September 15, 2019 Sermon

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Sep 152019
 

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Luke 10:29 (Lev 19)

This morning, as we look at Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we will learn the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Then we will see from the parable and from our reading from Leviticus, what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.

 

The man who came to test Jesus asked what he had to do to have eternal life. Jesus pointed him to the Scriptures. He asked this man who claimed to be an expert in the law, a person who knew the Old Testament Scriptures very well, what he had learned from his studies. The man showed himself to be very knowledgeable. He quoted what is a perfect summary of the will of God reflected in the 10 Commandments, one which Jesus himself has used on other occasions; Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself. He knew the correct answer, so why was he asking Jesus about it? Jesus made that clear with his next statement. You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.

Do this and you will live, that’s really where the man’s question lay. His conscience told him that he had not done these things. No matter how hard he tried, he knew there were people he didn’t love and didn’t treat in a very loving way. He was looking for Jesus to give him a way quiet his conscience. So he asked the question, who is my neighbor? He was hoping that those he didn’t love and had not treated in a very loving way weren’t really his neighbors and therefore he would not be guilty of breaking the command to love his neighbor.

I’m sure there have been times in your life when you were hoping for the same thing. There are people you don’t want to have to love; people who have hurt you with unkind words; people who have tried to take advantage of you; people who cut you off in traffic; maybe the Muslim who lives next door who gets extra breaks and concessions at work that you don’t get. I’m sure you can add to the list, or even have someone in mind when I mention people you might not want to love. Like this expert in the law, our conscience tells us that there are people that we don’t love, have not loved, as ourselves. Like this man we want to justify ourselves by thinking that maybe they aren’t really our neighbors, so we don’t really have to love them.

Who is my neighbor? Jesus answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. He talked about a man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead. That was bad enough, but both a priest and a Levite saw him lying there bleeding, in need of help, and both of them looked the other way. They didn’t stop and render aid. Finally, another man came along. He did stop and render aid. He tended to the man’s wounds. He transported him to the nearest inn, and even paid the inn keeper to let him have a room while he healed. And then Jesus drives his point home. He, the man who stopped to render aid, was a Samaritan, someone who would have had every reason to not only look the other way and keep going, but even to mock him, or kick him while he was down because of the way this injured man’s countrymen had often treated him.

What is the point of Jesus’ parable? You know. Everyone, even those we might consider our enemies, even those who have hurt us, or mistreated us; everyone is our neighbor. No excuses. No wiggle room. If there is anyone you haven’t loved; if there is anyone you have not treated well, then you have not loved your neighbor as yourself, or loved the Lord your God with all your heart. You have not done what you need to do to have eternal life. You deserve to have God treat you the way you have treated them- to look the other way, to let you get what you deserve for your lack of love.

But God is not like the priest and the Levite. God is love. When he saw us beaten and robbed by sin and Satan, left by them to die and be eternally condemned, he didn’t look the other way and leave us to suffer now and forever. He had compassion on us who were his enemies. When he saw that we neither loved him above all things, nor did we love our neighbor as ourselves, he sent Jesus to help us. Throughout his life Jesus demonstrated that he loved God and his neighbor perfectly. He even prayed that the Father would forgive those who had lied about him, spit on him, whipped and crucified him. He had the Father give him the punishment that they, and we, deserve for not loving God above all things or our neighbor as ourselves. He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us. By his wounds we have been healed. Whenever we are robbed and beaten by sin and Satan he comes to us. He binds up our wounds with the healing salve of forgiveness. He sends Christians, (like the Samaritan, and Inn keeper) to make sure that we have what we need to recover from the wounds we received from the attacks of Satan and from our own foolish choices. Through the gospel in word and sacrament he strengthens us to go about our lives showing others the same kind of love that he has shown us.

What does that look like? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? God gives us many practical examples. Jesus’ parable suggests that loving your neighbor as yourself means realizing that helping a person in need is more important that carrying out a duty at God’s house, even if that person in need is your enemy.

In our reading fromLeviticus, God suggests that loving your neighbor as yourself means not trying to keep every penny for yourself, but to use some of what is yours to care for the poor. It means making sure that you don’t take advantage of others by lying about what something is worth and enriching yourself at their expense. It means making sure that you pay someone what you owe them promptly. It means not bullying or making fun of others, especially those with a handicap. It means applying the laws of God and man without being swayed by their appearance, importance, or lack of it. It means, as Luther put it so well, taking the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way and never saying anything about them that would harm their reputation, even if it might be true. It means not holding a grudge or seeking revenge against those who have hurt you or sinned against you.

Take your service folder home and take some time this week to read the lesson from Leviticus 19 a few more times. Let it guide you in what you say on social media. Let it guide you in the way you think and act toward others. Let it remind you of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

If you were following along in Leviticus as I summarized what those verses say, you might have noticed that there was one verse near the end that I skipped over. I wanted to especially highlight that verse because most people today would say that it doesn’t describe a way to love your neighbor. Verse 17 says you shall not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. You must openly rebuke your fellow citizen so that you do not become responsible for his sin.

That doesn’t sound loving, does it? To rebuke someone means to point out their sin, to tell them that they are doing something that God says is sinful. Most people today, including our neighbors sitting next to us this morning, would say, “Who are you to judge me? You are just as much a sinner as I am.” And there is an element of truth to that. We are just as much a sinner as anyone else. So how is it that God can say if we fail to rebuke our neighbor, we are not loving them as ourselves?

A lot has to do with attitude, and with understanding the seriousness of sin. If your attitude is like the Pharisee in the temple that you are so much better than the other person, that you would never commit the sin they are committing, that’s not love. Our attitude must always be humility- that we are just as sinful as they are, but that we want them to see how dangerous sin is so that we can share the good news of forgiveness in Jesus with them.

God says that failing to warn your neighbor, especially your fellow Christian of sin, makes you bear some responsibility if they remain unrepentant and end up in Hell. Think of it this way. If there is a dangerous pit on your property and you fail to put up a fence and warning signs and someone falls into the pit and is seriously injured, everyone would agree that you bear some responsibility, even if they were trespassing. It’s even more true when it comes to warning people about the pit of Hell. When you understand the seriousness of sin you understand that warning people about their sinful choices, when done in humility, is one of the most loving things you can do for your neighbor.

Who is your neighbor? Everyone is your neighbor, even those who hurt you. God says we are to love all people, even our enemies, as ourselves. How do we do that? By remembering that we were God’s enemies, and while we were still sinners, Jesus loved us enough to live and die in our place. The more we focus on what God has done for us in Jesus the more we will be enabled to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Mark 7:31-37

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Sep 082019
 

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Mark 7:31-37

Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today as we are reminded that Jesus does everything well.

 

Through Isaiah God foretold that when the Messiah came the eyes of the blind (would) be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame (would) leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.  When Jesus healed the man who was deaf and mute the people, even those living in the predominately gentile area of the Decapolis, made the connection. He has done everything well, he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.  But did they understand what that meant?  Did they really agree that everything Jesus said and did was good? What about us? Do we always agree that everything Jesus says and does is good?

Consider how Jesus did everything well for this man.  I imagine this man must have been a little confused and frightened.  He had good friends who were bringing him to Jesus, but, since he couldn’t hear, it must have been difficult for them to explain to him who Jesus was or why they were bringing him to Jesus.  So, Jesus calms his fears.  He takes him away from the distractions of the crowds. He uses a kind of sign language to let him know what he is going to do for him.  He puts his fingers in his ears to let him know he is going to do something about his inability to hear.  He touches his tongue to let him know that he is going to do something about his difficulty in speaking.  He looks up to heaven to let him know that he has come from heaven and that what is about to happen is from the Lord. He shows this man the kind of empathy, compassion and understanding that he had likely never experienced in his life, for most people had probably either ignored him, or looked down on him. And then, simply by the power of his word, with just one word, he heals him. He says Ephphatha, and the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Everyone recognized what an amazing miracle this was.  This man now could not only hear, but immediately was able to speak plainly.  He didn’t need months of speech therapy.  As with almost all of Jesus’ miracles, and the miracles performed by the Apostles in Jesus’ name, the healing was immediate and complete.  Like crippled man Peter healed who could immediately not only walk, but jump, even though he had been lame from birth, this man could hear and speak plainly immediately.

Today we are amazed by stories of people who have been in some kind of accident and have been told by Doctors that they would never walk again, but after months, maybe years of rehab and hard work, are able to walk normally.  We sometimes call that a miracle, and certainly it didn’t happen without God’s blessing.  But if we were to witness something like what is described here in Mark, a complete and immediate healing, right before our eyes, we too would be overwhelmed with amazement. We couldn’t help but realize that what happened was done by the hand of God.

The people said, Jesus has done everything well. He not only healed the man, but he did so in a very loving and compassionate way. Yet it seems that the people didn’t live up to he full meaning of their statement.

When Jesus was about to heal the man who had been brought to him, as he looked up to heaven, he sighed.  Mark doesn’t tell us exactly why, but when this word is used other places in Scripture it is most often used in connection with a longing for heaven because of the painful effects of sin.  It seems that Jesus was expressing his sadness over what sin had done to the Father’s once perfect world, and to this man in particular.  Often, as Jesus looked out over the crowds of people who had come to him, bringing those who had sicknesses and diseases, and those who were demon possessed, we are told that he had compassion on them. He sighed.  His heart went out to them because of the suffering that sin had brought upon them, not only physically, but spiritually.  More than anyone, he understood the punishment, the eternal suffering everyone deserves, because everyone sins.

Jesus sighed, maybe because he was saddened as he witnessed firsthand the physical suffering caused by sin, but maybe also because he knew these crowds would focus on the wrong thing.  Yes, he provided a wonderful, miraculous healing that led people to think that he must be the Messiah and confess that he did everything well, but they would not put their confession in to action.  They would focus on the outward.  They would rejoice that someone had come who could fix anything that was wrong with their bodies by just speaking a word. But, like so many who go to faith healers today, they would forget that their bodies would still age, and that someday they would still face death. They wouldn’t see that Jesus didn’t come just to heal the body temporarily.  He came to make sure that when our bodies do wear out and we stand before God we will not be cast out of his presence forever.

In order to keep us from being separated from God forever Jesus had to do all things well. He had to fulfill God’s demands perfectly.  Without realizing it, these people confessed what the Father confirmed from heaven when he said of Jesus, this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.  Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did everything well.  He remained perfect and holy and without sin. And because he did everything well, because he remained without sin, he was able to take our sins upon himself, even our sins of focusing too much on the outward; and have the Father punish him in our place. The father showed that Jesus’ sacrifice in our place was accepted by raising him from the dead.

The crowds praised Jesus and said he did everything well, but when Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone they apparently didn’t think he was doing “well”. They acted as if they knew better.  They did not obey his command and proclaimed what he had done to as many as possible.

Our first reaction is to be very hard on them and to think, “How could you do that!  Jesus is right there with you telling you not to do something and you do it anyway!” But, how often doesn’t that describe us?  How often don’t we confess that Jesus has done everything well, he is our Lord and Savior, but then our actions show that we don’t think well of what he commands us?

The command Jesus gives us is just the opposite of the one he gave the people of the Decapolis.  Jesus tells us to let the whole world know who he is and what he has done for us and for them. He commands us to proclaim the gospel to all. But what do we do? We keep quiet.

Jesus sighed.  He knew what would happen if he healed the deaf man who was brought to him.  He knew in advance that the people would not listen to him and spread the news of the healing even though he commanded them not to.  Jesus knew that if these crowds published what he had done people would see him only as a physical healer and not as the savior from sin.  Jesus knew that if these crowds published what he had done his enemies would be angered and his ministry would be more difficult.   But what did Jesus do? He healed the man anyway.

Professor Deutschlander commented that, “In all of God’s gifts to us he runs the risk that we will love the gift more than the giver.  We won’t put him first. Yet he gives it anyway in grace. He can’t stop giving.”

What a gracious God we have! As it was with the people who witnessed this miracle, he knows that one minute we will confess that he has done everything well, and the next we will act as if what he commands isn’t good and do our own, sinful thing.  He knows that when he gives us the gift of forgiveness we will sometimes use it as an excuse to sin. But he gives us his word, and he gives us his forgiveness anyway. In compassion and mercy he knows that if he doesn’t we will no chance of being saved.

Jesus restored this man’s ability to hear and speak.  Jesus has given us the ability to hear and speak, not just so that we could enjoy music and chat with our family and friends about the weather and football.  He has given us the ability to hear and speak so that we can listen to him speak to us through his word, and, realizing that he has done everything well, that he has accomplished God’s plan of salvation and won eternal life for us, we would speak about him when he tells us to speak and be silent when he tells us to be silent.

Jesus has done everything well.  Because he has, we look forward to the time when there will be no one who is deaf, no one who is lame; when we and everyone in heaven will use our tongues to praise God continually for all he has done for us in Jesus.

September 1, 2019 Sermon

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Sep 012019
 

1 Corinthians 15:9-10

Please turn your attention to our second reading for today from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Like Paul, it is only by the grace of God that we are what we are.

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David, Paul, Noah, even the great Abraham, they were all great heroes of faith. But they all had their faults and God doesn’t hide their faults from us. That makes it easy for us to identify with them. It enables us to say with Paul, by the grace of God I am what I am.

What was Paul? He says he had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He could have been the person in the temple thanking God that he was so much better than others. He had been circumcised on the 8th day as the law demanded. He was extremely zealous for Jewish traditions, advancing in Judaism beyond others of his own age, even to the point of having the great Rabbi Gamaliel as his teacher. He was so zealous for the Jewish traditions that he was convinced that Jesus was a false prophet and he became the leader of the persecution of anyone who taught or even said that they believed that Jesus the promised Messiah who had risen from the dead. He was convinced that he was doing God’s will when he put Christians in prison, divested them of their property, and even presided over their execution.

What was Paul? He had been a persecutor of God’s church. He was a sinner, humanly speaking, a more obvious sinner than any of the other apostles.

What are we? Like David, like the Pharisee in the temple, like the tax collector, like Paul, we are sinners. Like David we have lusted. Like David we have tried to cover up our sins. Like the Pharisee in the temple we have looked down on others and considered ourselves less sinful, better than they. Like the tax collector there are probably times when we have cheated, maybe at school, maybe on our taxes, or in other ways. Like Paul there have been times when we thought we were being zealous for the Lord, but we were just being judgmental and unloving, letting tradition blind us to the truth.

Because of his sins Paul realized that any good thing he had done was the equivalent of garbage. He realized that he deserved to have God strike him dead on the spot and send directly to Hell for all eternity. Do you need someone like Nathan to help you realize that the same is true of you? Do you need a blinding light from heaven to knock you off your high horse? Whatever it is, we all need something to happen in our lives that makes us pay attention to God’s law and realize that we are sinners who deserve nothing from God but his eternal punishment.

By the grace of God Paul was what he was –a sinner who was also a forgiven child of God, and heir of eternal life. The brightness of the presence of Jesus that knocked him off his horse and blinded him brought him to see how wrong he was about Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a false teacher. His body wasn’t stolen from the tomb. He really had risen from the dead. That meant he really was the Messiah, the savior of the world. Jesus was appearing to him in glory, speaking to him from heavenly glory, and, although he pointed out that by what Paul was doing he was actually persecuting him, he didn’t destroy him! Instead, he graciously sent a man named Ananias to him to restore his sight. But even more important that receiving his physical sight, through Ananias he received baptism. He received the assurance that his sins had all been washed away, paid for in full by Jesus’ life and death in his place. He received the assurance that he was a child of God and an heir of eternal life. He realized that Baptism had such power because the promise of the resurrected Christ was attached to it.

What a blessing it is, that when we recognize our sins and humbly bow our heads like the tax collector, throwing ourselves on the mercy of God as we pray, God be merciful to me a sinner, we too experience the grace of God. What a blessing it is when God sends us a Nathan, or an Ananias, who through the word and Sacraments assures us that all of our sins have been washed away, paid for by Jesus. We too experience the grace of God as we hear the absolution, as we remember our baptism, and we are assured that we too are children of God, heirs with Jesus of eternal life. What a blessing that we can leave this building and return to our homes justified, declared not guilty of our sins, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

Like Paul, we admit that we are the least, a chief of sinners. We admit that we don’t deserve to be called a child of God. But, by the grace of God, that is what we are. By grace alone God chose us to be his child even before we were born. By grace he sent his son Jesus into this world to take our place under his law and under his wrath. He paid the price to redeem us. By grace he called us through the gospel in the word and sacraments. By grace he worked faith in our hearts to believe that Jesus is our savior so that we are justified, declared not guilty; so that there is no condemnation waiting for us. By grace he has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to sanctify us, to cause us to grow in faith, to keep us in the faith, and to enable us to serve him daily until he takes us to be with him forever.

Paul says that God’s amazing grace was not ineffective. Because of what Jesus did for him, he devoted himself to serving Jesus. He was determined to do everything he could to reach as many people as he could with the gospel. He was willing to give up things that he liked, that were part of his culture, the food he liked, traditions he liked, he was willing to put what anyone else liked ahead of  his own likes, to become all things to all people just to get the chance to proclaim to them what he had proclaimed to the Corinthians – that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the only way for anyone to be saved. Because of what Jesus did for him he was enabled to endure all kinds of hardships and persecution for the sake of the gospel.

Like Paul, you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. By God’s grace you have forgiveness, peace, and joy right now, and eternal riches beyond imagination waiting for you later. Don’t let his grace to you be ineffective. Let God’s grace to you move you to devote yourself to the one who gave up everything for you. Let God’s grace to you move you to make everything else secondary to making sure as many as possible hear the saving message that Jesus lived and died for them and then rose again. Peter says, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we recognize God’s amazing grace to us, may we, like Paul, be driven to use whatever gifts God has given us to serve him and our neighbor in love. And, if someone notices what we are doing, like Paul, we will remind ourselves and them that it is not us, but the grace of God working in and through us that is doing anything good.

By the grace of God we are what we are- sinners redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ, called by the gospel to be children of God who are devoted to serve him and our neighbor in a way that gives God all the glory.

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