Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Impossible Is Possible

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2011

What do you do when God demands the impossible of you? You simply do it. It’s as simple as that, you do it. Simple, however, isn’t to say that it’s easy. But it is very possible. What God demands of you is impossible for you to carry out. But the very God who demands the impossible of you is the very God who makes it possible for you to carry out.

You might wonder why He goes through the trouble in the first place. If He is going to make it possible for you to accomplish what He demands of you why does He bother to demand it of you? Well, God doesn’t do things for no reason. And He doesn’t do them for no good reason. There’s not only a reason but a good reason.

The reason is that He loves you. You know how that goes. It’s like when the parent tells the child, “I’m disciplining you or punishing you or demanding things of you because I love you.” To the child it seems like the kind of love he or she doesn’t need, thank you very much. How about if you show me a little less love. Children can’t understand how parents seeming to make their life difficult is actually one of the ways their parents love and care for them. If there’s no discipline the child will grow up thinking things are fine and dandy even without honoring and obeying his parents. If there’s no punishment the child will grow up thinking that there are no consequences to her behavior, no matter how wrong are harmful it is. Without demands placed on a child he will grow up thinking that he is the one who calls the shots and will sooner or later be rudely awakened.

See, this is love. When parents see beyond the moment and discipline their child in the present. When they know the big picture and execute punishment in the meantime. When they see things in perspective and make demands on their child even as they do far more of giving and providing for their child.

Now I suppose if your child never disobeyed and freely helped out around the house and gave all due honor to you you wouldn’t have to worry about things like discipline or punishment or demands. But anyone who has raised children or babysat or sat in the park watching the playground or been in McDonald’s at lunch time is very aware that children’s proclivities don’t naturally flow from the Fourth Commandment.

Love doesn’t express itself in a vacuum but in reality. It doesn’t see others for who they should be but for who they are. The reality is that we are sinners. The fact is that in the same way children defy the Fourth Commandment we all defy the First Commandment. God knows this. And He loves us. His love moves Him to care for us in a way that will truly be good for us.

And so He disciplines. He punishes. He makes demands. If we react as children so often do to their parents it’s because we don’t see that He is loving us and caring for us and doing what is best for us. If we want to have a relationship with God where we don’t have to worry about His demands then we don’t want a truly loving relationship with Him. We want to be like the spoiled brat who is calling the shots but who is really cutting off any possibility of being in a dynamic loving relationship with those in his life.

The question for you, then, is: will you hear the demands God makes of you and gladly hear them, as hard as they are to hear? Will you humbly see that the demands He makes on you are laid down out of love and for your good? Will you submit to the demands of God or try to go around them or ignore them or resist them?

If you see them for the loving work of God that they are you will see something else. It is something that is not a demand at all. It is something that is as impossible for you to bring about as it is for you to accomplish the demands of God by your own effort. But it is something that you will see that is good that it is impossible by you. Because what is impossible for you is possible for God. And it’s not just that it’s possible. It’s not just that there’s some magical or even mystical way that it is possible for Him. He is God, of course, and by His sheer power He can do anything. But when it comes to His demands of the Law on you it’s not His power that is at work.

It’s that He actually satisfies the demands of the Law Himself. He does it in Christ. Jesus Himself is that perfect child. In the Gospel reading Jesus told a parable of two sons. The first one, well, he wasn’t a very good boy, was he? “Son, go into the field and work.” “Sorry Pops, no go.” Serious Fourth Commandment issues there. And the second son? What a good boy he was. “Yes, sir, I will go into the field as that is your wish.”

And everything would have been all neat and tidy if that’s how the parable ended. The second boy was such a good boy. He responds in obedience and goes into the field to do what he said he would do. The problem was, he didn’t. He said he would but then didn’t. It looks like the Fourth Commandment issues were just as serious with the second son.

And what about that second son? The one who originally was having this kind of problem. The one who defiantly told his father that he wouldn’t do as he was commanded. I suppose the father could have grounded him. Or taken away his TV privileges. Or whatever might get through to him that when Dad tells you to do something you do it. The thing is, even though he told his dad there was no way he was going into that field to work, he ended up going. He ended up being the one who actually did what his father had commanded him to do.

And while Jesus tells the religious leaders exactly what’s going on here, that it’s not just a story about two boys, one who ended up being obedient and the other one who ended up disobeying, but rather an assessment of where they stood in the sight of the Heavenly Father, we cannot help but see in this story something else. Something that is more important than those religious leaders getting blasted out of the water, which is always fun to see, isn’t it? Something more important than that. Something that speaks to us and where we stand before our Heavenly Father.

It’s not just that the religious leaders didn’t actually do what their Heavenly Father commanded whereas the tax collectors and prostitutes did. It’s clear that they were every bit as much sinners as they were and vice versa. Nobody gets into heaven because they’re obedient. The reason the tax collectors and prostitutes were getting into heaven was because of Christ. The reason the religious leaders weren’t getting in was because they rejected Christ. Christ was and is the Son who is obedient to the Heavenly Father. He was and is the one who says “Yes” to the Father  and then does what the Father asks of Him.

While Paul in the Epistle reading makes a point to exult in the exaltation of Christ, the glory of Christ is first and foremost shown in His humbling Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. That God became a man is not something God wants to hide. It’s not something He’s ashamed of. That Jesus suffered and died isn’t something that needs to be swept into a corner. Jesus humbling Himself to become a servant isn’t something that God would just as soon we could all get past. The glory of God is in the humility and the suffering and the death. The glory of God is in doing what was necessary for salvation.

When it comes to God demanding of you it’s not in order that you may be saved. Or in order that He will then love you. Even as Jesus made the point that the tax collectors and prostitutes weren’t saved because of their obedience, He also made the point that they believed the message John the Baptist proclaimed. Namely, the Gospel. But as it was also pointed out, it wasn’t just that they did the right thing and the religious leaders didn’t. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the one who has done all things well. And if the ones who aren’t worthy are the ones actually believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, then we might be better able to see how what is happening here is as Paul exhorted, to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

This doesn’t really sound like salvation by grace. But if we see it for what it is we will see that it is what comes after being saved by grace. And if we further see that it is God who is the one who accomplishes in us what is impossible for us to do then we will see what we need to see all along, and that is what Paul says right after the bit about working out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

This is the paradoxical and amazing nature of God. Demanding of us the very thing that we need to do even while knowing we cannot do it, but in His grace accomplishing it in His Son. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. And if it was His good pleasure to send His Son in humility to suffer and die on behalf of the world and then to exalt Him and bestow on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, it certainly is His good pleasure to bring about in you the impossible: that your tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bound in Chains, Adorned in Glory

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 18, 2011

About the year 33 a.d. Jesus was bound to a cross by nails through His wrists and feet. About thirty years later, around 60 a.d., the apostle Paul was bound in chains and wrote from his prison cell to the Christians in Philippi. This is what he said, as we heard in our Epistle reading: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” About fifty to eighty years after that, around 110 a.d. to 140 a.d., the church father Polycarp, who was taught under the apostle John, also wrote a letter to the Philippian Christians. He begins his letter to them by sharing with them his joy in them that they “have accompanied… those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord.”

About 2000 years later, in the year 2011, the letter that Paul wrote to the saints of God in Philippi is heard by us as a letter written to the saints of God in San Diego. The chains that bound Paul as he wrote to them were the very same chains that bound him as the Holy Spirit inspired him to write those words also for Christians of every age. So less than a hundred years later a Christian wrote to those very same Christians to continue to encourage them in the very same thing that Paul had. We are in need of that very same encouragement as well.

If we were bound in chains, we wouldn’t be sitting here. We’d be holed up in a cell. Paul was blessed by God to be given the opportunity to write to the Philippian saints. Some Christians across the centuries have not been so blessed. Some have not been given opportunity to write or to read. Some Christians who have been imprisoned had only Bible passages or hymns memorized to keep them in the comfort of God’s grace. You and I may never know the experience of being shackled by metal chains and placed behind steel bars for refusing to publicly renounce our belief in and allegiance to Jesus Christ.

But I wonder if we are more like Paul and those Polycarp described than unlike them. Though we live in a land where we have freedom to publicly speak of and live out our belief in and allegiance to Jesus Christ, I wonder if we don’t even realize just how much we live as people who are bound in chains. Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten used to expecting that being a Christian will be easy. Could it be that we’re hesitant to seize our walk with Christ as one in which we are unjustly dealt with or looked down upon or simply being humble in our words and actions?

It will be difficult but it would be worth your while to take stock of who you are as a Christian, as child of God, and note that if there are not times that you are not being treated shamefully because you’re a Christian, or if you find yourself not being dealt with unfairly because you put Jesus Christ in front of your personal desires and even needs, or if you find yourself longing for an easier life in which you don’t have to think about the far reaching demands of God’s Law on your life, then perhaps you are bound by something more insidious than the chains of persecution and suffering our Lord and St. Paul and our forefather in the faith Polycarp directed our attention to.

For that matter, how willing are you to admit and lay bear the fact of your utter corruption, your unworthiness of obtaining anything good in this life, let alone the one to come? Do you find yourself seeing in the Ten Commandments a mirror that shows you an attractive picture of just how good and decent and likeable of a person that you are? Perhaps you see the Ten commandments as a spotlight that you can use to shine on the lives of others and how it exposes how much they really fall short, especially in comparison with you.

When you suffer unjustly on account of Christ, do you complain? Do you wish you didn’t have to go through trials due to being a servant of God? If you could change your walk with Christ from the way of the cross to an easy way, or even a way of prosperity, would you? Would you choose the way of Christ, the way of humility, over not having to endure any hardship because you are beholden to Christ and not the world?

These questions are no-brainers for the world. More pointedly, they are no-brainers for the sinful flesh. We would choose the easy way, the way of glory, the way of no suffering, any day over a life in which we often seem to be weak or beaten down or even enduring more hardship than what seems we can handle. The Ten Commandments are indeed a mirror. But it’s only as we fool ourselves that they show us what we want to see. It’s as they really are that they show us who we really are. People who are utterly corrupt, who place themselves before God and even others.

Unfortunately, the chains in which we bind ourselves are the chains of sin and death. We are prisoners of our own making. We are bound in chains. We cannot free ourselves from our miserable notions of wanting to be free of any sort of trial or suffering at the hands of others that makes things worse for us. We are wrapped up in our own wretchedness of sin, death, and evil. You cannot always see this from the outside but in the deepest part of our hearts there is darkness. The Ten Commandments not only act as a mirror but as the brightest spotlight which exposes the darkness of our hearts and the utter corruption that hides there.

There is something else that shines brightly. Its brightness is that of glory and cannot be dimmed by anything we can do or fail to do. It is the suffering of the saints. It is the fitting ornaments in which they are adorned. It shines like a royal diadem and though it is rarely noticed by anyone it is the glory of every Christian. This is what makes it possible for Paul, even while being in a situation that if he were to choose of his own accord, would skip out on it in a heartbeat—being imprisoned simply for being a Christian—nevertheless speaks with a reckless abandon that this is the very best situation he could be in. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.” This isn’t a positive attitude. It’s not mere wishful thinking. He isn’t delusional. Paul is speaking as one who is clothed in new garments. As one who is Baptized into Christ and therefore clothed with Christ. His suffering is actually his new clothing. Even as he is bound in chains, he is adorned in glory.

Paul was writing to the Philippians not to complain or even to ask them to pray that he might be delivered from his chains. No, he actually was confident that he would be delivered. He didn’t know when it would be but it was a confidence that with certainty it would happen. It might be at some time in his life on earth. It might be through his death and therefore entrance into the glory of being in the presence of Christ. But it would happen. This Paul knew. And even more it’s what he desired. He longed for leaving this life but knew that his Lord was the one who would call him home when it was in his Lord’s time. If it were sooner, all the better for Paul. If it were later, all the better for the Christians he had been called to serve. It would have been easy for Paul to lament how little he could do for them being bound in chains. Instead he saw it exactly the opposite way—what had happened to him was serving to advance the Gospel! His suffering on account of Christ was the glory in which he was clothed.

There is only one way this can be. It is so because of Christ Himself, who clothed Himself with our flesh and blood. Who adorned Himself with our sin, our guilt, our corruption, our pride, our evil, the deepest darkest part that’s hidden in our hearts. It was His glory and His joy to wrap Himself up in all of it. To be bound on the cross and be on the receiving end of judgment, wrath, and punishment against all sin and evil.

When you’re suffering you mostly ask why. You question God and even rail against Him. You wonder why the way it is has to be that way. Why can’t God do things the way you want? The Old Testament reading shows us that God glories in the fact that His ways are not ours, His thoughts not ours. We should not only glory in that, we should give humble thanks for it. That His way is the way of the cross, the way of suffering, the way of adorning Himself with a diadem. Not of kingly apparel but a crown of thorns. Not with purple robes, but the filthy rags of our unrighteousness. Not being free from trial and unjust treatment but of submitting to being wrapped up in our sin and guilt so that we may be free from them.

And if we are tempted to grumble as those hired first in the Gospel reading and who got the same wage as those hired last, may we instead rejoice that we have been invited into the field of this world to serve others. There will be a day in which each of us will be called home to eternal glory. That day may happen today or sometime from now or the distant future. If it is not soon you have the glory and the joy to serve others, whether you’re struggling under wrong treatment by others or simply humbly serving in the most ordinary of ways your family, your brother and sister Christians, and yes, even those treating you unjustly. No one may be able to see it, or even care, the glory by which you are adorned, but nevertheless, you go forward in this way, that “for to you to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Amen.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Is Every Day the Same?

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 11, 2011

We’re here on this day for a reason. This is the day we have chosen to be here. But even so, is today just another day? Or because we have chosen this as the day to gather here, does that make it a special day? The normal thing in the Christian Church is that the first day of the week, Sunday, is the day we gather for worship.

Some people don’t give it any thought. It’s just the day it is and so that’s that. For some it’s vital that it be this day. Sunday, and no other day. Those who belong, for example, to the Seventh Day Adventists say that we’re wrong in gathering on Sunday for worship, it needs to be Saturday.

Is today a special day, or is it just another day? Furthermore, even as today is a Sunday, our normal day we gather here for worship, in our nation today is also a day that is special as Patriot Day, in which we observe the terrorist attacks on our soil at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even more so, it has special significance because it is the tenth anniversary of that day of infamy.

And with no intention of making light of this day as 9/11, did you know that today is also Grandparents Day (which is always the first Sunday after Labor Day)? And there’s another important thing happening today for a large portion of the population of our country: today is the first full day of the NFL season. In fact, one of the things that occurs at major sporting events in our country is the singing of the National Anthem and also since 9/11, the singing of God Bless America. Even though there’s an equally large portion of the population who couldn’t care less about sports, the fact that many of us gather at large venues for sporting events and sing the national anthem and put our hands over our hearts as we look at the American flag is a symbolic action of the freedom we enjoy in our country.

For some people the most important thing about today is as the observance of 9/11. Many people won’t even know that it’s Grandparents Day. For some people the fact that it’s 9/11, and the tenth anniversary of it no less, isn’t nearly as important to them as it is the start of the new football season. Is it wrong if watching your team play today is more important to you than making a proper observance of 9/11? Is it wrong if you don’t call up your Grandma or Grandpa and tell them “Happy Grandparents Day, I love you!”? What if being here and observing the resurrection of our Lord is more important to you than all of those other things?

How it all started for Christians in gathering on Sunday, the first day of the week was that Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Sunday. He was in the tomb on Saturday, the seventh day, the Sabbath day. The Sabbath was the day of rest. It was the day the people of God would gather for worship and receive the spiritual rest they needed from God in being forgiven and strengthened in order to serve Him. Now that Jesus had risen on the first day Christians began to gather on that day, as the new day of spiritual rest.

We should be clear. The early Christians were in no way saying it was wrong to keep worshiping on Saturday. They were in no way mandating that Sunday now was the day to worship. What they were doing is saying, Hey, what better day to gather for worship of the living Lord than on the day He rose from the grave? So they switched to Sunday.

On the one hand, today is like any other day. On the other hand, it’s a day of tremendous significance. It was on the first day of the week that Jesus stepped out of His tomb. Sometimes days of other significance fall on a Sunday. Today our nation is observing a day of tremendous significance in 9/11. Our country is one in which we have the freedom to be of whatever religion we want or no religion. But as a citizens of our nation each of us is in it together as we mourn the loss of our fellow citizens and give honor to those who risked and lost their lives in rescuing people in the terrorist attack, as well as a debt of gratitude for those who continue to risk and lose their lives in their duty to defend our country.

It’s an amazing, if ironic, thing about our country that if you don’t wish to observe this day as 9/11 you don’t have to. But we also have the freedom not to pass judgment on those who would rather not observe this day in that way. At the same time, even in our solemnity in the observance of this day we can freely enjoy things we like to do, like watch the football game.

We recognize these things because we see that we have a special nation we live in where we have freedom and where even when our liberty is inhibited we have recourse through the law to rectify the infringement of our rights. Now think in terms of who we are as Christians. As Christians we are citizens of this great land as well as a Kingdom that is not of this world. We can gather here to celebrate and observe an event that far surpasses the significance of 9/11 even as we can join with our fellow citizens and not diminish what this day means for our country. As Christians we see it in an even broader perspective. We see the opportunity we have as Christians to pray for our leaders to work for the welfare of our land. As an opportunity to pray for those who defend the freedom we enjoy. As an opportunity for Christians themselves to serve in government and the Armed Forces and in many other ways that serve God by serving the people He created. And even as an opportunity to pray for our enemies.

As Christians we recognize that life is full of paradox and that’s okay. Today is at the same time like any other day and a day that is to be marked out as special. Think of it this way. In one sense, September 11, 2001, was a day like every other day. Since man fell into sin, creation has been groaning under the heavy burden of sin and evil and the relentless pursuit of Satan to destroy us. Without in any way undermining the enormous tragedy of 9/11, in one sense it is simply one more reminder of the fact that we live in a fallen world and that we are going to continue to see disaster, tragedy, sorrow, pain, and questions of why things must be this way.

Some of us here knew of people who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. That brings it closer to home. It’s the same way with those who have lost their loved ones because of the wicked actions of others. It would in fact be shameful to go up to someone who is suffering in this way and tell them that that day is just another day, that it’s like any other. It’s in times like we’re in now where we can step back and look at things in perspective and see that even while some things are not normal day to day occurrences, it’s actually when we’re not experiencing in the moment the effects of death, decay, and tragedy that that’s what is out of the norm.

And that’s why it’s a such a blessing to be here on the first day of each week. Because we need what the people in our Scripture readings received. We need forgiveness. We need the mercy that was bestowed on the brothers of Joseph in the Old Testament reading. We need the canceling of the debt that was received by the servant from the king in the Epistle reading. As much as we suffer and question why tragedies strike, we first and foremost and ultimately need forgiveness. We need the mercy of God. The greatest tragedy of all would be to go to the grave apart from this. Do those who commit horrible crimes need to be brought to justice? Yes they do. There’s no question about that. But they also need forgiveness. We’re the ones who can do that. We have been forgiven. We can forgive. We can be merciful to those who seek our harm. We can cancel the debt others have toward us because our debt to God has been cancelled.

Think about the amazing freedom we have in this! We can freely rejoice in observing days, eating or not eating certain food in honor to God, and we don’t have to worry about doing it out of obligation. This is the way Paul says it in the Epistle reading: “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” He then says this: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” This is the blessed freedom we have in the Lord. We are not our own. We don’t have to worry about what happens to us because we are the Lord’s. Difficulties will come in this life. But we are the Lord’s. In fact, we can with greater clarity observe days as meaningful because our Lord’s coming out of the tomb on Easter Day changed everything. Even as everything is still in decay and creation is groaning under the weight and stress of sin and evil, we can walk through life knowing that we are not our own, we are the Lord’s. Whether we live or whether we die, He has us in His eternal care.

This is what Paul says next: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” At the end of the day, it’s always about Christ. with all the questions, with all the tragedy, with all the evil, with all the sadness, Christ is always who it is all about. He endured it all on the cross. The suffering, the evil, the sorrow, the sin, the debt we owe God. He suffered it. He endured it. He has gone through it. He knows. He knows about 9/11. He knows about what you’re going through in your life. He knows how difficult it is, the things you face. The trials, the sorrow, the questions. He suffered and died for you. He rose for you. He gives you hope in your Baptism. He gives you Himself in His Holy Supper. He gives you peace that goes beyond our human and often frail attempts at understanding and making sense of the world and things that happen in our lives. He knows. He’s above it all, seeing it in its proper perspective. Knowing that He is more powerful than it all even as He has loved us so much that He didn’t just sit there on the sidelines or above it all but entered the fray. Entered the madness, dove into the evil and sorrow of this world, and met it straight on.

On one hand every day is like every other. There are days, though, that do have special significance. As for today, there is one way that this day is unlike any other that has occurred. It’s a new day. All the others are past. But today is still today. We don’t know when our Lord will return in glory, it could be today. But if He continues to wait in patience we have today. It’s not over yet. There’s opportunity today to enjoy the freedom we have in this nation. There’s opportunity to enjoy the freedom we have in Christ. There opportunity to realize that you can call grandma and grandpa today or any day. There’s opportunity to love all of those who are special in your life. There’s opportunity to observe, even if quietly and solemnly, a day of sorrow but also of hope. There’s opportunity to serve. Sometimes it’s in the most horrible of circumstances that we have the greatest opportunities to serve others, even as we know that at times in our worst moments others have served us. This is really what our Lord loves to do.

In a way, every day is like every other day, because that’s really what He’s always about. Amen.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Being Humble Servants

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Moses
Rally Day
September 4, 2011
Romans 13:1-10

On one occasion the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Without missing a beat, Jesus said, “You’re lookin’ at ’im.” They all, without missing a beat, said, “Well, yes, of course we know that. What we meant was, among us. You know, the greatest apart from You.”

Because it wasn’t enough to know that Jesus was the greatest. They needed to know among themselves. They couldn’t be content with just knowing that He is the greatest. Not enough to know that they must be humble and simply submit to His Lordship.

Maybe the insistence on being the greatest is more of a male trait, but each one of us as Christians, male or female, tends to look at Jesus and not see Him for who He is. Each of us tends to look at Him and see someone who can help us get to where we want to go. We tend not to look at Him and simply see that He is the one we should be concentrating on and not ourselves.

How this plays out in daily life is that we so often forget how we are to view others and interact with them. It doesn’t matter if we are related to them or are friends with them or they are our brother or sister Christians or they are neighbors or co-workers or anyone. So often we just interact with others as if they are just other people. We often forget that God has called us to serve others. When we are wrapped up in our own world we forget who it is we said we were in the Collect we prayed a little bit ago: we are humble servants.

That’s why Jesus put a child before the disciples. Not because that child was greater than they were. Because they thought of themselves more highly than they ought to. Because it’s in being as a child that we see what greatness is all about.

That’s why it’s so difficult when it comes to living in this world. It’s hard enough to deal with temptations and people who run roughshod over the Christian faith and people run roughshod over us and a lot of difficult situations and decisions we face. But then we are confronted by our Lord who puts a little child in front of us. We are faced with the reality that we too often think that putting away childish things means thinking highly of ourselves rather than humbling ourselves. We are met with our Lord basically telling us that if you want to know who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, it certainly isn’t you.

Today in our congregation we are starting our new Sunday School year. If you were to go to any school in the country and talk to the students about what the first day of school means they’d probably talk about the fact that a new school year is starting and that this is the day it’s starting. It’s often not until you’re out of school and an adult that you see that the first day of each school year was far less important than each day of each year and every day of your life. You don’t just learn in school. You learn in life. Hopefully you will continue to be learning throughout your life.

Rally Day in the big picture is nothing more than a day to realize the importance that it’s not just today but everyday that we are to be learning the Word of God. Learning the Word of God is looking at Jesus and instead of asking Him about yourself you ask Him about how you can serve Him. The way you serve Him is by serving others.

Imagine if Paul addressed our interaction with government the way the disciples asked their question of Jesus. Christians, you are not of this world, you are of the Kingdom of God. Have nothing to do with government. It is secular, it is not spiritual, it is not of the things of God. Do not submit yourselves to government for you are to submit yourselves to God alone.

This sounds really spiritual but it’s the opposite of what Paul says. He says that we are to submit to government. We are honor government and pay what we owe to government. As little children are to honor those in authority so are we adults to honor those in authority over us. That’s government. Try telling that to those in countries that suffer under repressive regimes. Try telling that to the conservatives when those in office are liberal, or the liberals when conservatives are in office.

But Paul doesn’t talk about those nuances. He just says, Be subject to the government. It is the authority. Talk about being humbled. God knows how to humble us. We have no right to go against the authority of government, even if it’s a pagan government like what was in place when Jesus and Paul were alive. But even more astonishing is the reason we are to submit to the authority of the government. It is because the authority of government is actually the authority of God. Even more, God is the one who instituted the government to carry out law and order in society. As Christians we won’t take issue with submitting to God, but to the government?

That shows how turned in on ourselves we are. We look at government and see conservatives or liberals. Jesus shakes His head and says, “No, you’re not getting it. You’re not supposed to see that. You’re supposed to see Me.” So He puts a little child before us. He says, “There. Be as a child. Be a humble servant. When you see others, see Me. When you look at government, see Me.” This is how we learn to submit.

We won’t always be able to obey government or others in authority over us. If they command us to go against God’s Word then we must obey God and not the human beings commanding us to sin. But we nevertheless give them due honor, because the honor is given to God in this way.

And while we owe that to government, to others we owe nothing except to love them. We look at the commandments and instead of seeing things that we are compelled to do, we see opportunities to look at others and see Jesus. How does Paul say it? The one who loves another has fulfilled the Law. When you or I love others we so often hold back. We invariably do not give our all. Inevitably we steer circumstances so that they can turn out for what we will get out of it. True love doesn’t work that way. True love sees Jesus. And if you start looking at others and seeing Him you will see how the Law, the Ten Commandments, is fulfilled. Be as a little child. Don’t think of yourself but what the other person needs.

It’s a sad commentary on us Christians that we even need to be told what Paul says about the Ten Commandments: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If we weren’t so stuck on ourselves we wouldn’t need to be told to love others as ourselves. Sometimes it takes Jesus putting a little child before us and saying, If you are so high on yourself then consider for a moment that being as a little child will make you great in the Kingdom. It’s not who you are or what you do that makes you great. It’s not about you. So look at the Commandments and see opportunities. Opportunities to love others and do what is best for others.

On one occasion the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” You might have thought I was being facetious when I said that without missing a beat, Jesus said, “You’re lookin’ at ’im.” But I wasn’t. This really was Jesus’ answer. As is so often the case when Jesus answered questions He made a deeper point than the surface level questions so often asked of Him were seeking. In putting a little child before them Jesus was given them and us a picture of Himself. He easily could have said, “My dear disciples, who do you think is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Why, you know deep in your hearts that it’s Me.” But what would that have accomplished but nods of assent without any understanding.

Instead, He brought forward a little child and showed them Himself. “This is who I am. I am the one who comes before you as a child. I the one who alone is Lord comes before you as a humble servant. I come before you as the one who walked the path of the Commandments, loving others as I love Myself. The one who alone walked the path of going to the cross as punishment for not obeying the commandments. It’s not that I was guilty, it’s that I wasn’t asking, ‘Who is the greatest?’ I was rather asking, ‘What do these people need, these people whom I love?’ What they need is a servant. It’s not going to happen if I’m stuck on Myself and My eternal throne of Lordship. It will happen if I humbly submit to My Heavenly Father and walk the path of suffering and death for the sin of the world. It will happen if I fulfill the Law in this way. It will happen if I see that it is here and in this My true glory is shown.

And that, my friends, is what you need to see each day. See that it is not in what you so often think is what God is all about, but rather simply how God gives you to think about others and serve them. He gives you His Son. You live in Him and by Him and through Him. You live each day with the awesome opportunity to be as a little child. Seeing instead of yourself, your Lord and Savior. Seeing instead of burdens, opportunities to serve others and love them as Christ has loved you. Seeing instead of drudgery the amazing opportunity to be in God’s Word and grow in it. Seeing instead of a life where you try to think about what is best for yourself you rejoice in what God has given you.

In Baptism, new life. In the declaration of the forgiveness of your sins, the very Gospel that sustains you. In the proclamation of that Gospel, the power of God unto salvation. In the Lord’s Holy Supper, the strength you need to go into each day as God has called you. By being Himself the greatest humble servant He has called you and enabled you to be humble servants. Amen.