Sunday, September 25, 2022

Luke 16:19-31; The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; September 25, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Who wants to be a millionaire?”

Just try to imagine this scene; the room is dark except for the bright lights shining on the game show host, the electronic video terminal, and the empty “hot seat.” Then there is a sudden roll of sound and flashing lights… The room is filled with sound and light as a voice shouts, “It’s time to play, ‘who wants to be a millionaire?'” But much to the host’s surprise there is an un-characteristic silence from the audience. So, he asks the question again. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” but the silence holds. There are no volunteers. No one, it seems, wants the money… no one it seems wants the responsibility that comes with it… Is it a bad dream… or have people just been reading the bible? After all, doesn’t this parable of Jesus say that if you have it rich in this life you’ll be going to hell, and if you have it rough in this life you’ll be at Abraham’s side? Remember Abraham’s words, “you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner, bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” These words of Abraham are difficult to hear.

When we think of money, we think of what it brings. If I had $1 million, I'd quit working. If I had $1 million, I buy a yacht and sail around the world. If I had $1 million, I could do whatever I wanted to do, wear whatever I wanted to wear, and live wherever I wanted to live. Oh, and of course, pastor, if I had $1 million, I'd write a big check to the church. And then of course the church would spend it exactly how I want it spent, do exactly what I want it to do, and say exactly what I want it to say. For us, in American culture, money is security, independence, and control. If we have money, we don't depend on anyone else. And we can control other people.

And here we can listen to the warning that St. Paul writes to pastor Timothy:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, ESV)

We think about what money brings, but we often forget the warning that Scripture gives. Money brings self-reliance, but it also brings responsibility. The rich man had a responsibility to take care of Lazarus who was put at his door by God for him to care. He ignored him day after day. There was not even any way for him to come and go from his house without seeing Lazarus. He was without excuse. God had given him riches and Lazarus. But he fell into the temptation, the snare, the harmful desires. He partied every day. He had more than enough to eat. He could afford it. And yet Lazarus lay at is door, starving to death.
Dear Ann Landers: The letter from the woman married to the tightwad -- she couldn't get an extra quarter out of him -- reminded me of my wonderful aunt who was beautifully warmhearted and had a great sense of humor. Aunt "Emma" was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn't trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age. When "Uncle Ollie" was 60, he was stricken with cancer. Toward the end, he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to. They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request. Aunt Em did promise, however, and assured Uncle Ollie's brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he asked. The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. She then wrote a check and put it in the casket four days later. This is a true story and our family has laughed about it ever since.

Can't take it with you. Even if you could, it wouldn't do you any good anyway. The rich man who ignored Lazarus died and end up in hell. It wasn't only the money. He ignored what God would have him do. He confirmed his relationship with God is broken, because he didn't care for his nearest neighbor who is in great need. He did not love his neighbor as himself, because he did not love God with his whole heart soul and mind. The text makes it very clear that it wasn't just a one-time deal with Lazarus. He made a regular habit of living the way he lived. And even in hell he doesn't change. He expects that Lazarus will serve him. "Send Lazarus…" He still can only see Lazarus as someone who is less deserving than him. But even all his money couldn't reach across the chasm to bring the smallest drop of water to cool his tongue. The rich man had money. He trusted his money. He ignored God and did not trust in God to save him.

Let's make this very clear. You are rich. I know, it goes against the old German/Norwegian virtue of being poor. And at the very least not admitting to having what is needed. But, you have enough to eat. You have a place to live. In fact, you have more than your need. You may have heard it said that if you have more than one pair of shoes you are rich. Most people in the world have one or fewer pair of shoes. Many people in the world go hungry daily and do not know where the next meal is coming from. And the law is very clear. We have a responsibility to feed them, clothe them, and care for them. God has given them to us to care for them. For you and me we work very hard at keeping those in need away from our doorstep. Out of sight and out of mind. And so, we stand condemned by God's perfect law, of not loving our neighbors as ourselves. We live in a broken relationship with God and deserve only hell where we would desire a tiny drop of water to wet our tongue.

It does seem that there's very little gospel in this text. The rich die and go to hell. And yet look at what happens next. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, so they won't end in his fate. "If someone rises from the dead they will believe!" "But no," Abraham says, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

The context for this parable is everything. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. A few verses before this it says, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him." And then Jesus speaks this parable to them. The Pharisees were lovers of money. They should have been lovers of God. It gets at the heart of their sin. And so, Jesus pushes the law before them, law that they well know. The Word of God is standing before them in the flesh. He is telling them who he is and why he has come. God the Father's voice came from the cloud at Jesus baptism and told them to listen to him. Every day he taught in the synagogue. But they love money. Their love of money is standing in their way of loving their Savior. Their love of money is about to pierce them with many pangs. They demand that Jesus give them a sign of who he is. When he stands before their court when they are about to turn him over to the Romans to be crucified, they asked him plainly who he is. When he tells them they do not believe. Willingly, but sadly, Jesus Christ goes to the cross for their sins. Willingly and cheerfully the Pharisees send him so as not to lose their place in society and their money. And they stand at the cross and mock him, "if you are the son of God…" And Jesus hangs between heaven and earth nailed to the wood, suffering the whole world's punishment for rejection of God. He suffers and dies for the forgiveness of sins, even the sins of those who will not listen. And then remember the parable, "neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

Indeed, Jesus has risen from the dead. And his word is clearly spoken here to you today. And his word is this: Repent! Repent and believe the good news! The good news is that you have a Savior from sin. When you love money more than your neighbor. When you care for yourself more than you care for the ones that God has placed at your doorstep. When you make a habit of not caring. Jesus' word pierces your heart. The law shows you your sin. The good news is that Jesus did go to the cross for your sin. He suffered and died for you. And he rose from the dead. You have the word on which to base your hope. The word of promise from the one who rose from the dead. It is the word that the Pharisees rejected. It is the word that you receive, in faith. It is the word that is connected to water in Holy Baptism. Where God's promises were poured over you. It is the word that is connected to bread and wine and Holy Communion. Where God's promises are poured into you. It is the word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified dead and buried, and raised again to new life on the third day. It is the word that promises forgiveness of all your sin. Repent, your sin is great. You love yourself more than your neighbor. You do not love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. But your Savior is greater. He suffers and dies for you on the cross. Repent and believe. Believe the word. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2022

1 Timothy 2:1-6; Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 18, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I would like to visit with the Pres. of the United States. There are just a few issues I would like to discuss with him. But imagine, if I walked up to the front gate and asked for an audience with him. I don't think I get too far. The truth is there's just too many layers of security between me and the president for that to happen. I don't have any political connections. The president doesn't have any compelling reason to see me. But let's be honest. What is true for me is most likely true also for you. There are far too many barriers between you and the president. The gates are locked. The Secret Service won’t let you in. The staff doesn't know your name. Far too often you don't have the right connections, know the right people at the right time to accomplish all the right things that are needed to see him.

Now let's even be more honest. There are many barriers between you and the president, but as many as there are, there are even more between you and God. Just why is that? Well, we St. Paul said it last week. Paul is not the only one who is "chief of sinners". The barrier between God and human beings comes down to that simple word "sin".

In Scripture, we find over and over again the primary sin of human beings is pride. Adam and Eve pridefully ate the fruit God told them not to eat. They thought they deserved to know good and evil. They thought they knew best what was good for them. They didn't listen to God. When the people at Babylon wanted to reach up to God, they built a tower. The thought they had the ability to get to God by their own cunning. King David thought he was better than his soldiers and stayed home from the war and had an affair with a bathing beauty on the roof. Over and over again in Scripture pride is the most deadly sin. Medieval art pictures pride is a peacock walking around arrogantly. In Paradise Lost, Milton, portrays pride in these words "Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in heaven."

But you don't have to go to the Bible to see examples of this sin. Turn your head side to side and see your friends and neighbors. There's pride there. But you can go even closer. Your own pride, makes the three hardest words to say in the English language, "I was wrong." And the four hardest words, "I am not perfect." And the five hardest words, "I guess you are right." The six hardest ones, "I think I need some help." These are a reflection of the sin of pride that is deep seated in our hearts. It's the same pride that wants to solve our sin problem with God through our own good deeds. It is the same sin of pride that wants to earn God's favor instead of receiving his grace. It's the same pride that rejects God's free gift of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of the things that I do. All pride leads to the same place. We place ourselves in the place of God. We make ourselves self-sufficient. We don't need anyone, and especially God. In the sin is clear. The sin of pride actually gets in our way of our access to God. But it's not just that sin. All sin ultimately pushes us away from a holy and perfect God. All sin is a rejection of God. Those who reject God in any way deserve to be separated from him forever.

Back at the White House, your poor pastor still hasn't gotten in to see the president. But what if the president would lookup window and see? What if the president would give the command and the security detail would escort you right into the Oval Office? What if the president attentively listens and makes all the changes you want? Well, that would be too good to be true.

But we do have access with God the Father. This is exactly why St. Paul tells young pastor Timothy to pray for all people. Look at how many times he uses the word "all" in the first sentence of the text. We are to pray to God because we have access. We pray for all people because we have access. And we have access because we have a mediator in Jesus Christ. Jesus bridges the gap from sinful people to Holy God. On the cross Jesus does what only God can do – offers a sinless life of perfection. On the cross Jesus does what only man can do – bleed, suffer, and die. He is the bridge. Our sin, pride and all the others, pushes separation between us and God. Our sin deserves God's anger in punishment. Jesus is the bridge, the gap filler. He suffers our punishment. He is the propitiation. That is the atoning sacrifice. All the weight of our sin and guilt is piled on Jesus on the cross and he bears it all as God and man together. Has St. Paul said to the Romans:
and [we] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24–25a, ESV)
Jesus Christ is the ransom paid for our sins.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the father Almighty. We have the right connections with the right person at the right time to accomplish the right things. And you are not outside looking in hoping to get an audience. You have access. You are on the list. God has bridged the gap to you from himself through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Philemon; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 4, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It's a personal letter. Paul to Philemon. One of the shortest in the Bible. The length hardly makes it unimportant. This letter of St. Paul to Philemon is about faith in action. Onesimus the slave has run away and likely stole something from his master Philemon in the process. In desperation he has come to Paul who is imprisoned. Paul had preached at his master's house. Philemon and his family became Christians and the church at Colossae met in his house. Onesimus, the slave, had heard the good news about Jesus Christ. Onesimus, in desperation, goes to Paul with his sin. And Paul pleads for him for the sake of the Gospel.

Now, we would side with Onesimus, the runaway slave. But this is not Uncle Tom's Cabin. We cannot automatically press our view of slavery onto the ancient world. We, in fact, have no idea what the actual relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was. We have no idea of the conditions of Onesimus' service to Philemon. In the ancient world slavery was varied as employment. And, in fact, in some cases slavery was equivalent to it. Many slaves were freed by their masters for their hard dedicated and faithful service. And on the other hand, many slaves were brutally treated by their masters. The human heart certainly doesn't need an institution like slavery to show its true nature. And in some ways slavery was a necessary social construct. Many slaves depended on the institution for their welfare. Many masters depended on their slaves to provide services and products for the community. In the ancient world, there were good masters and bad masters. They were slaves who were faithful and those who were not. Jesus, in his parables, encourages those who are caught in the institution of slavery to be faithful to their masters, and for masters to treat their slaves fairly. But the matter covered here in the letter is not about the institution of slavery, whether it is right or wrong. Paul's letter to Philemon is a letter of appeal for Philemon to remember who he is in Christ. To remember what Jesus has done for him. And to act according to the grace that God has given him.

Remember it is a personal letter. A personal pastoral letter. Pastor Paul appeals to Philemon for the sake of Onesimus. Paul has a relationship with these men. He has preached the gospel to Philemon and Philemon is a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. He has also preached the gospel to Onesimus and Onesimus is a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. What is understood between them is the forgiveness that Jesus has won for them on the cross. For whatever reason, Onesimus has sinned against his master by running away. Philemon is well within his rights in demanding punishment. Onesimus has been and unfaithful servant. Onesimus life is forfeit. Crucifixion is the standard punishment for runaway slaves. And yet, with the cross in the background, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. Or better yet, because of The Cross in the background, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon.

The picture is this. Onesimus' sin against Philemon, his unfaithfulness to his master, is ultimately sin against God. God requires us to be faithful to those who are put over us. Just like you and I are required to be faithful citizens in our country and faithful workers for our employers. It is a sin to be lazy, unproductive, and leave our work for others to do. And while our sin against our employers is indeed against our employers, ultimately our sin is against the God who gives us work to do to provide for ourselves and our families. The fact that we are unfaithful workers is only a reflection of the fact that we live in a broken relationship with God. It is the first table of the law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second table of the law: love your neighbor as yourself. You and me and Onesimus show that we do not love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, because we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. There are many times when we neglect our work. There are many days we do not give our employers a full day’s work for a full day's pay. And we deserve to be punished. But what we deserve goes even deeper than that. Sin against our employers is sin against God. It is a rejection of the way God has given us to live. It is open rebellion against Him. And open rebellion against God deserves nothing but God's anger in punishment. In other words, rejection of God requires God's rejection of us. That is what hell is, eternal separation, eternal confirmation of living in a broken relationship with God. And so, we, like Onesimus, deserve the death penalty. We deserve the cross.

The Cross is behind Paul's letter to Philemon. Philemon too, is a sinful man. Paul recognizes this sin in his letter. He reminds Philemon that he has been saved through the preaching of the Good News and owes Paul his "very soul". In other words, Philemon is a sinner who has received God's forgiveness through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul says, "forgive as you have been forgiven." Or to quote our Lord's Prayer, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Philemon undoubtedly prayed these words many times. These words have their meaning in The Cross. Philemon has received the gift of faith and through that gift forgiveness of his sin. The gift was given him freely by God's undeserved love. To be unforgiving or require payment for forgiveness is to reject the gift and the giver.
From Luther's Small Catechism:
The Fifth Petition
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Philemon shows he has received forgiveness by giving it freely to his slave Onesimus who has sinned against him. He shows what forgiveness really is. Onesimus has no means to restore their relationship. Onesimus has no means to take care of the debt he owes Philemon for his theft and his desertion. If Philemon is to forgive, he must do it while Onesimus is undeserving. He must do it by grace, that is undeserved love.

And yet pastor Paul goes one step further. He offers to pay any debt Onesimus owes. He offers to bear the cross of Onesimus' sin. As part of his appeal and as an example to Philemon, Paul acts just as his Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus takes our sin to the cross. He bears the debt we are unable to pay. He does it freely, without cost, by God's grace.

And this is your story, too. Your sin has been forgiven in the cross of Jesus Christ. In other words, The Cross is behind your story. You have been forgiven for your unfaithfulness. You have been forgiven for being unproductive. You have been forgiven for leaving your work undone. You have been forgiven for your rebellion against the God who has given you all these things to do. Jesus takes your punishment to the cross. And offers you forgiveness through faith and trust that what he does, he does for you. Without what you're Savior does you have no means to restore your relationship with God. The debt must be paid for you, like Paul pays the debt for Onesimus.

Now we turn to the most difficult part. It's your turn to forgive. I'm not here to command you to forgive. Although like Paul, as your pastor, it is within my office to command you. What I wish for you, I appeal to you, is to forgive those who sinned against you considering the forgiveness you have received in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ forgiveness is given to you, undeserved, by God's grace, that is undeserved love. You can forgive and show what The Good News truly is. It is free forgiveness to those who are undeserving. It is forgiveness that flows from the cross to you, and through you to those around you. Paul says Onesimus (whose name means "useful") was in his sinfulness useless to Philemon. Through forgiveness Onesimus and Philemon can be reconciled. And Onesimus once again become useful. In other words, the broken relationship can be restored. Forgiveness is the only thing that can restore your broken relationships. It is yours to give. It is a wonderful gift you have to give. It all comes from our Savior Jesus Christ, who took our sin, and the sin of the whole world to the cross. Amen.

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