Manage – Sermon on Luke 16:1-13 the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

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Luke 16:1-13

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

No getting around it. This parable is one of the most difficult texts in the Gospels and all of Scripture. A lot of pastor friends of mine were joking about how this text is the reason churches have associate pastors and interns so the ‘regular’ pastor can be protected from having to preach on this text. Unfortunately for me – and, maybe, you – I don’t have that luxury. Just so you know. I’m purposefully skipping Jesus’ words in v. 9. I’ve heard a few explanations and interpretations of v. 9 that may be right, but I’m not entirely convinced by any of them. So, I’m not preaching on it.

So, since the parable is already difficult to preach, I’m going to double down. I’ll deal with the parable first, and then I’ll preach about money, stewardship, and tithing. A double-whammy.

First, the parable. A rich man, who owns a lot of land and leases it out to farmers, has a manager who keeps the books, and the manager is a crook. He cooks the books and is swindling his boss, the rich man. When the manager is confronted by his boss, he has no response because he’s been caught red-handed. So, the rich man fires him, but the rich man is also generous. He doesn’t have the guy thrown straight into prison. Instead, the rich man is gracious and lets the manager head back to his office to get the books and turn them in for the last time.

On the way to his office, the manager is worried about his future well-being. He realizes that he’s too weak for manual labor and too proud to beg. But he recognizes that he has a window of opportunity which is only open until he turns in the books. So, the manager secretly calls in his master’s debtors and decreases their debts in order to make friends with them. It is interesting to note that the fifty measures of oil and the twenty measures of wheat are both roughly equal to the same amount of money – about five-hundred denarii (or 500 days’ wages).

H-63 Trinity 9 (Lu 16.1-9)This reduction was, of course, not legally binding. The rich man could have simply said, “Hang on everyone. I fired that guy before he lowered your debt. You still owe the original amount.” But that isn’t the character of the rich man. Instead, the whole town is singing the praises of the rich man because he is so generous. And the rich man isn’t willing to harm his reputation as a merciful guy. So, what does the rich man do in the parable? He tells the fired, scoundrel of a manager, “Dude, you’re shrewd. You knew I’d rather be known as a merciful person rather than hold on to my wealth. And by your shrewdness, you’ve helped yourself.”

That’s the key to understanding the parable. The rich man in Jesus’ parable doesn’t praise the sinfulness of the fired manager. Instead, he praises how shrewd the manager was. The manager put all his eggs in one basket – the basket of the rich man’s generosity and mercy. And it paid off. By betting on the mercy of the rich man, the manager made himself some friends before everything was taken from him.

And notice that Jesus wishes we were more daring with what we have been given. In the last half of v. 8, Jesus says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”Christian, you have been given mercy, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, eternal hope, eternal joy, eternal peace, eternal love – all things that cannot be taken from you. But you still are careful about sharing those things with others. Repent!

Why are you so careful about sharing God’s love for you with others? Don’t be ashamed! Christian, you have Jesus, and you have the Gospel. You have God’s unfailing, unending love. You have been entrusted with the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Ro. 1:16).

Stop being afraid of losing friends if you share the Gospel with them. God has given you the perfect righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ. Be faithful with what God has given you for your life and salvation. Be willing to give it away. Be faithful in your stewardship of the Gospel. That’s the parable.

Now, we move on to stewardship because, notice what Jesus says (v. 12), “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

If you aren’t faithful with the grace you have been freely given in Jesus Christ, why would God trust you with lesser things, things like money? God is right to not trust you with money if you cannot be trusted with the Gospel. This is a shift in gears here, but stick with me.

God often deals with sin and idols by using those sins and idols to be their own punishment. In Daniel, some pagans planned on getting Daniel thrown into the lion’s den and killed for disobeying the king and praying to God. But they are the ones who end up being eaten by the lions (Dan. 6). Or do you remember the book of Esther? The wicked Haman plans on killing faithful, God-fearing Mordecai by hanging him on a pole, but then Haman ends up being executed on that very instrument of death. This happens with unbelievers, but it also happens with believers. David’s sin of lust plagues him the rest of his life after he commits adultery with Bathsheba. The same thing happens with the most common idol in the world – money.

There have been studies on income and happiness, and a correlation has been found about how much you make and how happy you are. The interesting thing is that once you make a certain amount, happiness actually decreases. What do you think the amount is where happiness starts to decrease? It’s probably lower than you think – somewhere around $70,000. If you have little money but think that just a bit more will make you happier, money is your idol, and you will always be discontent with how much you have. But if you idolize money when you have lots of it, you still aren’t happy and spend all your time trying to hold on to it.

GreedNow, Jesus is absolutely clear, “You cannot serve God and money.”It can’t be done. If you trust in money, you do not trust God. So, repent of your love of money.

One of the best ways to protect yourself against idolizing money is to be generous – recklessly generous. Remember, everything you have – your life, your house, your clothes, your food, your finances, your money – everything is a gift from God. As Creator of everything, it all belongs to God.

You are merely a manager, a steward of what God, the Rich Man, has given and entrusted to you. And God is extremely loose and permissive in how much freedom you have in managing what is entrusted to you. God is actually pleased when you use the things that He has given you to manage and you take those things and use them to care for your family. God is even pleased when you enjoy things that might even be considered frivolous – like expensive coffee, or a gourmet steak and lobster dinner. God is pleased to give those things to you especially when you recognize that He is the One who has given it to you.

But God doesn’t want you to hoard everything He has given you to pamper yourself. He wants to use you and your management to provide for others as well. So, ask yourself, “What is the most important thing God wants to provide for others?” Yes, people need food and water and clothing. But the most important thing God wants people to have is the Gospel. The Gospel which provides for others not just in this life but for all eternity.

So, I would encourage you. Take a look at your finances. Yes, look at how you spend your money, but more importantly look at how much you give away – and where are you giving that money. Are you providing for people’s temporal needs by giving to the food shelf, the homeless shelter, etc.? Good. But you should be shrewd enough to give more to provide for people’s eternal needs. First, you should be giving to this congregation to make sure that both you and your brothers and sisters will be fed with the Gospel. Then, you should be giving to missionaries who call people to repentance and faith in Christ. Then, give to those other places as well.

I hope you know that what you give in the offering plate does go out from here too. As a congregation, we tithe 10% of what you give in the offering plate to provide for missionaries, the promotion of the Gospel, and to agencies in our community that provide temporal needs to others in our community.

If all this talk about tithing and money makes you squirm because you realize that you have not been a faithful manager of what God has given you, repent. Repent and amend your ways. And if you hear this and think to yourself, “I’m glad pastor is finally telling other people to give the way that I give.” Or if you’re thinking, “I wish so-and-so was here to hear this.” You repent too because this is law. And the law should always make us squirm. Your bank ledger isn’t what matters when it comes to your salvation.

Cross and CommunionThe only thing that matters for your salvation is what Christ has done and completed for you upon the cross. Even when you are stingy and fail to be generous with what God has given to you, God was not. He gave what was most valuable to Him for your salvation. God, in His mercy, gave Jesus to die upon the cross for you. Don’t trust in your stewardship of what God has given you. Instead, trust in Christ’s giving of Himself completely for you and for others. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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The Council of the Lord – Sermon on Jeremiah 23:16-29 for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

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Jeremiah 23:16-29

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

18 For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened?

19 Behold, the storm of the Lord!
Wrath has gone forth,

a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.

20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intents of his heart.

In the latter days you will understand it clearly.

21 “I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;

I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.

22 But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,

and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their deeds.

23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I was talking to a few other pastors about this text and mentioned that I was having a hard time with an introduction for my sermon. One of them suggested that I start by saying, “I had a dream from God the other night…” He was joking of course, but it provided an introduction.

In this text, we heard about a very important theme in the Scriptures, and that is the theme of the council of the Lordor sometimes called the heavenly council. And it is important to differentiate here that this is the council with a ‘c’ which means a group of people who come together to consult, deliberate, and make decisions. We are not talking about counsel with an ‘s’ which is giving advice.

Through His faithful prophet Jeremiah, God is warning the people against listening to the false prophets who are not preaching faithfully. If you are following along in our chronological Bible reading plan, you started Jeremiah a few days ago and know about the evil in Jeremiah’s day. If you aren’t following that plan (or aren’t caught up), here’s a brief summary.

Jeremiah was living and preaching to God’s people just before and through the time when the kingdom of Judah fell and was taken captive into Babylon. The kings were sacrificing their sons to pagan gods and abandoning the worship of God. Even though God was sending faithful prophets like Jeremiah and others, the people would not listen. And the kings would kill the faithful prophets who were calling the people to repentance.

The false prophets would tell people who despised the word of God, “Everything will be fine,” and to sinners they would say, “Don’t worry about punishment, God doesn’t mind.” Well, God did mind, and punishment was coming. And yet those false prophets ran and spoke false messages to the people claiming that God had sent them even though they had not stood in the council of the Lord.

Picture it like this – this council of God is like a heavenly throne room or courtroom where important matters are discussed. This picture about the council of God appears all over the Bible.

The council of God began back in creation. In the very beginning, there was a conversation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creation of Adam.jpgOut of that conversation came creation, and most importantly, out of that conversation came the creation of humanity. We get to hear that conversation in Gen. 1:26 where the Triune God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” It was so, and it was good – very good.

After Adam and Eve were created, they become part of that heavenly conversation. God would come walking and talking with them in the cool of the day, and they would hear God’s Word and speak back to God. But there was another voice in that conversation – a voice of discord, violence, and evil. Satan, the devil, had been part of that council of God and had rebelled against the Lord. The devil comes to Adam and Eve and speaks to them about faithlessness, evil, and death. From that conversation, Adam and Eve fall.

After the Fall, the topic of discussion in the council of God changes. The council is no longer focused on the creation of mankind. But, thank God that, in His mercy, the conversation doesn’t change to destroying us. Instead, the conversation is now about the redemption and salvation of mankind. The conversation is about the death of Jesus. And Adam and Eve get to hear this when God says to the devil that the Seed of the woman would crush his head (Gen. 3:15).

Now, we can’t hear this council of God with the ears that God has given us, so God sent His faithful prophets to declare what is being discussed in the heavenly council. Amos 3:7 says, “The Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.” And from the text here before us, God says of the false prophets, “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, they would have proclaimed My words to My people, and they would have turned the from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer. 23:21-22). This was the job of the prophets. Prophets are those who stand in God’s council and bring God’s Words to God’s people. Words of Law and words of Gospel.

When you were growing up, did you ever get sent out of the room so your parents could have a conversation? They might have done this to figure out how to punish you and your siblings for something you had done wrong. Or they might have done this to plan a vacation or get a puppy or some other good. Whatever the reason was, they were having an important conversation that would impact you. But you weren’t invited into the conversation – at least not initially.

But then your parents call you into the conversation. They would tell you what they were talking about and send you to announce it to your siblings. “We’re getting a puppy,” or, “We’re going to Disneyland.” And you get to be their spokesperson and proclaim it. That’s what the all the faithful prophets of Scripture did.

Sometimes, the prophets were to bring news of judgment and destruction. “There won’t be rain,” or, “The Babylonians are going to come and destroy our capitol.” Sometimes, the prophets were to proclaim news of Gospel and deliverance, “A remnant will be saved. God will send a Savior who will bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, and with His wounds we will be healed.”

Heavenly CouncilOne of the most amazing things is that God even gives His prophets a seat and a voice in this council. You remember when God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham speaks up and gets God to agree to not destroy the cities if ten righteous people are found there (Gen. 18:22-33). Or, when God is going to destroy the Israelites for making the golden calf, Moses speaks up in the council and says, “God, if You go down and destroy them, the Egyptians will say that You only brought them out of slavery to destroy them.” And God relents of the disaster He had said He would bring on the people (Gen. 32:1-14).

This idea of the council of God is important for us to understand the Old Testament, but it even comes into the New Testament. Probably the most important glimpse of the council of God we get in the New Testament is in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration (Lk. 9:28-36). You remember that Peter, James, and John are there. They see Jesus’ face change and His clothes shine like the sun. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and are talking with Him. There is the council of God on earth, and Luke says that they are talking about Jesus’ ‘departure’ (lit.His ‘exodus’) which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

In other words, they were talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were talking about Jesus’ redemption of creation and mankind. When Peter later recalls being at the Transfiguration and overhearing that council of God, he concludes that having the Bible is even better, “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed…. No prophecy of Scripture come from someone’s own interpretation or was produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:16-21).

What this means, dear saints, is that when you hear the words of Scripture, you are hearing the council of God. You are hearing God’s call to repent of your sins, and you are hearing about God delivering you from sin, death, and the devil through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is important for us to always remember. God is constantly calling us to repentance and faith through His Word.

Over the last week, there has been a lot of chatter in our country about politics and guns and all sorts of things because of the evil and wickedness in El Paso and Dayton. Those conversations are important and necessary. But there is something you won’t hear in the media, and that is a call to repentance and faith after evil has struck those parts of our country.

In Luke 13:1-5, some people were with Jesus and asked Him what He thought about some Galileans who had been killed by Pilate. The people thought that Jesus should speak out against the leaders in government, but Jesus has a different take. He says, “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”And Jesus mentions another event when the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. Jesus says the same thing, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Dear saints, according to Jesus and according to the council of God, when you see evil in the world – whether it is the evil acts of the wicked or the evil brokenness of creation – know that God is calling you to repent. He is calling you to repent and trust in His mercy won and given through faith in Christ Jesus.

Council of GodNow, Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father. Today, your Savior is talking with the Father, your Creator, and with the Holy Spirit, your Sanctifier. And do you know what they are talking about? They are talking about you and the cross. They are talking about how Jesus won your salvation there. How His blood shed there made a place in heaven for you forever. And the Holy Spirit is there, translating your prayers and interceding for you with groanings too deep for words (Ro. 8:26). The Holy Spirit whispers into your ear that you are an adopted child of God and heir with Christ. And you respond by crying, “Abba, Father” (Ro. 8:12-17).

And know that, whenever you hear the Scriptures, God is inviting you into that conversation, into that council where He calls you Himself through Jesus’ sacrifice. This is what the council of God is always about. This is God’s focus and intention, that you turn from your sins and that you trust in His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we hear the Scriptures, may we heed God’s council. May we repent of our sins and believe in Christ. Amen.[1]

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] I am thankful for an interview that Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller did with Pr. Warren Graff on the heavenly council for portions of this sermon. https://wolfmueller.co/table-scraps-heavenly-council-with-warren-graff/

Eden in Desolation – Sermon on Mark 8:1-9 for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

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Mark 8:1-9

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This morning, we heard how God worked so that Adam and Eve could enjoy paradise in bliss and peace (OT Lesson Gen. 2:7-17).

First, God formed the man. God breathed into man’s nostrils to make Adam a living creature. God planted a garden in Eden. God made every tree that is splendid to look at and good for food to spring up from the ground. God surrounded that garden with vibrant rivers and lands filled with gold and precious stones.Bliss of Eden

God put Adam in the garden and gave him a job – which, yes, is a good thing. Just consider how little Adam had on his work resume at the time. God gave Adam the gift of hunger so that he would have the joy and delight of eating and tasting the fruits of his labor. And God taught Adam what to eat and what not to eat.

Now, this is a bit of an aside, but it is very important. Many people have wondered why God would put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which produced the forbidden fruit in the bliss of Eden at all. Some will say that God put it there to test Adam and Eve to see if they would be good. But if that is the case, it means that God could not make man “good” unless He gave man the choice to do evil. That would be strange for a God who truly is good and all-powerful Himself.

Scripture gives us a better understanding for the existence of the forbidden tree. Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” This is true now, but it was also true before the Fall.

Think of it this way: Everything Adam and Eve knew, they knew because they saw and experienced it. But the one thing they didn’t know was evil. God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden because evil did exist. So Adam and Eve would have faith, God was giving a promise to believe when He commanded Adam to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Think of it this way, when God gives that command He is saying, “Hey, Adam, there is evil and it is bad. If you find out what evil is, it won’t be good for you. Trust Me on this.”

In the end, Adam and Eve didn’t trust God. Obviously, we do not live in Eden anymore; instead, we live in desolation. desolationOur English word ‘desolation’ contains the word ‘solo,’ and that gives a sense of what ‘desolation’ means. Adam and Eve went solo. Rather than trusting God, they went solo and trusted the devil’s lie bringing sin, death, condemnation, and desolation into the world.

We might think Adam and Eve were fools to give up the paradise God created for them. But we are apples that didn’t fall far from Adam’s tree. We too choose evil instead of faith, chaos instead of perfection, and desolation instead of bliss. We live in a place of our own making. A place we contrived from our rebellious hearts. A desert rather than a garden. Instead of life, there is death. Instead of abundance, there is lack. Instead of walking with God, we are surrounded by demons.

God warns us about the penalty of doing evil, but we go solo and crave what isn’t ours. God tells us that we must tell the truth and defend the reputation of others, but we go solo by spreading gossip and slander. Because of sin – and our sin alone – we dwell in a desolate place. Repent.

But even though we turned our back on God, He did not turn His back on us. God doesn’t despise us, He doesn’t come to punish us, and He doesn’t regret the fact that He made us. Instead, God comes to have compassion on us and graciously feed us. On the third day of this excursion, Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd.”That word ‘compassion’ in Greek means that His intestines are tied up. A loosey-goosy translation of Jesus’ words here would be, “My gut is wrenched for these people who don’t have anything to eat.”

Jesus Feeds the 5000Look at what Jesus, God in the flesh does – notice the verbs. He calls the disciples. Jesus directs the crowd to sit down. He takes the bread. Christ gives thanks for the bread. He breaks the bread. He gives the bread to the disciples to set before the people. Jesus blesses the fish. He gives the fish to the disciples to set before the people. And Jesus watches them all eat until every last one of them is satisfied. Jesus continues to do this for us today.

Some of you are fully aware of the desolation you live in right now. Maybe it’s your health or a broken relationship that has left you lonely. Maybe it’s a money or job problem. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Desolation stares you in the face, and you are worried. Know that Jesus is still with you to serve you with everything you need in every moment.

Do you think that when Jesus led that crowd out into the wilderness for three days, do you think that Jesus forgot they would need food? Do you think Jesus was preaching, and suddenly the light bulb turned on in the middle of His sermon and He said, “Oh, nuts. These people are going to need to eat. Oops!”? No, absolutely not! Jesus didn’t forget that they would need food.

Instead, Jesus brought them to a place of momentary need. He led them into the wilderness where they would need a miracle to provide for them. Jesus led them there for some good. We shouldn’t speculate why Jesus did this because the text doesn’t tell us exactly why Jesus did it. But Jesus deliberately brought them there where they would need Him to fully provide for them.

So, listen to this very carefully. Whether things are going well and you don’t notice anything lacking in your life or whether things are bleak and dire, by God’s grace you have everything from God that is best for you right now. Do you believe that?

Scripture says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). Give thanks for everything you have from God at all times – whether those times are good or bad. Here’s why, listen to this from Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And we can know that God is for us because of what Scripture says next: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” In other words, if God gives His only-begotten Son to die on the cross while you are His enemy and a sinner, He won’t hold back anything good from you now that you are adopted into His family through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

God will give us all things in the future, yes. But He also gives us all good things now. Like He did in Eden and like He did in the wilderness, Jesus even now serves us sinful, fallen people who have chosen to live in a desolate place.Communion Cross with Jesus

Jesus is here with His compassion in the midst of your desolation to bring Eden to you. He has come to be your servant by feeding you the Bread of Life from this altar. In this meal, your Savior dispenses forgiveness, life, and salvation to you. Even though we are a small crowd, Jesus has come to deliver big compassion. So, come and receive. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Your Savior & the Law – Sermon on Matthew 5:17-26 for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 5:17-26

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Jesus Preaches the Sermon on the Mount19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Three weeks ago, we heard the three great parables of Luke 15 – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. And, I hope you remember, the reason Jesus told those parables was that the scribes and Pharisees grumbled when they saw Jesus eating with scoundrels and said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:1). Jesus was attracting and associating with shadowy characters and the known sinners of society. So, there in Luke 15, the scribes and Pharisees are thinking that Jesus is either removing the demands of the Commandments or, at least, lowering the bar of what the Law demands. They figure Jesus is some sort of liberal universalist who says that people can live however they want and still get in to heaven. In their minds, Jesus is, by His actions, saying that God doesn’t really care about sin.

Now, we don’t know for sure, but it is very possible that Jesus told the parables in Luke 15 about three years after He preached the words of our text today. Today’s text comes from the Sermon on the Mount which was very early in Jesus’ ministry. I mention this chronology for one reason. This sermon of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, was preached to great crowds that were following Him (Mt. 4:25-5:1). So from the very beginning of His ministry Jesus, your Savior, made it clear that He was not coming to abolish the Law. Those throngs of people heard Jesus very adamantly and very clearly say, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to do away with them but to fulfill them.” He says that not the littlest part of the Commandments will pass away. He warns against relaxing any of the Commandments or teaching others that the Law is not important. According to your Savior’s clear teaching, the Law stands.

We always need to remember that Jesus’ death on the cross takes away the guilt of the Law, but it does not remove the Law’s requirements. Let me say that again because it is important. Jesus’ death on the cross takes away the guilt of the Law, but it does not remove the requirements of the Law. And we need to remember that the Law always points its finger directly at you and at me.

Jesus goes on in this text and afterward to spell out the requirements of God’s Commands. According to Jesus, the holy Son of God, murder is committed without guns, knives, axes, forceps, vacuums, and syringes. Bloody handsSure, you aren’t Lady Macbeth yelling at the blood of Duncan to wash off your hands, but you are guilty of murder before God. You have been angry with others. You have called others, “Fool.” You have held grudges. You have refused to ask your neighbor for forgiveness. And Jesus goes on to the other Commandments as well – lust is adultery and fornication, gossip is perjury, etc.

But you say, “Pastor, you can’t be serious to compare my anger to murder, or my lust to actually having an affair, or my gossip to perjury.” Well, your issue is not with me. I’m just the messenger. Your issue is with God’s holy and perfect Law. You can argue the morality of your sinful actions all you want, but those two tablets of stone only point at you and declare, “You are the sinner.”

Repent. Remember, Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”And, honestly, our righteousness doesn’t measure up to the low bar of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. You might appear very moral and look good outwardly, but the Law is like an x-ray or MRI that exposes every sinful thought and feeling which is just as damnable as the outward action. Unless you keep the Law perfectly as Jesus did, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Repent, but do not lose heart. There is a righteousness that exceeds the outward, visible righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ who did indeed fulfill the Law for you. And through His death and resurrection, His righteousness now belongs to you.

As our Epistle text (Ro. 6:1-11) said, you have been united by your Baptism to Jesus’ death. In your Baptism, you were buried with Jesus into death. If Christ doesn’t return first, you will most surely die. But do not fear. Just as Jesus’ death didn’t last, neither will yours.Because you have been united to Jesus’ death, you can know without doubt that your death will not last. In Baptism you have died with Christ and been set free from sin. Your body of sin has been brought to nothing, and you are no longer enslaved to sin. Christian, you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

And still in this life you need the Law. You need to hear the accusations of God’s Commandments so that your sin is exposed, and you are left with nowhere to flee except to God for His mercy. And God, in His mercy, freely and fully forgives you for the sake of Jesus. Christian, you are free from the Law; Paul will go on to say that very thing in Romans 7:6.

When it comes to your salvation, the Law has nothing to say to you because the Law is not the way to eternal life and peace with God. But that does not mean your Savior says do not need to listen to the Law any more. I’d like to close with an analogy from a faithful pastor[1] that, I think, is very helpful to express how you relate to the Law as a Christian who is fully saved by Christ’s grace but still has a sinful nature.

Imagine that your heart is like a big mansion with all sorts of rooms, hallways, and secret passages. There are certain rooms where the Law must be allowed and given full access; however, there are other rooms where the Law should never be allowed.

Small Catechism - Ten Commandments Cross IconThe Law should never be allowed to access into your ‘How do I stand before God?’ room, your ‘Am I good enough to go to heaven?’ room, your ‘Does God love me?’ room, your ‘Does God think I am a good person?’ room, or your ‘assurance of salvation’ room. The Law should never be allowed to enter those rooms because Jesus has made you as good and as righteous and as perfect as He is.

But the Law is like a three-year-old boy who is always trying to get into the rooms where he isn’t allowed. So, you have to lock those doors and childproof those knobs to keep the Law from entering them.

But don’t think that you can deny the Law access into the other rooms of your heart. No, the Law must have full access to those other rooms. The ‘how I parent my children’ room, the ‘how I am at work’ room, the ‘how I treat my spouse’ room, the ‘how I live as a citizen of my city, state, and country’ room, etc. In those rooms, the Law must have full, complete, and even unsupervised access so you are convicted of your sin.

The Law is right when it declares that you have failed your neighbor and sinned. However, that does not, and it never will, determine your standing before God. Jesus does. Your Savior determines your standing before God.

Always remember that you don’t have to make yourself right with God. Christ has done that. Before you ever thought to get things right with God and even before you took your first breath, God loved you and sent Jesus to make you right with Himself. And through faith in Him, you have His perfect, complete righteousness.Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Analogy from Pr. Jared Melius that can be found here: http://wolfmueller.co/law-not-go-sermon-preached-pr-jared-melius/.

What Are You Doing Here? – Sermon on 1 Kings 19:11-21 for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

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1 Kings 19:11-21

11 And [the Lord] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lordpassed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lordwas not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lordwas not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lordwas not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. What are you doing here ElijahAnd behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When was the last time you felt like a total failure? You labored and worked and toiled and strived to complete that one monumental task. All your effort comes to an end, and the task is finished. But before you can pat yourself on the back, you look around and there is still so much to do. More to accomplish. More things that need your attention. And all you want to do is crawl into a cave and give up.

That’s where we find Elijah this morning. Fleeing, alone, scared, and hiding in a cave at Mt. Horeb (which is the same as Mt. Sinai) God asks in a low whisper, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah had had a busy month. But even before we consider what had just happened, we have to go back even further.

Elijah first came on the scene while Ahab was king in Israel. Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, had introduced worship of Baal to God’s people. They were sacrificing their own children to Baal and praising themselves for it. The people were tearing down the true God’s altars and replacing them with temple prostitutes, and they would worship their false god by fornicating with them. All the while Jezebel was ruthlessly persecuting Yahweh’s faithful prophets by murdering them.

