Straighten Up! (Luke 21:25-36)

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25“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

You will forgive me if I have trouble keeping track of all the things that are sure to bring about our horrible end. There seems to be a new one competing for our unreserved fear nearly every week. So many of the people around us are going through life bowed down under constant pressure and fear. The wrong person won the election? It’s the end of the world. The climate changes? It’s the end of the world! People have too many babies … or too few babies? The end of the world! Not everyone is ready to give into every single made-up human right, some people actually think independent nations are a good thing, people put the resources of this good world into use to make lives better … you guessed it … it’s the end of the world!

It is a sad, but true reality of our current society. Without the full measure of eternity granted by a knowledge of God, every little thing becomes a spark on the powder-keg of existential fears. Without a hope for everlasting life, every piece of news quickly becomes the life-killer everyone now must fear. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, cry-ins, and rioting marches at the drop of a hat … it will only get worse the further removed from God our culture gets.

So what will people do when the end really does come? When the signs of the coming end reach a truly cosmic scale and there is no room left for doubt? Anguish and terror – people coming unglued! The cataclysmic events of the end times will be alarming for one and all. And at a scale not even our chicken-little sky-is-falling society can begin to imagine! That prospect is truly terrifying. For those who ill not hear God’s Word will have anguish, perplexity, fear, and fainting. But to those who do hear – Jesus’ Words offer comfort and hope. How? Because they point to the coming of the Son of Man.

27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The coming of Jesus will only intensify the fear of unbelievers beyond all bearing. But for the faithful it is Good News beyond compare! The end of the world is not a reason for fear, but a reason to straighten up, stand tall and look up into the heavens, because life in the presence of the Eternal One is about to begin. Don’t be like the unbelievers, who have every reason to fear the end (and who thus see it in every shadow and around every corner). Look up to see the Christ, who brings the glory of the eternal kingdom.

For Jesus will return to earth in splendor and give us in full that redemption He prepared for us on His first visit to earth. And just how can we know this? How can we stand firm in such faith, when the world around us crumbles in doubts and anxiety? Because God’s Word stands forever!

32Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This generation is always used by Luke to speak of unbelievers. The signs are there, but they will not see. They will not see, because they will not stand under the Word of God. Nothing seems to work, nothing seems to last, everything else has failed them, but still they will not turn away from this world to God and His Word.

Among all the things in this life that dissolve or perish there is one thing that will not pass away – God’s Word – especially His promises to us of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. All material things will perish. They will drag you down with them when they fall, if you trust in them. But the Word of Jesus, who created all things, is everlasting. “He is not a mere man or angel, neither is He just true, wise, and mighty, but He is the eternal Truth and Wisdom itself and Almighty God. He knows very well what and how He is to speak. He can also powerfully effect and do everything that He says and promises. (FC SD VII 43) This Jesus, this Word made flesh, will not bring you down, but lift you up and hold your head up high in the hope that He alone can bring. This Jesus will straighten you up and allow you to stand firm and watchful as you await His coming.

34“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

If we give in to the desires of our sinful flesh we will be weighed down, our hearts will grow cold, fearful, loveless and we will be tempted to follow the ways of unbelievers and find relief in the temporary and perishing things they look to. We will be tempted to worry too much about this life rather than standing firm in the hope of the life which is coming with our Lord.

Indeed, on our own, we are too weak to straighten up and live right. But despite our unworthiness, we can still escape all these things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of Man. How so? Only through the worthiness that the Son of Man Himself has supplied through His saving life, death, and resurrection. We can stand ready for His return, by standing with Him even now. In His Word, and Sacraments, in His Holy Church.

We should always be on guard, always be praying. Ready to meet our Lord with heads lifted high in eager expectation and gratitude. Our focus on daily affairs can shorten our prayers and lower our eyes so that Jesus’ return might surprise us like those who don’t look for it. But His return will bring redemption and new freedom. So instead, let all the fears and uncertainties of this messy life lead you to focus all the more on your redemption in Christ. Jesus’ return will bring a full and final deliverance from all the evil of this world. Pray earnestly for that day.

AMEN.

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God’s Own Child! (1 John 3:1-3 )

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Certain feast days in the church calendar have a decidedly baptismal focus. All Saints’ Day is most certainly one of them! All Saints’ Day focuses upon the lives of all those made holy, sanctified to the Lord through the waters of Holy Baptism, both living and at rest in death awaiting the return of the Lord. In our text for this All Saint’s Sunday three primary themes that relate to baptism surface prominently: love, epiphany, and hope.

The first is love. 1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Despite all our iniquity, our selfishness and sinfulness, God has called us His own children through the waters of Holy Baptism. Believers are not just named as children of God, we are actually reborn as His children, actually “fathered” by God. A new being is created in that Holy Sacrament. This love lavished upon us is unique. It is a one-sided, unconditional love. It is a love that does not give what our corrupted sinful nature deserves; not what our thoughts, words, and deeds have earned. It is a love that is undeserved. A love that is forgiving beyond compare. A love that brings the gift of eternal life to those who deserve only eternal punishment.

By Baptism believers – saints – possess eternal life even now. Yet the corruption of our sin hides the glory that is already present in us. This glory is seen only by faith. We saints know God, enjoy fellowship with Him, trust Him, and live in Him. We have been given this gift of faith love and fellowship in Holy Baptism. But the world is a stranger to God’s love. No faith, no fellowship, no love – in short, no room for God. Although the unbelieving world cannot see the glory they cannot mistake the difference in lifestyles between believers and unbelievers. And all too often the world hates us for it, is ever ready to call us out on it when we don’t measure up. Good lives, loving lives, faithful lives, always draw comparison or judgment, confronting the world with just how far short it has fallen. And that leads us into the second baptismal theme in the text.

Next is epiphany. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Epiphany comes from the same root word for “appear.” And herein is the primary theme of All Saints’ Day. The saints who are still living do so with the knowledge that they will be like Christ because only those who are like Him will be able to see Him as He is. And that will happen on the day of his appearing/epiphany. The saints who are at rest in death, waiting the day of His appearing, are reminders (icons) to us living saints, proclaiming the outcome of their knowledge and their hope. Their lives of faith and hope help the living saints to see that they, with those who preceded them, will see the Lord as He is.

You were a dying sinner before God came to you and called you His child in baptism. When Christ comes in glory, He will reveal the glory that He has given to you now. Luther: “God is infinite, but we are finite creatures. Moreover, the creature will never be the Creator. Yet we shall be like Him. God is life. Therefore we, too, shall live. God is righteous. Therefore we, too, shall be filled with righteousness. God is immortal and blessed. Therefore we, too shall enjoy everlasting bliss, not as it is in God but the bliss that is suitable for us.” (AE 30:268) One day, in His great and final epiphany we too by His grace, will appear just as He is, a beloved Child of the heavenly Father. And this leads us into the last of the themes from our text.

The third, and final, baptismal theme of our text is hope. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Our hope in Jesus is that we are no longer slaves to sin. Having been purified and made holy, and given the sure hope of eternal life, we seek that which is holy and right. Born of God, we are now free to serve our Saviour, much to the chagrin of the world around us.

Following baptism, saints are called to live in hope: “Live always in the light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet him with joy and enter with him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom.” Hope is a condition of the mind and the heart formed within the baptized because they have been purified as Jesus is pure. In the waters of purification we have been made like Him – by Him: cleansed and pure. The baptized are the purity of God: loving, merciful, and faithful as He is. And because we have been purified and have glimpsed Jesus, we can live in the hope that flows as living water from our baptism: hope that we will see Him as He is and will be like Him. The saints, called children of God by name, who lived and died in the hope of the Lord and have gone before us with the sign of faith, call us to live in hope.

It is not easy to live as what we already are. Not when the lure of the old sinful self promises nothing but ease and happiness. But we have something greater upon which to fall back when living the life of a saint is too hard. We have the love of the Father. A love beyond comprehension. A love that makes us better people than we would be without it. You are God’s own child! We have the promise of Christ’s Epiphany, and the guarantee that when He returns we will finally be just like Him, because He was first like us. You are God’s own child! And lastly, we have hope. Hope that we are already free. We are already more than conquerors. We are loved and protected and cared for and forgiven. You are God’s own child, gladly say it, gladly live it! We are blessed with a God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who will be with us every step of the way in this life … to see us through to the everlasting life that awaits us – with all the dear saints who have gone before and know these things the love, the epiphany and the hope to be absolutely true!

AMEN.

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No Regard (Genesis 4:1-15)

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Two brothers provide sacrifices for God – one is acceptable the other is not. Two men pray in the Temple – one is justified while God has no regard for the other. Why not? Why does God pay attention to one man but not the other? Why does He delight in one gift but not the other? Could it happen here? Could God look upon your worship and your prayers and your offerings with no regard – no delight? Is He really that capricious? Of course not. And both our Old Testament and Gospel readings show this very same truth at work.

3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. Understand this right from the beginning, Abel’s gift is not inherently superior to Cain’s. Both offerings are proper thank offerings in the Old Testament. God regarded Abel’s offering because it was given in true faith. Faith was the weight that added value to Abel’s offering. He believed that God was merciful and good. But Cain put his trust in himself, his gift, his own worthiness. This is why he gets so angry when God doesn’t accept it. Because in his mind God is not rejecting his offering but Cain, himself!

So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” The problem lay in Cain, not in his offering. Cain trusted in himself. He had no real regard for God! It is at heart the very same arrogance and pride that caused his parent’s fall in the garden. “He had no mind to pray to God but to laud himself” St. Augustine said.1 The bigger and better the offering the more God would be moved by it, and the more he in turn would gain by it.

And us? Is that not how we so often approach our own relationship with God and others? You are a good person, you go to church, you give your tithe. And that makes you better than those others, doesn’t it? Up here you may deny it, but in here you know it’s how you feel. Just look at things when they go wrong. Pagans, unbelievers and evil people deserve to suffer, but not us, right? It just isn’t fair, that they should be happy and wicked, that we should be justified and still suffer. God should be giving us something better than them for all we have sacrificed for Him.

But God is not influenced by means of our offerings. He will be gracious to whom He will be gracious and will show mercy to whom He will show mercy. As St. Ireneus said: “God is not appeased by sacrifice … He who thus cherishes secret sin does not deceive God by the at sacrifice which is offered correctly as to outward appearance.”2 This is what Cain, the Pharisee, and we ourselves don’t fully understand or appreciate. God can’t be bought and to think that He can is to have no regard for Him at all.

We teach and confess that a person rather than his work is accepted by God and that a person does not become righteous as a result of a righteous work, but that a work becomes righteous and good as a result of a righteous and good person. Because God had regard for Abel, He has regard also for his offering; and because He has no regard for Cain, He has no regard for his offering either.3

It is exactly the same attitude we see at work in the Gospel reading when: 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ This is not the prayer of someone who has true regard for God – only for himself. He who prays for grace in this way does not rely upon God’s mercy and treats Christ with disrespect.4

And what happens when someone has no regard for God? They have no regard for others either. And so we read the tragic consequences of our story: 8Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And so we, like the Pharisee and Cain before him, are ever tempted to have little or no regard for those who do not measure up to us. Those who think they are better than us. Those who are just too different from us. And so we leave them to their sin, abandon them in their needs, ignore them in their peril. Are we to be the whole world’s keeper?

Yet here is the astounding part of our readings for today … God has mercy for even the worst sinners. And that is really very good news for you and me. He has mercy on the likes of the tax collector who went away justified. And He has mercy on Cain who even in his deplorable sin was given undeserved protection from God! 13Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear … I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! … And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him

God’s mercy is that He would send another son of Adam, sent from heaven, to be brother to not just Abel but to Cain! And to all the Cains that populate the world, ourselves included. Incredibly, the same thing happened to him as to Abel, and he knew it was coming. The difference is that when his blood cries out to heaven, it cries not to seek vengeance but for forgiveness and mercy, to make of us children of Cain children of the Father and, therefore sisters and brothers again.

As God touched Cain with a “mark,” so we are marked with the mark of the cross. God has enough regard for us poor sinners to mark us with the seal of His Holy Baptism placed upon our hearts and heads, showing that our life is safe in His, for He has redeemed us in Christ, and we are now under His eternal protection! Divinely marked, we are sent into a Cainic world to bring what he has given us: love, grace, and reconciliation. We are marked to have regard for others, to be our brothers’ keepers, because God is our keeper. And keeps us in highest regard in Christ.

1 NPNF1 6:455

2 ANF 1:485

3 Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol 1: 257. St. Louis, 1958

4 Ap V 211

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Returning Thanks (Luke 17:11-19)

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This weekend as families sit down and pray there will be much thankfulness. Thankfulness for the many gifts received in this life. Food and family, house and home. Friends and loved ones so near and dear. Even in this selfish and self-centered world of ours it is nice to know that people can still find at least one day to be thankful for all that they have. But such thankfulness is only half the story!

Many marginal Christians, and even some non-Christians will join us believers in saying a few words of thanks before the plates are passed and the dishes are served. But how many will take the time to come back and return thanks when the meal is done? Why would you even need to? The blessings have been asked and the food received. The gifts given and enjoyed, what else is there but a loosening of belts, clean-up and the kick-off! Returning thanks is a habit not nearly enough of us do. And even the ones who do, don’t always appreciate the reason for it.

Also, after eating, they shall, in like manner, reverently and with folded hands say: Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. [He] gives food to every creature. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. Then shall be said the Lord’s Prayer and the following: we thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.1

I will be honest, it is not something we often do in my own household. Grace always come first, but sometimes it feels like it is all we can do to hold the table together until the majority are done eating before each one is scattered to the winds once again. Did you know that returning thanks is the second half of true thankfulness? Being thankful for the gifts is not enough. And our story from the Gospel today shows us why.

11On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This introduction to our story is the third travel notice Luke gives us in his Gospel. The third reminder that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of the world and bring salvation and healing to His creation. Yet, see how He pauses along the way to do just that to these few lepers in desperate need.

The account begins and ends with a cry for and a declaration of salvation: 12And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” … 19And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Hear the cry for mercy as Jesus approaches the city. These lepers have no reason to expect it. Only faith leads them to ask. He has shown His mercy to others like them before, maybe He will do the same again. And see the end of the story. Mercy indeed wrought their salvation and that salvation comes through faith!

The story deepens as we see the parallels between these words: 14When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, … Now he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” How is that mercy enacted? How does that faith work? Jesus sees and speaks. He answers the lepers’ cry with a command. And here is the amazing part, by faith they believe the gift being offered … and all ten are cleansed. All of them begin traveling to the temple with the full expectation they will be cleansed. But here is the difference, only one after the cleansing was willing to return to give glory to God – in the person of Jesus. Only one is moved enough to return thanks.

And here then, is the center of the story, the crux of the matter, the heart of the teaching: [he] turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. The Samaritan returns to Jesus, glorifying God the Father for the miracles that He is bringing to the world through Jesus. By faith he recognizes that the glory he gives to God is to be expressed in the worship and thanksgiving given to Jesus, God Himself in the flesh. The key word here is eucharisteo. Understand this, dear friends, every other instance of eucharisteo is one giving thanks to God. This is the only place in the entire New Testament where eucharisteo refers to the giving of thanks to Jesus!

True faith gives thanks not just for the gifts given. True faith returns thanks to the one who brings the gift of salvation. True faith stops in the midst of gifts received and returns thanks to the giver of all good gifts. The Samaritan turned back to give thanks to the one who Himself would not turn back in His quest to save mankind. For Jesus was on His way to not heal not just that man’s body, but his soul as well. Not just to give him renewed health but everlasting life. Jesus was on His way not just to heal us but to save us.

And so we fall down at the feet of Jesus and return our meager thanks. We put aside the enjoyment of our gifts and give thanks to the glorious giver. Indeed, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, is where we still prostrate ourselves in the presence of the crucified and risen Christ, who gives His body and blood. It is the family meal where His divine cleansing is again given to all who, like the Samaritan, are saved through faith.

The nine who were healed did not lack faith, but they did lack thankfulness. They were so intent on the gift they forgot to thank the giver. This Thanksgiving weekend, whatever gifts we have been given – and we have been given a lot – let us not follow in their footsteps and miss the most important half of the story. Let us instead strive to be like the one who returned to give thanks. For the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. It is all about returning thanks, not just for the gifts, but first and last the glorious and gracious giver of every gift – especially our salvation in Jesus. Therefore do we thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.

Amen.

1Luther’s Small Catechism, Section 2, Daily Prayers. Returning Thanks.

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Living By Faith (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

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1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

What a raw complaint and a desperate petition for help. Believers suffer under the oppression of the wicked. It seems to have gone on for such a long time and is only getting worse. Why has God not put a stop to it? Is this not something the Holy One of Israel should be doing?

You and I know the feeling well. And those who follow in our footsteps are likely to feel the biting truth of it even more. The world has no love left for Christ or His Church. Our culture has no patience for traditional values. Our public square has no room for Christian thought or morals. The old rules no longer apply.

Habakkuk saw it himself in his own day: “So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth”. The law grows “Cold,” frozen. The law becomes devoid of its original warmth or spirit. Isn’t this often the case, certainly in our world? Laws are constructed to represent a certain state of affairs and a week later, they are outmoded, cold, “paralyzed.” And so they are dropped, or ignored or their very definitions are rewritten to mean something completely different from the original intent.

But we know that another law is still at work – always at work – this one written on human hearts (Rom 2:14–15). It is this law—living and active—that compels us (with the prophet) to cry out “Violence!” It is this law that brings us face to face with the judgment of God … even when that judgment has a harsh word to say about our own actions and inaction.

For this Law shows us that the problem is not just out there (world) but right in here (our own hearts). God’s own people have fallen away from their divine calling and have degenerated into the very opposite of what they ought to be (the watchmen of the world – the light to the nations – a people that point to the glory of God). God sees it happening in the church that bears His name and still He has not come down to stop it. Why not?

Habakkuk not only details the wrongs he sees but even goes so far as to accuse God of not coming to the rescue. And no doubt, there have been times you have too. Fully expecting a rebuke for his complaint and accusation, the prophet in the second part, however, is surprised with God’s Gospel response. And maybe you are too.

2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. 2And the Lord answered me:Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. 4Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Habakkuk removed himself from the bustle and noise of men, eyes lifted heavenward, mind toward God, he awaits a revelation from the Lord. And the Lord answered! We cry out and God answers, because God promises to answer. When we remove ourselves from the cacophony of this broken world, when we focus our hearts and our ears to God’s Word (and not the world’s) God gives us His answer – the future is in his hands.

Salvation, though it may be delayed, will surely come. And that salvation lies not in any improvement we make in ourselves or in our life, or world, or situation but rather in God’s justification of the sinner by grace through faith. “The just shall live by his faith”. They were the very words that led both Paul and Luther to the great comfort of salvation apart from works of the flesh. They are the words at the heart of the cry of the disciples in our Gospel reading: Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’”. The apostles too cried out to the Lord, and the Lord answered.

It takes faith to cry out to the Lord in times of distress and it takes faith to trust that the Lord will answer. Yet it is faith that the Lord gives back to us as a precious gift when He does answer – faith to hope in a future that greater than our darkest today’s and brighter than our best dreams. Faith that is rooted not in what we see in this world, but what we hear in His Word.

The righteous shall live by faith! Faith has been the Lord’s gift to us all along. A gift given to us in Water and Word, sustained in the body and the blood, and nourished by the Spirit. It is a faith that allows us to stand firm once again, apart from the world and in the presence of the Lord. A faith that reminds us the future is secure in God’s governance even if the present is unbearably out of control. Even as the law of this world grows cold and paralyzed the faith we have in Christ is a living, active, life-changing fire. Faith is God’s gift to you in this world gone mad … now go out and live by it and in it, trusting that your salvation will surely come and will not delay!

AMEN.

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Commending the Unjust (Luke 16:1-15)

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1“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

The 16th chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins and ends with stories that are unique to Luke. The first is today’s story of the unrighteous steward and the last is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. And in each one the Christian disciple’s attitude toward possessions (and God) is the important theme. The whole chapter should be seen as one long discourse on what one chooses to serve, what one chooses to trust. A warning and an encouragement. First the warning.

And it starts with a doozy of a set-up. A dishonest manager caught with his hand in the cookie jar. A crook called in to the boss’ office to give account before clearing out his desk. Dishonest with his master’s money, at least he is honest enough with himself to know that he is in real trouble. Fired and out of work he will have no place to stay, and very little hope of future employment. He’s not strong enough for menial labour and he is too proud to beg, so what is left for the man facing life in the depth of the serious hole he has dug?

4I have decided what to do, [he says] so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

The observant among us might ask the question: Why is every debtor he calls in so ready to re-write the books with him? The cynical among us might next ask: Was each and every one of them as wicked as the first? Perhaps a couple. But for the most part I think not. They took the actions at face value. Why? Because they had come to expect such generous and merciful acts from the very man the steward was supposedly representing. What the steward was proposing was simply consistent with the Lord’s Character. And the trust pays off for everyone involved. The Lord does not deny His gracious nature … even when put up to it by a less than scrupulous servant.

And this becomes our word of encouragement – and it too is a doozy. If one considers the story from the Lord’s perspective, the the focus of the parable is not the dishonesty of the steward but the underlying mercy of the Lord. The whole plan of the steward hinges upon the assumption that the lord is an honourable man who can be counted on for mercy. The purpose of the parable is not to uphold the dishonesty of the servant, but to reveal the depths of the lord’s mercy.

8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Every time we encounter verse 8 of our parable, we are shocked to read that “the lord commended the unjust steward”. It may reduce our shock if we determine that the speaker of the compliment is the lord of the parable rather than the Lord who spoke the parable. But it should shock us none-the-less! Let the words of the Gospel really sink in and remind you of the shocking character of your own salvation. What the lord of the parable did to the unjust steward, our Lord will do to us on Judgment Day. God will commend the unjust steward – that is, you and me! – and receive us into His everlasting habitations.

Let’s face it. We are unjust stewards, even the so-called best of us. We have all been caught padding our own accounts at the Lord’s expense. We have all sought to buy God’s or each other’s favour. We have each one of us been more concerned with living in the here and now, than preparing for the everlasting life to come. Not one of us is above bending the rules either earth’s or heaven’s to get what we want. We deserve to be called in to give account and face the consequences of our every lazy and selfish thought, word, and deed. We have proved ourselves to be not merely dishonest and unjust, but also unfaithful.

10“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

It is a deep hole we have dug for ourselves. But that, of course, is looking at it only from our perspective. That’s how we see it. Thanks to Jesus, God sees it differently. And the difference is shocking. God commends the unjust. It is that kind of unjust steward that our Lord will commend on judgment Day with the words, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). From His perspective we are no longer sinners but saints, no longer unjust stewards but just. That’s because Christ has justified us. Through His saving life, death, and resurrection, He has given us His perfect righteousness. He has paid our sin-debt in full. And that’s all God will see as He says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23). He cannot deny His nature. And He will not withhold His mercy. Our God has always been in the business of commending the unjust. Thanks be to Christ Jesus our forgiving master!

AMEN.

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Father and Son Divided (Luke 12:49-53)

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51Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? [Jesus said] No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

We see here a Jesus we cannot easily recognize. A Jesus who doesn’t neatly fit our Sunday School molds. No soft warm fuzzies this morning. Here we are confronted by a Jesus whose purpose is to burn and destroy. A saviour who is set for the rise and fall of many, He comes with axe (Lk 3:9) and hammer (Jer 23:29) in hand. And the fire He kindled still roars in our world. Is there a person here whose family has been spared this division? A mother or father or a sister or a brother who hasn’t been grieved at some point by the truth of these terrible words? Isn’t love enough? Can’t we all just get along? Why can’t blood be thicker than religion or politics?

The truth is, dear friends, that Jesus brings no peace that comes apart from the Word He proclaims. No peace apart from the baptism He must undergo. Jeremiah’s picture of the word that blazes like fire and smashes like a hammer (breaking in two the family hearth? splintering the dining room table?) is well in line with the picture in Luke 12: “The world is lit up with flames, and Christ is bathed in blood.” Jesus, for all His love and compassion – precisely because of it – is a divisive figure in our world.

But you already know this in your heart. There is no middle ground with respect to Jesus and His rule. Either you trust Him with your everything or you do not. Either you acknowledge His claims or you fight against them. A person stands either with Him or against Him. There is no pretending to be neutral and unaffected. Even our own families will be deeply divided over what to make of Jesus. And that is all the more sad, when you stop to listen to just what He has to say.

49[Jesus said:] “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! ”

A fiery word for the world and a bloody baptism for Himself. How could it not be divisive? Who does He think He is? Yet this is what He means – He has set His face toward Jerusalem. He will not turn aside. Jesus longs to reveal the Kingdom, not only through the judgement, but also and most especially through His grace and the ultimate deliverance it brings about.

Baptism here is His figurative way of referring to the cross. Jesus is torn between two emotions on the one hand He cannot but dread His impending death on the cross. On the other hand there is glory for Him and all humankind beyond the grave, thus His eager expectation. Yet how ironic that to heal the division between God and Man, will cause another division by necessity. A division within the household of God Himself.

The division of father against son is at the very core of the Gospel. A man dying by crucifixion and according to the officer presiding, the victim was both a righteous man and the Son of God. In His hour of need Jesus turned to His Father for help. And His Father, God, wasn’t there. He was gone; He had forsaken Jesus. The Father was divided against the Son. The Good News that divides families now is the news that the Heavenly Father and Son were divided for us back then.

Why? It wasn’t because the Father was perverse. It wasn’t because the Son had done wrong. It was because the Son bore our wrongs. From His baptism at the Jordan, Jesus stood under the Father’s wrath and continued to stand under it until it was satiated in His crucifixion. From the moment He stepped forward publicly in His baptism as the world’s Messiah, this process began. For this reason alone He came. Jesus knows that he is to bear this fiery wrath and judgement and His passionate plea is that it were already accomplished. He knows the fulness of God’s wrath is yet to fall on Him, and He yearns that His sacrifice on the cross would come soon.

Our sins divided the Father from His Son – the very definition of hell. Between the Father and the Son there was a great gulf fixed so that none could cross, even if they wished to. Not until it was done and the sin fully paid for. Christ bore not only our sins but also our hell – declaring “It is Finished!” Jesus appeased the Father’s fiery wrath both by His perfect life of obedience (attested by the Father’s approval at His baptism) and by His suffering on the cross (attested to by the Father in raising Him to life once again). And because He did, He has made us the sons of God. Sons who will never be divided from our heavenly Father again!

Though we long for the day when division will cease, we will not settle for a “dreamy” peace (Jer 23:26–27) that comes from distorting or silencing the divisive Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Our hearts break as our homes are divided, but we know that this, too, means God’s Word is at work. The depth of Jesus’ commitment (even to go to our cross and our hell) forces us to decide what is most important for us as well. As you wrestle with so great a challenge, take comfort in the one who calls you. He is faithful. When earthly relations cause us to make Jesus and His kingdom anything less than our first priority, may God strengthen us and lead us back into the way of life everlasting!

AMEN.

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