PEACE BE WITH YOU

Eater 2019

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe x that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

The disciples are locked up together that first Easter evening, minus Thomas who was MIA.  We probably can’t even begin to grasp the circumstances they find themselves in while they just stand there in a stupor.  God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of heaven and earth, the Lord Almighty, their teacher and friend is dead, but maybe not anymore.  What about the women?  What about Peter’s story of seeing Jesus?  What about God’s kingdom?  What about all of Jesus’ followers? What about…?  There is so much distracting them.

I know what that’s like, don’t you? My youngest, Jet, spiked a fever and vomited all over me twice, and then later that evening pretended it never happened, returning back to his normal antics and smiley self. That was Easter Sunday in the later afternoon. The rest of this past week was kind of a blur, busy with visits and counseling.  I also had to prepare this service, the sermon, and the congregational meeting after church today.  As the worship coordinator for our Dakota-Montana district with our annual spring pastors’ conference in Rapid City this week, I have had to plan and put together a worship service, five devotions, and a report for all the pastors.  I also should be practicing guitar more for a couple of the songs we are singing.

Now, I’m not bringing up this stuff because the sermon is a good time to report these kinds of things.  I’m not at all complaining about any of these things. I bring them up because as a sinful human being sometimes the busier you are the more distracted you become.  All those kinds of things I described can easily start to take the focus off of where it should be: on the Savior, Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and hell on Easter.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been distracted from him in various ways, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are afraid and worried.  What is life supposed to be like without Jesus? What are the religious leaders planning for them, if they found a way to get rid of Jesus?  Why would the soldiers and guards treat them any different than Jesus?    They thought they had more time. There is so much fear and worry.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  You have no idea what the future holds.  You have no  idea what the doctor is going to say.  You have no idea what’s going to happen at work.  You have no idea what’s in store for you kids.  You have no idea what retirement will bring.  You have no idea how to get the finances figured out.  You have no idea about much at all.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been afraid and worried, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are burdened with guilt and shame.  The last memory most of them have is running away from Jesus, exactly what he had warned them about.  Peter remembers his demonstrative denials.  John remembers seeing him hang there, dying.  All they can think about is their sin and how it’s all inexcusable.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  I have gone running the wrong direction into sin before, even though God makes it quite clear not to. I have had my lackluster, lazy moments.  I have been greedy.  I have been selfish.  I have been unwilling to listen and help.  I have done all of the evil.  I have no excuses.  And I have heard Satan’s taunts, “God could never love a sinner like you.”

To his disciples and to all of us who have been burdened by our guilt and crushed by our shame, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are together in a locked room, but they have never been more alone, wayward, and lost.  Literally, Thomas is off on his own.  He can’t even be with his brothers.  Maybe he thinks he’s tough enough.  Maybe alone time is his coping mechanism.  Maybe he is giving up.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  “I don’t need the encouragement of others.  I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems.  I don’t think anyone should know what I’m doing. I don’t want to hear that what I’m doing might not be good for me spiritually. I don’t need them; they just drag me down all the time.  I don’t need worship or Bible study, I can read the Bible on my own, if I could remember where it is.”  The “I’s” just keep coming, and you are more alone than ever.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been lost and alone, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Thomas hears the most amazing news that you could ever give someone: CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN, INDEED! But Thomas is not rejoicing until his conditions are met first.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  Have you ever made a list of demands that Jesus has to meet so that you will follow him, trust him, and worship him more?  You turn him into the snack machine where you punch in some good works here, some prayers there, some time for serving here, some offerings there, and you expect God to dispense everything according to each and every one of your conditions.  Somehow we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can make Jesus into whatever fits our mold.

To his disciple Thomas and to all of us who have selfishly made conditions and demands of God, Jesus comes back again and says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are distracted, “Why are you letting those distractions take control of your life?  Stop looking at so much of that other earthly stuff.  You better get with the program. Pay attention.”

There’s none of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are afraid and worried, “Why are you so scared?  What could possible cause you to hide?  Stop worrying so much about your life.  Don’t you know that I have got everything under control?  Stop trying to figure everything out and trust me.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are guilty and ashamed, “What have you done?  How could you?  Don’t you know what I have said about that?  Or have you been too busy to care about what I say?  I think you should sit and think about what you’ve done.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are alone and wandering, “Where have you been?  Do you really think you can achieve what you want on your own?  What, you go through a little strife and a little hurt, and you just take off?  Is that really what you think will help the situation?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are attaching all sorts of clauses and conditions on God, “What is this, a contract negotiation?  You’ve got this long list of demands and if any of these things don’t go your way, you are going to walk to the next church or the next religion.  Is that how this works?  I am the one who has to change my will so that you can feel better about life?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Do you know why Jesus showed up for his disciples that first Easter evening and again a week later to include Thomas?

CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

It is his life, his death, his resurrection that conquers our sin, conquers death, and conquers hell.  It is his victory that won peace not for him, not for angels, but for us.  And so the Savior, who went to hell and back for us, wants us to have peace, not distraction and stress, not fear and worries, not guilt and shame, not selfish wandering, not unrealistic conditions for an easy life.  Jesus wants us to have peace, eternally with him in heaven.

A pep talk wouldn’t do that for us.  A chart of chores to organize everything for us wouldn’t make it work.  A long list of dos and don’ts could not accomplish peace.  Those things would only give us more unrest, more uncertainty, more fear, more guilt, more attempted bargains with God, more arrogance and pride or depression depending on how you look at yourself.  They would only lead us to eternal punishment in hell, not peace with God.   The only way for us to have eternal peace was for him to purchase it perfectly and completely and then provide it freely.  The only way for us to have peace, was for Jesus to just show up as the victorious, risen-from-the-dead Savior and give it.

And that’s exactly what he does.  For the cowering cowards looked in a room, he shows up and the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”  For the condition-attaching doubter, he shows up and again the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”

And there’s one more thing.  For people who need forgiveness, the removal of sin and guilt, the assurance  of God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, the certainty that peace from God is ours based on what Jesus has done, Jesus shows up alive and these are the words from his mouth: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus takes these men and removes their distractions, their fears, their guilt, their loneliness, their list of demands.  He takes all that away with his victory over death.  And then, he replaces it with peace.  And because the peace of a risen Savior is not meant to help one or ten or eleven, but because it is for the entire world, Jesus gives them the power of the Spirit, the call to go, and the authority to forgive.

Jesus would not do this any of this – he wouldn’t give peace, he wouldn’t bestow the Spirit, he wouldn’t send them out, he wouldn’t give them authority to forgive – if the work he was sent to do were not already completely finished.  There would be no way that the disciples could proclaim forgiveness of sins, if Jesus had not accomplished it for us.

If I sent you out this afternoon to cure people of cancer, could you do it? No.  That’s nonsense.  But let’s say someone smarter than us had found a cure, had put that cure in a pill, had packaged it in bottles, and then gave one of those bottles to you.  Now, I say to you, “I want you to visit every cancer patient you know and every hospital in the area and I want you to cure people of cancer.”  Could you do it?  Of course you could!  And I think you’d probably do it earnestly and joyfully.  The fact that you were giving it out was proof that someone had accomplished the cure.

Jesus gave his disciples peace, because he accomplished it. Jesus gave the cure for sin to his disciples because he had accomplished it.  And Jesus gives us the very same things to us.  In doing so it proves that Jesus did it all, everything is accomplished for us.  Everything he gave the disciples; he gives to us. We have peace with God. We have forgiveness.  We have the Spirit.  We have God’s authority.

This is all proof where we stand with God.  He doesn’t let your distractions deter him.  He does not let your fears and worry stop him.  He does not allow your guilt and shame to change what he does for you.  He does not leave you alone and wandering.  He does not permit your conditions to prevent him from being your God and Savior.  Instead, the risen Savior gives you everything he has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There’s one thing he wants you to know: Peace be with you.  Amen.

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HIS LIFE, OUR VICTORY

Eater 2019

Selected portions of 1 Samuel 17

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. (This is around 9 ½ feet.)
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as his father, Jesse, had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

 

No one wanted this fight.  It was unwinnable.

That was the feeling that permeated the Israelite camp there in Sokoh.  Who could honestly stand up to this Philistine champion standing over nine and a half feet tall?  His armor weighed in at 125 pounds, not a pack and his supplies, but just his coat of armor.  The iron tip of this giant’s spear was 15 pounds.  Imagine being pierced by that.  Well, all of those Israelite soldiers were imagining it, and they didn’t want any part of Goliath.

So they just sat there, listening to his relentless taunts that came every morning and every night for forty days.  “Choose a man and have him come down to me.  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us…I defy the armies of Israel!  Give me a man and let’s fight each other.” Hope was nowhere to be found…

What are the Goliaths in your life?  What are those giant problems that stress you out and taunt you every day and night?  What are those things that remove the smile from your face and hope from your heart?  We all have them.  Is it your career that takes all your attention so you can barely enjoy anything else?  Is it a relationship – trying to stay patient with disobedient children, trying to listen to and encourage friends, trying to avoid a bully at all costs, trying to keep a struggling marriage going when it would be a lot easier to give up?  These kinds of relationships can take all your energy, so you have nothing left to give.  Is it an illness that won’t let up?  We know these kinds of things aren’t easy.  And the fact that you cannot avoid these types of things in this world only adds more pressure.

No one in the Israelite army wanted to face Goliath…until a young shepherd was sent by his father to check on his older brothers.  You can tell from his supply list that David wasn’t supposed to fight. He had some grain, ten loaves of bread, and some cheese.  But when David heard those taunts, he couldn’t help himself.  “Who does this Philistine think he is?  I don’t care if he’s 50 feet tall, he can’t talk about us and our God that way. Let no one lose heart…[I] will go and fight him!” 

Was this youthful tenacity or arrogance?  Was this inexperienced stupidity?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I mean, David did have some skill in combat, you could say.  This shepherd had taken on and taken out a lion and a bear to protect his sheep.  That’s pretty impressive.  But every once in a while you hear a story of someone doing that, like the runner in Colorado who killed a mountain line with his bare hands.

Sometimes doesn’t that same thought come into your mind?  “I can do this.  I’ve done it before when the circumstances didn’t look great.  I have done some pretty impressive things, too.  Maybe these Goliaths don’t have to be so giant and so scary.  Maybe I can figure out a solution and handle this problem myself.”

That was not the thought of David’s older brothers, who got pretty irritated that little bro was running his mouth in the camp.  The soldiers didn’t really care what he did as long as they didn’t have to go.  When Saul, the king/commander of the Israelite army, heard about David, he wasn’t that impressed either. “You are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

There’s a reason we call certain matchups in sports a David verses Goliath.  All the stats and all the logic make it quite clear that there’s only one outcome to expect.  But as we all know, sometimes a great team has a bad game and a marginal team has a great game to cause a huge upset.

But that’s in sports.  This was real. This was a trained, giant, killing machine, champion verses a shepherd.  This was one on one with life and death on the line.  And David was going to have to face him.  It wasn’t going to work to shout back to Goliath, “Well, oh yeah, we have a shepherd over here who has killed a lion and a bear with his own two hands.  How about that?”  That wasn’t going to do that job.  The rules were laid out.  One man represents the Philistines and one man represents the Israelites.  Winner takes all.

So, David went out to meet him, one on one with the fate of the whole nation resting on his shoulders. It wasn’t because he had that youthful arrogance or that inexperienced stupidity.  David went out to meet him not because of the combat skills that he picked up from protecting his sheep.  David went out to meet Goliath because…well, I’ll let him tell you, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

David went out to meet Goliath with a sling and a stone knowing full well that the battle is the Lord’s. David, the shepherd went out and defeated Goliath, the trained, giant, killing machine champion because the Lord doesn’t lose.  Goliath did have one thing right.  With David’s triumph the whole Israelite army, which had been a bunch of scared losers, got to enjoy it.  One man’s work meant victory for them all.

Our fiercest enemy was calling us out and taunting us, too.  Losing a career is irritating, losing a relationship that you once cherished is more than saddening, losing days being laid up with an illness is frustrating.  Those things are troubling.  And they happen because we live in a sinful world and we have sinful lives that are not and will never be perfect.  But you can deal with them as hard as they are. That’s why none of those things are the real Goliath in your life. What the army of Israel saw in Goliath was certain death.  Anybody who went out to meet him wasn’t going to last. And whether you know it, whether you want to admit it or not, we all have that Goliath ominously and oppressively starring us down.

Sin makes this a world where nothing lasts forever.  Sin makes us people who have been separated from God and have to face death.  Sin makes us live just like the army of Israel.  We are dismayed and terrified.  We hear death calling out to us with its defiant sneer: “Bring me anyone and I will show you what happens in this fight.”

David could fight Goliath for Israel, but he couldn’t fight death for all the world.  But do you remember what he said?  The battle is the Lord’s.  The Lord God loves you so much that he came here for you.  See David had this one descendant who came to earth, born of a woman, to fight for us.  He could take on this Goliath for us because he came from heaven to do this one thing.

But he couldn’t just call out his credentials to his opponent.  “Oh yeah, well I come from eternity.  I am the Alpha and the Omega.  I am the Light that shines in the darkness.  I am the one who made everything.  I am the all-powerful.”  He had to face off with his enemy, and when the enemy, when the trained, giant, killing machine champion is death, then in order to face this enemy head on Jesus had to die.

Death and hell are the punishments for sin and so Jesus faced off with death for you.  He suffered hell for you.  He put his perfect life on the line for a world full of sinners.  He paid the price for your sins and mine.  And so the laid Jesus in a tomb.  What else do you do with someone who is dead?

It seemed like death had won the inevitable victory.  But just like Goliath didn’t know who he was dealing with, death didn’t know what hit it.  The morning when the women went out to the tomb, they were a lot like the army of Israel.  They were dismayed and terrified.  Hope was nowhere to be found… But the women forgot what David had said all those years ago: “The battle is the Lord’s.”  They forgot what Jesus had said, that he “must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raise again.” The battle was over.  Jesus had done it.  And that’s what the angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The empty tomb showed them and us:

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

One man went to battle for all of us and when the Lord is in the battle, he doesn’t lose.  It may have looked like a David verses Goliath matchup, but remember what the Lord did there in Sokoh?  With a little sling and a stone, the giant fell dead.  And the whole Israelite nation got to enjoy the victory over the Philistines. They were not dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory meant peace.  It meant joy.  It meant safety.

Jesus didn’t look like he had much.  He was rejected and taunted.  He was bloodied and brutalized.  He was crucified.  He died.  It didn’t seem like he had the right stuff for battle, not even a little bit.  But he faced all of that for you.  Sin, death, and hell didn’t stand a chance against God’s Son, our Savior.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! And his life now means our victory.

What does that victory mean for you?  It means you still might have problems, you still might have sickness, you still might have some relationships that don’t work out.  But those things are not Goliath, and they don’t need to overcome you.  Death was the undefeated champion in this world because of sin, claiming victory after victory for generations.  But then Jesus came and changed all that.  His victory means our sins are paid for.  His victory means death has been defeated.  His victory means heaven is open.  His victory means you do not need to be dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory means peace with God.  It means joy.  It means safety in God’s arms forever.

That is what little Beckett was given this morning through baptism.  Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s what he does for us.  God makes a promise that the power of his Word connected to something simple like normal water gives people Jesus’ victory.  The Bible says, “Baptism…saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  See, that’s Jesus’ power.  That’s his victory.

My friends, there is new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s a life where sin no longer convicts us;  it’s a life where Satan no longer controls us;  it’s a life where death no longer contains us.  His life is our victory. CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! Alleluia. Amen.

 

IT TAKES A FATHER’S LOVE

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… being judgmental

SERMON: Luke 15

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable…

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

 

Have you met my good friend, Bob?  He’s so judgmental.  This is probably not the kind of characterization you want in life, and yet it’s a label that Christians get all the time.  And from what I can tell, there are many situations where that accusation is unwarranted and false, but at the same time there are also many situations where that accusation against us is right on the money. So, it’s probably a good topic for us to discuss.

God’s Word for today gives us a great opportunity to do just that from “The Lost Chapter.”  No, this isn’t some section of the Bible that was found later on or under odd circumstances.  We can be confident that won’t ever happen, because God has given us everything we need in his Word and his promise is that it will never pass away.  It’s “The Lost Chapter” because Jesus tells three parables right in a row about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  Today, we’re looking at the last parable of this prodigal, lost son.

First, a little background as to why Jesus told these parables.  It’s in those first couple verses of Luke 15. Jesus’ ministry was always watched by a critical eye.  For three years the religious leaders watched and selfishly muttered as Jesus was kind and compassionate to fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes and sometimes even foreigners.  They thought if Jesus really was sent by God then he would be partial to the learned men and the strict religious elite, you know, the good ones.

But in Romans 2, God says he does not show favoritism, that he’s not judgmental. Jesus’ work is for all equally, and so he paid attention to the everyone, even those who society considers ‘sinners’.  That doesn’t mean he neglected those who are full of themselves, confident that they are better than others, thinking they are closer to God, because that is also a very clear indicator that a person is a ‘sinner’ in their own self-righteous arrogance.  Jesus’ parable beautifully addresses everyone equally, because I hope you notice that it’s not just the son who went away who was lost.  The son who stayed home was also lost. So, let’s take a look at these two sons.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

This son thinks life with the father is dull and boring.  He sees all the excitement and fun that could be his, if he just got out from the father’s restrictions.  His sinful heart listens to the cry of a society that says, “This life can give you so much more.  Go ahead!  Don’t just look through the windows of your father’s house.  Get out here and join the fun!  Because only out here can your really live life to the full.”

Do you see how that is being judgmental?  You are saying that you get to be the one who decides what is best for you.  You are setting yourself over what your Father in heaven says.  It’s judgmental to look at life with God as if it is missing something, as if God is holding out on you.  It’s judgement to think that the desires of your heart or the call of this world would be better for you than the love and the protection of our heavenly Father.

There’s another bad example of being judgmental in the other son. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”

This son thinks he has been a good boy. He hasn’t looked at life in the father’s house as dull or restrictive. He hasn’t been enticed into all the fun and excitement the world offers.  In fact, he’s been working hard, or slaving away as he says, for his father.  How could it be even close to see who is better and more deserving of the father’s love?

It’s pretty obvious to see the self-righteous, judgmental heart, isn’t it?  You are saying that you have decided what is good and what is not.  You are setting yourself over others.  You are putting confidence in works and looks. It’s judgmental to think for Father in heaven plays favorites like that.  It’s judgmental to look at your life, your obedience, your opinions as the standard rather than the perfect standard God sets for us.  It’s judgmental to be angry when others, who you think are worse, get treatment or privileges that you want or expect.

So both sons have the same problem.  One might seem worse than the other, but both are looking in the wrong spot for what is right.  One is looking out there (society/world) and one is looking in here (heart/head).  Neither is looking to the father.  One is serving his desire for fun and pleasure and one is serving his desire for recognition and reward.  Neither is serving his father.  One is lost far away from the father and one is lost in what looks like a closer position to the father.  Neither is found to be with the father.

That’s what being judgmental does to us.  It either makes you wander into a far-off place or it builds up a wall to God’s grace.  Do you see it in your life?  I sure hope you do, because it’s there.  In this sinful heart it’s there looking for pleasures and excitement that seem to be missing from God’s house.  In this sinful heart it’s there blinding me to the perfect standard God has set and instead setting a new standard that I have set where I should get more blessings and accolades from God than those ‘sinners,’ who should be punished because they are not reaching the standards I have set.  In this sinful heart it’s lurking the same way it was for those two sons.

If you are trying to get rid of this judgmental heart, one thing that will not work is work.  The son who wandered from his father and squandered everything from his father with pleasurable evils thought he could go back and work his way into his father’s grace.  “I am not longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  The son who stayed and worked tirelessly thought his work had earned him more from his father. “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”

My work does not get rid of sin.  Your work does not get rid of sin.  Our work does not remove the heart that seeks worldly pleasures or selfish recognition. Our work turns us from the younger son into the older son and back again.

But there’s someone else’s work going here, isn’t there?  Do you notice what the younger son says when the worldly pleasures do not satisfy him, he spends everything, and the deep need sets in? How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”  See, that’s not being judgmental.  Calling sin what the Father calls it is called truth.  Humility and honesty before God and others is called repentance.  Trusting your heavenly Father to do what is best for you, trusting him to deliver you, and trusting him to provide for you is called faith.

Do you notice what happens before this son can even knock on the door and beg for a job? “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” See, this isn’t being judgmental.  God’s love that looks and searches when everyone else says it’s not worth it is called unconditional.  God’s love that does not seek to punish but restore is called mercy.  God’s love that seeks to rebuild what he did not break is called grace.

Do you notice what happens to the pouting older son when he sees the younger brother getting what he thinks should be his? “So his father went out and pleaded with him… ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’”  See, also here there is no judgment.  God still goes to the proud and self-righteous and begs.  God still goes to the arrogant and shows the bounty of his grace and blessings.  God still goes to the judgmental and shows how his standard is different and better.

Both of these sons wander in different ways, and the father doesn’t play favorites.  He doesn’t view one as worse and the other as better.  He sees how both have their problems, both don’t measure up to the right standard.  Still, his love remains for both.  He desires both to be restored.

That’s the kind of God you have, brothers and sisters.

While sinners like you and me wander off to the desires of the world again and again, God’s kindness does not waver.  He watches and waits patiently, lovingly, graciously.  While sinners like you and me stick our self-righteous noses in the air again and again, God’s kindness does not run out.  He comes to us in Word and sacrament, begging for us to see what he has provided.

And what is that exactly?  God’s kindness and love provided a promise to save us from his judgment.  God’s kindness and love provided a Savior to fulfill all God’s promises.  God’s kindness and love provided forgiveness for our wandering and peace to replace our pride.  God’s kindness and love provided a home for us before we ever asked for it or realized we needed it. God’s kindness and love did all the work to get rid of our judgmental hearts.  Jesus was punished like the lost and wayward should be.  He was punished like the self-righteous and arrogant should be.  Jesus gave us the place in God’s home, not because we were all out of options, not because we are so good at repenting, not because we meet his perfect standards, but because God’s kindness and love finishes what he started.

To stop being judgmental, to give all that up, Jesus doesn’t point us to either of these sons in the parable, does he?  He shows us it takes a father’s love.  He shows us what the father is willing to do for his children.  That is the Father you have, brothers and sisters, one who showed you what love and kindness is and wants nothing more than you to enjoy it forever in his heavenly home.

When you are trying to be kind and compassionate, when you are trying to be humble and honest, when you are trying not to focus on your own standards and opinions, remember that your heavenly Father did all the work for you.  Remember that changing our lives does not cause God to love us, but rather his love causes us to change.  God grant it.  Amen.