Matthew 11:19

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” 

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 She sat in my church study, broken and defeated by life.  Nothing had seemed to go right. Several failed marriages, legal problems, estrangement from her children were some of the burdens she was carrying.  And all she could do was blame herself.

 For a long time she had tried to shut her eyes to the pain, the emptiness and meaningless she felt, consoling herself in a life of frantic activity and day to day busyness which the world is always more than ready to provide for that purpose.

 Now, she was convinced that God was punishing her. She doubted everything except her own worries, anxieties, fear and hopelessness.

 In over 35 of years of ministry I have known many like her. The problems vary, of course, as do the particular circumstances of living. Some have been rich, others of quite modest means. But what they have held in common has been a belief that God has dealt with them purely on the basis of sin and retribution.  Perhaps you see something of yourself here; preoccupied with what has been lost, uncertain or even fearful as to God.

 Jesus was called “friend of sinners” during His earthly life. The gospels report time and time again of His welcoming into His fellowship those who had lost themsleves in sin. As time went on it was these lost ones who became the greatest witnesses to His love.

 When we look at ourselves it is easy to become preoccupied with what has been lost. When God looks at you through Christ, however, He does not see what was lost, what you have squandered or mishandled. He sees only His child to whom He freely gives love and forgiveness in Christ.  This is the heart of the Gospel. 

 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

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Romans 10:4

” For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.”

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A popular song of a bygone era was the Cole Porter tune, ‘Don’t Fence Me In’, sung by the famous western stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans among others. The title could serve as the motto for the old Adam and Eve in each of us.

 Laws (fences) come in many forms . The sheer number of laws that govern various aspects of our lives is staggering.  According to the Associated Press 40,000 new laws have gone into effect in 2012.  If you were to ask the various legislators at the federal, state and municipal levels for a rationale for the passing of these laws, the generic response would be, ‘For the public good.’  In principle, that is the case. Law is meant to restrain evil and promote the good. Laws are fences.

 God uses law, all law, to put fences around human conduct. Even a casual reading of the Ten Commandment can reveal quite clearly that these laws are intended for our good. Yet there is hardly a one we have not broken in thought, word or deed. 

 Under these circumstances there is no hope of being justified before God on the basis of what we do, even if our generous self-assessments look pretty good in comparison with convicted felons! So, Christ Jesus has entered in, taking upon and fulfilling in Himself the perfect righteousness demanded of you. Christ is the end of the law for everyone who has faith. This most certainly does not mean that while we are in this life laws do not matter. The fences must be kept up, taken down, and new ones erected, from time to time. Sinners like us must govern as well and as wisely as we can. 

 But our hope is not in staying within the fences, in behaving ourselves. There is no progress or merit in the Christian life to be gained by staying within the fences. We look to Christ Jesus alone as our righteousness before God. In Him we are free to serve our neighbors and care for the world ( and it’s fences) even as we wait for the coming of God’s kingdom.

 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

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Romans 5:1-2

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

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Steven Paulson is a Lutheran theologian who teaches at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here he writes on being justified by faith.

 “The key problem with mixing up grace and some capacity of the soul…is that we fail to understand how the Gospel justifies by faith alone…Possession (of righteousness) is nullified utterly by law in death, and does not return when we are made alive again. Instead, what faith grasps is a promise, but a promise is not legal property; it is a word that engenders hope because its veracity depends upon another. Our justification happens by a Christ who is not simply a new Moses, but a Christ who himself went through death for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification. So sinners like Abraham will be made exactly like Christ–put to death and only then raised from the dead–not by any process of moral improvement that seeks in the end to be just in itself.
The righteousness is Christ’s, and always will be; sinners never possess it as a piece of distributed justice by which we can stand before God’s eternal wrath and be exonerated. Therefore, justification is not a single event upon which sanctification is then built. We return again and again to justification by Christ’s favor, and therefore there is no salvation without a preacher–whom we need daily.
There is no neutral, natural quality of the soul waiting to be taught how to make the right choices, or how to orient desire to its proper goal. God’s wrath is total, and unrelenting, and no one escapes. There is no neutral territory for this imaginary “faith” as a virtue or act of humans. For the Lutherans, Christ is the only righteousness, and his righteousness is preached by a word of promise that says, “Your sins are forgiven.” How? “On my account (proper Christum). ”Hearing this word makes faith, and this faith is reckoned or imputed as righteous, though there is no righteousness there by any measure of law–including the presence of love as caritas.To call divine imputation (as a declared word) a “fiction” is to say that the only truth in life is law, and in turn that is to blaspheme the Gospel–to make Christ into a Moses and to make of Abraham the father by circumcision, not by faith.”

 

 

 

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2 Corinthians 5:19

 
 

 

 

“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

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I once was a guest at a social gathering and found myself standing with a group of people who were discussing God. Opinions were all over the map. Some were agnostics – not sure. Others took the atheist route. Still others had vague notions of a god in nature or spirituality.  The discussion was lively and friendly until someone asked me what I thought. ‘God is the One who raised Jesus from the dead’, was my reply.   Suddenly things got quiet for a moment. Then the objections began. I have known other Christians who have had similar encounters.

 Christian faith ceases to be Christian if Jesus drops out of the proclamation, the sharing of that faith. We do not witness to a generic god that can be molded and shape to fit our opinions – a god that is simply derived from our gray matter.

 The Easter faith bears witness to the God who, through the cross and resurrection, has planted Himself in history.  In Jesus we are reconciled to the person of God, not an idea about God. 

 The witness to the resurrectrion will always raise eyebrows and prompt objections. That is to be expected in a creature that is, by nature, hostile to it’s Creator. A the same time it is through this very same witness to the cross and resurrection of Jesus that God has chosen to create faith, to bring us to confess Jesus, to bring us – and hold us – in a living relationship. And when vague notions about God, or belief in no God at all, give way to this confession of Jesus as Lord, the power of the resurrection has done it’s work! Sinners are forgiven and set free and join the joyous chorus of confession, ‘God is the One who raised Jesus from the dead!

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and    minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Sin Boldly

 

In April of 1521 Martin Luther made his famous stand for the Gospel before the Imperial Diet in Worms, Germany. In the wake of his appearance, Luther was’ kidnapped’ by his prince and protector, Frederick, the Elector of Saxony, and spirited away to the Wartbug Castle deep in the Thuringian forest. Luther spent many months there, recovering from the stress of the conflict with Rome and translating the New testament into German. He also kept up a lively correspondence, most of it written in the room pictured above.

 Among the letters he sent to friends and supporters was one to his teaching colleague at Wittenberg, Philip Melancthon. One comment in this letter has been the subject of much controversy. That comment was, “let your sins be strong”, or as it is often translated, “Sin boldly.” Here is the pertinent portion of Luther’s letter.

 

    “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but 
    the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the 
    true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only 
    imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong , but let 
    your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the 
    victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we 
    are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We, 
    however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new 
    heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that 
    through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the 
    sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to 
    kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think 
    such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager 
    sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner!”  
    

 While waiting for a flight connection  a year or so ago, I struck up a conversation with a young Roman Catholic priest. After a few minutes of conversation, upon learning that  I was a Lutheran pastor, he asked me about Luther’s quote, “Sin boldly.” I filled him in on the remainder of Luther’s comments and his reply was. “Oh, I hadn’t heard about that part.”

 On the surface, and taken out of context, Luther’s comment sounds like a blank check for the old sinner in us to go nuts! But this is hardly what Luther intended. 

 Preoccupation with our sinfulness leads us away from the assurance we have in God’s forgiveness. Luther knew this as well as anyone. So, his comment is really a way of saying, live your life in Christ in the confidence of faith! Of course we will sin. It is inevitable because as long as we are in this mortal body sin remains with us. Don’t be so preoccupied with yourself. Rather, be preoccupied with how great Christ is! He has forgiven your sins, past, present and future. That is the gospel of freedom in which Luther rejoiced…and you can too! 

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

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Luke 19:10

 

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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During the late 1950’s our family lived in Hawaii where my father was stationed as an Air Force chaplain. We lived in a beautful setting in the mountains above Pearl Harbor. My friends and I spent hours exploring the sugar cane fields and tropical forest. It was all great fun until one day two of us wandered into an area that was far beyond where we had ever gone. At first it was exciting as we searched for something familiar. But before long our excitement turned to fear and panick. We were lost. We were alone. I can still remember how it felt.

 The sense of being lost is part of life in this broken, sinful world and it comes in many forms. There are people who are truly alone and cutoff from others, living lives of isolation. Many others live in the midst of family, friends and co-workers yet still feel lost and alone, adrift. Excitement and vitality in living has given way to an inner sense of isolation. 

 A few years ago one of the most popular programs on television was  entitiled, ‘Lost.’ It told the stories of a group of people who had survived a crash landing on a tropical island. I think the great popularity of the program had a lot to do with the root concept of lostness. There is a deep sense of lostness in millions of people today.  Many feel adrift in uncharted waters. Maybe you feel that way, too.

 God knows that simply being born into this world does not mean we will feel at home, in the deepest sense. For being lost and adrift is the basic spiritual condition of man and woman.  Jesus said, “I came to seek and to save the lost.”  In a real sense, this is God’s mission statement, this is why Jesus came.  You may feel lost and adrift these days for any number of reasons. But know this. The One who died on the cross for you and was raised for you always has you on His radar.  This does not mean you will never know the struggle or feel the isolation and aloneness that comes with life in a sinful world. But it does mean that through all the circumstances of living you are being held in the grip of God’s grace. You are not alone. 

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hope

 

The Monday after Easter sees us back to business as usual. Our  jobs summon us to prove our value, family obligations do not let up, all the various pressures, possibilities, and uncertainties of life continue.  Life moves on, as it always does, but where is it going?  This is where the Resurrection perspective enters in.

 Churches tend to be full on Easter Sunday. Not like the old days, to be sure, but more people manage to find a church door on Easter than at any other time of the church year, including Christmas. Why? Some criticize those who find the church door only at Easter for their casual treatment of worship. But I think hope has a lot to do with it. In fact, I think it has everything to do with it. And why shouldn’t it? If there is one commodity in short supply in our bald, techno-mad, secular age it is any reason to have authentic hope.  

 Thinking God’s thoughts after Him has become the cornerstone of modern life. In fact, the voices of cold reason proclaim that this is all there is.  Nothing is higher than man’s reason. We are the masters of our own future. Hope is in us.

 The voices of cold reason have also given rise to an agressive atheism which continually attempts to debunk religious faith, and instead wants to tie the human future to, well, who knows? Scientific progress? Evolution? Medical advances?  Interplanetary colonizatrion? Don’t worry about it though. By the time the evolutionary, utopian future finally gets here you and I will be dead and will have no share in it. Now, there’s a hopeful thought!

 Reason and curiosity about life has given humanity something to do from the very beginning. I suspect  this is what God had in mind for us all along. Other creatures pretty much follow their unerring instincts. God gave us the capacity to do more. We uncover, explore, examine, investigate, test and theorize. The benefits – and risks –  are enormous. The human gift of reason with all it’s marvelous capabilities, untethered from the awareness that such reason is a gift of God, however, becomes a mechanism for evil with all the terrible consequences. But none are more terrible than to strip the human heart of it’s trust in God.

 So, I for one am not going to cast criticism at those who managed to find a church door on Easter Sunday, even against these relentless pressures of arrogance and godlessness that are all around – and within us. For in the hearing of the message of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus authentic hope is released and may take hold of the heart. God is not impressed with the exertions of human reason. He is not going to play that game. He owes us no explanation. This foolish wisdom of  God, as St. Paul termed it,  gives real to hope to you and to me. The resurrection of Jesus has opened a real future. Life is going somewhere, and that somewhere is to God Himself.  

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

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