Sunday, October 23, 2016

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 25)

October 23, 2016
Text: Luke 18:9-17

            The Pharisee is full of himself. We recognize right away that this is the problem. He’s arrogant and self-righteous. He trusts in himself and treats others with contempt. He thanks God that he is not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even his fellow-worshiper, this tax collector. Like Cain, the Pharisee brings an offering to the Lord. He brings himself and his good works, his fasting and tithes, his meticulous keeping of the Law, his better-than-the-rest-ness. And the Lord has no regard for such an offering. For here is the problem: The Pharisee comes full of himself. He is already full. And so there is no more room to be filled by the Lord, filled with the Lord Himself. Because the Pharisee comes full, there is no room for divine mercy, no room for Christ.
            The tax collector, on the other hand, comes empty. He brings only his sin and emptiness before God. He beats his breast and prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13; ESV). The tax collector is empty in himself. He trusts not himself, but God, who alone is merciful. The tax collector knows that he is just like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, the worst of sinners. Like Abel, the tax collector brings an offering to the Lord. He brings himself and his emptiness, his greed and covetousness, his lust and contempt, and he lays them at the Lord’s feet. And the Lord has regard for his offering. Because the tax collector presents himself as an empty vessel to be filled by the mercy of the Lord, with the Lord Himself. The tax collector comes trusting the Word of the Lord, the promise of mercy, knowing that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Indeed, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is. 42:3; Matt. 12:20).
            Our Lord declares, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). The verdict doesn’t surprise us, but only because we know the story so well. It surprised the Pharisees. You see, when they heard Jesus speak this parable for the first time, they were rooting for the Pharisee. They saw nothing wrong with the Pharisee’s behavior. They had prayed this prayer themselves, many times, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (v. 11). They had bragged to God of their good works and expected God to reward them for these. And the tax collectors and sinners? They agreed with the Pharisees! They admired the Pharisees! They wished they could be like the Pharisees! We lose some of the shock value of the surprise ending of this parable because we are so familiar with the story. It is shocking when Jesus declares the tax collector justified, righteous, and the Pharisee unjustified, unrighteous.
            But consider this: Two people come to church on Sunday morning. One of them never misses a Sunday. He always gives generously to the offering. He serves on boards and tithes his time, talent, and treasure. He is noted for his great piety, his fervent prayers, his spiritual maturity. But if we could see into his heart, hear his inner-thoughts, we would be horrified. For in himself, he thanks God that he is not like the others in the congregation, those who don’t come faithfully, those who don’t give generously, those who never volunteer their time and leave him with all the work. But that’s okay. He knows deep down that God will reward him for his holy life and good works. He knows he will be saved, because, well, just look at his life! Everyone admires him. Everyone wishes they could be like him. He’s a great guy, a good Christian, and he knows it! And God should know it! God should admire him! Sure, he has a few bad habits—nobody’s perfect!—but he does his best, and overall, he’s basically a good person.
            On the other hand, there is this other person who sneaks into church five minutes late so she won’t be seen. She hasn’t been here for awhile. She sits in the back. She has made many mistakes in her life. She has sinned, and everyone knows it. For she is pregnant, and she is not married. She’s almost ashamed to be here. She feels the piercing judgmental stares. She knows the inaudible whispers of those around her are about her. And she knows she deserves it. She has sinned. She is a sinner. But she comes, because she is empty. And she knows only Jesus can fill her. She needs help. She needs a Savior. And she has come to the right place. She has no money to put into the offering plate. She can only offer up her sin and her shame. She comes praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And the Lord has regard for her offering. He takes her offering into Himself and nails it in His body upon the cross. And He fills her with Himself. He has mercy. He answers her prayer, “Yes, dear child, though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool (Is. 1:18). I have taken your scarlet letter away and marked you with another symbol, the blood-red sign of the holy cross. You are engraved on the palms of my pierced hands (Is. 49:16). I have redeemed you and placed my Name upon you. You are mine! (Is. 43:1).”
            I tell you, this unwed mother came to the Lord’s Supper worthily, and the man who trusted his own righteousness communed to his judgment. For the unwed mother came in repentance, broken by sin, clinging to the forgiving Word of Christ. The self-righteous man came because this was another good work he could do for Jesus. The unwed mother came empty, and was filled with the mercy and righteousness of Christ. The self-righteous man came full of himself, and there was no room for Christ’s mercy. We always identify ourselves with the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, because we don’t want to be arrogant like the Pharisee. But when the mirror of the perfect and holy Law of God is held before us, we see how full of ourselves we are. Our eyes have stared at the sinner in condemnation. Our mouths have whispered gossip about our neighbor. We have not done our duty to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if the others in the congregation could see the secrets of our black hearts… God help us! In the mirror of God’s Law we see the poverty of our fullness. Being full of ourselves, we are really empty. Repent, beloved. For you are right to see yourself as the tax collector. Only you must realize this and know how empty you are. You must not be a Pharisee piously pretending to be a tax collector. You are the tax collector. You are the extortioner, the unjust, the adulterer. You are the unwed mother. The Law must have its way with you. It must empty you of yourself. It must break you, condemn you, kill you, if you are to be filled with Christ and raised to new life. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). The self-righteous are smashed to pieces by the hammer of the Law (Jer. 23:29). But the repentant sinners are raised to new life by the Lord of life, and exalted to be called children of God.
            The Lord Jesus desires to fill you with Himself, with His mercy, with His forgiveness. If you are already full of yourself, He will not force Himself upon you. But when you come to Him empty, when you confess your emptiness, confess your sins, such confession itself being an act of His Spirit in you, He fills you. He forgives you. He justifies you, declares you righteous on the basis of His own righteousness, death on the cross, and resurrection. We must be empty to be filled. The Lord empties us by His Word of Law. And He fills us with Himself in His Word of Gospel.
            An infant is the perfect picture of how the Lord works. For infants always come empty. They have nothing to offer. They cannot give anything, but always need to be given to. They cannot fill themselves. They must be filled by someone else. And what is true of them physically is also true of them spiritually. They cannot fill themselves with Jesus and His mercy. They cannot decide to believe. This is why decision theologians oppose infant Baptism. The infant must be brought to Baptism by someone else. There is no cooperation of the infant’s will in the act. The infant is saved by grace alone! But this is how God works, not only on infants, but on all of us. Without any merit, worthiness, or decision on our part, He washes away our sins and places His Name upon us. He fills us, who are empty, with Himself. It is all by grace! This is why Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to little children (Luke 18:16). We must all be little children before God, empty, receiving, helpless, but helped by Him in His mercy.

            And it is with this posture that we come to the Lord’s altar this morning to receive the body and blood of Christ. We come as tax collectors, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. We come as sinners. For in the words of the Catechism, “he is truly worthy and well prepared [for the Supper] who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.’” Come, O sinner, and be forgiven. Come, you who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be satisfied with the body and blood of Jesus. Come, you who are empty, and be filled by Your Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 24)

October 16, 2016
Text: Luke 18:1-8

            Do you ever wonder if your prayers really matter?  Do they change things?  If God knows what we need even better than we do, and if He will accomplish His will whether or not we pray, why pray?  And does God even hear?  For often I pray and see no results for all my trouble.  And who am I that Almighty God should care about my piddly concerns or hear my petitions?  And anyway, I don’t know what to pray.  So often the words fail me.  And so often I just don’t have the heart, the desire to pray.  There is so much evil in the world, and prayer seems so futile.  God knows we have trouble when it comes to prayer.  And so our Lord teaches us this morning that we ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).
            The questions we ask about prayer are not at all uncommon.  Why should we pray?  Because God commands to pray.  That’s the Law.  Do it.  Because God says so.  Whether you feel like it or not.  But so also, God invites us to pray.  That’s the Gospel.  God wants to hear you.  Because He is your Father.  He wants to hear your needs and the desires of your heart, your joys and your sorrows, your confession of sin and plea for forgiveness, your confession of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and your thanks and praise for all that He has done for you.  Doesn’t God already know what you need?  Of course He does.  Then why pray?  You parents know what your children need, too.  Does that mean you wish they would never talk to you?  Well… maybe there are moments.  But not with God.  Your Father always wants to hear you.  He loves you.  Just look at the crucifix.  Just ponder what the Father sent His Son to do for you, to make you His own.  If He did that, if He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up to death for you and for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give you all things (Rom. 8:32)?  And listen to these beautiful passages of Scripture: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15; ESV).  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:7-11).
            So you pray because God wants to hear you.  He commands and invites you.  Yes, even you.  Even your piddly concerns and petitions.  For who are  you that God should care for you?  You are one for whom Christ died.  God’s only-begotten Son, crucified, for you.  And you are baptized into Christ.  You live in Christ.  The risen Jesus has raised you to new life.  And you are clothed with His righteousness.  So when you pray, you pray with and in Jesus.  When you pray, the Father hears Jesus.  What is the Father going to say to Jesus?  Do you really think He will deny Jesus’ prayer?  Will He then deny your prayer prayed in Jesus?  And the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, carries your prayers before the throne of the Father, and makes them perfect before God.  He prays with and in you.  Your prayers are weak and blemished and even downright sinful when you utter them.  But they are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  They are cleansed.  They are sanctified.  Now, it is true, sometimes you ask for downright silly things, or even inappropriate things, things that can hurt you or others, things that would not be beneficial for your salvation.  Here is the great thing.  Just as your Father will not give you a stone when you ask for bread, or a serpent when you ask for fish, neither will He give you a stone or a serpent when you ask for one.  He will always give you something better than you ask.  And you won’t always understand it.  Sometimes He will give you something you think is bad.  You will think He has not heard you.  You will think He is like the unrighteous judge in our text, who would not give in to the widow, and when he finally gave her justice, it was only out of self-interest, so that she’d leave him alone.  But that’s not the point of the parable.  The point is that if even the unrighteous judge finally responded to the widow and gave her justice, how much more will your righteous Father hear your prayers and do what is good for you?
            The fact is, you know that children often ask for silly and even harmful things.  Good parents don’t give children everything they ask for.  In fact, good parents often give children what they do not want, like discipline and broccoli.  But good parents always hear their children, and always give their children what is good.  So it is, even more so, with our Father in heaven.  And being a child of the heavenly Father, you can ask Him anything.  He delights in hearing your voice.  And you can ask in confidence that He will say no if you’re asking for something bad.  But He won’t just say no.  He will give you something better.  You can trust Him on this.  He knows what you need even better than you do. 
            All that being said, prayer is hard.  There are times when prayer comes easily, but very often it is a struggle.  Jacob in our Old Testament lesson (Gen. 32:22-30) is the picture of the Christian at prayer.  There he is on his journey to the Promised Land, great suffering and tribulation lay behind him, great trial and peril lay before him.  And he wrestles with God all night long.  Literally, wrestles with God… God in the form of a man.  Now, think about a few things here.  Jacob doesn’t come to God.  God comes to Jacob.  And He wrestles Jacob, but if God were in it to win the match, He could simply have consumed Jacob with His might and glory.  Instead, God comes as a man.  And He gives Himself to be overpowered by Jacob.  He touches Jacob’s hip.  He gives Jacob a wound.  But still, He gives Himself to be overpowered by Jacob.  And what is Jacob ultimately wrestling for?  A blessing.  “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (v. 26).  And God blesses Jacob by giving him a name.  He changes the name from “Jacob,” which means “Cheater,” to “Israel,” which means “Strives with God.”  He changes his name from “Sinner” to “One Who Clings to God through the Struggle.”  Now, what does this teach us about prayer?  It’s a struggle.  It’s a wrestling match with God.  It happens in the context of our journey to the Promised Land of eternal life in heaven and the resurrection.  It happens in the context of suffering and tribulation, trial and downright peril.  And God comes to us.  He comes, but not to obliterate us in our sin and weakness.  He comes as a man.  He comes as Jesus.  That’s who wrestled with Jacob.  That’s who wrestles with us.  He comes as a man to be overpowered.  That is what happened on the cross.  God gives Himself to be conquered there.  For you.  To impart the blessing.  Life.  Salvation.  A new name.  He gives it in Baptism.  God’s Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Your name is “Christian,” one who clings to God by faith through the struggle.  One who will not let Him go until He gives a blessing.  Jesus “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  It is a struggle, this faith, this prayer.  And sometimes God touches your hip, or some other place in your body or your soul, and it hurts.  Jacob’s hip hurt.  He never walked the same after that.  Why does He do it?  So you cling that much tighter to Him in the struggle.  So you recognize that apart from His blessing, you are utterly helpless.  But He always gives the blessing, because He has been overpowered in the flesh of Jesus Christ. 
            So that’s you at prayer.  It’s hard.  But it’s good.  There are some gifts God has given to help you pray.  Jesus teaches you to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  When you can’t pray anything else, pray that.  The prayer our Lord teaches us encompasses every need in the world, and God loves to hear it.  He’s also given you the Psalms.  When you don’t know what to pray, pray the Psalms, which are the prayers of Jesus and His Church.  And if nothing else, pray the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy.”  That is the perfect prayer for any time and situation.  You hear or see something grievous?  “Lord, have mercy.”  An ambulance is racing by your place of work?  “Lord, have mercy.”  You’re having a conflict with a friend or a family member, and you don’t know how to resolve it?  “Lord, have mercy.”  In any and every situation, our primary need is the Lord’s mercy.  So just ask for it.  He knows what to do.  And pray the wonderful written prayers of the Church.  Take home your bulletin and pray the collect every day.  These prayers are the ancient petitions of the Church.  They are rich.  They are concise.  And they are our heritage.  Pray the hymns in the hymnal.  Pray parts of the liturgy.  That’s what’s great about the liturgy.  We know it by heart and it teaches us the language of prayer, and it’s all right out of Holy Scripture.  Of course, you can just make up prayers, too, but don’t get hung up on that when you find yourself at a loss for words.  Go to the gifts God has given you.  But by all means, pray.

            Because God promises: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).  The prayer of one justified by the saving work of Jesus Christ is heard and acted upon by our Father who is in heaven.  Your prayers matter.  They are precious to God.  They change things.  Because God uses you as His instrument, to be an intercessor for your neighbor, to be Christ to your neighbor, to plead before God on his behalf.  Because your Father loves to hear you, and He promises to answer your prayers.  Always pray and do not lose heart.  Cling to Jesus.  He will bless.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 23)

October 9, 2016
Text: Luke 17:11-19

            “Make sure to say thank you.”  Your mother taught you this very important lesson early on in life.  She trained you well.  “And what do you say?” she would cajole when you forgot.  Giving thanks is very important because it both acknowledges that a good has been done to us by someone else, and it humbles us, because it reminds us that we are not the source of our own good.  We are not entitled and we are not self-sufficient.  We are created to live in relationship.  God gives us to one another, that He may do good to our neighbor through us, and good to us through our neighbor.  We should thank our neighbor.  We should thank God.  “Make sure to say thank you.”  Good advice from Mom.  The Church has appointed our Holy Gospel for the National Day of Thanksgiving, so we’ll hear it again in a few short weeks.  “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” our Lord asks (Luke 17:18; ESV).  We should give thanks and praise to God.  I suppose that’s the moral of the story.  The moral, yes, but is it the point?  As with everything our Lord says in the Scriptures, the point is never simply moral, and there is more going on here than first meets the eye.
            The point isn’t that you mind your manners.  God gave you your mother to teach that.  The point is faith!  The point is faith that trusts in God for salvation and every good, and recognizes in the person of Jesus Christ God in the flesh, the Savior.  It’s not that the other nine were unthankful.  I’m sure they were very thankful to be free from the affliction of leprosy.  They were probably jumping for joy, laughing and singing and praising God all the way as they went to the Temple to show themselves to the priests, as the Law of Moses commanded them.  It’s not that only one out of ten was thankful, or only one out of ten remembered to mind his manners.  It is that only one out of ten recognizes Jesus as the source of His healing.  It is only one who recognizes Jesus as the true Priest to whom he ought to show himself, the true Priest who can make an offering for his cleansing, the true Priest who can make him clean, not just on the outside, but in his heart and in his soul.  It is only one out of ten who recognizes Jesus as the one true God, to whom he should give all thanks and praise.  In other words, only one out of ten has faith in Jesus as the One who cleanses, heals, and gives life.  The other nine seek those gifts in the Law.  Those nine are cleansed on the outside.  The Samaritan is cleansed through and through.  He has faith in Jesus.
            Faith alone!  Thus we preach in the Lutheran Church.  Or as we express it more fully, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus.  The great solas of the Reformation.  They come to us right out of the Bible.  Sola Scripture, Scripture alone.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” writes St. Paul in Holy Scripture.  “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  In other words, faith in Christ, which is God’s free gift to you, saves you.  And, in fact, that is precisely what our text says.  The last verse of our Holy Gospel this morning says, “your faith has made you well” (v. 19).  I guess that’s okay, but the Greek says it so much better: “your faith has saved you.”  And now we really get the point of this text.  It’s not actually about what we do for Jesus, giving Him thanks, as if He needs that sort of affirmation for His self-esteem, so He feels all warm and fuzzy inside.  It’s about faith in Jesus, faith that saves, faith that is evident in thanksgiving to God in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  We learn something profound about thanksgiving from this.  True thanksgiving is not the fulfilling of a moral obligation, as your mother taught you, as important and wise as that may be.  True thanksgiving flows from faith in Jesus Christ as the One who saves, heals, cleanses, and gives you life.
            So, then, how do you give thanks?  You know, as important as it is to make a habit of saying the words, “thank you,” especially to God, there is an even more important way.  This Thanksgiving (and ready or not, here it comes!  It’s tomorrow for the Canadians)… This Thanksgiving, it just may be that you will gather around your grandmother’s table.  Grandma will cook her usual breathtaking feast.  There will be the turkey with all the trimmings, the potatoes, the gravy, the stuffing, the green bean casserole, and, of course, the pie.  You will eat until you’re as stuffed as that turkey.  You just can’t help yourself.  It’s so good.  And it’s not just the flavor, as wonderful as that is.  It’s that quality which cannot be replicated by the most talented of gourmet chefs.  It’s Grandma’s love.  It’s the love she cooks into every dish.  It’s the love that gathers the whole family around Grandma’s table.  It’s the love borne of Grandma that radiates from everyone around the table, for everyone around the table, expressed in laughter and joy.  Maybe you’ve never experienced a Thanksgiving like this.  But you sure do want to, right?  And how do you best thank Grandma for this amazing food, for her love, for this communion around her table?  You lift up your empty plate and ask her for more.    
            The Greek word for “thanksgiving” is, interestingly enough, eucharist.  The Samaritan in our text fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and eucharisted Him.  Eucharist is another name for the Lord’s Supper.  Think on that a minute.  How can you best thank Jesus for cleansing you from the leprosy of sin?  For the salvation, healing, cleansing, and life He won for you in His death on the cross, and the faith He gives you to receive it?  You come to the Divine Service, here at Church, and you gather around the Table of the Lord with the rest of the Christian family.  You come and you lift up your empty plate, and Jesus fills you with Himself, His Word in your ears, His true Body and Blood in your mouth.  And by this He heals you.  He forgives your sins.  He feeds you and nourishes you.  Now, you can eat bread and drink wine anywhere, and it may be very good bread and very good wine.  But it will not be this bread and this wine.  This bread and this wine are Jesus Himself.  By the power of His Word, this bread and this wine are His very Body and Blood.  This Meal is the very love of God.  It is God in the flesh, crucified and risen for you.  This love gathers you here and radiates through you and through everyone around the Table, for everyone around the Table.  Here there is laughter.  Here there is singing.  And there are tears to be sure.  But here there is also joy, living and abiding.  How do you say thanks for this great gift?  You keep coming back for more.  That is what faith does.  You come to Jesus, you walk right up to God in the flesh, and give Him thanks by receiving more and more and more. 
            And then what?  After healing the Samaritan, Jesus tells him to “rise.”  Jesus raises him up with a word.  Do you see what he did there?  This is resurrection language!  For the Samaritan was dead in the leprosy of his trespasses and sins, but now Jesus has raised him from the dead to new life, eternal and abundant.  He says to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way” (v. 19).  Raised up by Jesus, he’s to go his way and live in the world.  He is to return to his vocations.  Imagine the joy when he returns to his family, healthy and whole.  Maybe he is married.  His wife has not been allowed to get within a stone’s throw of him for years.  Now her husband is restored to her.  Maybe he has children.  Now they can embrace Dad again.  Now he can go back to his trade and provide for his family again.  Now he can help his friends again.  You see, when Jesus raises you to new life, He doesn’t take you out of the world.  He wants you to go your way, go into the world, be faithful in your vocations, love and serve your family, your friends, your neighbors, even your enemies.  Be a good citizen.  Do good work in your job.  That’s the love Christ, put into you in this Meal, radiating out to others.  That’s real life in Christ.  That is living faith that bears the fruit of love and thanksgiving.

            Can you imagine Thanksgiving without a meal?  I hope you never have to experience that.  But the most important Meal of Thanksgiving is the one that takes place around this altar this morning.  In a few moments, I will chant “Lift up your hearts,” and you will respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord” (LSB 194).  After the Supper we will sing Psalm 107: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever” (LSB 200).  We are eucharisting.  We are giving thanks by receiving what our Lord has to give us.  That’s faith.  Faith always returns to the Lord for more.  And that is how your faith saves you.  It receives Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Friday, October 7, 2016

Counsel for the Tempted, Depressed, Anxious, and Despairing

In his book, Seed-Grains of Prayer,Wilhelm Loehe offers this "Short and Good Counsel to be Frequently Considered by Those who are in Deep Straights and Grievous Temptation" (Kansas City: Emmanuel Press, 2010) pp. 87-89.

1) Stand not unto thyself, and govern thyself not according to thy feelings; for he that dependeth upon his own heart is a fool.

2) Dwell not upon thine own thoughts nor sink and entangle thyself into them, else thou castest thyself into the camp of the enemy that besieges thy soul.

3) Keep not thy sufferings thyself; but seek and confide fully and quickly in thy more experienced pastor.

4) Cleave unto the words which are spoken to thee in God's name.  Consider them in thy heart.  Repeat them again and again and direct the thoughts and emotions of thy heart to them.

5) Especially, let nothing make thee forget nor doubt these three passages:
a) The word of Isaiah, 49:14-16; concerning God's faithful remembrance of us:
"Zion said, the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.  Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."
b) The word according to John 10:28; concerning the security of the soul in the hands of Jesus:
"I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."
c) The word according to Matthew 10:28; concerning the security of the body in the hands of Jesus:
"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."

6) In moments of sore temptation, above all other times, neglect not the preaching of the Gospel, which is the power of God, rejoicing the soul.

7) Neglect not to pray, even if it seem unto thee as if thou wert attempting to draw a load that is too heavy.  James says, 5:13: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray."  Especially pray the 51st Psalm, vv. 12-14: "Uphold me with Thy free spirit;" and Psalm 142.

8) When thou feelest as if courage were at an end, begin to sing Psalms and spiritual hymns.  This is very offensive to Satan and exerts a wonderful power upon troubled souls.  Especially to be recommended are the Hymns of Praise.  The prayer of praise will oft' attain what no prayer of entreating sighs may gain.  At times it immediately draws one out of his distress.  If thou canst not thyself sing, let others sing for thee.

9) When thou prayest take heed lest thou in any wise desire to be released of thy trial without or against the will of God.  Say joyfully, or at least firmly, "If I shall drink this cup, dear Father, let Thy will be done."

10) Do not for one moment conceive that thou art the only one under such great trial.  In Peter's first Epistle, 4:12, thou hearest that such trials are common; and, in the same Epistle, 5:8, 9, that like sufferings come upon thy brethren which are in the world.  When a man begins to imagine that he alone is suffering, or that his sufferings are greater than those of others it is a sign of secret vanity.

11) Thou shalt thank God for His visitation upon thee.  Temptation teaches to give heed unto the Word, and blessed is the man that endureth. (James 1:2, 4, 12).  Many one, if he but knew how great good unto him is hidden under his trials, would gladly give up all his days of joy for them.

12) Meet thy temptations not idly.  Idleness breeds and multiplies many temptations which had otherwise never come, nor abode long if they came.  Small is the hope for recovery of an able man tempted, if, when his temptation comes, he leaves the work of his calling undone or but half done.

13) When thou art tempted, flee from solitude and seek the companionship of godly, joyful people.  Few people can, without injury to themselves, live constantly in great companies, and less are they who can live in constant solitude without harm.  God created men for each other.

14) Many trials have their origin in a diseased body.  If, therefore, an experienced pastor advises thee to seek the services of a physician, do not neglect that advice; but use the treatment prescribed with a prayer for God's benediction upon such use.

15) Consider these recommendations diligently.  Let them guide and comfort thee; and may God grant thee peace.  Amen.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 22)

October 2, 2016
Text: Luke 17:1-10

            “(B)ut the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4; ESV).  Thus says the LORD through the Prophet Habakkuk.  And this is the key to our Holy Gospel this morning.  Indeed, it is the key to Christianity.  The life of the Christian comes from the righteousness bestowed freely by God, the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself, doled out in His Word and in Baptism and in the Holy Supper, received by faith.  It is that faith… also, by the way, a gift of God given in the Word… It is that faith that is our life in Christ.  Faith is simply trust in Christ for life and salvation.  It is believing that His life, death, and resurrection are for you, that He is your Savior.  Now, you either have faith, or you don’t.  You either have life, or you don’t.  Which is to say, you either have Christ, or you don’t.  If you have faith, you have Christ and His life, and when you have Christ, you have Him and His life whole and complete.  He doesn’t come to you in pieces.  Faith in Christ, no matter how large or how small, saves you, because it doesn’t depend on you, but on Christ.  But it is also true that there are degrees of strength in the faith, and God gives this strength to whom He will, as he will, tailored specifically to each person according to the cross He gives that person to bear.  So some are stronger in the faith, and others are weaker.  You, yourself, are sometimes stronger, and sometimes weaker.  Sometimes you think you’re strong, when really you’re very weak.  On the other hand, sometimes you think you are weak, or even that your faith is nonexistent, when, in fact, you are very strong.  For strong faith recognizes the weakness of the fallen flesh and your utter helplessness in the face of sin, death, and Satan.  Thank God, our faith doesn’t depend on how strong we feel.  It depends on the objective gift of God.  And so, faced with a tall order from Jesus, utterly impossible for fallen man to fulfill, the Apostles pray to the Lord: “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). 
            What does Jesus say that leads the Apostles to pray this almost desperate petition?  Our Lord tells us that our life in Christ is fraught with peril.  Temptations to sin will come.  He doesn’t simply mean temptations to do bad things, or not do good things, though that is certainly a symptom of what He is talking about.  He means the temptation of apostasy, the temptation to deny the Lord and forsake the faith.  He means that it’s hard to be a believer in this world.  You know this, especially living in a college town.  You really believe in the six day creation described in some ancient book of myths?  Ridiculous!  You’re really against a woman’s right to choose?  You really believe marriage is between one man and one woman for life?  You intolerant bigot!  You really believe a virgin could conceive and give birth?  You really believe a man could be raised from the dead?  Or what it really comes down to: You really believe Jesus is the only way to be saved?  It’s tempting to give in on any one or all of those issues, isn’t it?  For the sake of peace?  For the sake of love?  Because it personally appeals to your fallen flesh?  It’s easier?  It’s nicer?  It’s more reasonable?  It’s politically correct?  Beloved in the Lord, repent.  Lord, increase our faith! 
            Temptations to sin in such a way that we deny the Word of the Lord and the Lord who gave that Word are sure to come.  And it is easier… for now.  It does lead to peace… for now.  People will like you better if you don’t insist on believing in Jesus and His Word.  But what do you have in the end if you don’t have Jesus?  Your friends can’t help you in hell, as we learned last week with the rich man and Lazarus.  So you need the Lord to sustain you in the faith, and make you strong to withstand the attacks of the evil one and the unbelieving world and your own fallen flesh.  Lord, increase our faith!  And woe to the one by whom such temptation comes.  Lord, don’t let us be the ones who lead one of these little ones to sin, one of these believers to forsake the faith, for then it would be better for us to have a millstone hung around our neck and be cast into the sea.  Grant us instead to be a voice of salvation, confessing You, confessing Your Word, saying the hard things to our neighbor because we love our neighbor, and love says hard things.  Love rebukes sin, as You command us in this morning’s Gospel.  Love forgives sin, as You also command us in this morning’s Gospel.  Love forgives even when the sin is against me, even when the sin is repeated, even when it is repeated seven times in a day.  Love takes it on the nose.  Love dies to self for the sake of the beloved.  Love is crucified that the unlovely might lovely be.  Lord, increase our faith.  Give us faith that we may do what You would have us do: Confess, rebuke, forgive, and die. 
            And give us faith that we see this is ultimately a description of who You are and what You do for us and for our salvation.  You speak the truth, even when it is a truth we do not want to hear.  You rebuke.  You proclaim Your holy Law, convicting us of our sins.  And You forgive us.  Even though we sin against You seventy-times-seven in a day, You forgive us.  You take it on the nose.  You take it all over Your sacred Body, Your thorn-encircled brow, Your pierced hands and feet, Your riven side.  You die on the cross.  That is Your love for us.  Love is crucified for the unlovely, that we might lovely be.  You die, so that we live.  Lord, increase our faith.
            And He does.  He must do it.  We cannot.  Faith is God’s gift to us.  It’s not something we decide.  It’s not something we earn.  It’s not our one good work we get to do to get to heaven.  Faith is the hands that receive God’s gifts.  What did you do to earn your hands?  Did you decide to have hands?  No, those were gifts from God.  He created them.  He gave them to you without any merit or worthiness in you.  So it is with faith.  Faith is given by God to receive God’s gifts.  When you ask the Lord to increase your faith, you’re asking Him to give you bigger hands to receive more of His gifts.  Why?  Because you need those gifts to bear the crosses God has given you.  It is a cross to confess Christ faithfully in this world.  It is a cross to deny your fleshly desires and rebuke those of others.  It is a cross to forgive your neighbor and love him and serve him.  And that’s simply your duty in Christ.  What do you expect God to do when you’ve finally forgiven that neighbor who said that mean thing to you or did that bad thing to you?  What do you expect Him to do when you feed a hungry person, clothe a naked person, and give money to charity?  Do you expect God to thank you and make a big deal over what a great hero of virtue you are?  No, that’s your job!  You’ve only done your duty as a Christian.  Faith recognizes that you’re an unworthy servant.  But faith clings to the worthiness you’ve been given in Christ, the worthiness of Christ Himself, His righteousness, His perfection.  And faith receives the life Christ poured out on the cross and took up again in the resurrection, the life that gives birth to works of love and forgiveness for your neighbor.  The righteous, the Christian, shall live by his faith. 

            So, Lord, increase our faith.  Make us strong.  Give us big hands to receive Your big gifts.  Our Lord does it, and the way He does it is really amazing.  Jesus asks some rhetorical questions in our text this morning.  “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?” (v. 7).  You’re supposed to say, “No!  Of course not!”  That’s the answer expected by the question.  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?” (v. 8).  You’re supposed to say, “Yes!  That’s right.  That’s the order of things in this world.  That is what is proper.”  Here is the amazing thing.  When you’ve done your duty and come in from the field, what does your Master, Jesus, say?  “Come at once and recline and table!”  And He dresses properly and He serves you while you eat and drink, His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  That’s how He increases your faith.  His Word.  His Spirit.  His Supper.  Right here, right now, in the Divine Service, in His Church, at His altar.  So you pray with the Apostles, “Increase our faith.”  And He does.  He gives you big hands to receive His big gifts and go and do your Christian duty with joy.  He gives you faith.  And by this faith you live.  Not just here and now, forgiving and loving and serving.  But forever then, in heaven, and in the resurrection of the dead.  Thus says the LORD: The righteous shall live by his faith.  Come and eat, believe, and live.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.