Friday, October 29, 2010

Pester God with Persistent Prayer (A sermon based on Luke 18:1-8a)

Can you annoy God by bugging him with too many prayers? On the contrary, we annoy God when we DON'T come to him in bold, persistent, and confident prayer. Through Jesus and the forgiveness he won on the cross, God invites us to even pester him with our persistent prayers. Read (or listen to: this sermon based on Luke 18:1-8a…

Pester God with Persistent Prayer
A sermon based on Luke 18:1-8a
Sunday, October 24, 2010 

"Dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad..." the boy kept tugging at his father's sleeve, apparently oblivious to the fact that dad was deeply entrenched in a conversation with another grown up. "Dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad..."

Finally, the father couldn't take it anymore. "Excuse me for a second," he said to his conversation partner and turned to his son, "What do you want?!"

"Dad, can I have a piece of candy?"

"Yes. Fine. Go!" dad replied without much patience. 

While I don't think is great parenting, rewarding the rude behavior with the attention (and the candy) that the kid is seeking, at the same time, I have to admit (to my shame) that too often I have given my kids what they ask me for, not because it was best for them, but simply to get them to quit annoying me.

In a sense, God tells us to be like that little boy. No, kids, he doesn't say to be rude and interrupt your parents. So don't go home and try it on mom and dad and say I told you to do it. But God does say we should be persistent in our prayers to him. In fact, he invites us to pester him with persistent prayer, just like a kid will do to his dad. Listen again to the first eight verses of Luke 18... 

1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

 4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "

 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly." 

The poor woman. Her husband had just died. She was all alone with no one to support her, no one to provide for her, no one to defend her. Now, some predator had swooped in and was ready to take even more. The "adversary" was engaged in a lawsuit against her and by false charges and deceit, by twisting the law, it seems, he was ready to take what little she had left. So, she does the only thing she can and goes to the courts. The judge is the only one who can help her. But the pompous judge on the other side of the bench laughs. "What do I care about some stupid widow? Someone's bound to take your stuff one way or another anyway. I rule in favor of the adversary. Case dismissed."

But there's one thing the godless, heartless judge didn't count on: the widow's persistence. "Judge, give me justice!" she cried. "Give me justice. Do what's right. Help me. Don't look the other way. Have a heart! Give me justice! Send this adversary away empty-handed. Do what you've been called to do. Protect me. Defend me. Grant me a fair hearing. Give me justice!" And day after day, she harassed the judge. She refused to leave him alone until justice was granted.

And because she kept hounding him, the corrupt judge finally gave in, not to help the woman, but to help himself, literally in the Greek, "lest by he pummelling, she give me a black eye." Wow! Persistence pays off!

So... how do you compare to the widow? Do you pray to God like this? Do you pester him relentlessly? Do you knock on his door with prayer every now and then (knock... knock...) or do you pound on the door pleading for your case to be heard (knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock)? Do you pester God?

The truth is you and I do pester God and annoy him.. when we don't go to him in prayer! We sometimes think that the only way to break the second commandment ("You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.") is when we curse or swear or use God's name in vain. But the greatest misuse of God's name is to not use it! "Call upon me in the day of the trouble, and I will deliver you" he promises (Psalm 50:15), but unfortunately, that's sometimes the only time we do call upon him in prayer -- when we're in trouble! We treat prayer like spare tire and only pull it out in emergencies.

But Jesus tells us to "always pray and not give up... [to] cry out to him day and night..." And when we don't, we show unlike the widow we are and how much like the godless judge we are: We're arrogant to think we don't need any help. We can handle things on our own. We don't really need God. If we thought we did, we'd pray to him a whole lot more.

Be careful then, when you pray to God for justice. For you and I wouldn't like it very much if justice were served, because "just" means hell for you and me for our arrogance and for our misuse and neglect of God's name. Instead we ought to pray, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

And what's so amazing is that he does! We would expect punishment for our arrogance that subtly says, "I don't need you go." But we don't get justice for Jesus sake. Remember Jesus' prayers to God the Father? "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done," he prayed in Luke 22:42, as he was ready to go to the cross to carry our sin on himself. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he prayed in Matthew 27:46 as took hell -- the full brunt of the Father's wrath -- in our place on that cross. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," he prayed in Luke 23:34. And by his grace, we are forgiven!

And not only that, but he chose us to be his own. He chose to soften our hard and arrogant hearts, to lead  us recognize our sinful corruption, and to trust in his justice dished out to Jesus instead of us. He created the very faith in our hearts.

And now the barrier of sin that stood between us and God preventing him from hearing our prayers is gone! So pray to God! Ask him for forgiveness. He is sure to grant justice. You see Jesus has been punished for our sin. Our crimes cannot be brought before the court again. It would not be just. He promises then, in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." So pray to him, confessing your sin. Pray to him trusting in his mercy. And "he will see that [you] get justice, and quickly."

 What's Jesus saying in this parable? That God's like a selfish judge and unless you nag him, don't expect him to hear or answer your prayer. No! The widow got what she wanted from an arrogant, godless, heartless and selfish judge. But God is as different from the judge as night from day. Jesus was not likening the two, but was contrasting them. If a selfish, arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring judge can help if you ask, then how much more won't a God who loves you so intensely help you when you ask.

Or as Paul put it in Romans 8:32: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"

 There was no relationship between the judge and the widow. But there is marvelous fellowship between God and his elect. Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."

It's as if Jesus says to us in this parable today, "Pester me! Continue to look to me and rely on me and ask of me. Don't get discouraged when it seems I'm not answering. I hear you and will bring about good for you. Don't lose heart! It's all going to be okay."And so we do pray to God like a dear child asks her dear Father: boldly, persistently, even pestering God to do what's best for us.

Pray to God with this "handy" mnemonic: Put your hand out in front of you like this (hand down with thumb closest to you) Pray with your thumb for those closest to you. Pray with your pointer finger for those who point you and others to the Word. (After all, it's been said that if you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have.) Pray with your highest finger for those in highest authority, presidents, and senators, and kings. (Or use that finger to pray for your enemies. -- I'll let you figure that one out.) Pray with your ring finger for married couples and for families, that God would keep the basic building block of society strong. Pray with your pinky finger for those like this widow, who are weak and without help.

Or here's another challenge: In the next few weeks, you'll get a new church directory. Don't just put it by the phone ignored until you need to make a call. But put on your nightstand and pray through that directory. Pick one or two names or families each morning, or each night, and pray for them. We'll leave a few pages in the back to write in names of family and friends for whom you want to pray.

But no matter how and when you pray, be persistent with God. Like an annoying little old lady. Like a pesky kid who won't stop bugging dad. Persist in asking and pleading and looking to him for blessing – because he promises, that for Christ's sake, he will hear us and he will grant it! So pray to God, "Dad... dad... dad... dad... dad..." and pester God with persistent prayer, in Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Give Thanks from the Bottom of Your Heart (A sermon based on Luke 17:11-19)

Jesus miraculously healed ten men of the lonely disease of leprosy. But only one of the ten came back to thank him. We've been healed of the eternally deadly disease of our all of sin, even our ingratitude toward God. How will we respond? Read this sermon (or listen to it:  based on Luke 17:11-19 and be encouraged to give thanks from the bottom of your heart!

Give Thanks from the Bottom of Your Heart

A sermon based on Luke 17:11-19

October 17, 2010 – Pentecost 21C


The little boy tore through the paper tossing it aside. He looked at the toy he'd just unwrapped and exclaimed with delight, "It's awesome! I love it!" and with excitement he ran off to play with it. Grandma was glad her grandson like the present, but mom looked unhappy. "Hold it!" she called to her son. "Before you run off to play with it, isn't there something you're forgetting?" "Oh, yeah!" the boy called over his shoulder, "Thanks, grandma!" And he was gone.

