Lessons and Hymns for Reformation Sunday

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

Revelation 14:6-7
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

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

The Son of God Has Set Us Free from Sin and Death by His Grace

“Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19), and the true Wisdom of God, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, justifies us by His deeds. He prepares His way by the preaching of repentance, but He has suffered the violence of the Law and voluntarily handed Himself over to violent men, that we might eat and drink with Him in His Kingdom and “remain in the house forever” (John 8:35). For He is “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19), and He has rescued us by His grace from the slavery of sin and death. By the proclamation of His eternal Gospel “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6), “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (Rom. 3:21), “that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). And by hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25), “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

These are the hymns we will sing:

A Mighty Fortress (LSB 656)
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word (LSB 655)
Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556)
God Loves Me Dearly (LSB 392)

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“I will not let go until You bless me”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Genesis 32:22-30
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

We are nearing the end of the high school football season here in Missouri. District competitions conclude this weekend. Sectional and State games will quickly be here and gone. The timing created a bit of nostalgia in me this past weekend and I remembered when my sons finished their high school careers. They were both fortunate enough to have received honors for performances as defensive players. Memories, for me, usually include the more amusing moments rather than some outstanding accomplishment or another. I like to laugh and smile, so my memories may be dominated by those opportunities.

Early in their football training, I taught both sons that the most important thing you can do as a defensive player is fairly simple. Once you get your hands on the ball carrier, don’t let go until the whistle blows. Even if you can’t bring him down yourself, you can hang on until help arrives from the rest of your team.

When they were younger, this practice made for some amusing moments. I recall several incidents when big, heavy running backs dragged the boys’ lighter frames along until another tackler arrived to finish what they had begun. Occasionally it was funny. It wasn’t pretty or impressive defensive play, but it got the job done and it made a “Pop” proud. Later, their size, weight and strength increased to the point that additional help was seldom needed. Once they got hold of a runner, the play was over. They seldom let go.

One time, however, when Joel was a senior, one of the biggest running backs in the area plowed across the center of the line and Joel was caught in a huge pile of helmets, pads and bodies. The runner had somehow gotten over, through or around the pile, but not without Joel’s hands still clinging persistently to his jersey. He was thrashing and twisting every which way but loose. The crowd burst into laughter at the comic sight. Suddenly, a whistle began to blow furiously and repeatedly. One official decided that forward progress had been stopped.

The ball carrier was upset about the decision. He thought the whistle was premature and that he could have gotten away. But it was a good decision. Three or four of Joel’s bone-crushing friends, big linemen and fierce linebackers, were running top-speed at that fellow and were about to arrive simultaneously. The player was concerned with the game and with getting away. The referee was concerned about his life and limbs.

This Sunday’s Old Testament lesson tells a story about a different sport with a similar situation. It is a wrestling match between Jacob and a “man.” He was actually wrestling with God in human form or an angel who was clearly God’s representative. The similarity comes in verse 26: “Then the man said, ‘Let me go for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let You go until You bless me.'” I never participated in wrestling or coached it, but it seems that not letting go is a good move in that sport as well.

There is a wordplay on wrestling with God throughout the early life-story of Jacob. He wrestles with his brother Esau. He wrestles with Laban and he wrestles a birthright blessing away from his father’s wishes. Before he re-enters Canaan, it becomes clear that his real wrestling match was with God all along–his destiny was in God’s hands, not his own. In football and in wrestling, there is a legal use of the hands in gripping the opponent tightly and not letting go. In life, there is a similar use of the hands–gripping them together in prayer–and not letting go of God until His blessing comes.

This last part is the theme of Sunday’s Gospel lesson. It is one of several parables that Jesus told about being persistent in prayer. Luke made the point of the story clear before it was even told: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” The story has only two characters–a widow and a judge.

The woman had a case. We don’t know what it was, but she apparently knew which judge to see about it. We are told twice, perhaps for emphasis, that the judge neither feared God nor cared about people. It is Jesus’ initial description of him and the judge’s own statement about himself later in the story. The woman kept coming to the judge until she wore him down. He granted her judgment before she wore him completely out.

Some people mistakenly think that Jesus was suggesting we should nag God and wear Him down in order to get a good answer to our prayers. Actually, it is clear from the story that He was setting up a stark contrast between the judge and God. God does care about people! That is why we should keep praying to Him and not give up. He wants to help us. Our persistence in prayer comes from believing that. The answers to our prayers often come through that faith.

The Old Testament lesson tells of Jacob holding on to God until He got a blessing. The Gospel lesson tells of holding on in prayer until we get a blessing. We expect to find something similar in the Epistle lesson. The most thorough examination you make of that lesson, however, will not reveal the word “prayer” or any synonym. You will find that Paul urged a similar persistence in faithful living. Perhaps the people who chose the lessons were suggesting a connection between faithful praying and faithful living. There is no “perhaps” about it. Jesus concludes the parable with these words: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

There is a kind of “keep your hands on” persistence in the lesson from Second Timothy, but it has to do with the Scriptures. Paul urged Timothy to hold on to and continue in what he had learned and believed from the Scriptures. Our English word “tenacious” comes from the Latin noun and verb that mean “hold or hold on.”

It is a sad state of affairs, and I thoroughly dislike talking about negative things, but I have found that most of the really tenacious people in the world are holding on to the wrong things. I have probably stated that incorrectly. At times we are all at our most tenacious when we are holding on to the wrong things–things like gripes and grudges, hurts and wrongs, mistakes and misunderstandings, weaknesses and failings, angers and resentments, disagreements and disputes, omissions and everyday sinfulness.

When we are caught up in such things, there are two pieces of advice, or simple questions, that we usually choose to avoid–they happen to coincide with this Sunday’s lessons. The first is: “Have you prayed about that situation, for the other person, etc.?” The second is: “Have you searched the Scriptures to see what you should do?”

On a purely “rational” day, I can’t imagine anyone blaming his or her own failure to do something good on someone else’s bad behavior, but then, rational days are rarer than mud-free political campaigns. Jesus and Paul are of the opinion that the children of God should have “spiritual” days. If you are upset, disappointed or angry over persons or situations, you cannot pray for them without coming to grips with the fact that God wants the best for them and from them. That belief couples immediately and firmly with the fact that He also wants the best for you and from you.

Stated simply, Christian people, like any people, can get so angry at others that they blurt out: “I wish they’d drop dead.” Christian people cannot, however, pray to God, “Make them drop dead.” We know better than the first, but say it anyway. We also know better than the second, but wouldn’t pray it for anything.

Searching the Scriptures to find what God wants you to do creates a similar problem. We find immediately that there are no Scriptural mandates for the person we believe has wronged us and situations cannot be mandated. The Scriptures will tell us that, when we feel someone has wronged us, we should pray for and go to that person. Paul’s words to Timothy are just one example of the Scriptures telling us to persevere, hold on and persist at doing God’s will, no matter what the situation.

We usually don’t want to pray for our enemies–they might change and become our friends. Then we will have to treat them well. We don’t want to confront them with our complaints–we might be wrong or, worse yet, they might repent and we will have to forgive them! If we are going to persist at the wrong things, maybe we had better pray that Jesus not return soon. If the Son of Man did return right now, we would have to explain our lack of faithfulness and it is not likely He would buy our excuses.

We don’t have to search the Scriptures to remember that Jesus did love His enemies and pray for them. We can’t forget that we are among them and that we desperately need the forgiveness He bought for us with His lifeblood. We can’t dismiss His tenacious grip on the cross for us or His holding on to His Father’s will even when He prayed that He would not have to do it. “Lord, decrease our rationalizations and excuses. Increase our faith and faithfulness. Help us not to let go until You bless us in eternity. Amen.”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Letting God’s Light Shine

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). We have no light of our own; as we follow Christ, His light provides illumination that brings us life. Jesus is the true light and our power source, but He called us lights. He said, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14,16).

Only God’s elect, His redeemed children, His “chosen race,” whose lives proclaim “the excellencies of Him Who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), are able to let God’s light shine. To be God’s light in this world means that we show His love, His compassion, and His forgiveness to those around us. God’s light shines through us as the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacraments, develops Godly character in us. It’s our purpose to reflect Jesus in a dark and dying world.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, You are the light of the world. May Your light continually shine through me. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Blessing on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 19 (Proper 24 C)

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

Genesis 32:22-30
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

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

Faith Clings to the Word and Promises of God and Perseveres in Prayer

“Left alone,” Jacob wrestled through the night with the Lord, “until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24). Though “Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” (Gen. 32:25), he would not let go until the Lord blessed him. At times, we, too, strive with God; He strives with us and blesses us by grace. So Jesus teaches us “always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Jesus speaks of “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man” and of a widow “who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary’” (Luke 18:2–3). Because of her persistence, the judge agreed to “give her justice” (Luke 18:5). Our Lord dispenses justice generously and swiftly, giving “justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7). He does so according to the Gospel. Therefore, His ministers are to persevere faithfully in their vocation, in what they “have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim. 3:14). On the basis of “the sacred writings” (2 Tim. 3:15), they are to “preach the word” at all times and not lose heart (2 Tim. 4:2).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun (LSB 868)
From God Can Nothing Move Me (LSB 713)
All Depends on Our Possessing (LSB 732)
On Eagles’ Wings (LSB 727)
Precious Lord, Take My Hand (LSB 739)

“One of Your Best Words”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Ruth 1:1-19
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
… If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man,
my son!

Rudyard Kipling

The famous author gave us many words of value. At the prime of his career, a newspaper literally valued his words at 50 cents apiece. Some students at Oxford apparently saw that as an opportunity to poke some fun. They sent him 50 cents and the following request: “Please send us back one of your very best words.” Kipling immediately responded: “Thanks!”

It’s a great comeback. It’s also a great word.

At the close of a Thanksgiving potluck, a church group formed a friendship circle. The leader suggested that each person share something for which he or she was particularly grateful that year. One by one each told of that special thing until the turn came to a little girl. She hesitated timidly at first and then suddenly blurted out: “I’m thankful that I’m thankful!”

Let’s have a round of “ATTAGIRL” for her! Her counterpart is the subject of one of Winston Churchill’s favorite stories: A small boy once fell from a pier into dangerous tidewater. An old sailor immediately jumped in to save him. After a fierce struggle through the stormy water, the two arrived safely, though exhausted, at the shore. Two days later, the boy’s mother came to the pier trying to locate the sailor who had rescued her son. Finding him, she asked, “You dove into the ocean to bring my boy out?”

“I did,” he replied.

The mother quickly demanded, “Then where’s his hat?”

Like Kipling, Jesus apparently thought that “Thanks” was at least a 50-cent word. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, He is shocked to find that only one of 10 healed lepers returned to praise God. Somewhat in dismay, He asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine?”

The first question is rhetorical–Jesus knew they were all healed. He was sort of saying, “Wait a minute! I healed 10, not just one. Why are the others not giving thanks?” I’m confident that He knew the answer to that as well, but He didn’t share the insight. I have always contended that they were legalists. Jesus had told them to go and show themselves to the priests and they were not about to risk any detours from those orders. They weren’t ingrates–just “ungrates”! Great are the “grates”!

Sadly enough, the odds are pretty much the same today. About 90 percent of all people are “ungrates.” They take and take and take because, for whatever reason, they think it is no more than they deserve. Actually, it is probably far more honest and accurate to say that 90 percent of the time, we are all “ungrates.” If you take into account that America only dedicates one day per year to give God thanks, then, at least where He is concerned, we are grateful less than three-tenths of one percent of the time. In other words, if your calculator only shows two places after the decimal point, it rounds out to “No thanks.”

Both Luke and Jesus point out that the one grateful person out of the 10 who were healed was a Samaritan. The implication is that the remaining nine were Jewish. Although the Samaritans claimed Hebrew ancestry, the Jews rather vehemently denied that was true. This one “foreigner,” realizing that he had been healed by a Jew, may have felt a special grace in it. The rest might have even agreed– Jewish healers are for Jewish lepers.

All 10 had not cried the ancient prayer of Israel, Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. They had said, Jesou, epistata, eleison, Jesus, master, have mercy. Nonetheless, God had touched them. The Samaritan saw the Word of God in the words of Jesus. He turned back, “praising God in a loud voice.” It is very important that Jesus zeroed in on this praise to God. He said, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Surely, such a momentous occurrence as being healed from that gruesome disease would cause praise to God to erupt in any person.

Years ago an excursion boat was wrecked in a storm on Lake Michigan, near Evanston, Illinois. Students from Northwestern University helped with the rescue. One of them, Edward Spencer, saved 17 people from that sinking ship and almost lost his own life in the process. When he was being carried to his room, totally exhausted, he kept asking, “Did I do my best? Do you think I did my best?”

Winston and Winnie Pearce told that story in A Window on the Mountain. They added that, years later, a speaker in Los Angeles referred to the incident and someone in the audience called out that Edward Spencer was there. The speaker invited him forward and an old man with white hair approached. When asked if he remembered anything in particular about the rescue, Spencer replied: “Only this, sir. Of the 17 people I saved, not one of them ever thanked me.”

I wonder if they thanked God. Did they ever respond by praising God with a loud voice? I am always dumbfounded by the fact that some people will sit silently (except, perhaps, to talk to a neighbor) through an entire worship service. They don’t sing. They don’t even appear to follow along in the liturgy. They don’t praise God with any voice, let alone a loud one.

At the same time, their presence, however silent, is a statement of recognition or praise. The sadder situation is the number of people who never darken the threshold of a church. Has nothing happened in their lives to cause an eruption of joy and praise to God? Are we so accustomed to having much that we go right on expecting more? Do we feel we have a right to all our blessings and every reason to get bigger and better ones?

After the Samaritan praised God with his loud voice and fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him, Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well [whole].” The word He used could also be translated with a spiritual meaning. Physical health had come to all 10, but only one seems to have had an encounter with God. When Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you,” He may very well have been referring to a greater dimension of God’s grace that came to the man who recognized God in the One who had healed him.

Faith and salvation are God’s free gifts to us. Not earned or deserved, they are the result of His lavish love and generous grace. The One who took away leprosy also took away sin and death—more accurately–took on Himself our sin and death. His mercy on the side of the road is remarkable and praiseworthy enough, but His mercy on the cross surely will bring out one or two of our better words!

The story is told of a young Methodist pastor, but the situation could have occurred in any denomination. He was assigned to a small church where he and his wife were half the age of the next youngest member. One Sunday, a granddaughter and great-granddaughter attended church with “Grandma.” During worship, something tickled the little one’s funny bone and she began giggling. It continued for only a moment before a rather stern-faced old codger, the head usher, started up the aisle toward the source of the sound.

The young pastor interrupted his sermon and said, “Leave her alone, Harold. That’s the first joyful noise to the Lord I’ve heard in this place in the two months I’ve been here!” To his surprise, someone said, “Attaboy, Pastor!” Someone else said, “Thank God!” And the entire congregation broke out in laughter. The ice was broken that day between a pastor and his people, who had not known how to take each other up to that point. An esprit was built and, more importantly, The Spirit built them up together. A little child had led them, and a good word had saved them. Attaboy, God, and thanks for everything!

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Resisting Temptations

God does not shield us from temptations, but He sustains us while we are facing them. Our faith is paramount if we are to stand up to temptations with courage and conviction. Peter urges us to stand firm in the faith knowing that our “brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9). When we stand firm in our faith, we can echo the words of the Apostle Paul’s testimony shortly before his death, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul showed that he had developed the character to withstand the powerful influences that threatened to take over his life. Just as Paul was tested hundreds of years ago and kept the faith, today our faith and character are being tested. The goal for all believers is to be men and women of integrity who, empowered by the Spirit through Word and Sacrament, combat temptations with the character that God has developed and nurtured within each of us. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). Remaining strong in our faith will bring us into God’s joy, peace, and freedom. Through the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, we are capable of saying “no” to temptations. Making proper choices builds our Godly character and makes us more effective in our lives of service to Christ.

Prayer: Dear Father, send Your Holy Spirit to be with me so I can withstand the temptations that I face daily. You are my shield and armor. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Blessing on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 18 (Proper 23 C)

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

Ruth 1:1-19a
2 Timothy 2:1-13
Luke 17:11-19

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

Faith Returns Thanks to God and Worships Him in the Person of Christ Jesus

Jesus comes in mercy and, by His Word, heals you in body and soul. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” for you are cleansed (Luke 17:14), and you are granted access to the Lord’s temple. It is “at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:16), that you worship God, for Christ Jesus is your great High Priest; His body is the true temple. In Him, you “find rest, each of you in the house of her husband” (Ruth 1:9), for the Lord has “visited his people and given them food” (Ruth 1:6). The person of Jesus Christ lodges Himself in holy food — bread and wine for believers to eat and drink. You lodge where Jesus lodges; His Father is your God, His people are your people. Death cannot part you from Him because His death and resurrection are eternally yours through Holy Baptism. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). As surely as death could not hold Him, so surely “the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9). His Gospel is entrusted “to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2), so that you “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:10). Such is the confession of faith for all the saints, who believe, teach and confess the one Lord and Savior — Jesus Christ.

These are the hymns we will sing:

The Lamb (LSB 547)
Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (LSB 528)
Draw Us to Thee (LSB 701)
Praise to You and Adoration (LSB 692)
Abide, O Dearest Jesus (LSB 919)

“Lord, increase our faith!”

Our devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Habakkuk 1:1-3; 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:3-14
Luke 17:1-10

Once upon a time, a mother overheard her son in prayer. She listened for a while and discovered that he was sharing his plans with God and then giving God some directions on how to help. She interrupted: “Son, don’t bother to give God instructions. Just report for duty.”

Glendon Harris has written in typical style: “Duty is not one of your glamour words.” He continued, “It has a hang-dog look of drudgery and dullness.” Actually, there is that side to it. Duty has a major pitfall in it that should be enclosed with barricades and marked with many diamond-shaped signs. Duty to God, country, family, friends, or any noble cause can be fulfilling and beautiful. Duty to duty is empty and almost always ugly.

Francois Mauriac illustrated this danger in his story, The Woman of the Pharisees. The main character was the grande dame of the valley. She had all the money, houses and land she could ever want, and felt duty-bound to help the poor people in her village. She visited them regularly and provided gifts that she deemed fit their needs. Invariably she also left behind a bit of wisdom or a lesson about life–a constant reminder that, with a little more ambition or a little more thrift, they could improve their situations.

She never left a poor family’s house without making them feel worse for her having been there. She depressed them with her dutiful visits and gifts. They hated her for giving them and hated themselves for accepting them. She had a duty all right–a duty to her own reputation as a rich woman, duly concerned about the poor. Harris noted that the story reminded him of an epitaph written by C.S. Lewis:

Erected by her sorrowing brothers
In memory of Martha Clay.
Here lies one who lived for others.
Now she has peace. And so have they.

Jesus doesn’t call people to be pains-in-the-neck to others, nor does He call us to be dutiful drones or doormats. But He does call us into service. There is a world of difference between the Pharisees’ religion and the faith-life of the Gospel. One is a dutiful obedience to cold Law. The other is willing and faithful obedience to a warm and living Christ, who not only is our Way to eternal life, but also showed us the way to abundant living.

This Sunday’s Gospel contains three lessons from Jesus on service. Each has one of His word pictures to illustrate the point. First, Jesus warns against offending “little ones” in the faith. In His day, the reference would have included the little ones we usually think of. In addition, however, it would also include others who, like children, are often ignored and overlooked as lesser persons. It would include people like Lazarus, the beggar in last week’s parable, and the “tax collectors and sinners” who often came to Jesus. These neophytes in the faith could fall away because of the careless behavior of those who are strong. The disciples were to be leaders. Their words and behavior were to be an example for others–not an offense to them.

The offense Jesus refers to is revealed in His Greek word skandalon. In ancient literature, it described the trigger of a trap or a lure into a snare. Many years later, Paul used the word to describe the possibility of causing weak Christians to sin by ignoring customs that they considered a moral issue. He wrote that if the possibility of eating meat offered to an idol would cause a weak brother or sister to sin, he would eat no meat at all!

In our day, new members of churches and those new to the faith are occasionally turned off forever by the caustic comments and criticisms of those who have sort of been around forever. It usually happens because new folks are not afraid to try new things. “Old” members may find that threatening, or oppose it for no other reason than they never did it that way before. When it causes the “little ones” to back off and slow down their projects, it is sad. When it causes them to fall away from the faith, Jesus says it would be better for the offending ones to be dropped into the sea with millstones (so large they must be turned by mules) tied to their necks!

Jesus’ second lesson is about forgiveness. He begins by saying that if we know people are sinning, we should rebuke them–point it out, rather than pretending it will just go away. When they repent, we are to forgive. In fact, even if this process occurs seven times in one day, we are to forgive over and over again. When the disciples heard that, they responded, “Lord, increase our faith!”

It is a fascinating response. Confronted with this same lesson today, most people would say, “You’ve got to be kidding!” The disciples knew Jesus was serious. They also knew He was asking a great deal, but most of all they knew it was impossible to do without a very strong faith. Jesus pointed out that it was not a matter of more or less faith, but of faith pure and simple. A faith the size of a mustard seed (pretty small) could make a Sycamine (Black Mulberry) tree be uprooted from its present spot and planted in the sea.

Jesus is not interested in Mulberry trees being planted in seas. The fact that the trees are known to have an extensive root system simply illustrated the extraordinary power of even a tiny faith. Jesus was interested in extraordinary, beyond the ordinary, forgiveness. The most unbelievable forgiveness in the world is that which He spoke from the cross. Yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe it. Our believing results in actions even more remarkable than moving mountains or Mulberries.

For too many people, faith is a noun or an object–something they keep in a file drawer, like a death insurance policy, or something they keep in their wallets, like that travelers’ check left over from the last vacation–in case of emergency. For Jesus, faith is more like a verb. It is the act of believing–the actions of believing! Faith is truly the force that is with us!

The final lesson is all parable. There was no eight-hour workday (let alone six) for servants in Jesus’ day. When a servant came in from working in the fields, he simply changed hats, removing his farm cap and donning a chef’s hat. Once he had prepared it, he would serve the dinner. Only then could he sit down and eat. Then he would clean it all up and hit the sack in preparation for the same thing tomorrow. He would not expect the master of the house to serve him dinner because the “poor dear” had worked so hard in the field, nor would he expect any commendation for preparing and serving dinner. That was his job. Jesus closed the story with: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'”

After reading this parable, an elderly gentleman entered his pastor’s office and announced, “Well, here I am, reporting for duty.” Somewhat surprised, the pastor asked what it was all about. The man shared his reading and then said: “A few months back I told you that I thought I had put in my years of service in the church…that it was time to let the younger ones do the work. Now I know that I have a calling, not a union contract. There is only one way to retire and you’re not going to preach my funeral for a long time. Besides, I miss it! I was successful in business, but I don’t miss working. I was happiest serving God as faithfully as I knew how. I can’t get along without that!”

A similar story comes from another church. A woman who had been Sunday school superintendent for 24 years was approached by one of the teachers. “I’ve been teaching for four years now,” he said, “and I’m ready for a break. You need to find someone to take over.” “I’ll do that,” said the super. Then she continued, “You know, I’ve thought about quitting this job many times, but God has never shown me a better way to serve Him, so I keep at it. How are you going to serve God now?”

It’s a better than average question. What is your answer?

Christ’s struggle against evil, intolerance, ignorance, selfishness, fear, hatred and every other force contrary to His way is our continuing struggle. Every time a battle is finished or a threshold is crossed, we need to turn to Him and say, “Well, Jesus, what’s next?”

I am convinced that we do not need some renewed zeal for duty. Duty too often has a sense of owing and paying something back. We could never pay Christ back for what He has already done, let alone what He continues to do every day. What we “little ones” need is the spiritual milk of the Word and Sacraments–the answer to: “Lord, increase our faith!”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Shaping Lives through Obedience

What is most likely to prevent us from living the abundant life that God wants for us? (John 10:10). One of the biggest obstacles we face is obedience. By nature, we are arrogant and vain people; therefore, obedience is not a natural response. As we focus more on pleasing ourselves, we lose the desire to do what pleases God, which is to obey Him. Christ, quoting David, the psalmist, said, “… with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘ … I have come to do Your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:6-7). Doing God’s will, being obedient to Him, is what pleases God. It sounds simple enough, but we find our words, thoughts, and actions are often contrary to God’s will. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about what is necessary for us to please God: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

The basis of obedience to God, then, is faith in Him. 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.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You are the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Place in me a desire to be obedient to You. In Jesus’ holy and precious name, I pray. Amen.

Blessing on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 17 C (Proper 22)

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

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:1-10

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

We Walk by Faith, and Not by Sight, in the Peace of Christ’s Forgiveness

We are surrounded by “destruction and violence” (Hab. 1:3) because the Law “is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth” (Hab. 1:4). In fact, the Law cannot rescue us from our enemies; it is our fiercest enemy of all. Therefore, not by sight, experience or feeling, nor by works, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). “Temptations to sin are sure to come” (Luke 17:1), but as often as we sin, the Lord rebukes us, turns us to repentance and forgives us. We pray that He would thus “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). And indeed, He does! Though we are His “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10), He prepares His Supper for us, dresses us properly and gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. He appoints pastors for us, “by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:1). For the Gospel brings “life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10). This we believe. Therefore, “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard,” by which He guards you “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now (LSB 902)
I Know My Faith Is Founded (LSB 587)
Draw Near and Take the Body of the Lord (LSB 637)
My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less (LSB 576)
God of Grace and God of Glory (LSB 850)

Please Note: Our order of service will switch to Divine Service, Setting Four this Sunday.

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