Sunday, July 20, 2014

What About the Mouse in the Cookie Jar? Or the Weeds Amid the Wheat?

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
A few years ago, a woman approached me with a concern. She told me that her father, by then in his seventies, was suing a woman whose car had brushed his in a mall parking lot, where he had been waiting for his wife. Even though both he and his car were fine, he claimed to have suffered physically.

The daughter said to me, “This is the last straw for me! My dad has always gone to church, been on the church council, gone to Sunday School. But he’s also always tried to shaft other people in order to get some advantage. He even pushes people out of the way in order to be first in the grocery check-out line. But I hadn’t realized how horrible he was until he sued this poor young woman who nicked his car. How can he call himself a Christian?”

When she asked me that, I remembered an old saying: Just because the mouse lives in the cookie jar doesn’t mean it’s a cookie.

But I held my tongue. You see, it can be a very dangerous thing to judge where other people are spiritually, where they may be headed, and, in the end, it’s God’s job, not ours! And God is supremely patient with us all, only casting judgment on a life when it's complete and "in the books."

In a way, this is one of Jesus’ points in today’s Gospel lesson.

He’s had another run-in with the Pharisees, those holier-than-thou religionists who may have secretly doubted that God was good enough for them. As you know, the Pharisees didn’t like it that Jesus hung out with well-known sinners or that He said that prostitutes, thieves, extortionists, and even Gentiles, non-Jews, could have places in His kingdom when they turned from their sins and followed Him. The Pharisees would have preferred for Jesus to renounce sinners and left it at that.

Instead, Jesus tells a parable to explain His actions and to guide all those who follow Him who might, like the Pharisees or that woman who approached me after worship one day, feel tempted to look down their noses at others.

The weeds planted by the farmer’s enemy in Jesus’ story, called darnel, are poisonous plants that look like wheat. The Romans had outlawed planting this weed because it had become the practice of some to do so as an act of revenge or hatred toward neighbors.

In His explanation of the parable, Jesus designates what each character or element represents. He is the farmer, the Son of Man. The good seeds are those who follow Him. The enemy is the devil. The bad seeds are those who follow evil. The harvest is the end of this world when Jesus will pronounce final judgment on us all and the place where the bundles are burned is, we can surmise, hell.

In today’s post-modern world, we may feel squeamish in asserting that God will one day condemn some people. Jesus feels no such hesitation.

According to Jesus, the Savior Who died and rose to set sinners like you and me free to live with God eternally, those who repent and believe in Him will be with Him in His kingdom.

Those who spurn Him will live with the separation from God which they daily chose in this world when they chose to be their own gods.

But Jesus today reminds us that only He will judge people’s fitness for His kingdom, not you or me. There may be mice in the cookie jar of Christ’s Church. Those imprisoned by things like selfishness, sexual addictions, egotism, materialism, the idolatry of self, greed, failing to worship God or honor parents, or other sins that diverge from the clear will of God, revealed in the Ten Commandments, may look no different from those set free by the grace, goodness, and love of Jesus Christ. There may be many people given over to evil in our world.

But until the day of judgment, the God we know in Christ is intent on letting His enemies and His friends live side-by-side, affording each equal opportunities to know and follow the Savior Who died and rose for us.

A man once asked me if the real point of Jesus’ words for us today isn’t, “Live and let live.” But that isn't the way of life to which we're called as Christians!

For example, Jesus has given His followers the great commission. We're called to not just let our neighbors die in their sins, ignorant of the possibility of forgiveness and new, everlasting life that can belong to all who repent and believe in Christ.

And we in the Church are directed by Jesus in many ways not to live by the "ethic" of "live and let live." In Matthew 18, for example, Jesus gives explicit instructions on what you and I are to do if we feel that a fellow church member has sinned against us. Ultimately, if the whole church affirms that we have been sinned against and the one who has harmed us refuses to repent, the Church is obligated to bar such a person from the fellowship of the Church until they do repent.

