Sunday, August 30, 2009
And again, having come out of the region of Tyre, He (Jesus) came through Sidon unto the Sea of the Galilee into the midst of the region of the ten-cities. And they brought to Him one deaf and thick tongued and they called Him along in order that He lay the hand on him. And He took him apart, from the crowd, privately He thrust His fingers into his ears, and having spit, He touched his tongue, and He looked up into the heavens; He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" which is, "Be opened!". And immediately his ears were opened, and was loosened the bond of his tongue and he was speaking plainly. And He ordered to them, that they tell no one. But as much as He ordered them, the more abundantly they kept proclaiming it. And they were abundantly amazed, saying, "Excellently He does all things; and the deaf He makes to hear, and the speech-less to speak!
As the summer draws to a close, vacation time ends. It did for Jesus as well, Who, prior to our text, was able to take a break in the non-Jewish lands of modern day Lebanon. But he returns from His brief respite to the Jewish lands of the Galilee, and quickly He is back to the old grind, as folks begin to come to Him for healing. His time of busy-ness begins with a man with two problems. First, he's deaf, but secondly, he also has an unrelated speech impediment. He truly needs God's help.
His friends and family members have a plan. They want Jesus to lay His hands upon this man to heal him in a way they knew Jesus had done before. But Jesus has a different idea. He could have simply touched the man's head as they asked, or let the man touch His Own garment to channel the Divine energy of healing to him, but He doesn't. Instead, He gets right in there, shoving his fingers into the man's ear canals, and taking saliva from His Own holy mouth to touch it to his speechless tongue.
And what do you know, God's plan works! Even though it was different from the plan this deaf/mute's friends had for him, God's ways proved once again to be the best! And this serves as a lesson to us, in several ways. First and foremost, it is a reminder that our ways are not always the best. We need to pause and consider what God's Word says about His ways of doing things. When we do, we might be pleasantly surprised about how God's plan is so very far superior to ours!
It can be a dangersome thing for us to try to plan out for God how He will do His work in His church... as though it really our church...which it isn't. God wishes to work to cure our ailment of sin through the holy actions of His sacraments. Yet we find ourselves tempted to speak against these forgiving works of God, that they shouldn't be offered too often, or that God should not deliver them in the ways which He wants to give His good and gracious gifts. But they aren't our gifts to give–they're God's!
It appears that we have a deafness of our own, failing to really listen to God and to His revealed will from the Bible. We find excuses to not attend bible classes, or to avoid daily devotions in God's Word, or to not bring our children, grand-kids, neices and nephews to Sunday School. We close our ears to those things God would have us hear and pay attention to. Our ears need Jesus' healing.
Your ears are indeed healed whenever they hear the forgiveness of Jesus proclaimed. You are forgiven each time you hear the message of the Gospel proclaimed from this puplit, for Jesus loved you so much that He willingly went to the cross in your place, dying there in your death, so that you now live forever in heaven. But you don't have to wait till Sunday for your ears to hear this forgiveness. You may come to your pastor and hear the words of Absolution whenever your heart is heavy in sin.
It also appears that we have a tongue problem. Not that it doesn't work, for it finds ample opportunity to gossip, to brow-beat, to lie, and to curse. It is bound to say all the wrong things. It needs to be set free from that bondage by Jesus, so that your tongue can be free to speak what Jesus' Own tongue speaks. That's why Jesus took saliva from His tongue to place it on the speechless man's tongue.
Jesus cleanses your tongue this day by placing more than just His saliva on it. He places His body, given to death on the cross, upon your tongue in the bread; and He places His holy, precious blood, shed for your salvation, upon you tongue when you drink from the cup of Holy Communion. This cleanses your tongue of all its sins, forgiving you, and setting your tongue free to speak what Christ's Own tongue says. This is your confessing, which means to say together, with Jesus, what He says.
Yes, Jesus alone does all things excellently, including opening your ears to hear God's Word of truth regularly, and by cleansing your tongue to confess that truth for yourself, and before others. Amen. .
