“This Man Receives Sinners” (Luke 15:1-10)

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 15, 2019

“This Man Receives Sinners” (Luke 15:1-10)

“This Man Receives Sinners.” So said the Pharisees and the scribes about Jesus. They meant it as an insult: “This man receives sinners.” We hear those same words, and we take them as the most wonderful good news: “This man receives sinners!” I guess it depends on what you think about “this man,” Jesus, and whether or not you put yourself in the category of “sinners.”

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Published in: on September 14, 2019 at 11:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“‘Blessed Is the Man’: Really, Lord?” (Psalm 1; Luke 14:25-35)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 8, 2019

“‘Blessed Is the Man’: Really, Lord?” (Psalm 1; Luke 14:25-35)

Please turn with me once again to Psalm 1, in the front of your hymnal. We sang this psalm earlier in the service, but now I’d like us to speak together the first three verses. Psalm 1, verses 1 through 3:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Well, this sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Delight in God’s word, meditate on it every day, and you will be blessed! In all you do, you will prosper! Hey, sign me up! This is a pretty sweet deal.

So, I am a Christian. I believe in the Lord. I like reading the Bible. I think about it a lot. Now all my life should be hunky-dory, shouldn’t it? I should be prospering like nobody’s business. No more problems. Smooth sailing all the way.

But maybe, just maybe, my life doesn’t exactly look like that. Maybe yours doesn’t either. All this fruit I’m supposed to be bearing, where is it? Why does it feel like I’m withering sometimes? Instead of prospering, I end up perspiring. Instead of my life being fruitful, it feels like it’s futile. This is being blessed? “‘Blessed Is the Man’: Really, Lord?”

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Published in: on September 7, 2019 at 10:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Was Jesus Making the Sabbath Day a Labor Day?” (Luke 14:1-14)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2019

“Was Jesus Making the Sabbath Day a Labor Day?” (Luke 14:1-14)

Many of you know that I grew up in the most Jewish neighborhood in the city of Chicago. Lots of Jewish families on every block. The family next door to us were Orthodox Jews, meaning that they tried to keep the laws of Judaism, literally, very religiously. I remember one time they hired my sister to come over next door to their place on Saturdays, so that she could turn on the air conditioner for them, since that was considered work, and they were not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath.

Well, what about that? I suppose they were following the laws of Judaism as they had been taught, I’ll give them that. But were they understanding the prohibition of work on the Sabbath aright? Did God really say, “Thou shalt not turn on an air conditioner on the Sabbath day,” or else you’re working and thus violating his commandment?

What prompted my memory of this is an incident recorded in the Holy Gospel for today. There Jesus is being watched closely by the Pharisees, to see if he will violate God’s commandment by doing work on the Sabbath day. Well, did he? “Was Jesus Making the Sabbath Day a Labor Day?”

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Published in: on August 31, 2019 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Fear Not, Little Flock” (Luke 12:22-34)

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 11, 2019

“Fear Not, Little Flock” (Luke 12:22-34)

“Fear not,” the Lord tells Abram in our Old Testament Reading for today. “Fear not,” Jesus tells his disciples in the Holy Gospel. “Fear not.” “Fear not.” Do these “fear nots” have you tied up in knots? Are you worried that you’re not good enough of a Christian, because you do have fears, you do have worries? Well, instead of being tied up in knots, realize today that these “fear nots” come with promises attached. And that makes all the difference. And so our theme this morning: “Fear Not, Little Flock.”

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Published in: on August 10, 2019 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“In What Does Your Life Consist?” (Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11)

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 4, 2019

“In What Does Your Life Consist?” (Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11)

In the Holy Gospel for today, Jesus says these words: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Well, if your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions, then what does your life consist in? That’s what we’re going to explore this morning: “In What Does Your Life Consist?”

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Published in: on August 3, 2019 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Law Questions and the Good Samaritan Answer” (Luke 10:25-37)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2019

“Law Questions and the Good Samaritan Answer” (Luke 10:25-37)

Our text today is one of the most well-known parables in the Bible. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. And Jesus’ parable is prompted by a couple of questions that someone asks him. Law questions, questions about what we have to do to keep God’s Law. And so our theme this morning: “Law Questions and the Good Samaritan Answer.”

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Published in: on July 13, 2019 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!” (Luke 14:15-24; Isaiah 66:10-14)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 7, 2019

“Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!” (Luke 14:15-24; Isaiah 66:10-14)

Recently I read this quote from an observer of the American church scene: “15 years ago, 40% of church members attended four times a month. In 2018, only 10% attended four times a month, a 37% drop in worship attendance. So you could have the exact same membership church, and on Sunday mornings it looks like you’ve lost over a third of your members.”

Now a certain amount of this can be attributed to aging. There are people still on membership rosters, but now they are homebound and no longer able to make it to church. And others who were in the pew fifteen years ago who since have graduated to the church triumphant. But at the same time, this big drop in attendance shows that we haven’t replaced those people. In our own congregation, attendance is down compared to what it was when I arrived here 13 years ago. And if you look across our synod–indeed, all across the American landscape–church attendance is down pretty much everywhere. Lots of empty pews, everywhere you look.

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Published in: on July 6, 2019 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Ascension Joy” (Luke 24:44-53)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 30, 2019

“Ascension Joy” (Luke 24:44-53)

How did you feel about going to church this evening? Were you happy and excited? If you were happy, were you more excited about the service or the ice cream social afterward? C’mon, admit it! No, seriously, did coming to an Ascension service tonight spark joy for you? Or were you instead a little grumpy about having to go to church on a Thursday night? Did you focus on the joy of being able to be in the presence of God, to hear his Word and receive the blessed Sacrament? Or did you complain about one more thing being added to your schedule? You see, you can take the same event, and people can have different reactions to it.

Likewise, when people experience an event that’s similar to one they had just experienced a short time before, those same people can have two entirely different responses. Take, for example, the response of the disciples at the time of the Ascension and compare that to how they responded just a few weeks earlier. At the Ascension, when Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

But then contrast that with how they reacted just a few weeks earlier. Go back six weeks to Maundy Thursday. How did the disciples respond then? That was when Jesus told them he was about to leave, that he was going away. At that time, their hearts were filled with grief. They were sad. And then when Jesus was taken from them–in the arrest and trial, in the crucifixion and his death–they were completely downcast and crushed. And frightened, too. “If that’s what happened to Jesus, then what’s going to happen to us, we who are known to have been his followers?” Right after Jesus’ death, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem at that time, too. But there was no worship then, no great joy. They were not at the temple, praising God. No, they had locked themselves behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews.

Two similar situations, just six weeks apart. In both cases, Jesus was leaving them and going away. But these same disciples reacted totally differently. The one time, with fear and sadness. The next time, with great joy and praise. What made the difference? And what will make the difference for us, to move us from our ordinary grumpiness into “Ascension Joy”?

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Published in: on May 30, 2019 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Gracious Father–and the Two Lost Sons” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 31, 2019

“The Gracious Father–and the Two Lost Sons” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling against Jesus. They didn’t like the fact that Jesus was welcoming tax collectors and other bad, disreputable people when they came to hear what he was saying. “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” “Such a disgraceful thing this Jesus fellow is doing! We certainly wouldn’t do such a thing! We’re better than that!”

The Pharisees and the scribes didn’t approve of what Jesus was doing. So Jesus proceeds to tell them a series of parables in which they ought to see that, instead of grumbling, they really should be rejoicing with him! If heaven is rejoicing over these lost sinners being found and brought back home, then how come you guys are grumbling? That’s the message of the three parables in Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son–that last one more commonly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is our text this morning.

The Prodigal Son, or the Lost Son: But, as we’re about to see, perhaps a better title for this story would be “The Gracious Father–and the Two Lost Sons.” Because, really, the point of the parable is the amazing grace of the father in dealing with both of his lost sons.

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Published in: on March 30, 2019 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“When Good Things Happen to Bad People” (Luke 13:1-9)

Third Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019

“When Good Things Happen to Bad People” (Luke 13:1-9)

Did you see the pictures of the terrible flooding across Nebraska this past week? I used to live in Nebraska for several years. Lots of good people out that way, hard-working farmers and their families. Church-going people, too. Did you know that the state with the highest percentage of its population being Missouri Synod Lutherans is Nebraska? But now many Nebraskans are facing huge financial losses. Why did God let this happen?

Or consider an even worse tragedy befalling innocent people. In the last few weeks, hundreds and hundreds of Christians have been murdered, martyred, massacred, in Nigeria and elsewhere, by Muslim terrorists. Simply for being Christians. Such evil! Why did God let this happen?

Floods in Nebraska. Blood in Nigeria. Every week we hear reports of some disaster or terrible tragedy in which innocent men, women, and children are suffering badly–many swept away in sudden death through no fault of their own. We see these stories and we ask: Why? Why did these awful things happen to innocent people? With social media and non-stop news coverage these days, around the clock and around the world, we’re constantly being confronted with this question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

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Published in: on March 23, 2019 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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