Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Let Us Be Thankful for the Mercies of Jesus!

Luke 17:11-19 St. Luke writes 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 he makes to us is that his death and resurrection 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 the lepers that day.  
St. Luke writes 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- 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. 
Here is the picture of what sin has done to mankind. 
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. 
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 effects of sin go even deeper than broken fellowship with God and man.  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 there is 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 them that they no longer resembled what God created them to be. 
For them and us Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a mission of mercy to save us and restore to us what sin and Satan had robbed from us.
St. Luke writes 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 truth in the distance between themselves and those they loved.  They knew the 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.  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 not much power at all to stop this trajectory towards death and the grave.  We have our own place in this sad group of 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.  St. Luke writes 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 demanded 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. 
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!  St. Luke writes 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 mercy 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’ mercy 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. St. Luke writes 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.  So it is for us here tonight.
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.  In that moment 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 to God 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!  Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Life With Christ: Fruitfulness and Friendship

John 15:9-17 To have a friend is to be blessed by God.  We have neighbors.  We have co-workers.  We have people that we are friendly with in our social circles.  But all of these relationships fall short of having a real friend:  someone who we can count on—someone who we can open our hearts to and have theirs open to us—someone who knows us (and loves us anyway).  To have a friend—a real friend—is to be blessed by God.
Today in our Gospel lesson we hear the wonderful Good News that Jesus is our friend and his friendship is the source of a fruitful Christian life!  Jesus says:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 
            I think all of us have probably had friends who weren’t very constant in their friendship—friends that kind of ran hot and cold in their care and concern for us.  But our friendship with Jesus isn’t like that because his love for us is grounded in the eternal, unwavering love that exists between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. 
The Father loved the Son from before the beginning of time and will love him when time is no more and that same everlasting love is directed towards us. 
The constant and unchanging love that Jesus has for us--the love that is the very foundation of our friendship with him-- is not just an emotion or an ideal or a concept—but it took on concrete shape in how Jesus lived his life. 
Jesus did what his Father wanted him to do and spoke the words his Father wanted him to speak-- and he perfectly fulfilled the Father’s mission of love to save us by laying down his life for us on the cross.  That love, found at the cross, constant and concrete, is the basis for our friendship with Jesus.
No matter how badly we fail at times to keep up our end of the friendship, Jesus loves us and we can be confident that we can come to him again and again and be welcomed as his dear friend. 
But because we can be confident of forgiveness and welcome does not mean that Jesus wants us to wander away—or take his friendship lightly.  He wants us to have the fruitful life that comes from being his friend and so he calls upon us to abide in his love.
And to do that, our friendship with him takes the same shape as his life in this world—that we are obedient to his commandments just as he was obedient to his Father’s commandments.
All of us know what harsh words and uncaring actions and thoughtlessness can do to our earthly friendships—how they drive a wedge between us and our friends.  So it is in our friendship with Jesus when we are doing those things that displease him. 
It’s not that he stops loving us-- but disobedience makes a barrier in our own hearts to enjoying our friendship with him.  And he does intend that our life with him would be a joy.  Jesus says:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
            Of all of the misguided, Christ-denying things that are done by Christians, surely one of the worst is living pinched, narrow, bitter lives and calling it piety.  The true Christian life is to be marked by a joy even in hard times.
The words of Jesus were spoken on the night when he was betrayed into death.  He was about to be abandoned by those he loved and counted as friends.  He would face the crown of thorns and the whip and the hammer and the nails and the cross.  And yet he was filled with joy. 
Why?  Because he knew that the salvation of the world was about to be accomplished so that we could be counted as his friends.  That Good News filled him with joy even in those dark moments of betrayal and suffering and death. 
That is the same joy that he wants us to have:  a joy in our salvation.  To be counted among Jesus’ friends is not some onerous, boring, deadly dull life.  To obey his commandments is not a duty that calls for pinched and sour faces as a sign of our piety—but a joy and a delight that gives our lives meaning and purpose and depth.
Friendship with Jesus means to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that in this life and throughout eternity God is for us-- and that knowledge makes our lives here on earth a joy indeed! 
This is the kind of life that Jesus gives to his friends and the kind of life that he wants us to lovingly share with others in an ever-expanding circle of friends.  Jesus says:
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. 
            When we have a friend who sacrifices for us—who gives their time to help us—who spends time listening to our troubles—who brings food when we’re sick or takes the time to send a card—it means the world to us.  But how much greater is the love that would lead a friend to lay down their life for us!
That is what Christ has done for us.  His love for us led him to lay down his life for us on the cross.  The sins that kept us apart from him have been forgiven and so now we can truly be counted among his friends and share his love with those around us. 
Our marriages become opportunities to serve our spouse and become more patient.  Our congregation becomes a place where our own preferences can be set aside for the good of others and we can grow in humility.  Our friendships are no longer about what we can get out of another person but what we can give so that we become more generous. 
This kind of self-giving, cross-shaped love—a love that flows from Jesus and produces the fruits of faith—is the identifying mark of the Christian community where Christ’s friends know and do his will.  Jesus says:
You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 
            Generally speaking, our friends are people like ourselves—people with whom we share a common set of interests—people who are in much the same place in life as we are. 
But even though Jesus is our friend, he is not our buddy—he is always our Lord—and he is the one who sets the terms and boundaries for our friendship with him.
Jesus says that we are his friends because he has opened his heart to us and made known to us his Father’s will and purpose. 
A servant does not know his master’s heart—he is simply commanded what to do—and he does it.  But our friendship with Jesus is different than that.  He doesn’t demand our blind obedience as a master to a servant-- but asks us to live in concord with what he has revealed to be true about God. 
Jesus says:  “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  Now maybe we say to ourselves, “That sure sounds like master/servant language!”   But it’s the farthest thing from it because our obedience flows—not from some oppressive demand that is placed upon us—but from knowing his heart. 
Let me put it this way:  suppose you had a friend who told that she loved cheesecake and hated peanut brittle and then her birthday came around.  What are you going to make?  Cheesecake of course!  What kind of person would we be, if we knew the heartfelt preferences of our friend, but acted against them?
Jesus has made us his friends and we show ourselves to be his friends by adopting his values as our own.  Our obedience flows from a sincere desire to please our friend who invites us to open our heart to him in prayer.  Jesus says:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
All of us know how difficult it is to talk honestly with our friends when there is some kind of animosity or hurt feelings standing in the way.  So it is with opening our hearts to God in prayer. 
Now it’s not as if God won’t hear or answer our prayers until we do this or that good work or until our lives reach a certain level of fruitfulness. 
But what Jesus is teaching us here is that our prayer life is much more productive and honest when we are:  living in friendship with Jesus-- and abiding in his love with others—when we really have adopted his values and purposes as our own. 
When we go to our Father in prayer in the context of that kind of relationship with God and one another we can be confident that God will help us to live a fruitful Christian life.   
What I want you to remember today is this:  Jesus is your friend.  His love for you does not change.  To be his friend is to live a life of joy.  His heart is open to you and he invites you to open your heart to him.  In this way you will see for yourself that a life of God is filled with the fruits of faith.  Amen.