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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sermon on Luke 10:23-37, for the 13th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr. lectionary), "The Good Samaritan"

To know and to do—very different things (P. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary). Jesus established that the teacher knew the Law correctly—but to do it is a far greater matter. A great many good things we know we ought to do, by the 10 Commandments, but how much harder is it to do than to simply know? A child may know their parents told them not to fight with their siblings—but doing it…
Jesus teaches the Law’s promise: “Do this and you shall live”. That’s all well and good if you can do it, but if you don’t do it? Gal. 3:10-11 tells us this very command becomes a curse to us, because “cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them. 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.””
Teacher wanted to justify himself. Betrays his motive. Wants the law to do what the law cannot do, because of our sinfulness. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Gal. 3:21-22). Law can’t give life—only the promise of Jesus Christ gives life. Last week: the letter (law) kills; the spirit gives life.
Law commands good things—love God with heart, soul, mind, strength. (self-examination—how is our love?) Love neighbor as ourselves (self-exam—how broad and expansive the command, and how short our love?) Prayer of the day: “give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what You have promised, make us love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ”.
Parable shows how the law is not given to give us life, but for us to love our neighbor. By trying to give the law an “unlawful motive” the teacher tried to narrow the law down enough so he could justify himself. But in wishing for the law to be narrowly defined, he would have left his Samaritan “enemies” and others out of the command. Jesus blows open the narrowing and legalizing that even we are tempted to do.  “legalizing” might come up with definitions of who is and isn’t my neighbor, how much and how far I am required to help. Turn the law into a “low bar” that we can achieve. But the parable teaches: Who is my neighbor? Everyone! Better yet, you are to be the neighbor to whomever  is in need! The law is not about who they are, and whether they fit the bill for you serving them—it’s about who you are to be—a merciful neighbor, regardless of whom you are asked to help or show compassion to.
There is a chilling coldness in the actions of the priest and Levite, who have the appearance of religion, but who pass by on the other side of the road. By contrast, just look at how Americans have pulled together regardless of race, religion, political affiliation, social status, etc, to help each other in Texas. Loving the neighbor doesn’t examine who they are—it examines who we are. What kind of person am I? A neighbor to the person in need, or a pious priest or Levite who ignores the suffering? When we reexamine our obedience to the command “Love your neighbor as yourself” in this light, it becomes clear just how earnestly we need to pray: “give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what You have promised, make us love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ”. God, we need that increase! God wants this. He wants hearts humbled and hungry for His mercy, open to being vessels of His love to our neighbors.
Reflect on how you are called to be a neighbor to someone in need. It may cause you cost, delay, inconvenience, discomfort, messiness, etc. But that is God’s calling, to love our neighbors. But remember that Christ has freed you from the law, so you are free for God’s love to flow through you to them! Shape of service will look different, but generous, compassionate, love—same.
Examine the Good Samaritan—no law could adequately describe what he did—not to prescribe how much help to give, or what form it should take. Not a minimal effort. But he goes above and beyond, bandaging wounds, incurring expenses, inconvenience and delay—not to mention he would have been eyed suspiciously since Jews hated Samaritans. Wine, oil, time, physical exertion, extra expense, promise to pay overages on return. Not extravagant, but his kindness is not restricted or measured, rationed or withheld—it is generous.
Reminds me of Galatians 5:22 “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” And 5:18 “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”  The fruit of the Spirit is a love that goes above and beyond the law. Generous, without rationing or restriction.
Whose love can this better describe, than that of Jesus? We of course, were dead in our trespasses and sins. The curse of the law is inevitable doom for us, who stand under its judgment. But Christ comes, to perform a costly act of self-sacrifice and service that goes far beyond what the just law of God demands. Even greater than the acts of the Good Samaritan, Jesus perfected love, by incurring the greatest cost imaginable—surrendering His own life to death on the cross for us. And not just a human life offered in sacrifice—which is great in itself—but the very precious blood of God Himself, as Paul says in Acts 20:28, commanding pastors to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with His own blood.” The precious blood of God’s Son, no costlier gift can be given to mankind. He came into “enemy territory”, facing the hatred and scorn of those who wanted to crucify Him—but He was not deterred from helping the wounded, the left for dead. Jesus came to earth and saw that we were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, and He did not pass by on the other side; He did not stay away to keep Himself from getting defiled by meeting us in our injury and death, but He had compassion on us, and came to help.
Jesus binds up our wounds (traumata)—brings us healing. “Surely by His stripes we are healed”. Jesus is the master healer of both body and soul, as His numerous miracles prove. It is His hands, His balm, and His healing Words that must but applied to the traumas of our bodies, hearts, and souls. For our dying bodies, He proclaims His resurrection from the grave, and ours to follow Him. For our sin-sick hearts, He gives a new heart and a new spirit within us, turning our  hearts up to Him. For our lost souls, He buys us redemption and healing by God’s precious blood.
He brings us to the inn of the church, as our hymn says: “Unto his church my steps he led, The house prepared for sinners lost; Gave charge I should be clothed and fed; And took upon him all the cost.” (John Newton, The Good Samaritan). Here we are a hospital for sinners—so you should not expect to see the healthy, but the sick, who are in need of mercy. Mercy given, mercy needed, mercy received—these things you should see.
And Jesus promises to return again, and all our restoration, all the expense of our recovery, is on His tab. He is good for it. Because the law was not given for our righteousness, or to give us life—but Jesus Christ is given for our righteousness. That is the Gospel, the Good News! There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life! We can only be given it, by faith in Jesus. He gifts eternal life—we don’t earn it. This freedom from trying to justify ourselves, gives us the liberty to love our neighbor as ourselves, not for personal gain or spiritual advancement, but from a new definition of who we are—a neighbor to show mercy to whomever needs it. Grant us an increase of faith, hope and charity, oh Lord! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. The parable of the Good Samaritan begins with a teacher of the law asking Jesus a couple of questions: 1) What shall I do to inherit eternal life? and 2) who is my neighbor? Jesus answers the first question with a ______ and the second question He answers by telling a ______. (Luke 10:25-30).
2. In Luke 10:29, we see that the motive of the teacher was to justify himself, when he asked “who is my neighbor?” Why is our “justification” not a motive (purpose) of God’s law? Galatians 3:21. If the law can’t justify us, how are we justified? Galatians 3:22-24.
3. If we examine ourselves, do we find that we have kept the law, by loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves? How have we fallen short? Roman 3:23. If we have not perfectly kept the law, how does it leave us? Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:6-7 (cf. Luke 10:30). If we are dead, and cannot help ourselves, where does God’s Word turn us for rescue? Ephesians 2:5.
4. What is so discouraging about what the priest and the Levite did in the story? Why did they avoid helping? Why was it so surprising that a Samaritan would stop to help? Cf. John 4:9-10.
5. How did the Samaritan go “above and beyond” the call of ordinary kindness? Luke 10:34-35.
6. When Jesus answers the question with this parable, He changes it from a question of “who is my neighbor” to “who am I to be a neighbor for?” What is the answer to this question?
7. How is Jesus the ultimate “Good Samaritan?” How did He come as the unexpected helper? How was He despised by those He came to save? Acts 4:11. How did Jesus go “above and beyond” to show His love for us, and rescue us from every evil? 1 Peter 1:18-19. How is the church like the “inn” where we are nursed back to health? 1 Corinthians 12:25-27

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Our Sufficiency is Christ"

Note: for the full audio of the sermon, check out my podcast. This is a limited outline.
Corinthian letters—1st to an immature, conflicted, error-filled church; yet still called “saints”. 2nd, to a more mature congregation, rejoicing over the reconciliations and growth that had happened in their midst, and reflecting on his own ministry to them.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. What is this confidence? Vs. 1-3 “do we need letters of recommendation (referral letters) among you? You  are our letter, written on human hearts by Christ! We’re the messengers, you are sent out to the world! (way of talking about how Christian’s are to be living representatives, salt and light of Christ to the world). World experiences Christ’s love through you (or doesn’t experience…aren’t reading God’s Word, reading you).
Is this Paul taking credit for them? 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. If God is working through us, or in us—we don’t have any room to take credit for that. All credit to God! Sufficiency= ability, competence, comes from God. Not my degrees, not your strength, not cleverness, good speech, all kinds of pastors and ministers—not the person that matters, not their personality, skillset, etc, but God’s Word working through them. You also—the Gospel of Jesus works through you, but not because we add something to it or “help it out”. Not “the ball’s in your court now, and I’m measuring your performance for salvation”—then we’d need to be sufficient in ourselves, but our sufficiency is in Christ.
New covenant—old covenant. Not a simple contrast of OT to NT, but Law to Gospel. “letter kills”= Law, “Spirit gives life”= Gospel. Two different ministries, both with glory and God’s approval, but the later one, the latter one—the Gospel, is superior in every way.
Letter kills, ministry of death, condemnation, (sounds negative, but is the law a negative?) 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. … I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me… 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Law is good, holy, righteous, but it can only shine the light on the evil we have done. It has no power to save. Without the law, we would pursue evil unhindered, to our own harm. Continually exposes our sin, until we cry for God’s mercy. With only the light of the glory of the law shining on us, we only see how we have fallen short of God’s glory. But in the light of the Gospel our eyes are turned to Jesus, the Savior, we see Him with unveiled face.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? Moses on Sinai, fading glory, brilliant glory. Outshone by the new covenant, of the Spirit, of Christ.
Ruled under a ministry of the law, of death, of condemnation, we would be miserable. Guilty consciences, terror before God, no peace; perhaps anger, resentment, excuse making, denial—but no true love or obedience. True obedience doesn’t come through fear, but love.
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Ministry of righteousness, permanent, surpassing glory—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ministry of righteousness—God bestowing, Christ granting—only righteousness that is worth anything is that which rises to God’s own level of perfection. Anything short of it is not sufficient. Sufficient also means that something is enough, that it’s completed, and doesn’t need additions. So it is with our salvation. Full deal.
Difference between a salvation by faith in Jesus + _____  This means Jesus’ work is not sufficient. We have to add anything. But add anything to Jesus, and really you have subtracted something from His total perfection. Faith in Jesus + nothing! It is all by His grace, all sufficient for us. Luther’s great rediscovery of the gospel—the righteous will live by faith—ministry of righteousness, is bringing Jesus’ righteousness into the lives of all who will hear. Corinthians, Americans, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Japanese whoever will hear and believe, have been served, ministered to, with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You become written letters. I can boast of nothing in myself, but only that my sufficiency for this ministry is not in me. I can not claim anything has come from me. But you are living letters, proof of God’s work in your lives—proof that Jesus’ spirit makes you alive, and redeems you from sin-dead ways to new life in the Spirit. Your lives, as they meet with others, all through families and communities, are a message written on human hearts, of God’s love in Christ Jesus, for you.
Nothing to boast of in yourself, only to rejoice that He’s alive in you, and that Our Sufficiency—our whole power to live and continue to serve—rests 100% in Him. He will equip and supply everything we need, all glory goes to Him, and this glory will never fade. Rejoice, you are His! You are righteous in the Son!

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Read 2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2:16-17; 3:1-3. How is Paul describing the challenges and emotions that he and those who ministered alongside him were facing? What kind of searching questions was it pushing them to ask? What did they realize about the ability to carry on and carry out the ministry, and where their sufficiency came from?
2. 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul says that the Corinthians themselves are a “letter from Christ”. Who is the “mail man” who delivered the letter? What was this letter written on, and what was it written “with” (instead of ink)? What bigger point is Paul making about them through this analogy? How are we to be a “written letter” in the same way, toward the world?
3. What is meant by the “ministry of death carved in letters on stone”, and the glory of Moses’ face? Exodus 34:29-35. How did this ministry have glory? Since it is called the “ministry of death”, does that mean it was evil or harmful? Romans 7:7-20. What is the necessary purpose of the Law?
4. What is the “ministry” that far exceeds this ministry in glory? How does this “new ministry” bring life? 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Galatians 3:2-6, 14, 24-29.
5. Why is the Gospel so much superior to the Law, even though they are both God’s Word? What does it mean to say that Jesus’ sacrifice is fully sufficient for our salvation? What does it do when we treat salvation as though the sufficiency was in ourselves, and not Him alone? What damage does it do to our ego? To our salvation? 2 Corinthians 12:5-10; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:27. Where is our salvation and our boasting best founded and best grounded?