So, God sends the prophet Elijah to King Ahab to tell him that there would be neither dew nor rain (1 Kgs. 17:1). And for three and a half years (Jam. 5:17-18), Israel had no precipitation. Finally, God sent Elijah back to Ahab and the people of Israel saying, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him; but if Baal is god, follow him.”

After this, Elijah challenges Baal’s prophets to a duel – mano-e-450-manos. The 450 prophets of Baal would sacrifice a bull, lay it on an altar, and call down fire from heaven, and Elijah would do the same. The prophets of Baal call out all morning to their pagan god while Elijah taunts them because there was, of course, no answer (1 Kgs. 18:27-29). Elijah prepares his bull, places it on the altar, and Yahweh, the true God, answers by completely consuming the sacrifice. Afterward, the people of Israel confess, “Yahweh is God.” Elijah took the 450 pagan prophets and slaughters them, and God, sent rain once again.

However, Queen Jezebel wasn’t pleased. She sends a messenger to Elijah swearing by her defeated, pagan gods that she will kill Elijah by the same time tomorrow (1 Kgs. 19:2). That is why Elijah is on the run here in our text. God sends an angel to give Elijah food and water. That meal provided Elijah with the strength to travel forty days to Horeb (1 Kgs. 19:3-8) where he crawls into a cave.

So, after this great victory over the pagan prophets, after God’s provision of rain, after God’s provision of food, there is Elijah standing in a cave feeling very alone and very abandoned. God rightly asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah in the cave What are you doing hereListen again to Elijah’s response, “Listen God, I’ve been very jealous for You. I’ve done what You have commanded. But Your people have forsaken Your covenant. They have thrown down Your altars. And they have killed Your prophets with the sword. I’m the only faithful one left, and they are out to kill me as well.” Elijah’s response makes it sound like God had lost and that Baal had won. His answer makes it seem like no rain had fallen, and as though God had failed.

God won’t have it. Yahweh patiently but sternly whispers in Elijah’s ear, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He sends Elijah back with work to do. “Go anoint two kings and your successor as prophet.” And God promises that He will keep and preserve not just Elijah but another seven thousand faithful people for God who have neither bowed down nor kissed Baal. And Elijah goes.

Our society isn’t so different than Israel was in the days of Elijah. We live in a society that sacrifices our children on the altars of convenience and choice. Instead of cult prostitutes, we have every deviant sexual practice imaginable being tolerated and even promoted in our schools. Jezebel isn’t threatening our lives, but we have political leaders who might as well be Jezebel. They say that if we speak out against any of the prevailing sins in our culture, we are backwards and old-fashioned Bible thumpers. They threaten that our morals and the Scripture that teaches them will be forgotten and thrown in the corner of history to gather dust.

With all those voices against us, we might be tempted to be like Elijah and flee to our cave. But what is happening in our nation now is nothing new. We are saddened that the world is driving us to the cave, but, by our silence and fear of speaking out against sin, we have voluntarily walked halfway there in the first place.

Dear Christians, repent. We cannot retreat. We cannot have the defeatist attitude that Elijah had. God still has work for us to do. God has called you to be His salt and light in this world. He desires that you be His faithful witnesses proclaiming that Christ Jesus is the Savior of the world. The world does genuinely want to destroy us, but never forget that God is faithful.

Even if it looks like the Jezebels of our day have won, they haven’t. God defeats Jezebel both physically and spiritually. God told Elijah to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel in place of Ahab and his sons. A little while later Jehu overthrows Ahab’s son who was king. Then, Jehu marches into the city and has Jezebel thrown out of a window where the dogs tear her apart and eat her flesh (2 Kgs. 9:30-37). In her life Jezebel loses in spectacular fashion physically. But even more importantly, Jezebel loses spiritually.

Jezebel had a daughter named Athaliah who married Jehoram, king of Judah. Athaliah and her husband had a son, who had a son, who had a son, and so on and so forth, who eventually a boy named Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Despite Jezebel’s hatred and animosity of Yahweh, God made her the many times over great-grandmother of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Jezebel tried to defeat God by hating Him. But God defeated Jezebel by loving her. With Jezebel’s blood coursing through His veins, Christ shed His holy and precious blood to forgive even the sins of Jezebel. On the cross, Jesus’ foot, which was formed from Jezebel’s genetic material, crushed the head of the devil and of Baal.

So, stop worrying about how things are going in this world. God is able, and has already, defeated your enemies because they are also His enemies.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” With words that are stern yet compassionate, God calls Elijah out of his cave and gives him work to do for the kingdom of God. And today, God calls you out of your cave because He has work for you to do as well.

God hasn’t called you to go anoint kings and prophets. But He has called you to raise up your children in the faith. God has called you to proclaim and confess that He has called you out of the darkness of your caves and into His marvelous light.

And when you do crawl into your cave, God calls you through His Word, “What are you doing here?” Jesus Coming out of the TombGod will continue to defeat His enemies by raising up faithful believers from the offspring of His enemies. Scripture doesn’t promise that the Jezebels of our day will fall before our eyes. In fact, it is very likely that the voices of Jezebel will continue to grow stronger in our culture and society.

But Scripture does promise that Baal is dead and Christ is living. Jezebel has lost, and you have already won. And, you, Christian, are called to remain faithful.

“What are you doing here?” Come out of your cave, and do the work that God has called you to do. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.

Glory – Sermon Romans 8:18-23 for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

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Romans 8:18-23

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This text from Romans is intended to encourage us as we go through suffering. And these verses tell us where to set our eyes, where we are to focus, in the midst of suffering. It is very important that we focus on the right things when we suffer because, too often, we focus on the wrong things. Especially, we focus on the time when our suffering will end, and everything will be back to normal. But this is not where we should focus.

Joseph Forgives his BrothersTo get an understanding of this, we are going to start by considering what happened in our Old Testament text (Gen 50:15-21) where we heard about what happened between Joseph and his brothers after their father has died. Joseph’s brothers were afraid that Joseph would punish them because of all the wrong things they had done.

Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob (Gen. 37:3). Jacob had given Joseph that expensive, many-colored robe and made it clear that Joseph was his favorite son. Because of this, Joseph’s brothers hated him and could not speak peacefully to him (Gen. 37:4). Joseph would have dreams. One where he saw his brothers all bowing down to him and another one where he saw his whole family including his parents bowing down to him (Gen. 37:5-11). And his brothers hated him even more after he told them about these dreams.

One day, when he was seventeen years old (Gen. 37:2), Joseph was sent by Jacob to check on his brothers where were working the flocks a long way from home. Joseph’s brothers see him off in the distance and decide that now is their chance. They formulate a plan to kill Joseph and throw him in a pit. But instead of killing him, they figure it is more profitable for them to sell him to some slave-traders and earn some money (Gen. 37:18-28). So, Joseph gets taken to Egypt and is sold to a man named Potiphar who was a high-ranking officer of Pharaoh. And so, begins a roller coaster of ups and downs – of suffering and glory – for Joseph.

From depths of the waterless pit that his brothers had thrown him in, Joseph rises in prominence in Potiphar’s house so that Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of everything (Gen. 39:4-5). But then he gets thrown into prison after he is falsely accused of trying to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. While in prison, Joseph catches the eye of the jailor who put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners (Gen. 39:22-23). While God is granting Joseph this success, he correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker who had been thrown in prison. Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him and mention him to Pharaoh so that his unjust suffering can end (Gen. 40:14-15). But for two whole years, (40:23-41:1), the cupbearer forgot about Joseph.

Finally, the cupbearer does remember Joseph when Pharaoh has a dream that none of his wise men or magicians can interpret (Gen. 41:6). So, Joseph is called to Pharaoh’s palace where Joseph interprets his dreams to mean there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of severe famine. And Pharaoh decides to make Joseph the overseer of storing up enough grain in the years of plenty so that there will be food in the seven years of famine.

Finally, we get to our Old Testament text, and Jacob, Joseph’s father, dies. Joseph’s brothers figure their dad was the only buffer they had that prevented Joseph from getting vengeance on them. So, they make up this lie and tell Joseph, “Dad totally said that you have to forgive us.” But Joseph’s view of things has changed from the time he was in prison. While he was in prison, he was just looking for an end to his suffering. But now, he has the hindsight to see that God was working everything out to provide, not only for his family, but for many others to save them.

Now, there is no Scriptural promise that God will give you the clarity of why you experience suffering in this life like He gave to Joseph. No. Instead, God has given you something better. He has given you the promise of heavenly bliss and perfection. He has promised you a future that isn’t worth comparing to the suffering that you experience in this fallen creation. So, dear saints, don’t set your sights too low.

When your checking account gets below a comfortable level, you focus on your next payday. When you get sunburned, you focus on the time when it won’t hurt your shoulders to wear a shirt, and then you focus on the time when you will stop itching from your peeling skin. When your kids can’t sleep and need attention in the middle of the night, you look forward to the time when they calm down and you can put your head back on your pillow. When you are sick, you focus on when your cough will go away, your sinuses opened, or when your stomach will be able to hold down food. When you go through chemotherapy treatments, you look forward to when they are done. When you experience pain and loss because of broken relationships or when friends and relatives die, you yearn for enough time to pass so the ache and agony subsides. All of that is like Joseph, when he was in prison, wanted his story to be told to Pharaoh so that he could get out of that pit of suffering (Gen. 40:15).

Wait Eagerly while we goran - Romans 8-23But, Christian, this passage of Scripture is telling you that there is something even better in store for you than the end of your suffering – whatever has caused it. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Dear saint, when you suffer, you do not simply look to the end of your pain. Instead, you are to look to the glory that is to be revealed to you. And, in fact, all of creation is groaning for this as well.

All creation eagerly longs and desires for you to be revealed as God’s children. 1 John 3:1-2says something similar, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” But here, Paul takes it one step further and says that the sun, moon, and stars, the trees, the grass, and the dirt can’t wait to see the glory that God has given to you – and which you have now – but the glory which will be revealed when Christ returns.

You have this promise, but you do not experience it yet. You have this glory by faith in Christ even while you experience suffering here and now.

Some of you know this suffering better than I and others do. And some of you are even now suffering in ways that are incredibly painful, and you don’t know how you can go on. Listen to the first verse of our text again because it is a promise to you. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Dear Christian, following Jesus means that you will endure suffering. But hold fast to this promise. You have been joined to Christ. In your Baptism, God joined you to Jesus’ death upon the cross (Ro. 6:3-5). There on the cross, Jesus cried out as He suffered God’s punishment for your sin, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”But God has joined you to Jesus’ death so that you would also be joined to Jesus’ resurrection.

Yes, you do suffer now. But that suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in you. The time will come that the revelation that you are a child of God will be clear to all the world. Even when it doesn’t feel like you are a child of God, remember that, when Christ returns, all of creation will see that you have been redeemed by His blood. What a joy that will be.

I want to close with what is probably a silly illustration, but I hope it drives this home a little bit. When a mom decides to style her daughter’s hair, there are times of suffering. All the tangled snarls need to be brushed out, and the daughter isn’t her mom’s biggest fan. But the mom persists. She twists and braids and ties off the daughter’s hair. Finally, everything is finished. The mom steps back, looks at her daughter, and says, “Look how beautiful you are.”

And the daughter looks in the mirror and smiles because she looks just like a princess. The daughter knows, of course, that she had nothing to do with the hair styling other than she endured it. But she happily receives the praise and adoration of the glory that her mother has created.

The ResurrectionDear saints, the same is true of you. In Christ, God has done all the work required to give you your glory. And the day is coming when you will hear your heavenly Father’s voice, praising you for the work He has done in you (Mt. 25:21).

Until then, press on. Look to the promises of Scripture as you wait for the time when Christ returns, when your bodies will be redeemed, and your God-given glory will be revealed. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Feasting with Sinners – Sermon on Luke 15:1-32 for the Third Sunday after Trinity

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In the name of Jesus. Amen.

You can take each of these parables out of their context, and they will correctly teach you about the Kingdom of God and His grace and mercy. When these parables are taken out of context, they become nice stories about how Jesus seeks out you who are lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons, and the angels in heaven rejoice at your being brought into the fold. To view yourself as the lost sheep, coin, or son is not entirely wrong, but neither is it entirely right.

So first, let’s consider the context of these parables. The reason Jesus tells them is the grumbling of the Pharisees when Jesus is eating with and welcoming sinners. So, the point of each of the parables is to pound into our heads the joy of heaven over one sinner who receives grace. The parables show us the ludicrous feasting and joy of God’s mercy, pardon, and steadfast love over sinners.

Lost Sheep from Luke 15.jpgIn each of these parables, what is lost – the sheep, the coin, and even the son – is not valuable. That is the point of the parables. This is most apparent in the parable of the lost coin. The party the woman throws costs more than the coin that she recovered. That one sheep was worth less than the cost of the party that the shepherd threw. Even that one son was not worth the cost of the party. And don’t pish-posh that statement.

The son had told his father to drop dead. The twerp demanded that his father sell off everything. The little brat went off, blew the inheritance, and returned only when he is tired of sharing swill with swine and thinks he has a chance at getting some bread. He came sauntering back to negotiate a job for himself. Had the father brought him on as a hired hand, it would have been gracious. Restoring him to sonship is merciful. Throwing a party about the whole business is unimaginable. No, the son is not worth a party.

But that is the point. The point is that God is like an obsessive and foolish shepherd, woman, and father who loves too much. God pays for work not performed and for merchandise not delivered.

If these parables give you a picture of a God who seems reasonable, then you are reading them wrong. Your heavenly Father turned His back on His perfectly good, entirely faithful, and completely obedient Son to purchase those who killed Him. Jesus laid down His precious life for sinners.

To paraphrase our Old Testament text (Mic. 7:18-20), “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression? You do not retain Your anger forever, because You delight in steadfast love. You have compassion on us, and You will have compassion us again and again.”

ShadenfreudeBecause of our sin, we are broken. No one wants to admit it, but we are happy when our neighbor suffers and we are sad when he rejoices. The Germans created a word for this by combining their words for ‘harm’ and ‘joy’ into one word, Schadenfreude. The worst part is we justify our Schadenfreude. We enjoy others’ pain because we figure they deserved it. We want others to get what we think is justice. But this is the opposite of compassion and is from the devil.

Satan wants justice for others. His desire is that you get the wages of your sin – death. And when we desire and demand justice, we join our voices to the serpent and receive nothing but hell and condemnation.

Like the Pharisees, we live good, respectable lives but only in an outward way. We mow our lawns and use our turn signals. We volunteer, pay our bills, and give to charities. And we think we deserve good, peaceful lives because of it. When we encounter any trouble or trial or cross, we conclude that God isn’t being fair. And worse than that, when God showers blessings on others, we figure God is rewarding bad behavior. And instead of repenting, we judge God to be unjust. We are entirely foolish for thinking so.

The Pharisees were angry at Jesus for receiving sinners, so they are damned and go home condemned. They refuse to repent. And they refuse to repent because they hate grace – even though they will never admit it. Irritation at God for accepting sinners through grace is the height of hubris and pride.

Instead of being encouraged that God forgives sinners whom we deem worse than us, we get jealous and think that God should simply accept us as we are because we are so much better than others. It is the same as saying, “I don’t need mercy, so others shouldn’t get mercy.”

Repent. The sheep, the coin, and the son are not worth the cost to restore them nor the party thrown afterwards. And, sinner, you are not worth the cost of your redemption. Let me repeat that and let it sink in: You are not worth the cost of your redemption.

But God does it anyway. How great is God’s steadfast love toward us and others?

No one is worthy of the banquet. No one is worthy to enter the feast. The feast is full of sinners accepted by God’s grace alone. Otherwise, what is Jesus doing on the cross?

The father in the parable slaughtered the fattened calf in order to celebrate the fact that Cross and Communionhe restored and received his son back into the family. Sinner, your heavenly Father has fattened up Jesus, His faithful Son, to serve as food for you who are unworthy.

Come, you poor, lame, cripple, and blind. Come, you who have no other options or choice. You and I are sinners received entirely by God’s grace without any merit or worthiness of our own.

Heavenly Father, teach us to rejoice in this and in nothing else. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.