Sunday, September 20, 2020

Matt.20.1-16; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020;

Matt.20.1-16; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Thanks to Rev. Edward O. Grimenstein (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 15, part 4) 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ Bob was an unemployed man. He had a terrible time finding work. It really wasn’t his fault the economy was tough. But he had children to feed, house payments to make, and living expenses. But work was hard to come by, so he hung around the employment offices every day hoping to get lucky. He went early, the early bird, tying to be hired for a full day’s work. But there was no who would hire him. As the day dragged on hour by hour, he felt that full day’s work slips away. At noon hope faded, and by late after noon he was so sure that there would be no work for him, he sat down in despair. Today would be an unproductive day. His children would be hungry tonight. Then a man came and hurriedly called out for workers. “It couldn’t be much,” the Bob thought, “but an hour or two would be better than nothing at all.” So, he went. When he got to the field, he was shown what to do, but he had hardly worked at all when the foreman told them all it was quitting time. What a waste of time, Bob thought. The little bit I’ve earned won’t even buy bread for the table. But even with his down spirits he lined up for his pay. And then the most amazing thing happened. Instead of pennies, Bob received a full day’s wage. “This can’t be right,” he meekly protested. “I’ve only worked a few minutes. I don’t deserve this wage.” “That’s right,” the owner answered him, “You don’t deserve it, but I want to give it to you anyway. It’s my gift to you. I want to be generous. Take it. Go home. Feed your family. Sleep well.” The puzzled worker quietly said, “thank you” and left for home. Well, that’s not the kind of story you hear everyday, is it? That’s not the way things work in the real world. This kind of naive boss isn’t going to stay in business exceptionally long. His generosity isn’t very smart, that kind of thing goes against the nature of the world. It even goes against what how we think bosses should act. In fact, we probably think the owner is rather foolish. People should be paid fairly. The should get a check just for what they earn and not a penny more. A full day’s pay should come after a full day’s work. This kind of charity just makes for lazy people. Just think about how angry you’d be if you were among the people who had slaved all day and gotten the same wage as the slacker. At least the full day people earned what they got. That’s why God invented time clocks. Everything in life should be fair. Your employer shouldn’t short you. And he should dole out cash to people who don’t earn it. The next guy should pay for what he works. Everyone should get paid what they deserve to get paid. Once again Jesus parable tells us something different. It stands up in our face and tells us that God doesn’t work the way we think He should work. It says that God’s ways aren’t our ways. It was in the first reading for today, God spoke to his people through Isaiah: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Jesus says the same thing in the parable about the workers. It doesn’t seem fair that people should receive a full day’s wage for a short day’s work. But Jesus tells us that that’s the kind of God we have. And if we don’t listen to what He says carefully, if we don’t understand what He’s talking about it will certainly rub us the wrong way. In this parable we usually put on the all-day-worker’s work boots. We stand in the place of the “good guy, hard worker.” “That’s me!” We say. They deserved the pay. We think somehow that we deserve the things we receive from God. We’re faithful lifelong members of the church. We sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday even if we don’t like the preacher. We’ve sat on boards, and faithfully maintained the church property. We’ve slaved and sacrificed just trying to make sure the doors stay open. Isn’t that worth something? Isn’t that a fair day’s work? We sit down and calculate it all out and think we’ve got a pretty full timecard. And after all that good work, isn’t God obligated to pay us something? If I’m faithful, God has to be faithful, too. And it must be working too, because I’ve got lots of good things going in my life. Well, if we balance out the timecard with the rest of our life, we’ll see that we don’t deserve anything at all from God. As far as God is concerned, we’ve blown it. We’ve left God’s Word out of our lives. Our bibles set on the bookshelf collecting dust. God asks us to live our lives by His Word, we are lazy enough to think Sunday morning is enough. We’ve dropped the ball when it comes to helping our neighbor. We are selective with our help, looking for those who seem to deserve it. Or those who will appreciate help. And if we’ve missed one opportunity to tell the good news about Jesus, we’ve missed a thousand. We speak more about what we really believe in a few seconds of silence, than if we spoke an hour. We are far from that. We hold on to what we think is important, trying to balance the church books, instead of caring for the lost and hurting people who live in this very town. You see, our works, the things we are so proud of are not much in God’s eyes. They are corrupted by our selfishness, pride and laziness. And worse than that God demands that we be perfect. Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:48, ESV). If we set our hearts against all that we think we’ve done, we see very clearly that we don’t deserve any wages at all from God, let alone a full day’s wage. Fortunately! God doesn’t use our timecard. He doesn’t compare our thoughts and our deeds and our actions. He doesn’t do a yearly employee evaluation. God gives us exactly what we don’t deserve. God’s gifts to us are just that, gifts. And we receive them they are a surprise. When God gives and we compare His gifts with our sinful lives, we stand before God with our mouths hanging open. “God, I don’t deserve the life you’ve given me. I’ve sinned in thought word and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone… I’ve done terrible things in my life. I’ve been poorest example of a Christian, especially for the people who know me. I haven’t treated my husband, as I should. I’ve cheated my boss. I’ve horded the money you given me instead of caring for the people nearest to me who need it. I’ve really blown it… I don’t deserve anything from you…” We hold out our timecard to God with a shaky hand. Knowing that the balance what we’ve done is nothing worth any kind of payment, except punishment. But God takes your timecard and says, “This time card is unacceptable,” and he tears it up in little pieces. And then, instead of giving you what you deserve, punishment for your sinful life, anger at offering your meager and corrupted works to Him, he gives you what exactly what you don’t deserve. And it’s more than a day’s wage. He pays you with something you could never afford, something you could never earn. It’s not just life that ends in death, either. He gives eternal life instead of eternal punishment. It is a completely full life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) that abundant life begins in faith in Jesus Christ. Faith given with the pouring of water and the placing of His Name on you. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God says, “New life begins with the giving of my name and it goes on and on forever. God gives us his very life. Jesus says, “Here is my life for yours. You didn’t earn it. I did! You don’t deserve it. I do! It’s my gift to you because I love you.” And He points to the bloody cross, where He died to cancel out all the lousy work that you and I have done. He points to His perfect life, all the good and perfect things He did; His complete love for his neighbors; His perfect compassion for the sick; His over abundant feeding the hungry; His perfectly even and fair treatment of all people regardless of social status and gratefulness; His speaking the truth clearly when it needed to be spoken; His condemning of sin and error; and His love for his enemies even those who killed him; His whole life lived in complete perfect obedience to God the Father’s will, even though it meant the cross. God shows you Jesus’ timecard. It’s full of good work and overflowing. “This is what I’ll use to determine what you deserve. Jesus worked out this timecard for you. Your wages are not death, but eternal life.” Wow! Just think how Bob the worker in the parable felt, blessed. That’s you and me, blessed beyond our deserving. Well, does that mean we don’t have to do anything? Should we resign our boards, quit sending money to the Food Pantry? No! God says clearly that faith goes hand in hand with works. Think about the passage I read to you a couple of weeks ago: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:15-18, ESV) Notice that the passage doesn’t say that we give the good stuff we do to God. We can’t earn the gifts He gives us by helping our neighbor. The point of doing good works, the point of punching the timecard, is helping our neighbor. We don’t need to impress God by working hard. We work hard to show our neighbor the wonderful God, who supplies them with what they need. God blesses us with wonderful earthly gifts, so that we can be a blessing to others. We do it through faith, that God has given us all that we need and more, eternal life through Jesus death on the cross. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September, 13, 2020;

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September, 13, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:15–21, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a lot of water under the bridge! Joseph’s brothers were quite nasty. Not that they didn’t have some cause. Joseph was, after all, daddy’s favorite. It was Joseph against his eleven brothers. Israel, father of all twelve, kept Joseph near, and gave him special gifts, like the special long tunic (probably NOT a coat of many colors). Joseph must have continually rubbed it in his brother’s faces, (kind of like the Smother’s brothers, “mom always liked you best”). As the bible tells us Joseph had his father’s ear and brought a bad report to him about his brothers. They, for their part, could not speak kindly to him. And then there was Joseph’s dreams. The first was about the sheaves of wheat. “Hey brothers! Listen to my dream. We were harvesting wheat and my sheave stood up straight and yours bowed down to mine!” The brothers didn’t take it kindly. “Are you going to be our king? Are we going to be your servants?” It was another nail in the coffin of jealousy. But again, Joseph wasn’t just prideful to his brothers. He told them all about another dream where the sun, moon and 11 stars all bowed down to him. Even his father was displeased. “Am I going to bow down to you?” Such was Joseph’s relationship with his family. Sometime later, Israel sent Joseph to check up on his brothers when they had the flocks in the fields. While he was a long way off the brother’s hatred was sparked by the opportunity to get rid of the “favorite son.” “Let’s kill him and tell father that it was a wild animal that got him.” Such was their hatred for him. This was not your normal dysfunctional family. The oldest brother, though, had a different idea. “Don’t kill him, just throw him into one of the pits around here.” I don’t think that Ruben was really having pangs of guilt. I think he was thinking if he rescued Joseph he would move up in his father’s eyes and be (at least) the 2nd favorite. The brother’s carried out their plot against their brother and threw him into a waterless pit. While Ruben was gone away the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt and took the opportunity to make some cash. They sold the dreamer to them for the price of a slave. When Ruben found out, he wasn’t worried about Joseph but instead wailed, “Now what am I going to do?” The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to a wealthy man in Egypt, named Potiphar. The whole thing with his brothers seems to have mellowed the boy a bit, because he became a very hard worker and was soon over seeing all of his master’s household. The bible says that God caused all he did to succeed. After some time, Potiphar’s wife had eyes for the attractive young boy and tried to seduce him. But Joseph would have no part of it. Finally, she cornered him in the empty house and grabbed ahold of his tunic. He stripped it off and went out of the house without it. Potiphar believed his wife’s story that Joseph was the one who was the offender. He had Joseph thrown into prison. But God was faithful to Joseph still. He was also successful there. Soon he found favor with the jailer and was the head trustee. He took care of everything in the prison. While he was there Pharaoh became unhappy with his cupbearer and his head baker and they ended up in jail. They each had dreams that Joseph interpreted. The cupbearer would be restored by Pharaoh, but the baker hanged. It happened just as Joseph said. But the cupbearer didn’t think about telling Pharaoh about his dream interpreter until two years later when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream that he didn’t understand. The cupbearer remembered Joseph and he was brought to listen to the dream and tell what it meant. “In my dream,” the king began, “I was standing by the Nile river and out came 7 nice looking, healthy cows. But right after were 7 ugly, gaunt cows. The ugly ones ate up the good ones and looked like they were still starving. I had a second dream,” Pharaoh continued, “7 plump ears of corn sprang from the ground followed by 7 thin ones. The thin ones swallowed up the plump ones.” God gave the interpretation to Joseph. There would be 7 good years of great harvest followed by 7 years of terrible famine. The famine would be so great that people all over would completely forget about the good. He advised the king to prepare during the 7 good years by setting someone over the land to collect grain over the first so that it could be used during the second. And Pharaoh agreed. In fact, he picked Joseph for the job. Joseph did so well that he was placed 2nd only to the king himself. Now the famine was as bad as Joseph had said, it even effected the land that his family lived on. Israel sent his 10 oldest sons to buy grain in Egypt as did people from everywhere. When the brothers arrived, they didn’t recognize their brother but he knew exactly who they were. He accused them of lying to him and being spies. He said they could prove themselves if they went home and brought their youngest brother who had stayed behind. Simeon stayed behind and they went home. When the grain ran out, against their father’s protest, Benjamin was taken back. Joseph treated them all well, gave them grain and sent them on their way. Secretly he put a cup from Pharaoh’s table in Ben’s bag. He sent his servants to intercept the caravan and brought them back accusing them of theft. Ruben offered his own life for his younger brother proving that they had changed. Joseph revealed himself to them and invited them to come and live in Egypt through the famine. That brings us to our reading for today. Israel dies and the brothers are worried that Joseph has been waiting to carry out his vengeance against them. They were filled with fear. Their father could no longer protect them from their brother’s anger. They had come face-to-face with the temporal / worldly consequences of their sin. They are repentant and Joseph assures them of their forgiveness. Sin was confessed and absolved. Despite the evil they had done, God had taken it and used it for their good, in fact the good of the whole world. God enabled Joseph to forgive because Joseph himself had been forgiven. The devil has a way of using our guilt against us. He wants us to live in fear. He doesn’t want us to receive God’s free and full forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus Christ as our savior from sin. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus as the one who took God’s punishment for our sin into the grave and rose from the dead victorious. He works extremely hard to get us to live in fear and doubt God’s forgiveness. He sets us up to fear just like he did with Joseph’s brothers. God must be out to get us, punish us, and kill us. He couldn’t possibly forgive me. Satan has us right where he wants us when we are scrambling about in fear with nowhere to turn, trying to protect ourselves. What Satan doesn’t want us to see, is Jesus. He is God’s answer to our sin. In love, God, the Father, takes our sin and heaps it on his own Son, Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to a cross, of his own free will. There hanging suspended between heaven and earth, he suffers God’s punishment for the sin of Joseph and his brothers, and for yours and mine. Jesus’ death is what we deserve, rejection by God and the eternal punishment of hell. But miraculously, after three days dead and in the grave, Jesus lives again. Not just some spiritual resurrection either, a real, physical, bodily resurrection. It is proof that God has vanquished sin, and death, and most important Satan. What Jesus has done, is promise us new life again after our death. Satan no longer has the threat of God’s punishment in hell for you and me. Jesus has removed that. Our death no longer leads to punishment but a waking to new life forever. Joseph’s pit of despair was turned into salvation for his family. Jesus’ cross, his pit of despair, is our salvation. That’s the good news that God wants for you today. Jesus is your savior from sin, death and hell. He tells you that you have no need to fear. He promises you full and free forgiveness. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 6, 2020;

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 6, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’” (2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, ESV) David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.” (2 Samuel 12:13–15, ESV) Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. David sat impatiently waiting. Ever since Nathan had contacted him, he felt uneasy as if there was something to dread with this visit. But, truthfully, David was angry. “Why must he come and interrupt my important business? I am the King of Israel and Judah. What does he have to tell me that is so important that it can’t wait for my schedule? I don’t have time for a prophet, today.” It was going to be a difficult day. Governing had become increasingly difficult over last year. Decisions were harder to make… People seemed less cooperative… and David himself felt as if he was going nowhere. Everything in his life was more difficult since she came. He was sure Bathsheba brought these troubles with her. At first when she came, after the appropriate mourning period, it felt good to finally be together. It felt good to finally get all the trouble behind them and move on with life. After her husband, Uriah, died… rather was killed… bravely in battle. David had done the honorable thing taking care of her and her child, in honor of her husband’s ultimate sacrifice. And she was incredibly beautiful after all. David pictured his wife in his mind. He remembered the first time he had seen her on the roof. Any man would have felt the same, any man would have sent for her… he had only done what any man would have done. Her image filled his mind… but instead of love, it only brought anger, and the anger welled up in him, “Where is that prophet!!” he scowled. “Nathan the prophet is here, my Lord,” called his servant. “What are you waiting for? Send him in! Can’t you see I’m waiting? I haven’t time for this… hurry, I must get back to my business!” And the servant scurried off. The prophet entered slowly, as if he was carrying a great burden. He looked at David for a long time before speaking. “My Lord, I have a story for you.” Impatiently David replied. “Yes, get on with it.” “There were two men who lived in a certain town, one rich and one poor…” began the story. “The rich man had many sheep… the poor man only one.” The story immediately gained the king’s attention. He remembered how he too, was once a shepherd. How he had cared for little sheep, feeding them and protecting them. He grinned when Nathan described how for the poor man his one little sheep had become more than just an animal for food, but actually a household pet. How it was so loved that it was even fed at the poor man’s table, just like one of his own children. It was an interesting story. David had always loved sheep, especially the little ones. “A traveler came…” continued Nathan. “The lamb of the poor man was killed and eaten by the rich man and his guest, because the rich man couldn’t bear to waste one of his own sheep on a no name visitor.” Instantly David was on his feet. His anger boiled over. His face flush. “Any man who has done such a thing in my kingdom deserves to die. He must pay four times over for the sheep, because he had no pity on the poor man.” “You are the man!” Nathan stated looking David directly in the eye. “You are the man!” That was David’s rebuke. These words are some of the most severe law in the entire bible. They seem to have taken David completely by surprise. He was going alone; doing whatever it is that kings do, living in the sin of his marriage to Bathsheba. Living with the knowledge that he had killed Uriah as surely as if he had swung the sword himself. Thinking that God would just let it all go… hoping that God had already forgotten… after all, he was the anointed king… certainly his position allowed him some leeway. Through Nathan God points an accusing finger. “After all I have done for you, after all I have given you, you have killed a man to have his wife. You have killed a man to cover up your own selfishness and greed. You have killed a man to cover up your inability to control yourself.” The accusing Word, the sword that cut David’s heart, is sharpened by his own words. “The man who has done this deserves to die!” Literally “he is a son of death.” David’s own condemnation is applied to himself. And there is nothing he can say in his own defense. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He says. We can imagine him lying on the floor with his face on the ground awaiting God’s deathblow. Have you ever been there? Lying face down before God knowing that he sees your sin. Knowing that you deserve the condemnation and the punishment that David deserved. Knowing that you too have been selfish, that you have lacked self-control. You may remember a time when you wanted what your neighbor had, and maybe you even plotted to get it. Or maybe you have been living with a sin that you hoped God would simply ignore. Maybe you’ve thought to yourself that you are entitled because… “I’m better than my neighbor… at least I don’t do the things that they do.” Well, God does not tolerate sin. He does not ignore it. He hates it in every form. Unjustified anger, greed, lack of self-control, lies, gossip… all are alike in his eyes. All are sin. All deserve the same accusation… all deserve the same punishment. Because of any one of them, Nathan’s words point to you and say, “You are the man!” I also want you to notice something else in the text. I want you to notice how serious God is about sin. “Because you have done this… the son born to you will die.” David’s sin had serious consequences. His son would die. Sin brings death. The Apostle Paul said it like this, centuries after David; “The wages of sin is death.” And it isn’t just murder, but all sin, from the smallest lie to the grossest murder they all result in death. David’s son died because of David’s sin. It is true for you too. Someone must die for your sin. If you are ever tempted to think that God will pass over and ignore sin, remember the price that was paid for yours. Here in this text David’s son dies because of sin… Jesus Christ, Son of David also died because of sin. Paul again wrote in his letter to the Romans; “He who did not spare his own Son…” but he gave him up for the sin of us all. God is so serious about sin that he allowed his one and only perfect Son to die because of your sin. But the death of Jesus isn’t only about how much God hates sin. It is, more importantly, about how much he loves you. God is not willing that any should be eternally lost, and that is why he allowed Jesus to die. He wants everyone to be with him forever, and when that possibility was threatened by sin, he did something about it. He placed the sin of the entire world on Jesus Christ and then abandoned him to the cross to suffer and die because of it. He gave to him the deathblow we, along with David, deserve. And when Jesus rose again the bonds of sin and death were released, and they hold no power over us anymore. Look again at the text. When the accusing finger points at David, he simply confesses his sin. No excuses, no doubts, no shifting blame. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He says simply and quietly. He confesses his sin. And notice; God doesn’t give David what he deserved. Instead of striking David dead, God speaks again through Nathan. “The Lord has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die.” David had faith that God would forgive his sin. He knew that God was gracious and merciful. He knew that God was planning to do something about the sin that ruled his life. He knew that one of his descendants would be the Savior that would take away the sin of the world. David confessed to God in that faith, and he was forgiven. We now look back and know it was Jesus Christ, who died the death of the whole world’s sin on the cross. And just as he died for sins of David, his murder, his adultery, and his lies, we know that he died for us. When the accusing finger point to us saying, “You are the man!” “You are the woman!” “You are the sinner!” We turn to God and say, “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.” No excuses, no doubts, no shifting blame, just simply and quietly confessing our sins. And God replies, “My Child, I have already forgiven you, you will not eternally die.” “… as a called and ordained servant of the word, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” God forgives you as surely as he forgave his servant David, and as surely as Jesus was crucified and as crucified, risen and ascended Lord of all. There is sin in your life. I know there is because there is sin in my life too. We will struggle with sin until our dying day or until Jesus returns again. But it doesn’t have to rule our lives; it doesn’t have to control us. God had made a way of dealing with it. “If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse of from all unrighteousness.” That is what we are doing here today isn’t it; receiving the gifst he brings, forgiveness of sins, being cleansed from all unrighteousness. The gifts he gives us through the spoken word, bread and wine, and water. That is what makes this place so beautiful. It is because of what happens here, what God does here, through his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Luke.7.36-50; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 30, 2020;

Luke.7.36-50; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 30, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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” (Greek δανιστής) 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 everyday 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 number 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 Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Matthew.16.13-20; The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; 26-Aug-2020;

Matthew.16.13-20; The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; 26-Aug-2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN;

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)

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

And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Well, the confession doesn’t get any clearer than that. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.”  Peter surely doesn’t understand all the implications of the confession, but he is saying something miraculous. The man, Jesus, his friend, his teacher, standing before him, breathing the same air, eating the same food, wearing out the same sandal leather, this human being is from God, himself; the promised Messiah; the Christ.  Christ is a title that means “the anointed one.”  Saying that Jesus is the anointed one is saying that he is the one set aside and appointed to do a specific task for God. The specific task of the Christ is to save God’s people from their sin. Peter was saying exactly that. He knew who the Messiah was supposed to be and why he was supposed to come. That’s the promise of God that Peter heard from his parents and his church. That’s the promise of God throughout Peter’s bible.

Peter may be thinking about the promise made in the garden:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

It means that Satan is defeated. He won’t have control over God’s people anymore. This is the first promise of what the Messiah, the Christ, is going to do.

Peter may have been thinking about the promise made to Abraham as he sheathed the knife that was held at Isaac’s throat. God tells Abraham to take his son, his only hope for the future, and offer him as a sacrifice, a burnt offering. Abraham faithfully obeys all the way to placing the knife against the soft flesh of his son’s neck. God intervenes and provides a substitute and a promise. A ram is caught in the thorns. The lamb’s life is sacrificed in place of Isaac’s. Isaac is spared. A different sacrifice is given. Its blood is shed instead. And God promises Abraham:

and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18 ESV)

This event isn’t just a picture of Abraham’s willingness to do what God said. It is a picture of faith, but also a picture of the object of the faith. It is a picture story of the Christ and Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus is the substitute in death for the sin of the world. Jesus is The Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world.

Peter may have even been thinking about the confessions of the prophets. Like King David who writes in Psalm 22 the very words Jesus uses on the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1 ESV)

Jesus is suffering the just punishment for sin. He uses David’s words (which are God’s Words) to describe it. God turns away from Jesus. God abandons Jesus to punishment and death and hell. Jesus receives the just punishment for sin, eternal separation from God, that’s exactly what hell is. The just punishment for sin is poured out on Jesus on the cross.

Peter may have been thinking about Isaiah. He describes the Christ as the one who carries the load of sin. The Messiah is the one who removes the punishment of the sins of the world, by bearing its burden.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)

All this is Peter’s confession. It comes from God’s Word. All this is what it means when Peter says that Jesus is the Christ. It is something miraculous and amazing. He didn’t just figure it out on his own, God, the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. God, the Holy Spirit spoke through him. And it isn’t just the words that are amazing it’s also the fact that Peter utters them so clearly without reservation. In this instance Peter lives us to his nickname, the Rock. He is rock solid, faithful, and confessional.

My friends in Christ, Peter’s confession is our confession.  “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.”  We’ve said it already a half a dozen times this morning. We’ll say it more times before our worship time is through. It is one of the reasons we gather as a congregation; to say clearly what God has given us to say about Jesus; to confess our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, our Savior from sin, death and hell.  To worship God by proclaiming who He is and what He has done for us.

Peter gives a great confession. But he very shortly erases all that he said. When Jesus tells the disciples all what it really means to be the Christ, Peter reacts outside of his clear confession.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)

Jesus sets Peter in his place. It’s as if he says, “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection, all that I have come to do. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me again as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”

But we are no different than Peter. Life happens. Stuff happens. Roofs leak. There are bills to pay. Pastors come and go. Long faithful members die. Communities change. Families fight and struggle for power. We worry and fret about survival. And our confession evaporates in a cloud of trouble. Jesus is not at the center anymore. So, our Lord Jesus rebukes us. “Get behind me Satan. You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but instead the things of man have been put at the center.”

Jesus puts us in our place. “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”

How do we survive at such criticism? How do we react to God’s Word that convicts us of our sin? It is all in the confession. It is in the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come into the world to bring us forgiveness of sin. This isn’t some un-practical, un-relevant thing. You and I are sinful. We tend push Jesus out of the center. We do it not only as the church, but also in our personal lives. As we just heard:

“… we have sinned in thought, word and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.”  (Divine Service, Setting Four, LSB, p. 203)

Life happens. Stuff happens. Our sin comes to the surface again and again. We pay for it over and over again, broken church, broken lives, broken promises, and broken friendships.  It never ends as long as we live. We cannot free ourselves. And more than that, when we die in our sin, without faith in Jesus, there is only eternal punishment. There is nothing more relevant, more important than the message spoken by Peter, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

My dear Christian friends, today I come to you to proclaim exactly what I did the first time I spoke from this pulpit. With Jesus there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness in Jesus only. He has forgiveness for your failures, forgiveness for your broken promises, forgiveness for your thinking more of money than of Jesus, forgiveness for thinking that it is your job to save the church, forgiveness for thinking of yourselves first instead of others.  Forgiveness is all here, in Jesus Christ. It is found here at the font, where born sinful people are washed clean and adopted by God; where sin is washed away forever, where God’s promises put on people with His name.  It is found in Jesus on the cross. It is found in Jesus in His holy and precious blood shed for you. You receive it right here in, with and under bread and wine, Jesus’ special meal for you.

Quia semper pecco, semper debeo accipere medicinam. Because I always sin, I always ought to take the medicine (Lord’s Supper). St. Ambrose

It is found in his suffering and death as payment for the debt you owe for your sin. It is found in his bearing of your grief and sorrow over sin. He is wounded for your transgressions. He is crushed for your iniquities.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3-4 ESV)

What does that forgiveness mean? It means that as life happens, as stuff happens, our sin is taken care of. We can serve each other without fear. The things we do for one another are washed clean of sin. Our self-serving motives are taken to the grave by Jesus. Dear Christians, confess with me and Saint Peter, the confession that makes all the difference for us. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Amen.

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

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Matthew 15.21-28; Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 16, 2020

 Matthew 15.21-28; Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28, ESV)

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

“Great is your faith!”  That’s what Jesus says about this Canaanite woman.  It’s pretty amazing, considering that at first, he doesn’t even listen to her. There she is crying out again and again, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Have mercy on me… Have mercy on me…  But [Jesus] didn’t answer her a word. Nothing at all. Not a peep… not a whisper… nothing at all. In fact, you might infer from the way that Matthew, the Gospel writer puts it, that Jesus flat out ignored her. But she’s persistent in her plea for help, so much so, that the disciples get tired of it. “Get rid of her. Tell her to go home. Remind her that she’s not worthy. Send her away, for she is crying out after us. If it doesn’t bother you, Jesus, we’re telling you now that she is bugging the heck out of us.

It’s pretty clear what the disciples though of her. She was and outsider. Not a member of Club Jesus. She was outside the loop. A dirty beggar looking for a free handout. One of those folks that just take what you give for free and abuse it. If she gets a handout today, I’ll bet you’d find her buying cigarettes or beer tomorrow. She doesn’t even know how to keep quiet in church. Her kids were probably ill behaved, too. Can’t you see the looks she must have been getting? You know the ones. They say, “Hey, can’t you keep quiet, I can’t hear what Jesus is saying… to me. I can’t concentrate on Jesus with all your bellyaching.”  Well, the disciples were just being human. They are reacting just as you and I react all the time. We are incredibly careful in helping, or as the woman was asking, “showing mercy.”  We like to hold back until we see a sign that the help we offer will be received correctly. We like to hold back until we see a sign that it will be received by a person who is worthy of our help. We hold back our real welcome until “unacceptable” behavior changes. After all we don’t want to be taken advantage of. We don’t want to be enable rotten behavior. But most of all we don’t want to act in any way that would give anyone the impression that we don’t value money. After all there’s nothing worse than wasting money on people who don’t deserve help. There is no greater sin than being over generous.

Well, maybe the disciples were taking their cue from Jesus. After all, he didn’t say anything to her. He didn’t encourage her. He didn’t rebuke her and tell her to be quiet. Nothing. So, the disciples must have thought that he was agreeing with the way they felt. They must have thought that all Jesus needed was a little nudging to get rid of the annoyance, so that they could all get back to the important business at hand… so that everything could get back to normal… without rude interruption.  Send her away…” they said to Jesus.

[Jesus] answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Those words might have set the disciples faces to grins. They might have even been thinking about turning to the woman and giving her the brush off. For once, something Jesus said seemed to agree with the way they were thinking. Instead of the phrase, “you of little faith…”  Instead of feeling lost and confused, Jesus seemed to agree with what they thought. For once they were right, they thought. There was no place for this woman in their crowd. There was no place for this non-Jewish woman among them. Her problems were hers to deal with. They had more important things to do. But the woman wasn’t about to cooperate. She took one last stab a Jesus’ attention. She pushed through the disciples to get to Jesus and fell at his feet, shouting, “Lord, help me!” 

The next words Jesus speaks just don’t feel right. It’s not the kind of response to a hurting person that we expect from Jesus. We might scratch our heads in wonder because the words seem callous… almost rude. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. How could the man who let people touch the tassels of his robe to be healed say such a thing to a needy person? How could the man who restored a man’s withered hand begrudge this woman what she sought? How could the one who said, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)  Turn this woman away. 

But the woman’s response is also just as unexpected. Her response is really at the heart of what’s going on here. Her response opens up her heart and shows us what’s inside. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  At first look you might think that she’s disagreeing with what Jesus says. Especially the way it’s usually translated. “Yes, Lord, yet…” or “Yes, Lord, but…”  But she’s what she’s saying is really more like “Of course not, Lord, the dogs get their own food from the scraps that fall from the table.  The children are taken care of but so are the dogs. Each in a way that is appropriate. Think about the dog lover who drops food to the floor for the dog. The dogs aren’t neglected. They receive what’s left over from the table.

So, what’s so great about what she says? What’s so profound? What’s so exceptional about the faith she expresses here? Well, this woman, this outsider, this gentile, is absolutely convinced that Jesus has something for her. She is sure that Jesus isn’t just for the disciples. She is sure that Jesus will help her. She shows it in her persistence. She shows it in her words. Her faith isn’t in her ability to speak to Jesus. It isn’t in the disciples. She has faith in Jesus. He is the one, the only one, who can save. Great faith is great not because of the one with faith but because of the object of that faith. She sees Jesus clearly as one who can and will help. She sees Jesus for who he really is… just as she spoke earlier, “O Lord, Son of David…” words that say she recognizes Jesus as the promised Savior of the Jews, but also as her promised Savior.  The author of Hebrews says it like this, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus heals the daughter. But don’t think of what Jesus does as a reward for the woman’s “Great faith.”   It is nothing less than she expects from Jesus. Jesus heals because he is gracious. Jesus heals because he has mercy. Jesus heals to show that faith in him is well placed. He speaks his words of praise to her for the sake of the others who were listening. The disciples would have sent her away, like we might have done, too. It was Peter who rightly spoke that he wouldn’t leave Jesus because he had the words of eternal life. Yet, he expected this woman to be forced away. Faith held her there, faith in God through Jesus Christ. She would not be sent away.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV)

Jesus demonstrates his exceptional mercy in action. He demonstrated it through the healing of the woman’s daughter… but he demonstrated it even more clearly at the cross. It was because his cries for mercy there went unanswered that God hears our cries for mercy now. God, the Father, turned his back on his only begotten son on the cross. It is the rejection that we should experience. It is the punishment that should be ours for disregarding the law of God. It is the punishment we earn for our unwillingness to give help where help is needed simply because we think it won’t be appreciated, or properly received. We should be sent away, outsiders from God, no better than that woman from Canaan. But we too, know what she knew.  Jesus is for us. Because of Jesus death and resurrection, we are gathered to God. It isn’t because we are worthy, quite the contrary we are wholly unworthy. It’s because we have faith in Jesus to be for us exactly what he promises to be, and to do for us exactly what he promises to do.

Martin Luther once said, “Faith clings to the Word in the heart and does not doubt the Word.”  What he means is this: 

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Creed)

That’s the great faith that Jesus is talking about. The faith that the Canaanite woman had, believing that Jesus was for her. That’s what we believe too. Jesus for me, Jesus for you. Amen.

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

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Isaiah 55:1-3; Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; August 2, 2020;

Isaiah 55:1-3; Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; August 2, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

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

So, have you ever been really thirsty? Or really hungry? I don’t mean just a little, I mean really, really thirsty; hot, and dry and parched. Your tongue gets thick and stiff, and sticks to your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Your lips crack and if you lick them, they just get more dry instead of less. You can pull dry layers of skin from them, too. Even your eyes seem to be dry and the wind burns in them. That’s dry. How about hungry that’s more than just a little rumble in your stomach. I remember a time when I worked for my cousin on his garbage truck. It was a cold January day. He was sick and needed someone to help run the route. I bundled up and made the rounds. It was a smelly, dirty, exhausting job. But what I remember most was lunchtime. I had worked extremely hard and I was very hungry and very thirsty. Lunch was packed for us… a large jar of water, clear and wet, and simple cheese and mayo sandwiches. I drank the water like I never had before. And never had cheese and mayo tasted so good. We ate and napped and then went back to work. It was a long and hard day.

Hunger and thirst are universally understood. Everyone’s been hungry and thirsty at sometime in their life. There are some who are always hungry and always thirsty, they are literally starving. It’s sad to realize that there is well enough food to feed everyone, and yet millions are on their way to death from starvation. It is particularly difficult to see when it involves young children.

The children of Israel were thirsty and hungry, too. After settling into the Promised Land they had basically ignored God, the one who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery, and given them the land. They went through the motions, but it was empty worship. It was empty action without real meaning. Isaiah asked them “Who’s your real king? Are you trusting in earthly kings, are you trusting in foreign kings? You shouldn’t be you should be trusting in your God.” But, life went on for them. They ignored Isaiah’s pleas to the people to return to the true king, God, YHWH the one who had chosen them and saved them.

“Watch out!” He said. “Babylon is coming, and you are going to be taken into exile. Everything you have now, your wealth, your families, and even land is going to be taken from you. You will be taken to a far away land.” His words went unheeded… Babylon came and conquered the land and the people, and the survivors were hauled off into slavery and exile. Earthly things and kings had failed them. They had lost everything. They were thirsty and hungry for things to be different.

You see, Isaiah wasn’t talking about a famine where food and water were scarce; he was talking about spiritual hunger and thirst. And that too is something we understand. The world is thirsty and hungry, actually starving to death, and not even aware of why. People everyday search for meaning in their lives. They go to every well and banquet they can find. What they are experiencing doesn’t seem all that bad, it is a less immediate hunger and thirst, but it is no less dangerous. Famine and drought are common today, even in areas (especially?) where there is plenty to eat and drink. If you know and watch people at all you know you don’t have to look far to find emptiness. For lots of people life is a void, an undefined dissatisfaction with the way things are, even though they have all they could ever want or need. Most people that we come into contact with every day are filled with good, and yet they feel that something is lacking. People today are spiritually hungry and thirsty. Many are actually starving and parched, even in the midst of plenty. In their search for satisfaction people stuff themselves with a steady diet of spiritual junk food. Sects and cults have never been more popular. There is a constant demand for spiritual gurus and advisors. People are turning to television personalities to answer spiritual questions of life and death. But the food they are eating is food without spiritual value. And the drink they are guzzling doesn’t quench their thirst. In fact, they are overweight from eating, and still starving. They are waterlogged from drinking and dying from dehydration. It is all poison. Instead of leading of to health, it all leads to death.

Jackie was happy, she thought, and yet something was still missing. She had been happily married for so long, it was difficult to remember a time when she wasn’t a wife. Her children were grown and successful and happy. She had everything she needed and most everything she wanted. Her husband was highly successful, too. They were comfortable, if not well off. But ever increasingly she felt as if something was missing. There was a vague dissatisfaction in her life but she just couldn’t put her finger on what it was. It was a longing for something unknown and illusive.

Jackie had many friends and acquaintances. Gloria seemed very much like her. But there was a difference. Very frequently she had invited Jackie to attend a bible study with her. Finally, she gave in for the sole reason of being able to say that she had tried it, and put the request to sleep for good. At the gathering one of the women read this text.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. Isaiah 55:1-3

Jackie was startled. Were the words talking to her? Is that what her problem was? Is that why she felt so empty? Was she spending her life in pursuit of things that didn’t really satisfy? What exactly was being offered in those words that would fill the emptiness?

Maybe today you are hungry and thirsty, too. You’ve had questions about running here and there trying to do everything that needs to be done, and yet you wonder if it’s all worth it. Year after year you do the same thing, standing on the assembly floor, sitting in the tractor seat, cleaning the same carpet, feeding hogs in the same building. Work has provided you with everything you need, and most of what you want. It’s all going very well, but maybe you’ve said to yourself there has to be more. So, you do more. Social clubs, sports teams, fair boards, and more… but there is still that little emptiness in there, a thirsting for more, a hunger that isn’t ever really quite satisfied. I’ve been there too. It’s an easy place to get to. It’s easy to be hungry and wanting, and thirsty for what seems elusive.

I’ve got good news for you. No, I’m not going to pass around a jug of water, and some cheese sandwiches. Actually, Isaiah has good news for you. It’s the same good news he had for the people of Israel. Remember they were hungry and thirsty, too. “Come all who are thirsty…” he said to them. You’ve forgotten who your true King is, you are wondering around looking for something you can’t find. Come to your God and King and he will satisfy you. He is what you’ve crowded out of your life with all of life’s troubles and problems, wants and desires.

God is there for you to calling to you to come… It’s not that you don’t know who he is, and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ, but it’s easy to let “more practical” concerns set Jesus aside. I’ll get back to Jesus when I have time. But, before you know it your thirsty again, and hungry for that missing something. The missing something is Jesus.

Remember the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. She was drawing water for drinking. Jesus asked her for a drink.

“I can’t do that,” she said, “I’m an outcast and you’re not. I a Samaritian.”

Jesus answered her; “If you knew who I am you’d be asking me for living water. Anyone who drinks of it will never be thirsty again.”

“That’s the water I want! I’d not have to make tiring trips to the well every day.”

“Go get your husband.”

“I don’t have one.” She answered.

“Yes, I know.” Jesus said, “You’ve had 5 husbands and now your living with a man. It looks to me like you want more than just water from this well. You won’t find what you’re looking for it in those men. You’ll find it in me.”

It’s when we find our life lacking, when we are hungry and thirsty that we hear the words of Isaiah and Jesus as Good News. What is truly and finally satisfying is a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the bread of life. He gives the water of life. He has a never-ending banquet of food and drink. With Jesus “my cup overflows.” When we partake of Jesus Christ, through faith, we are not disappointed. He gives us what we really need: The Bread of God.

Here in this place God feeds us with the Good News about Jesus Christ. Here we are fed by words that travel through the air to reach us and tell us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. How he fills that elusive empty feeling, that space that can’t be filled. He shed his blood for you and he did it so that you’d never be hungry and thirsty again. He took your sins to the cross and sacrificed himself there for you, so that you could have a relationship with him forever.

But, God knows you need more than just colorful metaphors about his promises for you. He knows that your diet needs real food and real drink. It’s easy to say, “Come to me and I’ll give you what you need.” He does more than that; he actually gives you something to eat. And he gives it right here. Open up your hand and in it, God gives you the very Bread of Life. “Take and eat this is my body… take and drink this is my blood.” It’s more than just spiritual, ghostly eating. It’s real and physical. We receive Jesus in his body and in his blood right there in the bread and wine. God gives us food that is more than food, and drink that is more than drink. This is the blood of the covenant given for you for the forgiveness of sins.

While we live in this world, we’ll always be hungry and thirsty. We can’t get rid of our craving for food that doesn’t satisfy. Jesus gives us food that satisfies. Wholesome bread and living water to take care of what we need, and also to remind us of the time when we will be with him, sitting and eating and drinking in the banquet that will never end. Amen.

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

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Romans 8:28-39; The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; July 26, 2020;

Romans 8:28-39; The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; July 26, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 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 8:28–39, ESV)

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

This passage is undoubtedly familiar to you. You may have heard it at your hospital bed. It is so often read for the comfort of those who are suffering. “All things work together for good” nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” it’s a beautiful passage, but right in the middle is something, if you think about it, will take your breath away. Right in the middle is something that you might not like.

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

It’s almost as if Paul has to throw in this comment to keep us off balance. Paul, can’t you just stay positive? Can’t you just give us what we want to hear? I mean look at the text. All things work together for good; firstborn among brothers; who is to condemn; who can separate us; and then boom. “For your sake we are being killed.” We are sheep to be slaughtered. What happened? I thought Jesus was around to solve my problems. I thought Jesus was there to give me what I needed. I thought Jesus was there to make my life happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. That works with the “all things work together for good” but not “sheep to be slaughtered.”

Everything is fine and well when life is easy, and we have all that we want, and what we believe is not in conflict with our society. We are very much like James and John. You may remember the account. James and John come to Jesus and ask him to be on his right and left when he comes into his glory. They want the reward of following Jesus. Jesus asks a telling question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus is referring to his suffering and death. “Can you bear the burden of persecution for following me?” Is what Jesus is asking. We think we can. But we don’t like the idea of losing everything we have, or even anything. John and James thought they could. They answered “yes.” But sitting at Jesus right and left in his kingdom was reserved for the two thieves on the crosses at Jesus right and left. James and John would certainly suffer for the faith, but not yet.

One thing that we seem to forget in our westernized, pseudo-Christianized culture is that persecution is part of being a Christian. Listen to Jesus from John’s Gospel.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20a, ESV)

The servant is like the master. The servants suffer for the sake of the master. Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah talked about the master.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)

St. Paul puts a lot of background before the text we are considering today. In essence, he says that we are connected to Jesus. He is our Savior through his life, death and resurrection. Through faith in what he has done, given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are his children. And as God’s children, we are obligated to live as his children. Living as his children will be at odds with the world. But we are not alone. We have the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. We have the Spirit who prays with us in our groaning. Our whole life is a bearing of the cross of Christ. It was placed on our four head in our heart in Holy Baptism. It is ours to carry to eternity. St. Paul urges us to flee from those things that get in the way of serving Jesus and the forgiveness that he brings through his cross.

Martin Luther called this the Theology of the Cross. The idea being that we are closest to God when we see our need for him most clearly. And at no time in our lives do we see it more clearly than when we are suffering. Enduring the cross doesn’t save us. We are saved and connected to our Savior; therefore, we bear the cross. Saved people seek the Savior’s cross. Jesus puts us on the cross with him as participants. Again, listen to Paul’s take on his suffering.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” (Philippians 3:8–9, ESV)

We can see this also, in The Book of Acts when the disciples were beaten and told not to preach Christ any longer.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41, ESV)

A number of years ago, you may have heard something similar in the news. The Arabic letter nun has been used to mark the houses of Christians. The letter is the first in the word Nasara or Nazarene. It is how Muslims refer to Christians. And it is now taken as a sign of honor by the Iraqi Christians. In the town of Mosel, they have indeed lost everything. The ones who did not leave everything behind were killed, some by crucifixion. It continues to this day.

Dear Christian friends do not underestimate the evil that brings this persecution. If you think that we are safe because we live in the United States of America and you have not heard the words of your Savior. Just think of the protests against the church. Catholic churches are being burned all across the country. Angry protestors call out for the destruction of images of “White Jesus.” How long will it be before the anger turns on us?

We do not like suffering. We want the Lord to bring us the comfort of the world. We want him to make life easy. We want the happiness of life instead of the joy of Christ. But that is not necessarily the kind of comfort that goes with the suffering of Christ, with Christ. We generally seek freedom from pain and want. But God uses these things to craft us into what he wants us to be. It is when we are weak we see our great need and claim ever stronger to the cross for life.

Now we see the great comfort, or shall I say the greater comfort, in the words of St. Paul. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That all things happen for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. That we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. That through the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross there is no condemnation for us. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That includes tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.

Jesus is the answer. He has given us the Holy Spirit to bear up under all these things. He has gone to the cross willingly to bear our suffering. He has taken on our burdens and sorrows. Because he has suffered our punishment, we have a forever relationship with God. We are his children. And nothing in the world can separate us from God’s love.

Jesus is our great example. He suffered and yet he served. He suffered and went to the cross. He is our master, we strive to follow his example and do the same. Our suffering does not save. But even in our suffering, there is opportunity to serve. We are sheep. We are subject to slaughter. We have the privilege of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others. We organize our priorities and our lives for the sake of Christ and his church.

We are sons, heirs, when the sacrifice is over we have a forever place with God. Amen.

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