Salem Lutheran Church

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Who's in Charge Here?

You know, every time I read Jeremiah 23, as I pastor, I get a little nervous. Did you hear how that story started this morning, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them” (Jeremiah 23:1-2). In today’s language it might go something like this, ““Woe to the pastors and leaders of my church, who destroy and scatter my people! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the pastors and the leaders of my church, who care for my people: It is you who have deceived my people and caused them not to know that they are mine and salvation is theirs, and it is you who have driven them away from my church, for you have not tended to them.”

As your pastor that makes me nervous, for I pray every day that the words I offer you and the leadership I provide encourage you to know that you are saved by grace through faith and nothing, let me repeat that, nothing can take that away from you. Oh, I know every year as we journey through journey through this Season after Pentecost, we read and hear much about all the things God expects of his people and as I preach about those things I often speak about all the things we ought to do, and there are many things in scripture that we are told we ought to do. We are commanded to love our neighbor as our self. We are commanded to go and baptize all nations. We are commanded give of ourselves, our time and our possessions. God speaks of first fruits giving and of honoring our fathers and mothers. We are commanded to worship our LORD and to partake in the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. We are commanded to not lie, to not steal and the list goes on. We ought not do these things and as those who profess our faith in Christ as our LORD and Savior, we are held to a very high expectation. But as Martin Luther once said, we should not confuse an “ought” with a “can” that is there are many things that God tells us we “ought” to do, and as faithful servants of Christ, we should do everything in our power to live as Christ has called us to live, but know that just because we “ought” to do something, does not mean we always “can” do it. After all, if we humans could live perfectly as Christ commanded then Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were all for nothing.

If we could live that perfect life then that would mean that we were in charge of this world and the fact is, we are not in charge. The truth we are reminded of today is that there is only one who is in charge and that is the one who was mocked on the cross and given what was thought to be a false title, King of the Jews, but who, as it turned out, actually was the King and who would reign from the cross itself. That King is Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, we are sinners, but as we were reminded a few weeks ago on All Saints Sunday, we are also those saints that God calls his own and through his claim on us and our faith in him, salvation is already ours, not because of anything we have done, but because our King says so.

As we come to the end of this church year, this Gospel text of Jesus on the cross at first might not seem like much of a celebratory text to you, but for me it is truly the most inspiring text we could hear. First, did you notice the first thing Luke tells us about Jesus’ crucifixion? “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:33-34).

Did you hear that? As he was being brutally murdered, all Jesus could think of to do was to offer forgiveness to all who took part in his execution. Jesus, our King, interceded on behalf of all who turned from him, all who rejected him, all who denied him, and said, “Father, forgive them!” Those people “ought” not to have been doing what they were doing, but Jesus knew that they could not help it and so he offers forgiveness. That is a King I desire to follow; a King who is filled with mercy and forgiveness.

Secondly did you listen to what happened next? As Luke told us, Jesus was executed with two thieves by his side and although no one up until this point, not even his disciples, recognized Jesus as the promised messiah, one of the thieves knew the truth. One of the thieves, a self-proclaimed sinner, seems to know who Jesus really is, and that thief had the audacity to say to Jesus as they hung there dying, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). What? How on earth, could someone who by his own admission had probably broken every command God had given us ask Jesus to allow him into God’s promised kingdom? The man ought to have lived a better life, but he didn’t. As Luther once said, don’t confuse an “ought” with a “can.” And in response to that sinner on the cross next to him, Jesus offered words of comfort that I pray you hear for yourself this day, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Jesus is the King, I desire to follow, for he is my king, our King, and even though we might struggle in this life with how we “ought” to live, he promises us life with him in paradise. Through his sacrifice, we are promised paradise?

Brothers and sisters, as we bring this church year to a close, and we make our pledges this day to support this congregation in God’s mission, I pray that you have heard the words of promise and hope that our King offers us daily: Father forgive them, and know that you, too, will be with me in paradise. Yes, even though daily the world tells us that there are others in charge, our King, Jesus the Christ, is in charge here, and he promises us forgiveness and eternal life with him in paradise. Praise be to God! Amen.


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