FEELING LIKE FOREIGNERS NOW, BUT NOT FOREVER

Week 9 – 8.6.17

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1 Peter 2:11-25

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

You are a foreigner and exile.  You look different.  Talk different. Think different.  Act different.  Sure, you celebrate the 4th of July and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every kind of ballgame, but you are living as an alien in this land.  Do you know how I know that?  Here’s what God says: you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

See, brothers and sisters, when Jesus called us to faith, he gave us a new life that encompasses all of life, not just certain days or select portions of days.  You aren’t just a child of God on Sunday morning or at home, but he made you his child all of the time.  That’s what we want to review todays and we listen to what Peter has to say about Christian life in society.

In order to talk about our life in society, we first need to address the way we view humanity as a whole. To do that, we need only go to the well-known passage, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son…” Jesus lived a holy life for all. Jesus shed his lifeblood for all. He did not die for some more than for others. The umbrella of his redeeming work did not leave some out in the rain.

Jesus gave his life for all humans because God made mankind in his image, perfect and in holy harmony with God.  He intended that to continue for eternity. So when mankind ruined that harmony, God sent his Son to restore that harmony for all humans. If Jesus gave his life for all, that means that God has imposed the same value on all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, language, ability, age, or any other qualifier. That value, that price tag is this: worth the expenditure of the precious blood of his own Son.

You have never encountered anyone – I don’t care how much they rub you the wrong way or how curmudgeonly they conduct themselves – you have never encountered anyone worth less than you. You have never encountered anyone for whom Jesus did not shed his blood, anyone whom God does not love with an all-surpassing love.

So if God loves everyone, what should be our attitude toward everyone? We should love them too. The most basic command when considering God’s will for our life in society is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving them does not mean we have to feel good about them; it means that we regard them as people for whom Christ died and that we always seek to do what is best for them, regardless of how we feel about them. Help and befriend them in their bodily needs. Help them improve and protect their property and means of income. Defend them, speak well of them, and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way. Set a good example for them in the way you act and speak. Honor, serve, and obey them if they are in authority over you.

Also remember that your goal in doing all these things isn’t just to make the world a better place, or even just to make Christ happy. Peter told us what our goal is: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Your goal is to win souls for heaven. People can and do argue with doctrine and slander organized religion, but it is extremely difficult to argue with love. It is extremely difficult for someone to say to you, “Your religion is worthless,” when you consistently treat them in a fundamentally different way than most, treating them in a way that reflects the value and worth God has given them as souls for whom Christ shed his blood. Little else so attracts people, especially skeptics, to the Christian Church and the gospel of Christ like Christian love does. That’s why God made you a foreigner, living with this selflessness and loving servant heart

Secondly, in order to talk about our life in society, we need to realize what holds sway in society, what makes it go, so to speak. Here we need to talk about the doctrine of the two kingdoms of God. First, there is the  kingdom of the word.  That’s the kingdom that cares primarily for souls, the kingdom of the Church.  And there’s the kingdom of the sword.  That’s the kingdom that cares primarily for bodies, the kingdom of the State. In the Church, the gospel holds sway, but in the State or civil government, the law holds sway, because society is also made up of unbelievers and people who care nothing for God. Thus, if there is to be any good accomplished in society, society needs to be forced and compelled to do it by reward on the one hand and threat of punishment on the other.

The godless employee does his job well not because he cares about others, but because he gets money if he does it well, and fired if he doesn’t. The godless politician supports beneficial legislation because the voters are watching. Rape, robbery, and murder are restrained because people don’t want to get fined, imprisoned, or the death penalty. Some have been swayed from divorce because of the legal and financial ramifications.

Here we should note, before going on, that this is precisely why your Christian love in society has such a huge impact. In a world where most are doing the right thing because they have to, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter Christians doing the right thing because they want to. In a world where mechanics are fixing your car because they want to feed their family and not get sued, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a Christian who fixes cars because he is genuinely concerned about your possessions and your transportation ability. In a world where employers give their employees fair pay and benefits because it’s mandated by law, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a Christian employer who gives his employees fair pay and benefits, perhaps even more than what is mandated, because he is generous and genuinely cares about their lives and their families outside of work.

Nevertheless, civil government with its law-based system is a valid institution of God. Here’s our God-given attitude toward civil government: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  It’s makes us look like foreigners to be willing subjects of the government no matter who is ruling, but it’s a good thing.

One application of this, that I need to remember just as much as anyone else, is the way we speak about our president and other elected officials. We often equate conservatism with Christianity. While there are certainly elements of conservatism that are Christian, the two need to be distinguished. Conservatism is a political ideology; Christianity is a religion. Fox News is conservative, but when they disrespectfully rail against our elected officials, that is not Christian. If we have a problem with our elected officials, there are better, godly ways to address those problems than simply railing against them over a cup of coffee. We can call them. We can write to them. And ultimately, we can go to the voting booth or run for office ourselves.

While we’re on the topic of voting, let me say a brief word about that.  We just heard that God has established every government. Ours happens to be a government by the people. To vote, then, is to uphold the government that God has established in our country. So voting is a good thing, but remember that every vote is always going to be a choice for sinful human beings.  Elected leaders can never change the real problem that plagues this world.  They will do their best to keep peace and prosperity, to help our nation on earth. So do your research and use your conscience.

When you are researching the candidates, it is good to look for those who will, as much as possible, uphold God’s moral standards. We heard last week that marriage should be honored by all. We heard in the First Lesson that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Our first concern should not be, “How will this candidate’s ideology affect my wallet?” Our first concern should be, “How will this candidate’s ideology uphold the standards of God’s law and benefit the country at large?”

After doing all of this, pray that God would bless your vote and the outcome for his purposes. And then remember that Jesus still reigns on the throne of heaven, no matter who gets elected.  His kingdom operates with the power of his Word and that shall be our chief endeavor.   That makes us look like foreigners and that’s a good thing, a godly thing, a heavenly thing.

We should also say something about serving in the military here. Since we do uphold the civil government and its rule by law, that means that we also uphold its God-given right to have an army, to wage war, and to execute criminals. Peter said the authorities punish those who do wrong, and when the soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he did not say, “Leave the army.” Not all killing is hateful murder. If God has given authority to kill within a legitimate government and you are working for that government in the armed forces, then you may kill within your sphere of responsibility to the glory of God.  War is a part of a sinful world, not God’s design, so governments will have to make those tough decisions and God has given them the job of making those decisions.  As Christians, we honor those decisions. We need to give our Christian soldiers the benefit of the doubt. Even if we ourselves do not think a war is just, we have the benefit of looking in from the outside. Once a soldier is enrolled in the armed forces, he does not have that benefit to the same extent. Once he is enrolled, it is his job to trust his superiors and follow their orders, because if he does not, he is putting the lives of his fellow soldiers at risk.

The last thing we need to say about God’s other kingdom, the civil government, is what Peter says in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” If the government explicitly mandates something that is contrary to God’s will as clearly expressed in his Word, then we not only may, but also should disobey it. That doesn’t mean we riot and rebel. It means we simply disobey. If we know it will mean consequences, we have two choices – humbly accept the consequences or move to a different country.

In closing, thank God that we not only live in the kingdom of the law, like all people do, but that we also live in the kingdom of the gospel. Thank God that he has given us the motivation through Christ to want to do what others must be forced to do. Thank God that we have the good news of life eternal beyond this earthly life of sweat, tears, and death. Thank God that he has placed us in a kingdom of the law that, up to the present, has protected our right to promote the kingdom of the gospel and preach the full and free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. Thank God that he has equipped us not just with the ability to make our society better, but also to save the souls within that society by telling them of our ultimate king, Jesus, who gave his life for you and for me and for the whole world.

A Christian life in this society makes you look like a foreigner now, but not forever.

To God be the Glory.   Amen.

 

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THE TRIUNE GOD BLESSES US

Week 1 – 6.11.17

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2 Corinthians 13:11-14

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

There is this idea that goes around in our subjective world that I get to decide what I like about God and you get to decide what you like about him.  And if those two things are different, that’s OK.  We don’t have to get so dogmatic about it.  We can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe.  What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.  After all, God just wants us to believe.

People say lots of things like that.  And do you know what?  They are wrong, completely wrong.  All those different views that come from people in this very subjective, self-oriented world, can’t work together.  Differing views don’t work to describe the divine God.  It’s impossible for the perfect God to put up with partial truths and platitudes.  You either have the real God or you don’t.

And so today is a good day for God to remind us who he is.  The reason this festival of the church takes place at this time of year is that we are in a new season, the Pentecost season.  It’s the portion of the Church Year where God’s people grow in the teachings of Christ through his words.  To shift the focus, we are starting our new series, Lutheran Legacy.  Just what exactly does it mean to be a Lutheran?  We are starting today with God, the one true God.

That’s a good place to start, but it is also most confusing because he tells us that he is triune, three persons in one God.  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods; there is just one God.  I’m not good at math, so this is perfect for me: 1+1+1=1.  It’s bad math, but perfect theology.  This is the God Lutherans confess, because this is the only God there is.

This is confusing, and I like it that way.  What kind of God would he be if I could easily grasp him?  I don’t want a God to be like me.  My son? Sure, in some ways, I want him to be a chip off the old block.  My God?  I need him to be bigger and better than me.  And I don’t need him to be just bigger and better than me.  I need him to be bigger and better than every person, ever.  And so, I’m glad my God reveals himself as three persons in one God, Triune.  I don’t understand it.  I can’t.  But here’s some good news: you don’t have to understand it to believe it.

You probably are familiar with this without even realizing it.  The internet…do you understand how it works?  I remember a time when there was no such thing as internet or Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Siri, no smartphones.  I have no clue how the internet came about or how it works.  But I believe it.  I use the internet every day.  I don’t understand how it works, but I trust it and use it.  Just one other example.  I saw a clip this past week from America’s Got Talent of a woman who plays guitar and sings even though she is deaf.  I have no clue how that works, but I believe it.

That’s the same thing as the Holy Trinity.  You may be surrounded by a holy, eternal Triune God that you cannot grasp or understand, and that’s ok.  We can believe in things that are too profound and complicated for us to grasp.  We do it all the time.  This Triune God, the God of the Bible, told us exactly what he is like.  He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The problem is not with him and how great and mind-blowing he is.  The problem is me.

I was struck by that fact as I read this closing encouragement from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians.  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. 

Do you know why Paul wrote these encouragements?  It seems obvious that this is exactly how Christians would live, but we don’t.  I was struck by the fact that I don’t always rejoice in all circumstances.  This week was pretty busy.  I had the privilege to preach the gospel of God’s peace and comfort for the funeral of Maurine Striegel on Friday.  I had the privilege of seeing what water can do when it is connected to the life-giving Word of God in Baptism as I baptized Hadley on Saturday.  Those are reasons to rejoice.  But I was not rejoicing about needing to get my whole basement ready for the painting that we are doing this weekend.  I was not rejoicing about trying to keep my garden alive because we haven’t had rain in too long.  I was not rejoicing that I had office work and other preparations that kept me from enjoying the warmer days outside with my kids.

Paul says, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”  Those things should be easy for children of God, but they aren’t.  We strive for self-restoration instead of working with others.  We gossip about one another, ignore one another, or covet what others have instead of encouraging one another.  You each have your own way of thinking about life, relationships, priorities, and our ministries, so being of one mind with another person, even another Christian, can be a tall task.

And finally, Paul says, “live in peace.”  This is a common principle in Scripture, because peace is so hard for us to keep.  How do you live in peace when there is chaos almost constantly?  It comes from all angles.  There’s another terrorist attack.  There’s another political upheaval.  There’s another comment from a coworker.  There’s another bully at school.  Live at peace with people?  Yeah, right!!  How’s that possible in this day and age.

Do you notice who has the problem?  If I can’t grasp the Triune God it’s not his fault, it’s mine.  I’m the one who isn’t smart enough.  I’m the one who isn’t peaceful enough.  I’m the one who isn’t selfless enough, loving enough, strong enough, positive enough… I’m the one who isn’t perfect enough.

And so this Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this holy, eternal God that is far too great for me to understand, he decided he would bless me.  He decided he wouldn’t curse me.  He decided he wouldn’t demand more works of service to make up for what’s wrong in my life. He wouldn’t punish me for my ineptitude.  He would bless me.  That’s how the God who defies the human mind deals with me.  He doesn’t use conventional wisdom because he is far too great for that.  He uses divine grace, divine love, and divine fellowship.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Paul concludes his letter with this familiar blessing, and it couldn’t be more powerful for us.  It shows us the way the Holy Trinity deals with sinners.

First, it’s the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace is the only word for it.  We didn’t work for it.  We didn’t luck into it.  We weren’t born into it.  We didn’t earn it.  We are weak, selfish, sinful, dirty and dying.  We are so sinful and opposed to God by nature.  Like a beached whale, we swim ourselves into places that kill us.  But God’s grace can’t stand to see us in harm’s way.  Grace gets to work to help people who don’t deserve it.  In fact, grace is so good that Jesus took on our weaknesses, our selfishness, our sins, our dirty and dying lives.  He put it all on his shoulders and died for it because he knew we would die separated from God for eternity if he didn’t.

That’s a blessing!

Second, we have the love of God (the Father).  Generally speaking, other religions have a god that loves people who first show love to him.  That’s a very human trait.  Our Father in heaven is the opposite of that.  He loves first.  Without prompting, he makes a world and people to fill it.  When those people blew it and ruined it with sin, he put a plan into action that would cost him so that he could restore our broken relationship with him.  He carried it out to perfection, by his grace, and gives it to us free of charge.  When we are not even able to make comprehensible sentences, his love takes something like water and drowns our sinful nature in baptism.  As we grow he feeds us with his life-giving Word and with the forgiveness of Christ’s body and blood.  He loves us like only a perfect Father could. He gives us everything he has, everything he is, and everything that Christ has provided for our salvation.  He even promises that nothing can change his loving mind.  He will always want you.  He will always be willing to have you.  Nothing can separate you from your Father’s love that is in Christ Jesus.

That’s a blessing!

Third, we have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Sin and Satan have done a number on this world and in our hearts, always trying to destroy the unity that our Triune God has established with his redeemed people.  Peace is hard to come by.  And so the Holy Spirit blows with the power of Pentecost (remember that from last week?).  He breaks down walls, not with a humanistic universalism and not with a message of: “we can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe.  What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.”  He breaks down walls with the law and gospel, with the power of Scripture, with a message that could never originate in the hearts and minds of man, but only in the heart of the Triune God.  There is unity and fellowship by the power of the Spirit.  It is built on the Word of God and nothing more.

That is a blessing!

This three-fold blessing is what changes life for us.  It makes us live in a new way.  We live with the name of the Triune God on us.  We live with the things Paul encourages: peace, single-mindedness, encouragement, restoration.  We live in the glory of the God we can’t understand but firmly believe.

That’s being Lutheran.  That’s the legacy we hold to.  Over the next couple months we are going to study this legacy, and do you know what you are going to find?  We don’t have our own interpretation of the Bible.  We don’t have our own rules.  We don’t have Luther’s interpretation.  We don’t have Luther’s rules.  We have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And that is with you all.  Amen.

WHAT IS LIFE LIKE IN THE EASTER VICTORY PARADE?

5.21.17 Easter 6A

Easter Season A

1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

 

The victory parade of Jesus defeating death still continues.  Whatever happened to you this week or last, whatever health trouble, work trouble, relationship trouble, financial trouble, or emotional trouble you have been dealing with does not diminish the truth of the gospel, that good news that says Jesus saves you.  No matter what has been ailing you spiritually, physically, or emotionally, you have a God who loves you to the point where he would let himself be arrested, tortured, and murdered so that you would not have to face the punishment for your sins.  And this God conquered death so that you get to talk about heaven as your very real, very certain, very perfect, very eternal home.  That is God’s love for you.

Let that sink in… God loves me to death, literally to hell, and then back again.  You know, that really works for me. I like that a lot.  Nothing can separate God’s love from me.  With my sin, I put unnecessary and unhelpful distance between God and myself.  I might ignore him at times.  I do things I shouldn’t, but God will still love me and want me to live with him forever.  He will still work through his Word to call me, to shatter my stony heart, to waken me from slumber, to turn my darkness to light.  He will still be the God who died for me and rose again.

Do you know what that’s called?  When someone does not base their love for me on my performance but loves me simply because they want to, that’s called grace.  And with God’s grace there’s no fine print.  There’s no obligations.  There is nothing that can change that kind of love called grace, because it’s not about me and who I am and what I do, it’s about God and who he is and what he does.

Like I said, that works for me.  God has a personal knowledge of me.  He has a personal way of dealing with me.  I’m not just a name on a long list.  I’m not just a number.  As Luther put it, “God has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts.  Sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”   That’s a good thing for me to cherish when I feel weary and burdened.  That’s a good thing for me to hold onto when I feel alone.

But sometimes I’m selfish and I take it too far.  You do, too. I like that God knows me and loves me, but I can put too much attention on me.  I like that God is on my side, and in this self-obsessed, ego-infatuated, me-myself-and-I world, I put the focus on this relationship between God and me, failing to enjoy the fact that God has this kind of relationship with others, too.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s a key word at the end.  Yes, I have a personal relationship with my Savior.  He brought me to faith and I now stand with him and will live with him forever.  But it’s not just me and him.  That pronoun is a first person pronoun, but’s it’s plural.  It’s “us!” That means Jesus loves more than me.

For the selfish heart that stubbornly says, “My faith is between me and God,” the fact is faith in Jesus connects us into a family.  Did you catch that in this letter John wrote.   John says “brothers and sisters” and “dear children.”  God’s grace called us by the gospel of Jesus Christ into his family.  That means there are others.  And these others are not foreign or strange.  They are family.  They were bought with the same blood of Christ.  They were baptized into the name of the same Triune God.  They were called, enlightened, and sanctified by the same Spirit.  They are built on the same solid foundation of God’s truth.  These fellow believers enjoy the same message of law and gospel.  They have the same eternal home waiting for them.  That lasts a lot longer than the family relationships we have on earth.

How does this family operate?  Is it a smile and a nod once in a while at church?  Is that how family works?  Is it nice words?  Some small talk with coffee and doughnuts?  A congratulations at a baptism?  A birthday greeting on facebook?  That just doesn’t sound like the way a family works, does it?

John says, “we should love one another.”  What exactly is the definition of love John is using?  Is it attraction, like a teenager trying to get a date for prom?  Is it a positive feelings for someone, like waving to your neighbors across the street?  Is it familiarity from spending a lot of time together, like a son mimicking his father?  Is that what love is?  That is not even close to the way God is using it here.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s how God loves people.  He shows his love in actions.  He shows love by doing such amazing things for people who do not deserve it.  He sacrifices himself.  That is love.  That is the love that exists in the family of God, as John continues, And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 

Love is being willing to lay aside your preferences, your opinions, your goals, your time, your energy, even your whole being for someone else.  Love is not just saying they matter more, but showing it.  And this section is not addressed to spouses – although it certainly applies – it is addressed to those within the family of God.

But families don’t always get along, do they?  They don’t always have this kind of love.  In fact, in a family it can get downright nasty.  Did you hear that example of Cain and Abel?  Cain didn’t have the right attitude toward God or toward his brother.  Maybe he thought he could keep it hidden from Abel.  But God saw it all clearly.

God still sees it clearly.  He sees when it’s not just a busy schedule that separates his people, but careless selfishness.  He sees when it’s just the lips moving and the heart is ice cold.  What is happening to God’s family, when brothers and sisters cannot love one another with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?  We are just like Cain.  We are self-obsessed.  We are ignorant and arrogant.  We are killing love.

Do you know what that is called when you kill love with hatred, with jealousy, with slander, with gossip… It’s called murder.  And if there is one thing this world loves, it’s hate.  Hatred toward people who lean politically.  Hatred toward people of different creeds.  Hatred toward different races and ethnicities.  It’s killing us.  It’s killing our world and it works its way among even God’s people.

And so into our world of hate, the love of God pierced the darkness.  It began with a promise to Cain’s parents, that hatred would not cut God off from his people, but God would put the hatred between his people and Satan (enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers).  The love of God shined brightly the night Jesus entered our world.  Angels sang of peace between God and men.  The love of God walked the earth, willing to show kindness and goodness to all, even the enemies who hated him.  The love of God allowed those enemies to kill Jesus, so that we would know what God’s love does for us.  But the love of God did not end in death.  Jesus passed from death to life.  He would not let hate ruin his kingdom.  With love, his death brought forgiveness and peace.  He would not let his people be ruled by evil and sin.  With love, Jesus destroyed sin, death, and hell.

I have a new life in Christ and so do you.  We have this life where there is peace with God and each other, a life where Christ lives in us through faith, a life where hatred does not control us, a life where I look for ways to show the love of God to my brothers and sisters the way God showed his love to me.

There is a world of people just like Cain, who cannot understand this sort of thing.  It’s foreign, nonsense. They don’t know Christ or care about him so how can they have his love in their hearts?  Instead, they serve themselves.  They hate any opposing view that does not fit their own.

Brothers and sisters, that is not us.  We are not ruled by what we hate.  We are ruled by the love of God.  We are so saturated with it, that we cannot possibly keep it in.  God’s love will never just be a me and God thing.  It will always be a God and us thing.  It will always be giving up what I want because God gave himself up for me.  I will put the needs of others first.

This love that flows from God through us will be visible.  It will be visible in this family of believers here.  It will be visible like good fruit is visible on a tree.  People will see your joy that exists not because everything in life is going smoothly, but because sins are forgiven and life in heaven is yours.  People will see your kindness, that isn’t looking for a reward but desires to help others in need.  People will see your faithfulness, that even though we live in fickle times, the risen Lord keeps us steadfast.  These brothers and sisters will see it and rejoice that God’s love can do such things.

That’s gospel ministry.  That’s the life we have in this victory parade.  Love is what defines us, God’s undying love that called us out of the darkness of hate and brought us into the light of life.  As Christ has love you, now you love one another. God grant it.  Amen.

THIRSTY?

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John 4

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

A battleground for water, does that sound familiar?  In North Dakota? Absolutely.  Today, that is exactly what God sets before us at this next stop in our Fields of Battle series.

Jesus is at a well in Samaria.  He’s tired and thirsty from traveling. Going north from Judea to Sychar is around 30 miles.  That’s not a one-day hike, and this is desert we’re talking about.  One thing you need in the desert while you’re on a journey is… water!  It makes sense that a very human and tired Jesus would stop at a well for a drink and some rest during lunch hour.

But not at this well. This well, Jacob’s well, is in the middle of Samaria.    Jews tried to avoid Samaria like the plague.  Jews do not associate with Samaritans, we’re told.  To say it plainly, Jews were racist against Samaritans.  They were half breeds, part Jew but part foreigner.  And this was unacceptable to Israelites, the pure descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They hated Samaria so much that they went around it while traveling north to Galilee.  So a man like Jesus, being from the clan of Judah, a descendant of King David, really wasn’t seen in Samaria all that often.  So this really isn’t the kind of place where Jews would be normally found.   

But that’s not what makes this a field of battle; it’s not the Jew vs. Samaritan fight.  The Savior of the world isn’t a racist. And it’s not a field of battle because Jesus runs into a woman who had such an “interesting” (immoral) past, someone who has different lifestyle choices than Jesus and different religious practices than Jesus.   No, this isn’t a field of battle for those things.  Jesus had to go through Samaria.  This is a field of battle because she’s a thirsty woman struggling unsuccessfully to quench her desire for peace.

Jesus is the one who asks for a drink, but it’s the woman who is really thirsty.  She thought her first husband was her soulmate. Maybe it wasn’t really love but passion and romance, or maybe he got abusive, maybe it was a mix and match of mistakes by both, maybe she was unfaithful.  Who knows the reason?  We know the outcome; it didn’t last.  She had that divorce on her record, and God hates divorce.  It ruins families and the fabric of society.  It draws dividing lines and makes more battles.

She thought the second man was better.  He wasn’t going to be like the first one, but maybe she rushed it.  The third one, maybe she took her time to find the kind of man her family would approve of.  It didn’t matter.  Who knows what it was for each failure?  But 5 marriages went down the drain.  And each time it made her realize just how thirsty for peace and fulfillment she was, and how it was always out of her grasp.  Sex, romance, companionship, family, those things can’t quench the heart that is thirsting for peace.

So she gave up on marriage and just started shacking up with another man.  If she couldn’t make a commitment work, then she would just do whatever she needed to get what she wanted.  But you know what? This woman was still thirsty. That’s why he had to be there in Samaria, where Jews just didn’t go.  He had this field of battle by a well, a battle of thirst, a battle of what the law does to us and what the promise does for us.

Do you know what that’s like?  Do you know what happens in the battle of the law vs. the promise?  Do you know what it’s like to make poor choices because you are thirsty for peace, thirsty for love, thirsty to fit in, thirsty for success, or thirsty for fulfillment?  Have you ever compromised on what God says because you were more interested in your own desires?  Like this woman, she had given up on marriage but she still wanted a man in her life.  Her own desires were more important than anything else.  Being thirsty can make a person do desperate things like that.

Now you haven’t gone through 5 marriages, but we sometimes make the same desperate compromises. What kinds of compromises are they?  “As long as I don’t live together with my boyfriend or girlfriend, we can do pretty much whatever we want, and no one will know.”  “I might have a foul mouth, but at least I don’t struggle with drinking or drugs.” Sometimes it gets a bit more desperate. “I’ll try anything to cover up my mistakes.  If I have to lie, I will.  If I have to drag others down, I will.  If I have to carry a heavy load of guilt, I have enough strength.”  Whatever it is, we try to find ways to quench our thirst.

But the law doesn’t allow that, does it?  The law never makes anyone – from a train wreck of a woman who had given up on marriage to people like us – the law never brings peace, fulfillment, or contentment.  The law makes our thirsty souls desperately aware of just how bad our condition is.  The law says you are just as immoral as this woman even if you haven’t sifted through men like her just by the kinds of thoughts you might have.  The law says your foul mouth makes you foul to God.  The law says you can’t hide mistakes with lies, cover ups, or ignorance.  The law says you are thirsty and the search for water is never-ending and never-satisfying.

Jesus wanted the woman to acknowledge this.  Do you see how Jesus whittles away to get to it?  First, he asks for a drink.  When she is confused that a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman, Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  He is trying to get her to see her thirsty situation.  But she doesn’t see it.  She only sees her own thoughts and desires.  Jesus says this physical water isn’t what you need.  You need living water.  She still doesn’t get it.  She thinks not having to make the trip to the well will help her.

So Jesus takes it a step farther. “Go, call your husband and come back.”  She responds trying to cover up her failures, but she doesn’t realize the stranger talking to her knows everything.  This is why he’s at the well.  As her Savior, he loves this woman and wants her to see just how thirsty she is.  And so he says something that hurts.  He lets her taste the truth.  Sometimes when you love someone, you have to hurt them to help them.  It’s like a spanking.  Or it’s like taking a teenager’s cell phone away.  You love your child so you do something that will hurt them now, knowing it helps in the long run.

But she is still trying to find answers to her questions.  All she cares about is herself.  And the law doesn’t help people who only care about themselves.  It continues to make them thirsty for more.  Now, the question isn’t about water or a well.  Now, that she thinks she is talking to a powerful prophet, she wants to ask about the right rules of worship.  “We like this mountain in Samaria where, back in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they built altars here for worship, but Jews keep saying the only place to truly worship is in the Temple.”

That’s like the person who says, “I can worship on my own.”  Or the one who says, “I like to worship God by enjoying his creation.”  Or some who say, “The only thing the church cares about is money.”  Or there’s people who say, “I like God, the Bible, and all that, but I know it’s not that popular at school or at work.  I’ll just be a Sunday Christian and God will understand.” Anyone who talks this way is trying to quench their own desires.  They are fixated on themselves and their own rules.

And that doesn’t work.  Do you know what happens to people who try to make compromises on what God says?  Do you know what happens when we try to fit in with the world?  Do you know what happens when we try to quench our thirst in our own ways?  The law crushes us.

That’s where this woman is at.  When Jesus says, worship is not about the building or the place but worship is about truth and it is done in spirit (the truth of God in his Word and the spiritual faith in God’s promises), that’s where she finally reaches that critical point.  “Someone is coming.  He’s the Messiah.  He’s the one who has answers.  He’s the one who will quench my thirst.”

That’s why Jesus was at the well that day, for a battle of the law vs. the promise.  The law leaves people thirsty and dying.  The law exposes us to the point where we have nothing to hide and nowhere to go.  The only thing we can do is throw our hands up in anguish, saying, “Someone has to figure this out!  I’m lost.  I’m thirsty. I’m dying. Someone needs to save me from this.”

Jesus says, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”  He says he’s the one for the job to fix our thirsting soul’s problem, because he has living water.  It’s not the kind of water that quenches earthly thirsts – like people who are looking for peace on earth, success in their career, contentment in their family, fulfillment in their marriage.  He does give those blessings, but those blessings flow from the living water not the other way around.

The law makes us thirsty like this woman, and Jesus has a promise that quenches our spirit.  Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  Jesus decided that he would do everything to make this water ours.  He would come here, he would make the full payment, and then he would distribute it without bias and favoritism but with love and compassion for all, even people like this woman, who live a thirsty life.  That is for whom Jesus came, the thirsty.

His promise is that his water will satisfy and sustain us not just for a lifetime but for eternity.  And he can make that promise, because his life didn’t end here on earth in a tomb.  He is the living one forever.  And so this water that he gives last just as long, for eternity.  Faith in Jesus will refresh our thirsty souls forever.

Jesus’ promise gives us this eternal faith.  And do you know where our faith is watered?  It’s not on a specific ancient mountain.  It’s not in a tabernacle, temple, or cathedral.  It’s here.  Here God has his truth for us.  Here we are in the presence of God.  That’s how we are starting each service during lent, with those words, “we have come into God’s presence.”  It’s not because of this building, it’s because God has his truth for us in his word.  With this truth, our faith is watered and will never be thirsty.  Our spirit will be with the Lord now and forever.

Jesus is here right now with us just like he was at the well.  He is quenching our thirsty souls with his living water.  Do you know what happens after Jesus tells the woman who he is?  The guy who wrote this down for us under inspiration from the Spirit happened to be there.  John was one of the disciples who had gone into Sychar to get food.  Well, he came back with the other disciples to eat with Jesus.  They saw this woman, and this is what John writes down, “leaving her water jar, the woman went back to town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Messiah?’”

Jesus’ promise got to work in her right away.  His living water quenched her thirsty soul.  And the thing is when a thirsty person gets a drink, it changes things.  They aren’t thirsty anymore.  In fact, it can make such an impact that they tell other thirsty people where to get water.  If you have ever been thirsty on a hike, people will tell you where the water is.  That’s what this woman did.  And it didn’t take her time to get a degree or go through a seminar.  It was natural.  “My thirsty soul isn’t thirsty anymore, I can tell this to other people so they won’t be thirsty like I was.”

Brothers and sisters, if you are weary and worn down by life.  If your soul is thirsting for water, Jesus has a promise for you.  He has the living water that gets rid of your thirst forever.  You might know someone who needs some of his water.  Don’t be afraid to pass it on.  It’s a lifesaver.  Just ask that woman at the field of battle by the well.  Amen.

 

Is Christianity Broken?

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Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Love is in the air.  You felt it this past Tuesday, right?  That’s the day we’re all supposed to acknowledge people we love with gifts, cards, and flowers, and the people who love you do the same.  Now, it’s not a good idea to keep this kind of thing hidden until February 14.  That’s not what love does.  When you love someone you find ways to show them that fact every day.  Love isn’t butterflies in your stomach, that’s nerves.  Love isn’t that feeling of walking on the clouds, that’s infatuation or fixation.   Love is giving your time to make a meal and clean up so that your wife doesn’t have to.  Love is taking him out to get a grill or a new hunting accessory.  It’s giving your wife some time away from the kids.  It’s letting your husband go to the game or on the fishing trip.  It’s cleaning up your room before your parents ask.  It’s being honest and helpful. It’s letting your little brother have the last scoop of ice cream.  It’s all that kind of stuff that you do for someone you care about, not really looking for something in return.  That’s what love does.

And this kind of love is not only key for a marriage and in a family, but also for Christians and a congregation.  God has so much to say about love in the Bible and most of the time it is not in the context of a marriage.  Most of the time, he is telling us how we can care about our brothers and sisters in the faith.

But today, Jesus takes it even a step farther than that. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  He says love is also for people that don’t love you back.  He says love is for your enemies. This isn’t the kind of person that annoys you at work. This is the kind of person who lies about you, trying to ruin your career.  Jesus isn’t talking about the quiet outsider but the loudmouth protester who’s trying to wreak havoc. This isn’t the talkative kid who sits behind you at school. This is the bully who keeps verbally and physically putting the hurt on you.

What do you want to do to people like that?  The natuarl human reaction is…to get even, or worse! Just look at kids.  When a brother steals his sister’s toy, she gets mad and takes it back with a little shove.  Then, the brother trips her.  Then, world war III breaks out.  To keep that natural reaction in check, God gave civil laws to his people in the days of Moses so that people wouldn’t go crazy with retaliation.  The civil government would levy just and appropriate punishments.  If someone’s eye got hurt by another person it wasn’t the death penalty.

Jesus recalls that rule. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Jesus is not saying that you can’t defend yourself from an attack to your home or family.  He’s not saying that you must be a scrawny passivist with no gumpiton.  Jesus is saying that for his people there is something much more important than your idea of personal justice.

Listen to his next example. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” The tunic was the shirt, the garment right next to your body and the cloak was the outer garment. Of the two, the cloak was more expensive and more important. In the Old Testament, God made a special point to say that if you were borrowing a cloak you had to return it by sunset so that the owner could have it for sleeping.  Jesus is saying here that if someone is suing you for “the shirt of your back,” then give them your more expensive and most important garments, too.

Is Jesus saying this is what your enemies deserve?  Not at all! Really Jesus is saying there is something more important than your personal rights and feelings.  Jesus wants our primary concern directed to others, not just the people who care about you but also those who are mean to you or who are trying to take advantage of you.

Jesus loves being really clear for us, so here’s another example: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Maybe your dad used that experession, “Go the extra mile.”  Mine did. This is where we get that from.  Here’s the background to that phrase.  In Jesus’ day, Palestine was under Roman rule. There were Roman soldiers there to keep the peace, which the Jews weren’t thrilled about.  Romans soldiers were permited by law to compel civilians to carry their baggage for one mile.  How do you think Jews felt about such a rule?  They hated it.  And you would, too.

Let’s just say we live in a country that is under the rule of another nation.  You’re driving down the expressway and a soldier of that foreign nation can stop you, put his bags in your trunk and tell you a new direction.  And you have to do it!  How would you feel about such a rule?  You’d hate it.  And you wouldn’t be so fond of the soldiers either. Even if it was legal, it doesn’t seem fair.

Jesus says, “Don’t just do what is expected, but go beyond what is asked of you. And do this for people who you don’t care for.” Why is this something that Jesus wants us to do?  Well, he says there is something more important than your idea of fairness.

What’s more important than your personal justice, what’s more important that your personal rights and feelings, what’s more important that your personal idea of fairness?  Jesus tells you.  It’s love.  Jesus says his people will sacrifice our own personal feelings, attitudes, and even our personal possessions in the name of love, because love is more important.  Demonstrating Christ-like love to another person is more important, even if that person is your worst enemy.

Is that how you live?  Is that what you teach your children, not just with your words but also with your example?  Is that what Christianity is known for?  Are we known for how much we love people?  Are we known for how much we will sacrifice for others who might even hate us?

Reading this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount made me ask a few times this week: is Christianity broken?  Because for a lot of people,  the answer is “Yes.” Christianity is not the answer but a problem.  You may know people personally that think Christianity is not doing anyone any good.  Churches are filled with hypocrites who learn about love and peace and serving others, but refuse to practice it.  Churches that preach Christ don’t follow his example.  Christianity just gives people a superiority complex and a license to do whatever they want, because God’s always going to forgive.

Is that the message you are sending? Are you failing to give up your own desires, opinions and preferences for the sake of others?  Are you too interested in your comfort zone and the way you like things to show love to people who need it?  Are we willing to love people with the kind of love Jesus is teaching us?

You know, this is a section of Scripture that can be down right offensive to us.  “Lord, I’m trying.  I come to worship.  I give offerings.  I help out for different church things.  I wear a smile on my face.  I try to be as positive as possible.  But ‘Love my enemies.’  I just can’t.  They have hurt me too much.  I don’t want to have anything to do with them.  It’s not going to work.  They’ll never change.”  If you have ever had those thoughts, then do you know what you are doing?  You are saying, “Thanks, Jesus, but no thanks.  I love what the Bible says, but not this part of it.”  And do you know what God says to people who treat his Word like that? “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city…”  If you can’t be perfect, if you can’t love your enemies like Jesus teaches here, then you don’t get to live with a perfect God in his perfect home.

Who can?  Who can do this?  Who in this world can love people, even enemies all the time?  Who can prove that Christianity is not broken?  I have to admit today, I can’t.  You can’t.  Not one person in the world can have this kind of love perfectly.  Not one person can hold up themselves or their church and say, “I’m not broken.  I’ve got it right.”

But listen to this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”   Did you hear that?  God causes the sun to rise on good and evil people.  He sends rain for his believers and unbelievers.  God says the only person who can have this perfect love for enemies is him.

So God decided to come here for people who were not on his side.  God came down to live in a place filled with evil people.  And he showed them love.  When he was rejected by so many, he did not give up.  When plans were made to get rid of him, he did not stay away.  When he was arrested, he didn’t argue.  When he was on trial he spoke the truth in love. When he was mocked, spit on, and beaten, he turned the other cheek.  When he was crucified, he prayed for them.  When our sins caused all of this to happen, Christ willingly and lovingly decided to take it all for us so that we would never face the punishment we deserve.

Christ did this for us while we were sinful and evil opponents to God.  He died for us.  The Spirit washed our sins in the blood of Christ with the water of Baptism when we were still hostile to God.  God loved you, even when you were not lovable so that you would be a child of the Father in heaven.

Is Christianity broken?  Not a chance with Christ at the center.  When Christianity starts to be about me and my feelings and my preferences, it’s doomed.  But when Christianity is about the love of Christ, when it’s about showing others the sacrifice that Christ made, when it’s about the home Christ has won for sinners, then nothing can stop it.

Brothers and sisters, you have a God who loved you and made you his very own when you weren’t on his side.  Now that he has brought you in and made you his child, what does that do to you?  It makes you live every day for him.  It makes his love show up in your life.

A really nasty coworker, protestors with different political viewpoints, bullies at school, and every other enemy there may be has a God who loves them, has a Savior who died for them, and has a Christian just like you who cares for them.  That is what God’s love has done to you.  He has made you like his Son.  He has filled you with his love that is not partial or restricted, but it’s for all.  It’s that kind of love that puts others first because Christ put us first.  Last week was about showing love to those you care about and the people who love you.  Now, Jesus gives us a different focus with our love, to those who don’t care so much for you.  And you can do it because God’s love fills you and then it works through you.

God grant it.  Amen.

 

THE IMPOSSIBLE IS POSSIBLE…THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS.

lutheran-id

Luke 18:18-27

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

 

What happens if 100% isn’t good enough?  Let’s say you have the chance to be a quarterback for just one play in the NFL.  You could try your very best, 100%, for just one play.  Now, what if a 325-pound lineman broke through and was heading, full steam, for you?  You would probably break a bone or get knocked out cold.  100% of your very best effort in the NFL would not be good enough.

Kids in elementary school can study until their math book is memorized backwards and forwards, but if that math test was college level calculus, how do you think that will go?  At work, your computer system develops a glitch and an order that was supposed to be done by the end of November now is expected by the client in two days.  No matter how much extra help you call in, an order that was supposed to take a month won’t be done in two days.   Teachers and parents, you can do everything in their power to lovingly and carefully correct poor attitudes, but kids will still misbehave.  Your 100% isn’t always enough.

Jesus brings up a pretty good example of that for us today.  You can try as hard as you want, you can explore every option, you can use all the force and energy you have, you can think up every trick, but you will never get a camel through the eye of a needle.  When my best, most efficient, most careful, most loving effort doesn’t get me where I want to be, what then?

That is kind of what the rich man was dealing with when he walked up to Jesus.  He was giving a good life 100% of his effort. He had a good reputation.  The Bible says he was a wealthy ruler of some kind, likely in the local synagogue.  But to be sure, he wanted to know if there was anything else that he was missing.  You see, he was making sure that his 100% was good enough for heaven.

Jesus is perfect at getting to the heart and core of the rich ruler’s request.  First, Jesus says that anyone who wants to have heaven must obey the commandments perfectly.  He lists a few: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, and honor your father and mother.  This pleased the rich man, because he readily admitted that he was a good, law-abiding citizen since his childhood.  This man gave no one any reason to second-guess his decisions or his lifestyle.

Each one of us here today would like to say we fit into the sandals of the rich young ruler quite well, right?  We like to think we have a pretty good reputation. Maybe you run down the list in your head. ‘My character is not questionable.  I have not killed anyone.  I have not been openly perverse.  I have not lied about my life. I have not stolen someone’s belongings.  I was always the perfect child for my parents, but I have learned and recognize them as God’s representatives.”

However, Jesus has one more thing to add.  God makes the rules and sets the standard by which the rules must be followed.  So what Jesus adds next for the rich ruler is what all of us need to hear.  You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me. 

The life of someone who wants to live in the kingdom of God forever, is not only about being good, showing kindness and care to others, and being respectful to all authorities, but it is also about how you live and for whom.  Your motivation must be pure and your attitude needs to be selfless.  So too, your life must be for others – others in your family, others at work, others who you don’t know, others who are even cruel to you, and, most importantly of all, your life needs to be dedicated to the Lord, all the time.

That is where the ruler’s good life, his 100% effort, wasn’t quite up to snuff.  This is also where my 100% isn’t good enough and neither is yours.  I don’t have the pure motivations and selfless attitude all the time.  My sinful nature is just like yours – it has made me unclean in God’s eyes.  Those thoughts aren’t always decent and caring, are they? The words coming out of your mouth don’t always give God glory, do they?  In one way or another God’s laws have been broken, if not in the grossest, public ways then privately in thoughts or intentions.  I may not struggle with the same sins as one of you and you may not struggle with the same faults as a family member or friend, but God’s law still convicts us, that even one time is enough to shatter God’s commandments to pieces.  This is what Jesus tells the rich young ruler inside of each one of us.  The life of a Christian is all or nothing.  Jesus gets to the heart of the issue and says our 100% effort isn’t good enough.

What Jesus says is pretty uncomfortable isn’t it?  He told a rich man that he couldn’t be rich anymore if he wanted to be in heaven.  Today, those same uncomfortable words apply to us.  If there is anything in the way of a fully dedicated, 100% Christian life, then you need to get rid of it.  If you are trusting that your income and savings will give you a better life, then you need to give it all away.  If you really enjoy using your HDTV, iPad, cell phone, if the TV schedule, texting with friends, checking facebook is preventing you from following Jesus all the time, then you need to get rid of them.  If traditions are becoming so important that you’ve lost sight of why you follow them and what Jesus says about them, then you need to throw them away.  If your garages are filled with boats and snow mobiles and 4-wheelers and other fun toys that you enjoy so much, to the point where on a sunny Sunday morning you would rather be on your boat or snow mobile, then you need to sell them.  When hunting takes over for these fall months to the point where parents and kids are regularly neglecting the Savior and their relationship with his Word, then Jesus says you can’t go hunting anymore.

Are you starting to see the problem?  Our best efforts aren’t even close to good enough?  Jesus says if anything is more important than him, get rid of it.  Jesus says if anyone is more important than him, that relationship must change.  Jesus says you must follow him with everything you have.  God says he must have 100%.  That means all your motivations, all your attitudes, all your interests, all your hobbies, all your character, all your love, all your respect, all the time.  In other words, Jesus is telling us today that he must have your entire life if you want to be in heaven forever.

For those standing around Jesus back then and for us right now, the question becomes, “Well then, who can be saved?”  As people heard Jesus talking to this rich man, they were really starting to wonder if it was possible for anyone to go to heaven.  Today, you and I might be taking a step back wondering, “Who can be saved?”

I have to be honest with you, this is an impossible task for us.  Every one of us needs to see just how similar to this ruler we really are.  Today, realize that even your best effort isn’t good enough.  You and I cannot earn a place in heaven and we can’t try to make up for our mistakes so God will take it easy on us. Every day you must hear Jesus say, “It is impossible for you…

…but not for me.”  Jesus started the whole conversation with the rich man by saying that God alone is good.  Only God could follow the commandments with 100% of the effort, 100% of the attitude, 100% of the motivation, and 100% of the time.  Only God could walk this earth always caring about others more than himself.  Only God could do the good things necessary for heaven.  Only God is good, Jesus says.

With people like us heaven is an impossible dream never to come true.  But God took human flesh, gave us his 100% in every way, paid the price for all our mistakes and errors, and opened heaven for us.  You do not need to walk away sad, because Jesus has saved you.  You do not need to walk away sad, because our good God has restored the broken relationship and brought you into his family through Christ Jesus.  You do not need to be nervous, because God did the impossible.

Today, that’s what we need to hear.  Living as a follower of Jesus is not a life like that rich ruler, where you’re not quite sure about your salvation because you are nervous if your 100% is good enough.  That’s why Jesus didn’t leave it up to us. Jesus accomplished eternal life fully for us. When he died, he said, “It is finished.  My work to save you is 100% complete.” And then he proved that the impossible was possible when he rose from the dead on Easter.

But how does that certainty become ours?  Do we have to sell everything and give to the poor?  Do we have to say prayers 5 times a day?  Do we need specific qualities or talents?  Well… NO!  If that were the case then heaven would be impossible for us.  See, we don’t have what it takes to believe all of this.  We are like the rich ruler; we just can’t make it all work out.  It is not possible for us to make the right choices or do the right things in order to believe in Jesus.  We weren’t able to turn on our own spiritual light bulbs. We aren’t able to crawl out of the deep pit of sin and death.

So God did the impossible.  Not only did Christ die to pay for our sins, not only did Christ go into the pit of death and destroy it when he rose, but he also gives us his robe of righteousness with the sacrament of Baptism.  God uses baptism to plant faith in your heart.  Heaven is not possible without this gift of God, so God made it possible for you with something so simple. He uses plain water connected to his all-powerful Word to change your identity.  We were born just like that rich ruler, but in baptism the Holy Spirit put saving faith in our hearts.  It’s this gift that holds on to Jesus and his forgiveness.  It’s this gift that makes our eternity in heaven secure.  It’s the gift that changes our life.

If you are a child of God, that means you live by faith alone.  You don’t need the riches to be God’s child.  You don’t need everything your heart desires to believe in Jesus.  In fact, sometimes those things need to be taken away so that our faith is not distracted or destroyed.  We live by faith alone, because faith in Jesus is all we need for eternal life.

That’s what makes faith in Jesus such a treasure, a treasure we will never give up.  God gave this eternal treasure to us by grace alone found in Scripture alone.  That’s our identity.  And it always will be, because Jesus made the impossible possible.  Amen.