Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pray and Don't Lose Heart!

Luke 18:1-8 One of the great gifts that God has given us to sustain and strengthen our life with him is prayer:  talking to him with our minds and mouths.  Prayer is one half of that divine dialogue where God speaks to us in his Word—in the sermons we hear and in the Bible reading that we do throughout the week—and we respond to his words with our words of prayer. 
It is an amazing and wonderful blessing that the living God of the universe speaks to us in his Word and desires to hear from us in prayer!
But we don’t always do our part in this divine dialogue like we ought to.  When it comes to our prayer life we look like that old married couple sitting in their living room and the wife is talking away and the husband has his head hidden behind the paper and contributes only the occasional “grunt” and sometimes not even that. 
Couples who don’t talk to one another don’t have as strong a relationship as God wants for them-- and it’s the same way in our relationship with God.  For our own spiritual welfare—to be prepared for the Last Day and even the next day of life-- we need to talk to God regularly in prayer.
Jesus knew that this would be difficult for us to do—he knew that the cares of the world would take over our lives at times-- and he knew that at it would seem as if God were not listening to our prayers and if he was listening, he certainly wasn’t answering. 
And so Jesus tells us this little parable to assure us that God is listening to our prayers-- and will answer us when we pray-- and so we should always to pray and not lose heart.   Jesus said:
"In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.   And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.'  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'
            The judge in this parable was just the opposite of what a judge ought to be.  A judge ought to recognize that he is God’s minister.  He ought to have a proper fear of God knowing that he himself will one day be judged.  He ought to see the law as the servant of the people for their good. 
But the judge in the parable had none of these qualities.  He had no fear of God and no regard for the opinions of men.  He was unconcerned about justice being done.  But he met his match in a poor widow—and that is what is so unexpected in this parable. 
The people of Jesus’ day would have understood immediately how desperate her situation was.  Widows had very few resources and even less power.  But what she did have was persistence—and that was enough.  Though the judge didn’t care one wit about what God or his neighbors thought of him—he grew tired of listening to her and finally gave her the justice she asked for and needed. 
She was powerless- and he was powerful- and yet because of her persistence his concern was that “she will beat me down by her continual coming.”  The word that Luke uses to describe her persistence comes from the boxing world and it means that “she will give me a black eye”—a TKO--her persistence will pummel me to the point where I have to give in to her request.”
It is a vivid image—like a boxing match with Mike Tyson in one corner of the ring and Granny Clampet from the Beverly Hillbillies in the other corner of the ring.  Just looking at the two of them you would never think that poor old Granny has a chance—but that widow never gave up—she was persistent--and that’s what makes the difference—that’s what gave her the victory when the odds were against her. 
The widow’s persistence is the point of this parable on prayer.  Jesus directs our attention to what the judge says about her:  "Hear what the unrighteous judge says.    Jesus wants us to pay special attention to the judge’s words when he says: 
'Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice,
We don’t know what got a burr under this poor old lady’s saddle—whether it was something to do with a bill or a boundary--but what ever it was, she cared about it deeply and simply wasn’t going to give up in asking for what she needed.  That’s what Jesus wants from us in our life of prayer.
And yet when we compare our prayer life to the persistence of the widow we come up pretty short and we give up pretty easy—and what’s even worse is that we give up in spiritual things that are much more important than the material things this woman was so concerned about. 
We pray for greater faith- and deliverance from temptation- and the grace to do God’s will- but we never make any real progress in spiritual things because we give up too easily --which is especially shameful because the God who is listening to our pleas and petitions is totally different than the evil judge in the parable.  Jesus says:
Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 
            The way the Greek grammar reads in this sentence is this:  Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry out to him day and night (YOU BETTER BELIEVE HE WILL!).  Will he delay long over them (NOT A CHANCE!) 
The judge in the story is completely opposite of God.  It is an argument from the least to the greatest and it means this:  if even a wicked, unjust judge will eventually give in to the persistence of an old woman-- HOW MUCH MORE-- will your loving heavenly Father hear and answer his children he has known and loved from eternity. 
            Our God is completely different than the judge in Jesus’ parable.  Our God cares about justice-- and our God loves us-- and both are shown finally and fully in the cross. 
It was there on Calvary that God did what justice demanded by punishing the sins of the whole world.  But it was also there, on that rough cross that he showed his love for us by laying those sins upon his own Son who took our place under God’s wrath and suffered the punishment that our sins deserve.  Justice and love perfectly united in the death of Christ to make things right between us and God. 
God does indeed give justice to his elect—he gives the justice of righteousness fulfilled and sins atoned for and through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, God declares us not guilty in his sight. 
We who have been elected in Christ from eternity can be confident that:  our prayers are heard by God—that prayer is not an exercise in futility or wishful thinking or a last resort-- but instead prayer is the language of faith—a firm confidence that our prayers will be answered by God in his perfect time. 
Jesus promises:  I tell you, God will give justice to them SPEEDILY.   We live in a culture where people want-- what they want—right now.  The whole concept of patient waiting, to say nothing of the value of delayed gratification, is completely lost on us.  We want new furniture and so instead of saving for it we pull out the old credit card.  Couples want intimacy with one another but won’t wait for marriage.  We can’t wait 45 minutes for dinner to be ready so we go out for fast food.
Our demand for things NOW affects our prayer life and faith life as well-- and when we don’t get what we want, when we want it, we think God has somehow failed us and we think to ourselves, what is the point of praying. 
But the Lord answers our prayers with not only what we need-- but he answers them so that we receive what we need at just exactly the right time.  What we see as a delay in the Lord’s answers is the Lord removing selfishness from our petitions- and what we see as silence is the Lord strengthening our faith.
Jesus asks us:  When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" In other words, are we going to live our lives like the unbelievers around us—busy with the things of the world but unconcerned about spiritual things and disconnected from God—OR—are we going to stay close to God through persistent prayer?
The day of the Lord will come.  Evil will be punished with everlasting fire.  The faithful will go to be with the Lord in heaven.  This world that is broken by sin will be destroyed and a new heaven and a new earth will come forth.  What God’s people have hoped for and longed for in this life—even if we couldn’t put a name on it—will be granted on that day.  Will Jesus find us faithful on that day?
The Lord doesn’t ask us that question to cause us to doubt our eternal future.  He asks it so that we can respond with the “yes” of faith!  “Yes Lord!  By your grace and with your help I will remain faithful and steadfast until I stand in your presence.  And until that day I will stay close to you in prayer.”  May God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

C Proper 24   Pentecost 22       October 20, 2013

Lessons for Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 32:22-30 ~ Jacob wrestled with God and gained a blessing, represented in a new name: Israel.
Psalm 121 (antiphon: vv. 1-2)
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 ~ The faithful use of God’s Word yields blessings in life and relationships.
Luke 18:1-8 ~ Jesus taught that faithful prayer brings more blessings than persistent entreaties. 

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Hold On to the Blessing
Our lessons today are a call to faithfulness. St. Paul reminded Timothy that God had promised salvation through Christ Jesus. God is faithful and trustworthy; with the certainty of God’s promise we can endure all hardships. Jacob grasped hold of God’s promise and expected a blessing of life, land, and lineage. Jesus’ parable in the Gospel lesson underscores the faithfulness of God in hearing our prayers and providing for all our needs.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, You are more ready to hear my prayer than I am to pray! Help me rely on Your love, trust in Your mercy, and receive Your grace, that I may be blessed by Your gift of life eternal through Jesus Christ my Savior. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Rich material blessings in our lives reflect God’s great spiritual gifts to us. Our faithfulness in using those blessings for the benefit of others portrays God’s faithfulness to them.

Your gift, O Lord, so great and free,
Gives promise for eternity.
In word and deed let us confess
Your gracious love and faithfulness. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Although God has given his sure promise to hear our prayers and grant us great blessings, we often disregard his invitation. When we forsake God’s Word, which is the source of his blessing, we are left with only those things that we make up for ourselves. The magnitude of God’s gift in Christ Jesus moves us to cling to God’s promise faithfully.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Let Us Be Thankful For The Lord's Mercies!

Luke 17:11-19 St. Luke writes that:  On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. The picture we have before us today of our Lord Jesus Christ is a beautiful summary of his mission:  journeying toward Jerusalem where he would lay his life down on the cross for our sins and take up it up again, leaving his tomb empty with the promise that ours will be empty as well one day.
That was his mission-- and the promise that he makes to us is that his death and resurrection will change us forever and unite us to God and restore to us the wholeness that our Father wants us to have—a wholeness that has been taken from us by Satan and the deadly effects of sin—just like the lepers that day.  
St. Luke writes that:  As Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance.  If this journey to Jerusalem is a pictorial portrayal of our Lord’s mission in this world- then the scene he encounters here in this village is the perfect picture of why that journey to the cross was necessary at all.
Ten lepers standing at a distance—separated from their loved ones—cut off from the temple—united only with one another in their misery and brokenness. 
Here is the picture of what sin has done.  God created us for life.  Rich, abundant life.  God created us for fellowship with himself and for life together with our fellow man.  But this is what sin has done to all of us. 
Sin has made a chasm between us and God.  A holy, righteous God cannot have fellowship with sinful, unrighteous people.  And sinful, unrighteous people can never have the kind of friendship with one another that they were made for because their self-centeredness always drives a wedge between themselves and others.
And the effects of sin go even deeper.  The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” and that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men.” 
Here in these ten lepers we see those deadly effects of sin.  These men were under a death sentence.  A world that was ruined by sin had turned against them in this terrible disease and they knew that they would surely die in the most horrible way—literally piece by piece until they would no longer resemble the human beings that God created and intended them to be.
This is why our Lord set his face towards Jerusalem.  This is why he was so resolute in going to the cross.  This is why he had to go all the way into a cold, dark grave:  because there is an entire world full of people who were under a death sentence-alienated from God and one another—the image of God so disfigured in them that they no longer resembled what God created them to be.  For them and us…
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a mission of mercy to save us and restore to us what sin and Satan had robbed from us.
St. Luke writes that the lepers:  “lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” While all ten may not have been models of thankfulness, they were models of faith for they recognized the truth about themselves (and their great need) and they recognized the truth about Jesus (that he could meet that need).
These men suffered under no illusions about their broken condition.  They couldn’t hide it like we try to do.  They knew the truth in the distance between themselves and those they loved.  They knew the truth in their pain and suffering and deformity.  They knew that such was their brokenness that only God could help—that’s why they called out to Jesus.
Whether we see it or not—whether we are willing to admit it or not--the same broken condition is true of us.  There is conflict and distance between us and those we love.  Our aches and pains are a sufficient testimony that we are not going to live forever.  And we see that in ourselves there is not much power at all to stop this trajectory towards death and the grave.  We have our own place in this sad group of broken men. 
That is why when they heard that Jesus was coming and when they saw him journeying towards Jerusalem they called out to him in faith for the help they so desperately needed—and their cry--Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!—was not just a call for help—it was a confession of real faith.
 It was a confession of their great need—it was confession of their lack of resources—it was a confession of faith in Jesus to meet that need and provide their healing.  St. Luke writes that when Jesus saw them he said to them:  “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
This may seem like an odd kind of answer to us but the lepers knew exactly the promise and hope found in those words.  The Law demanded that the priests declare when someone had been healed and so even though the lepers didn’t yet see their healing—they believed Jesus’ promise and stepped out in faith. 
This is what Jesus wants from us too.  His redeeming work outside the walls of Jerusalem has been accomplished.  Our sins have been forgiven.  The devil has been defeated.  Death has no claim on us.  But we still struggle with sin- and the devil still tempts us- and our loved ones still die.  In other words, we can’t see the fullness of our salvation quite yet.
And so like the lepers we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight.  But also like the lepers, our faith in Jesus will not be disappointed for we will receive the mercy for which we ask!  St. Luke writes that:  as they went they were cleansed.
            When we began our meditation we talked about how these lepers were emblematic of all people and what sin and Satan have done to us—that it has alienated us from God and put up barriers between us and others and brought death with all of its ugliness into our lives so that we don’t always resemble what God created us to be. 
But this healing of the lepers is a promise to all of us that the compassion and power of Jesus can be counted on—that our faith in him is not misplaced—that when we call to him he will listen—that he can be trusted to heal us and make us whole.
The Good News for us is that Jesus’ compassion and power present that day in the healing of the lepers is the same power this day to heal what is broken in our lives and we can count on receiving the same wholeness that they received. St. Luke writes that:
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.
            In Luther’s explanation to the first article of the creed, he says that for all God has done for us, it is our duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him.  It is our duty to thank God.
All ten of the lepers had a need.  All ten of the lepers had enough faith to turn to Jesus.  All ten of them received healing.  But this Samaritan had even more—he had a heart that was thankful for the mercy he received from Jesus. 
His faith moved him to praise and thanksgiving for what God had done for him and that faith directed him to the feet of Jesus.  So it is for us.
Thankfulness to Jesus for all that he has done for us is our duty- but it is so much more than that—it is our delight.  The Samaritan was glad to have that opportunity to worship and praise God at the feet of Jesus.  Now he was truly whole—body and soul—because he knew that in Jesus God had saved him and that knowledge moved him to worship and thanksgiving. 
When we are thankful for the mercy of Jesus we are showing that we understand that we have a gracious God who loves to give good gifts to his children and we are blessed doubly when we recognize that and call it to mind and give him our praise and worship.
In the Small Catechism Luther talks about the reason we pray for our daily bread when God gives it to all even without our prayer.  He says that we pray for our daily bread so that we may realize it is God’s gift and receive it with thanksgiving. 
There is something missing in a relationship with God when thanksgiving cannot be found for the mercies of the Lord.  Jesus asked his disciples and the man who was healed and the crowd who gathered around: 
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
            All of them had to report to the priests.  All of them wanted to see friends and family from whom they had be separated.  All of them had a lot to do now that the leprosy was gone.  But for nine of the ten the most important thing was left undone—and that was a life of worship and thanksgiving in the presence of Jesus. 
            When Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith had made him “well” he was talking about much more than just having clean skin like all ten received.  He was talking about the wholeness in body and soul that God gives through faith in Jesus—a wholeness that shows itself in a life of worship and gratitude for the mercies of Jesus.
            Dear friends in Christ we too have been made well through faith in Jesus.  Our sin-sickness has been washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism and our great high priest has declared us clean in his sight.  May this wholeness always lead us to worship Jesus and be thankful for the Lord’s mercies!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Sermon This Week

“Let Us Be Thankful For The Lord’s Mercy!”
Luke 17:11-19

When we teach our children to say “thank you” we don’t just want outward politeness—we want them to learn gratitude for what they receive.  And gratitude is something that has to be learned!  By nature, all of us believe that we stand at the center of the universe and the world revolves around us and others exist to meet our wants and serve our needs.  This is true even in our relationship with God!  Compare the mercies we have received from God to the thanks we have given to God and we see how true this lack of thankfulness on our part is!  In the sermon this week we see Jesus mercifully heal ten lepers.  All of them had a need.  All of them had faith to call out to Jesus.  All of them were healed.  But only one of them returned to give thanks.  What about us?  Jesus has had mercy on us, laying down his life for us on the cross.  We have received his forgiveness by faith.  We have been healed of our sin-sickness.  Let us go one step further and give Jesus the thanks he deserves for all of his tender mercies!      

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

C Proper 23      Pentecost 21             October 13, 2013

Lessons for Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost
Ruth 1:1-19a ~ Ruth journeyed with Naomi to Bethlehem, her new home and family, and rejoiced in God.
Psalm 111 (antiphon: v. 10)
2 Timothy 2:1-13 ~ Through Christ’s faithfulness we have life with God and the courage to share it.
Luke 17:11-19 ~ The Samaritan leper recognized his new health was a gift from God and gave Him thanks.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Following Our Faithful God
Ruth followed her mother-in-law and found a new home and a new family among Naomi’s people, and God showed Himself faithful by including Ruth in the ancestry of the Savior. St. Paul charged Timothy to entrust the message of God’s salvation in Christ to men who would be faithful in telling it, because God remains faithful to His promise, even though we are faithless. The Samaritan cured of leprosy by Jesus returned to follow the One who brought God’s healing to his body. He was prepared to follow Jesus who had revealed God’s faithfulness to him.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, make me grateful for Your mercies every day as I tell others of Your faithfulness to Your people through Jesus Christ, my Savior. When I am faithless, recall me, that I may rejoice always in Your salvation. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We show our gratitude to God for His great mercy in Christ’s victory over sin and death on our behalf when we are faithful in our use of the many blessings from God’s hand to spread the message of the good news.

O Lord, You call us to be faithful in all we say and do.
You shower us with Your blessings and mercies, always new!
Now bless once more our worship and thankful songs of praise.
And use these gifts to reach more hearts in faithful, loving ways. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Would that we were as faithful in relationships as Ruth! Or as committed to the truth of God’s good news as Paul! Or as devoted in gratitude to the One who secured our healing from sin as the Samaritan leper! But we are not! Thanks be to God, in Christ Jesus, He is faithful to His covenant of grace, even when we are faithless.