Sunday, September 25, 2022

Luke 16:19-31; The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; September 25, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN:
“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. Amen.


“Who wants to be a millionaire?”

Just try to imagine this scene; the room is dark except for the bright lights shining on the game show host, the electronic video terminal, and the empty “hot seat.” Then there is a sudden roll of sound and flashing lights… The room is filled with sound and light as a voice shouts, “It’s time to play, ‘who wants to be a millionaire?'” But much to the host’s surprise there is an un-characteristic silence from the audience. So, he asks the question again. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” but the silence holds. There are no volunteers. No one, it seems, wants the money… no one it seems wants the responsibility that comes with it… Is it a bad dream… or have people just been reading the bible? After all, doesn’t this parable of Jesus say that if you have it rich in this life you’ll be going to hell, and if you have it rough in this life you’ll be at Abraham’s side? Remember Abraham’s words, “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.” These words of Abraham are difficult to hear.

When we think of money, we think of what it brings. If I had $1 million, I'd quit working. If I had $1 million, I buy a yacht and sail around the world. If I had $1 million, I could do whatever I wanted to do, wear whatever I wanted to wear, and live wherever I wanted to live. Oh, and of course, pastor, if I had $1 million, I'd write a big check to the church. And then of course the church would spend it exactly how I want it spent, do exactly what I want it to do, and say exactly what I want it to say. For us, in American culture, money is security, independence, and control. If we have money, we don't depend on anyone else. And we can control other people.

And here we can listen to the warning that St. Paul writes to pastor Timothy:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, ESV)


We think about what money brings, but we often forget the warning that Scripture gives. Money brings self-reliance, but it also brings responsibility. The rich man had a responsibility to take care of Lazarus who was put at his door by God for him to care. He ignored him day after day. There was not even any way for him to come and go from his house without seeing Lazarus. He was without excuse. God had given him riches and Lazarus. But he fell into the temptation, the snare, the harmful desires. He partied every day. He had more than enough to eat. He could afford it. And yet Lazarus lay at is door, starving to death.
Dear Ann Landers: The letter from the woman married to the tightwad -- she couldn't get an extra quarter out of him -- reminded me of my wonderful aunt who was beautifully warmhearted and had a great sense of humor. Aunt "Emma" was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn't trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age. When "Uncle Ollie" was 60, he was stricken with cancer. Toward the end, he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to. They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request. Aunt Em did promise, however, and assured Uncle Ollie's brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he asked. The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. She then wrote a check and put it in the casket four days later. This is a true story and our family has laughed about it ever since.


Can't take it with you. Even if you could, it wouldn't do you any good anyway. The rich man who ignored Lazarus died and end up in hell. It wasn't only the money. He ignored what God would have him do. He confirmed his relationship with God is broken, because he didn't care for his nearest neighbor who is in great need. He did not love his neighbor as himself, because he did not love God with his whole heart soul and mind. The text makes it very clear that it wasn't just a one-time deal with Lazarus. He made a regular habit of living the way he lived. And even in hell he doesn't change. He expects that Lazarus will serve him. "Send Lazarus…" He still can only see Lazarus as someone who is less deserving than him. But even all his money couldn't reach across the chasm to bring the smallest drop of water to cool his tongue. The rich man had money. He trusted his money. He ignored God and did not trust in God to save him.

Let's make this very clear. You are rich. I know, it goes against the old German/Norwegian virtue of being poor. And at the very least not admitting to having what is needed. But, you have enough to eat. You have a place to live. In fact, you have more than your need. You may have heard it said that if you have more than one pair of shoes you are rich. Most people in the world have one or fewer pair of shoes. Many people in the world go hungry daily and do not know where the next meal is coming from. And the law is very clear. We have a responsibility to feed them, clothe them, and care for them. God has given them to us to care for them. For you and me we work very hard at keeping those in need away from our doorstep. Out of sight and out of mind. And so, we stand condemned by God's perfect law, of not loving our neighbors as ourselves. We live in a broken relationship with God and deserve only hell where we would desire a tiny drop of water to wet our tongue.

It does seem that there's very little gospel in this text. The rich die and go to hell. And yet look at what happens next. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, so they won't end in his fate. "If someone rises from the dead they will believe!" "But no," Abraham says, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

The context for this parable is everything. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. A few verses before this it says, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him." And then Jesus speaks this parable to them. The Pharisees were lovers of money. They should have been lovers of God. It gets at the heart of their sin. And so, Jesus pushes the law before them, law that they well know. The Word of God is standing before them in the flesh. He is telling them who he is and why he has come. God the Father's voice came from the cloud at Jesus baptism and told them to listen to him. Every day he taught in the synagogue. But they love money. Their love of money is standing in their way of loving their Savior. Their love of money is about to pierce them with many pangs. They demand that Jesus give them a sign of who he is. When he stands before their court when they are about to turn him over to the Romans to be crucified, they asked him plainly who he is. When he tells them they do not believe. Willingly, but sadly, Jesus Christ goes to the cross for their sins. Willingly and cheerfully the Pharisees send him so as not to lose their place in society and their money. And they stand at the cross and mock him, "if you are the son of God…" And Jesus hangs between heaven and earth nailed to the wood, suffering the whole world's punishment for rejection of God. He suffers and dies for the forgiveness of sins, even the sins of those who will not listen. And then remember the parable, "neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

Indeed, Jesus has risen from the dead. And his word is clearly spoken here to you today. And his word is this: Repent! Repent and believe the good news! The good news is that you have a Savior from sin. When you love money more than your neighbor. When you care for yourself more than you care for the ones that God has placed at your doorstep. When you make a habit of not caring. Jesus' word pierces your heart. The law shows you your sin. The good news is that Jesus did go to the cross for your sin. He suffered and died for you. And he rose from the dead. You have the word on which to base your hope. The word of promise from the one who rose from the dead. It is the word that the Pharisees rejected. It is the word that you receive, in faith. It is the word that is connected to water in Holy Baptism. Where God's promises were poured over you. It is the word that is connected to bread and wine and Holy Communion. Where God's promises are poured into you. It is the word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified dead and buried, and raised again to new life on the third day. It is the word that promises forgiveness of all your sin. Repent, your sin is great. You love yourself more than your neighbor. You do not love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. But your Savior is greater. He suffers and dies for you on the cross. Repent and believe. Believe the word. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

1 Timothy 2:1-6; Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 18, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I would like to visit with the Pres. of the United States. There are just a few issues I would like to discuss with him. But imagine, if I walked up to the front gate and asked for an audience with him. I don't think I get too far. The truth is there's just too many layers of security between me and the president for that to happen. I don't have any political connections. The president doesn't have any compelling reason to see me. But let's be honest. What is true for me is most likely true also for you. There are far too many barriers between you and the president. The gates are locked. The Secret Service won’t let you in. The staff doesn't know your name. Far too often you don't have the right connections, know the right people at the right time to accomplish all the right things that are needed to see him.

Now let's even be more honest. There are many barriers between you and the president, but as many as there are, there are even more between you and God. Just why is that? Well, we St. Paul said it last week. Paul is not the only one who is "chief of sinners". The barrier between God and human beings comes down to that simple word "sin".

In Scripture, we find over and over again the primary sin of human beings is pride. Adam and Eve pridefully ate the fruit God told them not to eat. They thought they deserved to know good and evil. They thought they knew best what was good for them. They didn't listen to God. When the people at Babylon wanted to reach up to God, they built a tower. The thought they had the ability to get to God by their own cunning. King David thought he was better than his soldiers and stayed home from the war and had an affair with a bathing beauty on the roof. Over and over again in Scripture pride is the most deadly sin. Medieval art pictures pride is a peacock walking around arrogantly. In Paradise Lost, Milton, portrays pride in these words "Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in heaven."

But you don't have to go to the Bible to see examples of this sin. Turn your head side to side and see your friends and neighbors. There's pride there. But you can go even closer. Your own pride, makes the three hardest words to say in the English language, "I was wrong." And the four hardest words, "I am not perfect." And the five hardest words, "I guess you are right." The six hardest ones, "I think I need some help." These are a reflection of the sin of pride that is deep seated in our hearts. It's the same pride that wants to solve our sin problem with God through our own good deeds. It is the same sin of pride that wants to earn God's favor instead of receiving his grace. It's the same pride that rejects God's free gift of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of the things that I do. All pride leads to the same place. We place ourselves in the place of God. We make ourselves self-sufficient. We don't need anyone, and especially God. In the sin is clear. The sin of pride actually gets in our way of our access to God. But it's not just that sin. All sin ultimately pushes us away from a holy and perfect God. All sin is a rejection of God. Those who reject God in any way deserve to be separated from him forever.

Back at the White House, your poor pastor still hasn't gotten in to see the president. But what if the president would lookup window and see? What if the president would give the command and the security detail would escort you right into the Oval Office? What if the president attentively listens and makes all the changes you want? Well, that would be too good to be true.

But we do have access with God the Father. This is exactly why St. Paul tells young pastor Timothy to pray for all people. Look at how many times he uses the word "all" in the first sentence of the text. We are to pray to God because we have access. We pray for all people because we have access. And we have access because we have a mediator in Jesus Christ. Jesus bridges the gap from sinful people to Holy God. On the cross Jesus does what only God can do – offers a sinless life of perfection. On the cross Jesus does what only man can do – bleed, suffer, and die. He is the bridge. Our sin, pride and all the others, pushes separation between us and God. Our sin deserves God's anger in punishment. Jesus is the bridge, the gap filler. He suffers our punishment. He is the propitiation. That is the atoning sacrifice. All the weight of our sin and guilt is piled on Jesus on the cross and he bears it all as God and man together. Has St. Paul said to the Romans:
and [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. (Romans 3:24–25a, ESV)
Jesus Christ is the ransom paid for our sins.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the father Almighty. We have the right connections with the right person at the right time to accomplish the right things. And you are not outside looking in hoping to get an audience. You have access. You are on the list. God has bridged the gap to you from himself through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Philemon; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 4, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It's a personal letter. Paul to Philemon. One of the shortest in the Bible. The length hardly makes it unimportant. This letter of St. Paul to Philemon is about faith in action. Onesimus the slave has run away and likely stole something from his master Philemon in the process. In desperation he has come to Paul who is imprisoned. Paul had preached at his master's house. Philemon and his family became Christians and the church at Colossae met in his house. Onesimus, the slave, had heard the good news about Jesus Christ. Onesimus, in desperation, goes to Paul with his sin. And Paul pleads for him for the sake of the Gospel.

Now, we would side with Onesimus, the runaway slave. But this is not Uncle Tom's Cabin. We cannot automatically press our view of slavery onto the ancient world. We, in fact, have no idea what the actual relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was. We have no idea of the conditions of Onesimus' service to Philemon. In the ancient world slavery was varied as employment. And, in fact, in some cases slavery was equivalent to it. Many slaves were freed by their masters for their hard dedicated and faithful service. And on the other hand, many slaves were brutally treated by their masters. The human heart certainly doesn't need an institution like slavery to show its true nature. And in some ways slavery was a necessary social construct. Many slaves depended on the institution for their welfare. Many masters depended on their slaves to provide services and products for the community. In the ancient world, there were good masters and bad masters. They were slaves who were faithful and those who were not. Jesus, in his parables, encourages those who are caught in the institution of slavery to be faithful to their masters, and for masters to treat their slaves fairly. But the matter covered here in the letter is not about the institution of slavery, whether it is right or wrong. Paul's letter to Philemon is a letter of appeal for Philemon to remember who he is in Christ. To remember what Jesus has done for him. And to act according to the grace that God has given him.

Remember it is a personal letter. A personal pastoral letter. Pastor Paul appeals to Philemon for the sake of Onesimus. Paul has a relationship with these men. He has preached the gospel to Philemon and Philemon is a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. He has also preached the gospel to Onesimus and Onesimus is a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. What is understood between them is the forgiveness that Jesus has won for them on the cross. For whatever reason, Onesimus has sinned against his master by running away. Philemon is well within his rights in demanding punishment. Onesimus has been and unfaithful servant. Onesimus life is forfeit. Crucifixion is the standard punishment for runaway slaves. And yet, with the cross in the background, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. Or better yet, because of The Cross in the background, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon.

The picture is this. Onesimus' sin against Philemon, his unfaithfulness to his master, is ultimately sin against God. God requires us to be faithful to those who are put over us. Just like you and I are required to be faithful citizens in our country and faithful workers for our employers. It is a sin to be lazy, unproductive, and leave our work for others to do. And while our sin against our employers is indeed against our employers, ultimately our sin is against the God who gives us work to do to provide for ourselves and our families. The fact that we are unfaithful workers is only a reflection of the fact that we live in a broken relationship with God. It is the first table of the law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second table of the law: love your neighbor as yourself. You and me and Onesimus show that we do not love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, because we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. There are many times when we neglect our work. There are many days we do not give our employers a full day’s work for a full day's pay. And we deserve to be punished. But what we deserve goes even deeper than that. Sin against our employers is sin against God. It is a rejection of the way God has given us to live. It is open rebellion against Him. And open rebellion against God deserves nothing but God's anger in punishment. In other words, rejection of God requires God's rejection of us. That is what hell is, eternal separation, eternal confirmation of living in a broken relationship with God. And so, we, like Onesimus, deserve the death penalty. We deserve the cross.

The Cross is behind Paul's letter to Philemon. Philemon too, is a sinful man. Paul recognizes this sin in his letter. He reminds Philemon that he has been saved through the preaching of the Good News and owes Paul his "very soul". In other words, Philemon is a sinner who has received God's forgiveness through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul says, "forgive as you have been forgiven." Or to quote our Lord's Prayer, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Philemon undoubtedly prayed these words many times. These words have their meaning in The Cross. Philemon has received the gift of faith and through that gift forgiveness of his sin. The gift was given him freely by God's undeserved love. To be unforgiving or require payment for forgiveness is to reject the gift and the giver.
From Luther's Small Catechism:
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.
Philemon shows he has received forgiveness by giving it freely to his slave Onesimus who has sinned against him. He shows what forgiveness really is. Onesimus has no means to restore their relationship. Onesimus has no means to take care of the debt he owes Philemon for his theft and his desertion. If Philemon is to forgive, he must do it while Onesimus is undeserving. He must do it by grace, that is undeserved love.

And yet pastor Paul goes one step further. He offers to pay any debt Onesimus owes. He offers to bear the cross of Onesimus' sin. As part of his appeal and as an example to Philemon, Paul acts just as his Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus takes our sin to the cross. He bears the debt we are unable to pay. He does it freely, without cost, by God's grace.

And this is your story, too. Your sin has been forgiven in the cross of Jesus Christ. In other words, The Cross is behind your story. You have been forgiven for your unfaithfulness. You have been forgiven for being unproductive. You have been forgiven for leaving your work undone. You have been forgiven for your rebellion against the God who has given you all these things to do. Jesus takes your punishment to the cross. And offers you forgiveness through faith and trust that what he does, he does for you. Without what you're Savior does you have no means to restore your relationship with God. The debt must be paid for you, like Paul pays the debt for Onesimus.

Now we turn to the most difficult part. It's your turn to forgive. I'm not here to command you to forgive. Although like Paul, as your pastor, it is within my office to command you. What I wish for you, I appeal to you, is to forgive those who sinned against you considering the forgiveness you have received in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ forgiveness is given to you, undeserved, by God's grace, that is undeserved love. You can forgive and show what The Good News truly is. It is free forgiveness to those who are undeserving. It is forgiveness that flows from the cross to you, and through you to those around you. Paul says Onesimus (whose name means "useful") was in his sinfulness useless to Philemon. Through forgiveness Onesimus and Philemon can be reconciled. And Onesimus once again become useful. In other words, the broken relationship can be restored. Forgiveness is the only thing that can restore your broken relationships. It is yours to give. It is a wonderful gift you have to give. It all comes from our Savior Jesus Christ, who took our sin, and the sin of the whole world to the cross. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hebrews 12:1-2; Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 21, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)


Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

Endurance… athletes have it, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

“No Pain / No Gain”

“He’s such a great player, when the team really needed him, he played even though he had a broken leg!”

That’s endurance. We admire it so, in athletes. I think it’s those water polo guys who’ve got my vote for endurance. They play 8 min quarters treading water, they’re not allowed to touch the bottom, even when the clock stops! The average is 12 min. And it is a full contact sport.

Endurance. We know what it is, it’s reaching down to something that’s really deep inside of us, maybe a survival instinct or something, something that gets us through a really tough spot, that normally would send us down for the count.

So, St. Paul tells the Hebrew readers of his letter, “Persevere! Hold on! Dig deep and get the job done!” Since what he says applies to us, he’s telling us that when stuff gets hard to take turn your attention to yourself, if you dig deep enough you can get a hold of that unique human quality called faith and win the race! Right! After all that’s endurance, right?

Wait a second! I don’t think that that’s what he’s saying at all. To really get what he’s talking about we’ve got to back up a few verses. We could take it that way except for one troublesome little word right there at the beginning of the text. “Therefore” In other words he’s saying, because of all that I just said, do what I’m about to say. So, what is he talking about that sets the stage for this endurance we’re suppose to have.

Well, it’s the great faith chapter of scripture. It’s St. Paul’s description of faith in action. It’s endurance on steroids! And it starts with that wonderful, yet confusing phrase,
Now faith is the assurance of thing hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11,1)

Then he goes through a long list, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. And the first section turns on these words.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised. (v 13)


then it goes to Moses who chose
to be to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (v 25).


And the children of Israel who wandered in the dessert for 40 years before they received the Promised Land. These were all real people who did real things in a real world. They are Paul’s example of endurance. But wait! He’s not quite done yet. This sounds pretty good. Starting at verse 32:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.


Ah that sound’s pretty good doesn’t it! Sounds like running a winning race. But Paul doesn’t stop there listen to this:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-39, ESV)


And now, after all that Paul says “therefore” run with endurance. I think it’s that last part that Paul is really emphasizes, you know the being imprisoned part; the living destitute part; the being sawed in two part.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1, ESV)


Notice how even though some of the folks he mentioned seemed to have a great victory while others only suffered, not one of them received the promise… yet. And yet they are the example of endurance, a great cloud of witnesses that’s before us. They all believed. They all had faith. But let me tell you, St. Paul isn’t talking about some deep-down human quality here. He’s not saying, “they toughed it out so you can too.” He’s pointing to something even better even stronger than something human beings can dredge up in time of need. And it’s all right here in these few words that he says to us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)


Let us also lay aside the weight, the sin, just like they did. Then Paul tells us exactly how to do that; he says, “looking to Jesus the found and perfecter of our faith.” That’s what they did, that cloud of witnesses. They faithfully set aside the sin that could have entangled them. They ran the race that was given them, even if it meant getting sawed in two. They put their eyes on Jesus and ran to Him.

You see, their faith wasn’t some abstract quality, their faith had an object. It was Jesus. It was what He does to get rid of the burden and weight of sin. They could run whatever race they were given to run because of Jesus.

Now the amazing thing is that they didn’t see Jesus as clearly as you and I do. They didn’t have the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross carrying our sin, so that we can lay it aside. St. Paul mentions that too.

They did not receive what was promised, since God has provided something better for us.

