Cancelling Our Debt
July 28, 2019
Mortgage Burning Ceremony
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is from Colossians 2, especially these words, “God made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Dear friends in Christ,
This is a good day, for many reasons. This is a good day, first because Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised for your life. It's a good day second because in addition to the blessings he promises, God has also poured out all kinds of other gifts in daily fashion to all of us. And today is a good day because today we celebrate the burning of our mortgage note, the paying of our monetary debts to the bank, up to about $1,000,000 at its highest, the canceling of $120,000 of our 3-year rolling deficit, the paying back of $65,500 in member loans from decades ago, and as we say so often in this place, we have been given a new beginning and a second chance. Today is a good day. So, what are we going to do with that today?
Today we consider debts and forgiveness.
Debts are all about the past. My house, I paid my down payment. I shook the lawyers hand. I signed the banker’s paperwork, and from that moment I was in debt. What’s done is done. Until the day when I am free, my present and my future are all about paying off the past.
This isn’t just about finances; it’s true across the board. Think about people you’ve hurt, things you’ve regretted. Hold them in your mind. You cannot erase your past. What’s done is done. The debts you’ve incurred against those people, and the ones they’ve incurred against you are the debts that you live with, and you pay for them, one way or another.
In my most immature moments, the thought that comes to mind is always, “I wish that this never happened!” But debts are all about the past, and the past can’t be changed.
And the Christian sees this with a spiritual lens too. Your debts stand against people that you’ve hurt, yes. But they also stand against God. Every person you have hurt their body, hurts God as well. Any woman hurt by your lustful glance is a devaluing of God as well. Every time you care more about your stuff than you care about people, every time you explain your neighbor’s reputation in a way that’s less than kind, you are sinning against the God who created you.
Here’s where the Gospel comes in. Our second point is that forgiveness looks to the future. What is forgiveness? Well, let me say this first: The miracle of the Gospel is NOT, first is NOT that Jesus didn’t really understand your sin or fully realize how bad of a dude you are. The miracle of the Gospel is NOT that God lets sinners slip past the pearly white gates unaware of the kind of people that he’s letting into heaven.
Instead, the miracle of the Gospel IS that he loves you still, and that his love is deeper than any sin could ever be. Hear that for what it is. The miracle of the Gospel is that God knows your sin and loves you still. Forever.
The physical reality informs our spiritual reality. You can’t just blot out a number on a page and tell people that your debts are paid. We know that I couldn’t just go into Mike Finley’s office and change what we owe. No, the way to cancel our debts was to pay it down to the last cent. If that past is erased, it’s because someone paid every last cent you owed.
Hear the words of Paul to the Colossians. You who were dead in your trespasses are alive in Christ, since he has forgiven our sins. How? By canceling the debt of our sin. By nailing it to the cross. By dying for our inadequacies and faults. He forgives it by paying for every last cent.
Now, notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that he paid just for everything that you confess. I didn’t say that he forgives everything you know about. He does far, far more than that. He pays for the sin of the whole world, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life—that’s John 3:16. He looks into your very soul – have you ever had someone do that to you lately? – he looks into your very soul and says, I bought forgiveness for you, dollar and cent, one hundred percent. In Jesus, you are worthy because Jesus nailed all your sins on the cross.
And forgiveness looks to the future. It looks toward the dawning of a new day, the turning of a new corner, the new creation and the newness of life that we have in Jesus. It turns from the failings of the past to consider what the days to come will be like.
Finally, I would invite you to know that there is still one debt we do owe. We still owe a debt around here, a debt of gratitude. A debt of gratitude for how much of a privilege to serve and be served at a church where God is leading his people, where we have blessings heaped on top of blessings, teachers teaching, parents raising up kids, pastors preaching, youth directors directing, a fellowship that listens to the needs of our community and more. The kind of place where Ruth Jacobs put in a bequest for $400,000, where Dorothy and Alvin Bittner put in a bequest of close to $1,000,000, the kind of place where that money is coupled by so, so many that are drawn to the foot of the cross to confess their sins and receive all the blessings of their savior.
Today is a good day, because today we can do more than I’ve been asking us to do in the past years. I’ve been asking us for the most part to wonder what the future will be like, what the Lord is preparing us in this place to do. Today, I would invite you to know, we are set up in a position by only the grace of God where we can start meeting the needs of our community with the Gospel. We are in a place where we can listen, where we can risk, where we can connect people to Jesus.
We have a community aching with hurts and wounds. To hear the police speak, we have all kinds of drugs and meth being used behind closed doors in our community. To hear teachers speak, we have all kinds of young people that are one mistake away from losing their way and just need someone to connect them to church. To hear parents speak, we have all kinds of young families that can’t stay in our community because there aren’t enough places to provide daycare.
Today we celebrate that our financial debts have been forgiven. Today, more than that, we celebrate that our spiritual debts are forgiven. Today, we consider together what direction we take on this journey of second chances and new beginnings.
Amen and Amen.
(Second in a Series of Three – “Thy Kingdom Come”)
July 13 and 14, 2019
“Which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbor of the one who fell among the bandits?”
And he said, “The one who did the merciful thing for him.”
And Jesus said to him, “Go and you do likewise.”
Dear Christian Friends,
If you ever need help, just call me. Those are the words I often told a single elderly woman named Eleanor back in the mid 80’s. Eleanor had two adult sons, she lived in a run-down kind of a trailer house out in the country, and our church had helped her in a variety of ways. I remember that she smoked one cigarette after another, she was frail and quite the worrier, and on more than one occasion, I had told her, “if you ever need help, just call me.” One day when I was in the middle of writing a sermon, no doubt on loving our neighbors in response to God loving us first, Eleanor took me up on my offer to help. (Story of her insisting that I come right now, I drove in a hurry to her place, her emergency was that her toilet was plugged and overflowing!)
If you ever need help, just ask. That’s what Almighty God says again and again in Holy Scripture. Call upon me in your day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
If you ever need help, just ask. That’s the promise Jesus would be inviting us to make to people in our lives, as we reflect for the second week in a row on the Second Petition, Thy Kingdom Come. In answer to the question what does this mean, Luther answers that even though it comes without our prayers, we ask in this petition that it would come more and more among us. In answer to the question how this actually happens, Luther answers with a three part answer. Part I – our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit. Part II – by his grace we believe his holy Word. Part III – We lead godly lives here in time and in eternity.
Last week we focused on the need for more laborers in the harvest field, next week we focus on the one thing needful which is that we listen to the Word of God, today we think about how at the heart of leading a godly life here and now is that we love one another in response to first being loved by God. We show mercy to folks wounded alongside the road in response to Jesus showing mercy to us by going all the way for us on the road to Calvary.
Three lessons we would learn today about helping and befriending our neighbors in every bodily need.
Lesson #1 we learn from the lawyer in our text for today, and it is that (Never) will helping others improve our status with God. The lawyer in this story wanted to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. (Story of children’s lesson back at Silo where I kept asking the question “what must we do to get to heaven?” I wanted the “Jesus” answer, but one girl raised her hand and said “you have to die!”
This lawyer’s question “Having done what shall I inherit eternal life?” was his way of putting Jesus to the test. He was part of a religion which had become law-based instead of grace centered. By the time Jesus had arrived, the religious leaders had fallen into a system of legalism. They had softened the great spiritual principles of “love God” and “Love your neighbor” in such a way as to accommodate their imperfect and selective performance.
Legalists wanted the Law to say just “try your best”, in contrast to Jesus who looked them in the eyes and taught “be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This lawyer wanted to justify picking and choosing who it was that he felt was worthy of his love.
One would expect a priest and a Levite to be putting into practice the Law since their lives were devoted to the service of the Lord. But Jews of that day felt justified in not helping Samaritans. Samaritans were their enemies, and in this story, these religious men refused to get involved.
In this parable, Jesus would look us in the eyes and remind us one more time that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. In fact God has already favored us by sending and sacrificing his one and only Son to the cross. There is no possible way that can justify ourselves in the presence of a holy God, we can be justified only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where folks get down on their knees again and again and confess the good they have failed to do, they examine their hearts to see if they have been loving people who are easy to love and walking right on past those whose injuries are mostly self- inflicted.
Which brings us to Lesson #2, we learn from the Good Samaritan and ultimately from God Himself is that (Often), showing compassion will be at odds with common sense. The priest in this story may have just taken his turn in the temple. According to the law, he needed to be concerned not to become defiled by touching a dead body. The laws of ritual purity were extremely important for such persons. The priest would have been locked into certain behavior because of the regulations of the purity code.
Also for the Levite, it would defy common sense to stop and help when his superior, the priest had passed by the wounded man and not stopped. As one of lower rank than the priest, the Levite would not want to challenge the priest’s decision.
Jesus would look us in the eyes this morning and teach us one more time to show compassion to our neighbors not just when it makes sense to do so, but also and especially in those times when it seems foolish to do so. On the one hand there is worldly compassion, which has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, and on the other hand there is Christ centered compassion.
By no means do Christians have a corner on this desire to feed the hungry and provides clean drinking water in third world countries, but we do have a corner to connect those same people with the Bread of Life and the one who offers living water. By no means do we have a corner on this desire to help the wounded along the roadside, but we do have a corner on living our lives in response to the one who has been wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, and upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where folks know well that while they were still sinners, Christ died for them. More and more often these days, they sense that Christ is nudging them out of their comfort zones. More and more these days they admit that their motivations have been less than pure, they wonder together which of their neighbors are most wounded, and they go looking for hurting folks who feel like they are on the outside looking in.
Which brings us to Lesson #3, which we learn from the wounded Jewish man alongside the road, and it is that (Every day), we do well to ask the simple question, “Which of my neighbors needs me to be merciful?” The structure of today’s text is that the lawyer and Jesus engaged in two rounds of debate. In Round 1 the lawyer put Jesus to the test by asking what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus points him to the shema, which good Jewish folks would recite twice a day, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart / soul / strength / (he adds mind / love your neighbor as yourself.
In Round 2, the lawyer is trying to justify himself and asks “who is my neighbor?” In response Jesus tells a story which ends with a different question – which of these three became a neighbor?” To which the lawyer gave the obvious answer – the one who showed mercy.
The obvious application of today’s story is for us to go and do likewise. Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan. He is the perfect neighbor who was there for us at the cross. When it didn’t really make sense for him to lay down his life for us, he did it anyway. When we were dead in our trespasses, he found a way to make us alive. When our spirits were broken and bruised and beaten bloody at the side of the road, Jesus paid the price to set us free. And even when he has to leave for awhile, he sends his Holy Spirit to help us get back on our feet again and again.
Just ok is not ok. Perhaps you have seen the Wireless AT and T commercials where they make the point that just ok is not ok. In one scene, a man is scheduled for surgery. His wife asks the nurse, “Have you ever worked with Dr. Francis?” The nurse “Oh yea, he’s ok.” The dr. comes waltzing in, “Guess who just got reinstated? Well not officially.” He asks the patient, “Nervous?” The reply, “yeah”. The surgeon, “Yeah, me too. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out. See you in there.” Just ok is not ok!
The kingdom of God is like a man nudged out of his comfort zone this week to reach out to that neighbor who has wounded his spirit in the past. It’s like a married couple nudged out of their comfort zone to take under their wings friends of theirs whose marriage is slowly but surely breaking. It’s like a busy and hard working woman nudged out of her comfort zone to see what she has been ignoring – a co-worker with a sign around her neck that says “Help Wanted.”
Thy Kingdom Come: Laborers Needed
First in a series of three
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Luke 10:1–20, Jesus sending out the seventy-two disciples.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Laborers needed. I remember a few years ago when our Mission Society was still active, that we had a gal in town here who needed help reroofing her house. It was getting towards fall, she had the funds to buy shingles, but she couldn’t do the labor, so she called her church. I remember saying “Yes,” putting the phone down. I leaned back in my chair and wondered how we would ever pull this off.
I went into Pastor Griffin’s office, he got ahold of one of our local contractors. We started coordinating, and then it got to be Saturday morning. Now, we had a few people signed up to help, but there was a lot of work to be done, and I remember, by about 8 in the morning, it was looking like there were going to be one or two handymen and two preachers up on that roof, and that wasn’t going to go well. I remember getting my church directory out, scanning down the names, beating the bushes, calling anyone under the age of 65 to ask if they would help.
