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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!

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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, August 25, 2013

It Takes a Personal Faith - August 25, 2013 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Luke 13:22-30

I read a rather interesting comic strip a while back. It had these two children discussing going to Sunday School. The first child asked the second child, “Do your parents make you go to Sunday School?” The second child said, “No, they want me to look at all the different religions and make up my own mind about what to believe.” The first child responded, “So, what do you believe?” To which the second child said, “I don’t know, maybe I should go to Sunday School and find out.” And as we say from time to time, quoting Ps. 8:2, “out of the mouths of babes” we have some profound truth.
 
Have you ever sat down and given thought to the question, “What is most important in my life?” Or have you ever thought, “What is the purpose for my life, or for anyone’s life?” I do  not mean, have you ever heard the question, you know, when the pastor asks the question and asks if you have ever thought about them, like now. I mean, have you ever given these questions serious thought. I think these are very important questions and I will tell you why I think they are important, and it is not just because I am a pastor. Let us put our lives into some type of perspective, namely the perspective of eternity. How long is eternity? It is forever. How long is eternity compared to my life here on this earth? It is like comparing our short existence of one hundred years or less on this earth to millions of billions of years in eternity and that’s just the start of eternity. Actually, eternity has no start, because to say it has a start would imply it would have an end and it has no end. Now with that frame of reference, what is most important in your life? and what is your purpose in life?
 
Let us get to our text for today, the Gospel lesson from Luke and see if we can get some answers to our questions. As we begin our text you will notice that we have another question, “How many will be saved?” We read, “22[Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”(v. 22-27).
 
As we read and hear these verses it is implied that not everyone will be saved. From that implication it might also be implied that God has predestined or predetermined that some people will be saved and logically, to some people, if He has predetermined some to be saved then that means that He must have predetermined that some people will not be saved. There are too many if’s in that statement for me, so let us go back to the Bible and see if Jesus says anything else about people being saved and He does, in 1 Timothy (2:3-4) He says, “This is good, and pleases God or Savior, who wants all men (all people) to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” So it is true that God has predetermined that some people will be saved, but it is not a predetermined some, rather it is His will that all people will be saved. So, why are some not saved? Simply stated, because some people refuse to believe in Jesus and reject Him. Again, going back to the Bible, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is only one way and that way is through Jesus.
 
Continuing on in our text, Jesus tells us that some will try to enter and will not be able to do so which is why it is so important that we make every effort to enter. And here, let me make a side comment. Dr. Art Just says it best about this term, “strive” or as it is translated elsewhere, “struggle,” in his commentary on Luke. He says, “The command to ‘struggle’ does not mean ‘that moral effort is necessary in order to enter the kingdom,’6 nor does it mean entrance is gained by exercising ‘human responsibility.’7 Rather, the struggle through which one enters is repentance, which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God—such as the teaching of Jesus here—calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.”
 
Many will try to enter heaven though various beliefs, beliefs other than Jesus Christ. This is similar to people today who think that it does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe something. And this is where Jesus reminds us that the object of faith is important, it does matter what or rather, in whom we believe. That is why Jesus also tells us that the door is narrow, because there is only one belief that saves. Here, again,  Jesus is not trying to say that we must do something in order to be saved, rather He is saying that it is the Holy Spirit who does something for us. He is the one who works faith in our hearts through His Word. The effort we are to make is to not fall away once He has given us faith and in our world, that takes quite an effort, an effort we can make only with His continued help.
 
And this effort is so important, because “Once the door is closed” means that there will be a time when heaven will close and that time will be at Judgement Day. When is Judgement Day? No one knows, that is why it is important to always be ready. Judgement Day is the day Jesus will return, or it is the day we die. After judgement day, when Jesus comes or when we die, there are no more chances, that is why it is so important to be ready at all times.
 
For those who are not ready, and Jesus calls them the ones who call from outside, they think they will be saved by association, that is by knowing someone who is a Christian, or simply by having their names on the church rolls. Notice that Jesus does not say that they will say, “you taught us,” because they were never there to be taught, rather Jesus says they will say “you taught in our streets.” Jesus says that this does not work. Faith, knowing and believing Jesus must be a personal thing. It is not enough to have your name on the church roll, nor simply to believe about Jesus, that is to believe that He was a good teacher or a good prophet, or a good example for us. It is certainly not enough to believe that your good deeds will save you. Saving faith is faith and trust, complete reliance on Jesus. Saving faith is believing that Jesus came to this earth, true God born in human flesh. Saving faith is believing that Jesus took my sins and your sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. Saving faith is believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection is my death and resurrection. Saving faith is believing that I am forgiven and I have a part of heaven because of what Jesus did for me personally.
 
Our faith is so important, because it is our faith which will determine where we will spend eternity, either in heaven with Jesus and all the saints, or in hell with the devil and all the wicked. The last verses of our text read, “28In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (v. 28-30).
 
Hell is a reality, whether we want to believe it or not. Just like our not believing that China really exists because we have never seen it, does not mean it is not there, so even if we do not believe hell really exists, that does not make it not exist. Hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is a place of continual everlasting sorrow. Hell is total absence of God’s love. The best description I can give you of hell, and this is merely a human perception and description, but hell, is a place that is like being depressed, the worst depressed you have ever been, magnified a few million times and being that way for eternity. Hell is complete absence of God’s love, that is, there is no goodness in hell.
 
Hell is contrasted with heaven which is compared to a feast. Heaven is a wonderful place, a place filled with God’s glory and grace. Heaven is perfect love, perfect peace, perfect everything. Heaven is a place where “there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” That means that heaven is not something we can take for granted even after we have become Christians. That does not mean that just because you are a member of St. Matthew Lutheran Church that you will have a place in heaven. There may be many people who have yet to believe who will have a place in heaven some even before our own members. These words of Jesus are a warning for us as Christians that we need to take heed of our own faith lest we fall and end up in hell. This is what Jesus means by telling us to make every effort to enter through the narrow door, that we strive to walk the faith that we have and not simply sit on our grace. Today we would say, “if you are going to talk the talk, then walk the walk.” If you are going to have your name on the rolls of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, then be in Divine Service, be in Bible Class, make regular, each and every Sunday and diligent, as often as possible, use of the means of grace.
 
So, we go back to the question of, What is most important in my life? And what does this passage of God’s Word mean? I hope by now that you have come to understand that the most important thing in your life is your relationship of Jesus Christ. I hope you have come to believe that Jesus is your Savior and that you want to live your life to His glory, by keeping Him first in your life, that you want to “talk the talk and walk the walk.”
 
I also pray that you have come to understand that faith is a gift from God. A gift which He gives to us through His Word, the Bible and through His Sacrament, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Faith is not something that I can give to you. It is not something that your friend can give to you. It is not something that anyone can give to you. Faith is what the Holy Spirit gives. And He gives faith through Holy Baptism and through the Word of God. Faith is that thing that takes hold of the gifts God gives. It is what grasps and believes that Jesus is your Savior.
 
But faith is not just a heart and mind thing. Faith is something that needs to be exercised. You know how I continually encourage you to exercise your faith by attending Divine Service and Sunday School or Bible class. It is through our Sunday School and Adult Bible classes as well as personal and family devotions and personal and family reading of the Word of God that people exercise their faith, struggling with God’s Word, being challenged by His Word and growing in their faith. Those of you who are in Divine Service and Bible class weekly are truly the leaders of our congregation, because you are demonstrating to the rest of us what being a Christian is all about, exercising our Christian faith.
 
As we exercise our Christian faith we reap a harvest of what is called the fruit of faith, and is otherwise know as good works, but not merely good works for the sake of good works, rather good works which give all glory to God. And that answers our second question, what is the purpose of my life. The purpose of my life is to be loved by God and to be given His gifts. God is love and as love He does not seek anything for Himself. It would be contrary to God’s nature to create us so that we might give something to Him, as if we would have anything that we might could give to Him. No, our purpose in life is to be loved by God and to be given His gifts.
 
The ultimate “goal” of faith is heaven. And we rejoice because that is a goal which has already been accomplished for us by God the Father. God the Father created the world which fell into sin. So, He sent His only Son, Jesus to buy the world back, to redeem the world through the shedding of His blood on the cross, through His suffering eternal punishment in hell for us, in our place. And He sends the Holy Spirit to work faith in our hearts through the Word and the Sacraments. Thus, heaven is a present reality for all those who believe in Jesus. And our response to that is to say, To God be the Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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