Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Twenty-Fifth Week after Pentecost (November 12-17, 2018)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Hebrews 10:23 - “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #508 “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near”
Hymns for Sunday: 515, 508, 636, 659, 548

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday: Psalm 16
How does this psalm speak of Jesus’ resurrection? How is this a psalm of confidence for you?

For what does Paul pray for the Colossian Christians? For you? What is the basis of his confidence to pray for this?

Wednesday: Matthew 9:18-26
How does this story show you what Jesus will do for us when He comes again? How is death like sleep for us?

Thursday: Daniel 12:1-3
Trouble, but deliverance! How?What promise is here for you?

How do these verses speak of Jesus and what He has done for you? How do we receive what Jesus has done for us?

Saturday: Mark 13:1-13
Will things get better or worse before the end? Why? What, then, is your hope?

The Catechism - The Lord’s Prayer: The Fourth Petition [part 2] – Give us this day our daily bread. What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the colleges of our synod, for faithfulness, steadfastness, and confidence in Christ.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregations Sunday School teachers.
+ the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Mill Neck Manor and Lutheran Friends of the Deaf.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 25 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Poor Widow, A Rich Bride”
Text: Mark 12:38-44 (1 Kings 17:8-16)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There were a lot of people in Jerusalem. It was almost the Passover. So people were coming from all over, coming to Jerusalem for the Feast.

And coming to Jerusalem, they went to the Temple. It never failed to impress. Like tourists who go to New York City and walk around with the faces to the sky, impressed by all the skyscrapers and amazed at their dizzing heights. So it was at the Temple, as they went and got in line to give their offerings.

There were thirteen “trumpets.” That’s what they called them. Metal tubes that flaired out at the end, like trumpets; or like hands begging crying for a handout. And when one put money into them, they made a clanging sound as the coins made their way down the tubes and into the boxes at the end. And it was a noisy day. Lots of people. Lots of offerings.

And Jesus watched. All kinds of people and all kinds of offerings. Many rich folks came. Their large deposits made lots of noise. And they seemed pleased at that. They must be good. They must be doing something right for God to have blessed them so. And lots of noise would mean others would know it, too.

Mark doesn’t tell us how long Jesus stayed, though it must have been for some time if He saw many put in large sums. Surely, not everyone did. But many did. Many among all who came to the Temple that day. So why did Jesus stay? What was He waiting for? What was He watching for?

At last, she came in. After the many. At the end. Like she didn’t want to be seen or noticed. Her offering made hardly a sound. None at all, in fact, if you weren’t paying attention. And it didn’t take her long. The offerings of the rich took a while, to dump all those coins in. She was in and out quickly. Her two small copper coins disappearing down the chute and lost in the large pile of coins at the bottom, just as she was surely lost in the great crowd of pilgrims.

Except Jesus noticed her. Had He been waiting for her? He didn’t speak to her. He didn’t give her anything. But He speaks to His disciples. He wanted them to notice her, too. Not just to notice the rich and strong and able; but the poor and weak and small. For with Jesus, compassion, not admiration, is what it’s all about. 

Maybe He wanted them to help her. He had done this kind of thing before. When there were 5,000 families who had come to hear Him teach, He had told His disciples to give them something to eat. They said they couldn’t. Alright, then. Here is a single poor widow, who just put in everything she had, all she had to live on. . . . So . . . [wait . . . pause . . .]

The scribes noticed widows like this. To devour them and their houses. Not openly and obviously, of course. For then they would have been criticized and would have had to give up their best seats in the synagogues, the places of honor at feasts, and the greetings and admiration they got in the marketplaces. But when the opportunity presented itself . . . God helps those who help themselves, right? They were good at looking religious and praying, even while they were preying upon widows. Maybe this widow. Maybe that’s why two small copper coins is all she had. 

So Jesus points her out to the disciples. Was it a test? Here is someone who needs mercy. So . . . do you get it yet? 

Well, we’re not told what happened. But given the disciples’ track record, we can probably safely assume they didn’t. Do we? Maybe this story isn’t so much about giving as it is about mercy. Or maybe the two go together . . .

These last few weeks at the end of the Church Year - which are are now in - turn our attention to the last days of the world. To consider that we may be in them. No one knows. Many people through the centuries thought they were in them. Luther did. And one of these days, we’ll be right. But maybe that’s the thing. Maybe God always wants us to think we’re in the last days. Maybe that’s why Jesus doesn’t tell us when it will come and says that we can’t know when. So that we’ll remember that this - this world and life - is not all there is. So that we’ll look for Him. So that our attention will be in the right place. That we’ll notice what we ordinarily wouldn’t otherwise notice. And who.

I said at the start of this sermon that it was almost Passover, but what I didn’t say is that it was almost time for Jesus’ Passover - the time for His passing over from death to life. You see, these were His last days. This story takes place during His last week. The clock was ticking. He would soon - in just a day or so - be on the cross. And He knew it.

So why take the time for this? To sit in the Temple. To notice poor widows? For surely there were lots of other important things He could or should be doing, right? That’s how we think. 

But Jesus is always noticing those the world takes little notice of, or thinks little of. Children, widows, lepers, the poor. And He doesn’t just notice them, He spends time with them, eats with them, speaks with them, forgives them. Good news for us. Even if you are somebody the world notices now. For how long will it last? Until you’re forgotten, too? No longer useful, living in a Nursing Home, pushed aside by the go getters. Like a widow with only two small copper coins . . .

But Jesus notices. Her. And you. Even when He is about to die. For He is going to the cross for her. And you. And even on the cross, who does Jesus notice? The thief hanging next to Him, His mother beneath Him. And He takes care of them. And you. He is never too busy, He never has more important things to do than mercy. For He is about to give all He has, His very life, for her. And you.

So another lesson for His disciples. And you. Beware of the scribes, Jesus tells them. Not just because of what they were doing, but because of what they had become. For they had become quite worldly. Concerned with themselves, concerned with their appearance, concerned with their honor, concerned with their wealth. And so little room for mercy. It is easy to criticize them. How easy it is also to become like them.

But the bridegroom soon will call us, come to the wedding feast (LSB #514). And the trumpets on that day will not be ones for receiving offerings, but announcing our Saviour’s return. And on that day those wedded to the world will become widows when this world passes away. But those now widowed by the world and waiting for the bridegroom - for them, the feast that will have no end. 

So that day in the Temple, you tell me: who were the poor ones, and who really was the rich one? 

The end of the church year gives us that chance each year to remember that we may be living in the last days, and that one of these days, we’ll be right. And so to hang onto the things of this world a little less, and hang onto our bridegroom a little more. To notice ourselves a little less, and notice those in need of mercy a little more. And not to worry so much about the approval of the world, that they notice us - and focus a little more on the good news that Jesus notices you. That He is not too busy and you are not too small for Him. Even if all you have are two small copper coins.

But you have much more than that! For you have been baptized and redeemed not with gold or silver, but with the blood of the Son of God - a payment worth much more than all the gold and silver in the world. And you are forgiven all your sins - all of them, not just some of them. That there be nothing between you and your bridegroom; that not even death be able to part you. And you are fed not with the oil and flour that never run out, as Elijah’s widow was, but with the Body and Blood of Jesus which will never run out. That you eat not just for many days, or even as many days as you live on this earth, but forever. For while the widow put her two small copper coins, all she had, into the Temple’s offering trumpet, Jesus puts His two things, His Body and Blood, all He has, into you. The pledge, the promise of His forgiveness, and that He is coming back for you.

So that day in the Temple, the rich put in all she had. The poor gave only a tenth. And the King, He saw His bride. And knew that she would be a widow not much longer . . .

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Feast of All Saints Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Big Picture”
Text: Matthew 5:1-12; Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .

I remember a few years ago on All Saints Day reflecting on those words, and trying to imagine who John saw in that heavenly crowd. And since John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos, late in life, when he had this vision (Revelation 1:9-11), I imagined that among the people he saw in this vision were his friends; his fellow apostles, who had been martyred. Most gruesomely. Peter. His brother James. Matthew. Andrew. Philip. Steven, the very first Christian martyr. And Paul. How comforting this vision, then, to him. To see his friends now safe. To see their suffering turned into joy. To see Jesus, the Lamb upon His throne, with His own gathered around Him. All His promises made, fulfilled.

And so for us, too. Who, for us, is in that crowd that John saw? 

A woman whose mind was taken by Alzheimers.
An old pastor whose body finally wore out.
A baby who died before she was able to be born.
A woman overcome by cancer. 
A old man who lived a long life.
A young woman who had been gunned down by a mentally ill person bent on revenge.
A family killed by a drunk driver.
A father who struggled to make ends meet.
A wife who did her best, but her best was never good enough.
A college student who drank too much one night and fell out a 13th story window.
A poor widow.
A man who lived under a bridge. 
A soldier who lost his legs when he was blown up by an IED.
An old childless couple.
A prisoner who just had some mixture of chemicals injected into his veins.
And who else? 
Who might you see or imagine in that great multitude?

These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. Tribulation, not ease. For life in this world is seldom easy. There is hunger and thirst and tears. There is trouble, trials, and temptations. There is weakness, fear, and death. And we are a little flock, hunted by the devil, hounded by his demons, and harassed by his evil, both without and within. And we often fail. We often fall. We are often overcome. And we look at our lives, and we look at life in this world, and we don’t see blessed. We see trouble, difficulty, and sin. 

And yet in the midst of such a world, we have hope. And we are given this vision of hope today. That there is more than what we can see. Much more. And that as John said today in his epistle, though we are God’s children now, what we will be has not yet appeared. Who we are and what we will be is hidden now in this world of sin. But the day is coming when all will be revealed. When Jesus comes again, and John’s vision becomes reality. All God’s promises, fulfilled. 

So saints don’t often look like saints on earth. The blessed don’t often look blessed. In fact, they may look exactly the opposite. Martyrs don’t look blessed. Those who are suffering don’t look blessed. Those who mourn or who are meek don’t look blessed. Those who are poor in spirit and who hunger and thirst for righteousness don’t look blessed. Those who are merciful are often taken advantage of. The peacemakers, too. The pure in heart are mocked, and those who dare to speak of a righteousness different than the worlds, they can expect persecution. Lawsuits, loss of job, loss of friends, loss of support, loss of reputation. It all happened to Jesus. And it will happen to those who are His.

And yet blessed, He says. Over and over He says it. These are they who are blessed!

That sounds foolish to many. That’s not blessed! At least, not the blessed I want! Blessed is to win the $1.6 billion dollars in the lottery. Blessed is to be happy and have all you want. Blessed is to not suffer. Blessed is to be full and satisfied. Blessed is to have an easy life, to be well-liked, to have all your dreams come true

Well, perhaps that last one is the key. For what are your dreams? Are they only for this world and life? Are they that small?  . . .  Maybe it’s time to think bigger. Maybe it’s time to realize that maybe we don’t know what blessed is, and need to be taught. Like Jesus did today. These are the blessed ones. Not the ones who seem blessed here and now, for a short time in this short life. But the ones John saw. The ones with tribulation now but blessed forever.

Hebrews chapter 11 is sometimes called the great faith chapter. It speaks of a great multitude of Old Testament saints who were waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled - the promise of a Saviour. John must have seen them, too, in His vision. Abel, Enoch, and Noah; Abraham and Sarah; Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; Moses and the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea with him; Rahab, the prostitute; Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; David and Samuel and the prophets. And then are mentioned many without names: those who were tortured, those who suffered mocking and flogging, chains and imprisonment. Those who were stoned, sawn in two, and killed with the sword. And more. And we wonder: how could they do what they did? How could they stand firm? And the answer is that they dreamed bigger. They didn’t dream small, of just things in this small world and short life. They knew, as we read in that Hebrews chapter, that they were strangers and exiles on earth, and seeking a homeland, a better country, a heavenly one. The one God had prepared for them

And as John’s vision shows us today, their dreams - I mean, their faith - came true.

And so All Saints Day reminds us of this truth: that the purpose of the church, the purpose of our faith, the purpose of Jesus, is not that we live a blessed life, but that we die a blessed death. For that is far better. 

A blessed death. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? For death is the result of sin and the curse of sin. Death was never meant to be. Death is strange and alien to who God created us to be. And death never looks blessed. It’s ugly and empty, even when it ends suffering and pain. But if the suffering and pain ends in this life only to continue in the next, that is not a blessed death, but a pitiable one. For in that suffering and pain there is no hope that it will end. 

A blessed death, though, is possible. John’s vision and the saints who have gone before us testify to that. And it is one of the elders, standing around the throne in heaven with all the saints and talking to John, who tells us how. These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

It is the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus, that enables us to die a blessed death. Ironically, it is the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus, that causes us tribulation in this life. That puts the satanic bulls-eye on your back. That makes this life seem, at times, anything but blessed. 

But blessed are you, Jesus says. Over and over He says it! Even if you don’t look like it. Even if you don’t feel like it. For Jesus took your cursed for you. He died the cursed death (Deuteronomy 21:23) and then rose from that cursed death, so that you could die a blessed death and rise to blessed life. With Him. For to be washed in the blood of the Lamb means to be washed by the blood that flowed out from Him on the cursed cross. The blood of forgiveness. The blood that contains His life. 

And you have been so washed, when that blood was poured on you in your baptism. And you continue to be washed as that blood washes over you with His absolution and in the words of His Gospel. And He gives you His life as you eat His Body and drink His Blood. And you are blessed. Here and now and for forever. And you lead a blessed life and you die a blessed death. For you are in Jesus. And in Jesus, all that’s His is yours. Even if it is hidden under suffering, tribulation, and death in this world and life now.

But that doesn’t make it not real. For hidden doesn’t mean not real - in fact, just the opposite. Hidden means it is here and real; you just can’t see it. But John saw it. And we believe it. I mean, see it . . . by faith.

So today, All Saints Day, the saints are encouraging us. To not give up. To keep the faith. To remember to think and dream big.

On this All Saints day we also remember that we are not alone. That you can never be alone at church. For where Jesus is, His angels and saints are. And Jesus is here. So here, we join them and they join us, around the Lamb. They are just hidden. You know, some older Christians can tell us stories of the good ol’ days, when churches were filled, Sunday School classes booming, and confirmation classes large. John’s vision shows us that the good ol’ days still are.

And All Saints Day teaches us what really is. That what is called death on earth is called the final deliverance in heaven. That blessed is what God calls blessed, not what we think is. And that the day is coming when all this will be seen. When we will see Jesus. Who, by the way, did not look blessed either. Born with animals and laid in their feed trough. Forced to flee a king who wanted to kill Him. Growing up in poverty. Opposed every step of the way. Arrested as a criminal. Mocked, beaten, whipped, crucified. But blessed was hidden in this man. And blessed is hidden in you, for Christ is in you. And when He appears, John says, we will be like Him. That is, we will see what has been hidden all along. 

And the Feast that we began to sing of here again today, the Feast that we get a foretaste of here, will be our Feast forever. As John saw, and said: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more tears, no more scorching heat of tribulations. Only joy. Yes, this is the Feast of Victory for our God! His victory for all the saints. For you and me. Alleluia!

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Festival of the Reformation Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Jesus, Here, For You”
Text: Matthew 11:12-19 (Romans 3:19-28)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some would say that we should not have a Festival of the Reformation. We should not celebrate this day, but, in fact, mourn. For the Reformation, they would say, divided the church. A wound from which she still has not recovered. So you should sing a dirge today, not A Mighty Fortress. The color should be purple, not red. There should be repentance, not rejoicing. Luther is no hero, but a villain. Not a reformer, but a revolutionary. Not a faithful son of the church, but a traitor. Benedict Arnold, so some would say.

What shall we say to this?

Well, the church had been divided long before Luther ever came along. The apostle Paul already speaks of divisions in the church in the first century. In fact, he says, there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Corinthians 11:19). After Paul, various heresies and false teachings in the early church caused splits, and there was what was called “the great schism” at the turn of the millenium - some 500 years before the Reformation - when the Eastern and Western Churches excommunicated each other. It seems that if the church was ever united, it wasn’t for long.

Which, honestly, is what we should expect. We heard a couple of weeks ago, when we celebrated St. Michael and All Angels, that satan had been cast down to the earth, and with that, the war in heaven ended, but the war on earth had just begun. The kingdom of God would suffer violence. The church would be not a church at peace and rest, but the church militant. Satan will attack Christians, trying to lure us away from our Saviour. He will attack the church, dividing her with false doctrine and sometimes even petty squabbles. And he will seek to infiltrate, too. That false doctrine find a home in the church and eat her away from the inside out, so that she is nothing but a empty shell with nothing of substance inside.

But though some sing a dirge on this day, it is not a time to mourn. For one very simple reason. Not because of Luther. We thank God for him, as we do for all the church fathers who came before us, who fought for the truth, who often gave their lives, and on whose shoulders we stand. 

Nor do we celebrate the start of a new church, a Lutheran one, for that would be a grave misunderstanding of what our church really is. For we are no new church, but a very old one. For there is, in fact, only one church. One true one. The church which is the Body of Christ. The church which is made up of those who belong to Christ. Those baptized by Him, fed by Him, absolved by Him, who believe in Him. The Christians of the Old Testament who believed in the promise of His coming, and the Christians of the New Testament who believe that He came, fulfilling all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. One church, hidden in this world of violence and division and sin.

No, we will not mourn for this reason: because Jesus is here. And as Jesus said: can the wedding guests mourn when the Bridegroom is with them (Matthew 9:15)?

Yes, we mourn our sins and repent of them. And there is no shortage of sin to confess in our lives. But our mourning is not for long, for then we hear the Word of Absolution, that our sin is forgiven, taken away, not counted against us. You are free. And then we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, His pledge to us of the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. That He who places His Body and Blood into our bodies, will come and raise these bodies to eternal life. So a foretaste of the feast to come, we call the Lord’s Supper. This is just the appetizer of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. One feast, though on many altars now. 

So how can we mourn when such great forgiveness is ours? This, for Luther, made all the difference in the world. 

Often times, the Reformation is boiled down to the three solas: salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, revealed in Scripture alone. Or that it was all about justification by grace through faith, aparts from works of the law, as we heard from Romans today. And those are certainly true and hallmarks of the Reformation.

But maybe what the Reformation really boiled down to was this: Jesus is here for you

You see, at the time of the Reformation, if you really wanted to get close to God and find Jesus, if you really wanted to be spiritual, you were told to enter a monastery. And there, through poverty, chastity, and obedience, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, through climbing the ladder up to God in meditation and contemplation, you could find Him, get close to Him, making yourself holy. And Luther tried. He really tried. But the more he climbed, the farther away he got. And maybe you’ve tried that, too. Praying more, reading more, obeying more, trying more, trying to climb, trying to get to God . . . and it all seems for naught. Life comes crashing down, problems pile up, old sins return, and you find yourself no closer to God than when you started.

Then there were other reformers, radical ones, who said, yes, God is far away. That’s quite right. He was here, but He ascended into heaven, to the right hand of God, and is as far away from us as heaven is from earth. But you can’t get to Him by climbing earthly ladders! Or doing earthly things. Oh no! You must ascend spiritually. In your heart. Or ask God into your heart. Oh yes, that’s where God is.  . . . But Luther looked into his heart and didn’t find God there. He found sin. He found doubts, fears, mistrust, pride, envy, unholy desires, anger, bitterness - everything but God! And, if your like me, that’s true for you, too.

And then there were those who say not to worry, for God is everywhere. But if God is everywhere, is He anywhere? And while that may be true, is it comforting? Comforting when we see the sin in the world? Comforting when we see the sin in us? Comforting when sin comes crashing down on us? Comforting when sin comes erupting out of us? Because why isn’t He doing something? A small child having a nightmare might know her parents are in the house, but that is not the comfort she needs! She wants them there, right there, for her! Holding her in their arms, speaking to her, reassuring her, loving her. Us too. 

And so Luther’s question: I can’t climb up to God, there’s only sin in my heart, and yes, God is everywhere . . . but where is He for me?

And so the Reformation really came down to this: Jesus is God, here, for me. I don’t climb up to Him, He climbed down to me. He’s not in my heart; I’m in His. And yes, He is the God who is big, but who became small, and here, for me. To do something. And this isn’t just history; something that happened a long time ago. It is still true today. And here.

For where is God? He is curled up in His mother’s arms. He is laid in a manger. He is touching lepers. He is consoling widows. He is giving sight to the blind. He is giving hearing to the deaf. He is loving the outcasts. He is being arrested. He is being whipped and mocked. He is nailed to a cross. He is laid in a tomb. But then He is risen from the dead! The three days of mourning are over, and now is the time of rejoicing. And yes, He ascended into heaven, but not to leave, not to be far away, but to be with us more than He was before! For when He ascended, He also promised this: “Lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)

And so He is. With us. For as He descended from heaven and was made man, so He does not now make us climb up to Him with what we do or ascend to Him in our hearts - He is still coming to us, still here with us, for us. His hands still washing us, His voice still absolving us and teaching us, His Body and Blood still feeding us. Here is my Mighty Fortress when the devil attacks. Here is my refuge when my sins weigh heavy on me. Here is my comfort when the world crashes down on me, when things don’t make any sense. Here is the Jesus who has overcome the world for me, and so I know that I too will overcome. Though it come through a cross, though it come through death and the grave. He is Lord even of these. And He is my Lord, here, for me.

From this reality, really, sprung the Reformation. That the righteousness of God isn’t something to achieve, but given to us in Christ. That Jesus isn’t far away, but here. That we don’t have to find Him somehow, but He finds us. From that sprung the three solas. From that sprung the teaching of justification. From Jesus, not far away; but here, for me

And so for us. What we celebrate today is not a man or a church, but Jesus, here, for me. The almighty God weak for me. The all-present God here for me. The living God crucified for me. The holy God made sin for me. The God of all creation here loving me and forgiving me. 

And this too: a church where the violent come and still take Jesus by force. For when Jesus was born of Mary, violent men came and took Him by force and put Him on a cross. Because He wanted them to. He allowed them to. For us. And now He bids us do the same! For us men and women, violent in our sin, to come and take Him. Because He wants us to. To come and take Him. To grab hold of His forgiveness! To take His Body and Blood! To seize His promises and not let them go! And to rejoice, that Jesus is here for you exactly for this. To be a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Of the outcasts, the not-good-enoughs, the broken, the hurting. 

And any church that does not teach this, needs to be reformed.

And so this really is a day to rejoice. As it says in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4b). And this is the time to dance and rejoice in the forgiveness and life of Jesus, here, for you.

We’re not going to satisfy the world and its desires. As we heard in the Holy Gospel today, they’re going to want us to dance to their tune. But when Jesus is proclaimed, when Jesus is given, when jesus is played, then there is joy and we dance to that tune. For this is the truth, the reality, that gives hope in the midst of whatever life throws at you. That doesn’t mean life will be easy! It wasn’t for Jesus or Luther, for Paul or the apostles. But as Paul would write - even from prison - Rejoice in the Lord always. Why? For, he says, the Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:4-5). Literally! Bow your head, open your mouth, reach out your hand, and you have Him. Jesus, and His life and His forgiveness, is here, for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pentecost 22 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Children of the One Who Loves to Give”
Text: Mark 10:23-31 (Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Hebrews 4:1-13)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I wonder how far the rich young man had gotten? You know, the one we heard about last week. Who wouldn’t - couldn’t - give up his wealth to follow Jesus. He wanted eternal life, but not at that price. It would cost him too much. And so he went away sorrowful and disheartened. He turned around and walked away from Jesus.

How far had he gotten? A couple of paces, a hundred yards? Before Jesus, maybe still looking at him, still gazing at him walking away, maybe still hoping he would turn around . . . for, we heard last week, Jesus loved him . . . How far had he gotten before Jesus said the words we hear today: How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

The disciples are amazed at His words. Not just these words, but everything that Jesus had said to this rich young man. It is a high price for eternal life. It costs everything you have. Sell all you have. Not just a tithe, not even half - all of it. You can understand why the disciples were so amazed.

And then Jesus doubles down. He seems to do that a lot. Once He says something that causes amazement, He ups the ante - makes it even more amazing. Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! Not just for those who have wealth anymore, now a general statement. But for those who have wealth, this too: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Some people in recent years have tried to soften up that saying a bit; make it a little less impossible; a bit more palatable. Saying that “the eye of a needle” was the name of one of the narrow gates into Jerusalem, and so a rich person with a camel loaded with stuff would have to unload the riches off his camel in order to get through that gate. But the disciples knew what Jesus was saying. And it wasn’t that. Because now they are not just astonished but exceedingly astonished, and so ask: Then who can be saved? We can’t even get a lousy piece of thread through the eye of a needle most of the time! And notice, too - they don’t just ask how the rich can be saved, but anyone. Sell all you have? A camel through the eye of a needle? How can anyone be saved?

It’s the right question. Although not one many today are asking. For today, in our STEM world - our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math world - we’ll figure it out. If we can put a man on the moon, a computer in every pocket, and an internet that takes information around the world in milliseconds, then we’ll engineer a camel small enough, or manufacture a needle big enough, or do whatever else we need to do! Because we’re smart. We’re able. To meet any challenge. Overcome any obstacle. Defeat any foe. Nothing is impossible for us.

But do you see? That’s walking away from Jesus too, isn’t it? That’s not following Him, but turning to what we can do. But what Jesus said then is just as true today: With man it is impossible. We can do a great many things, but one thing we cannot do and will not ever be able to do: the kingdom of God. On our own we cannot find it. On our own we cannot achieve it. On our own we cannot enter it. It might as well be at the other end of the universe, of space, of all there is. We’ll never get there on our own. No amount of good works, no amount of ingenuity, no amount of time, will ever be enough. With man it is impossible

Oh, I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I? You know this, right? Like Peter knew it. And yet on hearing these words says to Jesus: See, we have left everything and followed you. He sounds just like the rich young man last week, doesn’t he? Who said: All these I have done from my youth! Today, it’s Peter: We’ve left everything and followed you! And we hear the words, we know they’re true, and yet still our hearts want there to be something in us, too! Or something not in us, so that we can say: I’m not like that. I’m not like them. Glad I’m not rich! Glad I’m not proud. Glad I’m in church every week, and give and pray and do good and . . . oh, wait. 

Now, some of that is true for you, though you are rich. Maybe not compared to some, but compared to most. And you’re generous. You give to this church, you give to charities, you give to those in need, you give to students - and God loves it. He loves it so much that He promises that you cannot possibly out-give Him. The more you give, the more you leave, the more He is going to give. Even a hundredfold, He says - a hundred times what you give.

Oh, Jesus says, and there will be persecutions, too. It’s not going to be easy. For the evil one will not like your generosity, your good, your prayers, and so tries to stop it. Turn you in on yourself. Make you resentful, suspicious, and reluctant to give. Turn you away from your Father in heaven. Though maybe the persecution will be sent by your Father, to test you. See if you’ll keep giving, see if you’ll keep gooding, even when times are tough. Or see if you’re just a fair weather friend, a giving-as-long-as-there-is-plenty friend, or one who gives no matter what.

And then this too, Jesus says: You will not only receive in this life, but also will be given to you in the age to come, eternal life. That, too, is a promise, part of that same you-can’t-out-give God fact. For even if you give your life, He will out-give you, and give you eternal life. That, too, like everything else you have in this world and life, a gift for you. A gift you cannot earn by your generosity, your good, your prayers, or anything you do or give up. It is a gift you can only receive. From the most gracious and generous Giver of all. 

For when it comes to you and God, when it comes to your relationship with Him, there’s one very important word Jesus used today that says it all: children. He calls His disciples children. He calls you children. And that is not a word Jesus uses lightly. It is a term of endearment. It is a term of commitment. Not like today in our world of baby mamas and deadbeat dads. When God calls you His child, when Jesus calls you His child, you are. With all that goes with that. And you are for He baptized you into His family, gave you the family name, and promised you the family inheritance. So He will care for you and feed you, just as He did for His children for 40 years in the wilderness when, as we heard from Hebrews today, He did when leading them to their rest. They got manna every day, water from a rock, and their clothes never wore out. He led them day and night, protected them from their foes, and even from themselves, when they rebelled and were disobedient. 

And with all that they learned. The Promised Land wasn’t something they were going to do; all their STEM wasn’t going to get them in, get it done, or give them rest. Impossible for man. But their Father would give it to them. As He promised.

And as He has done ever since the beginning of creation. Because the truth is that God loves to give. He loves it when you give because you’re being like Him. A child imitating their Father. And how much does God love to give? Look at Jesus and you’ll see it. He loves to heal, He loves to feed, He loves to touch, He loves to teach, He loves to forgive, He loves to pay your debt, He loves to raise you from the dead, He even loves to die for you. 

Wait - what? Yes, He loves to die for you. Because that’s what love is. Not an ooey-gooey gushy feeling in your heart, but giving yourself for the other. I’m sure Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross, enduring the agony and pain and nails and spear and humiliation and suffering and death that meant. But that’s what love does. And He gave everything He had for you. 

It may be impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but what Jesus did was even harder - when He went through death and the grave. He went to the cross with all your life-crushing sin and let death swallow Him up for it, so that He could swallow up death in His resurrection. That for you and I, death no longer be that impossible barrier, that eye of a needle that we cannot pass through. On our own, yes, it is impossible. But not with God. And so because Jesus went through what we cannot, dying but rising to life again, now too for you, as for Jesus, death is in the rear-view mirror. You will die, but death and the grave is now - because of Jesus - just the passageway, the gate, to eternal life. His doing, His gift, for you.

Riches, wealth, is one of the most alluring false gods. Ask what people would give to win the Mega Millions lottery jackpot next week - now up to $1.6 billion - you might be surprised at the answers you get; what people are willing to sacrifice for a pot of gold like that. And how many have sacrificed family and friends for the sake of money? How many fights have broken out over how to divide lottery winnings or inheritances? And how many have ship wrecked their faith because of this, too? 

But you are a child of the one who loves to give. And while you may be last in the eyes of many in this world, you are first in His eyes - the only eyes that really matter. 

For you are a child of the one who loves to give. Who does the providing. Who does the saving. So better to cling to Him who can repay a hundredfold - or more! - what we give, than to cling to what we have and not give. For as we heard from Ecclesiastes today: what’s the point of that - clinging to what you have? Loving your money? You can’t take it with you. And if that’s all there is to life, and there’s no life after this one, what a sad lot we have.

But as Jesus’ resurrection proved, this life is not all there is. There is a rest still to come. An eternal one. A Promised Land for us, that our Lord will provide. He’ll lead us there by day and by night, through good times and bad times, by His Word. We’ll pass through the waters - not of the Red Sea - but of baptism, where our sins will be drowned, never to come back and accuse us. He’ll give us the living water of His Spirit to refresh our faith and strengthen us when weary. And He’ll feed us with His manna, His own Body and Blood, on the way. And with these riches - and they are riches, no matter what the world or our eyes may tell us - we truly have all that we need. 

And we do because Jesus is the one who left everything for you. He was the first who became last, so that you may be first; so that you be a child of God. And there is nothing higher than that. 

So rest in Him, even now. In His promises and goodness. And look forward to the rest still to come. And when you do, when you know that, when you have Jesus . . . the things of this world and life aren’t so important any more. They become not things to love, but things to give in love. Not things to cling to, but things to let go of. Because you have the one who won’t let go of you. The one who can put camels through eyes of needles, the one who can overcome death and the grave, and the one who has and will continue to give all He has for you

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.