4 July 2010 - Pentecost 6 - Luke 10:1-20

Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke describes the Lord’s sending out of the 72 disciples. This was a special occurrence, which happened only once, during Jesus’ earthly ministry. But the Christian church has always seen in this account several important principles of enduring validity, that are properly to be applied also to the regular ministers of the church in our day.

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, we confess that those who hold public office in the church “represent the person of Christ on account of the call of the church, and do not represent their own persons, as Christ himself testifies, ‘the one who hears you hears me.’ When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ.”

That’s also why a pastor in our church pronounces the Lord’s Absolution to those who have repented of their sins “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus sent out the 72 disciples in his name and by his authority, and he entrusted to them his message of the coming of God’s kingdom. And the Lord’s own divine power to create faith and hope in people’s hearts was at work, in and through that message.

So, too, with the public ministers of the church in our time. They have been called and sent to their office by Christ, through the voice of his body.

Christ has placed his own Word on their lips. When that Word is spoken, in preaching and teaching, and in the administration of the sacraments, Christ is thereby speaking. His authority to forgive sins, and his power to save souls, are thereby being exercised.

Another principle of enduring value for the public ministry of the church in today’s text can be found in this statement, where Jesus says to the 72:

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”

We might say that there are actually two important principles - closely related to each other - embedded in these words. First, a minister and spokesman of the Lord should not have to worry about his finances, his lodging or sustenance.

He should have no need to carry his own “moneybag” and supplies, as it were. Rather, those who are the beneficiaries of his ministry are to provide for him, so that he can dedicate all his time and effort to the spiritual work to which God has called him.

But at the same time, a preacher is to be satisfied with what his people are able to provide for him. He is not to be “shopping himself around” from house to house - from call to call - always trying to get a better deal.

He is to work diligently and conscientiously where God has placed him, for the full duration of time that the Lord wants him to stay there.

There is quite a bit more about the ministry and the kingdom of God in today’s text that could also be mentioned. But for today, I’d like to focus now on this introductory line:

“...the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”

On one occasion during the 1992 presidential race, I found myself on an airplane sitting next to two women who worked for Governor Bill Clinton’s campaign, as his advance team.

They were on their way to a city that Governor Clinton was planning to visit as a part of his campaign for the presidency, to set up the things that the candidate expected to find in place when he got there, such as arrangements for transportation, lodging, meals, and so forth.

It’s often said that people should not discuss religion and politics. I’ve never believed in that dictum. Those are the only really interesting topics to talk about! And I certainly didn’t follow that dictum on this flight with my seat-mates - although we didn’t talk very much about religion that day.

But back to the point: The disciples whom Jesus was sending to the various communities that he planned to visit, were going to serve as his “advance team” in those places. The 72 disciples were sent ahead, two by two, and were authorized to get things ready - to get the hearts and minds of the people ready - for the Lord’s arrival.

For the fulfillment of this task they were equipped with the Lord’s own authority and power. Even the demons were subject to them, they later reported with amazement. But Jesus himself was still going to come in person to those towns.

Would those towns be ready for his arrival? Would the people in these towns receive the disciples who had been sent there in advance, in the peace of the Lord, so that when Jesus did come himself, he would be welcomed in faith?

Or would the disciples be ignored, or disrespected, or rejected entirely, so that the Lord’s own appearance - when it did occur - would be for judgment, and not for added blessing?

That was the question that would now be answered in each of those locations, when the appointed pair of disciples would enter each town and begin to preach.

And that is the question that needs to be answered here and now, where we are, as we still await the Lord’s impending personal appearance in this world.

Jesus has been sending preachers to all nations for 2,000 years, as the “advance men” for his own visible return on the last day - when he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.

Beginning in Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and now to the ends of the earth, Jesus is sending forth certain disciples - the called and ordained servants of the Word - whose duty it is to prepare the hearts and minds of all men, women, and children for the direct encounter with Christ that will most definitely come in the future.

Those who pass from this world before judgment day will not avoid this encounter with the Lord. They, too, on the other side of death, will stand before the judgment seat of their maker, to give an account of themselves.

Will they be ready? Will you be ready? Are you ready?

Jesus has sent men to go ahead of him to every corner of the world. And those places in the world that cannot be reached by actual missionaries on the ground - because of persecution - are being reached through the printed word, radio, and the Internet.

Jesus has sent such men to you. They have been a part of your life, preaching God’s message of law and Gospel to you, to your family members, to your neighbors and friends.

Have you listened? Have you welcomed and accepted what these men have told you? Have you heeded their warnings about sin and its consequences?

Remember what St. Paul said in last week’s lesson from the Epistle to the Galatians:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Have you taken seriously the claim that Jesus Christ makes on your soul? For “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” as St. Peter says.

Have you heard and believed the message of peace and forgiveness by which God makes his home in your “house” - that is, in your heart and mind - and by which you are made ready for Christ’s coming to your “town” - that is, to your world? As St. John writes:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This world will come to an end. Your life will come to an end. It’s not something that we think about very often - especially when we are young, and when it seems that we will live forever. But we will not live forever - at least not in that way.

And the world in which we live will not ultimately endure. Jesus will come, and bring it to an end, and replace it with new heavens and a new earth.

But now, before that day arrives - and before he arrives on that day - Jesus has sent his messengers to you, and to all people, to proclaim what the 72 disciples were also commissioned to proclaim: “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” It is coming near. It is close at hand.

These pastors and missionaries have been sent to warn you of the danger of not being ready for the Lord’s coming; but also to invite you to become ready for the full and glorious manifestation of God’s kingdom that is coming. Through their preaching, God himself reaches into your life, and gets you ready.

The words that they proclaim in the Lord’s name are imbued with the Lord’s own power, as were the words spoken by the 72 disciples. The demons are subject also to them, and must depart when the Word of Christ does its work in the church, and in the hearts of men.

The forces of darkness flee, when God’s forgiveness is proclaimed in the name of the risen Christ to a penitent sinner, and when the Lord’s light and peace are bestowed upon one who previously had been captive under the devil’s deception and discouragement.

Satan is enraged, and cannot endure to be present, when the body and blood of Christ - shed on the cross for our salvation - once again invade this world under the form of bread and wine, and are graciously given to the Lord’s people as a reaffirmation of their redemption and liberation from Satan’s domain.

But the devil and his minions are filled with glee, when an entrapped soul desires to remain in its captivity, and slaps away the hand of divine rescue that is lowered to it. Satan laughs when a deceived soul keeps itself in darkness, and refuses to follow the sound of the heavenly voice that is calling it to life and freedom.

Believe me, my friends: You do not want the Lord’s messengers to “wipe the dust from their feet” in regard to you and your hardness of heart, and to cease and desist in reaching out to you with their warnings and promises. Receive them, therefore - and receive their message - while you still can, before the day of Christ’s appearance; before the day of reckoning.

Jesus has sent his messengers to you, because he loves you, and wants you to be ready. He wants you to become an heir of his kingdom even now, before the end comes, and to live today in a joyful expectation of what awaits you on the horizon of your future.

As you in humility do listen to God’s Word, and as your heart and mind are set at peace by his Word and transformed by it, you will be able to say confidently, together with St. Paul:

“There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” Amen.

11 July 2010 - Pentecost 7 - Leviticus 18:1-5;19:9-18

As a general rule, people like to “fit in” with others, and to conform to the general expectations of the people around them. Sometimes this is relatively innocent and harmless.

For example, I know of a certain middle-aged woman whose daughters persuaded her to start watching the TV show “What Not To Wear,” in order to get some tips on how to dress according to current fashions. There’s nothing wrong with trying to “fit in” in that way, so that you don’t “stand out” in a crowd as weird or odd.

But at other times, the desire to “fit in” and conform can have harmful ramifications. Those who are baptized into Christ, and who belong to Christ, need to realize that it is often the case in this world, that if they conform to the expectations and wishes of others, and do what most of the people around them are doing, then they will not be conforming to God’s will for their lives.

Christians, with their unique, God-given values and standards, will and should “stand out” as different - at least according to the perspective of those who do not share those values and standards. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, and if we follow his lead, we will often be going in a different direction from those who serve other gods.

Being different from others, and embracing an alternative way of thinking and living, is not easy. But it is what God’s people at all times and in all places have always been called to do, for as long as the world in which we live has been hostile to God and his ways.

Today’s Old Testament text, from the Book of Leviticus, presents us with one of many examples of the unique kind of calling that God has given to his people, as they live in this world, and among the other people of this world, but as they are guided by the conviction that their citizenship is in heaven, and that their God and master in the Lord. We read:

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my precepts and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my precepts; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.’”

In giving his newly liberated people this directive, God, as it were, covers all the bases. First, he warns them against imitating the practices of the Egyptians.

“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived,” he said. This was a reference to ideas and practices with which the people of Israel were familiar.

Tradition and habit are strong forces in our lives. When I look out over the sanctuary every Sunday, nine times out of ten I will see each of you sitting in the same pew you almost always sit in. It’s difficult to break out of the pattern of what is familiar to us.

But sometimes what is familiar is wrong. Sometimes God will tell you that you must stop doing the things that you have always done.

You must change the way you think and act, and think and act in a new and different way. And it doesn’t matter if this would mean going against the expectations and the norms of the society in which you live.

God’s law is always best. God’s Gospel promises alone can save us from sin, and restore us to fellowship with him. If God’s statues and decrees are in conflict with what is familiar, then we must turn away from what is familiar, and believe and live as God commands.

We must honor God as he deserves to be honored. We must treat other people with the respect and honesty that God says they deserve from us.

God says, “I am the Lord your God.” If we claim to follow him, and to believe in him, we must acknowledge his authority to be in charge, and to insist that we live in a different way from how the unbelievers live.

That’s what God did when he told the people of Israel not to follow the ways of Egypt - where they had lived for centuries. And that’s what God does when he impresses it upon your conscience, that your habitual and popular and socially acceptable sins must stop.

It doesn’t matter how common those sins are among the people you know. If God says that it is going to be different from now on, then it is going to be different from now on.

In his message to Moses, the Lord also said this: “you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.”

Tradition and habit are indeed a strong influence on us. But ironically, things that are supposedly new and modern also have the ability to influence our actions, and to entice us away from good standards that are perceived to be old-fashioned and no-longer-relevant.

Every professional advertiser knows that if he markets his client’s product as “new and improved,” his client will get more customers. Our society is restless and fickle, always wanting to have the latest and greatest of everything: the newest technology, the newest car model, the newest Windows operating system.

There is a church several miles from here with a sign that says, “The New Church of Phoenix.” The actual religion of this church is Swedenborgianism. But I’m sure that over the years they have drawn more curious visitors through their doors by calling themselves “The New Church,” than they would have if they had called themselves “The Swedenborgian Church.”

And of course, the so-called “new age” religion that is so popular among so many, is really just the old Hindu religion, repackaged for American religious consumers whose ears are always tickled by something that they think is new.

For the people of Israel, the land of Canaan was going to be their new home. The beliefs and practices of the native Canaanites would therefore also have an alluring aura of “newness” about them.

But God warns the Israelites in advance, even before they started bumping up against these new heresies and immoralities, that they were not to allow themselves to be enticed into following the ways of the Canaanites. These new ways would be spiritually deadly ways. They must be avoided.

How often do your worldly friends describe the moral values that you have been taught from God’s Word as “old-fashioned”? The assumption is that if you can be persuaded that your present convictions are old-fashioned, that’s all that is necessary to get you to abandon them.

But so what if your beliefs and values are old fashioned? That’s not the important thing to consider. What you need to consider is whether your beliefs and values are godly, and true.

What the Lord in his Word commands and teaches is always godly and true. And this is so, regardless of whether or not the majority of people in 21st-century America agree.

God’s word to Israel, and God’s word to you, is this: In matters of the soul, don’t define and govern your life in terms of trying to “fit in.” Don’t try to fit in with whatever you think is old and familiar, and don’t try to fit in with whatever you think is new and modern.

Instead, remember that the Lord is your God. Remember his laws, his statutes, and his precepts. Walk in them, and live by them.

Even if those around you mock you, and make you feel that you are the only person who cares about what God says regarding the way people should believe and live, care anyway.

And remember that you’re not the only person who cares. When the Lord spoke to Moses the words that we have quoted, it was while he was in the process of establishing a whole new nation of people who would care about God, and what God has to say.

God had earned the right to establish this nation in this way, because he had miraculously delivered these people from an enslavement from which they would never have been able to deliver themselves. And God was going to establish them, by his power alone, also in their new home, in the land of promise.

And God has likewise earned the right to establish a fellowship of Christians on the face of the earth, from every nation and tribe, who also care about God and what God says.

God has delivered us from our slavery to the world, the flesh, and the devil - by the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. And he has transported us into the heavenly promised land of his church, where his Word governs and rules, and where his Word also forgives, restores, and heals.

Now, when you soberly reflect on God’s commandment to you, to believe and live as he teaches, and not as everyone around you believes and lives, you must admit that this you have not fully done.

You have been afraid to “stand out” in the crowd as weird or odd. You have been silent when you should have spoken, and you have spoken when you should have been silent - because you were afraid of the disapproval of people whose opinion was more valuable to you than it should have been.

God has not been glorified in everything you have said and done. Your thoughts and attitudes have not been molded and shaped exclusively by the Word and Spirit of God.

Sometimes you have resisted the Lord’s promptings in your conscience, and have stuck with familiar old sins. Sometimes you have ignored the Lord’s warnings in your conscience, and have pursued fashionable new sins.

Seldom have you really heeded the Lord’s special request that you live in the special way that he has designated for his special people. And even when you have approached this, you have done so timidly and in weakness. Never have you followed God’s statutes with a completely pure heart, and with completely pure motives.

But Jesus, as he redeemed you from your previous spiritual slavery, and as he purchased your current freedom in God’s grace, was willing to walk his own, lonely pathway in life, in your place. For your sake he did not try to “fit in,” or to conform to the expectations of others.

Jesus did not set himself up as an earthly political dove, who would heal all the sick and feed all the hungry, as some wanted. And he did not set himself up as an earthly political hawk, who would militarily liberate the country from the Roman occupation, as others wanted.

He conformed himself instead to the will of his Father. And in his submission to the plan of God for humanity’s salvation, he ended up despised and rejected by virtually everyone. He was betrayed and abandoned by his nation, and by his own friends.

As Jesus hung on the cross, waiting to die, he was, humanly speaking, the most unpopular person on the face of the earth. But from the perspective of heaven, what he was doing and allowing to be done, in his suffering and death, was more important than anything that had ever happened in human history.

And what is also important, is when Christ applies the benefits of his saving work specifically to you - when his forgiving and restoring word is spoken over you and into you, and you stand forgiven and restored before God.

And what the word of Christ also does is to carry you up and into a new heavenly nation. In Christ you are baptized into a new supernatural society, not of this world.

The royal priesthood of God’s church becomes for you a new and godly peer group. It is a holy community of saints in Christ who are called by God to believe in his promises, and to follow his ways.

The church is not Egypt, where you can “fit in” by continuing to think, say, and do the wrong things of the past. Rather, in Christ, and in the church of Christ, all things are made new, and you become a new creature in Christ.

The church is also not the pagan land of the Canaanites, where you can “fit in” by experimenting with new and trendy varieties of rebellion and self-indulgence. Rather, in Christ, and in the church of Christ, you know and serve a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever - unchanging in holiness; unchanging in love and mercy.

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my precepts and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my precepts; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.’” Amen.

18 July 2010 - Pentecost 8 - Luke 10:38-42

People often become so engrossed in what they are doing, that they become unaware of what other people around them are doing. I suppose It’s not always such a bad thing for someone to be able concentrate on his or her assigned task, and not to be distracted by the activities of others.

But sometimes this “tuning out” of what is going on around you is not so good - especially when what you are doing is not as important as what someone else is doing. Sometimes, instead of paying attention exclusively to what you are doing, you should take a break, lift up your head and look around, notice what others are doing, and pay attention to that for a while.

Martha’s problem, in today’s Gospel from St. Luke, is that she was paying such close attention to what she was doing, that she failed to notice what Jesus was doing. And she failed properly to weight the significance of what he was doing.

Martha overestimated the importance of her work, and even tried to get Jesus to make her sister Mary join in and help her with it. But Martha should have actually stopped what she was doing, at least for a time, in order to join her sister in paying attention to what Jesus was doing.

Jesus was right there in her home, fulfilling in her very presence one of the important tasks for which he had come into the world. What an opportunity!

But Martha was oblivious to this. And in her obliviousness, she blurted out something that was stupid at best, and heretical at worst.

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

Was Martha actually the only person doing any serving? Well, it’s true that Mary was not serving anyone at that moment. But Jesus was. Jesus was serving the Word of God to Mary.

The teaching of Jesus, to which Mary was paying close and devout attention, was addressing her, and impacting her, at the deepest level of her heart. She was learning some important things about herself and her need for a Savior. She was learning some important things about God’s sending of his only-begotten Son to be her Savior.

She knew that when Jesus had something to say, she should be quiet and listen: with open ears, an open mind, and an open heart. When Jesus wanted to serve her with his grace and forgiveness, she should stop whatever she might be doing, sit at his feet, and receive in faith the spiritual treasures that Jesus wanted to give her.

Mary was calm and at peace at the Lord’s feet. His teaching gave her a new perspective on eternity, and on those things that will endure forever. But his teaching also gave her a new perspective on this world, and on her life in this world.

We are not taught in today’s text that people like Mary should permanently set aside their earthly duties, and spend all their time, from dawn to dusk, in religious activities. Mary did have an earthly vocation from God, according to which she was called to serve her sister Martha by helping with the housework, and to serve the family’s guests by providing for their needs and making them comfortable.

But the duties of this calling were not the sum total of everything that Mary was ever supposed to think about. There were times - such as the time that is described in today’s lesson - when those duties were to be set aside for a while, so that Mary could think about other, more important things; about eternally necessary things.

Mary’s deepest sense of who she was, and the ultimate meaning of her life, were not bound up, in the last analysis, in her earthly calling. The time for the fulfillment of that calling would come to an end when her life in this world would come to an end. But she would not come to an end.

Mary’s standing before God, and her eternal hope, had their basis instead in the reconciliation with God that Jesus, the promised Messiah, would accomplish for her in his sacrificial death. Mary was clothed in the righteousness of Christ even now, as she put her trust in those promises - divine promises that Jesus no doubt recounted, and explained, and applied to her personally, as she sat at his feet, and listened to his teaching.

Martha, in contrast to her sister Mary, was not availing herself of the teaching that Jesus was offering on this occasion. She was ignoring him in this respect, even as she was, in her own wisdom and strength, seeking to serve him.

Martha’s actions were governed by a certain amount of pride and self-righteousness. She resented the fact that Mary had taken a break from the work. Mary was lazy and irresponsible, in the eyes of Martha.

But Martha was not able to find any joy in her work. She was, as Jesus told her, “anxious and troubled” about all the things she was trying to accomplish.

She was trying to prove her worth to Jesus, and earn his favor, by showing him the best hospitality she was able to show him. But she also knew, deep down, that it was not yet good enough. And so she was continuously “stressed out” and worried - striving always to do more, and to do it better.

Are you like Martha? I’m not talking now about blatantly godless and irreligious people, who don’t make any pretense of caring about Jesus or thinking about him. I’m talking about people like us, here in church, where Jesus is present with us.

Do we, like Martha, think that we are here chiefly to serve him - to make a good impression on him, or to earn his approval? What is our motivation for being here? And with what kind of attitude do we perform the duties that have been assigned to us?

Pastors are particularly susceptible to the temptation of falling into the sin of Martha - that is, of being so concerned about the service that we try to offer to Christ, or the work that we do for Christ, that we don’t pay as much attention as we should to the service that Christ wants to offer us.

An orthodox pastor may labor and worry so much over the preparation and delivery of a correct, Biblical sermon, that in the end, he does not listen, for his own spiritual benefit, to the Word of God that comes across through the sermon.

A liturgical pastor may be so concerned to make sure that his chanting of the Words of Institution in the Lord’s Supper is on key, that he doesn’t pay proper attention to what those words are saying to him, for the sake of his own personal preparation for receiving the sacrament.

But pastors are not the only people who are liable to make the same kind of mistake that Martha made. After all, Martha was not a pastor. And none of the rest of you are either.

And yet Martha, even in the presence of the Lord, was anxious and troubled about many things. She was not attentive to the one thing that was truly necessary, as was her sister Mary.

She was not listening in faith to the words of Jesus, so that those words could plant themselves in her mind and heart.

You, too, are in the presence of the Lord here, according to his promise that where two or three are gathered in his name, there he is in their midst. He is here in our midst right now, just as certainly as he was sitting on a bench or on a cushion in Mary and Martha’s home 2,000 years ago.

But as you come here into his presence, during this time of worship, is it for the sole purpose of sitting at his feet: to concentrate on what he is saying, and to receive, without any distractions, what he wants to give you?

Or as you sit here, are you perhaps planning out in your mind the chores that you need to take care of when you get home? Or are you thinking about your duties here at church, and about what God and other people might be expecting of you this morning?

Or, more seriously, are you worrying about your livelihood, or your lack of a livelihood? Are you worrying about whether you might lose your job, or might not be able to find a job, in these difficult economic times?

To the extent that you are thinking about, and worrying about, anything that you feel you need to be doing - instead of thinking about, and being thankful for, what Jesus is doing for you - you are like Martha, and not like Mary. And Jesus says to you, just as he said to Martha, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

One thing, my friends, is necessary. There is one reason why God has brought you here in this hour.

On other days, at other times, God does want you to pursue your earthly calling, and to fulfill the duties that he has entrusted to you in your family and in your community. There are many times during the week when you should be concerned about serving God by serving others, and about being diligent and faithful in the tasks that have been assigned to you in this world.

But this hour, in this place, is not one of them. Now is the time, not to work, but to rest - to rest in Christ, and in the work of salvation that he accomplished once and for all, for you, on the cross.

Now is the time, not to serve, but to be served, by the Son of God, who comes to you in his Word of forgiveness, and in the bread and wine of his Holy Supper that has been blessed with his Word.

The reason why we are here, is because Jesus teaches us here. And we listen. And in the power and grace of his teaching, we see everything else in life in a different light, and with a new perspective.

Relatively unimportant things that we used to worry about, we entrust now to his care and protection. Important things - eternal things - that we didn’t used to think about as much as we should have, now take their proper place of priority in our lives.

The baptism that we were privileged to witness today reminds us that we, too, have been baptized into Christ. We belong to him. Our time, our labors, everything that we are and do belongs to him.

And so, when, according to Jesus, it is time for you to work and serve, then it is time for you to work and serve, in the joy and confidence that come when you know that the Lord is with you, guiding and protecting you. But when, according to Jesus, it is time for you to stop, and be still, and listen, then it is time for you to stop, and be still, and listen.

Now is that time. And so we are, as it were, sitting at the Lord’s feet, where we have heard his voice in the absolution, in the Scripture readings, and in the preaching of his Word.

And we will still be sitting at his feet in a few minutes, when we will hear Jesus speak his body and blood into the bread and wine, and when Jesus will invite us to receive him as he comes to us, and serves us, in this Supper.

The Word of Christ - the living and abiding Word of Christ - is the one necessary thing. It is the good portion that God gives us for our salvation.

As we in faith receive his Word, and as we receive Christ himself through his Word, this good portion - this heavenly truth - will remain with us forever.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Amen.

25 July 2010 - Pentecost 9 - Luke 11:1-13

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, we learn some important things about prayer and praying. We learn about the prayers of Jesus, and we learn even more about the prayers of the disciples. But we also learn that Jesus’ prayers are not the same as the disciples’ prayers, or our prayers.

Jesus did often pray. We are all familiar with how Jesus prayed fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane, before his arrest.

Earlier in his ministry, St. Mark tells us about a time when Jesus got up early in order to pray by himself, apart from his disciples: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

In today’s text we see yet another example of Jesus praying, this time in the presence of his disciples - or at least in such a way that they know about the prayer. His praying prompted one of his disciples to ask him to teach them how to pray.

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”

This was an important request. We know from the first commandment that we are to have no other gods.

We are not to call out to any other being for help in times of need. We are not to offer thanks to any other being for the blessings we have received.

The only God there is, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the God who sent his only-begotten Son to be our Savior. Our supplications are to be directed only to him.

We know from the second commandment that we are to use the Lord’s name reverently, and in faith. Chiefly, we are to call upon his name in worship - but only in ways that are in harmony with his will for us, and only in ways that are in keeping with what he has revealed about himself.

But in the sinful and weakened state of existence in which we find ourselves in this life, we need help, in order to know what to ask for, and how to ask for it. We need to be taught how to believe in God, and how to pray to him.

According to our old sinful nature, we don’t automatically know how to do these things. In fact, the Bible tells us that we are by nature enemies of God, and children of wrath.

Before God himself takes the initiative and comes to us, to save us, to change us, and to teach us, we are not able to obey the first commandment, or the second commandment, or any commandment. We don’t know how to pray.

But Jesus teaches us how to pray. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, and in today’s Gospel from St. Luke, we have two accounts of the time when Jesus taught his disciples what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. As St. Luke reports it, Jesus said:

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

The version given by Matthew, which is the version we know by heart and usually use, is a bit fuller and more detailed than this. But the main points of what Jesus said are quoted by Luke.

It is significant that Jesus says to the disciples, and to us, “When you pray, say thus and so.” He does not say, “When we pray, let us say thus and so.” There is a reason for this.

In the New Testament, there are many instances of Jesus praying for his disciples, and in their presence. But there is not one instance recorded in the Four Gospels of Jesus praying with his disciples. And that is because the prayers of Jesus to his Father were something different from the prayers of the disciples to God.

Jesus was and is the eternal Son of the Father. He was and is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, begotten of the Father from eternity, and existing eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit as one Lord and one God.

When God the Father sent his Son into the world to be its Savior, the Son took to himself a true human nature, so that he would be, from then on, true God and true man in one Person.

But also, so that God’s Son could live and die under the law, and be the perfect substitute for fallen humanity, Jesus humbled himself, and assumed the form of a servant during the time of his earthly ministry. During those years, not only did Jesus have a human nature, but he also lived, and walked the earth, according to the limitations of that human nature.

Jesus did always remain God and Lord, sustaining and governing the universe together with the Father and the Spirit. But during the time of his earthly ministry, this divine power and activity was hidden.

Nobody saw anything externally in the life of Jesus - as he ate and slept, as he taught and traveled - that would have led them to believe that he was still involved, non-stop, in the governance of the universe. But he was.

In those years, according to his humble, human mode of existence, Jesus did not outwardly demonstrate or show forth his divine power. Instead, he lived like us, and experienced all the things that we experience in our earthly life - in the way that we experience them - except for sin.

Jesus was never “out of touch” with God the Father, even in his most “human” of moments. The eternal communion that has always existed among the three Persons of God was not broken by the Son’s entrance into our human story.

That’s because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. And there can be no divisions or disruptions within God.

But during his humbled state of existence on earth, the continuous unity that the Son of God experienced with his Father took a humble, human form. It took the form of prayer.

When Jesus prayed, therefore, it was an act that was taking place within the Godhead. One divine Person was expressing communion and harmony with another divine Person.

When you and I pray, however, it is completely different. Whenever I pray, I do not pray as a divine Person to another divine Person. I always pray as a human creature, to the triune God who created me.

Even when the specific wording of my prayer is addressed to one particular Person - say, to God the Father - all three Persons of the Trinity are actually the recipients of the prayer, because all three Persons are always in an indivisible unity with each other within the Godhead.

We call the prayer that Jesus taught us “the Lord’s Prayer.” But it is a prayer that the Lord himself never said. In fact, if Jesus were able to say this prayer, or if he had ever said it, he could not be our Savior from sin, and could not give us eternal life.

I’m thinking specifically now of the petition wherein those who are saying or singing this prayer ask for God’s forgiveness. If Jesus is the Son of God, and the Savior of the human race, he could and would never say those words.

In his own person, according to the way he lived, Jesus was, of course, without sin. All of his thoughts, words, and deeds were pure and holy.

He conformed his life to God’s law in every respect. And so, from that perspective, Jesus never committed any transgressions for which forgiveness would be necessary.

The word “forgiveness” literally means the “dismissal” or “sending away” of something that had attached itself to the one who is being forgiven. But according to his own behavior and attitudes, no sin had ever attached itself to Jesus.

Jesus could not have been the perfect and spotless substitute for us, if there were any moral blemishes on him. He needed to be the pure Lamb of God, in order to take away the sins of the world.

And he was such a pure Lamb, who therefore can and does grant us the peace of his salvation. Jesus would never ask his Father to dismiss, or send away, his personal sins, because there never were such sins.

But of course, there is another way in which sins can become “attached” to someone. This would be the way of what the Bible calls “imputation.”

By imputation, all the sins of the world did become attached to Jesus. The “imputation” of all human sins to Jesus means that all of our sins were credited to him, and placed upon him, so that he could carry them to the cross, and suffer and die for them.

In his arrest, his trials, his mocking, his flogging, and his crucifixion, Jesus allowed himself to be treated as if he were as sinful as all of us actually are.

He allowed the judgment of his own law against our sins to be poured out on him, because he had allowed those sins to be placed onto him. He took our sins upon himself, by imputation, and then carried those sins all the way to Calvary.

Now, if at some point between the crediting of our sins to him, and his death for those sins, Jesus had prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and had asked that these sins be “forgiven,” or taken away from him, I suppose that it would have happened.

But if our sins had in such a way been taken off of Jesus, before he had had a chance to die for them, then those sins would have been slapped right back onto us.

All of your sins would have come off of Jesus, and would have continued to cling to you. And you would have been eternally condemned because of those sins, because you would now not have a Savior after all, to carry those sins for you, and to suffer under them in your place.

It’s a wonderful thing, therefore, that Jesus himself never prayed the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a wonderful thing that Jesus never joined his disciples in the petition, “forgive us our trespasses.”

Because Jesus had no sins of his own to be forgiven, we are comforted to know that he was able to be our pure substitute under the law. And because he did not shirk off our sins once they had been credited to him, but was willing to carry them all the way to the cross, we are comforted to know that he has truly redeemed us, and reconciled us to God.

But remember, even though Jesus never prayed with his disciples, he did pray for them - and not only for his disciples, but for all people. In his own special form of prayer to his Father - within the Trinity - Jesus expressed the will of the triune God for the people for whom he prayed.

On the cross, Jesus did not ask that the sins he was carrying would be taken off of him. But he did ask that the sins of those who participated in killing him, would be taken off of them. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

And since it was also our sins which drove Jesus to the cross, this prayer applies also to us. We share in the responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. We also share in receiving from God the mercy and pardon for which Jesus prayed.

Because our sins did cling to Jesus, and clung to him to the very end, they are now taken off of us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses.”

In view of the saving work of Jesus, and in view of the fact that Jesus never prayed this prayer himself, our transgressions are forgiven. Our sins are dismissed from us. And the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, and credited to us, in their place.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus prayed often for his disciples. By extension he prayed also for us.

We are also taught by Jesus how we should pray, and what we should pray for. And Jesus invites us to pray often, in all the circumstances of life.

But Jesus did not pray with his disciples. He does not pray with us either. It’s actually a great and wonderful thing that he did not, and does not, pray with us.

Because he had and prayed his own kind of prayers, which were different from our prayers, we know that we do indeed have a divine-human Savior from sin. He had no sin of his own, but he carried our sins to the cross. Amen.