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Created Male and Female

Genesis 1:26-27
Trinity 21

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In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    The way that Satan attacks God is by attacking those who are made in the image of God.  We need to recognize, especially in today’s cultural context, that the devil’s #1 goal is to corrupt and pollute and ultimately destroy our humanity.  The way Satan lashes out at the Creator is by assaulting the crown of God’s creation, human beings.

    In particular, the devil is now attacking the most basic reality of our humanity, namely, that we are created male and female.  And here’s the way he does it: it starts with a lie that has actually been around for millennia.  The lie goes like this: material things are bad, or at least unimportant, and spiritual things are good.  The body is supposedly just a shell that you eventually cast aside; the soul is what counts.  It’s not outward things like maleness or femaleness but inward things that matter.  But do you see how that philosophy is a rejection of the Creator?  For what did God declare about His creation?  He said that it was good, even very good!  This is the way we should think of physical, bodily, material things; for they are created by God.  They’re not lower level stuff; they are good just as much as our souls are.  To be sure this fallen creation now groans under the curse of decay and death because of sin.  But the problem is sin, not the material creation.  Besides, if you think about it, sin is as much a matter of the soul as it is of the body; for all sin begins in the heart.

    Body and soul are one; they go together.  Too often we try to separate them into different categories, body over here, soul over there, and the soul just sort of rattles around in this bodily container for a while till death when it is set free.  But that’s not how it is.  Remember how Adam was created?  God formed him from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him.  That life is the soul.  It’s not as if there are some pre-existing souls floating around up in heaven somewhere, and when a woman gets pregnant, God sends a soul down to the little unborn baby.  Sadly, in fact, that’s how many people try to justify abortion.  They say the baby doesn’t have a soul until later in the pregnancy or until they’re born; so killing the unborn child is OK.  But of course that’s wrong.  At the moment of conception, God creates a new human person, including a new human soul.  The soul is the life of the body, the unique person that God creates.  null

    This means that the soul is not just a generic spirit.  If you’re a man, you have a male soul.  If you are a woman, you have a female soul.  None of this silliness that a man can be trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa.  The soul is the life of that particular male or female body.  It is a demonic lie which tries to separate soul and body as if they’re two separate things, or as if they could be mismatched.  To say so is to rebel against the Creator and reject His creation of the body.  Now it’s true that under the curse, all sorts of things can go wrong with our bodies, as well as our minds, and so sometimes people will struggle with various feelings.  But since that’s a consequence of sin, it’s not something a person should embrace but something they should fight against with God’s help.  The way of faith is not to trust our feelings or the deceitfulness of our sinful hearts, but to trust God’s creative Word and His creating work.  That is what is for sure and certain, unlike our feelings which are always shifting.

    So let me put this in practical terms: when it comes to the current transgender fad–dare I call it the transgender contagion–we should never call someone by a designation of sex other than the one God gave them.  We don’t choose our own identity, it is given to us by God.  So if a man has supposedly transitioned to being a woman, it is not for us to deny reality, to deny the Creator, and call that man a “she.”  It’s Bruce, not Caitlyn, despite the game of pretend that’s being played.  If we call a person by their preferred pronoun which is contrary to their creation, we are joining in on a lie and giving support to the devil’s attempt to corrupt our humanity.  It’s pure hypocrisy to say transgender ideology is wrong, and then when confronted with an actual example of it to join in on the make-believe.  Christians refer to reality as God defines it, not as man defines it.  

    Now, I should hasten to add here, that in all things we should act with compassion and not behave like jerks.  In many of these cases there are serious spiritual and bodily and mental issues in play.  We want to help the people involved if at all possible and work to bring them back to the way of faith in God’s creative and redeeming work.  Since the people involved are created in the image of God, we’re not there to put them down but to help lift them up to fullness of life in Christ.  But that simply can’t be accomplished by affirming the mutilation of the body with surgeries and the pollution of the body with opposite sex hormones, especially when this is tragically being perpetrated on children.  Faith in the Creator means embracing our bodily creation by Him.

    “Male and female He created them.”  Two sexes, two genders, complementary to one another and created for one another for the one flesh union of holy marriage.  Which brings us to another way in which the devil seeks to degrade our humanity, namely through same sex unions and so-called same sex marriages.  Again, the only way this can be embraced and accepted is if you deny the way in which God created our bodies.  Only male and female form the wholeness and the fulness of what our humanity is.  And only male and female can be God’s instrument in creating new life.  Same sex unions are by definition contrary to the Creator, for they are sterile and non-creating–not for reasons of health or age which couples sometimes face–but by their very nature.  God’s Word says that one of the primary purposes of marriage is that man and woman be fruitful and multiply.  Same sex unions do not reflect the image of God, the Holy Trinity, for they cannot create that triad of life.

    So again, let me put this in practical terms: you may well believe correctly that homosexual unions are sinful, just as any sexual union outside of God-given marriage is sinful.  But how do you deal with this when you are confronted with it in your day to day life?  If a man refers to his “husband” or a woman to her “wife,” do you join in with using that terminology?  The language and the words we use are important–for they either express the truth of the living words of God in Holy Scripture or the lying words of the evil one.  It’s one thing to have to live under the ungodly laws of the land–and we do obey the civil laws insofar as we aren’t caused to sin.  As Scripture says, our default position is to “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).  But above all, as Scripture also says, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  You should never talk as if these so-called marriages are actually real in anything more than a purely legal sense.  Before God, they are nothing but a rebellious illusion.  And we want no part in that.

    In particular, here’s a situation that some of you may have had to face, and I’m sure it will be happening with greater frequency in the future: what do you do if you’re invited to a same-sex wedding?  This isn’t easy, because it may well be a family member or relative, a co-worker or client or friend who’s doing the inviting.  There’s a lot at stake in how you handle this.  As Christians we want to be clear that we don’t hate anyone or wish ill on anyone; there are no “phobias” at work.  “Phobia” means “fear”; this isn’t about fear for Christians but truth.  And if we really love the people involved as we should, we want to speak the truth for their eternal good.  You’re not loving someone if you’re “supporting” them in their sin and false belief.  It’s not kindness to show up and smile politely at actions that threaten to cut them off from God forever.  (E.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-10)

    So let me put the matter as clearly as I can.  There is simply no way in good conscience that a Christian can attend and be a part of the celebration of a so-called same sex wedding.  To do so is wrong and against God’s will.  First of all, examine what your motives have to be for taking part if you know that the whole thing is forbidden by God.  If it’s that you fear harming a relationship, doesn’t that mean that you fear people more than God, or put another way, that you love people and care about what they think more than God?  We like to fool ourselves into believing that if we can just maintain the relationship, that eventually we’ll be able to bring people around to the truth of God’s Word.  But in reality we just keep putting things off, and that time is always at some unspecified point in the future.  Meanwhile, our actions speak volumes to the contrary.  Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  Or perhaps you fear some job-related, financial consequence.  There might be some blowback from a co-worker or client.  And so you try to play both sides and serve two masters.  But again Jesus clearly says, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).  “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).

    Some might say, “But didn’t Jesus eat with sinners?”  And the answer is, of course He did!  There is no sinner that Jesus would not engage with, including sexual sinners, and the same should be true for us.  But what was Jesus doing when He sat at table with them?  What was his message when He spoke to them?  It was this: “Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus came calling sinners to repentance.  He came to seek and to save the lost.  He never condoned sin; He forgave sin.  But a same sex wedding is by its very nature an unrepentant approval of sin.  Now, if you can go to a same sex wedding ceremony and call the couple involved to repentance (not to mention everyone else who is approving of this rejection of the Creator), then that would be an exception to the rule.  But of course, that’s not going to happen.  When you go to a wedding, you’re obliged to be pleasant and nice, to laugh at the jokes, to congratulate the couple and the rest of the family, to give them a gift celebrating their union, to act as if everything is just fine and wonderful.  But the flowers and the fancy clothes are only covering rebellion against God.  And this is made all the worse if it takes place in a church, a blasphemy of God’s name.  It’s not angels that are rejoicing in these events, it’s demons.  And we should never join in with the worship of demons.

    We need to wake up to what’s happening.  These things are some of the defining issues of our times.  They are a test that you may well soon be faced with.  It’s easy to justify our actions and take the broad easy road rather than the narrow way.  But let us take the early Christian church as our example.  All they had to do to save their lives and their means of making a living was to offer a pinch of incense to Caesar and acknowledge him as Lord instead of Jesus.  They easily could have rationalized such actions by saying that they were doing those things insincerely, just going through the motions of idolatry, merely mouthing a curse against Christ to save their skins.  But they didn’t.  They would rather lose their lives than to do that.  And that’s how the church grew.  It didn’t grow based on the lukewarm compromise of those who loved their lives in this world, but because of the passionate faith of those who believed in a Creator who could and would raise their bodies from the dead to glory, even if they were mauled by lions or burned at the stake.  That sincere faith and love of God inspired others and eventually won over an empire.

    So let us, then, commit ourselves never to offer the modern pinch of incense to the gods of this world but steadfastly to hold to our confession of faith in the God of creation, the blessed Holy Trinity.  For we have a God who not only created us and our physical natures, but when we had fallen into sin and under the curse of death, He reaffirmed the goodness of His creation by entering into it Himself!  The Son of God, Jesus Christ, took up our human nature in order to restore our humanity again.  What does Scripture say?  “The Word became flesh.”  Notice the Gospel writer uses the most blatantly earthy word possible there–not just “body” but “flesh.”  And when Jesus shared in our flesh, He made it holy.  Through Him all things were made in the beginning, and through Him all things are recreated by the power of His death and resurrection.  Jesus died in the flesh to purge our human nature of its sin, and He rose again in the flesh so that we might also share in His bodily resurrection to glory in the new creation to come.  In the midst of our earthly groaning, we eagerly wait for the redemption of our bodies through our blood brother in the flesh, Jesus (Romans 8:23).

    The devil may do His worst to try to turn God’s creation upside down and corrupt and pollute it.  But Satan has been defeated.  For Jesus has cleansed your humanity forever by joining it to His own divine nature.  Your human nature is now holy and pure in Christ.  Even if you have polluted yourself in the past through various sins, your sins are forgiven and washed away from you forever through faith in His holy, precious blood.  Our maleness and femaleness is an image of how God is a husband to His chosen people, how Christ the holy Groom gives Himself and lays down His life for His elect Lady.  The Church is the baptized Bride of Christ, chosen and precious to Him.  

    So whatever you were before, you are now set apart and sanctified as God’s holy people, His beloved.  And His Word is still powerful to accomplish what it says.  Jesus said to the man in the Gospel “Your son lives,” and he did.  So also He says to you, “Your sins are forgiven.  Fear not.  I have called you by name; you are Mine.”  And it is so.

    Therefore, fellow believers in Jesus, in the midst of the spiritual warfare that we are in on every front, put on the breastplate of His righteousness and the helmet of His freely given salvation.  Take up the sword of the Spirit for the battle, which is the Word of God.  And in all circumstances raise the shield of faith in Christ, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.  

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

A Located God

Genesis 28:10-17
Trinity 19

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    How would you answer the question, “Where is God?”  Many would say, “God is in heaven,” or “God is in my heart,” or “God is in nature,” or “God is everywhere.”  Those answers are certainly not wrong; and yet, they are not the best answers that we can give as Lutheran Christians.  For a god who is just everywhere is a god who is really nowhere.  A god who is merely everywhere is nowhere in particular for me.  I’m no closer to him in one place than in another.  OK, He’s everywhere, but how do I have access to Him?  How do I see Him and hear Him and come into contact with Him?  It’s like He’s always just two feet away but on the other side of a solid brick wall, and there are no doors to get through.

    We learn from passages like today’s Old Testament reading that our God is One who is not merely everywhere but one who puts Himself somewhere, in specific places for His people.  He’s not just “out there,” above and beyond us; nor is He “in here,” coming to us from within ourselves.  Rather, God has located Himself in particular, identifiable places for us and for our good.  He’s not above locating Himself right where we’re at.null

    In the Old Testament account, Jacob was on a last-minute trip out of the country.  He took this trip for two reasons.  First, he was running for his life.  By deceiving his blind father Isaac into thinking he was the older son, Jacob had just stolen the family blessing from his brother Esau.  You may recall how Jacob used the goat skin on his arms to accomplish the deception.  Hairy-skinned Esau was furious about this and consoled himself by making plans to kill Jacob.  However, while Jacob was fleeing from his brother’s anger, he used this opportunity to go to the land of his mother’s family and find a wife.  For Jacob’s parents didn’t want him to marry one of the local pagan Canaanites.  So Jacob was making this journey certainly with a mixture of emotions–both with fear for his life because of his brother, but also with some degree of anticipation because he was hopefully about to get married and establish his own household.

    Jacob is a lot like us, isn’t he.  For the fact of the matter is that as we walk the journey of our lives, few of us have it all together, either.  Rather, our lives are generally more like Jacob’s–a mixture of good things and bad.  We move through life trying to make the best out of what we’re confronted with.  In some ways we’re running from our past with a little bit of fear of what’s going to happen to us.  In other ways we’re looking forward to the future with anticipation.  Our lives, too, are usually a little more mixed up and complicated than we’d like them to be.

    And quite honestly, we, like Jacob, are often the cause of our own problems.  Deception is an art that we also can practice.  We too know how to put the goatskin on our arms, so to speak, to use manipulation and subtlety to make things go our way.  But there are times when that subtlety backfires on us and things happen that we didn’t foresee.  Our lives are often muddled because of the fact that, like Jacob, we are fallen human beings, unable to know God rightly or even take one step towards Him.  A great canyon lies between us and God that we are incapable of crossing.

    However, to this far from perfect man named Jacob, in the middle of his mixed up life, God came in grace.  During the night God gave Jacob a special vision in which he saw a ladder extending from heaven down to where he was.  And please notice that this ladder wasn’t for climbing!  The only ones on this ladder were angels ascending and descending.  The whole point of the ladder is that God and God alone bridges the gap between Himself and sinners.  He comes all the way to us, because we’re incapable of moving even one inch towards Him.  

    God came down to Jacob and gave Him two wonderful promises.  First of all, the Lord confirmed to him the same promise that was given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, namely, that all the earth would be blessed through him and his seed.  And we know that God kept that promise.  For Jacob’s other name was Israel, and out of the descendants of Israel came Him who is the promised Seed, our Lord Jesus, the Messiah.  Through Him all the world is indeed blessed.  

    And in the meantime, God made a second promise to Jacob–to be with him wherever he went, to protect him, and to bring him safely back home.  The Lord said, “I will not leave you.”  God broke into Jacob’s world, then, also for the purpose of comforting him and putting his mind at ease–not because Jacob deserved it, but because of God’s awesome mercy in using even ordinary fallen people like him to carry out His plan of rescuing mankind from sin and its grave consequences.

    The good news for us is this:  God has also broken into our world in a decisive way for our good, just as He did for Jacob.  Listen to John chapter 1 where Jesus spoke about Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  Jesus purposefully used the very imagery of this Old Testament reading to describe Himself and His mission.  Jacob’s ladder is a prophecy of Christ.  For Christ is the true ladder between heaven and earth.  He is the One who has bridged the gap between God and us.  He is the One who, being true God, came down right to where we're at and took on our human flesh in order to rescue and comfort us.  The omnipresent, everywhere God located Himself for us in Jesus Christ, the descendant of Jacob, so that we could know what God is like and so that we could hear and receive His saving promises.

    Jacob responded appropriately, in the way of faith, by receiving God's promises for what they were, and by worshiping Him there.  Jacob understood what a wondrous thing God had done in stepping into the world in that place.  And so He set up the stone which was at his head as a pillar, and he called that place "Bethel," which means, "House of God."  For God wasn't just everywhere for Jacob.  He was in that particular location for him.  Jacob rightly said, "How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!"  

    And God’s promises to us center in this:  that this located God, Jesus Christ, stood with us and in our place to rescue us.  He did this by living a sinless life for us and by being executed on a cross to receive our punishment as our stand-in.  God Himself not only came down to where we're at and bridged the sin-gap in Jesus Christ, but He also received in His own person, His own body, the penalty for our fallenness.  Having now risen again to life and ascended to the right hand of the Father, Christ has promised and assured us that in Him we are completely delivered from judgment; we are restored to a right relationship with God through Him.×

    Just as was the case with Jacob, God has given us promises which calm our fears and ease our minds, even right now in the middle of our mixed-up lives.  God has said that He will continue, even today, to put Himself in particular places for us, to help and comfort and guide us.

    The words that God spoke to Jacob He speaks to us at the holy font, "I am with you and will keep you wherever you go . . . I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you."  The Lord is there for you in and through holy baptism.  For when He commanded it, Jesus said, "I am with you always, even to the close of the age."  "I have called you by name; you are mine."  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is truly present in that water to choose people as His own, to create faith and forgive sins.  Whenever a pastor baptizes someone according to Christ's mandate, you can say with certainty, "God is there; right there."

    The Lord is also truly present in His words.  The Scriptures aren't just some nice history book with a few teachings about morality.  Rather, they are the living words of Christ through which the Holy Spirit brings us to repentance and grants us saving faith in Christ.  Wherever God's Word is, wherever it is preached and taught rightly, you can say without a doubt, "God is there; I heard the voice of God today."

    And God is really present in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Christ's very body and blood are there under the bread and wine.  Through this Supper God reconfirms His promise of forgiveness and life and strengthens us to live as His own dearly loved people.  It was angels that ascended and descended on Jacob's ladder.  So also, as we come into the Lord's very presence in communion, we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to laud and magnify God's glorious name.  As we gather around the Lord's altar, we can say the words of Jacob with complete assurance and boldness, "The Lord is in this place."

    All of this is nothing more than a restatement of Jesus' words, "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them."  God is not just everywhere.  He has located Himself somewhere, in particular places for us.  Sure, you can pray to God at home or in your fishing boat.  But it’s only in divine service that the Lord is here in the flesh for you. That’s why we prayed in the Psalm “(O Lord,) one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

    Jacob said, "'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.'  And he was afraid."  So it is that you are called today to believe with Jacob that the Lord is truly here and to have that due sense of fear and reverence that comes with being in the very presence of your Maker.  As it is written, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  When God calls us to faith in Him, He calls us to believe not only in what Christ did long ago but also what He does among us still today.

    Which brings us, then, to conclude with our original question.  Where is God?  He is in Christ for us.  And where is Christ?  He is here, in His words and sacraments.  This is the Portal through which we hear and come into contact with our Lord.  Therefore, we say together with Jacob, “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Cover-Up

Luke 10:25-37

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Most of us are familiar with the phrase “the cover-up is worse than the crime.”  It was probably first in the Watergate years that this became a popular saying.  It was bad enough that the initial crime was committed, but the cover-up just made everything bigger and created more guilt than the initial act.  But whether it’s with political leaders in government or in the church, whether it's sports figures or celebrities, the natural tendency is to try to conceal and paper over and even justify unethical behavior or sins or crimes.  People fear that too much will be lost if they are simply honest about things.  Their enemies will gain too much of an advantage.

    Of course, we know exactly how this all works because we do it ourselves.  It’s bad enough that we have an outburst of anger and yelling.  But then we make it worse by trying to cover for it or make excuses for it.  “Oh, I was just really tired.  Things have been really hard for me lately.  If you hadn’t been so difficult, I wouldn’t have lost my temper.”  It’s bad enough that we commit sexual sin or are tempted to unfaithfulness.  But then we try to deflect the blame or make it seem OK.  “It’s just natural desires that I’m following.  What’s wrong with me trying to find happiness, anyway?  If my spouse were more sensitive or affectionate, then this wouldn’t even be an issue.”  It’s bad enough that we have our vices; but then we make it worse by trying to make them sound like virtues.  Instead of calling it love and idolatry of money and pleasure, it’s “preparing for my family’s future” and “just having a little fun.”  Instead of laziness and neglect in our duties toward our neighbor, it’s “I’m just taking a little break, doing a little self-care, having a little me time.”

    Trying to cover up sin is usually worse than the sin itself.  For then it’s not just that we’re sinning, but we’re embracing and holding on to our sin, holding it outside of and away from God’s mercy, rejecting God’s Word in unrepentance and unbelief.  Then we’re engaged in the futile attempt to justify ourselves when only God can justify us.  We’re afraid to be honest about things because we think we’re going to lose in the process or give our adversary the advantage.  But the only thing we truly have to lose is our guilt.  And the only way our adversary, the devil, truly gains the advantage over us is if we deceive ourselves with excuses and rationalizations.null

    The lawyer in today’s Gospel was trying to justify himself.  He had convinced himself that he had lived a good and holy life in God’s sight, that whatever wrongs he had done were justifiable and were so minor that they didn’t really even count.  And so Jesus tells this story of the Good Samaritan to set him straight.  We must never forget that’s the reason why Jesus speaks this parable.  It’s not merely that the Samaritan is a good example for us to follow–although he is that.  Jesus’ main point is that if you think you’ve kept God’s Law well enough to inherit eternal life, you’re sort of an idiot.  You’re fooling yourself if you’re still trying rationalize your behavior before God.  Romans 3 puts it about as clearly as possible, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight.”

    Our Lord Jesus is saying to the lawyer and to all of us today, “Repent.  You are the man laying on the side of the road.  You are the one who has been robbed of the glory in which you were created.  Sin and Satan and world have beaten you and left you in the ditch, physically alive, but spiritually dead.  The Law cannot save you.  True, it can diagnose your condition, but it offers you no medicine.  Like the priest and the Levite, it passes by on the other side.  Only I, Jesus, your Good Samaritan can rescue you.  I have come to you as a foreigner from the outside, the Son of God from heaven. Though I  am despised and rejected by the Jewish leaders as if I were a Samaritan, I have come to show you mercy and compassion.

    “As one who shares in your flesh and blood, I am here to take your place.  For I myself will be robbed and stripped of My clothing; I myself will be beaten mercilessly and left dead on a cross, buried in a grave.  But this is the way I will defeat your enemies.  This is the way I will take away their power over you.  I will take the whole curse into my body, your sickness and sin and hurt and death.  And by My divine blood I will break the curse.  Through My resurrection, I will give you new and immortal life.  You cannot win this fight by your own strength.  But I am fighting for you.  When death and the devil grab hold of My weak flesh, they will learn all too soon that they have grabbed hold of the almighty God; and I will tear them limb from limb and utterly destroy them.  I am here with you.  Lean on Me. You are safe; you are forgiven; there is nothing now that can separate you from My love.”

    The Good Samaritan Jesus comes to you and He cleans up the wounds of your sin in the waters of baptism.  He pours on the oil of His Holy Spirit to comfort you and the wine of His blood to cleanse and purify you in Holy Communion.  He gives you lodging in the Inn which is His holy church.  Here you are continually cared for through the preaching of His words of life.  For although your sins are fully forgiven, yet the wounds of sin are not fully healed.  We still live with their effects in this world, don’t we.  The Church is the hospital where those wounds are tended to by the Great Physician, lest they become infected.  The innkeeper is the pastor; Jesus provides me with two denarii, so that the Lord’s overflowing compassion might continue to be given to you in His ongoing ministry of the Gospel.  Jesus promises to pay whatever it takes to restore you.  For in fact He has already paid the full price, fully justifying you by His sacrifice on the cross.

    In particular, those two denarii also point us to the resurrection of Jesus.  A denarius would pay for one day’s room and board.  A two denarii stay would mean that the man would be up and out on the third day.  This is what Jesus has done for you.  He paid not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and He rose on the third day so that you may share in His bodily resurrection and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  It is as we heard in the OT reading: “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”

    The lawyer had asked the question “Who is my neighbor?”  And the answer to that is “everyone.”  But notice how Jesus changed the question.  He changed it from the Law to the Gospel.  He said, “Who was neighbor to the man?”  Who is neighbor to you?  The answer to that question is just one; it’s Jesus.  He is the One who had mercy, who loved you as Himself.  He is the One who kept the Law for you, in your place, so that in Him you may inherit eternal life, as the Epistle said, “The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

    Repenting and believing in Jesus, He now lives in you and through you to love and be the neighbor to others.  He frees you to “go and do likewise”–not because you have to in order to be saved, but simply because your neighbor needs you.  Since Christ became weak for us and bore all our infirmities and sorrows, we learn to see Him in those who are weak and suffering.  We show love for Him by loving them.  And even if our neighbor is not deserving, we remember the Scripture which says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  That is precisely what the Lord has done for us.

    So remember, you don’t have to keep trying to justify yourself; Jesus has taken care of that for you.  There is joy in abandoning that cover-up.  Psalm 32 prays, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’  And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  Being honest before the Lord like that, He takes care of the covering up, as it also says in Psalm 32, “Blessed is he who transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

    You are indeed blessed in Christ by His covering of your sins with His forgiveness.  Through Him the promised inheritance is yours, a free gift, won by His death, delivered by water and the Word, sealed by His body and blood.  As you rest and recover here in the Inn, be strengthened in the certainty that very soon your Good Samaritan will return to you as He has promised.  The risen Jesus will come again, your compassionate Lord, and you will be with Him in the perfect rest and contentment of the new creation in the life of the world to come.  

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

No Shame

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    There is a verse in today’s Old Testament reading that sounds exactly like what the prophet Jeremiah would say if he were preaching today and addressing our nation’s cultural elite and our politicians and our wishy-washy progressive church leaders.  Jeremiah asks, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush.”  One of the signs of unrepentance and acceptance of sin is that you lose all sense of shame and embarrassment.  Instead of blushing at the thought of some disgraceful sin, you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh, whatever.”  This is how it was for the people of Israel.  They had become so accustomed to the various abominations of their day that they were no longer able to be embarrassed.  They had no sense of shame over their false dealings and their covetous hearts and their sacrilegious deeds.  Even when a prophet like Jeremiah would call them to account, nothing could make them blush.

    And so it is today.  It seems the only thing that brings shame and disgrace any more is when people openly agree with God’s Word.   If you say that Christianity and faith in Jesus is the only way to eternal life, if you say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, if you say that transgenderism is nothing less than an abuse and mutilation of the body God created, then you are considered to be hateful and bigoted and closed-minded.  Just this past week I was watching an otherwise family friendly show on broadcast TV where a man was talking about his husband as if that were perfectly normal and good and not something corrupt and shameful.  Or the next day I was listening to a morning radio personality give a tribute to fallen Milwaukee police officer Michael Michalski.  And in the process the radio personality made statements of how God created human beings imperfect(?!) and how He gives us all the choice and the ability to atone for ourselves.  And I think this radio personality would think of himself as a Christian.  But there was no mention of the Jesus that Michalski believed in, the One who atoned for his and all of our sins, just more of the ignorant belief that we are responsible for our own salvation.  Everything seems upside down and backwards–not only in the world but even in the church, where pastors and priests cast aside the Word of God for worldly acceptance and success and approve of falsehood in the very sanctuary of God.  And even when error is pointed out and the truth is spoken in love, very often there is no shame, no embarrassment, no repentance and change, no blushing and returning to the Lord.null

    Let us be on guard, then, that we aren’t drawn in to adopt the ways of the world and become numb to the truth.  Do we still think of a sexual relationship outside of God-given marriage as shameful, as Romans 1 describes it?  Or is it so common and accepted that we say, “Meh, whatever.  No big deal.”  Have we lost our ability to blush at such things?  Or when faced with the opportunity to do something a little unethical with work or business dealings or taxes, do we shamelessly justify our covetousness with the thought that everyone else is doing it these days anyway?  Too often, it’s not just the world; even we Christians engage in crude joking, dishonor authority, view media we shouldn’t be viewing, harbor grudges, join in gossip, devote our hearts to stuff rather than God–all without feeling any particular shame, even when we’re confronted about it.  Scripture says that lawsuits between Christians and keeping bad company are causes for “shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5; 15:33-34).  Ephesians 5 says that it is shameful even to speak of the unfruitful works of darkness done by the wicked in secret.  So it is that Jeremiah prophesies, “No man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’... From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.”

    However, let us also be on guard against the opposite error as well.  For when we see the corrupt and degenerate state of things, we can be tempted to stake our hope on our own moral efforts and our own upright living.  We can begin to place our confidence in the fact that we ourselves haven’t succumbed to the ways of the world, or at least that we’ve turned our lives around now.  We can begin to think that our works and our righteousness will keep us close to God and win His favor.  And such a false belief is just as bad as society’s corruption.

    St. Paul spoke of that in the Epistle for today.  He said that the Jews of his day did have a zeal and a passion for God; they were very religious.  But rather than receiving the righteousness God gives in Christ as a free gift, they thought they could produce their own righteousness through the works of the law.  And that’s actually just another form of idolatry, trusting in yourself, making a god out of your own spirituality.  Self-righteousness is no better than sinful immorality.  When you think about it, those who are self-righteous can’t blush either.  For they think they have no real sins to be embarrassed about, nothing to be ashamed of.

    Let us remember then that it is not enough to have religious conviction or spiritual passion as the Jews did.  For too often that zeal and passion are man-centered rather than God-centered, focusing on my works and my life and my walk rather than on Christ’s works and Christ’s life and Christ’s walk to the cross for us.  Our fervor should especially be directed toward the life-giving teaching of the Gospel and not simply to the deadly requirements of the Law.  

    St. Paul says in the Epistle, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  Did you hear that?  Christ is the end, the completion, the goal of the law.  That doesn’t mean that you are free to disobey the commandments.  But it does mean that the entire law is meant to point you to Jesus, and show you your need for Him who has saved you from the Law’s judgment.  That’s why shame is an important and necessary thing.  For without regret and shame over sin, there is nothing to drive you to the cross, to create in you a desire for cleansing and mercy and forgiveness.  The Law says, “Shame on you” so that you might despair of your own righteousness and seek the righteousness of Christ alone, freely given to you in the Gospel.  

    All of the moral demands of the law have been satisfied and kept completely by Christ for you.  All of the old ceremonial regulations pertaining to the Sabbath and circumcision and sacrifices find their fulfillment in Christ, the perfect sacrifice, who was cut off for your sins and raised again to give you life and rest.  

    Christ came to take your shame away by taking your sin away.  It is written in Hebrews, “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus “endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  All that He did because He loves you.  He was shamed and humiliated more than anyone as He faced God’s wrath and paid sin’s penalty at Golgotha.  And then He rose triumphantly, so that His victory over sin and shame might be yours as well.  Now the Epistle proclaims to you that “everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

    I’m sure that all of us could be truly humiliated and shamed and embarrassed if something about us was made publicly known and revealed to the world.  All of us have reason to blush.  Rejoice, then, that even though all of those things are revealed in the eyes of God, He has chosen by His grace to cover your shame, just as Adam and Eve were covered and clothed by God after the sin in the garden.  Your shame was swallowed up in the wounds of Jesus.  In Him your dignity is restored so that you need not cower before God, but you can stand tall and unashamed as His dear children, clothed in the white robe of Christ.

    Jesus weeps and cries over those who do not know their shame, who think they have nothing to be blush about before God, who see no need for a Savior.  That’s why He weeps over Jerusalem, out of love.  It’s bad enough that their unbelief would result in the destruction of the city by the Romans within a generation.  But He weeps especially over their rejection of Him, that they do not want the life and mercy He brings.  God Himself was visiting them in the flesh.  But they did not know the things that made for their peace.

    Let us learn from this so that we may recognize the time of our visitation by God.  It has come upon in Jesus; and it is coming upon you right now, even in this very moment.  This is the hour in which Christ Himself is coming to you in the words of His saving Gospel now sounding in your ears.  Let us penitently acknowledge our shame, and then let us take courage and believe firmly and gladly in Christ.  Don’t assume that you’ll have forever to repent.  It is written, “Behold now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”  Don’t let this time of your visitation pass you by.  Believe in what the Lord has done to redeem you from your sin, how He has suffered your shame on the cross and taken it away forever.  Take refuge in Him and His words; seek His righteousness.

    Jesus says, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, here are the things that make for your peace with God, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest.  Call upon God, and He will hear your voice.  Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.  For He has redeemed your soul in peace from the battle that was against you.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Jesus, the Unjust Steward

Luke 16:1-13

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Today’s Gospel parable is a bit unusual.  It’s about a steward who wasted his master’s goods and handled his master’s accounts unjustly.  And then the master actually praised the steward for his shrewdness.  What does this mean?  Whom does the unjust steward represent?  First of all, he represents us according to our old Adam, who have often been poor stewards of the goods the Lord has entrusted to us.  Have we always used the money and abilities and possessions that we’ve received from God to serve our neighbor and to help build up the Church and the ministry of the Gospel?  And when we have done that (because we know it’s the right thing to do), has there still been a struggle against the flesh which wants to use our resources for other things?  Isn’t it usually harder to give a large amount of money to charity or in an offering than it is to spend the same amount for entertainment or a trip or some new thing you’ve always wanted?  Or in our stewardship as parents and grandparents, have we encouraged our children’s devotion more to the Word of God or to extracurriculars like athletics and theater and dance?  Are we more concerned about them making a good living or having eternal life, being popular or being faithful?  And are we ourselves more concerned about how we look to family and friends or how we look to God, more interested in our physical health and appearance or our spiritual health and endurance in the faith? The truth is, if we were called before the Lord to give an account of our stewardship, to lay it all out in the open, there also would be cause for us to be dismissed from the presence of the Lord.null

    But remember, in the parable, the steward is actually praised.  Jesus holds him up in a positive light.  I would suggest, then, that in a deeper sense, the steward in the parable actually represents Christ Himself, the eternal manager of the heavenly Father’s goods.  For remember what occurred right before today’s Gospel.  Jesus had just finished telling the story of the prodigal son in chapter 15.  Jesus had just been accused of wasting His time and efforts on tax collectors and sinners, throwing away His Father’s “goods,” mercy and forgiveness, on people such as that.  And now He tells a parable about a steward who was supposedly mismanaging goods.  Do you see?  He’s talking about Himself and the way things are in the kingdom of God.

    For what does the steward do in today’s Gospel?  He goes around to everyone forgiving debt!  To the one who owes 100 measures of oil, his bill is reduced to 50.  And to the one who owes 100 measures of wheat, his bill is reduced to 80.  The steward desires to be received by them, and the way that happens is by forgiveness, by debts being cut and taken away.

    That is the way of Jesus.  He comes to us as one who “mismanages” the Father’s goods, throwing away God’s mercy and forgiveness on us.  It doesn’t matter to Jesus that He’s accused of giving away God’s grace too cheaply.  After all, His grace is not cheap, it’s free, since He purchased it for us at the greatest cost of His own blood!  Jesus’ mission was to bear every accusation, to take all that we are justly accused of and make full payment for our debts.  Jesus made eternal friends of us, not by hoarding things for Himself, but by living as one with no home of his own, no place to lay his head.  The material things of this world He used entirely in the service of others, having nothing but literally the clothes on His back.  He became poor so that we might know and receive the riches of His mercy.  He even gave away His own body into death, so that through His atoning and all-sufficient sacrifice we would be cleansed from all unrighteousness.

    Jesus the Steward desires to be received by us, into our homes and into our hearts.  That doesn’t happen by some decision or commitment that we make; it comes by the forgiveness and the release from the debt of sin that He freely gives.  Jesus has done much more than cut your bill by 20% or even 50%.  He’s taken care of it all.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  All of it.  You are debt-free toward God in Christ.  Repent and believe that Gospel.

    Which brings us to one more important point about the steward in the parable–his faith.  Jesus praised him not only because he was shrewd, but also because he trusted in his master’s mercy.  That’s the key.  He believed that the same master who didn’t have him thrown into prison for wasting his possessions (when he could have) would also be merciful to him by honoring the debts he reduced (which the master didn’t necessarily have to).  The steward knew what sort of a gracious and good master he had, and that’s where he put his hope.  He believed his master to be a man of generosity and forgiveness, and he staked his salvation and his future on that.  So it’s not just the steward’s shrewdness, but it is his faith in the master’s mercy that is praised here.

    So also, you are called to trust that the Father is a God of mercy who will forgive your debts through Christ, that you may be received into an everlasting home.  We stake our salvation and our future on the generosity and forgiveness of our God.  It is that faith God desires and which He praises.  We believe that God the Father will be merciful to us for the sake of Jesus–just as Jesus relied on His Father’s mercy and trusted in Him even on the cross.  Remember, as a true man Jesus also lived by faith; He believed that the Father would honor His death in our place to cover what we owed and that He would raise Him up on the third day.

    And now Jesus has ordained stewards to stand in His place, to distribute the eternal blessings He has won by His death and resurrection.  Jesus commends His stewards when they “squander” His possessions in the ministry of the Holy Gospel and cancel the debts you owe Him.  That is the job of a pastor–to be a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:5), to the take the Master’s goods and give them away to penitent believers.  Whenever you hear the Gospel and the absolution, it’s as if I am asking you, “What does your bill say?  What impossible debt do you owe because of your sin?  Sit down, take your bill, and write 0, paid in full.”  You are all squared up with God in Christ–and then some.

    Believing that, living in that faith, you are freed to be shrewd like the steward in the parable. As Jesus said elsewhere, we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  If the people of the world can be passionate and smart about worldly things, why can’t we about eternal things?  By faith you are given to use mammon not only to make friends in this life, but to put it to use to make eternal friends in the fellowship of the Gospel, supporting the mission of the church in your offerings and in your estate planning, investing in the things that will last into eternity, using the things of this life with an eye toward the life of the world to come, desiring to be received by your fellow saints into the everlasting home prepared for you by Christ.

    That’s what Paul was talking about in the Epistle (Philippians 3:7-14).  Paul had much that He could boast of, both in a physical and in a spiritual way.  He had a noble family lineage; he was a leading Pharisee who was honored as a wise and a zealous religious leader.  He had a very bright future ahead of him.  But what does he say after his conversion to Christianity?  “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

    Here in divine service, that righteousness is given to you freely in the sacraments–in the oil of baptism, in the wheat of the supper–where unrighteous mammon is put to a righteous use and eternal friends are made, bound together by the love of Christ.  Common bread and wine are consecrated to be the holy, eternal body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for your forgiveness.  He is with you here in this house.  And in the end when all the accounting is done, there will be an eternal dwelling for you, a permanent home, mortgage paid in full by the Son of God, who gave Himself for you to give you life forever.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Beware of False Preachers

Matthew 7:13-23
Trinity 8

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Everybody expects the pastor to tell people that it’s important for them to come to church.  But do you know why it is that you need to be here every week to hear the preaching of the Gospel?  It’s not to make me happy (although it does); it’s not even to make God happy with you (He already is with those who are in Christ).  In large part it’s because the world is preaching to you a counter-Gospel every single day of the week, and you need to be strengthened and built up and defended against that.  Even if you don’t go to church, you’re still going to hear preaching–just not the preaching of the Gospel.  Worldly philosophies and theologies are being directed at your ears wherever you are–work, home, school, recreation.  And if all you’re hearing are the pop-culture sermons of the world, pretty soon you’re going to start to be led astray from the truth of Christ.  

    Don’t be naive about this.  Every time you watch a TV show or movie, you’re being preached to–there will be some morality, some worldview that is being pushed on you with disarming humor or compelling visual imagery.  Just as a small example, think how many movies have employed the idea of a person’s soul or consciousness moving from one body to another.  Of course it’s just fiction and entertainment, but over time there is a false theology and a false way of understanding soul and body that is being taught.  Or on another subject, a pastor friend recently remarked that on a popular TV sitcom, the unmarried characters are the ones having sex, and the married ones aren’t.  There’s a subtle and subversive message being delivered there.  So also, when you listen to music or go to some concert or entertainment venue, you’re being preached to and marketed to and spun with all sorts of emotional hooks–not only in political ways, but in lifestyle ways.  And lifestyle is always about theology, what you believe about yourself, God, others, how you should spend your money, and so on.  And even in the workplace or at school or college, especially in today’s politically correct, social justice warrior environment, theology and ethics are bound up in the policies about your speech and conduct, in the school or the company's “vision” that you’re asked to buy into, or in all the buzzwords that keep getting repeated.  You see, there’s a way of understanding life and spirituality and what’s good and bad that’s inherent in all of these things–and that understanding is often laced with ideas that don’t align with God’s Word.  So don’t be deceived.  In this present darkness, hearing the preaching of God’s Word once a week is pretty much a bare minimum.null

    Jesus makes it very clear that we should take the danger of the world’s false preaching very seriously when He says, “Beware of false prophets.”  That word “Beware” is the equivalent of a road sign with flashing red lights.  “Danger!” “Watch out!”  He wouldn’t warn us so seriously like that unless the threat were real and important to be alert for.  

    That road sign Jesus gives us is a reminder that there are two paths that you can take in this world, and only one leads to life.  The road that leads to destruction is wide and broad and feels right.  It is the path that most everyone is taking.  It is the way of pleasing people rather than pleasing God, loving yourself more than Him.  You’ve heard the preachers of this path.  They tell you to do what brings you self-fulfillment.  They tell you that you have an inner light within that you must connect with, that you must follow your heart and your dreams and your passions.  Just believe in yourself.  As the Oprah once said, you should speak your truth and live your truth–as if there were more than one truth, no Truth that is higher than us regardless of what we think or feel, just the truth that supposedly flows from our hearts.  But then there’s God’s Word which says, “The heart is deceitful and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus Himself said, “From within, out of the heart...come wickedness and deceit” (Mark 7:21-22).  That’s no place to be looking for truth.  Still, like drivers ignoring a “Bridge Out” sign, people take this broad road and are led over a cliff to their destruction.

    The path of life, on the other hand, is narrow and difficult and is often contrary to what feels right.  It involves going against the flow, following the Word of God and not the crowd or your heart.  The way of life is narrow because it is found exclusively in Christ who said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  This path is difficult because it is the way of the cross.  It’s not about self-fulfillment, but self-denial. as Jesus said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me."  It’s not about loving yourself above all but loving others and esteeming others better than yourself.  It is the way of repentance and sacrifice.  It is the Way of Jesus who bore the cross for you so that you may follow Him through suffering to share with Him in the resurrection of the body.  Jesus walked that narrow way of sorrows for you to Calvary.  He died to take away your sins; He cleared the path and opened the narrow gate of faith in Him so that you may have eternal life purely by His grace.

    Beware, then, of being lured off the narrow way of Jesus.  You know you’re being tempted by the spirit of false prophecy when your biggest fear is being accused of being judgmental; when you tell yourself that it’s not your place to speak up, to speak the truth in love, even to a close friend or family member who needs to be called to repentance and faith in Christ.  No, better just to keep the peace and not rock the boat and hope that they’ll magically return to Christ apart from His spoken Word.  But all you’re doing by that is showing that you love God less than you love your relationships with those people.  And in fact it’s not really showing love to those people, anyway, to ignore unrepentant sin which invites God’s judgment on them.

    Beware of false prophets.  They may look like fine, pious, upstanding people you should be paying attention to.  But inwardly, Jesus says, they are ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing.  The devil comes as an angel of light, as something good, and so do false preachers.  The thing that makes the lie powerful is that it masquerades as the truth.  Jeremiah said that false prophets, be they men or women, speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord.  They don’t preach the truth God has given them in His Word, but what the people want to hear; they preach their own dreams and their own wisdom.  They are without the true teaching of Christ, in which alone there is salvation.

    That’s ultimately how you can tell false prophets from true ones, not by the wonders they can do or how successful they are, not even by how loving they are, but by what they teach, whether it is the pure Law and Gospel of Scripture or something else.  I’ve had people comment to me about how packed this Lutheran megachurch is or that non-denominational or Assembly of God church is.  The implication usually is that they must be doing something good and blessed by God to have those numbers.  But do you remember the faithful prophet Elijah?  He thought he was the only one left who worshiped the Lord in his day.  The Baal worshipers had all the numbers.  God reminded Elijah that still He reserved 7000 faithful among the hundreds and hundreds of thousands in Israel who worshiped the spirit of the age.  Remember what Jesus says, “By their fruit you will know them.”  The fruit refers not to their deeds (which can deceive) but to their doctrine.  What spiritual food do they offer?  What do they hold forth for your souls to feast upon?  I John 4 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  It is written in 2 John, “Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.”  “By their fruits you will know them.”

    So in the midst of all the religion talk and God-talk that you hear, ask yourself, is the focus on me and my praising of God, or is it on Christ and what He has done for me and given to me?  Is it about how I can have a better life in this world and find self-fulfillment and happiness through my own spirituality, or is it about how I can have a new life in Jesus solely through His suffering and death and resurrection?

    And if you want to know whether a teacher is true or false, just consider: Does he direct you to the shifting sands of your own decisions and commitments (like an altar call where you come down to give your heart to Jesus or some such thing), or does he direct you to the solid rock of Christ’s commitment to you and His sure baptismal promise which He gives you?  Does he direct you to your own efforts and works as a way of gaining eternal life or saving you from purgatory, or does he direct you always to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross?  Does he only speak of things in mystical, inward, spiritual terms, or does he emphasize the concrete realities of the faith, that Christ took on your flesh and blood as a true man, that He was raised from the dead in the body, that He comes to you now with His true, real body and blood for your forgiveness in the Sacrament, that you will be raised bodily on the Last Day?

    Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  You'll note that the false prophets in today's Gospel were focused on their own works.  "Lord did we not prophesy and cast out demons and do many wonders in your name?"  They were talking about what they did!  But the will of the Father is all wrapped up and centered not in what we have done but in Christ and what He has done.  He is the one who does the will of the Father perfectly for you.  He is the One who prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Yours be done.”  The will of the Father was that Jesus go to the cross to suffer and die as the ransom price to redeem you and save you.  And so the will of the Father for you is that you be saved, that you trust in Christ and cling to Him alone for redemption and follow Him day by day in the callings He has placed you into.   It is written in John 6, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  That’s what it means to do the will of the Father: to cling to Christ as the way of life, to believe in Him and stake your life on Him.  He alone is the way into the kingdom of heaven, He who is fully God and fully man, made flesh, who was crucified, resurrected, and ascended for the salvation of sinners.  The will of God is fulfilled in Jesus for you.

    So beware of preachers who teach something different than the faithful pattern of Scriptural words that you’ve been given in the catechism and the creeds.  Learn to know these things by heart; carry them with you as a defense against the world’s false preaching and the world’s allurements.  Beware of those who cast aside the liturgy for something supposedly better and more contemporary, whose teaching doesn’t square with the words of divine service and the preaching that you hear in this place.  Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, just flee from them.  And flee to Christ.  Take refuge in Him, give attention to His words.  Living in the gift of your baptism, follow that narrow way of Him who is Way, the Truth, and the Life.  In Him you are safe.

    The good tree in the Gospel that bears good fruit is the cross on which Christ hung.  As it is written, “Christ Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness.  By His stripes we are healed.”  So you could say, Jesus is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is the reverse; He subverts the devil's ways. He is a sheep in wolves’ clothing.  He is the pure Lamb of God who allowed Himself to be cloaked in darkness and sin at Golgotha in order to put them to death in His body, so that you would be delivered from all evil.  The wolf has been conquered.  Sin, death, and the devil have been undone for you.  Believing in Christ, taking refuge in Him, you are saved and safe forever from all the lying anti-Gospels that are out there.  As St. Paul said, you are the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.  Even when your heart and your feelings say otherwise, you belong to Him still; He will never leave you or forsake you.  Nothing in all creation can separate you from His love.

    Come, then, to the holy tree and receive the holy fruit of His blood and His body, which cleanses you of your sin and gives you everlasting life.  Jesus is your true Prophet and the fulfillment of all prophecy.  By His fruits you will know Him.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Merciful as Your Heavenly Father

Luke 6:36-42

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    One thing I’ve noticed about our fallen human nature is that we have a strong desire to want to place blame and to point out people’s shortcomings when something isn’t quite how we think it should be.  Isn’t that true?  For some reason, when something has gone wrong–at home, at work, wherever–we feel compelled to make clear that it was so-and-so who messed up.  We want to be sure they don’t just get away with their mistake.  We often care more about fixing blame than fixing the problem.  It’s much easier to find fault than it is to show mercy.

    Not very many people measure up to our standards, do they?  They fall short in this area or that area.  They’ve got this annoying habit or that character flaw.  It’s easy for us to see such things in others.  Now, if everybody were like me, we say, then maybe things would be better.  But think about it.  What if everyone were just like you?   That sounds to me like a good formula for a horror movie, where everybody walking around is an exact replica of your personality.  

    And even more importantly, what if God were like you?  Would that be good news or bad news?  What if God judged you in the same way you judge others?  What if God exposed all the thoughts of your heart toward others and all of the gossip you’ve spoken about them?  What if He were in the business of finding fault and making sure you null experience the full consequences of what you deserve?

    Jesus warns us that if we insist on living without mercy toward others, we are inviting God to be without mercy toward us.  If we’re all about pointing out specks of sawdust in other people’s eyes, the 2 x 4 in our own eye is going to end up bludgeoning us in the head.  “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

    The way you’ve treated others is how you’re going to be treated.  If that doesn’t scare you a bit, listen to these verses just before today’s Gospel, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. . .  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.”

    Such words, while good and true, must also terrify us and crush us.  For we have no power of ourselves to do what God asks, not truly and fully, not from the heart with the right motivations.  We don’t want to give away our money and do good to those who hate us and pray for those who use us.  We want payback!  We are not sons of the Most High by nature, we are children of the evil one.  Realizing this, all we can do is to cry out to the Lord, “Help me!  Save me from myself!  Have mercy on me!”

    And the good news in today’s Gospel is that our Father in heaven is merciful.  He is abounding in steadfast love.  In mercy He causes His sun to rise on the evil as well as the good.  And He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  He provides daily bread to all people, even those who hate Him and reject Him, even those who through false religion want to use Him for their own purposes.  

    But God’s mercy does not stop there.  His mercy extends even to the point of sending His Son into our very flesh to save us from the curse of death.  Though Jesus was blameless, He allowed all of our blame and our blaming to be put on Him.  Jesus made all of our faults and sins His own, and He set us free from their condemnation by dying for us and shedding His blood in our place on the plank of the cross.  Now, because of that, the Father in heaven finds no fault with you.  For you who believe wear the holiness of Christ.  You are forgiven and cleansed and righteous in Jesus’ name.  

    Remember, that’s how God sees you.  The Scriptures say, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God’s not watching you just waiting for you to mess up so that He can nail you.  For He already nailed His Son on your behalf.  God’s not in the blame business.  He already took care of all of that at Calvary.  He’s in the mercy business, mercy that is limitless and overflowing.

    Jesus is Himself pure mercy in the flesh.  Just consider how His words are embodied and fulfilled in His own life.  He is the One who gave freely and did good to all, healing and helping, asking for nothing in return.  He is the One who, when He was struck on one cheek during His trial did not retaliate but turned the other cheek.  He loved His enemies, blessed those who cursed Him, and prayed for those who spitefully used Him.  Remember what He said on the cross of those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  

    The Father continues even now to answer that prayer for you.  He perpetually pours out His forgiveness and mercy to you through Christ from the cross.  In fact so great and generous is His love that He even gives you the right to call Him your Father.  Jesus says here, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Only Christ can rightly claim God as Father.  And yet He invites you to step into His place and call God your Father.  When the angel Gabriel came to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said that her child would be called the Son of the Most High.  Now that you have been baptized into Christ, you are also counted as sons of the Most High.  That is rich mercy, that God the Father gives you the same status as Jesus.  You have become as little Christs before the Father.

    And if that is true, then you are also given to become little Christs to your neighbor.  Jesus has given you to stand in His place before the Father by faith.  And now you are called to invite your neighbor to stand in your place, that is, to love your neighbor as if He were your own self, to “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  You live in Christ, trusting in the Father’s mercy, and Christ lives in you, being merciful toward your neighbor.  It’s all about Jesus.  For there is no mercy apart from Him.

    Your old Adam can show no real mercy; he’s always in the “I’ll do a favor for you if you can do a favor for me” business.  And so your sinful nature must die through repentance, that Christ may arise in you to be merciful.  By His preaching and the sacraments Jesus dwells in you to love even your enemies and to pray for your antagonists and adversaries.  He lives in you so that you may walk by faith in the Father, letting go of your desire for vengeance, trusting in God to take care of that. Through Christ you know that your life is safely in the hands of the Lord and Judge of all.  Jesus already suffered and paid for your enemies’ sins.  And He says of those enemies who reject His mercy, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”  You don’t have to worry about payback, because God will take care of that.  He’s better at vengeance than you are anyway.  It’s in the Lord’s hands, hands once nailed to the cross.  Perhaps your enemy will repent and be saved by the same mercy that saved you.  And if not, vengeance is the Lord’s.

    Confident of that, you are now free to feed your adversary and give Him drink and to overcome evil with good.  Living in Christ you get to forgive those who have used you, as Joseph did his brothers.  You get to put the best construction on other people’s words and actions and to cover over and ignore their failings and shortcomings.  You get to do good to all, whether or not the recipients are worthy.  You get to lend your money, whether or not you’ll ever get as much in return.  For you know that you have the greatest good in Christ and treasure in heaven.

    This is the way of life in Christ, the life of mercy.  It’s not a way that ignores or doesn’t care about what’s right and wrong.  That’s not what “judge not” means.  The world abuses and misuses this verse to mean that immorality and false doctrine should be tolerated.  But “Judge not” doesn’t mean “Condone sin.”  We’re not loving our neighbors by approving of things that cut them off from eternal life.  Rather, “judge not” is the way which acknowledges that God’s mercy in Christ is greater than the faults and sins of our neighbor and of ourselves.  Only by His mercy do we live.  It is as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery–and note both parts of this statement.  He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” By God’s mercy the plank is taken out of our eye.  By God’s mercy we forgive and remove the speck in our brother’s eye.  

    That mercy comes to you again this day in His supper; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom as you receive Christ’s holy body and the cup that runs over with abounding love, His holy blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

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