Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16), August 26, 2007, Luke.13.22-30

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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. Recently a world wide “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 actually 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. Things get done in church and the community only when certain people want them done. Good ideas presented by the wrong people might as well be forgotten. We judge where only God is allowed to 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 down 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.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15), August 19, 2007, Heb.11.17-12.3

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By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 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, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 11:17-12:3, ESV)
(Thanks to Pr. Mark Anderson, CPR, Vol 17, Part 3)

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

This text continues on with the theme of faith spoken about by pastor Sattgast last week at our anniversary, although it has a little bit different twist. This text focuses a bit on the pain that was suffered by God’s faithful people. Now there’s a subject we’d really like to avoid pain. There are lots of kids of pain. Pain from an injury. Pain from surgery. Pain from the death of a loved one. Pain from broken relationships. Pain from the loss of anything precious or important. You and I have suffered all these kinds of pain in our lifetime. There is one thing for sure, you have all had it, and you will all have it again. It is as sure as death and taxes.

We all handle pain very differently. There are those who use drugs and alcohol to cover up their pain. Pain can be ignored or buried for long periods of time, in hopes that it will go away. It never does. Something that is buried alive will eventually dig its way to the surface again. I see a lot of this one, lots of people try to pretend that hurts between people will go away if they are ignored. You won’t have to think long to come up with and example of this one either. Lots of people turn to God with their pain, or rather churches. Flip through the channels on Sunday morning and you’ll hear tons of preachers addressing pain. The problem with most of them is they make promises that they can’t deliver on, promises that God doesn’t make. People are attracted to them because it’s exactly what they want to hear. “Give your life to God and He’ll make you prosperous.” “Use this prayer rug and God will make your life easy.” “Live your life with purpose and God will make you fruitful” “Say the prayer of Jabez and God will give you whatever you desire.” It seems so right, but none of those promises are found in God’s Word.

Pain is here to stay. Becoming a Christian doesn’t take it away. We still have trouble in our lives. We still have broken families. We still have broken relationships. Our friends and families still die. You could add your own most painful moment here. For me, in recent time it was the death of my father, or how about the loss of something important. Last week we were reminded again of the history of this congregation, the largest congregation in the South Dakota District, a Sunday school of 200 children. “Why can’t it be that way again?” that loss has caused congregational pain.

Well, it doesn’t matter what pain you name… pain is all the result of sin. God’s creation was created with out sin without pain. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10b, ESV) Once the world was corrupted by sin, its effects are shown in human lives through pain. It’s not the way it should be. We can ignore pain. We can shift the blame to someone else. We can come up with a thousand ways to push it aside. But eventually the root of the problem has to be dealt with. Sin has to be dealt with. And only God can deal with sin.

So what about you? What’s your favorite avenue to avoid pain in your life? For quite awhile the people of this congregation have played the blame game. For quite awhile the people of this congregation have done whatever is necessary to avoid pain. We avoid conflict even at the expense of God’s Word. If you do whatever they ask for we can be at peace again. What about you personally? Do you open God’s Word for answers? Do you blame someone else? Do you ignore it hoping it will go away? Do you compromise on God’s Word to avoid pain?

Maybe you even joined this church looking for relief from pain. If I’m a good Christian God will take it all away and I’ll be happy, healthy and full of good fortune. Well, that’s not God’s promise to you. In fact, when you became a Christian you signed up, not for less trouble and pain, but actually more of it.

That’s what the text for today shows us. Just look at Abraham. Think of what it was like to leave everything you had behind and wander off to an unknown place. Think of the pain involved in being told to kill you son like and animal on an altar for sacrifice.

How did Abraham deal with it? Our text says, He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:19, ESV) Even when everything seemed hopeless, Abraham focused on God and the promises that were made to him.

Moses is also an example given here. Just look at the change in Moses life. He was a big shot, who became a sheep herder in a little out of the way place. Well that almost sounds like us doesn’t it? Moses suffered because he believed and trusted God more than he loved his high position. He believed in God’s promises, rather than focusing on the pain of the current situation.

And then there are the unnamed prophets and patriarchs.

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. (Hebrews 11:36-38, ESV)

That’s quite a list of pain and suffering. Anyone here want to step up to the plate and volunteer for any of these things? These faithful people of God didn’t choose these things but God allowed them to happen for His own purposes. The made it through them by believing in God’s promises in spite of how it looked.

There is that saying we are all familiar with, “No pain / no gain” Lot’s of people seem to live by that motto. People spend painful hours in preparation for what’s important to them. Athletes lift weights and go through intensive training programs. Marathon runners beat the pavement every day. Professional actors and singers take small unimportant bit parts. Farmers go over the fields one more time to get rid of as many weeds as possible. Doctors study to keep up with the latest advances. All these go through the pain because they have a goal in mind. They are focused on the end, the goal.

For you and me, the question isn’t if we will suffer pain. The question is when. The question is how.

How do you make it through your pain and suffering? As Christians we keep in mind one simple thing. We hold one thing as more important than any other. When ever we see suffering, we see it in light of our Savior on the cross. Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. Jesus Christ crucified for you and me!

Those great examples that we talked about... They have some things in common with us. They were sinful people too. They knew about their sin. They knew they only deserved God eternal wrath an punishment. But just like I said, they place their faith in the promises of God. We have and advantage that they didn’t have though. They looked forward to a promised Savior to come. We have Jesus Christ on the cross. They knew the Messiah was coming. We have the account of His coming written in words we can understand.

God’s Word tells us that God himself came to earth to deal with pain and suffering. He became a human being to deal with sin. In Jesus Christ, the wholeness of God dwells, we are told. He suffered and died for the sins of the whole world. He bore the punishment for all sin on the cross. No matter how great your suffering is, it will never compare to what Jesus suffered for you. He didn’t just suffer physical pain, nails in his hands, bruises and cuts, and harassment. He suffered spiritual death and separation from God. Jesus suffered the pain of hell on the cross.

How do you endure pain? I’ve heard it a hundred times. “I don’t know how I’d survive if I didn’t have faith.” “How do people go through things like this without Jesus?” Those statements say just what the writer of the book of Hebrews says. How do we endure? We endure through the cross of Christ. We focus on him. We look to Him. We hold tight to His promises.

Oh yeah. How do you know God’s promises are for you? Well, you don’t have to rely on your feelings. You don’t have to rely on anything you’ve done. You don’t have to point to yourself and say that I’ve accepted Jesus. All that kind of talk is not placing faith in Jesus but faith in you. You can’t do it without Jesus. God makes sure you know that His promises are for you. Look again to the font. Remember how God put His name on you. It doesn’t matter which of those pastors picture in the narthex did it, or even if someone else did it. God’s promises go with His Name, His Word and water. You are baptized child of God. It’s not a onetime event but a lifetime of living in God’s promises. And now, here at St. John’s, you have another chance every month to have your faith in God’s promises strengthened. Only moments from now God will give you the body and blood of Jesus Christ for you to eat and drink. The very same Jesus who suffered and died for you is going to go right into you. As you eat the bread and wine, God is saying to you that His promises of forgiveness are true for you. He promises that He has taken care of the thing that causes pain in your life.

Here’s the thing. Jesus died for you and he rose again from death, for you. Packed together with his promise of forgiveness is his promise of resurrection. That’s the goal. That’s the prize. New life forever with Jesus. New life forever with no pain and no suffering… no sin! God has done it all, taken care of it all, and promised it all to you. Suffer as you will, and you will suffer, it doesn’t compare to the promises God has made for you in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13), Aug 5, 2007, Luke 12:13-21

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13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And 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.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So 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 actually 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 days 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 month. He doesn’t care if they used money that was given to help with medical expenses for cigarettes and beer. Jesus loves them just the same. In fact, he loved them so much that he gave 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 in this beautiful church that was built almost 100 years ago and by the money put in the collections plate, and we forget that we are really no different than the “lazy” or “dirty” people we so much want to avoid. It’s true that we give to the poor (some churches even have it as a line item in their budget). We select a card from the Christmas tree in the bank. We give to needy families through lots of channels. But just look how safe the ways we give are. We can continue to do them and feel good about doing them, and still have no real 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. In this parable 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 hearts 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 looses. 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. Actually, 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)
In another translation the word “vanity” is translated “meaningless.” 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, but He is saying even more than that.

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, in spite of 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 of being rich toward God, either. 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 a God who promises to give us everything we need. We have been made God children in baptism. We have all the promises he gives to his children. That means we can live our lives for the sake of others instead of ourselves. We can find enjoyment in [our] toil (Ecclesiastes 2:24, ESV) by using it to serve others instead of serving ourselves and our own self interest and our own greed. We can give away the extra gifts that God gives us because that’s why God gave it to us in the first place. Even more important we don’t have to worry about how our gifts are used once we give them away. 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.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Funeral Sermon for Clarence Malitz, Matthe 11:28-30

Funeral Sermon for Clarence Malwitz

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

Sometimes a verse pops out as the one and only verse to use for a funeral sermon. For Clarence it wasn’t that way. I toyed with a lot of verses including Genesis 10:9 “[Nimrod] was a mighty hunter.” ‘cause I’m still amazed at that newspaper picture of the pheasant pelts covering his whole yard. Of course Clarence loved hunting. You could have nicknamed his room at Good Sam Pheasants Forever.

I also thought of “Something old; something new; something borrowed; something blue.” But that of course isn’t even scripture no matter how well it goes with the antiques that he and his wife loved to buy and sell. Many of you know about the “coke clock” that hung in his kitchen at the house and in his room at Good Sam. Clarence and I marked the time till his death by that coke music and hiding polar bear. As his family and the staff at Good Sam gathered for a memorial service shortly after Clarence died it went off again, and seemed very fitting to us all.

So I struggled a bit… and then I read this one:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

You know, it was common for Clarence and me to talk about his troubles, his burdens, and his fears. He was well cared for at Good Sam but he would have rather been in Howard. He missed his friends. He missed his church. He missed his home. He missed is garden. He understood why he had to be there, but he really wanted to be home. Clarence often talked about being lonely, too. His family visited him, but his loneliness was deeper than that. He really missed Dorothy. When she died four years ago, a very real part of Clarence died with her. There was nothing that was ever going to take her place. He felt very dependent, too. There was an all too brief bit of independence that he enjoyed before he dumped over his motorized wheel chair and the Good Sam staff had to take it away. Really that was the beginning of the end. Clarence never quite recovered from that disappointment.

In the face of those burdens Clarence and I talked about this verse more than once.

“I don’t know why God has given me all these burdens.”

“I don’t know either Clarence.” I’d answer.

He’d reply something like “I just have to give them to him. He knows best.”

I guess it’s true that Clarence never really had an easy life. Money was short, and all those kids ate a lot. I was told how you all piled in the back seat of the car to get to church. That was important to Clarence and Dorothy, and it seems to have rubbed off on you guys too.

Now you all knew Clarence better than I did. I knew him for a year and a half, you knew him a lifetime. He was a great guy. He was gentle and kind. But you know most people are on their best behavior around the pastor. Clarence was, I’m sure, no exception. Of course I know that he was a sinful person. You know he was sinful person. Some of you might talk about a time when he played hard ball in business. Some of you might remember a time when he took advantage of you. Some of you might remember at time when his attitude was anything but Christian. And not to excuse any of that behavior, because that kind of thing is definitely sinful, you wouldn’t have to talk about any of that for me to know that Clarence Malwitz was a sinful man. Those things are true, that too was a part of who Clarence was. I don’t have to hear specific stories to know that he deserved death. I’m not really speaking ill of the dead either. I’m speaking the truth. What I really want you to understand is that he was no different than anyone. No different than you. No different than me. We, too, are sinful people. One day you and I will join Clarence in death. We’ll be the guest of honor at our own funeral and in spite of the joke to contrary we won’t be late. We deserve death, too. At least that’s what God tells us in His Word. For the wages of sin is death, (Romans 6:23a, ESV) Nothing brings that truth home like a funeral. And Clarence felt that burden at the end, too. From the first day I met him he longed for death so that he could be with Dorothy again. But in the end he did not greet death warmly. It was another burden he had to bear. There was some fear there, some regret and some anger, too. Well, that was just a part of the burden Clarence carried.

I was there with him when he died. That’s why I selected this verse, because it really is true for Clarence. Finally, after all his burdens, after all his wanting to die, Jesus finally said to him,

Come to me, [Clarence you] who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

He died peaceful and quiet, which was a change from the previous several days.

Now there is something you should know about Clarence. In fact, it is the most important thing you should know. Clarence was a man of faith. That’s why we can use this verse about going to Jesus in reference to him. Of course he was sinful, but more than that he knew who his Savior was, and he knew how much he needed a Savior. Clarence’s really heavy load was his sin. When his soul was burdened by it he turned to his savior in repentance and faith. He saw Jesus clearly on the cross suffering and dying for him. He clung to God’s promise that death would not lead to what he deserved, eternity in hell, but to eternal life with Jesus.

It really is one thing I’ll never forget about Clarence. I would go into his room or sit outside on the sidewalk at Good Sam and chit chat for a while. But he really could only take so much and he wanted something more than talk. You see, he knew I wasn’t there primarily to visit. He had something else that he wanted. I could tell when it was time because he’d begin to look at the stack of stuff I carry with me to shut-in visits to make sure I brought it. He was looking to make sure I brought the communion set with me. You see chat about the church and Howard and his family was all fine and good, but that’s not the real reason he wanted to see me. He wanted to see me so that he could receive The Lord’s Supper. He longed for it. He ached for it. He believed with all his heart that Jesus truly comes in, with and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. You can hear what Clarence believed, what he knew, what he longed for in the second part of the text:

I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 (ESV)

In that wonderful gift of Jesus, Clarence found rest from his burdens. He found a gentle Lord Jesus, who loved him more than he could understand. He was a different person after he received Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. I usually left as soon as possible after that. What could I say that was more powerful and more meaningful that what Jesus Christ had just done?

What was Clarence’s faith? Well, he saw it in red and white right there in the Supper. Jesus blood was spilled out on the cross. Jesus body was broken on the cross. Clarence believed that his burdens, his troubles, his loneliness, his shortcomings, his temper, his forgetfulness, his pain, his lies, his grief, his self-centeredness… his sin, all of it, was nailed to the cross with Jesus. That’s what Jesus means when he says, you will find rest. He means that we find rest in Him because He has died the death we deserve for our sin. He suffered the punishment of hell in our place. Now instead of death meaning separation from God and God’s people forever in hell, we pass through death to eternal life. What’s so special about that? Well, it’s is eternal life in God’s presence. There will be no fear of punishment for our sin. There will be no burdens to bear. No weariness. No loneliness. No sin. And, now this was really important for Clarence, eternal life in the presence of all those who die in faith. Here’s the picture: Clarence and Dorothy standing before Jesus, shouting out His praises together forever and ever.

What is your burdened? Are you weary? Do you miss Clarence already? Do you miss another loved one who died with faith in Jesus? Are you lonely, afraid? Jesus is where you will find rest for your burdens. Jesus Christ crucified for sinners is where you’ll find hope for hopeless sinners like you. Jesus says to you,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

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