Thursday, September 29, 2022

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels


Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  The observance of a day to honor the angel St. Michael dates to the fifth century.  It was later expanded to include all angels. 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.”  Included in this are the angels who are spiritual beings created by God to serve Him and help His people.


The Bible mentions two angels by name.  Michael is mentioned in Daniel (10:13, 21; 12:1), Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7.  On the basis of these passages he has been honored as “captain of the heavenly hosts.”  Gabriel is mentioned in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21, and was the messenger of God in the annunciation to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) and Mary (Luke 1:26).  In the Scripture reading from Revelation 12, Michael and the angels cast Satan from heaven.  This casting out of Satan took place as a result of Christ’s victory in his death, resurrection, and ascension.  No longer is Satan allowed to appear before God and accuse His people (such as we find in Zechariah 3:1-5; the name Satan means “adversary” in Hebrew). 


Scripture reading:

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. 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. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! 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!” (Revelation 12:7-12).


Collect of the Day:

Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order.  Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.




Sunday, September 25, 2022

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity - 1Kg 17:8-16


Trinity 15

                                                                                                 1 Kg 17:8-16



          If you were a person living in Russia who was experiencing difficult times simply having enough to eat, and someone told you, “Well, go to Kyiv in Ukraine, and you will get assistance there,” you would probably find that advice to be less than helpful. After all, Russia invaded Ukraine and has carried out a brutal war there. The people in Ukraine hate Russians because of what they have done.  That does not seem like the place where a Russian should go to receive help.

          Or if you were person who was experiencing difficult times simply having enough to eat, and someone told you, “Well, go and live with this family because they have an Illinois Link card,” you would probably also find that advice to be less than helpful. A Link card is the Illinois Department of Human Services program to provide money for buying food to those who are in need.  If someone is not able to provide for food themselves with their own resources, it hardly sounds like a good idea to show up and ask the for food.

          Yet in our Old Testament reading this morning, that’s exactly what God does as he tells Elijah to go to Zarephah in Sidon and stay with a widow. It makes no sense.  Yet Elijah obeys Yahweh, and there God works a miracle to provide for Elijah and the widow.  In this miracle we see an act by God that points forward to the great miracle he has worked in Jesus Christ.  And in the experience of Elijah and the widow we find reason to reflect on our own expectations about God’s provision in life.

          Elijah lived in the ninth century B.C.  The northern tribes had broken away from Judah after the death of king Solomon and formed their own nation, which is normally referred to as Israel in order to distinguish it from the southern kingdom of Judah.  From the beginning Israel’s kings promoted paganism so that the people would not feel drawn to Judah where the temple was located in Jerusalem.

          Spiritually, things were terrible. But economically things were great.  Israel had entered into an alliance with the seaport kingdom of Sidon, and business was booming.  The alliance has been established as Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon.

          Now 1 Kings tells us that Ahab “did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who were before him” – which considering the kings who had preceded him is saying something.  In addition to all the paganism that was already going on, Ahab built a temple for Baal, because that was the god Jezebel worshipped. Jezebel worked to promote the worship of Baal in Israel.

          Finally, Yahweh sent the prophet Elijah to King Ahab to announce these words: “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”  The rain did stop.  At first, God provided for Elijah as he lived by a brook and ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and night.  However, eventually the brook dried up.  The lack of rain meant that crops were poor, and soon there was a famine in Israel and the surrounding area.

          We learn in our text that word of the Lord then came to Elijah as he told him: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  Now Zarephath belonged to Sidon, the home of Jezebel. This was pagan territory.  It was Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, who had announced that there would be no rain – the lack of rain that had caused a famine in Sidon.  It seemed unlikely that the Sidonians would welcome Elijah since they probably saw him as the source of their problems.

          Then, Yahweh also said that he had commanded a widow there to feed Elijah.  In the ancient world, a widow was one of the most vulnerable people in society.  She had no husband to provide for her and so simply getting by was a great challenge. Widows usually needed assistance from others.  Why would Yahweh send Elijah to a widow with the expectation that she would feed him?

          None of this seemed to make much sense. But Elijah obeyed God and went to Zarephath.  There he met the widow at the city gate as she was gathering sticks. Elijah told the widow to bring him some water. And then as she was going he said to her, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”  To the widow, the demand was absurd.  She reported that she had only a handful of flour and a little oil.  She was actually in the process of getting ready to make one last small meal for herself and her son.  After that, they would have nothing and certainly would die.

          However, Elijah replied: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

          God promised that he would provide for the widow, her son, and Elijah.  In response, the widow did as Elijah had said. God fulfilled his word.  We learn at the end of our text, And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.”

          The miracle worked by God in our text stands in a close relationship to our Gospel lesson.  There we see that Jesus promises that our heavenly Father will provide us daily bread – with the things we need to live. Near the end of that text our Lord says, Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

          We note that in our text, God provides the means for making bread.  He provides food in the midst of a famine.  But that’s all he provides.  While that certainly is a big deal in the midst of a famine, the question is whether we are really satisfied with that. God’s promise does not go beyond what he provided to Elijah and the widow.  God promises the basic necessities that sustain life. Yet that is all he promises.

          Are we satisfied with that?  Jesus gives us a hint about the answer when he warns: “No one 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 old Adam in us always wants more.  He always wants something better.  He is not satisfied with daily bread. And so we see that others have more things and have better things and we covet.

          Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  In this statement we find the assurance that God will provide us with what we need. And we also find the forgiveness for the ways that we are unthankful, dissatisfied, and covetous.

          The kingdom of God and his righteousness is God’s saving reign – his saving action to put all things right.  In our text, we see God working through the prophet Elijah.  Elijah’s ministry, like that of his successor Elisha, stand out among the prophets.  We see God work miracles through him to provide food and even raise the widow’s son from the dead.

          These miracles point to Jesus Christ who is the final end times prophet.  He performs miracles that are very similar to Elijah.  He feeds more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.   He raises the dead such as Lazarus.  It’s not by chance that when Jesus asks the disciples about who the people say he is, the first name that is mentioned is Elijah.

          But Jesus Christ is more than Elijah.  In Deuteronomy, Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”  Moses had been the greatest prophet.  Preaching in Jerusalem, Peter told those listening that Jesus was this prophet like Moses – the final end times prophet.

          Prophets like Moses and Elijah did mighty miracles.  But when we meet Elijah in our text today he is in the midst of hardship. He is struggling to be fed.  Things will become worse as Jezebel will seek to kill him and he will flee for his life, despairing as if his work has been a failure.  The prophets suffered.  The prophets were killed.

          Jesus carried out a ministry of powerful works.  He healed, cast out demons, fed thousands, and raised the dead.  But Jesus’ greatest miracle as the final end times prophet was worked as he suffered and died. The prophets were mere men.  But Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He had come to be the sacrifice for our sin. He had come to put things right with God by receiving the judgment that our sins of thanklessness, dissatisfaction, and covetousness deserve.  That is what happened as he suffered and died on the cross.

          Sin brings death.  But the Lord Jesus won victory over sin by his forgiving death.  And then his death became the means by which God has given us victory over death.  On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  This was not like when the prophets, or even Jesus, raised someone from dead. Those individuals eventually died.  Instead, this resurrection was the transformation of Jesus’ body so that he can never die again.  It was the end time resurrection – the resurrection of the Last Day that has begun in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul told the Corinthians, “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.”  We look for the consummation of God’s reign when Jesus Christ returns in glory and raises our bodies to be like his. Then the righteousness of God will be fully present, when all has been put right.

We look for that day with eager expectation.  We wait, but we are not without our Lord. In our text, we hear about a miraculous feeding that lasted for many days. The risen and exalted Lord, who is still true God and true man, provides a miraculous feeding that continues every Sunday in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. Through this food he gives you forgiveness for every way that you have been dissatisfied, thankless, and covetous. Through this food he nourishes the new man in you so that you can trust in God’s provision of daily bread and be thankful for it. Through this food he gives you assurance that he will raise up your body on the Last Day when he banishes death from creation forever.





Friday, September 23, 2022

Mark's thoughts: Christ's Church has defended life from the beginning

God created human life in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27).  Scripture describes in detail how he uniquely created Adam: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).  It then also describes how God created Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponded to him (Genesis 2:21-22).  God is the Creator, not just in the sense that he first made creation, but also because he is the One who continues to create and sustain creation.  God commanded man to procreate as he told Adam and Eve “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28).  Yet Scripture is clear that in doing so, it is God who works through the one flesh union (Genesis 2:4; Matthew 19:4-6) to create life.  The Psalmist writes: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).


God is the Creator and Giver of life, and so apart from limited circumstances entrusted to his representatives who maintain order (Romans 13:1-4), God is also the only One who determines when life ends.  This is the truth that is expressed in the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” 


We tend to view abortion and the killing of babies as a “modern” practice and issue.  However, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Abortion was practiced in the ancient world, and the Christian Church has always condemned it.  The Didache which is most likely the earliest Christian text outside of the New Testament (late first century A.D. or early second century) says, “You shall not murder a child, whether by abortion or by killing it once it is born” (2:2).  Writing at the end of the second century A.D., Tertullian stated: “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth” (Apology, 9.8).


Yet in the Greco-Roman world abortion was not the only means by which infants were killed and eliminated.  Infant exposure was a much more common practice as unwanted babies were left on trash heaps or abandoned outside.  There they would die, or would be taken up by others to be raised for slavery and prostitution.  Christianity also strongly condemned this practice. Writing in the mid-second century A.D. Justin Martyr stated, “But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God” (First Apology 27.1). The Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second or third century A.D. describes Christians in the following manner: “They marry as men, they bear children, but they do not expose their offspring” (6.6).


Christians have always confessed that life is God’s gift.  In the first centuries of the Church, they did so in the face of a world that accepted the practice of killing babies as a normal part of life. When we speak out against abortion, we join our voices to the saints before us who have confessed the sanctity of life because of what God’s Word says.   



Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist


Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.  Matthew was a tax collector who was called by our Lord to be a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13) and was then appointed as one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4).  He is the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament.  There is uncertainty about the areas in which he worked (some traditions suggest Ethiopia or Persia) and whether he was martyred.

Scripture Reading:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.  And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

 Collect of the Day:

O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist.  Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 5:16-24


Trinity 14

                                                                                      Gal 5:16-24



          In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says that there is a struggle that goes on in the Christian life.  It is present and real, and Christians must take it seriously. However, it is also not the struggle that Galatians have been told about.

          Paul had preached the Gospel to the Galatians during his first missionary journey. They had believed in Jesus Christ and received salvation.  But in the time since then, teachers had come to Galatia and told them that the apostle Paul had not given them the whole story. 

          Yes, the Galatians needed to believe in Jesus Christ who had died on the cross and rose from the dead.  However, if they really wanted to be part of God’s people, they needed to do what God’s people Israel and her descendants – the Jews – had always done. They needed to keep the Torah – the law – that God had given to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

          When it came to the law, either these teachers were expecting a lower level of law keeping among the Gentiles, or they were introducing key points of the law as the first step towards moving the Galatians to living fully like Jews in doing the whole law.  Either way, the focus of their teaching had been circumcision and Jewish religious days.

          The Galatians were being told that they needed to take up the struggle of doing the law if they wanted to be part of God’s people. Yet for Paul, this demand to do the law in order to have a right standing before God was a denial of the Gospel.  Any demand of the law meant that salvation was a matter of faith in Christ plus something else.  Paul declared that as soon as you added the need to do something else – as soon as you added works to part of the reason a person is saved, you have lost the Gospel. 

          Throughout the letter up to our text, Paul has emphasized that salvation occurs through faith in Christ and not by doing the law.  Earlier he wrote, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

          The apostle says that there is a very simple reason why no one can have a right standing before God – can be justified – by works of the law.  We can’t do the law.  Paul writes in chapter three, “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.’”  We can’t do the law perfectly.  It will always bring a curse. 

The reason that we can’t is that through the Fall, sin has invaded our lives. As those who have lost the image of God we have been twisted and perverted by sin.  The apostle expresses this in the same chapter when 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.”

Salvation is not received by doing.  Instead, it is a gift of God.  It is by his grace.  It is something given as a promise from God, and so it is received by faith, and faith alone.  Paul writes, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

God has promised that through Abraham’s offspring – through his “seed” – all nations would be blessed.  Genesis chapter fifteen tells us that Abraham believed God’s promise “and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  What God had promised to Abraham, he has now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The apostle writes in chapter four, “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.”

          Failure to do the law brings a curse.  However, the Son of God entered into the world in the incarnation to free us from the curse. Paul says, “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.’”  Jesus received the curse that should have been ours as he died on the cross.  He redeemed us from the curse – he freed us.  Yet the freedom he has provided includes even more.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  By this action he has defeated death and begun the resurrection that will be ours as well when the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

          The Galatians, and all Christians, are not to take up the struggle of trying to do works of the law in order attain arighteous standing before God.  At the beginning of chapter five Paul exhorts the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Yet immediately before our text Paul also says that this freedom in Christ is not to be misunderstood or misused.  He writes: “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.”

          When Paul refers to “the flesh,” he means the fallen sinful nature that still clings to us.  Baptized into Christ, we have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  But just as Christ’s resurrection does not mean we escape death, so also the presence of the Spirit does not mean that we have fully escaped the fallen, sinful nature. 

          This means that there is a struggle inside of us.  The apostle expresses this when he says in our text, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  The flesh – the remnants of the fallen nature – continue to battle against the new man that the Spirit has created within us. And so Paul says that there is a struggle that we must undertake as Christians.

          The apostle states in our text that its not hard to tell which side has the upper hand.  He says first, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”

          The first three of these all have to do with the misuse of sex. It’s not by chance that Paul mentions them first because as Christianity faced the pagan world it could not have been more different.  In the Greco-Roman world it was assumed that men had sex with their slaves or they had sex with prostitutes.  The only thing that was off limits was sex with the wife of another man. Christianity on the other hand, said that a husband could have sex with his wife, and that was it – any other form or use of sex was sin.  Christianity placed limits on the use of sex by men that had never been seen before.

          I really don’t have to explain to you how much our world sounds like the first century world.  Perhaps in some ways one can argue that it is worse, because now women are told that they too are free to use sex in any way they want. Certainly, the pornography that is so widely available today blows away anything the ancient world had.  Yet God’s will for his gift of sex – his ordering of creation – has not changed. Sex outside of marriage is sin against God.  The use of pornography to generate lustful thoughts is sin against God.  What Paul told the Galatians has not changed.

          The references to idolatry and sorcery obviously are about breaking the First Commandment in the first century world.  But remember, a god is anything that is most important in your life – anything that receives the most attention and effort. So there is plenty of idolatry in our world and lives.  Much of the rest of the list deals with ways that sin produces anger, strife, and divisions in life.  We don’t have to look far to see how this is present among our family, friends, work and world.

          The apostle Paul strongly warns us against taking these sins for granted. We must view them as the true spiritual threats that they are.  We can’t regularly engage in them, but then think we are fine because after all, we are “Christians.”  Instead, he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

          St. Paul realizes that there is a struggle.  He wouldn’t be writing about this and exhorting the Galatians if this was not so.  But it is important to recognize that Paul does not believe it is a hopeless struggle.  Quite the opposite, he says in the first verse of our text, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  What our translation conceals is that Paul states this in an emphatic way which means “you will certainly not.”  Paul says that when we align ourselves with the Spirit – when we follow the Spirit’s leading and are enabled by his power – we are able to avoid what the sinful nature desires.

          When the Spirit guides our life he produces results that please God – he produces results that we see in our Lord Jesus.  Paul says in our text, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

This is the struggle that goes on in the Christian life.  It is present and real, and Christians must take it seriously.  This is certainly not an easy thing.  The apostle says in our text, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  We need to view these sins as the enemy that must be killed. And at same time, we must do more than give lip service to the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

This can only happen if our lives are focused on the ways – those means – by which the Spirit is present for us.  You are here this morning to hear God’s word read and preached.  That is excellent!  But you also need to seeking to learn more about God’s word by attending Bible class.  You need to be reading Scripture during the week as part of your devotional life.  The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the One who comes to us through the Scriptures to give us insight and strength for living as Christians.

Will there be failures? Will we stumble in sin? Yes. The old Adam is a tough opponent. When we do, in repentance we return to our baptism.  There we have the assurance of forgiveness. And there we also have the source of the Spirit’s new life in us.  As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires” and likewise, “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

In our text today, Paul warns us that we cannot ignore the presence of sin in our lives as if it is no big deal.  We can’t continue on in sin without struggling against it.  Instead, those who are in Christ crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.  We walk by the Spirit so that we don’t gratify the desires of the flesh.  And so we make use of the means by which the Spirit is present for us.  We read and study God’s Word.  We cling in faith to our baptism. To do so is to live in Christ.  As Paul says in this letter, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”













Friday, September 16, 2022

Commemoration of Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr


Today we remember and give thanks for Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr.  Cyprian (A.D.  ca. 200–258), was acclaimed bishop of the north African city Carthage around 248. During the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius, Cyprian fled Carthage but returned two years later. He was then forced to deal with the problem of Christians who had lapsed from their faith under persecution and now wanted to return to the Church. It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness. During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities. He was beheaded for the faith in Carthage in the year 258.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You gave Your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, before the rulers of this world and courage to die for the faith he proclaimed.  Give us strength always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Treasury of Daily Prayer, pg. 728

Sunday, September 11, 2022

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


Trinity 13

                                                                                       Lk 10:23-37



          At a track meet, the high jump begins with the bar set rather low.  There is little tension as the competitors begin these initial jumps.  The challenge begins as the bar gets set higher and higher.  At some point the bar reaches the point where no one can clear it – not even the winner of the competition who has cleared a height greater than everyone else.

          In the Gospel lesson this morning we hear Jesus interact with a lawyer who asks what he must do to inherit eternal life.  In the course of his interaction with Jesus, he asks a question that is aimed a limiting what must be done – that seeks to set the bar lower.  However, Jesus turns the tables on the man.  We learn that the bar is set very high – higher than any of us can clear.  Yet because Jesus has already done this for us, we learn what this now means for how we live.

          The majority of our text this morning is the well known parable of the Good Samaritan. We learn that a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test. The lawyer was not like a modern day lawyer who was trained in the secular legal system.  Instead, he was undoubtedly a Pharisee who had been trained in interpreting the Torah, that God gave to Israel at Mt Sinai.  He asked Jesus a simple question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  You will notice that just as we have heard in several texts recently, the assumption here is that doing of the law is the way to life with God.  In chapter eighteen a rich ruler will ask Jesus the exact same question.

          As he often does, Jesus answered the question with a question when he asked: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer responded with texts from Deuteronomy and Leviticus that summarize the first and second table of the Ten Commandments. He answered, “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.”  Our Lord replied succinctly: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

          The lawyer had posed what he must have thought was a challenging question.  However, Jesus had made him look silly as he showed that the answer was very simple. Yet just like when our Lord deals with the rich ruler and exposes that wealth is his true god, he must have known the real issue that was at the heart of the lawyer’s question.

          Luke tells about the lawyer: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  The lawyer attempts to save face by asking a follow up question.  Yet at the heart of this question he reveals the basic problem of trying to approach God on the basis of the law.

          In the question, “And who is my neighbor?,” the lawyer is trying to limit the people he has to love as himself. He is trying to lower the bar – to make things more manageable. His question reflects a tendency found in various parts of first century Judaism, in which Jews were ready to rule out others as being “real Jews” who were worthy of being counted as a neighbor.

          Jesus answers by telling a parable about a man who was making the seventeen mile trip down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  This was an area that had a reputation for being dangerous – a place where robbers attacked travelers.  This unfortunate man fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 

          The man was in a desperate situation.  But then, by chance, something good happened!  A priest was going down that road, most likely after completing his service at the temple in Jerusalem. Here was someone who was a deeply respected religious individual. But when he saw the man, he ignored him and passed by on the other side.  Perhaps the priest feared that the man was dead and touching him would bring ritual uncleanness – something that required time and expense to address. But he showed no concern and left the man there.

          Next, a Levite arrived on the scene.  He was not a priest, but was responsible for helping to run the operation of the temple. A little lower in the social structure, he was still a respected religious figure.  He even came to the place where the man was and saw him.  But in the end, he too passed by on the other side.  Why didn’t he help?  Did he fear ritual uncleanness? Did he fear that maybe the robbers who did this were still nearby?  We aren’t told, but like the priest he showed no concern and left the man there.

          After hearing about a priest and a Levite, Jesus’ listeners probably expected the next person in the parable to be a Jewish lay person.  However, they were in for a shock.  Jesus said, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”  The Samaritans and Jews had a long history of antagonism and strife.  Samaritans had their own version of first five books of the Old Testament.  They had built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, which the Jews then destroyed. The Samaritans were very similar to Jews – so much so that the Jews often didn’t consider them Gentiles. However, they were different in significant ways so that Jews certainly didn’t consider them to be Jews.  The great similarity and yet difference brought out the worst in both groups.

          Yet where the respected priest and Levite had ignored the man, the hated Samaritan had compassion on him.  He wasn’t just concerned, he stopped to help the man.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  He even paid the innkeeper to take care of the man, and promised to pay anything beyond that if necessary.

When he was done, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  The answer was obvious and so he said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The lawyer had asked, “And who is my neighbor?” as he sought to limit those whom he had to love.  Yet through the parable Jesus has flipped the question around to one of who proved to be a neighbor.  This is no longer a matter of limiting love, but instead seeking people to whom we show love.

          Jesus told the lawyer, “Do this and you will live.” But in the parable he has diagnosed why it is not possible for the lawyer to do the law and live.  The same thing is true for us.  We are selfish. We want to limit our love to the people we like or the people who can benefit us in some way. And while we may at times act selflessly to help others, those occasions are far more limited than they could be.  The truth is, that we don’t love our neighbor as ourself.

          As we consider this sin that is in our life – the sinful condition that is present as we also fail to love God with our heart, soul, and mind – we repent, but we do not despair.  We confess this sin.  Yet then, we consider the One who tells the parable.  In the parable we are told that the Samaritan “had compassion on the man.”  The previous time when we have heard this word used in Luke’s Gospel was when Jesus encountered the funeral procession at Nain for the widow’s son.  There Luke tells us, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”  Then Jesus took away the cause for weeping as he raised the son from the dead.

          It is Jesus who has been the Good Samaritan to us. He did not find us just half dead.  Instead, we were spiritually dead.  Worse than that, we were enemies of God because the devil was our Lord.  Yet Jesus Christ showed love and compassion to us.

            The shock of the parable is that the Samaritan is the One who helps.  The fact that Jesus is the One who helps us is no less shocking because Jesus helps us as the One who is crucified.  Luke tells us that before Holy Week our Lord told the disciples, 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.”

          A man who is mocked, spit upon, flogged and crucified does not look like help.  Instead, he looks like a man who needs help.  Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus died on the cross in order to drink the cup of God’s wrath against our sins.  Though sinless, he was numbered with transgressors in our place and received the judgment for our sin. By his death, Jesus helped all who were dead in sin as he won forgiveness for us.

          The truth of this only became clear on Easter. As they unknowingly walked with the risen Lord, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus said of the crucified Jesus, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  Indeed, a dead Jesus who merely died cannot be the redeemer.  When they recognized Jesus the risen Lord after he had blessed and broken the bread, they realized that Christ is the One who has brought life that overcomes death.

          You have received this forgiveness and life through Holy Baptism.  Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  You are forgiven, and have received the Holy Spirit who is now at work in you.  You live as those are a new creation in Christ.

          And that returns us to our text for while the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us about how Christ has helped us, it certainly also teaches those who have received Christ’s love how to be a neighbor to others.  The man in the parable had been stripped of his clothes. This means that he was not identifiable as belonging to a particular group. The love and care that we share because of Christ knows no bounds – it is not limited by race or ethnic group or any category.  It is not even limited by those who hate us, because Jesus has told us to love our enemies.

          The Samaritan stopped to help.  To do so, he put himself at risk.  Obviously, there was the danger that the robbers were still around.  Beyond this, he was a Samaritan in Judea.  Yet he stopped any way because he had compassion on the man.

          The Samaritan gave of his time.  Our text tells us that he was on a journey.  He was trying to get somewhere.  But he stopped to help the man. Then he even stayed a night caring for him.  He put his own plans on hold in order to help.

          Finally, we see that the Samaritan gave of his resources.  He poured out his own oil and wine to treat the man’s wounds.  He paid to stay at the inn for that night, and then he paid two denarii – two days wages more - for the inn keeper to care for the man.  He even promised that if more was needed he would pay that when he returned.

          Because we have received God’s love in Christ, we now seek to love and help others. We seek to be a neighbor to those around us. God loved us when we were unlovable, so the object of our love and care knows no limits.  Christ gave himself for us in the most costly sacrifice, and so our love for others will involve the cost of time and money.  Because the forgiveness and salvation won by the Lord Jesus is a gift, we no longer find ourselves trying place limits by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”  Instead, the Spirit of Christ leads us to ask, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” as we act in love and service.