Monday, September 27, 2010
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Today, a colleague of mine was installed as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Deer Lodge, Montana. Installation Sunday is always a significant event for a pastor. He is placed into the Office of the Ministry to serve a specific group of people at a specific place.
I once heard a person say that the pastor's task is to give good, sound advice to those with problems. That may be what is desired, but it's not the pastor's job. Unfortunately, this is the idea prevalent in our world.
The pastor is Christ's called and ordained servant. He is called by Christ through the congregation, and he is ordained, meaning that he is sent under orders. These are not orders from the congregation to be their hired gun something of that nature. The orders under which a pastor is sent are from Christ Himself. The pastor is to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. His task is to forgive the sins of the penitent and to retain the sins of the impenitent.
In other words, the place where the pastor does his work isn't the couch, it's the altar, the chancel rail, the pulpit, and especially in the pages of Holy Scripture.
Congratulations, Bob! God's richest blessings to you as you serve in His Church!
Coming up quickly next Sunday is the Lutheran Women's Missionary League (LWML) Coastal Bend Zone Rally at Our Savior Lutheran Church. Registration begins at 2 p.m. This is an opportunity for Christian women to gather, hear about mission efforts, and participate in missions themselves. This time, younger Christian women, teens and tweens, are invited for special activities.
Also next Sunday, First Year Confirmation begins at noon. Four young people will be gathering. The first year of instruction will be spent reviewing and learning key accounts of Holy Scripture, as well as memorizing parts of Holy Scripture and learning hymns. The second year of instruction pairs the learned accounts of Scripture with key teachings of the Christian faith.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Dru Blanc, Ryan Radtke, John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
Those recovering from surgery, undergoing therapy: Helen Placke, Ruth Prytz, Donnae Blake, Burt Nelson
The Lutheran Women's Missionary League, which supports pastors, seminarians, and the proclamation of the Gospel around the globe
The Sunday School teachers of Mt. Olive and the students committed to their care
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, September 27
Wednesday, September 29
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)
Sunday, September 26, 2010
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Gospel lesson appointed for the day. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to begin our reflection on the Gospel lesson at the end of Jesus’ story-- with the five brothers of the rich man who were still living—who very much needed to hear what God had to say about the place of money in their lives. Their rich brother had died and was in hell—Lazarus had died and was in heaven—and there both of them would remain for eternity.
But the rich man’s brothers were still living. Their eternal future was not fixed. And the question was: would they listen to what God had to say about the proper role and function of wealth in their lives—or would they turn a deaf ear to what Jesus said and end up in hell like their brother?
I begin there-- because that is the context in which these words were spoken by Jesus- and which they are still spoken today. Jesus was talking to the same group of Jews that he was talking to when he told the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep and the lost son. He then told them a parable about a shrewd manager and the necessity of using money to godly ends. He went on to tell them that it was impossible to serve God and money. And Luke tells us that at these words—they sneered at Jesus. That is the context in which this story was told.
Now I don’t think that any of us are going to sneer at Jesus-- but the Lord’s teachings on money do give us pause, don’t they? Is it really true that we can’t serve God and money? It seems like we do a pretty good job of trying. Is the love of money really the root of all evil-- or is it possible to love money the right way? Should we really be content with just the basics of life-- or should we strive for luxury like the people of Amos’ day? Does the desire for riches really plunge us into ruin and destruction-- or does it make us successful in life?
We won’t sneer at Jesus like the Pharisees-- but his words about money are so different than what we see all around us in the culture today that we can’t help but try to have it both ways—serving God and money—the very thing Jesus said is impossible to do. And so just like the five brothers of the rich man in Jesus day, we are the ones who need to hear this story that Jesus tells about Lazarus and the rich man because the consequences of living a life devoted to wealth are eternal and terrible.
Jesus said: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.” Ahh! Living the good life! That’s what the rich man was doing. I can easily imagine that and I bet you can too. We spend a good deal of time fantasizing about it--don’t we?
We hear the question often: What would you do if you won the lottery? And the fantasy begins. Wearing the best clothes-driving the nicest car-eating out at the best restaurants–traveling around the world. Not too bad, huh? That's the kind of life the rich man was living–and there is no indication that it was ill-gotten gains that he was living on. He had apparently worked hard, invested well, gotten rich and was enjoying the fruits of, what he supposed, was his wealth.
There's much in this picture that appeals to us. After all, he's living the American dream! And if he forgot the God who blessed him–if he neglected those in need around him--well after all, it took a lot of time and planning to maintain the lifestyle to which he had grown accustomed. Unfortunately, this situation is all too easy for me to imagine. Often times I grow complacent rather than thankful during times of great blessing, forgetting the God who blessed me and the poor who need my help. Maybe you do too.
But putting ourselves in Lazarus’ place--now there's a difficulty. But let's at least try.
“[At the rich man’s gate] was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”
Imagine this with me: You have no place to live. You have no money. You have no food. You have no family to help you out. And on top of all that, you have a horrible disease that disfigures you to the point where you can't even stand up.
The best, most compassionate thing that anyone can think to do for you is to take you and lay you at the entrance of a mansion, hoping that someone will come out of those doors, find you, and have mercy on you. That's the most you have to hope for, but what you receive instead, is a visit from some scavenging dogs trying to figure out if you are ready to be eaten.
But rather than cursing your situation--rather than being angry at your desperate lot in life--you simply say "God is my help". And most remarkably of all, it’s not just words--you actually believe it—that is your confession of faith! In the midst of this horrible situation, when you seem abandoned by God and there is no visible sign of his mercy or provision--you say, "God is my help." That's what the name “Lazarus” means: “God is my help”. Such was the depth of his faith--that he would be known by this name.
It’s difficult to imagine isn't it? Having such faith. Especially because I know how just a few setbacks in life can make me begin to question God--to demand his help as I see fit, when I see fit--to forget everything that my Savior has so generously given in the past. Maybe it's that way for you too?
Though they were completely different in life, both Lazarus and the rich man shared this one thing in common with the rest of humanity, whether rich, poor–male, female–young, old–famous, obscure: they were both mortal. Their physical life came to an end. Jesus said: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.” No matter what their financial picture, they could not escape death. That will be our experience one day too-- unless the Lord comes first.
I’m not sure we always have such a firm grasp on this basic truth: That whether we are rich or poor, we will die and leave our possessions behind and they will not matter to us anymore! But I wonder if we really believe it? Or do we live our lives like the rich man? Ignoring the voice of God in the words of the prophets and apostles who warns us time and time again of the spiritual dangers of living our lives in service to the things of this world–spending every waking moment seeking wealth, thinking about wealth, enjoying our wealth?
Just as they were different in life, so they were different in death and eternity. When Lazarus lived, he was carried to the entrance of a rich man's house, only to be ignored. When he died, his poor body was placed in a pauper's grave with no one to mourn his passing–forgotten by the world.
But God hadn’t forgotten him. The holy angels came for him and carried him to his eternal home in heaven--a mansion far more grand than the richest man in the world could ever imagine. The pain of his life passed away never to be experienced again-- or even remembered --and Lazarus’ faith was rewarded with the riches of his heavenly Father.
But when the rich man died, how different was the scene in time and eternity! His funeral must have been extravagant! There were family and friends to mourn his passing and to recount his fine parties. Perhaps there was even a grand wake--after all, he would have wanted it that way.
An ornate casket transported his body to the grave and a large, beautiful stone monument marked its place. I'm sure he would have appreciated the fine taste and attention to detail that was shown in his funeral. He would have, that is, if he hadn't been burning in the fires of hell. But that was exactly the situation and it would remain so for eternity. “In Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”
Before we go any farther, we need to make sure we understand what Jesus is, and isn’t, saying in this story. Lazarus didn't go to heaven because he was poor–there is no moral value in poverty. And the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich–there is nothing immoral in wealth. There are many rich people in heaven and there are many poor people in hell. People don’t go to heaven or hell because of their wealth or lack thereof. Where we spend eternity is determined by where we have placed our hope and trust and faith in this life: in God-- or in the things of this world.
Lazarus knew that God was his help and lived his life, as difficult as it was, with his eyes of faith fixed on that promises and when he entered into eternal glory his faith was proved true. The rich man lived his life as if this world was all there was. How very wrong he was-- as are all those who in unbelief deny the existence of hell as being something contrary to the will and purposes of God.
God's Word plainly teaches that eternal torment in hell is the punishment for those who turn their backs on him and serve instead some false god such as money or pleasure or success. It is a terrible freedom that God gives to humanity to choose to live our lives in time and eternity apart from him and countless numbers choose to do so.
Now you would think that in hell people would come to the terrible realization that all they had believed and lived for was wrong --and repent of it in tears–but they don’t. They exist in hell as they existed in life–separated from God–turned in on themselves–unconcerned for others. The rich man said:
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this fire.”
Even in hell the rich man still sees Lazarus as some one who exists to serve his needs, demanding that he leave the peace and joy of heaven to come to the agony of hell to bring a drop of water for his burning tongue--concerned only for his physical needs, with absolutely no thought of the pain that his selfishness causes others. As he lived on earth–so he would remain in death. There would be no relief–then or ever.
“Abraham said, Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
It’s a frightening picture isn’t it? We want to keep the story and its images at arm’s length. But Jesus tells us this story because he wants us to be reflective about the direction of our life. Have we lived our lives like the rich man? Whether we are rich or poor, have we put our desires, our wants, our needs before those around us? Has our selfishness caused pain for others? Have we lived our lives on this earth, as if this life is all that matters?
Through the voice of the rich man crying out in hell’s torments, Jesus speaks a stern warning to us this morning. He says: Turn away from selfishness! Turn away from greed! Keep your lives free from the love of money! Open your eyes to the needs of others! Live with eternity in view! Look to me alone for help!
Just like with the rich man’s brothers, while we are living and breathing there is still an opportunity to hear and heed the words of the Lord and change the direction of our lives. Today is the day to remember and take to heart that, just like with Lazarus, God is our help.
Despite the scarcity of our loving concern for others, our Father has given of the riches of his Son’s holy life in place of our self-serving life. Despite our desire to selfishly hold onto our blessings, he has poured out upon us the blessings of his grace and mercy by forgiving our sins on account of his Son’s bloody death on the cross. And despite our unwillingness to see the needs of others, he has not only seen our need for salvation and forgiveness and new life, but has met that need through his Son’s resurrection from the dead-- so that life-- not death-- is our eternal future.
God gives us the riches of his grace as a free gift through faith in his Son Jesus Christ and it is this risen Savior, witnessed to by Moses and the prophets, who calls us today to live a new life like his.
Crucified and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, strengthened by his presence in Word and Sacrament, Jesus calls us to show the same concern for others that he showed to us. He invites us to use our gifts as he did, to help those who are in need. He encourages us to show our love for him by caring for those who are hungry, ill, and lonely-- with that wonderful promise that whatever we do to the least of our brothers, we do also unto him.
We go forth into this new week as disciples of Jesus Christ with our eyes fixed on heavenly, not earthly values---looking for opportunities to show our faith in him through loving and generous service to others. May God grant this each of us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Pentecost 19, Series C October 3, 2010
Lessons for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 22)
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 ~ The person who trusts God to right injustice will live through it by faith.
Psalm 62 (antiphon: v.1)
2 Timothy 1:1-14 ~ Timothy could trust God, who overcame death with life, to strengthen him in suffering.
Luke 17:1-10 ~ The disciples needed a stronger faith to see God’s grace active in overcoming sin.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Where Has All God's Power Gone?
Habakkuk asked why the Lord God stood idly by while violence ruled. God answered Habakkuk that the righteous live as they exercise their trust in God by waiting patiently for his promise through all the destruction. St. Paul urged Timothy in the midst of suffering to continue trusting God, who brought life and immortality to light through the apparent defeat of Jesus in His death. Jesus, Himself taught the disciples humble duty in service and patience in forgiveness. The disciples realized they needed to trust God’s grace more to see that forgiveness has power to overcome the repeated injustice of sin.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: All powerful God, and all-wise, I cannot understand why you don't just straighten out all the crooked things in this world. Give me patience to trust your wisdom and endurance to wait for your judgment and forgiveness to overcome injustice. Even more, give me your grace that I may live a righteous life through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Savior. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Just as God has redeemed our lives from the destruction of our own sin, He rescues our material resources from careless waste and puts them to profitable use in carrying His promise to those who are trapped in the delusions of life without faith in Christ.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, give us faith enough to see Your power
In darkest times when peace is killed by strife.
And make our vision clear to live each hour
Embracing justice over death in life.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We are impatient with the injustice we see all around us; we cannot see beyond the destruction and contention in our lives. We are ready to give up! But Jesus endured through the agony and defeat of death, and exposed life and immortality in the light of His resurrection. Just so, God promises to overcome the injustice of sin in the lives of those to whom we can offer God’s grace of forgiveness by the power of Christ. We can live by God’s promise!
Monday, September 20, 2010
Pentecost 18, Series C September 26, 2010
Lessons for Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 21)
Amos 6:1-7 ~ Amos warned the wealthy who took advantage of the poor that God would judge them.
Psalm 146 (antiphon: verse 2)
1 Timothy 6:6-19 ~ True treasures are found in Christ’s love for us and are stored by sharing with others.
Luke 16:19-31~ Jesus’ parable teaches that NOW is the time to respond to those who suffer.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Don’t Mistake Living for Life.
The prophet Amos warned the wealthy people of his day that the life of luxury is not a seal of God’s approval. St. Paul warned Timothy to beware of the deception of riches, which many people set their hopes upon, instead of trusting in God who in Christ alone gives us that which is truly life. Jesus contrasted the luxurious living of the rich man with the miserable life of Lazarus, to uncover the eternal consequences of a self-sufficient life and one which is dependant on the mercy of our gracious God. Eternal life, won for us by Christ who rose from the dead, is worth much more than all the luxuries of this world.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Holy Spirit, open my eyes to see the difference between the Life bought by the blood of Christ and the temporary living that is secured only by such things as silver and gold. Help me talk to my sisters and brothers in this life, using the possessions you have provided me, in ways that will point them to the Life that has no end. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has given us great riches in forgiveness and eternal life. He also blesses us with material goods necessary to support our bodily life. By sharing with those in physical need, we may open the door of eternal life to them through the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, You bless us in so many ways!
Your love surrounds us all our days!
Move us to wrap Your love around the poor
Who lack for faith, and food, and more.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we think our material circumstances are signs of God’s approval or disapproval, we may become depressed or self-satisfied. We may give up on life or look down on people in need. Whether poor or wealthy, we are completely dependent on the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, who by His faithful witness, has given us what is truly the abundant life.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
So writes St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. I once heard a teacher interpret this to mean that we pray that the government would leave us alone. To that, I say, Try again! As Paul writes this, he instructs young Timothy to in turn instruct those committed to his care in the ways of prayer: Pray for kings and all who are in high positions. Pray for them that we may lead us a peaceable, quiet life. In other words, pray for them that these servants would do their duty to keep good order as God desires.
There is a tendency in the last ten or fifteen years to believe that, if we don't agree with a particular politician's views, we shouldn't be praying for that person. Whenever I hear this, I take the opportunity to teach a little history lesson. The kings and magistrates for which Paul instructed Timothy to pray, and thus for Timothy to instruct his hearers, were not God-fearing Christians. In fact, they were often antagonistic to the faith, and, in a word, pagan. But, as Paul wrote in Romans 13, there is no authority except that which God has established. Paul goes on to say that God established it to protect those who do right and punish the evildoer.
His instruction to young Timothy, then, is to pray for kings and all who are in high positions. He might well tell us to pray for the President, the Governor, the Mayor, the City Council, the County Judge, and all those civil servants who make, administer, and judge our law. Pray for them, as Paul instructs Timothy, to do their duty in a godly way, pursuing justice and righteousness, preserving good order in society as God desires.
Eternal Lord, ruler of all, graciously regard those who have been set in positions of authority among us that, guided by Your Spirit, they may be high in purpose, wise in counsel, firm in good resolution, and unwavering in duty, that under them we may be governed quietly and peaceably; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
Unfortunately, we were not able to hold the youth meeting today. After cruising some of the streets, I felt it would be too treacherous to bring people to church, and even more so in the dark afterward. I'll try to schedule something in the next couple of weeks to do the planning and game playing.
This coming Sunday, Mt. Olive will hold its Third Quarter Voters Meeting. That means a special schedule! Here it is:
9:30 a.m. Divine Service (Guitar Service!)
10:30 a.m. Sunday School and Voters Meeting
11:30 a.m. Meal in the Fellowship Hall - details will forthcoming in the next couple of days.
Also on Sunday, I'd like to meet with First Year Confirmation - sixth grade - parents during the meal. We need to set up a schedule and I need to get instruction of these fine young people going!
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
Those who are homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Norene Estes
The hospitalized and those going through therapy: Helen Placke, Ruth Prytz, Donnae Blake, Anton Theiss, Melissa Childs
Our government during these turbulent times
The Missionaries of the Church
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, September 20
Board of Elders
Wednesday, September 22
Bible Study - Deuteronomy
Thursday, September 23
Sunday, September 26
Quarterly Voters Meeting
Meal in the Fellowship Hall
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
(Preached on Holy Cross Day at a meeting of area Lutheran pastors)
Not too long after coming here to St. Paul-Kingsville, the father of one of my members passed away. He was a fairly well-known man in the community and along with a many members of my congregation I attended his funeral in another Christian church here in town.
As I listened to the service and the prayers and the hymns—and especially as I listened to the sermon—it occurred to me that I had not heard about Jesus. I had not even heard his name mentioned—to say nothing of his death and resurrection.
The “sermon” was well-delivered—there were witty illustrations. There was lots of generic “god-talk”—lots of “Father God” in the prayers—but not a word about how it is that we can call God our Father in the first place. That funeral was one of the saddest things I had ever witnessed in a Christian church.
As we exited the building, one of my members came up to me and said, “Pastor, wasn’t that a wonderful message?” And I took a deep breath and counted to ten and said, “Well no, it wasn’t” and I asked her if she had heard anything about Jesus—anything about forgiveness through his shed blood on the cross—anything about our hope in his resurrection—even in the face of death.
Well, she was kind of taken aback—and she thought for a minute—and had to admit that she hadn’t heard about Jesus either. I said, “Let’s talk about it on Sunday”.
Because so many of my members had been at that service, we did talk about it in our Bible class—a great teaching moment about what we ought to be hearing preached in the church—that if a sermon could just as easily be preached in a synagogue or mosque—we haven’t actually heard a Christian sermon no matter where it is preached.
I don’t know how many folks I convinced—but I convinced her. And now whenever we are at another Christian church for a wedding or a funeral—whenever we hear a prayer at some public function-she always seeks me out afterward and says, “Pastor, I heard it!” Or “Pastor I didn’t hear it!”
That whole experience made a profound impact on me and I’ll never forget that lesson: that what we almost take for granted as Lutheran pastors—what is self-evident to us: that Christ and his saving works will be preached—that very thing that is everything to us--is a rarity in many places in Christendom-- and even our own members need to be taught why it is that our Lutheran Church faithfully follows the apostolic practice and preaches Christ crucified. St. Paul writes that:
The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
There’s a man in my congregation—a professor at the university and a fairly new Christian—who told me the other day, “Pastor, the Gospel (what Paul calls “the word of the cross”) HAS to be true—because who would ever make up something like that and expect anyone to believe it!” And he is absolutely right!
That the living God of the universe has taken on human flesh in the person of a Hebrew peasant, was crucified on a cross, and raised from the dead—thus accomplishing the redemption of the world from sin, death, and the power of the devil—this word of the cross is folly—foolishness—to everyone—by nature.
And yet brothers, here we are --sitting here in Church today-- believing this very thing. Our lives are built on this foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His cross and resurrection is our hope for time and eternity. Our life’s work as pastors is dedicated to “the word of the cross”. How did this come to be—that we believe the folly of the cross? It is because the foolishness of the cross is the POWER of God. And there is the greatest possible comfort in that promise--for us in our pastoral work as preachers.
It is so easy to become discouraged in our work as preachers of the cross—it seems that we live in a world that not only does not want to hear us—but is more and more outright antagonistic to the Gospel.
But the message of the cross is the power of God that converted Paul—that converted the Roman Empire—that converted the German tribes—that converted you and me—from an enemies of God who knew nothing of his goodness and mercy-- to children of God whose lives are based upon nothing else than the word of the cross.
And that power of God- in the word of the cross- is our encouragement to keep on preaching Christ crucified because we know THAT message is the only message that saves and that even the gates of hell cannot stand against it. St. Paul says:
It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
I don’t know how many of you had a chance to read it or even saw it, but Stephen Hawking had an article in the Wall Street Journal last week entitled “Why God Did Not Create The Universe”. And he concluded the article this way:
Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation.
Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man—his intellectual gifts are like Einstein in his day and Galileo in his day--but his intellect has left him in exactly the same place as the devil’s lie about being like God-- left Adam and Eve—and that is alienated from God.
Mankind’s unregenerate intellect and reason cannot be reformed—it has to be destroyed-- and that is exactly what God promised to do --and did. But it was not an act of divine violence that destroyed its hold on us—it was an act love in the birth of a child who was the wisdom of God personified. This virgin-born new life is how God broke into human history to destroy the hold that so-called wisdom and intellect has on us whose minds are-by nature-are hostile to God.
The greatest intellects of human history—the most powerful men who have ever lived—the greatest leaders the world has ever seen—stand in the shadow of a baby lying in a manger—of a man nailed to a cross. He accomplished what mankind, in our wisdom and intellect and strength, could not—our salvation. Paul says that:
Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what WE preach to save those who believe.
Brothers, when you leave worship today and return to your congregations, I want you to take with you a profound thankfulness to Almighty God for the incredible privilege of being included in that apostolic “we” of those who preach the folly of the cross for the salvation of those who believe.
The Bible says that “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ”. The Augsburg Confession after the article on justification and saving faith continues with the article on the Holy Ministry and says: That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.
The Lord of the Church has graciously added you to the apostolic “we”—he has called you into the same office as the Apostle Paul—the office of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments—for the sake of the world’s salvation.
St. Paul says that this way that God has of saving the world—through the preaching office—PLEASES him. It has PLEASED God, through the folly of what we preach, to save those who believe. Never forget that! God himself has placed his seal of approval on the office you hold—you have his enduring blessing upon your work of preaching the person and work of the cross and giving the life-giving benefits of the same person and work through the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist and Absolution.
We need to be reminded of that divine blessing and promise that rests upon our work as preachers of the cross again and again because the opposition of the world to the Gospel- is still a painful reality. St. Paul says that:
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
It is remarkable how little things have changed over the last two thousand years when it comes to the enemies of the cross. No longer is it Jews and Greeks—but the challenges are the same. There are still those who demand signs rather than the plain preaching of the cross but now, sadly, these folks are found within visible Christendom.
The signs they demand are things such as a former basketball arena in Houston, Texas filled to capacity with folks hearing how God wants them to have their best life now. And the challenge they make is that if we really care about people—if we really want to reach people—we will follow this example.
The demand for signs-then and now- is the false Gospel of utilitarianism—that what “works” is what is true—and how can a little church in South Texas that preaches the Gospel and administers the sacraments possibly be right compared to the sign of a stadium filled with people.
And there are still those who seek after earthly wisdom-- and sadly they are in the church too, preaching a false Gospel of accommodation to human intellect and demanding that the church be “relevant”—which means nothing else than making man the measure of all things. They tells us that: modern man cannot possibly believe in a six day creation—that opposition to homosexuality is hatred and out of touch with a modern understanding of human sexuality—that a broken, bleeding Savior—nailed to a cross is barbaric and repellent to modern sensibilities—what we need is a “life coach”.
These challenges to the preaching of the cross are constant- and they will only grow more virulent. That is why it is such an incredible comfort to hear the promise of God that concludes our text today. St. Paul says:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The “foolishness of God” that is wiser than men and the “weakness of God” that is stronger than men is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross for the sins of the world—risen from the grave to give life to all—the living source of our own spiritual life and the sustaining strength of our ministry.
He is with us brothers—and his saving purpose will prevail through us and our preaching of the cross.
And according to his promise, he has graciously condescended to make himself present here today upon this altar—his body and blood under bread and wine—given for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. In his strength and wisdom, let us resolve here today that we will always be counted among those who preach Christ crucified!
Monday, September 13, 2010
Pentecost 17, Series C September 19, 2010
Lessons for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 20)
Amos 8:4-7 ~ The Lord called to task those in Israel who oppressed the poor for their own personal gain.
Psalm 113 (antiphon: verse 3)
1 Timothy 2:1-15 ~ Good works which should adorn our lives are prayer and care for kings and all people.
Luke 16:1-15 ~ We should use our resources as wisely to provide for eternity as we do for tomorrow.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: What is the Bottom Line?
The question is, how does it all add up? Speaking by his prophet Amos, God declared the bottom line to be not the amount of worldly goods we gather, but rather our kind and honest treatment of those in need. Jesus’ parable teaches that the bottom line is how we consistently use our possessions for the good of the Kingdom. St. Paul wrote to Timothy that the bottom line is the ransom Christ paid for our redemption, which in turn moves us to work for peace through our prayers and possessions.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: I thank You, Lord, that You add the value of Your love in Christ Jesus to the value of my life. Help me see that life is more than the sum total of what I have, that it is shaped by the way I use Your gifts to bring blessings of faith and wholeness to the unfortunate. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The Shakers gave their “Hands to work and Hearts to God.” Can we do anything less than dedicate our gifts to support our prayers on behalf of “kings and all people” that they may be led to faith?
OFFERING PRAYER: With heartfelt prayers we come, O Lord, to ask
That You establish peace within our land,
And we will give our labors to the task,
And offerings, too, to see Your Kingdom stand.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: God has given us many resources, including our material goods and our prayer life, to use toward His Kingdom goal that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Instead we use our power and wealth to accumulate more and even attempt to use prayer to bolster our self. In contrast, Jesus expended all His worth, even His life’s blood, to ransom us from eternal destruction. By God’s grace we are given new opportunities to expend ourselves in the service of God’s Kingdom of grace.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. St. Luke tells us that:
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
There were two distinct groups of people around Jesus that day. There were the “sinners”—people known in their community for their sins. And then there were the self-righteous—people like the Pharisees and the experts in the Law who looked down on everyone else who didn’t quite measure up in their eyes. “Sinners” and the self-righteous standing in the presence of Jesus-- and their responses to Jesus and to his words could not have been more different.
The sinners were drawing near to Jesus to listen to what he had to say and the self-righteous were standing apart from Jesus grumbling about what he had to say. Two distinct groups of people—two distinct reactions to Jesus.
And believe it or not, the sinners actually had a spiritual advantage over the self-righteous—because at least they knew the truth about themselves. They couldn’t hide their sinfulness under a façade of piety. Their neighbors knew, and they knew, just exactly what they were—they were sinners. And that was a distinct spiritual advantage when it came to benefiting from Jesus’ message.
To recognize that we are sinners is still a spiritual advantage—because then at least we know we need forgiveness. We begin each Divine Service confessing the reality of our own sinfulness—we enter into the presence of God already acknowledging that in thought, word, and deed we have not done the good he expects of us and instead have done the evil that he forbids us to do.
The sinners around Jesus knew exactly what they were and so did their neighbors and so when they heard Jesus preach and teach about forgiveness for their sins and a new life in the Kingdom of God for all of those who were sorry for their sin and came to him in faith—they wanted to hear more--and so they drew near to him and listened to what he had to say and many turned from their sinful ways and came to faith in Jesus.
The self-righteous were actually in worse shape spiritually than the notorious, public sinners because they didn’t recognize their sinfulness—not because they didn’t know the righteous requirements of the LORD written in the Law—they did, better than the sinners knew the Law by far—and not because it hadn’t been preached to them—it had, countless times as they attended synagogue and temple worship.
But rather than take God’s Law to heart, as a word spoken to them too--they took God’s Law—a word of divine judgment that always condemns even the best that humanity has to offer to God--and they twisted it into a word that approved of the way they lived their lives. They worshiped on the Sabbath. They tithed. They didn’t blaspheme or murder or commit adultery. They were outwardly righteous.
But they had either forgotten-- or chosen to ignore-- the fact that God doesn’t only care about the outside of our lives—but also cares deeply about what’s on the inside—about what’s in our hearts and minds.
And that’s where they had a real problem. Jesus said that they were white-washed sepulchers (graves)—white and clean on the outside but dead on the inside—standing in need of forgiveness and new life--no less than the public sinners.
And so Jesus, out of love for them too, taught them that it wasn’t only the one living with another’s wife who was guilty of adultery- but also the one who lusted in his heart. It wasn’t only the killer who was guilty of murder- but also the one who was angry and bitter towards one another. It wasn’t only the pagan who was guilty of breaking the first commandment- but also the worrier and greedy.
He taught them what they should have already known from the Old Testament: that God expects holiness of us through and through—inside and out. Hard words of law to be sure—but they were spoken by Jesus to bring them to repentance.
We are not immune from this sin of self-righteousness—and we ought to take it seriously for it can imperil our souls. Very few people are as close to committing the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit as are those who persist, unrepentant in self-righteousness.
Why is that? Because so long as we continue in self-righteousness-- we are denying the work of the Holy Spirit who labors to convict us of our sins through the preaching of the Law and we are denying the work of the Holy Spirit who labors to bring us to faith and convince us of our need for a Savior through the preaching of the Gospel. Self-righteousness denies our sinfulness on the one hand and denies our need for a Savior on the other—and is spiritually deadly.
The self-righteous that day were in such a profound state of denial regarding their own spiritual condition that they were grumbling against the Savior who had been sent to save not only the notorious sinners—but the outwardly holy as well.
So where do we find ourselves in that crowd around Jesus? Are we the sinners or the self-righteous? Do our sins grieve us-- or are we among the self-righteous, believing ourselves a little bit better in God’s sight than everyone else?
At some point in our lives most of us have probably spent a little bit of time among both groups and that is why it is such Good News for us today that no matter which group we are in—the sinners or the self-righteous—Christ loves us all and wants to forgive us of our sins and self-righteousness and the parables he told were meant for all us—sinner and self-righteous alike.
So Jesus told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'
These stories are simplicity itself. Both of them tell the story of searching for and finding a lost thing and the joy that comes from finding it—something that we all have experienced—earthly stories we can connect with—but with a heavenly meaning.
The first parable describes Jesus’ gentleness with lost sheep. For the first 15 years of our married life Caroline and I had this orange and white English Pointer named Hemingway. A better dog you could hardly ask for UNLESS he got out the front door and then he was off—running like a madman through the neighborhood. I would like to say that when I finally caught up with him I was like the shepherd in the parable, gently carrying him home-- but I wasn’t--and he got it.
But that’s not the way of Christ. He gently takes that wandering sheep of a sinner in his arms and carries it to his flock and cares for it as a shepherd. For those of us who are sinners--this is the best possible news of all. We don’t have to be afraid to come to Christ for forgiveness and new life, wondering what kind of welcome we will receive. Turning from our sins in sorrow-- and believing in him for salvation and forgiveness-- we can be certain that he will welcome us with gentleness.
The second parable describes a woman’s persistence in finding a lost coin. When Caroline and I were dating, I bought her a little pair of shell-shaped 14k gold earrings. Tiny little things that didn’t cost much. She dropped one in the carpet one day putting them in and we spent hours looking for that earring until I finally gave up. But she never did. I told her that I would buy her more-- but it didn’t matter—that was the one she wanted –it was hers--and she kept on looking for it for years. She finally found it the day that we were packing up to move from that house to another.
For those who are sinners, our Lord’s persistence in seeking us and finding us is the best possible news of all. Not only have we wandered away from him- but we have done it again and again. Not only have we sinned- but we have done it again and again. Not only have we stood in judgment over others- but we’ve done it again and again. And we can’t help but ask ourselves: Won’t Christ get tired of seeking us and finding us? Won’t he simply give up on us at some point along the way? NO! Jesus calls us to come to him again today and promises that he will receive us.
And why does he do that? Why is he so gentle and kind to sinners who have done wrong? Why is he so persistent in seeking us out even when in our self-righteousness we don’t think we need seeking out? It is because we belong to him—like sheep to a shepherd and like money to a homemaker—we are his.
God the Father has given us our earthly life--God the Son has laid down his life for us on the cross—and God the Holy Spirit has given us new life through the Gospel. We are the treasured possessions of him who seeks the sinner with gentleness and persistence.
Those were the parables that Jesus spoke to the sinners who drew near to him that day but the self-righteous also heard these words and the parables were intended for them too. And so what did Jesus especially have to say to them as they stood off to the side grumbling about the company he kept? The words that were especially spoken to them were these: Rejoice with me-- for what was lost has been found—Rejoice with me here on earth and know that heaven shares my joy over these sinners who have come to me. He said:
There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
For the self-righteous that day this had to be stunning news—that this attitude of Jesus towards those who were sinners wasn’t some kind of moral laxity on his part-- but also the attitude of heaven --and their self-righteous grumbling stood in sharp contrast to the righteous rejoicing of God and his angels in heaven over those who repented.
Jesus loves the self-righteous no less than he loves the sinful and he spoke these words to get them to see the truth about themselves: that their good works and their piety and their religiosity was not able to save them—that they needed his perfect righteousness that only comes by faith in him and we know that some of the Pharisees eventually did become his followers.
The charge against Jesus that day was that he welcomes sinners and eats with them—and that’s absolutely right—he did—and still does. To all who are sorry for their sins and put their faith in him for forgiveness, Jesus says come to me—enjoy this feast of forgiveness that I have set before you today. Amen.
May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting! Amen.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Good morning, fellow redeemed!
Yesterday, I took the day off for Labor Day. Believe it or not, I didn't even check my office email!
It's an interesting way in which faith is described in our world. Many claim that there is more than one way to reach God, while marital faithfulness is unquestionably demanded. Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). Why does He demand such allegiance? When we view this in terms of a marriage relationship, it makes perfect sense. Our Lord Jesus is completely faithful to His bride, the Church. His expectation is that, as He has established her in grace, His Church will continue to cling to Him alone. God grant it!
It's a short week at Mt. Olive. We began a questionable day this morning with a power outage due to Hermine. I think it lasted until about 9 a.m.
It may be a short week, but it's an important one! Sunday is Rally Day at Mt. Olive. This is the day we celebrate the opportunity to teach people, young and older, to hear the voice of God in Holy Scripture. This is a day to celebrate God's Word to us in Jesus Christ!
As it is Rally Day, some preparations are needed for a special meal after the late service. Here are the needs:
8 pkgs hot dogs
8 pkgs buns
Condiments (mustard, ketchup, relish, sport pepper - hey, I can dream, can't I?)
Single serving chips for about 70
12 six packs of cans of HEB brand soda - various flavors (not the good stuff, the 6 cans for $1 stuff)
These items need to be at the church by Friday noon, so that I can get them to folks who will be able to get them ready (we already have a cook - thanks, Oliver!) If you're able to provide these items, please send me a reply blast so that I may put them on the list.
Dessert will be homemade ice cream!
I'm also "jazzed" about this Sunday's guitar worship! Great hymns sung just a bit differently - ya gotta love it!
Ruth Pritz, hospitalized
Donnae Blake, hospitalized
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, Bill DaMetz - Kathy's step-brother (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Dru Blanck, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
The Sunday School ministry throughout the Church and especially at Mt. Olive
All Sunday School teachers, both here at Mt. Olive and throughout the world
All students, young and old, who are committed to the teaching of their Sunday School and Bible Class teachers
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Wednesday, September 8
Bible Study on Deuteronomy
Thursday, September 9
Guitar Worship practice
Friday, September 10
Need hot dogs, buns, chips, condiments at the church for Sunday
Sunday, September 12
Monday, September 6, 2010
Pentecost 16, Series C September 12, 2010
Lessons for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB Proper 19)
Ezekiel 34:11-24 ~ God’s people, like sheep scattered by their leaders, will be gathered by God Himself.
Psalm 119:169-176 (antiphon:v. 176)
1 Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17 ~ The gratitude of a sinner rescued by God’s grace is seen in Paul’s commitment.
Luke 15:1-10 ~ The joy of finding sheep and coins reflects God’s joy over sinners rescued by His love.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God Couldn’t Care Less!
When the people of God were oppressed by wicked shepherds, God cared so much that He wouldn’t stand by and watch His flock destroyed. He promised a Good Shepherd who would redeem His sheep. When Paul persecuted those who followed Jesus, God reached out in mercy to call him to faith and apostleship. When sinners are found by God’s grace and restored like lost sheep and lost coins, God and all the hosts of heaven rejoice, because God, who wants all to be saved, just cannot care any less than His great love will allow.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Father in heaven, I pray that You always remind me of Your love that reaches out to me through all circumstances. Let me hear Your call and be fed with Your Word of life. Help me also speak that call to those who are lost, so they too may know Your all-encompassing love in Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Sometimes we act as though people are expendable to increase profits. When we understand how much God values each person, we will know that material goods are God’s blessings to touch people with His grace.
OFFERING PRAYER: The fact, O Lord, that You have rescued us
Gives proof of Your great love for everyone.
If new-found souls cause such a joyful fuss,
Then use these gifts to further Kingdom fun.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Jesus does not teach that a lamb in the flock is worth two in the brush! Every lamb is precious in God’s sight! We seem to think that searching for the lost diminishes the value of those who are safe. Searching for the lost does not sanction their condition. The fact is, God’s rescuing us in Christ says much more about His love than about our worth, and our efforts at outreach reflect God’s joy rather than our approval.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was in college I read a book that changed my life because it changed how I understood my Christian faith. That book was “The Cost of Discipleship” by the Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was put to death in a Nazi prison camp. The great unifying theme of this book can be summarized in one very famous sentence: “When Christ calls a man to come to him—he bids him come and die.”
Throughout this book Bonhoeffer contrasts what he calls “cheap grace” with “costly grace.” And even if you’ve never read the book, you know what cheap grace is: it is forgiveness without real repentance—it is discipleship without real sacrifice—it is church membership without real commitment.
Cheap grace is not unique to any particular moment in the church’s history—either ours or Bonhoeffer’s—it is found in every place and time-- because it is the religion of natural man with a thin Christian veneer.
The Apostle Paul had to face it in his day with those who thought that forgiveness meant freedom to live how they wanted-- rather than freedom to serve God and neighbor. Even those who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry succumbed to the temptation of cheap grace. Jesus healed their diseases—he fed them when they were hungry—their physical needs were met-- and for many of them that is where their commitment to Jesus ended. But then and now—“cheap grace” is a terrible distortion of Christianity.
True Christianity is a religion of costly grace. God is gracious to us ONLY because of the bloody death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross. Sacrifice and suffering was the cost of: our forgiveness—our salvation—and our life with God. And our lives as Jesus’ disciples cannot help but take on that same costly shape.
We are baptized into his death and resurrection. We are fed by the meal of Christ’s broken body and shed blood. We are called upon by Christ to die to sin—to die to thinking of the world—to die to self. The costliness of our salvation cannot help but translate into a costly life of discipleship. When Christ calls a man to come to him—he bids him come and die. Today we hear our Lord Jesus Christ tell us just exactly what it means to be his disciple—what the cost of discipleship really is. Luke writes that:
Great crowds accompanied Jesus, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Throughout the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s life we see him faithfully keeping the full demands of God’s Law. There was not one moment in his life where he ever failed -in the least- to love his heavenly Father and love his neighbor as the Law demands of each of us. His entire life was one on mercy and tenderness and compassion and love for all people. And so Jesus’ words about hating those closest to us—and hating our own life--seem like a contradiction of everything that his life of love was about. And so what is going on here?
Jesus is using a figure of speech to powerfully illustrate how great our love for God must be-- compared to anything and anyone else—so great that every other love: love for our spouse, love for our children, love for even our own life--looks like hate in comparison. These words are intended by Jesus to work a radical re-ordering of what comes first in our lives and what comes first in our hearts: love for God above all.
But won’t single-minded love for God hurt those around me? If God comes first in every decision that I make and every word that I speak and every thing that I do—won’t this rob those I love, of the love that they need from me? And the answer to that is “no”! It is a great paradox of the Christian life of discipleship—a mystery—that ONLY when we love God above all things and all people-- can we then truly begin to love those around us as we ought. Only when our love of God is first-- is our love for others rightly ordered.
All of us have seen what happens to others when love for God doesn’t come first. What happens to children when their parent’s whole world revolves around them? It ruins them. What happens when a spouse defends their partner and makes excuses for them even when they have sinned? It destroys families. What happens when we put ourselves first? We lose our souls. Love for God teaches us how to love others.
Jesus is absolutely plain: to be his disciples, we are called to love God above all else. And yet we know about ourselves how often our love is disordered and misdirected—which is why Jesus came in the first place—because God loves us, and wanted to make a way back for us, to our first love. Jesus says:
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
During his earthly ministry Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem where he would be persecuted by the religious leaders of the Jews—put to death on a cross—and rise again. And that is what he did. The love of God for a world full of sinners who did not love him above all else is what sent Jesus into the world—and his death upon the cross—is the ultimate sign of that love—a love that cost him his life.
Jesus did not withhold anything from his heavenly Father and he did not withhold anything from us—not even his own life—as he suffered and died upon a cross. This was the love that got it right—this was the love that reconciled us to God. And because of Jesus’ costly sacrifice, God’s love for us comes through the cross into our lives. But only through the cross.
When we were baptized, the sign of the cross was made upon our foreheads and upon our breast to mark us as one of those redeemed by Jesus Christ—connected forever, by faith, to his death and resurrection. But it was also a visible sign, that as his disciples, from that moment on, our daily lives would also be marked by the cross—that following Jesus, we too would share in suffering and sacrifice that comes to those who are his.
Our own cross (that Jesus says we are to take up as his disciples) is not the suffering that all people endure as part of living in a broken world. Rather, our cross is the hardship that comes to us because we are disciples of Jesus. Maybe it is patiently enduring teasing at school because our lives are different that our fellow students. Maybe it is the financial sacrifices we make to support the work of the Gospel. Maybe it is the pain of a lost friendship because our friend does not share the same Christian values.
The cross that we carry as Jesus’ disciples does not have to be sought out—it will come to us if we are following him—and in fact it must come to us since we are his people. Jesus says that it is an impossibility to avoid our cross, and still find our life with God through his cross, and we should understand this up front and consider carefully the cost of following him as his disciple. Jesus says:
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
These illustrations of a tower being built and a battle being waged capture two different aspects of the Christian life of discipleship: building something up and fighting against something else. As Jesus’ disciples, we are to build a Christian life on the one hand and fight against evil on the other hand.
As for building a Christian life, the Bible says that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works—that we are to be zealous for good works—that we are to grow daily in Christ-likeness--that the fruits of the Spirit are to abound more and more in our lives--that we are to grow in the knowledge of the truth.
As for fighting against evil, the Bible says that we are to crucify the flesh with its affection and lusts--that we are to resist the devil--and that we are to have nothing to do ways of the sinful world around us.
Anyone follows Christ as his disciple can immediately see that building a Christian life and fighting against evil are costly endeavors and what we discover about ourselves is that there are a whole lot of half-finished towers and bitter defeats in our life of discipleship because we haven’t been willing-- or able-- to pay the price.
And so why does the Lord tells us this—why does he give us such a painfully realistic assessment of the true cost of discipleship? Is he trying to discourage us from becoming disciples? Is he trying to keep us from even beginning? Not at all! But he does want us to recognize- from the start- that our own resources are insufficient to accomplish what he wants from us as disciples. That is why he says that:
Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
This renunciation of all that we have certainly includes our sins—it certainly includes our misplaced priorities and disordered love. It certainly includes our material possessions and the right to decide for ourselves how we will live. All of it is to be given over to Jesus.
But it also includes our own strength—our firm resolutions—our best efforts—they too are to be given over to Jesus because all of it together is still insufficient to build a great Christian life and win the battle against evil. The life of discipleship requires resources outside of us—resources that only the Holy Spirit can give as he works in us through Word and Sacrament—forgiving us and strengthening us and encouraging us in our walk of faith—so that we remain active, committed disciples of Jesus all our days rather than fall away by denying the cost.
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
On several different occasions Jesus refers to his disciples as “salt”—meaning that our lives ought to have a wholesome, purifying effect on the world around us—that the world around us ought to be a better place because of our influence. But the “cheap grace” that denies the cost of discipleship ruins this influence. When Christians are no different than unbelievers in how we live, when we abandon our distinctive characteristic of Christ-likeness and purpose of glorifying God in what we say and do--we become as useless as salt that has lost its “saltiness”—good for nothing.
Jesus wants us to take this message to heart: that there is a cost to discipleship. And it cannot be otherwise. He has laid down his life for us on the cross and as his disciples he calls us to come to him and die—but also to be raised in his life—a life of service and sacrifice for those around us. Amen.
May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.