Thursday, October 19, 2017
Ephesians 4:22-28 On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses to the church door at
Wittenberg--ninety-five “points of discussion”
that addressed what he felt was wrong with the church of his day.
The Christian life had fallen into what was essentially an economic transaction—give so much to the church and you could count on forgiveness. All kinds of Christians were appalled by this and so to talk about it in his own community Luther posted 95 discussion points to address what was going on in the church.
The first three theses went like this: 1. When Jesus said "repent" he meant that believers should live a life of repentance 2. Only God can give salvation - not a priest. 3. Inward penitence must be accompanied by a real change in lifestyle.
To make his point, Luther appealed only to the Bible—not to tradition, not to a priestly hierarchy. We see how true this is in our text today which is the biblical foundation for Luther’s first three theses: that the Christian life is one of repentance—that salvation comes from God, not from another person—and that a changed heart results in a changed life. The Bible says:
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self
The first of Luther’s 95 Theses said that the entire life of the Christian consists of repentance. When we hear that word “repentance”, most of us think of contrition or sorrow over sins—that I recognize that I have done wrong, am sorry for it, and confess it for the sin it is. And that is certainly true as far as it goes. In fact…
That’s what Paul is talking about in this first verse or so of our text—that we are to put off our old self, which belongs to our former way of life because it is corrupt and full of deceitful desires. In other words, everything having to do with sin in our life is to be taken off like filthy clothes and cast aside.
And because sin is not just the wrong things we say or do or think- but is as close to us as our own flesh- we will have to put off that old self again and again until we lay it aside in death. We will never be rid of sin in this life but we must strive to put it off every day so that when it comes to sin we can always consider it something in the past rather than a present reality in our lives.
When we hear that the Christian life is one of life-long repentance, this ongoing sorrow over sin, and confession of it, is what we think about—and that is right—but it is still only half the story.
The other half of repentance—the other half of the Christian life—is where we turn to, after we turn away from sin--and what we put on, after we put off the old sinful self. We turn from sin to Christ-- and put on the new self when we put off the old.
In other words, repentance is not just sorrow over our sins (that’s just the first part) it is also faith in Jesus to forgive us our sins. For example…
In our Gospel lesson today, the paralyzed man and his friends came to Jesus in faith—they had a confident trust that the power and compassion of Jesus could help them-- and they were not disappointed. That is what faith is: a confident trust that Jesus will do what he says and give us forgiveness and a new life.
Last week we talked about the identity that we have in Christ and the importance of living as who we are. We heard that the Holy Spirit has made us God’s children and disciples of Christ.
This is the new self that we are to “put on.” We take off the old sinful self and we put on this new identity—this new self that is a child of God and disciple of Christ.
That we believe this and that we can do this (putting off the old and putting on the new) is from beginning to end, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In his second thesis Luther made the point that this life of repentance is not accomplished in us by any priest or ritual but it is the work of God. The bible calls it a renewal in the spirit of our minds and that we are a new creation after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
In the beginning, God created man in his own image (not that they looked like God who is Spirit) but that they reflected his righteousness and holiness. That image of God was lost when man sinned. The righteousness and holiness that they were given at their creation ceased—not only for them but for all their children—us too.
And so every person, by nature, simply by virtue of their birth into the human family, can no longer can be counted as God’s child but as his enemy. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus: you must be born again! In other words, you must be renewed and recreated to be what God intended you to be at the beginning. And just like at the beginning, it is only God who can do that work. And he has!
All of us who have been baptized and brought to faith in Jesus have been born again by water and Spirit. God has chosen to give us new birth so that now the image of God (the true righteousness and holiness of Christ) has been restored in us.
This is what Paul is talking about when he says that we are renewed in the spirit of our mind. We have a new attitude towards sin, hating it and wanting nothing to do with it. We have a new attitude towards those around us, loving them for Christ’s sake and bearing with them patiently. And we have a new attitude towards the way we live, wanting to walk in the ways of Christ. The Bible says:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
In the third of Luther’s 95 Theses he says that our inward repentance (that is our sorrow over sin and our Spirit-worked faith) ought to be plainly visible in how we live our lives. It is a terrible perversion of the Gospel to say that the forgiven sinner can simply return to his former life of sin. Nothing is farther from the truth!
No one should come to Holy Communion this morning is they do not intend to make a complete break with sin. If you are planning to return to a sinful life when you leave the communion rail—stay away—you will receive judgment not blessing.
Instead, our sorrow over sin and our confident trust in Christ’s forgiveness means that our lives will make a complete 180 degree turn from what they were before. Paul gives some concrete examples to illustrate what he is talking about but they are certainly not exhaustive.
First of all, Christians tell the truth. Christians know the One who is the THE truth and so there is no place for falsehood in the Christian life. Very few things are as destructive to our various human relationships as lying--and all people hold liars in contempt. The Bible says that our speech must loving, straightforward, and that we are to be people of our word who can be trusted to tell the truth.
Secondly, the Christian does not live with bitterness and anger in their hearts. The Bible writers recognized that there are situations where anger is the appropriate response. How can we not be angry over injustice and brutality and perversion? They anger God—they anger God’s children.
But we cannot let this anger rule over us. That we do not “let the sun go down on our anger” means that we are quick to be reconciled with those who have angered us so that Satan does not gain the upper hand over us.
And finally, Christians do not steal. They don’t take things from work. They do not fudge on their taxes or expense reports. They give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage. The Christian knows that the way to having their own possessions is work.
Christians (unless profoundly disabled or ill or elderly) do not live on the charity of others—not their families—not their fellow church members—and not the government. They work. They work to support themselves and their families. They work so that the mission of Christ can go forward. And they work so that they have something to share with those in genuine need. Labor- and the necessities of life- go together.
Almost 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the church door at
Wittenberg and the very first words the
Reformation was a call to a life of repentance.
We hear the same thing in God’s Word today: that we are to put off the old life of sin
and put on the righteousness of Christ—that this life of faith can only be
accomplished in us by the work of God the Holy Spirit—and that a heart that has
been changed by Jesus shows up in a changed life. May God grant it to all of us for Jesus’
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Deuteronomy 10:12-22 We are saved by God’s grace alone. That is the central teaching of Holy Scripture- and that is the rallying cry of the Reformation- and that is the confession of our church. Our life with God, from beginning to end, is a gift that he gives.
But God’s people have always struggled with what that means in their day-to-day lives—how to live that out. The problem is not with God and his gracious gifts. The problem is with our flesh that wants to turn grace and forgiveness and God’s saving work on our behalf-- into license and sin and going our own way.
That is what we see in God’s Word today. The people of Israel had been rescued from slavery. Their enemies were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. They possessed the riches of Egypt. They were led into God’s presence.
But there in the sight of God at Sinai they abandoned their Savior God and made an idol and worshiped it in the place of the LORD and committed the worst kinds of sins.
Let me tell you the story of another people—a people who have been rescued from slavery to sin and death, a people whose enemies have been drowned in the waters of holy baptism, a people who possess the eternal riches of forgiveness and life, and yet a people who continue to sin in the sight of their Savior God and show with their lives that there are other things that come before him. We know those people, don’t we?
The words that we have before us today are spoken to all of God’s people, in every place and time (including us here today!) about what it means in our day to day lives, in how we live our lives, that we are the saved people of God. The Bible says:
What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
It is critically important to understanding and applying this text to our lives that we know WHEN these words were spoken.
God’s people had been saved. Their enemies had been destroyed. They had been given riches beyond measure. They had been provided for on their journey and led along the way into the presence of God. All of this was the accomplished facts of salvation history-- and so it is for us. This is what our Savior God has done for his people.
It is in that context of God’s saving work and his gracious gifts that these words are spoken to God’s people so that we might understand what God desires from us—not to earn our salvation—but to live out that identity.
We are to fear the LORD—to stand in awe of him and glorify him and magnify him. We are to walks in his ways—to value and treasure what he says as important and to go in the direction he leads. We are to love him—not because a command can make us love him--but simply because of who he is and what he has done for us. We are to serve him with everything we have, in all we do. And we are to keep his commandments.
And we are to do this for our good—for OUR good. You see dear friends in Christ, God does not need our love. God does not need our obedience. God does not need our service.
He has created us and redeemed us for OUR good --not only with the gift of salvation he gives, but so it is with the life of the saved that he calls us to live—it is for our good because he loves us and knows what will truly bless us because he is our Creator. The Bible says that:
to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
Here is what the Holy Spirit wants you to understand—here is the love that will empower you to fear, love and trust in God above all things and serve him in every way all your days.
The one, true and living God of the universe, the One who is before and after all things, the One who called all things into being by his almighty, powerful word and sustains them in the same way today—that almighty, eternal, righteous, holy God-- loves you.
And he has always loved you- and always known you- and has chosen you in Christ to be his own and has done everything necessary in time and eternity to make it so.
Out of all the wonders of the universe, out of all the mighty works of his hands, out of everything he has done in the past and will do in the days to come, the LORD has set his heart on you.
That was the promise of everlasting love that God made to his ancient people and that is the promise of everlasting love that God makes to you sitting here today and the content of that love and the shape of that love and the source of that love is Jesus.
That was true for God’s ancient people and that is true for us: the promise to come for the Israelites and the promised fulfilled for us. For all of God’s people in every place and time, Jesus is the only reason for us to be counted as those loved by God. And it is that love- and only that love-- which has the power to change us. The Bible says:
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
There is no way to fear love and trust in God above all things-- and there is no way to serve God all our days in all our ways-- until our hearts are changed.
Our lives of faith and obedience and service do not make our place with God and they do not earn our salvation. Our lives of faith and obedience and service do not come first when it comes to having a life with God-- but follow God’s saving work for us-- and come from a change of heart within us.
That is what the Holy Spirit means when he says that we are to “circumcise” our hearts—heartfelt repentance and faith. It is not enough to merely go through the motions with God—to regard our faith and life with God as something external to us—to think that God is pleased with acts that are merely religious—or with people who think that they can make a deal with him.
That is what the Holy Spirit is talking about when he says that God takes no bribes and shows no partiality. Instead, we are to have a genuine change of heart and mind and direction in life and turn away from sins and turn towards our Savior God. Here’s the thing…
We will always see God’s call to live changed lives as a burdensome imposition—always as something that is outside of us--until our hearts are changed through repentance and faith that understands the holiness and righteousness of God to be sure-- but also the greatness of his love for us who do not deserve, and could never earn, his love. The Bible says:
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
The great act of the Lord’s salvation in the Old Testament is the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. They did not deserve it. They could not earn it. They could not do it on their own. They were poor and weak and far from home. All they could do was cry out to the LORD for his mercy. And that is what they received.
So it is for us. What we could not earn, what we did not deserve, what we could never accomplish by our own strength and resources God has done for us in his mercy, sending his Son into this world as our great Redeemer who has purchased our freedom by his own blood and set us free from sin and death.
The story of our life with God is one of love and mercy and grace and forgiveness and so that is to be the story of our life with others, a reflection of our life with God: we love because he first loved us and has shown us that love in his Son. The Bible says:
You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.
I can’t imagine that there is anyone sitting here today who would not have loved to have been there with God’s people as they walked cross the Red Sea on dry land and then to be guided by his presence every step of the way in the wilderness. How could anyone who had seen and heard these things not offer to God their entire lives for all that the LORD had done?
And yet, what they saw and heard pales in comparison to what we see and hear in Jesus Christ. God’s own Son come to die for his people! God’s own Son defeating sin and death and the power of the devil! God’s own Son feeding his people with his own body and blood and God’s own Son leading his people to the Promised Land of heaven!
Our service and our praise and our worship is very little indeed compared to what God has done for us in Jesus and promises to do for us in the days to come. The Bible says;
Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
There is not a person in the world who would have said that this small group desert tribesmen would have ever survived in Egypt. But the Lord was with them and even after centuries of oppression they were hundreds of thousands. Only the LORD could have accomplished that!
Today those hundreds of thousands who knew the LORD as their Savior God are now numbered in the billions and we are part of that multitude through faith in Jesus. That is why we can give ourselves wholeheartedly in the Lord’s service and trust that he stands ready to bless us with his gifts—because he has always done that for his people and always will! Amen.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
The title of today’s sermon is “Maintain the Unity of the Spirit”—words taken directly from our text and inspired by the Holy Spirit. They capture the theme of what God is calling us to believe and do in these verses.
But a simpler way to express the same thought is this: God’s guidance on how to “get along” with our fellow Christians.
These words are not quite as holy sounding as the title from God’s Word, they are a little bit blunt, and maybe they take us aback. We hate to think that Christians would ever be at odds with one another or that there would ever be any conflict between Christians. “How can I not get along with fellow believers—they believe in Jesus too?!”
But what about that Christian you are married to—are you always on the same page with your spouse?
What about those Christians who are your children or your parents—do you always see eye-to-eye?
What about those Christians sitting here in the Lord’s house with you today—do they never rub you the wrong way?
The Spirit-inspired words that we have before us today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us down-to-earth, practical advice on how to get along with fellow Christians in our marriage, home, and congregation.
These words tell us that: 1. We are called to unity and peace-filled relationships with fellow believers—2. They tell us how peace and unity is accomplished through Christ-like lives—3. and they tell us that unified and peace-filled relationships with fellow Christians are a reflection of the deepest truths of the Gospel.
St. Paul wrote:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
The reason for many of the struggles we have in our Christian lives (including getting along with our fellow Christians in our marriages, homes, and congregation) is that we do not give sufficient attention and importance to our identity in Christ—what Paul labels our “calling”. And so, what is our Christian identity or calling?
By virtue of our baptism into Christ we are called: God’s children: we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ—we have been reconciled to our heavenly Father and filled with the Spirit-- and are called to walk in newness of life—in other words: to live out that identity by taking up our cross and walking in Jesus’ footsteps of love and sacrifice for others as his disciples.
Children of God and disciples of Christ—this is who we are—not who we would like to be—not what we have to strive to be—this is who we are. And our lives—what
calls our “walk” should correspond to that identity and calling. But that’s not always the case, is it?
There have been times over the course of my ministry when I have been asked to mediate a conflict between two Christians and when all else fails I will tell them: “Let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that we are Christians, what would a follower of Jesus do and say in this situation?”
And that always gets their attention. “I don’t have to pretend I am a Christian! I am a Christian!” “Wonderful!” I say, “How then should a child of God and disciple of Christ act in this situation”? “Oh”!
When we get caught up in conflict with another Christian—whether in our family or marriage or congregation—often times it’s because we have forgotten the high calling of being children of God and disciples of Christ.
The content of that calling is Jesus and it is his life that is to be shown in our lives—in other words, that we are to live, as the Bible says, in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love just like Jesus did.
Now, I want you to think about the last conflict you had with a fellow Christian—the last argument or disagreement—the last time there were hard feelings between you and a fellow believer-- whether in your marriage or family of congregation.
Just for a moment forget about that other person and what a stinker they are and ask yourself: “Was I humble—did I count that person more important than myself? Was I gentle- or was I ready to give as good as I got? Was I willing to bear with that person—in other words, was I willing to put up with that person -or was I quick feel put upon?”
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that often times we don’t get along with other Christians in our marriages, homes, and congregation—not because they are such stinkers—but because we are not the humble, gentle, patient, loving children of God and disciples of Christ that we are called to be.
There is one more piece to this when it comes to our attitude towards other Christians that especially applies to times of conflict. The Bible says that we are to be EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And so let me ask you a question: Are you EAGER to live at peace with your fellow Christians?
All of us are tempted to say “yes” to that question. “Of course, I am willing to live at peace with them!” But are we really?
You see, being united to, and living at peace with, fellow Christians is much, much more than avoiding those Christians that we don’t particularly like in our congregation. It is much, much more than the simmering “cease-fire” we reach with our children or parents. It is much, much more than the “let’s just try to make the best of this” attitude that couples often fall into in their marriage.
That we are EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace means that no matter what that other person does, WE will take the initiative when it comes to making things right. It means that no matter how that other person acts, WE will be the ones who are humble and gentle and patient and willing to go the extra mile.
And we will do that because that is who we are as Christians and that kind of life shows the deep truths of our Christian faith. The Bible says that:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
For all of us, there are times in our lives when we do not live in peace and unity with our fellow Christians-times in our lives when we are not the humble, gentle, peaceful, long-suffering people that we ought to be.
What a blessing to know that Jesus Christ never failed to live this kind of life and through faith in him his holy life is counted as our own!
The Bible says that Jesus’ cross has removed the diving wall of hostility—not just between our sin and God’s wrath—but has removed the dividing wall of hostility between us and others—that he has done this to unite us to himself along with all those who share the same faith and hope that we have in him.
Because of Jesus’ forgiving life, death and resurrection: God is our Father- and heaven is our home -and we are filled with the Spirit right now. AND SO THEN…
We cannot say to our fellow Christians “I want nothing to do with you”-- because they are members along with us in the one body of Christ.
We cannot think the worst of our fellow Christians-- because they are filled with the same Spirit as we are and he is at work in their lives too.
We cannot withhold our love from our fellow Christians-- because our heavenly Father loves them and sent his Son to die for them too to make them members of his family just as we are.
Whatever the differences might be that we have with our fellow Christians, what are those differences compared to what we share in common?
We confess the same faith on Sunday mornings in the words of the creeds. We have been washed in the same baptismal water and fed with the same body and blood. And we confess the same Jesus to be our Savior and Lord.
When we elevate (what are really minor) grievances and aggravations into divisions and bitterness, we deny the profound gifts we share together with our fellow Christians.
Today we hear God’s call to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”—in other words, to “get along” with our fellow Christians.
We are reminded that we are God’s children and Jesus’ disciples and that because this is our identity we are called to live Christ-like lives.
And that as we do so, we are showing the deep truths of our Christian faith: that God loves us and has brought us to himself to live with him and our fellow Christians forever.
May our peaceful, united lives with other believers always reflect this wonderful, saving Good News! Amen.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Luke 7:11-19 I am certain that there is not one person sitting here today who likes the idea that one of these days we are all going to die. The fact of the matter is we find it appalling—and well we should! The Bible says that death is an enemy.
God created man and gave us life. He made man in his image and intended that, like him, we would live forever. And so our whole being rebels against the idea that we will die because we were made for life.
But sin came into the world through man’s disobedience and along with sin came death and so now all men die. All! Death is no respecter of persons. No matter our skin color. No matter our socio-economic status. No matter our gender. No matter our age. We will die and so will those we love.
It is here especially—in the death of our loved ones—that the horror of death has its full, terrifying effect on our hearts. How fervently we pray for God to protect our children! How devoutly we pray for our loved ones serving in the military. How earnestly we pray for family members who are ill--that they all would be spared!
That we feel this way about our own mortality- and that we feel this way about our loved ones dying--is not a sign of a lack of faith. The fact of the matter is: God feels the same way about death! Death is such a terrible enemy that his Son Jesus Christ came into this world to do something about it.
Jesus also experienced the terror of death: the death of loved ones like Lazarus—and his own death on the cross. But what we see throughout the Gospels is that in the presence of Jesus, death has to give way to life. The Bible says that:
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.
Most of us go for many years experiencing nothing but God’s blessings but then some tragedy strikes and we are reminded that life is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. We just see it more clearly when we face a tragedy like the widow of Nain. That poor woman—long before the death of her son—already knew about heartache: she lost her husband.
In these events we are reminded that there will come a day of parting for us and our beloved—when that one who is as close to us as our own flesh is parted from us by death—and we know how painful that will be.
That is what that poor widow had already gone through—but even then, with that painful loss, she was not finished walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Her only son died.
To lose a child is the worst pain a human being can endure. All of us who are parents can imagine what she was going through-- but what not may be immediately apparent to us is what this death meant for her own life as a childless widow. As heart-broken as she was over the death of her son, somewhere in the back of her mind she was already wondering to herself: how in the world am I going to live?
That was the burden that weighed upon her as she walked behind her son’s body in that procession of death—until she met the Lord of Life who took that burden upon himself. The Bible says that: “…when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her
This is the first place in his Gospel that St. Luke, as the narrator of these events, addresses Jesus as Lord—the mighty covenant God who has the power and the authority to change even death.
And not only did Jesus have the power to do so, he was moved with compassion to do so—his heart went out to this poor, sad widow in an obscure town.
Jesus’ attitude of love and concern for those without much earthly power must have really made an impression on St. Luke, because he tells us story after story in his Gospel about Jesus reaching out to help those who the rest of society regards as having little value-- and we see that same thing here.
From the world’s perspective, one, poor widow in an obscure town doesn’t matter much—but the Lord counted her worthy of his help. So too for us. There is no hardship or difficulty that you are facing right now that is unknown to the Lord or beyond his help. He cares for you and wants to ease your burdens just like he did that day.
Compassion and power were perfectly joined together in Jesus and that’s what makes such a life-changing difference in the lives of those the Lord touches. He told the widow “Do not weep.”
If we didn’t know how all this would turn out—if we were simply part of the crowd that day-- we could appreciate Jesus’ word as simply a kind gesture—but one that was ultimately empty-- because it couldn’t change anything.
But when the Lord “Do not weep” he means it! Do not weep-- for there is no reason for tears in the presence of the Giver of life! The Bible says:
Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And Jesus said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up and began to speak.
Life- from- death! Just- like- that! And what is even more stunning than the dead man being raised-- is how it was accomplished—simply by a word—spoken by the One who brought all things into being by his Word.
What we see here is that the Lord is not some impersonal force far removed from our lives. Instead, he is the living Word of God who took upon himself our flesh and was moved by compassion at what we have done to ourselves by our sins to reach out and help. That day at Nain, in the presence of Jesus—at his word—death gave way to life.
The funeral scene that we have before us today gets our attention and resonates with us because it is so familiar. 1. We’ve been part of that group of mourners—grieving over a loved one 2. We can identify with that poor mother—wondering what the future holds for us 3. We know that we too will one day be carried to our grave.
There was absolutely nothing that anyone there that day could have done to change what happened—there were no tears of grief that the mother could have shed which would have brought life back to her dead son. There was no show of support from the friends powerful enough to change tragedy into triumph. There was certainly nothing the dead man could do to help himself.
But Jesus could—and did—and at Jesus’ Word the man was restored to life.
Through this miracle, Jesus wants us to believe that there is now something greater than sorrow and death in this world. He wants us to recognize that he has entered into our sorrow and death and his life changes everything for us—even death.
When Jesus touched the stretcher of the dead man that day he should have become ceremonially unclean. But just the opposite happened—Jesus’ wholeness and cleanness and life came to rest upon the man. And the Good News for us today is that what he did for that one man—he has done for you and for me.
Jesus took all of the uncleanness and sin and death that is a part of our lives and carried it to the cross where it was washed away in his shed blood. Three days later he rose up from the dead, promising us that we too will rise from death. And that promise that he speaks to us again and again in Word and Sacrament continues to bring life in the midst of death.
Each of us, by nature, is like that dead young man on the stretcher—we are helpless to change anything about our spiritual condition on our own—but when the words of Jesus are spoken to us in Baptism and Preaching and Absolution and Holy Communion--death is transformed into real, abundant life that only God can give--just like he gave that day. The Bible says that: Jesus gave him to his mother.
Too often, we hesitate to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord because we don’t know what the Lord will ask of us and we’re afraid to follow him. But Jesus tells us that it is the devil who comes to kill and steal and destroy --while Jesus has come to give life—rich abundant life—a full measure pressed down and overflowing.
That’s what we see here. The community was given their friend. The widow was given her son. And the young man was given his life. And none of their lives would ever be the same. The Bible says that:
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!" And this report about him spread through the whole of
Judea and all the surrounding country.
The Good News for us today is that God has visited his people in his Son Jesus Christ and in his compassion and power has given us a new life that is just as real and just as life-changing as what occurred that day that day for the widow and her son.
The dark shadow of sin and death has been driven from our life by the cross and empty tomb. And Jesus invites us to take our place along side of him, glorifying God by speaking to others his words of hope and faith that give life. Amen.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Matthew 6:24-34 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
When it comes to the relationship between us and God and money, it really is a matter of priorities—of what comes first in our hearts. Only one can hold that first place in our life that is reserved for the one that we call God. It can be either money or God at the center of our life but it cannot be both. We cannot serve two masters—we cannot serve God and money.
We know what the world has chosen. Our nation’s financial life is an exercise in wretched, sinful excess. Young women are cultural icons for having purses that cost tens of thousands of dollars. CEO’s get paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year for bankrupting their companies. The average Joe charges on their credit cards like there was no tomorrow and when their limits are reached they use the equity in their homes like it is a piggy bank to fund more financial foolishness.
Of course they hang their head in their hands for the god of Mammon that has ruled their lives has been shown for what he is—a powerless idol—unworthy of their devotion and trust.
But what about us? Do the Lord’s words apply only to others? The truth of the matter, is that Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters, really applies to us more than it does to the unbelieving world. The world serves only one God—the false god of Mammon. We Christians are the ones who try to have it both ways.
If we have given even a bit of our confidence in the future and our heart’s peace and our security over to our job or our bank or our 401K and IRA—we should be convicted by Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters—for we have ceased to love and serve and trust in God above ALL things and we must confess that sin as idolatry, repent of it, and be done with it.
Jesus assures us today that our heart’s peace about the future need not be found in what we can hold in our hand-- but is to be found only in a heavenly Father who graciously and generously provides for his children. Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
The answer that Jesus is looking for is: YES it is! Life is more, much more, than food and clothing and the point that he is making is this: Since God has given us our life won’t he just as certainly give us the smaller gifts we need to preserve that life?!
Absolutely! That we are living and breathing at this moment is a sure sign that God has given us our life; provided for that life up to now; and will provide for that life in the days to come. Of course, this way of thinking is only a comfort to those who know God as the Giver of life in the first place.
Those who believe that their very existence is merely the last event in a chain of haphazard, random of events over billions of years that could have just as easily happened otherwise-- take no comfort from knowing that God will provide the necessities of life because they don’t know the God who gave them life-- and they live in fear of a cosmos that seemingly acts without mercy or meaning.
But we who believe in a loving heavenly Father do take great comfort in knowing (from all that we see around us and from our own life’s experience) that God does indeed provide for his children. The Creator who has given us our life-- promises to provide for that life-- and reveals the truth of that promise in the created world. Jesus says:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you,
These words were not spoken in the synagogue or temple—not in a disciple’s home—but in the great outdoors—and Jesus invited all who are listening to simply open our eyes and look at the world around us.
The birds were flying from place to place without a care in the world, gathering what they needed, building their nests, feeding their little ones without the benefit of all those things that we think are a necessity if we are to be fed.
Jesus mentions harvesting and reaping and barns and plows. Maybe today he would say checking accounts and contracts. But the message is the same: the littlest creature that wouldn’t catch our eye is seen, loved, and provided for by God.
And if God will do that for birds, won’t he do the same for his children? Of course he will! We are infinitely more valuable in God’s sight than birds. The One who feeds us with the Body and Blood of his Son in Holy Communion to sustain our spiritual life will certainly give us the food we need for this earthly life!
As further proof of the Father’s provision, Jesus directs his disciples to the beauty of the flowers of the field. There has never been an item of clothing—no matter how costly—that could compare in beauty to a plain ole Texas roadside covered in wildflowers. It takes your breath away every time you see it!
And so here’s the question: If God is willing to go to all that trouble for a bunch of plants on the side of a road that only last for a few weeks out of the year, won’t he also provide us with the clothes that we need?
Of course he will! We are God’s children and he has made us for eternity. The One who has provided us the robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism will certainly give us what we need to clothe our bodies and preserve our earthly life.
Besides directing our attention to our own life and the life around us as sure signs of God’s provision, Jesus also warns us about the futility and sinful foolishness of worrying about our earthly needs. He says: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
And of course, the answer is: none of us! There is not one blessed thing that can be changed by worrying about our life—not one—besides the fact that the vast, vast majority of things we worry about never come to pass in the first place.
Jesus’ judgment on our anxieties and worries and on our fussing and fretting about material things is that, not only is it fruitless—it is faithless. He says: O you of little faith!
Now, you may be saying to yourselves that Jesus’ teaching about not serving money and watching birds and flowers seems a bit irresponsible. Jesus’ teaching about not worrying seems a bit impossible. But of course the problem was not with the Lord or his words—it was with us—with our lack of faith.
That is why Jesus speaks to us today about the place and role of money and material things in our lives and he lays a rock-solid foundation upon which we are to build our faith: his promise that we have a heavenly Father who will provide for us just as surely as he provides for all creation—in fact, even more assuredly for we are his children. Jesus says:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
The unbelieving world has no choice but to seek after money and they cannot help but worry—for they do not know what we know: that we have a heavenly Father who knows just exactly what we need and promises to meet those needs.
God’s eyes are constantly turned towards us and he is constantly looking out for our best interests and so we are free to put aside concerns about material things and put first things first. Jesus says:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Jesus wants us to understand tonight that a life spent acquiring the things of the world—a life spent living by the values of the world—a life spent worrying-- is a life that is wasted for time and eternity.
Instead, the Lord gives a different kind of life—a life as his child in his kingdom. Jesus was sent into this world for that very purpose—to give his life as a ransom to set us free from a life that is empty of meaning because it is focused only on material things which never last.
His death on the cross earned the forgiveness we need for all those times that we have had divided hearts and for all those times we have failed to trust him as we ought. And his resurrection is God’s guarantee that even death cannot rob us of those things that truly, eternally matter.
Today we give thanks to God, our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son for all his blessings and tender mercies and we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to trust him more deeply in the days to come. Amen.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Luke 17:11-19 The Bible says 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 Jesus makes to us is that, by his death and resurrection, we 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 what had happened to the lepers that day.
The Bible says 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 (and it is!) 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.
There is no clearer picture in the Bible of what sin had done to us than this picture of the ten lepers.
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 scene is what sin has done to all of us: cut us off from God’s presence; cut us off from one another; cut us off from the beauty and fullness of life that God wants us to have.
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 ugly effects of sin go even deeper than broken fellowship. 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 we are part of an entire world full of people just like the lepers who were under a death sentence--alienated from God and one another—the image of God so disfigured in us that we no longer resembled what God created us to be.
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a mission of mercy to save us and restore to us what sin and Satan had robbed from us.
The Bible says 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 ugly truth in the distance between themselves and those they loved. They knew the ugly 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. The same ugliness of sin is there.
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 no power at all to stop this trajectory towards death and the grave. We have our own place in this sad group of ten 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! The Bible says 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 required 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, believing what they could not see.
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! The Bible says that: as they went they were cleansed.
When we began our meditation on these verses 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 also 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 powerful presence 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. The Bible says 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. What about 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 thanks and 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 our relationship with God when thanksgiving is missing from our lives. 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, September 9, 2017
It’s a situation that could be the lead-in story on the evening news. A traveler is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. And to add to the horror, there were bystanders who looked on--who could have helped-- but didn’t want to get involved. It could be the cover story in a Newsweek series on crime in
what it is a story some two thousand years old--the story of the Good
As we reflect on God’s Word to us today, I would like to consider it in this way: (1) the question of the lawyer: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (2) Jesus’ answer in the example of the Good Samaritan (3) and the challenge of Jesus: Go and do likewise.
What shall I do to inherit eternal life? It was a question meant to trip-up or trick Jesus into making a mistake. St. Luke tells us that the lawyer was trying to put Jesus to the test. Any thought of sin or guilt and the need for forgiveness and grace apparently never entered the lawyer’s mind when it came to this question about his life with God. He wanted to know what he needed to do to merit eternal life.
We’re not immune from this idea that our relationship with God is based on what we do rather than on his grace—it’s a part of our fallen nature to think this way. We want to believe that because we lead decent lives and give to good causes we’re somehow more “deserving” of salvation than those who don’t. But life with God is based on his grace-- not our works.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers the lawyer this way, “Since you’re an expert in the Law, What is written in the Law? The lawyer gives the perfect answer--the answer right straight from the Word of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus had summarized the law just like that. Perfect! Jesus says--Do this (and keep on doing it) and you will live!
The lawyer asked a legal question and Jesus had him given him the legal answer. If you fulfill the Law—loving God above all and loving your neighbor as yourself—and keep on doing that perfectly for all your days--then you will live.
Case closed--right? Well....not quite. At this point in the dialogue we begin to see a bit more of what the lawyer is really all about–the truth about his spiritual condition--that what he really wanted to do was to justify himself. In fact, what he thought he needed to do-- was to justify himself.
But if the lawyer had taken just a moment to take a good, hard look at himself in the light of God’s Law, he would have given up all hope of trying to justify himself.
You see, anyone who has truly applied that summary of God’s Law to themselves: love God with your entire being and your neighbor as yourself–has despaired of “doing” something to gain eternal life.
To measure our lives by the standard of God’s law is to know ourselves for who we really are: those who have failed to love God and neighbor as we should—those who lack the ability to DO something to inherit eternal life—those who cannot justify themselves.
That’s what the lawyer should have realized about himself-- but he thinks there is still a chance. “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, he thinks to himself: “If I can just get this neighbor thing nailed down then maybe I have a chance--just limit the neighborliness needed--give me a checklist of those I have to be nice to, and I’ve got it made”.
I think it’s interesting that he didn’t ask Jesus about loving God correctly. So deluded was he about his real spiritual condition that he took it for granted that he loved God with the fullness and depth and breadth of his being as is commanded by the Law. But his attitude towards others showed the truth-- even about his relationship with God.
Jesus knew what was in the lawyer’s heart. He knew the self-righteousness and self-deception that blinded him to the truth about himself and God and Jesus wanted to pull him off of that shaky foundation and show him how profoundly he needed the mercy and grace of God—how helpless and broken he really was. And so Jesus told him this story.
A traveler is beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left for dead. Passers-by—men who knew it was their duty to help him, men who were experts in the law, ignored his need. Finally, another man saw him, had compassion on him, treated his wounds and provided what was needed for his full recovery. And –he- was- a -Samaritan. You can almost hear the gasps from the crowd two thousand years later!
A Samaritan! The hero of a Jewish rabbi’s story! Incredible! Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Jews prayed that Samaritans would not be saved. Samaritans were not received as converts. For a Jew to eat food touched by a Samaritan was the same as eating pork. And it was better to die than for a Jew to accept help from a Samaritan.
And so for Jesus to use a Samaritan as an example of one who fulfilled the Law when even the religious leaders wouldn’t--well, it was just stunning!
Jesus does something else that is remarkable in this parable. He shows what the question should really be, holding up the mirror of the law before the lawyer—so that he can see how far he really is from keeping the law—how far he really is from God.
The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?”–trying to narrow down the list so that we can be merciful to as few as possible and still justify ourselves. Instead, the question is: “Am I a neighbor to others?” That is, do I have this quality of “neighborliness” and mercy and compassion? Do I have this love for others that is truly the fulfillment of the Law?
The answer is no. No for me--for you--and for the lawyer that day. We have all failed to love our neighbor as ourselves preferring instead to look the other way when we come across those in need-- soothing our own consciences with the excuses that seem so right at the time. All of us have failed to love others as ourselves and in doing so have failed to love God above all.
But I want you to notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t say “Aha!”--gotcha you wretched sinner!” He doesn’t point his finger. Jesus is so gentle with the man. Even in turning this question back on the lawyer—Jesus’ purpose is to get him understand the truth of his spiritual poverty so that he can see that he has a need even greater than the man beaten and robbed—that is he is even more helpless when it comes to saving himself.
Jesus simply asks the lawyer to be the judge in his own trial. Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor? The priest? The Levite? Was it those experts in the Law? Or was it the Samaritan? The lawyer had no choice but to render a verdict: the one who was the neighbor was the one who had compassion and showed mercy--the Samaritan. Who would have ever imagined it? The most unlikely of heroes!
Jesus told this story so that the lawyer might see the truth about himself with his self-righteousness and self-deceit stripped away--that he was the man who was helpless in the face of spiritual enemies more powerful than himself—that he was the one beaten and broken by the forces of evil--that he too must hope, for the help of hero, who is filled with courage and compassion—the One who stood before him.
Then as now, Jesus is the most unlikely of heroes in the world’s eyes. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son” the people of his day asked? Not a mighty king. Not a brave warrior. Definitely not what was expected-- either then or now! A Jewish carpenter from a backwoods town–and yet, true God in the flesh on a mission of mercy and love.
Jesus told this story to reveal the truth about the man- but he also told it to reveal the truth about himself. Jesus is the true Good Samaritan, who looked with compassion at a world full of people who had been wounded and injured and broken-- and had compassion on them—just like the Samaritan had compassion on the beaten and broken traveler.
It was Jesus who left his place of honor and dignity at his Father’s right hand and humbled himself to come into a world filled with danger and violence to help those who are by nature his enemies--just like the Samaritan in the parable left his donkey and entered into that dangerous situation to help an enemy.
It was Jesus who poured out his life-blood on the cross that healed our wounds and it was Jesus that paid the full price for our salvation just like the Samaritan who gave of his riches to provide healing for the wounded man.
Life apart from God is much more desperate than the traveler wounded by robbers for we would have perished eternally if Christ had not given of himself into death for our sins. It is in his death and resurrection that we are restored to wholeness of life--delivered from the selfishness that so often characterizes our life with God and others--now ready to bestow mercy on others from the boundless love that has been poured into hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Can you imagine how grateful the traveler was when the Samaritan stopped to render aid? How thankful he was that the Samaritan did not pass by like the others? Can you imagine how his life and attitude and outlook were changed by the mercy of that most unlikely of heroes? So it is with those who know the care and compassion of Jesus, the Good Samaritan.
Jesus concludes his conversation with the lawyer with these words, “Go and do likewise.” For the lawyer it was a challenge. Jesus in effect says, “O.K. You think you can keep the Law--you want to justify yourself--go ahead--give it a try--go out into this broken, needy, dying world and truly be a neighbor to all those you come into contact with.”
“Go and do likewise”–try to keep just this one small part of the Law and you will quickly learn how shallow your own mercy really is--how meager your own spiritual resources are–how desperately you need what only I can provide.
Luke 10:25-37 We don’t know what happened to the lawyer. Did he go into the world and give it a try? Did he begin to see the truth about his own great need in the mirror of the Law? Did he eventually despair of trying to save himself and turn to Jesus with repentance and faith, trusting only in God’s grace? We hope so!
Christ concludes his Word to us this morning with the same words he spoke to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise”. But for us who have put our hope for eternal life in Christ’s righteousness–for those of us who have stopped trying to justify ourselves and simply learned to rest in God’s grace--these words are not a burden but a gracious invitation to show our love for Christ in acts of loving compassion for those in need.
We probably won’t come across someone beaten, robbed, and left for dead this week. But we will have an opportunity to help someone--to encourage someone--to pray for someone--to give time or money to someone in need.
Let’s not pass by on the other side of the road like the priest and Levite pretending that we don’t see. Instead, let us follow the example of the Good Samaritan, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and reach out to others in mercy and love. Amen.