Archive for the ‘Pentecost 17C’ Category

Have You Been Found or Found Out?

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 17C, September 15th, 2013

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“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” [Ezekiel 34:11]

I would like to tell you a story about a little boy named Billy who became lost in a large department store.  His mother was frantically looking for him, because there had recently been several high profile child abductions that played over and over on the national media.  When the police arrived to help, the mother was livid, because she wanted the police to go out immediately and find her son right then, but of course, the police needed some critical information so that they and others could do just that.  About 10 minutes later, the store manager happened to see a little boy matching little Billy’s description playing with out a care in the world in the sporting goods department.  He asked him if his name was Billy and he said yes.  The manager told him that his mother and many others were looking for him and were worried for him.  Then he asked him if he would like to be taken to his mother and the boy’s answer surprised the store manager.  He said, “What for mister; I’m not lost.  I know right where I am!”

This brings up an interesting question.  “How do you find someone who doesn’t even know that they’re lost?”  Can you save someone who doesn’t know or won’t admit that they need saving?  This morning’s message asks us to consider this question about our selves:  Are we found or have we just been found out?

In our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1-10), Jesus uses two stories to drive this question home to a bunch of Pharisees and scribes who were the religious leaders of the day.  You see, they were a little upset that Jesus kept hanging around sinners; or what today some might qualify as losers and misfits.  Their type seemed to always gather around Jesus to hear Him speak, just as the Pharisees had.  The only thing different between the two groups was that the sinners and misfits knew they were lost and needed saving, but the religious leaders, like the little boy in my story either didn’t know they were lost in their sins or they didn’t care.  Both groups were drawn by God to hear the Words of eternal life; one group listened and the other refused to listen.

Today Jesus still speaks to us; He is speaking even now.  His Word declares the one thing needful to all human beings… forgiveness of sins.  But this message can get lost in today’s world where there are so many other competing messages.  Watch TV for just an hour and you will be bombarded with a host of products and causes that the talking heads want you to care about and be convinced that you just can’t live without.  Their only job is to get you to support that message with your hard earned cash.  But it isn’t just society that bombards us with a host of other supposed needful messages and causes.

Even in our churches we seem to be overpowered by messages of prosperity and well being.  Their are so many alternative messages being proclaimed from pulpits through out the church, and it’s one mandated message of forgiveness of sins seems to have been removed, or at least assigned an almost insignificant place amongst the many messages that are communicated.

On any given Sunday you will hear a message about healthy marriages, the secret to raising godly children, how to be God’s man or woman in the work place, and other assorted themes to the point where forgiveness of sins is mentioned as only an after thought: “Oh, and by the way, God loves you.  You are forgiven!  Now go out and make money build the kingdom through happy marriages and godly children.”

In our Epistle reading (1 Timothy 1:5–17), St. Paul instructs Timothy to warn these false preachers about preaching and teaching just these sorts of messages.  But before Timothy approaches these ill-prepared false preachers, Paul reminds Timothy the purpose of all preaching; he writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  In other words, to those who will find out how badly they were lost in their sins, and how grave their situation was in their lost-ness, once they are found, or once they know that God has forgiven them through Jesus Christ, their response will most certainly be one of great love that comes from a heart and conscience that has been purified by the mercy of God and the work of Christ upon the cross.  But says Paul, (A) “Certain (group of) persons, by swerving from these (truths), have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” [1 Timothy 1:5-7]  In other words, preachers and teachers who haven’t been prepared by God to proclaim and teach His Word are using the law of God for illegitimate purposes, and it will not make their listeners right with God.

Like today, some were using the law to teach people how to live a better life; how to get a blessing from God, when the first and foremost purpose of the law is to show us our sin; to show us that we are hopelessly lost if we will not let God find us!  So the primary use of the law is like a mirror; it shows us our sins in all of their hideous glory!

When my daughter was younger, occasionally she would go to school dances.  She would spend a considerable amount of time preparing her self, until she felt that she looked “presentable”.  One afternoon, her preparation time seemed to be considerably longer than usual, so I walked down the hallway to the bathroom to enquire about the delay.  As she looked at me through the mirror, she said in a voice that was almost a sob, “I hate this mirror.  It shows to much stuff!”  Now, being a man, I really didn’t get what she meant, so I asked her to explain.  She said, “Dad can’t you see that big zit on the side of my nose.  No matter how much make-up I put on it, I can still see it, and so will every one else!  Why can’t we have a regular mirror like everyone else?!”

And that dear friends is the primary purpose of God’s law; it is designed to show us all of our sins, even the little ones that no one else but God will notice!  Even if we don’t like what it shows it still shows it!

Once God has our attention; once He has forced us to see our sin, then and only then will we know how badly we need saving.  Then and only then will we see the fork in the road; the two ways we can go.  One road is the way of endless hope, the gospel of Jesus Christ which assures us that through His work upon the cross and the Spirit’s work within the waters of baptism, He is daily renewing us with His Word and promises of grace and forgiveness.  But the other road, the one without Jesus, is a way which leads only to a hopeless end, where our sins forever cling to us and dam us to hell.

This morning God has spoken.  You have been shown your sin and shown your Savior, Jesus Christ.  This morning you have been found and found out.  Perhaps when you heard Paul’s lists of sins in our epistle lesson you may have felt secure.  Maybe you were saying to yourself, “OK, I don’t go around hitting my mother and father, I haven’t killed anyone, I don’t sleep around, I don’t engage in homosexual acts, I don’t have any slaves, and I don’t lie… well I only tell little lies, and any how, I’ve never testified in court, so I should be alright.  And to that… to that I would like you to think about how very little children play hide and seek.

Watch how little children between two and four years old hide when they are playing hide and seek.  Not only will they find a secluded corner to hide in but they will also lower their heads and cover their eyes.  When they are found, when the seeker calls out, “I see you hiding on the side of Daddy’s chair” they will not look up or agree that they’ve been found.  Instead the seeker who has found them often must touch them on the shoulder to assure them that they really were found.  It is as if they are saying, “If I can’t see you then you can’t see me!”

This morning in His Word of Law and Gospel, Jesus has found you.  He has tapped you on the shoulder and said, “I see you hiding your sins from my Father in Heaven.  You can’t deny that truth; you’re found out!  But the good news is I found you!  I didn’t find you to punish you or hall you in front of my Father to be ridiculed; no, I found you so that I could save you.  I found you so that I could remind you that I have already paid for your sins upon the cross; I’ve already saved you in the waters of your baptism.  I am the one that draws you to me every Sunday so that you can hear the same message over and over.  You are found!  You are forgiven.  You have been recreated and every day I will watch over you!”

What a wonderful message of love… forgiving love we hear in this holy place.  It is a message that will most certainly result in a great love for God and each other along with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a true faith.

This morning let’s close our message with these Words of Jesus: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God (in heaven) over one sinner who repents.”  This morning we have all given the angels much to be joyful over as each of us turns to our Savior Jesus Christ and prays, “Save us Jesus we are Yours!”  AMEN!

Either—Or!

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 19, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning’s gospel reading is really a continuation of Jesus teaching from last week.  If you recall, last week Jesus responded to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes because He received open sinners.  Jesus shared with them and us His wonderful teaching about the extravagant measures that God takes to find and return any and all of His children who are lost in sin!  That parable was told especially for the benefit of the self-righteous and judgmental people who looked down their collective noses at sinners.  He forced them to see that they too were also lost in sin!

Well now, Jesus turns His attention away from the open sinners and self-righteous Pharisees and He is addressing His disciples; those who followed Him as their Lord and Savior, but as always, the Pharisees were right there eavesdropping and looking for a way to trap and attack Jesus.  So Jesus tells another parable… a story that communicates an eternal truth in a way that will make sense in a temporary and sinful world; He tells us a story about an unrighteous manager or steward.  This story is first a teaching about God’s mercy and second it’s a story that forces us to look at our own response to God’s Mercy.  Like Jesus’ audience of that day, we too can hear this teaching in one of two ways: First, we can hear it as His true disciples; people who know that their God is merciful and forgiving.  Or we can listen in on Jesus teaching as an eavesdropper—a person who is self-righteous and worldly and dismiss this parable as a silly story.

At the very heart of this parable then is a teaching on stewardship.  This story forces us to ask ourselves a very simple question: How do I view material goods and money?  Do I see them as mine in order to make life easier for me here or do I see these things as God’s which are simply on loan to me so that I can help build and advance His kingdom of grace here within a sinful world?

By the time Jesus is done teaching us, we will be forced to pick a side; either we will feel blessed to be called his disciple and we will see our money and possessions as tools which God uses to expand His kingdom or we will leave here feeling unchanged  and put-off; as if we are being pressured to do something we don’t believe in.

Now at first, Jesus parable about the unfaithful manager might seem strange; it might seem as if Jesus is saying that the manager who is also a thief is to be admired!  Well that would be the case if you made the manager the focus of the story.  But, if you change the focus of attention to the rich land owner, suddenly the story is not centered on the criminal activity of the manager at all, but instead it is focused on the mercy of the rich land owner.

What should have happened to the manager?  Well, what happens today when people cook the books, embezzle money, or at best misappropriate funds that belong to someone else?  They go to jail or they get sued!  And yet, the rich land owner in Jesus story not only didn’t throw that rascal in jail he let him leave and go and get the ledger book; why he even gave him time to cook the books!  Outrageous!!  And that is the point that Jesus is making… God’s mercy, His forgiving love for sinners such as you and me is outrageous!  Think about that for a moment; think of all the things we could have done to further God’s kingdom and we refused; think also about all we have done that has actually hurt His kingdom, yet  He still loves and forgives us.  He IS a God of forgiveness and grace!  Outrageous but true… God still loves me and you and He still loves you!

Well, now that we have properly adjusted our focus and placed it onto the mercy of the rich land owner and compared that mercy with the mercy of God we can safely and correctly evaluate the conduct of the manager or steward and look for some personal comparisons.  Remember now, Jesus is talking to the disciples.  Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?  If you answered yes, then this morning Jesus is talking to you too!  He’s asking you to look at the conduct of the manager and see if you don’t find yourself there as well.   

In Jesus parable we are shown what a great amount of wealth the manager misused and stole.  Now as a disciple of Jesus Christ, ask yourselves “What greater wealth could there be than the Word of God and His Holy Sacraments?”  How have we treated these things?  Have we taken them for granted and neglected their use?  Have you treated God’s heavenly treasure in a lower fashion than you treat worldly wealth?  Have you hoarded this wealth instead of using it to create more heavenly wealth by sharing it with others?  These are some important questions that Jesus’ parable forces us to ask ourselves.  Do you fall short of God’s demand?  Of course you do, and so do I.  But what now… what should our response be to this now apparent sinful condition of our heart?  We must confess this sin to Him.  You see, we really are like the crooked manager and God has confronted us with our thievery.  So like the manager in the parable, we must confess that God is right and then rest in His mercy and forgiveness.

But there is still one more issue in this parable that we need to address, and it is this: What did Jesus mean when He said that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness”? (vs. 8a)  Well again, if we take the focus off of the crooked manager and put it back on the land owner it becomes clear.  In other words if we take the focus off of our own sinfulness and put the focus on God’s mercy and grace it all makes sense!

The manager was shrewd because he quickly began building a future for himself so that he wouldn’t be homeless.  He couldn’t do manual labor and he knew he couldn’t beg.  So what was he to do?  Well the very thing he always did… he would count on the merciful nature of the rich land owner to carry him through.  You see, he knew that by chopping considerable amounts of money off of each of the debtors bills they would be obliged to him for using his masters’ mercy as a way to save them money.  And he also knew that because it was his master’s nature to be merciful he would be merciful to him as well.  And He was right!  When the master found out, he was commended him for his shrewdness; he was commending him for understanding his master’s true nature… his merciful nature.  

Now to make sure that our focus is still on the mercy of God and not on the actions of the unfaithful servant, Jesus sums up the parable with this application:  “for the sons of this world (meaning those who find their identity in the treasures of this world instead of God’s treasures) are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation (which means our present sinful generation) than the sons of light (which means those of us who are saved by grace and who by faith know that we have a God of love who mercifully forgives us).”  And to make it clear to us what we are to do now that we know we have a God of mercy, Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth (that is through the wealth of this world), so that when it fails (as it did with the dishonest manager, your heavenly friends) may receive you (not into earthly homes) but into the eternal dwelling.” (vs. 8b)  What is the eternal dwelling?  Friends it is your mansion in heaven; your personal and real home that is greater than any possession you could ever have here on earth.  After all, every one of the good things that you possess here in this world have been given to you by God.  He is the creator and owner of all.  What you have is simply a trust from Him.  But your eternal possession, your salvation is truly yours.  He has freely given that to you through Jesus Christ, and it is really is yours!  No one can take it away from you.  It is your birth-right that was given to you in your baptism and it is a gift that is always growing as you continue in the Word of God and make friends in heaven.  And who are those friends?  They are God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! 

So Jesus is saying that because of all of this we should be faithful with the little wealth we have been given here on earth.  What is that little wealth?  Certainly it is not God’s grace and mercy which are showered upon us in His Word and Sacrament!  Then what is it?  Friends it is the wealth of this world.  How are we faithful in this little wealth?  By using it to build the kingdom of Heaven; by using it to spread the gospel.  We don’t use it to feather our nest here in this sinful world, but instead we use it to spread God’s wealth and build His kingdom.  Does our money, time, and talent that we use to further His kingdom then buy our mansion in heaven?  No, and again I say no!  If it did, then that would mean we could buy our salvation.  Then what does our money accomplish?  It helps to spread the message that our God, their God is loving and merciful and He desires that none should perish but that each one would turn to Jesus Christ, the Son of God so that they too might eternally know God’s love and mercy, and then join with you the church in continuing to build the Kingdom of God, one heart at a time.

What must we do to ensure that we never become an unrighteous manager or steward?  We must keep our focus on the mercy and love of God; mercy and love which come to us only through Jesus Christ and the cross He chose to die upon for the sins of the world, even your sins!  When we turn to Jesus and His cross we are also turning away from our sin, even our sinful love of this world and its treasures.  Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  (vs. 19)  It is an either or proposition friends.  You can’t love and serve both!

So it comes down to this: Who is your Savior and God?  For some, money and the things of this world are their god’s; and they will leave here this morning like many of the Pharisees, unchanged and feeling put-off.  They will look at this message as just another attempt by the church and one of her preachers to get more time, talent, and treasure out of them.  But because you know that through Jesus Christ your Creator God is merciful, loving and kind, you see your time, talent, and yes your money as well, as a tool that God uses to build His kingdom by pointing others to a merciful God who forgives and saves only through Jesus and His heavenly treasures, which are His blessed Word and Sacraments, the very things that saved you!  May God continue to give us this same mercy and grace through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!