Monday, November 29, 2010

Commemoration of Noah

Today is the Commemoration of Noah. Here is the summary from the Commission on Worship of the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) on Noah:

Noah, the son of Lamech (Genesis 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark, in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, both man and beast” (7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe, and God confirmed it, he and his family and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (8:20). Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would.

Collect for the Commemoration of Noah:

Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to You great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. Grant that we may be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, so that with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Slave, Soldier, Son

First Sunday in Advent
November 28, 2010
Romans 13:8-14

In the Church Year we don’t wait till January to begin. We begin now. The Church Year isn’t just a way to mark time, it’s a way to focus our attention on Christ. So we start before everybody else. We start now. We begin with a season of preparation and move into a season of celebration. We prepare in Advent for our celebration of the birth of Christ in Christmas.

But there’s one other thing we do in Advent: we prepare for what we should always be preparing for in our lives—the day when Christ will come in glory. In our Epistle reading Paul says it’s near, nearer now than when we first believed. So what kind of lives should we be living? What kind of people should we be? “So then let us cast off the works of darkness,” he says, “and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime.”

The way Paul talks here and elsewhere in the book of Romans, as well as in some of his other letters in the New Testament, we see imagery of who we should be as Christians. There are three ways we should be as Christians who live in this world and who prepare for the Last Day: as a slave, as a soldier, and as a son.

Take today off and plan on starting tomorrow. Wake up and take a deep breath. Begin with a positive attitude. Now that you’ll be prepared and ready to go, go about your day. Live the godly way the Epistle has described. Go the day without sinning.

You won’t make it past your attempt at a positive attitude. Not only will you sin, you will stand in the sight of God as a sinner in whom there is nothing but sin and contempt for His perfect Law.

The fact is, you are a slave. You were born into slavery. You are a slave to sin. You can try to escape. You can try to not sin. You can attempt to justify yourself, which usually is in the form of rationalization—Well, it wasn’t that big of a sin; it was only a white lie; there are worse things I could have done. These attempts to see ourselves as anything but purely sinful prove that we are slaves to sin.

There are a lot of people throughout history, including in our own American history who have a particular distaste for slavery. It’s not something most people would choose. And if you are born into it, well, you don’t have much of a choice, do you?

Think about this, Paul was writing to Christians, including all Christians of all times and places. So why did he have to remind them of the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment”? Why did he have to stress that love does no wrong to a neighbor? Could it be because we are slaves of sin? That we in fact do commit adultery, do murder, do steal, do covet, and do wrong our neighbor? That our heart is full of desires that defile the sacred bond of marriage created by God, that our thoughts gravitate toward wishing ill upon others when they harm us, that we do not always seek to help our neighbor keep his possessions, that we instead often whish that it were us who owned them?

Why is it that Paul in speaking to Christians must give this exhortation? “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” Could it be because our default position is to engage in these behaviors? As much as we don’t want to be slaves, we are. Even more painful to be shown and to admit, as much as we loathe being slaves, we revel in our slavery. We do not seek freedom from our sin but from the Law which constricts our behavior and brings the hammer down on us when we make provision for our flesh’s desires.

We are slaves, we cannot free ourselves. But listen to these words earlier in the Book of Romans: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. [6:16-18 ESV]

Even though God in His Word gives us the news we would like to dismiss, He also gives us Good News. There is another kind of slavery. But this doesn’t sound like good news. Why would we want to trade one kind of slavery for another? How is that better? It makes sense that we think that way because, guess what, we’re slaves to sin. Our sin has corrupted our minds, the way we view and understand spiritual matters. Only God can truly say what is what in spiritual matters.

The amazing thing is that He frees us from our slavery to sin and the slavery we are brought into is a slavery in which we are free. We are free because we are free from the condemnation of the Law. We have escaped the punishment we deserve. Even though we are slaves of righteousness, slaves of Christ, we are free. We are not bound.

There are two ways Paul depicts this. One is love. It’s actually a pretty simple thing, although it’s the hardest thing in the world because of our sinfulness and selfishness. But as slaves of Christ, we love others. You’ve no doubt experienced the freeing feeling you have when you help someone out who really needed it. You don’t just feel good, you are empowered because you know that you could have helped the person just the same if you had been forced to do it or did it simply out of obligation, but you wouldn’t have done it out of love. When you do it simply because you see a person in need and you can fill that need there is freedom there.

The other way he depicts it is with battle imagery. We are not only slaves, we are soldiers. A soldier in one sense is not free. A soldier voluntary places himself under the authority of the military. He chooses to serve in this capacity, to abide by the commands of the authority above him. A soldier wears armor. This limits him. He is not free to dress any way he likes. But the armor protects him. It is much better to submit to this condition than to face harm from the enemy. Without the protection he is actually becoming a slave, letting the enemy have power over him.

When you are a slave of Christ you are a soldier of Christ. You are wide open for the assault of the devil. Every time you sin his arrows are piercing your soul. You have no chance against him without the armor of light Paul tells us about. You are a soldier of Christ, so put it on. I guess I don’t really need to tell you to be here since you’re here. But I can exhort you to continue. You need to be here, week in, week out. You need the protection your Lord gives you in His Word and His Sacraments. Without His protection you’re a sitting duck. Satan has you within his sights and he never misses. He knows your weaknesses and he attacks at will.

But he can be stopped. No, not only stopped, he has been. But what can we do to stop him when we are slaves to sin? When we so often leave the armor our Lord has given us by the wayside? We can’t. We can’t do anything. We are powerless against Satan. The only hope we have is in one who is stronger, one who in fact does not seek our downfall but our freedom and rescue. One who does not save us only to turn us into slaves, but of a different kind. One who does not rescue us only to turn us into soldiers, albeit ones who are fighting the good fight against Satan.

Our Lord has also called us out of darkness into His marvelous light as sons. We who are slaves of Christ and soldiers of Christ are also sons of Christ. He has brought us into His eternal Kingdom, His eternal family, as His very own sons and daughters, His children. It would have been something if Paul had exhorted us to put on the armor of light and let it be at that. But he goes farther: Put on Christ. Wear the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is your clothing now.

He who is the Lord, the Master, the King Almighty, the creator of the universe, and the servant of all. The one who became a slave by taking on flesh, by humbly going to the cross, by being buried in a tomb. If being a slave is distasteful to you, take a look at Christ and put Him on. He did not give a second thought at becoming a slave, because for Him it’s not about what He could get out of it—He has everything—it’s purely about love. Love for you and me and the whole world. He became a slave to free us from our sin and the condemnation of the Law.

Put on the Lord, the one who fights for you. The one who is the commander, the one who holds the highest rank, the one who to whom all others answer, and yet willingly became a soldier. Defeating Satan on the ground, not from the control room. Jesus went to the front lines, even giving up His life. If you are not keen to the idea of being under authority and engaging in a war on Satan and your sin, look to Christ and wear Him as your armor. There’s nothing standing between you and Satan but Christ. You are protected. Christ is your armor, your Lord is your clothing. You are clothed with Christ.

Wrap yourself in Christ. You are His son, His daughter, His child. You are Baptized. You are an heir to the Kingdom. A mansion is prepared for you in the heavens. The day will come when your Lord will welcome you into it for eternity. As you await that day put on the Lord. Daily walk in your Baptism. Daily repent. Daily wrap yourself in the forgiveness delivered to you when you were washed with the waters of your Baptism. Daily live under grace, under mercy, under strength, under protection—the love of Christ from the cross, delivered to you in Baptism and placed into your mouth in the Holy Supper of your Lord.

He is a gracious Lord and Master, a strong and beneficent commandant, and a loving Brother and Savior, clothing you with Himself so that you may rejoice in your Heavenly Father’s grace and mercy forever. Amen.


Another Year, Another Perihelion

Do you know what the anomalistic year is? It is the average interval between consecutive passages of the earth through the perihelion, equivalent to 365.26 days. All clear?

Now that you know what the anomalistic year is you might be wondering what in the world is the perihelion. The perihelion is that point in the orbit of a planet at which it is nearest to the sun. [It comes from the Greek words ‘peri’- around, and ‘helios’- sun.]

We usually don’t make a big deal about that point at which we are closest to the sun (okay, astronomers do) but it happens nevertheless. We’re constantly going around the sun, every year in fact, and the perihelion happens only once a year.

The purpose of our calendar year isn’t to mark things like the perihelion (and astronomers could tell you a lot of other cool stuff that happens throughout the year), but to make it easy for all of us to mark the passage of time in a coordinated way. On January 1 we will begin that again with the year 2011.

In the Church we mark time differently. Everything in the year the Church revolves around the Son. It’s not just once a year that we come to the point where we’re nearest to Him. It’s in every season and festival and commemoration. Everything in the Church Year is meant to bring us to the point where we’re nearest Him.

Whether it’s Christmas, where we mark the birth of the Savior who would accomplish His work of salvation on the cross, or Pentecost, where we mark the sending of the Holy Spirit in a specific way to equip the saints of God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus’ salvific work on the cross, or the Commemoration of John the Baptist, where we mark the grace of God in sending a prophet to point the way to the Savior who humbly bore the sins of the world on the cross.

In the calendar year we mark time. In the Church Year we mark our continually being drawn to Christ and the cross. Astronomers will jump at the chance to tell you about the perihelion, and many other things that are indeed cool and amazing. After all, God created the universe and the way the earth revolves around the sun where once a year the perihelion is marked. You could think of the Church Year as the way the Church jumps at the chance to tell you about the most amazing thing of all: the Son who is the Lord who created life and suffered death that we may live.

Since the Church Year is defined by every part of it drawing us close to Christ, the Son, I thought I would take the liberty to make up a word, also drawing from the Greek: periHion. The word ‘hios’ comes from the Greek word meaning “son.” Observing the Church Year is our way of revolving around the Son. We don’t just mark time, we mark, in all its vastness, the Person and Work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who accomplished salvation in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection.

The Church Year begins with Advent—look for the Son and His salvific work in that season. It continues with Christmas—look for the One who was born in order to die. It moves on with Epiphany—look for the Son who came to enlighten the world with His true Light shining forth from the cross. It goes from there to Lent—look for the Son who in humility walked the path of the cross for the sins of the world. It bounds forth in Easter—look for the risen Son who conquered death in His death and the grave in His resurrection. It flows from there to Pentecost—look for the Son in whom we have life, forgiveness, and salvation. Another year, another opportunity to revolve around the Son. God’s Blessings to you in the coming Church Year.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reason 14,732 to Be Thankful

Day of Thanksgiving
November 24, 2010
Luke 17:11-19

The 14,732nd reason to be thankful is that the sun rises every day. It may not always be shining, but each day you can count on it. You could easily think of several more reasons to be thankful off the top of your head. If you put some time into it you could come up with many more. I was glancing at a sports columnist’s analysis of the teams in the NBA and sometimes after analyzing a team he would say, Reason 17,435 why I love the NBA, or some other massive number. Some people may have no reason to like America’s professional Basketball league, others can’t get enough of it. But those who love it love it for many reasons. Taking a cue from him, I thought I would pick one reason we can be thankful. Reason 14,732 to be thankful: the sun rises every day. There are thousands more, perhaps millions. I don’t know, I haven’t tried to count.

In actuality, there is one reason to be thankful. All the thousands and even more are all because of the one reason we can be thankful. The one reason we have to be thankful is Christ. And I’m not just talking about for Christians. It would be easy enough for us to say, You know, non-Christians have a lot of reasons to be thankful even though they don’t believe in God, but we Christians know the one reason to be thankful. That’s close, but it’s actually that even though non-Christians don’t know the one reason they have to be thankful they nevertheless have the very same reason to be thankful that we do: Christ.

When God created the universe everything was perfect. Adam and Eve didn’t really have to set aside times to be thankful, they were in a perpetual state of gratitude toward God. God was the reason for all that they had. It all was due to God’s grace and favor. His love toward them moved Him to lavish all of His blessings on them.

What happened when they threw it all away? More grace. More love. All of His favor lavished upon them in mercy. His love was the same but was now applied in a specific way. In Christ. In Himself, God the Triune God, pouring out His blessings upon them in the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. He is the one reason to be thankful, because God acting toward us apart from Christ is God acting toward us according to His holiness and justice. Because of the Fall into sin, because of our inbred sin and the actual sins we commit, God must act toward us in judgment, eternal punishment. Without Christ this is what we would have. We would not be here. We would be in hell for eternity. We would not have discussions about what we are thankful for. We would have eternal agony and torture. Thank God He acts toward us in Christ instead of His wrath and judgment!

God did not put the account of the ten lepers in the Bible to give us a little lesson on being thankful. Look how nice God is to you, so you should be thankful like that Samaritan was. Or conversely, you ought to be ashamed of yourself that you are ungrateful, haven’t you learned anything from those nine lepers who didn’t say Thank You to Jesus?

This is the reason Jesus healed the lepers: because of His suffering and death on the cross. No, He hadn’t suffered and died yet, but that’s what He came for. He healed those men in view of His promised suffering and death. It’s exactly the same thing that took place at the Fall when Adam and Eve sinned against God. He acted toward them in mercy, in view of His only-begotten Son’s promised suffering and death. Adam and Eve didn’t know the name ‘Jesus’ but they were thankful to God because of Jesus. It was in fact immediately following their fall into sin that God promised the Savior. That’s why they could be thankful.

It’s also the reason those men who were lepers could be thankful. It wasn’t just that they were healed. They were healed because Jesus was going to suffer and die on the cross, whether or not they knew it or believed it. It appears that nine of those men didn’t have a clue, or didn’t care, that there was a reason to be thankful to the one who healed them. The one who came back to Jesus in gratitude received something from Jesus in addition to being healed of leprosy: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. Jesus said this to the man in view of the cross. In view of His own suffering and death He would endure on the cross. Jesus could have taken on the man’s leprosy but had come for something so much more, so much greater! He came to take on the man’s sin. The man’s life was burdened with a disease that was sickness to his soul. His body having been rotting away was really a manifestation of the sickness we all share. That is what Jesus took on Himself, not just leprosy.

There are plenty of non-Christians who are thankful people. There are many people who do not believe in Christ who realize that they have many blessings. We know that the reason they have many blessings is because of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. We know that everything for which we are thankful is purely because of Christ. Without the mercy of God in His Son Jesus there would be nothing we have, let alone anything for which to be thankful. So while it’s a blessing on Thanksgiving Day and often throughout our lives to think of all the many things to be thankful for, as Christians we have the bonus of knowing the basis for our blessings. Even if God hadn’t granted us countless blessings we could still look to the cross and give thanks for the greatest blessing of all. Amen.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

How Do You Approach the End?

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
November 21, 2010
Luke 23:23-47

How do you approach the end? I’d like to submit to you today that how you approach the end is dependent on how you approach Jesus.

On the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are met with the reality that things come to an end. Sometimes people meet their end suddenly, perhaps in a car crash where they die instantly. Sometimes people enter the hospital and never go home, but wake every day in that place knowing that their end will come soon. Sometimes people are told that their end will come soon but it becomes prolonged and they’re left to wonder what plans God has through this. Sometimes we face the end when someone we love is coming to their end. Even though they are the ones dying we are facing that end with them.

How will we face the end? Even if we ourselves are in good health, we know one day our end will come. If Christ returns in glory before we face death our end on this earth will coincide. If not, then we know we will die in some way—an accident, an illness, someone taking our life, or simply old age. How do you approach the end that you know is coming, soon or far off in the distance?

When there doesn’t appear to be any reason for our end to come soon it’s easy not to have to think about it. When it appears imminent, we can become consumed with it. To help us approach the end in the way our Lord would have us approach it, He gives us in His Word examples of how certain people approached the end. In the case of three of these groups of people it wasn’t their own end but the end of Jesus. In the case of all four it was an approaching of Jesus in His end.

The portion of Scripture for us today on the last day of the Church Year is the moments leading up to the actual end of Christ, at least in His body. It is bookended by the approach of a group of women to Jesus and a criminal who approached Him. In between this is a group of soldiers and their torturing of Him linked with a group of religious leaders who mocked Him.

The two approaches to Jesus that bookend Jesus’ imminent death show us in their approach to Jesus how they approached death. The women were godly in their sorrow over Jesus. They loved their Lord and were brought to despair over His end. Even in their faithfulness to Him they could not see past the end. All they saw was the end; the end of their Lord whom they loved.

The criminal saw one who should not have had such an end. He realized that He deserved to be hanging on that cross but the one who was being crucified next to him did not. He approached Jesus as one who was not worthy to ask but did—remember when You come into Your Kingdom.

On the one hand, we learn how to approach the end from these four approaches to the end and to Jesus. We certainly can appreciate the loyalty and compassion the women had for Jesus. We certainly should learn to face death in such a manner. In this respect there is a stark contrast between them and the group of soldiers and the group of religious leaders. They had no regard for Jesus, as a person and certainly as Lord. However, the women fell short in their approach to the end because they fell short in their approach to Jesus. Where was their faith? Where was their trust in His Word that He would meet His death but be victorious in it? That He would follow up that victory by putting a stamp on it in dealing a death blow to the grave by stepping from it. Where was the compassionate approach to Jesus that was coupled with conviction that this was in fact not the end, the ultimate end anyway?

On the other hand, we learn how not to approach the end from the unconscionable attitude and action of the soldiers and religious leaders toward the end of one who was coming to His end, and specifically their approach to Jesus in His end. Aside from their not believing in Him as Lord, they had no regard for Him as a person who was brought to a brutal end. But they show that their approach to the end is one in which they want to avoid any notion of judgment that relates to death. They are in the driver’s seat so it’s easy for them to ignore their own end. They know it’s coming eventually, but right now they don’t have to deal with it. It’s much easier to live in their own worlds they have created where they can ignore the Word of God and live by their own understanding that whatever good will come to them at their death rests on themselves. This makes perfect sense to them because what they have to rest on in themselves seems a whole lot better than relying on this guy who is being humiliated and nailed to a cross. How in the world could He offer them anything of value that is better than what they can offer themselves of their own ability?

This shows the flip side of faith. Faith trusts in this One who is humiliated and nailed to a cross. The opposite of faith looks at the One who is humiliated and nailed to a cross and says that there can’t be anything there in which I trust solely. When you’re facing your own end or that of your loved ones, in what do you put your trust? It’s true that God is the author of many blessings, including sending angels to guard you in danger, medicine and medical workers to attend to your illnesses or injuries, amazing technological advances to help you in your needs. We can and should give thanks to God for these and may freely make use of them. But they are not what gets us through when we are facing the end. We should not approach the end by depending on those things. It is Jesus Christ and His end at Calvary that is our sole help in time of trouble and facing the end. Whether we live or die it is Christ and His cross that gives us hope.

Now is this just a pious thought? No, it’s what our Lord shows us in His end. It’s not just the people who approached Jesus that helps us learn how we approach the end. It’s also and especially how Jesus responded to them. The women wept for Him—His response: Don’t weep for Me. Yes, He is the one suffering, but He is doing it for them. Jesus on the cross was not Jesus defeated, meeting His ultimate end. Jesus on the cross was Jesus for the world, delivering the world from an eternal end, an end that is eternal suffering in hell. This is a remarkable truth: when facing the end we may approach it in victory. In hope! In a confidence that rests in the end of Jesus at Calvary which really was not an end at all but rather the victory that makes it possible not only to face the end but to get through it. When Jesus gives us permission not to feel sorry for Him but actually to look to Him in hope as He walked that path to the cross then He gives us the truth that since He made it to the cross and from the grave He will get us through anything we face, even our end.

Notice another amazing thing. His love, His help, His promise is not conditional. It is not a promise that depends on our approach toward Him. His response toward the brutal attack of the soldiers and religious leaders was stunning: Father forgive them. He didn’t look down at them and strike up a bargain: Look, if you guys get it together and just believe in Me, I will offer you full and free forgiveness. No, there was no sign whatsoever that those men who crucified Him and disdained Him began to see the light. There was simply the clearest sign of all: forgiveness. Full and free. Offered from the cross to them and to all. The women, the soldiers, the religious leaders, the criminals hanging with Him, and you and me and everyone who has ever walked this earth. Jesus died for sinners.

