Sunday, March 27, 2022

2 Corinthians.5.14-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 27, 2022;

2 Corinthians.5.14-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 27, 2022;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14–21, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Love... What is it? People everywhere are searching for it. Dating services, personal ads, singles bars, and of course, don't forget the internet. Ask fifty people what love is and you'll probably get fifty different answers. From I love my Harley Davidson ... my dog... my wife...

I'd love to be an Oscar Meyer Weenier,
that is what I'd truly love to be,
because if I was an Oscar Meyer Weenier
everyone would be in love with me.

Take just a few minutes to think of how love is portrayed on Television... or music... or how about the movies... Lovers embracing on the beach as the tide washes in, blissfully unaware of it. How many times have you heard love described as some kind of magic? Have you ever seen, Sleepless in Seattle? It is a movie all about the search for love. A woman who seemingly has everything, falls in love with a widower, on the other side of the country because she hears him talking about love on a call-in talk radio show. And somehow, like magic, true love brings them together. Over all the miles true love wins out because they were meant for each other. Instantly, miraculously they are in love when they meet for the first time. Movies like this one seem to say that love is a supernatural force that has a plan for those that are 'meant' for each other. This movie tells us that love, this magic force that draws to people together, is rare and for the lucky few who happen to be destined to it.
For most people love is feeling. “I love you,” is a phrase of feeling. Something that warms the heart, or causes sweaty palms, or sleepless nights. That 'I can't bear to be away from you' feeling. Human feeling is fleeting... changing... love quickly swings to indifference. Just think about all the books written on the subject, 'How to rekindle the fire of love in your marriage.' The feelings of love come and go... like the changing of the seasons. Love that is only based on feelings won't last.
Some people say that love is blind. If you want to see that just talk to any young couple planning to get married. You will quickly learn... their fiancée is the best human being to ever walk the earth. They don't see any flaws in each other. All they see is their 'perfect' marriage... their perfect children... their perfect lives together. But the blindness will fade away, and sometime later they may begin to wonder what happened to change their spouse. They will begin to see the imperfections that their blind love didn't allow them to see before.
Many times, love is said to be the opposite of something else. Love is the opposite of loneliness. Being alone is the ultimate rejection. The unwanted, unloved child is surely better off to have never been born. Lonely elderly people have little to live for, life alone and without love is life without quality. Surely it is better not to live at all.
Love... we love it. It makes us feel good to see it, it makes us feel good to feel it. We all want to be in love. We all want to be the center of love. ... if I were an Oscar Meyer weenier... everyone would be in love with… ME. We always place ourselves at the focus of our love. I love her because she makes me feel whole. I love him because he accepts me for who I am. In our picture of love, we always place ourselves in the middle.
God's picture of love is different. God's picture of love is a picture of death. A man hanging on a cross, with nails piercing his hands. A man suffering... in agony... tormented and mocked. A man rejected by men, a man alone... and dying... In this picture of love this one suffers... yet, he doesn't deserve to suffer. He suffers in the place of others. While he suffers, they get off scot-free. In this God’s picture of love... this one dies, and that too, he doesn't deserve. He dies in the place of others. He dies, they go on living. But the most amazing thing about this picture is that the ones who live get credit for dying. It is as if they themselves hung there broken and bleeding, suffering, and dying. But they have escaped it, even though they were the ones who should have been hanging there, and the one who was there shouldn't have been. This is a picture of love is one that we don't understand. It doesn't match our picture at all.
This is the love of God for us. In the 1st Letter of John, we read:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16, ESV).

Jesus Christ was the one who laid down his life on the cross for the sins of all human beings. He did it for every human being that has ever lived, every human being that is alive now, and every human being that will ever live. Such is God's love for all people that even this suffering and death of Jesus was a price he was willing to pay.
This is the love, Paul tells us in the text today, that 'controls us', some translations say compels us. This is the love that drives him to live for the one who made the sacrifice: The sacrifice of death for all people. Because what Paul realizes, what has been made very clear to him, is that he is among those for whom Jesus Christ suffered and died. He, Paul, has gotten off Scot-free, while his Savior suffered. Christ hung on the cross in place of Paul, for the sins that Paul committed. And Paul escaped to live. So, having been saved by Christ, Paul now is motivated to let everyone know that Jesus Christ died for them, too.
You know... what is true for Paul, is also true for us. It is very true that Christ's love for you, each and every one of you, motivated him to death on the cross. When the bible tells us that Jesus Christ died for all people... we are all included. We, too, have gotten off scot-free, while our Savior hung bleeding and dying in our place. And, just like Paul, we have escaped death to live.
The question for us is this: Are we motivated by Christ's love? Does the love Christ showed for each of us have an impact on our lives? Are controlled by Christ's love for us, like Paul, to tell all people of God's great love for them?
It's a good question. Are we controlled? What does that mean to be controlled? Does it mean to drop everything, and go and stand on the street corner screaming out the truth of the Gospel? Maybe. Does it mean quitting your job, packing up your family, suffering through four long years of Seminary to become a pastor? Maybe. Does it mean speaking out the truth about sin, and the human condition? Picketing Planned parenthood? Posting on your Facebook in support of traditional marriage? Maybe.
Paul says he thinks of no one from a 'worldly point of view' any longer. What he means it that the people out there, living from day to day, those with whom you have daily contact, have been affected by Christ's love. They are all people for whom Christ suffered and died, each and every one of them. His death will either mean for them eternal life, through faith in him, or eternal punishment because they have rejected him. Paul is controlled by Christ's love to tell them, driven to inform them of Christ's love, so that they can believe in Him. When we see people, all people, in the light of what Jesus Christ did for them, we too are controlled in a way, to tell them of His love.
"I'm not so sure about that." you say. "I don't have the guts to go out there and tell people about my faith. I've never been able to stand on the street corner, I've never spoken about Jesus at work... I just don't feel compelled." Well, guess what. There are examples of being controlled right here at Life in Christ. We show Christ's love and how we deal with one another and solve our problems. Maybe you haven't shouted from the street corner, but have you ever held the hand of a friend who was grieving over the death of a loved one, and shared with them the sure hope of the resurrection? Have you ever taken the time to invite a neighbor to come to church with you and offered to pick them up? I've seen that here. Have you ever given sacrificially to this church, for its mission work? I've seen that here, too. I could go on and on with even more examples... You see, it isn't hard to find examples of that kind of love here because you do them, sometimes without thinking. You do for them, because you can't help it, you do it automatically... it's almost as if you were compelled to do it. Well, that is just what Paul is talking about. Look around you at your friends and family sitting here in the pews. Think about how you have seen them compelled to show love to you. The motivation that prompts them... the motivation that prompts you to care for those who are sitting here, is the same as it takes to speak out about your faith at work or on the street corner. It is the motivation that Jesus Christ won salvation for you... that he died for you... that he loves you. And what he did for you, he did for others too.
Jesus’ love isn't like the love that people have. His love isn't like the love you see in the movies. His love isn't a feel-good self-gratifying love; difficult to find and reserved for a few. His love is the love that caused him to die for all people. That is where his love is focused.
The Love of Christ, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and motivated to serve him always. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Luke 13:1-9; Third Sunday in Lent; March 20, 2022;

Luke 13:1-9; Third Sunday in Lent; March 20, 2022;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” ” (Luke 13:1–9, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
A few years ago, one of those television preachers said that Haiti suffered its earthquake because they made a deal with the devil to get rid of the French. The story goes, according to this preacher, they wanted to end French occupation, so they prayed to Satan to kick them out. He did and that’s how they got Voodoo. This is the kind of thing that these folks were taking to Jesus about. We’re not exactly sure what happed to these Galileans, but it seems they had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and were killed by Roman soldiers, maybe even in the temple. It is a terrible thing. And Jesus brings up another example. Others were killed when a tower fell. The question was the same. Lord, what caused this? What kind of sinful people were these that died so horribly? What they were looking for was a reason for the problem, a reason for bad luck and random death. They wanted to know what these folks did to deserve the death that they got. They must have been terrible sinners. It is a natural thought. But Jesus has a different idea. No, he says. These folks weren’t any worse than anyone else. And in fact, you all deserve the same fate! Ouch! That’s not what we want to hear. That doesn’t even sound like Jesus, does it? After all we kind of think Jesus walks around all day with a smile on his face, feeding people, healing people, holding their hand… these words make Jesus sound, well, not nice! Certainly, he’s not speaking to us! Maybe he’s talking to the drug addicts, drunks, and child molesters out there, but not to his people. Not to people who willingly give up their Sunday morning to sit in the pews here at church. Not to people who drop their hard-earned money in the collection plate. Is he?
Well, yes. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying. The parable at the end really puts the fine point on it. The owner of the vineyard has every right to expect fruit from the fig tree. But year after year he gets none. No one would complain about him axing it. He has the right to expect that the plants will produce fruit. But it doesn’t. The amazing thing is he doesn’t destroy it. The gardener tells him to wait. I’ll tend it some more and see what happens. Perhaps with some care it will produce. Amazingly the owner relents. This is what’s amazing about the world, too. That God hasn’t destroyed it. Even though the news is full of rotten fruit; nations invade nations and kill at will; people kill each other over a trifle; children starve to death while powerful men do nothing; people who speak out about God’s clear will for the world are shouted down and called bigots. And personally, you and me, well our sins seem smaller, but they are sins just the same. We fail to help when help is needed. We push our needs and wants ahead of everyone else. And what is worse is that the people we most often hurt are those who live in our own house. So much for family love. In fact, every day we have that God waits to destroy the world is a gift; a gift to change. That’s what Jesus says after all. Repent. Unless you(all) repent you (all) will perish. Now he’s not really agreeing with the television preacher. The folks in Haiti are no worse sinners than we are. What he is saying is that judgment happens. Every earthquake, tsunami, construction accident, car crash, illness and death are a picture of the world’s deserved judgment for sin, and yours and mine. Now is the time for you and me and the world, as Jesus says, to repent.
There’s that word repent. Tragedies like the tower of Siloam (or the Invasion of Ukrane) and Pilate’s heinous crime against the Jews (or the World Trade Center) don’t show us their sin but show us all the need for repentance. But here’s the thing. You can’t just change what you do on the outside. That’s not really repentance. The word literally means to have change your mind. And this is the real nub of the problem. We must be different people than we are, not in actions, but in heart. Changing what we do is like dipping a bucket into the ocean over and over again and expecting to get to the bottom of sea . The deepest problem with sin isn’t in the doing. The problem with sin is in the heart. We sin because we are sinners. With Jesus word repent he lays the ax at the root of the tree. Good fruit only comes from good trees, and we know, because Jesus tells us so, that we are not good trees.
But Jesus’ parable shows us that God is mercy. He has already taken care of sin. He doesn’t ignore it like some forgetful grandfather. He does cut down the tree. The axe is laid at the foot of Jesus. And it leads him to the cross. All his life he falls under God’s judgment. Every sin he forgives, every person he heals, every mouth he feeds, every hand he holds is good work, good fruit. He is changing sin’s power over people. He brings God’s mercy where there is only suffering and death. As he goes, he gathers up all that evil from everywhere and bears it in himself to the cross. If you would look at Jesus hung on the cross, bloody, beaten, suffering the pain of nails and thorns you might well ask, what kind of a sinner is this that he should deserve such and evil death. Well, the truth is Jesus dies as the worst sinner of all. He carries your sin and mine, and all the people who died at Pilate’s sword, and all the thousands who died under rubble in Haiti. The axe cuts him off. He is ignored by God, rejected to a sinner’s death. There is no mercy there, only punishment. There is no time to repent God’s anger is poured out in full. This is where God deals with sin. This is where the tree is cut down and cast out. Jesus instead of you. Jesus instead of me. Jesus hangs in our place in suffering and death.
You see, apart from Christ you must deal with God on your own for your own sin. And you can’t stand on your own. You will be cut down because your fruit is only bad. Jesus offers you, instead his punishment. And more than that he offers you, his fruit. There is nothing for you to do, nothing for you to change. Jesus earns all that you need. He pays the whole price. His life lived. His death died. Given for you for the forgiveness of your sin. You see, that’s what repentance is. God showing you your need and giving you what you need. Nothing for you to say or do. His gift of love. His mercy in Jesus Christ.
So, what about the tree, and the garden and the fruit? Well, Jesus really is showing us a picture of him at work. He tends the trees. He cultivates the soil and fertilizes, and the trees bear fruit. But here’s the difference. You and I don’t need to do anything for God. God is the one who does everything for us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness, he gives to us we have been changed from bad trees to good ones, so we do bear good fruit. Not stuff we do for God but stuff we do for our neighbors. They are the ones who have needs. They live in a world that is full of trouble, and pain and suffering. Jesus solves our good fruit problem, not so that we can spend our time serving God, but that we can serve our neighbor (and in the process serve God by serving our neighbor).
And when bad things happen, they are our opportunity to humble ourselves and remember our place before God. We are sinners who deserve nothing from God, but we receive everything from him instead. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.