christ, just as you get up in the morning and ask yourself that question when it comes to what you wear on the outside, God’s word also invites us to ask the same question to what we wear on the inside. In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us: “to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires,” (Ephesians 4:22 CSB17)


Before we can put on a new and good piece of clothing, we have to take off the old clothing. Paul uses a number of words that we may not be familiar with. So it’s good for us to have a closer look at them. Paul uses the phrase, “old self.” Way back at the beginning, Adam and Eve sinned. And through that sin, their sin is now handed down to us. There is an old self, and old person that does not know who God is—and what that old self does know about God, it hates. And no amount of pretty words or persuasion will win it over to Christ. And Paul here in these words gives us a reason why: our old self loves lies and is continually being corrupted by those lies. And that too is a powerful picture. Have you ever had rotting food thrown at you? If you had rotting food thrown at you, you’d take your clothes off. But the picture Paul has here is even worse. You don’t just have rotten food on your clothes. Instead, your clothes are rotting continually. And Paul could use many examples of how this is true. But the one he lifts up here to look at is our lies. Each of us lies, and sad to say, loves our lies. And we know this because we keep doing what brings us harm: we keep lying. This is a huge dilemma. What then is the solution? 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:23–24 CSB17)


So you have an old self. That’s bad news. But what’s the good news? Alongside the old self, God has created in you through the power of his word and through the gift of baptism a new self. Well, what is this new self? It’s a new heart, a new attitude. It’s flows from God’s likeness and God’s image. Now here is where we need to set aside time to talk about this very important phrase in the bible, “the image/likeness of God.” The phrase, “the image/likeness of God” is used in two ways in the bile. First, it is speaking about the fact that even after the fall into sin, we are able to use our brains in areas subject to reason. I can choose which shoes or pants to wear each morning. But there is a second way in which this phrase is used. And that’s the way Paul is speaking about it here. The image or likeness of God is being on the same page with God. It’s having and enjoying God’s righteousness and holiness. It’s not earthly reason; it’s heavenly purity. If you like pictures, think of the likeness of God like a car on the side of the road. When I grew up in MT, you could see on the side of the road old rusted out cars. And if you asked the question, “is that a car or not,” you could end up with two different answers. It has the outer shell and frame of a car. If you knew about old cars you could even say what make and model it is. But if you asked a different question, “what use is it,” you would have a different answer. All it can do is sit there and rust. After the fall into sin, humans have the ability to use their brains. But that’s like the frame on a rusting old car. It cannot do anything good in spiritual matters. In the really important ways we have lost the likeness of God. When we come into this world we cannot approach God. In fact, we do not want to approach God. We, on our own, in our old selves, run away from God and his goodness because we love our lies. But what happened to us then? We ran away from God. But God ran after us. And he created faith in our hearts and gave us a new person alongside the old. And since we have this new self, what should we do with it? God’s word tells us: 25 Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the devil an opportunity. 28 Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:25–28 CSB17)


God has clothed you in his likeness. What should we do then? Wear it. Wear his likeness in your new self. God was the one who chose to give us his likeness in our new selves. But now we are the ones who get up every day and choose to wear it or not. These words are piercing and powerful if you think them through. Every day and many times in a day we have the choice to put on our new self, clothed in God’s likeness, or put on the old self, rotting away in lies—every day. What this shows us is that our repentance isn’t just an idea, it’s also a fact. It’s not just an emotion; it’s also an action. Years ago I remember seeing a little child who took his brother’s piece of candy. The mommy made sure that the child knew that it was wrong to steal. And the mommy made the child say those words to his brother, “I am sorry.” And the boy said the words. But when she then told the boy to give back the candy to his brother, what did he do? He did nothing. Repentance isn’t just an idea. It’s also an action. God gives to us this new self. And this new self clothes us in Christ’s righteousness in two ways. First, when God looks at us he doesn’t see our lies that rot away our souls. Instead, he sees Christ’s perfect truth in our place. He sees our forgiveness. Second, This new self is no longer a slave to sin like the old self loved to be. No, this new self belongs to our Triune God and follows him. And so Paul can say, “if you lie, don’t lie anymore’” and “the one who stole, let him pay it back.” For this new self in us isn’t an idea. It’s a reality. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is wondrous, good news. For if you wrestle with temptations of lying, laziness, lusting, stubbornness, and selfishness as I do, then know where this comes from: your old self. But also know that you have a new self. And this new self is powerful. This new self is made in God’s likeness. And that means Christ’s holiness covers our sin. And that means we are no longer slaves to the sins that affect and infect us.


So my dear friends in Christ, every day, especially at this time of the year, choose what you will wear on the outside. But also choose what you will wear on the inside. Don’t put on the old self that’s like wearing rotting flesh full of lies. No, instead, wear what Christ has clothed you in. Wear you new self, created in God’s likeness. Amen.



Pentecost 18a

Sheep

Pentecost 18a
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What Heals Hypocrisy?


Iwould not want to be in his shoes.Right now in our nation history is happening. There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. And our nation is holding hearings to see if a man by the name of Brett Kavanaugh is going to sit on the Supreme Court. And, out of all the places I would not want to sit, his seat would be the place. Imagine what it would be like to be in a room full of people who do not like you and, instead of listening to you, many of them want to find fault with you. But my dear friends, the same, if not even worse is happening in our gospel for this morning. Jesus is in a room. And everyone in that room is just waiting for him to slip up so that they can find a reason to put him to death. I would not want to be in his shoes. But that is exactly where the Holy Spirit places us this morning. In Luke 14, we read: 1 One Sabbath, when he went in to eat at the house of one of the leading Pharisees, they were watching him closely. 2 There in front of him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. 3 In response, Jesus asked the law experts and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they kept silent. He took the man, healed him, and sent him away. 5 And to them, he said, “Which of you whose son or ox falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” 6 They could find no answer to these things.” (Luke 14:1–6 CSB17)


Jesus is invited to a banquet. And at the banquet is the most powerful people of the land. It’s the rulers of the Pharisees who are there. And there in front of Jesus is a man who has a disease that makes his body swell up with water. And all of the Pharisees are there looking at Jesus so that they can trap him.1 And Jesus does exactly what they wanted him to do. He heals the man who so desperately needed to be healed.


But then what does he do? He tells them a little story. He says that if any of them had their son or ox fall into a well, all of them, each of them would get down into that well and get him out—even if it was on the Sabbath. And when he says this, they cannot give him any sort of response. They cannot respond to him at all—this entire room full of experts in God’s word. Why? They know he is right. He exposed their hypocrisy. And their solution to their own hypocrisy is first to “fake it till you make it.” And then, when that didn’t work, the solution was to kill the one who was exposing their hypocrisy.


But before we move, on, instead of looking at the Pharisees, let us look at ourselves for a moment. All of us, each of us has the same hypocrisy inside of us that needs to be revealed and then healed. Each of us says, “I love Jesus” here at church and in our hearts at home. But what’s the problem? We are hypocrites. We say, “I love Jesus”, but I know more names of the Vikings line up than I do names of Jesus’ disciples. I love Jesus, but not enough to actually pick up a bible and read it. I love Jesus, but I’d rather spend time studying my fantasy football league than in bible study class with my pastor. I love Jesus, but I don’t speak like one who loves Jesus. In every place I’ve served as a pastor I’ve joined a gym. And in each place I’ve lived there’s always that guy who has that T-shirt that says he believes in Jesus. But then, inevitably, he is the guy who uses more four-letter words than men just getting out of the merchant marine. And I too fall into the same trap. When I go home from church with my collar on and stop at qwik trip to get gas. I go in to pay for the gas and there’s this shocking moment where I say to myself, “Oh yeah, you’re wearing a collar. Make sure that you act like a pastor.’” A Christian should never have to remind himself to act like a Christian. That should happen naturally. Jesus says these words so that we all—each of us would know that we are hypocrites. But, my dear friends in Christ, What heals our hypocrisy? Jesus answers that question in the words that follow: 7 He told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. 9 The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 14:7–11 CSB17)


What heals hypocrisy? Notice how Jesus approaches that question and problem. He sets aside the time carefully and compassionately teach them, who as professors and experts should know this already. And he uses what everybody could see right in front of them. There was this weird game that everyone there played. Each of them was trying to wiggle and wrangle themselves into the most important place to sit. So what does Jesus do? Jesus first lets them know that sinful logic always proves itself to be false. If you try to “fake it till you make it,” the truth will come out. When you sit in the place that belongs to someone else, someone will come along and see that and tell you to get to the back of the line. And Jesus says, that when you go to the back of the line, you will stay there.2


Sinful logic always shows itself to be wrong. But godly wisdom always shows itself to be right. He tells them that if, instead, they take the lowest seat, the master of the house who invited them will see them, go over to them, call them, “friend,” and then have them sit at a higher place.


Look at what Jesus is doing: He is letting them know that there is a solution to their hypocrisy. And that solution is humility. But my dear friends in Christ, that’s where these words leave us. But that’s not where we can leave these words. For we have a very important question to ask: If we cannot get rid of our hypocrisy, are we able to, on our own, just instantly and magically become humble? The answer is: no. Jesus is not speaking these words to these experts so that they can easily conclude that all that have to be is humble. No, instead, he’s showing that the humility that they need—the humility that would heal their hypocrisy, is what Jesus has.


And my dear friends in Christ, the same is true for us. It’s easy to say, “Just be humble.” The problem is that we are sinful. And just was we are full of hypocrisy, we have no humility in and of ourselves. Instead, we need to look to Jesus. Yes, it is true that humility heals hypocrisy. But that humility is not our own. Only Jesus’ humility can heal our hypocrisy. And isn’t that exactly what we see here in these words? Who of us would show the kind of humility that Jesus shows here? Jesus goes into a room full of people who want to put him to death. And he humbly puts up with it. And when he sees this man who is in such pain because of this disease, he reaches out, touches him and heals him in such perfect humility. And after he shows the experts their hypocrisy, instead of leaving the room, he reaches out to them to show them that the humility that they need is only found in him. And then he takes that humility with him all the way to the cross and dies like lamb lead to the slaughter.


So then, my brothers and sisters in Christ, take to heart the teaching that Jesus was trying so hard to teach to these experts. What heals your hypocrisy—all the times you tried to fake it will you made it and then tried to bury anyone who exposed your hypocrisy—what heals that hypocrisy is humility. But not your own. It’s Christ’s humility that heals you. For his is the only humility that can pay for your sin. And the Holy Spirit that he sends is the only one that can give to us real, true, genuine humility—the sort of humility that cannot be forced or faked. My dear friends in Christ, you need healing for your hypocrisy. And that healing is humility—But not your own. Christ’s humility heals your hypocrisy. Amen.



1 “ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲧⲏⲣⲟⲩⲙⲉⲛⲟⲓ” (Luke 14:1 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲣⲝⲏ… ⲧⲟⲛⲉⲥⲭⲁⲧⲟⲛⲧⲟⲡⲟⲛⲕⲁⲧⲉⲭⲓⲛ” (Luke 14:9 GNT-ALEX)

Pentecost 17

Easter

Pentecost 17
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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

Pentecost 16
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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? (Pentecost 11)
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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)

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Where Will I Be Welcomed? (Pentecost 10)
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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.



Be On Your Guard Against False Prophets (Pentecost 9)

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Be On Your Guard Against False Prophets (Pentecost 9)
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Be On Your Guard Against False Prophets


How do you know the difference? When I was a child we used to visit the ranch where my mom grew up. So, if you want to know what this ranch is like, picture rugged hills, sage brush, dry sun and dust. And mom would send us outside to play. But she would say, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” And then, we’d begin to run out of the house and then she’d say, “Watch out because they can look like the sage brush and dirt.” And we were so happy to get out of the ranch house and play that we didn’t ask the simple but important question: how do you know the difference between the snake and the dirt? We have the same sort of challenge here what Jesus says to us this morning. In Matthew 7, we read: “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 CSB17)


Jesus lets us know that there are false prophets out there. And the problem is that, you’re supposed to take note of them and avoid them, but they blend in to their surroundings. They look like sheep, but on the inside they are hungry wolves. So how do you tell the difference? Jesus tells us: 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16–20 CSB17)


Be on your guard against false prophets. And how do we know the difference between the wolf and the sheep? Jesus says, look for fruit. So what then is the fruit Jesus is speaking about? Is it figs, dates, cantaloupe, or watermelons? No it’s his relationship to what he is here to share. A prophet’s fruit is his love for God’s word. If you ask a plumber about pipes, his face will glow with joy. If you ask an electrician about lighting fixtures, you’ll hear more than we ever wanted to know about candlepower and wiring problems. If you speak to a pastor and a prophet, what should you expect to find: a love for God’s word.


And that love for God’s word should show itself in two ways. First, does he know God’s word. A prophet’s and a pastor’s life is dedicated to knowing and growing in God’s word. That’s not just his job—that’s his joy. Years ago I heard a sermon where repeatedly in the sermon, the pastor said, “well, I’m no theologian, but…’” That’s like hearing your doctor say, “Well, I’m no physician, but your heart looks too big.’” You would go to a different doctor, wouldn’t you? The same is true of prophets and pastors. The fruit you look for is not just a deep learning, but also a deep love of learning God’s word.


Look for fruit. Does that prophet or pastor love God’s word enough to know it? But also, does that prophet or pastor love God’s word enough to share it? The false prophet is the one who avoids clear questions. Now, here is where I need to give some more background and context. A pastor’s life is a little different than your own. When you get to know people, they ask what you do for a living. But I would guess that when you tell them what you do for a living you then don’t get asked a whole bunch of questions about theology. A pastor and a prophet does. And usually you get asked twelve questions in the span of of 30 seconds. So you cannot answer all the questions. But you do have to pick the one question that person needs an answer to and tackle it. And if the person who asks the question needs correction because they are wrong about a theological topic, you don’t dodge the issue, but instead you address it. And as a pastor and a prophet, you do this for two important reasons. First, you do this to warn them. In bible, the Lord pictures it this way when he is speaking to the prophet, Ezekiel: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, give them a warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but you do not warn him—you don’t speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. 19 But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have rescued yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:17–19 CSB17)


Notice the point that God makes to us in these words. The prophet’s role is to warn people against their wicked ways. And the Lord tells Ezekiel that if he doesn’t, then the Lord will hold him responsible for their sins. Notice how that changes how we view the pastor. The pastor is not the life-coach. The prophet is your friend, but he is not your buddy. And he is not your motivational speaker. He is the watchman who has to warn you of wickedness. The same is true with doctors, isn’ it? If a doctor knows that you have cancer and then hides the fact, he will get sued, and you might die. Much worse can happen if the prophet and pastor does not love you enough to warn you.


So the faithful prophet shares God’s word by warning. But the faithful prophet also shares God’s word by saving people through it. God’s word tells us: 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:13–16 NIV11-GKE)


Notice what the faithful prophet does. With God’s word he warns people. But what does he also do with God’s word? He saves them. And that’s what happens here Sunday after Sunday. Week after week you come here, like me, with so many sins—so many times God’s word said, “do not!”—But you did. And there were so many times God’s word said, “do this!”—but you did the opposite. And what have all of your pastors done? Each of them has said, “as a called servant of Christ, I forgive you of your sins.” Each of them has baptized you and reminded you of your baptism, where in those waters of baptism God saved you from your son. Month after month, your pastor gave the Lord’s supper to you, where along with bread and wine, you received Jesus’ true body and blood. And why was that given to you? It was given to you for the forgiveness of sins.


God has given you one pastor after another to share God’s word with you, so that you would be saved from your sins. But if you reflect on that fact at all, you end up where these next words lead us. What about all the false teachers? What about the snakes that blend into the dust, the wolves in sheep’s clothing? Who will bring them to justice and deal with their destruction? Jesus tells us: 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23 CSB17)


Jesus asks you to look for fruit. What will he look for from every prophet on the last day? He will look for faith. Does he know them and do they know him—that’s what Jesus will look for. These are words of comfort for us when we look out and see that the biggest obstacle in the way of people getting into heaven is false teaching and false teachers. Who will bring them to justice? Who will deal with them—especially if they look so squeaky clean on the outside? God will. And these especially are words of comfort for those who have come out of false-teaching churches into faithful churches. And they are thankful that they are in solid, faithful churches. But they can’t help but look back. Who will guard God’s church against the false prophets in the church they left? Jesus will. For he tells us to be on our guard against false prophets. So we look for fruit. But he watches over his church and protects them. And on the last day, he will look for faith. Amen.



You Have Been Set Free (Pentecost 8)

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You Have Been Set Free (Pentecost 8)
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You Have Been Set Free


But what does it mean? One of the interesting parts about speaking english is that you can say and use perfectly legitimate words in english, and yet, if you asked the question, “what does that mean,” you can’t really get an answer to that question. For example, if I say, “that was a redoubtable speech in every way,” you can be impressed with my words, but yet still end up asking yourself, “what does redoubtable mean?” What we love about the Holy Spirit is that he doesn’t just move the biblical authors to say a statement. No, instead, he also urges them to carefully explain what they say. So, in these words we learn that God has set us set us free. And then, Paul so carefully and eloquently explains that statement. In Romans 6, we read: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:18 NIV11-GKE)


You have been set free from sin. You have been set free for righteousness. But look at the time and care that Paul takes in explaining those facts to us: 19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” (Romans 6:19–20 NIV11-GKE)


There was a time in your life when you were not a Christian. And in that time you were completely enslaved to sin. But even now as Christians, each of us has a sinful nature. And that sinful nature wants us to enslave ourselves to sin. And Paul wants us then to look at the kind and sort of slavery this is. He wants us to see the willingness of that slavery. He uses the picture of a free person who goes to another person and says, “Here I am; I want to be your slave and continually do what you want.” That’s what your sinful nature does to sin. Because of our sinful nature we go to sin and we say, “Here I am, I am willing to do what you want.” And in the words that follow Paul shows us what our lives look like when we go down that road of willingly, gladly following the urging and voice of our sinful nature: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:21 NIV11-GKE)


Our willingness to enslave ourselves to sin leads to the results of that slavery. The first result is shame. Our sinful nature leads, urges, drives, and entices us to sin. And it so quickly leads to shame. And it’s the sort of shame we remember years later. Each of us can look back in our lives at times we lied, gossiped, and broke confidence. And it makes us ashamed even still to this day. That’s the first result. But the second result of this slavery is death. If we do not see this slavery for the sin it is then it leads and drags us to death—and not just physical death. If we do not repent of our sin and instead rejoice in it, it will lead to the eternal death of hell.


And that’s why it’s so important for us to remember that we have been freed from the slavery of sin. Our sin does not own us and we do not want it. Jesus freed us from the slavery of sin by enduring the consequences of our sins in our place. We gossip. We lie. We break confidence. But Jesus is the one who had all these sins committed against him. Jesus is the one who paid for them with his own death. And because of this we are free—really, truly free from sin. But Paul shows us another way in which we are free: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 NIV11-GKE)


We have been set free from sin. But notice what Paul teaches us here. We have been set free for righteousness. When God created faith in our hearts he gave to us a new nature alongside the old nature to wage war with it and to cling to God. And just as willingly, gladly, and joyfully as our old nature enslaved itself to sin, so also, our new nature willingly, gladly, joyfully serves God above.


And that leads us to ponder a profound truth: How can serving others be fulfilling? As Christians, we lead a life of service—or to use Paul’s words here, a willing slavery.1 For us, as Christians, we gladly give up our freedom to follow ourselves solely and exclusively, because, to us, it’s actually fun. When I think of this I think of the guy who had a little girl. And he wanted to spend time with his daughter. But he didn’t have enough in common with her. So what did he do? When he realized that she needed someone to braid her hair, he went “all in” and went to cosmetology school. And before he had a daughter he would have never thought of doing this. But after he has his daughter he gives up his time. He gives up his life. He gives up his freedom, for one reason: He loves his daughter. And the same is true with us. When the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts; When we see what Jesus has done to pay for our sin and what our Father has done to care for us, his great love for us moves us to serve him willingly, gladly, and joyfully. And that service—that slavery becomes fulfilling and even fun.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, it is so easy to throw those words around, “you have been set free.” But look at what they mean. Paul summarizes all these thoughts with these familiar words in verse 23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV11-GKE)


What you get from sin is death. But what you get as a gracious, undeserved gift from God is eternal life. With all this in mind, continue to run away from sin because you have been set free from its slavery. And continue to serve God by serving others. For you know the God who has set you free. Amen.



1 “ⲇⲟⲩⲗⲱⲑⲉⲛⲧⲉⲥⲇⲉⲧⲱⲑ̅ⲱ̅” (Romans 6:22 GNT-ALEX)

Can My Wrath Be Righteous (Pentecost 7)

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Can My Wrath Be Righteous (Pentecost 7)
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Can My Wrath Be Righteous?


There’s always someone who does it better. If you put on your best shirt to and come to church, there always seems to be that guy who not only wears a shirt, but it’s the sort of shirt that has some fancy bible passage on it. If you make it through catechism class and barely memorize the Apostle’s Creed, she has both the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene memorized. If you bring a box of donuts to the potluck, that other person always seems to bring the homemade cake, made from scratch. There’s always someone who seems to do it better. That’s the place where these words begin in Matthew 5. We read: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20 CSB17)


It was hard to beat the Pharisees. If you fasted, they fasted longer. It was hard to beat the Scribes. If you memorized a part of the bible, they had vast portions of the bible already memorized. And in these words, Jesus was telling his people that their righteousness needed to go way and above the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes. And with these words, Jesus was showing them that the right attitude was far, far more important than the right action. What happens in the heart is far more important than what is done with the hands. And in all the words that follow he makes the point with a real-life example. We read: 21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.” (Matthew 5:21–22 CSB17)


Can my wrath be righteous? That’s the question that Jesus makes us ask ourselves. Can we ever be angry and be right at the same time. And the simple and clear answer is: yes. I remember when I was in catechism class. And we public school kids hadn’t memorized anything before we entered catechism class. And week after week for about a month we put in half-hearted work with sad results. And our pastor, who was this kind and amazingly patient man, one day lost all that patience. And in a rare outburst of anger told us that we needed to learn our parts of the catechism. His anger burned. And what made it burn so brightly and why I still remember it today is because every word he said was right and righteous.


Can my wrath be righteous? The answer is: yes. But notice that here in these words, the answer can also be no. The Pharisees and Scribes did not murder with their hands. But they did murder with their hearts. They would not lay a hand on those around them to hurt them or harm them. But they hated them. And so, Jesus teaches them that righteousness is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not a matter of the hands.


And where does that leave us here this morning? It is impossible for us to look at these words and not see our sin. There have been times in our lives when we should have had righteous wrath. But we didn’t. And, yet, there have been times where the opposite was true. There have been times when we had wrath—so much wrath. But it wasn’t righteous wrath. There were those times when we murdered—not with our hands, but instead, with our hearts.


Jesus preaches these words to us destructively and deliberately. These words are not soft punches. These are hammer-blows meant to crush us. Jesus preaches these words so that each of us would realize that we cannot win. We cannot manage our anger appropriately. There are times that we should have righteous wrath, and it’s not there. There are times that we have wrath—but it’s definitely not righteous.


We look at ourselves and we see how much and how often we have sinned in both ways. And if, like me, you look at your soul and ask, “how can I get out of this trap,” then lift your eyes up and look to Jesus. There are times I should have had righteous wrath, but didn’t. But Jesus, he is the one who had perfect wrath in our place. Do you remember the time when he drove the money changers out of the temple. What always amazed me most about those words is the time involved. This wasn’t a sudden outburst of anger. No, it was a slow boil. He took the time to walk through the temple courtyard. And he took the time to slowly weave a whip. And when he saw how God’s people could not worship his Father anymore, he unleashed his wrath. But his anger was perfect. And what gives us so much comfort and hope is that his wrath was perfect in our place.


But what about the times we were full of wrath. But it was not righteous wrath? Then look to Jesus on Good Friday. Here in these words Jesus mentions that whoever hates his brother enough to say, “moron” to him is in danger of hellfire. But who is the one who endured the hellfire for all those people he was speaking to? Jesus was. We so very often cannot manage our anger. And even more so, we cannot master it. But Jesus had righteous anger in our place. And Jesus endured the righteous wrath that we deserved in our place to pay for our unmanaged and unmastered anger. But where do these words go from here? 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23–26 CSB17)


Can I have righteous wrath? As repentant children of God who know our sins are forgiven, notice what Jesus does. He gives us perfect and practical advice for our daily lives. So if we ask the question, “can I have righteous wrath,” the answer first of all is, yes. years ago I went to a wedding. And the pastor conducting the wedding gave one of the most muddled and confusing wedding sermons I had ever heard. And so, after the sermon, he offered up a prayer. And by that point I knew that from the lack of substance in the sermon the prayer wouldn’t be much better, so when all the others bowed their heads in prayer, I sat there in the back studying the people in the pews. The pastor opened up his prayer by calling on the “God of our many understanding.” In other words, he was saying that we all have different views of who God is and each is equally valid. Yikes! But it got worse. He told us, the congregation, to gather up our positive memories and energies and pool them together as a wedding gift to the bride and groom. And it only got worse from there. And what was amazing to see was one by one, Christians of different denominations lifting up their heads and refusing to pray with that pastor. I remember a dad looking up with this look of wrath and anger in his eyes and then reaching over to grab the hands of his children to make them stop praying. Those Christians, all at once, together, were so angry at what the pastor prayed, they all stopped together. But my friends in Christ, how did they know? How did they know that they had the right to be angry? How did they know if their anger was righteous anger? They heard the Good Shepherd’s voice speaking to them in his word. They read their bibles. They heard solid Christian sermons. And so they could be sure that their wrath was right and righteous. And the same is true for you. How do you know if your wrath is righteous? Read your bibles, come to church as your are right here.


But, my friends in Christ, what if the opposite is true. What if you lash out in wrath, but your wrath is unfounded? Then, take the advice Jesus gives here: be reconciled to your neighbor. And notice the urgency in these words. Jesus tells them to leave their gift right there and be reconciled to their neighbor. What does that mean for us? If you have wronged someone—you are in the wrong. And if you hold wrath and anger in your heart, then what should you do? Be reconciled with the person you have wronged. And when that happens, you will face the temptation to delay. You will want to find the right words. You will want to find the right time. No, instead, rush to be reconciled. Lay your sin at their feet. And, let me tell you as one who has had to do this more than once in my life, there is such shattering vulnerability in that action. But know this: The same Savior who died for your unrighteous wrath will be there for you and with you when you repent and try to reconcile with your brother or sister in the faith.


Can my wrath be righteous? Read God’s word and then the answer will be, “yes.” And for those times you fail, reconcile with the one you harmed. For your Savior who forgives you will shelter you and watch over you too. Amen.



All This Happens At God’s Word (Pentecost 6)

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All This Happens At God’s Word (Pentecost 6)
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All This Happens At God’s Word


It went where I did not expect. We have a new house. And the previous owner planted a bunch of plants in the ground. So there are flowers I don’t know the names of blooming around our house. But in the front, there’s this bush. And seemingly, everywhere I look, it grows in directions I did not expect. Five, almost ten feet away, it’s sprouting up volunteers. This morning in Luke’s gospel we don’t look at a weed or an invasive bush. Instead we see the same pattern with God’s word. When God’s word is preached and heard is silently and hiddenly goes in many different directions. And so, in Luke 5, we read: 1 As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, he was standing by Lake Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then he sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”” (Luke 5:1–5 CSB17)


In these words the disciples are at the beginning of their long journey of learning God’s word from Jesus. And Jesus is teaching the people from the boat. And these four disciples hear Jesus as they are fishing beside the boat. But at the end of his teaching time with the crowds, he tells Peter to put the boat out into the water and catch some fish. And Peter’s words here are fascinating. He tells Jesus that all throughout the night they didn’t catch anything. But—But, at your word, I will put out the nets again.1 These are some amazing words. Because at God’s word, faith was created in their hearts. And that faith naturally and beautifully followed. It might seem like a simple fact to focus on in a sermon. But it’s not. Every time a person across the street or on a bus confesses Jesus as his or her Savior, that is a reason for us to rejoice. For that faith did not come from them. Instead, it came from our Triune God. At God’s word Peter and his friends were given faith that followed. But what else happened? 6 When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees and said, “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” 9 For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners.” (Luke 5:6–10 CSB17)


At God’s word they were given faith that followed. But what happened next? At God’s word, they failed. These words are shocking to us because they happend just the opposite of the way we might expect. We would expect that Peter would see this miraculous catch of fish and conclude, “If Jesus can do that to provide for my physical needs, just think of what he can do to provide for my spiritual needs.” But he does not. Instead of being convinced of forgiveness, he is convicted by fear. And when this happens, he begs Jesus to go away from him.


Peter failed. He had faith in Jesus, but it was a faith that needed to grow. It was a faith that needed to thoroughly understand the difference between Law and Gospel; sin and grace. In fact, it failed so much that he even accused himself of sins that he didn’t even commit. The words that Peter uses here for “sinner” is the the word for a “professional sinner.”2 It was the word used for those who, in order to make a living, directly and deliberately, went against God’s clear word, like tax collectors and prostitutes. Peter was a fisherman. There was nothing wrong with his occupation. It’s one thing to confess our sins. But it’s something else entirely to confess to sins that we are not guilty. And that’s where we are quite able to fail right along with Peter.


And so, let me ask you, how do you know? How do you know if you are feeling bad for a sin that is really a sin? Do you trust your conscience and your feelings? They can be misguided. Do you trust the power of your own reason? It can be mislead. How do you know if you have the right to feel guilty for what you are actually guilty of? the simple answer is this: study God’s word.’ Years ago there was a pastor in Utah I met. He shared God’s word with Mormons. And he told me that, more than anything else, the people who joined his church, loved to study the ten commandments. Month after month, and even year after that is what they loved to focus on. Why? Imagine if most of the sins you were told your entire life were not really sins? Imagine that you were told that drinking caffeine was a twisted, wicked sin. Wouldn’t you want to know what the truth was? So they studied God’s word with their pastor. And you have that same privilege.


So how do you know if that sin is really a sin? Study God’s word with your pastor. But also talk to your trusted friends. And here what I mean is people who read God’s word and know you and know God’s word well. And where there there are those times you are in doubt, as iron sharpens iron, so they will sharpen you with the truth you need to hear. And all of this happens at God’s word. At God’s word faith follows. At God’s word there are times that we fail. But, finally, what else happens at God’s word? 10 “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people.” 11 Then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed him.” (Luke 5:10–11 CSB17)


At God’s word, Jesus removes our fear. Listen to those beautiful words that Jesus says to Peter: “Do not be afraid.” These are not wrath-filled, condemning words. Instead, these are words of comfort and compassion. These are words they would hear so many times throughout the next years. When they were terrified that Jesus would leave them as orphans, Jesus said, 1 “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1–2 CSB17) When Jesus rises from the dead and they are frightened and fearful that their sins are still not paid for and not forgiven, again they hear the words, 5 “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5–6 CSB17)


Jesus removed their fear. And Jesus removes our fear. But after that what does Jesus do? He trained them and taught them to remove the fears of others—to properly apply law and gospel. And he does the same for us. Some months ago I saw a mom. And she had a bunch of children. And as little children do, they got into a number of disagreements throughout the day. And one after another, she would tell her children, “what do you say? Say to me, ‘I am sorry, mommy.’” And when they said this, she said, “I forgive you.” What was she doing? Just as surely as Jesus was training his disciples to set aside their expertise in applying nets to fish and instead, apply God’s word to people, this mom was doing the same. She making sure that when they felt bad, they felt bad for the right reasons. And, then, when they did, she made sure that she removed their fear of punishment. And one by one, child by child, when she said those words of forgiveness, they ran off without a care, sins forgiven, and even forgotten.


Look what happens at God’s word. At God’s word, by this miracle of faith, we follow. At God’s word, sad to admit, but true, we fail to apply it properly. And at God’s word, just as Jesus removes our fears, so to, we also remove the fears of others. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲡⲓⲇⲉⲧⲱⲣⲏⲙⲁⲧⲓⲥⲟⲩ” (Luke 5:5 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲛⲏⲣⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲟⲥⲉⲓⲙⲓⲕ̅ⲉ̅” (Luke 5:8 GNT-ALEX)

Our Savior Loves Lifers (Pentecost 5)

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Our Savior Loves Lifers (Pentecost 5)
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Our Savior Loves Lifers


What about the other people? In Sunday school and in sermons we learn about a guy by the name of Naaman. We are told that he was a big man.1 2 Kings 5:1}} But he had leprosy. And we learn how he went to the man of God thinking that God would heal him because he was a big man. But, through Elisha, the Lord taught Naaman that healing and forgiveness is a gift from God not something earned or bought from God. We teach this to our children. We hear it preached in sermons. But what about the other person? At the beginning of this part of God’s word there is a slave girl. She lives in the northern part of Israel. And then what happens? There are raiding bands that go out from Aram. And they capture her family. And we don’t know what happened to the rest of her family. Did they die? Were they sold off into slavery to different people just as she was? In either case, she is left there alone with no family as a slave to a new master. And instead of running away or hating her master Naaman and God above, what does she do? She works hard to create a new family. She works hard so that her master Naaman knows the Lord just as much as she does. Where is her sermon? There are people in God’s word that get the spotlight. And there are others that fall into the background. Last week we had the opportunity to see our Savior’s love for the lost son. But what about the son who was not lost? So, in Luke 15, we read: 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.” (Luke 15:25–28 NIV11-GKE)


Notice in these words that our Savior doesn’t just love the lost. He also really, truly loves lifers too. When I say, “lifers”, what I mean is long-time or even life-long Christians. And that is important for us to see because this is a man who needs our Savior’s love. The lost son comes home. He confesses his sin publicly and desperately in front of so many people. The father forgives him and embraces him. And then the party begins. But when all this was going on, where was the older son? He was out in the field.2 He didn’t see his brother’s confession. He didn’t see his Father’s care and compassion. He gets to the edge of the property, and he hears the sound of happy musical instruments and singing. He gets a little closer and he sees people dancing. So he calls over a servant boy and asks him what is going on. The servant shares the father’s joy and says that the brother was lost and now is found. And then, when the brother hears about this, what does he do? He does nothing. He just sits there. In my own mind I picture this at night. And I picture this big house in the middle. And there is the brother sitting there on the fence just where the light fails and the sound dims. He’s just sitting there sulking.


This is a man who needs to see our Savior’s love for him. For this man, just like us, is a lifer. And we see in him a progression from bad to worse. The first sin he committed is one of omission. He left out the good he should have done. If he had a problem with his father or with his brother he should have been a grown up and gone in and talked to his brother. But he didn’t. He just sat there on the fence and refused to go in. From that the second sin started: the sin of bitterness. The more he sits there the more he stews. And he hates his brother and even his father more and more.


It’s important for us to look at this older son—this lifer. For his sin is the same sin that tempts us today. The longer we are Christians the more of a temptation we have toward entitlement. We too commit this sin of omission. When people, our fellow Christians, say words that we do not like and they offend us, we owe it to them and to our God above to reach out to them and speak to them face-to-face. God’s word says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19 NIV11-GKE) Notice the point: a witness—someone who speaks about an issue face to face. God’s word says, ““If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15 NIV11-GKE) Again, notice the point: we speak to each other face to face. And the great temptation we have as lifers—those who have been Christians for a long time if not even our entire life, is to conclude that these words don’t apply to us. And technology has not helped us in this area. You can go on Facebook and hear strange rants that go like this: “I wish some people would realize that hymns that are 1000 years old should stay 1000 years behind us.” Or you can hear the opposite, “I wish some people would realize that new songs don’t add anything to our worship. Nobody knows them and nobody can sing them.’” What’s the problem with this? We just like the lifer-brother are there sitting on the fence, letting that bitterness grow inside of us until it lashes out. And then through gossipy-third parties the truth comes to the person it is intended to arrive at.


So, with lifers there is a sin of omission that we can so easily fall prey to: concluding that we don’t need to actually speak to those around us face to face and person to person. But, on the other hand, there is also a temptation to commit a sin of commission: 28 So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:28–30 NIV11-GKE)


The other real temptation we face as lifers, is to conclude that God owes us his grace. Notice how the older son speaks. He speaks of his life in his father’s house as slavery.3 And that is our great temptation too, to conclude that God owes us forgiveness along with food, shelter, and clothing. And from that sin flows another: When we conclude that God owes us his grace, we very quickly take the every day gifts our God gives to us for granted. Parts of God’s word that show us our sin become offensive. And parts of God’s word that show us how much our Savior saves us from our sin become boring. The blessings of baptism are forgotten and the Lord’s Supper quickly becomes a show instead of a sacrament.


This older son—this lifer needed to see our Savior’s love for him. And so do we. And in the final words we see this amazing love our Savior has for us lifers: 31 My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”” (Luke 15:31–32 NIV11-GKE)


The first detail we look at is what the father does. The lifer son is there sitting on the fence. And even though he does not need to, what does he do? He goes out to the son who is there sitting in the darkness on the fence. The father had every right to stay inside. After all, his son was lost, but now he is found. But what does he do? He goes out to the son sitting on the fence in the darkness. And he does the same to us. When we do not speak to others and instead that root of bitterness grows and then we gossip when we shouldn’t, through other Christians our Savior comes to us and brings us back again.


Then the father reminds the son that everything he has belongs to the son. The father doesn’t take away the gifts from the older son. The older son didn’t deserve the family and friendship that he had with his father. And he didn’t deserve the food, shelter, and clothing the father provided too. But the father loved the lifer son so much that he let him know that what belongs to the father belongs to the son.


And the same is true for us. We do not deserve the forgiveness and faith our Savior gives to us. But yet, out of his amazing grace, what belongs to Jesus is also ours. And not only the spiritual blessings, also the earthly blessings are ours too. The food, shelter, and clothing that we do not deserve our Father in heaven graciously showers on us.


But his love for us does not end there. The calf was the one who was slaughtered in the story. But Jesus was the one who was sacrificed in real life for us. All of this our Savior does for us so that we would know that it’s not just that lost that have our Savior’s love. It’s those long-time, even life-long Christians too that have his love. Our Savior Loves Lifers too. Amen.




1 הָיָ֣ה אִישׁ֩ גָּד֨וֹל


2 {\ath “ⲉⲛⲁⲅⲣⲱ·” (Luke 15:25 GNT-ALEX)


3 {\ath “ⲇⲟⲩⲗⲉⲩⲱⲥⲟⲓ” (Luke 15:29 GNT-ALEX)



Our Savior Loves The Lost (Pentecost 4)

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Our Savior Loves The Lost (Pentecost 4)
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Our Savior Loves The Lost


It’s worth the price. Years ago there was a man who had a daughter. And the daughter wanted to be a scientist when she grew up. When she was young he told her that she had to work hard and get good grades. And if she did this he would help her when she got into college. Years later, she graduated. And with her diploma in his hand he gave the dollar amount that he had paid in helping her with tuition. And with a huge smile on his face he said that it was worth every penny. This morning we find the same sort of pattern. Our Savior loves the lost. And he shows us this by telling us three stories that illustrate this fact. And the way we see how much he loves the lost is by showing us the cost. In Luke 15, we read: 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”” (Luke 15:1–10 NIV11-GKE)


As we walk through these parables, notice the cost. A shepherd loses a sheep, then look at the cost. He risks the other 99 being attacked by a lion or bear to go out and get that one lost sheep. And with joy in his heart, he shows by his actions that it was worth the cost. It would have been easier to wait till morning. But she burns costly oil to find that coin.


This shows us an important truth: loving the lost means loving the cost. Jesus loves the lost. And that means that loving the lost will always be costly for the church. And our Savior expects that is we love the lost we will also love the cost. And yet we all face this temptation to pretend to love the lost and ignore the cost. One of the ways our Savior has chosen to show his love to the lost is by choosing and calling pastors to share that message of Christ’s love. And there is always this temptation then to say, “I love the lost but I’d like to not deal with the cost of having a pastor.” It’s unfair to have a church council ask and maybe even beg for a budget to be met. But there’s also the cost in time. Loving the lost is also costly in time. Years ago I remember taking two families through Adult Instruction Class. That takes so very much time. And I remember one of my members one of my members complaining that I wasn’t helping out enough at church. And that was my answer: if we love the lost, we also love the cost. And that means that there might be times when a pastor can’t be at the meeting or ministry you are involved because there’s a cost in showing love to the lost. For my own part the area I’ve struggled with is the ten percent of our budget that goes to missions. It’s ever-so-tempting for me to say, “I need to be paid and my church needs heat in the winter.” But then I am humbled by these words and the great cost shown in loving the lost.


Jesus’ love is costly. It’s costly for the church. But it’s even more costly for himself. We have these temptations to say we love the lost but then pretend there’s no cost. Is that how our Savior treated us? There was so much cost in Jesus finding you and he gladly and graciously paid it all. Look at what happened on Good Friday as Jesus paid for the sins you know you did. But what’s even more amazing is that he also paid for the sins you never knew you did at all. What cost he paid. What cost in time and energy the Holy Spirit spent on you. For he is the one who created faith in your hearts through the power of his word—not with commands and demands, but instead, with gentle promises of forgiveness. Look at the cost the Father spent in giving you parents. And for many of us here this morning, how many hours and years did they spend taking us to church amidst all our wrathful rebellion? And look at the great cost our Savior spent in training a pastor to teach you God’s word in catechism class or in Adult Instruction Class. If ever then you doubt the considerable cost involved in finding and keeping the lost, remember that you too were once lost. Then remember the cost your Triune God spent to gain you and give you his forgiveness. Our Savior loves the Lost. His love is costly. But as the words continue and other fact is preached to us: 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:11–24 NIV11-GKE)


In the third story of those who are lost we meet a son who threw all his good gifts away. The father amazingly welcomes him back. But when he welcomes him, why does he put the ring on his finger and the robe on his back? He was doing this to let his son know that his status was returned to him. And that status would not change. Even though he threw away his sonship, the son could conclude and justly so, that he was a son once again. And why does he slaughter the fattened calf and through a long party into the dark hours on the night? He does this because he wants everyone to rejoice in pondering the fact that his son was once lost and now is found.


And my dear friends, the same is true for us. Our Savior’s love for us is continual and constant. Jesus had no reason to choose you. But he did. He had no reason to wash your sins away in those waters of baptism. But he did. He had no reason to teach you God’s word so that you were ready to receive the Lord’s Supper week after week, but he did. That fact and your status as “child of God” does not change.


And this is so important for us to dwell on because each of us has a sinful nature that wants us to conclude that it’s too good to be true. Not all that glitters is gold. And you cannot get anything for free. But that’s the exactly the point, isn’t it? It’s free for us. But it wasn’t free for our Savior. It was so costly for him. And because it was so costly for him, we can now conclude that it is true for us.


And not only is it true, he also wants us to bask in that fact. They killed the fattened calf and threw a long party. And there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than for the other 99. How amazing it is that our Savior Jesus in heaven along with so many angels rejoiced in the moment we knew who he was and trusted in him. And that rejoicing will be our joy when we meet him with our own eyes in heaven.


Our Savior Loves the Lost. His love is costly. His love is continual and constant. I urge you then to love the cost in loving the lost. And I urge you to remind yourself that you are found. And that fact cannot be taken from you. Amen.



You Are Invited To The Dinner (Pentecost 3)

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You Are Invited To The Dinner (Pentecost 3)
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You Are Invited To The Dinner


Idon’t belong here. When I was a new pastor and conducted my first wedding service, those were the words I told myself. I had challenges with the details—what side the groom stands on and which side the bride is on. Who comes in first and last—those sorts of problems. And then, if I felt out of place in the wedding service, what happened after made the situation even worse. There was the wedding reception. And at the wedding reception they had a place setting for each guest. And when I sat down I saw, not one, not two, but instead four forks. Why in the world would you need four forks? Sometimes you can have the right music, the right setting, the right food, and yet you still feel out of place. And if that was how I felt, then what Jesus was going through in these words must have been so very much worse. Here Jesus was, a middle class to lower class carpenter. And he was invited to a banquet. But there was no one there to tell him to use the forks from the outside in. No, He was alone. And he was there so that others could look down on him, not listen to him. And yet, instead of saying, “I don’t belong here,’” he sets aside the time to preach out and reach out to the guests at the banquet. In Luke 14, we read: 15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’” (Luke 14:15–20 NIV11-GKE)


The opening verse gives us all the context we need to understand the parable that Jesus speaks. The rich, smug people there at this banquet were sure that they were going to be there in heaven at the feast in heaven. And Jesus makes them question their smug assumptions. And so, he tells them a story. There’s a master of a household who has a fancy dinner. He sends out the first round of messengers to invite people—his closest friends and associates to his feast. They agree. Then, he sends out another round of messengers at the hour of the feast.1 But then, one by one, each of them makes excuses. And what is fascinating about these excuses is that all of them are valid excuses. One guy just bought a field and another buys a pair of oxen. They have to check them out. How could the master of the house object? Everybody has to work. The third guy just got married. Who could object to that? But what’s the problem? It’s the matter of priorities. It’s the matter of making sneaky excuses to get out of important invitations and conversations that God wants us to have. The first commandment comes before all the other commandments.


In these words there is an invitation to the dinner in heaven. And there are no excuses. How important this is for unbelievers to hear. I’ve been a pastor long enough to hear the excuses. I invite my neighbor to come to church, and what does he say? “I have to work on the weekends. I think we’d both agree it’s important to provide for our family.” I invite a friend to church and she says, “I’m spending the weekend with my husband. And I think we’d both agree keeping our marriage strong is important.” Finally, at the end of the day, they’ve made so many excuses that the first commandment is squeezed out. But Jesus lets his hosts know that there are no excuses.


There are no excuses for unbelievers. But also, there are no excuses for us too. Sunday after Sunday you have an invitation to an amazing banquet and dinner in the Lord’s Supper. You have an invitation to receive the forgiveness of sins and lift your head up to the wedding feast of the kingdom of God. But the question each of us needs to ask is: “Am I making excuses?” Am I placing the duties in my life or the gifts God has given to me in my life above God himself? And this is usually where the questions start: “Pastor, is it ok for me to have a cabin by a lake?” “How many weeks can I be away at that cabin?” “If I put my kids in sports, how many Sundays can I miss before I get a phone call from the pastor and elders?” Simply put, this is not a question I can answer. What I can give you is an attitude from God’s word to understand. Ask yourself: “Am I doing this to appreciate this gift and then get back to the better gift of God’s word in worship?’” Or is it simply, “I am using this gift to get away from the Lord’s Supper and from remembering that this wedding banquet of heaven could come to me at any time?’” If the second is the case, if we go through our lives making use of God’s good gifts to get away from the better, greater gifts of worship, and the invitation to heaven we have in the Lord’s Supper, then Jesus says to you the same as he does to the smug, rich people here: There are no excuses. You have an invitation to a dinner. There are no excuses to that dinner when we put other gifts above that dinner. But the parable continues: 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”” (Luke 14:21–24 NIV11-GKE)


Parables usually have a plot twist. It was not out of the realm of possibility that when upper-class people, when they were invited to a banquet, would that excuse themselves—even the second invitation. But what happens next would have been shocking to them. The master of the house sends his servant out and invites the people hanging out in the streets and market place in town. That was shocking because rich people didn’t spend too much time in the market place. After all, they had servants to do that for them. But even worse, how shocking and shameful it must have been to hear about the master of the house sending his servants out to the hedge-ways and highways. That’s where the “icky” people are. The beggars and poor and crippled are there.


And realize my dear friends in Christ, who are the blind, crippled, and poor in this parable? It’s us. We are blind because of our sin. We are crippled because of our sin, not able to know who Jesus is and come to him. We are poor, not having even a dime that could help take away our sins. But that’s precisely the point. You have a dinner invitation. And if our attitude is to make excuses to avoid that banquet, then there are no excuses that are valid. But notice the point of these words: There are also no exclusions. The rich, the poor; the healthy, the crippled—they are all invited. And if they are all invited, that means you and I are invited too.


And as if that isn’t encouraging enough: to know that we have a place at the dinner in heaven, what gives us even more joy is to know how we have that place. Who of us, if we were at that very same banquet would have been able to put up with their pride? Who of us has used the good gifts God has given to us perfectly, not forgetting the first commandment? Jesus does all of this for us, in our place.


You have an invitation to a dinner in heaven. There are no excuses. And there are no exceptions. Amen.



1 “ⲧⲏⲱⲣⲁⲧⲟⲩⲇⲓⲡⲛⲟⲩ” (Luke 14:17 GNT-ALEX)