All Saints Day

All Saints’ Day

November 3, 2019

Revelation 7:9-17

“What Will Heaven Be Like?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the First Lesson from Revelation chapter 7.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

There was a time when I lived in Minnesota that my hometown of Lincoln, NE was a manageable drive of only about 700 miles to the SW. So, one year my daughter Emily and I had tickets to a Nebraska football game in Lincoln, so we hopped in my Trailblazer and began our road trip with great enthusiasm…so happy to be going to see our favorite team play. Then, in St. Peter, MN we hit a significant detour. Then, outside of Windom, MN it started to rain and it didn’t let up the rest of the trip. Road construction made it tough going at times. But despite all the odds stacked against us, we made it and finally walked up to Memorial Stadium on a crisp, cool fall morning with 85,000 other people dressed in red cheering for the Cornhuskers.

As I look back on that now, I see that trip down for the game as a microcosm of the life of a Christian and especially what we celebrate today – All Saints’ Day. Let me explain. In life we also started out as teens and young adults all excited at what could be and might be as our lives unfold. Then, as we get older, life can get tougher. We hit the detours, the potholes, the ongoing changes/construction, and the rainstorms in life that makes daily living harder than we expected. Yet we strive on, persevering, living life by faith until we reach that glorious end result with the people whom we share so much with.

Today we get a glimpse of those who’ve made the trip…finished their race; today we see the members of the Church Triumphant. In Revelation 7 we heard, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation…they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple…They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them…the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 14b-17). And so, with that being said and knowing we will one day be there ourselves, let’s ask ourselves today as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, in addition to that description, what will heaven be like?

First, let’s cover a few basics. What does Heaven look like and where is it? With our limited minds and imaginations we like to think of where heaven may be, like it’s a great golf course or a forest or a scenic mountain range or a perfect, sun-drenched beach. Revelation 21 and 22 describe the New Jerusalem and the River of Life and the Tree of Life. Nothing about beaches or fairways or mountains.

Regarding where heaven is, I cannot give you turn by turn directions, as if you could drive there or fly a plane there. Instead, heaven is where God dwells in all His fullness. But I can tell you that heaven is where God dwells with His people. In a sense we have a small piece of heaven with us right here, since God dwells with us and comes to us in His Word and Sacraments. We have a little piece of heaven right here, right now. Martin Luther once said, “Eternal life begins here (on earth) in our hearts; for when we begin to believe in Christ,…we are liberated from death, sin, and the devil. Therefore, we have the beginning of life eternal in this life, a sort of mild foretaste; (on earth) we have entered the lobby (of heaven).”

Who will be there? Heaven is ONLY for those who believe in the Triune God as He reveals Himself in His Word and calls His people unto Himself by FAITH. Heaven is for those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord. ONLY people who know and hold this promise dear, and ONLY those people, will join us in heaven. That’s not a popular message in today’s all-inclusive world, but it is true. Heaven is exclusive; it is ONLY for those with saving faith in Christ.

So, what will we do in heaven? That’s a good question. The Bible associates heaven with never ending banquets, that is, we will never have any wants or needs in heaven. Our new, glorified bodies will not require nutrition like our current sinful bodies do; “we shall hunger no more.” Will we work at our jobs? No. Will we play golf and fish and fly kites and stuff like that? I don’t know, but I doubt it. On this same topic, Luther once said, “I often think about (what will occupy us in eternal glory). I cannot understand what we shall do to pass the time; for there will be no labor, food, drink, and transactions. But I hold that in God we shall have enough to keep us occupied.”

What about our beloved pets? Will they be there? I know that question is driven by a sentimental love for our pets, and the Bible doesn’t say anything about animals in heaven. I guess I would say this: If there are animals that gave us so much joy on earth, could they also not be there to continue our joy in heaven? Maybe not…but maybe so also.

So, if there’s no food or football or golf or pets or beach time, won’t we get bored? I doubt it. Think about it for a second. “Boredom” is a human emotion brought about when we feel nothing is available for us to do. In other words, we’re lacking. In heaven there will be no lacking…none. In the eternal life of heaven, the heavenly host will only rejoice at the glory that surrounds them physically and spiritually. We will praise and rejoice and celebrate every second just like it feels when our favorite team goes undefeated and wins that championship, and that’s probably not going to happen in Nebraska again anytime soon.

And so this brings us to today. Today we remember all those who have gone before us in the faith over the past year. It hurts us to have them no longer in our lives day to day. And yet still today is a celebration for we know that the glory of heaven is already theirs! They have the glories of heaven now. Our loved one are gone, but not forgotten. They are no longer with us and we feel sad, yet because of their faith in Jesus Christ they are in a place where sadness and grief and pain don’t even exist. Heaven is their home; heaven is also our home by faith and one day it will be our eternal existence.

Today, let us remember what heaven will be like: glorious beyond all comprehension where the souls of the faithfully departed await us and the return of our Lord. Let us remember to travel down this journey of life with perseverance even through the rain and roadblocks because we know what the finish line will be like. Let us remember that heaven is the eternal home for all of God’s faithful people where we will drink from springs of eternal, life-giving water, and God will wipe EVERY tear of grief from our eyes forever and ever.

Amen.

Reformation Day

Reformation Day 2019

October 27, 2019

John 8:31-36

“Unchanging Truth for Changin’ Times”

Grace and peace be to you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that serves as the basis for the sermon is the Gospel lesson from St. John, the 8th chapter.

Dear friends in Christ,

 

It was 1964. The Beatles made their now-infamous appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show. They had 13of the Billboard Hot 100 hits at the same time. One of those hits was “I Feel Fine,” because “she’s in love with me and I feel fine.” Okay…but in 1964 not everyone felt fine. In 1964 Bob Dylan recorded the song “The Times They Are A Changin” which became the quintessential song of that era because things WERE changing; not everyone felt fine. JFK had been shot and LBJ was the new president. The Civil Rights movement was turning US streets into combat zones. The anti-Vietnam war movement was gaining strength and, in doing so, it polarized communities and families who either did or did not support the war. Yes, in 1964, the times they were a changin’.

Now it’s 55 years later. Around morning coffee, people still talk politics but it’s not LBJ and Ho Chi Minh and Nixon. It’s Trump and Hillary and AOC. Bombs no longer rule the world like in 1964…it’s bytes; gigabytes, terabytes. Information is the new weapon of choice. The times they are a changin’.

Today we observe the anniversary of Reformation Day, that great change within the church brought by God through Martin Luther back in 1517. Luther restored to its proper place the glorious truth that we receive forgiveness of sins through Christ, not by our works but as God’s free gift of grace. There are three Latin phrases that are vital to the ideas Luther presented in the Reformation and are the kinds of truth that NEVER changes whether its 1484, 1964, or 2019: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia.

Sola Scriptura means “Scripture alone.” This means that we in the Lutheran church accept without reservation all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the divinely inspired Word of God and we acknowledge the Bible as the true authority in all matters of faith and life.

 

God’s word gives us unchanging truths in an ever changin’ times. Where did man and this world come from? Scientists will give you a variety of answers but the truth is found in Genesis. What is “right” and what is “wrong?” Psychologists and counselors have a number of theories claiming morality is subjective, but the truth lives in Exodus and the Sermon on the Mount. Why do bad things happen to good people? Psychics and astrologists will tell you that Pluto wasn’t around the right moon or your stars were out of alignment; read Romans 8:28 and Job and Habakkuk if you want the truth. God’s Word gives us unchanging truths in an ever changin’ times.

Sola Fide means “faith alone.” In our Gospel text, our Lord encourages us to abide in His Word – faith – and then we “will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Faith changes you. It makes you different in heart and spirit and mind. Faith is a living, busy, active, and mighty thing going on inside you. Faith is more than a warm and fuzzy feeling on Christmas Eve or Easter morning, it defines and shapes who we are in spite of the every-day trials and tribulations. It revises the way we think and act especially in uncertain and changing times. Faith gives you hope, and hope does not disappoint.

 

Sola Gratia means “grace alone.” Grace is undeserved love for unworthy people. Our Lord makes this clear in our Gospel lesson in verse 36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We are set free from the power of sin and death by the grace of God. We cannot work or earn something like salvation, but we receive our salvation only by God’s grace.

That was not the position of the church in Luther’s day. The church sold indulgences – they tried selling God’s forgiveness – that claimed to offer the merits of the saints so that people could buy or earn their forgiveness. People were taught that they must do something to cause God to look with favor on them. Buying indulgences, fasting, attending mass, praying, good works, or giving of some kind were thought to buy or earn forgiveness. Luther learned the glorious certainty and truth from God’s Word that we have already heard: “A man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28).

 

Sola Scriptura. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Those three phrases represent who we are and what we believe as Lutherans. We have been saved by grace through faith and we find this and other unchanging truths in Holy Scripture. Those words are important, but if they cannot change your life, then all they will ever be are mere words. Scripture, grace, and faith; If you cannot allow the life-changing power of God’s Word to set you free from your burdens and give you hope amid your guilt and your anxiety, then they ARE just words.

When life changes, we need more than words in order to feel fine. Maybe your last test didn’t turn out so well. Maybe your diet is not going so good. Maybe you’re lonely at night and concerned about not enough money coming in and too much going out. Maybe your relationship is on rocky grounds these days. Maybe your sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Maybe you don’t see a way out of your current crisis. Sola Scriptura. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Remember who you are, whose you are, and then through prayer watch how God changes the scenery of your life as He lifts you up with his loving hands by grace through faith.

Bob Dylan’s song concludes like this: “For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they, they are a-changin’…The slow one now Will later be fast. As the present now Will later be past…And the first one now Will later be last For the times they are a-changin’.” I wasn’t even born in 1964 but I still know the times ARE changin’; and you probably have your good days and your bad days. You may feel last now, but a day will come when you WILL be first. Know that, believe that, and live that because the foundation of your daily life reformation is your Savior Jesus Christ because it is for His sake that we are saved by grace through faith, and that truth will NEVER change even in all of your changin’ times in life.

Amen.

LWML Sunday

LWML Sunday

October 13, 2019

Luke 17:6

“Moving Mulberry Trees”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel Lesson read from Luke 17.

My dear friends,

Sometimes we hear people talk about, or maybe you’ve lamented about how challenging it is to be a Christian today. I get that. The world has changed. The nation has changed. Increasingly, it is our children and grandchildren – young people – who are walking away from the church or choosing never to affiliate because the Church is seen as old-fashioned, irrelevant, judgmental, or hypocritical. None of those are true, of course, but it’s what they tell themselves so they don’t have to attend a church. Yet, remember there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). Our world is not that different from the world of Jesus’ first disciples. Sure, we have cool stuff like cell phones and Wi-Fi and Uber, but fundamentally people are still people. And what do people struggle with? Forgiveness and faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that they would need to forgive others, even if they had been wronged, seven times in a single day. That was pretty counter-cultural. Religious experts had been teaching you only ever needed to forgive someone 3 times and that’s it. Jesus wasn’t talking about some teaching for ½ full churches or theology lectures, but a way of life for people. Forgiveness is the stuff of everyday relationships, not just “church.”

And it is hard to forgive. The roots of bitterness run deep and last long, like tree roots — like mulberry tree roots, stubborn and strong. No wonder the disciples responded to Jesus’ challenge to forgive with the words, “Increase our faith” (v. 5).

When His disciples said, “Increase our faith!” Jesus did not say, “Sure, presto! You have greater faith!” What He did say was, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Huh? A Mulberry or sycamine tree was known for its strong, deep root system and is celebrated for its shade and juicy fruit. The flip side of that would be a grain of mustard seed, the smallest known seed at that time. So…how is this supposed to work?

So, how do we understand Jesus’ words, “faith like a grain of mustard seed”? How can faith uproot and send deeply-rooted mulberry trees flying into the sea? You understand this is “hyperbole,” right? Hyperboles are exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally, like I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” It’s like when Jesus taught that if your eye or hand cause you to sin, get rid of it (Matthew5). Jesus isn’t advocating self-mutilation, he used powerful language to make a point. Same thing here.

Okay, so what’s the point? The point is that all of this is best to understand forgiveness and faith in terms of our relationship with Jesus. “Faith like a grain of mustard seed” is simply yet perfectly trust in Jesus, a trust that abides in Him, depends on Him, and lives every day in Him. It is only in Christ that we move mulberry trees of life, even the deeply-rooted ones like bitterness or anger. Or loneliness. Or grief. Or guilt. Or doubt. Or addiction. Moving the Mulberry trees of life is possible only as Christ lives in us.

“Faith like a grain of mustard seed” says that I can forgive because I live and make decisions inside a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. “Faith like a grain of mustard seed” says I already have what I need to live my Christian life, and it’s not the “stuff” of this world. I have Christ, or better, Christ has me! The One who came and died for me, the One who broke through death and came to life for me, the One who called me in Baptism and made me His own — my relationship with Him makes seemingly impossible things possible.

So, in Christ, I confront the person who has “offended,” and this is an area where we’ve gone wrong. People are so quick to point out perceived offenses and perceived wrongs, but no one is quick to offer forgiveness. Faith can confront wrong, but also then I can and should offer forgiveness. I do the hard thing and share my faith with my neighbor. I make time to give/pack food for the hungry when I thought I was too busy. I drop a quarter in an LWML mite box, believing it will make a difference. I hold the hand of a neighbor in the hospital, even if they’re not my favorite neighbor. I phone a friend or family member who has become distant. Faith is a living, breathing thing to be used every single day…days filled with moving Mulberry trees into the deep by faith and faith alone.

So, in Christ, our church takes on a new kind of ministry mindset, especially in light of the time in which we live. We see our community – all the people around us that don’t come here – not as the enemy or a battle field, but as our mission field. And underneath it all, the lore you live and serve with others, you hear mulberry trees moving — hard things, seemingly impossible things, happening because Christ lives within us and is at work in us wherever we go.

The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League has always lived by mustard seed faith. Little gifts, mites, combined across our synod, make big things happen in mission across the world. Christ has been moving mulberry trees through the LWML since 1942. The women of our church have shown us what it means to move mulberry trees with just a little faith, making the seemingly impossible possible after all.

A painting by Vincent van Gogh is titled “The Mulberry Tree.” He painted it in 1889 while in voluntary confinement at an asylum in France. He had a mental breakdown of sorts, so he confined himself. It was at this time and place where Van Gogh painted “Starry Night,” worth more than $100 million. I’m no art critic or expert, but the mulberry tree van Gogh gives us is impressive. It is strong with bushy foliage, and, in his painting, rich with tones of yellow and gold. It is rooted in rock and set against a deep blue sky. That’s what a good artist does; they take an ordinary item like a tree and give it character, beauty, strength, and even joy. That’s what God does with us; ordinary people doing the seemingly impossible by faith.

May that be our attitude the next time we say that it is difficult to follow Christ, even in this day and age of ½ full, supposedly joyless aging churches. What appears to be hard, and even impossible like bringing the young people back or reaching our immediate community, may be just the thing we need to do as we live with Christ day-in-day-out. And because Christ abides with us and within us, the difficult thing can be done with joy. It may not be easy, but it is possible in Christ.

Amen.

17th Sunday after Pentecost

17th Sunday after Pentecost

October 6, 2019

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

“When Things Get Worse Before They Get Better”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is one of my favorites…the Old Testament lesson from the prophet Habakkuk.

My dear friends,

You may not know this, but I wasn’t supposed to be here today. Originally, the plan was for me to be gone today because I had tickets to the Nebraska vs. Northwestern football game on Saturday. I could have been there when Nebraska kicked a field goal with no time left to win the game 13-10. However, I chose not to go and I sold my tickets to the game. It’s okay…I’ve already seen those teams play before. The last time I saw Nebraska play Northwestern (2013), Nebraska scored a touchdown on a last play of the game desperation pass into the end zone. 90,000 people went crazy. In that game 6 years ago things definitely got worse before they got exponentially better. In my life I have learned that, in sports…in life…sometimes things get worse before they get better!

The same can be said about Habakkuk and his contemporaries. Habakkuk prophesied to Judah in the reign of Jehoiakim in the last decade of the 7th century BC probably around 605BC and the Battle of Carchemish. It was a time of chaos, uncertainty, and violence for Judah. Habakkuk had gone often to the Lord in prayer for his people, and it just seemed things were getting worse before they got better. Because things were getting worse with no sign of things getting better, Habakkuk complained.

Habakkuk’s first complaint focuses on God’s apparent lack of response. Violence, wrong, and injustice seem to flourish, while God seemed distracted, disinterested, or otherwise pre-disposed. God responds by assuring Habakkuk that he is active, even now, orchestrating a coming invasion of Judah by the Chaldeans (Babylonians). That invasion, says the Lord, will bring his justice to Judah.

Huh? The Babylonians? What! Oh no…not them! Habakkuk, on hearing God’s plan for Judah, raises his second complaint. How can God take a wicked, idolatrous nation such as Babylon and use it against a more righteous nation such as Judah? Why would God even consider doing nothing while evil people triumph over those who are more righteous? Aren’t things only getting worse? Well, sometimes things get worse before they get better.

The Lord tells Habakkuk, “Still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Uhm…come again? Seems slow? Delay? Did He say “wait?” Well…that’s a problem right there amigo. In our day of instantaneous gratification, the call to wait for anything is never easy. Know what else I’ve learned in life? Hope always involves waiting. Yet, it’s in the waiting that we learn dependence – we grow – and we’re being shaped by God. Most important, in the waiting, faith is strengthened and hope has everything to do with faith in what God will do in the future.

Finally, God offers Habakkuk and his most significant hope in 2:4 – “The righteous shall live by faith.” Wow. This also means that the righteous live by hope, and hope does not disappoint. Hope is inseparable from faith. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Heb 11:1). Faith, this assurance, is not just our trusting that everything will turn out all right. Whether things get better or are getting worse, faith is believing God will care for us because he has been reconciled to us by the One he promised to send – a promise as old as time itself.

As St. Paul makes clear in Romans when he quotes these words of Habakkuk, it is Christ Jesus who by his death on the cross and his resurrection has accomplished this reconciliation to God. Our sin, which would have forever placed us on the other side of God’s judgment—with the unrighteous of Judah, with the wicked Babylonians even—he took on himself and took away. Faith always has an object, and the object of our faith is the saving work of Jesus. This is the faith by which we live. Faith gives us confidence as we wait for things to get better.

Hope is the amazing gift of seeing the future shaped by faith. It’s why Christians with cancer can see themselves whole again—on earth or in heaven. It’s why a husband and wife torn apart by conflict, sitting with a Christian counselor, suddenly see a future they may have together. It’s the person broken down and worn out by life that keeps lifting their head off the pillow every morning and keeps going every single day trusting it will get better.

“The righteous shall live by faith” especially when things get worse knowing that they WILL get better and that things are already better through forgiveness, salvation, and life in Christ Jesus. But you may have to wait for things to get better. And waiting stinks.

The last three verses of Habakkuk are meant to be sung to a melody we don’t know. Yet they sing through the centuries what God-centered hope looks like: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, YET I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength,” our strength even in knowing that things get worse before they get better. That hope-filled promise is even better than the best Nebraska last-second win.

Amen.

16th Sunday after Pentecost

16th Sunday after Pentecost

September 29, 2019

Luke 16:19-31

“Too Late”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Holy Gospel lesson previously read from Luke chapter 16.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Every day of our lives, God gifts us with an amazing and unique gift! Each day you live, you get time…24 wonderful hours to use however you want! It is given only once, so it is a valuable commodity. How valuable is an entire month? Ask a mother whose baby is born prematurely. How valuable is one week? Ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. How valuable is one night? Ask someone whose spouse has been unfaithful. How valuable is one hour? Ask someone rushed to the hospital in need of critical care; been there, done that. Have the scar to prove it.

Time is a valuable commodity. In Luke 16, Jesus speaks first how important it is to use our resources wisely. Now today, He are encouraged to wisely use the time we are given, to use our time wisely, because we never know when it will be too late.

In this parable today, we see two men whose time is “up,” as they say. In terms of this world, both Lazarus and the rich man are out of time; they are both dead. This parable is very unique. Normally parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings; this is the only parable which does not limit its action to this world. It is also the only parable out of 55 different parables in which the characters have names (Lazarus, Abraham, Moses); all other parables use only titles and personal pronouns.

The rich man is very wealthy. He lives in a home with a gate; maybe not a big deal in Sarasota, but in ancient Near East it was! He also wears clothes made with purple die. For centuries, the purple dye trade was centered in the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre in modern day Lebanon. The Phoenicians’ purple dye came from the Murex sea snail, and it was so exceedingly rare that it literally became worth its weight in gold. Purple was reserved for royalty; only they could afford purple. Lazarus, a man with nothing in this world, lies at his gate begging and longing to get the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Dogs are licking his sores. A 1st century Jew would never allow an unclean dog to do this; it would have been a horrifying situation and Lazarus couldn’t stop it. Lazarus is destitute and his situation is dire. The rich man lives dignified and his situation is desirable.

But death is the great equalizer! The only thing that matters following death is the condition of the heart, the soul, the faith of the deceased. Possessions and wealth are all left behind; what God considers is not found in a checkbook register. Now that death has come, the positions have been reversed. Lazarus is in, with ABRAHAM no less; the rich man is out.

When death came, the rich man found that he was too late in a number of ways. The rich man found that it was too late to care for those around him. The rich man had an opportunity to care for the needy every day, but he chose otherwise. What he gave to Lazarus, if anything, was the scraps from his table. Giving scraps? That leftover giving is not done in love, but from guilt. True giving as motivated by faith is giving away what is precious not just the leftovers.

So often when Christians give our money, we also give the “leftovers.” First Fruits giving is hard; It’s easier to give the crumbs to the poor leaving the best for ourselves. Those with needs are all around us – sometimes even at our front door. Do you know how many times I’ve given needy people food from our All Faith’s food barrel? Sometimes the needs are obvious: people need food, clothing, or shelter. Sometimes the needs are not so obvious: people are hurting, lonely, scared, addicted, tired, or countless other emotions that diminish the quality of that person’s life. It was too late for the rich man to use his time wisely. It’s not too late for you. You still draw the breath of life; it’s not too late for you.

Additionally, for the rich man it was also too late to see the chasm, to see the difference between heaven and hell. These images are among some of the most tragic and serious warnings in the Bible. Our culture, though, avoids such ideas by denying their truth. People tend to sinfully down play the existence of an actual heaven and actual hell. In their minds, the existence of heaven and hell are good for Sunday School stories and sympathy cards and that’s about it. For many, if the idea of “heaven” or “hell” motivates you to live a better life, then that’s okay. For too many, since you can’t see either one, how can you believe it exists, right? That, my friends, is a dangerous gamble to make. Yes, God is a God of love, but He is also just and His wrath against sin is terrible. Hell is the ultimate manifestation of the consequences of the Law, and by the time one ends up there, it’s clearly too late!

For God’s people, it’s not too late! Lazarus must have had faith in God, for he ended up in heaven. The parable is NOT about if you’re “good” you go to heaven and if you’re “bad,” you go to hell. Let the Bible interpret the Bible and over and over the Bible teaches salvation by grace through FAITH alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). After a life of faithful suffering, Lazarus now enjoys the eternal glory of heaven.

For the rich man, it was too late to hear and heed the life-giving Word of God. It’s not too late for you. As children of God, our faith, our hope, lies in Jesus Christ revealed to us in the Word. Christ shed his innocent blood for us at Calvary to buy us back from sin; to lift us up like Lazarus and provide for our every need when we could not. Were it not for Christ Jesus and His sacrificial death, then we would ALL share the fate of the rich man. In the Parable, Jesus foreshadowed what He would do for us…rise again from the grave and what an eternal DIFFERENCE that makes! Because of God’s grace and His plan for salvation for humanity, because of our saving faith in Jesus, it is not too late for us. We are encouraged to be ready now…right now…before it does become too late.

Life moves pretty fast – we even say “time flies” – and the one burden you don’t want to carry is regret. Regret is like luggage; you clumsily carry it around, there’s never a convenient way to deal with it, and rarely do you get rid of it. Don’t let it be too late. Say what needs to be said. Do what needs to be done. Let your faith be evident as you take the time to serve your neighbor. Use your treasures wisely, especially your time. It’s been said that, in life, there are two pains: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Do the right thing today, even if it hurts, so you never carry the pain of regret…especially that you didn’t use your time wisely. Remember…you only get it once; don’t let “too late” become your regret.
Amen.

15th Sunday after Pentecost

15th Sunday after Pentecost

September 22, 2019

Luke 16:1-15

“Your Money or Your Life”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of God the Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 16.

My dear friends,

   Perhaps some of you remember the old radio and television comic Jack Benny, who had a reputation for being a miser with his money. In one of his bits, a robber brandishes a pistol in Jack Benny’s face, and demands, “Your money or your life!” Jack Benny says nothing and the audience roars in laughter. Finally, the robber demands, “Look, Bud, I said your money or your life!” To which the comedian responds, “I’m thinking it over!”

“Your money or your life!” Of course, the bit is funny because nobody would choose a pocketful of money instead of life – that’s just ridiculous. However, if we change the words to, “Your money is your life,” that’s just as ridiculous, but none of us is laughing anymore. That’s precisely the way a lot of people live—as if life was all and only about money. And maybe that’s true of us too. We devote an enormous amount of our time, our talents, and our energy to acquiring money—and not only acquiring it, but also saving it, investing it, and, yes, worrying about it Our text for today, while it may be confusing on the surface, reminds us that money must never be the goal of our lives, however much we’re tempted, since as Christians we know that Jesus Christ, not money, is the source of our life. The challenge becomes living out that truth.

This parable of the “Dishonest Manager” has always been puzzling. What is so difficult, so puzzling, about this parable is that the events and then the outcome are NOT what we expect. The manager is dealing fraudulently and still he is praised and held out before us as a model! Huh? What? What does this parable mean? Well, for starters, this parable is NOT an approval of dishonesty, forgery, or swindle. The key to understanding this parable is to understand the master’s intentions. The master’s approval is based on the foresight of the manager who realized how to best use material possessions to ensure his future security. The “dishonest” manager then becomes a model for Christian disciples, not because of his dishonesty, but by his USE of material wealth to ensure a better future.

Our biggest problem, then, with this parable is that, “hey…the manager didn’t own that stuff!” This might sound philosophical, but then again, does anyone really own anything? What you have in this life is on LOAN to you for now. This is a parable about how our earthly possessions, our gifts from God, are to be USED, not stockpiled or hoarded. The disciples of Jesus must be diligent and clever in their use of money to ensure a better future for ourselves or someone else.

Money in and of itself is not bad or evil. It is a tool – a gift – from God to use rightly just like anything else. The acquisition of money consumes the middle of our lives; it’s only at the extremes of childhood and old age are we not heavily engaged in earning a living. But even in old age, people still pay a lot of attention to investments, taxes, Social Security, pension plans, and so on. Maybe that’s when a “child” becomes as adult…the day they start being concerned about money. Much of our educational system is designed to prepare them for making money—providing the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and habits for being successful in the workplace. Is that really what they need? Yes…and no. To be successful on earth is good. To be “successful” eternally is very, very good.

Today’s Second Lesson reminds us that wonderful truth that “God our Savior . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Tim 2:3–6). By paying the price for us—not with money but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death—Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, freed us from sin and death and liberated us from the idolatries of life, including our enslavement to money. With the love of God guaranteed and the promise of heaven and resurrection certain, we need nothing more for ourselves either here or in eternity. But God has given us more, much more. He has given us time, talents, opportunities, and, yes, money. What for? To USE as wise managers!

Everywhere we look there are needs to respond to with God’s gifts. The church and her various charities are crying out for the resources to help; we have our ongoing support of All Faith’s Food Bank, recently we’ve asked you to help with our “Good Neighbor” project, and give the Hurricane Dorian relief. Today’s parable teaches us that God wants us to be wise with our resources. We should respond to opportunities to show love toward our neighbor by helping him in every need, temporal and spiritual. In this way, we use what God has given us to carry out God’s work in God’s way for God’s people. That’s a wise manager…money is NOT your life. It is a tool to be wisely used for God’s purposes and NOTHING more than that. The sooner you come to that realization, the happier you’ll be.

Your money or your life. When the Cornerstone Bank in Waco, Nebraska (46 miles straight west from Lincoln), was robbed of some $6,000 in November of 2012, the bank employees were able to give the police a fairly good description of the teenage girl who pulled off the crime and the car in which she escaped. As it turned out, the investigators didn’t really need those descriptions, because the thief recorded a YouTube video titled “Chick bank robber” boasting of her criminal success in stealing money.

Fanning out the cash in front of the camera, 19-year-old Hannah Sabata held up a sign that read, “I just stole a car and robbed a bank. Now I’m rich, I can pay off my college financial aid, and tomorrow I’m going for a shopping spree.” Later she held up another sign which said, “I told my mom today was the best day of my life… she just thinks I met a new boy.” Hannah’s brief criminal career ended later that week when police took her into custody. Money was her life; she was given 10-20 years in prison. She only served 5. She was released in 2017 to start her life over.

The number of people who do stupid things because money became their life is staggering. Don’t let that happen to you. The words that come from your mouths reveal the condition of your hearts and minds, and as Christians we know that Jesus Christ, not money, is the source of our life and there’s nothing confusing about that.

Amen.

14th Sunday after Pentecost

14th Sunday after Pentecost

September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-10

“Suppose One of You”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Luke 15.

My dear friends,

Have you ever heard of “Geocaching’? Geocaching is a little hard to describe. It part treasure hunt, part hiking, and absolutely an outdoor “game” for GPS users or cell phones with GPS technology. The basic idea of Geocaching is to have “players” cleverly hide caches all over the world and share the latitude/longitude locations of these caches on the Internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to go out and find the caches. There is nothing of real value in the caches. It’s usually trinkets and little tradable items. It’s not just me doing this, either. To date, there are more than 2.9 million caches worldwide and there are more than 1100 caches right here in Sarasota!

You ever been lost without a GPS? Once, I was out in a large State Forest in central MN and, looking for a geocache and getting off the marked trail, ended up getting turned around out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t panic easily, but I was starting to panic a bit. Feeling like you’re lost or actually being lost is no fun whether you’re out in the woods or driving in an unfamiliar town or wherever. But the joy of getting back on the right trail or finding the right street sure feels good, doesn’t it? It’s quite a rush to know that everything’s going to be all right; no more being lost…only the joy of knowing that you’re found and you’re safe.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has something to say about things getting lost. He is still addressing the “great crowd” from Luke 14 and we know that there were a variety of people – including members of the religious leadership – around Jesus at this point including Tax Collectors and Sinners – the “worst of the worst” – of 1st century society; these people were “lost” in life. The religious leaders felt they were outside of God’s grace; they were “lost” for all eternity. Upon seeing Jesus with these people, the Pharisees and the scribes muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus’ point by telling, like last week, two parables that teach the same truth: If that which was lost is being found, the Pharisees and Scribes should rejoice, not complain.

Jesus began the parables “Suppose one of you” (NIV; ESV (Greek) has “what man of you,” but this pertains to women too you know) lost something of value. A lost sheep has value for its companionship, its wool, and its re-sale at market. So does a coin obviously. The silver coin that was lost in the parable would have been a drachma. A Greek drachma was equal to one Roman denarius (show) or about 1 day’s wages. What is one day’s wages today? The median daily wage in the US is a little more than $150. So, suppose one of you lost a $100 bill? Are you going to look hard to find it? Of course…that’s a lot of money!

All of us have lost something from time to time and know the panic that sets in: wallets, purses, cell phones, remote controls, keys, family members, hope, joy. Maybe some you know have even lost faith.

When something gets lost, of course you’ll look for it because (A) it has value, and (B) it’s not going to find itself. The 99 sheep were left behind to find the 1 lost sheep because it had value. The 9 coins were left in order to find the 1 lost coin because it has value. What’s the result when the lamb or coin is found? Both verses 6 and 9 of the parables state that the result is rejoicing, because what was lost is now found again.. .and that’s a GOOD feeling – to find the path, the road, the destination, or the misplaced item.

In the parables we are told, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (verse 10). People were “lost” to God after the Garden of Eden. Sadly and tragically there are so many today who would rather stay lost. There are many who are hostile towards God, towards Jesus, towards the Bible, towards clergy and/or organized religion, and so on. Sinful sheep are happy to stay lost because they don’t know any different; they don’t yet know the joy in being found. Those who know what God has done for them repent, and the repentant know the true joy that faith can and does bring in this life; the joy that comes with being found.

And God found that which was lost. It is not as if God lost His people in the sense that He didn’t know where to find them, I mean, He’s GOD…He doesn’t absent-mindedly misplace stuff like you and I do.

In the ultimate act of reclaiming that which was lost, Jesus Christ came into the world to seek those who were lost – YOU – and like the Good Shepherd that He is, Jesus did what was necessary to find us and call us back to Him; to see and save that which was lost. You want to talk about fear and dread? No cross of Christ means no chance at redemption for you and no chance at redemption means only death and damnation for eternity. But because of what Jesus has done, He has saved a lost world from itself; He found us who were lost. In God’s eyes, we are His blood-bought, Baptized, redeemed children; that gives us value.

How many wandering sheep or lost coins does Good Shepherd have? How many year-round members have not walked through those doors in the last month…the last year? How many people in our community are content to stay lost? How many people live within 500 yards of this campus, but have never heard the Gospel? How many in and around your midst – your family and friends – also need to hear the call to repentance and be led by the Holy Spirit to green pastures? What are you actively doing to help them be found?

Suppose one of you helps a lost soul to be found by inviting them to church and helping to lead them to a life of faith so that they enjoy the ultimate victory celebration on the Last Day. Suppose that soul who was lost is seated next to you at the heavenly banquet…how will that feel? Suppose one of you puts forth the effort such that one lost sinner may joyfully sing, “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind…but now I see.” There are so many lost people who don’t need a GPS to geocache; life has enough “games” already. They need a relationship with our saving and redeeming God. They need our care, our love, our outreach, and our help through God’s grace and love. Amazing things can happen when you share the Gospel and a lost sinner is found.

And just imagine the rejoicing in heaven when THAT happens!

Amen.

13th Sunday after Pentecost

13th Sunday after Pentecost

September 8, 2019

Luke 14:25-33

“What Does it Cost?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson for today from Luke 14.

 

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

I have a little dog at home named Farley. It’s just Farley and me in that big 3+ bedroom, 2 bath home that I rent. He’s fairly old now…16 years. His bladder control just isn’t what it used to be and sometimes I am away from home a bit longer than I should. So, I cannot really blame him if there is an occasional “accident.” Well, the “accidents” have mostly happened on this area rug I had in my “man room” and it now smells so bad I have to replace it. Like everyone else, I went on-line to see about a new area rug. I found this one on-line I liked. It’s a 10′ X 14′ Handmade Persian Wool area rug. On sale this week…for $4,912. There’s free, same-day shipping…so there’s that. But that’s a BIT out of my price range; that rug costs too much. Maybe I’ll just stop by Home Depot or something. The point is…you have to consider the cost before you just do something, right?

Today’s Gospel lesson is all about counting the cost before just doing something, and it is an important lesson for all of us to hear, no matter how harsh it sounds. In Luke 14 Jesus is being followed by a large crowd, many of whom probably desired to be His disciples, but first they wanted to “check things out;” to “see and be seen” and what this Jesus guy is all about. Obviously able to determine their unenthusiastic approach to following Him, Jesus suddenly turns and verbally levels anyone who was lukewarm about following Him. What Jesus told them had to have sounded pretty harsh, because its power and its sting can still be felt even today. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” (14:26).

Whoa. Those are pretty strong words! What Jesus is telling the crowd is that discipleship is an all-or-nothing deal. You want to follow? You have to evaluate the cost first. And then Jesus tells two quick parables about the man desiring to build a tower and the warring kings. Both have to first evaluate the cost before they start anything. By telling these parables Jesus is teaching people that first you have to evaluate the cost before you just jump in and do it whether you’re talking area rugs, cell phone plans, or major life decisions.

Jesus indicates that there is a pretty heavy price to pay for discipleship. First he says we have to hate our own father, mother, wife, brothers, sisters, and children. That’s a pretty steep price! But Jesus is not advocating hatred of our family. But He does mean that if it’s a choice for us between Him and our family, we’re to choose Jesus. Obviously this isn’t easy. By God’s grace most people are spared this kind of decision, but there are some who are forced to choose, and if that arises, we are to follow Christ.

We are also to hate our own life. Man, the price to follow keeps getting heavier and heavier! What does this mean? We’re supposed to commit suicide. No. Does it mean that we can continue to live and exist in an individualistic culture that wants us to think only of ourselves all the time?” No. Does it mean that we can continue to live in and exist in a materialistic culture that wants us to spend our money on ourselves, to spend our time indulging ourselves and hoarding our resources? No. If we want to follow in discipleship, we have to hate that life in order to follow. Ours is to be a sacrificial life of stewardship and loving service to God and neighbor.

That is a heavy price to pay to follow Jesus. In fact, it is an impossible price. Ever since humanity fell into sin our every inclination has been to live for US, not to live for someone else. Think about Adam and Eve. They could have made a better decision, but they were selfish – self-centered – and their mistake costs all of us our lives. Our sinfulness keeps us so naturally far away from God. We counted the cost to follow and it’s too much for us to do!

But my dear friends, note what happened with the kings at war. “While the other is still a long way off (he) will ask for terms of peace” (v. 32b). In our sins we were the ones a “long way off” – a long way off from salvation and reconciliation with God…and it looked pretty bleak. “Lord, I can’t build that tower. I can’t fight that fight. It’s too much!” It is during those moments of helplessness that we as sinners are called to realize that God has taken the initiative to close the gap for us – the ones who were a long way off – and to bring us peace.

God closed that gap by sending the Prince of Peace – Jesus – to live, die, and rise again so that we can be forgiven, so that we can be free from the power of sin, so that we can be His disciples. God wants us – you – to let Him take over through Jesus Christ. That is discipleship! That is what it means to forsake all that we have – to give up ourselves to God. We are only able to do so because the price to follow has been paid. It was bought and paid for not with gold or silver, but with the precious body and blood of Jesus.

You too have to now consider what discipleship costs before you follow Him. Maybe it means you have to give up immoral behaviors or desires. Maybe it means you have to let go of selfish and greedy tendencies. Maybe it means you have to give up your control of things in your life and turn things over to God. God, through Christ, came near and closed that gap by giving Himself to bring us near to Himself through Jesus. That’s the incredible thing about God. He gave up His Son so that we sinful wretches might nevertheless follow Him and one day be with Him in heaven, where I’m comfortably sure we won’t need area rugs.

Speaking of which…anyone have a nice, used a 10′ X 14′ Handmade Persian Wool area rug they wanna sell me? No? Never hurts to ask. Now…how would you answer Jesus’ question from verse 33? Are you ready to “renounce all that you have to be His disciple? Consider the cost before you just jump right in.

Amen.