Drink deeply from God’s Word

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s on Sunday March 19th.

You learn how much you appreciate something when it is in short supply or no longer available.  Case in point lately, warmer weather and daylight first thing in the morning.  By the end of the winter you really appreciate how valuable it is to be able to spend time outside comfortably, to spend an afternoon gardening, barbecuing, or to go for a walk.

Unlike the seasons, the living water Jesus gives to us, the relationship we have with God through our Savior does not come and go- but stays with us. As a result we can easily take for granted this gift that is so basic to our lives and our well being.

The opening psalms and verses and hymns we sing or speak at the start of worship would not be things we could say if we did not have this living water Jesus provides without limit- this new life in Christ.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, come into His presence with Thanksgiving?  If we were still estranged from God and enemies of God how could we make glad sounds of joy before the Lord, how could we even come into his presence?  Instead of longing for the courts of the Lord, we would fear God and want to hide from God.  We would not be able to invoke his triune name to begin our worship, we would not receive his name upon us, because we would not know God as our dear Father.

The fact is we do have the living water that Jesus gives. There is no shortage.  In our Epistle reading we see that we have this priceless gift because,  “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  The church has living water from the well of salvation because Jesus allowed himself to be broken on the cross.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!  The people sinned against Moses in the wilderness, demanding of Moses water, even threatening revolt and his death.  Yet despite this great sin God still provided water from the rock Moses struck.  While Israel was yet in sin and rebellion against God, they were given a living spring to drink from.

Elsewhere in scripture St. Paul describes Christ as the rock that Moses struck, making a literary connection between Moses striking the rock to receive life giving water from God, and how Jesus was stricken on the cross for our sins, giving us life giving salvation.  The common link between these two events is that while we were yet sinners, God provided His gift to us.

In our gospel lesson we meet a woman who is clearly not without sin.  Her choices in life and scorning of God’s design in marriage were so shameful to her that she seems to have developed a habit to draw water at noon, during the heat of the day- to avoid contact with everyone else who would come earlier in the morning or toward evening.

She does not know about how to worship God or how to relate to Jesus, and yet Jesus meets with her and talks to her.  While yet deep in her sin, Jesus offers her living water.

She who has failed at marriage and continues to struggle with the same sin is given the chance to meet with Jesus at a well, the very same well where Jacob met his wife.  You can see a theme in the scripture where wells are places that are associated with marriage, Isaac meets Rebecca at a well and Moses also meets his wife at a well.

The Holy Spirit is showing how this woman is receiving the gift of the one true and perfect marriage between Christ the bridegroom and she as the church the bride of Christ- receiving living water from Jesus, the gift of salvation while we were yet sinners.

Once the Samaritan woman received this faith in Jesus, she could not help but tell the town that she believed she had met the Savior.

While the unbelieving world is yet in sin, we are called to love them and offer them the living water of Christ! In chapter 7 of the gospel of John Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit in the church: “Whoever believes in me as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  We have the same gift of living water to give to the world as Jesus gave to the woman at the well.

We give this gift with great joy.  Isaiah chapter 12 proclaims: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation, and you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout for joy O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy one of Israel.”

When we drink deeply from the well of salvation we can’t help but point others to the great deeds the Lord has done for us.  We can’t help but acknowledge how great is his name in our lives.

As we make know God’s name among the nations, we share this living water to a world that is yet in the darkness of sin.  Sure it’s often hard to love those who hold many social and political values that seem to make a mockery out of God’s Word and God’s law.

It’s hard to love those who may hold human pride as their god and give no recognition to the one true God, who call evil good, and call good evil.  Who may call us bigoted or prejudiced or even fascist, simply for holding to a position that salvation is found in Christ alone and none other, or through our affirming that we hold that all of God’s Word is inspired even those parts that may condemn the sins of particular neighbors in our community. While yet sinners, Christ died for the world.

Jeremiah chapter 2 records the sin of Israel over looking living water provided to them.  “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

How sad to think that so many people today chose to make their own broken cisterns, slowly perishing of thirst as these flawed vessels consistently fail to hold any water. This imagery of the poorly crafted cistern full of cracks accurately describes what is happening when people try to find fulfillment and meaning in life apart from God.

When you have the opportunity to talk with someone who does not place their hope in Christ- try asking them questions about what brings them fulfillment and meaning in life.  Find out what if anything they look to for hope.  Likely they will either identify little that gives hope, or hope will be defined in terms of what they can create and shape with their own efforts.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that everyone who drinks of the water of Jacob’s well will be thirsty again.  Whatever fulfillment people find, whatever thirst quenching they can dig up on their own, will be only temporary.

When we see people quenching their thirst for fulfillment in such a temporary and futile manor, we should not keep it a secret that in Jesus we have fulfillment and life in an unquenchable abundance, a spring flowing into eternal life.

Even within our own families and with our brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. Peter’s, we should encourage one another to drink deeply from the well of God’s Word.

If you have children who are enrolled in Lutheran Central, certainly make a point to talk to and invite new parents in the congregation to consider and look forward to enrolling their children in Lutheran central, a school that allows children to be filled with God’s Word in their daily schooling!

If you enjoy a topic from Sunday morning Bible Study, tell others in the congregation what they are missing out on and invite them to also drink from God’s Word with you in this capacity.

If you would like to have a fellowship that meets in your home about two times a month, where you learn and discuss God’s Word and encourage one another in your faith, pursue making this opportunity to drink from the well of salvation in your home with others a reality. Any pastor would be more than happy to walk you through how to make this happen. Drink deeply from the well of salvation here at St. Peter’s.

If you would like to be a part of a group that meets at church one evening a week to read through the Bible one book at a time, a simple Today’s Light study, this can be arranged, there is plenty of room in the church- don’t let the phrase “We’ve never done this here before.” Stop you from drinking deeply from the well of God’s Word.

While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  God loves us for who we are, not for what we have done or promise to do from God.  Receive the gift of living water from our Savior, not out of guilt or obligation, but in simple thanksgiving. Share this gift with others and rejoice in how great our God’s name is on the earth. Amen.

Be perfect?

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s last Sunday:

Have you ever noticed most children’s board books about the Bible seem to use the same few Bible scenes: Creation, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and Lion’s den, the birth of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.  You might see some other variation, but one picture book page you probably will never see, is Jesus teaching the disciples and the crowds to love your enemies and pray for those who hate you and persecute you.

We don’t teach this to children at the youngest of ages.  Perhaps it’s too strange a concept to teach to children, to think about loving enemies and praying for those who are unkind to us or even hate us.  Come to think of it, it might be a confusing message for adults.  Wait aren’t those the bad guys, why are we loving the bad guys, when there are plenty of good folks all around to love?

The going school of thought for the people of Israel, and just as well for us, is to like those who are good to you and dislike those who are threatening to you.  Jesus reflects this assumption as he begins his teaching with “You have heard it said.”

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  With authority Jesus reshapes our view of how we should see the world.

Jesus is not contradicting the Old Testament when he references it and provides clarification, but He is addressing the true meaning that has been obscured by how teachers of that time interpreted the Torah.

In last week’s reading from Matthew we heard Jesus talk about the true intent of permitting divorce as not being about approving separations, but about protection for those who are put away by their spouse.

In the same way the commandment about eye for an eye tooth for a tooth was intended to provide a fair guideline for punishments for wrong doers, preventing escalation of violence and revenge.  The commandment was not giving permission to hate those who wrong us, but instead calling for loving consideration in administration of punishments.

It is part of our sinful human nature that we take something like a command to provide for fair punishments and see it as justification for making people pay for their transgressions against us.  It is human nature for violence to escalate in a cycle that keeps getting greater.

In other words, if people are in the wrong, we want to let them know it and we don’t want it to be forgotten.  In recent years with the growth of social media and online chat forums our society has experienced communication of the right and the wrong on a large scale.  I generally make the choice to stay away from social media, but I have heard many people tell me how emotionally taxing it is to read comments of people writing back and forth with great anger over opposite political viewpoints.

Through the anonymous nature of the internet people often display less inhibition and restrain, letting their anger pour out at people they do not even know or see face to face. We can easily lose sight of how destructive anger is to our well being.   The teaching of Jesus to love your enemies is essentially scorned by us in the midst of a self conviction of being right.  A conviction of being right no matter what, and viewing those who disagree as enemies is a state of being that has lost touch with the humility that we ourselves are not the all knowing God.

For Jesus’ disciples there is no such thing as keeping tabs on the transgressions of others as contrasted to their own rightness.  As disciples of Jesus, even the enemy is to be treated like a neighbor.  This does not mean that we allow others to harm us or take advantage of us, but simply that we approach everyone from the starting point of God’s love and compassion.

We here at St. Peter’s are called to see the world with a humble awareness that we do not see as God sees. Think of how different the world can look when you have sunglasses on.  Depending on the lenses the colors can look darker or brighter, the glare from the sun is neutralized.  Things can look different through sunglasses.  What if we could wear a type of glasses that would allow us to see as Jesus sees! What would we see in other people if we could look without our sin, if we could look from the perspective of the perfect love of Jesus.

I’m not about to take out a patent for the idea of such a type of glasses, but God’s Word does provide essentially this same service.  The scripture tells us that God provides to both the good and evil, “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  God gives his gifts to all.  This is true not only of the gifts of creation, but also of Jesus, who came to give his life as a ransom payment not for a few, but for many!

On the cross Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”  Out of this perfect love Jesus showed, the church also learns what it means to love the lost and even those hostile to the gospel.

We show ourselves to be sons of the Father in heaven when we love our enemies.  The purpose of loving enemies is to show the truth and reality of our relationship with the father.  That because God is holy and loves all, we also shall love all.   We show the world how great a love Jesus has, that his disciples love even their enemies.

At the close of our gospel reading Jesus illustrates the selfishness of exclusively greeting our friends.  “What more are you doing than others, do not even the gentiles do the same?

In the society of status and patronage that existed back then and exists just as much now, you want to give to those who give to you in order to build up a series of claims over others.  Because accumulating wealth possessions, status and honor are important to many in our society today, who we are friends with and who we choose to greet can have implications for how much success we have in life.

In the next chapter of Matthew Jesus will announce “For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.”  If wealth and status is our treasure, how much greater will be our temptation to greet only those who we call brothers.

Jesus intended that the disciples find their treasure in Him.  As a result he follows up the statement about greeting only your brothers, with this statement of summary of what it means to love your enemies: “You therefore must be perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We know the drill when it comes to God’s expectations of us to be perfect.  On our own we fail every time, we discover that we cannot earn our own salvation, we fall short of perfection, we need a Savior.  But this is not what Jesus means about being perfect.

Jesus does not mean that we are to be perfect in the manner of earning our salvation apart from Him, or perfectly fulfill the law.  What he means is that we live our lives abiding in him, instead of living our lives by our own terms.  God is holy and we as heirs of the promise are also called to be holy.

It is as if Jesus is saying, ‘don’t think you can just take a short cut and skip this one because it is hard’, we are to be perfect towards others in the sense of following the clear command to love because God first loved us, to forgive because God first forgave us.

To be perfect is to strive toward meeting our vocation and purpose as disciples of Jesus.  We see this is Ephesians 4:13 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

In other words, even though it seems near impossible for us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, these actions are exactly the type of things that life in Him should lead to as we continue to mature in our faith.

The call to be perfect is a call for maturity, completeness, and perfection.  Trusting in Christ we press on toward this completion.  This call to maturity suggests that as a congregation we should not become overly complacent and comfortable with our progress of growing in the faith.

Instead we should look past the minimum standards of attending worship and teaching our children the basics of our faith.  We should strive to grow together as a congregation to attain a unity of how to live as disciples in the challenging surroundings that we find ourselves in today.  Seeking every opportunity to be built up with God’s Word against the temptations of life in our culture today.

This was exactly the message pastor Barlow taught last Sunday from 1Corinthians chapter 3, the need to continue to change from immaturity in our faith to maturity.  The need to avoid spiritual malnutrition, and find true sustenance through letting the Word of the gospel dwell in us richly.

We have been given the blessing to be the body of Christ, with the result that no challenge is too great, even the calling to love our enemies.  May God grant this to us through the power of our perfectly patient Savior, Amen.

 

Salt of the Earth

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Brownstown, IN for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany series A.

Have you ever had a baking mishap? Picture making chocolate chip cookies and using one cup of flour instead of two, the cookies are just not the same.  Or picture a pan that is too small so that as it bakes the dough rises out of the pan and spills out onto the oven rack.  The appearance is less than desired.  My personal favorite type of baking mishap story would be anytime salt in a cup on the kitchen counter is accidentally used instead of flour or sugar.

Myself I try to stay away from baking mishaps and baking altogether.  Baking is often compared to Chemistry- you need the right proportions and actions and you get the right result. I never liked chemistry,  I would rather saute, simmer, and slice and dice, and best of all to cook outdoors over an open wood flame or charcoal. No confining recipes or predictable cooking times.

But sometimes nothing warms up a home like baking.   Fresh baked bread, homemade apple pie, cookies and  spice cakes, all these things bring about an aroma that makes a home feel warm and hospitable.

In our gospel lesson Jesus gives a specific recipe for the world’s well being.  The key to this recipe is the insight that a little salt goes a long way.  So it is with Christians in the world. God leaves it up to us to show the light of Christ to the world.  Jesus leaves it to us to reflect and shine the light of Christ into the darkness of our world.  We are called to shine the light of Christ to the world for the purpose of making the world palatable to live in.

God does not appoint and deploy angels in specific geographical locations in the world to ensure that the light of Christ lightens the darkness of the world.  Instead God appears to leave this vital task of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to chance. As in, God leaves it to us.  But this is not altogether chance, as Jesus has given us his Word and has carefully prepared the church to play this role of shining his light in the world.  Jesus knows just the right recipe of how much salt is needed to flavor the earth.

We are called to be salt and light to the world.  This is a favorite passage of scripture in the church. The imagery of salt flavoring the earth, and light lighting the darkness of the world is a grand broad sweeping imagery of how God works in the world through us.

As light set on a hill, we give hope to the world.  So often the world reflects hopelessness.  There is no awareness or acknowledgement of God being present.  Our task is simply to let those without hope know that God is there for them, in fact in Christ, God is always there for them.

As the body of Christ we, the church, shine the light of Christ through our love and care for others.   We have a freedom nobody else in the world has to do good works out of love for God and neighbor.  We don’t need to do these things to impress others or prove to others that we truly are spiritual and good people.

Our Old Testament reading gave an example of how people would do empty fasts and other sacrificial acts not out of love and thanksgiving for God, but out of self interest.

Sometimes we may become discouraged that the way we live our lives is nothing that unbelievers are going to notice or care about.  But the fact is people really do see the love of God in the world.  The role the church plays in being salt in the earth is so widespread and thorough, that people can only not see it if they choose not to see.

Often we think of the church’s calling to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth through community outreach activities. We might think of an activity like having a kid’s against hunger food packing day at church or any number of other activities designed to help people in their situations of need.  Such efforts are certainly worthy expressions of the gospel and valuable opportunities to be the light of the world.

Yet the most frequent opportunities we have to be salt and light to the world are within our own families and within our own daily life contexts of career and activities.

We have begun considering and exploring our Christian vocations in the world this Epiphany season.

Consider the ministry of Lutheran Central.  Through the long heritage of Lutheran education St. Peter’s has been blessed to offer schooling that provides to students values of forgiveness, service to others, and unconditional love in the name of Jesus.

When youth are shaped by these values they are put in position to be as the salt of the earth both during childhood and also during adulthood here in this this County and many other places.  The world is made a better place through the calling of youth to be salt and light to the world.

At first glance the task of a Lutheran school and raising children in the faith may seem like an ordinary predictable activity, nothing too earth shattering to our society.

But as Christians we do not approach these ordinary actions and roles with an ordinary is plenty good enough mindset.  Instead to be salt and light to the world involves living out our vocations with the extra ordinary excellence of God’s perfect love to us in Christ!

Through Christ we live out our vocations through the excellence of forgiveness, steadfast devotion, and unwavering hopefulness for God’s work of redemption in our lives and in the world.

Through this excellence in which we live out our vocations in love, we are able to be salt to the earth in a way that nonbelievers do not offer.

Parents as you teach your children about confessing sins and receiving forgiveness both in church and in daily life, you are providing your children with a life long example that will carry over into their adult lives.

Parents you have in your children the opportunity to bless the world with the salt and light of the gospel in places you never will go yourselves, in situations you can never foresee.  The investment we put into the faith development of our children is an investment that can pay off a hundred fold.

It’s not just in our family life where we see the church as salt and light to the world, it is also in the very currents of history. During the days of the early church the love and care of Christians changed the world as people knew it. – Where it was once common practice for children to be seen as expendable and to have no rights, the first Christians set a precedent of caring for the most defenseless of children.

The practice in the Roman empire was to leave unwanted babies outside to die of exposure.  Christians rescued these babies and taught them about Jesus as they grew up.  Even today it is the church that is at the foundation of efforts to care for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.

A few weeks ago the March for life in Washington D.C. had its highest ever attendance and with Vice President Pence speaking at the march, it marked the first time that a President or Vice President has appeared at the event. The church continues to be salt to the world, continues to preserve the world from getting lost in darkness.

This congregation continues to be called to be salt and light to the world.  We are called to do this not out of compulsion or self interest, not as an empty fast, as is described in our Old testament reading,  but out of what comes naturally to us from our living faith.

Jesus said you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.  He did not say, you should be, or you will be if you do the right things in life. Because of our identity as disciples of Jesus we are the salt and light of the world.

We can understand this to be a challenge, we can understand this to be an expectation of our Lord, but above all we can understand this to be a blessed calling that was exactly what his recipe for spreading the light of Christ to the world called for. Amen.

Come Follow Me

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Brownstown, IN on 1/22/17.  Thematic content inspiration comes from Concordia Commentary on Matthew by Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs.

Have you ever had a good fortune fall into your lap in the most unexpected of ways? Maybe you have your phone in your pocket and it dials someone in your address book that you didn’t intend to call. Through that call you end up talking to an old friend which leads to an idea about where to spend a future family vacation or a different career direction to take. Sometimes one phone call, one email can change the course of a day, a week, or even our whole life. Sometimes things happen in our life through the most unexpected ways.

God comes to us in the most unexpected ways.  In the first four chapters of the gospel of Matthew, leading up to today’s reading we see these amazing ways in which God comes to us. Right at the start of the Matthew’s gospel the genealogy of the birth of Jesus references five women. In the ancient world it was customary for only men to be listed in the genealogy, Fathers begat sons and so on.

But in the genealogy of Jesus, we hear about Rahab the Canaanite, and Ruth the Moabitess, both gentiles. We also hear about Tamar and Bathsheeba, women whose stories we know as connected with the sins of Judah and king David.  The line of Jesus comes to us in a way completely different than the wisdom of man would expect.

The next unusual circumstance is when the angel appears to Joseph and tells him that the birth of Jesus will come in a way completely different than the expectation of pious believers.  A completely new thing will happen in the virgin birth of Jesus in a manner that will appear to the unfaithful as scandalous.

Next the birth of the Savior is celebrated in most unusual circumstances. Poor and lowly shepherds from a nearby field are the ones who are given the first birth announcement.  Pagan gentiles, the Magi from the East appear to acknowledge the birth of Jesus, while Jews in the royal capitol are unaware of the birth of the true king of the Jews.

As Jesus reaches adult years John the Baptist appears to prepare the way for Jesus, preaching and baptizing in fulfillment of the scriptures.  But when Jesus appears to him, John is amazed, how can this be that Jesus is seeking to be baptized by John, Jesus is submitting to taking the place of a sinner in the river Jordan!  This is nothing like what John expected.

Immediately prior to our reading today, Jesus overcomes the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, emerging victorious.  But instead of going to Jerusalem to be king, after John is arrested he withdraws to lowly Galilee of the gentiles to begin his ministry and fulfill the Old testament prophecy.

“People who have walked in darkness have seen a great light”   The people of Galilee were victimized by circumstances of geography. Galilee was on the very Northern border of Israel and thus was exposed to attack from outsiders, as well as loss of identity through migrations of peoples of different culture and religious beliefs.

As a result they were as the scripture described people who experienced gloom and anguish. They were seen in contempt by the heart of Israel in Judah.  They were down and out, and certainly not highly regarded.  Out of this lowly place Jesus chooses to go, to bring a great light and hope to those who were in darkness.

From this context of offering one amazing surprise after another Jesus begins his public ministry. We heard those first words Jesus spoke, Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Jesus was announcing that in his very person, the reign of heaven, God’s visitation of the world had begun.

The kingdom of God is near, because in the person of Jesus, everything that has to do with God’s reign in the world is present.  The coming of God’s kingdom is none other than Christ himself.  Through Jesus God is doing his work of restoration, freedom, and redemption in history.  Whatever is disruptive to God’s kingdom coming to us, like our sin and unbelief, Jesus works to remove.

This reign of God’s kingdom is not something we see in expected ways like fire and brimstone and angelic hosts singing around the throne of God. Instead it is seen through the servant love of Jesus.  Through the forgiveness Jesus will win on the cross.

The reign of God’s kingdom is not limited to those who are in the right place and the right time in life, those who are most esteemed in society or those who are most religious. Instead God’s kingdom comes to the most unlikely candidates, sinners and those like ourselves who have nothing to offer in ourselves before God.

This reign of God in history, among us, is also present today through the unlikely means of the Word of God and the sacraments. How unlikely that the specific reading of God’s Word in this place on this day should be the vehicle by which God’s forgiveness and restoration are given to us today.  How unlikely that I should even be here preaching God’s Word, as months earlier I had not even heard of the town of Brownstown, IN.

Next while walking by the sea of Galilee Jesus calls out to Peter and Andrew: “Come follow me”. Peter and Andrew were likely skilled fisherman, but they were improbable candidates to be the first disciples Jesus called. They were not learned men or men with great authority.  God calls unlikely candidates both to hear the good news of the kingdom, and to proclaim it.

These two fisherman were invited to drop everything in life and follow the Son of God.  Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  Follow me and enter into a life that has a completely different purpose.

In the context of Matthew chapter 4 as Jesus first proclaimed the coming of the kingdom and called the first disciples by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus has in his very presence brought the kingdom of God to the world in all of its fullness.  Yet he had not yet died on the cross as the climax of this reign of God.  At that time He had not yet risen from the dead and given the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.

We experience the reign of Jesus as now and not yet.  Jesus has fully won for us our salvation, yet Jesus has not yet brought this salvation to consummation- he has not yet returned to perfect our bodies and create the new heaven and earth.

Today we eagerly await his return in glory.  But in faith, we already find in Christ that we have everything.  As we live our normal routine everyday lives God’s kingdom In Christ comes to us in power.  When we walk through the dark shadows of life God’s Word gives us light and salvation.  Even at times when we feel down and out, God’s kingdom comes to us in power through the word and promise of our Savior who walks with us every step we take.

In the context of the nearness of God’s reign, Jesus called his first disciples.  We see the same pattern in the calling of both sets of two disciples and can recognize it also as a pattern for us. Nobody becomes Jesus’ disciples by his own initiative.  Unlike any other teacher disciple relationship, Jesus calls humans to completely trust and serve him.  He is sharing the very initiative of the Son of God.

Jesus offered to the disciples at this calling a future plan for them: “I will make you fishers of men.” They will be made fishers of men in time, as Jesus teaches them and eventually gives them the authority to go out in his name.

We are not given the specific authority of the apostles, for we are not given the privilege of being physically present with Jesus and representing him in the way the Apostles were charged with. However we are given the call to follow Jesus in the form of being believers.  Jesus calls all of us to repentance and belief in him as Lord.  “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus continues to come to us in unexpected ways.  Through the kind word of a friend or family member we are encouraged to seek God’s Word.  Through a book we read or something we hear on the radio our faith is renewed, and we experience Jesus making himself present to us, appearing to us in the form of His Word.  We have in His Word that invitation, “Come follow me”

Part of the urgency of repenting that the kingdom of God is here is the awareness that Jesus will return again.  We do not have unlimited time with which to get on track in our lives toward God’s kingdom.  We don’t know when he will return, but we do know that he Will Return.

It is as if He has already returned when in worship we delight in praising God for the gift of salvation.   As we experience the joy and comfort of having our sin forgiven, it is a foretaste of the feast to come when our Lord returns.   This delight is the essence of our Lord’s invitation: “Come follow after me.”

 

Faith like a child

Faith like a child

My family had the opportunity to visit my alma mater and home congregation during my seminary years. Here is the sermon I preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Kirksville, MO

Our scripture readings this morning give us some pretty clear examples of good guys and bad guys. Cain is clearly a bad guy. He kills his brother Abel.  Abel seems to be a pretty good guy, he makes a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord and then becomes the first martyr.  In our gospel lesson we have the Pharisee who is so high on himself that he is practically praying to himself, and we have the tax collector whose simple humility Jesus praises.

We like to think of the world in terms of good guys and bad guys.  Batman is a good guy, Joker is a bad guy.  It’s a good thing when children can learn the basic distinction between good and evil and celebrate those who are good.  Sometimes, however, lines get blurred.

I grew up in Illinois and as a Cubs fan.  Obviously the Cardinals are the bad guys and the Cubs the good guys.  But when I attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, people there were pretty certain and passionate about the fact that the Cardinals were the good guys and the Cubs the bad guys.  And what’s more:  I have met some nice people who are Cardinal fans. Including Pastor Lukefahr.

Perhaps there is something more than the division between good guys and bad guys.  In fact the scripture teaches that nobody is good except God alone. It doesn’t matter who you choose from Adam and Eve, through Cain and Abel, St. Peter, St. Paul, John, Mary and any of us here today- all of us are bad guys with respect to our state of sin before the righteousness of God.  We are all in one manner or another bad guys in need of God’s mercy.

It is only to the extent that we trust in God’s mercy to us that we are in a manner of speaking good as compared to those who do not seek God’s mercy. The tax collector who beat his breast and declared himself to be a sinner was praised by Jesus. Compared to the very conceited and self involved Pharisee, he comes off as a saint. But the tax collector is accurate about himself, he is first and foremost a sinner.  He is in desperate need of God’s mercy.

As the gospel lesson continues we have an even more vivid example of what appears to be those who are genuinely good.  Children and even infants are brought to Jesus.  Surely they must be good. We love to spend time with our children, and we find joy and delight in watching them navigate their way through those early years of life.  Yet as our baptism liturgy makes clear, we would all be lost and separated from God if not for the mercy of Jesus applied in the washing away of sins of holy baptism.

Once we get past seeing our faith as about being on the right side of the good and bad split we allow space in our lives to fully receive and embrace God’s mercy. The essence of welcoming and inviting God’s mercy in our lives is that we are willing to take a step to the side and forego our expectation that we are capable of holding everything together in our life by being good enough.

Our desire for God’s mercy needs to be much greater than our desire to find our own way in life through being good.  It’s not easy, but living in God’s kingdom is to confess that there are no good guys and bad guys, but instead those who seek God’s mercy, and those who do not.

We are completely dependent on God’s mercy, yet we live in a society that teaches us from a young age what it means to be responsible and earn our keep.  We are told to not get too comfortable depending on our parents or others. “You can’t just live off mom and dad your whole life”  Growing in responsibility means learning to be more independent.  I might feel like I’m one of the good guys out there if I can make a good living and give to others instead of relying on others for help.

Society gives us the impression that our worth and view of self is largely determined by how much money we can make. Our sense of worth in this way is about a perceived sense of being an asset to society instead of a burden. Whether we are generous with our money or wise in how we spend is rarely considered. Instead we think of worth coming from how valued a career we serve in- the more money we are compensated the more we feel our work is valuable.

To be clear, this is not how God sees our value.  And it should not be how we see ourselves or other members of the body of Christ. Our worth is in our identity as God’s children.  Our worth is as immeasurable as the love Jesus showed to us on the cross.

Listen again to the words of Jesus in our gospel lesson “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Children are dependent on their parents for everything they have in life.  We too, in our relationship with God, depend wholly on Jesus for what we have in life. And we are called to hear His Word with faith like a child.

As an adult, I have a hard time remembering how I saw the world as a child. It’s hard to unlearn the way I see life now.  For all of us adults here, we have the challenge that it is often difficult to see the world as a child does.  It’s hard not to view the world through the lens of adult responsibility.

We often have too many disappointments in our memory that cloud our view of the hope presented in God’s Word.  We have seen too many evidences of our fallen world on the evening news or even in our own lives.

We all experience this weariness of living in a fallen world. This seems to be more pronounced in recent months with news of violence in our nation and terrorism internationally. Lately we share a collective weariness as a nation at how our election process has reflected such a departure from civility of a previous generation.

Jesus in contrast does not grow weary. Jesus does not become distracted by responsibilities and the failures of the world we live in today. Jesus instead speaks about our receiving the kingdom of God like a child because he himself trusts God the Father with the unwavering faith and hope of a child. Jesus has faith that our Heavenly Father will care for us in our needs.

The children that were brought to Jesus were brought for the purpose that Jesus should touch them, that is show his perfect love through the hands on specific gesture of a touch. This was a communication of God’s love in the simplest way. As any parent knows, nothing says love more simply than a baby held securely in the arms of mom or dad.

As a congregation, when we hear God’s Word we can all hear these words as if they are a very embrace from God our Father.  We should hear his word like a child in that we believe it with confidence, without doubt or mistrust.

We also as a congregation face collective challenges to living with faith like children: We carry with us memories of what has and has not worked well in the past for the congregation.  As a group we can often carry fears about pursuing the calling God’s Word gives to us as the body of Christ in this time and this place. We may have fears that if we speak the truth of God’s Word to our community we will be ridiculed and scorned for such words.

Or in other instances we may carry a fear of hope.  Sometimes we don’t want to hope for too much, because then the disappointment will be too great. Better off not hoping too much out of what the gospel should mean for our congregation or our community and sticking with what is already proven and known.  If childlike faith sees opportunities to help those most in need in our community, adult pragmatism calculates the financial cost or numerous challenges that make such a dream too costly.

To have childlike faith as a congregation is to eagerly expect that God’s Word will work in our lives and in our congregation’s witness to our community.  It is to expect and believe that God’s Word does not return without result.  Childlike faith celebrates the power of our baptism and our regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper to strengthen and equip us for whatever challenge our fallen world throws at us from day to day, and week to week.

One of the big attractions of being an adult from the perspective as a child is that “I can do it myself, I can have the home, job and family and do it my way. These are gifts of adulthood blessed by God.  But they are not the goal of life themselves.  (after all life doesn’t get progressively better when you have more and more wealth and material possessions.)

The goal of life is not our independence, but instead our childlike dependence on God through each and every stage of life. We best meet the challenges of pursuing education and career plans through child like faith. We best pursue the vocations of building up a home, raising children, and sending children off through childlike faith. With childlike faith we approach a process of downsizing a home, or giving back to the community, or spending time with grandchildren.

We depend on God’s mercy all the way through.  May God grant this to us through the boundless mercy of our savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Jesus rejoices in saving the lost

Here is the sermon I gave for the Saturday evening service at Zion Lutheran in New Palestine. The worship theme the three year lectionary for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, which includes the parable of the lost sheep and lost Coin from Luke 15:1-10

Brothers and sisters in Christ, can you recall a time when you had to make a difficult decision where there are two places you would like to be at once, and you have to pick one?  Maybe you were invited to a wedding out of town the same weekend that the school volleyball tournament is taking place.  Choosing one option comes at the cost of being able to be a part of the other.

Sometimes the choice is so hard to make that you might even entertain the idea that you can do both.  You know leave early, drive late into the night and participate in less than the whole of both options. Often this option comes with great cost in effort and planning, to the point where the weekend is rather stressful. Sin in our lives can make choices more complicated than they need to be.

Experience has shown me that the wisest course is to pray and seek to recognize God’s will in the choice that most closely fits with faithfully living out the vocations you have in life to your family and society.

God’s Word for us this evening provides a divine perspective on hard choices in life.  Consider the gospel reading from Luke, where The Pharisees and scribes criticize the choice Jesus makes to eat with sinners and tax collectors. To their reasoning, why should Jesus eat with these sinners when there are plenty of righteous people to dine with? They don’t understand the choice Jesus made, and they assume it was a poor choice.  Jesus answers with three parables that illustrate how what looks to be a hard choice is actually a clear the choice.  The clear choice is for God to seek after and rescue those who are lost.

Jesus states that it is obvious that any of them would seek after one of their 100 lost sheep and bring it safely back in the fold. A shepherd will seek after the 1 lost sheep out of 100. Likewise Jesus describes the woman seeking after the lost coin, and states that it is a given that anyone in the same position as the woman will look for the lost coin.

The Pharisees likely did not have seen things that way.  They might count their losses and conclude that having 99 sheep that are safe is good enough.  Their perspective on the scenario is about self interest or business management.  Jesus is providing a divine perspective that is grounded not in self interest but in God’s steadfast love.  Finding the lost one out of 99 is a cause for celebration not because it represents a recovery of 1% of the owners assets, but because it means everything to that particular sheep which is lost.

To any one person who is lost and without a right relationship with Jesus, being found and rescued by Jesus brings a complete change of fortune.  For this reason when a person who has been lost, is found by Jesus, it is cause for great rejoicing.  The choice for God is clear cut, spare no expense to save the lost. There is no comparison or cost benefit analysis about how the person who is lost is worth less than all those who are safely in the fold.

Even as God makes no one or the other priority choice regarding the lost, the cost of saving those who are lost is nothing else other than the life of Jesus on the cross.

Jesus came to seek the lost, not those who consider themselves secure in their righteousness.  Although the choice was clear for Jesus, a no hesitation, no holding back type of a choice, the cost was for Jesus to lay his life down on the cross. The cost for paying for our sins and bringing us back to God was for Jesus to take on all of our sins on the cross.

The reward for paying this cost continues to come day after day, as the church celebrates and rejoices over the bountiful harvest of those who were lost and now are found.  God’s Word for us this evening leads us to see how important the lost are to God.  The scripture also helps us to see that we ourselves are included in those who are lost or in danger of being lost.

The lost are not simply those outside of the church, but can also include us.  Recall St. Paul’s confession of faith from our Epistle lesson: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Like St. Paul we need to recognize the gravity of our sin. Every Christian must like St. Paul be able to recognize the ways in which you can see yourself as chief of sinners in need of God’s mercy.  Satan wants us to think of ourselves in the church as firmly entrenched in the ranks of the righteous 99, in no danger of falling away.

But the reality is that we are safe only in our faith in Christ.  It is a mistake to assume that simply belonging to a church and having an identity as a Christian is what makes us  among the 99 described in the parable.  If we are secure in our own righteousness and have no need of Jesus, then we are no different than the lost.  Without the mercy of Christ, we are in a manner of speaking right at the edge of a cliff, susceptible to falling off and becoming one who is lost and separated from the fold.

When we recognize that we also can be among those who are lost, we appreciate even more the mercy of God that saves us.  When we appreciate how Jesus has given everything to go after us and find us in our state of lostness, we desire to show the same to others.

Our gospel reading implies a few application takeaways for us the church. First of all, don’t take for granted the joy Jesus has in us, as he rescues us from our state of lostness and celebrates that we have been found.  It would be a mistake to think that God does not take joy in us because of our failures to live our lives in unwavering faith.  When we repent of the mistakes we make Jesus welcomes us back with great joy.  The joy is not confused with emotions, of, “well I’m glad you are found again, but you never should have ran off in the first place.”

As a second application, we should not take for granted the joy there is in telling the lost about Jesus.  The Pharisees and scribes believed the tax collectors and sinners were lost causes.  Perhaps the Pharisees and scribes convinced themselves that there was nothing in God’s Word that they could have said to change or convince sinners of their need for repentance.  Jesus of course says, this is not so. It is not a thankless task to share the good news of the kingdom to the lost.

The joy of sharing the good news of the gospel with the lost is that some people do respond in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And even if we do not see people repenting in response to God’s Word, as we share God’s Word we are giving ourselves the chance to internalize in our lives the good news of the kingdom applied to us.  The good news we share to others is also good news to ourselves whenever we lose sight of the saving work of Jesus in our lives.

I wonder, who do we tend to write off as lost causes in our world today? Those who consider themselves atheists? Those who are deeply entrenched in pursuing materialistic goals in life? Or what about those who have values in life contrary to the teaching of God’s Word to the point where Jesus is experienced as a stumbling block to their way of life?

Here is one I’m sure you have all come across at one time or another. The person who says, I don’t go to church because I know that the people who are in church are all really just frauds who want to look good or feel better about themselves because they go to church. This is a perspective that takes no account for the possibility that being a Christian is about life with Jesus.

Do we consider any of these people lost causes? Jesus does not.  Lost causes are His specialty. Lost causes are the ones who really give great reason for celebrating and rejoicing when they are found through repentance and new life in Christ.

In our own way we were once as lost causes.  Prior to our baptism, we were enemies of God on account of our sin. Jesus sought us out and called us through His Word and through the gift of new life in Holy Baptism.  We were sought after as hopelessly lost causes- and great was the rejoicing in heaven when we were found.  Recall the words from our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel: “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”

God sent his own Son to us to search for us and rescue us. Just like in the parable of the lost sheep and coin, Jesus considered us so important that he rejoiced over finding us.  This unsurpassed worth in which God places the lost is described well in the short parable of the merchant in search of the pearl of great worth in the gospel of Matthew chapter 13: 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

We often read this parable as a lesson about valuing our relationship with God above all else, as in we should be like that merchant and recognize that our relationship wih God is more valuable than any other pearls out there in the world.  But the most specific and accurate meaning of this parable Jesus told is that Jesus himself is the merchant in search of us.  The church is that pearl of great price that Jesus gave all he had to posses.

This is a wonderful perspective on how God sees us.  An invaluable perspective in our proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to the lost.  We can let those who seem like lost causes know that in God’s eyes they are of unsurpassed worth. They are to Jesus a pearl of great worth for whom Jesus gave up everything without a moment’s hesitation.  May God grant us faith that helps us to speak about this love of Jesus and show this love in our lives.

 

The giver of all good gifts

The giver of all good gifts

Here is the text of my sermon that I preached at Messiah Lutheran Church at Eagle Creek based on the gospel reading for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. http://www.messiah-indy.org/

A few weeks back one of those survey fact boxes on the lower corner of the USA today caught my eye. It reported a result from a LG survey of smart phone users.  According to the survey, 9 in 10 smart phone users panic when their phone battery level drops below 20%.  Now panic is a strong word, and I am going to assume only few people genuinely panic with a low battery on their phone.

But still there is some general uneasy feeling in the pit of the stomach of 9 out of 10 people with low phone battery levels.  What does that say about what is important to us?  Does God cease to be our Father when the battery is below 20%?  Does the independence and well being that our phones give us in some way overshadow the sense of security we have in Christ?  To the point that we should have panic like feelings?

Our gospel reading today helps us to see that God is the giver of every good gift.  We may love the things our phone can do and the relationships they help us maintain, but even our phones are gifts from God.

Within the gospel reading we find one of two listings of the Lord’s Prayer in the scripture.  We say the Lord’s Prayer every week in worship, but it is a different thing when it is contained in our scripture reading as a topic of a sermon focus.

How do you even begin to tackle a sermon about the Lord’s Prayer?  One the one hand there is so much to say about the Lord’s Prayer that it is hard to give too much attention to one dimension of teaching at the expense of leaving out other dimensions.  In confirmation class or Sunday school the Lord’s Prayer is typically taught one petition at a time, for a period of a few months.  How do you say a few month’s worth of teaching in one sermon?

But on the other hand it almost feels like even one fifteen minute sermon is too much of me to be analyzing and teaching about the Lord’s Prayer, when the prayer Jesus gave us is perfectly clear and profound in itself.  When you hear a beautiful piece of classical music you take it in and experience it, you don’t need to analyze what it means or describe the musical theory behind it.

Yes it is a little intimidating to begin to preach over the text of the Lord’s Prayer, but on the other hand no Christian should ever be intimidated by working with God’s Word.  God’s Word is written for our instruction, that by believing it we might have life in His name.

Our reading from the gospel of Luke contains the Lord’s Prayer within the context of Jesus providing a parable about asking for what we need.  We hear in verses 5-8 : If you ask a friend for help late at night they have reason to deny your request based on the situation of the night- kids are in bed, lights are off- didn’t you see the sign, we are closed for business.  But because someone is after all a friend and because you insist, they probably will help when you ask.

The text says that it is due to the impudence of the man that his request is met.  He doesn’t back down, he insists.  Another translation uses the word shameless.  He is so persistent in asking that he is without any reserve, without any shame.

Likewise, because we are God’s children, the last minute circumstances of our asking, or the particulars of what we are asking for is not the issue.  In our prayer to God, what is important is God’s relationship with us, and God’s position of love for us.  The most important thing about our asking things of God, is that we are persistent in expecting that God is Our Father, and the giver of every good gift.  We are to be shameless in our asking, as in, we feel no shame in bringing our needs to God.

We have reason to have shame because of our sin.  But in Christ our sin does not stand in our way from our prayer being heard.  In Jesus we come to the Father in prayer without shame.  Think of how amazing that is. After the fall into sin Adam and Eve were ashamed to be in the presence of God. They covered themselves and wanted to hide. But In Christ we are not ashamed to stand before God, instead we approach God as a child approaches a loving Father.

Keep in mind how the Lord’s Prayer begins:  Our Father, we begin praying with  confession of our relationship with God.  The Lord’s Prayer is not just about what we pray for, or how we word our prayers- what formula we use, but instead about who we pray to.  We pray to the God who loves us and laid down his life to save us.  We pray in love for what God has done for us.

Consider our Old Testament reading from Exodus chapter 3.  God has appeared to Moses in order to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt.  Our reading picks up in verse 13 where God reveals his name, I am who I am, YHWH.  The God who is alive and able to save you. The same name that would be given to Jesus. In Hebrew Jesus means YHWH saves.  In verse 15 God is specific about what Moses should say to the people: “YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

The Lord’s Prayer remembers God’s name.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we remember God’s name to us, given in baptism, Our Father.  The God who called us into His kingdom by the waters of our baptism asks us to address us as his children.  We call on our family relationship with God as the basis of our prayer.

How entirely different is the understanding of prayer to those out there who are outside of the Church of our Lord.  Have you ever noticed in a movie or tv show when someone who generally would never be caught praying, finds themselves praying because of a trying desperate situation?

The general pattern is to address God not as dear Father, or my God in whom I have trusted all these years. Instead what do we hear? God, if you exist, if you can hear me up there, if you can overlook the times when I have ignored you, if you consider my needs important enough to help, please do so now.

‘If you are there’ is entirely different than “Our Father.”  How sad to be at a point where prayer does not include knowledge of who you are praying to, and the certain conviction that God hears us through Jesus, and does not hold our sin against us through Jesus.  We pray to the God we know is there, Our Father, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.  The God who came to us in a particular way in history and died on the cross for us.

Sometimes life can be so difficult that we begin to pray for certain things to be better as a condition of our feeling that God is loving toward us and is going to come through for us. It is a problem if our prayer life or our life of worship and devotion seeks a make or break sign from God that we are really loved.  The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer we pray with a starting point of knowing that we are his beloved children.  It is already a given for us that we are loved and that God gives us everything we need in life.

Dieterich Bonhoeffer once wrote about the contrast between praying out of the poverty of our own heart and our own wavering devotion to God, and praying out of the richness of God’s Word.  What he was saying, is that we probably don’t want to put too much of ourselves into our prayer, too much of our piety, our poetic language. If we keep drawing from ourselves eventually we will be running on empty and find ourselves saying things we feel are the right things to say, without actually meaning them.

The book of Psalms as the hymn book of the Old Testament provides the model of responding to God’s work in our lives in prayer. Each Psalm is in one way or another a prayer responding to God’s work in our lives or the desire for God’s kingdom to come in the midst of hardships.  The Lord’s Prayer helps us to see that our prayer starts with God’s Word and our relationship to God.

We find in God’s Word all the words we need about what it means in our prayer life to put our trust in Christ, to ask for his will to be done, to yearn for his kingdom to come.   Just by reading one paragraph of scripture you can find that one verse that you want to repeat to yourself and want to use to enrich your prayer for the day ahead or the week ahead.

If you like to have the perspective of other seasoned Christian in how to pray a book like the Lutheran Study Bible provides in the notes section a prayer that responds in faith to the words of each section of scripture we read. It is a great resource if you have never seen it before or heard from anyone of what a rich resource it is, I have mine with me and would be happy to show it to you after the service.

Praying according to the pattern of God’s Word is particularly important when it comes to those times in life where we or those we love and care about are suffering. How do we pray about illnesses that just won’t go away, or about shootings and other tragedies that never should be happening in our nation?

We know God’s ultimate aim is to love us and bring us to Jesus- yet until Jesus returns too often the answer to our prayers is for us to suffer yet a little longer.  For this reason our prayer must always keep in mind the ultimate good of Jesus returning and of Jesus raising us and all the faithful to everlasting life.

The well renowned spiritual growth writer Henri Nouwen once compared prayer to breathing.  To pray is to breathe. The person who does not pray lives life as with shallow breaths.  The person who prays has the life of Christ supplying and directing thoughts and actions.  To pray is to abide in Christ, and to abide in Christ is to live life to the fullest.  May the Lord bless your life of prayer and your life in Him.