Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 19 (September 26 - October 1, 2016)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: 2 Timothy 1:7 - “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #555 “Salvation Unto Us Has Come”
Hymns for Sunday: 555 (1-5), 555 (6-10), 642, 702, 855 (v. 13), 578

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

Monday:  Psalm 62
What confidence does the psalmist express? Why?

Tuesday:  Psalm 91
How is this a psalm of trust? How is it a psalm of faith?

Wednesday:  Luke 10:17-20
For what victory does Jesus want us to rejoice? How is this victory the greater victory?

How is faith different than pride? What do each do? Why?

Friday:  2 Timothy 1:1-14
Why might a Christian be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord? How important is the Word of God? Why?

Saturday:  Luke 17:1-10
Why is forgiveness so important to Jesus? What does this have to do with service?

The Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Fifth Petition: And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ a good harvest of crops, that all people may have their daily bread.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Commission on Mercy.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Synod of France, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN.
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!

St. Michael and All Angels Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Little Children”
Text: Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12;
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

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

Little children are fed by their parents. Spoons of food are placed into hungry open mouths. So it is here too - bread placed into open mouths.

Little children are given drinks by their parents. First bottles, then cups help up to their lips. So it is here too - a cup of wine held up to thirsty lips.

Little children are read to by their parents. Stories to inform and to teach. So it is here too - stories read to teach us about ourselves, our world, and our God.

Little children are bathed by their parents, to wash off the grime of life. So it is here too - a bath to wash of the grime of sin.

Little children are born into a family. So it is here too - all of us have been born again, born from above, into the family of God.

All this is to say not that this is childish, what we do here. But that what we do here is for children. For the children of God. For you. No matter what your age, you are the children in Matthew’s Gospel today. Children who always have angels serving you. Angels who always see the face of God.

In Old Testament Israel, the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple, had images of angels sewn into the curtains and molded of pure gold above the ark. For God was there, and wherever God is, there are angels. Always. It was a constant visual reminder of that invisible reality.

And though we do not have such visible images here, the invisible reality is the same. As children of God, children who have been given the Spirit of God, there are angels around you as well, there serving at your heavenly Father’s instruction, protecting at His command, fighting those angels who want nothing to do with our Father, rage against Him, and want only to destroy what belongs to Him. Who want to destroy you. To destroy you now, but even more, to take you away from the promises of God in Jesus.

We heard of some of that fighting today. Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon and his angels. The dragon and his angels losing their place in heaven and being thrown down here, where their raging continues. 

So how good to know that the angels of God are still active and serving and fighting for us here. Like the angel at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, they protect us from what is not good for us. Like the angels that filled the hills around Israel, they protect us from an enemy too large and too strong for us. When Jesus was here, they also served as divine messengers, first proclaiming the good news of His birth and then the good news of His resurrection. And still they stand at the ready, on alert, to serve.

Which is good, for there is great danger in this world and life. Not just physical danger, as we usually think when we think of danger - but spiritual danger. The danger of sin. That which is not of God or from God. That which seeks to take us away from God, promising life but giving only death. Like little children, we may not always see or feel or know the danger that comes with sin, but that makes it no less real.

And those who cause any of these little ones - you! - to sin, who put them into danger, they are treated as the evil angels were. It would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Better, for in the end, satan and his evil angels will be cast not into a sea of water, but a lake of fire. And better to chop off hands and feet and gouge out eyes, Jesus says, than to be thrown there. The message is clear: God’s little children are precious to Him. Don’t mess with them.

But here, perhaps, the message is not so good for us. The angels around us children of God, protecting us, serving us, fighting for us - that’s good. We like that. But this word, this warning, is for us too. For us who not only sin ourselves, but who among us can claim that he has not caused another to sin? Is it not we who deserve the millstone? And we who need to pay for our sins with our evil hands and feet and eyes . . . with our very lives? Is it not we who are on the precipice of that lake of fire, looking into an eternity of fire which never goes out yet never consumes? And what angel can save us from that? Not from the accusations of an evil foe, but from the just judgment of our Father?

So what no angel could do, God Himself did. That’s why the angels were so joyous in proclaiming the birth and the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus took the millstone we deserve and hung it around His neck. He gave His sinless hands and feet and eyes and life in place of yours. He took the fire of God’s wrath against sin on the cross, that none of that be for you, but you be forgiven and restored to your place as children of God. 

