Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jesus Is Always on the Way

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Cyril of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor
June 27, 2010
Luke 9:51-62

Jesus never looks back. He’s always looking forward. He’s always on the way. God doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen, He makes things happen. He’s not counting on us to get it together, He’s bringing about what needs to happen to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

What is that? Salvation. Restoration. He doesn’t want us to just to make it through life, He wants us to experience abundant life. He pours out all the wealth of His eternal blessings upon us and we too often miss them because we’re setting our eyes only on what is in front of us instead of what lies ahead.

I think too often we think of God as “up there.” As “out there.” He’s above everything and removed from everything but we’re down here in the trenches, in the thick of problems, sins, temptations, suffering, confusion. Does He understand what we’re going through? Does He care? Will He help us in our difficulties? Will He clear up our confusion?

Our problem is that we’re stuck. We’re stuck on ourselves. Instead of seeing an opportunity to help someone who’s in need we see someone who is disturbing us and is a burden on our time. While we could see others as people who are loved by God so much that Christ paid for all their sins, we too often are annoyed with them when they waste our time or don’t do things the way we’d like them to. Instead of realizing that God blessed us with many blessings in this life we wish for those things we don’t have but would like to have. We aren’t going forward into abundant life because we’re stuck on ourselves.

Jesus says in our Gospel reading: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” We are not fit for the Kingdom of God. We look back. Like Lot’s wife, we long for what we left behind when we thought we could live without God. We don’t want to go forward. We want to stay right where we’re at. Yeah, we’ll serve God, but we want to do it on our own terms. That’s why we look back. That’s why we long for the fulfilling of our own desires rather than the things God gives us in our lives as opportunities to serve others.

We should understand Jesus’ statement—“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”—this way: everyone who puts his hand to the plow looks back and therefore is not fit for the Kingdom of God. None of us serves God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. We all look back. We all wonder what it would be like to be free of the constraints of God. We are not fit for the Kingdom of God.

There is one who is though. Jesus alone has put His hand to the plow and has not looked back. He alone is fit for the Kingdom of God. It’s because He’s God, of course. But it’s also because He is always on the way. Particularly, He is on the way of the cross. He is always moving forward, not looking back. In the Gospel reading He sets His face to go to Jerusalem. It is there He will go to the cross, and He knows it. But that is the specific reason He sets His face toward it. He is moving toward it because it is there He will pay for the sins of the world. It is there He will accomplish the task of being the servant of the world. He is always on the way toward this.

When there are some who would deter Him from that destination He will have none of it. He will continue to go forward. It is the same today. We preach Christ crucified. There is no other name under heaven by which people will be saved. So we continue to preach Him and Him alone. We continue to preach the cross, the one crucified for the sins of the world. When there are some who would deter us from that we continue to move forward, not looking back to a message that is kinder and gentler. A message that doesn’t tell people of their sins and that they are under the eternal wrath of God. A message that substitutes the cross for possibility thinking or simply all the ways you are good in and of yourself. Jesus saves people through this one thing, the Gospel. Not through anything they do or appeal to. The cross is where Jesus was headed and it is the cross we still preach today, no matter how many people reject it.

And when there are some who are on the way with Jesus who would rain down fire from heaven upon those wretched people who would have nothing of the Gospel, Jesus is just as insistent that they are seeking to prevent Him from being on His way as those wretched people were. James and John were the ones Luke tells us who were rebuked by Jesus. Interestingly, he says nothing about those Samaritans being rebuked.

One of the things the kids love the most about VBS is the skits. They’re simple and they’re silly, but they’re also meant to drive home a point. The point, as you probably guessed, is the Gospel. But the more we learn of the Gospel the more we learn that it’s not just Jesus died for you so you can rest assured that you’ll be in heaven. It is so much fuller and greater than that! One particular line and response that really struck me in the skits this past week was when the Queen Bee asked the hive manager why Christians don’t just stay safely in the Church where there is peace and security. The bees would be much more comfortable in the safety of the hive. The response given to the Queen was that there are a lot of people in the world who do not know of the peace and security of being in the Church so we who do know of it go out and tell them the Good News. We are not free to blast people out of the water. If they seek to deter the Church from the proclamation of the Gospel we don’t call down curses upon them but more ardently make known to them the Gospel. Anything less and we will be the ones who are rebuked by Jesus.

This is how we follow Jesus, by being on the way with Him. He is always on the way, because He is constantly bringing us out of being stuck in our own sinful prison. We want to follow Him but we don’t want to leave the hive. One person said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” It’s scandalous to think of God as not having a place of His own but Jesus willingly lays aside His own comfort and security, having no place to lay His head, so that we may rest in the eternal mansions He prepares for us. On the cross Jesus was out in the cold. No one there to help Him or bring Him out of His misery. No one to placate the wrath of God upon Him. He alone took the path to the cross and received the full brunt of eternal damnation so that we will not be left out on the Last Day.

To one person Jesus said, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” We are so ready to serve and follow our Lord. We don’t say no to Him. We say yes. But how pathetic are we that we can’t just simply leave it at that. Yes, Lord, I will follow You. I will go on the way with You. I will walk the way of the cross as You did. Instead it’s, Yes, I’ll follow You Lord …right after I take care of some important things. And note that these are truly important things. There aren’t many more important things in the eyes of God than being able to have a proper burial for your father. But we are so wrapped up in ourselves that even these godly things come before God Himself rather than the other way around. Following Jesus means going the way of the cross, not taking care of what we need to take care of and then getting around to following Him.

We want to look back. We want to follow Him on our own terms, not simply as He has called us to. Jesus simply says, Follow Me. Walk the way of the cross. He is always on the way. He’s never going back. He wasn’t deterred then and He won’t be now. You might wonder how it is that He still walks this way of the cross when He has already done it and it is the one time sacrifice for all time. He is never to suffer and die again. How is He still always on the way when the way He is always on is the way of the cross?

It is because it is always about the cross. We preach Christ crucified. We don’t preach Christ who tells us how we should live. We don’t preach Christ who tells us that He loves us because we sure are trying hard, and at any rate we’re not nearly as bad as some. We don’t preach Christ who is one of many ways of thinking about God who is not bound up in only one religion. The cross is what we preach.

Christ continues to be on the way because whereas from the moment He was born He was on the way to suffer on the cross, from the moment He rose from the grave He has been on the way to delivering Himself to you. He is not interested in the spectacular, the emotional, the convincing. He is interested in simply bringing to you Himself. That’s why He’s always on the way. Always coming to you in the proclamation of the Gospel. Always united with you as you have been Baptized into a death like His and a resurrection like His. Always bringing into your mouth Himself, His Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Just as He set His face toward Jerusalem back then He sets His face toward you today. He was on the way to Jerusalem back then, walking the path to the cross. He is on the way today, working through His Gospel and His Sacraments to forgive you, delivering to you in them what He accomplished on the cross and by rising from the grave. He needs no place to lay His head, He’s God. But He’s not interested in rest anyway, just the rest He gives to you in your Baptism and in His Holy Supper. He never looks back, He’s always looking out for you, sustaining you in His grace, lavishing His mercy upon you.

After all, wasn’t it on the cross, the place where He set His face, where He said, “It is finished”? What was accomplished there is for all time and eternity. In the proclamation of the Gospel, in your Baptism, as you partake of His Body and Blood in His Holy Meal, eternity is brought to you at a moment in time for all of time. It’s because He never tires of loving you, forgiving you, saving you. He’s always on the way, He being the very way, truth, and life. Amen.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Does Doctrine REALLY Matter?

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2010
Luke 8:26-39

What goes through your mind when you hear the word ‘doctrine’? Rigid? Outdated? Not relevant?

We Lutherans are big on doctrine, aren’t we? We will talk with other Christians and they’ll explain to us that we believe what we do because we have our doctrine. They’ll exhort us to be open to the Spirit’s leading. We can’t be bound by certain teachings, God is perfectly capable of working beyond rigid boundaries. There’s much more to the Christian life than doctrine.

When you hear this you may find yourself agreeing. God is powerful. He isn’t bound by doctrine. We shouldn’t impose doctrine on the words of the Bible. Even if they’re our precious Lutheran doctrines.

Isn’t it the Law that binds us and the Gospel that frees us? But we want to be free on our terms. That is what binds us. We cannot break those chains. The man in the Gospel reading was strong enough to break the chains that bound him, but it was an other-worldly strength. It came from demons. We don’t have strength on our own to do this. But the other-worldly strength enabled him by the demons was strength that could break only chains. It could not break down the walls that separated this man from God. Even though he was possessed by demons, in distinction to you and me, he was bound in the same way you and I are in our sin.

The man was bound even as he was able to break the chains that bound him. He was not truly free. He was isolated from the community. He was tormented not only by demons but by a life in which his sin burdened his heart and mind. The man was not in control, the demons had control over him.

What breaks the bonds of his prison is the presence and word of Jesus. What the Bible is teaching us here is that Jesus has power over what controls us. Demons, sin, whatever. The word that Jesus has is the word of authority. Jesus is God and God speaks with authority. It begins and ends with Him. If you break the law and the judge hands down a sentence you may not like it. You may disagree with it. You may think it’s unfair. You may try to think of ways you can get out of the sentence. But you are bound by it. You are under the authority of the word spoken by the judge. He has no more standing under the law than you do, but when he speaks as a judge he speaks with authority that binds you. This is the way it is with God. When He speaks we are bound by what He says. Whether we agree, disagree, like, or dislike.

If you’d just as soon not go according to the word of God as He has set it forth in the Bible, you are still bound by it. But you are also now bound to a different doctrine. It is the doctrine of man. It is the doctrine that wants control.

The account of the man who was demon-possessed in our Gospel reading may seem irrelevant for us in our day. At least in our culture. I haven’t yet run across someone who is demon possessed, at least not that I was aware of. I don’t know if you have, but even if you have, I think we’d all agree here that it’s not a common thing here in the U.S.

What happens in this account is what happens today. What Jesus did then He does today. The names and details may have changed, but what’s going on is what we deal with today. A movie might portray the frightening nature of demon-possession but you still go away from it not getting a full sense of it because you don’t deal with it. You don’t know what it’s like, I don’t know what it’s like. That man did. The people back then did. They lived in a world where it was dangerous. A man could be roaming the streets and there was no telling what he might do. If you tried to prevent him from harming someone or causing havoc by binding him in chains and he snapped them off like toy handcuffs you could only hope and pray he would do as he did and remain outside the city limits, isolated from civilized society.

We wouldn’t want to walk out our front door and wonder if we’ll face a crazed man due to demon possession. But have we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security because we know something like that probably won’t happen? The world we live in may very well be more dangerous than it was back then. But I’m not talking about predators on the loose, which does happen every so often today. I’m talking about what Jesus is combating in today’s Gospel reading. He’s not trying to disarm a crazy man. He’s coming to engage in battle with Satan. A man may break into your house and hold you at gunpoint, but he can’t take your soul. Satan can. Continuing in unrepentant sin can. Fleeing the gifts of Christ can.

We live in a world today where false doctrine is rampant. I know, it sounds silly. But if it sounds scary to live in a world where people who are demon possessed can roam freely through the streets and there’s no telling what they might do, reset your thinking. False doctrine reigning free in the world, having a hold in your life, is the greater terror we face.

There are things you see and things you don’t. What you see tends to seem more relevant than what you don’t. If you see a crazy man on the loose you should be rightfully scared. If you’re not aware that the man is demon possessed you won’t be aware of the true nature of the severity of the situation. What demons can do to a person is much worse than what a person can do to harm you physically. Since you can’t see false doctrine it doesn’t appear all that harmful. But it’s deadly. It destroys the soul.

This doesn’t mean that if you’re talking with someone and they speak something that doesn’t jive with the Bible that they’re going to hell. Believing that itself is false doctrine. But false doctrine is insidious. It takes a hold of you and binds you in spiritual chains.

What do we want? We want a life as a Christian that has immediate results when the going gets tough. We want God’s power to break through in the midst of trial and temptation. We want to see the demons driven away just as they were two thousand years ago—very apparent, very real, very visible. Very relevant.

But it’s not so, is it? We know God does not operate this way today. Talk to the person who drives to the hospital every day to visit his six year old daughter who is struggling mightily against her cancer but whose body will eventually succumb to it. Talk to the man who was active and lived a fulfilled life in which he did so much good to help others but who is now depressed and feeling all alone in this world because he has lost his sight due to a wrong diagnosis. Talk to someone who has just become a Christian and the newfound joy in her life only to find that her husband is now leaving her. Talk to the woman who has been raped and is struggling with a God who tells us He is loving but is having a very hard time reconciling what a man did to her and a God who reveals Himself to us as a ‘He’. Talk to the person who has worked hard his whole life to get where he’s at in his career only to find that he’s now out of a job because the economy can’t sustain his position. Talk to the man who knows God loves him but is battling depression, not because he’s moody but because he’s suffering from a chemical imbalance. Talk to the mother who cannot seem to balance everything going on in her life with all the demands placed upon her, all the frustrations she has to deal with, and a schedule that never seems to let up. Talk to the father who desperately wants to live in a God-pleasing way but encounters every day temptations that seek to pull him away from God and he’s getting weaker and weaker, praying to God for strength that seems to be fading and fading.

Look in the mirror. Face the demons in your own life. What plagues you? How are you bound? When you look at God, who do you see? Do you see a personal God who sweeps into your life just when you need it to deliver you or do you see a divine being who is far off; powerful but irrelevant?

You and I are bound just as that demon-possessed man was. Is what we struggle with really easier than what that man lived with? We are in the world just as he was. This is the domain of Satan. We are living in a dangerous place, where the devil’s main weapon is false doctrine.

The doctrine of the world, of our own hearts, of Satan himself, says that when you have to struggle as all the people I described then you don’t have much of a god. That’s deadly. That will land you in hell without repentance. The doctrine we hold to says that we’re just not trying hard enough, we’re not trusting in God enough, we must do a better job of being faithful to Him, so that we can then be blessed by Him. This doctrine ultimately leaves you in despair. You will truly be on your own, you will have separated yourself from God. False doctrine binds you in your sin and your separation from God as surely as the demons bound that man.

The Bible counters this false doctrin with true doctrine. It tells us exactly what’s what. We are bound. We are unable to free ourselves. From our sin. From our corrupted hearts. From our ineffective efforts to free ourselves from our bondage. From the walls that separate us from God. And true doctrine tells us what’s what with God. He frees us. He drives away the demons that plague us. The demons that continue to say that we can do it on our own. If we just try harder. If we’re just more faithful. If we just trust God more. If only we will do what God wants then we can be freed from our plight.

God in His Word tells us that He alone does that. He alone drives away the demons; He frees us from our bondage. He comes into your life and Baptizes you. Doesn’t sound all that spectacular? Not all that relevant? Just think about this, when Jesus did do a spectacular thing, driving demons out of a man, restoring the man to where he was no longer a plague on society, the people were scared. They wanted Jesus gone.

That’s what true doctrine tells us. When Jesus acts—in the way He does it—people retreat. They want Him to leave because they want things done their way. Baptism? Great, but what does it do for me today when I’m struggling with sin? How does it help me when I’m at odds with my neighbor? The Lord’s Supper? Wonderful, but how does His body and blood give me the help I need when I just got notice that I’m losing my job?

When Jesus walked the earth He gave direct healing to people. He immediately delivered them from demons. He even brought people forth from the grave. He’s not walking around today doing those things as He did back then. Often we pray for healing and our loved ones get worse, sometimes even dying. There are miraculous recoveries from illness at times, but much of the time we don’t have anything like what happened when Jesus was around to physically touch a person, to speak in their hearing and provide immediate relief from whatever ailed the person.

But He does provide. Think about it, Jesus did those miraculous things two thousand years ago, but He didn’t do it for very long. It was actually for only three years, most of the other thirty years of His life spent either going to school or carrying out the trade of carpenter. And not only did He spend only about three years in His ministry in which He accomplished many miraculous healings, but He also spent those three years in a very small area in this great wide world. For all the people He healed, there were thousands, even millions, who received no such deliverance. A lot like today. False doctrine would say, What kind of a god is that? True doctrine says, God doing it this way is the best way. Not for Him, for us.

Doctrine is what you hold to. It is what you believe. You either hold to your own or you let the Bible have its say. You let it determine what is true and what you believe. It brings to the forefront the most miraculous thing of all. The thing that matters most. The one who with a word drove demons from a man is the very one who is Himself the Word made flesh. The one who suffered in intensity beyond what the demon-possessed man could have ever imagined. The one who carried all the demons in your life to His grave. The one who bore all your sins and guilt upon Himself. This is the truth that drives out false doctrine. It matters because false doctrine is our default position and separates us from God. His default position is mercy toward us. True doctrine carries us through when we are at a loss in how we’re going to get through.

You can hold on to the truth that you are Baptized. You are in God’s eternal care because He has said it. He has made it so. He has saved you in Baptism and sustains you in the Holy Supper of our Lord. These are the things that you can count on each day and forever. Amen.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Do You Know Who You Are?

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2010
Luke 7:36—8:3

The Pharisee knows himself. He is worthy. He is a good man and rests assured in his worthiness and therefore is confident of his salvation. But he also knows who this woman is, or at least what kind of woman she is. She was obviously not a person of moral character.

So he assumes that Jesus obviously does not know what kind of woman she is. So He obviously cannot be a prophet. And here Simon the Pharisee was so willing to give Jesus a chance, inviting Him to his home and everything!

The woman also knows who she is, and she knows as well who the Pharisee is. He’s, well, a Pharisee. It took a lot of guts to come into the situation, knowing that the upstanding Pharisee, a spiritual leader of her people, would disapprove of her kind of people. But he allowed this charade to go on so that everyone could see what kind of man Jesus really was. That He obviously was putting on a charade, giving props to this sinner and disrespecting him, Simon, a Pharisee and leader of the people of God.

Jesus, as well, knows who He is and He knows who the Pharisee is and who the woman is.

We are able to see that the Pharisee didn’t know who he was after all. He didn’t know who the woman was. He saw himself only as he wanted to see himself. He judged the woman to be unworthy rather than realizing that he stood under his own condemnation of her. Consequently, he didn’t know who Jesus was.

The woman knew exactly who she was. She was a sinner. She was unworthy. She didn’t deserve favor from Jesus but He gave it to her anyway. That’s why she loved Him. She was grateful. She knew she stood under His condemnation but He gave her instead forgiveness. Her response was worship and gratitude.

Jesus’ favor and forgiveness is never like, It’s okay, don’t worry about your sins. We’re sinners, how can we ever be sure we don’t have to worry about our sins when we keep doing them? He says of the woman that her sins are many. In other words, Simon, you’re right, she’s a sinner, and quite a sinner at that. But where there is much sin there is much forgiveness. In fact, where there is sin, there is forgiveness. Jesus forgives sinners, great sinners or small. The little story he tells shows that both men who had a debt, one huge, the other not as much, both debts were cancelled.

The Pharisee was a sinner, just as the woman was. And yet, in his own eyes, he was right with God. After all, he was a morally upright person, unlike the woman. The woman was a sinner, just as the Pharisee was. She very well could have condemned him as a hypocrite. Did he live a more morally outward life than she did? Yeah, probably. But was he without sin? No way. So he was a hypocrite. But the woman doesn’t get caught up in that. She is caught up in her own sinfulness. Her own unworthiness is what she needs to deal with.

Do you know who you are? Are you like the Pharisee? Are you like the woman? If you will see it, you are like the Pharisee. And you are like the woman. If you will hear it from Jesus, you are just like them, because you, too, are a sinner. His hope for you is that you will see yourself through His eyes. You are a sinner. It is only then that you can see that what He does is forgive you. He cancels your debt.

You know you are a sinner. That’s what Jesus says, anyway. What does it mean that you are a sinner? King David was the king. He could do whatever he wanted. That’s who he was in his own mind, anyway. Much like the Pharisee, casting judgment on others—those sinners!—while merrily going on his own pristine way that actually carried with it the stench of death. Nathan called him on it. You are the one you have accused. You are the sinner. You are the one who deserves the very punishment you have declared on the one who has sinned.

And like the woman who came to Jesus David repented. He confessed his sin. He threw himself at the mercy of the court. No, he threw himself at the mercy of God. If David could fall into grievous sin you and I can. And we do and we will. King David and the woman who was the dregs of society were leveled, at the same plane. They were both sinners in need of grace.

What does it mean that you are a sinner, right along with them? It means that if you approach your life and your standing before God as the Pharisee then you stand condemned, even as you may convince yourself that your sin really can’t hurt you that much. After all, you’re the only one who is aware of the thoughts you have toward others: lust, envy, judging others in your heart. You hold on to your grudges and it doesn’t seem to cause you any harm. God still loves you, right?

Paul had successfully convinced himself he was a good man, even believing he was serving God by trying to wipe out the Christians who were popping up all over the place. He soon found out he stood on level ground right along with those Christians. He was no more righteous than they were, even as they were no less sinners than he was. And so he knew a thing or two about how the Law of God affects a person who thinks he is just fine continuing in his present course of ignoring God and what He expects of us. He knew that those who are under the Law are under a curse. The Law of God catches you in your sin. You cannot escape the reaches of God. You can attempt to go into the inner recesses of your mind and your desires and seek safe haven in your sins but God’s Law comes crashing down on you like a crumbling wall. You are under a curse. You are sinful to your core and if you convince yourself otherwise your words will be your condemnation.

Look to Christ. He is pure. He alone is without sin. But He is also something else that He wants you to see. He too is under the Law. Not because He is within its reach, because He submits to it. He not only comes under the Law, He is under its curse. He has become the sinner. He sat before Simon the Pharisee calling him to repentance so that Simon could see that Jesus, the one who sat before him, the one who was without sin, took upon Himself his own, Simon’s, sin. Simon couldn’t see that, he was too caught up in himself.

If only we could take our eyes off ourselves. If we could wake up each morning and say, today I will not seek what I want but who Christ is and what He has accomplished for the world. That as He has come to deliver the world from sin, He has delivered me from sin so that I may serve Him. So that I may see that being a servant of others is more fulfilling than relying on the fleeting nature of my desires, my wants, my sins that I hold on to.

This is who you are. Jesus knows who you are. He has Baptized you. He knows who you are, He forgives you your sin and gives you His Body and Blood in His Holy Supper. A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him. The man only wanted to confirm himself in his own fantasy world of being able to live and be saved according to his own law. Jesus invites you to dine with Him, where there is no Law, no hidden agenda, no strings attached, no holding your sin over your head. Only grace. Only pure mercy and forgiveness. His favor upon you not for who you are or what you have accomplished, but because He was cursed in your place, His body delivered over, His blood shed for you.

The Pharisee woke up that day not knowing that in justifying himself by inviting Jesus to his home he would actually be condemning himself. The woman who was an outcast and a scourge on decent society woke up that morning not knowing that she would have an opportunity to give thanks to the one who had released her from the burden of living a life that was all about herself. David never saw it coming that when he abused his office as king of God’s people that he would be held accountable to the King of Kings, the Lord Himself, and would be declared guilty of his sin against a man and his wife.

Do you know what will happen to you tomorrow? You’ll wake up and your thoughts may immediately gravitate toward yourself. You may give no thought to how you can help someone who is struggling and could use some comfort. You may, in fact, not wake up at all. Today may be your last day. No matter who you are, it could happen to any of us. You may be thinking about all the things you want and need and wish for and never see any of it because you won’t be breathing anymore. Now is the time for you to hear what you need to hear. And if you do wake up tomorrow that will be the time to hear it as well. Each day we live out the life God has given to us we need what God gives to us, not what we so often consider is of importance, and certainly not of our selfish and sinful desires.

Each day we have the opportunity to look not to ourselves but to Christ, to others whom we can serve. Where’s the compassion when the Pharisee looked on that woman? He had only disdain for her. He looked only to himself, not to helping her. Where is our compassion when we do not seek out others to help them, when we judge them in our hearts rather than seeking to share the love of Christ with them? May we see ourselves as the woman saw herself. A sinner in need of mercy. A sinner who gives thanks to their Lord for His unfailing mercy. God gives us the opportunity to look outside of ourselves and to others who are in need of mercy.

Know who you are. You are one who is known by God. You worship Him because He has given His Son as the Sinner in your place, His righteousness for your sin. You may go in peace. Amen.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

How Jesus Deals with Death

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2010
Luke 7:11-17

What if you had never heard of Jesus? What if you had never known Him, who He is, what He has done?

There are some who don’t. Some who never have. Some who are dead in their sins and go to their grave dead in their sins.

There are some who live but do not know life. They have never been raised to life that knows no death.

What if you had never known that you are dead, only to be without life forever, and death that knows nothing but torment?

There are many who do not know. Many who hope in many things but the one thing they need.

There are many who simply don’t know the one thing. Many who do not know Jesus. Once you die, that’s it. There is no more knowing, no more hope, no more opportunity.

But while you’re alive, the only requirement placed upon you is that you be dead. When you are dead even while you live you are ready for Christ to come to where you are and raise you from death.

We readily see the remarkable thing Jesus did in the Gospel reading: He raised a man from death. What is also remarkable is that He went to a town called Nain. Had you ever heard of it? Would we have ever known of the place except that Jesus decided to go there one day? And there He came across a man who could no more achieve eternal life than his pallbearers could or his grieving mother could. He was dead and he could only be carried away.

He then spoke to one of the people in the funeral. The mother of the dead man. A woman who was more like her son than she realized. She too was dead. She had no life within her that could ward off ultimate death. But that’s why He spoke to her. He comes to people who are bound in death to give them life.

He’s not bound by death. It can’t rub off on Him. That’s why He touches the coffin. He then speaks to the one person who can’t hear Him. He says to the dead man, “I say to you, arise.”

What happens then is what we need to see that happens to all who are dead in trespasses and sins and hear the Word of the Lord. The man hears. He is raised to life. He speaks. He has new life. We are just like him, we were dead and now we have new life. We are raised, we speak, we live.

As a congregation we do many things. They are offered because they’re for who we are as Christians. There are certain things we need to be encouraged to be a part of. If there’s no encouragement then we may miss the importance of being a part of it. One particular thing our congregation is doing is the Evangelism Workshop we’re having this Saturday. It’s not just for some people. It’s not only for those who are interested in Evangelism. It’s certainly not for those who have nothing else going on this Saturday. It’s for Christians. It’s for you and me. It’s for those of us who know who Jesus is and what He has done for the world.

If we had never known, we’d have no use for an Evangelism Workshop. But we have heard. We know. There are many out there who do not know and we’re the ones to tell them. If you’re like me you don’t always know what to say. If you’ve found yourself in the situation where a person takes the conversation in a different direction and you find you don’t know how to get it back to sharing the Gospel with the person, it’s for you. If you know people who don’t know who Jesus is, who don’t believe He is their Savior, it’s for you. Basically, if you’re a Christian.

You can’t go up to a dead man and tell him to get up. You can, but he won’t. But you can bring Christ to a person. What Jesus did to the man in the Gospel reading is what He does when you share the Gospel with another person. For Jesus, it’s the easiest thing in the world. He just goes up to a person and speaks life into that person. You and I aren’t quite there yet in our evangelistic abilities.

But we do have Christ. We do have His Word. We do have what He has given us. That is what we offer others. We let Jesus do the work.

Jesus was able to handle every situation that came His way. No matter what people said to Him, whatever turn the conversation went, Jesus always handled it in perfect divine wisdom. We do not have that luxury. But then again, it is never up to us to save others. We are simply called to make known to the world the Jesus who died for the world.

Maybe evangelism seems overwhelming to you. Perhaps living out the life God has called you to, where you are serving Him in everything you do, working toward giving more of your money as offerings to God, thinking that there’s not enough time for Bible Study, maybe it all seems like it’s too much. How can you handle it all? The world population keeps growing. Millions upon millions of people do not know Christ as their Savior. How can you as one Christian make an impact? How can our little congregation in Allied Gardens reach the world for Christ?

Let’s be brutally honest. It is overwhelming. It is more than we can handle. It is too much for us to accomplish. But we don’t need to give in. We need to repent. God hasn’t called you to bring the Gospel to every person on the planet. But He has given you a neighbor. He gives you a co-worker who is struggling in his life. God sent His Son into the world and on one particular occasion he came to one man. A man who was dead. A mother who needed comfort. On one particular occasion Jesus gave life to this one individual and we can see the opportunity God gives us to bring life to one person. How we do that is going to be different for each of us. It’s going to be challenging for many of us. But that’s why we offer help and guidance. Our Evangelism Workshop is exactly what we need so that we may bring to people the life they may not know.

You may think there’s not much you can do. But unless you’re a hermit, you come into contact with people in your life. When you talk with them you are not just yourself. You are Christ to them. You are a new creation, you have new life, because Jesus spoke it into you in your Baptism. When you interact with others they are interacting with Christ. You might wonder, how does that happen? That’s what the Evangelism Workshop is for. For some Christians this comes naturally. For most of us, it’s something we’d like to avoid as much as possible.

That’s because we ourselves are still daily struggling with our sinful flesh. We are dead. We daily need new life. If there’s anything we’re taught from that dead man at the funeral it’s that Jesus has a way of dealing with death. He gives new life to those who are dead in their sins. He speaks to us in our death and we rise to new life and begin speaking to others. Jesus deals with death by delivering us from it. He speaks life into us in our very state of being dead in trespasses and sins. Being dead is the only requirement for being alive in Christ. Because when you’re dead in sins there’s only one who can deliver you and bring you new life. He is Christ and He comes to do just that.

As He came to that man who was dead He has come to you in your Baptism. As He spoke comfort to the man’s mother He speaks comfort to you with His words: Take and eat, this is My body; take and drink, this is My blood. He comes into your life of being dead in sin and gives you His body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. He gives you life and sustains you in the new life as you now live and speak and serve, even as you live forever with Him. Amen.