Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. (Amos 8:4-7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Oh, come, let us sin unto the Lord!” No, I didn’t forget the “g”. I really did say, “Come let us sin to the Lord.” Well, it’s what the prophet Amos is saying here. He tops his list of the sins of God’s people with not caring for the needy and preferring business to worship. “Let’s get church over with so we can get back to business. Let’s cut this stuff short so we can do what’s really important. Let’s minimize our obligations to God, so we can spend our time doing what we want to do instead. Time is money. Let’s get back to what life is really all about… the pursuit of happiness!” And what’s worse the business practices they want to get back to are less than beneficial to the customers. Crooked scales and high prices combine for great profit margins, but poor customer service. They were coming to church, but it was the last place they wanted to be. Amos was point blunt. “You’re only here to get credit for being here. You want God to notice that you are doing your part, paying your fair share, but your mind is in the market. God’s Word is far from your heart when you are far from His house. You think that you are entitled to pursue happiness because you’ve parking in the pew.”
Well, it’s a good thing that Amos isn’t talking to us. This moldy old prophet couldn’t possibly have anything relevant to say. How could words scratched out 3,000 years ago mean anything to you and me? God really couldn’t be speaking to me? Could he? Oh come, let us sin unto the Lord! Watching your clock already? How long is the sermon going to be today? The silage is fermenting in the field instead of the Harvestore. Week three Minnesota vs KC. The cattle need fed and the pigs won’t get fat. The roast is in the oven. I don’t want to spend my whole day here. Twice a month Communion would be better if it didn’t take so long. My time is valuable… Time is money… Ah, that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? We are not so far from God’s people who were hit between the eyes by Amos’ words. We do just what they did. We put God in church, and leave Him here. We grudgingly set aside this hour for God and no more. We pretend that God gets enough of us if we look like we are enjoying our time. If we fool the pastor we must be fooling God too.
If Amos’ words are harsh, he means them to be. His hearers were confident in their place before God. We do our part and God will do his part. We give God his due and our businesses will grow and prosper. Our thoughts are not any different. If we put our time in at church on Sunday we can live any way we want to for the rest of the week. God doesn’t belong out there.
But God says differently. He sends prophets and pastors to make it clear. You cannot serve God and money. …this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me… (Isaiah 29:13, ESV) Oh, come, let us sin to the Lord, is not something God will tolerate. Sin is serious business to Him. His beautiful creation is corrupted by it. His creature’s lives are set to ruin by it. Greed provokes God’s righteous anger. Amos speaks God’s law very clearly. “I will not forget their sin, ever! I will not forget your sin, ever!”
Well we are in trouble if God won’t forget. We have a difficult time on our own forgetting sin and the sins of others against us. But we count on God’s forgiveness. We cling to Jeremiah’s words as he speaks for God.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34b, ESV)
But Amos goes on to describe the consequences of God not forgetting our sin.
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. (Amos 8:9-10, ESV)
So how do we reconcile what Amos says? We know our lack of faithfulness in worship; we see our sin and know we need God’s forgiveness. Amos writes about a darkened day, a day when there will be mourning for an only son. It reminds us of a dark day we call “good”; Good Friday. That is a day when God does exactly has He says, He doesn’t forget our sin. In fact, He remembers them in full, by placing them on His only Son. Jesus, on the cross, is the focus of God’s wrath and anger. God is true to His promise of not forgetting sin. All human sin is heaped on Jesus; every one remembered; every lackluster worship service; every selfish thought; every time we watch the clock; every time our mind is somewhere else; every time we set out for our own gain at the expense of others. Jesus is nailed to the cross to carry them all, to suffer God’s punishment. Jesus dies with our sin, so we are dead to it, too. Jesus takes the curse of God remembering sin, so that we can receive God’s forgiveness. Oh, come, let us sin unto the Lord… let us place our sin on Him and receive from God the forgiveness He gives though faith in Jesus.
