Monday, October 18, 2010

Sermon for 24 October 2010, Proper 25C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18

Faith’s Foundation: Fight and Finish in Faith
Proper 25, 24 October 2010, Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2a)  Amen.
Last week’s sermon text concluded with these words from St. Paul to Pastor Timothy: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul is passing the baton. In an Olympic year, language like this and what now follows reminds us of the high-energy races where one teammate passes the baton to another. Paul’s words also carry with them the experience of one who has run a spiritual marathon.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Have you loved Jesus’ appearing? This is the title Paul gives to those who trust in Christ for their only hope of heaven. Jesus’ appearing was at Christmas when he appeared in the flesh. Jesus’ appearing was at Easter when He showed Himself, resurrected, to the disciples and even 500 at one time before ascending into heaven. His Second Appearing is what we await. For the Christian, Jesus’ appearing at the Last Day will be a great relief from sin and all of its unholy consequences in this world. When Jesus appears, our fight will be over, our race finished, our faith fulfilled. Have you loved Jesus’ appearing?

As we approach the end of the Church Year and All Saints’ Sunday the first Sunday in November, we remember and thank God for those who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith until the Lord called them home. They loved Jesus’ appearing. Now they appear before Jesus.
A Christian funeral is an occasion for joy. Certainly, we mourn the passing of our loved ones. We will continue to miss them because we love them. But compare a funeral for a Christian to that of a non-Christian. For those outside of Christ, those without the Spirit-delivered gift of faith, there is no hope, no joy, no promise of a reunion in heaven. There is only the cold, hard reality of eternal separation. Compared to that, a Christian funeral is a joy. We mourn, yes, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Our lives are turned upside down by our loss, by the holes in our lives, but we have hope. There will be a reunion of All Saints. We Christians will see our Christian loved ones after this life. We are separated now by the pain of death, but that is only temporary. Glories await.
For all who mourn the death of one who died in Christ, we pray that Christ’s defeat of death by His sacrificial death and resurrection may bring true and lasting comfort and the hope of a joyful reunion at the heavenly feast. In the meantime, you have the support of your congregation, pastor, and Christian family. When we sing the Sanctus, Holy, Holy, Holy, as a part of the Communion liturgy of the Divine Service, we join with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven! That includes all saints, who rest from their labors. In the Divine Service, heaven and earth intersect. The congregation gathered includes angels, Christians, both living and dead, and the Lord Himself according to His promises. All this is a foretaste of what is to come. How did it come about?

There is laid up for all of us the crown of righteousness. We often hear of heaven spoken of as an eternal reward. As we saw our athletes crowned with an olive branch, you will be crowned with righteousness in heaven. But let’s get things perfectly clear. Did you run the race? Yes. Did you and do you continue to trip, stumble, and fall? Yes. How in the world did we earn a reward? We didn’t. Jesus fought the good fight against the devil, declared “It is finished” from the cross, and kept His eyes on the goal of saving you. He won the race. We run the victory lap. The reward we are given was won by Christ. That’s how we even have hope for heaven. Running on our own, we finish dead last, at best, but usually do not even finish. That is why the Gospel and gifts of Christ were so dear to Paul. Without Jesus, there would be no hope.
Have you loved Christ’s appearing? Do the pressures and stresses of life distract you from a faith focused upon Jesus? Paul dealt with struggles in his day. Being stoned, kicked out of town after town, being shipwrecked, arrested, put on trial, and being imprisoned were all part of Paul’s life experience, all suffered for the sake of the Gospel. He knows what it is like to live in a fallen world. Listen to what was going on in his life as he wrote these words of truth and encouragement.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.
Paul experienced many of the same things we struggle with. Was Paul also cheated by the coppersmith? How many times did he have to pack up everything he owned to move? How did he deal with seeing his fellow apostles being called to ministry work far away from him? What feelings ran through him when Demas chose the things of this world over Christ? When we study the teachings of the Lord in Paul’s letters, we almost always forget they were letters, written, carried, and read by real people like us, separated by thousands of miles and years, but connected in Christ.
I imagine many of us have a whole list of questions to ask the Lord and people like Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Paul once we meet them in heaven. Paul, what was your thorn? What really happened after the end of the book of Acts? Lord, why did my loved one have to be taken at that time in that way? What was the purpose of my suffering back them? We all have our questions. Yet the idea of asking such questions shows our mindset. We don’t live day to day thinking about things with a heavenly mindset. In that regard, we have the warning of Demas’ counter-example. We show by our priorities in life how well we love the Lord’s appearing.
Even Christians get disappointed. Even pastors get frustrated. What keeps us going is our sure and certain hope in Jesus, in His Second Appearing, in that this world and this life is not all there is! We remember that the Lord is faithful to His promise to use the Word to bring people to faith and keep them faithful. We remember that our labor in the Lord is never in vain. Listen to Paul’s frustration and how he keeps his heavenly perspective.

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
At the end of Acts, Paul was under house arrest for two years, waiting for his trial before the Roman emperor. Paul was abandoned by everybody, but not quite everybody. The Lord was with him, strengthening him, encouraging him, giving him the words to say. He says he was able to proclaim the Gospel to gentiles! The context leads me to conclude that Paul was able to speak of Jesus to the emperor’s court and the masses of people gathered at his Roman trial. Paul was probably literally rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Romans commonly crucified people, but they couldn’t crucify a Roman citizen. Christians were sometimes thrown to the lions. The Lord didn’t abandon Paul. No matter what would happen to Him, Paul was confident of the Lord’s promise to bring him to his heavenly kingdom.
The word Amen shows the confidence of faith. Amen is such a common and simple word, but it is a perfect one word prayer. Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so!
Few people know that the Gloria Patri, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” which our congregation sings nearly every Sunday, was really based on the death-march song of the early Christian martyrs. They knew that they would die, but they faced their end with conviction, knowing “whom they had believed and…were convinced that the Lord was able to guard until the Last Day, what been entrusted to Him.”  That is the confidence of faith, a confident Amen.
          As he wraps up his correspondence to Timothy, Paul once again reveals the heart each pastor has for his people. Forget the different names as you listen. Is this really much different than your letters or emails to friends and family?
Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
          Fellow Christians, the Lord is with you. His grace abides with you. You are never alone. Sure, we could abandon Him, but He will never abandon you. Paul writes with the passion of an apostle, with the life experience of a long-time Christian and servant of the Word. Paul writes out of concern for pastors and people, that they would have the same life and hope in Christ.
          The letters to Timothy lay before us the foundation of faith. Christ Jesus came to save sinners. Pray for all people. He warns against false teachers and commends contentment. We are called to actively guard the good deposit of the faith given to us. We are comforted that the Word is not bound, but has free course to create, renew, and sustain faith. Paul encouraged us last week to preach the Word and continue in what we have learned. And today, Paul concludes by exemplifying his words to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.
          Remember, for those who fight and finish in faith, the best is yet to come. A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things in order, she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss some of her final wishes.
She told him which hymns she wanted sung at her funeral service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. She requested to be buried with her favorite Bible.
As the pastor prepared to leave, the woman suddenly remembered something else. "There's one more thing," she said excitedly.
"What's that?" said the pastor.
"This is important," the woman said. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say.
The woman explained. "In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming—like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie.
"So, when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and they ask, 'What's with the fork?' I want you to tell them: 'Keep your fork. The best is yet to come!' "                                                                          Citation: submitted by Brett Kays
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Timothy 4:22)  Amen.

Sermon for 04 October 2010, Trinity 18

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

Matthew 22:34-46

God Alone Shall Have My Heart
Monday of Trinity 18, 04 October 2010
Mount Hope Lutheran Church, Casper, Wyoming
Wyoming District Fall Pastor-Teacher Conference
(While Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Sheridan, Wyoming)

In Nomine Jesu. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
When will the Pharisees tire of trying to trip up Jesus with their questions? Previously it was, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And we also marvel at His wisdom. That divine wisdom is shown again in our text, another portion of Matthew Chapter 22.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that (he) [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Wow. That makes these two commandments sound important!
We’re used to hearing about Ten Commandments, not two. The Synodical Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism makes the connection. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” the great and first commandment, summarizes the First Table of the Law, Commandments One through Three. Having no other gods, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and remembering the Sabbath day by keeping it holy are how God’s people love Him with heart, soul, and mind.
The Christian confesses, “God alone shall have my heart!” Johann Sebastian Bach is good example for theologians and musicians, one we can imitate according to our vocations. “He was in truth a sincere Christian; and his deep religious feeling is shown throughout his life. He was a zealous Lutheran; his healthy mind was not troubled with doubts, but he had not, like so many, passively remained in the church in which he was brought up; he had made its creed his own by faithful study and mature reflection; had embraced it with his understanding, and impressed it on his heart, and his life was shaped in conformity to it” (Bitter, as quoted in J. S. Bach and Scripture, 13).
In contrast, do people show God love when they call the true God by the name of a false god or try to combine the two? Do some Christians show love of God when they call Him by names He has not given in the word such as, “Our Father-Mother who art in heaven”? Do we show love of God when we ignore the Lord’s Word and Gifts in His house on His day, or only go or serve reluctantly? Do we show love of God if we refuse to “walk together” in unity with His Word as any Biblical Synod should? Do we show love of God if we are reluctant to give or serve as He has need of us? Do we love God if we doubt His promises?
No, of course not! And we have a problem. The Law of God as the full Ten Commandments or summarized into two Great Commandments is a mirror that shows us what we don’t want to see: how we have failed to keep the commandments by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
The same goes for the second Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This summarizes the whole of the Second Tablet, commandments Four through Ten, covering everything from obedience to parents, murder, and sexual immorality, to theft, lying, and coveting. If we truly loved our neighbor, we would love and honor them, help them in any way possible, and put the best construction on anything. What happens instead? We are hammered by the law because of our sinful actions and our failure to do the good God desires. Disrespect. Disobedience. Name-calling. Failing to be generous to those less fortunate than ourselves. Allowing filth to enter our homes. Little white lies. Gossip. Lust for whom or what we don’t have. All of us should be squirming by now. The law will not allow any of us to remain comfortable in sin.
Why do we feel this way? What goes so horribly wrong? One word. One word summarizes all of the Ten Commandments, both of Jesus’ Great Commandments: love.

And you thought love was a good thing! You’re not completely wrong. Even hearing the word “love” is a command to every listener. Commands are law. And the law is a mirror that shows how we fail daily by thought, word, deed, and by what we leave undone. Where have you failed in the past?
Listen to 1 Corinthians 13 in the light of Christ’s love for you.
Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; He is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on His own way, because He followed His Father’s way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus bears all things, including your sin and that of the whole world, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, even the cross and grave. Jesus never ends. He is the eternal Son of God begotten of His Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, who died and was raised for you and for your salvation. All because of God’s love. God’s love for you in Jesus never ends.
If it were up to each of us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and love our neighbor as ourselves, what would that mean for the Law and the Prophets? We fail. You remember what goes on inside of you when the Law beats you up. We need Someone—Capital S—who can fulfill the Ten Commandments summarized in Jesus’ Great Commandments. And that person is Jesus. His work, His love for God and neighbor is just what you need. Jesus as Savior, loving God first and loving each one of you as His neighbor, fulfills the Law and the Prophets, the whole of Old Testament prophecy. The Hebrew Scriptures truly make sense only in Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah of old.

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,   Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?
45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. [1]
Concordia Pulpit Resources: The point Jesus is making with His question cannot be grasped without an understanding of His application of Psalm 110:1. The hearer is confronted, rapid fire, with five persons: Jesus (first), recounting the words of (second) David, inspired by (third) the Spirit, recounting the words of (fourth) “the Lord” to (fifth) his “Lord.” Think of a TV reporter standing before the camera, giving a report of statements made by people in the news. In Psalm 110:1, the reporter is David. He’s reporting what God the Father, (the Lord) said to the Messiah (my Lord). The Holy Spirit, by the way, is the news chief back at the office who dispatched the reporter, and Jesus, who is the Messiah the Father was talking about, we see in Matthew 22 discussing the report with viewers who watched it when it aired [on TV].
We have a great example of love in action in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Yet, we are different people and have different vocations. Jesus’ vocation was Messiah, Christ. Day to day, we are given to love God and show love for neighbor in our congregations, homes, workplaces, schools, and communities. This isn’t rocket science. Christianity is pretty simple. You are a sinner. Jesus died for sinners. You are also a saint in Christ. Love your neighbor as yourself according to your vocations. Confess your sins. Regularly receive God’s forgiveness. Invite someone to come with you.

The Hebrew Scriptures make sense only in Christ Jesus, the promised Son of David. No one was able to answer Jesus’ question about Psalm 110, but by faith, Peter explains it perfectly in his Pentecost sermon of Acts 2:29-39. It’s all about Jesus.
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” [2]

We are right to be amazed at the wisdom in Jesus’ answers in Matthew 22. In another way, we should not be surprised. Jesus simply shows His knowledge of the liturgy of the synagogue. The service began with the confession of faith from Deuteronomy 6, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…”
These words would be complemented by Jesus’ quotation of Leviticus 19: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
This creed in the Synagogue liturgy was followed by a prayer of intercession, three readings, sung Psalms, a sermon, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” prayers, and the blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Lutherans pray on Sunday mornings the way we do because we follow the pattern of the historic western Divine Service. The Divine Service is patterned after the way of Jewish prayer in the synagogues at the time of Christ plus the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ remodeling of the ancient Jewish Passover meal.
 “….the cantata in Leipzig followed the Gospel and preceded the full Credo….the Lutheran service went from Credo to sermon, and thus produced a sequence of special significance for the Reformation church: a reading of the Word, then a meditation on it through music, then an affirmation of faith, then instruction based upon the Word. To a Lutheran, the beauty of specially expressive music in this sequence was God’s gift to mankind, its delightful sound the most direct ‘path to the soul.’
[With regard to Cantatas,] “….To recount the Gospel is [first] duty…to express it beautifully is [second] duty….Whether the congregation sang inwardly or outwardly with the final chorale, they probably knew it and in one or other important sense, participated. Probably, many a cantata’s final chorale had already been sung in the service as a regular hymn, or was about to be. For an experienced organist-composer, these melodies, with their texts heard outwardly or inwardly, could easily be introduced into arias or even recitatives, and ideally recognized immediately by the congregation” (Williams, J. S. Bach: A Life in Music, 186-7).
Faith sings, “God alone shall have my heart!”
Dr. Nagel taught the Lutheran theology of Worship that is a truly Christian theology of worship, one that encourages us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” keeps services centered on the Gospel and focused on Jesus, the Son of David and David’s Son, and prepares us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build on another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.
How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship throughout the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each tradition receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day--the living heritage and something new. (Norman Nagel, LW, p. 6)
Bach composed for the Historic, One-Year Lectionary. His cantata compositions for the Trinity 18 Gospel could be used for Proper 25 of Year A in the Three-Year Lectionary, even though the other texts of the day are completely different: Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18; Psalm 1; and 1 Thessalonians 2:1–13; in addition to tonight’s Matthew 22:34–46.[3]
One of Bach’s cantatas composed for Trinity 18 sang this text in German, a fitting confession of faith based on the Holy Gospel:

God alone shall have my heart.
Indeed I observe of the world,
which holds its dung as priceless,
since it treats me with such friendliness,
that it would like to be
the only beloved of my soul.
But no; God alone shall have my heart:
I find in Him the highest good. We see indeed
here and there on earth
a little brook of peacefulness,
which springs from the goodness of the Highest;
God however is the source, overflowing with streams,
there I create what forever
can nourish me truly and satisfyingly: God alone shall have my heart.

Soli Deo Gloria. To God Alone be the Glory.  Amen.

Lutheran Service Book Historic (One Year) Lectionary. 2009. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ac 2:29–39). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Lutheran Service Book Three Year Lectionary. 2009. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Sermon for 12 September 2010, Proper 19C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Faith’s Foundation: To Save Sinners
Proper 19, 12 September 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2a)  Amen.

You may not know who Leo Tolstoy was, but you’ve probably heard of his brick-heavy novel War and Peace. But he also wrote a book in 1879 called A Confession, which tells the story of his search for meaning and purpose in life.
Rejecting Christianity as a child, Tolstoy left his university seeking pleasure. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, he drank heavily, lived promiscuously, and gambled frequently.
His ambition was to become wealthy and famous, but nothing satisfied him. In 1862, he married a loving wife and had 13 children; he was surrounded by what appeared to be complete happiness. Yet one question haunted him to the verge of suicide: "Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death, which awaits me?"
He searched for the answer in every field of science and philosophy. As he looked around at his contemporaries, he saw that people were not facing up to the first-order questions of life ("Where did I come from?" "Where am I going?" "Who am I?" "What is life all about?”). Eventually he found that the peasant people of Russia had been able to answer these questions through their Christian faith, and he came to realize that only in Jesus Christ do we find the answer. Citation: Source: Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life (Kingsway Publications, 1993), pp. 14-15; submitted by David Holdaway; Stonehaven, Kincardinshire, Scotland
What was the answer for Tolstoy? The same answer that was given to Paul and Timothy. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came to save you. To Save Sinners—that is why Jesus came. That is what Christianity is all about. That is the message the Church believes, teaches, and confesses. That is why this congregation is here.

I understand if you are thinking, “Well Pastor, of course! What you’re saying there is obvious!” If that’s what you’ve been thinking so far, I’m glad. I thank the Lord for that.
How about we dig a little deeper? If a Christian hears, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”–if a Christian hears that, he or she will most likely agree. So far so good.
 But what happens if someone asks the typical American Christian, “What’s the most important thing about Christianity? What has been the most important thing about Christianity to you?” How will that typical American Christian answer? It’s very likely he or she will say something like, “It taught me and my kids good morals,” or “I get a weekly pick-me-up,” or “It helps me feel like a better person,” or even, “I just go because I have to.” Those things are a far cry from, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came to save you. This congregation is here to proclaim that trustworthy teaching.”
Do you see the point? Many Americans, even many American Christians think they know what’s at the heart of the Christian faith, but are unable to volunteer that Jesus is the Savior from sin, death, and hell, or witness to that fact on their own. They might be able to pick out the name, “Jesus,” if He showed up on a multiple-choice exam, but would have a hard time remembering “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” if it were an essay test.
We think we know what it means to be a Christian, but too often forget the basics. We slip back into the thoughts of our sinful human nature that say, “At least I do better than that guy. God will surely let me into heaven. I do the best I can.” And we’re back to living under the law, trying to earn our own salvation without Jesus. No wonder people in the culture complain that Christians are judgmental, goodie-two-shoes hypocrites.
We think we know what it means to be a Christian, but too often forget the basics. Some groan when we revisit the basics of the faith in the Small Catechism, but could the ones groaning pass the Confirmation oral exam before the elders without some prior notice and a night to cram?
In the Holy Christian Church, the message of the Gospel is faith’s foundation. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, including sheep, coins, and prodigals—more about that later. We need to be reminded of that because we are all sinners in need of grace, just like St. Paul.

He wrote, I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Paul does not hide from his past sins. He openly confesses them. He openly confessed that he was a poor, miserable sinner long ago and was forgiven. His slate was wiped clean. He was reconciled to Christ Jesus by Christ Jesus. Saul the Pharisee and persecutor of Jesus became known as Paul the Apostle and proclaimer of Jesus.
Before, he had acted ignorantly in unbelief. How much more precarious is our position when we behave sinfully after having known the truths of the faith! The forgiveness of sins does not give us license to sin! Going ahead with something we know is wrong and spiritually deadly: like willful divorce, habitual lying and gossip, adultery, theft, living together, or staying away from God’s good Gifts. We cannot plan to repent later—we should do so before we act and repent of planning to sin. 
The grace of our Lord overflows for you with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have no reason to doubt that you are forgiven. Therefore, as a forgiven saint in Christ, go and sin no more. When you do sin, practice daily contrition and repentance, remembering that you are a baptized child of God. St. Paul has come a long way since Jesus appeared in a vision on the road to Damascus saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” You are a recipient of God’s grace, too.
Paul repented. There are sins that bother you. Be free! Confess them. Receive Christ’s forgiveness. Abandon those long-term, culturally acceptable, habitual sins. Live no longer in ignorance, unbelief, or with an unrepentant heart. The grace of our Lord has been poured out on you abundantly. Don’t reject the gift!
Paul was a sinful human being. He wasn’t perfect. He was forgiven. And the Lord appointed Paul to His service, to tell the Good News About Jesus, even though he had formerly been a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. Listen for how he describes his sinful condition and his Savior.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…You’ve heard that before. Did you remember that Paul considered himself the very worst of sinners, or as the hymn goes, “Chief of Sinners though I Be?”
You regularly confess that you are a poor, miserable, sinner. Paul knew he was, too. He knew what he had done. He approved of the murder of Stephen. He persecuted Christians. At the time, he thought he was doing the right thing, but had since realized his sin. He was honest with himself, his conscience, and with the Lord and His Word.
Is such honest self-examination and confession painful? You bet. Is it pleasant to examine yourself thoroughly by comparing your thoughts, words, and deeds, actions, and inaction according to the Ten Commandments? No, it’s not pleasant. We’re often afraid of pain or difficulty just on principle, blind to the benefit of what comes next.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. What comes next? But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
There’s always something next, even after the “Amen.” Even though Paul was a sinner, he received mercy. We are all sinners, too. You have also received the same mercy, in that God does not give to you the punishment you deserve. That’s mercy. And He is gracious, too, giving you faith now, so that you may believe in Him for eternal life.
Your baptism into Christ took place, or, for some of you, will take place at a specific time. The benefits, the “what comes next,” are with you the rest of your life. You have been given the gift of faith to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, death, and Satan. What comes next? Eternal life. That’s God’s promise to you in Christ.
Will the wait for that eternal life be easy? No. You will lose loved ones to death. You may suffer other kinds of physical and emotional pain and loss. You may even be persecuted for your faith in Christ. And you will die, as we all will. Remember that God’s mercy has a purpose. Your pain and suffering have a purpose.
What did Paul confess? But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
When people see Christ’s strength as the only possible explanation for what keeps you going, that is a powerful witness to your Savior. In your pain, you can witness better than in your prosperity. When you bear the cross, others can see Jesus in you. They will be able to hear with their eyes when they see Christ’s patience in you. And you might even have an opportunity to verbally say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, including sheep, coins, and prodigals.

Today’s Epistle from 1 Timothy connects really well to Ezekiel 34 and Luke 15. Ezekiel prophesies about Jesus, The Good Shepherd who searches for His lost sheep Himself. That is echoed in Jesus’ first parable in Luke 15, where we can picture Him and our pastors searching for the lost sheep of our congregation and our community. But we dare not stop there.
There are second and third parables in Luke 15 that we should not ignore. In the second parable, a woman searches for a lost coin. It’s hard to picture Jesus as a woman. And the New Testament is clear that the Lord has not given women, nor all men to be called and ordained to the pastoral office. This picture would be a good description of the Church seeking the lost. It’s not just pastors who are to care about those who haven’t heard the good news about Jesus. It is not only pastors who should be concerned about those who haven’t been in Church, Sunday School, or Bible Class. The members of the congregation—that’s all of us together—should love one another enough and care about one another enough to seek out those we have missed at Divine Service. Write a note, make a phone call, send an email, or drop by. Greet those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Enjoy fellowship with those who live on your own street. It’s not going to kill you to be friendly or ultimately be a friend. This is a way of life—not just once or for a day, a week, a month or only a year—a way of life.
And then there’s the third parable. It’s not included in the first ten verses of Luke 15, but you know it well. It is a parable about a lost son. You know it as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but a proper title should draw more attention to the surprising love of this Jewish Father. It is heartbreaking to families, especially parents, when a child falls away from the faith. We still love that person, but we love them enough to care about their eternal future and not just about getting along at Thanksgiving Dinner.
A lost sheep. A lost coin. A lost son. What was lost is found and there is much rejoicing as a result. That’s what the three have in common. Pastors, congregations, and families should be concerned about those who do not confess Christ, do not believe in Him according to the Scriptures, or do not regularly receive the Lord’s Gifts—Gifts Christ died in order to give.
The parables have much in common. Consider how each is still unique. The sheep wanders away out of ignorance. The coin is lost by the woman. It isn’t the coin’s fault. The son, however, willfully leaves the Father’s house for the den of iniquity and sin.
The sheep wanders away out of ignorance. Bad things happen to good people—and sheep. Sometimes a week or two away from the Lord’s House and the Lord’s Gifts on the Lord’s Day becomes a habit. Bad habits can become family traditions. The next generation learns from the example of the parents. Leaving the 99 temporarily, pastor and people together should care enough to reach out and invite these sheep back to church.
The coin is lost by the woman. It isn’t the coin’s fault. In this case, it appears like it was the woman’s fault. When you get a group of sinners together, we should not be surprised when sinners sin against one another. It’s unavoidable. It should also be unavoidable that sinners are to forgive one another, but that doesn’t always happen. Grudges begin. Hard feelings solidify. Anger seethes. The body of Christ is divided by unforgiven and sometimes unrepented sin. You can immediately see the problem. Sometimes the human side of the church sins against a Christian. Sometimes bad Christians happen to good people. But what does the woman in the Gospel do? She tirelessly searches everywhere, literally bending over backwards to find that which is lost. Shouldn’t we also pull out all the stops and search everywhere and also repent and reconcile sooner rather than later?
The son, however, willfully leaves the Father’s house for the den of iniquity and sin. He knows better. This is the one we usually don’t want to talk about. Willful sin. Planned sin. Presumption. Delaying obedience to the Word, repentance, and receiving our inheritance in Christ until later. “God will always forgive me, so I’ll just live this way for now.” Eventually “for now” becomes a lifetime. Sudden death means you don’t get to plan a deathbed conversion. Genetic family and Christian family should be concerned about these prodigal sons and daughters loved by Our Father in heaven. Yet, we should not be a hypocritical Pharisee like the older brother who stayed home. He looked loyal on the outside, but inside he was just as much a prodigal sinner as his brother who wasted his inheritance on sin. Can we love one another that much to say, “no” to a brother or sister in Christ who wants to play with the devil’s fire? Do we actually care in our heart of hearts or are we just going through the motions of piety and Christianity? May the Lord grant us repentance and abundant forgiveness in those areas, too.
A lost sheep. A lost coin. A lost son. What was lost is found and there is much rejoicing as a result. That’s the end result we pray for: repentance, faith, and reconciliation. For the sheep and the son, the road from the flock and family to the wilderness works just as well from the wilderness to the flock and family. For the coin, it can’t find itself. We must seek it out. Seeking and finding and rejoicing also work well with sheep and prodigals.
And rejoicing. That’s a preview of heaven, when saints will only be saints and not saints AND sinners. Jesus sinners doth receive. Hallelujah! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Thanks be to God! We know the main message of the whole Bible is “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Period. But that message is obscured when people are rude, ignorant, and clueless, as well as when Christians appear to be unloving, uncaring, unconcerned, and also unfriendly. Christians are given to remove any stumbling blocks for believers and unbelievers. Therefore we love and care enough to share hospitality. We practice to be friendly to everybody at church, whether they are long-time members or one-time visitors. We work toward intentionally looking for members of our congregation who haven’t been around in a while. We take courage and learn to say “We’ve missed you and want to see you again this Sunday,” and to show that in loving actions. Another short phrase doesn’t hurt either: “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” Perhaps that’s the hardest thing to say in any language. And we plan to invite others to church who don’t have a church home. Why? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came to save you. To Save Sinners—is why Jesus came. That is what Christianity is all about. That is the message the Church believes, teaches, and confesses. To share that trustworthy teaching is why Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church is here.
To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Receive the blessing St. Paul gave to Timothy:
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Timothy 4:22)  Amen.