“The Idiot Only a Samaritan Could Love” Trinty 12 2012

02. September 2012
Trinity 13
Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22

Everyone cares about their reputation. No one wants to be the village idiot. Churches are no exception. The worst is when you’re the fifth leg at the fellowship table or the moron at Bible class. Better just to run away and hide than subject yourself to that again. And then life throws you another slider, you swing, and totally miss. Unemployed and broke, you’ve got nothing to offer. Your fellow pew-sitter gives you the evil eye as the plate is passed. I’d rather stay home. And then there’s your voice. Never trained apart from in the shower or while driving, you know that if you even gave this 16th century hymn a shot it’d sound worse than a bird in a bag squawking.

You care about your reputation. You don’t want to be made the fool, left alone, ashamed, or silently mocked.  At first its easier to run than deal with it. That only lasts for a while. Eventually you’ll resort to ego boosting. There’s no stopping your self-improvement goals. Maybe you go home trying harder, working like a madman, cracking your Bible open a couple times, and trying to open up with strangers. You try and still fail.

It’s no different for our church. We keep trying every strategy, technique, and improvement goal to grow, live, and thrive. We greet each other with “welcome to Grace!” We shake hands and put on a smiling face. We tightened the budget belt and encouraged better stewardship. We sit at booths, put up banners and signs, and send letters. We print resources for prayer. We broadcast our services live on the internet. Events and picnics round out the self-help fest.

We try to improve, to grow, and to thrive. And what do the congregation have to show for it? More members dying than joining. Less money coming in than going out. A sparse sanctuary and a wasteland for Bible study. Same with your personal life. People still don’t know who you are. Your life isn’t getting better. No more money is in the wallet than yesterday. Your prayers are weak. You still hate those old hymns.

Whether your reputation or the church’s, you’re tempted to ask the question: What must I do? How can I fix it? How can I and we as a church break free and live? On the surface these are fair questions but underneath utterly broken. If you are the subject of the verbs then you are responsible for the doing. Can you cause the rain to fall or the sun to shine? Can you grant faith to the unregenerate to become Christians and grow the church? Can your Protestant work ethic make any of this right? Did God promise success to people and churches that try harder, work harder, or pray harder?

So asked the lawyer of Jesus. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” What can you do? Can the dead restart their heart, open their casket, unbury themselves, and draw deep breaths of fresh air again? What can you do? Claim an inheritance from a father who you neither deserve nor know? The age-old question has an age old answer from God: “What is written in the Law? … 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… Do this, and you will live.”

Completely and utterly dedicated your whole life—heart, soul, strength, and mind—to the Lord… oh, and, love your neighbor as yourself… and you’ll live. Do this. This is the Law of the Lord. This is your self-improvement plan, the way of success, and the church-growth model for this congregation. Don’t just try harder but be perfect as your Father is perfect. Do this, and live. Do this, and inherit eternal life.

Right. By this truth, how do you stack up? How does God think of you? What about the neighbor? Are you Good Christian People? Is everything you do, say, think, and love for God and neighbor? Completely, all, wholly? I can’t speak for you but I can speak for God and His holy Law. You are dead in trespasses. Your flesh hates God and ignores the neighbor. Your reputation is worse than awful. You are criminal and murderous. You have stolen from God and abused your neighbor. What must you do to inherit eternal life? Not a damn thing. Game over, man, game over.

It was a false and misleading dream that man himself could redeem. We latched onto God’s holy Law and forgot the promise. The promise given to Abraham that came 430 years before. The promise of the offspring who is Christ. We’re no different than the lawyer testing Jesus. That’s a law question and gets from Jesus a law answer. What must I do? Do this and live. Where does it leave you? An utter wreck. Miserable. Hateful. Dead. A sinner.

We ask the wrong question. What must I do? Stop your piss poor attempts to justify yourself. Repent and remember the promise. Believe. What must you do? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Remember the promise: “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. What has Christ done for you? Everything. He did not look upon you based on your work. When it comes to saving you, he doesn’t care about how lovely you are, how nicely you sing, how much money you put in the plate, or how friendly you are.

He gave you the Law in the Scriptures but to utterly imprison you in sin: to strip you, beat you, and leave you half dead in the ditch. You’re not on the path. You’re not moving towards eternity. You sick and bleeding. You’d pull up your bootstraps if those hadn’t been take from you, too. The Law robs you of your self-esteem, your pride, and your idols. You are exposed to God’s holiness and lay dying. This is God’s work.

Is it contrary to the promises of God? Absolutely not! God doesn’t want you to work out your own salvation. You are sinner and for you there can be no inheritance and no perfect obedience. Why bother, then? Not for life nor for righteousness. Why? For faith. To stop trying and start receiving. To believe and trust that only in the promise is there salvation. Only in the offspring do you inherit. Only in Jesus is there eternal life.

Nobody else can save you. Not the pious pastor. When he sees you dying, he’ll slip casually to the other side of the road. Not the pious family. When they come to your ditch of misery, they too will care more about their reputation or cleanness than to help you. Nope, not a single good person, with smiling faces, awkward handshake, or “welcome to Grace!” will get you or them eternal life. Even your neighbor ultimately cares more about themselves than your salvation.

You have one neighbor who cares more about you than even Himself. When He sees you, His bowels churn with compassion. When he sees you, he ignores your reputation and helps you anyway. You lay there naked before him, stinking of the ditch, and dead to the world, and he takes you up and bandages you. He chooses you and cleans you with holy oil. His beast shoulders you to the His holy inn where His innkeeper cares for you. Even then, do you pay the inn for these services? No, they are gift. No offering required. No service. Nothing but receiving healing and life from the blessing of the Samaritan. Nothing but receiving mercy.

Do not be like the lawyer, seeking to test Jesus. There is no life or righteousness in the Law. Believe and trust in the promise, the offspring, the Christ. Teach Him. Proclaim Him. Confess Him. What must you do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. What has Jesus done that you may inherit eternal life? Everything.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Trinity 9 2011 – “The Unjust Steward” – Luke 16:1-9

21. August 2011
Trinity 9
Luke 16:1-9

For the faithful Christian, there is a proper use of the wealth given to us by our Father. We have been given all that we need to support this body and life. Not only do we have clothing, shoes, home, land, and animals, we also have automobiles for transportation, farm equipment to make the toil of the land a little easier, cell phones and internet to communicate with the world, wells and city water for easy relief from thirst, air conditioning to beat the heat, and more. While we could live without some of these things, they have been given to us by our Father for our benefit, out of his goodness, and mercy.

The Gospel parable of the Unjust Steward is not about the gifts given to benefit our life. The parable is concerned with simply money, but mammon, that is, the greed for that which is more than the basic needs of the body. In other words, money in a derogatory sense, the idol that is worshiped, craved, and greedily sought.

As a parent, I spend a great deal of time distinguishing for my children the difference between what we need and what we want. How often we are convinced that we have only what we need! We are convinced have no mammon. The parable is spoken by Jesus because he knows we have been given more than we need. Jesus knows there is a great danger of greed, squander, or ill-gotten gain with this God-given surplus.

This is the sin of the Steward. He also said to His disciples:  “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ 

The steward of the parable wasted his master’s property and got caught. Instead of being satisfied with his wages, he consumes his master’s wealth. He squandered it just as the Prodigal Son had squandered his own inheritance. He is a reckless caretaker of his master’s wealth. Those who care for another’s property should use it to benefit the owner.  His actions make the mammon unrighteous.

The proper use of God’s gifts is more than simply being thankful. We sing “We give Thee but Thine own, What-e’er the gift may be; All that we have is Thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from Thee.” Certainly it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. Also, in service to God, we also use this wealth to the benefit of those neighbors around us. Where God gives, he gives in excess. God gives this excess so that you may give to others in public confession of His work for you.

The challenge of a surplus is discerning its best use. Extra wealth doesn’t take long to burn a hole in your pocket. It is no surprise that the steward could squander away the rich man’s wealth. Wasteful spending is all around us, not just with our own finances but in business and in government. Many are lacking the wisdom to spend mammon appropriately and for the most benefit.

The steward, after hearing of his pending job loss for wasting the possessions, calls in the debt of his former master’s debtors to gain some positive reputation with them. Not only had the steward squandered his master’s assets, now he was giving away even more… changing the bills of debtors.

3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ 

5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

We shouldn’t place all the blame on the steward. Likely the debtors collaborated with him, knowing they were next to give an account before the rich man. The sons of this age are interested in self gain, saving face, and all this through dishonesty and waste. Their sinful actions make the mammon unrighteous. There’s plenty of sin to go around.

So, then, why does Jesus say: So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. 9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”

Does Jesus advocate following the example of the dishonesty of the steward? No, the dishonest manager is commended for his shrewdness, not for his dishonesty. Shrewdness is having a sharp sense of judgment. He is commended for his quick thinking in working with the debtors to win their favor. Although the sons of this generation are dishonest, unjust, wasteful, and greedy, they act with quick judgment with the mammon they have. They use this wealth shrewdly for the benefit of making friends. They serve their mammon with faithfulness and devotion, using it in service to the worldly kingdom.

If the sons of this age act shrewdly with dishonest, unrighteous, dirty money… how much more should the sons of light act shrewdly with the wealth of this world! The sons of this age believe mammon is their own, to do with as they please. The sons of light are in the Father’s graces. The sons of light know that the surplus they have is a gift from God and to be used for God’s purpose.

And so Christ says to his disciples “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth…” We use this worldly wealth for the benefit of those around us. “Making friends” is benefiting those in need and endearing ourselves to them. The wealth of this world is made unrighteous by corruption, evil, greed… sin. In the hands of the sons of light, mammon is made good by God, to be used wisely for his purposes.

Jesus continues: 10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? 

The parable is not just about temporal blessings, those that benefit the body. It is given as an example of how we ought to treat the treasures of the church, the Holy Gospel. We have been given the stewardship of the Gospel, the best of gifts.

Some act recklessly with this gift, showing little concern for its integrity. They suggest that we need to dress up this message, smooth out the rough edges, and package it in simple sayings. These marketing gurus sell the Gospel short of its message by reducing Jesus merely to a Mr. Nice Guy who gave good advice. Offensive messages such as describing man as a sinner in need of forgiveness are removed. In the process, these gurus destroy the need for Christ’s death and resurrection. The justification of the sinner is sidelined in the interest of a cheaper Gospel of righteous living and meaningful life.

In contrast, God wisely gave us means of His Word, His Baptism, and His Supper to speak the whole truth of His Gospel. We should not listen to the marketing gurus and discount His Gospel by stepping back from the whole ministry He has given us. Reducing the Gospel to merely words without its proper teaching and means of grace makes us no different from any of the cults around us.

Messages of moral teaching can be found by listening to Mohammed, Buddha, or Joseph Smith. There we hear the same message of life change that these marketing gurus suggest. Those who could benefit from the truth of forgiveness of sins and life eternal are instead left to “price shop” not just to Christian churches but the cults for the morality that best fits their perceived needs. We are poor stewards of the Gospel and act without wisdom if we alter the Gospel and waste its gift of salvation.

God provides the mammon of this world out of the same goodness and mercy as his gift justification of the sinner,. We receive the earthy excess in view of His justification of us. All good gifts come through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for our sin.

How should we use these earthly gifts? Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  How can these friends won through mammon welcome us into these eternal dwellings, that is, heaven? Is Jesus suggesting that we should use the wealth of this world to gain entrance into heaven as has been falsely taught by the church of Rome or the ascetics of the wilderness who gave away everything and escaped to the wilderness? Are those of heaven who were fed, clothed, or sheltered by us in this world going to welcome us into heaven by virtue of these works?

No, these works merit us nothing towards heaven. Had it not been for Christ’s death and resurrection, these works would be no different from the unrighteous sons of this age. Indeed, there would be no sons of light if the true light of the world, Christ, had not come into the world. “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you… While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (Jn 12:35-36) To be a sons of light is to be separate from this world, distinct from the outer darkness, distinct from the unrighteous sons of this age.

As a son of light, your use of mammon is not unrighteous like the steward. Your mammon is made righteous by God. Those born of Christ produce fruit in keeping with their faith. As we learned last week, a good tree produces good fruit. Christians, freed from the curse of sin by Christ give freely of the wealth given to them. Their conscience is not burdened by identity, status, who is their friend, or how to get ahead in business… as with the sons of this age. Rather the Christian is free to act as God’s benefactor for the good of the neighbor. The wealth used in faith is purified by God. It is used for his purpose and in his wisdom. It is made righteous.

When we are welcomed into the eternal dwellings by these friends, they will thank us for demonstrating our faith to them by clothing them, feeding them, or housing them. They will remark how Christ was proclaimed in our lives. We will not enter on account of these deeds, but we will be joined by the faithful throng whose lives saw and heard faith which was not dead but alive… a faith given in baptism but proved by good fruits. They will give thanks to God for the confession of the gospel of Christ expressed not just in words but in deeds.

The life made right with God at the cross is lived in this grace. The grace of God comes to us in His Word and Sacrament where the Holy Spirit makes us new, retooling us for righteous use of his gifts. The steward squandered his master’s wealth and yet shrewdly used what little capital he had left to gain some friends. How much more can we be faithful stewards of his gifts and gain not just friends here on earth but by God’s grace,  friends into eternity.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Trinity 4 2011 – Luke 6:36-42

17. July 2011
Trinity 4
Luke 6:36-42

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Our heavenly Father gives us all things, earthly and spiritual, temporal and eternal, superabundantly. We are captives to death and he gives us life. We are children of hell and he gives us heaven. We are poor, naked, hungry, and thirsty, and He satisfies us with all good things.

The Father’s mercy is unreasonable.  Reasonable would be loving those who are beautiful, giving to those who can repay, redeeming those who can best serve Him. But true compassion does not judge. The Father gives to those who do not deserve it. He gives to the ugly, the wasteful, the greedy, and the gluttonous. His eyes judge not friend or foe, worthy and unworthy. He gives mercy without distinction. The love of Father does not seek the lovable, the likable or the one who will love him back. Instead He embraces and kisses His disobedient children, heal their wounds, feeds them, clothes their nakedness, and opens his pierces hands to lift them to his bosom.

The Father’s mercy is Gospel. It is a free gift, to everyone without expectation of return. Our Father has shown great mercy to each and everyone of us. He did not judge our potential for faith but showered us richly with saving waters. He does not condemn us to hellfire but continually rescues from the snares of Satan. He does not hold our terrible sins against us, but forgives them, forgetting them to eternity. He gives to us good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, spilling into our lap… every need of body and soul.

God’s grace transforms the sinner from a creature of wrath to a creature of mercy and love. Witness the example of Joseph. His brothers come to him knowing full well that they deserve to be punished for selling their brother into slavery. They expect he will pay them back for their evil. But Joseph, expecting nothing in return, forgave them. He did not condemn them, nor judge them. Instead he gave to them and to their children of his surplus. This is showing mercy, giving without expecting return. Looking past their treacherous deeds and deceitful hearts. Forgiving without being asked or deserved.

Witness the example of Zacchaeus, who after hearing the saving message of the Gospel uttered by Jesus himself, went and gave half of all that he owned to the poor. Witness Saul, the violent persecutor of Christians. After hearing the word of God on the Damascus Road, he was given not just in simple faith but transformed into the apostle Paul with faith lived out in mercy, in grace and love.

The gift of faith does not leave the believer to his old ways of greed and lust and self interest. The faith granted, the forgiveness proclaimed, transforms the hearts of the hearers to faithful service to God and his  neighbor.  Works are the spontaneous fruits and proofs of the indwelling of our Lord. Mercy is manifest in the Christian due to the Father’s mercy on him. He is thankful for being spared and grants the Father’s mercy himself to those in need. The Father makes known to us his presence when his faith blossoms forth in service to others.

“If you love those who love you, what a benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” God uses man as a conduit for his mercy. We are to forgive just as God has forgiven us, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We forgive not seven, seventy, but seventy times seven times. (Mt 18:22).

As with any command, especially this command to mercy, we rightly shake in our boots. It is impossible for us to shake off our selfishness and show the kind of mercy God demands. We have failed to forgive as we have been forgiven. We have neglected the needy. Sinful service seeks glory. False mercy seeks a tax break.

If you saw a beggar by the door of the church, what would you do? How would you show him mercy? Perhaps you’d give him money or food. But maybe you’d call the authorities, ignore him, among other things. Unmerciful, that’s what we’d be.

Mercy is deeper than looking past the motives of the heart and helping our neighbor in his physical need anyway. Mercy is looking past our own judgment of the neighbor. Forget about judging your chances of success, the likelihood of faith. How would one do that, anyway? If someone is tattooed and pierced, or long-haired and unkept, or clean and well-dressed, how does that in any way indicate their divine election? How does that give you any idea if they will receive the Gospel to their salvation?

Repent. We have all failed to withhold judgment from the neighbor. We have all neglected to share the saving Gospel with the stranger in need, condemning them to doom. We have used our logjam-blinded eyes to judge our neighbor, all the while ignoring our own condition.

If you saw that beggar outside our door, maybe you wouldn’t help him. Yet, even worse, would you invite him into church? Would you bring him into the sanctuary where he is fed with the spiritual food of Christ? Or would you consider him unworthy of our Lord’s forgiveness, too smelly, too dirty, or two raw for good company? Would you ignore the heed of the Gospel and judge him and condemn him by your inaction? This hypothetical situation shows how hard it truly is for us to show mercy. We might give him alms but from one hand but judge and condemn him with the other.

So how can the believer ever expect to fulfill this command? Not by our own power but by the power of God which is within us. The Holy Spirit first grants faith to our hearts. Faith grants sanctified hearts that believe God is a gracious and merciful Father.  Without faith, we fail to see the Father’s mercy at work in us. From the faith, flows mercy for the neighbor.

When we teach others, do we teach ourselves? (Romans 2:17-23) Lord, teach us to recognize our own error. Remove the plank in our eyes that we may guide others in your truth. Without You, we are the blind leading the blind. Teach us to judge not the hearts of men. Teach us to forgive so that others to may learn to forgive. Teach us to give of the great bounty you have provided us.

The Gospel commends all Christians to be like Joseph. Take care of your neighbor’s physical needs. That’s mercy. Forgive those who do you wrong. Mercy. Care for the spiritual welfare of those outside or weak in faith. Mercy. Do not judge the heart. Mercy. This is a testament of the faith given to you.

The Father’s mercy is not merely for selfish pleasure. The Father’s mercy is not to comfort for comfort sake. He intends His goodness to flow through us towards those in need. As we gather today around His table to commune as one body with many members, let us not forget to show mercy especially to those in our own fellowship of believers. “But God composes the body… that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:25-26)

Many are currently suffering. May the Lord teach us to “be merciful, even as our Father is merciful.” Many are in need of the Father’s mercy. Let us not hesitate to show mercy upon all in need, not not judging nor condemning, but forgiving and giving. May his grace which saved us from our trespasses and rescued us from death be proclaimed and may he have mercy upon us so that we may have mercy on others.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana