Sunday, October 11, 2020

Isaiah.25.6-9; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 11, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9, ESV) Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It will happen. Sooner or later we’ll have to deal with it. Death will visit Life in Christ, Grand Marais, sticking its bony fingers into our business. Members of this congregation will have to gather, with friends, and family around a loved one who has died. Death will come, and we will be left, sad, afraid and lonely. We don’t like the intrusion. We would just as soon be left to go about our regular business without having that visitor. We don’t want to suffer the separation from our loved ones; we don’t want to have to deal with the pain, and the loneliness. Most of all we don’t want to take the time to deal with our own mortality. Sooner or later, and we all hope later, that ugly visitor will be knocking on my door. And sooner or later, he’ll be at your door too. It doesn’t console us at all to know that death only comes to those who deserve it. We only need to look at ourselves to see that each and every one of us deserves it. “The wages of sin is death.” The bible shouts at us. The more we look at ourselves the more sin we see. From that little white lie that we told last week to the selfish lustful desires that come and invade our thoughts. The sin is present, unavoidably, unmistakably present. Yes, we see it and we know that when death comes, we deserve it. But, hey, we each come from a long line of deserving people. Deserving parents give birth to deserving children. When those cute little babies are born, we press our noses to the nursery glass, hoping to see ourselves in their features. We hope our best traits have been passed on. “Oh, look at that adorable little baby, she has her father’s eyes. Oh look; she has her mother’s nose...” The comment we never hear or say is “Eck, she has her parent’s sin.” But parents deserving death always pass on their least attractive trait. She has her parent’s sin. She deserves death too. She will live her whole life in that dark shadow. The dark shadow of death cast by her unavoidable inheritance. She takes her place in a very long line of deserving people. “Oh, Pastor.” You are saying, “I thought today’s theme was party, party, party. You sure know how to kill a party. What happened to the party?” Well, the truth is this, Death has crashed the party, and he’s out there, rattling around in our lives, stalking us at work and lurking about in our house. Death is a real part of our everyday lives and that’s exactly why we are here today. It’s exactly because God had done something about Death’s shadowy intrusion that we have a reason to have a party. In a sense, all the things we do here are a party. Worship is a party. Each time we gather here on Sunday we have a victory celebration. We revel in Christ’s victory over Death on Easter Sunday. We sing joyful songs of praise, and gather around party food, a feast of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. Today is a party to remind us, that even when Death seems to have the victory, Jesus Christ is the true victor. Death doesn’t stand a chance before the one who faced death, a brutal, horrible, bloody death, but broke through death and rose again to live again. Isaiah is a true artist; he paints us a picture of a party. He calls it a “feast of fat things.” He didn’t worry about cholesterol. Isaiah knew the best parts of the meat were the fatty parts and the marrow, where all the flavor is. “… the stakes were this thick!” He might say today. “and the wine…” Isaiah says rolling his eyes for effect, “it’s the best wine that there is. It’s the oldest and clearest; it’s the stuff that’s left on the dregs (the stuff in the fermenting vat), extra long. It’s the wine that has the most flavor. Every drop was to be savored. The feast, the party that Isaiah is describing is the kind that was reserved for only the most special occasions: Marriage and other very important events in a family or victory over enemies. “This party,” Isaiah says, “is because the LORD has done something about death! There is a mountain,” Isaiah says still painting a picture for us, “and on it he is going to destroy the thing that we all live in fear of; the burial shroud that covers us, death itself, is going to be destroyed. The Lord will remove it tear it to pieces and it will not bother us any longer! Then on that mountain we are all going to have a party!” Where is the mountain that Isaiah was talking about? It’s a mountain that we all know about, is a “green hill far away.” It’s the mountain where Jesus Christ destroyed the shroud of death that covered us. He took that shroud from our sin burdened shoulders and placed it upon his own sinless body. He wore it for us, wrapped up in it as he bled and died on the cross. It clung to him for three days, tying to hold him. But Jesus Christ is the master of that shroud, he his more powerful than death, and he broke free from its power removing it from us forever. That is the victory celebrated that Isaiah was celebrating, that is the victory that we are celebrating today again. It’s Jesus victory that removes the curse and the power that death holds over us. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin causes death, death is out there but the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves his victory over it… proves its powerlessness in our lives as well, because God has promised us that same victory when he called us his own, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s our promise that we too will be raised. Death will take us, but just like Jesus, it cannot and will not hold us, because our Savior has proven that he is stronger than death. And some day soon, our strong Savior will return, he has promised that, too. When he does, death won’t even be able to stalk us any longer. It has now already lost its power. It is now already nothing to fear. On that great day, it will be no more. There will be no death to bring separation from our loved ones. There will be no death to cause pain and loneliness. There will be no more death, period… its cold dark shadow will be obliterated by the Light of the Living Son of God. Now picture the party again, the feast on that day. There are long tables as far as the eye can see. They are stacked with food. There are huge dark crusty loafs of hot bread. The steam rises off each one, fresh from the oven. The smell is more than you can stand. The tables are so crowded with serving dishes, the plates hang off the edge… if you try to push them so they don’t; everything else moves. There are giant goblets, full of dark red wine; the tablecloth has pink spots from the great red drops that have fallen from each and every one. You are sitting there, elbow to elbow, with your family and friends; your plate has never been empty. And is seems as if there are children everywhere… well you all feel like children anyway. That pain in your back doesn’t bother you anymore; you don’t even remember what it felt like. It is noisy and happy. There is singing… you join in from time to time, because you know each and every word, they just come flowing out of you as natural as breath. And the center of it all is Jesus standing, arms open wide. You’ve already been with him, leaned upon his breast and cried tears of joy. You saw the marks in his hands and feet and side. He is the reason you are there. His love lights the whole feast. It will never end… the joy, the singing, and the feasting… with the resurrected Savior. That is what our worship is all about. It is a little party to remind us that the great party, the mother-of-all parties that is coming. Today we sing praises to the host of the party; at the great party there will be unending songs of praise. Today we feast on bread and wine, Christ’s own body and blood; these are the seal of the promise of the great feast to come. Look around you and see your brothers and sisters in Christ, they’ll be seated around you at that party, too. I can’t wait! Yes, death is still out there. It still claims its victims, one by one, and it will claim each of us. Today’s feast… this great party… is a reminder that death’s visit is not a cause for fear. Death’s sting is gone. Jesus, our Savior, has swallowed up death and destroyed it forever. Today, at our little party, we repeat the wonderful words of Isaiah, and we will say them again at the great feast, “This is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

John.15.1-8; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020;

John.15.1-8; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1–8, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. There’s a vine in here. Maybe you can’t see it, but I assure you it’s here. It’s wound around the rafters, it’s clinging to the organ, and it’s hanging of the altar. It’s got leaves springing out of it all over. And it snakes right through all the chairs; if you would try to walk around, you’d probably trip over it. You might have guessed that it’s not necessarily your average vine. Actually, you know the vine very well because you’re attached to it. So, you see this vine that’s all around us is no ordinary vine, because you are its branches. That’s right you’re connected to the vine that’s all around here, even if you can’t see it. You might wonder how you got to be a part of this vine that we are all sticking to. Well, you were grafted onto this vine. For many of you it happened on a day that you can’t even remember, only a few days after you were born. There’s one more very important thing I forgot to tell you about the vine, it wanders all over this room, it’s attached to each of you, and even spreads out into the narthex, but I didn’t tell you where it begins. Maybe you can tell me? Yes, of course, the vine begins right here in this font. It starts here where the branches get the necessary water to grow and thrive. Here is where you became attached to this vine. Here is where you were made “clean” (καθαρός katharos) and “pruned clean” (καθαίρω kathairō ) that is made ready to bear fruit. And guess what. You are bearing fruit. Well, you can’t help it really. You see you’re a branch connected to the vine. “It is no longer I who live but ‘the vine’ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) You can say. Branches that are connected to the vine bear fruit because of their connection. If you look around here at the other branches around you, you know you’ve seen the fruit in them. What is the fruit of this vine? The Fruit of this vine is things like “…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV) You’ve seen these branches in action. They’ve cared for you when you were sick, they’ve given of themselves and sacrificed for others. They’ve been a support for other ‘branches’ even ones not connected to the vine. Some of the branches here are even scrawny looking and seem to be weak. But you’ve seen fruit there, too. In fact, amazing things come from the thinnest sickliest looking ones, words of comfort, and actions that don’t seem possible. It’s funny how good things are expected from branches that look healthy and act healthy, but around here, connected to this vine, fruit doesn’t have anything to do with the branches. The fruit on these branches all comes from the vine. But what about all those times when you look at yourself and the fruit you see doesn’t look like particularly good fruit at all. Like: angry words spoken to people you love; or missed opportunities to be supportive. You look at your own fruit and instead of looking good, it’s full of rotten spots that just need to be cut out, because even though you did a good thing you did it for selfish reasons. After all you have reputation to keep up. Well that is the struggle for branches of this vine. We look at the things we’ve done, and don’t seem very good. We look at the things we should have done and realize how we’ve missed a perfect opportunity to bear fruit. We can’t see the good fruit that is there, and the fruit that is, is always tainted by selfish thoughts and motives. Well, your struggle isn’t unusual for branches of this vine. One branch once said, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15, ESV) The only thing worse than the fruit we seem to bear, would be not being attached to the vine at all. “Apart from me you can do nothing!” It says. If we were not attached at all nothing we could do is of any lasting value. There’s a little poem that goes something like this. “One life it will soon be past, only what’s done for ‘the vine’ will last.” The better way to put it would be, “only what’s done in ‘the vine’ will last.” It’s only in Him that our fruit amounts to anything at all. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” That’s what the vine says, not a “little” fruit, but “much” fruit. That’s what happens to branches attached to the vine. "…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)," (Ephesians 5:8-9, ESV) All that is good and right and true is fruit. Have you done anything that is good and right and true this week? Of course, you have. You’ve done good things for your family, in spite of fighting with them, you’ve done good things at work, even if you didn’t want to be there, you’ve done good things here at church, by the work you’ve done to keep the building up, or even things you’ll put in the collection plate, even if your motives are sometimes selfish. You see, that’s good fruit, and you do bear it every day of your life. All these things you do every day are good fruit because you are attached to the vine. The vine enables you to do them because he through you, just like the sap that flows through the trees enables the tree branches grow leaves. And we know what happens to branches of trees that break off the tree. We gather up the broken branches from our yard after a storm. We throw them in a pile and burn them up. Branches that are not attached to the vine have the same fate. They are thrown in the fire and burned. But that’s not what’s ahead for us, because we’ve been attached to the vine already. But what is it that makes it so that we stay attached to the vine? We certainly don’t always look like healthy branches. The fruit we do grow is far from perfect. We know that when we look closely at our lives we should be cut off, like branches that don’t bear any fruit at all. When the Vinedresser looks over the vine why in the world would he choose to let us grow. We do bear fruit and lots of it, we already said. But it’s hardly perfect fruit. We are not cut off, because of the vine. It’s not that we do enough good stuff; it’s not that we deserve to be left attached. But we are left attached for the sake of the vine. The vine is Jesus Christ. He was planted in the world and grew up bearing perfect fruit. It wasn’t simply good fruit, it was perfect, the best fruit that could ever be grown. He loved everyone perfectly; he healed the sick, and gave food to the hungry, all with a perfect selfless motive. In fact, all of those things we wish we would do, Jesus actually did. All those things we wish we didn’t do, Jesus never did. He was the perfect vine with perfect branches, bearing the perfect fruit. But the God the Father, the Vinedresser, cut him off and threw him away into the grave of death anyway. Jesus Christ was cut off and cast in to the grave. But because he was perfect, because he didn’t deserve to die, God raised him to life again. He was firmly replanted, the perfect, and true, one and only vine. And you, dear branches, were grafted onto him, in baptism. And it’s not because the fruit made you worthy of him, not even because he knew you’d bear fruit, but simply because he loves you so much that he was willing to be cut off in your place. His life, his death and his resurrection are the perfect replacement for our rotten fruit. And now Vinedresser looks at us and sees fruit, he sees it as the fruit of the vine. "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 6:3-4, ESV) We said it before, the vine starts right here. It grows out of the water of baptism. You are attached to the one true vine in baptism. First, buried with Jesus Christ, cut off, as an unfruitful branch, with him, and then raised from death, grafted onto the perfect vine to live in newness of life. That is, to bear good fruit… because of the vine, through the vine, attached to the vine, Jesus Christ. And there’s another important part of what Jesus, the vine, is saying to you right here and now. He’s giving you a wonderful invitation. That invitation comes in a single word. “Remain.” Remain in me. Jesus says. “Know who I am. Know who you are.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” You are already attached to me. I have provided everything necessary for you to remain. “Remain!” Remember your baptism. Remember that you have been grafted to the one true vine and there is nothing that can separate you from him. “Remain!” Listen to my words, Jesus says. They are words of life. If you remain in them, you will continue to bear “much” fruit. “Remain!” and take nourishment from the vine himself, “Take and eat this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all yours sins.” Remain and grow. Remain and bear much fruit, as a branch of the one true vine. Jesus Christ. So, we’re part of the vine. Maybe you couldn’t see it clearly before. Look again. If you can’t see the vine itself, I know you can see the branches. Strong ones, weak ones, thin ones and curly ones, they are all around us. And I know you can see the fruit. You can see it on each and every branch if you just look. The problem is that sometimes we get used to looking for only a certain kind of fruit, but remember that every branch connected to this vine, bears fruit. Look again and you’ll see it everywhere. Remain and grow, together branches of the true vine, bear much fruit. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Matthew 21: 28-32; The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 27, 2020;

Matthew 21: 28-32; The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 27, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So, I wonder, which “son” you are? That is what Jesus is getting at here isn’t it? To ask the question that Jesus asks. “What do you think?” Are you like the son who insults his father, refusing to do what he is obligated to do, but has a change of heart and goes out and works? Or are you more like the son who eagerly answers his father saying he’ll go, but then changes his mind blows off the work and does something different? Isn’t that after all what Jesus is asking us? Isn’t he asking us to choose which of the two sons is the best one? Wouldn’t he like us to be more like the “better” one? So even more importantly than that doesn’t Jesus use this parable to tell us how to live? Let’s look at it a little closer: The father didn’t ask his first son to do something difficult. He simply asked him to do what he was obligated to do. “Go work in the field today.” He said. It was like any other chore a father would ask, take out the garbage, wash the car, or walk the dog. It was a request just like you received from your father. It was perfectly within the bounds of fatherhood to ask the work to be done. But the son answered, “I will not! I don’t want any chores. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it! and to heck with you, Dad.” Later on, this son thought better of his words, changed his mind and went out and worked as his father asked. Now the old German in us will quickly point out that at least the work got done, because we Germans are ultimately practical. And that’d be fine, but God our Father never just wants the work done. He wants us to have the right attitude. He says for things to be good, for good works to be acceptable to him, our heart has to be in it, we can’t just go through the motions. The folks standing around Jesus understood the boy wasn’t living up to expectation. There’s nothing good in what the son says to his father. He may as well have said “Father I want you dead!” So, what if he changed his mind and went. The parable doesn’t say anything about being sorry for the way he treated his father. It says nothing about doing the work because he had a sense of obligation, or even that he felt guilty. Jesus asked, “who did the father’s will?” not “who got the work done?” Well, not this guy. It’s true he got the work done but it doesn’t look like his heart was in it. Well, doesn’t that put us in our place as well? At work we often find ourselves doing just what we have to do to get paid. We spend little time on the tasks we dislike not doing them well; tell the little white lie about getting stuff done; take advantage of our employers and co-workers only for our own benefit; and on and on it goes. God give us work to serve others; we serve but our hearts are focused on ourselves. And how many times do we end up working for God out of guilt? How often do we grudgingly drop the envelope in the collection plate? God loves a cheerful giver, He tells us. But what if you can’t be cheerful? God demands more of us than going through the motions of worship. He wants our whole heart. This father didn’t have his son’s whole heart. That is where we often fall short of God’s will, too. So very often our bodies are here but our hearts are out in the bean field… The second son was also asked to go and work. The father’s request was the same. And this son answered right away that he’d do what his father asked. I’m sure the father was happy with the answer. At least one of his sons was listening, and obeying. Later on, though, this son also changed his mind. He didn’t go out to work as he said he would. He found something more important to do. I don’t know if the boy really wanted to help his father or not. I don’t know if he was feeding him a line. But the fact is he didn’t do what his father asked. Either he lied, or he was lazy. It really doesn’t matter. At the heart of it is not obeying his father. Now it’s extremely hard not to see we are doing that very thing, too. We push our work on to others. We enthusiastically make promises we know we can’t keep. And we do the same for God our Father. He asks us to defend all life, especially helpless children, like those who have yet to be born. God asks us to feed the poor without regard to how we’ll be repaid. God asks us to visit the sick and the lonely, even the ones who are not members of our families. God asks us to speak about Jesus at every opportunity. We gladly say we will. We brightly make promises. But often we just don’t follow through. Other things crowd out our willingness. Things like fear, and pride, or plain laziness. And the work our Father has asked us to do goes without being done. Well, now you’ve done it pastor. You’ve taken away both choices. Jesus asked which one did the will of the father. You’ve made it so that neither one is any good. You’ve made them both out to be scoundrels. You’ve taken away our real lesson for today. Doesn’t Jesus want us to be like the son show actually gets the work done? Isn’t that what he’s getting at, actually getting the work done? Well, as important as getting everything done is, that’s not Jesus point. What he wants is for people to see the real problem of sin. He tells us parables like this one, so we find ourselves painted into the corner. The best answer to Jesus question is neither. Jesus paints people into corners where they can’t see any way out but him. He first spoke this parable to the chief priests and elders. He gave them a question that they couldn’t answer. He had done the same thing before. When Jesus was preaching and healing in the temple, they questioned his authority to do all the things he was doing. “Who says you can do the things you are doing, and say the things you are saying?” And Jesus confronted them. He asked them a question to answer their question. Speaking about John the Baptist, Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So, they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV) Since they had answered, “I don’t know” in front of everyone before they didn’t dare not give an answer to Jesus’ question about the sons. But to be sure, they were hardly happy with the answer they gave. And Jesus sharply turns their answer against them. He pronounced God’s law and convicted them of their sin by comparing them to the second son. The very one they said was the worst of the two. They claimed to be living in God’s will, but they refused to listen to John the Baptizer’s words about God coming into the world in Jesus. They refused to admit their sin. They refused to believe. They changed their minds about God and turned away from His Word and the promises given in Jesus. And then as if to pour salt on the wound, Jesus told them that the people chief priest and elders considered lost forever because of their sin, were closer to God than they were. The sinful hearts of tax collectors and prostitutes were changed by John’s preaching, and they believed. They repented their sin, believed in Jesus and found forgiveness with their Father. This text, this parable of Jesus isn’t about how we should live at all, but it does tell us about how we do live. We make bad decisions. We hide our true motives. We fall short just like both sons. The will of God is not to do what either son did, but to say, “Yes, I will,” and then actually carry out what we say we’ll do. Anything less is sin. Anything less is not God the Father’s will. Anything less deserves punishment. But I wonder if you’ve seen the third Son in the parable. (to quote Yoda) “There is another.” There’s a Son who isn’t like either of the other sons. He obeyed the His Father’s will. He says He’ll go and do the work, and He actually goes. And not only that, He does the work fully and completely, perfectly. The Third Son is the one telling the parable. There’s a hymn by Martin Luther that tells it so clearly (LSB 556, Dear Christians, One and All) God said to his beloved Son: "It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of my crown, And bring to all salvation; From sin and sorrow set them free; Slay bitter death for them that they May live with you forever." The Son obeyed his Father’s will, Was born of virgin mother; And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother. His royal power disguised he bore, A servant’s form, like mine, he wore To lead the devil captive. "Though he will shed my precious blood, Of life me thus bereaving, All this I suffer for your good; Be steadfast and believing. Life will from death the victory win; My innocence shall bear your sin; And you are blest forever. That’s what this parable of Jesus is about; Jesus doing God’s will; Jesus coming in human flesh to take away the sins of the world; Jesus removing the guilt of God’s sons and daughters with poor attitudes and lazy hearts; Jesus taking the punishment for forgetful and prideful sons and daughters. That’s just it, too. Sin backs us into corners. We find ourselves painted in with nowhere to go. God plucks us out of the corner and saves us. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in Word and Sacrament, He gives us new lives and hearts that want to do His will. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives He makes good on our promise to do what He has asked, and get the job done. And most importantly through His Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to offer us forgiveness when we fall short. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Matt.20.1-16; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020;

Matt.20.1-16; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Thanks to Rev. Edward O. Grimenstein (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 15, part 4) 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ Bob was an unemployed man. He had a terrible time finding work. It really wasn’t his fault the economy was tough. But he had children to feed, house payments to make, and living expenses. But work was hard to come by, so he hung around the employment offices every day hoping to get lucky. He went early, the early bird, tying to be hired for a full day’s work. But there was no who would hire him. As the day dragged on hour by hour, he felt that full day’s work slips away. At noon hope faded, and by late after noon he was so sure that there would be no work for him, he sat down in despair. Today would be an unproductive day. His children would be hungry tonight. Then a man came and hurriedly called out for workers. “It couldn’t be much,” the Bob thought, “but an hour or two would be better than nothing at all.” So, he went. When he got to the field, he was shown what to do, but he had hardly worked at all when the foreman told them all it was quitting time. What a waste of time, Bob thought. The little bit I’ve earned won’t even buy bread for the table. But even with his down spirits he lined up for his pay. And then the most amazing thing happened. Instead of pennies, Bob received a full day’s wage. “This can’t be right,” he meekly protested. “I’ve only worked a few minutes. I don’t deserve this wage.” “That’s right,” the owner answered him, “You don’t deserve it, but I want to give it to you anyway. It’s my gift to you. I want to be generous. Take it. Go home. Feed your family. Sleep well.” The puzzled worker quietly said, “thank you” and left for home. Well, that’s not the kind of story you hear everyday, is it? That’s not the way things work in the real world. This kind of naive boss isn’t going to stay in business exceptionally long. His generosity isn’t very smart, that kind of thing goes against the nature of the world. It even goes against what how we think bosses should act. In fact, we probably think the owner is rather foolish. People should be paid fairly. The should get a check just for what they earn and not a penny more. A full day’s pay should come after a full day’s work. This kind of charity just makes for lazy people. Just think about how angry you’d be if you were among the people who had slaved all day and gotten the same wage as the slacker. At least the full day people earned what they got. That’s why God invented time clocks. Everything in life should be fair. Your employer shouldn’t short you. And he should dole out cash to people who don’t earn it. The next guy should pay for what he works. Everyone should get paid what they deserve to get paid. Once again Jesus parable tells us something different. It stands up in our face and tells us that God doesn’t work the way we think He should work. It says that God’s ways aren’t our ways. It was in the first reading for today, God spoke to his people through Isaiah: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Jesus says the same thing in the parable about the workers. It doesn’t seem fair that people should receive a full day’s wage for a short day’s work. But Jesus tells us that that’s the kind of God we have. And if we don’t listen to what He says carefully, if we don’t understand what He’s talking about it will certainly rub us the wrong way. In this parable we usually put on the all-day-worker’s work boots. We stand in the place of the “good guy, hard worker.” “That’s me!” We say. They deserved the pay. We think somehow that we deserve the things we receive from God. We’re faithful lifelong members of the church. We sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday even if we don’t like the preacher. We’ve sat on boards, and faithfully maintained the church property. We’ve slaved and sacrificed just trying to make sure the doors stay open. Isn’t that worth something? Isn’t that a fair day’s work? We sit down and calculate it all out and think we’ve got a pretty full timecard. And after all that good work, isn’t God obligated to pay us something? If I’m faithful, God has to be faithful, too. And it must be working too, because I’ve got lots of good things going in my life. Well, if we balance out the timecard with the rest of our life, we’ll see that we don’t deserve anything at all from God. As far as God is concerned, we’ve blown it. We’ve left God’s Word out of our lives. Our bibles set on the bookshelf collecting dust. God asks us to live our lives by His Word, we are lazy enough to think Sunday morning is enough. We’ve dropped the ball when it comes to helping our neighbor. We are selective with our help, looking for those who seem to deserve it. Or those who will appreciate help. And if we’ve missed one opportunity to tell the good news about Jesus, we’ve missed a thousand. We speak more about what we really believe in a few seconds of silence, than if we spoke an hour. We are far from that. We hold on to what we think is important, trying to balance the church books, instead of caring for the lost and hurting people who live in this very town. You see, our works, the things we are so proud of are not much in God’s eyes. They are corrupted by our selfishness, pride and laziness. And worse than that God demands that we be perfect. Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:48, ESV). If we set our hearts against all that we think we’ve done, we see very clearly that we don’t deserve any wages at all from God, let alone a full day’s wage. Fortunately! God doesn’t use our timecard. He doesn’t compare our thoughts and our deeds and our actions. He doesn’t do a yearly employee evaluation. God gives us exactly what we don’t deserve. God’s gifts to us are just that, gifts. And we receive them they are a surprise. When God gives and we compare His gifts with our sinful lives, we stand before God with our mouths hanging open. “God, I don’t deserve the life you’ve given me. I’ve sinned in thought word and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone… I’ve done terrible things in my life. I’ve been poorest example of a Christian, especially for the people who know me. I haven’t treated my husband, as I should. I’ve cheated my boss. I’ve horded the money you given me instead of caring for the people nearest to me who need it. I’ve really blown it… I don’t deserve anything from you…” We hold out our timecard to God with a shaky hand. Knowing that the balance what we’ve done is nothing worth any kind of payment, except punishment. But God takes your timecard and says, “This time card is unacceptable,” and he tears it up in little pieces. And then, instead of giving you what you deserve, punishment for your sinful life, anger at offering your meager and corrupted works to Him, he gives you what exactly what you don’t deserve. And it’s more than a day’s wage. He pays you with something you could never afford, something you could never earn. It’s not just life that ends in death, either. He gives eternal life instead of eternal punishment. It is a completely full life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) that abundant life begins in faith in Jesus Christ. Faith given with the pouring of water and the placing of His Name on you. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God says, “New life begins with the giving of my name and it goes on and on forever. God gives us his very life. Jesus says, “Here is my life for yours. You didn’t earn it. I did! You don’t deserve it. I do! It’s my gift to you because I love you.” And He points to the bloody cross, where He died to cancel out all the lousy work that you and I have done. He points to His perfect life, all the good and perfect things He did; His complete love for his neighbors; His perfect compassion for the sick; His over abundant feeding the hungry; His perfectly even and fair treatment of all people regardless of social status and gratefulness; His speaking the truth clearly when it needed to be spoken; His condemning of sin and error; and His love for his enemies even those who killed him; His whole life lived in complete perfect obedience to God the Father’s will, even though it meant the cross. God shows you Jesus’ timecard. It’s full of good work and overflowing. “This is what I’ll use to determine what you deserve. Jesus worked out this timecard for you. Your wages are not death, but eternal life.” Wow! Just think how Bob the worker in the parable felt, blessed. That’s you and me, blessed beyond our deserving. Well, does that mean we don’t have to do anything? Should we resign our boards, quit sending money to the Food Pantry? No! God says clearly that faith goes hand in hand with works. Think about the passage I read to you a couple of weeks ago: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:15-18, ESV) Notice that the passage doesn’t say that we give the good stuff we do to God. We can’t earn the gifts He gives us by helping our neighbor. The point of doing good works, the point of punching the timecard, is helping our neighbor. We don’t need to impress God by working hard. We work hard to show our neighbor the wonderful God, who supplies them with what they need. God blesses us with wonderful earthly gifts, so that we can be a blessing to others. We do it through faith, that God has given us all that we need and more, eternal life through Jesus death on the cross. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September, 13, 2020;

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September, 13, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:15–21, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a lot of water under the bridge! Joseph’s brothers were quite nasty. Not that they didn’t have some cause. Joseph was, after all, daddy’s favorite. It was Joseph against his eleven brothers. Israel, father of all twelve, kept Joseph near, and gave him special gifts, like the special long tunic (probably NOT a coat of many colors). Joseph must have continually rubbed it in his brother’s faces, (kind of like the Smother’s brothers, “mom always liked you best”). As the bible tells us Joseph had his father’s ear and brought a bad report to him about his brothers. They, for their part, could not speak kindly to him. And then there was Joseph’s dreams. The first was about the sheaves of wheat. “Hey brothers! Listen to my dream. We were harvesting wheat and my sheave stood up straight and yours bowed down to mine!” The brothers didn’t take it kindly. “Are you going to be our king? Are we going to be your servants?” It was another nail in the coffin of jealousy. But again, Joseph wasn’t just prideful to his brothers. He told them all about another dream where the sun, moon and 11 stars all bowed down to him. Even his father was displeased. “Am I going to bow down to you?” Such was Joseph’s relationship with his family. Sometime later, Israel sent Joseph to check up on his brothers when they had the flocks in the fields. While he was a long way off the brother’s hatred was sparked by the opportunity to get rid of the “favorite son.” “Let’s kill him and tell father that it was a wild animal that got him.” Such was their hatred for him. This was not your normal dysfunctional family. The oldest brother, though, had a different idea. “Don’t kill him, just throw him into one of the pits around here.” I don’t think that Ruben was really having pangs of guilt. I think he was thinking if he rescued Joseph he would move up in his father’s eyes and be (at least) the 2nd favorite. The brother’s carried out their plot against their brother and threw him into a waterless pit. While Ruben was gone away the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt and took the opportunity to make some cash. They sold the dreamer to them for the price of a slave. When Ruben found out, he wasn’t worried about Joseph but instead wailed, “Now what am I going to do?” The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to a wealthy man in Egypt, named Potiphar. The whole thing with his brothers seems to have mellowed the boy a bit, because he became a very hard worker and was soon over seeing all of his master’s household. The bible says that God caused all he did to succeed. After some time, Potiphar’s wife had eyes for the attractive young boy and tried to seduce him. But Joseph would have no part of it. Finally, she cornered him in the empty house and grabbed ahold of his tunic. He stripped it off and went out of the house without it. Potiphar believed his wife’s story that Joseph was the one who was the offender. He had Joseph thrown into prison. But God was faithful to Joseph still. He was also successful there. Soon he found favor with the jailer and was the head trustee. He took care of everything in the prison. While he was there Pharaoh became unhappy with his cupbearer and his head baker and they ended up in jail. They each had dreams that Joseph interpreted. The cupbearer would be restored by Pharaoh, but the baker hanged. It happened just as Joseph said. But the cupbearer didn’t think about telling Pharaoh about his dream interpreter until two years later when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream that he didn’t understand. The cupbearer remembered Joseph and he was brought to listen to the dream and tell what it meant. “In my dream,” the king began, “I was standing by the Nile river and out came 7 nice looking, healthy cows. But right after were 7 ugly, gaunt cows. The ugly ones ate up the good ones and looked like they were still starving. I had a second dream,” Pharaoh continued, “7 plump ears of corn sprang from the ground followed by 7 thin ones. The thin ones swallowed up the plump ones.” God gave the interpretation to Joseph. There would be 7 good years of great harvest followed by 7 years of terrible famine. The famine would be so great that people all over would completely forget about the good. He advised the king to prepare during the 7 good years by setting someone over the land to collect grain over the first so that it could be used during the second. And Pharaoh agreed. In fact, he picked Joseph for the job. Joseph did so well that he was placed 2nd only to the king himself. Now the famine was as bad as Joseph had said, it even effected the land that his family lived on. Israel sent his 10 oldest sons to buy grain in Egypt as did people from everywhere. When the brothers arrived, they didn’t recognize their brother but he knew exactly who they were. He accused them of lying to him and being spies. He said they could prove themselves if they went home and brought their youngest brother who had stayed behind. Simeon stayed behind and they went home. When the grain ran out, against their father’s protest, Benjamin was taken back. Joseph treated them all well, gave them grain and sent them on their way. Secretly he put a cup from Pharaoh’s table in Ben’s bag. He sent his servants to intercept the caravan and brought them back accusing them of theft. Ruben offered his own life for his younger brother proving that they had changed. Joseph revealed himself to them and invited them to come and live in Egypt through the famine. That brings us to our reading for today. Israel dies and the brothers are worried that Joseph has been waiting to carry out his vengeance against them. They were filled with fear. Their father could no longer protect them from their brother’s anger. They had come face-to-face with the temporal / worldly consequences of their sin. They are repentant and Joseph assures them of their forgiveness. Sin was confessed and absolved. Despite the evil they had done, God had taken it and used it for their good, in fact the good of the whole world. God enabled Joseph to forgive because Joseph himself had been forgiven. The devil has a way of using our guilt against us. He wants us to live in fear. He doesn’t want us to receive God’s free and full forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus Christ as our savior from sin. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus as the one who took God’s punishment for our sin into the grave and rose from the dead victorious. He works extremely hard to get us to live in fear and doubt God’s forgiveness. He sets us up to fear just like he did with Joseph’s brothers. God must be out to get us, punish us, and kill us. He couldn’t possibly forgive me. Satan has us right where he wants us when we are scrambling about in fear with nowhere to turn, trying to protect ourselves. What Satan doesn’t want us to see, is Jesus. He is God’s answer to our sin. In love, God, the Father, takes our sin and heaps it on his own Son, Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to a cross, of his own free will. There hanging suspended between heaven and earth, he suffers God’s punishment for the sin of Joseph and his brothers, and for yours and mine. Jesus’ death is what we deserve, rejection by God and the eternal punishment of hell. But miraculously, after three days dead and in the grave, Jesus lives again. Not just some spiritual resurrection either, a real, physical, bodily resurrection. It is proof that God has vanquished sin, and death, and most important Satan. What Jesus has done, is promise us new life again after our death. Satan no longer has the threat of God’s punishment in hell for you and me. Jesus has removed that. Our death no longer leads to punishment but a waking to new life forever. Joseph’s pit of despair was turned into salvation for his family. Jesus’ cross, his pit of despair, is our salvation. That’s the good news that God wants for you today. Jesus is your savior from sin, death and hell. He tells you that you have no need to fear. He promises you full and free forgiveness. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 6, 2020;

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 6, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’” (2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, ESV) David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.” (2 Samuel 12:13–15, ESV) Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. David sat impatiently waiting. Ever since Nathan had contacted him, he felt uneasy as if there was something to dread with this visit. But, truthfully, David was angry. “Why must he come and interrupt my important business? I am the King of Israel and Judah. What does he have to tell me that is so important that it can’t wait for my schedule? I don’t have time for a prophet, today.” It was going to be a difficult day. Governing had become increasingly difficult over last year. Decisions were harder to make… People seemed less cooperative… and David himself felt as if he was going nowhere. Everything in his life was more difficult since she came. He was sure Bathsheba brought these troubles with her. At first when she came, after the appropriate mourning period, it felt good to finally be together. It felt good to finally get all the trouble behind them and move on with life. After her husband, Uriah, died… rather was killed… bravely in battle. David had done the honorable thing taking care of her and her child, in honor of her husband’s ultimate sacrifice. And she was incredibly beautiful after all. David pictured his wife in his mind. He remembered the first time he had seen her on the roof. Any man would have felt the same, any man would have sent for her… he had only done what any man would have done. Her image filled his mind… but instead of love, it only brought anger, and the anger welled up in him, “Where is that prophet!!” he scowled. “Nathan the prophet is here, my Lord,” called his servant. “What are you waiting for? Send him in! Can’t you see I’m waiting? I haven’t time for this… hurry, I must get back to my business!” And the servant scurried off. The prophet entered slowly, as if he was carrying a great burden. He looked at David for a long time before speaking. “My Lord, I have a story for you.” Impatiently David replied. “Yes, get on with it.” “There were two men who lived in a certain town, one rich and one poor…” began the story. “The rich man had many sheep… the poor man only one.” The story immediately gained the king’s attention. He remembered how he too, was once a shepherd. How he had cared for little sheep, feeding them and protecting them. He grinned when Nathan described how for the poor man his one little sheep had become more than just an animal for food, but actually a household pet. How it was so loved that it was even fed at the poor man’s table, just like one of his own children. It was an interesting story. David had always loved sheep, especially the little ones. “A traveler came…” continued Nathan. “The lamb of the poor man was killed and eaten by the rich man and his guest, because the rich man couldn’t bear to waste one of his own sheep on a no name visitor.” Instantly David was on his feet. His anger boiled over. His face flush. “Any man who has done such a thing in my kingdom deserves to die. He must pay four times over for the sheep, because he had no pity on the poor man.” “You are the man!” Nathan stated looking David directly in the eye. “You are the man!” That was David’s rebuke. These words are some of the most severe law in the entire bible. They seem to have taken David completely by surprise. He was going alone; doing whatever it is that kings do, living in the sin of his marriage to Bathsheba. Living with the knowledge that he had killed Uriah as surely as if he had swung the sword himself. Thinking that God would just let it all go… hoping that God had already forgotten… after all, he was the anointed king… certainly his position allowed him some leeway. Through Nathan God points an accusing finger. “After all I have done for you, after all I have given you, you have killed a man to have his wife. You have killed a man to cover up your own selfishness and greed. You have killed a man to cover up your inability to control yourself.” The accusing Word, the sword that cut David’s heart, is sharpened by his own words. “The man who has done this deserves to die!” Literally “he is a son of death.” David’s own condemnation is applied to himself. And there is nothing he can say in his own defense. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He says. We can imagine him lying on the floor with his face on the ground awaiting God’s deathblow. Have you ever been there? Lying face down before God knowing that he sees your sin. Knowing that you deserve the condemnation and the punishment that David deserved. Knowing that you too have been selfish, that you have lacked self-control. You may remember a time when you wanted what your neighbor had, and maybe you even plotted to get it. Or maybe you have been living with a sin that you hoped God would simply ignore. Maybe you’ve thought to yourself that you are entitled because… “I’m better than my neighbor… at least I don’t do the things that they do.” Well, God does not tolerate sin. He does not ignore it. He hates it in every form. Unjustified anger, greed, lack of self-control, lies, gossip… all are alike in his eyes. All are sin. All deserve the same accusation… all deserve the same punishment. Because of any one of them, Nathan’s words point to you and say, “You are the man!” I also want you to notice something else in the text. I want you to notice how serious God is about sin. “Because you have done this… the son born to you will die.” David’s sin had serious consequences. His son would die. Sin brings death. The Apostle Paul said it like this, centuries after David; “The wages of sin is death.” And it isn’t just murder, but all sin, from the smallest lie to the grossest murder they all result in death. David’s son died because of David’s sin. It is true for you too. Someone must die for your sin. If you are ever tempted to think that God will pass over and ignore sin, remember the price that was paid for yours. Here in this text David’s son dies because of sin… Jesus Christ, Son of David also died because of sin. Paul again wrote in his letter to the Romans; “He who did not spare his own Son…” but he gave him up for the sin of us all. God is so serious about sin that he allowed his one and only perfect Son to die because of your sin. But the death of Jesus isn’t only about how much God hates sin. It is, more importantly, about how much he loves you. God is not willing that any should be eternally lost, and that is why he allowed Jesus to die. He wants everyone to be with him forever, and when that possibility was threatened by sin, he did something about it. He placed the sin of the entire world on Jesus Christ and then abandoned him to the cross to suffer and die because of it. He gave to him the deathblow we, along with David, deserve. And when Jesus rose again the bonds of sin and death were released, and they hold no power over us anymore. Look again at the text. When the accusing finger points at David, he simply confesses his sin. No excuses, no doubts, no shifting blame. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He says simply and quietly. He confesses his sin. And notice; God doesn’t give David what he deserved. Instead of striking David dead, God speaks again through Nathan. “The Lord has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die.” David had faith that God would forgive his sin. He knew that God was gracious and merciful. He knew that God was planning to do something about the sin that ruled his life. He knew that one of his descendants would be the Savior that would take away the sin of the world. David confessed to God in that faith, and he was forgiven. We now look back and know it was Jesus Christ, who died the death of the whole world’s sin on the cross. And just as he died for sins of David, his murder, his adultery, and his lies, we know that he died for us. When the accusing finger point to us saying, “You are the man!” “You are the woman!” “You are the sinner!” We turn to God and say, “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.” No excuses, no doubts, no shifting blame, just simply and quietly confessing our sins. And God replies, “My Child, I have already forgiven you, you will not eternally die.” “… as a called and ordained servant of the word, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” God forgives you as surely as he forgave his servant David, and as surely as Jesus was crucified and as crucified, risen and ascended Lord of all. There is sin in your life. I know there is because there is sin in my life too. We will struggle with sin until our dying day or until Jesus returns again. But it doesn’t have to rule our lives; it doesn’t have to control us. God had made a way of dealing with it. “If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse of from all unrighteousness.” That is what we are doing here today isn’t it; receiving the gifst he brings, forgiveness of sins, being cleansed from all unrighteousness. The gifts he gives us through the spoken word, bread and wine, and water. That is what makes this place so beautiful. It is because of what happens here, what God does here, through his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Luke.7.36-50; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 30, 2020;

Luke.7.36-50; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 30, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 36One of the Pharisees [Simon] asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 (ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Well, Jesus is certainly using a “teachable moment” here, isn’t he? And what a nice little story he uses too. It’s so simple and so easy to understand. Two guys owe lots of money. We’re talking a year and half’s wages for the one and a month and a half for the other. It’s a lot of money and neither of them can pay the debt so the moneylender cancels it all and send them on their way. “Who’s going to love the moneylender more?” It’s simple and obvious. The story is about loving the moneylender because he cancels debt. It’s all about forgiveness, isn’t it? God forgives our un-payable debt. We respond in love. It is straight forward. But I wonder do you see something funny in this parable? Do you see something just a little bit out of whack? I think you should. Jesus does this all the time. He tells a little story to make a point… but the story is deceptively simple. The meaning is usually buried much deeper that we think at first. And the more we dig in the more the point becomes clear. One of the best ways to understand Jesus parables is to find that little fact that seems to be out of joint… that little thing in the parable that isn’t quite right… the thing that would never happen. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know it very well. A traveler is beat up on the road. Three likely helpers just walk right by, but the unlikely helper, the man’s mortal enemy actually stops to help. And he doesn’t just help he goes above and beyond. He sacrifices himself for the sake of his enemy. The story is out of balance. The unexpected happens. And Jesus makes his point. He’s the person who sacrifices himself for his enemy, doing what is unexpected, doing the unthinkable. So, what about this one? What’s out of balance here? What’s the thing that would never happen? Well, it’s not that people get into debt beyond their ability to pay. We see that every day. No, the thing that’s not as we would expect is for the money lender to cancel the debt. Now this guy is a “moneylender” (Greek δανιστής) He isn’t just a relative who is helping these guys out with a little loan. He’s in the business of lending money. He’s given them money expecting his money back with interest. He’s a banker. It’s his business to make loans and collect interest. No self-respecting loan shark is going to make money by canceling debt. He’d never be able to collect on any loan again. And yet, this one does cancel the debt. In spite of the tremendous debt that is owed, he lets his debtors off the hook. That’s the peak of attention here. This unlikely banker forgives the debt… of course the guys who owed him are going to love him. He’s done the unbelievable and the unthinkable. He’s not thrown them and their families into prison. He’s not broken their legs. He’s not held them accountable at all. They are walking away owing nothing. And Jesus asks the question that brings the whole point home. “Now which one will love him more?” That brings us to the dinner, the place that Jesus told the story and the place that made for him the “teachable moment.” It also brings us to the dinner’s host. Jesus is telling this parable at a dinner feast in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Now let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly. It’s easy for us to hear the word Pharisee and think “bad guy.” That’s not really the case. Especially in his own community Simon the Pharisee is a respected person. He’s a law-abiding citizen. He’s a community leader worthy of respect. People look up to him to do what’s expected. That includes have a dinner conversation with a traveling preacher who has won the hearts of the people. So, Simon invites Jesus to a festival dinner. But we also learn that Simon is a skeptic. Along with doing what’s expected he also wants to find out if Jesus is really the prophet people are saying he is. Simon apparently has his doubts. And in fact, as we learn, Simon must not think very much of Jesus at all. Because even though Jesus has been invited to eat and to speak, he hasn’t been treated with even the common courtesies that are normally offered to guests. Jesus isn’t welcomed to the house warmly with the customary kiss, his feet aren’t washed to remove the remnants of the dusty road, and there is no olive oil given to cool his head. Simon wants Jesus to show his true colors, but Simon already thinks he knows who Jesus is and what he is not. That’s what the dinner really is about. But he doesn’t expect Jesus is worth all the fuss. Now there is something unexpected that happens here, too. The party is crashed by and unexpected guest. “A woman of the city, who was a sinner,” comes in and makes a scene. And what a scene it is. Uninvited, she does what Simon the host has neglected to do. She washes Jesus feet. She pours oil on him and she greets him with a kiss, but not in the normal sense at all. There’s no towel and basin, it’s not ordinary oil, or even regular manner of kissing. It’s all out of the ordinary and unexpected. She washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. She uses expensive myrrh instead of common olive oil. And the kisses she gives, well they go overboard. Not a kiss of greeting on the cheek, but non-stop kisses on Jesus’ feet. It’s safe to say that even though it all seems to be going overboard; this woman is expressing great love for Jesus. And, it seems, in many ways she doesn’t think she’s doing enough. She makes a scene, and she doesn’t care what people think. For Simon, the whole scene is disgusting, and it confirms his suspicions of Jesus. Simon is thinking “Well, that settles it… he’s no prophet… no self-respecting prophet would let a woman like that touch him like that.” In his mind the dinner is over. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Nothing Jesus could say now would be important for him to hear. This woman doesn’t belong in his house and neither does Jesus. And that’s the teachable moment… “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Go ahead teacher.” Simon replies lightly. “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” “Well,” Simon answered carefully sensing a trap, “I guess the one who had the bigger debt.” “You have judged rightly.” And then Jesus himself breaks all the rules of common courtesy as he points out Simon’s failures, “Simon, you see this woman. All the things that you should have done for me when I came to your house, she has done, and even more. You didn’t wash my feet; she did it with her tears and hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss; she can’t stop kissing my feet. You didn’t even give me simple oil for my head, but she has put expensive oil my feet. Her sins, which you know as well as I they are many, are really completely forgiven. Her love is like the love of one who has had a great debt forgiven, because she has been forgiven much. Those who have been forgiven only a little bit, only love a little bit.” For Simon and his guests, the point is obvious. Her sins are forgiven by Jesus, her love for Jesus shows that it is true. “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus confirms. This woman, sinner that she is, sees Jesus for who he really is. He has forgiven her sins. She owes him everything. Simon hasn’t even showed the least amount of love to Jesus, he has shown only contempt and doubt. Simon is not the debtor who loves much. But it is also true that Simon is not the debtor who loves little. Actually, it’s far worse than that for him. Simon sees no need for forgiveness at all. All he can see is a sinful woman who is overdoing it. And what do we see? Is it all too theatrical for us? The wetting of Jesus feet with tears and wiping them with hair; Kissing his feet and anointing them with oil? Does it seem to us to be overdone, bordering on hysterical? Do we sit with Simon thinking that we are better than she is? Well maybe that’s because we haven’t fully come to grips with the debt we owe. Or the price paid to cancel it. We can easily find examples of our loveless ness; our failures to be welcoming to people who we don’t want around here. So much of our life is spent as if Jesus doesn’t mean anything at all us. We don’t want to make a scene in public. We are afraid to show our love for Jesus outside of these walls. We don’t defend the truth that he teaches us in his Word. And when we do make a public statement of faith, it is usually so generic that could very well be any god at all we refer to. But our problem is more than just a little stage fright. And we well know the problem is much deeper than that. Sin is so much a part of our everyday life, so much a part of us and everything that we do, that we can’t get rid of it. No matter how much effort we give, we can’t remove it. No number of tears will drive it away from us. Jesus didn’t forgive the woman because she showed him great love. She was forgiven because she knew that she was helpless to do anything about her sin. She was forgiven because in her great need for forgiveness she turned to the One she knew could forgive. Jesus Christ didn’t become human flesh to dine with angels. God became a living breathing man to come into contact with living breathing, and sinful people. The point of the parable, the point of Luke whole account of this “teachable moment” is that God does what isn’t expected, he does what he doesn’t have to do. The debt we owe is more than we can pay. It’s not the amount that matters. Any debt that one is unable to pay is trouble. A poisonous snake is deadly poison even at a few inches. Our debt of sin can be paid only with our death and eternal separation from God. The woman’s sins were forgiven by the skin and blood, and innocent suffering and death of the very flesh that she knelt and kissed with her own lips. The body that she washed with tears and dried with her hair was the very body that was pinned to the cross for her sins. The oil that she poured on his feet was poured on the very place that iron would pierce for her. Now when we see the cost of the debt, and the greatness of our sin for the first time we may not break down in tears, but we can better understand the woman doing what this woman has done. Jesus forgives your unpayable debt. The sin that seeps up from the darkness that is in your heart has been taken care of by him. The amount of the debt isn’t important. You need what Jesus did just as much as the “sinner from the street.” You need the forgiveness Jesus gives just as much as the “delinquent” members of our church. So today, sinners that we are, we turn to Jesus, the only one who can forgive. We may not drop our tears on his feet, or pour any oil, but our love is great, because we know that we know how much we have been forgiven. There is an old hymn that says it as well as I could. Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me By: Augustus M. Toplady 1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee; Let the water and the blood, From thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure: Cleanse me from its guilt and power. 2. Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill thy law’s demands; Could my seal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and thou alone. 3. Nothing n my hand I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling. Naked, come to thee for dress; Helpless, look to thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me Savior, or I die. 4. While I draw this fleeting breath, When mine eyelids close in death, When I soar to worlds unknown, See thee on thy judgment throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee; Hymn # 361 from Lutheran Worship Author: Thomas Hastings Tune: Toplady 1st Published in: 1776 Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.