HUMILITY IS EXALTED

warning

LUKE 14:1, 7-14

1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

It’s a pretty big deal.  As a pastor, I have to handle the Word of God, preaching and teaching faithfully and truthfully.  I have to look after God’s sheep and feed the flock with his Word and his Sacrament.  I have to care for people of all ages, types and backgrounds. I have to do so much. A pastor has a huge job.

Whenever I say that I am a pastor to people out in the community it always creates a reaction.  I can see it in their faces.  Whether I’m out golfing, at the store, at the hospital, at a park with my kids, or at a party it doesn’t matter, because being a pastor is just that big of a deal.  It may not always be positive. Some people don’t like pastors because of past experiences or because of the headlines that sometimes surface in the news.  But a pastor always has some pretty lofty expectations. I mean, people should look up to a pastor, because pastors have a big job to do and we work for the Lord.

Now, while it’s true, having that kind of attitude is a bunch of nonsense!  No pastor who is worth anything to a congregation should ever be that full of himself.  He should never think that he’s above people.  But that’s an example of how guys like this prominent Pharisee operated.  They loved to throw their titles around and list off their accomplishments and responsibilities.  They loved to be noticed for who there were and what they did.  They loved to take note of what was wrong with other people, too.  And it’s no different at this Sabbath meal.  The Pharisees had a close eye on Jesus.  They thought they could catch Jesus doing something wrong.  Talk about pride!  These Pharisees thought they could correct God.  But at this meal, they still had time to act like little kids at a birthday party trying to claim a great spot.

Jesus couldn’t help but notice the pride that was filling up the room like a blanket of thick fog. So he turns to them with a pretty sensible parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.

It’s sensible because everybody wants to avoid that kind of humiliation in front of a group and everybody would enjoy that kind of honor in front of a group.  But pride is not always so sensible. Pride kind of wants the nice spot right away.  Pride plays games trying to pit me against someone else in a contest of who’s better.  And pride will always well up inside downplaying my faults and failures in order to make me the winner.  If I’m comparing myself to a popular celebrity, I might not have the gawking public following my every move and giving me the royal treatment wherever I go, but I’m better because my life is more moral and less greedy.  I’m better because I don’t crave the spotlight and my feuds are not out there for everyone to see.  If I’m up against a politician, I might not have the popular vote, but I’m better because I’m not a liar and scoundrel.  I’m better because I am a Christian that stands for God’s honest truth.  If I’m looking at a coworker or neighbor, I’m better because I have a better attitude and my family life is all under control.  If I’m up against a stubborn child, I’m better because I have knowledge and experience.  I’m better because God has given me authority and responsibilities.  If I compare myself to a poor person, well I have a steady income because I went to school and work hard.  I can fill my house with nice things and wear nice clothes.  If I compare myself to a prisoner, I am better because I would never ever get caught doing something that could get me arrested.  I’m above that.

Do you notice how pride works?  This pride that exists in each one of us makes it so hard to be humble.  Humility is acknowledging that everything is not alright in my life.  Humility is admitting that I need help.  Humility is making yourself lower than other people.  Humility is serving others without thinking “now you owe me one.” Here’s a great definition from C. S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” The thing is humility is so unnatural and foreign to us.  We are born with pride. We are born with the desire to be served as the most important.  Honestly, no baby thinks, “How can I help mommy?  I know, I won’t make a dirty diaper today.  I won’t scream when I’m hungry.  I will care about mom and dad more than I care about myself.”  No! Babies always destroy their diapers.  Babies always scream for their food.  Because babies naturally only care about themselves.  We are born with pride.  And if you can’t bring yourself to think that there is anything wrong with a precious newborn because they are just doing what natural and acceptable for a baby, then that is exactly my point.  We are born with this natural focus on me. And this inborn pride makes it so hard to be humble.

But here’s where Jesus warning helps us out so much. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Just like a 25 speed limit doesn’t want you speeding into an accident, just like a warning label doesn’t want you to eat something toxic, so Jesus doesn’t want pride to ruin things for you eternally. Jesus says we’re not just talking about a wedding dinner, but we’re talking about life.  If you want a great life where you are always the best, where everything is always about you, and where you can do whatever you want, then enjoy it now because the eternal accident is coming.  If you don’t want to care about others, if you don’t want to give to others as God as so freely given to you, then keep eating the poison of pride and self-centeredness until it destroys you forever in hell.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  You could carry on like you aren’t the most important.  You could live each day for someone else, not always putting your own desires first.  You could be thankful for all the blessings God has given by giving some time, energy and money to serve others.  You could do those things simply because God has already done those things for you.  Then, you don’t have to worry about the fatal crash or the poison.

That sounds amazing, but it’s hard.  Pride doesn’t give up easily.  And our culture bombards us with messages about serving only ourselves.  But, we also have Jesus.  We can listen to our Savior.  We also want to live like his children, who are filled with gratitude and humility.  And so maybe you’re looking for the middle ground in there.  There has to be somewhere between pride and humility.  There has to be some spot between doing everything for yourself and doing everything for other people.  Maybe there is some table in the banquet that’s not right up front and not totally in the back that would be perfect for you.  You don’t want people taking advantage of you, but you want to be kind and caring.  You want to be nice and giving, but you don’t want to get swallowed up in this dog-eat-dog world.  You want to have most of the week to yourself, but you’ll give Sunday to the Lord.

But does that ever work?  Can you drive 50 in a 25 and still be safe all the time?  Do you really want to try eating just a little bit a poison to see if it will kill you or not?  I don’t think so.  So, why would you do that with your life as a follower of Jesus?  Why would you compromise when it comes to humility?

Today, Jesus warns against all pride.  He says it’s not worth it.  He says humility works for his followers.  Even if it seems hard, humility still works in this age of entitlement. Even if it is thinking of yourself less, humility can be exalted in this self-centered, egotistical world.

And here’s why – because someone else was humble for you first.  Someone came here to live for you.  Someone was lowly, like a servant, for you.  Someone came to serve your greatest need.  Someone took all the embarrassment for you.  Someone helped you with all your worst troubles and struggles.  Someone gave everything he had so that you would never be taken advantage of.  Someone made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. 

Jesus is the only one who could walk into any banquet, any classroom, any meeting anywhere and demand the blest place and the royal treatment.  He could walk into the White House and say, “I’m president now,” without any objection. He deserves our dedicated and best service.  But he gave it all up.  He chose humility to serve you and me.  The great and glorious became least and lowest. He was the servant for swindlers and scoundrels, for creeps and criminals, for liars and lusters, for the pompous and proud.  He served those who don’t deserve it.  He served you and me to bring us forgiveness and life in heaven.  He got down into the dirt and filth to get us out and purify us before God.

Jesus knew exactly what he was saying –  “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” – because it happened to him.  He gave up everything.  He was humble in Bethlehem and Nazareth.  He was humbled in Jerusalem.  He was humiliated on Calvary.  But he was exalted on Easter when he came back from the dead.  He was exalted as he rose over this earth to go back to his throne in heaven.  He is exalted now as the King of kings.  Every knee will bow down before him.  Every tongue will confess him.  Some will do it with joyous faith, some with terrified fear, but it will happen at the Last Day.

Until that day arrives, faith fosters humility in us.  And what does that look like?  Jesus has an answer for us that isn’t just about how you think or picking where you sit.  He goes on to say, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…”

Jesus reminds us that humility is not just a hidden quality that no one ever notices.  Humility shows up in the life of a Christian.  Humility asks the question: “Jesus, how can I reflect a little bit of your humility in my life?”  Maybe that means you will actively find ways to think of yourself – your wants, your schedule, your family, your hobbies – less and others more.  Maybe you’ll reevaluate the way you look at coworkers and neighbors not thinking of what they should do for you, but what you can do for them.  Humility will lower you and raise others up so that you can say “I’m sorry” to a friend or relative.  This humility that saved you and the humility that God is growing in you will make it easier for you to give your offerings in church, knowing that the gifts are providing for others here and, through our synod, around the world.  Humility means husbands and wives don’t have to try to win arguments.  Thinking that arguments can be won for the good of a marriage is so counterproductive and proud.  Instead, because Christ looked to serve your needs, you can serve your spouse’s needs without looking for the payback.

Jesus has one final thing that really elevates humility for us: “you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Now, please don’t confuse what Jesus has just promised.  Your humility cannot save you.  If that was the case that would mean heaven must be earned.  Heaven cannot be earned.  Only Jesus saves you.  Only Jesus can open the narrow door, as we learned last week.  Only Jesus’ humility can exalt you to eternal life in heaven.

Instead, this crazy promise assures you that a humble life will be exalted.  Jesus says go find ways to practice humility with people who cannot pay you back and he will repay you.   Be caring and supportive and helpful and generous even if you never see the pay off in this life, Jesus will find a way to make it all work out.  And let’s just say that your humility does make an impact on your family and neighbors.  Let’s say because faith moved you to be humble 15 people heard about Jesus and have faith in him.  Isn’t that a repayment in and of itself?  And yet, Jesus says he himself will repay you.  The Savior who humbled himself for you, who rose from the dead, who was exalted to his throne in heaven, he will repay you for your humility.

There’s really no reason for me to proud about me.  I can’t earn heaven.  I haven’t impressed God with my life.  Too often I try to exalt myself and humble others.  I end up acting like those Pharisees.  Jesus did the opposite.  He lowered himself for me.  His humility paid for my eternity in heaven.  If you want to be proud about something, be proud of him.  If you want someone to be first in your life, it’s him.  And you will be blessed with an eternity that is certainly not low but exalted in glory with him. Amen.

 

NARROWING POPULAR BELIEFS DOWN WITH THE TRUTH.

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22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

 

 

I have to do it; I have to start the sermon with the Olympics again.  This past week as I was considering this section from Luke 13 it was volleyball that caught my attention.  Now, you might know that I’m not really a fan of volleyball at all, but it’s the Olympics.  On Tuesday night it was beach volleyball. Americans, Kerri Walsh Jennings, who was the 3-time defending Olympic champion, and her new partner, April Ross, were the world number one.  They were up against a Brazilian duo in the semifinals.  The winner would go onto the gold medal match.  Anybody who knows anything about sports would say the defending champion and world number one would win.  I don’t know much about anything when it comes to volleyball but Walsh Jennings and Ross had not lost at all during the entire Olympics going into that match.  They were unbeatable.  They were going to dominate.  But by the end of the game the Brazilians, not the Americans, were celebrating their victory and the chance to go for the gold.  Then…then, it was indoor volleyball this past Thursday.  Surprise, surprise we were ranked number one.  We were the defending world champs, undefeated and the shoo-in for gold.  We were up against Serbia in the semifinals.  And you can probably guess what happened.  We lost.  The team that couldn’t be stopped was beaten.  Sometimes what everybody thinks will happen, doesn’t.  Sometimes what everyone believes to be true, isn’t.

Now, sports fans from all over the world are familiar with this.  This kind of thing has happened before and it will happen again.  The number one team or athlete doesn’t always win.  That’s why they play the game. That’s why these games can be so thrilling. Sometimes the hail Mary pass is caught.  Sometimes the underdog pulls off a stunning upset.  Sometimes the result that everyone is expecting just doesn’t happen.

Sports are one thing, but what if it was something bigger and more important?  What about when heaven is at stake?   Nobody wants to miss out on that.  Go ahead and ask your family, friends, and neighbors.  None of them want to go to hell.  Even if people aren’t sure about religion or God or what happens after death, not many people that I have talked to are ready and willing to face hell.  Everybody wants to go to heaven.  And for the most part, people think that’s what is going to happen, right?  Pretty much everyone goes to heaven, except for maybe the real scum of the earth.  Is that true or not?  For that answer we don’t have to square off against another nation in the Olympics, but we have to check with the one who has the truth.  After all, this is not a game where the loser misses out on a gold medal, but this is life where the loser misses out on heaven.

So, that’s what this man is doing in Luke 13.  He doesn’t want to watch the game where you think and you believe that there is only one possible result, but then it doesn’t happen and throws everything upside down.  He doesn’t want the popular beliefs of the day.  He doesn’t want various religious answers.  He wants the truth.  So, he asks Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”  This guy was hearing Jesus along the way and so he asks, “So you’re telling us, Jesus, that our number one ranked team isn’t a sure thing?  Jesus, you are saying that all the popular teachings about getting into heaven might not be right?”

And Jesus has a way of answering that shocks people back then and still shocks us now.  He kind of goes against the grain a little bit.  He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Jesus tells the man that he’s right.  He says the number one ranked team isn’t invincible. He says that popular ideas that go around aren’t true just because so many believe it.  If you know there is a heaven and you want to be there, it doesn’t mean you’ll make it in.  Because many try to enter and will not be able to.   A lot of people think they have it right.  But thinking you have it right, doesn’t always mean you have it right.  All you have to do is ask American volleyball fans about that one.

For the Jews around Jesus time, they thought they had it right.  They thought they were shoo-ins to heaven because they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the founding patriarchs of the Jewish nation).  They thought they were God’s people just because they were born into the right family.  They thought that memorizing and following their Torah and man-made traditions was the right way.  But Jesus tells them they have it all wrong.  He says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made it into God’s kingdom, the prophets of the Old Testament made it into heaven not because of who they were related to or what laws they learned but because they believed in God’s promised Savior and trusted his forgiveness through faith.  For the most part the Jews that surrounded Jesus rejected God’s promised Savior and were trying to gain entrance with their family genealogy or their good life.  Jesus says there’s a problem with that; it’s not the door into heaven.  It won’t work.  That’s kind of like thinking that having your name on a church directory database means that you’re in heaven’s directory – as if just showing up in a certain book or church building or throwing some loose change in an offering plate is all that it takes to enter God’s eternal home.  That’s like saying you get into the Olympic 100m final because you once ran a school record 100m in high school.  Sorry, that’s just not going to cut it.  The doorway is a lot smaller than that.

Jesus does such a great job of telling us the truth when everybody else is focused on popular beliefs.  He rejects all of ways that are not God’s way.  Another one of these popular ideas that we hear all the time and maybe even we get caught thinking it sometimes, that there are many paths that lead to heaven.  It’s this common misconception that says all religions have some truth to them. Let’s celebrate the similarities instead of sweating the small stuff.  All these different religions are finding ways to worship the same God.  We’ve heard it before, we’ve maybe hoped that it’s true for some family members and friends. It feels like it should be true.  I mean, the number one ranked team should win the gold.  But it doesn’t always happen that way.  Popular beliefs should be true because so many believe it, right? However, Jesus doesn’t want us to get caught following the crowd the wrong way.  There are so many walking the wide, easy road that leads to this great big inviting and deadly door.

Jesus once said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” For our inclusive and accepting world, that is a very exclusive and limited message.   And it has to be this one way.  Imagine the confusing uproar if everyone got a gold medal at the Olympics. Imagine how this subjective and selfish culture would react if everyone could have their own way.  Imagine if there were all these paths to heaven.  There would be no order.  There would be no purpose.  No one would think about God.  No would care about heaven.

But people do wonder and speculate about God.  How many different religions are there?  Too many to count! (4200 if you ask Google!) The fact that people do still think about it and talk about it, means people are looking for the right answer.   If millions of people know there is a god and a heaven and if so many think they will be there, then that next question is pretty important: “Why?  Why will you be in heaven?”  That’s where popular beliefs fail so many.  I’ve heard so many people answer, “I’m not sure.  I hope I will.  I’ve been good enough.  I think that should count.  I’m not as bad as some, I guess.”

I want you to think about this:  If your neighbor told you this week that they want to compete in the next Olympics in Tokyo, you might ask them, “Well, how are you going to get there?  What event?  How will you train?”   If their answer is “I’m not sure.  I hope it will work out,”  you might want to encourage them that the “how” is really important.

It’s not just about knowing God.  Many of the people in Jesus’ day were not too worried about the “how.”  They thought knowing about God would be good enough.  Here’s what Jesus says, “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Those would be people who were following the popular beliefs that all you have to do is know about God and be good enough.  That’s like thinking the number one ranked team or athlete always wins.  It seems to make sense, but it just isn’t true.  The “how” of getting into heaven is not about knowing God.

Sinners can’t get into heaven because of their knowledge.  That’s the difference between Biblical Christianity and those other 4199 religions.  All those other religions and so many church-going people think religion is about knowing God and making peace with him.  But before that, sinners need their sins to be paid for, there needs to be forgiveness.  First, Jesus needs to know you.  Did you catch that in the story Jesus tells?  All those people said, “Jesus, we know you. We saw you in the streets.  We shared some laughs.  We ate and drank with you.”  But Jesus says, “No, that’s not it.  The point is I don’t know you.”

I heard this great way to illustrate Jesus point and I’m going to change it just a little bit.  I know the Brewers.  I watched them as a kid.  I collected their baseball cards.  I went to their games.  I worked as a Miller Park usher for 11 years.  I know their Minor League teams.  I know the stats.  I know the ownership and management and coaches.  I know the Brewers.  Do you think that will help me get free tickets whenever I want?  Do you think my knowledge will get me the President of Baseball Operations job?  No, not at all.  But what if the Brewers knew me?  What if Mark Attanasio (the owner) and David Stearns (the general manager) and all the players knew me?  What if one of them would call me up and say, “A position just opened and we think you would be perfect”?  That would be different, wouldn’t it?

Salvation is not about knowing about the owner, it’s about the owner knowing you.  Salvation is not about you knowing that God is out there and heaven exits, salvation is about the God of heaven and earth putting his name on you forever.  Salvation is Jesus knowing you so completely that he could pay for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Salvation is God coming down to you in Word and sacrament.  This message of Jesus is so exclusive when it says Jesus is the narrow door.  But Jesus narrows it down for us into one way through one narrow door because he knows the one solution to all of our sins. He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He knows the way because he is the only way. He has the truth for us because he is the truth. And has life for us because he is the life.

It may be narrow, it may be exclusive, but this message is the most inclusive message in the whole world, because Jesus came for every person that has ever lived.  When you watch the Olympics and think of all the people, the 7.4 billion in the world, Jesus came for every last one of them.  He came to be their door to heaven by shedding his blood on the cross.  There is no one excluded from God’s grace and from his saving plan. There is no one left out.  God wants all people to be saved.

But it’s only through Jesus.  Only Jesus could fight off the devil perfectly.  Only Jesus could give his life in place of ours.  Only Jesus could destroy the power of death and hell.  Only Jesus can clothe you with his righteousness in Baptism.  Only Jesus can feed you his forgiveness in the supper.  No other prophet, no crazy-eyed cult leader, no motivational speaker, no Buddha or Vishnu, no piece of technology can do that.  But the Son of God does.  And that’s why he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one goes to heaven except through him.  No amount of prayers or good works could take away my sin.  No amount of gifts or service could get rid of my guilt.  No amount of gold medals could give me spiritual peace forever.  But the Son of God did… by dying for my sins, rising from death, and opening the narrow door to heaven for me.  He says it’s not about me, but it’s about him.

And that’s why you can be so absolutely sure that this very exclusive message is for everybody.  Jesus has made a promise about it.  Did you hear about it? People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Jesus paid for that spot so that people from all over could come, not for some games that conclude after a couple weeks but for an eternal banquet at God’s table. And he did that because he knows you and loves you.

There’s a lot of glory that goes along with winning a gold medal.  Most will never experience that kind of glory.  But there is something better.  Popular beliefs won’t get you there.  But Jesus’ narrow door does.  He gets you to the glory God forever.

And now this God, who has put you on the narrow path and is walking you through the narrow door, is calling you.  He narrows it down for you to make it simple and yet so powerful. He calls you to take this message out to people who are lost on a wide and easy road heading in the wrong direction.  He gives you the message to point them to this one open door that leads to the feast of heaven.

Amen.

We Didn’t Start the Fire.

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49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

 

 

I love the Olympics.  I’ve said that before.  I’ll say it every 2 years.  Winter Games, Summer Games it doesn’t matter.  I remember as a kid wearing a helmet and putting a cardboard box over a sled to make it feel like bobsled.  I did all sorts of sports with family and friends trying to be just like an Olympian. Even though I’m older now, I still love watching the different competitions where athletes at the top of their discipline from all over the world duke it out for gold, silver, or bronze.

But there’s something wrong with the Olympic Games.  The drama of the competition will always be fantastic, but these games can never deliver the things so many are looking for.  The Olympics want to be a testament to humanity.  The Olympics are supposed to bring us together and show us how great we can all be when we work together and compete in this beautiful, thrilling way.  The Olympics try to replace ill will and create optimism that our world is a good place filled with talented people from every tribe, language, and people.

It doesn’t work.  For starters, there’s the whole losing thing.  That doesn’t help a nation.  Sure, it’s great just to be a part of this global event, but I don’t know if losing has ever brought goodwill even if it is something seemingly minute like badminton, diving or handball.  An athlete or team feels the sting of defeat and so too the hopes of a nation fall. I mean, I’m kind of bummed out when I watch an American lose.  And what about the countless stories we hear about someone coming back for redemption, to finally bring home the medal they failed to earn?  That fire is burning all over these games.

Then, there are the scandals.  This swimmer is doping.  That outcome is questionable.  This nation is plagued with war.  That nation is steeped in corruption.  And the city of Rio itself proves that the less-fortunate are often ignored.  That kind of fire rages on spreading around the world. And so the Olympics prove to be helpless in bringing the peace they preach.

We’ve seen it happen before.  And really we don’t need the Olympics to notice.  These sports just put it on center stage for the whole world to see.  While peace and unity are missing out, the fire rages on.  Our proud spirit of humanity is powerless to put it out.  This world cannot extinguish the spreading divisiveness and engulfing selfishness.

But that’s why Jesus came, right?  He is the Prince of Peace.  Wherever Jesus makes his presence known, peace rains down its soothing tranquility, right? Wherever he is proclaimed that is where the fire is extinguished, right?  If the Olympics cannot provide peace and unity, then the calm and compassion Savior of the nations can.  If only we can get his good news on the podium, then peace will prevail. That’s the Jesus that so many are looking for.  That’s the Jesus that will get this world back on track.

But that’s not the Jesus that shows up in this Warning series.  Instead, the Jesus that is speaking today isn’t getting rid of the fire; he’s not bringing peace.  That’s where Billy Joel comes into the discussion.  The title of one of his number one hits from 1989 is WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE.  That title fits the situation we’re talking about today perfectly.  Listen to what Jesus says to those who are looking for him to settle disputes and unify the world, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.  Jesus pierces the Olympic heart of unity.  Jesus dashes the beauty-pageant dreams of world peace.

Now, Jesus is not saying he wants quarrels, hatred, rage, and selfish pride to engulf the world.  That would be a misinterpretation.  The angels were not mistaken at Christmas when they announced “peace on earth.”  But Jesus is the Prince of Peace only by his standard, not the world’s.  It goes against all of Scripture to say Jesus brought sin into the world.  But because of him and his message, some people will be enraged.  The thing is Jesus didn’t come here to be the agent for social reform.  He came to be the eternal Savior.  Where stubborn hearts remain transfixed with making this world a utopia, there the gospel of Jesus will blow it up.  Where people are promoting religious unity by compromising on some of God’s Word or simply ignoring some parts of it, there Jesus’ truth will divide.  Where selfish hearts want to remain in sin, there Jesus will kindle a fire.  Where people are held up as the ones who can make a difference, there Jesus will ignite a blaze.  Where people fiercely cling to the proud dreams of our own goodness and the arrogant determination to pursue self-chosen ways, there no peace exists with God. Human nature loves to unite for the common good, but nothing good can come from pursuing a peace that originates from us.  We are tainted.  We are unable to bring such peace and unity.  To everyone who thinks we can make this world a better place, to everyone who wants to work so hard for unity here and now, and to everyone who promotes a religious potpourri Jesus warns that his message is a consuming fire.

And so this fire is not talking about sin.  It’s not describing sufferings.  Instead this is the judgment that Jesus brings to those who are against him, who ignore him, or who don’t like some of the things his Word has to say.  His judgment will spread like wildfire on them.

This fire that Jesus brings will not only be out there in our world or in here between visible churches, but also within our families as well! “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

That brings up a good discussion point.  What’s more important to you, peace in your family or peace with Jesus?  It doesn’t always come to that, but sometimes it can and does.  Are you ready to stand on the solid foundation of Jesus or does your family mean more to you.  Today, Jesus’ answer is strikingly clear: you need peace with him more than you need a great relationship with your kids or your parents.

So here’s a couple take-aways from Jesus’ warning to you, parents: You don’t need to be your kid’s friend.  Your job is not to make your kids happy every day, all day.  I was in the Walmart checkout line this week and overheard a girl tell her mom, “Give me some money.  Mom, I want money to go play those games.”  And I noticed that the mother gave her some money.  Your job as a parent is not to provide the things your kids are begging for.  Your God-given responsibility is to raise your children as God’s children.  That means you will say no.  That means you will not try to be friends.  You’ll be a consistent, humble, and loving parent.  That means you will discipline your children the way God describes it in Hebrews 12 (the Second Reading this week).  You will be parents who love your kids the way the Lord loves you.  And when you fail, repentance and forgiveness will fill you up to start again.

There are a couple take ways for all of us who have parents.  As children we can respect and honor our parents as the representatives God has chosen for us.  We can learn from the Christ-like example we see and hear from our parents.  Kids, we can see God-fearing discipline is a valuable tool to train us in the way of the Lord.  How could a child ever hate a parent who loves to them enough to correct, rebuke, and encourage the way God wants them to?

But as Jesus warns us today, it won’t always be peaceful.  When the topic of Jesus, the Bible, or faith comes up a house may be torn apart.  A father or mother may not be diligent in the kind of discipline that Jesus teaches.  Not every parent makes it clear from their words and actions how much Christ matters. (We’re talking about eternity here; nothing is as important as that.)  A son or daughter might not always appreciate the discipline they receive.  Not every child stays on the path that Christian parents have taught and modeled. Not every parent or child cares about sin and repentance.  The lures and pleasures or this world take hold.  The priorities change.  And that sin takes a toll on the family in much the same way a fire ruins fields and homes.

Sometimes the division will happen because one parent tries, with words and actions, to enact a Christ-like home, while the other one doesn’t.  One parent listens to Jesus and sticks to the pure teachings of God’s Word and the other one has itching ears that are listening to the ways of this world. What do you think will happen to children who see two different examples?  The house will be divided.

And all of this happens in a family because of Jesus.  We didn’t start the fire.  For all those who listen to Jesus in faith his fire is purifying, getting rid of all the impurities. But for all those who do not appreciate Jesus and his Word his fire is consuming, engulfing their whole lives.

Do you like these warnings?  Is this the kind of thing we want to hear from our Savior?  Can this warning really be a good thing for us?  To a lot of people, this kind of Jesus is unacceptable.  To a lot of people Jesus needs to be all about peace, love, and harmony.  Anything divisive is undesirable.  The world wants a peace-making, unity-creating Jesus.

Well, Jesus wants something to be crystal clear today: his love for this world does not create world peace.  His love for this world saves people from this world.  Anyone who is interested in world peace is going to feel the heat of Jesus’ fire.  See, Jesus came to overcome the world so that we would have a new, eternal home.  Jesus is the only way, and the only place we can have true and lasting peace is with him.

So, I gotta ask: are we ready to endure this fiery division that Jesus brings?  Even when it gets personal?  Even when it shows itself not just on our TV screens but in our homes or even our hearts?  What in the world would convince us to that Jesus is worth it?  What would make us love a Savior who wants to kindle this fire?

Because we know what he endured for us.  Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”  Jesus uses the term “baptism” to describe the sufferings that would pour over and wrap around him. He was going to face the fiery judgment of God in our place.  The innocent one would take the guilty verdict so that we could have peace with God.  And so Jesus went to the cross.  He felt the flames. He finished the work of forgiveness, life, and salvation so that our utopia would be eternal and not a couple weeks every 2 years.

This life of faith that is filled with fires and divisions is totally worth it because we don’t have to go through the baptism of suffering Jesus endured.  Instead our baptism is the purifying waters that wash away our sins and daily drown out the sinful nature’s power.  We live with faith in Jesus because we know he is not the enemy of real peace for us, or our family, or church family, or the world.  He is the enemy of every truce our human hearts want to sign with sin.  He is the enemy of the every evil alliance the devil forges disguising it as world peace.

You know, until Jesus comes back the fire might get hot as it burns to purge our hearts from everything that hinders our peace with him and one another.  That’s a good thing.  We don’t have to run away from it.  We don’t have fear the flames.  Our joy is not here. Our peace is not seeing all these nations get along during the Olympics.  Our unity is not from this world.  It’s from Jesus.  It’s his love and forgiveness.  It’s his life, death, and resurrection.  There is even more good news when Jesus says he’s brings a fire and division. When Jesus spoke about this fire it was an expression of his love that refuses to trade true eternal pace for temporary outward smiles and ceasefires.  His fire does no damage to repentant, believing hearts. Instead, his fire yields lasting peace in paradise.

I think it’s clear that Jesus is not encouraging you to get into fights with people over the Bible, but rather that you aren’t afraid to speak the truth in love.  It’s ok if people hate you because you believe in Jesus.  No, you aren’t a terrible parent when you stand on the foundation of God’s Word.  You are not doing anything wrong as a son or daughter when you try to tell your parents or in-laws how much your Father in heaven has done for you. You’re not a bad citizen when you emphasize sin and grace more than political leanings and laws.

When flames erupt in those situations, we didn’t start the fire.  Jesus did… for our unending unity, for our heavenly family, and for our eternal peace.

Amen.

A PROMISE TO BELIEVE IN

Following Jesus series

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
“Jump!  I’ll catch you.  I promise.”  I can make that promise to my kids,  Issy and Lute, and they believe me because I can keep that promise.  They can jump off a couch, table, counter, or bed and I will catch them.  But if I make that promise 10 years, or even 5 years from now, I’m not so sure.  And full disclosure, I have dropped them before, but little kids are tough.

Four years ago we heard this: “London is my last Olympics. I promise.  This is my last ever gold medal,” said Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest swimmer ever. Well, then he hit a rough patch in 2014.  He was arrested for a second DUI.  He checked into rehab. He reconnected with his estranged father.  He met a woman.  He got back into the pool.  And now, in Rio, the guy who promised he was retired is swimming for Olympic gold again.  And let’s not get started on the most recent inductee to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, Brett Favre. Somehow he ended up playing for the Jets and some other team.

Promises are easy to make, but some are harder to keep than others. I can promise my children to catch them, and with almost perfect regularity I can keep that promise.  And so, my kids still trust me now, but in the future, I’m not so sure.  An athlete can promise that they are retiring, but then sometimes they realize that the skill and the competitive drive hasn’t dried up yet.  And because we have seen this saga play out so often, it makes it harder to believe retiring athletes.

But what about a bigger promise?  This Following Jesus series has been teaching and reminding us what Jesus encourages and empowers his followers to do.  And so on this final Sunday, it’s time to talk about promises, like the promises we should make and keep.  “I promise to be a follower of Jesus.  And as I follow him I promise to support the ministry, I promise to love my neighbors as I love myself, I promise to listen to God first and foremost, I promise to pray boldly and persistently, I promise to have the proper priorities in life always looking forward to the eternal paradise and not trying to make this world paradise.”  These are promises that we have been talking about and these are the promises that followers of Jesus make.

And d’you know what? These are promises every follower of Jesus breaks. There are the Sundays where sleep, sports, or social activities are more important.  Broken promise.  There are wallets and check books that stay at home because “it’s been a tough month.” Broken promise. There are days when the Bible stays closed.  Sometimes days become weeks and weeks become months.  Broken promise.  There are days we are not humble, not loving, and not selfless.  Broken promise. Broken promise. Broken promise.  There are days when I am afraid and worried.  Broken promise. There are days when we trust the Lord a whole lot less than we need to.  Broken promise.

Does this happen because you get older and when you get older you can’t always keep a promise to your growing children?  Does this happen because we didn’t realize what we were promising at the time?  Do we break these promises because we weren’t sincere enough at the time we made them?  Do we break these promises because God isn’t holding up his end of the deal?  Nope!  It happens because of who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We are the type who can’t always protect our children.  We get too old or weak or the kids grow and get bigger and smarter.  We are the type who don’t always know the right time and the wrong time.  We are the ones who try the best we can, but our best is not good enough.  Sometimes we might not have the right skills, sometimes we might accidentally make a mistake,  or sometimes we might just lie to try and cover up our own inadequacies.   But no matter what it is one thing is certain:  we leave a boat-load of broken promises in our wake. It’s who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We want to be there for our families and friends.  We want to be trustworthy and honorable.  But we can’t make that happen.  Instead, we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble, trouble that is not just going to irritate those we care about around us, but trouble that is also unacceptable to God.

So then, how can people like us ever keep our promise to follow Jesus? I think Hebrews 11 helps us figure that out.  Hebrews is a book written to Jewish people, or Hebrews.  They knew about the Old Testament.  They knew about all God’s civil, ceremonial, and moral laws.  They knew all about the history of Israel and everything God did for them.  But they also were Christians, who believed in Jesus.  They were trusting in Jesus even though there was hatred against Christians going on in the world.  But the strong temptation was to avoid all the persecutions against Christians by reverting back into old Jewish habits.  They were being pulled back to their laws and traditions rather than the gospel of Jesus. The temptation was to break their promises.  So God put the spotlight on some powerful examples in Hebrews 11 from the Old Testament, from Jewish history, to help these Jewish Christians persevere. Abraham was the top notch example that we hear about.  Well, and his wife, Sarah, and their son,  Isaac, and his son, Jacob.  These were the who’s who of Jewish history.  And they never gave up on the Lord.

You know, that the book of Hebrews was also written for us, too.  We might not be Jewish, but we are experiencing what it is like to live in a world that is more and more open about being anti-Bible, anti-Christian, and anti-church.  So, these examples can really help us to understand how we can keep following Jesus.

How could those Old Testament patriarchs do it? How could they continue to follow the Lord even when it was tough?  What made them so good?  How could they have such great faith that never wilted?  How could Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob continue to follow the Lord like they did? Was it because they had some special gift that we do not?  Was it because they didn’t have as many distractions as we do?  Was it because God was speaking directly to them in visions, dreams and through angels?  No, none of that!

Here’s a clue: they considered him faithful who had made the promise.  God is the one that made a promise…first.  And that’s what matters most. God knew what was wrong with Abraham and Sarah and their son and grandsons.  God knew that people could not be trusted to follow him perfectly.  We can try as hard as we can but we break promises.  So what does God do?  He doesn’t make us promise to be good and follow as best we can.  He doesn’t make us blaze our own path.  Instead, he makes a promise to us. God promises that he doesn’t hold our broken promises against us.  He loves us too much to do that. God promises that he is not going to send us to hell.  God promises, “I will take care of you.  I will watch over you.  I will bring you to my city, where I am the architecht and the builder.”  I love that description.  For anyone doing a building project, this is a great find, that the designer, the blue-print drawer, and the builder, the constrctor, the finisher is the same guy.  God says, “I promise that I will take care of it all for you.”

And that’s a promise that God keeps.  He patiently continued the line of the Savior from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from David and Solomon, and all the way through Israel’s tumultuous, promise-breaking history until the time had fully come.  Then, God kept the promise to come here so that our Savior would sit and stand and walk in your place and mine. God’s promise made sure that every one of our sins would be covered by the blood of Jesus.  God’s promise was proved true when the Savior came out of the tomb on Easter alive.  And God’s promise found you through his Word, at the baptismal font, and at the altar.

You see, what matters is the one who is making the promise.  If it’s me, Michael Phelps, Brett Favre, a president, or anyone else then it doesn’t have the same effect.  But when it’s God, then you know he can keep it.  Because everything he has ever said is true.  God keeps his promises.  He gave Abraham a place to call his own.  He gave Abraham and Sarah a son even though they were too old.  He made them into a huge nation.  And most importantly, he gave Abraham a home not made of tents, but designed and built on the promises of God with a permanent foundation.  That was a huge deal for men who lived in tents.  You see, the tent is not permanent.  The tent is not home.  The tent means you don’t have a country of your own.  But Abraham lived his life with the promises of God.  And so he lived his life trusting that his home was still coming.  He lived longing for that home and trusting that God would keep his promise to make heaven his own country, his permanent home.

We can trust God, just like Abraham and Sarah.  We can trust God just like Isaac and Jacob.  Not because they were so good at keeping their promises, but because God was so perfect at keeping his promises.  Yes, even to people like us, who break our promises.  He kept all those promises in the Old Testament and that led to a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb.  You see, with God there are no broken promises.

The good thing about trusting a God like that, is you never have to worry.  Faith in a God like is not uncertain.  Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Sure, you might not see Jesus right now.  Sure you might not know what heaven looks like.  Sure, life can be hard and there are so many uncertainties. But when God makes you a promise it’s sure and certain.

And the interesting thing is this faith makes us strangers in this world kind of like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  Do you ever notice that?  Do you ever notice how odd you are? As we follow Jesus, we give our time and our energy and our money to thank someone who is not here.  Because God never breaks his promises, because our faith in Jesus will certainly lead us to heaven, we can spend time genuinely caring for other people not wondering if it’s worth it or not.  It is worth it because God promises that it’s worth it to love others. That’s the way he loves us. And that looks weird to people in this world sometimes.  And you look odd when you spend time reading a book.  Everyone else is consumed with technology and screens, but you read a book because God gave it to you and because his words and his promises are not just inspiring lives, his Word is life for us, spiritual and eternal life.  And you are strange because you spend time talking to someone who you’ve never seen, who doesn’t live here on earth.  And you’ll look like a foreigner when you aren’t consumed by a relentless pursuit of more stuff, because you know this is just a tent.  The home that has a permanent foundation, the paradise city is coming.  You’ll be the stranger.  You’ll be the odd one.  People might make fun of you.  They might question your faith.  Some might even be ashamed to know you.

But there’s one person who won’t be.  For followers of Jesus, who have faith in him and who live in his promises, God is not ashamed to be called your God, for he has prepared a city for you.  How’s that for a promise?  God says he is not ashamed of you.  You might wonder why in the world you do some of the things you do.  You might question yourselves.  You might feel shame.  But God never will.  He takes your shame away.  He forgives you.  He is proud to be the God who loves you and saves you.  And he promises that there is a place for you with him.  It’s a place that he designed and built to last for eternity.  It’s a place that Jesus paid for with his life, death, and resurrection.  It’s a place that is yours through faith.  God says, “I promise.”

Amen.