Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seeing Yourself As Others See You

We see ourselves differently than others see us. If we saw ourselves as others see us we might be embarrassed. We might not even like what we see. A popular talk show host suggested setting up a video recorder by the dinner table and letting it roll for several days. He said that if you watched it you’d be amazed and would probably make an effort to change some of your habits.

It’s important for us to realize that what people see is not necessarily what we think they’re seeing. It would be enormously helpful if we were to have an awareness of how we come across to others.

Not that we should be full of ourselves. In fact, I think one of the reasons we’re so unaware of how we come across is that we are so absorbed in ourselves. This is a dangerous way to live. Jesus shows us that the danger is not only real but also eternal—He says in John 8:34, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

You know how we see in others unkindness or simply immaturity? Odds are, people are seeing the same things in us. Do we really see ourselves for what we are? As slaves to sin?

Jesus shows us who we really are. But then He does something important—He shows us Himself. He shows us His sacrifice for our sin. He shows us His mercy in dying for our guilt, our selfishness, our actions that are much worse than we at times see them for.

He shows us this especially so that we can see ourselves as He sees us. And how is that? Jesus also said: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Yes, we’re slaves to sin, but He has set us free! We are sons in the household of God! We are part of His family forever.

As children in the household of God we are going to be living with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And you know how siblings get along! They’re not always acting in the way they should toward each other.

But we have been set free from acting in accord with our sinful flesh. We have forgiveness. Not only from Christ but forgiveness that we can give to each other.

Then we will not only see each other as fellow human beings but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Then others will actually see Christ in us.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Where Is Help from God?

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Simon and Jude, Apostles
Sunday, October 28, 2007
John 8:31-36

Things bigger than us tend to put things into perspective. When we find ourselves powerless against such a destructive force as a natural disaster or other tragedy we’re humbled a bit. Each time it happens we’re struck by how little we can do. In the seven short years of this millennium we’ve had our share of catastrophe in our nation, with 9/11, Katrina, and in our part of the country our second round of devastating wildfires. The assault on homes, businesses, and, sadly, even several lives was relentless. When you can lose everything in an instant you re-evaluate what is important to you.

Severe strain such as we’ve endured in San Diego and all of Southern California also brings out the best in people. It’s hard to overstate the heroism of the firefighters who have endured extreme conditions to save lives and homes. It’s gratifying to see the thousands of people who have given of their time and gifts to help out those who suddenly found themselves without a home or possessions. We’re thankful that in times of crisis government leaders band together for the common good.

But there’s the other side, too, isn’t there? Twisted people who start fires. Self-indulgent people who loot at others’ expense. Low-lifes who take advantage of people’s desire to give by ripping them off with false charity schemes. It’s a tragedy on top of an already tragic situation.

It’s at times like these we’re looking for ways we can get help. Whether it’s a home if we’ve lost ours. Or some peace of mind in knowing that our loved ones who are in harm’s way are okay and will be able to recover from their losses. Oftentimes, in these situations we look at our immediate needs, and there’s something to that. It’s kind of a natural reflex to make sure we’re taking care of our needs. But there’s also an important need for us to reflect on how we can learn from these kinds of situations.

What I mean is this. The firefighters are showing the model of what is best in humans. But do they act that way in their day to day lives? Are they always ready to sacrifice for others, even in little things? Those who have volunteered and helped out those in need, are they ready and willing to do that when people are not faced with a severe disaster? We say we trust in God, but have we throughout this crisis? Do we in our day to day lives in even small challenges?

This week our state has been facing a crisis. We’re all trying to deal with it and pick up the pieces. We’re being comforted by loved ones and being a comfort to loved ones. We know we’ll get beyond it, like we did four years ago. But we also know it won’t be easy. We do wish, don’t we, that it could be easier? We wish even more that things like this never have to happen. It’s at times like these that we are granted a gift, however.

It’s hard to see in the midst of it. But it’s here and we’d do better to recognize it. It’s the hand of God in the tragedy we experience. It’s in little things that don’t seem so little, with God’s protection given through the lives and actions of brave men and women who fight the fires. It’s in the opportunity God gives us to help those who are in need or are suffering. And those things are wonderful, because they help people where they’re at in their need.

But there’s even something larger that God is doing in all of this. It’s something that we need to know for beyond this time that we’re experiencing. Because life will continue beyond this tragedy. We will go back to living our normal lives with a look toward the Day our Lord returns to deliver us from this at times dismal existence. And how will we live it? Will we go on as we so often do, not recognizing who we are in Christ as we ought?

God gives us a blessing in a way we might not expect. It’s in the sameness of being here. It’s in this place, the House of God, that we receive His blessing. It’s in the things that are done here that we find stability. Our homes may be here today and gone tomorrow. Many have experienced this firsthand or are grieving with those who have. But there is something that cannot be taken away. And that is what we receive here.

What is it? In a word, it is Christ. There’s a reason we come here to God’s House and follow a calendar that does not go by months or years. It is the calendar of the Church Year. And if we don’t see how that applies to us, especially in the midst of our suffering in this moment, then we need to sit back and hear how this gift of God is for us in our time of need. Because this calendar is not like the one you have next to your fridge where you mark down what everyone in the family is doing and when. This is one that marks what Christ has done for you and the world.

There is no more relevant and timely calendar than the one we go by in the Church. Because what Christ has done for the world meets us where we’re at—no matter what is happening to us. The Scripture readings for each Sunday of the Church Year were designated long before we were ever hit with this disaster. And yet, they are more timely than ever.

What does the Church Calendar say to us today? The festival of the Reformation is a celebration of the Gospel. To some it might seem odd to celebrate the Reformation, something that grew out of the actions of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century in Germany. It might even seem out of place when it seems there is the the more pressing matter of coping with the devastation and recovery. But the need is still the same. The Church is always in need of reformation. Why? Because the Church is made up of sinners. God didn’t pick out the people who are free from sin to make up His Holy Church, but sinners. That’s because there are only sinners in this world. We may experience different degrees of tragedy but we’re all in the same boat in our sinfulness.

This might not seem all that earth-shattering. It might seem like a dull theological point that’s better thought about when we’re not facing such dark days as we are now with all the devastation. But it couldn’t be more pertinent! God takes us where we’re at! Even while we were sinners Christ died for us! Even though the inferno that blazes around us is seemingly unstoppable, God looks down on us in mercy and lifts us up. Christ suffered the fire of eternal torment on our behalf. We are sinners who stand before God forgiven.

One of the problems we have as human beings, and as Christians, is that we tend to be shortsighted. Right now we’re caught up in the emotion and exhaustion of what we’ve all gone through and are still experiencing. And that’s understandable, and even good. We need that. But we also need to look ahead. Jesus was talking in the Gospel reading to those who believed in Him. And yet, they didn’t like what they heard from Him. That’s troubling.

What they were questioning Him about doesn’t relate to what we’re going through, but isn’t the intent the same? To question God? Haven’t we had moments where we’ve wondered why God is allowing us to suffer in such a way as we have this past week? And don’t we so often want to look at the good that is within us that shines through in moments like these so that we can feel good that there’s still hope in this world? Isn’t the last thing we want to hear today the message that we are sinners? Isn’t what we want to hear comfort and good things about ourselves in the midst of all the bad that we’ve experienced?

We don’t want to hear Jesus’ judgment upon us as sinners because we don’t want to admit that we’re no better than those who have gone before us, but Jesus’ message to us is the same: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” If we think we’ve had it rough with what we’ve gone through this past week and simply want relief from that, we are terribly shortsighted. Jesus wants to give you relief from so much more!

We will recover from the fires. But how will we be delivered from our slavery to sin? Jesus said: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Just as we pray God to deliver us from the fires we especially pray Him to deliver us from our sin. What He does is send a flood. It doesn’t look like a flood, but it drowns us just the same. In Baptism we are dead to sin and raised to new life in Christ, free and in the House of God forever.

Those who were spared the loss of their homes helped out those who were forced from their homes or even lost their homes. They offered comfort, food, a place to sleep. That’s what Jesus does to us. He offers us Himself. He gave Himself not just to save us from a natural disaster but eternal damnation. He endured the fire of God’s eternal judgment on sinners. He suffered on the cross to become sin so that we may be free, a member of God’s Household. He feeds us with His very body and blood given and shed for us for our forgiveness.

Where is help from God? Here at His Table. Here you receive His forgiveness. Here He sets you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Amen.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

How to Pray

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Luke 18:1-8

I’ve always admired those people who say straight out that they don’t know how to pray. There’s good Biblical precedent for this. What request did the disciples come to Jesus with? “Lord, teach us to pray.” And what does Paul say? “We don’t know how to pray as we ought.” I suppose it’s kind of depressing that we don’t even know how to pray. But it’s also a very freeing experience. It’s a relief to know that even as we are unable to do it of our own ability, the Triune God is the one who makes it possible for us to pray.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray He gave them the Lord’s Prayer. When the apostle Paul said that we don’t even know how to pray as we ought he didn’t leave us without comfort but told us that the Spirit intercedes for us with groans which words cannot express. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells a parable where He teaches us that we should be persistent. We shouldn’t give up.

His parable is striking—He compares God with a pagan. Jesus shows us that no matter what, God is going to hear our prayer. The judge in Jesus’ parable heard the widow every time even though he didn’t do anything about it. So God hears us every time even though it may seem like He doesn’t do anything about it. And just as the judge finally got tired of the widow’s pleas and granted her request God will give us what we need when we persist in our plea.

This sounds great, doesn’t it? If we’re persistent enough God will grant us our heart’s desire! If we don’t give up, God will give us whatever we ask for! So does this mean that we haven’t been persistent enough? Is this why God hasn’t answered all our prayers in the way we have asked for? That could be part of it. But the Bible makes clear that He doesn’t give us everything we ask for or always in the way we want it. Our desires are tainted by our sinful flesh and He’s not going to give us something we ask for that’s actually damaging to us.

Jesus isn’t just teaching us to be persistent. He wants us to be persistent in God’s Word. His closing words are chilling: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Isn’t it easy to get lackadaisical? If there is the possibility of losing faith we’re more inclined to be vigilant and not take lightly the Word of God.

So to the Word of God we go. This is where He teaches us to pray. The words of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray—they are His Words. The Psalms are words He inspired to be written. Don’t rely on your own words when you pray. You can pray using your own words, of course. But don’t rely on them. Especially when you have the very words of God at your disposal. He knows a lot better what you need to pray for than you do. Go to the Scriptures themselves.

When you pray the Lord’s Prayer you don’t just have to pray it straight through. You can meditate on each petition. Think on each one. Pray to God to help you understand each one. Read and meditate on each portion of the Lord’s Prayer with the meanings in the Catechism.

The great portion of the Scriptures for prayer is the Psalms. Pray the Psalms. You can do one a day or some other pattern. You can read a Psalm and have that be your prayer, or read it verse by verse and meditate on each verse.

The key in all this is that we want to pray according to God’s will and in going to the Scriptures we are being guided by Him as to His will. The Word of God itself is where we find God’s will. So we need to read the Scriptures. The more we get into the Word of God the more He will form our prayers and our minds will be conformed to His will.

We too often take the Word of God for granted. He has given us His very Word. Do we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it? One of the reasons we don’t get into the Word as much as we ought is that it’s a daunting prospect. It’s long and some of it is tough to understand. But there is a way to help us navigate the Word of God as well as take it to heart. The Christian Church in its wisdom drew up the Catechism over the years. We Lutherans tend to think of the Catechism as the writing of Martin Luther. But Luther just took the Catechism that had already existed for about 1500 years and wrote meanings to each portion. When Luther came along the Catechism consisted of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. These three teachings are the essence of the Christian faith.

But the Christian Church didn’t have the Catechism just to learn and memorize, but to pray. Luther talked about praying the Catechism. In our daily prayers we don’t have to limit ourselves just to the Lord’s Prayer. In praying the Ten Commandments we learn repentance. In praying the Apostles’ Creed we learn faith. And in praying the Lord’s Prayer we learn holy living. The reason this is the case is that each part is not the writing of Luther, or any other man. It is the Word of God. The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer are directly out of the Bible. The Apostles’ Creed is also Scriptural, with each phrase taken from or based directly on the Bible. When we pray the Catechism we’re praying the Word of God!

Or we can put it another way. When Jesus is talking about prayer He’s doing nothing other than laying out the life of the Christian. The life of the Christian is a life of prayer. Prayer is us saying back to God what He has said to us. We go to His Word to be formed by Him in what we say.

The life of prayer begins when He Baptizes us. Anna is only a few days old and the sounds that come out of her mouth are not intelligible speech. That’s because she’s unable to to use reason. But she is living the life of prayer even as we are. Because prayer is all about hearing and receiving the Word of God and responding back to God with that very same Word. When the apostle Paul exhorted us Christians to pray constantly, he wasn’t just talking to adult Christians, but to Baptized Christians. We should have no more incomprehension at how Anna can pray constantly than we should about ourselves praying constantly.

Prayer can become ritualistic. We sometimes go through the motions. That’s why we need the Word of God. His Words are living, breathing expressions of His will. Baptism isn’t just a ritual either. It’s not a magic wand over a person in which now they’re good to go. It’s a one time event but a life-long growth in the Christian faith. It’s very much like our physical birth. When you’re born you have life. But that life left alone will quickly be snuffed out. A baby needs to be fed and nurtured. That’s how the baby grows and is sustained in its new life. Baptism is new life that has no end. That’s why we take it so seriously with the vows that Alan and Kristen took this morning in the Baptism of little Anna. They promised to instill in their daughter the Scriptures. They promised to continue to bring her here to the place where she has been Baptized, the place where the Word that was connected to the water of her Baptism continues to forgive her and sustain her.

In Jesus’ little parable this morning we see what a remarkable God we have. If Jesus has the guts to compare God with a man who cares nothing for God or men we know that there’s more to this God than meets the eye. He’s a God who’s not afraid to step out over the edge to draw us in. When Anna was Baptized this morning it was as if God was reaching down to her right where she is. And now, not only are all her sins washed away, she is raising up prayers to her gracious God!

Right now, from what we can hear, Anna is busy making cute sounds; and even some that are not so cute! As she grows, she’ll find as we all do that it’s tough living in this world. And that it’s tough being a Christian. And on top of all that, we don’t even know how to pray as we ought. But we can take heart. Not only in the Word of God, the Bible, but in the Word made flesh—Jesus Christ. He knows what we’re going through. He Himself suffered. And His prayers ascended to His Heavenly Father. He prayed that His Heavenly Father’s will would be done.

The Good News for us is that it was! Jesus Christ did suffer and die on the cross for the sin of the world. He has given us His eternal salvation in Baptism. He delivers us from all evil and into His eternal Kingdom. Amen.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Very Practical Question

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Luke 17:11-19

For those who pay attention to sermon titles, you’re probably wondering what the “very practical question” is that we’re met with in today’s Gospel reading. It is this:

What do we do?

There are Christians who ask this all the time. For some, it’s the main thing they’re concerned with. Some want to know what we need to do in order to be saved. Others emphasize this aspect: now that God has saved us, what do we do? Lutherans get uncomfortable with talk of what we do. Isn’t it about what Christ has done for us? Aren’t we to focus on the works of Christ and not on what we do?

But are we Lutherans playing fast and loose with the Words of God in the Holy Bible? Doesn’t today’s Gospel reading show us that we play a part in our salvation? The lepers cried out to Jesus. Can we deny that that was an action on their part? They also did what Jesus told them to do, go to the priests. Isn’t this something they were doing? And then of course we have the one leper who praised and thanked Jesus. Those were actions on his part, were they not? And Jesus commends him for them, does He not? Conversely, He questions why the others didn’t. Shouldn’t that tell us that we ought to do those things? And then there’s the clincher: Jesus statement to the man, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.” This is pretty clear, isn’t it, that it’s the man’s faith that saved him? And Paul himself says that we are justified by faith.

Well let’s take a look at exactly what those lepers did so that we can find the answer to our question, “What do we do?” Let’s look at what Jesus shows us as the way so that we may know what it is we are to do.

It may seem like it’s just a detail, a part of the account of Jesus and the ten lepers, but it’s telling that the episode begins with Jesus Himself. Luke inspired by the Holy Spirit is telling us straight off that this account, and what we are to gain from it, is about Jesus. It’s not just an account about the lepers. It’s first and foremost about Christ. He was the one who entered the village. He sought out those lepers. They didn’t do anything to meet Him. He entered into their wretched lives.

One thing we can’t know is what was going through their minds or what was in their hearts. But that’s the way it is with everybody. We shouldn’t read into the words they spoke to Jesus, but we can see them for what they are as recorded in the Word of God. They are words the Holy Spirit inspired to Luke to set down on paper. And for what reason? To show us that they wanted help? Could be. Very possible, even. But could it also mean that their words as Luke has recorded them point us to something greater than deliverance from leprosy? After all, was Jesus entering that village only for the sake of those ten lepers? Or also for you and me? And even for everyone? After all, did they not have a greater need than their leprosy? Did they not have the same need that we all have, which is deliverance from sin? Is their cry for mercy really just a request for deliverance from their leprosy?

We wouldn’t be able to empathize with those poor men. The condition they lived in was horrible. But whether they knew it or not, it was the condition of their soul that gave them their greatest need. Here were men that weren’t able to carry out an ordinary life. How do you think they felt? Ostracized? Left for dead? Do you think they wanted more than anything to be delivered from their miserable condition? Not only did they endure pain and suffering from their skin condition, they experienced loss of community and friendship because they weren’t allowed in the everyday life of society.

None of us here suffers from the horrible disease of leprosy as those men did. But we can look around and see the effects of sin, can’t we? There are plenty of people in the world suffering from some ugly diseases; some in our own neighborhoods. Some of us ourselves are facing severe illnesses or medical conditions. Is there anything we long for more than relief from that pain and emotional turmoil? I’m sure the lepers would scoff at the notion that we share the same condition they did, but we can in fact identify with those men. That’s because we are diseased not on our skin but in our heart. Our sinful flesh is rotting ourselves away. We are just as much in need of crying out for mercy to Christ as they were.

Here we learn a very important thing about what we do, since that’s our question of the day. What does Jesus direct them to do? Go show themselves to the priests. And what do they do? Exactly what Jesus tells them to do. It’s not what saved them from their leprosy, of course, it’s the Word of Christ that He spoke. But nevertheless, they obey His Word and go. All, that is, but the one. He came back. He had something else he needed to do, even though Jesus was clear in His command. The Samaritan came back to praise God and give thanks to Jesus.

It is in this that we see there is nothing we can do. It appears the lepers are doing all this doing. But whereas the nine go to the priests to get that work done Jesus had talked about the one can’t see anything but the mercy that has been poured out upon him. Whereas the nine are busy with the question, “What do we do?” the one is filled up with relief, gratitude, and thanksgiving. The priests will have to wait, because Jesus is the source of salvation, of life, of healing, of mercy. This one man realized there was indeed nothing He could do—Christ had done it all! That there is indeed no sense anymore in trying to figure what can or should be done when the one who is crying out for mercy is crying out for mercy because he is unable to do anything to save himself!

I wonder why Jesus made a big deal about the nine? Was it because He wanted everyone to know they blew it and others should learn from their ungratefulness? Or was it because they had asked for mercy and really missed the point of it—to bask in it! To stand and be awash in the renewing flood of His compassion, grace, and salvation! To not be caught up in what it is they felt they were constrained to do!

That’s what Jesus is getting at when He tells the man that He may go in peace, that his faith has saved him. Jesus here shows us what faith is all about. That our answer to our question “What do we do?” is not about what we do but completely about what Christ has done for us. Here we come to the crux of the matter. The word “crux” comes from the word “cross”, and that my friends is the crux of the matter—the cross. Where does Jesus meet us? The cross. Where is our cry for mercy met? The cross. Where does our faith save us? The cross. The cross saves us. Christ saves us.

What do we do? Receive His forgiveness. It is given to us. We are met by Him. Here we are in life when Jesus comes to our village. We stand afar off. Dare we come to Him? Can we? But what does He do? He cleanses us. He Baptizes us, removing the sin that clings to our flesh as the leprosy clung to the lepers’ flesh. Our cry for mercy reaches His ears and ours are met with His Word, “Take, eat, this is My body, given for you. Take, drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

What do we do? Thank God He has done it all in His Son Jesus Christ! Amen.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Raising the Bar

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Luke 17:1-10

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading have something for everyone. If you’re a lazy bum and think being a Christian is a cakewalk, then Jesus’ message for you is: Get of your duff and act like a servant of the Most High God. For those of you who are enterprising, up to a challenge, and don’t want to sit around on your duff all day, Jesus’ message to you is: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If you think it’s hard being a Christian then you’re right.

He starts off innocuously enough, stating something we all know to be true: unfortunately, temptations will come. We’re all tempted. But His point here is not in how to stand up under those temptations. He’s here giving a warning. They’re going to come—but you’d better not be the source of them!

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to look at others and see where they fall short. It’s easy to judge them. But each of us needs to watch ourselves. Yes, we should be concerned if others are causing people to sin. But we dare not think that we don’t fall into this category. And even more so, that we shouldn’t think it’s not a big deal. Jesus doesn’t say here, It’s better if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea than that you should cause one of these little ones to lose their faith. That would indeed be tragic and you should rightly see the severity of it with a severe judgment upon yourself. His statement is even more severe than that! If you even cause one of them to sin!

There’s no room here for error! Jesus doesn’t deal in, well, what you did wasn’t that bad, so don’t sweat it. Do you so blithely go on with how you act and what you say when others may fall into sin because of your actions or your words? How often do you interpret others’ actions in the worst possible light rather than the best? How often do you assume selfish motives in others rather than innocent ones? Be fearful—because if you’re not now, you will be when it will be too late. There’s a reason Jesus is telling us these words after His parable of the rich man who found himself in hell for eternity. Jesus will not stand idly by while we cause children or the young in faith to sin. We ought not to either. We must be much more aware of how we act and what we say and how it affects others. There are eternal consequences at stake. We must not think that others must not be so sensitive or easily offended. We must be circumspect in how we act and what we say.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Even when we’re cut to the heart we look for things within us that we can take comfort in. We are convinced we’re not all that bad. So the next words of Jesus come as sweet music to our sore ears: “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” Blessed Jesus doesn’t even say, if he sins against you. He just says, if he sins. Now this is a role we can see ourselves in. We see a lot of sinners out there. A lot of people doing a lot of things they shouldn’t do, living in ways they shouldn’t live. They need to be rebuked, and we’re the ones to do it! Jesus here is right on the mark. We are the ones to go to those wretched sinners and rebuke the daylights out of them. Get them to see their sin. How utterly in the wrong they are in living in ways that Christians ought not to live.

But Jesus here is not talking about those other people. He’s talking about you. He’s raising the bar. He’s not giving you a way to get your kicks. Paul tells us in the letter to the Galatians that when we call others to repentance we must take heed to ourselves so that we don’t fall into sin. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a Pharisee. To see the sin in others but not in yourself. To appoint yourself as the one to remove the speck in another’s eye while not seeing the log that is in your own.

Are you to rebuke? Yes, Jesus makes that clear. But we shouldn’t get all excited, because the purpose is not to bring shame upon the person. It’s to bring the person to repentance. That’s why we must do this in humility. Who needs to repent but us? Who are we to rebuke when we, ourselves, are in need of rebuke? Jesus’ next words show us just how much in need of that we are. What do we do when the person repents? We are to forgive him. We’re not supposed to psychoanalyze him. Give him advice. Remind him of how damaging what he did was. Forgive. See him as one who has not committed the sin.

Is this easy to do? Not when what they did is still lingering in our memory. Not when we still deal with the effects of what they did. Not when the Pharisee in us still holds on to the notion that what they did really was far worse than what we ourselves do. Not when we want to hold a grudge against them. Why does Jesus tell us to forgive? Because it’s not what we would first want to do. How did Jesus teach us to pray? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If you’re like me, you love the first part and kind of gloss over the second part. But especially those two words, “as we”. Our prayer is for God to forgive us. But does Jesus’ prayer stop there? Nope. Forgive us as we forgive others. Forgive us in the same way we forgive others. Do we want God to hold a grudge against us? Then why are we holding a grudge against others? Do we want God to remind us of exactly how wrong we were in what we did? Then why do we do that to others?

Okay, so we ought to be more forgiving. I can forgive someone once. After all, God is merciful to me. But some of these people don’t know when to quit. We forgive and they sin against us again. When is enough enough? Two times? Three? Four? Nope, again and again. Even seven times in one day. It would probably seem ridiculous to keep forgiving a person for sinning against you that many times in one day. But isn’t that what we do against God? Have you ever gone a day and sinned against Him fewer times than that?

There’s no way for us to attain to the level Jesus has raised for us. We can’t measure up to the standard He has set for us. What can we do? The disciples seemed to see their helplessness in what their Lord was calling them to. They cried out, “Increase our faith!” That’s really all we can hope for. It’s really our only hope. But what does Jesus say, what kind of hope does He give us? “Hey, look what you’ll be able to do—you can say to a tree, ‘Be uprooted.’” And then, even more spectacularly, “Be planted in the sea.” There’s no possible way you could do that without faith. So Jesus says all you need is just a little; say, like a mustard seed.

But wait a minute, we have faith don’t we? And we still can’t do what He said we could do if we had the faith of a simple seed. So that means we have even less than that? Yes, we’re really that pathetic. And yet our cry continues to go out to our Lord, “Increase our faith!” And you know what? It’s enough. It’s enough because God never gives in short supply. What seems little to us is abundant in the measure of God. We don’t need faith that fills the whole world. We just need faith. When God gives us faith, it’s what we need. It’s how much we need. He sustains us.

What does the master do after the servants have had a long day of work? “Here, take your shoes off. Sit up at my table so you can rest and be fed. In fact, let’s switch! I’ll feed you!” Of course not. If he did, the servants might think their master is out of his mind. They might think it’s too good to be true. They would most certainly think that they could never expect such a grand gift from their master. In an amazing reversal, this is exactly what Jesus does. He is the Master. We are His servants. We are to do what He has called us to do. We should not expect for Him to serve us. And yet, He does. He wraps the towel around His waist. He washes our feet. He the Master becomes the servant. We the servants are served by the Master.

Jesus has not only raised the bar for us, He Himself was raised up on the bar of the cross. The Judgment Seat where the sins of the world were dealt with. The great reversal. The Lord Himself receiving the punishment all deserve for every one of their sins. For every word and action that falls short of the bar Jesus has set. He became as the one who is guilty, though He Himself is innocent.

Jesus didn’t come to tell you to get your act together. He came to suffer and die in your place. He came not to be served but to serve. He prepares for you His rich banquet of love, mercy, and grace. The waters of Your Baptism overflow into every hour of your life to sustain you in the forgiveness He first brought upon you in that Baptism. His body given and blood shed on the cross are given to you once again each time you come to this altar. What He says here is indeed for you. And what He gives you—Himself—is indeed in abundance, for He cannot give less than Himself fully and freely. Amen.