Friday, September 23, 2022

Separation of Church and State: Good for Both

A new poll apparently shows that some Christians want America to be officially declared “a Christian nation.”

If this means wanting others to know the grace and new life of God given in Jesus alone, gifts that come to us by faith in Jesus, I’m on board.
If it means making Christianity the country’s official religion, I absolutely oppose the idea. And no Christian should want that either.
People can’t and shouldn’t be coerced into faith in Jesus or into complying with some people's notions of what Christians should look like or do. 

Just because you force people to abide by rules you claim to be Christian doesn’t mean that people are Christian. 

Christians are people who can honestly confess that they are sinners saved, not by being “good people,” which none of us is, but by God’s grace through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
This talk of making America “a Christian nation” sounds less like Christianity than it does like religious legalism, which can never set sinners free from our inborn bondage to sin, death, and darkness.
Not once did Jesus seek to coerce people into “acting right.” The Pharisees of His day did that and Jesus condemned them for it, frequently. (Check out these scorching words from Jesus in Matthew 23:3-5.)

Instead, Jesus calls us all to repent and believe in the good news of new and everlasting life through Him. (Cf., John 3:16-18; Mark 1:15)
Jesus commissions His disciples to make disciples, not to make rules.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Living Shrewdly

[Below, you'll find the live stream video from both of the morning worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, as well as the text of the message shared at each service. I hope you find it helpful. Have a good week!]

Luke 16:1-15
The parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson has caused Christians untold confusion through the centuries. So, let’s dispel the confusion right off the top!

Through this piece of fiction created by our Lord, Jesus is NOT approving stealing or dishonesty. God never contradicts Himself. So, Jesus, God the Son, isn’t using this parable to abolish the seventh commandment–”You shall not steal”--or the eighth commandment–”You shall not bear false witness.”

The rich man in Jesus’ parable does NOT compliment the dishonest manager for lying and stealing. The text itself tells us exactly what impressed the rich man in Jesus’ story. Verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly…” (Luke 16:8) The word “shrewdly” translates the Greek word Luke uses here, φρονίμως, which can also be translated as wisely or prudently. The rich man praised his manager’s wisdom.

All of this raises a question. What made the dishonest manager in Jesus’ story wise? And, since Jesus told this particular parable to His disciples–believers in Him, like you and me–what does it mean for disciples to be wise?

First, being wise means hearing and understanding the implication of God’s Law. After the rich man fires the manager, he tells the manager that he must give an account of all he had wasted of the manager’s possessions. God’s Law tells us that we, like the dishonest manager, must give God an account of how we have managed or stewarded the gift of life He has given to us.

Folks, every minute we breathe is a gift from God Who formed us in our mothers’ wombs. The average American will live 40,498,088 God-given minutes on this earth. God’s Law demands, as Lutheran theologian Bo Giertz once noted, that we are accountable to God for our “thoughts, words, and deeds…[our] invisible desires and hidden prideful thoughts.” Every adulterous thought, every piece of gossip, every time we have spoken God’s name in vain, any time we’ve craved the possessions, successes, or blessings enjoyed by others, whenever we have been disrespectful of our parents or others in authority, are all instances of you and I squandering and mismanaging the minutes of life God gives to us.

In another of His parables, Jesus tells the story of a rich fool who wastes the minutes of his life by building bigger barns to hold all his wealth so that he can, in complete selfishness, tell himself to eat, drink, and be merry. But, Jesus says, before the fool can finish building his new barns, God steps in and tells him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Luke 12:20)

Only a fool would think that they can live a life of unrepentant sin, misusing the gift of life God has given to each of us, and not have death, the rightful punishment for sin, catch up with us. And for those tempted to think they can manage their lives in a way pleasing to God in their own power and goodness, God’s Law disabuses us of such notions. Jesus says in Matthew 5:20, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And, in Matthew 5:48, he tells us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How many perfect people do we have here this morning? I know I’m not one.

Being wise means hearing and understanding the implication of God’s Law.

But being wise also means understanding that there’s a deeper truth God has set loose in the universe. Being wise means receiving this truth with faith acting on the basis of that truth while we still have time.

What do I mean?

In Jesus’ parable, the manager was fired one day and told by the master that he needed to bring the books to the rich man the next. What he did was not in itself commendable: He called in his master’s debtors and forgave them massively. Of the two debtors Jesus mentions in the parable, the manager took it upon himself to forgive each of these men who probably farmed on the rich man’s land, an amount equal to more than 500-days wages a piece! The manager was using his boss’ wealth to win welcoming friends for himself.

Now, this would seem to be a risky ploy by the manager! If the rich man gets wind of this scheme, he could end up not just fired, but in prison!

Of course, it turns out that the rich man does find out. And this brings the unexpected plot twist of Jesus’ story. The rich man overlooks the dishonest manager’s crimes. That’s because, even if the manager is being unscrupulous, he’s finally, maybe for the first time since the rich man hired him, actually managing the rich man’s possessions

There appears to be a good reason the manager knew he could take such a chance. It’s this: The manager knew the heart, the character, and the kindness of his master.

Just like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) in the parable Jesus tells just before this one in Luke’s gospel, the manager knew that his master, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, wanted to forgive him.

And, friends, the crucified and risen Jesus, God the Son, Who died and rose for our sins, demonstrates how much God wants to forgive us our sins and give us life with God as free and gracious gifts for all who believe in Jesus! God wants to do that for us even though none of us has ever consistently managed the gift of life God has granted to us with faithfulness or wisdom.

Jesus isn’t telling us that if we lie and steal, we’ll be acting wisely. He IS telling us to wise up and understand that, even more than was true of the manager in today’s parable, we can trust in the kindness and grace of the God we meet in Jesus Himself to cover our sins! The God revealed to us in Jesus is effectively telling us again today: “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

The good news, or the gospel, tells us that while we have all failed to be good or sinless managers of our lives, God sent Jesus into the world and, according 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus bears the weight of our sin so that we can receive His righteousness!

In light of such love and grace and in light of our failure to measure up to the righteousness of God, the only action that makes any sense for us is to turn in repentance and faith to Jesus each day, to trust in Jesus for God’s charitable forgiveness of our sin, that is, for grace, and for life with God that begins now in this crumbling universe and continues into eternal perfection that death cannot destroy!

Those made wise by God’s Word know that when we daily–even moment by moment–throw ourselves on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, all our misuse of this life is forgiven and we are made eternally clean and new!

God’s Word tells us: “..all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [but] all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

The one who daily turns to Jesus in trust is leading a life of God-given wisdom. Amen!