Sunday, July 31, 2022

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13C)

July 31, 2022

Text: Luke 12:13-21

            The way of the flesh is covetousness.  The way of Jesus Christ is contentment.  Contentment in the gifts God has given you is the opposite of covetousness.  Or we might say, the opposite of covetousness is gratefulness.  Being thankful for all that God has given you.  To covet is to wish the gifts God has given your neighbor had been given to you instead.  But the way of Christ is to rejoice in the gifts God has given your neighbor, and give thanks for the gifts God has given you.  To covet is to think that some thing, or some one, or some other set of circumstances, will fulfill you and make you happy.  But that is a space that only God can fill.  And so it is as St. Paul says in our Epistle: “covetousness… is idolatry” (Col. 3:5; ESV).  There are two Commandments that prohibit coveting… The Ninth: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house,” and the Tenth, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  And so Jesus says to each one of us this morning, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness” (Luke 12:15).  Why?  Because “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Your life does not consist in the gifts, but in the Giver of the gifts, who loves you, who has redeemed you by giving His own Son into the death of the cross to save you, and who will not fail to provide for your every need of body and soul.  So your life flows from Him, and so your life can now flow toward your neighbor.

            The rich man’s problem is not that he is rich.  It is true that riches can be dangerous.  We know, as St. Paul tells us, that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10).  But poor people can love money, as well.  And we all look to money to solve our problems, and we all think if we had just a little bit more, then we’d finally be living the good life.  Which is to say, money, wealth, Mammon, has become our idol.  Repent.  Our prayer should be, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8-9).  That prayer comes from Proverbs, and so it is divine wisdom.  And do you get the thrust of the prayer?  It is, essentially, give us this day our daily bread, and let us be content with that, with what we need, and what You, O Lord, have provided.

            On the surface, it looks like the rich man is content.  Times are good.  The land has produced plentifully (v. 16) (by the way, note that the rich man is rich, why?  Because God has blessed his crops.  God has given the growth.  God has given gifts, by grace.  But the rich man does not recognize this).  Now the rich man wants to settle into a life of retirement.  He wants to relax, eat, drink, be merry (v. 19).  But he has a problem.  God has given so many gifts, the poor rich man has nowhere to put it all.  So he holds a consultation within himself.  What shall I do?  I’m too blessed!  I know what I’ll do.  I’ll build bigger barns.  Now, again, the problem is not the bigger barns.  Fine.  Whatever works.  The problem is that the rich man is so curved in on himself; so focused on his own needs, and the desire to eat, drink, and be merry; and convinced that his good fortune comes from him, and depends on him, and is all for him; that he doesn’t see the grain storage God has provided and set before his very eyes.  He doesn’t see the bank in which God would have him deposit his wealth.  That is, the bellies of the poor.  The hungry, the destitute, the neighbor in need.  The rich man is so obsessed with creating a heaven on earth for himself by means of his possessions, that he misses the way God has provided for his wealth to follow him into the heaven God has created.  And that is by giving it away.  Being generous.  Being rich to the neighbor, which is what it means to be rich toward God.  As it happens, the rich man covets his own things, because he hoards it all up for himself and trusts in it to provide for his happiness.  And he does not trust God to provide for him if he shares his blessings in generosity.

            Well, the rich man is a fool.  He is the kind of fool who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).  He is a fool because he doesn’t know the end of his own proverb, the dictum of the Prophet Isaiah, and quoted by St. Paul: “Let us eat and drink,” and it’s not, “and be merry,” but complete the sentence… for tomorrow we die” (Is. 22:13; 1 Cor. 15:32).  That is the best possible philosophy of life we could adopt if Christ were not risen from the dead… if this is all there is.  Then we are of all men most to be pitied.  But Christ is risen from the dead.  And He will raise us, and even now gives us His resurrection life.  Our whole life consists in that, and is oriented around that.  And so, this is a vain philosophy, this obsession with possessions and the good life now, as though we could build heaven in this fallen world.  You know what it is, this philosophy that so captivates the vast majority of people on earth, and all of us to some degree?  It’s a few measly years of feigned happiness in exchange for eternal death.  And the happiness is feigned.  Note how the rich man is surrounded by all his wealth, but he has no one to share it with, no one to help him enjoy it.  He is utterly alone.  He can only consult with himself.  He is utterly selfish, which is what covetousness always is, and it only leads to loneliness and death.  Fool,” God says.  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).  “Never mind tomorrow, today you die, and I will feed the poor with your stuff in spite of you.”

            What a contrast is the way of Jesus Christ.  In His earthly ministry, He received His life from His Father alone.  He was utterly dependent on His Father.  He didn’t look to anyone, or anything else to provide.  He knew that all good things come from above.  And He didn’t hoard up anything.  He gave it all away.  In fact, whenever He had a loaf of bread in His hands, what did He do?  He gave thanks (gratefulness, recognition that all good things come from God), and He gave it to the neighbors who surrounded Him (which is being rich toward God).  In fact, Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and He gives Himself, His very flesh, for you, and for the life of the world (John 6:51).  He gives Himself into death for your ungratefulness, for your obsession with possessions and wealth, and for all your covetousness, which is idolatry.  He gives Himself into death for your love of money and all the evils rooted in it, for your neglecting your neighbor, and living for yourself.  He died for all of that.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).  That is the opposite of covetousness.  And now, He is risen from the dead.  And His giving doesn’t stop.  Even as He gave His life for you, now He gives His life to you, to be your own.  His life of faith, of utter dependence on the Father.  His life of thanksgiving and praise.  His life of giving Himself up for the sake of the neighbor.  He has freed you from the tyranny of self, and the tyranny of possessions.  He has straightened you from being curved in on yourself, and lifted you up so that you look to Him, and to your Father, in faith, for every good gift.  This is what it means to be baptized into Christ.  Your whole life now flows from God.  And He even brings you to a Table where He still takes bread, gives thanks, and distributes it to you, where you eat and drink and… live.  Not just tomorrow, but forever.

            So now it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or somewhere in between.  A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  It consists of Christ.  Christ is your life.  Christ is your treasure.  Everything else is icing on the cake, and it is meant to be shared.  God gives it to you, to give to others.  God blesses you, to be a blessing to others.  Receive it with joy.  Give thanks to the God who gives it.  Enjoy it.  And then be generous with it, trusting that God will continue to pour out His gifts on you.  Don’t be a fool, and repent of all foolishness.  Christ is your life and salvation.  And look… Here He is once again to take bread, give thanks, and give it to you… His true body, sacrificed for you on the cross, now risen and living… And the cup of blessing that we bless… His true blood poured out for you.  And we know from the Old Testament that the life is in the blood (Lev. 17:11).  So what is being poured into you?  Life.  Resurrection life.  His life is in you.  Your life consists in Him.  Not in the abundance of possessions.  Christ.  Christ is your life.  And that is the good life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.       

Friday, July 29, 2022

Funeral for +Glen Carl Warmbier+

In Memoriam +Glen Carl Warmbier+

July 29, 2022

Text: John 10:11-16

            Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14; ESV).  As the Good Shepherd, Jesus knows every last one of His sheep.  As any good shepherd would, he knows each sheep by name.  He knows each sheep’s peculiar characteristics, unique physical traits, and personality quirks.  And He knows their individual needs.  He knows when a sheep is prone to wander.  He knows which sheep needs a touch of the shepherd’s staff, or a disciplinary snarl from the sheep dog from time to time, to keep that sheep in the safety of the flock and under the Good Shepherd’s watchful eye.  He knows when His sheep are ill or injured.  He knows their suffering.  And He loves them.  And He lays down His life for them.  That is what makes Him good.  When the predator arrives to gobble up the sheep, Jesus stands in between.  He places Himself into the predator’s jaws.  He gives Himself up to Satan, and into the death on the cross.  Why?  So that His sheep go free and live.  Because he knows His sheep, and He loves His sheep.  And that, beloved, is the story of Glen Warmbier’s life. 

            Jesus knew Glen from all eternity, from before the foundation of the world.  He planned for Glen’s life, and for his salvation.  As the Psalmist, King David, prays, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:15-16).  Jesus knew Glen in the womb.  He knew the day of Glen’s birth and the moment of Glen’s death.  Again, the Psalmist, “My times are in your hand” (Ps. 31:15).  Jesus knew Glen and loved Glen.

            He knew Glen in the water of the font, on that August day in 1935 when Glen was immersed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He was clothed with Christ.  God put His own Name on Glen, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and declared Glen His own beloved son, with whom He is well pleased on account of Christ, and upon Glen He poured out His Holy Spirit.  Jesus gave Glen Christian parents, and pastors, and other Christians to nourish and nurture his faith.    

            Jesus knew Glen as he grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.  He knew him, and nursed him on His Word in Church, and in Sunday School, and in Catechism classes.  Jesus knew Glen as the Spirit gave Glen to make his good confession at his Confirmation, and as he joined the unending Feast of the Lord’s own body and blood here in the Lord’s Supper. 

            Jesus knew Glen in good times and hard times, in poverty and in prosperity.  In work and at school, He surrounded Glen with His holy angels, to protect him in body and soul.  Jesus knew Glen when He brought another of God’s children into Glen’s life, sweet Ellie Buss, and joined them in Holy Matrimony.  He knew and loved Glen in military service, and when he came home.  He knew him in the birth of his children, Michael and Sandy, and as Glen and Ellie raised them in the faith.  He knew him as a grandfather, and a great-grandfather, as a brother, and an uncle, and in all his relationships.  And think about this for a minute: How many of you believe in Christ and live in Christ because Glen Warmbier believed in Christ and lived in Christ?  Jesus knew Glen in his career, and in his personal life.  He knew him in all his service to the Church and the community.  Jesus knew him, and Jesus redeemed Glen’s whole life, and sanctified it by His Word and Spirit. 

            Jesus knew Glen’s suffering.  Every time Glen called out from the depths (Ps. 130), Jesus knew, and He heard, and He answered.  Jesus knew Glen’s sins.  That is why He laid down His life for His dear sheep Glen.  To atone for those sins.  To win Glen’s forgiveness.  With you there is forgiveness” (Ps. 130:4).  To pull Glen out of the depths.  That is what Jesus did on the cross.  He went into the depths for Glen.  He paid for Glen’s sins, and for the sins of the whole world.  And that means your sins, beloved.  All forgiven.  All covered by Jesus’ blood.

            Jesus knew Glen.  And because Jesus knew Glen, Glen knew Jesus.  Jesus provided for that.  He made sure of it.  He caused Glen to be born again into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).  Baptism.  Word.  Supper.  Parents.  Pastors.  Sunday School teachers.  And we must add, a devout and pious wife.  Throughout his life.  The Spirit, active in those Means, and through those people, bringing Glen to faith in Christ, sustaining and strengthening Glen’s faith in Christ, so that he persevered to the very end.  All by God’s grace alone.  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  Great is our Lord’s faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23). 

            Jesus knew Glen.  And Jesus knows Glen.  And Glen knows Jesus.  Right now.  Because, in Christ, though Glen has died, he really has not died.  Jesus laid down His life for Glen, but Jesus did not stay dead.  He is risen!  He lives.  And because He lives, Glen lives.  In Him.  Glen even now beholds the Lord Jesus and rejoices in His presence.  And what we know only by faith, Glen now knows by sight.  Jesus knows Glen.  And Glen knows Jesus… The risen Jesus.  And because Jesus is risen from the dead, bodily, we can say with absolute certainty about our brother Glen: This body will rise from the dead!

            We will see Glen again.  Not just in heaven, though that is also true.  But bodily.  Risen from the dead.  And made whole.  In a way that none of us have ever yet been whole.  In the way that the risen Jesus is whole.  Because that is where our Good Shepherd is leading us.  The 23rd Psalm gives this away.  In this life, the Good Shepherd leads His sheep into green pastures and beside still waters.  Here we can think of the Lord’s Word and Sacraments, which restore our souls and lead us in the paths of righteousness, as they give us all the benefits of the Lord’s own death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and justification.  And then where does He lead us?  Through the valley of the shadow of death.  Not into.  Through.  And that is to say, we don’t stay in the valley, we don’t stay dead.  We come out the other side.  Alive.  Even as our Shepherd went through the valley for us, and came out the other side alive.      

            I think we were all surprised… to be surprised… by Glen’s death.  After all that he suffered, all the illnesses and episodes and hospitalizations, all the times we had prepared ourselves for this very thing… well, he always miraculously recovered.  But this time, we had no warning, no time to prepare, although one wonders if Glen did.  Maybe it was on some unconscious level, but the Lord sure did give Glen and those he loved a great gift in his last hours.  A number of you over the past couple weeks have said to me, something to the effect, “Glen died the way he lived.  He did it his way.”  It was as though he orchestrated the whole thing.  One last trip with Ellie.  One last visit with as many loved ones as possible.  A beautiful family picture.  One last drive back to the hotel.  Even a minute to take off his shoes.  And then, all at once, he was Home.  With Christ.  We were surprised.  But Christ was not.  Jesus knew.  And He was there.  At every point in Glen’s life.  And in the moment of Glen’s death.  As Glen’s Good Shepherd.  And now Glen is there, with Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And he is eagerly awaiting you.  And he is eagerly awaiting the resurrection of his body.

            Now we grieve.  Because we miss Glen.  We can’t see him now, as we did before.  We can’t hear his voice, shake his hand, hug him.  We do rejoice with him.  We rejoice that he is with Jesus.  And we laugh at all the stories and all the good memories.  We do not grieve as others do, who have no hope.  Still, we shed our tears and our hearts ache. 

            But you know what you do when you want to be with Glen?  And I mean really with him, not just in your imagination, or in your heart, or looking for some sign in your life or in nature that he still thinks about you and cares for you.  You know what you do when you want to be in Glen’s real presence?  You go where Jesus is really present, for you.  You go to Church.  You go where Glen is rooted in the baptismal waters.  Where he even still rejoices to hear the Gospel.  Where he joins us at the altar, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  Glen was pretty blunt with people about this, including the poor guy in the next hospital room during his last stay at Gritman here in Moscow.  He said to him, “the only thing keeping you from going to Church is you.  You’d better get to Church.”  I said, “Preach it, Glen.”  Well, that’s what he would tell you today.  Because all the things Jesus did for Glen, He does for you.  He is your Good Shepherd, too.  The Church is His sheepfold.  He wants to bring you into it, too.  Here, where you can listen to His voice, and be one flock, with one Shepherd.  And with Glen.  Whom we haven’t lost.  Glen is not a lost sheep just because he died.  Jesus is a better Shepherd than that!  Glen is now safe here in the fold forever.  And he wants you with him.