Sunday, August 23, 2009
And He (Jesus) spoke–also to certain ones trusting upon themselves that they were righteous, and those having contempt for others–this parable: "Two men went up into the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood; to himself He prayed these things, `God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men–robbers, unrighteous, adulterers, or even as this tax collector; I fast twice per Sabbath, I give 10% from all I acquire.' And the tax collector, standing far off, not wanting to lift eyes up to heaven, but beating his chest, was saying, ‘God, mercy me, the sinner!' I say to you, This one went down into his house righteous, rather than that one; because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one humbling himself will be exalted.
Some contests are odd, awarding victory to the one scoring the lowest. In golf, for instance, the one with the most strokes loses, yet the one with the fewest strokes wins. The limbo game is similar, as the stick is brought down, the contestants bend lower and lower to be victorious. Christianity is one of these kind of endeavors, where one does not strive to be the highest and best, but rather the humblest and the lowly. So the question is before you: in your prayers, how low do you go?
Jesus tells a parable of two pray-ers, the leading church layman (the Pharisee) and the secular employee of the hated Roman occupiers (the tax-collector). By all accounts, you'd expect that the respected church leader would have a far superior prayer to that of a worldly money robber. Even the Pharisee views himself as far superior to the likes of this tax-collector. But then we are surprised to learn that it is not the church lay-leader whose prayer is accepted by God, but it is the sinner's! Why?
The first problem with the Pharisee's prayer is that it is misdirected. Oh, it does address God and all, but it really isn't about God and His will at all. You see, it is not enough to attach God's name to your prayer, and expect Him to accept it. Praying in God's name includes praying what God wants, not necessarily what you want. This the Pharisee failed to understand. So he prayed not *to God*, but really *to himself*. Repent of those times your prayers have been so very self-centered.
The tax-collector's prayer starts the same, but it differs from the Pharisee's prayer in that it is addressing the gracious God. This man doesn't need to elaborate all his many sins to God. God already knows them all. He appeals to the God of grace and compassion, and his prayer is heard. Just as your prayer "forgive us our trespasses" is heard by Jesus Who died for you on the cross. Christ your Lord forgives you today from this pulpit, just as He does whenever your Pastor absolves you.
The second thing wrong with the Pharisee's prayer is that it doesn't exalt God, but man. Scripture is clear that all glory belongs to God, and that only the LORD should be exalted. The Pharisee failed to note the acts of God, in particular, of His divine mercy. Instead, he prays about what a great guy he thinks he is, especially compared to other notable sinners like the tax-collector. But what he failed to realize is that he's just as much of a sinner! Repent of those times you forget that you too are a sinner.
The tax-collector's prayer exalts God for His greatest quality–His mercy. There is nothing more needful than the gracious love of God toward sinners. It is the one thing needful which Jesus offered to Mary while Martha missed out in the kitchen. The tax-collector knew of God's mercy and trusted in it. You too trust in the grace of God; you trust in His mercy which purchased you at Calvary with Christ's body given and blood shed for your redemption. You eat and drink His redeeming body and blood.
A final problem with the Pharisee is his overall attitude going into the Temple that day. He trusted that He was already righteous. His believe was misdirected, however, since he foolishly thought that he was *all right* with God because of all the good stuff he had done. He fasts, he tithes his 10% to the church, and he is careful to avoid the blatant sins. But he's not all right with God. His inward sins of pride and self-centeredness still condemn him. Repent of your inward sins which condemn you too.
The tax-collector knew he had no righteousness of his own. He could only claim the wrong-tious-ness of his sin, weighing heavy upon his heart. He knew he was a sinner, through and through, and expected no hope from his own actions to make him righteous. Like him, you trust on God alone to make you righteous, which He did at the cross and at the font. He took your sins washed from you in baptism and became them. His righteousness He gave up there on Calvary, crediting it to you by faith. You are made righteous, no less than that tax-collector, by God's mercy to you in Christ Jesus.
Today's hymns from LSB:
#772 In Holy Conversation
#557 Oh, How Great is Your Compassion
#615 When in the Hour of Deepest Need
Saturday, August 15, 2009
God's people in the Old Testament didn't listen to Him very well. Prophet after prophet were sent to them to speak the word of the LORD, but they didn't pay attention. So God sent the Assyrian armies to wipe out the northern ten tribes of Israel. Soon after, the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin also failed to listen to God's word, so the LORD sent the Babylonians to take them into exile for seventy years. When they returned, the very first priority was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and its Temple.
But again, the Jews failed to listen to the LORD. So He sent a famine of His word into the land. For some 500 years, no prophets were sent to proclaim God's word to the Jews–until John the Baptizer prepared the way for Jesus. Surely when God sent His only-begotten Son, His people would listen to Him, right? But they didn't. They listened instead to the Jewish big-wigs of the day, who convinced them to shout "Crucify, crucify!" For this, their city and temple would be destroyed along with 900,000.
It is crystal clear that God doesn't like it when His people fail to listen to Him, and dire consequences are sure to follow throughout history. So, what of today? Surely we listen to God as He desires, right? Or do we? Oh, we hear him, much like I may hear the lovely-Lauri talking to me during a football game, but we don't always pay attention to what we hear. Hearing is not the same as listening. Listening requires that we respond to God's word in faith–with faithful words and with faithful actions!
So a pretty good measuring stick of how well we listen to the LORD's Word would be what we say and what we do. Ask yourself: Do you gather with your brothers and sisters in this congregation in bible study to listen to God's word and learn from it? Or do you gather at meetings to discuss your opinions on how the church should be run, and what to do about our building and property in the future? Are your words speaking what scripture says God wants, or are they all about what you and others want?
Truth be told, many–far too many of our words and actions betray us as those who don't spend much time listening to God's word. This is probably because we fail to understand what the church is. It is not, I repeat, *not* a building. The church exists eternally, while its buildings come and go. Two Temples have come and gone in Jerusalem, but the Christian church born there continues on without a central worship building anymore. For the church's one foundation is not a building, but Christ Jesus!
You see, it's not about the building at all, but about what God is doing there. Jesus drove the salesmen and money-changers from God's house because they weren't about listening to God's word there. Then Jesus started teaching, and crowds were drawn by the Spirit to God's Word coming from His mouth. You too are drawn here today, not because of music, facilities, or anything else but God's pure Gospel word of forgiveness in Jesus. Christ's love to you from the cross draws you where He is!
It's also not so much about what *you* do as it is what Jesus does. We get preoccupied with who gets to read, usher, acolyte, or assist at communion as though our actions are the most important thing. They aren't. The work of God for you is a singular act: to believe, and thereby receive God's gifts. You passively listen as Jesus speaks words of forgiveness through the voice of your Pastor, as from Christ Himself, knowing that Jesus died for you at the cross to give you the gift of eternal life.
It's the same way with God's actions. Just as you did nothing but lay there when you were brought to the font for the LORD to adopt you into His family by the washing of water & the Word, so too you are passive at the Lord's Supper, as you receive the body of Jesus given for you in the bread, and as you receive the blood of Christ shed for you in the cup. Jesus is your Temple, wherever He may be found, in His word and sacrament. And you all, gathered to Him, are His body–the church!
Hymns for today from LSB:
#868 Awake My Soul and with the Sun
#644 The Church's One Foundation
#540 Christ the Word of God Incarnate
Saturday, August 8, 2009
And He was saying also to the disciples, "A certain man was rich who had a house-manager; and this one had been charged to Him of wasting his possessions. And having called him, He said to him, `How do I hear this concerning you? Give back the log of your house-management, for you are no longer able to be house-manager.' And the house-manager said to himself, `What will I do, because my master is taking away the house-management from me? I have not strength to dig; I am ashamed to beg. Aha, I know what I will do, in order that whenever I am removed from the house-management, they may receive me into their houses!' And having called one by one the debtors of his lord, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my Lord?' And that one said, `for 80 hundred gallon baths of oil.' And he said to him, `Take your writing, and having sat down, quickly write 40.' Then he said to another, `And you, how much do you owe?' And that one said, 'for 100 ten bushel sacks of wheat.' He says to him, `Take your writing and write 80.'" And the Lord commended the unrighteous house-manager because he acted shrewdly; because the sons of this age are more shrewd than the sons of light in the generation which is their own. And I Myself say to you: Make for yourselves friends by the unrighteous mammon, in order that whenever it runs out, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.
Today we have a parable about stewardship, and how we manage our mammon.
(Mammon is the abundance of wealth which we often call *stuff* that we
accumulate, above and beyond what meets our needs.) In the story, the
unrighteous manager is pretty shrewd with his master's mammon. First, he
wastes his master's belongings, then when he finds out he's going to be
fired, he figures "Why not cheat my master further" and he fudges the
logbook so that he can do a solid favor for others who might befriend
him when he is unemployed and homeless.
Now this manager was shrewd and dishonest. Jesus doesn't commend him for
his dishonesty, but credits him only for his shrewdness. It was quick
thinking to make friends with another man's mammon. This manager knew
how to make things work for him in.this world. How about you? Are you
shrewd as a Christian? Do you put the abundant blessings God gives you
to work in His kingdom as you ought? Or do you spend more on extra
clothes you don't need, on movies, at Starbucks, on video games, at
restaurants, or on the latest electronic gadgets than you put in the
Truth be told, hardly any of us tithe like the OT saints used to do. Not
that we are forced to give an exact 10% of our income to the Lord's
work. (In Christian liberty you are free to give 11%, 12% or even 15% if
you like!) We probably give such pitiful amounts in the offering plate
because we don't really take the time to understand what it is for–to
make friends with that unrighteous mammon–friends who will welcome us
one day into our eternal habitations in heaven! After all, isn't that
the Lord's work for His church, to increase the citizenship of paradise.
And we have a part...
But mammon itself is unrighteous. It has no power, in and of itself, to
purchase heaven for anyone. Not silver nor gold, but only the holy
precious blood of Jesus shed at the cross, and His innocent suffering and
death could purchase salvation for anyone. But as unrighteous as it is,
your wealth can be utilized in ways which bless your neighbor. Mammon
can't get you to heaven, but it might be of help to others in need, so
that they too may one day be blessed with the same eternal life you
received at your Baptism. It can be used to make eternal friends you
will treasure forever.
How? By God using you and all your abundant blessings so as to let your
light shine before men, so that God is the one glorified. This is what
St. James was getting at in His epistle when he talks about being
justified by works. We know that we are already justified before God by
grace thru faith, not of works, lest any man boast. But before our
neighbor, who needs the benefits and blessings of our good works, those
works show that we are justified before him. He sees them not as our
works, but as Christ's works through us, and he gives glory to God as a
You have been already justified by God's grace alone. "It is finished!"
Jesus exclaimed from the cross. You call heaven your home already, and feast
on the heavenly banquet of His body and blood for your forgiveness, life and
salvation regularly. But your body doesn't dwell there yet; it is left
down here for a purpose. In the meantime, you are given to be God's
stewards, managing His mammon, to be shrewd in your use of the
unrighteous stuff with which God has blessed you, to use as much of it
as you can to help others dwell in heaven someday with you, as your
friends, treasures stored up unto life eternal.
But what if you've been a pretty miserable steward for quite some time.
Perhaps you give in the offering plate only grudgingly, or you have made
excuse after excuse to avoid participating in church activities, or you
waste more money on frivolous things than you give to the Lord's work.
Maybe you have spent your time griping and complaining about the way
things are done at church, instead of actively helping out and becoming
more involved. It could be that you haven't even contemplated the
salvation of others who could benefit from some of your abundant mammon.
If this is the case, do not lose all hope. For God will bring you to
repentance, changing your heart and mind, turning you from sin to grace by
His forgiveness. Then as a new creature in Christ Jesus, He will raise
you up to walk in newness of life, bearing the fruits of repentance in
your life now, and storing up friends in heaven for you later! The Lord
has only begun this good work in you, and He Himself will bring it to
completion both for you and for others.
For the Great Steward for you has wasted all His good works upon you.
Christ has given up all His righteousness for you at the cross, having taken
your unrighteousness to Himself as He bears the punishment of the death
you deserved. In doing so, He gets out His Great Logbook and cancels
your debt, not 20%, not even 50%, but 100% of your debts & trespasses,
He has forgiven you. Your slate is now clean. You owe nothing to God any
longer. The only one left who can benefit from your good works is your
neighbor. As God has blessed you with His good gifts, so too does the
Lord use you to bless others so that they too may share your heavenly
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Be on guard against false prophets who come to you in clothing of sheep, but inside they are greedy/robbing wolves. From their fruits you will recognize them; Are grapes gathered from briars, or figs from thistles? Therefore, all good trees produce excellent fruits, but a rotten tree produces evil fruits. A good tree is not able to produce evil fruits, nor a rotten tree produce excellent fruits. Every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, from their fruits you will recognize them. Not everyone saying to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of My Father, the One in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, "Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy by Your name, and by Your name cast out demons, and by Your name do many powerful works?" And then, I will confess to them that not at any time did I acknowledge you; withdraw from me, workers of lawlessness.
"By their fruits, you will know them.", St. Paul gives a list of bad fruits in his letter to the Galatians: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealous, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions ,envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. If you see any of these rotten fruits, you can rest assured that such folks are lawless, not to be trusted as prophets. A real prophet has love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Seems simple enough.
But Jesus offers a different list for false prophets here: those who claim Him as Lord, those who by His name claim to prophesy, claim to cast out demons, and claim to do powerful works. Doesn't sound too false here, now does it..The problem is that false prophets would have trouble deceiving you if they appeared as the wolves they are. They are deceptive, and appear sheep-like, almost Christian in both their words and actions. So how can you tell a wolf when he is disguised in sheep's clothing?
Well, everything will be made clear on the last day. That's when Jesus will unmask these imitation sheep for the wolves they are. On that day, those who have swallowed the rotten fruits of their false prophesy will also be revealed as well. But none of us wants to be deceived in the meantime, so how is it that we can tell if there is a wolf underneath a sheep-like covering? Jesus tells us it is by their fruits that they will be recognized. But many of their words and works will surely seem quite Christian, as they deceive many.
But there is one particular fruit that reveals these false prophets for the wolves which they really are. It is the common theme of all of their claims, "Lord look what I did...Lord, hear what I said...Lord, see what I've accomplished..." Such false prophets look not to what God does, but to their own efforts to save them. They claim that they did something to make Jesus their Lord, and they will make the false claim that their works merit some sort of favor before Christ Jesus on the Last Day, meriting them heaven.
"But Pastor," you may be thinking, "doesn't Jesus say that only those who *do* the will of God the Father will make it to heaven?" Indeed He does. But what exactly is God's will for you to be doing? The disciples asked this of Jesus once, wanting to do the works of God (no doubt expecting an exhaustive list). Jesus told them on that occasion that the work of God is this: that you believe in Him whom the Father has sent. That's it. The entire work of God, given you to accomplish is to believe in Jesus, your Savior.
This work *of God* is sort of a play on words which Jesus uses, since you know well that your believing is not something you do on your own, but that it is a gift to you, a working of the Holy Spirit. Just as your entire salvation is pure gift from God, purchased for you by Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. This gift is delivered to you in God's washing you free from sin at Holy Baptism, and in the spiritual food He feeds you in the Lord's Supper–Christ Jesus' very body and blood for your forgiveness, life and salvation.
You know that only good fruit earns eternal life in heaven. You also know that you are *not good* by nature, sinful and unclean. You know, therefore that all of your personal fruits are rotten, since you are a corrupt tree whose heart inclinations are continuously toward evil. You deserve to be the tree cut down on the cover of the bulletin today, because you are a sinner. But you are not! For you have the work of God to your credit–Christ's Own righteousness credited to your account by His gift of faith!
For as Jesus declares, only God is good. His fruits are the only good ones. And they all come from His good tree, the one upon which He was nailed upon the hill called Calvary. His good works there merited your salvation, and His good, holy, perfect righteousness is given to you, in blessed exchange for your sin and death, so that you would be made good by Jesus, and worthy of eternal life in heaven. Amen.