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Still There Is Room. Trinity 2/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. June 25, 2017.

presentation of the augsburg confession catholic faith.jpgThe Second Sunday after Trinity/Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:25-34

June 25, 2017

“Still There Is Room”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

On June 25th, 1530, the chancellor of Saxony (a state in eastern Germany), presented, or read out loud, what we now call “The Augsburg Confession” before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the fifth, and the gathered princes of the Empire.

 

The Emperor had called this meeting at Augsburg because he wanted to get the princes to give him support in his defensive war against the invading Muslim Turks.  And to accomplish this goal, he said he wanted to settle the religious controversy that had been raging in the Empire for 13 years, ever since the monk Luther had published his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517.  Up until this time there had been little discussion with the Lutherans.  When Luther was brought before the Emperor at Worms in 1519 at a similar gathering, they simply asked if he was ready to renounce the teaching found in his books.  When he said no, the Emperor published the Edict of Worms, which pronounced Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone who found him could kill him.  Anyone who protected Luther, printed his books, or aided and abetted his teaching was guilty of high treason.  There was never any discussion in the Empire, or the leadership of the Church, as to whether what had been taught by Luther and the churches of the Reformation was faithful to Scripture.

 

So when the Lutheran princes heard that the Emperor wanted to try to settle the controversy in a God-pleasing way, they welcomed the opportunity, even though at least some of them doubted his intentions.  They came to Augsburg and prepared a statement explaining the changes they had made to the traditional practices in the Church.  Then, because a theologian had published a book that falsely accused the Lutherans of teaching things they did not, they wrote up a confession of what they taught on the chief articles of Christian doctrine, believing that they would be recognized as Christian, biblical, and catholic—that is, consistent with what Christians had always believed.

 

But it quickly became apparent that no real discussion was going to happen at Augsburg.  It was a political move.  The Emperor wanted support for his war efforts, and at the same time to make it look as if the Lutheran or “evangelical” teaching had been considered and rejected as false.

 

Yet the Lutheran princes came anyway and had the confession read publicly, despite the efforts of its opponents to keep it from being read, or to have it read in a language most people couldn’t understand, or to keep very many people from hearing it.

 

They confessed—even though doing so made it look like they were prolonging the controversy, and risking the well-being of the Church and the Empire in the face of the Muslim invaders.

 

And because they confessed the faith, the Church was given a pattern of right, faithful, biblical teaching that would outlive those men.  It was a c0nfession that Luther did not write; he couldn’t be present for the Diet of Augsburg because he was an outlaw.  And so the Augsburg Confession was not a writing of Luther or based on Luther.  It was a statement of the biblical, Christian faith that Luther taught but did not invent—the faith taught in Scripture, confessed by Jesus.

 

At the center of the Augsburg Confession is the teaching that defines the Lutheran Church, but also defines Christianity.  Before the Augsburg Confession it had never been clearly summarized in a creed or a church confession except in the pages of Scripture.  Yet it is the center of the Bible, the beating heart of its life.  Jesus taught it to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  Paul discusses it in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.  I am talking about the article of Christian doctrine on justification.  The 4th Article of the Augsburg Confession says it like this:

 

It is taught that we cannot attain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, and satisfactions [for our own sins]; rather, that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us, and that our sins are forgiven us for His sake, and righteousness and eternal life are given us as a gift.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness before Him, as St. Paul says [in the epistle] to the Romans in the 3rd and 4th chapters.

 

Righteousness before God and the forgiveness of our sins, and the eternal life that follows righteousness, are given to us as a gift through Christ, who suffered for us.  We don’t become righteous before God, we are not forgiven our sins through earning it.  We don’t work to achieve righteousness by being a monk, or praying, or giving money, or doing better at keeping the ten commandments.  We don’t win forgiveness from God by being sorry, punishing ourselves, or doing good works to atone for the sins we’ve committed.

 

Forgiveness of sins, righteousness in God’s sight, and the eternal life that comes as a result of being forgiven and righteous is given by God as a gift in His Son’s suffering and death for our sins.  And those who believe that God forgives them only because of Jesus’ suffering and death in their place—who, as Paul says in Romans 4 do not work but trust God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.

 

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees.  God’s banquet is not earned.  People are called, invited to the banquet.  The qualifications we might think we have are irrelevant.  The poor, blind, crippled, and lame are just as qualified to be at the banquet as the people who buy fields and oxen.  What qualifies them is that they are called, invited—and do not refuse the invitation.  Refusing the invitation is unbelief.  Those who do not refuse—those who are brought in to the banquet of eternal life—are those who believe that God lets them in for Christ’s sake.

 

Of course, there are other churches that believe we become righteous before God through faith in Christ alone besides those who hold the Augsburg Confession. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational churches, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so on.  But if you get people from many of these churches to talk honestly to you about what they think of the Lutheran church, they will often say what my dad used to say: “Luther was good, but he didn’t go far enough.”  Or, more rudely, some may say something like, “Lutherans are basically catholic-lite.  You are still too Catholic.”

 

Even though we seem to agree on the article of justification, we do not understand the word “faith” the same way.  Many Lutherans are confused about this also.  What is faith?  How do you come to faith in Christ?  The confessors at Augsburg wrote:

 

To obtain this faith, God has instituted the office of preaching, that is, given the Gospel and Sacraments, through which, as through instruments, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel…the Anabaptists and others are condemned, who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the bodily Word of the Gospel, through their own preparations and works.

 

The forefathers of the non-denominational churches, of the reformed churches, of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches, did not believe that the Holy Spirit was given through the “bodily Word of the Gospel”.  They didn’t think it was enough to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or hear the Bible read or taught, or read it yourself.  They definitely didn’t believe it was enough to be baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper, or be absolved.  Faith comes not just through those things, but through the addition of your decision to accept Jesus, or through a powerful experience of being converted.  They taught that in the days when the Augsburg Confession was written, and they still teach it.  And so they think our reliance on preaching Christ’s Work and on baptizing, receiving the body and blood of the Lord, is “Catholic”—by which they mean mechanical, ritualistic.

 

The Roman Catholic princes assembled at Augsburg did not get converted en masse to the evangelical faith taught in the Augsburg Confession.  And the “Anabaptists and others” didn’t either. In fact, they grew in power, and replaced the faith taught by Luther and the Augsburg Confession in many places—in England, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and even in many of the German states.

 

And so we come to our time and place.  We all know that, in terms of numbers and influence, Christianity isn’t doing so well in America or in the lands they used to call “Christendom”—in Europe.  Christianity in general is declining, in some places even dying, it appears.  Just like the whole of Christendom was threatened by the invading Turkish armies, today all of Christendom around us is retreating—even if it appears to be growing in Africa and Asia.  And when all Christian Churches are in decline, it seems obscene to many people—even to many Lutherans—to be harping on the distinctiveness of the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Confession.  It seems like we are rooting for our team instead of for Jesus.

 

But this is always how it has been.  It seemed rude and unnecessary for Jesus to insist to the Pharisees that He was the Messiah, the promised one of God, who would give us rest; to tell them that their strenuous efforts to obey God were good for nothing, and that they could only come to God’s feast on the basis of His call, His invitation, not on the basis of their works.  They could come to God’s feast only through faith in Him.

 

The Pharisees didn’t accept this message from Jesus for the same reason that the Roman Catholic bishops, princes, and emperor didn’t accept it, for the same reason people today don’t want to hear it.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the people who refused the invitation to the banquet were more interested in the land they just bought, the oxen they needed to test, the wife they just married, than in the banquet of the Lord.  And that is the way people are today.  They were that way in Jesus’ day, in the days of the Augsburg Confession, and today.  The emperor cared about fighting the Turk and keeping the empire secure more than he cared about the truth of God’s Word and the eternal life that it brings.  And we see all around us that people are interested in getting a new car, following sports, getting their kids into fun activities, and so on.  But eternal life?  Righteousness?  Forgiveness of sins?  The pure teaching of God’s Word?  The vast majority of people, if you tell them that that is what your church is offering, will think, if not say out loud, “If that’s all you’ve got, your church is going to close.”

 

But if we take seriously what the Bible teaches about human nature, like the Augsburg Confession does, we would not be surprised at this.  In the second Article, it confesses:

 

Further it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all men who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin.  That is, they all from their mother’s womb are full of evil lusts and inclinations, and by nature are not able to have any true fear of God or true faith in God.  They also teach that this same inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin, and damns all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit to the eternal wrath of God. 

 

People by nature are unable to fear God or trust Him.  That is the sin in which we are born.  But by nature nobody feels the force of this. It’s not hard to recognize that people are broken.  Many people understand without being taught from the Bible that people are not born good.  You only have to look around and see that people do evil far more easily than they do good.

 

But we do not recognize that even when we are good, humanly speaking, we are still not able to fear God or trust Him in reality—and that this inability deserves and will receive God’s eternal wrath and punishment.  People do not believe this.  Even Christians don’t comprehend their guilt and God’s serious anger against it.  We don’t fully recognize our helplessness in it.

 

It is a counter-cultural message.  It doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or an arch-conservative.  No one, by nature, is able or willing to fully grasp this.  We want to believe it is in our power to draw near to God—or that we are already near Him.

 

It is a work of God when a person recognizes and believes what the Bible says about his helplessness in sin.  It is a work of God to become spiritually poor, blind, crippled, and lame—to be terrified at your sin and cry out for God’s grace.

 

For that person, the invitation of the Gospel is a banquet of joy in itself.  It says, “Believe what God promises.  His Son suffered for you, His Son received the wrath of God against Your sin.  His Son merited and earned the forgiveness of your sins.  His Son fulfilled all of God’s laws in your place.  Through Him God is reconciled to you, forgives you, counts you righteous, clothes you with Jesus’ honor and righteousness.  Through Him God invites you to sit down at His table for eternity and eat with Him, feast with Him, drink wine and celebrate with Him, as His son and heir.”

 

And the Gospel comes into our ears in the words of Jesus to those who are condemned to the eternal wrath of God and says, “There is still room.”  If you persecuted the Church, like Paul; if you have been a self-righteous Pharisee; if you have lived an ungodly life while bearing the name of Christ, and have committed the sins we all recognize as sins, there is still room.  God has gathered in wretched sinners from the broad streets, the alleys, the highways and hedges, through his servants who proclaimed the Gospel—but there is still room.  You are invited, and your place is set.  The meat is steaming.  The wine is sparkling in the glass.  He invites you to come and eat and drink today at the altar a taste of what you will enjoy forever in heaven.  Your garments of righteousness, dyed red with the blood of Jesus, gleaming white with His innocence and glory, are waiting in your Baptism.

 

We should not fear when we see that many are simply not interested.  Jesus said that is how it would be.  That is how it was for Him.  That is also how it went after the Augsburg Confession was read.  And yet Jesus’ Church continues.  It advances under the appearance of weakness and defeat until the final victory appears, when He appears in glory.  In the midst of her weakness, He works in power. As the Confession says:

 

It is also taught that there must always be and remain in existence one holy Christian Church, which is the assembly of all believers, among which the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are given out in accordance with the Gospel.

 

However, because in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, and even manifest sinners remain among the believers, nevertheless the sacraments are powerful and effective, even if the priests who give them out are not godly.

 

Even when the Church seems to be overrun by its own sinful members, Christ is present with us, spreading His feast, giving the gift of faith, inviting and gathering His Church.  In that confidence we confess with the confessors of long ago, trusting that our Lord will continue to gather and preserve His Church around His pure Word in the face of all opponents, all sin, and all the works of the devil.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

SDG

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Trinity 1, 2017. Gen. 15:6, St. Luke 16:19-31 Confirmation of D. Roots, Father’s Day

abraham's bosom bible of souvignyTrinity 1 (Confirmation of Delainey Roots, Father’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31 (Gen. 15:6)

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

Delainey, with whom we rejoice on the day of your confirmation,

Delainey’s parents, Mike, Amanda, and her family,

You, her congregation, praying for and watching over those who are being taught the faith and those who are confirmed,

 

As well as those listening on the radio and visiting today:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Today the text to which we give our attention is the Gospel reading.  However, I want to draw your attention also to a verse from the Old Testament reading, which is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It is this, Genesis 15:6–

 

Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness. 

 

That verse is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It teaches the doctrine without which nothing in the Bible can be understood, the doctrine without which the Christian faith collapses, the teaching that touches every other article of the Christian faith, the teaching that caused and drove the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

Prior to the Reformation, people generally didn’t talk much about justification, but if they did, they would have said that a person is justified, that is, he becomes righteous before God, by actually being righteous.  They would have said: when God justifies a person, first of all at baptism, He makes that person totally righteous.  He takes away original sin, creates the person anew.  A baptized, justified person has no sin.  He only has an ongoing weakness that makes him inclined to sin.  But that weakness itself is not sin.

 

After being justified in baptism, they taught, the Christian receives God’s grace in the sacraments—Holy Communion, etc.  And cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they would do good works that pleased God.  And on the last day God would pronounce a person like this righteous on the basis of those righteous deeds.

 

But the doctrine of justification taught in the Reformation, which they drew from the Scriptures, was different.  They taught, along with this verse from Genesis, which St. Paul quotes again in Romans 4, that when God justifies a person, He counts or reckons or imputes the righteousness of Christ to the person.  Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness, says the verse.  That means:  Abram was not righteous in himself.  God counted him righteous, declared him to be righteous.  Abram was righteous not because of what he was in himself, or what he did.  If God judged him on that basis, Abram would be unrighteous, lawless, guilty before God.  But Abram believed God, and God counted or reckoned him righteous by faith.

 

That is how Abram became righteous before God.  That is how people today become righteous before God.  That was the teaching of the Reformation.  We are righteous without our works, through faith alone in Jesus, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and death.

 

Now why did that teaching rock the world?  Why must it continue to be our church’s treasure, our message to the world, instead of some other message or way of gaining followers?  Why am I telling it to you again, Lainey, on your confirmation day, when I no doubt want to preach something that will mean something to you years from now when you look back on this day?

 

Because eternity depends on this teaching.  Whether people are interested in it or not, whether it fills the pews or not, whether our flesh tells us this teaching is worth the attention we place on it, when we are 13 or when we are 70, the teaching of justification by the imputation of righteousness is the teaching that makes a person righteous and blessed for eternity.  If this teaching is not taught, or if it is minimized, and as a result it is not believed, people are damned for eternity.

 

This is what we see in the Gospel reading: The eternal weight of the right teaching of the doctrine of justification.

 

Jesus tells a story.  There is a certain rich man who has a party every day.  He dresses like a king.  He lives like a king.  Everyone wants to come to his parties.

 

Then there is a poor man named Lazarus.  He is covered with sores, like Job.  And someone takes and lays him outside the gate of the rich man, which means—because of his sickness, Lazarus has to depend on charity to go on living his tormented life.  Lazarus longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and while he lies there, outside the gate, dogs come and lick his sores.

 

One day Lazarus dies and the angels come and take him to Abraham’s bosom.  That means, he goes to be with Abraham, the righteous man, in heaven.  To recline on someone’s bosom in Jesus’ day meant you were a close friend or you were loved by them.  Jesus is telling us that Lazarus is a son of Abraham.  He is one of the stars in the sky that God showed Abraham.  So Lazarus will inherit the blessing of Abraham; he will share in the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with people again like He did in the Garden of Eden.

 

Also, Jesus says, the rich man died and was buried.  He goes to hell, and in torment, he looks up and sees Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom, and he cries out to Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.  But Abraham says, Child, remember that you received your good things in life and Lazarus bad; now he is comforted, and you have torment.  Besides, there is a great chasm fixed between us and you, so that no one can come from hell up to us, nor can anyone in heaven come to where you are.

 

Jesus leaves us to imagine the torment of the damned.  He talks about flames.  Being burned alive is probably one of the most painful ways to die. But the rich man doesn’t die.  He longs even for a slight relief from his pain—just a drop of water on his tongue, but he can’t have one.

 

Sometimes people say, “Well, at least in hell I’ll be with all my friends.”  But you notice that if the rich man has friends around, he doesn’t notice them.  He is alone.  But yet he can look up and see heaven, and the saints in heaven.  He can see heaven, which he rejected in life, but he can only look at the joy that he will never have.

 

Jesus tells us this story and pictures the reward of the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is eternal in both cases.  The righteous will be comforted forever, but the unrighteous, will be tormented unceasingly, in both body and soul.

 

The obvious question we want to ask is: what made the rich man unrighteous, and Lazarus righteous?  Does being rich make you evil, and being poor and suffering make you good in God’s sight?  No; Abraham himself was wealthy, but he didn’t end up in hell.

 

Delainey, you have already learned the yardstick by which we are able to evaluate whether actions, thoughts, or the people who do them are righteous or unrighteous.  The measure of righteousness is the Law of God, the ten commandments.  And the summary of God’s Law is one word: Love.  “Love is the fulfillment of the Law”, St. Paul writes in Romans.

 

The rich man was unrighteous because he lacked love.  That is clear enough.  His life was a celebration.  Meanwhile, a sick man laid outside his gates naked, longing every day for someone to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  A righteous person doesn’t look on the suffering of his neighbor and feel nothing.  He has compassion, and he acts out of compassion.

 

Today is Father’s day, and it got me thinking about what it is that defines a father who is faithful to his calling.  To be called “Father” is a high honor, because that is what the first person of the Trinity is called.

 

Fathers, of course, beget children.  They don’t give birth to them, but they beget them upon their mothers.  But it’s obvious that a man who simply creates a child has not really deserved the name “Father.”  A Father creates life, but he also cares for and nurtures his children.  He provides for them; teaches them; disiciplines them; plays with them; loves them.  That is how God the Father deals with human beings.  He created us, but He continues to nurture and sustain the lives He created.  He does this not only for those who love and obey Him but those who don’t.  All throughout this life He seeks to teach us.  He sends us pain in order to discipline us.  He does all this out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness” in us.

 

God is love, says the Epistle reading.  And so fathers love.

 

On the other hand, what marks a father who is not doing his job, or what marks a bad father?  A bad father is selfish.  A bad father drinks up his paycheck, and his kids go hungry.  A bad father beats his wife or abandons his children.  A bad father doesn’t teach his children what they need to know to live life well.  A bad father cares about himself instead of his kids.

 

Bad fathers are selfish—which means, they act contrary to the nature of God the Father, who is love.

 

The unrighteous will suffer eternal torment in hell; and the unrighteous are those who, like the rich man, and like bad fathers, are selfish and do not love.

 

And what every hearer this morning should be asking themselves is, “Do I love?  Am I selfish?”  That question should burn within us, lest we burn with the answer to the question in eternity, like the rich man.

 

The answer to this question, the honest answer, is what?  Am I selfish?

 

Every father here probably remembers times, many times, when they selfishly ignored their children because they had other things they wanted to do.

 

Even more, most fathers are selfish in a way that they do not realize.  Most fathers shirk the responsibility of teaching and modeling the most important thing to their children—the word of God.  Just like Adam kept quiet in Eden when his wife was deceived by the serpent.  We see this everywhere in the church.  We simply do not have men today who lead spiritually, either in their families or in the church.  Come to bible class and you will see that 95 percent of the class is women.  Where are the men in the church setting the example for the congregation in hearing and learning God’s Word?  Beyond their own need for it, they forget the need of the young for examples of godly men.  They do not think of the people in their lives who do not hear God’s Word from them because they are not growing in the knowledge of it.

 

But of course, it isn’t just men.  This lack of self-giving love, this focus on ourselves and our own well-being and happiness, our ignoring the needs of others, is the way of the sinful flesh.  It operates in every one of us.  God is love; self-giving love.  Love does not think of itself, it thinks of others.  But we think of ourselves in nearly everything.  Even godly Christians who fight against it still do so.  Even Abraham, the man of God did, when he, for instance, asked his wife to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, and Pharaoh married her.  He did this not out of love for Sarah, but out of love for himself, fearing for his life.

 

Yet God counted Abraham righteous, because God pointed at the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be,” and Abraham believed him.

 

And so God counts righteousness to all of us who, in the midst of seeing our selfishness, and our worthiness of the rich man’s fate, believe that God justifies us for the sake of Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Jesus is the star to which God points us.  He shines with the glory of God, even in the agony of the cross, where he was covered with wounds like Lazarus, and the spit of his enemies, like Lazarus’ wounds were covered with the spit of dogs.  He shines like a star there, because we see a man who loved and fulfilled God’s law.  God points us to Him and says, He is your righteousness.  He points us to His agony and death on the cross, where He endured the torment of God’s wrath and says, “Your hellfire is quenched.  Your sins are removed.”

 

And whoever dares to believe this, even while the fire of sin and selfishness still burns inside of him, God counts righteous.  God justifies him.

 

If we want to be better fathers, better daughters and sons, better Christians, the solution is not found in exercising your will.  It is found in Jesus, who is perfect in love.  To hear God’s word and believe His promise that you are righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Then the love of God who is love lives in us and flows from us.

 

Even more importantly, even more important than growing in sanctification, is God’s certain assurance in this teaching that we are sons of Abraham and sons of God.  How can I be saved from the torment of the rich man?  Only through Jesus who fulfilled the law.  Only believing that He did this for me.

 

Delainey, you have many years ahead of you to live in faithfulness to the pledges you made at Baptism and which you will make again today.  And it is so easy for the selfish, loveless nature of the flesh to overcome us and lead us into sin, to take us captive.  How can you be faithful?

 

Only through this star to which God points you, this river of water quenching your thirst, Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom God declares you again and again to be righteous and justified.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Spiritual Hunger. Second Sunday after Trinity 2016

jesus banquetSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 5, 2016

“Spiritual Hunger”

 

Iesu Iuva

On Friday I was at Sunny Hill nursing home, where the Missouri Synod Lutheran churches around Joliet have a service each week for the people who live there.  After the service I gave communion to a member of St. Peter who lives there.  I was taking the elevator up from the lower floor and a lady got in.  I heard a little accent in her voice that I thought I recognized, and I asked her if she was from Africa.  No, she said, Trinidad (which is an island near South America).  I told her how my grandpa and uncles lived in Africa, so I always ask people when they sound like they’re from Africa.  “Oh,” she said, “where in Africa did your uncles live?”  “Zambia and Zimbabwe,” I said.  She said, “I went on a mission trip to Zimbabwe not too long ago.”

 

“Yes, there is a great spiritual hunger there,” she said.  “People have great joy in serving the Lord and a great desire to hear His Word.  Here, in order for people to worship properly you have to spend time coaxing them, cranking them up.”

 

I thought about this after we talked.  I am sure that if we got into what proper, acceptable worship to God is, we would not have agreed.  Emotion and excitement are not what makes worship acceptable to God.  True worship is in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), says Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we are emotional in our worship; it means that we have true faith in Christ as our Savior.  From this faith in Jesus that our sins are forgiven comes thanksgiving toward God.

 

Still, she had a point.  Acceptable worship of God can’t mean that we simply show up and say words in which neither our hearts nor our minds are engaged.  Acceptable worship of God—faith in Christ—affects our hearts, our words, and our actions.  Believing that our sins are forgiven, that we are saved, must produce joy and thanksgiving—and joy and thanksgiving toward God—how can it not affect the way that we sing, the way we listen to God’s Word, the way we treat each other?

 

By all accounts, there is a great spiritual hunger in Africa and places in Asia.  These have been mission fields for a long time.  In many places the missionaries worked for years and saw few results.  But now a harvest is coming in.  I often hear and read from Lutheran missionaries in Africa that the pastors eagerly desire to be trained more fully in Lutheran doctrine and to have the Lutheran Confessions and other theological works in their languages.  Meanwhile the people in the churches come in great numbers to be baptized, to hear the Word of God, and to receive our Lord’s body and blood.  It must be exciting to see so many people turning to God and desiring what He offers in the Gospel.

 

But how are things in our country?  It’s not so easy for us.  People don’t appear to be very interested in spiritual things.  There was a time when people came to church on their own.  Now, with younger people, they don’t.  And if the church goes to them—which, to be sure, we don’t do like we should—sometimes we find that people are opposed to Christianity.  More often, it seems that people are able to “take it or leave it.”  They aren’t necessarily hostile, if you don’t say anything that offends them.  They just don’t care that much.

 

But it’s not just outside of the Church.  There is a lack of spiritual hunger inside the Church as well—isn’t there?  Real hunger isn’t a pleasant feeling, but it has a purpose—to make you eat.  Eating is necessary to maintain life, but it’s also necessary to grow.  On earth, there are no Christians that are full-grown.  When we are perfectly in the image of Jesus and there is no sinful flesh left in us, then we will be full-grown.  But if you are not yet perfectly like Christ, you still have to grow.  And yet most Christians don’t eat enough spiritual food to grow; they come and hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper on Sundays, or on Sundays when they aren’t doing something else.  But they don’t continue to learn God’s Word after they are confirmed.  They don’t read the Bible in their families and privately.  Most of us don’t know Scripture and Christian doctrine as well as we did when we were confirmed.  Others who do often neglect prayer and devotion, so that we are weak in spirit—not having grown in the life of prayer and lacking in love and trust in God in affliction.  Then we wonder why our lives as Christians are so disappointing and why the Church seems to be dying in our country.

 

One way to look at Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 that we heard is to see it as a parable about the lack of spiritual hunger and the consequences of this lack.

 

In the parable, Jesus is eating at a Pharisee’s house.  One of the guests at the table with him expresses what appears to be a very devout, pious desire.  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  (Luke 14:15)  The man talks like he would give anything to participate in God’s kingdom.  But Jesus tells this story to show the hypocrisy of his statement: God has invited you to the banquet of His kingdom, Jesus is saying, but you are refusing to come.

 

Jesus begins his parable like this: “A man once gave a banquet and invited many” (Luke 14:16).  It’s pretty obvious who this “man” is—it’s God.  God is constantly feeding people throughout the Scripture, and He constantly makes invitations to people to come to Him and receive rest and refreshment.  God also promises throughout the Bible that the day is coming when He will prepare a great feast, a great celebration, and all who come and eat His food will live forever.  The great example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 25: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

 

You see the way Isaiah describes this feast.  God isn’t offering a crust of bread or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.  He makes a feast of “rich food”, of “well-aged wine.”  This is a banquet for kings that God is making.  And besides the exquisite food is the honor of the host.  If you are invited to a banquet at the White House, you don’t go just because you know the food will be good.  You go because of the honor of being invited to the White House by the most powerful person in the world.

 

God has also made a banquet and invited many people.  To be invited is an honor higher than any of the honors in the world.  And besides this He puts exquisite food on the table.  The food of God’s banquet is the Gospel of His Son.  He spreads out before us a table of spiritual delicacies—forgiveness of our sins, righteousness before God, rescue from hell and the devil, the right to be sons of God and sit at His right hand, the gift of His Spirit.  And all these come to us through His Son—God with us, God who became fully man, who fulfilled the law, bore our sins as His own, received our condemnation, and rose again with sin and death destroyed forever.  Jesus is given to us as our spiritual food and drink in the Gospel.  By faith in Him we live, by faith in Him we eat His body and drink His blood and receive eternal life.

 

“And at the time for the banquet He sent His servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14: 17)  That had already happened to the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews.  They had been invited a long time ago to this feast.  God had promised their forefather Abraham that one of his descendants would bless the whole world, taking away the curse of sin and death.  During the Advent midweek services for the past several years we have looked at the many promises God gave throughout the Old Testament concerning the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ.  But now everything is ready.  John the Baptist came and announced this to the Jews and told them to repent and be baptized to be ready for the Messiah and God’s banquet that would come through Him.

 

You also have been invited to God’s banquet.  An alternate translation for the word “invited” in the reading is “called.”  In the Small Catechism we learned to say about the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…

Whenever you have heard the good news of Jesus’ death for your sins, the Holy Spirit was calling you, inviting you, to believe in Jesus, that He died for your sins, and to receive His gifts.  When you were baptized, that also was God’s call and invitation to you.  He was pledging that eternal life and the forgiveness of sins was yours, just as the circumcision of the Jews was God’s pledge that His Son and all His benefits were theirs.

 

But what happens when God’s invitation goes out and tells people, “Everything is ready?”  Jesus says, “But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Luke 14:18)  One asks to be excused because he just bought a field, another because he just bought some oxen, and another because he just got married.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees at the table that this is what they, and the leaders of the Jews, have done.  They were invited by God to His banquet and were told: Everything is ready right now.  But they made excuses instead of coming.  The Jewish leaders were preoccupied with their jobs, their honor, with earthly possessions and desires.  The religious leaders didn’t want to be baptized by John or follow Jesus because to do so would jeopardize their position.  They would be admitting that their religious lives were not enough to make them righteous before God.  Besides this they saw that Jesus was despised and didn’t have an earthly glory or kingdom and realized that to believe in Him would mean risking or losing their honor, their wealth, their prestige.

 

These were not unfounded fears.  It’s true that to believe in Christ puts our honor, wealth, and security at risk.  This is part of the reason that people don’t want to be Christians today, or leave churches that teach false doctrine.

 

Yet these fears also reveal a lack of spiritual hunger.  A person who knows that he is a sinner and that without the forgiveness of sins he is lost doesn’t think about what he will lose on earth.  He runs to the promise of forgiveness, come what may.

 

Yet how often it’s the case for us Christians that we put temporary goods over eternal blessings.  Often we aren’t willing to sacrifice temporary comforts for the feast that God spreads before us.  We think, “I already know that Jesus died for me and I’m forgiven, so it won’t matter if I don’t read the Bible, or if I skip church this once, or if I don’t take the opportunities to learn God’s Word and worship that are offered.”  But believing the Gospel shouldn’t extinguish our spiritual hunger.  If we believe in Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins, we should long for more of Jesus and His gifts.  And as we receive more—as we read Scripture and hear preaching—it will reveal our need more clearly.  God’s Word reveals more and more of our sinful nature and our inability to overcome it; it reveals our lack of fruit.  God reveals this to us in His Word so that He can satisfy our hunger.  As we see our sinfulness more clearly He shows us Jesus more clearly, so that we find our comfort in Him and His work alone.

 

So what happens when those invited send back their excuses?  The owner of the house becomes angry.

 

‘Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’  And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’  And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21-24)

 

So what does the master do?  He has a house all set for a banquet.  Everything is ready.  The linens are on the tables, the wine is poured, the meat is ready.  But all the invited guests have refused to come.  Does he cancel the banquet?  No, he insists that his house should be filled.  So he has his servant gather up all the outcasts, the dregs of society to fill his house—the poor, blind, lame, crippled.  And since there is still room, he has the servant go outside the city and compel people from the highways to come to the banquet.

 

God did this with the Jews.  When the leaders of the Jews refused to come to Christ, God gathered the outcasts of Israel.  The poor, uneducated fishermen became Jesus’ disciples.  Tax collectors and sinners came into God’s banquet and ate His rich food and drank His aged wine.  They received the forgiveness of sins through Jesus and became righteous before God.  Then God sent the apostles outside of the people of Israel to the pagan gentiles who were far from God, didn’t know the Scriptures, and worshipped idols.  And these debased people—which includes us and our ancestors, who worshipped stones and statues and trees instead of the living God—came into God’s house, received the righteousness of Christ, were washed in His blood, and took their place among the righteous—Abraham and Moses and the prophets.

 

That is the end result of rejecting God’s Word; the end result of the lack of spiritual hunger.  When people persistently refuse God’s invitation through the Gospel, He takes it away.  Maybe we think the worst thing God could do to a country is let it be torn apart by violence, or impoverished through bad government, or let it be stricken by disease.  No.  The worst way God’s anger could strike us is if He takes His Word away.

 

Without His Word we can’t receive the forgiveness of sins; without His Word we can’t come to faith in Christ or stay in it.  Yet so often we treat God’s Word not as a gracious invitation to eternal life, but as an interruption of the other things we would rather do, or even as a burden.

 

Yes, we do this, even the most devout.  And so God makes His invitation again today: Everything is ready!  Come to the banquet!

 

If you have neglected His Word.  If you are spiritually poor, blind, and crippled, so that you think there is no way that you belong in God’s house, eating as His guest.  If you have at times acted as if you had other things to do that were more important than coming to the banquet God has provided, behaved arrogantly.

 

He doesn’t insist that you make your heart better.  He simply says, “Come, everything is now ready.”  It is a free invitation—there is no cost.  God has taken away your sins at His own cost, the cost of His Son. You only have to come and eat and drink—that is, believe that all your sins are forgiven through the suffering of Jesus.

 

If you don’t feel hunger—your sins don’t bother you particularly, you don’t feel your need as you should—still He invites you.  Realize that this lack of hunger is itself a great sin.  Then come, take your place with the crippled and the blind in God’s house.

 

God is gracious.  He wants His house to be full for this feast, so there is room for each one of us who wants to come.

 

And what a table He prepares for us!  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, [that] God has prepared for those who love Him!”  (1 Corinthians 3:9)  The joy that we will have when we dwell with God in heaven we don’t know yet.  There are not words on earth to express it.  Yet we have the beginning of this feast now.  Maybe it’s appropriate to say God gives us hors d’oeurves?

 

Before our eyes He portrays His Son crucified for our transgressions, declaring, “It is finished!”  His call and invitation is to take Jesus at His Word.  In the Sacraments and the Word, He gives us the promise that the forgiveness of our sins is accomplished.  Along with that promise comes the promise of eternal life, resurrection from the dead, and union with the Triune God.

 

Whoever you are, come, says God, for everything is ready.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Love as a State of Being. Trinity 1, 2016. 1 John 4:16-21

jesus and the adulteress brueghelFirst Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 John 4:16-21

May 29, 2016

“Love as a State of Being”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

There is a story that has stuck with me my whole life. It wasn’t one I read in college when I was supposed to be reading “great literature”. I think it must have been in grade school. It was called “The Gift of the Magi” by a writer named O. Henry.

 

It starts out with a young married woman who is holding a dollar and eighty-seven cents in her hand in small change. She is crying because this is all she has been able to save for months. Now it’s Christmas Eve and she wants to buy her husband a present, but she can’t get anything decent for one dollar and eighty-seven cents.

 

She and her husband are poor, and they have two things to their name that are valuable. One is her husband’s gold watch, an heirloom that has been passed down from his grandfather. The other is her long brown hair.

 

Suddenly she has an idea. She goes out and sells her hair. The lady who cuts it gives her twenty dollars. With that twenty dollars she goes out and buys a platinum watch chain for her husband’s heirloom watch.

 

She goes home, curls her now short hair, and starts making dinner. Her husband comes home and stands by the door staring at her, not able to say anything. When she finally gets him to talk again, he hands her a package. She opens it up to find a set of beautiful tortoise-shell combs that she had admired in a shop window.

 

She tells him that her hair will grow back and then is excited to give him her present. She pulls the watch-chain out of her pocket and says, “Now you’ll have to check the time every ten minutes, don’t you think?” And her husband sits down on the couch, laughs, and tells her that he sold his watch so that he could buy her the combs.

 

The story loses something when I tell it again. But you see its point. The husband and wife love each other so much that they each sell their most precious possession to buy a gift for each other. Of course the gifts are useless, because they are meant to go with the other person’s prized possession—the combs for the wife’s now shorn hair, the chain for the husband’s hocked watch. But the point is that they have something worth more than those possessions. They have their love—a love that is willing to give up everything to give the other person joy.

 

Many of us who are older probably have a hard time hearing this story without closing our hearts. The longer you live, the more you realize how rare this kind of love is and how, even when you have it, it passes away. People change. Love often dies. Promises are broken. And even when it doesn’t, we lose those who have loved us and whom we have loved. So many of us close up our hearts to love. We become very skeptical about love. While it is wise to be careful to whom you open your heart, it is also dangerous to shut it too tightly.

 

Why? Because love and life itself are connected. Self-giving love is not a fairy tale for Christians. For us, it’s everything. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

 

But have you heard the criticism that people frequently bring against Christians? It goes something like this: “Jesus taught that we should love one another. But Christians love so little. They are some of the most judgmental, unloving people in the world.”

 

Do the critics of Christianity have a point when they say that Christians are unloving? I think they do.

 

We often forget that the ten commandments can be summarized in a single word—love. What does God demand of the world in the ten commandments? He demands love. He commands that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. So it is not simply that God commands that you worship no false gods; He commands that you love Him above all things.

 

In a way it seems like a strange thing for God to do—to command that you love. Does anyone ever love because he is commanded to do so?

 

Yet that is what God says in the ten commandments. He commands us to love Him and our neighbor—not just a little bit, but Him with our whole hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. And to these commandments He adds a threat—whoever breaks these commandments He will punish in this life, in death and in eternal damnation.

 

The commandment to love can be the most terrifying thing on earth. Anyone who seriously tries to love God and his neighbor will quickly experience how unloving he is. How much self-love and selfishness is in his heart. And if he believes he has to eradicate that selfishness to be saved, he will easily become what all the critics of Christianity say Christians are like. He will become fearful. He will do a lot of deeds that appear loving and spiritual not out of love for his neighbor but to prove to himself and others that he has love in his heart and is saved. He may convince himself and become self-righteous. Or he may inwardly struggle with despair. But either way peace—and real love—will elude him.

 

In the Epistle for this Sunday St. John is describing a different reality than the commandment to love. He is talking about the love of God for us.

 

  1. Henry’s story described the love of a married couple in which both people freely gave up their treasures to give joy to the other one. When they did this, were they forced into it? Did they do it because they were scared the other one would leave if they didn’t? Were they sad and grieving over what they lost for the other person?

 

No, the only crying in the story was the wife’s when she thought she didn’t have anything to give to her husband. Both sacrificed their treasures freely and confidently. They didn’t do it to make the other person stay or manipulate each other, but simply to give the other person joy. That’s the way real love works.

 

St. John says this kind of love is not a fairy tale. It is the very reality of our lives as Christians. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)

 

God loves us. That is the foundation of our lives as Christians. We know His love; we believe in it; we trust it.

 

How do we come to know and believe in that love? We come to know and believe that God loves us personally through the Gospel that is preached to us. When He proclaims that He so loved us—each one, individually—that His Son became flesh and lived among us. That His Son fulfilled the commandments to love in our place, so that His obedience to the law is counted to us. When He proclaims that His Son took our sins and their guilt as His own and was condemned for them on the cross by God.

 

We come to know and trust God’s love for us by hearing Him proclaim His love to us. Then we come to His table to eat and drink His body and blood as the pledge of His love and our redemption.

 

Believing that God has this kind of love for us, we are free. We have a different relationship to God. We no longer have to live in fear that if we don’t do what He wants He won’t love us anymore. We rely on His love for us, and it makes us bold and confident.

 

The love of God drives out our fear. Fear, John says, has to do with punishment. Are we afraid of God’s judgment, of His punishment? Then we are not yet perfect and complete in His love. We are still thinking, in some way, that His love depends on our performance, that He loves us in response to our love of Him and our neighbor. But the Gospel doesn’t say that. It tells us that His love came first. As one of the confirmands’ confirmation verse puts it: While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8) He died for the ungodly—for us, while we were still weak and powerless to do anything good. He shows His love for us by dying for us while we were still in our sins. As our faith in this fact of God’s love for us grows, our fear of God’s wrath decreases. And the way that our faith grows is not that we try harder to believe it. Rather we listen to His Word; we hear it preached, we read it, we meditate on its promises.

 

The result of knowing and believing in God’s love for us is that the Law of God begins to be fulfilled in us. That is to say—we love. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

 

We don’t come to God with the capacity to love other people or Him. When the law throws us to our knees, we don’t love Him or other people. Even as Christians, the law exposes our criminal lack of love toward God and others.

 

Then, when we are on our knees, God proclaims the Gospel. Without any love in us that could please Him, He tells us, “I love you. In place of your lovelessness, I give you the passion of my Son, hanging on the cross out of perfect love for me and the whole world. I give you His righteousness as a robe to put on over your sins. I love you and I don’t count any of your sins as your own.”

 

When we receive this love and realize that this kind of self-giving love is no fairy tale, but that it is the kind of love that God has for us, it changes us. Now we have the door of our hearts open to God’s love. And if the door is open to God, it is open to other people as well.

 

“There is no fear in love.” The couple in O. Henry’s story was not afraid. They took risks with each other. They didn’t worry about losing their treasured possessions because they knew when those were gone they had something worth more that they relied on to sustain them. They were confident of each other’s love and it made them bold and fearless.

 

God’s love does this in us. When we receive it, we no longer live in fear that God will stop loving us. So we become free not only to love Him but to love the people around us. We can risk loving others and not having them love us in return.

 

We do this because love for other people is the way we show our love for God. You can’t buy God combs or a watch-chain. He doesn’t need those things. We have nothing to give to God that He didn’t give to us first.

 

But our brother does need what we have. He needs a kind word. He needs someone to listen to him. He needs our forgiveness and he needs to know that he is valued even though he does things wrong. Above all he needs to know that God loves him. He needs to hear that from us not just because it is our duty to tell him. He also needs to see that the love of God that we talk about is also mirrored in us—that we love the people whom God loves.

 

That’s why John tells us “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) If we close our hearts against our brother who needs our love, even when he doesn’t want it or doesn’t deserve it, we also are closing our hearts against God’s love for us.

When we consider how much love requires of us, we are liable to be overwhelmed. You see what a powerful thing love is in the story I told. Because of love the husband and wife gave up the best things they had. Love made them find their joy in the other’s happiness. And because of love they did not find this to be a burden. They sacrificed gladly. They considered it a joy.

 

When we look at what love requires of us from the outside, it seems like an impossible burden. It’s one thing to love your children like this, or your parents, or your spouse. But the person in the church who injures you? Or the person outside the church who is attacking everything we consider good and right? How can we love them like this, especially when we know that they will view this love as weakness and use it as an opportunity to harm us?

 

No, that won’t work. It is too much for us, because love is not native to our hearts. How can we love them?

 

John tells us. “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) We don’t try to love these people on our own. We abide, we remain, in the love God has for us. God’s love for us comes to us in the Gospel and the sacraments. We receive His love by listening to the Gospel and not shutting our hearts against it.

 

We listen to Him tell us the story of Jesus who hung pierced and cursed on the cross, bearing the threats God makes against the loveless, making us whole. We remember and believe His promise in Baptism, where He claimed us and snatched us from the death of sin into life with Him. He trust His declaration of forgiveness in the absolution. We eat His body and drink His blood believing God’s pledge that by it our sins are forgiven.

 

Abiding in His Word and Sacraments by faith, we abide in God’s love. It is sincere. It doesn’t seek itself. It has no other goal than our joy and salvation. It transforms us so that we become like God, who is love.

 

O grant that nothing in my soul

May dwell, but Thy pure love alone;

Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,

My joy, my treasure, and my crown!

All coldness from my heart remove;

My every act, word, thought be love. LSB 683 stanza 2

 

The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children. Trinity 4, 2015

4th Sunday after Trinity (Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 6:36-42

June 28, 2015

“God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children”

Iesu Iuva

God is merciful. Thank God.

He is just and righteous. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. (Exodus 20:5-6)

But He is also merciful. The words of our Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel reading tell us, Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.

 

One dictionary defines mercy as “Compassion or forbearance shown to one (such as an adversary or offender) having no claim to kindness.”

That’s what God is and does. He shows compassion toward His enemies, even though they have no claim to kindness. He forbears; He holds back His wrath and judgment so that people may repent and turn to Him. He gives life and provides food and clothing, everything necessary for life, even to those who defy Him to His face. He has mercy on them.

God is merciful. But our society is not asking for mercy. It is taunting God by calling homosexual unions “marriage.” It flaunts this rejection of God as a great advance in morality. The White House makes itself the rainbow house, dying itself in the colors of the homosexual flag. How could our country proclaim more clearly that it does not believe in the God who speaks in Scripture? It has made an idol which it claims is the God of our fathers.

Our society has built a golden idol. I’m not sure what its name is, but one of its faces is same-sex marriage. And just like the golden image Nebuchadnezzar built in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s day, you will be expected to bow down when you hear the harp, bagpipe, flute and every kind of music. Though voices talk a lot about tolerance, there is no tolerance for those who don’t want to bow down to this image. Do you remember the bakers who didn’t want to make a cake for a gay “wedding?” Out of business. Don’t expect mercy from the world. Our society shows no mercy to millions of its infants in the womb who are slaughtered legally every year. If it has no mercy on helpless babies in the name of “freedom”, why would it have mercy on Christians who stand up and say, “This is wrong”?

There’s a reason why we can’t expect mercy from the world. God is merciful, but his enemy, the devil, is merciless. He is like a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter). And Jesus told the people in his day who did not believe in Him that they were children of the devil. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God…Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42-44) And what Jesus taught was repeated by the apostles. Human beings are by nature children of the devil and under the power of the evil one.

Since human beings are under the power of the devil, who is merciless, by nature they don’t understand mercy. They don’t want to receive it and they won’t give it. They are completely depraved and dead to God. And this includes us by nature as well.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32

Yet even though this is the natural state of human beings, God has mercy. He does not reckon up our sins, but instead freely deals with the world in His grace. He continues to provide us with life and everything necessary to support it. He sustains body and soul and provides food and clothing even to those who are estranged from Him and don’t want to know Him.

But this is only the beginning of His mercy. Above all this He shows us His greatest mercy by inviting us, who have sinned against Him, to nevertheless call Him “Father” and be adopted as His children. Instead of condemning us to hell in righteous anger at our sins, He provided for our deliverance from sin. He gave His only-begotten Son to join us in flesh and blood and be our ransom and Redeemer from sin. He set apart His only-begotten Son to have our sins placed on His head and to die under God’s judgment in our place. God gave His only Son to take our place under the curse and punishment that was due us. By His agony on the cross Jesus took away our sin and made it so that all who believe in Him are adopted as children of God. That was mercy. That was God’s indescribably mercy. It reconciled us to God, made us sinless and without reproach in His sight, made us God’s blessed children and heirs. Such is the mercy of God.

In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus tells us what kind of life must follow in those who have received God’s mercy. We must also be merciful like our Father, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1) We must be merciful because it is only fitting that those who owe everything to God’s mercy should be merciful. We must also be merciful because that mercy shows that we have been reborn as children of our merciful Father in heaven, that we are no longer children of the unmerciful devil. We must be merciful because our Father wants the world to see His mercy pictured in the lives of His children.

Christians are no longer children of the devil. Christians have been born again as children of God by the Word of God. That word came to us in Baptism and regenerated us, and it comes to us in the preaching of God’s Word, converting those who have fallen and sustaining those who believe. It is the word of God’s mercy in Christ. Through it we receive God’s mercy, that He receives us for the sake of Jesus’ death on the cross and does not count our sins to us.

And Jesus commands that those who have received mercy from God to show mercy. This is fitting for us as children of the merciful Father in heaven. The world does not know mercy. We proclaim God’s mercy. And here Jesus commands us not merely to proclaim it, but also to preach it with our lives. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…In a world that is without mercy, Christians are to refrain from judging and condemning our neighbors, to forgive them, and to freely give to them.

When enemies judge you and try to destroy your life, you are not supposed to repay them in kind. Even though they judge and condemn you, you refrain from judging and condemning them. You pray for them and seek their well-being in this life and the life to come.

It’s important to clarify that when Jesus says, “Judge not” He is not saying that we should not recognize sin as sin or be afraid to call sin sin. We have to recognize sin as sin, otherwise we approve it and do harm to our neighbor, affirming him in it when we should be seeking his salvation.

But although we are required to judge false doctrine and reprove sin, we are supposed to do so not out of malice and retribution but in love for our neighbor. You are not supposed to delight in the sin and shame of your neighbor but to love him and seek his good. So if your brother in the church sins, Jesus tells you to take him aside and rebuke him, but in such a way that you save his reputation. Unless his sin is publicly known, you take him aside and reprove him in secret. “Judge not” does not mean that God forbids you to notice your neighbor’s sin. It means that God forbids you to wish your neighbor anything but his everlasting blessing, even when he sins. So you are allowed to notice your neighbor’s sins and even to call him on them, but only in the interests of seeing your neighbor blessed and saved for eternity.

This is the mercy we are to show to our enemies. When they judge and condemn us, we don’t condemn and hate them in return, but pray and work for their salvation.

When we consider that this is the standard to which God holds His children, we are liable to be struck with fear. How often we are possessed by judgmental thoughts and impulses to condemn! Even more, we carry those thoughts and impulses out in bitter words, in gossip, in curses. How often when we do carry out our callings to judge and reprove we are not motivated by love toward our brothers but by a vengeful spirit. We can see that our hearts are filled with unmercifulness that is not like the character of our Father in heaven. Because He does not count up people’s sins. He freely gives daily bread, life, and every good thing even to those who hate Him.

And He would not stop at that. He wants to give everything that is His to His enemies, even His only-begotten Son. It is God’s will that no sinner should perish or be judged or condemned. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my Word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)

If that is God’s will, that is the extent of His mercy, how can we be children of the merciful Father when there is still so much of a judging, condemning spirit in us?

The answer is that the remnants of our sinful nature that still live in us, as powerful as they may be, are not counted to the repentant Christian. Only Christ’s righteousness and the good works He does in us are counted to us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Christians struggle with their desire for vengeance, with their mercilessness. They struggle against their Old Adam daily because it was killed with Christ in Baptism. We struggle against our old wicked nature because it was crucified with Christ, and we belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead. And the sin that remains in us while we daily repent and believe in Christ is not counted to us. It is forgiven, covered.

That does not mean that you should take it easy in your fight with your merciless sinful nature. It must be resisted and be put to death moment by moment, day by day. Those who don’t fight against the judgmental old Adam in them are not children of God, who is merciful. But when these words of Christ terrify you, don’t despair. You are not judged because you believe in Jesus Christ. You are not condemned because you are in Him. His Spirit lives in you and fights against your sinful nature that wants to judge and condemn, be unforgiving, etc. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God. You are not under law, but under grace. The Holy Spirit bears witness that your sins are forgiven through Christ and He leads you in the footsteps of your merciful Father in heaven.

So these words of Jesus provide us with consolation and assurance that our faith in Him is right and living. “Forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you…for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you again.” That doesn’t mean that you must forgive and give perfectly, otherwise you will have no reward. It means this: You believe that God is your Father through Christ and freely forgives you. So when you see yourself striving to forgive and give and not judge, etc., you can say, “See, this is proof that I have true faith in Christ, because the Spirit within me is warring against my old unmerciful nature. If I was a child of the devil there would be no struggle. I would judge, condemn, hate, and revenge myself without compunction.”

God is merciful. Thank God. Because of His mercy our sins are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

By His body and blood today, by which He shows and assures us of His mercy, may He give us merciful hearts that reflect His mercy to our lost world.

And may His Word, which endures forever, go forth in power to convict the world of sin and to comfort sinners with His mercy in Christ.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Love for Lost Sinners. Trinity 3, 2015

3rd Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 21, 2015

“Love For the Lost Sheep”

Iesu Iuva

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. Luke 15:1

 

This is a marvelous sentence. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus. It wasn’t just your everyday, run-of-the-mill sinners who were coming to listen to Jesus. It was the blatant sinners, people who were marked and avoided as being godless, excommunicated sinners. They were coming to listen to Jesus preach, and Jesus was receiving them, not driving them off.

For some of us today this may be a difficult thing to relate with. These were people living in public, open, unrepentant sin. Maybe you are not. Of course, we all know plenty of other people who are openly unrepentant. For instance, those who despise God’s Word by seldom or never coming to hear it preached. Those who openly live in sexual sin—premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, pornography. Those who slander and backbite and continue to do so even though they are rebuked. The list goes on. Paul gives us a longer list in Galatians chapter 5. “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). When a person falls into such sins and does not repent, it means that they have fallen from the grace of God. They are on their way to hell.

Now most of us here today, or at least many of us, are not living in such sins. So it may be hard for us to relate to the joy this passage holds for sinners and tax collectors, for those who have fallen into grievous sin. For those who have fallen this passage holds out news of hope and unspeakable joy. It tells us that God is not idly or happily watching sinners perish. He is eagerly seeking the fallen, desiring their salvation. And when He finds them and brings them home, He rejoices over them along with all the angels in heaven.

That’s truly good news if you are a tax collector or a sinner, if you are sorry and afraid of your sins and long for salvation. God is seeking you out to give you forgiveness and restore you. But what if your sins are not so great and you are not so heavily burdened by them? What if you have not fallen into public, unrepentant sin?

First of all, you should give thanks to God for preserving you from great shame and vice, because without His grace you too would surely have fallen. But secondly this Scripture also shows how severely even those who have lived an upright life before the world have sinned. It draws a picture of what kind of love God has for the ungodly, and what kind of love He requires in the Law that we have.

You have heard the summary of the ten commandments before. The summary of the first table is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength.” And the second table is summarized with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s simple. It’s the golden rule we teach to children. If your neighbor is hungry or thirsty, you feed him and give him something to drink, because that’s what you would have him do to you. If your neighbor is being slandered, you defend his reputation. If he has property, you help him to keep it and improve it, you don’t try to get it away from him. That’s love in external, bodily things, and that’s what God requires of us in the ten commandments.

But it is a much greater thing to love your neighbor in spiritual things. That means when you see your neighbor on the road to hell, you don’t shrug it off and say, “That’s his problem.” You deal with your neighbor as if his sin was your sin. What would you want your neighbor to do for you if you were caught in a sin and bound for hell? Would you want him never to say anything about it and mind his own business? Or would you want him to take you aside and preach the law of God to you so that you turn from your evil way and seek God’s grace? For myself, I would want my neighbor not to talk about me, nor cast me off as a lost cause, but to take me aside and warn me frankly to repent of my sin.   I would want him to love me enough to seek my eternal welfare.

And that’s how much God commands and requires that we love our neighbor. He requires that we love him enough to seek his eternal well-being as if it were our own. That doesn’t just mean telling him that Jesus loves him and hoping he gets it. It means warning him with the law when he is unrepentant. But God doesn’t just require talk from us to our neighbor. Our hearts are to be full of love toward our neighbors, so that we can’t rest while they are perishing. That’s the way that God loves the lost, and it was this love that made the sinners and tax collectors come to Jesus. They heard stern rebukes and warnings from Jesus. Jesus preached, “Repent.” But they didn’t run away from Jesus as a harsh judge. It was clear that everything Jesus did and said proceeded from deep, passionate love for lost sinners. He was searching for them, longing for them, seeking them out the way a widow looks for her lost coin or a shepherd searches for his lost sheep.

In the past few weeks you’ve heard me try to speak clearly and call sin sin with regard to some of the things our society is trying to whitewash and legitimize. But in the scheme of things it’s relatively easy to stand behind this pulpit and say trying to change your sex is sinful, or having relations with someone of the same sex is sinful. But all of that is a dead work if there isn’t also love for sinners behind it. The Pharisees and scribes were able to call sin sin too. But they fell short of the righteousness of God because they didn’t also have heartfelt love for lost sinners that seeks them out and makes their sin its own. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal.”

And that’s just how we are in our sinful flesh—a lot of noise with no substance. A tongue ready to declare the law with a heart devoid of love for those who are condemned by the law. Our love for sinners is lacking. More often than not we don’t rebuke our sinning neighbors. We claim that we refrain out of love, when really it’s that we’re more afraid of our loved ones, friends, or acquaintances getting angry with us. We so quickly grow tired of calling people to repentance, especially when we feel their hostility. And when we do rebuke, we often do so not out of heartfelt love for the lost but out of our own anger or disgust. And people can sense this. They sense that we lack the love that seeks the good of our sinning neighbor as if it were our own good. And the tax collectors and sinners do not draw near to us, because they rightly sense that we are not going to rejoice over their being found.

By this standard, God’s standard, we all stand in great need of repentance. By human standards such a lack of love is no big deal. But in the sight of God it is an inexcusable hard-heartedness.

The tax collectors and sinners were burdened by the weight of their sins and the judgment of God. That’s why they found joy when they drew near to Jesus and heard that their sins were forgiven. If we cannot feel the burden of our sin of lovelessness, we should at least believe God that such a lack of concern for the eternal welfare of our neighbor is a great sin in His sight. We may not feel the full weight of our sins, but we should believe God and draw near with the tax collectors and sinners to listen to Jesus.

Then Jesus’ parable comes as good news to us, too. It comes as joyful news whether we are public sinners or those whose lack of love condemns us before God. Jesus tells us that God is in no way passive as He sees sinners on the way to destruction. God is actively seeking us while we are lost, before we start looking for Him. He is looking for us while we are lost because we are of great value to Him, the way a lost sheep is valuable to its shepherd, the way a lost coin is valuable to a poor widow. Whenever we become aware of the heaviness of our sins, we begin to tremble before God. The law and our conscience tell us that He must be furiously angry with us. Indeed, according to the law He cannot be anything less than angry with us as sinners. But Jesus tells us here that God is not hunting us like an avenger when we are lost in our sins. He is looking for us, eager to bring us back home on His shoulders, and to call His friends, the angels and the saints, together, that they might rejoice with Him over us. He hunts for us the way a widow hunts for a lost coin and the way a shepherd hunts for a lost sheep.

He was hunting for you long before you were hunting for Him. Before the foundation of the world, Scripture tells us, He planned for your redemption. He foresaw our fall into sin and He planned to give His Son to redeem us. Jesus came and sought out lost sinners by taking up human nature, so that there is nothing about us that is foreign to God. He has taken up everything that we are. And though He committed no sin, He made Himself one with us in our guilt before God. He picked us up like a lost sheep and put us on His shoulders. We were lost in our sins and could not find our way back to God, innocence, and life. He found us. He met us and found us at the cross of Calvary, where He bore all the wrath of the righteous God at our sins.

He eagerly sought out the lost sinner, you, all the way to the death of the cross. Now He seeks us out in the preaching of His Word. With the preaching of His law He finds us lost in our sins. He sweeps the house and uncovers us in the dust when He preaches the ten commandments to us. Then He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of our sins through His cross. He puts us on His shoulders and carries us. He exalts us and lifts us up to sit on His shoulders. His righteousness is our righteousness. His holiness is our holiness. Now wolf can get to us when we lie on the shoulders of our shepherd Jesus. To destroy His lamb the devil, death, hell, and sin must first destroy Jesus. And that is impossible because He is risen from the dead, the conqueror of sin, death, and the devil. He puts us on His shoulders when He baptizes us, preaches the Gospel to us, absolves us, and feeds us His body and blood.

What is mine is yours, He tells us in the Gospel. In His love, which is a consuming fire, He has made everything that is His serve us. His life is our life, His righteousness our righteousness.

This is how we have to learn to console our consciences when our sins afflict us and death confronts us. At such times God’s law thunders in our ears that we have transgressed and earned His wrath. The threats of the law terrify us and we feel we are going to perish in God’s anger. That’s all our reason and our flesh know—God’s law and the righteousness it proclaims, that the one who does it is righteous. That’s the reason the scribes and Pharisees sneer and grumble at Jesus. “The law says sinners are cursed and cast out from God’s presence. How can Jesus receive them?” They don’t know the righteousness of God that the Gospel proclaims, and our flesh doesn’t understand it either. “hOw can God, who hates sin, love and eagerly desire sinners?” This is the mystery of the Gospel and it is what Jesus came to teach. Jesus didn’t come to preach a new law or set of laws. Moses had given the law already. Jesus came to preach the good news that God is seeking the lost sinners and that when they are found he rejoices over them.

How are lost sinners found? When they are brought to repentance. That is, when they hate their sins but believe that God has forgiven them through Jesus. This is the picture we need to put before our eyes when our sins accuse us and we are afraid of God’s wrath. We need then to hold on to this Gospel that tells us that God is eagerly seeking the lost sinners and rejoices over their salvation as if He had found a great treasure.

When we aren’t troubled about our sins and we are living our life on earth, it is a good thing for us to have the law before our eyes. Then we can have Jesus before us as an example. He didn’t seek His own welfare and wealth but ours. He saw us helpless in our sin and gave Himself to bear it and to preach to us that we might not remain lost but might be brought to God. The love that made Him do this should be our example when we are dealing with our neighbor. We should be willing to suffer everything and give up everything if only our neighbor might be saved. Jesus’ example should move us to pray to God to give us more fervent love for our neighbor, so that we are willing to rebuke him and bear with him and love him until his soul is saved. Jesus’ example should stand before us, together with the ten commandments, as a sermon that puts to death our self-love and our self-seeking so that we seek our neighbor’s welfare in body and soul. The example and love of Jesus is what propels us to take risks in seeking our neighbor’s salvation.

But whenever we are frightened of our sins and God’s wrath, whenever our failure to love accuses us, then we must have Jesus before us not as our example but as our redeemer. For He has sought us out and put us on His shoulders. He bore the cross and our sins, and He placed us into His body crucified and risen in our Baptism. We cling to Him and hang around His neck. He is ours and we are His. Our sin is His sin. His righteousness and life is our righteousness and life.

This is what gives us confidence to witness, to proclaim Christ, to seek our neighbor’s salvation. If we were being judged by God’s law no one would ever dare to open their mouth in Christ’s name. After all, who knows? You might say something wrong. You might not rightly divide law from Gospel. You might sin and make the Gospel look bad. You might offend someone so that they never want to hear the word of God again.

But we are not being judged by God’s law. We are righteous by faith alone in Jesus. Our righteousness is complete and certain because it is the righteousness of Jesus. So when we seek our neighbor’s salvation, we do it not to justify ourselves or contribute something toward our salvation. That is already accomplishes. We do it out of love—out of love for Jesus who has redeemed us, and out of love for our neighbor whom we begin to love in Christ and whom our Lord Jesus has already loved when He was crucified.

May God fix before our eyes the love of Christ toward us and fill us with love toward our neighbor. As we partake of Christ’s passionate love toward us in His body and blood, may He also fill us with ardent love toward lost sinners, whether they are in our church, our families, or our neighborhoods.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Party No One Wanted To Come To. 2nd Sunday after Trinity, 2015

2nd Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 14, 2015

The Party No One Wanted To Come To.

Iesu Iuva

Have you ever given a party or a dinner and no one wanted to come? Everyone made excuses? “Oh, I have to go to the doctor that day”? The excuses may even be real, but that doesn’t take away the humiliation of having no one want to come to your party. You may never have had this experience, but you can imagine how it would feel. A kid who had no one come to his birthday party would probably cry. An adult would probably feel angry at his so-called friends.

In Jesus’ parable today it is God who is throwing a party that no one wants to come to. This comes as a shock to the religious men with whom Jesus is eating a dinner. They were sure that they were going to be invited to God’s banquet, and they thought that when the invitation came they would be eager to drop everything and come to it. But Jesus tells them that they have already been invited but have refused to come.

Jesus is not really telling a new story but an old one. Long ago God gave a promise to the ancestors of the Jews that there would be a baby born from their stock who would take away the sins of the world. But most of the Jews did not believe this promise. And when God brought the people out of Egypt to be His holy nation, they continually rebelled against God and refused His offer. They didn’t believe He was going to provide for them. The second they were lacking something they complained and wanted to go back to slavery. When Moses was gone on the mountain talking to God, they built an idol and turned to it instead of to the Lord. Then when they arrived at the border of the promised land, they rebelled and did not believe that God would bring them in. Finally God said, “Fine. You will wander in the desert forty years until you die, and then I will bring your children into the land.” This is what God eventually does when people despise His promise and invitation. He eventually will let people have their own way and give His good gifts to others.

Jesus is saying that this is what will happen to the Jews. They—at least the Pharisees—are claiming that they eagerly desire to come to God’s banquet of eternal life and blessedness. But Jesus is saying, “It is already here, and you are refusing it.” The Pharisees had not listened to the preaching of John the Baptist, who called out for the people of Israel to repent and be baptized because the kingdom of God was at hand. And even more the Pharisees had not listened to the preaching of Jesus, who called them to come to the banquet of God, to receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus called them to come because the kingdom of God was present where He was. He was the King. In Him God and man are united in one person. In Him there is fellowship and communion between God and man. And He shares the fellowship and communion with all who believe in Him.

But most of the people to whom Jesus preached did not want to come to the banquet of God, which means that they did not want to come to Jesus and believe that in Him God was reconciled to sinners. They didn’t want to come because to come to Jesus meant losing earthly things, or at least putting them second. In Jesus’ parable the people who are invited to the banquet say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come because I have just bought a field.” “I have bought oxen to plow my field.” They have business and financial concerns that keep them from coming to the feast. Or, “I have just gotten married, so I can’t come.” Jesus isn’t saying it’s a sin to get married or run a business and make money, but He is saying that a person can’t put those things first and also seek God’s kingdom. Because to come to Christ, who is God’s feast where we are fed with eternal life, we must be willing to lose “life, goods, fame, child, and wife,” as we sing in “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”   When God called Abraham to go into a foreign country so God could make him a great nation, Abraham could have said, “But all my family is here. It will be dangerous to go to a land where I don’t know anybody.” Abraham trusted that the God who promised to make him into a great nation would also protect him in the land into which God called him to go.

Most of the Jewish people did not believe in Christ when God invited them to come to Him and receive eternal life. What was the reason? Jesus says because they were concerned with their earthly life first—with family and business. He doesn’t say they were out living immoral lives, and that’s why they wouldn’t come to the feast. They were occupied with things that God gives. Family and work are gifts from God. However, God doesn’t want us to be so occupied with those things that they come before His greatest gift, which is the Gospel of His Son. That is the feast to which the Jews were invited and to which we are invited, and to which God invites the whole world in the preaching of Christ.

And it is a rich feast God spreads before us in the Gospel. He doesn’t offer us temporary treasures and pleasures in the Gospel. He offers and invites us to partake of rich food and drink that sustains our lives forever. He freely invites us in the Gospel to come and be forgiven all our sins through the suffering, agony, and death of His beloved Son. He says in the Gospel that everything Jesus is and has is for you. His righteousness is yours, by which He fulfilled the entire law. His innocent suffering and death is yours, by which He made full atonement for all your sins. His resurrection from the dead is yours, by which He justified us and rose with sin dead and buried to appear before God as our advocate forever. St. Paul says in Colossians, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him.” Through faith in Jesus alone you are forgiven all your sins and you have communion with the true God, even though by nature you are dead in your trespasses and sins. Why would anyone pass up such a rich banquet?

But that is the point of this parable. Most people did pass up this banquet in Jesus’ day, and most people still do in ours. Why? Because they hear the message of the forgiveness of sins but reject it. They believe that they are going to find what they’re looking for in earthly things—goods, fame, child, and wife. They don’t seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

So what does the master of the banquet do? He gets angry. Then he sends out his servant to invite and call other people to his banquet, people that a respectable house owner would never invite—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. This is what God did when eventually, after the ascension of Jesus, He sent the apostles to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. But you can also see that even in Jesus’ ministry it was the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind who came to Him. Not just those who were literally sick and poor, but also the spiritually poor—tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners. These began to come to God’s banquet and believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

So today God is calling those who are far off to come to His feast. We are becoming used to hearing dreary news of people not coming to Church, no longer interested in the Gospel. But it is not that way everywhere. In Africa and Asia, places where people lived in paganism and idolatry for countless generations, there is a rich harvest going on for the Gospel. The Lutheran church is growing in those lands.

Just like in Jesus’ parable, we can rest assured that God is going to fill His banquet hall. He is gathering an eternal Church which will be filled with all the elect from every tribe, nation, language, and people. God is not going to let His feast go to waste just because some people refuse it. He is too generous for that. He is going to fill His feast. And what we see from the parable is that many who seem most likely to be at God’s feast won’t be there. He fills it up with people you wouldn’t expect to find at the feast, with the poor, sick, blind, and lame, not with the wise and great of the world, but with the sufferers and the spiritually poor.

But the Lord now invites you to come to His banquet. He has prepared everything. Everything is ready. He gave His Son to bear your sins, and everything that could keep you away He has removed. And He says, “Come to my feast. Everything is ready. Come and have your sins forgiven.” And since He has provided such rich food at such a cost, can He not be trusted to take care of everything else. Just like at a fancy party you would leave your keys with the valet and your coat at the checkroom, leave your concerns about your family and business with the Lord and make sure you come first to His feast. He will take good care of them. He has already prepared everything for you in the death of His Son.

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

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