Thursday, July 24, 2014

The juxtaposition of the OT and NT reading is phenomenal.

In Samuel, Israel wants to become just like all the other nations and have a man as King.

In Acts, the Lord has given a man as King - His Son.  And by that King, He makes all the other nations to be just like His Israel, a member of His kingdom.

Oh, and uses the earthly pagan rulers to accomplish His will too in delivering Paul from evil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 22 - Psalmody, OT and NT readings

Whether it is the Lord delivering His righteous from the persecution of the Babylonians after they cry out to
Him in the Psalm,

  • or the Lord returning the Ark to Israel from the Philistines, 
  • or the Lord granting success in the face of opposition to the Apostle Paul  

some days, you just need the reminder that the Devil will not win in the end.  God does.  And in Christ, we shall see that victory too.

Pray for our Christian sisters and brothers in Mosul.
http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/07/n-is-for-solidarity

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Homily - Proper 10A Isaiah 55 and Matthew 13:1ff God the Farmer went out to Sow

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

In college one year I worked on the Summer Youth Ministry Team for Concordia University.  Mostly that meant helping out with the VBS for a congregation and working with their youth group.  Our team each chose one of our professors who promised to pray for us throughout the summer.  I will never forget the day when a letter came from my partner, Dr. Brighton.  He specifically quoted this text from Isaiah to encourage me.  But that made me a bit confused.  I remember questioning God, “Why this verse now, Lord?  I mean, I feel like my ministry work is going great.  I am seeing the kids learn as I teach.  Your Word is having success.  I mean, maybe if I was discouraged I could understand why You had Dr. Brighton quote this passage.  But I am actually getting great joy from my work.”
In less than half an hour, I had an answer.  During our Team meeting, one of my friends poured out her heart saying she felt like a failure.  She was trying to reach the kids with God’s Word, but they just did not seem to be getting it.  Then I realized how foolish and self-centered I was to think that God had sent His Isaiah 55 promise just for my sake.  No, it was for my friend.  At that moment He had given it to me to give away.  He sent Isaiah 55 out so He could promise His daughter that His Word she was speaking would get done what He wanted it to do.  Even if she could not see it happen.
When it comes to sharing the Word of God with others – or even when it comes to life in general - we can get short-sighted, looking for immediate results.  Or we can get near sighted, seeing only the bad results.  Or both.  And so, for example, many evenings it might take a LOT of successes for us to consider a day to be really good – but only 1, 2, or 3 failures and we consider the day terrible.  That is what is going on inside many of us when we come to today’s Gospel text and hear the parable of the Sower.  The sin in us gets us distracted.  The seed that does not produce sticks out.  Too bad for all that wasted seed in the rocky soil, amongst the weeds, and eaten by the birds.  At least it was not a total loss… However, we fail to appreciate the seed that does produce 100 fold, 60, and 30.  Those are no small numbers!  This is a bumper crop, abundantly fruitful beyond expectation.
So what does this Parable of the Sower look like in real life?  Jesus tells this Parable because things in real life have been getting in the way of faith.  Christ’s disciples have always gotten confused by this.  He has given us His Word, great and wonderful promises of forgiveness and salvation and God’s unending love.  How come the unbelievers reject it?  Christ’s followers are confused because the crowds have been leaving Jesus.  He is not as popular as He once was, and worse yet, people are actively opposing Him.  Even family members of Jesus are refusing to go along with Him.  Jesus teaches that sin-closed ears and hearts, the cares of the world, persecution, and the love of wealth and luxury all get in the way of the true Christian faith.  
What does this Parable of the Sower look like in real life?  It looks like a congregation or a Christian who focuses only on what is going wrong that they fail to see the great stuff God is doing, for instance noticing the people who are not here with the result that they fail to rejoice in the people God has brought here.  This parable looks like a congregation or a Christian who expects no setbacks, nothing but overnight success stories.  Yet you farmers and gardeners know it would be ridiculous to look for crops the day after planting your seed.  God takes His time providing for our daily bread.  And God takes His time converting hearts and making people a part of His Church, a citizen of His Kingdom.  On a few rare occasions, God QUICKLY works repentance and Christ’s forgiveness into a person – almost overnight.  Most of the time we do not get to see what God’s Word has been doing all along inside an unbeliever until months or years later.  
Ultimately our impatience with God gets down to a violation of the First Commandment.  When we hear the Parable of the Sower and think the Sower is foolish for wasting so much seed on all sorts of unproductive ground, we are really judging God to be a fool.  As generous as the Sower is in spreading the seed, that is precisely how generous God is in spreading His Word.  Speaking it to those who would believe it, or believe it not.  Yet when we imagine that God should be efficient, like we would be efficient if we were God – then we are trying to make God in our own image, instead of God re-making us in His own image of love, generosity, kindness, patience, and so on.  We end up telling God He is wrong, we are right.  And that is sin.
What does this Parable look like in real life?  It looks like God spreading His Word of salvation from the Flood in the days of Noah – and His Word of life takes root in 8 souls, while the rest of the seed falls on rocky hearts that will be destroyed on the Day of Judgment.  In the days of Moses, God sows His Word on Israel.  In the hearts of the Joshuas and Calebs and Rahabs, the seeds find a home and grow.  In other hearts, the seeds find soil as soft as concrete, as hospitable as Hell, who grumble and complain about the true God while bowing down to a golden calf.  In the days of Jonah, God sows His Word on pagan Ninevah and the seed takes root in the soil of over 120,000 repentant hearts, while the people of Israel are not so thrilled with God’s mercy.  In the early days of Jesus, God sows His Word in Herod’s Palace, where wise men rejoice but the King plots murder.
Though some of His seed is snatched and some is scorched and some is trampled, the Lord does not stop.  He continues to spread His Word.  Here, there, and everywhere.  Preaching in season and out of season, in the field and out of the field, embraced and rejected, scorned and loved, insulted and praised.
When God went out to sow the seed of His Word, He dropped some into your heart.  Did His seed take root, this seed of Christ, this seed of grace and mercy?  How could it take root in a heart like yours and mine – hearts that are as clean as a manure pile and as fertile as a Walmart parking lot?  The truth is, where there are not rocks, there are weeds, and where there are not weeds, there was that vulture-like Devil ready to snatch God’s Word away from us.
But lo and behold, God did not look for good soil to plant His Word.  He created good soil for Himself in you, no matter how rocky or weed infested your heart may be.  And His Word has its way with you.  His gracious absolution transforms you the sinner into good ground.  Christ now cleanses you of the poisons of your past.  The weeds of your impatience are patiently pulled out by Jesus.  God the Farmer scatters His seed on the Walmart parking lots of our hearts, and somehow, by His work, in His time, our souls become rich soil.  All that was lifeless is now covered by colorful blooms.  Dead land transformed into a field of salvation.  That is what the Lord Jesus does for you.  He converts your parking lot heart into a place for parking His Word, His Spirit, His Body and Blood, His life divine.  God’s Word will do this, for that is the reason He sent it into your life.
For the seed of God’s Word is packed with the life, death and resurrection of His Son – His Son who was once packed with your sin and death; packed with your impatience and mine; packed with all the times you and I have judged God was foolishly doing things wrong, yet we were the fools; packed with all the rest of our guilt.  It looked at the Cross like Jesus was choked by the weeds of this world, as His enemies got Him out of the way so they could go on loving the things of this world.  It looked at the cross like Jesus had successfully sprung up for a time in this rocky world, only to be scorched by God’s wrath.  It looked like the vulture-like Devil had snatched Jesus away from us.  Yet when the body of Jesus was planted in the Earth, it turned out that He became the first-fruit of those Risen from the Dead, the promise that your body will rise above the ground of your grave too.
God the sower went out to sow His seed.  He planted it in you, and when the harvest comes, He will find in you a hundredfold crop.  And what He has done in you, Christ has plans to do in many more hearts around the world, until all is ripe for the Day of Resurrection.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16 - Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are You, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
    and by Your will they existed and were created.”

Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Article 1 of the Apostles' Creed:

Therefore, this article ought to humble and terrify us all, if we believed it. For we sin daily with eyes, ears, hands, body and soul, money and possessions, and with everything we have, especially those who even fight against the Word of God. Yet Christians have this advantage, that they acknowledge themselves in duty bound to serve God for all these things, and to be obedient to Him [which the world knows not how to do]. 
We ought, therefore, daily to practise this article, impress it upon our mind, and to remember it in all that meets our eyes, and in all good that falls to our lot, and wherever we escape from calamity or danger, that it is God who gives and does all these things, that therein we sense and see His Paternal heart and his transcendent love toward us. Thereby the heart would be warmed and kindled to be thankful, and to employ all such good things to the honor and praise of God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent 1A - Matthew 21:1-11 Homily "The Lord Needs Them"

(based on this sermon by Rev. Todd Peperkorn)
The sermon this morning is based on the Gospel reading, particularly our Lord’s instructions to the Disciples as they go fetch Him the donkey and colt.  “If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them.’”
As the old Church year came to an end in November, the Scriptures spent time preparing us for the end of the world.  Today the start of the new Church Year makes us see the Almighty Judge and King coming to you – and He is “humble, mounted on a donkey.”  It is out step with where our lives are this month.  These Scriptures clash so much with the world around us that is busy setting its sights on happy holidays.  In the midst of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, you probably were not expecting to come and hear about Palm Sunday.
Yet centuries before this became a season of shop-til-you-drop, Christian leaders thought it wise to start
a new Church Year not with some pre-birth of Jesus Scriptures, but with this one.  That is not a bad thing.  You and I are more likely to remember something the more unusual and unexpected it is.  Furthermore, if you ever want evidence that God’s ways are not our ways, Palm Sunday certainly proves that point.
This is a time of contrasts for us Christians.  On the one hand, the themes of love and family and gift-giving and charity are certainly great things that we should encourage in all people.  And yet some nagging feeling inside us says there should be something more, that the wrapping paper and trees are hiding more than just gifts.  Behind it all, things are not right.
Jesus knows what our world is trying to hide.  His understanding of you and me is far deeper than we can imagine – so deep that it would TERRIFY US, for if the Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand?  However, with Him there is His forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus knows what you suffer.  He knows the brokenness that you see in your world, in your loved ones,
in your own self.  He knows how evil grieves you – both the evil others do against you and how you have hurt them.  The Lord knows that November to January are the hardest part of the year for more people, with more spikes in depression than other times.  He knows that people try to show Christmas cheer, but that mask hides some serious sorrow underneath.
What are you trying to bury out of sight and out of mind this holy season?  The deaths of loved ones? – or are you already grieving ahead of time because you know their time is short?  Is there a marriage in trouble – or one that ended long ago that still eats at you?  Financial problems or problematic personalities?  Conflicts at family gatherings?  Fear of unknown troubles that might come your way in the future?  All of these are pretty likely to hit people this month.  Life has a way of getting in the way when all we want to do is to forget.  If you try to use alcohol, or food, or shopping, or illicit affairs, or the computer to forget... well, it might work for a short bit – but in the end it makes the problems worse.  As St. Paul reminds us that our salvation is nearer to us now, the Apostle WARNS us that waiting for the Lord does NOT go together with works of darkness like “orgies and drunkenness, ...sexual immorality and sensuality,... quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).
Getting back to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, just a few days before His death at the hand of sinners, Matthew sets the scene up in Bethphage.  It is just one short mile from the Holy City.  Think of it in terms of baseball – Bethphage was the dugout and on-deck circle for the priests of the Temple.  They prepared for their service in God’s House here and rested after their sacrificial service was done.  Now here is Jesus, getting ready to do the ultimate service of sacrifice.  He gives the disciples the job of bringing back the donkey and colt from town.  And “if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them.’”

God has a way of pressing things into His service, using them in ways that we never intended nor could have imagined.  Random moments in life, our joys and charity – but even also our sorrows and hardships and sins are pressed into God’s holy service.  However broken and troubled you are, our Lord with gentleness takes all of the scattered pieces of your crazy life and mine – and God says to you quite simply, “I need to have this.  It fits perfectly into My plans to show mercy.”  It is as if God takes inventory of all the junk in your life, everything you want to toss out as too hard or too painful, and it is those things He wants to use for His holy purposes.
One of the hard things that He wants to take and use from my life is that I struggle because I want to see what God is up to!  I want to be able to pull back the curtains of Heaven, look to the end of your stories, and tell you exactly what good He will bring from specific hardships.  I really do not want to walk by faith – I want to walk by sight.  And the stuff we see – so often they look like
impossible messes.  How can Christ use all this junk to prepare people for His appearing?  I do not know how He will do it in your life, and I certainly do not know how in my own.  BUT I do know what our Lord and Savior says to you and me today – that the Lord has need of it all.  All you and I have and all that we are, Christ takes it all and presses it into His service.
Now this goes much deeper than simple, cheesy “God has a plan for you” talk.  What God wants for you at this time, and every time, is that through His Word and Spirit, you recognize what is really going on around you.  St. Paul’s epistle put it this way, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12).
Our Lord does not ask you to go get Him a donkey and colt today.  He asks you to wake up!  Remember who you are as a baptized child of God, holy and beloved by your Heavenly Father.  Remember that our Lord’s coming to this world is all about you, about your salvation.  Remember that salvation is right here, right now.  Christ’s Word is here.  And He does not simply ride past you on a donkey in parade.  Now He rides INTO you on a donkey with His Body and Blood here to bring you forgiveness, life and salvation.
Like those people lining the streets of Jerusalem so many years ago, you are here waiting to greet with Hosannas in the Highest the Savior who comes in the name of the Lord.  And your waiting will not end in disappointment.  For the Savior is coming.  Indeed, Jesus has already come for you.  He is here already releasing you from the chains of your sin and brokenness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer used that imagery to describe
Advent, as he explained, “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes – and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, this is not a bad picture of Advent.”
The door to your freedom has been opened in the birth, perfect life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of your Advent King, the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Be free.  Shout and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for our King is coming to You.  Sing with faith in your hearts as we cry out with the people of Jerusalem, with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven - “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
He is coming to be your Savior.  He is coming now.  With healing in His wings, to set you free.  Blessed is He who comes.  Believe it for Christ’s sake.  Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homily - Complain to God? Yes, He Commands It (Luke 18)

[Much of the material for this sermon is adapted from Rev. John Kleinig's book, Grace Upon Grace (Concordia Publishing House, 2008).  Artwork is "Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8" by John Hrehov via his Facebook page]

Think about a person who is never happy, always getting the short end of the stick in life, nothing goes right – and they constantly complain about it all.  Jesus says you should do what that person does 
Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8, by John Hrehov
          Shocked?  Well, true, Jesus is not saying to be like them in every way.  Especially if they forget about God.  But the same way such a person pesters the people around with their problems, so are you to pester the Almighty with your problems.  Only He does not count you as a pest.  God is not bothered by you.  He loves you.
And so last Sunday Christ in this place gave us the encouragement to cry out, “Lord, have mercy” through all our trials and troubles – and to pray it for our neighbor in the midst of their personal disasters.  God promises to hear those prayers in Psalm 34:17, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
However you had to live this past week.  And face all the large and small injustices of this world – health problems, relationship troubles, job stress, the attacks of sin, the march of death.  Whether you never started praying, or started praying and stopped, or still are going, but you are getting a bit weak-kneed and questioning if you should give up on prayer – things might just be worse for you today than last Sunday.  God has not appeared to deliver from all evil.  Sicknesses have gone without healing.  There has been little defense for injustices at work.  Relationships have gotten more strained.  So have finances.  When we need Him the most, God seems to go silent and offer no help.  Some people have come to the conclusion that He is not gracious, does not care, is ticked off at us and has finally left us for dead.  As a result, we get frustrated with life, feel disappointed with God – and maybe even angry at Him.  However, should we really complain about these things to the Lord?  That does not feel right.  It feels disrespectful, unholy.
If that were the case, if we were not allowed to complain, then how can we explain all the Psalms – like 13, 27, 42, and 142 – that lament to the Lord?  The Psalms are filled with thanks and praises to God.  However, most of the Psalms are complaints either from one person or from all the people of Israel.  Does that surprise you that there are MORE complaints than thanks?  I would never have guessed that.  And these complaints are brutally honest.  In them God's people confront their troubles head on and do not mince words with God.  There are angry words, bitter arguments with the Almighty.  And yet, the Church has tended to ignore the complaint Psalms because it feels unholy and disrespectful to be angry and moan and groan.              
This is why Jesus today tells this “parable to the effect that [you] ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  When God seems to be silent and unresponsive, be as persistent as the widow, day and night (v 7).  Injustices were done to her.  The court of law sided with her unfair adversary against her, even though she was the innocent victim.  Yet she does not give up.  Outside of court, she directly demands justice from the judge against her adversary because she knows the judge is a vain mawho likes the comfortable life.  He cares about his reputation.  While the English translates that the judge fears that she will beat him down by constantly pestering him, the Greek gets much more vivid, literally saying he is afraid she will give him a black eye if he ignores her complaint.                
Now keep in mind that God is different from that judge.  The earthly judge does not care about the woman – he only cares about his own ease of life.  God in Heaven, on the other hand, does care about you.  He baptismally claims you as His child.  He exercises grace and mercy in declaring us innocent of our guilt, apart from our observing His holy and eternal Law.  He even has declared you innocent of all the times you and I have given up on praying to Him – or never even started!               
For you and your salvation, He sent His only Son to live this life filled with injustices.  When you do complain to high Heaven about what goes on in your life, do you imagine Jesus responds by saying, “You think you have it rough?  Just think about how bad I had it.  I never did wrong to anyone.  I just came here to love them.  And what thanks did my goodness get me?  Hatred, insults, personal attacks.  Falsely accused.  Arrested and beaten.  Cold and crude metal spikes nailed into My hands and feet.  Hoisted up in the air on a dead tree for all the world to see.  And then the Justice of God puts all your guilt and the Hell it deserves on to Me.  And you think you have life rough? ”              
NO!  Jesus does NOT say that to you.  He does not stop your complaints to God, but actually encourages them.  So that you “always pray and not lose heart” He tells this parable.  Jesus actually commands you to moan and groan to God.  Daily.  Copy the widow.  Trust God to deliver you from your adversary the Devil who seeks to accuse, devour, and destroy you.  Your complaints are evidence that you have faith because your prayers are built on His promise to listen – despite that God may appear to be silent, turned against you, indifferent, ignorant to your situation, unresponsive, and unhelpful.  For the Scriptures tell your faith to trust that the Lord is actually none of those things.  God is truly just and gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in eternal love.   
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters of Christ, children of the Heavenly Father, use such Psalms of complaint as 13, 27, 42 and 142 and so many others in your prayers to God.  Refuse to accept disaster, but protest to God against it.  Appeal to God’s justice in the face of injustice.  Appeal to God’s grace in the face of wrath.  Despite your troubles, take God at His Word and know for certain He is still involved in your life and committed to you.  Like the persistent widow, refuse to be quiet until He intervenes and deals with your problem – no matter how long He takes, for today Jesus told you this "parable to the effect that [you] ought always to pray and not lose heart."  Amen.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Homily Proper 10 - Luke 10:25-37, July 14, 2013



"… wanting to justify himself..."
            I had a good reason for doing what I did.  Or did not do.  You understand, right?  But she hit me first.  They don't pay me enough for my work, so I helped myself to some of the money.  I’m sorry - I did not get enough sleep.  God forgives me anyway, so it does not matter what I do.  Compared to those evil people, what I do is not that bad.  Everyone else does it.  I mostly do the right thing and so my few mess-ups are not that big of a deal.  It’s not my fault.
            Justifications.  We know them.  We hear them.  We have said them to justify ourselves.  To make what is wrong appear right.  Interesting that the religious expert was first trying to test Jesus, to make the right Christ look wrong.  The Savior turns the tables – “Well what do the Scriptures say is necessary to earn eternal life?  You know the answer to your question.”  And suddenly the hunter finds himself trapped.
           He figures he loves God enough.  But he knows he does not love every person the same way he loves himself.  So there has to be a limit, right?  Who is my neighbor?  Let's be reasonable here, Jesus.  There are some people whom I do not have to love, right?  I mean, they do not deserve it.
            You hear the justification in his words.  His love does not measure up.  And so where he does not have love for his fellow man, well, God understands and does not expect that from him. 
            Do you hear the justifications in your own words?  Those who know we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works will right away hear what is wrong with the man’s question.  “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”  How ridiculous, right?  You cannot earn Heaven.  You can never do enough right to get yourself in, to make up for the sins you have done and the good you failed to do.  And besides, Jesus did it all – everything necessary to earn our place in Heaven.  By Christ's death, we inherit eternal life.
            So why do you and I still justify our evil?  Why do you and I even spend time coming up with ways to explain it should not be a problem when we do the wrong – or fail to do the right?  Why do we find reasons that our spouse, or friends, or family, or the stranger we just happen to come across on our journey deserve less than our best?  “They need to put up with my rudeness because I am having a rotten day.”  Or any of the other excuses we give as we try to justify our actions.
            Why do we not simply apologize?  Confess our sins and ask for forgiveness?  “Well, the person might not forgive me.”  That is true.  But you know God does not say you only have to do the right thing if you know the other person will respond the right way.  He expects us to love Him with all our heart and all our strength – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And I know I do not care for it when others try to give me lame excuses for their bad behavior, so why do I do it to them?
            Sin beats us senseless.  When we look at our thoughts and actions in the light of Christ, it makes no
sense.  We might not see how our sin hurts anyone, but the Lord assures us it victimizes our neighbors – and ourselves.
            Along comes God the Samaritan, the Christ from the faraway land of Heaven to this unholy world so foreign from the Paradise God created.  He finds us along the side of the road, robbed by sin.  Beaten up and left for dead by the evils we have done and the evils done to us.  His love and compassion go all the way
to the depths of His spirit.  In our language we talk about our hearts being moved, feelings from the hearts, tugging at our heartstrings and so on.  But the Greek word for compassion is splachna – your spleen, in your guts, the depths of your stomach is where they said you feel this deep care and concern.
            Moved by this deep love, Christ sets to work healing our wounds with His Gospel, cleansing all the infections of unrighteousness, washing away the filth with Baptism, forgiving us, feeding us with His Supper to nurse us back to health and wholeness, raising us up to live our new lives in Him to the glory of His Father.  Just as the Samaritan promised to return and take care of everything, so also that is what Christ Jesus promises us.
            When you have received such great love it moves you to compassion for others too.  We love because God first loved us – not just doing good for others, but actually caring about them.  As 2 Corinthians 1 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 
            You can see how Christians throughout the centuries have responded to the comfort God has given them by sharing that comfort.  How many hospitals or orphanages were started by Christians out of
compassion for the stranger in need because Christians took the Good Samaritan to heart?  And in our own day it is impossible to count all the different ways Christians work to relieve suffering and hardships.
            Of course it does not have to be some great big work that will last for years like building hospitals.  You do not have to worry about going out and finding people to help.  You have plenty of opportunities to show mercy to neighbors as you simply go about your day and God puts them in your path.  In some cases you might fix their problems.  In other cases you simply will not have the ability, the knowledge, the money, the skills to do it.  In short, you are not the Savior.  It is sad that while we try all sorts of ways to get out of doing what we can do, we feel bad about things we cannot do.
            However, though you are not the Savior, you know the Savior.  In any and every circumstance what
you can do is pray.  So often we fail to take that good work seriously, to take it for granted, to see it as not doing much.  However, the God who grants us the privilege of praying to Him – He certainly takes it seriously.  The Lord sees it as such a good thing, such an important thing, that He commands it, and promises to receive our requests for our neighbors.  And so on their behalf we take their concerns to God's throne of mercy through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
            Now here is the thing.  As I talk about our good works of mercy, Sin is already at the door of people’s minds, going to work, getting people to think about the works and forget about our Savior’s work - like the religious expert who tested Jesus.  He wants to know, “Who is my neighbor” because he is thinking about his works and afraid that everyone is his neighbor and knows he can’t do good works for all of them, so he is hoping for a smaller number.
            However, did you notice Christ’s question is not, “Who is your neighbor?”  His question is who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  And that answer is NOT everyone.  Only one Man proves Himself to be a merciful neighbor without exception or excuse.  Only one man loves God with all His heart and with all His soul and with all His strength and with all His mind.  Only one Man is neighbor to everyone, loving all His neighbors as He loves Himself – loving us to His dying breath.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Only the Son of God paid to restore you from the wounds of sin.  And the Son of God promises to return to care for you through His death and resurrection.  On account of Christ, true God and true Man, all of your evil excuses are also forgiven.  Amen.