Due to Technical Difficulties (i.e. bad recording) there will be no sermon podcast this week.
October 28, 2007
Sorry for the inconvenience.
The sermon can still be read at pastor's blog.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:21-28, ESV)
“Green Stamp Theology”, Thanks to Rev. John Standley
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A friend of mine pointed out that this text sounds like its talking about Green Stamps. Do you remember Green Stamps? Back there in the 60’s and 70’s lots of stores gave them out. How about around here? Did stores in Howard give out Green Stamps? You know how they worked you’d buy something and the store would give you some free stamps based on how much you spent. If it was a small amount you’d just get a few stamps, but if you bought a TV or a piece of furniture the clerk would keep turning and turning that machine until the string of stamps was as long as you are tall. Green Stamps were fun stuff, cause they were free. You’d roll up your stamps and take them home and put them in a special place until you thought you had enough to redeem.
One activity that was common for Green Stamp families was to gather together at the table and fill those Stamp books. Lick and Stick. Some folks used a sponge, some used the purest method, there’s nothing like the flavor of Green Stamp Glue. Then, when you have your books all full, you take them all to the redemption center and pick up your treasure—for free!
Believe it or not Green Stamps are still around! I found a web sight http://www.greenpoints.com. You get a card that you present to the sales clerk and theyyou’re your points to it. Well it just isn’t quite the same, now is it? There’s something about that lick and stick, that’s a part of our history.
Well, today’s text is kind of like Green Stamps. St. Paul tells the Roman church and us about our free gift from God. He tells us about our salvation. God freely gives us the gift of eternal life won by the shedding of the precious blood of Jesus Christ. This gift is completely free, by God’s grace that is, God’s undeserved love for us. It has nothing to do with anything we would do. We can’t earn it. We can’t buy it. We can’t bribe God to give it to us. It is ours only through faith in what Jesus has done, as Martin Luther emphasizes, “for me.” That’s the key of faith. Believing that what Jesus has done, His life, death and resurrection, was for me… for you.
What we are talking about here is Justification. That’s a ten dollar theological word that means “how you get right with God” or “how you get saved.” What’s important to know is that “getting right with God” or justification is the heart and center of our faith. It’s so important that we say our faith stands or falls on this very idea. Luther said that where this point is kept clear and at the center the church remains without error, where this point is misunderstood it becomes impossible to keep errors out of the church. You actually don’t have to look very far to see this idea working the way Luther says. Churches that get sidetracked all the time on social issues, on political issues, on community connections and set aside the work of Jesus on the cross for the sake of helping people, or changing society, and end up with no foundation in Jesus anymore at all.
Well, St. Paul talks about justification in this text. So, today we’re going to look at it too. We’ll look at three questions: First, why do we need to be made right with God? Second, where does this “right-ness” come from? And finally, how do we receive it?
Why do we need to be made right with God?
The answer to the question is in the text at verse 23. all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23, ESV). The key to this passage is that little word “all.” There’s no way St. Paul doesn’t mean “all” when he uses the word “all” here. All means all those liars and cheats out there. All means all those drunkards out there. All means all those who cheat on their wives and husbands. All means all those who cheat on their taxes. All means all. Even here in out little community we’ve got all these things going on. It’s like living in Sodom and Gomorra again. The problem started way back with the first humans. At first Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God. That means that everything God wanted them to do, they did, and everything God didn’t want them to do they didn’t do. They loved God with their whole heart and soul and mind. They walked with God. They talked with God. He provided them with everything they needed and they trusted Him to do it. When they sinned they destroyed all that. The first sin was not wanting God to be God, that is trusting Him for everything. They wanted to do that for themselves. They wanted to be God. It broke everything. Now they didn’t walk with God. They didn’t talk with God and more importantly they didn’t love God anymore. In fact, God became their enemy. They had sin and God can’t tolerate sin. He is perfect and holy, so he must destroy sin. Being God’s enemy shows up in all that cheating, lying, stealing, and killing, but under it all is hating God for being God. We might try to do good stuff to fix it. But without a proper relationship with God, the things we do are just an insult to Him. Think of it this way. A friend has a gift to give you. He brings it to you and wants you to take it. “No,” you say. “I don’t want your gift. Instead I want to buy it from you.” With God the Green Stamps we want to buy God’s favor with is just a pile of manure.
There was a nationwide survey asking the question: Can a good person earn their way to heaven? “Yes” answered by 22% of members of the Assembly of God; 38% of Baptists; 52% of Presbyterians; 58% of Episcopalians; 59% of Methodists; and 82% of Roman Catholics. So what about Lutherans? Well, you’d think at least we’d understand the point that we consider the most important point of our faith wouldn’t you? Well, a whapping 54% of Lutherans said that good people can earn their way to heaven. Martin Luther’s fears were well founded. People who believe they are earning their way to heaven do not have faith in Jesus Christ. They are headed for hell.
Now the real problem for you and me is that we are sinful people just like everyone else. All that we are guilty of all that cheating, lying, stealing, and killing. God demands perfect obedience to the law and we are far from perfect. We break God’s law often. We know we are “poor miserable sinners.” When we remember this and think about it we fall right back into the pattern of offering God our manure money (Isaiah called it filthy rags) as a way get into His good graces. When I get enough “Green Stamps” I’ll make God think of me better. But we can’t make ourselves right with God. We can’t clean up our act. Sin is always with us making all our Green Stamps filthy dirty.
So if we can’t earn back our relationship with God, how are we going to get right with God? St. Paul says again, that our righteousness with God comes to us apart from the law. That’s a way of saying that we can’t earn it. We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Think of it this way. You are standing before a judge who is about to pass sentence on you. He reads the charges against you. You have broken every single law in the book. You have no defense at all. There is nothing you can do. The judge pronounces the verdict. “I find you guilty on all counts therefore I sentence you to death.” The guards start coming to get you, when suddenly a man steps out from the audience. “I’ll take his place.” “Very well.” The judge replies. “Guards seize him.” The guards grab the man and begin beating him without mercy. They drag him away already bruised and bloody to the gallows. The judge turns to you and says, “your debt has been paid, you are free to go.” That’s what Jesus does for you. He offers his perfect life in place of your sinful one. He offers his innocence in place of your guilt. He offers his death in place of your death. You are free to go.
But there’s another part of what Jesus does for you that happens too. Not only does Jesus take your punishment but he give you credit for all the good that he did. Remember he was the only person who ever live who completely loved God perfectly. As he’s being dragged off to death, a list of all the good things that he did is given the judge. “These are to be counted to him.” The judge looks at you again and says, “Ah, you are now declared to be a model citizen. Not only are you innocent but you are now perfect in the eyes of the law.”
This is what the Reformation was all about. The understanding that the righteousness we have before God comes from someone else. We don’t get right with God because we do stuff to make it happen, but because we get Jesus’ stuff. The righteousness of God is the righteousness from God, Jesus Christ. It’s like Jesus went out and bought the most expensive item ever made, and we get the Green Stamps.
That’s Grace. God’s undeserved love for us. Grace, G,R,A,C,E. God’s Richest At Christ’s Expense. God in the person of Jesus Christ came to save us from our sin. Jesus offered himself up to beating and death on the cross. That’s where we deserve to be. But Jesus said, “I’ll go instead.” God, the Judge, turns to us and says, “You are not guilty.” There is nothing we need to do. There is nothing we can do to make that happen. It is true for us as God has done it and given it free of cost. When we say “There must be some part of this salvation that is mine.” We say that the work of Jesus isn’t enough. We say that we think we can do better.
So, God makes this free gift available, how do we actually get it? How does this gift become mine? St. Paul talks about that too. The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Here we often misunderstand a major point. We think that faith is some kind of thing that we do to get God’s grace. As if what Jesus did is God’s part and my part is faith. No, that’s making faith a work that we do to earn forgiveness. That’s depending on me to get it done. My salvation is all dependant on Christ and him alone. If faith is my part that means that Jesus can’t do it without me. Jesus already earned the “not guilty” verdict for everyone. All that remains is for God to deliver the goods. He does that through Word and Sacrament. It’s the power of God, working through the Holy Spirit, in the Means of Grace, that is the ways that God gives us what Jesus did. Just as a tennis player uses a racket to hit the ball, God uses His Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion to hit us with salvation. Our confession of faith, the Book of Concord says it this way:
For faith does not justify because it is so good a work and so God-pleasing a virtue, but because it lays hold on and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel. [Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (541).
: Fortress Press.] Philadelphia
This faith trusts in something that has already been accomplished. It doesn’t cause it to happen. It is our sinful nature that keeps telling us that we’ve got to have something to do with our salvation. We’ve got to earn it in some way. We turn our faith into a work that we do. That’s not so with our salvation, justification, God does it all in Jesus Christ and gives it to us without our having anything to do with it.
You know the problem with Green Stamps? They really weren’t free. The store owners had to buy them. Then they passed that cost on to their customers. It is very interesting that when the stores stopped giving Green Stamps they didn’t lower the prices. That means that we are still paying for Green Stamps, we just don’t get to go to the redemption center and get our “free stuff” that wasn’t really free anymore.
That’s just like believing that we make ourselves right with God by doing good stuff. We continue to pay the price but we don’t get any of the free stuff. Our Salvation is a free gift from God– No strings attached, no hidden costs, no stamps to lick, no rules to change. Simply through faith by Grace – God’s riches at Christ expense. Amen
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:22-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What do you do when God is your enemy? Life is full of moments like that when you are at odds with God; when it feels like He’s against you; and you are against Him. When there is a death in the family, trouble with your neighbors, illness that won’t / can’t be healed, rejection by the community, conflict in the church, and unfair treatment on the job. When things like these happen God just doesn’t seem to be doing his job. Instead of being there to help you and make things go better, go your way, God seems to be the problem, ignoring you and your prayers, or even blocking the way of progress. I don’t deserve this! You pray. You feel like Jacob, alone in the desert, wrestling with God.
Jacob, spent his whole life wrestling with God, his family and himself. He fought with his brother, Esau, over who should receive the family blessing from their father. You might remember how he plotted with his mother to steal it. Isaac, their father, sent Esau out to hunt for food, bring it back to him and receive the family blessing. He was the older son, he was entitled to it. While he was out Jacob’s mother prepared a sheep in a way to fool the old man. She dressed Jacob up in lamb’s skin so he would feel and smell like his older brother (apparently a hairy man!). Jacob took the food to his father, deceived him into thinking he was his brother, and received the blessing. He had to flee for his life. Esau pledged to kill him as soon as the funeral and mourning time were over. Jacob wrestled. His place in the family wasn’t to his liking. He took matters into his own hands to receive the blessing. It cost him his home.
And that’s not the end of Jacob’s story, or struggles. When he left his father’s house he went his live with his uncle Laban. He agreed to work for him and in return, after seven years, he would marry Laban’s younger daughter Rachel. When the seven years were up, Laban fooled him and when the wedding night was over, Jacob discovered he had married the wrong girl, Leah the old sister. So Jacob was forced to work another seven years to marry Rachel. Jacob wrestled. He wanted one girl and, just as he had deceived he was deceived. Another seven years and he had his “preferred” wife. But Jacob’s wrestling had just begun. Leah, the older, less attractive woman was very fertile. She had four boys. This didn’t set very well with Rachel, since she couldn’t seem to have any, she offered Jacob a servant girl. She had two sons for Jacob. Leah wasn’t to be out done. In response she gave Jacob her servant and she had two more sons. Leah had two more and a daughter. And finally, Rachel was remembered by God and had a son of her own, his name was Joseph. Jacob wrestled. While his wives had a birthing battle to prove who was the favorite wife, Jacob was caught in between.
But that’s not all. After working so many years for Laban, Jacob felt he hadn’t earned enough just by having productive wives and servants. He made a scheme to relieve Laban of a portion of his flocks. Under the agreement, Jacob’s flocks grew until Laban wasn’t happy with the arrangement anymore. Jacob was forced to flee again. Jacob wrestled. He had gained wealth and a huge family, but now he was homeless again. All he had spend his whole life struggling with his family.
That brings us to our reading for today. Jacob returns home to the brother who swore to kill him. He sent everything he had on ahead to meet Esau first as a buffer against his brother’s anger. Then all alone, he wrestled with a stranger all night. It is a very mysterious account. Jacob not giving up and the stranger touching his thigh putting it out of joint. Still Jacob refuses to give up the struggle. “I will not let go until you bless me!” The stranger changes his name from Jacob to Israel. “Because you have wrestled with God and with men and have prevailed.” “Please tell me your name,” Jacob insisted. He receives a blessing. Oh, by the way, do you know what Israel means. “He struggles with God.” And just so you don’t miss the point, Jacob names the place where this all happened, Penuel. Penuel means “The face of God.” So in some mysterious, miraculous way, Jacob wrestled again. This time it was with God who was a man. And he limped away with a blessing and a new name. What was the blessing? We’ll talk about that in a moment.
So here we are, also wrestlers with God. Sometimes we wrestle with him because of our own sinfulness. His Word enters our ears while we sit in the pew and strikes our hearts hard. We want to grab hold of God and wrestle Him into submission. We want God to conform to our standards of living. If God would just bend the law a bit for me, so I can do what I want to do and have a blessing and religion, too. We struggle with God over things we want. We want wealth and power and things, and we are not above bribing God to get it. If I win the lottery I’ll give a big gift to the church. God give me what I want and I’ll come to church more. Heal my sickness and I’ll tell everyone you did it. Put my family back together and we’ll spend our time serving the church.
Sometimes we wrestle with God because He just seems so absent. We pray and it seems we receive no answer. We are lonely and God doesn’t send anyone to visit. We are sick and God doesn’t heal us. We struggle with finances and God doesn’t give us what we need. We fight in our families and God doesn’t give us peace. We wrestle with God over what seems to be so right, and yet God does what God does. A lot of the time, God seems to be the enemy. He seems to want only suffering and pain for us. He seems to want us to disagree with our neighbors about what the bible teaches. He seems to want us to struggle. We don’t think we deserve this kind of treatment from God.
The truth is that God is involved in the very smallest details of our lives. He’s present even when we think He is not. He wrestles with us in our struggles. That’s when we see most clearly our need for God to intervene, for God to be in control. God engages us in the midst of a world that struggles because of sin, every day.
God comes down to be in the midst of us. God came to Jacob in human form and wrestled with him. Jesus, God in human flesh, does the same. He is God’s gift, God’s promise to Jacob. Through Jacob’s children’s children’s children God was made man in Jesus Christ. That’s the blessing that was given to him. It is the blessing given to us, through him. Jesus wrestled with the sin and brokenness of the world. He set things right. He made them new again through His death on the cross and His victory, His resurrection from the dead. God gives us a new name. He actually gives us His name, and a blessing. That’s what Holy Baptism does. We are connected to Jesus and His struggle with sin, death and hell. We come out victorious because Jesus won the victory for us. Jacob was far from the end of his wrestling. We wrestle every day too. But every day again God renews our connection to Jesus. In the face of discouragement, and loneliness, and hardship and pain and failure, He reminds us of our membership in His family, our belonging to Him.
I like this picture of Jacob clinging to the stranger. He’s in pain. He frightened. And yet he is determined, clinging to God because he knows only God can save him. That’s faith; clinging to Jesus, no matter what. That’s really hard in the face of trouble. That’s really hard when it feels like God is a million miles away. That’s really hard when we are in pain. It’s really hard when God himself seems to be the problem, wrestling with us putting our hip out of joint. But it’s God’s promise that is important here. He doesn’t bless us because we hang onto him. We hang on to Him because He is the only source of our blessing. Jesus is the fulfillment of our promise, God in the flesh, who lived and died and rose again to rebuild our relationship to God. To assure us that no matter what happens in life, God is on our side.
Jacob limped away from his encounter with God. When God wrestles with us we often are left with an injury. We limp away but God goes with us. He calls us by name. He uses us, wounded though we may be to get done what he wants done. That’s what He did with Jacob. That’s what He does with you and me. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:44-53, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“You are my witnesses of these things.” Jesus said to them.
Well, it was easy for them to be witnesses wasn’t it? After all they had seen Jesus, right there in the upper room. He miraculously appeared standing in the middle of them, even with the doors locked. It was easy for them, they had walked and talked with Jesus for 3 years, seeing all that He did, great signs and wonders, healing, multiplying food, casting out demons, walking on the water. It was easy for them, He told them about all about what would happen, in fact, He told them just how it would happen. It was easy for them because they were eyewitnesses. They were there with Jesus the whole time. It was easy for them, wasn’t it?
It’s not easy for me. I’m afraid I’m not a very good witness. I sweat just thinking about it. I can’t mention Jesus to my neighbors; I’ve already had a fight with them about the trash in their yard. I’ve already called the cops on their dog. It’s not easy for me; I’ve known my friend for years and we’ve done some things together that I can’t talk about in church. Now I can’t mention Jesus to him, he wouldn’t believe that I believe. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know what to say. My tongue gets tied up in knots and what I do say doesn’t make sense. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know the bible well enough to tell the story. I haven’t cracked the pages of it for years. I haven’t seen Jesus like the disciples did. It was easy for them. It’s not easy for me, is it?
When it comes to being a witness of these things, we often think that the disciples had all the advantages. It’s easy to think that they were good witnesses because of what they had seen, because they saw Jesus in flesh and blood. It’s not unusual for Christians to think that their faith would be stronger if they could just have a boost, if something miraculous would just happen to them. We can all think that if we had seen Jesus our faith would have been strong. It must have been easy for the disciples to believe. They had seen Jesus. The lived then and there when it all happened. But, St. Luke really tells us a different story. Throughout his book he makes it very clear that the disciples had a very difficult time believing. They failed Jesus. The abandoned him when he was arrested. And on Easter Sunday when he rose from death, they seem to forgotten all the times that he said he would do just that. Right before this text for today, in fact, Several people have seen Jesus, and they hurry to tell the disciples. But, instead of being filled with faith, they were filled with fear and doubt. On the day we remember as Jesus great victory over death and the grave, the disciples weren’t joyful at all. They were hiding in a dark upper room. Doubting the stories they were being told. Jesus appeared right there in the middle of them when they were talking about Jesus appearance to the disciples on the Emmaus road. He offered them peace, but peace wasn’t what they were thinking about. They were afraid: startled and frightened the text says. They were afraid of the very thing they were just talking about. They thought they were seeing a ghost. Here they were followers of Jesus, not believing that He was alive even though He stood right there in front of them. Jesus asks them why they were afraid, why did they doubt. “Look it’s me!” He says, “but don’t believe your eyes, touch me, and handle me. I’m really here. Here are my hands. These are the very same hands you saw heal the sick; the very same hands you saw raise the dead; the very same hands you saw pinned to the cross.” And even though they wished it to be true, still they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Jesus even ate some fish to show that He was really there and not some kind of vision. As if to say “See, Ghosts done eat fish!” The disciples had all the advantages we sometimes wish for and yet on that first Easter Sunday, the disciples of Jesus had trouble believing.
We don’t see Jesus like they did. And sometimes we have trouble believing. It’s easy to have doubts especially when we are wracked with troubles. “If Jesus is really God, why do I have to suffer?” We say. “God if you’re really out there, help me through this!” “If I really believed what Jesus did for me I be a bold witness in this community.” We think we that our doubts are because we don’t have Jesus to touch and feel. We think we have doubts because Jesus doesn’t seem real to us. He’s only a story that we’ve heard. We want to see Jesus, like the disciples did. But in spite of the popular saying, seeing isn’t believing. Remember Easter Sunday, the disciples had all the seeing they could handle. Yet, doubt reigned there. We need more than seeing, the disciples needed more than seeing. And gracious giving God gives us exactly what we need.
Listen to the Witness, St. John’s words about Jesus:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4, ESV)
Notice how he uses all the senses. He heard, he saw, he touched… But that’s not how he says that we can believe. It’s the Word that we hear that brings us faith. In fact that’s what Jesus told the disciples that Easter Sunday, too. Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, (Luke 24:45, ESV) Jesus taught them how to read and understand the Word of God. “It’s all about me and what I have done to bring forgiveness of sins to people.” We come to faith by the work of the Word of God, not by seeing but by hearing. It’s comes to us through witnesses telling the story of Jesus Christ. We just heard that again a moment ago.
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17, ESV)
Jesus told the disciples they would be His witnesses of these things. That’s the word that we have heard that brings us faith. It’s the word that tells us that Jesus Christ died to bring us forgiveness of sins. That He lived and died and rose again to bring us Peace. You see, seeing isn’t believing. But hearing is believing.
“You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:48, ESV)” Jesus didn’t just say that to that room of frightened men that first Easter. He says it us you and me. But… it’s hard for me… we say… because I haven’t seen Jesus, like they did. But we aren’t called to witness to things we’ve seen; we are called to witness to what is written. “These things” are right here in God’s word. That’s the things that we are to witness about. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV) That’s the way that God works to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. You see our witness isn’t about who we are or what we’ve done, you don’t have to have some miraculous event in your life to take about, because that’s not what our faith is about. It is about Jesus Christ. It’s about who He is and what He has done. It’s about proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins just like Jesus told the disciples. It’s about telling people that Jesus lived, died and rose again for them.
But still we think it would be easier if we had seen Jesus. We think we don’t have the advantages of the disciples. But is it really true that we don’t see Jesus? I’m not sure about that. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him all over the place… in you. Aren’t we, God’s baptized children of God? The body of Christ? Just look around you and you see Jesus. He’s here in the physical touch, friend to friend at the hospital bed. He’s here in the less than confident teaching of a Sunday school teacher. He’s here in the warm handshake for first time visitor. So maybe you haven’t seen Jesus exactly the way the disciples did but you’ve seen Him here in your brothers and sisters in Christ. And on top of that, ever time you hear God’s Word in this very room, Jesus promises to be there present in it. He comes to you in that Word, telling you again and again of His great love for you. It’s that story of forgiveness of sins that Christ won for you! To take care of your sins, your failures, and your shortcomings. And just when you think God has given you all there is to give he gives even more. His addition is to give you everything and then give you even more. Jesus comes to you in his Word connected to water. Holy Baptism is coming into contact with Jesus. You are connected to all that Jesus did. His life and salvation are given to you, and your sin is given to him, washed away. He also comes to you in, with and under bread and wine. It is Jesus way of saying to you “Look it’s me!” Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood. Touch me, and handle me. I’m really here for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.”
Really when you think about it we’ve got all the advantages that the disciples had. Jesus does appear to us in miraculous ways every time we gather here in this place. These might even be bigger miracles the the disciples actually saw.
There’s a piece of art that I really like. It’s a picture of the crucifixion. Jesus on the cross, his body bloody and beaten. In the foreground is John the Baptizer. What I really like about the picture is what John is doing. He’s a witness, holding a lamb and pointing to it. It’s simple. Without saying a word he’s pointing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. That’s how you and I are to be witnesses, too. We don’t have to be eloquent. We don’t have to point to great big changes in our life to prove Jesus is working. We just point people to Jesus.
Is it easy to be a witness to Jesus? Not always. But you don’t have to be walking down the street screaming it at the top of your lungs either. You can start small in the ways and places that God has given you. Can’t tell your friend about Jesus? Well, maybe you can invite him to church, where God’s Word can do what God promises it will do. Can’t witness to your neighbor? Well, maybe you can change your relationship from antagonism to friendship. Start by lending a helping hand. Maybe that will lead to an opportunity to share what Jesus did for them. Don’t feel comfortable telling the story of Jesus? Start by tell the story to children, perhaps your children or grandchildren. You see, the power isn’t in you. It’s in God’s Word. You aren’t supposed to witness to you anyway. You are witness of these things that God has done, and is doing right now. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:1-10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, it’s another text on forgiveness. Doesn’t Jesus ever get tired of talking about forgiveness? The think is whenever Jesus talks about forgiveness he always seems to be asking the impossible. Well, just listen to what he says,
…if [your brother] he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.
It just sounds to me like an invitation for someone to take advantage of me. It’s that seven times that gets me. How do I know someone is really sorry for a sin against me when they say, “I repent?” especially if they do the same thing seven more times? When I forgive, I want there to be a change of heart. I want the person who hurts me to really be sorry. I want them to come crawling to me begging for forgiveness. Then, I’ll know they really mean it. Then I can dangle my forgiveness over their heads for a bit to show how much they really hurt me. I need to put conditions on my forgiveness. I like to wait a while to make them think really hard about what they’ve done, let them stew in their guilt for awhile before I offer forgiveness. Then they’ll really appreciate it. Maybe I’ll even hold that forgiveness as a bargaining chip for later on when I’ll really need it. And when I do forgive I want everyone to know how good I am, how forgiving I am. I want people to say, “Wow! He really is a super Christian he can even forgive someone who has done that really, really bad thing to him.”
The problem is that all those attitudes are the sin that Jesus is telling us to avoid. Temptations to sin are sure to come. The sin he’s talking about here isn’t the sin other people do to us; it’s our sin in not forgiving those who sin against us. Jesus says temptations are sure to come. Our problem is that even though we believe God’s Word and want to follow it we have difficult time forgiving people as Jesus would have us do. And when we don’t forgive it is just like we don’t believe in God’s promises of forgiveness to us. It’s difficult for us because we are so easily hurt. And there is so much trouble in our lives. Every day we run into people that hurt us. Just like the text says, it is sure to come. The cashier cheats you at the checkout. The mechanic takes advantage of your ignorance. Your neighbor schemes to take away the land you’ve been working all your life. Your friend lets you secret slip. Members of the church ignore all the work you do to keep things going. That’s the way people are. That’s the way our relationships work. It’s difficult to forgive people when they are so often thinking about themselves first. And of course Satan has his part here too. He never lets you rest, telling that you have every right to settle the score, take revenge and withhold forgiveness when you are hurt.
Jesus says we are to be different. We are not to listen to Satan’s word. When Jesus says, if your brother sins… he uses the word brother to tell us that he is especially talking about how we live together as a church. How we live together as a Christian community. Our relationships with each other are to be very different. We are to be in the forgiving business. Jesus says forgive seven times a day but that doesn’t mean we should keep a tally:
“Well that’s six for Joe, you better watch it there Joe, you’ve only got one left. Sally you’ve only got two, you’re doing well. John, that’s eight for you. I’m sorry we can no longer forgive you.”
When Jesus talks about seven times he means “as often as it happens.” In the church, forgiveness always follows repentance. Forgiveness is freely given without condition. Forgiveness is never to be held over someone’s head to get them to change. Jesus makes this most clear when he uses that “m” word, must. You must forgive him. When a brother or sister comes to us for forgiveness we are required to forgive.
But we think that Jesus simply can’t mean that. What he really means that after someone changes he is to be forgiven. There have got to be conditions. We have to make sure the repentance is real. We have to make sure they are really sorry for their sin. Anything else just doesn’t make sense to us. Anything else is simply impossible. That’s because we want to be in control of weather we forgive or not.
You know what? The disciples had the same problems. When Jesus said these words to them they looked at him and said, “Increase our faith!” We can’t do that; make us stronger so we can. Give us what we need to do the “must.”
Jesus strikes down their request. Not because he doesn’t want their faith to grow, but because they really don’t understand what faith is. They think faith is some quality in them that allows them to do what God wants them to do. The bigger it gets the more they can do God’s will. The bigger it gets the more they are able to forgive. Jesus says it’s not the size of faith that matters, the smallest faith does the impossible. What matters in faith is what the faith is in and where it comes from. It is what the faith is looking to that makes the difference. The faith that Jesus is speaking about here is utter dependence on God and his Word. It is complete reliance on Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection for us. Faith is looking to God to do it all. There is no part in faith for “God does his part now I can do my part.” When you try to forgive you are placing your faith in you. Jesus wants you to trust solely on him for your forgiveness. He wants you to give his forgiveness to others.
The longer I am a pastor the more I appreciate how simply Martin Luther expresses what the bible actually says in the Small Catechism. It’s no wonder that Christians have treasured this small book for all these years. We have it in printed for us in the hymnal. Open it up and turn to page 302. Look at what he says.
The Fifth Petition
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Notice how it doesn’t say that we forgive because we try so hard to do it. Notice it doesn’t say that we forgive because our faith is bigger than a mustard seed. Actually look at where it starts. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We only give what we have received. We don’t deserve forgiveness, so we know that other people who sin against us don’t deserve it either. In fact, they don’t have to deserve forgiveness. If they did, we would have to deserve forgiveness too! No, God gives forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it. He gives it to people who can’t forgive each other. He gives it to people who hold a grudge. He gives it to people who take advantage of each other. He gives it to people who are very slow to forgive. He gives it to people who want to use forgiveness as a way to control each other. He gives forgiveness to you, sinner that you are, unloving as you are, undeserving as you are. So you give that very same forgiveness to those who sin against you. It isn’t yours to give. It is God’s gift to you and through you.
You see, it is all about Jesus. He does what you are unable to do. He forgives because you can’t and often don’t want to. When he was hanging on the cross, in extreme pain, he forgave those who hung him there. Just think of it. From the cross, Jesus looked out over those men who drove nails through his flesh and forgave them. He said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34, ESV) From the cross, Jesus looked out over the Jewish leaders who manipulated the government to kill him to keep control of their own power and forgave them. From the cross, Jesus looked out over the disciples who forsook him and left him alone and forgave them. From the cross, Jesus looks out over you who are slow to forgive, who are unable to forgive, and forgave you. From the cross he looked out over the whole world and said, “It is finished.” Right there he made it possible for you to forgive, through his forgiveness. Jesus forgives because he can forgive. He earned forgiveness. The blood that dripped from his hands and feet and head and side onto the ground were the payment he paid. The pain he suffered was punishment for sins he didn’t do. It was punishment for sins you do. It was the punishment for those who sin against you. And so when Jesus tells you that you are forgiven, you can believe that it is true. His resurrection from the dead is proof that he did what he says he did. If he has forgiven you, who don’t deserve it, he also has forgiven those who sin against you, even though they don’t deserve it either. Because of Jesus you forgive just as you have been forgiven.
We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.
That’s how the reading ends. It’s saying the same thing that we pray in the Lord’s Prayer:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
The forgiveness we offer isn’t ours to give. It is the forgiveness Jesus offers through faith in him, through trusting that his life, death and resurrection are sufficient to forgive even the sins that hurt us deeply. Our faith in Jesus means that we give the forgiveness that he has given us. If you’re looking for that kind of forgiveness outside the church, outside of Jesus gift of faith you’re not going to find it. Here, in the church, is where God gives his forgiveness through Jesus Christ, his Word and Sacraments. Here is where he gives faith. We know what it is suppose to look like. We pray about it every time we take the Holy Supper.
We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“Faith toward you and fervent love toward one another.” Those are wonderful words. Through God’s gift of faith in the forgiveness of sins we are able to live them, even though we struggle to do them perfectly. But that’s why we are here, to receive forgiveness and pass it on to others; the forgiveness that Jesus gives freely, without condition. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ.
My name is Dives. I was very rich man. I guess you could say I was destined to be rich and everyone knew it. My parents even gave me a name that means ‘rich.’ Dives it means – ‘rich.’ But you probably know me as simply the ‘rich man’ from that story that Jesus told: “The rich man and Lazarus.” Yep, that’s me, ‘the rich man.’ Oh, how I wish that it wasn’t. But, everything is just as Jesus said. Notice the story, how Jesus told it. Lazarus is mentioned by name. I’m simply called ‘a certain rich man.’ You see, Lazarus’ name was written in the book of life, just like yours, but mine is not.
I was rich, living a life of luxury in my home. I had everything I wanted; fine purple linens and great feasts, every day. Oh, what a life it was! I rarely left home, I didn’t have to. I had everything I needed, right there. And besides, someone had laid that beggar at my gate. In order for me to leave I’d have walk by him and be reminded that he was there. Oh, I knew him well enough, I had seen him, and I even knew his name, “Lazarus.” Just to hear it turns my stomach. He was pathetic, lying there with sores all over his body… always asking for food. One of my servants even had the nerve to offer him the table scraps. I was infuriated, “What will my dogs eat! Let Lazarus feed himself.” I just wanted him gone. I asked the house steward to open the gate and let out the dogs. “Maybe,” I thought, “they’d scare him off.” It was the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. The dogs didn’t attack him. They just went up to him and licked his sores. Lazarus just lay there… In reality, looking back, those dogs had more compassion for Lazarus than I did.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m a pretty vile human being. To treat poor Lazarus that way… to not care about his pain and hunger… to care more about my dogs than him… and your right, all of that is true. But, don’t forget, you and I are cut from the same fabric. We come from the same source. I think more of myself than anyone else… but let’s face it; it’s the common human condition. When was the last time you saw someone you just wanted to avoid? Someone in dirty cloths? Someone whose skin was a little darker than your own? How did you feel about the person that sat down in the next booth at the restaurant? The person who ruined you meal, the one you could smell the minute they walked in the door? You know yourself, just like I know me. I just had the luxury of displaying my feelings in purple.
I couldn’t wait for Lazarus to die. Well finally, he was put out of my misery. One morning I heard that Lazarus was dead. I didn’t usually need any reasons to party but I held a feast in his honor, or rather a feast in his absence. I didn’t know that I would follow so closely after him. I didn’t know that death would come for me so soon.
Do you know what the name Lazarus means? It means: “The one whom God helps.” How ironic it is that even though I was rich, he was the one favored by God. I was sure that I was the one that God liked best. After all, I was given all those blessings, money, food, and clothing. And so much of it! Remember the story? Remember how Jesus describes Lazarus death. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.” What a picture, poor Lazarus carried off to Abraham’s side by the Holy Angels. It’s the kind of thing I expected for me. I was treated so well in life; I should be treated well in death. “The rich man also died and was buried.” Jesus said. That was it. All my life amounted to, was a hole in the earth.
Don’t get me wrong; my problems didn’t come because I was rich. My wealth was indeed a blessing from God. In fact there are many of God’s faithful people who are even wealthier than I was. My problem was that I trusted the gifts rather than the giver. I forgot that I didn’t deserve what I had been given. What I deserved was to be lying there with Lazarus, sores and all. If it weren’t for the promises of God, we’d all belong there with Lazarus. He trusted in the promises of God and I didn’t. He was carried away by the angels to be in fellowship with God. I was sent to torment.
I can’t begin to describe my suffering. When I looked up and saw Lazarus there with Abraham, all I wanted was some small portion of relief. If only I could have a single drop of water… If only Abraham would send Lazarus here with it… Surely Lazarus would have at least that much compassion. Surely he could serve me in that small way. “Father Abraham!” I cried out. “Sorry, my child.” He said. “It’s impossible. You had it good in life. Lazarus didn’t. He was lying on your doorstep; you could have helped him without even going out of your way. But, now it is impossible for him to help you, even if he wished to do so. God has fixed a great chasm between us. No one can cross it. That was all there was to be said. I knew I deserved my torment.
It was then, for the first time ever; I began to think of other people. I had five brothers. They too were as I was; selfish and not trusting in the promises of God. What of them? Was there a way to save them? “Father Abraham!” I called out again. “Send Lazarus to my brothers. They will listen to him. They knew of him, they saw him lying there by my door. If he is a witness they will know.
“They have already been told,” said Abraham. “They have God’s word through Moses and the Prophets, they can listen to that.”
“No,” I insisted. “It will take much more than that. They need someone to come back from the dead. That will be enough of a sign for them. They will then turn from their evil ways.”
“Hardly!” he replied. “If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, even a resurrection will not be enough. If God’s word isn’t enough for them, nothing will be.”
That is how the story goes. I hadn’t believed God’s word. I thought I was blessed by God already. I hadn’t cared for the people God had placed before me to care for. God laid Lazarus at my doorstep. I simply stepped over him. God had given me brothers. I didn’t care for them until it was too late. My destination without God is this fiery place of torment.
I want you to think again about what Abraham said to me. 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' You see the point of this story isn’t about rich verses poor, or blessings verses curses. It isn’t about what heaven and hell are like. It’s about the word of God. You see what was true for my brothers, as also true for me. I knew that they didn’t believe what Moses and the prophets had to say. I didn’t believe it either. Jesus says that for those who don’t believe, even a resurrection from the dead won’t be enough. No sign is enough. Jesus walked around the country side providing proof after proof, sign after sign, miracle after miracle, but still some refuse to believe. Even when Jesus was raised from the dead, there were people who still didn’t believe in him. Jesus used my story to convict the Pharisees and drive them to repentance. But, they had no faith. Just like me they wouldn’t repent.
As for you, beloved children of God, you are blessed with faith, just like Lazarus. You hear God’s word regularly and believe it. You gather together to celebrate Jesus life, death and resurrection. The very same resurrection he talks about in my story. You have the gift of faith to believe that God sent Jesus to be your Savior, to suffer and die for you; to win for you forgiveness of your sins. Jesus Christ took all of them, even the sins that you do that remind you of me. Even those vile sins Jesus carries to death. On the cross he bears the sins of the whole world; my sins, and your sins; the selfishness, the lies, and the evil thoughts against people who are different; your ignoring those who God has placed right in your way to help. Yes, all those sin go with Jesus into the grave. In with His resurrection they are gone. You see, the resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just proof of who he is, it’s proof that what he did, he did for you and for me! Your joy is that your story is already different from mine. I didn’t believe in God’s Word about Jesus. I didn’t believe that my sins were forgiven, or even that they needed to be forgiven. I thought I was God’s favorite. As for you, because of Jesus Christ, because of your faith in what he has done for you, you will be carried off to Abraham’s side, just like Lazarus. Because of Jesus Christ you are blessed with gifts that I can only gaze at across a deep and wide chasm.
At least you can learn from my story. There are people that God lays at your doorstep, right in your way, just like He laid Lazarus at mine. There are people all around you who need the love of God, in Christ Jesus. You know and believe what God has done for you. You believe the word of Moses and the Prophets. You know that Jesus died and rose for them too. God has given you many gifts, talents, money, and time. Use them to reach out to them with his love. For you, God’s love in Jesus Christ means salvation. Share that Good News with those around you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.