Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 10 - Luke 11:1-13

Luke 11:1-13
Pentecost 10
Grace Chapel, Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO
July 28th, 2013

If you are like me, you don’t pray as you should.  You don’t pray as often.  You don’t pray as selflessly.  You don’t pray with as great a trust and faith as you ought.  You pray for things you probably shouldn’t.  You don’t pray for things you should.  You say you’ll pray for someone, keep them in your prayers, and then even though you mean well you forget.  Your prayers are mis-prioritized.  You pray “my will be done”.  Maybe you even pray, if you’ll admit it, that God would zing those enemies of yours, you know, those people who really deserve some wrath and punishment.

Surely we sin and fail in all things, even when it comes to our prayers.  But Jesus would teach us how to pray.  And in teaching us how to pray, he not only shows us where we are wrong and insufficient, and how to do better.  But even in this model prayer, this Lord’s Prayer, there is the comfort and hope of God’s grace in Christ.  There is his name, his kingdom, his will for us - there is the reminder of his provision, daily bread, full forgiveness, and all that he wants us to ask and receive.

By the way, the Lord’s Prayer appears twice in the Gospels - Jesus probably taught variations on it over and over.  Here in Luke we have the shorter version - which is different from the one that you and I have memorized.  Nonetheless, there is much to learn even here.  Let’s consider each portion in turn...

“Father” or “Our Father”.  Neither Judaism nor Islam teaches that we should approach God in prayer as Father.  But our God is the Father - not only our Father by virtue of creation, but also the Father of the Son.  And it is only by virtue of the Son that we come to the Father, as Jesus taught.  Let’s not pass over too quickly that our loving Father would have us wayward and disobedient children turn to him in prayer, and ask him as dear children ask their earthly fathers for good things.  He won’t give us scorpions and snakes.  He’ll give us far more than we could ask.  He gives us even his own Son, Jesus Christ.

“Hallowed be thy name”
We are reminded of the Second Commandment, and how often we dishonor and abuse God’s name, taking it in vain.  As people who bear his triune name in our baptism, everything we do reflects on him.  Every time we sin we sully the family name.  But nonetheless, God’s name is holy, and we pray here that we would keep it holy among us.  That we would devote ourselves to growing in his word, in our faith, that all things connected to him, his name, his identity, would be kept holy by us and be a blessing to us.  It is no small thing that God tells us his name, and invites us to call upon him.  A command, to be sure, but a blessing all the more.

“Thy Kingdom Come”
God is king over all, but not all know it, like it, believe it.  For us, we acknowledge him as our benevolent ruler who is not only a law-giver but protector and defender.  And he rules not with an iron fist, but through his word, even his gospel.  He would extend his reign of grace over the world, expanding the horizons of his kingdom through making of disciples, baptizing, teaching.  So we have been brought into the fold.  So we send missionaries, pastors, teachers and others to carry on the expansion of his kingdom.  And we pray that God’s reign would grow and strengthen, first in our lives, and from there... to all.

“Thy will be done”
Not mentioned in the shorter version here, but still worth mentioning - that God’s good and gracious will is that sinners like you and me would come to faith in Christ.  When we pray this petition, we’re not so much asking God to direct us in what to have for dinner or where to send our kids to school.  We’re praying the prayer of faith - that God would work repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ - in my life, and in the lives of others.  This is his good and gracious will.

and now... “Daily Bread”
All that we need to support this body and life.  And yet we turn our bread into an idol.  We twist the good things in life, food and drink, house and home, cars and clothes, computers and smartphones... and we make them into little golden calfs and put them on our pedestals of worship.  But still, God provides.  He gives graciously and lavishly, everything we need and more.  Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, for if God clothes the flowers and feeds the birds so well, won’t he care for you who are much more valuable.  And if he cares for these our lesser needs of earthly things, won’t he care also for our greatest need - the one we pray for next?

“Forgive us our sins” or “trespasses” or “debts”
And here is the heart of it, friends.  You and I are in a predicament.  We are poor, miserable, sinners.  We are wicked and rebellious by nature.  We are dead in our trespasses.  We are beyond help.  At least in ourselves.

We rebel against the Father.  We dishonor his name.  We trample his kingdom.  And we could care less about his will.  We abuse our daily bread.  And we rack up the sinful debt that is beyond count.  Oh and remember we don’t even pray as we ought.

But the Lord Jesus Christ who tells us to pray for forgiveness does so with good reason.  For he himself, on the cross, would procure that very thing.  “Father”, yes, Jesus prays to the Father, too, “Father, forgive them.  Father into your hands I commit my spirit.  For it is finished”.

The Father, our Father, has given his Son.  And the Son forgives.  And the Son lives.  And the Son gives us life.  And the Spirit is sent to us, also, to renew and strengthen our faith, and bring us always to the cross of Christ for even more forgiveness.  To remind us of our baptism, where our Father made us his own.

And then there is the Supper - for God provides not just daily bread, but here in this holy meal - heavenly bread, and festival wine - that is not just bread and wine, but his own Son’s body and blood.  Here he forgives our sins, strengthens us against temptation, delivers us from evil.

You see, the Lord’s Prayer, this wonderful teaching of Jesus, is not just for us to mumble together in a show of Christian unity.  It is not just a handy prayer to teach our kids should they ever get into real trouble.  Nor is it just a sentimental topic for a needlepoint pattern.

In this prayer Jesus teaches us.  And he teaches us not only how to pray, but why we need to pray - for we are sinners.  And not only that, but he also teaches us about himself, and his Father, our Father.  That our gracious God delights in our prayers.  And as a loving Father he wants to give us good things, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

So pray.  Pray without ceasing.  Pray freely and joyfully, in faith, to the Father who wants to hear you.  Who wants to give you good things.  Pray in humility, for Father knows best, and will give you what you need.  Pray confidently in the name of Jesus, who makes our prayers and our very selves acceptable to God, through his life and death for us all.  Pray in him, and live in him, even into the kingdom to come.

Now may the peace of God....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sermon - Luke 10:25-37 - Pentecost 8

Sermon – St. John's Lutheran Church, Fredonia, WI
Pentecost 8c
July 14th, 2013
Luke 10:25-37

“First.. we kill all the lawyers” The famous line from one of Shakespeare's plays has become a running joke about how to make a good start at fixing all the world's problems. But our Lord Jesus Christ, who deals with a lawyer in our text today, would surely disagree. Jesus' approach to this lawyer is to engage him, to teach him, and thereby to also teach us. And out of it, we get one of the greatest parables – that of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan, who might not be who you think he is.

First, the lawyer. Like many characters in the Bible, he suffers from a universally common disease – self-righteousness. Of course, it seems he's also testing Jesus here in this witty little exchange about what he needs to do to be saved. While he gets the answer right, intellectually, he gets in wrong in his own life – for he doesn't do what the law demands.

Notice the four – count 'em four – times “All” is used here. Love the Lord with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your strength, and ALL your mind. All is a pretty universal, word. It's a pretty extreme form of law that demands ALL of us – but that's God's law. An all-or-nothing, 100% holiness of life, heart, mind, every part of your being. The standard is perfect perfection – not just pretty good or even mostly good. All means all.

“Do this and you will live” Jesus says. And if anyone could, we would. Of course you know the problem is, even the holier-than-thou lawyer couldn't do it, and neither can you or I.

To put an even finer point on it, we don't really even get close. It's not that God's standard is unreasonably high or unfairly impossible – he's a just God and who are you to question his law anyway – but we don't really even come close to fulfilling it. We trample the law. If we're honest with ourselves, we're not just a little corrupt, but wholly unclean, throughly rebellious, and 100% polluted with sin. If we are ALL anything we are ALL sinner. The polar opposite extreme.
But like the lawyer, we would like to argue our case. Our pathetic attempt to wiggle out of the law's condemnation might follow his rhetoric: “well, just who is my neighbor, then?” (Notice how he sidesteps the question of loving GOD with his whole heart and just quibbles about the neighbor part).

The Old Adam likes to pick and choose neighbors. We say it's impossible to love all people. We come up with good reasons for loving some and not others. Usually it's the people we like, who are like us, who can do something for us, that we consider neighbors. And the different, the foolish, the bad people don't deserve our help. Thank God he doesn't use our standard for showing mercy, by the way. And to illustrate the point – Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Of course, Jews and Samaritans generally despised each other – different ethnic and religious backgrounds, rival states neighboring each other. So the parable surprises us that the man who is robbed gets help from the least likely person (so the lawyer would think). And without unpacking the parable's meaning too much – he tells the lawyer, “go and do likewise”. Be a good neighbor. And the lawyer, sadly, continues to miss the point.

What the lawyer should have said, and what we must also confess, is that I CAN'T and I DON'T, and my sinful nature doesn't even WANT to love God or my neighbor. Not with my whole heart, or any of it at all. I can't “Go and do likewise”. And therefore – I cannot be saved. I cannot justify myself. I cannot walk the perfect walk that is required. I'm no saint. I'm not even a very nice guy. I'm certainly no good samaritan.

But Jesus is. Here's the not-so-secret secret of this parable. Jesus is the Good Samaritan if there ever was one. He finds us beaten and bloodied (and worse really) by our own sins, by the devil, by the sinful world. He picks us up, cares for us. Has compassion on us (a common refrain in Luke's Gospel is Jesus having compassion). And Jesus gives of himself – but far more than his own oil and wine, his own donkey and silver coins. He gives his very self – his own life – his own body and blood for our healing and restoration, even for our justification.

Like the Samaritan, he also departs, leaving us in the good hands of his Holy Spirit and with the ongoing nurture of his word and his sacraments. And like the Samaritan he promises to return and settle accounts, and to make all things right.

Only by faith in the Good Samaritan who saved us do we begin to be one to others – to reflect and share the love of Christ for our neighbor. The lawyer never got this far with Jesus – he wanted to do it on his own. But in Christ, by his Spirit, his people are first saved and then empowered to “go and do likewise”.

But now it's different. Loving our neighbor is a joy not a burden. And it happens truly out of love, not out of obligation and fear. Sure, we never do it perfectly, even with Christ, but he perfects our imperfect love of neighbor. He makes our good deeds acceptable and pleasing to God. And this fine distinction is an important one. Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing”. But in Christ, in constant repentance and faith, he can do great things through us.

So. Christ, by his perfect life and perfect death and glorious resurrection – has made us like himself. He has made us holy and righteous, and won for us victory over death. So, too, by His sanctifying Spirit, does he promise to make us like himself in all things. That He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.

As we grow in God's word and in our understanding of just how helpless we are, may we learn to rely on Christ all the more – who binds up our wounds and brings us to safety. And who bids us, in faith, to “go and do likewise”, for he has first loved us.

“First we kill all the lawyers” – how about instead, first the law must kill us. So that we see our sin, and our predicament. Confess. Repent. And then see the One who fulfills the law perfectly rescues us and resurrects us and pays for everything we need. Receive his love and mercy. And then, go and do likewise. For his sake, and in his name. Amen.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Sermon - Luke 10:1-20 - Pentecost 7c

Sermon – St. John's Lutheran Church, Beloit, WI
Pentecost 7c
July 7th, 2013
Luke 10:1-20

Your pastor and I had a funny little conversation about my visit here, and the readings for this Sunday. Being a missionary, and reading a text where Jesus sends out 72 to preach in his name – it almost seemed to easy. Like a softball. Hit it out of the park, Chryst. “Jesus saves. Mission is good. Support your missionary. Amen.”

Well the more I looked, it wasn't that easy. For yes, while I am being sent out to preach, like so many other preachers, what does this reading have to do with the people of St. John's, Beloit? Is there more to this than a sort of “spread the message” example or imperative? Sure we should all tell people about Jesus when we have the opportunity. And some are even sent to do that for a living. But there's more here than just that!

Sure there's the details of those 72 that were sent. But what was their message? What did they say to the people they saw?

“The kingdom has come near you”. A message repeated in the Gospels. The kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of God is at hand. And Jesus clarifies at one point, “and has now arrived,” that is, in his very self. Jesus Christ is not only the one sent by the Heavenly King to do his bidding, but he himself is the Son of the Father, who would earn all authority in heaven and earth, and one day ascend again to his throne.

John the Baptist began with all this “Kingdom of God” talk, and Jesus picked up where John left off, since John was preparing for Jesus anyway. And both John and Jesus included in that kingdom message a stern word: repent!

Now we're getting somewhere. For the preacher sent to you – the one who usually stands here – preaches the same message as John and Jesus and the 72. The same message the church has always preached as it has been sent by Christ. The message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. The message that the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is near.

Before we talk about being sent and sending missionaries, we must first acknowledge that we have all benefitted from the message that was sent to us through similar messengers. And thanks be to God for that!

It is a message that can seem harsh, and it is, when we hear the law. “Woe to you Chroazin and Bethsaida! And Capernaum, you will be brought down to Hades!” Jesus doesn't sugar coat the real consequences of sin and rebellion and rejection of his word. He's not a guy smiley promising your best life now with warm fuzzy stories and emotionally uplifting inspirations.

Wrapped up in that word, “repent!” is the accusation that you, sinner, deserve the same treatment as Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Sodom and Gomorrah. Fire and brimstone. Death and punishment. All the woes of hell.

You think your sins are little and excusable, but they are not! You think that because the other guy sins more, or in a more spectacular way that you will skate by in comparison, but you won't! You think that God's standard is flexible, and that there's got to be some leeway for well-meaning sinners like you. But don't fool yourself.

The law doesn't say, “rest easy”, or “don't worry”. It's an alarming slap in the face that you, each of you, all of us, deserve eternal death for our sins. If you truly knew how bad your sins are, you'd be sitting in sackcloth and ashes, too.

But there is good news in this kingdom, too. For those who repent, for those who turn from sin and turn the other way – we see Jesus. We see the one who sends messengers with good news, with peace. Who brings healing of body and soul. Who brings authority and power over evil. Who defeats Satan, and writes our names in heaven.

What a promise that is! That your name is written in heaven. Of course, his name is upon you, too – by your baptism. The trinue name of God was spoken and splashed onto you and your sins went down the drain. You eternity is sealed and secured with Christ in that blessed water. Your name is on the list of those who are saved in Christ.

And you join in that heavenly gathering already, here today. As you kneel at the rail and receive him who comes in peace to give you peace – you are joining with all the company of heaven, angels and archangels, saints and apostles and prophets, all those who have gone before you in the faith and now stand in his glorious presence. We are part of that blessed communion of saints – the community of all whose names are written in heaven. Rejoice also in this!

For the kingdom of God has come to you and me in the person of Jesus Christ. He who died on the cross under the sign, “King of the Jews”. He who wore the crown of thorns and bled his royal, precious, innocent blood for his subjects. Whose shameful throne of the cross makes you an heir of heaven, who promises you a crown of righteousness and a reign with him forever.

The message we have been sent, have heard, have believed.... this is the message we proclaim. It is the good news preached from our pulpits. It is the same message preached by missionaries far and wide. It is the power of God for salvation that is the hope within us, and the source of our works of love for our neighbor.

It is the good news. It is for you. Peace be upon you, in Jesus Christ, Amen.