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!
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, 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.