Saturday, July 31, 2010
I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Gospel writers tell us that the people of Jesus’ day were amazed at his teaching because, unlike the Pharisees and traveling rabbis that filled the countryside, he taught as one who had authority. There was no “hemming or hawing” or “well on the one hand, yes, but on the other hand”—there was a simple, straight-forward message that claimed to be-- and was indeed—the truth of Almighty God.
But because Jesus’ words have the authority of God himself, then and now, there is a very real temptation for us to use his words as a tool to manipulate others. We think of some husbands’ readiness to remind their wives that the Bible says that she is to submit to him while being oblivious to those words a few verses later that call him to love her sacrificially and lead his family as a Christ-like servant.
This misuse of Jesus’ authoritative Word was what was going on with the man in the beginning of our lesson who came to Jesus with a problem involving money. He correctly recognized that Jesus’ word possessed the authority of God himself—but he wanted to misuse that authoritative Word to get his own way.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But Jesus said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?"
Jesus simply wasn’t having it—not with that man and not with us. Jesus does not speak to us so that we can use his words as a tool to manipulate others—as leverage to get what we want. Instead, he speaks to us so that we might be changed. That’s especially important for us to remember as we hear Jesus speak to us today about the place and role and importance that money has in our lives.
We are tempted to tell ourselves that this parable of the rich fool really doesn’t apply to us because-- after all—we’re not rich—or at least not as rich as some. We are tempted to look around the sanctuary to make sure that this person or that who it really applies to-- is listening. But in these temptations we are just like the man that Jesus rebuked who wanted to use the authority of the Lord’s words as a tool designed for others. But it’s not—it’s a word of divine authority--from God--for us—to change us.
Jesus speaks these words to each of us today because the point of the parable is not really about how much money we have—it’s about what’s first in our hearts-- no matter what we have. The parable is not really about what we posses—but about what possess us. Jesus says:
"Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
There are a couple of different ways of numbering the Ten Commandments and in the way shared by Lutherans and Catholics, nine and ten both deal with the sin of covetousness—a sin of the heart. When I talk about these commandments with our confirmation kids I always make the point that this probably a good way to number them—giving two commandments on covetousness-- because all of the other commandments—and whether or not we keep them—begins in our hearts.
Adultery begins in the heart with a lack of appreciation and thankfulness for the spouse that God has given to us and a sinful desire for another’s spouse. Stealing begins in the heart with a lack of satisfaction for the material gifts that God has given to us and a sinful desire for other’s things. Idolatry begins in the heart with a lack of satisfaction for our “creatureliness” and the sinful desire to be our own god. Covetousness is a spiritually deadly sin. James writes in chapter 4 of his epistle:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
The man who came to Jesus out of the crowd that day thought he had an inheritance problem that a proper disposition of money could fix. But he didn’t. He had a spiritual problem that only Jesus could fix—and that spiritual fix began with recognizing that the problem was in his own soul. It begins in the same place for us—with recognizing and confessing the sins of our heart.
Jesus says, “…be on your guard against all covetousness.” We do have to be on guard because this sin can sneak up on us. There are economic disparities. There are differences in people’s gifts and abilities and resources. And the shift in our hearts from thankfulness and satisfaction for what we do have-- to greed and covetousness for what we don’t have-- can almost be imperceptible until we’re overcome by it. Especially in our “market-place” economy, these disparities and differences are exploited by marketers who tell us that life really is about what we have or don’t have.
Jesus tells us just the opposite. He says: “Life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.” We know this don’t we—at least intellectually? We know that no matter how rich we are or successful or powerful we are, life itself is much more than mere things--that all of the wealth of the world will not extend our life one breath or beat of the heart beyond that day that God has already ordained for us ( to say nothing of the utter meaningless of material things when it comes to eternal life!)
We know in our heads the truth of what Jesus says (that life does not consist in the abundance our possessions) but how hard it is for us to remember it and re-order lives accordingly! And so Jesus tells us this parable of the rich fool to illustrate his point about the place and importance of material things in our lives in a memorable way.
"The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'
One of the very first words our kids learn is the word: “mine”. Children have to be taught to share. It doesn’t come naturally to them anymore than it does to us because our sinful flesh is turned in on itself-- and we see the truth of human self-centeredness so clearly in the rich fool’s words. My crops—my barns—my grain—my goods—my soul. But how wrong he was! Because as much as he thought all these things were his—Jesus tells us the truth about the real source of his wealth. Jesus says, “…the LAND of a rich man produced plentifully.”
Now the truth of the matter is that farming is both an art and a science, and to be successful at it you have to be both smart and a hard-worker. But it is also true that no matter how smart you are and no matter how hard you work and no matter how much modern technology you bring to bear in your work as a farmer—a crop simply will not be produced if there is not adequate sunlight and rainfall and fertile soil and dry weather for harvest—there are gifts that only the Creator can give.
The vast majority of farmers that I have ever known recognize it and that knowledge produces humility and a faith in God’s provision. But there are exceptions—and this man was one of them--for he had completely left God out of the picture. He said: What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'
I want you to notice what he didn’t ask. He didn’t ask: “Lord, what would you have me do?” “Seeing as how you have so abundantly and richly blessed me, how can I serve you and your people with these your blessings?” God never even enters into his thinking. It simply never occurs to him that the God who has blessed him-- might have something to say about the blessings he has bestowed. What about us?
When we get a raise or a promotion or a bonus is our first thought: “Lord, what would you have me do?” Or is it, “What will I do with more money?” It is so easy for us to forget that-- behind our hard work and behind our intellect and behind our wise investing is the God who gives it all-- down to each and every breath and heart-beat—and instead of humility and thankfulness for God’s gifts—much too often it is pride that fills our hearts over what we have done—just like that fool in the parable who said,
'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
Once again I want you to hear what he doesn’t say: “I will do this.” “I will return a tithe to the LORD as the Giver of it all.” “I will help those in need around me”. “I’ll do give an offering for the temple of God.” Instead he planned to build a monument to himself that would show everyone around him how rich and how successful he was.
In the early part of the 20th century a German economist and philosopher, Thorstein Veblun, came up with a phrase that describes the man’s plan for bigger barns and the vulgar, material excess that we see all around us in our culture today: “conspicuous consumption”: the purchase and use of material goods-- not because we genuinely need them—but as signs to demonstrate to others how rich and smart and sophisticated we are.
We can’t be Paris Hilton but we can carry her purse if we have the 1500 dollars. We can’t play golf like Tiger Woods but we can use his driver to duff around the course. We’re not Wall Street tycoons but we can use the same Mont Blanc pens as they do. The labels on our shirts and the stripes on our shoes and the nameplates on our cars are all intended as a testimony to others as to how well off and smart we are.
But what they really reveal about us is the poverty of our souls and the emptiness of our lives—just like the rich fool who said to himself. Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' And of course he was right! He had every thing he needed for many years—EXCEPT—the many years. Only God can give those years-- just like he gives every other gift of body and life.
We can deceive ourselves into believing that the material things that we have are of our own making-- but that delusion will come to an abrupt halt when we come face to face with the real Giver of those gifts. We can delude ourselves into believing that we are the captains of our souls and the masters of our destiny-- right up until we come face to face with the One who really is.
The people around the rich fool- and himself at the top of the list-- thought he was the brightest, most successful, and wisest man they knew. But God thought differently.
God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich in God."
The fool went to sleep that night just as he had every other night of his life believing he had the world by the tail—but that night was not like every other night—it was his last night. He had not-- and would not-- commend his soul into the hands of his Creator and Redeemer and so his soul would taken from him in eternal death in hell.
And with that most precious possession lost—all that remained of him—all of those things that he called his own—all those things that he valued above God-- would be given to others-- who would fuss and fight over them just like the man at the beginning of our lesson. Such is the end of all those who covetously lay up treasures and are not rich in God.
But thanks be to God, that moment has not yet come for us! This is a moment of grace for us—this is a day of salvation--a God-given opportunity for us to re-evaluate our lives and turn in repentance from greed and covetousness—a day to topple the idol “mammon” off the throne of our hearts and receive in faith the one true God who lives and endures beyond the grave.
All of the riches of Christ are set before us today—his Word that calls us to repentance and faith—his body and blood which assure us that his death and resurrection are for us individually and personally—his abiding presence that makes our lives-- no matter how humble-- very rich indeed.
The Good News for us today is that our Lord Jesus Christ did not fail to keep first things first as we so often do. He came to do the will of his Father—and he did it—perfectly. He did not come to be served but to serve. And he did not count his own life too high a price to pay to secure the salvation of our souls and to free us by his resurrection from the fatal bondage to the things of this world.
Life—true, unending life with God--does not consist in the abundance of our possession—but it consists—from beginning to ending-- of Christ-- who is our life.
God has graciously and providentially brought us to this time and this place to receive in faith the riches of his grace in Christ-- so that as we lay our heads down tonight—even if it is our last night—we can commend our souls into the hands of our merciful, forgiving Father and sleep at ease-- knowing that through faith in Jesus we are rich beyond measure. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your heart and min in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
“Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was certainly the zenith of the composers coming out of the Reformation. His music was a direct result of the Reformation culture and the biblical Christianity of the time, which was so much a part of Bach himself. There would have been no Bach had there been no Luther. Bach wrote on his score initials representing such phrases as: “With the help of Jesus”—“To God alone be the glory”—“In the name of Jesus.” It was appropriate that the last thing Bach the Christian wrote was “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.” Bach consciously related both the form and the words of his music to biblical truth. Out of the biblical context came a rich combination of music and words and a diversity with unity. This rested on the fact that the Bible gives unity to the universals and the particulars, and therefore the particulars have meaning. Expressed musically, there can be endless variety and diversity without chaos. There is variety yet resolution.”
“How Then Should We Live” p. 92 Francis A Schaeffer
Crossway Books Wheaton, Illinois
Monday, July 26, 2010
Pentecost 10, Series C August 1, 2010
Lessons for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 13)
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26 ~ God makes our activities enjoyable, but amassing goods robs us of joy.
Psalm 100 (antiphon: vs 3)
Colossians 3:1-11 ~ In Christ, the old self is put to death on the cross, and we receive a new life in Christ.
Luke 12:13-21 ~ Life is not measured by the possessions we own, but by the One who possesses us.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Raise Your Sights!
The Teacher in the First Lesson looked at all his work and the approaching end of his life in utter frustration, but he recognized that satisfaction in labor comes only from the hand of God. In the parable of the rich man, Jesus pointed out that when we only value “our” possessions, we miss the wealth of God. St. Paul urges us to set our minds on things above as we remember that our lives in Christ are redeemed for a greater purpose and an eternal goal.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O Lord, help me lift my eyes above all the attractive things that I value so much in this world, that I may see the wealth of your eternal gift of Life in Christ Jesus, my Savior. Help me measure my life by your grace rather than by my accomplishments, that I may have great gifts of love to give to others. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The treasures we gather in this life don’t begin to measure how much God treasures us! To measure God’s love for us, we must look to Christ, who died to possess us for eternity. When we learn to use our goods to share this new meaning of life with others, our lives are filled with joy.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, shield us from the useless times,
When barns are full but hearts are empty.
Fill our days with joyful deeds
Through which we share Your gifts of plenty.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We define our lives by possessions; we think how much we have and how great they are, determines our importance on earth. That desire for amassing power drives us to abuse our relationships with other people. The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter how much we have, but how much God loves us. In Christ, God has made us His possessions for eternal life. He has done away with our old values and made us of much greater value through Jesus’ self-giving on our behalf. In Christ, our lives are filled with meaning as we share this new joy with others.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
As the story of Abraham interceding with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, it becomes evident that there is another lesson at work here: boldness in prayer. In these verses (Genesis 18:20-33), Abraham doesn't shy away from the audience granted by God. Maybe that's why the prayers of the Bible are so instructive. They are bold, staking God to His promises. As one old seminary professor once told us, we pray to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Christ is our mediator before the Father, and through Him and by the Spirit, we are God's dear children. I cringe whenever I hear "just" prayers or when I hear children instructed to pray only for those things they can't do themselves. I scoff at the request to pray a "little" prayer. The God to whom we pray is the Creator of the universe, yet He has time to listen to us. A "just" prayer is simply not acceptable when we pray with "all boldness and confidence," as we're instructed in the Small Catechism. There are no little prayers, either, for the God to whom we pray has purchased us with the blood of His own dear Son.
A hot topic in today's world is identity protection. Numerous services are available to prevent identity theft. This week, on Wednesday evening right after Zumba, there will be an Identity Theft Prevention workshop held in the Fellowship Hall. Included in this workshop is ice cream! Bring your favorite ice cream to share, and learn some basics of identity protection.
A true story about identity - from David Simonds (I have his permission to use this story).
Several weeks ago, David received a letter asking him to appear in court concerning an auto accident in Salem, Massachusetts. He said he thought it was a joke and ignored it. A couple of weeks later, there was a knock on his door. A postal carrier delivered a certified letter containing a summons for David to appear in court in Salem, Mass. After consulting his attorney and sending documentation, the mix up concerning David was resolved. As he researched the situation, David learned that the attorney in Massachusetts had simply Googled "David Simonds" and came up with his name.
While this may not be the classic identity theft story, and certainly doesn't have the devastation of many identity theft incidents, it does highlight the ease with which identities can be compromised.
Many of you expressed your sympathies at the death of my aunt Stella a couple of weeks ago. Not only was I and my family appreciative, but I also conveyed those sympathies to my mother while in Austin this past week. She and my dad were most thankful for your expressions. Thank you very much for your concern, your expressions of sympathy, and your prayers for my family.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), John Miller's niece (Afghanistan), Andrew Epley (Iraq), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Ryan Radtke, John Sorensen, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
Burt Nelson, recovering from surgery
Pastor Matthew Harrison, newly elected president of the LCMS
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, July 26
Wednesday, July 28
Identity Theft Prevention Workshop and Ice Cream Social
Thursday, July 29
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I bring you grace, mercy, and peace fro God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What I’ve always wondered about this scene of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray is this: who is the one who gathered up the courage to admit that he didn’t really know how to pray? After all, every little Lutheran knows that prayer is “speaking to God in thoughts and words”? We all know that, but during my years as a pastor, questions about prayer come up in Bible class and private pastoral conversations more than just about anything else. We all have concerns about our prayer life.
What should I pray for in this or that situation? How can I know I have received God’s answer? Is it o.k. to pray for certain things and outcomes? What can I do to have a more consistent prayer life? How can I learn to truly pray: “Thy will be done”? Prayer is the most basic spiritual practices of the child of God, it really is the simplest thing to do, and yet we continue to have questions and concerns about our life of prayer.
And so the Lord speaks to us in his Word today, and invites us to join the circle of disciples as they listen to him and learn more about our life of prayer. The Bible says:
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus was a man of prayer. Yes, he was and is God—but God in human flesh--a real human being in every single way that we are human-- except without sin. And as a real human being—he needed prayer. Throughout the gospel accounts of those first-hand witnesses of his life, Jesus is shown praying-- again and again.
He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath-- and he traveled to the temple for the high holy days—but this public worship was not the whole content of his worship life—he was also a man of personal, private prayer.
He got up early to pray—he sought out solitude to talk to his heavenly Father-before his meals and before big events in his ministry—he prayed. He was God in human flesh—his messianic mission was vital—the press of human need was constant—and yet Jesus always made time for prayer. His prayer life was so deep and so profound that it made a powerful impression on all those who knew him-- and they wanted the same kind of prayer life for themselves—and we should too.
Our attendance at public worship is important and there is no substitute for it—but it is still insufficient—all by itself-- to give us all of the spiritual benefits and blessings that the Lord wants to bestow upon us as his children. Many of those come through private, personal prayer.
I think that most of us know that—but it’s that same importance of prayer that can be an impediment to our life of prayer: are we praying for the right things?—do we pray with confidence?—can we expect good things when we pray? That is why we can join our voice to the disciples and ask Jesus to teach us to pray: Jesus to them and us, “When you pray, say: “Father…”
In many, many ways --that we are to address the living God of the universe as “Father”-- is the most important thing that we are going to learn about prayer from Jesus—it is certainly the foundation for our life of prayer. God is truly our Father and we are truly his children and that relationship exists ONLY because of Jesus Christ. Jesus said of himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life—no one comes to the Father except by me”. John said of Jesus that “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
The Bible is perfectly clear: our access to God—our confidence to come to his throne and ask him for what we need—comes only in one way—and that is through faith in his Son Jesus. The Bible says:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…let us then with CONFIDENCE draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus Christ has removed the sin-barrier that stood between us and God. His sacrificial death has opened the way for us to be restored to what we were created to be—and that is God’s children.
And so, it is only through faith in Jesus that we can enter into God’s presence and expect that our prayers will be heard. That is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name—not as a magical formula—but in firm faith that God really is my Father and I really am his child on account of Jesus and so we can go to him and ask him for what we need just as children go to their earthly fathers. And so what should we ask for? Jesus says:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
Out of all of the things that Jesus teaches us to ask for in prayer—only one of them pertains to material things—and that petition (for daily bread) is only for the basics of life. Now, does this mean that God doesn’t care about our jobs and fields and investments and elections and all of the other things that make up modern life? No! He is our Father and he cares about --what we care about-- down to each hair on our head.
But that there is just one petition in the Lord’s Prayer for material things-- does demonstrate the vast chasm that exists between those things that we really care about and pray about-- and what God wants for us first and foremost.
I think it’s fair to say that most of our prayer requests are about material things and earthly blessings—our jobs and our finances and our families—and there is nothing wrong with asking for these things.
But God’s priorities for us are first and foremost-- and ultimately-- spiritual. He has loved us from eternity and chosen us to live with him forever. He has sent his Son Jesus to save us from our sins. He has called us into fellowship with himself by the power of the Holy Spirit and he works in our lives to keep us in faith until the day we go to live with him in heaven.
Our salvation is what God is most concerned about and so our prayer life ought to take on those same priorities: 1. that his name would be made holy through what we say and how we live our lives and what is taught in our congregations—2. that we would do our part to bring about his kingdom by making sure that we remain in the Christian faith and raise our children in the Christian faith and support the mission of the church—3. that we would abide in his forgiveness and because he has forgiven us—we would be forgiving of others—forgiving them in the same way we have been forgiven by Jesus—and 4. that the Lord would guide our steps each day of life’s journey to preserve us in faith and keep us from times of temptation where we could lose our faith.
The spiritual priorities of the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful corrective to our prayer lives that are often times filled with things that only matter for the here and now. We learn from Jesus himself what our primary focus ought to be in this life—our own salvation-- and we re-order our prayer priorities in keeping with our heavenly Father’s loving will that we would live with him forever.
Every earthly, material, temporal petition has to be prayed: Thy will be done—but these spiritual petitions of-- hallowing God’s name and advancing his kingdom and living in forgiveness and avoiding temptation--can be prayed for with absolute confidence because God himself has promised them to us. Jesus tells a little parable that exemplifies the confidence that we ought to have when we pray:
Jesus said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
Anyone who has a proper knowledge of God cannot help but amazed by what a precious gift he has given us in prayer. The living God of the universe who is holy and righteous and mighty and powerful in ways that we cannot even begin to comprehend—invites us poor sinners (whose life is but a breath) for Jesus’ sake, to address him as Father and ask him for what we need. And Jesus tells us this story to illustrate just how audacious and unexpected this is.
In the ancient world, bread was baked as needed. For the friend’s needs to be met, the man in the home would have to get up in the middle of the night, remake the fire, warm the oven, mix the dough and bake the bread. And not only would he do that—he would give his friend whatever else he needs. Jesus says that this kind of overwhelming generosity that can imposed upon at the most inconvenient times is not something that exists between friends—who would ever do that!--but really exists between us and God.
Jesus’ point is this: We are not bothering God with our prayers. We are not inconveniencing him. We are not asking for more than he can deliver. He is our Father and we are his children and there is NOTHING that we cannot talk to him about in prayer—for he has promised to hear us. Jesus says:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, the question is asked: Why do we pray? And the answer is: Because God’s commands us to pray and promises to hear us. God wants us to be people of prayer—he wants us to speak to him in prayer and he desires that we would listen to him as he speaks to us in his Word. And to assure us that we are not just speaking to an empty cosmos or engaging in an exercise of futility—he promises to hear our prayers.
You hear people say “Well, there’s nothing left to do but pray.” But for the child of God, prayer is not a last-ditch effort when everything else that we have tried has failed—it is the first, middle, and last thing we do in an on-going conversation with our heavenly Father about the things that matter to us—prayer is not an act of futility—but of faith. The Bible says that we are to ask for what we need:
“…in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord...
For Jesus’ sake, God hears and answers our prayers. We have Jesus’ promise that asking we will receive and seeking we will find and knocking the way will be opened unto us. But does this mean that if you and I ask the Lord for the winning lottery tickets he is bound to give them? No. He promises something infinitely more valuable—a life with God. Jesus says:
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
All of us have enough sense to give our children good things. None of us would intentionally give something to them that would harm them. And that is not just true of Christians but of all people—even unbelievers. And if this is true of us—how much more is it true of God! God is good—good beyond anything else than we can imagine—good beyond comparison to anything else that we call “good”. He has demonstrated his goodness to us once for all in the gift of his Son. The Bible explains it like this:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
The God who gave his Son for us is our Father—that we believe this is because he has also given us the Holy Spirit—the presence of God in our lives who is the down-payment—the earnest money—the guarantee that all of the riches and wonders of God are also ours in Christ Jesus.
THAT is why we can pray “Thy will be done” with perfect confidence for our lives and for our families and for everything and everyone that we care about. We know what God’s good and loving will is towards us because by the power of the Holy Spirit we know his Son Jesus as our Savior. God has already done that for us and so, as we pray for our daily needs, we can be confident that in all things—no matter what they are—God is graciously ordering the world FOR OUR GOOD.
The lessons that Jesus teaches us today concerning prayer are lessons that we will need to learn again and again over the course of our lives but they are only learned as we begin to be people of prayer. May God grant this to us all for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Pentecost 09, Series C July 25, 2010
Lessons for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 12)
Genesis 18:(17-19) 20-33 ~ On Abraham’s behalf, God offers grace to Sodom for the sake of ten righteous.
Psalm 138 (antiphon: v. 3)
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) ~ On Christ’s behalf, God has extended grace to us, forgiving the debt of our sins.
Luke 11:1-13 ~ God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ invites us to pray boldly to God as our heavenly Father.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Lord, Teach us To Pray!
Our gracious Lord doesn't stop with just teaching us how to pray. By his Holy Spirit he teaches us to pray, like Abraham who persistently bargained with God on behalf of the righteous ones in Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus taught the disciples a pattern and an urgency for prayer, using examples of a neighbor in need of bread at midnight. A healthy prayer life is one of the things that belongs to our new self in Christ Jesus, which we are learning to practice daily.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Our Father in heaven, all power is yours to do your will in heaven and earth. In Christ your Son, you have put to death my old ways of selfishness, and given me a new life in Christ’s image. Renew me daily by your Spirit that I may always live in the power of Christ's resurrection and with the confidence that you hear my prayers. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Our gracious God responds to our requests for our own needs and on behalf of others. Ought we not be just as urgent in our pleas for our neighbors who do not know their Savior, as Abraham was for the few righteous inhabitants of Sodom?
OFFERING PRAYER: Our Father, who from heaven above
Has showered us with Your holy love,
Empower these gifts that they succeed
To bring Your grace to those in need.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We are rarely as bold to pray to our Father as Abraham, when he besought God to spare Sodom for the sake of only ten righteous. Instead, we are often “taken captive” by worldly arguments that convince us the effectiveness of our prayer depends on the excellence of our lives, our asceticism, or our visions. Jesus reassures us that God stands ready to respond to our needs as a loving father who knows what is best for his children. St. Paul insists that our relationship to God is sealed by the cross of Christ, who is in fact, fully God himself!
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha is one of the familiar stories in the Bible. Most of us could tell it by heart. We know how it ends. We know who it is that is commended by Jesus and for what. But I have a feeling that most of us still identify with Martha much more than Mary.
We can easily imagine having important guests for dinner and all that hosting them entails—a house to clean—the meal to prepare. And all the while we are rushing about trying to make sure that everything turns out just right—the folks that are supposed to be helping us—our kids or our husband--are just laying around—to our eyes not doing much of anything at all. And I can easily hear myself saying: “What on earth is wrong with you—have you lost your minds--get up and get to work”!
It’s just the way I was raised and I bet you were too. I never told my parents that I was bored or that there was nothing to do—and you know why: their response was: well I’ll find you something to do. And so we identify with poor old frazzled Martha because she looks like us: more to do than there are hours in the day—her “to-do” list pushing her onward mercilessly like those harsh taskmasters in Egypt that we heard about last week who made the Hebrew slaves’ lives a misery.
And the Lord wants us to see ourselves in Martha because he has something to teach us about ourselves-- and something to teach us about what our life with God is really all about—for you see, even though we identify with Martha-- it’s Mary that the Lord commends—Mary is the one that he lifts up as an example—Mary is the one who chose the good portion. And this cuts right to the heart of our in-born difficulty in understanding that our relationship with God is all about his gracious gifts and not about our frantic strivings to get his attention or our ceaseless efforts to please him.
We are born into this world just like every other man or woman—a true knowledge of the things of God absent from our lives because of original sin. We are born believing that we are the seekers in our life with God--that we are the ones who are the doers in our spiritual life--that our relationship with God rests upon us.
This is the natural religion of mankind and it becomes readily apparent that this is true of us too when we find ourselves identifying with Martha --even when we have the Lord’s own words that Mary is the one who got it right that day-- because she was content to sit at the Lord’s feet and RECEIVE from him the one thing needful. Luke tells us that: As they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.
Jesus entered into the village of Mary and Martha for exactly the same purpose as he entered into world--to be the Savior who gives life. He said of himself that the Son of Man came into the world “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” –he said that it is the devil who comes to steal and destroy while he came to give abundant life. You can bet that the devil was there that day—trying to choke out the word of life with the cares of this world.
Now, I have absolutely no doubt that Martha was glad for Jesus’ visit to her home—it was an honor—we know her from other places in the Gospels as a stalwart confessor of the faith—but that day she saw Jesus as someone who was going to add to her burdens rather than take them away. What about us?
Jesus continues to graciously come to his people with his saving gifts. As God in human flesh, he is, of course, present everywhere, at all times. But in a special way that we can lay hold of by faith, he makes himself present here in Word and Sacrament—so that we can hear his voice and rejoice in his real presence among us.
And so we need to ask ourselves on this Lord’s Day, have we received this, the Lord’s visitation, as a burden—getting up early, putting on special clothes, arranging our many other tasks—or are we thankful to simply be in the Lord’s presence, to hear his voice, and receive his gifts of salvation? Are we Mary or Martha? Luke writes:
A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.
I wonder how many of us really would have chosen any differently than did Martha? Even knowing how the story ends—even knowing who the Lord commends—hearing Jesus’ voice that Mary has chosen the necessary thing--how may of us still would not do just exactly what Martha did? It’s just a part of our broken human nature that has been misdirected away from God on account of sin.
If Jesus came to our home like he came to Martha’s home we would do exactly the same things--we would fly into action—making sure that things were neatened up and that the bathroom was clean and that there were refreshments to serve—his visit would not mean “rest” for us-- but frantic action—it would mean one more thing that we had to add to our busy schedules—it would seem to be a burden rather than a blessing.
And a truer picture of what sin has done to “twist and distort” our understanding of what life with God is all about-- cannot be found than Martha’s frantic, exhausting, distracted rushing about—focused upon herself and all that she has to do.
It’s the same attitude that keeps people away from church on Sunday. After a long, busy work week they tell themselves that they need this time to get done all the things they didn’t get done during the week. The sound of the alarm clock is more real to them than the voice of the Lord who desires to speak to them. Their own agendas more pressing than the presence of the Lord who stands ready to give them rest.
How different is the picture of Mary! Mary was not going to waste a single moment that she could spend with the Lord on anything else. Mary was content to simply be in the Lord’s presence. She wanted to hear his words and sit at his feet.
She knew that what he came to do for her --was infinitely more valuable than anything she could do for him. And most importantly, she knew that what Jesus really desired from her was the opportunity to give her-- what only he could give.
Jesus had shown that in his ministry again and again. When the wedding couple ran out of wine—he gave it. When the multitudes were hungry—he provided. When the widow lost her son—Jesus restored him. Each miracle was a sign of his mission—to give all, even his own life for us--a testimony that he came to lift our burdens—not add to them. We need to be reminded of that just like Martha did that day. The Bible says:
Martha went up to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.
How human this scene is—how sadly familiar! Martha knew all of the things that she wanted to get done—her mind was full of what she thought had to be accomplished. And so she went to the Lord, NOT with an attitude of “Thy will be done”—but of trying to bend the Lord’s will to her own will. “Use your power Lord to help me accomplish my agenda—and by the way, command my sister to help me”.
Let me ask you a very simple question: at that moment, who is it that stood at the center of Martha’s universe? She did! She had HER “to-do” list. She had HER schedule. And everyone within her orbit was supposed to do her will—even the Lord. “If you really loved me Lord you would adopt my agenda. If you really loved me you would adopt my time frame. Don’t you care about me Lord?”
But of course he does—too much to let her go on like that! “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” And how could she not be! We human beings are not equipped to be God and yet when we treat God as our servant—expecting him to do WHAT we want, WHEN we want it—when we insist that others yield to us—that is exactly what we have become—weak little gods of our own, sad little worlds.
When we are anxious and when we are troubled and when we are worried-- this is exactly what has happened to us—the Lord has been cast down from his throne in our lives and a usurper has been placed there--ourselves. But Jesus loves us too much to let us go on this way and he loved Martha too much as well.
Of course the Lord cared about her—that is why he came there that day and that is why he came into our world in the first place—to deliver us from the terrible, sinful burden of being our own gods—of going our own way—of making our will our master--and to restore us to what we are meant to be: children of the one true God, re-born in his image by the Spirit-- who live in perfect agreement with his will and his timing.
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion.
There are all kinds of important things that we have to do—we have serious and weighty responsibilities that are ours —all of us feel the press of full schedules—but there is really only one thing that stands at the center of our lives—only one thing that can be the main thing—only one thing that gives order and meaning to all the rest—only one thing that is finally, irreducibly necessary—and it is not something that we do—but something that has been done for us-- by Jesus. Paul describes it like this:
I delivered to you as of FIRST IMPORTANCE what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day
“Don’t you care?”-- is not only Martha’s pitiful cry, it is the cry of the world—and God’s answer to the world and his answer to you and me is “yes I do care”—it’s an answer that takes on flesh and blood in his Son Jesus.
Christ’s death on the cross has paid for every one of those times that our will and our schedule has taken precedence over God’s will and God’s timing. His death has fully atoned for our rebellion against God that wants to turn him into our servant and lifts us up into his place. And his resurrection is the promise of a brand new life for us in which we live “now and forever” in a right relationship with God as his children.
That Good News is what Paul received from the Lord. And it’s what Mary received that day at the Lord’s feet listening to his teaching. It’s what we have received in Holy Baptism where the benefits and blessings of Christ’s death and resurrection become our own. It’s what we receive each time that hear that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. It’s what we receive when we come to Holy Communion today, the assurance of Christ’s true body and blood that we are loved and forgiven.
Christ is the Giver-- not the taker-- from us. He is the burden lifter. That day in Martha’s home, Mary’s actions and attitude and her very posture was a tangible testimony that she knew and believed and had received the one thing needful: the Good News of Jesus as a free gift of God’s grace received in faith. How do we show the same is true of us in our lives? By adopting Mary’s attitude to the Lord’s presence in our midst!
Each Sunday the Lord makes himself present to us in Word and Sacrament. Church attendance is not one more thing to add to our “to do” list—it is an opportunity to do what Mary did and receive from the Lord his gifts of forgiveness and life—to know in concrete ways- that are audible and tangible- his care for us.
When we attend Sunday School we sit at the Lord’s feet and learn more about his love for us and what our lives of faith ought to be like.
When we have devotions in our homes, the Lord is just as present around our table as he was that day at Martha’s house—not to burden us with one more duty—but to assure us and our loved ones that our burdens and cares have been lifted onto his almighty shoulders.
Jesus promised Martha and Mary-- and he promises us-- that these gifts of his gracious love will not be taken from us. The meal that day at Martha’s house came to an end. The scraps were thrown out and the dishes were washed and Martha’s neat and tidy house got dirty all over again. All of those things that Martha thought were so important—they came to an end too. Over time Mary and Martha died and their home crumbled into dust. Everything was taken from them except for the needful thing—the necessary thing—and that was Christ and his Word of forgiveness and life.
That endures forever-- and because it does—so do they live forever—and so will we who have received Christ and his Word and Sacraments in faith. May God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Old Testament lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For over 300 hundred years—from the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses--the Israelites thrived in Egypt. What began as a family—became a great nation. But the tides of history changed and Egypt forgot about Joseph and they feared his descendants and so they enslaved the Israelites and put their children to death.
The Bible says that “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” God heard their cries and remembered his covenant with their father Abraham and he called Moses to speak his words of deliverance:
I am the LORD and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people and I will be your God.
Faithful and true to his promise—as he always is—that is exactly what God did—the LORD brought the Israelites out of slavery by the might of his outstretched arm—the LORD destroyed their enemies in the waters of the Red Sea—and the LORD set their feet on the path to the Promised Land.
I say this by way of introduction so that you will understand where the words of our text today stand in salvation history. God delivered his people. God set them free. God destroyed their enemies. By his mighty act of redemption and deliverance—the Israelites were God’s people. And as his people—they were redeemed and set free to live very different kinds of lives than the people around them who did not know God as the LORD of salvation.
When Moses spoke the words of our text today to the redeemed people of God, again and again he prefaced how they ought to live their lives with the words: I am the LORD your God. I am the LORD your God. I am the God of your salvation.
And because of who I Am and because of who you are --your lives are to be radically different than those who do not know me as Savior. You are to be concerned for the poor. You are to be merciful to the helpless. You are to live justly. In your common life together and in your life in this world: you are to love your neighbor as yourself.
These words are not only true for God’s ancient people, the Israelites—but they are true for all of God’s people—including us sitting here today.
The LORD has set us free from slavery to sin and death by the outstretched arms of Jesus upon the cross. In the mighty act of judgment that took place there, God counted his Son guilty of our sins-- and pronounced us “not guilty” in him-- as an act of pure grace. He has drowned our enemies of sin and death in the waters of Holy Baptism and has fed us on our journey to heaven with the manna of life in Holy Communion.
Truly he is the God of salvation—he is the LORD—and we are his people—and our identity as the redeemed, sanctified people of God is to be visible in how we live. Not to earn a place with God—not to work out our own deliverance—these are already the accomplished facts of salvation history in Jesus Christ! Instead, we hear these words to us today and we endeavor to live the life they describe BECAUSE God is our Savior and BECAUSE we are his redeemed people. The Bible says:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my just decrees and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my just decrees; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.
I have always wondered to myself, how different really is my life and the life of my family and the lives of the members of this congregation than our friends and neighbors who don’t know God as the LORD of salvation. Yes, we go to church on Sunday. But are our values and priorities and hopes and day-to-day lives really that different from the nice folks at work and in our schools and down the street in our neighborhood who don’t know Jesus?
Do I teach my children a different measure of what is a successful life than to simply make as much money as possible? Do I have a different family dynamic than each of us isolated in our own electronic cocoon? Are my choices in clothing and possessions and leisure time and entertainment affected in the least by the fact that I am God’s child—or does my life look like that of an unbeliever?
God speaks to his redeemed people and clearly says that we are not to adopt the ways of the world around us—for the Israelites it was the Egyptians and the Canaanites—for us it is the sinful, unbelieving world around us. We are to reject their values and priorities—and instead we are to live distinctively different lives than those around us who are not Christians. The Bible says that as:
Aliens and strangers in the world, we are to abstain from sinful desires, which war against our soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Living as aliens and strangers in this world—walking according to the statutes and just decrees of the Lord and rejecting the ways of the world-- is not a matter of wearing a distinctive kind of clothing and rejecting technology as the Amish believe—it is not a matter of living behind the walls of a monastery or withdrawing from the world as Catholicism and various protestant groups would have us do.
Instead, we are called upon by our redeemer God to be in the world but not of the world—taking for ourselves the values of our heavenly Father who has adopted us into his family—having his attitude of care and concern for those around us. The Bible says:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
Not only did God deliver his people from slavery and destroy their enemies—but he cared for their physical needs during their entire sojourn to the Promised Land. The Bible tells us that he provided food and water in the wilderness and that their clothing never wore out and their feet never swelled during those forty years. God materially provided for his people—and so his people were to provide for others.
The Israelites were forbidden to farm in such a way that there was absolutely nothing left in the fields or vineyards after the harvest. Instead, they were leave grain and grapes behind so that the poor and those who were traveling through could be fed. God had not blessed them with “soil and sun and rain” only for their own enrichment—but also to meet the needs of others. God expects the same of us.
Again and again the Bible tells us that we are to work so that we have something to share with the needy—that we are to look to the interests of others—and that we are to share what we have. God’s concern is that all people would be provided for.
But there is another part of these farming precepts that more directly applies to our own spiritual lives besides meeting the material needs of others. By leaving a part of their harvest behind, the Israelites also learned to trust God to meet their needs.
We need that reminder today—especially in a time when most Americans are using all their resources for themselves plus whatever they can borrow on credit card. Giving a portion of what we’ve earned to others--helps them—but it also helps us learn to trust God to meet all our needs which he has promised to do. We can count on his mercy-- and so we have special concern for those who are dependent upon our mercy. The Bible says:
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they were absolutely helpless—they were dependent completely upon the mercy of God who heard their cries and saw their need and came to their rescue. And because the Lord was merciful to them—they were to be merciful to others.
So it is with us. We were born into spiritual slavery. By nature, we were deaf to the voice of God-- and we were blind to his goodness. If our deliverance and salvation depended upon us in the least, we would remain separated from God forever. But God had mercy on us in Christ and came to our rescue and brought us to himself. And because we are the recipients of his mercy—we are to be merciful to others.
The hired servant needed his wages at the end of the day so that he could feed his family. The deaf could not hear and the blind could not see. And all of them were dependent upon the mercy of those around them—they were dependent upon those who had greater power than they did.
When we find ourselves in a position of power—far be it from us to oppress our neighbor or take from our neighbor or deal falsely with them. Rather, we take our guidance from the Lord who was merciful to us—and so we are merciful to others. There are people all around us who need a kind word from us and who need a helping hand—who do not have the resources we have. We are not permitted as Christian people to turn our backs on those who stand in need of our mercy—and we are not permitted to ignore those who need justice to be done for them. The Bible says:
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
When the rulers of Egypt began to recognize that the people of Israel were growing into a great nation within the borders of Egypt—they commanded the Hebrew midwives to put the male children to death as soon as they were delivered. But the midwives feared God and would not obey and so as the number of Israelites continued to grow, the Egyptians enslaved them and put harsh masters over them and made their lives bitter.
God did not turn a blind eye to these injustices but protected the lives of his children and set them free from slavery. And because this was the kind of God they had in the LORD, the Israelites were called to act justly and be impartial and speak the truth and let go of vengeance. So it still is today for God’s people. The Bible says:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
The LORD is the Creator of mankind. He is the Redeemer of the world. And because every person has been created by God and because the blood of Christ was poured out upon the cross for all people, every person in the world—has dignity and worth in God’s sight—no matter their gender or ethnicity or age. Christians were the ones who brought slavery to an end. Christians were the ones who hid the Jews. Christians were the leaders of the civil rights movement in our country. And Christians are the ones who uphold the value of the lives of the unborn and the disabled and the elderly.
To love justice- and speak the truth- and stand for the rights of every member of the human family- these are distinctively Christian activities for we are called upon by our Savior God to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Bible says:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Everything that we have talked about this morning: living lives that are set apart for God—being concerned for the poor- and merciful to the helpless- and acting justly-- can be summed up in this last verse: love your neighbor as yourself. Love them in what we say—love them in what we do—love them from our heart. Love for others is the fulfillment of the Second Table of the Law—love is how we are called to live in relationship with others—love is what we have failed so often to do.
But there was One who got it right—who was concerned for the poor and the broken and all those who needed mercy—who came to the aid of those set upon by enemies and he healed their wounds and paid the price for their restoration to health. He revealed himself in a story about a Good Samaritan—his own story. Jesus entered into our dangerous world to come to the aid of those who, by nature, are his enemies. He poured his life’s blood out upon for us upon the cross and by his wounds we are healed. His resurrection has delivered us to a safe place in our Father’s house where we no longer have to fear even death.
He showed mercy to us. And to the lawyer that day who wondered who his neighbor was-- and to us sitting here this day who ask ourselves, how would the LORD have us live: Jesus says: Go and do likewise. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
As I prepare to travel to Houston tomorrow for the 64th annual convention of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, I thought I'd send out a few notes. On Sunday, Pastor Gilbert Franke, former vacancy pastor at Mt. Olive, will be bringing God's gifts to His people. In his communications, he's really looking forward to joining you all in worship!
This morning, my aunt Stella Johnson was called to her Lord. My thanks to all of you for your continued prayers and for your expressions of sympathy. I've conveyed these to my mother, who has been most appreciative.
Saturday, July 17, there is a Beach Clean Up sponsored by Galilean Lutheran's Men in Mission group. If you would like to attend, please contact Karl Vermace. The clean up begins at 8 a.m. down at the National Seashore.
Also on July 17, six of our young people and one adult will accompany me to New Orleans for the National Youth Gathering 2010, under the theme of We Believe.
In your prayers, please remember Burt Nelson who'll be undergoing surgery next Friday.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Pentecost 07, Series C July 11, 2010
Lessons for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 10)
Leviticus (18:1-5) 19:9-18 ~ God’s people treat others the way God would treat them.
Psalm 41 (antiphon:v. 1)
Colossians 1:1-14 ~ Our relationship to the Father through Christ calls us to a life of love toward others.
Luke 10:25-37 ~ Jesus is the model for being a good neighbor to those in need.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Always Remember to be Kind!
God’s commands illustrate what love is by prohibiting any mistreatment of others and requiring us to treat our neighbors the way we would treat ourselves. It was Christ’s reconciling love that had claimed Paul as a servant of the Gospel, so that he was ready to go to great lengths to show God’s love to the Colossians. Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan points out that a neighbor’s love is shown in acts of mercy to those in need.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, keep your Word near to my heart so that you are always first in my heart. Then your love will flow from my heart to others so they may know your salvation in Christ Jesus. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Our special relationship to God through Christ Jesus puts us in the unique place of having the hope of heaven and the wisdom to share that hope with neighbors through loving actions in this world.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, use these gifts in showing love to those who need to know You.
And use our lives to share Your love and turn their hearts to Jesus. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We rejoice in the hope of heaven that God has given us through Christ Jesus, but we often fail to apply that hope to the conditions around us in this world. We are usually more concerned with who will prove to be a neighbor to us than we are about who needs our help as a neighbor. Because we have been qualified for the inheritance of heaven through the love of Christ, our lives are informed with His love for all those around us who are in need. Our lives show forth God’s love.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7
The Lutheran Confessions
Of Civil Affairs we teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.
We condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.
We condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29.
Augsburg Confession Article XVI: Of Civil Affairs.
Let us Pray:
Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a more united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those who whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the epistle lesson. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Survey after survey has shown that of all the professions, public servants, and especially politicians, are among the least respected people in our country. And some of the more cynical among us might say that there is a good reason for that!
Our nation is confronted with an unsustainable level of debt—Afghanistan looks more and more like Vietnam—and hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil pour into the gulf.
All of this and much, much more tempts us to believe that our government is inept deserving only of scorn while our leaders are worthy only of our contempt.
What we learn from God’s Word today is that this attitude of scorn and contempt that we have for our government and its leaders is a sin. What we learn is that the state is a blessing that God gives for our good and we are to receive it as such, honor our leaders, and do our best to be good citizens.
As we reflect on God’s Word to us, I want three basic biblical principles to guide us 1. Government is instituted by God to be his servant and opposition to it is not just a legal problem but a sin that harms our relationship with God. 2. The primary purpose of government is to promote what is good for its citizens and to hinder what is evil and force is permitted by God to this end. 3. And finally, we have a duty, not just as citizens, but as Christians to render to government its due while remembering that our ultimately loyalty is to God. The Bible says that:
Every person must be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
God’s Word teaches that the state—and governmental authority-- is not a human invention but has been established by God for the good of mankind. It began as part of the covenant that God made with Noah when God said: “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God he made man.” This command did not authorize private vengeance-- but entrusted Noah with the public responsibility to protect human life as God’s sacred gift.
The form of government was not prescribed by God. Noah and Abraham ruled as heads of large, extended families. There was the rule of Moses as a lawgiver and then the judges and then the Davidic kings. Paul wrote these words while Rome was ruled by pagan emperors. And in our own day there are democracies and republics and monarchies.
It is not the form that the state takes that makes it valid and worthy of our obedience and submission as Christian citizens, but rather the fact that the state is the gift of God-- and because he is the Giver, to rebel against the state is to rebel against God—and so every person—especially the Christian—is to be subject to the governing authorities. The Bible says that:
Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
No doubt all of us think of ourselves as pretty much law-abiding citizens. But when we speed from one place to the next—when we use “creative” accounting methods on our tax forms—when we choose to ignore copyright laws—we are rebelling, not against some arbitrary law that can be ignored as long as we can get away with it, but we are rebelling against God himself—sinning in God’s sight.
God’s Word teaches that breaking the laws of the land is a direct violation of the Fourth Commandment that commands us to obey our parents and all in authority over us.
God commands our obedience whether the government is legitimate or not in our judgment—whether the laws are just or not in our mind—whether or not we are ruled by those who share our Christian faith. Under terrible persecution from pagan rulers, Peter wrote to his flock and said this:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
Those who disobey the state can expect only judgment: both in time and eternity-- for the government is God’s servant by which he rules the affairs of men in the world—protecting the innocent and punishing the evil. The Bible says:
Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
God’s Word teaches that not only are church-workers God’s ministers, but so are those in authority over us in the state: elected officials, judges, soldiers, policeman, all those who serve in the government for the common good are God’s servants no less than the Christian minister, though their tools and responsibilities and sphere of action differ.
Where church workers serve God for our eternal good, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead and administering the sacraments so that we might have peace with God--state officials serve God for our temporal good-- protecting and punishing so that we might have peace with one another.
When the state builds roads and hospitals—when they regulate food and building safety—when they protect us from evildoers and punish those who do wrong-- they are doing God’s work as his servants so that we can lead quiet and peaceable lives here on earth.
That is why God has given the state the right and the responsibility to wield the sword—to command its police officers, military personnel, and executioners to dispense justice in the harshest possible ways when those around us in the community and in other nations treat human life with contempt and destroy it without reason.
Just wars and capital punishment do not show a callous disregard for human life as opponents maintain—they show just the opposite. They show how much God treasures human life-- and so a Christian can serve with a clear conscience in those professions that wield the sword even when they are called upon to use deadly force to protect human life—knowing that they are acting as God’s ministers for our good.
Very simply God has given us his good gift of government to the world so that which is good among our fellow citizens might flourish and that which is evil would be restrained. That is the proper, God-given function of government.
Far too many Christians are confused on this point and so listen carefully: It is not the work of the government to make people Christians. The state’s God-given tools of reason, law, common-sense, and the sword cannot cause anyone to be born again.
A properly run state can make the spread of the Gospel easier by building roads and maintaining external peace and protecting travelers like the Romans did in the apostolic age-- but the work of making Christians is the work of the church. Only the church has the God-given, Gospel means of preaching, baptism, and Holy Communion necessary for that eternally important work of making disciples for Christ.
Both the state and the church exist side-by-side in this world—both are gifts of God—both are God’s servants--but church and state have very different purposes and very different tools to accomplish their God-given purposes and because of this our Lord says, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God’s.
It should go without saying that first and foremost, before our love and loyalty to our nation, our love and loyalty to God will come first. And so if the day ever comes when our government calls upon us to do something that is against God’s laws-- or if it ever calls upon us to yield a greater loyalty to the nation than to the Lord—it must be resisted.
The LORD alone deserves our worship and faith. He is the One who has created us and redeemed us by the blood of his Son and brought us to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit and for who he is and what he had done and continues to do—he must always come first—even before our love of country.
But as his people, we also are called to be good citizens of the state giving our government and its leaders their just due as well. So what are some of the things that Christians ought to render unto Caesar? The Bible says:
One must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to who respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
When it comes to our responsibilities as Christian citizens, the Bible teaches first of all that we are to give the state and all governmental authorities our submission and obedience so long as they do not ask us to deny God. We do not obey because we don’t want to get caught but because we are Christians. Our government is not perfect, we know that some of our laws may be unjust, but we obey the law and those who make them and enforce them, because as Christians we know that the state is God’s servant for our good.
Secondly, we pay the financial obligations, whether taxes or revenues or fines, that are placed upon us by the state. To deceive and steal from the government is still stealing.
Thirdly, we show the honor and respect to our government and its leaders that is due them. When the president steps off of Air Force One the marine honor guard salutes him. It doesn’t matter if he agrees with his policies or not. The president is the commander-in-chief and because of his position, receives the marine’s salute. So it is to be with us. To speak and act with scorn and contempt for our elected leaders is a sin.
Fourthly, we give what we owe to our government as citizens: service on juries or in public office or in the military when called upon to do so. We share our wisdom and insight and perspective at the ballot box by voting for those candidates who in our view are the best equipped to rule with wisdom and intelligence and godliness.
Last but not least, the greatest service that we can render to the state as Christian citizens is to pray for our nation and its leaders. The bible says that:
Requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving should be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Every week this congregation prays for our nation and its leaders knowing that God hears and answers our prayers on account of Christ.
Today we thank God for his good gift of government. We re-commit ourselves as Christian citizens to making sure that our nation is pursuing a course that provides the best framework for sharing the Gospel so that all would hear the Good News and come to faith in Jesus.
And we remember that at the end of the day, we are aliens and strangers in this world—that we have a higher citizenship in the kingdom of heaven through the blood of Jesus who set us free and made us his own. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.