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He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ 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?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.9 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. 10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The musical poet Bob Dylan once wrote “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Dylan’s lyric accurately reflects Jesus’ words in our text this morning and call on us to recognize the god whom we serve. Yet Jesus goes even further pointing out that money is often the “god” that we serve, yet this “god” is not to be served but rather is to be used to serve the true God alone.
The context of our Gospel reading can be found in the fourteenth verse, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” The Pharisees were lovers of money, the word there in greek implies avaricious: “greedy of gain : excessively acquisitive especially in seeking to hoard riches.” In other words they LOVED money, it wasn’t just that they were wealthy, or that they were ambitious. These Pharisees had violated the first commandment, making money the god in whom they trusted. And their love for money caused them to do whatever was needed in order to gain more, even at the cost of those around them. It was this attitude that caused Almighty God to proclaim to their fathers through the Prophet Amos,
“4 Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel[a] great and deal deceitfully with false balances, 6 that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”
Now this same God stands before them in the person of Jesus and proclaims, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Here Almighty God challenges their claim that they are righteous, challenges their obsession with their gilded god, and calls them to repentance.
Jesus states 10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? Almighty God had chosen Israel to be his people in order that they might proclaim the coming Messiah, yet the religious leaders in Amos’ day and the Pharisees and the religious leaders of our text had sought to use this not for Eternal Life and Spiritual gain, but worldly wealth and reward. So Jesus calls them out! He demonstrates not only have they been faithless with unrighteous wealth, indeed worshipping it rather than God, because of this faithlessness, they will lose the greater riches of eternal life itself.
To illustrate this point Jesus tells his parable of the dishonest steward, speaking of one who was called to be a steward of the riches of his master, yet who squandered and wasted these very gifts. This is precisely what these religious leaders had done, having been stewards of the gifts of God’s mercy, whose purpose was to ensure their proper distribution. Yet we see even in Jesus’ parable the exorbitant mercy of the master, who now has come to call the Pharisees to account for their sin, just as the master in Jesus parable. In his parable it is precisely this mercy on which the steward depends, certain that the master will allow him the opportunity to prepare for his dismissal. Then Jesus speaks his own words calling the Pharisees to repentance saying, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.9 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.” But the Pharisees miss this point, they are unconcerned at their obsession and ignoring their master’s call to repentance. Therefore Jesus pronounces sentence on their sin saying, “If then you have not been faithful with the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
But what about us? I’m sure that there are a few who would direct Jesus’ parable toward the CEF scandal. There are probably many others who would point out the prosperity preachers as little different from their Pharisaical counterparts. But are WE any different? We might be tempted to say no, but consider if you will what takes priority in your life? Whom do you serve Money or God? Are you more concerned with your financial well-being that your spiritual well-being? If so, REPENT! Plastic will melt and become worthless, coins are easily lost, bank accounts these days are little more than computer information. Their value fluctuates with each passing day. For this reason then Jesus called the Pharisees then, and you and I, “to make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” He calls us to use this unrighteous wealth not for our good but for the good of our neighbour; to bolster our congregation’s bottom line, to God’s ministry among his people, to care for the poor and need in the congregation and then our community, to support missionaries home and abroad. This is what is means to be faithful in little.
Your Lord, however, is faithful in much! And He is merciful! For he has true riches far beyond dollars and debit cards, and on these there is no transaction limit! Beloved in Christ, Jesus riches are forgiveness, life and salvation. This riches have been won by Christ himself, who on the cross poured out himself to pay for your sin, not to lessen your debt, but to erase it completely and perfectly in his death! Having done this Jesus has given you his guarantee in the Holy Spirit. In your baptism the deposit of faith has been given you, just as St Paul states, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” And if this were not enough, Jesus lavishly pours out his riches every time he says “I forgive you all of your sin.” He lays out for you his riches at his own table where you are called to take and eat, take and drink, that which he has given and shed for you! Jesus makes for you, friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, as you support his ministry in his congregations, whereby those gathered here and those gathered abroad may hear again and again his gracious mercy.
Dear beloved in Christ, thanks be to God that while we are unfaithful in little, our Lord is faithful in much, in order that he entrusts you with true riches! Amen.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean simply turned around, or missed your turn. I mean truly lost; wondering how to find safety, fear beginning to grow into panic, hope of rescue becoming certainly of doom? It may be that you are physically lost somewhere, or perhaps you are emotionally or mentally lost, with no direction or control, with no companions but despair and dread. When this happens you search for any sign of hope; yet sadly most signs of hope fade away like a mirage. No, the only true hope that you have is that maybe someone is looking for you, if they even know that you are lost, and you hope and pray that just maybe, they will keep searching until they find you. Blessedly, there is such a one, who has not only sought you out, but when he has found you calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
“He who has ears, let him hear.” These are the concluding words of last Sunday’s Gospel reading. It is interesting to note in our Gospel reading this morning who those are who seem to have ears. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” These are the lost ones, these are those considered by their society as irredeemable. After all tax collectors were those who cheated their own people, and sinners included anyone who did not keep the law of God as perfectly as the Pharisees believed they themselves did. Because of this tax collectors and “sinners” were seen as no better than pagans themselves and were considered unworthy of the Messiah who was to come. So when Jesus comes with his message it isn’t the Pharisees and the Scribes who recognize the Messiah in Jesus, but the tax collectors and sinners, whose unworthiness provided them the ears necessary to hear his message, while those who considered themselves to be worthy, closed their ears to the very message in which they claimed to believe. But the words of Jesus, are nothing less than the call of God himself, who said, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” The tax collectors and sinners are just those sheep for whom Jesus has come! To demonstrate Jesus proclaims the parables of our Gospel reading to all gathered there. “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” Jesus points out to his hearers that he come to seek out not those already found, but rather those who are lost. The 99 of whom Jesus speaks are the faithful Jews, those who themselves were chosen by God to call to the lost, to gather into the fold those very tax collectors and sinners, yet who failed. Thus the Shepherd himself has come to gather his lost sheep. Yet he doesn’t stand in the temple calling out hoping that some will hear his voice. Jesus seeks them out, goes into the wilderness, searching high and low for those who cower in the corner, with no direction or control, with no companions but despair and dread. The silver coin (of great value worth, one day’s pay) of which Jesus speaks is the lost soul, the sinner, who cannot find himself, but rather the entire house is cleansed until that lost soul is found.
In both instances, the shepherd, and the woman call on their friends to rejoice with them at the rescue of what was lost, just as Jesus calls on those who should rejoice over Jesus’ ministry to rejoice over his mercy to the tax collectors and sinners. Yet this isn’t the response of the Pharisees and their friends, they grumble and sneer that Jesus would seek to call the unbeliever to life.
Now, there are some today who would argue that while it is true that Jesus was among the unbelievers 2000 years ago, he isn’t around to do so today. The truth of the matter however is that where two or three are gathered in Jesus name he is with them. The truth of the matter is however that the group of believers gathered here in this place even this morning are considered to be the “body of Christ” not simply a cool title, but truly the body of Christ in actuality. Therefore just as Jesus went out among his creation 2000 years ago, he calls today on his very body, you and I, to go out into our community proclaiming that same message that he who has ears, might hear. It is not the pastors job alone, to speak to those who are “unbelievers” and “sinners” but yours also, for you, like those Old Testament Jews, were chosen for a purpose, to herald the Messiah Jesus who will come again. You and I, like the shepherd and the woman are called to search high and low, to push through the brambles and the thorns, to make a clean sweep if you will, searching for all who are lost, physically, emotionally or mentally, true, but those who are spiritually lost, who have no sign of hope, who’s only end is hell itself. We are called to leave the comfort of the 99 and to go out, each one of us, and speak the good news that in Jesus, God has sought them out, that he will bring back the strayed, and bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. For I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
For we all like sheep have gone astray, we all like tax collectors and sinners, are unworthy of the kingdom of God. Just so, Jesus himself has sought you out, going into the highways and the byways, into the wilderness, Jesus did not wait for you to come to him but instead he sought you out. Seeing you in the wretched state of your sin, Jesus gathered you up, laying you it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Jesus himself brought you to the font, where you were washed clean, the thorns and brambles of your sin taken away, borne instead on his body, hung on the cross to pay for your sin, his bloodshed for you, that you who were lost would be found. Jesus has brought you back into his fold, the church, where the grazing is indeed good, the pasture is indeed rich as you feed on God’s Word and on Jesus own very body and blood. He brings you here also so that every time a sinner repents, every time a person is baptized, every time sins are forgiven, you, Jesus friends and his neighbours, might ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.
Dear beloved in Christ, I have answered my own question, “Have you ever been lost?” The answer is quite simply, Yes! Yet Jesus has sought you out, he has brought you home, still receiving sinners and eating with them, and rejoicing with you, for he has found HIS sheep that was lost.
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
“Pastor, I won’t be there because my family is in town.” “Well, bring them with you.” “Well, they don’t go to church.” “Well, then leave them at home.” This is a common conversation in most Christian churches. Many a pastor and parishioner engage in this discussion which almost always ends with the member staying at home, to his or her detriment. For Jesus has called us to forsake the world, yes, even our family, if it would come between us and him, saying, ““If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Now of course Jesus doesn’t actually mean that we should hate our loved ones, he is using a Hebrew construction which means we should not honor that person more highly than any others. This is even reflected in Luther’s meaning to the first commandment, “We should fear, love, and trust in God, above all things.” But the simple truth of it is that we do, and therefore it is imperative that we count the cost of exactly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
It does cost, you know, to be a disciple of Jesus. No, it doesn’t take a membership fee, or a subscription cost. Rather the cost of discipleship is far greater for to be a Christian costs you your very life. This is very true for many Christians throughout the world today, just as it was for believers in the early church. To be a Christian means to be outcast from polite society, or perhaps from your family. For many Christians then the choice is quite clear; choose social status, family connections, and the like, renouncing Christ, or to renounce everything that came before and cling to Christ alone. Jesus himself states this quite clearly in Matthew’s Gospel stating, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
This then, this persecution, is the cross that all Christians may bear; strange looks from family and co-workers, grumbling from “friends” and the like, perhaps even loss of property and possessions, or arrest and execution. In fact Jesus also warns of this saying,
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
So for many Christians, in many countries, it is imperative that they count the cost of discipleship. Are you willing to give up everything you have, perhaps even your life, for your Christ? Sadly, there are many who have once heard the Gospel yet find the cost for them is too great. There are those who have once heard the gospel but the pull of friends and family eventually steals the gospel seed from the person. There are those who have heard the Gospel and renounced family but the roots of faith are shallow and they soon find that persecution and rejection will become too great. There are also those who find (like the rich young ruler) that casting aside their riches is too thorny a proposition for them.
Jesus then lays the hammer down on our wavering and waffling faith. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Do we seek to be safe or are we centred on the saviour? These are harsh words aren’t they? They strike at our hearts and our comfort; they challenge and conflict and making us squirm in our seats questioning why pastor is being so mean. Beloved in the Lord this is precisely the message that we, yes, you and I, must hear to break us out of our cultural Christianity and our belief that God just wants us to be happy.
Yet in the midst of this crushing law, Jesus also points out the comforting Gospel, that though we are called to renounce those very things which would stand between us and salvation. For though we may feel the loss of these things, Jesus promises that they will be replaced in far greater number and value! For Jesus knows that to be a Christian costs you your very life and so he gives you that and more. Jesus himself endured suffering and persecution far more than you and I will ever do. He too was confronted by his family and his response was quite simple, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Jesus also was faced with attack and abuse even at the hands of those who should no better, yet he went like a lamb to the slaughter. Jesus also renounced riches far beyond what you and I can imagine, not counting equality with God and thing to be grasped but instead taking the form of a servant. But why? For you! All of this Jesus endured for YOU! That he might make you his own. Therefore having kept the very law of God perfectly he also endured persecution for you, being stricken, smitten, and afflicted, suffering even death on a cross to pay for your sins, yes, even your sins, of putting others and other things before God. He endured this precisely because he put you before all other things. He desired that your life would not be lost, therefore He gave up his own. Having done this Jesus also was raised up to new life, conquering death and the grave, conquering those forces which persecuted him, and those which persecute you. He has forever defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil, that you need not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.
Yet Jesus does understand that following him can indeed cost you your life. Therefore He also has great rewards for those who follow him. For those who renounce their families, Jesus grants them new fathers and mothers and husbands and wives and children and brothers and sisters, within his own bride the church. For you as Christians, those around you are your new family, those who patiently endure persecution with you even as they celebrate the blessing of being united in Christ. For those who endure suffering and persecution for the faith, Jesus promises new life, eternal life, in him, and though you body may be destroyed yet in your own flesh you shall see him, him and not another. For the one who forsakes all of his worldly goods, Jesus promises the very riches of heaven, and even here today grants you a foretaste in his own holy supper. So dear beloved while the cost of discipleship is quite high, it cannot even compare to the blessed eternal reward for all who pay that price. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Amen!
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.
7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honour, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person’, and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[b] or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
We all know those people who are excellent hosts and hostesses. They regularly throw dinner parties, perhaps lavish ones, which include varied and succulent delights surely leaving their guests walking away from the taste of the delectable delights still on their tongues. Invariably though, their guest list is never as varied as their menu, and the same people are picked to participate these dinners while the rest of us can only hope to be invited.
Of course we also know that there are excellent hosts, whose names slip our minds, who regularly throw dinner parties, simple and plain, but whose simple preparations delight far plainer palates, leaving their guests walking away with only remnants of food in their teeth, which will have to sustain them for another day. Invariably though, their guest list is far more varied than their menu, and rarely are the same people although all are invited.
In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus addresses mercy: its need and its purpose, and demonstrating to you his own merciful work.
I often wonder what motivates those who go into mercy work. For some it is that it makes them feel good for helping others. For some, it is guilt that they have more while others have less. For some, it is gut-wrenching compassion for those who are suffering. And for some, it is simply the fact that they can’t do anything else, such mercy is simply a part of who they are. It is this reason, above all, which seems to be the primary motivating factor. Food Bank workers, Soup Kitchen workers, Nurses, Continuing Care and Homecare Workers, and Deaconesses, all are mercy workers whose compassion is innate and whose care is unconditional. The simple fact is that all around us there is need for mercy. Our economy is in the dumps and families are struggling financially. Disease and age ravage the minds and bodies of so many in our community. Addictions and depression wear away the mental well-being of so many in our society. Sadly, in the face of all this, many are content to prepare the same sumptuous feasts for their friends and family forgetting the fallen and forlorn who wait for the same invitation. It was no different in Jesus’ day. Having been invited to a Pharisee’s home for dinner (this was both a demonstration of honour for the guest, and more importantly a source of honour for the host) Jesus finds before him a man suffering from dropsy (an old fashioned term for Edema: a swelling, usually of the legs, feet, and/or hands due to the accumulation of excessive fluid in the tissues.) Jesus, as usual cuts to the heart of the matter inquiring whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. (The Pharisees then, and the more puritanical today, would consider it working on the Sabbath and thus a violation of the prohibition. But Jesus also knows that they understand that compassionate mercy has a place no matter the time or day, and thus closes off their self-sanctifying arguments that they normally would have employed. Leaving him free to exercise his mercy and heal the man of his potentially deadly diagnosis.
Here Jesus recognizes the even deadlier diagnosis of his host and the guests gathered with him, their belief in their own holiness and self-righteousness, calling them to repent of their sin and to assume their own humble place with compassion and mercy.
He therefore uses his own compassionate act to point out the need for mercy that those around the table possess and to point out that he is the very source of that mercy, unto life everlasting. Those gathered with Jesus would have been intimately familiar with one another, all being prominent persons in the town. They would have taken turns hosting each other, for their own glorification and edification. So Jesus challenges this very idea stating “do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him” and “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’” For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus also calls on those around him to have compassionate mercy on those in need, filling empty bellies, instead of stuffing one another with scrumptious delights. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,”
These are very real and practical calls for us also not to view ourselves to highly but to instead look upon those who are in need, recognizing that it would take but a moment for us to be in suffering with them. Therefore as Christians, it is our call to indeed have mercy upon those who know only suffering, not only to contribute of our finances to the assistance of others, but also to roll up our sleeves, to put on our grubby clothing and to wade through the muck and mire of hardship and struggle, to exhibit the compassion of Christ to those with whom we would not normally associate.
But why? Because the truth is that we were little different from those people. While in a worldly sense, we might be wealthier or healthier, spiritually we were once just as worse off. For outside of Christ, all people are damned, no matter the cost of their car or the fitness of their body. Outside of Christ, our works and wealth are but rags. For this reason then, even as we would give of our gold and elbow grease to care for the physical needs of our neighbour, it is more imperative that we do even more to care for their spiritual needs. Jesus points out, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” These are precisely those whom we would rather not invite to our house, yet it is precisely these whom God calls to his house, the spiritually poor, those of crippled faith, those who are unable to come to God because of unbelief, and those who are spiritually blind. You are his voice and his hands to invite these such people to the feast, the marriage feast of the lamb, for it is they who are in need.
You are those who are called to call these people because you ourselves were once among them. Yet through God’s Word, you have been invited to the marriage feast of the lamb. In His mercy, you have been given a prominent place, as children of the heavenly Father. You have been forgiven your sins, and regularly feast upon Christ’s own very body and blood, that same body and blood, given and shed for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, yes, even those who are poor, crippled, lame, and blind. For Jesus has come to have mercy upon the world, bearing the sins of the world in himself, and crucifying them on the cross, in his own body, that you also would no longer be left outside waiting.
For this reason Jesus himself invites you who were once spiritually poor, crippled, lame, and blind, to his table, you who could not repay. Jesus is the excellent host, for your name never slips his mind, though the guest list is quite vast. He, himself, regularly throws you a lavish feast, the food though seemingly simple and plain is a veritable delight surely leaving you walking away with the taste of forgiveness still on your tongue, its forgiveness remaining to sustain you unto life everlasting. Amen!
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying towards Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’, then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
When I was a boy in Scotland we would travel around the country from time to time taking in the history of the nation. One thing that always intrigued me was when we would visit castles and fortified areas, the doors were always tiny. Like most people would, I surmised that it must have been because people in those days were just as tiny so there was no need for massive doors. However, my thoughts were corrected by a tour guide who informed me that the tiny passages were not because the people were small but because it would make it more difficult for the enemy to break in, because they couldn’t simply enter on horseback or even standing straight. They would have to stoop over, making them vulnerable to the attack of the defenders. I share this because it helps us understand the type of context in which Jesus is speaking to his disciples then and now. For there would be similar archeticure in Jesus’ day, designed to keep out the unwanted, while allowing passage only to a select group. FOR THE MASTER OF THE HOUSE HAS RISEN AND SHUT THE DOOR, AND THOSE WHO ARE SAVED ARE FEW.
Keeping on his theme of division in the world from last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus now addresses a question that is on the minds of all gathered there, and certainly I’m sure on the minds of many gathered here; “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” The answer that we want to hear however, is not the answer that Jesus gives. We would like to hear Jesus say, “Nope! Everyone will be saved no matter what!” Or at the very least, “As long as you are a good person you’ll go to heaven.” But sadly the desire to hear these words betrays the reality that our “Christianity” is not the Christianity of the Gospel, but the Christianity of Works. We love to think that we can be saved by simply being a good person, no matter what our religion, or if we have one at all. As long as we don’t kick the dog or say unkind things to our neighbour then we are golden. Yet Jesus shatters our hopes with his words, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” These words certainly would shake up our reverie and might cause us to protest. After all we all know good people, why should they end up in hell, just because they don’t believe like we do. The truth is that basing salvation on works, can only end in hell, because it takes away from the only work that matters, Jesus own saving death on the cross. So it doesn’t matter if you are a good jew, or muslim, or JW, or Mormon, or Buddhist or atheist, or any other religion of works, all of these good works are but rags which burden the bearer of them and prevent them from entering the narrow door which is Christ.
Yet it isn’t only those of other religions who must beware. Millions of Christians also bear their works upon their back, thinking that if they can just do enough they can please God; millions of others having once heard the Gospel of Christ’s death on the cross for their sins, now think that they are now free to live as they want, doing works that please themselves, thereby rejecting again the very work of Christ for them. Therefore in the very same way, millions of these “Christians” will find on the last day that they will “begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’, then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”
For Jesus, the master of the house, HAS risen and shut the door. Following his death on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, Jesus also rose from the dead so that all who are baptized into his death will be raised up to new life on the last day. With this very act of resurrection Jesus has shut for ever the door to those who would seek to be saved by their own works. In fact not only has he shut the door, we hear in John’s Gospel the 20th chapter, that Jesus has given the very keys of the kingdom, the keys of absolution, the forgiveness of sins, to those whom he sends in his name, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Therefore no one can depend on his or her works for salvation, rather one can only depend upon Jesus forgiveness of his or her works, for salvation. It is for this reason that Jesus calls on you and me to ““Strive to enter through the narrow door.” But this striving does not mean trusting in our works, but rather trusting only in Jesus’ work, by rejecting our human desire to save ourselves and clinging only to the cross of Christ, and receiving and hearing that forgiveness won for you regularly. Every time the Lord gathers you around his word, where you hear forgiveness, life and salvation proclaimed to you the door of heaven is opened to you. Every time the waters of holy baptism are poured over a person, every time the sign of the cross is made to mark that person as one redeemed the door of heaven is unlocked to him or her. It is also for this reason the early church practiced truly closed communion, closing the doors of the sanctuary to the unbeliever or the catechumen during the service not permitting them to approach the table of the Lord, for they were unprepared to enter through the narrow door and to eat and drink with the fellowship of saints. Yet for those who had been instructed in the faith, and held to the true body and blood of Jesus in, with, and under, the bread and the wine, they were able to approached the Lord’s table and receive the very body and blood which purchased the forgiveness they were now receiving.
For this reason also, our Lord has not reserved salvation for people based upon their ethnicity or their bloodline, but rather upon his own blood gathering to himself Christians people from east and west, and from north and south, who even this day recline at table in the kingdom of God. For fellow believers, even now all around the world gather at the Lord’s table to receive this very forgiveness, trusting only in Christ, and not themselves, clinging to his promises alone!
Those who are saved will be few, and therefore we strive to enter the narrow door, not by our works, but rather through Christ’s work alone. Amen!
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
How great is my distress until it is accomplished! Jesus words here are not unlike our own when faced with a great and terrible trial. We await and greatly dread, the results of the medical test we just endured. We anticipate with fear and trembling the pink slip which will take away our livelihood. We just want the suffering to be over, for the axe to fall, so that at least the worry will pass us by. But Jesus words in our Gospel concern something quite different, suffering for your benefit, suffering which in the end will take away far more than worry.
FOR JESUS COMES TO BE BAPTIZED BY FIRE, NOT FOR HIS CLEANSING BUT FOR YOURS.
Shortly following our Gospel reading from last Sunday, as Jesus calls on his people to “Fear not”, Jesus gives you ample reason why you need not fear. “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” Strange words indeed from the prince of peace aren’t they? They don’t seem like those pretty, and pithy, words which adorn our favourite posters and calendars. Nor are they the mediocre maxims which embellish our “Christian T-Shirts” either. Jesus words speak of something which most Western Christians would skip over, yet they do this to their detriment.
For while Jesus is the prince of peace, He himself has said he did not come to bring peace rather He came to cast fire on the earth! The reason is quite simple, Jesus has come to cast fire on the earth that all of the dross of sin would be burned away and all sin be forgiven. Yet this fire would cause suffering both to Jesus and to you. For Jesus came to be baptised by the fire of the cross; there on that cross he suffered for your sins, he paid the price for you, he endured the full and complete wrath of God for you, Jesus died the very death you deserve that you would not spend eternity where the fire is not quenched and the worms does not die!
Therefore you are baptized, also have been baptized into that fire, in the waters of Holy Baptism sanctified by the saviour, you are cleansed of all your sin, being raised up to new life in Him. It is this, of which John the Baptist speaks when he says,
“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
It is of this that the prophet Malachi proclaims,
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.”
Yet this is no simple thing. For your Old Adam continues to rebel against your newness of life, unreasonably desiring to return it is filth rather than to live pure and holy in Christ. Therefore, Dr. Luther reminds you in his morning prayer to make the sign of the holy cross and say “In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit” remembering your baptism, and drowning anew the old Adam which seeks to drag you down.
Nevertheless, being purified in the furnace of the font, you will follow your saviour into further struggle and strife, facing further refining now in the kiln of the world.
For Jesus warns his disciples then and now,
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
So many believe that Christians need to cast aside all of the controversial aspects of the Christian faith, many Christians call for this in the name of unity, many unbelievers call for this in the name of peace. Yet Jesus proclaims that his very doctrines, indeed his very death, will be the centre and source of division not peace.
Unbelievers have long persecuted Christians for their Christ, having long sought to destroy He who is our head, but destroying we who are his body.
This is why the author of our Epistle reading demonstrates the glorious cloud of our Christian brothers and sisters saying,
“Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Though we do not face such heinous acts, the attacks we face are more subtle and effective in countering our Christianity. The Christian faith is no longer welcome in our schools. The name of Christ and Christian symbols no longer are given respect. Secular activities such as sports and clubs draw away our time from God’s House and His Word, leaving our “Christianity” Christ-less.
But the baptism of fire that Christians face does not only come from without, but also from within! For this reason we even pray in our collect this morning, “Merciful Lord cleanse and defend your church by the sacrifice of Christ. False teaching and false belief are rampant among the people of God as they have been since Christ’s ascension. Of them the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Instead those who cling to the doctrines of Holy Scripture are ridiculed as being haters and encouraged to set aside God’s Word for the sake of “getting along.”
There should be no surprise then at Jesus words, “52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
For false teaching from within and without the church will cause strife, at times tearing apart the very fabric of families, leaving no thread of connection between them.
How odd to think that this is what Jesus came to bring! Yet for you who believe, who have been cleansed by the refiners fire, who cling to the cross of Jesus, who intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully; who intended to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death; who intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it, Fear Not! For the world has no hold on you, false believers have no claim. You have been united with Christ in Holy Baptism, and your treasure is secure. Your sins have been washed away and there is nothing from within or without that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus! Beloved in the Lord, do not be distress, for your salvation in Christ has been accomplished! Amen!