Ever seen that scenario take place? Ever been the little boy in that scenario? If we're honest with ourselves and with each other we have to admit that we haven't always been very thankful for the blessings we have. We take the gifts God gives us with joy, but then run off forgetting to thank him, or at best, we shout "Oh, yeah! Thanks God!" half-heartedly as we run off to use the blessings he's given.

This morning as we see one who is truly thankful for the blessings he'd received from God, we're reminded that we too should and can give thanks to God from the bottom of our hearts—with hearts that have been made clean, with hearts full of love. Listen to the first half of our gospel lesson recorded for us in Luke 17…


11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. 


I.                    A Heart Made Clean


I'm sure it's not a pleasant thing to be a leper, but as unpleasant as it would be today, it must have been far worse in 1st Century Israel. You see, not only did you struggle with a life threatening disease that slowly and painfully ate away at your body one limb or organ at a time, but you were also cut off. As contagious as the disease is, once someone was diagnosed with the deadly disease—with that first white spot that appeared on the hand or the arm or the head—you would be an outcast. No longer permitted to function in society, always forced to keep your distance from others—cut off even from your own family—your spouse, your kids. And to some, worse still, was the fact that you would be cut off from temple worship—cut off from the Lord—unable to perform the required sacrifices or observe the prescribed feasts.

In Leviticus 13:45-46 God gave the rule: "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp." Lepers would live cut off and separated from everyone else while they were slowly and painfully eaten away until finally that welcome death would come.

But for these ten lepers there was hope. The ten so accustomed to shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" picked up a new chant that day. "Unclean! Unclean!" became "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" And what a beautiful prayer it was! In this short prayer they express so much. They express their faith that Jesus could cure them of this incurable disease if he chose to; that he had the power to help them. And they expressed their own unworthiness of such help. "Jesus, Master—we're nothing but slaves. Have pity on us, because we know we can make no demands, we deserve no such help from the likes of you."

And by that faith, Jesus did heal them. We know they had faith—all ten—because of how they respond to Jesus' command. He didn't say, "Be healed," but "Go! See the priests—the health inspectors—who would decide if they were clean or unclean." (cf. Leviticus 14) And in that "Go" a promise is implied: "You will be healed." They took Jesus at his word and "as they went" Luke tells us, "they were cleansed"—miraculously restored! Made acceptable again—physically (with perfect health again), socially (no longer outcasts), and spiritually (able to go to the temple once more)! What a gift these ten were given!

But friends, as awesome as that gift was, it's nothing compared to what we've been given…

You see you and I were born with a disease: the deadly—spiritually and eternally deadly—disease of sin. Like leprosy it worked its way through our bodies often painfully as it sought to take our lives. And like leprosy it made us unacceptable. Sure, we were acceptable to the rest of society affected with the same disease as we all lived in the same colony of death. But we were all alike unacceptable to God—cut off from him. As Isaiah put it, "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2)

By the sins of grumbling and griping against God for all things he hasn't given us, by the whining and complaining against him for all the blessings that should be ours, for our ingratitude and silence for all we have—the ordinary blessings of food and shelter, of relative health and peace, and the extraordinary gifts of his grace and love, his Word, his forgiveness—by these sins we were cut off from him and destined to be cut off from him forever

But Jesus has the power to help us. And when we cry out to him "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" recognizing that no cure can be found on our own, recognizing how unworthy of any help from Jesus we are, when we appeal to his compassion and mercy and not to our works, he does have pity on us. He did have pity on us. By the miracles Jesus performed we know that he isn't just some great teacher that lived thousands of years ago, but God himself—God in the flesh. We know, then, that Jesus' death on the cross wasn't just the death of some guy, but the death of God. We know, then that his death counted as an acceptable payment for our sins.

And by our faith in him, when we take him at his Word as the lepers did, we are healed. We are made clean and pure—the leprosy of sin removed forever. We are made acceptable God again and able to enter into his presence—into heaven itself. What a gift we have been given! Our hearts are made clean! And for such a gift we can't help but thank him as our hearts are filled with love…


II.                  A Heart Filled with Love


15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

As the ten made their way to the temple, how exciting it must have been to realize that they were healed! The painful, deadly disease that had taken them had been destroyed! They could go home! They could go back to their families! They could go back to the temple! And we can only assume that out of obedience to Jesus and out of excitement to return to the lives they once had before this horrible disease—that's exactly where the nine went: to the temple to get the okay from the priests to return to life as normal.

But unfortunately, that's all we hear about them. Once they did return to life as normal, it seems they forgot about Jesus. Perhaps, like the little boy who tore open the present from grandma, they were so excited and absorbed in the gift they'd been given, they forgot all about the giver. Perhaps they assumed their gratitude was known and figured they didn't need to sit down and write those "Thank-You's." No wonder Jesus expressed his disappointment. He gave them such an awesome gift—not only taking away their disease, but demonstrating in no uncertain terms exactly who he was. But they didn't seem to care. It was too much to go back and give thanks and praise to him.

Only one man did a U-turn mid-trip to the temple. Seeing that he was healed!—cured of this incurable disease!—he had to go back and thank Jesus! The Samiritan—the one who knew the least of God and his promised grace—had to back to express his heartfelt gratitude. His heart was so full of love for his Savior that he shouted his praises all the way there, proclaiming to all who would listen what Jesus had done for him! And upon finding Jesus he threw himself down at his feet and thanked him again and again! No wonder Jesus expressed his pleasure with this foreigner. He said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." His trust in Jesus made him not just physically well, but would make him spiritually well for eternity. No wonder he was so full of thanks!

So how about us? Which are we? The nine? Or the one? Too often we do act like the nine, don't we? We call out to God for help and we trust that he can. But when he delivers, don't we sometimes forget to return to thank him? We're too busy. We have planes to catch, kids to fee, jobs to do, people to see, places to go—and we forget to make time to thank him.

Or perhaps we think nothing so great as what happened to these lepers has ever happened to me. If God would only take away my pain, my sickness, my debt, my problems, then I'd have cause to rejoice like the one. Then I could thank him from the bottom of my heart. But when we think that way, we're forgetting about the cross.

Look again at the blessings we have from him. We have so much to be thankful for! Every one of us! Look again at the cross! See our Savior pay the price for our ingratitude! See him remove every time we've acted more like the ten! See him erase every time we've remained silent for the amazing gifts he gives us every day! Look again at the font! Remember how he's washed your every sin away in the waters of Baptism! Look again at the altar! There he gives us his very body and blood to assure us of sins forgiven—again and again! What gifts we've been given!

And these gifts from our Savior fill our hearts with gratitude and love! We can't just go on with our lives, enjoying these blessings he pours on us without stopping to take time to say "Thanks!" We can't help but rejoice and praise God with a loud voice as we worship him and sing his praises. We can't help but shout out loud of the things he's done for us, telling all who will hear of his grace and mercy! We can't help but respond with action from hearts that overflow with love as we live to serve him in all we do.

Martin Luther put it so well, when he wrote in his explanation to the 1st Article of the Apostles' Creed: "All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him. This is most certainly true." And recognizing all he's done for us, and all he's given to us, we can't help but thank and praise, serve and obey him. We can't help but shout with the Psalmist, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." (Psalm 107:1) Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Your Duty to Forgive (A sermon based on Luke 17:1-10)

Listen to this sermon here:

Your Duty to Forgive

A sermon based on Luke 17:1-10

October 10, 2010 – Pentecost 20C

      A young woman was about to be married and as she went through some pre-marital counseling with a certain vicar, they got on the topic of invitations. Suddenly the woman grew cold. She turned to the vicar and said in a quiet voice. "I'm not inviting my dad to my wedding." Obviously something was wrong, so the vicar asked why not. "I hate him," she said. She sounded ashamed as she went on. "My father sexually abused me when I was a little girl and I cannot let go. I cannot forgive him."

What do you say to such a woman? How can you possibly forgive someone who's hurt you like that? Who's left physical and emotional scars that will likely last a lifetime? For that matter, forgiving anyone of any hurt or pain they've caused you isn't natural, is it? It goes against the grain. How do we let go of our grudges and love even those who hurt us?

This morning Jesus gives us the secret to forgiving someone. He tells us that we can only forgive through faith. To forgive someone once, let alone seven times a day for the same sin, is a difficult burden Jesus places on us as our duty. It's a burden that requires faith.  And it's a burden faith gladly bears. Listen again to Jesus instruction of his disciples and learn again how to forgive…


In Luke 17:1-10, Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." 5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6 He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you." 


I.                    A Burden That Requires Faith


When your time to leave this earth has finally come, how do you want to go? If God let you choose the kind of death you will face, what would you pick? I'm guessing that most of you would say I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep. Go to bed and never wake up. Maybe some would say, I'd like to die doing something noble—fighting for my country, taking a stand for what I believe. But I'm willing to bet that no one would say, "If I could pick how I'd die, I'd drown."

Why not? Because drowning would be a horrible way to go! Imagine someone takes you to the edge of the lake ties a car around your neck (a millstone weighed up to 2 tons) and launches it into the middle of the lake. First comes the panic that you cannot take another breath. Your heart rate accelerates, demanding even more oxygen. After a minute or two your lungs, screaming in pain for lack of air, try to grab some anyway, but all they get is water. Your body's self-defense mechanism kicks in and your windpipe constricts to prevent more water from entering. Soon (in about 6 minutes), without any oxygen your brain becomes damaged, and finally (after another 2 minutes), you go into cardiac arrest and die in the middle of the lake.

Sound bad? That's nothing, Jesus says, compared with what's in store for those who cause others to stumble. (That's literally what skandalon means, not just sin, but stumble in your faith.) How do people cause others to stumble? Jesus gives two examples. He says, "watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him." You can cause a person to stumble in their faith not just by what you do, but by what you don't do. Don't rebuke someone in their sin and you cause them to stumble by leading them to think their sin is no big deal. Don't forgive someone when they come seeking forgiveness and you cause them stumble by leading them to think God won't forgive them either.

Jesus' disciples recognized that they had failed to rebuke others. They'd failed to forgive others. They knew they deserved to have that millstone tied around their neck… and worse. And they also knew that this burden Jesus gave them was something they could never do on their own. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." "Who can do this?" the apostles thought. And they said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" Literally, "Give us faith!" "We need faith to do this! It's not something that comes naturally!"

And Jesus response? "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you."

But what's Jesus saying? Who cares about the mulberry tree? Who would even want to transplant it in the sea? Understand what Jesus is and isn't saying here: He's not saying, "If only you had this much faith, then you could do amazing things like move trees around and forgive people who hurt you." What he is saying is that even the smallest bit of faith can and does do awesome things! After all, the tiniest bit of faith moves not just a tree into the ocean, but our very bodies and souls into heaven! What Jesus is saying to his disciples is "You do have faith! Use what little faith you have and rebuke others. Forgive others."

It's still hard for us today, isn't it, to forgive? To forgive the spouse, who you'd expect to be the kindest person to you, yet says the unkindest things of anyone you talk to in your day? To forgive the person who you trusted, that not only let you down, but betrayed that trust and took advantage of it? To forgive the person who's left physical and emotional scars in your life that may very well last a lifetime?

This burden—to forgive the same person of the same sin even if he does it seven times in the same day!—this burden requires faith. But dear friends, you have faith. Jesus reminds us in a subtle way of the faith we have; the power we have to forgive…


II.                  A Burden Faith Gladly Bears


7 "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8 Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"


Imagine you're the boss of a small company and one day one of your employees walks into your office and puts the report you asked him to complete on your desk. But then, rather then leave your office he just stands there staring at you, arms folded across his chest. When you respond, "Yes, what can do I for you?" he says, "Well…?" You say, "Well, what?!" and he responds, "Aren't you going to thank me?" What nerve! Of course you're not going to thank him! That's what he gets paid to do! It's the duty required of him! In fact, if he didn't give you the report (on time and at the level of quality you demanded) you'd first reprimand, and then, eventually, fire him, right?

Well, the same is true, Jesus points out, between us and God. What does God owe us? Absolutely nothing! He created us to love and serve him, right? And he has every right to demand perfection of us, then, right? So let's imagine for a second that I could fulfill my duty—to always point out the sins of others, to always forgive everyone who hurts me, to always use all my blessings only to the glory of God, to always think of others before I think of myself, to always love God and seek his will before my own. Even if I could do all that (and I most certainly can't), would God owe me anything for it? Of course not! It's what I'm expected to do!

Some churches want to sell you a load of lies that if you serve God, then God must bless you. What a bunch of rubbish! God owes us nothing. We owe God everything! If "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1), then what could God possibly need from you? You and I are in no position to barter with God. Because we've failed to do our duty, because we've caused others to stumble and sin, because we've failed to rebuke sinning friends, and because we've failed to forgive others their sins against us, we deserve to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be hurled into the bottom of the ocean! In fact, we deserve much, much worse!

But we don't get what we deserve. Though Jesus may have been cracking a bit of a joke when he shows how ridiculous it would be for the master to serve the slave, that's exactly what he did, isn't it? Do you remember what Jesus, the God of the universe, did for his disciples, these unworthy servants, in the upper room on Maundy Thursday? The Master served the disciples, washing their feet.

Can you imagine not only becoming a slug to live with a bunch of other slugs, but also getting down even lower still to help wash the other slugs? What humility Jesus showed! And this humble act wasn't just a one-time deal. It was symbolic of his entire ministry, ending at the cross.

Jesus once said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." There, on that cross, he served us. There Jesus did his duty to God of buying us sinners out of the debt we owed to God for failing to do our duty to him. There he removed every failure, every sin, every time we've been less than perfect and made us his own. Now, when God looks at us through Jesus he can say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21) "You've done your duty perfectly!"

And for such love that God's shown to us, we can't help but love him back. Our faith in him, makes us not only able, but eager, to do our duty.

If your boss called you at 2:00am and asked for some figures, you'd probably be a little upset wouldn't you? But when the newborn baby screams for mommy or daddy to get up at 2:00am and change a dirty diaper, they're not upset. They do it gladly. What's the difference? The parents do their duty out of love.

When the administration office calls up the poor student and demands more money, how hard it can be to come up with the cash. But when the same student's girlfriend admires a certain item, he eagerly rushes out to buy it, even if it means skipping lunch for the rest of the week. What's the difference? The student does his duty to his girlfriend out of love.

Is it difficult to serve God and do our duty? Is it hard to rebuke a friend? Is it tough to forgive? Yes. It often is. But when we understand what we deserve for our sin, and when we know and appreciate what our Jesus has done for us, by faith we're eager to do it anyway. We're eager to do our duty and serve him in all we do, at work, at rest, or at play. We're eager to forgive others, giving up our self-perceived right to get even, because we do our duty out of love.

So what do you tell a young woman who says I cannot forgive my father for the way he hurt me twenty years ago? Here's what I told her: "I know that your father hurt you more than I can ever know.  And I know it's hard to forgive and that you will likely wrestle with this for the rest of your life. But you can forgive him. Examine your life and see how you've hurt and abused your Savior. Go to the cross and see how he's forgiven you by taking that sin on himself. Let his love for you move you to love him. You don't need to trust your dad, or like your dad, or invite him to your wedding. But out of love for Jesus you can let go of the hatred you have for him. You can forgive him."

Dear friends, may God continue to give you such a faith: one that recognizes what you deserve, one that stands in awe of what your Savior's done for you, one that's always eager to do your duty and to forgive. In Jesus' name, amen. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are You Rich or Poor? (A sermon based on Luke 16:19-31)

Listen to this sermon here:

Are You Rich or Poor?

A sermon based on Luke 16:19-31

Sunday, October 3, 2010 – Pentecost 19C


Michael Dell… Paul Allen… Bill Gates… What do these all have in common? They are all billionaires with a net worth of $17 billion, $22 billion, and $50 billion respectively! Man, what we could accomplish if we had that kind of money, right? Hey, I bet I could even get a lot done with only $1 billion. It sure would be nice wouldn't it? …or would it?

What would you think if I told you that you already have more wealth than Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Michael Dell combined? What if I told you the luxuries you have are far greater than theirs with their mansions, their yachts and their servants? You may think "Yeah, right! Come on, pastor, you're kidding right?" But the truth is, you do have more. You have so much more!

Through the Word of God you know of Jesus' death on the cross to pay for your sins. And while you may not have millions of dollars, you do have that Word! In it you're reminded that you're going to heaven for eternity not because of what you do, but because of what he's done. Nothing can take that away!

That makes you spiritual billionaires! You are rich in this life and in eternity. Jesus points that out in our text for this morning, found in Luke 16:19-31…


19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' 27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


I.                    In Life?


Wouldn't it be great to have the money of Bill Gates? Imagine the life of luxury you could have! That's the life of luxury this rich man lived. He had it all. Luke says he was dressed in linen—likely some imported cloth like Egyptian cotton—and that that cloth was purple—made from a dye that was extracted one or two drops at a time from a rare shellfish, and so, was very expensive. The Greek implies that this wasn't just his choice of clothes for special occasions, but what he wore around the house all the time.  Jesus summed up his lifestyle when he said he, "lived in luxury every day."

Lazarus, on the other hand, wasn't exactly living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, like his neighbor. He didn't even choose where he lay. The text says he was laid there, no doubt by others who didn't want the responsibility. And there he lay with nothing. No home. No money. No food—longing to eat scraps. Forget purple clothes! He would consider dumpster-diving a luxury. But he couldn't even do that! His health was so far gone. He didn't even have the strength to drive away the wild and dirty dogs that licked at his open wounds.

Who would you rather be? The rich man or poor Lazarus? The answer seems, obvious, right? Give me the health. Give me the wealth. Give me the luxury to do whatever I want whenever I want. It would be much better to have it all rather than be a homeless wretch who doesn't even have his health, wouldn't it? Well, to be honest. No. It wouldn't. That's what Jesus points out in this parable.

The reality was that even though it seemed the rich man had everything he needed while Lazarus had nothing, the exact opposite was true. The rich man had nothing that mattered. He lived his life only for himself focusing on things that wouldn't last, and not on things of eternal importance. And whether he realized it or not, he had no peace with God. By his sinful, selfish acts he had declared war on God. And it was a war he was sure to lose! What a poor, miserable beggar he was—and he didn't even know it.

But Lazarus, on the other hand, was truly rich—already in this life! He had everything he really needed. He had Moses and the Prophets. And he understood what they said: That he was a sinner, that he too had declared war on God by his sin. But he also understood that they proclaimed peace with God through the Savior—the Messiah who was to come. Lazarus was rich in the Word. We know that by his eternal outcome.

The name Lazarus means, "God is my help" and he did have a rich faith that put his trust in God to help him, not just with the problems of this life, but with his greatest problems of sin, death, and  hell. And by that faith he had forgiveness of sins. He had peace with God.

He was spiritually healthy though physically ill, spiritually nourished thought physically starved, and spiritually wealthy, beyond his wildest dreams, though physically impoverished.


So I ask again? Which would you rather be? The rich man or poor Lazarus? I hope you all say, Lazarus, because he alone of the two was truly rich. And dear friends, you have that same wealth! You are incredibly rich beyond your wildest dreams—right now!

Let's face it, we all have more wealth and stuff than the rich man dreamed of. For him flushable toilets, microwaves, TV's and computers were unimaginable! Looking out in the pews this morning I see clothes in many different colors the rich man wouldn't dream of. How wealthy we are!

But friends, don't let that wealth rob you of your greater wealth as it did the rich man. If you take two dimes—the smallest of coins—and place them right in front of your eyes, they completely block your view of everything else. And looking at money with the wrong perspective can also make us lose sight of God and of eternity.

And if we're honest, friends, we all must admit, "We've let it happen." We've given the pursuit of money and the stuff it can buy a higher priority in our lives than the pursuit of a richer faith though the study of God's Word. We often—daily even—lose sight of eternity. And by these sins, we declare war on God, whether we mean to or not!

But thank God that he doesn't treat us as our sins deserve! He doesn't take his Word away even though we so often neglect it. Instead he makes us wealthy in the Word! We not only have Moses and the Prophets (which are by themselves enough to explain God's plan of salvation), but we also have the Gospels! We have the Epistles!

We have God's plan of salvation made crystal clear to us: We are rescued from the hell we deserve by Jesus who gave up all the luxuries of his heavenly mansion to become a lowly human and to live among us. He gave up his physical health to be tortured to death on a cross. And he gave up his spiritual health to take our wretched sin on himself, when he was sinless. And, finally, he took the torment of hell in our place on the cross. He experienced the torment and the agony of hell so we won't ever have to!

Now that's good news! And that Good News—that Gospel—is so readily available to us! How rich in the Word we are! The most valuable riches in the world don't cost a fortune, but are found in your Bible that costs a few dollars. In fact, if someone in this room doesn't have their own Bible, I'll gladly give you one for free.

And what's more, if you don't like to read, you can watch videos, listen to the Bible on tape, CD, or MP3! You can download and listen to the entire Bible online for free! And we still don't make anyone buy a ticket for a seat in the pew!

What riches are readily available to us at no cost! How richly we've been blessed with the Word! Use that wealth, now while you can, friends! Treasure it! Because if you have the promises of God in his Word, you have all you need—even if you have nothing else! And in the end, you will find what a great investment of your time and of your money it really was. You will be rich in eternity…


II.                  In Eternity?


When the beggar died… the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell… he was in torment… 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony…' Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

Abraham told the man the sad truth of his eternity. His choices had been made. He chose to ignore God's warnings. He chose to live life entirely for himself with no thought of life after death. And now, his fate was sealed. There was no going back. Eternity has finality.

Remember that popular show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Remember what Regis always asked when a contestant gave an answer? He said, "Is that your final answer?" And once they said yes, there was no going back. They couldn't change their mind. They couldn't wait until the answer was revealed and all of a sudden cry, "Wait! That's what I meant!" No. Their final answer stood. It was final—irrevocable. 

We've all experienced that before, haven't we? Ever said or done something you wish you could take back, but it's too late. It's said or done and can't be unsaid or undone. Well, that's true of eternity as well. Reject Christ for the wealth and luxuries of this life and once you're dead—final answer—there's no turning back. It can't be undone. It's final and it's eternal. But trust in Christ, fight the good fight and die in faith, and heaven is yours for eternity.

So how do you make sure we have the right final answer? Cling to Jesus in faith. Don't despise the Means of Grace that God's given us—his Word and his sacraments. As ordinary as they look, they are true riches and have more powerful a witness than someone coming back from the dead. After all, if you were visited by a ghost, wouldn't you most likely think you'd gone crazy, that your mind was playing tricks on you? But God's Word is clear. It tells us exactly what we need to know. It makes us rich.

And trusting in our Savior revealed to us in that Word, one day very soon you and I will also be comforted at Abraham's side. There in heaven, "Never again will [we] hunger; never again will [we] thirst. The sun will not beat upon [us], nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd; he will lead [us] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes."

Michael Dell, Paul Allen, and Bill Gates can keep their billions. We don't need it. We're already rich beyond our wildest dreams. And while they had to work hard to get their billions, we didn't have to do a thing to get the trillions of treasures that are ours in Christ. He's won them for us. He's revealed them to us in his Word.

We're rich in the Word that makes us rich in faith. And that faith makes us certain that one day soon, when we die, we will join Lazarus at Abraham's side. We will be rich for eternity. Rejoice, friends, that you are so filthy rich! And use your wealth wisely every day! Amen.