Sunday, September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-7; 14th Sunday after Pentecost; September 15, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
Who would miss one sheep in a hundred?  Sheep look very much alike, wooly balls of fluff standing in the ‘open country’ slowly walking and eating…  bleating softly to one another.  Baa, baa,
“Have you seen Wooly today, Fluffy?”
“Now that you mention it Cotton, I haven’t…  I haven’t I wonder where she’s gone… have you seen her, Bobbin?”
One silly sheep in hundred, has wondered off…  not many notice.  But there is someone who does notice.  He begins looking for the sheep right away.  First, he counts the sheep, because something doesn’t feel right with the flock.  97:Cotton… 98:Bobbin… 99:Fluffy… 100?!?  I thought so.  He looks over the flock.  Wooly is gone again.  The shepherd notices when even one sheep is missing.  He knows everyone by name… it is his job to care for them.  When they wander off, he goes out to get them.   He must. The world outside the flock is dangerous.  There are thorns and brambles to get caught in.  There are hungry animals who love the taste of lamb.  The silly sheep just walks and eats, not watching where she’s going.  Pretty soon she’s walked right into a thicket of thorns.  The more she pulls to get free the deeper the thorns grab into the matted wool of her coat.  The more she struggles the more she becomes entangled.  Now the thorns have pierced her skin and blood begins to flow, coagulating as a dark red mass in his wooly white coat…. It’s a fine mess.  One lost sheep, perfectly tenderized and ready for any hungry predator that happens along.  One lost sheep perfectly lost all alone and no where to turn.
We very easily see ourselves here, stuck in the thorns with the sheep.  Over and over again we hear about people who have strayed from the flock, we may even have our own story of how we have gotten lost, tangled up in the thorns that are out there, perfectly ‘tenderized’ for Satan to come and take his prize.  All of us at one point or another in our lives have been right where Wooly is, with no where to turn?  But, let’s look at the parable again.  It just doesn’t talk much about the sheep.  It says… "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.”  The parable really isn’t about the sheep.  It’s the shepherd who gets top billing.  The sheep just gets lost.  The storyteller doesn’t say how or why.  The primary focus of this parable is The Shepherd. 
The shepherd is the one who is charged with taking care of the sheep.  He is the one who notices when one of a hundred has wandered off.  He is the one leaves the ninety-nine to go and look for the missing one.  By the way…  back then, shepherds didn’t leave sheep unattended.  A very large flock was broken up into sub flocks of a hundred sheep each.  That’s the number a shepherd can reasonably watch.  When a sheep got lost, the neighboring shepherds would watch the flock while he would go out to find the missing one.  The point here is that the shepherd goes to look for the sheep, because he cares for the sheep, even one in a hundred. 
Our minds automatically picture Jesus as the shepherd here.  We picture him all the time with sheep on his shoulders or standing with the shepherd’s staff in the midst of the flock.  He calls himself the Good Shepherd.  It is a very strong image a very meaningful word picture.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures…”  When ever we hear words like this our minds automatically turn to Jesus.  And well they should, for he is the Good Shepherd, the Best Shepherd.
In the parable the shepherd goes after the lost sheep.  What it doesn’t say is that he does so at great personal risk.  The people listening to Jesus would know this because they know what it means to be a Judean shepherd.  They know that because searching for a sheep in the hill country is dangerous for the shepherd.  A lost sheep isn’t easy to find.  Lost sheep don’t do anything to help the shepherd find them.  They don’t sit tangled up in thorns bleating out loud until they are found.  They are frightened.  They quickly fall into despair and become worn out from the struggle.  A lost and frightened sheep will simply ‘go into shock.’  They lie down and become still.  The seeking shepherd must look under the brush, behind rocks, and in crevasses.  He must crawl around on the ground, seeking the place where the sheep has become trapped...  The shepherd can call out to the sheep all he wants but it does no good.  A frightened sheep won’t respond, even to the shepherd’s familiar voice.   It is a long, tedious, tiring and dangerous journey for the shepherd.  The predators that would kill the sheep would just as well attack a seeking shepherd.  But, according to the parable, the shepherd is willing to take the risk for the sake of the sheep.  He goes after the sheep “until he finds it.”
Notice also how he reacts when the sheep is found.  He rejoices.  He doesn’t yell at the sheep for being so stupid as to get lost.  He rejoices that he has found it.  And yet the worst of the job, the most difficult part of the job is still ahead of him.  The sheep is exhausted and frightened.  You can’t drive a sheep in this condition home.  You can’t lead it home; it is a quivering mass of nerves.  The shepherd places the sheep on his shoulders and carries it.  It is the only option.  A full-grown sheep weighs about 70 lbs.  Remember the rocky ground, remember the thorns, and remember the predators?  The journey is only half over.  Yet the shepherd joyfully carries the sheep home.  He bears the great cost of saving the sheep, the bruised aching body and the danger of it all.  And he does it with great joy.  When he returns home with the sheep, there is a great celebration because of what he has done.  This really is absurd.  No real human shepherd is going to haul a full-grown sheep on his shoulders.  It’s beyond their ability.  That’s what makes this story really about Jesus, and only Jesus.  He does what human shepherds can not, will not do.  He suffers himself for the sake of the sheep.  He gives himself for the sake of the sheep.  The story talks about the shepherd bearing the weight of the sheep, that’s Jesus bearing our weight, the weight of our stupid wandering, our sin. 
Sheep get lost, it’s a part of who they are, they go about their daily business, eating and walking, walking and eating.  They ignore the danger about them until it’s too late and they get lost.  They get tangled up in briars and lost in the rocky wilderness.  When it happens they have nowhere to turn.  But this parable is good news for sheep.  It talks about a Good Shepherd comes and finds them.  He pays the price to bring them home.  And he rejoices in it. 
When we were lost and without God; when sin had us tangled in its thorns and Satan was ready to pounce on us for an easy meal; when we had no possibility of saving ourselves and nowhere to turn; the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, comes for us.  He does it at great personal cost.  The way is difficult and painful.  The very same predators are looking to devour us turn on him and all of hell’s fury is unleashed.  The cost of finding us, the cost of seeking us, is a bloody death on the cross.  But it is through that cross that he carries us home.  You see, we can’t.  We can’t be driven.  We are lost quivering sheep hiding in the darkness.  We are totally lost and condemned, tangled up in the thorns and without hope and nowhere to turn.  Our only hope is to be carried home.  Just as Jesus carries that beam of wood that would hold his hands fast, he carries us.  It is our weight, and the weight of our sins, that pulled down on the nails that are driven through his hands and feet.  It is a terrible cost that he endured, but one he is willing to pay because through it he bears us home.  The rejoicing comes, too.  Three days later Jesus doesn’t stay dead but brakes free from the tomb.  This time Jesus carries us from death to life.  And he delivers us home where the rejoicing continues.  “Look what I have done for you!” he says, “I have rescued you when you were lost! You are my precious sheep!”
Jesus knows us very well.  He is the Good Shepherd; he knows his sheep.  He knows how much we can stray.  We just keep eating and walking, walking and eating, and before we know it the treats of the world close in on us… again.  But he keeps us from straying too far.  He is always there with a comforting word, or even a gentle whack of his shepherd’s staff.  He says to us again and again. “I have rescued you.  I have found you.  Remember the cost I have already paid for you.  Remember the rejoicing in heaven over you.  You are my precious sheep and I am your Good Shepherd.”
But, it’s easy to forget.  Life gets busy.  We think about the brambles.  We think about the threatening predators.  We could so easily go back to quivering.  We could so easily forget about the Good Shepherd.  But he is always there.  He never forgets us.  He is here with us today again today.  He reminds us of his great love for us saying, “I am your Good Shepherd.”  Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Amen.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Luke 14:25-33; 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 8, 2019;

Luke 14:25-33; 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 8, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
How much is it going to cost? That’s a good question.
Listen Bob, I’m not going to start this building project without knowing how much. It isn’t that easy to calculate.  There are a lot of variables to consider.
How am I supposed to know if I can finish the project if I don’t know the total cost? I hear ya Tom.  Maybe I can work up a reasonable estimate. 
Bob, I need better than that.  I need to know the worst case.  Just think what it would look like if I started this project…  what if I got the building half up and then the money ran out.  I’d really look like a fool then wouldn’t I.  I’d never be able to build another building again.  Ya, I see what you mean.  I’ll get right on it.
Thanks Tom.  I really need to know how much this is going to cost me.
How much is it going to cost?  It’s a question we ask ourselves every day.  Maybe not in a dramatic a fashion as Tom, the man building a building, but it is the sensible thing to do.  How much are the car payments?  Can I afford to remodel the house, and add on a bedroom?  Which college can I afford to go to?  How much will the herbicide cost?  If I don’t use it how is it going to affect the yield?  We know how to count the cost.  What Jesus is saying to us today is this: “You know how to count the cost of things in your life.   Have you accurately counted the cost of being my disciple? Do you really know what it means to follow me?”
“First, of all,” Jesus says.  “Do you realize that if you want to follow me, you have to hate your family.”  I don’t know about you… but I don’t like the sound of that at all.  I happen to love my family very much.  After all, I work to support them.  I try to provide them with everything they need, food, clothing, Christian education.  I try to spend time with them, and don’t like to be away for too long.  It seems to me that the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and mother.  And the Sixth commandment: You shall not commit adultery.  Have something to say here too.  Don’t these commandments specifically apply to my family?  Isn’t what Jesus is saying here going against these commandments? 
Maybe Jesus doesn’t really mean hate here when he says hate your family.  Today’s theme is Count the Cost.  I think we can easily see what Jesus is talking about.  Some people, when they become Christians are disowned by their families.  When I was in Concordia College in Seward, I remember a gal from Taiwan.  When she came to school, she wasn’t a Christian.  But over her time there, God worked in her life through all the people around her.  She heard the Gospel and finally gave a confession of faith.  She was promptly disowned by her family.  When she left for home she was not heard from again.  The great fear in her case is that there are so few Christians in her homeland that she was pressured to return to her family religion.  Maybe the cost was too high for her.  Maybe no one took the time to explain to her what Jesus is saying in this text. 
But Jesus isn’t just talking about people whose families disown them when they become Christians.  He’s talking to us too.  God is to take first place in our lives.  We are to love him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our being.  Remember the 1st Commandment:
The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean?
We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.
We should fear, love and trust God above everything else.  Everything else includes our wife.  Everything else includes our children and parents.  God is to be first.  The most difficult idols to give up are the ones that are closest to our hearts.  What Jesus is saying is that when we place things in our lives in the place that only God should be, pushing them out may indeed feel like hating them; in contrast to the love we hold for them now. 
What Jesus is talking about here may fall much closer to home than we are comfortable hearing.  I’m sure you can think of examples of children who have fallen away from the faith…  yet, parents don’t speak about it, even to each other, for the sake of family unity.  It’s difficult, who wants family gatherings to become a battle ground.  Who wants to ruin the all too brief visits with arguments?  And yet, that is exactly what Jesus is talking about.  Holding God over family unity can feel very much like hating your family. 
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks this idea just a little bit differently. 
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37, ESV)
It isn’t easy.  It is a cross to bear, so to speak.  And Jesus knows that it’s not easy.  He didn’t say, “Take up your Lazy Boy and follow me.” He said “carry your cross.” 
This is a very powerful image.  In Jesus time especially, the person who carried a cross was the one who was going to die on it.  It was a part of the execution itself.  Humiliation, defeat, painful, bloody death, dealt out with cruel indifference.  To bear a cross meant all of these things.  Jesus is saying to us today… the Christian life a life of cross bearing, and you can’t do it unless He is the most important thing in your life. 
By now we are all saying to ourselves, as we look around us to the ones we love; “The cost is too high.  How can I possibly love God more than my children? to do so feels like hating them.  How can I…”  well remember what Jesus said.  “… anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  The cross Jesus is asking you to bear is more than just keeping the first commandment.  The cross Jesus is asking you to bear isn’t just suffering sickness, or family dis-unity.  The cross Jesus is asking you to bear is his cross.  And he expects you to carry it to your death, just as he did.  “I can’t do that!” You say.  Yes, you can.  As matter of fact you’ve very likely done it already. 
And what’s more we’ve seen it happen right here in this place, right before our eyes.  Right here little children have carried their crosses to their death. 
“We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” 
The promise of God there is this.  The sin in your life, the things that you put before God, I have done something about.  I have killed you.  I have raised you.  You are my precious child.  Just as I killed my own Beloved Son, just as I raised my own Beloved Son, this baptism is my promise to you that I have done all this for you.  Go now live your life bearing your cross. 
A little child that is baptized here isn’t your going to love God all the time.  You don’t love God with your whole heart as you should.  Sometimes you love other people, like a child or parents or a spouse more than God.  That’s because of the sin that is in your life.  At times it pushes God out of first place.  But, that’s why Jesus lived and died for you, because we can’t do what God demands.  But, you see, from the day that you were baptized you bore the cross of Christ.  We make that sign:  “Receive the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.” Jesus also said it this way:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23, ESV)
That’s one of the reasons why we come to church every week.  To be reminded again and again of Jesus life, death and resurrection for us.  To be reminded that we live as God’s baptized child every day.
