Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity - 1 Tim. 1:12-17

                                                                                                Trinity 3
                                                                                                1 Tim 1:12-17

            Around 33 A.D. a man name Saul led a group of men from Jerusalem north towards Damascus. We don’t know Saul’s exact age, but it seems clear that that he was a little younger than one would have expected of a person who had taken on such a role of leadership.  Later in life he wrote about himself, “And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of may own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the tradition of the fathers.”
            “Zealous for the tradition of the fathers” summarized Saul’s life. Saul was a Jew.  Originally from Tarsus in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, he has been raised in Jerusalem and trained at the feet of the one of the great rabbi’s of his day, Gamaliel. 
            Saul wasn’t just a Jew. He had chosen to be Pharisee.  He had chosen to be part of a group that had created a whole body of oral law that dictated how one was to keep the Torah that God had given to Israel at Mt. Sinai.  The Pharisees held this “tradition of the fathers” to be almost on the same level as the Torah itself, and so they were extremely committed to keeping it.  Saul was totally confident that he faithfully served Yahweh, the God of Israel in this way.  He later wrote that as to the righteousness that came from the law, he was blameless.
            Saul was a zealous Pharisee – zealous for the tradition of the fathers. And during the last several years, something had happened that incensed Saul and filled him with an unstoppable fervor.  A man named Jesus, from the town of Nazareth in Galilee of all places, had begun a ministry in which he proclaimed that the end time reign of God was about to arrive.  He ignored and disparaged the teachings of the Pharisees, and he consorted with all kinds of people who were clearly sinners.  He claimed to stand in a relationship to Yahweh that no human being should ever even contemplate.  It was as if he thought he was the Son of God – God himself.  He performed signs and wonders of healing and casting out demons – things that he was able to do because clearly he was in league with Satan.
            Things had ended for this Jesus as they should have. The Romans crucified him in Jerusalem.  And in this event the final and correct judgment about Jesus was announced for all to see: he was a false Messiah – a deceiver. Deuteronomy chapter twenty one said: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”
            Humiliated in death by crucifixion, Jesus had been cursed by God. And that should have been the end of it. Except it wasn’t.  His disciples had apparently stolen the body from the tomb, and now they were going around saying that he had risen from the dead.  They were declaring that God had vindicated his servant Jesus by the resurrection, and had exalted Jesus when he ascended into heaven.  They were proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ.  More than that, they were saying that he is Lord, and in the greatest blasphemy, they were applying passages from Scripture that talked about Yahweh to this Jesus.
            It was all too much for Saul.  He had been there and approved when others had stoned to death that obnoxious blasphemer Stephen.  This had been the start of Saul’s personal mission as he persecuted these people who were called Christians.  He entered house after house as he dragged off men and women to prison.  He later told the Galatians, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”
            Saul was so zealous and eager to destroy this blasphemy against God, that he didn’t stop with Jerusalem.  Having learned that the followers of Jesus were spreading their message in Damascus, Syria he went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any of them, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
            Saul set out on the trip of around 140 miles, intent on destroying the church at Damascus.  What Saul didn’t know was that God had set him apart before he was even born to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. And so, as you know, on the way to Damascus Saul was blinded by a light from heaven and he fell to the ground. The risen Lord Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And when Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”, Christ said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
            That is the past the Paul reflects upon as he says in our text, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”  Paul never forgot about his past.  He told the Corinthians, For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
            But Paul’s reflection in our text was not one of guilt.  Instead it was focused on the remarkable mercy and grace that God had shown to him.  He says in our text, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”  Paul thought he was doing God’s will.  But when the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him he discovered that he had it all wrong.  Yes, Jesus had died on the cross.  Yes he had been cursed by God. But then on the third day, God had raised Jesus from the dead.  He had vindicated Jesus and exalted him as Christ when he was seated at the right hand of God.
            This meant that the cross and curse of God had in fact been part of God’s saving work. As he told the Galatians, “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.’”  The cross was actually God working through Jesus Christ to bring forgiveness and salvation to all people.  Paul says in the next chapter of this letter, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
            In our text, Paul summarizes this truth when he writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” The good news – the Gospel – that we hear this morning is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  That means that he came to save you, for you are a sinner.  You find all sorts of things and activities that you put before God.  You spend more time on these than you would ever consider in the reading and study of God’s Word.  You lust after bodies that are not your spouse and look at pornography online.  You hold grudges and seek to get pay back.  You cheerfully share gossip that hurt’s your neighbor’s reputation.
            Yet in spite of this, like Paul, you have been shown mercy. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – to give his life as the ransom for you.  Not only that, but on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead and defeated death.  It was the encounter with the risen Lord that showed Saul he had it all wrong about Jesus.  And it was this appearance that allowed Paul to tell the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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.”
            Paul’s words lead us to rejoice in the mercy that God has shown to us.  For us too, the grace of our Lord has overflowed with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit has worked faith in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.  We have received Christ’s love, and so we share this love with others in what we do and say.
            Yet in Paul’s words this morning we also hear something else – something that gives us encouragement and hope.  We all know people who do not believe in Jesus Christ.  Perhaps they are family or friends who were baptized as Christians but have now drifted away from the Christ because of the influence of our culture.  Perhaps they are people who have never had known life in the Church. We want these people to receive the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 
            Paul says in our text, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”  Paul holds himself up a prime example of Christ’s patience.  Paul lived in unbelief.  Worse yet, he actively worked to harm Christ’s people – Christ’s Church.  And yet Christ was patient with Paul.  In his time and in his way he called Paul to faith and showed him that everything he had believed about Jesus was all wrong.
            We do not know the timing in which Christ’s Spirit will work.  Our calling is to speak the Gospel in each opportunity that we have. We need to be ready to listen to the objections and impediments that these individuals experience in their own minds.  There are strong answers that can remove and diffuse many of these objections.  Of course to know these answers, we need to be studying God’s Word.  We need to be talking about these things with our pastor. There is nothing wrong with hearing a question for which we don’t know the answer. One need only say, “Well that’s a good question.  I will have to look into it and get back to you.”  Your pastor is there to help you with these kinds of questions, so that you can have a response to give.
            As we live as Christians, we can look to the example of Paul as source of hope and encouragement.  We see in Paul an example of Christ’s great patience towards those who reject him.  And we can take comfort in what Paul says in the next chapter, that God our Savior is the One “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God wants to save and he is patient, and in this we have all we need to continue to speak about Jesus with that person and to pray that the Holy Spirit will work faith as the individual abandons the objections and false gods by which they reject the Lord.
            In our text this morning, St. Paul talks about his past.  Yet he is not burdened with guilt about the terrible sins he committed. Instead he marvels at the mercy God showed to him by calling him to faith in Jesus Christ the risen Lord.  He rejoices in the grace that overflowed to him with the faith and love that are in Jesus Christ. We rejoice today that we have shared in the same experience.   And in the example of Christ’s patience toward Paul we find hope that others too will yet come to believe in Jesus as the risen Lord.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Commemoration of Jeremiah, Prophet

Today we remember and give thanks to God for Jeremiah, Old Testament Prophet.  Jeremiah was active as God’s prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah around 627 to 582 B.C.  As a prophet he predicted, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.  In his preaching he often used symbols, such as an almond rod and a boiling pot (Jeremiah 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), and a potter at work (18:1-17).  His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God’s anger toward His rebellious people.  Jeremiah suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen.  As far as can be known, Jeremiah died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly.  He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God’s people to repentance.

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, Heavenly Father, through the prophet Jeremiah You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness.  Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son: our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet, whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Today is the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  In late 1517 when Martin Luther initiated the events that would result in the Reformation, he had no idea regarding what was about to take place.  Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were a call for academic discussion – not for thoroughgoing reformation of the Church.  However the discussions and debates that ensued prompted Luther to further study.  This process continued to reveal the extent to which the Church’s faulty practice was based upon theology which was not true to God’s Word.

Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1520.  He was then summoned to appear before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  There Luther refused to recant and in the Edict of Worms Luther was declared to be “a manifest heretic.”  The edict declared that no one was to give assistance to Luther, but instead they were to take him prisoner and deliver him to the emperor.  The reading and distribution of Luther’s writings was forbidden.  It was Charles’ intention to deliver Luther over to Pope Leo X for the purpose of burning Luther at the stake.

In 1526 at the Diet of Speyer, an ambiguous edit was passed in which the German princes promised to carry out the Edict of Worms according to their own consciences.  This provided the setting in which Elector John continued his support of the Reformation in Saxony.  However, at the Diet of Speyer in 1529 Charles V corrected the ambiguity of the1526 edict and forbade expansion of the Reformation.  This led the German princes to issue a formal appeal or “protest” (it is from this event that the term “Protestant” arose). 

However, Charles V found himself limited in his ability to act against princes and areas that supported the Reformation.  In 1529 the Turkish army had laid siege to Vienna before being turned back.  Charles faced this threat from the east, and he also was engaged in a struggle with France.  He needed the German part of his empire to be united in order to assist him.  He also had a genuine concern about the condition of the Church in the areas that he ruled.
Charles V called for the Lutheran princes and cities to explain their religious reforms at an imperial diet that was to meet in the southern German city of Augsburg in 1530.  Luther was not able to travel to the diet because of edict passed against him in 1521and the Lutherans were led by his colleague, Phillip Melanchthon.  When the Lutherans arrived they found that a Roman Catholic opponent, John Eck, had produced a work entitled Four Hundred Four Propositions.  This work contained quotes from Luther and Melanchthon and mixed them in with heretical statements in the attempt to give the impression that the Lutherans supported most heresies known to the Church.

In the face of this, Melanchthon and the Lutherans realized that they would need to do more than just explain their reforms.  They needed to demonstrate that the theology they taught was true to the catholic (universal) tradition of the Church.  They need to state the biblical truth while condemning the false teachings that the Roman Catholics also rejected.

Melanchthon was able to draw upon some previous doctrinal articles that the Lutherans had written.  He produced the Augsburg Confession which has twenty one articles on doctrinal topics and seven articles on reform efforts.  Latin and German editions of the confession were prepared.  The Latin text was presented to Charles V and the German edition was read aloud to the diet on June 25, 1530.  
At Augsburg, the Lutherans confessed the truth of the Gospel in the face of a very real threat to their possessions and lives.  We continue to share in this confession as the Augsburg Confession is the foundational statement of what the Lutheran Church believes and teaches.  In the Augsburg Confession we confess the biblical and catholic (universal) faith before the world.

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg.  Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  St. John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1:5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79).  This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as a Gospel Canticle in the service of Matins. Events of John’s life and his teachings are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels.  In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance  and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived” (Matthew 3:2).  John denounced the immoral life of King Herod Antipas, with the result that Antipas had him imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea.  There he had John beheaded (Mark 6:17-29).  John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching prepared the way for Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:3) and pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Scripture reading:
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
            And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
            “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
                        for he has visited and redeemed his people
            and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
                        in the house of his servant David,
            as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
            that we should be saved from our enemies
                        and from the hand of all who hate us;
            to show the mercy promised to our fathers
                        and to remember his holy covenant,
            the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
                        that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
            might serve him without fear,
                        in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
            And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
                        for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
            to give knowledge of salvation to his people
                        in the forgiveness of their sins,
            because of the tender mercy of our God,
                        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
            to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
                        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
            And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:57-80 ESV)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation. Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Mark's thoughts: The church is not a building?

During the last several months of the Covid-19 limitations on gathering, I have regularly passed a church sign that says: “The church is not a building. Join us for worship online.”  This is not in any way a unique statement.  I have seen different versions of it in many settings, both at other churches and in statements online.

On the one hand, the first sentence does get at an undeniable truth.  The church is not limited to a building.  It is not a physical structure that defines the church.  Christians can gather as church in a field or around the hood of a Humvee in a combat zone.

However when combined with second sentence, a new context for understanding is created which reveals how misleading – or just plain wrong – the statement can be.  Taken together the sentences soon deny two points. First, they deny that the church has a located character; and second, they deny that the church is a gathering of believers.

The church has a located character because God created us as creatures who have a body (Genesis 2:7). Because we are this kind of creation – bodily creatures who live in a place – God has graciously chosen to come to us in this way.  In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to make a tabernacle (Exodus 25:8) to house the Ark of the Covenant.  The glory of God, His holy presence, filled the tabernacle and the tabernacle became the means by which God located himself in the midst of His people.  Yahweh told Israel that he would choose a place to establish his name, and they were to seek him there (Deuteronomy 12:5).  Eventually God identified this place as Jerusalem on Mt Zion where the tabernacle’s replacement, the temple was built and the Ark of the Covenant was moved (1 Kings 8:9-10; 27-30).  The temple in Jerusalem was the located means by which God’s saving presence dwelt in the midst of his people. In the Old Testament God located himself in the midst of His people through the means of a building on a mountain in Palestine.  Israel knew that they met God there. 

The apostle John presents the incarnation of the Son of God as the fulfillment of all that the tabernacle meant when he writes,  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).   Jesus identified his own body as the fulfillment of the temple (John 2:18-21). In the incarnation, God located Himself in the midst of His people through the located means of a human being in Palestine.  God’s people learned that they now meet God in the located means of the body and flesh of Jesus Christ.

It was through the death and bodily resurrection of the incarnate Son that God won forgiveness and salvation for us.  Yet we have not changed.  We are still bodily creatures who live in a place. And Jesus Christ is still the incarnate One who meets us where we are through his Means of Grace.  He has given us his Word to be preached and read.  He has given us Holy Baptism by which are sins are washed away.  He has given us Holy Absolution as he speaks forgiveness to us. He has given us the Sacrament of the Altar in which he gives us his true body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  In order for these gifts to go on in our midst he has also given us the Office of the Ministry, and his Spirit works through the Church to place a man in the Office to serve as pastor in a congregation (Acts 20:28).

In particular, it is the Sacraments of Baptism, Confession and the Lord’s Supper that demonstrate the located character of the Church.  Under normal conditions, the pastor preaches in the midst of the people. We have seen how technology can allow the preacher and hearers to be separated.  But Holy Baptism must always be located where water is present. Confession as defined in the Small Catechism occurs at the place where penitent and pastor can meet together (in the Rite of Individual Confession and Absolution the absolution is spoken as the “pastor places hands on the head of the penitent”; Lutheran Service Book, 293). The Sacrament of Altar is celebrated in a place where bread and win are present.  None of these are limited to the confines of building.  But all of them require a location where the incarnate Lord works through his sacramental means – through his located means.  Because the Means of Grace are the work of the incarnate Lord who gives salvation to his bodily creatures (a salvation that ultimately results in the resurrection and transformation of their bodies; Philippians 3:21) they will always provide a location where the Lord is at work for his people. 

At the same time the church is a gathering of believers. This gathering may be very small.  Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).  Believers gather together to receive Christ’s Means of Grace.  The located character of the Christ’s gifts inherently pulls them together.  To fail to do so threatens their very existence as Christians. With good reason, the writer to the Hebrews urged: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This gathering together actually joins them together as the Body of Christ when they receive the Sacrament of the Altar (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). 

The Augsburg Confession defines the church in the following manner: “The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the Sacaraments are administered rightly” (AC VII.1).  Both the located character and the gathering of believers are emphasized by this definition. The Church is spread throughout the world, but wherever she is present she is defined by these characteristics.

We have passed through very unusual times.  For the sake of health and safety we have made temporary adjustments (in many cases we have been forced to make far greater changes than were truly necessary for health and safety).  But it is important that we do not allow these adjustments to shift the way we think about the church.  The church has a located character because of the incarnate Lord and his Means of Grace. The church is a gathering of believers around those Means of Grace. There is a dangerous Gnosticism at work in the statement: “The church is not a building. Join us for worship online.”     


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity - Eph 2:13-22

                                                                                                            Trinity 2
                                                                                                            Eph 2:13-22

            It is not hard to look around and find division in our country these days.  It was already there after several months of the lockdown of society in response to Covid-19.  There are many different opinions, and of course you can find support for all of them on the internet … which is course is always right. The virus is a serious danger. The virus isn’t a serious danger.  Stay at home orders work.  Stay at home orders are preventing “herd immunity.”  Masks are helpful. Masks aren’t helpful, or are even harmful.  This is an honest attempt to deal with a health crisis. This is a politically engineered attempt to influence an election and extend government control.
            And into this already tense time, charges of systemic racism in society and the police have burst into riots, protests and calls for the end of police forces altogether.  One side, says that racism is everywhere and that if you question this, you are obviously part of the racist system.  The other side says that in fact the real racism is being promoted by the very people who raise charges of racism for the sake of their own ideology and political gain.  
            Divisions among people are nothing new.  In a fallen world they will always exist, even as the reasons shift over time.  But however significant they may seem at the time to those involved, they can’t reach the deep importance of the one in our text today. 
            On the surface, they may look the same.  Relations between Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world took on the same sinful character as those we see today.  There was contempt for one another. There was anger and violence.  In 38 and again in 40 AD there were riots and open conflict between Jews and Gentiles in Alexandria, Egypt. There was clear and sharp divide. A barrier around the temple in Jerusalem separated the Court of the Gentiles, from the areas inside where only Jews could go.  On its pillars was the inscription: “No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the Temple.  Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for the death that follows.”
            Yet the thing that makes this divide different, is what Paul expresses in the verses immediately before our text.  He writes to Gentiles and says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
            The division between Jew and Gentile was not simply a matter of opinion.  It was rooted in the true knowledge of God and salvation.  Yahweh had called Abraham, and through him had created his people Israel. He had brought them into his covenant at Mt. Sinai and given them the Torah by which they were to live as his people.  Yahweh was the true God.  He was the only God – the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Every other so called “god” of peoples in the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman world was a lie. They were nothing. And they left these people outside of life with God.
            That is where the Gentiles had been.  But when God called Abraham he said, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  It was God’s will to work through Israel to bring salvation to all people.  And now, he had done this in his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. This “now” of Jesus had changed everything.  You hear this in the first verse of our text as Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
            The words of Paul that we hear this morning are not only true for Gentiles who lived the area of Ephesus in the first century A.D.  They are true for you.  They are true for you because you have shared in the exact same problem that Paul has just described. He said at the beginning of this chapter, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
            Sin – the problem shared by Jew and Gentile alike – has been answered by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross.  His death was the sacrifice that brings forgiveness to each one of us.  The apostle said in the first chapter, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  We have been freed from sin. And we have also been freed from death, because on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, and because we have been baptized into his death, Paul can say in this letter that God “raised us up with him.”
            God did this for Jews. God did this for Gentiles.  God did this for you. And so now, Christ is our peace.  Christ means that we have peace with God.  Christ means that we Gentiles have been united with the descendants of Abraham and Israel – the Jews – to be one new man.  Paul says in our text, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
            Baptized into one body – the Body of Christ – we are now united with one another and with all Christians. As Paul says in our text, through Christ we “have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  We were sinners. Almost all of us were Gentiles.  We had no access to God. But because of Christ, Paul can say, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” 
            This unity that we have in Christ goes beyond any other connection you may have.  It transcends race and nationality.  Writing probably in the second century A.D., Diognetus described Christians as a new people distinct from all others that exist in the world.
            This life together even transcends family for your brothers and sisters in Christ are a relation created by God.  They are yours because God has given you rebirth through water and the Spirit.  You are a new creation in Christ. They are a new creation in Christ.  This is life created by the Spirit of God – life that is eternal.  It is a life and unity that extends beyond this life into eternity – but one that only does for those who are in Christ through baptism and faith.  On the Last Day the unity provided by a family’s last name will be meaningless.  The only name that will matter is the name that gives forgiveness and salvation: Christian.
            This is what God has done for us in Christ. This is what God has called us to be through his Spirit.  And in this letter Paul emphasizes what this means for how we now live.  He writes in chapter four: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
            Those who have received the peace of Christ seek to live with humility, and gentleness towards others.  We are patient and bear with one other. We are willing to put up with one another in love because that is what is sometimes necessary. Why do we do this? It is because of the unity God has given us in Christ. Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
            This unity in Christ worked by the Spirit is true. But what is also true is the fact that the old Adam is still present. And so in repentance we return to what God has done for us in our baptism.  Paul reminds the Ephesians in this letter that they need “to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” 
            There is the need to call pride, impatience, anger, and hurtful words what they are: sin. As Christians, we don’t make excuses for them. We confess them as sin and repent.  In faith we look to God’s promises attached to baptism. We know that through baptism we receive forgiveness for those things. And we also know that because of baptism the Spirit is now at work our lives – the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. As Paul told the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” 
            It is in this way that we put on again the new man, the new man who speaks truth and not falsehood. It is the new man, created by the Spirit and nourished by the Means of Grace who speaks in ways that build others up, and speaks words that give grace to those who hear. 
            Christ has made peace for us.  He has given us peace with God.  He has given us peace with one other as we live united in his Body. And so we put away bitterness, anger and slander. Instead, we live as those who have been brought near by the blood of Christ and in our daily lives we live out the apostles words: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”





Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity - Lk 16:19-31

                                                                                                Trinity 1
                                                                                                Lk 16:19-31

            I didn’t realize that Illinois made history when the state elected J.B. Pritzker to be governor.  It turns out that Pritzker has more wealth than any other governor elected in American history.  And actually, he is the second wealthiest individual to ever hold public office in the U.S. – second only to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
            Prizker is worth 2.3 billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b.” His money is family money that comes originally from the Hyatt hotel corporation, though no doubt it has grown due other investments and the work of Pritzker Group Private Capital.
            When you have 2.3 billion dollars, you live a little differently.  The Pritzkers have a mansion on Chicago’s Gold Coast. They also own another mansion next door that apparently had some bathroom issues … but that’s another story.  They have a horse farm in Racine Wisconson and a vacation home mansion in Lake Geneva.  There is a home in the Bahamas, and a horse farm near Palm Beach, FL.
            Now it should be noted that by comparison, Illinois’ previous governor, Bruce Rauner, is a pauper. He is only worth 400 million dollars. He owns multiple mansions and ranches around the country. It’s got to be tough for him to get by.
            Pritzker and Rauner illustrate the fact that there are people who are so wealthy that they might as well be living in a different world from the rest of us.  You and I can’t fathom what it is like to live with that kind of wealth. 
            That is precisely the impression that we are supposed to get out of the introduction to our Gospel lesson this morning.  Jesus begins a parable by saying, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.”  The language here is meant to convey the absurdly ostentatious indulgence in wealth – the kind of life that no one in the real world could fathom.
            Next Jesus describes a second figure, and the contrast could not be more stark.  We learn that at the gate of the rich man was laid a poor man named Lazarus.  He was destitute and sick – covered with sores. Lazarus desired merely to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. And in a final detail that makes one cringe, we learn that the dogs came and licked his sores.
            The rich man had life better than you can imagine. Lazarus lived in a way you don’t want to think about.  However death changed all of that. We hear that Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died, but rather than being with the patriarch, he found himself in Hades suffering terribly.  He lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
            But Abraham pointed out that this was not impossible.  The rich man had received good things during his life, but now he was in anguish.  Lazarus had received all kinds of bad things, but now he was comforted.  The outcome was fixed because there was a great chasm that prevented anyone from crossing over to the other side.. 
            Now there is more going on here than a simple trading places.  Our text is set within a chapter in which Jesus is talking about wealth and the role it plays in our lives.  Our Lord has just said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
            Jesus has been talking about faithfulness in the way that wealth is used.  And God’s Word, the Torah, included very specific instructions about how the people of God were to treat the poor.  Deuteronomy said, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
            The rich man was to use his wealth to help the poor brother – to help Lazarus.  He was to serve God by using his money to assist the man at his gate.  Instead, his actions showed that his money was his master.  It is clear that Jesus directed this parable at the Pharisees.  He had said, “You cannot serve God and money.”  And then we learn, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.”
            The rich man was in hell because of the way he had lived.  He had loved his wealth.  He had not loved his neighbor Lazarus, and thereby he showed that he loved his wealth more than God.  The rich man appealed to Abraham, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”  The rich man begged for Lazarus to be the one to deliver the message about repentance and change of life – the very message the rich man had ignored in Lazarus when they were alive.  However Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”  After all they had the Torah – the Word of God – which as we have seen spoke very explicitly about how wealth was to be used to care for the neighbor.
            While the details of the parable which describe scenes of the afterlife fascinate us – and remember, they are details in a parable so think twice before you take them as a literal description – the message of our text is really very basic. It is very straightforward. But that does not mean it is spiritually easy for us to hear.
            Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The parable teaches that we show who our true master is by the way we use our wealth.
            Now perhaps you will say: “Wait a minute!  I am not wealthy like J.B.Pritzker or the rich man in the parable.”  No you are not. But according to God, you are wealthy with an abundance that outstrips all of God’s promises to you. He has promised you food and clothing – daily bread.  He has promised you only what is needed to support your life. And yet every one of us knows that he has given us so much more than that.
            Yet it’s the “so much more” that we are worried about.  We never think the “so much more” is enough. It is never enough to give us all the security we think we need.  It is never enough for us to do and buy all the things we want.
            After Abraham refused to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, and pointed out that they already had the law and prophets, the rich man replied, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  However Abraham answered: If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
            Our text this morning calls us to repentance for the ways that we allow wealth to be a god in our life. Yet in that last statement we have a reference to the reason that we have hope.  We allow wealth to be a god, but Jesus Christ never did.  Instead, he trusted the Father to provide for his bodily needs during his ministry.  He put the will of the Father before wealth or glory or earthly power.  He did this out of love for the Father and love for you.  Though without sin, he was numbered with the transgressors in order to take our place.  He received the judgment of God for all the ways we treat wealth as a god.  St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
            Jesus Christ humbled himself for you to the point of death – even death on a cross.  He did it to win forgiveness and salvation for you – a forgiveness that covers every way you fail to love God above all things in thought, word and deed.  And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  In Christ God has defeated death and given us the promise of our own resurrection.
            God raised Jesus through his life giving Spirit.  As we heard on Pentecost, the risen and exalted Lord has now poured out that Spirit in these last days.  It is the Spirit who has made us a new creation in Christ.   We have been born again of water and the Spirit in baptism. 
            And this means that the Spirit prompts and leads us now to use our wealth in ways that help our neighbor.  As you look for the neighbor to help, begin with the members of the Body of Christ. There are Christians around the world living by meager means even as they pursue the work of the Gospel. Those involved in the Lutheran Theological College Uganda are a prime example. There are Christians who struggle to receive the essentials needed for life because they have converted to faith in Christ in the midst of an anti-Christian culture dominated by a religion like Isalm. – the same group through whom we sent letters to imprisoned Christians – does work in helping these people. And outside of the Church, there are many in our own area who face the basic challenge of providing food for their family.  The Marion Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry is a way to help. These, and so many other worthy organizations can use your support to undertake work that helps others.
            You know Jesus Christ, the One who died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Through baptism and faith in Christ your sin of loving wealth more than God has been washed away. In fact through repentance and the return in faith to God’s promises of baptism this forgiveness always remains ready for you.  And at the same time, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead now leads you to love and support your neighbor using the wealth with which God has blessed you.