Live and let live isn’t what Jesus commends or commands. As every Lutheran Catechism student knows, Jesus has given to the Church “the keys of the kingdom.” That means that the Church has the responsibility to declare Christ’s forgiveness to the repentant and Christ’s condemnation to the unrepentant. But we are to exercise care in our judgments about others, especially toward those who aren't part of the fellowship of the Church.

In this, it’s instructive to note that Jesus was hardest not on the people everyone else thought were bad, but on those who thought themselves to be good but sinned unrepentantly, people like the Pharisees. Christ didn’t call the Church into being to act as God’s vigilantes, pointing out everyone’s else’ faults. He called us to make disciples.

Pastor Leith Anderson tells of calling ChemLawn to take care of his suburban lawn, infested with weeds. The yard was so bad that ChemLawn refused to work for him. One member of his church said that, if Anderson wanted him to, he would completely remove his old sod and start a new lawn. It was an offer Anderson was ready to accept when a one-time farmer offered some advice: Don't worry so much about getting rid of the weeds. Just grow the grass, and the grass will take care of the weeds. He took the farmer’s advice. After a couple of years, the lawn looked just as good as anyone else's in the neighborhood.

As the Church, we Christians are called by Christ to grow in our own faith and help others to experience Christ’s forgiveness and love through our words, actions, and lives. We grow in our faith when we seek each day to intentionally express thanks to Jesus Christ for dying and rising for us by seeking to do God’s will for our lives and not our own and by loving and serving in His Name. We motivate others to want to follow Christ and to follow Christ at deeper levels when they see us doing our best to love and serve in His Name, all the while admitting our faults and our need for Christ.

A friend of mine once invited some neighbors to attend worship with him. He was excited when, after several invitations, these neighbors, who had never been part of a church, showed up one Sunday morning. He was even more excited when they kept attending.

He thought that his heart would pound out of his chest the day the neighbors made public affirmation of their faith, the kids were baptized, and they joined the congregation. Two of the children were members of my friend’s Sunday School class and he was amazed to see how they took hold of the faith.

The family were members of that church for several years and then, for no apparent reason, they left. They weren’t in worship or Sunday School. They stopped being involved in service projects. My friend never felt that he could discuss things with this family. He would see them in the neighborhood and they would pleasantly say, “Hello” and talk about what their kids were doing at school or in athletics. That was it.

But then, a few years later, a pastor ran into my friend and said, “The Smith kids have started coming to our church. They both mention what an impact you had on them.” My friend was glad to hear it. A few years after that, my friend received an email from the youngest Smith child. He affirmed what that pastor had told him and went on to say, “By the way, I’m starting seminary in the fall. Thank you for introducing my family to Jesus. He is everything to me!”

For years, whenever my friend considered his neighbors, he may have been tempted to see them as weeds. lost to God forever. He was impatient to see them connected to God. God though, was patient. Blessedly, my friend didn’t have to wait until the judgment day to have Jesus’ message for us today boldly underscored: All those people you’re inclined to see as weeds may turn out to be wheat that will be gathered into God’s kingdom for all eternity.

God doesn't give up on anybody. As long as any human being has breath, there is hope that they will turn to Jesus Christ and live. I know that many of you have relatives and friends you want desperately to see come to Christ or return to Christ. Trust God. Be patient. Pray for those people. Ask for and look for opportunities to be light in their darkened lives.

And judge not: Christ can still turn weeds into wheat and mice into cookies. Don't lose sight of that truth!

After all, if the God Who sent His Son to die and rise for sinners like you and me--especially, I know because I know me so well, a sinner like me--God can do it with anybody! Amen

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Freedom to Live!

This is the kind of life we can enjoy by God's grace given to all with faith in Jesus Christ!

A Different Kind of Recycling

From Facebook. Don't know how sustainable it is. But this is fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Encouragement for Seed-Scatterers

[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, during worship this morning.]

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives His family, the Church, encouragement.

We need encouragement. We live in a world that is often indifferent or even hostile to the good news which you and I have been sent by Jesus to share with the world through our actions and our words.

The news--the gospel--that God the Son, Jesus, has died and risen so that all who turn from sin and surrender to Him--trust in Him, believe in Him--have life with God in this world and will have an eternally perfect life with God beyond the grave is really good news, of course.

But this message, isn’t something the world always wants to hear. That can be discouraging for Christ’s Church.

But we of Christ’s Church can also become discouraged by our own self-righteousness. We know that we are saved from sin, death, and futility not by our works or our virtues, but solely by God’s grace operating through our faith in Christ. But we get confused. Self-righteousness creeps into our hearts. We start to think we are good, the rest of the world is bad, and that we’d better just stay separated from the world, the frozen chosen hermetically sealed from this bad old planet. Living in isolation from God's will that we reach out to the world behind us, thinking of the world as irredeemable, disdaining others only brings us isolation from God Himself and that brings discouragement. 

Wallowing in discouragement though, will never help us to pursue the mission Christ has given to you and me.

Jesus shares a parable in the first portion of this morning’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 13:1-9. Later, He explains it in verses 18-23.

Take a look at Matthew 13:1, please: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.” In Matthew’s gospel, the word house often stands symbolically for the Church. The Church is the group of people who have been called into relationship with God through the good news about Jesus.

The Church, of course, is called together to hear God’s Word, to enjoy Christian fellowship, to be baptized and welcome the newly baptized (as we did this morning), and to receive Christ’s body and blood.

But as was true for Jesus Himself, we as His people, after we’ve gathered to do these things, are called to leave the safe confines of our house, our home in Christ, and go into the world.

In fact, the entire purpose for Christians to gather in worship and Bible study and prayer is to be empowered to scatter, taking the word about Jesus into our homes, places of work, schools, the places we hang out each day, the world.

If the only place we live our our faith in Christ or talk about Christ is the church or with fellow Christians, we just aren’t fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: “...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another...”

In other words, the Holy Spirit gathers us in Christ's Church in order to empower us to be scattered through the world with the Good News of Christ.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus left the cozy confines of the Church and went out into the world to teach a crowd that had been following Him. Because Jesus had been reaching out in love to the world around Him, He had earned an audience for His message. We do the same today as Christians when, in Jesus’ Name, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Beginning at Matthew 13:3, Jesus tells a parable, a story that conveys lessons about the kingdom of God Jesus has come to bring to all who believe in Him. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus’ parable is a picture of the Church moving out into the world. Like the farmer with his seeds in Jesus’ parable, you and I are meant to indiscriminately and lavishly spread the word about Jesus wherever we go, however we can.

Eleven days ago, our Conspiracy of Kindness class went to the corner of Main and Central, just a few yards from the church, and gave away 120 cans of Coke in about forty minutes. Attached to each can was a card that told recipients that this was a practical way of telling them that God loves them. As in other such outreaches, we shared with teens and twenties and little kids, with working class folks and professionals, with people who had white faces, black faces, yellow faces, old faces, young faces.

We didn’t target a particular group.

We didn’t consider how we could do our work more efficiently.

And we didn’t stop giving when some people refused the gift.

We just gave the Coke away to help people understand that the God we know in Jesus is a lavishly giving, gracious God!

As members of the Church, you and I are called to do crazy stuff like that, to keep scattering the seed, spreading the word about the gracious God we know through Jesus, who forgives our sins and opens eternity with God to all who believe. And we do that no matter what reactions we get from some people.

The apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach [that literally means proclaim or, we might say, scatter] the word; be prepared in season and out of season...” Not everyone, when we encounter them, will be receptive to receiving the word of the gospel. It may not be the right season of their lives for surrendering to Christ.

And many of God’s people will have to scatter the seed in some people’s lives for many years before the people with whom they share it begin to understand their need of the Savior and the depths of His love for them.

This is what Jesus demonstrates in the latter part of our Gospel lesson, when He explains the parable.

He says that the seed of His Word flung along the path gobbled up by birds represents those who hear about Jesus but don’t understand its importance. The evil one, the devil, removes the seed from such people.

Others, Jesus says, will initially welcome the word about Him but their faith will be shallow and they will soon forget the gospel sort of like a fashionista flushes last year’s hemlines.

Still others, Jesus tells us, will start to grow in their faith, but then get caught up in the cares of this world and lose touch with Christ.

Jesus says that some though, will receive His Word, believe in Him, grow in their faith, and have a life of faithfulness, becoming useful servants under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There are four things I find encouraging in Jesus’ parable.

First, the power of the Church doesn’t reside in our programs. It doesn’t reside in our people. It doesn’t reside in buildings or liturgies, wonderful as those can be. The power of the Church resides in God’s Word, the Word about Jesus, alone. That takes all the pressure off of us in sharing the word about Christ with others. The seeds God gives us to scatter are the best seeds in the universe, God’s seeds of love! But as we scatter them, we’re not even required to have a good aim. We just scatter God’s love and leave the rest to God!

Second, as Christians all we have to do is spread the Word. We don’t have to be innovative. We don’t have to make up a new message. We don’t have to be marketing geniuses. God's Word about Jesus Christ doesn't mean additions or subtractions. It doesn't need to be made more palatable or politically correct. It doesn't need to be made cute. God is the only true innovator anyway: He makes new, eternal beings out of sinners otherwise destined for eternal death simply by calling them to trust in the crucified and risen Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Third, Jesus’ parable tells us that we shouldn’t be discouraged when the seeds we scatter don’t all grow.

The farmer in Jesus’ parable found that only 25% of his seeds survived, grew, and thrived. But that 25% grew like crazy and had an impact on the world in which they grew.

Whenever we invite people to events like Our Own Backyard, or serve others on our mission trips, or house the homeless, we may only plant the seed of faith in 25% of the people we touch. But what’s wrong with that?

If only 25% of the people we touched in that Kindness Outreach a week and a half ago are nudged closer to Christ, that's 31 people!

If just 25% of the men we served at Saint Vincent a few weeks ago grew closer to Christ because we served in Christ’s Name, that’s still 38 men!

And if a quarter of the 168 people served through yesterday’s kindness outreach have their wills cracked open a bit to Christ, that's 42 souls drawn closer to Christ’s orbit.

And just imagine how many people may be having the seed of faith in Christ planted in their lives through Upward, Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), our mission trips, and the work Dan Mershon does with our community’s young people--our "parking lot kids"--day-in and day-out!

Christ depends on us. If we Christians never scatter the seed of Christ’s gospel in the world, we are guaranteed to fail. Nobody will ever know about Christ if we in the Church don’t tell others about Him, His cross, and His empty tomb.

If we do scatter the seed, we’re guaranteed that often we will fail from the world's point of view. But we are also guaranteed that we will reach some people with the news about Jesus that can change their lives for eternity.

Jesus says in Luke 15:7: “...there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” I totally dig the idea that by sharing Christ with others, I can be part of getting a party started in heaven!

The fourth encouraging thing I take from Jesus’ parable is that when we scatter the Word of God, we are fulfilling the highest calling of our lives! You and I were formed in our mothers’ wombs to give glory to God in this way!

1 Peter 2:9 says: “ are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

As Christians, we’ve been born and reborn to be seed-scatterers!

Today, I think, Jesus wants us to learn one thing and to do one thing.

We’re to learn this: As His followers, you and I have been saved for all eternity by Jesus so that we can be indiscriminate seed-scatterers, sharing Him all the time.

And the one thing He wants us to do is to live that lifestyle, spreading the seed of God's Word about Christ everywhere.

Sign up for serving with Saint Vincent or IHN.

Show up for the next Kindness Outreach or do one yourself with some friends from the congregation.

Look for opportunities to develop relationships with spiritually disconnected people and ask God to help you share the Good News.

Share the Savior Jesus, Who loves you completely, with others He loves completely in all your words and all your actions.

That’s it.

That’s the message.

As Jesus says in our lesson, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Miracle at a Speedway Station

Today, several members of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, hit the bricks to share God's love in a practical way, giving away 168 bottles of cold water to total strangers in less than an hour.

One member brought her grandsons. When one of the boys saw an elderly man filling up his gas tank at a Speedway station, he asked his grandma if they could share a water with the man. I'm convinced that the young man was responding to a prompt from God's Holy Spirit, because when he and his grandmother had given the water to the man, he was deeply touched.

"Are you the kind of church that prays for sick people," he asked. "Every week," he was told.

He then asked if they could pray for his wife, suffering from a terminal illness, and who he hoped to bring home before she passed. The group of three began to pray, right there by the pump at the Speedway station.

As it happened, a veterinarian, whose office is near the station, saw the praying group, walked over from his office, and asked if he could pray with them.

It's been my experience that when we dare to reach out to others with the love God has given to all the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus, scenes like this happen. Just think what happened in that short interchange of strangers, a miracle at a Speedway station:
  • The comfort of God came to a man carrying a world of hurt and grief.
  • A little boy learned to respond to Jesus' call to love others as we love ourselves.
  • The group of us on this outreach learned again that God uses those willing to follow His lead to spread the message of His love in our communities and in our world.
God was the author of it all and I came away from it simply amazed by Him. (Again!)

Billy Hamilton is Amazing!

"That's an easy play," said Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman. Not when you're trying to make it on Billy Hamilton!

Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron James and Going Home

"My relationship with northeast Ohio goes beyond basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."

That's part of LeBron James' explanation of his decision to go back to Cleveland. It reminds me of the old saying, "You don't know what you've got till you lose it."

That feeling can come to any of us. But not everyone gets the chance to return to the place or the people that constitute "home" for them. James has gotten that chance. Good for him!

(As a lifelong Ohioan, I understand how this place gets under one's skin. I'm very glad to live here.)

Why So Few People Want to Buy Your Old Furniture


"Reverse Paranoia"?

"What could happen if we in God’s kingdom truly acted as if the words of the apostle John were literally true: 'He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world' (1 John 4:4) [?]"

It would be "reverse paranoia."

Very helpful post by Philip Yancey in today's Our Daily Bread, here.

Got to See a No-Hitter Last Night...and Maybe, a Future Star

My son and I went to see the Dayton Dragons, the Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, play the South Bend Silver Hawks (the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate) at Fifth-Third Ball Park in Dayton last night. South Bend pitcher Blayne Weller tossed a strange no-hitter, strange because Dayton did score one run. Weller had entered the game with a 4.66 ERA. His team won 7-1. (The exact score that made so many Brazilian soccer fans cry a few days ago.)

We were really impressed by South Bend shortstop Andrew Velezquez. The kid turns twenty this coming Monday. He went 1 for 2, with two walks. The At Bat on which he got the hit was an impressive one. After fouling off a number of pitches, he connected for a hit to right field and, with his exceptional speed, turned a double into a triple. In his other official AB, what looked like a sure home run veered slightly into foul territory. Velezquez did commit a fielding error. But I think this kid will be in the bigs some day, probably sooner than later.

Corn on the Cob from the Microwave

Tried this last night and had fantastic results. The ear slips out of the husk, with the silk left inside, like toothpaste from a tube AND the corn tastes great!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Mystery Shoppers" Reveal Strengths, Weaknesses of Churches of Different Sizes


The takeaway, I think, is that there are inherent potential negatives for churches of any size. But armed with these facts, churches can prayerfully avoid the negatives and be all that God calls them to be.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

True Wisdom

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this past Sunday.]

Matthew 11:25-30
Today, our topic is true wisdom.

True story: An then middle-aged white woman, a longtime follower of Christ and a devoted student of the Bible, went with women from the Methodist congregation to which she belonged to visit a group of African-American women who were members of an inner city church. They were to have a Bible study together.

The woman supposed that she and her group would do a lot of teaching during the gathering.

She and the other women of her group were amazed though, by one young black Christian whose love of Scripture and, more importantly, her depth as a follower of Jesus Christ, taught those white women more about what it means to be a disciple in a few hours than they had learned for much of the rest of their lives.

Decades later the middle aged woman, by then elderly, told a little boy who, more than twenty years later, God would, call to be a Lutheran pastor, to never confuse Bible knowledge for faithfulness, to never confuse learning about the Lord (or learning about anything else, for that matter) for wisdom from the Lord. 

I've never forgotten those words spoken to me by my great-grandmother.

Knowledge and worldly wisdom come from us; but true wisdom comes from God alone. And if we take our cues from the world and its ideas about what’s shrewd and smart and wise, we will end up on the wrong side of eternity.

From the wellspring of God’s wisdom given to him by God, King Solomon writes in Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

Nowhere is this more true than in the usual responses of the world to Jesus Christ.

Though the human race may not like it, Jesus, both the Bible and Jesus Himself insist, is the only way to life with God.

N.T. Wright, the Anglican scholar of the New Testament, has summarized this truth by saying that Jesus is “the window onto God.”

And five hundred years ago, Martin Luther distilled it by saying that if we want to know God and Who He is, we need to look to Christ on the cross.

Jesus is explicit about His identity as God and as the way to God in verse 27 of today’s Gospel lesson: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus is the window to God, the doorway to eternity, God come to the earth, Who is our only means to eternity.

You may have noticed that the world isn’t always keen to accept these things about Jesus.

Accepting Jesus as the ultimate self-disclosure of God and the only Savior of human souls doesn’t play well with the prevailing prejudices of the human race.

One such prejudice challenges God in Christ to prove Himself, His existence, and His power, as though His death and resurrection are insufficient proof to silence all challenges to Jesus’ lordship.

Another prejudice comes from those who prefer that God be subordinate to them and let them choose religion over faith in Christ alone.

Then there are those who simply hate the idea of surrendering to a God Who offers them salvation as a free gift, who want to prove themselves and their own worthiness, who want their will to be done and not God’s will.

Truth is, we all exhibit these prejudices, even the most committed of Christians.

Bred deep in the DNA of every human being is the desire to be like God and the suspicion that we know better than God.

And this inherited “functional atheism” will reside in every human being until the crucifixion of death comes to this earthly flesh.

In the section of Matthew’s Gospel from which this morning’s lesson comes, Jesus has been running the gauntlet of these human prejudices, through the kind of human confidence in human wisdom that often keeps human beings from trusting in Christ as God and Savior.

Take a look at Matthew 11 with me, please (page 682 in the sanctuary Bibles), and scan the incidents that give rise to the prayer of Jesus that makes up today’s lesson.

Matthew 11:3 tells us that John the Baptist, of all people, incarcerated for readying the world for the coming of the Messiah, was having his doubts about Jesus. John instructs his own disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

You see, to those of a religious bent of mind, Christianity seems too simple. They find it hard to accept that God doesn’t say, “Be good and you can earn your way into my good graces.” Instead, God says, “Repent--submit to the crucifixion of your old self and all its sins--and trust in Christ--believe that Christ erases the power of sin and death over your life, and you will have life with God for eternity.”

John, being of a religious bent of mind, was confused. He thought that the Messiah would be a conquering king. But here the One he thought was Messiah was operating as God always had stretching back to the garden and throughout the Old Testament, offering salvation by grace through faith in Him.

Later, in verses 16-18, Jesus laments the fact that “this generation,” meaning the whole human race, could never be satisfied with the ways in which God reached out to them. They said that John the Baptist, who never touched a drop of alcohol, had a demon and that Jesus, because He reached out to tax extortionists and other sinners, was “a glutton and a drunkard.” The religious know-it-alls, the good church people of Jesus’ day, were certain of their wisdom.

“But wisdom,” Jesus says in Matthew 11:19, “is proved right by her deeds.”

Despite his doubts, John the Baptist was willing to submit to death for His faith in Christ, and so was proven right.

Jesus, despite His sinlessness, was willing to take our punishment for sin on the cross, then rose from death to offer life to all who follow Him, and so was proven right.

And, the Bible teaches, if we will follow Him, we too will be proven right in trusting in Him.

1 Peter 1:6-9 tells Christians: “...though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

This way of life is completely opposite to the way of life commended by the world’s wisdom.

The wisdom of this world says: “Do what seems right to you. Follow your heart. Look out for number one. Get it while you can.”

The wisdom of God tells us, “Surrender to Christ. Let God call the shots. Endure...even when it’s the last thing on earth you want to do. God will help you through the tough times. And He will give you an eternity of joy beyond all human imagining.”

Just before today’s lesson, then, Jesus denounces towns that refused to welcome Him as Lord. He says that because they were more confident in their own wisdom than the revealed wisdom of God, they would “go down to Hades,” to hell. (So much for Milquetoast Jesus.)

It’s then that Jesus prays, starting at Matthew 11:25: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

The people who get the Gospel, who get Jesus and get life from Him are those who are willing to get Jesus, people who submit to becoming little children and who bow to the wisdom of God.

Jesus isn’t saying that those who follow Him are to be stupid or gullible. He’s saying that they are pliant, open to God.

In the end, faith in Christ and deepened faith in Christ cannot come as the result of human wisdom or rational argument.

Faith cannot come from the begrudging fulfillment of religious duties, of taking on the burden of religious do’s and don’t’s like the heavy yoke the farmers of Jesus’ day placed on the backs of their work animals.

Faith and the new life of freedom from sin, the freedom to say no to sin, the freedom to live as the people God made us to be, the freedom to live life God’s way, the way we were designed to live, is a gift to those who turn their backs on the wisdom of the world and embrace the wisdom of God.

Of course, we must learn as Christians to live in this world like foreigners and strangers. We're not in heaven yet. That's why Jesus says that His followers are to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

But we are people who live under a new wisdom, unlike the wisdom of this world.

We know that grace is free.

The Gospel is true.

And rest for the soul comes to those who follow Christ.

So, Jesus says, beginning in verse 28, issues an invitation to all people to bow to this wisdom and His lordship: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

To some, heedless of Christ’s cross and empty tomb, these words will seem like nonsense. They will refuse to believe.

And the only way to reach them is the very way Jesus reached skeptics and unbelievers, through deeds of kindness and love and service rendered in the power and in the Name of God Himself.

That’s why our missions to places like India and Haiti, our service through agencies like Service Over Self, Interfaith Hospitality Network, and the Gateway Men’s Shelter of St. Vincent de Paul, and even our kindness outreaches, are so important.

Romans 2:4 tells us that the kindness of God is intended to bring people to repentance and new life in Christ.

Christians, living in the wisdom revealed by Christ and not in their own wisdom, are freed from all anxiety about their own worthiness, so that they can perpetrate many small and large acts of kindness in Christ’s Name and Christ’s power and so, recklessly help others know the God of the cross and the resurrection.

This actually should be very good news for us this morning!

I know it does for me.

Confession: The older I get, the less I can truly say I know.

My head may be filled with lots of facts. I may have lots of experiences. But as time goes by, the less qualified I feel to function myself or to offer advice to others.

My wisdom, I realize, is non-existent. My impulses, doubtful. My maturity, questionable.

But despite having nothing of what the world counts as wisdom, I live with confidence and hope. I know that God has all the wisdom I need to live from day to day. And from God, we can have the greatest wisdom of all: faith in Christ! This is what Jesus offers to those who submit to being little children who follow Him.

James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

In Matthew 11:27, Jesus says: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus has chosen to reveal God and the way of salvation and hope to those who are willing to surrender.

You don’t have to earn it.

You don’t have to be brilliant or charming or strong or beautiful or accomplished.

You just have to be willing to let Him love you and follow where He leads.

I have to warn you that that sounds easier than it actually is.

Which is why the Christian lives in what Lutheran called “daily repentance and renewal,” daily surrender to Christ, daily downloading of God's wisdom.

This is the way of life. Amen