Text – 2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
All Grace Abound to You
We’re beginning a three-week Stewardship emphasis to consider the blessings that God provides. The Bible verse we will focus on was just read. Today, we look at the 1st part of this verse, “God is able to make all grace abound to you.” Next week we’ll look at the topic of sufficiency. Is there enough grace to go around? The text says, “In all things, & at all times.”
A text speaking of all grace abounding to you provides me an opportunity to talk about what grace means. Ephesians 2:8-9 is a well-known place to go for a foundational definition of the word grace. We are saved by grace through faith & not by works so that no one can boast. Grace is a gift that God gives to us without merit or rank, & we receive it by faith.
You may have already heard of this acrostic of the word “grace” = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is free to you & me, but comes at the price of Jesus’ death. We receive all the treasures of the royalty of Jesus. We receive the access that Jesus has to the Father.
You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people called by God according to His
promises (1 Peter 2:9). This gift is given to you through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. From the Holy Spirit, we receive Jesus & all of His grace by faith in Him. Today I ask you to trust that this wonderful gift of grace has been present in the world from the very beginning.
At Genesis 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens & the earth.” Yahweh did not have to. There was nothing that required Him to do this work of creation. Grace is something that God does freely & with joy for you. Creation was an act of grace. Creation continues to be an act of grace as daily God provides everything we need for this life. He continues to graciously give us His creation as He provides our daily bread. Generation to generation we build on the promises of God’s grace. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is a great place for parents to remember that from generation to generation you are sharing this pillar, this foundation of faith in Jesus, with your children.
When your children rise up, when they walk, when they eat & when they sleep, you are talking to them about what God’s grace does for life. Grace begins this world, & it remains the pillar upon which our life is built. The foundation upon which we stand in a right relationship with God is His grace.
Psalm 19:1 describes it this way, “The heavens declare the glory of God, & the sky above proclaims His radiance.” From Romans 1:20, “…His invisible qualities, namely, His eternal power & divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
The truth for each day is that we depend on God’s grace. We stand on the grace of God. While His grace remains strong & persistent in our lives, we are sinful & weak. We knock down this pillar of grace. When we try to stand in the world without God, without grace, we slander its reputation & tarnish its image in the minds of others.
What pillar do we try to stand on instead of grace? On our own confidence, by which we think we can accomplish whatever we desire. Yet, to think we have enough, that we are good enough, or that we have accomplished enough is an illusion. Standing on our confidence & moving forward on that basis, we end up standing on the pillar of fear.
We worry that what we have will be lost or taken away. We end up on a pillar of anger because resentment in us grows when we look at the unfairness of what someone else has versus what we have. Instead of standing on the pillar of grace, trusting God to give gifts according to grace, in sin we try to stand on a pillar of our own doing. When we stand on our own doing, then it’s something we have to keep & protect, & preserve. Then it becomes something we worry about, or we fear losing our grip. The pillars of fear, worry & anger are going to crumble. They will fall down. Relationships built on them have nothing to persevere through tragedy.
Where can we find in Holy Scripture a good place to illustrate the contrast between fear & grace? Standing on the pillar of grace, we trust God will be with us to preserve & protect us. On that pillar we can be reckless & wild in our love for others, versus standing on something of our own making. In Genesis 12, Abram is called to stand on the grace God will provide:
“Go from your country & your kindred & your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, & I will bless you & make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, & him who dishonors you I will curse, & in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abram, his wife & servants, they get up & they go from this land that Abram’s family has been in. They follow the call of God & arrive in the land of Canaan. Abram took with him his brother’s son, Lot. In Genesis 13, the servants of Abram & the servants of Lot have gotten into more & more conflict as the herds of goats & sheep keep getting larger.
Trying to find places of pasture controversy is brewing between the servants of Abram & Lot. Abram has a moment of conversation with Lot, to confess that this is not working:
“Let there be no strife between you & me, between your herdsmen & my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:8-9 ESV)
Lot lifts up his eyes & looks around. What an opportunity. It’s like – someone else is cutting the cake, but you get to pick the 1st piece. Lot takes the best. Abram is looking at the land of leftovers. It’s not as green; not as vibrant. It’s not as beautiful with blessings. His eyes are cast down. Lot has shown us that he is going to set his life on what he can build with his own hands. Abram is left with what? His downcast eyes tell us his future looks like dust. His future has collapsed.
But the Lord said to Abram, after Lot separates from him, “Lift up your eyes & look from the place where you are, northward & southward & eastward & westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you & to your offspring forever… Arise, walk through the length & the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-15, 17 ESV)
Abram is told by God to lift up his eyes & walk the length & the breadth of this land. His eyes revealed no blessing, so Abram depended on God’s grace by faith. If Abram builds his life on a foundation of grace, then he builds his life on a foundation that God will preserve & protect him. Abram walks into steps that are yet unknown, & believes his steps will be guided by God.
The land chosen by Lot did produce for a while, but it also produced a recklessness that abandoned God. The land of Lot collapsed. Sodom & Gomorrah fell apart. Abram’s life did have hiccups where he struggled, but he continued to find his life restored by a grace-filled relationship with Yahweh.
The stewardship theme is called, Stewards Walking by Grace. I illustrated that from Genesis 13 to show how Abram walked by grace. I want you now to think about St. Paul walking by grace. At Philippians 1:12 we can see what it means for him to walk by grace.
Paul had been arrested. He was in jail & trying to encourage the churches that he started. He can’t visit them, but was asking them to still trust that God is with them. He wrote in verse 12, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul looked at the world that others believed was collapsing, & he went forward trusting that these were moments anointed by God’s grace. For you & me, to use the gifts that God has given to us, we do not look at the world as Lot did. We walk every step, even when the steps are unknown, trusting that the length & the breadth of our days are measured in God’s grace. Our very lives are measured by the undeserved love & favor of God.
So consider now words of Scripture often heard at Christmas. These passages are filled with promise & hope. The Bible shows us what it means to walk by grace. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the Lord told David that he is going to build a great house in his name. It’s going to be a kingdom that will last forever.
What does David experience? The death of four children, including Absalom, who tries to revolt & steal his father’s kingdom. It can be hard to believe God’s word when your own family is destroying you. Yet David holds onto those words & continues to build each of his moments & days on the grace of God.
When David had a chance to celebrate the death of Absalom, his son who had revolted against him, he does not because he is going to walk by grace rather than by a pillar of anger.
In Micah 5:2 where we hear, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
For generations people look at that promise & think how ridiculous is this because there is nothing coming out of Bethlehem. It’s just a small village next to Jerusalem. Yet Mary & Joseph traveled there, & when the time came for her to give birth, she gave birth to her first-born son. For everyone else, that Bethlehem promise looked like a dead end.
But Joseph & Mary, walking by grace, not knowing how all of their steps were going to be part of the fulfillment of God’s promises, went forward into those steps that were unknown.
In Isaiah 7:14, is a promise that a virgin is going to conceive & give birth to a son, & we are going to call that son Immanuel. From a woman who is unknown, will come a Child who knows all – an amazing promise. God’s grace works in the impossible moments to provide us the faith to go forward into our own impossible moments.
The Bible is filled with promises that only make sense when you know you neither deserve it nor earn it. Our lives are entirely given as a gift beyond what the world would recognize as obvious or clear. As Christians, we walk by grace trusting the promise of God. Even in the midst of our weaknesses, we believe that this grace will be sufficient for us.
We navigate across the centuries. As Christians we have the long view of what it means to walk by grace. We know the journey will seem incredibly long. Yet we will trust from generation to generation like Deuteronomy 6, raising our children from when they rise, when they walk, when they eat & when they sleep. We will raise them knowing the Lord.
Stewards walking by grace through faith still see the divisions of this world as Lot did. And even now it will seem like others get more than they deserve. But we also hear the call of God to Abram in Genesis 13. We arise to look eastward, westward, northward & southward. We walk the length & the breadth of our days trusting that they are the promise of God.
Stewards walking by grace. We will walk with the word as a light on our path. Amen.
What God’s almighty power has made, in mercy He is keeping. By morning glow or evening shade His eye is never sleeping. Within the kingdom of His might all things are just & good & right. He never shall forsake His flock, His chosen generation; He is their refuge & their rock, their peace & their salvation. As with a mother’s tender hand, He leads His own, His chosen band. All who confess Christ’s holy name, give God the praise & glory. Let all who know His power proclaim aloud the wondrous story. Cast every idol from its throne, for God is God, & He alone: To God all praise & glory! Amen. LSB 819:2, 4-5.
19th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 22) LSB #’s 869, 695, 685
Text – Mark 10:6-9
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male & female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father & mother & hold fast to his wife, & the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
GOD’S DESIGN – GOD’S WILL
We had a rule of thumb among the engineering crew I served with on the submarine. It was 50/50 – 80/20. What it meant is this – even if you had a 50/50 chance of getting something right 80 % of the time you would guess wrong. It’s just how life seemed to work.
Though we didn’t talk about it as the result of sin, that’s essentially what we were recognizing. Sin has corrupted the mathematical formula of 50/50 & turned it into an 80 % failure rate. The crew I worked with believed that you were better off putting in the effort to know the answer than to guess.
Submarines are designed to work a certain way. If you refuse to follow the design you will die. Yet, if you follow the design they are incredible machines capable of doing amazing things. Likewise, human beings are incredible creatures capable of doing amazing things.
Last month, a friend from the submarine called, & one of the things we talked about was the training we received. After 40 years, we are still amazed at what the human mind can be taught to do, especially under pressure, when your very life depends upon you & the people with whom you are working.
Maybe you remember this motto, created back in 1972 – “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” After being adopted by the United Negro College Fund, it became one of the most widely recognized slogans in advertising history.
However, long before the advertising firm Young & Rubicam created it, the Creator of the human mind was inspiring St. Paul to write these words: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life & peace.” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV)
Across the entire human race there is a vast range of individual decisions, but if you boil them right down, isn’t everyone in our world trying to find life & peace? My approach to that may seem crazy & selfish to you, & vice versa, but essentially we are all searching for the same result – life & peace.
Sin brought death & anxiety, not just into the world, but into our very heart & soul. Sin has turned our minds away from God’s design. If we set our mind on the Spirit of God there is life & peace. In the world we live in those are incredible & amazing outcomes.
However, if we remain where sin has left us, with our mind set on the things of the flesh, that is death. Listen to the conclusion in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” We could say in the context of that verse, that God’s law is essentially the same thing as God’s design.
If we set our mind on the flesh we are choosing death even when we believe we are gaining life & peace. And the devil certainly makes his temptations very appealing. The majority of people in our world are chasing after them. Most of what we hear & see in the news are the horrible results of death that come by not following God’s design.
Human beings are incredible creatures capable of doing amazing things – if we follow the design of our Creator. It is absolutely true that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, & so much of our own lives is filled with that waste, because we too are not always following God’s design. What’s on your mind this morning? PAUSE
From the Gospel reading in Mark 10, we know what’s on the mind of the Pharisees.
They have come to test, or to trap, Jesus. They firmly believe that they are gaining life & peace, but Satan has deceived them & they don’t know it. What they do know, is that this Jesus is staking out a very different path. They are not happy with it. He’s been bringing the truth & He’s getting pushback, but He does not stop revealing God’s design. Jesus said to them:
“Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male & female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father & mother & hold fast to his wife, & the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9 ESV)
That is God’s design & God’s will. When we submit to that we find life & peace. God’s Spirit can work in us. When we refuse to submit to that we find anxiety & we find death. As the opening line of the Introit said this morning, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1a ESV)
As the book of Hebrews stated, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (2:1 ESV) Those words apply not simply to how you & I were designed to live. Yes, all of us fall short of the glory of God, by far, & hearing about that is depressing news. But those are not the only words to which we should pay closer attention.
After Jesus deals with the question of divorce by going all the way back to God’s design for marriage at creation, Jesus then welcomes the children to come near. The illustration for us is that no matter how insignificant we are, even because of our sins, Jesus still welcomes us. No matter how much of God’s design we have broken, He is waiting for us to return to Him.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that in addition to the recognition of our failures & sins, God also bears “…witness by signs & wonders & various miracles & by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will,” (2:4 ESV) that Jesus has submitted to the heavenly Father’s will on our behalf. Jesus has not rejected God’s design, but embraced it, perfectly. For since the foundation of the world it was the heavenly Father’s design that Jesus should take our place in punishment for our sin. He took our place in order that you & I could be set free. That is also part & parcel of God’s design & God’s will, & they come together in one package.
Repenting of our sins & believing the good news are in some respects, one & the same thing. We can’t do one without the other, & it takes a miracle of God to work both of them in sinful creatures like we are. God’s design & God’s will are both blessings to us, but often it takes our failures to humble us so that we can see with the eyes of faith.
Whether it is marriage, or any other of the countless circumstances we find ourselves in, God is faithful, as demonstrated in Jesus, no matter what. We can count on Him to humble us & to rescue us. When He does that He empowers us for another new day of living out His design & His will. I pray that this news will be on your heart & mind throughout the week. Amen.
Love is humble, love is gentle, love is tender, true & kind; love is gracious, ever patient, generous of heart & mind: Never jealous, never selfish, love will not rejoice in wrong; never boastful nor resentful, love believes & suffers long: In the day this world is fading faith & hope will play their part; but when Christ is seen in glory love shall reign in every heart: May love be ours, O Lord. Amen. LSB 695:2-4.
Lutheran Bible Translator’s Sunday – 2021 LSB #’s 973, 658, 923
Text – Jeremiah 36:23
Paper shredders range in size & price from small & inexpensive units meant for a few pages, to large machines used by commercial shredding services that cost thousands of dollars. Regardless of size, make & model, you probably know something about paper shredders.
Today we meet Mr. Paper Shredder himself – King Jehoiakim. The text is Jeremiah 36:23 (ESV), “As Jehudi read three or four columns, king Jehoiakim would cut them off with a knife...” Jehudi is in Judah of Jerusalem in 604 BC reading the book of Jeremiah while Jehoiakim shreds it with a knife!
Our paper shredders destroy bills, credit cards, bank statements & other sensitive documents. But Jehoiakim shreds God’s Word. Who in their right mind would cut up & shred the Word of God? Especially God’s Word in Jeremiah? It is loaded with Gospel promises. Take a look:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, & he shall reign as king & deal wisely, & shall execute justice & righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, & Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6 ESV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare & not for evil, to give you a future & a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV) “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, & the young men & the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, & give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13 ESV) “For I will forgive their iniquity, & I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV) What got into Jehoiakim that he shredded God’s Word? You know. So do I. This is the work of The Paper Shredder. We don’t know him by that name, though. Instead, we know him by the names of liar, deceiver, destroyer, devil, serpent, & Satan.
The old evil foe does not want us to have delight in God’s Word; power in God’s Word; hope in God’s Word; life in God’s Word; forgiveness in God’s Word. That’s why Satan shreds the Word of God every chance he gets. Do you want proof? A recent George Barna survey of Christians found these stunning results:
58% didn’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. 52% didn’t know that the book of Jonah is in the Bible. 70% did not know that “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. 15% agreed that the Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luther, & John.
Why does Satan shred God’s Word? So he can shred our lives! Satan meets us in the morning & says, “This day is hopeless; go back to bed.” He sees us in the bathroom & says, “You are ugly. How could anyone love you?” At the end of the day he says, “You are a sorry excuse for a Christian. God is finished with you!”
Without God’s Word to push back against those lies, Satan chews us up & spits us out. That’s his strategy; keep people from God’s Word. Here is the strategy of Lutheran Bible Translators. Get people into God’s Word. Their mission statement – “LBT makes God’s Word accessible to those who do not yet have it in the language of their hearts.”
Every day LBT launches a frontal attack against the Paper Shredder. And why? Over one-billion people worldwide do not have the full Bible in a language that touches deeply – that is, the language of their heart. An estimated 165 million do not have a single verse of Scripture translated into their language. The Paper Shredder has 165 million people with no Word of God!
Martin Luther knew about the Paper Shredder. He writes in A Mighty Fortress is our
God, “The old evil foe, now means deadly woe! Deep guile & great might are his dread arms in fight. On earth is not his equal.” That’s why Luther embraced God’s Word – full throttle, especially in Romans: “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God, & are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:23–24 ESV)
“He was delivered over to death for our sins & raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25 ESV) “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1 ESV) “Where sin increased grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20 ESV) Luther found forgiveness & comfort in the Word of God.
The old evil foe then enlisted another paper shredder to do his destructive work. In 1517, an Archbishop named Albert of Brandenburg set out to silence Luther. Albert was selling indulgences to pay off his debt to the pope. What are indulgences? The pope taught that pieces of paper purchased by people & signed by the church lessened a person’s time in purgatory.
Luther’s 95 Theses taught that indulgences were bogus. Because people began to believe Luther instead of the church, Albert was taking a big hit in the wallet! His response? Luther’s writings about God’s Word must be shredded!
In July, 1519, a debate took place in Leipzig, Germany. John Eck upheld Rome’s position – that people are saved, in large part, by what they do. Luther still would not budge on salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake alone. After the debate, Pope Leo X excommunicated the Reformer.
The excommunication began with these words from Psalm 80:13, “Arise, O Lord, a wild boar has invaded your vineyard.” Who was the wild boar accused of invading the church’s vineyard? Martin Luther! Rome’s response was that Luther must be silenced & shredded! It all came to a head at an imperial assembly in Worms, Germany. On April 17, 1521, the Roman Catholic Church demanded that Luther recant. Luther asked for an evening to think about it. The next day, the Reformer announced, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot & will not recant! Here I stand!” Luther took his cue from 1 Peter 1:25, “The word of the Lord endures forever.” Rome responded. God’s Word must be silenced, censored & shredded.
Luther’s courage, spine & conviction came from the central teaching in God’s Word – Christ crucified for sinners. Christ crucified means every one of God’s Gospel promises in Jeremiah are now yours. Christ is your righteousness. Christ has plans to give you hope & a future. Christ loves you with an everlasting love.
Because of Christ crucified, God changes our mourning into joy & sorrow into gladness. And because of Christ crucified, God forgives our iniquity & remembers our sin no more. That’s because a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate gave Jesus over to professional shredders.
They ripped the skin off the Savior’s back, preparing him for the biggest, most industrial-grade shredder of the day. And what was that called? Mors turpissima crucis – Latin for what Rome called its shredder – “the utterly vile death on a cross.” Jesus was shredded – crucified, dead, & buried. The end? It was not!
“Then Jeremiah took another scroll & gave it to Baruch… who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had shred & burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.” Let me repeat the last line. “And many similar words were added to them!” (Jeremiah 36:32 ESV)
Jeremiah says, “Mess with my sermon & the next time I will add to it!” God resurrected Jeremiah’s scroll – & then some! All of which was the prelude to another resurrected Scroll – & then some! Christ, the Word made flesh, rose from the dead. What do we call that? Easter! Those who saw Christ alive were beside themselves. Mary cried out, “Rabboni!” The Emmaus disciples exclaimed, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road?” Thomas confessed, “My Lord & my God!” Alive with the life of Jesus & with the breath of the Holy Spirit God’s Holy Word is the living voice of the Gospel.
For you, right now, it announces forgiveness for all your sin, showers you with grace, & rekindles resurrection hope. God’s Word announces that weakness is power, loss is gain, & servanthood is greatness. Wherever God’s Word is preached, studied, memorized & read it is victorious over every satanic foe that seeks to destroy its Holy Spirit power.
That’s why Lutheran Bible Translators does more than produce Bibles. LBT’s goal is production – to be sure, but production is not an end in itself. Bible production opens doors so there can be transformation – new life in Jesus.
You see, LBT works with pre-literate & semi-literate peoples. To produce a book is only the beginning because books aren’t a part of these people’s culture. LBT missionaries, therefore, establish long-term relationships. They gain trust. Learn the language. Embrace their culture.
They learn to love individuals, families & congregations, so people not only hear & read God’s Word in their heart language, but so they also interact with Scripture so it goes down into their “insidest-inside” – deep within their hearts & minds. The result? Production leads to transformation! And transformation leads to dedication.
As Luther said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot & will not recant. Here I stand!” The Reformer took his stand upon 1 Peter 1:25 (ESV), “The word of the Lord endures forever.” In Latin, Verbum Dei Manet In Aeternum. The initials = VDMA.
Luther & his followers sewed VDMA on their coat sleeves & cloaks. Today we place VDMA deep in our hearts & minds. To all paper shredders we boldly confess, “Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever. We will help translate, publish & send this Word to the ends of the earth. Here we stand!” Amen.
Preserve Your Word, O Savior, to us this latter day, & let Your kingdom flourish; enlarge Your Church, we pray. O keep our faith from failing; keep hope’s bright star aglow. Let nothing from truth turn us while living here below. Preserve Your Word & preaching, the truth that makes us whole, the mirror of Your glory, the power that saves the soul. Oh, may this living water, this dew of heavenly grace, sustain us while here living until we see Your face. Preserve in wave & tempest Your storm-tossed little flock; assailed by wind & weather, may it endure each shock. Stand at the helm, our pilot, & set the course aright; then we will reach the harbor in Your eternal light. Amen. LSB 658:1, 4-5.
17th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 20) LSB #’s 558, 851, 725
Text – Mark 9:37
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, & whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.
RECEIVING THE FATHER
What is the #1 priority at this stage in your life? Many of you are already retired & trying to maintain a certain standard of health & a standard of living for as long as possible. Others of you are still working, whether full-time or part-time, & you are most likely looking forward to the day when you can retire.
The economic realities of life have a tendency to take 1st priority in our lives. It’s a simple matter of the curse that God placed upon man after the fall into sin:
“And to the man He said, ‘Since you listened to your wife & ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.’” (Genesis 3:17 NLT) Because of man’s rebellion against God, the economic realities of life will weigh heavily upon us throughout time.
Therefore, it will always be a struggle, & we should expect it to be a battle to keep straight our priorities in life. And when we do keep those priorities straight that moves life toward its God-given purpose. Keeping our priorities straight demonstrates to our Creator that we love Him.
As the cross of Christ remains the center of our daily living then our decisions keep in step with the Lord of life. Jesus did not take a shortcut in order to bypass the cross. He went right through it. Jesus promises no shortcuts for those who follow Him. You & I should expect our daily lives to be a battle because sin never stops trying to lead us astray.
The cross of Jesus was given to us to be the anchor of Christian living, because those
who partake in Christ’s suffering share also in His glory. In heaven we will see that clearly. For now, our calling is to live by faith, not by what we see. The heavenly Father’s promise to us is not a life of ease & pleasure, here on earth. That will be heaven. Yet God the Father does promise to take us through our suffering to the resurrection from the dead.
What does all that have to do with the child that Jesus put in the midst of His disciples? On their own, children have no power, wealth or connections with which to take shortcuts or bypass the suffering of this life. However, important people can use their connections, power & wealth to take shortcuts & bypass much of the suffering of this life.
The parable Jesus tells about the Rich Man & Lazarus illustrates this truth. As the Rich Man was asking Abraham for relief from the pain of hell, he’s told this, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, & Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, & you are in anguish.” (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
Lazarus was a poor man, who laid at the Rich Man’s gate. He was covered with sores & the dogs licked his wounds, but he was the one who entered heaven. He did not bypass the suffering of this life, & kept the heavenly Father as his top priority. The Rich man who bypassed this life’s suffering did not give God priority until it was too late.
If we’re honest, all of us struggle with that parable because none of us want to be lying on the ground waiting for dogs to come around & lick our sores for relief. Each of us would rather be in the mansion than starving at the gate. We want to feel like our lives are important, & worthwhile & accomplishing things. We want to be respected & thought well of.
Jesus knows that our desires are a trap Satan uses to put us in danger. He knows who has faith in Him as Savior from sin, but He also knows that we suffer from thinking too highly of ourselves. Jesus wants us to take care that we not lose the faith & the Kingdom through pride & arrogance. It is in the best interest of all believers, because we still have the sinful nature, to be admonished to accept little children, & all who are unimportant according to the world. Above all, before God we should be truly humble, but also should make ourselves subject to each other. Each of us should be a servant of the people whom God places in our lives. As Jesus said:
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, & whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37 ESV) That is how we receive our Father who is in heaven. We do so through receiving Jesus, & since Jesus is not with us in the flesh, we do that through receiving our neighbor, especially those of lowly status.
Jesus knows that keeping our priorities straight is helpful, even crucial, as we take up our cross & follow Him. In the Gospel reading, the disciples had been arguing among themselves concerning who among them was the greatest. Jesus then teaches them that being great involves being the least & the servant of all.
Later, Jesus would demonstrate that principle by laying down His life for the lives & for the sins of the whole world. In the world’s order of things, the leader is first & others do things for him. They work in service to him. In the Church of Jesus the reverse is true. The humbler a person is, & the more willing to serve, the higher he will stand in God’s kingdom.
In order to bring home this lesson, Jesus took a little child & told the disciples that in rendering a service to one of these little ones they were rendering that service to God’s Son. And a service rendered to Him is credited in heaven as though it were rendered to Yahweh Himself.
This striking lesson in true humility & service is needed urgently in our lives. The false ambition that was found in the midst of the disciples is rampant in the Church today, threatening to render much of the preaching of the cross as invalid. For that very reason, & for many other sins like it, Jesus ascended the cross instead of a throne. Jesus was born on earth in order to serve, not to be served. His life on earth was to be a sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – along with my sins & yours.
Before the dawn of the time that was the #1 priority of the Son of God. Before the universe was created, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity was focused upon saving sinners from their sins. He saved us so that we could love others as you & I were created to love.
In the brokenness of our sinful world that love is clearly demonstrated through receiving people of the least importance. In so doing, we receive our heavenly Father along with the life & wholeness & all the other blessings which come with our heavenly Father.
What is the #1 priority at this stage in your life? I pray that it would be receiving the Father through receiving the least important people in our lives. After all, Jesus came to live & to die in our place that one day we would again experience a perfect relationship with God.
Jesus has already paid for all our failures to love & receive others. It is a shame to let that blessing go to waste. Amen.
Wondrous honor You have given to our humblest charity in Your own mysterious sentence, “You have done it all to Me.” Can it be, O gracious Master, that You deign for alms to sue, saying by Your poor & needy, “Give as I have given to you”? Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. Amen. LSB 851:3-4.
16th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 19) LSB #’s 839, 720 tune 710, 587
Text – Mark 9:24
Immediately the father of the child cried out & said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
HELP MY UNBELIEF
Television shows & movies which are based on mysteries are common & successful. People wait with anticipation to find out who done it. That moment of revelation, if the script is well written, is meant to be a highpoint of the show.
Parents these days have gender reveal parties as they announce whether their child to be born is a girl or a boy. For many of the family that moment of revelation is just what they’ve been waiting for.
The joy of opening Christmas presents is about that same moment of revelation. Children look forward to it anxiously, for many weeks. There is power in that moment of revelation & the beauty of the gospel reading this morning is that it reveals Jesus as Savior not only for those who are strong in faith. Jesus also comes for those who are weak in faith.
Jesus comes as Savior not only for those who are running towards Him. Jesus also comes as Savior for those who are drifting, or walking, yes even for those who are running away from Him. In the 14th chapter of Mark, after the arrest of Jesus, we read: “Then all His disciples deserted Him & ran away.” (14:50 NLT) Still, Jesus died & rose again for their sins.
The beauty of the gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak & walking away. Have you noticed how struggles in our lives can bring faith into view? 9/11 did that for many of us 20 years ago.
You see, when everything is going well, our faith can run on autopilot. Church & prayer are part of a routine. Because things are going well, we fail to even notice. We simply do what we normally do. When things begin to fall apart, that is when faith comes into view. Like a flashlight shining in a dark room, troubles can make our faith visible again. Pain comes because sin has brought suffering into this world, but the Holy Spirit is able, through His supernatural power, to use the pain we suffer for bringing good into our lives.
Anthony, who had stopped going to church, suddenly comes again. Why? Because his daughter left home without leaving a forwarding address. Kathy’s prayer life has increased dramatically. Why? Because the doctor found a spot on her lung. Troubles, like a flashlight, can bring moments of revelation where we see God with us through it all.
Other times, however, we see a darker picture. Instead of faith getting stronger, it weakens. When trouble comes & illumines the darkness, we find our faith huddled in a corner, shrinking & surrendering & dying.
Yes, many people have come back to the church during a family dispute, but just as many have walked farther away. Yes, illness has led some to pick up their bible, but it has led others to look elsewhere for healing.
When troubles reveal faith, the experience is not always positive. Instead of a strong & vibrant return to Christianity, we may see a deeper questioning of God & a growing reluctance to believe in anything at all. Faith wavers. Prayers are questions filled with anger. Hope is just a dreamlike fantasy from which people are starting to awaken.
Today, Mark helps us see & name these situations. He calls us to stop pretending that faith is always going to get stronger, & to recognize that sometimes faith weakens. Mark wants you & me to come face-to-face with this ugly reality, so he can bring us instead face-to-face with Jesus, our beautiful Savior.
The beauty & power of the gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak & drifting or walking or even running away. Consider the moment when the father stands before Jesus. At first, the father’s heart was filled with hope. He brought his child to the disciples for healing. They had cast out spirits & his son has a spirit, but they were unable to help. His hope was crushed.
Then, the religious leaders begin to argue & his heart fills with frustration. While his son suffers, they debate religion: “Who can cast out demons – where, when, & why?” By the time Jesus arrives, the father has had it. His heart is nearly empty of faith!
His son is brought before Jesus & the spirit, demonstrating its power, throws the child to the ground. The father’s son is rolling at Jesus’ feet, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asks how long this has been happening & the father tells his life story.
For years, his son has been tormented by this spirit. Sometimes, the it throws him into water to drown him. Other times, the spirit throws his son into fire to burn him. Always, the spirit seeks to kill him. This spirit has taken the joy of childhood & replaced it with suffering, the joy of fatherhood & replaced it with fear & the power of faith & made it seem foolish.
Finally, the father reaches deep into his heart & brings out his very last plea. He says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us & help us” (9:22). Suddenly, Jesus is troubled by something more than the evil spirit or the child rolling on the ground. Jesus is troubled by a father falling away from the faith.
So, before Jesus does anything for the son, He speaks with tough love to the father: “If you can?” He wants the father to hear his doubt. Jesus brings the father face-to-face with his faith, which is failing, so he can stand face-to-face before his Savior who succeeds!
The beauty of grace in this text is how Jesus holds on to people who are letting go. The father believes, but he does not believe. He tries, but he has given up trying. He holds on, but he also lets go. Finally, he confesses to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). With those words, this father brings all of our weakness & stumbling, all of our doubting & grumbling, all of our drifting & running & he sets it before Jesus... & Jesus, when face-to-face with our ugliness, brings us face-to-face with the power of His beautiful grace.
Jesus is a Savior who has come to save. A bruised reed, He will not break. A smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. A weak faith, He will not deny. Jesus has died for all people; those who are strong in faith & those who are weak in faith & for those who have no faith at all.
When Jesus dies on the cross, He dies for the sin of unbelief so that, when He rises, He brings forgiveness to everyone. The magnificence of this text is what it reveals about our Lord. Jesus holds on to people even as they are letting go.
Faith is a relationship with the One strong enough to save even from sin. It is not about how tightly you hold on to Jesus but rather how tightly He holds on to you. Salvation is about God’s strength, not ours. And, as Jesus tells His disciples in John, all the Father gives Him He will save. No one will be able to snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28).
Today, we can be honest about our struggles in faith because Jesus has come with His all-powerful grace. He knows “how to sustain with a word him who is weary… Morning by morning He awakens our ears to hear as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4) “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” with the revelation that comes from hearing Your Word. Amen.
We walk by faith & not by sight, no gracious words we hear from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; & may our faith abound to call on you when You are near & seek where You are found. Lord, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light we may behold You as You are, with full & endless sight. Amen. LSB 720:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet