Pardon the delay…

There is no longer any serious historian who denies that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, there are hardly any scholars who seriously deny that Jesus wished this Supper to be repeated by His people. Where in early Christendom would there have been the commanding spirit who would have thought of bridging the time between the death and the return of the Lord with such a celebration, in which past and future again and again become present, and the distance between heaven and earth is bridged? The church has been able to survive the delay of the Lord’s return, for which it has been praying for nineteen centuries and for which it has been waiting so long, only because Sunday after Sunday is the “Day of the Lord,” the day of the anticipated parousia, the day on which He comes to His congregation under the lowly forms of bread and wine and “incorporates” Himself in it anew.

Sasse, Herman (2013-01-09). Letters to Lutheran Pastors – Volume 1 Concordia Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Luke 16:1-15 – The Lauding of the Shrewd

Luke 16:1–15—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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ The Unjust Steward5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 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. 9 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.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This is not an easy parable.  It comes on the heels of the three famous parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son – remember better titles for those parables would focus on the main characters: The Reckless Shepherd, The Persnickety Woman, and The Wasteful Father.

Remember back in Lk. 15:1-2, the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling because Jesus was receiving tax collectors and sinners and eating with them.  Jesus was surrounding Himself with all the lowlifes of society, the riffraff, the scoundrels, and the bums.  To those tax collectors and sinners, His followers [disciples], Jesus tells this parable.  But the Pharisees and scribes certainly heard it too.

Can’t you just see Jesus trying to hide the smile on His face as He told this parable.  Can you imagine the shock and horror of the Pharisees and scribes as they hear Jesus tell this parable about the manager’s and his unrighteous, sinful actions and then praising him?

In this parable, Jesus presents a rich man who is so full of mercy and grace that he is happy to be cheated repeatedly rather than ceasing to be merciful and gracious.

The rich man catches his manager red-handed cooking the books and stealing.  The rich man is an honest man, and so he can’t have an unrighteous, dishonest man managing his books.  The rich man not willing to tarnish his reputation of being righteous and just at the expense of his unrighteous manager.  In other words, the rich man does not overlook the sin.  He tells the unrighteous manager, “Pack up your things.  Turn in the books.  You’re fired.”

The manager realizes that his very life is in danger because this is the only job he can do.  He is an accountant – a dishonest accountant – but an accountant nonetheless.  When word gets out that he has been fired because he is a crook and a cheat, no one will ever hire him to be an accountant again.  He can’t do anything else.  He is not strong enough to dig, and he is too ashamed to beg.  The fact that he is fired is an utter and complete disaster.

The manager realizes that he is in huge trouble, faced with a major crisis.  He whole life is burning down.  He needs help.

But he doesn’t waste any time.  He thinks on his feet, and he acts.  He acts quickly.

The unrighteous manager knows that his master is being merciful.  He could, and maybe should, have been thrown into prison immediately, but he was not.  Instead, the rich man has mercifully given the manager a sliver of time.  So the unrighteous manager decides to bet his entire future on the mercy of his former boss.  The unrighteous manager goes ‘all-in’ on the master’s grace.

As he goes back to his office to collect his ledger, the unrighteous manager summons all of his master’s debtors.  He is going to  purchase, friends for himself, not spending his own money, but charging the expense on the rich man’s credit card.

The unrighteous manager lowers all the tenant’s bills.

As far as the tenants know, the rich man has instructed the manager to lower the bills.  As far as the tenants know, the rich man is the source of this mercy and grace.  But, in the end, the tenants don’t really care why this is happening.  All they focus on is the fact that they have been freed from their debts, and they are thankful.

The unrighteous manager hopes that some of the villagers’ praise and thanks will spill over to him too.  Maybe one or more of the villagers will help him when they see him destitute and out of a job.  Maybe they will help him so that he will not have to dig or beg.

So, now, picture this final scene:  The unrighteous manager dismisses the very last debtor who skips out of his office because his debt has been significantly reduced.  The unrighteous manager takes a deep breath and smirks.  Even he can barely believe he is trying this.  He picks up the pile of papers reflecting the discounted debts.  The ink is still wet.  He closes the door to his office for the last time and walks to the rich man’s office.  As he opens the door, he rich man is looking out his window watching the whole village dancing and shouting for joy.  He turns toward the manager who is waving the bills in the air to get the ink as dry as possible.  With a crooked smile, he hands the bills over and they have obviously been reduced.

What does the rich man think?  What does he do?

He commends and compliments the unrighteous manager!  He sees the joke.  Yes, the joke is very expensive and at the rich man’s expense, but it’s still funny.

The rich man can’t turn stop the singing and dancing by saying, “No, no, no.  This man was fired.  He had no right to change your bills.  The bills are all going back to what they were.”  If he stopped the party and celebration like that, the villagers would turn against him forever.  The rich man’s reputation of generosity and mercy would be forever lost, and he won’t have that.

This is a beautiful story where everyone wins.  The villagers have less debt; the rich man has tenants who love him; and the unrighteous manager will probably not have to dig or beg to keep himself alive.

Do not be offended that the unrighteous manager gets away with his cheating and stealing – the rich man isn’t.  If the rich man is willing to die to those debts that are owed to him, why aren’t you?

Why do you find it so difficult to get over the fact that the rich man, the God character in this story, is willing to die to what is owed to Him?  Maybe you are thinking, “It simply is wrong, unfair, unjust that the rich man didn’t nail that sinner.”  You are right – how beautifully wrong, unfair, and unjust.  How gracious, loving, and merciful.

You see, this parable is so difficult because it so clearly reveals God’s mercy and grace.  When you look at it, you think it is about sin and deceit, but you are wrong.  It is important to note, that Jesus doesn’t use this parable to praise the unrighteous manager for his stealing or cheating.  No, Jesus praises his shrewdness.

Just as the rich man was willing to be cheated by the unrighteous manager, God is willing to be the butt end the poorly told joke of our lives.

Like the unrighteous manager, your life is an absolute disaster and crisis.  Like the unrighteous manager, you need help.  Like the unrighteous manager, your life is too messy and complex to deal with on your own.

You live in a world where evil is answered with evil; you see it every day.  Today, Jesus is challenging you to see the moral complexity of our world as an opportunity.  That’s right, the mess of this world and your life is an opportunity to find different ways to show this world of thieves and cheats the justice, love, peace, and mercy of your God.

You have a God who loves you in spite of yourself.  A God, who through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, is the only one who can bring you out of your messes – the messes you and your selfishness create.  Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Luke 15:1-10 – Found

Luke 15:1-10—Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Can’t you just hear the Pharisees and scribes grumbling and murmuring with clenched teeth and lowered voices, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”?

Jesus was associating Himself with the types of people that were questionable, shadowy, uncouth, lazy, selfish, profane, perverse, and scandalous.

If He had lived today, Jesus would be eating with the IRS agents who illegally targeted conservative political groups.  Jesus would be going to Olive Garden with the NSA agents who spied on people who are on the wrong side of elections.  Jesus would be barbecuing with the alcoholics.  He would have a picnic with the people who use their food stamps to buy liquor at strip clubs.

All sorts of lowlifes would be crowding around Jesus.  The air around Jesus would be clouded in cigarette smoke and filled with profanities.

Think of all the people whose lives are big neon signs that read, “Failure,” and Jesus is surrounded by them.  Flocks of individuals whose lives were mere shells of what they could have been or were supposed to be.  Hosts of people who fill their lives with every imaginable variation of immoral living were Jesus’ cup of tea.

Jesus was surrounded by the junkies, druggies, hippies, and beatniks – all the people who knew they had gone astray from God.

These very people hemmed around Jesus to hear His words, and Jesus would receive them and even eat with them.  Jesus, the man who performed miracles and claimed to speak for God, was making God’s name very unholy because of the people He associated with.

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ responds to these grumbling voices with three parables; we give them the titles, “The Lost Sheep,” “The Lost Coin,” and “The Prodigal Son.”  But those titles do not recognize the main character of the parables and obscure the point of each parable.  How many of you are going to go home this afternoon to watch refereeing while some guys in pads play football?  Just like referees, the sheep, coin, and son are important parts of the story, but they are not the main attraction.  I would suggest better titles for these three parables: “The Reckless Shepherd,” “The Persnickety Woman,” and “The Wasteful Father.”

