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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk

This article is full of quotes from the book 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Jonathan Fisk. As you read the quotes, honestly think about the answers to the following questions: Does this “belief” remind you of anything (denomination, preacher, philosophy) in our world today? Have you ever had this “belief”?

“Mysticism: The belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through your subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than worship of your emotions.” The idol of mysticism is your emotion which suggests that you can find God in your heart.

“Moralism: The belief that access to God can be achieved through your personal efforts or attempts to improve yourself. Moralism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your works.” The idol of moralism is your vocation, that is that you can find God in your hands.

“The Enlightenment: A cultural movement in eighteenth-century Europe and America that sought to improve society through the advancement of knowledge.” “Rationalism: The belief that contact with God can be found through the clarity of your observations or the consistency of your logic. Rationalism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your thoughts.” The idol of rationalism is your reason which suggests that you can find God in your mind.

“Modernism: The belief that the new economic, social, and political conditions ushered in by the Industrial Revolution made more “traditional” forms of art, literature, architecture, and faith increasingly outdated.” “Romanticism: A cultural movement that reacted against the Enlightenment by validating personal experience as a significant source of authority.” “Postmodernism: Rising in reaction to Modernism, the belief that reality is only apparent, a variety of evolved social constructions, always subject to change.” “Pragmatism: The belief that knowledge found by evaluating the consequences of actions can create more efficient or “intelligent” future actions.” “Prosperity: The belief that the way God feels about you is measured by how good your life is right now. Prosperity, then, is nothing more than worship of health, wealth, and wellness. Prosperities lie: you can find God in this world.” The idol of prosperity is material things and the thought that you can find God in the world.

“Revivalism: A philosophical movement arising in eighteenth- and nineteenth century Protestantism that believed an increase in spiritual interest and renewed life could be achieved in all churches through the introduction of so-called ‘new measures.’” “Restorationism: A nineteenth-century movement of Christians who sought to bring back, or ‘restore,’ the Church of Jesus Christ, which they believed had ceased to exist. Instead of ending denominationalism (as they had hoped), they only further splintered the American spiritual landscape, giving rise to such new denominations as the Plymouth Brethren (1827) and the Disciples of Christ (1849).” The Threefold Path to a Failed Church: The Idolatry of Oder, thinking that the right church structure will solve the declining church. The Idolatry of Worship, thinking that the right recipe for the way we worship will solve the declining church. The Idolatry of the Leader, thinking the right charismatic leader will solve the declining church. The problem with all these solutions is that the focus is on the wrong thing, in the wrong place, on the wrong person. The idol of spirituality is religion, to think that you can find God in the churches.

“Freedom: The belief that God’s will for you is that you choose your will for yourself, that His strongest presence is found in His absence, that His only law is that you become a law unto yourself. Freedom, then, is nothing more than worship of lawlessness.” “Freedom’s lie: You can’t really find God.” The idol of lawlessness is freedom, that you can find God in God’s absence.

“The Ever-Lie: The belief that you find God. The counterfeit ‘Christian’ rule behind all other counterfeit ‘Christian’ rules, then, is nothing more than worship of yourself.” The Christian faith is not about you, it is about Jesus, the cross and the tomb. Yet, care must be taken when we examine our faith so that when we become aware of Jesus’ true love for us, we do not think it was something in us, which then focuses us back on ourselves.

“The only true Christian Rule: The Truth - Because your salvation is not dependent on you, but has all been done by Jesus and credited to you as righteousness, you will never ever land on the wrong side of God’s justice.”

Next we will take the time to go into more depth on each of these subjects mentioned.

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.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Be Ready - August 11, 2013 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - Text: Luke 12:22-34, 35-40

Do you remember what happened last Christmas? After church the family had gathered at Uncle Bob’s house. Everyone was there. You remember, it was a pot-luck meal. Everyone brought their favorite dish. It was quite a spread and everything was delicious, especially Aunt Evelyn’s buttermilk pie. It was a good time to sit around and catch up on what was happening in everyone’s life. A little later in the afternoon we all sat around the Christmas tree and opened presents. You do remember, don’t you? And then it happened. You opened the present from Uncle Bob. It was the keys to a new car. Do you remember what you did? You took out you wallet and offered to give him five dollars. (Pause) No, that is not what happened. And of course you are thinking, that would be so tacky and that would never happen. No, what happened was that Uncle Bob gave you one of those very thoughtful presents and you were so taken aback that you thanked him about a hundred times. You even told him that if he ever needed anything, to let you know and you would be honored to help him.
Now, although that story may or may not have happened at your Uncle Bob’s house last Christmas, that story helps us to understand the difference between wanting to earn our salvation, trying to pay Jesus with a few good works for His paying our eternal spiritual death penalty, and wanting to respond with thanks for a gift for which we could never pay. Now, please do not label me as a doomsday naysayer, but the fact of the matter is, the end is coming. Either the Lord will return to take us out of this world, or we will die and leave this world, those are the only two ways we have of getting out of this world. And it will happen. The end will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. In our text for today we are encouraged to be ready for when it happens and we are given an indication of how we know that we are ready.
We will first look at being ready and we do that by looking at the last part of our text. Jesus says, “35Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks” (v. 35-36). We are to be ready for the Lord’s return. How do we get ready for the Lord’s return? We get ready by being about His business, that is by being in the Word (remember Mary who chose the one thing needful); by reading our Bible, being where the Lord gives His gifts, in Divine Service, being in Bible class, having personal and family devotions and the like. It is through these means that our Lord comes to us to get us ready and to keep us ready for His return. When we absent ourselves from these means, then we take away the means He has of getting us ready. It is like being ready for a sporting event. Athletes practice and practice in order to get ready. When they fail to practice, then they are not ready. When we fail to make use of the means of grace, then we are not ready.
And what happens to those who are ready? We continue with our text, “37Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (v. 37). The master, and here we are talking about Jesus, who finds his servants ready, will do, not the expected, but the unexpected. What normally happens when the master returns home is that he sits down and the servants wait on him. In the case of Jesus, our Master, when He returns to gather us, His faithful people from this earth, those who are ready, those He has made ready, He who humbled Himself and took on the form of a servant and gave His life for us, will serve us.
Our text continues, “38If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (v. 38-40). The kingdom of heaven, Judgement Day, will come. It will come whether we believe it will come or not. It will come before we know it and when we least expect it. It will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. Check the obituaries in the newspaper and you will see how it comes at any age. It will come like a thief in the night. And so we are to be ready at all times. We are ready when we take our focus off our feet firmly planted in this world and move our focus heavenward. We are ready when we take our focus off our temporary surroundings and focus on our permanent eternal life in heaven.
Which brings us back to the first part of our text and the question of “How do we know if we are ready?” One way we know we are ready is by our not trying to purchase our salvation, but by responding to the gift of eternal life earned for us by Jesus and given to us by faith worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. We respond by being good stewards of all that God has given to us and by knowing who or what is our god.
In our text we read, “32Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32). Here we are assured that heaven is a present reality. Heaven is ours, now. Heaven is not something we have to wait for, it is ours now. Yes, we will have to wait until, either we pass away in this world, or until Christ returns in order to move into heaven, but heaven is ours at this time.
Jesus goes on to tell us that there is a difference between earthly treasure and heavenly treasure. He says, “33Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (v. 33). Jesus mentions this more than once in His preaching and here He reminds us again. Our treasures here on earth may last twenty, thirty, eighty, or a hundred years, but our heavenly treasures last forever, for eternity.
And so we are back to the question, “How do we know we are ready?” “How do we know what is truly our god?” Jesus tells us plainly in our text, “34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (v. 34). “Where your treasure is,” that is, where you spend you money, where you spend your time, “there your heart will be also,” in other words you spend you time, talent and treasures on what is most important to you in your life and that truly is your god. These are not my words, I did not make this up, this is what God tells us and this is an indication of what is important in your life. Where is your treasure? Where do you spend you money? How do you spend you time? Although we may profess certain priorities in life, if we really want to know what are our priorities, they are what we live, what we do, how we speak, where we spend our time and our treasure.
I believe one of the Devil’s greatest victories is to have us profess with our mouths that our faith is our greatest priority. Having made this as a profession, then he subtly draws us into many other things which draw us away from this priority, so that even though we may profess with our lips that our faith is our number one priority, our actions betray us. I have always said it and I will say it again, “You do not have to tell me what your priorities are, I can see them, because you live them.” What is your priority when you say, “Pastor, church is our number one priority and our faith is our number one priority, but we have (and here you can fill in the blank of whatever it is that you have) on Sunday.” What is the priority? Yet, we are confident that our priority is our church and our faith, because we have said so.
Again this week, to drive home the point, we have the Old Testament Lesson which is referenced in the Epistle lesson to help us understand the difference between trying to work for our salvation and responding to what God has done for us and given to us. In the Hebrews lesson we are reminded of the example of the great men of faith. These men of faith were not great because of what they said, or even what they did, but because of what God did through them. And even here, notice that it is their actions which demonstrated their faith, even if it is God working these actions through them.
And why did they do what they did? Because the Lord commanded them to, because the Lord promised to be with them, and because the Lord worked in and through them. Notice that the focus is not on them, even though they are mentioned by name, but the focus is on what the Lord did. And so, because of what the Lord did through them, they have received their reward of heaven. “He has prepared a city for them.”
In the first half of our text for this morning, the part I have not read, we are reminded of just how important we are to God and how much He loves us. Indeed, He reminds us that all our cares and worries in this life are a result of our lack of faith. Unlike Abram and all those great men of faith listed in the Epistle reading, we fail in being good stewards of our time, talent and treasure because of our lack of faith. We may somewhat acknowledge that all we have is a gift from God, but we stumble when, as we have the opportunity to allow by our actions to respond with our first fruits we fail, we fail to return to the Lord as we should because we truly do not believe His promises that He will continue to bless us. Yes, it is a faith issue.
So how do we take this text and apply it to our own lives. We do this by taking a sober look at our own lives and what we value. What is it that we value? What is truly our god? Do we look at what we have done for God, or what we think we have done for God, and reconcile our account with what He owes us, or do we acknowledge what God has done for us and give thanks for all His good gifts and blessings? And what has God done for us? God has done everything for us. He has given us life at conception. He has given us new life, eternal life through Holy Baptism. He has given His Son to take on human flesh and blood. He has given His Son to live for us, perfectly in our place. He has given for His Son to take all our sins upon Himself and suffer and die, to pay the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, for each one of us. He has given His Son to earn eternal life, heaven for us.
Jesus lived on this earth never owning property, a house, anything, except the clothes on His back. And yet He never worried about these things either. Of course, He is God, so certainly He was well provided for, but the point is, He knew the reason He came to earth and He never let anything get in the way of His plan and purpose for life. And for that we say, “Thanks be to God.”
After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus promised that He would return. And He will return, thus it is imperative that we are ready. So now, we add to all that our Lord has already done for us the fact that He also works to get us ready. And He does that as we make regular and diligent use of the means He has given to get us ready, His means of Grace, the Bible and the sacraments.
Let me put it into an eternal perspective for you. We may live on this earth for sixty, seventy, eighty or a hundred years, but what is this short amount of time compared to eternity. Thus, more important than our lives in this world is our eternal inheritance. Thus, the question is, are we ready to meet our Maker? It is like the message on a shirt I once read. On the front it said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” On the back it said, “It’s all small stuff.” This world and our life in this world is all small stuff compared to our eternal life in heaven and yet, how often we spend so much time and energy on the things of this world instead of what is most important? Believe me, I know and understand the temptation. I enjoy the things of this world as well. Yet, even I have to set priorities about what is most important. So, even though we are faced with the tough decisions of our priorities, that is not to say we do not go on living while we are in this world, that is to say that we will, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep our focus where it needs to be, heavenward. And when we do fail, and we will fail, there is forgiveness of sins.
Finally, we are left simply to respond to all that He has done for us and given to us and we respond by praising Him for all His good gifts and blessings. I urge you, be ready. I encourage you to know that you are ready as the Lord makes you ready. We will see Jesus, sooner than we know and probably sooner than we might expect. May the Lord make you and keep you ready. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Passing Things - August 4, 2013 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Luke 12:13-21

This Sunday, today, we continue in the Pentecost Season. For the last ten Sundays and for the next sixteen or seventeen Sundays, with a couple of exceptions, the color on the altar, the pulpit, the lectern and the banners will continue to be green. Green, you might remember, is the color of growth. The Pentecost Season is the time of the church year that we “grow” in our Christian faith and life. So, if you have been diligently following along each week you may have noticed the progression of events as the Holy Spirit, working through these words of Holy Scripture, works to strengthen and keep us in faith.
As I have done the past couple of Sundays, so this morning I begin with a little review to catch us up. Three weeks ago we were reminded, through the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, that there is nothing we can do to gain or earn our salvation, eternal life, but that eternal life is a free gift, earned for us by Jesus death on the cross. Two weeks ago we were reminded, again through another familiar bit of Biblical history, through the account of Mary and Martha that there is one thing that is needful and that is immersing ourselves in the Word of God. It is this Word of God through which the Holy Spirit comes to give, strengthen and keep us in faith so that we have forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Last week we were encouraged in our response to all that God does for us by being in conversation with the Lord, that is that He speaks to us through His Word and we speak to Him in prayer. This morning, again by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the very Word of God, through our text, we have another familiar Biblical account in which we are encouraged in our response of faith, this time our response of faith being in the giving of ourselves to the Lord. And yes, this is a text on stewardship. Recently I read a statement that suggested that we are to give our LIFE to the Lord, that is that we give our Labor, Influence, Finances, and Expertise to the Lord. That is a nice way to think about our stewardship and especially as we would say our stewardship of our time, talents, and treasure and I would add, and tissue, that is taking care of our bodies as well. When we realize that everything we have is first and foremost a gift from God, how can we not be moved to acknowledge such gifts by a response of returning our first fruits to the Lord in thanksgiving.
But, let us get to our text. Our text begins with someone from the crowd asking Jesus a question. He asked, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Now, that may not sound like a question, but the heart of his words are that he is asking Jesus to be a judge between him and his brother. Jesus’ response is that this is a social matter, and that he should take it to the civil courts to be resolved.
But Jesus does not drop the issue. Instead, He uses this as an opportunity for teaching. Jesus says to “Take care!” The issue of money, and of all the gifts which come from Him, our time, our talents, our vocation; is not an issue to take lightly. “Be on your guard against all covetousness” or as some translations say, “kinds of greed;” for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Boy, do we not have a problem with that statement in our world today. In our world we learn from early on that you are nothing and your life is meaningless unless you have a career and are making a lot of money. Our lives consists in accumulating more and more, bigger and better, finer and costlier things. And that is exactly what we are accumulating, “things.” Please, do not misunderstand, the sin is not in the fact that we have things. The sin is in our greed and covetousness for more and more things. And to drive home His point, Jesus tells us the parable of the rich man.
Jesus tells the parable, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16b-21).
In this parable we are reminded that it is God who provides for all our needs and even more. It is God who provided for a good crop for the rich man. God gave him the right amount of rain and sunshine, the good earth and good seed to plant. God gave for him to have an abundance of a good crop. God blessed this man and provided for him so that he might in turn provide for his family, his workers, their families and even for others.
Now think about your own life. Certainly you do not have to look hard to see how God has provided for us and for our families. God has given us certain abilities and talents in order to be able to perform certain tasks and works. He has provided us with a job or with work in order to earn a living. Through our work, job or career, that is through our various vocations God provides us with a wage so that we might be able to purchase food, clothing, shelter, even “all the comforts of home.” And, for most of us, God has so well provided for us that we have even more than we need and often more than we could want.
And we have not yet mentioned that God has also provided for us the one thing that everyone needs, that is, He has provided for our eternal inheritance. Left to ourselves and our own devices, we know that we are unable to save ourselves, we are unable to earn our eternal inheritance. Our eternal inheritance has been earned for us by Jesus suffering and death on the cross. Our eternal inheritance has been made ours by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace to create, strengthen and keep us in faith. It is by God’s grace, through faith, given to us, that we have the gift and promise of eternal life. And it is the Holy Spirit, again, working through the means of grace who works in us a response to this gift from God. What is that response? Let us continue and see.
In our text, the man’s response was one of selfishness. In his mind he was thinking, “this is my crop to do with as I please.” He was not thinking that this was a gift from God. He had no thought of God’s providing him with good soil, good seed, rain and sunshine, and an abundance of the crop. No, he simply thought that this was something he himself had accomplished. The man’s response, then, was one of covetousness and greed. He was not content with what he had, instead he wanted more. “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones.”
What we can also see in this man’s response is a false security. He thought he could depend on himself and all that he had accumulated. His statement that he would, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry,” tells us that he had no thought or concern about his eternal life or his spiritual life. Perhaps in the future, when he was old, then he would begin to think about an afterlife and where he might spend it.
What about you and me? What is our response? Is our goal in life to accumulate as much as we can so that we might “take life easy; eat, drink and be merry?” And please do not misunderstand, do not confuse planning for ones retirement and taking care of, as it might be expressed today, not being a burden as we get older, as what this text is speaking against. This text is not speaking against using our knowledge to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, rather this text is speaking against looking out for ourselves to the exclusion of taking care of the gifts that God has given and using them for the purpose in which He has given them, extending His kingdom and caring for others. If our only goal in life is ourselves, then we are in the same house with the rich man in the parable.
God’s response to the rich man and His response to those in our world who are only looking out for themselves is a call to judgement. Yes, we will be held accountable for our accounting, for our stewarding, for our taking care of all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has seen to put into our care. For the rich man and for too many in our world who refuse to offer a response of faith, God’s call is a call to eternal spiritual death. Again, verse twenty-one, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Through all three of our readings for today, Jesus gives us an understanding concerning the gifts He gives us while we are in this world and how we are to use them. In our Old Testament reading we are reminded that there are treasures on earth but too often, we “gather and store up wealth [only] to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” How true it is that there are many who accumulate a large estate, only to die and have someone else spend it, because we know we cannot take it with us.
In the Epistle lesson, Paul reminds us that there are treasures in heaven and that is what should be our goal in life, gaining eternal life and those treasures waiting for us in heaven. Here we are reminded that our earthly treasures will last but a lifetime, twenty, thirty, sixty, eighty, maybe a hundred years, but our heavenly treasure, eternal life is forever.
In college, going through the teacher education courses and especially during student teaching, I was always reminded to “teach and re-teach.” It is this process of hearing the same lesson over and over again that we finally get it, that is why it is so important in our own lives to hear God’s Word, over and over again, not just once a week, but daily. It is through His Word that our Lord teaches us and re-teaches us. And the message He continues to drive home, to teach us, is the importance of immersing ourselves in His Word through which the Holy Spirit works to create, strengthen and keep us in faith; through which the Holy Spirit works to show us our Savior, Jesus Christ Himself and His life, suffering, death and resurrection, along with His gift of forgiveness and eternal life; and it is through His Word that the Holy Spirit works in order to motivate us to respond to all God’s good gifts and blessings. And we do respond. We respond in prayer and we respond in giving our LIFE, again, our Labor, Influences, Finances and Expertise, or as we often hear today, our time, talents and treasure. And we do this to His glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.