Love Your Neighbor, Part II
Fourth in a series, “What We Believe, Teach, and Confess”
1 Kings 21:1–6 // 2 Corinthians 12:7b–9 // Romans 7:7–12 // Matthew 6:19–24
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon for today includes all the texts read as we consider the 9th and 10th commandments.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, we finish up our catechetical instruction on the Ten Commandments: the way that God designed for us to interact with himself, with others, and with the world. Three weeks ago, we began with Pastor Johnston exploring the first three commandments, You shall have no other Gods, You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, and Remember the Sabbath day. Two weeks ago, we considered the order of marriage and family. Honor your father and mother, You shall not commit adultery. Last week, we started a mini-series within a sermon series, Love Your neighbor. Today we finish a mini-series within a sermon series as we consider the 9th and 10th Commandments.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
Commandment number nine sounds an awful lot like Commandment number seven, don’t steal. Help your neighbor keep his or her stuff. How is this any different? They’re both about your neighbor’s stuff. Well, you’re right; they do overlap. But the ninth commandment is about your desire for what your neighbor possesses.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or manservant or maidservant, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
Commandment number ten sounds an awful lot like commandment number nine, so how is this any different than the other one about coveting?
Both commandments deal with desire. Commandment number nine, You shall not desire of your neighbor’s stuff. Commandment number ten. You shall not desire your neighbor’s relationships. It’s all about desire. The word for sinful desire with money is greed. The word for it in relationships is lust. The word for it in your job is ambition, or in the words of the commandments, coveting.
We go to our texts. We have a pair of texts that deal with unfulfilled desire, 1 Kings 21 and 2 Corinthians 12. 1 Kings in the very interesting story about King Ahab, a foolish king who regularly ignored the advice of the prophet Elijah. King Ahab desires and schemes to get, a man’s inheritance. Ahab and his wife Jezebel end up doing so in a way that only appears right, but our focus is on the desire of Ahab, that’s what we see. He has a desire left unfulfilled, and it has a physical, visceral effect on him. He wants a vineyard, and when he can’t have it, he becomes sullen and vexed. He becomes so upset that he refuses to eat. Now, he’s clearly being pretty childish, but the larger point reminds for us: our unfulfilled desire can affect us physically.
2 Corinthians 12 is another picture of unfulfilled desire. St. Paul at the end of this letter tells of a thorn in his flesh. What it is, we don’t know, but we do know that it was something in his life that he pleaded God to take away. It could have been a physical ailment. It could have been a lingering guilt over his rile of persecuting the church of God. We don’t know. But three times he pleads, and three times he is rebuffed. He doesn’t find relief. What he desires, he does not receive, and yet he rests in these words, My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness.
All of us have unfulfilled desire, and even Jesus had unfulfilled desire. Remember the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed that this cup would be taken from him, but not as I will but your will be done. But we often have a choice in the matter: In the face of unfulfilled desire, do we act like Ahab, vexed and sullen, or do we react like Paul, My power is made perfect in your weakness? What do we do with our desire? What’s the difference between the two?
You see, you would think the solution to unfulfilled desire would be to fulfill it. If you fulfill it, then you’re done! Not like Ahab did, not in an underhanded way, but still to fulfill that desire. But that’s not the answer we’re given.
That’s where our Gospel reading comes in. Matthew 6. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” What does Jesus mean by “treasure?” He means, earthly things never wholly satisfy. Even if they do for a time, they will always in the end leave you with desire unfulfilled. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” He’s not saying that heaven will have no moths. We don’t really know that yes or no. He is saying that heavenly treasures aren’t the kind that break down or fall away.
He’s saying, in the language we’ve been using in the 9th and 10th commandments, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff. Don’t covet your neighbor’s relationships. Instead, desire heavenly treasures.
So, again, what does Jesus mean by treasure? Let me give you a different word, one that we see him use in other places. He means fruit. Like in John 15, I am the vine you are the branches. If a man remain in me and I in him, he it is who will bear much. Fruit. The fruit—the treasure—is the forgiveness of sins that leads to life and salvation. His death and resurrection for you. The fruit—the treasure—shows up in our lives as what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. These are what happen in your life as understand more deeply the forgiveness of sins.
So, what of the fruit of the spirit, what of the treasures in heaven speak to desire left unfulfilled? Which of these speak to the 9th and 10th Commandments?
First of all, all of them do. None of the nine aspects of the fruit of the spirit are in a vacuum; you can’t really separate one of them from the others. But some still do stand out.
First, peace. When you’re facing desire unfulfilled, pray for peace. Or as Paul says it in Philippians 4, find contentment when you are hungry or full, brought low or abounding. It was my prayer when I was a single man going through seminary. Lord, please, please, please, send me my beautiful Laura Anna Elizabeth, but more than that, give me peace where I am at.
Second, self-control. When you’re facing desire unfulfilled, train yourself to long for good things. Self-control is training yourself to desire that which is good and healthy and right rather than junk food and junk relationships.
It is training yourself to hunger for the whole grain of the Gospel, to thirst for the waters of forgiveness. It is training yourself to believe that forgiveness is exactly what it is: the best news you could ever receive.
You should be challenged by that statement. Do you believe that the forgiveness that we proclaim here today is God’s forgiveness? Do you believe that the forgiveness that you receive today is the best thing ever? Do you believe that forgiveness should be more important to the lame man than walking again? More important to the blind man than sight? More important to Lazarus than a bodily resurrection? More satisfying to us than a dozen other things that we end up longing for in this world? Come to Bible study and ask your questions.
The kingdom of heaven is like a church pondering the meaning of peace and of self-control. They hear the words of forgiveness every week, and they can struggle to understand how deeply that forgiveness goes. They long for many things, but in the end, they keep on coming back to the place where their savior is calling them. They keep on drinking from the well of salvation. They keep on feasting on the table their Savior set before them. And before long, they begin to desire what their Savior gives.
Amen and amen.
The Lord’s Prayer (The Prayer of a Child)
Ninth in a series of ten, “What We Believe, Teach, and Confess”
Isaiah 65:14–25 // Galatians 4:1–7 // Matthew 6:5–15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today begins in Matthew chapter six, with the Lord’s prayer, “Do not be like those who heap empty words, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Why do you pray? What do you pray for? To whom do you pray? What do you think prayer even does?
Today, I would invite you deeper into this mystery that we call prayer, this act of the Christian who is commanded by God to pray to God, the God who knows your prayer already, whose will is absolutely done, who knows all things, and works in the world whether you pray or not.
So, why do we pray?
We’ve been working through the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism, first with the Ten Commandments, then the Creed, then last week Baptism and Confession/Absolution, and today the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of a child to his father who is in heaven. The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. One question for you.
What is a time when you prayed earnestly for something? Maybe the Lord answered your prayer yes , maybe he answered no. But hold it in your mind as we consider prayer, think about this as a real subject. Think about it through the lens of your own earnest prayer, when you desperately wished for your prayer to be answered. Hold that in your mind as we consider the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.
Because, not too far away from here is a man who prays for his wife to be whole. She’s been slipping, declining, and even as she approached her very last days, he prayed for her to be healed. It doesn’t feel like God is listening.
And not too far away from him is a family that sits down on their couch at the end of the days to pray together. But, together is a pretty loose word for it. One gets done as fast as he can, another says every other word, mom and dad interrupt the prayer to tell them to sit down and be still. It doesn’t feel like prayer.
And not too far away from them is a woman who sits down with her prayer journal every morning. She does her devotion. She reads her Scripture, and with a cup of coffee she prays for everyone that she’s written down. Time and time again, she crosses requests off her list. Time and time again, she sees the answers of God. It feels like her prayers do something.
Our Father, who art in heaven. Our Epistle Reading gives us the interpretation of this. In our Baptisms, we are baptized into the body of God’s only-begotten Son, and because we are in him, we can call the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent God, we can call him “Father.” In Galatians 4 when Paul writes “Abba, Father,” he’s not talking about the 70’s Swedish supergroup ABBA. He’s not getting it from there. The Hebrew word for Father was AB, and an affectionate term for father was Abba, like Dad and Daddy, or (like my kids say) Papa and Poparopatoppington (or the nickname Benny gave me, Topsy Race car Popcorn). United with Christ in his death and resurrection through our baptism, we can address the creator of the universe, Dad.
But what are we praying for? It really breaks down into two parts. The first three petitions and then the last four petitions.
The first three petitions have everything to do with the work of God. Notice that they all have “Thy” in them. Hallowed be THY name. THY kingdom come. THY will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Here in these first three petitions, we are asking God to be exactly who he already is. We are asking that he act according to his eternal nature, and then that he would teach us what it means: that his name would be holy among us, so that he can teach us how to keep it holy, that the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, would draw near in our lives, so that we would see how his Spirit is moving this church here on earth, that his will would happen among us as it already happens in heaven ---- his negative will which breaks and destroys every evil inclination of our heart, his positive will which builds up and grows up everything his Spirit blesses. We are asking God to be exactly who he already is, and to be that among us.
If you are crying out for justice in these days, pray to God as the one who is ABSOLUTELY just, and then go to his word to remember what justice is. If you are praying for God to give forgiveness and reconciliation, pray to him as the one who by nature forgives and reconciles and then go to his word to remember what forgiveness and reconciliation is. If you are crying out for peace, pray to the God whose peace passes our understanding, and then come right here to worship where he guards your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.
But pastor, why does it matter that I pray? God’s nature is his nature whether I pray or not. He’ll do what he wants whether I want it or not! What about the prayer of Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah? Does God change his mind when we pray? If he does, how can he be God? If you have these questions, come to Bible study and ask.
If the first three petitions focus on the work of God, then the last four petitions have everything to do with our lives. Notice that they all have “Us” in them. Give US today our daily bread. Forgive US our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against US. Lead US not into temptation but deliver US from evil. The last four petitions have everything to do with our lives.
Give us our daily bread. Our daily bread includes all that we need to support this body and life. Let us not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will have enough troubles of its own.
Forgive us. Let the forgiveness that flows to us flow through us to others. Lead us not into temptation.
The devil tempts, because the goal of temptation is to fail. Where the devil tempts, there the Lord tests. The goal of temptation is failure. The goal of testing is to prove.
Deliver us from evil. In this petition, we work from the greatest evil down. First, deliver us from the death caused by our sin. And then, since you have delivered us from the greatest inevitable evil, we pray that you would deliver us from every other evil as well.
So, what if I’m not being given my daily bread? Does God withhold forgiveness from us if we don’t forgive others? How could God deliver us from death through death? If he knows all this anyways, why do I have to ask? If you have these questions, come to Bible study and ask.
“Pray it like you mean it.” This is one of the very few lessons of my 8th grade confirmation class that stuck with me. I don’t really remember anything else about 8th grade confirmation with Pastor Daniel Kelm at St. John’s West Bend, but I do remember this. When we were studying the Lord’s Prayer, he challenged us to actually mean the things we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Mean it when you pray it. Pray it like you mean it.
Consider the meaning of holiness when you pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” Consider the daily bread that God has given you. Think about those who it is hard to forgive. Consider temptations you have. Dwell upon the day of your death and remember that all of Christ’s promises are good for you on that day. Or if you cannot do all of that, just take one to start.
Because, united with Christ’s death and resurrection through our baptism, we can cry out to the creator of the universe, Dad. Not too long ago my son cried out to me. It was Benjamin Orvel. The thunder and lightning had woken him up. He was scared. He was alone. So he cried out.
I did what a dad does. I asked him, “What’s wrong?” (I can tell you, I already knew what was wrong. I already knew what needed to be done. But still, most of all, I needed for him to tell me.) He worked up the courage to tell me as I sat next to him. I hugged him, told him it was going to be alright, and told him what he needed to do.
As it was for me as a Dad, so it is (and how much more!) for our heavenly Father. He waits for us. He knows what we need. He asks us to tell him, and he walks with us.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who prayed an earnest prayer, Lord please please please send me a wife. But more than that, give me peace where I am at. God did not answer yes right away. And those intervening years, they shaped him into a better husband that he could’ve been. In those years, his God was listening and walking by his side.
The kingdom of heaven is like churches everywhere, crying out in days of trouble. They weep with those who have lost loved ones to violence. They listen to the stories of their community. They take prayerful action to love their neighbor and show hospitality to the stranger. They begin their day by talking to Our Father who art in heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that don’t have it all figured out, but they do know they have a Father in Heaven who does. Their ship isn’t always tightened up but they know that their Father in Heaven holds it together. In the best of their days, they turn to their Lord in praise for all he has given. In the worst of their days, they cry out to their Lord for rescue. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.
Amen and amen.
Second Article Gifts
Sixth in a series of Ten, “What We Believe, Teach, and Confess”
Isaiah 7:10–17 // Colossians 2:8–15 // Matthew 1:18–25
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today includes all the texts read, in fact, it includes all of the text of the Bible from beginning to end.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In these weeks, we’re continuing to meditate upon What We Believe, Teach, and Confess. Last week, we worked through our First Article Gifts, how God the Father gives us all we need to support this body and life. He gives them to us by means, and still he takes care of us. Today, we turn to our Second Article Gifts. Last week, we understood the Creed as a statement of faith. When you’re saying the creed, I’d invite you to do what I’ve invited confirmands to do: confess your faith. Picture yourself in a courtroom responding to the question, What do you have to say for yourself? Stand with one foot back and one foot forward and state what you believe.
First, the creed is a statement of faith. AND it is also something else. It’s a roadmap. It shows us what’s important and helps us navigate everything else by that which is important.
So, what is it that the Creed calls important?
For the Christian, the most important thing about you and your identity has to do with Jesus Christ. Listen to the explanation that Luther gives: Jesus Christ, true God begotten from the Father before eternity and true man born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. We confess that Jesus is Lord.
Now, the title Lord by itself might not mean a whole lot to you and me. We don’t call our powerful leaders Lord; they have titles like General or President or Senator or Governor or CEO or billionaire. But in the New Testament world, the title of Lord was for the powerful. When you proclaimed Jesus as Lord, you were giving him the title that Caesar claimed. In other words, by claiming the title Lord, Jesus is claiming to be your president, your boss; when he is Lord, he has more claim over your actions than the law of the land does. He claims your allegiance more than any other pledge.
And more than that. That’s already a broad, sweeping claim, but there’s even more to it. The word Lord, it’s also a way to say the personal name of God. I AM WHO I AM. YHWH. The First Commandment, You-Shall-Have-No-Other-Gods God. Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is the LORD who is my LORD. He is the LORD who is LORD over all and is not only over all, he is in all and with all. He the God above all who becomes as Isaiah and Matthew say, Immanuel, which means God with us. God in our midst. God by our side.
So, does that mean that God is always on our side? Does that mean that anyone who opposes Pastor Muther’s views is an unchristian pagan and should be condemned? Does that mean that since Jesus has more claim on me than laws, I have to pray that Jesus tells me how fast to drive before I can get in my car and go? Well, no. But if you have these questions, come to Bible study and ask.
Then we get into the narrative of salvation. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
That’s the bulk of the Apostle’s Creed because the narrative of salvation is the most important thing we confess. Luther again, He redeems me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy and precious blood, with his innocent sufferings and death.
Jesus redeems you. He redeems you from slavery. He redeems you from slavery to everything we explored in the Ten Commandments: coveting and false testimony and stealing and murder and adultery and slavery to authority and work and idols, slavery to sin. That’s how Jesus takes you from being a lost person and makes you found. That’s how Jesus takes you from being a condemned person and gives you salvation.
Now notice this second point because Jesus wins the gift of salvation for us through means. The Father provides for us all we need to support this body and life by means of miracles but also through doctors and nurses and pastors and farmers and clothing makers and government officials. The Son wins the gift of salvation for us by means of his holy and precious blood and innocent sufferings and death.
He wins salvation for you and me by means of taking on our humanity. He is God made man. He is the infinity of God contained in finite man. He is the author of life humbled to the point of death, even death on a cross. He wins salvation for you and me by means of suffering our death for our sins for us. That is particularly and peculiarly Christian. No other religion on the face of the planet claims this.
And then we get to the “so that” clause. So that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. As a result of what Christ has done... and first I’ll tell you what it’s not. He’s not saying, “Now that I’ve freed you from your slavery to coveting and stealing and murder and forgetting the Sabbath day, feel free to go on being enslaved to those things. I’ll drop you off here and pick you up on the last day.” He’s not saying that! He’s saying instead, since I have loved you into salvation, be free. Be free to follow the Ten Commandments—to serve him in righteousness—be free to live as those declared “not guilty”—to serve him in innocence—be free to suffer gladly for the sake of the Gospel—to serve him in blessedness.
So, what I am asking you to understand? No less than four thoughts for today, all having to do with how the Creed is a Roadmap.
First, know that the Creed is a Roadmap. Last week, we understood the Creed as a statement of faith, and that is absolutely true. This week, we understand the creed as something else, as a roadmap.
The Creed is a roadmap. It doesn’t show us everything. No map should do that. Instead, it gives us a bird’s eye view of what is important about our faith and thus how we navigate our life.
Second, that means that the most important thing about you isn’t about you at all. The lodestone that helps you navigate the rest of your life comes from outside of you. Christ and his work help you make sense of all the unknown that you’ll face out there.
So then, since the creed is a roadmap and since it helps us navigate the rest of life, where do we sit on the map? Where do we live within the creed? We are living between when he ascended into heaven and right now as he sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and before he comes back to judge the living and the dead. That is our present reality.
Fourth (and finally), that means if we are facing the unknown (and in these days we most certainly are), then the best thing that we can do for our own sanity is .... to study the map. Look at your compass and reorient yourself, especially when you’re off the beaten track. Get back to the known so that you can venture into the unknown. Study your Bibles. Remember what it means to confess and forgive. Receive the strength of your Lord in His Supper.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that have found their identity solely in Christ. Especially in the face of the known, they seek to remember what is most important: Christ crucified for you and for me. In the face of great weakness in their land, they find their strength to be in their savior. Even when they feel lost, they look back to the map and see that their Father in Heaven has sent his son to chase them around and to bring them home.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther