"A Wrong Comparison"#87-52
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 23, 2020
By Dr. Wallace Schulz, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 18:9-14
Almighty God, You are a God of holiness and a God of mercy and a God of love. Remove from our hearts, we pray, all desires to hide behind our shameful self-righteousness. But instead, Oh Lord, through Your gift of repentance and Your gift of faith enable us to trust only in the true and the pure and the life-saving righteousness of Your Son, the Lord Jesus. In His Name we pray, and we believe. Amen.
If you were to step on a scale at this moment, how much would you weigh? And how does your weight compare with other people around you? How much sleep do you get each night? And regarding the number of hours of sleep you get, how does this compare to the national average? We are a society that is constantly comparing ourselves to others. Whenever we see a height-and-weight chart in a magazine, we quickly look for comparisons.
We want to see where do we fit in? How do we measure up? Or where do we stand as compared to other people? Not long ago, USA Today newspaper carried a chart showing how much the average person in a given state owes on their credit card. Here again, we immediately look to see how we compare with others who also have credit card debt. Not long ago, a newspaper published a chart showing how much people give into the Sunday collection plate at church, and how much they give for other charity. And without a doubt, thousands of people studied that chart to assure themselves that what little they gave fit pretty well, at least with the national average. In the Bible, in the Gospel of Luke chapter 18, we read where Jesus explained how a Pharisee tried to make himself look good, and he did this by comparing himself to others.
Jesus said, "Two men went up into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. Now as the Pharisee prayed, he said, 'Oh Lord, I thank Thee that I'm not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week,' the Pharisee said. 'And I paid tithes of all that I get.'"
But then, Jesus immediately told about another man, and this second man was a tax collector. The second man was standing some distance away from the Pharisee. And this second man was not even willing, he was not even willing to lift up his eyes to heaven, but instead he beat his breast saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Now, after comparing the attitude of these two men, the self-righteous Pharisee, on the one hand, and the humble tax collector, on the other, Jesus said, "I tell you this man, the second man, the humble one, he went down to his house justified, rather than the other one, the Pharisee," because Jesus explained, "Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
How appropriate this parable of Jesus is for today. ... This is also a time when God, in a very special way, desires that we examine our lives and compare our life—not with that of our neighbor like the Pharisee did, nor with the national average like we are tempted to do, but instead God wants us, yes, God wants you today to compare your life with His Word and especially with His Ten Commandments.
In the Old Testament book of Lamentations, we read, "Let us examine and probe our own ways, and then let us return to the Lord." By God's grace and His Spirit, we will then receive God's gift of repentance. We will then also be enabled to say the words in Jesus' parable, "God be merciful to me a sinner," and with God's gift of repentance and with His gift of faith, you will then also be enabled to stand before God totally forgiven. In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul explains how God grants repentance, which leads to faith. Let us remember that in His holy Word, God not only invites us, but He actually commands us to confess our sins. But more than that, through His wonderful life-giving Word and Spirit, we are then enabled. Yes, you are enabled to confess and to repent. God then assures you of His promise of forgiveness. The apostle John speaks of this promise when he writes, "If we confess our sins, God is indeed faithful and righteous to forgive us all our sins and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness."
Now, I am sure that some of you listening today may feel like saying, "I really want to confess my sins, but how do I do it?" Well, 500 years ago, Martin Luther faced the same situation. He was struggling to help lay people understand the Bible in a simple way. In this struggle to help lay people and even clergy to understand the faith, Martin Luther put together what is called the Small Catechism, and this is a summary of the basic teachings of the Bible. Now in one section Luther set forth some simple questions and answers. Going through these Bible-based expressions enables people to have the humble attitude of that repentant man that Jesus spoke about in His parable.
I'm going to ask our announcer Mark Eischer to help me explain a bit more clearly what a God-pleasing confession might be. Mark will ask the Bible-based questions Luther set forth, and I will give God-pleasing confessions based on the Bible.
Eischer: Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Schulz: Yes. I believe it. I am a sinner.
Eischer: How do you know this?
Schulz: From the Ten Commandments? These I have not kept.
Eischer: Are you also sorry for your sins?
Schulz: Yes, I am sorry that I've sinned against God.
Eischer: What have you deserved of God by your sins?
Schulz: I have deserved God's wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation.
Eischer: Do you also hope to be saved?
Schulz: Yes. Such is my hope.
Eischer: In whom then do you trust?
Schulz: I trust in my dear Lord Jesus Christ.
Eischer: Who is Christ?
Schulz: Christ is the Son of God. True God and Man.
Eischer: How many gods are there?
Schulz: Only One, but there are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Eischer: What then has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?
Schulz: Jesus Christ has died for me. He has shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.
Now these very basic and simple few steps, you can also use to confess your sins to God in a way that will please Him. Now let's return again to the story Jesus told. You see, one of the things that the arrogant hypocritical Pharisee did was this: he did not confess to God his own sin. Rather, he said, "God, I thank Thee that I'm not like other people are: swindlers, unjust, adulterers," and so on, and so forth.
Now, my friend, when you hear this, doesn't this also remind you of things that you and I are also often tempted to say, or at least to think? "Oh Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other people. I'm not a drunkard. I don't watch pornographic movies. Lord, I have not taken bribes like so many politicians do. Lord, I don't gossip about other people in my church. Lord, I don't buy lottery tickets like so many other people do. I don't drive through stop signs. Lord, I thank Thee that I'm not like other people who skipped church or who don't read their Bible every day," and so on and so on and so on.
If you have ever felt like saying or even thinking these thoughts then, like the Pharisee Jesus spoke about, your heart has been tempted by shameful pride and sinful hypocrisy. So then how does one get out of all of this? Listen to what the psalmist did. This is what he says. "When I kept silent about my sin," he said, "then my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me. My vitality was drained away as with a fever heat of summer."
But now listen to the good news of the psalmist. He says it like this: "Then, yes, then I acknowledged my sin, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin." You see what the psalmist was confessing is also what the apostle John restated centuries later: that "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness." And so, and let us remember that confession, confession of sin, is not an empty act, nor is it an act without promise—a Law without Gospel. Instead, the psalmist rejoices in what God promises and what He provides to all those who confess their sins—and not the sins of their neighbor. Confession is the God-pleasing act of emptying ourselves of all self-righteousness so that our gracious Heavenly Father can fill us up with a perfect and soul-saving righteousness of Jesus, crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification.
And this is also what St. Paul confessed. You see, for years St. Paul tried to be self-righteous. Finally, however, Jesus intervened, and he was led to see how hopeless this really is. Then the apostle Paul confessed, "I now count all things to be lost in view of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord." And he said, "I count all of this self-righteousness as rubbish as garbage or as manure in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but a righteousness, which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness, which comes from God on the basis of faith."
God is calling you. Yes, He is calling you to do three things: first, stop always comparing yourself to others in order to make yourself look good. Instead, say with the psalmist, "Against Thee, Oh Lord, Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight." Second, confess your sins honestly to God; don't try to hide anything. And third and finally, live with a blessed assurance said when Jesus died on the cross, His blood paid for all, yes, for every last one of your sins. And then say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life, which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me."
Oh Lord, we pray, turn the hearts of each one of us onto sincere repentance, and enable us to stop always comparing ourselves with others, as the Pharisee did in Jesus' parable, in order to try to make ourselves look good. Instead, Oh Lord, enable us to reject all our own righteousness and to receive through God's gift of faith, the perfect and the saving righteousness of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Reflections for August 23, 2020
Title: A Wrong Comparison
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today, I'm visiting with Rev. Ray Wilke. He's the co-founder and president of Orphan Grain Train. It's a Christian volunteer network that ships food and clothing and medical supplies and other needed items to people in 69 different countries, including the USA. Reverend Wilke, thanks for joining us today.
Ray Wilke: You're welcome, Mike. Thanks for having me.
Mike Zeigler: We just heard a recorded sermon from a former Speaker of The Lutheran Hour, Dr. Wallace Schulz. Now, you knew him personally, right, Ray?
Ray Wilke: I met him walking along the beach in Riga, Latvia, in March of 1992.
Mike Zeigler: So you and Dr. Schulz, you're there, it's right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and you see the horror in the wake of this, and it prompts you to do something. And this is how Orphan Grain Train came about, as I understand it. Is that correct?
Ray Wilke: The job was to help finish what we thought would become a seminary in Riga. And Dr. Schulz had begun doing some of the spade-work for rehabbing an old house that had been vacant for a long time. And then toward the end of that three-week stint, we got on a train in Riga. And we had to wait a couple of hours because the fuel from the train had been stolen, so they had to go to the field and fetch some fuel to put in the train to give us enough fuel to get to Moscow. And of course, what we saw along the way was absolutely devastating. But I'd never seen so much brokenness. And everywhere we came, there was destruction and grayness and sadness and tears and red Iron Crosses of the Communist Party. So most of our experience was very, very sad.
We saw Moscow and saw how depleted and destroyed and utterly demoralized it had become, watched the people shuffling along on Moscow streets, heard the stories of returning Siberian prisoners who waited in line for five hours for a loaf of bread or a stick of butter, and it was gone by the time they got to the end. It was as sad as experience that I ever known in my life.
Dr. Schulz's job was to begin to recruit some students and to refurbish this small gray house in Riga, make some beginnings for this 70-year absence of any free proclamation of the Gospel.
Mike Zeigler: What started as a train ride through the former Soviet Union began a vision for a train traveling through the United States, collecting supplies in these storage cargo containers to send aid, to send help over.
Ray Wilke: I was thinking of all these things and the stories I'd heard. They were almost beyond comprehension of poverty and want and absence of food and total absence of hope or anything that touched upon the Gospel. God was foreign to them. Jesus, they did not know. I almost can't tell the story even now because it just brings everything back.
Two o'clock in the morning, this little iron bed about two feet wide, I sat up straight up in bed. It seemed like I knew what to do. I had no idea how to do it, but I knew what had to be done, because I knew we could get 40-foot steel containers into Russia. At that time we couldn't.
When we got back to Nebraska, I got in my car and made a tour of six states. I just told them the story of what I'd seen, nothing more. And I think when I got home, I had about $6,000 in my pocket if people wanted to do something. Because there was great interest at that time in the whole Soviet-Russia story, because we'd grown up getting under our desks in parochial school and building bomb shelters. That's how fearful we were of these people, and they were fearful of us, too. So with this interest having been cultivated, I knew something could be, would be, with or without me, done.
Mike Zeigler: So you had the idea, Ray. And as I've heard, a businessman named Clayton Andrews provided the experience and the means of gathering and transporting these supplies. And together you founded what became known as Orphan Grain Train.
Ray Wilke: My original idea was to start a train at the Canadian border and take it to Houston, because I happened to be a farmer myself and I knew what farmers were thinking. They would give grain. And that's where the name came from, Orphan Grain Train. Orphan, Jesus, Matthew 14:18. "I will not leave you as orphans," without resources, grain, provision, train, mobility. I had a lot of pushback on the name, but somehow that survived. But that's what we do.
And of course, the provision is not just the mercy meals, or the medical supplies, or the clothing. The provision is including, in every package, Jesus of Nazareth and His story. And somehow I believe that what you put into the package, somehow people take out on the other end. So we've sent containers in, plenty of them. The first one was to Riga and was sent by North Dakota, and Wally Schulz intercepted that and distributed it. So I knew this could be done.
We are steadfast in copying the model that Christ established for us, that we treat one another as neighbors and care for them with a passion, whatever their need. But we never leave home without knowing, by heart, the story of the kingdom of God, and who is included in that. A lot of people ask, "What is this kingdom of God? What is the kingdom of Heaven?" It's God's favorite thing, to dwell with His people. He did it in Person in Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: Those two features together, caring for body and soul, that seems like that's how Orphan Grain Train grew out of Lutheran Hour Ministries' own work. The division of Lutheran Hour Ministries is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Everybody could hear the story of Jesus of Nazareth in an understandable way, everybody on the planet. But there is also this aspect of caring for their bodies now.
Ray Wilke: Grain Train would not exist if not for Lutheran Hour Ministries, because we didn't have the exposure, we didn't have the infrastructure, we didn't have anything. The Lord makes it happen. I believe He can do anything, anything at all, if we just believe it and trust it and do it.
Mike Zeigler: Ray, it's been almost 30 years since that first trip with Dr. Schulz and now, Orphan Grain Train is in almost 70 different countries. You've got this vast volunteer network. What are some things that you're focusing on now?
Ray Wilke: One of the things we're trying to do and feature is a thing called "Mercy Meals." We prepare rice and soybean protein and vegetable and vitamins and minerals in a packet that makes six meals. I know something about malnutrition because I buried lots of kids who died from it in Asia. Malnutrition does not mean your tummy is not full. It means you don't have enough protein and vitamins and minerals, and you die with a full tummy.
Last year, we gave away five million meals. This coming year, we hope to give away 10 million meals. And we've got the infrastructure that can go anywhere in the world and provide nutritious, delicious food for men, women, and children of all ages. It's probably the greatest need in the face of the earth. We can get requests constantly. And now, with COVID-19 staring us in the face, we've got volunteers backing away. So we're working on a robot that can prepare these meals with just a few hands to make it happen.
Mike Zeigler: Amen. Well, the Lord continue to bless you in this good work that you're a part of with Orphan Grain Train. If you wanted to learn more about them, go to ogt.org, the website, or you can just search for Orphan Grain Train. Thank you, Rev. Wilke for visiting with us today.
Ray Wilke: Thanks for having me, guys.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"To Thee, O Lord, Do I Lift Up My Soul" by Kalinnikov, arr. Henry Gerike. From Safe in God's Faithfulness by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2007 Concordia Seminary Chorus) Used by permission.
"Built on the Rock the Church Will Stand" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)