Sunday, September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-7; 14th Sunday after Pentecost; September 15, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
Who would miss one sheep in a hundred?  Sheep look very much alike, wooly balls of fluff standing in the ‘open country’ slowly walking and eating…  bleating softly to one another.  Baa, baa,
“Have you seen Wooly today, Fluffy?”
“Now that you mention it Cotton, I haven’t…  I haven’t I wonder where she’s gone… have you seen her, Bobbin?”
One silly sheep in hundred, has wondered off…  not many notice.  But there is someone who does notice.  He begins looking for the sheep right away.  First, he counts the sheep, because something doesn’t feel right with the flock.  97:Cotton… 98:Bobbin… 99:Fluffy… 100?!?  I thought so.  He looks over the flock.  Wooly is gone again.  The shepherd notices when even one sheep is missing.  He knows everyone by name… it is his job to care for them.  When they wander off, he goes out to get them.   He must. The world outside the flock is dangerous.  There are thorns and brambles to get caught in.  There are hungry animals who love the taste of lamb.  The silly sheep just walks and eats, not watching where she’s going.  Pretty soon she’s walked right into a thicket of thorns.  The more she pulls to get free the deeper the thorns grab into the matted wool of her coat.  The more she struggles the more she becomes entangled.  Now the thorns have pierced her skin and blood begins to flow, coagulating as a dark red mass in his wooly white coat…. It’s a fine mess.  One lost sheep, perfectly tenderized and ready for any hungry predator that happens along.  One lost sheep perfectly lost all alone and no where to turn.
We very easily see ourselves here, stuck in the thorns with the sheep.  Over and over again we hear about people who have strayed from the flock, we may even have our own story of how we have gotten lost, tangled up in the thorns that are out there, perfectly ‘tenderized’ for Satan to come and take his prize.  All of us at one point or another in our lives have been right where Wooly is, with no where to turn?  But, let’s look at the parable again.  It just doesn’t talk much about the sheep.  It says… "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.”  The parable really isn’t about the sheep.  It’s the shepherd who gets top billing.  The sheep just gets lost.  The storyteller doesn’t say how or why.  The primary focus of this parable is The Shepherd. 
The shepherd is the one who is charged with taking care of the sheep.  He is the one who notices when one of a hundred has wandered off.  He is the one leaves the ninety-nine to go and look for the missing one.  By the way…  back then, shepherds didn’t leave sheep unattended.  A very large flock was broken up into sub flocks of a hundred sheep each.  That’s the number a shepherd can reasonably watch.  When a sheep got lost, the neighboring shepherds would watch the flock while he would go out to find the missing one.  The point here is that the shepherd goes to look for the sheep, because he cares for the sheep, even one in a hundred. 
Our minds automatically picture Jesus as the shepherd here.  We picture him all the time with sheep on his shoulders or standing with the shepherd’s staff in the midst of the flock.  He calls himself the Good Shepherd.  It is a very strong image a very meaningful word picture.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures…”  When ever we hear words like this our minds automatically turn to Jesus.  And well they should, for he is the Good Shepherd, the Best Shepherd.
In the parable the shepherd goes after the lost sheep.  What it doesn’t say is that he does so at great personal risk.  The people listening to Jesus would know this because they know what it means to be a Judean shepherd.  They know that because searching for a sheep in the hill country is dangerous for the shepherd.  A lost sheep isn’t easy to find.  Lost sheep don’t do anything to help the shepherd find them.  They don’t sit tangled up in thorns bleating out loud until they are found.  They are frightened.  They quickly fall into despair and become worn out from the struggle.  A lost and frightened sheep will simply ‘go into shock.’  They lie down and become still.  The seeking shepherd must look under the brush, behind rocks, and in crevasses.  He must crawl around on the ground, seeking the place where the sheep has become trapped...  The shepherd can call out to the sheep all he wants but it does no good.  A frightened sheep won’t respond, even to the shepherd’s familiar voice.   It is a long, tedious, tiring and dangerous journey for the shepherd.  The predators that would kill the sheep would just as well attack a seeking shepherd.  But, according to the parable, the shepherd is willing to take the risk for the sake of the sheep.  He goes after the sheep “until he finds it.”
Notice also how he reacts when the sheep is found.  He rejoices.  He doesn’t yell at the sheep for being so stupid as to get lost.  He rejoices that he has found it.  And yet the worst of the job, the most difficult part of the job is still ahead of him.  The sheep is exhausted and frightened.  You can’t drive a sheep in this condition home.  You can’t lead it home; it is a quivering mass of nerves.  The shepherd places the sheep on his shoulders and carries it.  It is the only option.  A full-grown sheep weighs about 70 lbs.  Remember the rocky ground, remember the thorns, and remember the predators?  The journey is only half over.  Yet the shepherd joyfully carries the sheep home.  He bears the great cost of saving the sheep, the bruised aching body and the danger of it all.  And he does it with great joy.  When he returns home with the sheep, there is a great celebration because of what he has done.  This really is absurd.  No real human shepherd is going to haul a full-grown sheep on his shoulders.  It’s beyond their ability.  That’s what makes this story really about Jesus, and only Jesus.  He does what human shepherds can not, will not do.  He suffers himself for the sake of the sheep.  He gives himself for the sake of the sheep.  The story talks about the shepherd bearing the weight of the sheep, that’s Jesus bearing our weight, the weight of our stupid wandering, our sin. 
Sheep get lost, it’s a part of who they are, they go about their daily business, eating and walking, walking and eating.  They ignore the danger about them until it’s too late and they get lost.  They get tangled up in briars and lost in the rocky wilderness.  When it happens they have nowhere to turn.  But this parable is good news for sheep.  It talks about a Good Shepherd comes and finds them.  He pays the price to bring them home.  And he rejoices in it. 
When we were lost and without God; when sin had us tangled in its thorns and Satan was ready to pounce on us for an easy meal; when we had no possibility of saving ourselves and nowhere to turn; the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, comes for us.  He does it at great personal cost.  The way is difficult and painful.  The very same predators are looking to devour us turn on him and all of hell’s fury is unleashed.  The cost of finding us, the cost of seeking us, is a bloody death on the cross.  But it is through that cross that he carries us home.  You see, we can’t.  We can’t be driven.  We are lost quivering sheep hiding in the darkness.  We are totally lost and condemned, tangled up in the thorns and without hope and nowhere to turn.  Our only hope is to be carried home.  Just as Jesus carries that beam of wood that would hold his hands fast, he carries us.  It is our weight, and the weight of our sins, that pulled down on the nails that are driven through his hands and feet.  It is a terrible cost that he endured, but one he is willing to pay because through it he bears us home.  The rejoicing comes, too.  Three days later Jesus doesn’t stay dead but brakes free from the tomb.  This time Jesus carries us from death to life.  And he delivers us home where the rejoicing continues.  “Look what I have done for you!” he says, “I have rescued you when you were lost! You are my precious sheep!”
Jesus knows us very well.  He is the Good Shepherd; he knows his sheep.  He knows how much we can stray.  We just keep eating and walking, walking and eating, and before we know it the treats of the world close in on us… again.  But he keeps us from straying too far.  He is always there with a comforting word, or even a gentle whack of his shepherd’s staff.  He says to us again and again. “I have rescued you.  I have found you.  Remember the cost I have already paid for you.  Remember the rejoicing in heaven over you.  You are my precious sheep and I am your Good Shepherd.”
But, it’s easy to forget.  Life gets busy.  We think about the brambles.  We think about the threatening predators.  We could so easily go back to quivering.  We could so easily forget about the Good Shepherd.  But he is always there.  He never forgets us.  He is here with us today again today.  He reminds us of his great love for us saying, “I am your Good Shepherd.”  Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Amen.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Luke 14:25-33; 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 8, 2019;

Luke 14:25-33; 13th Sunday after Pentecost, September 8, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
How much is it going to cost? That’s a good question.
Listen Bob, I’m not going to start this building project without knowing how much. It isn’t that easy to calculate.  There are a lot of variables to consider.
How am I supposed to know if I can finish the project if I don’t know the total cost? I hear ya Tom.  Maybe I can work up a reasonable estimate. 
Bob, I need better than that.  I need to know the worst case.  Just think what it would look like if I started this project…  what if I got the building half up and then the money ran out.  I’d really look like a fool then wouldn’t I.  I’d never be able to build another building again.  Ya, I see what you mean.  I’ll get right on it.
Thanks Tom.  I really need to know how much this is going to cost me.
How much is it going to cost?  It’s a question we ask ourselves every day.  Maybe not in a dramatic a fashion as Tom, the man building a building, but it is the sensible thing to do.  How much are the car payments?  Can I afford to remodel the house, and add on a bedroom?  Which college can I afford to go to?  How much will the herbicide cost?  If I don’t use it how is it going to affect the yield?  We know how to count the cost.  What Jesus is saying to us today is this: “You know how to count the cost of things in your life.   Have you accurately counted the cost of being my disciple? Do you really know what it means to follow me?”
“First, of all,” Jesus says.  “Do you realize that if you want to follow me, you have to hate your family.”  I don’t know about you… but I don’t like the sound of that at all.  I happen to love my family very much.  After all, I work to support them.  I try to provide them with everything they need, food, clothing, Christian education.  I try to spend time with them, and don’t like to be away for too long.  It seems to me that the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and mother.  And the Sixth commandment: You shall not commit adultery.  Have something to say here too.  Don’t these commandments specifically apply to my family?  Isn’t what Jesus is saying here going against these commandments? 
Maybe Jesus doesn’t really mean hate here when he says hate your family.  Today’s theme is Count the Cost.  I think we can easily see what Jesus is talking about.  Some people, when they become Christians are disowned by their families.  When I was in Concordia College in Seward, I remember a gal from Taiwan.  When she came to school, she wasn’t a Christian.  But over her time there, God worked in her life through all the people around her.  She heard the Gospel and finally gave a confession of faith.  She was promptly disowned by her family.  When she left for home she was not heard from again.  The great fear in her case is that there are so few Christians in her homeland that she was pressured to return to her family religion.  Maybe the cost was too high for her.  Maybe no one took the time to explain to her what Jesus is saying in this text. 
But Jesus isn’t just talking about people whose families disown them when they become Christians.  He’s talking to us too.  God is to take first place in our lives.  We are to love him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our being.  Remember the 1st Commandment:
The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean?
We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.
We should fear, love and trust God above everything else.  Everything else includes our wife.  Everything else includes our children and parents.  God is to be first.  The most difficult idols to give up are the ones that are closest to our hearts.  What Jesus is saying is that when we place things in our lives in the place that only God should be, pushing them out may indeed feel like hating them; in contrast to the love we hold for them now. 
What Jesus is talking about here may fall much closer to home than we are comfortable hearing.  I’m sure you can think of examples of children who have fallen away from the faith…  yet, parents don’t speak about it, even to each other, for the sake of family unity.  It’s difficult, who wants family gatherings to become a battle ground.  Who wants to ruin the all too brief visits with arguments?  And yet, that is exactly what Jesus is talking about.  Holding God over family unity can feel very much like hating your family. 
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks this idea just a little bit differently. 
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37, ESV)
It isn’t easy.  It is a cross to bear, so to speak.  And Jesus knows that it’s not easy.  He didn’t say, “Take up your Lazy Boy and follow me.” He said “carry your cross.” 
This is a very powerful image.  In Jesus time especially, the person who carried a cross was the one who was going to die on it.  It was a part of the execution itself.  Humiliation, defeat, painful, bloody death, dealt out with cruel indifference.  To bear a cross meant all of these things.  Jesus is saying to us today… the Christian life a life of cross bearing, and you can’t do it unless He is the most important thing in your life. 
By now we are all saying to ourselves, as we look around us to the ones we love; “The cost is too high.  How can I possibly love God more than my children? to do so feels like hating them.  How can I…”  well remember what Jesus said.  “… anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  The cross Jesus is asking you to bear is more than just keeping the first commandment.  The cross Jesus is asking you to bear isn’t just suffering sickness, or family dis-unity.  The cross Jesus is asking you to bear is his cross.  And he expects you to carry it to your death, just as he did.  “I can’t do that!” You say.  Yes, you can.  As matter of fact you’ve very likely done it already. 
And what’s more we’ve seen it happen right here in this place, right before our eyes.  Right here little children have carried their crosses to their death. 
“We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” 
The promise of God there is this.  The sin in your life, the things that you put before God, I have done something about.  I have killed you.  I have raised you.  You are my precious child.  Just as I killed my own Beloved Son, just as I raised my own Beloved Son, this baptism is my promise to you that I have done all this for you.  Go now live your life bearing your cross. 
A little child that is baptized here isn’t your going to love God all the time.  You don’t love God with your whole heart as you should.  Sometimes you love other people, like a child or parents or a spouse more than God.  That’s because of the sin that is in your life.  At times it pushes God out of first place.  But, that’s why Jesus lived and died for you, because we can’t do what God demands.  But, you see, from the day that you were baptized you bore the cross of Christ.  We make that sign:  “Receive the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.” Jesus also said it this way:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23, ESV)
That’s one of the reasons why we come to church every week.  To be reminded again and again of Jesus life, death and resurrection for us.  To be reminded that we live as God’s baptized child every day.
So what about the cost?  Well, the cost is still there.  We don’t try to build a building with out knowing how much it’s going to cost.  Jesus is describing what our lives, as God’s beloved baptized children, are going to be like.  It isn’t going to be easy… sometimes we’ll have to confront our children… sometimes there is going to be family disunity…  sometimes our actions are going to feel like, well, like hating them…  we need to know the cost of following Jesus.  He wants us to know what’s coming, so that when it does, we can remember to bear the cross, his cross… and remember what he did there on that cross for us.  He wants us to remember how our Baptism ties his death to our death… how Baptism ties his resurrection to our resurrection.  When we remember that, God will once again be first in our lives.  Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Luke 14:1-14; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; September 1, 2019;

Luke 14:1-14; Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; September 1, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
One Sabbath, when [Jesus] 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. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”” (Luke 14:1–14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus teaches about the great reversal. It is one of the great themes of the gospel of Luke. He is saying that things in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom he has come to restore, are not like they are in earthly kingdoms.
The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
We see it early in Luke’s Gospel with Mary’s song, the Magnificat.
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52–53, ESV)
Here in our text, Jesus is reversing the common table etiquette of the day. It is a scandal. Jesus is telling the scribes and Pharisees to invite to their table those whom they consider to be unclean and unworthy of table fellowship. They look at the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind the opposite way that Jesus sees them. The Pharisees and the scribes invite people to their banquets who can repay the favor.  It was considered a great honor to be invited to a feast. The scribes and Pharisees honored each other with their invitations. Jesus says exactly the opposite. He turns the tables, the table of fellowship, upside down.  “Invite those who cannot repay with another invitation”, says Jesus. His words are such a scandal that the scribes and Pharisees will kill him for it. They wanted nothing to do with the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” (Luke 15:1–2, ESV)
You see, the scribes and Pharisees had a merit-based system with God. They believed that if they did the right things God would bless them. The ones who are not blessed the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind were, in their opinion, obviously out of favor with God for something they did, some sin. Jesus tears down the whole social structure. It is the Great Reversal, Jesus rejects the scribes and Pharisees, and invites the poor and lowly, the tax collectors and sinners, into his presence, at table with God incarnate. 
At his table our Lord performs the humble active service to his slaves. The biggest reversal of all is that Jesus himself dies for the sins of the whole world. At Jesus’ table, the one who is the greatest is not the one who sits at table, but rather the one who serves. Jesus is the one who girds up his loins and serves. He goes to a bloody death. He is resurrected from the dead, showing that his death as sacrifice is sufficient.
The stone the builders rejected, this has become the head. (Luke 20:17)
Jesus is exalted by his very act of humiliation. He is the greatest in the kingdom serving the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. He serves the sinners like you and me, who deserve nothing but punishment from God and yet receive his gracious forgiveness.
It is perfectly natural for human beings to want fellowship with those who we see is worthy of it. In many churches, there is much more rejoicing over the doctor who joins the church than the tattooed biker. Like the Pharisees and the scribes, the doctor seems to have so much more to give. The doctor seems so much more blessed by God. But in the kingdom of God there is rejoicing over every sinner who turns from sin. The confused homosexual, the struggling alcoholic, the homeless drifter, the housewife who practices her faith despite the objections of her husband, the troubled teenager who acts out because of being ignored or abused at home, even the humble doctor who heals his neighbor. These are the ones that Jesus has come to save. These are the ones who see their sin and know they have nothing to offer God, but their sin.
Our fellowship should be just that, humble service to those who seem to the world to be worthless. Because in Jesus eyes, all people have worth not because of social class but because of their humanity.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV)
When we see our sin clearly, and the gift of forgiveness that is given to us so freely, we can offer that forgiveness to those who will value it most. Luther said,
God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed, the desperate, and those who have been brought down to nothing at all. Luther on Galatians 3:19-26.
You know these people. God has placed them in front of you for you to serve in your vocation. Not for monetary gain, but for the love that Christ has shone to you. Serve with an eye to proclaim God’s love in Jesus. Serve for the opportunity to invite them to fellowship with Jesus.
In January, we went through a process of strategic planning. We looked at the world from the point of view of Jesus command.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, ESV)
We talked about serving the community, the state, the nation, and the world. Following that directive.  We are looking for a way to serve our community specifically. I’m still waiting for a way in which we as the church in this community can do just that. And remember, I’m your pastor, your supporter, and a member of this congregation. So, it is not my ideas alone that will make these things a reality, but yours.
We are blessed by God in this congregation. We come together every week to seek the God who forgives our many sins. And especially our sin of ignoring the ones that God has placed in front of us. Those who will value the fellowship of Christ given through Word, water, and bread and wine.
Our sins are forgiven. Jesus, through his perfect life is substitutionary death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, he brings that forgiveness to us. He offers it freely to those who see their sin and see no other way for salvation. So, live in that love. Serve as you have been given to serve. And remember that you too are a forgiven sinner. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.