And so it is. Instead of being drowned in the depth of the sea, your sin and guilt are drowned in the waters of the Font, and then also in the Absolution, and you are given new life as a child of God. Instead of giving your body parts, you are given the Body and Blood of Jesus for the salvation of you, body and soul. And as you receive these, humbled in repentance, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. For you are in Christ. And the angels of God rejoice, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, over each and every sinners who so repents.

And they are not only rejoicing in heaven, they are rejoicing here, for remember: wherever God is, they are, and God is here for you in the gifts of His Word and Sacraments. 

Which brings us back to the little children we are again. For another thing that little children are taught is to sing. We learn by singing. That’s how we all learned the ABCs, and even the oldest among us here still remember that song. They may not remember a lot of other things they learned in school, but they remember that. 

And so we sing. But not just by ourselves here - we also sing with the angels. When we sang Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth (LSB page 170) earlier, that was the song of the angels before it was our song. 

And when we sing in a moment Holy, holy, holy Lord, Lord God of power and might (LSB page 178), that is the song of the angels around the throne of God that we are joining in with. Adding our meagre, cracking voices to their glorious, thunderous, temple-shaking voices. 

And then later in that same song, when we sing Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, we are joining not with angels, but with the children of God who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, where He was going to die. And so with the same words we welcome Him here, where the same Body and Blood that rode on that donkey and hung on that cross are here for us, to give us the victory of His resurrection over the guilt of our sin and the power of the grave.

This is what satan is fighting to keep us from. Tempting us not just to do a sin here or there, but to find our life, our justification, our joy, our meaning, our hope, somewhere, anywhere else. To make us think that we’re grown up now and can do it ourselves; that we don’t need to be fed and given drink and read to. That we can stand on our own two feet! And so lure us away from the care and nurture of our Father that are here for us. 

But Jesus reminds us today that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are not those who grow up, who stand on their own two feet, or who can do it themselves - but the one who humbles himself like a little child. Who receives what she needs from the hand of her heavenly Father. And who knows there is no better place to be.

Which brings us, finally, to the fact that little children are carried where they go. Most of us here today were not carried physically, but some are. But we were brought here by the Holy Spirit, given to us and who continues to keep us in the faith and connected to Jesus. And as we gather here, we await the day when God will send His angels one last time for us, to carry us, His little children, to Him, our Father. To our heavenly home. We sing of that too. Lord, let your servant depart in peace (LSB page 182).

So from start to finish, the angels are with us. Those working against God, but even more, those working in His service. You interacted with angels all this week, more than you know. So today especially we thank Him for them even as we look forward to the day when what we cannot see here, we will see there. When, as Daniel said, those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. That place where there is no darkness, only light; no evil, only good; and no danger, only peace. Men, women, martyrs, apostles, prophets, patriarchs . . . all His little children with the angels. Together. Forever. 

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


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pentecost 18 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Sons and Faithful Stewards”
Text: Luke 16:1-15

[Note: The sermon today is a bit shorter than usual as the Narrative Divine Service that we are using today is a bit longer than usual. :-) ]

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

The manager wasn’t just losing his job - he was losing his life. This wasn’t just what he did, it was who he was. He was being cast out. And out is a scary and deadly place to be.

He who has ears to hear may notice here an echo of what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden. They misused what had been given them. They wasted Paradise. In wanting and reaching for more, they lost everything. God called them to account and they were cast out of the Garden - a scary and deadly place to be.

And then there is the parable Jesus told immediately before this one: the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The story of the son who took what his father gave him and wasted it all. He wasn’t cast out - he more cast himself out, and found himself in that scary and deadly place.

It’s easy to hear what all three of those stories have in common - the wasting of what belongs to our master; what has been given us to manage, or steward. The wasting by trying to enrich ourselves, by keeping for ourselves, by reaching for more and getting less. And even less than less. In the end, cast out.

But what of the master? Our Father? What does He do in each of these cases? The casting out is not the last word from him - not yet. He has more for us. More to give.

He gives the manager in today’s parable His commendation. For the manager began to no longer keep, no longer take, but give. And by giving helped not only those in debt, but himself as well. By enriching them he was also enriching himself.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father gives his son his sonship back. For the son who was dead to him was alive again; he was lost but now found. 

And so too were Adam and Eve given something. Their Father covered their nakedness with the skin of an animal. A sacrifical victim shed its blood to cover their shame. And with that victim, a promise, too, was given - of a child, a son, who would be the good and faithful steward Adam failed to be. Who would prefectly carry out the will of the Lord and atone for those who do not. 

And that one was the one telling this parable. Jesus. And what did He do that was the will of His Father? He gave. He gave His life for the life of the world. He took the bill that each one of us owes and didn’t just reduce it, but cancelled it. How much do you owe? He asks? Sit down and write zero. Nothing. I have paid it all. Every last bit. I forgive you all your sins, all your mismanagement, all your wasting. And with that, your management and sonship is restored and your shame is covered. The victim shed His blood for you on the cross, and you are no longer cast out. You are alive again.

And the Father is well pleased.

So if you would be rich, give. 

When we keep for ourselves, we make ourselves poorer, not richer. When we keep for ourselves, we are wasting our possessions. When we keep for ourselves, we are not being stewards, but hoarders. And that includes not just physical things, but spiritual things too. We can be hoarders of forgiveness, too. Wanting it for ourselves and reluctant to give it to others. And on the day of judgment, what we have will be taken away from us. You can no longer be my steward. And then casting out. And out is a scary and deadly place to be.

But in giving, we make ourselves richer, not poorer. In giving, we are using our possessions as our Father would have us use them. In giving, we are being good and faithful stewards. For our Lord doesn’t want us to enrich Him (as if we could!) - He wants to enrich us, and other through us. And then on the day of judgment, we will receive even more. Not because we have done so well and have earned something from God. But because you have done so in faith, relying on the goodness and promises of the one who gives and never runs out. That you cannot out-give Him. That He always has more for you and will provide for you. And thus, by faith, living in His giving-likeness. 

You cannot serve two masters, Jesus said. You cannot serve God and money, He said to the Pharisee who were lovers of money. You will hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. Your heart only has room for one God, one Lord, one Father.

And we need this warning, for the truth is, there are many things that capture our hearts, isn’t there? Many things that we fear, love, and trust more than our Father who art in heaven. So repent. Confess and hide no more like Adam and Eve. Turn from your ways like the manager. Return like the Prodigal Son. And receive the commendation and forgiveness your Father has to give to you. That He wants to give to you more than anything else. 

For more than anything else He is a giving God. Who gives you life and new life. Who gives you the washing of His Son’s Blood and the feeding of His Body and Blood. Who gives love to the loveless, righteousness to the unrighteous, and the promise of eternity to us who live in a world that is passing away. And when we cling to what is passing away, we pass away with it. But when we cling to what is eternal - our God and His eternal promises for us in Christ - then eternity is ours as well. The gift of our giving God.

And thus having what will not pass away, the gifts Christ freely gives (LSB #602) are ours to give as well. And when we lavishly and abundantly give away what is God’s and what He has given us, we not only enrich others, we enrich ourselves. We are sons and faithful stewards. And He is well pleased.

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


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pentecost 17 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Our Searching, Rejoicing, Forgiving Lord”
Text: Luke 15:1-10; Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Timothy 1:12-17

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

Jesus not only receives sinners and eats with them, as the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled - He goes looking for them! And not just a little. He searches until He finds them, and finding them rejoices over them. And He doesn’t just rejoice privately, or in some small way, but calls together everyone he can think of and holds a party. A party perhaps like He was in when the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling against Him. From outside. For they weren’t going in there, with them. But Jesus wouldn’t be anywhere else. 

So to help them - and us - understand His joy, and that we have it with Him, Jesus tells two stories of finding. About a lost sheep and a lost coin. And notice how He begins these stories: What man, or what woman, doesn’t do this? He asks. Because we do. This is exactly how we act. Now, I haven’t gone searching for a lost sheep, but I have gone searching for my dog when he escaped our backyard. We drove, we walked, we called, until we found him. And if I lost a hundred dollar bill, I’ll bet I’d search for that for a pretty good amount of time. And the last time I preached on this text, I talked about the time I lost my wedding ring and how I didn’t really care about anything else until I found it. And how happy I was when I did. We do those things. The Pharisees and the scribes did those things. Who doesn’t, or hasn’t, done those things? Jesus asks. So we understand the searching and the joy of finding.

And yet the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling when Jesus was doing the exact same thing. Why? Because they’re sinners. There’s a difference.

The lost coin, the lost ring, not their fault. Even a lost sheep - maybe it just wandered off by accident, or got trapped or stuck somewhere, or was just too dumb. But them. They’re sinners. It’s their fault. They ought to know better. Or maybe they do know better and just don’t care; they just keep on sinning anyhow. So why would Jesus rejoice over a bunch like that? Who don’t deserve His search, His finding, or His forgiveness.

But maybe that last statement reveals something too - about us. The coin, the ring, the sheep or dog, mean something to us and have value to us. And so we want them back. But perhaps we do not value other people as much. Especially sinners, and especially those who have sinned against us. Maybe we’d respond the same way as the Pharisees and scribes if we saw Jesus in a room filled with abortion doctors, child molesters, and whatever other vile and heinous people you can think of and celebrating with them! What’s He doing? Doesn’t He know who they are? perhaps we would grumble too. So perhaps part of what Jesus is doing here is getting us to take a look at ourselves and ask: do I value my coins and sheep, my ring and dog - my possessions - more than I value my neighbor? And if so, it’s not just them sinners that need to repent, but this sinner too.

And if that’s so, then to realize that we too are in that room - or at least, Jesus wants us in there with Him. Rejoicing in the love and forgiveness He has for you. For the things of this world are not what Jesus cares about - it’s you. And it always has been. Since the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve sinned and plunged God’s perfect world into sin, ruining it for all time, it was not the world God was concerned for - but them. He came searching for them in the Garden, to find them, forgive them, and promise them a Saviour.

It’s a promise He repeated many times, also through the prophet Ezekiel, as we heard today. Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out, He says. For just as in Jesus’ day, with the Pharisees and scribes caring more about their coins and sheep than the people, the priests and leaders in the Old Testament had often done the same thing - trampling the people and pushing them aside and caring only for themselves and what they could get. So God said, I will send them a shepherd, My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. A good one.

And when I put it that way, you know He’s not really talking about David, as in King David, who lived and died many hundreds of years before Ezekiel - but of the Son of David, the son promised to David, who would sit on David’s throne forever. Of Jesus. And what Ezekiel prophesied, the Pharisees and scribes were witnessing. God Himself had come to search for and find His sheep. And rejoiced when He found them, even the ones who had wandered time after time. Even the ones who had wandered for a long time, and the ones who had wandered a long way away. Maybe especially them. The greater the lostness, the greater the joy of finding. 

And so Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, came and searched and called. Lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, foreigners, no one too lost; no one beyond His love. Even someone like Saul the great persecutor of the church. He wrote that to Timothy, about how lost he was, but then this too: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. And if for the foremost sinner, then for all the other sinners, too. Then for you and me.

For still God is searching and calling out. Though Jesus is ascended into heaven, still His Spirit is working through the Word that is proclaimed - proclaimed here, and proclaimed out there by you - to reach the hearts of those who hear. Who speaks it matters not, but that all hear of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. I have been given to speak it here, you have been given to speak it to your family, friends, and neighbors, but the same Spirit is working through that Word that all might be saved and none lost anymore.

For Jesus didn’t just come to eat with tax collectors and sinners, but to die for them. For just as He took the guilt of all their sins and ours upon Himself to atone for them on the cross, so also He took all their lostness and ours upon Himself. In fact, so lost did He become that He was completely separated from His Father on the cross, even crying out like a lost lamb, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? The Son become the sinner. The searcher become the lost. But so that sinners become sons and the lost be found. Not to continue to sin, but to be set free from sin - both its curse and its dominion. 

And so it is. From Adam and Eve in the Garden, to you here at the Font. From the folks in Ezekiel’s day, to you here at the Pulpit. From the tax collectors and sinners in Jesus’ day, to you here at the Altar. Jesus is calling and forgiving, you. Not holding your lostness and sins against you, even if you’ve come here today and repented of the same sin you fell into again this week for the umpteenth time. He and His angels are are rejoicing that you are here, found, washed with His forgiveness and fed with His Body and Blood. 

But there is another story of searching that needs to be mentioned here today, and that is the searching that began this day, 15 years ago: on September 11, 2001. When Tower 1 and then Tower 2 fell, as well as part of the Pentagon, a frantic search began - first for survivors, then, after a while, for the lost. It was a difficult and often gruesome job. I spoke to many of the workmen at the pile of rubble in New York when they were on their breaks. They were working 12, 15 hour days. And though they didn’t want to be there, they also didn’t want to stop - not until the last body, the last of the lost, was found. But sadly, they never found them all. For some, there was nothing to find. 

On that site today is a memorial. There are two large holes in the ground, and in the center of those holes another hole, black, that you cannot see the bottom of. It’s like looking into a sepulchre. A grave. For those never found. 

But the sepulchre that we look into is far different than that. For the One who wasn’t found there when the women came to look for Him isn’t missing or dead, but risen and alive. And He who spent six hours on the cross and three days in the grave, under the rubble of our sin and death which crushed Him, knows where the body of each and every person is. So that on the Last Day, when He comes again, the next great feast will begin. That just as the dead are raised here and now - no matter how or how badly sin has ravaged us, so the dead will be raised then - no matter how or how badly death has ravaged our bodies. And just as the flock of David rejoices to eat and drink with our Saviour here and now - so the flock of David will rejoice to eat and drink with our Saviour at the feast which has no end. Our mourning will be turned into dancing, and we will give thanks to the Lord forever (Introit)

To the Lord, who redeemed us.
To the Lord, who searches for each one as if you’re the only one.
To the Lord, who sinners doth receive (LSB #609).
To the Lord, in whom we rejoice, and who rejoices over you.

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

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pentecost 16 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“You Cannot, But He Can - And Does”
Text: Luke 14:25-35 (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Philemon 1-21)

[A gentle re-working of a sermon from yesteryear after some much needed time off . . .]

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

Our world doesn’t like extremes, or extremists. When it comes to the weather, we want it neither too hot nor too cold. When it comes to politics, electability means being neither too far left nor too far right. When it comes to schools, give my child homework but not too much homework. Make my job challenging but not too challenging. And even (or maybe especially!) in matters of faith and religion, don’t be too much of a zealot. Don’t go too far to one side or the other. The middle is better. Because in the middle, you’ll offend less people. Think both-and, not either-or. Not one truth but many truths. Not one way but many ways. Not right or wrong but it depends. That’s the way to go . . . according to the wisdom of the world.

And truthfully, we like being in the middle, too. We like being liked and not offending anyone. It’s comfortable, and it’s safe. Make my faith demanding but not too demanding. Needing commitment, but not too much commitment. Forgiving but not too forgiving. And Pastor, be relevant but don’t hit too close to home! Don’t ask too much of me, but don’t ask too little. Care, but don’t pry. Need me, but not too much.

Which is why today’s Gospel is so hard for us to hear. Such lukewarm Christianity is rejected by Jesus. According to His words, there is no middle ground. You either are or you aren’t. You’re in our you’re out. You’re in Him or you’re not. It’s the same distinction Moses put before the people in Deuteronomy, just before they were to enter the Promised Land: What’s it gonna be folks? Life or death? Blessing or curse? One God or many gods? . . . Well, you know the story. The people said one thing, but then life happened. They found out it wasn’t so easy. And so they settled for the mushy middle.

And how often does that happens to us? Truth is, we’re the same as they were then, and they’re the same as we are now. When you were confirmed or joined the church in some other way, you said you would remain faithful. You promised that you would, even if it cost your life. And I have no doubt you meant it, as I did when I spoke those words. . . . And then, like Old Testament Israel, life happens. And we find out it’s harder than we thought, to put God before my family; to stand firm and not cave in; to speak and not just go along with the world’s latest truth. It’s even harder to put what He wants before what I want - the desires of the flesh I like so much. It’s hard to continue to read and learn and pray and trust. We don’t want the crosses He gives us. The cost is greater than I thought. The commitment tougher. That kind of life . . . seems impossible. 

So some, at that point, give up and move to the opposite extreme, what is sometimes called cheap grace. Which is to say, I can’t do it, but it doesn’t matter because I know Jesus will forgive me anyway. Which is to use God’s lavish mercy and love as an excuse . . . for laziness, for sin, for being a CINO - Christian In Name Only. And yet we know that’s not right either. That’s not the way it should be. And so not being able to do the one and knowing we shouldn’t do the other, we settle into the mushy middle, where we become anonymous Christians, bored Christians, and neutered, unsalty Christians. Which is just how satan likes it.

Jesus knows the danger of this mushy middle ground and how deadly it is, both for us and for those around us. Underestimating the power of sin and the deadly mishmash of truth and error. 

So what are we to do? We can’t do the one, we shouldn’t do the others . . . how do we then live as Christians? As disciples?

Well, the answer is not to live at one extreme or the other, or to mash them together in the middle, but to live in both extremes at the same time. That is something quite different than the middle, which tones down and dilutes both the Law of God (His demands) and the Gospel of God (His lavish mercy and love), and stirs them into a mishmash of lukewarm, unrecognizable Christianity that is really no Christianity at all. Instead, to live in both extremes is to neither tone down nor tame either the Law or the Gospel, but keeps them both in their strength and truth and purity. To live in the extreme of the Law which demands everything from us; and to live in the extreme of the Gospel which demands nothing from us. To live in the extreme of the Law, which crushes us and brings us to despair of our own efforts; and to live in the extreme of the Gospel, which gives us the life and hope and forgiveness we need. Or in other words: to be a Christian takes everything, and it takes nothing.

And where we see this truth displayed for us most vividly is the cross. The cross which cost Jesus everything. For Jesus is the One who counted the cost to build the tower, fortress, and refuge of the Church, and came to pay that cost in our place. Leaving His throne in Heaven, being born of a virgin, being despised and rejected by men, and then drinking the cup of God’s wrath against our sin and dying our death. He is the King who came to battle the armies of the prince of this world, asking not for peace, but warring against them and winning the fight we could not win. He is the One who loved us more than His own life, and so gave His life that we might live. And His “It is finished” on the cross indicated that it was: all that was necessary, all that was demanded, done. The Law fulfilled, our sin atoned for, our debt paid, our victory won.

And what cost Him everything, cost us nothing. And necessarily so. For if there was something we still have to do, to pay, to supply, to finish, then it was not finished on the cross, and we are still under the demands of the Law, the condemnation of sin, and the curse of death. Then Jesus is only our part-Saviour, and we are back to the mushy middle – and that just will not do. 

Because it is finished. We have been saved. We have a Saviour. A Saviour to whom again this morning we confessed: I cannot be your disciple. I cannot do it. I have not done it. It is too much for me. And who then said back to us: Yes, you are quite right. Therefore I forgive you all your sins. What you cannot be, I give to you. It is not too much for me.

You see, that’s the key: discipleship isn’t something we choose or do, it’s a gift. A gift of forgiveness. A life we are born again, born from above, into. From Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Moses, to David, to the apostles, to you and me today. All have sinned - not one excluded - and fall short of the glory of God, - and so cannot be His disciple - and are justified by His grace as a gift, - given what we cannot do or be - through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24)

For you see, Jesus wants all of you, not just part of you. Not just the Church part, or the weekend part, or the morning devotion part, or the spare time part, or the part of your life that you want to give to Him – but all of you, all the time. And so He gave all of Himself, for all of you, that all of you be forgiven. That through His death and resurrection, you be salty salt again. Not re-formed, but re-created. Made new. Taken back to the beginning, to Eden, just as if all that satan, sin, rebellion, and death stuff never happened at all.

That’s how great His love for you. That’s how great His death for you. And that’s how great His baptism for you, where He gives it all to you. His forgiveness, His life, His salvation. All that you need. Nothing held back. Because the Jesus who wants all of you gives all of Himself to you. No partial gifts with Him. No, He is all for you, even also to the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood here at this altar. That the life, strength, and forgiveness you need by multiplied unto you. That you be not “all that you can be” – but all that He is. Being the Christian He has made you by His blood.

So don’t try to soften the words of Jesus that we heard today. No: oh, they say this but they mean that. No! They are hard words because they are meant to crush you, to kill you! – so that Jesus can raise you to a new life. In Him. For that is the only way to be His disciple.

And only then can you live as a disciple of Jesus, following in His way - which is to give all of Himself for others. If you have to do something for yourself, you can’t do that. But if you know you are a child of God, that He has promised you and gives to you all you need, then you can live where God has put you like Jesus - receiving from Him and giving to others. Not loving them above God, but loving God by serving them. 

It won’t be easy. There are some very tough places in this world, which some of you are in. And maybe, like Onesimus, who we heard about today, you feel like running away from the people and places where God put us. But what did Paul do? He sent Onesimus back. That is where he was to follow Jesus. To love and serve and forgive. And his returning also gave his master Philemon an opportunity to follow Jesus. To love and forgive as well - to live out his calling as a Christian, too. 

So where you are right now might not be an easy place. But whatever and wherever your callings, know that your Saviour is using you there in those places - not because you are able, but because He is. Because He is working through you to love and serve and forgive, caring for others and providing what they need through you. And in the process, also giving you what you need. For He knows what you need, better than you know what you need. And He has promised to provide.

So while Jesus’ words to us today are hard - none of us like being told we are not able to do something - they are also comforting - knowing that you do not have to live up to a certain standard to be here, to be Christ’s, to be His disciple. You are here not because you are able - ‘cuz you’re not - but because He is able. Able to wash you, Body and Blood you, forgive you, and bless you. In the Church that He built, in the war that He won, and the life that He gives to you. All for you. 

He who has ears to hear, let him hear . . . the voice of your Saviour. The voice which speaks and it is so. Which gives what we do not have, and creates what is not, still today, still here and now. That you be what you are not and could never be on your own: His disciple. It is the voice that makes all the difference in the world. And in you.

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


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pentecost 14 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Mercy that Takes You Through the Door”
Text: Luke 13:22-30; Hebrews 12:4-29; Isaiah 66:18-23

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

Strive to enter through the narrow door.

The story is told of a man who died. A good man. An important man. A much accomplished man. In the time that had been given him on earth, he wasted not a moment. He was always busy. There was always more to do. More people he could help. More advice that he could give. More things he could be doing. He was much admired and looked up to. He was going to be missed. The world would be less without him.

He arrived at the door of eternity, and knocked. A voice came from the other side: Who wants to enter? And he answered, confidently: It is I, John, doer of good, lover of man, generous and kind. Ask those who know me, they will confirm what I say, how many I have helped, how busy I have been for others. And the voice answered: We don’t know you.

He knocked again. Again a voice came from the other side: Who wants to enter? And he answered: It is I, John, son of the church, regular attender, generous giver, serving in many positions. Ask those who know me, they will confirm what I say, how no one helped as much as I. And the voice answered: We don’t know you.

Again He knocked. And again came the voice: Who wants to enter? And he answered, somewhat perplexed: It is I, John, confirmed by the church, married in the church, buried from the church. Look it up and you will see. We don’t know you.

Finally he knocked a fourth time. Who wants to enter? It is I, John, a mortal, sinful man. Lord, have mercy. The doors were opened and the voice said: Thus let him enter.

That’s a story. It’s made up. It is not - and let me repeat that - NOT a description of how it’s going to be when you die. Because as with Jesus’ teaching in the Holy Gospel today, it’s really a story about here and now. For the door to eternity is not some place far, far away and some time far, far away - that door, that narrow door, is here. Because Jesus is here. And wherever Jesus is, time and eternity are brought together in that place. For, the Scriptures tell us, Jesus is the eternal God born in time (John 1), He is the door for the sheep (John 10:7) from time to eternity, and NOW is the time of God’s favor, NOW is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Or in other words, NOW is the time of God’s mercy for you in Jesus. Mercy which is here for you NOW.

For, as the story portrayed, that is the narrow door, the door from time to eternity: the mercy of Jesus for you.

You’ve heard it said that you can’t take it with you. There are probably even bumper stickers that say that. And people who say that usually mean our stuff, our possessions. And that’s right. As we heard a couple weeks ago, we’ll die and leave all that to someone else. But it means more than that too. You can’t take your accomplishments with you. You can’t take your good works with you. You can’t take your reputation with you. The narrow door is too narrow for them too. 

Now some would object at this point, because doesn’t the Bible talk about the good deeds of Christians following them (Revelation 14:13)? And doesn’t Jesus point out the good things His sheep have done on the Last Day (Matthew 25:35-36)? Yes indeed. Jesus knows all those things, and treasures them. But you can’t bring them. You can’t bring them with you, as if they will somehow help you. They won’t. They can’t. And you don’t need them. For when you have the mercy of Jesus, when you have His forgiveness, you have all you need. For as we heard, with the mercy of Jesus, the last become first. And without the mercy of Jesus, the first become last.

That’s why whenever we hear about the Last Day in the Scriptures, there’s always a surprise. The first are last and the last are first. Those who think they’re in are cast out. The sheep think they’re goats and the goats think they’re sheep. The man who sits in the least place gets move up higher (Luke 14:10-11). Poor beggar Lazarus is welcomed into eternity and the rich man who lived in luxury is left begging for a drop of water (Luke 16:19-31). For that’s what Jesus’ mercy does. It upsets the merit system; the way we think things should be. It turns everything upside down. It always has and it always will.

Now it would take too long to mention all the Scriptures that are examples of that here, of this kind of mercy - but maybe just a few . . .

In mercy, God commutes Adam and Eve’s death sentence to His Son.
In mercy, God chooses an idolater, Abraham, to be the ancestor of His Son.
In mercy, God chooses not a princess, but an anonymous maiden named Mary to be the mother of His Son.
In mercy, He chooses not Pharisees and Sadducees to be His apostles, but fishermen, tax collectors, and a persecutor.
And in mercy, He chose you too.

Or as St. Paul would later explain it: God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  . . .   Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, 31). That’s mercy. 

And that brings us back to the story. You can’t take it with you. You can’t even take Jesus with you . . . cuz He’s already there. But that’s the good news. You can’t take Him with you, but He does take you with Him. 

And as I said before, that’s already happening. Strive to enter through the narrow door, Jesus said. Be striving here and now. For mercy.

Now I should mention the Olympics here, because for the past two weeks we’ve been watching people striving - striving to be the fastest, striving to be the strongest, striving to be the best, striving to be perfect. And most - if not all - have given up a great deal, have given their blood, sweat, and tears, to be so. 

But most fail. Most don’t even come close. We usually don’t see them or hear their stories. But what’s the percentage - 90, 95, 99 percent of the athletes never make it to the medal platforms? They’re not good enough. And since that’s how things are in this world and life, we wonder, as those in Jesus’ day wondered: Lord, will those who are saved be few?

Few indeed, if it’s up to us. Only one, in fact would be - Jesus - if it’s up to us and what we can accomplish. That’s a pretty narrow door.

But Jesus, in mercy, takes us through that door with Him. It is His blood, sweat, and tears, that, as we heard in Hebrews, speaks a better word than the blood of Abel - or any of our blood, for that matter. His blood that speaks a merciful forgiveness. His blood poured out on the cross and now sprinkled on you here in Holy Baptism, given to you here in His Supper, and lavished upon you in Absolution. His blood powerful enough to bring down satan and the powers of hell, and strong enough to lift up sinners and raise the dead.

So that’s how we strive to enter through the narrow door that we cannot possibly get through on our own. We cry out to the One who can get us through: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, have mercy on me who has failed in so many ways again this week. Lord, have mercy on me who thinks more highly of myself than I ought. Lord, have mercy on me who thinks I actually deserve something from you. Lord, have mercy on me who deserves nothing but death and condemnation. Lord, have mercy.

Is that really striving? It is. It is striving against ourselves and our sinful human nature. For by nature we don’t want to be low, we don’t want to be least, we don’t want to admit defeat, we don’t want to deserve nothing, we don’t want to be wholly dependent on God and His mercy. And we’ll never even do that good enough! We can’t even be nothing good enough! Lord, have mercy!

But when you cry that out, you’ve come to the right place. Or to put it in the way Hebrews did today: you’ve come not to Mt. Sinai, or Mt. Olympus, which demands from you, but to Mt. Zion, which gives to you. Which gives to you the mercy, the forgiveness, the life, you need. Which gives you Jesus. Jesus mercifully here in the Word. Jesus mercifully here in water. Jesus mercifully here in bread and wine. Jesus mercifully here for you. Lord, have mercy is always answered with mercy.

And sometimes, as Hebrews said, the mercy of discipline. When we need to be knocked down more than a few pegs. And our loving Father does that. Because He wants only to save you. To make a new you, for the new heavens and the new earth that are coming. 

And that is His glory: His mercy. That is what He wants all the earth, all people, to know about Him. That the door that is as narrow as Jesus is also wide enough for all the world to enter. For that’s how wide Jesus’ mercy is. He died for all to save all. None excepted. And so you know it is for you. So that not when you go knocking on eternity’s door, but when eternity comes knocking for you - sometimes expected and sometimes unexpected - you who have received the Lord’s mercy now will receive it then as well. And as Jesus has taken hold of you now, so He will not let go then. He will take you to be with Him. He is the first who became last, that you who are last might be first. That you never hear those dreadful words: I don’t know you. And that in Him and His mercy, you join those coming from the east and west and north and south, to the table, the feast, in His kingdom. In His kingdom, where there is no time, only eternity. In His kingdom, where there is no more striving, only rest. And only joy, in Him who gave all for you.

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