Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 17:11-19


Trinity 14

                                                                                       Lk 17:11-19



          In May Matthew and Abigail graduated from high school.  People were very generous in giving graduation gifts to them.  I was impressed because, of course, we are talking about two people.  If you give a gift to one, you are kind of committed to giving a gift to the other.   And two gifts do add up.

          Now not that we really needed to tell them … but just in case … Amy and I reminded the twins that they needed to write thank you notes.  They discovered that the act of writing out thank you notes for those gifts took some time. It involved some effort.  And that is the point.  A thank you means that we take the time and effort to acknowledge some good that another has done for us.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning we hear about a miracle Jesus performed as he healed ten lepers.  Surprisingly, only one returns to give thanks to Jesus.  In our text we learn about the nature of Christian faith.  We see how God works to increase our faith.  And we are reminded that our response to the forgiveness and salvation God has provided is one of thanksgiving.

          In the Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem as he traveled from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south.  Geography dictated that in order to make this trip it was necessary to pass through an area where Galilee and Samaria bordered one another.

          The Samaritans were not Jews. They were also not Gentiles. They descended from the people that the Assyrians had brought in to replace the population of the northern kingdom when they were taken into exile.  Over time, these people created their own type of Judaism.  They had their own version of the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament.  They had their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria.

          The Samaritans were very similar to the Jews. But they were also certainly different, and this caused great tension between the groups. During the second century B.C. the Jews destroyed the temple on Mt Gerizim. The relationship descended into acrimony.  We see this in chapter nine of the Gospel.  When Jesus approaches a Samaritan village, it refuses to receive him because he is headed toward Jerusalem.

          In our text we learn that as Jesus was traveling between Galilee and Samaria he approached a village.  Ten lepers met him, stood off at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The term “leper” in the Bible describes a person who had some kind of skin condition that made the individual ritually unclean according to the Book of Leviticus.    

Touching a leper made a person unclean as well until the proper rituals were done to address this.  Lepers could not live in the village with other people.  They would live near a village so that family and friends could support them.  It’s not surprising that we find a group of lepers living together as they shared in the only community that was available to them.

The lepers approached Jesus while remaining separated from him at the necessary distance.  They had heard the news about Jesus and they believed in him.  They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The lepers addressed Jesus by name and called him “Master.”  In Luke’s Gospel, the only other people who use this term to address Jesus are his disciples. Their cry was “have mercy on us.”  This language meant “help us!” as they appealed to Jesus.

The lepers teach us about the nature of faith.  They have heard the word about Jesus.  They approach our Lord in bold expectation. They cry out to him in confidence that he will help them. They turn to him, not claiming any merit, but instead relying solely on Jesus.  They show us what confident trust in the Lord looks like.

They had come to Jesus in faith.  And then our Lord acted to increase their faith.  He acted to cause their faith to mature.  He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  The lepers had come to Jesus in faith.  Now he told them to go to Jerusalem and show themselves to the priests who could certify that a person was healed and clean.

Jesus told them to go.  Yet nothing had yet happened.  He sent them to see the priests while they were still afflicted with leprosy.  The Greek grammar makes this clear as it tells us, “And as they went they were cleansed.”

The lepers believed Jesus’ word.  Though they had not yet been healed, Jesus had told them to go and show themselves to the priests. So they began the journey. They travelled when there was not yet any healing – when there did not appear to be any reason to go see the priests.  Yet because they had Jesus’ word they went.

This is often how God deals with us.  We believe in Jesus.  We have his word of promise and love.  Yet we continue to experience health issues, or depression, or challenging circumstances in our life.  We encounter what seems to be the absence of God’s love and care.  This can cause us to waiver in doubt or even feel anger at God. 

However, God uses these circumstances to cause us to grow in faith.  They become the means by which he leads us to trust in him even more.  He prompts us to turn to Christ and his word alone.  We have nothing else except Christ, yet in Christ we have all that we need.  We cling to Christ’s word, and through that word the Spirit causes our faith to deepen and grow strong.

The lepers had called upon Jesus in faith.  They trusted his word as they went to see the priests though they were still leprous.  And then as they were going they were healed.  They had trusted Christ’s word, and it was Christ’s word that healed them in his time and his way.

We turn to Christ in confident faith because of what he has done for us.  We learn what he has done in the words with which this Gospel lessons begins: “On the way to Jerusalem.”  St. Luke has structured his Gospel so that the final journey to Jerusalem frames much of the material.  We are told in chapter 9, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem.  Repeatedly, our Lord told the disciples about what would happen when they arrived.  Just before entering the city Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

Jesus goes to Jerusalem as the fulfillment of what God had promised in the Old Testament through the prophets.  He goes because of our sins.  Jesus’ purpose was to be numbered with the transgressors.  He went to be numbered with us.  He went to take our place. He took our place in order to receive the judgment that should have been ours.  St Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Christ did this to reconcile us to God.  In our sin we were alienated from God.  We were cut off from him and could expect nothing but judgment. But by his death on the cross he has given us peace through the forgiveness of our sins.  Now we are again able to live as God’s children.  Paul said, All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Our sin brought death to Christ.  But Christ submitted to death in order to pass through it and defeat it.  As he had predicted, on the third day God did raise him from the dead.  We now believe and worship the risen Lord.  And he has not only has risen. Luke describes the goal of his journey has his being “taken up.”  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus was exalted as he ascended into heaven and was seated at God’s right hand.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our confidence and strength. Because we know that God has acted in his Son to save us we are able to believe and trust in our heavenly Father no matter what may be happening.  We walk by faith in the crucified and risen Lord. This is the great answer God has provided that carries us through the challenges we face.  We have seen God act in the midst of suffering to save us, and so we can trust that God is present and at work even in the midst of our suffering and hardship. We do because God raised Jesus from the dead.

As they went, the lepers were cleansed.  We learn that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He fell at our Lord’s feet giving him thanks.  Luke then adds the surprising piece of information: “Now he was a Samaritan.”

          Christ noted the circumstances as he said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then our Lord said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

          Of the nine men healed only one returned to give thanks. And the surprise is that he was a Samaritan.  The lone Samaritan teaches us about how faith responds.  It responds with praise and thanksgiving to God.  We do this first and foremost because of the forgiveness and salvation that God has given us in Jesus Christ.  We give thanks to God because in his grace and mercy he has acted to give us life with him. 

But our thanksgiving does not end there.  God is the One who provides us with every blessing in life.  He has given us our life and our family.  He gives us all that we need to support this existence, and so much beyond that.  He has given us a peaceful land and the freedom to worship him. We need to pause and take account of these blessings.  We need to respond with thanksgiving to God for these many gifts.

The ten lepers in our text teach us that faith calls upon God with confident expectation. Our heavenly Father often prompts that faith to grow and mature as we are called to believe in him in the midst of challenging circumstances.  Yet we are able to trust because of what we have seen God do in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As his forgiven children, we give thanks for the salvation he has provided, and we respond with praise for the many blessings he has given us in this life. 






Sunday, September 3, 2023

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 3:15-22


Trinity 13

                                                                                      Gal 3:15-22



          Paul hasn’t told you the whole story. He is holding back and misleading you.  Should we be surprised?  After all, he is not one of the apostles chosen by the Lord during his ministry.  He wasn’t there when Jesus rose from the dead.  Instead, he is someone who persecuted the Church of God.  He can’t be trusted.   

Yes, you need to believe in our Lord Jesus. He has that part right.  But if you Gentiles want to be part of God’s people, you must do what the Scriptures say.  You must obey the Law.  You must do what God’s people have always done.

          For starters you men must be circumcised.  You must receive the sign of the covenant, just as Abraham did.  Apart from this you can’t be part of God’s people.  You must do the law.

          You also need to observe the days and festivals commanded by the law that God gave to Moses.  And while you are at it, you need to keep the food laws.  No more bacon and sausage and bratwurst.  God’s people can’t eat these things. This food is unclean and forbidden by God.

          This is the message that Paul’s opponents brought to Galatia.  Paul had evangelized the Galatians during his first missionary journey.  However, at some point after this, others came to Galatia with a different message.  It wasn’t a complete denial of what Paul had said. Faith in the crucified and risen Lord was still central.  But the opponents told the Galatians that Paul did not have things right.  Salvation came from the Jews.  And if the Gentiles in Galatia wanted to be part of God’s people then they needed to live like Jews.  They needed to do key parts of the Law, beginning with circumcision.

          Paul was infuriated by this.  He knew that it was a denial of the Gospel itself as the opponents added doing of the law to the reason a person was saved.  Rather than opening his letter with the usual statement of thanksgiving, he jumped right in by saying: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

          In this section of the letter, Paul is contrasting the promise and the law.  God’s promise is received by faith. The law, on the other hand, is about doing.  Paul’s point is that God’s salvation has always been based on the promise and faith. Earlier in this chapter he wrote, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

          When God first called Abraham, he promised him, “In you all nations will be blessed.”  Many years had passed.  Sarah was far too old to have children anymore.  Yet when he pointed this out, God reaffirmed that he would give Abraham his own child as an heir.  We learn that Abraham believed God’s promise and that God counted him as righteous.  He considered him to have a righteous standing because of faith in God and his promise.  Paul added, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

          In our text, Paul says that salvation has always been about faith in the promise.  This couldn’t be changed. To illustrate this, Paul uses the example of a manmade covenant.  No one annuls it or changes it once it has been ratified.  It remains set and in place.   In the same way, the Law given to Moses had not changed or annulled the promise.  Paul writes, “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”

          God had given the promise that in Abraham all nations would be blessed. Yet in our text Paul clarifies that this promise had not been spoken to Abraham alone.  God had repeated the promise by saying it would be fulfilled in Abraham’s seed – in his offspring.  Paul explains, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”  God’s promise about the One in whom all nations would be blessed has been fulfilled in Jesus.

          Salvation was always going to be based on faith in the promise.  Yet God had given the Law to Moses. So in our text Paul asks the obvious question, “Why then the law?” The apostle explains, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.”  The law of Moses was given because of transgressions.  It was given to make transgressions known – to make sin known.

          This might make us wonder about the relationship between the law and promise.  As Paul asks, Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?”  His answer is, “Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”

          The law and the promise are not competing ways to have a righteous standing before God.  They cannot be, and Paul tells us why in our text.  He says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  God’s Word has revealed our sinful condition.  It has made known the ways that sin has twisted and perverted us. It has revealed the depths to which sin has affected us – something we could not perceive on our own.

          The problem is not the law.  Instead, we are the problem.  The law is about doing and if you can do it then everything is fine.  Paul says, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’”  The reason the law can’t bring life is because as sinners we fail to do it in thought, word, and deed.  And when you break the law it brings God’s judgment.  It brings God’s curse. As sinners the way of doing – the way of the law – can only bring curse.  The apostle tells us, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”

          For sinners, doing the law cannot be a means by which we can have a righteous standing before God. Left to our works, we would receive nothing except God’s curse.  And that is why God acted to save us.  He sent his Son into the world to redeem us. Paul says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

          God acted to redeem us – to free us from slavery to the curse.  He did it through the cross.  Paul says in this chapter, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”  When Jesus Christ was lifted upon the cross he was cursed by God in our place.  He received what should have been ours as he died on the tree.

          Yet the curse was not the end. On Easter God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Christ as the One who redeemed us from the curse.  He began in Christ the new life that will be ours when the risen Lord returns on the Last Day.

          Now we live by faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  We live by faith in the promise – the promise fulfilled in Christ the offspring of Abrham. We who live by faith are blessed along with faithful Abraham.

          We are justified before God by faith in Christ.  And now it is through Christ that we are the descendants of Abraham – we are part of God’s people.  Just after our text Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”  You are in Christ.  You have been joined to him.  You are because you have been baptized into Christ.

          The apostle tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Jesus Christ was Abraham’s offspring.  You have been baptized into Christ and so now through Christ you are also Abraham’s offspring.  It does not matter that you are a Gentile who has no right to make this claim.  Through baptism into Christ it is now true for you.

          In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul emphasizes that salvation is not by works.  He shows us that the way of works can never make us righteous before God.  Instead it brings the curse of the law. 

          Yet when we are living by faith as the baptized who are in Christ, things change. Faith makes us busy in doing works.  Paul says in chapter 5, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”  Faith trusts and believes God’s promise fulfilled in Christ. And because it does faith then becomes active in doing.  The apostle goes on to say, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

          This doing is focused on the needs of my neighbor.  Paul says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  So consider: What can you do for your spouse, your parent, your friend, or co-worker?  How can you support and assist others around you?  God has loved you in Christ, how can you share this love to meet the needs of the people in your life?  God doesn’t need you works.  You don’t need your works to be justified before God.  But your neighbor does need them, and God has made you a new creation in Christ Jesus.  He has placed you in the lives of others as the instrument of his love and care.

          Paul’s opponents had it all wrong. They had lost the Gospel.  Doing of the law can never be part of the reason we are forgiven.  We are sinners who fail to do the law, and this failure brings God’s curse.  But God has acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, and made us the sons and daughters of God in Christ, through faith. Now this faith worked by the Spirit acts in love towards others.
















Sunday, August 27, 2023

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity - Mk 7:31-37


Trinity 12

                                                                            Mk 7:31-37



          It is estimated that the demand for speech-language pathologists will grow by 21% through the year 2031.  The growth in demand for this training has been caused by several factors. First, there are now more people over the age of 65 than ever before.  They are encountering medical conditions such as stroke and dementia that result in speech and language problems.

          At the same time there is now early identification and diagnosis of speech and language disorders in children.  We have learned that early treatment can make a world of difference.  On this I can speak from personal experience, since two of my own children had early help from speech pathologists.  What is more the federal government has mandated that children with disabilities receive special education services that they need.

          While the demand has grown, the ability of schools to produce more speech pathologists is limited.  For starters, not everyone has the interest and disposition to work in this field.  There is a limited supply of future students. And those in this profession require extensive training.  They must have a master’s degree to work in this field.

          By all accounts, there will continue to be shortage in the immediate future.  That’s bad news in general for our society.  However, it is good news for those like my daughter Abigial who plan on entering this field.  By all accounts, she will never have to worry about finding a job.

          Perhaps a speech pathologist could have assisted the man in our text this morning.  We learn that he was deaf and had some kind of speech issue.  Yet living in the first century world he had no hope for assistance.  He had no hope until the touch of Jesus Christ brought healing. 

          The Lord Jesus had returned from the area of Tyre and Sidon which was north of Galilee on the Mediterranean Sea.  Now he was back at the Sea of Galilee on its west side.  He was in the region called the Decapolis.  Named after the ten cities that had been founded in this region, it had a large Gentile population.

          We learn that people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and had some kind of speech issue, as they implored Jesus to lay his hand on him.  It is hard to tell whether the man had always been deaf and was therefore unable to speak at all, or whether he has lost his hearing and now experienced some kind of speech impediment.  What is clear is that this profoundly affected his life, and those who brought him saw in Jesus the hope for healing and relief.

          They brought the man because the reports about Jesus had spread far and wide.  This had happened in spite of the fact that Jesus often told those whom he healed not to tell others about what had happened.  Our Lord did this because he wanted to define his own ministry for people.  He didn’t want them drawing false conclusions based on the miracles alone.

          Those who brought the man asked Jesus to lay his hand upon him. They wanted our Lord to touch the man because they believed his touch brought healing.  They were right because Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.  He was the incarnate Son of God. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, he was God in this world.

          They asked Jesus to touch the man, and we learn in our text that the man certainly received the full treatment.  Our Lord took him aside from the crowd privately. Then he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. He looked up to heaven and groaned saying “Ephphatha,” which means be opened.

          Jesus groaned before he healed the man.  He did this because he was in the presence of what sin has done to the world. He groaned because this is not what God wanted.  God had made a creation that was very good.  It was a world without sin in which Adam and Eve lived in perfect fellowship with God and with one another.  It was a world in which there was no pain, sickness, or death.

          However, the Fall of Adam and Eve changed all that.  Sin entered into the world and it brought death.  It brought illness and disabilities that cause suffering. And the impact of sin went far beyond the physical.  It changed us as we lost the image of God.  Rather than living perfectly according to God’s will we are now filled with sin that is just waiting to get out. Earlier in this chapter Jesus said, What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

          After touching the man, Jesus said “Ephphatha” – “be opened.”  Immediately the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released.  He could hear and speak plainly.  Jesus had healed the man.  Once again Jesus charged them to tell know one.  But the more he did so, the more they proclaimed it. They were astonished saying, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

          The statement by the crowd echoes what the Old Testament said God’s end time salvation would look like. This connection is made clear by the way the man’s speech condition is described.  It is a rare word that only occurs here and in the Greek translation of Isaiah chapter 35.  There the prophet says, Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

          The prophet speaks about restoration for Israel. Yet this action pointed forward to something even greater.  God would come to save his people.  He would bring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.  He would bring healing to the lame and speech to the mute. 

          Jesus Christ was the presence of God’s end time salvation. He was God coming to save us.  Our Lord began his ministry by declaring, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  In Jesus Christ the kingdom of God – the reign of God – had entered into the world.  He was God present to conquer sin and all that it has caused.

          Jesus groaned as he encountered the evidence of sin’s presence.  Again and again we are told in the Gospels that Jesus had compassion upon those whom he met.  Our Lord was moved by the plight of those who suffered.  But Jesus had come to do more than just be moved by the presence of sin and suffering.  He had come to overcome it.  In the healing in our text we see the reign of God at work to conquer the presence of sin.  Jesus makes the deaf hear and mute speak.

          The miracles of Jesus point to the single greatest miracle of his ministry.  They point to the defining event by which he has conquered sin and death.  Jesus came to conquer sin by his death on the cross.  He came to win forgiveness for us by sacrificing himself.  Our Lord says in this Gospel, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          Sin is not some abstract entity.  Our every sin is sin against God. David confessed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”  Sin evokes God’s wrath and righteous judgment against the sinner.  This is how the holy God reacts to sin. There can be no other outcome.

          There can be no other outcome.  But God wanted a different outcome for us.  And so he sent his Son to suffer and die in our place.  The One who had no sin took our place.  He took our sin as if it was his own and received the judgment that should have been ours.  Because Christ has done this for us, we now have forgiveness before God. 

          In our text Jesus heals the man. The people exclaim, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  Jesus brings physical restoration to the man as he removes sin’s affliction.  This action by Christ shows us that he did not come only to bring forgiveness.  He came to bring complete healing from all that sin has done.  He came to restore us – body and soul.

          Jesus Christ died in our place as he received God’s judgment.  He was buried in a tomb.  But on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  His resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection of the Last Day.  His resurrection will be your resurrection when he returns in glory.

          This means that in Jesus Christ God has begun the healing that we need from all that sin has caused physically.  We struggle with diabetes, heart problems, eye problems, and back issues.  The promise of the Gospel – of the kingdom of God – is that in Jesus’ resurrection God has started the healing that will be ours.  We will receive a healing that overcomes death itself. 

          We will receive that full and complete healing when Christ returns on the Last Day. 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.”  Jesus will heal you completely when he transforms your body to be like his resurrected body.

          We look for that day with eager expectation.  And we live in the present as those whose ears have been opened and whose tongues have been loosed. Our ears are open because the Holy Spirit has called us to faith.  We are able to hear the Gospel promise and what it means for us.  We live in the assurance that we are forgiven before God. We know that death cannot separate us from his love, and that the victory of the resurrection will be ours.

          Our tongues have been loosed by the Spirit to speak in faith.  We respond with praise and thanksgiving to God because of what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.  We call upon God in every trouble knowing that his love for us in Jesus Christ is certain and sure.  We speak about the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to others so that their ears may be opened too.  And we look forward to the Last Day – the day of complete healing. We look forward to the time when we will greet the returning Lord as we say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”








Sunday, August 20, 2023

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity - Gen 4:1-15


Trinity 11

                                                                                      Gen 4:1-15



          Eppie and Pauline Friedman were twins who were born in Iowa in 1918.  Like so many twins, they shared a unique bond with one another and grew up doing everything together.  The two were inseparable. In fact, they had a double wedding ceremony as they both wore the same dress.

          Despite this close relationship, troubles arose in 1954.  That year, Eppie took over the advice column, “Ask Ann Landers” at the Chicago Sun-Times.  Three months later, Pauline started her own advice column “Dear Abby” at the San Fransisco Chronicle.

          Eppie saw this move as a hostile gesture. The two became bitter professional rivals.  “Dear Abby” became the world’s most widely syndicated newspaper column with 110 million readers.  “Ask Ann Landers” was close behind with 90 million readers.  The competing columns created a division between the sisters.  It is reported that Pauline offered “Dear Abby” at a reduced rate to their hometown’s Sioux City Journal if the paper did not run “Ask Ann Landers.” The feud continued through most of the rest of their life, and even poisoned the relationship between their children.

          In our Old Testament lesson today we hear about the original sibling rivalry as Cain kills Abel.  We don’t know about the relationship between the two brothers as they grew up. But we learn that Cain’s jealousy about his brother caused him to commit fratricide. In Cain we see how sin operates in our lives. And our text leads to recognize that the blood of Jesus gives us forgiveness.

          Adam and Eve were created in God’s image.  They knew God as God wants to be known, and lived perfectly according to God’s will.  They lived in the Garden of Eden where God abundantly provided for their every need.

          God had told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree of the garden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By not eating of this tree, the pair showed that they feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things.

          However, the devil tempted Eve with the thought that God was holding out on them.  They could be more – they could be like God – if they would just eat of the forbidden tree.  Both Eve and Adam ate of the tree, and in doing so they brought sin into the world.  In their sin they lost the image of God, and everything changed for humanity.

          We see the presence of sin immediately in their children. Adam and Eve go from being the perfect couple, to the first dysfunctional family.  They had two sons, Cain and Abel. We learn that Cain was a farmer, while Abel kept sheep. 

In the course of time, both brothers brought an offering to the Lord.  Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground.  Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. We are told that the Lord had regard for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s.

We aren’t told why this was the case.  However, the very different description of the two offerings probably provides us with the answer. Abel brought the firstborn of this flock and offered their fat portions.  He brought the first and the best. However, we are only told that Cain brought an offering of his harvest.

The reference to the offerings of Cain and Able leads us to ponder our own offering. What does our offering say about the place God has in our life? Do we only return to God the leftovers?  Is our offering simply a matter of going through motions like Cain?  Or do we give with the same attitude as Abel?  We learn from Abel that our offering to God needs to be a priority in our life.  We need to continue to consider whether it truly represents a response to the blessings God had given to us.

The Lord did not have regard for Cain’s offering.  We learn that Cain was very angry about this and his face fell.  God said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  He warned Cain about the sin that was present in his life.

          The Lord’s words to Cain teach us about the danger of sin in our lives.  Sin does not remain still. Where it is allowed to remain, it grows and infects more.  James tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” 

          God told Cain that he needed to rule over the sin in his life.  He needed to struggle against it.  This is what we do as the baptized children of God. The Spirit who has given us new life in baptism is the One who enables this struggle.  Paul told the Romans, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

          Cain didn’t put to death the deeds of the body.  Instead, he remained in his anger. And that anger caused hatred to grow from feeling into action.  Our text tells us that when Cain was in the field with Abel, he rose up against and his brother and killed him.

          In words that are reminiscent of when God came to Adam and Eve after their sin, God spoke to Cain. God asked where Abel was.  Cain’s snarky response was to say, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” Then God said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.”  God said that Cain’s punishment was that the ground was now cursed for him.  It would not produce for Cain, and instead he would have to wander the land.

          Sin entered into the world through Adam and Eve.  Immediately we then learn in their son how anger and hate led to murder.  God’s word teaches us that in his eyes, these are sins that make us guilty of murder.  Jesus said that everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment.  John tells us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

          Our anger and hate bring God’s judgment.  So does our lust, and jealousy, and coveting.  These sins cry out for God’s judgment just as Abel’s blood cried out to God.  But because of his love for us God does not give us judgment.  Instead, he gives us forgiveness.  He does this because of Jesus’ blood.

In the Old Testament, God said that life was in the blood and that was why the blood of an animal would be used in the sacrifices at the tabernacle.  Those sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus Christ.  He shed his blood as he gave his life in your place.  Peter says, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

God has judged your sin.  He did it in Jesus Christ when he died on the cross.  Jesus shed his blood in death to win you forgiveness.  John tells us that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” The sacrifice of Christ in your place allows you to be a saint – a holy one in God’s eyes.

Sin brings death.  No sooner has sin entered into the world than we hear about the death of Abel.  Since the Fall, sin has brought death to all people.  In the next chapter Moses gives us a list of the descendants of Adam.  First off we hear that Adam, “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”  Having lost the image of God, Adam fathers a child in his own image. And then death rings out as the genealogy repeats about each descendant “and he died.”

Jesus did not die because of his own sin. He had none.  He died for ours.  But he passed through death in order to defeat it forever.  Christ died for our sins, but he did not stay dead.  Instead, he was the second Adam who came to restore the life that should be ours.  He did this as he rose from the dead on Easter.  Paul tells us, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

The blood of Jesus has won forgiveness.  It does for each one of us.  So that we may know this, Jesus has given us the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here he places his blood shed on the cross into your mouth.  He gives to you as an individual the very price he paid to take away your sins. Because of the Sacrament, you know that this forgiveness is for you.

Jesus gave himself into death on the cross for us.  He shed his blood to win us forgiveness. Now his Spirit causes us to live in this forgiveness as we share his love with others.  John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  The sacrificial love of Christ becomes the reason that we sacrifice in order to help others.  As John went on to say, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

In our text today we hear about how Cain killed Abel. We see what sin did in our world from the start. We find here a warning that we cannot allow sin to fester and grow in our life.  In repentance we seek to put it to death by the work of the Spirit.  And we live in the assurance that because of Jesus blood we have forgiveness before our Father in heaven.