Monday, July 29, 2013

LSB Proper 12C Sermon - Luke 11:1-13

July 28, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Jesus compares you to God the Father in today’s Gospel Reading. But the comparison is a bit striking. Jesus says that God the Father is greater and better. That isn’t the striking part; the way that Jesus says so is. Jesus’ words give a back-handed compliment about you. You might not see it at first, but you will after considering the entirety of the text. And what He says is a legitimate criticism of who you are by nature.

Jesus tells a parable to make the comparison between you and God the Father. His story is about a bothersome neighbor. And with it, Jesus shows how you act toward one another. He describes why you will do something as a favor for someone else. But Jesus does not tell a story that displays great human altruism. Instead, He focuses on the very practical, even ugly reasons why you will trouble yourselves with the needs of others.

Focus your attention again on details of Jesus’ parable. You have a visitor come to your house in the middle of the night, but you have nothing to feed this surprise hungry traveler. Unlike here in Mechanicsburg, you can’t go to Wegman’s or the Giant Foods in the middle of the night. There are no 24-hour convenience stores to be found. So you go and pound on the neighbor’s door. And you ask him to give you some food: “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.” You dare to ask him to serve you in the middle of the night, to take care of your problem.

So what does the neighbor say to you? Jesus gives the response: “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.” For any reasonable person, the response is negative: “Don’t you know what time it is? Why are you bothering me? What does your problem have to do with me?” But in the story that Jesus tells, you are persistent. You keep knocking. You keep yelling at him from outside their window. He tells you to go away, but you don’t. You need what your neighbor has, and you won’t leave until you get it.

And what does Jesus say about this action in the story? “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.” The neighbor will give you what you need. But the reason is not neighborly kindness, it isn’t because your neighbor is your friend. He gets up and gives you the food because he wants to get rid of you. The neighbor’s action is rooted in self-benefit: to get rid of you “because of his persistence.” Or as the Greek term actually means “his shameful persistence.”

What Jesus describes in the parable is not an act of giving motivated by charity. Instead, the neighbor figures out that it’s advantageous to us to help the one who is banging on his door and shouting through his window. If he just gives the persistent man “the three loaves of bread” that he so desperately wants, then he will go away. There will be no more knocking on the door, no more being kept awake in the middle of the night. At its very heart, the reason why the man in Jesus’ parable helps his neighbor is purely utilitarian: he is better off without the bothersome neighbor pestering him anymore.

Not matter where you fit in the story—whether being the man with the surprise guest or the neighbor that gets the rude awakening in the middle of the night—that principle of why aid is given to others points out your sinful nature. Jesus’ story reveals a way of reasoning found in you that is ultimately selfish. Jesus is showing how you do things that benefit others, especially when you know that giving such help will actually benefit you. That is the selfish motivation that every single one of us has. And it’s seen in situations that might not seem as fictional as the surprise midnight visit of a friend.

Even if you don’t sit down and calculate what you will get by doing something for another person, just think about how you are more willing to give of yourself when there’s some sort of incentive. Donate money to a charity, so you can take the tax deduction. Support the local high school sports boosters by purchasing the 50-50 FFA raffle ticket, because you might just win the pot. Help out with the Boy Scout auction or the Legion Auxiliary lunch, and everyone will see just how generous and civic-minded you are. Take time out of your busy schedule and show up at the local festival parade, because you never know how many potential voters or clients might be in the crowd.

These are some of the myriad activities that actually do end up helping your neighbors. But they also are ways that you gain benefits for yourselves. You can figure out how you might get something out of the whole deal, even as you are seen to be self-giving. And when the formula really tips in favor of your side of the ledger, you are quick to answer the call for help. It is the way that you feed your innate selfishness.

But compare that to the way Jesus describes His generosity and the generosity of the Heavenly Father. There is no calculating, no figuring out how answering your needs will actually benefit Himself. In fact, when you examine how God the Father gives aid to you, you don’t see much of anything that is to His advantage. Really, how much benefit does one get by being betrayed by a trusted friend, beaten by your own countrymen, convicted by a foreign government, and tortured until hanging dead from a cross beam for all to see? Not much seems to be added Jesus’ side of the ledger. And since this is the way that God the Father serves you, the same can be said about Him.

That is the point of Jesus’ back-handed compliment: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Jesus’ point is this: You can calculate how even helping your children can be beneficial to yourself. Even in your selfishness, you know how to give good things to them. Despite your sinful, selfish nature, you still end up being good givers. The neighbor gets the three loaves that he needs for his visitor. The son gets a fish and an egg to eat from his father instead of a serpent or a scorpion that would harm him. That’s what those who are evil end up doing: they give what is needed. So if those who are evil actually do all that, then what will the giving look like from someone who is perfectly good and not selfish at all? Certainly, it will be of a better sort, a purer sort.