If the women loved their Lord and yet fell short in their trust in His promises and if the soldiers and the religious leaders had no regard for Jesus as Lord, the criminal who heard the reviling of the other one was seeing that this was all wrong. He and his fellow criminal deserved to there. That was right. But the one between didn’t deserve any of this. This was all wrong. If there was any hope it was in the one who did not deserve to be there and yet was, in all of His humiliation, pain, suffering, and offering of forgiveness. So if you want to see a picture of how you approach Jesus you look to that criminal and see one who deserves to be there. You see one who approaches Jesus unworthily and yet, strange as it seems, confidently. Fully as a sinner and yet fully in the trust that He will remember him when Jesus comes into His Kingdom. To this one Jesus speaks the results of the bestowing of forgiveness: Today you will be with Me in paradise.

That is our Lord’s approach to those who see that their only defense before Jesus is to confess their sins and appeal to His having taken on their sins in His suffering and death. How we approach the end, whether that be our own, our loved ones, or the imminent return of Christ on the Last Day is to look to the end that brought to an end Satan’s hold over us, sin’s power over us, and death’s grip on us. Jesus approached His suffering and death in humility and compassion. We ought to face the end in the same way. Humbly, compassionately, in the peace of knowing that our Lord has taken the path already before us. Knowing that He has come through it in victory. What lies ahead is not the end, but a moment in which there is loss that marks the point where there is no more ending, sin, sorrow, and fear. You don’t know when your end will be, but you know that eternity in heaven is on the horizon. Amen.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

What Do I Get Out of This?

All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 7, 2010
Luke 20:27-40

Jesus didn’t really care who He was speaking to. He would go up to people and talk to them just as He would engage in conversation with those who came up to Him. He was there to talk, to give them of Himself. He didn’t draw lines of saints or sinners or any other category people might draw up. If you had ears He’d be happy to talk to you. If your ears didn’t work He’d open your ears so that you could hear Him.

This is the kind of free life Jesus has and the kind of life He came to bring to us. When you are in Christ you have this kind of freedom as well.

Now today has a somewhat unusual focus for as we are observing All Saints’ Day, which was seven days ago, November 1. But today you also are going to hear something that you usually hear about this time of year but a week earlier than normal. Next week is our Commitment Sunday but today you’re going to hear the “Stewardship Sermon” you’d normally hear on Commitment Sunday.

If we consider who we are in light of who Jesus is all of this fits together. Jesus is ready and willing to engage with everyone. You, me, other Christians, non-Christians. His freedom to meet us on our turf says something about who He wants us to be. He wants us to have the kind of life that He has. In the case of non-Christians, it’s evident that they don’t want this kind of life He offers freely. However, in our case, it becomes clear in our daily lives that we too often want nothing to do with it also.

What is the reason for this? It’s because we defy category. If you were to say of your fellow Christians that they are saints someone could just as easily point out that they are sinners. And if you were to explain that your fellow Christians are sinners, someone could just the same defend the fact that they are saints through and through. But no matter, Jesus is not interested in categorizing us. He’s much more interested in what we need. He’s intent on giving us life.

Think for a moment about what kind of people were coming up to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. They were upstanding religious people. They were actually religious leaders. But what was the state of their belief system? Well, they denied a fundamental doctrine, the resurrection from the dead. Sound familiar? I am always amazed when I run across a Christian, especially a pastor, who denies the resurrection. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, that belief has been around a long time.

But what strikes me about their approaching of Jesus is not that they really want something out of Him, it’s that they want to engage Him on their turf. So, actually, they do want something out of Him. They want Him to conform to their reality. They’re not interested in what He has to offer them, they’re interested in how they can get Him to bolster their own notions of how they view themselves and what they want for their lives.

But more to the point, every person approaches Jesus with the question: What do I get out of this? What do You, Jesus, have to offer me that I can put my stamp of approval on? The good thing for us is that Jesus knows this already. It’s not like He came to earth and discovered a bunch of self-absorbed people running around. He knew the condition of the hearts of everyone. That’s actually the reason He came. So He came not to find out where we’re at, but to deliver us from where we’re at. He knows who we are. And to Him it doesn’t matter. He’ll take us where we’re at. He’ll engage us in our own self-absorbed little world we’ve created for ourselves.

When we ask Him, What do I get out of this?, His answer is: Me. We want what we want for ourselves and He gives of Himself for us. And that’s exactly where we see then how people react. For some, Christ is not enough. For some, Christ is a quaint idea but there’s got to be more to what we need than some man who claimed to be God and died on the cross. Most of the people who are in church every Sunday are Christians, we do believe that Christ is our Savior, that He died for our sins. But is He enough? Do we need more than just His suffering and death and resurrection?

Ask yourself this: is this enough for you when you are lying flat on your back in the hospital? Is Christ and Him crucified all you need when you’re on the outs with your teenager? Is Jesus and His salvation won for you in death sufficient when you’re battling depression?

If you say that it’s not enough then you are denying that what Christ gives you is what you really need. When He gives you everything, which is what He gives you through His suffering, death, and resurrection, and you are wondering what you get out of it then you are still wanting Jesus to come over to your side rather than seeing that you already have everything in Him.

This impacts every aspect of your life. It impacts how you interact with your family, with your neighbors, your co-workers, the cashier at the store. It impacts how you spend your time at work, at home, with others, by yourself. It impacts what you do and what you don’t do. It impacts how you see your life and how you view others.

Instead of wondering what you’re going to get out of it, you’ll begin to see how you can offer to others what you have been given by Christ. And that is, simply, life. Life not as we know it. Life not as we so often pursue. This is life beyond what we so often seek. This is life that goes beyond what we normally try to get out of life. If only I had this or if only that weren’t standing in my way or if only I weren’t saddled with this then my life would be the way I want it to be. It’s all about what I want to get out of it.

But Jesus doesn’t give you what you want. He gives you what you need. He doesn’t satisfy your desires, He fulfills your needs. He gives you life. That’s why you are a saint. Even while you are a sinner, He makes you a saint because you have life in Him. But I suppose it’s still fair question to ask what you get out of it. In fact, I think it might even be a good question to ask. What you get out of it is a life in which you are free to live in Christ. You are free from the shackles you place on yourself by wanting what you want to get out of life and Christ’s gift to you. You are free to live in a way where you entrust your life solely to Christ. Where His suffering, death, and resurrection is enough for you, no matter what you’re facing in life, no matter the smallest thing you’re doing in your day, no matter who you talk to.

Imagine what a little congregation in Allied Gardens would be like if we approached everything we did as a congregation in this way. Instead of saying, where are we going to get the money to stay in the black, we stepped out in faith and did all that we do for the sake of the mission, to go and make disciples of all nations. Instead of wondering how certain things we do for the sake of the mission are going to be accomplished, we simply set out to accomplish them with the means God has given us, namely, our time, our talents, and our treasure. Instead of seeing this buildings and property we own and what we do here as something we have to figure out how to upkeep, we saw them as an opportunity to use them for the glory of God in bringing Christ to others, no matter who they are—saints, sinners, everyone. Instead of wondering where the money is going to come from to fund the mission of this congregation, and yes also the bills and the salaries and the expenses, we look at ourselves and realize that we are the people of God and the ones God has called upon to fund the mission with our offerings. If we rely on an outside source of income then we are not relying on God. If we see that God has given us new life and in that life a freedom to entrust our lives, our congregation, and all that we are and do to Him, then we will see that we won’t have time to think about what we get out of it. We will be getting so much out of it we might start feeling guilty about how much we enjoy living in the fullness of life our Lord gives us.

The Sadducees went to Jesus denying something He brings about—resurrection from death. Will we go to our Lord denying that He can bring about His mission in our lives and in our congregation through the simple things He gives us in the new life He has given us—our time, our talents, and our treasure? Or will we say: This is who we are. This is why we are here. Prince of Peace is a light of the Gospel in Allied Gardens and beyond. Prince of Peace exists to make known the life that all people need and that only Christ provides in His suffering, death, and resurrection. It is enough. Amen.