Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Essence of Faith

Fifth Sunday after Trinity
June 30, 2013
Do you have strong faith, or weak faith? Or just enough faith? Are you growing in your faith? Are you backsliding in faith? Perhaps the real question is, what is the essence of faith? The word faith never appears in today’s Gospel reading. But today’s Gospel reading teaches us what faith is. It gets to the heart of faith. It directs us to what we need to be directed to when it comes to faith.

Faith is never about faith itself. If it were, it wouldn’t be faith. Faith is something that is directed toward something else, confidence in something outside of itself. Faith in itself is faith that is baseless and without any power. Faith looks outside of itself. It relishes what it latches onto, not onto how great it itself is. In fact, faith is so outward looking that it has no thought to itself, no desire to have anything directed to itself.

Faith the Holy Spirit gives is faith that latches on to Jesus. Faith the Holy Spirit gives is not faith for faith’s sake, but faith on account of Jesus and in Jesus. It is faith that looks to Christ alone and is sustained by Christ alone. Faith comes by hearing. That is the first way our Gospel reading teaches us faith. This is what the people were doing. They were hearing. Specifically, they were hearing Jesus. Luke says, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret.”

There is no faith apart from hearing. The Word of God proclaimed is what our ears take in. The Word of God proclaimed is what the Holy Spirit uses to impart faith to people. The setting of today’s Gospel reading is the hearing of the Word of God. Jesus was teaching it and the people were hearing it. This must be the staple of the Christian life: hearing, receiving, partaking of the Word of God through its proclamation and in the Sacraments. Here is where the Holy Spirit first brings faith into your life and here is where He continues to sustain it in you.

On this occasion we meet our friends Peter and James and John. They were fisherman. Jesus was teaching and they were doing their work. He would use this to His advantage. The God of creation is the God who uses His creation to bring about blessings to the people of His creation. Our Vacation Bible School this past week had the theme “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” When we look at the grandeur of God’s creation we can marvel at the blessings He gives to us. People can produce amazing artwork, but can anything match the beauty of God’s creation?

But the point of the theme of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was not simply to marvel at the breathtaking glory of mountains and the natural beauty of God’s creation, but to see that God uses the things of His creation to come to us. At Mount Sinai He gave the Ten Commandments. At the Mount of Transfiguration He was declared the Lord who is glorious in His humility of walking the path to the cross. And of course on Calvary He died on that cross.  These mountains were specific mountains. They were located in particular places. God came to His people on those mountains.

There were many other instances where God came to the people of His creation. The Gospel reading for today is one such instance. Jesus used the boats of the fishermen to teach the Word of God. He used the water He created to get a little breathing room while the crowds pressed in on Him so that His voice would carry farther and more people would hear.

When He finished, He said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” What does faith know about Jesus? He is God. He is almighty. He is Lord. It also knows that He is God in the flesh. He was born. He grew up. He ate regular meals, went to school, learned the trade of His father, which was likely a carpenter. Had He gone fishing when He was a kid? Possibly. Maybe, maybe not. But He was not a fisherman. He didn’t make a living on the water catching fish. But here He was telling Peter to put out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch.

Now what does faith know about this; about Jesus, the one who is God but not a fisherman? Well, for us it might be a different answer than what they would have had back then because we have the benefit of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all telling us of all the many miracles Jesus accomplished. We know He wasn’t a fisherman, but He wasn’t telling Peter to make a catch because of any knowledge of fishing, but because He was God! Because He could do anything! All of that is true, but that’s not only what faith looks to.

It looks not only at Christ as God. But also at Christ as Lord. The difference is in seeing Him as the Almighty being who can do anything and the one who is personally your Lord. Peter’s response is the response of faith. Not simply in Jesus as God but in Jesus as Lord. What we learn here about faith is that it is not dependent upon the heart of the person who has the faith. Or how much understanding he has. Or whether his faith is really strong or just hanging on by a thread. Rather, with faith, it is always dependent on one thing, and that is Christ.

Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” His response, weak though it may be, is one of faith. The worst thing a person who is weak in faith can hear is that they are weak in faith. If you are struggling in your faith and you are told that you are weak in faith, that you need to have more faith, what is it you are being directed to? Your faith. What you are being directed to is yourself—the very last place you should be directed to. You are the problem! The reason you are weak in your faith is because your focus is already on yourself.

No, if you are weak in faith, you should not be directed to yourself but outside of yourself. You need to be directed to Christ. And even in his weakness, Peter recognized this. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But what are his next words? “But at your word I will let down the nets.” Peter knew it wouldn’t do any good. He made his objection known to Jesus. He was tired. He had worked hard all night. He, the professional fisherman, had done all he could to catch some fish and it just wasn’t happening. Time to pack it in, clean up for another day, and go to it again that night.

But at Your word, Jesus, I will do it. Faith is strong even when it is weak. Even though, Lord, I don’t think it will do any good, I will do it. I will do it because of Your word. Because You have said so, I will do it. At Your word. This is the essence of faith. Not Peter. Not you. Not even the fact that God is God and is almighty. The essence of faith is Christ. At His word faith is formed, faith is sustained, and faith is strengthened.

They let down the nets. Well, we know what happened. We could see it a mile away. We’ve seen this kind of thing happen so often in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that we know that when Jesus says you need to put down the nets for a catch, a catch there will be. And lo and behold there was.

But they hadn’t seen it coming. They were floored. They were scared. They were in awe. What kind of person could this be? This wasn’t just a catch, this was a miracle! This was the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen! They needed to scramble. Their boats began to sink. At His word was produced something other-worldly. Something they could in no way bring about. Not through their toiling. Not through their knowledge. Not through their, well, their anything. They were in the presence of the Lord. He was the only one. And He is the only one faith looks to. Not your toils, not your knowledge, not yourself, not anything you do or of who you are. Christ and Him alone.

And faith sees something else. “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” Peter had come face to face with his Lord. You know what that means? He had come face to face with his sin. When you are standing in the presence of the Almighty God, you are standing in the face of the one who is holy and standing as one who is very unholy. Faith sees this, and is terrified. Faith sees this and does not shy away from it. Faith knows it cannot be in the presence of the Lord because we are sinners from birth. Faith confesses what is true, we are sinners and are unable to stand before the Lord.

But the beauty of faith is that it doesn’t turn inward for help or hope. But rather to the very Lord of whom the sinner cannot stand in the presence of! What happens after Peter speaks and confesses? Hearing. Jesus speaking. Jesus speaking and Peter hearing His word. It was, after all, as Peter had said, “at Your word,” and now Peter got to hear His Word. Jesus said to [Peter], “‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” Do not be afraid. You are absolved. Forgiven. Lifted up. You cannot stand up in My presence. That is true, but take heart! Stand up anyway, because I tell you there is nothing to be afraid of. The miracle I have accomplished today is a drop in the ocean compared with the vastness of the mercy I will bring forth when I ascend the mount of Calvary. There I will die for all of your sins. Yes, you are a sinful man. And yes, I will depart from you so that I can go where you are unable to go and pay for all of your sins so that you can stand before Me and be in my presence forever.

This we know Jesus has done. The greatest miracle of all. And because of it the Holy Spirit grants you faith. The best way to think about faith is to not think about faith but about Christ. Rather than wondering if you have right faith or enough faith, look instead to Christ. He is the essence of faith, not faith. Faith hears Him. Which is nothing else to say than, you have faith. You hear Him and your are forgiven by Him. Your faith and your life are in Him. Amen.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Can’t You See that You’re Blind?

Fourth Sunday after Trinity
June 23, 2013
The answer is no. You can’t see that you’re blind. How could you? You’re blind. You go around in life looking and looking but never seeing. You look for those specks in other people’s eyes. Sometimes you don’t even go looking for it, it’s just as plain as day, those faults and sins and failings of others. How they treat others. How they impede you and fail you and run you down. There is so much sin for you to see in others. And when you’ve exhausted all the ones you can see you go looking for those that are hidden. Determining just what their motives might be. Determining just what might be behind their obviously sinful and selfish actions. You are very good at seeing all of these things.

And it’s just this that makes you blind. It’s just this that makes it so that you can’t even see that you’re blind.

You go around judging others but above the fray, knowing that Jesus says that if you judge you will be judged, but that it obviously doesn’t apply to you because we must call a spade a spade. You see clearly acts and words of others that must be condemned and so you condemn, knowing that when Jesus says if you do, you yourself will be condemned but that He obviously is speaking to those who condemn when it’s not in their place to do so. And you are clearly in your place, because you have seen the gross sins and actions with your own two eyes! You judge and condemn these people rather than forgiving them because obviously if you were to forgive them they would be emboldened in their sinful and harmful behavior. You must stand in judgment and condemnation of them just as you would expect the same of them if you had sinned against them. You do not give them grace because what they need to see is how they have acted wrongly and have harmed others.

But don’t you see that in doing this you stand under judgment? Can’t you see that when you judge others in this way you have condemned yourself? Won’t you see that in your refusal to forgive others you have removed yourself from forgiveness? Can’t you see that if you do not extend grace to others then you are yourself outside of grace? No, you can’t see this because you are blind. You can’t see in yourself the judgment you hand down on others yourself.

It is because what you are seeing in others is a speck. It doesn’t look like one. It looks like a log. You judge them and condemn them because you see giant logs in their eyes. But what you don’t see is that they are really specks. The reason you don’t is because you are the one who has a log in your eye. Trying to see past that log is like trying to see in a dense forest at night without any light. You see, but not clearly. You see things, but they are like shadows or shapes that you can’t quite make out. But you can imagine what they might be. And so you’re seeing, but really you’re not. You may as well be blind because you can’t see clearly. You can’t see things for what they really are.

And so when you see the sins and the failings of others, you imagine what must be at the root of those sins. You are convinced that their motives are utterly selfish and impure. You see giant logs in their eyes even though they are tiny specks. You see it this way because you are blind.

Can’t you see this?

Oh, that’s right, we already answered this. No, you can’t. You can’t see that you’re blind, because, well, you’re blind. Jesus posed the question of whether a blind man can lead a blind man. The answer is obviously no. The one who can’t see will lead the other who just the same can’t see astray. So when you are out there seeing all that you see—those sins, those actions, those things that are wrong—you, blind as you are, are leading them astray. You are turning their specks into logs because you have turned your log into a speck. It’s much easier to see past a speck than a log. Maybe that’s why you do it. It’s much easier to see the failings of others than to confront your own.

And you are so blind that you do just that. Ignoring that log in your eye and calling it a speck so that you can see with great clarity just how wrong and sinful those other people are. Especially those who have sinned directly against you.

You are blind, and you will never see this.

Never, that is, with your own eyes. Never with your own heart, or your own mind, or your own emotions, or your own desires. You will never see you are blind because a blind person simply cannot see of his own power or will. Never.

And you can’t even see that.

Since you’re a Christian and you have successfully convinced yourself about those logs in your eyes really being specks, there’s a word that Jesus has to use specifically for you: hypocrite.

When you judge others as sinners and stand above them in that judgment, you are a hypocrite. When you condemn them and stand above it yourself, you are hypocrite. When you refuse to forgive others as if you yourself did not need it, you are a hypocrite. When you refuse to give freely to others kindness, gentleness, and grace, you are a hypocrite. You, being blind, do not see this. But then, that’s the nature of hypocrisy, isn’t it? It’s the hypocrite who doesn’t see that he’s a hypocrite.

On the other hand, the one who sees his sin for what it is, sees so clearly that he is terrified. Terrified of the judgment that is upon him. Terrified of the condemnation he rightly deserves. Terrified that he doesn’t deserve forgiveness and grace. Terrified, because those logs in his eyes have grown into a forest of trees that can no longer be hidden or ignored.

This is what you need to see. It is what your Heavenly Father opens your eyes to see. When Joseph’s brothers saw that now that their dad was dead and there was nothing stopping Joseph from exacting revenge on them, they were terrified. That’s what the Holy Spirit does, is bring the Law to bear upon you so that you can see the terror of the judgment and condemnation you are under. God will exact His vengeance upon you.

But notice what Joseph does. He is gracious. He is forgiving. He is kind. He is gentle. He doesn’t judge or condemn. He doesn’t go all high and mighty on them. He forgives them. After all, was he in the place of God? No. He himself saw in his own heart the filthy, selfish, unholy sins that were no different than that of his brothers. He would not judge them, he would forgive them.

Joseph. A man of God, acting in a godly way. In humility. In love. In forgiveness. In grace. All the things that are opposite of judgment, condemnation, and refusal to forgive and act in a giving way. And in a great irony, he was actually wrong. When he said, “Am I in the place of God?”, making the point that he wasn’t—in other words, that he was simply a sinner just as they were—he was wrong. He was in the place of God. He was standing before his brothers in the place of God. For Joseph could in no way forgive his brothers in this way—so freely, so graciously, so immeasurably. He knew this. He knew that it was only by the grace of God that he could and did forgive his brothers.

He was blind as they were. But God opened his eyes. He opened his eyes to see. That he had a log in his own eye and therefore would and could freely forgive his brothers for the speck that was in their own eyes.

This doesn’t diminish in any way gross sins. The laws of the land still must be upheld and violaters must still be punished. Households must have order in them and consequences for wrong behavior. Jesus is not saying we can never, and should never, call sin for what it is. Namely, sin. We must do that.

What He is saying is that you had better not do it while you are blind. You must not do it while you have convinced yourself that you are somehow less of a sinner than the person you are calling to account. Humility is the order of the day. Seeing clearly is what Jesus is getting at. Call a spade a spade when it comes to the other person, but not until you have seen the spade in your own life, which must always be a log in comparison with the speck that is in the other person’s eye.

It goes against the grain. You want what is due that person when he sins against you. But if you go that route you will remain blind and in your own sin. If it seems too unfair, consider this: Christ, on the cross, had no log in His eye, nor even a speck. There was not the slightest taint of sin in His life and being. He alone was without sin and alone had the right, the authority, and the power to truly judge, condemn, and refuse forgiveness.

But there was one more thing. He alone saw clearly. He alone, not having any log or speck or anything getting in the way of His sight, saw so clearly, that we can’t even see straight to comprehend it. What did He do? He forgave them. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This, dear friends, is why we forgive others. It is because of Christ. It is because He forgives us. It is because His sight becomes ours. For when you begin to see how He sees you, you see much more clearly how He sees others. And that is in love and forgiveness. Amen.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jesus Receives Sinners

Third Sunday after Trinity
June 16, 2013
They should have known. Of all people, they should have known. There are two readings we’ve heard this morning that show this. One that was written before the instance of our Gospel reading and one after. The Old Testament reading beautifully describes God’s gracious and merciful love for us. The Epistle reading shows that obviously it was still a problem of people resting in their self-righteousness and resisting the notion of grace and mercy for the less-desirable among us.

So Jesus doesn’t straight out explain to them, You guys should have known. No, Jesus does here what He so masterfully does. He tells a story. Sometimes there comes a point where saying, You should have known, falls on deaf ears. So Jesus is going to come at this with a different tack. He will show these Pharisees and scribes what they should have known.

This is how it’s stated in the Gospel reading: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Those religious leaders should have known. They should have known that, yes, Jesus does receive sinners and eat with them. They should have known, as the Old Testament so clearly lays forth, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Yes, that’s what Jesus does, He receives sinners and eats with them. He forgives them. And those Pharisees and scribes should have known that. They were so consumed with their own self-righteousness, they forgot that Jesus came for sinners. They were so caught up in being worthy and being a person of good repute, they dismissed the Jesus who came for those who realized they were unworthy and unrighteous. They should have known. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what Micah said in chapter 7, which is where our Old Testament reading today is from.

In the Epistle reading we see that this problem never goes away. Those who should have learned have not. Those who should have known forgot. Those who continue to place themselves above others are not seeing Jesus for who He is. Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

They should have known, but they didn’t. The Pharisees and scribes were indeed upstanding people. But they should have known what the Scripture says about God and His love for people.  It is for sinners. It is for those of questionable character. It is for those who are humbled because they come to see that they truly are not worthy of the favor of God or any reward from Him. What was a beautiful thing, “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus],” was abhorrent to the religious leaders. Their condemnation of Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” was actually the purest Gospel.

And they should have known that. So Jesus tells them His parables. A sheep that is lost. A coin that is missing. Should the man just be glad that he had ninety-nine other sheep and just chalk up the loss of the one? Should the woman just be glad it was only one coin she lost, and just be glad she didn’t lose more, and for that matter, she still had a house to live in? No, Jesus’ approach is that the man goes after that one sheep. The woman tears up the house to find that one coin. There were already those fine, upstanding, by the book righteous Pharisees and scribes, that should have been good enough. But He went looking for those who were lost. As the religious leaders condescendingly refer to them as, ‘sinners’.

They should have known. All through the Scriptures this is the story of God. It is Him seeking out and saving the lost. Sinners. Those who are not worthy. Those who have no righteousness of their own. You see, the Pharisees, the scribes, the self-righteous, the good people if you will, they feasted sumptuously on their own works and egos and desires and righteousness. But who did Jesus eat with? The sinners. The unrighteous if you will. Those who were unworthy. Now it’s a fact that everyone is unworthy. But notice the difference. The tax collectors and sinners realized it. They believed it. They knew their only hope was the mercy of God. They repented. They saw in Jesus one who would accept them not for who they should be but for who they were. And who was that? Sinners.

And when that sheep was found, the guy rejoiced. When that coin was found, the woman rejoiced. When just that one sinner repented, the angels had a huge party. There was rejoicing all across heaven. Meanwhile those who were filled up in their own righteousness were eating a meal of their own pride, which only leads to death.

So if it’s the case that you, too, should have known, here is your opportunity to know that the Bible is ceaseless in its bringing Christ to you, a sinner.  If you were building yourself up by the knowledge of all the wonderful things you do to serve in the Church or all the good you do in serving those outside the Church, you should have known that those are simply unworthy works your Lord Himself has prepared for you to do. That they are, in fact, part of the way in which you rejoice along with the angels in heaven. After all, when Jesus comes to you and eats with you the focus certainly is not on you, but rather on Him.

And that is why He will continue to receive and eat with sinners. It is why He will keep inviting you to eat with Him and actually partake of Him. It is why He will give you often in the bread and wine of His Supper His very self, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Because that’s really the key to this all. You are a sinner. And you know who He welcomes to His Table? Sinners. Those who are unworthy so that He can fill them up with His worthiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His salvation, His very self.

You should have known this. And actually, you do. You know Him and believe He is your Lord and Savior. But you continue to falter and stumble and fall and sin. In those times you should have known. In those times it’s more apparent than ever that you are a sinner. That you need forgiveness. That you need Christ. And it’s at those times that it’s more apparent than ever that, thank God, you are Baptized. You are a sinner who has been redeemed by God. You have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection in those waters of Baptism. And that daily, daily!, you die and rise with Christ in repentance and receiving forgiveness.

So that on that day when your Lord calls you home, whether it be soon or many years from now, you will see what it’s all about; all those angels rejoicing. That they will be rejoicing for one sinner, for you. That when you stand before the Almighty God on the day of judgment, and though you should have known, you will say, God Almighty, I have nothing to offer you. All of my works are as filthy rags. All of my righteousness is self-righteousness and therefore unworthy. All I have is filled with sin and evil. I have nothing good to offer you and so the only thing I can offer to You is my sin and my unrighteousness. I am unworthy and deserve only eternal damnation.

You should have known, and that is why He will remind you, and why perhaps the best way to observe Father’s Day today, is to ponder what your Heavenly Father will say to you, This is why I have given you My Son. Because He receives sinners and eats with them. He does not welcome the righteous, those who have something to offer. But rather those who are exactly as you are, a sinner. And all of that sin and unrighteousness that you offer Me? I will gladly and joyfully take it. For it has already been done. It has been laid upon My only-begotten Son. It has been put to death in His death on the cross. It has been drowned in those waters of Baptism that flowed over you. Welcome into My eternal Kingdom and the Eternal Feast.

And now you know why those angels have so much rejoicing going on! Amen.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Nature of a Gift

Second Sunday after Trinity
June 9, 2013
The words that come to my mind when I think of what a gift is are “Thank you.” When you receive a gift, it’s natural to say, “Thank you.” Some people simply aren’t grateful. They take gifts for granted. Even though they don’t show gratitude, they nevertheless receive the same thing as the one who expresses his gratitude: a gift.

And that is the nature of a gift. The nature of a gift is not in how a person receives it, but rather in that it is given. It is not forced on someone. If it is, then it is not a gift. It is simply given, whether the person appreciates it or not.

The nature of a gift, therefore, also is that it can be rejected. This does not take away from the gift. It doesn’t cease to be a gift just because it is rejected. What is given is given. A gift remains a gift whether it is received in gratitude, or ingratitude, or even rejected.

And this, my friends, is simultaneously the greatest thing about gifts and the most frustrating. We love to receive gifts. Something unexpected, something we were really hoping for, something we can see that was given to us because a lot of thought and love were put into it. Some people, as well, love giving gifts. They love putting a lot of thought and love into giving something to someone they love because it expresses that love and they know the person they love who is receiving it will love receiving the gift.

This is the greatest thing about gifts. It’s a win-win situation. But what if the person isn’t grateful? What if they outright reject the gift? This is the worst thing about gifts. What is important to you, in giving the gift, is not met with the same enthusiasm. What brings you joy brings to another apathy or even disdain. At that point, your gift to the person doesn’t seem very much like a gift. You are deflated. Perhaps you’re even angry. Maybe you’re confused. You might very well feel like taking it back. Okay, if you don’t want it, you don’t get it.

But the nature of a gift is that it is given. A gift is an act of love. It is something that is given out of love. It doesn’t demand anything or even expect anything. It is simply given. And so surely a gift that is met with ingratitude or rejection will cause sadness and deflation. Why doesn’t the person want what I want to give them? Why aren’t they seeing this is as a wonderful thing in the same way I am? When all you want to do is love the other person, do something wonderful for the person, show them in a significant way that they mean a lot to you, and their response is, shall we say, lacking, well, now you know how God feels.

God gives gifts. God loves. And God loves to give to the people He loves. He prepares it all. His great feast. His spread of love, and forgiveness, and life, and salvation, and blessings beyond compare. He prepares it all and sets it before you. And what does He get in return? Is He asking for anything in return? Actually, that’s part of our problem. We’re thinking yes. But He’s not. He’s not expecting anything, He’s just giving. He’s saying, “It’s all ready, come partake of it.”

The people in Jesus’ story who reject this invitation aren’t outright obnoxious about it. In fact, the first two are quite polite about it, perhaps even feeling a little bad that they have these pressing things right now, one who just bought a field, the other who just got some oxen. The third one is just more matter-of-fact. I’ve just gotten married, I need to spend some time with my wife before I go making time for others.

And this is just the problem. You see, outright rejection is just as bad as those who really would like to come, really they would, but have these important things going on. God always extends His invitation. But there comes a moment when your heart stops beating. Your brain shuts down. Your blood stops flowing. Your body no longer moves and begins slowly to decay. It’s at that moment that there are no more pressing matters in your life. At that moment your life has come to an end and all those important and wonderful things you had going on in your life are no longer in your life. It is, as the Bible teaches, appointed for man once to die and then the judgment.

This is Jesus’ urgent plea in the parable He tells today. All things are ready, He extends the invitation. But are you ready? Do you have more pressing things going on that you need to attend to? Is God just going to have to wait? Maybe you are thinking, I believe Jesus is my Savior, so what’s the urgency? If someone doesn’t believe, the urgency is there because if they die without faith in Christ, as God says in the parable today, “They will never taste of My banquet.” But you are not an unbeliever. You know Jesus as your Lord. So where is the urgency?

It is in this, that your Lord that you believe in, is your Lord who has prepared a feast for you. Do not take it for granted. What prompted this whole parable of Jesus was someone’s well-meaning statement that the person is blessed who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Let me tell you who will be blessed, Jesus is saying, in giving us this parable. Are there future blessings? Oh yeah. Jesus never denies that. But who was that man saying this to? Jesus Himself. The Bread of Life Himself. The man was talking about those being blessed who will receive rewards far off into the future, and didn’t even realize that the blessings are now. The feast is prepared now. The invitation is given now.

Those who look off into the future take for granted what is given to them now. Those who have more pressing things in their life don’t see that Jesus has more important things to give them now.

There is in this life always the tension between the now and the not yet. Everything is ready, it’s all prepared. He has accomplished all things, and you have eternal salvation now. But it won’t be until you die and are received into heaven that you will experience the blessings in their full glory. Perhaps this is why we make our excuses. Perhaps this is why we take for granted the blessings our Lord gives to us now. Perhaps this is why we don’t see the preaching of the Gospel and the receiving of the Lord’s Supper and the daily living in our Baptism for what they really are: they are the Feast your Lord has prepared for you. Now.

He’s not telling you to look to the future for something He’ll give you then. He’s not promising that you’ll find out what He’s got in store for you when you the time is right. He has prepared His Feast now. And even as you have a bunch of things on your plate, and a bunch of important and God-pleasing things at that, you are extended His invitation right now to partake of His royal banquet of forgiveness, life, and salvation. All of those things you’ve got going on, your work, your family, your recreation, your hobbies, your friends, everything God has given you in your life, they are good and it is pleasing to Him that you make use of them and enjoy them for all their worth.

But not at the expense of His banquet which He has prepared for you. When you put those things before this Thing, you have taken for granted His gift. You are not simply ungrateful, but rejecting the gift. That, after all, is the nature of a gift. It can be rejected, even as it remains a gift.

The fact that a gift can be rejected makes it a very sad thing when it is rejected. At the same time, it also shows what a wonderful thing a gift is. Since a gift is given freely, with no strings attached, it is indeed a wonderful thing even if the person doesn’t want it. And when the person who gives has it in his nature to give, then we see that a gift is by nature something greater than we could ever imagine or get by our own ability. God is such a giver. He gives freely. And He keeps giving.

I find it refreshing that when the man in the parable who prepares the feast is rejected by the ones who were invited doesn’t bat an eye when his servant takes the initiative to go out and invite other people to the feast. When the man tells his servant to do just this, the servant says, “It’s already done.” I’ve already taken care of it, Master. What do we learn about the man from this? The servant knew what kind of master he had. He was a giving master. One who loves to give. And one who will not only not take umbrage, but will be glad when his servants go out and give some more.

And when the servant says, “But the only problem, Sir, is that even though we have already invited a bunch more people, there’s still more room. What should we do?” I suppose they should have known, but such is the case with our limited understanding of God. Go out into the highways and hedges and compel the people to come in. In other words, go out into the places where the people who are not accustomed to enjoying the fine life of feasts and feasting. Why do they have to be compelled? It is not that they are forced, otherwise the original invitees would be there, against their will. It is that they are exhorted and encouraged. Something along the lines of, “Hey, my Master, he’s an astonishingly wealthy guy and is throwing a huge party, and I completely understand that you think that I’m messing with you or playing a practical joke on you, but this real. He wants you to be there. He wants you to join in on the Feast. Just come with me and you’ll see what I mean!”

See, that’s the nature of a gift. It can be rejected. It can also be seen as too good to be true. So what does God do? He gives. And He gives some more. He gives His Word. He puts it in black and white for all to see. He preaches His Gospel and He preaches it some more. He does this through His Church, and specifically those called in the Church to proclaim the Gospel purely and faithfully. He gives forgiveness and new life in Baptism. And daily He gives blessings in this Baptismal life, as we daily die and rise to life in Christ. He gives His Son. He gives Himself in the Second Person of His Godhead, the Trinity. He gives Him to us, right here on earth, to be born, to live, to suffer and die in our place, to rise victoriously from the grave, and to ascend into heaven so that He may reign in glorious grace and mercy. And He continues to give Him, as He comes to us in the Word, in preaching, in Baptism, and in His Holy Supper.

Basically, God gives a great big Feast, and it’s never ending. And you’re invited. And He keeps giving it and giving it and never lets up. He will never force it upon you. But He will continue to give, because that’s who He is. It’s what He does. That’s the nature of His gift. Amen.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Seeing with Your Ears

First Sunday after Trinity
Confirmation Day
June 2, 2013
Katie and Joseph, last week the main point of the sermon is that it’s all about you. God’s love, it’s for you. His work is all for you. His focus, it’s all on you.

Now here today you’re sitting in the front pew. You will be confessing the holy Christian faith before God and this congregation and the world. You will be strengthened in the faith in being confirmed in the faith. It’s a blessed day, and you are at the center of it.

So following up on last week’s sermon, it would fit very well to have another sermon that is all about you; for you to be the focus; for you to be the ones that it’s all about. After all, you are here because of God’s love for you.

But sorry, it’s not about you. It’s about Christ. I want you to look at that cross and see there who it’s about. It’s about Christ and His suffering and death. It’s always about Christ, it always flows from Him, always centers in Him, always revolves around Him. It’s not about you.

As you are to be confirmed in the faith, I want you to see that. That’s the reason we have this huge cross overlooking the sanctuary. It’s a constant reminder to you that it’s always about Him. Each time you enter this sanctuary, you can readily see that it’s not about you, but about Him. Who He is and what He has done is what is at the center of your Confirmation today and your life in Christ forever.

You can see this in the Gospel reading today. When you look at it it seems that it’s about Lazarus; that poor man who was destitute outside the gates of the fabulously wealthy man. Lazarus had nothing. Well, except pain and sorrow. What he had was not what any of us want to have. We’d much rather be inside the palatial house of the rich man, who had far more than he needed.

But when poor Lazarus died he found himself in heaven. He found himself experiencing far more than he could ever imagine. Riches beyond what he could ever have expected or dare to hope for. But the other man, the one who seemingly had it all in this life, had nothing. Nothing, that is, except eternal torment in hell.

Lazarus ends up experiencing eternal glory in contrast to his wretched existence here on earth. Is this story about him? No, just as today is not about you, but about Christ, the story of Lazarus is not about him, but Christ. You can see this in the way Jesus tells this story.

Jesus didn’t tell us about just a poor man, but about a guy named Lazarus. He had a name. That’s because God knew this man. He knew him as his own dear child. This is because of Christ. This story is really about Him.

Lazarus had a name. He was known by God. And as we end up seeing, he had everything. On the surface the rich guy had everything. But the Bible teaches us that it is when we are weak that we are strong, that when we are foolish we are wise, that when we have nothing we have everything. This was Lazarus. He had nothing. Therefore he had everything. This is so because he had what the rich man didn’t have: Christ. For the rich man, gold and fine clothing, and sumptuous feasts, and pretty much anything else he wanted, was his god. He had everything, therefore he had nothing. He wanted everything but Christ, therefore he had nothing.

We know Lazarus knew Christ as his Lord and Savior because of what we see when he died. Those who are in Christ die, but they will not end up in eternal torment. Rather, it is heaven they receive. Eternal glory beyond compare. Glory and riches that make the wealth of the rich man look like a beat up penny on the street that’s not even worth picking up.

When Lazarus died he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. In this life he was covered with sores. Now in heaven he was clothed in heavenly splendor, cleansed of all wretchedness, and in his eternal home with Father Abraham. The promise first given to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ. The promise to Abraham that he would be the Father of many nations was brought about through Christ. That’s how Christ is pointing you to Himself in this story. Lazarus was brought to his eternal home because he was the recipient of that promise of Christ to Abraham.

The rich man now saw that all his wealth he enjoyed in this life was not worth anything. What he looked to for his ultimate good availed him nothing at his death. His desire in this life was to be apart from God and so for eternity that is exactly what he would experience in hell.

But he had brothers who were still living. Maybe they could escape this torment. Abraham, send Lazarus back to warn them! Abraham cut him short. Not only was it not going to happen, it wouldn’t do any good. Yes it would!—the rich man just knew it. If someone were to rise from the grave to give warning, they would heed that warning. No, Abraham knows that there is only one thing that will change the hearts of people. It is the Gospel. A miracle won’t do it. Convincing won’t do it. Even resurrection from the dead won’t do it.

Only the Gospel. Only the Word of God which tells us of our sin, of our deserving of eternal punishment, and the Word of God which tells us also that there is hope for us. Only the Gospel, Jesus’ death and resurrection for the sins of the world, will bring people to new and eternal life that escapes the eternal torment of hell. Abraham told the rich man that his brothers had exactly what he had had in his lifetime, Moses and the Prophets; that is, the Word of God, the Bible. It alone tells us of who it is always about. Christ. Christ and Him crucified. Christ, the Savior of all, who died for the sins of all. That’s why you must always go back to the cross, rather than looking or hoping for some amazing way God will reveal to you what you need to know. You know. It is all given to you in His Word.

When I urge you to look to the cross I am urging you to look to Christ. Urging you to look to Christ is pointing you to the places, or ways, He comes to you. I am urging you to look to your Baptism. I am urging you to this altar where you will receive often the very body and blood of your Lord. I am urging you to see with your ears. Hear the Gospel proclaimed. This is where you will hear that, in your Father’s House. Here is where you will receive the Gospel, the very forgiveness of your sins.

This is what I want you to see. I don’t want you to see with your eyes, but your ears. The seeing you have is not sight that your eyes give you, but knowing. Knowing who your Lord and Savior is. Knowing that He is always for you and with you, just as He was with Lazarus. Just like Lazarus, you have nothing you can give Him, but in Him you have everything. When you are weak, you are strong. When you have nothing you have everything. Not only did that rich man’s brothers have the Word of God, you do too. Hear it. Receive it. Rejoice in it.

And in seeing the cross, in remembering your Baptism, in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, in hearing the Gospel, you will see Christ at the center, the one who is always for you and who always comes to you with His forgiveness, love, and eternal salvation. Amen.