That better, purer giving is also shown in Jesus’ teaching heard today. Jesus reveals how much God the Father is willing to give. He tells us how much God the Father wants to give by telling you how to ask for it. Jesus says: “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” When you think of it, these are audacious things for mortals to ask of God. And Jesus says that you can offer these demanding petitions. He tells you to do so, with the understanding and belief that they will actually occur: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Because of what God the Father has made you through the work of His Son, you can ask and receive, seek and find, knock and have opened. And what is it that God the Father has done for you? Paul wrote of it to the Colossians: “In [Jesus] you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” That privileged status of being forgiven, living heirs of the God the Father is yours. It is not earned; it is given to you. And it allows you to come before His heavenly throne and ask Him for things with the full expectation of receiving.

You can expect to receive this from God the Father because His nature is selfless. He is a Giver, the Giver of all good things. He promises to give, and He even tells to you what we should ask for. Unlike the giving that flows out of your sinful nature, God the Father’s providence is not based upon calculating how He might benefit from His generosity, but is focused squarely on providing for your needs. You receive good things from Him simply because you need it…end of story. There is no other behind the scenes reasoning, like you are apt to find in your hearts and minds. Only divine, fatherly goodness and mercy motivates God the Father’s actions for your benefit.

So take the back-handed compliment from Jesus: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Recognize that it is true. What Jesus says is an accurate description of what you are by nature. But even more, see the goodness of God the Father, the purest example of generosity. What Jesus says about Him is even truer. Much more than you will ever give, God the Father grants you the Holy Spirit and the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation He brings.

And when God the Father generously gives you the Holy Spirit that you ask for, that begins to change you for the better. He creates in you a new nature, so that the acts of giving aren’t simply done out of a calculating of what you can get. Instead, you become like God the Father, beginning to act out the pure generosity that He has shown to you. Then you will become ones who assist those who ask, seek, and knock. You will forgive everyone who is indebted to you. You will look to give what is needed, even without having someone pound on your door in the middle of the night. Such is the change that the Giver of all good things will grant to you.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

LSB Proper 10C Sermon - Luke 10:25-37

July 14, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’”

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question is spoken to challenge Jesus. It is meant to test Him. The lawyer wants to know: Is Jesus a rabbi who goes around changing what the Lord had said? Is He establishing a new way of salvation, telling everyone to disregard what the Lord had set as His Covenant? Will Jesus speak out against the Torah or Temple? If so, then the lawyer will have boxed Him in and discredited His teaching.

So how does Jesus answer the question? “[Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” Interesting response. Jesus wants to discuss the Torah with the lawyer, to discuss what the Lord had declared in His Covenant. So the lawyer gives a basic summary of the Law that every Israelite had been taught from youth: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He recites part of the great creedal statement of Israel and the basic rule about moral behavior.

And what does Jesus think about this? Does He reject the lawyer’s answer? Does Jesus tell him that what the Lord said in the Torah is not the way to life? Not at all; He confirms it: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus had not come to discard the Torah; He had come to fulfill its promises. The Law’s main message was to reveal the Lord’s identity, the Lord’s work, and the Lord’s promise of salvation given to His people. The Torah recorded the acts of rescue and deliverance that He had performed. It spoke of the status that the Lord had given those whom He delivered, making a nation out of them and providing them a way of life. In that Law, the Lord tells His people to love Him, to place their hope and trust in His saving actions for them and then to walk in the new ways that He had established.

In the Old Testament Reading, you heard an excerpt of that Law. The Lord addresses His people through Moses: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.” The Lord declares that He has taken His people out of Egypt and is bringing them to Canaan. This is His work of rescue. They had been saved from their slavery. The Lord was fulfilling the promises that He made to Abraham, their forefather, and to them. And as the Lord has saved the people, they now had a new way of life: “You shall follow My rules and keep My statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My rules’ if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” The people’s actions would reflect their love for the Lord who had delivered them.

So what does the lawyer think about this? Does he accept Jesus’ teaching on the matter? Not really: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” This question reveals an issue within the man. He seems to seek a way to disregard the Covenant that the Lord had established—the very thing that he was challenging Jesus about! His question looks to define what the Lord had commanded so narrowly, so that there would be certain individuals that he would not have to love at all. The Lord had given the overarching rule about moral behavior: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All of the commandments about interacting with other individuals could be summarized by that. But the lawyer’s question puts forth the idea that some persons exist who don’t have to be loved, some who are exempted. Such thinking shows that the lawyer’s love of the Lord and His ways is a bit lacking.

That is why Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He shows what the Torah’s statement about love of neighbor looks like. It is seen in the Samaritan’s actions: “When he saw [the robbery victim], he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” There was no looking for an exemption, no looking for a way to avoid doing what the Lord had commanded. None of that at all. Instead, the Samaritan reflects the love that the Lord had for His people through the actions that he performs for the robbery victim. And that is the type of behavior that the Lord who has delivered His people by compassionately acting for them desires to see them perform for others.

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That question is asked by you and others. It can be asked in times of doubt. Sometimes it is asked as a bit of a challenge to Jesus and His teaching. But how does He answer? “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The answer is in the Lord’s Word for you. For that is what the Scriptures describe. They tell you of the Lord’s identity and work and His saving actions for you. You have heard it again this day, as the words of the Epistle Reading stated: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” That is what the Lord has done for you. He has rescued you. He has taken you away from slavery to sin, death, and Satan. He has brought you to a new way of life.

And so you are called to love the Lord for His saving work done for you. That is how you inherit eternal life. This is why Paul says to the Colossians: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Such giving of thanks includes the living in the ways that He establishes for you. Abiding by the commands that Jesus gives to His disciples about loving one another reflects the love for Him who delivered you. Again, as Paul writes: “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

But what is lacking from those statements? What can’t you find in them? The question that looks for ways around any of the rules or statutes. What the lawyer does in the Gospel Reading is out-of-bounds for those who love the Lord. Love of Jesus for His saving work does not ask such a question. Love for the Lord’s great act of deliverance does not lead to any attempts to figure out if there are neighbors you need not love at all. Love for the salvation that has been given to you does not bring up the idea of trying to save or justify oneself either. Those statements written to Jesus’ followers in Colossae don’t mention trying to skimp on or to ration out discipleship. No, they spoke of filling, bearing, increasing, and strengthening such living.

Filling, bearing, increasing, and strengthening the life of discipleship—including love of neighbor—that is what Jesus’ gospel does. Again, this is what Paul speaks of to the Colossians: “We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing….” This is what the Lord’s Word—the statements about His identity and saving work—accomplishes in those who receive it: “as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.”

But does the lawyer’s question still get asked? Does it even flow from your mouth? Yes, indeed. The challenge does come. It’s part of your being conformed to Jesus’ way of life. But when you ask, “And who is my neighbor?” then Jesus answers again with the story of the Good Samaritan. He responds: “Let Me again adjust your way of thinking. The love that you say that you have for Me is to be displayed in what you do for your neighbor. And when you do so, what really happens is that the love that I showed to you is reflected in your love for them.”

Jesus says to you: “So let me tell you again about My identity and My work for you. Hear again the good news of what I’ve done for you. Once you were a victim of sin, death, and Satan, lying beaten and dead. But I journeyed down from heaven and came to where you were. I saw you and had compassion. So I bound up your wounds. I picked you up and carried you. I brought you back to life again. And it didn’t cost two days’ wages; it cost My body being broken for you and My blood being poured out for you. But that is the love that I have shown for you. I have proved to be a neighbor to you. This is what saved you. This is how you have been given eternal life. You love Me for this. Now go and do likewise. And with My gospel bearing fruit in you, it shall be so.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

LSB Proper 9C Sermon - Luke 10:1-20

July 7, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go, [saying]…‘The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.’”

Kingdoms on campaign may be a bit foreign to us. An expeditionary force seems like a thing of the past, something out of a history book. Perhaps the 150th anniversary commemorations of the Gettysburg Campaign have brought the concept back to our minds a bit. Some of you may have seen—or heard and felt—the recreations of the Shelling of Carlisle, how the Confederate Cavalry gave a demand of surrender to the mayor and the commanding officer in the town. The power of the Army of Northern Virginia was brought to bear against the unwelcoming people of Pennsylvania.

The kingdom of heaven is also on campaign. That is a good way to think about the past several Gospel Readings that you have heard during June and today. It is not a campaign of conquest and imprisonment. No, the kingdom of heaven marches on to bring deliverance and liberation. Jesus has gone from Galilee to the region of the Genesarenes to Judea. Along the way, there has been much activity happening from town to town. The ill are healed. The dead are restored to life. Demons are exorcized. Some remain enslaved, as they do not receive Jesus or His work. There is a constant movement headed toward the goal of Jerusalem, where the cosmic work of salvation will be done by Jesus, as you heard last week: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”

But the kingdom of heaven does not campaign with sword and rifle, cannon and horse. It does, however, carry a power with it. That is what you heard about in today’s Gospel Reading. Jesus sends seventy-two disciples out into the field with authority. They do not go with any earthly power. His instructions show that lack: “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” Yet, the kingdom of heaven comes with the authority that Jesus hands over to His disciples. That authority is not located in wealth or weapon; it is found in the words that Jesus’ disciples carry and the works that they do.

Jesus alludes to this authority when He describes the two reactions to His disciples’ work: “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” With that statement, Jesus draws the connection between Himself and His disciples. Just as Jesus carried the Father’s authority into the world, so His sent disciples carry His authority into the villages that they visited. The people who received the message that the disciples carried actually received Jesus and His work for them. Those who would not receive the sent messengers actually rejected Jesus and the Father. Either way, the kingdom of God had come to that village; the question is whether the people would be incorporated into it.
These are the two opposite outcomes seen in the Gospel Reading. Jesus tells His disciples what they look like: Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.” The reaction to those words lead to two different results: “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,  ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” Healing is given to those who receive the words of peace that Jesus’ disciples bring. Judgment is spoken against those who will not welcome that message.

This forms the basis for what the catechism teaches about the kingdom of heaven. Recall Luther’s comments about the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” The kingdom of heaven goes on campaign because it is the Father’s will for it to be so. But are people incorporated into it? Do they welcome it as a liberating force that sets them free? Or do they reject it as something unwanted? Those are the two different outcomes in the present day, just as they were in ancient Judea.

So how is the kingdom of heaven being received here in Mechanicsburg? There are several answers to that question. First, there are many who have never heard the words of peace that Jesus’ disciples bring. They know nothing about Jesus’ identity and work. Without that happening, the kingdom of heaven isn’t received or rejected; it simply does not come to them all. That is why we are trying to ramp up our efforts to have that message of salvation brought to people who have never encountered it or who haven’t encountered it for a good while. You can read about that in this month’s front-page newsletter article—not just read about it, but also become involved with it.

Second, there are individuals who have heard the message and rejected it. They have been told of who Jesus is, what He has done, and what His will is for them. But it is not received. Some people contend that none of it is true. Others claim that the message isn’t one of peace or salvation, but of hatred and constraint, so they want nothing to do with it. Still others say that Jesus’ gospel brings comfort and hope for some people, but it means nothing for them—they find that in something else. And then there are some who actually desire the benefits that Jesus earns, but don’t want to be under His rule of discipleship—sort of being like an undocumented alien in the kingdom, but not a citizen. But each of these actually ends up being in the category that Jesus mentions: “The one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” And the day will come when the knocking of dust off of sandals is enacted as a permanent judgment.

Then there is the third answer. Remember how the seventy-two came back to Jesus and reported what had happened? “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’” And what was Jesus’ response to that? Did He say that they were mistaken? Did Jesus reply that this was an impossible outcome? “And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” The kingdom of heaven came to villages, and people were incorporated into it. Names were written in heaven—and not just the seventy-two names of those whom Jesus sent out. No, wherever Jesus’ message of peace and salvation was received, there more citizens for the kingdom of heaven were made. The campaign reached its intended goal.

But this is not just the case for ancient Judea; it happens now in Mechanicsburg. The healing that Jesus brings—healing of soul and spirit, resurrection of the body, forgiveness of sins—is received here. You listen to someone sent to tell you about the words and works of Jesus for you, and you believe his message. You want to be a part of it. Belief that your names are written in heaven becomes a matter of rejoicing for you. And out of that rejoicing flows the actions of active discipleship.

Those actions are what Paul mentioned in his letter to a group of Christians in Galatia who received the same message as you did—the gospel of Jesus setting them free from sin, death, and Satan: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” This is the portrait of you as you receive Jesus’ message of salvation, even as it is taught by the one sent with Jesus’ authority to you. But those words are not a pious wish or a fantastic hope. No, when compared to the actions of what goes on here, there actually is a good bit of accurate comparison.

But there is room for improvement. Comparison of others is not the orders of the day. Rather, there should be honest evaluation about yourselves: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.” I know where I have failed as a messenger. You should also know where your failures have been as hearers of Jesus’ words. But where the citizens of the kingdom of heaven have failed, there is to be a time of restoration: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” The message of peace and salvation is still present to be heard, just as Jesus’ forgiveness is given to you again this day. Hearing it again brings the rejoicing and the remotivation of active discipleship. This is all part of the kingdom of heaven’s campaign in the present day.

The kingdom of heaven is on campaign and will be until the fullness of time is completed. Its presence among you and its effects are not static. It is not a one-off type of deal. Instead, there is constant activity. The leading of godly lives here in time continues until Jesus returns. Faithful clinging to His holy word is to be steadfast among you. Since there are people welcoming the message of Jesus here, it will not move on to another town but will remain. You have not rejected Him or the One who sent Him, but have received His message. Your names are written in heaven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The kingdom of heaven has come near to you; you are in it. So may the joy that Jesus’ message of peace and salvation causes be seen in your lives as disciples.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.