Sermon Reformation, October 29, 2017

Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-38

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

The Motto of our LCMS during this 500th anniversary of the Reformation has been It's still all about Jesus. I think that's a good motto, although that idea should always be obvious. I mean, let's face it, when hasn't it been all about Jesus?

With Adam and Eve, it was all about Jesus. Remember that they believed the lie of the Serpent and said no to God. After that, God intervened when He made the promise of the Savior from sin to Eve and Adam in the presence of the Serpent in the Garden. To make that promise shockingly real, God then killed animals and clothed Adam and Eve with their skins. This showed that forgiveness of sins would come through the shedding of Blood. The entire OT is the story of God bringing about the final sacrifice for sin at the cross of Jesus.

Our text begins, “19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” This verse speaks of the Law. It also speaks of us. We are under God's Law which tells us what we are to do and not to do. By comparing ourselves to God's law, we find that we always fall short, and our mouths are stopped. We can make no excuse, and there is nothing we could offer to God in exchange to make up for having fallen short in thought, word, deed, and desire. As we are reminded from Romans 3, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

We were lost and condemned sinners by the sinful nature which we have inherited from Adam, and by the sinful things we do each and every day. We are also completely dependent upon God's grace in Christ Jesus, because we have nothing to bring. Luther's actual last written words were, “We are beggars. This is true.” These words were found written on a scrap of paper in Luther's pocket shortly after he died. This is true for all people. And since we're all beggars, we find this next thing to also be true, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” It stands to reason that falling short is falling short, always, with every try.

So stop trying to measure up with your own works and efforts and merits. Relax, and simply understand that your good works are the fruit of your faith, given to you by God from before the foundation of the world. They do not save you, though they do benefit your neighbor. This sets you free. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son, Jesus, has indeed set you free by his death and resurrection.

We who sin and continually fall short of God's glory then, “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The idea that we have here in Romans 3:24-25 is the same idea expressed by Paul at Galatians 2:15-16, 21, Ephesians 1 and 2, Philippians 3:9, Colossians 3:11-14, Titus 3:3-7, and by Jesus at John 3:14-17, John 15:3. Then look at Isaiah 6:6-7. These passages describe forgiveness as a gift through God's working alone in Christ Jesus. It is still all about Jesus.

But what is it about the idea in this particular verse, and others like it, that is so amazing and joyous? You, dear Christian, “are justified by his grace as a gift.” Your works, abilities, merits, and partnership with God is not needed. Really, God himself eliminates dependence on anything of ourselves. This is based in God's essential qualities of grace and mercy. At Psalm 103:8 and many other places we read this; “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

We all know that Jesus is God's grace, mercy, and steadfast love in human flesh. He is the kind and loving human image of God, our Father in heaven. We count on that being the truth about God.

Our Christian brothers and sisters 500 years ago did not know God as Gift-Giver. Including Luther, they mostly saw God as a terrible, and vengeful judge, who had little, if any, fatherly kindness and love toward them. God was only angry righteousness. And that made for an oppressive and desperate existence, always being fearful of judgment and retribution. In their hearts, they knew they could not really give the holy God what he needed, which was perfection. In the end, there is nothing more liberating than to have God's favor toward you be revealed as a gift of love for the sake of Jesus' work of redemption.

The eternal Son, Jesus, became flesh and made his dwelling among us, in order to “....show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

It's Still all about Jesus. Jesus, who is “...the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

Forgiveness of sins was won for you by the blood of the cross of Jesus. This is what has made peace with God for you. The cross of Jesus stands at the center of history because of what it accomplished for sinners like you and me. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead shows that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross did what it was supposed to do. It reveals God's friendly heart for the sake of Jesus. It also reveals that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are a great gift of God.

We have nothing of ourselves to boast about. But we can boast of Jesus, and his saving work on our behalf. Faith in Jesus and in his saving work is all that is needed. And faith, too is a gift of God through the Word of Christ. It is Still all, only, and always, about Jesus. Amen

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Reference verses: Isaiah 6:6-7, John 3:14-17, John 15:3 

Galatians 2:15-16, 21, Ephesians 1 and 2,

Philippians 3:9, Colossians 3:11-14, Titus 3:3-7

Sermon Pentecost 20A, October 22, 2017 Baptism of Paden & Chloe Huber

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

There is something that we Christians can count on in this life. Something that's as dependable as the sun rising in the east and going down in the west. Something that we need to realize and acknowledge as being a huge influence on our daily lives, and that very often influences what we think and do..... the devil is a liar and the father of lies. He uses lies as he seeks someone to devour, in his attempt to destroy faith in the Savior. Because of that, there are three questions in the Baptismal liturgy that renounce the devil, all his works and all his ways. Baptism is ultimate protection against all these lies.

I wonder what you thought I was going to say? Were you thinking that I was going to say that we could always count on the grace of God? Or on the cross of Christ? Or on our Baptism on this Baptismal Day? Yes, we can completely count on those things. As they give us Christ, those things are our sure foundation. These things work together to bring to us the assurance of God's unconditional love for us in Christ.

But, we also have to recognize that Satan, a real person, a fallen angel, has been active in this world since the creation. Remember what he did to Adam and Eve? He deceived them. That was up close and personal. Adam and Eve believed his lies. That's what did the trick with our first parents, up close and personal deception. With Cain, the lie was this, “God really doesn't matter in your life.” And Cain resented his faithful brother Abel so much that he murdered him.

Another example of Satan trying to mess up God's plan for the salvation of mankind is the world before the flood. Only eight believers were left. God sent the flood as judgment on unbelief, and those... eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you...through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Paden and Chloe are joined to that resurrection victory.

When Jesus was thirty, and had just been baptized, and had gone out into the desert for forty days, Satan showed up in person in order to tempt Jesus, pretty much in the same way he had tempted Adam and Eve. “God is a liar. Follow me, and you will be the king.” And Jesus resisted that lie. Didn't believe it. And what had been destroyed was on the way to being re-created.

Now, in our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is being attacked by Satan, in the form of the silver tongued devils the Pharisees and Herodians. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” They wanted to “entangle (Jesus) in his talk.” To answer in Caesar's favor would cost Him popularity, and to answer it in favor of the people would get Him into serious trouble with Roman authorities. Not that either of those things were a consideration for Jesus, only the truth was. These enemies wanted Jesus to say something that they could use against him.

“But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?” When Jesus called them hypocrites, their little deception was uncovered. At that moment, they knew that He had known all along what their plan was, but they couldn’t just walk away, and admit defeat. Satan will never admit it either.

But, we also have to realize that when Jesus asked “why put me to the test?” he was calling them to faith. He might as well have said, “Stop doubting, only believe.” But because of the hold Satan had on them, they couldn't do that, and they also couldn't be honest and say, “Aw shucks, we just wanted to completely discredit and kill you, Teacher.” They didn’t admit that, because they were continuing to plot the death of Jesus.

However, Satan himself would soon be defeated through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. With his defeat, the evil intentions of these people were defeated, too. And still, Jesus loved them.

Jesus continued, “Show me the coin for the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They were caught in their own trap. Jesus turned the tables on them 180 degrees. There’s only one answer to the question. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then He said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”

Given the fact of who Jesus is, He might as well have said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to me, what is mine.” Jesus had said many times that He was equal to the Father. In the Gospel of John there are seven places where Jesus uses the I AM phrase to make it clear that He was the Son of God. And, telling his enemies this simply enforces the fact that Jesus told the truth, teaching the truth about the way of God. He was not a respecter of persons. He loves all people.

Jesus stuck to the truth, and in fact, raised the stakes when He said, “Give to God, what is God’s.” That simple phrase, when applied to Jesus, meant that Caesar’s power, and the power of the Pharisees, was subject to Jesus, God's Son. You can't emphasize that point too much. In the end His claim to be True God proved to be the charge that got him crucified.

But realize that it’s a statement of eternal truth that Jesus’ spoke to His enemies in love. There are no gray areas here. Jesus didn’t say “It's possible that I'm the Messiah,” He said, “I AM Messiah.” That’s what the Pharisees, their disciples, and the Herodians had to deal with then. In their blindness, in opposition to the truth, they decided that Jesus was a liar, and they weren’t going to give to God, what was God’s.

We know that we’re obliged to support our government, pay taxes, and pray for our leaders. Jesus shows this here and Romans 13 goes into more detail. But how do we give to God? What belongs to God?

Everything belongs to God, after all, doesn’t it? So give everything to God. Yes, but that’s too general. Let’s get personal. I mean, how do I give to God, everything that I am? Not just my body, and my life, but my self, my will.

Everything we do, think, have, or say belongs to God. And even our sin belongs to God as it was placed on Jesus at the cross. And think of this, even our ability to say yes to God belongs to Him. This is where the Baptism of infants and young children becomes so fantastic and joyous. Paden and Chloe have been united to Christ, His death and resurrection by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. God has claimed them as His own.

In the O.T. reading we heard the story of how God used the unbeliever, King Cyrus of Persia, in order to show that He is the One True God. Cyrus thought he was a great king, and warrior, but he had nothing that God hadn’t given to him. God said to Cyrus, “I name you, but you do not know me.” It might be funny, if it weren't so tragic.

And in the Epistle, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they were chosen by God, because the words of the gospel came to them with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. All of these things add up to faith being given to the Thessalonians through Baptism, and the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

So, that’s how it is with us. Everything that God wants us to give to Him, He first gave to us. When we, in faith, acknowledge God in His Son, Jesus, we give to God, what is God’s. We don't accept, we don't commit, we are baptized by the command of Jesus. We believe and trust in the eternal truth that existed long before we did. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, to be our Redeemer. It is that simple. Jesus gives the sure and true foundation of Himself for us to count on.

Jesus showed perfect love and patience for his enemies. He called them to believe in Him over and over again. Jesus is patient with us, too. He knows everything about us; our faults, our lack of character, our big sins and our little ones, our successes, our failures. He knows when we give in to the devil, and sin on purpose, and when we sin accidentally, and He knows the sins that we don’t even know. His patience for his people is infinite, because His blood has covered all of our sins, past, present, and future.

We’ve been chosen, and we belong to God, because He bought us with the holy, innocent, bitter, suffering and death of His Son, our Lord Jesus. In His death and resurrection He defeated sin, death, and Satan forever. He washed away our unbelief by the Flood of Baptism. He keeps us in the true faith unto life everlasting, by constantly being with us, and daily reminding us of His love for us in Christ Jesus. Amen

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 19A October 15, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Most scholars of ancient history admit that there really was a person named Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus who we know and love. That doesn't mean that these scholars actually believe in Him, or acknowledge who He is. They simply note that there is a historical person that matches some, or most, of the events spoken of in the Gospels.

To deny the historical nature of the person of Jesus is to deny a major historical character. It would be like denying that George Washington existed, or Christopher Columbus, or Luther, or Charlemagne, or Constantine, or Julius Caesar, or Moses, or Abraham. No one would do that.

The problem is, you have to deal with the claims that Jesus made about Himself and with the more fantastic things about Jesus, his miracles, healings, and raising people from the dead, along with his own resurrection from the dead. These claims have not been made about Washington, and Luther, and Julius Caesar. And then you have to deal with the hostile reactions of the people who opposed Jesus, and why they opposed him and why they were hostile.

At Matthew 21:23, the chief priests and the elders asked Jesus this question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The historic Jesus was saying and doing things that didn't match up with what they though Jesus was, or should be. Indeed, what is the authority behind Jesus? Many people had been astonished because he taught as “one who had authority.”

This is where Jesus becomes someone much more than just a “historical” character. And he tells the strangest and most uncomfortable stories ever, if you are his opponent, or even if you are his follower. In these stories, or parables, Jesus nails down the truth about Israel and the chief priests and scribes. But, He also nails down the truth about just plain human nature. And, in this parable, he nails down the scary truth about unbelief, or rejection of God's invitation to the marriage feast of the Lamb. However, it also gives us another look at God's patience with Israel, and with us.

In John 4, Jesus had an encounter with a Samaritan woman. He told her this, “22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.....25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” The woman knew what was going to happen from OT Scripture. And Jesus told her that he indeed was the Messiah that the OT was talking about. This is what the leaders of the Jews were opposed to.

God's first invitation to the wedding banquet was given to the Jews under the Old Covenant. This promise is in the OT Reading from Isaiah today. Now we come to the time of this parable. The Messiah is Jesus, and in the person of Jesus, Israel is being invited to the wedding banquet again under the New Covenant. This was part of Ancient custom, to invite twice. However, as we find out, “but they would not come.”

And then, in God's great patience and love, they are invited a third time with the explanation which recalls Isaiah 25, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast. 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. ” Jesus is giving a very strong warning to the Jews who were opposed to Him. They had seen all that He had done, and heard all that He had said. Yet, they still had other things to do that were more important than the wedding feast the King threw for his Son.

That is the way things still are. There are many more important things that need to be taken care of before we take care of our spiritual lives. Often, our priorities are exactly backwards. And we wonder why we feel so lost and adrift.

We face many of the same challenges and obstacles to faith that the ancient people did. We also have the challenges of the influence of the world, the devil, and our own sinful, selfish thoughts and ideas. Along with our sinful natures, these things drive us toward the desire for things, and power, and worldly, temporary security. It's difficult for us to see beyond the cares of now, to God's amazing promise for now and the future because life can be so busy, and the cares of life and all that is happening are pressing on us.

But, Jesus did do all the things we talked about earlier, miracles, healing, raising people from the dead. We have records of that from eyewitnesses. And we have records that Jesus himself rose from the dead.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison has written, “The resurrection accounts of the Bible have all the sober signs of reality, including the complexity of details told from different viewpoints, which are not easily harmonized. I also find it compelling that there are no records of squabbles between Jesus’ living followers over what actually took place. Others discounted or contested the facts, but they were either contemporary opponents of Jesus or came much later after Jesus’ immediate followers were all dead. And finally, Jesus’ apostles preached the death and resurrection of Jesus and suffered all, even death, to do so.”

His resurrection comes after all the things Jesus predicted would happen to him did happen. Here is a set of facts that are like no other, and these facts carry the authority of Almighty God. The facts concerning Jesus are all alone in human history. How could anyone be indifferent to these facts? How could anyone have something more important to do, that could take their attention away from these facts?

And, what is the result of Jesus' death and resurrection for you? Listen to Isaiah speak of the promise, “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” That same promise is also in Revelation 21, “4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

You have a place at the eternal feast. Your wedding garment was given to you when you were baptized into Christ. So, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Your eternal future is secure. Amen. 

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 18A, October 8, 2017

Matthew 21:33-46

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

2 Peter 3 has a word for us as we consider the Gospel reading for today, “The Lord...is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Don't you think that patience is great? I sure think it is when it is applied to me. When I have to be patient with someone, that takes a little effort, and isn't so natural of a thing. Thankfully, where I am not, God is patient. That quality is illustrated for us very well in this parable from the Gospel reading.

At this point, the parables of Jesus are becoming more and more pointed. And, the resentment of Jesus among the ruling Sanhedrin and the Pharisees is building quickly. At the end of this particular parable, we find out that, “...although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.” So, a little bit of politics enters in also. But, what was going to happen, was going to happen, as Jesus said to the disciples about Himself in Matthew 20, “18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” None of what would happen would be a surprise for Jesus.

The Gospel reading reflects the OT reading. In the Isaiah passage, we read of the care and love that God placed into his establishment of Israel, his vineyard, his church on earth. And then we read that there were only wild grapes to be gathered, that God's vineyard was in rebellion. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” As of the time of the Gospel reading, the Isaiah passage is being fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus in his cross and resurrection.

God had established Israel, her ceremonial laws, and her dietary laws in order to set this people apart from all the others of the ancient world. They were weird, they had only One God. God preserved this people that the Savior, Jesus, would come from. Throughout her history, prophet after prophet was sent to Israel, and were rejected, and/or killed. There were times when the fruits of repentance were evident, along with contrition, and faith, but the natural rebellion would always settle in after a time. The rebellion came in the form of worship of the false gods of neighboring cultures, and intermarriage with other cultures, among other things. However, the Lord was patient, continuing to send prophets, and He kept a remnant of faithful people through all the bloodshed and outcry.

Finally, at the right time the vineyard owner sent his son on the heels of all that bloody history. He said, “They will respect my son.” Seems kind of naive, or irrational to think that the tenants would change their murderous attitude for the appearance of the son. In fact, their attitude became even worse. The tenants hearts were hardened when the Son came, and they threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him so they could retain power over the vineyard. That could also be considered an irrational act, to kill the son of the one who gave you all you have, even your very life.

When Jesus asked what the vineyard owner should do with the tenants, they said, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Maybe he should have dealt with them harshly right away and put an end to that activity and spared his own son. But He didn't. Romans 8:32; “32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

What an amazing, kind, patient, and loving gesture it was for the vineyard owner to send his own son into that pit of dangerous, hateful inhabitants of his vineyard, who had stoned or killed many of his representatives, but who had begun as a pleasant planting. It's almost as if the vineyard owner sent his son on purpose so that he could be sacrificed on behalf of the very people who hated him.

This is God's way, not our way. He loved the ones who hated him, by sending his son to certain death on their behalf.

Speaking of himself, Jesus quoted Psalm 118, “22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Give that Psalm a look, it is marvelous.

We sang that hymn just last week, Christ is Our Cornerstone. He is the cornerstone of the New Testament Church. He is the stone that the Jewish authorities rejected after they saw him up close. They declared him to be unfit to be built upon. Having been rejected, Jesus became the most important stone, the corner or key-stone on which the whole building depends. He is the cornerstone of your life. The Lord allowed him to be rejected, but this is wonderful to our eyes. He turned evil into good. By being cursed, Jesus accomplished universal blessing. Galatians 3:13, “13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” This is truly wonderful in our eyes.

And you know that it's marvelous that God is still patient with you, and I, because we need it. God the Father put forth Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, at the right time in history, because “in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Those previous sins were carried by Jesus to the cross along with the sins of all the rest of history. When Jesus died, your sin died with Him. When he rose from the dead, he proved that He is True God, and that His sacrifice was sufficient for you, and for me. We now await His eternal, perfect vineyard. Amen.

 

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 17A, LWML Sunday, October 1, 2017

Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-4

Reverend Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr.President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana “Be Ready to Confess Jesus”

The whole world is paying attention to the amazing year 2017. It is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. Luther is popular this year. It really is a big deal! But there's even more. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, our LWML, which has done so much to encourage and support the sharing of the Gospel within our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and among partners and friends throughout the world. In these last 500 years and 75 years, confessing the faith has not become any easier.

Yet God is faithful and has promised that His church will survive all the challenges that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh can throw at us.  Building on God’s promises, we know that this is our time to be distinctly Lutheran. As confessing Lutherans in a rapidly changing world and in an increasingly hostile culture, we need to Be Ready to Confess the Gospel of Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

I. Confessors of Christ is simply what we are. Proclaiming the message of salvation is central to our identity as Christ’s people. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Saint Paul wrote these words to Timothy, a fellow pastor, a man specifically called to carrying out the office of the public ministry. Paul knew the challenges that faced preachers of the Gospel in the setting of the early church. But he also knew that Timothy had come to the faith through the Holy Spirit working through faithful teaching of a committed mother and grandmother. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5). The good news of the Gospel is given to each of us to share with those whom God places in our lives. Proclaiming the salvation won by Jesus is everyone's joy. Every single one of us is called to be ready to confess Christ as God opens the doors for us to do so.

People today need to hear the Good News of Christ. Somewhere around 90 percent of Americans claim that they believe in “God.” However, their understanding of the one, true God is often less than biblical. And, as many as 60 percent of Evangelical Christians, this includes us, think there may be other ways to salvation outside of faith in Jesus. Confessing the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone is as desperately needed today, as it always has been.

Paul wrote about that in his day. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). It's the same now.

II. Luther Was Ready to Confess in his time. Luther's time was easily just as confused as our own day. Worship of saints had intruded on worship of Christ; works were preached as necessary to salvation in addition to faith in Christ; purgatory, images, relics, and other strange things had obscured the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone. This context made the ideas of Luther all the more liberating, in a spiritual sense.

While reading the New Testament and particularly Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Luther was confronted by the question of righteousness: What does it mean to be right in God’s eyes? And the Scriptures were clear to him: keep God’s law perfectly. However, he knew that he did not keep God’s law perfectly or sufficiently. Oh, he tried to make things right. He went to his priest repeatedly and confessed his sins. He dredged up every thought, word, deed from a lifetime of sin, confessed it, was partially forgiven, and then went and did good works to complete his forgiveness.

But as he did that, he remembered other sins, other things that he had done, and he realized that his confession of sin was not getting it done. He realized that his works were not enough. Finally, his priest confronted him: “Luther, it is not that God hates you; it is that you hate God.”

Luther finally realized through the Scriptures, that the righteousness of God is not about us being good enough. The righteousness of God is about Christ who is perfect. Christ, the God-man, who has completed salvation for Luther, for you, and for me, perfectly, once and for all. There is a great exchange that occurs. Jesus took upon Himself the filthy rags of our sinfulness and rebellion towards God. He carried it all to the cross, and crucified it once and for all. His perfect robe of righteousness is placed upon us in and through the waters of Holy Baptism. Where before there was sinner, God now sees his perfectly redeemed child through Christ; where before the person was far from God, there is now a child of God. God’s work is for us and is applied to us freely and completely because of Christ.

III. God Calls Us to Be Ready to Confess This Gospel: This—the biblical Gospel—is what we are made ready to confess! Luther didn’t see all of this clearly in 1517. It took a few years for him to work out all of the scriptural implications. But once he did, he confessed to the end of his life in 1546.

Today in particular, we want to remember the work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year. The LWML has had a marvelous impact on the mission efforts of the congregations, districts, seminaries, and other entities of our Synod. And it has done so always by carrying out faithfully its mission “to assist each woman of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in affirming her relationship with the Triune God so that she is enabled to use her gifts in ministry to the people of the world.”

There is never a perfect time to start an organization like the LWML, but could we have chosen a time more challenging than 1942? The world had been at war for three years and the United States had joined the effort in 1941. Rations were short, many young—and older!—men were preparing to fight overseas. Women were entering the workforce to fill the vacancies left by the new soldiers. The circumstances were challenging, to say the least! Yet, on July 7-8, 1942, over 100 women—among them twenty-eight formal delegates—met in Chicago and established the LWML. Its purpose was to encourage a greater consciousness among women for “missionary education, missionary inspiration, and missionary service.” It also decided to gather funds for mission projects above and beyond the Synod’s budget. From this humble beginning— and through the use of the now familiar “Mite Boxes”—the League has blessed the mission efforts of congregations, districts, and synod in amazingly powerful ways! But there is more, as LWML historian Marlys Taege Moburg has captured it so well:

the blessing of the LWML, now also known as Lutheran Women in Mission, goes far beyond the millions raised for missions. Its benefits can be seen in faith deepened through Bible studies, in confidence built through leadership training, in the befriending of career missionaries, in blankets and clothing gathered for the impoverished, in food shared with the hungry and, above all, in the friendships nurtured and the lives changed by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

“Time marches on,” as we all know so well, and it seems that as we age it marches even more quickly. The Lutheran confession has always struggled against the intrusion of false teaching. But the Lord has been faithful and has raised up faithful pastors like Timothy who have preached the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. And the Lord has gathered faithful men, women, and children who have carried out the work of the Lord, meeting the challenges and opportunities to reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel. Simply put, our faithful God keeps His promises and we pray this Sunday and always that He will always enable us to be ready to confess. Amen.

 

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 16A, September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

A couple of little phrases to start the sermon with; “God is God, and you're not!” & “Most people want to serve God, but only as advisers.” They may be funny, but as we know, humor is funnier when it gets close to the truth. Those sayings come very close to the truth about sinful human nature. We want to be God, or at least be his partner and help him with the terms of salvation as we would like to see them. But God does not need us as partner, and, our plan is not the good plan that will actually get salvation done.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Jesus told the parable in our Gospel reading for today in response to the incident with the rich young man. The rich young man wanted to know what good thing he needed to do to get eternal life. The rich young man had every material thing he needed and much more. He told Jesus that he kept the commandments. I'm sure he thought “Shouldn't that be enough? I am a good person.” But, no, not God's plan.

Jesus didn't immediately congratulate him on earning eternal life through works. So, he asked, “What else do I need to do?” Jesus said, “sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me.” The wealthy young man wanted to trust in his own works for eternal life, he didn’t want to believe that his wealth and works counted for absolutely nothing. He wanted to hang on to his own plan. Surrendering all to follow Jesus was NOT his plan. And he left sad and dejected.

Alrighty then. The disciples were a little freaked out. If that good and wealthy person couldn’t be saved, then who can be saved? Jesus replied, “With man this (salvation) is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” In other words, your works or wealth can never earn eternal life for you, it’s God’s work only. Partnership with God is eliminated. Those who trust in themselves will be last, and those who trust in Jesus alone will be first.

Are we jealous when someone seems to be more blessed than we are? Why not me, instead of that person? Don't I deserve it just as much? I've been good, haven't I? However, again, this parable isn’t about money, which fades away, and can't buy salvation. This parable is not about labor and management or the free enterprise system. As all the parables of Jesus do, the parable of the workers in the vineyard hits us right where we live. Jesus uses this parable to describe how He deals with faith and unbelief within His church. This parable is about the unlimited nature of God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus.

It’s the landowner alone who takes the initiative to seek out workers for the vineyard. The workers have nothing of their own, they're standing around doing nothing, not even aware that there is something that is coming. Then the landowner comes along and hires them to work in the vineyard. This is God breaking into the world in the person of Jesus, seeking out the lost and bringing them forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The time spent in the vineyard is the New Testament period, from Jesus death, resurrection and ascension to His return in glory. The “pay” that the workers receive as a gift is called a denarius, a day’s wage, but it stands for “God’s unlimited grace and eternal life.”

And they all got the same wage, no matter how long they had been a worker for the owner. That makes no sense at all, does it? We would go into orbit if we worked 12 hours and the other guy worked one and we both got paid the same, wouldn't we? Even if we had agreed to a good wage for the 12 hours in the first place. That just wouldn't be fair!!

Your wage should be equal to the value of your work to your employer. That only makes sense. If you work harder, longer, and smarter than others, or if you are more skilled, you get more pay. Our economic system is based on that idea. Excellent, profitable performance is the standard, not the grace and mercy of the boss.

In the church, where the standard should be different, we often think the same. We like to think that there are better Christians than others. We like to think that by our efforts, we can become “better” at being a Christian, that God will be better to us than to “worse” sinners. Do we tend to think that our faithfulness should count for something? Do all of our works and all of our working simply add up to nothing? Listen to what the owner tells the complainers at the end of the day, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” In other words, “I'm God and you're not,” and “Serve me alone, but not as an adviser.” God does what He wants with what belongs to Him. And everything does belong to Him. WE ALL belong to Him. His justice is THE justice. His plan is THE plan.

Psalm 24:1 states,The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein...” And from Romans 14:8, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” As hard is it is for our sinful selves to accept, our works cannot be exchanged for God's grace and favor. We do good works out of love for God and for the benefit of our neighbor.

Many of us here today have been Christians since before we can remember. We were baptized as infants, gathered into the kingdom of God. The landowner hired us early in our earthly day. And that's a good thing, to have a life that has never known separation from God. Even though we might have rebelled at times, God has never left us, and He will keep His Baptismal promise. So, we've been working all day. And we rejoice when new workers are brought in, and we welcome them to join us in the vineyard of the church. God is seeking and saving the lost.

It's a beautiful thing when people are baptized as adults, or teen-agers, or infants. We rejoice whenever someone receives Jesus as Savior, from infancy all the way to the deathbed.

But there might be times when we think it would be nice to be able to be a real, rootin, tootin' sinner all your life, ignoring God the entire time, and then at the very end, receive the same eternal reward as the life-long Christian? But, that's a dangerous game to play.

That's something that may be hard for us to understand and accept. However, we have to remember: The gift of God is unlimited to all who believe and trust in Jesus. The gift is everything. The gift is everlasting. God gives everything for the sake of Christ who died and rose again. There is nothing more to receive than everlasting life in the presence of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It can't be better or more than the eternal gift God gives to all who believe and trust in Jesus. Period. How then, can people can begrudge the unlimited generosity of God toward sinners just like we are?

Some words of Jesus having to do with being a servant of God, or one of His workers are helpful, “Does (the master) thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

That seems like it's showing us disrespect, but the truth is that everything we do is touched by sin. So, it's good that God does what He wants with what belongs to Him, because that's the only way we are saved. Instead of condemning all humankind because of sin, God has done things his own way, and sent the Savior, Jesus, to do what He wanted him to do for us.

We are forgiven for the sake of Jesus, the crucified and risen one. In Baptism, we are given the robe of Christ's righteousness. In the Word, salvation in Christ is proclaimed to sinners. In the Lord's Supper, eternal life in Christ is fed to us.

God is God, and I'm not; God doesn't need us as advisers. The great joy of Christianity is that everyone gets the same thing in God's own timing, life, salvation, and forgiveness. And even though it goes against our human expectations, we're glad that God has accomplished His plan for our salvation, and not ours. This is a cause for great rejoicing by God's redeemed people, the free gift of life, salvation and forgiveness for the sake of Jesus. He has done what He wanted to do with what is his. Rejoice in God's great generosity shown to all people in Christ the Savior. Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

 

 

Sermon Pentecost 15A, September 17, 2017

Matthew 18:21-35

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In today's Gospel reading, Peter wanted to know how often he had to forgive a brother who sinned against him. Don't we all want to know that. Just how much am I supposed to put up with? I've heard that question asked many times in a sort of superior attitude towards those other sinful people. How much am I supposed to put up with before I “unfriend them.” Peter, and we, want to know, so we can pretend to have a greater purity of life, or so that we can deny forgiveness to that particularly annoying person.

Jesus' answer to Peter was absolutely crazy. To explain, He told a parable that kicked everything Peter expected up a million notches. This is a challenging parable, because, we want to be able to do what Jesus says to do. But, it's impossible, and it's as simple as becoming like a child.

The number that Jesus quoted, 10k talents, was an impossible number, a shocking number. The debt that was owed by the one man was unpayable, impossible. Even though the debt was impossible, the man desperately tossed out the idea that he could pay with time. He begged the king to allow him to pay. The king knew he couldn't pay, and then He forgave the entire debt, which was shocking. 

The first thing, then, is that the man thought he could repay an impossible debt. He couldn't have been more wrong. He was unable to repay but said that he would. All honest Christians can identify with this horribly wrong thinking. When we don't recognize the impossible nature of what we owe, it's easy to have the delusion that we can pay. This is called pride. The debt can't be repaid. And we shouldn't try. Galatians 2:21 speaks to that, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

So, when the debt was forgiven through the mercy of the king, it didn't sink in to his selfish mind just what the king had done for him. His later actions show that. We find out that he had no patience and mercy on a man who owed him a very small amount of money. The debt that this next man owed certainly could have been repaid, but he choked the man and had him thrown in jail for the small debt anyway. He had been forgiven much, yet he failed to forgive little.

What about our own forgiving natures? The law hits us really hard here, doesn't it? We pray for this all the time in the Lord's Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In that petition we pray that God will increase our ability to forgive those who sin against us as much as He forgives us. This doesn't mean that we forgive most of that sin, holding back a little for the sake of power over someone. No, it's all. God forgives all for the sake of Jesus Christ. We forgive in the power of God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Christ alone makes our forgiveness complete.

Do you think you would be safe if God forgave 90% of your sin, and left the other 10% for you to deal with? Or, if he held that 10% back to see if you were truly sincere in your repentance or forgiveness? No, because, even if you owed only 10%, the debt is still unlimited.

The petition might also be “forgive us for failing to forgive,” maybe, huh? Or, “forgive us for failing to forgive wholeheartedly.” But remember that all baptized Christians have received the forgiving heart of Jesus. You have been changed, renewed, made whole.

This parable is about forgiveness, and it is about unbelief. Let's look at forgiveness through God's eyes.  This is exactly what Jesus was doing when He told the parable of the wicked, unforgiving servant.  The first man had an impossible debt to pay. Not just impossible, the amount of this debt went way beyond human understanding.  Jesus was making it crystal clear that this guy owed a debt he could never repay.  And what did the master do?  He forgave the man everything! The king wiped the debt completely out. In other words, the king absorbed the impossible debt into himself, canceling it, erasing it from his own memory, even. The King was the only one who cold accomplish that for his servants. However, when the king learned that His merciful act of total forgiveness had been denied by the servant, he remembered, and ordered imprisonment. This is unbelief. It is saying no to God's free gift of forgiveness for the sake of Christ.

Do you believe that the forgiveness that the pastor speaks is not his but the Lord's? It is the same as though the announcement came from Jesus Himself. It is a powerful gift that God has given to you through your pastor speaking in the place of Christ. The pastor stands and announces for Jesus, that you are forgiven all your sins. The Believer examines him or herself daily, and daily relies on God's mercy in Christ Jesus.

You, as Christian brothers and sisters in your everyday lives forgive each other with the same effect. Wives forgive husbands, husbands forgive wives, parents forgive children, children forgive parents, friends forgive friends, brothers forgive brothers, sisters forgive sisters. It goes on all the time.

Imagine a life where forgiveness was not known or practiced, and revenge and vengeance were the only way people related to each other. Not even unbelievers would like to live in that world. To be unforgiving towards others is to deny that we have been forgiven for the sake of Christ.

Forgiveness came at a price. For, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” He freely gave His life for you, and for me, and for all. Forgiveness is God's gift to us through Christ Jesus to use liberally and wholeheartedly for the benefit of our brothers and sisters, and for ourselves. Through faith in Christ, we are ready to forgive in season and out of season. Forgiveness is an alien thing, coming from outside of, and breaking into, our sinful existence, and making life together in this sinful world as harmonious as possible.

“We love because he first loved us.” In Christ, we forgive because He first forgave us. Unbelief does not recognize the forgiver, so does not truly forgive.

Christ absorbed the sin of all mankind into himself, as God the Father laid ALL OF IT on his innocent Son. When the Son died, having absorbed your sin into himself, your sin was destroyed, along with the sin of everyone else. God has had mercy on you and me, the sinners.

This is the love of the Son, that He would willingly submit himself to humiliation, torture, crucifixion, and death, so that you would be made able to freely pass on to others, the forgiveness that He won for you at the cross. This is a joyous gift that we have received as Christians. This gift has transformed us from unmerciful, hard-hearted, and unforgiving people toward our fellowman, into people who love, forgive, and care for each other, and forgive each other for the sake of Christ.

Jesus Christ has done all this for us. He defeated our sin, and our death, and Satan at the cross. He defeated our unforgiving natures, causing our forgiveness to be covered in His forgiveness. This is God's love for us in Christ Jesus. To Him be glory, now and forever. Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 14A, September 10, 2017

Matthew 18:1-6

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Have you ever made something more difficult than what it really is? We don't really have this problem until we're adults. Young children don't have this problem. They see their world in very simple black and white terms. Grandmas bake the best cookies. People who do and say mean things are mean people. If I misbehave, I get in trouble. It's all black and white.

But, in adulthood, we tend to stop seeing things as black and white and begin to see things in differing shades of gray. We say things like "technically it should be that way" and "theoretically, that's the way it should be," because we've seen a lot of stuff in our lives. We know there are discrepancies because humans are full of discrepancies.

We know how things are supposed to work in life, but we also know that that's often not how they do work, not in the real world. And so, we can tend to over-think, over-analyze, and over-do when maybe we should get right to the point. And when we're told that we've made the situation too complex, it comes as a shock. Sometimes it's hard to just keep it simple.

Jesus' disciples argued about who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So, Jesus brought a small child into their midst. What? And not a 4 or 5 year old, but a child not yet walking, an infant. The context of Scripture tells us that this is a helpless baby, the lowliest, neediest person of all, not even a somewhat independent older child. This act of Jesus would have rocked the world of the disciples.

"Be like an infant.” Whoever humbles himself like this infant is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." What? Humble yourself like a little baby in your service to God and to one another? That doesn't sound right, does it? What can a baby possibly do for anyone? Nothing! My friends: Infants bring absolutely NOTHING to the table when it comes to their survival and well-being. They are completely dependent upon their mother and father for EVERYTHING. They are fed, they fill diapers, they cry. For a while that's pretty much it. But they know the sound of mom and dad's voice, don't they? They know that when they hear those voices, that everything is going to be OK.

Jesus is not suggesting this as an option. His command is to turn; to stop what we're doing in our gray world, and turn back to be like little infants. And, if you do not return to infancy, you will NEVER enter into the kingdom of Heaven. The word for turn back or turn around in Scripture is repent; Jesus is commanding a turn from our proud, sinful, and independent ways and, in humility, to become like infants, to be completely dependent on God's Way for us, to recognize, that before God, we are as helpless, and needy and lowly as infants.

When it comes to your life before God, do you need to repent and turn back to simple, infant-like trust in Christ alone? Whether we want to admit it or not, we all do. In fact, the first of Luther's 95 theses states, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." We see that, as Jesus commands that we be like infants, it is done only through the power of the Gospel working in us.

Do you ever notice a brother or sister in Christ, who pretends to be holier, and more dedicated to God in their own daily lives. That's sinful pride, while we all stand before God in exactly the same circumstance. Yes, it's good to be good, and to support your church, read the Bible, assist others in whatever their need may be. Great! You are doing the very things God wants you to do, and has given you to do in your vocations. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I've never heard a baby boast that he or she took a good nap, drank the whole bottle, or go the best possible use of the diaper. 

"Humble yourselves like an infant." When you get down to it, true child-like humility is simply grounded in faith and trust in someone who is trustworthy. Little babies bring nothing to the table as far as contributing to their own survival and well-being. However, they do trust in the voices of mommy and daddy. They trust that the people behind those special voices will provide for their every need. The unborn baby even knows the voice of mom and dad. Directly after birth, newborn babies will turn toward the voices of mom and dad. They know and trust those voices. It's perfect, helpless trust and infant faith.

But many will say infant faith is a different kind of faith. They will say that what I'm saying sounds good in theory, but that's not how 'real faith' really works. You need to be able to speak, profess, and show your faith so that everyone else can know that you're saved. Yeah. But, I am going to re-direct you to the Words of Jesus. It's all I can do. Jesus Christ Himself says plainly in the Gospel reading for today that these same little infants believe in Him. Infants have a true, pure saving faith in Him. If you corrupt this pure faith by causing them to sin, by keeping infants from Christ, you are better off being thrown into the depths of the sea with a huge millstone tied around your neck rather than face God in judgment. That's pretty simple and to-the-point. Give your kids Jesus.

So…how can little infants have faith? Simple: Saving faith in God is a free gift from God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. These little babies, are brought into the very presence of God right here at church. Through the gift of godly, Christian parents, and Sunday School teachers who love teaching God's Word, the Baptismal faith of these little children is nurtured and strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Word of Christ. I can't stress enough how important this is.

Black and white things will become gray as they grow older, and the discrepancies of life become evident. They will be exposed to so much anti-faith and anti-Christian stuff later on, not to mention their own possible laziness as they grow older and take on the sinful habits of adults. Their early faith needs to be nurtured and built up to withstand everything that comes at them in the name of worldly wisdom, worldly reason, and strength.

My brothers and sisters in Christ: This sermon may not have been the most profound. There may not be any theologically brilliant “sound bites” you can quote on facebook or at the cafe. However, I won't apologize for the simplicity of the message of the Gospel. Because it is that simple. Watch and listen to children at Children's messages and when they come to receive a blessing at communion, and see the total trust in their faces.

Christ, the eternal Son of God was crucified for sinners. You are sinners, adults, children, babies alike. Jesus was crucified and died for all of you. He rose again for your justification. You never need to be afraid, your future is secure. The voice of the Savior has spoken it. Baptized, you are in Christ. Trust in him as an infant trusts mom and dad.

My friends: You want to see purity of faith? You want to know what greatness in the kingdom of Heaven looks like? Don't make it harder than what it is. As Jesus says; Look to the littlest of children. And remember that God has made salvation very simple. In fact, it's so simple that we have no part to play at all. We receive the gifts of God in Christ Jesus. Hear and believe Jesus when He says, “I am the Way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” Remember that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.,

Sermon Pentecost 13A, September 3, 2017

Romans 12:9-21/Matthew 16:21-29

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I begin this sermon with a quote from Luther's letter to Friar George of April 18, 1516. I updated it so it seems as if it is written to us, here; Therefore, my dear members of Zion Lutheran Stillwater, learn Christ and him crucified.  Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin.  You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours.  You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not."  Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one.  For Christ dwells only in sinners.  On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners.  Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation.  For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions?  Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works.  Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours...”

We're going to set that quote against Romans 12:9-21 in order to see what it looks like to be a Christian. We know that we are to love God and love neighbor, and that we are to strive to do that. This reading challenges us.

St. Paul says, "Bless those who persecute you.  Bless and do not curse." But my first impulse is to curse, not bless, and to be angry at my neighbor. Well, I don't always actually say it, I just mutter under my breath. Still, there is no excuse, according to St. Paul. He is hitting me right where I live.
Saint Paul also says, “Never be wise in your own sight.” This is for those who are conceited, stubborn, and obstinate. All people are inclined to be this way. Sometimes, we do not listen to good advice.  Sometimes, we know what we know and don't want to be confused by the facts.
It is not good when we place our own human wisdom over God's Word in the work of the Church.  We may decide we know better than everyone who came before. When we go the way of our own wisdom, where does that lead us? Just look around and see what that gives birth to. Ultimately, it gives birth to lost generations. It is crazy to be so wise in our own eyes that we look down upon the wisdom of God. Our wisdom is not the foundation of the Church. Christ and His person and work are the foundation of the Church.
Again, St. Paul writes: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” The thinking of our world and our flesh is that evil justifies evil, that is, if someone does evil to us, we can be evil in return. We are called to stand against our own instinct for pay-back by not repaying evil for evil. It really does heap burning coals on our enemy. What would have happened in Charlottesville if this principle had been practiced by all or even just one of the sides?
Paul sums it all up at the end when He writes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” What would that look like? Proverbs 15:1 says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” What if we were to answer softly, or meekly, or with kindness, in the face of anger? Love your neighbor as yourself. We can look to this law for guidance, but it still accuses us, and makes our sinning and our sinful nature deadly.
However, dead in sin is not the end. At the point of despair over sin, the cross is held before our eyes. The Cross is the wisdom of God that overcomes our lack of wisdom. 1 Cor. 1:27 reads, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” When the Law of God reveals our sin, we are pointed to Christ crucified for our redemption. Our righteousness would be a failing foundation. The foundation of the righteousness of Christ is sure and certain.
This is why Jesus rebuked Peter for having his mind on the things of men and not the things of God. Jesus was going to do what we could never do perfectly. He was going to lose it all in order to win forgiveness, life and salvation for us. He would humble himself even to death on a cross. He would not repay evil for evil. In fact, Jesus would take all evil, and sin into himself, and take it to the cross, killing it forever. He overcame our evil with His perfect.
Jesus laid down His life for us. Because of His death and resurrection from death we receive the greatest gift ever given, life, salvation and forgiveness of sins. It goes against all human expectation that we would receive a victory from a loss, but we have, as God declares to us in His word. Our lives are perfect before God because Christ has made our lives to be perfect by forgiving our sins through the shedding of His blood. Jesus said this to His disciples in John 15:3, “You are now clean for the sake of the word which I have spoken to you.” In a study of those words, Luther said this "By grace that life is preserved unto good. It is gifted and forgiven and must be called pure for the sake of the Words by which it receives holiness and purity. This is what we are now and this is what we now have, the righteousness of Christ which guarantees us that we will be with Him forever in His kingdom. Amen.
The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 12A, August 27, 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

My motto when I hunted pheasants in the panhandle was been BE PATIENT, BE PERSISTENT, BE READY. When I walked out through those fields, I always knew that with every step, I was closer to the next flush, the next minute, the next hour, the next hunt, the next season. I always trusted that if I just keep at it, the reward will come, no matter what.

The motivation for my hunting motto and the effort I put in was the prize of a rush of wings, brilliant color, the cackle, and a well-placed shot. And later, a fine meal. I knew that if I don't go, the reward would never present itself.

What motivates you to be persistent and ready? A business deal? A good grade? A student finally understanding the schoolwork? The praise of a boss or manager? Money?

We can be very motivated by the search and rush for earthly pleasures and glory. In a sense, that's what drives our economy, the desire to achieve something, or to possess the prize, whatever the prize is for each individual. And we put a lot of energy into that pursuit. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.

In the Gospel reading, there is a woman who was persistent, and ready. This is also a woman who put a lot of energy into the pursuit of her prize, the release of her daughter from a demon. But why was she so persistent and so ready?

She was not a Jew, she was a Canaanite. The Jews were not supposed to associate with someone who followed false gods, as the Canaanites did, or as most of the Canaanites did. And so, because He was a Jew, Jesus ignored her, right? Maybe not. With Jesus, nothing happened by accident.  There is a lesson to be learned here, for the woman, for the disciples and for us.

It is helpful to realize that there really is only one race of people, and that is the human race. Red and yellow, black and white, we are all precious in His sight. He created all. Jesus died for all. Jesus loves everyone, even those who reject Him as Lord. Jesus loves even when we can't, or don't, for any of our sinful reasons.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost of all humanity, not just the lost of Israel. When Jesus made the statement, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He was challenging the woman to be persistent in her faith. He was also challenging the disciples to open their minds to the fact that non-Jews could be saved. He was contrasting the obvious faith of the woman with the disciples idea that Messiah would only be for the Jews. Dear friends, this is big, because you see, salvation came from the Jews, but it is for all. In a sense, the Canaanite woman is us.

At first, the disciples weren't open to a Canaanite woman who believed in Jesus. They wanted Jesus to grant her request and to send the woman away, because she was bugging them, maybe embarrassing them. Even with all that against her, including the apparent indifference of Jesus, she persisted, and didn't shy away when it seemed like Jesus was ignoring her.

Sometimes Christians can tend to think that how God seems to us doesn't match up with what God's Word says. At times like that, I encourage you to “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning it's shame.” The important thing is that we trust the Word about Christ, and not our flimsy ideas about how God should be. In other words, remember Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

This woman trusted in Jesus with all her heart, and so she was willing to humble herself in front of Jesus, the disciples, and anyone else who might have been around. At first it seems as though this humiliation is for the sake of her daughter, who was “oppressed by a demon.” And it was. The bigger idea, though, is that Jesus is using the situation to make his point.

She pestered Jesus as if she knew Him well, when she had just seen him in person for the first time. However, the woman did know Jesus well. She knew, she believed and trusted, that He was the Messiah. She also knew, believed and trusted, that He was her Messiah.

She said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David...” That is a confession of faith. How did she come to faith? We heard these words from Romans 10:17 last week, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” She had heard the reports of the great deeds of Christ. These reports had made their way across the borders of Israel into the surrounding lands of the Canaanites and other idol worshiping cultures. These reports caused saving faith within her.

Even after the lost sheep comment from Jesus, the woman persisted. “Lord, help me.' And He answered, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.'” All through this challenging conversation with Jesus, the woman continued to call Him “Lord.” And don't get mad at Jesus about calling her a dog. This word means 'beloved family pet.'

Luther has this to say about the exchange between Jesus and the woman, “She catches the Lord Christ with His own Words. Yes, still more, with the rights of a dog she gains the rights of a child. Now where will he go, the dear Jesus? He has caught Himself and must help her. But know this well, He loves to be caught in this way. If we only had the skill of this woman to catch God in His own judgment and say: “Yes, Lord, it is true, I am a sinner and not worthy of Thy grace, but you have promised forgiveness and didst not come to call the righteous, but, like St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:15, 'to save sinners.' Behold, the Lord must then through His own judgment, have mercy on us.”

Jesus wants us to come to Him no matter what, and he makes ready with faith in Him. He wants us to have total and complete confidence in Him Alone.

We need to look at Jesus' final response very closely, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And it was. The daughter was released from the grasp of the demon.

Please understand that this is not a compliment from Jesus to the woman. He is not congratulating her for her great work of having faith. This is an extremely important point. Having faith is passive. You have it because it was given to you as a gift. You receive faith through the hearing of the word of Christ, Romans 10:17. Humans are not active in the having of faith. This faith that the woman had is faith that has no trust in human works, actually despairs of all human effort. This faith takes no comfort in human works, but does them gladly and freely only through faith in Jesus. This is faith which clings completely to the grace of the Lord, and to the Word of His grace. As we read from Hebrews 11, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

When I pursued the ringneck pheasant, my faith had an object. I had faith that the birds would be there, and that I would have the skill to make the shot. That's all well and good. However, that kind of faith can't save me from my sin, and provide eternal life for me. Saving Faith must also have an object. The woman's faith found it's object in the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. This faith was fixed on the promised Savior from sin, who was standing in front of her. Faith finds it's goal in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death atoned for the sins of the woman, her daughter, the disciples, and for yours. His resurrection proves to you that your faith is valid, and effective. This faith in Christ will carry you through this life, and on into the joys of heaven.

This reward is not just for the Jews, it is for all people, which means it is for you. Amen.

The peace that surpasses all human understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 11A, August 20, 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

My motto when I hunted pheasants in the panhandle was been BE PATIENT, BE PERSISTENT, BE READY. When I walked out through those fields, I always knew that with every step, I was closer to the next flush, the next minute, the next hour, the next hunt, the next season. I always trusted that if I just keep at it, the reward would come, no matter what.

The motivation for my hunting motto and the effort I put in was the prize of a rush of wings, brilliant color, the cackle, and a well-placed shot. And later, a fine meal. I knew that if I didn't go, the reward would never present itself.

What motivates you to be patient, persistent and ready? A business deal? A good grade? A student finally understanding the schoolwork? The praise of a boss or manager? Money?

We can be very motivated by the search and rush for earthly pleasures and glory. In a sense, that's what drives our economy, the desire to achieve something, or to possess the prize, whatever the prize is for each individual. And we put a lot of energy into that pursuit. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.

In the Gospel reading, there is a woman who was persistent, and ready. This is also a woman who put a lot of energy into the pursuit of her prize, the release of her daughter from a demon. But why was she so persistent and so ready?

She was not a Jew, she was a Canaanite. The Jews were not supposed to associate with someone who followed false gods, as the Canaanites did, or as most of the Canaanites did. And so, because He was a Jew, Jesus ignored her, right? Maybe not. With Jesus, nothing happened by accident. There is a lesson to be learned here, for the woman, for the disciples and for us.

It is helpful to realize that there really is only one race of people, and that is the human race. Red and yellow, black and white, we are all precious in His sight. He created all. Jesus died for all. Jesus loves everyone, even those who reject Him as Lord. Jesus loves even when we can't love, or don't love, for any of a variety of our sinful reasons.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost of all humanity, not just the lost of Israel. When Jesus made the statement, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He was challenging the woman to be persistent in her faith. He was also challenging the disciples to open their minds to the fact that non-Jews could be saved. He was contrasting the obvious faith of the woman with the disciples' idea that Messiah would only be for the Jews. Dear friends, this is big, because you see, salvation came from the Jews, but it is for all. In a sense, the Canaanite woman is us.

At first, the disciples weren't open to a Canaanite woman who believed in Jesus. They wanted Jesus to grant her request and to send the woman away, because she was bugging them, maybe embarrassing them. Even with all that against her, including the apparent indifference of Jesus, she persisted, and didn't shy away when it seemed like Jesus was ignoring her.

Sometimes Christians can tend to think that how God seems to us doesn't match up with what God's Word says. At times like that, I encourage you to “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning it's shame.” The important thing is that we trust the Word about Christ, and not our flimsy ideas about how God should be. In other words, also remember Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

This woman trusted in Jesus with all her heart, and so she was willing to humble herself in front of Jesus, the disciples, and anyone else who might have been around. At first it seems as though this humiliation is for the sake of her daughter, who was “oppressed by a demon.” And it was. The bigger idea, though, is that Jesus is using the situation to make his point.

She pestered Jesus as if she knew Him well, when she had just seen him in person for the first time. Moms and Dads know how children pester them for what they want. However, the woman did know Jesus well. She knew, she believed and trusted, that He was the Messiah. She also knew, believed and trusted, that He was her Messiah.

She said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David...” That is a confession of faith. How did she come to faith? We heard these words from Romans 10:17 last week, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” She had heard the reports of the great deeds of Christ. These reports had made their way across the borders of Israel into the surrounding lands of the Canaanites and other idol worshiping cultures. These reports caused saving faith within her.

Even after the lost sheep comment from Jesus, the woman persisted. “Lord, help me.' And He answered, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.'” All through this challenging conversation with Jesus, the woman continued to call Him “Lord.” And don't get mad at Jesus about calling her a dog. This word means 'beloved family pet.'

Luther has this to say about the exchange between Jesus and the woman, “She catches the Lord Christ with His own Words. Yes, still more, with the rights of a dog she gains the rights of a child. Now where will he go, the dear Jesus? He has caught Himself and must help her. But know this well, He loves to be caught in this way. If we only had the skill of this woman to catch God in His own judgment and say: “Yes, Lord, it is true, I am a sinner and not worthy of Thy grace, but you have promised forgiveness and didst not come to call the righteous, but, like St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:15, 'to save sinners.' Behold, the Lord must then through His own judgment, have mercy on us.”

Jesus wants us to come to Him no matter what, and he makes us ready with faith in Him. He wants us to have total and complete confidence in Him Alone.

We need to look at Jesus' final response very closely, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And it was. The daughter was released from the grasp of the demon.

Please understand that this is not a compliment from Jesus to the woman. He is not congratulating her for her great work of having faith. This is an extremely important point. Having faith is passive. You have it because it was given to you as a gift. You receive faith through the hearing of the word of Christ, Romans 10:17. Humans are not active in the having of faith. This faith that the woman had is faith that has no trust in human works, actually despairs of all human effort. This faith takes no comfort in human works, but does them gladly and freely only through faith in Jesus. This is faith which clings only to the grace of the Lord, and to the Word of His grace. As we read from Hebrews 11, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

When I pursued the ringneck pheasant, my faith had an object. I had faith that the birds would be there, and that I would have the skill to make the shot. That's all well and good. However, that kind of faith can't save me from my sin, and provide eternal life for me. Saving Faith must also have an object. The woman's faith found it's object in the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. This faith was fixed on the promised Savior from sin, who was standing in front of her. Faith finds it's goal in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death atoned for the sins of the woman, her daughter, the disciples, and for yours. His resurrection proves to you that your faith is valid, and effective. This faith in Christ will carry you through this life, and on into the joys of heaven.

This reward is not just for the Jews, it is for all people, which means it is for you. Amen.

The peace that surpasses all human understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 10A, August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33/Job 38:4-18

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

The last few weeks our gradual has been “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways.” These sentences have spoken of God's knowledge and wisdom, and his position as Lord of the Universe, and Creator. It is a thing that we humans, unfortunately, have to be reminded of. It's kind of like, “He's God and I'm not,” which should be obvious to even the casual observer. But the truth is, in our human pride, we want to tell God how it is, and we often object when God tells us how it is. We think we're SO SMART.

That's why this passage from Job is so great. It puts us in our proper place in the grand scheme of God's creation, and plan. ““Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Nowhere. Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! You did? Or who stretched the line upon it? You did? 12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?” Well....No.

Our answers to these questions are very humbling, aren't they? The Lord is being a little stern with Job. But, it does set up the proper order of things. And, in the end, Job is comforted in knowing that there is someone bigger than he is, who ultimately loves him, and completely cares for him, no matter what. The same thing is going on in this weeks and last weeks Gospel texts.

We used to watch chef Emeril Lagasse when he had his TV show. He was a master showman. In order to create excitement, he would “take it up a notch” by throwing some extra cayenne pepper into the mix, and saying “BAM, Another Notch!!” For some reason, this always tickled me. But, in the end, he made me really want to taste what he was cooking. Jesus does that here. 

The day before the events of the Gospel text for today, the disciples had been reluctant to trust Jesus with the feeding of the multitude of people. But, in the end, they had seen something quite spectacular in the multiplying of the five loaves and two fish. This miracle had a point to make. But, this miraculous meal had a strange effect on the disciples and on the people.

The crowd of people was so amazed by what Jesus did that they started plotting to take Him by force, if necessary, and make Him a king. Wouldn't that be great to have a king who could cure you when you were sick, supply food, and provide prosperity for all? Tempting, isn't it? We don't want to face the awful nature of sin. We want stuff, and we want to have idols to our own selves.

This idol of self that we have set up makes us try to turn Jesus into a type of Messiah that doesn't actually have to die for sin. We just want everything to be cool, and have nobody get too upset at our sinning by doing and leaving undone. We want God's law to be flexible on our favorite sins, like gossip, and lust, and cheating, and stealing, and failing to honor His Word and His Truth. But God is not OK with sin or flexible toward it in any way. He is a consuming fire towards sin. And Jesus was sent for that particular reason, to finally deal with sin, to be our substitute before God.

With all the benefits they thought they could get, why didn't the crowd rise up and take Jesus prisoner? The answer is, Jesus didn't let them. Jesus stopped them, overcoming the temptations to earthly glory that his popularity was bringing. He knew that if he gave them everything they wanted, they still would not have what they really needed. He kept himself focused on the work of redemption. So, he got the disciples and the crowds out of there in a hurry.

Because of their idolatry, the miracle of the feeding served to turn the disciples and the people more into themselves and toward their desire for a life of ease and luxury. They were focused on the surface, and not the substance, of Jesus. It was time for Jesus to take it up another notch, because Jesus knew what had to be done, and being the bread king was not it.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.” Really. He really did that. Just a few hours after the miraculous meal, here comes Jesus, walking on the rolling waves of the stormy sea towards the boat full of his disciples. “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.” They were less afraid of the storm than they were of a “ghost” walking on the water.

Jesus response to their fear is amazing, “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; I AM. Do not be afraid.” The Greek words, εγω είμί, (eggo eye me), translated here as “It is I,” literally mean “I AM.” The I AM is here because now Jesus is going to kick things up a bunch more notches, BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM.  

Why is I AM important? Rewind all the way to Moses in the Lord's presence in the burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses asked the Lord what his name was. “And (the Lord) said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” I AM is God's name. This is how He wants to be known. As he told Moses, “’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

Now, Jesus uses I AM, and applies it to Himself. So, in the middle of the storm, and the fear, and the idolatry, and Peter's failed effort to join Jesus on the stormy water, Jesus declared himself to be True God, present with His people. “And when they (Peter and Jesus) got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Jesus is Master of Creation. The wind and the waves are in His control. He is the same God who schooled Job on reality, and Moses on His Name. He is the One whom the disciples worshiped as the “Son of God.”

Jesus, True Man, True I AM, offered himself as sacrifice for all sin of all people. He went all the notches up the cross for you, and for me. He remains with us in this boat called the Church. We worship him in spirit and in truth. He is present in the Word, and in Baptism and in the Supper, really, truly, for you. The Great I AM, in human flesh, is here, now and always, for you, bringing life, salvation, and forgiveness. Amen. 

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus, Amen

 

 

 

Sermon Pentecost 9A, August 6, 2017

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

If you are going camping in a desolate, sparsely populated place, where you just can't run out to the corner market or local café to grab a bite to eat, you have to be prepared for meals. You have to bring food along. You could be in real trouble if you just rushed out to the camping spot without preparing in advance. In the Gospel reading today, the people who came to hear Jesus, bringing people to be healed by him, had made no advance preparations for themselves. They just went spontaneously. Even those who were not sick were helpless and unprepared. That's part of what makes this Gospel story so interesting.

The Gospel of Matthew has been described as the first Catechism for the new Church of Jesus. It lays out the story of salvation in Jesus through the events of Jesus' life. The twelve disciples were witnesses to that “living catechism.” Observing, and being a part of Jesus' life was their training to be the first pastors of the Church of Jesus. Jesus was teaching them by his words and actions to rely totally on him, which, at first, they totally failed at. However, after Pentecost, they would then tell others what the story of Jesus meant for everyone. And the Church would be built on Jesus.

Most of the people of Jesus time were constantly occupied with food growing, tending, gathering, and preparing. Today 2% of the population of the US works in food production, which leaves time for most people to do other things. Then, almost everyone was occupied with food production. And, to have a meal where you were completely satisfied was unusual.

It appears that Jesus had attempted to go to a lonely place to mourn the death of John the Baptist. But, the crowds found out and followed. “14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Compassion. Concern for the misfortune and suffering of others. Now, we can have compassion on someone, or even large groups of people. And our compassion will lead us to do things for the benefit of others. The things we do in compassion for others is certainly good, though temporary. It makes a difference. But, we can't change the world, and we certainly can't save the world. This is a job that only Jesus can do. And His work lasts forever.

Do you think that the crowds of people were a surprise to Jesus? It may have been to the disciples, but it wasn't to Jesus. It ended up being a surprise test for the disciples, which they failed.

But, who really knew who Jesus was at that point? Besides Jesus, that is? The disciples didn't. And the people who came out in droves to see Jesus didn't either. They saw and received the benefits of Jesus healing. They heard him talk about the kingdom of God. And, later on, it would be revealed that all they really wanted was healing for the sick, and free food without faith and trust in the One who provided. This is the way it always is. It is our human nature to take life for granted, along with all that we have and enjoy. We often don't recognize that every bit of life is a supreme gift. Thankfulness for all things is often forgotten in the sometimes mad rush of life. So, we're like the people who followed Jesus into the wilderness, unprepared, and without much thought of the real cost of eternal life, salvation, forgiveness.

How are thousands of people going to get dinner in the wilderness? This became the pressing question for the disciples. Their Solution: Jesus, send them away. Jesus solution: You feed them. At this point, they were forced to take stock of their resources, and they sure seemed to be meager. It was an impossible situation, one of those times when you just freeze.

They had somewhere around 15,000 people to feed, and all they had was 5 loaves and 2 fish. And, who gets the credit that they even had those 5 loaves and 2 fish? Jesus does. Even what little that we think we have, Jesus has given that also. At this point is where the compassion of Jesus not just for the people, but for the disciples, was shown. “And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Basically, Jesus says, “I got this.”

What are you going to bring to Jesus in your impossible situations? Are you going to do what Rock of Ages says? Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Naked come to thee for dress, helpless, look to thee for grace. Foul, I to the fountain fly, wash my savior, or I Die. Because, that is where the disciples were. And that is where we all were. But look what Jesus did. He took what looked like pretty much nothing and turned it into food for many thousands.

This is what Jesus would do then, in a little more that a years time. He would take that awful torture device, the cross, and turn it into God's Great glory, and into eternal life, salvation, and forgiveness for all mankind. It seemed like the cross was a great defeat, a sorry end to a man, a teacher, a prophet, who had held such promise. But it was not a defeat. That great sacrifice was ratified when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. And the gifts he gives are multiplied to each and every one who believes and trusts in Him. Romans 5:17, “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” On that day, on the shore of Galilee, Jesus gave abundant gifts out of his compassion for those who were like sheep without a shepherd. Those gifts pointed forward to the eternal gifts that would be won at the cross and in the resurrection. He has that same compassion for us, and He has provided those same gifts for we who believe.

In Matthew's catechism Gospel, we read that there were twelve baskets of bread left. Jesus would give himself to His disciples, and they would tell the story of salvation through Jesus. And His church still does. All that Jesus said and did, was done in order to test the disciples to make them look to Him alone as the provider of not just healing and food, but of life, salvation, and forgiveness. We look only to Jesus for these same gifts. Amen. 

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

 

Sermon Pentecost 8A, July 30, 2017

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

This entire section of Romans 8 from verse 28 to the end of the chapter is a source of great comfort for us when bad things happen. We can think of a lot of those things, without even really trying. So this section has lots of applications, while also teaching us about God's love and purpose for us.

This reading continues Paul's thoughts from last weeks Epistle, where he wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul is talking here of things that are certain, things that can be completely relied upon, now and forever.

These words are great, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The Christian can't help but begin to be comforted. To have that eternal assurance in the middle of trial or tribulation or confusion is priceless. Think of Paul as reminding his hearers of what they already know, and of what they already have.

Do you wonder what God's purpose is for your life? If you're younger, you probably do, maybe a lot as you try to find your way in life, and something to do that serves your fellow man. If you're more seasoned, you may wonder that less often, but you may still wonder what God's purpose for you is. But, we really don't have to look too hard for that purpose, for ways to love neighbor as self. And, we don't need to worry about it. Our godly vocations in life are given by God, like mother, father, student, professor, farmer, nurse, doctor, truck driver, among many others. But other vocations that we have are sometimes revealed in surprising and delightful ways.

And, in every case for the Christian, whether you're happy, or a little unhappy, or totally unsatisfied with your life, all things are still working together for good. Even in tragedy, all things are working together for good, because you are called, and you have been actively purposed by your heavenly Father. And, you are free to seek out what you might consider to be your true calling.

But there is a much deeper thing going on here in this text than what we're going to do with our lives. In science fiction terms, this text bends the space-time continuum. It places you within God's purposing before the foundation of the world. It speaks of his foreknowing and predestining of you. And, it has to do with God existing outside of time, and not being bound by time, or death.

God's purpose and foreknowledge are active things. It is not just God looking into the future and saying “Hmm, looks like John's doing better today.” No. God's action for me and for you was taking place a long time ago, and it has nothing to do with anything we've ever done or ever will do. Ephesians 1 reads, “He chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him.” This is according to the purpose of His will, as Ephesians 1 goes on to reveal.

God, by his eternal purpose, has conformed you to the image of his Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Since God has done this from eternity, how could you take any credit for it? He predestined you for this faith in Christ. He then called you by his Word. I know that because you are here. Then He justified those whom he called.

For you to be justified, someone had to be your substitute before God's justice. Your sin condemned you. Condemnation means to be eternally outside of the presence of God. In that place, as Jesus said, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is the exact opposite of shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father. Sin had to be payed for to satisfy God's justice, and to release you from condemnation.

You can't buy your own release from sin, death, and Satan. You do not have to go out and seek your own substitute. God provided His own Son as your substitute. This is the key to the whole eternal plan, the person and work of Jesus. The Son of God took on human flesh in order to defeat sin, death, and Satan for us. He died as the perfect sacrifice for the sin of all, you included. You are justified, declared righteous, for the sake of Christ. Period. You receive this through faith in Him who loved you and gave himself for you, the crucified and risen Jesus.

There is a great Luther quote that made it into the 2003 Luther movie that fits here, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

In the sending of His Son, God has demonstrated that He is for you, in a way that no one else can be. No charge can be brought against you. In fact, Paul started this chapter with these words, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Still, you may wonder, “Does this really mean me?” Well, pinch yourself. You are here. You have heard all the words of the hymns, the confession and absolution, the readings, and every other biblical thing that God says to you. So, yes this is for you, objectively. And, also look to Baptism as the objective moment when all these benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus were applied to you. It's God's promise to you, that through these objective, concrete means of Word and Sacrament He comes to you to forgive you, adopt you, sanctify, and glorify you for the sake of Christ.

These things will not separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus; tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword. No, you are more than conquerors, through him who loved you.

Did you notice what was left out of both of these detailed lists? Things past are not mentioned, not even sins; Because sins have been lastingly dealt with by your savior and brother Jesus. All of this is made sure and certain by his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, the firstborn of all of us who will rise to new life at the last day. Amen

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 7A, July 23, 2017

Confirmation of Rory McDaniel and Sarah Whitfield

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The parable of the weeds in the wheat comes in a string of parables about the kingdom of heaven. By speaking in parables, Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy, and revealing what the kingdom of heaven is to his hearers. And, although this text ends with this great and happy promise, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” there are some things in this parable that really do not lend themselves to particularly happy thoughts or ideas.

In fact, Jesus warns us that there will be hypocrites in the church until the “Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers.” This is His second coming. Jesus means that, at that time, unbelievers will finally be separated out of the church. So, we understand that hypocrites in the church of Jesus are unbelievers pretending to be believers. And he's going to leave them with the believers, and do nothing about it until the very last moment. Isn't that something? It makes you stop and think, doesn't it?

Really, though, this waiting to separate unbelievers from believers is a gracious act of God toward the unbelievers. Remember last weeks parable about how the seed of the Gospel continually works to soften hard hearts. And also remember that God is a loving, persistent, stubborn, and reckless farmer with the seed of his Gospel. After all, It is His desire that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

So, until the return of our Lord, the church on earth will be populated by some unbelievers who, though they may not believe, still continually hear the word. And it will also be populated by believers, who, though they trust in Christ, are still struggling sinners who continually need to hear the word. This is the church, the church of sinners who are also saints.

This is also the faith in the Lord Jesus, that Rory and Sarah are confessing before us today. They will formally confess the fact that they are members of the family of the church that has a lot of warts, problems, hurts, sorrows, and dysfunction. This is the church that Christ calls His Bride, whom he has cleansed by the washing of water with the word that he might present the church to himself in splendor.” So, although we are sinners, we are to consider ourselves to be the splendid Bride of Christ. Though they are sinners, Rory and Sarah are to consider themselves to be members of the splendid Bride of Christ, His Church. Then, confirmation is simply a formal recognition of what has already been given and established in Baptism. In wedding terms, it is our bridegroom Christ repeating the vows to Rory and Sarah that he made towards them in Baptism. Baptism, and the love of Christ, is what will provide the foundation for these two girls, through all the ups and downs of life.

St. Paul wrote these words in the Epistle for today, “19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” And, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” This is a lot of what the Christian life is, a combination of groaning and eager expectation salted with joys and sorrows. We are living in this sinful world as the redeemed of Christ, looking forward with great anticipation to the return of our Bridegroom, Jesus. And, while we are here, we have one who goes with us, through everything in life, good or bad, joyous or sad.

Remember this when you think things are bad; Jesus actually has experienced all the evil that there is in this sin filled world. He has experienced our pain and much, much more.

When you feel alone, remember that Jesus experienced profound loneliness. When the time of trial came, His disciples ran away. As He hung on the cross, He was alone against the forces of evil. Jesus did not just feel that the world was against Him. The entire world actually was against Him.

Should you ever feel abandoned, remember that as Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" In a way that we can't even understand, God the Father disowned Jesus at the point when the sin of the world was upon him.

Jesus actually endured and satisfied the full wrath of God's justice against our sin. When Jesus hung on the cross, forsaken by His Father - He endured hell for you and me. The devil does not want you to know any of this because he wants you to deny the benefits of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection that you already have. We have a much greater hope in Christ Jesus through His promise that the gates of hell shall not overcome His church.

Paul also wrote, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” One of my favorite prayers is, “Lord give me patience, and I want it now.” Our best and only example for patience is that of the Lord's patience with us, the sinful people, which is evident in the parable of the weeds. And to expand on an earlier quote from 1 Timothy 2, we have this from 2 Peter 3, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” With that, the Lord counters our impatience, and emphasizes his patience, his love, and wisdom that we can't comprehend, but that, through faith, we trust.

The promise is clear for we who are righteous, the Baptized in Christ. The promise is that, ““Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” It is this glorious promise that is the foundation and sure hope for Rory and Sarah, and for each of the rest of us. In Jesus name, Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 6A, July 16, 2017

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today's Gospel is known as The Parable of the Sower. It's not only in Matthew, it's also in Mark 4 and Luke 8. In all of these, we have not only the parable itself, but its explanation, too. Because we have Jesus' explanation, this reading not only gives us the spiritual truth of this parable, but it also gives us guidelines that help interpret other parables.
The story is simple enough. Thrifty, careful farmers then and now want to place the seed only in the good soil of the field so that it will grow and produce a crop. Every farmer I know is very careful with his seeds. Farmers do not waste seed.
But the farmer in the parable seems to not really care about where he sows the seed. This farmer is just flinging the seed everywhere - not only on the good soil, but also on the road, the rocks, and in the thorns.
Jesus wants his disciples to concentrate on the activity of the seed in the different soils. The seed represents the word of the kingdom - the proclamation of the salvation that Jesus Christ earned for us on the cross. The scattering of the seed represents the preaching of the word of the kingdom. The soil types represent the different types of people who hear the preaching of the word of the kingdom.
Jesus began with those who simply reject the Word. He said, "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path." The Bible tells us that God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Still, against God's will, some people reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit. They remain in unbelief and under God's judgment by their own fault. Eventually, God allows the devil to take the Word away from them. They have hardened their heart against the work of the Holy Spirit by simply refusing to believe. Everyone believes something, either the truth, or a lie. We are hard wired for that. What people believe in the place of God's Truth is an idol.
The next scenario started hopefully, but ended in tragedy. Jesus said, "As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away." Here the seed produces results for a while. This type of person receives the word with joy. He joins a local congregation. He may even become quite active. Then something comes along to test the faith and he falls away.
When Jesus began talking about His future suffering, death, and resurrection, many people turned their backs on him. That death and resurrection thing was just too weird, too offensive. They wanted their Messiah to be something other than a sacrifice for their sin. Because they didn't want to dwell on the real truth about sin. Today, there seem to be many who fall away when they find a Messiah that is not to their liking - they would rather give up the Word than have it change them.
The third scenario is similar. Jesus said, "As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." Once again, the seed sprouts. Once again, this type of person joins a local congregation. The problem here is that the cares of this world and the faults of fellow church members are more important than the Word of the kingdom. There are many distractions that keep us from the Lord's Word, parties, sports, meetings, laziness, and other activities. God's Word becomes an afterthought instead of a priority.
The last type of soil shows the fruit that God's Word can bear. Jesus said, "As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." This time, the roots of God's Word run deep. It thrives and produces a harvest.
The soil, which represents people, is dead until God's Word takes root in it. The Word of Christ is what brings life to the soil, the people. The life that is given is the life of Christ. He brings us into His family as that very same Word combines with the water of Holy Baptism to join us to Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection. He sustains and strengthens our faith with the Word combined with bread and wine as He offers Himself to us in His body and blood.
God is the reckless farmer. He just scatters His Word around. God has no favorites, and He leaves no one out. Jesus Christ died for the sin of all people. He rose from the dead to declare His victory to His disciples and He told them, [Acts 1:8] "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." In this way, God has promised to sow the seed of his Word to the ends of the earth.
A normal seed cannot change the soil on which it falls. In fact we change our garden soils to fit the plants we want to plant. But God's Word can and does change the soil of the human heart. The message of salvation through Jesus earned for us on the cross can, and does, soften the hard heart. And there is everlasting hope here. God's Word can break up the rocks and overcomes the thorns. God does not sow His Word once and then give up. He sows His Word generously season after season. He sows His seed with a loving, reckless generosity.
Although we are all born hard, rocky, and thorny, God applies His Word to us recklessly. God sends parents, teachers, friends, and pastors to bring His Word to us. He does it with great patience. Through that Word, the Holy Spirit creates the faith that trusts in the crucified and risen God-man, Jesus Christ, for salvation. The windows of heaven will open and that faith will receive all the gifts that God wants to pour out on us. He will give us the forgiveness, life, and salvation that last forever. Through His Word, He promises to be with us here on this earth and that one day He will take us home to live with Him forever. Amen
The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen

Sermon Pentecost 5A, July 9, 2017

Matthew 11:25-30

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We're in the green season of the church year, now, Pentecost. It's a time for learning about the basic doctrines of the church, to grow in faith, knowledge and understanding. We explore the events of Jesus' ministry, and learn a lot about who and what Jesus is.

Jesus performed a lot of miracles in the region along the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. He did them in three particular towns, Chorazin, Bethsaiada, and Capernaum. Seeing is believing, right? A lot of people heard Jesus and saw his miracles. So, many believed, right? No, they didn't. Jesus was pretty tough on those three cities because of their defiant unbelief. They had seen, but they had refused to believe. God's gift of repentance to life had been rejected.

The text is a sort of Prayer/Proclamation of Jesus. In the text, Jesus is discussing the people who chose the way of unbelief, who refused to see the miracles for what they were, evidence that Jesus was True God. This prayer makes the controversial statement that the people who consider themselves to be wise and learned are lost. The “wise and learned” people rejected the simple, yet profound, teachings of Jesus in order to rely on their own works and merits. They rejected the idea that they were dead in their trespasses and sins. They chose to take the impossible road of salvation by works of the law.

The “wise and learned” people looked right at the miracles, and decided that they weren’t what they were. A centurion’s servant was healed from a distance away, a blind man was given sight, a dead friend was restored to life, demons were driven out. But, the “wise and learned” decided that Jesus couldn't possibly be doing these miracles in the power of Almighty God. They rejected the fact that Jesus was the Son of God in human flesh.

There are “wise and learned” people in our day who do the same thing. They’ll see the miracle of God’s Creation, but they’ll decide that it can’t possibly have been done the way the Bible says. God is left out in the search for the meaning and origin of life. They forget that without God, there is no meaning or life. How could there be meaning if all is nothing? They see the marvelous human body, and the magnificent diversity of Creation, and do NOT stand in awe of the Creator's creativity and power. They insist that schoolchildren learn about the theory of evolution, while the creation account from the Bible is assumed to be mythical.

Some Christians will look at the miracle of the Lord’s Supper, and say that Jesus couldn’t have meant what He said about this is my body, and this is my blood. They refuse to accept Jesus’ words at face value. They say it’s just a symbol. But, The Supper is the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus, whose body and blood are really and truly present in the Supper. When you ask a child what’s consumed at the Lord’s Supper, they’ll say, Jesus’ blood and body. To a child, it’s obvious, and simple.

My friends, God meant for this whole thing to be simple. As Jesus said, it was the Father’s gracious will to make salvation simple, understandable by a child. It’s only when we grow up and think that we’re “wise and learned” and want to justify our bad behavior, that things get complicated, and difficult to understand.

Sin is not just the “mistakes” that we make. Sin is a terminal disease that humans can’t even attempt to cure. Sin is death. We don't want to be “wise and learned” like the people Jesus is talking about. The “wise and learned” reject repentance, and the gift of the Gospel. In this way of thinking, grace is removed from the mix, and salvation becomes man’s work, not God’s.

I should want to be child-like. Because of my human pride, I don't want my sin to be revealed to me. I don't want God's Word to condemn me. It's much more comfy to live in my own little fantasy world of no guilt and no consequence for the sins I’ve done and left undone. Human pride wants to be righteous on it's own, to be better than other people, who are “sinners.” But that would make me self-righteous. And that's not good. I have no righteousness in myself. The truth of God's word has caused me to reject the teachings of the “wise and learned.” God's Word has convinced me to be happy to simply be God’s child. That’s what He wants me to be.

We're often a lot like St. Paul in our Epistle reading today, doing bad things that we don’t want to do. That’s sinning by doing. We also sin by not doing what we want to do, or should do, which is sinning by not doing. Even with all that sinning, I’m always God’s child through Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. And because I’m God’s child, I simply believe by faith, the simple things that God has taught me. Like the fact that I have always been his child through Baptism.

I didn’t decide to be God’s child any more than I decided to be the child of my parents. That’s a pretty simple concept to understand, right? None of us found God, He found us. He created us through the means of our parents at our first birth, and he re-created us in faith in Baptism.

Through the Holy Spirit working in the Word, God has revealed Jesus to the world as the only source of life, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins. This is eternal truth. You can trust this Word with your eternal life. God's Word is the only foundation for all matters of life and faith.

That’s what this text is about; it declares the truth about Jesus, and causes us to trust Him completely. We trust Jesus completely because He’s worthy of our trust. Jesus said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father.” All things means all things, and that includes these things; conversion, faith in Christ, regeneration, and renewal (or Baptism). Our free will can not take credit for even one tiny bit of any of those spiritual things, any more than we could take credit for our own physical existence.

Jesus, God in human flesh, shows us the loving heart and compassion of God. This is the love of the Father for us; That He would take pleasure in providing just this One Simple Way to know Him, so simple that a little child can understand, and believe with all his heart. Even if we are seasoned citizens, we are God’s little children. Through Jesus, God is our eternal Father. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit has created, and will sustain faith in you until the end. Faith in Jesus gives you complete assurance of the Father’s love for you.

Parents comfort their little children who are crying or hurt. That closeness to Mom or Dad comforts the child. Parents love their children before they're born, before the children even know what a parent is. This is a picture of the Savior's eternal love for you. He gives rest to the repentant sinner, and that would be you.

We, the children of God, understand that salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; because if it were, we’d never get the work done. We find comfort and rest only in our Savior, Jesus. The “wise and learned” see no need for the Savior. They continue to look for salvation in their own works and merits. They will not find it.

Jesus forgives. He is lowly in heart. He gives Himself in order to love and to save sinners. It's easy because Jesus has already carried that yoke of my sin and your sin to the cross. Sin was nailed to the cross along with Jesus, and defeated forever, as Jesus won the victory. The lightness of the yoke doesn’t come in knowing that I’m a good person. The yoke is light because we rely on Jesus alone, who carried it all. Having faith like a child means simply believing and trusting that my Savior Jesus has caught me up in His arms, and holds me forever.

There is no other place for the human soul to find rest. Jesus the Savior is the only place, who gently and firmly holds you and gives you rest, now and forever. Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 4A, July 2, 2017

Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I thought that last week's Gospel reading was uncomfortable enough, didn't you? Jesus spoke about brother against brother, father against child and child against parent. He spoke about his followers being hated for the sake of His name. And, in the Beatitudes, He said that we would be persecuted and spoken evil of by people because we were Christians. Gosh, don't we need a rest from this type of hard teaching?

Maybe we do, but Jesus is not letting up on the disciples and He is not slacking off on us. In fact, He gets even more serious, if you can stomach it. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” So much for tolerant, happy-go-lucky get along with everyone Jesus. If we take Jesus at his word, and we do, we have to recognize that Jesus' message is divisive, especially between members of a family.

So, we have some really serious business here to consider. If we have some vision of a world where everybody just gets along, and everything is just a bed of roses all the time, then we are in for a real shock, according to Jesus. It is not possible this side of eternity.

Jesus is saying that because of him there will be strife. But, at the same time, He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Prince of Peace....Peace with God, which is the peace that Jesus has established for us. This peace with God causes us to remain true to our Faith and to our confession of Christ as Lord, whether that brings us worldly peace or not.

In the Epistle reading from Romans, Paul writes about the problem that causes people to struggle against and reject Jesus. This same problem also causes divisions between people and families; “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.” We are to consider ourselves to be sinful beyond measure.

We're supposed to obey the commandments perfectly. However the thing we don’t seem to get straight is that the Law doesn’t make sinners better. In fact, it makes them worse. Piling commandments on a sinner is like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Paul studied the Law. He read in the Law “Do not covet.” Before that, He didn't know that coveting was even sinful. Coveting is idolatry of the heart, but that’s not exactly obvious on first glance. Now, the law has made it plain to him. So Paul should have been working on getting the coveting out of his life and making some improvement in the greed department. But the opposite actually happened. The commandment served to show the depth of his sin, and sin then produced all sorts of covetous desires in Paul, sending him into despair, and he died. Sin killed him. The commandment that promised life in the presence of sin killed him.

The commandment that promised life in the presence of sin killed you, too. There is no thing that you could have done that would have changed that. You were dead in trespasses and sins.

Romans 3:20 addresses this, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The Law doesn’t change a sinner into a saint. Sinless saints are born, not made. They must be born from above in Baptism by water and Spirit. The Law only kills. That’s all. The Law of God is holy, it’s just, it’s pure and perfect and more. And when you apply the Law to a sinner, it is going to prove fatal. Not only that, but Sin will be increased to the point that it becomes sinful without measure. That's a lot.

Then, Jesus says, And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus is talking about repentance. How do you come to repentance? According to the catechism, repentance consists of two parts, contrition, and faith. Contrition is godly sorrow for sin. Have you looked into the mirror of the Law and admitted the truth concerning your sin that is without measure? Have you heard of Jesus your Savior who died for you with your measureless sin upon him? Do you trust in Him alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation? Are you baptized? Then you have repentance unto life. Faith is carrying your cross because Christ alone has been proven trustworthy. You have lost your life for the sake of Jesus.

Paul speaks of the effects of the gift of repentance in the Epistle, Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Having died to the law through the body of Christ in Holy Baptism, you belong to Him who conquered death. You no longer belong to the sinful nature, you belong to Christ. Your sin is no longer without measure. You now have grace without measure.

Jesus' words about carrying your cross are a reference to the Baptismal life. When you were crucified with Christ in Baptism, you were made dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Galatians 2:20 speaks to that Baptismal life, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In Baptism, you receive the mark of Christ. You carry his cross wherever you go, into whatever situation or time of life you enter. Jesus, and his cross and His resurrection belong to you and are your sure defense against death, sin, and all foes. Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 3A, June 25, 2017

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In our text for today from Matthew 10, Jesus gives a warning to his disciples that because they are his followers, they will need to be ready to suffer for his sake. I am sure that this reminded them of His words from the Beatitudes, “10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

If there ever was a radical Christian statement, this is it. It's radical in the sense that you are to consider yourself blessed when you are reviled, persecuted, and spoken of in an evil way for the sake of Christ. Sound like fun? No, it does not. But, there is something more at work here, and it's much bigger than you and I.

In the Gospel text for today, there are three interesting commands that are spoken by Jesus, “have no fear, do not fear,” and “Fear not.” These three commands are in direct relation to, and refer to Jesus earlier words in the Beatitudes and in this text today, “21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Jesus' command is “Do not fear.” But, we find it hard to not be fearful. So, since we're talking about fear, what are you afraid of? Just think about it for a moment. Will the transmission go out? Will the air conditioner work throughout this hot summer? Are you afraid of people who text while driving, are you afraid of economic woes, terrorism? Do you fear, as I do, that we are not far from the authorities demanding that we accept and even endorse immoral, Godless behavior as ‘normal and good.’ Canada already has those laws. Do you fear, as I do, that we Christians in this part of the world will be persecuted because of our faith and confession?

Over the centuries, Christians have paid for their confession of faith in Christ with their lives. All but one of Jesus' apostles did. Church father Ignatius of Antioch did. John Huss and William Tyndale were burned at the stake for their confession of Christ before and just after the Lutheran Reformation. It is still happening now, as Christians in other lands are imprisoned because they dared to smuggle a Bible or teach Sunday School. And in some cases, Christians are killed because they refuse to deny Christ. When Jesus speaks of brother against brother, and father against child, He is revealing the reality of the world's hostility to it's own savior. There is a stark difference between living in the darkness of unbelief, and living in the light of Christ.

Missionary Eugene Bunkowske lived and worked peacefully for three years in Africa among a tribe to learn their language, develop a written language, teach them the written language, and then translate the New Testament in order to teach them about Jesus. This took about three years. All went well until the people began to ask to be baptized. Those who were baptized were then shunned by the tribe, because the others knew that something was changed about those who were baptized. Friends and family members became enemies of the new Christians. They had left their former lives behind. They had been transferred from darkness into light. Darkness cannot bear the light.

It would be nice if Jesus would say, Don't worry about suffering for my sake, it's all gonna be cool for you. But, that is not what Jesus says. In the section of the Beatitudes that I read, and in our text for today, Jesus is talking about the potential cost of being a Christian. In a way, Jesus is making the point you are known by the company you keep. In this case, that company is Jesus, and it may well be that suffering will come to those who keep company with Jesus.

Jesus said, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” This is a truth of Christianity, and a promise from your Lord Jesus. Verse 26 contains the thought that although the Word of the Lord reveals the sin and unbelief of everyone, it also endures, while at the same time, it conquers your sin, your death, and your unbelief. God's Word will prosper and do what God intends. This verse reflects the meaning of Isaiah 55:11, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

That Word of God has done what God intended in each one of us, and in our new sister in Christ, Kaitlyn. She is now and always, with us in the company of Jesus. She is a new born soldier of the crucified, who bears upon her brow the seal of him who died. She is in the company of Jesus and in the company of all His baptized saints living and passed on, who believe and trust in him. Our Lord Jesus, “who has begun a good work in her will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Until that day, she, and we, will be sustained and strengthened in faith through God's Word and Sacraments.

The command of Jesus to all of us no matter what we face in life, is Do not fear. This command contains a promise to you, which is backed up by the sinless life of Jesus for you. It is also backed up by his perfect, sacrificial, willing death for you, and by his glorious resurrection for you. Baptism joins us to Christ, His death and resurrection.

In a precious way, Jesus informs us that God cares about his Creation so much that He knows when a sparrow falls. Since God has numbered the very hairs of your head, and since God cares for you more than many sparrows, what do you have to fear? Shall we fear “... tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because of His promise then, you stand firm in your faith and in your confession of Jesus as your Lord and Savior, forever, Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sermon Pentecost 3A, June 18, 2017

Romans 5:6-15

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The first section of our text for today from Romans 5 is not very complimentary towards us. Paul writes in a matter of fact style here, describing us as weak, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God. And that is what we are. Now, we know the end of the story. So, because we know the end of the story, we are not worried about being described as God's sinful, weak, ungodly enemies. But it is very important that we recognize and understand this truth, so that we can truly see how far we have been brought.

We might understand weak as simply not being quite up to strength, but able to function. The Greek word used by Paul means something more like completely powerless, unable to do anything, period. Ungodly means completely, totally without God, alienated. To be a sinner means to be completely unqualified and totally unable to be in God's presence. And enemies means just that, enemies. All of these words actually are different ways of looking at the same thing, the total depravity of human nature before conversion.

If that makes you uncomfortable, that's OK. On a certain level, it should. You see, we were born enemies of God. That relationship was totally severed because of sin. And there is only one reason why we are no longer enemies of God and the relationship is restored. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still weak, ungodly, hostile sinners, Christ died for us.”

Many of us here today have experienced broken, or even severed relationships, or rocky times within the relationships that mean the most to us. This is the condition of mankind, brokenness. It is simply what is. And, reconciliation and peace between parties small or large comes and goes. This applies to human relationships from the simplest, most intimate ones, marriages, families, friends, all the way to the relationships between world governments. I've only been alive 58 years, and it's pretty easy to see the wide scope of the broken nature of humanity in just that brief time. Reconciliation and peace last only a short time for us in the here and now. This will be the case until Jesus returns in glory.

Often, reconciliation happens within our close human relationships that suffer being damaged or broken. This is because the forgiveness of Christ is applied by each party so that the damage can be healed, and the parties can be reconciled to each other.

All that to say that we know the pain and heartache of broken relationships. And that it takes mutual effort for those breaks to be healed. It takes people working together in a spirit of forgiveness in order for reconciliation to be accomplished. In our formerly broken relationship with God, there is no such thing as mutual effort towards reconciliation.

The people of Israel had a relationship with God that was broken, not because of God, God was always faithful to them. No, it was because of Israel's constant unfaithfulness to God and their constant desire to worship false gods, walking away from their God, the One True God.

There was no limit to God's mercy towards Israel. Time and time again, He brought them back to himself. Listen to his Words from the OT reading, “‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.” That is a powerful word picture, isn't it? At the same time God speaks of the strength and majesty of his gracious deliverance of Israel from Egypt, He speaks of His tender loving care in restoring, or reconciling them to himself.

Sin, and brokenness, and death came into the world through Adam. The perfect relationship with God totally broken. All of humanity still lives with these things. It would be depressing, except for this; “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Could it be that simple? Somebody died?

Well, I could die for you. I could push you out of the way of a bus, and let it hit me. That would be good, for you. But it would only be good for a time, not forever. And, it's unlikely that will happen.

We return then, to Christ's death for the ungodly, or us. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Isn't that something? This is a death that accomplishes what it sets out to do. It atones, or wipes away, the debt of sin that each of us has. This is incredible good news. God has acted, in the person and work of Christ Jesus, to reconcile us back to himself, not just for a moment, or even for a few decades, but forever.

And, this, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” We were weak, ungodly, hostile sinners. Christ, by His blood, shed on the cross, has provided the eternal remedy for that condition we had found ourselves in. He has justified us by his blood.

Dear Friends, you have been declared innocent of all your sin for the sake of Christ, who died for you, taking your punishment upon himself. You are free. You have been reconciled with your Father in heaven by the blood of Jesus. What was broken is now restored. You are no longer God's sinful, weak, ungodly enemies. You are His dear children.

And you did nothing on your own behalf. If the free gift makes you nervous, it shouldn't. This is God's good pleasure, to save and reconcile you back to him for His own sake. Rejoice in it always.

Amen.

The peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen,