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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Oct 23, 2016  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Once upon a time, in the land of thorns and thistles, a man got ready to go to church. Now, whether the one who was getting ready for church was truly a man or not, I don't know. I suppose the person may just as easily have been a woman or a young person. Now you might ask, "Well, just how old was this person?" I don't know, because really, any age would do. You decide, for those are the kinds of decisions that you are going to have to start making for yourself.

I mean, the man would say things like that, wanting others to take on their own responsibilities, thinking about what was right and what was wrong, making their own decisions, taking charge of their lives and just plain, be "doing the right thing."

You know what I mean? Why of course you do. He said a lot of things like that.

"Take the bull by the horns." As a door turns on its hinges, So does the lazy man on his bed (Proverbs 26:14).

"Get out there and make something of yourself." "Make your father and your God proud of you." Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6).

"Go make a name for yourself and do your mother proud." "Pull yourself up by the bootstraps." You see, this man was a hard worker and wanted his children to be the same.

Anyway, it being the Holy Day of the week and all, the man was getting ready to go to church. And if you looked across this land and evaluated him amongst and against other people, you could easily see that he was a decent sort of fellow, a man accepted by his neighbors and respected by his peers. He abided by the Golden Rule as all people should abide, but many people don't. The man really did a better job at that Rule than the very vast majority of his neighbors.

In fact, if everyone were like this man, then violent crimes like murder, sinister transgressions against God's will like extortion, and those horrible, dark violations of the Law like adultery would be non-existent.

That is, of course, if everyone were like the man of whom I speak, and of course in the fallen land of thorns and thistles, not everyone was like that man.

The man was getting ready to go to church and he had to decide what he would wear. He checked his wardrobe, considering what would be appropriate to put on and wear to church, for he was to appear in God's House and be in the presence of the Lord God Almighty. He stopped to decide between three outfits -each one a fine piece of workmanship. He selected the best. After all, God deserved the best and the man wanted the Lord to know that he was giving Him his very best. I mean, God expects the best, doesn't He?

The man was used to giving the best to the Lord. It was a way of life for him from the earliest of days, having been taught how to live the sacrificial life by his father and mother. He gave the very proper and godly proportion of all his earnings in order to please God. Why, can you believe it, the man even skipped a couple meals a week in order to demonstrate to God just how serious he was in making sacrifices of time, body, and money to the Lord.

Every day he had his personal devotions and was in the Word of God. His memorization of the Bible would put any of us to shame. He worked hard at pleasing God, and certainly, I mean surely, the Lord must have been pleased with him. The man not only became the example of what it meant to be a devoted, sacrificial member of the congregation, he actually became the standard for the others follow. Ah, yes, this was most certainly true.

This man knew his place, not only with respect to the others in the congregation, but also with himself. He was right within his own mind and soul. His own conscience did not accuse him and his heart did not condemn him. Being right within himself, having followed the Golden Rule better than others, knowing many Biblical passages, and being a sacrificial member of the congregation, a great giver of all he had, he just knew that he was right with God. Without a single doubt, he knew what his place was among the people, in the church, and with God.

He made a final check of himself before walking out the door of his house and heading to the House of the Lord. When he got there the first thing he would do was to pray. Now, he didn't have a printed bulletin like you have and as a result, he naturally didn't have a prayer printed out to use. So, when he walked to his place in church he would pray to himself from his heart.

He entered the courts of the Lord, and as he did, he noted several others -mostly familiar faces, some with names, usually in familiar places, though the strangers obviously had no frequented places. As his walk continued, he made mental inventory, noting this person and that, recalling their past events and present employment -remembering their deeds done and immediate activities. Finally in his assumed place, he prayed quietly and confidently from his heart, ...

Stained Glass Baptism Window

"God, my heart is filled with overflowing gratitude and I really am quite thankful to You, O God, that I am who I am and that I am not anyone else. I confess that I am not like others and have set about to do your will, avoiding all the opportunities to defraud people, taking the necessary precautions to remain sexually chaste. I am a just man, O God, not like others here, especially that one individual that You and I both know is a manifest sinner. Amen."

Thus the man prayed and thus the man left church that day, a day at least up to that point, that was a typical day in the life of that self-made man.

Then, on the way home to his house, the Lord visited him with the Word of the Law. Mebbe it was a sudden illness, mebbe a personal crisis that cropped up, mebbe a confrontation with someone from his past, mebbe it was something else......

Whatever befell him, the Holy Spirit began to skillfully use the Word of God on him like a surgical scalpel. For, as you people know, the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).

It lasted six days as the LORD confronted the man out of the whirlwind of this world, and of his trials and said: "Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me" (Job 38:2-3).

"You tender a claim to be a hard worker, a self-made man, a man respected by others. Is that suppose to impress Me?" You seek to set Your good works in the scales of divine justice and earn My favor. You acknowledge no sin on your part and you seek no forgiveness.

Both are rejections of the sin-atoning work of the Messiah. He is the obedient Son, not you. Jesus is the One about His Father's business on your behalf. All of His works are good and pleasing; none of yours are.

You have rejected My Son Who died for all your transgressions as well as the filthiness of your claimed good deeds. You are self-righteous and you seek to impress Me with your deeds of this world. I require absolute perfection in all thoughts, words, and works --all the time, every time, without exception. Jesus has done it all in your place and you continue to reject His Work. Who do you think you are?"

The man opened his mouth to speak in defense of himself, but the Word of the Lord came forth once more and stopped the impenitent's mouth who was about to make mention of his numerous offerings of time and money.

"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats" (Isaiah 1:11).

"With your offerings and sacrifices, you have presumed to receive a blessing from Me." None will be given because You have not acknowledged the Sacrifice of My Son on your behalf. I loved you and the rest of the world, that I could not give you up without providing the Way of Life. I sent My Son to die for you. That is the Sacrifice and the Offering of the Ages. I gave My Son for you and He gave His Life for you. Yet you continue to reject His Work, His Life, and My Gift to the world. Who do you think you are?"

The man started again, but was stopped again. "You presume to set yourself up beside Me and My righteousness. Truly I say to you, all of your righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)."

Indeed, according to His Word, the LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one (Psalm 14:2-3).

The Lord continued, "You do not have the righteousness that is able to endure unto and into eternity. Your righteousness is like the finest clothes you have, only a mask, a covering, a morning mist that is gone the moment the sun rises. O man, only My Righteousness will accomplish that and I offer it as a gracious gift. The Righteous One pleaded for you from His cross, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34). You continue to reject His Work, His Life, My Gift to the world, and His Righteousness. Who do you think you are?

The stunned man thought about opening his mouth, but did not.

The Word of the Lord continued to hammer the man, "You walk into My House thinking it is yours as well. When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? (Isaiah 1:12).

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

You presume to own a place in My House. The places here are reserved for those who believe that they have broken My Commandments and that they are saved by the Good News of My Son's Life-giving Death and death-defying Resurrection. The place you claim is reserved for My Children, of whom, to this point, you are not one.

And then, filling the cup of wrath to the overflowing point, you presume to pray a prayer to Me, which thanks Me for making you the way you are. Listen carefully, O man on the brink of eternal destruction, When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear (Isaiah 1:15). You continue to reject Christ's Work, His Life, My Gift to the world, Jesus' Righteousness, the Spirit's Word, and My Church. Now just who do you think you are?

And then, ... there was silence from God. The crushed man was now alone and his spirit staggered under the assault he had suffered. Every self-made foundation he had constructed for himself had been demolished and lay in ruins. His heart pounded and sweat poured from his body. His mind had been assailed as his conscience had been exposed, his heart laid open, and he had been shown his own soul.

He opened his mouth, fully expecting to have it stopped again, completely stuffed and forever and for always choking with the just condemnations of the Lord Who had confronted him with his self righteous sin. But to his astonishment, his speech was not impaired and he found himself mumbling three words, "Who am I?"

At that moment, he knew and he wept bitterly. Slowly, he opened his eyes, fully expecting to see that forever-first second of eternal darkness that he had come to realize he had deserved. But, he did not.

The darkness of the night and his trials had given way to morning's Light and the sun had risen on another Holy Day. A gentle breeze cooled his sweaty head as he considered all that he had just been through and had seen and had heard, as it had been told him. The man remained in bed for a good long while. Suddenly he arose and resolved to go to church. He quickly cleaned up and examined his wardrobe. Rather than selecting his best set of clothes, or even his second best, he simply chose what was appropriate for the day.

The man who was going to church practically ran out of his house. But, as the church building came into view he stopped trotting. The pace slowed to a moderate walk as God's House rose up before him. Others were going into the Holy Place and the man who was going to church began taking hesitating steps. The condition of a man who has been humbled by the Lord takes its measure on the body as well. He dared not lift his eyes to the height of the House of the Lord. The man trembled. As he approached the entrance to the House of the Lord God Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible, the man was able only to place one halting foot in front of the other.

Being under the all-knowing eye of God and the inquisitive, questioning, wondering eyes of the others who were in attendance at the great congregation that day, the man who went to church kept his eyes lowered. He cared about the former; he did not care about the latter. Stepping across the threshold of the Holy Place and entering the Sanctuary where God's people had assembled, he moved to an obscure spot and stood far off from his regular position, the place where he had been the previous week.

Someone eyed the crushed man with a disgusted look. Someone else was speaking something somewhere in this Holy Place, but the man could not hear it, nor did he want to know what other men were praying to God about. It's not that he did not regard others. Far from it. It's just that at this point, all was between God and him. That matter simply had to be settled first, before being involved with others.

With a contrite and repentant heart which sought the forgiveness of God on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, the repentant man lowered his tear-filled eyes. This mournful, sorrowful soul whose only hope was in the grace of the Lord, struck his chest. It was then that the God-enabled, Spirit-empowered answer passed through his heart and across the lips of this man who went to church, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

Dear friends in Christ, the text for our meditation today is the Gospel Reading for the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, Luke 18:9-14. Please listen to that text as we consider it under the theme ... ... Who Do You Think You Are?

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." Amen.

Christ Is Risen.

Luther Rose


Christ Is Risen
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