In each of these parables, Jesus does not highlight how those things get lost.  Even in the third parable we learn so little about younger son and how he gets lost.  We are given very little information about how either the sheep or the coin got lost.  But were given very clear details of the determination and the pains and the sufferings and the work of the Reckless Shepherd and the Persnickety Woman to find what is lost.

This Reckless Shepherd leaves his 99 sheep.  He leaves his flock out in the wilderness, where bears, lions, and wolves are easily able to kill and eat the abandoned flock.  And this shepherd leaves the flock to go find one sheep which, for all he knows, is already maimed or dead.  For all he knows, this shepherd is wasting not just his time and efforts but potentially his entire flock for the sake of the lost.

This Persnickety Woman has lost one coin.  She goes through the dirty, dusty work of finding what others might have just chalked up as a loss. She goes through the pains of using a dim lantern to light her floor as she sweeps and rummages through every square inch of her disaster of a house to find the lost.

The actions of both the Reckless Shepherd and the Persnickety Woman flirt with being comically foolish.  But both the shepherd and the woman search, sweat, and swoon not just to find the lost, but to preserve their own integrity.

These two are pictures of Christ.

You, of course, are the lost.  You are lost because of your own doing.

You have severed yourself from the rest of the flock and the protection of the shepherd.  Your every action leads you astray.  You turn your own way.

You sin causes you to fall down into the cracks of the floor.  You roll farther and farther away picking up speed and end up in a heap of ashes and crumbs and grime and filth.

You are that sheep; you are that coin.  In this world, a lost sheep is a dead sheep.  But in the kingdom of God, lost and dead sheep are worth finding and raising.

In this world, a lost coin is a dead coin.  But in the kingdom of God, lost coins retain all their value once they are found.

You and I can put names and faces to those lost sinners that we think God is wasting His time and effort trying to find.  Sure, you like it for yourself, you find comfort in the fact that God searches you out and finds you.  You are happy to hear that God still has use for you.  But what about when that message is given to the other lost?  We, just like the Pharisees and scribes grumble, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

I wonder what the Pharisees and scribes would say if they saw us in this sanctuary gathered around Jesus, hearing His word, sitting round His table?  Would they be grumbling about us?  Maybe not.

Let me say it as plainly as possible: Are you the tool Jesus wants to use to bring in the tax collectors and sinners of our community, or are you holding back because you know that you would grumble if those lowlifes showed up here?

You see, the Pharisees and scribes were singing the right lyrics, but to the wrong tune.  The line, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” is best sung to the tune of the Gospel.

You see, sinner, you do not receive Jesus – Jesus receives you.

Christ wandered in the mountains and hills of death and despair to find you.  He heaved you up on His shoulders and brought you back.  Jesus took out His broom and swept and searched all the cracks of His tomb, and He found you there.  He picked you up and put you back in His pocket, calling all of heaven to celebrate with Him because of His tremendous finding.

And maybe, just maybe, God leaves you here until you are ready to join the angel’s song, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  Amen.

May the peace and joy and celebration of God which surpasses all understanding guard your heart and mind and fill your soul with gladness now and into all eternity.  Amen.

Luke 14:25-35 – Throw It All Away

Luke 14:25-35—Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

28 “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

How often do you ask yourself the question, “Do I measure up?”  How often do you wonder if you have made the grade?  Do you wring your hands if you haven’t pleased everybody, or if you failed that one important person?  Do you find yourself coming up short again and again no matter what new techniques you try?

Even when you do everything right, do the results reach your intended goals?  Even after you’ve followed all the rules, filled out the right forms, made every call, and pleaded your case brilliantly, do things end up the way they should?

Maybe you went to college and got a good degree, but you cannot find a job.  Maybe you built a business with a good model and great potential, but someone made it all fall apart.  Or maybe you own a business, but a customer fails to pay a bill, or an employee makes an expensive mistake, or regulations weigh you down, and you aren’t is profitable as you need to be.

Maybe you studied hard for that test, but still didn’t get a good grade.  Maybe you have thrown your whole heart into that relationship, but you are unappreciated and abandoned.

You pulled every string, used all of your connections, left no stone unturned, and you still don’t measure up.

You maybe wonder, “If I still can’t achieve my goals no matter how much I sacrifice, then why make any sacrifices it all?”

Now, in today’s text, Jesus makes following Him, makes being His disciple, sound more difficult than anything else you have tried.  Isn’t following Christ supposed to be easy?  Isn’t being a Christian all about life, joy, hope, faith, and love?

Not if you listen to what Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  Ouch.

Jesus, the man who said, “Love your enemies.”  Is now saying, “Hate your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even your own life, or you cannot be My disciple.  Bear your own cross, or you cannot be My disciple.”

With the track record of all your previous failures, it sounds as though following Jesus is going to be added to the list of projects begun but abandoned.  It looks like Jesus is setting you up to fail.

You still try.  You work at this.  You live your life thinking that your relationship with God is dependent upon you.  You suspect that God loves you when you are a good little Christian boy or girl and go to church, put money in the offering plate, and talk about God every now and then.  You think that God smiles upon you when you help others who are in need.  Then, when something bad happens, you wonder why God is allowing it to happen.

You have been keeping track of all the things that you bring to your relationship with God; you rely on all of your efforts and works.  But, in the end, you realize your efforts and works simply do not measure up.

Though you rarely think about it, you know eventually you will die, and nothing that you could claim as yours will be of any benefit to you.  Even though you still try to do it, you know that you cannot build yourself a tower to get to heaven.  The foundation will not be strong enough; the materials will not get you high enough.

Even though you still fight against Him, you know that you cannot win a war against God.  He is marching against you with 20,000 special-force soldiers, and your 10,000 little plastic toy soldiers are going to melt away.  God is mustering His troops and surrounding you because of your sins and failures.  Christ is coming again on the warpath to tear down, pluck up, and destroy all sinners and failures.  He is coming to battle against you, and you will lose.

This text today is a call from Jesus to let it all go.  Surrender.  Throw it all away.

Jesus tells you to renounce everything you would offer to become His disciple, His follower.  You may have to distance yourself from your family.  The word translated hate in v. 26 is an accurate translation, but it carries wrong connotations for us today (our use of hate is so connected to emotion), better to understand this word in light of the context of v. 33 where Jesus says to ‘renounce’ everything that you have.  Distance yourself from your parents, spouse, and children.  Especially, put space between yourself and your whole life filled with works because your life full of works do not and will not ever measure up.

While Christ is still a long way off, sue for peace.  Send the delegation that God has given you.  Send the diplomat of your baptism to remind Christ that He has put His name upon you.  Commission the negotiator of the Lord’s Supper to show that Christ Himself is given to and for you.  Jesus Christ will set you behind Him so that you are following Him as He continues to bring His kingdom as He leads the charge against sin.

Even while others mock you for your pathetic tower, remember that Christ built a tower to the heavens built on a block of wood in the shape of a cross.

Abandon your efforts and works.  Carry your cross.  Even though it may be unpleasant, you will actually find that it is no work whatsoever to pick up and carry your cross because it has already been carried to its end in your Savior’s death and resurrection.  Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Possessed, lost, forgotten, & beginning to re-learn.

Communion Cross with JesusWhat the Church of the Lutheran Reformation possessed and what modern Protestantism has lost, what Catholicism before the Reformation had largely forgotten and what modern Catholicism has largely learned to understand again is the simple truth of faith in the real presence of the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine in Holy Communion.

Concerning that truth the congregations of the Lutheran Reformation were “instructed often and with the greatest diligence,” both adults and children. The Sixth Chief Part of the [Small] Catechism was written just for the instruction of children. If one hears again and again nowadays that children cannot understand it or not yet understand it, if modern Protestant catechetical instruction has almost become the art of distilling out of these plain words written for fathers of the house and their children a doctrine that swings somewhere between Zwingli and Calvin and is presented as Lutheranism simply because it is not blatant Zwinglianism, then one certainly is no longer surprised if the instruction that Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession has in mind scarcely happens anymore. Then it is even less surprising that “instruction against other false teaching concerning the Sacrament” no longer takes place and that it is regarded as nothing but tactlessness or a violation of Christian love.

Sasse, Herman (2013-01-09). Letters to Lutheran Pastors – Volume 1

What Else?

“There we shall be still and see, see and love, love and praise. Behold what will be in the end without end! For what else is our end but to reach the kingdom that has no end?”

-Augustine, City of God, Book XXII.30