+Stanley Jensen+ (1923-2018) – Luke 2:25-32

When Simeon took the child Jesus into his arms, he knew it was time to go. Where was he going? Simeon was going to be asleep in Jesus. We don’t know exactly when he fell asleep in Jesus, but he knew it would be soon.

When Stanley Jensen received the Lord Jesus in his baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in the preaching of the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life that was his by virtue of Jesus Christ, he knew that his time to go was soon. Last Wednesday Stanley’s time occurred. 95 years, four months, and sixteen days is a long time to wait. Ruby went to be with the Lord 23 years ago this summer. The cry of both the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant is “How long, O Lord, how long?” The answer for Stanley came last week. Now.

Stanley was prepared. Not long before his death he received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. His sins were forgiven. He was reminded that Jesus died for his sins and rose from the dead that he, too, will rise like his Lord rose. He prayed the Lord’s Prayer with me. He said his “Amen” to the prayers. And, as always, a crisp, “Thank you, Pastor!” when the service was finished.

If anything, we should be the ones saying “Thank you” to Stanley. Like Simeon, Stanley was righteous and devout. Yet Stanley was righteous and devout not because of what he did, but because of what Jesus had done for him. Stanley’s service to God, to his country, and to his family and friends was actually Jesus Christ in action. The love that Stanley had for others shows the love Jesus had for Stanley.

A personal example not known by many was shown to my family in the summer of 2012. Orville Mueller and Stanley Jensen spent several days in the parsonage next door laying laminate flooring. Stanley was 89-years-old at the time. There he was, on his hands and knees, laying floor boards. What is more, Stanley also helped Orville move my wife’s upright piano from one place to another that summer in the parsonage. When my wife Becky looks at her piano, she thinks of Stanley putting all his strength into moving that piano.

We all have at least one Stanley Jensen story like that. Stanley’s life of service was caught up with the life of service that our Lord Jesus Christ did for him, for you, and for me. That life of service has come to an end. Yet the life of service that Jesus does for us has no end.

Simeon knew that when he sang my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. This child he now holds in his arms would grow up to save both the Jews and the Gentiles. His perfect life, His holiness, His righteousness, His innocence, His joy, His blood, His resurrection, all that Jesus is and does is to save His Father’s people from their sins. Stanley confessed this to be true every time he came to church when he confessed one of the creeds. Jesus did all these things for me. Jesus lives for me. Jesus gives me a new life in the hope of the resurrection that Stanley now sees on another shore and in a greater light.

Today your eyes see Stanley’s body that will be lowered into the grave next to Ruby. One day soon, you will see that same body rise from the grave with Ruby, with his parents, with Gaylord, Ronald, and Robert, and all those who have gone before us in the faith. Their bodies will be changed. They will be forever with the Lord. All those who cling to Christ as their only hope for salvation will join them, rejoicing in a family reunion unlike any other that lasts for eternity.

Stanley’s last words to me a couple of weeks ago were “Thank you.” Perhaps I should have thanked him. Even better, let us thank God for His good work of salvation for Stanley. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for making Stanley Your precious child. Thank you for keeping him steadfast in Your Word and Sacraments. Thank you for serving us through him.

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Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

It may surprise you to see Jesus in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. It may surprise you even more to see Jesus eating with him. Table fellowship in New Testament times, especially among Jews, shows how close you are with your neighbor. A handshake and a polite conversation is one thing. An invitation to dine with them is perhaps the most intimate expression of oneness with another person.

You knew, though, that it wouldn’t be long before Jesus would be set up. A man with dropsy is before our Lord. Is the sick man a plant? Did the Pharisees bring him in, hide him somewhere, then give him a signal to appear and walk over to Jesus? We’ll never know for sure. What if the man was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees? You know what our Lord is going to do. He heals them. But before He heals him, Jesus asks an important question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?

The ensuing conversation is a model of how we as Christians associate with those who live a worldly life. Granted we may not always wear our faith on our sleeve, but when the opportunity arises it is good to confess your faith in Christ and give the proper impression in your words. Christ uses the Sabbath and the healing of a man with dropsy to reveal the hypocrisy of His adversaries and to chastise their pride. It’s a golden opportunity to confess the truth and redirect their trap into the proper interpretation of celebrating the Sabbath.

Saint Luke says the Pharisees remained silent when our Lord asks the question about healing on the Sabbath. They know that works of love are allowed on the Sabbath. He proves it to them by healing the afflicted man. Jesus does not fly into a rage. He doesn’t pull out his Smartphone and tweet how these Pharisees are morons and how he is just that smart. #messiahforthewin. Jesus simply asks the question, heals the man, and proceeds to teach them the proper way to honor the Sabbath. Their response? They could not reply to these things.

Perhaps you haven’t had an in-your-face confrontation about what it means to be a Christian. Nevertheless, it is a good thing not to let your walk and your talk look like two separate matters. When children of the world smile at us, they are still full of deceit. Their kind words and calm demeanor belie the actual way they feel about us. Granted not all children of the world are that way. But there are those who look for every opportunity to shame and guilt Christians into denying their Lord. Perhaps your kind words about what you believe may lead them to convert. Perhaps not. Maybe your words will lead them to stop their deceit because their conscience knows you are right in what you say. All this is in the Lord’s hands. He will use the outcome for His own good.

Jesus also chastises the Pharisees’ pride. When the Pharisees do not accept what Jesus teaches, our Lord again doesn’t turn over tables and demand a throwdown. He stands His ground and seeks further opportunity to teach them. The Pharisees’ arrogance betrays them. Jesus noticed how they chose the places of honor at the banquet. Christ takes the opportunity to teach them about proper humility. Notice it is He Who should have been given the best seat in the house Who says it. This isn’t a Miss Manners question. He chastises their attitude. It is the right thing not to stomp up to the head table and sit down. You only sit there if you are invited to sit there.

Pride excludes a person from heaven. That is a hard saying not easily accepted. Our sinful nature loves to be prideful. It’s nice to be noticed…over and over again. It’s nice to see your name in ink or in lights. It’s nice to stand in the spotlight even if you don’t want to stand in the spotlight. Let’s bring this over to the spiritual realm. Just because you are somebody before the world doesn’t mean you get an automatic seat at the head table of the heavenly kingdom. That place is for those for whom it is given to sit.

Who do you think you are? Outside of Christ you are dead. That’s less than nothing. When you are dead you don’t even have a thing to no. In Jesus, however, in His blood and in His righteousness, in His holiness and His innocence, you live. You are more than something. You are His precious thing, for His kingdom is your glorious treasure.

Yes, pastor, I hear that every week here. But how does that play out when I leave church? How does pride get pushed aside by humility in my life? It is good to speak about public sin in the world. When you chastise such sins, you do it not to bicker but to win your brother. Speak about sin among your neighbor in such a way that your neighbor sees it is your heart’s concern. Be passionate, yes, but have compassion.

The hardest part, the one that both you and I fail at doing every time, is to let the head, the heart, and the hands all agree. Children of the world easily notice if your life is consistent with what you believe as a Christian. Remember again who you are. You are bought with a price: the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He cheerfully goes to suffering in humility but with resolve. In Christ you are something, but only because of God’s grace in Christ Jesus for you.

Where the head, the heart, and the hands don’t agree, there stands Christ’s body nailed to the cross for your sin. Your sin is atoned for. You are at peace with God. You are able to live in peace with your neighbor. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to proclaim your salvation to those who seek to trap you. Humbly speak His Word, for it will not return to Him void. Humbly speak His Word, for you have a seat next to Jesus for all eternity.

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 7:11-17

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” A question you are perhaps familiar with thanks to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Sometimes the wicked queen says: “Magic mirror on the wall”. There’s nothing magic about the mirror that we look into today as Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain. In seven short verses today’s Holy Gospel moves from a tragic mirror of death to a joyful mirror of life.

A man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. Shedding bitter tears, the woman was robbed of her last earthly means of support. At least she has a considerable crowd of people with her, perhaps showing the prestige and popularity of the stricken family.

Every time you come upon a funeral procession as you drive down a road, or every time you attend a wake or funeral service, you look into the mirror of your own mortality. There is a ceaseless procession of corpses now taking place all over the planet. Death does not spare Nain, a community in Galilee on the northern slope of Mount Hermon. Nain means “the beautiful place”. But death makes Nain a little less beautiful, especially with the death of the widow’s son. Death knows no distinction of sex, position in life, marital status, age, or even special circumstances. If death took note of special circumstances, then the widow would be spared the burial of her son as well as her husband.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Don’t look now, but your fair haired self ages every second of every day. Your life is a march to the grave. It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Don’t get too adjusted to the way of things in this life. Your sin is why you will not live forever in the way things are. If not for Christ’s salvation on your behalf, what a miserable existence you would have. You live, you die, and you have no future after that except eternal misery.

The death of the widow’s son at Nain is also a joyful mirror of life. Just before Jesus passes through Nain, He heals a centurion’s servant. Jesus didn’t even need to be in the servant’s presence to heal him. Now Jesus stares death in the face. Perhaps His forthcoming death and resurrection came to mind as He saw the funeral procession. One thing is for sure. Jesus saw the widow. He didn’t merely see her external form and her external grief. He saw her trembling heart. Jesus’ entire self, right down to His guts, were moved to compassion.

Jesus then proves Himself to be the Master of life. It all starts with what might today be considered an insult: Do not weep. We are taught from a young age how to deport ourselves at wakes and funerals. You comfort the grieving family by offering your apologies. You also comfort them by speaking the hope that we have as Christians of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come if the deceased was a Christian. The one thing you do not do at a wake or funeral is discourage crying. Yet here is Jesus, the Lord of life, telling the widow, do not weep.

Jesus doesn’t commit a funeral faux pas. Jesus prepares her for the inevitable. He meets death head-on and contends with it the only way He knows how. He calls the young man to life. He fills the hearts of mother and mourners with such joy that they loudly praise God with childlike fear and tell others what they saw and heard.

Jesus has contended with your death. The Prince of Life Who died reigns immortal. Because He lives, you also shall live. His work of reconciliation for you and for the world sounds like what the prophet Ezekiel said: And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, “Live!” I said to you in your blood, “Live!” Imagine it! Jesus speaks something like that to you in your baptism. LIVE! You are covered in the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses all your sins. You live. He speaks that to you today in the preaching of His Good News. LIVE! Christ has triumphed over death and the grave. He has made death a meaningless buzz word on your behalf.

The day comes when He will speak that over your grave and the graves of His countless followers, even the grave of the widow’s son from Nain who died again. LIVE! Up you go. You live. You have a new body. You are a new creation. You live. You will be united with all those who have gone before you in the faith, both in your family and in the family of God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Look again and again into the mirror of joy, especially when sin and distress plague you. Take a deep look also when Christian loved ones are snatched away by death. The deepest look is saved for when death comes for you. Even in your weak state you can stare death in the eye without blinking. For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the midst of death’s dark vale

Pow’rs of hell o’er take us,

Who will help when they assail,

Who secure will make us?

Thou only, Lord, Thou only!

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus says do not be anxious about your life. “Impossible!” you might say. A mother is anxious about her children. A father is anxious about his family. A preacher is anxious about his hearers. Authority figures are anxious about those they serve and protect. Even Saint Paul says in Second Corinthians: there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Paul also writes about his concerns and his hearers’ concerns in other epistles.

How is this conundrum solved? Anxiety is actually twofold. Anxiety that flows from love is just fine. Anxiety that flows from faith, however, is forbidden. If you believe that you have a God, then you cannot be anxious about your welfare. If you know God cares for you as a father cares for his child, then why should you fear? If you take matters into your hands concerning what God provides for you, that is always contrary to faith. On the other hand, God maintains anxiety that flows from love. As God cares for you, so you care for your neighbor.

Knowing that there are two kinds of anxiety makes it clear to see that Jesus speaks about the second kind of anxiety: an anxiety that flows from faith. Yet we are constantly fretting about everything that comes to us from Him. Consider for a moment how foolish such anxiety is to God. Jesus says which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If anything, anxiety about what God provides takes hours off your life. Besides, you have enough to worry about today as Jesus says. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Listen again to our Lord’s words: do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. All these things that occupy your time are God’s business, not your business. The Gentiles, Jesus says, worry about these things because they neither believe, let alone know, that there is a God Who provides food and clothing. If they do know anything about any deity, they think that deity is a tyrant or, at best, an idol.

The way out of anxious worry flowing from faith is to consider the two things God the Father gives you: your body and your life. Luther’s Small Catechism teaches you to confess “I believe that God has made me and all creatures”. That includes everything from head to toe. If that isn’t enough, He has created lower creatures than man like birds of the air and flowers in the field. Neither the birds nor the flowers give a care about how to find food or how beautiful they are. God cares for them. They are content. Their life is a silent “Amen” to His goodness.

The best part about leaving behind anxiety that flows from faith is to believe that your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Our Father knows we need to eat, drink, and be clothed. He will see to it that you will have these things. He sees to it that you are satisfied with them. Granted you may not have the best food, drink, and clothing, but you eat, drink, and have clothes. If you don’t have what you desire among these necessities, why waste a worry? Take it to the Lord in prayer. He gives you a fair hearing because of Jesus.

So now that the pressure is off us to be anxious about food, drink, and clothing, to where is our anxiety directed? Perhaps it’s best not to call it “anxiety” but “concern”. Our chief concern is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Where this is done, anxiety about earthly things can’t gain a foothold. Jesus promises it when He adds all these things will be added to you.

Your concern now is to let Jesus have His way with you. Easier said than done, right? Yes, it is. Even then we let anxiety creep in the way of Jesus having His way with you in His Word and His sacraments.

We question whether or not God did the right thing by calling us by the Gospel. “Am I sure He wants someone as sinful as me?” Yes, He does. Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. He hangs with Zacchaeus. He heals lepers, blind people, and deaf-mutes.

We question whether Jesus actually forgives sins. “Does Jesus really know how sinful I am? Does He know I’m not a model husband or wife or mother or father or friend?” Yes, He does. His all-availing sacrifice on the cross covers every sin. The shedding of His blood speaks your innocence. Satan has no claim on you because of Jesus.

We question whether we are good enough for God. “My act isn’t together. I’m a mess. I say and do a lot of bad things every day. Will He still want me as His own child?” Yes, He will. His righteousness covers the chief of sinners. That’s you. That’s me. Jesus’ perfect life is yours because He comes to live the perfect life you are expected to live in your place. He bestows all that He does for your salvation to you. You owe Him nothing. He gives you everything. All He asks is that you follow Him and trust that He has done all things necessary for your salvation. “What if I fail?” Jesus never fails. “What if I stumble along the way?” Jesus will pick you up and put you back on the path. “What if I seek other things?” Jesus will call you back to Him in His preached Word that shows your sin and, ultimately, shows your Savior.

God be praised for strength and patience
In this knowledge to abide,
That my God will still provide!
God be praised for consolations
Ever new, to know that He
Loves me for eternity!

(KELG 391:6, tr. Matthew Carver)

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 17:11-19

It is said that there are three degrees of untruth: fibs, lies, and statistics. I’ll leave it to your imagination to conclude which ones are greater or lesser degrees. Let’s consider for now statistics to be the greatest degree of untruth. Looking at Holy Scripture you’ll see the occasional success story with statistics. Take Pentecost for example. About 3,000 souls were added to the way after the descent of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching. Cornelius’ family, including children, was the first Gentile Christians.

There’s also the statistics of what looks to us to be failure. All but two Israelites that traveled on dry ground through the Red Sea died marching around Mount Sinai for the better part of forty years. Only a couple of tribes did not fall to the Assyrians. The tribes who did, however, later became known as Samaritans. One of the four soils that receive the seed in our Lord’s parable bore fruit.

Then we have the ten lepers crying out to Jesus for mercy in today’s Gospel. All of them are in desperate need of healing and restoration. All cry out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Jesus has mercy on them by saying, Go and show yourselves to the priests. That’s where things get interesting. Shouldn’t Jesus wave His hand over the lepers and cleanse them that way? What about a repeat of what happened to Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings? Seven dips in the local river might cleanse them. No, this time Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests.

So they run. Only one turns back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. As if that wasn’t enough, Luke slips in the fact that he was a Samaritan. Ouch! A double whammy to the Jewish hearer. Regardless of whether the other nine were Jews, the only one to return was a Samaritan, the sworn enemy of a Jew. He has his own temple where he could run. He runs to the temple with skin: Jesus Christ, Savior of both Jew and Gentile…even a Samaritan.

Where are the nine? They are running to the shadow rather than to the actual thing Himself. The priest and the temple have their place, but that place soon will be no longer necessary. Jesus Himself is the temple, the tabernacle made with skin. His sacrifice for sin is soon to happen. He is the One Who brings ultimate healing from sin and death in His sacrifice for sin and in His resurrection from the dead. Was it because the nine other men didn’t know better? Was it because they were ungrateful? Those are two great questions. We may never know the answer to both questions. What we do know, however, is that this statistic does not lie.

You, like the lepers, cry out to the Lord Christ for mercy. When you receive it, you also go running…but not to the temple, or even to the church building. You, more often than not, go running everywhere and anywhere except back to the Giver of every good gift. You got what you wanted. Now it’s back to reality, already in progress. You forget, or don’t want to remember, to return thanks to God for His mercy on your behalf.

Let’s take something obvious, yet often forgotten. Perhaps you pray before you eat a meal. That’s a great habit to have. If you haven’t started that habit, there’s a prayer for it in the Service Book in Luther’s Small Catechism. Yet when mealtime is over, everyone scatters. There isn’t time to return thanks to God for His provisions. It is like receiving a gift for your birthday or at Christmas, but you never say “thank you” or write a thank you note to show your gratitude. It’s nice to receive, but it’s also nice to have your generosity recognized by someone.

The Psalmist writes, I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy…. What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? The Samaritan answers the Psalmist’s question. He returns to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving in praising God with a loud voice. He even falls on his face to worship the Lord. Our Lord’s respond to the Samaritan’s show of thanks is to remark that the nine others did not return. Then He says the clincher: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.

The Samaritan believed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Did the other nine? We’ll never know this side of Paradise. Saint Luke puts the focus on the ten percent of the men who did return to give thanks and praise to God. Though a rotten statistic, that’s the way it often is in the kingdom of God. So many are helped, so few return to offer thanks. I got what I got. Now I can move on with life.

Consider all the mercies Jesus has shown you. He called you by the Gospel. He made you His precious child in baptismal waters. He washed you clean from sin. He clothed you with the garment of incorruption. He wrote your name in the Book of Life with His blood for ink. He sends His holy angels to watch over you wherever you go. He has put His Word of life in your life through preaching and through continual study of His Word. His Father provides you with all your need for your body and your life. His Spirit keeps you connected to Jesus in the gifts of preaching, baptism, and the Supper. When you die, He will keep your body and soul safe until He raises you from the dead when He appears to judge the living and the dead.

All this is only for starters. The main thing is that you live because Jesus lives. Though sick with sin, your ultimate healing is still to come in the Resurrection. While you live here, you walk by faith in the Savior. You live in His good favor. What more can be said to all He has done for you than “Amen.” Yes, sir. What You have given me is mine because You said so.

To receive, to respond with “Amen”, and then to open your lips in praise to God, using the very words He gives you in His Word, is the pattern of Christian life. Every day you fall. Jesus picks you up and sets you on His path. You say, “Amen” and “Thanks be to God” and walk with Him. Then you’ll fall again and the process is repeated until death. Then you wait for the great “Amen” on Judgment Day as you live with Jesus for all eternity.

Jesus, Master, have mercy on me. He has. He does. He will. It’s not a statistic. It’s true. Believe it for His sake.

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 10:23-37

A lawyer, a scribe, a student of the Jewish way of life and worship, asks Messiah what shall I do to inherit eternal life? The question intends to trap Jesus in His own words. The lawyer, however, is the one caught in the trap. The lawyer might be the one accosted by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. In fact, just for fun, let’s make the lawyer the man half-dead by the side of the road. A closer look at the lawyer shows that his face actually looks a lot like your face. You, like the lawyer, are the one unable to help yourself.

You are unable to help yourself because you are unable to fulfill the summary of the Ten Commandments. The scribe gives the textbook answer: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus quickly adds: Do this and you shall live. Yet there you are, hanging by a thread. Your future doesn’t look so good. Half-dead often turns into full-dead if you don’t get any relief.

As your eyesight starts to fade you see two men separated by some distance walking your way. You recognize them from a long way off. One is a priest. The other is a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe. Both are in a position to help you. Both know exactly what the law says. Both practice the law to the best of their ability. Both go out of their way to avoid you. There may be other robbers in the bushes or in the ditch. You can’t be exposed without protection for very long. It’s best to keep walking. Oh, well, thoughts and prayers. Good vibes. Gotta travel on.

You’re about to fade away when, all of a sudden, here comes someone you’d rather not see. His name might be Don, or Osama. You can’t quite make out the face. Maybe he is a she. Is it Hillary? Could it be Rachel from that TV news show? No, that looks like somebody I used to call a friend. It doesn’t matter. All I know is that I’ve seen that face before and, well, it’s curtains for me. Never did like him or her. I know he or she certainly doesn’t like me. Maybe I’ll get one last prayer said before he or she draws their knife and….

Wait a minute. What’s this? Ouch, that stings! Smells like red wine. And what’s that person putting on my wounds? Feels oily. Wow, that feels much better. I might yet live. It’s getting dark out here. I think I see an inn up ahead. Is that where I’m going? It couldn’t be. No, this is certainly a well-planned trick to make sure I die. There’s no way this person would ever take the time to care for me. But here I am. What a story this will make for my grandchildren. Of all people to help me. And I never really got a good look at their face.

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? If you answer the priest or the Levite, you’re a fool. The ones who are bound to help their neighbor kept walking. But if you answer the one who showed him mercy, you discover that perhaps your own worst enemy considers you a neighbor even though you have thought and said things about that person that should never be thought or said in polite or impolite company.

You go, and do likewise. Ah, there it is. The old “Get busy” trick. I’m working hard at it every day, Jesus. I know who my neighbors are. Or do you? What if you didn’t vote for your neighbor for President of the United States? What if your neighbor was accused of cheating on their spouse with your spouse? What if your neighbor has a weekday radio or television show you love to hate? What if your neighbor is your own next of kin that you haven’t spoken to in years because of that thing that happened or that thing she said that make you mad? If you were in the Samaritan’s shoes, would your guts churn with compassion? Would you bandage their wounds, take them to the inn, and make sure they are taken care of for the foreseeable future at great cost?

The answer is no. No, you want to pick your neighbor. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, when it comes to life or death. Jesus says do this, that is, love God and your neighbor, and you will live. Perhaps you think you’re better off dead than to receive help from him or her. Compassion knows no prejudice unless you want to live by what you think is the correct interpretation of the good and wise law of God. The correct interpretation is to love without prejudice. You don’t love without prejudice. No one born of Adam loves without prejudice. Even your best effort at love without prejudice is woefully short of the mark of perfection God our heavenly Father expects from His children.

So there you are, half-dead, but soon to be full-on dead. How’s that love without prejudice working out for you now? But wait, Someone is coming. Someone is coming not to pass you by, or to bestow thoughts, prayers, or good vibes. Someone is coming to rescue you from certain death by putting His life on the line for you. Someone is Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan. The perfect Jew does the demands of the Law for both Jew and Gentile in order to rescue them from death and hell. He carries you into the inn of the Church, where your wounds are bound up in the wounds of Christ Himself. You are washed. You are fed. You are declared righteous and innocent for Christ’s sake.

You are then set free to put your body and mind and soul to work for the sake of your neighbor. Yes, you will fall woefully short of our Father’s expectations. Your love for your neighbor won’t be perfect. But Christ’s love for you and for your neighbor is perfect. That’s why you cling to Him as your hope for salvation and for eternity.

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Believe it for Jesus’ sake, your Good Samaritan Who loves you and gave His life for you.

Catechizing Young People Should Be Educational AND Lively

I think of my friends at Higher Things when I read these paragraphs.

The heart of the matter is that we hold our catechizations in such a way that everyone who comes, even likes to come, participates in it with pleasure and joy. We must be careful that we do not, by the way we catechize, give people some sort of excuse for staying away from Christian instruction times. Our catechizations should always be very educational and lively. They should be educational. We usually call these services Christian instruction times. That is a very significant name. They should be Christian instruction times and Christian instruction times. Our catechizations should be set up in such a way that in these services all Christians, young and old, learn something, that they are properly encouraged and fortified in the knowledge of the truth. Our Christian instruction times are not there that we quiz our children only on the Catechism and see what they have retained. Catechization means instruction, instruction by means of question and answer. Our young people and all Christians should be led deeper and deeper into the understanding of the Catechism and thus of the Scriptures in these services, so that they penetrate deeper and deeper into the glorious content of the Catechism and thus better understand the doctrines of the Word of God. Whoever catechizes thus in such a right way will do his part to ensure that his congregation is well grounded in knowledge.

Our catechizations should also be truly lively and stimulating. It would take us too far afield to explain in more detail how this should happen. We would like briefly to point out two points. One should not talk too much. Long, sweeping arguments and exhortations are not appropriate especially in catechesis. One asks much more and asks his questions as briefly, accurately, and precisely as possible, so that children immediately recognize what the question is about. And then, to illustrate the truth and doctrine that one treats, examples are drawn wherever possible, examples mainly from biblical history, but also from everyday experience. If the catechist asks fresh and lively questions, then most children will soon be fresh and lively in answers.

Georg Mezger, The Pastor’s Care for the Confirmed Youth of His Congregation, translation mine. Errors in translation are mine.

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Luke 18:9-14

Looks can be deceiving. So can titles. So can gestures. Even words are deceiving. We judge someone’s intentions by how they dress, what they do, how they deport themselves, even by what they say. Externals are everything. Actions speak louder than words. When actions don’t speak loud enough, you can always speak a little louder to make sure all eyes are on you.

Externally speaking the Pharisee has his act together. He is the paragon not only of what to believe, but also how that belief shapes your life. The Pharisees go the extra mile to keep God’s law. Jesus alludes to their over-the-top interpretation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount when He says: You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” Not only is it sinful to murder, but you will be severely punished when you murder someone. But what the Pharisees didn’t get is that murder is more than the act of murder itself.

Going the extra mile to keep the law means that you will never dig yourself out of the hole in which you stand. Then again, if you’re a Pharisee, you might believe you’re not in a hole but on a mountaintop where everyone can see how you live and hear what you say. What a Pharisee forgets, though, is that the law has an end in Jesus Christ.

Saint Paul says in Romans chapter eight: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Paul isn’t making it up as he goes. He was trained in the Pharisaical way of interpreting Torah. He’s been there, done that, and owns a chest of drawers full of T-shirts. If you want to live by the law, and more than the law, you also will die by the law. So the Pharisee digs in his heels and doubles down on more law, more performance of the law, and making sure everyone sees just how externally righteous he is. After all, if he can do it, so can you…and you’d better do it if you know what’s good for eternity.

God, I thank you that I am not like other men. Say no more. You are certainly not like other men. Other men, especially the tax collector that you later call out in your grandstanding prayer in the temple, rest their confidence not in themselves but in a merciful God Who, as the prophet says, desires mercy and not sacrifice. There’s no mercy in the Pharisee’s words and actions. The intent of the heart is to make sure everyone notices just how pious he is, especially God. Piety divorced from the intent of the heart is all show before the living God.

Remember God’s words to Samuel when it was time to select a new king to replace Saul. Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. If we were to look at both the Pharisee and the tax collector without knowing the intent of the heart, we’d side with the Pharisee every time. Jesus, however, turns the whole thing upside down when He says I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other.

But didn’t the Pharisee do everything according to Hoyle? Not even close. You can follow all the rules and still lose the game with God. What is the intent of your heart? That’s what God sees. The intent of Cain in today’s Old Testament reading was to give something. He followed the rules. He did as he was told. Abel, on the other hand, gave the best of his flock. The intent was to give the best to the Lord God Who has had mercy on him. Cain’s response to the Lord’s disregard of his offering was to murder his brother, then complain about the punishment. Hey, at least Cain brought something! How come Abel gets preferential treatment? Abel doesn’t get preferential treatment. Abel’s intent, his heart, was set to give back to God the best of what he had in joy.

Let’s follow the fear of intent for a moment, especially when it comes to Paul’s words about Jesus being the end of the law. Does that mean that our intent now that we are in Christ should be to commit oodles of sexual immorality, harm our neighbor as much as possible, and then claim we are free in Jesus to do whatever we please? What is your intent? Paul has the answer. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit dwells in you because Christ is put upon you in baptism and in you in the preaching of the Good News, your intent is not selfish but selfless. Consider the prayer of the tax collector: God, be merciful to me, a sinner! It’s a confession of sin, yes, but it’s also a confession of confidence in Jesus Christ, Who became sin for you in order that you have His righteousness, His innocence, and His blessedness.

Your life in Christ is not about doing everything just so and saying everything just so. Your life in Christ is living your life as God’s precious lamb. The Lord gives you a place to live among other people. He gives you the gift of many callings in life so you are able to serve others and, in so doing, serve the Lord. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are His work of joy who gives others His joy by serving them where the Lord puts you to serve. You don’t have to put on a show. You do what’s given you to do and cling to Jesus where and when you fail. His blood and righteousness covers all your sin. His life is your life. You are exalted in Jesus Christ. His grace toward you is not in vain.

Of Music, Memories, Family, Friends, and A Basement

Spin me back down the years
And the days of my youth
Draw the lack and black curtains
And shut out the whole truth
Spin me down the long ages
Let them sing the song.
– Jethro Tull, “Thick As A Brick”

By the end of September, my parents will sell the only house I’ve known as home for the greater majority of my life. The house is a labor of love, built with their own two hands and the hands of many others, family included. Many of those who helped to build that house are dead.

It is time to let go of their labor of love. They are old. They no longer need a four bedroom, two bathroom, partially finished basement to clean, with a large backyard to mow every week. It was a hard decision to put it up for sale, but it was the right decision.

I could write blog posts about every room in that house, but I’ll limit myself today to the basement, especially the finished portion of the basement. Originally it was a sleeping room for my cousin John, who was attending SIU-Carbondale studying journalism. Later my brother Jim moved down there. Finally, after he married, it was mostly my space though I continued to sleep upstairs.

It was in that room where countless hours of music was played, both live and on media. A fireplace, later a wood burning stove, heated the room. For a time that wood burning stove also heated the entire house through an ingenious forced air system my dad made when natural gas prices spiked in the late 70s. It was in that room where I discovered the joy of music, family, and friendship. It was my oasis from the world. It was my private music appreciation classroom.

I first heard Yes, Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, Waylon, Willie, Merle, George Jones, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gayle, and the countless albums and CDs I bought in the 1990s. I recall my dad plugging in his bass guitar to his amplifier and playing along to country music radio stations. I first heard George Strait sing “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” while my dad played along with it. I remember my brother Joe trying to teach himself pedal steel guitar to Merle Haggard’s “Holding Things Together”. My mother grew tired of Glen Campbell’s music while my brothers Bob and Joe were trying to teach themselves how to play guitar. Even I had some woodshed time with both bass guitar and later mandolin down there. Many times my mom or dad would stomp a foot on the floor upstairs to signal the music was too loud or that I was needed upstairs.

It was the scene of family music gatherings. It was the scene of drinking much beer. A guy who drank too much of my dad’s strong homebrew once fell upstairs. It was the scene of Christmas gatherings and a few New Year’s Eve parties. I watched Letterman, Imus, and lots of Game Show Network programs down there before I went to seminary. I was known to take an afternoon nap down there while listening to New Age music when I worked mornings at WDQN the first time around. Lest I forget the darts thrown, the roller skating, the bowling, the pool table, and lots of table tennis. Before my time there was epic Monopoly sessions down there with Cousin Wild Bill Meacham often yelling “RENT!” when someone landed on his property.

Soon another family will make that house their home. My dad was hoping that another family with children would buy the house. It worked out that way. In a couple of weeks we’ll take our van down to Du Quoin and load up some items we want to save. I’ll make one final walk through the house to say good-bye. Now it’s time for someone else to enjoy the house and make some new memories. May the new owners make as many memories there as we did!

Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 19:41-48

Jesus prophecies concerning Jerusalem: Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! Your enemies…will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. His prophecy came true less than forty years later when forces of the Roman Empire laid waste to Jerusalem, slaughtering 1.1 million people. The city has since been rebuilt but, as we know from recent history, trouble still persists in that part of the country.

What made for Jerusalem’s peace? How did she not know the time of her visitation? Those are questions we must ask ourselves, too. What makes for our peace? How do we know the time of Christ’s visitation?

Jerusalem’s peace was not bound up in her importance or her citizens’ importance. Yes, the Jews were God’s chosen people through whom He would redeem both the Jews and the Gentiles. In time, though, many in Jerusalem and many elsewhere shifted their focus from God’s promise of salvation to their citizenship in Jerusalem or their heritage as Jews.

What made the Jewish people special before God’s eyes was the fact that He, out of all the nations of the world, chose them to be His people. He would deliver them not only from earthly calamities, but chiefly from sin and death. God kept every promise He made to the Israelites. Even when He chastised them by putting them under other nations, even when He focused His attention on the tribe of Judah, and even when that tribe was sent away to exile and later returned to their homeland, He did not forget them. Over time, however, they forgot Him.

Worse yet, they forgot the promise of salvation in Messiah. Messiah now meant liberation from all earthly powers. Messiah meant earthly peace. Messiah meant a renaissance of God’s chosen nation as the greatest power on earth. Messiah meant the Gentiles had nothing on them, even though God’s plan of salvation included the Gentiles.

Like the Jews, we also forget the things that make for our peace. Perhaps we think that being a citizen of the United States of America is equivalent to our eternal salvation. After all, think how God has blessed our country. Clearly that means He loves us more than any other nation on earth? How will you explain that to many other countries that He also has blessed? Perhaps we consider that Jesus only died for Missouri Synod Lutherans. Yes, the Good News of Jesus Christ trampling down death in His death and resurrection is given to His Church to proclaim, but His Church is more than Missouri Synod Lutherans. Perhaps we believe that the faith of a beloved family member will give us salvation as long as they pray for us, whether they are alive or dead. “Oh, Grandma always went to church. I know she’ll put in a good word for me with the Lord. I don’t have to believe in God. God will see I’m with her and it’s all good.”

It’s not all good when the things that make for your peace are ignored or misused. For the Jews, Jesus says, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. For you and me, hardness of heart sets in. We become complacent. We see no need to read Scripture, let alone hear it in Divine Service. We eat, we drink, and we rise up to play. Life goes on. Yet when Judgment Day arrives, to what will you plead for your salvation? Grandma’s faith can’t help you. You can’t plead ignorance. You did not know the time of your visitation.

Now is the day of salvation, Holy Scripture says. Jesus walked among His own, and His own would not know Him. A star announced His miraculous birth, yet it seemed that so few cared to notice the King of Kings lying in a manger. He performs miracles, preaches sermons, heals the sick, raises the dead, and confounds the Jewish religious authorities. Some followed Him. Others, well, for a time, maybe, but when the hard sayings were said, many turned their back and went away disappointed. What kind of cannibalism does this Jesus promote when He calls Himself the Living Bread that came down from heaven? Eat His flesh? Drink His blood? Preposterous!

What is Peter’s response to everyone leaving Jesus? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. Christ’s time of visitation in the flesh ended over two thousand years ago. Yet He still visits us today. In fact He has kept His promise of never leaving or forsaking us.

Jesus remains among us where His Word of reconciliation and joy in eternal life is proclaimed. Jesus remains among us where people young and old are made dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus through water and His Word in Baptism. Jesus abides among us and in us as we eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is right. Now is the day of salvation. Though we celebrate something that happened in time many years ago, forgiveness and salvation is ours now through these holy things. We believe, and have come to know, that Jesus hasn’t split the scene. He is truly here in earthly things where He promises He is for you.

The last words of today’s Holy Gospel say that all the people were hanging on his words. Hang on to His words for you today. The things that make for your peace, the time of Christ’s visitation, are now. Trust not in princes, powers, or presidents. Trust not in your family name or a loved one’s faith in Jesus. Receive Christ in Word, water, bread, and wine for the forgiveness of your sins. There His Spirit works in them to keep you close and connected to Jesus. Where Jesus is, there you are, too.

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