Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Do Not Be Anxious!

Matthew 6:24-34 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
            When it comes to the relationship between us and God and money, it really is a matter of priorities—of what comes first in our hearts.  Only one can hold that first place in our life that is reserved for the one that we call God.  It can be either money or God at the center of our life but it cannot be both.  We cannot serve two masters—we cannot serve God and money.
We know what the world has chosen.  Our nation’s financial life is an exercise in wretched, sinful excess.  Young women are cultural icons for having purses that cost tens of thousands of dollars.  CEO’s get paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year for bankrupting their companies.  The average Joe charges on their credit cards like there was no tomorrow and when their limits are reached they use the equity in their homes like it is a piggy bank to fund more financial foolishness.
Of course they hang their head in their hands for the god of Mammon that has ruled their lives has been shown for what he is—a powerless idol—unworthy of their devotion and trust. 
But what about us?  Do the Lord’s words apply only to others?  The truth of the matter, is that Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters, really applies to us more than it does to the unbelieving world.  The world serves only one God—the false god of Mammon.  We Christians are the ones who try to have it both ways. 
If we have given even a bit of our confidence in the future and our heart’s peace and our security over to our job or our bank or our 401K and IRA—we should be convicted by Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters—for we have ceased to love and serve and trust in God above ALL things and we must confess that sin as idolatry, repent of it, and be done with it.
Jesus assures us today that our heart’s peace about the future need not be found in what we can hold in our hand-- but is to be found only in a heavenly Father who graciously and generously provides for his children.  Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 
The answer that Jesus is looking for is:  YES it is!  Life is more, much more, than food and clothing and the point that he is making is this:  Since God has given us our life won’t he just as certainly give us the smaller gifts we need to preserve that life?! 
Absolutely!  That we are living and breathing at this moment is a sure sign that God has given us our life; provided for that life up to now; and will provide for that life in the days to come.  Of course, this way of thinking is only a comfort to those who know God as the Giver of life in the first place. 
Those who believe that their very existence is merely the last event in a chain of haphazard, random of events over billions of years that could have just as easily happened otherwise-- take no comfort from knowing that God will provide the necessities of life because they don’t know the God who gave them life-- and they live in fear of a cosmos that seemingly acts without mercy or meaning. 
But we who believe in a loving heavenly Father do take great comfort in knowing (from all that we see around us and from our own life’s experience) that God does indeed provide for his children.  The Creator who has given us our life-- promises to provide for that life-- and reveals the truth of that promise in the created world.  Jesus says:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you,
            These words were not spoken in the synagogue or temple—not in a disciple’s home—but in the great outdoors—and Jesus invited all who are listening to simply open our eyes and look at the world around us. 
The birds were flying from place to place without a care in the world, gathering what they needed, building their nests, feeding their little ones without the benefit of all those things that we think are a necessity if we are to be fed.
Jesus mentions harvesting and reaping and barns and plows.  Maybe today he would say checking accounts and contracts.  But the message is the same:  the littlest creature that wouldn’t catch our eye is seen, loved, and provided for by God. 
And if God will do that for birds, won’t he do the same for his children?  Of course he will!  We are infinitely more valuable in God’s sight than birds.  The One who feeds us with the Body and Blood of his Son in Holy Communion to sustain our spiritual life will certainly give us the food we need for this earthly life!
As further proof of the Father’s provision, Jesus directs his disciples to the beauty of the flowers of the field.  There has never been an item of clothing—no matter how costly—that could compare in beauty to a plain ole Texas roadside covered in wildflowers.  It takes your breath away every time you see it! 
And so here’s the question:  If God is willing to go to all that trouble for a bunch of plants on the side of a road that only last for a few weeks out of the year, won’t he also provide us with the clothes that we need?
Of course he will!  We are God’s children and he has made us for eternity.  The One who has provided us the robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism will certainly give us what we need to clothe our bodies and preserve our earthly life. 
Besides directing our attention to our own life and the life around us as sure signs of God’s provision, Jesus also warns us about the futility and sinful foolishness of worrying about our earthly needs.  He says:  “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  
And of course, the answer is:  none of us!  There is not one blessed thing that can be changed by worrying about our life—not one—besides the fact that the vast, vast majority of things we worry about never come to pass in the first place. 
            Jesus’ judgment on our anxieties and worries and on our fussing and fretting about material things is that, not only is it fruitless—it is faithless.  He says:  O you of little faith!   
            Now, you may be saying to yourselves that Jesus’ teaching about not serving money and watching birds and flowers seems a bit irresponsible.  Jesus’ teaching about not worrying seems a bit impossible.  But of course the problem was not with the Lord or his words—it was with us—with our lack of faith. 
That is why Jesus speaks to us today about the place and role of money and material things in our lives and he lays a rock-solid foundation upon which we are to build our faith:  his promise that we have a heavenly Father who will provide for us just as surely as he provides for all creation—in fact, even more assuredly for we are his children.  Jesus says:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 
The unbelieving world has no choice but to seek after money and they cannot help but worry—for they do not know what we know:  that we have a heavenly Father who knows just exactly what we need and promises to meet those needs. 
God’s eyes are constantly turned towards us and he is constantly looking out for our best interests and so we are free to put aside concerns about material things and put first things first.  Jesus says:
 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
            Jesus wants us to understand tonight that a life spent acquiring the things of the world—a life spent living by the values of the world—a life spent worrying-- is a life that is wasted for time and eternity.
Instead, the Lord gives a different kind of life—a life as his child in his kingdom.  Jesus was sent into this world for that very purpose—to give his life as a ransom to set us free from a life that is empty of meaning because it is focused only on material things which never last. 
His death on the cross earned the forgiveness we need for all those times that we have had divided hearts and for all those times we have failed to trust him as we ought.  And his resurrection is God’s guarantee that even death cannot rob us of those things that truly, eternally matter.

Today we give thanks to God, our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son for all his blessings and tender mercies and we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to trust him more deeply in the days to come.  Amen.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Let Us Be Thankful to the Lord!

Luke 17:11-19 The Bible says that:  On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. The picture we have before us today of our Lord Jesus Christ is a beautiful summary of his mission:  journeying toward Jerusalem where he would lay his life down on the cross for our sins and take up it up again, leaving his tomb empty with the promise that ours will be empty as well one day.
That was his mission-- and the promise that Jesus makes to us is that, by his death and resurrection, we will change us forever and unite us to God and restore to us the wholeness that our Father wants us to have—a wholeness that has been taken from us by Satan and the deadly effects of sin—just like what had happened to the lepers that day.  
The Bible says that:  As Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance.  If this journey to Jerusalem is a pictorial portrayal of our Lord’s mission in this world (and it is!) then the scene he encounters here in this village is the perfect picture of why that journey to the cross was necessary at all.
Ten lepers standing at a distance—separated from their loved ones—cut off from the temple—united only with one another in their misery and brokenness. 
There is no clearer picture in the Bible of what sin had done to us than this picture of the ten lepers. 
God created us for life.  Rich, abundant life.  God created us for fellowship with himself and for life together with our fellow man.  But this scene is what sin has done to all of us:  cut us off from God’s presence; cut us off from one another; cut us off from the beauty and fullness of life that God wants us to have. 
Sin has made a chasm between us and God.  A holy, righteous God cannot have fellowship with sinful, unrighteous people.  And sinful, unrighteous people can never have the kind of friendship with one another that they were made for because their self-centeredness always drives a wedge between themselves and others.
And the ugly effects of sin go even deeper than broken fellowship.  The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” and that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men.” 
Here in these ten lepers we see those deadly effects of sin.  These men were under a death sentence. 
A world that was ruined by sin had turned against them in this terrible disease and they knew that they would surely die in the most horrible way—literally piece by piece until they would no longer resemble the human beings that God created and intended them to be.
This is why our Lord set his face towards Jerusalem.  This is why he was so resolute in going to the cross.  This is why he had to go all the way into a cold, dark grave:  because we are part of an entire world full of people just like the lepers who were under a death sentence--alienated from God and one another—the image of God so disfigured in us that we no longer resembled what God created us to be. 
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a mission of mercy to save us and restore to us what sin and Satan had robbed from us.
The Bible says that the lepers:  “lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” While all ten may not have been models of thankfulness, they were models of faith for they recognized the truth about themselves (and their great need) and they recognized the truth about Jesus (that he could meet that need).
These men suffered under no illusions about their broken condition.  They couldn’t hide it like we try to do.  They knew the ugly truth in the distance between themselves and those they loved.  They knew the ugly truth in their pain and suffering and deformity.  They knew that such was their brokenness that only God could help—that’s why they called out to Jesus.
Whether we see it or not—whether we are willing to admit it or not--the same broken condition is true of us.  The same ugliness of sin is there.
There is conflict and distance between us and those we love.  Our aches and pains are a sufficient testimony that we are not going to live forever.  And we see that in ourselves there is no power at all to stop this trajectory towards death and the grave.  We have our own place in this sad group of ten broken men. 
That is why when they heard that Jesus was coming and when they saw him journeying towards Jerusalem they called out to him in faith for the help they so desperately needed—and their cry--Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!—was not just a call for help—it was a confession of real faith.
 It was a confession of their great need!  It was confession of their lack of resources!  It was a confession of faith in Jesus to meet that need and provide their healing!  The Bible says that when Jesus saw them he said to them:  “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
This may seem like an odd kind of answer to us but the lepers knew exactly the promise and hope found in those words.  The Law required that the priests declare when someone had been healed and so even though the lepers didn’t yet see their healing—they believed Jesus’ promise and stepped out in faith, believing what they could not see. 
This is what Jesus wants from us too.  His redeeming work outside the walls of Jerusalem has been accomplished.  Our sins have been forgiven.  The devil has been defeated.  Death has no claim on us. 
But we still struggle with sin- and the devil still tempts us- and our loved ones still die.  In other words, we can’t see the fullness of our salvation quite yet.
And so like the lepers we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight.  But also like the lepers, our faith in Jesus will not be disappointed for we will receive the mercy for which we ask!  The Bible says that:  as they went they were cleansed.
            When we began our meditation on these verses we talked about how these lepers were emblematic of all people and what sin and Satan have done to us—that it has alienated us from God and put up barriers between us and others and brought death with all of its ugliness into our lives so that we don’t always resemble what God created us to be. 
But this healing of the lepers is also a promise to all of us that the compassion and power of Jesus can be counted on—that our faith in him is not misplaced—that when we call to him he will listen—that he can be trusted to heal us and make us whole.
The Good News for us is that Jesus’ compassion and powerful presence that day in the healing of the lepers is the same power this day to heal what is broken in our lives and we can count on receiving the same wholeness that they received. The Bible says that:
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.
            In Luther’s explanation to the first article of the creed, he says that for all God has done for us, it is our duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him.  It is our duty to thank God.
All ten of the lepers had a need.  All ten of the lepers had enough faith to turn to Jesus.  All ten of them received healing.  But this Samaritan had even more—he had a heart that was thankful for the mercy he received from Jesus. 
His faith moved him to praise and thanksgiving for what God had done for him and that faith directed him to the feet of Jesus.  What about us? 
Thankfulness to Jesus for all that he has done for us is our duty- but it is so much more than that—it is our delight.  The Samaritan was glad to have that opportunity to worship and praise God at the feet of Jesus.  Now he was truly whole—body and soul—because he knew that in Jesus God had saved him and that knowledge moved him to worship and thanksgiving. 
When we are thankful for the mercy of Jesus we are showing that we understand that we have a gracious God who loves to give good gifts to his children and we are blessed doubly when we recognize that and call it to mind and give him our thanks and praise and worship.
In the Small Catechism Luther talks about the reason we pray for our daily bread when God gives it to all even without our prayer.  He says that we pray for our daily bread so that we may realize it is God’s gift and receive it with thanksgiving. 
There is something missing in our relationship with God when thanksgiving is missing from our lives.  Jesus asked his disciples and the man who was healed and the crowd who gathered around: 
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
            All of them had to report to the priests.  All of them wanted to see friends and family from whom they had be separated.  All of them had a lot to do now that the leprosy was gone.
But for nine of the ten the most important thing was left undone—and that was a life of worship and thanksgiving in the presence of Jesus. 
            When Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith had made him “well” he was talking about much more than just having clean skin like all ten received.  He was talking about the wholeness in body and soul that God gives through faith in Jesus—a wholeness that shows itself in a life of worship and gratitude for the mercies of Jesus.

            Dear friends in Christ we too have been made well through faith in Jesus.  Our sin-sickness has been washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism and our great high priest has declared us clean in his sight.  May this wholeness always lead us to worship Jesus and be thankful for the Lord’s mercies!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37 It’s a situation that could be the lead-in story on the evening news.  A traveler is beaten, robbed, and left for dead.  And to add to the horror, there were bystanders who looked on--who could have helped-- but didn’t want to get involved.  It could be the cover story in a Newsweek series on crime in America-- but what it is a story some two thousand years old--the story of the Good Samaritan.
As we reflect on God’s Word to us today, I would like to consider it in this way: (1) the question of the lawyer: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (2) Jesus’ answer in the example of the Good Samaritan (3) and the challenge of Jesus: Go and do likewise.
What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  It was a question meant to trip-up or trick Jesus into making a mistake.  St. Luke tells us that the lawyer was trying to put Jesus to the test.  Any thought of sin or guilt and the need for forgiveness and grace apparently never entered the lawyer’s mind when it came to this question about his life with God.  He wanted to know what he needed to do to merit eternal life. 
We’re not immune from this idea that our relationship with God is based on what we do rather than on his grace—it’s a part of our fallen nature to think this way.  We want to believe that because we lead decent lives and give to good causes we’re somehow more “deserving” of salvation than those who don’t.  But life with God is based on his grace-- not our works.


“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answers the lawyer this way, “Since you’re an expert in the Law, What is written in the Law?  The lawyer gives the perfect answer--the answer right straight from the Word of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and your neighbor as yourself”.  Jesus had summarized the law just like that.  Perfect! Jesus says--Do this (and keep on doing it) and you will live!
The lawyer asked a legal question and Jesus had him given him the legal answer.  If you fulfill the Law—loving God above all and loving your neighbor as yourself—and keep on doing that perfectly for all your days--then you will live. 
Case closed--right?  Well....not quite.  At this point in the dialogue we begin to see a bit more of what the lawyer is really all about–the truth about his spiritual condition--that what he really wanted to do was to justify himself.  In fact, what he thought he needed to do-- was to justify himself. 
But if the lawyer had taken just a moment to take a good, hard look at himself in the light of God’s Law, he would have given up all hope of trying to justify himself. 
You see, anyone who has truly applied that summary of God’s Law to themselves:  love God with your entire being and your neighbor as yourself–has despaired of “doing” something to gain eternal life. 
To measure our lives by the standard of God’s law is to know ourselves for who we really are: those who have failed to love God and neighbor as we should—those who lack the ability to DO something to inherit eternal life—those who cannot justify themselves.
That’s what the lawyer should have realized about himself-- but he thinks there is still a chance.  “Who is my neighbor?”  In other words, he thinks to himself:  “If I can just get this neighbor thing nailed down then maybe I have a chance--just limit the neighborliness needed--give me a checklist of those I have to be nice to, and I’ve got it made”.
I think it’s interesting that he didn’t ask Jesus about loving God correctly.  So deluded was he about his real spiritual condition that he took it for granted that he loved God with the fullness and depth and breadth of his being as is commanded by the Law.  But his attitude towards others showed the truth-- even about his relationship with God.


Jesus knew what was in the lawyer’s heart.  He knew the self-righteousness and self-deception that blinded him to the truth about himself and God and Jesus wanted to pull him off of that shaky foundation and show him how profoundly he needed the mercy and grace of God—how helpless and broken he really was.  And so Jesus told him this story.
A traveler is beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left for dead.  Passers-by—men who knew it was their duty to help him, men who were experts in the law, ignored his need.  Finally, another man saw him, had compassion on him, treated his wounds and provided what was needed for his full recovery.  And –he- was- a -Samaritan.  You can almost hear the gasps from the crowd two thousand years later!
A Samaritan!  The hero of a Jewish rabbi’s story!  Incredible!  Jews and Samaritans were enemies.  Jews prayed that Samaritans would not be saved.  Samaritans were not received as converts.  For a Jew to eat food touched by a Samaritan was the same as eating pork.  And it was better to die than for a Jew to accept help from a Samaritan. 
And so for Jesus to use a Samaritan as an example of one who fulfilled the Law when even the religious leaders wouldn’t--well, it was just stunning! 
Jesus does something else that is remarkable in this parable.  He shows what the question should really be, holding up the mirror of the law before the lawyer—so that he can see how far he really is from keeping the law—how far he really is from God.
The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?”–trying to narrow down the list so that we can be merciful to as few as possible and still justify ourselves.  Instead, the question is:  “Am I a neighbor to others?”   That is, do I have this quality of “neighborliness” and mercy and compassion?  Do I have this love for others that is truly the fulfillment of the Law?


The answer is no.  No for me--for you--and for the lawyer that day.  We have all failed to love our neighbor as ourselves preferring instead to look the other way when we come across those in need-- soothing our own consciences with the excuses that seem so right at the time.  All of us have failed to love others as ourselves and in doing so have failed to love God above all.
But I want you to notice what Jesus does.  He doesn’t say “Aha!”--gotcha you wretched sinner!”  He doesn’t point his finger.  Jesus is so gentle with the man.  Even in turning this question back on the lawyer—Jesus’ purpose is to get him understand the truth of his spiritual poverty so that he can see that he has a need even greater than the man beaten and robbed—that is he is even more helpless when it comes to saving himself.
Jesus simply asks the lawyer to be the judge in his own trial.  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?  The priest?  The Levite?  Was it those experts in the Law?  Or was it the Samaritan?  The lawyer had no choice but to render a verdict:  the one who was the neighbor was the one who had compassion and showed mercy--the Samaritan.  Who would have ever imagined it?  The most unlikely of heroes!
Jesus told this story so that the lawyer might see the truth about himself with his self-righteousness and self-deceit stripped away--that he was the man who was helpless in the face of spiritual enemies more powerful than himself—that he was the one beaten and broken by the forces of evil--that he too must hope, for the help of hero, who is filled with courage and compassion—the One who stood before him.
Then as now, Jesus is the most unlikely of heroes in the world’s eyes.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son” the people of his day asked?  Not a mighty king.  Not a brave warrior.  Definitely not what was expected-- either then or now!  A Jewish carpenter from a backwoods town–and yet, true God in the flesh on a mission of mercy and love.
 Jesus told this story to reveal the truth about the man- but he also told it to reveal the truth about himself.  Jesus is the true Good Samaritan, who looked with compassion at a world full of people who had been wounded and injured and broken-- and had compassion on them—just like the Samaritan had compassion on the beaten and broken traveler.
It was Jesus who left his place of honor and dignity at his Father’s right hand and humbled himself to come into a world filled with danger and violence to help those who are by nature his enemies--just like the Samaritan in the parable left his donkey and entered into that dangerous situation to help an enemy.


It was Jesus who poured out his life-blood on the cross that healed our wounds and it was Jesus that paid the full price for our salvation just like the Samaritan who gave of his riches to provide healing for the wounded man. 
Life apart from God is much more desperate than the traveler wounded by robbers for we would have perished eternally if Christ had not given of himself into death for our sins.  It is in his death and resurrection that we are restored to wholeness of life--delivered from the selfishness that so often characterizes our life with God and others--now ready to bestow mercy on others from the boundless love that has been poured into hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Can you imagine how grateful the traveler was when the Samaritan stopped to render aid?  How thankful he was that the Samaritan did not pass by like the others?  Can you imagine how his life and attitude and outlook were changed by the mercy of that most unlikely of heroes?   So it is with those who know the care and compassion of Jesus, the Good Samaritan.
Jesus concludes his conversation with the lawyer with these words, “Go and do likewise.”  For the lawyer it was a challenge.  Jesus in effect says, “O.K.  You think you can keep the Law--you want to justify yourself--go ahead--give it a try--go out into this broken, needy, dying world and truly be a neighbor to all those you come into contact with.” 
“Go and do likewise”–try to keep just this one small part of the Law and you will quickly learn how shallow your own mercy really is--how meager your own spiritual resources are–how desperately you need what only I can provide. 


We don’t know what happened to the lawyer.  Did he go into the world and give it a try?  Did he begin to see the truth about his own great need in the mirror of the Law?  Did he eventually despair of trying to save himself and turn to Jesus with repentance and faith, trusting only in God’s grace?  We hope so!
Christ concludes his Word to us this morning with the same words he spoke to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise”.  But for us who have put our hope for eternal life in Christ’s righteousness–for those of us who have stopped trying to justify ourselves and simply learned to rest in God’s grace--these words are not a burden but a gracious invitation to show our love for Christ in acts of loving compassion for those in need.
We probably won’t come across someone beaten, robbed, and left for dead this week.  But we will have an opportunity to help someone--to encourage someone--to pray for someone--to give time or money to someone in need. 

Let’s not pass by on the other side of the road like the priest and Levite pretending that we don’t see.  Instead, let us follow the example of the Good Samaritan, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and reach out to others in mercy and love.  Amen.