Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 10:23-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity + August 26, 2018

Text: Luke 10:23-37

God reveals Himself not to the proud, stately, and religious, but to little children.  The humble, the troubled, the weak, and the needy.  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”[1]  All the proud find is a hidden God who appears to be a holy, but unfair lawgiver.  Often times those who scoff at God live carefree lives while the God-fearing, honest person loses their child to terminal brain cancer.

When we look into God’s Word without Jesus in it, we will always miss the main point by a long shot.  That was the trouble with thinking God was done after He had spoken to Moses and the Prophets.  The whole Old Testament is incomplete without the Son of God, and the New Testament is just fluff unless He is the fulfillment of all things God has spoken.

Case in point, Jesus encounters a man who is well-acquainted with the Scriptures, a lawyer (albeit one who is a skeptic with scoffing intent).  He asks, (this is important so we don’t write him off as merely seeking works-righteousness), “What is done so that I may inherit eternal life?”  The emphasis is on his concern to inherit eternal life.  He wants to be counted among the people of God and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  No one should condemn him for this, and neither does Jesus.

Rather, Jesus asks, “What has been written in the Law? How do you read it (aloud)?”  After all, the man is a lawyer and reading the Law aloud is part of what he does. It’s as natural as asking a mechanic how he changes brake pads.  The Law is his bread and butter.

He quotes one of the key texts of God’s people from Deuteronomy 6 (also 11 and Number 15).  Called the Shema (for the first word, “Hear”) as in: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”[2] The second part, “And your neighbor as yourself” was a rather recent addition by a Rabbi named Hillel, who saw the command to love one’s neighbor (from Leviticus 19) as the natural conclusion from the fact that God made all people out of one man, Adam.

Yet with the Law alone, neither this man nor anyone else can be saved.  That’s because when it comes to doing that Law to God’s holy standard, it is always an elusive goal.  “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” until now.

The Law does a perfect job of exposing what is lacking in us, corrupt and selfish about our desires.  And that’s illustrated well in the story of the Samaritan.  The Levite and the Priest walk by the man out of an utter respect and fear that doing so would make them unclean and disqualify them for service to God.  For them the way to God was through human purity—and rightly so because that is the plainest meaning of the code of holiness conduct that was prescribed in the Law.  But what was founded in a pious desire to serve God ended up entirely missing God’s ultimate intent.

It’s like when we make pragmatic excuses why we can’t pull over for the person broken down on the side of the road, or we call it good stewardship to not help a person in need because they might just waste it, or we say we’re just too busy to stop by and check in on someone we know is hurting.  If we try to justify ourselves by our prudence and purity, it will only come back show how we like to hide our selfish natures behind a religious veneer.  Let’s be honest, the money we don’t give to the less fortunate, we get to keep for ourselves.  Repent, for the Lord knows our hearts thoroughly.

Our Lord often chooses Samaritans to make a point.  They were descendants of apostate Israel.  They had intermarried and mixed with the other nations.  By all standards of purity prescribed in the Law, they were unclean and banned from God’s presence.

But what’s this?  A Samaritan comes upon this man who has been beaten and he actually fulfills the true meaning of the 5th Commandment.  We Lutherans might say he “feared and loved God so that he did not hurt or harm his neighbor in his body, but helped and supported him in every physical need.” (Small Catechism)

God gave the Commandment not to murder because He not only knows the evil which is behind outright acts of homicide, but also the coldness and alienation we demonstrate toward other people’s needs. The Samaritan did what the man in the ditch needed.  He did the right thing, even regardless if he had the right religious credentials.  It’s like when we read about a good person in the obituaries, but don’t see that they were part of a Christian church.  Instead of judging them, perhaps we should be ashamed that they did all that without a faith in Christ.

So what shall we do?  Learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”[3]  Jesus’ question to the lawyer at the end of the story is, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?’…[The lawyer] answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’”  And may it not begin with us, or it will be as flawed as the priest and the Levite who saved their mercy for a rainy day!  Mercy begins with God: the mercy He showed to us in our helpless state.  To show us how far sin had darkened every intent of our hearts, He gave His holy Law, but in mercy He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh.  He is the embodiment of God’s holiness and God’s abundant mercy.

Jesus, in truth, did the commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Yet in mercy, He also came to us, beaten and half-dead from our guilt, and He bound up our wounds and treated us with His all-sufficient sacrifice on the cross.  He brought us into the inn of the Church and there He daily and richly forgives us all our sins and strengthens us with His Word and the blessed Sacraments!  He will come again and our healing of soul and body will be complete in the resurrection of the dead.

But until that day, He has gathered us all together in His Church to live as recipients of God’s mercy.  God’s true intent for our lives is not that we be so holy we can’t brush elbows or even talk with the unclean people of the world.  God’s intent is that we be like Him—showing mercy and making His dwelling among sinners.  That is the very thing which God did in Jesus Christ.

Jesus sent out the lawyer with these words, “You go, and do likewise.”  It’s a command that can’t be kept in the Old Testament alone.  It is one that comes when God gives us His Holy Spirit, so that we see Jesus as the center of God’s Word and our own lives.  It is the Holy Spirit which enables in Christians that desire to do what the Samaritan did, and to give glory to the God who called out of our sins into His Kingdom.  It is also the Spirit who daily puts to death our stone-cold hearts and gives us hearts of flesh to love God and demonstrate true love for our neighbor. So is Jesus’ command daily fulfilled in your life as you live in Him.  Amen

[1] James 4:6, citing Proverbs 3:34 in Greek

[2] Deuteronomy 6:4-5

[3] Matt. 9:13, citing Hosea 6:6 in Greek

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Mark 7:31-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity + August 19, 2018

Text: Mark 7:31-37

This was not the first time that Jesus had been to Tyre, Sidon, and the region of the Decapolis.  The first time Mark records that Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon chapter 3, it says, “When the great crowd heard all that Jesus was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him.”[1]  Later on, Jesus cast out a legion of demons from the man living among the tombs and cutting himself.  Having been healed, Mark tells us “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”[2]

It’s worth noting out how remarkable the crowd’s response is to Jesus.  This was a Gentile area.  Tyre and Sidon were great cities of commerce along the Mediterranean coast, and thought themselves doing just fine without the true God.  The Decapolis was a league of ten cities that were thoroughly Hellenized.  They wanted nothing to do with Jewish influence.  So, it is amazing that such large crowds gather around the True God and Jewish Messiah.  This was surely what the Prophet Ezekiel foretold: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst.”[3]

Now Jesus is back this second time.  There’s been time for the report to spread about him—especially to some friends of a man who was deaf and could not speak clearly.  “He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.”  His arrival brings more healings, exorcisms, and feedings, but the work is by no means complete.  “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.”  Here is yet one more sick, hurting person who is brought before Jesus.  And we can relate with each one of them because we know suffering in this body.  We would very much like Jesus to come and work his miracles on us—take away our hurts, our weakness, and free us from bondage.

But first, we must learn to see our present afflictions in the light of God’s Word.  St. Paul writes very clearly, “The wages of sin is death.”[4]  That means that every cancer is more than cell replication gone wild; it is because of sin.  It means that every infection, down to the annoying summer cold, is the result of sin.  Every ache and pain is a reminder that we are the sinful offspring of Adam and Eve.  Our illnesses and hurts preach God’s Law to us.  They remind us that we deserve no better than suffering and we deserve to be forsaken by God.  In fact, it’s very common for us in our suffering to think that God has abandoned us.

But Jesus has been here before—not just to Tyre and Sidon, but to this world that groans under the weight of sin.  His coming was to meet our need before God, to answer for the sins of all—even ours.  Every healing was made possible not just because He is God.  It was made possible because He suffered and died.  God restores our dying flesh through the death of His Son.

The Gospel continues:

33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

In this healing, Jesus sighed (literally, groaned).  He groaned because opening this man’s ears and unbinding his tongue was more than a magic trick.  One commentator says, “his use of spittle ironically foreshadows the way in which his enemies will later spit at him (14:65, 15:19). This connection may suggest that Jesus’ curative power is somehow related to the salvific effect of his suffering.”[5]  And indeed the cures He gives are connected to his suffering.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”[6]  Without Jesus’ passion, there is no healing of bodies and souls damaged and destroyed by sin.  Without forgiveness, the sentence of death upon sinners cannot be reversed.  And unless death is destroyed, healings are only like bailing water out of a sinking ship.

            Jesus came once to cleanse a sinful human race with His sinless Body and the shedding of His holy blood.  In this miracle, Jesus places His fingers in the man’s ears and spits.  Now, in our daily life, we watch out for bodily fluids because it’s through them—snotty noses, coughs, and others that diseases are transmitted.   But, if the spit of another person can spread death, how much greater can the spit of the Son of God cleanse and save from death!

            When we read of these miraculous healings in the Bible, we wish that it had been us.  Why couldn’t I have been this deaf and tongue-tied man?  Why couldn’t I have been the woman with the discharge of blood, whom no doctor but Jesus could heal?[7]  We long for God to bring us a better life, free from disease and suffering, free from hunger and drought, and free from hatred and violence.  Our Lord teaches us to pray, “deliver us from evil”[8] and so He does, but not always in the here and now.

Our hopes are not misplaced if we look for this in Jesus, because these things and more will surely be ours because God does not lie.  We believe that Jesus came once when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and that He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose on the Third Day.  Just as surely as that is true, so it is true that He is coming soon to deliver you from all the evils of body and soul from which you now suffer.  Eternal life has been opened by His death and resurrection.

So we might ask, what does this mean for our lives?  It’s application is twofold.

First and foremost is the spiritual truth of deafness and inability to speak.  This man was deaf and unable to speak, and not all people are.  But the Word of God makes known a spiritual deafness to the Word and an inability to pray, praise, or give thanks to God.  Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17).  The Gospel reached this man and Jesus was the one who opened his ears.    Then having heard this good news for our salvation, He opens our lips to declare His praise.  A Christian who does not overflow in sharing the good things the Lord has done is as unnatural as an ear that does not hear or a mouth that cannot speak.

Second is the physical.  We must understand the physical through the spiritual.  Our physical lives are only a part of the picture, and yet it’s what we are immersed in on a daily basis.  We go to the doctor and they troubleshoot our body, but say nothing of our soul.  We go about our daily errands, and perhaps are hindered in some of them because of physical limitations.  However, if all we know is the physical, we could only lament our broken bodies and long for a “fix.”

The spiritual opening of the ears and loosing of the tongue sheds light on the physical.  We are not just sentient animals, but creatures of God.  We are made for fellowship with Him, to live according to His good will for us.  The reason our bodies are broken and dying is because of the curse of sin.  It is a curse which Jesus came to remove.  So for the Christian, the one whose ears are open and tongue is loosed, we await that perfect body in confident hope.  We are not where we ought to be, and never will be this side of the Last Day.  The curses of sin will be with us to our dying day or the Lord’s return—thorns and thistles will come up where we labored hard, cancer cells will reproduce where normal cells should be, infections will seem to overtake all man-made cures, aches and pains will limit us from our full potential.

But just as Jesus gave a preview of the perfect in the healings during His ministry, so we wait for our perfect restoration of body and soul.  We await the day when sin and death will be no more, and when the devil will be cast into hell forever.

Yet even as we await the perfect, we have a foretaste of it with Jesus’ own Body and Blood given for us this day.  It is medicine for body and soul, a healing for our weary bones.  Just as the spit of Jesus spread not death but life, so the crucified and risen Body and shed blood of the Son of God give you renewed strength of spirit and body!

While your healing may not be as night-and-day visibly as the man in the Gospel, you surely have the fullness of God’s salvation and the joyful expectation of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.

[1] Mark 3:8-9

[2] Mark 5:20

[3] Ezekiel 28:22

[4] Romans 6:23

[5] Joel Marcus, Anchor Bible Commentary on Mark 1-8, p. 475

[6] Hebrews 9;22

[7] Mark 5:25-34

[8] Matthew 6:13

Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 19:41-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Tenth Sunday after Trinity + August 5, 2018
Baptism of Liam John Buresh Strehlo
Text:  Luke 19:41-48

The question sometimes arises: What’s the difference between Israel of old and the Christian Church? More to the point, what happened to Israel and all the things God promised them?
After all, God made a promise to bring them out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan.  He bore them up as on eagles’ wings, fed them in the wilderness, and brought them across the Jordan where they took possession of the land (see Psalm 105 as a summary).  He promised to protect them from their enemies and make their harvest abundant.  He told them the land, the allotments, and the place for His Name to dwell were for everlasting generations.
The most important thing to consider is what happened to Israel from God’s perspective.  Nehemiah, governor of Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile writes, 29And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules… and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.” (Nehemiah 9:29–30)  Israel lost God’s favor and blessing because of their unbelief.
St. Paul makes the point in 1 Corinthians 10:6, “These things took place as examples for us.”   All passed through the sea and under the cloud, but with many God was not pleased.  Why?  Not because they failed measure up, but because they imagined it worked that way.  Denying what sin had done to them, they set up their own brand of righteousness (Rom. 9:32).
In the Gospel today, when Jesus looks out over Jerusalem, it brings Him to tears.  What should be so awful that it would make God weep? That the people for whom He has done so much, the bride to whom He had been as a faithful and loving husband, would turn away after another god.  Where this hurts the most is their rejection of God as their Savior.
To Israel He said, “I am the Lord, your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)  But they preferred slavery.  They longed for their old “easy” life under Pharaoh.  They lusted after the gods and worship practices of their neighbors.  They constantly denied the Lord’s intention despite His signs and His trustworthy words.
So Jesus weeps as He looks over Jerusalem, the place where God had set His Name in the Temple to dwell among them in mercy.  He put His Name there to dwell with His people and bless them, but they refused to listen with their hearts.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” said Isaiah (29:13).
To us He says, I have baptized you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, rescued you from the house of Satan with sin and death your only companions.  I have fed you with the rich food of my Word, nurtured you and given you my Holy Spirit to comfort and keep you in the faith.  The Lord Jesus has fed you with His very own Body and Blood, the fruits of His glorious cross.
And how have you responded?  Have you taken His mercy for granted, put Him to the test by going your own way and treating him like an estranged spouse?  Have you forgotten the holy calling to which He has called you to turn away from every evil thing, and returned to slavery to your flesh?  It’s not enough to wear the Name Christ around your neck.  If you want to be saved, He must reign in your heart.  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
We, just like Israel, have taken our Lord God for granted.  We deserve to be condemned.  But, as He weeps over Jerusalem, Jesus says, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”  The Lord did not come to make an end of sinners, but to save them.  He wants all people to know and believe those things which make for peace—peace with God.
What is this peace?  Jesus says this as He enters Jerusalem, preparing to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, to trudge up the hill of Calvary, and to be nailed to the cross and die.  He goes there to bear all the wrath of God.  He rises on the third day, never to die again.  That is where peace with God is secured.
Now, how does that peace come to someone?  We witnessed it today, as Liam was baptized in the Triune Name of God.  Scripture says in Romans 6:3-4:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Holy Baptism delivers the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and devil, and received the eternal salvation which Jesus gained on the cross.  And Josh and Ali, out of love for their son, and faith in God’s Word, wanted that gift for Liam.
But it doesn’t stop with bringing a baby to Baptism.  Sometimes people think of Baptism as a “get-into-heaven-free” card that never expires.  While God’s promises never expire and (as we said in the Creed) one Baptism gives the remission of sins, our faith in that promise can waver or even fail.
So, when Jesus instituted Baptism He said, “Make disciples of all nations baptizing…and teaching them to observe all things I have commanded.” (Matt. 28:19)  It is a blessed beginning for Liam, but there are—God willing—many years ahead for father, mother, and child.  So that Liam would continue to know what is good in God’s sight, the evil of the human heart, and above all the things which make for peace, Josh and Ali, and sponsors Karl and Maria, see to it that Liam remains in God’s Word.
Why?  Because we don’t want to see him, or any Christian, end up like Jerusalem—having all the outward appearance of God’s people, but a heart that is far from Him.
So Jesus fills His Church richly with the things that make for peace, a strong remedy against unbelief.  He gives us the gift of confession and absolution.  We confess to the pastor the ways we have departed from the Lord in thought, word, and deed.  Then he brings us back to Baptism—not to our own improvement or promise to be better—to God’s work which is always trustworthy and endures forever. (John 20:19-23)
Our Lord gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink, giving us union with our Risen Savior.  Where Holy Baptism and Confession gives us the “washing of regeneration and renewal,” (Titus 3:5) the Lord’s Supper gives us peace and strength for our bodies for the life of faith.  It gives us fellowship with the whole Church on earth and in heaven.  It gives us a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the eternal celebration of our redemption.
These are the things which make for peace with God, the blood-wrought works of God for your salvation.  May God the Holy Spirit ever keep Liam, you and me, and the whole Christian Church in the one true faith through all of our days to life everlasting. Far from weeping over us, this is what makes the Lord and His holy angels rejoice!  Amen.