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Mercy at the border

Sermon: “Mercy on the Border”

Lectionary Series C; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 13, 2019 – Proper 24

Gospel Reading: Luke 17:11-19

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Borders. If you cross the border into from Canada to America, you better make sure you don’t have any extra walleye in your cooler. If you cross the border into California, you better not have any fresh produce in your car. If you cross the border from Kenya to another country, you better not have left the vicinity of the city of Nairobi, or prepare to be searched. I know from experience.

Borders. Over the past few years, we have heard a great deal on the news about the borders of our nation. President Trump campaigned for his presidency with the agenda of closing our southwest border with a wall that Mexico would partially pay for. Other politicians would like to see open borders with sanctuary cities. Among these dialogues back and forth on borders, we have heard more and more about the work of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We have had reports of rising racial tensions throughout the country, and especially near the borders. And now, if you live in New York, and utter the words, “illegal alien” you can get a $250,000 fine. All of this stems from all the talk about our borders in recent years.

But before you go thinking this will be a sermon with a political statement, it is really anything but. This talk of borders is a set up for our text for today where Jesus finds himself on the border.

On the way to Jerusalem he [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11).

It sounds like such a simple verse. Jesus was on a walk, and it just happened to be on a border. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that back in chapter nine, Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. But this stroll between Samaria and Galilee was hardly the direct route. If anything, it was kind of a detour. And it was a detour that took him into some unfriendly territory as a Jew.

Jews and Samaritans did not associate with one another. Jews looked down upon the Samaritans. They were half-breeds, those that came from intermarriage with other nations. They were not pure-bred Jews. They didn’t deserve to be treated with the same respect a Jew was.

This begs the question of us: How do we treat those of different ethnicities? How do we think about those that don’t walk, talk, or look like us? Do we think we are somehow better than another race? Do we think we are entitled to better treatment than others?

Jesus, however, went out of his way while journeying to His death to take some time out to have mercy on those who were in need.

And as he [Jesus] entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:12-13).

Mercy is a cry that begs that we don’t get what we do deserve. Mercy is the cry we utter every Sunday when we join in the Kyrie. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” It is a cry for help.

These lepers were in need of help, that was a given. But oddly enough, they didn’t beg for Jesus to heal them. They begged for mercy. You see, the greater malady for a leper was not their physical condition. And that is quite striking when you think about the fact that their skin was flaking off, their nerve sensors weren’t firing correctly, and without any feeling of pain in their nerves, they were easily prone to severe injury. But no, that was not the primary concern of theirs.

A leper was a social and religious outcast. No longer could they be present in the town they once lived. No longer could they worship with their congregation. They had to evict themselves to the outer region. And should anyone get near them, they would have had to have yelled, “Unclean, unclean” in an effort to keep others away from them.

This is where Jesus finds these lepers. He finds them on the border between Galilee and Samaria, and they are begging for mercy.

What people are on the borders of our lives that could use a little mercy? Who have we treated like an outcast, be it with our thoughts, words, or deeds? Is it someone of a different race, or someone who thinks different than us or has different political views? Is it a family member that we have deemed no longer deserves our time? Is it a member of our congregation? Who is on the border in our lives that could use a little mercy?

Jesus had mercy with those who were on the border crying out for just that: mercy. When he [Jesus] saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed (Luke 17:14).

For all of the times we have failed to show mercy to others, we also are like these lepers who begged for mercy. We all know what it is like to be treated as an outcast. Maybe it was because of our race. Maybe it was because of the way we think or talk, or maybe it was because of our political views. Maybe we were left out of the game at recess, or left off the invitation list for the family gathering. Every one of us knows this hurt to some degree or another. Every one of us knows what it is like to have that cry for mercy well up within us.

See here that Jesus comes to the border and He doesn’t hesitate to go out of His way to have mercy upon you. Where this world may treat you as an outcast, Jesus welcomes you into His presence. He drenches you in your baptismal waters and claims you as His own. He says, “You are mine. You belong to me. You are not an outcast. You are my beloved child.”

This gift of faith and healing overwhelmed one of those lepers. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan (Luke 17:15-16).

The least likely one to return and give thanks did just that. The Samaritan leper. The one who had two strikes against him. He was not only an outcast because of his condition, but also because of who he was. And yet, he was the one to return and give thanks.

We return today to do the same. We come to give thanks because of who we are. We are sinners who are doomed to die if left to ourselves. There is no hope of our survival without a Savior. We are outcasts who are left for dead.

Which is exactly what Jesus came to this earth to become. He passed the border of heaven to enter into earth. And he became an outcast. He was directed outside the border walls of the city of Jerusalem, forced to carry His own cross. And there on the edge of town, He showed us what mercy really looks like and sounds like. It looks like the Son of God being treated as an outcast, getting what we deserved, yet He took our death upon Himself. It sounds like a cry that got no reply. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “Why have you treated me as an outcast?” And the answer is that it was the only way to show you and me mercy.

You and I were doomed to die in our sin. For all of the times we have failed to show mercy to others on the borders of our lives. For all the times we have treated others as outcasts with our thoughts, words, and deeds. For all the times we treated people poorly, those of a different race or those who think different than us or those with different political views or whatever it may be. For all the times we thought someone didn’t deserve our time, or we left out a friend or a family member or a congregational member. For all those times and more, Jesus allowed Himself to be hauled beyond the border of those Jerusalem walls to die our death…the death that should have been ours.

It’s no wonder the Samaritan returned to give thanks as He did. That is the natural response when someone saves your life, and not just this temporal life, but grants you eternal life as well.

          Let us never forget to return thanks like that Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well (Luke 17:17-19).

          Like that Samaritan, in faith, we return here to the house of the Lord to give thanks that God has saved us from sin, death, and the devil. As baptized believers, we rejoice that we are chosen by God to be His own.

          So, who in our lives needs to also hear of the mercy of God? Who are those on the edges and fringes of our lives, that perhaps we could extend the same mercy that we have been afforded in Christ? Let us each take time to examine our lives, and see where we might have mercy on the border. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Holy Help

Sermon: “Holy Help”

Lectionary Series C; The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 6, 2019 – Proper 22

Gospel Reading: Luke 17:1-10

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever been given more than you can handle? Now I know people use the line that God never gives us more than we can handle, but when we stop and search the Scriptures, we find that it is not true. So, have you ever been given more than you can handle? I think it’s safe to say that we call all answer, “Yes.”

Having more than we can handle on our plate is overwhelming. It is humbling. It exposes our frailty and weakness. It strikes us at the core of our “can-do” mentality that we so often rely upon when we need to pull up our bootstraps and get down to business. Quite frankly, having more than we can handle is something we resist to be true, and we just don’t like it.

Instead, we prefer to think that we are capable of all things. As Americans especially, we like to think we can conquer the world, or at least our own world. But, in our moments of honesty with ourselves, we are forced to face the facts that we just can’t handle it all. We need, and dare I say it, we need help. We don’t like to think that, and we most certainly don’t like to admit it. To admit that we need help can be embarrassing, and it is obviously humbling. But all of us need to come to terms with the fact that it is the truth. We can’t handle it all. We need help.

The disciples came to that immediate realization after the following words of Jesus: And Jesus said to His disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him (Luke 17:1-4).

It is a tall order that Jesus lays out for His disciples and for us to follow. The text invites us to examine ourselves and our sins in very difficult ways. We are invited to consider how we are being tempted and to take very seriously how when we fall to those temptations might be leading others astray. We are also instructed to rebuke our neighbor who is caught in sin because contrary to popular belief, we are our brother’s or sister’s keeper. And then there is forgiveness. We are told we ‘must’ forgive, and forgive, and forgive again. Up to seven times in the day. That’s once every 3.43 hours. That’s once every 205.8 minutes. That’s once every 12,348 seconds.  

The disciples instantly realized that they needed some help with all of this. Some holy help. They couldn’t do all of this. They couldn’t even do one of the things that Jesus was asking them to do. Which is why they said in response: Increase our faith. No doubt we would echo those sentiments when we consider what Jesus asks of his followers. It’s a tall order. A difficult task. An impossible task from our perspective.

How are we supposed to steer clear of temptations when the devil is constantly deceiving us and we are far too weak to overcome him? How are we supposed to keep others from falling into sin when that is exactly what we constantly do? We constantly sin? How are we supposed to be able to muster up enough courage to rebuke someone else in their sin, especially when we consider that we are sinners too? And how are we supposed to keep forgiving those that keep sinning against us? It is all just too much too handle.

And it is. Not by our own reason or strength are we able to accomplish one of these things. We are far too weak to stand up to the devil and his temptations. We like sin far too much to avoid keeping others from sinning. We worry way too much about our earthly relationships to have the guts to speak the truth in love to someone who is caught in sin and putting their salvation in jeopardy. And when it comes to forgiveness, our tank is always on empty because for us it is just so much easier to bear a grudge than freely forgive.

So, there you have it. We are helpless. We don’t stand a chance. We are like the Detroit Lions trying to win a Super Bowl. It just ain’t gonna happen. Especially because we never get there in the first place. How’s this for a cheery, uplifting sermon?

But that is exactly the way the disciples felt. They felt helpless. They felt inadequate. Have you ever felt that way? I think we all have. We have all faced the challenges that were placed before the disciples, and we have all thought to ourselves. We just don’t have what it takes. We need help.

This is where Jesus enters in with His holy help. And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you (Luke 17:6).

Now that is quite an image to behold. I looked up just how big a mulberry tree and it grows 30-50 feet in height. What’s more is that even though its roots may not grow that deep, they are very extensive, no doubt interlocking with the roots of other trees. So, to simply say to a mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea is obviously no small task.

But that’s just it. Jesus’ point is that because we are forgiven sinners who have faith, we already have all of the help that we need. We have all of the faith that we need. Whether it is a little faith or a lot of faith, it is more than enough. Even if it is as small as a mustard seed, it’s enough to do what God has given us to do. Now a mustard seed just so happens to average between one and two millimeters in diameter. That’s pretty small. But Jesus says that it’s enough.

The reason He says that to His disciples and to us is that He is the object of our faith. You see, faith must cling to something. In the water and Word of our baptism, we cling to none other than Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. And for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despised its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. And from His throne, He exercises His authority in our lives. There is no task that is too big for Him. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

So when it comes to temptations, we have the One who overcame the temptations of the devil head on in the wilderness working in us. When it comes to steering clear from leading others into sin, we have the One who lived a perfect life pumping through our veins with His own blood shed for us. When it comes to the courage needed to rebuke those caught in sin, the One who stood toe to toe with the Pharisees, breathes His Spirit of courage right into us. And when it comes to forgiveness, there is none other than the crucified Christ filling our tank to overflowing so that we can forgive trespasses as we have been forgiven.

See here that Jesus is our holy help in all times of need. He does not leave or abandon us when the going gets tough. He is right here beside us. He is within us. And He is holding us up with His righteous right hand. It’s all because of Jesus.

And that is essential for us to always keep in mind. It’s not by our strength that we accomplish the things Jesus asks of us. It is only with His help and by His strength. My favorite verse is from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

It can be far too easy to think that when we do the work God has given us to do to think that we deserve the credit. And as those who succumb far too easily to pride, Jesus makes clear that as Christians, to serve Him is simply doing our duty.

Jesus said: Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:7-10).

You see, when it comes to overcoming temptations, or avoiding leading others into sin, or rebuking someone caught in sin, or forgiving again and again and again, all of that is Jesus at work in us. We don’t get the glory. He does. And it is by His grace that He calls us to serve Him by doing our duty as Christians.

So let us delight in the fact that Jesus has called you and me to serve in His stead in the lives of others. We get to love others with His love. And in turn, they will see Jesus. They will see Jesus when we turn from temptation, when we look out for our brother or sister and don’t fall into sin, when we rebuke those caught in sin, and when we forgive every 12,348 seconds. They will see Jesus, our Holy Help in all times of need. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Care for God's Church

Sermon: “Care for God’s Church”

Lectionary Series C; The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 29, 2019 – Proper 21

Epistle Reading: 1st Timothy 3:1-7

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1st Timothy 3:1).

An overseer, a pastor, is divinely called by God through the Church to care for the congregation. A pastor is called to be a shepherd of sheep, while recognizing that he is an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. A pastor is also called to be a sheep, baptized into the family of God.

As you think through your life, what do you remember about your pastors? What impact did they have on you in your life of faith? What sort of memories stick out from childhood? How about from adulthood? How have your pastors helped you remain close in your relationship with Jesus?

I have had several pastors impact my walk of faith in many positive ways. My pastor growing up graciously took me under his wings for a week long interim while I was considering whether or not I would enter into the ministry. My mentor has Skyped with me almost every month for over thirteen years. Pastor Lucas answered so many questions and addressed so many concerns of mine, I simply could not count them all. Numerous other pastors have also helped to mold and shape my walk of faith.

How about you? What do you remember about your pastors, and what impact have they had in your life of faith, and how have they helped you remain close in your relationship with Jesus?

You see, today’s text has to do with the Office of the Holy Ministry. The text says that The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. St. Paul lets us know that it is a good thing when a man desires to serve as a pastor. It is a good thing when that man wants to be an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd’s flock. It’s a good thing.

But it’s not an easy thing. This text is filled with qualifications for the pastoral office: Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1st Timothy 3:2-7).

Such qualifications for the office of the holy ministry reveal God’s great desire to care for His church. He makes it clear that a pastor must lead by example with a holy life because ‘actions do speak louder than words,’ and in no way does He desire His name to be blasphemed by the very office that is entrusted with proclaiming His holy name to His people.

Make no mistake about it though, no pastor gets those qualifications down perfectly all the time. Pastors are sinners too. That’s why we wear the black clerical shirt. It reminds us pastors and our parishioners that we are all sinners before God. We are all sinners in need of a Savior.

St. Paul said it more clearly two chapters before our text for today: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost (1st Timothy 1:15).

I am a sinner. Just ask Emily and our children. They will tell you. And you also are sinners. We are all doomed to death because of our sins for the wages of our sins is death.

But conveying this sinful depravity to people is one of the hardest things about serving as a pastor. It is not easy to say to someone that if they are living in sin, they are separating themselves from God. They are putting themselves at risk of death and condemnation in hell if they don’t repent. But it’s true nonetheless. It’s true for you. It’s true for me.

Now it could be so easy to stand up here and just tell nice stories with warm fuzzy thoughts where we all go home feeling good about ourselves. But that’s not what a pastor is called to do. A pastor is called to direct people to Jesus. And the only way that any of us will see our need for Jesus, is if we see that we are, in fact sinners.

That means that if your pastor stands in front of you or meets one on one with you and shows you your sin and calls you to repentance, it is not because he has something against you. It is because he is doing what he has been called by the church to do. It is because He has been called by God through the congregation to care for the church. To be the undershepherd that leads the flock in following the shepherd. And that always starts with repentance.

Not-a-one of us here likes to come to terms with our sinfulness. It’s hard. It’s painful. It takes admitting that we are wrong. It takes changing our sinful ways. It takes repenting over and over, and being forgiven over and over. It’s no wonder that Timothy was told by Paul to “fight the good fight of the faith”. It’s a battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting for.

It’s a battle that Jesus fought for you and I and He won for you on the cross and through the empty tomb. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 15:54b-57). Through His blood-stained cross and His empty tomb, Jesus won the victory for us.

And there is no greater joy for a pastor than pronouncing that victory that Jesus won over sin, death, and the devil. It’s why there is a white tab over the voice box of the pastor. He is called to speak the Word of God, administer His Sacraments, and deliver His forgiveness given in Christ. Personally speaking, there is no greater joy that I have in serving you than sharing this good news of great joy that is for all people.

I have so many fond memories of sharing this great joy here at Zion over the past twelve years. I can remember one instance where I was visiting someone. And as I was leading them through confession and absolution before communing them, I asked them if they had anything specific that they wanted to confess. They said they did. And as soon as they confessed it, I pronounced forgiveness over them. And they said, it was like a weight of many years had been lifted. I can remember another time where I was visiting someone just before they died. I asked them if they would like to receive the Lord’s Supper. They said they did. It was only a couple hours later that they died. But I couldn’t help but shed tears of joy as I thought about the fact that the last meal they ate was the foretaste of the feast to come, and in a matter of hours they were dining with Jesus in heaven.

Yes, the Office of the Holy Ministry is indeed a noble task. It’s an honor and privilege to be sure. It is indeed a good thing that God gifts His church with pastors so that congregations may be cared for with Word and Sacrament. I say that not just because I am a pastor, but also because of all of the pastors that have served me with God’s gifts as well. Pastors need pastors too.

But the church needs more men to serve in this Office. The Church is facing a significant pastoral shortage. Consider this: when I graduated from Seminary in St. Louis in 2007, there were 144 pastors in my graduating class. That means that there were easily over two hundred pastors that graduated that year from both seminaries. In this past graduating class here in 2019 there were only about 90 graduates, from both seminaries combined.

This is why it’s essential that we encourage young men to consider the Office of the Holy Ministry. That even though it may be hard, it is a noble task. It is a good thing. And we need good pastors that will serve us and future generations.

As St. Paul wrote to the Romans: How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15).

I began this sermon by asking: What do you remember about your pastors? What impact did they have on you in your life of faith? What sort of memories stick out from childhood? How about from adulthood? How have your pastors helped you remain close in your relationship with Jesus?

I ask those questions for us to consider as Zion continues in the call process for an Associate Pastor. What kind of a man are we looking to fill this office? No doubt we want him to meet the qualifications that St. Paul sets forth for Timothy. That is a given. But beyond even that, let’s keep ever before us the noble task we are asking him to do to serve us. We want this man to faithfully serve us God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament, and lead us in a life of repentance and forgiveness. For that is what will truly help us remain close in our relationship to Jesus. And that is what the care of God’s Church is all about: connecting us to our Savior Jesus who fulfilled the noble task of dying and rising for us. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Thy Will Be Done- Rev. Marlin Rempfer

Thy Will Be Done! 1 Time 2:1 – 8, 9-22-19

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

Why did you that? What is your motivation?  Why do live life the way you do?  Why do spend money the way you do?  Why do you come to church every Sunday?

 

The dishonest steward is commended in today’s Gospel.  He knows he is about to lose his job so he calls people in and cuts their bills in half.  The text clearly tells us that he does what he does so that people will receive him into the houses.

 

In the reading from Amos business owners asked, “When will the new moon be over so that we can trample on the needy and deal deceitfully with false balances?  The Message puts it this way: Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing,  Who say, “When’s my next paycheck coming so I can go out and live it up? How long till the weekend when I can go out and have a good time?”

 

With every mass shootings they say, “We are still trying to determine the motive.”

 

Today’s epistle focuses our attention on God’s will and not our own.  It does so when it focuses our attention on prayer.  We often pray, “Thy will be done” but when we are asked why we do what we do how often is God in our answer?

 

1 Timothy is an instruction manual for a young pastor named Timothy.   Paul makes clear that God’s will is for us to prioritize prayer.

 

Many times we have heard people say, ‘If all else fails try prayer.  Paul writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

 

Why do we so often say, “Let’s begin with prayer?  Our text says that it is good and it is pleasing to God our Savior.  I don’t pray that God’s will conforms to mine but that mine conforms to His.  Let us pray is meant to take our mind off of what we want and put it on God and what He wants.  Luther said it so well when Jesus taught us the Lord’s prayer He taught us that our prayers should be God centered.  We want His name to be hallowed, His kingdom to come and His will to be done.

 

What do Governor Tom Walz, Senators Amy Kobuchar, and Tina Smith, Representatives Dean Phillips, and Ilhan Omar, President Trump, Vice President Pence have in common?    They are at the top of your prayer list.  Right?   God’s will is that we pray for rulers, for king and all in authority.

 

At the time Paul wrote these words the government was the Roman Empire, including names like Caesar and Nero. Caesar was no friend of Christianity. Nero poured tar on Christians set them on fire.  Nero would eventually have Paul executed.  That’s Paul’s government and he puts them at the top of the prayer list.  Why?   “It’s good and pleases God our Savior.

 

Why do we pray for our government almost every Sunday?  We do so because it pleases God our Savior and so that we may lead a godly life.

 

Our first concern when we pray for the government is not tax rates, not economic policies.  Our first request is that God would lead the government to fulfill its duty and make sure that we, the Christian Church, have the freedom to teach, to preach and to live God’s Word.  Paul put it this way in our text, “that we (Christians)  may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

 

We not only want to pray God’s will we want to do it.  Keith Green’s song, “Make My Life a Prayer for You” could easily have been inspired by these verses.

 

You make my life a prayer to You I wanna do what You want me to
No empty words and no white lies No token prayers no compromise

I wanna shine the light You gave Through Your Son You sent to save us From ourselves and our despair It comforts me to know You're really there

I wanna die and let You give Your life to me, so I might live And share the hope You gave to me, the love that set me free
I wanna tell the world out there, You're not some fable or fairy tale
That I've made up inside my head, You're God the Son
You've risen from the dead


I wanna die and let You give Your life to me, so I might live
And share the hope You gave to me I wanna share the love that set me free

 

Why do you do what you do?  Why do you spend money the way you do?    Why do pray the way you do?  Why does Zion have a Lutheran School?  Why do we pray for our government?  Our answer:  God desires the salvation of all.

 

One of those whose sins were washed away in the blood of the Lamb was Joachim Von Ribbontrop (Hilter’s Foreign Minister)  After WWII Ribbontrop and 20 other Nazi war criminals were placed on trial at Nuremburg.  While they were there they were ministered to by a Lutheran chaplain named Henry Gerecke.  During the 10 month trial Ribbontrop took instruction and received the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.  When it came time for Ribbontrop’s hanging on October 15, 1946 Gerecke prayed with him and then accompanied him into the execution chamber.  His last moments in life are described in these words, “The doomed man, hands tied behind his back, mounted the gallows, 13 steps.  He was made to state his name and asked if had any last words:  “I place my confidence in the lamb who made atonement for my sins.  May God have mercy on my soul.  Then he turned to Gerecke and said, “I’ll see you again.”

 

Last week in our Gospel lesson we heard that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. When you came to faith it set off a celebration in heaven.  When we confess our sins and receive forgiveness the celebration echoes.   More than anything else, God wants the angels involved in non-stop rejoicing . . . and that’s why we pray for our government, in fact at the top of our list, because the rejoicing in heaven depends on the Good News of Jesus being freely proclaimed on earth

 

This text convicts us because we don’t pray for all people for kings and all in authority.  This text convicts us because we don’t necessarily want all to be saved.

 

Why do we do what we do? Ultimately we do it for the sake of the Gospel.  We do it because God wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  

 

What is the truth?  There is one God, one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself to ransom all

 

God wants everyone to be saved.  To save them He sent His Son into the world.  Then He sends His Sprit Who through baptism, the Word and the Lord’s Supper calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, bestows faith and keeps us in faith.

 

What is God’s will?  God’s will is seen clearly in the cross.  When you turn to the wonder of the cross you see His will - You find One in whose heart the idea of eternity without His children was so oppressive that in His mercy God did what we could not do.  Which of your children or grandchildren would you give up for others?  Few would lay down their lives for their friends but for your enemies.  How many here would lay down their life for all those today who could care less about worship, and Jesus or who could care less about the hymns of praise and the Sacrament, who could care less about the power of the Word and the memory of their baptism?  Would you die for all those people who curse the name God? 

 

The will of God is that His seeking searching heart reaches out to them.  That is what Christianity is all about.  That is what grace and mercy really mean.  That is the heart of God.  That is the will of God.  He desires the salvation of all.

 

The will of God is for you to walk with a sense of awe, that you come to the Sacrament and receive baptism and the wonder of God’s will in the water, that you come to the Lord’s Table and walk away with a peace that passes understanding,  feeling whole, comforted, encouraged, bright, strong, new, - that you walk away aware that nothing will ever separate you from God’s love.

 

Why do you do what you do?  We live and give so that everyone might know the truth that God sent His Son to live for you, to suffer for you, to bleed for you, to die for you, to rise for you and for them.    There could be no better prayer than, “Thy will be done”.  Amen.

 

Rejoice!

Sermon: “Rejoice!”

Lectionary Series C; The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 15, 2019 – Proper 19

Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-10

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

What causes you to rejoice? Do you rejoice when it is time to leave the office for the weekend? Do you rejoice when you are about to depart on vacation? Do you rejoice when a child or grandchild is born? Do you rejoice when you graduate from high school or college? Do you rejoice when the kids go back to school? Do you rejoice when you catch the big one or shoot the big buck? Do you rejoice when your team wins a long volley on the volleyball court? Do you rejoice when your team scores a touchdown? And on that note, do you rejoice when the Vikings beat the Packers?

We do all sorts of rejoicing in this life. But what about in the life of the church? What causes us to rejoice? Do we rejoice when a child is baptized into the kingdom of God? Do we rejoice when the Lord’s Supper is offered to us week after week? Do we rejoice when children receive their Bibles, Catechisms, and Little Lambs with blessings? Do we rejoice when youth get up in front of us and boldly share their Confession of Faith essays? Do we rejoice when the Almighty God speaks to us in His Word? Do we rejoice when someone who has been away from the church for awhile returns? Do we rejoice when sinners repent and are forgiven?

Rejoice! As we think about what causes us to rejoice, do we find ourselves rejoicing more in the things of this world, or in the things that pertain to the kingdom of God?

Our text for today includes two parables. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. In each instance, there was rejoicing when what was once lost was found. The shepherd rejoiced when he found his lost sheep while carrying it upon his shoulders. He rejoiced with friends and neighbors as he brought back that sheep into the fold. The woman rejoiced when she found her lost coin. She rejoiced with friends and neighbors as she put that coin back where it belonged. But as each parable has its meaning, so do these. Each connect us to what we as the Church are invited to rejoice about: Rejoicing over sinners who repent.

You see, these parables were told in the hearing of a diverse group of people. Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners all gathered around Jesus as he told them these parables. But the Pharisees were not rejoicing. They were grumbling.

Grumbling reminds us of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. They grumbled when there was no food. Then they grumbled when the food was the same thing over and over. They grumbled when there was no water. They were a grumbling group.

We can relate to grumbling. We do it all the time. We grumble when the boss gives us a project we don’t want to do. We grumble when we don’t get our way. We grumble when the teacher gives us homework. We grumble when our mom makes something we don’t like for supper. We too, can be a grumbling group.

When it comes to the worship service, one thing we grumble about is time. In our American minds, we have so compartmentalized our lives that we think the Divine Service ought to never go over an hour. And because we think that way, we may be inclined to grumble. Because when there is a baptism, the Lord’s Supper every week, blessings for those receiving Bibles, Catechisms, and Little Lambs, and youth delivering Confession of Faith Essays, there is a good chance that the service is going to go a bit longer than what we think it should be.

Grumbling steals from our opportunity to rejoice. The Pharisees missed out on a fantastic opportunity to rejoice. Instead of seeing, recognizing, and rejoicing that they were welcomed into the presence of Jesus, they chose instead to grumble about the other people who were welcomed into His presence. How could He welcome sinners and eat with them too?

To dine with someone in the first century meant more than just association, it meant welcome and recognition. A Pharisee would in no way associate with a tax collector or sinner, let alone welcome or recognize them. They would become unclean, and it might hurt their reputation.

Is there someone in your life that you are avoiding because things might get a little messy and difficult? Is there someone you are avoiding because to spend time with them might hurt your reputation? Do you find it easier to just grumble about them, rather than welcome them and recognize them as those for whom Christ died?

You see, when we choose to grumble, we miss out on all of the opportunities God places before us to rejoice. Jesus rejoiced in the opportunity to dine with sinners and tax collectors because they recognized that they were sinners in need of a Savior. They saw that they were nothing without Jesus.

I asked last week, “can we ever get enough Jesus?” For these tax collectors and sinners, they concluded that they could not. They couldn’t get enough of Him. The text says that they “drew near to hear Him.” “They drew near to hear Him.”

How are you drawing near to hear God’s Word, and is there a way you could get more of Him? Today starts another year of Sunday School and Bible Class. Have you considered joining those classes? If not, what is keeping you from attending? Is it a good reason, or is it because it just hasn’t been your practice in the past? What is keeping us from starting a new trend? And not just for ourselves, but for the children of our congregation as well. After all, they will mimic what we do, not necessarily what we say. And can any of us ever get enough Jesus?

That is some challenging stuff for us to consider. But when we look at a text like today, it challenges us. It challenges us to consider how we have become too comfortable with the ways in which we have always done things. The Pharisees had been acting as if they had no need of the Messiah, and it was instead those tax collectors and sinners who did. But it was really the other way around. The tax collectors and sinners saw their need and they saw their Savior. The Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.

And that became very clear not long down the road. By this time, Jesus face was set on Jerusalem. And breathing down his neck were these Pharisees and other religious authorities. Jesus was challenging everything they held dear, and their power among the people was being reduced. Enough was enough. He had to go. And go He did. All the way to the night He was betrayed where He was hauled away by men with clubs and swords into an unruly mob of a courtroom. All the way to Pilate’s praetorium where He was riddled with shouts calling for His own crucifixion. All the way through the streets of Jerusalem to a cross where they nailed Him. But all of this, He did with joy because it is what it took in order to save you.

You see, for all the times, we have thought we have had enough Jesus, He has never had enough of you. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep, and goes searching for you. Like the lost coin, He searches diligently until He finds you to bring you back. And then He, and all of heaven rejoices when you are found.

You see, there is not-a-one of us here that doesn’t need Jesus. Like the lamb that was carried upon the shoulders of the Shepherd, so has He carried you and your sins. He has carried them, and He has buried them. They are no more. And now He invites you to His table to rejoice with Him. Rejoice that He invites you to draw near to Him again and again.

But, I have news for you brothers and sisters. We live in a growing and changing community. There are countless people right here in our community who also need to draw near to hear the words of Jesus. But it is going to be a challenge for us. It is going to take us out of our comfort zone, and we are going to be tempted to grumble.

As I said last week, we are going to need to pay off our deficit and our debt. We need to add more volunteers to the fold. And that might cause us to grumble as we consider the sacrifice to our pocketbooks and our calendars, but consider for a moment what we are being invited to rejoice about.

We are being invited to rejoice about welcoming people into the kingdom of God. What an opportunity! I talk to pastors who are living in towns that are stagnant or shrinking. There is great discouragement, and no doubt it is hard for them not to grumble. Zion is not in that position. Mayer is growing, Zion is growing. These are good things for us to rejoice about.

But that means we need to be equipped. And that starts with drawing near to hear Jesus. It starts with God’s Word. From that gift of the Word and God’s forgiveness given to us in Jesus, we give from what He has given us.

Did you know that if we were to maintain our giving from last week, we would be ever so close to eliminating our deficit in the course of a year? And if we maintained it for two years, we would be close to paying off our debt. And if we continued it from there, we could actually discuss the options that are there for us in the future, ministry expansion, mission endeavors, building projects. Just something to think about.

Another thing to think about is ways that we can serve. We are about ready to welcome an Associate Pastor into our midst. No, we don’t know the timetable, but we want to be ready. Fiscally ready, and ready with willing volunteers. We have had youth leaders step up and Sunday School volunteers step up. But, our Board for Family Ministry has only two members on a board of six, and this position is both Associate Pastor and Director of Family Ministry. What if we filled that board? And our Vacation Bible School Action Team has served for several years, and they have asked for a break, a much needed break. But that means that a ministry that reaches out to over 100 kids nearly every summer with the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs an action team of 3-4 people to help get things ready for VBS 2020.

Now as you know from last week at Rally Sunday, there are countless other ways we can serve. And I invite, encourage, and implore you to take advantage of those opportunities. But in the midst of it all, I don’t want us to lose sight of what is of utmost importance. Sharing Hope and Teaching Christ. And for what we need to do that, we look at the One who is in the center of our text welcoming sinners and tax collectors. The One who invites us to rejoice in the salvation He gives us with His very own body and blood He gave on Calvary. It’s Jesus! And when it comes to rejoicing, it’s all about Jesus. And can we ever get enough Jesus? In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Counting the Cost of Discipleship

Sermon: “Counting the Cost of Discipleship”

Lectionary Series C; The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 8, 2019 – Proper 18 – Rally Sunday

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-35

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever stopped to count of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? This is what Jesus was getting to in our text for today as He journeyed to Jerusalem to die on the cross. A large crowd had been following Him, and they were amazed at Jesus’ miracles, His teaching, the way He addressed the religious authorities. Like kids in a candy store, they couldn’t get enough. But, as the trek carried them closer to the final destination of Calvary, Jesus turned around and addressed them about what it meant to be following in His footsteps.

Listen to what Jesus says: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

Hate is such a strong word. We hesitate to use it even if it is how we feel. For those of us here who have been instructed in the fifth commandment, we know that ‘to hate’ is synonymous with ‘to kill’. So is Jesus saying that we should hate or even kill our family? No. But He is making a very stark and unsettling demand of His followers here. Family does not come before Him. No matter the circumstances, family does not come first. He does. Always. Without question. No, ifs, ands, or buts about it.

A couple of chapters later in the book of Luke, it stretches us possibly even more: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13).

You see, there is no division of allegiances here whatsoever in following Jesus. You shall have no other gods, the first commandment commands. We shall fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. God comes before family, before self, before money, before everything.

The cost of discipleship is high. Counting the cost of discipleship includes reorienting our priorities. We are called to organize our lives around God and His love for us.

Think of it this way. Picture a bicycle wheel with a hub and a bunch of spokes going out from that hub. The hub of that wheel is the primary priority for yourself and/or your family. Every spoke then is impacted by what goes on at that hub. Now if you grew up in the 1950s, what was probably in that hub was the Church. Families and individuals oriented their lives around the life of the Church. It was where they gathered on Sundays. And it was where they gathered throughout the week, be it for Bible Study, social functions, youth groups, etc. It was known as the heyday of the Church.

Gradually, that hub has shifted away from the Church. Now instead of a hub, the image that might better suit our lives is a revolving door. More and more, families and individuals do not see that the Church is the center of their lives to guide their priorities. Now it is often whatever current priority of the family or individual might be. It could be making money at whatever cost, so jobs are the priority. It could be family and friends, where the sole goal is to socialize as much as possible. It could be sports and extracurriculars. It could be sleep. It could be the next new thing for the garage or the house or the cabin. But, more often than not, it isn’t the Church anymore.

This is seen all throughout the U.S. as regular worship is sadly being redefined from weekly to monthly or even less frequent. No longer is the Sabbath day seen as holy. Now, what is becoming more prevalent is that families and individuals choose to view church as optional, and only if it fits into the busy schedule, instead of it being the top priority that redirects all other activities of life. It’s no longer the hub. Instead, it’s part of the revolving door.

But it goes beyond church attendance. Churches are seeing giving decrease year after year. Here at Zion, we have carried a six figure deficit for nearly my entire twelve year ministry. Ministry efforts have been minimized and shaved down to the point that we rarely take time to dream what we could do in our growing community. Instead, we have become comfortable with deficit and debt. Perhaps it’s because we see how the national and state governments operate and think it’s acceptable. Perhaps it’s because we argue that if we don’t have debt, no one will see a need to give. No matter the argument, it would not seem to be a wise way to handle money.

We have also seen a constant decline in volunteerism. We have some people who are flat out burnt out. They have served on numerous boards for numerous years. They are tired, but they see a need and they jump on the opportunity. But more help is needed. This is a large parish with a large school and it takes a lot to keep it going. But how much more could we accomplish for the sake of the kingdom of God if all pitched in?

Growing up, whenever I would be so bold as to ask why I was supposed to help out around the house, my parents would graciously respond, because we are a family. And that’s what families do. They pitch in and help out.

Here at Zion, we may not all be blood relatives, but in the blood of Jesus, we are indeed family. And now is the time we all need to ask ourselves, what are our priorities in life? Are we centering our lives around Christ, His Church, and furthering the kingdom of God to share hope and teach Christ, or are we living life for ourselves and our own priorities?

As I wrote in the article in the recent newsletter: What would it be like if we were deficit and debt free? Let me take it a step further. What would it be like if we had so many people volunteering that we had to come up with more for the church to do simply because we didn’t have enough spots for people to serve? What if…

          “What ifs” are fun because they bring about a creative dreaming in us? To think of all that a congregation could do is exciting. Because we aren’t just thinking about living for today. We are thinking about the next generation and the next generation. Imagine how thankful the next generations would be if we set a new tone on what was of utmost priority. If we went away from living like the world that allows activities and money and stuff to orient priorities and returned to what is most important. A life centered on the work of the Church where we receive Jesus. Where we no longer take for granted that we can get Jesus any other Sunday and say to our kids and ourselves, “No, we go to Church above all else, because we are sinners in need of a Savior. Because this is where Jesus is located for us.”

          And who of us ever has enough Jesus? I just asked that very question in one of my meetings for Catechesis. Can we ever get enough Jesus? I asked that in conjunction with laying out the priorities for families in the Catechesis ministry; attending worship, Bible Class, Sunday School, youth group. Can we ever get enough Jesus?

          Let’s take a look at our priorities in life. Can we ever get enough Jesus? And where can we reorient our priorities to make sure He is number one in everything?

When Jesus looked back on that crowd, no doubt, they had been hoping for an easy road to follow Him upon. They had been hoping that to follow Jesus they would get to keep watching miracles, keep listening to His teaching, keep watching Him put the Pharisees in their place. But instead, it was like Jesus turned around and said, “Look, this road ain’t easy. If you are going to keep following me, the road is going to get really difficult. Deadly difficult.”

          Jesus doesn’t take the easy road, and where He leads won’t be easy for us either. There is a death that has to take place. And it’s a death to self. That’s right, we have to die. Our old sinful self that is caught up in everything of this world has to be done away with. And that’s what happened in our baptism, and that’s what we remember every time we gather here and are invited to make that sign of the cross.

          Baptized into the name of the Triune God, we have been joined to Jesus. The One who was obedient to the will of His Father and went all in for you and for me. He went because of His great love for His Father and His great love for us. For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son… and He did just that in order to save us. And He carries us with Him through the cross and all the way to the empty tomb.

          Jesus counted the cost, and in love for His Father and for us, He paid the price. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. The cost that should have been ours, He paid in full. And I know you have heard that before. You have heard it time and again. But this is where our hope in life is located, in the payment of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

          As today is Rally Sunday and we kick off another Sunday School year, I want you to think about those kids hearing that good news of Jesus for the first time. Think about future generations who will hear of Jesus. Think about how exciting it is to know that God has called you and I to have an eternal impact in their lives.

Because, as we all know, and as hard as it is to admit, their lives will be far more difficult than ours. Remaining faithful to the point of death will be that much more challenging in a world that is truly post-Christian. Which is why now more than ever, as we count the cost of discipleship, we need to follow Jesus by making the sacrifice of ourselves with our giving and our volunteering so that future generations will continue to share hope and teach Christ in this place and beyond.

          Yes, the cost is high, but the good news is that Jesus’ priority was always to pay that price for you and for me. Because He breathed His last breath in our place, a breath of fresh air has been breathed into our lives. We are free from a life of keeping up with the Jones’ or trying to see if the grass is greener on the other side. We are free from the realities of sin and death. They no longer hold us back.

Now our eyes have been fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. Now we are set to follow Jesus who died our death so that we are guaranteed to that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Now we can dedicate our lives in love and service to Him and others because He is alive and well within us. Baptized into His death and resurrection, we rejoice that He has given us much to do in this congregation and community for years and years to come. Thanks be to God! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Table Etiquette

Sermon: “Table Etiquette”

Lectionary Series C; The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 1, 2019 – Proper 17

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1-14

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

What was the table etiquette at your home when you grew up? Did people have assigned seats that they sat at for every meal? Did people move around every day without a care about where they sat? Did people jockey for seats to sit nearest to a parent or sibling that they wanted to be closest to? What was the table etiquette at your home?

It may seem odd that we would discuss table etiquette during a sermon, but that is the location of our sermon text for today. It was the Sabbath, and Jesus had entered into the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. After healing a man of dropsy, he told them a parable about none other than table etiquette.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Can you imagine walking into a wedding and seeing a bunch of adults jockeying for position at a table? It’s a hard thing to picture, what, with how civilized we are nowadays. We never jockey for position in life, now do we? Or do we?

Truth is, we jockey for position all of the time. We go to great lengths to draw attention to ourselves. We try to make a name for ourselves. We do whatever we can to be noticed. If someone of greater status is around, those popular people of high repute and celebrity status, we get closer in hopes that some of their fame will rub off on us.

Do you ever find yourself in competition with someone at work? Are you putting all your efforts into trying to get noticed so you can get that raise, or that promotion? But in doing so, at what expense has it come to your fellow co-workers? Are you exalting yourself while putting someone else down?

Students, are you consumed with popularity, so much so that you will start rumors or put others down in order to climb the proverbial social ladder? Are you trying to make yourself feel good while making a classmate feel bad?

Brothers and sisters, siblings, are you ever caught up in trying to jockey for position and status before dad and mom? You think that your sibling gets better treatment, so are you going to great lengths to get noticed and get your way?

Athletes, what lengths are you going to so the coach will notice you and you can get more playing time? Is it coming at the expense of another teammate? Are you focusing on bringing them down to elevate yourself?

I have no doubt there are ample amounts of other examples. The thing is that what we find is that a parable on table etiquette is about far more than table manners. In fact, such a lesson, doesn’t even have to have a table to gather around. Such jockeying for position and status is found all over. And in no way is this lesson bound to just the first century church. That’s because we each have our battles with exalting ourselves instead of taking the more humble road. And that’s what this lesson ultimately boils down to…humility.

Jesus looked at these Pharisees and he loved them. He loved them enough to tell them the truth. They were called to serve the church and to lead the people to Him as the coming of the Messiah. But their self-centered focus and drive to elevate themselves had not only clouded their minds from what their mission in life was, but it had also hardened their hearts.

Our text began with a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked if he should heal him on the Sabbath. The Pharisees would have no doubt just ignored the man because of his lowly, unclean status. Jesus, however, takes notice of the man, and makes very clear that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He then healed the man and sent him on his way with His blessing.

Jesus made very clear for all to see that He was not like the Pharisees. He had no interest in establishing himself into a high ranking position. That is not why he came. So when He entered a house like He did in today’s text, He had no plans of taking the best seat. That was already reserved for Him in heaven by His heavenly Father. But while here, His was a humble road.

Consider that Jesus’ first place that he sat, or better yet, laid down, was a manger. A manger was a trough for animals. Feed, hay, slobber and all, this is where the Son of God came first to serve us. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).

Jesus left the halls of heaven where He was seated at the finest banquet and humbled Himself by becoming one of us. He who knew no sin became sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2nd Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus positioned Himself in the lowliest of places and counted Himself among sinners. In fact, He so took on that identity that where the Pharisees often found Him was dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. Much to their disgust.

When Jesus went to call Levi (Matthew) to be one of his disciples, the Pharisees and their scribes ‘grumbled’ at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:30-31).

You see, the way we jockey for position to elevate ourselves in this life puts us right in line with those Pharisees who failed to see what was right in front of their face. They were sinners in need of a Savior, and the Savior was standing right in front of them.

Today, as you come into the house of the Lord, you are invited once again to His table. Are you in any position to jockey for a good seat at this table, or should you be cast out because of what you have thought, said, or done?

When we examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments, and really take to heart our position before the Almighty God, how can we not say we deserve to be cast out like those Pharisees who no doubt would have done that with any tax collector or sinner who tried to dine at their table?

But I have good news for you, my brothers and sisters. Though we are sinners…though we are just like those tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus chooses to dine with us. He welcomes us here, lowly as we may be. And when we come, He exalts us to sit right next to Him. After all, that’s what this meal is all about. Jesus wants us close to Him now and for all eternity. And what better way than to give us His body and blood, to allow Himself to coarse through our very veins?

That same body and blood that is given to us here, is the same body and blood that was given and shed for us on Calvary. When last He sat down at the table with His disciples to institute this holy meal on the night He was betrayed, the next place He sat was the very place those Pharisees nailed Him to. It was a cross. Our cross. No more humble way to die. But that’s what He did for us. That was the sacrifice that He made. And it was a sacrifice the Father accepted wholeheartedly when He raised Him from death and exalted back to where He belongs.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-10).

You see, our road as Christians is not one of self-exaltation. Our road is one of humility as we bow in servitude toward the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). We are those ‘many’ that He came to humbly serve, and now He calls us into a life of humble service as we journey through life.

Along the way, as we gather around the tables in our lives, our text invites us to consider who we welcome to our tables. Do we welcome those who will be in position to have us back over and return the kindness, or do we welcome those of lower estate? The vision statement of our congregation as well as this text directs us to “be disciples by following Jesus Christ to the poor, the meek, the destitute, the lonely, the burdened, the sick, to sinners, to the cross, and to the empty tomb.”

As Jesus dines with us and offers us Himself, may we be emboldened in our table etiquette or wherever we gather, to humble ourselves so that others may know what we know: that we are in fact, sinners. Sinners in need of Savior. And thanks be to God that he graciously welcomes us sinners to His table here in His house again and again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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