First in a Two Part Series on Abraham
Genesis 18:1-10a And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks[a] of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord,[b] if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs[c] of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Who’s serving? That was the question of the month back in Peace Lutheran Church in little Barney, North Dakota years ago. First of all it was the question asked about the monthly Ladies’ Aid meeting. Secondly, it was the question asked about the monthly Walther League meeting.
Who’s serving? It was a big deal. The answer was in the weekly bulletin, and the answer was right on the monthly church calendar. And the answer of who served and what exactly they served could be found in Ladies Aid minutes and perhaps even in the Walther League minutes. To this very day, in little and big churches all over the country, including here at Trinity, if you want to know who’s serving at the monthly meetings coming up, we can get that answer for you. In fact, if you want to know what the ladies will be serving, and let me tell you, it’s always really good, we can get that answer as well. (Story of Mom and her sister Linny getting ready to serve at Ladies Aid just ten years ago, when they were both into their 80’s. A big deal!)
Who’s serving? That’s a question we want to ask both about our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today. Who’s serving whom? And what are they serving? Three answers to those questions today, three parts to our sermon. 1) Abraham and Sarah give us a glimpse of (Old Testament hospitality) 2) Martha gives us a glimpse of (New Testament hospitality) 3) Christ came first of all not to be served, but to deliver (Divine hospitality)
First, Abraham and Sarah give us a glimpse of (Old Testament hospitality). Hebrew 13:2 urges New Testament Christians to show hospitality to stranger for this reason – some have entertained angels without being aware of it. This may well be a reference to this Bible story, where Abraham rolls out the red carpet for three strange men before he realizes that they were Yahweh himself and two of his angels. Abraham made them feel welcome, and he did so in a hurry. He ran to where they were standing, and he prostrated himself before them. He makes it clear to them that it would be his privilege to serve them and he pleaded with them to stay. He insists that their feet be washed, which was step #1 of desert hospitality. He offers a little bit of bread and then orders Sarah to prepare three measures, four and a half pecks, approximately a bushel of flour into bread, way more than three men could eat. He personally ran out to his herd, selected the finest of heifers, and made sure it was slaughtered, butchered, and roasted. He personally saw to it that they could drink the best of drinks, and he stood by while they ate.
(Story of the first Christmas meal Debi ate with my family, where ladies served and stood by while the rest of us ate, and then sat down at a card table later to eat. Debi not impressed with that custom and saw to it that it never happened again!)
One wonders why Abraham was so very hospitable. Was it because he wanted something in return? In fact, in the very next chapters of Genesis, he does ask God for a huge favor. He pleads for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in general and for his nephew Lot in particular to be saved. In next Sunday’s sermon, we will focus on Abraham interceding and God hearing the prayers of his saints.
But today, we would take a look in the mirror and see whether we are ever guilty of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. The times we have found ourselves in all kinds of trouble and promised God if he would just get us out of this mess, we would come to church every Sunday. The times we have imagine our going to church and volunteering in the church should count for something in the courtroom of God? Have we ever wined and dined others with less than pure motives? Along with the Psalmist, we pray and we pray often, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
In today’s Gospel lesson, we know what Martha’s thoughts are about her sister Mary. It’s Martha who is fussing and stewing and preparing and cleaning and baking and serving and it’s Mary who is just sitting there and listening to Jesus. It’s Martha who is getting more annoyed and irritated by the moment until she just can’t keep it in any more. “Jesus, don’t you even care that Mary is just sitting on her duff while I do all the work? Can’t you just tell her to start pulling her weight around here? Don’t you think everybody should do their fair share?
Martha gives us a glimpse of (New Testament hospitality)At first glance, Martha was doing the one thing needful. The New Testament makes it very clear that when your neighbor is hungry, you should feed him. When she’s thirsty, you should give her something to drink. When your friends are in the hospital, you should visit them. When your acquaintance in is jail, you should visit. Peter writes, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Jesus takes New Testament hospitality a step further when he says to go beyond normal duties of being a decent and kind person. If some nasty neighbor is suing you for your tunic, go ahead give him your cloak as well. If some detail oriented friend insists that you walk with her one mile, go ahead and go with her the second mile. If you get slapped on the right cheek for the sake of the Gospel, go ahead and turn the other cheek as well.
Again, at first glance, Martha is doing what is right and God pleasing. She is going the extra mile, and she is covering for her princess of a sister Mary. And when she just can’t hold it inside for one more minute, she lets the fur fly. No doubt with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, she wonders out loud why her Lord doesn’t seem to be appreciating her as she deserves to be appreciated.
Which is exactly the moment where Jesus had to gently rebuke dear Martha. Martha, you’re doing a really good work there, but in this moment Mary is getting it right. I really do appreciate you fussing and bustling about and I know you love me, Martha, but your first assignment each day is to receive, not give. That’s another way of saying this, Christ came first of all not to be served, but to deliver (Divine hospitality)
First of all, it was true that the preincarnate Christ came first of all To Abraham and Sarah not to be served, but to deliver divine hospitality. This visit wasn’t about getting something to eat and drink, it was about God telling Sarah in person what he had already told Abraham – that she was going to have a baby. Keep in mind that Sarah and Abraham had heard this promise before- twenty five years ago they had heard they were going to have a baby, when Sarah was 65 and Abraham was 75 they were told that their descendents would be like the sand on the seashore and as many as the stars in the sky. And they were still waiting and hoping and doubting, and no doubt there were many days when they wondered if the Lord was really going to come through on his word. Perhaps they prayed as did the Psalmist, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
The good news has always been that God is a covenant God, that He keeps every promise without exception, and that it has always been about Jesus Christ coming first of all not to be served, but to serve. So also in our Gospel lesson was Jesus coming To Mary. The front cover of your bulletin today gives you a picture of Jesus serving Mary. Serving her with the one thing needful, which is that her God had loved her with an everlasting love. Which is that when Jesus was born as a baby in the little town of Bethlehem, he would be born for her. When he would live the perfect life, he would be living it for her. When he would suffer under Pontius Pilate, he would be suffering for her. When Jesus would be crucified and dead and buried, he would be crucified, dead, and buried for her. When Jesus would rise up again, he would be rising up again for her.
So also to us. We made the case in last Sunday’s sermon, and we make it again today. In Divine Service, our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are serving us. In the words of absolution, God is serving us with the forgiveness of our sins. In the reading and preaching of His Word, God’s Spirit is coming into our hearts calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying us with His truth. God’s Word is truth. In the Holy Supper, Jesus is present. He’s really present, and as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we taste the very goodness of God. Make no mistake about it, our first assignment in Divine Worship is to receive.
There’s an old saying that has to do with traveling salesmen, “you can’t sell from an empty wagon.” Also in the Church, you can’t give away what you haven’t received. While it may well be more blessed to give than receive, it’s also true that if you keep on giving and giving without receiving and receiving, you’re going to have those days when you come up empty. Your cup is going to feel like it’s empty instead of overflowing.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who are learning one more time this week that the Son of Man came first of all not to be served, but to serve. Not to be wined and dined, but to seek and to save the lost. With that lesson in mind, they are learning one more time that it is more blessed to listen than it is to talk. More blessed to console than it is to be consoled. More blessed to understand other people’s opinions than to be understood. And with that in mind they go looking for people to love. They go look for people to forgive. They go looking for people to give them another perspective on this world’s troubles. They go looking for folks who are hurting and broken and messed up and full of rage. And in their quiet moments, they hear Jesus whispering into their ears, When I needed somebody to listen, you (listened)
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
If you need help, just let me (know). Those are the words I often spoke years ago to an elderly woman, a woman with all kinds of troubles, a woman with almost no support network at all, a woman I’ll call Eleanor. If you need help, Eleanor, just let me know. One day she took me up on it. I received a frantic call in the middle of the day pleading with me to come over right now.
When I asked her what was wrong, she couldn’t even speak of it, she just pleaded with me to come. Which I did. In a hurry. With all kinds of thoughts and worries racing through my head. When I got there, the problem was that her toilet was plugged. It was threatening to overflow. She needed someone, anyone, to be a good neighbor.
If you need help, just let me know. That’s what our fire and rescue squads say, that’s what our police departments and paramedics say, that’s what our doctors and nurse lines say, that’s what emergency rooms and urgent care facilities say in a regular kind of way. They say if you need help, just let us know. Just dial 911 and we’ll be there. Just dial this number and we’ll help you. In little Janesville, MN, you can almost holler out your front door that you need help, and help will be there.
If you need help, just let me know. That’s what the Good Samaritan would have said to his neighbors in his day. In fact, he went one better than that. He didn’t wait to be asked. He saw a Jewish man, a man who would have considered all Samaritans unclean and unworthy and unfriendly, he saw him in need of immediate assistance, and he assisted. He zipped right out of his comfort zone, he healed what he could heal, he paid all that needed to be paid, he carried what needed to be carried, he didn’t just pray, he didn’t just feel sorry, he didn’t just say nice words, the compassion he felt in his heart turned into action, and it did so in a hurry. As State Farm Insurance would say it, Like a Good Neighbor, we’ll be there!
In today’s sermon, I’m going to agree with all kinds of ancient and modern scholars and say that the Good Samaritan in this story is first and foremost Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Three parts to our sermon today, Like a Good Neighbor, Jesus was there, He is here, and will always be nearby. Like the perfectly good neighbor, 1)Jesus was there at the cross. 2)Jesus is here in Divine Service, and 3)Jesus will always be nearby.
First of all, like a good neighbor, Jesus was there (at the cross). Already in the Garden of Eden, the promise to Adam and Eve was that a divine rescue mission would take place. A day would come when the offspring of Adam and Eve would get bruised and beaten and left to die, but the devil himself would have his head crushed. It’s at the cross that we learn that we have a God who doesn’t show up to help only when asked and properly thanked. While we were yet in our sins, Christ died for us.
There at the cross, we find that our Savior was (Healing) us with His wounds. As the Good Samaritan had compassion and backed up his feelings with actions, so did God so love the world that He sent His only and beloved Son into a world so full of hostility and danger. As the Good Samaritan came to where his neighbor was and did what needed to be done, so also did our Savior come down from heaven to earth, so also did Jesus keep the law in perfect fashion on our behalf, so was Jesus wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.
There at the cross, we find the very Son of God (Paying) our bill in full. As the Good Samaritan bandaged and soothed and carried this beaten up and left for dead stranger, so as Christ carried our sorrows and bore our griefs. As the Good Samaritan took care of all expenses with no expectation of repayment, so has our Savior redeemed us, not with gold or silver, but with holy precious blood, not with diamonds and pension plans, but with innocent suffering and death. He leaves us with no debt to pay, only the imperative to love as we have been loved, the exhortation to show mercy as we have been shown mercy, the plea to serve as we have been served.
There at the cross, we find Jesus Christ (Giving) life to those already dead. As this Jewish traveler was beaten up and close to death, so are we dead in trespasses and sins. As rescue squads regularly revive near dead and already dead people, so has our Savior done what he said he came to do. He came to suffer and He suffered. He came to die and He died. He came to give life and he gave it. Lesson #1 today, dear friends, your God has always been there for you, He was there for you before you ever existed, and He was there for you in a fixed and focus fashion for you on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. As often as you see the cross, as often as you make the sign of the cross, see there your Savior healing, paying, and giving.
Lesson #2 - Like a good neighbor, Jesus is here (in Divine Service.) While it is true that Jesus ascended into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of God, it is also true that wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in the midst of them. While it is true that He is in the presence of his Father ruling all of heaven and earth in a majestic and magnificent and mysterious fashion, it is also true that He is present in that place where His Name is invoked, in that place where absolution is pronounced, in that place where the Word is preached and the water is splashed and the Supper is offered. Three truths we learn again about how God is present here in the house of God. He is here forgiving, caring, and promising.
First of all, He is here in Divine Service (Forgiving) us early and often. In this place, we believe and we teach and we confess that already in Holy Baptism, our sins are forgiven. That as often as we eat and drink at the Holy Supper, our sins are forgiven. As the Samaritan forgave this Jewish man for being who he was, so did Jesus plead for his Father to forgive those who didn’t even know what they were doing. As the Samaritan was color blind and ethnicity blind and language blind, so also at our communion rail, there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither black nor white, only messed up sinners looking for their sins to be forgiven, their faith to be strengthened, their unity to be celebrated.
Secondly, Jesus is here in Divine Service (Caring) for us in the preaching and teaching of His Word, Germans have a word for their pastors who care for the souls of their people, the word is seelsorge. To be a seelsorge is to be a shepherd who watches over his sheep, it is to be calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying with the means of grace. It is to be caring for souls before, during, and after official ministerial acts. As the Good Samaritan brought his new friend to the inn and cared for him, so does the Spirit of God bring us into the Church and care for us.
As the Good Samaritan left town for a time and left the injured man in good care, so has Jesus left us for a time and yet cares for our souls in the safety of local congregations, hundreds and thousands and even millions of little churches, little flocks, where shepherds know their sheep by name, they do what Mary does in next Sunday’s Gospel, they choose the one thing needful, they use their ears to hear, and their hearts and their minds and their souls are taken care of.
Third, Jesus is here in Divine Service (Promising) to return. As the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper, asked him to take care until he came back, and promised to pay even more, so has Jesus promised that one day soon the angel will be shouting, the trumpet will be sounding, the dead will be rising, Christ will be returning, the Judge will be judging. As often as we eat and drink, we get a foretaste of the feast that is to come. Even more than that we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes back again.
Our third and final lesson, Like a good neighbor, Jesus will always be (nearby). One of the main principles of Greg Finke’s book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission,” is that Jesus is already out and about in your neighborhood, in your work place, in your extended family, in your circle of acquaintances, and He’s not just there observing, He’s out there messing with people. By that he means that to say that the Spirit of God is always working through the circumstances of life to get people’s attention, he’s always working through the ups and downs of life to drive folks to their knees, it’s when folks are down on their knees / down on their “luck” that they just might be open to the grace of God, they just might be open to receiving a bit of mercy, they just might be open to the truths that could set them free. With that in mind, Jesus is always nearby inviting, teaching, and urging.
(Inviting) us to join Him in “across the fence” conversations. We’ve been saying it in the bulletin all spring and summer. In Minnesota at least, spring and summer offer way more chances to be neighborly than does winter. As the Good Samaritan no doubt engaged in conversation with his injured neighbor, so Jesus was famous for engaging in conversation with tax collectors and prostitutes, engaging with gluttons and drunkards. One question for you this morning, how would life be different around here this week if instead of stating our opinions first and foremost we would focus on understanding those with the opposite opinions?
(Teaching) us the values of asking good questions and listening well. As the Good Samaritan no doubt asked a few questions and spent some time listening on their way to the inn, so also was Jesus famous for answering one question with a better one. That’s the rhythm of our text for today, the lawyer asking one question, Jesus asking two of his own. When the lawyer answered with the two great commandments, Jesus said, you’re correct, do this and you will live. When the lawyer asked another question, (And who is my neighbor?)seeking to justify himself, Jesus responded with a story, followed by a question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered correctly, and Jesus said “You go and do likewise.” A second question for you all this morning, how would life be different around here this week if every one of us went looking every day for one hurting person with only one agenda item- to look them in the eyes and to listen carefully to what’s going on inside of them?
(Urging) us to step outside of our comfort zones. (Story of Three Bears Resort water park, my love for fast and furious water slides, Debi not so much. Often I invited her to try out the slides, once she almost did, but then she didn’t. Oh, how she missed out on so much adventure, just as surely as she missed out at Valley Fair by not going on the Wild Thing, nor Steel Venom, nor the High Roller, not the Renegade, nor the Looping Starship….One last question – how would this place be different, if the Spirit of God could nudge us just one time this next week to step outside of our comfort zone for the sake of the Gospel? Just one time to stop at the side of life’s road to see if we can be helpful in a situation where we’re not really sure how it’s going to turn out.
Smelling roses and checking the ditches! The kingdom of God is like a large in a small town learning more and more how blessed they are on the one hand and how full of broken and hurting people this world is on the other hand. How beautiful God’s creation is on the one hand and how ugly is so much of life on the other hand. How simple it is to be a good neighbor on the one hand, and how complicated it can get on the other hand. With that in mind, they spend their days smelling roses on the one hand, and checking the ditches on the other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Luke 10:1-20 / Galatians 6 / Isaiah 66
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Before this sermon, please pray with me. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Last week Luke confronted us with the cost of following Jesus. Jesus said, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head and then he asks the same of his followers. He said, to follow me, you’ve got to leave everything else in second place, and in our verse for today he does just that.
Today, I want you to think about the moment right after you commit. In the summers of 2003 and 2004, I went down to Great Oaks Ropes Course near Palatine, Illinois. It’s the same place where I ran around the lake and decided to pursue pastoral ministry. But today, I want you to know about the Ropes course. We would get trained in on how to wear a harness, how to clip two carabineers from the harness to the support lines, and they’d send us on up, climbing our ways through the trees, up up up now twenty, now thirty, now forty feet into the air, climbing up trees, balancing on logs, inching along wire, we climbed our way all the way up to a two-foot by two-foot little board that you’d connect yourself to the zipline, a 300 yard-long wire where you’d drop about 10 feet, the slack in the rope would tighten and you’d ride your way down.
And, inevitably, there’s an eighth grader up at the ledge, his first time, let’s call him Dan. Dan climbed the whole way up, but when he got there, has this ever happened to you? He got a hitch in his throat. Dan saw his feet dangling over the edge, and he couldn’t do it. Do you know how this feels? Things start to go in slow motion. That fear rises in your heart. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears. You get to the point of decision and then you stop. And I’m sure, in his head, it feels like it goes on for hours, until something clicks and he jumps.
And here’s the moment I want you to remember: The moment when your heart’s in your throat, when you think, “Am I really doing this?” You made the decision. You took the plunge… but there’s that split second of free fall when you aren’t sure you made the right decision, before you feel the harness catch…
We see Jesus sending out his disciples, 72 of them, two by two, 36 pairs. What’s the significance of that? You have someone to watch your back. You have someone to pray with, someone for comfort. It’s the same reason we tend to send out evangelists two by two, or why we start churches with a core group already selected rather than just sending out a lone preacher type. We’re following the promises of Jesus, that where two or even three are gathered in my name, there I shall be…
And he says to them, there’s a whole lot of harvest, but there isn’t enough manpower. So pray. Pray that Lord sends out you and sends out more, and makes disciples through you so that his harvest can be reaped. He says, Go on your way, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. What does that mean?
It means that’s he’s asking them to believe when they jump off the ledge. He’s asking them to believe in the promises of the beatitudes. These show up in Matthew chapter 5, in the sermon on the mount, and they show up again in Luke 6 – it’s Luke’s version of a similar sermon, he calls it, the sermon on the plain. He says, Blessed be the poor – those who don’t have two tunics, don’t have two staffs, don’t have money bags, because there is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who are hungry – those who depend on others for their food – for they will be filled. Blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and revile you and spurn you… rejoice and leap for joy for your reward is great in heaven.
And then guess what! Four chapters later, he makes his disciples poor, hungry, and reviled. He says, live by the grace of God. Be sheep in the midst of wolves. Eat whatever’s set before you. Go wherever people will have you. What kind of a life he asking them to live?
Meditation number 1. Well, he’s asking them to live an apostolic life. The Christian life is apostolic. What does that mean? The word apostle comes from the verb apostello, which means to send. For example, my wife could send you a card, or my wife could send me to deliver a card to you. God is a sending God. The Father sends the Son to the world. The Son sends the Spirit to his people. When we talk about the 12 apostles, we’re talking about the twelve ones that Jesus sent in the great commissioning, and we see wherever they go, they start sending even more people to more places. They’re entrusted with a purpose, and that purpose influences where they go and what they do.
What is that purpose? To tell anyone who cares to listen that the kingdom of God is near. To first suffer the affliction of the afflicted with them, and then to pray and act that their wrongs get righted.
Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways, talks about this – the office of apostle – as the catalyst, or energizing factor, of the church. He writes, “There is something essential and irreplaceable in the ministry of the apostle [someone sent for a specific purpose] that is critical to the emergence of … movements like that of the biblical and postbiblical periods and of the underground phenomenon of the Chinese church.” That’s a church that’s grown who knows how large in a very unfriendly state, so much so that they send missionaries to evangelize the United States. “Apostolic influence awakens the church to its true calling and identity and as such is irreplaceable.”
You see, it’s not so much a place you’re sent to, and it’s not a thing you’re sent to do – it’s an overriding purpose. Love your neighbor as yourself – there is no law against such a thing. The Gospel the “Why” for everything you do. It’s not so much church vision statements, or official constitution purpose statements; it's the way the daily life of the body of Christ witnesses in all our vocations. It’s not so much about how much or how little you have, how great or how poor your abilities, how blessed or cursed your life seems to be; it’s about declaring that the grip of God will hold even when – and especially when - everything else is slipping away. Your mission becomes the mission of Jesus Christ – that’s the entire middle section – your message in Christ’s message. When it is received, Christ is received. You have the same purpose and cling to the same promises. It’s the truth that all the baptized know: whether you’re in freefall or you’re hanging fast, you’re in the palm of your father’s hand, because you’ve never been anywhere else.
Meditation number 2. There is resistance. There are points at which your experience will tell you the opposite of the promises of God. It wouldn’t be an act of faith if there weren’t. You see, it wouldn’t be an act of faith if they didn’t have need, if there weren’t wolves. If their poverty was met with abundance every time. If they didn’t go hungry. If they weren’t reviled. In this world you will have troubles. I’m not here to tell you what those troubles are. You know them for yourselves.
What I am here to proclaim is that it is precisely against the unrelenting pressure of the sinful world, a pressure that seems to hit you with blow after blow, no mercy no quarter, that we see God as our rock and refuge. It is precisely the nasty dealings of the devil, dealings that turn the culture against Christianity, dealings that turn ministry partners into foes, that promise easy paths and wide roads, that we remember God cut no corners when he set his face to Jerusalem and death he’ll die for you and me. It is precisely the stubborn refusal of our sinful nature, a refusal that demands winners and losers, a refusal that assumes it knows everything it needs to know, a refusal to try, to fail, and to try again that allows us to see in stark relief how the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men, how the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. It is the truth that those who gather in communion know: the strength that our God gives in his body and blood is other-worldly in every way.
Meditation number 3. The disciples come back breathless. Here’s the end of my opening illustration: the guy who was up there in the tree, agonizing and aching and waiting finally jumped and came down the zipline screaming as the line caught and took him to the end. He got down, breathless… and as soon as they undid his harness, he was sprinting back to the start yelling, “Let’s do that again!”
By the grace of God, the disciples come back breathless. Like my bouncing Benjamin, they look at him with eyes that say, “More!” Like Dan, they say, “Let’s do that again.” They swap stories, like vicars back from vicarage (I know the stories you’ve told, but do you ever think what stories your vicars told about you?). Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning – I saw a great defeat, and the kingdom of God breaking into people’s lives,” and then the disciples say, “Again!”
Greg Finke in Joining Jesus on His Mission, says it like this: “You’re only afraid to pray once.” After that, you realize that it’s just talking with God about your neighbor. After that, you realize that it puts your head in an entirely new place about that person – because it’s really a lot more difficult to be petty and small with a person that you’re praying God would follow around with the goodness and mercy they need. After that, you realize daily prayer, with others, in any and every situation is the bread and butter of your life.
But heed Jesus’ last words well: He says to happy and breathless disciples, Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you. No, Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven. Do not rejoice that your work is fruitful. Rejoice that God used your hands to provide for your family. Do not rejoice that your ventures are successful. Rejoice that whether they succeed or fail, God would use them to change lives. Do not rejoice that you prayed and survived. Rejoice that your Father in heaven hears your prayers however well or poorly they are spoken. Don’t rejoice that you went down the zipline. Rejoice that your friends and family love you whether or not you did but that they’re really happy you did.
The Christian life is apostolic – it’s sent for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to declare the kingdom of God to be near. There is resistance, points at which your experience will tell you the opposite of the promises of God. And, we rejoice first and best in that our names are written in heaven.
Amen and Amen.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our sermon series is working its way through Galatians, a book that changed Luther’s life. The title for our sermon today comes from Luther’s preface to his lectures, five hundred pages and more on Galatians, he writes, and I quote, “‘For in my heart this one article reigneth, even the faith of Christ’” – the Gospel, the faithfulness of Jesus – and he continues, “From whom, by whom, and unto whom, all my divine studies, day and night, have recourse to and from continually. And yet I perceive that I could not reach anything near … the height, breadth, and depth of such high and inestimable wisdom;” He says, for me, it is enough that I could not even reach the bottom of what this means. What does it mean, this grace, and how are we saved by grace alone?
Imagine something with me: a man commits a crime. He’s convicted and clapped in irons in the lowest prison, without light, dark and dank, for years. He wastes away longing for sunlight and freedom. Then, after 10 years, the jailer comes in, unlocks the shackles, opens the door, and says, You’re free to go… If that was you, what would you do?
Verse 1, For freedom Christ has set us free… Paul starts his Gospel-centered approach on Christian living here. He says, You were enslaved but now you aren’t. Live like someone who’s been set free. You were in shackles and now you’re not. Don’t put them on again. You were tangled up and now you’re not. Live as one who can walk without stumbling. Do you remember Paul’s argument so far? He says, you weren’t saved by the Gospel so that you have more hoops to jump through. No! Your salvation is completed in Christ and you are justified only and ever by grace. God didn’t set you free to clap you in the chains of the law again. He set you free so you could be free.
So then, what should we do? Paul’s asking the Bob Bailey question. Do you remember it? I was hemming and hawing, talking with other young theologian types, up in the clouds, when Bob broke in… – Are we going to talk about it, or are we going to do something about it? What are we going to do? Or in our text, what does it mean to be free?
We aren’t going deep into the grammar tonight… it’s pretty simple… instead, we ask the question, what does it mean to be free?
Two answers for tonight. First Paul says what it DOESN’T mean to be free. Then he says what it DOES mean to be free.
First things first. Paul says, verse 17, the desires of the flesh are AGAINST the Spirit, and then he lists 15 sins. The first three are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality… these first three are sexual sins. Paul puts them first, mostly likely because the Galatians struggled with them the most. They are sins held close. Lenski writes, it’s all about restraint removed. Especially in the last word, sensuality, the image is like a runaway horse restraints removed, running and plunging forward heedless of the danger, these sexual sins are a freedom that leads to danger.
Now, the next two: idolatry and sorcery. The ancient world all the way up to today closely connects the sexual experience with worship, transcendence, and the innermost being. Luther’s definition of an idol is that which you look to for love and trust in times of distress.
Then in verse 20-21 we see the next ten are social sins. They “share a common feature: They are behaviors that disrupt Christian fellowship” (LSB). Enmity, strife, jealousy, they are inward attitudes that distance you from your brothers, the fault lines that can stay hidden under the surface. Fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, they are the outward signs, the obvious signs of broken relationships. Envy – to be resentful, drunkenness and orgies, the outbursts of hot passion and anger, and the like.
But we’re not talking about a “They.” When I read this list I’m talking about me. Self-sabateur extraordinaire, I’m the one who needs to read this text. I think, why do so many fall into the trap of sexual sin? Why is it so easy to mishear what people say? Why is it so easy to assume the worst of others, to get angry when we didn’t need to, to grow impatient, when from the outside it seems so easy, so common sense, to avoid all these things? That’s the mystery of sin.
Paul says, we who do these things are clapping irons around our own arms. We put the millstone around our necks and wonder why it’s hard to swim. We carry a backpack of burden around and wonder why it’s tough to move. Thinking about our opening story, we look at the open door; we rub our wrists, and we struggle to leave the room.
And then Paul moves to what it DOES mean to be free, he asks, “What does freedom look like?” and he says that these are the fruit that blossoms out of your salvation. Verse 22 There are three groups of three: Love—the agape love of “intelligent purpose” that chooses to sacrifice itself for the sake of another. Joy -- “This is what freedom looks like; this is not fatuous joy such as the world accepts; it is the enduring joy that bubbles up from all the grace of God in our possession.” Peace – that’s the way the Grace God has given you starts to restore your relationship with those around you.
Next, patience, kindness, and goodness. Patience – that’s the word “long-suffering” to stand underneath pain and not waver. Kindness– that’s looking always to the benefit others. Goodness -- remember, that’s the word the God used when he created the whole world. He looked at the world and called it “Good.” Complete. Done.
Finally, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Faithfulness – following through on commitments and imitating how God is faithful to us. Gentleness, knowing that God is God and we are not, and Self-control, holding our passions in check.
These are the ways, Paul says, that a human was designed to function best. These are the ways that crucify that destructive desire in us to tangle ourselves up in sin. These are the ways that the Spirit blows us forward.
A few thoughts on our text: First, it’s in our sinful nature to self-destruct. It’s in our nature to just do enough to get by and no more, to sabotage. It’s easy to create either burn bridges for the sake of burning bridges, or to live in false peace instead of honesty. But the life of the Spirit isn’t about dividing people, and it’s not about false peace.
It’s about all kinds of folk honestly struggling together in their weaknesses, not distracted by their divisions, nor telling themselves the lie that they have no problems.
Second, there are two ways to overcome that kind of a life marred by sin. The first is from this point on to be perfect, to never admit fault, and to live up to the letter of the Law. The second is to let forgiveness flow over all kinds of faults. I had a professor tell me in seminary school, you better say this at least once a month, at least that much because people will need to hear it often. Forgiveness is looking someone in the eye, saying, you did me wrong and it hurt me. But for the love of Christ, I choose not to hold that hurt against you. These are the words Christ has said to you. These are the words that bids you take joy to say to others.
Third, in any and every society, there is no law against these things. They aren’t specific to any vocation, time, or location. They can be done by the old and the young, the worker and the homemaker.
Fourth, that these are the fruit of salvation, the fruit of the Spirit. They are what happens when Christ in the Gospel works in your heart and life. They answer the Bob Bailey question, What are we gonna do about it? You don’t do these things to earn salvation; you do them so that your Savior can work through your hands and feet to bring others to saving faith and keep them there.
Amen and amen.
6th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
Man's best friend. My best friend this past Thursday was Roscoe P Coltrain, but he wasn’t very helpful. Story of doing landscaping at daughter Michelle and Brandon’s house, with a big sloppy dog named Roscoe, English Mastiff, already 80 pounds or so as a puppy, probably will grow to over 200 pounds or so. He followed me around wherever I went, it was as if he was my disciple, he loves to play and we did all kinds of that, but when it came time to pull weeds, he stepped on the weeds, when it came time to put mulch around the hostas, he laid down on the hostas, oh he was my best friend and he was a follower, but not particularly helpful.
In our text for today, Jesus is setting his face towards Jerusalem, where he would be suffering at the hands of men, where he would be dying as a way of paying the price for the sins of a rebellious world, where he would be rising up again in glorious fashion. Luke 9:51 is the turning point of Luke’s Gospel. And as Jesus begins his march towards death in Jerusalem, Luke is very careful to note Jesus’ audience in every instance. To each group, Jesus speaks quite different sorts of words. To the crowd, he issues warnings and calls for conversion. To those who convert and want to follow him, he gives positive instructions on discipleship. To those who resist his prophetic call, he tells parables of rejection. Throughout the journey, Luke has Jesus turn from one group to the other, from crowd to disciples to Pharisees. In today’s sermon, we focus on his instructions to those who would follow him, those who would make the journey from birth to death, more specifically to those of us who would take the journey beginning in Baptism all the way to the resurrection of the dead and life eternal.
Our sermon theme is “Following Well.” In his book “I’ve Got Your Back: Biblical Principles for Leading and Following Well,” James Galvin uses a word new to many of us, “followership.” He describes three types of followership – 1)following God, 2)following government authority, and 3)following human authorities. In terms of following God, he explains the parable of the minas, the parable where three servants received a mina, one servant invested it and earned ten more, one servant invested it and earned five more, one servant was afraid of his master, hid the mina and returned it, he uses that parable to talk about five levels of followership, five different kinds of disciples.
(Wholehearted) disciples are those who follow well, they help other followers, they help the leaders lead, there is a sense of openness with their pastors and church leadership.
(Growing) disciples are those who are following well, they help other followers, they support their pastors and church leaders, there is a sense of teamwork with their leaders.
(Nominal) disciples are doing the minimum required, there is mere compliance, are like sheep following their shepherd.
( Distracted) disciples are those who are not fulfilling their responsibilities in the church, they are falling behind, they are slacking, they keep their pastors and church leaders at a distance.
(Wayward) disciples in the church are those who are undercutting or resisting their pastors and leaders, making things worse, they have a sense of antagonism with leadership – perhaps with good reason, I might add!
In today’s sermon, we would hold the mirror up to ourselves and ask how we’re doing. Am I following Jesus Christ with all of my heart and soul and mind? Am I following in a growing and supportive kind of a way? Am I following in an ok kind of a way? Am I following at a distance? Or am I in the process of straying far away? Four truths we would lean again about what it means to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, to follow Jesus Christ. Four truths about what it means to follow our Good Shepherd who in fact follows us around with goodness and mercy in all the chapters of our lives. Four truths about what it means to spend our days thanking and praising, serving and obeying. Four truths about what it means to spend our days supporting the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Following Well means (suffering) at the hands of people for doing the right thing. All kinds of suffering in our lives is caused by us doing that which is wrong, but today Jesus would teach us that the more closely we follow Him, the more likely we are to have to endure what He had to endure. If Jesus had to be rejected by religious authorities in his day, why would we think we could serve him with smooth sailing? If Jesus had to be misunderstood and mischaracterized, why would we think that others would always be giving us the benefit of the doubt? If Jesus had to be slapped around and tortured and humiliated and crucified until he was dead, why would we think that we would be appreciated and rewarded and honored as we follow?
Dear friends in Christ, as Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and braced himself for hell on earth that was coming his way, understand that He was in reality setting his face on you, that all of his suffering under Pontius Pilate was for you, that every bit of rejection thrown his way was that you could be accepted by your Father in heaven.
Secondly, following Jesus well means (dying) on a daily basis. By nature, we would rather focus on living the abundant Christian life with all kinds of peace and joy than dying to sin and drowning the old adam in a regular kind of a way. (Story of neighbor almost 4 years of age Gus, who is really well mannered and has terrific parents who are doing a great job teaching and molding him. A couple of days ago, I asked Gus a theological kind of a question. I said, “Gus, are you so well mannered because your parents taught you so well, or are you well mannered by nature?” He looked me in the eyes and said, “by nature!”
By nature, we would like to give attention to forming good habits instead of exposing and weeding out our bad ones. By nature, we would prefer to set goals and reach them instead of starting out each day admitting that we are poor and miserable sinners, that we have sinned in serious and hurtful ways, and that we are messed up sinners in need of a Savior. By nature, we would like to solve problems instead of realizing that we are the problem.
Dear friends in Christ, as Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, he was taking a turn towards death by crucifixion. Learn again today the simple lesson that his death was all about your being able to live. That in every one of your days, before the new life in Jesus can rise up inside of you and rule, there must be death. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Say it with me, “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Third, following Jesus well means (rising up again) on a daily basis. This is the Good News that deserves to be celebrated, that deserves to be proclaimed, that deserves to be supported in every one of our days. That Jesus Christ rose up again on the third day, and because he rose up again, our sins are forgiven. Because he rose up again, we can trust that he is who he said he was. Because he rose up again, we can have confidence that every word of Holy Scripture is true and absolutely reliable. Because he rose up again, caskets and funeral homes and cemeteries will not have the final word around here.
Dear friends in Christ, the final word in every one of our sermons, in every one of our Bible classes, in every one of our Confirmation Classes, in every one of our Sunday School and Lutheran School days, the final word in every one of our meetings, in every one of our conversations, in every one of our conflicts, the final word needs to be that Jesus Christ rose up again on the third day, he ascended into heaven on the 40th day, he sent his Spirit on the 50th day, he is ruling all of heaven and earth with authority for the benefit of his church, the final word needs to be that Jesus Christ is coming back again soon, the final word needs to be that the time for Gospel outreach is today and not tomorrow and certainly not some day in the distant future.
Fourth and finally, following Jesus well means not looking back. (Story of working the soil in my dad’s half section in Ransom County, North Dakota. One field was no less than 80 acres, dad told me in no uncertain terms, when digging or disking or ploughing the first time through, set my eyes on that one tree in the distance, set my eyes on that one fence post, and do not look back).
Dear friends in Christ, when Jesus set his eyes on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, he was setting his eyes on you. He did not look back and wonder if there was another way. He did not look back and make sure his own mom and brothers and sisters were going to be ok. He knew that his real brothers and sisters and mother and father were those who would believe in him, those who would have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads and hearts, his real family would be those who would consider it pure joy to suffer various trials for his sake, his real family would be those who would keep putting one foot in front of the other, those who would seek him and his righteousness first of all and trust that all of these other things in life would fall into place in due time. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to follow Jesus well is never again to wallow around in the guilt and the grime and the gore of the sins of days gone by. To follow well is to learn from past mistakes, yes, but to root around in them no! It is to rejoice every day that faults and failure of the past have been forgiven, to trust that the bridges of the future may be crossed by God’s grace when we get there, leaving us just with today to live by repentance and a growing faith.
Man's best Friend. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where people love their dogs, yes, but they are more and more learning what it means to love their God with all of their hearts and souls and minds. More and more they are learning what it means that Jesus Christ has always been their best friend, that He is their best friend today, and what it means to spend their days loving their neighbors as much as they love themselves.
The kingdom of God is like a man who on his best days serves his Lord with all of his heart and soul. Many days he is learning and growing, some days he is just going through the motions, still other days he is as distracted as he can be, and more often than he cares to admit, he is just plain full of himself. The good news is that on every one of his days, he has a best friend who sticks closer to him than a brother. This best friend has already gone on before him, he is walking alongside of him, and the best news of all is that as often as he as often as he falls and once in a while falls down hard, his best friend is there to pick him back up and whisper into his ear, “you can do this. You can do all things that I am asking you to do, with my strength.” In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther