Sunday, March 14, 2010

“What A Mess…What A Message!” (Luke 15:12, 31-32).

S-1176 03/14/10 4SIL/3C (O) #245; (S) #326; (L.SS) #175; #314; #419 LSB; (C) #279

Texts: Isaiah 12:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Theme: “What A Mess…What A Message!” (Luke 15:12, 31-32).

Question: “How many times have you made a mess?”


Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The text for our 4th Sunday in Lent is from the Gospel Lesson: And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me’… (15:12). And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found’” (Luke 15:12; 31-32).

Introduction: In Nomine IESU

People of God, chosen and beloved daily we hear in the news of people who make a mess of their lives. Here are few examples: Democratic New York congressman Eric Massa had to resign his seat because he is accused of groping a male staffer in the shower. What a mess! Few months ago, the slick and sheik image of Tiger Wood was blemished with the news of having 15 affairs. What a mess! And John Edwards a former presidential contender had to resign because he fathered a child out of wedlock with a news reporter. What messed up life some people lead.

But we don’t have to look at the rich and famous to consider their messed up lives. How about us? How often do we make a MESS of things? We get ourselves in places and situations that we could avoid if only we listen to the advice of our loving heavenly Father. We make a mess of things by doing it our way. We make a mess of things when we think we know better than God. We make a mess of things when we ignore His Word, and listen to the devil who entices us to elevate ourselves above God and think of ourselves as gods.

In this chapter Jesus tells a story that hooks the people who were listening then, and the people who are listening today. The story is of a father and two sons. The parable from Luke 15 is such a familiar story that we dare not go over it quickly without unpacking the jewel that is within it.

The evangelist Luke always writes passionately about the life of the Savior. Today, we meet the Author of Life telling a story—a story of messed up lives of two brothers. The younger of the two comes to his father and says: “Father, I want you to give me what you owe me’—my inheritance—NOW!” With these words the younger brother in essence was saying to his father: “I want you dead so that I can live the way I want to live.” I don’t want you to judge me. Give me what is coming to me. Ironically the loving father does exactly what the son asks. Soon afterward he leaves the very familiar life-style he grew up in and goes searching for a better and bigger life. He wanted to run his life without any restrictions or consequences, making himself his god. But what a mess he made of his life and inheritance. Everything the father gave him he squandered on loose living—prostitutes, drinking and gambling. Everything that his father worked hard for is now in someone else’s pocket. And when he attempts to correct his mistake he made it even worse.

And the older brother isn’t any better. He is fit to be tied when he hears of what his father does when his younger brother full of mud and mire crawls home penniless. The father forgives the sin of the younger son and welcomes him back to the house with a grand and glorious celebration. But this is not what the older brother thought should be done. His idea is: you made your bed now sleep in it. You wasted your money there is no more. You lived in the mud eat from that pile brother.

Certainly these two sons have made a mess of their lives. But the father doesn’t remind them of the messed up lives, but of a different message one of forgiveness and the other of celebration. What a message the loving and gracious father has for both of them. He forgives them both. He does it because He is the father. His love for his children compels him to do the unthinkable and unimaginable—to restore their messed up lives. PAUSE.

My beloved, we all make a mess of our lives and will continue to do so. But there is a message that you need to hear today from the loving heavenly Father. When we squander everything, our heavenly Father is there with a word—He comes with salvation! He comes with restoration! When sickness or death comes, our Savior is there with a word of comfort. When we return to our Lord with repentant hearts, our heavenly Father is there waiting with arms spread wide in a welcoming embrace. He deals with us according to His mercy and love.

For so long the father had been waiting for his son’s return. Day After day he scanned the horizon, yearning for that familiar figure to come down the road. And then one day came true. None but a loving father’s eye could have recognized in that scruffy wreck the son who had left home so confidently earlier. The father ran as fast as his legs could carry him to embrace his son. When the son began to stammer about his sins, the father cut his confession short. He saw the change of heart in his son’s eyes. Best of all, the father received his son back, not as a servant but as a son in full standing. The best suit of clothes, the finest shoes the signet ring were given him as sign of that sonship. A sumptuous banquet was prepared with the son as the guest of honor. All because the son who was as good as dead to the father was now alive and safely back home.

The parable of the prodigal son is really a story about the waiting father. I know who the prodigal is. It is I who so foolishly and so often have left the Father’s house. What I need to know is about the heavenly Father. Does He write me out of His will or long for my return home? Will He slam the door of heaven in my face or open His arms to me? Will He treat me like some slave or take me back as a son or daughter? Here’s the answer! Because of another Son, named Jesus, who left His Father’s house with all of its comfort and peace on the task of salvation and returned back with the completed mission, my Father will be waiting for me with wide open arms. PAUSE.

This week I got an e-mail message from my uncle in Arabic. There was a beautiful picture (the picture is in the bulletin, and to those reading it, it is on the last page.) of an older man embracing tightly a younger man whose clothes looked filthy and unkempt. Above the picture was this title: “YOU ARE MY SON and I’M YOUR FATHER” Here is the translation of the message:

“The one thing that you didn’t loose is this: You are my son, and I’m your father. No matter how far you move away from me…No matter how you dishonor and shame me, You are my son, and I’m your father”… Even if you wasted all that I gave you. Even if you lost all I granted you on your desires and loose living, You are my son, and I’m your father”… Even if you knocked on all the doors, and I am the last door you knock on, You are my son, and I’m your father”… How long will you seek things that are empty and void apart from me? All you need is me. Why do you leave the living well and dig for yourself wells in a harsh and desert land that has no water? I am the living well. My son, why waste your life seeking the empty things that don’t satisfy? It is enough my child. Don’t spend your life in pain and sorrow, hardships and afflictions; return to me because You are my son, and I’m your father”…

These words from the father are a constant reminder of the love God has for us—His beloved children. We need to hear them again and again, because we are no better than the people in the media or in the story before us today. We, too, make a mess of our lives because as sinful human beings, we don’t love, fear and trust in God above all things.

We may not grope people in the shower, we may not have affairs, we may not have children out of wedlock, but we have our own messes. We ignore God and go away from Him attempting to live our lives without any restrictions or consequences. Some of us get tangled in the thorns of covetousness. Another falls into the swamp of lust. A third tries to ascend the steep heights of pride, self-righteousness, and the like. And still others attempt to live JUST for themselves.

Yet, Christ seeks them all. He seeks the whole world. For this reason the only begotten Son of God decided from eternity to become a man and to lower Himself to share in the mud, mire and misery of man. He carried out this eternal blessed decree. By His blood and His death on the cross, He atoned for the sins of all people and redeemed them to bring them back into the arms of His waiting heavenly Father. This is precisely Christ’s office: to seek and to save the lost—who all have gone astray—you and me. PAUSE.

Children of God, chosen and beloved if there is anything that I want you to hear today it is this. Yes, we make a mess of our lives, but God has a message for you. If Lent is about anything it is about God’s hope for otherwise hope-less and hapless hearts. The Father of all mercy forgives our sins and helps us to celebrate life anew. We are welcomed to His home again with wide open arms. Today, there is a celebration banquet taking place. Today YOU will dine as the honored guest at the table of the Lord feasting not on a fatted cow, but on a beautiful slain Lamb. Today, YOU will know that deliverance has taken place. Today, YOU will hear from the lips of the Father the joyful message: “Take eat, take drink this is for the forgiveness of your sins. “You are my son, and I’m your father”… Is there any grander message to hear? Amen.

Now the peace of God… SDG

Monday, March 8, 2010

“The Loving Thing to Do!” (Luke 13:8).

S-1174 03/07/10 3SIL/3C (O) #429; (S) #149; (S) #324; (C) #457

Texts: Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10”1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Theme: “The Loving Thing to Do!” (Luke 13:8).

Question: “Do you like it when you are disciplined?”


Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The text for our 3rd Sunday in Lent is from the Gospel Lesson: “And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. (Luke 13:8).

Introduction: In Nomine IESU

People of God, chosen and beloved the police car pulled up next to a mother who was spanking her son in the parking lot of a shopping mall. He rolled the window down and looked at her and said: “Mam, it is not a good idea to spank your child. It will destroy his ego and he will have psychological problems” She looked at him as only a mother with a fury can and said: “Sir, I am doing this so that 20 years from now you don’t put handcuffs on him for shoplifting!” That spanking was the loving thing to do. The mother loved her son so much that she wanted to spare him a life of pain, hardships and spending time in jail.

We are not any different from the young man in our story. At times we live our lives without consequences. Many times we think we are gods and have rights to live the way we think we could and should. However, we don’t have a right to live our lives apart from Christ’s or His Word. His Word is our Lamp to our feet and the light to our path. His Word is the blueprint for our path. Any times we don’t do so we are walking in darkness.

Even though we know these things, we still struggle living the life of the Christian man and woman. And when we don’t and God disciplines us, we don’t like it. Being disciplined is never fun. None of us in this place likes to be disciplined. I don’t care what age you are. This is especially true if we are disciplined by the authority of God’s Word. For the Word of God at times is very harsh to sinful ears.

This is what we have in our text today—harsh words. But these are not harsh words to harm us or hurt us but to bring about a change for the better. What we have in the text today are God’s gracious words because it is the loving thing to do. And what is it that God desires from us? REPENT, TURN AWAY FROM WHAT YOU ARE DOING BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. THE ROAD YOU ARE ON IS A DEAD END STREET. PAUSE

My beloved in the Lord, Luke’s Gospel account for today is one that is intended to jar us from our deep sleep. In it, Jesus engages His hearers then and hearers today with a parable about a fig tree not being a fig tree. What do Fig trees do? They produce figs! However, if a fig tree is no longer producing figs, or has no hope of producing figs, it ought to be stacked neatly in bundles by the fireplace! It shouldn’t use the soil’s precious resources! Now this seems logical and right - but harsh, right!... NO! NO! AND NO!

Let me ask you: “Is it wrong to put the skull and cross-bones sign on cleaning supplies or railroad cars carrying hazardous materials? (Wait for their answers) NO! In fact we would call that at the least, “irresponsible,” and as Christians we would call that “unloving!” Jesus is therefore being both responsible and loving. In mercy and grace He reaches out to us and shouts in love: “My children you’re heading down a dead-end that will kill you - return to Me, listen to My voice, follow it, follow Me and LIVE. For in Me there is Life and Salvation! In Me there is hope and heaven!”

The words of our text are these: “And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. In these words we see the mercy and compassion of the Great Gardener Jesus doing what He can to spare our lives before it is too late. This is an act of love that demonstrates that the Love that Christ has for us, even before we knew His name, He knew our very breath. There can be no greater Love than this. This parable is a story rooted in love that is done for the right purpose.

What you observe today through the reading of Luke is the joy of the Son of God, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father doing the loving thing for us. Jesus gets to appeal to His Father on our behalf—on yours and mine. Like a tree that is supposed to bear figs, but doesn’t, how often does your life, does mine, bear branches that are leafy but without their due meat? We are so often fig-less fig trees. Today we see Jesus on our behalf as the fig-dresser, bearing the spade and the manure in His own flesh to bear all that we would bear fruit, or as He said, in the Gospel of John 15:5, 7-8, 5 I Am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing... 7 If {as you certainly will} you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. Know, learn and hear that our loving Father is glorified when we bear much fruit.

How then, do we bear fruit? How does God take this old dead fig tree and causes it to produce fruit? It is done by the mercy of God as He unites us to His Son Our Savior. This Master Gardner uses the tools before Him to work the changes that are necessary—shovel and manure. The shovel to remove the unwanted and the undesirable, and the manure to fertilize it. When we feel the sharp point of the shovel and smell the odor of the manure we are not above our master (Matthew 10:24). As our master endured the cross, we His followers endure the hardships that come our way. Even though they come we can be confident that He is faithfully working everything in our lives for His glory.

Again, no one likes to be disciplined. No one likes to smell the odor of the manure. But this is the loving thing to do by the Faithful Gardener Jesus Christ. He works in us repentance. This repentance is brought about by Him digging the dead branches in our hearts, and upon the rest sprinkling the manure to bring forth abundant fruit.

At times we brag about our fruit producing thinking they should bring us closer to God. That He should love us more. But how foolish we are! All of our man-made fruits are nothing but manure, good to be piled high, stink our surroundings and burned. Our man-made fruit exposes our sinfulness before a holy God. And when our sins are exposed, we try to cover ourselves with fig leaves as Adam and Eve did. We hide and run from God. But He never gives up on us. He comes to bring about the change to bring forth the greatest fruit needed.

The real fruit that we are called to bear abundantly is the fruit of repentance. When we by the leading of God’s Holy Sprit confess our sins and fall upon the mercy of the Great Gardener, Jesus Christ, then we can grow. A fig-less tree can’t make itself produce fruit without the outside forces of the gardener. There is nothing in the parable that would give ANY indication that the tree had any hope of making fruit. But we see the Lord act. He lovingly goes the extra mile for us. When the Father could have quit on us and been vindicated in doing so, Jesus takes on the cross for our sake!

This then is what gives us hope. It is NOT about our efforts. It is all about Jesus. His fertilization. His labor. His love. His involvement in our lives. It all comes through for us. This is something that makes no sense to our feeble minds. But it is not up for us to understand. It is for us to fear, love and trust. This is our hope. This is our joy! PAUSE.

Saints in Christ, God has made us beautiful fig trees in our Baptism. In Baptism He takes away our man-made fig-leaves that covers our nakedness and shame and dresses us with His white robes of righteousness. But He doesn’t stop there. He nurtures us to a growing faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. He indents us to bear the fruit of Christ in our lives by His grace. Yet often, we like Jesus’ contemporaries, fail to produce fruit. We may conduct ourselves poorly at sporting or social events, use foul language and unkind words, or fail to care for others, to attend church regularly, and to share our faith in Christ. Like the people to whom Jesus spoke, we need to repent.

In the parable the owner gives the fig tree another chance, a year of grace to bear fruit. The Gardener plans special activities—special nourishing care to give the tree every chance. God’s grace and mercy pours forth to us as well. We have no need to despair. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, God gives us another chance. He provides maximum nourishment through the holy fertilization of the Means of Grace. As we come humbly to Him, He forgives and restores us. His love alone can produce fruit in us. What the church needs most is fig trees receiving nourishment and, by God’s grace, continuing to bear fruit in word and deed. Fruit-bearing is required and supplied through Jesus Christ! This is what you are—a fig-tree producing fruit for the glory of God. Amen.

Now the peace…


“This Is It?” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

S-1173 3MIL/3C 3/03/2010 Hymns: (O) #388; (S) #347; #180; (C) #145

Texts: Psalm 27; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Mark 14:

Theme: “This Is It?” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Question: “Have you said, “This Is It” lately” (3rd in Sermon series on “Life Together”)


(I beg your forgiveness if there is any similarity to your situation. This is not intended in this manner. The names of the couple have been changed to protect their identity)

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The text for our Third Midweek in Lent is from the Epistle Lesson: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy; He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Introduction: In Nomine IESU

People of God, chosen and beloved Joan sat at the kitchen table sobbing and weeping bitter tears. She had married Bob her high school sweetheart, the great All American Football player. She had hoped that the two of them would have a very lovely and beautiful life together. But that wasn’t the case.

After 35 years of marriage and 3 children all grown up and gone Joan sat and sobbed at her state of affairs. She cried out to herself and God weeping and saying, “This Is It Lord, I can’t take it any more! This is not the life I bargained for! I can’t stay in this marriage any longer!”

As she was contemplating these thoughts Bob walked into the house and asked, “Why are you crying?” “Nothing,” was Joan’s response. “What do you mean nothing? Why are you crying, then?” Bob asked a second time. Between sobs Joan lifted her head and looked at Bob and said, “This is it Bob. I can’t stay in this marriage any longer. For the last 35 years I have had to put up with all of your cutting and harsh words. I have had to listen to you many times cutting me down and making me feel worthless. In public and private you said hurtful things. Well, Bob I have had it with all of the mental abuse of being degraded by you and made to feel that I am just another piece of YOUR property. I have begged you to speak to me kindly and with gentle words.” But you always say, “That is just the way I am!” “Well, I am sorry, but I can’t take this any more. I want to know that I am wanted and loved. I want to know that I am more than just something to be used for your personal satisfaction. I can’t live any longer in this one way marriage. This is not what I asked for when I sought you to be my husband and the father of my children. This is it! I will have my attorney contact you with the divorce papers. Good bye Bob” PAUSE.

Stories like this fill the air. Perhaps you know someone just like Joan and Bob—maybe it is even your story. Could this be your story? Our whole lives are stories. Some of them have been written, others are being written even as I speak. May I be bold to ask you this evening my beloved an honest question? If you were to wrap your life up in one story, just one story, what would it be? What would be the one big story that makes sense of all the other little stories? Our lives are filled with countless little stories. We go to work in the morning and come home at night; each year seems to get us home a bit later. Each promotion comes with more work, a salary is great, but it also means you don’t get overtime anymore. Everyone is looking to put their little stories into the context of the big, defining story of their lives. Some of us go big and try to become famous and rich, others go a little smaller and just hope that we can leave a little something to our kids. Some of us just want enough to make it in our retirement years, maybe travel a little. Others of us go on mission trips to do some good in the world. We all are searching for that thing that gives life meaning. We hope it will be imperishable, undefiled, and unfading for all time. This is it?

In the story that tells and binds all stories together there are two characters that I would like to introduce you to. On that dark Friday so long ago when they hung Jesus on the cross; two thieves were crucified with Him. Each thief had his own story, just as each of us has our own stories.

My beloved in the Lord, your stories are not my stories. Your stories are not your neighbor’s stories. Your stories are not the stories of your spouse or the stories of your children. Each of us has our own stories and yet our individual stories overlap. That was certainly true of the thieves. The overlap in their stories was their lives of crime, their condemnation, and their execution. But in the end, each thief was defined in dramatically different ways. “One of the criminals who hung there, hurled insults at Jesus: ‘Aren’t You the Christ?’ Save yourself and us!’” (Luke 23:39). That thief’s defining story is cynicism, death, and eternal death. But the other thief’s story reads this way: “The other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:40-43). What’s this thief’s story? It is a simple story: Confession of sin, forgiveness from Jesus, and from Jesus’ own lips—the promise of paradise. This is it, not with a question mark but with an exclamation point.

This is it! This is the big story that brings all our little stories together. There is no greater and bigger story than the Story of Jesus in bringing about our hope and salvation. This is the defining Story that helps us understand who we are and where we’re going.

St. Peter had this story in mind when he wrote to Christians scattered in Asia Minor, what we know today as Turkey. In his first letter to these Christians, Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-


These beloved Christians in their “life together” were defined by that incredible story. So is ours. Because of the loving acts of God, you and I have a resurrected Savior who gives us hope and a heavenly inheritance. “Today, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There’s insight in this text for living as Christians today. In the past America was an overtly Christian nation. Going to church was a social norm. Most people, whether they were churchgoers or not, knew their Bible stories. Today all kinds of stories are being told in America. Today the Christian message is no longer the privileged story. Our situation is, in some ways, similar to the situation of the Christians to whom Peter was writing. They were not people of privilege. They had never been the “party in power” and had no hopes of becoming so. So how should we live? The same way they did. Amid all the stories swirling in our fractured and fragmented society, Peter encourages us to live together in the story that defines us. He would have us yearn to be immersed in the story of God’s mercy, His acts of loving kindness to you. Peter writes:“In His great mercy He has given us a new birth.” Our story is about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wow, doesn’t that give us hope! It is according to Peter“…a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Our story is about living with a purpose, a goal. That goal, according to St. Peter is “to an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.” And what can keep you in this greatest story of all? “…through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Faith is like a fortress. As the walls of a fortress keep people safe within; so the teachings of Jesus Christ in God’s Word keep us safe. That God sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins, that His resurrection gives us hope, that we have a heavenly future… Surrounding ourselves with these teachings of faith is the way the Spirit of God keeps us safe for eternity.

You, I, and the world are in the same position as those thieves on the cross. So are Joan and Bob. Where is my imperishable, undefiled and unfading life? I know that you know the answer to this question. It is in Christ, Who is your life.

We don’t know all the factors in the one thief coming to this faith. It’s remarkable; however God’s Spirit led Him to such trust at such a time of suffering. But what really was more remarkable? That the dying criminal used his last words and energy to ask Jesus for a lasting gift of life in His kingdom or that Jesus granted it? Both are extraordinary, but that is what Jesus is all about. There is nothing ordinary about Him! He calls us to come to Him…humbly, led by His Spirit, and He gives salvation to all who do. The man on the cross was a common criminal. We don’t know what he stole. But we know who stole his heart and carried away his sin. “Ah, this is it!” the forgiven thief knew then and there…forgiveness and life everlasting from Jesus.

Christian author Tim Wesemann has some wonderful words capturing the feelings and faith of this new believer. Wesemann writes in his book “Seasons Under the Son” (104-105):

If the nails hadn’t been holding the man to that tree, I imagine that he would have fallen on his face at Jesus’ feet. Despite [Jesus’] pain, despite the hell He knew was ahead, Jesus gave this criminal a peace he had never before experienced. And in that moment the man received a little bit of paradise. While fastened to the cross-shaped tree, the thief was also grafted to His Savior—as a branch is to a vine. He was nailed to one cross while his sin was nailed to another. He deserved the death sentence but he received a gracious life sentence. Heaven was his—that very day.

There were more miracles on the day Jesus was crucified than we might at first realize. He didn’t just die for the salvation of all those in the future who would put their faith in Him. In His last moments on earth, Jesus immediately gave everlasting life to someone many may think was undeserving of such a gift. That sounds exactly like the story of our own encounters with Jesus. It sounds like the story of everyone who has ever lived.

The thief said, Remember me.” Remember that Jesus has remembered you. He remembers your need for a Savior. He remembers the Holy Spirit creating saving faith within you. Never forget that He remembers His daily and eternal promises for your life. Remember that paradise is yours by grace, through faith in the One who hangs around sinners.

(Pause) This is it! Amen! (And shall we dare to say it, even during Lent? Alleluia!)

Now the peace…