Monday, October 16, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46, for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, "Commander and Savior"

            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last Sunday, if you were here, we had a bulletin quote from Luther, that whether God’s Law or man’s law, the law should never bind further than love goes, and that love should be the interpreter of the law. “Where there is no love these things become meaningless and the law begins to do harm. The reason for enacting all laws and ordinances is only to establish love, as Paul says, Romans 13:10 ‘Love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.’” Luther’s reflection and St. Paul’s comments both echo Jesus’ words today. He shows the Law is given that we might love. Jesus sums up the whole of God’s law in two great commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
            If we just reflect for a moment, we’ll realize that enforcing laws with excessive cruelty, goes beyond love. Laws applied inflexibly, so as to prevent compassion or to harm the innocent violate the principle of love. The apostle James reminds us: “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Jesus shows both perfect love and true mercy. He sets the boundaries of what love is and what is obedience to His commandments. Since they are His commandments, He is the Commander of Love. Jesus aims our love in two directions, when He sums up the commandments: “Love God” (what we might call the “vertical direction”) and “love your neighbor” (the “horizontal direction”).
            Whatever trap they had in mind for Jesus with their question, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” they had to agree with His answer. Famously, the Pharisees counted 613 commandments in the Bible. Perhaps they thought He would choose one among the many, and they could nail Him for whatever He left out. Instead, He summarized the Law so completely, that they had no response. But later they would still “nail Him” anyway for a different reason. Jesus perfectly grouped the 10 Commandments into what we call “the Two Tables of the Law”—the First Table: commandments about our relationship to God (vertical dimension); and the Second Table: the rest of the commandments, which are about our relationship to our neighbors (horizontal dimension).
            Jesus says, on these two commandments depend (literally “hang”) all the Law and the Prophets. Perhaps it’s just a happy coincidence, but when you join together these two dimensions, you get a cross. Jesus says all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments. The weight of everything God commanded, required, and foretold, hung on these love commands. Jesus later says, after His resurrection, that all the Law and the Prophets testify about Him (Luke 24:27; 44). Jesus hung on this cross, He hung physically on a wooden post and cross-beam, but spiritually, the whole Law and Prophets hung upon Him. Their fulfillment and our life, hung upon the outcome of Jesus’ saving act. Unpin these two commandments, or remove Jesus Christ, and the whole thing comes apart. But in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17), and Christ walked the way and suffered the death that atoned for us all.
            For our part, Luther warns us not to neglect the 10 Commandments, because they relate to all of our life. But make no mistake—they can’t save us. Thankfully, Jesus turns our attention, and the Pharisees’ to the very teaching that can save us. He asks them who the Christ, or Messiah is. Messiah is the Hebrew, and Christ is the Greek translation of the same Old Testament title, which means “Anointed” or “Chosen One.” Jesus knows they were waiting for this Anointed One, but didn’t yet know who He was. Some early Jews even debated whether there would be one, or even two Messiahs. One a king, and perhaps another a priest. But they all agreed that there would be the Messiah or Christ who descended from David.
            Agreed that the Christ was to be born from David’s line, Jesus puts them in an unexpected corner, by quoting Psalm 110:1. They knew this Messianic passage well. It was a Psalm King David wrote. And Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted passage in the New Testament. It reads: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. It can be puzzling, so let’s look at it piece by piece, and then the whole picture. “The Lord said to my Lord”—two persons are conversing, “the Lord”, and “my Lord”. If we turn to the Hebrew, we get a  little help—the first “Lord” is the name of God Himself, Yahweh. And the second, “my Lord” is the Hebrew title “Adonai”. So YHWH said to my Adonai, sit at my right hand”. That first person is obviously God the Father. But who is “Adonai” or “my Lord” that God is speaking to? The Jews believed this to be the Messiah, or Christ. Jesus agrees, but then points out how unusual it is that David is speaking with respect and honor, by the title “my Lord”, to a human descendant of his, who is yet to be born!
            So let’s recap this: God the Father is speaking to the Messiah or Christ, whom David is addressing as “my Lord.” The Jews agreed that the Christ would be a human descendant of David. But how could they reconcile the fact that David is calling Him Lord? Do you address your grandchildren as “lord?” I hope not! It’s highly unusual—but it shows that David knew his Lord would rank above him, and be seated at God’s right hand, to rule over all His enemies. David was worshipping his future Savior, the Christ! What other conclusion could they come to, than that this was the Divine Son of God?! Jesus’ point is that this passage betrays David’s understanding that the Messiah or Christ was both human and divine, else he would not have addressed Him as “my Lord”.  The Pharisees didn’t miss this fact, but they had no response—once again. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer, and after this, didn’t dare test Jesus with any more questions. Jesus had an undefeated record against them.
            We know that they didn’t miss the connection Jesus was making for them, about Him being the Messiah or Christ, and that this Christ was divine—the Son of God. We know it, because in Matthew 26:63, when they arrest Jesus and put Him on trial, the high priest demands of Jesus: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Enraged, the high priest charged Jesus with blasphemy (a mere human claiming to be god), and they declared Jesus deserved death. So by Jesus asking them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he? If David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” Jesus raises the conversation to the ultimate, the highest point. It all revolves around who He is. If they accept what the Scriptures reveal, they will find that Jesus is the One sent by God. But as we know, they chose instead to crucify Him. But even in this act of hatred, they only allowed Him to prove His claim that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, by His rising from the dead. Something only God could do.
            So following the arc of our reading—Jesus answers their question about which is the greatest commandment, by teaching them the commandments of love—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. With perfect authority, Jesus is the good “Commander” of these “love commandments”. Hearing them, we immediately see their validity, but also the perfection they require. To love God with the full intensity of heart, mind, soul, and strength, is sadly a command we fall short of, even with our best efforts. And to love our neighbor as ourselves, as simple as it sounds, is a mirror in which we can see the countless faults and failings of our love toward those around us. Before God, the “Commander” of these good laws, we can only confess our guilt; all that we have broken.
            But by turning the conversation to the Christ, Jesus aims the arc of the conversation right to the target of Himself. Who is this Christ? In Him we find our Savior from guilt, sin, from broken commands. The great commandments are good and worthy of our whole effort, our whole life long. But we cannot be saved through them. If the conversation doesn’t lead to Christ then all their “spiritual efforts” are for nothing. But in Christ, our Savior, we are rescued from the depths of sin and death. In Jesus we are rescued from the impossible perfection demanded by the Law, into the grace-given salvation from Him. Martin Luther sums Jesus’ teaching up: “Be on your guard, learn God’s commandments and the gospel of Christ; God’s commandments teach what you are to do, which estates are pleasing to God and are ordained by him; but my gospel teaches you how to escape death and be saved. These doctrines will give you more than enough to study as long as you live, and no one will be able to master them completely.” Truly, this short passage of Scripture covers two of the biggest topics of the whole Bible—the Law and the Gospel—in a nutshell. And they show how Jesus is both the Commander of God’s Law, but also our Savior, our rescuer from sin and death.
            All the Law and the Prophets “hang” on the two “love commands”: “Love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” All these commands, requirements, and promises of God hang on Jesus Christ, hung on the cross, so that we might have His free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Loved by this all surpassing love—loved by the One who Commands love, and who mercifully and generously gives it—we are saved by Jesus—the Christ, the Son of God, and Son of David. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Matthew 22:46, we reach the last questions the Pharisees or any of the Jews dared ask Jesus anymore questions (about God’s Word). Why did they stop? When they gave up conversation with Jesus, what did they resolve to do instead? Matthew 26:1-5.
  2. In Matthew 22:34, the Pharisees seem either excited or impressed that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees (their religious and political rivals). They decide to try to test Jesus too. Does Jesus answer their question directly? (vs. 37-40). How does Jesus’ answer perfectly summarize all 10 Commandments? Read these commandments in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
  3. From teaching about the Law in verses 34-40, Jesus turns their attention to the teaching of the Gospel (Good News) in vs. 41-46. What does the title “Christ” or “Messiah” mean? What was this descendant of David going to do? 2 Samuel 7:12-14.
  4. Psalm 110:1-4 is the most quoted passage in the New Testament. Jesus uses this well-known prophecy of the Messiah to discuss a surprising revelation—why would King David, address a human descendant of his, not yet born, as “my Lord?” What did this reveal about who the Messiah was? Why were they unable or unwilling to answer Jesus? What did they realize He was claiming? Compare to Matthew 26:63-68.
  5. How does Jesus’ revealing of Himself as the Christ, and the bringer of salvation to mankind, help answer our inability to perfectly keep God’s Law? When Jesus says David wrote “in the Spirit” (vs. 43), what does this say about the origins and authorship of Scripture? 2 Timothy 3:16. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Sermon on Luke 14:1-6, for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, "Day of Rest and Gladness"

·         The first part of our Gospel today is a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Sabbath. It’s not His first bout with them. First it was a complaint about His disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. There Jesus asserts that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Then, a second time, He heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and again, they were closely watching Him to find a reason to accuse Him. Like our reading, Jesus ask them (ch. 6): “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” Then, in chapter 13, it gets even more heated as Jesus heals a woman at the synagogue who was crippled by an evil spirit. This time, the ruler of the synagogue rebuked Jesus for this act of mercy, saying: “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord answered: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” This shamed the adversaries of Jesus, but the people rejoiced at the miracle. Today, their answer to Jesus’ teachings is nothing but silence. They couldn’t refute Him.
·         Today’s story again pushes hard against the legalism of the Pharisees—but without quite turning explosive. But there was still time until they would respond brutally against Jesus by His false trial and crucifixion. There is both rebuke and entreaty in Jesus’ words—to correct their false understanding of the Sabbath, and to awaken their compassion and give true spiritual insight.
·         It appears that the Pharisees were somewhat indifferent to the suffering of the man with the illness, as he was “planted” by them at the meal to present a trap for Jesus. Since it’s clear they would have been angry with Jesus healing him on the Sabbath day, it doesn’t seem they had any genuine faith in Jesus, for him to be healed; only animosity. But Jesus was not to be manipulated by them. He pursued the good course, regardless of their ulterior motives. He heals that man for His own sake, and sends him away, while Jesus confronts and teaches them once again. He says, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”
·         There have been a couple of famous news stories I recall, of children stuck in wells, and the long, laborious, and anxious work that it took to remove them. A son fallen into a well would be distressing on any day of the week, and the chance that it would happen on a Sabbath would not in the least make the parent hesitate to rescue them. Even in the lesser case of an animal—the great risk of death or harm to the animal would make it urgent to rescue. Jesus’ point is that it’s absurd to think that someone would be so pedantic about Sabbath law, that they would postpone the rescue of their child or animal facing bodily harm, thinking that that would violate God’s Law. Even hard, sweaty labor to pull someone out of a well; you would do it! And rightly so! Remember Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord, even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28…parallel to Luke 6). This shows that the core of God’s commandment is the well-being of man. Therefore it cannot be obedience to the Sabbath commandment to jeopardize a person’s (or even an animals’) wellbeing by neglecting to help them on the Sabbath. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, Jesus says.
·         Now, we might have a certain disconnect with the problem Jesus was facing in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so driven to obey the Sabbath law, by not working on the Sabbath, that there was a long list of things they couldn’t imagine doing on the Sabbath day. That list apparently included healing people. But is there anything that we can’t imagine doing on the Sabbath day? In other words, do we ever say to ourselves, “I really shouldn’t be doing this on the day of rest and worship?” Do we ever think to ourselves, “Perhaps I’m not really resting one day a week, and worshipping God, as I ought to?” “I might even be a workaholic!”
·         Now, those questions could propel us into a guilt driven plan to make up new “rules and regulations” about what we are permitted to do or not do on the Sabbath. And we’d be right back where the Pharisees were—trying to address the problem by a legalism that made them miss the true point of the law, and the true gifts of the Gospel. Instead, those questions could make us reflect on whether we are missing out on the true purpose of the Sabbath day—to be refreshed and renewed in physical rest, ceasing our labors—which our bodies urgently need—and in spiritual rest, hearing the Word of God and receiving His gifts—which our souls urgently need.
·         We might instead ponder, who is this Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, and why has He invited me to His table? Why has He called me to cease from my frantic worrying and work, to dine at His side, and to hear His conversation? And to these questions, if we listen, we can hear the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus gives rest for the weary, rest for our souls—and He gives us a yoke to work with Him; to pull with Him, but assures us that it is easy and His burden is light. Jesus wants us to return to our labors refreshed and with His rest for our souls.
·         The Sabbath rest is for man—it is for us and our own good. It’s not that we were created for the sake of the Sabbath day. It was given for us. And Jesus is Lord over it all. He heals and makes alive, on this day especially! Wholeness and wellness is in Him, and there’s no better day or place to find these than in Him, the Lord of the Sabbath.
·         Now we as a side note, the Sabbath commandment—the 3rd Commandment by our counting—is the only one of the 10 that gets slightly modified by the New Testament. Jesus was showing the true purpose of the Sabbath, over against unhelpful restrictions invented by the Pharisees. But also, after Jesus died on Good Friday, rested in the tomb on the Sabbath Day (Saturday), and rose on Sunday morning from the dead—the early Christians quickly moved to worshipping on Sundays, to celebrate “The Lord’s Day” and His resurrection, instead of Saturday—the day originally prescribed by the 10 Commandments.
·         Did they change God’s commandment by their own authority? In Colossians 2:16 we are given the answer: the Apostle Paul writes: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” This passage shows that the kosher food laws and the Old Testament ceremonial and Sabbath calendars, were temporary shadows, that foreshadowed the substance, the reality of Christ. With Christ and His fulfillment of these shadows, we no longer have the command of the Lord to observe those ceremonies of the law. In other words, like the disciples we are free to worship on Sunday in celebration of the resurrection of the Lord of the Sabbath. We are still honoring the spirit of the law by honoring Christ in this way; keeping the core of the Sabbath commandment that remains.
·         This slight modification of the 3rd commandment didn’t lead the Christians to stop gathering together for worship. To the contrary, in Acts 2, the earliest description of the Christian pattern of worship after the Resurrection of Jesus, it says “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47). If anything, the early Christians met more often! The moral command of the law to rest and worship is unchanged—it is only the ceremonial form that has been changed (Chemnitz, Examination, vol. 4, p. 416).
·         Also, Jesus did not condemn labors done out of need or charity or healing, as we’ve already seen. Instead, what Jesus did condemn, was the abuse of the Temple as a place of worship, and turning it into a marketplace or den of thieves, and disturbing the place of prayer (ibid). Jesus does not want the day of rest and gladness to be undercut by these other activities. Worship ought to be for us a time to set aside distraction and busyness, and to receive the things of God—or in the metaphor we used last week—to quiet ourselves long enough to see, wonder at, and meditate on the panorama, or scenery of God’s amazing grace to us. If we don’t stop to pay attention, we may well miss the things of greatest importance, while attending to all the other minor things that preoccupy us.
·         To be refreshed and made whole on the Sabbath, we impose no new burdens or laws, but only take up the light and easy yoke of Jesus our Savior, who bore the heavy yoke of our sins, our worries and cares, to the cross. We are refreshed and made whole, seated at His table, fed by His body, the bread of life; nourished by His conversation—the life giving words of forgiveness and truth and divine wisdom. We are not living under the fear and compulsion of the law’s punishment, but as we heard last week in Ephesians 3, we live with the Holy Spirit in our inner being and Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We come to rest and be refreshed on the Sabbath—out of the joy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; out of the relief of having our sins forgiven; out of the anticipation of receiving Christ’s gifts. We come to cast off the dead weight of our sinfulness, and the gathering anxieties and fears of this world—eager to come into the light of Jesus, and receive His light yoke. And we come to rest from our labors, so that we may be renewed and refreshed to be sent back again into the Lord’s labors, joyful and carefree—under the forgiveness, grace, and shed blood of our Lord Jesus! In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Three Sabbath healing miracles happen in Luke 6:11; 13:17, and 14:4. The reaction of the Pharisees progresses from anger (6:11), to _____ (13:17), to ____ (14:4). This shows that  they could not refute Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath.
  2. Read Jesus’ questions in Luke 6:3-5; 6:9; 13:15-16; and 14:3-5. What common idea runs through this? How is Jesus trying to reform their understanding of the observance of the Sabbath?
  3. The man with the illness seems to have been “planted” by the Pharisees at the meal to trap Jesus. Luke 14:1-3. How can we show greater sympathy and awareness to the needs of other people? How does the Sabbath turn our attention to doing what is good and charitable?
  4. Why would Jesus permit labor to save life or to give food or drink on the Sabbath? What is the purpose of the Sabbath? Mark 2:27-28. How do we rest on the Sabbath day, or what things hinder or prevent us from rest and worship?
  5. Why does Jesus call us to rest on His Sabbath? What does He give us? Matthew 11:28-30.
  6. How is the 3rd Commandment (Sabbath Day) modified in the New Testament? Colossians 2:16. What was the new day for worship observed by the early Christians, and why? Acts 2:42, 46-47; 1 Corinthians 16:2.
  7. What kinds of disruptions of the Sabbath/worship did Jesus condemn or obstruct? John 2:13-16.
  8. What joy and refreshment do we receive on the Sabbath? Who is the giver of all of this, and what does it enable us to return and do?

Monday, October 02, 2017

Sermon on Ephesians 3:13-21, for the 16th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Know the Surpassing Love of Christ"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today in our reading from Ephesians 3, a tender scene unfolds between the Apostle Paul, and the church in Ephesus, to whom he is writing. In the book of Acts, we learn that this congregation was especially dear to Paul’s heart, as he spent three years there, the longest we know of any of the mission churches he served. And the tenderness of the scene is that Paul appeals that they not lose heart or be discouraged because of his suffering, and he is bowing his knees in prayer to God the Father, praying for their strength. He is already confident of their sincere faith, but now is boldly praying for growth in their spiritual maturity, knowledge, and resilience to suffering and tests. I could say the same, that I’m confident of your sincere faith, and also pray, as do all pastors, for your spiritual growth.
Paul’s suffering was that he was writing this letter from prison. As often in his ministry, he was in chains for the Gospel. Boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ frequently landed him in hot water with the authorities, and Paul was jailed again and again for his faith. But Paul is not concerned for his own discomfort or captivity, but for how it has discouraged the Christians of Ephesus. He had seen it proven time and again, that God could work powerfully, even in the midst of imprisonment and suffering. So Paul is actually encouraging and comforting them! Don’t lose heart over my suffering, which is your glory.
One of my former professors explains this puzzling phrase. What does he mean that his suffering is their glory? Glory comes from what no one else could or would do. Glory is an exceptional honor, for rare and outstanding sacrifice or work. Glory is not always seen, acknowledged, or rewarded. A soldier who bravely leads the charge, a unit of firefighters that risk their lives to rescue a family from a burning building, mother who sacrifices everything for her child—each has a unique and different measure of glory. But here, Paul’s suffering was the glory of the Ephesians, because he was faithfully teaching the free Gospel of Jesus Christ, and was enduring every hardship to do so. His willingness to endure all this for them, witnessed to the incomparable greatness of the life that God gives, and the glory of what Christ has done. Why else would anyone willingly suffer all this? Paul’s service was done in praise of God’s incomparable works. He knew the Gospel of Jesus made it more than worth it all.
This is why Paul says he is taking the knee in prayer to the Father—to ask that God strengthen the Ephesians. Paul desires that they be filled with and know the surpassing love of Christ Jesus. Notice that this prayer is very Trinitarian—Paul prays to the Father, counts on God’s answer because of the riches of God’s glory, and prays the Spirit would strengthen their inner being, and Christ would dwell in their hearts. Father, Spirit, and Christ, each working in unison, in harmony, for the salvation and strengthening of the believers. His prayer is clearly grounded in the riches of God’s glory, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the indwelling of Jesus Christ in our hearts. So clearly do we depend on God, as His children. So clearly are we recipients of God’s blessing and His power to work. This is what we mean by grace. A Christian radio host pointed out that as humans we are always wandering astray—but never wandering (accidentally) towards more reliance on God’s grace. The very opposite—we are always wandering towards more independence and self-reliance.
This is why Paul so enthusiastically proclaims grace in the letter to the Ephesians. It’s why, Lord willing, I aim to do the very same. Constantly, week after week, reminding you of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. What we don’t often realize, is that the more we try to take credit or rely on ourselves, the more credit or glory we steal from God. The more that we try to do on our own, the less we are relying on God. But do you know how much we have to rely on God? Ephesians 2:5 tells us we were dead in our sins. How much can you do when you are dead? Nothing! And he goes on to say we were made alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. All the credit goes to Christ Jesus. Until this sinful flesh dies, we constantly have to be redirected to that truth, that we are 100% dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ.
That same radio show on grace talked about why we have this need, this dependence. It comes from our total depravity, the depth of our sin before God. We humans are usually offended by the claim that we are through and through, full of sin, apart from God. But if you consider it a little more carefully, you will realize that this magnifies and glorifies the love of God, who did what no one else could or would do. God loved us and sent His Son to save us, even when we were still sinners. Even when we were His enemies. It takes an incomparable love to do that. It wouldn’t require so great a love to love people who were already pretty good. Once again, when we minimize our sinfulness (in our own minds only), we are also minimizing the greatness of God’s grace. But when we grasp the true awfulness of rebellion against God—of turning away from Him, then it begins to dawn on us how awesome and mighty is God’s love. We realize how glorious and difficult what Christ did was.
Paul so earnestly wants the Spirit and Christ to dwell in us, so that we may be rooted and grounded in love [and] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. You know you can go to the theater to see a 3D movie, and take off the glasses, but you will only see 2 dimensions, and it will be a little blurry. Paul is praying that we would have the strength to comprehend the dimensions of Christ’s love. Without Christ and His Spirit in us, we can’t begin to grasp the greatness of God’s love.
Living on Maui, I know you have all stood before some awesome, sprawling, breath-taking scenes of God’s created splendor. Whether the vista of sunrise and the crater on Haleakala, or the green valley and mountains of West Maui, the surrounding islands and the sunset, or gorgeous scenes of tropical growth—I hope you have had the experience of standing before a breathtaking vista, and just trying to drink it all in with your eyes. And I hope you weren’t in a rush, ignored it or turned away. You could, of course “sip” at the scene by just glancing quickly, and then turning your head back down to the ground, or to your cell phone, or whatever else might be occupying your thoughts or seem more urgent at the moment—but you’d really be missing out. On the other hand you could drink it all in deeply. Have you stood and just stared and stared at the greatness, the expanse of the sky and the stars, and tried to imagine how broad, how long, how high and how deep is the universe? Have you stood with wonderment at the sunsets or the mountains and simply been unable to drink it all in with your eyes? Sometimes we need someone to pull our arm and force us to look up with our eyes to appreciate and open our eyes to the wonder of something truly magnificent.
So it is with appreciating how broad, how long, how high, and how deep is Christ’s love for us. God first has to be pulling at our inner being with His Holy Spirit, Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, to open our eyes and lift our heads, to try to soak in the marvelous goodness and unfathomable dimensions of God’s love for us. It’s a sight too big to take in at once. And when we consider our insignificance and our sinfulness, and how nevertheless Christ loves us and gave Himself up for us in such an outpouring of God’s love, it should never cease to amaze us. Not in a lifetime can we exhaust the Scriptures or the riches of God’s glory, to become bored with or sated with the knowledge of God, if we seek earnestly. And yet we can, and often do, content ourselves to just quickly “sip” and then return to our ever increasing world of distraction. Or we let our sight get clouded by sin and the worries of the world, and we lose focus, or even blind our eyes to Christ’s love. We can either go through life oblivious to the glory of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, or we can have our eyes opened by Christ and see from the revelation of Scripture, the matchless love of Christ Jesus for us.
So we pray with Paul that God strengthen us with the Spirit and that Christ would dwell in our hearts. That our blind eyes would  see, and we’d be given the strength to comprehend the vast dimensions of His love. Paul is gushing to describe the goodness of God, as he strings together so many superlatives or statements about the greatness or excesses of God’s power and love all through the book of Ephesians. Just in our reading: Surpassing knowledge, fullness of God, far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. We too, filled with the fullness of God, can delight in and overflow with the goodness of what God has done for us. Even if our words fall short to express it, as for Paul. Just like they do when we behold something truly wondrous and breathtaking. It’s a most profound mystery that God has united us to Jesus, and made Him to dwell so closely in our hearts. Cleansing our unclean hearts and making a holy dwelling in us.
In baptism we are united with Christ Jesus, and as we said before, even though we were formerly dead in our sins, God made us alive together in Christ Jesus. United with Him, we die to sin is in Him, and we rise to new life in Him. God joins us to His new life in baptism, and so with that knowledge, let us see that Christ’s glory does not go unseen or unacknowledged among us, but that we acknowledge and praise God for all His great glory, together with St. Paul: Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. United by faith to Christ Jesus, God can accomplish do in us so much more than we ask or think—we are too hesitant and shy in our prayers—we can and should ask boldly for God to work in our lives, confident of His riches and love. Truly God does what no one else could or would do—to Him be all the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Ephesians 3:13, what is Paul suffering for them (the Ephesians)? Ephesians 3:1; 4:1. Why would this not be a reason for them to be discouraged, from Paul’s perspective? Cf. Philippians 1:12-14.
  2. Paul says his sufferings are for their glory. If glory means “that which no one else could or would do”—how does Paul’s suffering on their behalf tell of the great uniqueness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. In Ephesians 3:14, Paul says he “bow[s his] knees before the Father.” What does this mean? In v. 16-19 try to identify the main verbs that describe what Paul’s asking God to do for them.
  4. In Ephesians 3:14-15, there is a play on words in the original Greek, between the word “Father” and “family” (which is “fatherhood” in Greek). How is every family in heaven or on earth, or all “fatherhood” named for God the Father? Ephesians 4:6; Malachi 2:10; Deuteronomy 32:4-9.
  5. Note that this passage clearly teaches of the Father, Christ, and the Spirit. Where does the work of the Spirit and of Christ take root? Ephesians 3:16-17. What gifts do they bestow, what works do they accomplish in us?
  6. In Ephesians 3:18-20, Paul uses several “superlative” phrases to describe how God’s love and power exceeds what we can grasp or think. Which are those phrases? Why is it so fitting to describe the work of Jesus in this way? Think back to question #2 about glory. How does this glory uniquely and supremely belong to Jesus Christ?
  7. When we are filled with the sense of the awesomeness of God’s incredible grace for us, what does it encourage and empower us to do? Ephesians 3:19-20. Also, as in vs. 13, we can learn how to not lose heart in our own sufferings, and give glory to God for His mercy and salvation. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34, for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, "Jesus, our Master"

·         Jesus’ soul searching questions and statements: “cannot serve God and money”  Sets up a choice between two masters, and we can’t have a split love or split loyalty between them. Considering the options, why is it infinitely better to have God as our Master, rather than money? If money is our master, what does it demand of us? We are in a constant pursuit of money, and like an old Lutheran hymn says “earthly wealth is not abiding, like a stream away is gliding” (LSB 732). Money is like a stream of water—it doesn’t stick around for long, and you can hardly hold it in your hands for long. If we are always chasing after money, we will not find happiness, but only the anxieties and worry that Jesus describes here. Money is a poor master—it can only give us more things to worry about. Money can give you cars and houses, but then those things cause us worries too, and they breakdown and cost us more money. The same is true for everything money buys.
·         Jesus, by contrast, is a Master that does not steal away our peace, or enslave us to worry, but rather He teaches us daily to cast all our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us. He teaches us true contentment, to know joy and satisfaction in times of plenty, as well as times of want—by finding our peace and satisfaction in Him.
·         When Jesus begins to teach about worry, He starts with the basics that money can buy—food and drink and clothing. Even these disappear with use, or spoil and wear out. But Jesus argues life is much more than these. And we all know this! We did not buy the people who make up our lives—our spouses, children, family and friends, and they have a value far greater than money can measure. Money can’t measure the value of life. Our individual potential, our God-given purpose and how we use our lives to serve others and glorify God—the fact that God has made us living souls, created and redeemed to bear His image. This is all far beyond what money can buy or value. Jesus teaches life is much more than money.
·         Jesus then gives several arguments from the lesser to the greater. He picks three things of small value—the birds, the flowers, and the grass. But every one of them is still cared for by God. They all quickly perish, but God still lovingly provides for them, and it’s amusing to even imagine that these things would worry or stress. They don’t even have the capacity for it. But His point is that we, who are of infinitely greater worth and value to God than birds, lilies, and grass—we who do have the capacity for worry—waste so much time worrying, as if God would care for the little things of creation, but not for us. You are precious to God!
·         So Jesus tells us not to worry. Sadly, we have this capacity for worry, unlike the birds and lilies, and we constantly worry to damaging effect! How many countless hours of our lives are wasted in worrying, when just as Jesus says, we can’t add a single hour to our life by doing it. In fact, we may very well be shortening our lives for all the stress and anxiety we create by worrying! If we personified worry and recognized the fact that worry is actually stealing from us, I wonder if we might be less willing to constantly give in to worry! Worry steals our peace of mind and fills us with countless unrealized fears instead. It steals our health and gives us heart trouble and high blood pressure instead! It steals contentment and gives us greed and jealousy instead. It steals our acceptance of the things we cannot change, and gives us the illusion that our worrying will solve the problem.
·         Our sinful mind is quick to answer—“But there are real dangers, there are natural disasters, there are unexpected deaths, times when money runs out and bills aren’t paid, times when our children make bad choices and we couldn’t change their path or mind”… and on and on. We give all these examples, and say, “What then?” As if to say these things spoke against God’s love or care for us. Yes the world is full of real dangers and disasters—the Bible never pretends otherwise. Jesus even makes it a point to say that people who die in disasters aren’t any more sinful than the rest of us—but we should be warned that life is short and to repent of our sins and be right with God.
·         So yes, the world is full of real dangers and disasters—but No, these are not evidence against God’s love and care for us. But they are evidence of a world that is groaning under the power and decay of sin. They are evidence that the world has gone wrong; far astray from God’s good planning, from His commandments and original purpose. And it’s no exaggeration to say that our human sin wreaks havoc on the world—so that we are constantly made the direct or collateral damage of sinful actions in this world, or are doing it to those whom we sin against intentionally or unintentionally. This world is a broken place. That would seem like a pretty good reason to worry, at least we think so! But Jesus firmly says NO! “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry for itself—sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
·         With all the trouble and uncertainty in the world—and I’m sure we all could make a long list of the uncertainties that face us for tomorrow—big or little, real, exaggerated, or imagined, likely to happen or not—even with all that uncertainty—Jesus says don’t worry! Don’t worry about them today, or tomorrow. Don’t worry about them period! We’ve already seen it does us no good. Instead, put your faith in Jesus, our Master. Don’t bow to money and the soul-sucking demands of that poor slavemaster—Jesus is a Master who gives us freedom and life. He came to earth to bring God’s kingdom, God’s reign, here. Jesus is the invasion of God’s kingdom into this chaotic, sin-filled world, to overthrow the sin and rebellion against God’s kingdom, by dying for our sins on the cross. Consuming that evil on the cross.
·         So when Jesus told us not to worry, about all those things beyond our control, He said “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Look closer. Seek first the kingdom of God.  Jesus made it clear, on several occasions, that with His arrival, He was bringing the kingdom of God among them. Jesus’ miracles, His power over evil; were signs of His kingdom power. Jesus said the crowning sign would be His death and resurrection. So when Jesus’ tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, it’s not a scavenger hunt or mystery—we don’t have to have a secret map to find it—Jesus is the kingdom of God among us. But what is His righteousness?
·         God’s righteousness is His perfect goodness and holiness. It’s the faithful obedience of Jesus, to the fullest, of all God’s Law. When we stand next to God’s Law, none of us can  stand up as righteous. Nobody makes the cut, meets the minimum requirements, gets a stamp of approval, or is judged innocent in the court of God’s Law. We do not possess that righteousness on our own. But seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Scripture teaches this amazing truth—Jesus gives us His righteousness for free, by faith. Trusting in Jesus, we receive a righteousness that was not our own, but is now ours by faith. He stood up under God’s Law, and was judged pure and innocent, and full of the righteousness, the goodness of God. And when Jesus suffered on the cross, His death purges us of all sin and guilt. So that now, when we stand up, not under the Law, but under Christ, we stand with His full righteousness. Gifted to us, credited to us, not by any works of our own, but by the faith that trusts in Jesus.
·         This is the big picture of life—facing life with Jesus means that our eternal security rests in Him. No matter what may happen to us in this life, God has us taken care of—not by our worrying, not by our works or careful planning, but by the gracious invasion of God’s kingdom into this world, and His pointed rescue of you. God rescues you from sin, to become His child, to become servant to Jesus—not to money, not to worry, or all the poor slavemasters that might lure us on earth. And with the big picture of life taken care of—with God giving you His righteousness in Jesus Christ, there’s no need to sweat the small stuff—no need to fill our lives with anxiety about the uncertainties of life. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.
·         God knows about all the rest, and He’s got it covered. It’s not a promise of a life of ease and wealth, or a life free of trouble—but it is a promise that God will take care of you—and in thick or thin, you don’t need to worry—it won’t even help to worry—so why do it? Rather, take comfort in knowing Jesus, your Master—He is the good Lord and Savior, and our Father knows all we need and well provides it. We trust it boldly, in Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. If “money” is our master, what does it demand of us? What does it give in return? If Jesus is our master, what does He call us to pursue, and what does He give in return? Matthew 6:24, 33.
  2. What does worry steal from us? What does it give to us? What alternative mindset does Jesus give us in these verses? Matthew 6:31-34; Philippians 4:11-13. How could you describe the experience of receiving God’s contentment, in contrast to a life of worry/anxiety?
  3. Jesus’ examples in Matthew 6:25, 31 refer to worry about food, drink, and clothing. While most of us are not today worrying about those basic necessities, what do we worry about instead? How does this demonstrate the truth that increasing wealth doesn’t decrease our worry, as Solomon wrote? Ecclesiastes 5:10-12. What happens to worry instead?
  4. What is the point behind Jesus’ amusing examples of imagining birds sowing grain and storing in barns, or lilies laboring or spinning cloth, or you adding length to your life by worry? Matthew 6:26-32.
  5. Does God’s provision for us mean that we may never face shortages, want, or even unexpected disasters? Do those events contradict God’s care for us, or do they tell us something else about life? Luke 13:1-5; Philippians 4:11-13. Does the loss of things in this life testify to us against God’s love? Job 1:21-22; 2:9-10
  6. Jesus leads us to a superior way to live, in Matthew 6:33. What is it? Jesus indicates during His ministry, that He is the kingdom of God, near to, or come among the people: Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:20-21. How do we come into the realm of Jesus’ working? Romans 10:17. How do we receive His righteousness? Romans 3:21-22, 26. Why is this the greatest source of contentment? Why is Jesus greater than all other masters we might serve?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19, for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, "Doctor of Souls"

  • Sermon outline:
  • ·         First glance? Miracle story + reminder to always say “thank-you”? < Scratching surface. Closer look > Dynamics between Jews and Samaritans (who were they?), dynamics between the healthy community and lepers (who were they?) , purity laws and priests verifying cleansing, value of a physical wellness vs. something more received by faith! Different levels of thankfulness/praise. Dynamics between Samaritan and Jesus (who is this man?).
  • ·         Our own semi-recent history with leprosy—Father Damien and the lepers of the Kalaupapa colony on Molokai. Sad and tragic stories—exile who was healed, refused by mother to come home—so great was the fear. 100 years Hansen’s disease sufferers banished there.
  • ·         Biblical times: had to live outside the community and wear torn clothes, cover their face and cry out, “Unclean, Unclean!” to those who would approach them (Lev. 13:45-46)
  • ·         Conversation about learning from our history, even dark chapters—seeing the hope and light that compassion and sacrifice can bring, even in great darkness and suffering. Understanding why fears of a former age were really misguided or unfounded—or when fears were real and contagion and death was real, to respect the sacrificial service of those who committed their lives. Before disease was understood or treatments, quarantine was common. Didn’t have to be as cruel as it often became, but it forces us to ask difficult questions when we face history. We’re quick to judge former ages, but are surely blind to the ways future ages may judge us—forgetting that our human nature is the same in every age. We are not spared from evil if we hide from dark chapters of history—only doomed to repeat them, unless we learn from it (overused, but bears repeating). Learn to transcend fear with courage and compassion, to overcome anger with love, to find better ways to help those who may be in danger, or are real a danger to others, without resorting to cruelty or neglect.
  • ·         Jesus entered history to change things for the better. Not in the simplistic way we might long for—all diseases gone, all suffering gone, all cruelty, fear, hatred, etc gone, but to put an end to the power of sin, give us a new spirit of love and self-control, not of fear. Very opposite of cruelty and neglect. Cared even for these outcasts and unclean. Divine and human presence and response. Ten lepers healed, many blind, lame, deaf, etc. But not every sick or paralyzed person in Israel. Why not? Couldn’t He have?
  • ·         Bigger picture of the gospels—all along, Jesus was on the way to a greater healing. Jesus was on His way to the cross. The bigger story of the New Testament is not the individual healings, but the greater healing this “Doctor of Souls” was preparing to give. The Samaritan experienced this when joy and thanksgiving made him return to Jesus and praise God. Was there no one else? All were healed, but only one remembered to give thanks. “Your faith has healed you” (saved). Double meaning and mention of faith helps us see that more was going on here. How can faith help us?
  • ·         Not like people often say, “you just gotta have faith” like extra optimism, hardening determination, or renewing effort. Rather, faith, used in the Bible, means recognizing our need to depend on or trust in God. Faith, is always trust in something—but trust in what? Not yourself, because faith is dealing with bigger problems than we can handle on our own. Instead, trust the One who is able to save you: Jesus Christ. Being “saved” also doesn’t mean instant rescue from whatever current dilemma—problem with your relationships, finances, health, work, etc—it’s not a magic promise fix-all for your life.
  • ·         But wait! Does that mean Jesus doesn’t care or want to be involved in all those intimate struggles and problem you face? He absolutely does! He encourages us to always pray, and seek Him. Again, that’s where trust or faith comes in—it steers us to Him. But being saved, is especially about the even “bigger problems” we can’t handle—sin, death, devil. Do we have a solution for death? Who will take care of us when we die? No need? Sure about that?
  • ·         Do we have a solution for our sin? Do we know that our sins close heaven’s door to us, if we think that we can rely on our good record to get in? God doesn’t grade on a curve. But Jesus has the solution for that as well.  Jesus has the answer for all those bigger problems, and He’s solved them all by His death on the cross. No premium or payment plan to get this “coverage.” God bears all the cost for redeeming us from sin. Jesus came to give us free salvation. That’s why Jesus is so eager for all ten, not just one, to return and give thanks. God has so much more to give us! If we only received help for earthly problems, would we even look to God for the great eternal questions, or would we write that off, or postpone thinking about it? Or when God blesses us in earthly ways, do we do a 180 and come back to praise Him and thank Him? Christ has more to give, and he wants “all ten” to return—He wants each one of you to sing “praise God from whom all blessings flow”—because there is no greater blessing than for us to know who is the Giver of all good things, and to know and receive His blessings in Christ Jesus. 
  • ·         Worship is a “W” not an “M” –we come here each week, not to assemble to perform our duties to God, as if He needed anything from us—as if we traded our praise to God for something in return,. That would make worship revolve around us. Worship is not a big “M” that’s all about Me. Rather worship turns our eyes up to God. We come each week with hungry hearts and empty hands to receive the blessings that God generously sends to us—messages of forgiveness, God’s companionship in our suffering and crosses, the redemption of our lives to serve God’s purpose and calling, honest reexamination of my life in light of God’s perfect law, a total humbling before God followed by a total rebuilding into a new person in Christ Jesus, which shows all the areas where I’ve been responsible and at fault, but does not condemn for it, but puts that all on the cross and gives us a new life and new spirit to follow Christ. Christians faithfully worship every Sunday for decades, their whole life through, not to fill a scorecard or earn some credits, but because we gather at Jesus’ feet to hear His Word, and at His church to receive the wellness He pours out to us in His gifts. Word & Sacraments, channels for Christ’s mercy into our lives. We come because we have learned that it is good and right for us to cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!” and that He eagerly responds with forgiveness, life, and mercy.
  • ·         And as often as we gather in faith, worshipping and giving praise to God in a loud voice, we hear His answer “Go, your faith has saved you!” And Jesus sends us out into the world, with a new wellness that we received from Him by faith—refreshed to face life’s challenges anew; refreshed to love each other with the love of Jesus that He plants in our hearts. And His work takes root, not only in our hearts, but also in our eyes, giving us His compassion as we see poor, needy, suffering, outcasts, etc around us, and our eyes are awakened to their needs, so that we might serve God and our neighbor without fear.
  • ·         Americans today invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, recreation, money, medicine, etc, into physical wellness—and often to very good effects and results. But how God longs for us, like Jesus longed for those other 9 healed lepers, to turn back to Jesus for the greater wellness that the Samaritan found. God grant us this spiritual wellness—the wholeness of our salvation in Jesus Christ!  And the great news is that Jesus gives it for free! Knowing who He is; that God is the Great Giver of all things, that we return thanks and praise to Him, and find our life in Jesus Christ. He is our wellness, the wholeness above all else. This wellness is seen in believing in Jesus, being drenched in His mercy, receiving His forgiveness, being a healthy and frequent recipient of the healing medicine of His gifts, in short—having a living relationship to the Doctor of Souls. And Jesus Christ sees that we have received all He’s freely given, and gives us this good diagnosis of health: “Go, your faith has made you well!” Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Luke 17:11-19. Was the relationship between Jews and Samaritans friendly or not? How did they act toward each other? John 4:9. What did lepers have to do to keep themselves apart from the healthy community? Leviticus 13:45-46.
  2. Imagine being a leper. What would it be like to live under those circumstances? What feelings and hardships would you face?
  3. Why should we not hide from the lessons of history, but learn from them? At the right time Jesus entered human history. Galatians 4:4-7. What did He come to do?
  4. What made the Samaritan different from the others who had been healed? Luke 17:15-19. Who did he acknowledge for his healing? Vs. 19, the phrase “made you well” has a double meaning, of “has saved you.” What greater gift did He receive from Jesus by faith?
  5. Why is faith not trusting in yourself? What (or who?) does faith need to attach to? Mark 11:22; Acts 3:16; 20:21. What does this faith in Jesus receive? Romans 3:26; 4:16; Acts 26:18.
  6. What’s Jesus solution for the “big problems” of sin, death, and the devil? How can we afford this protection and “coverage?”
  7. Explain why worship is a “W” and not an “M”. Why do Christians come to worship every Sunday, year after year? What do we find or receive there?
  8. Our reading pictures physical wellness and spiritual wellness together. What effort do we invest in either or both kinds of wellness? Who is the true Giver of spiritual wellness? When He has given it, and we have received it, what good diagnosis does He speak? Luke 17:19