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.
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 8) LSB #’s 913, 754, 575
Text – 1 Kings 19:10b
For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, & killed your prophets with the sword, & I, even I only, am left, & they seek my life, to take it away.
FORSAKING THE COVENANT
Do you intend to hear the Word of God & receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, & in faith, word & deed to remain true to God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession & Church & to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
Those are the words of a covenant sworn to by millions, upon millions, of Lutherans over the past several centuries. That’s just in our own denomination. Yet the number of our fellow members in the body of Christ that skip weekly services continues to grow. Being in the house of God isn’t that important to their way of thinking.
It’s a situation that faithful members of God’s kingdom today lament on a regular basis. The OT reading tells us that it’s nothing new. Even the great prophet Elijah had to deal with members who were not only forsaking the covenant, but killing prophets with the sword. Rather than suffer through the despair, Elijah wanted God to take him to heaven.
Elijah’s problem is the same one all of us deal with – we want to see results for all the time & effort we put in. Not seeing any, he felt alone, helpless & broken. In our terminology, he was suffering from depression, but God does not write out a prescription for Prozac. Rather, He comforts Elijah with His presence. He reconnects His prophet to the Vine.
But 1st, Yahweh shows Elijah results. A great & strong wind tore the mountains & broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord. After the wind an earthquake. After the earthquake a fire. Now there’s some power. Maybe it’ll put the fear of God into the people. Can you remember the last time you threw a temper tantrum? Our sinful nature loves that feeling of power as objects, or feelings, or relationships are destroyed while our anger is being vented upon others. Then, we see results. Isn’t it interesting to note that our concept of power in those circumstances never builds things up? Rather, it always tears things down.
Instead of coming to him in power & glory & might, Yahweh comes to Elijah in the sound of a whisper. Well how’s that going to drive the devil away? Lord, we need some explosions here! In the Gospel reading Jesus was in a situation similar to Elijah & His disciples ask if He wants them to call down fire from heaven to consume His enemies!
Maybe Elijah was thinking the same, given that God 1st sent the wind, the earthquake & the fire. But the Lord was not in any of those three:
“And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak & went out & stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him & said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12b-13 ESV)
Has that question ever been directed to you? In the midst of a particularly dull & boring sermon haven’t you asked yourself that question? Have you considered all the time & effort you have put into being in church, serving on committees, & sitting through meetings, & then thought to yourself, “Why don’t I see results?”
It’s much easier to get down into the pit then to struggle out of it. What’s going to happen to this congregation? What are its prospects for the future? Jezebel & Ahab & Baal, they’re posting spectacular victories. What are we doing here? What is God doing – here? Satan is the master of working unbelief. Only Yahweh is able to overcome unbelief.
Yet He prefers to do that, not with thunder & lightning, but with the still small voice of a dark stall in Bethlehem, & with a bloody cross on a lonely hill at Golgotha. Think about the times in your life when God’s Spirit has touched you most deeply. Hasn’t it been in the quiet moments of some struggle, or during a time of suffering? Maybe it was a silent moment of discovery as you’re by yourself reading the Holy Word of God.
Maybe it’s a moment on your knees at the communion rail as you ponder the real presence of Jesus in the bread & wine – given for you for the remission of your sins. All those times that you yourself have forsaken the covenant, yet Jesus invites you back – quietly, gently & with a love that carried Him to the cross to breathe His last breath for you.
Instead of a way out of our struggles & our suffering & our sins, Yahweh sends the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity to take on human flesh so He can suffer & struggle with us, carrying our sins for us. In our weakness, & in our sinfulness, we look for a way out. In the extreme of that, more & more governments are allowing assisted suicide as a way out.
In the OT reading, God does not give Elijah a way out. Instead, He strengthens him & sends him back in: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.” (19:15 ESV) Instead of a way out, the Book of Hebrews tells us that Yahweh provides a way through our suffering, struggles & sin:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new & living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, & since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience & our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love & good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:19-25 ESV)
As the Lord asked Elijah, so He asks you, “What are you doing here? Are you here to encourage one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near?” Are you here so the Lord can reconnect you to the Vine? Are you here that your Creator might overcome the unbelief that lives in your heart? You see, the New Covenant that our heavenly Father enacted through His Son Jesus Christ, is a one way covenant. There are still two parties, but one party, Jesus, does everything to fulfill the covenant, & we, the other party, receive all the benefits as His gift. We do not earn heaven by keeping the covenant. There’s nothing for us to keep, but since we’re already included in the covenant, we can lose heaven if we forsake Jesus.
With all the blessings & comforts of life that we have in this country, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking we can, & are able, to get through life without regular attendance in the house of God. With that thinking we are risking heaven itself. Our time here is, by God’s design, a foreshadowing of heaven.
During these moments & hours in the house of our Lord, He is God with us by His specific Word & instruction. Yahweh is here to set us free from sin, to grant us health & healing, to draw us in to the new creation.
As we wait for Christ’s triumphant return, we find all kinds of unfaithfulness & disobedience, even among those who identify with Jesus Christ & His Church. Should we give up? Should we think our lives don’t matter? Should we wonder what God is up to? No. He has matters well in hand.
His plan is unfolding in a way that may appear excruciatingly slow, but the heavenly Father is faithful. From God’s dealings with Elijah, we learn what this means – believe the promises of our Lord, especially in the face of threat & trouble. We are privileged to live out the vocations to which Yahweh has called us, & He has all things under His control. Amen.
Entrust your days & burdens to God’s most loving hand; He cares for you while ruling the sky, the sea, the land. For He who guides the tempests along their thunderous ways will find for you a pathway & guide you all your days. Our hands & feet, Lord, strengthen; with joy our spirits bless until we see the ending of all our life’s distress. And so throughout our lifetime keep us within Your care & at our end then bring us to heaven to praise You there. Amen. LSB 754:1, 6.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 7) LSB #’s 811, 643, 808
Text – Luke 8:39
“Return to your home, & declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
DECLARING WHAT GOD HAS DONE
Do you remember the story Jesus told about Lazarus & the rich man? Both men died & the rich man is suffering torment in the place of the dead. While there, he’s pictured as carrying on a conversation with Abraham. The rich man is worried about his five brothers. He asks if Lazarus could go back to earth & warn them so they don’t also end up in the place of torment.
“But Abraham said, ‘Moses & the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’” (Luke 16:29 NLT) Moses & the prophets had a special place in God’s plan of salvation for the world. Because of that, we don’t typically think of ourselves as prophets. Am I right? Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a prophet.
Feels conspicuous to be raising your hand, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s true! If you are a child of God, your calling may not be that of prophet, but you certainly do have a role to play in declaring what God has done. And that is essentially what the prophets were tasked with doing.
Your story may not have the drama of an entire legion of demons being cast out of you, but your rescue from slavery to sin is being orchestrated by the same Creator & Lord of the universe. His personal care & concern with all the details of your life is just as real.
The book of Isaiah began our reading this morning with a beautiful illustration of the grace of God. He seeks after those who have sought Him not!
“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually…” (Isaiah 65:1-3 ESV) It sounds very much like Yahweh is speaking of our own culture, but it provides the perfect picture of how the Good Shepherd seeks us out even when we are helplessly lost, without any ability to seek the LORD, or perhaps any notion the LORD even needs to be sought!
Still, the LORD reaches out & calls out, “Here am I!” Which is perfectly illustrated by the reading from the Gospel of Luke: “Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons.” (Luke 8:26-27a ESV) The man’s own words clarify that he was not seeking Jesus:
“When he saw Jesus, he cried out & fell down before Him & said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” (Luke 8:28 ESV) That’s not exactly a prayer asking Jesus to come into his heart. Yet, Jesus drives out the demons, & He sets the man free.
From our Christian perspective it’s a fascinating story of rescue & salvation. Jesus has traveled to a foreign region, engaged in a confrontational dialogue with a legion of demons, performed a violent & scandalous exorcism, & left behind a community gripped by terror.
From the perspective of our culture today, none of that would be politically correct. From the words of the Gospel it seems it was not politically correct in the country of the Gerasenes either:
“And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” (Luke 8:36-37a ESV) Unbelief is powerful in its ability to corrupt & destroy.
Apparently, the only thing more frightening than a naked, chain & shackle ripping,
graveyard-dwelling demoniac is this visitor from Nazareth who reigns over everything. The story ends with a man who has been saved, but a community still in need of saving. Who better, to declare what God has done, then a man of the community itself? So Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, & declare how much God has done for you.”
The tragic condition of the formerly demon-possessed man, the even more heartbreaking reaction of the unbelieving community after the exorcism, & the heart-rending denial of the Lord in our culture are marks of the great deceiver. Yet, we should notice that, as Luke writes it, it is not Jesus, nor the healed man, who relate the story of what happened. It is the herdsmen.
Jesus, & the man who was healed, are detached from all the chaos & anxiety & fear that’s surrounding them. They are remarkably calm & normal, even as everyone else is in an uproar. Such is the power of Jesus. The man had been rescued from the chaos of demon-possession, & now was being protected from the chaos of unbelief.
As you live your life in an increasingly chaotic world, a world permeated by unbelief, you too may remain calm & at peace. That peace which the Creator & Savior has offered to us, is something that people will notice. It’s true, they may not appreciate it. The world is full of people like the rich man Jesus talked about, people who refuse to trust God in this life.
Once they die it’s too late for them to be saved. There are people out there who will follow Jesus if & when they hear about Him. They will be His sheep & recognize His voice. Jesus left the man in the country of the Gerasenes so he could declare what God had done for him. That message would ring true in the ears of those who are Jesus’ sheep.
Jesus is searching for them through us. He is seeking them out in order to heal them, even if they don’t know they need it. Like the man possessed by the legion of demons, even in our lives, in the midst of crushing & overwhelming forces we cannot comprehend or battle, the power of Jesus is undiminished. The Gospel reading this morning falls within a series of four miracles Jesus performed – calming a storm, casting out demons, healing a woman, & raising a girl from the dead. Together, these show Jesus’ power & reign over every sphere of danger & calamity: nature, spiritual powers, disease, & death.
And the power Jesus displays is not might in the worldly sense of things, fighting fire with fire, or responding to power with even more overwhelming power. The Lord responds with a word, with peace, with calm, with, dare we say, a normal, everyday life. The demon possessed man is simply healed & then asked to declare what God has done.
And that is what it means to be a prophet. As you are a child of God, you are a prophet too, by the grace, power & wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing, the people of God from His dwelling take leave. The Supper is ended. O now be extended the fruits of this service in all who believe. The seed of His teaching, receptive souls reaching, shall blossom in action for God & for all. His grace did invite us, His love shall unite us to work for God’s kingdom & answer His call. With praise & thanksgiving to God ever living, the tasks of our everyday life we will face. Our faith ever sharing, in love ever caring, embracing His children of each tribe & race. With Your feast You feed us, with Your light now lead us; unite us as one in this life that we share. Then may all the living with praise & thanksgiving give honor to Christ & His name that we bear. Amen. LSB 643.
Trinity Sunday – C LSB #’s 905, 543, 507
Text – John 8:59
So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself & went out of the temple.
PICKING UP STONES
My sister & brother-in-law, along with Jan & I, spent some time last week walking the beaches along Lake Michigan, & because the summer weather hasn’t really arrived, the crowds have been light. That means there’s still a fresh crop of stones, left from the winter, scattered all along the beach. Many of them are perfect for skipping across the water.
At 1 Samuel 17:40, the prophet tells us, “Then he took his staff in his hand & chose five smooth stones from the brook & put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, & he approached the Philistine.” (ESV) Hopefully you recognize that as part of the story of David & Goliath. God’s chosen shepherd boy needed only one of those stones to fell the giant.
Picking up stones is something you can do simply for fun, like skipping them at the beach. Picking up stones is something you can do in service to the heavenly Father, even if it is to kill a wicked person. Picking up stones is something you can do while following the lead of Satan even if God prevents you from killing another person.
That’s what the Jewish people were doing, picking up stones to kill Jesus, but He disappeared before any of the stones could do harm. Earlier in chapter 8 the Pharisees had been after Jesus, but now it’s the common people, & they went hard. According to verse 31 they used to believe in Jesus, & by verse 44 He’s calling them the children of the devil.
When Jesus claims to be the eternal God in human flesh they can’t stand it any longer: “So they picked up stones to throw at Him...” Death by stoning was the legitimate penalty for blasphemy. The Book of Leviticus describes how that came about:
“One day a man who had an Israelite mother & an Egyptian father came out of his tent &
got into a fight with one of the Israelite men. During the fight, this son of an Israelite woman blasphemed the Name of the Lord with a curse. So the man was brought to Moses for judgment. …They kept the man in custody until the Lord’s will in the matter should become clear to them. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, & tell all those who heard the curse to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. Say to the people of Israel: Those who curse their God will be punished for their sin. Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. (Leviticus 24:10-16a NLT)
So if you aren’t God, & you claim to be, you are blaspheming the name of the Lord. When Jesus said, “…before Abraham was, I am,” the people lost it. Most people today would have no clue what Jesus meant by that statement, but the Jewish people of His day certainly did. It goes back to the very beginning of Israel’s formative event – the Exodus.
That monumental episode of Israel’s rescue from slavery began when Moses was called to lead them. He said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel & say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ & they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14 ESV)
When Jesus replied to the Jews, “…before Abraham was, I am,” they knew who this flesh & blood human being was claiming to be. “I am” is an English translation of the Hebrew name Yahweh. Do you remember how John began his Gospel? “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV)
Right up front John is explaining what Jesus will tell the Jews by saying, “…before Abraham was, I am.” So John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV) Jesus did not say, “I was,” which would imply He was of the past. Jesus did not say, “I will be,” which would imply He is of the future.
Jesus simply said, “I am,” meaning He has always been, He is, & He will always continue to be. That can be only one of two things. Either this man Jesus is the height of arrogance & insanity, or He truly is the eternal & almighty God. There is no in between. So what on earth does that have to do with picking up stones? What does the Sunday of Holy Trinity have to do with our daily struggles, & with picking up stones? To answer, we know that when God finished His creation, He saw that it was very good. Nothing in all of His creation was picking up stones to kill something else. Today, we know that is no longer true.
Today, it is clear that this world, this creation is broken. It is broken in ways that tear our very heart & soul into pieces. We now live in a country where its people are all too ready to pick up stones for purpose of hurting others.
Politicians on the left & right, reporters that are progressive & others that are conservative, are out there trying to make the loudest possible noise for the sole purpose of harming those with whom they do not agree. Yes, they are using words & images, but they might as well be casting stones. Their anger has possessed them with such livid rage.
In their hearts the answer is clear – fight fire with fire! And we understand that attitude well, for it also lives in your heart & in mine. We have been right there picking up stones to make someone else pay for what they have said or done. And we know, or we have seen, where it leads – destruction & death. Kill it before it grows. Get them before they get you!
It’s the cycle of revenge, & of it there can be no end. The Devil & humankind have sinned against their Creator – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. And the wages of sin is death. The penalty must be paid if the Holy Trinity is righteous & just. In their wisdom they decided that the Son would enter their creation, to become one with it, to suffer & die for it.
Only that sacrifice can break the cycle of revenge. Only that sacrifice can give hope to creation of a new life unmarred & uncorrupted by any of the effects of sin. Still, it’s not an easy path, for those who reject God’s sacrifice continue to want revenge. Goliath wanted to destroy God’s people, & though David killed the giant, he later turned against the Lord in adultery & murder. Through His prophet, God called David back into His kingdom & also by God’s grace, David responded & returned to the Lord.
As the Jews confronted Jesus everyone knew that He was only in His 4th decade of life on earth. It seemed highly improbable to them that this was Yahweh Himself. He had been born in Bethlehem & raised in Nazareth. That He is Yahweh is the mystery of the incarnation. If we were designing things, would we choose so costly a way to save the world?
It’s much easier to just throw stones. But Jesus allowed human beings to reject Him & to kill Him so that the cycle of revenge would be brought to an end. As we live in Christ, we find that we already have everything God can give, so we give freely & do not seek revenge any longer. Instead, we grieve for those who harm us, as Jesus grieved for those who crucified Him.
Jesus is LIFE overriding death & making all things new. In heaven, the child snatched by violence or disease will run into your arms. The health that eludes you in the winter of life will return a thousand fold. The friends & family members who died in the faith will sit next to you, singing in the heavenly choir. We long for that time.
Jesus is the I AM who is bringing the new creation into being. Amen.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul! When I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul. Amen. LSB 543:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet