St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

Lent 1 - 1993

Text: Luke 9:51-10:17

Subject: Missionary Journeys by Disciples

Predicate: are an integral part of Jesus' Journey to Jerusalem

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A few years ago, there was a very popular commercial for "Life" cereal running on TV.

A couple of young boys had bowls of this new brand of cereal set before them, and as often happens with children, they were afraid to try a food that they'd never tasted before.

Finally, one of the boys said, "I know, let Mikey try it!"

And they pushed a bowl of cereal over to their "cute little brother," who became their "guinea pig," doing what the boys should have done for themselves. That is, tasting the cereal to see if THEY liked it enough to eat it.

The commercial was a successful one because it touched a nerve in everyone who watched it.

And that nerve is, that we know there are some things that we should do, but we just don't want to do them. And if we can, we'll try to find someone else, perhaps even an innocent person who doesn't know any better, to stand in for us, and to fulfill our responsibility for us.

Now without wasting any time, let me connect this concept with the text and theme for this evening's Lenten service.

We know that Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem.

And tonight we hear that Jesus does not intend to make the trip alone. He wants his followers to travel with him on the road to Jerusalem., and, as he directs, to go out ahead of him, to prepare the way, so that people are informed and ready for the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

The challenge of this message is two fold.

First - how will we respond to Jesus' request that WE to join with him on his journey to Jerusalem? Will we say yes? Will we follow him? Will we work to spread the news that the Kingdom of God is near?

Or will we try to find some way out of it? Will we push the job off on someone else, in effect saying, "Let Mikey try it!"

And second, if we agree to travel with Jesus, what is it that we are supposed to do? Especially seeing as we are on the other side of Easter, there is a way in which you could say that we are on the road "out of Jerusalem," instead of the road in to it. So what shall we do? What shall we say? //

The Gospel lesson that I read this evening contains several examples of how people responded to Jesus request for followers to "hit the road" with him. Let's take a few minutes tonight to look at each case in detail, and apply it to our situation as best as we can.

But first of all, before we go any further, remember that the call "to follow" ALWAYS comes from Jesus.

Even in cases where someone approaches Jesus of their own accord and says that they would like to be a follower, we must remember that they have previously heard Jesus speak. They have a general idea what Jesus' ministry is all about. They have heard Jesus say that he wants followers to work with him. And for some reason, they think that they would like to be a part of his mission.

That was the case with the man who came up to Jesus while he was traveling down the road and said, "I will follow you Jesus, where ever you go."

Now that sounds great, doesn't it! Any one who has ever sought volunteers for a project or organization would live to hear the words, "Of course I will help, in fact, I'll do ANYTHING you want me to!"

But Jesus was not looking for warm bodies to fill a bunch of opened jobs. He wanted people who knew exactly what they were getting into and who knew exactly what they were supposed to do. He wanted people who knew that there is a price that may have to be to be paid; a sacrifice that may have to be made, if they become followers.

To the man who volunteered to follow, Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has no where to lay his head."

That was Jesus way of saying, before you drop everything to follow me, "count the cost!"

See, it is human to long for security and a safe cozy place called home. In fact, even animals have burrows or nests for shelter and security.

But when one signs on as a disciple of Christ, it is impossible to predict exactly where the road will lead.

For Jesus the road was leading to Jerusalem, and a cross, and an agonizing death by crucifixion.

But for a follower of Christ, the road of discipleship is not so clearly marked. It may lead to the people next door, OR, to faraway and strange countries and towns.

And whether the disciple works close to home or travels afar, the way in which the disciple will be received is just as unpredictable. He or she may be well received, OR the disciple may be rejected

And when the message of the coming kingdom is shared with those who haven't heard it is impossible to know how the people will respond. The message may be heard and believed with faith and joy, OR, it may be violently rejected.

Jesus wants his followers to know that there are no guarantees. The road of discipleship is just as likely to lead to rejection, persecution and martyrdom as it is to success and the growth of the church.

Jesus warned his 12 closest disciples that if they wanted to be a part of his kingdom they better be prepared to drink from the same cup as Jesus was going to drink from. In other words, they better be prepared to suffer and die too. And if they weren't, then they better step aside and make room for some one who was ready to pay the price, if necessary. //

The next encounter between Jesus and potential disciple began with Jesus taking the initiative. To this person, Jesus simply said, "Follow me."

However, the person what Jesus wanted as a follower immediately started looking for reasons to postpone taking on this commitment to a later date.

"OK I'll follow," he said, "BUT, FIRST let me go and bury my father."

Now that sounds like a reasonable request. After all, who could find fault with a person for wanting to put their family first.

But, in the eternal scope of things, even something as important as "the family" is only a temporary relationship that is literally nothing compared to our relationship with God.

Jesus frequently had harsh words for people who put devotion to family ahead of devotion to God.

Once he said that unless you hate your mother and father and brothers and sisters, you are not worthy to enter the kingdom. And another time Jesus said that he didn't come top bring peace, but a sword, and that even parents and children would rise up against each other when some became Christians and others did not.

Jesus didn't let this follower hide behind the excuse he offered. Jesus bluntly responded, "Let the dead bury their own dead. As for you, GO and proclaim the kingdom of God." //

The last of the three would be followers approached Jesus saying that he wanted to follow, BUT that he too had some unfinished family business that he needed to take care of first. He said, "I WILL follow BUT first I must say 'Good Bye' to the folks at home."

When Jesus responded to this person, he said that once you answer the call to discipleship, there is no looking back. Once you join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, or where ever the path of discipleship leads, there is only one way to travel, and that is forward. "No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Once said, Jesus tossed the decision to follow, or not, back to this person. The Bible is silent about what decision was made. But the Bible is very clear that the choice is ALL, of NOTHING. The choice is to follow, or not. To believe, or not.

Straddling the fence is not allowed.

The "lukewarm disciple" will be spit out.

The "half committed" will not be a part of the kingdom of God.

The call to be a committed follower is one that comes to us time and time again through out our earthly life.

We were first called in our baptisms. Along the path of life we are given numerous opportunities to respond and serve in the church, and on behalf of the church in the world outside the sanctuary doors.

To night, the call comes again through the gospel and through this sermon.


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

Lent 2

Text: Luke 19:1-27

Subject: The Friend of sinners

Predicate: who can forgive and associate with Zacchaeus can certainly forgive and save us.

 

In 1984, presidential candidate Walter Mondale said that "taxes must be raised." And he continued to say that the difference between him and Ronald Reagan was that he was being up front and honest about the need to do it, while Reagan wouldn't tell anyone about it and catch the country by surprise at a later date.

Mondale lost the election by a landslide.

In 1988, George Bush said, "Read my lips -- no new taxes."

But during his term it was necessary for social security taxes and several other tax categories to be raised by a substantial percentage.

And he lost the next election.

In 1993, Bill Clinton is taking a big risk. In his first weeks in office he announced a plan that includes higher taxes for many people.

Though we all know that something MUST be done about our country's financial situation, the fact of the matter is that we HATE to see our taxes raised. And unless the program that Clinton has proposed makes a substantial difference for the better, voters will remember what he did in the tax department and he'll be out in 4 years.

But even though we hate paying them, and even though we hate to see them raised, taxes are a fact of life that we must learn to live with.

I think that whoever said, "The only things that are certain in life are death and taxes," really knew what they were talking about.

There have been taxes as long as there has been what we call civilization. Taxes are the cost of civilization. If we want order and security and services instead of total anarchy and chaos, we simply have to pay for it.

And as long as we have to pay for government and the services it provides, the best we can hope for is a fair and honest system of taxes.

Now we may not like paying taxes, but I think we are lucky that at least our system tries to be fair and honest.

In our country the majority of taxes are progressive - that is, the richer you are the more you pay.

And in our country if you accidentally pay too much in, you get a refund from the IRS.

It wasn't always that way.

In Jesus' day in Israel, the tax system and the men who collected the taxes were not much different than organized crime and Mafia bosses are today.

Now the government did set tax rates, but the only people who knew what needed to be collected were the collectors. And they kept the actual figures secret.

Why? Well, the policy was that tax-collectors were supposed to collect slightly more than the actual tax due. They were allowed to keep the extra for their wages. It was their only salary. Technically, being a tax collector was an un-paid position that was sold to the highest bidder. But if a collector collected the exact tax due and passed it on to Rome he'd have nothing to live on.

So the collectors had to collect extra money or they wouldn't eat. But this system was vulnerable to terrible abuse. Because the more the collector collected the more he could keep. And more he kept the richer he would become.

Over the years the tax collectors became the richest, and most hated men in their towns. They used dishonesty and threats, and if necessary, even violence, to extort the equivalent of millions of dollars from the citizens.

In our gospel for tonight we heard about a man named Zacchaeus who was the chief tax collector for the town of Jericho. The Bible states quite bluntly that he was rich. But in all likelihood Zacchaeus was more than just well off. He probably was the richest of the rich in town.

For Jericho was a prosperous community. The town and area around it was known for its dates and balsam. It was on a major trade route. The per-capita income was higher here than almost any where else in the country. And little Zacchaeus skimmed his percentage off the top day after day, year after year -- until the word of God and an encounter with Jesus changed his life.

Now even though Zacchaeus was very rich, he was not a very happy man. He was despised by everyone in town. If anyone had a chance, they'd be happy to make life as miserable for him as he did for them.

Somewhere along the line Zacchaeus heard stories about Jesus. That's not surprising. With all the healings and miracles that Jesus performed, and because of all the teaching and preaching he did, people were talking about him. And people were flocking to see Jesus when he came passed by.

One of the stories about Jesus that no doubt caught Zacchaeus' attention was about how Jesus felt free to associate with sinners and outcasts and tax collectors. Zacchaeus was probably also well aware of the fact that one of his colleagues - Levi (also known as Matthew) had abandoned his tax collector's job to become a disciple of Jesus.

Given the unhappy life that Zacchaeus was leading, he was open to some change. And maybe, just maybe, this man named Jesus might have some guidance for him.

So when Jesus came to town Zacchaeus rushed down to see him.

However, the crowds were large and Zacchaeus was small. He couldn't see a thing. And the crowd of people had no intention to moving aside to let him through. In this small way they were striking back at the man who stole so much of their hard earned money.

Zacchaeus was not stupid though. He figured out where Jesus was headed, and ran ahead and found a climbable tree and scaled it so that when Jesus and the crowd engulfing him passed by he would be able to see Jesus and hear what Jesus had to say.

I don't think Zacchaeus was prepared for what happened next though.

Jesus spotted him up in the tree and said, "Zacchaeus, commmme-on-down. For I'm going to your house today."

According to the Bible Zacchaeus hurried down and received Jesus joyfully.

The crowd wasn't quite so joyful. The word quickly spread.

"Guess who Jesus is going to stay with?"

"Zacchaeus?! You've got to be kidding. Jesus is going to stay with that slimy crook?"

Throughout the gospel of Luke, we hear that Jesus made it a point to take time to be with the sinners and outcasts of his day. Jesus visited with and ate with other tax collectors, and prostitutes, and sinners. He took time to be with lepers. And in associating with people like this, Jesus riled up the "good" religious people of the land in the process. People like the Pharisees, and Saducees, and Chief Priests.

Now if the only thing that happened in Jericho that day was that Jesus spent some time with Zacchaeus, I don't think this story would have been included in the Bible.

But the vague hunger for more in his life than the riches he had amassed somehow led Zacchaeus to a repentance and change of heart on a massive scale.

The miracle in this story is that Jesus could see that Zacchaeus was ripe for change. Zacchaeus up in the tree was not unlike a piece of fruit reaching the peak of perfection. If the fruit is picked at the right moment it is delicious and provides nourishment. But if left un-picked, the fruit quickly spoils, falls to the ground and rots.

Jesus had to act and act now if Zacchaeus was to be saved. And even if it meant offending all the "good people" walking along with him, Jesus knew that there is more rejoicing in heaven over the one sinner who repents than over the 99 good people who do not need to repent.

Had Jesus ignored Zacchaeus in favor of the "good people" of Jericho, Jesus would have failed in the mission God sent him to accomplish.

And his failure in this mission would have affected everyone.

For as we've been talking about so far this Lenten season, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem and the cross and his mission of bringing salvation to the whole world through his innocent suffering and death.

As he travels toward the culmination of this mission, everything Jesus does and every thing Jesus says must fit with what he has been called to do. So Jesus must not turn his back on a sinner who needs to hear the gospel and who is ready to repent of his or her sins.

It is Jesus love and compassion for the sinners of the world that makes repentance possible. Even in cases where the sin is great, Jesus can bring about a change of heart beyond what anyone might expect.

In Zacchaeus' case, he declared that he was going to make restitution to all the people he defrauded over the years. He told Jesus that he was going to repay his victims four times what he stole from them. And he told Jesus that was going to give half of his goods to the poor of the city.

When he heard this Jesus said, "Today, salvation has come to this house."

But please note: Salvation did not come because Zacchaeus gave everything he stole back. Salvation came because Jesus came. And because Jesus came Zacchaeus changed. Zacchaeus' repentance, as great as it was, was really only an outward sign of the transformation that took place within his heart.

Now if a man like Zacchaeus can be saved, and changed, then so can we.

Some of us may feel like we are up a tree.

Our lives may be disrupted and torn apart by sin, guilt, anxiety, doubt, dysfunction, addiction, depression, disease, or even death.

And there below us stands Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, but not to busy to stop and minister to us in our needs.

"Come on down," he says, "I am the friend of sinners and those in need. And I will bring joy and meaning and forgiveness to your lives.

"I will bring salvation to YOUR house TODAY!" AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

Lent 3

Text: Luke 19:28-44

Subject: Entering Jerusalem

Predicate: leads to the cross, no matter what people are tempted to expect.
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Over the past several dozen years, Palm Sunday has undergone quite a change in focus.

It used to be one of the church's big celebrations. Frequently it was the day of confirmation. The hymns were all up-tempo and up-lifting. Children paraded up and down the aisles of the sanctuary. Palm branches were raised in honor of Jesus. And worshippers raised their voices singing glad "Hosanna's" just like the citizens of Jerusalem did nearly 2000 years ago.

But now, it is actually technically incorrect to even call the Sunday before Easter, "Palm Sunday." Today we are supposed to call it, and celebrate it as, "The Sunday of the Passion."

And though we start our worship that day with a reading about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and then sing a glorious song and raise our palm branches in his honor, the mood and content quickly shifts as we focus on the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.

One of my books on worship suggests that when we go home from worship on Palm Sunday it should be as if we were all standing near the hill called Calvary, watching the execution of Jesus, and then, when Jesus breathed his last, we pick up and leave for home with tears in our eyes and hearts heavy with grief.

Now there are reasons for the shift in focus that has occurred over the years. And the main reason is that very few people participate in the worship services of Holy Week any more.

And if you don't worship during Holy Week, and if you don't come to worship on Good Friday in particular, then you might go a whole year and not hear the most important of all the Bible stories about Jesus -- the story of his suffering and death.

To those who develop plans for the church's worship, the best solution to this problem was to assign the reading of the passion story to a day that is both connected to the events of Holy Week. and a traditionally well attended service.

Thus the reading of WHOLE passion story, from the Last supper, to the Garden of Gesthemane, to the betrayal, to the trial, to the torture and to the death, now takes place the Sunday before Easter.

Personally, I think this is a move in the right direction. Those of us who claim to be Christians OUGHT to know the stories of our faith. (Especially the most important ones.) And the best way to know them is to hear them. And, the best place to hear them is in our worship.

But even though reading the passion story is a good and important thing to do the week before Easter, there are trade offs.

And one of them is that the story of Palm Sunday itself gets pushed aside. The reading I shared with you this evening is actually assigned as an alternate lesson which may be read every third year on the first Sunday of Advent as we begin our preparations for Christmas! If we don't use it then, and if the pastor doesn't preach on it then, we could easily go a decade or more without reading it, or hearing a sermon based on it in our worship.

So this evening, even though it just the 3rd Wednesday in the season of Lent, I want to take a some time to talk about the original Palm Sunday.

To do so fits well with our theme -- The Journey to Jerusalem -- for Palm Sunday is when Jesus arrived and entered into the city.

Yet just because Jesus arrived in Jerusalem it doesn't mean that his journey was over. His ultimate destination was yet to come. But he could not and would not make it to his final destination unless the events on Palm Sunday fit into and furthered God's plan for his son. //

These days, I think everyone knows what a "Media Event" is.

We saw a lot of them during the presidential campaign which ended just a few months ago.

For example: George Bush's airplane would swoop down on a town like Appleton or Green Bay, he'd get out, a high school band would play "Hail to the Chief," everyone in the crowd would wave little American flags, a bunch of state and local politicians would shake hands with George and than stand by while the President spoke for a few minutes. Then, it was back on the airplane and off to another city for more of the same. In the evening we could see the whole thing on the TV news.

Well, you may find this hard to believe at first -- BUT -- Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was the 1st century equivalent of a modern media event.

The whole parade into Jerusalem was carefully planned in advance so that people would be there and so that Jesus could accomplish exactly what he intended to do.

Now it is unfortunate that modern media events are all too often designed to manipulate us, and in many cases conceal or distort the truth.

For it is also possible that a media event can be designed and used to communicate the truth in an ethical and effective manner.

That's what Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem. He carefully planned what was going to happen, and he did so, so that the event told everyone more about who Jesus is and what he was supposed to do.

And, the entry into Jerusalem was carefully planned so that events which followed over the next five days would unfold and occur in accordance with God's will.

In case you have any doubts that Jesus planned his entry in advance, I direct your attention to the three texts we heard read over the last three weeks, along with the first six verses of tonight's text,

On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus say that it was necessary for him to "go to Jerusalem and be handed over to suffer and die."

The next week our lesson began by telling us that the "Days were drawing near, (and Jesus) set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Last week Jesus passed through Jericho, a mere 17 miles away from Jerusalem.

And this week Jesus tells his disciples to go to a certain place where they will find a donkey colt, and if anyone asks why they are taking it, they are to say "The Lord needs it."

When the disciples are taking the colt, the owners DO come and ask why they are untying it. When the owners hear why, they allow the disciples to take the colt -- because ALL the arrangements have been made IN ADVANCE!

Then, when the entourage entered through the gates of the city, the disciples began what today we would call a "demonstration." According to Luke, on cue, the "WHOLE multitude of Jesus' disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works Jesus had done."

Of course many people had heard about Jesus and the great miracles he had done, and when they heard the approaching demonstration, they went out to see him for themselves. The word spread and soon there were hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people, jostling for position, trying to catch a glimpse of the man everyone was talking about.

What they saw was a very meaningful image.

Jesus is the king of the universe, and so he conveyed the image of his kingship by virtue of the fact that he was riding on a colt instead of walking (like he did on every other occasion, such as when he passed through Jericho Last week).

But Jesus was not a conquering, warrior king. He was not there to lead a political revolution against the Roman government. If he was he would have ridden a stallion.

Instead, he rode a donkey colt, which was the customary tradition when a king came in peace and love.

But the most important aspect of the whole entry into Jerusalem was that Jesus did so publicly, with great fanfare, deliberately designed so that the Pharisees, Saducees, and Chief Priests knew full well that Jesus was in town.

And not only did he want his presence announced, but Jesus was deliberately provoking the religious leaders into action.

For from the time that Jesus raised Lazurus from the dead he had been a marked man.

In John 11:50-53 we read that the priests felt it was expedient that one man (namely Jesus) die, lest the whole country be destroyed, and "from that time on they took counsel on how to have him put to death."

So Jesus knew full well that the minute he entered Jerusalem, he was on the road to his suffering and death. Jesus knew full well that Palm Sunday was the beginning of the end.

Jesus could have refused to go. He could have avoided Jerusalem. Or he could have entered quietly and incognito.

But he did not. Instead he was obedient to God's will. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Yet even as he marched toward his death, the people proclaimed him to be a king. Of course there was some confusion among them as to what kind of king Jesus was to be. Many of the people, including many of Jesus' disciples hoped that he would be an earthly, political ruler.

But the little donkey colt said it all. Jesus is the king of heaven, the prince of peace, the lover of all human kind.

And the salvation of those who are otherwise doomed for all eternity.

The cry of the people that day was, "Hosanna," which means "Save us -- NOW!"

And that is exactly what Jesus intended to do.

That is exactly what God wanted to happen.

It would be several more days before the final pieces fell into place and the great events which bring eternal salvation occurred.

But they would happen -- because the events of Palm Sunday accomplished exactly what Jesus wanted them to --

-- the people saw an image of the king of love, come to save them all. . .

-- the disciples were filled with enthusiasm and hope. . .

-- and the religious leaders were so angry they would stop for nothing until Jesus was out of their hair once and for all. . . AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran -- Morgan

The 5th Sunday in Lent -- C

Text: Philippians 3:8-14

Subject: The Goal of Life

Predicate: Is to know Christ and the power that comes from his resurrection.

In the summer of 1989 I had an opportuntity to hear a motivational speaker at conference I attended with my wife Nancy. The man was bursting with energy and ideas and I'm sure that just about everyone there left the conference pumped up and ready to return to their jobs with vigor and plans for success.

One of the things that the speaker emphasized over and over again in his speech was the importance of goals.

He said, "You will never really succeed in your job, or you avocation, or what ever it is you want to do, unless you set realistic, attainable goals, and unless you constantly update your plans with new goals that reach beyond the ones you attain."

He also said that it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goals you are striving for. And the best way to make your goals clear and understandable to yourself and to others, is to write them down.

Then he passed out little cards that were entitled "My Three Goals for the Next Thirty Days." And he said we should write our goals down on the card and always carry them in our pockets so that everytime we reach in we will touch them and be reminded of what we are striving to accomplish this month. //

I was emptying the pockets of one of my suits a few weeks ago and guess what I found? I found the card. But even though the speaker made some good points, you know what? I didn't take his advice. My goal card was still blank after three years!

Now I know that I set and attained goals over the last three years. But I'm also sure that had I written down some specific goals and established deadlines for attaining them, I could have accomplished much more than I did.

My lack of written goals means that there are somethings that took longer than neccessary to finish. And my lack of written goals means that there were times when my work was unfocused and I spend more hours than I should have on lower priority projects. //

Our second lesson this morning, a protion of St. Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, is a lesson about goals.

In this passage, St. Paul has taken the time to write out what the number one goal of a Christian should be.

He did so to tell the Philippians WHAT this goal is. He did so to tell them that he had made it HIS goal. He told them that he "is pressing on" to reach this goal. And he told the Philippians that they should strive to do the same thing.

Now it was important for Paul to clearly articulate what the number one goal of a Christian should be because lots of people in the church were putting their faith and effort into things that were impossible to attain, and into things of secondary importance.

For example, some people thought that main goal of a Christian was to become a "perfect person."

To attain the status of a "perfect person," many of the Philippians believed that a Christian was supposed to live a good life, and to be moral and upright in their living, keeping the all the laws and commandments of God to the best of their ability.

In another one of Paul's churches, the one in Corinth, the people thought that the mark of a "perfect Christian" was to be blessed with the power to speak in heavenly tounges. Those who were blessed with the gift of tounges looked down on those who weren't. Those who spoke in tounges thought that those who didn't were people with less faith.

In yet another one of Paul's churches, the members thought that the "perfect Christian" was the person who gave up all their earthly possessions and relationships to await the second coming of Jesus. A bunch of the Thessolonians who believed this actually quit their jobs, and sold their homes to piously wait for Jesus to return to take them to heaven.

Outside of Paul's churches there were other people who taught that Christians needed to participate in certain rites and rituals to become "perfect Christians."

This Wednesday when I preach about "Enemies of the Cross" at our mid-week service you'll hear about a group of Christians called Judiazers who insisted that no one could be saved by Christ unless they also converted to the Jewish faith and were circumsized at the same time they were baptized. //

Now the proplem with all these people, is that they have come to believe that there is something special a Christian must do in order to be a real Christian. And they belived that in order to be truly saved it was neccessary to attain a certain level of perfection in the faith.

But St. Paul knew that was not the case.

The most consistent theme that runs through all of Paul's letters is the proclamation of salvation by the grace of God alone!

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that there is nothing that a person can do to contribute to their own salvation.

Paul knew that no matter how hard a person tried, and no matter what goals they set to try to attain Christian perfection, they would always fall short of what God desires from us.

So instead of setting unattianable goals, Paul encouraged the members of his churches to do as he did, and to conform their lives to the one and only goal that is worth setting.

And that is, to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. //

Paul recognized the uselessness of trying to earn salvation on his own and determined that all his personal goals and efforts to be a good Christian were nothing more than rubbish!

By the grace of God and power of the Spirit Paul believed that Jesus Christ accomplished EVERYTHING needed for salvation in his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Paul believed that there is nothing greater or more important in the entire universe than simply know that this is the truth.

And that's what he told the Philippians. In his letter to them he wrote that he "considers everthing a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus,my Lord."

During his life Paul lost many things because of his relationship to Jesus Christ. In fact, when he wrote this letter to the Philippians he had recently lost one of the most precious things of all, his freedom.

Paul was arrested and tossed into prison. He was actually in his cell when he wrote the verses of today's lesson. And yet he still believed that knowing Christ was the only thing that mattered. He considered all the things he lost, including his freedom, to be rubbish, compared to knowing Jesus Christ. //

Now this is a message that Christians need to hear today too.

For we are constantly tempted to think that the goal of being a Christian is something other than to know Christ and share in the fellowhip of his sufferings.

Even today, people think that the goal of being a Christian is to somehow be a better person.

Recently there have been movements in various branches of the chruch that seem to say in order to be a true Christian you must support certain causes or behave in certain ways.

Some examples that come to my mind include abortion, and social ministry, and political correctness.

Issues like these have become litmus tests that their proponents use to determine what king of faith another person has.

There are people who argue that you cannot be a true Christian unless you are totally against all abortions.

There are people who will be willing to judge the depth and quality of your faith by how much time, energy and and money you conribute to the needy of the world.

And there are people who think it is the main mission of the church to attone for past discrimination and oppression by such means as instituting quotas about who can serve in elected offices and leadership positions in the church.

Now I want you to be clear about what I'm saying here.

Abortions are tragic and deplorable and something to be avoided if at all possible, but what about cases of rape? Should a victim be forced to bear a child conceived in a brutal assult? And what about people who for what ever reason do not share our belief about the sanctity of life? Should we force them to conform to our way of thinking? Is a person who dares to allow for such possibilities not a true Christian?

And the care of the needy is a very important thing to do. It is important and good that we give money to hunger appeals and that we give clothes to the naked. It is good to give our support to people who are struggling to be free from oppression.

But -- is this the ONLY mission of the church? And is it the mission of the church ALONE? Even a non-christian can hold such convictions and participate in missions of mercy.

Then too, the fact that women and minorities have (and are still) experiencing all kinds of discrimination is deplorable. It is very good that we treat all people fairly and give everyone an equal chance to use the gifts God has blessed them with. But here too, the church must becareful about mixing up its priorities.

In each and everycase, it must be our one and only goal to know Jesus Christ as our Lord, and to share with him in his sufferings and his resurrection.

Just as Paul wrote this goal down on a piece of paper and mailed it off to the Philippians, this goal should be written down for all of us too!

And in fact it is. It's inclusion in the scriptures means that it is there for us to refer to, to reflect upon, and, by the power of the Spirit to adopt as our #1 goal too.

And then, with the goal of knowing Christ and sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings in its proper place as the top priority in our lives as Christians, we press on.

Along the way we will face questions like abortion, and problems like hunger and discrimination and we will try our best to deal with them in a manner that is pleasing to God and Jesus.

And we can do so with the confidence that the rightness or effectiveness of our efforts has no bearing on how good of a Christian we are or how deserving of salvation we are.

God has saved us through Jesus Christ. There is nothing more that we can to than to trust in what he has done.

Let each and everyone of us join with Paul in saying, "This is what we believe." Let us all proclaim that our number one goal in life is simply to know Christ and what he has done for us.

And from that humble beginning, in thanks for this great gift we press on, not perfect, but trying. AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran -- Morgan

Sunday of the Passion -- C

Text: Luke 22:1-23:56

Subject: The Passion of Christ

Predicate: opens the door to our salvation. Instead of analyzing it to death, let us simply receive the story in faith.

Every year in January, the president of the United States gives a special speech to the congress and people of the nation. It is called "The State of the Union Address."

In this speech, the president tells us what he thinks about the current condition of the country. He recaps some of the highlights of the past year. And he tries to look ahead and discuss the challenges that face us in the future.

Now out of all the speeches a president gives during the course of a year, none is more important than the "State of the Union Address." Yet at the same time, the message of the speech is often forgotten by the next morning. Even people who are fascinated by politics and up on ALL the latest news sometimes have trouble remembering the content of the address.

I was talking to one such person recently and he complained that the problem today is that there is SO MUCH analysis of what is said that it often obscures the message.

In the case of last January's "State of the Union Address," he said that before the speech was even given, various commentators gave their opinion and analysis of what the president was going to say. Then, after the speech was done, they were back on the air, picking it apart, trying to interpret the meaning of every last detail.

As for the speech itself, my friend was of the opinion that it was totally lost in the blizzard of commentary and that it would have had more impact and been more meaningful if the president had simply spoken while the people listened.

Well, I'm not sure that I can be the judge of whether what my friend suggested about the president's speech is true or not.

But his words struck a chord when I heard them. I immediately thought of the Bible and how sometimes we think we must analyze it to death in order to understand what it is all about.

Our insecurity about our ability to understand the message of the Bible goes all the way back to the time of the disciples. In the gospel of Mark, when Jesus told the very first parable of his teaching ministry, the disciples didn't think they understood it. As soon as they were alone with Jesus, the pleaded with him. "Tell us what it means!"

Jesus answered by saying, "Do you not understand THIS parable? The how are you going to understand all the rest of the parables I'm going to tell you?"

Being a patient and understanding teacher, Jesus explained it to the disciples. but after hearing the explanation, I'm sure that the disciple said something like, "We should have been able to figure THAT out! It's as obvious as can be."

A millennium and a half later, during the time of Martin Luther, the church itself perpetuated the general population's belief that interpreting the scriptures was beyond their ability. All the Bibles in existence were written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The only people who could read them, and understand them, were those who attended the universities and learned the classical languages.

But Luther knew that there was no trick to understanding the Bible, IF it was written in a language the people could understand. So he translated the Bible into German. And for the first time a common person like you or I could sit down, read the Bible, and understand the Word. //

Today, there is still a lingering tendency to think that you need some kind of special knowledge or education to really understand the Bible.

I believe that this is unwittingly perpetuated by us pastors. We've attended the seminary, learned the Biblical languages, studied methods of interpretation, and written 25 page papers on the meaning of two or three short verses. Then we are called to parishes where among other jobs, we serve as professional theologians. We are paid to study the scripture and proclaim what it is all about to the people in the parish.

But, we pastors must remember, that even though there is a lot of stuff in the Bible, and even though there are many layers of meaning to the stories in the Bible, the basic message of salvation is not impossible to find nor hard to understand.

In the early years of the Lutheran Church, its leaders developed a threefold understanding of the Bible that should still be our standard today.

First of all they declared that the Bible was SUFFICIENT. In other words, EVERYTHING we need to know about God and Jesus and our salvation is right there, in the words of Holy Scripture.

Secondly they declared that the Bible was CLEAR. Though there are some hard to understand passages, the core message of salvation by the grace of God through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is SO CLEARLY PROCLAIMED that it is impossible to miss.

And thirdly, they declared that the Bible is EFFECTIVE. On its own, by the grace and power of God through the Holy Spirit, the message of salvation gets through and people believe.

Special teachers like us pastors, though helpful, are not required.

Ultimately, it is God alone, working through the Holy Spirit that opens our hearts and minds to hear, understand and believe the Word. //

With this in mind, we now turn our attention to a Bible story. It is the story of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

Today, we will simply listen to this story. There will be no further comment on the content or meaning. Instead, let the Holy Spirit be at work in us, showing us the meaning, and enabling us to believe. AMEN!