Distractions – Sermon for Sept 20/21, 2015

Distractions

Luke 7:11-17

16th Sunday After Trinity

September 20, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The story of the tortoise and the hare is one that children across the country hear from an early age. Its message is simple: slow and steady wins the race. But another way to understand the moral of this story is: don’t let distractions stop you from reaching your goal. The tortoise in the story has laser-like focus. He knows where he’s going. He knows how to get there. He knows he’s not the fastest animal, but what he lacks in flashy speed he makes up for in dedication and perseverance. It may not have broken any speed records, but the tortoise made it to the finish line. He was not overcome by distractions. 690024723The hare, on the other hand, lost the race not because he was slower than the tortoise, but because of distractions. The hare is quick off the line, but he gets distracted some way down the road. He stops for a bite to eat. He stops for a nap. He does not focus on finishing the race, but allows other things to take top priority. Those distractions prove to be his undoing. The tortoise and the hare – a story on the danger of distractions.

It’s a story that has application to our lives as children of God.  What distractions are threatening your walk of faith? This life is a journey, and we are called to be like the tortoise, slowly but surely plodding along toward that heavenly rest.  But how often do we find ourselves more like the hare, distracted by the things around us?

In a roundabout way, today’s Gospel reading has to do with this same question.  Today’s Gospel reading has to do with the heart and soul of Christianity, the thing the devil is always trying to distract us from. Today’s Gospel has to do with life overcoming death through Jesus, and that, when it comes right down to it, is what the Gospel is all about. In the reading you have Jesus at the height of his popularity. He is travelling the countryside healing the sick and lame, teaching the people that the kingdom of God is near, miraculously feeding the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and some small fish. At this point in his ministry, Jesus attracts a crowd everywhere he goes. Not only a crowd of the locals, but there’s even a crowd of people who travel with Jesus. They are almost like roadies, setting up camp in whatever town Jesus stays the night, going wherever he goes, hoping to see the next miracle, to experience something great. It is a crowd bustling with excitement, a crowd bustling with life.

As this lively crowd followed the Lord of Life to the village Nain, they were met on the road by a funeral procession. A parade of life meets a parade of death. It’s almost a microcosm of the very story of the universe – the epic battle of life versus death. And in the battle of life versus death, Jesus always wins.  He is moved by the plight of this dead man’s poor mother, who was a widow, no less. He had compassion on her. His heart broke for her like his heart breaks for all who grieve in the face of death. And death is all around us.  Just this past week in our faculty devotions here at St. John we prayed for several families who were grieving the death of loved ones. Every day families across the world lose loved ones to the jaws of death. The point is, our Lord’s heart breaks for each tissot-resurrection-nain244x200one of those families. Our Lord’s compassion flares up whenever he sees a funeral procession. In this way, the story from the Gospel of Luke is not the exception, it’s the rule.  It is the way our Lord works. When our Lord sees death, he is moved by compassion. His heart breaks. When he saw the woman, he had compassion on her and walked up to the coffin and said, “Young man, I saw to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up. The Lord of life defeated death. Life wins.

That is the heart and soul of the Gospel.  Life wins. Jesus gives life: that is what Christianity is all about. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might have life through him.  Death was the problem that brought Jesus to earth, and life is the result of what he did when he got here.  When our Lord in heaven saw our plight, when he saw death and what death would do to his creation, when he saw how death would bring tears and sadness to his creatures, his heart broke. He took action. He set about to undo the curse of death. That is the gift of the Gospel.

And yet there are so many distractions that would take our eyes off of this great gift of God.  There are so many ways that we ourselves become the distraction to take other people’s eyes off this great gift of God.   The world around us seems to be a more and more comfortable place for sin each day. It can be frustrating to see the people around us living in open and unrepentant sin. It shouldn’t surprise us when an unbelieving world acts in unbelieving ways, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. It can be discouraging to see the sin of our culture because we see the terrible consequences that come along with it. We see the broken relationships and broken lives that are the result of the sexual revolution. We see the broken lives that are the result of addiction. We see the sense of entitlement and the disrespect so common in our culture and we know it’s wrong. And we know the solution is found in our Lord’s Word. We want to fix it. And our Lord has indeed called us to be the voice of truth in a world of lies.

But we have to be careful not to get distracted in this effort, for the Kingdom of God is not of this world. Politics will not fix sin. Passing the right laws or electing the right officials will not fix sin.  You can’t convert people to Christ by force. And while we know from our Lord’s Word how this world is designed to run, we have to remember that this world is broken by sin, and will stay broken by sin until the day of our Lord’s return. The gift of the water baptismGospel is not that it will somehow fix this world, but that it promises us life beyond this world.  Even more importantly, we can’t let the sin of the culture distract us from our own sin. We can’t let it turn us into self-righteous Pharisees who think we have no need for a savior. We can’t fall into the trap of evaluating our standing before God by comparing ourselves to other people instead of listening to the holy Law of God. For these are nothing but distractions that Satan would use to take our eyes off the two most basic truths in all the world: I am a sinner, and Jesus is my Savior.

In humble repentance, we remember that no matter what sins our culture embraces, no matter what excuses we cling to in an effort to justify our sinful behavior, the truth will catch up to us eventually. Even if we dedicate all our days to leading a godly life in what we say and do, those days are still numbered.  We will still die. But overcoming that death is the point of Christianity.  The heart of the Gospel is Jesus putting back together a creation broken by sin.  The miracles of Jesus recorded in the pages of Scripture give people a small taste of what heaven is all about, a small taste of what the kingdom of God is.  It is a kingdom of life. Sin and death may be realities in this fallen creation, but when our Lord first created the universe neither was there.  Blindness may be a reality in this creation, but when Jesus leads the parade of life past the blind, sight is restored.  Paralysis may be a reality in this fallen creation, but when Jesus leads the parade of life past the lame, they take up their mats and walk. Death may be a reality in this fallen creation, but when the parade of life marches past, life wins.  And when Jesus leads the parade of life into the new heaven and a new earth, there will be no more suffering and death.  That’s the promise that was made to you in your baptism, when you were brought into the parade of death.

We’re marching to Zion, as the hymn says, but we’re not there yet. The resurrected man from today’s Gospel reading eventually died again. Those who were miraculously healed by Jesus didn’t ultimately escape the reality of death.  Their death may have been delayed, but ultimately they had to face it. Each of us must face it.  That is the curse of life in this fallen world.  That’s the consequence of sin.  But that curse is why Jesus came to earth: to conquer sickness and death into eternity.

The eyes of faith look forward to this day.  For the baptized child of God, life is a journey toward this day.  Our time on this earth is a parade down a trail lined with distractions, haunted by the reality of sin and sickness and death. But our eternity is secure.  That is the gift of baptism. That is the gift of Jesus. Don’t be distracted by the sin of this world. Don’t be distracted by the sadness. Don’t be distracted by the emptiness. Be fed and jesus-died-for-you2nourished for this journey with the body and blood of our Lord himself given in bread and wine for the strengthening of our faith. Our Lord walks this journey with us through his Word, as we take time for devotions and prayer. Our Lord is guiding us down the path to eternal life one step at a time. Don’t be distracted by this world of death. Remember that you are marching in our Lord’s parade of life. And when it comes to Jesus, life wins.

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The Good Samaritan – Sermon for August 30/31, 2015

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:23-37

13th Sunday After Trinity

August 30th/31st, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Jesus once sent out seventy-two people in groups of two into each town and place where he himself was about to go. They were sent as laborers into the harvest. They were to carry no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, for God would provide for their needs. They were to greet no one on the road, for their mission was too urgent to be sidetracked by chit-chat. In each town they came to they were to heal the sick and proclaim that the shutterstock_144254032-660x350Kingdom of God was at hand. If the town rejected them, they were to wipe the dust of that town off their feet and move on. There were more than enough people who needed to hear the Gospel that the seventy-two didn’t need to waste time preaching to those who refused to listen. The seventy-two went out and did as they were told, and when they returned they were filled with great joy. They came to Jesus and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us!” Jesus said, “I know. I have given you authority over serpents and scorpions and the demons, but do not rejoice in that. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And turning to his disciples privately he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

For thousands of years, the kings and prophets of Israel waited for the arrival of God’s Messiah. They longed to see the fulfillment of all that God had promised. They longed to see the age of the Messiah that the disciples were now enjoying. And yet, not all of God’s people recognized what exactly the Messiah was sent to do. And so in the midst of all this talk of having your name written in heaven and rejoicing in the arrival of the Messiah, one of the educated men in the crowd stands up and asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The man, like many of his day, like many of ours, missed the point of il_340x270.512348667_edyithe Messiah. He was looking for a way to save himself. So Jesus answered his question with a question: “What is written in the Law of Moses?” The man’s response? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said, “You have answered rightly. Do this, and you will live.”

Do this and you will live? Sounds easy enough. “I love God,” we tell ourselves. “I love my neighbors; I’m generally nice to people.”  It all sounds well and good until you begin to truly think about it. It’s easy to say, “I love God.” It’s even unfortunately easy to convince ourselves that we do. And, in the interest of fairness, to some extent, we’re probably right. I don’t doubt for a second that each person here today, myself included, loves God. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But do we love him with our whole heart? With all our mind? With all our soul? If so, we have a really odd way of showing it.

Pick one of the commandments, it doesn’t matter which one. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Do we actually do this? Do we joyfully come to church each week to be fed by God’s Word? If so, why do we need an attendance policy for school families? We have 1200 members, but our sanctuary only holds 500 at most. Why aren’t we spilling out of the pews into the aisles? Why does our attendance drop by 100 people a week in the summer? Why don’t we have to hold Bible Class in the sanctuary or gym? There’s no way we should fit in the cafeteria. If there’s almost 500 people in worship on any given Sunday, why are there only 100 in Bible Class? Is it that much of a burden to study our dozing-in-church1Lord’s Word, to delve more deeply into its truths, to let it shape your understanding of our life in this world? Are the other things on the calendar really that important? If we truly loved God with all our heart and mind, then nothing would keep us from the study of his Word or the services of his house.

We can try to convince ourselves that we truly love God with all our heart, but reality is far from it. If we truly loved God with all our heart then we would bend over backward to support the work of his church. Instead of having dozens of people at a voters’ meeting we would have hundreds. We would have so much money supporting the ministries here that not only could we easily build a new wing of classrooms or install a gym floor, but we would be able to pay our teachers to scale and even hire on new staff and engage new ministries within the church. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. This is not intended to be some backhanded sales pitch or fundraising effort.  I know full well that life is full of bills and financial obligations.  Neither is the point simply to berate the stewardship life here. It may not be what it could be, but that’s true of every congregation. In all reality, while anyone could easily become discouraged when thinking of all that we could do around here, I am also incredibly grateful for all that we already do in our Church and School, and for the support that we already have.  No, the point is simply to expose our flimsy attempts at self-righteousness.  If we tell ourselves that we love God enough to earn our salvation, then we’re lying to ourselves. We certainly don’t, and we show it by the way we treat his church.

The same could be said of any of the commandments.  Honor your father and mother? We are called to honor the authorities God has instituted in this creation. If you want to see if you truly love God, look to see how you treat authority. How do you treat your boss? Do you grumble? Do you complain about those who have authority over you? Do you look down on the person who schedules shifts at your work?  Do you respect the office of President or Congressman even if you didn’t vote for or don’t approve of the actions of the individuals holding those offices? Do you hate the order of creation or society? Do you

Stock Photo by Sean Locke www.digitalplanetdesign.com

Stock Photo by Sean Locke
http://www.digitalplanetdesign.com

look for ways to avoid supporting the government with your tax dollars? Do you try to find ways around city codes? Do you ignore traffic safety laws? If we do not completely honor and obey the authority figures God has placed in our lives, we cannot claim to love God perfectly. For whoever loves God listens to his Word and gladly puts it into practice.

The point of the parable, then, is two-fold. First, it is a strict condemnation of our silly self-righteousness. When confronted with a self-righteous question from a self-righteous man, Jesus doesn’t even bring out the big guns. He doesn’t attack the way that we don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength. He simply demonstrates that we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves. You know the story, so there’s no need to rehash it. But it is worth thinking about it in contemporary terms. Do we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves? People will stand in line for days before a Black Friday Sale or when the new iPhone comes out. Are there lines of people waiting for their turn to help at a homeless shelter in Detroit? Is there a waiting list of names for people who are eager to help with MCREST? Of course not. There’s no way we can legitimately claim that we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. There’s no way we can legitimately claim that we love anything as much as we love ourselves.

Which is where the central point of the parable comes in. For as much as we want to consider ourselves people who can at some level love God with our heart, soul, and mind, and people who love our neighbors as ourselves, the reality is much different. The Word of God will not allow us to live in that lie. The Law overtakes us like a band of robbers on the road.  It unceasingly accuses us in our sin, and each accusation is like a fist to the face or a kick in the gut. The hammer of God shatters our pride and leaves us lying by the side of the road in a bloody mess. And that’s exactly where we need to be, for that is where our Lord comes to rescue us. That is exactly where Jesus picks us up and carries us someplace safe.  He brings us into the inn of his church where he feeds and nourishes us.849463109_orig He binds up our wounds pouring on oil and wine. Oil was at one time commonly used in the service of Holy Baptism. Wine is a central element in Holy Communion. Jesus heals and strengthens us in his church through the gifts of the Sacraments. He does not leave us to die in our sin – he rescues us and takes care of us.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

He is good because he loves the unlovable. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.  We were laying there dead in our sin, unable to offer anything worth having, laying in a heap on the side of the road. And our Lord took pity on us. Our Lord acted in mercy toward us. It didn’t matter that sin had made us his enemies. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. They treated each other with contempt. They had a long and bitter history of mistreating one another. They were enemies. Paul says that our sin has made us enemies of God. Our selfishness, our failure to love God and serve our neighbor has made us enemies of the Almighty. And what did the Almighty do when he saw his enemy beaten and bruised by the crushing power of the Law? A bruised reed he did not break. A smoldering wick he did not extinguish. Instead, he picked us up and nursed us to health.  He brought us back to life – new life in him.

Jesus is the one who loves God the Father with all his heart, soul, and mind. He listens to his Father’s Word and obeys it even to the point of death.  Jesus loves his neighbor as himself, even more than himself. The ultimate message of the parable hinges on the last few words. “Which of the three men in the parable proved to be a neighbor to the men who fell among the robbers?” asked Jesus. The lawyer’s answer? “The who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

You go, and do likewise. Do you think you can earn God’s favor by showing that jesus-died-for-you2kind of mercy? Do you think you can fulfill the Law of Moses? Do you think you can love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind? Do you think you can love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? If so, you’re simply deluding yourself. The Word of God is truer that our excuses and self-justifications. It will expose our flimsy lies and excuses and leave us battered and bruised by the side of the road. But when we confess our sin, when we acknowledge the truth of God’s Word, when we acknowledge our failure to love God or our neighbor in the way we are called to, that is when our Lord picks us up and tends to our wounds. “You go, and do likewise,” says Jesus. And in a humble confession of the truth we say, “Lord I cannot.” And he replies, “Take heart, for I have done it all already.”

And then he binds our wounds. He heals our injuries. He brings to us the gift of new life in him.  And with the gift of the new creation given by our Lord, a new creation that includes a new will and sanctified desires, we set about loving our Lord and our neighbor to the best of our ability, never trusting that such love will earn us a ticket to heaven, but simply rejoicing that because our price has been paid we can now live as the people we were created to be: people who love our Lord, people who support the work of his kingdom, and people who tend to the needs of those around us.

May God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.