5th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 10) LSB #’s 852, 696, 894
Text – Luke 10:28
And [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, & you will live.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE?
It seems like a simple question to answer – until you sit down to write a sermon about it. Ultimately, “What Does It Mean To Live?” revolves around how you answer the question, “What is life?” The Pro Life vs. Pro Choice debate revolves around answers to that question. Is there life at conception or not until birth?
In the last six months there has been a flurry of states passing bills that are either Pro Life or Pro Choice & one of the huge issues of contention is, “When does life begin?” But ultimately that boils down to the earlier question, “What is life?” If you can figure that one out, another question arises, “Where does life come from?”
How you answer will be based upon the world view that you hold. The Evolution vs. Creation debate is all about that answer, “Does life come by random chance, or does it come from God?” What, or Whom, is responsible for life? All those thoughts & ideas are going on behind the scenes when Jesus replies to the lawyer, “…do this, & you will live.”
Lawyers are good at asking complicated questions in order to trap the witness on the stand. And that’s what is happening in the Gospel reading, “Behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test…” In the customs of the day standing up was an outward show of respect, yet behind that façade the lawyer was showing disrespect by publicly putting Jesus to the test.
Jesus is ready & He asks a question that is very appropriate for a lawyer: “What is written in the Law?” You’re a lawyer! You tell me! The lawyer thought he was testing Jesus, but the Son of God turned it right back on the lawyer. The law he cited is very clear, so God’s Son tells him, “…do this & you will live.” It’s that simple. The lawyer felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ answer. Apparently, it made him feel guilty, because St. Luke wrote that the lawyer desired to justify himself, so he asked Jesus another question, “And who is my neighbor?” You see, Jesus was skillfully maneuvering the lawyer & the lawyer’s guilt was closing in on him. It’s like Jesus had him walking the plank, & the lawyer could feel it begin to sag under the weight of his sin.
I’m pretty sure all of us have been there, where the lawyer is, feeling the guilt of our sins closing in upon us. In that feeling of desperation, maybe you’ve said words like these, “He did it first!” or “But everyone else is doing it!” It’s the feeling that you need to justify yourself in any way possible. Do you know what that is?
It’s feeling the wages of sin suffocating the life out of you. It’s the feeling of death – a feeling that’s totally the opposite of life. Death is the feeling that the possibilities are narrowing around you. Life on the other hand is the feeling that the possibilities around you are endless. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate life with endless possibilities.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the Gospel reading. Luke says the lawyer is testing Jesus, but the Lord doesn’t take offense & write the man off by calling him a loser. Jesus leaves open the possibility that the lawyer really is wondering what he must do to inherit eternal life. From the standpoint of faith it’s the wrong question, so Jesus deals patiently with the man.
You should already know there is nothing you or I can do to inherit eternal life. It’s a gift that our heavenly Father gives to us out of love, not out of obligation or as payment. Even if the lawyer is not a believer, he might still actually be concerned about what happens after his death. If that’s true, he clearly has a wrong understanding about how people end up in heaven.
Rather than saying, “You loser! You’ve got it all wrong.” Jesus comes at the possible concern of the lawyer, about where he’ll end up after death, from a different direction. Jesus tells a parable to describe what it looks like when someone already has eternal life. The lawyer correctly recognizes that it’s the one who showed mercy. Then, because the lawyer doesn’t yet feel the need for a Savior, Jesus preaches the law to the lawyer, “You go, & do likewise.”
The lawyer’s pride & self-righteousness needs to be killed, to be put to death, before he can find joy in the Savior who Himself will do what needs to be done so that the lawyer may inherit eternal life. If we do have faith in Jesus as Savior then we have life. The Gospel reading gives the answer to the sermon title, “What does it mean to live?”
The answer is to have mercy, to love your neighbor as yourself. If you are doing that, then you are alive. Jesus tells the parable to illustrate what it is to have eternal life. It is to love God & to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus knows we cannot begin to do that unless He 1st loves us, which He has done through His life, suffering, death & resurrection.
God looked at us in our sin & helplessness, & He refused to walk on by. He paid a price – a steep price – to restore us to life. That is why we love our neighbor – because we have been in the ditch as well. In a very real sense, we are still there. As Paul wrote in the reading from Colossians, we love our neighbor “…because of the hope laid up for [us] in heaven.”
Those who follow Jesus have been delivered from the domain of darkness & transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son… the forgiveness of sins. Here’s a modern day story that relates the same kind of message as the parable of the Good Samaritan. A pastor’s wife wrote it after she accompanied him on a home visit to an elderly widower.
There is a hole where his wife should be. If he had not put words to it, I might not have noticed anyone missing from his living room that day. But once he says it, it’s impossible to miss. “I wish you could have known her,” he says with a quiet smile. On the coffee table, by the bread & wine, sits a vintage portrait, taken when she was 14, & a sample of her poetry.
Silent photographs from their younger, fuller life together rest on the shelves next to his
prescriptions. How he loved her! And how he loves her still! He is in his 90’s, & he is not done loving her. How does someone keep a heart open for so long in this broken place? I look at my dear husband as he prays with this old saint, & I try to imagine going on with a husband-shaped hole in my life. How does someone withstand such a loss, such a gaping hole, & keep on living?
She is gone, & he is here. Yet her absence does not oppress him. There is no bitterness in his remembrances. “I don’t want her back here with me,” he says. “I miss her. She made my life richer in so many ways from the day I met her. But I don’t want her back. She’s with the Lord now, & she’s happy.”
With these simple words, the hole becomes a window. She is where he wants her to be: with the Lord. He keeps on loving her because he has always loved her, but he knows she is with her Savior, at rest in peace & joy, & he loves her too much to wish that away from her. So he loves her from a distance. And he waits.
Surely their marriage was imperfect. Surely they had seasons of selfish score-keeping & trial, when their flailing sinful natures struck & wounded each other. But now I see the quiet peace of a Christ-formed love, a with its eyes on eternity, its hands open & its steadfast trust in the Giver of all good things.
We gather around the body & blood of Christ, & he bows his gray head low. We, too, are with the Lord. The window widens as we hear the words of Christ, more familiar to this man than even his wife’s hand or the sound of her voice.
With angels & archangels & all the company of heaven, we take & eat, & the distance between husband & wife shrinks for one holy moment. The Spirit who calls & enlightens also strengthens those whom He has gathered. “The body & blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen & preserve you in body & soul to life everlasting.” Light & life pour through the
open window, a foretaste of the feast to come. We depart in peace.
That is another way of describing what it means to live in Christ. Amen.
O God, my faithful God, true fountain ever flowing, without whom nothing is, all perfect gifts bestowing: Give me a healthy frame, & may I have within a conscience free from blame, a soul unstained by sin. Grant me the strength to do with ready heart & willing whatever You command, my calling here fulfilling; that I do what I should while trusting You to bless the outcome for my good, for You must give success. Amen. LSB 696:1-2.
 Cook, Emily, An Open Window, The Lutheran Witness, May 2019, p. 28.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 9) LSB #707, LW #260, LSB #895
Text – Luke 10:1-2
After this the Lord appointed 72 others & sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town & place where He himself was about to go. And He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
WHERE JESUS WAS ABOUT TO GO
Last Sunday’s gospel lesson hammered home the point of the sacrifices Jesus may expect of us in order to be about the work of proclaiming God’s kingdom. Even burial of the dead is not to interfere with our work of evangelism. Today’s gospel reading follows that & its main emphasis is the urgency of proclaiming the message that God’s Kingdom is near.
This text is often used in the recruitment of students for the work of teaching & preaching. The St. Louis seminary once sent materials to encourage just that. But that angle makes for a rather small audience in a congregation like this. So I’m working a different angle in order to broaden my target. Have you ever thought of yourself as a target?
In North Dakota, driving from Rugby to Willow City in late summer, you pass by fields of canola, sunflowers, hay, corn & flax; acre after acre of crops ready to be harvested. The sunflowers stand tall while the canola & flax sway gently in the breeze. Hay bales are scattered across mile after mile. Harvest time approaches & much work needs to be done.
The time will be short before the bitter winds & harsh cold of winter arrive. There’ll be much work to do & when the harvest is ready the workers are needed, because there isn’t a lot of time in which to get the work done.
When the harvest is ready, the crop is at great risk. Its value is easily lost or destroyed by variables like the weather, the market, the operating condition of the machinery. Farmers are anxious when the crops are ripe for harvest. They long to bring it in before it spoils or gets damaged. Likewise, that should be our attitude as workers in God’s kingdom. We should be anxious to bring in the harvest of souls before they are lost or damaged. We should consider where we would be if no one had taken time to introduce us to Jesus Christ.
Look around this nation. Drive from farm to city, affluent suburb to blighted urban area, changing small town to changing city neighborhood, & you will see a harvest that is ready. Not a harvest of grain, but one of real people with real lives touched by joy & by sorrow.
Even closer to home, there are the people you pass along the street, the employees you work alongside, your neighbors, the people you see in the grocery store. How many are living without the peace & eternal life God so freely offers through His Son? The harvest is ripe, & many are ready to be brought into the kingdom of God.
It’s one thing to be talking about field crops. It is another to be talking about souls. It’s one thing to be talking about a renewable resource, which can be planted again next year. It’s another to be talking about those who will suffer the tortures of hell apart from Jesus Christ. The harvest of souls is plentiful, & the Son of God is about to go there.
However, as in today’s gospel where He sent the 72 workers out where Jesus Himself was about to go, your Savior has also sent you where He is about to go. Maybe you did not volunteered. You may not be aware that you have already been sent. Yet, by virtue of your baptism, Christ has called you to be His own.
As one of God’s children, your actions have already been a witness, whether a good one or a bad one. Neighbors have already noticed the type of life you live. Co-workers have been evaluating the integrity with which you conduct business. And by comparing your words with your actions children have been aware of any hypocrisy you’ve displayed.
Have you been preparing the way, into hearts & lives, for the Savior who follows you?
What kind of positive witness have you been concerning the nearness of God’s Kingdom? Our society is in dire need of the healing Jesus offers. A recent book titled, Culture Shift, details just how far the prevailing beliefs of this country are from those revealed in God’s Word.
For many people, God is simply ignored. Time & attention are devoted to work, fun & other busyness. A few minutes here or there may be allotted to church-type activities, but most of the time Jesus is seen as irrelevant, & He’s pushed aside in the pressures of daily life.
Others will have nothing to do with the Bible’s stand against abortion or homosexuality. The truth of God’s Word is replaced with the desire to pick & choose what’s right, depending upon how a person feels. Right & wrong have become entirely relative while more & more, people refuse to see themselves as having done wrong, as being sinners by nature before God.
With that, they’re increasingly reluctant to consider the fact that they need a Savior. Yet, that’s no excuse for us to shy away from taking the message of Jesus Christ to these people.
When you enter a town & are welcomed, tell them, “‘…The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town & they do not receive you, go into its streets & say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” (Luke 10:9-11 ESV)
In either case, we are to tell them that the kingdom of God is near. That’s why the harvest is so urgent. It’s not simply that the crop is ready, but that God has knelt down to His people, in the persons of His Son & His Holy Spirit. And the stakes are very high because those who reject Him will be lost for all of eternity. There will be no 2nd chances.
Christ has sent you & me to bring the message that the OT reading from Isaiah is now being fulfilled: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. …When you see this, your heart will rejoice & you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to His servants, but His fury will be shown to His foes.” (66:13-14 NIV) God’s kingdom is near & His judgment along with it.
To those who’ve been harvested – brought into the family of God, there’ll be peace, & to those who’ve been suffering there’ll be comfort. But for those who reject God’s forgiveness, their future will be a living death. They’ll bear our Lord’s never ending fury & wrath because they refused to be comforted by Him.
With the ascension of Christ into heaven, the end times began & the harvest is even now in progress. Each of us has been sent to prepare the way before the Lord. We already are where Jesus is about to go, & the harvest is plentiful.
Now, the last angle we’ll look at is the target I spoke of at the beginning of my sermon. Do you remember? That’s you! If you have thought about being a target, it’s likely to be something you’ve shied away from. It certainly doesn’t sound pleasant, & so far the sermon has mostly been about what God expects of you.
However, there’s another side to being one of God’s targets. It’s not the kind of thing you should shy away from, & your sinful nature is at the root of that fear. The sinful nature within us wants nothing to do with being the target of, or accepting, God’s love.
Accepting His love implies that you have a need for it. It implies a weakness on your part. It implies that something is missing & you do not measure up. Accepting Jesus’ love makes you dependent upon Him, & being dependent upon anything is the great American sin.
So not only does the harvest of souls include your neighbors & co-workers, it also includes you. Maybe you’ll think, “But pastor, I’m already a member of this church. I’m already a Christian.” And you may well be, yet as disciples of Christ, though we are to speak & to act in His very name, He also wishes to speak to & act in our lives. Are you ready to be
harvested? Are you willing to become dependent upon God’s love for you? Are you allowing Him into every day of your life, & not just 1 of 7 or even less? Each morning as you awaken you can leave open the door of your heart to Jesus – enjoying the peace & comfort He brings. Or you can bar that door shut.
There’s a well-known painting where Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart, waiting for you to allow Him into the day-to-day routine of your life. That picture comes from the book of Revelation, & the door He’s knocking on is the heart of someone who’s already a Christian.
He wants to talk with you, to share in your joys & your sorrows. He wants to be there with you when you rise in the morning & when you lie down in the evening. He wants to be with you in the heat of the day & in the darkness of the night. He wants to heal the wounds you have endured, & renew your hope along with giving you His peace.
The world we live in is a dog eat dog world, but God’s children don’t have to get through it on toughness & personal will power alone. Unlike the world, Jesus forgives when we fail. He brings healing, peace, wholeness, forgiveness & salvation, if you will only believe it. Messiah is not simply a god who lives apart from us. Our Lord is alive within.
The times & the harvest are urgent for you as well. You could be living in the eternal peace of God’s kingdom rather than the temporary & fleeting peace of this world. In the very preaching & teaching of those sent by Christ, the kingdom of God has become a present reality, & the kingdom of Satan is defeated where that preaching & teaching occurs.
The 72 disciples returned with joy reporting that even the demons were subject to them in Christ’s name. But Jesus responded by refocusing their attention on the result He desires for everyone in the harvest, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) That is how God’s Kingdom is near even now, today in the year 2019. His kingdom is near in the forgiveness & the love that He offers to every one of us. Yes, even your heart is a place where Jesus is about to go. Will you let Him in? Amen.
Lord of the living harvest that whitens on the plain, where angels soon shall gather their sheaves of golden grain. Accept these hands to labor these hearts to trust & love, & with them ever hasten Your kingdom from above. Amen. LW 260:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet