Thursday, September 26, 2019

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20C)
September 22, 2019
Text: Luke 16:1-15
             “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7; ESV).  St. Paul asks this piercing question of the Corinthians with regard to their gifts, material and spiritual.  And the answer, of course, is patently obvious to Christians.  Nothing.  There is nothing we have that has not been given to us as a gift.  Everything we have has been given to us by our gracious God.  But obvious as this answer might be, Christians have a tendency to forget.  So St. Paul stingingly reminds the Corinthians and us with his very next breath: “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”  If what you possess is a gift from God, then it was given to you wholly apart from your merit or worthiness.  It is by grace.  You didn’t earn it.  God gave it to you.  And He gave it to you for a reason, that in possessing it you might be a blessing to your neighbor. 
            Recognizing that every good you possess is a gift from God changes your perspective concerning what belongs to you.  Whether it be money, physical possessions, skills and abilities, time, or spiritual gifts, it has all been given to you by God.  And understand, God doesn’t give you these things so that you can hoard them up for yourself.  This is something we prosperous Americans seem to have trouble with.  First of all, we tend to think we’ve earned these gifts, effectively removing God from the equation… “Look what I’ve done!  Look what I’ve accomplished!”  And second, we have been deceived by the evil one to believe that the more we possess, the more money and stuff we can add to our collection, the happier and more fulfilled we’ll be.  And yet isn’t it amazing that you can work your whole life in order to acquire wealth and possessions, live like kings and queens (as most of us do here in the United States, even many of our poor), and yet feel unfulfilled, unhappy even, and believe that you need even more stuff in order to fill the void?  That should tell us there’s a problem.  The problem is that we have the wrong god.  We worship our money.  We worship our stuff.  We worship ourselves.  And we worship this unholy trinity by hoarding it all up, keeping it all (or at least most of it) for the self, failing to help our neighbor in need and trust that God is a never-failing fountain of good who will continue to provide for all our needs that we might be a blessing to our neighbor.
            Jesus isn’t commending dishonesty or cheating in the parable He tells us this morning.  His point is simply this: Even the children of the world (that is to say, unbelievers) know how to use unrighteous wealth to make friends.  A little generosity goes a long way.  But, Jesus says, the children of light (that’s the believers, that’s you and me), we tend to forget this.  If even the dishonest manager knows that his generosity will work for his benefit, surely you Christians ought to know that giving generously results in God’s abundant blessing not only upon the receiver of your generosity, but also, and perhaps even more so, upon you.  As you empty yourself for the sake of the other, God fills you ever more abundantly, that you might give even more.  He’s never going to stop giving to you.  He will not suddenly begin to withhold His goodness from you.  
            Now, I’m not saying that if you give an extra $100 today, you’ll receive a check in the mail for $150 tomorrow.  Some so-called Christian teachers (they’re really false teachers!) say silly things like this, and their teaching is dangerous.  We call them theologians of glory.  The idea is that if you just serve God enough and believe hard enough, then He’ll give you a break.  He’ll pour out His blessings upon you.  You’ll be rich and healthy, living the good life.  No, it doesn’t work that way.  But if God is your God, you can trust that He’ll give you everything you need for this body and life and for you to be a blessing to your neighbor.  Notice I didn’t say He’ll give you everything you want (and we Americans have trouble distinguishing between our wants and needs).  But He will give you what you need.  And He will give it to you so that you can be faithful with it, which is to say, so that you can help your neighbor with it.  Remember that you are just a steward of all the things God gives you, all of which really belongs to Him.  He will bless you so that you can be a blessing. 
            Now, if wealth is your god (we’ll use the biblical name here for this idol: Mammon)… if Mammon is your god, then you won’t want to use what you’ve been given for the good of your neighbor.  Because you’ll be afraid that it will run out.  You’ll be afraid there is not enough for you if you share.  And in fact there won’t be enough for you, because the thing about Mammon worship is, it always holds forth the promise that if you just had a little more it would be enough, but then there’s never enough because you always want just a little bit more.  But if God is your God, then your whole perspective changes.  Then you have enough, whatever your circumstances, because you have God.  You have Christ.  You have before you this God who has given Himself into death and hell for your eternal life and salvation.  “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).  What is St. Paul saying here?  That Almighty God took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin to become one with you, to take your sin upon Himself and pay for it in His death on the cross.  Again, St. Paul to the Romans: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  Don’t you think for a moment that God is going to forsake you!  Not now, not in your time of need!  He will provide.  And, by the way, do you know how He will provide for you?  Probably not through some spectacular miracle like unfailing jars of oil or the multiplication of loaves and fishes.  He could do that, and He has.  But mostly He provides for you through your neighbor.  And you’ve been on the receiving end of that charity.  
            Now, some of you might say, “What?!  I can’t remember a time I’ve ever had to take charity from anyone!”  Yes, you have.  You were born naked and screaming, and everything in the world had to be done for you and provided for you by your mother and father or someone else who stepped into that role.  You had to be fed, clothed, sheltered, taught, and your parents had to do all sorts of things for you that grossed them out.  And do you know why they did it?  Because God called them to do it in the office of parent.  God did all of this for you through the hands of your parents.  Their parents did it for them.  They did it for you.  Perhaps you’ve done it, or are doing it now, or will do it for your own children.  They are the neighbor nearest to you, whom you are called to help.  God cares for you through the vocation of your neighbor.  And God cares for your neighbor through your vocation.  Your family, the neighbors who literally live next door, your church family, those you work with or go to school with, your friends, everyone with whom God places you in relationship.  You are called to serve them.  To be a blessing to them.  And they are called to serve you.  To be a blessing for you.  And in this way God provides for your needs.  The model is Jesus Himself, who emptied Himself of His glory and of His very life for you.  So you now empty yourself for your neighbor, in trust that God will fill you, even as He raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  You can be a living sacrifice for your neighbor, or even a dead one, because you know that in the end Jesus Christ will raise you.
            The reality is that God has given you everything you have.  Sure you’ve had to work.  That’s one of the ways God provides.  Sometimes He provides you with a cross, such as lack of work or lack of money, or an illness, or some other suffering, so that you’ll realize you’re entirely dependent upon Him for everything.  It all comes from Him.  Every penny.  Every breath.  Every beat of your fragile heart.  But He is faithful.  He provides.  Luther gives us pure Gospel in his explanation of the 1st Article of the Creed.  It’s worth hearing again in full: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  What does this mean?  I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.  All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”[1]  
            Now, after all that Gospel, all these things that God freely gives us (and by the way, what isn’t included in that list?), we are reminded of our Christian duty: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”  And that means loving and serving my neighbor.  Because God doesn’t need my good works, but my neighbor does.  My neighbor needs my prayers.  He needs my hands to help, my food to be full, my clothing to be covered, my money to purchase the things that are necessary for this body and life, as well as my support for the preaching of the Gospel so that he may hear of Christ.  And I can help him freely and joyfully because Mammon is not my God.  My God is the God who made heaven and earth and from whom every good and perfect gift flows.  He is the God who gave His Son Jesus to die for the forgiveness of all of my sins, including my stinginess and selfishness, my failure to help my neighbor and love him as myself, the God who raised my Savior Jesus from the dead, that I might have new life.  And so recognizing that everything I have is a gift from God, and that God will never fail to provide for me, I can give.  I can give generously.  I can give sacrificially.  Because God will never forsake me.  My sins are covered by the blood of Christ, who loved His neighbor, loved me, to death… His own death on the cross.  And because of that, my brothers and sisters in Christ will receive me when I die into the eternal dwellings.  And so you.  You can give your all because Christ Jesus gave His all for you.  And in Him you have eternal life.  This is most certainly true.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

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

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19C)
September 15, 2019
Text: Luke 15:1-10
            Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  That is why He is always receiving sinners and eating with them (15:1-2).  And it is scandalous.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, and cheats.  Even you.  He is not ashamed to be in your presence, to speak with you and touch you, to heal you, to wash you, to eat and to drink with you.  He rejoices, and all heaven with Him, over each and every sinner welcomed into the Kingdom, given a place at His Table.  Indeed, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.  Our Lord illustrates this comforting truth for us this morning by means of two parables, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, and the Parable of the Lost Coin.
            The sheep has wandered away from the fold and finds himself alone, away from the safety of the shepherd and the flock.  He is lost.  And now a predator has wounded him, and he’s coming in for the kill.  When sheep are threatened, they are immobilized and become utterly helpless.  In time of danger, a sheep will simply lay down where he is and hope for the best.  He lays down and gives himself into the clutches of whatever is threatening him.  There is a reason the Scriptures so often compare God’s people to sheep, and so often point out the mortal danger of sheep without a shepherd.  That lost sheep… That’s us!  In the parable, the sinner is the lost sheep, and Christ is the Good Shepherd who goes out on the search and rescue mission to bring the sinner back to the flock.  Now, don’t worry about the 99 He leaves behind.  They are well taken care of by his assistant shepherds, the pastors (the word “pastor” means shepherd), and they are in the safety of the flock, the fold, the Church.  But so precious is that one lost sheep to Jesus, that He will do anything to get him back. 
            And He does.  Consider this: There is a cost to the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep.  He exposes himself to the same threats and dangers as the sheep.  There is effort and exertion.  There is pain and suffering.  The shepherd must do battle with the predator preying on his sheep.  And then that shepherd must pick the poor, helpless, bloody creature up and bear the burden of the sheep on his shoulders all the way home.  He must wash and treat and bandage the wounds.  But its all worth it when He returns the sheep to the safety of the fold. 
            So also, there is a cost for our Lord Jesus Christ in rescuing His lost sheep.  He must expose Himself to the same threats and dangers as the sinner.  He becomes fully man, flesh and blood, mortal.  He suffers all the wants and pains of this body and life.  He is tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).  Yet He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He engaged in mortal battle with the predators who would devour us, sin, death, the devil, hell.  He bore us as a burden on His shoulders, carrying the cross up the hill toward His execution on Calvary.  And in so suffering and dying, He bears us all the way home to Himself in His Kingdom, to this flock and this fold, to wash and bind our wounds and administer the medicine of His Word, His Absolution, the Supper of His Body and Blood. 
            But it is all worth it, as far as He is concerned.  For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and now He is risen from the dead, and seated at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven (Heb. 12:2).  You are the joy that was set before Him, the joy of having you for His own, saving you from the devil’s clutches, forgiving your sins, setting you free, giving you a place in His house and at His Table.  Like Psalm 23.  What does the LORD our Shepherd do for His sheep in that Psalm?  He sets the sheep a Table in the presence of his enemies.  He anoints his head with oil.  His cup runneth over.  And so you, right here at the Altar, the Table of the Lord, the Bread of Life that is His body, the cup overflowing with His sin-cleansing blood.  And it is a foretaste of forever, of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end, of heaven, of resurrection.  All heaven sings songs of praise when you are received into this House of the Lord to eat and drink with Jesus.  That is true of every conversion, every Baptism into Christ, every time you repent of your sins and cling to the Lord Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
            The second parable illustrates the same comforting truth from a different perspective.  The woman has lost a very important silver coin, a drachma, about a day’s wages.  This is probably one of the coins from her dowry, a string of coins she wore as a wreath on her wedding day, a gift from her family, savings for the time of need.  Now she loses the coin, and no effort must be spared in the finding of it.  She lights a lamp and gets down on her hands and knees and gets to work.  This kind of house would be dark.  Not many windows or any natural light to speak of.  And the floor would be made of dirt.  Those are the conditions, and the longer the coin stays lost, the more likely it will remain lost, covered over by the dirt and pressed into the floor.
            In the parable, the sinner is the lost coin and the woman is Christ’s holy Bride, the Church!  As Christ’s Body, she is just as eager to find, rescue, reclaim, and restore the sinner as her Bridegroom, Jesus.  Every single sinner is precious in her sight.  But consider this: There is a cost to the dear woman in search of the coin.  For her, also, there is effort and exertion, pain and suffering.  She must get down on the ground, in the dirt, and shine the light of Gospel preaching into the darkest corners.  And in doing that, she, herself, gets dirty.  She takes upon herself the mockery and rejection and persecution of the world.  She is laughed to scorn.  She is taunted and abused, spat upon and beaten.  But she persists.  For the sake of her Husband.  For the sake of the Family.  For the sake of the lost one so precious to Her.  Holy Church preaches the Gospel to the world.  No matter the consequences.  She shines the light into the darkest, most hostile of places.  She sends her preachers.  She sends her missionaries.  She sends her children to confess the faith.  She is not afraid to rub elbows with sinners.  She may even meet in a brewery on Tuesday nights.  There is no place she is ashamed to shine the Gospel light, for the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).  And she knows no matter how dirty she gets in the course of the mission, she is clean and pure, because her sins are forgiven by the sacrifice of her Husband, Jesus. 
            And whenever she finds the coin, whenever she finds the sinner, she throws a party!  And the angels rejoice.  The Church, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, lauds and magnifies the thrice-holy Name of our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And she feasts.  She calls together her friends and neighbors and bids them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost, the sheep that wandered off, the precious soul purchased by the blood of Jesus, my Love and my Lord.”  The Table is set.  The bread.  The wine.  The Spirit.  The joy.  Jesus Himself is Host and Meal. 
            And the 99 who need no repentance?  That’s the joke, isn’t it?  There is no such thing!  There are only sinners in need of finding, sinners in need of rescue and forgiveness and reception into the House, the Sheepfold, the Kingdom of the Savior.  The only thing that can keep them out is themselves.  Pharisees and Scribes and self-righteous Lutherans who grumble about God’s mercy and refuse the forgiveness and life freely offered to sinners in Christ, keep themselves out!  Because they think they don’t need it.  But in fact, they need it most of all. 
            You are the lost sheep.  You are the lost coin.  But Jesus has searched for you and found you.  He died for you.  He lives for you.  He loves you.  Mother Church has shone her Gospel light upon you, the very light of Christ.  Your sins are forgiven.  You’ve been washed clean.  Your wounds are bound up, the medicine administered.  Now there is only feasting and joy.  You were dead, but now you are alive.  You were lost, but now you are found.  The fatted calf has been sacrificed and heaven rejoices.  Come on in and join the party.  As it turns out, this is all for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18C)
September 8, 2019
Text: Luke 14:25-35
            It’s almost like Jesus is trying to talk us out of being Christians.  Stop and think about this a minute, He says.  Count the cost.  You know, being a Christian isn’t just blessings all the time.  Not apart from suffering.  And I mean real suffering, here.  Take up your cross and follow Me kind of suffering.  Literally.  “Take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,” as we sing with Dr. Luther (LSB 656:4).  Now, salvation is the free gift of God by grace in Christ Jesus, as the Scriptures say, and as we preach.  But it is not cheap.  It cost Jesus everything, His very life, to purchase our salvation.  And to be a disciple is to follow Him.  That means following Him, all the way to the cross and death.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27; ESV).  The cost of discipleship is your very self.  It is everything.  Everything you are.  Everything you have.  To be a disciple is to give it all up for the sake of Jesus who gave up His all for you.
            This teaches us what Jesus means when He says that unless you hate your own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and your very own life, you cannot be His disciple.  We don’t like that kind of talk.  We don’t think it’s very Christian of Jesus to say that.  But He says it, and you can’t soft-pedal or side-step the things Jesus says.  That’s playing fast and loose with God’s Word.  Instead, you have to ask, What does this mean?  To be sure, this is a Hebraism, a Hebrew figure of speech.  In this manner of speaking, to hate someone or something over against someone or something else is to give preference to that someone or something else.  So, for example, God says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13; Cf. Mal. 1:2-3).  Now, it’s not that God loathes Esau and His descendants.  We know that God loves all people.  He loved the world such that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever… whoever… believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  But there is no question that God chose the younger brother Jacob and his descendants over the older brother Esau to be the people of God, to have the birthright and the blessing, to be the bearer of the Covenant and Promises.  From Jacob, not Esau, would come the Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. 
            So to hate your family members and your very life in this sense means that Jesus takes first place ahead of them.  Of course you should love your family.  You are commanded to honor father and mother, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  Husbands and wives are to live together in love and fidelity until death parts them.  Parents are to love their children, provide for them, protect them.  We are to dwell in unity and peace with our brothers and sisters and mutually support one another.  And we are to be good stewards of our bodies and lives.  But!  Whenever there is a conflict between Jesus and your family members or anything else, Jesus wins.  You are to submit to Christ.  You are to follow Him.  Whenever a family member threatens to disown you for your faithfulness to Jesus, you remain faithful to Jesus.  If it costs you a relationship to faithfully confess Christ and His Word, you keep confessing.  And if you are called upon to give your very life for that confession, you give it gladly.  You speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), but you do speak it.  You know, in the Islamic world and in other places and among other peoples, family members are disowned for becoming Christians.  They are treated as if they are dead or never existed.  In some places, they are killed.  What a sacrifice these Christian converts make for the sake of Jesus.  They love their families.  And yet, in this Hebraic sense, they hate their families out of love for Christ.  Which is to say, they give their all for Him.  They bear rejection.  They bear imprisonment and beatings and even death.  They bear their cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha.
            To put anyone or anything ahead of Jesus is to make that person or that thing into an idol.  You must die to this.  Of course we don’t want to suffer.  We don’t want people to dislike us or mock us or reject us for our faithfulness to Jesus.  Especially not family members or friends.  We don’t want to suffer the loss of our good reputation, or our stuff, our freedom, or especially our life.  So we remain silent when we should speak.  We chicken out.  We deny Christ by our silence, or worse, by words and actions that directly contradict God’s Word and our faith, so as to remain popular, liked, politically correct, safe.  Repent. 
            The truth is, when you count the cost of discipleship, you aren’t willing to pay it.  The cost is everything, and you come up short.
            So Jesus gives His everything for you.  He loved not His life even unto death.  He hated His own life, hated all things, for the love of you, to save you and make you His own.  He bore the cross for your forgiveness and life.  Your idolatry, your disordered priorities, your failure to speak, your unwillingness to suffer for the sake of Jesus, all of that, all your sin, is put to death in His body on the tree.  Where you come up short, Christ comes up full.  Christ Jesus is your sufficiency.  At the cost of His blood and death He builds a Tower, His Church, for your protection, to give you a home and a family that will not reject you.  Sacrificing Himself, He wins the war against sin, death, the devil, and your own sinful nature.  And in this way, in losing His life, He gains life.  For Himself: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  For you: He will raise you from the dead.  Bodily on the Last Day.  Spiritually already now.  You have eternal life in Christ Jesus. 
            And your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), as St. Paul says.  That means you can’t see it.  That’s the frustrating part.  It doesn’t look like you have life.  It looks like the enemies are overrunning you.  It hurts when your family and friends reject you.  It hurts to suffer martyrdom and persecution.  But remember, in spite of all appearances, you do have life, now and forever, in Christ.  It’s just hidden, in Him.  But that also means that your life is safe as it is hidden with Christ in God.  That means you can bear your own cross and go after Jesus, you can suffer, confident that whatever is required of you, it ultimately cannot harm you.  In the end, you live.  And all things are yours in Christ.  The Kingdom yours remaineth. 
            In fact, God reorders all things in such a way that the cross and suffering become a blessing to you.  God blesses through the cross.  He won our salvation by Jesus’ cross.  He blesses you through the crosses he lays upon you.  Whatever suffering you endure in faith, as a Christian, God works for your good (Rom. 8:28).  He molds and shapes you into the Christian He wants you to be, the cruciform image of His Son.  He kills your idols.  He crucifies your sinful nature.  He drives you to Scripture.  He drives you to the Sacraments.  He drives you to prayer.  He drives you to Himself.  Because, in the midst of suffering, despairing of yourself and all that is yours, you have only Christ.  Which is exactly what He wants.  That is, in the final analysis, the fulfillment of this Scripture.  Commanded to give everything, you find that you are and have nothing.  Christ is your everything.  Christ is the cost.  Christ is all in all.
            So bear the cross.  Suffer a little.  Go ahead.  Suffer a lot.  Suffer it all.  They cannot take Christ from you.  Be the salt of the earth.  What is the use of salt?  Salt preserves and salt seasons.  To be salt in the world is to preserve it from damnation.  God preserves the world for the sake of His Christians.  Because of your prayers.  Because of your confession of Christ to others so that they become Christians.  Because of your sacrificing yourself for the sake of others, so that they hear of Christ and come to know Him.
            And salt seasons.  You are to season the world with your confession of Christ and His Word.  You are not just a Christian on Sunday.  What you believe and confess here at Church is to be taken with you out into your daily lives.  This is often a hard thing, but that is your vocation.  Christians must speak the life-giving Word of God to our world today.  We must speak life in the face of abortion and euthanasia and the culture of death.  We must speak fidelity and purity and the holiness of the body in the face of sexual promiscuity, unfaithfulness, and perversion.  We must speak for the last and the least, the persecuted and exploited, the weak and the vulnerable.  We must speak Christ in the face of all that is anti-Christ.  Family and friends may reject us for it.  It may get us fired.  It may get us killed.  So be it.  We are called to be salt.  If salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing but to be thrown away.  If Christians lose their Christianity, what good are they?  Christ has given you ears to hear.  Hear what He is saying to you right now.
            And rejoice.  You are His disciple.  You will suffer.  You do take up your cross and follow Him to Golgotha.  But what happens after that?  Easter.  Resurrection.  Life.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And He’s coming back for you!  Nothing can be taken from you that will not be restored on that Day when Jesus raises you.  Fear not.  Follow Jesus.  He is your life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                    

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17C)
September 1, 2019
Text: Luke 14:1-14
            In the way of the Law, we each jockey for position and insist on our own rights.  We desire to be the most distinguished in the crowd.  We seek the seat of honor.  We surround ourselves with those who make us look good, or feel good about ourselves, those who can help us, do us favors, those who bring something to the table to contribute.  And we’re always watching for someone to stumble, not so that we can help him, but so that we can rejoice that we do not stumble in that way.  In the way of the Law, we’re forever measuring ourselves against others, and we make the Law into a moveable scale.  I would never wear the dress she’s wearing in public.  I only had one piece of pie, he had two.  Can you believe that jerk who just flew past me on the highway?!  And the guy in front of me now is going way too slow.  Can you believe we had to sit there and listen to that woman gossip all night?  She’s such a busybody! 
            The Law of God is good and wise.  It is righteous.  It is holy.  It is God’s will for us.  But there is no mercy in the way of the Law.  And every time you judge your neighbor for failing, in your eyes, to keep the Law as well as you do, there is another neighbor judging you.  And God is the Judge of all.  And no matter how well you think you are doing in comparison with your neighbor, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  Repent.  Be humbled.  Have mercy.  For in the way of the Gospel, God has had mercy on you, sending His own dear Son, not to judge and condemn, but to be your Savior, the sacrifice of atonement for your sin, to stand condemned by the Law for your transgressions, to die your death, to bring you forgiveness and life. 
            The lawyers and Pharisees walked in the way of the Law, and they did it deceiving themselves that they were righteous, because they did it in comparison with others.  And this made the Law manageable for them.  They would never, ever, for any reason break the Sabbath regulations.  Not even to heal a man with dropsy.  Not like this Jesus fellow who always insists on pushing the envelope.  Well, sure, they might, if their son, or even their ox, fell into a well, help him out on a Sabbath Day.  Extreme cases, and all.  But why would we help the sick guy when there are six other perfectly good days to help him?  And anyway, he’s undoubtedly done something to deserve this affliction.  That’s why he has it, and we lawyers and Pharisees don’t.  And here goes Jesus.  The Sabbath breaker!  The sinner!  Healing when He should be resting.  Thank God we’re more righteous than that!  Thank God we’re more righteous than Jesus!
            But in their very “defense” of the Sabbath, they’ve broken the Sabbath in the worst way.  The Sabbath is given for our good, not for our injury.  The Sabbath is about rest.  It is a bout resting in the mercy and healing and wholeness of God.  Here is this poor man, suffering and laboring under the disease of dropsy, the painful swelling of bodily tissues and water around the organs.  It is not a pleasant existence.  The lawyers and Pharisees couldn’t help the man if they tried, not that they’d want to.  But Jesus… Jesus can give the man Sabbath!  Rest!  By healing him.  Now, is that lawful? 
            The Law has nothing to say about it.  The Law can prescribe perfection according to the will of God, but it can do nothing about brokenness.  It has nothing to say about healing.  It cannot show mercy.  And of course, it cannot forgive sin.  So, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?  Is it lawful to do good, or must we force our neighbor to remain in evil?  The lawyers and Pharisees cannot answer.  They remain silent.  What is there to say?  They’re caught!  The Law would not allow leaving a man in misery if something can be done.  But the Sabbath would not allow you to do it.  There is no mercy in the Law.  There is no way for even the holiest of sinners to escape its judgment, because, in the end, a sinner is still a sinner.  And that includes lawyers and Pharisees and lifelong LCMS Lutherans.
            There they are around the table.  Only the best have been invited, and while they all compete for the best seats around the table, comparing their relative holiness to one another, the man in the lowest position, not even allowed at the table, is exalted by Jesus.  Jesus calls him.  Jesus heals him.  And Jesus sends him.  Now you tell me: Who had the best seat in the place? 
            There is the way of the Law, and there is the way of mercy, which is to say, the way of Jesus.  And the only place in the history of the universe where the two ways meet is in the cross of Jesus, where the Law puts the Righteous Man to death, to pour out mercy on sinners in the forgiveness of sins. 
            It is Jesus who fulfills the Sabbath, and He is our Sabbath rest.  He gives us rest from the just accusations and condemnation of the Law.  He gives us rest from the sins that beset us by paying for our transgressions and forgiving our iniquities.  He gives us rest from our weakness and disease and death, by breaking into this fallen creation and bringing healing and wholeness and life by His death and resurrection.  He is Almighty God, the eternal Son of the Father, but He does not insist on the highest place.  He humbles Himself.  He takes the lowest place.  One of us.  Flesh of our flesh.  Born of the Virgin.  Condemned for sins He did not commit, for our sin, for our guilt, for our shame.  He takes the lowest place.  He takes the shameful death of a criminal.  He takes God’s righteous wrath.  He takes damnation, hell.  That He may say to us whose place He has taken, “Friend, move up higher” (Luke 14:10; ESV).  Move up to the place of honor, to the place of righteousness and holiness, to the place of resurrection and eternal life, to the place of Child and Heir of the heavenly Father.  Take my place, for I have taken yours.  And all that is yours has been put to death in my flesh, and I give you all that is mine as a free gift, by grace.  My Kingdom is yours, my life, my joy before the Father.  You are forgiven.  You are healed.  You are whole.  And you are mine. 
            Now God the Father has said to His crucified Son, “Friend, move up higher.”  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And we are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, the sinners He invites to His Feast.  The way of Jesus is the way of mercy.  He has mercy on us.  And He sets a table before us, His true body and blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, and He says, “Friend, move up higher.”  Come on up here, to the Altar, for all is now ready and there is a place here, at my Table, a place of honor, for you.
            Do you see how this is so different from walking in the way of the Law?  Do you see how Jesus’ mercy for you changes how you live toward your neighbor?  No more competition.  No more jockeying for position.  No more insisting upon your rights.  Your position is secure in Jesus.  Your righteousness is perfect in Jesus.  You have everything Jesus has coming to you.  By grace.  Apart from the Law.  This means that you no longer judge your neighbor by the Law.  Yes, you still believe in right and wrong, of course, and that is determined by God’s Law.  But you do not condemn your neighbor.  Because you recognize in your neighbor, a fellow sinner for whom Jesus shed His precious blood.  You recognize in your neighbor, a fellow sinner for whom Christ died.  And if Christ forgives him, who are you to damn?  And if Christ has mercy on you, how can you not have mercy on your neighbor? 
            Stop comparing yourself to others.  Stop trying to get ahead.  That’s the way of the Law, and it ends in death and condemnation.  Yours!  Put your neighbor first, in mercy.  Take the lowest place, in humility.  You’re in good company.  That’s the place Jesus took, for you.  The way of mercy is the way of Jesus.  In Him, you’re now in the highest place.  The right hand of God.  Forgive your neighbor.  Do good to your neighbor.  Serve him.  Love him.  Because Christ does all these things for you.  There is nothing you can give of yourself that will not be repaid, and more, at the Resurrection of the Justified.  Give your neighbor a break.  Give him rest.  Your rest is coming on that Day when you see Jesus and He makes you whole.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.