Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the Leviticus, early on in the Old Testament, God gave a specific order to the liturgy. If you came to the tabernacle or the temple, things always went the same way. You started with a sacrifice for sin. It was always an animal. And that animal was slaughtered and died. The blood was poured at the bronze altar. The innards were burned on top. The meat was cooked. And atonement was finished when the priests ate your sacrifice.
Next came the sacrifice of dedication, or the burnt offering. An animal was still sacrificed. The blood was still poured out at the bronze altar. But the entire body of the animal was burned to ash on the altar. And while this burnt offering was for dedication, This wasn’t so much to show your dedication to God. Rather, it was to proclaim you as one to whom God had dedicated Himself.
Finally came the thank offering. And this is the offering that the offerer and his family ate. If your family ever ate meat, it first had to be offered as a thank offering. Again the blood was poured. Again the innards were burned. But this time, the rest of the sacrifice was taken home and feasted upon. And again, it wasn’t considered complete until eaten. The thank offering wasn’t just meat, though. It could also include grain, turned into bread. And it could include wine. In fact, if those things were offered, it could only be in a thank offering. This was to thank God for any number of things. From, “Hey, we have a new king, let’s celebrate!” To, “God, you really saved my bacon, that was great.” Down to, “hey, I think the trees and sunset looked pretty cool last week.”
These three sacrifices were the main parts of the tabernacle and temple liturgy. And it was very important to put them in the right order. Because this liturgy wasn’t just something that the priests made up. This is what came down from God with Moses at Sinai. And if you just did your own thing up there, you often wound up very dead. Like Nadab and Abihu.
Well, that liturgical pattern didn’t actually start there. All throughout Genesis, these kinds of sacrifices took place. They knew the liturgy even before Sinai. Even Cain and Abel knew it. After all, there they are in today’s text. One making a thank offering of grain, or the fruit of the ground. And the other a sin offering with the shedding blood.
So what do you think happens if we only bring a thank offering? What are we saying about ourselves? We don’t have to look far. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable sounds pretty bad. Stuck up. Conceited. Full of himself. That’s what the words, “I thank you that I’m not like other men” sounds like to us, isn’t it? Thank God we’re not like that. And then the irony of that last sentence sinks in.
But did the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable necessarily pray anything wrong? In fact, we often pray this way. Don’t we pray, “Lord. I’m just so thankful for everything you’ve done for me. Thank you that things are as good as they are, because I see some who have it so much worse. Thank you that you’ve guided my life so that I’ve never had to steal anything to survive. Thank you that I’ve got faith. Thank you that I haven’t been tempted in ways that others have had to face. You’ve made it so that I believe. That I trust in you. And because of that, I am just so thankful for everything.” Just what is wrong with that?
I think Cain prayed the same way. And here’s why I think that. In Genesis, chapter three, we hear about the fall of humanity into sin. The end of our perfection and paradise. All at the hands of Adam and Eve. However, the Lord didn’t leave them without hope. He gave a promise to Eve. And a curse to Satan. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Did Eve know what this promise would look like? That God would become flesh and save them through His incarnation? Actually, I think yes. Because you can translate the Hebrew of Genesis 4:1 in a couple of different ways. We read Eve saying at Cain’s birth, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” But it’s actually better Hebrew to translate it as, “I have gotten a man, namely the Lord.” This would explain why Eve pays so much attention to the birth of Cain here, but Abel feels like an afterthought.
Imagine growing up with those expectations. You’re God’s promised messiah, in the flesh. You’re going to reverse the curse of sin. You’re our savior, Cain. God in the flesh. And can you blame Eve? She’s merely taking God at His Word. Except with a bit of impatience. And can you blame Cain? This is what he was being told his whole life.
Is it then any surprise that Cain might pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this [Abel.] I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. In fact, here is my sacrifice of thanksgiving now.” And Cain offered the fruit of a farmer, right from the ground he worked. Just like people have been doing ever since. And we do the same today when that plate goes around in just a few minutes.
So it’s more than a little disconcerting to hear that Cain’s offering was rejected. It’s a problem when we hear that the Pharisee did not leave justified. Aren’t you worried to hear that your very best can still be condemned? That you can do everything you think you’re supposed to, and it’s still not good enough? The sin we inherited from Adam and Eve is that powerful. The sin we ourselves commit is that damning. We cannot overcome it by simply doing the best we can with the hand we’re dealt. This is why our Lord tells Cain that sin is crouching at the door. Because it actually is.
But that’s what makes the stories of Abel and the Tax Collector even more frustrating. Abel wasn’t special. Abel wasn’t the chosen seed. Abel was no savior. I mean, look at what was written about him here. He has nothing of note. Nothing to tell us who he is. Except his offering. And Abel’s offering is itself an admission that Abel’s not that great a guy. It’s not a thank offering. It’s a guilt offering. Blood was shed. Atonement had to be made. Abel was a sinner. And his sacrifice admitted that.
Likewise, the Tax Collector. What was in him that made him worthy before God? Or at all likable by anyone else? It wasn’t just the outright robbery that made tax collectors unliked. It was that they were traitors to their own people. They sold out their country for profit. They joined up with the Roman occupiers. There was no one else more hated in all Judea. And deservedly so. If anyone wore the label of sinner, it was them. And yet, in both our texts, these open sinners are the ones God receives and justifies. But the ones who are just like us are rejected.
But remember, the order of the liturgy matters. Cain offered the thank offering without a sin offering. The Pharisee prayed the thanksgiving offering prayer, not the sin offering prayer. When we come before God in thanks without also confessing our sin, what we’re really saying is that forgiveness isn’t what we really need. It’s so unneeded, that it’s not even worth thanking God for. It doesn’t matter how nicely we put it. Nor how moving it is to others who hear it. Thanksgiving without repentance is the absolute height of hubris. And that makes for a long fall. That’s how far Cain falls. That’s how far the Pharisee falls. And that’s how far we fall as well.
But then Jesus went and did something very strange. He let each of those sacrifices foreshadow His own. The sin offering. The burnt offering. The thank offering. Jesus made them all at once. When His blood was poured out at the altar of the cross. When When His body was nailed to that tree. When the fiery wrath of God consumed Him completely. And yet the priests and the people both eat of the sacrifice. And that flesh and blood are eaten as bread and wine.
Jesus collapses it all down to one moment. And by His final, ultimate sacrifice,sin is atoned for. Christ’s dedication to us is revealed, and the gift we are most thankful for is given. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The sacrificial Lamb, who fulfilled the entire Law, given from the beginning of time itself. And He has been sacrificed on your behalf. Your sin is forgiven.
Even when your sin is a bad as Cain’s. Even when you live up to your inner Pharisee. Even when in your arrogance, you have acted as though you were your own god. Even when in your anger, you slay your brother in thought, word, and deed. Even when the consequences of your sin are greater than you can bear.
It took the death of Cain’s brother Abel for Cain to realize his sin, and to turn to God for mercy. Likewise, it took the death of our brother Christ Jesus for us to realize our same need for mercy. And just like with Cain, Jesus has placed His mark on you. Jesus placed His name upon you. The name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You have been baptized. And now no one has the right to take vengeance upon your sin. For vengeance belongs to the Lord. And it has already been meted out. On Christ at the cross. You have been washed and made clean. Fit to now enter the temple. To enter the body of Christ.
And now that you are here in His Church, that eternal liturgy remains the same. We confess our sins first thing. Only this time, our sin offering is already here. Christ is here for you. And we receive His forgiveness. Next is the dedication. But again, our burnt offering has already been made. But to keep the order, our Lord then reveals His dedication to us. He proclaims His Word to us. He gives us His promises. And He lives up to every one.
Finally, we respond in thanksgiving. We even keep the Greek word for it. Eucharist. And, yes, the sacrifice is already here. Jesus is here. And this is the offering we get to eat. And what we are thankful for the most is Christ Himself. And all that He has done for us. The forgiveness. The salvation. The everlasting life. His continued presence with us even now. And everything else that comes with it. And through the course of that God given liturgy, we can now truly say thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, what are your favorite words to describe God with? Maybe you like think of God in terms of power. He created all things. He can do all things. He’s in control. Got the whole world in His hands. And that’s the kind of power you want on your side. Or maybe you would prefer to describe God in terms of love. He cares about who you are. He’ll give you anything you need. He’s there for you when you need Him. Couldn’t have a better friend. And that kind of love overcomes all things. Or maybe you like to describe a God of justice. Or a God who is worthy. Or a God of mercy. Or a God who is king. All of those things, of course, being very true.
But in our Epistle Lesson today, Paul gives us a very solemn warning. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. And the thing itching ears want to hear the most, is none other than our favorites. To turn away from the truth, you start with the truth. But we want to hear the parts of that truth we like. And we do like our favorites.
We like a God of power, because we’re on his side. We like a God of love, because then He wont judge me. We like a God of justice to give us justice against our enemies. We like a God who is worthy, because then everyone else’s gods aren’t. We like a God of mercy, who will not take His justice out on me. We like a God who is king, so that we can quietly be the power behind the throne.The Old Adam in us likes our favorites for a reason. We will take every one of God’s attributes, and use them to turn away from the truth. You do this. I do this. We all want to turn from sound teaching.
If you’re telling yourself, “Oh, not me,” then, does this sound right to you? Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. And then tells us about a judge who only gives what is asked for in order to get the widow to shut up about it. And, apparently, God will do likewise. Not just for you, but for anyone. Even your enemy. Always pray and don’t lose heart? I think the parable did that for me.
Because is that the God we want to show to the world out there? How will they be impressed by this? It doesn’t show a God who will stand up to anyone. This shows God as too willing to lose. And if He gives in so easily, how will He stand up for us against our enemies? Because, in the end, it’s all about us, isn’t it. Our God showing weakness probably didn’t make our list of favorites, did it?
At least we have our Old Testament lesson, right? Where Jacob is afraid, and God shows up to teach him a lesson about faith. Jacob wrestles with God. But, with a finger, God puts Jacob’s hip socket out of whack. And Jacob is then able to face His brother. There’s the kind of God we like to see. There’s the kind of God we want on our side standing up for us. Because that’s impressive. That scratches our itch.
Except it doesn’t really work out like that here either. God doesn’t appear in glory. He doesn’t show up with miracles pouring out of His pockets. He doesn’t go and smite Esau. He doesn’t come and exalt Jacob. He doesn’t come in power, or love, or justice, or anything else we want to show off. He comes as a man. He gets dirty in the mud. He wrestled with [Jacob] until the breaking of the day.” And, “the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob.” That man was Jesus. And Jesus didn’t win.
In fact, He answers Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” That isn’t the kind of God we want. This God lets those who fight against Him win. This God is a pushover. This God gives in. And that will not do for us. Where’s the Jesus who wins the victory? Where’s the Jesus who stands up to Satan? Where the Jesus who overcomes on our behalf? Because the Bible talks about that too, right? But this? This doesn’t scratch the itch. If Jesus is willing to lose to Jacob. Willing to lose against those who are persistent, then what’s stopping Him from losing when I need Him to win the most?
But the place we need Jesus the most is precisely where Jesus loses. The place where Jesus does His work is where He lets people push him around. The place where Jesus saves us is the very place man prevails against God. Because Jesus let men win when they arrested him. Jesus was pushed around, and beaten, and crucified. Jesus loses as bad as anyone can lose by losing His life on the cross.
So what part do you think is the first to go when we insist on our favorites? That’s why we need to hear about the death and resurrection every time. Because that’s where Jesus gives up all power and glory. That’s where love and mercy are redefined. Christ foreshadowed His loss in the battle against Jacob, yet in that battle Jacob was blessed. Jesus loses again at the cross. Bested by us. Only this time He died. We killed Him. But in that loss, He blessed us with forgiveness, life and salvation. Forgiveness for letting our favorites tell us who God is. Life for now and for the world to come. Salvation out of sin and death. Because in that fight, Death itself walked away crippled at the hip. Unable to hold anyone for long.
Likewise, Jesus still comes to us in things we think to be weak. Things like words in a book. Water poured on us with a name. Bread and wine. And yet those weak, simple words are stronger than all our might. That water given with the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit washes all our sin away in baptism. That bread is the actual body of Christ. That wine is the same blood He shed on our behalf. These plain, ordinary, weak things are the very things in which Jesus shows Himself to us.
What a strange way to do things. Backwards even. Maybe we’re more familiar with it from St. Paul. “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
And maybe that’s a better lesson to take away from our Gospel lesson as well. Always pray and don’t lose heart, not because God will scratch your itching ears. But because in Christ’s weakness is more power and joy, hope and life, glory and love, than in all our own strength combined. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today we honor the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, and the women who serve our communities throughout the world. The theme all across the nation for LWML Sunday is from Psalm 66:5, which is the Psalm we just read this morning. “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.”
Come and see! That’s the call in every text today. In Isaiah, a declaration from the Lord that they will go and see. In Revelation, John looks, and behold, he sees. In our Gospel lesson, Philip tells Nathaniel, “Come and see.” But not everything our Lord calls us to see is necessarily what we want to see. In fact, that’s pretty much the point. If we wanted to see, no one would have to tell us to come in the first place.
We definitely don’t want to see what our Lord says in our Old Testament text. “For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many… And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. Go and look. Come and see. It’s not a pretty picture. Rebellion against the Lord ugly. Being an enemy of God has a gruesome end. But will we really come? Will we actually see? Or is it easier to turn aside? Safer to pretend that such a thing could never happen? We would rather chuckle at the ol’ fire and brimstone preacher than actually believe him.
But Jesus does want us to see who we really are. Not the pretty picture we paint for everyone else. Not the image we see of ourselves. Not what we’ve put forth, with all our own self-justifications covering the parts we wish to hide. Jesus wants us to clearly see our own sin. So that when we see it, we repent. But how hard is that for us? How hard is it to say the part we don’t like are us? To say the sin we’ve done is ours. To say that yes, I have earned hell with my own two hands?
Come and see. Behold, the wrath of God. Behold the judgment. Behold, Hell itself. You must see this. No matter how much we want to close our eyes. No matter how much we want to run away. Come and see. This is who you are. This is who I am. But if this is true, who then can possibly be saved?
That’s why the Lord has John in his vision look and see. John had heard how many. 144,000. And when we truly have looked at ourselves, that number sounds big. But then, come and see. John looks, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
How? How could there possibly be so many? I know who I am. I know what I’ve done. And I still think I’m better than everyone else out there. Can it really be possible? A great multitude that no one can number? From all over the earth? There in front of Jesus in heaven? That many saved? How can we come and see who we really are, and then come and see an outcome like this?
How? How can anything good come from us? How can anything good come from Nazareth? Again, Come and see. Come here, and see Jesus. Because Jesus knows who we are behind our masks. And yet, gave His life to save us anyways. Jesus knows that I deserve wrath and hell and damnation. And yet bled and died on that cross to forgive my every sin. Jesus knows me, and and endured the entirety of God’s wrath in my place. And that changes everything.
Before I saw my sin, I didn’t want to come see a Jesus who loves, forgives, and saves. Before I saw who I really am, I had no desire to insinuate that I had any sin that needed forgiven. Before I saw what was due to me for my rebellion against God, I had no use for the Gospel. And that’s why Jesus wants all of us to come and see it all. The parts that aren’t so pretty, and the parts that truly are.
Not only does Jesus want us to come and see, He also comes to us and sees. Sees something we don’t even see in ourselves. Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit. Those words that Jesus spoke to Nathaniel, he now speaks to you. There is no more need to hide. There is no more need to lie about who we are. We are the worst of sinners. And yet we will see far greater things than this. Because Jesus died for me. Jesus died for you. Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. Come and see, the sinner’s every sin has been forgiven. Hell itself has been overcome. Death no longer rules over us.
Today is LWML Sunday. And the LWML has been proclaiming Christ’s message to the world. And for that we give thanks. Because Jesus calls us all to come and see. See who we are. See then also how much Christ has done on our behalf. And likewise, Jesus comes to see us. And seeing our sin, He took it away on His cross. Forgiving it all by His blood. So now, all that God sees when He looks at us is His baptized child. Made sinless through that forgiveness. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I think it was after Nancy Ryan’s memorial service when Eva came up to me and said, “When I go, I want you to preach that same sermon. That’s the one I want for my service.” As flattering as that was, that would be a bit awkward to actually do word for word. Because Eva is not Nancy. Nor are the texts we’ve read today the same. And yet it’s also fair to say the message isn’t all that different. Because at the center is still Christ Jesus.
I first met Eva on a stretcher here in the narthex on the day I was installed here at St. Paul’s. It was in the middle of the morning service, with the installation was scheduled that afternoon. Eva had fainted, and the paramedics had come. I was sitting with my wife and kids, when Megan elbowed me to point out what is going on. So I go out and have a prayer with her before they load her into the ambulance. And you know what she said to me? She said, “I’m sorry to have created such a scene.” She wasn’t thinking of herself, she was thinking about everyone else.
Well, the next day is my first day in the office, and I’m planning on making a trip over to the hospital to visit Eva. And guess who walks in the front door? At the time, I was surprised. But looking back, that was actually pretty normal. I got the impression that Eva was willing to fight through just about anything. That’s who she was. Nothing was going to stop her once she set her mind to it. At least nothing that she could control. Those verses we read earlier, which were among her favorites fit that narrative. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. And, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. And, [He has] blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. Those described the Eva I know to a T.
This is what we’re supposed to do when someone we love dies, right? Remember all the good things. Comfort ourselves with the same old platitudes. Tell ourselves that things are really for the best this way. Well, there was one more thing about Eva, that I’m sure you know. Eva was willing to tell you exactly what she thought. Sometimes, whether you wanted to hear it or not. If it needed said, she said it. And I think that’s why she wanted me to preach Nancy’s funeral sermon to you again. Not to tell you what you wanted to hear, but to tell you what you needed to hear.
Because guess what, death is horrible. When the ones we love die, it hurts like hell. We’re not crying tears of joy, that’s for sure. Life will never be the same with them gone. The world became an emptier place. Maybe that’s the last thing we want to hear. But it is true. And yet, for some reason, every one of us will pretend to put on a happy face. As though that’s what we’re supposed to do. Because what else can we do?
Isn’t that what our texts today are looking for? Rejoice always? I can do all things? We’re blessed with every spiritual blessing? Aren’t we supposed to put on that smile? Aren’t we supposed to act happy, even if we’re not? Aren’t we supposed to look on the bright side, because that what God says to do? If that’s the case, then my faith, your faith, Eva’s faith is in vain. Because the kind of god that asks for that reaction from you is actually powerless. That kind of god can do nothing. That kind of god is empty. Because we can already pretend away reality just fine on our own. And we don’t need bible verses to tell us to do what we’re already good at.
Besides, that not what these texts say at all. Not when you look at the context behind them. And that context is the content of Eva’s faith. What Eva wanted you to know above all else was that context. That Christ Jesus is a God who has done something about death. He didn’t sit up there and say, “Hey, death is a pretty cool thing.” Nor say, “Death is kinda handy at ending suffering” Nor did He say, “Death is a great way to get people up to me.” No, Jesus said that death is the enemy. Jesus said that death is horrible and monstrous. And Jesus said that death must be destroyed. And then He did just that.
You know why we have crosses in Church? A symbol for the Ancient Roman form of execution? The most painful way anyone could ever die? Because that exactly what Jesus used to walk right into the jaws of death. Because if death is going to swallow up our loved ones. If death is going to swallow up Eva, then lets see it try and take down God Himself. Jesus indeed died on that cross. But in death, He did more than any of us could do while we’re alive. From inside of death, Christ Jesus has indeed destroyed death. So now it can no longer hold onto any of us for long. Death lost everything. And lost it’s hold on everyone. Because on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead in victory. And that resurrection will also be Eva’s. And it will be ours as well.
Jesus knows that the death of those we love hurts. Jesus knows your pain. Knows your tears. Knows your cries. Even when you try and convince yourself it’s not as bad as it is. We don’t have to pretend. Because through Jesus’ cross there is finally an answer to death. An answer to the very worst things we feel. God died for Eva. God died for me. God died for you. So that He can carry you out of death on His shoulders, and give you your own resurrection.
That’s why Paul can say, even in the midst of prison that, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Because if Jesus can use His own death to save me. To forgive my every sin. To conquer death forever. Then what can He do with anything else that could possibly come up in life? He can do anything He wants. That’s what Eva confessed.
That death and resurrection of Christ is also what’s behind why we now rejoice in all things. Why we pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance. Because it’s the very same reason we call the day Jesus died Good Friday. For even though the worst possible thing we could imagine happened, Christ used that very thing to pay for each and every sin we have. Christ gave us His place, while He took ours. That’s what Eva confessed.
And yes, that also means we’re blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Heaven is ours, because Jesus paid for the way with His own blood. Eva’s not with Christ because she was so good, nor because she led the right kind of life. Even though she did those things far better than we do. She is there for one reason, and one reason only. Because Christ died and rose for her. And He died and rose for you too. That blessing isn’t only spiritual either. It’s both spiritual and physical. Because Eva will be raised from the dead. We will put our arms around her again. Death will not, and cannot hold her forever. As we sang earlier, “this is her story, this is her song.” And this story isn’t done yet. Nor is yours. Eternity is coming. Death has already lost. Christ Jesus has already won.
That’s no platitude. Nor is it something we have to pretend to feel when we actually don’t. We still mourn. But we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. For Eva’s hope is in Christ, who died for her. Was buried for her. And rose on the third day for her. Eva’s hope is in the promise of the resurrection. Hers, and yours. And she wants you to know that hope as well, whether you want or hear it or not. Because that hope is sure. That hope is why we rejoice always. Why we give thanks in all circumstances. And why we are truly blessed with every blessing. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Where Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man goes to hell. And while in hell, this rich man argues with Abraham that hell is really quite unfair. After all, if God were merciful, like he claims to be, He’d sent Lazarus to give even a drop of relief. Never mind that this man didn’t care to give Lazarus a crumb of his own. But we should be able to hold God to a higher standard. Besides, this isn’t really asking for all that much now, is it? Is this God really unwilling to do so little? It’s a reasonable request, after all. Except, you know, the hell part.
The problem is that we do the very same thing. Every day. I don’t think I should deserve eternal damnation just because my eyes happen to catch glimpse of a pretty skirt every now and then. Who gets hurt? I shouldn’t deserve hell because I get angry with people I think are fools. Shouldn’t God know that they’re fools as well? Why should I face condemnation for putting time with my family first? God will still be there for me next Sunday. If God is truly a merciful God, then these are small things. Nothing He should even be worried about, really.
And yet Jesus clearly speaks His judgment against every one of those things, specifically. Maybe they’re not as small as we thought. Maybe we’re not as important as we thought. And I should say not. We believe we are the judge of God. That we stand over God Himself. We get to decide whether or not God lives up to our expectations. Is He really all that good? Is He really all that powerful? Let us weigh the evidence ourselves. Has He judged us correctly? Probably not.
Every one of our sins should be considered little ones. Every one of our rebellions against God’s should be considered insignificant. Because we can justify them all. Even the most egregious ones. The pornography or the affair? I can explain that. The outright theft? It’s really not so bad as you suggest. Killed your parents or your children? I had good reasons. The lies, the deceit, the throwing of someone else under the bus? C’mon, everyone does that. God made me this way. Just what’s so sinful about it? Judge not, lest ye be judged. Nobody’s perfect. So it shouldn’t be a big deal for God to throw me a bone here. Give me some relief. After all, you claim to be just. You claim to be merciful. Prove it to me, by indulging my desires. And, God, if you wont, it only shows your true colors.
How manipulative we are. It doesn’t matter how small we think our sins are. Every one of them is us placing ourselves as judge of the very God who made us. And every excuse is an utter rejection of the very God who created us. Our condemnation is rightfully earned. Our damnation is totally deserved. Hell is exactly what we asked for. We wanted the chasm that cannot be crossed. In order to keep God out. And every sin, intended or not, and every excuse, whether good or not, widens the chasm further.
But the very worst is when we accuse God of not doing enough. The man in hell refuses to believe that our Lord had done a sufficient job. Since he’s in hell, then obviously God should have done more. Here’s what you can do to redeem yourself, little God. Send Lazarus back from the dead. That will surely be adequate to convince my five brothers to make the right choices. That will be plenty to have them do the right things. Because if you insist on being so unjust to me, then I insist that you don’t let them share in my same fate.
But when Abraham says that Moses and the Prophets, that the Word of God is sufficient on it’s own, this man says no. And it’s the most emphatic no there is in the Greek language. He practically shouts at Abraham. “NO!”
No to Moses! No to the Prophets! No to Abraham! No to the Word of God! It’s not enough. It can’t be enough. Because I am here. And that’s not okay. Because here hurts. Here is not at all what I ever wanted. I don’t even have a name here. This is all your fault, God. So, if I have to be here, then I need someone to blame. Someone other than me. Because I’ve done all I can to not be here. And I cannot bear any more. I need You to listen to me. I need You to do what I ask. Because I know better than You. Even in hell, he demands to be the judge.
Sound familiar? We don’t have to make it into the pit of eternal suffering to feel that way. When Lazarus was alive, dumped at a gate, covered with sores, licked by the dogs, wouldn’t have this been his cry? It’s been my own dealing with far less. It’s all of ours, because that old Adam is dying inside of us. The one shouting ‘no’, is me. And every pain, every suffering, every thing that goes wrong, it drives that me flesh berserk with rage. And so I continue to pretend to be the judge. Hoping to drive the faith Christ gave us away. And then to reign as a god in His place.
After all, the chasm we built between us and heaven by our sin really is too wide for us to cross, no matter how much we want to. And who else better to be a god here than me? Except here is Hell. And on the other side of the chasm is not. It’s really too bad that Abraham in Jesus’ parable said that no one would able to cross the chasm. Of course, Abraham also implied that there wouldn’t be anyone rising from the dead either.
In fact, everything the rich man asks for is what Jesus actually does, only better. And everything Abraham says isn’t possible, is exactly what Jesus accomplishes. Jesus crossed the uncrossable chasm. Crossed from heaven into hell. And How appropriate that Jesus used His own cross to do it. Jesus entered into the fiery anger of God. Taking the entirety of that wrath onto Himself. Jesus takes it all. And not a bit of it is left for you or me. Jesus endured hell itself on that cross. And He did it in your place.
Jesus also crossed that chasm carrying water. Not just enough to cool the tongue. But enough to put out the fires of hell itself. By that water, we are baptized. With that water, we receive the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And like Lazarus, our names are known. With that water, our names are written in the book of life. We are buried with Jesus by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too would have new life.
That risen Christ is now sent to the house of our brothers. And to ours as well. To serve as the eye witness to the death and resurrection that happened on our behalf. He’s sent in order to give you the same place as Abraham and Lazarus. Being a saint and getting to heaven has nothing to do with your pocketbook. Nor your social standing. Nor how well you can justify yourself. Nor the good things you have done. It rests entirely on Christ Jesus. After all, what did Lazarus do? Nothing. Maybe even less than that. After all, Lazarus died. That’s it. And yet he received faith, grace, life, salvation. These are all gifts from Christ. And He gives them to you today as well.
Through these gifts. Through baptism. Through the Word. Through things we have a hard time believing are all that effective. Through these, Christ does His work. Through these, Christ carried you out of hell and up to heaven. Through these, Christ has made us one with His Church. With His bride. As we sang just a few minutes ago, “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one in Thee, for all are thine. Alleluia. Alleluia.” And because of that, it no longer matters in we have the rich man’s life, or Lazarus’ life here in this world. Because this life will always have pain. And it will have fleeting joys. But only one thing will remain forever. And you have Him. You have Christ.
I really don’t know what it is that God sees in us. We are arrogant, judgmental, selfish, destructive, and manipulative people. We try to be above even God Himself, telling Him ‘no’ when His ways don’t suit us. And yet we have fallen so low, that we cannot even see the top anymore. Despite all that, Jesus lived the life of Lazarus, and suffered the fate of the rich man both, all for us. How could we possibly be worth that to Him? It’s as though He saw what we might be without out sin. It’s because He looked at us, and saw Jesus. We have been clothed with Christ. Our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This morning, we have two texts that are really tough. One of them is tough, because we’re not sure we get it. The other is tough, because we do get it, but we’re pretty sure that we don’t like it. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager. The master of the house hears an accusation against his manager that he has been mishandling his master’s funds. The manager, instead of pleading his own case, sets himself up to be taken in at the next house by doing exactly what he is accused of. He gives away what rightly belongs to his master. But here’s the part that we don’t get. The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
If it were me, I’d have been pretty upset. I would have said, “See, this is why you’re getting fired in the first place.” Besides, Jesus goes on to say, “One who is dishonest in little is dishonest in much.” That isn’t something to praise. And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus says the master in the parable did. And that sounds crazy. The Pharisees thought so too. They ridiculed Jesus for this parable. Probably for the exact same reasons. What master would ever commend such a wasteful manager? They didn’t buy Jesus’ reasoning at all. As lovers of money, it sounded like a bad argument.
But then we come to 1 Timothy, chapter two. And the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” Try going out and saying that to the world. You don’t even have to go that far. Try saying it here. It sounds crazy. Who would ever commend such a saying? And who can buy the reason Paul gives? Because Eve was deceived? She will be saved through childbearing? This is why? Really? It sounds like a bad argument to us.
Both of these texts pose problems to us. So the next question is whether the problem lies with the text, or with us. Which do you prefer being, the judge, or the judged? The Pharisees gave their answer. And it was the wrong one. In fact, of all people, they should have known better. Because although Jesus appears to give a parable about finances, the actions we see inside make more sense in the context of God and His ministers. And that’s what the Pharisees, who sit in Moses’ seat, are.
When ministers act contrary to what God gave them to do, they are removed from office. But when they sit down, and quickly give away what belongs to God, they are praised. And don’t get hung up on the word “shrewd.” It has a negative context in our language. But the original Greek isn’t so negative. Maybe it would be better to say that the master in the parable commended the dishonest steward’s intelligence, or even wisdom. And what could be more wise than giving away God’s gifts?
Likewise, there is a better way to translate dishonest. And our English text even has it. The unrighteous manager, giving away the unrighteous wealth. It’s the same word in the Greek. Of course the ministers are unrighteous. They have no righteousness of their own. I hope I don’t give the illusion that I’m some great guy up here. I’m simply another in the long line of bumbling idiots that God calls to be ministers of His gifts. I’m yet another sinner in need of Christ’s forgiveness.
The Pharisees should have seen the actions of the parable, and recognized them as God’s. But instead, they set themselves up as judges. Ridiculing Christ for commending such a stupid master. Because no one would believe such a far fetched person would be that irresponsible with his money, his livelihood, or even his own life.
There were plenty of Christ’s Words that the Pharisees’ treasured. Like the ones spoken through Moses, or Isaiah. But these? These words couldn’t possibly be from God. Their god would never say that. And that was one of the Pharisees’ sins. But the Pharisees’ sin is ours as well.
We bristle harshly at what Christ spoke through Paul. And yet, what is the context? It’s the same context as the parable. God and His ministers. Because what is going on? There are prayers for all people, including those in authority. That men lift up holy hands. That women dress respectfully, and not like the prostitutes of the day. Quiet learning. Isn’t this exactly the worship service? The very place where ministers give away God’s gifts?
The problems come when we look at ministry in the way of the Pharisees instead of the Way of Christ. Is the Church, Old Testament, or New, a top-down pyramid, with God on top? Then come His ministers. Then, looking at 1 Timothy, come the men. Then the women are on the bottom as the least important? Because Christ said that He came not to serve, but be served, as a king, right?
No. Rather just the opposite. I came not to be served, but to serve. The pyramid is inverted. The first became last. The king became the servant of all. Jesus serves us all. His ministers serve His Church. The men serve the women. And the most important thing that you can do on a Sunday morning is to listen in quietness. Because in that, life itself given to you. There is no greater role in the Church than to receive Christ’s gifts.
And that is why Paul argues from creation and the fall. Because at that place was again the worship service. Adam and Eve worshipped in the eating of the tree of life. And they worshipped in the not eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In this Adam was supposed to minister to Eve. The fall happened, when Eve took upon herself the role given to Adam. And Adam let her. Paul says Eve was deceived, not Adam. But you know what this means? Adam ate, knowing full well the consequences. Eve became a transgressor, as it is written. But Adam brought all of creation down with him.
This is why Christ limits the office to men. And not even all men, but only those of us stupid enough to bear this responsibility. Because that’s what He has always done. Adam was supposed to serve Eve. Give Eve the gifts that Christ had given. Gifts that were eaten. Fruit from the tree of life. The Pharisees and the priests were supposed to serve the people the gifts that Christ had given. Gifts that were eaten. The sacrifices for sin that were offered for their forgiveness.
Today, Christ’s ministers give the gifts that Christ has given. Both the sacrifice for sin, and the fruit of the tree of life. We give you Jesus Himself. Jesus, who saved through childbirth. Where God Himself was born. He saved Eve. He saved Adam. He saved us all. And He did it by giving away everything he had. Giving away his livelihood, and even His own life. He saves by bearing all our sins on that cross. He saves by dying on our behalf. He saves by rising from the dead on the third day. And that salvation is indeed the gift given to you today. Whether that’s by a Word of absolution. Or by the Word connected to water in baptism. Or the Word in the Supper. Where Jesus says, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood shed for your forgiveness.”
And Jesus gives the Office of the Holy Ministry to do this giving in the worship service. He gives the office to strange and peculiar sinners. Jesus gives this office when a congregation said to a man, “Hey you, you’re serving us Jesus.” Pastors aren’t given these jobs in order that we can have our own way. We’re not here to be served. We’re given these jobs to serve. Just as Christ serves us. And we do serve. We give forgiveness, in Christ’s stead, and by Christ’s command.
And we do this specifically in the worship setting. Because there is nothing more important than that you hear what Christ has done for you. There is nothing more important than to receive the absolution that Christ has won for you. There is nothing more important that can ever be done than receiving the gifts that Christ gives. Not reading the texts for the day. Not serving on a board or committee. Not teaching, or being an elder. Not being in this pulpit. None of it can possibly eclipse receiving this: Christ Jesus died on your behalf. And all of your sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God.