Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Keep On - July 28, 2013 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Luke 11:1-13


Two weeks ago we were reminded, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, that our salvation is not dependent on ourselves because there is nothing we can do to gain eternal life. Rather we were reminded that eternal life is a free gift, earned by Jesus and given to us by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, the Word of God and Holy Baptism. Last week we were reminded that the one thing needful is to continually immerse ourselves in the Word of God, which is one of the means of grace, that is, one of the ways through which the Holy Spirit comes to us to give us faith, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This morning, by the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the words of our text, we are encouraged to respond to all that God has done and continues to do for us by coming to Him in prayer.
 
Our text begins, “1Now 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.’ 2And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread, 4and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”’” (v. 1-4). Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus in prayer. Prayer was an important part of Jesus’ life. What a wonderful example He is to us that we too should be in prayer to Him. What a wonderful gift God has given to us, to know that we can be in conversation with the Lord. He speaks to us through His Word and we speak to Him in prayer. Here in our text Jesus gives us a model for prayer. If you have studied the Lord’s Prayer you have seen that there are seven petitions, all seven petitions asking for spiritual blessings and the middle petition also asking for physical or bodily blessings. Through the words of this prayer our Lord shows us how to pray for spiritual blessings, for daily bread and for protection from temptation and turning from evil. If we ever want to learn how to pray, we can look at the outline of this prayer and use it to help us in our own prayer life. As for those who suggest that the best and only truest prayers are those that are made up and offered from one’s heart, might we suggest that noone can make up a better prayer than Jesus Himself and so, should we not pray the best prayer of all, the one He gave us?
 
Not only does Jesus gives us an outline of how to pray, He also gives us the actual words we may use to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a beautiful prayer to pray, one we use almost every Sunday. How much better can we pray than to pray the very words our Lord has given us to pray! And He loves to hear us pray these words which He has given to us to pray. And here we are reminded that not only is this the best way to pray, we find this is the best way to worship as well, which is why we worship liturgically, that is we worship speaking back to God the very words He has given us to say as His Word permeates our worship, which truly makes our Sunday morning a Divine Service, a service in which the Divine, God Himself speaks to us.
 
In our text, then, we see that Jesus is a good teacher. Not only does He show us how to pray, He gives us the words to use to pray and He helps us in our own prayer life. But there is still more to our text, as we continue we will see how our Lord also encourages us in our own prayer life.
 
Our text continues, “5And he 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, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; 7and 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”? 8I 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.’” (v. 5-8). Jesus has given His disciples and us an example of how to pray and now He encourages us to pray. Notice the difference between the man in the house and the friend who knocks at the door, and how we come to God the Father in prayer.
 
In our text we are told that a friend came to another friend to ask for a favor. In our prayer life, it is we who are the children of God, who are known by God, who are coming to Him in prayer. In out text the friend comes to his friend at midnight. In our prayer life it is we who can come to God at anytime. In our text it is a friend coming to another friend asking for help for someone who is unknown. In our prayer life it is we who are coming to our God who knows us intimately. In our text it is a friend who is asking for bread. In our prayer life we may approach our gracious God and ask Him for all things physical and spiritual.
 
In our text the friend answers his friends request because of his persistence. In our prayer life our Lord answers our prayers because of His great love for us. So, as we can see, there is really no comparison. We are motivate to approach our gracious and loving God in prayer, knowing that He will hear and answer our prayers and we can be confident, even more, because we know that He will answer our prayers according to what He knows is best for us according to His good and gracious will.
 
But there is still more encouragement. Our text continues, “9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (v. 9-10). Our text says, to ask, to seek and to knock. Here is one of those places where the Greek loses a little in the translation. The emphasis on the words in our text, which are imperatives, comes out better when we say that we are to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. This is not something which we do once and give up, but this is a continuous action, we keep on, we are persistent in our asking, seeking and knocking. What a wonderful example we have from Abraham in our Old Testament reading for this morning. Abraham boldly persisted in his prayer and request as he prayed, not so much for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but for the few, his family, who lived in those cities.
 
Yet, we realize that it is not because of our persistence that God answers our prayers, but, as we said before, it is because of His great love for us that He answers us and because of His great love for us He answers our prayer according to what He knows is best for us, according to His good and gracious will, which is truly loving.
 
And there is still one more word of encouragement. Our text continues, “11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If 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!” (v. 11-13). Here we have the imperfect love of an earthly father compared to God’s perfect love for us. Just as our earthly fathers who love us will not give us a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg, so our perfect Heavenly Father, God the Father, will give us more and better gifts than we can think or imagine. And He has given us the supreme gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Greater love can no one have than this, that a person will give their life for another person and that is what Jesus did for us. He gave His life for ours. Jesus is God in human flesh. Jesus is God who came down from heaven, was born as a human, lived perfectly, took all our sins upon Himself, suffered and died for us so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life. He rose and ascended back into heaven. And He continues to give us His Holy Spirit who comes to us and works through the Word and Sacraments to create, strengthen and keep us in faith.
 
What joy fills our hearts as we have been reminded that we have eternal life, earned for us by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, that we have forgiveness of sins, and that the Holy Spirit works a response of faith in us. Now we have Jesus’ example of how to pray. We have His words and a model of how we can come to Him in prayer. We also have His encouragement that He wants us to come to Him in prayer, because He wants to hear us pray. We even have Jesus example as we see Him many times in prayer while He was on this earth.
 
There are countless books on prayer. There are even more quotes on prayer. The biggest problem comes in that prayer for us is usually only our asking God for material things, or a half hearted attempt too get something, or a vane recitation of some pious (nice) words. How often do we pray the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about the words, what we are saying. It merely becomes a repetition of pious (nice) words. How often it is that we do not pray until we are in need of something, help from trouble, or the like. And of course, it is okay to come to the Lord in times of trouble, that too He encourages. Unfortunately it is not too often that we just pray to God to say thank you and I do not mean like man who says, “I thank you Lord, why just the other day I was 30 minutes late for work and got in without the boss seeing me . . . and I said ‘Thank God, he didn’t see me.’” That is not a prayer of thanks. Certainly we would do well to remind ourselves, as we remind our children and grand children to be thankful for all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has seen fit and continues to see fit to bestow on us.
 
And so, we do pray, not because God needs us to pray, but because of our need to pray. We pray in order to acknowledge and give thanks to God for all His good gifts and blessings. We pray in order to make supplication and petitions for the desires of our hearts. And we pray that God’s will is done, because we know that He knows what is best for us and we trust that He will answer our prayers according to what He knows is best for us according to His good and gracious will.
 
As always, again we see that we get it right when we get our focus right, when we focus on our Lord and what He has done, is doing and continues to do for us. It is the Lord who has given His Son and the life of His Son so that we might have forgiveness of sins, that is so that our relationship with God the Father has been mended so that we can come to Him in prayer. It is the Lord who gives us all the gifts He has to give through His means of grace and thus encourages us to be where those means and gifts are given, especially in Divine Service. And now, it is the Lord who encourages us and gives us the very words to speak to Him in prayer. Indeed, God gives and we are given to.
 
It is God’s will, as we have heard in our text for today, that we are, each one, encouraged in our own prayer life. What a joy and privilege we have, because we can be in conversation with our God. We can hear Him as He speaks to us through His Word and we can respond to that Word by speaking back to Him in prayer. And, like last week, the order is important. The order is that He speaks to us through His Word, first, and it is His Word which motivates us and gives us the Words with which to speak to Him. May the Lord bless you in your prayer life that you might be encouraged to “pray without ceasing.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What Is Better - July 21, 2013 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Luke 10:38-42

Last week we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. While the point of the parable was to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” the point of the encounter with the expert in the Law was to answer the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The intent of the parable was to show the expert in the Law and us that there is nothing we can do, that there is no way we can possibly save ourselves, because we cannot love God and love others as God would have us to do. Which brings us to our text for this morning. In our text for today, Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha. Our text is a account of which I am sure most of us are well acquainted. My prayer for each of you this morning as we revisit this well known narrative is that you might better understand what is the conflict at the heart of this account, and how each of us is a part of this same conflict today.
 
All of us, or most all of us, like to entertain others from time to time. We like to invite others over in order to share in food, company, entertainment, and simply for conversation, or as some have put it, for food, fun and fellowship. At the same time, we all understand the importance of being a good host. We want to make sure that everything is just right. We want to take care to make sure the food is good. It has to be prepared just right. The presentation and service of the food have to be just right. We want to make sure the food is the right temperature, that it looks good and that it tastes good.
 
We want to make sure the atmosphere is right and helps to set the mood for the evening. We want the right music to be playing. We want to make sure the decorations are just right, depending on the type of entertaining we are doing. We want the atmosphere to set the tone for a pleasant evening.
 
We also want to make sure that all the preparations are just right. We think about our company, the people we have invited over to entertain and what they might like. We want to make sure that we make time for talking, sharing, visiting, perhaps playing games, watching a movie or television, and the like. We do not want our guests to be neglected.
 
Yes, when we invite others over to entertain them, we always want everything to be just right. Now, think about the pressure of wanting to get everything just right when you know your company is Jesus.
 
Mary and Martha were sisters. They shared this house and probably shared the chores and duties of making sure everything was just right. Perhaps they shared in getting everything ready in order to have Jesus come and be their guest. Yet, when Jesus arrived we see two different personalities. First there is Mary. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to everything He had to say. We might say that she was making sure that Jesus was entertained, made to feel welcome. We might say that her role was to keep the guest from feeling neglected. At that same time, because this guest is Jesus, as Mary sat and listened we know that she gained from this experience. She grew in her faith. She sat at the feet of the Lord and was given the gifts He has to give.
 
But the question which comes up in our text when these two sister confront each other is, “Can we say Mary was being a good host?” Hopefully about now you are asking yourself, “Am I like Mary?” But do not answer that question, yet. Before we answer any questions, let us look at Martha’s role.
 
Martha was concerned about the food, the atmosphere, the rest of the preparations that need to be made. She was concerned that everything would be just right and who could blame her, remember that her guest was none other than Jesus Himself. Interestingly enough (and here I will tip my hand a little) in our text we are told that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made,” and we even hear Jesus say, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” Martha was troubled and distracted wanting to make sure everything is just right.
 
Like her sister Mary, Martha wants to make sure that Jesus feels welcome and is not neglected. For Martha, she has a different emphasis and understanding of how to make sure things are just right. Mary is concerned about entertaining and Martha is concerned about food. So, just as we asked about Mary, we ask about Martha, “Can we say Martha was being a good host?” And again, hopefully you are asking yourself, “Am I like Martha?”
 
And so we have the confrontation. Martha comes to Jesus and explains that there is a lot of work to be done, would He please tell her sister to help? As we listen close to Martha’s words, could it be that she is blaming Jesus for Mary’s not helping. After all, would Mary not be helping if she were not distracted by listening to Jesus? Maybe it is Jesus’ fault that Mary is listening and not helping? And maybe some of the fault is Mary’s. Maybe Mary is just too lazy and that is why she is not helping. Certainly Jesus should side with Martha and straighten this whole mess out.
 
Yet, Jesus’ answer is in favor of Mary. Jesus even says, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  So, now what? What is Martha to do now? Does she stop getting things ready and listen? Does she run out of the house screaming and throwing a temper tantrum? Actually, we do not know what happens next. Evidently what happens next is not important. What is important has already taken place and has already been said. Or, did we miss it?
 
We live in a world which has more opportunities available to us than we could ever even imagine. There are so many things vying for our time and attention. There is our work which calls for much and even most of our attention. There are clubs which we can join: card clubs, fitness clubs, golf clubs, swimming clubs, self-help clubs, book clubs, more clubs than we could ever be a part. There are sporting events ever calling for our attention, as well as many cultural events. There is our family and our family life calling for our time and attention. Perhaps we have children involved in things at school and after school that calls for our time and attention, time for travel, practice, and actual events. Our spouses call for our attention. Yes, there are many things vying for our time and attention and the list goes on.
 
And God calls for our attention. Interestingly enough more often than not, we only hear His call once a week, for one hour and this is when we come to Divine Service. Jesus is our guest, not just at Divine Service, but in our homes and in our lives, or is He? If you want to know what is really happening in someone’s home, ask their children. Have you ever asked you children if Jesus is really a guest in your home or in your life?
 
Last week we had the question, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” This week we ask the question, “What is better?” There is a reason that these questions are asked in this order, because you see, we cannot know which is better until we know that we have eternal life. We cannot have eternal life apart from faith in Jesus. And we cannot have faith in Jesus apart from His Word and Sacraments. It is His Word which tells us that we are sinful human beings and are in need of forgiveness. It is His Word through which the Holy Spirit works to bring us to confess our sins and be given His forgiveness, earned for us by Jesus suffering and death on the cross. It is His Word which tells us, “Your sins are forgiven.”
 
I believe this narrative also informs our participation in Divine Service, that is that unlike having a worship service on Sunday morning wherein we think we need to do something in service to and for God, in Divine Service we are there to be given to, to listen and respond with psalms, hymns and prayers. God, speaking through our pastor is the one acting, giving and distributing His gifts to us, thus, actually He is the host and we are His guest, and we are the ones who are given the good portion as we listen attentively.
 
Only after hearing such wonderful words and news of forgiveness and life, then and only then are we able to respond in faith, to give works of service which are also motivated by the Holy Spirit. And this is not works righteousness, but is a response of faith.
 
Are we a Mary or a Martha? I will not answer that question, you will have to answer it for yourself, however, I will suggest to you that your actions will betray you. What I will say is this, the order of importance is this, that we first hear the Word and are given the Sacraments. It is through these means that our Lord gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. When we absent ourselves from these means, that is when the rest of the world, which is vying for our time, comes in and takes us away from these means, then we are like Martha and we are distracted. But, when we make regular and diligent use of these means, that is when we daily read our Bible, weekly attend Divine Service and Bible class, have personal and family devotions and the like then we are like Mary, then we will have chosen the good portion and it will not be taken away from us. We cannot have it both ways.
 
The first thing of importance is our faith, which is given to us by God through the very means He gives faith, through His means of grace, through His Word and through Holy Baptism. God gives faith and He strengthens and keeps us in faith, also through the very means He has given, His means of grace, remembering our Baptism and being reminded of our Baptism through the Divine Service, especially through the invocation and benediction. He strengthens faith through His Word, and through the Lord’s Supper. He gives forgiveness earned and paid for by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and here I would remind you that forgiveness along with faith are the greatest gifts, for without forgiveness there is only eternal spiritual death, but with forgiveness is life and salvation. Indeed, God gives forgiveness also through the very means He has given, through His Word and through the Lord’s Supper, but most especially through confession and absolution. These are the first things that God gives and the most important things. Without the first there can be no second thing of importance. The second thing of importance is doing the good works which God has for us to do. And we do good works, we serve God by serving others as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments. We do them so that they are done to His glory. And so we see in the lives of active Christians that God’s gifts are given. God’s gifts are received. God’s gifts are responded to.
 
My prayer for each one of you is that you might resist the temptations and the pull of the distractions of this world in order to make sure that you are involved in the one thing which is needful, immersing yourself in the Word of God through which He gives you faith, strengthens you in your faith and will keep you in faith until He comes again. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Go and Do Likewise - July 14, 2013 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - Text: Luke 10:25-37

Again, I remind you that we are in the Pentecost season, the season of green, of growth, of growing in our Christian faith and life. Thus, this morning our lessons continue. Jesus has been with His disciples for some time now, and they still do not understand what it means that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Yes, they have confessed, with Peter speaking for the group, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but they still do not know what that means. They have argued about who will be the greatest in the Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus has taught them about greatness in terms of discipleship reminding us that to be a disciple of Jesus means giving up everything, including our lives in this world. Jesus has sent them out to “practice” being disciples and reminded them that better than being able to show power and authority over the devil and the world is the fact that their names are written in the book of heaven. And now, here in our text, Jesus is confronted by an expert in the Law. Jesus had a lot of work to do in the three short years He spent in ministry here on this earth.
 
Our text begins with a confrontation between Jesus and a learned man, at least in human terms a learned man, a modern legalistic lawyer of the day, “25And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ 27And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ 28And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live’” (v. 25-28).
 
This is a man who has learned the letter of the law we are told, who comes to Jesus to ask this question. If this man truly is a learned man, you might be thinking, this must be another one of those traps that the Pharisees were continually setting for Jesus. But, Jesus is not deterred. The question of this learned lawyer is, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That question brings with it the implication that I must do something in order to be saved. This lawyer is not unlike many Christians in our world today who point to themselves for their own salvation. To this learned lawyer, being saved has to do with what is on the inside of a person, what is a person’s character, what is it that we bring to be saved.
 
In answering this man’s question we see that Jesus is truly a Texan, because He answers the man’s question with a question. Jesus refers the man back to his own law, letting him answer his own question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” You might say that Jesus is letting the man get away with his own interpretation and understanding of the law, and you hear this in Jesus’ word, “How do you read it?” The learned lawyer answers quite well, even quoting Scripture, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” What this expert has done, whether he realizes it or not, is that he has summarized all ten commandments into two statements of love. The first three commandments are summarized in the words, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” If we could love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we would not break any of the commandments. The problem is, as we well know, we cannot love God this way. The last seven commandments are summarized in the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we could love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we would not steal, kill, covet, commit adultery, gossip, speak evil of others and the like. The problem is, again, as we well know it, we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves. The problem is, this expert in the law does not know that these are things he cannot do. He actually thinks he can live in this manner as prescribed by the law.
 
Jesus’ response is simple, “Do this and you will live.” Okay, so we get this account right, the lawyer believes that salvation is dependent on him and his keeping the commandments and he actually thinks he can keep the commandments and that he has been keeping the commandments. At this point he may even believe that he has been and is good enough to be saved. He is really no different than many Christians today who like to think that they are good enough to be saved, because we have never actually stolen anything, killed anyone, or committed adultery. I guess we can all feel pretty good about ourselves.
 
But, this narrative is not over. We continue in our text, “29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out two denarii  and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back”’” (29-35).
 
Here we see that this learned lawyer did think that he was able to keep the commandments because we are told that his next question was asked in an attempt to justify himself. His questions is, “Who is my neighbor?”
 
To answer this expert’s question, Jesus tells the parable, the earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In the parable we are told that there was a man, obviously not a bright man, but a man, by himself, who was on his way through the rough territory from Jerusalem to Jericho. The implication is that this man was a Jew, a fellow brother in nationality as well as in faith. He went on a road which was known to have frequent robberies, yet he went anyway and by himself. As he was going down this road, he was mugged. He was stripped, beaten and left for dead.
 
As the parable continues, we are told that there was a priest who just so happened to be going down this same road. This priest was a pious man, a leader in the church. This priest was a religious man. Certainly, if anyone should stop and help someone in need, it would be a priest. Yet, all we are told is that “he passed by on the other side.” We are given no reason, no excuse for his behavior, simply that “he passed by on the other side.”
 
Next, as the parable continues, we are told that there was a Levite who also just so happened to be going down this same road. This Levite was a lay associate in the church. He too was a religious man. Certainly, if anyone, other than a priest, should stop and help someone in need, it would be this Levite. Yet, all we are told is that “he too passed by on the other side.” We are given no reason, or no excuse for his behavior, simply that “he too passed by on the other side.” It certainly does not look like a good day for pious, religious, church leaders. And I would suspect that if this same account happened today, we would get very similar results. How often do we have the opportunity to help someone and instead, we too pass by on the other side. But, we are not yet to the point of the parable.
 
Finally we are told that “a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was.” The fact that this man was a Samaritan is important. Samaritans were half Jewish because somewhere in their past some of the Jews married some of the people of the land they were to wipe out, thus Samaritans were half Jewish and half something else. So this Samaritan was a cousin, a half brother of this man who had been mugged. The problem is that Jews and Samaritans did not like each other. Jews did not like Samaritans because they were not full blooded Jews and Samaritans did not like Jews because the Jews discriminated against them. So, knowing that this man was a Samaritan, helps you understand that this was the man’s enemy who happened to be traveling by. Certainly, if anyone would pass by on the other side, it would be this Samaritan. But, and here is the twist in this parable, we are told that this Samaritan, this enemy of this man, is the one who stopped and helped him. And not only did he stop to help him, he bandaged his wounds, he took him on his own donkey to an inn and took care of him. He paid the bill for the inn and he told the inn keeper that if there was any further expense that he would pay for it.
 
And now the question Jesus asks the expert, “‘36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (v. 36, 37).
 
The question was a simple question. If you were paying attention, you could not get the answer wrong. Yet, this learned lawyer, because of his own prejudices, cannot even answer that it was the hated enemy, the Samaritan, rather he must answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus’ answer and commission is, “You go, and do likewise.”
 
Many times today, many people, even perhaps you and I might ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And, like the expert in the law, we know the answer is that we are to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.” And like the expert in the law, there may be times that we think we are doing these things. It is only as we are confronted by the facts, that we realize that we are unable to do this. We are sinful human being. We are conceived and born in sin. We are born in sin and daily we add to our sin. We are unable to be a neighbor, at times even to those we love, even though we have Jesus’ directive that we are to be neighbor even to our enemies.
 
Thanks be to God that there is another way, and that way is His way. The way of God is that He has given His only Son, Jesus to come and be a neighbor for us. Jesus did all that we are unable to do. He loved the way we are unable to love. He did everything perfectly for us and He gave Himself for us. He suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, so that we might have forgiveness, and so that we might rejoice in His Word to us, “Your sins are forgiven.”
 
Instead of asking, “What must I do to have eternal life?” we might well ask, “What has God done for us to earn for us and give us eternal life?” and His answer is a resounding, “Everything.” What a great God we have, what a loving God. Not only has God created this world for us and given us all we need for our body and life, He also sustains us, gives us faith, forgiveness and eternal life. God does all and gives all and we are done to and given to and we are even moved to respond with praise and thanksgiving.
 
And so, we pray God’s richest blessings on us that He might work in and through us so that we might, with His help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, “go and do likewise.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vocation Revisited

With the economy in the tank and many people out of work, I am amazed at those who say they cannot find work when the truth is that the jobs that are available are “beneath” them. The truth is that person is not looking for a job or work, but is looking for a “position.” I believe the heart of the problem is the misunderstanding of vocation.

One’s vocation is indeed one’s calling and one’s calling is not necessarily always the same. Let me explain. At any given time one may serve in more than one calling, i.e., one may be a son, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a brother, along with being a farmer or an electrician, or a banker, or a medical doctor, etc. The point of one’s vocation is that one serves God by serving others and that is what gives joy to one’s vocation. As I have stated in my other articles on the callings of God, i.e., God calls to life at conception, to faith through Holy Baptism, and to vocation, and God calls some men to the Office of Holy Ministry, thus not all are ministers, but all are priests serving God in their various vocations.

The point of working in one’s vocation then is not to look for a position but to look for a job wherein one may serve God by serving others, thus whatever the work is, if it is honest work serving others, it is a good vocation. Now, that does not mean that one will necessarily remain in that vocation, but one may continue to seek other employment while serving in that vocation. Thus, one’s serving in one’s vocation is good for the one serving, is good for those being served, and gives God glory.

As for the highest callings, as Christians, understanding that children are a gift from God and are the responsibility of the parents to whom God has given those children, we might well understand that a woman’s highest calling is that of being a mother and a man’s highest calling is that of being a father. In the vocation of father and mother, the parents are the first and greatest teachers of their children. Remember, more is caught than taught, so as your children watch you, you are teaching them. So, when your child does something you think is out of character and you ask, “Where did s/he learn that?” I would suggest looking in the mirror. Unfortunately, we have too many parents in our society today who abdicate their responsibility by letting others not only teach, but truly even raise their children.

Perhaps our parents were not as dumb as we think just because mom stayed home during the formative years and made sure we were well trained before going out into public. Certainly they sacrificed much by living on one income, but for the most part, we were better off, physically, mentally, and spiritually. And dad was not ashamed to work in whatever vocation was necessary to provide for the family, as long as it was honest work. I know that my self-esteem, work ethic, contentment and sense of responsibility for taking care of what I have worked for are all a product of what I was taught by my parents. Thus, should the need ever arrive and I am in need of work, I would have no problem doing whatever need be done, from custodial work, to garbage collecting, to carpentry, to flipping burgers, as long as it is honest work, because I know that at the same time I can always be looking for other honest work.

The goal in vocation is indeed, to serve God by serving others.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Rejoice That Your Names Are Written in Heaven - July 7, 2013 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9) - Text: Luke 10:1-20


Many of us like the hymn “Hark! the Voice of Jesus Crying”? I believe that hymn is a favorite hymn of a lot of people. The question I want to ask you this morning is, “When you sing that hymn, do you really mean what you sing?” “Hark! the voice of Jesus crying, ‘Who will go and work today? Fields are white and harvests waiting, Who will bear the sheaves away?’ Loud and long the Master calls you; Rich reward He offers free; Who will answer, gladly saying, ‘Here am I, send him, send her.’” Well, actually the song goes, “send me, send me,” but I believe a lot of people mean, “send him, send her.” Last week we were apprised of the cost of discipleship, that is that true Christian discipleship means giving up our own lives in this world. This morning with the help of the Holy Spirit we will hear Jesus’ instructions to us in discipleship, first to pray, then to actually go out into the harvest fields.
 
Our text begins with the commissioning. we read verses one through three (v. 1-3), “1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.’”
 
Did you notice that the first thing that Jesus tells the disciples and us today is to pray for workers. You would think that to pray for workers would be an automatic thing, but it is not. I could put you on the spot and ask for a show of hands, but I will not do that, rather I ask you just to think to yourself, when was the last time you prayed for workers. When was the last time you prayed to the Lord to ask Him to move in the hearts of the men in our congregations to move them to attend the Seminary to become pastors? When was the last time you prayed to the Lord and asked that He would stir in the hearts of men and women to give up their jobs and careers to work in the mission field? When was the last time you prayed to the Lord to move your own sons or daughters to commit themselves to church work or to a career in church work? When was the last time you prayed for your own pastor?
 
The second thing Jesus says is “Go your way; behold, I am sending you . . . ” Jesus is not speaking to just the twelve apostles. He is also speaking to the seventy-two others He had appointed. Likewise, today, Jesus does not just say “go” to Pastors, He says “go” to all of us. We are all witnesses of Jesus, by what we think, and say, as well as by what we do. Here I might ask you, what do your thoughts, words and actions confess about what you believe? What do they confess about your faith in Jesus?
 
In verses four through sixteen (v. 4-16) Jesus outlines the conditions of the commission. We read, “4Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 16“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
 
First, He says, Do not take anything with you, rather you are to rely on the Lord to take care of all your needs, including food and a place to sleep! That sounds simple enough, but it is harder than it sounds. How often do we really rely on the Lord, or are we like most people, like most good Americans, who have grown up with the American way of life and the American idea that a person has to make it on their own. We have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We have learned from early on in our lives not to depend on anyone except ourselves. Yet, here in our text, Jesus to tell us to depend on Him. If we are really honest with ourselves we must confess that it is a most difficult thing.
 
Second, Jesus says to bless the house where you stay. These words are not difficult to understand, but how often do we find ourselves silently praying the Lord’s blessing on the home of someone we are visiting? I would suggest that more often than not, this thought and this type of thinking never crosses our minds. How wonderful our visit might be and how blessed we and our family and friends might be if we were to adopt such a routine, that is that before we enter anyone’s house or place of residence that we pray for the Lord’s blessings on them. And this is not something that would have to be elaborately done, we may simply pray a silent prayer in our heart and mind as we approach and knock on the door.
 
Third, and here Jesus is speaking specifically to those who are missionaries or are witnessing away from home, Jesus says to stay in one house. This command is to keep the missionary from going around town looking for the best deal. Again, this may not sound like it refers to us, but how often do we pick and choose our friends by what they have to offer to us, rather than by what we may have to offer to them?
 
Fourth, Jesus says to work the Lord’s work in that town. I think it is so interesting that we would rather put money in the offering basket for foreign missions, rather than realize that we have our own mission field right in our own backyard (as the saying goes). Please do not misunderstand me, I believe foreign missions are very important and should be very well supported. What I am saying is, too many times, too many people think that if they put their money in the offering basket for some vague foreign mission, one they hope they will never see, that this means they have done their duty and do not need to think about their own mission field in their own neighborhood. And all the while, how many people in our own neighborhood have never heard the Good News of Jesus and are lost.
 
Fifth, Jesus says, if you are not welcomed, shake the dust off your feet. If you ever find yourself being ostracized for your Christian faith, wipe the dust off your feet. Do not have any part in people who want no part in the Lord.
 
And sixth, Jesus says, that the listening is to the Lord, not to you personally. If what you say is rejected, do not take it personally. Many people have rejected the Word of the Lord and the Word of the Lord you bring will not be the first time it has been rejected. Always remember, it is the Lord who is working through His Word. You have not failed, the other person has merely rejected the Lord’s Word.
 
Moving on to the last section of our text, verses seventeen to twenty (v. 17-20), I like to call this the debriefing section. We read, “17The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”
 
The disciples were so excited because they had power over Satan and all creation. I do not know why they were surprised, they had been with Jesus for a while and certainly had seen the miracles He had performed, but now, here they were doing the same miracles. What joy and excitement they must have felt.
 
But Jesus says, do not rejoice in the power that you have, rather rejoice in the fact that your names are written in the book of heaven. What is important is not the fact that you can do miracles, rather what is important is the fact the you have a part in heaven. Notice it is our salvation, earned by Jesus and His death on the cross, that comes first. It is our salvation, given to us, by grace, through faith, which motivates our response of faith to Jesus’ sending us out. We love, we witness, because He first loved us. And we have Jesus’ authority and promise, as well as the Holy Spirit working in us, so that we are disciples, so that we do live lives of faith and witness in our various vocations.
 
So, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” First and foremost, as we have run through our list of six “commands” of Jesus, we must confess that we fail miserably. We are not the people He asks us to be. With that confession, and hearing His words of forgiveness, we are encouraged, because He still sends us out with His authority and promise to be with us. The words of Jesus confirm the fact that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, the Word and Sacrament to bring us and all people to faith. Our faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit. At our Baptism the Lord, using the hands of the Pastor, washed us. He recreated us. He claimed us as His children. He put His name on us. He put faith into our hearts. As we continue to make regular and diligent use of the Means of Grace, He continues to strengthen and keep us in our faith. Faith is a gift from God.
 
From our text we are reminded that the Holy Spirit works through the external means of grace to move us to pray for workers. We do not naturally think about and remember to pray for others, especially for workers, for missionaries, for teachers, for pastors, for our district and synodical leaders. Praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit works this good work in and through us, so that we do remember and we do pray for those who work in the many and various areas of His Holy Ministry and the support systems for His Ministry.
 
From our text we are reminded that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace to move us to go out and tell others. Our natural tendency is to tell other people about our new home, our new car, our new this or that, but, unfortunately, it is not natural for us to tell others about our faith. The Holy Spirit works in and through us so that we do tell others about our faith through our thoughts, words and actions.
 
From our text we are reminded that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace to move us to rejoice that our names are written in the book of heaven. More important than the fact that the Holy Spirit works all good works in and through us is the fact that our names are written in the book of heaven. For us Christians, heaven is a present reality. Our short lives on this earth are really, a preparation for our time in heaven. We might say that Sunday Divine Service is choir practice for heaven. Praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit works in and though us so that we might rejoice that our names are written in the book of heaven.
 
When Christ comes and asks, “Who will go and work today?” With the help of the Holy Spirit, we boldly respond in faith and answer, “Here am I, send me, send me!” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Cultic Religion of Evolution vs. the Science of Christianity


The online Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word “cult” as: “1: formal religious veneration: worship, 2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents, 3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents, 4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator 5.a: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially: such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad, b: the object of such devotion, c: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult). Some other negative characteristics of a cult include an unquestioning allegiance to the cult and its leader with repercussions to anyone attempting to leave the cult.
 

Someone quipped, “I believe in evolution.” Personally, “I believe the Bible.” To believe in something is faith.

The religion of evolution is indeed a religion and even worse, it is a cult. It is not science. Science prides itself on empirical data and proof. But, because there is no proof for evolution, the cult nature of the religion of evolution rears its head and calls all those who question its tenets, heretics. In real science, a theory is posited and then the challenge is to disprove the theory, but not so in the cult of evolution. Interestingly enough, there is no evidence which can prove any of the theories of evolution. And, if you go back and read science and social studies text books you will note that the theory has evolved over time. Even more frightening is the fact that if you look hard enough you can find all the hoaxes and corrections that counter any “findings” that have been presented. And you would think that after some 150 years that some transitional fossil would be found, but such is not the case.

The Christian faith on the other hand has never, never, never had any of its writings proven wrong, not by scientist nor archeologist. As a matter of fact, all archeological findings have only confirmed what is in the Bible, which has not changed over time. And as for the science of the Bible, there have been attempt after attempt to disprove it, but no one can. All the places of Holy Scripture, all the people of Holy Scripture, all of Holy Scripture is true, and on it one can depend.

For all the talk that it takes faith to be a Christian and to believe the Bible, perhaps we might rather say, for one to believe the cultic religion of evolution takes more faith than many people have.