“A Warning Label on the Package of Christianity!”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 12:1-13
Luke 12:49-53

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson contains some of the most unsettling, if not disturbing, words Jesus ever spoke: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Similar words (from Matthew’s Gospel) began a section of a recent newsletter from LCMS Missionaries Brad and Genevieve Ermeling. They wrote: “These words of Jesus often strike us as harsh truths that many of us in Christian homes have never had to face. We grow up with the blessings of family devotions, bedtime prayers and the wonderful example of Christian parents. We attend church together, celebrate Christmas and Easter together and learn to make our faith the most important element of our lives. Of course, the Christian home is not a perfect place of love and good behavior, but it is a place where spiritual growth, forgiveness and love abound.”

Nonetheless, they see Jesus’ words come true every day in their work: “For many of our Christian students here in Japan, these words are present and real. In most cases, becoming a Christian is met with severe family resistance and opposition, even flatly forbidden.” They illustrated with two of their tenth-grade students. Both have been given faith in Jesus and want to practice their Christianity. Both want to be baptized, but they cannot. One said, “My family is not Christian, so I have to be patient and wait for them to understand.” The other said, “My mother said I can’t be Christian.” Japan is not the only place where the devil delights in using family pressure against the faith — using love and loved- ones against the God who is love.

Sadly enough, in some homes there is not enough Christian commitment to cause anyone a stir. In many churches it is a chore to establish, publish and oversee an acolyte schedule. There are many reasons for the problems, but the biggest problem is getting the kids and their parents to see that this is a valuable role. It seems like the one thing teens and parents share is apathy.

What if children came yelling at their parents to get up on Sunday mornings like parents yell at them on school day mornings? Conversely, if parents are the ones who see the value of worship, Sunday school, or taking a responsible role in the church, why aren’t they yelling with the same fervency they would use if their ten-year-olds played hooky from school?

As important as any of these things might be, Jesus isn’t talking about differences of opinion over such things as lighting candles or even attending services and Sunday school. He is not talking about the kind of divisions that are standard fare in churches — which fund you support, the type of service you like, decisions that are made and all the other stuff that shows we are as different as we are many. Jesus knew that such divisions can be detrimental, even hurtful, but they are not what He meant here. Jesus was talking about something far more important — divisions over Him.

Too often, people get all in a huff over clashes of personality, preferences for this or that, and the normal struggles of humans in relationship. We sometimes forget, in our differences with the organization or its members, that the real demands on us come from our much more important relationship with God Himself! This thing between us and Jesus is costly. It cost Him everything!

William Willimon wrote, “As a chaplain at a large university, I don’t think I have received over one or two telephone calls from parents in the past decade saying something like, ‘Help, my college-age child is sexually promiscuous,’ or ‘Help, my child is hooked on drugs.’ However, I have received maybe a dozen calls in as many years from parents saying something like, ‘Help, my child has become a religious fanatic.’ ‘Religious fanatic’ is usually defined as someone who would go into the Peace Corps rather than to law school.”

Jesus came to this world, not to affirm us, but to forgive us and to change us. For those who think you can become a follower of Jesus and have none of your previous life’s most precious apple carts thrown all topsy-turvy, Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

These words from our Lord are among the many discourses that the Gospel writers recorded during His last journey to Jerusalem. Luke recorded more of these than anyone. It seems as if Jesus was becoming increasingly impatient as the journey progressed. Before He made the ultimate choice that would cost Him His life, He wanted people to choose, to stand up and be counted — for or against Him. As the end drew closer, He wanted it more and more. “Business as usual” was not acceptable.

A cartoon shows the typical prophetic figure carrying a sign that reads: “Jesus is coming tomorrow, or the next day, or one after that.” It is interesting that the sign is perfectly true. Every day we live brings us one day closer to His return. Is He becoming impatient again? Are we? When He was about to put everything on the line, He expected others to commit themselves — one way or another. Now that He is about to return, the urgency of His mission must be at the forefront of everything we, His followers, are about!

It is not likely that anyone was ever “disowned” by family for joining the Kiwanis Club or Rotary — maybe, the KKK! Does that mean that Jesus expects the Christian faith to be as controversial as a hate organization? No, it is not the controversial nature of the faith — although that might also be true in some cultures — it is the level of the commitment of the faithful that He knew could bring them into conflict with family and friends. If you are a “religious fanatic” when you think about the Peace Corps, imagine what people will say when you enter the foreign mission field!

In 1994, a 70-year-old woman donated $2,400 to her church. As a result, her son filed in court to be her legal guardian because she was “financially irresponsible.” Her older sister spent over $3,000 for a PSL (basically a seat) and season tickets to the Rams football games. The same family thought that was “quaint.”

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Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Serving the One True God

If we allow money and possessions to become overly important, even becoming the center of our lives, we are violating the First Commandment, which is to serve no other gods than our one true God, and we become idolaters. Idolatry is whatever we set our hearts on and place our trust in other than God. The Apostle Paul tells us that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Rev. Randy Alcorn wrote, “Everything material we have, including money, is either a tool or an idol.” Through faith that God gives us, we are enabled to see and use money as a tool to provide for our needs, the needs of others, and to extend God’s kingdom. Satan, along with the world and our own sinful nature, uses money and things as tools to separate us from a relationship with Jesus. If we fail to use money as a tool, it mutates into an idol.

Prayer: Dear good and gracious Heavenly Father, You alone are God. Help me not to focus on money and possessions. I place my trust in You. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 10 C (Proper 15)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Jeremiah 23:16-29
Hebrews 11:17-31
Luke 12:49-53

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

Christ’s Suffering and Death Bring Division

The Lord Jesus causes fear and trembling and division because His Word is “like fire … and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). His Law puts us all to death, whereas only His Gospel can bring us to life. He has fulfilled that Word for us by His cross and in His resurrection from the dead. He undergoes such a distressing baptism, accomplished by His death, in order to open the way for us through our Holy Baptism into His cross and resurrection. So, then, if we are able “to interpret the appearance of earth and sky” (Luke 12:56), let us mark this sign of His cross — recognizing that this world is subject to death, but knowing that Christ Jesus also has conquered death and obtained life everlasting for us. Let us fix our eyes on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” and “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1–2).

These are the hymns you will sing:

Fight the Good Fight (LSB 664)
Our God, Our Help in Ages Past (LSB 733)
I Love Your Kingdom, Lord (LSB 631)
Rejoice, O Pilgrim Throng (LSB 813)
Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing (LSB 924)

“Oh, no! Jesus is talking about money again!”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Last week’s lessons touched on greed and money. This week Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus talked a lot about money. Someone once disagreed with me about that, saying that Jesus surely talked more about faith and love and forgiveness than He did money.

Well, that could be. For instance, Jesus talked about faith. He once said that people who worry about money — specifically, its byproducts of what we shall eat and what we shall wear — are people of little faith! He talked about love and forgiveness. In a story that combined both, He referred to two servants who owed money to their master. One owed a huge debt, and the other owed less, but neither could repay. The master forgave both, and Jesus asked, “Which one will love him more?” The most powerful story about love and acceptance and forgiveness ever told begins with a young man demanding his inheritance while his father is still living, and then wasting every dime of it on debauchery.

Actually, that story was about lack of forgiveness and acceptance. It was meant to startle those who were unforgiving and unaccepting, who failed to rejoice when the lost turned back to God. It contrasted them to “all of heaven” where rejoicing went on and on over one sinner who repented. It was the third of three stories, all with the same point. The first two were about a lost sheep (property) and — you guessed it — a lost coin.

Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, today’s Gospel Lesson began with a son demanding his inheritance. It started with last week’s lesson when a man asked Jesus to tell his brother to share the wealth. Jesus launched from that point into an extended discussion about greed, generosity and the use of riches. He continued right into the words I just quoted.

I wonder how many pastors have been told to stick to spiritual matters, and leave the material or economic matters to the congregational experts — business men and women. One pastor says that nobody ever told him that directly. They just sit quietly when he talks, and ignore what he says. I wonder if anybody ever had the nerve to say it to Jesus?

The human tendency is to take Jesus’ advice about selling possessions and giving to the poor with an extremely large dose of salt. We say to ourselves that He was speaking figuratively or spiritually, and that allows us to dismiss the words without looking for the Word that is there for us. A few chapters later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will say the same thing to a “Rich Young Ruler,” who wants to be His follower. That man won’t find any way to dismiss the words. He will keep his money and lose the opportunity to become a faithful disciple and follower.

Jesus did not want the ruler’s riches; He wanted the ruler. The riches themselves were not the issue, but his love of them and dependence on them kept him from loving and trusting God. It was, as St. Paul said last week, the “greed which is idolatry.” We tend to dismiss the story of the rich, young ruler, too. It’s easy for me — I’m not young, I’m not rich and I’m not a ruler. At the same time, I have possessions and, as Jesus predicted, the poor are still with us.

What is behind the instruction to sell possessions and give to the poor? Jesus is a realist. We are uncomfortable with the preacher or with the Lord Himself when we hear direct talk about our money and stuff. People often say, “Where your heart is, there will your money be also.” Jesus reversed the order. He said that rather than money following the heart, the heart will follow one’s money. Someone once said that Jesus was an utter realist. He dismissed timid and casual calls for people’s ‘hearts’ in favor of bolder, frontal attacks on their wallets and purses.

You have heard the phrase, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” It is often true, but we need to be careful with it. In reality, where there is smoke, there is smoke. That is all we know for sure and any additional conclusion requires further investigation. For example, those who talk a lot about something are usually concerned about it. They value it or, in some other way, it matters to them. Well, as we have observed, Jesus talked frequently about money. Did it matter to Him?

We don’t have all the facts, but what we do have suggests this: from the time His ministry began, Jesus never had any money on Him. While He insisted for His disciples that the worker is worthy of his hire, He never accepted payment or gratuity for any speech, sermon, or act of healing. As far as we know, He never accepted payment for anything. We can read about His giving, but not His receiving or taking. He refused to have a king’s crown placed on His head, but He allowed a crown of thorns. He said that, unlike the foxes with dens and the birds with nests, the Son of Man had no place to rest His head. He died penniless, stripped of even the shirt from His back.

Money didn’t matter to Him, but you and I do. For disreputable people, the oldest way in the world to get someone to stop doing something you don’t like is to buy them off. Threats, intimidation and murder come later. As far as we know, no one even bothered to offer Jesus a bribe. It must have been obvious He would not take it. He had to be eliminated. That also proved to be impossible.

The proclamation of the Gospel includes the unquestionable fact that He was executed, but not eliminated. God’s power is revealed in both facts. In the resurrection we see the power of God over everything — sin, death, earthly authorities and powers — you name it! In His death we see, not the power of evil or of earthly authorities, but the unalterable power of God’s love for us. It appears that before Jesus’ death, people knew that money and earthly treasures were not at the center of His heart, but those same people did not know what was there. Impossible as it still seems, they were there, at the center of His heart. You are. I am. No news gives people who hear it and believe it more joy, but most of the world hasn’t heard, doesn’t know and doesn’t believe.

God’s love and the message of the Gospel must be proclaimed to a whole world of people who still do not know it. Because of His astonishing love, God’s urgent concern is that all people hear the Gospel of Jesus and turn to Him in repentance and faith. His love and urgency are behind Jesus’ command to those who are already found — that they go as His envoys to find others and make disciples of all nations. “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

We Can’t Serve God and Money

A significant part of God’s Word relates to our attitudes toward money and possessions. In both the Old and New Testaments, God’s Word is filled with numerous references to how we view money and how are to spend, save, and give it. When Jesus said, “We cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24), we are warned that money poses one of the biggest obstacles to a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus. Jesus is not telling us that we must not, or we should not serve money. He tells us that we cannot serve God and serve money. For Jesus, money wasn’t one idol among equals. He singled it out as a direct competition to God. Once we allow money to have lordship over our lives, it becomes Money with a capital M, a god that jealously dethrones all else. In the verse referenced above, Jesus also said, “No one can serve two masters.” He portrayed both God and money as slave owners. Clearly, slaves can only have one master. We are either slaves who serve God faithfully or slaves who serve money and what money can buy. With God’s help, we can boldly and confidently affirm, as Joshua stated, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, the world encourages me to spend and hoard, so I can accumulate more and more things for myself. Help me to be God-centered and not self-centered. I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me to follow and serve You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 9 C (Proper 14)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:1-16
Luke 12:22-34

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

The Lord Is Surely Coming to Give You His Kingdom

The Lord Himself was Abraham’s shield and great reward. For “the word of the LORD came to him” and sustained the patriarch’s faith in the face of death (Gen. 15:4). By divine grace, Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6), on account of the holy Seed, Christ Jesus. To that one old man, the Lord granted “descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Heb. 11:12). The Lord is likewise faithful to you. It is His glad desire “to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Therefore, “do not be anxious about your life,” but instead “seek his kingdom” (Luke 12:22, 31). Set your heart on that treasure. “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning … for the Son of Man is coming” (Luke 12:35, 40).

These are the hymns we will sing:

If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee (LSB 750:1-4)
O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe (LSB 666)
Salvation unto Us Has Come (LSB 555)
If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee (LSB 750:5-7)

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Living an Obedient Life

In Genesis 22, we read the account of Abraham’s obedience to God. Abraham obeyed God’s calling, even with a most difficult request. Even though Isaac was the son of his old age, the son he loved, Abraham did not challenge God’s command that he offer his son as a sacrifice. God tested Abraham, and Abraham proved his faithfulness to Him. God, of course, proved His trustworthiness to Abraham. Abraham trusted God’s provisions. Abraham knew that God was in control and was trustworthy; therefore, he could obey all that God commanded of him. Do our lives reflect that same unquestioning obedience?

Is God the Lord of our lives?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithfulness and Your promise to hear me when I call. Please grant me the faith that You gave Abraham who through his obedience would have slain his own son. Help me to be faithful in following Your will for my life. Keep me focused on You so I trust and depend on You for all things. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 8 C (Proper 13)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

Faith in Christ Is Rich toward God

To live for earthly things “is vanity and a striving after wind,” and work that is driven by such vanity “is an unhappy business” (Eccl. 1:13–14). The man who lives like that has nothing to show for “all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun … all his days are full of sorrow” (Eccl. 2:22–23). So, too, your “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5), makes a god out of that which cannot give you life or happiness. For “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). But “Christ who is your life” (Col. 3:4), in giving you Himself, gives you all the wealth of heaven. Instead of striving to lay up treasures for yourself, be “rich toward God” in Him (Luke 12:21).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Renew Me, O Eternal Light (LSB 704)
Gracious God, You Sent Great Blessings (LSB 782)
Jesus Comes Today with Healing (LSB 620)
How Can I Thank You, Lord? (LSB 703)
May We Thy Precepts, Lord, Fulfill (LSB 698)

“Greed is a shortage of God, insufficiency”

The sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen has written our devotion:

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:18-26
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

We often think of the ancient Romans as all being something like Nero himself: gorging and purging, lusting and malicious, bent on pleasure and extravagance. But the Romans had a proverb that said money is like sea water — the more you drink the thirstier you become. The “Teacher In The Assembly,” as the author of Ecclesiastes calls himself, said that piling up belongings was meaningless because, wise man or fool, the one who comes after us will own them all. He said that laboring forever under the sun in order to pile up stuff was like chasing the wind.

In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus is confronted by a man who wants the Lord to be a judge or arbiter between him and his brother. He said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus refused. Instead, He warned: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then He told the famous parable of the rich fool who stored up things for himself but was not rich toward God.

The rich fool had great plans for his bumper crop; he would tear down his barns, build bigger ones, fill them with the abundance, and then kick back to eat, drink and be merry. His death showed that the Old Testament Teacher was right; it was all meaningless.

In the Second Lesson, Paul suggests that the Colossians hand out shovels and make twelve graves. In the first six they should bury all those lusts that turn people into things — objects of sexual pleasure and personal gratification — instead of persons, and all those lusts that turn things into gods. The next six are for those lusts of pride that make us behave like beasts toward each other, putting ourselves, just like our greed for stuff, as the highest priority and value, beyond which no person or even God Himself can matter.

Comedians often make us laugh at ourselves and our penchant for “stuff.” On the lighter side, it can be funny. But, for Paul, greed was no laughing matter. It was idolatry, pure and simple. Just like the former paganism of the Colossians with its lust for pleasures, so a lust for things and self can fill our minds until there is no room for God. Paul told the Colossians that those twelve evils once filled their lives, but now Christ can fill their hearts and minds and lives.

Greed is a touchy subject for the simple fact that it touches all of us. In one way or another we all occasionally have trouble knowing how much is enough. A Missouri Lottery winner of a few million dollars once told a TV reporter, “I bought a ticket in Illinois, too; I wish I had won that one.” The Illinois prize was several million at the time. Greed has an insatiable appetite; no matter what we have we always want more. There is a line somewhere between healthy ambition and greed, but it is not only very fine, it also seems to be mobile — here one day and there the next.

If Paul is right, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I think he is, then the problem of greed is the displacement of God from His proper place in our lives. Our own attempts to tame our passions, cool our tempers, and soothe our appetites are, as the Old Testament Teacher said, meaningless. He discovered that, unlike the rich fool who wanted to eat, drink and be merry, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” But being satisfied is not self-achievable. The Teacher continued: “This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat and find enjoyment?”

The lesson tells us that it is God who gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness. I like the word “sufficient.” It is a marvelous word and a delightful concept. It is often used today as a synonym for “enough, adequate, or satisfactory,” but its archaic meaning was “competent or capable.” Thus, when the King James’ translators wrote God’s words to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” they did not mean it was simply enough.

Paul was complaining at the time that he thought his physical ailment was limiting his work. God’s answer was that nothing could restrict or limit him because the grace of God gave him his competence and ability. Nothing within Paul, mental or physical, was up to the task, but God’s grace at work within him was. The rich fool had ample, even overabundant belongings, but it is never enough. It is interesting that Jesus said the man was rich before the bumper crop came in — meaning rich in regard to things. When Jesus says that he was not rich in regard to God, He was not talking about tithes, offerings or any such thing. He was talking about inadequacy, insufficiency. A human without God is incompetent.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, seemingly alone without human friend and without His Father, God’s grace was competent, capable, sufficient. The resurrection would come, and nothing could stop it. When Stephen was being stoned, God’s grace was capable of enabling him to see the Lord waiting to welcome him into bigger and better places.

William Randolph Hearst once suggested to Dorothy Parker that her short stories were too sad. “Mister Hearst,” she told him, “there are two billion people on the face of the earth, and the story of not one of them will have a happy ending.” Let’s look at a Feddersen’s Fable about the ending of one and see what we can learn:

Once upon a time, a pastor passed on to the Pearly Gates. There, he was told by St. Peter that he needed 100 points to get in!

“Well, I was a pastor for 47 years,” he announced happily.

“That’s nice. One point,” said St. Peter.

“One point!” the pastor exclaimed. “You mean I only get one point for 47 years of service?” “Yes, that’s correct,” replied the gatekeeper.

“I visited shut-ins regularly.”

“One point.”

“I worked with the youth, and you know what that is like.”

“One point.”

“I visited hospitals every time I could.”

“One more point. That comes to four points all together; you need 96 more.”

Feeling increasing panic, the pastor exclaimed: “Oh no! I feel so helpless, so inadequate. Except for the grace of God, I don’t stand a chance!”

“Let’s see, grace of God — 100 points! Say, look, you already have a four point bonus. Come on in!”

Dorothy Parker was wrong. The grace of God is sufficient to make the ending of His children’s stories a great deal more than happy. Evelyn Underhill understood this when she said, “The primary declaration of Christianity is not ‘This do!’ but ‘This happened!'”

In a theologically incorrect version of the story, God’s grace was worth 96 points, making it adequate, rather than sufficient. We must, as Underhill implies, proclaim the message of the grace of God in Christ. We proclaim His grace alone as the power behind Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as our salvation and the free gift of eternal life. That is the message and we are His messengers. Our mission is to go and tell.

When you sit down in church this Sunday, I recommend the prayer of James M. Buchanan: “Startle us, O God! Startle us with the wild improbability of what we say we believe. Startle us with the incredible beauty and goodness of the affirmations this place, and our being in it this morning, represent.”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Through Faith We Obey

Faith is what makes obedience possible. Throughout Hebrews 11, the “Faith Chapter,” the writer makes it clear that all the “heroes of faith” he mentions were able to be obedient because they believed in God, Whom they knew to be faithful. Thus, when we talk about obedience, we must be aware that faith is the foundation.

Faith is more than a belief in God. It is a way of life. Heroes of faith, although imperfect, trusted God and gave their lives to Him, as this chapter points out. Faith is the belief, placed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, that God is real, and that He is good, and that the One who made it all hasn’t left it all. He still sends light into the shadows and responds to our obedience in faith. Because of faith, we believe that God will do what is right, and that He is always present to help. By telling about the faith of Old Testament characters, Hebrews Chapter 11 is an encouragement to us to be obedient.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me in spite of my sinful and evil ways. Grant me an obedient faith that seeks to honor You with all my thoughts and actions. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

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