Monday, September 30, 2013

“How to Be Rich Toward God” Luke 12:13-21, Stewardship # 3 Sept. ‘13

1.       Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This is the final Sunday in our focus on Empowered by Grace to Tithe.  The text for our message from God’s Word today is from Luke 12:13-21:  Especially verse 21 which reads, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  The message is entitled, “How to be Rich Toward God,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.       Jack Benny, a comedian from the past, used to joke about his stinginess.  In one of his routines a mugger holds him up, shoves a gun into his back, and shouts:  “Your money or your life!”  (there is silence)  The mugger repeats his line.  (there is more silence)  Repeats again!  Jack finally blurts out:  “I’m thinking it over” This line is funny because it contains so much truth.  We can become so attached to money and material things…wanting more… bigger…fancier…that it seems as important as our very lives!
3.       In our text from Luke 12, a man asks Jesus to command his brother to divide the family inheritance with him.  Jesus ignores the argument and instead uses this situation to teach a vital lesson on the subject of greed.  “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Jesus goes on to tell the story of a successful and wealthy farmer.  His fields produce abundant crops.  He knows how to strike the most profitable deals.  He loves his work and everything he does seems to turn to gold!  Unfortunately, this farmer considered doing bigger and bigger deals a more valuable use of his time than seeking God!  This is an easy pattern to fall into, isn’t it?
4.       The farmer’s fields continue to produce very well!  Eventually, he has to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his grain and goods!  Bursting with pride, the farmer exclaims,   “I’ve got tons of money in the bank; my future is secure; now I’ll eat, drink and be merry!”  Then God said,   “You fool!”   This is shocking!  A fool?  At his funeral, everyone said, “He was a genius, a smart business man, a wise investor!”  Notice that the world looks at things in a much different way than God does.  Our Lord goes on to say, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you!”
5.       The question, then, is what good did his barn full of grains and goods do him then?  The farmer invested all his energy in storing up mountains of riches, but he invested nothing in what mattered most, and he stood before God empty-handed.  Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
6.       So here’s what’s important: we need to be rich toward God!  What does that mean?  It means to invest our lives in a relationship with God!  We spend so much time and money investing in education, work, friends, families, pleasures, and we may be rich in these things, but are we rich toward God?  Jesus taught, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:20).  As followers of Jesus we need to learn to invest our lives in loving God and meeting the needs of others.  After all, he who dies with the most toys still dies.  And so the parable of the rich man, so focused on the stuff of this age and gathering it in, that he was a fool.  He forgot all about the truth Job spoke in the Old Testament, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return.” (Job 1:21).  We can carry none of the stuff we call our own with us out of this world.  But, every last one of us is headed out of it, daily drawing closer to the Day of Judgment.  If we aren’t fools, but wise, we’ll remember the lasting treasures.  The deeds done in faith and love that will accompany us on that day.
7.       An important way for us to be rich toward God is through our faithful giving.  Giving one tenth or tithing was the amount given in the Old and New Testaments.  But, because of the freedom Jesus won for us through His perfect life and death on the cross, we’re no longer bound to Ceremonial Laws.  We aren’t commanded to tithe, but, just as Jesus encouraged the Pharisees to continue their tithing (Matthew 23:23), we’re encouraged to use the tithe as the “training wheels” for our giving.  The amount we give is less important than our attitude toward giving.  God is honored even if we give less than the tithe when we give our gifts cheerfully. Within the principle of tithing are giving principles found in Scripture that help us to be RICH TOWARD GOD.
8.       We are rich toward God when we give to God first.  Exodus 23:19 says:   “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”  In a non-agricultural society, rather than bringing in our crops, we give from the firstfruits of our income.  Our greediness can cause us to spend all of our income, but not have any left over to give.  Budget the money to give to extend God’s Kingdom FIRST.  How much should be budgeted?  For an answer to that question, we should understand that the tithe acts as a guide.  Many Christians see tithing as a healthy goal.  In 1 Corinthians 16:2 the Apostle Paul wrote:  “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income . . .” 
9.       We are rich toward God when we give generously.   2 Corinthians 9:11 says:  “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”  And, in Ephesians 4:28 Paul wrote:  “He… must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need!”  The reason you have what you have is not to experience a higher standard of living, not to buy a bigger house, but to give generously!  When we get a raise, we normally think, “Now I can afford that 50” TV.”  We ought to think differently!  A raise, now I can give more!  We need to think as disciples and ask ourselves, “How do I honor God by my lifestyle and my giving?  How can I be rich toward God?” Now the Bible does want us to plan wisely for the future and also enjoy the pleasures of life that God has given to us.  I Timothy 6:17, 18 says:  “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”  We are to enjoy the pleasures of life as gifts from God and be generous in giving.
10.   We are rich toward God when we give cheerfully, “…for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).  The church should never make people feel guilty about giving.  We give under God’s grace.  When we generously give our firstfruits to God cheerfully, we become rich toward God. God is pleased when we give our gifts from loving and thankful hearts. 
11.   Very few of us give as generously as we should. I know I don’t.  Very few of us obey God in any area as we should: Bible study, prayer, spiritual gifts, loving others – I don’t do any of that very well, but God still loves me.  Even if you didn’t give a cent, God wouldn’t love you any less.  Christ died for all our sins, including our lack of generous giving!  The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Christ effected the redemption of all mankind in that act of sacrifice.  Therefore, we now count ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11), and the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, continues His work of sanctifying us.
12.   We can be generous with our earthly treasures, for in Jesus we’ve learned that we have a Heavenly Father who clothes us, feeds us, shelters us, and keeps us.  To focus on stuff is to serve up the liturgy of worry, constant fretting over what we’re bound to lose.  Instead of such liturgy, our Lord invites us into His liturgy of thanksgiving.  Our Heavenly Father clothes us not just with earthly garments, but He wraps us in the garment of His Son Jesus’ holiness when we were baptized into Jesus and so received the robe of His righteousness.  We have a Heavenly Father who feeds us not just earthly food, but who has provided a banquet table for us to feast from, giving us His Son’s true body and blood, forgiveness of our sins, and life eternal.  We have a Father in Heaven who delights to give to us a Kingdom.
13.   So our Lord invites us to toss the fear overboard.  To dare to be kind, giving and cheerful.  We’ve got God’s Kingdom as our greatest possession, and death can’t take it from us.  As we understand more what God’s done for us in Jesus, as we see the love of God shown to us by the death of His Son, as we see that Jesus gave Himself, we’re prompted by the Holy Spirit to respond by sharing the resources that God’s given us to meet those in need.  We give because it’s an expression of the depth of our relationship with God, our maturity as disciples, our understanding of what’s really important in life.  It’s becoming rich toward God!  May the power of the Holy Spirit work in us so can be rich toward God.  Please pray with me:  Dear Heavenly Father, for the sake of our Savior, Jesus Christ, grant us true wisdom that while it is still day we may gather in the true riches that do not fade away when the sun of this life goes down.  Let us, in Your Holy Word, find the pardon in the blood of Your Son for all that we have done wrong, comfort in every trial, strength for any battle, and the sure hope that after the night of death there will be the eternal day of bliss with you in heaven.  In Jesus’ name we ask it.  Amen. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

“A Tip or a Tithe” Stewardship sermon # 2 Gen. 28.10-22, Sept. ‘13

1.                   In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  The Word of the Lord for the second Sunday of our three-week stewardship program Empowered by Grace to Tithe is taken from Genesis 28:10-22.  In verses 20-22, we read as follows:  “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth.”  Lord, sanctify us in truth.  Your Word is truth.
2.                   A couple invited some of their close friends to go with them to a popular restaurant.   Both the food and service were great.  When they had finished their meal and conversation, the host wrote out the tip on the credit card slip.  As they left, the waiter gave them a friendly smile implying that the tip was generous.  This scene is played out in restaurants all across our country.  The standard tip seems to have escalated to 20 percent or more.  As the couple who paid for the dinner was filling out their offering envelopes, it dawned on them that they paid a waiter for an hour or two of service, four times what they were giving God in their weekly envelope.  They gave the waiter the tithe and more, but to God they gave leftovers.  There’s an irony that we make such a limited and poor response to God for all His goodness, mercy, grace, and love throughout our lifetimes and beyond, into eternity.  That’s why a wise person once said, “Surely there is something wrong with our standard of values, when we compare what we spend for incidentals or amusements and what we return unto almighty God.”
3.                   A tip or a tithe?  For Jacob there was no hesitation about what his response to God’s abiding presence would be.  For us it has become a more difficult decision.  Jacob’s story is not about a saint so holy that he awakes to find himself in the presence of God because of his good actions.  It’s the story of a scoundrel who awakes with a sense of wonder as he realizes that God had visited him in his dreams in spite of all the sins that he had committed.
4.                   Jacob was in a bit of a jam because the choices he had made turned out to be selfish, calculating, and dishonest.  His conniving had caught up with him.  He had deceived his aged father, cheated his brother Esau, and was running for his life to escape the consequences.  It is on the first night of his flight into the wilderness that he finds himself pursued not by Esau but by the grace of God.  He has a vision of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending.  The Lord stood beside him and said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” (Genesis 28:15).  In amazement Jacob murmurs, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” 
5.                   Jacob’s situation is symbolic of the human condition in three ways.  First, a wrong relationship with things of this world. Second, a wrong relationship with people through deceit and dishonest dealing.  And third, a wrong relationship with God by not acknowledging His presence and through our disobedience.  But, because of his vision, Jacob begins to see all he is and has are gifts from God.  He promises to use the stone which was the pillow for his head as the foundation for a pillar in the building up of God’s house.  Then he says, “…and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth” (verse 22).  Here is one of the Biblical affirmations for what is known as a tithe.
6.                   We usually think of the tithe as that form of legalism that is no longer part of our lives as New Testament Christians.  The general assumption in many quarters of the church today is that the tithe is an expression of ancient demand, not the grace-filled redemption of the liberating Christ.  Instead of a threatening ultimatum upon a fearful people the tithe was a plan for salvation and security for a precarious, fragile nation.  It set Israel apart from the barbarous and callous cultures that sought to engulf and destroy them in the land of promise.  It was a gift from, rather than an extraction, of gifts.  Douglas Johnson in his insightful work The Tithe: Challenge or Legalism? insists: “That the tithe of the Old Testament is a testimony to the interconnectedness of people and God.  It incorporates a cycle of giving and receiving and using.  It signifies a relationship that can’t be content with using a strict formula from the past.  The tithe, like the message of the Old Testament is a living witness of God.”  Tithing therefore is not driven by legalistic compulsion, but rather arises as the spiritual response of a thankful soul.

7.                   I realize that for many this topic is about as welcome as a snowstorm in June.  The Biblical concept of the tithe is often understood as an ancient, legalistic intrusion into our lives, which is restrictive, painful to ponder and inappropriate for pastors to preach.  Hearing about it hits home.  We are like the farmer who was asked if he had 200 cows would he give 20 to God? “Yes, of course!” he said.  “If you had 100 cows would you give ten to God?”  I most certainly would,” was his response.  “If you had ten cows would you give one to God?”  “Now that’s not fair,” he said, “You know I have only ten cows!”  Our faith does not deny that economics has a place in the human condition.  By the same token, it was Martin Luther who said that, “a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing is worth nothing.”

8.                   Tithing places before us a standard by which we may center our lives in gratitude to God.  Tithing doesn’t have anything to do with a raising a budget or supporting a program.  It has everything to do with making a spiritual response to God.  Jacob’s story is timeless because it describes how this impoverished soul chose to respond.  To tithe is a testimony of faith in the goodness of God.  What we do with what we have can be a visible sign of God’s redeeming grace alive and well within us. 

9.                   Do you know that studies actually verify that the more money we make the smaller percentage we give to the church?  That’s right!  The biggest percentage givers to our church are those who have the smallest incomes.  I don’t say that to embarrass anyone.  It’s a fact.  The biggest percentage given in your church are not the big salaried people with fine jobs, as you might guess, but the average member, and in some instances you would be thrilled to know what some of our retired people are giving, and others who are on limited incomes.

10.               In the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16 Jesus teaches us that just as a godless man knew how to deal with the goods of his master to guarantee his temporal future, so should a person use the goods of the Lord His God in such a way that he secures an eternal future.  The art of tithing our own personal income can be included in this.  If God has placed you as steward over temporal, earthly goods and gifts, the danger for you lies in that one day having become unfaithful, you are called to give a strict account and are rejected.  We can rejoice if God has given us a good understanding, but do not seek personal glory from the shrewdness and wisdom that you have toward worldly wealth.  Instead, you must be content on earth with your steward’s wages, with nourishment and clothing.  Turn your gift over to God’s glory and the good of your neighbor, and in heaven you will find a rich eternal harvest from your brief sowing.  Make use of the goods entrusted to you whenever you find opportunity to do so, and make for yourself friends in heaven with the riches God has given to you.  When you suffer want and when one day, in death, you lose everything and leave the world as poor as you entered it, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.  As you were rich in temporal goods on earth, you will be rich in the eternal treasures in heaven.
11.               But how?  Doesn’t Scripture teach that a person doesn’t gain entrance into heaven by any work, but alone by grace through faith in Jesus as our Savior?  There can be two reasons why one day Jesus will receive us into heaven.  First, because as the Lord of heaven, Jesus has earned our entrance for us.  And second, as the Servant, Jesus will testify to our claim at the entrance.  Jesus alone has earned our entrance into heaven for us, but no person will be admitted unless Jesus has witnessed that that person really believed in Him.  These witnesses are among us here on earth whom we have served with our goods and gifts that God has given to us.
12.               Let us then as poor sinners seize Jesus in faith and demonstrate that faith by responsible stewardship over all the gifts and goods Jesus has entrusted to us.  Let us make friends for ourselves with everything God has given to us.  Then one day we will not stand in shame before the gates of eternity.  All those we have served here without selfishness will there come to us rejoicing before all the inhabitants of heaven in all the good things we’ve done for them.  Then the Lord will say to us, “Ah!  You godly and faithful servant.  You were faithful over little.  I will set you over much.  Go in the joy of our Lord.” 

13.               Our giving expresses our gratitude for Who God is and what He’s done for us especially through His Son, Jesus.  How blessed we are to have a God Who loves us and watches over us.  In spite of all our blessings, we give less than we should, but God forgives us.  He’s patient with us, and He keeps moving us along our journeys as God’s stewards.  May the Lord’s blessings be with you as you steward the many blessings that God entrusts to your care.  Amen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

“Grow in the Grace of Giving” 2 Cor. 8 & 9 Sermon # 1, Sept. ’13 Stewardship emphasis


1.              Dear Lord, sanctify us in the truth.  Your Word is truth.  Today is the first message in our 3 week program titled, “Empowered by Grace to Tithe.”  God's Word for today comes from 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9.  The Apostle Paul, speaking of the Macedonian Christians and a gift that they are going to send to the people in need in Jerusalem, wrote, "And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord…” Second, Paul pointed out very clearly that they gave beyond their ability to give.  "… they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability."  Outsiders would look at them and ask, "How can they do that?"  Third, Paul encourages each of us today to be cheerful givers. 
2.             A missionary pastor in Chile had been proclaiming the Word of God to the people he served.  They were a very poor people.  Because he was wrestling with something and didn't know what it was, one of his conversations with the Lord went something like this:  "Lord, what is it in addition to justification by faith alone?  What is it in addition to proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins?  What is it that I'm missing in telling Your people from Your Word?  In addition to Jesus and the empty tomb and the words, He’s not here; He’s risen,’ what is it I'm missing?"  The missionary pastor felt that he was missing something he should’ve been proclaiming to his people.  After months of wrestling in God’s Word and in prayer he came to one thing that he felt the Lord wanted him to do.  He felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to teach his people about the tithe – giving ten percent and more – to the Lord.  The result was that he got up on the next Sunday in worship and proclaimed the tithe.
3.             The next week the people came back and at the time of the offering they put their chickens on the altar; they put their eggs on the altar (after all, they lived off the land); they put their grains and some of their crops on the altar.  They put the clothes they had woven on the altar.  They put leather goods on the altar.  The altar was just heaping with the gifts from this very poor people.  After the service was over, still feeling guilty for taking these things from these poor people, the missionary pastor took some things and distributed them among the destitute and poor in the community.  Some of it he was able to sell and use some money from the proceeds to provide for some things the church had long needed, since it was just a rundown building.
4.             Sunday after Sunday they came back again and again with their offerings, and then the people, along with the pastor, began to realize that the Lord was really blessing them.  Their crops were abundant; the harvest was bountiful.  It got to the point that the communities around them were buying things from them because their crops were so plentiful.  They were making money now.  Now they were not only bringing some of the firstfruits and the ten percent, the tithe, from their goods and what they had made off the land, but they were bringing offerings of money as well.  It was an incredible turnaround for this small congregation, this small group of people gathered together in the Lord's name in Chile.  All because the pastor was faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God.
5.             I stand before you today as a pastor like that Chilean missionary who has struggled, prayed, and studied God’s Word with regard to bringing before you this Sunday and next Sunday messages about tithing ten percent or more.  I'm very aware that in the Old Testament, the tithe was the requirement.  You were required by the law to give ten percent or more, and believe me, they gave more.  In the New Testament it is not a requirement of the law to give the ten percent, but Paul wrote, "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11).  I pray that, as we read and learn what Scripture has to say to us about the stewardship of our time, talents, and treasurers, we will rejoice in the foundation that God has built for us to stand upon and that we will become the kind of givers that He desires us to be – givers who honor and please Him and give glory to His name.
6.             What did Paul have to say to us in 2 Cor. 8 & 9?  One of the first things that struck Paul is that these people did not give as he had expected them to give.  By God’s grace, they gave themselves first to the Lord.  What does it mean to give yourself to the Lord? When it comes to giving, I think it means that you recognize God's ownership of everything in your life – everything, including yourself.  That's right. When you were baptized, you became a child of God. Through faith in Jesus Christ, a relationship is established that we are His.  Let me illustrate.  A man, a seller, had a beautiful pearl, just an exquisite pearl.  Someone came along and said, "I want to buy that pearl; I've got to have it."  You would say the same thing. "How much is it?" he asked.  The seller responded, "Well, how much do you have?"  He answered, "Well, not a whole lot.  Will I be able to afford it?"  "Everyone can afford it," replied the seller.  "How much do you have?" "Well, I've got $10,000 in the bank.  Is that enough?"   "What else do you have?" The man reached in his pocket.  "Oh, you mean like in my wallet.  Okay, in my wallet I have 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, 100, $120.” "Fine.  I'll take it.  What else do you have?" "That's it." "Well, where do you live?" "Oh, in my house." "Great.  I'll take your house."  "My house, too?"  Does that mean I'll have to live in my camper?"  "Oh, you have a camper!"  "Yeah.”  “Good.  I'll take it, too."  "That means I'll have to sleep in my car."  “Oh, you have a car?" "Well, actually, I have two."  "I'll take them both." “ Well, that's it.  I don't have anything else."  The seller asked, "Are you alone in this world?"  "No," replied the man, "I have a lovely wife and three children." "I'll take them."  "Well, now I am left alone."  "Oh, I forgot to tell you," the seller exclaimed, "I want you too!  You belong to me.  Everything you have belongs to me.  It's mine, but I'm going to let you use it.  I'm going to give it back to you to use, and any time I need any of it I will ask for it.  That's what it means to give yourself first to the Lord: to recognize His ownership, which begins with baptism, with faith in Jesus Christ, and trust in Him alone for salvation.
7.             What’s the second thing Paul saw?  When he looked at these Macedonian Christians, he said, "They are giving beyond their ability – very generous givers."  People were observing them and saying, "Wow! Where did all this come from?  They don't have this."  I'm sure the missionary pastor in Chile was thinking similar thoughts.  "Where is this coming from?"  Or better yet, a question might be, "What has enabled them to give like that?"  The same thing enables you and me to give like that.   The grace of God that’s given to each one of us by the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to be people different than what we ever imagined we could be.
8.             The Holy Spirit alive inside our hearts can change us, transform us.  We're not a people who are takers; we are givers.  We're people who are servants of our Lord and of one another.  God's grace enables us to give beyond our ability.  May God receive the glory for that as we rejoice at how He is using us.  He has changed us.  We're different, never to be the same again.  God's grace also enables us to be cheerful givers.  The Lord loves a cheerful giver and would rather that we not give under compulsion.  He wants to change our "have to give" into an "I want to give."  In fact, it's the difference between Old Testament tithing and New Testament tithing and giving.  And, I’ve seen in our congregation here at St. John how God has enabled us to give of our time, talents, and treasures.  The people who serve tirelessly on our church council year after year, our Ladies Aid and their service to our congregation, the community, and the world.  Our SIGHT Ministry Center making large print devotional materials for those who are visually impaired.  Those who give of their time to helping with Vacation Bible School and our Sunday School.  Our organists, ushers, and acolytes who assist us in worship.  Our altar guild who give of their time in order to set up for communion, the banners of our church, and the candles.  Those who have given of our church to support: our local food banks, Rev. Tim & Lisa Beckendorf of Lutheran Bible Translators, our giving to support our local Lutheran Grade Schools and Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School.  And these are just a few areas that the people of our congregation have been using their time, talents, and treasures to serve the Lord in His Church and to further the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9.             In the Old Testament, a believer was required to give 10 percent or more.  In the New Testament, it's by the grace of God that a person is empowered by grace to give.  In fact, Old Testament law required more than one tithe.  When we read the Old Testament Scriptures carefully, we find that there was a tithe for the priests, a tithe for the festivals, and a tithe for widows and orphans every third year resulting in giving about 23 percent of one’s income during the course of a year. Talk about giving. 
10.         But, a survey has revealed that today Christians give, on average, 2.5 percent.  The reason that's sad is that it would appear that the requirement of the law was accomplishing more than the power of grace through the Gospel which proclaims Jesus Christ as the One Who causes us to be transformed and motivated to give in a way that is far beyond what anyone could ever imagine.
11.         Maybe we've lost the enthusiasm, the excitement, and the heartfelt joy of that first Easter morning. The women went to the tomb, and, when they got there, they were frightened, but they heard the message: “He is not here; He has risen!" (Luke 24:6).  Maybe we've forgotten Jesus' promise: "Because I live, you also will live" (John 14:19). Maybe we've lost the joy and the excitement that is ours as the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament opens our eyes to see things differently than we've seen them before.  Then we have the joy of the Resurrected Lord, the joy of being people who have also been raised up and daily rejoice in the effects of our baptism.  By God's grace, His forgiveness, His Holy Spirit, we can do things we've never done before.
12.         And so we give ourselves first to the Lord.  We give beyond our ability, and we give cheerfully.  May God grant His grace to work so powerfully and abundantly in your life and in mine that we might continue to see new possibilities as we live lives of faith in Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone for salvation.  Amen.

Prayer:  Thank You, Lord, for all that You do and all the gifts You give us in service to Your people.  Thank You for the gift of Your Spirit Who works faith within us and stirs us up to acts of love for others.  Lord, open our eyes and give us hearts full of gratitude for Your great and wondrous love revealed in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

“God Offers Life and Death” Deut. 30.15-20 Pentecost 16C, Sept. ‘13

1.                   In the name of our crucified and risen Lord and Savior Jesus.  Amen.  Our Old Testament Reading from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for this week presents us with a fundamental choice, one of life and death. One way walks in the Commandments of the Lord, and another follows the destructive ways of the world. So also in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells his followers to hate the things of this world if they are to be his disciples (Lk 14:25–26). Of course, Jesus alone chose rightly. For our sake, Jesus chose death on the cross so that His choice of life might be credited & imputed to us. Through the Word of the cross, God chooses us. We, in turn, respond to this Gospel in faith by continuing to receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation He offers to us through His Word and Sacrament. Now we flee death and evil. We choose life and all things in support of life through Christ.  The message is taken from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and is entitled, “God Offers Life & Death,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  We’re a nation of choosers: paper or plastic? Small, medium, large, or super? Fries or chips? Organic or conventional? Having a choice has become a staple of the American dream. Political agendas of all flavors are sold on a platform of choice—everything from private school vouchers to health-care reform. More choice is always the preferred value.  But, the choice offered in Deuteronomy does not sit well with a people inundated by choices. Actually “offered” is too generous—Deuteronomy doesn’t offer a choice so much as require that a particular choice be made: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God … then you shall live.… But if your heart turns away … you shall perish” (vv. 16–18).
3.                  Most people don’t like these kinds of statements. God sounds too dictatorial or in conflict with the free grace we have come to expect from Jesus. Two points must be made clear as we hear from Deuteronomy 30:15-20. First, the Israelites had no ability of their own to choose positively to love and obey God, nor can we or any other mortal, because of the natural enmity of the sinful nature (Ge 6:5). Choosing for God involves faith in Jesus Christ and love for God and his will, both the fruits of the Spirit (1 Co 2:14; 12:3; Php 2:13; Gal 5:22, 23). In no way can we as sinful creatures choose God by our own power or strength. We as sinners need Jesus to choose us through His perfect life, death, and resurrection for us.  On the other hand, choosing death apart from God isn’t only possible but is natural and inevitable.
4.                  The second thing that we learn from Deuteronomy 30 is that the Israelites would be able to choose life with God only when they “listen to his voice” (v. 20), i.e., hear his Word. For it is through the gospel of our Lord Jesus that the Holy Spirit works saving faith in the heart that then delights to follow the Lord (Ro 10:17; Jn 10:27). Jesus is always at the center of every text of Scripture.
5.                  Deuteronomy 30:15–18 says, 15“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.   16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his just decrees then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.”  It’s true.  Life is full of choices; few carry eternal consequences. But this choice—do we follow our covenant-God, or do we go away to follow other gods?—was as important as life itself. Trusting the Lord and living life his way isn’t just the only way to stay alive; it’s the only way life can be rich, full, and productive—the way he created it to be. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). God can’t give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because apart from him there is no real happiness and peace. To reject God’s mercy and to seek greater joy or satisfaction somewhere else is the surest way to death, eternal death and damnation in hell.  The theme song of hell is going to be, “I did it my way,” not following our Lord Jesus Christ, “who is the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
6.                  Deut. 30:15 says, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” Is the acceptance or rejection of God’s way such a serious matter? It is! And we who live in the post-New Testament era know this even more clearly. The gospel is a matter of life and death. John puts this in unmistakable terms when he says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11, 12).
7.                  How about the words “good” and “evil”? Surely, there are non-Christians who live good lives from which we can learn much. Can we call them “evil”? It’s true, some non-Christians may out do us in showing good character—I say this to our shame as Christians. But the most serious wrong that one could do is to reject God’s offer of salvation and use other methods to save ourselves. Our Heavenly Father is the Creator of the universe; to rebel against his way to run this world is treason—a serious crime. Yes, we can call it evil! That doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the good there is in others. We can affirm all the good there is in them, learn from them, and express our gratitude to them. Having been made in the image of God, they are able to develop some innate characteristics in admirable ways. But these don’t give them salvation. We must also do all we can to bring them to Jesus.
8.                  The truth, according to Deuteronomy, is that there will be hell to pay for the choices we make when those choices run against God’s will for our lives. Promises are violated in marriages. Destructive secrets erupt from the places where families hide them. Irresponsible financial decisions run their ultimate course. There are severe consequences for violating God’s Commandments.
9.                  Deuteronomy 30:19–20 says, “19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”  Typically, a ruling king and his vassal ratified a covenant between them by submitting lists of their national gods, whom they called as witnesses to their treaty. By calling witnesses, each side said, “May the gods bless me if I keep the stipulations of this agreement. But may the gods bring the curses of this treaty on me if I break the demands of this covenant.”  Since there weren’t any other gods to call on, Moses summoned all creation—the Lord’s creation—to witness this treaty. Moses could be the Lord’s covenant mediator with Israel. He could urge them to do the right thing, but he couldn’t choose for them. They had to choose for themselves.  The most important question you and I will ever have to answer is, “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” Every other question—What school should I attend? What career should I pursue? Where should I live? Whom should I marry?—pales by comparison. There are only two alternatives: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).What we believe will show in how we live.  Paul tells us in Romans 6, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; … You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:12, 13, 18).
10.                   The Lord, our God, has put a choice before us His people, "life and good, death and evil."  God offers to us life & death.   In His great love us He urges us to "choose life!" But, because of our sin and separation from God we madly choose death and evil---always. By our fallen nature, we "cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ the Lord or come to Him." That's why God first chose us in Jesus. On your behalf, His Son Jesus chose death, and by His death sin has been made powerless. Now, because "the Holy Spirit calls [us] by the gospel, enlightens [us] with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps [us] in the one true faith," you believe and choose the life already chosen for you.  The gift of forgiveness of your sins, restoration with God, and eternal life, reflect God's abundant love in your life and in your world.  Even as we painstakingly bear the burden of our own crosses, daily dying to sin and living the new life Jesus has won for us in our baptism.  Amen. Quotations adapted from The Third Article

Friday, September 6, 2013

“At a Time Like This, Jesus Works for Our Good” (John 14:1-6; Romans 8:28) Funeral for Richard & Connie Buch: Sept. 6th, 2013 at St. John Lutheran Church Baldwin, IL Pastor John M. Taggatz

1.                  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  Dear family and friends of Richard & Connie.  Our hearts go out to you this day as you mourn over their death.  Today many may be questioning God asking Him why He allowed this to happen.  It’s hard enough to deal with the death of one loved one, but two at the same time.  To have both parents die together, it doesn’t seem fair.  But, God our Heavenly Father would have us look at things from His perspective, from the promises He’s given to us through His Son Jesus in His Word.  That’s why I find Connie & Rich’s confirmation verses so appropriate on this day we mourn their death.  Richard’s verse lets us hear the words of our Savior Jesus who tells us in John 14:6,  6“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And Connie’s Confirmation verse from Romans 8:28 tells us that, 8 We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The message is entitled, “At a Time Like This, Jesus Works for Our Good.”  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  Connie & Rich were deeply loved by their family, friends, our community, and also our church.  Their work for the Lord’s Kingdom impacted many people as the Holy Spirit worked through them to touch many lives.  As we read from Connie & Rich’s biography, we all can see that they were deeply involved in the life of church.  And Rich, faithfully served our country in Vietnam, protecting the freedoms we enjoy so much here in America, and for his service we’re very grateful.  Connie tirelessly worked to care for her family and those both within and outside the church.  I know that they cared, because they also reached out to my wife Roxanne and I when I first began my ministry as Pastor here at St. John Baldwin.  Connie & Rich would often check and see how Roxanne and I were doing and were willing to lend a listening ear.  That was helpful to me as a newly minted Pastor just coming out of Seminary to know that there were laypeople who cared for me and wanted me to do my best as a Pastor in the Lord’s Church.
3.                  One experience that really touched my wife Roxanne and I was when Connie & Rich Buch and Gilbert and Julia Kahle offered to watch our children, Eddie & Marty, so that my wife and I could go to a Lutheran Marriage Encounter Event in St. Louis for a weekend in November of 2011.  I didn’t know it, but as my wife Roxanne and I were attending the event I came to find out that not only were Connie and Rich watching our boys, but they were also praying for us, for our marriage, for our children, and for our ministry at St. John Baldwin.  I was overwhelmed when I came to find out and it still brings tears to my eyes to this day that Rich and Connie were deeply committed to helping couples remain committed and steadfast to one another and honor the vows that they had spoken when God our Heavenly Father joined them together in the bonds of Holy Matrimony.  They were a couple that greatly believed that marriage is a sacred union of husband and wife, and what God has joined together let no man put asunder.  This is why we read the text from Ephesians 5 this morning.  And Rich and Connie were willing to fight the good fight of faith, not only to point people to Christ in their lives, but also to fight for marriage as a sacred institution that God has created and that should not be tinkered with and changed by the whims and wishes of man.
4.                  But, many of us are wondering, why did God let Rich & Connie fall asleep in Jesus, at a time when they had so many people that depended on them?  It just doesn’t see right.  Some of us may think that they still had more work to do.  How can we say, “At a time like this, Jesus works for our good?”  How can poor health, suffering, loss of possessions and other kinds of tragedy and disaster possibly work together for good?  Connie’s Confirmation verse from Romans 8:28 tells us that, 8 We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The Bible tells us that things work together for the good of those who love God.  For those who are baptized through water and the Word of God into Christ’s death and resurrection, like Connie & Rich.  Those who have died to sin and have been raised to newness of life in Jesus all things do work together for good. 
5.                  The person who doesn’t believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil can’t believe that in tragedies, like a fatal car accident that kills two dearly loved people, that at a time like this, Jesus works for our good.  The unbeliever can’t understand how tragedies in life can serve to draw someone closer to God and to strengthen one’s faith and assurance in Jesus.  He can’t understand how afflictions, or what he would call bad luck, can draw one away from the world and lead one to a rich prayer life and stronger reliance on God.  What the unbeliever sees is only the things of this earth, they can’t see things through the eyes of faith and the promises found in God’s Holy Word. 
6.                  But, the children of God, like Rich & Connie, understood that in all things Jesus works for our good.  Connie & Rich learned through Confirmation Class that God doesn’t desire the death of the sinner.  When God first created us as human beings, He created us without the taint of sin, perfect in His sight.  It was because of Adam and Eve, the first human being’s disobedience, that we now experience physical death.  But, God wouldn’t leave us this way without hope of life everlasting.  Though God will have nothing to do with our sinful disobedience that we commit against Him in thought, word, and deed, because He’s a just, holy and righteous God, He’s provided a way for us as His people to be forgiven of our sins and receive eternal life.  The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel writes in chapter 18:30-32, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.  31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live."  In seeking to be merciful and spare us of our sins, God laid the punishment of our sins on someone and that someone was our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His death on the cross for us.
7.                  Because Jesus died on the cross for our sins we can say that even in tragedies, like the death of Rich and Connie, there is hope and that, we through Jesus, will see them again in the gates of paradise.  Rich’s confirmation verse points us to this fact from John 14:6, but let me read the context of this passage, 1[Jesus said:] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way to where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Did you hear the comfort in Jesus’ words for those who put their faith, trust, & confidence in Jesus as their Savior like Rich and Connie did?  Jesus came to this earth from heaven above to live the perfect life that we couldn’t live, to die the death that we deserve, and to rise from the dead to be the firstfruits of those who fall asleep in Him.  Because Jesus lives we too shall live who believe in Him.  And, when our last hour comes, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we know that Jesus will be at our side. 
8.                  Whatever sufferings that we as Christians have to endure the promises of God removes all our weeping and sighing.  The promises of God that in a time like this, Jesus works for our good.  Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us, and He’s coming back to take us who believe in Him to be with Him so that we may be where He is also.  If you want this promise of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins, if you want to see Rich and Connie again, and Jesus your Savior in the gates of paradise, then repent of your sins.  Acknowledge those sins you’ve committed against others and against God your Creator by your failure to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Repent of your sins and receive from God His forgiveness in Christ.  Be baptized into the Christian faith and live out every day in your baptism, daily repenting of your sins and striving to live in the righteousness and holiness that Christ has clothed you in.  And, continually come to receive the gifts Christ has poured out for you in the Divine Service of worship.  Hear His Word preached so you know your sins and that your sins are forgiven, receive Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  And, as we await that great day when Christ calls us to our heavenly home, we hold onto the promise of God who tells us in Rev. 7:17, “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Remember also vs. 6 of the hymn, “Abide with Me” (TLH 552), “I need Thy presence every passing hour; What but Thy grace can foil the Tempter’s power?  Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?  Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me!”  Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

“Humble Yourself” Proverbs 25.2-10 Pentecost 15C, ‘13

1.  Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.  Our readings from the Book of Proverbs and today's Gospel seem to present to us only useful instructions for the daily living out of the Christian faith. And they do. But, today’s Epistle shows us how it is the once for all sacrifice of Jesus that is the real motivation for our treating others with our own sacrifice of love. Christian living is our "sacrifice of praise to God."  The message is taken from Proverbs 25:2-10, and here in Proverbs we’re called to confess our unrighteousness before God our Heavenly King (vs. 6) and then God the King will exalt us (vs. 7).  The message is entitled, “Humble Yourself,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.   After a year of baseball bans, basketball whiners, sprinting scandals, and a football murder, an athlete putting others first sounds odd in our world today.   Thanks to superstars like the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, we think of performance-enhancing drugs and cheating when it comes to the sport of baseball.  Rodriguez was on pace to challenge baseball’s most prestigious hitting records. But, as a result of his involvement in baseball’s latest steroid scandal, he’s been suspended for 211 games. His career and legacy are in ruins.  A-Rod is appealing the suspension, causing controversy at every ballpark at which he suits up.  New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a thoughtful piece about Rodriguez and the narcissism that many see in his every decision, including demanding that a personal assistant put toothpaste on his toothbrush.  “One of the mysteries around Rodriguez,” Brooks says, “is why the most supremely talented baseball player on the planet would risk his career to … take performance-enhancing drugs?” Brooks theorizes that “self-preoccupied people have trouble seeing that their natural abilities come from outside themselves and can only be developed when directed toward something else outside themselves. … Locked in a cycle of insecurity and … self-validation, their talents are never enough, and they end up devouring what they have been given.”  It’s devastating.
3.  But, there’s another story out of the sports world that provides a contrast to A-Rod’s idea of what life is all about. A few weeks ago at the Canadian Open, golfer Hunter Mahan left the tournament to be with his wife, Kandi, who had gone into labor three weeks early.  The amazing thing about Mahan’s decision is that the 31 year old was leading the tournament at the time and had a chance at the million-dollar winner check. Let me repeat that: “a million dollars.” According to Mahan the decision was easy because he wasn’t focused on himself or the money, but his family.  When I am done playing golf,” Mahan said, “I’d rather be noted for being a good husband and good father than anything else … success comes and goes. … Seeing your daughter every day, having a family—that is stuff that makes you happy to your core.”  The sad thing is that Mahan’s decision wouldn’t have been so newsworthy just a generation ago.
4.  The Christian cure for narcissism, that is selfishness, pride, and self-interest is stepping away from the mirror and looking at someone else, specifically our Lord Jesus who is the true desire of us all.  And, our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t just the cure for narcissism. He’s the cure for all forms of sinful pride and selfishness, and every other sin.  By dying on the cross in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, the Lord was looking out for us, not himself—which is the very opposite of narcissism! As Paul wrote in Phil. 2:6-8, Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…. And being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Are you ready to humble yourself, step away from the mirror and up to the plate, and receive this incredible gift Christ offers?
5.  Proverbs 25:6-7 says, 6Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, 7for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble…”  These are obviously the words of Scripture Jesus had in mind when he spoke today’s Gospel lesson (Lk 14:1, 7–14). They’re simple words of advice. Yet no one can truly have the motivation to carry them out unless he or she has first learned the humility that comes from having a relationship with Jesus. As I mentioned earlier in Philippians chapter 2, St. Paul tells us: Be humble. But Paul doesn’t call on us to bring about this moral behavior on our own. He quickly follows up his command by saying, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (vv. 5–7).
6.  What gives us the strength to act this way is not our own willpower or even the positive, inspiring example of Christ. Our strength is based on the fact that Christ has given us his righteousness. Trading places with us and taking our humanity upon himself, he removed what made us offensive to God. Because Christ removed our sin by his death on the cross and raised us spiritually as a result of his physical resurrection, we now have the spiritual powers—not in an inherent way, but in an inherited way. With the spiritual powers that Christ gives us by his grace, we can follow his example and be humble. But of course, we continue to be hindered from showing complete humility by our old sinful Adam. Yet as far as our new self is concerned that we received through the waters of Holy baptism and the hearing of God’s Word, we can carry out the command Jesus so often gave his disciples, to take the lower position (Mt 18:4; Mk 9:35; Lk 14:8–11; Jn 13:14).
7.  As sinners we’re often tempted to seat ourselves in God’s presence based on our works or on our kindness toward others.  We may see that our identification with a church, faithful attendance at church, giving to the church, and serving on a church board are the things that are earning us a place in God’s presence or we may perceive that it’s our obedience to God’s commandments that gets us a seat at God’s table.  We may believe that our Christian faith is something of our own doing, something we should be rewarded for attaining.  All these attempts at self-glorifying seem appropriate in our world, which constantly tells us:  Hard work will get you moving up the ladder.  You’ve earned it or you’ve deserved it.  If you try as hard as you can, that’s enough.  You’re not as bad as the people sitting next to you.
8.  Lording power over others is such a natural habit of this world. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25–28). Even the Son of God was not above lowering himself for the sake of others. So when we become part of him, we too will have this natural inclination to seek the lowest position and restrain our old Adam’s desire to lord it over others.
9.  Our own American society has lost touch with what it means to humble oneself. Most people today have no idea of what it must have been like in Bible times when there were kings and subjects, masters and servants. We have no inkling of what it feels like to bow, kneel, or lay oneself flat on one’s face in front of a king. We Americans live in a country where it is ingrained in our minds that all people are or, perhaps better stated, should be considered equal. In the family, at school, and in the workplace an attitude of “partnership” is fostered rather than the idea that God has set certain people in places of greater responsibility. Our society stresses rights rather than responsibilities. We are taught to demand our rights more than to carry out our responsibilities.
10.  And this constant focus on our own human rights can cause us to build up our own pride, which ends up leaving us shocked that our works don’t merit a place in God’s kingdom.  For, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23; cf. Eccl 7:20).  “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:10).  “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4).  “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is 64:6).  These words do put us in our place.  It’s true! We are guilty!  Suddenly, we remember countless ways we’ve fallen short.
11.  Thanks be to God that He exalts at His banquet table those who are humbled (v 7).  Stranded in our sin and banned from the eternal banquet, we are confronted with and humbled by our inability to seat ourselves in God’s presence.  We can do nothing but confess our sins.  Before God, we slink to the lowest place.      But God does not leave us in our despair.  He sent to us His Son Jesus to be our Savior.     Jesus clothed himself in human flesh so that he might defeat death and the devil and deliver us from their power (Heb 2:14–15).  Jesus was made like us in every way so that he could satisfy God’s wrath for our sins (Heb 2:17).  Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses but maintained the righteousness we cannot (Heb 4:16).  Jesus allowed himself to be placed “outside the gate” (Heb 13:12), driven out of the city and crucified, to sanctify us by his blood.
12.  As we cling to Christ in faith, God graciously seats us in his kingdom.  “Come up here!” To the font and be washed in the baptismal waters and joined with Christ.  “Come up here!” Receive forgiveness of sins and be reconciled to me and to one another.  “Come up here!” Hear my Word and allow my Holy Spirit to create in you a new heart.  “Come up here!” Eat and drink at my table. Feast on the abundance of my house.  “Come up here!” Remain in my presence forever, never be separated from me again, and rejoice in the unending life I have given you.
13.  The Lord motions with his finger to you: “Come here!” And you are thrilled! You do step toward him with eager anticipation, because he’s told you and you know: through Jesus Christ, you do have a seat at God’s eternal banquet table.  Amen.