Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I want to tell you about something lost that my wife just wanted to stay lost. I have a blue St. Croix soccer T-Shirt that I’ve loved for a long time, and I mean a very long time. I got it when I was in 8th grade at the St. Vinnie’s Thrift store and it’s worn and threadbare and smells a little bit bad, but just a little bit. But I love it. I cherish it. I keep it. I wear it.
And so whenever Laura folds the laundry, she’ll make a point to fold that shirt and put it away for me. But, you see, I never know quite where she puts it. Sometimes its in one of the bins, other times it’s under the bed, but usually it’s stuffed way back in the back of my dresser, and I think she just hopes that I would forget about it.
I wait for the day when my beloved shirt in the trash, and when Laura just can’t stand it anymore, I’ll know, and I see it there, my beloved shirt, and I’ll run to it, pick it up, I embrace it, and bring it back to its home. The thing some just want to stay lost, I rejoice in finding it.
Today, we read the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it’s a sermon that preaches itself. It’s the story of a man with two sons. It’s the story of a father full of unexpected delight. It’s the story of a man that rejoices when his sons come back home. It’s the story of a son that doesn’t deserve to be forgiven and another son that doesn't see his father’s heart.
It begins with tragedy. A younger son says, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I wish you were dead and I wish my inheritance would be mine right now.” A family gets blown apart, and you’d better believe that this would’ve been like most family blowouts, it’s the last word in a long battle. And so the father gives him his inheritance. Now, know this, that the inheritance he’s asking for was probably in the land and in the cattle. It wasn’t so simple of a task as just cashing out your IRA or writing out a check. It was the long, painful process of a divorce. Deciding to sell a third of his assets, selling a third of his land, downsizing his herds, laying off his workers. It may have taken a year or more of painful bookwork to get to the next verse.
But they do, and then his son gets lost. He decides to walk in the wrong direction. He loses his name, he loses his family, but most of all he loses himself. He dishonors his father, he dishonors his family, but most of all, he dishonors himself. He is absolutely reckless – that’s what prodigal means – when it comes to food and drink and wine and women.
If you were the father, what would you do? Some of you have been the father. What did you do?
It seems a harder thing to love from afar than to cut ties. In our little baptism classes, we talk about how before the age of adulthood, I have two kinds of love for my little Benjamin Button: Conditional Love and Unconditional Love. Conditional love because on the one hand, if he does what I tell him to do, I reward him, if he doesn’t, I punish him. There are rewards when you set the table. There are consequences when you break the lamp. On the other hand, there’s unconditional love. It doesn’t matter if he breaks all the lamps in my house, I will love Benjamin no matter what, because he’s my son. Now, after he becomes an adult, conditional love fades away. I don’t have that power over him. I only have as much influence on him as he lets me. You don’t get to choose whether your son lands himself in the White House or in jail. Parenting, it seems, is the art of letting go, little by little, of your children and trusting them with their own lives.
So, this young man, he’s reckless and he’s unwise, and he’s foolish, and then he’s broke. He gets exactly what he deserves, exactly when he deserves it. Do you know any young men that have this coming?
He hits a place that drug addicts call rock bottom. There’s nowhere to turn. You have to face the truth or die.
And he comes to his senses and goes home.
Our story continues in unexpected joy. First the son dishonored himself, but now it’s the father’s turn. Dishonor number 1. His son wished him dead, and he let him have his wish. Dishonor number 2. He runs to his son. In that culture as well as our own, children run to their parents, not the other way around. Dishonor number 3. He embraces his son who’s full of mucky pig waste. Dishonor number 4. He kisses him on his filthy face, he fits him in his best suit, and throws a party for him. And he suffers all this because he sees that the main thing is the main thing: his son was dead but now is alive. His son was lost but now is found. His son had left but now is home.
Our God is absolutely reckless – that’s what prodigal means – when it comes to forgiveness and compassion. The Father is absolutely reckless with his love, so much so that at the slightest provocation, at the littlest gesture of turning, even before his son can get the words of his confession out of his mouth, he runs to his son, he embraces his son, he cherishes his son. He loves his son. That which some just want to stay lost, he rejoices in.
Turn to the book of Jonah and how the prophet went to Nineveh. You remember that Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, the nation that sows salt into the conquered lands that they have a grudge against. The nation that slaughters cities that oppose them. The nation that hauls slaves away a thousand miles to force them to work the land. He goes there to the nation that had just slaughtered and deported the kingdom of Israel with a message of judgment, that their number was up, and they repent – and that’s remarkable in and of itself – when they repent, do you know what God does? He relents. He forgives. He runs to them. He embraces them. He cherishes them. He loves them.
That’s God’s stance on sin, not that he lets it go or ignores it, but on the cross he pays for it fully. While we were still sinners, he rescues us. While we were still running away, he chases after us. While we were still dead in our trespasses, he makes us alive. While we were still chanting “Crucify him, crucify him!” he was pronouncing forgiveness over us. He’s reckless – that’s what prodigal means – with his love in a way that makes dead things alive.
Our story ends in wondering. You can wonder about what the neighbors would have said when they heard the story. You can think, as I did when I wrote this sermon, “Well, how can you tell your people to do this? They’ll just get burned!” You can think about how unreasonable it would be for him to take in his son again.
And then realize that the logical choice, the one that you jump to first, you can see is in fact the exactly what the older brother says. One author writes from the older brother’s perspective: “There was no way […] I would join in that ungodly celebration. What was there to celebrate? A faithless son? A destroyer of our family? A sexual predator? At the very least, he ought to have been taken back in quietly and made to do the work of the lowest slave if, and until, he had earned our trust. He needed to be taught a lesson. He needed to earn his way back into our family’s good graces. That boy didn’t need a forgiving father but a strict judge. Otherwise, who’s to say that history wouldn’t repeat itself and, once again, he’d soil the good name of our family.”
He would rather that the lost would just stay lost.
When we think about the older son, the application is simple. Rejoice where your Father in heaven rejoices. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Jesus calls us to have compassion on others the way that God has compassion. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. When I think of the older son, I think of the siblings that have held an olive branch out to the black sheep for too many years. I think of the friends who are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of. I think of the fear that someone’s not going to learn their lesson.
You can see that the older son is just about as lost from the father’s will as the younger son was. The younger may have wandered farther from home, but the fact of the matter is that both sons weren’t following the heart of their father.
The heavens rejoice when the church follows the compassion of our heavenly Father. The heavens rejoice when the undeserving are given compassion. The heavens rejoice when God’s people are persecuted, beaten, reviled and despised for doing good, showing compassion, running to others, cherishing them, loving them.
The kingdom of heaven is like a Lutheran school where the Gospel is not only taught in its truth and purity but practiced as well. Where teachers chase after all kinds of wayward students to follow them around with goodness and mercy. Where parents and students alike know that the compassion of their heavenly Father. Where no one - and I mean no one - is turned away.
The kingdom of heaven is like a community food shelf in a small town where tens of thousands of pounds of food are given away every year, where pastors and laypeople alike chase down the hungry to stomachs with bread but moreover to fill their souls with the bread of life.
The kingdom of heaven is like fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters having compassion rather than anger, in the business of mending fences more than setting fires, knowing that they were all lost sons until they were found by the reckless – that’s what prodigal means – love of their Father in Heaven. Amen and Amen.
Matthew 27:45-49 Now from the sixth hour[f] there was darkness over all the land[g] until the ninth hour.[h] 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
Dear Friends in Christ,
• A story with an ugly beginning, but a beautiful ending……from forsaken to loved……..A story of Micah, adopted son of a pastor and his wife from Richfield. He had been left to die in a dumpster in India. Born as a survivor of abortion, born with cerebral palsy and a host of other health issues, rescued by folks who wanted him to live, baptized into the Name of the Triune God, raised in a loving Christian family, sat next to me for hours and hours on our bus rides to and from the remote mountains of Mexico.
• Few stories are more heart wrenching than stories of being unwanted, left behind, and abandoned. A baby left in a trash container. A student getting bullied with no one to stand up and protect him. A wife abandoned by her husband as he runs off with a younger woman. A teenager is told by his dad to leave and not bother coming back. An elderly parent sits alone for days at a time feeling as though nobody really cares.
• We cringe when hearing stories like these. We’d rather not think about how painful it is. Tonight, for just a few minutes, we are going focus on Jesus being unwanted, left behind, bullied, and left alone on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. Isaiah had predicted it, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised.” The painting before us is one of darkness, thieves are far behind, guards are barely visible, little groups of people talking to themselves, Jesus forsaken.
• First, Jesus was forsaken by his people, the people of Israel. Five days after they shouted “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
• Secondly, Jesus was forsaken by the religious establishment of his day. Priests, scribes, and Pharisees initiated, insisted on, and carried out his public execution.
• Third, and perhaps worse than that, his friends abandoned him. Like birds scatter when a cat comes into the yard, his good buddies ran when the soldiers came on the scene. Peter denied that he had ever been associated with him. Judas betrayed him with a sign of affection. Even John watched at a distance.
• The list of forsakenness goes on and on. The light of the sun deserted him, as total darkness ruled from high noon to 3 p.m. To add insult to injury, even justice abandons Christ. He hangs on a cross, though innocent of all crimes. A Roman governor declares him not guilty and in the same moment washes his hands. A wicked king Herod has to acquit Jesus of the charges against him, and yet there he hangs.
• Jesus doesn’t question any of that. He knew what was coming and that all of his days had been getting him ready for this day. Up until this point on the cross, he had been taking care of people, but now he cries out with one question for his Father. First he had pleaded with his father to forgive those who were nailing him to the cross, for they really didn’t know what they were doing. His second crossword was a promise to one sinner who was repenting that in fact paradise was on the way. A third crossword was making sure John would take care of his mom. But now he asks for what purpose His Father had to forsake him?
• As darkness covered the entire earth, Jesus tasted the very judgment of a righteous God. In Gethsemane, His Father heard his Son’s prayers, but not in these three hours of darkness. In Gethsemane, God sent angels to strengthen, but no angels were there for him in these three hours leading up to death. In Gethsemane, Jesus and His Father were one, but for three hours they were separated. In Gethsemane Jesus wrestled with himself and brought himself to do the Father’s will, on the cross wrestles not only with flesh and blood, but with the forces of darkness. As all
• A story of my wrestling days, and on how on the mat you really are alone. Coaches can encourage, and friends can cheer, but each wrestler fights alone. On their way to defeat, no doubt many wrestlers think about quitting, but every time victory comes their way, the will to keep on practicing and fighting is renewed.
• The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet without sin. No doubt he was tempted to quit or to take the easy way out, but he didn’t. No doubt he was tempted to cry out for legions of angels to come down and smack these soldiers silly, but he didn’t. No doubt he was tempted to ask why his father had turned away, and he did ask the question.
• My God why have you forsaken me? Jesus knew well the purpose of dying, but was it really necessary for him to be left alone? We know now the answer was yes. It was necessary for the full price of redemption to be paid. He had to be left alone as an orphan so that we could be claimed as sons and daughters. He had to have this one prayer unanswered so that we could pray to our Father as dear children ask their dead dads. He had to be cursed so that we could be blessed. He had to be loaded down with sin so that we could have our burdens lifted. He had to be punished so that we could be forgiven. He had to be alienated so that we could say with St. Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels no rulers, no things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What a privilege it is to be persuaded by the Holy Spirit that our sins have been forgiven, the price we could never begin to pay has been paid, that our names have been written in the book of life, that our mansions in heaven are on reserve, and that through thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, we are never alone. Christ is inside of us. He is walking alongside side of us. He goes on before us.
What a privilege it has been to minister to the redeemed, the forgiven, the persuaded and believing people of God over the years. Tears………..
• Ruth, as she approaches death, rejoicing in her forgiveness and soon to enter heaven.
• Ida, as she approaches death, telling me to quit crying, she’s going to be just fine, and then gives me coffee and cookies.
• Mom, as she approaches death, wondering why I am crying, and assuring me that she will be just fine.
What a privilege to say to you tonight, no matter what is causing you to be afraid, no matter what storms are blowing hard your way, no matter how alone the darkness is making you feel……….what a privilege to say to you that by virtue of your Baptism, Christ is inside of you. In the preaching and in the teaching and in the remembering of God’s Word, He is walking alongside of you. In the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper, He is forgiving you and strengthening you and drawing you close. And in those times you can feel his presence as well as those times you can’t feel it at all, know that He goes on before you.
Third Sunday in Lent
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We live in a culture that has mastered the art of being outraged. We hear of yet another gunman in Hesston, Kansas being served with a protection order barring him from contact with his girl friend, that 90 minutes later he goes on a shooting spree wounding 14 and killing 3 or 4, and we say to one another, “that’s outrageous!” What’s the matter with people nowadays?” As if something is really wrong with him and not so much with us. And then Jesus looks us in the eyes and says, “Let me tell you something, unless you repent you’re going to die.”
We hear of Black Lives Matter protesting violence against blacks by stopping traffic on busy freeways or we hear of swarms of Bernie Sanders fans crying out for free college education or $15 minimum wage for everybody and we say to ourselves, “That’s outrageous! Why don’t those people get their attitudes straightened out and see life the way we see it? As if something is really wrong with them and not so much with us? To which Jesus replies, “Unless you repent, you’re going to die.”
Or we hear of Syrian Muslims beheading Christians just because they are Christians and we shake our heads and wonder what’s the matter with those people, and we maybe even take it a step further and yearn for the day when they will get what they have coming to them all the way into eternity, as if something is really the matter with them, and not so much for us. Jesus looks us in the eyes today and declares, “Unless you repent, you’re going to die.”
Also in our text for today, there were some people who were absolutely outraged that Pontius Pilate would send his Gentile soldiers into the sanctuary where only priests were normally allowed and murder Galilean laypeople who were engaged in sacrifices to the one true God. They assumed that the Galileans who were murdered must have committed some great sin for which God sent this particular punishment through Pilate. They assumed that these Galileans must have been worse sinners than the average sinner. They assumed that the evidence was in this terrible tragedy. Jesus tells them they are assuming wrong. That unless they repent, they also will die. Another way of saying that all we like sheep have gone astray, that the soul that sinneth it shall die, that the wages of sins is death, that the need for repentance is universal, and that the time for repentance is today.
To drive the point home with a second example, a recent news item that would have been known to the crowds engaging with Jesus in conversation. He asks them whether those 18 who were killed by a collapsing tower were worse sinners than all the other men living in Jerusalem? Jesus makes the same emphatic denial and uses the same words that form our sermon theme for today, “ No I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish the same way.”
Two truths the Spirit of God would teach us today. First of all, we learn of God’s great desire to have mercy on sinners, and secondly, we learn of God’s strong expectation that we bear fruit and that we do so sooner rather than later.
First, we see in today’s lesson God’s great desire to have mercy on sinners. The section in Luke from which our text is taken is part of a larger conversation in which Jesus has just been discussing how crucial it is to interpret the present time. Just as we act accordingly when we see storm clouds gathering on the horizon, so also we should act accordingly by recognizing that the time for repentance is now. The message of this larger section of Luke is that no knows the day or hour of his or her own death, much less when the world will end, so don’t be putting off until tomorrow the forgiveness you need today.
On the subject of suffering, we do well to remember that there are at least three kinds. There is self inflicted suffering, there is suffering inflicted by others, and there is suffering that comes our way through no fault of our own. While the presence of suffering in an individual’s life should not be interpreted as punishment for a specific sin, the presence of suffering in general is indeed a consequence of the fall. Therefore, whenever we hear yet another gunman shooting up a town or a school, whenever we hear yet another political candidate saying things that make us shake our heads and want us to run for cover, whenever we hear of Palestinians training their four year old children to strap bombs on their bodies and be suicide bombers, our response should not be to assign blame, but rather to see in the tragedy further evidence of our own sin and need for repentance.
Repentance is being sorry for our sins and trusting in Jesus as the forgiver of those sins. It is admitting our own failures and shortcomings and nasty habits and looking in faith to Him who was beaten bloody and murdered on a cross on account of every one of those failures and shortcomings and nasty habits. Repentance is getting the log out of our own eye before we start commenting on the speck in the eye of some angry gunman in Kansas. It’s crying out for mercy for my own soul before I start wringing my hands in despair over how much everybody else needs to get a life.
The good news today, of course, is that Jesus came that we may have life and that we may have it abundantly. This is the reason for which Jesus Christ came, lived, suffered, died, and rose up again – that the logs in our eyes could be removed, that the debts we have accumulated could be forgiven, that our mansion in heaven would be on reserve.
Listen carefully dear friends, when Jesus warns us to repent or we’re going to die, He is at the same time promising that as often as we repent, we live. The kingdom of God is like a mom who disciplines her toddler for playing in the street so that he can live. It’s like a family that intervenes in the life of a loved one whose drinking problems are ruining family life so that this family can have a new beginning. It’s like the hearers of God’s Word on a third Sunday in Lent decide to be outraged at their own faults rather than the faults of their neighbors. Outraged at their own failures to be light of the world and salt of the earth kinds of people instead of aiming their outrage at those Washington DC in general and this year’s crop of presidential candidates in particular. Outraged at their own lack of fruit rather than the bad fruit of others.
You see, as often as we are outraged at our own lack of fruit, that often the vinedresser has a chance to dig around us and apply a bit of fertilizer. First of all we would learn again today of God’s great desire to have mercy on repentant hearts, and secondly of His great desire that we bear the fruits of repentance. Fruits like love and joy and peace. Fruits like patience and kindness and goodness. Fruits like faithfulness and gentleness and self control. Paul writes to the Galatians that against such fruits there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree supports his call to repentance by illustrating how God’s great desire to have mercy on us is always paired up with His strong expectation for us to bear fruit. To bear fruit today and not some day in the future. As a vineyard owner plants and cultivates and prunes and protects and cares for and takes great pride in his vines with an eye towards harvest, so has God planted and cultivated and pruned and protected and cared for and loved this congregation in the past with an eye towards a harvest in the present and multiplying out into the future.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has developed a habit of being embarrassed by his own sinful habits, but outraged at the nasty habits of those whose messed up lives make the news. In this very sanctuary, in this very moment, his God is opening his eyes. Opening his eyes to see that he is chief of sinners and not somebody else. Opening his eyes to see how beautiful life is as often as he throws himself on the mercy of his God, how beautiful life is as often as He receives all that His God is wanting him to have, how beautiful life is as often as he goes looking for people to forgive, to love, and to serve. Amen.
Jeremiah 26:8-15, Philippians 3:17-4:1, and Luke 13:31-35
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah prophesies against a city that doesn’t care to hear him, a city that would sooner kill him than listen. Paul cries tears when he warns the Philippians not fill their bellies but to set their minds on what’s above. Jesus laments over a Jerusalem that kills prophets and stones messengers.
In all three readings, these faithful kinds of people all have to speak hard words to the people of God, and frankly, after the readings are read, it is difficult to respond with “Thanks be to God.”
I’d invite you to keep in your mind a person or two that you are in conflict with, someone to whom you have to speak hard words, or someone that you’ve let down.
Because the question for today is, how does the Christian speak hard words when they need to be spoken? How do you avoid, on the one hand, being a marshmallow that never deals with conflict and, on the other hand, being a hard-nose that always burns your bridges? How do you speak truth, but speak it in love? Three parts today, from the three readings, with three don’ts and three dos.
First don’t: speaking hard truths, it doesn’t come from a place of satisfaction. It’s not about sticking the knife in further and watching them squirm. That’s why the officials of Judah charged Jeremiah. They assumed his motives. They thought he was speaking from a place of satisfaction. They thought his personal agenda was getting in the way of his judgment, and they respond accordingly.
And that’s pretty easy to do. I was thinking just the other day: After a long day at work, with my bouncing baby boy Benjamin Button a little bit fussy, and Laura came home a little bit later than I expected, and the whole day had put me out of sorts. Now, instead of putting on my big boy pants and admitting that I was out of sorts, my first inclination was instead to make her pay, to ignore her, to let her stew and guess at what I was mad at. To just make her feel bad before I tell her what’s wrong. Who does that? Now, when I eventually came around and asked for her forgiveness, but the point is....
That’s not the way to speak a hard truth. Instead, notice Jeremiah’s response: “The Lord sent me to prophesy. Turn from your deeds, mend your ways, obey the voice of the Lord. Turn and the Lord will relent.” Now, notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Turn and maybe the Lord will string you along for a while and then forgive you.” He doesn’t say, “Turn and guess what I’m mad at.”
The intention when the Lord speaks hard words is repentance, and when that end was achieved, immediately the Lord comes with goodness and mercy. Immediately his wrath is ended and his love shows. Luther calls this “the over-burning love of God,” that he would love us enough to tell us when we stray, and love us enough that when we repent he is there with forgiveness.
More often than not, married couples going through hard times have great difficulty with this. They have been at conflict for so long that the expectation of repentance is that it’s total and incredible. You have to be perfect in absolutely every way before I will begin to think about forgiveness. You have no room to make mistakes. You’ve got to prove yourself each and every day until I decide you’re ok. Thank God that he doesn’t work that way. He is absolutely quick to let forgiveness flow. The angels in heaven rejoice to see another sinner stumble his way through confession and hear what God has already done.
Second don’t: speaking hard truths, it doesn’t come from a place of retribution. It isn’t an eye for an eye. It isn’t about taking what’s owed and then just leaving you alone, right?
I mean, could you see Paul doing that in our text from Philippians? Saying, just stop setting your mind on earthly things, remember your citizenship is heaven, and then I’ll leave you well enough alone. Do that and you can go your way and I can go mine.
He doesn’t say that. He says, “Join in! Imitate me and walk with me and gather around with others and stand firm, because you are my brothers, and you are beloved.” The Christian does himself a disservice when he fails to recognize all the kinds of people that walk with him on the path of life. The Christian does himself a disservice when he doesn’t see the great depth and width of different stories contained in even our little church, even here in our little town. The Christian does himself a disservice when he assumes that conflict is just about giving back what’s owed, because conflict is first about restoring relationships.
And here’s the point: Paul sorrows over their sin. With tears in his eyes he writes about how they walked as enemies of the cross of Christ. With tears in his eyes he sorrows and suffers over their sin, even if they wouldn’t sorrow or suffer with him. With tears in his eyes, he would face their shame, their destruction, even if they wouldn’t for themselves. Are you willing to suffer for someone, so that you can do what’s right for them?
Third, speaking hard truths: It doesn’t come from a place of self-righteousness. It’s not about saying, “I’m better than you, and you should come crawling back.” Out of all of us, Jesus would have the most reason to say this. As perfect Son of God, he could say you better come to me. But he doesn’t. You see it in what Jesus say, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets. Nevertheless, I will go to you. I will gather you. I will finish my course.
No, when the righteous one comes among us, you can see how he acts. Christ looks your sin full on in the face, and he doesn't flinch. Righteousness incarnate runs after all kinds of people that don’t deserve him to run after them. Righteousness Incarnate longs to gather together under his wings those who would scream “Crucify him, Crucify him!”
And here’s the point: Jesus Christ looks to do what a person needs, even if we would fight him on it. His love is absolutely relentless and his grace is overwhelming. His path for you led to the cross, and it led through the grave, so that he could bring to you what you were too dead in your own trespasses to long for – salvation. And all who would follow after him look to do what a person needs, not what they want, not what you want them to want, but what a person needs.
It isn’t the Christian’s calling to avoid conflict or eschew sin. It is our calling to see the places where sin wreaks havoc, and then do all that we can to bring the healing power of the Gospel to bear. That’s our aim, our every hope, in every situation, with every person, that we would see Christ gather all of us sinners like a hen gathers her chicks, that we would love and long for the reconciliation of our brethren, and that whether or not God calls us to speak like Jeremiah, we would know the power that the Gospel brings to bear.
In conclusion, we see three questions to ask in our texts, three questions that shed light on how Christians deal with conflict. First, “Am I eager to forgive as Christ has forgiven me?” Second, “Am I willing to suffer with them for what they need, just as Christ suffered on my behalf?” Third, “Am I seeking this person’s good as Christ has sought mine?”
Christians follow after Christ, and we stand in a long line of faithful men and women who spoke truth in love, no matter what the consequences, because we know the end of the story. Amen and Amen.
Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
John Paton was a Christian missionary to a place called New Hebrides. He soon discovered that the natives had words for house and tree and stone and the like, but they had no words for love and joy and peace. Worst of all they had no word for “believe.” One day as he sat in his hut frustrated with his ministry and more specifically his Bible translation skills, an old native entered and slumped down in a chair. Exhausted from a long journey, the man said, “I’m leaning my whole weight on this chair.” Dr. Paton asked him to repeat what he had just said. The man said, “I’m leaning my whole weight on this chair.” Immediately, the missionary latched onto that phrase to teach this native tribe what it meant to “believe in Jesus.” It meant that you lean your whole weight into Jesus.
As you stare death in the face this morning, the very best word of encouragement I can give you is to lean your whole weight into Jesus Christ. That’s another way of saying go ahead and fix your eyes on Jesus and don’t stop fixing your eyes on Jesus ever. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the one who fixed his eyes on Jerusalem and He set His face towards Jerusalem, and He didn’t stop until He had been arrested, slapped around, beaten up, ridiculed, mocked, and crucified until He was stone cold dead and buried. The reason He did all of that was ultimately that He had His eyes fixed on Sandra Boulais and every other human being ever conceived and born into this world.
This is the Good News that supercedes every bit of bad news that is overwhelming your souls and dragging on your spirits today, the awful news that Sandra has suffered in her body, and even worse than that, she has suffered the wages of sin, which is death. The Good News is that Jesus Christ is where faith starts, and He is where it finishes. He is the one who looked past the shame of the cross, He scorned the shame of the cross, He despised the shame of the cross. He said to sin and shame, “bring it on!” He said “bring it on” because He saw in His own shame on the cross joy. He saw the joy of Sandra and all baptized believers spending eternity in heaven with Him.
You see, in the waters of Baptism, Jesus Christ fixed His eyes on Sandra Sue Boulais, and He never took His eyes off her. Oh she may have felt like God was at a distance in certain chapters of life, but He was always near. He was always near in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word. He was always near in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. He was near with His forgiveness, and wherever there is forgiveness there is life and salvation.
Although Sandra may have felt that the life was overwhelming and that she was alone, in fact her Good Shepherd has followed her around with goodness and mercy in all the days of her life.
In our text for today, God is encouraging every one of us to keep running the race called living the Christian life. This is done, in spite of the challenges and difficulties of life, by fixing your eyes, your focus, your faith on Jesus, your Lord and your Savior.
We remember today that nothing that is valuable is achieved without effort. Fritz Kreisler, the famous violinist, testified to this point when he said, “Narrow is the road that leads to the life of a violinist. Hour after hour, day after day and week after week, for years, I lived with my violin. There were so many things that I wanted to do that I had to leave undone; there were so many places I wanted to go that I had to miss if I was to master the violin. The road that I traveled was a narrow road and the way was hard.
So also in our text for today, we learn that the road of salvation is narrow, and the way is hard. The writer to the Hebrews warns us that if we are going to run the race that is our Christian life, we are going to have to run with perseverance. There’s going to be all kinds of sins that will easily entangle us, and if we don’t find a way to throw them off, they’re going to get the best of us. By nature, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God, but praise be to God, it is in His nature to be a God of new beginnings and second chances. It is reality that a messed up world is going to mess with us in every one of our days, but the greater reality is that Jesus Christ led the perfect life not a one of us could even begin to live, He suffered all that we should have suffered, He died the death we needed Him to die, He rose up again on the third day, He spent 40 days appearing to all kinds of people and proving that in fact He was alive and well, He ascended on the 40th day, He poured out His Spirit in a new and spectacular way on the 50th day, and in every one of our days, He is sitting at the right hand of His Father, ruling all of heaven and earth for the sake of His precious and valuable people here on earth.
What contact I did have with Sandra over the years was always pleasant, and almost always she was having health problems of one kind or another. Our conversations always had something to do first of all with her daughter and grandchildren, and secondly, since I’m a pastor kind of a person, they always had something to do with her Savior. It seemed as though she always had reasons to be weary and to lose heart, but there was never a doubt in my mind that she had fixed her eyes on Jesus as both author and finisher of her faith.
I regret that I did not visit her in recent months, but my hunch is that she had the same kind of yearnings that so many Christian have when illnesses are taking over their bodies and ruling their days. The yearning for this life to be over. The yearning to depart and be with Christ. The yearning that looks past death to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.
A story about my dad wanting to get out of the nursing home and be reunited with my mom…………ending with dad wheeling himself down the hallway of that nursing home and trying to kick his way out of there.
I don’t know what Sandra’s last hours or days were like, but it may well be that she just wanted to get out of this life with all of its pain and suffering and be with her Savior in paradise. Praise be to God that because Jesus Christ lives, Sandra Boulais lives. Praise be to God that she is resting from her labors, and her works do follow her. My prayer is that you, Jennifer, and you Haley and Tyler and you who have loved and were loved by this decent and straight forward kind of a Christian woman would keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you would spend every one of your days staying close to your Savior, receiving all that He wants you to have. That you would spend your days reveling in His grace, appreciating your second chances, and enjoying every blessing you have been given. May God’s angels be with you, that the wicked foe would have no power over you, and may Sandra Boulais rest in peace.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther