Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sermon for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - Rev 12:7-12

                                                                                    St. Michael and All Angels
                                                                                    Rev 12:7-12

            Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  It is the day in the church year when we consider these spiritual beings created by God.  This is a good and helpful thing, because when treated apart from the guidance of God’s Word, the topic of angels brings out all kinds of goofy stuff. 
            It is not uncommon for people to talk about those who die “becoming an angel.”  Angels are treated as mediators who provide spiritual guidance and help. So, you can find books like Michael: Communicating with the Archangel for Guidance and Protection, and, The Angel Code: Your Interactive Guide to Angelic Communication. 
            In TV shows and movies, angels take on bizarre roles that have no relation to Scripture.  In the 2010 movie “Legion” God has lost faith in mankind and has sent his angels to destroy us.  There is however a baby about to be born who will save humanity.  So the angel Michael disobeys God as he protects the mother and child from Gabriel who is sent to kill them.
            Even within the Christian church we find practices related to angels that have no biblical basis.  So in the Roman Catholic church there is a specific prayer directed to St. Michael the Archangel. Last year when news about sexual abuse scandals were coming out, various parts of that church had parishes say this prayer after Mass as part of the response to the spiritual crisis.
            In our text this morning we hear a dramatic account from a dramatic source – the Book of Revelation.  The first verses of our text begin by saying: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
            Now this is great stuff!  It is the kind of thing that Hollywood really could get into and produce some amazing visual effects.  But here, as always in Scripture, the angels aren’t the main thing. They are important, and today is their day, but they can never be the main thing. 
            The main thing has just been described in the first part of the chapter.  And it is something that reminds us that we are in the unique setting of Revelation where so much is symbolic and meant to make an impression on the reader.  John describes a great sign that appeared in heaven – a pregnant woman in the agony of childbirth. Then there appeared another sign in heaven, a red dragon who wants to consume the woman’s child.  However, we are told, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” 
            It becomes clear that the woman is the virgin Mary, and that the child is Jesus Christ.  In the most compressed form possible we have reference to the saving work of Jesus in his death, resurrection and ascension.  It is as the crucified and risen One that that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the throne of God.
            The war in heaven described in our text is a result of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for your sins.  We learn this in our text when John says, “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’”
            From the Old Testament books of Job and Zechariah we learn that Satan had been able to appear before God and raise accusations against God’s people.  He was able to accuse them of their sins before God. But now that Jesus has offered himself as the sacrifice – as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – this is no longer possible.  Satan has no ability to accuse you before God because the blood of the Lamb has paid the price for your every sin.  Because of Christ, in God’s eyes you are holy.
            This fact is described in our text as a war in heaven.  Michael and his angels fight against the dragon – against Satan and his angels, and kick them out. Satan and his angels are cast down to earth.  No longer can Satan appear before God and accuse you as a sinner.
            It is an awesome scene – this war between the angelic and demonic forces.  We confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.” Angels are part of that creation – spiritual creatures made by God to carry out his will.  They are powerful creatures – not cute cherubs whose cheek you want to pinch.
            However, you are more important to God than the angels. You were created in the image of God.  They weren’t.  And the ultimate proof of this is that God sent his Son into the world in the incarnation.  The Son of God became man, without ceasing to be God.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit, he took on a human nature and was born of the virgin Mary.  He did this to redeem humanity.  He did this to free us from sin and death.  By his resurrection he has redeemed our bodies for eternal life with God in the new creation.       
            Angels were God’s servants as the Son of God, Jesus Christ, carried out this work for you.  They announced that the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, would be born. They announced the incarnation to Mary and Joseph. They ministered to Jesus after he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.  And they were there at the empty tomb on Easter morning to announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their work continued in the Book of Acts as they served to assist the church in sharing the Gospel. We believe that God continues to use angels as his instruments to help and protect his Church.
            God’s angels have been his servants, playing their specific role as the Father has carried out the work of salvation in Christ.  But the work of the angels can only be understood in relation to Christ.  They are the “support team” as it were.  They are never the focus. They should never be the focus.  It is only Jesus Christ and his saving work that has caused Satan no longer to be able to accuse you.  Any ideas about praying to angels or communicating with angels misses the point altogether.  It is because of Jesus that we now have access to God.  It is because of Jesus that we can pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
            And in fact, we learn in our text that the angels are told to rejoice about you.  In our text the voice announces that Satan, the accuser has been thrown down.  He says that believers  “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”  And then the command is given:  “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!” The angels are told to rejoice about your salvation. You matter to God more than the angels.  In the incarnation he sent his Son of suffer and die for you.  He has redeemed your humanity so that in the resurrection on the Last Day you can again live as you were meant to be.  Angels are God’s servants whose work is to help and serve in carrying out God’s will to make this happen.
            It is a blessing to know that angels are powerful spiritual creatures used by God to carry out his will for us. But there is also another side to this, because it means that Satan and his angels are also powerful spiritual creatures. However, they are completely opposed to us. 
            Our text ends with the statement, “‘But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’” And at the end of this chapter we learn that the dragon went to make war “on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
            Our text alerts us to the reality of the spiritual threat we face. With good reason the apostle Peter warned, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  It would be much easier if Satan showed up looking like a dragon as in the book of Revelation.  But as our text says, he is the deceiver of the whole world.  He is the one whom St. Paul tells us “disguises himself as an angel of light.”
            Satan can no longer appear before God and accuse you of your sins because of Christ.  So now he seeks to keep people away from Christ.  He seeks to draw believers away from Christ.  He uses every distraction available - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- to draw people towards the world and away from Christ.  He uses every intellectual and cultural trend that minimizes and rejects Christ.
            Because this is so, we must cling to Jesus Christ in faith all the more firmly.  We must pay attention to the one thing that Satan wants us to ignore: Christ’s Means of Grace.  For it is through these gifts of Christ that his gives us forgiveness and strengthens faith.  We listen to his Word. We turn in faith to our baptism.  We confess our sins and receive absolution. And in particular, we come to receive the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here the ascended Lord is bodily present with us.  Here he provides the assurance of our resurrection for he has promised, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.”  And here we join together with St. Michael, and the angels and all the company of heaven as we sing praise to the incarnate Lord who died and rose again.




Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Mark's thoughts: Saying what God says

In what is most likely the first letter written by the apostle Paul, and also the first book written of what would become the New Testament, the apostle tells the Thessalonians:
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1Thessalonians 1:8-10)

In this brief statement Paul makes several explicit claims.  First, he says that there is a living and true God, and that all of the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman world in Thessalonica are mere idols.  They are not the living and true God, and so they really are nothing more than statues and images. Second, he says that God raised Jesus his Son from the dead and that the Thessalonians now await his return from heaven.  Paul points them to Son of God who died, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven.   Third, the apostle says that Jesus is the One who delivers us from the wrath to come on the Last Day.

It is a brief and compressed statement about what God has done in his Son Jesus Christ, but we know what Paul had told the Thessalonians from the reminder he gave to the Corinthians:For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 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” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Paul had told them that Jesus died for our sins. It was their sins that threatened them with receiving God’s wrath on the Last Day.  Yet by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection they were now delivered from this wrath.  Paul, of course, explains elsewhere in great detail that all people sin and so deserve God’s judgment (Romans 1:18-3:20), but receive justification through faith in Jesus Christ who was the sacrifice for sin (Romans 3:21-26).

These are basic and essential biblical truths revealed by God first in the saving action of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then in the proclamation of his Word.  Paul says later in the 1 Thessalonians: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (2:13). The apostle left no doubt about the source or authority of the Gospel he declared.  It was the Word of God.

We must never lose sight of the fact that God has revealed his will in Holy Scripture. What God says in his Word is true, even if people don’t want to hear it. The rejection of the authority of God’s inspired and inerrant Word has caused the other major Lutheran church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to ordain women as pastors, to enter into full fellowship with church bodies that deny the biblical teaching about Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar , and to accept homosexuality. Once begun, this process affects all areas of theology as a church seeks to keep in step with the culture.  Ultimately, it must strike the very heart of Gospel.

In August the ELCA adopted, “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment: A policy statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” While the statement affirms that the ELCA believes in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, it also included language that calls into question why this is even needed. The document states:
The Lutheran tradition offers other reasons for caution about our claims to know. Luther said that no human could know another person’s relationship with God. What that person says or does gives us clues, but, ultimately, we cannot see into someone else’s heart (Luther, Bondage of the Will). Similarly, Luther insisted that we cannot know the inner workings of God. God has revealed God’s attitude toward us, overall purpose, and character, but the inner workings of God remain hidden. Hence, we must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion or the individual human beings who practice it. (632-641)
It is true that no one can look into another’s heart.  It is also true that while God has revealed much to us in Scripture, we can in no way claim to understand the inner workings of God and his will.  However, it does not follow from this that “we must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion or the individual human beings who practice it.”

The apostle Paul, the authorized representative of Jesus Christ, had no doubt about God’s judgments regarding other religions and those who practice them.  He said that those who follow other religions did not know the living and true God.  He said that apart from faith in Jesus Christ they remained in their sins and would receive the wrath of God’s judgment on the Last Day.  The exclusive claims about Christ may offend other religions and the world, but it was Jesus who said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Likewise, the apostle Peter said about Jesus: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). 

The continuing challenge for the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod will be to listen to God’s authoritative Word, and then to say what it says.  This will offend the world, and will even offend many people who identify themselves as Christians.  But it is only in this way that we can remain faithful to our Lord and secure in his truth which grants forgiveness and salvation.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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

                                                                                                      Trinity 14
                                                                                                       Luke 17:11-19

            As most of you know, I don’t choose the Scripture readings for each Sunday.  Instead they have been established by the lectionary – the schedule of readings for the Sundays and Feasts of the church year that has been handed down and shared by the church.  This is a very good thing because it means that you are not subject to the whims of your pastor.  You are not subject to his personal preferences or agenda.
            The lectionary assigns readings for every Sunday.  Not surprisingly, it assigns different readings for each Sunday.  You are not going to hear the same text twice in a year. The only possible way that could happen would be if a Feast Day in the church year – like the day for St Matthew which was yesterday – fell on a Sunday.  To be honest, I haven’t checked, but there may be a text used on one of those days that is also used on a Sunday during the year. But if they exist, they are few and far between. Which is to say, it basically never happens.
            However, our Gospel lesson for today from Luke chapter 17 is a striking exception to this, because it shows up twice every single year.  It is the Gospel lesson for today, the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity.  It is also the Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving. 
            Now as we listen to our text, it’s not hard to figure out why it has been chosen for Thanksgiving – we hear about the one man, the Samaritan, who returns to give thanks.  And when one preaches on this text for Thanksgiving, that is of course the aspect that is emphasized.  But as we look carefully at our text we find that just as much – or maybe even more so – it is a text about the nature of faith.
            Our Gospel lesson begins by saying, “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.”  Periodically, Luke reminds us that Jesus is on a journey – he reminds us about where Jesus is going.  After Peter confesses that Jesus is “The Christ of God,” our Lord tells the disciples of his coming passion as he says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Shortly after this, Luke tells us, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” 
            Jesus Christ is journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem in order to suffer and die.  You can’t get from Galilee to Jerusalem without having to pass through some of Samaria. And so as Jesus passed by in this area he entered a village.  There he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
            Whenever we hear about “leprosy” in the Bible, we are not quite sure what condition is being described.  It’s generally believed that this was not leprosy as it has existed in the modern world.  More likely, it is a term that refers to a variety of skin diseases and conditions.  The consequences for Jews and Samaritans – since Samaritans had a version of the Torah that also described lepers as being ritually unclean – was terrible.  They could not live in the village because their touch made everyone else unclean.  Sharing in the same hardship, they tended to live together, and also to live outside of villages. There, family members and compassionate individuals could supply them with food.
            The news about Jesus’ ministry had spread throughout the region.  As Jesus was entering the village, the ten lepers met Jesus as they stood at a distance and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The men seized the opportunity when Jesus was near.  They cried out asking him for help as they said “have mercy on us.”  And they called Jesus “Master.” In Luke’s Gospel the only other people who call Jesus “Master” are his disciples.  Everything about the lepers says that they approached Jesus in faith. We see faith in action here, appealing to Jesus for help.
            The lepers appealed to Jesus in faith. But we learn that when he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And that was it.  According to the Law of Moses, it was the priests who could certify that a person didn’t have leprosy. So Jesus tells lepers to go show themselves to the priests.  As we will see, the Greek text is very clear that when he spoke these words, nothing happened.  He told men, who still had leprosy, to go show themselves to the priests.
            How very different this was from when another leper came to Jesus in chapter five!  That man fell on his face and begged, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” So Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” Immediately the leprosy left the man, and the Jesus told him to go and show himself to the priest.
            Which response from Jesus would you want?  Of course, we want the immediate healing. If we come to Jesus in faith, we want the good results now. And remember, the ten lepers did come to Jesus in faith. Yet all they got was a command from Jesus: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus doesn’t give them healing immediately.  Instead he just tells lepers to show themselves to the priests.
            In a sermon on this text Martin Luther commented: “Thus we see here that when the lepers had begun to believe and to expect something good from Christ, He then pushes their faith further and tests it.  He does not obviously make them healthy, but tells them that they should shows themselves to the priests.”
            The lepers have faith in Jesus. They believe he can heal them. Yet he hasn’t healed them. Jesus words haven’t directly promised healing.  He has only told them to go show themselves to the priests. It would have been easy for the lepers to feel let down or rejected.
            Yet in the experience of the ten lepers, we see how God often deals with us.  As Luther comments, “Here, however, faith becomes stronger and only increases through temptation.  It does not pay attention to how ungracious or uncertain the gestures and words of Christ sound, but clings firmly to His kindness and does not let itself be frightened away.”
            We experience times of difficulties and hardships. We pray to Christ in faith asking for his help.  And we do not see anything happen.  Perhaps things even get worse.  And so we feel doubt about whether Christ really cares – whether he is even there.
            But these experiences are not the absence of Christ and the lack of his love.  Instead, they are God dealing with us in ways that drive us to deeper faith.  Luther wrote: “This is the manner that God uses with all of us to strengthen and test our faith, in that He treats us in such a way that we do not know what He will do with us.  He does this only so that we will commend ourselves to Him, yield ourselves only to His kindness, and not doubt that He will give us what we desire or something better.”
            The lepers believed in Jesus. And because they did they obeyed his word and set out for Jerusalem.  They were lepers going to see the priest.  But it was Jesus who had told them to do this, and they believed and trusted in his kindness. They believed and trusted in his mercy.  They believed and trusted in his power.
            Then we learn in our text: “And as they went they were cleansed.”  The Greek text is absolutely clear that the healing occurred as they were going.  They trusted and believed in Jesus, even when it seemed that he had not helped them.  They had come to Jesus in faith, and then at Jesus’ word they set out on the journey in faith.
            Sometimes, like for Jairus, this means continuing to journey in faith in spite of bad news.  In chapter eight of this Gospel, Jairus came to Jesus, fell at at Jesus' feet, and implored him to come to his house because his twelve year old daughter was dying.  Jesus went with him, but their journey was slowed by the crowd and a woman who touched Jesus to receive healing.
            Then, someone came from Jairus’ house and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” In the face of this news of death, Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”  Jairus continued to believe as they completed the journey to the house, where Jesus raised the girl from the dead.
            God uses these circumstances to cause us to grow in faith.  There are times in our life when we must walk by faith, trusting in God’s promise of his love and care even when all of the circumstances around use seem to contradict this.  Yet we are reminded of why we can do so by the first words of our text: On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” 
            Our Lord Jesus completed his journey to Jerusalem.  There, as he had predicted, he did suffer and die. He carried out the Father’s will by offering himself as the sacrifice to take away our sin. But also as he had predicted, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  In Jesus’ resurrection we have been given the living hope that sustains us in faith during our experiences in life. Jesus lives!  And because he does, we know that sin and death have been defeated. 
            Why do you know that you can trust and believe in Jesus in the midst of the things going on in your life? It is because he has loved you in this way, by dying for you and then rising from the dead.  He has proved his unfailing love for you.  And by his defeat of death, and exaltation to God’s right hand he has assured us that he has all power to help and sustain us. He gives us faith to recognize that the outcome is certain.  Our journey in life will end in life with Christ. The journey for all believers ends with the return of the risen Lord who will raise us from the dead and give us life with him in the new creation.
            Through his Spirit the Lord continues to speak this good news to us to sustain us in faith.  He calls us back to our baptism by which we have shared in his saving death and received the guarantee of sharing in his resurrection.  He feeds us with his true body and blood, given and shed for your for forgivness of sins, because this is food for the new man to strengthen us when he is allowing circumstances that deepen our faith.
            Jesus Christ has done this for us in his death and resurrection.  He is doing this for us now through his Means of Grace.  He will do these things for us when he returns in glory on the Last Day.  And so, like the Samaritan in our text, we give thanks to God.  This thanksgiving is the voice of faith, that continues to trust and believe in our crucified and risen Lord.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 10:23-37

                                                                                                Trinity 13
                                                                                                Lk 10:23-37

            In the parable of the Good Samaritan this morning, we don’t learn anything about the man who is journeying to Jericho and is attacked by robbers.  The Greek text has simply, “A certain man.”  We don’t know anything about his character. We don’t know anything about what he is like.  Given that fact, if these events played out in Illinois, the Samaritan had better hope that he was certified in first aid … for his own sake.
            Like all fifty states, Illinois has a “Good Samaritan law” that is meant to provide legal protection to those who give assistance in emergencies.  These laws vary greatly from state to state.  In Illinois a person who provides first aid is exempt from civil liability if the person “is currently certified in first aid by the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, or the National Safety Council.”  How many non-health care professionals here this morning can make that claim?  If you are not, and you provide first aid, you had better hope that things turn out fine, or that the victim is not litigious.
            The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s best known parables – so well know that the phrase “Good Samaritan” is understood even by those who know nothing about the Bible and can be used in phrases like “Good Samaritan laws.” But the parable doesn’t stand on its own.  Jesus’ telling of the parable is prompted by a discussion.
            We learn in our text that a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test.  In this Jewish setting, a lawyer was someone who was an expert in the interpretation and application of the Torah to life – the law that God had given to Israel through Moses.  He was there to take Jesus on as he asked: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 
            The man was a lawyer, so Jesus turned him back to the law – back to the Torah as he said, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied with verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus as he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And then Jesus replied succinctly, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
            The lawyer had come to test Jesus with his question, and now he just looked dumb.  The answer to his question was so simple. So the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  The lawyer attempted to make a comeback by asking a question that was very relevant in Judaism of that day.  The neighbor was to be loved as oneself. Fine. But who counted as a neighbor?  The lawyer attempted trap Jesus in the fine details of who was actually considered to be a neighbor.  He sought to limit the field. And this is in fact what Jews of that time did. From examples like the group at Qumran, we know that Jews had different definitions of who was “really a Jew” and therefore was a neighbor.
            Jesus began by saying, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.”  The seventeen mile trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was one that went down – by about 1800 feet.  It was also a journey in which one of the dangers of ancient travel was present, namely robbers.
            Attacked by the robbers, beaten, stripped of his clothes and lying there half dead, the man was helpless.  But he was in luck!  By chance a priest was also going down that road. Most likely he had just finished his round of service at the temple and was returning home.  He saw the man in need, but instead of stopping to help, he passed by on the other side.  Yet then, there was another chance for help! A Levite, a person who was involved in helping to run the logistics of temple, came to the place and saw him.  But he too passed by on the other side. 
            Why had these Jews who were respected members of the community – people who were intimately involved in the work of God at the temple – not stopped to help? Perhaps they feared that the robbers who had done this to the man were still nearby, lying in wait.  Perhaps they thought the man was already dead, and so touching him would make them ritually unclean – something that required an expensive and time consuming process to reverse.  
            But then a Samaritan who was on a journey came to where he was.  The Jews and the Samaritans despised each other.  At the end of the previous chapter a Samaritan village had refused to receive Jesus because he was a Jew making his way to Jerusalem for the Passover.  In the progression of the parable, after a Priest and Levite, the hearers may have been expecting an ordinary Jew - a lay person.  But instead, a Samaritan shows up!
            And he does the unexpected.  Jesus says that “when he saw him, he had compassion.”  He had compassion on the man and so he stopped to help him. He bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He put the man on his own animal, as instead he walked. He brought the man to an inn and took care of him.  Then, needing to continue his journey, the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”  He gave the innkeeper the equivalent of two days wages, and promised more in repayment if it was needed.
            When Jesus had finished the parable he said, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  The lawyer had asked the limiting question, “Who is my neighbor that I have to love?”  Jesus turned it all around to ask about who proved to be a neighbor to others. Instead of limitation, Jesus pointed the lawyer towards loving action that extended to anyone who needed it.
            As you listen to this parable, you are every character. The only real question is whether you are going to be the good Samaritan because of Jesus.  You certainly are the priest and the Levite.  You see people in all kinds of need – both physical and emotional – and how often do you pause to help? Perhaps we help people we like, or people who may be able to help us later, or we help people when it won’t inconvenience us too much.  But there certainly are times when we just choose to ignore those in need.
            You are that way, because you are also the beaten, helpless man along the side of the road.  You were left there by the Fall not half-dead, but instead completely dead – spiritually dead to God.  You were completely a sinner, both in failing to love God and in failing to love your neighbor.
            But like the Samaritan, Jesus had compassion on you.  The only time in Luke’s Gospel before our text, when this word had occurred was when Jesus encountered the widow at Nain whose son had died.  There we are told, “when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Then Jesus raised the woman’s son from the dead.
            Jesus had compassion on you.  He stopped to help you by coming into this world.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He lived as true God and true man in our world in order to be beaten, and to be stripped naked, and to be hung on a cross half-dead.  But no one came to help him.  In fact, God the Father put him there for your sake.  He put him there to die.  He put him there to die for your sins, because only in that way could we receive the healing we really need.  Only in that way could we receive forgiveness.
            We needed forgiveness. And we needed real life too.  On the third day, God the Father who had put Jesus on the cross raised him from the dead.  By his Spirit he raised Jesus Christ with the life that cannot die.  He gave us Jesus as the Savior who has compassion on us.
            In the parable the Samaritan tends to the wounded man with oil and wine.  Jesus has tended to you with the anointing of the Holy Spirit in baptism.  Through water and the Word, the Spirit has given you new life.  He has worked regeneration and made you a new creation in Christ.  And through wine, Jesus gives you his true blood along with his true body in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Jesus gives you his body and blood, given and shed for you.  This is food that gives you the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross.  This is food that strengthens you in faith so that you can be what you were not before.
            This is what Jesus Christ has done for you.  He did this so that you can be the forgiven child of God.  He did this so that you can have eternal life with him no matter whether you live or whether you die.  He did is so that you can share in his resurrection on the Last Day, when he will raise you up and transform your body to be like his imperishable resurrected body.
            But he also did this so that you can be the good Samaritan.  God helped you in Christ when you were helpless.  He has given you forgiveness and new life by his Spirit so that you can be different toward others.  The Samaritan takes the risk of stopping to help because he has compassion.  Christ’s compassion for you now prompts you to stop and help others.
            This is not about convenience.  The Samaritan is the only person described in the parable as being on a journey.  He was a Samaritan in Judea.  He was going somewhere because Judea certainly wasn’t where he belonged.  We see that even in helping he continues on his journey and promises to pay whatever extra is needed when he returns.
            But in spite of the need to make this journey, he stops to help the man.  Instead of continuing to ride comfortably, he puts the wounded man on his own animal and walks.  He takes the man to the inn and cared for him the rest of the day.  And then he uses his own money to pay for the care of man he doesn’t even know.
            Jesus Christ has saved you and given you his Spirit so that you can be this.  He has called you to be a person who looks to help those in need, even when it is inconvenient; even when it has a cost.  Jesus tells the parable this morning and asks us, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” And when we give the obvious answer, “The one who showed him mercy,” Jesus says yet again: “You go, and do likewise.”  We have been shown mercy in Christ, so that now we can look for opportunities to show mercy in our home, at school and at work.
            The lawyer asked Jesus the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  We do not act like the Samaritan in order to inherit eternal life.  Instead we live mercifully because we have already been given eternal life.  We have already been given the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us.  We have already been given the Spirit and faith in Christ. We have received mercy upon mercy from our Lord, and so by his Spirit we look to be merciful to others.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Holy Cross Day

 Today is Holy Cross Day.  Holy Cross Day commemorates the cross of Christ and the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that was built over the site of the crucifixion and tomb.  Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, was believed to have found the original cross on September 14, 320.  In conjunction with the dedication of Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Constantine made the festival day official in 335.  The day is called “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross” in the Eastern churches and the Roman Catholic church.  In the Byzantine church is it one of the twelve great feast days.

Scripture reading:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Collect of the Day:
Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself.  Grant that we who glory in His death and resurrection may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.