I like having a cross with Christ’s body here in the sanctuary. Well, St. Paul says that clearly too:
we preach Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 1:23a, ESV)


That’s what he means when he says, looking to Jesus. Jesus Christ crucified dead and buried! That’s where He gave our faith a foundation. That’s where He perfected it. That’s the object of our faith, so says Paul.
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)


And that’s why the endurance. Everything around you would have you look somewhere else.

“What good is Jesus if He doesn’t make your life easy?”

“Jesus can be your financial advisor if you just follow these ten easy steps, you’ll be financially secure.”

“Jesus is one way to heaven; I’ve got another way to get there.”

“Look deep inside yourself to find real strength.”

That’s taking our eyes off of Jesus… on the cross.

I told you when I first came here, that Jesus Christ and Him crucified would be the focus of everything we do. And it is so easy to get sidetracked. Satan’s got to mix us up into thinking that other things are more important (and right now he’s got his fingers in just about everything we’re trying to do) He doesn’t want us to be focusing on the cross. He wants us focusing on our sin. He doesn’t want us looking to Jesus; he wants us worrying about the weight. Because he knows what Paul is really saying. And so do you, it is the object of our faith.

It’s simple. Jesus Christ carried your sins, the weight that so easily tangles, to the cross. There He bled and died and buried them in the grave. You don’t have to carry the burden. You don’t have to work to remove them. You don’t have to do anything but drop them at the foot of the cross, where He picks them up and does away with them forever. So that you can run… without the weight that side tracks; without the sin that would have us at each other’s throats; without the load of worrying about how others have hurt us; with endurance… right to the cross. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

1 Timothy 1:12-17; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 14, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:12–17, ESV)


Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

"I don't go to church because it's full of hypocrites!"

"Well, there's always room for one more!" Sin is an ugly thing. But sometimes we give the idea to other people that we in the church think we are without it. That we in the church think we have somehow gotten past sin, and so we look down our noses on the sins of other people. Dana Carvey's Church Lady. “Well, isn't that special?” A hypocrite is someone who says they believe something but don't really believe in their heart. The word hypocrite is the ancient Greek word for an actor. Someone who pretends to be something that they are not. To be a hypocrite is indeed sinful (that is unless you are on the stage). And we are often, in the church, hypocrites,
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves in the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8).


That is when we give the impression that we are without sin, or that our sins are insignificant and other people sins are great. What’s at the heart of it is that we think that sin is on the surface. Because we think that deep in our hearts were good people. That we, because we go to church, deserve to receive God's grace. And that going to church helps us to prevent the outward sins and that's what makes church a good thing to do. And, we think, that's what makes us better people than the people who don't go to church.

The truth is all sin is damning. And Jesus was particularly critical of hypocrites. (Matthew 23:27ff). He calls them "whitewashed tombs". Beautiful on the outside but full of dead people's bones on the inside. He calls them snakes. He says they lead people to hell by their words and actions. When it comes to being a hypocrite Jesus calls it a deadly sin. And it's so easy for us to fall into the trap. We don't go to church because we don't have sin. We go to church because we are sinners. In fact, the church is for sinners only! It was Martin Luther who said that the church is a hospital for the sin sick.

At first in our text, it may look as if St. Paul saying something good about himself. After all he says God made him an apostle because he "judged me faithful." But Paul is no hypocrite. The telltale sign comes in a very simple word in the middle of the text. Listen again:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.


Paul isn't saying he was a sinner when he persecuted Christians but is not a sinner any longer. He says, "Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." It's not a thing in the past that isn't true anymore. St. Paul calls himself, currently, a sinner. There isn't some magic that happened to him on the road to Damascus that removed sin from his life. He is plagued by sin every day. He struggles to do what God wants him to do. He struggles to avoid doing what God clearly says in His Word he should not do. Paul wants to do what God wants him to do. But he falls well short, and he knows it. In other words, Paul is a Christian. In Romans chapter 7 St. Paul describes his struggle:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15–24, ESV)

Paul is not describing something extraordinary here. He is describing the normal Christian life. He's not describing his life in the past. Notice how all the verbs are all present tense. He is describing his Christian life now. Christians are not without sin. In fact, we see our own sin more clearly in light of God's law. The quote from Luther on the bulletin says it.

The Law Discovers the Disease. The Gospel Gives the Remedy. Martin Luther.

We should always be on guard to not give the impression we believe we are sinless. You and I, sinners that we are, deserve the same punishment as any other sinner in the world. Our sins are damning. St. Paul talked about this very thing when he wrote his letter to the Philippians.
... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b–13, ESV)


He's not saying, "do something good, so that you can be saved." He is saying "see the truth about your salvation." You are a damned sinner unable to save yourself. God works to save you. That's exactly what the Good News is! God saves you and you do not deserve to be saved. God has no need to save people who are not sinners. You and I are saved simply by God's grace, that is his undeserved love.

St. Paul describes exactly how this happens in this text also. He says God changed his opinion about Paul when he "judged him faithful". (We call this Forensic Justification). God looked at Paul and instead of judging his sin, he is remarkably judged by the sin of Jesus. Of course, Jesus has none! Paul was not faithful, but Jesus was faithful in Paul's place. God changed his mind about Paul because Jesus offered his life of good works in place of Paul's life of sin. And Jesus offered his perfect life as the substitute punishment that Paul deserved for his sin. It was not earned by Paul but came by God's grace. Just as Paul says in the text,
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.


In other words, Paul trusts in Jesus Christ for his salvation.

Dear Christian, what Paul describes in his life is true for your life as well. You are a damned sinner. You deserve nothing but God's wrath and eternal punishment. You struggle with sin every day of your life. You will struggle with sin every day until death kills your sinful flesh. But thanks be to God,
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...


You didn't stop being a sinner when the water was poured on your head in Holy Baptism, but God "judged" you faithful! Because when the water is poured on your head the great exchange is made. God changes his opinion about you when he judges you faithful. God looks at you and instead of judging your sin, he judges the sin of Jesus. Of course, Jesus is without sin. You are not faithful, but Jesus is faithful in your place. God changes his mind about you because Jesus offers his life of good works in place of your life of sin. And Jesus offers his perfect life as the substitute punishment that you deserve. It is not earned by you but comes to you by God's grace. So, you can say with St. Paul, the "grace of our Lord overflowed for me."

So, this is what it means to be Christian. Not to be without sin, but to have sin forgiven. To live in the freedom and joy of knowing that our sin is not counted against us but was nailed with Jesus to the cross. Not to look down our nose at those who are sinners, because we stand with them in their struggle. And to strive to do what is pleasing to God, not for the sake of earning anything with him, but instead in gratitude because the "grace of our Lord overflowed for[us]." Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Hebrews 11:1-16; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; August 7, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:1–16, ESV)


Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the faith chapter. It's like that famous chapter in 1 Corinthians about love. You know, "love is patient, love is kind… And the greatest of these is love." Here we have a definition of faith and a litany of the faithful.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (11:1)


It is a wonderful description of faith. We indeed take God at his Word and believe in things unseen. For example, we believe God created the world in six days and that he spoke it into existence from nothing.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3, ESV)


And this reading ends talking about how we look forward to a "heavenly country" (16) that our Lord has gone to prepare for us. We take it to be true by faith, unseen.

The book of Hebrews begins also by speaking about God's Word.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)


The Word of God is none other than his Son, Jesus Christ. The one who was the active force in creation and the one who lived, died, and rose again to save his creation from the corruption of human sin. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, did all of this to fulfill the promises he made to Adam and Eve to restore them to himself through the forgiveness of sins. There is no speaking of faith in Scripture without a connection to the one who is faithful. Faith must have an object. You can't have faith in nothing. People today try to speak about faith as if faith in faith is enough. If I hope hard enough, if I have a positive attitude, things will work out okay. Faith is not a power in itself to do anything. It is trust in the object of faith. The object of our faith is God, who works in Jesus Christ, who became man and died on the cross to save us from our enemies; sin, death, and the power of the devil. And he rose again from death and ascended into heaven and promises to return to bring us to a new and perfect homeland, and eternal home in a newly created, perfect world. Jesus, the object of our faith, is also unseen to us. And yet, we gather in this place to hear the Word about Jesus and to rejoice in all that God has done for us, unseen. And to cling in faith and trust to the Savior who ascended into heaven and promises to come again and restore to us a world without sin, without death, without pain, or suffering of any kind. This is the homeland that we, and the faithful, those listed here in Hebrews, and all those on our roles, that went before us, seek.

But there is more to faith then trusting in the unseen. And in fact, the faith chapter goes into some detail to describe this second aspect of faith. That is, trust in the reality of God and his work for us in Jesus Christ, necessarily includes a faithful, righteous response. And that is precisely what we have listed by name. All the faithful listed here, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and all the others listed after verse 16, had faith in things unseen, but also lived out that faith in action. The righteous response of Abel in giving his best to God cost him his life. Enoch lived his life faithfully and was taken to God without death. Noah faced ridicule and scorn building an ark for an unseen danger. And Abraham and Sarah left all they had and moved to a new country and land that God promised to give them. The list goes on and on. It is a list of the faithful, righteous response, lived out from faith, that is trust, in one who is unseen but shows himself to be faithful.

But by far, the most interesting verse in this whole reading is this one:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13, ESV)


It's the "not having received the things promised" that's so interesting. Not only did they live in faith in the unseen, but they lived in that faith without receiving what God had promised them. In other words, they simply looked forward and trusted in God's promise to deliver them out of their life of sin. And all that they did was lived in the knowledge and trust of a future unseen. All that they did was lived in the knowledge and the trust of a Savior unseen. They had faith and trust in the God who promised to deliver them. Notice, the emphasis of this chapter is not the amount of their faith. There is either trust or there is not trust. This passage doesn't push us to ourselves or some power in us. We sinful human beings are so eager to justify ourselves that we often make faith something we do. And we say things like "if my faith were stronger, I would not have…"; or "I don't know how I would've gotten through that without my faith." As if to make our ability to withstand contingent on some secret power within us that God has given us. These faithful witnesses show us differently. They encourage us to have faith in the object. Strong faith is not some internal, in the heart force or strength, but it is rather a realization that without Jesus Christ and his faithfulness we would be entirely lost. Strong faith is total dependence on the work of Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness and deliver us to the unseen homeland.

In a way, faith is having the eyes to see what God says is true is true, unseen. Faith is having trust in God that even when things seem to go very badly, we know that God is in control. God does not promise that his faithful people will be free from trouble.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, ESV)


So, when trouble comes, look at it with the eyes of faith. If the church doesn't act like the church should act. See instead the promises of God that he works through word and sacrament to bring us the gifts of life and salvation. When death interrupts your life's plans, and all seems lost in hopeless; see instead the promises of God in the resurrection of the dead and eternal happy reunion with those we love who died in faith. When your relationships with people are torn apart by conflict and anger; see instead a crucified Jesus who died on the cross for forgiveness, not just yours but also for your enemies. When the world around you pushes against you to accept its way of thinking; See instead trouble that God allows to push you closer to him and trust him all the more. When our Lord's return seems forever in the future; See instead his gracious patients to redeem all the lost.

Seeing with the eyes of faith isn't easy. Faith is not easy. In fact, for sinful human beings faith is so often turned inward instead of to the one true faithful object of faith. He hangs on the cross. He hangs on the cross for you. He bleeds and dies for you. He cries out to the Father, forsaken for you. His lifeless body is buried in the grave for you. He rises from the dead and ascends into heaven for you. And he is coming again for you. And all your trouble, and all your hardship, and all your pain will then be seen fully and completely. And all that he allowed in your life will be seen not with the eyes of faith but with the eyes of reality. You will then know that all was done for the sake of you sharing eternity with him. He is faithful. He keeps his promises. You can have faith in him. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Luke 12:13-21; The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; July 31, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”” (Luke 12:13–21, ESV)


Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Ah, a sermon about money!” Or maybe, “Oh no, a sermon about money!” You hear it all the time, “The church only wants to talk about money!”

“Bill, I was so disappointed.” Mary said, “I worked so hard to get Sally to come back to church.” Finally, after months of trying she gave in and came. Couldn’t Pastor have preached on the Epistle lesson for today? After it was all over Sally said to me, ‘Well, that’s just what I remembered it was like. The Pastor asked for money… again.’”

It’s probably one of the greatest excuses for not coming to church. “They’re only interested in getting into my wallet.” It’s something you’ve heard, as well as I.

“Pastor,” some people say. “You stick to ‘spiritual’ stuff and leave my bank account alone.” Well, Jesus spends a lot of time preaching about money. Today’s text is one of those times. Really, here though it’s not technically money that he’s preaching about, it’s greed. It’s the love of wealth, the love of money that he’s speaking against. St. Paul echoed Jesus’ caution about the love of money.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, ESV)


Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” I know we too, say things like this all the time. We say that people are more important than money. And yet there is a marked difference in the way we treat people who seem to have it and those who don’t. There is an excuse that comes up in our minds that says, people who are poor must deserve it. They must be lazy. They must have some character flaw that led them to where they are. And we make excuses for avoiding them. Like: “There’s a difference between poor clean and poor dirty. I don’t mind those who are poor, but I can’t abide those who are lazy.” The excuse has a way of putting everyone who is poor in the lazy bucket. Well, my Christian friends, Jesus doesn’t see such a difference. He doesn’t care if a person has never done a decent day’s work in their lives. He doesn’t care if they’ve squandered all their money on prostitutes. He doesn’t care if they haven’t washed their cloths or themselves for a week. Jesus loves them just the same. In fact, he loved them and shows his love by giving up his very life to save them all. Lest we forget,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)


He loved the whole world, that means every person in it, the rich, the poor, the filthy and the clean, and the lazy. With him there is no distinction. We gather here our lowly church that is maintained by the money we give, and we forget that we are really no different than the “lazy” or “dirty” people we so much want to avoid.

A good number of you probably give regularly to charities. But we do it in a very safe and distant way. A way that assures that we can continue feel good about doing it but have no contact with the people we are helping. We can drop our small amount of money in their laps, feel good about ourselves, and still not have to look them in the eye. It’s because we measure them by what they have, by how they dress, by how clean they are. Like it or not we measure people… and ourselves, by possessions. We carefully hold on to what we have, even when what we have is much more than we need. We do it precisely because we value ourselves by the abundance of our possessions, and we completely ignore the fact that God promises to take care of us and give us everything we need. And that’s exactly why this parable of Jesus speaks to us. Jesus makes sure of it. Instead of sitting on the outside clicking our tongues at the Rich Fool, Jesus makes sure we recognize that we are the Rich Fool. Jesus is showing us our own greed and warning us to be careful of it. He is not telling us to watch out for greed in other people.

Look at how he starts it out. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” You see, the man was already rich. He already had more than he needed. He needed nothing else for his life and support. Already his future was secure. He was rich; he didn’t even need to save for a rainy day. In the parable this already rich man received an extra blessing. “The ground produced a good crop.” He didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t because he worked hard, or even because he already had money. You know how it is. A farmer can plant, fertilize, irrigate, cultivate to his heart's content and still the crop can be awful. God provides the harvest and the abundance in the harvest is as God decides. A bad year or a good year for crops is the decision of God. This rich man didn’t earn the abundance he had been given, the “land produced.” It was a gift over and above his need.

And look what he does. “He thought to himself…” His first thoughts are about how he is going to keep this gift. He only discusses the matter with himself. No financial advisor, no family, no friends, no God. The only question he asks himself is: “Where shall I store my crops?” There’s no concern for his neighbors, no concern for people who are hungry, no concern for anyone but himself. His solution is borne out of greed. He decides that he will tear down his already full barns and build bigger ones. “This is what I will do, with my grain. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones for myself. And I’ll store all my stuff in my new and bigger barns.” And then he goes even one step farther. He congratulates himself on his wisdom. Just like he didn’t consult with anyone on his decision he tells himself just how smart he is.

“I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you’ve made it big. You’ve got it made. You can eat, drink and be merry.’” What he says betrays his real intentions. It shows his greed. He is his own god. He doesn’t even intend to share his parties in the future. He intends to celebrate alone.

But the blessed, rich man is mistaken in his self-sufficiency. The very soul he intends to pamper is just what he loses. He isn’t even able to begin his plans. It is all taken away from him. The very thing he thinks is wisdom, God calls foolish. The things he does that he thinks are very smart, are the very things that God says makes him a fool. He plans for many years; God takes his life that very night. There were not many years of pleasure to come. In fact, after the harvest there were simply a few hours of worry. “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” God asks. And the answer is: other people; other people that he should have been thinking about anyway. God’s intention was fulfilled. The gift was given through the rich man, to be given to other people. And that’s exactly what happened, anyway. Jesus also said,
“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25, ESV)


It doesn’t take the Wisdom of Solomon to see that what the rich man has done amounts to nothing. We heard some of Solomon’s Wisdom today, too.
“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, ESV)


This struggle is as old as Solomon and older even. If we consider the rich fool and what Solomon is complaining about, we might come to the conclusion that the easiest way to remedy the problems that come with riches is to give away what isn’t needed. And that seems, at least in part, what Jesus is saying.

Look at the last verse of the text for today.
So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”


The rich fool laid up treasure for himself. His problem wasn’t that he was rich. It was that, despite the abundance of the gifts that were given to him, he showed a lack of faith in God to provide. He was rich for himself, and not rich in respect to God. In fact, you might even say that God saw him as destitute. His real problem wasn’t even really what he did with his wealth. His real problem was that he wasn’t rich toward God. Being rich toward God has nothing to do with the things we have. It doesn’t even have anything to do with how we use the material gifts we’ve been given. Being rich toward God has everything to do with our relationship with him.

It should be very clear as we look at the rich fool and see ourselves in the way he thinks and acts, that we have no hope at all being rich toward God. It is true. We are by nature sinful and unclean, selfish, and greedy. But God in his great mercy has made us rich instead of poor, anyway. He has built a relationship for us; he has made us rich toward himself. It isn’t based on our bank accounts. It isn’t based on our cleanliness. It isn’t based on our abilities, good fortune, or our lack of laziness. If it were we’d still be poor miserable sinners, lost in our sin. God has given us the greatest gift of all. Our sinful and selfish nature has been put to death.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20, ESV)


That’s what it means to be rich toward God. To have Jesus in the life you now live in the flesh. To have faith that what God declares for you is true. To believe that everything that he has done for you means that he will take care of you no matter what. You know what he has done, you know the promises he has made. The perfect life of Jesus; the perfect suffering and death of Jesus; the resurrection to new life by Jesus; is God’s gift to you. It’s God’s promise that you are forgiven, that your sinful nature doesn’t affect your relationship with him. To live by faith in the Son of God, is to hold on to the promises of Jesus who loves you and gave himself for you. That’s what it means to be rich toward God. That was it means to be really, really rich. Few of us will ever be called multi-millionaires. Few of us can really imagine how much money that really is. The richness that God gives us in Jesus is also totally beyond our understanding.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1, ESV)

You remember how I said that the rich fool was rich before the story started? You remember how I said that the rich fool was really you and me? Why do you think Jesus told us a story about ourselves? I think He did it so we can see that the story really has a different ending. We are already rich; we have been made God's children in baptism. We have all the promises he gives to his children. And yet God continues every day to give us more than we need, every day. We don’t have to worry about socking it away for our future; our future is already set and sure, we live by faith in the Son of God. The gifts that God gives us he gives us to share. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.