Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Christian Citizen

Matthew 22:15-22 We are blessed by God to live in this great nation.  The United States of America is still a land of freedom and opportunity and prosperity that stands as a beacon of hope for millions of people around the world and a model of what young nations should aspire to become.  This is still the greatest nation on earth and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
That said, there are things that are not right in our nation, things that burden us as Christians—not just matters of policy about which citizens may legitimately disagree—but moral issues that strike at the heart of what we know to be true from God’s Word. 
Parents are allowed to murder their children.  The basic institutions of marriage and family are becoming unrecognizable.  Religious speech by Christians is often impeded or shouted down and our presence in the public square denied.
And so how is the person who is both a citizen of the kingdom of God and a citizen of the United States to live out their lives in a way that gives to both God and the state that which is their due?  This is not a new question or a difficulty unique to us—believers have always faced this pull that comes from being part of two different kingdoms.  The Bible says that:
The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle Jesus in his words.  And they sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians…
            It’s hard to imagine two groups farther removed from one another on the political spectrum as were the Pharisees and the Herodians.  Both groups were Jewish but the Pharisees saw the secular rulers as enemies of God’s people and dreamed of a religious Jewish kingdom. 
The Herodians were essentially secular Jews who (even though they were no fan of the Romans) had made peace with the powers of the day and enjoyed the influence that came with their political support of Herod. 
As far apart as they were politically—what united them was their opposition to Jesus because he pointed the people (not to a political agenda and earthly power which is what both of them were all about) but to the one thing needful:  a life with God.  The Pharisees wanted to throw off Roman rule—the Herodians wanted to get in bed with them—and both of them were mistaken because they saw life primarily through the lens of politics and power.
So it still is today among Christians.  A few years ago the religious right seized power in the Republican Party using abortion is the catalyst.  These days, we are told by those in the religious left that Christians should support the welfare state and immigration reform because Jesus says to care for the poor and the outcast.  People are still trying to use and misuse Christ for their own political ends just like the group of Jews did that day.  They said to him:
“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.
            Even if their motive was impure—their words about Jesus were true.  Jesus embodied the truth and he taught the way of God faithfully and did not change with the times or the person that he was speaking to.  What that means is that if you want to know the truth about God’s view of marriage—about God’s attitude towards those on the margins of society—about God’s expectation on how we are to live our life as citizens—listen to Jesus.  Jesus’ guideline that we are to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” is the truth about Christian citizenship because his words ARE God’s Word.  They asked him:  Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
When Jews asked him:  Is it lawful—what they were really asking was:  is it right in God’s sight to pay taxes?  Taxes were already the law of the land—the Pharisees hated them and saw them as pagan oppression—the Herodians supported them because it increased their political power.  Both parties had political reasons for their actions and attitudes—but what was God’s perspective on the whole thing?
Now we know that they didn’t really care one way or the other—they just wanted to trick Jesus.  If Jesus told the people not to pay their taxes the Herodians would have Jesus arrested.  If Jesus told the people to pay their taxes, the Pharisees would accuse him of siding with Rome.
Both parties wanted to get rid of Jesus because he upset their political ideas and this question about taxes was their way of doing it.  Instead, they received a real answer about what God thought about Christian citizenship.  The Bible says that:
Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 
You will notice that even though they claimed to despise Roman rule they certainly weren’t above benefiting from it.  Rome’s currency was a stable, fixed form of economic exchange backed by the greatest power of the day.  Their economic life was built upon it.  They may not have liked seeing that coin come out of their pocket and go to Rome in the form of taxes but they sure weren’t opposed to having it in their pocket.  There’s a lesson here for us.
The state is given to us by God for our temporal benefit and no matter how much we may dislike our government—no matter who much we may kick and scream about our taxes—we all benefit from the government.  We drive on city streets and have clean water in our homes and are protected bands of marauding criminals and countless other blessings that come from God’s good gift of the state. 
When Jesus asked the Pharisees for the coin he made an important point about Christian citizenship:  that we ought to be thankful to God for all of the temporal blessings we receive in the gift of government-- even when there are hardships that come with living under the rule of imperfect men.  The Bible says that:  Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.”
Can you imagine the pain that answer caused?!  Here was the face of the man who was their conqueror—a man who despised their religion—a man who looked upon them with contempt.  I bet with just a bit of reflection you can understand what that answer cost them.
If not, when you get home do a Google image search of George Bush or Barak Obama and you will find the image of our latest presidents defaced in the most despicable of ways.  The growing hatred for political opponents in our country is visceral and sinful.
When Christians engage in it they show that they do not understand the basic teaching of the bible regarding the state:  that those who govern are God’s ministers for our good. 
This does not mean, and God has never promised, that we will be ruled by those we like or those who share our faith or even by those who are admirable.  Nevertheless, God expects Christian citizens to give them that which is their due.  Jesus says:  Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.
And so what are those things that we are to render to Caesar?  What do we owe the state as Christian citizens?  Paul talks about some of those in our epistle lesson.
First of all, we give our subjection or obedience.  There are limits to that—but unless the government commands us to do something that God plainly forbids, we are to obey our government—and not just because we fear its punishment but because we know that those who resist the governing authorities resist what God has appointed.
Secondly, we pay the state the taxes and revenues and fees required of us.  In our nation we are blessed to be able to vote for leaders who will work for tax policies and spending measures we support, but whether or not our candidate is elected, Christians pay their taxes. 
Finally, we give the honor and respect that is due to those who serve as God’s servants for our temporal good.  The president’s marine honor guard serves as an excellent example.  They saluted Pres. Clinton despite his moral failures.  They saluted Pres. Bush despite the fact that he sent them to Iraq and Afghanistan.  They salute Pres. Obama even if he doesn’t return their salute.  A salute is due the president of the United States and these marines give it no matter what they think about the man personally. 
So it is for the Christian citizen who gives to Caesar the respect and honor that is due those who serve in the government even while we refuse to give them that which is due to God alone.  Jesus says: Render to God the things that are God's.”
Christian citizens want to make sure that we give to the state the temporal and civic duties which belong to the state but we cannot give the state that which belongs to God. 
Our American and Lutheran forefathers understood this.  The Pilgrims who settled this country fled the Christian nation of England which wanted to impose its own form of Christianity upon them.  Our Missouri Synod forefathers fled the Christian nation of Prussia for the same reason.  The state has no right to say anything about spiritual matters—that belongs to God alone—and so, ultimately, does the state itself.
Jesus’s command to Christian citizens that we “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” does not make these precepts two co-equal sources of authority.  The state is always subservient to God and it only has the right to govern the temporal affairs of men using God’s gifts of a mind guided by reason and a conscience informed by God’s law. 
And so when the state tells Christians that they cannot witness to Jesus Christ we must refuse to keep silent.  When the state tells Christians that they must abort their children to meet population guidelines we must refuse to kill the defenseless.  When the state tells churches that they must marry homosexuals we must refuse ask God’s blessing on a sin.  When the state tells a chaplain that he cannot pray in Jesus’ name he must speak it boldly.  When the state and its officials portrays itself as our savior and provider and protector we must turn a deaf ear to this idolatry for these things are true of God alone who saved us by the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. 
The Bible says that:  When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.  They marveled because they knew they had heard God’s truth about Christian citizenship from Jesus’ lips and it was simplicity itself:  “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  As we leave this place and celebrate Independence Day this week, may God grant that we would always be faithful Christian citizens!  Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jesus Frees a Man Possessed by Demons

Luke 8:26-39 From the beginning of Genesis where we see Satan working for mankind’s destruction-- to the last chapters of Revelation where we see the final destruction of Satan and the evil angels-- the Bible teaches that there are evil, spiritual beings in the world who are opposed to God and work for our spiritual destruction. 
The Good News for us today is that as many and as powerful as these evil beings are—they are simply no match for Jesus.  The Bible says that Jesus and the disciples: 
…sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes,
            One of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin through Satan’s deception was that they saw that they were naked and hid from God.  Where before they had lived in perfect innocence with one another and in perfect fellowship with God—Satan destroyed both of those relationships—and they were ashamed.
The man in our Gospel lesson—completely under Satan’s power-- had lost that sense of shame-- but his nakedness was not a return to innocence and fellowship.  Instead, it indicated a total loss of any spiritual sense that something was wrong with him-- so deeply was he held in Satan’s bondage. 
We live in a culture that has lost its sense of shame—not because of mankind’s return to the innocence of Eden --but because mankind is has lost the sense that something is wrong in their relationship with God and with one another.  In our world:
All manner of sexual perversion is called normal.  Our neighbors incur debts that they have no intention of paying off.  Politicians look us dead in the eye and say one thing knowing all the time that another is true.  People dress immodestly even for church.  And those who do these things are shocked-- that we’re shocked.
This “complete and utter” lack of shame is not a sign that we are throwing off the fetters of a puritanical morality--but a revelation that so many in our world (under the influence of Satan) have lost any sense of shame.  This is not progress—it is death.  The bible says that the demon-possessed man had not lived in a house but among the tombs--a more vivid picture of our world is hard to imagine.  The Bible says that:
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me."  For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 
For the man that day there was no earthly power strong enough to restrain him physically—but neither was there any earthly power strong enough to set him free spiritually.  In fact, he didn’t even want to be set free—he didn’t even know what freedom was anymore, so deeply was he held captive under Satan’s dominion.   
But Jesus loved him too much to let him go on living like that forever.  So is his love for us.  He is not content to let us live under Satan’s dominion but has come to set free from Satan’s power—a deliverance and redemption that only he can accomplish.
As great and as powerful as were the demons who held that poor man captive—they were simply no match for Jesus—they had to bow at his feet in submission for they knew exactly who he was and what he had come to do.
God promised this day would come—that he would send a Savior—one born of a woman who would destroy Satan and restore everything that he had destroyed—one who would set us free from slavery to sin and death.  What was about to happen for that man was sign of what Jesus would do for all people—rescuing us from the hell that we deserve on account of our sins.  The Bible says that:
Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion," for many demons had entered him. 
            In Jesus’ day, a legion was a group of Roman soldiers—6,000 of them—that is how may demons had taken possession of this poor man—but they were still no match for the One who was sent to destroy them. 
That is important for us to remember.  Two different human attitudes please Satan when it comes to our understanding of who he is.  The first is when people deny his existence and give him a free reign to go about his destructive ways (and we see plenty of that in our culture today).  The second is when people overestimate his power and fear him (and there’s plenty of that kind of superstition in the church today).  Satan is real.  Satan is powerful—but he is no match for Jesus.  The Bible says that they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.    
6,000 demons bowed at Jesus’ feet that day and begged him not to send them back to hell which is another biblical teaching denied by many modern people.  Hell is a place of eternal torment and suffering made for the devil and his angels.  Despite modern denials that hell is simply an ancient fable designed to scare people into behaving themselves:  hell is real—and it’s torments are terrible—the sufferings, eternal.
The great tragedy of hell is that there are also human beings there when it doesn’t have to be that way.  Jesus Christ has fully atoned for all our sins on the cross.  There he suffered the pains of hell in our place and rose up victorious on the third day showing Satan a defeated enemy.  The way of salvation is open to all people through faith in Jesus Christ and hell need not gain one more person for its eternal torments.  For the demons that day, anything was preferable to being sent back to hell.  The Bible says that:
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
            Bible scholars don’t fully understand why Jesus allowed the demons to enter into the pigs.  Wouldn’t it have been better if the demons were destroyed by Jesus?  But the final destruction of evil takes place on the Last Day when Satan and his angels are cast by Jesus into the lake of fire for eternal torment.  Perhaps the drowning of the pigs is a picture of what is to come for them on that day.
Didn’t the demons know what would happen once they entered into the pigs—bringing about their own destruction?  Not necessarily.  Satan and his angels do not know all things like God does and here we see another example of their blind, self-defeating hatred.
Was it right and just of Jesus to let these demons destroy the livelihood of those who kept the pigs?  But what are pigs compared to even one human soul?  What the drowning of the pigs did show in a dramatic, undeniable way was the destructive nature of Satan—that he is a destroyer of all creation.  At the very least, the death of thousands of pigs showed in an undeniable way that something dramatic and life-changing had just taken place in that community. The Bible says that:
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 
            For the man that day, his life had been changed forever by Jesus’ healing.  His mind was whole and his relationship with God was restored.  Clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at the feet of Jesus—a complete change from where he was before.  Because Jesus was his Savior, Satan was no longer his master. 
That is a picture of every person who has been healed by the mercy of Jesus Christ.  Jesus has defeated Satan and as we come to faith in Christ the reign of Satan over our lives comes to an end. 
No longer are we burdened by the shame of the past because it has been washed away by Jesus’ blood.  No longer are our minds at warfare with God because now we have the mind of Christ which is strengthened daily in us through word and sacrament.  No longer is Satan our master, for Jesus is our Lord to whom we give our willing obedience and our loving service—bearing witness to what he has done for us—just like the man that day. The Bible says that:
All the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
            The man who was set free from Satan returned to return to his home town and told what Jesus had done for him.  Jesus asks the same of us.  Jesus has work for us to do in his mission to bring healing and wholeness to the world. 
People around us may deny evil and deny Satan and deny hell—but their denials don’t ring true.  Just like us, they live in a world that is broken by evil.  They experience temptations and suffering.  They are afraid of what will happen to them when they die. 
We have the solution to their fears and that is the Good News of Jesus Christ--that he has delivered us from evil in the most wonderful, loving way—by shedding his life’s blood upon the cross to set us free from Satan’s rule over our lives and rising up from the dead to guarantee us an eternal life with God.  Jesus says to us today what he said that day:  Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.  Amen.

General Prayer Pentecost 5c Proper 7

Lord God heavenly Father, You are our shield and glory.  As we cry aloud to You in prayer, answer us from Your holy hill:

Over this last week we have laid our head down in sleep, awoken in safety, and You have sustained us day by day.  We thank You for all Your blessings and tender mercies that sustain our earthly life.  Help us to be good stewards of all Your gifts.

Many thousands of people have set themselves against Your people in the church and nation.  Let Your blessing rest upon us by converting the hearts of those who do not count Jesus as Lord and Savior and by protecting our military personnel as they work to punish evil and reward good.

You are ready to be found by those who do not seek You and answer those who do not ask for You.  Grant that it would be so in our own nation.  Tear down the idols that take Your place in the hearts of our fellow citizens.  Rid us of those national sins that are a stench in Your nostrils.  And lead us to value all human life as a gift from You.

We thank and praise You that in the fullness of time You sent Your Son Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem us and adopt us as Your children in Holy Baptism.  Because we are Your children, send Your Spirit into our hearts so that we can live our lives in a way that is pleasing to You.  Especially do we pray for Harley as she celebrates a birthday, that You would bless her in body and soul all her days.

Lord, we pray that you would empower the mission of your church as we declare how much Jesus has done for us.  Especially do we ask Your blessing on our VBS this week that those who work and those who attend would come a deeper faith in Jesus.

As Your Son Jesus granted healing to the man who was demon-possessed, bestow healing upon all of those who are broken in body or soul.  Especially do we remember Liam, Scott, Selah, Tom, Myrtle, Logan, Willis, Fran, Red, J.A., Nicole, Sylvia, Barbara, and Janis.  Deliver those who are addicted and restore those who are mentally ill.

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever serves our neighbor and gives glory to You; whatever works for our final salvation grant to Us dear Father in heaven for we ask it confidently in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

C Proper 08 Pentecost 06 June 30, 2013

Lessons for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9b-21 ~ When Elijah anointed Elisha to be prophet in his place, Elisha was committed to serve.
Psalm 16 (antiphon: v. 11)
Galatians 5:1, 13-25 ~ Christ has set us free from the condemnation of the law and the bonds of sin.
Luke 9:51-62  ~ When Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, He would not be hindered in His Kingdom goal.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Embrace Freedom With Commitment.
When Elijah was discouraged and ready to give up, God told him there were still 7000 faithful in Israel and sent him to call Elisha to be the next prophet.  Elisha showed his commitment by burning his plow and sacrificing his oxen.  St. Paul made the connection between commitment and freedom very clear:  if we are committed to the freedom of Christ's redemption, we will be guided by the Spirit of God.  In Jesus day, some who thought they were ready for a life of discipleship decided they were not free to make that kind of commitment when they saw the urgency of Jesus mission.  We must examine our lives in terms of our commitment to Christ.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, you have called me to follow you through the trials and joys of this life to the eternal bliss of heaven.  Make my joys of service to you greater and lighten my trials in faithful commitment to you, that I may live my life guided by your Spirit and filled with love, peace, patience, kindness and self-control.  Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When the instruments of his occupation lured Elisha away from Gods call, he sacrificed them to steel his commitment to Gods mission.  God has put many such material things at our disposal. When we are committed to Gods work of freedom in our lives, we are ready to commit our resources to the message of Gods grace.

OFFERING PRAYER:      Lord, You have set us free from sin to live for You,
                                                Free to bring the message of Your love to friend and neighbor.
                                                Keep us free from harmful goals, and help us use
                                                The blessings of our land in service to our Savior.  Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We dream of being free from all commitments.  We want to be able to spend our time and live our lives the way we want to, but Jesus frees us from the encumbrances of our sinful nature.  We are set free from the condemnation of the law and the burden of sin, but then we find ourselves committed to the call of Gods grace.  When we are embraced by Christs freedom, we are caught by the commitment to go and proclaim the kingdom of God, and all that it means by extending Gods love and forgiveness to all.