            And Jesus wants you with Him.  He knows you.  He laid down His life for you.  He is risen for you.  I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says.  I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:11).  Jesus knows Glen, and Glen knows Jesus.  Jesus loves Glen, and Glen is baptized into Jesus.  And because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we can take comfort in this absolute certainty: We will see Glen again, and this body will rise.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              


Sunday, July 24, 2022

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12C)

July 24, 2022

Text: Luke 11:1-13

            This morning our Lord teaches us to pray.  He bids us ask, seek, knock, and He promises that it will be given to us, we will find, and the door will be opened to us (Luke 11:9-10).  Why don’t we believe it?  Why are we so reluctant to pray?  Luther famously said he had so much to do that he had to spend at least the first three hours of the day in prayer.  We think the opposite, when we have so much to do, the last thing we need is all this prayer business.  But how do you expect to accomplish anything without God’s help?  And what about when you, or someone you know and love, has a need?  What about times of suffering and cross?  Never mind thanksgiving and praise for all that you’ve been given!  Here the Lord actually tells you that God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth and all that is, wants to hear your prayers.  He has His ear open to you.  Ask.  Seek.  Knock.  And He will answer.  …But you’re right, you’re probably too busy for all of that!

            Jesus even gives us the words to say.  Now, as an aside, we should say here, there are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Holy Scripture, the one here in Luke 11, and the version we use liturgically and in our daily piety from Matthew 6.  The versions are slightly different, but don’t let that bother you.  Our Lord undoubtedly taught this prayer on more than one occasion, with some variation, and there were probably other times He modeled this prayer for His disciples that are not recorded in the Gospels, perhaps with other variations.  The fuller Matthean version came to be standardized in the Church’s liturgy.  But there is something to the terseness of Luke’s version that teaches us that, even as we pray the whole prayer in our liturgical and habitual prayer times, we may also pray the petitions individually as circumstances demand. 

            Luke’s version simply begins, “Father” (Luke 11:2; ESV)!  Jesus bids us call God Father, and it's much as a child calls out to his or her earthly father in a moment of distress.  Father!”  And so we may call on His Name whenever we are troubled (Ps. 50:15).  Now, we call Him Father not just because He created us.  He did, it is true.  But He also created dogs and trees, and they don’t have the Father/child relationship with Him.  We call Him Father because we are in Jesus.  We are baptized into Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the Baptized.

            We are God’s children.  He has adopted us as His own in Holy Baptism.  And now He wants to hear from us.  Just like, kids, your parents want to hear from you when you’re away on a trip, or when you move away for college, or a job… or even while you’re with them at home.  Your parents want you to talk to them.  So God wants us to talk to Him.  He commands us to pray.  That is the Law, and it is a Second Commandment issue.  We should call on God’s Name.  It is as much a misuse of God’s Name NOT to use it, as it is to use it improperly.  But here He tenderly invites us.  And that is Gospel.  He invites us to call upon Him, with boldness and confidence, as dear children ask their dear father.  And He promises to hear and answer.  Right?  That is what Jesus says.  It will be given.  You will find.  It will be opened.  Now, maybe not in the way or time you prescribe, it is true.  But that is because your Father knows the right way, and the right time, and you don’t.  He knows the ways and the times that work together for your good, and for your salvation.  And you will see, in the end, if not already in this life, that His way and time is always best.  He always does all things well.  You can always trust Him on this. 

            And then the petitions.  Now, buckle up, because here is a lightening fast catechism instruction on the whole Lord’s Prayer.  This morning, we’ll just think through Luke’s version.  We ask that His Name be hallowed, that is, that we call upon it rightly in prayer and praise, teach God’s Word in its truth and purity, and lead holy lives according to His Word.  So here we are praying for our whole Christian life, and for the life of the Church.  Then, “Your kingdom come” (v. 2).  That is, that God would give us His Holy Spirit (ah, there’s a promise about that in our text, isn’t there?!), that we be kept in our Lord’s Word and faith, that many more be brought into the Church, and that Jesus come back soon.  Give us each day our daily bread” (v. 3).  Here we consider the poor breadbasket, as Luther says.  We ask that God would provide for all the needs of this body and life, “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”[1]  And “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (v. 4).  The idea here is not that God should follow our example and forgive as we so excellently model to Him.  Nor is it that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.  The point is, we need God’s forgiveness, because we are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them.  We ask that He give them all to us by grace, and that is just what He does!  And if that is the case, that we have been forgiven all this great, unimaginable, unfathomable debt by God, by grace, for Jesus’ sake, on account of His death on the cross for our sins, we certainly will turn and forgive the debt of sin our neighbor owes us.  That is the point of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, right?  So it is a declaration, right here in the prayer, that we hereby, at this moment, by virtue of this petition, forgive the sins of any and all who have sinned against us.  And it is no accident that we pray it in Church at the very point in the liturgy where we are about to go to the Lord’s Supper together.  Because the point is, now we can enjoy a true Holy Communion.  There is nothing dividing us anymore, because all is forgiven.  No sin separates us, from God, or from one another.  It is all atoned for by Jesus, and forgiven in Jesus.  And finally, "lead us not into temptation" (v. 4).  Father, don’t let the devil, the world, or our own sinful nature deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, or other great shame and vice.  Don’t let us fall from the faith.  Keep us steadfast until we die.  Bring us to heaven, and raise us from the dead.  Keep us here in Your House, and in Your Family, dear Father, in spite of every attack from our three main enemies.

            And so you see how the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (especially when we add the other two from Matthew, “Thy will be done” and “Deliver us from evil”), cover every need we could possibly have in this life, and on into eternity.  This is why this is the prayer for all occasions.  When you don’t know what to pray, pray this.  These are our Lord’s own Words.  They are the Word’s our Father loves to hear.  And because they are the Words of our Lord, this prayer has the added benefit that it is a Means of Grace.  It delivers the goods.  Prayer in itself is not a Means of Grace, but the Lord’s Prayer is, because these are Jesus’ Words, the very Word of God.  And the Word of God does what it says.    

            Now, sometimes we are afraid to pray.  Maybe it is because we convince ourselves that the Lord really doesn’t want to hear from us.  In that case, we should read the gracious promise and invitation in our Holy Gospel once again, and we should take our cue from the impudent friend in Jesus’ example.  “Impudent” means “offensively bold,” like the man who is not afraid to pound on his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night and ask for bread to feed his unexpected guest.  Or, like the child who is not afraid to ask her father for anything, at any time, boldly and confidently, sometimes rather impudently.  Especially when there is a crisis or a need.  So we may be impudent with our heavenly Father. 

            See, earthly fathers are imperfect, and they always fall far short of the ideal, but even in our confused culture, we still understand the image.  If even earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, and to not give wicked and harmful gifts, how much more will your heavenly Father give…  Well, we expect Jesus to say “good gifts” to us, don’t we?  But instead, He says, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13).  As it happens, just as the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer for all occasions, so the Holy Spirit is the answer for all occasions.  In every crisis, and in every cross, what we need is the Spirit.  The Spirit is the answer to all the petitions.  Because the Spirit hallows God’s Name among us in the preaching of His Word, so that we hear it and believe it, call upon God on the basis of that Word, and lead godly lives according to it.  The Spirit brings the Kingdom of God by means of that Word.  The Spirit leads us to recognize God’s love and care for us, as He provides each day for all that we need for this body and life.  The Spirit daily and richly forgives all our sins and the sins of all believers, and gives us to forgive others.  And the Spirit keeps us through all temptation and evil.  When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you are praying for the Spirit.  And to that prayer, God’s answer is always, “Yes!”

            When you ask these things, God will always give them to you.  When you seek these things, you will always find them.  When you knock at this door, the very Kingdom will be opened to you.  You know that it is true.  Because of Christ.  If God did that for you, gave His own Son into the death of the cross for you, you know He will hear and answer you when you cry to Him.  So, pray.  You are not too busy.  You need God’s help.  And here He gives it.  Do not be afraid.  Trust the promises.  Ask.  Your Father will work everything together for your good.  Just say the Words.  Repeat after Jesus.  Here your Lord teaches you to pray.  He opens your lips, and your mouth declares His praise (Ps. 51:15).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11C)

July 17, 2022

Text: Luke 10:38-42

            There are the many things, and there is the one thing.  Martha is anxious and troubled about the many things.  But the one thing is necessary.  “One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure Teach me highly to regard” (LSB 536:1).  That one thing is the Word of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

            This is not to say that the many things are unimportant, or bad.  They can be bad, of course.  But they can also be good.  The many things can be anything.  There is no end to the many things.  In the case of Martha, the many things with which she is concerned are, in fact, very good.  After all, she is the hostess, and she is concerned with showing hospitality.  She has received Jesus into her home, and that is already a more profound statement than simply that she let Him through the front door.  She has received Him, welcomed Him, and that is to say, she has faith.  And now she wants to serve Him.  She is preparing a meal.  She is seeing to His every comfort.  Someone has to do these things, and Martha does them precisely because she loves her Lord and believes in Him.  Jesus is not chiding Martha for her serving.  Serving is not sinful.  Serving is good.  And it is a mark of faith.  It is faith’s fruit. 

            But He is calling her away from three things in particular: 1. Distraction.  Martha is distracted by her much serving.  She loses focus on the one thing needful.  2. Anxiety.  Because Martha has made her service the most important thing, in fact, the one thing, as far as she is concerned, cramming the many things into one, and because she believes her serving depends entirely upon her, she is anxious and troubled.  And 3. Resentment.  Here Martha is, anxious, and troubling herself about these many things, and where is her sister?  Sitting on her keister in the living room!  “Lord, don’t You care that I’m doing all the work while Mary relaxes with you men?  Don’t you want to enjoy this delicious meal I’ve prepared?  Well, it’ll get to the table faster if Mary would get up off her duff!  Tell her to help me!”

            Martha, Martha…” (Luke 10:41; ESV).  Jesus is calling her away from all of that.  Not from serving.  That is not the issue.  But from distraction, from anxiety and trouble, and from resentment.  And He is calling you away from all of that, too.  I mean, we can really sympathize with Martha, can’t we?  There is so much to be done, and so little time to do it.  So many things.  Bad things, of course.  We should repent of those things, and no longer do them.  Sins.  Those bad things are sins.  Repent.  But also, so many good things.  Family life.  Running a household.  Jobs.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.  And loving Jesus, we want to do our jobs well, because loving Jesus means loving our neighbor, and serving our neighbor, as though serving Jesus Himself.  We know that.  We want to be good at what we do.  We work all day.  We come home at night, exhausted.  But there is more to do.  The family needs us.  Meals to prepare.  Cleaning.  Laundry.  Helping the kids with homework, or from another perspective, helping parents understand why their helping isn’t all that helpful.  Projects piling up.  The to-do list is ever-growing.  Never mind time for play.  Never mind time for joy, for avocation.  To be honest, if you want to have fun, you have to work at that, too.  So many things.  They cause so much anxiety.  So much trouble. 

            And then there is Church, and we can even begin to resent the Church.  You know, if Sunday morning was free, we could get so much more done.  And what if we just skipped devotions tonight?  We’re all tired, and we could use the extra few minutes to watch Netflix or check Facebook.  But I guess Church and God’s Word are also on the old check-list.  Another thing to do.  Better do them.  And, speaking of Church, I have so many responsibilities there.  Why did I join that committee, anyway?  Why did I volunteer to help with all these activities?  And why can’t someone else help out for once?!  Look at them there, sitting on their keisters!  Don’t they care?  Doesn’t the Lord care that all of this depends on me?  “Lord… or, at least, Pastor… tell them to help me!”

            Jesus is calling you away from all of that.  Oh, not the serving.  The distraction.  The anxiety and trouble.  And the resentment.  He is calling you away from all of that, and to something else.  The one thing.  The only thing needful.  Sabbath.  Rest at His feet.  Ears open to His Word.  Comforted by Him.  Cared for by Him.  Feasting at the Table He has set.  The many things can wait.  Here is the one thing, the good portion, and it shall not be taken away from you. 

            Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, those beautiful feet that would be pierced for her redemption, and yours, and for the redemption of the whole world, and she hangs on every Word that proceeds from the incarnate mouth of God.  This is a Third Commandment thing, isn’t it?  Mary is remembering the Sabbath, which is not just a day, but a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And it is concerned with His Word… the Word of His salvation.  “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”[1]

            The Third Commandment is a Commandment, or in other words, Law.  You should go to Church.  You should read the Bible.  But behind the Third Commandment is a gift, and it is actually justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works, delivered to us by God in His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  In other words, the Gospel.  The Commandment keeps the one thing the one thing, and doesn’t allow the many things to creep in and take the one thing’s place.  See, we are not justified by our doing, by our much serving, by our family life, or job, or even responsibilities at Church.  We are justified by Christ’s speaking our sins forgiven, and by His speaking His righteousness our own, His life, death, and resurrection as our new reality.  He speaks us from death to life, from distraction, anxiety, and resentment, to eager hearers of His gracious Words, who believe those words, rest in those words, and so live in them.  The Sabbath is all about resting in Jesus, resting from the endless torment of self-justification, or measuring up, or getting it all just right… resting in the atonement and justification that are given as a free gift, by grace, in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.  When Mary is sitting at our Lord’s feet, she is resting in that.  The one thing needful.  The good portion that shall not be taken away from her. 

            And when that one thing is in its proper place, all the many things fall into their proper places.  There is still serving to do.  Of course there is.  Our families, our employers and patrons, our communities, and our fellow saints at Church, need our service.  And I’ll bet, by the way, when the sermon was over, Mary got up and got to work, helping Martha to serve the meal.  Because, receiving from Jesus, she was now enabled to give.  And faith is always active in love.  We are saved by faith alone, it is true.  But faith is never alone.  It always overflows in love, which is, concretely, the doing of good works.  And this doesn’t come from you.  It is the love of Christ Himself flowing through you, doing the things your neighbor needs you to do.  So you see, it doesn’t depend on you.  It depends on Christ, who is in you, even as you are in Him.  The one thing is what gives meaning and worth to the many things.  And it is the one thing from which the doing of the many things is now sanctified, so that these many things flow forth and accomplish what the Lord desires. 

            You are here this morning, not because Church is one more thing of the many things to check off of your to-do list, one more responsibility to fulfill.  If you think of it that way, it will only make you anxious and troubled, and give birth to resentment.  The devil wants to distract you with that type of thinking.  But Jesus calls you away from that thinking.  You are not here out of a moralistic duty.  You are here to sit at Jesus’ feet and receive all the gifts that flow forth out of Him.  You are here for the forgiveness of sins.  You are here for His life and Spirit to envelop you and take possession of you.  You are here to rest!  And that is why then, after sitting at the feet of Jesus, like Mary, you can arise and serve with Martha.  For then it is God working in you to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).  Receiving the one thing, the many things come from the right place, and you see now that it is all His work.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           



[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10C)

July 10, 2022

Text: Luke 10:25-37

            I’m sure you would have known better than the priest or the Levite.  You would have known to stop.  After all, we have the benefit of this text.  We have Good Samaritan laws on the books.  We refer to people who come to our rescue on the roadside or in times of trouble as “Good Samarians.”  And we even have the Good Sam Camping Club, complete with the coveted RV sticker of good ol’ smiling Sam with his shiny halo.  So I’m sure you would have helped the poor man lying on the side of the road, stripped and beaten and half-dead.  Or at least you would have whipped out your cell phone to call someone else to help.  We’re good people that way.  Unlike the lawyer, we don’t have to ask who is our neighbor.  We know our neighbor is everyone, and especially anyone who needs our help.  True enough.  We have it right at least up to that point.

            But the lawyer isn’t as stupid as you think he is.  You know, his first question is quite profound, and very few people ask it today.  What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25; ESV).  Now, we Lutherans could quibble, and I do and have quite often quibbled…  You don’t do anything to inherit.  The inheritance is a gift.  Eternal life is given by grace, through faith, apart from works.  But then, that isn’t self-evident, is it?  And he’s asking the right Guy about the right subject.  If anyone knows, Jesus knows.  How do I get eternal life?  What do I do?  The lawyer does expect a Law answer to his Law question, and he has a sneaky suspicion he knows the answer.  And it turns out he does.  What does the Law say, Mr. Lawyer?  How do you read it?  He practically quotes Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27).  That’s it.  The two greatest commandments.  The two tables of the Law.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  The summary of the whole Law and Prophets.  Jesus affirms it.  Yes.  You’re right.  Do this, and you will live (v. 28).  It’s exactly what our Lord says in our Old Testament reading: “You shall therefore keep my statues and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD” (Lev. 18:5).  You know, if you could keep the Law perfectly, in every point, flawlessly, you could be saved by the Law.  You can’t, of course, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.  And truth be told, it doesn’t keep you from trying.  Because you’re not so different from the lawyer, after all.

            For the lawyer desired to justify himself.  He desired to be seen as one who “gets it.”  He wanted to be righteous in the eyes of Jesus and in the eyes of those listening in on the discussion.  Kind of like we desire to be seen as one who “gets it,” to be right, to be respected, honored, admired.  This is why we tell our stories so that we come off looking great and everyone else, well… not as great.  This is why our Facebook and Instagram pages make us look so interesting.  Not that I want you airing your dirty laundry on social media, but let’s be honest, our online profiles present something less than the complete picture.  And we covet “likes” and “loves” and good comments on our posts, because we long for approval.  We are forever seeking to justify ourselves, to be righteous.  We justify our actions.  Even and especially our sins.  “Yes, it was wrong of me to do that, but I had my reasons.  And at least I know what to do if I see someone stranded or hurt on the side of the road.  I’ll call someone whose job it is to help them!  And if I stop to help myself, then I’m really a hero.  And that really makes me feel good.  About me.”  Repent.

            The lawyer desires to justify himself, and so do you.  So Jesus must pull the rug out from under us all.  And that is why He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The parable tells us how it ought to be, and isn’t.  It tells us how we ought to be, and how we ought to act toward our neighbor.  But more importantly, it tells us how we aren’t and don’t.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is not a moralistic story, as it is so often portrayed in Sunday School materials and popular Christian piety.  We don’t do the kids any favors when we help them justify themselves: “Look kids, just help out people in need and you’re righteous!  You’ve got this Christianity thing down.”  No, you don’t.  This is the Law, and it kills.  It damns.  You don’t love the way the Samaritan does.  That’s just the point.  The priest and the Levite don’t love the naked, bleeding man.  They pass by on the other side.  They don’t want his uncleanness to rub off on them.  The lawyer doesn’t love the man either.  Not even hypothetically.  He would have passed by on the other side, too.  The lawyer doesn’t love his unclean neighbor when that neighbor, in his uncleanness, needs that love the most.  And he hates his Samaritan neighbor.  But the irony of the whole thing is, it is the unclean Samaritan, the hated Samaritan, who loves his Jewish neighbor enough to climb down into the ditch and get dirty and bloody to save him.  He’s the most unexpected hero in the story.  And he’s the only hero. 

            It certainly knocks the lawyer off his high horse.  He wouldn’t touch a bloody, half-dead man.  Not in a million years.  Maybe you wouldn’t, either.  Then again, maybe you would.  But don’t think that gets you off the hook.  Who are the neighbors you do not love?  Those who voted for Biden?  Those who didn’t vote for Biden?  The poor?  The unborn?  The tax-collectors and prostitutes?  The widow?  The Orphan?  The stranger among you?  Who do you refuse to help?  Who do you refuse to forgive?  Why are you so afraid to get your hands dirty?  Why don’t you put your time and effort and money where your Christ-confessing mouth is?  Repent.  There is no self-justification here. 

            There is only justification in Jesus Christ. 

            Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He’s the only One who fits the description.  You are not the hero of this story any more than the lawyer is.  You know who you are?  You are the naked, beaten, bloody corpse lying in the ditch.  That’s who you are.  And guess what you can do to help yourself… Nothing.  Not a thing.  You can lay there and die.  That’s what you can do.  You’ve been attacked.  You’ve been assaulted.  You’ve been robbed and murdered.  The devil.  The world.  False teachers.  Your own sinful nature.  They’ve robbed you of your life and they’ve shown no mercy. 

            But Jesus…  Jesus finds you, a helpless, hopeless, disgusting mess of blood and gore, and He does not pass you by.  He gets down into the ditch with you.  He’s not afraid of your shameful nakedness.  He’s not afraid to get bloody and unclean.  He covers you with Himself.  He breathes into you the breath of life, His Word, His Spirit.  He pours on the salve of His Gospel, His death, His resurrection, and gives you to drink of the wine that is His blood.  He binds your wounds.  And He carries you… “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4)… He carries you Himself to the Inn of His holy Church where He cares for you.  He washes away your uncleanness.  He forgives your sins.  And He charges the Innkeeper, your pastor, to take care of you in His place, and continue to apply the medicine, the Gospel, the Absolution, the Supper, until He returns for you, as He will on the Last Day.

            This is the Jesus who strapped you… not just to His own animal, but to His own back… carried your cross, your sin, you, all the way up Calvary hill.  He took your place.  He became the naked, beaten, bleeding man for you.  He died your death, so that you could live.  And having paid for your sins in full, He is risen and lives and reigns, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  And He loves you.  Real love.  Extraordinary love.  Love poured out of every vein.  Love in the font.  Love in the chalice.  Love that forgives and heals, that saves.

            Indeed, His is the love that loves God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind.  His is the love that loves His neighbor, you, as Himself, even to the death of Him.  The Law is fulfilled in Jesus.  He does it, all that you cannot do.  And He gives it all to you, to be counted as your own, His righteousness, as a gift.  That is justification.  Jesus does all this, and you live.  Try as you might, you can never justify yourself.  But you don’t need to.  Jesus is your justification whole and complete.  Jesus is all the justification you need.  What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  Nothing.  Jesus has done it all.  “The law says, ‘do this’, and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this’, and everything is already done.”[1]  By Jesus.  For you. 

            But you do have neighbors who need to be loved, so get busy.  You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), He tells the lawyer, and He says the same to you.  Not to be justified.  No, we’re past all that.  Do it because you are justified.  By God, in Christ.  Jesus doesn’t heal you to send you back into the brokenness of living for yourself.  He heals you to be His hands in the world by giving yourself for your neighbor.  Jesus pours His love into you and fills you so that His love flows through you to your neighbor.  And His love will never dry up.  It will never fail you.  There is always more love, more healing, more forgiveness and life right here in the Inn, the Church, where Jesus dispenses the medicine of His Gospel.  You can’t out-give God.  You can’t out-Good-Samaritan Jesus.

            That is the point of the parable.  Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Jesus loves perfectly and fulfills the Law for you.  Jesus rescues you from sin and death.  Jesus gives you His righteousness as a gift.  Jesus alone is your justification.  It’s all about Jesus.  Jesus, for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                   


[1] Martin Luther, The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 26, .