Now, there are all kinds of stories I could tell about that day, but I remember getting to one man, a new member at the time, calling him and telling him how many laborers we needed, and asking him if he could help, and he, like many other people, said “Yes.” What was different about this man was that about five days later, he sends me a Thank You card in the mail, thank you for asking me to serve.
But the point is this: laborers were needed that day. In our text, Jesus says this, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his fields... in this end, he says this, “Rejoice not that the spirits submit to you but that your names are written in heaven.”
Today we consider the coming kingdom of heaven as Jesus sends out his people. Today we consider the calling of the 12 apostles a few chapters before, the sending of the 72 disciples in our text today, and the sending of the whole Christian church on earth into the harvest fields.
Three points for today, one thing to pray, one thing to know, and one reason to rejoice.
First, today, I would invite you to pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers. Did you notice that’s Jesus’s first command to the disciples here in our text? Pray!
Those he sent out that day began this journey – this remarkable journey with prayer. They were to pray earnestly that God because he is Lord, and they were to pray for the harvest because he’s the Lord of the Harvest. What is that harvest? In the end, it’s the day when Jesus comes back. In the meantime, it’s every victory of sin, death, and the devil that leads to repentance in the forgiveness of sins.
So, he says to those he sends out on this endeavor, pray. Begin your journey with prayer. And that’s no more the second commandment says. “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. You should fear and love God so that you do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive in his name, but call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. That’s every task, every day. Call upon him at every time.
So, I’ll tell you, your task wasn’t to go from town to town like these 72, but it is significant. And I’ll ask you, how did you begin your tasks today? Was it with the name of God, or was it with something less?
Second, know that he sends out you. It was easy to see that day. The disciples had a specific task for a set amount of time. They were told by Jesus what to do, where to God. It was easy to know that he sent them. Jesus endows them with power He gives them authority. He tells them that the one who rejects them rejects him. It was easy to know that he was sending them.
Now, your task isn’t to go from town to town like these 72, but it is significant.
Know that Jesus is the one who sends you. This church is like a mission outpost on a hill, seeking to connect broken people to their savior. Every church is like a little city set on a hill. Every person who makes up every church is send by his savior.
But the question is, sent to do what?
That day in our text, they were sent to prepare the way for Jesus to God. In our day, and this is Greg Finke language, I would submit that we are looking for what Jesus is already doing.
We are sent to see what Christ is doing to prepare hearts and minds in the lives of those around us. We are sent to let forgiveness and compassion flow over hurts and wrongs. We are sent to make all of the tasks of daily living full with the love of Christ.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose never been a missionary to a foreign land. He’s never set left home to go across the world. But. He does love his neighbor. He does care for the sick. He does have hospitality for the stranger. And when they ask him, why, he says, “Because of what Jesus has done for me.”
Third, Rejoice that your name is written in heaven. Jesus says this after the disciples have come back. They have seen with their eyes what their faith has always grasped in, and they are rejoicing to see the fruit of their labor right before their eyes. They got to command spirits, and they came out, command diseases and they were done... can you imagine what it would be like to hear your prayers answered immediately and with power!
And not only that, Jesus is rejoicing in this too. He exults that Satan is falling like lightning from heaven in this moment. He is happy alongside of them, but then he closes our text.
Rejoice that all the disciples did in their day was preparation so that Jesus Christ could be overcome by darkness. All that they did to bind Satan that day was so that Satan could have a field day with the Son of God. All that they did for others that day was so those others could gather as the crowd that would scream “Crucify him, Crucify him!” on Good Friday.
Rejoice in this: that the Son of God has overcome more than we can imagine in a way that we can hardly fathom. Rejoice in this, not so much in your strength, nor in your intellect, not even in the fact that when you pray, the Lord answers and even binds spirits in the name of Jesus. But rejoice that you are baptized and through simple water with God’s word, an act more precious than all of the disciples casting out all diseases happened. You were made a son and daughter of the Most High God.
Rejoice that every time you pronounce forgiveness to your neighbor, every time your pastor forgives you, with the ears of faith, you are hearing the chains of Satan fall away and people are set free.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where much can be done, every day. There are more opportunities to serve than there are people who can fill them. And faced with overwhelming need, that church rejoices. Rejoices that the mission they are sent on is from their Savior. Rejoices that they can spend their effort doing things of significant, that sometimes they see the end of. But mostly they rejoice that their names are written in the book of heaven.
Amen and amen.
Roland Krienke Funeral Sermon
July 5, 2019
Sermon Theme – “Grace Flows Down”
I Timothy 1:14-16
And the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Dear Christian Friends,
Evangeline, I want you to know how your pastors and your family members and your friends are praying for you in these days. We pray that the peace only Jesus Christ can give would be yours. We pray that God’s angels would be with you and that you would be safe and secure in His grace, His mercy, and His love. Thank you for being a faithful and patient wife to Roland all these years as you have traveled through all the ups and downs of life together.
When I think about Rolie, the first two images that come to mind are of laughter and adversity. Laughter and adversity. On the one hand, as you well know, he loved to laugh. Not just a polite little smile, but a “throw your head back and let it rip from the bottom of your stomach kind of laughter.” It was a genuine and contagious kind of a talking smart Rolie would engage in, and if you could walk away from him without laughing out loud, well then I wonder a bit about your sense of humor!
On the other hand, it seems to me that Rolie endured about as much adversity as any one person I’ve ever met. My favorite story regarding adversity is about a farmer whose donkey fell into an abandoned well. The farmer tried and tried to rescue the donkey, but he couldn’t. The more he tried to help the donkey, the louder the donkey got. It finally got to the point where the farmer just wanted to put the donkey out of his misery, and so he called together his neighbors, he asked them to bring their shovels, they gathered the dirt, they shoveled. The more they shoveled, the madder the donkey got, the madder he got, the louder he grew. But instead of getting buried alive, the donkey survived. With every shovel of dirt, he would shake it off and step up. Shake it off, and step up, eventually he stepped up right out onto level ground.
His adversity made him stronger, and so it was, it seems to me, with Rolie and Evangeline. Together the two of you have shaken off all kinds of troubles, you have stepped up, and you have walked on level ground, by the grace of God.
Jesus warns all Christians that it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom of God. Paul wrote to the Romans that we should rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
In our text for today, Paul was writing to young Pastor Timothy about how, even though Paul had been an arch enemy of the Church, even though Paul had persecuted followers of Jesus, even though he considered himself the chief of sinners, the grace of God had overflowed into his heart and changed his life. Our sermon theme today is “Grace Flows Down.”
In the waters of Baptism, God poured out his grace on Roland Fred Krienke. There the Triune God claimed him as son, the sign of the cross was placed on his forehead and upon his heart. That very day, his name was written in the book of life, and the benefits of our Lord’s suffering and death and resurrection were delivered right into his heart, and into his mind, and into his soul. From that day forward, Jesus his Good Shepherd has been following him around with goodness and mercy. Every time Rolie sat still in confirmation class and in Divine Service, God’s grace was flowing right into his heart, it was having effect on his very soul. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Evangeline tells me that Rolie loved to read his Bible, he often read his Bible right up into his last days – as often as that happened, that often the Spirit of God was enlightening, he was sanctifying, he was keeping him in the one true faith.
My memories of Rolie span the past 29 years as his pastor. My memories include phone calls and visits at all hours of the day and night, they include him trying to bring his Doberman pincers into the church office and my secretary Char telling him no way, they include him knowing the exact date of my installation as pastor here, they include him knowing my sons and daughters birthdates, my daughter Heather tells me he would congratulate her on scoring 13 points in a recent basketball game and she would wonder who he was and why he knew that about her, my memories include his generosity towards the church and towards me as an individual (he subscribed for both of his pastors to the New Richland newspaper).
My favorite memory is (the story of him and Evangeline receiving absolution and communion)
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.
There’s nothing more important I could tell you about Rolie today than that he agreed that he was a sinner and he believed that Christ Jesus had come into this world to save him. Oh there are a lot of important lessons we could learn from the way Rolie lived his life, but what really matters is that he accepted what Christ was always wanting to give him – grace from heaven above.
I don’t know what is going on in your lives these days, but this I do know – you all have your own list of heartaches and worries. Some of you have health issues, others financial problems, still others have relationship troubles, still others have all kinds of regrets over mistakes in days gone by, and some of us have all the above. Whatever are your issues, your problems, your heartaches, your worries, your troubles, your regrets, I invite you again and again to bring them to the foot of your Savior’s cross and cast them upon him, knowing that he cares for you. Ask him for forgiveness, knowing that forgiveness is already yours. Seek out his help, knowing that help has already arrived. Keep knocking on his door of grace, knowing the door is already open to you through the blood of Jesus.
Have you ever tried to give the gift of advice to a son or daughter who wasn’t interested? You knew it was sound advice, but it was ignored as irrelevant. It was like throwing a life preserver to a man who didn’t think he was drowning. It was like giving a starving man something to eat, but he wasn’t hungry. It was like trying to rescue a dying man who was thinking all was ok.
Today we learn one more time that our first assignment each day is to receive the grace God is trying to give us. Our first assignment is to receive, to appreciate, and to enjoy the mercy flowing on down from heaven, and our second assignment is to live in that mercy in a way that is contagious towards others.
Today and every funeral service are great days to just be still and know that God is God. To set aside all excuses and to confess our sinfulness to God and one another. To give up on the idea that God helps those who help themselves and accept the idea that God can help those best who are asking for assistance.
My prayer today is that you would come before your God this morning just as you are, it is that you would be in full acceptance of the forgiveness of sins purchased for you not with gold nor silver but with the holy precious blood of Jesus, my prayer is that you would treasure your memories of Rolie Krienke laughing his way through life and making it through adversity as a man of faith, my prayer is that Roland Fred Krienke would rest in peace until the day of resurrection of all flesh. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Saints With An Attitude
June 29 and 30, 2019
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem…..Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week’s sermon theme was Saints Rescued. We explored the story of Jesus driving out a legion of demons out of a man who had spent years perhaps decades running around the countryside naked, unclean, doomed, and begging for mercy. We saw Jesus rescue this man from hell on earth and turn him into a believer who from that day forward wanted to follow Jesus and tell anybody who would listen all the great things Jesus had done for him.
The final question posed in last week’s sermon was this, “How can we put ourselves in a position where people will actually want to hear from us all the great things God has done for us?” Today’s sermon seeks to answer that question.
The very premise of that question is Christ has rescued us not just so that we could be rescued but that we could be on His Rescue Team. Rescued from the forces of darkness not just so that we could live happily after, but rescued so that we might spend the rest of our days letting our light shine in such a way that friends and family might actually be interested in hearing what we have to say about what Jesus Christ has done and is doing in our lives. Rescued not just so that we could have our sins forgiven, but rescued so that we could organize ourselves into a mission outpost where we want more than anything else to connect broken lives to the Triune God. Rescued not just so that we could be saints who mind our own business, but Saints With An Attitude.
Lesson #1 about saints with an attitude is that they refuse to give up on the (future). I read an article this week about a man named Dan Human who is an active member of a Search and Rescue Team. When asked about his most memorable rescue, he told a story of a 70- year old man that had gone missing while taking his morning walk. He told of a massive search which included hundreds of trained volunteers, K9 teams, law enforcement, and air support. Hours turned into days, and days turned into a week with no trace. Even the most optimistic of search and rescue team members were giving up hope.
But on the seventh day, he was out searching when they saw vultures circling. Within a couple of hours the lost man was located and rescued into safety. He was injured and hungry, but conscious, and thanks be to this rescue team, he survived. When he was asked what he learned from that mission, Dan replied that the lesson was to never give up and that a person’s will to survive will often defy statistics.
In today’s text, James and John were ready to give up on the Samaritans. Jews and Samaritans had despised each other for centuries, and in these days, Samaritans were in the process of rejecting Jesus as Messiah. This was a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. He had set his face towards Jerusalem, and he sent disciples on ahead of him into Samaria to make sure they would be received hospitably. When a village of Samaritans rejected their ministry outright, the disciples quickly concluded that it was time for the wrath of God to come raining down.
The attitude of John and James was to fight fire with fire, but the attitude of Jesus was to fight fire with the waters of Baptism. The attitude of our sinful nature is to say to people “three strikes and you’re out,” the attitude of Jesus is to practice patience and to forgive not three or seven times, but seventy times 7. The attitude easy to adopt is to give up when the going gets tough, but the attitude of Jesus was, is, and ever shall be to never give up on what the Holy Spirit might be doing in the future.
(Story of my uncle Alvin who drifted from Church for decades, but his two sisters never gave up praying for the Holy Spirit to be working on his heart. For decades Uncle Alvin had a habit of drinking that caused all kinds of troubles and even a more dangerous habit of despising the preaching of God’s Word and his Lord’s Supper, but in every one of those decades, my mom and her sister had an attitude. What I mean by that is they would not give up on what the Holy Spirit might be doing in the future. They kept on worrying, they kept on praying, they kept on trying to put themselves in a position where Uncle Alvin would listen to that old old story of Jesus and his love, a story he had learned from his mother’s knees, they refused to give up on a future where Alvin would live face to face with Jesus in heaven.)
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who sit down this very evening and write down the names of three loved ones or acquaintances who have been drifting away from the Church and possibly from Christ Himself. They resolve that if they are going to worry about anything or anybody, they are going to worry / be properly concerned about these three people. They resolve to pray for these three people by name, they resolve to have the attitude of Jesus towards these three people, they resolve to never give up on the future glory of these three people.
If Lesson #1 1 about saints with an attitude is that they refuse to give up on future glory, then Lesson #2 about saints with an attitude is that they are willing to make a clean break with the (past).
The structure of this second section of our text for today is a dialog between Jesus and three would-be disciples. The setting of this little Discipleship 101 class is that they were journeying along the way to Jerusalem, and they were traveling through enemy territory. It wasn’t going to be easy, and Jesus wanted them to know that they were going to need a certain kind of an attitude if they were going to be able to keep up.
Volunteer Saint #1 was a well- educated and highly qualified scribe, perhaps a Pharisee, and he was all in. He wanted to be a permanent pupil. He offered to go wherever Jesus went, no exceptions. Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and the birds of the heaven shelters, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” Jesus neither accepts nor declines his offer. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He states clearly that if you’re going to follow me, you need to have your mind made up. Following me won’t be easy, you could end up homeless, you need to make a clean break with your past.
Volunteer Saint #2 absolutely wanted to go with Jesus but wanted permission to first bury his father. When Jesus responds that the dead should bury their own dead, he’s making the case that the eternal fate of his father is already decided, the matter of putting his body into the ground is merely a secular event. It sounds harsh to our Minnesota Nice ears, to be sure, but the preaching of the Gospel was to be this man’s first priority, starting not a few days from now, but today.
Volunteer Saint #3 also wanted to follow, but made what seems to us a reasonable request – I’d like to bid farewell to my family. To which Jesus said, Nobody who puts his hand to a plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. Jesus is being a bit funny here. He pictures a man who is just learning to plough. And he becomes the laughingstock of the neighborhood by attempting to make the plow go in one direction while he keeps his eyes in the opposite direction.
The danger of ploughing and not constantly looking back is one that my dad warned me about years ago. And it was a danger that existed only on the first round, if I were going to be striking out in the middle of a field. Dad was a man of few words and he liked to say things only once. He made it clear that I was to fix my eyes on a fencepost at the other end of the field and not keep looking back, lest I plough crooked.
St. Paul said it this way, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before, I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve said this before, and I will say it again today. Of all the plaques and quotes sayings in my office, my favorite is this one, “O God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.”
Dear friends, the attitude of that prayer is that our Father in heaven is in the business of being patient with us even when we are stumbling again and again into the same sinful habits. Oh how He yearns for us to come before him with heads bowed and tears in our eyes, words of apology, here I am again.
Dear friends, the attitude of that prayer is that our Savior Jesus Christ and His angels have this habit of celebrating every time a single sinner comes clean and cries out for mercy. Oh how the entire company of heaven years for us to come to the table with hearts that are broken and minds that are sorry, saying here I am again.
Dear friends, the attitude of that prayer is that the Holy Spirit is all about calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping the whole church on earth in the one true faith. Oh how He yearns for us to hear the Word of God and treasure it. How He looks forward to us coming into the sanctuary week after week and putting ourselves in a position where faith will come and faith will grow by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who sit down this very evening and write down one bad habit they need to leave behind. They are tempted to be overwhelmed about how many times they have tried to do better, but tonight is different. They plead God to overwhelm them with his grace, they pray for him to turn them around with his mercy, they pray for him to make them individually and collectively saints with an attitude. They pray O God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther