March 23 Sermon


March 23, 2022
I Peter 3:11
Pr. David E. Schafer

“Mercy in Betrayal”

INI, Amen

His name was Benedict Arnold. We know him as a traitor to the American cause during the Revolutionary War. Benedict Arnold sold out his country for 20,000 pounds of silver. Benedict Arnold’s name is associated with shame, disgrace, and scandal.

Another name that is associated with shame, disgrace, and scandal is the name of Judas.  From the time of the Gospels, Judas’ name has been associated with betrayal - betrayal - of the worst kind.

For 30 pieces of silver, Judas Iscariot betrayed his Lord and Savior - our Lord and Savior - Jesus Christ. Tonight, we look at Judas’ betrayal. And we view not only his betrayal of Jesus, but our own betrayal of Jesus as well. We do so, in full view of the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Our text from St. Matthew, chapter 26, describes the scene. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night. Jesus had just instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion with his disciples in the upper room.

There, in the Garden, Jesus was praying to his Father for physical and spiritual strength to face his holy destiny. St. Matthew tells us “Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.”

As Matthew has written, Judas was just one of the twelve disciples. Judas was the disciple that Jesus had hand-picked to be his closest friend. Judas had followed Jesus, listened to his words and witnessed his miracles. Judas was a trusted confident.

And yet, Judas turned against Jesus. Judas struck the deal with Jesus’ enemies; with those who sought to discredit and destroy the Lord. Jesus’ enemies needed an informant - an insider - who would help to carry out their plot for Jesus’ arrest.

The reward was small. Only 30 silver coins. The payment was the price for a common slave. Judas would sell out his master like a slave.  The money was cheap - just like - good old Judas. After all, anything for a buck!  Right?

On that dark Thursday night, Judas led a crowd to arrest Jesus so that he might go on trial, be found guilty, condemned to death, and nailed to the cross.

Judas had provided an insidious signal to identify Jesus as the target for the arrest. Judas approached Jesus and gave him a kiss- a kiss of betrayal - a kiss of death.

How painful it must’ve been for Jesus to receive such a kiss. How shameful!  How disgraceful!  How horrid!

For 20,000 British pounds, Benedict Arnold betrayed the United States. For a fraction of the price, Judas betrayed Jesus Christ. And what about us? What is our price for betrayal?

Maybe our price is that of greed, want, or excess.  Perhaps our price for betrayal is ambition, our quest for the best, the shiniest, the newest, or the latest thing. We press on with our selfish wills over and against the will of God.

 I want to talk specifically to our young people and to their parents. It seems that every Christian denomination across the country is facing a shortage of pastors. When I graduated from Luther Seminary, I was 1 among a class of 185.  Last year, I think Luther graduated about 35 students. And the numbers are far worse in our NALC seminary.

There are more and more ministers who have put their long years of parish ministry behind them. They want to retire and enjoy themselves. At some point, Loretta and I are planning to join the ranks – hopefully - this time of the year - in sunny and warm Florida.

So often the question is asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  A better question to ask is “What does God want you to be when you grow up?”  I can always remember that I felt called to the ministry. What about you?  Do you hear God’s calling?  Has  becoming an ordained pastor ever crossed your mind?  What does that still small voice saying to your heart?

It is a true blessing to be a pastor.  Yes, there are challenges.  And yet, there comes a rewarding joy when you follow Jesus!  I have always that it was a privilege to be a servant of the Word and the sacraments; to hear the hurt of another, to bear their burdens; to speak a word of forgiveness; and in the midst of death – to declare God’s word of eternal life.

For years and years, my father’s mother prayed that one of her sons would to go into the ministry.  God did not answer those prayers. .Grandma Schafer never gave up.  She began to pray that at least one of her grandson would study for the ministry.  

Grandma did not live to know her prayers were answered.  Grandma died just before Christmas when I was a freshman in college.  But when I answered the call, I knew that grandma was – and hopeful still – thankful that her prayers were answered.

What about you?  What about your sons or daughters/?  What about your grandchildren?  What do you pray for when it comes to your sons and daughters?  You pray that they will be happy and heathy.  You pray that God will bless them in every way.  You pray that they will have a great future.  But do you pray that their futures will include college and seminary?  If not, please consider praying like my grandma did for all of those years.  And remember, God always answers prayer.  He always does.

I have always been amazed that God can use someone as unworthy as me be a pastor.  It’s not that I wanted to betray Jesus – and yet – I know that I have been unfaithful time after time.  And I know that I’m not alone in betraying our Lord.  You are right there with me.  We have all betrayed Jesus with our words and deeds.  After all, we are sinners, each and every one of us.

It’s been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  And that’s where we are welcomed.  Jesus welcomes us to the cross.  Jesus welcomes us to come unto him with our betrayals.  Jesus welcomes us to come to him with our brokenness, our contempt, our pride, our envy, and all of our other shameful sins.

It’s from the cross that we hear Jesus’ word of forgiveness.  From the cross, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive us.  From Jesus’ own lips, he frees us, breaks our chains, forgets our past, and heals our sin sick souls.

From the cross, St. Paul’s words “For by the grace of God I go on” takes shape – transforming our lives – giving light in our darkness – giving us breather – and hope – and life and life eternal 

Like Benedict Arnold and Judas, we have all betrayed our Lord.  And yet, in spite of our betrayal, Jesus opens his arms for us from his cross.  From Jesus – who suffered and died for us – may we receive his mercy in betrayal.

INI, Amen

March 20, 2022 Sermon

March 20, 2022 / St Luke 13:1-9
Pr. David E. Schafer

“Producing Perfect Fruit”

For the most part, I like to start working on my sermons about a month ahead. This gives me plenty of time to review and to fine tune my conversation from this pulpit.  When I began to do the research for this homily, there was only talk about Russia invading Ukraine.  Unfortunately, the talk has become an all-out terrible and ugly war.

With the 24 hour news cycle, we seem to be bombarded with a steady flow of the atrocities caused by the Russians against the men, women, and children of Ukraine.  As I watch the news, I think what would happen to us if we were in the same horrid position?

It is a sad commentary on us, as humans to be arm chair quarterbacks by blaming people when they seem to experience more than their share of human misery. All too often, we conclude that the person - or the persons - who have encountered the hardships and the disappointments and the heartbreaking circumstances of life - must have deserved their lot.

When bad things happen to people, we ask the “why” question. Why did this or that happen to my brother; my cousin; my daughter; my next-door neighbor; or that guy down the street?

This is certainly the situation as it is presented in this morning’s Gospel.  Our Lord Jesus Christ provides for us some answers to these difficult questions.

St. Luke begins by telling us that there were “some present” who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. When St. Luke speaks of a group of unknown persons, he is using a code that is intended to include each of us. 

How often do we ask Jesus the question of why would someone experience a terrible or a deadly outcome in their lives?

And who among us have not concluded that they must have done something awful to deserve their punishment? To those present and to us, Jesus replies to their thought with a question. Jesus asked “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all of the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”

Before those in the crowd formulate an answer, Jesus answered his own question. Jesus said “No, I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish!”  Ouch!  Their ears must have burned. 

And the same goes for me and you!  Ouch!  Jesus’ words hit us on top of our heads and pierce our hearts.

The matter is not a philosophical discussion on the nature of another person’s sin – but – the matter is one that deals with our own sinful lives.  And there is no discussion as to the question “if” we are sinners.  And even “if” we might have committed some small innocent seeming sin, should we be punished any real way?

Jesus cuts right to the chase.  For Jesus - and for us - reality is that we are all condemned sinners who deserve nothing more than God’s damnation for our great wickedness - for our hideous transgressions – and for the iniquities that fills our hearts.

To drive home the point, Jesus spoke of the people in Siloam who died when a tower fell on them. Jesus tells us that unless we repent of our manifold sins, we too shall perish.

And just so we don’t get confused about our need to change our lives by repenting of our sins, Jesus tells us the story of the fig tree. It seems that a fig tree did not produce fruit. We are told that the man who owned the tree wanted it to be chopped down. The owner asked the gardener “Why should the tree use the ground?”

The gardener must have had a soft spot for the fig tree. The gardener pleaded to the owner for a second chance. The gardener pleaded the owner to spare the fig tree - at least for a time. The gardener said “Sir, let it alone this year also, and until I dig around the tree and spread out some fertilizer. If the tree bears fruit, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

When I finished the proclamation of this morning’s Gospel, I ended the reading by announcing “This is the gospel - the good news - of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  To which you responded with these words Praise to you, O Christ!”

Are the words that we have just spoken nothing more than a part of our ancient worship tradition? Or is it something more?  

The answer is simply “yes” “yes” - both statements are certainly only the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a most profound and wonderful way.  And as a bonus, the story of the fruitless fig tree - given three years - to produce fruit - is certainly nothing less than the incredible promise of Jesus Christ to save our lives from eternal death.

You see, we are the “fruitless” fig tree that Jesus is speaking of. In the story, the owner is God. It is God who owns our very lives.  God is our creator.  He formed us in his own image. Moreover, God formed us in his own likeness.

This means that because we are formed in God’s own image and likeness - God expects us - to bear the fruit - of God’s own image and likeness. 

And what does it mean for us to produce such fruit? It means that God expects us to produce the fruit of his generosity, kindness, patience, acceptance, compassion, embrace, mercy, grace, and love.

But what do we actually produce? Some would say that we produce sour rotten fruit.  In all honesty, we don’t even produce sour rotten fruit. The truth is that we produce nothing. When God comes looking for fruit - the fruit that he expects of us - the fruit that reflects his image and likeness - we have nothing to show for ourselves.

And so God is justified to demand our lives be terminated. With nothing to show for ourselves, why should we be allowed to take up territory - to enjoy life - to consume pleasures - to make merry – and to breathe the breath of life?

It is the Owner – the Owner’s Son – the Gardener – who advocates for us.  It is the Gardener – the Son - Jesus Christ – who produces the fruit of generosity, kindness, patience, acceptance, compassion, embrace, mercy, grace, and love for us.

The fruit that Jesus produces is perfect in every way. The fruit that Jesus produces has no blemish, spot, or imperfection. Such a wonderful fruit!  Such delicious fruit!  Such satisfying fruit. God is well pleased.

And for us and for our salvation - Jesus takes his fruit - to the top of Calvary’s Mount.  From a tree, Jesus was nailed to the tree the produces only the fruit of suffering, agony, incredible pain, emptiness, and death.  All of this - all of this heart wrenching – terror - produces the fruit of blessedness, holiness, innocence, purity, merit, redemption, life, and eternal life.

Soon, we will sing “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”.  (LBW 499)  The closing verse goes this way “I heard the voice of Jesus say, I am this dark world’s light; Look unto me, your morn shall rise, And all your days be bright.  I looked to Jesus, And I found in him my star, my sun; And in that light of life I’ll walk Till trav’ling days are done”.

In the midst of our daily struggles and our everyday trials, we often wonder why. We ask “why must I suffer so”?  All too often, we conclude that God must have something against us, as an explanation for the misery in our lives. But in truth, God does not “ZAP” us because of our sins. The truth is that God - through Jesus Christ - gives us the gift of time to amend our sinful ways and to repent of our transgressions. Against the darkness of our lives, Jesus Christ is the light of our lives. The light of Jesus Christ, may we see his mercy, forgiveness, and love. In such love, may we be certain of the promise of life everlasting through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

INI, Amen