Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Be Like the Scoundrel (A sermon based on Luke 16v1-13)

Be Like the Scoundrel

A sermon based on Luke 16v1-13

Sunday, September 26, 2010 – Pentecost 18C


Hebrews 11 is the hall of faith, full of examples for us to follow: Abel, Enoch, and Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses and the rest. The apostle Paul said he was an exmple to follow, "become like me," he told the Galatians (Galatians 4:12), and "Follow my example," he told the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus, too gave us examples to follow. "Love each other as I have loved you," (John 15:12), "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," (Luke 6:36), and "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

Now we can easily understand how the heroes of faith—who trusted in God in some very difficult circumstances—are to be examples to us. We can understand how the apostle Paul—who served God diligently, sharing the gospel around the world—can say "imitate me." And we can certainly understand how Jesus—perfect and sinless in every way—can say "be like me and my heavenly Father."

But it seems a bit odd this morning when Jesus holds up a different sort of person as an example to us. He tells us to be like a dishonest cheat and crook. What could he possibly mean? Let's take a look at our gospel lesson for this morning and see what Jesus means when says (in so many words), "Be like the scoundrel." The gospel this morning is taken from Luke 16:1-13…


Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' 3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' 5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 "'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' 7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' "'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' 8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? 13 "No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money."


I.                    Concerned with the Day of Reckoning (v.1-9)


Look at what this man does! He is a cheat and a crook and a scoundrel! After being fired for mismanagement of his master's funds, what does he do? He robs him of even more, cooking the books to try to come out ahead in the end! What a loser!

How shocking then, when his master commends him and praises him! What a surprise to hear Jesus say in so many words, "Learn from his example and be like him." Are we to act dishonestly and cheat our employers to get ahead? Is that what he's saying? Of course not! Well, what then does he mean? The answer is found in verse 8. There Jesus says, "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly."

The master in the story and Jesus himself don't commend the manager for being dishonest. No! He was fired for his dishonesty! But they do commend him "because he had acted shrewdly." That's an important point. The manager is commended because he was able to look at what he had at his disposal and make a quick and calculated decision that would benefit him in the future. He was concerned about that day of reckoning that was coming, and did all he could to prepare for it. He's commended not for being dishonest, but for being so resourceful.

That's Jesus point when he says we should be like him. "For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light." Just think of how resourceful the people of this world—that is, unbelievers—can be:  how hard the professional athlete trains to win the championship, how hard the businessman works to get another client, how hard your co-workers compete to get a promotion.

Let's face it, the people of this world are shrewd. They're business savvy and know how to work the system and use what's at their disposal to get ahead. But for what? Even if they get everything they hope to get—the trophy, the job, the money—how long does it last? Not very long—80, 90 years at best?


But not us, friends. As people of the light, we strive for eternal things! So, if the people of the world use whatever they have to get their goal (which is so fleeting, even if they do obtain it), how much harder should we work and how much more resourceful should we be to attain our better, nobler, eternal goals?!

Martin Luther once asked the rhetorical question, "Where is the Christian who jealously walks a quarter mile to church in order to hear the Word of God, as a merchant travels far and wide to become wealthy?! …If [the world] can sprint like mad to hell, why must God drag me by the hair to my soul's salvation?"

You and I are managers, working with our Masters' possessions. After all, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1). We should be using all he's entrusted to us to bring glory to God; to store up not just treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven. (cf. Matthew 6:19-20) But how do we do?

If God were to demand an accounting of you, how would you do? If he said, "Hand over your checkbook for the last 20 years. I want to see how you've been spending my money. How have you been using the blessings I've entrusted to you?" Have you always made perfect use of the time, talents, treasures he's given? Or have you spent it frivolously on yourself? Have you used it to further the Gospel cause? Or to achieve your own selfish interests?

And that's just the physical blessings he's given, not to mention the spiritual. Have we always made good use of his greater gifts of his Word, the Sacraments, his gifts of prayer and the opportunities we have to worship?

If you're like me, maybe that's why it's sometimes uncomfortable to hear sermons about stewardship of time and treasure. We realize that we haven't been the most faithful managers and that if God were to conduct such a divine audit we would fail. After all, who wants to go into the board room when you know you deserve to be fired?

And we do deserve to be fired. We deserve to be stripped of all our possessions. We deserve to have the Word taken away. After all, "If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" We deserve to be fired forever in an eternity of hell.

And so, concerned with our day in the board room—our day of eternal reckoning—we need to repent of those sins of making money and stuff our master in place of God. We need to get rid of that love of money in our hearts. You see, if my hands are full of pebbles, I can't take the diamonds that are offered me. In the same way, if my heart is full of the love of money and the stuff it can buy, there's no room left for Jesus. Se we confess our sins to God, just as we did earlier in the service. We bring out our books and say "search them God." We admit the huge deficit we've run up. And cry out for his mercy.

And when we do, what an awesome thing happens! God prepares us for that day of reckoning…


II.                  Prepared for the Day of Reckoning (v.10-13)


While we deserve to be fired for our mismanagement of God's blessings, that's not what happens. In fact, because we don't succeed at managing God's portfolio for him, Jesus stepped in volunteering to be fired in our place. Paul puts it well in 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Because Jesus paid the debt that you owed, God looks at your account, pulls out his auditor's stamp, dips it in the blood of his son and stamps on your personal bill one word: Forgiven. You are a forgiven child of God! And now he says to you, "Instead of firing you, I'm rehiring you! Instead of taking away your wealth, you get to keep managing it for me."

Such grace, such mercy, such love from God to us, moves us again to be shrewd; to make every effort to use the blessings he's given us right now to his glory as best we can. And Jesus tells us how to manage it. He says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

Now wait a second! Here's another shocking quote from Jesus! Is he saying that if we use our money wisely we can get into heaven? No! Of course not! What then is he saying? How are we welcomed into eternal dwellings? We're welcomed not because we made friends for ourselves, but by those people who heard the gospel through our efforts ere on earth. And often those efforts take a certain amount of money, don't they? But excited about the forgiveness of the huge debt that we owed to God, we gladly use everything at our disposal to share the gospel with others. That's the kind of friends Jesus is talking about—that welcome us into heaven.

Just think how awesome it will be to have that crowd of rescued sinners gather around you in heaven when you get there to say to you, "Thank you for sharing the gospel with me! Thank you for inviting me to church! Thank you for supporting the missionary that shared the gospel with me! Your offering helped train my pastor who gave me the right words at the right time. Your gifts trained my teacher who taught me about Jesus. I'm here, in part, thanks to you. I wouldn't be here otherwise. Thank you!" What a welcome that will be!

And what opportunities we have right now. But those opportunities won't last forever. Every financial counselor you talk to will tell you that one of their best pieces of advice is to start saving now. Not next year. Not next month, but right now. Why? Because you can put that compound interest to work for you. If you start at age 18, you'll have twice as much at your retirement as the guy who starts at age 30 and puts in the same amount. So start early, even if it's only a few bucks a month. Use what you have now!

And friends, the same is true in God's economy. When is the best time to start acting shrewdly with our money? Right now! We may not get a tomorrow. So, let's invest it wisely. What does that look like?

First, stop buying what you don't need. Don't fall in love with your money and the stuff it can buy. You can't serve both God and money. Besides, money won't last. It's fool's gold.

Next, budget wisely, using your resources first to grow God's kingdom and have an eternal impact with your dollar. What better investment could there be? Prayerfully consider increasing your offerings to give a set percent of your income.

Or consider budgeting dollars not just to give to church, but to take a different friend or neighbor to dinner each month. Get to know them and their needs so you can meet those needs and share your faith. And the eternal dividends you'll earn by it will make for an awesome investment when you use the temporary worldly wealth at your disposal to make eternal friends for yourselves.

And finally, being trustworthy with these little things (like money), also be trustworthy with God's greater blessings. Stay in the Word every day. For there you'll find not only the wisdom to make good decisions with your money, but more importantly you'll find the promises of God: that our sins are forgiven, that he will provide for all our needs, that we are prepared for the Day of Reckoning in Jesus and our entry into the mansions of heaven is certain.

And as you do stay in the Word every day, you won't be able to help but respond with thanks, using your worldly wealth not just for yourself, but as a means to grow God's Kingdom. Just as the people of this world use other people to get more money, you'll gladly use your money to get more people.

Trusting in God's promises, friends, be like the scoundrel: act wisely and shrewdly, act decisively and immediately, but also act thankfully and gratefully for our God who made us rich through his Son, Jesus. In his name, dear saints. Amen.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rejoice With Jesus! (A sermon based on Luke 15:1-10)

Rejoice With Jesus!

A sermon based on Luke 15:1-10

Sunday, September 19, 2010 – Pentecost 17C 

A man is known by the company he keeps… Bad company corrupts good character… An old Rabbinic Law states, "Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the Law." One mother explained it to her son in this way; she said, "You don't work in the garden wearing white gloves – the gloves will get dirty; the dirt won't get glovey."

Often times we are recognized by the company we keep. Hang out with hooligans and people will think you're a hooligan. So, naturally Jesus' opponents thought little of him. He was always hanging out with the worst crowd. Wherever he went tax collectors and obvious sinners crowded around him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law thought of Jesus, "He must be of pretty poor character to be such close friends with such sinful scum." His opponents gave him the title, "Friend of Sinners."

But while they intended it as an insult, Jesus took it as a compliment. Jesus knew what his enemies refused to believe, that he had "come to seek and to save that which was lost" (cf. Luke 19:10).  Jesus does befriend sinners, even though he isn't one. And thank God that he does. Through him, the dirt does become "glovey." Jesus seeks out sinners to save them and all of heaven rejoices when he does.

This morning as we hear Jesus' words to these Pharisees, we are invited to rejoice with Jesus! We rejoice because in his love he has found and befriended us lost sinners. And we rejoice because he finds and befriends others through us. Listen again to the grace of our Savior as he teaches us two parables in Luke 15:1-10…


15 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." 

I.  In Love He Has Found You

Doesn't sound very complimentary to be called a sheep, does it? They're not exactly the greatest animals. The Greek word for sheep is literally, "forward moving things." Sheep aren't very intelligent. They wander off a few yards and quickly get lost. You can drop a dog off miles away from his home and somehow he can find his way back. But not with a sheep. I have a friend who's sense of direction is so poor that we used to tease, "If you took him into the driveway and spun him around three times, he couldn't find his way back to the house." Sheep are like that. There is nothing more helpless than a lost sheep… except a lost sinner…

The Pharisees and teachers of the law didn't think they were that bad. They didn't think they were lost, but knew where they were, where they were going, and how to get there. But the truth is, as uncomplimentary as it sounds, we are all like sheep. Isaiah writes that "we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned his own way." On our own, by our own fault, each of us has turned away from God and his plan for us. Each of us, in our own stupidity, has rebelled against him and has become completely lost. And we prove it by the apathy we show those who remain spiritually lost, caring only about ourselves.

And what's worse is that in our sinful nature, we hated God and neither wanted to find him, nor him to find us. But even if we did want to find our way back, we were completely lost in darkness and had no chance of finding our way. In our ignorant blindness, we kept wandering further and further away from him. It's true: There really is nothing more helpless than a lost sinner.

But, when we were so helpless, Jesus befriended us miserable sinners. He said in verse 4, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?"

Jesus once said, "I am the good shepherd." It was he who took the initiative. When we sheep wandered off, Jesus set off after us. Leaving 99 others behind, he went in search of the one. He could have said, "Uh oh, I lost a sheep… Oh well, I still have 99. What's one little sheep?" and left it on its own. But no! He didn't want to lose a single sheep! So he set out to find the one that wandered away.

Jesus second parable has the same meaning, but adds something. Listen to the way our Good Shepherd searches…8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?"

            A few years ago I was helping my father-in-law put a new transmission in my car when I realized I still had my wedding ring on. Not wanting to do any damage to the ring while I worked on the car, I took it off and put it in my pocket. But later that night, when I noticed I wasn't wearing my ring, I went to look for it in the pocket of the pants I had been wearing, but it wasn't there. Becky and I tore the whole house apart looking for my wedding ring. We searched all the laundry, under all the seats in both cars, under the cushions of the couch (where we found everything but my ring). Finally, after having my in-laws tear apart their house too, we found my ring in a jar of change. It seems that when I emptied my pockets and dumped a handful of change into the jar on my desk, I never noticed the ring with it.

If you've ever lost your wedding ring, or your wallet, or some important document, you know the feeling. You search frantically. You don't give up until it's found. You're persistent and thorough. You leave no cushion unturned, no pocket unchecked, no crevice or hiding place unsearched until you find what was lost. And it's the same way with Jesus. With love and determination he thoroughly searches out the lost. And he doesn't give up until he finds success!

Now, notice what Jesus does when he finds that lost sheep. Though he has every right to be angry and scold the sheep saying, "You stupid sheep! Why did you wander so far away! You sure are lucky that I found you. Well, you'd better get walking! It's a long way home from here!" But he doesn't act that way.

Instead He lovingly picks the sheep up and carries it home on his shoulders. He does everything for the sheep... and he does it joyfully! And that's exactly what Christ does for us. Christ brings the lost sheep back to the Father. That's what he did on Calvary, when he died on the cross. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus gave up his life, he suffered hell itself, to remove our guilt, our apathy toward the lost, and our every sin and to return us to the Father. He spared no effort to save us, not even life itself. And he did everything to win our salvation. We don't have to do a thing! And though he has every right to scold us sheep for wandering off and causing him so much trouble and so much pain, listen to his reaction upon finding us…

Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep… And [the woman who lost her coin] when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'

Do the shepherd and the woman seem to be overdoing it a bit? Throwing a party for one sheep or a single coin worth only one day's wages? Perhaps this is a bit much for a sheep or a coin. But Jesus says that this is exactly how God reacts when a soul, lost in sin, repents and puts his trust in Christ. He said…

7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. [and] 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

When a sinner abandons his own self-righteousness recognizing what a wretched sinner he is, when he repents before God and puts his trusts in Christ for his salvation, all of heaven rejoices! When you came to faith, God threw a heavenly party of celebration! He had too much joy to bear alone and shared it with all his angels!

Imagine that you're sitting in a football stadium. You're rooting for the home team, but it's been a close game—a real nail biter. Finally, with only seconds left on the clock your team scores the winning touchdown! The crowd erupts in a roar of excited cheers and applause! …That's the same excitement that God and all his angels feel when a lost sinner is brought to repentance and to faith. And that's the same excitement we feel too! 

II.  He Finds Others Through You 

Having been lost ourselves at one point, we know how exciting it is to be found! Now we too share in the attitude of our Savior. We lose the attitude of the Pharisees who thought themselves better than the rest. We no longer treat others with contempt, like "those people over there; those sinners," or worse, with apathy. Instead we have a sincere concern for the lost. We too, get excited to see others come to trust in their Savior, even "the rough crowd" or "the wrong kind of people." We love them as God's own lost sheep, as his lost coin. And we love them at our own expense, sparing no effort or expense to help find them…

Take an estimate. Roughly how many hours in the average week do you spend watching television? How many hours do you spend studying the Bible so you're better equipped to share God's gospel with others? How many hours do you spend praying for the lost, that they might put their trust in his death on the cross for them? Being found in Christ, having his salvation and heaven itself awaiting us makes us want to spend our time and effort on bringing others to their Good Shepherd too.

Or how much money do you spend on entertainment in the average month? How much do you give to mission efforts that help others to have lasting possessions in heaven? Knowing that our Good Shepherd became poor that we might become rich, moves us to gladly give our offerings to him so that his message of grace might be shared where we cannot go.

And when we do gladly give of our time and effort out of thanksgiving to God for finding us and saving us lost miserable sheep, he lets us join in the celebration. We rejoice with God like the shepherd's friends celebrated with him. We rejoice with God like the woman's friends partied with her. We can rejoice that though they were once helplessly lost sheep like us, now, like us, they are found by Christ. We rejoice that though once they were blind as we were, through us they now see clearly too. We rejoice that they trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross for them as we join the festivities with God and all his angels! Rejoice! Amen!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Count the Cost of Discipleship (A sermon based on Luke 14:25-33)

Count the Cost of Discipleship

A sermon based on Luke 14:25-33

Sunday, September 12, 2010 -- Pentecost 16C

You know, there's a certain phrase that had almost become extinct in the American language. But thanks to the economy it's making it's way back into our everyday speech. You'll hear the phrase more often lately than we did in previous years. It's that age old question: "Can I afford it?"

In recent history, very few asked, "Can I afford it?" "Do I want it?" "What color does it come in?" "Can I have two?" you might hear. But "Can I afford it?" was seldom asked because it really didn't matter if you couldn't afford it. "VISA or Mastercard?" was the question heard most often. Just throw it on the card.

Of course, that kind of thinking got a lot of people into a lot of trouble. The answer was sometimes a most definite, "NO! I can't afford it! And I shouldn't take on more debt to buy it!" And the repo-man came knocking. Things were reposessed. Homes were foreclosed. And lives were ruined.

Now more people are cautiously asking "Can I afford it?" before they buy the bigger home, the newer car, or the big screen TV.

This morning Jesus tells us to ask that same question, "Can I afford it?" Because it's not just the home, or the car, or the TV that cost something. But being a Christian costs something too. In fact, it costs everything. So Jesus encourages his disciples of then and now to count the cost and ask, "Can I afford it?" Total the tremendous cost of following Jesus as one of his disciples. And be grateful for the gracious gift he gives that allows us to. Listen again to Jesus' encouragement recorded for us in Luke 14:25-33...

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
31 "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

I. Total the Tremendous Cost

Whoa, Jesus! Tame it down a bit. All this talk of hating people is no way to grow the church, right? This text is certainly one of those difficult sayings of Jesus, to be sure. But what does he mean when he says "hate... father and mother... wife and children... brothers and sisters [or you] cannot be my disciple."? After all didn't Jesus also command that we "Honor father and mother" that it may go well with us? Doesn't he say in 1 John 4(:20-21), "20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."?!

So, if Jesus isn't telling us to actually hate our family, what does he mean? Perhaps the parallel account in Matthew will help? There Jesus said, 34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me..." (Matthew 10:34-37)

Jesus isn't telling us to show animosity toward our family. But he's calling for us to set our priorities straight. He's teaching the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods." We are not to love anything or anyone, more than Jesus. That's what it costs to be his disciple.

Steep price, right? But there's more...

"Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."

You'll sometimes hear a guideline given in a stewardship presentation that God wants 10% of all you have. That's not true. ... He wants all of it! All of what you have is to be used -- not for your selfish purposes, but to his glory -- even what you spend on your family, your choices in food, your house and home, and yes, in your recreation. Give up everything to God's glory to follow Jesus. That's what it costs to be his disciple.

But wait there's more. The cost is greater than giving up all your stuff, all your family and friends. You have to give up yourself. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate... his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

Give up everything -- even your life. Carry a cross.

You know, I think that phrase, "Carry your cross," is often misunderstood. "My kids misbehave. I'm sick again. I lost my job. There was an accident on the freeway... But, I guess that's just my cross to bear." But those sufferings and sorrows are common to all people. They're not crosses that we bear. The crosses we carry are those things we suffer because we're Christians.

It's the taunts and ridicule we face for sharing our faith. It's the suffering we feel when we deny our sinful nature's desire to keep on sinning. It's the patience you show when you endure the sufferings and sorrows common to all people as you suffer in joy.

And make no mistake: It's not supposed to be fun. Think of the cultural context in which Jesus spoke. To that original audience "a cross" meant nothing but the cruelest form of torture and death. This is what Jesus calls his disciples to if they are to follow him. That's what it costs to be his disciple.

So, are you willing to suffer the worst torture for the sake of doing what's right? Are you willing to give up your family and friends to follow Jesus? Are you willing to give all you own to his glory and not to yours? Are you willing to sacrifice your pride, your time, your life to be his disciple? Who would do all this? ... Who of us has done all this?

Not me. I have a big fat zero in my spiritual bank account with God. When I count the cost, I see that it is way more than I can afford. Even when I am trying my hardest to live as I know Christ would have me live, then I still fall way short. (And to be honest, I don't always try my hardest.)

Like trying to finance the construction of two more classrooms and a gymnasium and new landscaping for Grace Lutheran School on my own, I simply cannot afford the costs of building the tower to heaven. In the spiritual battle for my soul, Satan, the world, and my sinful nature, have me outnumbered way more than two to one. I'm not a spiritual Rambo. I cannot win on my own.

I count the cost and I find how short I fall. And so do you. And with no spiritual financing available, we all fall short of the glory that God demands. We are not fit to be his disciples. We are not fit for heaven.

Give up everything -- family, finances, physical life -- to be Jesus' disciple? We can't do it. It costs too much... for us.

III. Grateful for the Gracious Gift

But before you consider claiming spiritual bankruptcy, consider this: We're not the only ones to count the cost of us being Jesus' disciples. Jesus himself counted the cost. He added it up and knew that it would be too much for any of us to afford. He considered that we were sure to lose the war. So, he estimated the cost so that he could pay it... for us! He calculated that nothing less than the death of the God himself could pay for your sins and mine. And he paid it.

Jesus did give up everything. He had no wealth or possessions except what he had on his back. He had no house or home. He gave up the glory of heaven! He gave up his family when they tried to dissuade him from carrying out his mission. "Who are my mother and my brothers?" (Mark 3:33) He considered you being his disciple of greater worth than even the love of his Father. And because he loved you more, he volunteered to be abandoned by the Father as he carried his cross -- enduring hell itself to pay the cost of being his disciple.

The resources that you and I need to complete the massive tower of our salvation have been gifted to us. The project is complete. When we could never win the battle for our soul, Jesus fought the battle for us. And he won. So we are victorious.

And now, because of this sacrifice: That "though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich," (1 Corinthians 2:9) now we respond with a sincere and heartfelt thanks that's eager to give up anything that might keep us from following him. And Jesus doesn't tell us, "Count the cost" as if to say, "Count the cost, and, if it's too high, don't bother." But "Count the cost. Understand what it will take to be my disciple, so you're prepared to do it."

And we are prepared to follow Christ all the way, at any cost, giving up our earthly wealth, giving up our family and friends, giving up our very lives, to follow Jesus and be his disciples.

In 1914, the antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, ran the following ad in the London Times before his expedition to the South Pole: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success." Who in their right mind would want such a job? And yet, in spite of the description Shackleton received 5,000 applications from men who wanted to be part of his expedition.

Why? Because they knew that cost isn't the only factor when you're making an investment. With investments the formula is risk (or cost) versus reward. If you put a lot of money in, but get triple the money out, it's a great investment, isn't it? Yes, they knew they risked their lives to accompany Shackleton. But the promise of honor and recognition was worth it. Likewise, we know that being one of Jesus' disciples does come with a great cost. But the cost is nothing when compared with the fact that, by God's grace, it comes with an eternal reward!

Who in their right mind would want to follow Jesus when it costs family and friends, worldly wealth, maybe even life itself as safe return is doubtful? We would. That's who. We do. We we count the cost, and gladly give up everything in thanks to Jesus! "And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom our remaineth." Amen.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Highs and Lows of Being a Christian (A sermon based on Luke 14:1,7-14)

The Highs and Lows of Being a Christian

A sermon based on Luke 14:1,7-14

Sunday, September 5, 2010


This week is supposed to be a good one for clamming. When the tide's in, it's near 25 feet. When the tide goes out, it's negative 3 feet. That's quite a difference in water levels as ebbs and flows with its highs and lows.

But that's sort of the way life is, isn't it? The highs and lows come and go like the changing of the tides or even more frequently like the rolling of the waves. One minute you're celebrating the highs. Things are great. Life is good. But the next, some crisis hits and the lows follow. One month you're plunged into darkness, feeling the cabin fever. But eventually the sun comes out, the temperatures rise, and your spirits are lifted again. Highs and lows.

And there are highs and lows in the life of a Christian too. There are the lows of sin and guilt. But there are the highs of forgiveness and friendship and love. And Jesus tells us that if we want our lives to be full of highs, we should lower ourselves in true humility and repentance so he can lift us up. And we should lower ourselves in service to others that we might lift them up.

Listen again to the way Jesus describes these highs and lows of being a Christian in Luke 14...


One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."  


I. Lifted Up in Pride


Do you ever look to elevate yourself and lift yourself up above others? Do you ever put others down so that you can feel better about yourself. Do you talk about those people on that side of town or working for that place or in that political party and silently thank God that you're not like them? I don't think any of us like to admit it, but we can get pretty proud, can't we?

But why is it that we're so reluctant to humble ourselves before others? I think it's because we often we can't conceive of anyone more distinguished than ourselves. At least not among those invited to the same parties we are. Our sinful natures have us convinced that we're not only pretty good, but that we're better than most.

I admit that all too often I'm only concerned about me and my place of honor. And even when I'm being generous and kind, all too often it's only because it makes me feel good about me. That sometimes when I help others it's really a subtle manipulation. Or with sad irony I sometimes boast to myself that I'm the most humble person I know.

The truth is that in my sinful nature I am pretty much a selfish, self-centered person. I like to lift myself up high, to elevate myself above others, to admire how much better I am than they are. And even if you don't admit it and say those things out loud, I know that the sinful nature in you is really only concerned with you.

By nature we're high on ourselves and get everything in the wrong order. We put ourselves first, then others (who can later return the favor), then God, if at all. And we think we're pretty good.


II. Humbled in Repentance


In truth, we deserve to be taken down a notch or two and put into our place. And in our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus does that very thing. He confronts those proud and selfish attitudes in us. He lowers us a bit, that we might be truly exalted. He lowers us by the preaching of the law:

Do not take the place of honor, for… If [you do] …humiliated, you will have to take the least important place… For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled…"

The truth is, that you and I don't deserve a place of honor. We don't even deserve to be at the table at all. We deserve to be put out the door and to get kicked out of the banquet. For the self-centered way that we act, that's more than rude or obnoxious to God, but downright blasphemous – after all, we put ourselves ahead of God and his will that we humbly serve others… well, we deserve hell. When we exalt ourselves, and lift ourselves hight, and shout, "I'm number one," or when we live like it anyway, we deserve an eternal low, an eternal humiliation forever in hell.

Admitting that, confessing it before God and before each other certainly is a low. But consider the alternative. And consider the high of forgiveness that follow the lows of repentance…

II. Lifted Up in Forgiveness


For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled… [But!] he who humbles himself will be exalted.

We deserve hell, but when we humble ourselves and make ourselves low in repentance—and true repentance is a low. It is no fun to feel guilty or to confess and admit that what we've done is wrong, offensive, atrocious before a holy God—well, then Jesus exalts us. Literally, he lifts us up.

How? By his perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus was at the highest heights of glory praised and worshiped by the angels in heaven. But he lowered himself, beyond the deepest depths that we can ever imagine. He lowered himself to become a man and take on flesh like ours. He lowered himself to suffer at the hands of men. He lowered himself to be tortured to death and he lowered himself to endure the agony of hell separated from the Father.

Why? So that we might be exalted. By his sacrifice lifted out of the muck and mire of our sin, lifted out of hell, up into heaven, and one day he will lift us up out of the grave, give us glorified bodies that will last for eternity and he will honor us at the banquet feast of glory. Talk about being exalted! Talk about being lifted up! Talk about the highs of being a Christian!

There's a picture in the back of church by the nursery door that illustrates this well. A man on his knees completely humbled points to himself seemingly confused that he should be invited in to heaven. But Jesus pulls him up from his knees and points to his place at the table at the banquet feast of heaven. We're lowered in true humility and repentance to be lifted up in forgiveness and glory. What a high!

II. To Serve in Humble Thanks

And now, because of what Jesus has done for us in lifting us up to the heights of heaven and giving us peace with God, we're no longer concerned with self-promotion, self-interest, or self-glorification. But instead, our priorities really are realigned. Now we put Jesus first, concerned less about our honor than we are with his. Our greatest desire is to live to serve him in humble thanks? And how can we do that? He tells us: We serve those around us instead of ourselves.

That means we stop the manipulations we're so good at. Don't serve at home just to get what you want from your family later. Don't serve others only in the hopes you we can get something out of it yourslef. Don't worry if you don't even get a "thank you." That's not really why we serve—to be thanked or for the praise—is it? If it is, you may get your pat on the head, but that will be your full reward. 

But what does Jesus say? "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Serve others without any expectation of getting anything out of it or anything back. The poor, crippled, lame, blind, would never be able to throw a banquet or party in return. And don't even do it because it makes you feel good about yourself.

But serve others who can never repay you  Lower yourself to wash others' feet. Do it in thanks for Jesus and his sacrifice for you—his sacrifice that lifted you up. Humbly serve others because you're eager to serve him. And what a high it is to serve your Jesus in thanks!

And when we humble ourselves to serve those who can never repay us, we will be repaid by Jesus at the resurrection. We'll be lifted up to the highest heights of honor and glory forever in heaven! And we'll be repaid so much more than we've ever spent. And what a high it will be!

Yes, the lows of being a Christian and confessing our sins aren't much fun. But the highs of forgiveness are more awesome than any other high in this life! So we gladly humble ourselves to serve our Savior in lowly service to others until we're lifted up to the highest heights of glory. These are the highs and lows of being a Christian. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Struggle Through the Narrow Door (A sermon based on Luke 13:22-30)

Struggle Through the Narrow Door
A sermon based on Luke 13:22-30
Sunday, August 29, 2010 – Pentecost 14C

           During my vicar year, I had the privilege of leading our church's youth group on a mission trip to the Apache Missions in Arizona. While in Arizona, on one of our days off, we took a day trip to some ancient Native American dwellings. After climbing up a steep hill, we reached the dwellings built into the side of a cliff. And as we entered the dwellings and moved from one room to the next, it struck me how small or how limber they must have been. While I'm not that big, I could barely fit through the small entrances and really had to twist and turn and struggle to get through some of the openings. There was no way that I could have ever made it wearing a backpack. It was difficult enough without anything making me bigger.

This morning, as we hear Jesus teach the people on his way to Jerusalem, we hear of a similar tight fit. A man came to Jesus with a question – a question that provided Jesus with an opportunity to lovingly warn the whole crowd to struggle through the narrow door to heaven. He warned them (and us) to get rid of the complacent attitudes that made them too wide to get through. And he encouraged them to trust in him as the only way to heaven, for only in Christ will we be recognized by God on the Last Day. Listen again to Jesus' loving warning as it's recorded for us in Luke 13:22-30…


22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, 24 "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' 26 Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' 28 There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from the east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." 

I. Rid of Our Extra Baggage 

When Jesus had completed his ministry in Galilee, it was time to head south to Jerusalem. Time to begin the long march to Calvary and to his sufferings and death. But before his death and crucifixion, he had one more opportunity to teach the crowds. As he journeyed south then, he took his time, going through all the towns and villages looking for opportunities to teach the gospel.

On one occasion, an unnamed inquirer asked Jesus a question: "23 Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" Of course, Jesus knew that this person's question wasn't really all that important. The important question is not how many will be saved, but whether or not you will be saved. Get that question answered. Then they could worry about getting others to heaven too. And so, in love, Jesus used this question to address the whole crowd. He warned them to make sure they would be among the saved, whether few or many…

He said to them, 24 "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." Jesus told them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door." He told them to struggle as if they were contending for a prize in an athletic contest. From the Greek word translated here as "make every effort," we get the word agony. In a certain sense, he's telling them to agonize about getting into heaven.

But what does that mean? Struggle to get to heaven? I thought heaven was free! In this verse, Jesus isn't saying that one can work out his own salvation. That's impossible. On our own, we could never get through the door to heaven. We have more than a backpack of sins that we lug around and we add to our size daily. With each impatient word spoken to a child, parent, or spouse, with each hateful thought about a coworker or stranger, with each doubt that God will be true to his word, we grow wider and wider. But really, it only takes one sin to make us too wide to fit through that narrow door because God demands perfection.

If Jesus meant that we are to struggle to save ourselves, we're all lost in our sins because there's no way we'll fit through that narrow door! But that's not what he meant. Let's look at the context of that statement in Jesus parable to better understand what he's saying. Jesus said…

25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' 26 Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' 28 There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out."

Those who thought they knew Jesus and that Jesus knew them were locked out. Even thought they begged to be let it, it was too late. And even though they were already locked out, they continued to beg the owner trying to plead their case. They said, "We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets!" They tried to argue with him, "We're close to you Jesus! We ate a meal with you! You taught in our neighborhood! How much closer could we get?!" They thought that by their association with Jesus they deserved his favor. But they never put their trust in him. Without faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice, their sins remained. They continued to be "workers of unrighteousness." So the same reply remained, "I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers."

For those who were left outside, there was only bitter regret. Weeping that they didn't make better use of their time of God's grace on earth. They would grind their teeth in anger and frustration, seeing others in heaven, but knowing they were excluded and by their own fault. And they would weep and gnash their teeth in the suffering and pain of being separated from God—of hell.


Jesus' words seem pretty harsh here don't they? All this man asked was, "How many people are going to be in heaven?" and Jesus responds with all this talk about hell. Though it seems harsh, it's really out of love. Is it loving for a doctor who's diagnosed the cancer patient to keep his illness from him so he won't get worried about having cancer? No! He tells him the hard reality of his disease… so he can act! He tells him the dangers he faces so he can get chemotherapy and destroy what's threatening his life. In love, Jesus warned the crowd. In love he warns us too. Don't let anything hinder you from entering through that door that is so wide open right now.


When Jesus says, "agonize to enter the narrow door," he is not suggesting that our own works can save us. Instead he is lovingly warning us against a complacent attitude regarding the eternal destiny of our souls. If we fail to take our salvation seriously, a time is coming when it will be too late. Don't be complacent or apathetic in spiritual matters. The door is open today, but tomorrow it may be locked forever…

Jesus is not suggesting that our own works can save us. Instead he's warning us that our own works, when we trust in them for our salvation, keep us from being saved! It will be of no help when some try to argue on the Last Day, "Jesus, I was raised in this church. I was confirmed here. I went to church every Sunday. I came to every work day. I gave my offerings regularly." If you don't have faith in Jesus, that is, if you don't trust that his death on the cross has removed your every sin, you will be locked outside, no matter what you've done in this life.

Jesus lovingly warns us to take off that extra baggage. Just like I couldn't get through the narrow door of those ancient dwellings with a backpack on, so we can't get through the narrow door of heaven with our extra baggage. He warns us to abandon any idea that we can save ourselves by any of our efforts, or by just going through the motions of worship, which we at times think associates us with Christ. Our own efforts to save ourselves and any thoughts we may have of earning God's favor only heap more upon our wide load making it impossible for us to enter the narrow door.

In love, Jesus uses harsh words to encourage us to get rid of any complacency we may have and rid ourselves of any self-righteous attitudes or empty formalism. In love he helps us lose the extra baggage.


II. Recognized by God


But these words of Jesus are not without their gospel comfort. At this point the crowd may have wondered, "If the door is so narrow and the way so difficult, how can we ever expect to get through?" Jesus reminded them that there were those who were recognized by God. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets were in the kingdom of God and more would join them. Jesus said, "29 People will come from the east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God."

It's not impossible to enter through the narrow gate. Many would go through. Many from all across the world will go through. But how? Jesus tells us. In John 10:9 he said, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved." Jesus himself is that narrow door! How do we enter through Jesus? He tells us in Mark 16:16, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."

That is, whoever believes in Christ and trusts that his death on the cross has paid for his every sin, whoever is buried with Christ in the waters of baptism to have his every sin removed, he will enter through the narrow door.

Whoever does not depend on her own righteousness, but recognizes Christ as the only door to heaven, she will be saved. Those who put their trust in Christ alone and aren't just going through the motions, by their sincere faith they will be recognized by God as his own sons and daughters! And they will join him in his kingdom right along side Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets. They will be taken from the four corners of the earth to enjoy the feast of salvation! They will walk through that open door to glory!


Finally, Jesus concludes this text by summing it all up… 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." Those who think themselves first in line for heaven, who presume that by their works they have earned God's favor, those who choose Mt. Sinai over Mt. Zion, will be in for a shocking surprise at the Final Judgment. They will be last. Locked outside to weep in misery and gnash their teeth in torment.

But, on the other hand, those who think themselves last, who see what wretched sinners they truly are, abandon any hope of earning salvation on their own, and fall upon God's mercy, trusting that, in Christ, their God has removed their every sin, they too will be in for a surprise. They will find themselves first in line for heaven. They will go through the open door!

In thanksgiving to God, who opened the narrow door for us and removes our extra baggage of sin and self-righteousness, we can share his gospel with others. We can reach out to those who are still last, and don't know of God's grace, that they too may be first. And we can warn those who have the means of salvation but reject it, that when his blessings are disregarded and his grace despised, the riches of his mercy in eternity will never be known. We can warn them, that they too might be recognized by God and join us in heaven! That we might all take our place at the feast! The door is still open. Amen.