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Trinity 13 2019 - Galatians 3:15-22

Trinity 13 2019

Galatians 3:15-22

September 15, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Every family has its own set of rules: Rules that dictate proper behavior. Rules that govern the use of electronics. Rules that establish a general daily schedule. Each family is a little bit different, but every family has rules.

Here’s a question: How long did you have to keep the rules before you were brought into your family? You know that the role of rules is not to bring people into a family. Rules indicate you are already in the family, and they provide a baseline for showing respect to everyone in the house.

Here is the same question but on a spiritual level: How long did you have to keep God’s rules before you were brought into his family? Well, that’s not what God rules are for either. His rules were not designed to bring people in. Before God gave a single commandment to the Israelites, He established the basis for His relationship with them.  St. Paul hits upon this point in Galatians 3, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to His offspring. It does not say, “and to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”

            No one is righteous in the sight of God according to the rules, the Law, or by works.  St. Paul highlights that the Law was given 430 years after the promise of Christ to Abraham and after God said that Abraham was righteous through faith.  Just as it was for Abraham, so it is for everyone. God has never made a promise of salvation based on good works or doing the Law.

God puts His act of redemption before mentioning a single rule because rules don’t bring you into God’s family. You are not a child of God because you were good, or because you deserve it, or by changing your life around, or by making some sort of decision for Jesus.  Your inheritance, your position as a child of God rests upon God’s promise to you, a promise made and a promise kept by the promised One.  The Son’s obedience and the Spirit’s adoption sealed your place with God.

So what’s the point of the rules? The rules remind you that you are there by grace, and they provide guidance for showing love to everyone in the house.[1]  God conferred upon Abraham and his children a special relationship to Himself. He was their God. And they were His people, His children as the children of the faithful Abraham.  God gave it to Abraham.  If it is given as a gift, it is not earned.  What is earned is given out of duty or obligation.  God gave it to Abraham by a promise, the promise of Christ.  

And this promise is given to you.  God’s baptismal covenant makes each Christian an Isaac, a child of Abraham, a child of promise, the possessor of heavenly riches and inheritance. All united to Christ by baptism become heirs of the promise and therefore are righteous before God.  We literally saw this happen today. The parents of Matthew, still a baby, bring him to Jesus.  They bring their son to the Promised One who makes the promise and delivers what it promised. 

Earlier in Galatians 3, St. Paul explains how we can know this, how we can trust in this, how we can believe that God keeps His promise.  It is confirmed through the death of the promised offspring, God’s only Son. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

This relationship of love is the motivation for true service to God and to our neighbor. Remember, this too is a purpose of the law. It provides guidance for showing love to God and to everyone in the household. To teach us how to fear, love, and trust in God above all things; to expect all good and to take refuge in our distress; and to love our neighbors.  Because you are a child of God, the Father gives you the rules in how to live in His household.  To give you boundaries, because like children, you are prone to wander off, to try to do it all by yourself. When you break them, well, sometimes you’re disciplined and sometimes you suffer because of the consequences of your actions or the actions of others.  When you fail to live up to who you are in Christ, when you fail to keep the rules, it doesn’t annul the promise of your position in the family.

Christ does what the Law cannot.  As a Christian united to Jesus, your place is secure because of His faithfulness, His obedience, His life, His death, His forgiveness of your sins. By faith, you have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. For as with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with the all the saints in heavenly glory, who lived with this promise and died trusting in it, by the grace of God, through faith in the promise of Christ, so shall you.


[1] The beginning of the sermon is modified from “The role of rules” by Pastor Matt Ewart

Trinity 12 2019 - Mark 7:31-37, Romans 10:9-17

Trinity 12 2019

Mark 7:31-37; Romans 10:9-17

September 8, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

God works by means of His Word.  And without God’s word no one can truly know or believe in God.  This is why St. Paul says, “How are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? (Rom 10:14).  From the natural world we know that there is a creator.  The creation points to its creator no matter how hard some want to deny it.  From our consciences we know that there is a lawgiver.  There could be no right or wrong if there were no God.  There is no true morality without God.  When the natural knowledge of God’s law is suppressed all hell breaks loose on earth. 

But the knowledge of God that we have from nature and from conscience is not enough for us to know and believe who God really is.  No amount of feelings or insight can reveal God’s nature or attitude toward a person.  To know God personally requires God to reveal Himself to us.  He reveals Himself by speaking, by His Word.  If we are to heed God’s Word and hear it to a good effect, then He must first open the ears of our heart. Until He does, we cannot hear Him and we cannot speak to Him.

This was the problem for the deaf and mute man.  He couldn’t hear Jesus nor speak to Him.   The deaf mute was shut out.  And He knew it, and so did His friends.  So they brought this man to Jesus, because they knew that only Jesus could give him his hearing and enable him to speak plainly.

Jesus tells the man what He was going to do.  He uses simple sign language.  Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears to tell him that He would give him the ability to hear.  Jesus spat and touched the man’s tongue to tell him that He would give him the ability to speak.  Jesus looked up to heaven to tell him that the power by which He is doing this is divine power.  Jesus sighed.

 And then He spoke.  Putting His fingers in the man’s ears did not give him his hearing.  Touching the man’s tongue did not give him his speech.  Looking up into heaven did not give Jesus the power to do what he did.  Jesus, the eternal Word of God, incarnate, in the flesh, by whose word all things were made, spoke.  He said: “Ephphatha!”  Be opened.  He spoke and it was done.  He who was deaf could hear.  He who was mute could speak.  And others noticed.  Jesus does all things well.

And isn’t this just the way that Jesus operates?  From creation, He simply spoke and it came to be.  And He looks around at His creation and notices, “It is good.” And when sin taints His creation, twists it, perverts it from its created intent, God’s Word comes down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man so that He may speak to His Word to His creation.

This is a bitter truth that we must confront.  Here is what we confessional Lutherans confess about our natural spiritual abilities in the Formula of Concord: “That original sin in human nature is not only a total lack of good in spiritual, divine things, but that at the same time it replaces the lost image of God in man with a deep, wicked, abominable, bottomless, inscrutable, and inexpressible corruption of the entire nature in all its powers, especially of the highest and foremost powers of the soul in mind, heart, and will”  (SD I, 11). Such is humanity’s natural spiritual condition after the Fall into sin.  St. Paul writes: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). 

That’s the universal human condition without the Word of Christ.  Hearing, we do not hear.  We hear the lies of men and think they are wisdom.  Seeing, we do not see. We see the temptation of the world and it entices the sinful flesh. As little as a deaf man can choose to hear, so little can an unbeliever make himself into a believer.  As little as a mute man can speak clearly, so little can an unbeliever confess the truth.  Our ears must be opened so that we can hear God’s Word because He wants to heal.  If our tongues are to be loosed so that we can speak God’s praise, we must depart from the broad road of this sinful world and no longer conform ourselves to sin by it. Only God can bring us to faith.  Only God can enable us to make the good confession.  We often sing with King David in Psalm 51, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.” And He does so through His word, the Word of Christ.

When Jesus healed the deaf and mute man, He told those who saw not to tell anyone, but they did anyway. This miracle was only a part of the work He was to do, and He was not done.  The true healing, the lasting healing, would take place on the cross.  There, in Christ’s crucifixion, is perfect healing for our bodies and souls.  Christ’s death destroyed our death.  His resurrection from the dead is our absolution and the word of our salvation.  The declaration of forgiveness that we hear, believe, and confess as God’s word of truth and life comes to us from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  That is why we seek it out and listen to it.  That is why we believe and confess it.  Since God chooses to deal with us through His Word, His Word is what we should hear, and His Word is what we should confess for His Word is what we believe. He who opened the deaf mute’s ears and tongue, has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

Ephphatha!  Be opened! Our Lord speaks and we listen. He opens our ears to hear in faith His Word. His Word bestows what it says.  Faith that is born from what is heard from God acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise (LW Introduction). God’s word opens our ears to hear and our tongues to confess.  “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” May it always be so among us.

Trinity 14 2019 - Proverbs 4:10-23

Trinity 14 2019

Proverbs 4:10-23

September 22, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.[1] This is point that King Solomon is trying to make to his son as he writes the Proverb 4.  It is the same point that St. Paul makes in his letter to the Galatians. And it is the same example that the 10 lepers give us after they had been healed by Christ. So let’s take a moment here this morning to explore these two ways in light of our Scripture readings for this morning.

To begin, Proverbs 4 depicts a father as leading his son along the proper path of wisdom.  It is a path of uprightness, of righteousness. This path enables true freedom in life and leads to the resurrection of eternal life. Solomon, therefore, is teaching his son to value the Gospel in which he is declared righteous before God by grace alone. The Gospel sets people free from the bondage of sin and death to live a new and everlasting life by the power of Christ.

St. Paul makes this same point as he encourages us to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit of God, no longer under the curse and compulsion of the Law.  The question though becomes, how are we to know the way? In John 14, St. Thomas asks this very question after Jesus says that He has to go away and prepare a place for His disciples and that He would come again and take His people to Himself.  And Jesus responds with the straightforward and simple answer, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

You see this path of life is Christ Himself.  It is following in His footsteps, led by His Spirit according to His Word.  This is the path that the one healed leper took as he returned to give thanks to Jesus.  By the healing of his disease, Jesus had cleansed him of all unrighteousness and placed Him upon the path of faith in Him.  And so He does for you.  In Baptism, God plops you down on the path of righteousness.  There you are, dressed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin. These are travelling clothes for the Christian and for the Christian life.  These divine blood washed robes are the only clothes that cover your sin, and the shame of the awareness of your nakedness before an almighty and holy God.

But there is another path available, one to avoid, to turn away from and pass on.  Not all roads go to heaven, in fact any other path besides that of Christ leads to hell. It is the way of death, for it is evil and full of curses: sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, jealously, fits of anger, rivalry, dissensions and divisions, envy, murder, and the list goes on as spelled out by St. Paul as the works of the flesh, which are opposed to Christ, which lead away from Him who is the life and the light of the world.

So here is the contrast.  The way of life is that of Christ. The way of death is anything other than Christ. The way of life is lit by Christ Himself, who says in John 8, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  And again in John 11, just before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus says, “If anyone walks in the day, He does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  The way of death is one of darkness, of the blind leading the blind, of stumbling over sinfulness and evil, and one that ends only in the pit of hell.

So it’s no wonder that Solomon and Paul plead for you to stay on the path of righteousness, the path of the Gospel, the path of Christ, for this is the path of life.  For one day on this path is better than a thousand elsewhere. Keep hold of the instruction of the Word and Wisdom of God, don’t let it go, guard it for it is your life. Keep your heart with all vigilance. This refers to spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life and the use of your will. The source of life comes from the heart, which is to say the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who dwells in the hearts of believers and flows forth with life giving power. The power of the Spirit is what will enable you to follow the way of Christ. Guard your heart, guard your soul, so you do not grieve or abandon the Holy Spirit, the source and sustainer of your life in Christ.

And be assured of your destination, the eternal kingdom of God. Jesus has gone ahead of you to prepare the way, to prepare a place for His people out of His grace and mercy and love for you.  It is a path that leads through death unto the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The path that the Holy Spirit leads you on is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until full day, until the great and mighty day of the Lord.  Walk in Christ, guided by the light of Christ, the dawn of the new day grows brighter and nearer. Be ready, for you do not know when the Lord is coming again. Gather together, seeking what is necessary for your souls, for all your years of faith will count as nothing unless you are perfected on the last day. Keep your feet on His path, as assuredly as His feet were pierced upon the cross for you so that the path of righteousness may be paved with the blood of His forgiveness. When that Last Day finally dawns, all darkness shall be broken and we shall enter the new creation of everlasting day and light (Rev. 21:23; 22:5), you shall hear the words of Christ, “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.”


[1] Didache

Trinity 11 2019 - 1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Trinity 11 2019

1 Corinthians 15:1-10

September 1, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Our Epistle reading for today, 1 Corinthians 15, is one of the most important chapters in the entire Bible.  Here, St. Paul proclaims the Gospel very clearly, the salvation of pure grace that we have through faith in Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, and revealed.  This is the message of Christ’s church for the world, the message, as we’ll hear more about next Sunday, that delivers the very saving faith that is needed and required. This is what St. Paul has building up to his entire letter.  St. Paul begins his letter by stating, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  It is by the word of the cross, which is the Gospel, that you owe you present status as Christians. And it is by the same Gospel that your present and future salvation is being secured. 

So this is why as a Christian you are to hold fast to that word of the cross.  The term “hold fast” has great meaning. Restrain, to hold it back from going away or leaving.  To adhere firmly to traditions, convictions, or beliefs. To keep in your memory, to guard, and keep in possession.  Paul urges Christians to never let go of the Word of God preached, the Gospel which you have received.  To guard it jealously, so that nothing can steal it away.

So, first thing first.  The first thing, the thing of first importance is that Jesus died for your sins in accordance with the Scriptures.  This lay at the very heart of the Gospel itself, promised long ago after the first sin and throughout history as recorded in the Scriptures.  Without the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Son of God, we would still be in our sins.  Scripture tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  It is the blood of Christ, the very blood of God the Son, who through the eternal Spirit of God offered Himself without blemish to God the Father, purifying our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9).  With your hearts sprinkled clean by Jesus’ Divine blood, your sins are forgiven by His holy sacrifice (Heb 10).

But that’s not all.  St. Paul also tells us that Jesus was buried.  This may seem like a minor point to many, but it holds great significance.  And we confess this every week in either the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. According to all four Gospel accounts, Christ’s burial underlines the reality of His physical death upon the cross.  He really died, became a dead corpse, and His lifeless body was dealt with in the usual way, by burial in a tomb. 

Do you remember last week, I mentioned 1 Corinthians 6, where St. Paul states that the body of the believe is a temple of the Holy Spirit and so to be honored as belonging to the Lord?  This view of the body as sacred to God – the body that God the Father created, that God the Son redeemed by His blood, and that God the Holy Spirit sanctified to be His temple – and the hope of the future resurrection, is the reason why the usual practice of God’s people in the OT, the NT, the early Church, and the vast majority up of history up until recently has been burial rather than cremation or other destructive ways of disposal of the body.  The way we treat the body in life and death gives confession concerning Jesus, His redemption, salvation, and sanctification, and the certainly of our hope in the resurrection.  By Christ’s rest in the tomb He sanctifies, He makes holy, the graves of all who believe in Him.  We are to honor the body of a believer as belonging to the Lord, as sacred and holy, in life and in death.  Your body is not a vessel for the soul, a shell, or like clothing that is to be taken off when it is wore out and old.  You are an ensouled body, which is part of why death is so devasting, for it rips in two what God has created to be one. 

But God has a solution for that too.  Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Again, the resurrection is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, not an accident or God’s back up plan if things went south. The resurrection is the very foundation of the Gospel. Paul spends the rest of the chapter defining and declaring what this means for the child of God.  The problem for the Corinthians, and for all too many today, is not the future aspect of the resurrection but the notion of the bodily resurrection.  Jesus, the Son of God who died and was buried, has been bodily raised, never to die again, and He is the first fruits of all who die in the faith.  Upon Jesus’ return, He will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.  Jesus’ bodily resurrection promises and ensures our own bodily resurrection to life everlasting.

While some may doubt the reality or the ongoing significance of all this, St. Paul drives home his final point of the importance of this Gospel: that the crucified, buried, and risen Lord has appeared.  He appeared not as some sort of ghost, but in the glory of His resurrected body, not just to some, but to many.  In Acts 1, St. Luke relates that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many convincing proofs, appearing to the them over a period of forty days.”  The Church’s faith in Jesus’ resurrection rests on eyewitness testimony.  Not just a few or the 12 disciples, but hundreds of people seeing the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes, eating with Him, talking with Him, and seeing Him ascend into heaven.

While the word of Scripture testifies to this truth, it is through faith in Christ that we believe the testimony of Scripture.  We believe the Bible is the Word of God because Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures.  We believe that what Jesus said and did was true and good and beautiful because He died, was buried, and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures.  We believe that we are saved by this good news and that our sins are taken away because Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures. We believe that we too will be bodily resurrected one day from the sleep of our death Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures.  And this Jesus, who revealed Himself to many, is coming again, when every eye will see and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  He will come not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly awaiting for Him (Heb 9:28).  

So hold fast to these things, the things of first importance, the Gospel itself. Don’t let it go, don’t comprise the faith.  In everything that you do as a Church, as God’s people, those who have received the preaching of the Gospel, in which you stand and by which you are being saved, in everything you do. keep the main thing the main thing. Of first importance, that Jesus Christ died for your sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He has appeared and is coming again in glory. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.

Trinity 10 2019 - Luke 19:41-48

Trinity 10 2019

Luke 19:41-48

August 25, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Audio Player

In the New Testament, only only a few times does Jesus weep.  The first time is in John 11:35 when Lazarus dies.  And the second is here at the beginning of Holy Week.  He weeps over their rejection of Him and the destruction that awaits this beloved city of God.  This shows us a few things.  It is a wonderous thing that the God of the universe, the creator of all that is, became a man and shares in the experience of humanity living in a fallen creation.  He knows the sting and pain of the death of loved ones.  He knows what it is to feel betrayal, to love and not be loved back in return, to be rejected.  As Jesus is led away to the cross, He says to the daughters in Jerusalem, “Do not weep over Me; but over you yourselves weep and over your children” (Luke 23:28). While Jesus wept over these things, He did not stop. 

As Jesus weeps over these things, it is ok for Jesus’ people to weep as well.  We may weep over the death of a loved one, but we do so in light of the future resurrection and knowing that those who die in the Lord go to the heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal kingdom of God. We may weep when people we love reject Jesus, praying for them that God would soften their hearts and enliven their souls.  To mourn over the effects of sin, though we do not do so as others who have no hope.

There’s a sadness in all of this. Jesus dies to save the world from sin, to heal the wounded, to mend the broken. And still some reject Him, even while He is standing right there in front of Him and witnesses to His teaching and miracles.

When God looks at the world today, our society, does He weep?  Does He get angry over our own stubbornness, over a future that might come by a rejection of Him?  I don’t know. It’s possible.  But what I do know is this, I know what He’s done about it. And not just something that happened in the past, but something that has implications here and now. Out of the great love and compassion, God the Father sent His Son to suffer and die in our place. He doesn’t hold back, avoid suffering and sadness and loss. He deals with it. Jesus takes it to the cross. That is a man of sorrows, and well acquainted with grief, that He understands what you’re going through. That He has an answer that you may have healing and hope and He has borne our grief and carried your sorrow.  And so as we prayed in the Introit from Psalm 55, call to God and He promises to hear. Cast your burdens on the Lord and He will sustain you.

Jerusalem was guilty of not recognizing God’s gracious visitation in Jesus.  Jerusalem’s lack of faith in Jesus as the Messiah led to her destruction and Jesus prophetically describes with detail how devastating that will be by the Romans in the year 70, fulfilling Jesus’ prophetic words and His cause for weeping.  In the bulletin, you’ll find an insert with the historical account of this by the Jewish historian Josephus.  It is a tragic account, but also one that serves as a warning.  Not all will believe in Jesus.  Not everyone goes to heaven. Apart from faith in Christ, there is no salvation and no other way to God the Father except through Jesus. 

Notice that Jesus not only weeps, but He also chastises Jerusalem for not knowing or believing in Him.  The temple built with human hands is a place of prayer for Israel. But the place where all nations will gather is in the body of Christ, the new Israel, where Jesus is present among those who gather in His name through the hearing of His Word and the reception of His Sacraments.  He entered the Temple as Lord of the Temple. And He finds there great abuses. He drives out those who were buying and selling. He proves by His Word that He is justified in doing so, “It is written,” He says, “‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ but you have made it a den of robbers”, echoing the prophet Jeremiah hundreds of years earlier.

In St. John’s account of the cleansing of the temple we hear how Jesus is angered for the twisting of His creation and the purpose. The temple had been erected so that God’s Word could be taught there, that sacrifices, prayers, and other divine services could be performed there.  But the chief priests and the scribes had turned it into something else.  He must cleanse the temple to make it fit for His teaching.  He “drives out” those who sold, which is same word Luke uses in casting out demons in exorcism.  Jesus’ exorcises the temple, cleansing it from thieves to make room for the One who would be crucified with thieves.  After driving out the buyers and sellers, He begins to teach daily in the temple, for which He receives little gratitude.

Why does He do all this? He wishes to fulfill Malachi 3, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiners fire and like fullers’ soap…” (Mal 3:1b-2). He comes like a refiner’s fire, to purify, to cleanse.

He wishes to purify you, to cleanse you from idolatry and sin. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit and He comes to sweep you clean, to rid you of the sin that gets in the way of faith. For as St. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Today you have a chance to do what Jerusalem refused to do. Repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness. Amend your ways and your deeds. God is not a tool for you to use and His grace is not an excuse to continue in sin.  His patience, while great, does not last forever.  The Lord hates sin, He despises the wicked, He does not tolerate evil (Psalm 5:5).  Judgment will come and it is the Lord’s desire that all would be saved through faith in Christ. Today is the day to confess your sins and turn to Jesus. Shed tears of repentance, but not of despair. For your sins are forgiven by Jesus, who on the glorious day of His return, will bring His holy city, the new Jerusalem down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, where God Himself will dwell with His people, will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be no mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away by the One who makes all things new, even Jesus Christ, our Lord (Rev 21:1-5).

Trinity 9 2019 - Luke 16:1-13

Trinity 9 2019

Luke 16:1-13

August 18, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

The parable in today’s Gospel reading is traditionally called the parable of the unjust steward.  In the English Standard Version that we normally use in our liturgy it translates as the word “manager.”  I guess this makes some sense because we don’t really stewards in modern American society, but manager sounds a little strange as well. It makes me think of a manager of a store or restaurant or something like that. 

But in the ancient world a steward had much more authority than a manager at a department store.  He was more like a regent, an agent of the king who was ruling in the place of, in the stead of, and by the command of the king.  He was more like an executive officer in the military, the second in command, who ran the day to day things for the commander when he wasn’t around.  While most of society doesn’t work this way anymore, the military is still run with a strict hierarchy that is structured primarily for efficiency. 

The reason why this is important is that the rich man in this parable, the master, must honor the deal that his steward makes since it is made with the master’s authority.  That means that when the steward says, “Take your bill and write fifty, or eighty” then that is what it is, even if it’s dishonest.  The master can’t take it back, even though he’s been cheated out what was owed to him.  He must honor the bill.

Now this parable is one of the most difficult of all Jesus’ parables because at the end of it the master commends the steward for his shrewdness, which is in his dishonesty, in his unrighteousness.  So that’s the surprise.  The master is displeased with his steward because he was wasting the master’s possession.  But then he commends him for lowering the bills of those who are indebted and it seems to make no sense.  No earthly master wants his steward to cheat him, to give his kingdom away. 

For some, this parable makes a certain amount of sense.  The master, unhappy with his steward, is then outsmarted by him, and so the master loves it, or at respects it, and that’s a good thing.  So the moral would be to use dishonesty to gain something greater, to be shrewd in the ways of the world if it gets you want you want, the end justifies the means. 

But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  In the larger context of when Jesus spoke this, He is responding to the Pharisees and the scribes grumbling that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Jesus responds with parables about lost sheep and lost coin and the prodigal son.  And now He speaks specifically to the disciples about the way in which He deals with sinners.

This parable should be a little shocking, it should make us uncomfortable and scratch our heads.  It’s meant to be.  Because when we continue to think God is like us, that He should work by our standards of fairness and justice, then we are tread into dangerous territory.  God is not like us.  He is not pleased when His stewards waste His possessions, but He is pleased when debts are forgiven. He wants to forgive debts. He wants what He has to be given away.  He doesn’t want He possessions wasted, but He does want it given away for free.   

If there is anything you take away from this in terms of ethical instruction and to what it means to be a Christian, it’s not to be shrewd with your possessions and save up for a good retirement or to somehow bribe people’s loyalty with your generosity, or to not be wasteful with your stuff. It’s that our lives should be marked with praise and thankfulness and gratitude for cancelled debts and God given possessions.  It is to receive from the goodness of the Lord and be shrewd with what He gives, that is to say, to share the mercy that you have received.  To use what we have for the good of our neighbor, to be engaged in acts of charity and generosity and mercy. That as the Lord forgives us our trespasses, our debts, that would ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4).  You receive it freely for the sake of Christ, give it freely for the sake of Christ and love for your neighbor. God offers us a lasting treasure in Christ.

This is the important thing to remember, the parable about the unjust steward is not about stewardship. It’s about Jesus.  The purpose of the parables is to reveal the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, how He is Lord and King and rules in us by the power of His death and resurrection according to His mercy. This is good news. We all have debts that can never be repaid. If we had to deal with a just steward, we would all be damned.  If we had to pay back what we owed to God, there would no hope for us because the bill is too high.  King David gets is right in our Old Testament reading, “With the merciful You show Yourself merciful.”  And we cry out each Sunday in the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

Because Christ is mercy.  He is like a steward who gives away the kingdom of God, who forgives debts and sins. In the eyes of the world, He wastes the possessions by doing so, but this is way of the Kingdom of God.  Mercy is unjust.  By definition.  Mercy is not giving the justice that you deserve, but forging the debt you owe, undeserved, unearned, unjust. The unjust steward is what we need.  His injustice is grace and mercy, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ, with all His works, didn’t earn heaven, since it was already His. He served us and became our servant. But He served us in this way, not seeking anything of His own, but our benefit and the glory of God. 

Trinity 8 2019 - Romans 8:12-17

Trinity 8 2019

Romans 8:12-17

August 11, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID