Stewardship 3 – 2017 They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love
Text – 1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God, & whoever loves has been born of God & knows God.
Stewards Transformed by Love
Six year old Johnnie comes home from 1st grade, & asks his mother, “Mom, where do I come from?” His mother thought, Oh dear, I wish his father was here to answer this question. She had hoped the question would not come up for a few more years. But, after she had slowly & carefully explained the anatomy of males & females, she asked Johnny:
“Why did you ask?” He answered, “My friend Bobby came from Chicago, so I was wondering where I came from.”
There is also misunderstanding when we talk about God’s love so I’d like to make three points that we need to better understand God’s affection for us. In the epistle reading for today we find our 1st point which is “love begins with God.”
Verse seven of the Epistle lesson says, “Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God, & whoever loves has been born of God & knows God.” By ourselves, we are incapable of loving. But many people consider love to have originated with themselves. If that were true, it would be a very selfish & self-centered kind of love.
Christians know that God is the origin of love. He 1st loved us, & enables us to share that love with others, but God is not only the origin of love. Verse 8 tells us “God is love.” The very nature of God is love. Everything He does & says originates from His love for us. He created us, &, when we fell into sin, instead of giving up on us or destroying us, He set out to redeem us.
He showed His love for us as He sent His Son to pay the sacrifice for sins. He sent His Son into the world to die on the Cross as the propitiation for our sins. In verse 10 we see that propitiation means Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for our sin. A sacrifice had to be made for our sins. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, & He does that so we might live through Him. Because of God’s love & forgiveness, we have eternal life in His name. So we recognize, “Love begins with God.”
The 2nd major point is that “God’s love has a dramatic effect.” Verse 7 says we are born of God. Through Holy Baptism, we are born again of water & the Spirit, thus becoming children of God. Our old natural birth has been superseded by a new supernatural birth. We have been transformed & changed, because of which you & I are no longer the same person.
We know about the metamorphosis that takes place in a caterpillar as it becomes a butterfly. As great as that transformation is from caterpillar to butterfly, the change that occurs in our lives is much greater than that, because at one time we were lost. Now we are found. At one time we were dead. Now we are made alive.
Once we were enemies of God. Holy Scripture says that now we are considered His dear friends & children. Not only are we born of God, we possess knowledge of God that people who do not believe do not have. We don’t just know about God intellectually. We know God personally & intimately, because we are the recipients of His love as daughters & sons.
The most dramatic effect that God’s love has on us is that we love others, even those we would otherwise hate. Our love for one another is a response to God’s infinite love for each & every one of us. Showing the same kind of selfless, sacrificial love toward others witnesses to the love of our Heavenly Father that He reveals in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle John says it very well: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also out to love one another.” You see, love that is of God is dynamic & explosive. It cannot be & just remain between God & me. The presence of Yahweh’s love in our lives is shown by the way that it
reaches out to others. Love originates with God, & then has a dramatic effect upon us.
Third “Love becomes the distinguishing mark of Christ’s followers.” After Jesus had washed His disciples’ feet, He tells them: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
Unbelievers recognized Jesus’ disciples by their love. Believers gave evidence to being disciples by their love for one another. When the early church was just getting started, those outside the church would watch how people inside the church treated one another & responded by saying, “My, how they love one another.”
People watching us will see we are Christians by the love we display. The source of our love is Christ’s love for us. He loves unconditionally without setting limits. Jesus loves us sacrificially, & His love for us, not guilt, is what empowers us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus was a living example of God’s love & we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love.
We struggle not to put conditions on our love. In response to that normal sinful attitude, St. Paul wrote in Romans 13: “Owe no one anything except to love each other.” (13:8 ESV) And whenever we talk about love, we have to remember that love is more than simple warm feelings. Love is an attitude that reveals itself in action. Love is more a verb than a noun.
Read the great love chapter sometime, 1 Corinthians 13, & see how Paul describes love: “Love is patient, love does not envy or boast, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful.” Paul then says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (13:7 ESV)
As we think about love, the kind that originated from God, love that changes us & transforms us, we ask ourselves, “How can we love others as Jesus loves us? How can we prove
that our love is real?” There are many ways, but here are five of them.
1.One way to show our love is by helping others when it’s not convenient. It is easy to help others when it’s convenient in our schedule. If we have to change schedules, are we going to be willing to help?
2.Another way to show love is by devoting time & energy to another person’s welfare rather than our own. Time is precious & often we don’t want to give up time that we reserve for ourselves. Sometimes we draw a line, thinking we’ve given too much. God says He’s given us plenty of time to do what He calls us to do.
3.We can prove that our love is real when we love those we don’t even like. Is there someone who gets under your skin or irritates you so much? Do you know anyone like that? Even if we don’t like someone, God expects us to love them.
4.We can prove our love when we are hurt by others & do not seek revenge or fight back, but instead we forgive them. That is something to see, isn’t it? By nature, when we’re hurt, we want to retaliate. Evidence of our love is that we are forgiving. Because we are loved & forgiven by God, our response can be to be forgiving people.
5.We can prove our love by giving generously, cheerfully & sacrificially. Giving until it hurts; that’s what sacrificial giving really is. This kind of giving is what proves the genuineness of our love. When St. Paul was writing to the Corinthians about the Macedonians who gave so generously to the Christians in Jerusalem, Paul said he can:
“..test you by the zeal of others to see how real your love is.” (2 Corinthians 8:8 NET) You see, love changes our giving from an obligation to a privilege. We are not giving to a budget or giving to anything. We are giving from the heart & from what God has 1st given to us.
Now, these things I’ve mentioned are not easy to do, yet, people notice when we do
them. Please know that you are empowered by a supernatural Being. Jesus calls for something far greater than we can accomplish on our own. Only in Christ, who is supernatural by nature, can we truly be stewards who are transformed by grace, faith & love.
At the beginning of this sermon, little Johnnie was wondering where he came from? Do you know where you are from? Maybe it’s Chicago, like Johnnie’s friend, but ultimately you have come from your heavenly Creator & Father. He is love, & He longs to remove the inward focus of your heart to restore to you the other-centered focus He created human beings to have.
Our Lord created us in love so that we might love each other, & not just love ourselves. Love is probably the most misunderstood of all of God’s blessings. In heaven we will know that blessing fully.
In a few moments, you are going to have the opportunity to worship our Lord through offering back to Him a portion of what He has given to you. Perhaps some of you are not ready to make a financial gift today. Your commitment to being in worship services, Bible studies & prayer are other obvious ways in which we worship our Creator & King.
Whether or not you have a financial offering today, I’d like to offer a prayer because God wants us to be good stewards of all that He has entrusted to us. Let’s bow our heads:
Heavenly Father, we know You are the giver of all good gifts. All that we have comes from You. You are not only the giver of all we have, You’re the owner & have entrusted to us our time, our talents & our treasures. As the offering basket is passed around, we pray that the sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated on the cross would change our hearts for all eternity. Amen.
Now may the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Stewardship 1 – 2017 LSB #’s 915, 568, 566
Text – 2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor so that you by His poverty might become rich.
Stewards transformed by Grace
It had been a hard winter in the Rockies. The snow piled deeper & deeper. The temperature dropped below zero & stayed there. The rivers froze over. People were suffering. The Red Cross used helicopters to fly in supplies.
After a long, hard day, as they were returning to their base, the rescue team saw a cabin nearly submerged in the snow. A thin wisp of smoke came up from the chimney. The men figured those people in that cabin were probably critically short of food, fuel & medicine. Because of the trees they had to set the helicopter down about a mile from the cabin.
They put their heavy emergency equipment on their backs, trudged through waist-deep snow & reached the cabin exhausted, panting & perspiring. They pounded on the door & a thin, gaunt mountain woman finally answered. The lead man panted, “Ma’am, we’re from the Red Cross.” She was silent for a moment, & then she said:
“It’s been a hard, long winter, Sonny. I just don’t think we can give anything this year!”
You have become accustomed to almost relentless asking for money. The salesman who rings at the door, the computer recording on the other end of the phone, the appeal letter in the mail, the panhandlers on the street corners, Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart & Kroger are all out to get our money. We brace ourselves to say “no.”
When someone approaches claiming they want to help, we become suspicious. There has to be an ulterior motive. St. Paul was traveling all over the world taking up a collection for the poor, distressed Christians in Jerusalem. Usually the mother church supports the mission churches, but there was a famine in Judea, so the economy was suffering & the mother church at Jerusalem needed help. On top of that, Christians were being persecuted, & many of them had lost their jobs. Many of were just barely staying alive. So Paul went from church to church urging the Christians to give generously to support those who were in need in Jerusalem.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Just as you excel in everything… see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV) Brothers & sisters in Christ, whenever we talk about grace & giving, we have to talk about God. Grace begins with our Lord. It is a gift we do not deserve, but God is not only gracious, He is giving. He is the greatest giver ever.
What does John 3:16 tell us? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” When He wanted to tell us how much He loved us, He didn’t send a letter, an email, or put it on Facebook. His Son Who was rich became poor to express the love of our Creator for His creation.
Paul was referring to the eternal riches that were His as the Son of God from all eternity. There was & is nothing that does not belong to Him. But for your sake He became poor. Paul said, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because this was something they needed to keep on hearing.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, “Christ made Himself nothing.” Literally He emptied Himself. The Macedonians Christians had very little & the little they had they gave. Jesus had absolutely everything. He was Lord of the universe, & He gave all of it. As Paul told the Corinthians, Christ died so that they could become rich.
Jesus, the God-man, swapped places with us sinners. He underwent the desolation & the deserved punishment of sinful mankind. In return, sinners receive a share in His Sonship & the forgiveness of sins. You see, because of Christ’s poverty, we are rich, but we are not rich by nature. By nature, we are poor. Holy Scripture calls us spiritually blind, dead & enemies of God. There is no goodness of our own. There is no one good – not even one, we’re told in the book of Romans. There is no way for us to gain acceptance with God. All of our efforts fall short, yet in Christ we have become incredibly rich. The slate of our sins has been wiped clean.
Our Lord works all things together for our good. We have eternal riches. That is grace in action. You might say, “Me rich?” You might think, “We get by, but we’re certainly not the 1%.” But we are rich, because Christ became poor. If you question yourself becoming rich, ask God, “How much did your salvation cost?”
Martin Luther reminded us that our salvation was not bought with gold or silver but with the innocent suffering & death of Jesus. That you & I belong to Jesus means that we are rich. We have been bought by Him, with His own blood. Christ chose us so that we could live lives worthy of the Gospel – doing His will instead of ours, seeking His kingdom instead of ours.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died & was raised.” How much of every day do you live for God? You see friends, we can live every day for God by remembering that we are stewards. We all are stewards by our recreation in Baptism.
As God’s stewards we are not owners, but managers. Who is the owner? It’s the One who died to rescue His own Creation. We just confessed a few moments ago that we believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven & earth. But friends, He is not only the maker of heaven & earth; He is the owner because He died to erase every last effect of sin in all creation.
Being stewards means that we’ve been entrusted with life & it’s resources. We’ve been given the privilege of responsibly & joyfully managing them for God. We can do that because we are stewards who have been transformed by His grace. We have been changed in heart & mind & soul. We are no longer the same person we once were. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. He tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good & acceptable & perfect.”
Being transformed begins with thinking of things differently – having a different mindset & attitude. It results in behavior pleasing to God & in accordance with His will – we become givers, not just takers. Giving becomes a privilege rather than a burden or obligation. Our saintly nature does give willingly & cheerfully.
The Christians in Macedonia begged to be part of the offering for the church in Jerusalem. Maybe some of us here have room for growth in our giving. Wouldn’t it be great if, as I announced the offering, the congregation would applaud? During the offering we are given an opportunity to give back to God what He has given to us.
We give back not because we have to, but because we want to give. As we give, we give of our very selves. As St. Paul wrote, “…they gave themselves 1st to the Lord & then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:5 ESV)
A pastor once told of a time his church received a $1,000 check from a member who never attended church. The secretary reported that the man considered the gift as his dues. A year later another check for $1,000 was received from the same man. The pastor went to meet with the man & returned his $1,000 check: “God doesn’t want your money; He wants you.”
Friends, God doesn’t want our money either. He wants us. When we refuse to give ourselves, we are withholding what belongs to God. When we do give ourselves, we give our time. Time gives us the opportunity to serve God by serving our fellow man. Haven’t you wondered why God allowed you to keep on living after He had saved you? We are still here because God has a purpose for us; things for us to do. Many people don’t know their purpose in life. As a giver, we give our treasures. The Bible says, “They gave according to their means.” If the readiness to give is there, the gift is like a pleasant aroma to God. Not all are blessed in the same way, but the gift is acceptable if it is given according to how God has blessed us.
