Pentecost 13C – “By Faith, Part 2” (Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Think about the greatest gift that you ever received in your life. It might have been a toy, a game, car, or house. If we are married and are smart, we would say that the greatest gift we ever received was our spouse. Believe it or not, there is an even greater gift that you have received. You have received the gift of everlasting life. So just how exactly did you receive this gift? Did you buy it? Did you earn it? Did you do something for it? The answer is no; you did nothing to buy it, nothing to earn it, and you did nothing for it. This is a gift.

St. Paul tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God….” You see, all of this is a gift granted to you by faith. Faith is the key to all of this. Faith is something that is given to you, not something that we make or create. Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Romans: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Faith is something that comes from the outside, not from the inside. There isn’t anything that we can do to have faith; it must be given to us. The Holy Spirit gives faith to us. It comes to us in the Word of God. It comes to us in Holy Baptism. It comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. It comes to us through Christ, who died for our sins. Only through these means does true faith come.

What is the true faith? The writer to the Hebrews tells us at the beginning of chapter 11: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” All throughout our text for today, we read about those people who lived throughout biblical times and the faith which they had, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

            Each and every person whom the author of Hebrews mentions was a person of great faith. You have Abraham, Moses, the prophets and patriarchs. All were great people of faith, yet each of them experienced pain in their lives, all stemming from the faith that they had in God.

Faith is what saved the people of the Old Testament, since they did not experience the Messiah. Instead, they had faith in the promise of the Messiah. Faith is ultimately all that Abraham had. Abraham is often called “the father of the faithful.” It was promised to Abraham that it would be his descendants who would inherit the kingdom of God. However, even the “father of the faithful” had his share of trials and tribulations and pain along the way. His most painful moment came when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God.

Instead of scoffing at God’s request, Abraham took his only son and went to the land of Moriah to offer him as the sacrifice, just as God had told him to do. When Isaac questioned about where they would find the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham told him, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Instead of losing or questioning his faith, he continued strong in his faith, even in the face of what was to happen, that God would provide. In the end, the faith of Abraham did not waiver. Abraham focused on God rather than on the circumstances of the impending sacrifice and God ultimately provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac.

So has God provided a sacrifice for you. He provides the very sacrifice that He asks of Abraham – His one and only Son. But unlike Isaac, there would be no ram to replace Him. Instead, God sacrifices His one and only Son so that we, the poor, miserable sinners that we are, would receive life through the blood of the sacrifice. That works great for us living in a post-Jesus era, but what about all those before us in our text today? What about those who lived pre-Jesus? Does that mean that they are without life? Of course not!

As the writer of Hebrews expounds on Moses and the people of Israel, and others, faith is all that they had. Faith is all that any of us have. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, the greatest of all promises. This promise includes the resurrection and the glorification of our bodies when Christ shall appear in His second coming to those who are expecting Him for salvation. This promise is a promise for you and for me and for all believers in Christ Jesus.

For us sinners, we have been given faith by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. We who are sinners have been united with God forever as His beloved children through what Christ has done for us, through Baptism and through His life, death and resurrection. We have the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

So what happens when our faith is weakened or when it seems that God has given up on us, that He has left us to our sinful vices? First, know that God has not given up on you, His beloved and baptized children. Even when Israel turned their backs on God over and over again, God did not utterly abandon them. Yes, He let evil befall them. They lost their land, their lives, even their identity, but God was still their God and would preserve them.

For you, God is still your God and will preserve you. He will lift you up when you are at your lowest point in your sinful lives. He has promised that in your Baptism, that you have His name placed upon you and that you are His forever. That promise is yours.

So, what sins do you cling to today? What weighs you down in the marathon of your life as a Christian? What sins trip you up? Whatever it is, the text is clear: lay it aside. How do we do that? Confess it. Speak to God of your sins that He already knows: acknowledge them before Him. And rejoice: rejoice because the Lord has comfort upon comfort in our epistle to give you this day.

This grueling race is already won. Every other religion tells you that the prize is yours if you run the race well enough. But this is not so. Jesus has already run the race. He has already become flesh to endure the cross for you. He has despised its shame—the shame of being found guilty of all the sins of the entire world, for they were all heaped upon Him. Yet He has endured the cross so that you might be delivered from your sin.

Jesus remains the victor. He sits at the right hand of the throne of God: He is His Father’s right-hand God-man for you. He does not grow weary or discouraged about your soul; rather, He continues to work all things for your good, actively preserving you in the one true faith throughout the race.

Your ultimate joy is this: knowing that you are not alone, for Christ is with you now. He is the author and finisher of your faith: it is He who is the source of the faith you have, and it is He who has completed the cross so that your faith and salvation might be fulfilled. He is the author and finisher, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. But He is not far away: He is with you. In your endurance run, who has given you the living, life-giving water of Holy Baptism? It is none other than Christ Himself. Who continues to feed and strengthen you for whatever race remains? It is your Savior, with His own body and blood.

It’s an endurance run, this life of a Christian. Christ has run His course from heaven to the cross and back again, enduring the judgment for sin so that you might be set free. Take heart, dear friends, for your race is run and won already, because you are forgiven all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.


Pentecost 12C – “By Faith” (Hebrews 11:1-16

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

We tend to be a rather insecure people. We are insecure in our personal relationships. We are insecure in our jobs. We are insecure in general. We may not be insecure all the time, but we are insecure a good amount of the time. Sadly, we are insecure when it comes to God. We are sinners and sometimes we wonder if God can really forgive the likes of us. That is something that Satan loves to tell you, that you are unforgiveable, that you are too far gone for God to save you. But when it comes to God, you do not need to feel insecure because God has promised you that you are forgiven all of your sins.

All of this makes sense if you possess a single thing – faith. That is the emphasis that the writer of Hebrews presents. Faith is our greatest virtue, for by it do we receive the blessings that God gives to us. And what is our faith founded in? The world would have you ground your faith in yourself, in the fleeting pleasures of this world, in some sappy gospel that isn’t really the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can certainly ground your faith in any one of those things, but that faith will not save you. It never can and it never will. Instead, our faith is grounded in something beyond our imagination.

It’s written: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Because the benefits of Christ’s work are given to us in our Baptism, we draw near to God with the full assurance of faith and we hold fast to our confession, knowing that God is faithful. God’s righteous ones lives by faith. This means having a solid confidence in God. Faith brings the future into the present because it makes things hoped for as real as if we already had them.

Throughout our text today, we hear over and over two words: “by faith.” The author of our text recalls several Old Testament figures and the faith they had. Trusting in the Messiah who was to come, they endured many challenges, believing that God would fulfill His promises, and God commended them for their faith. Each of these figures could have easily given up on God’s promises of the Messiah. Each could have given into the false promises of the world that were immediate than to trust that God would keep His promises.

The first example of faith we see is Abel. Abel, son of Adam and Eve, offered a sacrifice to God from “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” He was commended as righteous and “God [commended] him by accepting his gifts.” Abel gave to God the best he had to give. And in the end, what happened to Abel? He died at the hands of his brother Cain. But as Hebrews tells us, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

How does Abel speak to us today though he is dead? Why was Abel’s sacrifice acceptable? It was not because of what he brought, but because of why he brought it. It was not because of what he did or who he was; it was because of the faith that he had.

And what about a man like Noah? God had told Noah to build an ark because of what would happen. Imagine building a giant boat in the middle of dry land for 120 years that would be large enough for two of every animal and room for food and room for he and his family, a total of eight people. Almost alone in a totally corrupt world, he trusted God and His promises and became the possessor of the righteousness that comes only by faith. Noah was saved, not only from the waters of the flood but also from the fires of hell through faith in God’s promises.

Our text next speaks of Abraham, who was “called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.” He had a nice home in Ur, yet he believed the Lord’s promise that he would receive the land of Canaan; so he packed up his household and left all that he knew. The Lord kept His promise, and Abraham dwelt in the Promised Land; unfortunately, nobody else outside of his family believed it. Therefore, while all of Canaan belonged to Abraham, all who lived there viewed him as a stranger and foreigner.

With Abraham comes Sarah, childless throughout her life. At ninety years old, she heard God promise her a son—an absolutely laughable idea, since she was far past childbearing. But the Lord promised, Sarah believed, and Isaac was born to her and Abraham. Why? Because Sarah believed the promise by faith.

Throughout all these examples of old, they all share a single quality in common and that is faith. In each instance, their faith is not founded in themselves. Their faith is not founded in things of the world. Their faith is founded in one thing and one thing only – God. That is the way our faith is to be as well. Sure, your faith can be in the world, but it will let you down. Sure, your faith can be in people, but they will let you down. As we sing in our hymnody: We walk by faith and not by sight,/No gracious words we hear/From Him who spoke as none e’er spoke,/But we believe Him near.

With the saints of old, it says that they not only lived by faith, but also died in faith. They saw very few of God’s promises fulfilled, but they trusted that God would keep them; therefore, they died believing in what was yet to come. They willingly faced suffering, ridicule, hardship and death in this life because they believed they were just strangers here. They counted their lives and livelihood nothing because they had a different homeland—an eternal, heavenly country.

That is the joy that you have – that your faith in Christ has counted you righteous. It’s not your personality; it’s not all the good things you do in your life. You are made righteous because of Jesus. You are made righteous because the blood of the Lamb was shed and ran over you, washing you clean in that crimson flood.

In short, faith is nothing more than a gift given by God, as it was to the saints in our text. Faith clings to Jesus and His forgiveness, as did the saints in our text. Faith comes by hearing the Word—as you and the saints in our text have heard God’s Word.

If you believe that faith is something you’ve come up with in order to please God, repent. It is His gift to you for your salvation. If faith is something you do, then it is your work and it is never certain. If faith is God’s gift, then your salvation is sure.

Faith is your gift. Faith in Christ is what gives to you your salvation. Faith is your joy, for by that faith God calls you His beloved. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 11C – “Things Above” (Colossians 3:1-11)

C-75 Proper 13 (Lu 12.13-21Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle which was read earlier.

There is an old adage that says what goes up must come down. Gravity sees fit to make sure that adage is true. If you throw a ball up in the air, gravity will pull it back down. Jump up in the air and you will most certainly return to the earth. Even a helium balloon must give way to that adage and when the helium dissipates, the balloon comes down. However for the Christian, we have the advantage of looking towards heaven and knowing that what goes up will most certainly remain up, for that is where Christ is.

As Christians living in a fallen world, we know that when Christ calls us to Him in death, we have the gift of eternal life in heaven awaiting us. We do not focus, as Christians, primarily on a place. Instead, in looking at things above, we look to a person, Jesus Christ. When focused on earthly things, we forfeit so much of the joy that God intends for us. Looking at the rich man in Jesus’ parable today, what is he focused on? He could care less about eternal life. In fact, the man says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” While he may have years of abundant living on earth, what will happen when that abundance runs out? What will all the earthly goods amount to when he dies? What will they do to earn him eternal life with Christ?

Paul encourages us to keep seeking the things above, that is, where Christ is. We look forward to the glory above that is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. The whole point of Colossians is that Christ is the whole point, not just a minor point of it all. Heresies had been distracting the Church there from Christ; a focus on earthly pleasures, Jewish legalism, and empty human philosophies. Paul responds by putting Christ on the appropriate level, above all such human things. Look at what Paul says: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is….; Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” We are to seek those things that emanate from where Christ is, “seated at the right of God.”

Just as we look to things above, we see how Jesus came from above to earth in order to redeem us here below. He came from heaven to earth in the form of a infant child, who grew in stature of a man, who kept the Law perfectly, going all the way to the cross. And just as He descended from heaven to earth, our Lord descended from earth to hell in order to proclaim victory over Satan and his corruption of mankind. And after Jesus proclaimed victory over sin and death, He would ascend to His home again, where He would prepare a place for all believers in Him.

That is the eternal destiny of believers. That is your destiny – to be with God. By your Baptism into Christ, you died to sin and were raised to live in Christ Jesus. We die to this sinful world and are born again into a new life in Christ. There in that new life, God our heavenly Father does not see our sins but sees us for who we are – those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Even though we should be focused on things above, we are often sidetracked and instead focus on things of this world; good, bad, and ugly. When things are going great in your life, when you are at the top of your game at work and the money is rolling in faster than you can count it, spiritual blessings don’t seem all that important compared to earthly wealth. When we are unemployed, when we are plagued with various sicknesses and the like, all we are focused on is an earthly cure and not so much our heavenly blessings. It is easy for us to give in to the things of this world, yet Paul reminds us that the things of this world are not what life is about.

Again, turning to the rich man in Jesus’ parable, all he was focused on was earthly wealth and riches. This was all that he was focused on. But our life is not in this world. Our life is in Christ. Even while we are in this world, we are not to be of this world. Who we are is revealed for us in Christ.

Listen to these words that Paul writes to the Romans: “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” There is another reason to set your mind on things above: that is where your life is hidden. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” That’s an astounding statement. A more joyful reason to rejoice in things above is because that is where your life truly is. Once upon a time, you only had life for this world—you were among the things passing away. But you have died: in Baptism, you were buried with Christ and raised with Him. Already now, you have eternal life. Already, your name is written in heaven, in the Lamb’s book of life. The treasures of heaven are yours. The Lord does not call you a fool and require your soul. He calls you His beloved child, and declares your life is already hidden with Christ in Him.

This is what it means, that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” We are not able to see this new reality with our eyes. But “we walk by faith, not by sight.” Our eyes of faith, now opened for us by the Holy Spirit on account of the Lord’s resurrection, now see that our identity is located in the risen Christ. We see this as the Scriptures are opened to us, as the Holy Spirit has opened our minds to see the risen Christ among us in His Word and Sacraments.

St. Paul is certainly pointing us to things above, but setting our minds on things above has everything to do with the way we live now. The rest of our text encourages us today to live above earthly things, in those things where Christ isn’t. And what might that look like for the Christian? Paul spells that out in verses 5-10 of our text. There he lists sins which were very common among the Christians there at Colossae, sins that are very much commonplace in the Church today. Each of these sins are a gratification of some earthly desire.

As Christians, we have a wonderful reason to be different from a life of these sins, and that is because Christ is above them. We are to seek the things above, where Christ is. Christ is not in this kind of behavior because it is sinful. In order to redeem us from our sins, He had to be above these sins and the only way that was possible is by being the perfect Son of God who would go to the cross on our behalf.

The life of things above means living the opposite of earthly life. It means turning away from ourselves and earthly possessions or means as a way of salvation. It means that we turn to Jesus Christ, for He is above all things. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 10C – “Prayerful Life” (Genesis 18:20-33)

C-74 Proper 12 (Lu 11.1-13)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.

As we look at Abraham from our text, it appears he has something: chutzpah, intestinal fortitude – guts. We’re inclined to say that Abraham had a lot of these in our Old Testament reading today. He stands before the Judge of all the earth and bargains. It’s almost like watching “Let’s Make a Deal.” Here, Abraham is the one running the show. He’s pushing God to continue to make a deal after a deal after a deal and for good reason – He did not want to see Sodom and Gomorrah utterly destroyed. He was pleading to God on their behalf and they didn’t even know it. But that isn’t the true picture of who Abraham is, for he tells God, “I who am but dust and ashes.” If that is who Abraham truly is, then how does he get off talking to God the way he does? It is because he understood and believed that the Lord indeed hears the prayers of His people.

It really isn’t about in intestinal fortitude that Abraham had. It was all about the Lord and His mercy and the gift He has given us in prayer. We are encouraged by our heavenly Father to pray. But what is our prayer life focused on? Maybe at times we approach God in selfish ways, asking only for ourselves and what makes up happy, turning God into a divine vending machine. We expect to put in our prayer and God to spit out the request we made. But God is not a divine vending machine. God answers prayer in His way and His time, as He knows to be best for us.

As we see with Abraham, he knows he has no claim on God. He is not dictating that God answers his prayers. Rather, he is begging and pleading God to spare the people. He is not afraid to pray and to ask God for more and more. But he is not asking more for himself; rather, he is asking for more grace to be shown to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was based on mercy not merit – Abraham knew that the same sinful heart that beat in each inhabitant of Sodom and Gomorrah beat within his own breast and that it was only the grace of God that kept him safe from God’s righteous anger. It was a very unselfish prayer, for Abraham wanted others to experience the same mercy he had. It was a bold prayer, a holy shamelessness to his prayer. Six times he dared to plead the cause of God’s love against God’s righteousness.

In Genesis 19, we see that God did indeed answer Abraham’s prayer. In fact, God did more than what He had promised. Although there were not ten believers in Sodom, God did rescue Lot and his family.

We as the beloved children of God have the wonderful gift of prayer, to go before our heavenly Father and to make our requests known to Him. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon the cross, we now have direct access to our God.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord not only teachers a prayer God loves to hear, but He also encourages a persistent and expectant prayer life in His disciples and in fellow believers. It is not because of who we are or what we bring to the table, but because He gives us the perfect prayer and because God loves to give good gifts.

So why should we pray? If God knows all, He surely knows what our wants and needs are, so there really is no need to pray, right? Wrong! The first reason is simple: Christians are people of prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray by His example and by His words.

To remind ourselves as to what we should pray for, we turn to the words of the disciples. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” Jesus’ disciples had plenty of opportunity to watch Jesus pray. They all knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. But now, they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray.

Why would they need Jesus to teach them to pray? You just close your eyes, fold your hands and start praying, right? That is why the disciples asked to be taught. They knew that their praying was weak and they needed more. Their request reminds us that good praying is something which we learn. We need God’s help to learn to pray properly.

When one learns to pray the Lord’s Prayer, one learns how God has established His hospitality with us in His name and His kingdom and how we respond to this welcoming God by petitioning Him for those things that we need to keep us faithful and from falling into unbelief. When one prays, one enters into a relationship of hospitality where God is the giver of all things and the petitioner is the recipient of the gift of His Holy Spirit. By that Spirit’s power God’s kingdom comes among us as we “believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” That Holy Spirit keeps the whole Christian church on earth “with Jesus Christ in the one true faith,” and in that church “He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” The grand promise – that the good Father gives the Holy Spirit through Jesus – assures a gracious answer to every prayer.

We are privileged to go to the Father through Jesus. That’s because Jesus’ death on the cross takes away all sin that has separated us from God, that would have kept God from answering our prayers. It is as Paul says in our reading from Colossians today: “God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

For Abraham, he truly believed that God would answer his prayers. Six straight times Abraham asked God if He would spare Sodom and six straight times God answered with a yes. That is also our promise as well; the Lord says yes in showering His mercy upon us. Every prayer a Christian prays always gets an answer. It isn’t always the answer we are looking for, and it doesn’t always come when we expect it. It may come at the most unusual time, but the answer comes. The answer God gives is always the answer of a wise and loving Father. He gives His answer, not when we see fit, but when He knows best. His answer is how it should be, not how we want it to be. God will not play tricks on us, His children, when we come with a simple request. When we ask for something good and necessary, He will not give us something harmful. God’s promise to answer prayer encourages confidence as well as persistence. We continue to pray with all earnestness because God is the heavenly Father who loves to give us much more than we ask or expect, and we pray because we are now His precious children by faith in Christ Jesus. With a loud voice, we can all say “Amen,” and amen. Now the peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Funeral for + Dorothy Schell +

LSB Icon_040The text that I have chosen for Dorothy’s funeral comes from John 11:28-37.

[28] When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. [30] Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [33] When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” [37] But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

To all those gathered today, for you Dick, Carol, Pam, Patty, Caroline, and Nancy, as we just heard from John’s Gospel, we see great emotion from our Lord when He hears of the death of Lazarus, who is considered to be one of the best friends of Jesus. It is recorded here the shortest verse of the Bible: “Jesus wept.” Such tragedy strikes even our Lord, for He is just as human as we are. He forges relationships just the same that we do. He cares for people just as we do. He loves people just as we do. And so it is no surprise that Jesus mourns at the death of a friend.

So are we gathered here today as we mourn the death of a mother, sister, grandmother, church member and friend. It is natural for us to mourn as well. Someone who has meant so much to us is no longer here, for Dorothy has passed through this veil of tears to the loving arms of her Savior. She now rests from her labors, free from all sin, sickness and disease that she experienced in her earthly life.

As much as we don’t want to talk about it or admit, Dorothy was a sinner because she died. St. Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death….” Sin is that great enemy that we all face. And it would appear that last Wednesday, sin won as it claimed another of God’s beloved children. That is what Satan would have you think, that he has the upper hand and final say over God. And you just might be tricked into thinking that’s the case. But there is one thing that Satan forgets about and that is a promise made a long time ago, a promise that would trump all that Satan can muster. That promise is Jesus Christ, a promise from God to man and to Satan that He will prove to be the ultimate victor over Satan.

That victory occurred many years ago for Dorothy as she was brought to the waters of Holy Baptism. There, in what seemed so ordinary, the extraordinary took place, for she was forgiven all of her sins. There she received a new name, a name that could never be taken away from her – that name was “child of God,” for that is what she became.

That same gift that Dorothy was given is a gift that is meant for you as well. But it’s not just a gift for you; it is a gift that God desires to give to all of creation. God is the Creator of all of creation and because He is the Creator, He sincerely desires all of creation to be connected to Him in the heavenly realm where sin, death, and Satan have been defeated and cannot prevail. God, through His infinite love, sent His Son Jesus Christ from heaven to take on mortal flesh and blood in order to do what Dorothy could not, to do what you and I cannot do; live a sinless life. It was made clear early on in creation that due to man’s sin, we would be forever separated from God. But that wasn’t good enough for God. He saw fit to send a Savior.

That same Savior God sent was the same Savior that was confronted by Mary: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But you see, Mary didn’t have the full picture in front of her. She was only concerned about the earthly life her brother had. Though we see Mary sitting intently at the feet of Jesus one moment, here she almost blames Jesus that Lazarus has died. But Jesus did not let Lazarus die. What caused Lazarus to die was sin. Instead of letting Lazarus die, Jesus had a date to keep on a hill called Golgotha, for there He would die so that Lazarus would liver eternally. In fact, Jesus’ death is what gives Dorothy eternal life and it is what gives you eternal life as well.

Dorothy didn’t do anything in her life to deserve what Jesus did for her, and she would be the first to tell you that. There was nothing special about her that would earn her favor with God, and she would be the first to tell you that as well. But all of this happens in spite of her. Regardless of who she was or what she did, God loved her. In fact, He loved her so much that He sent His only Son to die for her.

That is good news for Dorothy and it is good news for you as well, because what Christ did for Dorothy, He does for you also. Many of you mourn right now, and that is normal; it’s expected. But let me tell you something: there truly is nothing to mourn over because Dorothy has received the crown of life. Christ has died and Christ is risen from the dead. He is the Conqueror of death. He is not the Resurrection and the Life only in the past, as if He retired from that after raising Lazarus from the dead. He is not the Resurrection and the Life only in the future, on the Last Day. He is the Resurrection and the Life now. Now, and forevermore. Where Jesus is, life is. That’s what Jesus is about: and whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. By His forgiveness, He already declares that eternal life is yours, for He has done all to accomplish it by His death and resurrection.

This is true for you. It is also true for those you mourn who died in the faith, not just Dorothy, but all who have gone before us in the faith. Those who died in the faith are not dead, because the Lord is not the Lord of the dead but of the living. Their bodies rest in the grave for now, but they live even now with Christ in heaven. You have His promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” It is true for the saints who have gone before us, and it is true for you.

In these days filled with sadness and mourning, let us weep just as our Lord wept at the death of Lazarus, but let us also turn our mourning into gladness, for God has prevailed over sin and death, not just for Dorothy, but for all who believe and call upon His name. Amen.

Pentecost 9C – “One Thing is Necessary” (Luke 10:38-42)

C-73 Proper 11 (Lu 10.38-42)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

To be Jesus is to be love. To that end, Jesus loved people, all the people. He loved faithful men such as the disciples as if they were His own kin. He loved faithful women for the great faith that they demonstrated and for their service to Him and His ministry. We see in our text today the love that Jesus had for two such women — Mary and Martha.

St. Luke doesn’t record much for us here in our text. In summary, Jesus and company enter a village, encounter Martha and are invited to her home, a home she shares with her sister Mary. This is the same Mary and Martha whose brother Lazarus Jesus’ raises from the dead. Little is known of these two ladies because not much is written in Scripture about them. From today’s text, it appears that once again Jesus has been invited to a meal. As it takes time to prepare a meal, Jesus does what He does best and that is teach. It is not recorded for us what the basis of His teaching is, but obviously it has captivated the ears of Mary, “who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” We have no indication what His teaching was but it was captivating… or was it?

As Mary was sitting and listening, Martha wasn’t. Luke tells us, “But Martha, was distracted with much serving.” For the two women, it came down to priority. What was the greater priority: listening to Jesus or serving Jesus? Mary and Martha could each give their reasons for their actions.

Now, both sisters face a choice as to how they will spend their time with Jesus. Martha hustles and bustles in the kitchen, arranging pots and pans, firing up the stove to prepare a meal. Her time is devoted to preparing the table, the food, or the many things necessary to serve Jesus. It’s possible that some of the other disciples were there and hungry also. For Martha, her main priority when Jesus visits is preparation for serving a meal.

Mary, on the other hand, just sits. She is nestled in the comfort that is found sitting at the feet of Jesus. She is there, listening to every word that Jesus speaks and she is all ears to what is being said. It is quite rare that one would have such an intimate visit from Jesus like this and Mary was not about to squander such an opportunity.

Jesus coming to dine with Mary and Martha is summed up in priorities. Each woman has her own priorities when it comes to Jesus. Which sister has the right priority? It may seem that Martha has the right priority. She has a guest in her home. When a guest shows up, you don’t ignore them. Your priority is to make sure that their needs are met, because that’s what a good host does. And that is what Martha sets out to do. She wants to insure that all of Jesus’ needs are met while He is in her home.

Certainly we can’t fault Martha for her servant attitude. From all accounts, it appears that she is the ideal hostess. But we cannot forget our Lord’s own words: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We can certainly appreciate what Martha desires to do, but she forgets that our Lord’s duty is to serve, that is, serve the will of the Father by taking on the form of man, to be born of flesh and blood in order to live a life that is without sin, to go to the cross in order to serve man by becoming man’s sacrifice, a sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.

Mary has the right idea about Jesus. She sits at His feet, listening ever attentively to what He has to say, and so she should. Peter’s words are echoed in what we see taking place in this house: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Those are familiar words to us, as we sing those words prior to our Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Mary desires for that good news, the saving act of Jesus Christ for her, but not only for her. She desires that good news for her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, but not only for them. She desires that good news for all whom Jesus has come to save.

We live in a world whose view is that we are doing something for Jesus, as if our lives are one that we’re doing a favor for Jesus. But we are not the ones doing a favor for Jesus. Rather, it is Jesus who does us a favor, a favor that we can never repay, for He becomes our substitute before the Father. He takes our sin upon Himself and in return gives to us His holiness and righteousness as we stand before the Father. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is solely because of that fact that means we cannot do anything for Jesus, for what can we do that is greater than what He has already done for us?

Frustrated, Martha pleads to Jesus to have Mary help her. He doesn’t dress her down in His response. He doesn’t respond in anger. He doesn’t give any indication that He is upset. Instead, He reminds her just exactly what Mary is doing. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Focus on the words of Jesus here. He reminds Martha that “one thing is necessary.” What is that one thing? It’s not making sure the house is cleaned and dinner is done before Jesus arrives. No, the one thing that is necessary is that Jesus has come! He comes for you, to provide for you and to care for you, to give you what you need most — the forgiveness of all of your sins; not just some of them of most of them, but He comes to forgive ALL you your sins, for to be made holy means to be without sin COMPLETELY, for that is the only way to be given the gift of eternal life — to be without sin. And on account of Jesus Christ, you stand before God the Father with ALL of your sins forgiven.

Jesus also reminds Martha that Mary “has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus can most certainly say that mean that for He reminds us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Those are words that we need now more than ever. Amidst all the death and devastation that occurs what seems to be daily in these gray and latter days, we are reminded, no, we cling to Jesus’ words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” for these are our words of comfort when we are beaten down, when we feel forsaken, when we think that Satan finally has the upper hand on God. And when we start to think like that, we are reminded of the words of Jesus that He spoke to the disciples that are just as true now as the day He spoke them: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

How can anything or anyone be more important than the gift which our Lord gives to us? How can you and I neglect such eternal blessings that come from Christ and His Word of forgiveness? With everything that our Lord says and does, you would think that we would flock to Jesus and the salvation that He grants to us. But instead, we find that the opposite is true. We flock towards those things that bring earthly pleasure and make us happy. We flock to those things which may promise eternal life in heaven, but in the end, fall flat on their empty promises. The promise that Jesus makes for you is one that is indeed most certainly true. This is not like any other promise that you have ever heard or will ever hear again, for this promise of Jesus will give to you eternal life.

When being a Christian may seem unpopular, when following Jesus is ridiculed, we humbly sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. We receive the riches and treasures of heaven, for Jesus has promised, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Passion Sunday – “Christ’s Passion for Us” (Luke 23:1-56)

C-42 Palm SundayGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

You don’t want to hear today’s text. Really, you don’t want to hear what Luke has to say. We would classify it at least PG-13. Some of what Luke has to say could be classified as R. And yet, today’s Gospel reading is one that needs to be heard, read, meditated upon, because it is of great significance to you, whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not.

Luke records for us the Passion of Jesus Christ. When we speak of the Passion here, we are not talking about strong sensual or sexual desires as the word is commonly used. Rather, we focus on the sufferings of Jesus that He experienced when He set His face toward Jerusalem. What occurred on Palm Sunday was not a glimpse of what the week held in store. Sunday, crowds are shouting out to Jesus, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Hosanna is translated as “Lord, save us!” The people were shouting out for the Lord to save them on Sunday, and by the end of the week, He was dead. Their shouts of hosanna were indeed heard, but that will come later.

We now find ourselves at the end of the week in Luke’s Passion account. Jesus is brought to Pilate, the chief Roman administrator in Judea at the time. In accord with a ruling imposed only a few years prior, only the Roman prefect could authorize capital punishment. Pilate, who ordinarily resided in Caesarea, had come to Jerusalem to oversee the Passover festival, since this was a time of year that religious and national fervor could easily boil over into open rebellion.

The Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. That charge would mean little to Pilate, whose job was to enforce Roman law, not adjudicate Jewish religious squabbles. While most of the charges meant nothing, there was one that Pilate could not ignore: the self-proclamation by Jesus of being Christ, a king. This was a charge that Pilate could not ignore, since if true, it constituted a direct challenge to Roman rule. No charge would be taken more seriously by Rome than this.

As things proceed, Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus, but that isn’t good enough for the people. They want something more out of Pilate. They want the guilty charge. In order to get what they want, Jesus must go before Herod. Unfortunately for the people, Herod also saw no guilt in Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.

Things get ugly and they demand the release of a murderer. Pilate, against his own wishes, releases Barabbas and sentences Jesus to death, again, reluctantly. From there, Jesus is led to Golgotha where things escalate quite quickly.

There upon Golgotha’s hill, Jesus is mocked, scorned, and ultimately pleads on the behalf of the people. He cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” No sooner speaking those words, they cast lots for Jesus’ clothing while more scoffing occurs. “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Jesus doesn’t come down from the cross because, while He can, He can’t. He can’t get off the cross because of you. If He gets off the cross, you are lost. If He gets off the cross, you are condemned. If He gets off the cross, there will never be forgiveness for you.

Now do you see why you don’t want to hear what Luke has to say? When you listen to what Luke says, you must come to one conclusion: you are the cause of Jesus’ death. You, along with the whole of creation, through your sinful human nature, have condemned Christ to the cross. But Christ doesn’t go to the cross because you have condemned Him. He goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will, to restore what once was but is no longer.

As Jesus hung upon the cross, the statement, the demand of the one criminal could not have been truer: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Little did the criminal know, that was precisely what Jesus was doing. St. Paul says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

One person, a criminal being crucified alongside Jesus, saw Christ for what He was – innocent. His words were plain, but spoke volumes: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” While he may have been speaking strictly because they were criminals, his words apply to creation as a whole. We were receiving what our deeds deserved: death. Death came with Adam and Eve but with death came the promise of a Savior.

Christ was doing exactly what the criminal wanted: saving him, along with everyone there that day at His crucifixion, along with everyone before that day and everyone after that day. Christ was doing for us what we could not do ourselves. He was earning eternal life. Just as Jesus told the repentant criminal, so He tells us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

All of creation is guilty and thus unable to do anything about it. Christ, the only innocent, took the guilt upon Himself in order to make creation innocent. In the last moments of Christ’s life, the world around Him began to change. The Creator, who took on flesh and was born into creation, is at this moment of death, bringing in new and eternal life, a new creation. With the curtain of the temple torn, it symbolized the completion of Christ’s victory over death, therefore allowing Jesus to commit His spirit into the hands of the Father.

The death of Christ marked the end of creation as we know it. Sin and death no longer have dominion over creation. Satan lost the keys to creation that he wrongfully stole from God through sin. No intercessions by the priests were needed because the greatest intercession was made. No more animals needed to be sacrificed because the sacrificial Lamb was offered. When Christ uttered the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”, He signified that His work was finished, once and for all. Nothing could undo what had just been done.

Through the life of Christ and His Passion, we have received life – life that came at an expense – the death of Christ. The King of the Jews, who “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross,” died so that all of creation would be reborn in Him, purged from death and made “good” in the eyes of God. This was the way that creation was meant to be and what took place at our Lord’s Passion was necessary for creation to be restored. Today is not a time to focus on the brutality of Christ’s death or death itself, but to focus on what that death brought about – the dying of death and a restored creation. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 5 – “Cornerstone” (Luke 20:9-20)

C-39 Lent 5 (LHP) (Lu 20.9-20)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Dreams. Everyone has them. Dreams of becoming a star athlete. Dreams of winning the lottery. Dreams of becoming a certain vocation. Sometimes those dreams become a reality and sometimes those dreams vanish in a puff of smoke. As we hear of the parable of the vineyard, it reminds us that the dream envisioned is not always the dream that is fulfilled. Fortunately for us, God shatters our dreams and rebuilds them into something that becomes a reality.

Like the tenants in the parable, we may have our own dream. The tenants did not want to give the fruit to the owner. They had a comfortable arrangement: solid employment and a secure future provided to them by an owner who had set everything up. The owner had a right to his share, since it was his land, his crops, his everything. The owner sent three different servants to collect a portion of the fruit from the vineyard. Each time, the servant was sent away empty-handed, with each one beaten and wounded, worse than the one before.

What was the owner to do? What should have rightly been owed to him was kept from him. The owner has a plan to send his son in hopes that the tenants would respect him. Alas, that plan does not end well and his son is killed. “This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.”

What was the owner of the vineyard thinking when He sent His son? Who in their right mind is going to do that? If it were a normal earthly owner, he would send the first agent. When the first agent returned all beat up, the typical landowner would send a hit squad to collect the rent with extreme prejudice. In our day and age, we would call the police and ask them to arrest those criminals and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. The one thing we would not do is send our son to collect the rent after the tenants had put three of our rent collectors into the hospital.

No earthly landowner would send his son in this situation. Never the less that is exactly what God the Father did with His Son. You see, in spite of our tendency to treat His servants like yesterday’s trash, God still loves us. It is in that love that He sent His Son in spite of the fact that He knew He would die, for St. Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

What a dream these tenants have! Does it make any sense? Kill the son and you automatically become the heirs to the owners’ vineyard just because you work there? This truly is a pipedream! It would be great the tenants if this were true, but alas, that is not what happens. The master comes to destroy those servants and to give the vineyards to others.

The tenants aren’t able to have it their way. They are not able to get away with what they had done. In the end, they had to be destroyed. Bringing this parable back to reality, Jesus is declaring how God will shatter the evil dreams of the real tenants, the Jewish religious leaders. Their system, and it truly had become their system rather than God’s, is going to be destroyed.

The temple will be destroyed. Jerusalem will fall. The way that the Jewish leaders had thought everything would work out would fall apart. What they thought would be a comfortable life with them in charge would eventually come to an end. Their response: “Surely not!” Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He continues: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

But what the Jewish leaders did not consider is that the temple would be restored, but it won’t be like it was before. Jesus had promised, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That is precisely what Jesus does on Easter morning, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.

This parable of Jesus was one of things that had happened and of things yet to come. The people had rejected Him; not only the locals but the Jewish rulers as well. God our heavenly Father has created this vineyard and sends His Son to redeem it, but instead of listening to Him, we put Him to death instead. Not realizing what our Lord was saying, the people exclaim, “Surely not!” and Jesus tells them, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Instead of listening to Jesus, instead of asking for His forgiveness, Luke records that the scribes and the chief priests sought to put Him to death.

The death of Jesus had to be. His death was the payment for the world’s sin. Sinners treat God terribly with disrespect and irreverence. God gives them daily bread and they fail to be thankful. God gives them things to use in service to their neighbor, and they hoard it for themselves and use it to boast of their accomplishments. God gives them bodies and minds to be used for honorable purposes, and they misuse and pollute them both for temporary pleasure in self-destructive ways. That’s how sinners treat God. But that is not how God treats sinners. He gives us Jesus, for this is how God treats sinners: with patience, mercy and grace. He patiently waits. He continues to send His Word and preachers to proclaim it. He patiently showers you with forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments to keep you in the true faith, even as He patiently gives this dying world more time so that more might hear and be saved.

Jesus, who was the rejected stone, conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy life, His suffering, His death on a cross, and His resurrection from the dead. He is now the living cornerstone for me, for you and for all who believe. We have a Savior who suffered extreme rejection for us and is now alive. Jesus is the cornerstone that establishes the church forever. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 4C – “Going Home Again” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

C-37 Lent 4 (Lu 15.11-32)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

The parable of the prodigal son is one of those parables that everyone gets. We all know the story and we all know what it means. This is one of those times that we can easily see ourselves in the words of Christ. We can easily identify with and see ourselves in the prodigal son, both in the bad and the good. Because of this ease of relatability, we tend to gloss over and speed through the story. After all, we know it.  But maybe we don’t know it as well as we think we do.

Let’s start by asking this question: To whom did Jesus speak this parable? Who was the intended audience? Luke records that the “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus}.” That must be who Jesus was speaking to. If that is your answer, then you are wrong. Luke goes on to say that the “Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” You see, it was the tax collectors and sinners Jesus was addressing. They were the guests of Jesus, the invited ones. The Pharisees and scribes, they were the ones who were not invited. They were the ones who were not welcome. They were the ones who sat in disapproval of who Jesus kept company with; in this case, the tax collectors and sinners.

As Jesus recounts this parable, we see several figures appear: a father and two sons. The younger son wanted what was coming to him, most likely at the death of his father. However, the father is not dead and the son wants what he is promised. It was a gutsy request of the son to ask the father for his share of in the heritance because he was telling his father that he essentially wished that his father was dead so he could get what would be his.

Who is this son? We can easily deduce that we are this son. We act in ways that are all about us, with no regard for our brother. We act as if it’s all about me and that’s all that matters. Yes, we are this son. And what does this son do when he gets what he wants, what he is deserved? He goes off and squanders all that he has until he has nothing.

The good news is that we can say that while we are like this son, at least we are not like the Pharisees and the scribes. What a relief! Did we forget who Jesus was telling this parable to? It was spoken to the Pharisees and the scribes. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s us. We are the Pharisees and scribes, not concerned with the needs of our neighbor but solely with ourselves and our needs and wants and desires. It was all about them, just like it’s all about us.

If the Pharisees and scribes are identified as the younger son, do we really have to ask who the father in the parable is? Of course the father in the parable is God our heavenly Father. This father does not act like he is supposed to act. We would imagine this father to be cut to the heart at what his son had asked of him. Instead, the father acts in a way that is not proper. He runs to the son. A man of his stature does not run. Running in such a way would have been embarrassing. Secondly, why would he run after his son who more or less told him he wanted him dead and embrace him? It doesn’t make sense what the father did. But it does make sense because this was the father’s son. Even after all that the son has done in his wasteful life, at the end of the day, this is his son. He doesn’t chastise him for squandering all that he gave him. He doesn’t give him the “I told you so” speech. No, he gives to him the royal treatment: jewelry, clothing, food and drink, a great party – the works.

For you and I, our heavenly Father does nothing short of that for us. He gives to us the “best robe” as we are robed in Christ’s righteousness. You and I receive from God the gift of His name in our Baptism, marking us as those who have been redeemed by Christ. We are given that sonship that the young son had given up before his journey. We receive the fattened calf that was killed for the party, but we don’t receive it in the form of a calf. We receive it in the form of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This Lamb of God was slaughtered for us upon Calvary, His blood washing over us to forgive us all of our sins in His sacrifice for us. The words that the father uses in the parable are descriptive of us as well: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” That’s us. Dead in our trespasses of sin, but made alive in the waters of Baptism. The image of God lost upon us in the Fall, but found and restored again by Christ’s death and resurrection.

The father treated His son as royalty. Everything his son had done was forgiven and forgotten. The Father, you see, doesn’t change. He is always the loving and caring and compassionate Father. And He always receives His dear children through the atoning work of His only-begotten Son, the Son that is of the same substance as He, the Son that is God in the flesh, the Son that takes away the sins of the world!

What the parable of the prodigal son tells us, what it tells you, is that you can go back home! In fact, when a sinner repents and returns to the Father, it is a happy day, a glorious day, a day to celebrate, a day to rejoice and give thanks. Indeed, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The sacrifice has been offered and the banquet table has been set because you are home in the house of your father!

Today we celebrate and partake in the foretaste of the heavenly feast to come. Better than any fatted calf, the Lamb of God has been slain, once for all. The Lamb of God, who once was dead, now lives and reigns victorious, and today we feast on this Lamb with the King of Kings Himself as baptized and restored children of His heavenly, royal household! Today our Lord of lords and King of kings deigns to not only feast with us, but to serve us with His very Body and Blood. Here He lavishly welcomes, embraces, kisses, and feeds all His children with His free and undeserved gifts of Fatherly divine goodness, mercy, love, and peace.

God our heavenly Father has the last word in all of this. He is the one who never turns His back on the children who turn their backs on Him. He is the Father who comes running to us after we have run away from Him. There is always hope for the prodigal son and so there is hope for us as well. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3 – “Repent…or Else” (Luke 13:1-9)

C-35 Lent 3 (Lu 13.1-9)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

We love to turn on the news or read the newspaper and see what the daily outrage is. Right now, it seems to be presidential debates and who said all the wrong things. It might be over what is going on in the world of entertainment, of who got snubbed for this award or that award. We like outrage because it seems to give us a sense of purpose, as if we can take action against the injustices of the world. But in doing so, we fool ourselves into thinking that we might somehow be better than the next person because we would have done things differently and we would have done it right. But looking at our text today, it is not about how we can solve the world’s problems or assert how we are better than the next person. No, our text is about how we need to repent and we need to do it now.

The opening portion of our text today presents us with a unique teaching opportunity. Jesus is present in a setting of people and they report to Jesus how some who had suffered at the hands of Pilate. Their report implies that the ones who had suffered had somehow deserved it because they were more wicked than the crowds themselves.

What kind of asinine logic is that? The reason why they suffered or the reason why they died was because they worse than someone else was? Are they even listening to the words that come out of their mouth? We have that same thinking today. One such televangelist has said on multiple occasions of tragedy, examples like the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the like, that the reason why these events occurred is because the United States has turned away from God and we are getting are just punishment. Rest assured that such thinking is about as wrong as wrong can be. These events are the effects of sin in our world, not because of the faith a person has or does not have. St. Paul tells us as much: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Jesus quickly addresses their unspoken assumption. While they assumed that tragedies happened to people as divine retribution for specific sins, Jesus immediately dispels the theory that these Galilean victims somehow got that they deserved. He reminds His audience that there is such a thing as underserved suffering.

Jesus uses this tragedy to spur His audience into self-examination and an honest assessment of their walk with God. He says, “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus does not mince words here. If Jesus spoke these words today, people would demand His resignation. Jesus hurts feelings when He talks and that’s the problems. So often we don’t believe that Jesus is speaking to us. So often we don’t get it. Instead of hearing His call to repent, we rationalize and try to make sense of it, chalking things up to “those people” being bigger sinners who deserved such punishment.

Such thinking should remind us of our own sinfulness and need for salvation. The time for repentance is not tomorrow or next week. The time for repentance is now. Jesus illustrates the seriousness of the situation with a parable.

What a shocking statement for Jesus to make, that everyone needs to repent or perish. Who does He think He is to make such a bold, sweeping statement like that, the Son of God? Oh wait, that’s exactly who He is. He knows exactly what will happen to the unrepentant sinner and that is why He is here. He comes to urge the people to repent of their sins. He comes as the means of their repentance. He comes as the one who will give His life for the lives of the repentant. He comes and will be our Judge on the last day.

To reinforce His message, he tells a parable of the fig tree. Looking at Jesus’ parable, it’s straight talk. It’s not pleasant. It’s not comforting, and it’s nobody’s favorite. But there it is, straight and to the point. The terms are established by God, not us. Our excusing and rationalizing, our complaining and postponing, our good intentions and sincerity of purpose all evaporate into the air and the voice that speaks inquires about the fruits of our lives.

God is patiently calling us to repent. We return to Jesus’ parable about the fig tree. It wouldn’t bear any figs! Year after year it grew, but bore no fruit. The owner wanted to cut it down. But the vinedresser said, “Give me a chance with it. I’ll take care of it, there’s still a chance. If it doesn’t produce fruit for you next year, then cut it down.”

That fig tree is you. There’s so much good fruit that we could be producing, but we aren’t. While God could leave us to our sin, He doesn’t; God isn’t through with us yet. Jesus comes in as our Savior. He gives His life for us on the cross. He comes to us in His Word. He washes us clean in Baptism. He feeds us with heavenly food in the Lord’s Supper. He does all this, waiting for us to produce that fruit that He can use.

Unless you repent; unless you turn away from your sinfulness, you too will perish. And make no mistake: Jesus is not simply referring to end-of-life kind of death, as in the pulse and breathing stop, which all people eventually experience. No, He’s speaking here of eternal death; of hellish death. This is what it means to perish from God’s perspective.

So what shall we do about it? How can we capitalize on the offer God makes? What response can we make? Jesus gives us the answer: repent. We do nothing more and nothing less than that. There’s nothing new to Jesus’ answer; and yet as old and as basic as it is we tend to forget it and act otherwise.

Maybe the word “repent” isn’t so bad of a word at all. Maybe the parable of the barren fig tree isn’t so bad either, for it reminds us that life is to be lived on God’s terms, it also reminds us that life and can be good and full and productive. Once again, Jesus gives to us the words that are most needed – words that remind us what our heavenly Father desires of us and the gift of forgiveness that comes through repentance. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.