Saturday, June 29, 2013

Luke 9:51-62; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; June 30, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9:51–62, ESV)

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

Waunita and I have been thinking about selling one of the cars we have. The truth is we have one more car than we actually need. Selling the car reminds me of the times we were going to buy one. Buying a different car is always an adventure, there’s the searching, talking with car salesmen, driving, and dreaming. All of it to find just the right one, the one that fits our family, the one that's going to do what we need. But there is always the ultimate question… How much does it cost? How much do we have to pay? It doesn’t matter how much a car we buy costs, I always get the feeling I’ve paid too much. Usually the night after is one of tossing and turning… wondering if I could have gotten another $100 off. How much does it cost?

That’s what today’s Gospel lesson is all about, cost. How much does it cost? <<pause>> How much did it cost for Jesus? The text begins by saying that when the “time approached for him to be taken up to heaven” It is speaking here about more than just his ascension, it is talking also about his being lifted up on the cross…) Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” A literal translation would be that “he firmly set his face.” He was determined to go, nothing would turn him from the path that he had put himself on. No cost was too high, and Jesus full well knew the cost. Only a page back in Luke's Gospel Jesus spoke of his suffering and death to the disciples in very plain words, he said that he “…must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…” Jesus knew the cost. Jesus knew that there would be distractions on the way, Satan was out, roaming around like a lion, seeking to devour him, trying to thwart God’s plans, but Jesus wouldn’t allow that. He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, he was going to Jerusalem to be crucified, he was going to Jerusalem to die. He knew the cost of his plans full-well, and the cost was very high, indeed.

It happens right away, too. Jesus sends his disciples to prepare a place for them to stay in Samaritan town, on the way to Jerusalem. But, they didn’t want him to stay there. You know that the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t like each other, but in general in Luke’s Gospel they are spoken of very well. Here, however, they reject Jesus “because he was going to Jerusalem.” It has to do with the primary difference between the Jews and the Samaritans. It’s the difference of a mountain. The Jews held that the only proper place for sacrifice to God was Mt. Zion, which is the Temple at Jerusalem. The Samaritans, believe the only proper place for sacrifice to God was at Mt. Gerizim. You may remember the Samaritan woman at the well and her discussion with Jesus. She said, “…Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” This was a strong point of disagreement between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans know that Jesus is a least a prophet, and now he is going to worship in Jerusalem, they reject him because, in their eyes he is rejecting their worship on their mountain. They believe Jesus is acting as if their worship amounts to nothing. Jesus is not distracted. He is determined to go to Jerusalem, but his disciples have other ideas. They make a connection between Jesus and Elijah. The want to call down fire from heaven to obliterate the town for rejecting them, just like Elijah did on Mt. Carmel. Jesus rebukes them… the text says … and they went to another town. Jesus is not side tracked. He has set his face toward Jerusalem and that is where he is going.

Now, we get an interesting turn in the text. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters three men who want to be disciples. Jesus uses these encounters to show what his journey to Jerusalem is all about. …to show how much it cost for Jesus to have “set his face toward Jerusalem.”

One of the would-be-disciple says, “I will follow you where ever you go.” This man has committed to following Jesus, but does he know what it costs to really follow him? Does he really know what it costs to follow Jesus where Jesus is going? Maybe he is caught up in the excitement of the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, the singing of psalms, the talking, and the laughing. But, Jesus wants him to see the whole picture. Jesus statement gets straight to the heart of the matter. “Foxes and birds have a place to live,” says Jesus, “but not me.” His calling, his mission, meant that he wouldn’t have a place to stay. He would, at times, even be rejected just as he was rejected by the Samaritan village (and even his home town). And especially on this visit to Jerusalem, he would be rejected, he would suffer, and he would die a shameful death, a death that by tradition wouldn’t even offer him a place to lay his head in death. Even though Jesus was buried… crucified criminals weren’t often buried, but the corpses were left in the open as an example to others. “There is a cost to following me.” Jesus said. “Are you really sure you know what you are saying?”

Jesus turns to another, “Follow me!” he says. While the previous man declared that he wanted to follow Jesus, this man is asked by Jesus to follow him. “I will follow you Jesus,” the man replies, “but first, let me bury my father.” It is a perfectly valid request, especially for Jews of the day. They had an obligation to take care of their parents, especially in death… to prepare the body, to mourn, etc. Jesus reply to him seems harsh. “Let the dead bury their own dead. You preach the Kingdom of God.” What Jesus is asking is difficult. The cost is very high. He places discipleship above family obligation. Jesus places himself above family ties. Jesus is saying that sometimes following him means leaving your family behind. “Let the spiritually dead, bury their own dead.” Let the world do things as it has always done them. Don’t become so tied up in worldly things that you forget what is important. The cost of following me is putting the things of God first.

And then another commits to follow Jesus. “but first let me say good-bye.” “You can’t plow a field looking backward.” Jesus says. You can’t pay attention to what needs to be done in the future while holding on to what has happened in the past. You farmers, will understand this well. Some of you know better than others what it means to have crooked furrows. If you are not thinking about what needs to be done, if your daydreaming, or you fall asleep, before you know it you’ve got a real mess, and when the corn grows up, you won’t be able to deny it. Everyone will see your handiwork. Jesus is saying to this man, “You can’t live in the past and do what is necessary for what I have called you to do. The cost of following me requires looking ahead to the task at hand not looking back to what has happened in the past. If you can’t do that, then you’re not fit for the kingdom.”

I don’t know if these men followed Jesus or not. Would you have followed him? Each of these men was confronted with the cost of becoming a disciple. Jesus wanted each one to know exactly what it cost to follow him, exactly what it meant that he had set his face to Jerusalem. God’s plan for him wasn’t easy, in fact for a mere human it would have been impossible. God’s plan was that Jesus, his only son, would go to Jerusalem to die. Jesus followed the plan. He did the impossible, he reconciled the whole world to God according to God’s requirements. He paid the cost. He was crucified, bled and died, willingly. That was the task that he set his face toward.

Being a Christian means being a “little Christ.” To follow after Jesus means to do what Jesus did. It means giving up on the things the world thinks are important. it means holding him above everything, even our family. It means keeping our eyes fixed ahead and doing what has been given us to do, not living in the ‘glory’ of the past. It is a difficult task, in fact, for human beings it’s an impossible task. For us it costs too much. But, that is the reason that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. He knows how we are affected by sin. He knows how we place God’s will below our own. Because he knows the task is impossible for us, he did it himself. He set his face toward Jerusalem for us. He paid the cost of keeping God’s will for us. He paid the cost on the cross for us. So when we set our hand to the plow, we do the work of being a disciple…. we do share our faith with our children… we do tell our neighbors what Jesus means to us… we do visit a friend in the hospital… We do come to worship and bible study… we do care for the families he has given us… because he paid the cost for us and we have set our face toward him.

That is exactly what Luke is talking about in this text. Being a disciple is being like Jesus, setting our face to the tasks that have been given to us. Doing them because of what he did for us, and the price he paid.

Dear Christian Friends; Sometimes it feels as if what God asks of us is too difficult. We’re afraid of what it means to be a disciple. We are afraid of the cost. But being a disciple doesn’t mean that we will always do what God expects. It doesn’t mean that we live perfect lives free from fighting with our spouse or children, and using every opportunity to tell people about Jesus. We are going to fail. What it does mean is putting our trust, setting our face, firmly on him, especially when we fail. Trusting in the cost that he paid for our sins.

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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Philippians 1:3-6; Mission Festival;

First Lutheran Church, Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Guest Preacher: Rev. Ray Smith, Executive Assistant for Rural Ministry, Iowa District West; Pastor, First Lutheran Church, Missouri Valley, Iowa;

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  CHRIST IS RISEN > > >

    The text for our meditation this evening is St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  To begin, let me read from 1:3-6 where St. Paul writes:  “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this; that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

    So far the text, let us pray:  Lord Jesus Christ, You grant us, Your bride, the Church, so many good gifts.  Enable us by Your Spirit to recognize every opportunity You give to live anew, in worthiness of Your Holy Gospel.  Amen.

   Dear friends in Christ, what a great joy it is to be with you all tonight; to share in your joy for this new beginning that is truly a partnership in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thank you for asking me to come and thank you for this chance to share God’s Word with you.
    Let me begin by asking a question; What does it mean to be in partnership for the Gospel?
    For St. Paul and the Philippians it meant a relationship that had been built over time, and for a specific purpose.

Time & Purpose:
    Philippi was where Paul went when God sent him to Macedonia.  Philippi is where St. Paul and his brothers met Lydia, and established the congregation when she and her household were baptized. 

  And Philippi was the city where Paul suffered arrest and public beating for expelling a demon from a slave woman who had been practicing divination for the profit of her owners; owners who dragged Paul before the Philippi magistrates to be punished for ruining their livelihood.

    Philippi had an astounding history.  About a generation before Christ, Philippi was established as a Roman colony by Emperor Octavian.  Her status was equal to that of Rome, and that was a big deal for a colony on the crossroads of the Roman Empire and Asia.

    Generally speaking, at that time the people worshipped a number of false gods, especially the god of agriculture, Silvanus. 

    We first find Paul on the Philippian scene in Acts chapter 16 when he had his vision to go to Macedonia.  He and his brothers Silas, Timothy and Luke among others left Troas and went to Philippi.

    For years after that first encounter the Christians in Philippi supported Paul’s missionary efforts and his Epistle to the Philippians is a kind of “Thank You” message, written while imprisoned in Rome after his 3rd missionary journey to encourage them to live out their faith in a way worthy of the Gospel, specifically increasing in love for God and neighbor.

I chose this letter for our focus tonight, because it elaborates how we as Christian have ample motive to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
First of all, Paul speaks of fellowship in the Gospel.

The Gospel is perfect.  Believers in the Gospel are not perfect.  In fact, if believers were perfect there would be no need for the Gospel because it would be redundant.
I know that the folks of Trinity, Creston and the folks of First, Mt. Ayr have worked hard to form a new relationship under the banner of Jesus Christ. 

But I also know, even though I’m not privy to your discussions, that as that relationship was taking shape, there were differences of opinion on certain issues.

Just to be clear, Pastor Watt hasn’t shared anything with me about the process, or talked with me about anything other than your wonderful results. 

But still, my own experience suggests that not everyone started out on the same page.
If we were in Oklahoma someone might have blurted out an “AMEN” at that last statement.

There may still be some skeptics here tonight.  But St. Paul offers some good advice.
Chapter 2:  “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Dear friends, no matter what differences of opinion there may be, no matter what skepticism about the future may exist, there is one thing that is absolutely true and that each and every one of you believe and trust.  Jesus Christ died for all.  Of that, you are all “in full accord and of one mind.”

Humility in Christ:
    Now, out there in the world, not everyone agrees with you.  As Christ’s Body, the Church, we have opponents; people who think we are stupid to believe that “no one comes to the Father except through [Jesus Christ].”  And there are those out there who think we are wrong to “force our belief system on them.”

    I’ve never really understood that way of thinking because it is impossible to do that.  At least it’s impossible for us to do that, because faith comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit; another point of our confession where we have concord.

    So, Paul encourages us to live our faith by seeing Christ as our example.  In that light, Paul speaks of servanthood.

    “Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, becoming born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:5-8).

    Being a servant requires humility.  There are different rolls in service.  Leadership, coordination, teaching, learning, and following are just a few.  But each one requires that we must first look to the needs of others.
    Here in the Church, we must recognize the need to build each other up in Christ, so that out there in the world, we can provide the witness that our opponents need to see and hear.

    Let me say that another way:  If we build each other up in the love of Christ, then we can live in the world according to that love, or as Jesus Himself put it, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment, and a second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).

    The early Christians suffered greatly for the faith.  Many were persecuted and even killed. 

Some might say that we are fortunate to live in a more civilized culture, but when unbelief is rampant, abortions are on demand, Christian prayer is under assault, and it’s unacceptable to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” in public, I don’t think much has changed.

    We are called to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, whether that suffering is minimal or abundant. 

Now that doesn’t mean we have to go out and look for ways to suffer, because the Lord knows that there is plenty to go around. 
But, it does mean that if we suffer for the sake of the Gospel, we shouldn’t avoid it by compromise or denial.

Lights in the World:
    Again, St. Paul gives us sound advice.
    “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (2:14-15).

    The world we live in is a twisted and crooked place, and it is darkened by the existence of sin and evil.  It needs to see your light shine, because without the light of Christ that each of you reflect, our opponents, those who want to silence our witness and make God fit into their own reason, will end up suffering in eternity a much worse fate than we will ever suffer in this life.

    Living a life worthy of the Gospel means that the gift of faith comes with a responsibility.  God works through us in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Will there be rejection, persecution and even suffering?  Yes, there will be. 
But the paradox that we live as believers in Christ, is that we rejoice in suffering because our confidence and hope is beyond this crooked and twisted generation.

    We live lives worthy of the Gospel because even though we are not perfect, we are counted righteous before God by faith in Jesus Christ. 

This and this alone is why we can press on toward the goal, because Christ Jesus has made us His own. Because we belong to Christ, we can live our faith through witness and deed, worthy of the Gospel, building each other up so we can meet the task.
    In conclusion I want to once again thank you for letting me share in your celebration this evening.
    I leave you with these thoughts from Philippians.  St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:4-6)
    Dear friends and partners in Christ, by faith you are living as people worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

   In His name.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Galatians 3:23-4:7; The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; June 23, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:23–4:7, ESV)

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

St. Paul uses the metaphor of adoption. It may not be exactly what you think. In ancient Rome, the context of Paul's letter to the Galatians, the heirs of the household were adopted by their parents to receive the inheritance. Before being adopted they were under the control of the guardian. This guardian or pedagogue was a servant who is entrusted with the care and especially protection of the child who would become the heir. They would oversee the comings and goings of the child. They would watch over everything the child did. The child was not free but under the control of the pedagogue. Then, at the discretion of his father, a date would be set for the child to "come of age". The age was usually somewhere between 15 and 18. As Paul says "he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father" (4:2). On that date the child was officially adopted by the father and was formally recognized as the son and then received full inheritance rights. Until that date the child was no different in the eyes of the law than a slave. He had no freedom and no power to make decisions. But on the date of his adoption, the date set by his father, all that changed. He had the full responsibility and freedom of the heir.

The reason that St. Paul uses this metaphor is because the Galatian church, the recipients of this letter, had fallen into the trap of accepting the teachings of the Judaizers. These false teachers had convinced the people of the congregation that in order to become "heirs" more was necessary then only faith. They falsely taught that there was the necessity of becoming circumcised, following the dietary laws of the Old Testament, and doing and not doing certain things. Unless these were done one could not be a "true" Christian. This is the false teaching of adding our works to God's grace. It is the danger the church must always be on guard against.

Paul lays out the truth in clear and certain terms. You are justified only through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith we receive God's promised inheritance. The promise is "for you and your children". There is no male or female, slave or free but all are one in Christ.

That's when Paul uses the metaphor of the pedagogue. He says this is what the law does. Those who are under the law have their freedom restricted by the law. They are constrained by the custodian. They are no different "then a slave". However, when we are "in Christ", our status is changed. The Father has set the date. "In the fullness of time". It is the time of Jesus. The time when God sent his son into the world to redeem those under the law. This is what Jesus does for you when you were under the law. He removes the restrictions and the punishments for disobedience. God, in human flesh, is born of a virgin so that the law applies to him. As a human being he is required to keep the law perfectly or suffer the just punishment of God for disobedience. This is what it means to be under the law. Jesus is therefore under the law. And yet, he does not break the law but fulfills it. He keeps it perfectly in every respect. Jesus lives in a perfect relationship with God the Father. And he lives in perfect relationship with his fellow human beings. And then he is sent to the cross to receive the punishment that is deserved for breaking the law, even though he did not break it. This is what Jesus does in "the fullness of time". He lives a perfect life so that it may be given to you for you to put on in Holy Baptism. And he takes the punishment for your sin setting you free from the curse of the law.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV)

Jesus makes you the heir. You are adopted by God the Father. You have full rights of inheritance. That is exactly what Paul talks about when he speaks about your adoption. And make no mistake when St. Paul talks about adoption into faith he is speaking about Holy Baptism. When he speaks about being in Christ he is pointing to what happens in Holy Baptism. Martin Luther agrees:

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. (From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House)

It is in Holy Baptism that the "fullness of time" that was brought by Jesus comes to you. Your adoption happens when water is poured on your head along with God's name. And all that Jesus did in the "fullness of time" is yours. Luther makes the point that the most important words in baptism are "for you". This is what it means to "put on Christ". Listen to Martin Luther and the large catechism:

In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory. For this reason let everyone value his Baptism as a daily dress [Galatians 3:27] in which he is to walk constantly. Then he may ever be found in the faith and its fruit, so that he may suppress the old man and grow up in the new. [1]

And what a privilege we have today to see such a great picture of the inheritance in Jesus Christ. Almost a whole family young and old (well old-er). It's an adoption of sons. God is taken these four men to himself. They have put on Christ. They are full heirs of God's promises. From this day forward they will live "in Christ". And through faith in what Jesus has done for them here today they will join us with Jesus forever.

And so we are all today, one in Christ. There is neither slave nor free, black or white, male or female, young or old, rich or poor. We are one because we are in Christ. We have put on Christ's righteousness. That is all that he did in his perfect life is ours. We are free to live that way. Free from the worry of punishment for our sin even though our sin plagues us every day. Jesus death on the cross removes our punishment for it. And so, "in Christ", we walk constantly in the daily dress of Jesus Christ. Growing up in him to be like him every day. Doing the things that God would have us do in help to our neighbors. And every day living in the forgiveness that he won for us. Every day knowing that we are indeed heirs of eternal life. Amen.

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

[1] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (P. T. McCain, Ed.) (431). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Luke.7.36-50; Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; June 16, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

36One of the Pharisees [Simon] asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

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

Well, Jesus is certainly using a “teachable moment” here, isn’t he? And what a nice little story he uses too. It’s so simple and so easy to understand. Two guys owe lots of money. We’re talking a year and half’s wages for the one and a month and a half for the other. It’s a lot of money and neither of them can pay the debt so the moneylender cancels it all and send them on their way. “Who’s going to love the moneylender more?” It’s simple and obvious. The story is about loving the moneylender because he cancels debt. It’s all about forgiveness, isn’t it? God forgives our un-payable debt. We respond in love. It is straight forward. But I wonder do you see something funny in this parable? Do you see something just a little bit out of whack? I think you should. Jesus does this all the time. He tells a little story to make a point… but the story is deceptively simple. The meaning is usually buried much deeper that we think at first. And the more we dig in the more the point becomes clear. One of the best ways to understand Jesus parables is to find that little fact that seems to be out of joint… that little thing in the parable that isn’t quite right… the thing that would never happen. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know it very well. A traveler is beat up on the road. Three likely helpers just walk right by, but the unlikely helper, the man’s mortal enemy actually stops to help. And he doesn’t just help he goes above and beyond. He sacrifices himself for the sake of his enemy. The story is out of balance. The unexpected happens. And Jesus makes his point. He’s the person who sacrifices himself for his enemy, doing what is unexpected, doing the unthinkable. So what about this one? What’s out of balance here? What’s the thing that would never happen? Well, it’s not that people get into debt beyond their ability to pay. We see that every day. No, the thing that’s not as we would expect is for the money lender to cancel the debt. Now this guy is a “moneylender.” He isn’t just a relative who is helping these guys out with a little loan. He’s in the business of lending money. He’s given them money expecting his money back with interest. He’s a banker. It’s his business to make loans and collect interest. No self respecting loan shark is going to make money by canceling debt. He’d never be able to collect on any loan again. And yet, this one does cancel the debt. In spite of the tremendous debt that is owed, he lets his debtors off the hook. That’s the peak of attention here. This unlikely banker forgives the debt… of course the guys who owed him are going to love him. He’s done the unbelievable and the unthinkable. He’s not thrown them and their families into prison. He’s not broken their legs. He’s not held them accountable at all. They are walking away owing nothing. And Jesus asks the question that brings the whole point home. “Now which one will love him more?”

That brings us to the dinner, the place that Jesus told the story and the place that made for him the “teachable moment”. It also brings us to the dinner’s host. Jesus is telling this parable at a dinner feast in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Now let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly. It’s easy for us to hear the word Pharisee and think “bad guy.” That’s not really the case. Especially in his own community Simon the Pharisee is a respected person. He’s a law abiding citizen. He’s a community leader worthy of respect. People look up to him to do what’s expected. That includes have a dinner conversation with a traveling preacher who has won the hearts of the people. So Simon invites Jesus to a festival dinner. But we also learn that Simon is a skeptic. Along with doing what’s expected he also wants to find out if Jesus is really the prophet people are saying he is. Simon apparently has his doubts. And in fact as we learn, Simon must not think very much of Jesus at all. Because even though Jesus has been invited to eat and to speak, he hasn’t been treated with even the common courtesies that are normally offered to guests. Jesus isn’t welcomed to the house warmly with the customary kiss, his feet aren’t washed to remove the remnants of the dusty road, and there is no olive oil given to cool his head. Simon wants Jesus to show his true colors, but Simon already thinks he knows who Jesus is and what he is not. That’s what the dinner really is about. But he doesn’t expect Jesus is worth all the fuss.

Now there is something unexpected that happens here, too. The party is crashed by and unexpected guest. “A woman of the city, who was a sinner,” comes in and makes a scene. And what a scene it is. Uninvited, she does what Simon the host has neglected to do. She washes Jesus feet. She pours oil on him and she greets him with a kiss, but not in the normal sense at all. There’s no towel and basin, it’s not ordinary oil, or even regular manner of kissing. It’s all out of the ordinary and unexpected. She washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. She uses expensive myrrh instead of common olive oil. And the kisses she gives, well they go overboard. Not a kiss of greeting on the cheek, but non-stop kisses on Jesus’ feet. It’s safe to say that even though it all seems to be going overboard; this woman is expressing great love for Jesus. And, it seems, in many ways she doesn’t think she’s doing enough. She makes a scene, and she doesn’t care what people think.

For Simon the whole scene is disgusting and it confirms his suspicions of Jesus. Simon is thinking “Well, that settles it… he’s no prophet… no self respecting prophet would let a woman like that touch him like that.” In his mind the dinner is over. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Nothing Jesus could say now would be important for him to hear. This woman doesn’t belong in his house and neither does Jesus.

And that’s the teachable moment… “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Go ahead teacher.” Simon replies lightly.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

“Well,” Simon answered carefully sensing a trap, “I guess the one who had the bigger debt.”

“You have judged rightly.” And then Jesus himself breaks all the rules of common courtesy as he points out Simon’s failures, “Simon, you see this woman. All the things that you should have done for me when I came to your house, she has done, and even more. You didn’t wash my feet; she did it with her tears and hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss; she can’t stop kissing my feet. You didn’t even give me simple oil for my head but she has put expensive oil my feet. Her sins, which you know as well as I they are many, are really completely forgiven. Her love is like the love of one who has had a great debt forgiven, because she has been forgiven much. Those who have been forgiven only a little bit, only love a little bit.” For Simon and his guests the point is obvious. Her sins are forgiven by Jesus, her love for Jesus shows that it is true. “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus confirms. This woman, sinner that she is, sees Jesus for who he really is. He has forgiven her sins. She owes him everything. Simon hasn’t even showed the least amount of love to Jesus, he has shown only contempt and doubt. Simon is not the debtor who loves much. But it is also true that Simon is not the debtor who loves little. Actually it’s far worse than that for him. Simon sees no need for forgiveness at all. All he can see is a sinful woman who is overdoing it.

And what do we see? Is it all too theatrical for us? The wetting of Jesus feet with tears and wiping them with hair; Kissing his feet and anointing them with oil? Does it seem to us to be overdone, bordering on hysterical? Do we sit with Simon thinking that we are better than she is? Well maybe that’s because we haven’t fully come to grips with the debt we owe? Or the price paid to cancel it. We can easily find examples of our loveless ness; our failures to be welcoming to people who we don’t want around here. So much of our life is spent as if Jesus doesn’t mean anything at all us. We don’t want to make a scene in public. We are afraid to show our love for Jesus outside of these walls. We don’t defend the truth that he teaches us in his Word. And when we do make a public statement of faith, it is usually so generic that could very well be any god at all we refer to. But our problem is more than just a little stage fright. And we well know the problem is much deeper than that. Sin is so much a part of our every day life, so much a part of us and everything that we do, that we can’t get rid of it. No matter how much effort we give, we can’t remove it. No amount of tears will drive it away from us. Jesus didn’t forgive the woman because she showed him great love. She was forgiven because she knew that she was helpless to do anything about her sin. She was forgiven because in her great need for forgiveness she turned to the One she knew could forgive.

Jesus Christ didn’t become human flesh to dine with angels. God became a living breathing man to come into contact with living breathing, and sinful people. The point of the parable, the point of Luke whole account of this “teachable moment” is that God does what isn’t expected, he does what he doesn’t have to do. The debt we owe is more than we can pay. It’s not the amount that matters. Any debt that one is unable to pay is trouble. A poisonous snake is deadly poison even at a few inches. Our debt of sin can be paid only with our death and eternal separation from God. The woman’s sins were forgiven by the skin and blood, and innocent suffering and death of the very flesh that she knelt and kissed with her own lips. The body that she washed with tears and dried with her hair was the very body that was pinned to the cross for her sins. The oil that she poured on his feet was poured on the very place that iron would pierce for her. Now when we see the cost of the debt, and the greatness of our sin for the first time we may not break down in tears, but we can better understand the woman doing what this woman has done.

Jesus forgives your unpayable debt. The sin that seeps up from the darkness that is in your heart has been taken care of by him. The amount of the debt isn’t important. You need what Jesus did just as much as the “sinner from the street.” You need the forgiveness Jesus gives just as much as the “delinquent” members of our church. So today, sinners that we are, we turn to Jesus, the only one who can forgive. We may not drop our tears on his feet, or pour any oil, but our love is great, because we know that we know how much we have been forgiven. There is an old hymn that says it as well as I could.

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
By: Augustus M. Toplady

1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure:
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

2. Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my seal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

3. Nothing n my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Savior, or I die.

4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;

Hymn # 361 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Thomas Hastings Tune: Toplady 1st Published in: 1776


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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Psalm 127:1a; Wedding of Lori and Kevin Peyton; June 15, 2013;

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1a, ESV)

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

Well, Lori and Kevin, it's finally here! The wait was long… But it's worth it. Because today is a very important day in your lives. It's the day that that the creator of this institution—Jesus Christ will join you together as man and wife. Remember how we talked about a man leaving his father and mother being joined to his wife to become one flesh? That's what will become of you two today. God is gluing you  together for a lifetime. When God glues us there should be nothing that separates us. So from now on God has given you to each other for help and support; for better or for worse; for richer for poorer; as long as you both shall live. This is an important day for both of you. In fact, some people will say this is the most important day of your lives. It may seem that way because of everything that goes along with the wedding. It certainly is one of the most planned days in your whole lives. I know because I got the schedule in email the other day. But even though today is an important day. It's not nearly as important as every other day after this one. In fact, every day you live together is more important than the last. Because marriage is determining by the grace of God every day to love and forgive your spouse.

And... I've got a bit of bad news for you. You can't do it no matter how hard you try. Don't be surprised I said that. I've been married to my wife for 31 years. We can't do it either. You and I, Kevin and Lori, are the same. It has to do with what the Bible says about us. We are sinful people. And sinful people stuck together in one place for a long time will certainly sin against each other. There is one sure thing  about marriage. It gives you a person that you will sin against more than anyone else. In the marriage vow's we say "for better or for worse" well that's the "worse".

That's why I picked this verse for you. Psalm 127:1a.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1a, ESV)

Sin is why are having this service in this church today. Because God is building a house by putting you two together, sinful as you are. And we know that unless God builds your house, your marriage, is doomed to failure. So how does God build a house?

God builds a house with ingredients like a contractor does with love and forgiveness. We usually think of love as that ewie gooie feeling that we get when we are with a particular person. And those feelings are important. God gave those feelings for the building of a house. They are wonderful gifts to live in. But they're only a minor part of what love really is. Love is a verb. In a marriage especially love is living for your spouse. In a marriage love is doing the thing that is best for your spouse. In a marriage love is considering your spouse more important than yourself. The Bible tells us that a woman is to submit to her husband and her husband is to give himself to his wife. It's a description of love at work in the lives of God’s children. The wife giving herself and living for her husband. And the husband giving himself and living for his wife. And the two shall become one flesh God says in Genesis. Love is self sacrificing.

The other part of building a house, and even more important, is forgiveness. There's no way for two sinful people living together in the bonds of marriage for any period of time without forgiveness. The old saying is true I speak from experience and you can ask any married couple and they will tell you the same (goes) "you only hurt the one you love". It's true. You will  hurt one another (although it seems impossible with all the frills of the wedding right near at hand). You will make decisions and forget to take into account your spouse. You will flare up in anger and say the thing that hurts. You will forget something that's "really" important to her. You will forget to take out the trash after the TV show is over even though you said you would. There is no way to solve the problem of sinning against one another. There is only forgiveness. It's forgiveness that God uses to build a house that stands.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1a, ESV)

So God uses these tools love and forgiveness to build a house. So what does he say about love?

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)

Jesus is the one who loves perfectly. He loves you beyond your ability to understand. He comes to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins. What that means is that he builds a relationship with you by removing punishment for your sin. Because it is sin that separates you from God and one another. You are no longer separated from God because of your sins when you have a relationship with him. God gives Jesus, that is himself, as the sacrifice for your sin. The word propitiation means to remove anger. Jesus self-sacrificing love removes anger. Because Jesus loves you, you are able to love one another. And as you give yourself to each other in love God builds your house.

Jesus also forgives you through his life, death, and resurrection. And since you have forgiveness, and a relationship with him, you can use forgiveness to build a relationship with someone else. And so God has made a marriage the first place where we practice forgiveness. He gives it to you and you give it to each other. And in fact you can only forgive because God first forgives you through Jesus death on the cross. And so God uses forgiveness to build your house.

Today, by the grace of God and by His Spirit you will be taught how to practice building a house together:

Turn and look at each other. Hold hands. Kevin repeat after me. Lori, I forgive you in the name of Jesus. Lori repeat after me. Kevin I forgive you in the name of Jesus. It's that easy. And don't forget to use those very words.

Oh, there's one more thing. As God uses love and forgiveness to build your house he uses you to show the world what he has done. Kevin and Lori, as you practice self giving love and forgiveness you are painting a picture of what God does for the world in Jesus Christ. It is in fact one of the most important things about marriage. In his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:24-32), St. Paul goes to great lengths to describe marriage as a unity of body and soul of the husband and wife. Then in the end he says "oh by the way, this is a profound mystery and it refers to Christ and the church." In other words, marriage is a picture of the self-sacrificing love and forgiveness that God gives to people through everything that Jesus did and does even today. He became a human being. He was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived a complete and full human life. His life was different than ours because his was without sin. He lived in a perfect relationship with God. And then his life was given on the cross as the punishment for the whole world’s sin. So, Kevin and Lori, by the Spirit of Christ that dwells in you, use the tools you have received, love one another and sacrifice for each other, and when you fail, forgive. Because God uses that to build your house and show the world Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Luke 7:11-17; The Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 9, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” (Luke 7:11–17, ESV)

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

Jesus has been traveling, teaching and healing all over the region. Right before this Luke tells us of how Jesus healed the centurion's servant without even being present. Jesus comments on the great faith of the Centurion who sent word that he was not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof. But as a man under authority he knew that Jesus had authority to heal even without being present. He had faith that Jesus could just speak the healing and it would be done.

Soon after this Jesus travels to a town called Nain. As always a great crowd follows him wherever he goes. As he approaches the city they come across to funeral procession. A young man has died the only son of a widow. She is in desperate straits. Her husband has previously died leaving her only means of support her now dead son. She weeps not only for the separation but also a loss of security and means of support. She has lost hope. She is overcome with grief. The young man was off to his grave followed by his grieving mother. But instead of death they meet life.

When Jesus sees the widow he has compassion on her. Compassion here is a deep-seated, gut wrenching, wanting to help kind of compassion. It comes not just from her need but from her situation. Jesus hates what death does. It destroys relationships. Cancels hope. Leaves people desperate for the way things were and should be without death. It binds us up in grief. This is the woman's only son. Luke uses a word for compassion that literally means to spill out one's guts. The word is σπλαγχνίζομαι. It's a very strong word that sounds exactly like what it means. It's the word used in the sacrifice of animals. The animal would be split open and the entrails spill out on the altar, σπλαγχνίζομαι. It's the kind of self giving compassion that's shown by the good Samaritan and the father of the prodigal son. It's the kind of self giving compassion that leads Jesus to sacrifice himself on the cross for the sins of the whole world. In fact he comes to save the widow, the dead son, you and me through the giving of himself as the sacrifice for all sin. Sin brings death. Death brings separation. Separation is the center of lost hope and grief. Jesus pours out his mercy on the woman by raising her son to life. Jesus tells her to stop weeping. Although her grief is understandable Jesus begins the miraculous removal of her grief with his word.

Jesus speaks, touches the funeral Bier, raises her only son from death and restores the widow's hope. Jesus' touch brings healing and life. But the great crowds gathered around would at first be appalled. To touch the dead was a great taboo and made you ritually unclean. It's exactly why the bearers stop dead in their tracks. But, it is the opposite of what everyone thinks, Jesus word and touch, instead, makes the unclean clean. In his word and touch he removes corruption and death. He brings an end to the curse of sin and does exactly what God has promised to do. At the dawn of humanity Adam and Eve brought the curse of death on themselves and all human beings. They rejected God and his commands by the direct disobedience of his word. God promised to send his own son to destroy that curse and bring life forever.

So, Jesus speaks life into the dead man, the widow's son. He commands him to rise. Life returns to the man and he begins to speak. His speaking shows the extent of the miracle. The only son is truly alive and restored to his mother. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus said he would do these very things. In his own home town in the synagogue he read the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV)

"These things are fulfilled in your hearing!" Jesus is saying he's the one who does these very things. He shows it in this town. He has released the dead man from captivity to death. He has released the widow from her captivity to grief. He shows compassion and the Lord's favor.

The people, the great crowd, react in fear. They recognize Jesus as God's messenger, one who would do God's will among them. But they miss that this prophet must go to the cross. They see Jesus is a teacher and a miracle worker. They see Jesus as one who has come to make their lives better. But, the complete picture of how Jesus does what he has come to do is only clear with the suffering and dying of God's only son on the cross. He comes to destroy not only the consequences but sin itself. To make an end of sin and death Jesus hangs between heaven and earth, forsaken by God the Father, suffering an eternity of hell for everyone. This is where the real release from the bondage of death begins. This is where the real restoration of hope begins. In the completion of all that he has come to do Jesus restores our relationship with God. He puts away the thing that separates us from him. And all those who are connected to God will have eternity with each other. When Jesus raises this only son of the widow from the dead he points to his own resurrection on Easter Sunday. And he shows that he can and will raise all the dead. This small restoration of the widow and her son is a picture of Jesus, the only son of God, raised from death as proof that his sacrifice on the cross is complete. And a revelation of his power over our great enemy death.

Dear Christian friends. In the face of death… And you do face death every day. You face the fact of your own coming death and suffer the hopelessness and pain of separation caused by the death of those you love. You face the very real bondage of grief that never seems to end. In the face of death we have one thing the people gathered around Jesus at Nain did not have. We have the cross. We have the resurrection. We have the good news of Jesus Christ. Every time you gather here you hear Jesus speak to you the promise of life through the forgiveness of sins. That is all he does for you in his life death and resurrection. And every time you hear Jesus say these things to you he begins the miraculous removal of your grief. Just as he did for the widow he promises to give you back your loved ones who die in faith. He promises to return with his holy angels and raise all the dead and bring eternal life to all believers in Christ. This is the final defeat of all that is evil in the world. This is the final and of sin and death. Jesus does all this through his spoken word and touch. He speaks the words of truth right into your ears. And you hear of God's great love for you and see it in Jesus on the cross. In, with, and under bread and wine Jesus touches your tongue and makes the unclean clean. He removes your sin and restores your relationship with God. He puts right inside of you the forgiveness you need. He increases your faith by feeding you with himself. The growing of your faith increases your trust in Jesus and all of his promises. And so, He frees you from the bondage of your grief. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Galatians 1:1-12; The Second Sunday after Pentecost; May 2, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:1–12, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

Maybe it's time to update the Gospel. I mean, we know what it is. Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and rose again to new life. Jesus perfect life and death in exchange for our sin and new life for us. We hear it all the time. It's the gospel. It's "good news". But maybe there is more. Maybe other religions have some things that we need to consider adding. Other people are spiritual. They seem to have ways of getting along in the world. Some of the things they say makes sense. So maybe we should incorporate some of those into the gospel. All good ideas need updating from time to time, right?

People say things like this all the time, even today in this modern world. The only real sin today is believing that you know "The Truth". There are far too many ideas out there for you to be sure that you have the right one, they say. The thing is this idea is not new at all. It's modern and ancient. In fact it's what Paul is writing this letter about. There were teachers, troublemakers, that showed up in the church in Galatia. This was one of the churches that St. Paul founded. They wanted to add in some things to what Paul had taught them. They wanted to update the Gospel. A little good works here. A little circumcision there. "If you want to be relevant to the society you are in…"

When St. Paul heard, he wasn't just angry, he was livid! He quickly gets through the niceties of beginning the letter but drops all pretense and shouts. "I'm astonished that you are so quickly deserting the Gospel and turning to a different gospel!" They had set aside what he had taught only a short time ago. They altered the Gospel. They tweaked it. They caved in to the ideas of inclusivism and accommodation. They buckled under cultural pressure. Smooth talking false teachers told them it was okay. As long as they didn't give up the core of the Gospel.

If you're anxious to do that, there are plenty of other Gospels out there. I have said the names of the preachers before. They tell you the gospel is about you. One asks the question "What On Earth Am I Here For?" Another tells you to ask God the impossible for your life. Another says if you treat every day like Friday, God will make your life happier. And still others tell you that if you are just less particular about what the Bible teaches and drop the old hymns and liturgy the world will flock to your church door. And more will try to convince you that there's no place in the church for discussions about homosexuality or abortion because those are personal issues. Nothing is changed. Satan's attacks against the church seem so reasonable. And they usually start out, "if we just…" And Jesus is moved from the center. And if Jesus is not at the center we have lost The Gospel.

But, the Gospel is a particular thing. It's not a conglomeration of ideas brought together by people wandering around the Middle East. It is not man's gospel. It is God's gospel. It is a gospel made sure by God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the gospel of our being saved from this present evil age. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ who gave himself up willingly to the cross to save us from our sinfulness. It is the gospel of restoration with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the gospel that did not come from the mind of people. It was not made up by clear thinking human beings. It was revealed by God in the life of Jesus Christ. And there is no other way to have a right relationship with God than through Jesus Christ. Any other way of trying to connect to God leads to permanent, eternal separation from him. The true gospel is the gospel of our receiving from God, not our doing for God. In a few pages in this letter Paul says it like this:

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”” (Galatians 3:11–12, ESV)

and he further clarifies in Romans:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21–25a, ESV)

Through faith we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is given to us freely without cost by God because of what Jesus has done. Faith clings to the promise. This is the good news. The true gospel. No human input. No human supplements. No human tweaks are changes or alterations. This is the gospel that comes from God through St. Paul without modification or accommodation.

In the face of the promises of God in Jesus Christ, who are we to change what God has given? As St. Paul says are we seeking the approval of man or of God? If we want to please human beings we can incorporate all of those things into the gospel and end up with no gospel at all. The gospel of salvation by grace through Jesus Christ, if it is changed, is a perverted false gospel. And Paul gives strong warnings to those who would preach that kind of a gospel:

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4, ESV)

Either we are saved by our good works and we don't need Christ, or Jesus Christ and his righteousness are given to us freely by grace. When you tweak the gospel to make it about what we do rather than what God has done it is no longer the good news. It takes Jesus out of the picture. And if Jesus is out of the picture what you have left is not the gospel but another of the many paths to hell.

There is only one gospel. It is the good news of Jesus that frees us from the curse of the law.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10–14, ESV)

and so we receive this forgiveness of sins, that is, you are justified, by God's grace, his undeserved love for us, and nothing else. We cling to Jesus in faith that his promises are true for you and me. And all of this is apart from any works of the law or any deeds we do. And that is truly good news.

St. Paul's astonishment comes because it only took a very short time for the Galatians to go from a position of being willing to have their eyes gouged out for the truth of the gospel to giving it up entirely. This is fair warning. We must be always on guard. We must be always testing and checking to be sure that Jesus Christ is at the center of what we do and say. We pray for the Holy Spirit to be among us as we worship so that we would receive the good news of Jesus. And so, we hear it again. The good news of Jesus Christ is here for you.

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:3–7, ESV)


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