So what about the cost?  Well, the cost is still there.  We don’t try to build a building with out knowing how much it’s going to cost.  Jesus is describing what our lives, as God’s beloved baptized children, are going to be like.  It isn’t going to be easy… sometimes we’ll have to confront our children… sometimes there is going to be family disunity…  sometimes our actions are going to feel like, well, like hating them…  we need to know the cost of following Jesus.  He wants us to know what’s coming, so that when it does, we can remember to bear the cross, his cross… and remember what he did there on that cross for us.  He wants us to remember how our Baptism ties his death to our death… how Baptism ties his resurrection to our resurrection.  When we remember that, God will once again be first in our lives.  Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Luke 14:1-14; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; September 1, 2019;

Luke 14:1-14; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; September 1, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”” (Luke 14:1–14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus teaches about the great reversal. It is one of the great themes of the gospel of Luke. He is saying that things in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom he has come to restore, are not like they are in earthly kingdoms.
The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
We see it early in Luke’s Gospel with Mary’s song, the Magnificat.
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52–53, ESV)
Here in our text, Jesus is reversing the common table etiquette of the day. It is a scandal. Jesus is telling the scribes and Pharisees to invite to their table those whom they consider to be unclean and unworthy of table fellowship. They look at the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind the opposite way that Jesus sees them. The Pharisees and the scribes invite people to their banquets who can repay the favor.  It was considered a great honor to be invited to a feast. The scribes and Pharisees honored each other with their invitations. Jesus says exactly the opposite. He turns the tables, the table of fellowship, upside down.  “Invite those who cannot repay with another invitation”, says Jesus. His words are such a scandal that the scribes and Pharisees will kill him for it. They wanted nothing to do with the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” (Luke 15:1–2, ESV)
You see, the scribes and Pharisees had a merit-based system with God. They believed that if they did the right things God would bless them. The ones who are not blessed the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind were, in their opinion, obviously out of favor with God for something they did, some sin. Jesus tears down the whole social structure. It is the Great Reversal, Jesus rejects the scribes and Pharisees, and invites the poor and lowly, the tax collectors and sinners, into his presence, at table with God incarnate. 
At his table our Lord performs the humble active service to his slaves. The biggest reversal of all is that Jesus himself dies for the sins of the whole world. At Jesus’ table, the one who is the greatest is not the one who sits at table, but rather the one who serves. Jesus is the one who girds up his loins and serves. He goes to a bloody death. He is resurrected from the dead, showing that his death as sacrifice is sufficient.
The stone the builders rejected, this has become the head. (Luke 20:17)
Jesus is exalted by his very act of humiliation. He is the greatest in the kingdom serving the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. He serves the sinners like you and me, who deserve nothing but punishment from God and yet receive his gracious forgiveness.
It is perfectly natural for human beings to want fellowship with those who we see is worthy of it. In many churches, there is much more rejoicing over the doctor who joins the church than the tattooed biker. Like the Pharisees and the scribes, the doctor seems to have so much more to give. The doctor seems so much more blessed by God. But in the kingdom of God there is rejoicing over every sinner who turns from sin. The confused homosexual, the struggling alcoholic, the homeless drifter, the housewife who practices her faith despite the objections of her husband, the troubled teenager who acts out because of being ignored or abused at home, even the humble doctor who heals his neighbor. These are the ones that Jesus has come to save. These are the ones who see their sin and know they have nothing to offer God, but their sin.
Our fellowship should be just that, humble service to those who seem to the world to be worthless. Because in Jesus eyes, all people have worth not because of social class but because of their humanity.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV)
When we see our sin clearly, and the gift of forgiveness that is given to us so freely, we can offer that forgiveness to those who will value it most. Luther said,
God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed, the desperate, and those who have been brought down to nothing at all. Luther on Galatians 3:19-26.
You know these people. God has placed them in front of you for you to serve in your vocation. Not for monetary gain, but for the love that Christ has shone to you. Serve with an eye to proclaim God’s love in Jesus. Serve for the opportunity to invite them to fellowship with Jesus.
In January, we went through a process of strategic planning. We looked at the world from the point of view of Jesus command.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, ESV)
We talked about serving the community, the state, the nation, and the world. Following that directive.  We are looking for a way to serve our community specifically. I’m still waiting for a way in which we as the church in this community can do just that. And remember, I’m your pastor, your supporter, and a member of this congregation. So, it is not my ideas alone that will make these things a reality, but yours.
