Thursday, June 22, 2017

Come, For Everything Is Now Ready

Luke 14:15-24 At this point in his ministry, Jesus was teaching thousands of people—he was at the height of his popularity—and so he was something of a local celebrity. 
He was invited by a ruler of the Pharisees to his home for a banquet—which is kind of an odd thing for them to do because Jesus had been warning the people he taught about the hypocrisy of their leaders.  Woe to the scribes and Pharisees!  Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy! 
And yet here Jesus was, in this ruler’s home as his guest, surrounded by the very people he had been criticizing.
Luke gives us the reason for this odd scene:  that the ruler and the other Pharisees were watching him closely—trying to catch him, do or say something wrong.  But Luke tells us that Jesus was also watching them—that he noticed how they chose the places of honor for themselves. 
Jesus used this context to tell some stories about what life with God is really all about.  He told them about a wedding feast where a man chose the best place for himself only to have to move after the host came and told him someone more important had arrived—that everyone who exalted himself would be humbled and the humble exalted. 
He told them that rather than inviting family and friends to their banquets (people who could repay their hospitality) they ought to invite the poor and the blind and the lame because God would repay them in the end for their generosity.
Of course, Jesus was not really telling them these stories to correct their boorish behavior and give them social graces.  Instead, he was telling them about how the kingdom of God worked—that life with God is about God’s grace and our humble reception of that grace that makes us gracious to others.  At least one man there got it:
When one of those who reclined at table with Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
This is the response that Jesus wants from all of us—yet it is the very thing we struggle with. 
Life with God is about humility-- and yet we want to exalt ourselves above others.  Life with God is about generosity towards others-- but there’s a cost in that to us we don’t always like to pay.  Life with God is about our hearts being right rather than just looking good on the outside-- but we are experts at pious facades.
Life with God is different than the way the world works-- and there’s a cost to following Jesus-- but the blessings are worth it a thousand times over:  forgiveness for our sins and the confidence that God is with us and guiding us and the promise that there is life for us after this life is done. 
The blessings of life with God in his kingdom are wonderful and life-changing and he invites us to come to him and faith and take our place and receive his blessings:   
Jesus said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
            Throughout the Bible—Old Testament and New—life with God is portrayed as a great banquet. 
It is no accident that the central feature of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is a salvation meal:  the Passover in the O.T. and Holy Communion in the N.T.  A banquet is peace and plenty and God is the One who is the Host and he invites all people to come and take their place at his table of salvation.
He is the One has made it ready.  He has sent his Son to die on the cross, reconciling the world to himself.  He is the One who raised Jesus from the dead, promising life and salvation in his name.  And he is the One who issues the invitation. 
Wherever and whenever the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered, there is God the Holy Spirit, inviting all people to come and feast on the riches of his bountiful love.  And you would think that every person who heard this invitation would accept it with joy and thanksgiving and receive what he offers—but they don’t.
[Those invited] all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
            This list is not meant to be exhaustive-- but it captures the spirit of those who refuse God’s invitation to come to his banquet of salvation.  They reject God’s invitation because they can’t be bothered--because they think little of the host--because they regard the business of their lives more important than receiving God’s gifts. 
They do it for material reasons—always seeking after and concerned about things that will only matter in this life.  They do it for relationship reasons—because the ones they love have no interest in the things of God, neither do they.
But these reasons—these excuses-- do not suffice when it comes to God’s invitation to have a life with him. 
Jesus said:  you cannot serve God and money.  Jesus said:  those who love family more than me are not worthy of me.   And to refuse God’s invitation to come to him and have a life with him is to lose something much more precious than money or family—it is to lose one’s own life for eternity under the wrath of God.
The servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’   
            The Good News of God’s invitation is that the poor and the obscure and the broken are invited to his banquet as much as are the rich and famous.  Such is his love for the world that his gracious invitation to come and partake of the banquet of salvation goes out to every person irrespective of who they are -or what they have -or what they have done.  God wants each person to have a place at his table. 
But to refuse his invitation—to reject his salvation—to ignore his grace-- is to learn something else that is also true about our gracious God:  that he is also a God of wrath who is angry with those who refuse to have a life with him.
Those who think that they can refuse God without consequences are deceiving themselves-- and so the lesson for us from Jesus’ story is to take to heart God’s invitation right here and now and receive the good things that he wants to give to us.
And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’  The master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.
            Not only does God call us into his kingdom to give us his gifts—he invites us take part in making sure that others have a place at his table like we do.  You will notice that it is the servant who actually issues the invitation.  
The question for us is this:  can we answer the same as the servant—that everything necessary has been done—that we have made sure that everyone we know has received God’s gracious invitation?
The servant thought he had and I believe that he answered that way fully believing that he had.  He wasn’t intentionally trying to deceive the master.  But the master asked him to look again.  He knew that there were still plenty of folks who didn’t have a place at his banquet and he wanted to make sure that they had every opportunity to come. 
The challenge for the servant—and the challenge for us—is to see things from God’s perspective—that all people are welcome to have a life with God. 
For the Pharisees and the other religious leaders this meant that they needed to open their eyes and see that God also loved the Gentiles—that God also loved those who had failed miserably in life—that God also loved those who were, at that moment, very far from him.
The master in Jesus’ story wanted his house FULL and so does God want his kingdom full.  The challenge for us is to look with fresh eyes and see the folks around as objects of God’s redeeming love—no less than we—no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, no matter how far they are from the kingdom of God right now.
God invites all people to come and have a life with him with the warning that those who reject his invitation will never experience the peace and forgiveness and life that Jesus came to give.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.
            There are many places where we can see ourselves in this story Jesus tells.  Are our hearts as open and inviting as that of the master who wants to make a place in his life for everyone-- or are we closed off to people because of who they are—wanting to keep them at arm’s length? 
Are we that faithful servant who makes sure that the master’s invitation goes out to all people—doing our part in the mission of Jesus-- or are we content for others to do that work and support that mission? 
Are we those folks who are too busy and too self-important to receive the gifts that God wants to give?  May God forbid that we find ourselves there and there is no reason to find ourselves there!
The banquet of life and peace is ready.  Jesus has done everything to set before us a feast of forgiveness.  God invites us to come and have a life with him.
Perhaps the most important place to see ourselves in this story is that of the man at the beginning of the story, who, hearing about all that Jesus offered, said in faith:  Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”   This is the response that God is looking for from us when he invites us to come and have a life with him.  Amen,

Thursday, June 15, 2017

We Love Because God First Loved Us

1 John 4:16-21 John begins his epistle this way: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—THIS we proclaim concerning the Word of life
John wants us to understand that he writes about what he knows! The word of life is not a concept or an idea or a theory—but a person named Jesus.
When John heard Jesus say “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger” and saw the multitudes fed; when he heard the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life” and saw Lazarus come forth from his tomb; when he heard the hammer upon the nails and saw Jesus die and yet three days later embraced the resurrected Christ; hearing and seeing and touching, John knew and believed and taught something infinitely greater than a new religious idea or a philosophy on how we ought to live—he bore witness to a person named Jesus.
In his Gospel, John said that everything that he had written was recorded so that we can believe in Jesus and have life in his name.  The Word of life that John speaks of in this epistle is a person named Jesus. 
So it is in these verses that we have before us today when John writes about love—not as an ideal or even as a virtue we to which we ought aspire—but as a person named Jesus who is the love of God. 
John says:  We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love.  And in the verses immediately preceding our text John gives us the definition of what it means that God is love and what it means to be loved by God.  He says:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
             Love, according to the Bible, and the especially the verses we have before us today, is God’s gift of his Son.  In this John is simply echoing the words of Jesus himself:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.  
            That is what John had come to know and believe—that is what the Holy Spirit wants us to know and believe here this morning:  that we are loved by God with an everlasting love—that God has shown that love to us beyond any shadow of a doubt by giving his Son for us into death so that we might be forgiven and welcomed into God’s family as his dearly loved sons and daughters.
God is love and we know that because of Jesus.  That is what John is talking about when he says that:  whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 
It is not just any old feeling of fondness and affection that keeps us connected to God-- and it is certainly not any of the sinful things that our world calls “love” that keeps us connected to God:  it is Jesus.
To “abide” means to remain with.  Whoever abides in Jesus abides in God and God abides with him.  Whoever remains with Jesus, lives with Jesus, stands fast with Jesus—God remains and lives with and stands fast with him. 
And so then, if we are to have a life with God—if we are to understand what it means that we have in the Lord a God of love—it is critical that we know- and believe in- and abide with Jesus.  We ask ourselves:
Am I glad to hear the voice of Jesus as he speaks to me in his Word?  Do I yearn to be close to Jesus as he give me his own body and blood in the sacrament?  Do I face the future unafraid—no matter what it holds—because right here and now I know and trust and live with Jesus?  I hope so!  And more importantly God wants it to be so!  John writes:
By this (abiding with Jesus!) is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
            Here’s John’s point:  in this ever deeper knowledge of Jesus and trust in him; by an ever closer walk with him; is my courage and confidence in God growing so that I can face the future unafraid? 
John especially is looking forward to the Day of Judgment when, as we heard last week in the Athanasian Creed, Jesus will come again and: 
“all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.” 
That is a sobering, eternally serious statements and it is meant to be.  Are you ready—confident and courageous—for that day, on this day-- because you know and believe in and abide with Jesus?
And if you think that day is so far in the future that you need not worry about it, what about the temporal judgments that you will face before then? 
What about the hardships and sorrows and pains of living in this broken world and finally death when we pass from it?  Do you face the future unafraid—no matter what it holds—because right here and now you know and trust and live with Jesus?  I hope so because…
Even our Lord Jesus Christ did not escape that path of pain and suffering and death that is life in this broken world--and neither will we!  But he did go past it to a glorious resurrection from the dead- and an empty grave-- and a place at the Father’s right hand-- and so will everyone who knows him and believes in him and abides in him.
That is the promise that gives us confidence as we live in this broken world!  That is the promise that gives us courage as we face our own death!  That is the promise that gives us hope as we think about standing before God on Judgment Day and giving an account of our life: the promise that as it is for our Lord Jesus Christ right now: crucified, raised and ascended—so it will be for us know him, believe in him and abide in him.
We can live our lives no matter what the future holds unafraid--and stand before God on the Last Day unashamed-- because of the love God has for us in Jesus Christ—the exact, same love that shapes and guides our love for others.  John says:  We love because he first loved us.
I took time at the beginning of the sermon to make  sure that you understood that, when John talks about love, he is not talking, first of all about a feeling or emotion or idea or even a virtue—but he is talking about a person named Jesus who is given by his Father into death out of love for you and me.
I did that so that we would understand what John is talking about when it comes to God’s love for us and now, so that you would understand what our love for others ought to be—that genuine love for those around us looks very different than what is known as love in our world. 
You know as well as I do what kind of sinful things are done under the banner of what the world calls “love”. 
People go from one sexual partner to another because they “love” them and then-- they don’t.  Babies are killed in utero by their parent because they “love” them too much to bring them into a difficult situation.  The children that survive kind of parental “love” pull the plug on their parents because they “love” them too much to see them suffer.
None of this has anything whatsoever with what the Bible defines as love:  the sacrificial gift of a beloved Son given into death out of love for enemies.  None of it has anything to do with Jesus.
Instead, as those loved by God—in Christ, we love others because God first loved us—in Christ.  And we love others in the way that God has loved us—in Christ.  
And that we love others in this way—in the way of Christ—is a sure testimony to our own conscience and to the world around us that our knowledge and faith in Jesus it not a mental game that we are playing with ourselves, but a true and living faith that has captured and conquered our hearts and minds and wills.  John says:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
            God is love and the love that he has for us is not a conceptual ideal-- but a concrete act of the will that moved him to give his Son into death for our sins.  We know what the love of God is because we see what his love has done for us.  So it is for us and our love for others.
            We don’t believe for a second the words of someone who talks about their great love for God and treats those around them like garbage. 
In the same way, if we are telling ourselves how much we love God but that love never makes it to others we are simply telling ourselves a pious lie.  John says that it is simply impossible to love the God we cannot see-- if that love does not extend to those we can see.

Love for God—real love—always results in love for those around us—a love that looks like Jesus.  May God grant that we would love others because he has first loved us!  Amen.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

In the Beginning, God...

Genesis 1:1-2:4a From beginning to end, the Bible regards God as the Creator of heaven and earth.  The Holy prophets simply assume that the story Genesis tells of God and man and creation is true-- and explains the world as we know it. 
When Jesus taught on men and women and marriage he went back to the first chapters of Genesis.  The Holy apostles did the same. 
For nearly two thousand years the whole Christian church has confessed:  I believe in God—the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  The Lutheran church confesses the same:  I believe that God has made me and all creatures.  Our own church body teaches that “God has created heaven and earth in the manner and space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures by God’s almighty creative word in six days and we reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture.”
For thousands and thousands of years, to be a believer in God- IS to believe that the words that we have before us in our Old Testament lesson today tell us the truth about God and the world and ourselves.  That truth is what we are considering in our meditation on God’s Word this morning. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote:  “In the beginning God-- created the heavens and the earth.” 
Before there was space—before there was time—before there was matter—there was God.  He simply is—and was—and always has been—and always will be.  When Moses asked God his name at the burning bush so he could convey it to the enslaved Israelites, God answered and said:  Tell them I AM has sent you. 
God is not a part of creation as pagans believe—God is not the creation of man as humanists believe—God is the Creator of both the world and mankind—and he has accomplished the creation of all that exists in heaven and on earth simply- by- the- power- of- his- Word.
In six days, God called into existence everything that exists-- such is the power of his Word—and so it still is today.  God’s Word ALWAYS accomplishes its creative and saving purpose.  When God says:  you are forgiven—you are.  When God says:  you are my child—you are.  When God says:  you will live with me forever—you will. 
And so who is this God who simply IS?  Who is this God whose Word always accomplishes its creative and re-creative purpose?  Is he simply an impersonal force in the universe? 
No!  The God of creation is the Holy Trinity—confessed in the creeds of the church—believed in by the hearts of all who will be saved—and revealed in the pages of the Bible from the very first verses of Genesis.  Moses writes:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said…Let there be light.
The God who IS—the God who is from everlasting to everlasting—the God who created the world—IS the Holy Trinity:  the Father who creates—the Son who is the Word through which the world is created and re-cr4eated in his death and resurrection—and the Holy Spirit who bears witness to it all—One God in three persons, there at the beginning, creating the world—One God in three persons saving the world through the Father’s plan, and the Son’s work, and the Spirit’s witness.  THAT IS THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD.
The idea that the world simply came into being on its own- or that it has always existed- or that it is the product of some kind of random cosmic event- is not found in the Bible. 
The Bible teaches that a personal God of love and wisdom brought it into existence by the power of his word and called it good.  Believers for thousands of years have simply affirmed what the Bible teaches and what we can observe around us.
Only in the last 150 years or so has there been a serious assault upon the biblical doctrine of creation. 
Now, the Bible is not a biology or chemistry or geology textbook.  The Bible does not set a date for creation.  Christians do not object to the idea that a species can adapt to its environment. 
But what we do object to—what we reject out of hand-- is the idea that the world around us is the result of a blind, meaningless process lasting billions of years where trillions of accidents, one after another, somehow all worked out just right for the world that we live in to exist.
That idea is absurd on the face of it and completely different than our own experience-- and everything that we observe around us. 
None of us sits down to our laptop to do our homework or surf the Internet and say to ourselves:  isn’t this machine a marvel what the sands of time and bits of substances have been able to manufacture all on their own.  Ridiculous!  We know that some very, very smart people are responsible for that computer and how it works.  And as complex as a computer is—it is nothing compared to the human brain or the human eye or even the simplest cellular function of life. 
 The story- of the creation of the world- that is told in the first chapters of Genesis- DOES however correspond to what we can observe and know from science:  that we live in an orderly universe—that simple life preceded complex life- that a world for life to live in preceded them both- and that living things reproduce according to their kind. 
The first chapter of Genesis is the story of a mighty, wise, loving God who created the universe and all that is within it and ordered it in such a way that trillions and trillions of events and processes and living things all correspond to one another—moment by moment-- in such a way that life exists- and is supported- and continued.  THAT IS THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WORLD.
The scientific disciplines- and those who work in them- exist only because the first scientists believed in and worshipped the God of creation and knew him to be a God of wisdom and order whose handiwork in the universe could be observed and measured-- and assumptions made on the basis of that scientific work. 
All true science still follows that pattern and when it does not—as with evolution—it is because scientists have abandoned that for which they are trained—for that which they are not trained—and that is theology.  They and all who follow them in denying the Creator have substituted the false god of their own intellect for the one true God and forgotten that they are his creatures.  God said: 
 “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 
            With these words we come to the purpose and pinnacle of God’s creation and that is the creation of mankind—male and female together—created in the image of God. 
We are creatures—not gods—and certainly not the God WHO IS.  Instead, we are living beings, created by God. 
But neither are we merely creatures like plants and animals—for we were created in God’s image.
Almost from the beginning, mankind has rebelled against this truth that we are creatures of God.  Adam and Eve wanted to be their own gods—deciding for themselves what was best for them—and their sin continues to this day with each of us chafing under the yoke of our creaturely-ness.
But mankind’s rejection of God’s created order- and his relationship to man -also goes in the opposite direction—away from claiming divinity for ourselves-- to regarding human beings as merely creatures.
We are told that we are no different—and certainly not any better-- than any other creature—that we are simply animals—at highest point in the evolution of primates to be sure—but in the end, no different in our essence from any other primate. 
Believing that lie is why so many people live like animals--at the mercy of their biology-- with any call for them to live as moral creatures seen as the worst kind of imposition and interference with the slavery they call freedom.
To those in our culture who would raise the human person up to the place of God and make man the measure of all things—the bible says that God is God and we are his creatures. 
To those in our culture who would tell us that we are merely animals at the mercy of our basest instincts, the Bible says that we were created in the image of God. 
That we are creatures made in the image of God IS THE TRUTH ABOUT OURSELVES and that reflected image of God- in man- is exactly what we see in these verses that deal with our vocation as parents and stewards.  The Bible says:
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The love that exists between the three persons of the Holy Trinity was creative and productive—and it resulted in the creation of the world around us and especially the creation of mankind in God’s image. 
That there is a human race is because the Triune God created us as the fruit of his love --to receive his love.  And created in the image of God-- mankind (male and female) become partners with him in bringing forth new life-- to love and care for.
The love that exists between a man and a woman in marriage is —by God’s design and intent—procreative—it brings forth children as the fruit and recipients of their love-- just like God did in creating mankind. 
And the command of God given to mankind in the beginning to “fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it” is our calling to make a world for our children by being stewards of God’s gifts to us-- just as he created a world for us to live in—in the beginning.  The vocation of parents and stewards is one place where the image of God in man is clearly revealed.
These first few chapters of Genesis are not myth—they are not legend—they are not the best story that pre-scientific peoples could come up with to understand their own existence.  They are the truth about God, the world, and ourselves.  

They reveal that there is one God in three persons who created everything that exists.  They explain just exactly how the world around us came into being—as the product of a powerful and wise being.  And they tell us about ourselves—that we are created in God’s image to be people of love who work to create a world of beauty and goodness for those we love.  Amen.