Saturday, August 31, 2013

Luke 14:1-14; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 1, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:1-14, ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. Mark Louderback)

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

  • Oh say can you seeThe Star-Spangled Banner.
  • I once was lost but now and found, was blind but now I see. Amazing Grace.
  • There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see. Leonardo da Vinci
  • People only see what they are prepared to see. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • The more I see the less I know for sure. John Lennon
  • People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts. Albert Einstein
  • The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see. Winston Churchill
  • Don't be afraid to see what you see. Ronald Reagan
  • Every man can see things far off but is blind to what is near. Sophocles
  • See how many are better off than you are, but consider how many are worse. Lucius Annaeus Seneca
  • I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. Confucius
  • You and I do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. Henry Ward Beecher
  • Human beings, from their own point of view, are very different than what people see. Kurt Russell

What do you see? That’s kind of the question we might ask about this text for today.

Look at the Pharisees. What do they see? Right off the bat we see that they are “…watching [Jesus] carefully.” They have their reasons. Jesus isn’t who they’d like him to be. He constantly insults them. He constantly belittles them. He constantly tells them they don’t know what they are talking about. They are watching Jesus, which is a good thing, but they don’t see what they should be seeing. Jesus actually uses three examples at this dinner party to try to get the Pharisees to see things differently. He confronts them directly with their sinful nature.

First, the man with dropsy. What is “dropsy?” It comes from the word “hydrops” that has to do with water. This man was suffering from a condition that caused his body to retain water. He was obese, especially in his wrists and ankles. When the text says “there was a man before him who had dropsy” I doubt very much if this man was an invited guest. He is probably standing around outside with the crowds that followed Jesus everywhere. As far as the Pharisees were concerned when you have a deforming illness it is because of some sin you are guilty of. If you are fat you deserve to be. They looked away when this man was walking down the street. They cross over to the other side to avoid his smell. The Pharisees don’t see the man; they only see something to be avoided. Jesus sees differently. He loves the outcast. He cares about his life. Jesus heals him and sends him home. Jesus questions the Pharisees. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” It’s a question about what they see. Do they see a person to love and care for or do they see rules to follow? They don’t answer. They don’t see anything but Jesus breaking the rules. Jesus pushes the question in front of them again. “If you have a son or even an ox that fell into a well on the Sabbath, you’d get him out wouldn’t you?” It’s as if he says, “This man’s life and health is worth more than rules! You won’t help him because you don’t love him. You don’t love him because of what you see on the outside.” They stand in silence. They don’t see.

What do you see? What do you see around you today? Do you see people as the Pharisees see them, or as Jesus sees them? Here in this room are people with problems. What do we do to care for them? Do we listen and then forget? Here in this room are people who are dying. Do we avoid them because we are afraid to see what we see afraid to see their death because it reminds us of our own? Here in this room are people who have hurt us. Do we see them as forgiven sinners bathed in the blood of Jesus, or do we hold a grudge? And what about the people who aren’t in this room? People that aren’t here because we can’t see them as people who belong here. And what about the folks outside with dropsy? You know the people we avoid on the street. The people we cross over to the other side. The they-don’t-belong-in-our-community people. What do we do to show our love and care?

Jesus wants us to see things differently. He wants us to do what ever we can to help them. He wants us to see people as he sees them. He wants us to see them as someone we love. He wants us to care for them and heal them. He wants us to see them as our child that has fallen in a well. He wants you to do for them whatever you can do. “But pastor!” you say, “I can’t do all that. They smell. They waste the money they’ve been given. They don’t care about anything but themselves, or their drugs, or their alcohol? They look different. They have different beliefs and values. Our families have always been on the opposite side of things. They’re republicans… or democrats.” It’s true. You can’t. In fact, you are just like the Pharisee. You care more for yourself then you do for the man with dropsy. And you don’t want things to change. You don’t want to see people differently. You watch Jesus and want him to tell you that the way you feel about other people is ok. It’s not. It’s sinful. It causes trouble in your life. It tears the fabric of the community. It leaves undone what needs to be done. What God’s word does here is to help us to see what God sees. We are standing outside the party where Jesus is. We are sin sick, unacceptable, and unwanted. The man with dropsy.

Ah, but Jesus has something to say about that too. He sees the man with dropsy. He loves him and cares for him. He heals him. He sends him back to his life to live it all differently. Jesus sees you. He loves you. He heals your sin. He gives you his blood bought forgiveness. He doesn’t send you back to your life alone. He promises to go with you by giving you the Holy Spirit. He gives you his Word, full of his promises for you. He gives you his body and blood as food to continue the healing. Because of all the Jesus sees in you, you can and do see the world differently.

The Pharisees are still watching Jesus. He points out something else that he sees. At the party, the guests come and strive for the best place to sit. They all want to be important and sit at the head of the table. Jesus points out that everyone wants to receive the highest honor. The guests consider who they are in the community. They look at their accomplishments. They compare their incomes. They see lots of love and lots of accomplishment. But the love they see is for themselves. They consider themselves more important than everyone else. When you love yourself, you don’t see anyone else. Your only relationship is “Who is above me? Who is below me? I’m better than them, I should sit higher.” They don’t see other people they only see things to be manipulated.

Jesus shows them their sin. “Don’t consider yourselves more important than other people.” When you love yourself, you set yourself up for a fall, a humiliation. Your selfishness puts you in the lowest position, the lowest chair. “Proper love for others, places them above you.” Jesus says.

What do you see? Well, in spite of the fact that none of you are sitting up here in the front pews… Do we see ourselves as the party guests do, or as Jesus shows us? Where do we see ourselves in the church? In the community? Do we serve others or expect to be served? Do we share what we’ve been so richly given? Does the church have all it needs to do the work that God has given us to do here? Have we manipulated the process to get what we want, what makes us look good, instead of what other people want or need? Do we look for a place in the church and community to make us feel important? or do we see our place as a place to love and care for others?

Jesus wants us to see things differently. He wants us to put other people’s needs and wants above our own. He wants us to see people as he sees them. He wants you to see other people as more important than you see yourself. “But pastor,” you say, “I can’t do that. People will take advantage of me. I’ll never get any of the recognition I deserve. I’ll always be on the bottom rung. I’ll never have any of the good things in life.” It’s true. You can’t. In fact you are just like the party guests. You care more for yourself than you do for other people. You step on them to get ahead. You point out their flaws and shortcomings to hide your own. You don’t want to be at the end of the table you want to be at the top. You want Jesus to recognize you for what you’ve done and accomplished. You want him to praise you for your good work. That too is sinful. It causes trouble in your life and the lives of others. What God’s Word does here is to help you see what God sees. We want everything for ourselves. We are selfish. We are the guests at the party.

Ah, but Jesus has something to say about that too. He sees the party guests. He loves them and cares for them. He sees them as more important than himself. In fact, he sees them as so important that he gives his very life for them. He sacrifices all that he has for them. He suffers pain and death for them, even death on a cross! Jesus sees you, too. He loves you. He sees you as more important than himself. He forgives your sin. His love for you spills out of your life to the lives of others. He loves them, so you love them. He considers them important so you consider them more important than yourself. Because of all that Jesus sees in you, you can and do see people differently.

And Jesus isn’t done with the Pharisees. They are still watching. Jesus sees what friends do to each other. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Jesus is invited to the party to make the host look and feel important. The host has invited the guests so that he will be invited to their parties. The host gives to people so that they will give to him. He sees people as a way to get things he wants for himself. He doesn’t see people for their own value, but only for what he can get.

What do you see? Do you make friends with people who need friendship? Do you want “better” people to join the church? Do you use emotional blackmail with your spouse to get what you want? “If you really loved me you’d do this for me.” Do you spread the gossip you hear, even about your friends and church? Do you love your pastor even when he refuses to bury, marry or commune someone we ask him to? Do you manipulate your children to influence the people around you?

Jesus wants you to see things differently. He wants you to love your friends. He wants you to give them what they need without wanting anything in return. He wants you to love your wife and children more than you love yourself. He wants you to be friends for the sake of friendship, not fame, or wealth, or standing in the community. “But pastor,” you say, “I can’t do that. My friends will just use me. I can’t be a doormat. You don’t understand the way the world works.” It’s true. You can’t do it. In fact, you are very much like the host of the party. You want friendships that are filled with advantages for yourself. You want to be seen in the company of “important people.” You want your wife to look good and your children to behave, for the sake of your reputation. You want the church to ignore what God says is right and true so that you don’t have to tell people that they are wrong. All of it is sinful. It causes trouble in your life and the lives of others. What God’s Word does here is to help you see what God sees. We want to use people for our own benefit. The host of the party.

Ah, Jesus speaks again. He sees the host of the party. He loves him and cares for him. He doesn’t use him to get what he wants. In fact, Jesus doesn’t expect anything from the host but rather gives everything to him. He cares for him so much he is even willing to confront him with his sin. Jesus wants his life to be different. Jesus expects no reward, no return for his love. His love asks nothing and expects nothing. His love only gives. Jesus sees you, too. He loves you, without asking anything from you in return. He forgives your sin, through nothing but his grace and mercy. His death on the cross is God showing you his love for you. He gives you everything you need. God’s love for you is best described in his own words.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)

All that God has done for you in Jesus is yours through faith. There is nothing that can take him and his love away from you. His love is unchangeable.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)

So, what do you see? As St. Paul says we see life and other people differently. We see them through what Jesus has done. We see them as our Savior sees them.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, ESV)


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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hebrews 12:1-2; Rally Day; August 25, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

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

Endurance… athletes have it, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

“No Pain / No Gain”

“He’s such a great player, when the team really needed him he played even though he had a broken leg!”

That’s endurance. We admire it so, in athletes. I think it’s those water polo guys who’ve got my vote for endurance. They play 4 – 8 min quarters of the game treading water, they’re not allowed to touch the bottom, even when the clock stops!

Endurance. We know what it is, it’s reaching down to something that’s really deep inside of us, maybe a survival instinct or something, something that gets us through a really tough spot, that normally would send us down for the count.

So the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Persevere! Hold on! Dig deep and get the job done!” Since what he tells them applies to us, he’s telling us that when stuff gets hard to take turn your attention to yourself, if you dig deep enough you can get a hold of that unique human quality called faith and win the race! Right! After all that’s endurance, right?

Wait a second! I don’t think that that’s what he’s saying at all. To really get what he’s talking about we’ve got to back up a few verses. We could take it that way except for one troublesome little word right there at the beginning of the text. “Therefore” In other words he’s saying, because of all that I just said, do what I’m about to say. So what is he talking about that sets the stage for this endurance we’re suppose to have.

Well, it’s the great faith chapter of scripture. It’s a description of faith in action. It’s endurance on steroids! And it starts with that wonderful, yet confusing phrase, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11,1)

Then he goes through a long list, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. And the first section turns on these words; These all died in faith, not having received the things promised. (v 13) then it goes to Moses who chose to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (v 25). And the children of Israel who wandered in the dessert for 40 years before they received the Promised Land. These were all real people who did real things in a real world. They are examples of endurance. But wait! He’s not quite done yet. This sounds pretty good. Starting at verse 32:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.

Ah that sound’s pretty good doesn’t it! Sounds like running a winning race. But it doesn’t stop there listen to this:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-39, ESV)

And now, after all that the writer says “therefore” run with endurance. I think it’s that last part that he is really trying to emphasize, you know the being imprisoned part; the living destitute part; the being sawed in two part.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1, ESV)

Notice how even though some of the folks he mentioned seemed to have a great victory while others only suffered, not one of them received the promise… yet. And yet they are the example of endurance, a great cloud of witnesses that’s before us. They all believed. They all had faith. But let me tell you, the writer isn’t talking about some deep down human quality here. He’s not saying “they toughed it out so you can too.” He’s pointing to something even better even stronger than something human beings can dredge up in time of need. And it’s all right here in these few words that he says to us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Let us also lay aside the weight, the sin, just like they did. Then he tells us exactly how to do that; he says “looking to Jesus the found and perfecter of our faith.” That’s what they did, that cloud of witnesses. They faithfully set aside the sin that could have entangled them. They ran the race that was given them, even if it meant getting sawed in two. They put their eyes on Jesus and ran to Him.

You see, their faith wasn’t some abstract quality, their faith had an object. It was Jesus. It was what He does to get rid of the burden and weight of sin. They could run whatever race they were given to run because of Jesus.

Now the really amazing thing is that they didn’t see Jesus as clearly as you and I do. They didn’t have the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross carrying our sin, so that we can lay it aside. He mentions that too. They did not receive what was promised, since God has provided something better for us.

Someone asked me why I’d like to have a cross with Christ’s body here in the sanctuary. (I’m not talking about replacing what’s already here). Well, St. Paul says that clearly: we preach Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 1:23a, ESV) That’s what he means when he says, looking to Jesus. Jesus Christ crucified dead and buried! That’s where He gave our faith a foundation. That’s where He perfected it. That’s the object of our faith, so says the text:

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)

And that’s why the endurance. Everything around you would have you look somewhere else. “What good is Jesus if He doesn’t make your life easy?” “Jesus can be your financial advisor if you just follow these ten easy steps you’ll be financially secure.” “Jesus is one way to heaven; I’ve got another way to get there.” That’s taking our eyes off of Jesus… on the cross.

I told you when I first came here, that Jesus Christ and Him crucified would be the focus of everything we do. And it is so easy to get side tracked. Satan’s got to mix us up into thinking that other things are more important (and right now he’s got his fingers in just about everything we’re trying to do) He doesn’t want us to be focusing on the cross. He wants us focusing on our sin. He doesn’t want us looking to Jesus; he wants us worrying about the wait. Because he knows what the Letter here is really saying. And so do you, it is the object of our faith.

It’s simple. Jesus Christ carried your sins, the weight that so easily tangles, to the cross. There He bled and died and buried them in the grave. You don’t have to carry the burden. You don’t have to work to remove them. You don’t have to do anything but drop them at the foot of the cross, where He picks them up and does away with them forever. So that you can run… without the weight that side tracks; without the sin that would have us at each other’s throats; without the load of worrying about how others have hurt us; with endurance… right to the cross. Amen.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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

fire_01Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53, ESV)

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

Hold up your hand in front of you. Let your fingers illustrate your family, or the people you gather with regularly at work or morning coffee, or your household, or your neighborhood. That’s the kind of group that Jesus is talking about here. Five people, a typical Galilean family. Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, and Brother’s wife all are living under one roof. It’s a close gathering of people who spend time together, people who love one another or at least understand each other. Jesus says that because of him, because of the “fire” he has come to bring, groups just like that will be divided. Groups like that, which you are a part of, are divided because of Jesus. You all know the two topics that you should avoid if you want to have a pleasant conversation. What are they? Yep, religion and politics. Well, you can blame that in part on Jesus. That's because of the fire.” The old saying goes, put three Germans in a room and you’ll have four different opinions. It’s true for politics (but we won’t discuss politics today), and it true also for religion.

Really, talk about religion is talk about God. What is it that people don’t want to hear about when there is God talk? What is it about God that makes for uncomfortable conversation? Well, everyone wants to hear about a god who loves and forgives; a god who takes people for what they are. But no one wants to be held accountable to a god. No one wants to hear about a god that punishes because of sin. But, whenever we talk about the real God, the God that the Bible tells us about, the God that Jesus speaks about, we always come to the reality that we are sinful people. Whenever we talk about a perfectly holy God, people get uncomfortable. That’s the fire. God himself; who He is in comparison to us and what He expects of people. We call it the Law.

For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Exodus 20:1-6, ESV)

No one wants to be accountable for their actions against a God who promises to punish sin. In fact, people love a god that they can work their way out of sin. They love a god who just sweeps sin under the carpet and forgets that it exists. They love a god who is the picture of a forgetful old grandfather who overlooks what he doesn’t like. But, you see, that’s just not the God that Jesus tells us about. And although Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17, ESV) he did come to bring God’s fire, and that fire brings with it division. That’s because no one can understand the true nature of the forgiveness Jesus brings without experiencing the fire of the law of God. That fire of God’s Law tells us that because of sin we deserve nothing but punishment.

We don't do anyone any favors by bringing the law "lite". There is no lite version of the law that is easier to swallow like some lite beer. Many of you know exactly the division that the law brings. We do not want to tell our family members that belonging to a church that teaches and believes things that are not taught in the Bible is wrong. It's not necessarily better to go to any church the no church. And then it comes up when they want to commune at this altar. We have the responsibility of turning them away. Because God tells us that to commune at this altar is to say we believe, teach, and confess the same things. Membership in a church is saying that you believe what that church teaches. It is especially pronounced these days when so many churches are drinking the Kool-Aid of the current culture.

Others of you know this division when you have family members who are living outside of what God says is right. We don't want to be the one to tell them that their activity pushes them away from God and can lead them to hell. You don't want to tell them because were afraid of the division.

Others know the division because God's word cuts you right to the heart. God says you shall not commit adultery. But he doesn't just mean sleeping around. He means looking around and thinking about sleeping around. His law is firm. It is sinful and deserving of hell. It's never been easier to deserve God's wrath and punishment then so-called soft porn on the Internet. (Matthew 5:27ff)

And you feel the division when you speak about your neighbor and less than favorable terms. It is a breaking of the fifth commandment, you shall not kill. But of course you don't have to actually kill. Jesus says the words do well enough. When you talk about your neighbor in any way that reduces his reputation to anyone else you have killed him. Jesus says clearly that this kind of activity deserves nothing but hell. (Matt 5)

This is the bare edge of God's law. It's the wrath of God come down on sinful human beings. There is no way for you or me or your family members to work out our own escape. The law means punishment, death, and eternal separation from God. This is the division that Jesus comes to bring. It is the full force wrath of God against a sinful race. And so the reaction that you see in people is perfectly understandable.

“If that’s what God does we don’t what to have anything to do with him.”

“If that’s the kind of god you’re talking about we don’t want to talk about him at all…”

So sin and God's threat of punishment for that sin divides families. Jesus is responsible for that division.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

There's something else to the fire that Jesus brings. Something unique about the one who brings the fire to earth. Jesus is not the picture of God tromping through the vineyard trampling the grapes with lightning coming out of his hands striking dead all those who sin against his law. And he talks about it when he says:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!

Jesus isn't just speaking in hyperbole. He's talking about a real baptism. He's talking about a real fire and anger and God's wrath. Right away in the Gospel of St. Luke after the wonderful account of Jesus birth in the proclamation that Jesus brings peace, we have John the Baptizer telling everyone that God's wrath is coming. And then Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River.

Jesus doesn't come to dispense God's wrath. That is he doesn't come to condemn sinful human beings. But instead he comes to bear God's wrath. The fire that he comes to bring is the fire that he himself will hang in. And it begins with him going into the water of the Jordan River and being baptized by John. In Jesus Christ, God becomes the human sin bearer. In Jesus Christ, God becomes for all people the bearer of God's wrath over sin. When Jesus comes out of the water wet from his own baptism, he heads straight for the cross. The years that he walks the earth he walks it as a sinless human being yet bearing the sins of the whole world. And he walks in distress until the feat is accomplished. Jesus baptism is a baptism of fire and blood. On the cross, suspended between earth and God, Jesus bears the full punishment of God's anger over our sin. This is the baptism that Jesus is distressed about. This is the baptism that he has come to bring. It is the division he comes to bear. He is divided from and forsaken by God, suffering eternal hell for you and your family. Nothing shows God's displeasure over sin more clearly than the bleeding and dying of Jesus Christ, his only son, on the cross in your place.

There is no way to bring this Word to people without offense. The law must offend. God is perfect and holy and just, he cannot set aside what he has declared to be good and right and true. The law has its purpose. It must be proclaimed in its full force. We must see Jesus bleeding and dying and suffering on the cross as being our just punishment. We must know that that is what we deserve for our sin. Without it we would never crawl to the cross begging for forgiveness from the one who offers it to us freely. Without the law in its full force the sweetness of the gospel cannot be received in its full force.

And the full force of the gospel is this. The baptism that Jesus bears he bears in our place. The punishment he receives he receives in our place. The wrath of God that is poured out on him is poured out on him in our place. It is a baptism of fire. It is a baptism of blood. It is a baptism of water…

There's the font. It stands out here in front of us. It's not just here because it's a piece of furniture we cherish. It's here to show us the baptism that Jesus brings. The water in the bowl and the words spoken over that water when it is poured on our heads is our connection to Jesus on the cross. He is baptized in the river. We are baptized in the bowl. The water is the same. Our sin goes in the water. Jesus is in the water and he comes up and carries it to the cross. There is no simpler picture of grace. God makes promises and makes your head wet. The promises are given in the sin is taken. Jesus bears that baptism and the water with all your sin. He walks up out of the water and hangs on the cross and suffers God's just punishment. And you are declared by the word and the water to be righteous in God's sight.

There is nothing other to be done than to live according to the promises that you have been given. To reject sin. To speak against it especially within your own family. Take the division Jesus brings and use it to proclaim God's anger over sin. Then point people to the place where God pours out that anger and punishment and Jesus. It's the cross. It's the cross with Jesus on it. It's forgiveness won there and given to you and your family freely by God's grace. Amen.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hebrews 11:1-16; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; August 11, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:1–16, ESV)

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

Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the faith chapter. It's like that famous chapter in 1 Corinthians about love. You know, "love is patient, love is kind… And the greatest of these is love." Here we have a definition of faith and a litany of the faithful.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (11:1)

It is a wonderful description of faith. We indeed take God at his Word and believe in things unseen. For example, we believe God created the world in six days and that he spoke it into existence from nothing.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3, ESV)

And this reading ends talking about how we look forward to a "heavenly country" (16) that our Lord has gone to prepare for us. We take it to be true by faith, unseen.

The book of Hebrews begins also by speaking about God's Word.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

The Word of God is none other than his Son, Jesus Christ. The one who was the active force in creation and the one who lived, died, and rose again to save his creation from the corruption of human sin. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, did all of this to fulfill the promises he made to Adam and Eve to restore them to himself through the forgiveness of sins. There is no speaking of faith in Scripture without a connection to the one who is faithful. Faith must have an object. You can't have faith in nothing. People today try to speak about faith as if faith in faith is enough. If I hope hard enough, if I have a positive attitude, things will work out okay. Faith is not a power in itself to do anything. It is trust in the object of faith. The object of our faith is God, who works in Jesus Christ, who became man and died on the cross to save us from our enemies; sin, death, and the power of the devil. And he rose again from death and ascended into heaven and promises to return to bring us to a new and perfect homeland, and eternal home in a newly created, perfect world. Jesus, the object of our faith, is also unseen to us. And yet, we gather in this place to hear the Word about Jesus and to rejoice in all that God has done for us, unseen. And to cling in faith and trust to the Savior who ascended into heaven and promises to come again and restore to us a world without sin, without death, without pain, or suffering of any kind. This is the homeland that we, and the faithful, those listed here in Hebrews, and all those on our roles, that went before us, seek.

But, there is more to faith then trusting in the unseen. And in fact, the faith chapter goes into some detail to describe this second aspect of faith. That is, trust in the reality of God and his work for us in Jesus Christ, necessarily includes a faithful, righteous response. And that is precisely what we have listed by name. All of the faithful listed here, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and all the others listed after verse 16, had faith in things unseen, but also lived out that faith in action. The righteous response of Abel in giving his best to God cost him his life. Enoch lived his life faithfully and was taken to God without death. Noah faced ridicule and scorn building an ark for an unseen danger. And Abraham and Sarah left all they had and moved to a new country and land that God promised to give them. The list goes on and on. It is a list of the faithful, righteous response, lived out from faith, that is trust, in one who is unseen but shows himself to be faithful.

But by far, the most interesting verse in this whole reading is this one:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13, ESV)

It's the "not having received the things promised" that's so interesting. Not only did they live in faith in the unseen, but they lived in that faith without receiving what God had promised them. In other words they simply looked forward and trusted in God's promise to deliver them out of their life of sin. And all that they did was lived in the knowledge and trust of a future unseen. All that they did was lived in the knowledge and the trust of a Savior unseen. They had faith and trust in the God who promised to deliver them. Notice, the emphasis of this chapter is not the amount of their faith. There is either trust or there is not trust. This passage doesn't push us to ourselves or some power in us. We sinful human beings are so eager to justify ourselves that we often make faith something we do. And we say things like "if my faith were stronger I would not have…"; or "I don't know how I would've gotten through that without my faith." As if to make our ability to withstand contingent on some secret power within us that God has given us. These faithful witnesses show us differently. They encourage us to have faith in the object. Strong faith is not some internal, in the heart force or strength, but it is rather a realization that without Jesus Christ and his faithfulness we would be entirely lost. Strong faith is total dependence on the work of Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness and deliver us to the unseen homeland.

In a way, faith is having the eyes to see what God says is true is true, unseen. Faith is having trust in God that even when things seem to go very badly, we know that God is in control. God does not promise that his faithful people will be free from trouble.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, ESV)

So when trouble comes, look at it with the eyes of faith. If the church doesn't act like the church should act. See instead the promises of God that he works through word and sacrament to bring us the gifts of life and salvation. When death interrupts your life's plans and all seems lost in hopeless; see instead the promises of God in the resurrection of the dead and eternal happy reunion with those we love who died in faith. When your relationships with people are torn apart by conflict and anger; see instead a crucified Jesus who died on the cross for forgiveness, not just yours but also for your enemies. When the world around you pushes against you to accept its way of thinking; See instead trouble that God allows to push you closer to him and trust him all the more. When our Lord's return seems forever in the future; See instead his gracious patients to redeem all the lost.

Seeing with the eyes of faith isn't easy. Faith is not easy. In fact, for sinful human beings faith is so often turned inward instead of to the one true faithful object of faith. He hangs on the cross. He hangs on the cross for you. He bleeds and dies for you. He cries out to the Father, forsaken for you. His lifeless body is buried in the grave for you. He rises from the dead and ascends into heaven for you. And he is coming again for you. And all your trouble, and all your hardship, and all your pain will then be seen fully and completely. And all that he allowed in your life will be seen not with the eyes of faith but with the eyes of reality. You will then know that all was done for the sake of you sharing eternity with him. He is faithful. He keeps his promises. You can have faith in him. Amen.

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

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Luke 12:13-21; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 4, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”” (Luke 12:13–21, ESV)

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

“Ah, a sermon about money!” Or maybe, “Oh no, a sermon about money!” You hear it all the time, “The church only wants to talk about money!”

“Bill, I was so disappointed.” Mary said, “I worked so hard to get Sally to come back to church.” Finally, after months of trying she gave in and came. Couldn’t Pastor have preached on the Epistle lesson for today? After it was all over Sally said to me, ‘Well, that’s just what I remembered it was like. The Pastor asked for money… again.’”

It’s probably one of the greatest excuses for not coming to church. “They’re only interested in getting into my wallet.” It’s something you’ve heard, as well as I.

“Pastor,” some people say. “You stick to ‘spiritual’ stuff, and leave my bank account alone.”

Well, Jesus actually spends a lot of time preaching about money. Today’s text is one of those times. Really, here though it’s not technically money that he’s preaching about, it’s greed. It’s the love of wealth, the love of money that he’s speaking against. St. Paul echoed Jesus caution about the love of money.

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, ESV)

Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” I know we too, say things like this all the time. We say that people are more important than money. And yet there is a marked difference in the way we treat people who seem to have it and those who don’t. There is an excuse that comes up in our minds that says, people who are poor must deserve it. They must be lazy. They must have some character flaw that led them to where they are. And we make excuses for avoiding them. Like: “There’s a difference between poor clean and poor dirty. I don’t mind those who are poor, but I can’t abide those who are lazy.” The excuse has a way of putting everyone who is poor in the lazy bucket. Well, my Christian friends, Jesus doesn’t see such a difference. He doesn’t care if a person has never done a decent days work in their lives. He doesn’t care if they’ve squandered all their money on prostitutes. He doesn’t care if they haven’t washed their cloths or themselves for a week. Jesus loves them just the same. In fact, he loved them and shows his love by giving up his very life to save them all. Lest we forget, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV) He loved the whole world that means every person in it, the rich, the poor, the filthy and the clean, and the lazy. With him there is no distinction. We gather here in this beautiful church that is maintained by the money we give, and we forget that we are really no different than the “lazy” or “dirty” people we so much want to avoid.

A good number of you probably give regularly to the poor. But we do it in a very safe and distant way. A way that assures that we can continue feel good about doing them, but have no contact with the people we are helping. We can drop our small amount of money in their laps, feel good about ourselves, and still not have to look them in the eye. It’s because we measure them by what they have, by how they dress, by how clean they are. Like it or not we measure people… and ourselves, by possessions. We carefully hold on to what we have, even when what we have is much more than we need. We do it precisely because we value ourselves by the abundance of our possessions, and we completely ignore the fact that God promises to take care of us and give us everything we need. And that’s exactly why this parable of Jesus speaks to us. Jesus makes sure of it. Instead of sitting on the outside clicking our tongues at the Rich Fool, Jesus makes sure we recognize that we are the Rich Fool. Jesus is showing us our own greed and warning us to be careful of it. He is not telling us to watch out for greed in other people.

Look at how he starts it out. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” You see, the man was already rich. He already had more than he needed. He needed nothing else for his life and support. Already his future was secure. He was rich; he didn’t even need to save for a rainy day. In the parable this already rich man received an extra blessing. “The ground produced a good crop.” He didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t because he worked hard, or even because he already had money. You know how it is. A farmer can plant, fertilize, irrigate, cultivate to his heart's content and still the crop can be awful. God provides the harvest and the abundance in the harvest is as God decides. A bad year or a good year for crops is the decision of God. This rich man didn’t earn the abundance he had been given, the “land produced.” It was a gift over and above his need.

And look what he does. “He thought to himself…” His first thoughts are about how he is going to keep this gift. He only discusses the matter with himself. No financial advisor, no family, no friends, no God. The only question he asks himself is: “Where shall I store my crops?” There’s no concern for his neighbors, no concern for people who are hungry, no concern for anyone but himself. His solution is borne out of greed. He decides that he will tear down his already full barns and build bigger ones. “This is what I will do, with my grain. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones for myself. And I’ll store all my stuff in my new and bigger barns.” And then he goes even one step farther. He congratulates himself on his wisdom. Just like he didn’t consult with anyone on his decision he tells himself just how smart he is. “I will say to my soul, “Soul, you’ve made it big. You’ve got it made. You can eat, drink and be merry.” What he says betrays his real intentions. It shows his greed. He is his own god. He doesn’t even intend to share his parties in the future. He intends to celebrate alone.

But the blessed, rich man is mistaken in his self-sufficiency. The very soul he intends to pamper is just what he looses. He isn’t even able to begin his plans. It is all taken away from him. The very thing he thinks is wisdom, God calls foolish. The things he does that he thinks are very smart, are the very things that God says makes him a fool. He plans for many years; God takes his life that very night. There were not many years of pleasure to come. In fact, after the harvest there were simply a few hours of worry. “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” God asks. And the answer is: other people; other people that he should have been thinking about anyway. God’s intention was fulfilled. The gift was given through the rich man, to be given to other people. And that’s exactly what happened, anyway. Jesus also said, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25, ESV)

It doesn’t take the Wisdom of Solomon to see that what the rich man has done amounts to nothing. Actually, we heard some of Solomon’s Wisdom today, too. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, ESV) This struggle is as old as Solomon and older even. If we consider the rich fool and what Solomon is complaining about we might come to the conclusion that the easiest way to remedy the problems that come with riches is to give away what isn’t needed. And that seems, at least in part, what Jesus is saying.

Look at the last verse of the text for today. So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The rich fool, laid up treasure for himself. His problem wasn’t that he was rich. It was that, in spite of the abundance of the gifts that were given to him, he showed a lack of faith in God to provide. He was rich for himself, and not rich in respect to God. In fact, you might even say that God saw him as destitute. His real problem wasn’t even really what he did with his wealth. His real problem was that he wasn’t rich toward God. Being rich toward God has nothing to do with the things we have. It doesn’t even have anything to do with how we use the material gifts we’ve been given. Being rich toward God has everything to do with our relationship with him.

It should be very clear as we look at the rich fool and see ourselves in the way he thinks and acts, that we have no hope at all of being rich toward God. It is true. We are by nature sinful and unclean, selfish and greedy. But, God in his great mercy has made us rich instead of poor, anyway. He has built a relationship for us; he has made us rich toward himself. It isn’t based on our bank accounts. It isn’t based on our cleanliness. It isn’t based on our abilities, good fortune or our lack of laziness. If it were we’d still be poor miserable sinners, lost in our sin. God has given us the greatest gift of all. Our sinful and selfish nature has been put to death. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20, ESV) That’s what it means to be rich toward God. To have Jesus in the life you now live in the flesh. To have faith that what God declares for you is true. To believe that everything that he has done for you means that he will take care of you no matter what. You know what he has done, you know the promises he has made. The perfect life of Jesus; the perfect suffering and death of Jesus; the resurrection to new life by Jesus; is God’s gift to you. It’s God’s promise that you are forgiven, that your sinful nature doesn’t affect your relationship with him. To live by faith in the Son of God, is to hold on to the promises of Jesus who loves you and gave himself for you. That’s what it means to be rich toward God. That was it means to be really, really rich. Few of us will ever be called multi-millionaires. Few of us can really imagine how much money that really is. The richness that God gives us in Jesus is also totally beyond our understanding. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1, ESV)

You remember how I said that the rich fool was rich before the story started? You remember how I said that the rich fool was really you and me? Why do you think Jesus told us a story about ourselves? I think He did it so we can see that the story really has a different ending. We are already rich, we have been made God's children in baptism. We have all the promises he gives to his children. And yet God continues every day to give us more than we need, every day. We don’t have to worry about socking it away for our future; our future is already set and sure, we live by faith in the Son of God. The gifts that God gives us he gives us to share. Amen.

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