15th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 20) LSB #’s 766:1-3, 8: 584; 526
Text – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is good, & it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth.
KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH
Emperor Charlemagne once ruled most of Western Europe. He was known to be ruthless & yet strongly supported the Christian religion. In the year 814 he died. As the story goes, when his funeral procession came to the cathedral that’d be his final resting place, people were shocked to find the gate barred by the bishop. “Who comes?” he shouted.
The heralds answered, “Charlemagne, Lord & King of the Holy Roman Empire!” Answering for God, the bishop replied, “Him I know not! Who comes?” A bit shaken, the heralds answered, “Charles the Great, a good & honest man of the earth!” Again, the bishop responded, “Him I know not! Who comes?”
Now completely crushed, the heralds confessed, “Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.” “Him I know,” the bishop replied. “Enter!”
In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Those are the words with which you & I remember our baptism & thus officially enter into the presence of God. Right here, in this time & place, the Creator of the universe has promised to be with you & to bless you by taking away all of your sins.
That knowledge of the truth is something most of the world’s people do not have in common with you & me. It is singular to the Christian faith. There are not many paths to heaven. There is only one, given to us by Jesus Christ Himself. Unless you know that truth you are not living life! Unless you know that truth you are lost.
How much do you value your salvation? How much time do you spend living in it?
How much do you value the truth? Your life depends upon knowing it because eternity will never end. Yes, the struggle here is difficult, & tedious, at times exhausting. Certainly there are more fun things to do, but your memory of them will bring you neither peace nor joy if you end up outside of heaven.
There are plenty of fun things to do in life that draw the attention of millions of people. Because of that, & because of Christ’s love for us, He gave this advice, based upon a truthful diagnosis, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:13 ESV)
From the perspective of our sinful nature, following Jesus appears difficult, tedious & exhausting. We want it to be fun. That’s why so many churches today hold services designed to entertain people. Let’s be honest, it is our nature to look for the way that is easy. We do make decisions by following the crowd.
We do that in spite of Jesus’ warning, “For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many.” Satan has designed his plan to appear easy because he well knows our sinful nature. His deception of Adam & Eve led them right into it. You & I have inherited that broken & self-centered nature from our ancestors.
In all our doings & in all our relationships, we inherently look for reassurance by following the crowd, & we instinctively are searching for the easy path. For me, that battle especially shows up in sermon writing. My sinful nature loves to take the broad & easy path. My saintly nature believes, however, that entering by the narrow gate is the will of God.
St. Paul is advocating for that narrow gate when he writes to Timothy words such as these, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty & self-control, not with braided hair & gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” (1 Timothy 2:8-10 ESV) Paul’s advice is for women to adorn themselves with good works instead of following the crowd by shopping in New York at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Paul’s advice is for men to lift up holy hands in prayer instead of lifting up their hands with anger or quarreling. By nature, men are much more ready to resort to violence than to prayer. You only have to follow the news to see the violence, & even in church circles, how often are the men eager to lead everyone in prayer?
Maybe some of you have these words of Holy Scripture memorized: “But I say to you, Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) Do you know what the rest of that sentence tells us? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:45a ESV) It’s not telling us to earn our sonship. It is simply stating what sons will do.
The sons of Yahweh love their enemies & pray for those who persecute them. You should recognize this, that is not the broad & easy road. It certainly is not following the crowd. So how do we get there? How do end up where we turn to prayer before violence? How do we find the desire to adorn ourselves with good works instead of what is sold at Saks Fifth Avenue?
I gave the answer immediately after the opening illustration. It begins the 4th paragraph of this sermon, “In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Those are such simple words, & we’ve heard them so often that we have learned to tune them out.
We do not recognize the profound privilege we have of speaking those words. We can barely begin to understand the power which those words convey. When we speak them we are entering into the very presence of God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven & earth. It is with Him that all life & all living begin! Life does not begin in the name of Satan, who is the father of lies, but in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. It is death that begins with the Devil. God became a human being in Jesus Christ so that He might rescue us from death. That rescue is singular to the Christian faith. It is the only path, not just to heaven, but to life itself. Until you know & believe that truth you are truly dead.
If you are dead, then anger & violence are normal instead of prayer. If you are dead, then shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue takes precedence over adorning your lives with good works. The way that we begin to live is when the Holy Spirit turns us to Jesus – the author & perfecter of our faith. It is by the Holy Spirit’s power alone that we take up our cross & follow Jesus.
It is not a decision that we make. It is a gift that we receive. Certainly the confession of our sins is part of that gift, for without the knowledge of God’s love for us, it is pure insanity to confess them. No good could come of it unless our Lord promised to take them away. His death, & resurrection from the dead, are the fulfillment of that promise.
St. Paul wrote: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, & thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings & all who are in high positions…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV) Jesus said, “…Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) Those can be difficult, tedious, exhausting & seemingly impossible tasks.
Where & how do we begin to pray for everyone, let alone for those whom we hate, for our enemies & those who persecute us? Lifting our hands in violence against them is so much more intuitive than is praying for them. The honest & truthful place to begin is by 1st acknowledging that I am a poor & miserable sinner who deserves to suffer an eternal death.
And guess what comes immediately after the invocation at the beginning of our service? It is the confession of our sins. It didn’t happen by accident that our services are constructed in that manner. In our denomination, they are intentionally designed that way even though many Christian churches today no longer include the confession of sins at all. The broad, easy road is to skip that part. After all, Jesus died for our sins on the cross. It’s a done deal. He said, “It is finished.” But skipping the confession of sin hampers our ability, eventually even blocks our ability, to rest in God’s love & to serve others through God’s love.
I can only love my enemies & pray for those who persecute me if I approach God in absolute humility on account of my own sins & my own failures. If I see myself as someone with unlimited needs, then I can pray for others.
A very important place in reaching that point of humility is at this railing as I kneel before our Creator to seek a clean heart, O God, & the renewing of a steadfast spirit within me.
Prayer, as God would have it, is always a response to His mercy & grace at work in our hearts & minds. And the 1st commandment makes clear that our relationship with God should be the 1st priority in life because all true blessings flow from that relationship. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. Knowledge of the truth reveals that to all who are God’s children.
As Jesus stated in John 8:32, “…& you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.” We have been set free of all the things that entangle us & weigh us down. As God’s children we truly have nothing to fear. That is our heavenly Father’s design & will. Even if the road is not broad & easy, it is possible to pray for everyone, including kings all who are in high positions.
Faith & truth & life bestowing, open now the Scriptures, Lord, seed to life eternal sowing, scattered on the wind abroad. Let not hearts, Your Word receiving, like a barren field be found, choked with thorns & unbelieving, shallow earth or stony ground. May the Spirit’s power unceasing bring to life the hidden grain, daily in our hearts increasing, bearing fruit that shall remain. So in Scripture, song & story, Savior, may Your voice be heard. Till our eyes behold Your glory give us ears to hear Your Word. Amen. LSB 584.
13th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 18) LSB #’s 790:1-2, 4-5, 707, 662
Text – Luke 14:26-27 & 33
If anyone comes to me & does not hate his own father & mother & wife & children & brothers & sisters, yes, & even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross & come after me cannot be my disciple. …So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DISCIPLE
Did you hear the refrain in those verses of the sermon text? The phrase “cannot be my disciple” rings out loud & clear. Jesus is making some rather emotionally charged statements about who it is that cannot be His disciple. Because of that, in this sermon, we’ll take a look at just what it does mean to be a disciple of Christ.
The week after 9-11, I received the following from a friend in Colorado. After the death & destruction heaped upon NYC & the Pentagon it was meant as a reminder for us. A reminder to show our love to the important people in our lives today & not to wait until tomorrow. We may never have that opportunity again.
If I knew it would be the last time
that I’d see you fall asleep,
I’d tuck you in more tightly
and pray the Lord, your soul to keep.
If I knew it would be the last time
that I see you walk out the door,
I’d give you a hug and a kiss
and call you back for one more.
If I knew it would be the last time
I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I’d video tape each action and word,
so I could play them back day after day.
For surely there’s always tomorrow
to make up for an oversight,
and we always get a second chance
to make everything right.
There’ll always be another day
to say our “I love you’s.”
And certainly there’s another chance
to say our “Anything I can do’s?”
But just in case I might be wrong,
and today is all I get,
I’d like to say how much I love you
and I hope we never forget.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,
young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance
you get to hold your loved one tight.
So if you’re waiting for tomorrow,
why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes,
you’ll surely regret the day,
That you didn’t take that extra time
for a smile, a hug, or a kiss
and you were too busy to grant someone,
what turned out to be their one last wish.
So hold your loved ones close today,
and whisper in their ear,
that you love them very much and
you’ll always hold them dear.
Take time to say “I’m sorry,”
“Please forgive me,” “thank you,” or “it’s okay.”
And if tomorrow never comes,
you’ll have no regrets about today.
That’s really a very touching poem, packed full of meaning & so very true to life. All of us take for granted the people we love. Days like September 11th remind us with chilling effect to take more care in appreciating family & friends. And because that poem does it’s job so well, it only heightens the stark contrast between its words & the words of Jesus.
“If anyone comes to me & does not hate his father & mother, his wife & children, his brother & sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” Those words sound excruciatingly harsh to our ears, even long after the horror that struck our nation. And Jesus isn’t talking tough with his arch enemies, the Pharisees, as He so often does. He’s simply speaking to a large crowd of people that have been traveling with Him. It’s likely they are a bunch of would be disciples so Jesus explains to them what it means to be one.
But His explanation is far from what we expect. In fact it seems to contradict what other passages of Scripture teach, such as love your neighbor as yourself. Love & hate are opposites in our mind, so, while hearing Jesus’ words on what it means to be a disciple, our sinful nature resists understanding this will of God.
And that’s where our struggle as disciples begins. We naturally resist God’s will, even when it involves things much easier to comprehend than hating your family & your own life. So if we rebel against things like church attendance, even when we believe that it’s good for us, is it surprising to hear people offended when God tells them to hate their family?
In looking at what it means to be a disciple, we 1st need to understand that Jesus is speaking here in a figure of speech called hyperbole. He’s exaggerating the illustration in order to make His point very emphatically. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus unless He occupies the absolute number one position in your life. Not even your family can come before God.
That’s a rather obvious application of the 1st commandment, but how many of you attend a church service while on vacation? How often do you think in those terms when you’re placing your children’s sporting events ahead of church sponsored activities? And by activities I’m including those boring meetings that churches so often entangle our lives with.
No, the choices Jesus calls us to are not easy in this sinful world. Many of our responsibilities conflict with each other. The question is: Which of those responsibilities should take priority? And the Lord is making the point in this text that following Him should take such a priority over, even family, that it should be as if you hate your wife & children, your brother & sisters, yes, even your own life. Jesus isn’t naïve enough to think the choice will be easy, but He is saying that you will forfeit the discipleship He gave you at your baptism if you value family more highly than God. PAUSE
In regard to that discipleship, where do you fit into this picture that Jesus is painting? Do you hate your father & mother, wife & children, even your own life? In today’s lesson, Jesus is setting the standards of discipleship. But hate is an emotionally charged word.
In a time when the divorce rate is much too high, when more & more family members live at a distance from each other, & many don’t want anything to do with each other, shouldn’t we love our family more? Or is what Jesus is commanding exactly what we need to straighten out our family disagreements & our misdirected focus on family members? PAUSE
If you don’t love God above all things, then love for your family is artificial. It’s fabricated & made up. It’ll last only as long as you get from them what you want. That’s why there’re so many divorces these days, because when the spouse no longer gets what they want, their love dies & they leave.
They aren’t willing to stick it out because they don’t love God first. Without that love for God, they have no source of love for anyone else. Human beings by nature have no love for anyone but themselves. We are born selfish. The only way that can be changed is through the grace of God, as He works miracles through the power of His Word & through Baptism.
Jesus’ command to carry our cross is a sentence of death to the old way of life. Taking up one’s cross is figurative for self-denial. Anything that hinders us in our discipleship is to be hated, abandoned, left behind. That’s the character of discipleship & Jesus is telling us what it may cost to follow Him. Has it cost you anything to be here this morning? PAUSE
Now we’ll look at what it means to be a disciple. If we’re going to follow Jesus, we
should know where it is that He’s going. Since the middle of July the gospel of Luke has been following Him on His way to Jerusalem. This is the last time He’ll make the trip. He’s on His way to die. That is where we are following Jesus to. It’s a journey to the cross, our cross & His.
It’s out of love that Jesus is daring enough to perform this ultimate act of self-denial. It’s out of love that He’s daring enough to confront you & me with the truth that without Him we are lost. All the love for family in world will never save us. No matter how hard we work at it, we can never love anyone enough. We know too well how often we’ve taken them for granted.
No matter how much we may fear losing a loved one each time they go out the door, we can never hug them or kiss them adequately to avoid the regrets we will certainly feel if we lose them that day. No matter how many times we say, “I’m sorry, forgive me, or thank you,” not a single one of us here can live up to the standards Jesus set for discipleship.
Sooner or later, our love fades. Sooner or later, we take each of our loved ones for granted. Sooner or later, their sins overwhelm our ability to forgive. That’s why Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem & the cross. True discipleship begins with receiving that amazing love & compassion from Christ. Only as we receive His love are we able to love in return.
We need not fear loving God above all things as if it means we’ll lose our family. Our family comes from God. Our ability to love them for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness & in health, also comes from God. The love of father or mother, wife or children, brother or sisters flows out of our love for Jesus & from Jesus’ love for us.
In our lives, it’s far too often true that hatred exists among family members & it rips those families apart. But we can never heal that hatred alone. It takes the love of Jesus Christ, displayed for us to see on the cross, to mend those scarred, broken & bitter hearts. The touching poem I read, encourages you to love your family so that if tomorrow never comes, you will have no regrets. But, please don’t hug your loved ones simply out of the fear of regret. Hug them & love them because Jesus first loved you. Hug them, kiss them & tuck them in at night, because you have been loved & rescued from your sins. 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! Order my footsteps by Thy Word & make my heart sincere; let sin have no dominion, Lord, but keep my conscience clear. Assist my soul, too apt to stray, a stricter watch to keep; & should I ever forget Thy way, restore Thy wandering sheep. Amen. LSB 707:1-3.
12th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 17) LSB #851
Text – Hebrews 13:16
Do not neglect to do good & to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns & build larger ones, & there I will store all my grain & my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18-19 ESV) A month ago, that was part of the Gospel reading, & it perfectly illustrates the world’s way of defining the good life!
A humorous & more contemporary version of the theme comes from a hit television show of the 1960s:
Come & listen to my story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
And then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubblin crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
Well the first thing you know ol Jed’s a millionaire,
The kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be”
So they loaded up the truck & they moved to Beverly
Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars.
Human nature relishes the idea of living the good life. After all, it is what God created us for – to enjoy the good life in the Garden of Eden. The Fall into sin destroyed our ability to live well. It drastically corrupted even our ability to appreciate the good life when we’re blessed with it. Either we take it for granted or we live anxiously in fear of when the blessing will end.
The moment Adam & Eve rejected God’s wisdom they knew their plan had gone horribly wrong. It’s when all of life’s problems began. The good life, as they knew it, was
gone. Death & dying had taken its place. Frustration, disappointment & tragic suffering became the norm. In Genesis 5, Moses records the number of years lived by Adam & seven of his descendants, each sentence ending with the words, “…& he died.” We’re so acclimated to the fact of death that maybe the obvious needs to be stated: “Death is not living the good life.”
And sadly, death is not our only problem. In our efforts to regain the good life, the corruption of sin causes us to go about it in all the wrong ways. For one, it’s now commonplace for people, us included, to associate the good life with money. God’s Spirit warned us of that exact problem as He guided Timothy to write, “For the love of money is a root of all the evils…”
Then, he closes the verse by writing, “…& some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith & pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10) The Beverly Hillbillies show was a comedy. The story of the Rich Man is a parable. Both teach us something about human nature & what’s important in life.
At Christian Book Distributors, for $22.49, you can buy a Digital Video Bible study based on the Beverly Hillbillies television series. Written by Steve Skelton, it features classic episodes with relevant scripture verses to use as modern parables on the teaching of Jesus.
Just about every episode was built on a simple moral principle, like cheating is wrong, honesty is good, it’s not right to judge people. Participants discuss the theme & respond to such questions as: Did the money change the Clampets? & When is wealth a blessing? Interesting or not, what’s clear is that TV shows of yesterday often reinforced God’s wisdom.
Television in our day is far more likely to celebrate the vices of our culture than the virtues. Living the good life, as often portrayed, has nothing in common with the Biblical book of Hebrews. Hopefully, this sermon helps you to understand what the book of Hebrews & you do have in common: “Do not neglect to do good & to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” What can easily be missed, as the text from Hebrews is read, is that it’s referencing what people typically call the worship service. Another translation brings that out a bit more clearly: “Do not forget the practice of well-doing & the common offering, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.”
For OT believers, all you had to do was mention sacrifices & they’d immediately clue in that the topic is a worship service. In our day, you only have to mention an offering & then people get the point. However, their offerings were rather different than ours. In addition to money they also gave wine & bread which would be used for Holy Communion.
But beyond that, meat, bread & wine were given to be shared with those who had no firstfruits or firstborn animals or tithes to offer. That would include servants, immigrants, orphans & widows. The phrase, “Do not neglect to do good,” most likely refers both to the gifts of mercy for the impoverished & to the acts of mercy that accompanied their distribution.
By the offering of gifts & the provision of care for the needy, they serve God as the holy priesthood in a way that is pleasing to Him. From a human point of view the Worship Service is to be enacted in two dimensions, thanksgiving to God through Jesus & charity to people in poverty as an offering to God through Him.
In other words, God’s design for ‘living the good life’ is not about living in the lap of luxury. Rather, it’s about doing good – by sharing what you have been blessed with. What God found so offensive about the Rich Man who built the larger barns, is that he was keeping all his blessings for himself: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years…” (Luke 12:19 ESV)
Someone living the life God has called them to, & given to them, doesn’t live in that way. The Rich Fool thought he was living the good life when in fact he was dying even before God demanded his soul of him. On the other hand, the Beverly Hillbillies did not change the way they lived to the constant chagrin of all the wealthy millionaires around them. Money is a powerful temptation to all human beings, & ‘living the good life’ is generally thought of as enjoying the luxuries of this world. Jesus wants us to know that sacrificing a portion of what we have received from Him is the true life.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus gave us a picture of what it looks like when we have that true life:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return & you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, & you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)
The Fall into sin destroyed our ability to ‘live the good life’ & has, ever since, corrupted all of created life. That doesn’t mean we should never relax or enjoy the blessings God gives to us, but it does mean that our knee-jerk definition of ‘the good life’ is an inherently selfish one. Compassion for others & making sacrifices to help them is a sign of the true ‘good life.’
That life is not something we manufacture or create by willpower or perseverance. It’s a gift of God, given to us here in His house, during the Divine Service. Going for the gusto is not how we attain the good life. It’s something we receive in humility, like the forgiveness of our sins, as a blessing motivated by Christ’s love for us.
Swimmin pools, movie stars & black gold are not the stuff of life. Jesus Christ is. The first ten chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews are a grand exposition of the person & work of Christ, with emphasis on His work as our Great High Priest.
Toward the end of that section, 10:19-25, the writer appeals to his readers to approach the throne of grace boldly & to cling tenaciously to their confession of faith. He tells them to love one another & to join each other frequently in worship because the Day of Judgement is approaching. That is the good life which Jesus offers to us. If we trust Him, we have that already today & it never ends. In heaven we will have the best life ever. There, we’ll never take it for granted & we’ll never live anxiously in fear of when the blessing will end. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your heart & your mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet