Monday, September 19, 2011

Isaiah 55:6-9; Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 18, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

6“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. Richard Jordan)

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

When we are young it seems that we spend a lot of time thinking about growing up. Later on it changes and we spend a great deal of time trying to stay young. Part of growing up is a little ritual that happens, and it seems to happen to almost everyone. When we are very young, our parents carry us. These days there’s appears to be a comeback in the infant carrying slings that people wear. But, it isn’t long until we can walk on our own. Now usually walking on our own comes with an agreement between us and our parents. “You can walk, but you must hold my hand.” It’s a good agreement. We were too old to be carried like babies, our parents were allowing us to grow up and walk on our own, but they would provide direction and guidance. They gave us their hand to show us the way and so that we wouldn’t get lost. But soon we begin to think that we don’t need to hold their hand anymore, so we push it away and take off on our own. We think we are too old to hold our parents hand, we want to find our own way and we are sure we won’t get lost.

Now we could say that all this is just a part of growing up. Really it is SIN showing up in our young lives. We are rebelling against authority. We don’t want to obey our parents, and for the first time act like God, making our own way, trying to do our own thing. That’s really what the first sin is all about, too. Adam and Eve pushed God’s hand away. They wanted to find their own way and make their own decisions. Most of the time, we think about sin as the things we do wrong or about how we don’t measure up to God’s standards. But, another way of looking at it is to see sin in terms of rebellion.

Rebellion is the rejection of authority. We’ve all been there. At some point in time we violated the agreement between us and our parents. We slipped our hand out of theirs. You wanted to go it on your own. You may have even had somewhere you wanted to go but you knew that the hand holding yours wouldn’t allow. So, with some effort you disconnect yourself and off you went on our own. After a time of freedom, after a brief dash out of sight, you found yourself alone. At first it was ok, but soon you begin to realize the position you are in, alone and you looked again for the hand to hold. Panic set in and soon tears may have even flowed, because you were lost.

When we are lost our parents go out to look for us, even though we have pushed ourselves from them. It is their love that compels them to find us. They will go to great lengths to come to where we are and take hold of our hand and guide us again.

Every day of our lives we go through the very same thing with God. Just like we didn’t want to hold on to our parent’s hand, every day we struggle with God not wanting him to direct us. We are positive we are “grown up” enough to walk on our own. We know that we are “mature enough” to handle life however it comes to us. We don’t want God to carry us, and we certainly don’t want God to hold our hand, keeping us from things we want to do.

It sounds wrong to us. We have a strong tendency to think that God really wants us to grow up to be mature enough to live life on our own. My little daughter has been eating a lot lately; it seems she’s headed for a growth spurt. I asked her if she wanted to grow up. “No!” she said. I agreed, for a moment, and then I realized that she needed to grow up and become independent. But that’s not how it is with our relationship with God. We can never really be independent from him. Independence from God means to be separated from him and his will for our lives. Independence from God is to live life on completely human terms. When we want to do things on our own, we push God out of our lives. Independence from God is a place called hell. When we push God away from our lives, when we reject his guidance for our lives, we reject all that he has for us. When we live on our own terms we live in terms of our sinful nature. St. Paul says it like this:

5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Romans 8:5-7 (ESV)

The response of God to rejection is punishment and death. Well deserved punishment and death. Those who push themselves away from God should be lost forever.

And this is where our text speaks to us. We know God and still we continually push him out of our lives. God’s response to our slipping our hand out of his is to say to us (as Isaiah says), “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. (Isa. 55:7)” That’s God calling out to us to repent and return to him. And just like the child who is lost from his parents, we don’t find our way back to God, we can’t find our way back. He comes to us and finds us.

God comes to the place where we are lost and finds us. He asks us to repent and turn toward him, but first he makes it possible by finding us. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;” He comes near to us, right to the place we are lost. God came into a dark and sinful world, a world full of his human creatures who had pushed themselves away from him. Jesus Christ found human beings right in the middle of their lives. He found us by becoming one of us. He was flesh and blood. He could be touched and seen and heard; God, able to be found; God, near enough to call on. Look at the picture on the front side of the worship folder. Just think, God himself, became a human person, with arms able to hold a child just like that picture. We can find Jesus because he wraps his loving arms around us. The only thing the picture is missing is nail marks in his hands. God so much wants us to be found that he did what was necessary to make it possible. He has compassion on us, even when we push him away; he abundantly pardons our sin of rebellion. And it’s not arbitrary. God doesn’t look the other way and ignore our rebellion. He takes care of the punishment we deserve. He does by taking it upon himself, our deserved punishment and death is placed on Jesus, and he took it and right there in our midst, right there in the middle of our world he paid that punishment in full, with is “holy and precious blood, and innocent suffering and death.” He was beaten and crucified to restore us to God.  He received the eternal punishment for our rebellion. He suffered the punishment of hell for us. And that is where we find God. That is where he is to be found, hanging on our cross, suffering and dying for us.

Where is God to be found today? The very same God, Jesus Christ is found right here in our worship. He promises to be present with us to forgive our sins. He is found here in his word and sacraments. His hand reaches out to us with the water of baptism that says, “This is my child, I have found him.” He is found in his supper. The very same body and blood that hung on the cross is given to you in the bread and wine. You can find God right there in a very specific place. And where you find him you find forgiveness. You find his compassion. You find his pardon for your rebellion. God makes it possible for us. He puts himself right here to be found. He comes near to us. Reaches out his and takes our hand, when we are lost. So we can walk with him, and he can direct our lives again. Amen.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Matthew 18:21–35; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 11, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”” (Matthew 18:21–35, ESV)

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

You know what? Peter doesn't get it. That's what Jesus is telling him in this parable. Peter asks Jesus "How many times do I have to forgive?" Jesus blows his expectations out of the water. Peter was being quite generous, after all seven times was one more than double the conventional wisdom of the day. The church leaders of the day said you and to forgive someone three times. Peter doubles that and adds one. Seven times, seems like a lot. For me too it seems like a lot! Seven times seems more than generous. I know how difficult it is to even forgive once. But when a person does the same thing over and over again it becomes down right impossible. It's a great question for Jesus. "How many times do I have to forgive?" "What about that guy I can't stand?" "What about that co-worker that keeps doing rotten things to me at work?" "What about the unspeakable things that were done to me?" "How many times do I have to forgive them, Jesus?"

These questions show that we don't get forgiveness either. I know. We think we get it. We've been raised to get it from the time water was dumped on our foreheads, every Sunday school class, every sermon, every time we pray the Lord's prayer! And yet, we still have trouble in the forgiveness area. We still want there to be a limit to our forgiveness. I've heard it. You may have even said it. "I can't forgive you now, maybe later when it doesn't hurt so much." "God may forgive him, but I'll never forgive him." "I forgive you, but I'll never forget what you did to me." We don't get it. Jesus explains it to us, again in this parable.

It really is an amazing story. The first servant owes a tremendous debt. It's the national debt. It's 200,000 years worth of debt (one talent is 20 years wages). It's absurd. How does one person get to owe so much. He is brought before the master. "Throw him in prison, and his family, until every penny is paid." It never will be. It's and impossible debt. He and his family will rot in prison. He begs on his knees. ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' The thing is he can't. He won't. His whole life's work will only pay a tiny fraction. He'd have to work 200,000 years! The amount of the debt is staggering. And then comes the thing that would never happen. The master has compassion and forgives it. He doesn't set up a payment plan. He doesn't forgive part of it. He forgives it all, every penny. Talk about what would never be done. He releases the man and forgives the debt, a clean slate. You know this is a picture of Jesus. He does what would never be done. He forgives our debt of sin. This is what we have learned from Baptism day one. Jesus died on the cross for my sins. So what's the problem that we have with forgiveness. Well, we miss the unforgivable debt. We simply take our sins lightly. Especially when we compare them with the sins done by others, especially the sins done by others to us. My sins are small. Your sins are great. What we don't seem to realize is the magnitude of our own debt, the unforgivable nature of our own sins. We are the servant begging the master to allow us to pay back our impossible debt. We want God to accept our tiny good works as some sort payment for our sin. To us when we put our goodness on one side of the scale and our sins on the other we think they balance out in our favor. But the debt of sin is insurmountable. You couldn't pay it back in 200,000 years! It's just like the servant in the parable. He's forgiven a unforgivable debt. But he takes it lightly and treats it as if it was nothing. He goes out, seeks out and finds the first guy who owes him and tries to choke the money out of him. The other debt isn't chicken feed. It's about 100 days wages. But, of course, it is nothing in comparison to 200,000 year. When the other servant says he'll pay it back, it's doable. But the guy won't have it. He wants the money. He refuses to forgive as he has been forgiven. He betrays the master's generosity. He throws his fellow servant in prison, to rot. When the master finds out he becomes livid and treats him just like he treated his fellow servant. The master throws the unforgiving servant back into prison... forever.

We have been forgiven a great debt. The amount of it is unforgivable. There are lots of ways to think of just why that is the case, but the easiest one to understand is this. If you were the only person on earth, God would still have sent Jesus to the cross for you. Your sin, your debt, the cost of restoring you to a clean relationship with God, is so great that yours alone require the death of God's only son, and the eternal punishment of hell. This is exactly what Jesus does. He has compassion and suffers the eternal punishment of sin on the cross for you. He suffers God's great anger over your rebellion, your sin, your disobedience, your refusal to forgive as you have been forgiven. This is no small matter. It is in fact, the greatest price that could ever be paid. And Jesus Christ, your Savior, pays it for you and forgives you your great, impossible debt.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)

This love, this compassion, this forgiveness is God's free gift to you. You see, it has to be free because you couldn't earn it in 200,000 years.

And then we ask the question. "How many times do I have to forgive?" or we think we have the right to only forgive when the conditions are right. "I'll forgive her when I know she is really sorry for what she did to me." Dear Christians, we have no right to demand anything from anyone in order to forgive. We are required to forgive. Our faith in Jesus Christ demands forgiveness. It isn't as if we don't get forgiven if we don't forgive, but our lack of forgiveness shows we don't understand forgiveness at all. Our lack of forgiveness threatens to destroy our faith. It belittles God's sacrifice for us. Our lack of forgiveness forgets the value of what we have received. It betrays the Master's generosity. If you are a Christian you will and you do forgive.

But you know what the issue is, we don't feel like forgiving. We hold grudges. We can't forget the hurt. We what to see some sign that our forgiveness is worth giving. But for Christians, forgiveness is an act of the will, not a feeling. We know that feelings are faulty. Forgiveness comes from Christ on the cross. Forgiveness from Christ is perfect, and perfectly free. When we are sinned against, because we have been forgiven, we forgive. What we give is Christ's forgiveness, not ours. We have no right to withhold it. It is given freely to you, freely to all. It's then that the sinful nature perks up and complains. But I've already forgiven them seventy times seven. They don't deserve forgiveness. Our sin becomes bold again. And there is only one thing to do with sin. Take it to the cross and kill it. Drown it in the water of your baptism. This is the Christian life of repentance. Every day seeing our sin, our unforgiveable debt, that is in fact, forgiven.

In this broken, sin driven world, it is not always possible to bring complete reconciliation between people. Forgiveness is perfect. We are not. We live with the worldly effects of our sin every day. That is our burden, our cross to bear. That is the reason we look forward to our Lord's return when all the effects of sin will be burned up with this sin stained world. We will then be raised from death to live in perfect bodies, in a perfect world, free from the devastation of sin. And to that we say, Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

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

Friday, September 02, 2011

Matthew 13:1-9; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; Sept 4, 2011;

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:1-9, ESV)

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

Wow this is such a familiar text… in some ways that makes it really hard to preach about. First, we’ve all heard it so much we think we know everything there is to know about it. Second, there’s the real danger of saying something that disagrees with a long held and favorite understanding. “That’s not what pastor so-and-so said it meant!” That’s the burden of a preacher. Just like the sower my job is to sow the Word.

You’ve all got some corn this morning. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in just a moment but I gave you corn because it’s obvious the seed that the farmer is sowing in the parable is corn. Who can tell me why? The clue is right there in the text… Well, it’s obviously corn because after the parable Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” I couldn’t give you all a whole ear… but he who has ears let him hear. Just hang on to that seed a little longer, we’ll get back to it.

Let’s talk a little about this parable. It’s been called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils. Now both of these have their merits. The seed lands on the soil and it grows according to what kind of conditions it finds there. Jesus is telling us that he casts his word out upon human beings and they react differently depending on their soil type. Originally I was going to stick the corn onto different colored pieces of paper, so that each of you would get different colors. But it didn’t seem quite right. After all I’m assuming that if you hear in church you’re here to hear God’s Word, and have it sown on you. So you must in some sense be “good soil.” We could go into a detailed description of all the kinds of soil there are. Accusing those who aren’t here of being the path or rocky or weed infested. “Shame on you!” we could say about them. But the truth is that we all have those same kinds of problems. We reject God’s Word that we hear, it just bounces off of us especially when it tells us of sinful behavior we don’t want to change. Satan comes and snatches it away, “you don’t need to worry about that little sin. God isn’t really talking to you. There are so many people who are so much worse than you are, that one little weakness doesn’t matter.” We all at times don’t have God’s Word deeply rooted. Trouble and hardship in our lives, that should push us to Christ, instead our faith withers. Instead of looking to Christ and saying that without Him we are lost, we look inside ourselves to find the strength to go on. And we all have those weed that threaten to choke out God’s Word, too. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of coming to church. Life is busy all year round not to mention our “summer schedule.” And there’s even the temptation to think that we come to church to be entertained. It’s easy to think that God’s Word by itself isn’t enough to do the job, we’ve got to make it more acceptable, by doing something flashy. All of it serves to distract us from hearing the simple message of God’s love for us in Jesus. Those weeds seem to grow up before we know it and choke out our interest in worship, and bible study, and prayer, and even a five minute devotion from Portals of Prayer. And then there’s the good soil… we’ll talk about that later. You see how it really doesn’t matter what type of soil we are. We’re really all kinds of soil. Jesus is describing where the seed of His Word falls. He’s describing human beings, just like you and me. Without faith in Jesus we’d all reject His Word. Satan’s word to us would always sound like the truth. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all get scorched by persecution and trouble. Without faith in Jesus, His Word would always be choked out of our lives.

Well, I think there’s different point being made by this parable. When we are looking at the soil, we are looking at us. Whenever we look at ourselves as the answer to any problem we’re looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t promise that you’ll have the strength to do whatever you want or need to do. He promises that He’ll give you whatever you need. When we look at ourselves, in light of the soil the best we can do is say, “Let’s be good soil!”

You farmers out there, can any one of you tell me what the dirt does to be good dirt? Can the rocky soil get rid of the rocks? Can the earth beneath the bean field zap its own weeds? Can the soil that lacks nitrogen get it on its own? Of course it can’t. But a farmer can do something about it. What did it take to make the farmland around here arable? I’ve been told many times about the hand dug tiles that drained the water. But the land couldn’t do it by itself.

I don’t think this parable is so much about the soil as it is about the Sower. In fact, one way of interpreting parables is to look for the thing that’s out of place, look for the thing that people would never do. When you find that crazy thing you’ll usually find what Jesus is saying about himself. So what’s the thing out of place here? What’s the thing that someone would never do? Let me ask you this question. What’s up with this Sower? What farmer is going to run his planter over the road? What farmer is going to through his best seed corn in the fence row? What farmer isn’t going to do something about the weeds that are growing up among the plants he planted? You see, this isn’t a proper Sower. He’s very reckless with His seed. He seems to throw it all over and He doesn’t care where it lands.

Actually, what Jesus is saying is that He, as the Sower, is very generous with the gift of His Word. He spreads it all over, without regard to where it’s going to land (I like this picture… see the sower, he’s not even looking!). His Word is for all people, those who out right reject it, those who let the concerns of the world choke it out, people who don’t take is seriously, and even those who don’t hold on to it and treasure it. You see, that’s God’s great love for all people. He wants all people to know what He has done for them in Christ. He spreads His Word high and low to all people. That’s the God we have. He loves to give and give in amounts and ways that are more than we can fathom. We see the generosity of God in Jesus. Not just that He feed people who needed food. Not just that He healed people who needed healing. But mostly that He gave His very life on the cross for sinful people. There were those who were there at the cross who mocked Him. His death was even for them. You and I are sinful people who need the generosity of Christ. Our sins and failures keep us from a relationship with God. But God tells us in the seed of His Word that Jesus blood covers our sins. And that even though we aren’t “good soil” in the sense that we can earn His love, He gives us the forgiveness we need as a free gift for the sake of Jesus.

How about a concrete example? At the very beginning of the service we confessed our sins to God. Well, He knew them all already. He knows even the ones we don’t know and the ones we keep hidden very deep in our hearts. But have you ever noticed that God’s forgiveness isn’t conditional? The Word of God that I speak to you from Christ’s lips isn’t “I forgive you some of your sins.” Or “I forgive you only the sins you know about.” Or “I forgive the sins of those of you who were in church last week.” No Jesus says through me, “I forgive you all your sins…” I’m not offering you my forgiveness. That wouldn’t mean a thing. I’m offering you Jesus forgiveness, in His own Words. You see that’s the Sower sowing the seed. It’s as if it took that corn and threw it over all of you. Not caring where it lands. Not being specific to throw it at anyone. But to everyone. That’s the reason God has given you a pastor. He wants you to hear and see God forgiving you of all your sins. He wants you to be sure that the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross covers the 2000 years of history and gets to you right here and now. So look at that corn in your hand. If you didn’t get any raise your hand now and the usher will give you some. Think of that corn there like God’s Word given to you, God’s forgiveness, just as if I’d thrown it out and hit you in the head.

I think that’s what the OT lesson is talking about too. Did you remember that phrase, “seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” (Isa 55:11) When you are hungry for forgiveness, when you are starving to hear God’s Word, when you know that you are doomed without God, He gives you the Bread that you need. He offers you forgiveness in Christ. He offers you comfort in the promises found in His Word. That’s bread to the eater. Eat the gifts of God here and be satisfied! God loves to give bread to the eater.

And there’s another thing. It’s in that “seed to the sower.” You know what God offers to you. You’ve received it today through God’s Word. Think about the Sower again. He sows all over without regard to the reaction, without regard to the reception, without regard to the fruitfulness of the soil. You see that corn in your hand, that’s for you, and it’s for you to spread around. You see, there’s plenty where that came from. God sows His seed Himself; He doesn’t need you to do it. But He gives you another gift in that Word that He gives. He gives you the gift of sharing that Word with other people. He gives you the seed to sow right where you are. Now your first thought it that you’re supposed to find people to share the Word with that don’t know Jesus. But that wouldn’t be like the Sower in the parable would it? The person right next to you needs to hear about Jesus too. They already know about the forgiveness of Jesus. But they need to hear about it again. I need to hear it again. So take one of those kernels of corn in your hand and give it to a person sitting next to you. And when you give it say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Now take a kernel to someone across the room, and say “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Wasn’t that easy? What a privilege to give the Word of God to someone who needed to hear it! Now this week you take that little pile of corn with you. Find just one person (it doesn’t matter who!) to give it to and say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” When you are helping your neighbor, given them one of those kernels. They’ll look at you funny, but you can blame it on me. Tell them that your pastor made you do it. Don’t forget to say, “He wants me to tell you, Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” And when you are making out your offering envelope you can put one of those kernels in with your check. That’s to help you remember that the money you give to the church here is for the sowing of God’s Seed. And the money that you give to support missionaries and mission projects is God’s gift to you to sow God’s Seed. And just think, Jesus doesn’t tell you to worry about the reception of the Seed. That’s His department, that’s His worry. Some of that Seed will produce fruit and some won’t. But God promises that it won’t return “empty” but will do what God wants it to do.

Well, even if you don’t give any away… remember, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Amen.

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