I'm a sinner, no better than any other human being. I have no personal bragging rights. My only boast is that, in spite of my many sins and my numerous faults, through God's grace, given in Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven and I have a new life.
"When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 'When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, "Give this person your seat." Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, "Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
In a world in which arrogance is celebrated, Jesus' words are both Law and Gospel.
They're Law because God's condemnation for the unrepentantly arrogant is plain.
They're Gospel because inhering in them is God's promise that those who humble themselves in surrender to Christ will have a place especially prepared for us by God in His Kingdom, now and in eternity.
As the psalmist puts it, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10)
Luke 10:25-37 One point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which makes up today’s gospel lesson, is that every person in the world is my neighbor. Whether that person lives in Centerville, Washington DC, Iran, Haiti, Guatemala, or South Africa, whatever religion or whether they have no religion, she or he is a human being made in the image of God. She or he is also someone for whom Jesus died and rose and to whom He makes the offer of new and everlasting life through faith in Him.
But if we view Jesus’ parable as a simple admonition to see every human being as a neighbor we are obligated to love, we will be getting only one point.
Since when has an admonition from God to we fallen human beings, ever been sufficient to change our behavior?
The God we know in Jesus Christ also admonishes us not to have other gods, but we still tend to worship all kinds of things.
God admonishes us not to take His name in vain, yet people do it all the time...even preachers teaching false gospels.
God admonishes us not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to covet what belongs to others, not to lie, not to sleep in when we should be worshiping God; yet people still ignore God’s admonitions.
Even the Christian who knows God’s Word inside out can say with the apostle Paul: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me...I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-23, 25b)
Our daughter has a dog, Peanut. He’s a loving and well-dispositioned animal who likes nothing better than being petted. But he’s still a dog. He still sniffs at the grass to find the right place to do his business, still barks at strangers, and still views anything within eyesight of our condo as part of the universe of his pack, which includes the three of us and him, and excludesanyone else. These are common dog behaviors. And no matter how compliant Peanut is to us, no amount of admonition will ever stop him from following his dog nature. I could tell Peanut, “Stop being a dog” until I’m blue in the face and it wouldn’t change him.
Admonitions from God, God’s Law, can’t change us either. We can be given God’s commands--including Jesus’ command that we see all people as neighbors to be loved--and remain unreconstructed sinners who never stop following our sinful human nature.
So, what good is it for Jesus to tell us to love our neighbor if, within ourselves, we have no capacity for loving our neighbor as we love ourselves?
Well, Paul says, also in Romans 7, that God’s Law does have an important function: “it was the Law that made me know what sin is…” (Romans 7:7) God’s admonitions--His Law--forces me to wrestle with the fact that I am a sinner. And sinners deserve death and condemnation. That, in turn, should cause us to take the wise step of looking for Someone Who can save me from my sins and from myself. But that’s not the only reason that Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan!
Remember how Jesus happens to tell the parable in the first place. An expert in Biblical law asks Jesus, “[W]hat must I do to receive eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) The guy is looking for some plan of performance by which he can earn eternal life from God.
We might paraphrase Jesus as asking the man, “Since you’re hung up on what you need to do, what does God’s Law in the Scriptures, say that you should do?” The man summarizes the Ten Commandments' admonition that we love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves. “Good answer,” Jesus basically tells the man. “Do those things and you’ll have life with God.”
Of course, if you and I could do those things on our own, we would have life with God...and there would be no reason for Jesus and His cross. The problem is that since Adam and Eve, the whole human race has inherited sin from them. We’re born sinners, separated from God.
But the teacher of the law isn’t thinking about any of that at all. Instead, he wants to find a loophole in the law. There are people he apparently doesn’t love and doesn’t think God should unreasonably expect him to love. (Like maybe Samaritans.) So, he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He would have been satisfied if Jesus had said, “Your neighbor is the good person you like.” But that’s not how Jesus answers the man.
Instead, He tells the parable of the good Samaritan that you know well. A man, presumably a Judean, is accosted by robbers on the road that descends north from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two religious figures, a priest and a Levite, respected Jewish persons pass by the man. But a hated Samaritan sees the wounded man, cares for him, takes him to a nearby inn, and foots the bill for the wounded man’s care.
So, Jesus asks the teacher of the law, who of the three who encountered the wounded Judean on the road was the man’s neighbor? Unable to even say “Samaritan” in a good light, the teacher of the law replies, “The one who was kind to him.” Verse 37: “Jesus replied, ‘You go, then, and do the same.’”
Honesty before the Lord should have compelled the teacher of the law to respond, “Lord, I don’t love my neighbor like that. Forgive me. Help me to love all my neighbors.”
Jesus is leaving the possibility of forgiveness and a new life born of complete dependence on Jesus for the man, it he will only repent and trust in Him. But he takes a pass. Uninterested in loving all people, certain that Jesus couldn’t possibly understand what it means to love the unlovable (like him, or you, or me), the teacher of the law asks nothing else of Jesus. He walks away, untouched, unchanged, unforgiven. Like most people in the world, including many in the Church, the man didn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus if following Jesus meant changing the way he wanted to live his life.
This encounter, by itself, would leave us only with God’s command that we love all people and that we, in fact, are incapable on our own of loving all people, if it weren’t for what happens next, in the verses just beyond our lesson, Luke 10:38-42.
Let me explain why I take you there.
In his gospel, Luke often pairs incidents. He'll have one incident involving a man followed by another one involving a woman. Sometimes he does it to create comparisons. Other times he creates contrasts.
For example, Luke tells us first that Zechariah was told by the angel that he would become father of John the Baptist and he greeted the news with skepticism. But immediately after that, the angel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus and she receives the news with faith.
When Jesus was taken to the temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to God and circumcised at eight days old, His identity as the Messiah was affirmed first by a man, Zechariah, then by a woman, Anna.
At Easter, the women were told that Jesus was raised from the dead and believed it while the male disciples greeted this news with faith.
With the incident of Mary and Martha, we see this same male/female pattern, and in it, Jesus makes an important point.
There we encounter two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha is a kindred spirit to the teacher of the law, certain of her own righteousness. Martha is also hung up on doing, playing the hostess with the mostest. Mary, meanwhile, “sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching.” (Luke 10:39) Martha resented Mary’s apparent laziness. But when she bellyaches about things to Jesus, He tells her, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Now, we’ll look at this incident involving Martha and Mary in more detail next Sunday. But surely, Luke meant it to be the exclamation point to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It’s not enough to be told that God wants us to love our neighbor. Because, deep down, I have neither the inclination nor the capacity to love others as I love myself, the God we can only know through Jesus Christ needs to give us both the ability and the desire to love others.
How does that happen?
It happens when we submit ourselves, day in and day out, to Jesus. This happens through the gifts of regular worship, the Sacrament, quiet time in God’s Word and prayer in Jesus’ name, and study of God’s Word with others that Jesus comes to us and God changes us.
Jesus has perfectly fulfilled the Law of God for us and to those who trustingly surrender to Him, like Mary, He creates a new way to be human, He makes us new people who cease to look for loopholes in the Law and instead look for new ways to live in His grace while loving others in that grace.
Who’s the neighbor I am to love? Everyone.
How am I to do that? By relying on only Christ, Who forgives our sins and empowers us to love others with the same patience and charity He gives to us. And that, surely, is the second point of the parable. “This is love,” we’re told in 1 John 4:10, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Live in, daily absorb, and totally depend on God’s love given to you in Christ and He will not only give you eternity, He will also change the way you view others, He will also love them through you.
I love shopping at Trader Joe's and Aldi, both of which seem to employ principles of simplicity in their business models. (During a trip to Germany to see Reformation sites last year, we shopped briefly at two outlets of Aldi Süd--the German Aldi chain voluntarily split in two some years ago--and I enjoyed those Aldi even more than the ones in this country. Here's a link to the website for Aldi Nord in Germany.)
Trader Joe's stores are always fun for me to visit, an experience as much as a shopping foray.
The homemade quality of the labeling, mentioned in this video from Business Insider, also is seen in the local stores' signage. On a visit to my local TJ's last week, the checker told me that she was also the "store artist," a graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design. She spends one day a week creating, designing, and executing the beautiful hand-drawn signs that also give all Trader Joe's outlets their distinctive look.
But, in addition to offering quality products at better prices than other grocers specializing in more organic and fresher foods, Trader Joe's makes it easier to choose your purchases for several important reasons discussed in the video. Genius!
I don't fault Trader Joe's for the "sneaky ways" this video refers to at all. On reflection, the chain's "sneaky ways" are part of the reason I like its stores so much.
Sneaky Ways Trader Joe's Gets You To Spend Money - YouTube
Luke 10:1-20 As a pastor, I tend to spend most of my days in the Christian ghetto. Most of the people I see and interact with each day are Christians.
That might seem wonderful to you. You're likely thinking, “If you knew some of the people I interact with each day, Pastor, you’d be thankful to be spending so much time with Christians.” Well, I do appreciate Christians. The Bible teaches that you and I need each other in the fellowship of Christ’s Church.
But I also think that it’s not a great thing that I spend the vast majority of my time each day with other Christians. How on earth are we going to share the good news of new life through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus with the whole world if we spend all or most of our time with just other Christians?
The Church is growing in other parts of the world, making Christianity the fastest growing religion by conversions on the planet. But the Church in our world--in North America--is shrinking, the number of people who follow Jesus for new and everlasting life is decreasing.
This is true even among people who are on church rosters. This past week, Dr. Leonard Sweet posted daunting facts on Facebook. “[Fifteen] years ago,” he wrote, “40% of church members attended four times a month. In 2018, only 10% attended four times/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.”
Christians might look at that data and think, “That’s a relief. At least those missing people are still members.” But there’s a difference between members and disciples. When people aren’t regularly in worship, they are at risk of growing out of touch with Christ altogether.
Acts 2:42 says of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The early Christians worshiped together; they saw that as the first thing they needed to do in response to the free gifts of forgiveness and new life we have through Jesus. But they also gathered as often as they could just to pray and consider God’s Word together. Like a football team, they huddled before each play, coming together to get ready for whatever came next, for life outside the Christian ghetto.
Sweet’s data shows that many Christians are distancing themselves from all those annoying Christians, annoying because those other Christians are as imperfect and as in need of God’s grace in Christ as you and I are. We forget that, by the power of the Holy Spirit who comes to Christians in our baptisms, those other Christians might have things to teach us from God. We forget, in the words of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We need the sharpening and the formation that only happens when a fellowship of imperfect Christians is forged together in the fire of the Holy Spirit.
This state of affairs will not change if we follow the easy course of staying in our Christian ghetto. Even pastors, ministers of Word and Sacrament, will need to spend more time outside of the Christian ghetto if we’re to make a dent in the spiritually disconnected population.
Simple compassion for those who are in danger of facing a Christ-less eternity should motivate us. “Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus],” God’s Word tells us, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Love for God and love for others should fill us with a sense of urgency about sharing the gospel with our spiritually disconnected neighbors and friends.
Jesus had this sense of urgency for the lost. He said that He had come to seek and save the lost. And He wanted people to understand that the miracles He performed and the grace He showed to the most notorious of sinners pointed to Him as God and Savior of the world, the One Who offers eternity with God as a free gift to all who believe in Him.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus sends out seventy-two of His disciples to prepare towns and villages for His appearance among them.
There were, Jesus says, lots of spiritually disconnected people to reach who were like crops ready to be gathered into the kingdom of God: “The harvest is plentiful [Jesus says] but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
Jesus says that we Christians need to pray that God will send faithful disciples among the spiritually lost so that they can encounter Jesus and His saving grace. We need to be praying for disciples to go into the harvests in Centerville, Miamisburg, Springboro, West Carrollton, Beavercreek, and all the Dayton area.
But Jesus says that we also need to be prepared to be the ones He sends into the harvest, despite the possibility of rejection and other dangers: “Go! [Jesus says] I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3)
Jesus goes on to say that if people do reject us, we cannot be discouraged. When you know that you belong to Jesus Christ, discouragement is not a long-term option.
We believe, as Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism, that as we rely on Christ, He frees us from the temptation to “false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.”
Jesus spends much of today’s gospel lesson telling disciples intent on following His call out into the world among non-Christians about the awful consequences of our refusing to prepare others to meet Jesus and of others refusing to hear us tell them about Jesus. He says that those who spurn Him, the Author of life, will go to Hades (Luke 10:15), the place set aside for those who choose death over Jesus.
And He tells disciples who seek to faithfully share Him with others: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
Our lesson ends with the seventy-two disciples exulting in all the lives that had been touched by God’s grace and mercy shared in the name of Jesus. Jesus shares their joy. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)
When we share Jesus’ name in love with others and they receive Jesus in faith, the powers of sin, death, and hell, all those things that keep us living in the freedom, hope, and peace that Jesus brings, those dark powers are decimated!
But, just in case we make the mistake of thinking that the good things that God does through us when we share Jesus has anything to do with us, Jesus warns us: “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
There are people outside these doors and the doors of our homes who only have misinformation and disinformation or no information about Jesus. Jesus wants to use you and me to share the straight scoop about Him: that He is God’s one and only Son, given to us because of God’s love for everyone, Jesus Who died and rose for us and promises that all who turn from sin and turn to Him will live forever with God, starting right here and right now.
Sharing that message is a big job! But here are four quick pointers on how to go about doing this mission to which Jesus has called us.
First: Make yourself available to share Christ with others. “Lord,” we might pray, “send workers into the harvest and make me willing to be one of them.”
Second: Connect with the unchurched. Connect with others generally. Walk slowly through the grocery store and the neighborhood (when it’s not raining or too stinking hot). Initiate conversation with others. You don’t have to start by talking about Jesus. (People might think you were nuts if you did that anyway.) But it’s amazing how often God will open up chances for us to speak with others about Jesus when we take the time to show an interest in them.
Third: Care about the physical needs of others. When we open our hearts to others with service in Jesus’ name, the hearts of some among those we serve will be opened to Jesus.
Fourth: Ask God to cultivate a desire within you to tell others about Christ. I don’t know about you, but the closer I grow to Christ, the more my awareness of two things grows: the enormity of my sin AND the enormity of His grace that covers my sin and fills me with everlasting life with God. This awareness alone should fill us with compassion for the spiritually disconnected. I always think, “If God has made me part of His kingdom, anyone can receive the gift of new life through faith in Jesus.” Anyone!
Jesus has saved us. Now Jesus sends us to reach others with the gospel...out beyond our Christian ghetto...so that Christ can reach them with the message of their salvation. As disciples, this is our calling from God. May the Holy Spirit empower you to follow that calling! Amen
In recent weeks, a friend of ours posted on social media, “What exactly is the point of life?” Another friend replied, “The point of life is whatever you make of it.” THAT was typically American advice. It was also TOTALLY WRONG!
From the standpoint of Christian faith, the point of life is clear and it’s not what we make of it.
The point of life is to live in sync with the God Who made us and who sets all who trust in the crucified and risen Jesus free from sin, death, and futility AND to share Him with the world. In other words, we live for Christ and watch what God, in His grace and infinite creativity, MAKES OF US!
More succinctly, the purpose of our existence is to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
In being and making disciples of Jesus Christ, we fulfill the purpose that God, the One Who crafted each of us in His image, has for our lives.
Our call as Christians is to seek to live in the gracious will of God and so be set free to be ourselves.
I wish that the sin and timidity that resides in me and every human being could more fully grasp that truth. It would make such a difference in our lives: We would live in the freedom of forgiven sin, learn to love others as we love ourselves, and have God-given joy that cannot be taken away from us.
But sadly, most people, including most Christians, thrash through this life with insecurity, worry, fear, and despair, lamenting that they haven’t got a clue to the answer to the question God has already answered, “What exactly is the point of my life?”
The most effective way to fight global warming is to plant lots of trees, a study says. A trillion of them, maybe more.
And there’s enough room, Swiss scientists say. Even with existing cities and farmland, there’s enough space for new trees to cover 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers), they reported in Thursday’s journal Science. That area is roughly the size of the United States.
The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 830 billion tons (750 billion metric tons) of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed in the past 25 years. Much of that benefit will come quickly because trees remove more carbon from the air when they are younger, the study authors said. The potential for removing the most carbon is in the tropics.
On this Fourth of July, I’m thankful for what makes America unique: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
I’m thankful for the principles they embody, the people who wrote them, and the thirteen original states that bravely set out to be what had never been, a national republic.
I’m thankful to those who have understood these two documents as ideals to live up to and enact.
I’m thankful that my immigrant ancestors and I have been privileged to live in a land whose founding documents allowed them to a live in freedom, a freedom undergirded by mutual commitment and accountability.
I’m thankful for the patriots who have committed blood, brains, and braun to keep America moving, often slowly and arduously, toward the ideal of an indivisible republic with liberty and justice for all. We’re not there, but the commitment to the quest for such a republic is there in our founding documents.
I’m thankful that, despite ourselves, God has graced us with women and men of every nation who, forged together as Americans around our twin founding compacts, have brought our nation and world great good.
I’m thankful for the humble prophets among us who have called us to do better, to be Americans. May their courageous number never be in short supply.
I’m thankful to God for those who have protected America.
I’m thankful to God for America: for what it is and, more importantly, for what it has the potential for becoming if we will embrace the historic call of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
And I refuse to despair when, from time to time, the nation seems bent on yielding to a “survival of the fittest” despotism. I still believe in the American Experiment, a land that seeks to be a place where, paraphrasing Emma Lazarus, whose words appear on the Statue of Liberty, the “poor, [the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free, [the] wretched...the homeless, tempest-tost” from this land and others can be formed into a people known as Americans, a people who seek freedom and opportunity as much as for others as they do for themselves, day in and day out, people of the Declaration and the Constitution.
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'” (Luke 5:20).
When we turn to Jesus with helplessness and such trust as the Holy Spirit has engendered in us (1 Corinthians 12:3), the fear of not being good enough (which we're not) is gone.
So too is the need to "prove" our worthiness because the death of God the Son on the cross proves our infinite and eternal worthiness, despite our sins and imperfections, in the eyes of God. When we turn to Christ, we live, we are forgiven.
I was telling a group at church last night about the professor who, at the beginning of the term, told the hard-charging students in his graduate course that they were all getting A's. That drove some people crazy: How would they prove they deserved an A? Was it fair for them not to get a better grade if they did more and better work?
But what they found was that because they knew they already had A's, they were set free to do their best work, set free from the anxiety of being perfect. They learned more than they'd ever imagined possible.
At the end of the term, the professor explained that this was a picture of God's grace: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
God approaches the human race with an attitude of grace, love, and forgiveness. This is how He looks at us even when we have our backs (and our lives) turned toward Him.
But when we turn to Him--
away from ourselves,
away from our "clan,"
away from our achievements,
away from our supposed goodness and merit ("all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" Isaiah 64:6),
away from both self-loathing and self-aggrandizement,
away from the little godlets, the idols of our choosing, be they human beings or sticks of wood or money or houses or power or fame--
when we turn to Jesus in helplessness and trust, we receive the forgiveness, new life, peace, hope, and permission to be our best selves that He had for us all the time.
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'”