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Leviticus 18 and personal sexual identity

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

So we’re past the half-way point in our study of Leviticus on Sunday mornings.  This Sunday we arrived at chapter 18 which are the laws that concern unlawful sexual relations, including incest, bestiality and homosexuality.  This chapter is challenging for people on a whole number of levels and I’m sure I can’t even do this justice in a blog post.

In order to even enter the discussion we have to get over the uncomfortableness of even having the conversations about it.  We were created male and female by God and human sexuality was created by God.  The discussion of it is not sinful.  But somehow over the years we have even made the discussion of sexuality something equivalent to “uncovering the nakedness” of another which is not true.  By not talking about human sexuality and not claiming what is good and right about it we have abdicated our voice in this arena and so God’s view is not even heard today, only the aberrations or the puny caricatures of it.

In Leviticus 18, Yahweh specifically tells the Israelites that they “should not do as the Egyptians do” nor like the Canaanites (v. 3).  We began our discussion on just how deviant from Yahweh’s commands were the sexual practices of the Egyptian and Canaanite gods with the implication, of course, that if that’s how their gods behave, then we can only imagine how the people behaved.

But what really strikes me as interesting is that these commands are not just an arbitrary conservative sexual ethic set forth by a capricious God.  Say what you will about how arcane you think the Hebrew Scriptures are, but the laws against incest were divine prohibitions against sexual abuse in families.  These laws protected women from being sexually abused by the males in their families and, if anything, actually lifted up an individual’s, especially a woman’s, sexual identity as personal as any advocated today.  The issue today of course is the question of which law one follows in the expression of that personal sexual identity, Yahweh’s or one’s own. I leave it to the reader to observe what prevails today.

And so because these laws prohibiting certain sexual practices are directly related to whose laws they are, this is actually the source of the rebellion.  The question for today remains the question since the first day of sin in the garden, “Did God really say?”  These are not nearly so much questions of sexual ethics or even sexual practice but questions of the authority of God to make such laws.  Does God, the one who made you and redeemed you through His Son, Jesus Christ on the cross, does He have the authority to say, “This is your sexual identity?”

Personally and pastorally, my heart goes out to the many people I’ve met over the years who have struggled with same-sex attraction and God’s Law.  It really bothers me when I hear men and women tell of coming out and then of all the abuse and hatred people heap on them.  This is far too unkind.  Many of them honestly believe they were made that way and I don’t doubt they believe that.  Because of my worldview, that we live today in the effects of the fall of Adam, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they’re even genetically predisposed toward homosexuality although scientists still haven’t found the “gay gene” yet.  As much as I, personally, might want to cut them some slack, recognize we live in a broken world, and allow that same-sex relationships are one way to even find some happiness in life, I cannot.  I do not have the authority to do so.  I don’t have the authority to realign after my own proclivities what God has ordered even from before the Fall of Adam.  It would be far unkinder to them for me to condone in God’s name what He very clearly condemns.

What is my solution?  I don’t have one; we are at an impasse.  There is no answer from Scripture that will appease those who say, “God did not really say it’s wrong for me to love my same-sex partner.”  Either they are correct and the Bible is not to be trusted or God has actually put His abiding Word into the Scriptures for all time, people and places. Leviticus 18 makes it pretty clear that Yahweh is the one who sets the rules here.  If you want to live by your own law, you do so outside the blessing and protection of Yahweh.  That’s not a place I want to be.

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Sermon for Pentecost 18

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Pentecost 18

Augustana, 2010

Click here for MP3 audio

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

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel for today.

The parable Jesus tells is really one of contrasting the huge differences between the rich man and Lazarus.  This is the final parable in Chapter 16.  We started out with Jesus sparring with the Pharisees about seeking the lost, and so the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost (Prodigal) Son.  Then last week’s parable when Jesus told the parable of the unrighteous steward suggesting that to the Pharisees money is more important than people.  This parable falls on the heels of that one and is even introduced by Luke back in verse 14, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’”  Jesus then launches into this story about a rich man and Lazarus.  It should not be too much a stretch for our imagination to see the rich man standing in for all the Pharisees and Lazarus standing for all the outcasts of Jewish society whom Jesus has made the special focus of His ministry.

Jesus described the man as rich, dressed in purple and feasting sumptuously every day.  That doesn’t sound all that bad to our ears but especially the last one, feasting every day, should be the clue for us.  Remember, it’s not wrong to feast, but to feast every day is an improper use of possessions.  The rich man was out of control and his use of possessions showed a blatant disregard for the poor at his doorstep.  We can imagine that when he died, it was the first century equivalent of Michael Jackson’s funeral.  But Jesus recorded it like this: “The rich man died and was buried.”  He who dies with the most toys, still dies.

The contrast to all this was to Lazarus, the poor man.  His life was pathetic and pitiable yet at least Jesus knew his name.  Lazarus was not a leper; if he was he wouldn’t be near the doorstep of the rich man.  He sat at the gate of the house of the rich man hoping that with all the comings and goings at the house, some might spare some pity on him.  But the rich man completely ignored him even though, we learn later, the rich man even knew Lazarus’ name.  And so the dogs came to lick his sores.  In first century Palestinian life there were no such things as fur babies.  Dogs were not seen as clean animals and would not have lived in houses with people.  Lazarus was so helpless he couldn’t keep the dogs away.

This is the state of things, isn’t it? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Those of us who used to be considered middle class not long ago, we are now the working poor.  Now, the top limit for being middle class is a household of $250 thousand.  That’s what the debate is about when they consider raising taxes but not on the middle class.  And so it goes. Except that this time, the rich do not get richer and the poor do not get poorer.  No.  The prophecy is coming true.  The great reversal is coming about.  “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”  “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”  “He has brought down the mighty from their throne and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  Lazarus dies and is carried by angels to Abraham’s side.  This is extraordinary for someone like Lazarus.  He may never have feasted at the rich man’s table but now he feasts forever at the side of Abraham.  The great reversal, God’s kingdom, has come.  Alleluia.

But the scene shifts from heaven to hell.  Looking up from his torment, the rich man can see Lazarus at the side of Abraham.  Not only is the man in torment in hell, but it’s made worse by being able to see the bliss of those in heaven.  We make the connection between the rich man and Pharisees because, like them, he claims Abraham as his father, but it doesn’t keep him out of hell.  Even more interesting for us, the rich man does not utter a single word of repentance.  His cry for mercy is not a cry of repentance but rather a plea for help in a terrible situation.  He does not seem to realize the great reversal has happened.  He still thinks Lazarus is a servant who can be sent to do his bidding, whether to cool his tongue or warn his brothers.

Abraham calls him child, but then commands him to remember his life.  “You in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  But that’s not the way it is anymore; the Great Reversal has taken place.  Now Lazarus receives his comfort and the rich man is tormented, not by dogs but demons.  Anyone listening closely to Luke’s Gospel will remember these lines from Jesus’ sermon on the plain, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” (6:21) “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” (6:24, 25)  Both the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus who were following him could see that these words of father Abraham apply to the Pharisees who were lovers of money.  Wealth is not a sign of righteousness or blessedness.  God looks at the heart and he who is proud will be laid low.  The rich man did not use his wealth as he had been given it and so his wealth became a curse to his eternal torment.  The warning is clear: stop scoffing at the preaching of Jesus and use your possessions to help God’s people in need, or you too will suffer the same fate as this rich man.  Remember the unrighteous steward from last week. He got it right.  He used his position shrewdly by forgiving some of the debt of his master’s debtors because he trusted in his master’s mercy thus gaining a place for himself among friends.  Lazarus is the kind of friend a disciple could make for himself by means of mammon, and Lazarus would be the kind of friend who would then welcome you as a fellow guest at the messianic banquet table.

Finally, the rich man thinks of someone other than himself, his brothers.  He wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them so they don’t end up where he is.  Abraham says, “No can do.”  And he gives some great reasons but really when Marley’s ghost shows up and warns Scrooge, there is no change of heart.  If they will change it will not be because someone came back from the dead it will be because of Moses and the prophets.  From Moses, Exodus chapter 22, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”  And from Leviticus chapter 19: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

For a word from the prophets we don’t have to go any further than the OT lesson for today,

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall,

5   who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,

6   who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

7   Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

Jesus is thusly calling the Pharisees to listen to Moses and prophets for they testify of not only how to treat the poor but they also testify to the messiah’s coming and mission.  Jesus is the living, breathing proof of the testimony of Moses and the prophets.

Jesus’ last warning to them is subtle because it hasn’t happened yet but “they will not even listen if someone were to rise from the dead.”  They did not believe even when Jesus raised another Lazarus from the dead.  They only hated him more.  And yet, I think that Jesus may even be referring to his own resurrection from the dead and this whole story points forward to Easter evening with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Like the Pharisees, they don’t understand, even after an angel has told them that Jesus was raised, not until Jesus opens up Moses and the prophets showing them the center, Jesus the messiah.  Hearing Jesus teach them, their hearts burned but they did not see until they were welcomed at the table and Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened.  They receive a foretaste of the great messianic feast, the fruition of the promise given to Father Abraham.  The Pharisees too need to become hearers of the word and repentant guests at Jesus’ table.  To be hearers of the Word and repentant guests is to be drawn into the great reversal in Jesus Christ.  Only through radical repentance and a break with our past do we enter the kingdom where one shows mercy as the Father in heaven has shown mercy unto us.

And so it is that last week, we lifted up 3 of our young girls and asked God to bless their hearing of His Word as they learn of the radical repentance required to join the guests at the Lord’s table.  And so it is that this week we are privileged to witness God’s making low and His lifting up of Clara Belle though the waters of Holy Baptism.  She too will one day, become a hearer of God’s word and a guest at the Lord’s table.

And so it is with us.  For the rich man is in many ways like us.  We want the world to be the way we want it.  The “poor people” all around us—we suspect they live better than we do.  “After all, we have to work for everything we have.”  That’s another one I hear.  Really?  Tell me what the greater sin is, helping someone trying to scam the system, or not helping someone in need because you fear they may be a scammer?  People come by here all the time.  We even have some frequent fliers here.  I don’t help them all.  I simply can’t.  But there have been several folks who have received genuine needed help here and I feel good about that.  I sometimes get the feeling that God sent them here to me because he knew I would help them.  I feel good about that too.  Still, I suspect more than one has scammed me.  A few I’ve helped have even failed to say thank you.  After I get mad, I think about how many times God has helped me and I have not bothered to thank him.  But in all, I feel good about the help we provide.  I feel good about the money we send to help people all over the world through LCMS World Relief and Human Care. I hope that in the future, as a congregation we make a decision to send even more as the Lord blesses us for we can in no way think we have somehow earned it.

There will always be Pharisees—those who will not see God’s mercy through his servanthood in Christ on the cross.  They will never find God as He wants to reveal Himself: in the Word, in water, in wine and bread, and in the places where He calls us to be merciful even as we have received mercy.  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  That is the ultimate word of this parable.  But hearing the Word brings with it new life.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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What’s my problem?

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, not my specific problem as the former presiding bishop of the ELCA was not actually asking me what my problem was because I’m not a member of the ELCA, but I like to think he was asking me what my problem was.

Actually his question was, “First, what is it about sex that pushed you over the edge?”

Actually, Herb, you lost me in 1997, when you led your church body in full fellowship with church bodies (RCA, UMC, UCC) who confess the “real absence,” that is, they confess that Jesus is not present in the sacrament of the altar.  But I guess the presence of Christ in the sacrament is one of those “non essentials” of the faith you like to refer to.  You further lost me when I found out that your church body sanctions murder.  It became public several years back that the ELCA churchworker health plan offered coverage for abortions.  The US military health plan doesn’t even do that, Herb. But it’s a great question.

Actually, I’ve been asking some ELCA folks this very question.  “What is it about this issue, openly homosexual pastors, that pushed you over the edge?”  Where was the fuss when the issue was sanctioning murder?  Where was the fuss when the issue was the real presence of our Lord in His own Supper?  I guess all those other issues were esoteric theological questions by comparison.  Decades of poor catechesis for the layity can elevate something to the status of esoterica that was once as simple as: “Is Jesus here or not?” By adopting this agenda, it’s blatantly apparent that the ELCA has stepped way beyond anything akin to the tradition of the apostles, or the Confessions of the Lutheran Church or the Scriptures.

See, that’s the thing.  It’s really not about sex.  If you look at the rite of reinstatement for the seven “pastors” of the ELCA, it’s not about sex, not nearly as much as it is about what they’ve done to twist the entire teaching of the Church about God.  Seriously, what is “prayed” in this rite is not to be believed by orthodox Christians.  Although there are many, (in fact, I’m almost willing to bet I could get at least a master’s thesis out of deconstructing this rite) I point to only one example to make my point: “The Prayer of Jesus” in the rite of “The Meal.”

P Now in union with our friend and lover Jesus, and in the language most familiar to you, [emphasis original] let us pray:

And there follows six “versions” of the Lord’s Prayer, but of course its not called the Lord’s Prayer, because that’s an example of patriarchalism, so they call it the Prayer of Jesus.

Of these six versions, look them up for yourself, I’m not making this up, there is:

“God, lover of us all, most holy one,
Help us to respond to you
To create what you want for us
here on earth.
Give us today enough for our needs; ”

(The paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “God, lover of us all” has been written by Lala Winkley and is from the resource, “Celebrating Women.”)

As well as:

“Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven.
The hallowing of your name
echo through the universe! ”

(The translation of the Lord’s Prayer, “Eternal Spirit” is copyright material taken from “A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa” and is used with permission.)

And what could possibly be the worst of them all:

“Our Mother who is within us
we celebrate your many names.
Your wisdom come,
your will be done,
unfolding from the depths
within us.
Each day you give us all that we need. ”

(The paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Mother who is within us” has been written by Miriam Therese Winter and is a part of the Goddess Rosary
offered at University Lutheran Chapel* of Berkeley.)

(*And some LCMS people wonder why we need to seriously reevaluate our cooperative agreements in places like campus ministry.)

Okay, first, for whom is any of these aberrations “familiar”?  The most familiar of these for me would be the one in Latin.  I guess the feminist agenda folks don’t speak Spanish or Latin, “Padre neustro, ” “Pater noster,”.

No, Herb, it’s not about sex; it’s about what you and your friends here are doing to the Church.  Since our Lord Jesus Christ gave us that prayer, we’ve been praying it in roughly the same literal sense in which it was give to us by Him in our language, that is our tongue, not our heart language or our patriarchally dominated cultural tongue.  Jesus taught the Church that prayer.  And while I recognize that, sometimes, earthly fathers are evil toward their children, those victims of evil fathers are given grace in Christ Jesus by His cross and introduced to a proper Father in heaven; they should not be given new prayers, and ultimately new gods.

See, this is not about the phrasing of an ancient prayer; is about the god to whom you and the rest of your friends are leading people to pray.  It’s really not about sex; it’s about God.  It’s not about me; it’s about you and the god you’re pointing people to because that god does not save them from sin.

And so what we do with sinners who are being told that what they are doing is not sin especially when God clearly says it is.  I’m remembering something Jesus said about millstones.  It makes me shudder every time I hear it.  But I guess, that’s my problem.

The only question that remains is which commandment is next?  Will it be okay to lie?  Or maybe it will be 9 and 10, the prohibitions against coveting, that no longer apply.  “Greed is good,” so says the fictional prophet Gordon Gekko.  Don’t you think it’s about time that the church embrace the philosophy of the times, raw pure capitalism?  Or is there just too much hermeneutical gymnastics to be done to talk over the loud clear voice of our Lord, Jesus?  Or do you think that this is just an overly simplistic rhetorical point?  “Millstones,” Jesus says.  “Pay attention to yourselves,” He says.  He’s not kidding.

Sermon for Pentecost 17

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Pentecost 17 – Luke 16:1-15

Augustana, 2010

Click here for mp3 audio

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

The text for the sermon is the Gospel reading for today, the parable of the dishonest manager.  The story itself is simple enough to understand.  Jesus tells a story about a landlord and his and his steward manager. The landlord somehow catches wind that his manager has been squandering his wealth and so he fires his manager.  The manager then wrestles with the problem of having been caught and what to do next.  He is out of work, he will be out of a place to live and because of his reputation, he’ll have no hope of future employment.  After he rules out physical labor and begging, he happens upon an idea that might solve his problem.  The manager is not just shrewd but dishonest.  He will change the accounts of the other tenants so that his landlord will be honored by the community.  It is this shrewdness that leads his master to commend him and leads to Jesus’ interesting summary of the parable to the disciples.  This is not an easy parable because it looks like the landlord is actually commending his servant for being dishonest.

The thing is, if this were a secular story told by some ancient sage the interpretation would be self-evident, right?  Something like, life is hard, do what you have to in order to make it.  The problem is that this isn’t a secular story and Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty to his followers.  The real problem is that we tend to dwell on the dishonesty of the servant rather than on the generosity of the master.  We typically look at this parable from the perspective of the servant manager.  But what if we look at it from the perspective of the master?  Then the emphasis is not on the servant managers’ dishonesty but the mercy of the landlord.  To be fair, we are making an assumption that the landlord here is an honorable man, not some kind of mafia boss.  But this is a safe assumption.  In the parable just before this one, the parable of the prodigal son, the father who waits for his son to return is an honorable father.  The rich landlord’s mercy on the dishonest servant manager who squandered his estate is equal to the father’s mercy to the prodigal son who squandered his share of the father’s estate.  So there is a parallel here in this parable and this landlord is honorable like the waiting father.

The steward here is most likely some sort of salaried estate agent, servant manager.  The debtors in the parable probably rent property from the landlord to grow crops and the debt is a predetermined portion of the harvest, whether olive oil or wheat.  When the report of the squandering comes to the landlord about his hired manager, he tells his steward he is fired but he does not jail or punish him in any way.  He should have; his estate has been squandered.  It is his right to do so but he is a merciful man.  It is precisely this mercy that the steward counts on when he chooses a solution to his problem.  And when we focus on the mercy of the landlord, the dishonesty of the steward becomes a moot point.

When the steward find out he’s fired, he does not protest but he tries to figure out what’s next for him.  This is prudence.  What can he do to lessen the effect of the mess he’s caused himself?  He is so overwhelmed he even considers two ridiculous ideas, digging and begging, that for him are really impossibilities.  So like the prodigal son, who desired to eat the pigs’ food, the unrighteous steward has hit bottom and realizes he can do nothing for himself.  He has no real escape.  The steward’s great insight is to see that the answer to his problem must come from outside himself.  His entire plan is based on the fact that his master is an honorable and generous man who will respond in mercy.  The steward takes advantage of a brief period of time before the accounts are laid out and reckoned to meet with the master’s debtors and to do so in such a way that they think the master is acting in mercy toward them and not that the steward is acting out of desperation.  The debtors are willing to believe that this is the kind of thing that the master would do, just write down a big chunk of their debt, purely out of mercy.  The whole community then is dependent on the generous and merciful landlord and has come to expect this kind of behavior toward them.  The steward is able to benefit because of his master’s reputation.

When the landlord finds out what his steward has done, he’s in a bind with really only two options.  He can cancel the debt forgiveness but if he does, his renters will turn on him and probably think he is no longer a generous and merciful master.  If he lets the adjustments stand he has further secured the goodwill of his tenants.  That then is his choice, if he is to be consistent with this own character.  He must commend the steward for acting shrewdly.  After all, the steward was counting on the trusted character of his master and staked everything on his mercy.  In fact, the landlord is put into a position where he has no choice but to praise the steward if he wants to maintain his reputation as a merciful lord.  Jesus clearly commends the steward but he commends him as a steward of unrighteousness.  But again, the steward’s prudence comes from trusting the mercy of his master and making the most of a terrible situation.

Jesus then summarizes this parable with an interesting phrase, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  Remember who’s listening to this parable, the disciples, yes, but also the Pharisees.  Jesus is encouraging his disciples to imitate the steward but not be being dishonest.  The sons of this age, are more prudent in worldly matters because they know how to bend the rules, how to be unrighteous to accomplish their goals.  Jesus wants his disciples to be unlearned in the practice of unrighteousness because it is only advantageous in this present age and is actually harmful for those whose hope is in the age to come.  The sons of light are to be prudent by recognizing that there will be a time of reckoning, at the last day and when that day comes, they need to focus carefully on where God’s mercy lives.  In this sense, then, the steward is praised not for his dishonesty but for knowing where his salvation was.

Dear Christian friends, the master is coming. Word has reached him how it is you have squandered your inheritance, the gifts he has given you.  He knows how you live.  He knows how you live with others.  He knows your hard and dishonest heart.  He knows how you have traded on his good name for many years to your own personal advantage but with no advantage to Him.  Caught red-handed in your dishonesty and the squandering of his wealth, you are fired.  Your only hope is not in any protest of your innocence.  Your only help comes from outside you, from trusting in the mercy of your lord when he comes to judge you.  Until that time comes, what is your best course of action?  Take advantage of this brief time before the Lord returns and reckons all accounts.  Use what you have been given to further the reputation of your Lord.  Christians who have control of even a tiny bit of worldly wealth need to use it in service to the kingdom of God, as a way of expressing love, both to God and to other people who have needs.  Jesus’ warning stands, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”

What are the true riches if not Christ and all those things that bring us to Christ, the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.  To be rich toward God is to be a member of his kingdom through the riches you have been given.  To be faithful stewards of the true riches means to use those things you have been given to further the name of your Lord, Jesus Christ.  The fact is, everyone around you is in the same boat.  We are all debtors of the master who is coming; we all stand as those who have squandered the wealth we have been given.  There is no better way to conduct oneself than to write down the debt of another.  Jesus put it a little differently when He was teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We serve a master who is merciful and generous.  And when he comes you will be commended for trusting in his generosity and mercy.  Amen.

Let us pray.  Deliver us dear Lord, from the love of money, and increase our love for you and for one another.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Pentecost 16

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Luke 15:1-10

Sept. 12, 2010

Note: I was asked to contribute sermons to the archive at  Göttinger Predigten, a sermon depository originally conceived by Professor Ulrich Nembach who teaches homiletics at the University of Göttingen, Germany.  I was asked by the editors to become a member of the community of authors for this year.  An earlier version of this sermon exists in that forum.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stops and teaches along the way.  By this point there are great crowds following him.  Even the tax collectors and sinners were coming out to listen to what he had to say.  This caught the attention of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and so they muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus tells these two parables in response to the Pharisees’ charge.  In them we see the immeasurable and undeserved love of God.

Do you eat with just anyone?  When you go to J & S, do you just find two chairs open no matter who else is sitting at the table?  No, of course not.  When a couple is dating, what will they typically do?  They’ll go out to dinner.  They will share a meal and use that time to be with one another and get to know one another better.  Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t just eat with anyone either.  He knows these sinners and he welcomes them to the table he shares with them.  Jesus welcomes tax collectors, the lowest of the low, men like Levi, who sold out to the Romans, men who often made their money by extortion and violence of their own people.  He eats with them.  Jesus is the friend of tax collectors and sinners.  [tell the parable]

The parable is wonderfully straightforward.  The meaning is crystal clear, not only for the Pharisees but for Jesus’ sinner friends.  “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  When we say that Jesus eats with tax collectors and prostitutes, we need to be clear that he is not condoning sin.  There is a general feeling among Christians that because Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners and sis not take part in the stoning of the adulterous woman, that Jesus has a permissive attitude to what we have traditionally known as sin.  Not so.  In these very parables Jesus says that the cause for rejoicing among the angels in heaven is that these sinners repent of their sins.  And remember, Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.”  The meaning of these parables are not shrouded in mystery.  Jesus is trying to prick the consciouses of these Pharisees who see no sins in their lives to repent of.

People who do not need to repent are no cause for rejoicing in heaven.  Over each sinner that repents of their sin, there is great rejoicing and hallelujah choruses well into eternity.  It gives God great joy for us to repent of our sin.  It gives God far greater joy for us to repent of our sin than it does for us to try to impress him with what we think are our righteous deeds.  The Pharisees thought it was God-pleasing when they treated sinners and tax collectors with contempt.  They thought they were pleasing God by holding up their strict understanding of the law.  No longer content with criticizing Jesus’ disciples and their less than “holy” way of life, the Pharisees finally are bold enough to begin their attack on Jesus himself.  The Pharisees believe that have plenty of righteousness based on their righteous acts.  They see no need of forgiveness and that is the worst sin of all.

In telling these parables Jesus contrasts the hardness of the Pharisees hearts with the softness of the Father in heaven’s heart.  Do you want to know what God’s love looks like?

The figure of Christ as Good Shepherd was one of the most common images in early Christian art.  A simple Google search for mosaics and Jesus will turn up the beautiful images of the tomb of Galla Placida in Ravenna that dates from 440 AD.  Jesus is depicted as a young shepherd sitting on a hill in a verdant field.  In his left hand is the resurrection cross and his right hand is petting a sheep.  Five other sheep look on contentedly.  It is a visual portrayal of the love of the shepherd for the sheep.  On many early Christian tombs the Good Shepherd is depicted carrying a sheep on his shoulders, all four legs of the sheep held securely by the hands of the shepherd. Once saved, the Shepherd will not let his precious sheep go.  (Illustration from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 20, Part 4, 2010.)

God’s love looks like the love of a shepherd for his sheep.  The sheep wanders off and gets lost.  With no way to get back on his own, the lamb is sought by the passionate love of the Shepherd.  When the Shepherd finds the lost sheep, he doesn’t just call and have the once lost creature walk back to town.  He lifts the sheep up on his shoulders and carries it back to his village where he calls together his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him over the finding of his lost sheep.

When I read God’s Word, honestly, I must finally come to the realization that I am just like St. Paul today.  I am very good at hiding my sins from other people and appearing to be polite and sincere and sometimes, even holy.  This is not pious self-deprecation.  No, my only saving grace is the same as Paul’s.  Jesus my Savior doggedly pursued my stupid, rebellious self.  He found me, dead in my sins, dirty and starving and he rescued me and lifted me up on his shoulders and carried me back to the Father’s flock because the Father had claimed me as one of his own long ago.  If I can’t say that about myself, I’m a Pharisee for whom in heaven there is no rejoicing.

This has happened to you too.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd sought you out.  He found you wounded and dead in your trespasses and sins; dirty and starving He lifted you up onto his own shoulders and carried you in safety back to the flock where he washed you and he fed you and he bound up your wounds.  If you cannot see where that happened for you I encourage you to look all the more deeply at Luther’s meaning of the second article of creed, where we confess that “Jesus redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil.”  It happened there at the font.  That is the nature of Holy Baptism.  It is happening even now through the Word in Holy Preaching.  That is the goal of the practice of the Christian faith to see Jesus accomplishing those things for us right now.  It is happening through our echoing those words that sealed us with His holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We were Baptized, yes, but even more so, we are Baptized, we stand as those who have been washed, as God’s own people.  And he feeds us at His Holy Communion.  Today Jesus continues to eat with sinners; he extends his invitation once again to you to be one more sinner at His table today.  If this is not how you see your life, dear Christian, hear Jesus’ parable as the warning it is.  Repent and then be glad we have such a Savior who delights to eat with sinners.

The Christian life is not a life of self-generated holiness but rather a life of repentance, a life of humble recognition that we needed to be saved from our life of slavery to sin, death and the devil.  It is perhaps not just merely humility to say we need such a rescue, but even humiliating.  We are saved by a Rescuer who humiliated himself into order to rescue us.  This is what Jesus did when he carried our sins to the cross.  Our rescue comes when Jesus finds us and takes us on his shoulders and carries us home to the Father.

May God grant us growth in faith in our gracious and loving God, and may God grow in us love for others that we never become Pharisees when it comes to loving others the way God loves them.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Pentecost 15

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Pentecost 15 – Luke 14:25-3

Sept 5, 2010

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord,

who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,

just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.

“Purchased and won me from all sins… not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  That’s the cost. That’s what it cost to buy me back from sin, death and the power of the devil.  That’s what Jesus paid for me and for you and for all people.  Jesus died to save all people.  All people are not saved but that’s not Jesus’ fault, it’s theirs.

Any discussion about the cost of discipleship should begin with the price paid.  Count the cost of the price paid by your Savior, your Redeemer, Jesus.  What did he not give up in order that you might be His disciple?  What did He fail to endure fully?  What did He fail to fulfill?  No, God sent His own perfect Son into human flesh so that Jesus might stand in our place, as our true brother under the Law of God, taking all the wrath reserved for us, and giving us all the righteous He earned while completing it fully.  “Be ye holy as I am holy,” says the Lord God and it crushes us, knowing that we cannot be holy, and yet in Christ, we are holy because he is holy, and perfect and blameless.

And so Jesus lists the cost to us—our part of the bargain—three sacrifices: family, the cross, and possessions.  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Hate?  Hate is a strong word.  In our house with two children it is a four-letter word, and therefore a banned word.  Hate here is of a slightly different variety.  A Bible dictionary says that this hate is not the emotional hatred, but rather disowning, renunciation, rejection.  That’s still pretty strong language.  And yet what Christian today is not called to do this?  Whose family does not have at least one person who says, “Oh, I believe in God, I just don’t think you have to go to church to believe in God,”?  Um, time for you to reread the 3rd commandment.  In other families the case is much different.  There are brothers or sisters who are now professed atheists despite the apparent piety of their youth.  What family today has not been touched by the rampant promiscuity of our age or tempted by the apparent ease of an abortion?  Divorce, homosexuality, abuse, substance abuse, the list goes on.  Hate even your family if they drag you away from the kingdom of God.  Jesus is literally redefining for you who your true family is, the kinship of God.  But it is not enough to be hated by your own family.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  You must be crucified.  If you wish to follow after the One who is on His way to Jerusalem where He will be hated and crucified, you must follow after Him in the way of the cross.  You will be not only be hated by your family but crucified by the wider society.  Gone are the days when Sundays are protected by wider society.  A business not open on Sunday?  What are you nuts?  Now, if you honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, people call you an “extremist.”  In many places, even pastors and churches do not understand the “extremism” of following Jesus.  They backpeddle and soften Jesus’ words.  But it is not enough to be hated and crucified you need to put your money where your mouth is.

And so the third sacrifice Jesus names is that of possessions.  “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”  Possessions are the greatest threat to discipleship.  Disciples who are concerned about money are the 3rd kind of seed that falls among the thorns and as it grows up is choked with thorns.  They are the people who hear the Word of God but are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life (8:7, 14).

Through His disciples’ presence in the world, Jesus is present on the earth.  But if family ties, the burden the cross, and possessions hinder hearers from becoming disciples, they will be like tasteless salt, worthless, and thrown out.  No. Count the cost.  Jesus outlines the unconditional nature of discipleship.  Consider well these radical demands of following after Jesus and be ready to meet them.  Yet never forget the cost of your redemption paid by the Son of God, who spared no expense to buy your back from sin, death and the power of the devil.  He alone is your strong tower.  He alone is your defender from all that threatens you.  And he bought you so that you might be his own live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  He has done it.  This is most certainly true.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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