Sunday, October 13, 2019

What Rules Do You Play By?

Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the reading from the Gospel of Luke, the Pharisees were having a party one afternoon.  After the synagogue services, they all gathered together at a house to eat, and they invited Jesus to attend with them. 

Now, keep in mind that this invitation was a devious plot.  Sure the Pharisees were acting friendly to Jesus on the surface, but underneath this kind invitation was a trap for Jesus. 

So, what was their trap? 

Simply stated, there was a sick man before Jesus that Sabbath Day at the dinner party.  The trap was this: would Jesus heal this man?  If He did, the Pharisees would have Jesus right where they wanted Him. In other words, if Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, He would be guilty of ‘working’ on the Sabbath.  And if He worked on the Sabbath, He would be guilty of breaking the Third Commandment and be trapped as a sinner.  Checkmate! 

But before we get too far, if Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, would He really be guilty of breaking the Third Commandment?  Well, yes and no.  He would be guilty of breaking the Third Commandment according to the Pharisees’ understanding of the Third Commandment.   But, according to God’s Word?  Jesus would not be breaking the Third Commandment. 

So, what is going on here? 

Well, the Pharisees were using their own rules – not God’s Word - to try and trap Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, the Pharisees departed from what God said about the Sabbath Day in the Third Commandment and then developed their own rules on the Third Commandment.  They twisted and bent the Third Commandment to conform to their ideas.   

But why did the Pharisees do this? 

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that as human beings we have this strange characteristic of building our own religions.  In other words, we use our traditions and our ideas to make up our own rules.  And once we have the rules made up, well… we then congratulate ourselves for keeping our rules, and then we condemn everyone else who does not measure up to our religion. 

But there is a problem.  We are using our rules – our traditions and ideas – and not God’s Word.  But that does not stop us.  It is so very easy for us to believe that our rules are actually the same as God’s Word when, in reality, they are not. 

We must keep in mind that making up our rules and passing them off as God’s Word is not just something restricted to the first-century Pharisees.  We all do this because it is so convenient to twist and bend God’s Word to our ideas, to make things easier for us and harder for everyone else.    

I remember when I was a child playing chess with my Grandmother.  It was wonderful.  I would win every game.  The reason why the rules of the game of chess were always changing with me.  My grandmother would say,

“I thought the pawn could only move one spot.” 

And I would say,

“No, Grandma, it can move three spots.” 

And then I would proceed to move the pawn three spots to take her rook.  And then later on in the game?  Well, the rules would change again so that I could move the pawn four spots.  You see, the rules to the game of chess were always evolving to suite me.  The rules were always changing to make sure that I would do better than my Grandmother.  And the same thing happens with the faith. 

Dear friends, the rules that we use to replace or twist God’s Word are rules that we are really good at following.  We make up the rules to make sure that we are justified – so that we can be right.  And so, every generation and every Christian to a certain degree ends up having their own variation of religious rules.  Rules that they are really good at following.  Rules that are not from God’s Word but certainly come across as if they are God’s Word. 

But how do you and I know if we have made up our own religious rules regarding the Christian faith and have forsaken God’s Word?  How do you and I know if we are upholding the traditions of man and not the Word of God?    

Well, there are two very simple questions that you and I can ask ourselves.  The first is:

Do I see myself as doing better in the Christian faith than everyone else around me? 

Let me state that one more time:  

Do I see myself as doing better in the Christian faith than everyone else around me? 

The second question is this: 

What do I spend more time on: considering my sins or being a watchdog – trying to spot the sins of everyone else around me? 

Now, if you see yourself better than everyone else around you and point your finger more at others than yourself, the blunt news is that you are just like those Pharisees from our Gospel reading living by your own religious traditions, ideas, and rules – and not the Word of God. 

Permit me an opportunity to explain to you how this works.  When we live this Christian faith by our religious rules, we typically do better than those who do not know the ins and outs of our rules. Simply stated, the person that makes the religious rules is good at playing by the rules that they have created.  Remember the chess example with my Grandma?  So, since we are doing great at our religious rules, we have time to examine everyone else around us, which results in us spending more and more time being a watchdog of other people – how they break our rules.  And that is why we are the same as those Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus. 

You, who have ears, hear!  Unlike the traditions, ideas, and religious rules of mankind, God’s Law – as expressed in the 10 Commandments – leaves no one standing.  The Law of God levels every one to the status of sinner.  God’s Word of Law shuts everyone’s mouths because no one can meet its perfect, holy standard.  And so, there is no such thing as being a better Christian than other Christians.  There is no such thing as rankings of greatness among Christians.  There is no such thing as righteous hierarchies before God’s Word of Law. 

And so, if you are puffed up sitting at a high seat of honor with your traditions, ideas, and religious rules, shaking a prideful finger at everyone else beneath you– repent!  Yes, repent of your imagined greatness with me.  You and I are not that special.  We need to repent of our manmade rules, our pride, our manipulation of God’s Word, and our Pharisaical hearts. 

Dear friends, please hear this clearly.  At the heart of the Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading is the fact that the Lord God opposes the proud.  “The person who boasts before God [with their manmade rules and finger pointing] will be humbled in judgment, while the one who humbly [beats their chest] confessing sin may trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and so be raised up at the Last Day.”[1] 

Lord have mercy on you and me, as proud sinners. 

. . .

As proud sinners, though, we must hear right now that the Lord God hears our cries for mercy.  He shows mercy to you and me with our confession of prideful rulemaking.  And there is more!   The Lord forgives you and me – He forgives you of your pride, manmade rules, and finger-pointing.  For Christ’s sake, you are forgiven.  For Christ’s sake, I am forgiven.      

And as the forgiven, not only are we given this profound status of Baptized Saints in Christ, there is something very profound that is continually given to you.  You are given God’s Word again and again and again – to hear, read, and inwardly digest.  You are given God’s Word so that you might not give an inch to the traditions, ideas, and rules of mankind.  For in these religious rules of mankind is not life but death. 

Regarding this topic, Martin Luther once said,

“In bold and shocking ways, so that [Pharisaical hearts] do not lead more people into error . . .  [one] should feel free to eat meat, break fasts, and in the spirit of liberty given by faith, do things they consider [by their own religious made-up rules] to be the greatest of sins.” 

What Luther is saying is that we should disobey the manmade traditions, ideas, and rules because they are not God’s Word.  That is right; you and I are to resist manmade rules because you are not enslaved to the empty doctrine and the trickery of mankind but captive to God’s Word and His Word alone.   

Baptized Saints, you are a Christian.  You are held captive to the Word of God, not the religious rules of mankind.  You are not bouncing to and fro from the winds of mankind’s doctrine.  You belong to Christ.  You have ears to hear His Word. 

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[1] Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1745. 

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

What Happens After You Die?

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

What happens after you die?  Yes, what happens after you die? 

Well, it depends on who you ask. 

According to some people, like Hinduists, when you die you discard your body, like taking off old clothes. And then, you put on a new and different body. This kind of belief sees the body as nothing more than just a shell for the soul, resulting in the soul moving from body to body to body.  The soul lives on; the body does not. 

And then there are the Mormons, who teach that after death, people can eternally progress to become gods and goddesses in the afterlife. In fact, if one progresses enough they could even rule their very own planet as a god. 

Many atheists reject all of these ideas and believe that after death, there is nothing.  In other words, after death, we are gone — no more life, no more interactions with others, and certainly no awareness, just gone. 

And let us not forget all those religions that believe that the soul belongs to a spiritual universe. Otherwise stated, they teach that death is a liberation from the material world so that the soul can escape to a freeing spiritual kingdom.

Maybe a little closer to home is the belief that we have all seen on social media and heard from relatives: that we become angels after death. That is right; many well-intentioned but na├»ve Christians believe we become angels when we die.  When someone dies the social media posts say, “God needed another angel in heaven.”

Now, considering all of these opinions about life after death, what do we learn about death and the afterlife from our reading in the Gospel of Luke and is it similar to some of these views?

In our Gospel reading from Luke, a young man has died. They were carrying his corpse out from the city until they bumped into Jesus. And Jesus?  Well, he had compassion for the dead man’s mom. So, he came forward and touched the coffin and said,

”Young man, I say to you, get up!”

As a result of Jesus speaking to the young man, the dead man sat up and begin to talk. And Jesus?  He gave this young man back to his mother.

Now, dear friends, do not let the details of our Gospel reading pass by you too quickly.  That is to say; you and I can learn a lot about death and the afterlife from our Gospel reading.

For example, if death is nothing more than our souls leaving the shell of a body to inhabit a different body, according to the Hinduists, why did Jesus put the dead man back into his same body?  Let me rephrase that; if death is us squeezing out of our body to get into a new body, why did Jesus but this man’s soul back into the same body?

And if after death, our goal is to progress to become a god, according to the Mormons, why did Jesus interfere with this man’s path and journey to become a god?  If we are to become a god someday, Jesus certainly did help this man by putting him back into his so-called lowly human body.

And if God needed this young man to be an angel in heaven, was Jesus robbing heaven of another angel, by returning this man’s soul to his body? 

And if the goal of our souls is to escape these evil material bodies, isn’t Jesus imprisoning this man’s soul back inside his evil body by bringing him back to life?

As you can see, all of these philosophies, opinions, and thoughts about life after death, do not harmonize with today’s Gospel’s reading from Luke.  They don’t work with Jesus. 

Baptized Saints, Jesus is not about squeezing you out of your body so that you might migrate to a new physical body, like an ocean crab exchanging its old shell for a new shell.

And Jesus does not view your body as something evil that you need to escape from.

Jesus is not about making you an angel, for the number of angels in heaven are already fixed.  Furthermore, we are distinctly different from angels.  Angels do not have bodies but we do. 

And this silly idea of trying to become a god with your own planet?  We don’t even need to talk about this, for it is a complete fairy tale. 

So, what happens after you die then?  Yes, what happens after you die? 

You and I see pretty clearly what will happen to us after death in our Gospel reading.  In our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks to the dead man, and the corpse hears Jesus’ voice.  That is right; the dead man truly hears the voice of Jesus.  By Jesus’ Word alone, the dead man was raised to life, and by His Word alone Jesus will raise you from the grave on that great judgment someday. 

We must keep in mind that when you and I die that the unity of our body and soul is broken.  To be alive is to have body and soul united – together.  However, death is the great divider of body and soul.  Death breaks the body and soul apart from one another. 

So, once death strikes, the soul goes immediately to be in the presence of Jesus in paradise.  And the body?  Well, it remains here in the grave. 

But here is what is so completely radically different about Christianity.  Listen to this: Christ Jesus does not leave your body in the grave to decay into nonexistence.  Christ does not see your body as a mere shell to escape from to progress into some fake divine spiritized realm.  Christ does not see your body as evil.  Baptized Saints, your body is not like any of these views, as taught by these false religions.  But instead, dear Baptized Saints, your body matters to the Lord.  Your body was knit together in your mother’s womb. When Adam and Eve were created – as soul ‘and’ body – the Lord God said, this is ‘very good.’ 

And so, after you die, your soul goes with Jesus, and your body is tucked into a grave to await the voice of Jesus.  And when you hear the voice of Jesus from your grave?  Well, you will come out! 

This is why the Lord has seen fit to give us the Holy Scriptures that speak so much of the dead being raised. 

And how are they all raised? 

They are raised by Jesus speaking to death, and death - by the command of Jesus - must let go. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says,

          “Young man, I say to you, get

And the man, got up. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke into a dark dead tomb and said,

“Lazarus, come out!”

And Lazarus came out. 

In Luke’s Gospel, a little girl had died, and Jesus taking her hand, said,

          “Child arise.”

And she got up at once. 

And the same will be true for you someday. 

After you are laid 6-feet under, there will be a time where your physical body will hear Jesus voice with your physical ears,

          “Get up, come out, arise!”

And you will come out of the grave of death with the very same body that you currently have; however, it will be a body that will be completely free from sin, death, pain, fear, anxiety, decay, and disease.  The same body that you die with will be brought back to life.  Your body will be glorified – the way it was meant to be, without sin, without blemish, and without fault.   

Death will not be able to keep your body in its cold grave.  Death will not keep your ears deaf to the voice of Jesus.  Death will not keep you decaying in dust and ashes.  No!  The voice of Jesus was stronger than Lazarus’ death.  The voice of Jesus was stronger than the young man’s death.  The voice of Jesus was stronger than the little girl’s death.  And the voice of Jesus is stronger than your death. 

But how do we know this to be so true? 

We know this because Jesus not only called people out of death in His earthly ministry, but He rose from the dead Himself. 

Baptized Saints, it is like this: your confidence that your body will be raised from the dead is not based upon a theory or upon some golden mystical plates or upon an ancient myth or upon a philosophy.  But instead, your confidence is based upon a real event that happened in real-time to a real person – Christ Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the grave on the third day. 

In other words, because Jesus is alive – bodily – you will be alive bodily. 

You are connected to Jesus in baptism. 

You are cemented to Jesus by faith. 

What happened to Jesus in the resurrection will happen to you at your resurrection.

Baptized Saints, your Redeemer lives and He will give you back your physical life after you die.  And you will see Him with your own very eyes.  He will do all of this by calling out to you… and you will hear Him and get up. 

Christ makes all things new. 

In the name of our resurrected Lord -  Jesus Christ. Amen. 

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