Sermons, Uncategorized

Living in the Resurrection Now

The Poor invited to the feast - Luke 14:15-24
JESUS MAFA. The Poor Invited to the Feast, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.

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[Jesus said]: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).

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

On first reading, this text appears to be an assortment of different, unconnected moments in the ministry of Jesus. We have a healing (vv. 1-6), a parable (vv. 7-11), and then a teaching about regard for the poor (vv. 12-14). When you look at the text more closely, however, you see this all happens on one occasion. The text begins with a reference to a meal on the Sabbath at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees and it is not until verse 25 that we leave this occasion.

Recognizing this unity encourages us to look for the connection among these seemingly unrelated events. Like a friend telling us what happened last night at dinner, Luke relates many of the details of this occasion with something in mind. When you look at what Jesus is doing, you will find the connection: Jesus is patiently revealing what the Resurrection truly means.

What comes to mind when you think about the Resurrection? For some, it might be all clouds and angels and souls taking flight. For others, a reunion with loved ones. For the more Biblically minded, it may even be the broken world suddenly and fully restored. In each of these cases, however, notice how it is an event located in the future. Not something we seriously consider as we choose whether or not to go out to lunch with a transgendered co-worker.

For Jesus, the Resurrection is not just a doctrinal teaching located in the future, or worse yet a line from the Creed that we say and move on. No. It is something which shapes our lives now.

Consider the focused patience of Jesus. He uses questions and healings and parable and direct address, all to bring about a glimpse of His eternal Kingdom among those who are gathered.

The reading opens with Jesus celebrating the restoration that occurs in His Kingdom. He heals the man who has dropsy and, by a question, invites the Pharisees and lawyers to see how this is fitting for the Sabbath, a time of rest in the reign and rule of God.

Receiving no reply to His question, Jesus tells a parable that invites those gathered to see the great reversal happening in the Kingdom of God. God works by grace and, therefore, those who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who humble themselves will be exalted by God.

When there is still no response, Jesus speaks directly to His host, inviting him to live in the liberality of God. The last line of the text seems odd: “For you will be repaid at the Resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). But this one small phrase opens up for us what lies at the heart of these various activities of Jesus.

Here, at a dinner, Jesus is offering a glimpse of the grace that will prevail in His eternal kingdom. The sick will be healed. The poor will be fed. The humble will be honored. The faithful will be rewarded. Even the host can live now in the liberality of God. No need to think of himself or his social obligations. He doesn’t need to look out for himself because he knows that he will be taken care of. Such divine assurance means he is free to extend God’s care to others.

The question this text poses for us today is, “What does it mean to believe in the Resurrection?” Is the Resurrection only about the future? Or, could it be possible, the Resurrection opens our life to the present? If so, how do we go about living in the Resurrection now?

An ancient group of philosophers called the Stoics believed it was important for everyone to remember death each day. Their reasoning was, “You’re going to die. You don’t know when, but you know it will happen.” Making people depressed was not the purpose of this, but rather helping people actually savor life and not sleepwalk through it. They also believed that if you remembered life’s impermanence, you would not be so quick to take your loved ones and friends for granted. Who knows, after all, how long you will have their company, and they yours? There is a good dose of common sense in this perspective.

Yet stoicism doesn’t come anywhere close to plumbing the reasons why Christians, from early times, have also frequently and intentionally remembered death. Stoicism lacked framework to truly see death as it is. To the Stoic, death was just a natural part of the cycle of life: you are born, you grow old, and then you die. Death is just the concluding chapter of life.

Christians, however, remember the beginning: Genesis. We remember that death is not a “natural” part of the world because it is not what God intended for His creation. We remember that the Creator’s gift was life, a life in which all things were good.

“Death” was at first only a word in God’s new creation, part of a warning attached to the fruit of a tree. It had no concrete place in human existence until man wanted his way instead of God’s and let the monster in and turned it loose. When Christians remember death, even remembering it daily, we’re not merely recalling that there is an end to life that comes at an unexpected time. We’re recalling that our first parents’ disobedience let loose an enemy into the very fabric of creation and that it is even now at work in our own bodies and souls.

Every Ash Wednesday, in countless congregations around the world, Christians line up and come forward to receive a strange mark, ashes smeared on their forehead, while hearing the words God spoke to Adam and Eve on the day death entered the human body. “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Yet on Ash Wednesday, the ashes are not placed in a single blob, but in the shape of a cross. This remembrance, then, is not only about being “dead men walking,” headed to the grave. Rather it is also a remembrance that out of incomprehensible love, there came forth from the Father His Only Son, into our flesh to know this death in His own body nailed to the cross.

It was on the very night that His sufferings began that Jesus spoke to His disciples some astounding words: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1–4).

It sounded so good to the disciples; but Thomas was confused. He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Jesus’ answer is one of His most famous sayings: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Jesus not only provides the way to the home He has prepared; He also is the way. How He does it is called “the blessed exchange.” Jesus prepared a way for us to come home and stay there forever by becoming man, like us in every way except without sin. He willingly entered into our death—even death on a cross—to pour into it His own divine life, destroying death from the inside out.

When the Christian thinks of death daily, he or she also remembers this above all: that Jesus entered into death for us to open the way back to the home God created for us at the beginning. Because this is so, the Christian daily thinks of death in order to learn to think of it as a defeated foe. If through Christ, the way home has already been opened, then death itself has been truly robbed of its sting. Death is no longer seen as the end, but a sound sleep from which Christ will one day awaken us with a word.

Have you ever noticed how most cemeteries are oriented with the graves going east and west? The casket is placed with the head to the west and the feet to the east? There’s a good reason for this custom—the Resurrection. It is thought that on the Last Day when Christ returns to raise the living and the dead, He will come from the east. So, for us Christians, we have this wonderful image that when we arise from the sleep of death, the first thing we will see is our Savior.

Such an unshakeable hope in the Resurrection affects not just how we face death, but also how we live each day now. As Jesus reveals, the Resurrection gives us courage to live each day in the radical liberality of God. Christ is not concerned about social consequences in His kingdom. Let the Pharisees talk—He receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1). He loves justice. He does mercy. He walks humbly with God. Regardless of the consequences. Such living could get one killed, (which it does,) but God, His Father, raises the dead and, through Him, establishes a kingdom where mercy reigns. Even now.

Imagine living in that kingdom now. Something as mundane as inviting people over to dinner can be touched by the reality of the Resurrection. Rather than living in a world governed by social stratification—a world where there are those we invite into our homes and those we do not, people we need to impress to secure our future, and love we need to give or withhold depending upon who is watching—we live in God’s Kingdom governed by His gracious promise of resurrection. No need to push in line or rush about or always seek to be first. You literally have eternity to enjoy the moment. No need to secure our place, that is already taken care of by Christ. Instead, we are free to take care of others. Something as simple as whom we talk to or even how we talk to that person can become an occasion when we confess our belief in the Resurrection of the just.

God Himself is the model of one who invites all classes of people to His great supper of salvation. In the Resurrection, there will be people of all economic strata, including the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We’ll be with them for eternity. How we treat other people matters—because we are living in eternity and our days are expressions, sometimes humble and other times courageous, of the certainty that God ultimately rules over all things with love.

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

When facing health challenges, you can pray for healing, confident that God cares about you, He will be with you, and He promises to work all things for your eternal good. You also have the further assurance, that God will grant you healing—if not in this life, then in the Resurrection.

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

Mourning the death of a loved one, you have a different perspective. You do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since you believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep … the dead in Christ will rise … Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

What you do or don’t do on the Sabbath is changed when you are living in the Resurrection. Works of mercy, acts of loving our neighbor are not forbidden, but rather encouraged. And living in the Resurrection now, where will you be found each Lord’s Day? In the presence of the Lord, hearing the Word of God. Receiving Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening and preserving of your body and soul unto life everlasting. Celebrating with your fellow Christians, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the glorious foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Yes, living in the Resurrection now makes a big difference!

So, go in the grace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are living in the Resurrection now. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Teaching His Children to Get Along

work-at-home-mom-1024x1024Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

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

This is every kid’s favorite time of the year, isn’t it? Summer! When you can sleep late, hang out with your friends, do as you please. Freedom from all the rules of school and the schedules everybody else makes for you. I hope you guys have been enjoying it! And we won’t talk about the number of days left until…

Of course, it’s a good time of the year to be an adult, too—and largely because it’s such a great time for children. I love watching kids at play, at the pool, tee ball, family vacations, Vacation Bible School, just interacting with each other at home when they’re not tied own with homework. It is interesting to watch children interact, isn’t it? Sometimes they cooperate with one another so well, sometimes not so well; they’re sinful just like everybody else. What makes children get along with one another? We’d like to find the formula, wouldn’t we?

At VBS this week, I had the opportunity to observe this dynamic firsthand. We were playing a game in which teamwork and cooperation are very important. It was interesting to see how some of the teams worked well together and others did not. Some got so frustrated with their teammates that there were some hurtful words and hurt feelings, so we had to deal with that, too.

After the games, we talked about what had happened. I asked the kids what they thought had made it possible for them to win and what had happened when they didn’t win. They agreed that it all came down to teamwork. When they worked together, they succeeded; when they did not, they got frustrated with each other and things just got worse. Cooperation is the key to any group efforts.

As with most things, I suppose, when it comes to raising children to cooperate in wholesome ways, there are the two extreme views. There’s the permissive approach, and there’s the strict, authoritarian approach. Wise parents, though, are looking for something in between or a combination of both.

Our heavenly Father is the wisest parent, and in our text this evening, our loving Father teaches His children how to get along, avoiding either extreme, but drawing from the strengths of both approaches—permissive and authoritarian.

Now before this becomes a “how to” sermon, let me make something clear:  We human parents can draw some very good advice from this Word of God and apply it to our own parenting, but God isn’t really speaking to us as parents here. He’s speaking to all of us as children. That’s foundational for everything God says to us in our text today. Our Father teaches us as His children. St. Paul assures us, “You were sealed for the day of redemption… as beloved children.”

We are children of God! Children of the heavenly Father. All of us, at every age. In fact, we are sealed as His beloved children. God did that in Holy Baptism. Baptism is the visible act by which God put His seal on us. It marks each one of us—both on the forehead and on the heart—as His child. By that act, God also takes responsibility for raising us, for teaching us those things a parent teaches a child. Like how to get along with one another, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, the rest of God’s children.

Just like kids, we sometimes get along well, sometimes not so well. Except that the older we get, the more our squabbles become these: Destroying someone’s reputation through gossip, rather than shouting over who gets to bat first. Fighting for a job the other person wants, rather than for a seat next to the window. Making sure we get our way in the voter’s assembly no matter what it takes, rather than insisting we should be the captain because it’s our ball. Soaking each other with verbal abuse, rather than mere water that actually feels pretty good on a hot day.

That kind of behavior is no more acceptable among adult Christians than it is among kids at Vacation Bible School. As Paul writes: “That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20). God intends in our text to lead us to a better kind of interaction. Every parent’s dream—isn’t it?—is children who are kind and forgiving of one another rather than bitter and angry. How can parents make that happen? How does God make it happen in us?

Our Father has His dos and don’ts for getting along. Remember that extreme permissive approach? The parent lets the child learn on his own how to get along. The idea is that independence lets the child develop his or her creativity to the fullest. Unfortunately, children in such totally permissive homes often develop an egocentric, “me first” view that leads to greed, covetousness, and bullying. What’s more, children in such environments often develop resentment for parents who don’t seem to care enough to provide guidance.

God certainly does not take this kind of laissez-faire, “anything goes” attitude with His children. He cares. In fact, when His children sin, He grieves (4:30a). The Holy Spirit is described as like a parent. He is the one who teaches us God’s will. And He grieves when we ignore it. The Holy Spirit is the one who shows us God’s love. And He grieves when our lives don’t reflect that love.

Imagine the grief a parent feels when a son or daughter hurts someone else’s child, maybe commits violent crime. Imagine the grief a parent feels when a child rejects everything a parent has done for him, storming out of the house at age 18, vowing never to come back. Imagine the grief a parent feels when she sees a child go the wrong way in life, perhaps destroying herself with drugs or alcohol or unchristian relationships. The Holy Spirit is grieved when God’s children hurt one another. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we reject everything God has done in creating, redeeming, and caring for us. The Holy Spirit is grieved whenever we hurt ourselves and others by falling into sin.

God cares about us too much to sit back and see whether we’ll learn how to get along. He doesn’t take a “boys will be boys” or “children will be children” attitude when Christians hurt one another. No, He commands: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32a).

God has His dos and don’ts for getting along. It is completely inconsistent with Christian faith for believers to fight, carry grudges, talk evil about other believers. God does not permit it! God commands His children to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. God commands His children to care about the hurt others are feeling at the death of a loved one. God commands His children to support others who are feeling weak when life seems to be going wrong. God commands His children to bear with others’ sins and failures.

God is no permissive parent. We could never resent Him as a Father who doesn’t care. He longs, He aches, for us to be kind and compassionate to one another. By His commands, He actively teaches us to get along.

Still, you can’t compare Him to a parent of the other extreme approach, a strict authoritarian. Our Father uses a lot of love in getting us to get along. The Gospel is the only motivator that generates true change of heart. Paul writes: “God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32b-5:2).

You know the authoritarian model. Lots of rules. “Do it because I said so.” If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to get it.” This approach gets outward compliance but inner resistance, often resulting in even more resentment than the permissive model. So as soon as the threat is gone, even the outward compliance stops.

God doesn’t want grudging outward action. He wants hearts. So He brings about loving outward action by working inwardly, working in our hearts. He showers us with huge doses of love (5:1). He calls us His children, His dearly beloved. And He proved that that’s exactly what we are to Him when Christ sacrificed Himself for us (5:2). That’s the greatest demonstration of love, isn’t it?—giving up one’s own life. Jesus died on the cross because God loves us.

God wanted us to be His, to be His children, children who would serve Him and one another willingly. That could only be possible if He removed the sin that separated us from Him and from one another. That’s what Jesus did by dying and rising again.

Paul says Jesus gave Himself up as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That recalls the Old Testament sacrifices—the smoke of the burnt offerings being sent up to God as a pleasing aroma. Let your nostrils imagine the pleasure of breathing fine incense. Nothing the Old Testament people or we ourselves could present could please God like that, but Jesus pleased God for us. He was God demonstrating His love for us.

Christ’s pleasing God for us is why we could be “sealed for the day of redemption.” Once Christ had paid for the sins of the world, the Holy Spirit could come to us in Baptism and give us the forgiveness Jesus earned. The seal means we can certain of eternal life when our last day comes. Baptism, eternal life—that’s God demonstrating His love for us.

That love then teaches us to love; we imitate God’s love (5:1). The Greek word for “imitator” gives us our word “mimic.” That’s the way children learn, isn’t it? Children mimic their parents. They walk the way Dad walks. Talk the way Mom talks. Children who live in a loving home see how it’s done. Dad saying sweet things to Mom, spouses helping each other around the house—it rubs off.

God uses that technique on us, teaching us by example how to get along. He wants us to love, so He first loved us richly. He wants us to forgive, so He shows us how by first forgiving us.

Even more important, God’s love and forgiveness motivates us to love and forgive and get along. A child who lives in a house of ill will not only won’t know how to love, but he also won’t want to. The anger he’s received will be anger that has to come out. But a child who grows up in a loving family wants to be nice to other kids, wants to love other people, know how to love other people.

We Christians are all growing up in the most loving family. In spite of all our sins, we’re loved. In spite of our unworthiness, we’re blessed every day. In spite of our “bitterness and wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” “slander,” and “malice,” all who believe have eternal life. That kind of love moves us to get along nicely, even if we’ve long outgrown summers off and the backseat of the family car.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved [you] and gave Himself up for [you], a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This sermon is based upon a sermon outline by Rev. Carl C. Fichenscher II, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 22, Part 3, pg 43-45.