Sunday, September 26, 2010

Luke.16.19-31; September 26, 2010; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost;

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” ” (Luke 16:19–31, ESV)

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

My name is Dives. I was very rich man. I guess you could say I was destined to be rich and everyone knew it. My parents even gave me a name that means ‘rich.’ Dives it means – ‘rich.’ But you probably know me as simply the ‘rich man’ from that story that Jesus told: “The rich man and Lazarus.” Yep, that’s me, ‘the rich man.’ Oh, how I wish that it wasn’t. But, everything is just as Jesus said. Notice the story, how Jesus told it. Lazarus is mentioned by name. I’m simply called ‘a certain rich man.’ You see, Lazarus’ name was written in the book of life, just like yours, but not mine.

I was rich, living a life of luxury in my home. I had everything I wanted. Fine purple linens and great feasts, every day. Oh, what a life it was! I rarely left home, I didn’t have to, I had everything I needed, right there. And besides, someone had laid that beggar at my gate. In order for me to leave I’d have walk by him and be reminded that he was there. Oh, I knew him well enough, I had seen him, and I even knew his name, Lazarus. Just to hear it turned my stomach. He was pathetic, lying there with sores all over his body… always asking for food. One of my servants even had the nerve to offer him the table scraps. I was infuriated, “What will my dogs eat! Let Lazarus feed himself.” I just wanted him gone. I asked the house steward to open the gate and let out the dogs. “Maybe,” I thought, “they’d scare him off.” It was the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. The dogs didn’t attack him. They just went up to him and licked his sores. Lazarus just lay there… In reality, looking back, those dogs had more compassion for Lazarus than I did.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a pretty vile human being. To treat poor Lazarus that way… to not care about his pain and hunger… to care more about my dogs than him… and your right, all of that is true. But, don’t forget, you and I are cut from the same fabric. We come from the same source. I think more of myself than anyone else… but let’s face it; it’s the common human condition. When was the last time you saw someone you just wanted to avoid? Someone in dirty cloths? Someone whose skin was a little darker than your own? How did you feel about the person that sat down in the next booth at the restaurant? The person who ruined you meal, the one you could smell the minute they walked in the door? You know yourself, just like I know me. I just had the luxury of displaying my feelings in purple.

I couldn’t wait for Lazarus to die. Well finally, he was put out of my misery. One morning I heard that Lazarus was dead. I didn’t usually need any reasons to party but I held a feast in his honor, or rather a feast in his absence. I didn’t know that I would follow so closely after him. I didn’t know that death would come for me so soon.

Do you know what the name Lazarus means? It means: “The one whom God helps.” How ironic it is that even though I was rich, he was the one favored by God. I was sure that I was the one that God liked best. After all, I was given all those blessings, money, food, and clothing. And so much of it! Remember the story? Remember how Jesus describes Lazarus death. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.” What a picture, poor Lazarus carried off to Abraham’s side by the Holy Angels. It’s the kind of thing I expected for me. I was treated so well in life; I should be treated well in death. “The rich man also died and was buried.” Jesus said. That was it. All my life amounted to, was a hole in the earth.

Don’t get me wrong; my problems didn’t come because I was rich. My wealth was indeed a blessing from God. In fact there are many of God’s faithful people who are even wealthier than I was. My problem was that I trusted the gifts rather than the giver. I forgot that I didn’t deserve what I had been given. What I deserved was to be lying there with Lazarus, sores and all. If it weren’t for the promises of God, we’d all belong there with Lazarus. He trusted in the promises of God and I didn’t. He was carried away by the angels to be in fellowship with God. I was sent to torment.

I can’t begin to describe my suffering. When I looked up and saw Lazarus there with Abraham, all I wanted was some small portion of relief. If only I could have a single drop of water… If only Abraham would send Lazarus here with it… Surely Lazarus would have at least that much compassion. Surely he could serve me in that way. “Father Abraham!” I cried out. “Sorry my child.” He said. “It’s impossible. You had it good in life. Lazarus didn’t. He was lying on your doorstep; you could have helped him without even going out of your way. But, now it is impossible for him to help you, even if he wished to do so. God has fixed a great chasm between us. No one can cross it. That was all there was to be said. I knew I deserved my torment.

It was then, for the first time ever; I began to think of other people. I had five brothers. They too were as I was. Selfish and not trusting in the promises of God. What of them? Was there a way to save? “Father Abraham!” I called out again. “Send Lazarus to my brothers. They will listen to him if he is a witness to what their deaths will bring them.”

“They have already been told,” said Abraham. “They have God’s word through Moses and the Prophets, they can listen to that.

“No,” I insisted. “It will take much more than that. They need someone to come back from the dead. That will be enough of a sign for them. They will then turn from their evil ways.”

“Hardly!” he replied. “If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, even a resurrection will not be enough. If God’s word isn’t enough for them, nothing will be.”

That is how the story goes. I hadn’t believed God’s word. I thought I was blessed by God already. I hadn’t cared for the people God had placed before me to care for. God laid Lazarus at my doorstep. I simply stepped over him. God had given me brothers. I didn’t care for them until it was too late. My destination without God was this fiery place of torment.

I want you to think again about what Abraham said to me. 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' You see the point of this story isn’t about rich verses poor. It isn’t about what heaven and hell are like. It’s about the word of God. You see what was true for my brothers, as also true for me. I knew that they didn’t believe what Moses and the prophets had to say. I didn’t believe it either. Jesus says that for those who don’t believe, even a resurrection wouldn’t be enough. No sign would be enough. He walked around the country side providing proof after proof, miracle after miracle, but still some refused to believe. Even when He was raised from the dead, there were people who still didn’t believe in him. Jesus used my story to convict the Pharisees and drive them to repentance. But, they had no faith. They wouldn’t repent.

As for you, beloved children of God, you have been blessed with faith, just like Lazarus. You hear God’s word regularly and believe it. You gather together to celebrate Jesus life, death and resurrection. The very same resurrection he talked about in my story. You have been given faith to believe that God sent him to be your Savior, to suffer and die for you. To win for you forgiveness of your sins. Jesus Christ took all of them, even the sins that you do that remind you of me, and he carried them to death. There on the cross he bore the sins of the whole world. The selfishness, the lies, and the evil thoughts against people who are different. They went with him into the grave. And, when he rose again, they were gone. You see the resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just proof of who he is, it’s proof that what he did, he did for you! Your story is already different from mine. Because of Jesus Christ you will be carried off to Abraham’s side, just like Lazarus. Because of Jesus Christ you have been blessed with gifts that I can only imagine.

At least you can learn this from my story. There are people that God has laid at your doorstep, just like he laid Lazarus at mine. There are people all around you who need the love of God, in Christ Jesus. You know and believe what God has done for you. You believe the word of Moses and the Prophets. You know that Jesus died and rose for them too. God has given you many gifts, talents, money, and time. Use them to reach out to them with his love. For you, God’s love in Jesus Christ means salvation. Share that Good News with those around you. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amos.8.4-7; Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 19, 2010

Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. (Amos 8:4-7, ESV)

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

“Oh, come, let us sin unto the Lord!” No, I didn’t forget the “g”. I really did say, “Come let us sin to the Lord.” Well, it’s what the prophet Amos is saying here. He tops his list of the sins of God’s people with not caring for the needy and preferring business to worship. “Let’s get church over with so we can get back to business. Let’s cut this stuff short so we can do what’s really important. Let’s minimize our obligations to God, so we can spend our time doing what we want to do instead. Time is money. Let’s get back to what life is really all about… the pursuit of happiness!” And what’s worse the business practices they want to get back to are less than beneficial to the customers. Crooked scales and high prices combine for great profit margins, but poor customer service. They were coming to church, but it was the last place they wanted to be. Amos was point blunt. “You’re only here to get credit for being here. You want God to notice that you are doing your part, paying your fair share, but your mind is in the market. God’s Word is far from your heart when you are far from His house. You think that you are entitled to pursue happiness because you’ve parking in the pew.”

Well, it’s a good thing that Amos isn’t talking to us. This moldy old prophet couldn’t possibly have anything relevant to say. How could words scratched out 3,000 years ago mean anything to you and me? God really couldn’t be speaking to me? Could he? Oh come, let us sin unto the Lord! Watching your clock already? How long is the sermon going to be today? Week 2: Minnisota vs Miami? The balloon are passing overhead as we speak? The roast is in the oven. I don’t want to spend my whole day here. Twice a month Communion would be better if it didn’t take so long. My time is valuable… Time is money… Ah, that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? We are not so far from God’s people who were hit between the eyes by Amos’ words. We do just what they did. We put God in church, and leave Him here. We grudgingly set aside this hour for God and no more. We pretend that God gets enough of us if we look like we are enjoying our time. If we fool the pastor we must be fooling God too.

If Amos’ words are harsh, he means them to be. His hearers were confident in their place before God. We do our part and God will do his part. We give God his due and our businesses will grow and prosper. Our thoughts are not any different. If we put our time in at church on Sunday we can live any way we want to for the rest of the week. God doesn’t belong out there.

But God says differently. He sends prophets and pastors to make it clear. You cannot serve God and money. …this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me… (Isaiah 29:13, ESV) Oh, come, let us sin to the Lord, is not something God will tolerate. Sin is serious business to Him. His beautiful creation is corrupted by it. His creature’s lives are set to ruin by it. Greed provokes God’s righteous anger. Amos speaks God’s law very clearly. “I will not forget their sin, ever! I will not forget your sin, ever!”

Well we are in trouble if God won’t forget. We have a difficult time on our own forgetting sin and the sins of others against us. But we count on God’s forgiveness. We cling to Jeremiah’s words as he speaks for God.

For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34b, ESV)

But Amos goes on to describe the consequences of God not forgetting our sin.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. (Amos 8:9-10, ESV)

So how do we reconcile what Amos says? We know our lack of faithfulness in worship; we see our sin and know we need God’s forgiveness. Amos writes about a darkened day, a day when there will be mourning for an only son. It reminds us of a dark day we call “good”; Good Friday. That is a day when God does exactly has He says, He doesn’t forget our sin. In fact, He remembers them in full, by placing them on His only Son. Jesus, on the cross, is the focus of God’s wrath and anger. God is true to His promise of not forgetting sin. All human sin is heaped on Jesus; every one remembered; every lackluster worship service; every selfish thought; every time we watch the clock; every time our mind is somewhere else; every time we set out for our own gain at the expense of others. Jesus is nailed to the cross to carry them all, to suffer God’s punishment. Jesus dies with our sin, so we are dead to it, too. Jesus takes the curse of God remembering sin, so that we can receive God’s forgiveness. Oh, come, let us sin unto the Lord… let us place our sin on Him and receive from God the forgiveness He gives though faith in Jesus.

So, does that make a difference in our worship today and in the future? Shall we continue, Oh, come, let us sin unto the Lord? Saint Paul asked the question like this:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, ESV)

He answers the question, too:

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4, ESV)

God remembers his promises. He places our sin and punishment on Jesus and gives us Jesus resurrection to new life. We walk in newness of life! We live and act and worship differently. What God has done for us in Jesus turns that turns our sin into sing. Oh come let us sing unto the Lord. Let us make a joyful noise to the God of our salvation. He turns our sin in to song. We rejoice. We celebrate. We sing about what God has done for us. Just like we sang moment ago:

Then shall I praise you and adore
Your blessed name forevermore,
Who once, for me and all you made,
An everlasting ransom paid. (LW 362:6)

And not only that but it changes everything else, too. Worship becomes the center point of our lives. We receive from God, His wonderful gift of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, in Word and Sacrament, and it bleeds through us to the world out there. Our lives become ways of serving others because God serves us. Our lives don’t need to be about gaining things for ourselves with crooked scales and false measures; instead our work becomes a way of giving God’s gifts to people who need them.

Now it won’t be to long and we’ll be thinking about stewardship in our church. Yes, I’m talking about the budget. God would not have us use the budget for the motivation we would work with. God gives to us so that we can give to and help others. God’s blessings to us are for our blessing other people. One way we do that is through the work of the church. We can do so much more than we do through our own congregation. But, we’ve got to start with Oh, come let us sing unto the Lord.

Oh, come, let us sin to the Lord? No! We are forgiven sinners. We do not live in sin anymore. God will not punish us for our sin because of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Instead, Oh, come, let us sing to the Lord. Amen.

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pastor Watt has a new post on "Do Pastor’s Dream of Electric Sheep”

Read “Using Remember the Milk to Schedule Home Visits (Free Internet Services That Really Work)

Here’s an excerpt:

The problem with home visits?  Scheduling.  Phone call after phone call yields little in the way of appointments.  Cold calls most often fall on empty houses.  Society isn’t just mobile in the sense that people move from community to community, people are active outside of their homes many nights (especially if they have children at home).  I don’t have a solution for the busyness of people.  I do have a simple way to help you plan, schedule and keep track of your visit schedule.  Once again we turn to a free web service “Remember the Milk”.  (

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What makes a “church”?

According to the IRS these things.

(1) a distinct legal existence
(2) a recognized creed and form of worship
(3) a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
(4) a formal code of doctrine and discipline
(5) a distinct religious history
(6) a membership not associated with any other church or denomination
(7) an organization of ordained ministers
(8) ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies
(9) a literature of its own
(10) established places of worship
(11) regular congregation
(12) regular religious services
(13) Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and
(14) schools for the preparation of its ministers
(HT WhiteHorseInn )

Join the discussion on the White Horse Inn Web page.  It’s quite interesting to me that the IRS recognizes what we often just take for granted.

Pastor Watt.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Luke 15:1-7; Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 12, 2010

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 every one by name… it is his job to care for them. When they wander off he goes out to get them. He has to. 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 story teller 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 hills 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 no where 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 still 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 05, 2010

September 5, 2010; Philemon 10-21; 15th Sunday after Pentecost;

1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker. 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. Philemon 1,10-21 (ESV)

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

(Thanks again to Edit-O-Earl!)

“Other’s can err but we don’t allow ourselves the same privilege.” That’s a phrase from a sermon by a Rabbi named Daniel Roberts. It’s not really all that profound, but it is very true, especially for all you perfectionists out there. You will really understand what the Rabbi is saying. Even those who are not perfectionists know a lot about making mistakes, because our lives are full of them. A famous Bishop once said “I saw a man this week that hasn’t made a mistake in 4000 years.” He was talking about a 4000 year old mummy. It’s only dead people who don’t make mistakes. We are not so lucky; we make them all the time. And we hate it when it happens. It’s bad enough to make a mistake but worse when we make a public one that everyone knows about. When we make them we are usually pretty hard on ourselves doing it.

I’ve made my share of mistakes. I remember when I was little. I wanted to make a good impression on the kids at my new school. We were playing softball and I was third base. I missed an easy grounder right to me, you know the kind practically hit my glove and slipped right between the legs. I hung my head in disgust, forgetting that there was a runner advancing round the bases. He made it all the way home while I moped trying to show deep remorse. I doubled up on my mistake, because I was trying to show how upset I was at missing the ball.

Do you remember that show the The Apprentice. One of the guys on there made a big mistake. (Actually I think Donald Trump seized on it more for ratings than anything else!) He was offered immunity from being eliminated. But thinking he had done a great job and was safe from getting fired by Trump he turned it down. Donald Trump was flabbergast, and fired him. As the young man was leaving the room he said, “I’ll not make that mistake again.” Because of a silly mistake he’s now out of the running for the coveted job.

We don’t often make life changing mistakes. Most of the time they are of no real consequence to us, we hear ourselves saying that tell-tale word “oops.” But once in a while we make a whopper, a mistake that we can’t correct, one that really makes a difference in our lives. You know the kind: The big ones that are life changing, we may say “oops” when they happen but the word doesn’t really cover the serious nature of them.

That’s what happened to a man named Onesimus. He made a mistake, his big mistake. His mistake is the reason why Paul wrote the letter to Philemon that is our text today. In a way, Onesimus is like the “Prodigal Son.” It seems (in as much as we can guess) that he was a slave who ran away from his master, Philemon, and may have even stolen something in the process. The punishment for what he had done was death. For slaves in the Roman Empire crucifixion was the most common way to carry out a death sentence. We don’t know why Onesimus ran; he may have wanted to see the world, or he may just have wanted to get away, but he ended up in Rome. When he discovered that a life of running away wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; it is thought that he went looking for Paul, who was in prison of the Roman government. Under house arrest. Paul was Philemon’s good friend. He had founded the church at Colossae. Where Philemon lived. Onesimus must have known Paul was in Rome, so he went to see if he could help him.

Paul does help, what he does is nothing less than Christ-like. He sends Onesimus back with a letter to Philemon asking that he (Paul) be charged for anything that is owed. Implying that Onesimus should be forgiven for running and even sent back to Paul to continue working with him. Martin Luther said that we are all like Onesimus, runaway slave. Jesus saves us from the punishment we so rightly deserve. “Receive him as you would receive me,” Paul wrote to the Onesimus’ master. Sounds a lot like Jesus words, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40 (ESV)

There are two ways that people usually handle their mistakes, both the big one and the small ones. There is the guilt route. You know that our society doesn’t really tolerate mistakes. Mistakes are seen as weak and foolish things we do that cost us. Mistakes are illogical and stupid. Just look at the ex-apprentice. Donald Trump must have called him stupid a dozen times. Oh sure, he learned from the mistake, but I wonder how long it will be before he’s hired, how long it’s going to be till he’s not known as the guy who made the “big stupid mistake” on television. When that’s the way we see life, when that’s the pressure that’s put on us, it’s no wonder that our teenagers suffer from a very high suicide rate. Our reaction when we make those dreaded mistakes is to go into automatic depression, like me when I hung my head after missing the ball. We are pushed toward self reevaluation. They cause us to re-consider our self worth. Others can err, but we don’t allow ourselves the same privilege. We hold ourselves accountable our whole life… and even beyond. And even when things seem to be going really well we dredge up our past errors, to temper our luck. We carry our mistakes as a burden, slung over our shoulders like a big sack. That’s the guilt trip we lay on ourselves with our mistakes. And, at one time or another we’ve all been there.

And yet there’s another way to take that sentence. Others can err, but we don’t allow ourselves the same privilege. Mostly, when we run up against a mistake we push it off on someone else. Call it the blame game. The more serious the error the more fingers we try to point away from ourselves. “If all else fails, blame someone else!” That kind of blame game has been going on since the very beginning. When God walked into the garden after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, he asked Adam, “What did you do?” “Hey,” the man answered, “the woman gave me the fruit. It’s her fault. And you know that it never would have happened if you hadn’t put her here.” And God asked her, “What have you got to say, Eve?” “It was the snake, he fooled me.” She answered. Adam tried to reflect the blame to Eve and God. Eve blamed the snake. God laid the blame squarely where it belonged, on both of them.

The reason we fret over our mistakes or try to give them to someone else is because we know what they really mean. Often we say, “Nobody’s perfect.” And that’s true. We are not perfect. Adam and Eve were, at first. They made more than a big mistake. It was a life or death issue. They willfully disobeyed God. They purposely defied his place in their lives. They followed their own desires and did the only thing God told them not to do. They condemned the whole human race to the same mistake, the same rebellion, and the same punishment. We talked about Onesimus running away from his master. And the penalty was death. Being a slave he may have had reason to run away. We don’t have good reason to reject God. And yet we do. Every day we try to make it on our own, and ignore him. If Onesimus had been caught he would have died on a cross. The punishment we deserve is no less than that. That’s what our mistakes continually remind us of. It’s not that God punishes us for our little flubs. We make mistakes because we aren’t the people that he created us to be. We don’t live up to the perfection that God has every right to expect from us. The punishment we should get is death.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul takes up Onesimus’ cause. Onesimus had made a mistake, a dangerous one. Paul could have appealed to Philemon on his authority as an apostle, in fact, as Philemon’s Pastor. But instead he chooses to present his case through love. He never tells Philemon what he should do. He just reminds Philemon of the special relationship they have. “Don’t forget that you really owe me your very self.” As if to say, “Jesus came into your life through me.” Paul doesn’t say, “Forgive Onesimus, free him, and send him back to me.” Instead he says, “I want you to do what you believe is right, based on your relationship with me, and mostly on your relationship with Jesus.” What kind of a relationships were those? Here are a few things Paul had said before that he may have wanted Philemon to think about:

"God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

“Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners--of whom I (Paul) am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life."

That was the background of their relationship to each other, and their relationship with Jesus. Of course we should remember that Onesimus’ mistake wasn’t just a little one, like a secretary’s typo. It was a serious problem. It was potentially fatal. It wouldn’t be an easy thing set aside. Philemon is asked to ignore the fact that he has a houseful of potential runaway slaves. Forgiving and forgetting is a dangerous precedent to set. But, of course, forgiveness is never easy.

Paul didn’t expect Philemon to forgive Onesimus’ mistake because he felt like forgiving him. He expected him to do it because God had already taken care of it; and not only that but because God had taken care of Philemon’s mistakes, too. He assumes that he will forgive because he too, had been forgiven. He assumes that because God has been gracious with him he will be gracious with his slave. Paul told Philemon to charge him for whatever Onesimus owed, and he would pay it. It was a reminder to Philemon that Jesus had already done that very thing for him.

We deal with our mistakes in different ways, but God deals with them in only one way. He dealt with our mistakes, our sin, in the death of Jesus. The cross that Onesimus deserved for running away was the cross that Jesus took. The death that we deserve for our rebellion is the death that Jesus took. Jesus died to forgive the sins of Onesimus and Philemon and Paul, of you and me, and to take care of the mistakes that we all make. We don’t have to carry them around anymore. They don’t have to trouble us to our graves. We don’t have to blame other people either. We can take the blame ourselves and remember that Jesus went to the cross and died for those mistakes too. We’ve been forgiven much. We can take those things that trouble us and give them to Jesus.

And even more importantly, when someone makes a mistake that hurts us, that cost us. We remember that we have been forgiven much. You know the largest room in the world is room for improvement. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Amen.

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