We are blessed by God in this congregation. We come together every week to seek the God who forgives our many sins. And especially our sin of ignoring the ones that God has placed in front of us. Those who will value the fellowship of Christ given through Word, water, and bread and wine.
Our sins are forgiven. Jesus, through his perfect life is substitutionary death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, he brings that forgiveness to us. He offers it freely to those who see their sin and see no other way for salvation. So, live in that love. Serve as you have been given to serve. And remember that you too are a forgiven sinner. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Luke.13.22-30; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 25, 2019;

Luke.13.22-30; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 25, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve heard a lot about how God opens doors.  Here Jesus talks about an open door and how it is going to be closed.  Not everyone will be inside when it does.  The man on the road asks if only a few will be saved?  Jesus changes the question to ask, “Are you inside?”  The door to God kingdom is open today, but someday it will be closed.  It will be locked and there will be people who are locked out!  Now of all the things we hear in church this is one we wish we didn’t.  But Jesus makes it very clear.  Not everyone will be saved.  There will be a time when God closes the door of his grace.  You and I know people who are going to hell, not because of the things they do, but because of what they believe.  Faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins is necessary for salvation, nothing else will do.  Believe in Jesus Christ alone and be inside, believe in another way of salvation, including the multitude of ways of earning your own salvation, and you’ll be outside when the door is shut.  A worldwide “Christian” organization stated that Christians needed to reconsider the claims of exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ alone for the sake of “cooperation with other non-Christian religions.”  Jesus will have none of that.  If you are inclined in that direction, repent of that sin.  It is sinful and unloving to mislead people by neglecting to tell them of the only way of salvation in Jesus. 
Right now, Jesus makes it very clear that the door is still open.  It is open wherever Christians speak up and tell people about Jesus and what he has done.  But it is open right now and especially right here where his Word is preached, and his Sacraments given according to his command.  We can see the open door here.  We see it and feel it as water together with God’s name washes away our sins and makes us a member of his God’s family.  We are pulled through the open door by God’s action, brought where his family is and given his very name.  Inside we sit at table with him, in his very presence, and eat the food that we need to grow in faith.  We hear his words that are spoken to us to keep our focus on what’s important.  And yet there is a danger even here where God so clearly has the door open. There is a danger because the open door will not always be open as it is today, as Jesus tells us.  Many of those inside will walk out the door.
Sometime in our future, maybe sooner than any of us know, the door of God’s grace and patience will come slamming shut.  Jesus tells us clearly what that moment will be like.  The most difficult part is the fact that not everyone will be inside.  Jesus makes it very personal, too.  He speaks to his hearers, and us, just like we are the ones left outside, wanting to get in.  He says, When the master closes the door you will be outside and start knocking…  For the people left outside there won’t be anything they can do to change the judgment, but they will try anyway.  It is like Jesus is saying, “You will pathetically knock on the locked door, hoping to gain entrance through persistence; Hoping that the door will be opened again so you can escape the judgment that has come.  But the door was open before, the there was plenty of opportunity, God’s promises to save were heard everywhere.  You have foolishly ignored the chance to come in.”  The words are harsh.  They reach out and twist our hearts.  Jesus means them.  But the protest of the condemned will not be heard.  It will be spoken by many people who mistakenly think that having their names on the church membership roles, means they should be let in.  The protest will even be made by some who spent a great deal of time in church and gave money to cover their fair share of the budget.  Jesus tells us without a doubt; it isn’t spending time with Jesus that makes a difference.  “Lord, we ate and drank in your presence!  We heard you teaching!  We spent time around you!  Our families have always belonged to this church.”  Those words and that pleading won’t have any meaning for Jesus when the door is closed.  “I don’t know you.” He will say from behind the closed door.
It may shock you to think that Jesus is talking to you as if you are outside.  Jesus wants you to think about that possibility.  He wants you to consider what it means to not be known by him.  Jesus says salvation is found in Jesus knowing you.  He doesn’t call for us only to spend time with him.  Time doesn’t equal a relationship.  These days it is very popular to speak of the difference between quality time and quantity time.  Jesus doesn’t make a distinction.  God does not want meaningless hours from you, and he doesn’t even want meaningful minutes.  If the time you spend with God is empty, the length of time you spend is totally irreverent.  Empty worship is empty worship.  God wants you to hear his Word every time he offers it to you.  If you despise his word by failing to worship and failing to study his word you are walking toward the door.  You are on your way outside.
You can serve and help other people all you want.  But unless your heart is completely focused on them and their needs you’ve missed the boat.  We have difficulty even listening to other people without getting distracted and thinking about ourselves.  In fact, we most often use people to get what we want.  We manipulate people for our own best advantage.  That’s the primary sin of living together without being married; wanting the benefits of a relationship with someone else without the commitment.  Sex outside of marriage is deeply selfish and can be no other way.  When you pretend that this sin isn’t a sin by ignoring it or participating in it yourself you are walking toward the door, headed outside. 
You can give very large amounts of money to very important church activities.  But God despises self serving gifts.  Unless your heart is in the right place, giving gifts so that you look good to others or so you can get your name recognized is sinful.  When you let pride guide your giving to the church instead of thankfulness for God’s gifts to you, when the primary purpose you want more people in church, isn’t because they need God’s word, but rather to help pay expenses, you are walking toward the door to the outside.
One thing that’s also common among us is the comparisons we make between ourselves and other people.  In this church, in this community, we value people by their class status.  This sin is stronger in our community and church than many other places I’ve lived.  We tend to judge where only God can judge, and we fail to judge where we should be judging.  Like Jesus story of the tax collector and the Pharisee.  You know the story Jesus told.  The tax collector prayed, “Oh God I’m a sinful person.  I don’t deserve anything you would give.”  While the Pharisee says, “Thank God I’m not like him.”  The tax collector was inside.  The Pharisee was out.  We look at the Pharisee and say, “Thank God, I’m not like him.  I’m not like them.  I go to church.  I pay my fair share of the budget.  I’m better than they are.  I deserve to be inside.  I think they should be outside.”  But our actions betray our motives.  We are much more like the Pharisee.  You can’t put someone else in the middle of sin.  The word is even spelled that way.  S-I-N.  “I” am in the middle of sin.  Sin has a hold on me and you that we can’t break.  “I am sinful in thought world and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.”  Jesus gives us his word today so that we know for sure, that we should be outside.  Our sin makes it so.  So much of what we do sets us heading toward the door to the outside.  We don’t deserve to be inside.  The moment we think we do, the moment we try to do anything to make ourselves fit inside, the second we try to earn our own way in, we headed for the door. 
Scripture is full of examples of Jesus commending people who were inside and condemning those who are outside.  Like the woman who came to Jesus with perfume in hand, knelt to wash his feet by wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair.  Jesus condemns the owner of the house, the one who invited Jesus to eat with him at his house.  He is condemned because he ignores Jesus.  He doesn’t even the basic courtesies that a host would offer.  He doesn’t really know why Jesus has come.  To him Jesus is just one more traveling preacher.  He is using Jesus to boost his own status in the community.  Even though he spends time listening to Jesus he doesn’t know Jesus.  He doesn’t think that he needs anything that Jesus has to give.  He certainly doesn’t think he needs forgiveness.  He has no relationship to Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t know him.  He doesn’t know Jesus.  He’s outside.  The woman is different.  She clearly knows who Jesus is and why he has come.  She demonstrates it by her actions.  She cries tears of joy on Jesus feet, and uses her hair as a towel.  She comes to Jesus with her sins in her hands and she places them at Jesus feet.  She comes to Jesus asking for forgiveness.  Her action is the purest form of worship, not because of her actions, not because she washes Jesus feet, but because she comes to Jesus for forgiveness.  She knows she is helpless without him.  There is nothing she can do about her sin.  She knows Jesus can and will forgive her.  Her worship is true worship because she knows where to go to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness.  She knows who Jesus is and why he has come.  That’s why Jesus says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you.”  Jesus says he knows who she is she has a right relationship to him.  She is inside.
Inside or outside, that’s what it is all about.  Thousands of Christians before us have come to God for the forgiveness of sins he offers.  They have done it in the same way we do.  From beginning to end, we worship God inside this place, through Jesus Christ, by confessing our faith just like that woman did. 
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9, ESV) 
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, ESV)
True worship of God is to receive from him the forgiveness that he so freely gives through Jesus.  We do receive it because the door is open.  It is been opened by Jesus.  That’s what he tells us today.  There is no reason to be outside when the door is closed.  Jesus has opened the door for you.  He has opened the door for me.  It has been opened by his blood, by his sacrifice, by the perfect life he lived, by the horrible death he died, and his resurrection from the grave.  When he lived here on earth as a human being, he walked a journey straight to Jerusalem where he knew death was waiting for him.  He did it because his greatest desire is to have you with him inside the door and not be shut out.  On that trip a man asked Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”  Well, Jesus opens the door to all.  Jesus is the one who opens the door and brings you in.  Every day sin is a burden we bear.  It tears up our relationships; it pollutes even the good things we’d like to do.  Every day our sin makes our lives difficult.  We’d like to push the blame for them away.  But we know all to well that the fault with our broken lives lies squarely on our own shoulders.  We know that the harder we try to make it good the worse it gets.  We know we can do nothing about it.  That’s exactly where the woman who washed Jesus feet was.  She came to Jesus’ open door for forgiveness.  We come to the open door too.  With our sins in our hands we offer them to Jesus, and he forgives.  He brings us inside.  He does it through Word and Sacrament.  He does it through the gift of faith given by the work of the Holy Spirit. 
When Jesus says “Strive to enter…” he’s not talking about you doing anything, except dropping all our own self confidence.  He’s not talking about showing him our good works, our calculated time in worship, our monthly tax statement as proof that we deserve entry.  None of that will do, it is covered and corrupted by our sin.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)
He’s talking about taking our sin to him because he forgives.  He’s talking about how he brings us in by what he has does and has done.  “Strive to enter?” He says.  That means to do what he’s given us to do.  Confess our sins and receive forgiveness.  Live in the promises he has given in word and water, remember your baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Take his body and his blood in our mouths and receive that same gift of life that he made for us through the very same crucified body that he puts into our mouths.  You see, by God’s grace the door is open now and you are inside.  Worship him rightly, serve him without fear, receive the gifts he gives.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Luke 12:49-53; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 18, 2013;

Luke 12:49-53; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 18, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hold up your hand in front of you.  Let your fingers illustrate your family, or the people you gather with regularly at work or morning coffee, or your household, or your neighborhood.  That’s the kind of group that Jesus is talking about here.  Five people, a typical Galilean family.  Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, and Brother’s wife all are living under one roof.  It’s a close gathering of people who spend time together, people who love one another or at least understand each other.  Jesus says that because of him, because of the “fire” he has come to bring, groups just like that will be divided.  Groups like that, which you are a part of, are divided because of Jesus.  You all know the two topics that you should avoid if you want to have a pleasant conversation.  What are they?  Yep, religion and politics.  Well, you can blame that in part on Jesus.  That's because of the fire.  The old saying goes, put three Germans in a room and you’ll have four different opinions.  It’s true for politics (but we won’t discuss politics today), and it true also for religion.
Really, talk about religion is talk about God.  What is it that people don’t want to hear about when there is God talk?  What is it about God that makes for uncomfortable conversation?  Well, everyone wants to hear about a god who loves and forgives; a god who takes people for what they are.  But no one wants to be held accountable to a god.  No one wants to hear about a god that punishes because of sin.  But, whenever we talk about the real God, the God that the Bible tells us about, the God that Jesus speaks about, we always come to the reality that we are sinful people.  Whenever we talk about a perfectly holy God, people get uncomfortable.  That’s the fire.  God himself; who He is in comparison to us and what He expects of people.  We call it the Law.
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Exodus 20:1-6, ESV)
No one wants to be accountable for their actions against a God who promises to punish sin.  In fact, people love a god that they can work their way out of sin.  They love a god who just sweeps sin under the carpet and forgets that it exists.  They love a god who is the picture of a forgetful old grandfather who overlooks what he doesn’t like.  But, you see, that’s just not the God that Jesus tells us about.  And although Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17, ESV) he did come to bring God’s fire, and that fire brings with it, division.  That’s because no one can understand the true nature of the forgiveness Jesus brings without experiencing the fire of the law of God.  That fire of God’s Law tells us that because of sin we deserve nothing but punishment.
We don't do anyone any favors by bringing the law "lite". There is no lite version of the law that is easier to swallow like some lite beer.  Many of you know exactly the division that the law brings. We do not want to tell our family members that belonging to a church that teaches and believes things that are not taught in the Bible is wrong. It's not necessarily better to go to any church the no church. And then it comes up when they want to commune at this altar. We have the responsibility of turning them away. Because God tells us that to commune at this altar is to say we believe, teach, and confess the same things. Membership in a church is saying that you believe what that church teaches. It is especially pronounced these days when so many churches are drinking the Kool-Aid of the current culture.
Others of you know this division when you have family members who are living outside of what God says is right. We don't want to be the one to tell them that their activity pushes them away from God and can lead them to hell. You don't want to tell them because were afraid of the division.
Others know the division because God's word cuts you right to the heart. God says you shall not commit adultery. But he doesn't just mean sleeping around. He means looking around and thinking about sleeping around. His law is firm. It is sinful and deserving of hell. It's never been easier to deserve God's wrath and punishment then so-called soft porn on the Internet. (Matthew 5:27ff)
And you feel the division when you speak about your neighbor and less than favorable terms. It is a breaking of the fifth commandment, you shall not kill. But of course, you don't have to actually kill. Jesus says the words do well enough. When you talk about your neighbor in any way that reduces his reputation to anyone else you have killed him. Jesus says clearly that this kind of activity deserves nothing but hell. (Matt 5)
This is the bare edge of God's law. It's the wrath of God come down on sinful human beings. There is no way for you or me or your family members to work out our own escape. The law means punishment, death, and eternal separation from God. This is the division that Jesus comes to bring. It is the full force wrath of God against a sinful race. And so, the reaction that you see in people is perfectly understandable.
“If that’s what God does we don’t what to have anything to do with him.”
“If that’s the kind of god you’re talking about we don’t want to talk about him at all…”
So, sin and God's threat of punishment for that sin divides families. Jesus is responsible for that division.
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
There's something else to the fire that Jesus brings. Something unique about the one who brings the fire to earth. Jesus is not the picture of God tromping through the vineyard trampling the grapes with lightning coming out of his hands striking dead all those who sin against his law. And he talks about it when he says:
I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
Jesus isn't just speaking in hyperbole. He's talking about a real baptism. He's talking about a real fire and anger and God's wrath. Right away in the Gospel of St. Luke after the wonderful account of Jesus birth in the proclamation that Jesus brings peace, we have John the Baptizer telling everyone that God's wrath is coming. And then Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Jesus doesn't come to dispense God's wrath. That is, he doesn't come to condemn sinful human beings. But instead he comes to bear God's wrath. The fire that he comes to bring is the fire that he himself will hang in. And it begins with him going into the water of the Jordan River and being baptized by John. In Jesus Christ, God becomes the human sin bearer. In Jesus Christ, God becomes for all people the bearer of God's wrath over sin. When Jesus comes out of the water wet from his own baptism, he heads straight for the cross. The years that he walks the earth he walks it as a sinless human being yet bearing the sins of the whole world. And he walks in distress until the feat is accomplished. Jesus baptism is a baptism of fire and blood. On the cross, suspended between earth and God, Jesus bears the full punishment of God's anger over our sin. This is the baptism that Jesus is distressed about. This is the baptism that he has come to bring. It is the division he comes to bear. He is divided from and forsaken by God, suffering eternal hell for you and your family.  Nothing shows God's displeasure over sin more clearly than the bleeding and dying of Jesus Christ, his only son, on the cross in your place.
There is no way to bring this Word to people without offense. The law must offend. God is perfect and holy and just. He cannot set aside what he has declared to be good and right and true. The law has its purpose. It must be proclaimed in its full force. We must see Jesus bleeding and dying and suffering on the cross as being our just punishment. We must know that that is what we deserve for our sin. Without it we would never crawl to the cross begging for forgiveness from the one who offers it to us freely. Without the law in its full force the sweetness of the gospel cannot be received in its full force.
And the full force of the gospel is this. The baptism that Jesus bears he bears in our place. The punishment he receives he receives in our place. The wrath of God that is poured out on him is poured out on him in our place. It is a baptism of fire. It is a baptism of blood. It is a baptism of water…
There's the font. It stands out here in front of us. It's not just here because it's a piece of furniture we cherish. It's here to show us the baptism that Jesus brings. The water in the bowl and the words spoken over that water when it is poured on our heads is our connection to Jesus on the cross. He is baptized in the river. We are baptized in the bowl. The water is the same. Our sin goes in the water. Jesus is in the water and he comes up and carries it to the cross. There is no simpler picture of grace. God makes promises and makes your head wet. The promises are given in the sin is taken. Jesus bears that baptism and the water with all your sin. He walks up out of the water and hangs on the cross and suffers God's just punishment. And you are declared by the word and the water to be righteous in God's sight.
There is nothing other to be done than to live according to the promises that you have been given: To reject sin; To speak against it especially within your own family; to take the division Jesus brings and use it to proclaim God's anger over sin.  Then point people to the place where God pours out that anger and punishment and Jesus. It's the cross. It's the cross with Jesus on it. It is forgiveness won there and given to you and your family freely by God's grace. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.