Monday, July 25, 2016

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (A sermon based on Luke 11:1-13)

"Our Father, who art in heaven..." The Lord's Prayer is the most used prayer of all time. But perhaps it's also the most abused prayer. Rattled off from memory without ever thinking about the words, perhaps we ought to slow down and ask if we really mean what we pray. In this week's sermon, we take a look at prayer in general, at the Lord's Prayer in particular, and get an encouragement on how to pray: boldly, confidently, and often. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Luke 11:1-13 as we learn more about prayer...

Lord, Teach Us to Pray
A sermon based on Luke 11:1-13
Sunday, July 24, 2016 – Pentecost 10C 

In the movie, Meet the Parents, a young man is meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time in order to ask for her hand in marriage. In one scene, they're gathered around the dinner table and the girl's father asks their guest to lead the prayer. He struggles for a minute or two trying to come up with the words to say and finally blurts out a rambling prayer with disjointed thoughts and a few lines from a 70's song.

Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century preacher, once said, "Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life." You see, there's no such thing as a Christian who doesn't pray any more than there is a Christian who doesn't do good works. Both are natural byproducts of who we are in Christ.

But perhaps, when you are asked to pray publicly, or even when you pray to God on your own, you feel more like that young man in Meet the Parents and don't really know what to say. Jesus' disciples once felt like that. They noticed that he spent a lot of time in prayer, and they knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples how to pray, so they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray.

This morning we can learn a lot about prayer from listening in to Jesus' conversation with his disciples. First we're reminded how we sinners can even pray to a holy and sinless God at all. Then we learn from Jesus what things we should pray for. And finally, we learn how to pray—with bold persistence. Listen now to Jesus' teaching on prayer as it's recorded for us in Luke 11. We begin with the first four verses… 

1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." 2He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' " 


I.      How Can We Pray? 

Before we discuss Jesus' instruction, perhaps we first ought to discuss what prayer is and how you and I can even presume to pray to a holy, sinless God. I mean let's face it, we're anything but sinless and holy. And we even demonstrate that by the way we pray.

This prayer that Jesus gives his disciples—called the Lord's Prayer—is the most used prayer in the world! It's estimated that on Easter Day two billion Christians, read, recite or sing the words of this prayer. I'm guessing that most (if not all) of you here could easily recite the longer version of the Lord's prayer (found in Matthew 6). My 3-year-old son knows it by heart.

But in addition to being the most used prayer it's also probably the most abused prayer. Because we all have it so well memorized, how many times haven't you rattled through the whole thing without thinking any part of it? And even if you were sincere in praying it at the time, how well have you seriously tried to do what you prayed for God's help to do?

We pray, "hallowed be your name," "God, may your name be honored and regarded as holy by the world and especially by us." But then we use God's name in a way that's anything but holy. We give God a bad name, calling ourselves his children, but misrepresenting him and his love in the way that we live.

We pray "your kingdom come," "God, may you continue to rule in our hearts and in our lives and in the hearts and lives of others." But we don't let him rule our lives. Instead we take the throne and call our own shots. And being so absorbed in ourselves, we hardly do a thing to spread his Word of grace so that his kingdom—that is, his ruling—might come to the hearts of others.

And we tend to focus our prayers on the material things, even though God's model prayer only has one petition for something that's not spiritual in nature. And even then, we pray "give us this day our daily bread," while we grumble and complain that we don't have more and more stuff—a nicer car or home, the latest fashions or gadgets. We don't find contentment with the countless blessings God showers on us day after day, but pray "gimme' gimme' gimme'."

We pray "forgive us our sins" half-heartedly asking God to look the other way while we do what we know he hates, the whole time holding a grudge against someone else for some minor offense against us. And we pray "lead us not into temptation" right before we run out looking for temptations to fall into.

And every sin—every time we pray this prayer without meaning any of it— is like another slap in the face of God. Each sin acts like a barrier between us and him—a barrier so thick that no prayer can penetrate. Isaiah 59:1-2 says, "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities [that is, your sins] have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."

Each time we sin it's like smashing the phone with sledge hammer. Or, if you remember the old wired, phones, it's like cutting the cord with a scissors. On our own, there is no way that we can get through to God. There's no way we deserve to. We pray to our "Father in Heaven," but we don't even deserve to be called his children. We only deserve his wrath, here on earth and forever in hell.

So, how can we poor, miserable sinners that we are, possibly dream of praying to God? How could we ever presume to call him Father? You know the answer. It's through Jesus. We just heard Paul remind us in our second lesson, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins." (Colossians 2:13)

Christ, the God-man, the one in whom all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, lived a perfect and sinless life in our place. He always kept God's name as holy, always sought his kingdom first, was always content, always forgave, always resisted temptation. And he gave that perfection to us crediting it as our own. Then he took our sins on himself, crediting them as his own. He suffered hell on the cross as the penalty of our sin so our every sin would be forgiven.

Now, though we were once spiritually dead, we're alive in Christ. Now though we were God's enemies, we've become his perfect and sinless sons and daughters and with our every sin removed, we can pray to our Father, like a little child talking to daddy.


II.    What Should We Pray For? 

So, what things do we ask of our Father in heaven? [Jesus] said to them, (in verses 2 to 4)"When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' " 

Each petition has enough to discuss for a sermon of its own, but, for the sake of time, let's cover them in a more general way. The model prayer that God gives us has only one request for anything material. Four others in Luke (six in Matthew) deal with spiritual things. What sorts of things do you think Jesus was encouraging his disciples (and us) to pray for?

In response to God's great love for us in forgiving our every sin and removing the barrier that once barred us from him, we no longer live to serve ourselves, but to serve him in thanksgiving. Likewise, our prayers are no longer self-centered, seeking only material things for us to enjoy in this life.

God knows we need food and clothes and shelter and we can pray for these things. But notice how he puts it: "Give us this day our daily bread." We pray only for our daily needs, trusting that God will care for tomorrow's needs when tomorrow comes. And we pray for daily bread—only what we need to survive that we might continue to serve him. We don't need to pray for our daily shrimp and steak or our daily boats and RV's. We can be content with the blessings God has given us—especially the spiritual blessings.

Those, Jesus points out in the Lord's prayer, are the more important blessings by far. We therefore pray that God's name be kept holy in our lives as we strive to keep what's truly important a priority in our lives and remember the cross and Christ crucified for us. We pray that he might rule in our hearts more and more and that his kingdom would be spread through us to others. We pray that he forgive us our many sins, trusting that he will forgive us because of Jesus and the cross, eager to forgive others the small debts we perceive that they owe us. We pray for God's strength to resist the temptations we face each day and help us do what's right.

These are the things, Jesus tells us, for which we should pray. And we can pray boldly and persistently, trusting that he's eager to bless us.


III.   In What Way Should We Pray? 

After teaching them what to pray for in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus gave them a few illustrations of how they should pray. He said in verses 5 to 10, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Imagine it's midnight. You've been in bed, sound asleep for a few hours already, when suddenly you hear someone pounding on your front door. After your heart rate slows a bit, you head to the front door, and look through the peephole to find your next door neighbor looking frantic. With the chain securely fastened you open the door enough to find out who's hurt and he tells you, "Quick, I need a loaf of bread!" How would you respond?

"What's your problem, buddy? It's midnight! You woke me up! You woke up my kids! Now is not the time to be asking me for favors!" You might slam the door and head back to bed. But he's persistent. You hear him pound on the door again, even louder this time. You head back to the door and he shouts, "Come on, man! My mother-in-law's here with her two sisters! They're hungry! Give me some bread!"

I'm guessing that even if you didn't particularly care for this neighbor—and let's face it, by this time you probably wouldn't—you'd still give him all the bread you had just to get him to leave you alone.

If that's the way we respond to a neighbor we may not particularly like, how will God—who loves us enough to sacrifice his son for us—respond? So in the same, bold, persistent way, we can pray not to some grumpy neighbor, but to our loving Father. We can pray big! And we can pray with the certainty that God will answer us with a blessing.

James reminds us "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:5-6)

And we can ask with such courage and with persistence because of the gracious promises God gives. Jesus tells us to ask, seek and knock, but in the Greek these verbs are present tense. Perhaps a better translation would be "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking." Why? Because he promises he'll respond. And he even repeats the promises in verse ten, "For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." That's a powerful promise from God! He will answer our prayers in a way that's a blessing to us.

And he drives the point home with one more illustration in verses 11 to 13: 11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

We fathers sometime give our children what they want and need out of a sense of duty or obligation, or maybe sometimes just to get the kids to leave us alone. "Dad, can I? Dad, can I? Dad, can I?" "Fine! Just go in the other room!" Even though as sinful parents our motives aren't always selfless, still, none of us would give something harmful and venomous to our children when they ask for food!

So if we earthly fathers can be pestered into giving-in and giving a child what they need, how much more readily won't God, who loves us enough to send his own son to hell our place, be eager and willing and ready to jump at the chance to bless us? Paul reminds us 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?"

And unlike human fathers who are sometimes unable or unwilling to give what's best or don't know what's best for their child, God will always give us what's best. He may not give us what we want or what we ask for, but he'll always give us what we need. Like a human father denying his child the candy he's pleading for, and instead gives him more spinach to eat, so too God might not let you win the lottery no matter how long you plead because he knows it wouldn't be good for you. He might not grant you health and a quick recovery for the cancer that plagues you because he knows the suffering will draw you closer to him and that, like the spinach that seems so horrible to the child, it will make you stronger and healthier spiritually.

What a privilege we have in Christ! With our every sin removed we can pray to God! What a blessing we have from him, knowing that no matter what we ask for, he will answer in a way that blesses us. What an encouragement we have to make full use of this awesome gift and boldly, persistently, pray to God, just like Abraham did.

A friend of mine shared the story of his young niece who was in the middle of potty training. After filling her Pull-Up® her father looked at here with a stern look and asked, "Why didn't you go in the potty?" With a sheepish look she asked, "Daddy, are you mad at me?" "Well, I'm not happy." To which she replied, "I have an idea, daddy." She went over to him, diaper still loaded, and pressed his hands together and said, "Dear Jesus, please help daddy not to be mad at me. Amen." She looked up and said, "There, daddy. Now are you mad at me?" (And, of course, her prayer worked.) J

You see, no matter how young or old, no matter who the audience, in Christ—with our every sin forgiven—we know our daddy isn't mad at us. So we can approach him boldly, confidently, and often. Let's make better use of that awesome gift of prayer. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sit Before You Serve (A sermon based on Luke 10:38-42)

With at least 13 guests coming to their home, Mary and Martha must have been pretty busy with preparations. But while Martha served Jesus with all of her heart, Mary first listened to Jesus with all of her attention. Jesus want's us to do both: serve him and listen to him. But he wants us to do them in the proper order. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Luke 10:38-42 and be encouraged to...

Sit Before You Serve

A sermon based on Luke 10:38-42

Sunday, July 17, 2016 – Pentecost 9C


As many of you know, the Guenthers have a good share of out of town guests during the summer months. From the second week in June through the second week in August, not a week goes by that we don't have guests staying the parsonage. We love the fellowship and the fun, but there's a lot to get done between visits. We quickly scrub the toilets, mop the floors, vacuum the entryway, wash the bedding and remake the beds, mow the lawn, and make a few trips to the store to restock the fridge and get more food saver bags! Then the guests arrive and we act like the house is always this clean, the lawn always well-manicured, the fridge always stocked and we're always ready to have some fun. 

Let's face it, having company over, for many of us, means we need to spend a lot of time preparing. And all these preparations are often made just for friends or family members! Imagine if someone more prestigious were to visit. How would you prepare if the Governor were to come to stay at your house tomorrow? How would you prepare if Jesus were to come dip net with you? (Granted, he may tell you to dip on the other side of the beach and fill your net with 183 fish, but still… you'd probably want to make sure the sheets on his bed had been washed.)

The fact is, many meals in our homes begin with that familiar prayer, "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed." And in a certain sense, that's exactly what Mary and Martha, two of Jesus' close friend, prayed. "Come, Lord Jesus," Martha invited. "Be our guest. We'll prepare a meal for you. We'll take care of you. We'll serve you with all of our hearts." But Mary was more eager to be served by Jesus and be blessed by the gift of his Word. Mary prayed, "Let your gifts to us be blessed."

Both were wonderful expressions of these women's faith. One served Jesus with all of her heart. The other listened to him with all of her attention. Both are examples to us. We too want to serve Jesus with all of our hearts. But first, we need to sit at Jesus feet. Listen now, to the familiar account of Jesus' visit to the home of Mary and Martha as it's recorded for us in Luke 10:38-42…


38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

 41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."


I.     Serve Jesus with Your Heart 

Poor Martha! She gets such a bad rap from this account. So many have misunderstood Jesus' rebuke of her! What Martha did was a beautiful thing! She opened up here home to Jesus. What work this must have involved. After all, Jesus didn't come alone. Verse 38 reminds us "Jesus and his disciples were on their way…" This wasn't just a small meal, but a party of 13 coming to visit! Imagine the work involved!

Now, consider who was coming! This was no ordinary company! Jesus himself would be staying at Martha's house! You can't just give the Son of God hot dogs for dinner! You can't feed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords mac and cheese! This was an occasion where only the best would do! The best foods! The best setting! It was time to polish the silver, and bring out the china!

We can easily imagine Martha going to market that morning to select only the freshest fruits, the finest grains, the most tender lamb, and the choicest wines. We can envision her running to the neighbors to borrow an extra table and extra mats to accommodate such a large number of guests. We can picture her spending hours in the kitchens (without food processors, microwave ovens, or gas and electric stoves, mind you) as she prepared the most elegant meal for Jesus and his disciples.

And such work—such service—could only have come from a thankful heart. Martha didn't have to open her home to Jesus. Martha wanted to. Love wants to serve. Don't look down on Martha for serving Jesus. Emulate it! Jesus wants his disciples to work as hard as they can out of love for him.

But Jesus did scold Martha, didn't he? And why did he scold her? Not because she wanted to serve Jesus, but for her timing and for her priorities. "First things first, Martha!" he told her. "The time to serve me will come. But first let me serve you. That, dear Martha, is more important by far."

 Now, let me ask, which of the two women do you relate more closely with? Mary or with Martha? Do you relate with either? I think that all too often we don't act as nobly as either Mary or Martha. After a long week at work, don't we sometimes think, "Ahhh! Now it's time to relax; to spend some time on me." Now there's nothing wrong with resting, but don't we often use that time selfishly? Serving Jesus is the furthest thing from our minds. "After all," we argue, "I've been serving my boss all week. I don't need to serve others."

Or perhaps we do serve others, but we start to feel resentful about it. Have you ever thought to yourself, "I cook, I serve, I clean up afterwards, I take out the trash and my husband doesn't even say 'thank you,' let alone help me."? Ever thought, "I work all week, slaving away to bring home the paycheck and I don't get any thanks! I'm only nagged to work more once I get home!"? Or, "I do all I can for those kids. I take care of them, teach them, buy them nice clothes and toys, but will they lift a finger to help out and even pick up some of those nice clothes and toys?!"?

If you've ever felt that way, then welcome to Martha's world. Martha felt like she was doing more than her fair share. So she came to Jesus with her complaint, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" You see, while Martha served out of love, her busyness—multitasking at a dizzying pace—sent her reeling out of control. Her sense of what was fair was causing her to lose that sense of selfless love as she served. And it left her distracted, worried, and upset. Martha needed to refocus. She needed to remember why she was serving in the first place. So out of love for her, Jesus refocused her attention.

He said, "Mary has chosen what is better"—literally in the Greek, "Mary has chosen the better portion"—a word to describe a serving of food. In other words, "Martha, you have some good food, but your preparation of this meal is causing you to miss out on the better, spiritual meal that I've prepared for you. You've invited me to be your guest, but I'm here to be the host. You want to serve me, but I'm here to serve you. Come, sit at my feet. Eat the bread of life. Drink the living water. Don't be distracted, worried, or upset any more. But be at peace."

And dear friends, when we don't feel like serving, when we feel it's a burden to serve our Savior, when we feel it's below us to serve others, when we feel like we're getting an unfair load of work, when our to-do lists are so full they leave us feeling distracted, worried and upset, we're losing our focus. We're forgetting why we serve others in the first place. We need to refocus. We need to sit at Jesus' feet and be served by him—fed by him—again…


II.    But First Sit at Jesus' Feet 

Again, Martha was right to serve Jesus, but her timing was off. Before she served she needed to join her sister at Jesus' feet. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better activity that afternoon. "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

It seems that Mary had been helping Martha prior to Jesus' arrival. That's why Martha said "she left me!" But now that Jesus had arrived, she had more important things to do. Now it was time to stop serving and to sit. Now it was time to listen to Jesus.

And Mary, Jesus said, got it right! Both were good. But one was better. Listening to Jesus was better than serving Jesus for a couple of reasons. First, it was better because that was the whole reason that Jesus came to earth! He said in Matthew 20:28, "…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Many churches today focus on serving in the community and around the world. Service to others is a good and wonderful thing. But not when it's done for the wrong reasons and not when it replaces listening. When someone becomes so focused on serving others that they're no longer being served the gospel by Jesus they miss the point.

Second, listening is better than serving because listening is a prerequisite to serving. We cannot serve Jesus the way he wants us to—with the right heart and the right attitude—if we don't serve out of gratitude and love. And the way we learn to love Jesus and serve him in thanksgiving is by listening to what he's first done for us.

Mary deserved hell for all the times she'd fought with her sister. Martha deserved hell for her worry that didn't trust that God would take care of her in every situation. You and I deserve hell for letting our to-do lists grow so full that we push "Spend time with Jesus" right off the list. We deserve hell for growing weary of serving because we've forgotten how he served us.

And how did Jesus serve us? He humbled himself to the lowest place for us. You know, there's something pretty amazing in this account of Mary and Martha. It's the fact that Jesus even entered the home of a sinner, that a holy and sinless God would enter their presence! But that's why Jesus came. He humbled himself to become human like us, so he could live among us, so he could die for us, suffering hell on the cross to remove every sin! His whole life was a life of service for us! No wonder Mary wanted to keep listening!  And when we hear this message, we can't help but respond with the sincerest thanks to Jesus and serve him with all of our hearts!

Finally, listening to Jesus is better than serving Jesus because it would last a lot longer. The results of Martha's service wouldn't last. Her elaborate dinner would be gone in a few hours' time. The next day, the dirty dishes would be all she'd have to show for her service. But the results of Mary's listening would change her, make her ready for heaven, and have an eternal impact.

Isn't most of our service to God like Mary's? We spend a few hours cleaning the church for Sunday morning and dirty again before the service begins. Spend an hour weeding the flower beds and the weeds grow back the next day. Don't get me wrong, these acts of service are important to our ministry at Grace. They help us to carry out our mission. But, they're temporary. And they're a means to an end. That end? To share the gospel and help people to listen.

Though it might not always seem like it, listening to Jesus in his Word has an eternal impact. Thought you may not remember what the sermon was about three weeks ago any more than you remember what you had for dinner three weeks ago, yet, just as that dinner nourished your body to keep going another day, the spiritual food we get sitting at Jesus' feet strengthens our faith and brings us one day closer to heaven. That's why Jesus says, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Not now. Not ever. Not in eternity.

In today's fast-paced, action-oriented society listening is quickly becoming a lost art. I'm sure at least some of you, like me, have found yourself in the middle of a conversation when someone asked you a question and you realized you had no idea what they'd been talking about. You heard them, but you weren't really listening. With emails and text messages and smart phones, listening is becoming a lost art. And what a shame!

But it's a far greater shame when we've lost the art of listening, not to friends, or co-workers, or kids, or spouse, but when we've stopped listening to Jesus. We often become so active with life, where we're expected to get more and more done in the same 24 hours, with our long to-do lists that we get behind on, with errands to run, and people to see, we get so busy in doing good, that we often lose the art of listening to Jesus.

So what's the solution? Re-prioritize. If you can't find the time to listen to Jesus, make the time to listen to Jesus. Give up an hour of shopping after church to come to Bible Class after worship. You won't miss the shopping for the spiritual nutrients you get instead. Or give up just one TV show to spend at Jesus feet as you read your Bible's study notes. You won't miss it for the spiritual feast Jesus has prepared for you in his Word! Or just give up 15 minutes of sleep in the morning to get up early to read a few chapters of your Bible. You won't mind when you see there how much he longs to serve you. Or, at the very least, sacrifice two minutes a day to read a devotion from Meditations to start your day with Jesus.

Reprioritize. Make the time to sit at Jesus feet and I promise you that you won't regret it. When you're reminded again and again of how our Savior came to serve you, to die for you, to suffer hell for you—to forgive you for your bad priorities, for your selfish use of your time, for every sin you've ever committed—then your heart will be full of joy and thanks to him. Then, even as you prepare for more guests to arrive or go about your daily work, you'll be eager to serve him in gratitude with all your heart. You'll long to push busyness aside each day, just for a bit, to sit at Jesus' feet. In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

“What Do I Have to Do?” (A sermon based on Luke 10:25-37)

"What do I have to do?" That was the question an expert in the law asked of Jesus. He wanted to know what he had to do to get to heaven. And Jesus' answer was surprising. First, it was surprising because what the man had to do was so impossible, that he could never do it well enough to get to heaven. But what's even more surprising to us, that we don't have to do anything to get to heaven because Jesus has already done it all for us. That moves us to no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" to "What can I do to show my thanks to him?" Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Luke 10:25-37 and rejoice that you don't have to do anything to inherit eternal life!

"What Do I Have to Do?"

A sermon based on Luke 10:25-37

Sunday, July 10, 2016 – Pentecost 8C


He knew he wasn't going to like the answer to his question. He knew it wasn't going to be fun. It might even be painful. So before he asked, he steeled himself, he found his nerve and with determined resolve he asked his mom, "Okay. What do I have to do?" You see, she had just told her son that he had some chores to do.

"What do I have to do?" That's a question moms and dads get asked when kids want to get their allowance. It's a question teachers get asked when students want to pass a class. It's a question bosses get asked when employees want a raise. It's a question doctors get asked when their patients are told they have to make some serious lifestyle changes. "What do I have to do?"

And it's a question that Jesus was asked by a man wanting to know how he could get to heaven. "What do I have to do?" It's a question we'd all be wise to ask Jesus ourselves. And Jesus' answer to this man's question is surprising. It's surprising because what one needs to do to earn eternal life is so difficult, so extreme, so overwhelming, that we all have to throw up our hands in despair recognizing that we could never do it! But that despair in ourselves lead us to rejoice in the surprising answer to the question, "What do I have to do to get to heaven?" "You don't have to do anything. Jesus has done it all. You just inherit what he's left you.

In our text for this morning we get to listen in to a conversation between Jesus and a man who asked, "What do I have to do?" Our text is found in Luke 10:25-37…


25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27 He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."


I.      What Do I Have to Do to Earn Eternal Life?

Now, when a kid asks mom, "What do I have to do?" in response to the news of impending chores, he's usually asking, "How can I get this done quickly and to your satisfaction so I can go play and do the things I want to do?"

When an employee asks, "What do I have to do?" he really means, "What's it going to take for me to a raise around here? What do I have to do make you happy, boss?"

When a patient asks the doctor, "What do I have to do?" He's asking what changes he needs to reluctantly make in order to not die in the next year.

Usually, "What do I have to do?" isn't a question driven by love, but a question driven by a selfish desire to give you what you want so that I can get what I want. What do you need to be happy so I can get what I want to be happy?"

Of course, we can't blame this man for wanting eternal life. Who doesn't? But in his question this man assumed he could do something to earn it. And that's the way the sinful nature always works. We all, by nature, think we can do something for God so that he owes us heaven. But how foolish! When God created the entire cosmos by the power of his command, when he gives us our very life and sustains that life every day, what could we possibly give to God or do for him that he might possibly need from us?!

It's been said that every legalist is an anti-nomian. That is to say, that everyone who wants to earn heaven by keeping God's law (a legalist) must reduce God's laws and minimize them so much that they can actually keep them. And in doing so, they're really against the law (that is, they are "anti" – against – "nomian" – the law.)

So Jesus would teach this "expert in the law" the full extent of the law. He would teach him what it meant to earn heaven by keeping the law by telling him a story…

A man was robbed, stripped, beat half to death, and left lying on the side of the road to die. A priest (in our context, a pastor) saw the man and just passed by. He was too busy to help this dying man. Likewise, a Levite (or for us a staff minister, an elder, or a principal) also passed by, doing nothing to help this man in need. For them, the answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" was "Certainly not this guy. He doesn't deserve my help or my time." But finally a Samaritan (maybe in our context, a Muslim or an atheist) sees his man in need, pulls over to the side of the road, helps him up, takes him to a doctor, and offers to pay for all of his medical expenses, seeking nothing in return from the man.

Well, Jesus' point is clear, isn't it? The parable needs no key. This man's "neighbor," wasn't just his friends, his co-workers, his family, or those in his social or economic class. No. His neighbor was anyone that he ever came into contact with that had a need that he could meet.

So, in answer to this man's question, "What do I have to do?" Jesus told him to keep the law perfectly, always showing love to everyone that he would ever encounter. He wouldn't be able to "justify himself" by redefining "neighbor." How surprised the expert in the law, who thought he was doing a pretty good job of keeping it all, must have been. "What do I have to do?" Way more than he could ever do. He couldn't justify himself.

And we can't justify ourselves either. We can't reshape God's law into our liking to make it easy enough for us to keep. We can't say, "Lust is too hard to avoid. So let's just say God is happy with us as long as we don't have sex outside of marriage," or "Greed is too hard to overcome. So let's just say God is happy with us as long as we put a few dollars in the offering plate whenever we happen to show up to church." We can't say, "Laziness is a sin that I like, so let's just pretend that as long as I keep away from gross outward sins, God and I are just fine.

No. That's not how it works. "What do I have to do?" We must keep all of God's laws perfectly, all of the time if we wish to earn eternal life! That means that we always look out for the best interest of others, that we always put everyone else's needs above our own, that we always love even our enemies, Muslims, gays, atheists, family members, co-workers—everyone we meet!—with a love in action, serving them at our own expense. That's what Jesus meant when he said, "Go and do likewise."

Ah, when you realize the full extent of God's law, it quickly becomes obvious that we cannot, "Do this and… live." "What do I have to do?" I can never do what's required! So we all must despair of any more thoughts of earning eternal life by our efforts. We all have to admit that we need help – and we need it badly…


II.    What Do I Have to Do to Inherit Eternal Life?

Last year I read a book called, "The Ultimate Gift." In it, an incredibly wealthy business man dies but in his will he leaves behind a series of videos with assignments that his slacker nephew, who still lives in his parents' basement, must complete before he receives a dime of his uncle's inheritance. Throughout the course of the book the nephew learns responsibility, compassion, generosity, and, in short, maturity. While he learns a lot along the way and gets a gift better than the cash, he at first did the assignments only in order to get the money. If he didn't complete the tasks to the satisfaction of the executor of the will, he got nothing.

But that's not normally how it works with a will. You don't normally have to do anything to inherit something. What an unusual question the expert in the law asked Jesus then! "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

You know how it usually works with an inheritance. Someone dies, you get something. That's it. It sounds more complex with all the legalese that goes into writing a will, but on the end of the recipient, it's usually really that simple: Someone dies, and you get something. You don't have to do anything for it.

And while this account in Luke 10 is pretty much all law as Jesus explains to this expert in the law that he is not loving his neighbor as much as he loves himself and that he cannot do enough to earn eternal life, well… in this man's question is hidden the Gospel comfort.

"What do I have to do to inherit?" The surprising answer hidden in this account is this: Do nothing. Just inherit what Jesus won for you. Someone died—the God man—and you get something—eternal life. Just as you do nothing to inherit some cash from an uncle or grandparent who's passed away, so too you and I did nothing to inherit eternal life. Jesus earned it for us.

When we lay not just dying, but spiritually dead on the side of the road, he came and found us. He picked us up. He was the great physician who could make us healthy again. And he paid all the expenses, to not just restore our lives, but to give us live when we were spiritually dead. And the price was more than silver or gold or dollars or time or energy, but his very life and his very soul.

[1 Peter – Not with silver or gold…

And now we are healthy and whole. Now we are sons and daughters of God. And as such we will the inherit eternal life that our brother Jesus won for us. It's ours because he died, and we receive. He gave his life, and we get eternal life. "What do I have to do?" The surprising answer is, "Nothing!" "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Nothing. Do nothing to inherit. Someone dies. And we get something. Jesus died. And we get eternal life.

And that eternal life changes the way we look at this life. We no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" but instead ask, "What can I do to show God how thankful I am?" And he tells us. He tells us what we can do to show our thanks to him: "Go and do likewise." "Go, and be like the Samaritan who did whatever he could to serve others." This is how we show our thanks to God.

So we don't do right to be right, but because we are right we do right. Let me say that again: We don't do right in order to be right. But because we are right because of Jesus, we do right to show our thanks to him. We no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" But instead we ask, "What can I do? What can I do to show my thanks to God? What can I do to show love to others?" We no longer ask, "Who is my neighbor?" but instead ask, "To whom can I be a neighbor?" "Who can I help? To whom can I show the love of Jesus?" And instead of asking, "What do I have to do?" or "What's this going to cost me to get what I want?" we ask, "How can I serve others?" and not just in their physical needs, but in their greatest need of learning about their Savior.

So go home this afternoon and write down a list of your "neighbors"—that is, your friends, your family members, your co-workers, your fellow church members, your literal neighbors. And ask yourself, "How can I show my Savior's love to them? How can I help them? How can I serve them? How can I help lead them to our Savior?" In thanks to Jesus, who didn't ask, "What do I have to do to save them?" but, "What can I do to give them eternal life?" we, too, no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" but "What can I do to share with them the eternal life that is their inheritance?" Think of ways that you can reach out to them and share with them our Savior who won eternal life for them, for you, for me, by his death when he died. For he died and we do nothing, but inherit eternal life. In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Freedom Fighters (A sermon based on Galatians 5:1,13-25)

Happy Independence Day! Every July 4th we set aside time to celebrate our freedoms -- those freedoms won for us by the blood of others. In our sermon for today, we celebrate not our national freedoms, but our eternal freedom won for us by the blood of Christ. But also recommit ourselves to the fight to keep the freedoms that we now have. With the help of the Holy Spirit we become freedom fighters, fighting against our sinful nature and living for God in thanks for the freedom Christ won for us. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Galatians 5:1, 13-25 and rejoice that you are freed indeed! 

Freedom Fighters

A sermon based on Galatians 5:1,13-25

Sunday, July 3, 2016 – Pentecost 7C


Tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day—the day we declared our independence from the rule of another country. Tomorrow we celebrate our freedom. And you know that that freedom wasn't free, was it? It came at a price. One of my favorite movies is The Patriot where Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin who bravely fights to protect his family and to win American independence from the British.

But that movie is a vivid reminder to me of what that freedom cost. In the struggle, Benjamin Martin lost his home and his plantation, his servants and many friends, and almost lost his life. He did lose the lives of his daughter-in-law, and two of his own sons in the bloody fight. The freedoms we enjoy today came at great cost to others. And, remembering those who fought hard to win our freedoms, we are encouraged to continue to fight hard today to keep those freedoms.

But before we celebrate our national freedoms tomorrow, today we give thanks to the one who fought to win our lasting freedom; to Christ! Through him we are free from sin, death, and hell. And remembering Jesus and how he fought hard to win our freedom, we are encouraged today to fight hard with the Spirit to keep our freedom. Listen to Galatians 5:1,13-25 as the apostle Paul reminds us of those fights…


It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…

13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


I.      Christ Fought Hard to Win Your Freedom


As we get into the latter half of the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians he moves from what Christ did for us to what we do in response. Remember the entire book of Galatians is Paul's sermon, while we just look at a few verses at a time. So even though he doesn't cover specific gospel in these verses, he doesn't need to. He's already done that in the first half of the book. But he does remind us of that specific gospel in the first half of the first verse of chapter 5 when he says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."

So let's do a quick recap. What have we been set free from? Right. Sin, death, hell, the power of the devil. And how badly we need that freedom! Right? Reading through these verses today reminds us how much we need help! Paul points out that the entire law is summed up in one command, just like Moses did, just like Jesus did. He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Have you always loved the strangers who live next to you as much as you love yourself? I know I haven't. And of course you know that verse doesn't just mean the guy who lives next door, but everyone. Have you always loved the guy at work as much as you love yourself? I know I haven't. Have you always loved your children or your spouse as much as you love yourself? I know I haven't.

Let's face it. Deep down we're selfish. My sinful nature loves to serve me first. It desires to rebel against God. It "desires what is contrary to the Spirit." Paul gives us a bunch of examples of how that's so. He says, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…" That is, sexual sins of all kinds, including lust, promiscuity, pornography. Viewing others as object to be used certainly isn't loving them as we love ourselves. He continues: "idolatry and witchcraft;" Serving other so-called gods like money, the pursuit of more stuff, drugs or alcohol, our own self-interests. All these are idolatry. And Paul keeps going: "hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition" (which we sometimes even parade as a virtue! "Man he has drive!"), "dissensions, factions and envy;" All these are sins in our relationships, when we love ourselves more than the people around us, when we viciously bite and devour one another like wild animals. Paul adds a few more sins to the list, but he can't conclude it. He ends with, "drunkenness, orgies, and the like," because the list goes on and on.

And even though this list isn't close to exhaustive it's still enough to convict everyone in this room, isn't it? And to make matters even worse, our sinful natures want to turn any freedom we might have into a license to sin even more! To "use [our] freedom to indulge the sinful nature." "Well, Jesus already paid for my sin! What a waste to not enjoy what's already been paid for! After all, if someone paid for my meal, wouldn't it be a waste to only eat half?!" How sad we are! How enslaved we are!

And Paul gives the stern warning "that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." And you know the alternative. Those who live like this will inherit hell. How badly we need to be free from ourselves and our sinful natures!

So thank God, friends, that he sent Jesus to set us free! "Christ has set us free." Paul reminds us in verse one. And that freedom didn't come free. There was a price that had to be paid—a huge price that only Jesus could pay. What was that price? Not a home or a plantation, not even the life of a son or daughter, but the very life of God himself. Jesus—true God—died on a cross. And far worse than physical death, he went to hell on that cross to pay for the acts of our sinful natures. That was the price of our freedom.

And we don't have to pay a thing! We weren't a part of that fierce battle that took place to win our spiritual freedom any more than we were a part of the Revolutionary War. Christ did it all—from start to finish—and we enjoy the freedoms that he won without having to pay a thing. "Christ has set us free."

But we risk losing it all if we just sit back and abuse our freedom. We need to fight to keep our freedom. We want to fight to keep our freedom. And we have help in the fight. Remembering how our Savior fought so hard to win our freedom, we now fight hard—with the help of the Holy Spirit—to keep our freedom…


II.    Fight Hard with the Spirit to Keep Your Freedom


That's Paul's point in chapter 5 of Galatians when he writes, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…  13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love."

Some have said that if we don't take the fight to other countries, the fight will come to us here in the United States, just as it did September 11, 2001. War isn't always our choice is it? Often war is thrust upon us and we have no choice, but to fight or lose our freedoms.

Make no mistake, friends. You and I are engaged in a very serious war—a war that has a lot more at stake than your freedoms as a US citizen! This war has a lot more at stake than your life! Eternity in heaven or hell hangs in the balance! This is serious stuff! And the enemy is far worse than a terrorist that infiltrates the ranks and attacks from inside our borders. It's an enemy that attacks within our very selves.

You see each one of us has a sinful nature which will stop at nothing less than to rob us of our freedom in Christ and drag us back to hell! It's a serious battle! Paul says, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." But it will keep coming back day after day. It's a vicious battle where it's kill or be killed! We don't need to reform our sinful nature or simply try to improve. We need to kill it—crucify it again and again. And that's not easy. We need to fight hard.

Sounds tough, right? Well it is! Thank God then that we're not fighting alone! None of us are spiritual Rambos--you know, the guy in the movies who takes on entire armies by himself, wipes out the enemy and saves all the hostages in under two hours. No. We're not like him. We can't do it alone. We need help if we're going to win this fight. And thank God we have it! We have a help that's far more powerful than the enemy of our sinful natures. We have the Holy Spirit.

Paul says, "live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature... if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." And when we live by the Spirit, guided and directed by him, with him as our ally, keeping us focused on Jesus and the freedom that he won for us, we will produce fruits of faith.

Notice while Paul describes what the sinful nature does he calls them acts—things we consciously try to do. But when he talks about what the Spirit does he doesn't call them acts, but fruit. These aren't things we work at. They're natural by-products of being a Christian, of living by the Spirit. Paul says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control."

Of course, there's enough in these two verses for an entire series of sermons (which, I promise I won't try to preach right now… You're welcome). But in contrast to self-serving acts of the sinful-nature, these are the selfless fruit of the Spirit. Loving others as much as we love ourselves, in view of the way our Savior has loved us and freed us from our sin, we can't help but be patient them even when they're on our nerves. We can't help but be kind and good to them, mimicking how kind and good our Savior is to us. We will be faithful to our friends, our spouses (whether the spouse you have now, or future spouse you may someday have). We will be gentle and humble as our Savior was for us. And we will be self-controlled, not sinful-nature-controlled.

We will produce this fruit. And note that it's singular (one fruit, not many). We can't just pick and choose saying, "Well, I'm patient, so I don't need to be kind." No. This is a package deal! We naturally do it all in response to what our Savior's done. And as we do produce this fruit, we wage war against the sinful nature. We fight hard against it! It can't stand when we do these things! And being led by the Holy Spirit in the Word and in the sacraments, as we produce more and more of this fruit, we will win the battle.

Brothers and sisters, you know that freedom isn't free. It comes at a great price. Rejoice that the biggest price has already been paid by our Jesus! Rejoice that the war has already been won for us! "Christ has set us free." And in view of his sacrifice and the freedom that we have by it, even thought you and I may be asked to pay a price to keep our freedom, it's an easy call. Of course we'll fight hard to keep our freedom. So fight hard, friends and don't be burdened again by a yoke of slavery to your sinful nature. But live by the Spirit. Keep in step with the Spirit. Keep fighting the battle and press on! "Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14) Amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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