So, does that make a difference in our worship today and in the future? Shall we continue, Oh, come, let us sin unto the Lord? Saint Paul asked the question like this:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, ESV)
He answers the question, too:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4, ESV)
God remembers his promises. He places our sin and punishment on Jesus and gives us Jesus resurrection to new life. We walk in newness of life! We live and act and worship differently. What God has done for us in Jesus turns that turns our sin into sing. Oh come let us sing unto the Lord. Let us make a joyful noise to the God of our salvation. He turns our sin in to song. We rejoice. We celebrate. We sing about what God has done for us. Just like we sang moment ago:
Then shall I praise you and adore
Your blessed name forevermore,
Who once, for me and all you made,
An everlasting ransom paid. (LW 362:6)
And not only that but it changes everything else, too. Worship becomes the center point of our lives. We receive from God, His wonderful gift of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, in Word and Sacrament, and it bleeds through us to the world out there. Our lives become ways of serving others because God serves us. Our lives don’t need to be about gaining things for ourselves with crooked scales and false measures; instead our work becomes a way of giving God’s gifts to people who need them.
Now it won’t be to long and we’ll be thinking about stewardship in our church. Yes, I’m talking about the budget. God would not have us use the budget for the motivation we would work with. God gives to us so that we can give to and help others. God’s blessings to us are for our blessing other people. One way we do that is through the work of the church. We can do so much more than we do through our own congregation. But, we’ve got to start with Oh, come let us sing unto the Lord.
Oh, come, let us sin to the Lord? No! We are forgiven sinners. We do not live in sin anymore. God will not punish us for our sin because of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Instead, Oh, come, let us sing to the Lord. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
You can read most of it on the Lutheran Witness webpage. My personal subtitle was What Your Pastor Wants You to Know About Planning Your Funeral Check out Thinking about Your Funeral in the print edition or online.
Also, I'll be interviewed on KFUO Radio program Issues, Etc on September 6th about 5:30pm.
You can listen to the interview by going to IssuesEtc.org, clicking on "Listen Online" then scroll down to the 3rd hour of Thursday, September 6th. Select either the WMA or MP3 audio file. My interview is the second half of the hour.
Or you can download the Mp3 file directly Sept 6, Hour 3, Issues Etc right click and select "Save As".
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7, ESV)Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
Who would miss one sheep in a hundred? Sheep look very much alike, wooly balls of fluff standing in the ‘open country’ slowly walking and eating… bleating softly to one another. Baa, baa...
“Have you seen Wooly today, Fluffy?”
“Now that you mention it Cotton, I haven’t… I haven’t I wonder where she’s gone… have you seen her, Bobbin?”
One silly sheep in hundred, has wondered off… not many notice. But, there is someone who does notice. He begins looking for the sheep right away. First, he counts the sheep, because something doesn’t feel right with the flock. 97:Cotton… 98:Bobbin… 99:Fluffy… 100?!? I thought so. He looks over the flock. Wooly is gone again. The shepherd notices when even one sheep is missing. He knows every one by name… it is his job to care for them. When they wander off he goes out to get them. He has to. The world outside the flock is dangerous. There are thorns and brambles to get caught in. There are hungry animals who love the taste of lamb. The silly sheep just walks and eats, not watching where she’s going. Pretty soon she’s walked right into a thicket of thorns. The more she pulls to get free the deeper the thorns grab into the matted wool of her coat. The more she struggles the more she becomes entangled. Now the thorns have pierced her skin and blood begins to flow, coagulating as a dark red mass in his wooly white coat…. It’s a fine mess. One lost sheep, perfectly tenderized and ready for any hungry predator that happens along. One lost sheep perfectly lost all alone and no where to turn.
We very easily see ourselves here, stuck in the thorns with the sheep. Over and over again we hear about people who have strayed from the flock, we may even have our own story of how we have gotten lost, tangled up in the thorns that are out there, perfectly ‘tenderized’ for Satan to come and take his prize. All of us at one point or another in our lives have been right where Wooly is, with no where to turn? But, let’s look at the parable again. It just doesn’t talk much about the sheep. It says… "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.” The parable really isn’t about the sheep. It’s the shepherd who gets top billing. The sheep just gets lost. The story teller doesn’t say how or why. The primary focus of this parable is The Shepherd.
The shepherd is the one who is charged with taking care of the sheep. He is the one who notices when one of a hundred has wandered off. He is the one leaves the ninety-nine to go and look for the missing one. By the way… back then, shepherds didn’t leave sheep unattended. A very large flock was broken up into sub flocks of a hundred sheep each. That’s the number a shepherd can reasonably watch. When a sheep got lost, the neighboring shepherds would watch the flock while he would go out to find the missing one. The point here is that the shepherd goes to look for the sheep, because he cares for the sheep, even one in a hundred.
Our minds automatically picture Jesus as the shepherd here. We picture him all the time with sheep on his shoulders, or standing with the shepherd’s staff in the midst of the flock. He calls himself the Good Shepherd. It is a very strong image a very meaningful word picture. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures…” When ever we hear words like this our minds automatically turn to Jesus. And well they should, for he is the Good Shepherd, the Best Shepherd.
In the parable the shepherd goes after the lost sheep. What it doesn’t say is that he does so at great personal risk. The people listening to Jesus would know this because they know what it means to be a Judean shepherd. They know that because searching for a sheep in the hills country is dangerous for the shepherd. A lost sheep isn’t easy to find. Lost sheep don’t do anything to help the shepherd find them. They don’t sit tangled up in thorns bleating out loud until they are found. They are frightened. They quickly fall into despair and become worn out from the struggle. A lost and frightened sheep will simply ‘go into shock.’ They lie down and become still. The seeking shepherd must look under the brush, behind rocks, and in crevasses. He must crawl around on the ground, seeking the place where the sheep has become trapped... The shepherd can call out to the sheep all he wants but it does no good. A frightened sheep won’t respond, even to the shepherd’s familiar voice. It is a long, tedious, tiring and dangerous journey for the shepherd. The predators that would kill the sheep would just as well attack a seeking shepherd. But, according to the parable, the shepherd is willing to take the risk for the sake of the sheep. He goes after the sheep “until he finds it.”
Notice also how he reacts when the sheep is found. He rejoices. He doesn’t yell at the sheep for being so stupid as to get lost. He rejoices that he has found it. And yet the worst of the job, the most difficult part of the job is still ahead of him. The sheep is exhausted and frightened. You can’t drive a sheep in this condition home. You can’t lead it home; it is a quivering mass of nerves. The shepherd places the sheep on his shoulders and carries it. It is the only option. A full grown sheep weighs about 70 lbs. Remember the rocky ground, remember the thorns, and remember the predators? The journey is only half over. Yet the shepherd joyfully carries the sheep home. He bears the great cost of saving the sheep, the bruised aching body and the danger of it all. And he does it with great joy. When he returns home with the sheep, there is a great celebration because of what he has done. This really is absurd. No real human shepherd is going to haul a full-grown sheep on his shoulders. It’s beyond their ability. That’s what makes this story really about Jesus, and only Jesus. He does what human shepherds can not, will not do. He suffers himself for the sake of the sheep. He gives himself for the sake of the sheep. The story talks about the shepherd bearing the weight of the sheep, that’s Jesus bearing our weight, the weight of our stupid wandering, our sin.
Sheep get lost, it’s a part of who they are, they go about their daily business, eating and walking, walking and eating. They ignore the danger about them until it’s too late and they get lost. They get tangled up in briars, and lost in the rocky wilderness. When it happens they have no where to turn. But, this parable is good news for sheep. It talks about a Good Shepherd comes and finds them. He pays the price to bring them home. And he rejoices in it.
When we were lost and without God; when sin had us tangled in its thorns and Satan was ready to pounce on us for an easy meal; when we had no possibility of saving ourselves and nowhere to turn; the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, comes for us. He does it at great personal cost. The way is difficult and painful. The very same predators are looking to devour us turn on him and all of hell’s fury is unleashed. The cost of finding us, the cost of seeking us, is a bloody death on the cross. But it is through that cross that he carries us home. You see, we can’t. We can’t be driven. We are lost quivering sheep hiding in the darkness. We are totally lost and condemned, tangled up in the thorns and without hope and nowhere to turn. Our only hope is to be carried home. Just as Jesus carries that beam of wood that would hold his hands fast, he carries us. It is our weight, and the weight of our sins, that pulled down on the nails that are driven through his hands and feet. It is a terrible cost that he endured, but one he is willing to pay because through it he bears us home. The rejoicing comes, too. Three days later Jesus doesn’t stay dead, but brakes free from the tomb. This time Jesus carries us from death to life. And he delivers us home where the rejoicing still continues. “Look what I have done for you!” he says, “I have rescued you when you were lost! You are my precious sheep!”
Jesus knows us very well. He is the Good Shepherd, he knows his sheep. He knows how much we can stray. We just keep eating and walking, walking and eating, and before we know it the treats of the world close in on us… again. But, he keeps us from straying too far. He is always there with a comforting word, or even a gentle whack of his shepherd’s staff. He says to us again and again. “I have rescued you. I have found you. Remember the cost I have already paid for you. Remember the rejoicing in heaven over you. You are my precious sheep and I am your Good Shepherd.”
But, It’s easy to forget. Life gets busy. We think about the brambles. We think about the threatening predators. We could so easily go back to quivering. We could so easily forget about the Good Shepherd. But, he is always there. He never forgets us. He is here with us today again today. He reminds us of his great love for us saying, “I am your Good Shepherd.” Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Amen.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
How much is it going to cost?
That’s a good question.
Listen Bob, I’m not going to start this building project without knowing how much.
It isn’t that easy to calculate. There are a lot of variables to consider.
How am I supposed to know if I can finish the project if I don’t know the total cost.
I hear ya Tom. Maybe I can work up a reasonable estimate.
Bob, I need better than that. I need to know the worst case. Just think what it would look like if I started this project… what if I got the building half up and then the money ran out. I’d really look like a fool then wouldn’t I. I’d never be able to build another building again.
Ya, I see what you mean. I’ll get right on it.
Thanks Tom. I really need to know how much this is going to cost me.
How much is it going to cost? It’s a question we ask ourselves every day. Maybe not in a dramatic a fashion as Tom, the man building a building, but, it is the sensible thing to do. How much are the car payments? Can I afford to remodel the house, and add on a bedroom? Which college can I afford to go to? How much will the herbicide cost? If I don’t use it how is it going to affect the yield? We know how to count the cost. What Jesus is saying to us today is this: “You know how to count the cost of things in your life. Have you accurately counted the cost of being my disciple? Do you really know what it means to follow me?”
“First, of all,” Jesus says. “Do you realize that if you want to follow me, you have to hate your family.” I don’t know about you… but I don’t like the sound of that at all. I happen to love my family very much. After all, I work to support them. I try to provide them with everything they need, food, clothing, Christian education. I try to spend time with them, and don’t like to be away for too long. It seems to me that the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and mother. And the Sixth commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Have something to say here too. Don’t these commandments specifically apply to my family? Isn’t what Jesus is saying here going against these commandments?
Maybe Jesus doesn’t really mean hate here when he says hate your family. Today’s theme is Count the Cost. I think we can pretty easily see what Jesus is talking about. Some people, when they become Christians are disowned by their families. When I was in Concordia College in Seward, I remember a gal from Taiwan. When she came to school she wasn’t a Christian. But over her time there God worked in her life through all the people around her. She heard the Gospel and finally gave a confession of faith. She was promptly disowned by her family. When she left for home she was not heard from again. The great fear in her case is that there are so few Christians in her home land that she was pressured to return to her family religion. Maybe the cost was too high for her. Maybe no one took the time to explain to her what Jesus is saying in this text.
But, Jesus isn’t just talking about people whose families disown them when they become Christians. He’s talking to us too. God is to take first place in our lives. We are to love him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our being. Remember the 1st Commandment: Maybe not, so turn in your hymnal and we’ll read it together.
The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean?
We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.
We should fear, love and trust God above everything else. Everything else includes our wife. Everything else includes our children and parents. God is to be first. The most difficult idols to give up are the ones that are closest to our hearts. What Jesus is saying is that when we place things in our lives in the place that only God should be, pushing them out may indeed feel like hating them; in contrast to the love we hold for them now.
What Jesus is talking about here may fall much closer to home than we are comfortable hearing. I’m sure you can think of examples of children who have fallen away from the faith… yet, parents don’t speak about it, even to each other, for the sake of family unity. It’s difficult, who wants family gatherings to become a battle ground. Who wants to ruin the all too brief visits with arguments? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus is talking about. Holding God over family unity can feel very much like hating your family.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks this idea just a little bit differently.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37, ESV)
It isn’t easy. It is a cross to bear, so to speak. And Jesus knows that it’s not easy. He didn’t say, “Take up your Lazy Boy and follow me.” He said “carry your cross.”
This is a very powerful image. In Jesus time especially, the person who carried a cross was the one who was going to die on it. It was a part of the execution itself. Humiliation, defeat, painful, bloody death, dealt out with cruel indifference. To bear a cross meant all of these things. Jesus is saying to us today… the Christian life a life of cross bearing, and you can’t do it unless He is the most important thing in your life.
By now we are all saying to ourselves, as we look around us to the ones we love; “The cost is too high. How can I possibly love God more than my children? to do so feels like hating them. How can I…” well remember what Jesus said. “… anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” The cross Jesus is asking you to bear is more than just keeping the first commandment. The cross Jesus is asking you to bear isn’t just suffering sickness, or family dis-unity. The cross Jesus is asking you to bear is his cross. And he expects you to carry it to your death, just as he did. “I can’t do that!” You say. Yes you can. As matter of fact you’ve very likely done it already.
And what’s more we’ve seen it happen right here in this place, right before our eyes. Right here little children have carried their crosses to their death. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
The promise of God there is this. The sin in your life, the things that you put before God, I have done something about. I have killed you. I have raised you. You are my precious child. Just as I killed my own Beloved Son, just as I raised my own Beloved Son, this baptism is my promise to you that I have done all this for you. Go now live your life bearing your cross.
A little child that is baptized here isn’t your going to love God all the time. You don’t love God with your whole heart as you should. Sometimes you love other people, like a child or parents or a spouse more than God. That’s because of the sin that is in your life. At times it pushes God out of first place. But, that’s why Jesus lived and died for you, because we can’t do what God demands. But, you see, from the day that you were baptized you bore the cross of Christ. We make that sign: “Receive the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.” Jesus also said it this way:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23, ESV)
That’s one of the reasons why we come to church every week. To be reminded again and again of Jesus life, death and resurrection for us. To be reminded that we live as God’s baptized child every day.
So what about the cost? Well, the cost is still there. We don’t try to build a building with out knowing how much it’s going to cost. Jesus is describing what our lives, as God’s beloved baptized children, are going to be like. It isn’t going to be easy… sometimes we’ll have to confront our children… sometimes there is going to be family disunity… sometimes our actions are going to feel like, well, like hating them… we need to know the cost of following Jesus. He wants us to know what’s coming, so that when it does, we can remember to bear the cross, his cross… and remember what he did there on that cross for us. He wants us to remember how our Baptism ties his death to our death… how Baptism ties his resurrection to our resurrection. When we remember that, God will once again be first in our lives. Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
To say that Lyle was quite is to speak a great under statement. In fact, I doubt in the times that I visited with him he ever said more than 3 words in a row. I knew Lyle for only about 2 years, saw him maybe 2 times a month so 2 times 24 months times 3 words is about 150 words. That’s not a lot to found a relationship on. I’ve been told some things about him. He told me some things about himself. Other people, members of St. John’s have told me other things about him.
But you who are gathered here today, knew him. I’ve been told that he loved children. I never had the pleasure of seeing him with children, but with his quite, gentle demeanor I can see how children would have loved him. I can tell also by the mischievous twinkle in his eye that he would have found ways to lovingly tease them, and they would have responded in the way that children do, “Stop it some more.” Really meaning, “Please do it again.”
The other thing I know about Lyle is that he worked for the railroad and he liked it. The first day I sat in his room over at Good Sam and asked what he did he said he worked for the railroad 39 years. Immediately I looked at his hands. “Well, Lyle, it’s pretty good that you worked all those years for the railroad and still have all your fingers.” He laughed. In case you don’t know, railroad workers notoriously loose several of their fingers. The equipment is dangerous and heavy. Fingers are often trapped between cars and under track sections… Many railroad workers take their missing fingers as a badge of honor.
Well, thinking of how Lyle loved children and the railroad caused me immediately to think of this doing this. My daughter got this whistle at the fair last week. It’s a train whistle and she loves it. She’s 9. Lyle loved trains and children. So, somehow, I think he would have loved this whistle.
The text I’ve chosen for Lyle’s funeral sermon is:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16, ESV)
It’s not that I think Lyle was childish. It’s that I think he would have related to Jesus here in this text. I think he would have liked the picture of Jesus surrounded by all those children. You might even be able to picture Jesus pushing a train whistle up to his lips and the children giggling with delight, and Jesus smiling a big smile. And there would be Lyle smiling right along with him. I think I’ll always think of Lyle now when I read this passage.
Now Lyle may have loved children, but there’s something else I know about Lyle. And it’s something that you know, too. He may have been gentle and quiet, but to know Lyle and who he was is to know that Lyle was a sinful man. I’m not talking specifically about the things you may think I’m talking about, family troubles he may have had. Lyle had simpler issues, like not attending church. It’s difficult to see how one could receive the kingdom of God like a little child and at the same time never set foot in the church building to spend time with Jesus. He had other things, sinful things that you know about and I don’t. All those things point to a deeper sinful condition. Lyle had sin in his life. Lyle was a sinful man. Now you might think I’m speaking ill of the dead. Don’t think I’m saying anything about him singling him out as somehow a horrible person. If it were you lying in this casket instead of Lyle I could say the same thing. In fact, if it were me laying in that casket you could say the same thing. You see, I know Lyle was sinful because he was a human being. Human beings are born sinful. He didn’t live up to Jesus words about being childlike with our faith. You and I don’t live up to Jesus words about childlike faith either. Actually it is the sin that Lyle carried that brings us here today. God tells us the wages of sin is death, and Lyle has come to where sinners come. Some day, you and I will come to were sinners come, too (barring the coming of Our Lord Jesus first).
But, if that were all there was there really would be no purpose in our gathering here today, would there. If that’s all that we could say, we’d much rather just get this day over with and go back to our lives and forget about Lyle. Thanks be to God, we have a reason for hope, even on a day when we stare death right in the face. You see, Lyle was a Christian. He believed in Jesus Christ as his savior. He told me so that first day I sat on his bed and talked to him. He said it in very few words but I have no reason to believe that those few words were insincere. And there’s another thing. It’s what we began our service with today. We placed that cloth, called a pall, over his casket. We did that, not to cover up the box, but to proclaim something we believe. Through baptism, Lyle was connected to the death of Jesus Christ. Lyle’s sin was placed on Jesus as Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Lyle’s sin was placed on Jesus as Jesus suffered the punishment of eternal separation from God, the punishment of Hell. When Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He said those words for Lyle, so that Lyle wouldn’t have to suffer Hell’s punishment. You see, Lyle may have suffered death, but through faith in Jesus Christ, given to him in Holy Baptism, Lyle’s death isn’t eternal death, but death that leads to the waiting arms of Jesus. You see, that’s the picture in the text, too. Jesus gently holding Lyle like he would hold a child. That’s a picture of “childlike” faith. Jesus is not talking about simplemindedness. He’s talking about trust in Jesus, loving Jesus, holding on to Jesus as the only way of salvation. That’s the picture of a Christian; one hymn says it like this, “Nothing in my arms I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” It means believing that Jesus death on the cross covers up my sin, so that I can have eternal life, because I can’t have it any other way. That’s the faith the Lyle was baptized into and the faith confessed when he became a member of St. John’s, and the faith he confessed to me last year.
Now you may look at Lyle lying here and think that I’m giving him a pass for years and years of non-church-going. Well, I’m not. The truth is we don’t know if Lyle’s faith was a true faith in Jesus as his Savior from sin. And lots of things that Lyle did seem to stand in direct opposition to a childlike faith in Jesus. But, if you look at your own life you’d see things that do the same. If you looked carefully at my life you see things that seem very unchristian, too. The most wonderful thing about our faith is that our salvation isn’t bound to anything we do, just as children don’t do anything to earn our love for them. We can’t do enough good stuff to earn eternal life. Children need someone to love and care for them. God gives us eternal life as a gift, through faith in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if that faith is small or large, quiet or loud, faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins in faith enough. And the fact is that Lyle was given that gift in Holy Baptism. God nurtured it through His Word every chance He got, whenever Lyle did go to church and whenever he received Holy Communion (which he did do every month for at least the last two years).
In a little while we’re going to take Lyle’s body out to Graceland and place it in the ground for safe keeping. There is one more very wonderful thing to think about today. It’s the hope we all share as Christians. We believe “in the resurrection of the dead.” We said it in the creed. That means that someday when our Lord returns, Lyle’s body is going to rise from death. Lyle is going to be made whole again. And in that new whole body he’s not going to suffer the effects of diabetes anymore. And you and I and all those who have faith in Jesus Christ will join him. We’ll stand before Jesus shouting praises to Him for all that He has done. We’ll laugh together and sing together, just like children. We’ll enjoy each other’s company forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:1-14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- Oh say can you see… the star spangled banner.
- I once was lost but now and found, was blind but now I see. Amazing Grace.
- There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see. Leonardo da Vinci
- People only see what they are prepared to see. Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The more I see the less I know for sure. John Lennon
- People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character. Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts. Albert Einstein
- The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see. Winston Churchill
- Don't be afraid to see what you see. Ronald Reagan
- Every man can see things far off but is blind to what is near. Sophocles
- See how many are better off than you are, but consider how many are worse. Lucius Annaeus Seneca
- I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. Confucius
- You and I do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. Henry Ward Beecher
- Human beings, from their own point of view, are very different than what people see. Kurt Russell
What do you see? That’s kind of the question we might ask about this text for today.Look at the Pharisees. What do they see? Right off the bat we see that they are “…watching [Jesus] carefully.” They have their reasons. Jesus isn’t who they’d like him to be. He constantly insults them. He constantly belittles them. He constantly tells them they don’t know what they are talking about. They are watching Jesus, which is a good thing, but they don’t see what they should be seeing. Jesus actually uses three examples at this dinner party to try to get the Pharisees to see things differently. He confronts them directly with their sinful nature.
First, the man with dropsy. What is “dropsy?” It comes from the word “hydrops” that has to do with water. This man was suffering from a condition that caused his body to retain water. He isobese, especially in his wrists and ankles. When the text says “there was a man before him who had dropsy” I doubt very much if this man is an invited guest. He is probably standing around outside with the crowds that followed Jesus everywhere. As far as the Pharisees were concerned when you have a deforming illness it is because of some sin you are guilty of. If you are fat you deserve to be. They look away when this man is walking down the street. They cross over to the other side to avoid his smell. The Pharisees don’t see the man; they only see something to be avoided. Jesus sees differently. He loves the outcast. He cares about his life. Jesus heals him and sends him home. Jesus questions the Pharisees. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” It’s a question about what they see. Do they see a person to love and care for or do they see rules to follow? They don’t answer. They don’t see anything but Jesus breaking the rules. Jesus pushed the question in front of them again. “If you have a son or and even an ox that fell into a well on the Sabbath, you’d get him out wouldn’t you?” It’s as if he says, “This man’s life and health is worth more than rules! You won’t help him because you don’t love him. You don’t love him because of what you see on the outside.” They stand in silence. They don’t see.What do you see? What do you see around you today? Do you see people as the Pharisees see them, or as Jesus sees them? Here in this room are people with problems. What do we do to care for them? Do we listen and then forget? Here in this room are people who are dying. Do we avoid them because we are afraid to see what we see, afraid to see their death because it reminds us of our own? Here in this room are people who have hurt us. Do we see them as forgiven sinners bathed in the blood of Jesus, or do we hold a grudge? And what about the people who aren’t in this room? People that aren’t here because we can’t see them as people who belong here. And what about the folks outside with dropsy? You know the people we avoid on the street. The people we cross over to the other side. The they-don’t-belong-in-our-community people. What do we do to show our love and care?
Jesus wants us to see things differently. He wants us to do what ever we can to help them. He wants us to see people as he sees them. He wants us to see them as someone we love. He wants us to care for them and heal them. He wants us to see them as our child that has fallen in a well. He wants you to do for them whatever you can do. “But pastor!” you say, “I can’t do all that. They smell. They waste the money they’ve been given. They don’t care about anything but themselves, or their drugs, or the alcohol? They look different. They have different beliefs and values. Our families have always been on the opposite side of things. They’re republicans… or democrats.” It’s true. You can’t. In fact, you are just like the Pharisee. You care more for yourself then you do for the man with dropsy. And you don’t want things to change. You don’t want to see people differently. You watch Jesus and want him to tell you that the way you feel about other people is ok. It’s not. It’s sinful. It causes trouble in your life. It tears the fabric of the community. It leaves undone what needs to be done. What God’s word does here is to help us to see what God sees. We are standing outside the party where Jesus is. We are sin sick, unacceptable, and unwanted. The man with dropsy.Ah, but Jesus has something to say about that too. He sees the man with dropsy. He loves him and cares for him. He heals him. He sends him back to his life to live it all differently. Jesus sees you. He loves you. He heals your sin. He gives you his blood bought forgiveness. He doesn’t send you back to your life alone. He promises to go with you by giving you the Holy Spirit. He gives you his Word, full of his promises for you. He gives you his body and blood as food to continue the healing. Because of all that Jesus sees in you, you can and do see people differently.
The Pharisees are still watching Jesus. He points out something else that he sees. At the party, the guests come and strive for the best place to sit. They all want to be important and sit at the head of the table. Jesus points out that everyone wants to receive the highest honor. The guests consider who they are in the community. They look at their accomplishments. They compare their incomes. They see lots of love and lots of accomplishment. But the love they see is for themselves. They consider themselves more important than everyone else. When you love yourself, you don’t see anyone else. Your only relationship is “Who is above me? Who is below me? I’m better than them, I should sit higher.” They don’t see other people they only see things to be manipulated.Jesus shows them their sin. “Don’t consider yourselves more important than other people.” When you love yourself, you set yourself up for a fall, a humiliation. You selfishness puts you in the lowest position, the lowest chair. “Proper love for others, places them above you.” Jesus says.
What do you see? Well, in spite of the fact that none of you are sitting up here in the front pews… Do we see ourselves as the party guests do or as Jesus shows us? Where do we see ourselves in the church? In the community? Do we serve others or expect to be served? Do we share what we’ve been so richly given? Does the church have all it needs to do the work that God has given us to do here? Have we manipulated the process to get what we want, what makes us look good, instead of what other people want or need? Do we look for a place in the church and community to make us feel important? or do we see our place as a place to love and care for others?Jesus wants us to see things differently. He wants us to put other people’s needs and wants above our own. He wants us to see people as he sees them. He wants you to see other people as more important than you see yourself. “But pastor,” you say, “I can’t do that. People will take advantage of me. I’ll never get any of the recognition I deserve. I’ll always be on the bottom rung. I’ll never have any of the good things in life.” It’s true. You can’t. In fact you are just like the party guests. You care more for yourself than you do for other people. You step on them to get ahead. You point out their flaws and shortcomings to hide your own. You don’t want to be at the end of the table you want to be at the top. You want Jesus to recognize you for what you’ve done and accomplished. You want him to praise you for your good work. That too is sinful. It causes trouble in your life and the lives of others. What God’s Word does here is to help you see what God sees. We want everything for ourselves. We are selfish. The guests at the party.
Ah, but Jesus has something to say about that too. He sees the party guests. He loves them and cares for them. He sees them as more important than himself. In fact, he sees them as so important that he gives his very life for them. He sacrifices all that he has for them. He suffers pain and death for them, even death on a cross! Jesus sees you, too. He loves you. He sees you as more important than himself. He forgives your sin. His love for you spills out of your life to the lives of others. He loves them so you love them. He considers them important so you consider them more important than yourself. Because of all that Jesus sees in you, you can and do see other people as more important than yourself.
What do you see? Do you make friends with people who need friendship? Do you want “better” people to join the church? Do you use emotional blackmail with your spouse to get what you want? “If you really loved me you’d do this for me.” Do you spread the gossip you hear, even about your friends and church? Do you love your pastor even when he refuses to bury, marry or commune someone you ask him to? Do you manipulate your children to influence the people around you?Jesus wants you to see things differently. He wants you to love your friends. He wants you to give them what they need without wanting anything in return. He wants you to love your wife and children more than you love yourself. He wants you to be friends for the sake of friendship, not fame, or wealth, or standing in the community. “But pastor,” you say, “I can’t do that. My friends will just use me. I can’t be a doormat. You don’t understand the way the world works.” It’s true. You can’t do it. In fact, you are very much like the host of the party. You want friendships that are filled with advantages for yourself. You want to be seen in the company of “important people.” You want your wife to look good and your children to behave, for the sake of your reputation. You want the church to ignore what God says is right and true so that you don’t have to tell people that they are wrong. All of it is sinful. It causes trouble in your life and the lives of others. What God’s Word does here is to help you see what God sees. We want to use people for our own benefit. The host of the party.
Ah, Jesus speaks again. He sees the host of the party. He loves him and cares for him. He doesn’t use him to get what he wants. In fact, Jesus doesn’t expect anything from the host but rather gives everything to him. He cares for him so much he is even willing to confront him with his sin. Jesus wants his life to be different. Jesus expects no reward, nothing in return for his love. His love asks nothing and expects nothing. His love only gives. Jesus sees you, too. He loves you, without asking anything from you in return. He forgives your sin, through nothing but his grace and mercy. His death on the cross is God showing you his love for you. He gives you everything you need. God’s love for you is best described in his own words.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)
All that God has done for you in Jesus is yours through faith. There is nothing that can take him and his love away from you. His love is unchangeable.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.