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.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pentecost 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Saving Us From Ourselves”
Text: Luke 12:49-56; Jeremiah 23:16-29; Hebrews 11:17-12:3

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

For the past few weeks, we have heard of people coming up to Jesus overly concerned with the things of this world. And Jesus has been teaching them to set their minds on things above. That rather than demanding that an inheritance be given to you, you share what you have with those in need and remember that you have an inheritance in heaven which can never perish, spoil, or fade away, kept there for you by Christ. And instead of being anxious about what you will eat, drink, and wear, remember that you have a Father in heaven providing these things for you. Trust in Him and rely on Him - you don’t have to fill you hearts and minds with concerns like these. 

You see, sin is always trying to make our world smaller and smaller. To get us to be concerned and obsessed with this thing, with the here and now, with this one problem - for then this one thing, the here and now, and this one problem can grow in size and proportion and become so huge as to begin to push out our faith. So Jesus is always expanding our sight, our horizons. This one thing isn’t that important, you know. The here and now will pass, as it always does. And that problem you can’t stop thinking and worrying about - your Father in heaven can handle it. Think big, not small. The Lord is the Lord of all time, from the beginning to the end. And He is the Lord of all places and things, for He made them. And the Lord of you and your time. He cares for you.

It is in that context, then, that Jesus speaks the words He speaks today - words that if taken out of context could be quite troubling. You can imagine in this presidential election season, which loves sound bites that put the opponent in the worst possible light, how these words would be used against Jesus. I have come to cast fire on the earth. . . . I have not come to bring peace on the earth, but division. Jesus is a trouble maker! I have come to divide families. Jesus the home wrecker! Do you really want Him to be your God? Jesus isn’t fit to be the Saviour He says He is!

But as with those other things I’ve already mentioned from the past few weeks, so too here, Jesus is continuing to expand our sight, our horizons. He’s not really against families, but He also doesn’t want our family or loved ones to become our idols either. Which sometimes happens. Maybe more often than we think. That father or mother, that sons and daughters, that even boyfriends and girlfriends are put before God. That we seek to please them more than God. That what they want determines our actions. That we are more afraid of what they think and what they might do more than God. And if that’s the case, they have indeed become our gods, our idols. They have become more important than God. They are who we seek to please and serve more than God. And that’s not good.

But clearly God is not anti-family - He created the family, bringing Eve to Adam in the Garden, giving her to him in the first wedding ceremony, and telling them to be fruitful and multiply - words which bring about the very thing they command. 

God promises Abraham a family, even though his wife cannot have children, and He makes it so. And God then protects them in the face of many dangers, preserving their family.

At least three commandments deal with the family and protect the family - the fourth, sixth, and tenth - that we honor our father and mother, love and cherish the spouse given us by God, that we remain faithful to them and sexually pure, and that we not covet one who belongs to another. 

And then Jesus Himself honored His parents, submitting to their authority. He raised children from death and gave them back to their grieving parents. And throughout the Scriptures, widows and orphans - those without families - are always singled out for special care and protection. God is not anti-family.

But look at what is happening, Jesus says. Look at the storm clouds that are gathering on the horizon. You can do that with the earthly weather, Jesus says. You know how to interpret the signs of nature and know when it’s going to rain and when a heat wave is coming. Just think of all the advances that have been made with this in our day and age! Yet even so, even as we have advanced in this, the storm clouds of sin and death, of false belief and idolatry, are not seen. And just as an unforeseen flood can wreak great damage - witness what happened in Ellicott City, just a few miles up the road, a couple of weeks ago - so the unforeseen flood of sin that is surging in our world is a great danger and is wreaking great damage. Our obsession with the things of this world - with our possessions, with our sports, with our technology. Our obsessions with tolerating all beliefs, true or false, as equally valid. Our obsession with sexual freedom turned sexual perversion. Our obsession we me - our ever smaller and smaller focus on me, what I want and desire, what I can get. Me over all. Can’t you see the signs?

Yet just as in Jeremiah’s day, so today there are a whole lot of false prophets out there crying out peace. All is well. Follow your heart. No disaster will come upon you. It’s all good.

But it’s not all good. Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God afar off? God said through Jeremiah. Or in other words, am I a small God, and not a God who sees all, knows all, controls all, created all, and rules all? Sin is making us smaller and smaller, turning us inward and more and more self-centered and self-focused. But God and His Word we heard today would reverse that; would break us out of that ever-shrinking, self-destructive black hole of sin, to see bigger again. And so, God says, His Word is like a hammer to crush that mindset. He is bringing fire on earth to burn those sinful impurities out of us. He going to divide us from our sin and death, in order to unite us with Himself. All of which may be quite painful. If you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, or been burned by fire, then you know. But if we would just look up for a moment and look out for a moment and see the signs, the ominous signs of the storm of sin, of sin increasing and getting deeper and more entrenched in our lives and in our world, we would know how much we need this. And that a loving God would do nothing less.

But our loving God never does the least - He does more, and so something else as well. He doesn’t just crush - He crushes in order to build. He doesn’t just divide - He divides in order to unite. He doesn’t just torch things - He sends fire in order to purify. And He convicts in order to forgive. And He does all these things to break you out of your small, small, self-centered and self-obsessed world to see the greater. A world greater than your world, a life beyond this life, and a family greater than you can imagine. A family of faith that you have been born again into through water and the Word in Holy Baptism. A family of faith that includes all those folks we heard about in Hebrews: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; Moses and Rahab; Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel; and more. A family of faith defined not by blood but by water. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who do not share blood with you, but faith with you. Jesus’ opponents - the Pharisees and Sadducees - often relied on the fact that they were physically descended from Abraham for the assurance of their salvation. For Jesus, that is a family that needs dividing - so that they identify not just on what family they were born into, but instead what family they were born AGAIN into. With a Father in heaven, and a brother who came to be their Saviour.

And yours. He did what we needed and what was required.  The Son of God came to be crushed with the hammer of the law because of our sin to build a Church - with Himself as the cornerstone and we as the living stones built upon Him. He came to suffer the fire of God’s wrath against our sin, that the fire that now comes upon us purify and not destroy. He came to be divided from His Father on the cross, forsaken for us, to unite us back again with the unity we were created to have. Look up, He says, from your obsessions, from your small, small, world and see that. Your God. For you. There. See that and repent that you’ve been so obsessed and enamored with so much less. Receive His forgiveness and His Spirit, His eyes and His faith, His mercy and compassion and love - His more! - and live a new life. 

And then, this too: look up and also see your neighbor. You know, the one you’ve, perhaps, been throwing stones at, or torching with burning words, or dividing yourself from. And why? For what? Don’t you see the signs? The storms of sin, our dying world? Our dying lives? Are you dying for this, when Jesus has died for you? Really?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Looking to Jesus. Not at yourself, not at your stuff, not at your obsessions - at the small stuff. Looking to Jesus. Looking to Jesus who lived and died for you. Looking to Jesus who is at the right hand of God for you. Looking to Jesus who has come and given you new life. Looking to Jesus who is now here for you in His Body and Blood for the strengthening of your faith and the forgiveness of your sins.

And seeing this big picture then enables us to live the small. Better. To live the small in confidence, not worry or fear. To live the small in love, not idolatry. To live the small in service, not selfishness. To live the small - our lives, our families - as a picture, as a foretaste, of what is still to come. In Jesus. In your Saviour. The One who is obsessed with you.

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Commemoration of St. Lawrence Sermon

Jesu Juva

“His Treasures”
Text: Ezekiel 20:40-42; Revelation 6:9-11; Mark 8:34-38

God’s people had been scattered. After years of wars and troubles, through good kings and bad kings, some of the people had become refugees in foreign countries, some had been taken as prisoners of war, and some wandered from place to place, living day to day, thankful for a meal and a place to sleep in safety. It was not an easy time in Israel, and things didn’t look like they were going to get any better any time soon. That’s how it looked to Israel, anyway.

But not to God. God had a plan. Nothing was happening that He did not know, and everything that was happening was serving His good and gracious plan for His people. This scattering, this discipline, was necessary, to bring them back to Him in repentance, for many had wandered from the faith. And so it was good. Hardship in this world and life to lead them to eternal life.

And so to testify to this, God sent the prophet Ezekiel to the people who had been hauled off as prisoners of war - with good news. The time of the scattering was going to end. God was going to gather His people once again from everywhere, from all the countries, where they had been scattered. They were going home. For He is the Lord, and He keeps His promises.

Which means this: if He is going to gather His people from all the places, all the countries, where they have been scattered, then He knows where they are, and all they have been going through. His eye has never been off of them, though maybe to them it seemed like it - like God didn’t see, like God didn’t care, that God wasn’t there for them. But He did see, He did care, and He was there. He was working good for them and good in them. 

And He still is. For the gathering of which Ezekiel spoke was a picture of the gathering that is still taking place today, as God gathers His people to Himself from all the places in all the world where they have been scattered. He knows where each and every one is. His eye is never off of them. He is caring and keeping His promises. His promise not for an easy life now, but for a life with Him forever. 

Some of those already gathered we heard about in the reading from Revelation: the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne. Or in other word, the martyrs. Those whose lives had been taken from them, were gathered to the Lord and are resting in Him. Even in often gruesome deaths, the Lord cared for them and kept His promise to them, and gave them life. Martyrs like Lawrence, whom we commemorate this night. 

But notice this too: there are still more to come. Not all have been gathered. There are still more who will be killed for their faith. And when they are, their death will testify to life. That life is not just what we have here and now, but that God is gathering His flock to Himself. That if they are killed, that is not the end. That if they are killed, it is not because God didn’t see or care; it is not that God was powerless to stop it. It is that God decided to gather that child home now. To His promised home of rest and peace.

And that is the promise He has for you as well. For that is the testimony of the martyrs to us: that no matter where you are, no matter how things are with you, no matter how your life is taken from you, your Father in heaven sees, cares, and is gathering you to Himself. He who gave us our life is also going to decide when it ends, and how - even though we want to be the ones in control of that.

And many try to be. Many in our world today try to be in control of when life begins, through contraceptives (to stop it) or medical technology (to make it happen). No thank you God, I’ll handle this. And even more try to be in control of when life ends, through abortion, assisted suicide, murder, and mercy killing. For we, not God, know best. But that is to make ourselves god, and deny that our Father in heaven sees and knows and cares and is always doing good for us.

But today Jesus said to deny ourselves. Deny that. Deny that we are in control of the when and how of life and the when and how of death, and let God be God. For if you want control, if you want to be god, if you want to save yourself and your life, you will only lose it. But if the when and how of your life and death is in God’s hands, then there is salvation. For He is gathering His children to Himself. 

Lawrence is a great example for us of that. Many Christians at that time were being killed for their faith, in often horrible and gruesome ways. Lawrence had seen friends taken, and he was next in line. He could have saved himself by handing over the money the church had collected for helping the poor, but to do so would have confessed that those who had demanded that money had the power of life of death; had the power to decide whether Lawrence lived or died. And Lawrence knew that only God had that power. That if God wanted Lawrence to live, no man could take his life. And if God decided to gather Lawrence to Himself, no man could stop it - not even Lawrence himself. So Lawrence gave all the money away to the poor and needy of the city, and when the Emperor called for Lawrence to bring all the treasures of the church to give to him, Lawrence brought all the poor and needy and said: Here are the church’s treasures. And for that He was roasted over an open fire . . . after which he began his life under the altar of God, to wait in rest and peace for the rest who would be killed for their confession. 

Here are the church’s treasures. Lawrence could say that because he knew these were the ones for whom Jesus laid down His life on the altar of the cross. These are the ones redeemed not with gold or silver, but with the much greater and more costly holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus, God’s own Son. And that was the price paid for Lawrence too. So if God gave that for him, would He not also see him through this time? 

And you too. For the holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus was for you. That your sin (no matter how great) be washed away, your death be swallowed up by His death, and your grave shattered in His resurrection. That whenever and however death comes to you, it matters not - for your life is safe in His hands. He will use your death to gather you to Himself, to that place in His kingdom that He has prepared for you. 

The martyrs, like Lawrence, testify to that truth and that life. And so we thank God for their testimony and their example to us. But more than that, it is Jesus who is that truth and delivers that life to us, by grace through faith. So Him we worship. To Him we pray. And to Him we entrust our life and our death. Knowing that He does all things in perfect goodness and love. For us, His treasures.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Why Worry?”
Text: Luke 12:22-34; Hebrews 11:1-16; Genesis 15:1-6

[Today’s sermon is a mild reworking of a sermon I preached three years ago. When I went back and read it, I liked it and so decided to proclaim it again.]

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

Did you hear the words of Jesus today - do not be anxious, do not worry - as good news, or as Jesus commanding you to do something? I think most of the time, it is the latter. That when Jesus says, do not be anxious or do not worry, we hear that as Jesus scolding us, wagging His divine finger at us who have fallen short in the “do not worry” department, and commanding us to change. 

And I know you want to do this - not worry; you want to do what Jesus says and be a good Christian, and so hearing these words of Jesus you (once again) tell yourself to stop worrying and trust more. But it doesn’t work. For what happens when you tell yourself not to worry is that you start to worry more, because you start worrying about the fact that you’re worrying, and your burden becomes heavier and heavier.

But here’s the good news: that’s not why Jesus said these words today. Jesus has come not to add to your burden, but to carry it for you, make your burden light, and give you rest (Matt 11:28). So do not hear these words today as a command for you to fix yourself, but instead as Jesus comforting you. Jesus’ reassurance that you have a Father who is taking care of you. Who knows what you need. Who created all things and is caring for all things - even the things that we so often don’t even notice, like the ravens, the lilies, and the grass. And if them, then you too, who are greater and worth more than all these things. For you’re not here today and gone tomorrow like them - you’re His child, dearly loved.

And you were like that at one time - without worry - do you remember? It is when you were young. Young children don’t worry a whole lot. They know that Dad has things under control. They know Mom’s got it covered. Food, clothing, shelter, protection - they’re worrying about those things so I don’t have to. So children are free and care free. And even when parents don’t come through or even hurt their children, those children often still look to their parents and rely on their parents for what they need. There’s a connection there. A confidence there. A trust there.

It’s when we grow up and get a little older that things begin to change. We move on from childhood and become adults, and increased responsibilities and obligations and the sin so prevalent in the world cause us to be anxious and worry. The care free days vanish like smoke. And it’s not a change for the better, is it? When our untroubled childhood is exchanged for hypertension, ulcers, and sleepless nights.

And so today Jesus is inviting you back. To be children again. Children of a heavenly Father who has it covered for you - no matter what “it” is. For the biggest “its” of all - sin, death, devil, hell, grave, and eternal life, He has already taken care of for you. Covered by Jesus blood in your baptism, you’re a child adopted into the family of God and under the constant care of a Father who won’t let you down and would never hurt you. A Father who won’t spoil you by being a sugar daddy, who will discipline you when necessary, and love you enough to tell you the truth. Or in other words, a Father you can count on.
And a Saviour you can count on. His do not be anxious was never so true as it was as He hung on the cross for you. And if there, not here also? For not for lilies, ravens, or grass did He die, but for you. He came as your brother, to take care of the big deal of sin, death, devil, hell, and grave for you. He battled them all so that you wouldn’t have to. That you not worry about these, but live in the freedom from them that Jesus has won for you. That while these things are realities in the world and in our lives, they not be worries. They were overcome by Jesus for you. His resurrection proof of His victory and His promise of eternal life.

So that’s why Jesus says don’t worry. Don’t worry because you don’t have to worry. Your heavenly Father has it covered. 

That is also the word for you today from Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. We often make the same mistake with these words, about these folks, as we did with Jesus’ words and think: I have to be like that. I need to have a stronger faith. I need to be more steadfast. Like them. And while that may be true, what Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah would all say to you today is this: this chapter is about God’s faithfulness, not ours. This is about His steadfast love, not ours. We just believed His Word, that He would do what He said. And He did. And He does the same for you.

This chapter puts the meat on the bones of Jesus’ do not worry. For all these people had plenty to worry about. Abel had his brother Cain who wanted to kill Him - and finally did. Death rose up at the time of Enoch too, when they all frightfully witnessed their father Adam’s death and perhaps wondered what would happen next? Noah had the sin in the world and God’s Word of a destroying flood. And Abraham and Sarah - going from place to place, living in tents, among some people who were friendly and some who were hostile, and too old to have the children that God promised . . .

But God provided. He is a God who gives life after death, who protects and preserves, who saves from a sinful world, who watches over His children and keeps His promises. All of them. Sure they had their share of troubles. You will, too, as long as you live in this sin-filled world. But it’s not you against the world. It’s not even us, the Church, against the world. It’s God for the world. God giving His Word and keeping His Word in the midst of a world, of people, intent on destroying themselves.

You see, the question really isn’t: why is there so much sin and death in the world? So much to worry about? There’s so much sin and death in the world because sinners do sin and sin does death and that’s who we are. And if God hadn’t stepped in . . . that’d be the end of the story, and a story that would have ended long ago. Long before you and I ever came along.

But God did step in. He stepped into the Garden on that frightful day of sin and gave Adam and Eve His Word, His promise, to be their Saviour. His promise that turned: If you eat of it, you will surely die, to: Because you ate of it, I will surely die. For you. And then He stepped into the world at Bethlehem to do just that; to be that Saviour. To be destroyed by His own to save His own. To take all the blows that a sinful, dying, and hell-bent world could give, and in His resurrection say to His disciples, say to you: that’s all done now. No more worries. Your Father has kept His Word.

And [Abram] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

And so you too. Believe the Lord, your righteousness. When the Lord says to you: you are my child, I will take care of you. When the Lord says to you: I forgive you all your sins. When the Lord says to you: this is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you. Believe the Lord, believe His Word and promise, and it is given to you. Forgiveness in a world of sin. Life in a world of death. Confidence in a world of worry.

For nothing pleases God more than when you believe His Word. Nothing. We sang it in the Introit earlier: the Lord’s delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man - or in other words: not in anything you can do - but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

So what are you worried about, dear child of God? Your future, your children’s future, our nation’s future, the world’s future? Is it something your Father cannot provide? Is it something He cannot see you through? Is it something greater than He? Then don’t be anxious about it. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. You have His Word. You have His promise.

Or think of it this way: if it is true that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, then know this: God’s heart is with You, for that is where His greatest treasure, His Son, is. With us. With you. Sent for you and given to you. Word kept; promise fulfilled. 

So worry . . . ?

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

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pentecost 11 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Our Inheritance in Christ”
Text: Ecclesiastes 1-2; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

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

Solomon was not happy. He had a vast and prosperous kingdom. He was one of the wealthiest men on earth. By all standards today, he would considered a great and successful man. But he looked around at it all and despaired. It doesn’t mean anything. All is vanity, he said. I’m going to die and someone after me is going to get it all. Someone who hasn’t worked for it. Someone who may be a fool. What’s the point? 

There is some wisdom and truth in what Solomon says here. I remember some 11 years ago, cleaning out part the house I grew up in after my mother died, and then doing it again about 3 years ago after my father moved in with us. There was a lot of stuff in that house! All kinds of stuff. All useful in its time. All bought with the thought that these things would be used and needed. And they probably were. But then in a moment, from one day to the next, all that stuff was needed no more. In a moment, its true value was revealed.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, St. Paul said. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

You have died, St. Paul says. Like my mother died and no longer needed all the stuff she had accumulated over the years. You have died, St. Paul says. That’s baptismal talk. Dying and rising with Christ in those waters. You have died, St. Paul says, so your life really isn’t here anymore, in the things of this world. It is hidden with Christ in God.

So set you minds there, he says. Yet how hard that is to do! How hard to do consistently. Maybe because the things of this world are so present, so always before our eyes. So it’s so easy to focus on them, rather than on the life given us by Christ.

But not just that. St. Paul actually takes what Solomon says to another level. For, he says, when we don’t set our minds on things above, but instead set our minds on the things “here below,” the things of this world and life, that is not just vanity but produces in man sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. And then he goes on to add to that list anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. For these all come from trying to get what we want here; trying to preserve what we have here. Which breeds competition instead of brotherhood, anger when someone else gets what I want or think I deserve, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Which is fearing, loving, or trusting anyone or anything other that God.

Now contrast that to the life of the world to come, the life of heaven. Where there are no haves and have nots. No you and me. No against. [No] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Unity in Christ. That too is baptismal talk from Paul. And that unity our Lord has begun and is ours here and now . . . just not yet in its heavenly fullness. Sin disrupts and destroys this unity. Christ creates and restores it.

Perhaps an example of that might be the Malekzadeh family. When I moved here some 14 years ago, we went out one day looking for a pizza place. We stumbled upon Maleks and ate there. It was okay. But there was no unity between us, between my family and theirs - we just ate there. But a couple years later, the Malekzadehs came to our church, and then we had a unity not present outside the church. God had brought us together into the fellowship of His Son.

And you, too. God has brought us together here, in this church, to rejoice together, struggle together, live together. To be His blessing to one another. To set our minds on things above together. Not that the things of this world and life are unimportant. We need pizza, God created pizza for us, and we should share and care and thank God for all that He has given us. But the pizza is not what binds us together. It is secondary to Christ, His fellowship, and His promises of life.

Which is what Jesus was talking about in His parable today. His parable of what Solomon was talking about, and a summary of what St. Paul was writing about. Which Jesus concludes with the warning: So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. He, too, like the man in the parable, is a rich fool.

For the man in the parable has been extraordinarily blessed by God. But he kept it all for himself. He was not rich toward God, meaning to give and share with those in need. Or as Jesus would later explain it: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40). It is to know and believe that the things of this world serve a greater purpose. They are not ends in themselves; trophies or rewards to hoard. It is not that the one who dies with the most toys wins. Life is more than that. Life is greater than that. So set you minds on things above, in order to see the things of this world aright; to see the things of this world through the eyes of God. 

Perhaps the difference between how God sees things and how we often see things is the same as it is between parents and children. A parent can walk into their child’s room and see nothing but junk. And often ask: Why do you keep all this junk?! But the child doesn’t see junk, but treasure! I need all this stuff. It’s important to them. There are memories attached. So it’s kept. 

God lets us keep our “junk” too. It’s just when our junk becomes too important . . . When our stuff becomes our gods - where we seek our life and meaning and value and importance and pride. Then it’s no treasure, but an idol. Idols which may even cause us to go to Jesus and plead (like in the Holy Gospel today): Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me! I need it.

[Face palm!]

It’s like after the Feeding of the 5,000, when the people chased after Jesus the next day because they thought free lunches were pretty cool. And Jesus tells them: I’m trying to teach you about greater bread, not just sandwiches!

So here: Jesus is trying to teach about true treasures, but too often we’re focused on other treasures. It’s not fair, Jesus! He needs to divide the inheritance with me!

But here’s what Jesus is all about. Here’s what He’s been teaching. Here’s the point of all these readings today . . . What Jesus is all about is this: If you want an inheritance, have mine! Jesus came not just to divide His inheritance with you, but to give it to you. All of it! Or to put it in Solomon’s words: I’m going to die and someone after me is going to get it all. YES! YES! Jesus is going to die, and we’re going to get it all. 

Is that foolish? No - foolish is turning that down! Turning that down for the things of this world. No, that’s God. That’s who He is. A giving God. A God that the world thinks foolish in His mercy and grace.

For you see, the same sin that disrupts and destroys our unity with one another in this world, had first disrupted and destroyed our unity with God. So God sent His Son to restore and recreate that unity. To give us back again what we lost. So Jesus became cursed with our curse and disinherited for us on the cross. No mercy, no kindness, no gifts on the cross - just forsakenness and wrath. Yet in taking our place there, He gave us His place as a son of the Father - a place of only love and mercy and kindness. That in His death our sins be atoned for and forgiven, in His resurrection we be raised once again to the life that we had lost, and in His ascension we too ascend and receive His kingdom, His inheritance.

Jesus talked about that with His disciples that night before His crucifixion. He said, In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3). Now if that is so, why bother building bigger barns for all your stuff? Why bother when we have what Jesus is preparing for us in heaven? And why think like the rich fool - I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry - when your Father in heaven has more for you than that? When He has for you not just a feast that will last many years, but the wedding feast of the Lamb which has no end?

So clinging to the things here, of this world and life, really is pretty foolish, really is pretty meaningless. When Jesus is saying to you: I have so much more for you. Satan wants to seduce you away from Jesus and His more to the less of this world and life. But Jesus comes with the truth, for you. With His gifts, for you. With Himself, for you.

So come eat and drink now at His Table, where He is for you - His Body and Blood, once cursed and crucified for you, now risen and given to you for the forgiveness of your sins and the feeding of your new life in Christ. This is the new testament, Jesus says. His last will and testament. The inheritance He has left behind for you.

So come eat and drink, though maybe you do so not in merriness - for maybe you are under great burdens right now; sadness and sorrow; troubles and trials. They are a reminder of the now but not yet. The new life we have now, but not yet in its heavenly fullness. The inheritance we have now, but not yet in its heavenly fullness. The joy and peace and unity in Christ we have now, but not yet in its heavenly fullness. But don’t, then, seek for the fullness elsewhere. Where is cannot be found. Know that what you receive here is the foretaste of the full feast to come. A foretaste of the feast. A foretaste of the life. A foretaste of the joy. A foretaste of the unity. A foretaste of the rest. Of the fullness that is coming, that is yours in Christ.

Set your minds on that. And then when Christ who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in [the fullness of His] glory

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