Sunday, October 18, 2009

Festival of St. Luke the Evangelist

And after these things the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on a mission in twos before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. And He said to them, "On the one hand, the harvest is great, but on the other hand the workers, few; Beg, then, the Lord of the harvest that He throw out workers into His harvest. Be going! Look, I am sending you on a mission as lambs in the midst of wolves. Do not carry a money bag, nor pouch nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. Into what ever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house'. And if ever is there a son of peace, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, upon you it will come back. And in that house remain eating and drinking the things from them; for worthy is the worker of his pay. Do not be changing from house to house. And into what ever city you come and they receive you, eat the things placed before you, and keep healing the sick in it and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near upon you.'"

Today is the festival of St. Luke. He was not an apostle. He wasn't a pastor either. He wasn't even a church-worker. Luke was a physician by trade, and an amateur historian by hobby. But God called upon this man to record the history of church workers, starting with Jesus and his disciples in the Gospel that bears his name, and the apostles and deacons of the church in the Book of Acts.

On the one hand, there is a harvest. It is a great harvest of souls which Jesus describes as the grain which is left behind during the threshing process, as the chaff is blown away to be burned. You are blessed to be part of this great harvest of God. Your soul and spirit will be harvested heavenward. The harvesters of this great harvest will be the angels who will take those saved souls to heaven one day.

But what of the workers in the meantime? In Jesus day, along with the 12 disciples were 72 others sent on a special mission to proclaim the coming kingdom of God! With this message, they planted seeds, watered and fertilized the young sprouts, tended to and pruned the mature plants up to harvest day. For you, this has been your Pastors and those who have assisted them in the church's ministry.

Now, you might think that you don't need much help to thrive in God's vineyard. You like to consider yourself self-sufficient, able to maintain your faith pretty much on your own. But think again. What if you were never taught the faith in its truth & purity when you were young? What if no pastor was there in tough times when you needed comfort from God's word? How long would you survive?

But God has provided you workers, tossing them out into His harvest so you would grow, blossom and bear Him fruit. He provided a pastor who baptized you to wash you clean from all your sins. Your pastor continues to forgive you in that same name in which you were baptized, because baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. God reminds you constantly, through your Pastor, that you are a baptized child of God, that you may be washed at the cross in your daily bath of baptism for your forgiveness.

Perhaps you have not valued the work God does through His workers. If you only see your pastor for an hour on Sunday, you might think that's all he works. Such a mindset keeps pastors humble to be sure, with little to put in their money bags, if they carried them. You might think that in the big scheme of things, the work of the church-worker isn't very important, compared to other professions.

But the work God does through the Pastor is invaluable. Doctors like St. Luke give a small measure of peace when they do their jobs. But through the ministry of your Pastor, true, lasting peace is given to you. The Pastor feeds you with the very body and blood of Jesus for your forgiveness. That means everlasting peace between you and your heavenly Father. That's why the pastor elevates the body/bread and cup/blood saying or singing, "The peace of the Lord be with you" and you say "Amen."

Maybe you think that the job of God's workers is an easy one. Everybody likes a Pastor, you assume. With God on his side, what enemies would a church-worker have? They work for the King of heaven, after all...But it isn't easy. God's workers are sent as sheep among wolves, with the devil, the godless world, and the sinful flesh of people as his constant enemies. Many refuse his message of peace.

But to you who have heard the message of God's peace in Christ Jesus, a message of great hope is also given. Just as the 72 were called to proclaim that the kingdom of God was coming in the visits of Christ Jesus to these towns of Perea, so too is your Pastor privileged to preach to you that God's kingdom comes to you today. For Jesus visits you, here and now with this message for you, saying, "I died for you on the cross so that you may now live forever with me in the kingdom of heaven." Amen.

Hymns today from LSB:
#830 Spread the Reign of God the Lord
#810 O God of God, O Light of Light
#518 By All Your Saints in Warfare (insert stanza 26)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trinity 18 Matthew 22:34-46

And the Pharisees, having heard that He (Jesus) silenced the Sadducees, they gathered to themselves. And inquired, one of them (a expert in the Torah) testing Him. "Teacher, which precept is greatest in the Torah?" And He said to him, "Love (with God's Own love) the Lord your God in the whole of your heart and in the whole of your soul and in the whole of your mind. This is the greatest and first precept. The second is like it: Love (with God's Own love) your neighbor as yourself. On these the two precepts the whole of the Torah hangs, and the Prophets. And the Pharisees, having gathered, Jesus inquired of them, saying: "What does it seem to you concerning the Christ; whose son is He?" They say to him, "The One of David." He says to them, "How then does David, in the Spirit, call Him ‘Lord' saying, ‘Yahweh said to my Lord, sit on My right until I place the enemies of yours under your feet?' If then David calls Him ‘Lord', how is He his son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word nor did anyone dare from that day to inquire of Him any longer.

It is two days before Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin council. Jesus is in the midst of his deposition, answering questions from the Temple priests first, and now the leading laymen of the synagogues make their inquiry. Clearly, these are not questions of students who want to learn from the Teacher. These are posed to gather evidence against Jesus to be used against Him at His trial. The Pharisees send an expert in the first five books of the Bible in attempt to trap Jesus in His Own words. It fails.

The trap went like this: force Jesus to pick from one of the 613 laws found within the Old Testament. Then, they could accuse Him of neglecting the others. Jesus doesn't take their bait. Instead He selects total Love of God as the #1 precept of the bible. That's a whole lotta love! Who can love God so completely? Although the Pharisees tried, even they failed. So do you. Your heart desires selfish pleasures, your soul is satisfied with worldly things, and your mind wants to ponder foolish matters.

But this agape love of which Jesus speaks is not a feeling or an attitude. It is an action, and the One they questioned was love in action, if only they'd notice. He is God's love personified in His actions of healing, forgiving, and caring for those in need. He is God's love toward you given to you as a free gift. Three days from this questioning He would give up His life for the world on the cross. That same body given to death there; that same blood shed there, is given to you to eat and drink for your forgiveness.

Interestingly, Jesus will not be bound by the parameters of the question. He's told to choose one precept; instead, He selects a second in addition: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Even tougher than the first. At least God is love-able. Many neighbors are not. Yet Jesus bids us even to love our enemies! Even if you would condescend to show a small bit of kindness to those who hurt you, would you be able to love them as much as you love yourself? Hardly. Such love is impossible for man...

Yet with God, all things are possible! That is why this is God's Own agape love with which you can love your neighbor. For the God and Lord of both you and your neighbor is Jesus. He loves all mankind enough to give His life for the whole world. It is He who loves others through you, just as He has loved you with the washing of water and His word in Holy Baptism. He cleansed you at the font to make you His holy possession, placing the true enemies--sin, death and the devil--at His feet forevermore.

Jesus doesn't just give an extra answer, but actually turns the tables on His inquisitors by asking *them* a couple of questions. "How is the Christ both *son* of David, yet also David's *Lord*?" Well the answer was clear: because the Messiah is both God and man at the same time. But the Pharisees could not bear to admit that. You can relate. Oh, the fact of Jesus being God and man you know, but do you act like He is your God and Lord, or do you often do what you please, ignoring His will for you?

The truth is that Jesus is your Lord and Master. He reigns over you from the powerful right hand of His heavenly Father's throne. His rule puts all enemies underneath His feet. But He doesn't consider you an enemy, even though you have failed to follow His commandments. Because Jesus' rules over you not with rules for you to obey, but by the love of His powerful right hand. In that hand is the powerful scepter of approval, for His word has proclaimed you forgiven for your sins, worthy to reign with Him!

Yes, a whole lotta love is required by God. Loving God with the whole heart, mind, spirit and strength. It is more than we could ever accomplish. But in Christ Jesus, those precepts are met, and He also loves you His neighbor, even more than Himself, exchanging your death for His life everlasting!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009 Trinity 17 Luke 14:1-11

And it happened in His (Jesus') coming into a house of a certain ruler of the Pharisees on a Sabbath to eat bread, & they were watching Him closely. And look, a certain man who was suffering edema was before Him. And answering, Jesus spoke to the law-experts and the Pharisees saying, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to heal, or not?" And they kept silent. And having taken hold, He healed healed and sent him away. And to them, He said, "Who of you, a son or an ox into a well having fallen, and you would not immediately pull him out on the day of the Sabbath?" Yet they had no strength to reply to these things. And He spoke to those invited, a parable, noting how the foremost reclining places, they were choosing, saying to them, "Whenever you are invited by anyone to a wedding, do not recline into the foremost reclining places, lest one more honored than you have been invited by him, & having come, the one who invited you & him say to you, `Give this man place' & then you will begin with shame the last place to hold. But whenever you are invited, having gone, fall into the last place, in order that whenever the one inviting you comes, he will say to you, Friend, go up higher! Then there will be to you glory before all those reclining with you. Because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one humbling himself will be exalted.

In today's Gospel, we have two things going on which seem unrelated at first glance. First, a question of healing on the Sabbath which Jesus answers by healing the swelling of an ill man. Secondly, there is the question of banquet seating which Jesus answers with the parable of the embarrassed wedding guest. But don't think these two issues have nothing in common. For both situations have man's sinful pride at their heart. Jesus uses each of these circumstances to show the Sabbath way.

So we should be sure to understand the Sabbath before we look at Jesus' words and actions. The law-experts and Pharisees hadn't a clue what Sabbath meant. Perhaps you don't either. You were probably taught that the Sabbath is a day of rest. But it really isn't at all. If it were, you would still be tucked into your bed this Sunday morn. Sabbath means *stop*–that you stop doing your thing so that God can do His special thing, just as God stopped creating to proclaim His good words and to bless creation.

The Pharisees and law-experts were prideful concerning the Sabbath, thinking it was all about them & what they refrain from doing. Perhaps you too mistakenly think that Sunday morning worship is all about what you do. Do you pride yourself that you are here this morning, unlike those church-skippers out there? And is your focus this morning your praying, your singing, your paying attention, or your money in the offering plate, or the service you render to others in God's house today?

Remember the Sabbath is not about your work or lack thereof, but about what God does. That's why Jesus took the bait of the trap laid before Him healed this swelled-up man on the Sabbath day. He did it to show them and you that the Sabbath day is about God's work to declare things good again, and to bless. He made the ill man well again, and sent him away blessed. Today Jesus proclaims sinful you forgiven, and blesses you with His holy righteousness in exchange for your sins He bore on the cross.

These law-experts and Pharisees were prideful when it came to their places of honor at the table. We are the same. No doubt you've been to a wedding reception with the honored places for the wedding party at the head table, compared to the loser table in the back corner. Who wants to be relegated to the lowly spots at that far table? Who isn't envious of the honored places up front? Or here, what if a stranger came in and sat in your pew today! But, oddly the honored Lutheran seats seem in the back.

Jesus gives you the place of honor here in worship. He is the host of the Lord's Supper in this, His house. He invites each one of you to come to the one and only head table to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. You have the most honored position of all, for the church is Christ's holy bride, and that's who you are in this wedding banquet. You feast on His body given in the bread, and on His blood shed in the cup for your forgiveness, for your salvation, and for your eternal life!

Jesus sums up these two incidents with words about being humbled and being exalted. He makes it clear that if you try to exalt yourself it won't work. Who can sprout wings and lift himself up to heaven? And we may try to be humble, but quickly become proud that we are more humble than others. So what's a body to do? Remember that the Sabbath is not about our works, but about God's. His Law is sufficient to humble us sinners, buried with Christ by baptism into His death, and His Gospel works to exalt us to the honor given to us who are raised in Jesus through baptism to new, glorious life! Amen.