St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 16:19-31
Predicate: does not happen and is not assured by our riches, our piety, our heritage, etc., but by God's grace and we can be certain of it when we love our neighbor as God loves ALL people.
Are you saved?
When we hear that question, I hope our first impulse is to say, "Yes, I am."
But perhaps some of us aren't so sure. We know our sins and shortcomings. We know our doubts and moments of shaken faith. And we may wonder just what our status is in terms of eternal salvation.
Yet even if we are confident of our salvation, what if the question, "Are you saved?" was phrased something like this. . ."How do you know for certain you are saved?"
"How can you be sure that you have a good relationship with God?"
"Is there any proof that you can point to, in your lives, that guarantees that God will welcome you into heaven on the day of judgment?"
Well, back in the days of Jesus, the people thought there was a simple, certain way of figuring out what kind of relationship a person had with God.
They thought that all you had to do was to take a look at a person's life.
If the person was healthy and successful then obviously they had a good relationship with God.
On the other hand, if a person was poor, or sick, or disabled, then obviously something had gone wrong between that person and God.
This kind of thinking has roots that go way, way back to the earliest days of recorded history.
For example, when God decided to send the flood, God noted that one person and his family was still faithful and obedient to the LORD. So God gave Noah fair warning of the impending disaster, and God gave Noah a plan for salvation.
We all know what happened. Noah followed God's directions, he built the ark, and his entire family survived the deluge, while all the wicked, corrupt people of the world were swept to their deaths in the raging torrent.
For thousands of years, every time the story of the flood was retold, the meaning was perfectly clear to the people who heard it.
If you are good and obedient and faithful, then God will save you.
But, if you are wicked and evil and sinful, then God will allow you to suffer and die.
This idea is a common theme in the Psalms too. In fact, the very first Psalm says, "Blessed is the person. . .who's delight is in the law of the LORD and meditates on it day and night. . .But the wicked are not so, they are like chaff which the wind drives away."
In everyday language Psalm 1 says that good, law abiding people will be rewarded, and evil, sinful people will be punished.
Year's later, when Jesus and his disciples came upon a man blind since birth, the disciples asked Jesus, "Who sinned? This man or his parents."
The disciples asked this question because they still believed that you could look at a person's life and determine what kind of relationship they had with God.
They still believed that sickness, suffering and disabilities were the result of sin. They still believed that health and wealth were a reward for righteous living.//
Now, knowing what the people believed back then is important if we are going to understand the parable that Jesus told in our gospel lesson today. Because this parable takes what the people believed, and turns it completely upside down.
You see, according to everything that the people had been taught, the wrong man was in heaven and the wrong man was in hell.
According to what the people believed, the man named Lazarus was poor and covered with sores during his earthly life because he deserved it. According to what the people believed, either Lazarus or someone else in his family had done something to offend God, and in divine retribution, God zapped him. And the punishment which began during Lazarus' earthly life should have continued beyond his death.
Conversely, according to what the people believed, the rich man enjoyed good things in life because he was a good man. According to what the people believed, the rich man had somehow pleased God, and in divine gratitude God bestowed riches upon him. And these blessings which began during the rich man's earthly life should have continued beyond his death.
But instead, the rich man was condemned to eternal torment in the flames of hell.
And Lazarus, the poor man, was safe and comfortable in the bosom of Abraham.
So -- what is going on? Why the great reversal? How come the eternal fate of these two men is different than what the people expected?
What is going on is that Jesus is pointing out in a very powerful way, what it is (and what it is not) that really justifies a person before God.
And contrary to what the people believed, it was NOT being a good person, who kept ALL the commandments that CAUSED God to judge them worthy of eternal life in heaven.
Instead, we gain access to eternal life solely by the grace and love of God.
Nothing in this world is a sure indicator of our salvation. Our riches, or our poverty are not proof of what kind of people we are, nor do they foretell what kind of eternal future we can look forward to.
In the same way, we cannot look to our lineage or heritage to save us. John the Baptist warned the people not to be complacent and say, "We are descendants of Abraham," because if God wanted to, God could raise up children of Abraham from the stones laying in the desert.
Nor can we claim that we will be saved because we said we believed and called upon the name of the LORD. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."
And even though you were baptized, even though you attend worship faithfully, even though you were confirmed, even though you eat Holy Communion regularly, you cannot point to these pious acts and say that they have qualified you for life in heaven.
Once again -- it is solely by the grace and love of God that we will receive the gift of eternal life.
The most and the best we can do, and even then only by the power of the Holy Spirit, is to accept the gift and believe it is true.
As much as we might like to have it, there is NO definitive proof of what kind of relationship we have with God.
But just because there is no "proof" (in human terms) does not mean that we should despair and give up because of the uncertainty of it all.
For our God has provided us with everything we need, including the means to believe that God has saved us.
God has given us Moses and the prophets, and the apostles and Paul, and evangelists and pastors -- people whose calling and ministry was and is to bring us the good news of the free gift of God's love and our salvation.
And most of all, God has given us his only son, Jesus Christ. And we've heard the Word of salvation, through the teaching and preaching of Jesus. And we've touched and tasted the Word of forgiveness in baptism and Holy Communion. And we've seen the power of the Word in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
Finally, though we can't find absolute proof of our salvation in the circumstances of our lives, if we examine our behavior and actions closely, we will discover a clue.
What we need to check out, is our relationship with other people.
For our salvation begins with the fact that God first loved us. And not only us, but ALL people. God loves, and accepts and offers forgiveness and salvation to everyone from the rich and the powerful to the poor and despised.
So everyone who truly accepts the love of God bestowed on them will in turn love and serve everyone else who is a beneficiary of God's love.
That is where the rich man in the parable went wrong. He felt personally loved and accepted by God because he was rich, but it never even entered his head that the poor man Lazarus was also a child of God.
Instead he saw Lazarus as an obstacle to step over, and a convenient place to dispose of his garbage.
Even in death, even in hell, the rich man just didn't get it. Even then he thought people like Lazarus were supposed to serve the rich and satisfy their whims and pleasures. From the fire of hell he said, "Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool MY tongue." //
So my friends, always remember, it is not what we do that saves us. And it is not what we have nor the quality of our life that proves we are in good standing with God.
We are saved by the grace and love of God alone. It is a free gift.
And, the single clue that can help us evaluate whether we truly believe and if we've truly accepted God's grace, is how we treat our neighbors, especially our neighbors like Lazarus. AMEN
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
The 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 13:22-30
Subject: Entrance to the kingdom
Predicate: is open to all but not all will pass through the narrow door.
When I served as the youth and education director of Zion Lutheran Church in Appleton in the early 1980's, a colleague from a neighboring congregation shared a little poster with me and for the rest of my tenure at Zion I kept it taped to the wall of my office.
The poster was a simple line drawing of a flock of sheep with a caption underneath that read, "Jesus called us to feed his sheep - not to count them!"
Now I needed this poster as a constant reminder of just what my youth ministry at Zion needed to be focused on. Because every month at the church council meeting, one or more of the council members would always ask, "How many kids were at the youth event last week?"
And I would invariably report that we had 8, or 10, or 12 kids there. Once in a while the turnout exceeded all expectations and I could report that 20 showed up. But most of the time it was just the loyal few who came to everything.
Well, the council members at Zion were never really happy with the number of kids that came to our youth events.
The membership of the congregation was over 2,600 and we had about 200 kids who could have been active in the Luther League. And I know that the council members who were most concerned with how many kids came to the events, wondered if I was really doing my job, and if the congregation was getting its money's worth for the salary I was paid.
So the little poster was an important reminder for me. The temptation I faced was to forget about the spiritual needs of the kids and instead, schedule events that were lots of fun and would draw a big crowd.
But the ministry that was most important, the ministry I believe I was called to at Zion, was reaching the kids who needed the healing touch of the gospel the most. As Jesus once said, "There will be greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents and is saved than over the 99 righteous people who do not need to repent."
Our Gospel lesson for today offers further confirmation of the fact that God is not primarily concerned about how many people will be saved.
Now it is certainly true that God desires ALL PEOPLE to be saved. This truth is clearly stated in 1 Timothy 2:4, where it is written that "God, our Savior, desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth."
But when it comes to stating just how many WILL BE saved, the Bible turns poetic, and in some cases, downright evasive.
In the book of Revelation one passage says the number of people in heaven will be "a multitude which no one can number." In another passage, the number being saved is listed as 144,000.
But anyone who has studied the Bible carefully knows that numbers are often used symbolically. That certainly seems to be the case here. There are over a billion Christians in the world today. Millions more have lived over the past 2000 years. And billions more will live in the future.
So the best interpretation of the "144,000 saved" is not to take it as an absolute number, but a symbolic number that means "a great multitude."
Then we turn to today's gospel according to St. Luke.
In the story, someone came up to Jesus as he was traveling from town to town, teaching the good news about the Kingdom of God, and they asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
I believe that Jesus could have given a definite answer if he wanted to. Or, if it was important. Or, if it was helpful!
You see, if Jesus said, "Yes, only a few are going to
be saved," then many people would simply throw up their hands
in resignation and say, "Why bother?"
On the other hand, if Jesus said, "Actually, everyone is going to be saved." then many people would say, "All right! I can do anything I want to do, I can even sin like crazy, because it doesn't matter, God's going to take me to heaven no matter what I do, or what I don't do!"
But instead, Jesus completely sidesteps the number question, and focuses in on the "Who?" question.
And on top of that, he personalizes it in such a way that each and every person has to seriously wrestle with how they will respond to God's gracious invitation to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus makes it clear, that though the invitation to the kingdom has been extended to all people, we dare not make any presumptions about who shall be a part of God kingdom.
And above all else, we must not automatically presume that we are "in."
For though the door is open, it is, according to Jesus, a narrow door. Jesus tells his followers, including us, that we cannot cruise through life aimlessly and expect to enter his kingdom. Instead we must strive toward the door.
Or in other words, by the grace of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must live in the covenant of our baptisms. We have been called by name and set apart to live lives of love and service in the name of Christ. To live like this is to strive toward the open door.
To turn our backs on our baptismal promises is to get lost and to risk completely missing the door, and the eternal heavenly feast.
Not only are we warned about wandering aimlessly through life and thus missing the narrow door, we are also warned that the door shall not be open forever. The day will come when the owner of the house will get up and close the door, and those still outside will be shut out, quite possibly for all eternity.
To put this in terms of human life, I believe that Jesus is telling us that amount of time we have before the door closes is but one lifetime.
When we die, our fate is sealed. There is no second chance. Our eternity is in God's hands.
The Bible assures us that God desires treat us graciously on the judgment day. Jesus Christ died for us and for all people, and by his blood we are washed clean of the corruption of our sin.
Yet the possibility remains that we can reject the gift of salvation. The possibility remains that we can live lives that put us outside the closed door to heaven on the day of our death.
Those on the outside will then desperately want to get in. According to Jesus they will knock on the door and plead to be allowed inside. They'll say, "We knew you Jesus. We ate and drank with you. We heard you teach in the streets of our town. We were members of St. John's Lutheran Church. We EVEN attended catechism classes and Pastor Heykes confirmed us!"
But the Lord will shake his head (no) and say, "Away from me, all you evil doers!"
These are hard words. This is a difficult text. It clearly tells us that we dare not become complacent or lackadaisical.
For even though it is by the grace of God that we are saved and not by virtue of our works, we can never-the-less, live lives that put our salvation in jeopardy //.
Will only a few be saved? Will only 144,000 people make it to heaven? Or, will it be a multitude to great to count? Could it even be that every single person who ever lived on the face of this earth will one day be admitted to the kingdom of heaven?
The fact is, God is not counting, and neither should we.
Instead the emphasis must be on spreading the good news that God loves us so much that Jesus died to open the door of heaven for everyone.
And we must remember, that once the seed of faith has been planted and starts to grow, we must, by the power and with the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, live faithful lives, in the covenant of our baptisms, and in so doing we will be striving toward the narrow door. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
The 15th Sunday After Pentecost - C
Text: Hebrews 13:1-8
Subject: God's grace
Predicate: is embodied in our behavior and in our ministry.
We must be doing something right!
Way back in the year 1884, a group of pioneer farmers and their families gathered together to form a congregation where the Word of God could be preached and taught in accordance with Lutheran traditions.
The Rev. H. Bock was called to be the first pastor of this fledgling congregation. At first the congregation met in the homes of its members. With in three years property was acquired from the Schroeder family and approximately 4 or 5 years later a log church was built.
Well, 108 years have passed since the first families decided to form St. John's Lutheran church.
And we're still here!
We're still gathering for worship each week. We still hear the Word of God preached and taught in accordance with Lutheran traditions. We still baptize children and adults into the body of Jesus Christ. We still receive the Holy Sacrament as a sign of our forgiveness and to nourish our faith. We still gather together for fellowship in both times of joy and times of sorrow.
Now a lot of churches that were here a long time ago are now "long gone."
As I understand it, there used to be a Methodist Church across the street. But it's not there anymore. And I know that some of you sitting out there today used to be members of the Lutheran Church in Chase. But that congregation has also been dissolved.
Now I am not aware of any specific things that any of these other churches did wrong that led to their demise. But at the same time, it seems apparent we must be doing something right!
For St. John's is still here! And not only is it still here -- it is thriving.
Do you think the founders of the congregation ever dreamed that one day St. John's would have over 430 baptized members? Or that we would be in our 3rd building (with an educational wing added on to it)? Or that we would average a near capacity, 180 people at worship each week and find it desirable to add a second worship service so that the average number of people worshipping could eventually grow to over 200 per week?
Yes, we must be doing something right, or else, at worst we wouldn't be here any more, or at best, we'd be a tiny little church, struggling to hang on.
But just what is it that we (and our ancestors before us) have done right? Why is St. John's still here? Why are we still growing? And what is it that we must continue to do to be here 108 years from today?
The place to turn to find out what it is that we who are members of the church should be doing, is the Holy Bible. And today's New Testament passage from Hebrews is an excellent summary of the kind of life a Christian (and a Christian congregation) should live.
The summary begins by telling us that we should "Let mutual love continue."
In other words, this is the same message that Jesus preached when he instructed his disciples to "Love one another," or to "Love your neighbor as yourselves."
And then, after the general exhortation to love one another, the author of the letter to the Hebrews offers some concrete examples of what he means by "mutual love;" some concrete examples of how we can love one another.
First of all, he says we should be "hospitable to strangers." (For we may be serving a messenger of the Lord even though we don't realize it!)
And then he says that we should be mindful of people in prison and people who are ill-treated.
We should also express our sexuality exclusively in the relationship of marriage and at all costs avoid immoral behavior and adulterous relationships.
And finally, we are reminded that the "love of money" is not conducive to loving our neighbors.
The fact that these exhortations speak about our behavior in matters of interpersonal relations, justice, sexuality and economics, is the author's way of telling us that God wants the concept of loving our neighbors to permeate EVERY aspect of human life.
But I have to tell you, that even though this is clearly God's will for all of us, this list of ways to express "mutual love" is not a SET OF RULES that we MUST follow, "Or else!"
Because, the truth is, that a "Church of Rules," (even if they are "Christian rules") will not endure. A church of rules is doomed to fail. Though such a church may flourish for a while, eventually the day WILL come that it will wither and die.
Churches like these have been around for a long, long time. In fact, in Jesus' day the leaders of the Jewish religion became so addicted to their religious rules that they lost sight of God and God's will. Instead of leading people to know and love God, they created an oppressive and alienating religious environment that actually drove some people way from the church, and away from God!.
You will recall stories from the gospels that tell us how the leaders of the Jewish faith were so obsessed with keeping the rules, that when Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, stopped to heal a sick or crippled person on the Sabbath day of rest, they rejected him, and his message, and condemned him as a worthless sinner!
Eventually, the religious leaders had Jesus put to death, lest his love of people and disregard for "their religious rules" throw the whole country into chaos!
Our Lutheran church originated out of similar circumstances.
In the late 1400's and early 1500's, the Roman church had become a church of rules. According to the leadership in Rome, if you prayed the right prayers, and if you honored the right relics, God would grant you favors and forgiveness in return. And, if you paid the price of an indulgence, then God would forgive you immediately and forever.
Those who dared to suggest that the practice of selling forgiveness was unbiblical and contrary to the gospel, were excommunicated and often sentenced to death. Martin Luther himself was marked for death and had to hide out in the Wartburg Castle for just under a year until it was safe for him to return home.
Today, the temptation to be a church of rules still exists.
There are many churches that insist that unless you think a certain way about issues like abortion, and capital punishment, and even on what the government spends its money on, then you cannot claim to be a true Christian.
There are many churches that insist that everyone agrees with their particular interpretation of scripture, and that if you interpret differently, or have questions, or doubts, then you cannot claim to be a true Christian.
There are even some churches that insist that unless you've been baptized the "correct way," (usually by total immersion), then you aren't really a Christian.
But, my friends, all these churches and religious leaders who succumb to the temptation to make the Christian faith into a code of rules have missed the point of what Jesus was trying to teach.
For our God, is not a god of rules! Rather - Our God is the God of GRACE!
Therefore, since the church is where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments celebrated, our churches are to be places where God's Grace prevails!
And in, when God's grace prevails among us, then we will be doing the right thing!
And our church will continue, and the Word of God, the grace of God, will be spread to others who need to hear it.
Today, we need to remember just where the text from Hebrews fits in God's plan.
The wrong place is to put it at the top of the list and say, "When we live lives of 'mutual love,' then God will reward us with salvation."
Instead, what comes first is God's grace.
Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, comes our acceptance of God's favor, our faith that God truly loves us and forgives us and will save us eternally.
And finally, we love. We extend hospitality to the stranger and the needy. We care for the imprisoned and neglected. We live lives of purity and respect in matters of sexuality. We use money properly and do not become fixated upon wealth at the expense of other human beings.
When our love is expressed in response to God's grace like this, we actually become the embodiment of God's grace.
And through our love, and our ministry in the name of Christ, even more people will come to know and trust in the Lord. Even more people will be there for the heavenly feast that has no end.
I believe that this is what the people of St. John's have done right for the last 108 years. This is why God has sustained this congregation for such a long time.
But it would be a mistake for us to just look backwards today. Our anniversary should also be a time of looking forward to the future and the challenge of keeping the ministry of the Gospel going for hundreds of years to come.
And our anniversary prayer should be that God, enables us all to love in such a way that the Grace of God flows from us, to those around us.
We can do. Not by our own power but by God's power within us! And by the power and presence of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Philemon 1:
Predicate: is a quality that should be a part of every Christian
's life, even when grievously wronged.
A number of years ago, a famous psychologist, (who happened to be a professor at the University of Wisconsin), compiled a list of human needs.
To come up with the things on his list, he studied human behavior and determined exactly what we need to survive, and to thrive, as human beings. His list of "needs" ran the gamut from our physical needs, to our social needs, to our psychological needs, to our spiritual needs.
His list included things like air and water and food and shelter for survival. Family and friends and community are three of our social needs. A healthy self-esteem and being loved are examples of human psychological needs.
Now this psychologist compiled his list sometime within the last 50 years (I can't recall the exact date). But even though he was the first person to study humans in depth in order to write the list down, the needs he listed were not new. People have known about them as long as there have been people on this earth.
And more importantly than that, God knows about our needs as well. For God created us and God knows exactly what we, his creatures, need to survive and thrive.
In his creation, in this world on which we live, God provided for all these needs. We confess that we believe this every time we say the Apostle's Creed. As Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, when we confess our belief in "God the Father, Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. . ." we confess that we believe that God has provided me with "ALL I need from day to day."
Now this morning, prodded on by the story in our New Testament lesson from Philemon, I want to talk about ONE of our human needs.
It is a multi-dimensional need for it is at the same time, a social, psychological and spiritual need. When we do not experience this need in our lives, something will be lacking. We will be less whole than we could be and should be. There will be a pain or dis-ease within us that can make life miserable for ourselves and for others.
The need I am talking about is the need for "RECONCILIATION."
Or, to put it in simpler language, I am talking about our need to be forgiven, and our responsibility to be forgiving.
According to St. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, "God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us."
According to Jesus when he taught the Lord's Prayer, we are to ask God to "forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
These passages, along with many other passages, including the parables of Jesus and the other letters of Paul, make it clear that forgiveness is not something that is optional in our lives. It is not a frill. It is not a luxury.
It is a basic need.
When we've done wrong, we NEED forgiveness.
And until we've been forgiven, our lives are incomplete and broken. Until we've been forgiven, our relationships with others, and/or our relationship with God is damaged.
Likewise, when someone has done wrong against us, our relationship with them is damaged until there is forgiveness and reconciliation between us.
All of us know of situations (and some of us have experienced them, and a few of us are presently living in them), where what used to be a warm, close, loving relationship between people has become hostile, distant and cold. In the worst of cases, parents and children are estranged, brothers and sisters refuse to talk with each other, and husbands and wives separate, divorce, and break their vows to be faithful unto death.
The only way to repair broke relationships like these is to be forgiving when forgiveness is sincerely asked for.
Therefore we can say, that when we've been wronged, we NEED to be forgiving.
And until we've forgiven, our lives are incomplete and broken. Until we've forgiven, our relationships with others, and/or our relationship with God is damaged. //
The call to be forgiving and need for forgiveness is what our New Testament lesson for today is all about.
The lesson is actually a letter from Paul to Philemon, appealing to Philemon to be a forgiving person.
The specific act of forgiveness that Paul is hoping Philemon will be capable of, is the forgiveness of a runaway slave named Onesimus.
Now we don't know a lot about the background of Philemon and his slave Onesimus prior to the time Paul wrote the letter. But we can piece a few bits of the story together based on clues in what Paul has written.
One thing that is clear, is that the slave Onesimus ran away from his owner. And a slave running away from an owner was a serious crime back in those days. When captured, a runaway slave could be imprisoned, tortured, or even executed. Whatever punishment the owner thought best was legally his to impose.
It also seems pretty clear that Onesimus stole from Philemon. For St. Paul tells Philemon that if Onesimus owes any restitution, Paul will be glad to repay it on Onesimus' behalf.
Now we probably have a lot of sympathy for Onesimus. The idea of slavery is repugnant to us. Our country is founded on the principle that all people are essentially free and equal. Our country even fought a bitter civil war to put an end to slavery in the southern states. Consequently, if someone tried to enslave us today, we would flee for freedom at the first opportunity.
But 2000 years ago in the Roman empire, slavery was such an entrenched way of life that Paul knew he couldn't keep Onesimus with him (even though he wanted to), nor could he assist Onesimus in his run for freedom. Onesimus was clearly guilty. Had Paul tried to help him he would have been guilty of aiding and abetting in a criminal act.
So, instead, Paul sent Onesimus home to his master. But instead of simply returning Onesimus to be punished for his crime, Paul proposed solving the problem on Christian terms.
For you see, it just so happened that Paul was instrumental in the conversion of BOTH Philemon, and Onesimus.
A few years earlier, as Paul traveled through the town of Ephesus, Philemon became a Christian as a result of Paul's missionary work. As a leader in his community and world of business, it was only natural that Philemon rose to a position of leadership within the church too. Though he was not a pastor or missionary, it seems that he was an elder in his congregation - a role comparable to our congregational president.
Now we don't know when, but at some point, Onesimus ran away from Philemon. His travels apparently took him to Rome where somehow he met up with Paul, and converted to Christianity and was baptized into the body of Christ.
He also became one of Paul's helpers. It is clear from what Paul wrote that he was a good and valuable helper too - one that Paul hated to lose when he found out that Onesimus was really a slave who belonged to Philemon.
But as we've already noted, Paul upheld the law by sending Onesimus home, but he appealed to Philemon to be forgiving, because, as Christians, the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus had changed.
In the eyes of God, as baptized members of the Christian church, Philemon and Onesimus were now children of God and brothers in Christ.
Even thought the law of the land still defined them as master and slave, according to the law of God they were equals.
As an apostle, Paul told Philemon that it was within his authority, "to order you to do what is proper." Had Philemon refused, Paul could have excommunicated him and severed Philemon's relationship with God thus damning him for all eternity.
However, Paul did not order Philemon to do the right thing. Instead he appealed to his conscience, to consider their new relationship in Christ, and the need to forgive and be forgiven. Instead of dictating the terms of Onesimus' return, Paul trusted that Philemon would comply, and not only that, that he would do even more than Paul was suggesting.
Now you may be wondering, what eventually happened?
Did Philemon listen to Paul's advice? Or did he succumb to the worldly temptation to put one's self interest first and squeeze every bit of revenge out of the man who wronged him?
I wish I could tell you for certain just how the story ends. But the Bible doesn't tell us.
Yet I think it had a happy ending. Consider these clues.
First of all, if Philemon hadn't forgiven Onesimus and welcomed him home, I don't think this letter would have made it into the Bible! If Philemon had rejected Paul's appeal, I think the letter would have ended up in the waste basket instead.
Secondly, in the non-Biblical historical writings of the early Christian church, the Bishop of Ephesus is named. And do you know what his name was? It was Onesimus.
Was it the same person? We can't know for sure because definitive proof is now long buried by the sands of time. But the odds are that "Yes indeed," the slave Onesimus became a pastor and Bishop because Philemon forgave him as Paul urged him to and as Jesus taught when he shared the words of the Lord's prayer with us.
Now, the story of Onesimus and Philemon and Paul came to a conclusion long ago. But our personal stories are unfolding at this very moment. And one of the things that we may need to do so that our stories can also have a happy ending, and so that there can be healing in our lives right now, is to forgive and be forgiven.
To start with, we can ask God for forgiveness for all that we've done wrong. When we do, and when we hear the words, "God forgives you all your sins," or "This cup is shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins," then YOU ARE FORGIVEN!
From there we can take the next steps. We can ask forgiveness of those whom we've wronged. And we can offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Now I must warn you, that sin is so powerful in some people's lives that your request for forgiveness may be rejected. Or your offer of forgiveness may be shunned or not taken seriously.
But at least you've tried.
And MAYBE, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Grace of God, maybe it will be the beginning of a restored relationship, just like Onesimus and Philemon. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran -- Morgan
Easter Sunrise -- C
Text: Luke 24:13-39
Subject: The Glory of the cross
Predicate: is first revealed in the resurrection appearances to the followers of Jesus and now to us in the proclamation of the Word.
During the course of our lives, many of us, if not all of us, travel from time to time. Our trips may be short jaunts down to Milwaukee or Madison, or they may be longer journeys, to Florida, or California, or even to foreign countries on the other side of the world..
Now most of the time, we look forward to our trips because good things are intended to happen as a result of them.
For example, business trips may mean traveling a great distance to attend a meeting or to make a sale. But a successful business trip can help us to earn our livelihood. And, a vacation trip may mean spending hours in the car or on a plane (perhaps with some very impatient children). But since a vacation is designed for us to see places and people for the fun and enjoyment of it, we gladly go.
However, every now and then, we may be required to take the kind of trip that none of us looks forward to.
For me, this happened a year ago this coming summer. My mother had been sick for a couple of years and her health had deteriorated to the point where death was near. So we got on a plane and flew out to California. About 10 days later she died and the whole family flew back to Wisconsin for her burial.
There was a definite difference in the mood when we made this trip. Instead of the usual excitement and expectation that is in the air when we travel to California, a cloud of gloom and sadness hung over us. And the return trip home was colored by the fresh pain of grief. //
Now if you have ever had to make a trip like this (or if such a trip lies in your future but you can imagine what it might be like), then you should have a pretty good idea about how the two followers of Jesus felt as they walked down the road to Emmaus on Easter evening. //
Now though these two followers were not among Jesus' 12 closest disciples, they were a part of the larger following of Jesus that included the women who were the first ones to the tomb early Sunday morning.
Based on this fact it is my educated guess that these two followers were in the crowd walking along with Jesus on Palm Sunday. I suspect that they probably were among the minority who called for Pilate to set Jesus free. And it seems pretty likely that they followed their Lord out to Golgatha, and stood in the distance watching the crucifixion.
For these two people, and all the rest of the followers of Jesus, the previous week was a roller coaster of emotions.
You see, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, their hopes were high. In his sermons, Jesus talked frequently about the coming of the Kingdom of God. For most of his followers this meant that they expected the Nation of Israel to be set free from Roman rule. They looked forward to once again enjoying the glory that Israel did under the rule of David nearly 1000 years earlier.
But despite the auspicious beginning on Sunday, by Thursday evening, everything was falling apart. Judas had betrayed Jesus. Then a mob arrested him. The priests tried him. Pilate was coerced into crucifying Jesus. And by 3:00 on Friday, Jesus was dead.
For Cleopas and his traveling companion, their hopes and dreams died at the same time.
With their leader dead, they figured that the Kingdom of God would never be established. And so, with grief stricken hearts, they resolved to return to their home in Emmaus, about 7 miles outside of Jerusalem.
The only problem was, on Friday afternoon, after 3:00, it was too late in the day for them to begin their journey. The Sabbath was fast approaching and all kinds of work, including travel, was forbidden on the day of rest. Had they departed immediately, they would have only covered a few miles before the Sabbath laws would have required then to sit down and wait 24 hours before continuing on.
So, they stayed in Jerusalem until Sunday when the Sabbath was over.
Now, early on Sunday morning, several women went to the tomb and to their amazement found it empty. Not only that, there were a couple of angels in the tomb and they told the women that Jesus was alive!
Quickly, the women returned to the place where many of the followers of Jesus were staying and told them the unexpected news. After that, Cleopas and his companion and several others actually went out to see the grave for themselves.
Just as the women had told them, the grave was empty. But Jesus was no where to be found. And apparently the angels had left too.
Now I'm certain that Cleopas and his companion wondered what was going on. There was no doubt that something unusual happened. How else could the stone have been rolled away since it was guarded by a patrol of obedient Roman soldiers? And where could the body be? Was Jesus alive? Or had some crackpot taken his remains?
Cleopas and his companion no doubt weighed all the possibilities. But in the end they must have come to the conclusion that an empty tomb by itself proves nothing.
Since Jesus had prophesied that he would be raised on the third day, it was certainly plausible that someone came in the night and bribed the guards and took the body to a different tomb to initiate the belief that Jesus had risen and conquered death.
And so, despite one last rush of hope in the morning, by midday Cleopas and his companion concluded that it was all a false alarm. Unless they, or someone they trusted, would actually encounter the risen Lord, there was, in their opinion, no basis to believe that Jesus was alive.
With heavy hearts they left Jerusalem for Emmaus.
Along the way a stranger drew near and began to eavesdrop on their conversation about the events of the last several days. After a while the stranger asked them, "What are you talking about?"
Cleopas found it incredible that anyone who had been in Jerusalem for the last few days wouldn't know about the incredible things that had happened. A major riot had nearly erupted when Jesus was standing before Pilate. If Pilate hadn't caved in to the wishes of the crowd he would have found it necessary to send in the troops to quell the disturbance. And the troops would have dispersed the mob with violence. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands could have died.
"You mean you haven't heard about all the things that have happened these last few days?" Cleopas asked the stranger.
And the stranger on the road seemed to be totally ignorant about how close the city came to a major disaster. He looked at Cleopas and said, "What things?"
Then Cleopas and his companion told the stranger all about the events that had occurred. And they expressed their feelings as well, telling the stranger about their broken hearts and dashed hopes.
Their feelings of loss may have been far greater than they imagined. For it turns out that their tears of grief were so blinding that they couldn't even see who it was that they were talking to.
Even when Jesus started to take control of the conversation they did not see that it was him. Even when Jesus said, "You foolish men, and slow of heart to believe. . ." and then proceeded to explain all the scriptures that prophecized about his suffering, death AND resurrection, the two travelers failed to grasp what was happening.
Yet some where inside them the seeds of faith were taking root. For even though the stranger was intending to continue traveling beyond Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion constrained him to stay for supper.
And then, the stranger took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.
Immediately their eyes were opened. They saw that the man with them was not stranger, but Jesus Christ himself.
Not only was the tomb empty. But Jesus was alive. He was right there with them. Talking to them. And eating with them. The message of the angels was true.
And then, just like that Jesus vanished from their sight.
But Cleopas and his friend were convinced. They dropped everything and rushed back to Jerusalem to report their experience to the rest of the disciples. They HAD to share the news! //
Three important aspects of what it means to be a Christian are apparent in this story.
All three go hand in hand. All three are necessary to bring the events of Holy Week to a climactic conclusion on Easter Sunday. All three are necessary to awaken our Easter faith that Jesus is alive. All three are necessary so we can understand the impact of Christ's victory.
The first is the WORD. Both the word that leads up to and the word that follows the resurrection.
From the days of the Old Testament, to the teachings of Jesus himself, it had been proclaimed that the Son of God must suffer and die on the cross, and that on the third day he would rise.
On Easter Sunday this Word was fulfilled. And the new Word, that the promise had come true, was then preached in place of the old prophecies.
This new Word continues to be preached from the pulpits of our churches today. There's a way in which every preacher envisions the congregation sitting in the pews as Cleopas and his traveling companion.
Early on Easter Sunday we arrive at church somewhat groggy and confused. We know something major has happened. Perhaps we've even heard that the tomb is empty. But we haven't seen Jesus.
Then the word is shared. The scriptures that proclaim his resurrection are read. The story is retold from the pulpit.
And little by little, by the power of the Spirit, our sleepy eyes begin to open. //
But there's more. The second thing to happen is the breaking of the bread, also called the SACRAMENT of Holy Communion.
I once talked to a Pastor who told me that he didn't like having communion on Easter Sunday. He preferred to have trumpet fanfares and choir anthems, and besides that, there are always SO MANY people at worship that communion takes too long.
Well, I can't imagine why anyone would not want to celebrate communion on Easter.
For you see, when we gather around the altar, and when we hear the words of institution, we hear that the bread IS the body of Christ, and that the cup IS the blood of Jesus Christ. And when the holy meal is served to us, our eyes of faith can be opened in exactly the same manner that they eyes of Cleopas and his friend were opened when Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them.
Easter worship without communion is nothing more than gawking at the empty tomb saying, "I wonder where he went?"
Easter worship with communion is a personal encounter with the real presence of our risen Lord. //
Thirdly, the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacrament must lead us to MISSION.
The moment after Cleopas and his companion recognized Jesus, they dropped everything and rushed back to Jerusalem to share the good news with others.
In the same way, we are called to take off for every part of the world immediately after our eyes of faith have been opened to see the risen Lord.
Easter is the best news that anyone could ever hope to hear. In the resurrection of Jesus, death has been defeated forever. The kingdom of God has begun its reign, not as an earthly kingdom, doomed to collapse at some point in the future, but as a heavenly kingdom that will have no end!
Now we will participate in the sharing of this news in many different ways.
Some of us will be pastors and evangelists. Some of us will be teachers. Some will generously support the work of those who travel the globe bearing the gospel.
But in addition to these special ministries, all of us are called to let the light of the gospel shine in our daily encounters with the people of our communities. //
Nearly 2000 years ago, two of Jesus followers started on a sad journey home when it seemed like everything they hoped for came to ruin on the cross.
But with the breaking of a piece of bread and a miraculous encounter with Jesus Christ, their journey was transformed into a joyous trip to share the good news of the resurrection with those who hadn't heard about yet.
Today we are still traveling on the same road as Cleopas and his friend.
Today we will encounter the risen Lord in Word and Sacrament.
And today we begin the next leg of the trip to find someone who needs to hear the gospel, and to share it with them. AMEN!