Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Kings 19:11-21

          Trinity 5
                                                                                                1 Kg 19:11-21

            Perhaps you have wondered at some point how I choose the text that I will preach on each Sunday.  Now obviously there are only three options available as they are found in the lectionary – the readings assigned for each Sunday in the church year. But still, there are three choices – so how do I choose?
            During the first half of the church year – the time when we have all the major seasons and feasts – there is a general orientation toward the Gospel lesson.  We focus on the word and deeds of Jesus.  Normally the Old Testament lesson has some kind of connection with the Gospel lesson, and so this is often the second choice. During the second half of the church year that we are in right now – the Trinity season – the emphasis is more generally on the teaching of Scripture, and so the epistle lesson becomes a good option.
            But taking those factors into consideration, what determines the choice of the text?  Sometimes it is the theological content – that there is just great stuff in there for preaching.  But quite often a more pragmatic criterion helps make the decision.  If a good introduction for a sermon occurs to me, I am likely to go with that text.
            I maintain - and I know many pastors would agree with me – that the most difficult part of writing a sermon is the introduction.  You must begin the sermon from a dead stop.  You have to get it going in a way that begins to engage the congregation so that they are at least somewhat interested in what you are going to say.  The introduction also has to relate to the text in some way. There has to be something about it that is going to tie in to the text and what the sermon will say. And you have to this over and over again.  I am guaranteed to preach just about seventy sermons a year.  The pastor is constantly facing the question: How am I going to get this sermon going?
            But things worked out a little differently on Tuesday of this past week when I sat down and looked at the assigned texts.  On this occasion one of them was the obvious choice, not because an introduction occurred to me or because the theological content was something on which I wanted to preach.  Instead it was the obvious choice because it speaks so directly to what we are experiencing right now.
            In the Old Testament lesson this morning, dramatic events have occurred in the northern kingdom of Israel and the prophet Elijah feels alone.  He feels like the earth has shifted under his feet and that he is the only one remaining who wants to be faithful to Yahweh.  In fact he says twice in his encounter with God, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
            Elijah was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel during the ninth century B.C.  It was a time when things were good – at least economically.  The southern kingdom of Judah, the northern kingdom of Israel and the port city state of Tyre had a thriving commercial relationship going.  In order to cement this relationship, Ahab the king of Israel was married to Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre.
            The problem was that Jezebel was a committed follower of the false god Baal.  She promoted the worship of this god vigorously in Israel and opposed the worship of Yahweh.  Finally, there was a shown down on Mt. Carmel as Yahweh sent down fire from heaven to burn up a sacrifice, while the prophets of Baal weren’t able to make anything happen.
            After Yahweh’s victory, Elijah ordered that the prophets of Baal who were misleading the people were to be killed. Queen Jezebel was angry about this.  And she had the power to do something about it.  She sent a message to Elijah after she heard about the death of the prophets of Baal saying: “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
            Elijah knew that Jezebel wasn’t messing around. And so he fled for his life.  Eventually he came to Mt. Horeb – which is also called Mt. Sinai. He came to the very mountain where Yahweh had entered into his covenant with Israel – the same covenant that Israel was now violating.
            Twice God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Twice Elijah replies: “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
            Unless you have been living in a cave during the last week and a half, it is impossible not to hear in these words the lament of Christians in our nation who believe what God’s word says about sexuality and marriage.  The Supreme Court decided that same sex marriage – marriage between homosexuals – is a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United State.  The implications of this are going to reverberate for years.  Armed with this decision, a new phase in the suppression of the Church and the truth of God’s word in our nation has begun.  How far and how fast this will extend, only God knows. But it’s not going to be good.
            Yet more disturbing than the implications for the future is the terrible sense that we are alone. It seems as if Facebook has become one big rainbow.  The media, entertainment industry and big business couldn’t celebrate same sex marriage enough.  Even the White House – the people’s house - was bathed in rainbow colors.
            We want to ask, “How did this happen?”  Yet the truth is, you aren’t going to like the answer.  You see, we did it.  Or at least, we were part of it.  Same sex marriage is nothing more than the outcome of a new view of sex and marriage.  Contraception and the Sexual Revolution separated sex from babies.  Marriage became fundamentally a matter of personal happiness instead of producing and raising children.
            Who’s to blame? We are. Because we have gone along with it.  Have you had sex outside of marriage? We did it. Have you lived with someone outside of marriage? We did it.  Have you looked at pornography? We did it.  Have you listened to music that glorifies sex apart from marriage?  We did it. Have you divorced for reasons that are not biblical? We did it.  Have you separated sex from procreation, determining the number of children you have in order to fit your definition of what a comfortable life is? We did it.
            We certainly weren’t alone. But you can’t do these things and then act surprised and upset that it has led to this outcome.  To be fair, sometimes we didn’t understand how all of this was related – I certainly didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Law confronts us on it now.
            So what are we to do? The first thing is to repent.  We need to confess all of the ways that we have abandoned God’s will for sex, marriage and family.  We need to confess all the ways that we have made ourselves god as we focused on our pleasure, our version of happiness, our desired lifestyle.
            And that brings us back to our text. Elijah is the persecuted prophet.  He is alone.  He has fled for his life.  God comes to him, not in the might of a wind that tears rocks apart; not in an earthquake; not in fire.  Instead in a low whisper – in a voice – he comes to Elijah and assures him that Yahweh is still in charge.  And he sends Elijah off with things to do.
            But don’t be mistaken.  It helped in that time, but it did not make everything all better.  Instead, Israel and Judah continued in unfaithfulness.  They kept persecuting and rejecting the prophets. The writer of 2 Kings summarized it this way: “Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.”  The end result was God’s judgment and exile.
            The prophets were called to speak a word from God that people didn’t want to hear.  Like the prophet Jeremiah in the sixth century B.C., they were called to face persecution and suffer.  And this is important because God had promised through Moses: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” 
            God did raise up this prophet like Moses.  He did it when he sent his Son into the world in the incarnation.  Jesus Christ came not like a wind the shatters stones, or an earthquake, or fire.  He came as a low whisper – voice that said God was acting to deal with sin.  Yet the paradox of God’s action was that his might could be rejected.  His salvation could be persecuted.  In fact it was by being persecuted – by being nailed to cross – that his salvation was accomplished.
            Jesus died on the cross bearing all of your failures.  And then on the third day he rose from the dead as he won the victory over sin’s progeny – death.  On that first Easter he said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  The suffering and death of Jesus had looked like it was failure. But it was not.  It was God working salvation in his way.
            That truth holds in our day as well. God is still in charge. He is still bringing salvation in his way.  And guess what?  It looks a lot like Jesus. In the proclamation of his word and the administration of his sacraments God’s reign is present bringing forgiveness and victory over death.  Yet it does not appear powerful.  It is easy for people to reject.  It is easy for people to persecute.  It is something that is persecuted.
            But because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ we know the reality.  We know how things really are.  We know Jesus’ victory. We know that just as the persecution of Jesus Christ was always leading towards God’s intended goal, so also the persecution of his people is doing the same.  For you see, it is the risen Lord who is at work forgiving and sustaining his people.  And this work leads to the goal of his return in glory on the Last Day.  It leads to resurrection and eternal life when all things will perfectly reflect God’s will.
            We do not know what the years to come will bring for Christ’s Church – for those who are faithful to what God’s word says.  But we do know what we need to do.  We need to teach our children about the inherent connection and goodness of sex, marriage and babies.  We need to allow this to guide our own lives as well. And we need to trust that the crucified and risen Lord gives us forgiveness and will sustain us in his truth until he brings the final victory and vindication on the Last Day.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Interview on Issues, Etc. "I was born this way"

Today I did an interview with Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc. about the LGBT claim "I was born this way," and how in fact the call to view those urges as sinful and not to act upon them is the same calling that all Christians have as they live as repentant sinners in Christ.

Mark's thoughts: No my LGBT friend, you have not cornered the market

When people discuss the fact they identify as LGBT they often say that they were “born this way” (cue the Lady Gaga).  They say things like, “God made me this way, and God doesn’t make mistakes.”  Of course such statements are meant to bolster the belief that their status as LGBT is a good thing.  And in turn they are meant to reject the idea that it is sinful and wrong.  It is often objected that if LGBT individuals accept the biblical view of sexuality and marriage then they will be condemned to a life of struggle and hardship.  They will face a lifetime of identifying their desires as sinful.  They will be sentenced to a lifetime of struggle against acting on those desires.

But what they (and those in general who support the LGBT agenda) don’t understand is that a person who is LGBT does not have a corner on the market of identifying desires as sinful.  They don’t have exclusive claims to the struggle against acting on sinful desires. This is in fact a description of every Christian. 

What Christians know is that that the root problem of all that is wrong in the world is sin.  The first sin of disobedience (Genesis 3:1-7) brought pain, suffering and death (3:16-19).  It warped humanity and creation itself (Romans 8:18-23). The sin of Adam and Eve brought more sin and death to all (Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).  This sin has warped us – all the way down to our DNA.  It is the source of every sickness and every condition and predisposition that is passed on to us.

Sin is the source of sexual desire for those of the same sex.  But sin is also the source of sexual desire for those of the opposite sex outside of marriage.  So do the LGBT individuals feel desires that will have to be labeled sinful and against which they will have to struggle?  So do I as a Christian.  When given the opportunity to look at a beautiful scantily clad or naked woman and lust after her (and those chances abound in our world, even if you want to avoid them), every fiber of my being wants to look.  Well, it would be more accurate to say that every fiber of the old man in me wants to look.  It is a struggle not to look.  It is a struggle in which most times the new man in Christ wins (more on that in a moment) … but not every time.  There are times when sin wins.

It is true that in the case of LGBT individuals the only answer to struggling against sin may be a celibate life (though we can never lose sight of the fact that there are individuals who had lived this life and then later enter into a biblical marriage).  On the surface it may appear that this makes their situation completely different.  Yet there are many Christians who, because of their life circumstances and the desire to settle for nothing less than a spouse who believes the same thing and will receive the Sacrament of the Altar with them each week, face the reality that almost certainly they will have to remain celibate.  I know people like this.  And one could argue that because there is technically the possibility of having sexual union with a spouse, the reality that it will never happen makes the situation even worse.

The LGBT individual does not have a corner on the market of the struggle against sin’s impact in a condition that may have a genetic basis.   Many Christians struggle with the hardship of anxiety and depression.  The Christian who faces the crushing weight of depression struggles to get up from bed and get going – even as he or she struggles to believe God’s promise of love and care.  When the only respite from the depression is sleep which ends too soon, and there is only the prospect of struggle day after day, a Christian can be tempted by despair and thoughts turn to suicide – perhaps even plans begin to be formed. 

Christians are sinners.  They are people who face the challenge of sin and fail. They face the hardships produced by the sin of a fallen world.  What makes them different from the world is that through the work of the Holy Spirit they confess their sin. With the psalmist they say, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” (Psalm 32:5 ESV).  And in faith they look to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. They believe that he was pierced for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities (Isaiah 53:5) and then rose from the dead so that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV).

But there is more to it than that.  It is true that Christians continue to struggle against sin.  The old man is still present.  As Paul said:

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25 ESV)

Yet through the work of the Spirit the Christian is new man in Christ.  They delight in the law of God in their inner man.  They have received regeneration – rebirth – in the water of Holy Baptism (Titus 3:5; John 3:5). They are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). They have shared in the death of Christ through baptism (Roman 6:2-4) and now because the Spirit who raised Jesus is in them (Romans 8:11), just as Christ was raised from the dead they walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).  Now by the Spirit they “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13 ESV). They struggle against sin, and though they do not succeed all the time, they do in fact succeed in that struggle.

The life of the Christian is a struggle against sin.  St. Paul wrote of himself: 

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 ESV).

It is the Spirit of the risen Christ who makes this struggle possible.  It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that provides forgiveness when we fail.  This is the difference present when LGBT individuals acknowledge their desires as sin, and believe in Jesus Christ.  This is the difference that is present in Christ for all people who struggle with sin in a fallen world.

Confessing the desires as sinful will mean that LGBT individuals leave the world.  They leave a world that tells them to embrace their sin – to let it define their life and provide their identity.  But as Christians they receive a new identity and a new community that supports them.  St. Paul wrote, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV).  In the Church – the Body of  Christ – they receive brothers and sisters who face the same struggle against sin.    Together because of the Lord they, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 ESV).  Together as the baptized they, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV).

Christians do this because they know what Christ has done, and they are encouraged in doing so because they know what Christ will do.  All Christians face the struggle against sin. But we know that the struggle will come to an end. We know that the impact of sin will be removed and the old man will be destroyed.  For as Paul told the Philippians, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself”
(Philippians 3:20-21 ESV). 

LGBT individuals are urged to confess sin as sin so that they can receive forgiveness in Christ. They are encouraged to take up the struggle against sin through the work of the Spirit. But like all Christians, they can do so in the knowledge that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that struggle will come to an end and everything will be “very good” once again (Genesis 1:31).



Monday, June 29, 2015

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Today is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.  Peter was a fisherman who was called as one of the twelve apostles and accompanied Jesus during His entire ministry (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-2).  He confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God and Jesus recognized the role of leadership that he would have in the Church (Matthew 16:13-20).  However, he also rebuked Jesus when our Lord predicted His passion (Matthew 16:21-23) and denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75).  Forgiven by our Lord and commissioned again to care for the flock (John 21:15-19) he was an important leader in the early Church (Acts 2) and God used him to indicate that the Gentiles were being received as part of the people of God (Acts 10).  He wrote two letters that are included in the New Testament.  According to Church tradition, he died a martyr when was crucified upside down in Rome.

Paul, originally named Saul, was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted the Church (Philippians 3:4-6; Galatians 1:13-16; Acts 9:1-2).  The risen Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and called him to be an apostle who would proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:3-18).  Paul engaged in three missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Greece (Acts 13-14, 16-18, 18-21).  While in Jerusalem he was arrested and then imprisoned by the Romans at Caesarea (Acts 22-26).  As a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar and at the end of the Book of Acts he is in Rome under house arrest waiting for his case to be heard (Acts 28:30-31).  Paul wrote thirteen letters that are included in the New Testament.  We have little information about the chronology of the end of Paul’s life (it may be that he was released from Rome and then was later arrested again after doing further missionary work). According to Church tradition, he died a martyr when he was beheaded in Rome

Scripture reading:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:1-12 ESV)

Collect of the Day
Merciful and eternal God, your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of your Son.  Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit that we may confess your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for him who laid down his life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 6:36-42

         Trinity 4
                                                                                                Lk 6:36-42

            Recently I was reading and took note of these words: “When adding ingredients to a measuring cup, be sure no air pockets are trapped inside the cup and the ingredients are level with the top.  A ‘regular spoonful’ means the ingredients in it should be rounded, but a ‘level teaspoon’ means the ingredients are even with the top of the spoon.  When using kitchen measuring spoons, be sure all measurements are level with the top.  There are several places in this book where I mention using a ‘heaping cupful.’  This means you scoop up a full cup of the ingredients, letting the cup hold all it can.”
            Now upon hearing this, it would be understandable if you thought that I have been baking cookies for today’s gathering at the Surburg house.  It sounds like language out of a cookbook.  However, this language about getting proper measurements comes from a very different source.  And those of you who come by the house today will quickly understand why I have been reading it.
            I have been involved in model railroading with my dad for all of my life.  I have helped him build his current model railroad layout that he has been working on for more than thirty five years.  However, I use the word “helped” loosely here. When it comes to the layout itself, I have been the second pair of hands.  So I have seen my dad do everything, but before building my first layout in Brookfield, IL I had never actually done any of it myself.  I built, detailed and decaled engines, freight cars and passenger cars and became very good at that.  But I had never actually built benchwork, or laid track and done wiring.
            Naturally I had seen my dad do these things.  I also talked to others who had done it. But it probably won’t surprise you to hear that one of the things I found most helpful was to read about it.  I purchased several really good how to books and read them carefully and this helped greatly.  And so when it comes to the bench work, track and wiring of my layout I am very pleased.
            However, if you have a chance to visit today, you will immediately see that one significant element is missing – my layout does not yet have any scenery.  There’s no grass; there are no trees, or hills or mountains.  It’s just plywood.  Now I have been working on buildings – especially in the steel mill area – as I get ready to build scenery. But as of yet there is none.
            And so I have been reading about building scenery.  The statements with which I began the sermon are not about measuring ingredients for cooking or baking.  Instead, they are about measuring ingredients for building model railroad scenery – for mixing things like plaster.
            In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus talks about a measure that is used.  He says that it is full measure, compacted and running over.  He tells us to use this full measure in dealing with others, because the measure that we use is the one we will receive from God.  Yet as we listen to the words of the our text, we can never lose sight of the fact that Jesus speaks these words as the One in whom God has already given the over flowing measure to us.
            In our text this morning, we jump mid-stream into what Jesus is saying.  This section begins by telling us that a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all over the area gathered with Jesus at a level place.  We hear, “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’”
            If these words sound very familiar, it is because similar ones are found in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.  The fact that we find similar words in different settings is not surprising.  First of all the Gospels are theological biographies.  While they accurately portray real events, it is not their goal to provide an exact chronological account. And second, it is highly unlikely that Jesus never said the same thing twice – or at least something very similar.  Like any teacher he came up with good ways to say things, and then used it with different audiences.
            I mention these first words, because they are key to understanding what Jesus says in our text.  If you listen to our text, you will find that we are being told to engage in a lot of doing: be merciful; judge not; condemn not; give.  As a teacher, I certainly repeat things that I find to be helpful. And so many of you have heard me say a hundred times: the Law is what we must do; the Gospel is what God has done for us in Christ. These are statements of law.  But the beginning of the sermon makes it clear that they are not bare statements of law.
            Jesus begins by saying that to the poor – and here the Old Testament background indicates that we are talking about those who recognize their spiritual need and who trust in God – to them belongs the kingdom of God now.  As you know, when Jesus says the “kingdom of God” he is not referring to a place.  Instead he is talking about the saving reign of God that entered into the world in him and his ministry. As Jesus will say later in the Gospel after casting out demons: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
            Jesus speaks because he is the One who is freeing people from Satan, sin and death.  This saving work will reach its culmination as he dies on the cross for your sins.  But then, through the work of the Spirit, he will rise from the dead on the third day.  He defeated death and now has been exalted to the right hand of the throne of God.
            This is how God has loved us.  This is how he has shown mercy to us. This is how God has given to us.  And so in our text, Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  God has shown us mercy in his crucified and risen Son.  And now through the work of the Spirit in us, we show mercy to others.
            In particular, Jesus says that we show mercy in the way that we judge and forgive and give to others.  He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
            When Jesus says judge not, he’s not teaching that we never call sin a sin.  This is, of course, the way the world today wants to hear these words.  Yet Jesus is the One who told his disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” There is forgiveness where there is repentance. And there is repentance where sin is confronted.
            Instead, Jesus is teaching us that we are not to be critical of others just to find fault with them.  We are not to look to speak about their faults in order to make ourselves feel better.  We are not to find fault with them while also ignoring the fact that the same things are present in us.  It is not that we are to be silent in the face of sin. Instead, we must repent of the same things that we confront in others.
            And we are to forgive.  Just like the language in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  Jesus speaks as the One who has already given you forgiveness. You have been baptized for the forgiveness of all your sins, as Jesus’ saving work was applied to you.  You receive his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of sins.  You are forgiven.  But Jesus also says that in this divine dynamic the forgiveness that you refuse to pass on to others cannot remain yours either.
            It becomes clear that for those who have received the gift of salvation from Christ, the orientation is directed toward others.  He says, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” We who have received the superabundant grace of God in Christ now seek to give abundantly to others. 
            To be sure, these words of our Lord can strike us in several different ways.  On the one hand, no doubt, we hear them and recognize that we fail to do them. We are critical and judge.  We don’t forgive. We don’t give. And so when we see this log in our own eye, we do what Christians do: we repent. We confess the sin that is present and return to Christ’s Means of Grace through which we have the assurance of forgiveness.  And in this we find forgiveness and peace.
            But at the same time, we hear these words and know that we want to do them.  You are not a stone.  The Holy Spirit has given you the washing of regeneration and renewal.  You have been born again of water and the Spirit and so you are a new creation in Christ.  You have put on the new man and so by the Spirit’s leading you hear these things and know that they are right.  You know that they are good. You know that you want to do them.  And guess what?  Because of the Spirit it is possible to do them.
            No, it won’t be perfect.  It won’t be without fail.  The old man is still present as you live in a fallen world. But when we listen to Christ; when we seek to follow the Spirit’s prompting; when we are nourished by Christ’s Means of Grace these are things that we can do.  We can do them not because of who we are, but because of what Christ has made us to be.  For we are those who have received the saving reign of God that arrived in Jesus.