Saturday, October 07, 2023

Surprising People with Grace

Each week, members of Living Water Lutheran Church do Kindness Outreaches. Through them, the love of Christ is shared in practical ways with our neighbors.  

We give quarters for carts to shoppers at Aldi...

Hot chocolate to people picking out their Christmas trees...

Doggie treats to people out walking their dogs...

Cold water and other cold drinks to families at parks for soccer games.

When asked why we do this, we tell people things like, "God loves you, no strings attached."

Or, "We're sharing God's love in a practical way."

Today, on a chilly Autumn morning, we gave away hot chocolate.

It's clear we're beginning to get a reputation in the community.

"Are you the Lutherans?" one man asked. When we said, "Yes," another said, "You gave me a cold Coke a few weeks ago. I love the Lutherans!"

Someone else asked, "Can I give you a donation?" "No," answered one of our Living Water disciples, "we're just sharing God's love." When pressed about doing something in response to the gift, our member said, "Just pray for us." "I can do that!" the person said.

The Bible tells us that while you and I were still dead in our sin, Jesus Christ died for us, giving His innocent life to take the death sentence for sin that you and I deserve, then rising from the dead to give eternity to sinners like me and you. 

The Bible tells us: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

And Jesus Himself says: "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

Life with God is a gift He freely gives through Jesus Christ. There's nothing you need to do or possibly could do to earn it or merit it. It's a gift He gives that calls us to repent--that is, turn from sin and death--and trust in what He has already done for us through His death and resurrection.

It's a privilege to share God and His grace with others, alongside the people of Living Water Lutheran Church.

Monday, October 02, 2023

The Gospel of John, October 1, 2023

The Third Son

[This message was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, yesterday.]

When I look back on the messages I’ve preached about today’s gospel lesson, Matthew 21:23-32, through the years, I’ve mostly gotten it wrong.  My sermons have basically gone like this: “Be like the first son in Jesus’ parable and not like the second son. Amen.”

Now, that’s godly law, of course. It is right to honor our fathers and mothers and others in authority over us, which is what the fourth commandment tells us to do. Both sons failed to do this, whether initially or later.

It is right to not bear false witness, which is what the eighth commandment tells us not to do. The first son violated this command by saying yes to his father’s order to work in the field and then not doing so.

We certainly need to hear these and the rest of God’s Laws given in the Ten Commandments:

You shall have no other gods;

You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain;

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy;

You shall not kill;

You shall not commit adultery;

You shall not steal;

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, spouse, workers, livestock, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

These commands are still God’s will for us and as people born into sin, each of us is liable to the fire of hell for our violation of God’s Law.

The problem, of course, is that we all know the Law and the will of God is–it’s summarized by Jesus as “Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as you love yourself”--but we don’t obey God’s Law.

“In my inner being I delight in God’s law,” the apostle Paul confesses in the New Testament book of Romans,but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:22-23)

Knowing God’s Law informs us of God’s will for us human beings.

It may even lead us to regret our sin.

But knowing God’s Law or even having regret will not fit us for life with God.

Only the righteous will be fit for eternity with God. Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness [meaning, your innocence of sin, your perfect submission to God, your complete selflessness in relationship to others] surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

So, what’s to become of us?

How can we possibly be that righteous?

That innocent and pure and sinless?

The chief priests and the elders of Jesus’ day were sure they had cracked that code. They thought they could make themselves righteous by obeying God’s Law.

They were so certain that they had made themselves righteous that when John the Baptizer had called people to repent–that is, to turn from sin and to turn to God for forgiveness–in order to prepare for the coming of the Savior, Jesus, they refused to repent or receive John’s baptism of repentance.

Like the second son in Jesus’ parable, they claimed to say, “Yes” to God; but when God’s call to repentance and faith came to them, they said, “No.”

Meanwhile, prostitutes, corrupt tax collectors, and other notorious sinners who had been saying, “No” to God all their lives, like the first son in Jesus’ parable, heard John’s call to repentance, recognized and turned from their sin and turned to faith in God.

All of this lay in the background of today’s gospel lesson.

It takes place on the Monday of what we call “Holy Week,” the day after Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. On that day, you’ll remember, Jesus had turned the money-changers, extortionists authorized to be there by the chief priests and the elders, out of the temple, overturning their tables and loot and freeing the sheep and birds they were selling on the temple grounds.

The next day, when Jesus and His disciples show up at the temple, they ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?...And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)

Jesus wasn’t a seminary graduate. Nor was He ordained by them. Where did His authority, not only for His Palm Sunday temple tantrum, but for forgiving sinners, healing, casting out demons, and raising people from the dead, come from?

Jesus’ exchange with them is well known. Jesus tells them that before answering their question about where His authority came from, they needed to answer His question to them: Did John the Baptizer’s authority to repent people, that is, to turn them from sin and turn them to God, through water and the Word, come from? Was it from God in heaven? Or had John simply authorized himself?

If they said John’s ministry had come from God, they would have to answer why they had rejected John; if they said John was a loose cannon with no authority from God to preach or baptize repentance, they would anger many who had valued John’s ministry.

So, the chief priests and the elders refused to answer Jesus’ question. “We don’t know,” they said.

Jesus then says if they won’t answer Him, He won’t answer them. To these hard-hearted men, sure of their own righteousness, Jesus used what we call the binding key of the Law, instead of the loosing key of the Gospel.

He let the chief priests and the elders stand in condemnation for their sin because they refused to acknowledge what is true for all of us: They were sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.

But Jesus doesn’t give up easily on sinners. So, he tells the priests and the elders the parable of the two sons we hear in our lesson. The first son is like the chief priests and the elders, and maybe like you and me, saying yes to God, but then turning away. These are the people of good intentions: their spirits are willing but their flesh is weak. I can certainly be like this.

The second son is like willful sinners, and maybe like you and me sometimes, saying no to God, but then, when God’s Word works on us, calling us to turn to God and to God’s way, for forgiveness and life with God, saying yes to His grace and forgiveness.

But, friends, there’s a third Son in our Gospel lesson for today. This son, unlike the other two, isn’t a fictional creation of Jesus. This Son is very real.

This is the Son Who said to His Father after His Father told Him to go to a cross to offer His sinless life on a cross so that sinners like you and me can be forgiven and can have life with God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [of suffering and death] be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

This is the Son Who, though without sin, insisted that John the Baptizer baptize Him in the Jordan, where He took on the condemnation of our sin and our death in order “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)

Jesus gave up His righteousness to us, becoming sin who knew no sin, so that in the only perfect act of love and obedience this world has ever seen, rendered on the cross, He could take our guilt and give us His innocence.

He could overcome our selfishness with His selflessness.

He could take blame for our rebellion against God’s Law of love by submitting totally to God.

Jesus is the Son Who says “Yes” to God’s call to die and rise for us and then, despite the pain, the humiliation, and sorrow of it, does just that.

It’s because of Jesus and through Jesus, the faithful Son, that you and I, fickle and often faithless sons and daughters of God, can daily turn to Him, unloading our sins onto Him at the cross and be justified, made righteous and clean and eternally new in the eyes of God.

This is Christ’s promise to you, friends: the repentant receive God’s yes through Christ, no matter how many times we may have previously said, “No” to Him.

“For,” as Saint Paul writes, “ no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Jesus, the obedient Son, has said yes to the Father and in doing so, has said yes to you!

Because of that, you can turn to Him and live forgiven and free, today and always. Amen