In writing to the Church at Corinth, Paul referenced the example of the Macedonians who gave so generously to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9) Because of God’s grace & generosity to them, they were empowered to give even though they lived in poverty. The members gave generously & sacrificially. Paul refers to their giving as an “act of grace.”
In their extreme poverty, by grace, the Macedonians gave “beyond their means.” (v. 3) So eager to give, they pleaded for the privilege of sharing with the needy in Jerusalem. Their giving, while in such a difficult economic position, gave witness to God’s grace in their lives. God’s grace makes it possible for people to have very little & yet want to give generously.
Friends, the word generosity comes from the root word that means “single.” The basic idea is single-mindedness of purpose. It points to the attitude of the giver rather than the amount given. The ultimate source of the single-minded generous spirit is the grace of God that has been given to all whose sins He has washed away.
Generous givers aren’t born that way. That kind of attitude is the result of being reborn, of being changed & transformed. The grace, of God’s unmerited love, that brings salvation to the sinner also inspires a new life of service that includes unselfish, generous giving. To give cheerfully & generously is a gift of God’s grace.
“…though He was rich, yet for your sake [Jesus] became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) People the world over are looking for a transformational event to make their lives better. Jesus offers that to us by His grace. Amen.
If Your beloved Son, O God, had not to earth descended & in our mortal flesh & blood had not sin’s power ended, then this poor wretched soul of mine in hell eternally would pine because of my transgression. I trust in Him with all my heart; now all my sorrow ceases. His Words abiding peace impart; His blood from guilt releases. Free grace through Him I now obtain; He washes me from every stain, & pure I stand before Him. My guilt, O Father, You have laid on Christ, Your Son, my Savior. Lord Jesus, You my debt have paid & gained for me God’s favor. O Holy Spirit, Fount of grace, the good in me to You I trace; in faith & hope preserve me. Amen. LSB 568:1, 3, 5.
16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 20) LSB #599 to tune of 655
Text – Philippians 1:27
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come & see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL
Joe Delaney & his 8-year-old son, Jared, were playing catch in their backyard, when Jared asked, “Dad, is there a God?” Joe replied that when he was younger he did go to church a couple of times, but he really knew nothing about God. After a short while Jared ran into the house, yelling, “I’ll be right back.”
He got the helium-filled balloon he had from the circus, a pen, & an index card. “I’m going to send God an airmail message,” he explained. He wrote, “Dear God, if you are real, & you are up there, send people who know you to Dad & me.” As they watched the balloon sail away, Joe thought, God, I hope you are real & that you are watching.
Two days later, Joe & Jared pulled into a car wash sponsored by a church. When Joe asked the cost, he was told, “It’s free. No strings attached.” “But why are you doing this?” Joe inquired. He was told, “We just want to show God’s love in a practical way.” So Joe asked, “Are you guys Christians? Do you believe in God?”
That car wash encounter led Joe & Jared to learn about God & His Son Jesus Christ through the people from that church. Demonstrating our heavenly Father’s love to strangers is letting our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel. For the nature of the Gospel is free gift. To live our lives as worthy of it means that our lives revolve around giving.
The season of Christmas is celebrated through the giving of gifts to reflect the essence & nature of the Gospel. That was necessary after The Fall into sin, yet, it’s not the 1st instance of the Triune God’s giving. That happened already in the beginning when God created the heavens & the earth. He was giving of Himself then too, & has never stopped giving. In The Creation the Triune God even gave His own image to mankind:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
Except for one tree, everything that Yahweh had created was at the disposal of Adam & Eve, to be used according their good wishes. So the man & woman weren’t satisfied. They took even the one thing that had not been given them. Mankind has not stopped taking ever since, as these words to King David demonstrate:
“…This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, & I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, & your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel & Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword & took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’” (2 Samuel 12:7-9 NIV)
It is the nature of God to love & therefore to give. Our rebellion has twisted & perverted everything God created. Instead of the spirit of giving, the spirit of taking has infected each man, woman & child on this earth. In spite of that, our Lord & Savior has come to earth in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in order to restore every aspect of His good creation.
That work has already begun, as St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (5:17 ESV) The Apostle elaborates on that today in the reading from Philippians:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come & see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, & not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Paul wrote this letter from prison & the penalty that had been hanging over him was death by execution. Maybe that threat would help us get our priorities in order as well. St. Paul wants us to ask ourselves, “Is the life I am living worthy of the Gospel of Christ?”
By the language he uses it’s clear – he’s not trying to lay a guilt trip on us. He simply wants you to see by faith in Jesus, rather than by your sin-clouded physical sight – you know, that physical sight which can never get enough & always wants more, & more. How do we encourage one another while not making each other feel guilty, or shamed?
If the shame is legitimate, due to the recognition of our sins, how do we help each other move forward trusting in Jesus to save us? To ask the same question in a more positive light, now that you are a child of God, what kind of life do you live? How do you respond to the giving of God? How do you love your neighbor as yourself?
There are literally millions of ways to do each. Since you are a new creation in Christ, you have God’s Holy Spirit living within you to guide & direct you in moving forward, & in bearing fruit. The trouble is you also have the Old Adam living within you which daily needs to be drowned & die by contrition & repentance.
Guilt is part & parcel of our daily lives, so the hope & joy of the Gospel also needs to be part & parcel of our daily lives. No other human being can make that application in your heart, & mind & soul more effectively than you. That’s what daily & personal devotions are about. They are for applying the forgiveness of Christ to your sins so you can move forward in giving.
Plenty of people in the world today, like Joe & Jared from the opening illustration, also need to know who their Lord & Savior is. They need to know that He loves & cares for them, individually & personally. They need to know that they too can move forward from the guilt & the shame that stains their heart & their mind & their soul. It is that news of the forgiveness of sin that brings people to light & to life even in this broken & twisted culture. Not government, not education, not activism, not even good & free health care can bring healing into our world like the Good News of Jesus will do. Only the news that God, Creator of the entire universe, loves you, one on one, can change your heart so good behavior follows as part of who you are.
In this 1st chapter of Philippians, St. Paul is writing for the purpose of encouraging us in this faith we have in Christ. He knows how difficult the life of a child of God can be, but he also knows that every last moment of that struggle here on earth will be worth it once we arrive in heaven. Amen.
O gracious Lord, with love draw near to these, Your children gathered here; the Spirit’s gift in them renew: The gift of faith that clings to You. Sustain the work You have begun in these united to Your Son, for in that pure baptismal flood they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood. O Father, grant that by Your grace they may Your will each day embrace; with fruits of faith their lives now bless, till they at death Your name confess. Amen. LSB 599:1-2, 5.
17th Sunday after Pentecost – A LW #’s 201, 366, 231, 216
Text – Matthew 18:34-35 TLH #’s 3, 652, 320, 52
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back everything he owed. Jesus continues, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Two small boys have an older brother who’s a bully, and he’s always beating up on them. One day, they’re walking home from Sunday School. The lesson had been on Peter asking Jesus how often one should forgive his brother when he has sinned against him. Christ replied not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Now as the two boys walk along they’re puzzling over how to apply that lesson to their bully of a brother. One says, “We’ll get a book, and we’ll write it down each time we forgive him.” “Yeah,” says the smaller child. “And when it gets to seventy-seven times he’d better watch out!” PAUSE
Can’t you just picture their excitement as they figure out the solution to their problem? Yeah! Then big brother will get what’s coming to him. Paybacks. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it? However, it seems that the boys missed the point of the bible lesson.
Jesus wasn’t trying to establish a minimum number of times you have to forgive someone before you can make them pay for their sins. Instead, our Savior was establishing that you must forgive someone an endless number of times.
In those days, it was Jewish tradition to stop forgiving at only the third offense. Peter probably felt he was being extremely generous by allowing as many as seven occasions. After all, if you forgive too easily, or too often, you can guarantee that people, being sinful as they are, will take advantage of you. They’ll misuse your forgiveness.
No, revenge seems the more logical option. It’s also one of the most powerful
motivators. People that otherwise will hardly lift a finger will go to all kinds of extremes in order to punish someone that’s hurt them. They may not be willing to carry the groceries to their car, but they’ll carry that grudge to their deathbed, even if the grudge itself kills them.
Revenge is a reflex. We get hurt, and we hit back. PAUSE
The parable in today’s gospel lesson illuminates that side of our nature very well. A man who owes ten thousand talents is brought before the king. That amount is the equivalent of billions of dollars in our day. It was an impossible amount to repay. It was ludicrous to even suggest it, and yet the debtor does exactly that.
He falls on his knees and begs, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” The king, no doubt realizing the foolishness of what the man is promising, takes pity on the fool, and he cancels his debt. The man should have been ecstatic. His joy should have had no boundaries. Celebration was in order.
Yet what does he do? He finds one of his fellow servants, one who owes him about $20, and he starts choking him. “Pay back what you owe me!” That man also falls to his knees, begs him to be patient, and promises to pay back what he owes. But the fool refuses to have mercy. He has the man thrown into prison until he can repay the debt.
That kind of attitude makes me sick. And that was the intent of Jesus in telling it. He wants us to see the injustice, the hypocrisy. That’s what sets up the point of the parable. Our debt before God is so great that it staggers the imagination. We can never hope to pay it off. We are guilty before God of hell and of eternal damnation.
But God has had mercy on us, for the sake of Jesus, and has wiped away our debt. Out of gratitude shouldn’t we search for opportunities to forgive those who’ve sinned against us? Even if their sin against us is great in the sight of men, it is nothing compared to the debt that we owe
our Lord, & could never hope to repay.
Consequently, any man that is unmerciful, hardhearted & unforgiving thereby denies & rejects God’s grace & mercy. The just anger of God will deliver him into a merciless judgment, from which there is no salvation, no delivery. Not only will such fools be cast out of God’s presence; they’ll be tortured as well.
In the 9th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus desires mercy from us, toward our fellow man. That means forgiveness that is complete and from the heart. Not the kind that keeps track of itself in a record book.
Our Savior is not at all concerned with how hard we work at keeping His commandments, nor with how many sacrifices we make to pay for our sins. They are all far too little to make even a dent in the debt that we owe. Our attempts are ludicrous at best.
Jesus Himself came to pay the debt of the entire world. He doesn’t need our help in accomplishing that. It’s done. He expects us not to withhold that blessing of forgiveness from the people we encounter in life, not even from those who hurt us. Jesus doesn’t want His children to pay for their sins; He wants His children to love each other.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy & can fathom all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. And the Apostle John writes, “He who does not love abides in death.”
Are you abiding in death? Are you separating yourself from fellowship with God by feeding your desire for revenge? Are you getting weary with forgiving someone for the same offenses, over and over again? Are you taking pleasure in making someone suffer, because of
what they’ve done to you? PAUSE
There’s an old fable that goes like this. A married couple forced the grandfather of the household to sit in a corner and eat his gruel out of a wooden bowl, because he spilled so much and broke so many dishes at the table. One day their young son was whittling on a block of wood. When asked what he was doing, he replied simply and directly, “I’m making a wooden bowl for you, when you get old.” PAUSE
Parables are not designed to describe things that go on in heaven. They’re constructed to tell us what goes on here, among men, while God is reestablishing Himself as our King. If you’ve ever found yourself in the shoes of the foolish and wicked servant from today’s parable, don’t despair. God is waiting for you to simply turn to Him. He’s more than willing to forgive your debt, and no debt is too large.
And though your forgiveness of someone else may seem an impossible task, remember that it’s only impossible for you alone. But as a child of your Heavenly Father you are not alone. He sent His Spirit to empower you, and to pour His love into your heart. And Jesus promised that He will be with us, even unto the end of age.
He’s with us here, in His own holy and perfect Body and Blood, through the sacrament of Holy Communion. By it He strengthens us bodily and spiritually for the warfare that we are engaged in with Satan and his cohorts. That Body and Blood forgives our sins at a very great cost to Christ. It is not something we should regard lightly.
Likewise, we should have mercy on those who offend us, for it costs us far less to forgive than it cost our Savior. He went first and paved the way for us to follow. PAUSE
There was a professor at seminary who taught counseling classes, and he liked to describe our sinful nature with this illustration. It commonly happens when he and his wife get into an argument, that his wife will say that she forgives him. But his sinful nature doesn’t want to be forgiven. It wants to be right. It wants to win the argument.
We are often the same way when it comes to forgiving others. Not only does our sinful nature want to win, it wants to destroy. That is the nature of sin and Satan and ourselves. We want to be right! We want to win and we want to destroy anything that will not bow down to us.
We want nothing less than godhood. We desire to be accountable to no one but ourselves. Forgiveness, that would be weak. PAUSE
Satan does his job quite well, doesn’t he? Yet, the Son of God has done His job even better. Satan was never ever able to conquer Him. Jesus forgave the people who nailed Him to the cross, even while He was yet hanging upon it. He didn’t have to take time to calm down, or to step back from the situation. He didn’t have to get Himself together so that He could forgive.
We don’t want to forgive too often lest we be abused. We don’t want to suffer the humility of having our forgiveness taken advantage of. Yet Christ is called upon daily to forgive you and I, to forgive the same sins over and over again. How often do we abuse His forgiveness? How often do we abuse His suffering and His death on the cross?
Jesus constantly forgives us for the same petty foolishness, stubbornness and pride. He forgives our huge, insurmountable debt and then we plot revenge, because someone inconvenienced us & wasted 10 seconds of our time. Thank the Lord that He is a merciful God, that He is a king who looks upon our foolish promises to pay back everything we owe, & out of love cancels our debt.
Thank God that in His system of paybacks, He took it out upon His only Son. The one
Lord Jesus Christ, crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, who suffered and was buried. But who on the third day rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven. It is because of Him, and only Him, that we can look forward to the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Come, lay your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God; He bears them all and frees us from the accursed load. Come bring your guilt to Jesus to wash your crimson stains clean in His blood most precious till not a spot remains. Amen.
16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 18) LSB #’s 716:1-3, 5, 707, 688:1, 4-5
Text – Matthew 18:15-17
If your brother sins against you, go & tell him his fault, between you & him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile & a tax collector.
HOW WELL DO YOU LISTEN?
That sermon text ends with some harsh words. Gentiles & tax collectors were despised & hated in Jewish society. In our country, where just about anything is acceptable, it’s difficult to find a general equivalent that holds true across our nation & culture. Practically every sort of activity, or person engaged in them, is acceptable these days in some way, shape or form.
Serial killers & rapists find support from segments of our society. Certain psychologists make the case that it isn’t the fault of the murderer or rapist, because they themselves are victims of crimes done to them. As a result, they aren’t responsible for their actions.
From God’s point of view, those psychologists are not listening to what the Word of God has to say on that subject of who really is guilty.
It’s also common for adults to complain that children don’t listen like they used to. A former neighbor of mine, who lived to almost 100, told me this story. When he was about 17, shortly after WWI ended, wristwatches became popular & he wanted one. He asked his parents & they said if he had not begun to smoke by the age of 21, they would buy him a wristwatch.
How quaint is that story? For me it’s driven home how much our culture has changed in 100 years. First off, how many of you as parents are, or were, involved at all in the buying decisions of your teenagers?
And second, how many of today’s teenagers would buy into a deal where they had to refrain from something, like smoking, in order to wait four years for their parents to buy them the latest thing to come into style? We don’t listen nearly as well as people did 100 years ago, not as teenagers, & not as adults. The prosperity of our country has made it simple to buy what I want, when I want, without anyone else’s permission or participation. That economic freedom has made it much less necessary to listen to anyone besides me, myself & I.
When it comes to buying things we are capable of being our own god. After all, isn’t it the essence of godhood to be accountable to no one, to have the ability to act independently of anyone else? To be able to make your decisions stand without interference or having to listen to someone else’s opinion or advice? So I ask, “How well do you listen?” PAUSE
For adults it’s easy to complain how today’s children don’t listen like they used to, but that’s simply hypocrisy. It’s operating with a set of double standards. It’s, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That becomes evident when you look at church attendance. Are adults attending as faithfully as they did in the past?
When my home congregation was founded they had worship services in the morning and in the evening, but I’m not talking about Sundays. They met twice a day every day of the week. That’s how great a desire they had to listen to the Word of God. I could alter the sermon title, “Do you even care to listen?” PAUSE
It’s fairly common to read or hear of someone who is tragically injured in an accident through which they gain a new appreciation for life. From then on they make it a point to enjoy every day to the fullest. They claim to no longer ‘sleep walk’ through life as they once did.
After such an awakening, they come to appreciate more fully the blessings they have in this life. Maybe those are friends & family. Maybe they’re abilities like sight & hearing. Do you appreciate what it means to be a child of the almighty God? How highly you value that relationship is accurately reflected in how well you listen to our Lord. Does it occur to you very often what awaits you outside of a relationship to God as His child? Being treated as a Gentile or tax collector is simply the result here in time; it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. The consequences outside of time are an eternity of suffering & misery.
Are you ‘sleep walking’ through your relationship with your Savior? Are you failing to listen? In John chapter ten, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, & they follow Me. I give them eternal life, & they shall never perish...” (10:27-28 NIV) Are you one of Jesus’ sheep? Are you listening, or are you perishing? PAUSE
That should be an important concern of yours, because the consequences are forever. As your pastor I hope that it is your highest priority, because quite frankly, with your eternal fate hanging in the balance, it doesn’t seem wise to leave all that “religious stuff” to your pastor. I will not be going to hell in your place.
If God’s commands seem too restrictive, too old fashioned or too politically incorrect to buy into, keep in mind that He gave them to us out of love, & He demonstrated that love by dying for you. How many people have you known that have died for you? Are you just going to write off listening to God’s Word as too simple or quaint for a mature person like you?
The words of God’s law are meant to create in you a genuine sense of guilt & sin – very uncomfortable feelings. Those feelings make it difficult for us to listen to what God’s law says. Yet, it’s necessary in order to grasp just how sinful & repugnant we are to a Holy God.
Without that understanding we cannot appreciate what the news of forgiveness means. We cannot appreciate what our deliverance from hell is actually worth.
The knowledge of our sinfulness, & our reluctance to listen to God, should be made obvious by our attitudes concerning divorce, abortion, or living together without marriage. None of those were commonplace back when teenagers still asked their parents for permission to buy things like a wristwatch. But rather than simply bemoaning the collapse of our country’s morals, how often do you get involved in teaching the Word of God to our children, & to our world?
Confirmation class begins this week & it is a perfect opportunity for you to influence the future. One of its goals is teaching our children to hope in the Lord, & how to actually live out that hope. A religion that’s merely an intellectual exercise is simply a dead exercise. Children quickly see through & reject it, as so many of my generation have.
Many parents in the previous generation believed their religion with their head, but struggled to practice it outside the doors of their church. That lack of continuity, from belief to practice, played right into the hand of our adversary the devil. The OT reading from Ezekiel gives you instruction on how to practice your faith during the week:
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ & you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, & he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. (33:7-9 ESV).”
Warning someone about the possible result of their sin is believing and practicing your faith in Christ. Also, the Hebrew word translated as “listen” means to hear & to obey. In other words, if you only hear the words & do not obey them, then you haven’t really listened. Our split personality, saint & sinner, is coming into play when we are not listening to God.
The saint in us wants to obey, even tries to, but the sinner does not. Are you struggling with listening to God, or with placing your hope in the Lord? Then turn to the Great Physician, the healer of both body & soul. The Gospel of Mark records how Jesus opened the ears of a deaf man by simply speaking the word, Ephphatha, “Be opened!”
Jesus longs to speak that very word to you. He desires not only your ears, but also your heart & your mind, that you might receive Him. He has sent His Spirit to you in your baptism. He strengthens you with His very body & blood in Holy Communion, & He comforts you with His Words & with His forgiveness. Regarding your salvation, Jesus has done everything that’s necessary. There is no more burden to bear. You can relax & rest.
In response to that kind of love, things go much more smoothly if you listen to His Word. That Word has the power to create a universe out of nothing, & it certainly can create love out of fear, forgiveness out of bitterness & joy out of sorrow. It can even create the ability to listen to & understand the message of God’s love in a heart that has been rejecting Him. PAUSE
Have you been communicating with your Lord? If not, like many a marriage ended in divorce, you should expect that relationship with God to wither away & die. But don’t lose hope, because your relationship with God is built not upon your ability to listen, but upon God’s ability. He’s waiting to hear from you right now. In the book of Jeremiah our Lord declares:
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you & not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future. Then you will call upon Me & come & pray to Me, & I will listen to you. You will seek Me & find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, & I will restore your fortunes & will gather you from all the nations & from all the places where I have driven you.” (29:11-14)
Notice there who is doing the listening? One reason God allows suffering into our lives is that we be reminded to call upon Him, & He always listens very well.
“My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) Those are the words of Jesus, your loving Savior. He’s waiting to hear from you. How well do you listen? Amen.
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways to keep His statutes still! Oh, that my God would grant me grace to know & do His will! Amen. LSB 707:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet