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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pentecost, the Season of Growth, Part Three

As we approach the end of our Pentecost Season, we continue to review the purpose of the season of Pentecost and what we have been hearing and learning over the past four plus months. As a gentle reminder, the liturgical color for the season of Pentecost is Green, which is the color of growth. Thus, we are reminded by the color green that Pentecost and the Sundays after Pentecost are Sundays in which we have the opportunity, through the Scripture readings (the Old Testament Reading, the Epistle Reading and the Gospel Reading) to grow in our Christian faith and life, that is to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God and His work in our lives. The ultimate goal is that as we are able, as we are asked, we will always be ready to give an apology, which is a defense or an answer to others who ask about our faith in Jesus. So we see the importance of our Divine Service and Bible Class attendance.
 
So far we have discussed the texts for the first nineteen weeks after Pentecost. We pick up at the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost where Jesus encourages us to be careful of temptation and sin. To sin is one thing, to be the cause of sin is quite another. Jesus tells us to be careful, to look after our brothers and sisters in the faith, to forgive as we are asked and to not think more highly of ourselves because our faith, forgiveness and life are all gift, not something we are to boast or brag about as if they are what we have gained for ourselves.
 
The twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost refreshed our memory with the historical account of Jesus healing the ten lepers and the fact that only one returned to thank Him, and he was a Samaritan. Certainly we are condemned as very often in our lives we act like the other nine. We receive the gifts God has to give, at least sometimes, when we decided to attend Divine Service, but too often we reject the gifts by unthankfully absenting ourselves from the Divine Service, putting some other priority ahead of fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things. Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to pour out His gifts even after we refuse them.
 
On the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost we were encouraged by Jesus’ parable to be persistent in our prayer life. While we live in this world, we are not of this world and as Christians we are not treated justly nor fairly, but our hope, our assurance is that in the end, on the day of judgement God will mete our justice fairly, and so we are encouraged while we live in this world to pray.
 
On the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost which was the Sunday we celebrated as Reformation Sunday, we heard Jesus tell the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, reminding us of our confession, that is that if we exalt ourselves and say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but when we humble ourselves and confess our sins, God forgives us our sins. Also, we were reminded by Jesus blessing the children to have faith as a child, not the skeptical faith of an adult. As usual, Jesus reminds us that He come to us to give to us through means and in particular the means of grace, His Word and Sacraments, reminding us of our need to make regular, each and every Sunday, and diligent, as often as possible, use of the means of grace. It is through these very means that our Lord gives us the gifts He has to give and moves and stirs in us our response of faith to those gifts.
 
And that about catches us up for the third quarter of the Pentecost Season. It is amazing the gifts the Lord delivers to us through His Word each and every Sunday in Divine Service and in Bible Class. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

To Have Child-like Faith - October 27, 2013 - Twenty-Third Sun. after Pentecost (Proper 25) - Text: Luke 18:9-17

Today is the day our church celebrates Reformation Day, the day of Luther’s posting the ninety-five thesis on the church door at Wittenburg, the event that began the reformation of the church. So, Happy Reformation Day. With that said, rather than preach from the reformation texts, which I have done for so many years,  I have chosen to continue with the text for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 18:9-17. (Read the text, “This is our text.”)
 
Last week we were encouraged to pray, even to pray without ceasing, to be persistent in prayer. We were reminded that while we may live in this world we are not of this world. We were reminded that ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden the world has been cursed and so there is and will be constant temptation and sin. And we were reminded a couple weeks back to be careful so that we are not the ones through whom temptation comes. And so, as Christians, understanding that we live in a world where we might not receive justice, where the world may seem harsh and unfair, where there may be many troubles, trials and tribulations, we might well come to terms with this world by reminding ourselves of all the opportunities we have in each and every challenge the world lays before us. Perhaps if we looked at the difficulties of this world as opportunities those same difficulties might not seem so overwhelming. Anyway, so last week we were encouraged to pray and this week Jesus helps us to understand the content of our prayer.
 
Jesus liked to teach in parables, which we often describe as earthly stories with heavenly meanings. This morning in our text we begin with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Jesus said, “10Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (v. 10-12). So, the first character in this parable is the Pharisee. About the Pharisee Jesus says that he stood off by himself. He separated himself from others, perhaps those he deemed beneath himself. His actions revealed that he believed himself better than others. He was a good man. He did what was right, at least in his own eyes.
 
As we listen to the prayer of the Pharisee we can hear in whom he truly believes and in whom is his hope for eternal salvation. Notice how he continually points to himself and how good he thinks he is. He truly believed in his heart that he earned heaven. He truly believed in his heart that he deserved heaven. Today we hear this same attitude from those who tell us that God wants us to be obedient. If we can be obedient then we have earned and we deserve for God to give us our reward. The problem with this Pharisee and too many people today is that we are as Scripture tells us, conceived and born in sin, every intention of our heart is evil all the time, we cannot be the people God wants us to be, indeed we are sinners and the wages of sin is death, eternal spiritual death.
 
But, the parable continues, Jesus says, “13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (v. 13). Notice right off the difference in this tax collector. Instead of standing at a distance and thinking more highly of himself, he actually tried to hide himself. Indeed, his words indicate his guilt and sorrow for his sin. Truly he believed himself to be, not just a sinner, but the sinner who put Jesus on the cross. He believes that it is his own sin, his own fault that put Jesus on the cross.
 
As we listen to the tax collector we can tell that he did not believe he deserved heaven or any part of heaven. He actually believed he deserved punishment and death, even eternal spiritual death. He understood that his standing before God was as a beggar.
 
Finally, Jesus tells the truth of this parable. “14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14). On many Sunday mornings, depending on the order of Divine Service, we confess, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” This lack of not recognizing our sins is the problem of the Pharisee. When we fail to recognize, acknowledge and confess our sins, then we have no forgiveness. And yet, how often do we fail to recognize and confess our sins. “We’re not bad people.” “We put Jesus first.” “We’re in church, some Sundays.” “We don’t have a spiritual problem.” “We don’t have a problem with sin.” “We don’t repeat gossip, so you better listen close the first time.” “We stand up for those who are being gossip against.” “We are good people, after all, we have never actually stolen anything or killed anyone.” Oh, how we sound like the Pharisee.
 
On the other hand, when we confess our sin, as the Publican, then and only then do we have forgiveness. I know many of you have heard me use the illustration of the teacher and the crayons, but it is so true. Ms. Smith handed out a new box of crayons to all her students and told them to be careful so as not to break the crayons. After a while she ask the children to place any broken crayons on their desk. Instead of placing his broken crayon on the desk, because he was afraid of what might happen, Little Jake placed the bottom part of the crayon in the bottom of the box and the top part on top so no one would ever know. But Ms. Smith did not chastize the children, instead, she gave new crayons for broken crayons. Little Jake did not get a new crayon, because he failed to admit he had broken his crayon. He refused the gift of a new crayon. However, if Ms. Smith had announced the good news of the crayon exchange before asking the children to put their broken crayons on their desk, Little Jake would have confessed. The same is true for us. Forgiveness has been won. Often we fail to confess and lose our forgiveness because we are afraid of what might happen. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when we sin we run away and attempt to hide. It is the Gospel the good news that our sins have already been forgiven that motivates us to repent.
 
Jesus says that he who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. In other words, when we think more highly of ourselves and fail to repent, that is gift refusal and refusal of forgiveness. As we finally confess in Divine Service, “but if we confess our sins, God who is faith and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Indeed, when we confess, we are forgiven and that is great news, even the best news.
 
But our text is not over. There is more good stuff. Luke moves us to the account of the blessing of the children. “15Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”” (v. 15-17).
 
We are not told that Jesus moved, He may have simply paused after telling the parable and now the mothers in the crowd were so moved that they were bringing infants and children to Jesus to have Him bless them. This man who preaches confession and absolution brings comfort to all and so the mothers in the crowd, loving their children and wanting the best for them, brought them up to Jesus so they might be blessed.
 
Unfortunately Jesus’ own disciples stood in the way. They believed Jesus came for the important adults. They believed Jesus should not be bothered by pesky children. Perhaps they would have had the children ushered out of church and taken to children’s church so as not to be a bother. I don’t know, maybe they were thinking age of accountability and did not think the children were ready to hear what Jesus had to say. Anyway, we know they got it wrong.
 
Jesus called His disciples and He rebuked them. And Jesus’ words to His disciples are very instructive to us today, especially in terms of how important children are to Him, how children can believe and have faith, and most certainly an attestation to the importance of baptizing children. Notice that Jesus does not tell the children to have faith as an adult. Most of us as we grow into adulthood become more and more skeptical, we believe less and less of what we simply hear, we want evidence and proof. No, Jesus does not say to have the faith of an adult, rather He tells the adults and us to have faith as an infant and child. Yes, He says that infants and children can have faith and they do have faith, especially as that faith is given to them through the waters of Holy Baptism and through their hearing His Holy Word, even as they hear His Word while yet in the mother’s womb.
 
So, what does this mean? Notice that Luke places the parable of the two men praying before the account with the children. The purpose of the parable was to show the false, self-righteous faith of the Pharisee and the humble faith of the despised tax collector. And Jesus encourages us to have a humble faith, to confess our sins and to be given His forgiveness.
 
The account of the blessing of the children shows the innocent faith of infants and children and the fact that they too are important to Jesus. The account of the blessing of the children encourages us to put off our own skepticism and to trust in Jesus rather than in ourselves, like the Pharisee. Jesus is speaking to us today. We think we are in charge. We think we are good people. We think we can do it ourselves. We cannot see how God can help and all we do is grumble and complain looking at the problems, trials and tribulations.
 
Instead of looking in ourselves and seeing only trials and difficulties, Jesus encourages us as adults to have the same faith as an infant and a child. Jesus tells us that infants and children can have faith, because their faith has been given to them. Likewise, He has given us faith and He works to strengthen and keep us in the faith He has given, which He promises to do through the very means He has given, His Word and His Sacraments. Rather than run away and stay away from the place He gives and strengthens faith, Divine Service, He want us to run to Him, to be where He gives His gifts each and every Sunday.
 
As infants and children are given faith especially through Holy Baptism, and as we were given faith through Holy Baptism, so we are to remember and be mindful of our own baptism which we do as we hear the invocation at the beginning of our service.
 
It is God who gives and we who are given to. And it is God who gives through the way He has given us to give, through His means of grace. God gives life at conception. God gives new life and faith to all through His Word.
 
God gives all the gifts and blessings we need. He gives forgiveness of sins, earned and paid for by Jesus on the cross. He gives forgiveness to all also through His means of grace, especially through confession and absolution, through His Word and through His Holy Supper.
   
 And so, because God gives through the very means He has given to give, we are encouraged to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace. We are encouraged to be in Divine Service and in Bible class where the means of grace are most prominent and His Word is the most sure. We are encouraged in our prayer life, to speak to Him in prayer as He has first spoken to us through His Word. We are also encouraged in our response of faith, to give ourselves to Him.
 
As we celebrate the reformation of the church, our text for this morning reminds us of the intent of the original reformation, the fact that we are not saved because of some innate goodness within us, not because of some good deeds we believe we have done, rather we are saved by God’s grace through faith which He gives to us, faith in Jesus alone who paid the price for our sins on the cross. And so we are encouraged in our faith life to be as children and infants and to trust in Jesus alone! To Him be the glory, for His sake. Amen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pentecost, the Season of Growth, Part Two

As we approach being three-fourths the way through our Pentecost Season, it is necessary to review the purpose of the season of Pentecost and what we have been hearing and learning over the past three plus months.
 
As a gentle reminder, the liturgical color for the season of Pentecost is Green, which is the color of growth. Thus, we are reminded by the color green that Pentecost and the Sundays after Pentecost are Sundays in which we have the opportunity, through the Scripture readings (the Old Testament Reading, the Epistle Reading and the Gospel Reading) to grow in our Christian faith and life, that is to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God and His work in our lives. The ultimate goal is that as we are able, as we are asked, we will always be ready to give an apology, which is a defense or an answer to others who ask about our faith in Jesus. So we see the importance of our Divine Service and Bible Class attendance.
  
  So far we have discussed the texts for the first fourteen weeks after Pentecost. We pick up at the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost where Jesus challenges us with having an attitude of humble service, that is that we serve God by serving others. Jesus’ example is that He gave His all, even Himself and His life on the cross for us because of His great love for us even though we cannot ever repay Him. Our response of faith flows out of the fact that we love only because Jesus first loves us. And so, Jesus challenges us to acknowledge that everything we have is a gift from God so that rather than thinking we are giving, caring for and helping others who repay us through like kinds of giving, caring and helping, that true giving is giving to those we know cannot repay. Here we were challenged to think about our Christmas tradition of exchanging presents. Instead of only exchanging presents this year, we might consider either giving to someone we know cannot return the present and doing so anonymously so as to remove any guilt on the recipients part, and/or perhaps giving a gift to our Lord, i.e., the church.
 
The sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost reminded us of the first commandment and the fact that we are to “fear, love and trust in God above all things.” The cost of discipleship is our life. Jesus gave His life for us on the cross, and although He asks and requires nothing of us, which we are usually ready give (nothing), His desire as He sends the Holy Spirit through His means of grace, is that we respond to His gifts by being given His gifts, rather than refusing and rejecting His gifts. We respond by being where the gifts are given, in Divine Service and Bible class, and we respond by living lives of faith, serving Him by serving others, loving as He first loves us.
 
God loves each one of us as if we were the only person in the world, to love and yet He loves every person with that same intensity of love. That is what we heard on the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. We were also reminded that because we are conceived and born in sin, our nature is to wander, and when we wander, we do not know we are lost and so we do not go looking for our Lord. Rather we continue wandering, looking for those who would confirm us in our spiritual problems, that is those who would rejoice in our wandering from the faith. It is God who comes seeking to save the lost, including us. It is God in Jesus who saved us, who continually seeks us, who forgives us, and who calls us back into His flock.
 
On the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Jesus reminded us of the fact that we cannot serve two masters. He told the parable of the shrewd steward to His disciples and to us. This is a parable that is talking about sanctification, what we do as a response to what God has done for us, not what we do in order to gain something from God. Remember, Jesus is speaking to His already converted disciples. Jesus does not tell us that worldly wealth should be an end in and of itself, rather He is telling us that we should use the gifts of this world that God has given us in order to help others. More specifically, Christians should use worldly wealth in order to increase Christian charity. One more way of saying that is to say that, as Christians, we are to use our worldly wealth responsibly, to help those in need, understanding that the wealth of this world comes from outside ourselves, from the Lord, and so we are to use it in service to Him and His Kingdom.
 
The month of September had five Sundays, five opportunities to be in Divine Service and be given the gifts God has to give. How fitting that on the fifth Sunday in September, on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost we were reminded of the temporariness of this world, the fleetingness of worldly gain, the necessity of Christian charity, and the importance of faith given through the means of grace. The Gospel Lesson motivates a desire to be where God’s gifts are given, to live lives of faith including having eyes to see those in need, and an anticipation of eternal life in our home in heaven.
 
And that about catches us up for the third quarter of the Pentecost Season. It is amazing the gifts the Lord delivers to us through His Word each and every Sunday in Divine Service and in Bible Class. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pentecost, the Season of Growth - Summary Part One

As we reach the midpoint of our Pentecost Season, perhaps it is necessary to review the purpose of the season of Pentecost and what we have been hearing and learning over the past three plus months.
 
The liturgical color for the season of Pentecost is Green, which is the color of growth. Thus, we are reminded by the color green that Pentecost and the Sundays after Pentecost are Sundays in which we have the opportunity, through the Scripture readings (the Old Testament Reading, the Epistle Reading and the Gospel Reading) to grow in our Christian faith and life, that is to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God and His work in our lives. The ultimate goal is that as we are able, as we are asked, we will always be ready to give and apology, which is a defense or an answer to others who ask about our faith in Jesus. So we see the importance of our Divine Service and Bible Class attendance.
 
Now, if you were on vacation, hopefully you were visiting one of our sister congregations and so you did not miss any of the continuity of the readings, but if for some reason you did miss, the following is presented as a summary the weeks of growth through the Gospel lessons during the first part of the Pentecost Season.
 
We began the continuing series of lessons the Second Sunday after Pentecost hearing the historical account of Jesus healing the Centurion’s Servant. Through this account we were reminded that Jesus is truly God and man with authority and power over all creating. We were reminded of our humility in being given the gifts God has to give especially including faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
We moved on to the historical account of Jesus raising the widow’s son and were given a wonderful show of Jesus’ compassion for all people, us included. Certainly our Lord cares for us and the ultimate care He showed in the giving of His life on the cross for ours. We followed that picture of Jesus’ care with the account of Jesus forgiving the sinful woman and reminding us that it is only as we recognize our complete depravity and great sin before God when we can truly understanding His great love for us. The more sinful we realize we are, the more His suffering, death and resurrection mean to us.
 
The next week we were taken to the country of the Gerasenes where Jesus is confronted with the man who was possessed by many demons whose name was Legion. There we saw, tongue in cheek, the first example of deviled ham as Jesus cast the demons into the pigs that committed suicide. Again we were affirmed in our faith that Jesus is both truly human and truly God with authority and power over all creation and all evil spirits as well. We were also reminded that through our vocations, through our living lives in service to others we are serving God and as we have opportunity we are to always be ready to give an answer for our faith to all those who ask, as the healed man was told to stay in his town and tell others all Jesus did for him.
 
The next week we saw Jesus rejected by the Samaritans and Jesus explained the cost of following Him. We were reminded of how often we reject and refuse to follow Jesus with the many excuses we have in our own lives, how our priorities put other things before Him and yet we reminded of God’s great love for us, so much that even despite our rejection of Jesus, He still loves us, forgives us and calls us to follow Him.
 
We saw Jesus send out the seventy two for practice missionary work. We heard how excited they were at the abilities that is that through the use of God’s authority they were able to do great things and yet Jesus tells them and us that more important than such authority is the fact that our names are written in the book of heaven. Through the parable of the Good Samaritan we were reminded of our vocations and how we serve God by serving others. We learned that our response of faith includes showing mercy to others. And in the historical account of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha we were encouraged by Jesus to do what we are encouraged in Divine Service almost every Sunday that is that the most important thing in life, the one thing needful is to be in the Word, to be in Divine Service and Bible Class.
 
We were taught the Lord’s Prayer and were reminded that, to those who suggest the only true prayers are extemporaneous prayers, that is those prayers that arise from the heart, who can make up a better prayer than Jesus, and He loves to hear us pray the very words He has given us to pray. We were reminded and encouraged to keep on praying to God and that unlike our earthly fathers who are good to us, God is even greater in His answering our prayers. We were reminded in the parable of the rich fool, first to be good stewards with all the blessings our Lord has given to us in returning the first of our blessings as tithes to the Lord, because otherwise we may end up having more trust in our “riches” than in our Lord. We were reminded that our worries and anxiety are a result of a lack of faith include our failure to respond with our first fruits, that is that our lack of giving is also a sign of a week faith because we do not believe the Lord will continue to bless us as He has already blessed us. We fail to realize that we cannot out give God and the fact that He is the one who gives us all things in the first place. Indeed we were reminded that “where our treasure is there is our heart” (Luke 12:34) so that if we want to know our priorities, no matter what we say, they are what we live. And so we were reminded to use the gifts God gives for extending His Kingdom, to get ourselves and others ready for the day of the Lord’s return, or our going to Him.
 
We were reminded that Jesus came to bring division, not peace, and we see this in the fact that there is a religious war going on in this world. Satan and his armies are working constantly in persecuting Christians around the world as false doctrines, heresies and false religions are constantly leading even Christians astray in our world today. Jesus, His Word, the Word made flesh even brings divisions in the Christian Church and in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. And we were reminded that simply to have one’s name on the roll of a congregation does not mean one is a Christian. Indeed there are many who profess to be a member of St. Matthew Lutheran Church who do not have faith in Jesus, rather they simply know about Him.
 
And that about catches us up for the first half of the Pentecost Season. It is amazing the gifts the Lord delivers to us through His Word each and every Sunday in Divine Service and in Bible Class. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Persistence in Prayer - October 20, 2013 - Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24) - Text: Luke 18:1-8

Two weeks ago we were encouraged by Jesus to be careful as we live in this world. We are not of this world, but we are living in this world and while we are living in this world Jesus reminded us that temptation and sin abound. Jesus encouraged us to not be the one’s who are tempting others. He encouraged us to, in love, express concern for our neighbor who is sinning so that they might repent. He encourages us to forgive and to not think more highly of ourselves and our own faith walk, reminding us that it is God who has given all, life, faith, forgiveness and eternal life and we who have been given to. Last week, through the parable of the ten lepers we were reminded that we are very often like the nine unthankful lepers who take God’s gifts and blessings for granted, and otherwise refuse and reject them when we have some other priority we believe we need to attend rather than be in Divine Service and when we refuse to acknowledge God’s gifts by returning our first fruits and tithes. Today we follow as Jesus further instructs His disciples and us with a parable concerning our prayer life and an encouragement to pray.
 
A lot of what Jesus had been preaching about had to do with the coming of the end of the world and the day of judgement. Jesus’ disciples and we for that matter, need this constant reminder that our lives in this world are temporary. We are only in this world for a short time and compared to eternity, forever, sixty, eighty, even a hundred years is simply a snap of the fingers. So, rather than put too much or so much stock in this world, we are encouraged to always keep our eyes focused on the world to come.
 
Ever since the Garden of Eden the world has been cursed. We do not live in a perfect world and there will never be perfection in this world. This world has been cursed and even though Jesus has paid the price for the sins of the world, this world continues to suffer the pangs of the curse and will do so until the day of judgement. And, along with the pangs of the curse we continue to suffer under the temptations of the devil and our own sinful flesh. Again, this is a reminder to keep our eyes focused on the world to come.
 
Because this world is cursed and because temptation and sin abound in this world, and as Paul warns young Pastor Timothy in our epistle lesson, “3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:2,3). For us Christians this world may appear as if there is no justice. Indeed, we do live in a world where sound teaching is not tolerated and where being a Christian is getting harder and harder. Indeed, we are in the end times and each day the end is getting nearer and nearer. And please understand, I am not saying this as a way to be discouraging, but simply as a way to encourage you to focus on what is important.
 
Getting to our text, Jesus continues to teach His disciples and us and one of His usual ways of teaching is through the telling of a parable. “2[Jesus] said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” 4For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming”’” (v. 2-5).
 
Now, let us take a closer look at this parable. First we are introduced to the judge about whom we are told that he neither feared God nor respected men. This judge might certainly be labeled as an unjust judge, a judge not fit for the judgement seat and yet, he is the one to whom the next person in the parable must go for judgement and justice.
 
Which brings us to the widow in the parable. About the widow we are told that she “kept coming to him.” She was persistent in seeking justice and she did not give up. Now here I would not say that she necessarily had faith in the judge, nor in the system, rather she had faith in God believing that He could influence the judge and these matters as He deemed fit.
 
But, getting back to the judge, we are told that at first, for a while he refused to give her justice. It might be that he even refused to hear her case. And yet, because of her faith, again, not in the judge, but because of her faith in God she persisted until, we are told the judge was worn out.
 
Finally, the judge granted justice, as he says, not because he “fear[s] God nor respect[s] man, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming,” in other words, out of exasperation.
 
Finally, we hear Jesus’ comment on this parable, “6And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’” (v, 6-8). Speaking to His disciples and to us Jesus encourages us as Christians, as believers, how much more will God give us justice, even if it is with a delay.
 
So, we ask, what does this mean? While we live in this world, as Christians, we may not think there is justice. Sin continues to permeate this world. We are constantly under attack by temptation from the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. And as we said a couple of weeks ago, we might well count ourselves worthy to be tempted as such, because, since the devil does not waste his time on those he already has, the fact that we are being tempted encourages us to know that he does not yet have us. Certainly the devil’s work is seen in the curse and sin of this world and we may even think that there is no justice in this world, yet we are not to be discouraged.
  
  As we are encouraged in our own prayer life, there may be times when we may think that God is not hearing nor answering our prayers. Of course, as I usually say, tongue in cheek, we believe God has not heard nor answered our prayer because of course His answer would be “yes” and not “no” so especially if His answer may be “no” we would not admit that His answer might be “no” but instead will say and believe that He simply has not heard, nor answered our prayer. The fact is that God hears our prayers and He answers them according to what He knows is best and according to when He knows best, even if we cannot see it at the time. In other words, sometimes God’s answer is “no.”
 
Again, God does hear and answer our prayers, according to what He knows is best, according to His good and gracious will. Indeed, God knows what is best for us and we trust that He will answer accordingly. Perhaps this fact might encourage us as we were encouraged and as we heard the disciples pray two weeks ago to pray for an increase in faith.
 
The fact of the matter is that as Christians, and especially as Christians, we may not have justice in this world. As we see Satan have his way with the leaders of the world, the peoples of this world, the cults and sects of this world and even many so called Christian denominations in this world, this world is getting more and more counter to the Christian faith and so we may not expect justice, at least not while we are in this world.
 
But take heart. The very reason Jesus was born into this world was so that He might overcome the world. Jesus was born, fulfilling the promise in the Garden of Eden, to reconcile the broken relationship between God and man. Jesus was born the true sinless God in true human flesh, one with us, one like us except without sin. Jesus fulfilled all the ceremonial laws perfectly, that is all those sacrificial laws that pointed to Him as the once and for all, ultimate sacrifice for us. Jesus fulfilled all the civil and moral laws perfectly as well. He never sinned and thus He took all our sins upon Himself and all the sins of all people of every place and time, even and include those we have yet to commit. He took all sin upon Himself and suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty, the price and cost for sin for us, in our place. And He died, yet as we know, death and the grave had no power over Him as He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. Indeed Jesus has overcome the world.
 
Again, we may not have justice in this world, but the end of the world is coming soon. And in the end, on the last day, even as Job recognized, God will mete out His righteous, just judgement. At Jesus coming, every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Some will confess to their eternal judgement and others, those of us who have faith in Jesus, the Christians will confess and rejoice that as our names have been written in the book of heaven we will go to be with our Lord for eternity.
 
Although it may not sound like such a consolation, we know for certain that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, in the end, we will be vindicated. The difficulty is that we have to realize that our vindication will not be while we are in this world and the fact of the matter is it might be that while we are in this world we may even have to suffer for our faith. And that is the very reason for Jesus’ parable this morning, the very reason we have His Word and His means of grace, as His usual means of giving us the gifts He has to give and encouraging us in our faith life.
 
We are encouraged therefor to be persistent in our own prayer lives and in our faith, all the while knowing and understanding that the answer we might get might not be the answer we want, yet knowing that because our Lord loves us, because our Lord has paid the price for our sins, because our Lord knows what is best for us, He will answer according to what is truly best for us. Perhaps we would do well, not only to pray, “Thy will be done,” but also, “Help me to accept whatever Your will is.”
 
Because we live in a world cursed by sin, there is no justice, especially for Christians, however, because we know that in the end God’s just justice will be meted out, we are encouraged in our prayer lives to be persistent in our prayers. God has taken care of all that we truly need while we are visiting in this world. He has given us life at our conception, new life through the waters of Holy Baptism and His Word, forgiveness through confession and absolution, forgiveness and strengthening of faith through His Holy Word and through His Holy Supper. And so we are encouraged to pray and in faith firmly to believe that our loving God will act in His time and according to what He knows is best so that we might truly confess, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sin, Faith, Duty - October 6, 2013 - Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Luke 17:1-10

It is Jesus who comes looking for us, finding us, giving us faith, forgiveness and life. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, especially through His Word and through our Baptism, who has brought us to faith and who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. So, what? We are Christians. We attend Divine Service on Sunday mornings, at least on some Sunday mornings. We confess our sins and hear those most beautiful words, “your sins are forgiven.” So, what more needs to be done?
 
In our text for today, Jesus warns the disciples and us about temptation and sin. Yes, we may be Christians, God may have called us to faith, but there is still temptation and sin in this world and temptation and sin will abound, at least until Christ comes again. About sin, Jesus tell us that sin comes, but it is worse for the one through whom sin comes, in other words, to be tempted is one thing, but to do the tempting is another. As Christians, we realize that we have the freedom of the Gospel. We are free from the constraints of the Law, at least the ceremonial law, we know that Jesus has already paid the price for all our sins, even and including those sins which we have yet to commit, however, that does not give us the freedom to sin, even to sin boldly. Instead, we have the opportunity to do good. We have the opportunity to model our faith so that others might see our example and want to be a part of our heavenly family as well.
    
Temptation abounds in our world, thus, sin happens. I have always appreciated the saying that we are to rejoice in our suffering and even in our times of temptation. It is our temptation which gives us confidence that we are saved. Think about it this way, why would the devil waste his time tempting those he already has? No, he spends his time tempting those of us he does not have. Yes, temptation and sin abound in this world and there is only one person who was ever able to completely overcome that temptation and sin and that was Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, Jesus was sinless and all through His life, all through His suffering, and all through His death, He never sinned. But not only did He not sin, He took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins, for us. And what is more, as we read in our text, He gives us instruction in dealing with each other.
 
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus says, 1. . . “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (v. 1b-4).
 
Jesus tells us that it really does not matter who sins, you or your brother, with Him there is forgiveness. Not only is there forgiveness, there is also no lack of forgiveness. Yes, we are our brothers, our sisters, keepers. We are to, in love, rebuke our fellow Christians when they sin. We do this, not in any mean way, but a loving way, in order to get them to see their need to repent, lest they remain in their sins and are eternally condemned.
 
Jesus is speaking to His disciples and to us about sin and forgiveness. The disciples understood, all too well, the difficulty of the things about which Jesus is speaking. Perhaps we might understand the difficulty as well and so we might, with the disciples ask for God’s help. The disciples asked for help in the request of an increase in faith. We pick up at verse five, “5The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (v. 5). You know, sinning is an easy thing. We do it naturally. Sin is a part of our nature. We do not even need to practice it comes so easily. Forgiveness, on the other hand is a difficult thing. It is difficult, sometimes even seemingly impossible to forgive others, especially those who have personally sinned against us. And so the disciples ask for increased faith. And so, perhaps we to will ask for an increase in faith.
 
Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (v. 6). Do you know how big a mustard seed is? It is very tiny, one of the smallest seeds. Yet, a faith as small as a mustard seed gives the ability to move trees. Just think how small our saving faith must need to be. I wish I could come up with some good news here, but all I can think of is that if faith of a mustard seed gives one the ability to move trees, and I have not seen any trees moving, our faith must be pretty small. Perhaps we might do well in praying for an increase in faith for ourselves and for others.
 
Here let me also remind you that our God is a God whose usual way of working with us is through means, and namely that He works with us through the means of Grace. As we pray for an increase in faith we will, at the same time, be motivated, by the Holy Spirit, to make more regular and diligent use of the means of grace, reading our Bible, remembering our Baptism, coming to confession and hearing those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and coming to the Lord’s Supper, so that through these means our Lord will increase our faith. Remember, we are Word and Sacrament believers. We believe that our Lord comes to us through means, namely through the means of His Word, read and heard; Holy Baptism and as we remember our Baptism; confession and absolution, that as we hear those words, “Your sins are forgiven,” we know that our sins are forgiven; and the Lord’s Supper. And just as we would not limit ourselves in our ability to shop at different grocery stores for our physical food, so we would not want to limit ourselves to the means through which our Lord comes to give us His spiritual food, but will make regular and diligent, every Sunday and every day use of His means of grace.
 
But, with an increase of faith comes an increase in responsibility. Here Jesus speaks about duty. Jesus uses the illustration of a servant and a master. We pick up at verse seven of our text, 7“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (v. 7-9). The servant does not gain special favors simply for doing what he is supposed to be doing. Likewise, we do not deserve any special favors from our Lord for simply doing what is our God-given, Christian duty and responsibility, or as I would rather put it, our privilege to be doing. An increase in faith leaves no room for us to think more highly of ourselves, rather it makes us more responsible, even more accountable for exercising our faith, doing the good works which God has for us to do.
 
Likewise, getting back to Jesus’ illustration, the servant who is doing his job does not earn any special merit or favors from his master. The master does not thank the servant for doing what he is supposed to be doing. As the Lord, working through the means of grace, strengthens us and gives us an increase of faith, that does not mean that God owes us anything else. Perhaps we need to be reminded that it is actually God who has done, does and continues to do everything for us in the first place, in the second place, in the third place and so on. There is a distinct difference between what God does and what we do. It is God who created us so that He might love us. It is we who rebelled against Him and who continue to rebel against Him. It is God who sent His Only Son, Jesus to be born as one of us, one with us, one like us, except without sin. It is we who continue to refuse and reject His gifts and we do that when we fail to make regular and diligent use of His gifts. It is Jesus who came to seek and to save the lost, us included. It is we who are lost and must be found by Him. It is Jesus who came to serve and to offer Himself as a sacrifice, once for all, for us. It is the Holy Spirit who gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. Everything we do serves to fight against God and at the same time every good and perfect gift is God’s work in us, for us and through us. Thus, as we are given an increase of faith, our attitude will remain a humble attitude, an attitude  that we are unworthy, because we are only doing what we ought to be doing. We should not and do not expect God to give us a pat on the back simply for doing what we are supposed to be doing.
 
Okay, so what? The “so what” is this, yes, we live in a world where temptation and sin abound, but that does not give us the right or the excuse to sin. Just because we live in a world of sin does not give me us the excuse, “but pastor, we live in the Twenty-first century,” as if, just because the world has become more and more tolerant of sin, that we, as Christians, are to do the same. Yes, we live in this world, but we are not of this world. Christ calls us to live counter to the world. Christ calls us to live lives of faith. Christ calls us to show forth our faith through our lives.
 
As Christians, as people of faith, faith given to us, it is our privilege, it is our responsibility, it is our duty, it is our joy, to live our lives in such a way that we show what it means to be a Christian. We do this as we are privileged to forgive as our Lord has forgiven us. We do this as we are privileged to model the Christian faith through our lives, as Jesus showed us how to live while He was here on this earth, and as He continues to tell us in His Word. We do this as we are privileged to share our faith, to tell others, especially those who do not know Him, the good news of Jesus and His love, and especially as we invite them to hear His Word in Divine Service.
 
As Christians, as people of faith, we also have the privilege of prayer. We are able to pray for an increase of faith and to thank Him for that increase. We also have the privilege to pray that along with an increase of faith we might also be strengthened in our ability to be responsible with our lives and our faith life.
 
Jesus’ words in verse ten summarize it well, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). After all is said and done, we believe and confess that it is the Lord who gives all and we who are given to. God gives us life at conception. He has earned forgiveness for us, paying the price for our sins on the cross. He gives us new life through His Word and Holy Baptism. He sends His Holy Spirit to strengthen and keep us in faith through the means which He has given us, His means of grace, the Bible, confession and absolution and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And it is our privilege to respond by living our lives, with His help, in such a way that we give glory to our great God. Yes, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

State of the Congregation

It has been suggested that congregations which are struggling financially have financial problems. I know you have heard me say it before, and you will hear me say it again, but this time I want to say it with an explanation; congregations do not have financial problems, they have spiritual problems. How can I make that statement, and how can that be true? Let me explain.

First, let me ask you to look around on any given Sunday morning at St. Matthew. Are our pews filled with one hundred percent of our members? Or do we see that sixty to seventy-five percent of our members absent themselves from Divine Service attendance? The natural desire of a Christian is to be where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are distributed. As we heard in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, the lost sheep and coin do not realize they are lost and do not go looking for their owner. Very often, in our lostness, we go looking for those who would confirm our lostness. Rather than confess our placing something or someone else before God (first commandment), we hang out with those who also refuse and reject the gifts God gives. We fail to take God’s Word seriously and so we absent ourselves from Divine Service, from Bible Class, from personal and family devotions and reading God’s Word, and we do it with many good excuses, which is what they are, excuses. We do have a spiritual problem. But there is more.

What are our offerings? Are our offerings simply a collection of what is left in our pockets after we have paid our bills and had our fun? Or are our offerings our first fruits, our tithes offered in response to and in recognition of the fact that everything we have has first been given to us as a gift from God? Interestingly enough, the only place in the Bible that I read of God telling us to test Him is in our giving (Malachi 3:10). The whole passage reads, “8Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:8-10). And yet, we fail to trust that as God has so provided for us to this point in our lives that He will continue to provide. Personally, I believe that if our whole congregation were tithing their first fruits, we would have more finances than we would know what to do with; although, I am sure we could find something on which to spend the gifts that would be brought in. Again, we see this is a spiritual problem. Do we take God seriously?

Finally, let me get a bit more personal. How are we doing as parents and grandparents in teaching and encouraging our own children and grandchildren in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Are our children and grandchildren baptized? Are they attending Divine Service and Bible Class, or Sunday School? Are they hearing the Word of God, or do we take God seriously that there is one and only one way to eternal life?

Unfortunately, and I do not say this to let us off the hook, but we are not alone. Our whole society has continued to take a downward spiral concerning our spiritual well-being. We have and continue to fail in standing up for our Lord and our faith. Abortion runs rampant. The homosexual community is running roughshod over our culture; and we sit idly by and do and say nothing. Again I ask, “Do we take God seriously?”

God has taken us and our sin seriously. He has sent His Son to live perfectly for us in our place because we do not and cannot. Jesus lived perfectly obeying all of God’s laws and commands perfectly. Jesus took our sin and paid the price, suffering the complete punishment of eternal spiritual death in hell for us. He died and rose. He ascended and now He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. His desire is to love us and to give us the gifts He has to give. He does not force nor coerce us to be given His gifts and when we refuse and reject He continues to seek us to give to us. God has so much He wants to give to us. Brothers and sisters, come and be given the gifts!