The tragedy of the Jews is the tragedy of all who reject the Gospel of Christ

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Sermon for Trinity 10

+  Luke 19:41-48  +

On this day of the Church Year, the Church remembers the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and our Gospel takes us back to Jesus’ prophecy of that destruction.

As Holy Week began—the Passover week during which Jesus would be crucified—He rode into His city, into Jerusalem, on a donkey. And Jesus, knowing that the leaders of Jerusalem were seeking to kill Him and that they would accomplish it by the week’s end, viewed Jerusalem during that fateful week, not with hatred, but with deep, heart-wrenching pity. And He wept for her. If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Matthew records Him saying these words: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate.

Learn from these words the truth that is taught throughout the Bible, the sincere, genuine desire of God that Israel should not perish, but be saved, as He said through the prophet Ezekiel: Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” ’ Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

In fact, the sincere, genuine desire of God is that all people should not perish, but be saved. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Again, God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

God wants all men to be saved, but He wants to save them in only one way: through faith in His Son, whom He gave as a ransom for all. And if sinners stubbornly refuse to repent and believe in His Son, the one appointed Mediator between God and Man, then, as a result of their unbelief, God wants to bring upon them what they deserve for their sins: punishment and destruction.

Even then, He takes no pleasure in it, as Ezekiel declared. Jesus wept over the tragedy that was Jerusalem. And His apostle Paul also grieved over them, as he wrote to the Romans:  I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.

As a result of Israel’s rejection of Christ, both at the time of His crucifixion and over the next 40 years, when the Apostles would continue to preach repentance and offer forgiveness in the name of Christ, Jesus prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction, how God would allow her enemies, the Romans, the raze her to the ground.

It was God’s will, first of all, that the Jews be converted to faith in Christ Jesus and saved from sin, death, and destruction. But they resisted His Holy Spirit too often. So it was then God’s will to wipe them out and to let them serve as a terrible example for the rest of the world, for all time, of what will happen to all people, at the end of time. There is a similar punishment—even worse, really—in store for all who reject God’s Messiah and God’s Word.

But whom did God use to destroy Jerusalem? Not His Christian people, but the pagan Romans. In the New Testament, God never once tells His holy Christian people to take up arms against anyone, to bring His punishment on any race or any nation. Instead, he used the pagan Romans to carry out His sentence.

In Charlottesville last week, there was a chant by some of the Nazi’s and white nationalists: “We won’t be replaced by the Jews!” This irrational, self-superior hatred of people because of their race is not Biblical. Look at Jesus! Listen to Paul! Do you see them participating in angry protests? Rallies? Riots? Of course not. As James writes, “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

You know how people have twisted the Old Testament in this regard? There were some so-called Christian groups at one time who used Noah’s cursing of Canaan, the son of Ham, to promote bigotry and racism. You remember? First, they interpreted all the descendants of Ham (the Canaanites, the Egyptians, and supposedly also the Africans) to be under God’s perpetual curse, and second, they claimed that all the rest of mankind therefore has the God-given responsibility to oppress them. What great wickedness! What terrible interpretation of Scripture! Such groups were never part of the true, orthodox Christian Church, but always heterodox offshoots who went off believing and teaching their own imaginations and lies.

No, Jesus and His apostle show us the Christian attitude toward the Jews. As Paul went on in Romans, Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Now, there’s a second part to today’s Gospel, related to the first: the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem would, indeed, reject Jesus and would be destroyed by the Romans. But not yet. Some would still hear the Gospel and believe and be saved from that coming destruction. And if that was going to happen, then they had to be able to hear. Faith comes by hearing

But they couldn’t hear the Word of Christ, even at the very Temple where the LORD God was supposed to be sought and heard, because greedy, opportunistic salesmen had set up shop in the midst of the Temple.

Now, Jesus didn’t ever harm anyone, but neither was He the laid-back, always calm, always peaceful man some people imagine Him to be. What did He do when He arrived at the Temple during Holy Week and found greedy merchants selling their wares? He drove them out of the Temple. He overturned their tables and their chairs. St. John tells us He even made a whip. And He had a message for them: It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’

This was not a riot. This was not a protest. Jesus has nothing to do with the violent, self-righteous thugs who are chanting and screaming on any side of any issue, breaking the law, tearing down and vandalizing statues.

What was this, then? This was a Man coming into His own home, into His own Father’s house, and finding that thieves had broken in, torn apart His house, and started using His living room to commit yet more crimes. Jesus wasn’t just some Rabbi coming into the Temple. This house was dedicated to Him, to the LORD, to Jehovah God.

But notice why He drives out the money-changers! Not for His own honor, but for the sake of God’s people. It was to be a “house of prayer.” The single place on earth where God promised to be present, to be propitious toward sinful man, where He promised to hear prayer and be merciful to those who prayed, to accept sacrifices on His altar. The noise and the buying and the selling made it impossible for the Word of God to be taught and heard, made it impossible for people to concentrate on their prayers and on the meaning of the blood of the sacrifices and even on the Temple itself—all of it pointing to Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

After things quieted down, it says that He was teaching daily in the temple…all the people were very attentive to hear Him. He knew that most of the people there would reject Him in the end. But not all! Some would believe! Some would remain faithful until death! And even the rest would have a testimony from God of His love and of His offer of forgiveness and adoption through Jesus—a testimony that will later speak against them before God’s court of justice. “I came to save you, too. I gave My life for you, too. But you were not willing.”

As children of God, being remade in the image of Christ, learn from Jesus in today’s Gospel how to view the Jews who reject Jesus, and all who reject Him—with pity, not with hatred. They have been given more opportunities than they can count to be rescued from their sin and their just condemnation, but they have been unwilling. And so they are justly condemned. And God will see to their punishment in His time, in His way, and ultimately, with eternal death.

But remember, you, too, would be justly condemned, if God treated you according to your deeds. As the Psalmist writes, If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? And if you believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, you didn’t do that by your own reason or strength. You didn’t choose Him or actively “accept” Him as your Lord and Savior. His Spirit gets all the credit, while you reap all the benefit.

Most of the physical descendants of Israel will perish, by their own fault, but not all. Most of the descendants of Adam will perish, by their own fault, but not all. Even now, a remnant will be saved, by God’s grace.

With the country in turmoil yet again, with the world going crazy in another bout of mass hysteria, don’t let yourselves get dragged into it. Rejoice in being part of the remnant of grace. And just be Christians. Join Jesus in mourning over those who are perishing, who are destroying themselves, who will not see the light of Christ. But don’t get stuck in mourning-mode. There’s still work to do. There’s still a witness to offer, to your families, to your friends, to your coworkers, to your classmates. And the witness is this: Time is running out. Destruction is imminent. God is coming for a visitation, and no one is innocent, no one is safe, except in one place: hiding behind the cross of Jesus Christ. God is visiting you right now in this Gospel with grace and mercy and forgiveness, so that when He visits later, with justice and judgment, you will be found safely hidden in the hiding place God Himself has provided. Amen.

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The First Commandment and Stewardship

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Sermon for Trinity 9

1 Corinthians 10:6-13  +  Luke 16:1-9

We begin a new series of catechesis today. You see the first week’s assigned readings and memory work on the back of the service folder. It’s designed to help and support our four young catechism students, but you know very well that they aren’t the only ones who need to read the Holy Scriptures and review the Small Catechism and learn God’s Word by heart. We begin our catechetical review with the First Commandment, and it happens to fit perfectly with today’s Gospel.

The First Commandment says very simply, You shall have no other gods. And Luther’s explanation is short and sweet: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Now, what does it mean to have a god? Luther in his Large Catechism offers this helpful description: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart…Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.

Do you think the unjust steward in today’s Gospel had his heart set on his master and on his master’s business? No! He was an “unjust steward,” after all. We see in the end just how wise and how shrewd that steward could be when he put his mind to it. The problem was, he had spent his career as a steward, as a manager of his master’s wealth, not putting his mind to it, carelessly squandering his master’s wealth, like it was no big deal. He wasn’t stealing from his master’s wealth. He wasn’t bowing down to the god of money. He simply wasn’t devoted enough to his master to do his job as a steward well, with care and with calculation.

This is what we would call a sin of “omission.” He wasn’t doing anything terribly wrong. It’s what he wasn’t doing right that really got him in trouble, and again, his lack of care and calculation with his master’s wealth flowed from a lack of care and devotion toward his master in the first place.

Still, it hardly seems to compare to the sin of the Israelites in the wilderness mentioned by St. Paul in today’s Epistle, does it? Moses had given them the Ten Commandments, then went up Mt. Sinai to get the rest of the Law from God. And when he came down 40 days later, what did he find? The people had taken their wealth—their gold, especially—and melted it down and formed it into a golden calf, which they were dancing around and worshiping. They made another god for themselves out of their gold. How angry was God at their idolatry? Three thousand people were put to death that day, and many others were afflicted with plague.

But, you see, there are many ways to break the First Commandment when it comes to money and wealth. Open idolatry, like the Israelites practiced at Sinai, but also stealing, greed, discontentment, worry and false trust are sins a person can commit with regard to wealth (or a lack of wealth). But so are mismanagement, carelessness and wastefulness, which, like the other sins, stem from a lack of devotion to God, a lack of true fear of God and love for God. And all of it is punishable with death and condemnation. With so many ways to sin with regard to wealth, it’s no wonder Jesus calls it the “mammon (or wealth) of unrighteousness,” because wealth can breed so many unrighteous thoughts and words and deeds.

But the unjust steward was finally brought to his senses with the threat of unemployment looming. Still self-centered as always, still acting out of a desire for self-preservation rather than love, but at least wise enough to know the urgency of his situation, he sat down and thought and planned and calculated how he might put his master’s wealth to use in the little time he had left.

What was his plan? He would use his access to his master’s debtors to his advantage. He would show kindness to them, he would purchase their favor, basically bribing them to help him out when he became unemployed later on. It’s brilliant, really. If his master fires him, now those debtors will hate the master and love the servant. If his master changes his mind and doesn’t fire the steward, then they both look good in the eyes of the debtors.

In the end, his plan worked. Instead of being fired, the steward was praised by his master. He had finally shown some impressive shrewdness at managing wealth, which worked out to everyone’s benefit in the end.

How does Jesus apply this parable to His hearers? For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.

The sons of this world are unbelievers. The unjust steward represents them. They don’t know God, or the fear of God or the love of God. But when they are motivated by fear and a desire for self-preservation, they can be very shrewd in their use of the wealth God has placed in their hands. They know how to use money to gain friends for themselves—temporary friends, friends for this world only, but friends, nonetheless.

But the sons of light, believers in Christ and members of His kingdom, aren’t so shrewd when it comes to their use of wealth, even though we have far better motivations and far better reasons not to waste or mishandle what we’ve been given. We know that God is the owner of all things, and that we are merely managers and stewards of His possessions. We know that He is good, that He is worthy of our best effort.

But what happens? The world clamors for our attention. God becomes one priority out of many. Sure, He’s there. But so is school. So is work. So is the house, the yard, the family, the friend. Our attention is pulled in a dozen different directions. Our time is eaten up. Our money is divvied out, and…where did it all go? Whom have we helped? And how much more help could we have given to our neighbor in need, if we had stopped to think and plan and calculate?

God deserves better. He demands better. He commands all men to fear Him and love Him above all things and to worship Him alone. He refuses to be one priority among many. The First Commandment accuses us all of wastefulness and mismanagement of God’s wealth, including the wealth of the time God has given us.

But God Himself, the very one against whom we have sinned, is the perfect steward of His own possessions. God Himself, the owner of all things, planned for our salvation in eternity. He sat down and calculated, what will I do for these people who will rebel against Me and waste the things I entrust to them? I’ll send My Son to die for their sins. They can’t be saved by keeping My Law. I’ll save them instead through faith in My Son, and I’ll count their faith for righteousness, because faith will link them to Jesus and His perfect righteousness. And then God arranged all of human history to get it done, in order to get the Gospel preached, in order to have you baptized and hearing His Gospel. That’s God’s own stewardship, planning and calculating salvation through faith in Christ Jesus!

With today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals our sin to us in order to drive us again to repentance and faith in His Gospel, because by now we should see that we deserve only His wrath and punishment. Instead, Jesus calls us to take refuge in Him, to believe in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, not on the condition that we become better managers, but because we can never do enough to earn God’s favor.

Trusting in Christ alone for forgiveness, we now have Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel for a guide, for a reminder to rededicate ourselves to the work God has given us to do in His kingdom. We have a good and gracious Father who has entrusted varying amounts of wealth to each of us. Remember that as you go forth this week, and think about how to use everything that has been placed into your hands—including your wealth, including your time, including your plans—for His business: for the good of His Church and for the good of your neighbor in general. As reborn children of God, you don’t work to purchase the favor of your neighbor in order to help your own sorry self, like the unjust steward in the parable. No, God opens His own eternal home to you in His words of forgiveness, for the sake of Christ. But as you work for your neighbor’s wellbeing, both temporal and eternal, for his body and his soul, out of love for God and thankfulness for the salvation given to you by Christ Jesus, God will praise the shrewdness shown by His children, not for our own sake, but for the sake of Christ, in whom we believed. And you can be sure that the Christians who have benefited from your stewardship will welcome you with open arms into the mansions of eternal life. Amen.

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Beware of false prophets standing at the wide gate

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Sermon for Trinity 8

Romans 8:12-17  +  Matthew 7:15-23

Jesus gives all sorts of commands to His Christians, many of them right here in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7): Let your light so shine… If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out … And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off… Do not get divorced for just any reason… Do not swear… Turn the other cheek (and let your enemy slap you there)… Love your enemies…Bless those who curse you… Do not worry about your life…Seek first the kingdom of God…Do not judge, forgive, give… Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Pray! Ask, seek, knock! Do unto others…

Obeying all these commands isn’t what makes anyone a child of God and an heir of eternal life. No, these are the commands given to those who have already been made children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And as Jesus instructs His disciples, He not only shows them what the right path looks like, but warns them lest they stray from it.  Listen to the second-to-last-command Jesus gives His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount in the words just prior to our text this morning: Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

And so, as His final command in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands: Beware of false prophets. Why? Because just as the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, so there are many preachers and many prophets who stand at that wide gate, beckoning careless souls to enter there, to leave the narrow and difficult path that leads to life, the path where Jesus is. So Jesus teaches His Christians to be constantly on the lookout, knowing that many of the things people tell us, especially about Him and His kingdom, are going to be false and even dangerous.

Now, it’s easy to recognize some false prophets. They claim to come in the name of God, pretending to teach you about God, but they deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that salvation is by faith alone in Him. All modern-day Jewish Rabbi’s (all who still adhere to Judaism) and all Muslim Imams fall into that category. Beware of them! Watch out for them! They are very obviously ravenous wolves.

But make no mistake. It will require more effort to recognize other false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. In other words, they look and sound innocent. They look and sound harmless. They look and sound like Christians, sincere Christians who are teaching you about God, “in the name of Jesus,” telling you lies, which, if you believe them, can lead you astray from the narrow path that leads to life.

So it’s critical that you be critical whenever you hear anyone trying to teach you anything about God, including me.

Of course, the laziness of your sinful flesh doesn’t like to bother with that, and many Christians call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” but don’t do what the Lord says here. Because being critical requires effort. And being critical of others’ beliefs and teachings doesn’t seem very nice. It isn’t very popular. The feeble flesh that dwells in us doesn’t like to be unpopular, doesn’t like to be called a hater, after all. It’s so much easier just to listen to everyone and drink it all in, wandering from this church to that, from this preacher’s sermon to the next, from one Christian radio station or TV broadcast to another, one Christian book to another, and don’t forget the so-called Christian music out there, which also ends up trying to teach you something. It’s so much easier just to listen and assume the best about everything you hear. But that’s not the Holy Spirit of God leading you to do that. The Spirit of God leads you with these very words of Jesus to do what Jesus says. To watch out. To beware.

Now, even if you are led by the Spirit—as all the sons of God are, according to Paul’s words to the Romans—to be critical, to watch out, to beware, how do you accomplish it? How do you critique? How do you judge?

By their fruits you will know them, Jesus says.

The fruits of a prophet can include his life, how he behaves, the deeds he does. There are many men—and women—whose lives also betray, or at least eventually manifest, the rottenness on the inside.

But the real evaluation and examination of a preacher’s fruit has to do with evaluating and examining his teaching. And just as a piece of fruit might look fine on one side but turn it over and it’s full of rot on the other side, or it might look fine on the outside but cut into it and it’s moldy or crawling with worms on the inside, so it is with a preacher’s teaching. You have to examine it carefully, on all sides, to see if it’s good or bad. As St. John also wrote in his first Epistle, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Again, the laziness and the self-centeredness of the flesh steps in here and says, OK, I’ll judge the teacher’s words by what I think is right. If I agree with what he says, his teaching is good. If I disagree, then his teaching is bad. But don’t forget that you carry around a sinful flesh, which affects your understanding and your judgment, a flesh which still doesn’t like to hear the good law of God applied to your sins, and still doesn’t want to believe the good Gospel of Christ, because the Gospel says that your righteousness doesn’t count before God to earn you His favor; only the righteousness of Christ makes you pleasing in His sight, through faith. So you can’t just rely on “what you think or what you like.” You have to rely on God’s Spirit-inspired Word.

But in order to use God’s Word for the purpose of judging the words of a prophet, you obviously have to know God’s Word and know it well. And again, the lazy sinful flesh fights against that. It’s difficult to find time to read the Bible at home. It’s difficult to get up for Bible class and to treat it as a priority. It’s difficult to pay attention when you get there. But, you know what? difficult is the way which leads to life, and you need to be qualified to critique what you hear from everyone, including me, like the blessed Bereans in the book of Acts were praised for doing long ago when they heard the Apostle Paul teach.

Now, you who have been instructed in the Christian faith know the chief points of God’s Word: That the true and only God is three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—in one undivided essence. That He created all things in six days by His almighty Word. That man rebelled against God early on and plunged our entire race into sin, passing on a corrupt and sinful nature from generation to generation. That God entrusted His Word to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, proclaiming His holy Law and also foretelling and foreshadowing the great sacrifice that the Christ would make to atone for the sins of the world. That God sent His Son into human flesh so that He might be the perfect Mediator between God and Man, a perfect High Priest, so that He might bear our sins in His body and fulfill God’s holy Law in His perfect life, and then die for our sins and be raised to life for our justification. That God seated Christ Jesus at His right hand in the heavenly places, who now rules over all things for the good of His Church. That He has sent His Holy Spirit into the world to work through the Means of Grace—the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—to convict sinners of their sins and to convert them to faith in Christ Jesus, by which alone we are justified and saved. That, through these appointed Means, God the Holy Spirit will gather and preserve His Church and continue to strengthen and preserve her members in the faith, even as they bear the cross in this world. And that, at the Last Day, Jesus will return to this earth visibly, to raise the dead, to give eternal life to all His believers and to punish the wicked and unbelieving with eternal fire.

Those are the chief points, and there are many subpoints in between. All of it matters. All of it is the Word of Christ. So beware of all those who depart even a hair’s breadth from any of it!

As a church, we have been working at this for a long time, this bewaring of false prophets. It’s why we exist as a Lutheran church, because Luther finally couldn’t just sit back and do nothing when he saw the pope and his adherents leading Christians astray with their false teachings, away from the narrow path that leads to life. And for the last five hundred years we’ve continued to practice the words of Jesus. We are Lutherans because we have identified the bad fruit in all the churches around us. In particular, we are ELDoNA Lutherans because we have identified the bad fruit in the Lutheran churches around us. Admittedly, this has meant that we’ve “bewared” ourselves down to a little church in a little diocese that has practically no visible impact on the world. Well, if that’s what faithfulness to Christ’s command in Matthew 7 looks like, then we should be perfectly fine with it, shouldn’t we? Jesus never promised that there was safety in numbers, did He? On the contrary, what did He say? Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

But there the sinful flesh rears its ugly head once again, gnawing at us to be envious of the larger crowds and all the earthly advantages they seem to have—envious of the people who are either being tragically deceived by false prophets or who are intentionally refusing to obey the command of Jesus.

How foolish. We have been given God’s Word as an undeserved gift. We have been given the faithful witness of the Lutheran Confessions, which show how the doctrine we confess today has been the doctrine of the true Church ever since the time of the apostles, even as there have always been false prophets around, trying to sneak in their false teachings under the guise of sheep’s clothing. Make it a priority for yourself and your family not to be negligent with the Word of God and with prayer. Take the Scriptures and read them, study them, learn them, memorize them, and attend Bible class as well as the Divine Service. Hold onto what you have been given, with the strength that the Holy Spirit Himself will provide. Treasure it, guard it, preserve it. It is the narrow gate. It is the difficult way. But it leads to life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Jesus’ compassion for those who continue with Him

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Sermon for Trinity 7

Romans 6:19-23  +  Mark 8:1-9

Today’s Gospel of the feeding of the 4,000 teaches us many things: The grace and compassion of Jesus toward those who follow Him; that we are right to trust Him and to spend our time hearing his Word, even when it looks like doing so will deprive us of the things we need for this life; and we also learn in this Gospel that sometimes, even those whom we consider to be the strongest Christians can completely lose their minds, or at least, stumble in their faith.

God’s compassion is one of His attributes. He is a compassionate and merciful God. And His compassion extends in some ways to all of His creatures. As the Psalm says, The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works. Or the words we sometimes include in our table prayers from the same Psalm, The eyes of all look to You, O LORD, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Or as Jesus says, God the Father makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

In the same way, God’s mercy extended to all men in that Jesus died on the cross for His enemies, too, most of whom would never repent of their sin, believe in Him and be saved. And God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is worth enough and the Holy Spirit’s Gospel invitation is sincere and broad enough so that if the whole world were to believe in Christ, then the whole world would taste of the tree of life in the mansions of heaven.

But the world misses out on the mercy of God through unbelief. Most people want nothing to do with the compassion of Christ. They would prefer to spend their time drinking, working, sleeping, movie-watching, Facebooking, partying with their friends, hanging out with their family, patting themselves on the back—anything but confront their miserable condition (the same one that infects us all!); anything but repent of their sins; anything but turn to the Lord for forgiveness; anything but study and learn the Holy Scriptures; anything but spend time with Jesus and hear His Word. Their condemnation is deserved.

But when the Holy Spirit gathers a crowd of people around Jesus’ Word; when people leave house and home and job in order to go where Jesus is and hear what Jesus says, as was the case in our Gospel, then see what special mercy and compassion Jesus showers on them. The multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”

Isn’t this also what the Psalms say about God? The same Psalm (145) that spoke of His mercy toward all He has made speaks of this special mercy of God toward His people, His believers, His saints: The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The LORD preserves all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy. And the Blessed Virgin sang about it in her Song, And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.

The 4,000 people in the crowds that Jesus fed in our Gospel were not the well-to-do people of Galilee. They left work, home, income, food. Why? Because this was their chance to see Jesus, to hear Jesus. And they stayed with Him—three days. Now, they must have noticed their own food supply running low, and yet they stayed. They stayed because Jesus was still willing to have them; because Jesus hadn’t yet dismissed them.

And did you notice who it was who was worried, or concerned about the fact that they had nothing to eat at this point? The people themselves? No! It was Jesus who saw their need, before they were concerned about it, before they could even bring it up, Jesus saw. Jesus knew. And Jesus, in His compassion, stepped in to help, providing from 7 loaves of bread and a few fish, enough food to satisfy more than 4,000 people and still have seven baskets of pieces left over.

Why? “Because they have continued with me.” Not, “because they are such good people.” Not, “because they have done such good things.” Not, “because they aren’t such bad sinners after all.” No, just, “because they have continued with me.” This is what it is to live under grace, and not under the Law, to live as “slaves of God,” as Paul said in the Epistle today. Isn’t it terrible—to be a slave of God, a slave of righteousness? Constant love and care and compassion and forgiveness from your Slave-driver Jesus!

You see the irony, don’t you? When you lived as slaves to sin, you fed your own sinful cravings, and what good did it do you in the end? Or maybe you tried to earn God’s mercy with your works of obedience, your works of righteous living according to the law. But in the end, you couldn’t get rid of your sin that infects everything you do, the sin that works against you even now, as Christians, so that you aren’t as attentive and devoted to the Word of God as you should be. You were slaves to sin, and the wages sin pays out is death.

But then comes Jesus with his love and perfect righteousness and calls you out of your slavery to sin, to repent and believe in Him and the righteousness that He covers you with—His own righteousness. He has called you into the “slavery” of the righteousness of faith, where you don’t work for God’s mercy. You receive it as a gift. Because while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

That’s what you get with Jesus. Mercy and compassion and forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, and the new life of obedience that stems, not from fear of punishment, but from love. Jesus knows what you sacrifice to be with Him, even your own self, and the painful putting to death of your sinful flesh. He sees what you’ve given up. He sees the hardships you go through and the worldly comfort and security you sacrifice in order to be with Him, to listen to Him, to be faithful to Him. He sees what you lack, even before you notice, and His compassion will always step in to help in just the right way. He showed you that compassion already with the feeding of the 5,000, but He thought it was worth confirming with the feeding of the 4,000.

Why would you ever live apart from this Jesus? Why would you go back to gratifying the desires of your sinful nature, back to a life in which you don’t spend time with Jesus around His Word and Sacraments? Because you have, what?, better things to do? Don’t be foolish. You don’t want to be on the receiving end when sin’s wages are paid.

Speaking of foolish, you noticed who the foolish ones were in our Gospel, didn’t you? This time it wasn’t the crowds. They were there with Jesus and weren’t the least bit concerned about the fact that their food supply had run out. But Jesus’ disciples—the apostles, the future pastors—they were the doubters! They were the ones who saw all those people, and only seven little loaves of bread, and didn’t have the foggiest idea how they could feed so many people.

I suppose it would be one thing, maybe, if they didn’t know that Jesus had recently fed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish. But they did know about it. They were all there for it. They were the ones who handed out the miracle to the people. And yet suddenly, in their minds, it’s as if it never happened. How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?

You can relate to these men, can’t you? I know I can! You’ve seen God’s providence throughout your life—for yourself, for other people, for the whole Christian Church for the last 2,000 years. You’ve seen God’s mercy, God’s providence for His people in body and soul, and Jesus’ own promise fulfilled that the gates of Hades will not prevail against His Church. Here she still stands after countless threats and crises.

And yet a crisis comes along, whatever it may be—job loss, sickness, an accident, false doctrine or sin or strife threatening the Church—and suddenly it’s as if God didn’t exist, as if all of His promises were worthless, as if Jesus weren’t right here with His body and blood to help.

But see again the compassion of Jesus in action. He doesn’t smack His disciples upside the head. He patiently asks, How many loaves do you have? And they said, Seven. So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. But seven loaves of bread and a few fish can’t feed 4,000 people! Sure they can. Of course they can. Because Jesus took them and blessed them and multiplied them far beyond the people’s need.

Do you think He’ll do less for you who are with Him, for us and for our Church, and for our tiny little diocese, the ELDoNA? But we have such little strength, no way of providing for our needs! (And, our roof is still leaking, even after all the money we put into repairing it! Now what?)

Foolish. We have Jesus with us, as really and truly as they had Him with them out in the middle of nowhere in the Galilean desert. How many loaves do you have? A few dollars, a little food, a shamefully inadequate knowledge of the Scriptures, a couple of talents, some cracking voices some faltering lips. Oh, and a little bread, and little wine. But such little strength can’t sustain a congregation, or deal with the problems of the Church at large! Sure they can. Of course they can. Because as we give them to Jesus, He takes them and blesses them and multiplies them far beyond anyone’s need. He even adds His own body and blood to this bread and wine, and gives it to His disciple to distribute to you. And where Jesus is, there nothing can be lacking. Amen.

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Instructions in mercy for those subjected to hope

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Sermon for Trinity 4

Romans 8:18-23  +  Luke 6:36-42

In our Gospel, we are given some instructions by Jesus, including one of the most well-known instructions in the Bible: Judge not, and you shall not be judged. It’s well-known, but not well-applied by most, because before you can practice the words of Jesus in the first part of this text, you have to practice the words of Jesus in the second part, and most people never do that. So we’re going to begin today with the second part of our Gospel

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

When Jesus says to judge not, condemn not, forgive and give generously, your natural reaction may be to think of examples of people you know who do judge, who do condemn, who do not forgive, or give. But, Jesus says, your first reaction should be to check your own eyes for planks. Otherwise, you’re just a hypocrite, a pretender, pretending to help someone else with a problem that you haven’t yet addressed in yourself, a problem that’s far worse than the little problem your brother has.

Jesus knows your sinful flesh better than you do. He knows that you are prone to judge when you have no business judging, to condemn when you have no business condemning. He knows that you are, by nature, inclined not to forgive the ones who have sinned against you, even if they ask for your forgiveness, and He knows that you are not given to giving freely and generously. It’s easy to find faults in other people when it comes to judging, condemning, forgiving and giving, but you’re a fool even to attempt it until you first deal with yourself.

And you deal with yourself by addressing any plank of impenitence, any plank of carnal security that will forever keep you from seeing the right path both for yourself and others.

The call to repent first goes out to people as unbelievers, as those who are outside the kingdom of God, still dead in sins and trespasses. Jesus doesn’t try to get unbelievers to live a more righteous life. He doesn’t tell unbelievers to be merciful. He’s talking to believers, to His disciples in our text when He says, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” He’s speaking to those who have been made sons of God through faith in Christ. To the unbeliever, He simply says, “Repent! Be crushed under the weight of God’s holy law, because you lack true fear of God and true faith in God, and so nothing you do can be good in God’s sight! Be terrified by the condemnation you have earned for yourself with your judgmental, condemning, non-forgiving, stingy heart, and all the words and deeds that have flowed from it.”

Repent, and believe the good news! That God, the heavenly Father, has been merciful and is merciful, that He has given His Son to pay for every one of your sins, and even for your sinful, diseased heart itself. God has given His Son to be the Righteous Man by whose righteous deeds He will judge all who believe in Him. In other words, those who believe in Jesus will not be judged according to their deeds, but according to His. So be baptized, He says, and wash away your sins. Be baptized and so be clothed with Christ in a robe of righteousness, and be assured that, by faith in Him, you have already been adopted; you have God as your merciful Father in heaven.

That puts us within a certain framework, if you will, in a covenant-relationship with God. We Christians, we children of God, have been reborn into this framework, we now live between the bookends of Holy Baptism and the resurrection at the last day. We have not been given an easy life between those two bookends, as Paul points out in today’s Epistle. On the contrary, we have been given to struggle, to wrestle with our sinful flesh, to resist the devil and the world, to suffer, in many ways, and for many reasons. But what we have also been given in this life, between the bookends of Baptism and the resurrection, is forgiveness, and hope and a future. We, like the whole creation around us, have been subjected to hope.

To be subjected to hope means that the hardships and the suffering that we have now is not what we want. It’s hard. It’s sometimes painful. Because of the sin in the world, we are forced to live, not by sight, but by faith, in hope—hope that things will get much better, incomparably better, in the future, knowing that that future begins at the resurrection of the dead. For now, we suffer and struggle and fight against our sinful flesh, but always with the sure and certain hope that something better is coming when Jesus comes.

For now, during this age of hope, we have the Holy Spirit instructing us and teaching us, reproving us and correcting us, training us and comforting us, so that we have all the divine strength we need to keep facing this life between the bookends of Baptism and the resurrection.

Now, as those whose sight has been restored through repentance and faith in Christ, as those who have been subjected to the sure hope of eternal life, we can see Jesus’ commands in the Gospel in a new light.

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. You have come to know the mercy of your Father in the person and in the words of Jesus. Now be like Him. As Paul says to the Ephesians, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

You have work to do during this time between your Baptism and the resurrection. You’ve already received God’s mercy. You know the glory that awaits. Now it’s time to show mercy to your neighbor, as God has shown to you. Mercy begins in the heart. It’s sympathy, it’s care and compassion.

And that compassion that begins in the heart is shown outwardly in many ways, including the ways Jesus outlines for us. Judge not. Some people are in a position where it’s their vocation to sit in judgment over the behavior or the teachings of other people. Judges, magistrates, ministers, parents over their children, employers over their employees, teachers over their students. But most of the judging that goes on in the world is not the kind to which God has called people. It’s sinful people sinfully, mercilessly pretending to play God in the life of their neighbor. As those whom God has chosen, for the sake of Christ alone, not to judge, even though He could, why would we go around judging the people we encounter? Instead, think of them with mercy.

Condemn not. Again, as those who have been freed from our well-deserved condemnation by the mercy and grace of God, why would we go around condemning others? Mercifully pointing out how people are destroying themselves with their sins and then pointing them to Christ as the Savior? Yes! Mercilessly condemning? No!

And you shall not be judged. And you shall not be condemned. You see, there God holds out that hope again, an added incentive to withhold judgment on our neighbor when we have no business judging him or her, an added incentive to refrain from condemning people, because God holds out this hope of not being judged and not being condemned ourselves.

Forgive, and you will be forgiven. As Christians, we live daily in the forgiveness of sins. You received it again today in the absolution. It’s not as if we’re sitting here working hard at forgiving others in order to maybe someday earn God’s forgiveness for ourselves. But as the baptized children of God, we are given a charge by our Father, to forgive those who repent of their sins against us. He’s serious about it, and adds this slice of hope again, that God will respond in kind toward us, that God is pleased with us when we forgive others as He has forgiven us.

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. God sees every gift His children give, the big and the small. He sees it and rejoices over it, and even promises to reward it. All that hope, all that incentive tacked onto the merciful generosity that should characterize every Christian, reborn in the image of our Father. St. Paul expressed the same thing in 2 Corinthians 9: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

Remember hope, the hope that is yours in Christ Jesus during this life between the bookends. And may that hope enable you to be ever more merciful to your neighbor and to your brother, as your Father in heaven is merciful. As Jeremiah wrote in his Lamentations, Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” Amen.

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